The Duke Rape Case & the Angry White Guys

I haven’t done much writing around about the Duke Lacrosse team rape case, mainly because others have done such a great job of it. Rachel, in fact, has been doing a yeoman’s task on covering it and pushing the discussion in the blogosphere. It seems she’s paid a price for it too, as she says her blog comments have been pretty much overrun by angry white men responding to her blogging related to the case.

The Duke rape case, has brought the angry White men out in full force. I don’t think all of the people casting don’t on the accusations are of this ilk, but many are. … I have to be honest I have seen more angry White men come out of the closet over this case than I have seen in years. The vitriolic attacks on women, especially Black women, are disturbing, and the general notion that Black men are scary monsters out to attack White women or that Black women are gold diggers and liars. There have been numerous claims by posters on this blog that Blacks attack Whites, but Whites do not assault Blacks. They also say that interracial crime is more common that intraracial crime. Something not at all substantiated by the data.

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve heard reference to the "angry white men" demographic. They’re supposedly the group that helped bring guys like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and George W. Bush to power. And they’ve been pretty successful, if you ask me, with the White House and both Houses of Congress sewn up for the last few years, and the Supreme Court starting to shape up too. So, I don’t get it. What are they so angry about still?

It’s a general question. I know that, as Tiffany points out over on, that a lot of men probably identify with the accused and are thus inclined to be more skeptical of the alleged victim in this case. But that’s more specific than I actually want to get here. I want to keep the question more general. What are the proverbial "angry white guys" so angry about? As I’ve pointed out before, it’s hard to ignore the various "isms" that come to a point in this case — racism, sexism, classism, etc. — and that draw a clear line between the alleged attackers and victim. I one "ism" out last time, but news that one of the suspects in the Duke case was convicted in a gay bashing here in D.C. last year opens the door to adding heterosexism to the list at play here. As Join points out over at Gay Spirituality & Culture, it’s necessary (it always has been, really) to add heterosexism to the mix here.

The case just underlines what many of us already understand: sexism and homophobia are intimately linked. Degrading attitudes and actions towards women are very likely to come from men who also hate queers.

The connection between sexism and heterosexism is something I learned about during the feminist theory classes of my college days, and I think my understanding of it has deepened since them. Here’s one definition of the term.

Around the same time, heterosexism began to be used as a term analogous to sexism and racism, describing an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community (Herek, 1990). Using the term heterosexism highlights the parallels between antigay sentiment and other forms of prejudice, such as racism, antisemitism, and sexism. Like institutional racism and sexism, heterosexism pervades societal customs and institutions. It operates through a dual process of invisibility and attack. Homosexuality usually remains culturally invisible; when people who engage in homosexual behavior or who are identified as homosexual become visible, they are subject to attack by society. [emphasis added]

But I tend to fall back on a definition I read a while ago, that breaks heterosexism down into a two-word term that I think spells it in a clear, non-theory-laden way that’s more accessible: heterosexual supremacy.

Heterosexism is a sick belief (or belief structure) that I will sometimes call "heterosexual supremacy. " In its essence, it is a belief in the superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality, and it typically includes as its inevitable correlates moralistic denunciations of homosexual sex as "intrinsically disordered," etc. [emphasis added]

It breaks down further than that when it comes to action. Michael Kimmel takes the connection between heterosexism and sexism a bit further in his essay "Masculinity as Homophobia," which I quoted earlier.

…we’ve constructed the rules of manhood so that only the tiniest fraction of men come to believe that they are the biggest wheels, the sturdiest of oaks, the most virulent repudiators of femininity, the most daring and aggressive. We’ve managed to disempower the overwhelming majority of American men by other means — such as discrimination on the basis of race, class, ethnicity, age, or sexual preference. [emphasis added]

Just as racism is a belief in the superiority of one race (usually white, in the western world) over another, and sexism is the belief in the superiority of men over women, heterosexism is not just the belief in the superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuals, but also the belief in the superiority of heterosexual persons over homosexual persons. In other words, breaking it all the way down from the realm of theory to flesh, blood, and bone.

With that cleared up, I’m still left with the question: why are the "angry white guys" so angry? Particularly when the political realities of the moment show that they’re still holding the reins in some pretty important ways? It could be that when so many cards are drawn in the case on the basis of race and gender, the combination trumps the one card that separates the majority of these guys from the Duke Lacrosse team: class.

Unless I’m wrong, lacrosse is still essentially a sport for the wealthy, but the clearer labels of race and gender (and the less-obvious connection with heterosexism) tend to blur that issue enough that it doesn’t impede "angry white guys" from identifying with the accused members of the lacrosse team, or with the anger and hostility which would seem intrinsic in the alleged attack, and which would thus qualify the accused lacrosse players for membership in the "angry white guy" fraternity, despite the likelihood that relative wealth should give them even less to be angry about. So, again, why are these guys so angry?

I’m a guy and I get angry on occasion, but I’d qualify for "angry black man" status, not "angry white guy." So, I can only guess at the reasons for their anger. If I did, I might consider that the economic pressures facing some of these guys fuels the anger vented upon targets of appropriate race, gender and/or sexual orientation, rather than appropriate targets based on class, because of an ingrained belief in our "classless society" combined with the equally unfounded belief that "anybody" can rise to great wealth, both of which lend themselves to creating scapegoats when society turns out to be not-so-classless and when rising to or maintaining even middle class proves to be all or more than some can manage.

If I were being more flip about it, I’d probably say that it boils down to the reality that being a white, heterosexual male doesn’t come with all the perks it used to generations ago. It doesn’t carry the assumption of superiority over those who aren’t white, male, or heterosexual; at least not to the degree that it used to. I’d probably say that’s what at the foundation of the conservative longing to return to the days when (the great white) "father" knew best and everyone else knew their place: women in the kitchen, gays in the closet, blacks at the back of the bus, etc. If I wanted to get theoretical I’d probably even go back to the words of a character in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, when he explains the need to return to a time when everyone "knew they’re place."

But that would probably make some people angry.

So instead I’ll just ask the question again and wait for an answer. What are "angry white men" so angry about?

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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