“Boyz II Men! Serious throwback!” I said while waiting in line at Cape Fear Community College’s bustling North Campus coffee shop. Being from Philly, I have a soft spot in my heart for their smooth vocal harmonies. Their music alone wouldn’t have gotten them to the top of the charts. To generate lasting crossover appeal, they had to be cooler than The King.
The student with a dangling earpiece turned around, gave me a once-over and said nothing. What does a 20-year-old black man have to say to a middle-aged white guy? Especially one who interrupted, “It’s so hard / to say goodbye / to yesterday…”
Just as intriguing: What did I have to say to him?
As the young man replaced his earpiece, I wondered if he was part of the #HimToo movement? Was he wearing a body camera to document his interactions with women and prevent himself from being falsely accused of a crime?
I’m all for due process. I can envision how overzealotry in the #MeToo movement could lead to harm. But there’s little evidence we’re near the point where we need to protect the rights of powerful white men even more than we do now.
I looked again and didn’t see a body camera. Too bad for him. He’s black. He’s far more likely to be falsely accused, falsely convicted and falsely imprisoned than any white guy. He’s likely to get poor representation and few second chances. If convicted, he would be virtually unemployable. If he carries a felony, he’ll lose the right to vote. But he might not have to face false accusations. Because of our implicit biases and cultural conditioning, he’s also more likely to be shot than a white suspect. That’s a whole lot of “ruin.”
By contrast, there’s slim chance a false accusation would actually “ruin the life” of a prep school, Ivy League-educated white guy like Brett Kavanaugh. Because Dr. Ford disclosed events alleged to have occurred well outside the statute of limitations, the worst that could have happened to Kavanaugh was suffering survivable embarrassment of Senate rejection, getting a lucrative book deal, and a slew of second chances to rebuild his reputation and add to his retirement funds.
As it stands now, by Christmas few Americans will remember the controversy or even his name. He’ll join Clarence Thomas and become another near-anonymous judge sitting on the bench, despite credible claims of sexual assault. In each case, most senators agreed something unseemly happened. In each case, they voted by the slimmest of margins that whatever it was simply wasn’t bad enough to prevent the nominee from getting the job.
“Boys will be boys,” right?
We seem to be OK with that.
We also seem to be OK with displays of aggrieved rage of persons in power. As long as they are white and male. How far would candidate Obama have gotten in 2008, if he defended himself against false allegations that he was born in Kenya by whining like a petulant child and having an emotional breakdown in front of America? Our current POTUS can’t contain his emotions for a 24-hour news cycle. Our newly confirmed SCOTUS member can melt down under questioning, but the black guy? He had to be cooler than Elvis just to stay on the ballot.
When women in positions of power express anger, they are seen so much differently than men.
According to Jessica Salerno’s study in September 2018’s “Law and Human Behavior,” when male attorneys express anger, they’re seen as powerful. When women attorneys do the same, they’re seen as “shrill, hysterical, grating, and ineffective.”
Right here and right now, it seems men, white men in particular, are trying to say hello to yesterday. We aren’t penalized for acting like little boys. That’s part of “white privilege.” What will it take for these guys to go from boys to men?
There’s a lot we can all do, a lot of men can do—and starting with Googling what “no” means. Listening to a little less country and a little more Motown might help. I’d start with Aretha’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’ Maybe stop there until the beat starts to sink in.
As the young black student grabbed his chai tea, I finally thought of what to say to him, “Vote!”