This morning, I posted a series of tweets mocking The New Atheism. It was probably inevitable, then, that I got embroiled in a long discussion with a white dude who was very concerned to clarify that they’re not all like that. And I’m sure they’re not — but I was instantly reminded of the many discussions of race where the white dudes in the room were in an absolute panic to make sure that the conversation could not move forward until everyone posited that they personally were totally innocent of racism.
And this response is natural, because every white dude is a unique snowflake. They cannot be lumped together with any group or trend. To the extent that a white dude is associated with a group or trend, he gets to define its meaning unilaterally — so for instance, The New Atheism is not intrinsically imperialist because he personally is not an imperialist. Every white dude is entitled to total self-definition, and anyone who perceives him differently from how he wants to be perceived is committing an injustice against his personhood. Isn’t the person who presumes a white dude is racist, for instance, perilously close to the logic of racism? After all, what is racism but the making of generalizations — and hence, can we conclude anything but that generalizations are inherently racist? If I made any generalization about black people, for instance, you’d be jumping down my throat! But here you are claiming that all white dudes tend to be defensive, and are you any better?
I want to tell you a little story. Once I was on a crowded train. I observed that there was a family scattered across several seats near me, some closer to the door and some more distant, and it so happened that they were getting off at the same stop as me. Out of politeness, I waited for all of them to get off the train before proceeding to the door myself, so that they could keep their group together. When I got up, I wound up stepping in front of a young black man. He became offended and pushed past me, accusing me of racism because I had let the white family go ahead of me but felt entitled to cut in front of him.
The white dude in me was crying out — I’m not a racist! I had a perfectly justifiable reason to do what I did! I didn’t even notice who was behind me when I got up! Yet there was something else there as well, something that had developed during my years of living in a diverse community in grad school, something that said: Let it go. If he sees me as an entitled white dude, that’s fair enough. I really do look like that. I get so many advantages from looking how I look that I should put up with it on those extremely rare occasions where it proves disadvantageous as well.
I don’t want to put myself forward as a hero or an example. All I want to suggest is that being a white dude might be a least partially curable. The first step is admitting that you have a problem.