Once sitting in a cafe on lunch break from my former job as a social worker for homeless people a man told me this:
“The only good white men are the ones who know they should be shot in the face because all they are capable of is harm.”
I kept sipping my coffee, watching the veins in his neck bulge like thick cable. His non-binary queer white friend shot me a disgusted look and handed me back the zine I’d given them both. Then, to her shaking friend she offered soothing words, stroking the masculinity he pretended he hadn’t just wielded, calming him with the emotional labor skills drilled into her assigned-female body by the same cis-het white patriarchy they both claimed to fight.
I watched them leave together three years ago. I watch them leave together now in my head, wondering whatever happened to that man.
We’d been discussing revolution. They were both dour youths, certain in their short lives they knew the divinely-encoded fate of humanity, the impossibility of change, and the self-evident truths about the nature of peoples and their behaviors. Patriarchy was hard-coded into the cocks of men, domination genetically-woven into the bones and breath of whites, and all that was left was for a few elect to hide in forests while the rest of the world collapsed.
“Why so dire?” I’d asked, suggesting organizing enough folks together might prove to be a better idea.
It was then I was told the only path to being a ‘good white man.’
There was so much I’d wanted to ask him about. Still is. But I’ll most likely never get that chance, and am left with only speculation and curiosity. Though it isn’t of course the only time I’ve ever heard words like that. You have too, I’m sure. People born with light-skinned penises are privileged murdering/raping machines, guilty by birth of the most horrific of crimes and inescapably predestined to enact them at every turn. By degrees such a person might mollify some of those sins, but never quite expiate them. A lifetime of dismantling privilege or a full switch of gender might possibly suffice to grant passage through the pearly gates of social justice, but even those acts are hardly guarantees.
Like the Methodism of John Wesley so popular with industrialists in England, the path to perfection in such reckonings is prescriptively Sisiphysian. The boulder will never rest at the top, it will always topple back down, and the point is anyway to always be treading the mill, accepting such a fate just as the worker needed accept their treading to the mills each morning. Back home at night, sleep, awake and do more penance before an ever–wrathful god who doles out just enough scratch to keep you needing to return.
How it came to be as such confounds. Could those who first iterated a politics of liberation through the framework of woman-ness and Black-ness have predicted they’d merely repeated Calvinism? That in their glorious rebellions they’d merely replicated the slave-morality taught to them by their ancestor’s masters? We cannot know, and the more useful questions arise elsewhere, amongst which the most urgent–and the one finally I hear people asking again–is this:
“who does this really serve?”
I think that is why I am thinking about that man again, so certain the shape of my genitals and the tone of my skin made me a racist and rapist. We’d not been talking about my cock at all, or about race, but about the possibility of revolution. His (and his friend’s) certainty that there existed an entire genre of humanity reduced only to base barbaric instincts (an unmistakable repetition of the very same things said about Black men) assured them that any relational politics, any organization against the powerful, was impossible. There would be no revolution because of white penises, and so it’s best if we all hide in the woods to escape from them.
This same trope repeats in every other iteration of individualistic identitarianism. There will be no revolution because white women, or cis people, or abled-people, or heterosexuals, or binary people. They are all in the way, stopping an ever-dwindling ‘us’ from achieving our liberation against systems and hierarchies and structures that cannot be seen and thus cannot actually be fought.
Unlike these occulted enemies, however, the people destroying the environment have names and addresses. So, too, the owners of factories and oil companies, the politicians and police who defend them, the heads of media empires that pump out endless falsehoods between advertisements, the heads of banks and arms manufacturers, generals and presidents and mayors. They are not just systems and structures: they are flesh and blood, and they are actually killing people. Many of them have penises, and many of those penises (I assume probably) are white-skinned. Like Nazis looking for Jewishness by checking the foreskins of prisoners, the identitarians of both fascist and social justice strands divine from pale skin and penises the indelible mark of the power to dominate.
So, as the once-strong movements of social justice dwindle into ever more isolated cadres of intersectional elect, their fascist shadow looms ever larger, equally obsessed with the white phallus. Yet fixation on genitalia and skin-tone are not their only shared trait, for they both cling deeply to what their masters taught their ancestors. Do not work with those not like you. Blame your suffering on symbols and skin. Purify yourself to be made holy and worthy in the eyes of your lords, who wield over you the power of life and death as they collect your rent and dole out your wages.
As that fascist shadow looms larger, claiming more and more people told by social justice activists that their skin color and cocks make them innately, irrevocably evil, I doubt there will be many places for that man and his friend to run.
Perhaps they will still find some utopia in the woods, far from society and its horrors.
But I fear for them that such peace will be as elusive as finding “good white men” who will shoot themselves in the face for being born with pale skin and a penis.
4 thoughts on ““Good White Men””
That’s my favorite thing you’ve written in a very long while. Obviously. Because I have a pale penis. But also because its wonderful.
Thanks. Miss you, mate.
I who identifies as a Black woman i understand what your saying you see the fixation and othering of white men daily as a repeat of the tactics slave masters used. that some how blaming random white men is not useful. This article right on many things i as a black woman notice so many black men who only want to only rename the the toxic and dominate system from White to Black patriarchy.However i think there needs to be accountability and responsibility taken for injustice which are real. there are so many White folks walking through this world mad and confused at the vocalization of black people and POC thinking that it is a personal attack in THEM. So many white people walk this world not having to acquire different lenses and tools to filter and dissect this world the way Black people do . Its easy to get defensive it hard to take your L and be held accountable for a mess even if you never commited any of the wrongdoing with your own hands. when you actively help do the work of cleaning up the damage healing begins.Trying to weasel your way out wont help anything and that can do more damage then harm.. When you as a pale penis holder intervene or break patterns of abuse it shakes the world much faster then any protest.