“The greatest trick the white man ever pulled was convincing the world he belonged.”
Cross men with whiteness and you’ve got the most privileged sect of the population on earth. One therefore might assume men would feel empowered and fulfilled by this fact, but the number one thing I hear from white men is that they long for purpose, meaning, joy and connection — key components of a fulfilling life. So, why is it that white men have the highest suicide rates? The highest depression, anxiety, and alcoholism? We’ve got the population with the highest privilege and cultural influence asking “What’s my purpose? Meaning? Where’s my joy and fulfillment?”
An argument I’ve run into that attempts to explain this is because men feel as if they’re under attack…Really? I respectfully disagree. A couple of years of #metoo and a reckoning from the broader culture is not enough to explain a trend of (originally Northern European) men being beleaguered and lost for centuries.
Privilege creates a void of belonging.
After some thought, I came to the conclusion that it is the very privilege we’ve set up that creates the void. The bargain we’ve made as men is that we will trade our sense of natural fulfillment for an overgrowth of influence and power. We can imagine that this response is rooted in both fear and greed—resulting in a warped sense of the world.
When I think about belonging, I think about limits. I think about community. I think about accountability and reciprocity. With social media, you can never find belonging because there are no social limits. There’s no actual community. There’s no expectation of a mutual life. When we participate in the online world, we can mask who we are. We can escape community, accountability and reciprocity. The human, earthbound communities ask something from us, and in exchange for showing up for that, we start to feel like we belong. As men, we often look for shortcuts to get around the difficult stuff of life. We trade on our privilege in subtle, hidden ways. But this is always at the deep and costly expense of our felt sense of belonging.
To me, belonging means being knitted to people, places, or roles. There’s an exchange of relevance and consequence between ourselves and the people we’re interacting with. Whether we go to the same coffee shop and talk to the same customers, coworkers, or people—we matter. What we say or do counts for something. But there’s more to belonging than just being seen by the same people every day. As I said, belonging involves limits, accountability and reciprocity.
At its core, what I mean is that belonging is the grand prize of having been willing (or made) to show up for a fair accounting of the costs and benefits of our contribution to a community. Meaning that we don’t just get to skate along because we are ____ (wealthy, popular, white, male, talented, you fill in the cultural, physical, ethnic or structural privilege).
So, why don’t white men feel like we belong?
It has to do with privilege.
As white men, our privilege can often alienate us from a sense of duty. This doesn’t mean that all white men are equally privileged, or that being a white male means you don’t experience hardship. It does mean that there are certain privileges that go along with being both a man and having white skin that are often invisible, hard to be aware of. Consider this definition: Privilege is the right to not take on certain burdens—be it emotional, financial, or energetic. So by accumulating and enjoying so much privilege, we don’t have to show up in certain ways for our community. We have the right to skip all of these tough tasks so that we can continue to be powerful and influential. Examples: We can avoid the meetings on police reform because we know it doesn’t really affect us. We can avoid volunteering for a difficult issue involving social reform because we know, at the end of the day, we will be OK. We can avoid taking more responsibility for exploring and expressing our emotions because we can hide behind the expectation that men are strong and silent. And on and on.
Men get a pass. When we accept, or even exploit that pass, that’s privilege. And that is one of the contributing factors keeping white men alienated from belonging, purpose and genuine fulfillment.
We’re the boys who wouldn’t hoe corn.
So, stepping from a place that recognizes what privilege is (the right to remain unaccountable) and what belonging is (the willingness to accept total accountability), here’s a question: What would “white male belonging” look like? No one really knows. But perhaps we could identify certain themes. Perhaps it would include deep recognition of the earth as a living being. Perhaps it would value and engage in non-hierarchical political structures like gift economy, restorative justice, community supported agriculture. Perhaps it would seek to dismantle some of the structures, beliefs and worldviews that keep so much oppression alive. Perhaps it would start with shame.
Here’s a radical idea: maybe no one knows what authentic white male belonging looks like because the entire world politico-capital structure depends on men trading privilege for belonging. Maybe no one knows what authentic white male belonging looks like because the world is still waiting for white men to realize – before it’s too late – that the bargain we have made with our souls isn’t worth it. And never was. Maybe the world will know authentic white male belonging around the same time the world recognizes, together, that the Earth really is a living, sacred being. And that we all need to care for Her in accordance with that.
The Goal Isn’t To Be Sexy—It’s To Inspire
I believe our whiteness and our male privilege are something we must embody so that we can inoculate the culture with more heart, love, and soul—and it will require us to give up some of our power and influence. We need to allow for real belonging to take root in our body and sprout up within our engagement in the world. We need to grow up into the elders our children need us to be. Elders who live for more than golf, beer and a bucket list. Elders who stand for the reality that the world needs protecting.
These questions are all casualties of an engagement in a culture that doesn’t actually want you to belong—It just wants you to keep the machine going. These are casualties of having grown up with a male body. The price of belonging is privilege. What are you willing to give up?
If you’re interested in exploring these concepts further in your own life, reach out and book a free Connect Call and let’s see if I can help.