Realizations and Confessions of a White Man

“White Men as the Problem” (3/8/2009) will make many whites uneasy because of the truth that lies behind the statement that white males have created many of the social problems in the world today. I would like to comment on several points related to the article.

First, Joe’s article demonstrates the powerful links between race and class, clearly focusing on the fact that elite white males have created the class and racial social systems that produced most of the greed-driven misery over the last several hundred years and led to the present economic meltdown. White wealth, power and prestige have been built upon the exploitation, oppression, and dehumanization of people of color. White men created the capitalist economic system in the United States, benefit most from the system, and continue to produce new generations of whites to maintain the system. Whereas those that possess little economic power in the system, suffer greatest in the system, and whose life chances are severely challenged by the system, tend to be people of color.

One of the great sociologists of the 20th century, WEB Du Bois, proclaimed that “white wealth and culture” relies upon “Negro poverty and exploitation” (see The Oxford WEB Du Bois Reader, 1996[1962]). In his book Color and Democracy, W.E.B. Du Bois notes that “the continued oligarchical control of civilization by the white race”— and injustices of white-run societal systems “proceed as if the majority of men can be regarded mainly as sources of profit for Europe and North America” (Preface, 1945[1990]). Today’s social thinkers (e.g., Joe Feagin, George Fredrickson, Paul Lauren, and Chancellor Williams, among others) echo Du Bois’s observations made nearly a half century ago.

Ironically, and not surprisingly, when the economy is in crisis, whites disassociate themselves from capitalism; but when economic times are good, whites cannot wait to boast about their savvy entrepreneurial skills, smarts, power and wealth. With the recent collapse of the US and global economies, the “Donald Trump types” that white American society worshipped during the years of prosperity are now viewed questionably and even seen as villains. The same CEOs that Congress used to court and cuddle are now targets of Congressional committee investigations. Even the free-market, non-government interventionist ‘pro-capitalist’ platform of President Bush was not sacred as the capitalist economy spiraled downward. He quickly changed his support of the basis tenets of capitalist philosophy, non-government intervention, at the end of his administration (ironically, a last-ditch effort to benefit white capitalist elites).
A popular white myth claims that whites have single-handedly earned their wealth and worked harder than other people (of color). This is nonsense. For years, as a white man, I was convinced that my “success” (capital accumulation, property ownership, fine cars, lavish lifestyle, even dates with women) was the result of my skills alone, without realizing the advantages of my white male privilege and position in an unjust, un-equalized social system that benefits whites (particularly white men) and targets people of color. One might ask, how many talented people of color have been overlooked—economically, socially, and intellectually—in favor of mediocre whites? This white-run capitalist-racist-patriarchal system, advancing many whites and oppressing many people of color, has been fixed in American society from the start, as most people of color have known for years and as Joe’s socio-theoretical and historical understanding of the white racial frame clearly indicates.

Despite my best intentions to default my position as an advantaged white man, I cannot begin to escape my white privilege (luxuries of prep school and higher education) and greater access to power and resources (connections with wealthy whites and spoils of capitalist exploitation of people of color and poor whites) that exist in the white-dominated capitalist social world. While morally, psychologically, and socially uncomfortable on a number of levels, I hope that other white men can begin to question their position in the social world. It is necessary that white men recognize the mechanisms—the white racial frame, the colonization of people of color—that support their positions of white privilege and power, and that they take steps to compensate and return power and privilege back to people of color who have been robbed and mistreated for centuries.

One last note, while I agree that white men are primarily the problem, the ‘white family,’ white women and white children, also benefit from capitalist, racist exploitation. For example, white women hire women of color to perform the labor-intensive choirs in the homes of white families (cleaning the house and child rearing); rarely is this relation reversed. White children, boys and girls, are trained to learn the necessary “skills” to maintain the white frame that will benefit them at the expense of people of color and poor whites. According to James Wright, a “2007 study conducted by researcher Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution showed that a typical black family had only 58 percent of the income and assets of a typical white family. Blacks lag behind whites in two wealth-producing instruments, homeownership and owning a business.”

Until serious social transformation occurs along race, class and gender lines, whites, in general, not just white men, should be viewed as ‘the problem.’ To begin to help solve this problem, all whites must quite denying their unjust, ill-gotten privileges and rigged access to power and resources and attempt a redemptive path of recourse.


  1. JDF

    Excellent post. Funny how the Obama election seemed to serve the white (male) elite well as a way to offset the rather obvious failure of the white elite-inspired system of laissez-faire capitalism, with Bush as its standard-bearer. Following the election, they almost tripped over themselves to peddle the “post-racial society” meme, while crediting themselves for Obama’s victory. Perhaps it has served them well to deflect criticism for the economic crisis…it did feel somewhat good to see Jon Stewart hold Cramer’s feet to the fire last week, that’s for sure.

  2. Alston Adams

    I agree, Sean. If the (elite) white man is responsible for everything else, then they are responsible for the failure. They don’t see it this way, of course, but they would if someone else were running things. However, I need some help here.

    Diane Sawyer did a recent piece on white poverty in her home state of Kentucky. People will say that since anyone can be poor, that it is disingenuous to portray whites as a privileged class that exploits every else. If it were like that, these white mountain folk could play the white card and get out of poverty rather easily. (A side note: this featured family was presented as deserving of help, not scorn as would be the case if the family were not white, but that’s perhaps another discussion.)

    The common person (of any colour) needs solid and clear examples to show them how white privilege exists. You yourself said that you have “capital accumulation, property ownership, fine cars, lavish lifestyle, even dates with women”, but a great many white people that I know do not have those things, have never had them, and might never have them.

    So for the sake of the “average” white person, where is the inequity? How can you prove to them that the elite aren’t there because they work harder, or are smarter, or know how to stay out of street crime? How can you prove to them that non-whites simply aren’t doing it all wrong? How can you prove to them that the average white person doesn’t deserve what they have? It’s all fine and good to point out the inequalities, but there are already alternative, “deflecting” explanations that can be used.

    An Indian friend of mine despises it when black people “cry racism”, because he says that blacks are using it as an excuse to not do what they need to do (mainly, to instill a sense of responsibility and hard work, etc.). He sees other marginalized groups getting ahead all the time, and sees no reason why blacks can’t do the same. These others (or should I say, “Others”) broke through the barriers that whites imposed upon them. He acknowledges the problems minorities face, but says that none of that matters if the community is determined to do what is needed to succeed. Is it that simple? How do you respond to this?

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