The United States is growing, in general, increasingly liberal with each passing year. With this liberalization comes greater equality, but perhaps more importantly, a greater sense and understanding of how unequal our society remains.
Thus, people speak out. In greater numbers and with greater voices, marginalized groups are pushing back against the inequality that has plagued humanity for so long. I, as a human among other humans, cannot be happier seeing the progress being made and the steady march toward equality.
But with the rise of these civil rights movements come those who would perpetuate the division between groups. The alienation that some minorities or oppressed groups have felt through the years has rightly caused frustration and a desire for change, but this also seems to have created a simmering animosity toward the traditionally “dominant” group. In other words, there seems to be a perpetuation in our cultural discourse of an “us-vs.-them” mentality, which I strongly believe threatens the potential for an equal and tolerant future.
I am a Caucasian, upper-middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, secular-Protestant, healthy American male. My mind is the result of white-, male-, and rich-privileges. Although I attempt to subvert negative stereotypes of these identifiers whenever I can, I cannot deny that I have been born into groups which held traditionally dominant roles in the past. But there has been a shocking amount of generalizing and even anger directed toward these facts of my birth over the years from people I attempt to talk to about equality. More often than I can count, when I state truthfully that I consider my beliefs in line with feminist beliefs, I have received the dismissive response, “Ha! You cannot be a feminist; you are a male. You cannot understand the adversity facing women.”
For people attempting to break down preconceived notions based on birth, this seems to me more than a little incongruous. True, perhaps I can never empathize with women because I have never lived in a matriarchal society and I will never be female. But emotional understanding is not the only type of comprehension. Sympathy is nearly as powerful as empathy and can encourage actions in a similar way. I absolutely sympathize with the mainstream feminist movement and women’s desire to achieve greater equality in society. I understand on a rational level the implicit oppression that the patriarchal anachronisms in the United States cause. Moreover, most men that I have met in my life share this wish to advance women and other groups because they understand, on a deep level, that inequality is inherently wrong. One does not have to be a direct victim of oppression to feel strongly that it is wrong and want to work against it.
Lately, I have noticed that divisiveness often goes even deeper and permeates even the way people discuss achieving equality. When people throw around terms like “white privilege” and “male privilege”, and sometimes even invoke them to explain some aspect of my life, I feel uncomfortable and demeaned. These privileges do exist, and there should not be such an imbalance, but I did not choose to be born the way I was. The criticism of such positive discrimination often strays from the general and becomes personal. All I, personally, had control over was how hard I worked and what I participated in. I still struggled through my own adversity, whether in the form of financial trouble, depression or anxiety. When I hear someone explain away a student’s success with white privilege, I feel angry. Society absolutely needs to be fixed, but I and most other individuals have done nothing to promote or flaunt our privilege and instead wish to raise everyone up to the same level for good. My point is, then, that criticizing privilege is one thing; dismissing success by stating that it is based upon that is another entirely.
Thus, what I have seen is a growing undercurrent of antagonism toward dominant groups that, while understandable, does little to further the quest for equality. There is a line between constructive and destructive protests, and that line is being crossed too often. Often heard among some groups, especially those online, are phrases like “crush the patriarchy”, designed to dismantle the male-dominated society that seems counterproductive to me. If a group wishes to advance, why would they attempt to do that by dragging back and disempowering another group? Why not push for bringing everyone up to the same level as the top, instead of bringing down the top to the lower level? This may seem a matter of semantics, but the way this is phrased truly matters. In other areas it is generally agreed that destructive rhetoric does little to achieve any good. For example, capitalism inherently produces income inequality, and a great many people would argue that that is detrimental. However, in discussions about how to fix the income gap, the most legitimate solution is not to “crush capitalism” but to hybridize capitalism and socialism to bring the lower socioeconomic classes up while gradually eliminating superfluous and archaic advantages of the wealthy. The same model should be true for civil rights movements. In my opinion, the best way to gain widespread attention and legitimacy for a cause is not to alienate other groups but to work to combine and progress together. Rather than calling for the destruction of a social phenomenon, instead push to fix it and promote cooperation among all people, truly cementing the truth that we are all equal as humans.
Artwork by CHARLOTTE FAIRLESS