“Playing the victim card will put you in the White House, and having white skin and a penis will put you in prison.” He glared at the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee plastered on the front page of the StarNews as we both waited for coffee.
People say what’s on their mind before the first drop of Joe hits—often a one-off that has a 100,000 watts of power behind it.
The man wore a black T-shirt with “Problem Solved” emblazoned below an image of one male stick figure with an outstretched left arm and a nagging female stick figure falling from the punch. Maybe he thought that was a riot, too.
I didn’t laugh.
Neither the vitriol of his remark or his T-shirt surprised me. The man’s age did. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. He wasn’t from my dad’s generation—not that my father would have been as callous or gotten morning coffee at a shop. Dad lived in the pre-Starbuck’s era, when men were men, and made their morning coffee by dropping a teaspoon of Maxwell House instant in a cup.
My father raised us in the social tumult of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He had every reason to live angry at a lot things, including the fact like the generals fighting the last war, most of the maps he was given to teach his children how to navigate their future were flawed or out of date before they were printed. He did get angry. He didn’t live angry. He was rarely the brightest guy in the room, and often not the soberest, but always among the kindest and least judgmental.
I struggled to apply Dad’s wisdom when the angry white guy sat down and opened his notebook. He couldn’t see the violent sexist message on his shirt from inside its skin, and was blind to its potential impact on others. He was a bit like any white male in America blind to the fact that women, descendants of African-American slaves, and people with the LGBT community are not “playing the victim card” when they achieve success. They are swimming against a tide of privilege. Or that the woman raped by the Stanford swimmer isn’t playing the victim card—she is a victim. (Despite his flaws, if any of his sons raped an unconscious woman, I can’t envision my father writing a letter of leniency to the court.)
During one interview to discuss his 2012 book, “Angry White Men,” Stony Brook sociologist Michael Kimmel said, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” The accident of being born a white male in a Western society that white men have been running—at least since Caesar said, “I came. I saw. I conquered”—blinds most of us to this unearned privilege. Our status is just the way the world should work. When the way the world should work breaks down, it pisses off a lot of people.
Dr. Kimmel studies gender identity, specifically the roles we adopt as men. He coined the term “aggrieved entitlement” to label the angry white male experience in America when the world breaks down against how they think it should work. These guys don’t just get angry; they live angry. They grieve the loss of their former positions of privilege, live mad as hell, and feel entitled to take back their power from whatever enemy they identify as having robbed it.
The combination of loss, hurt, and rage, is the chronic and dangerous version of the temporary combination of hurt and anger Yankees fans experience when the Yanks lose the World Series. “Yanks Win the World Series!” That’s the way the world should work, right?
One of our presumptive nominees is adept at turning “aggrieved entitlement” into votes. If that notion seems absurdly left-wing, stream Bill O’Reilly’s April 4, 2016 commentary: “All the polls say the same thing: Donald Trump’s rise is being fueled largely by white men, who are both angry and furiously angry with both political parties.”
As the election season progresses and some people become enraged at the prospect of the first woman president following the first African-American president, I might consider Dad’s Maxwell House for my morning Joe. For today, I thought of my dad, smiled at the barista, Sarah, and said, “Coffee, black, no room for aggrieved entitlement.”