Kwame Ture said:
“When you face an enemy, you must demystify the enemy. The enemy is a man just like you; the enemy is a woman just like you. … Demystify the enemy.”
It’s easy to blame white men– specifically, cisgender and/or heterosexual white men– for the problems in “America” today. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the white men who voted in the U.S. presidential election supported Donald Trump. Beyond statistics, it’s not difficult to recognize that much of the economic inequality and systemic violence found in “America” today exists on account of one segment of the population: cis/het white men. White men have become a frequent target for criticism or ridicule by progressives who are women, people of color, gay, transgender, and working class (or all the above).
But why are white men– cisgender/heterosexual white men– the problem with “America”?
Is there anything inherently wrong with the European/white male identity?
If we think the answer to this question is “yes,” we are actually disrespecting Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples and all so-called people of color. By claiming that the white male identity is problematic in itself, we are really saying that “race” is determined by inherent characteristics, and that “race” is something more than a political category. What this answer seems to indicate is that white men are powerful because they are “bad.” Therefore, Africans/Black people, and all people of color lack power because they are “good.” This becomes a patronizing and unscientific point of view. Sure, it may be good to be “good” (in a moral sense), but it’s not good to be weak; it’s never good to lack power. And if the main explanation for the unjust, unequal, oppressive and violent amount of power that cisgender, heterosexual, white men have is simply that they are “bad,” this means they will always have more power, as long as they exist, while people of color will always have less power. This viewpoint mystifies the enemy.
This mystification of the enemy may be one reason that the term “white supremacist” can be misleading. The only thing supreme or superior about white people is that we have more power. If we think this makes us inherently better, it’s probably because we’re insecure. But take away our unequal share of wealth and power, and we’re nothing. Because there isn’t anything magical or mystical about power. Societies are constantly changing, evolving, with one class seizing power from another class. The only question that is difficult to answer about power is how to seize it.
And the reason white men are the problem with “America” is that they have too much power. But this isn’t an accurate statement either. We have to go one step further:
What’s wrong with “America” is America.
America is the problem. The United States of America is what’s wrong with society.
And when we say the United States of America is the problem, we mean the racist, patriarchal and capitalist settler colony of Europe that sits on top of stolen Indigenous land, sucking the resources, labor and lives out of the majority of the world’s nations. What we mean is that America is an extension of capitalism, the system that has controlled the global economy since the 1400s. Capitalism is the enemy. And “America” is the monster that imperialist capitalism created– primarily for the benefit of white men.
But it’s a mistake for whites who aren’t cis/het white men to blame the white guys for all the oppression that humanity has been going through for the past six hundred years. White women want to blame the white guys– and if they are white feminists, they try to blame all men, regardless of “race.” White trans people want to blame the white cis guys too. White gays want to blame the straight whites, especially straight white guys. The cis/het white guy– especially if he has money– seems to be the favorite target of criticism by white progressives in these marginalized identities. Everybody likes to go after the straight, cisgender white guy.
The problem with this view of white men isn’t that they are getting picked on too much. This view– that white men are responsible for most of the systemic oppression in the world– is mistaken because it ignores the material reality of how power works. It’s true: capitalism was created by cis/het white men and for cis/het white men. But white guys wouldn’t be able to control the entire global economy just on their own. Because this would require some superhuman, magical power. There are still too few of them as an overall percentage of the world’s population. In fact, white men are a shrinking part of the American population.
This is where white women come in (cis or trans). The majority of white women also voted for Donald Trump. And there is nothing magical or mystical about why white women also supported Trump: it’s power. It has always been about power.
Socialism is a system where the producers of a society equally share power. There is no hierarchy under socialism, other than the dictatorship of the proletariat: that is, under socialism the capital class (which produces none of the resources in a society, but only benefits from the fruits of the working class’s labor) is powerless. Members of the capital class may feel oppressed about this new social, political and economic arrangement, but systemic oppression is not subjective. It’s not about feelings. In order to share in the power of the socialist system, the bourgeoisie must disappear as a class and join the proletariat. Once the bourgeoisie has disappeared, another qualitative change in society takes place, and then we have reached the point of communism: no classes, no property, no borders.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is a system that requires an unequal share of power within its hierarchy of classes. European men created capitalism for their own benefit, but they have always used class antagonisms within the tiered structure of capitalist society to consolidate and expand their power. Through systemic rewards and punishments (“the carrot and the stick”) individuals within each tier of the bourgeois social structure act out of self-interest (or self-preservation), further oppressing members of marginalized groups in order to get ahead.
Capitalism is built on this individualistic opportunism. But the individual has no power on their own: their power to oppress comes entirely from the ruling class. And as long as the ruling class is making greater and greater profits, all individuals in all classes below it are “free” to oppress marginalized identities– “free” in the ironic sense (irony having been banished from “America” some time around 1776). This is the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” embedded in the ideology of bourgeois (capitalist) democracy: the freedom to take advantage of the racist, patriarchal power structure for one’s personal gain.
This means white gays are empowered in much the same way as white straights to get ahead by aligning themselves with the homophobic power structure. There are some areas where white gays are marginalized within the capitalist hierarchy. But this vulnerability that white gays experience in relation to the inherent homophobia of capitalism doesn’t erase their whiteness. And the same is true for white women overall, including white trans women.
In one sense, all whites are white men. When it comes to the question of power, and how we use any of the power that we have in order to advance on an individual level, all Europeans are cis/het white men. Why? Because we all want what they have. Having what white men have means comfort and security for us too. And all whites are incentivized by the racist, patriarchal power structure of capitalism to act white.
Whiteness, as a political identity, is based on power– and, more specifically, on the unequal share of power that white men have created for themselves. So, when it comes to power, all white people– by acting white— are playing the part of white men: cisgender, heterosexual white men. There’s nothing else to whiteness but a grab for more and more power, and the wealth that goes along with this power.
The “American” identity is a nearly perfect disguise for all white people here to act white– to play the role of the cis/het white guy. Except we call it “patriotism” (this sounds less like “white supremacy” or “white nationalism”).
In fact, the “American” identity allows– or rather, empowers– many people of color to play the role of the white guy as well. However, we won’t criticize people of color in this analysis, and not just to “stay in our lane.” It’s an objective reality that Africans/Black people did not create this system. Indigenous peoples did not create this system. Certainly queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC) did not create capitalism. So the complicity is not the same for people of color in the systemic oppression perpetuated by “America” as it is for whites. Even as “America” has become more “inclusive” it has done so to consolidate and expand the power of the current system, not to restore land and resources to Indigenous peoples, Africans, and all other colonized communities. And any quantitative change in the condition of people of color that takes places under capitalism is based on a shift in systemic oppression to some other segment of their colonized community, or some other community altogether. This is why so many people in countries terrorized by European imperialist capitalism come to the United States and want to be “American” as well: power. Without its greater share of wealth and power, at the expense of the globe, the U.S. settler colony would be nothing. Whiteness would be nothing.
The problem with “America” is not cis/het white men. The problem with “America” is America. Capitalism is the enemy of the world (people and earth), and the United States would be nothing without the system of power that holds its illegitimate borders and unjust class hierarchy in place. Whiteness, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and toxic masculinity sit atop this hierarchy of capitalism, assuring through genocidal violence that this profitable and rigid structure remains unchanged. But any identity– and any individual– that throws in their lot with the racist, patriarchal power structure, is empowered to oppress. Capitalism harms the white woman– transgender or cisgender– at the point of transphobia and sexism, but, at the same time, capitalism arms her to oppress, and to further benefit from the exploitation of colonized communities, at every other point of her identity that is not a specific category for her marginalization.
There isn’t anything magical about being transgender, or woman, or gay, or even working class, that makes a white person’s whiteness suddenly go away. Whiteness is built into the system of capitalism, along with transphobia, sexism, homophobia and class oppression. And these forms of oppression are inseparable from “America” itself. To be “American” and to “act white” is to perpetuate at least one of these forms of colonial oppression.
The solution to the problem of cis/het white men is the same as the solution for everyone else (because that’s how socialism works): a total transformation of the system of power resulting in an equal share of power by all. Cisgender, heterosexual white men may have farther to step down from their colonial status, but a rejection of the “American” identity, accompanied by material support for the socialist revolutions led by colonized peoples, is the first important step– for white men, and for all whites who (up to this point) have been playing the part of the white man, enjoying many of the same benefits of capitalist oppression that are inherent to this system (and not to the European male identity).