Since everybody is a cartoon character except you, because you are unique and special, it comes as no surprise that the outrage shown by Brett Kavanaugh can be reduced to a bumper sticker for convenient use on Instagram.
Variations on the phrase white male rage were everywhere. Some meant only to suggest that Kavanaugh could get away with shouting and crying in a way that an African American or a woman never could. While anger would be a more accurate word than rage, I have no objections to folks who raised that hypothesis; indeed, I am convinced by the evidence for gender inequities in responses to male and female anger.
Like Conor Friedersdorf, it seems patently obvious that the anger wouldn’t have played well had Kavanaugh not been a white male, although Clarence Thomas managed to pull it off during his confirmation hearing with his “high tech lynching” speech. But on the whole, it’s true that the same show of emotion is perceived differently for different races and genders because we superimpose our prejudice over their display and attribute it to acceptable, or unacceptable, traits and motives.
But the fact of prejudiced perceptions doesn’t cover the extension of particular circumstances, a specific individual, to the overarching contention that
black men are more prone to crime white men are more prone to rage.
Many others, however, used white male rage to suggest a group characteristic, implying that white men manifest a kind of rage worth distinguishing from the familiar emotion known to humans of all races and genders. Had they carefully marshaled evidence for the proposition that white men are disproportionately “enraged,” rather than angry within normal parameters; that they are statistically more likely to manifest rage; or that their rage is different in kind from that of other groups, I’d have read their arguments with curiosity. But that isn’t what happened.
Much as journalists have worked hard over the past couple decades to eliminate their “benign” reference to race and racial stereotypes in reporting, it’s returned with a vengeance as reflected in the stream of articles about “white male rage.”
Coverage of the “white male rage” thesis is illustrative. To restate the context: The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing caused many observers to note striking parallels to the bygone battle when Clarence Thomas displayed rage at allegations of sexual misconduct. The nominees both won over partisans with righteous indignation. Yet the Kavanaugh hearings also prompted many in the press to probe a phenomenon they dubbed “white male rage” with utter carelessness, as examples will show.
Conor is a generous soul, characterizing this reporting as “utter carelessness.” He gives numerous examples of articles about “white male rage” to prove that it’s happening, culminating in a video about “white male rage” that completely isn’t.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll skip to the apotheosis of this ascendant trend in the mass media: an article published in a storied magazine that typically holds itself to much higher standards. “A Modest Video Artwork About White-Male Rage Filmed at Yale’s DKE Chapter” appears in The New Yorker. It features a video of fraternity boys screaming into a camera. But is the video really “about white-male rage”?
The 11-year-old video was about some fraternity guys asked to scream their hardest into the camera in exchange for a glass of beer, but presented to prove the existence of white male rage. Cool trick, right?
That is the degree of rigor one of the most esteemed magazines in the world found sufficient for bolstering a sweeping, generalized, disparaging stereotype about an identity group. Imagine the mocking disdain its editorial staff would have for a pitch that suggested a methodology as thin for illustrating a phenomenon they were even mildly inclined to doubt—or their horror if a conservative magazine marshaled a similar video as if it showed the truth of another group stereotype.
This isn’t “utter carelessness,” but deliberate effort to create a stereotypical characteristic to be used as a tool to undermine any reaction by white males to attacks against them. It’s the same false shorthand that its users complain are wrongfully used, except flipped on its head for use against white guys.
This is anything but carelessness; it’s quite calculated unless one believes idiocy has inflicted the mass of main stream reporting such that they are completely unaware of their carefully constructed lie. Much as one might want to avoid ascribing bad faith to anyone, it’s really hard to believe they’re all that moronic.
What’s more, their current approach undermines long-standing, hard-won norms against casually attributing to an entire race or gender behavior pegged to an individual or displayed by some percentage of its members.
A renewal of journalistic values is overdue. When we treat the “white male rage” thesis and other faddish, ideologically driven frameworks with such little regard for accuracy, precision, context, and relevance, we risk losing credibility and influence with readers who still value professional rigor.
Risk? That horse has left the barn. Constructing negative stereotypes when they serve the cause is either wrong or not, but it can’t be wrong for some but fine for others. And that it’s happening isn’t, as Conor suggests, a product of journalistic carelessness, but of journalistic advocacy. This might infuriate you, but then you would just be ridiculed as another example of white male rage, and nobody wants to be the cartoon character. See how that works?