Proud of being a straight, white man

Straight white manMany people complain that black people can talk about “black pride” but that white people can’t. That a band called “Black City” is cool but one named “White City” with Caucasian members is racist. Or that a parade of gay pride is acceptable but one of straight pride is not. That the media turns to women on their day and some even receive flowers and chocolate, but that nobody remembers men on their day. Indeed, all of this seems to be true. However, many people usually criticize this as something illogical and hypocritical, an unfair double-standard. Is it really so? Let’s give it some thought. When did these movements begin? Why did minorities start to have this attitude in the first place?

Black people

Blacks were enslaved by White European and their descendants in the Americas from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. I think it’s not necessary to remind you of history classes (at least for those of us in the new world who actually learn it) and movies about the colonial period, when slaves didn’t have civil rights, were punished through whipping and torture whenever their owners felt like it and lived in inhuman conditions compared to their white masters.

Slave being whipped in colonial Brazil
Slave being whipped in colonial Brazil

Even after slavery was abolished there continued to be social segregation which, although it has improved, it hasn’t been completely eliminated. To reinforce and illustrate my point, I suggest an interesting article: Timeline of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. It is remarkable to see that de jure (official, permitted by law) racial segregation in the USA was only completely eradicated at the national level with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before that, racial segregation was not only allowed but sometimes even official, as in the case of the Jim Crow laws. I know I’ve written the year already, but I feel I have to say again: nineteen SIXTYFOUR. This was YESTERDAY. And there is more: earlier that year three activists associated to CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) were assassinated by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Just to give an idea about the context and how “welcomed” these changes were.

Regarding Brazil, everything seems to point to the fact that after the abolition of slavery there was no more de jure discrimination against the black population. This doesn’t mean that they had a similar status to white people, however. From the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral’s website (my translation):

“With the proximity of the abolition of slavery, in 1881, a electoral reform in the Empire, known as Saraiva Law, abolished voting rights for the illiterate. Many historians make a connection between Saraiva Law and abolition; since the majority of back people freed from captivity were illiterate they would be excluded from the electorate process.

TSE’s historian claims that, with the abolition of slavery, in 1888, blacks were formally able to participate in the electoral process but that, in practice, this didn’t happen, on one hand, because of the voting prohibition for illiterate people and, on the other hand, due to the numerous stigmas (my emphasis, remember this word) built around black identity. Such stigmas were elaborated based on scientific theories which claimed the inferiority of certain races in comparison to others, the natural propensity of certain groups to commit crimes, the connection between certain diseases/ epidemics and some ethnic groups, among other things…”

Even today, this hasn’t been solved. A table taken from Wikipedia which illustrates the status of black people in Brazilian society is this:

Indices White Brazilian Black Brazilian
Illiteracy7 5,9% 13,3%
University education8 15,0% 4,7%
Life expectancy9 73,13 67,03
Unemployment10 5,7% 7,1%
GDP per capita11 R$ 22,699 R$ 15,068
Death by homicide12 29,24% 64,09%

But it’s not only blacks who have been subdued and treated as inferior throughout history and who, to this day, carry a social stigma.

Women

Oh, come on, women have nothing to complain about. They’ve already gotten all the rights they wanted, they have the same status as men. Feminists nowadays are only a bunch of frustrated fatties who get pissed because they can’t reach the incredible and noble standard imposed by men so they start complaining about meaningless things.” Yes. There are people who think like this. Don’t believe it? You think they say these things jokingly but deep down they don’t really think like that?

Amazingly enough:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt_0ko4njmc

Indeed, there has been a lot of progress in the last two centuries. Women even gained the right to vote! Can you believe it?? For the first time in New Zealand in 1893. In Brazil it was only in 1932. In the Western world they gained other rights, as well: the right to own property, the right to voluntary maternity (contraception), and working rights without de jure discrimination. It’s enough, isn’t it? Who actually cares about de facto discrimination or about women in other parts of the world? Who cares that women’s salaries are de facto lower than men’s? Who cares that in the Arab Emirates a man has the legal right to beat his wife as long as it doesn’t leave marks? Never mind, right? United Arab Emirates… who cares? They’re too far away. After years of struggles and after several entities concerned with women’s issues came together, the United Nations created UN Women. But who takes the UN seriously anyway? Everybody knows they are an irrelevant organization led by frustrated and PMS-ing fatties.

OK, back to seriousness:

Violence against women

  • In 1999 in the US, 1218 women and 424 men were killed by their partners. The numbers for 2005 were 1181 and 329, respectively. In England and Wales around 100 women are killed by their spouse or ex-spouse every year, while the number of men who died in the same way was 21 in 2010. The topic is more developed on Wikipedia, which also offers citations for these statistics.
  • Nature hasn’t been very merciful to the human female. It made them shorter, less muscular and gave them a vagina while it gave men a penis which gets hard. In other words, it gave men the power to rape. And what do many men do? Rape. There were around 35,000 cases in the war in Bosnia only, in a terrifying episode of history, which is remembered as “mass rape”. And what do authorities do about it? In developed countries they protect women. In other countries, like Malaysia, the rapist can marry the victim. Even in some western developing countries, like Chile, a woman doesn’t have the right to an abortion even if she is a rape victim.
I am citing different statistics for each “minority”, but many of them apply to more than one category. The following illustrates this point:

Workplace discrimination

pay-gap
Difference between the salaries of men and women in some groups in the US

In other words, after a history of female absence from power positions, academia, or any intellectual and business environment for that matter, it is obvious that there is a stigma (what do you know, here’s the word again!) associated to women which keeps them in an inferior position in society. This can be seen in their salaries and unequal employment, not only on the labor market but also in the academic environments, where one could expect people to be more “enlightened”. In a Yale experiment, academic researchers were given the same application for a job as lab manager. Half of them received the applications with male names and the other half with female names. Results showed that the women “candidates” had significantly lower classifications in terms of competency, how likely they were to be hired and the researchers’ willingness to mentor them.

This stigma can also be seen in the representation of women in mass media, which reduces them to their sexual dimensions and many times includes them only as an object of desire aimed at an essentially male audience.

Women protest against sexism in media in London

Ok, so white men have been unfair to women and black people throughout history and have positioned themselves in society in such a way that even today they enjoy a higher status simply for being born with white skin and a penis. But does it stop here?

Gays

I have recently seen an interesting documentary: Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker, about the life of Alan Turing, a great British mathematician whose work helped defining the basis of computer science. He had a productive academic life, he was a white, male, and so seemed to have all odds in his favor until one day when a guy with whom he had been sleeping burgled his house. He went to the police to report the crime but ended up being charged with “gross indecency” for his homosexual acts and was forced to choose between prison and chemical castration. Turing chose the latter and began living under constant police surveillance and suffering the side effects of the aggressive treatment with female hormones until 1954 when he committed suicide. 

To see the dramatization of a great mind being despised and humiliated by his own country after having collaborated in the war decoding messages from German ships simply because of a personal orientation, practiced in a completely private and consensual environment, is something that strongly affects me in an emotional level. But this law was valid for all citizens. Many other lives were degraded because of it. And you know what the most incredible part is? This law was a result of centuries of progress and modernization of the civil rights. In England itself, a 1533 act defined the death sentence for “immoral behavior” such as homosexuality.

And how’s the situation today? Homosexuality is illegal in mais de 70 países. The punishment goes all the way to death sentence in 9 countries, prison in over 40, in others it’s only fines, deportation and forced labor, and in the other countries, where it’s legal to be gay, they’re just beat up by skinheads and target for hate speech.

Westboro Baptist Church is (in)famous for its protests at the funeral of gay people killed by homophobes and of other minorities that they judge to be “hated by God” according to Biblical passages.

And they do get beat up. According to the NGO “Grupo Gay da Bahia” (Bahia’s Gay Group), 3196 cases of murder against homosexuals have been registered through the 30 years between 1980 and 2009 in Brazil. They have also reported 190 murders that are claimed to have homophobic motivation in 2008, what represents 0.5% of the intentional homicides in the country. 64% of the victims were gay men, 32% transgender, and 4% lesbians. The NGO’s data are sometimes criticized for not clearly distinguishing the murder of gay people from murders with explicit homophobic motivation. In any case, one must only be moderately up-to-date with any source of news to recognize that there is a problem, and that it is serious enough to deserve attention. And in most developed countries it does receive attention. In Canada, in many states in the U.S. and in many European countries, crimes with homophobic motivation are considered hate crimes and have their sentences aggravated. Gays are also protected from discrimination at work.

The Brazilian constitution states as one of its main goals “promoting the good of all people, with no prejudice based on origin, race, sex, color, age or any other form of discrimination“. There are several laws against the specific types of discrimination made explicit in this passage, and murder motivated by any of these forms of prejudice is considered “qualified homicide”. Unlike the countries I’ve mentioned, however, no national law mentions prejudice based on sexual orientation explicitly. The project 122 would include this category in the list of criminalized forms of discrimination explicitly, but it is still in the process of being analyzed is vehemently attacked by the evangelical lobby and others.

Pride

It may seem to be something subtle and abstract but “stigma” and “status” are extremely important factors of society, as the statistics and experiments on discrimination in the academy and workplace mentioned here show. And it’s so strong that even well-intended people sometimes draw conclusions based in prejudices that have grown to be natural in society.

The truth is sad, and those who live in a city like Rio de Janeiro, for example, know how it is. If you’re walking alone on a deserted street and on the side-walk comes a group walking towards your direction where everybody has very dark skin, it is very possible that you get nervous (depending of course on other factors, such as behavior, appearance, clothing, etc). It is partly a matter of statistics (indeed, the proportion of black people in Rio’s prison is 1.65 times higher than in the free population), but it also shows the stigma associated to them. If I was black, I’d be forced to accept, to understand. After all it’s inevitable. It’s hard to blame those who have an automatic reflex and get scared in the presence of black people when they’re alone and feel vulnerable. But I would be sad anyway, maybe I’d even feel ashamed. I’d be sad with the fact that my race can inspire fear. Sad to realize that this stigma is associated to me for historical reasons, even though I don’t pose any real threat. So sad that I’d think about how much I’d like these things to change. So sad that maybe I’d question this stigma and try to break it somehow. Maybe by associating the image of black people to positive things. Maybe by reminding people that there are blacks who’ve achieved real victories. Maybe by turning the attention of all black people to the fact that much of what blacks have created are very valuable things, and not at all a reason for shame, but for pride.

If we are really careful and keep all this context in mind, the word “pride” makes some sense. It’s an antonym for “shame”. But it’s a terrible word. Unfortunately it ended up being adopted in the motto of practically all pro-minority and anti-discrimination movements, probably because it’s extremely convenient from a marketing point of view and for the difficulty of coming up with a better word. But it is a very dangerous word.

What does pride mean? A dictionary definition seems a little vague. In any case we can say it’s a positive feeling for those who feel it. Usually, we’re proud of ourselves (as individuals) or of others (friends, family, etc). This seems to make sense. I struggle and make efforts to achieve my goals, and presume my friends and family do the same. Of course, if you’re really rigorous, you can always argue that nothing is reason for pride. After all, the conditions that motivate people and eventually lead them to achieve their goals exist independent of them and are therefore never their merit (see more in the post about free-will). But for all practical purposes, we can agree that the word is relevant and expresses a real feeling, that will range from more to less legitimate and constructive. If someone wins the lottery, or wins a large inheritance, or a well-paid job offered by family, I don’t in principle feel proud of them. I may be glad, but not proud. On the other hand, if I see a person making an effort, fighting obstacles and achieving something, or even if he/she has an innate talent, then I would feel a degree of pride for them. Just like I would feel proud of myself.

Colective proud, however, is a more dangerous concept. If a black person is in the spotlight thanks to a great scientific discovery, does it make sense for another black person to be proud of his/her race for this? If a white person writes a well-acclaimed book, does it make sense for somebody to be proud of being white? These achievements don’t seem to have anything to do with race. And even if they did, what merit does anyone deserve for simply being born with a certain skin color, sex, sexual orientation, nationality or whatever it is? It’s a simple matter of luck, not effort. No reason for pride.

Nationalistic proud is as nonsensical a type of pride. Considering, however, that this matter is not very relevant in Brazil, found it unnecessary to elaborate on it extensively. If I was German or American, the title of this text would probably have been longer. I was once discussing with a Swede about whether she was proud of being Swedish or not. Sweden is an extremely developed country in many senses, so it makes sense that Swedes feel glad for being Swedish. It is a delicate issue, however, demonstrating nationalistic proud in rich European countries where there are problems with hostility against immigrants etc. In the end, we concluded that it made much more sense to say “I’m proud of Sweden” than to say that “I’m proud of being Swedish”. After all, it may be said that Sweden, as a nation, through a series of successful measures, achieved great success. But to be Swedish is uniquely a matter of luck. An average Swede, who never got involved in politics or had any prominent role in the achievements of the country has no reason whatsoever to be proud of oneself simply for having been born with this nationality.

Maybe “black pride” can also be interpreted similarly. As “I am proud of the black people” instead of “I am proud of being black”. As such it could be a slogan of recognition of the merit people in this group deserve. The same goes for “gay pride” or “female pride” (if anybody uses this one at all). From this perspective, even white straight men who sympathize with the slogans can be a part of the movement, for after all, there are certainly many women, black and gay people who give us reason for pride.

Conclusion

Whether the word “pride” is good or bad, it’s fundamentally important that we are aware of the context. Blacks, women and gays have suffered countless episodes of violence in history that degraded their image and to this day they suffer the consequences and have a lower status in society. The expression of pride is clearly a way to boost a feeling of dignity and self-respect that has been denied from them through centuries of humiliation and oppression.

Expressions of male, white, heterosexual pride, on the other hand, transmit nothing but a negative attitude of legitimation and securing of their superior position in the social hierarchy. Black, gay women want their image to be as positive as that of straight, white men. What about the straight, white men? What is it that they want?

– Translated from Portuguese on Sep 2, 2014

One Reply to “Proud of being a straight, white man”

  1. correction

    all these happened in white WESTERN EUROPEAN countries and societies

    none… NONE… of it in EASTERN WHITE COUNTRIES

    blacks enslaved by whites? in West… sure

    in East… try again…

    each time the ottoman empire occupied a territory, it imposed “Devşirme”. a blood tribute… you did not knew it… search it…

    each village had to send young boys to the empire as slaves… as young as 8… most of them converted to islam later and used in wars as “cannon-fodder” first line soldiers… others as servants or castrated and used as guards

    but wait.. there is more…
    each local leader has to give one of his sons as tribute and a guaranty and if he ever revolts… his son will be beheaded….

    the system was so wide spread that equals the total numbers of africans enslaved by westerners… 1.6 milions…

    women in eastern europe?
    100% equal… law, jobs, education, freedoms… you name it
    not now…. for ever…

    our religion, one of the most tolerant religion in the world, second to budhism… women the same rights to men under the sky … in marriage and life… traditionally BOTH woman and men worked together… and now that is the norm in the entire country

    never… NEVER… in our country, and in eastern europe… women were 2nd class…

    right to vote? yes… first time for boyars… AND THEIR WIFES.. then for all.. women and men together….

    right to own land? sure… never separated by gender, only by class
    and so on…

    Gays..
    what gays mate?
    we got voivods (lords, chieftains) that were openly having relations with young boys… no one ever say nothing

    it is considered EXTREMELY RUDE to speak about your sex life in public… and to make a fuss about it is taboo

    if you are gay… good… no one cares
    freedoms like any others, no persecution, no problems, just do have sex in public…just like any other

    our “gays”… under 0.00001%… in the most optimistically figures..
    last “gay march”… 150 people, 140 foreigners… 6 lesbians…

    transsexuals? yes.. about 12… ever
    no one touches a gay, trans or a woman in a violent way without having huge problems with the law and with others…

    so again..
    make a CLEAR distinction between WESTERN WHITE EUROPE and EASTERN WHITE EUROPE

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