Ruminations

What (Some) White Men Do To (Too Many) Black Men

The texts my roommate was reading, which are much more in line with mainstream social theory, argue women are the most oppressed group in our society, victims of the patriarchy. They also promote the "double jeopardy" hypothesis, which says that women who are also minorities are doubly disadvantaged. What I was arguing, as a direct result of Sidanius and Veniegas' influence, however, is that women are, by and large, protected by the patriarchy (though it does exist and is oppressive), and it is actually black men who suffer the most, at the hands of white men. 

The authors of the paper support their argument this way: women are not expendable, but men who are members of the "arbitrary set" (or artificially-defined "subordinates," like blacks in the U.S. or the pariahs of India) group are expendable. It is for this reason, the paper states, that warfare does not take place between men and women, but rather between men and men. In our contemporary society, where literal battlegrounds are few and far between, this ancient aggression plays out in smaller ways -- one need only look at the number of black men who are incarcerated to see this phenomenon in action. (Other examples explored in the Sidanius and Veniegas article include the percentage of black men who experience price gauging when purchasing a car from a white dealer, and prejudices black men experience in the job market.) 

Currently, there are events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri that seem to support the crux of this hypothesis. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was killed by a white police officer. (For more on this trend, Mother Jones asks: "Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?") The ensuing protests have absorbed the news cycle and resulted in public outcry over the treatment of blacks in America, respect of the rights of the press (several of whom have been arrested while reporting on said riots), and the militarization of America's police force

In addition to these issues, there is also a problem of racial disparity in Ferguson's police force. The town of Ferguson is two-thirds black, but, as CNN reports, only 3 of its 53 police officers are black. (In other words, ~75 percent of the population is black, but just 5 percent of the police force is.) And this pattern is not limited to Ferguson, but instead is seen in the composition police forces and SWAT teams across the country.

In context of Sidanius and Veniegas' paper, this issue clearly reflects two basic problems of male vs. male social structures. The first is that black men, the artificially subordinated group, are kept out of positions of power and prestige, from politics to, it seems, police forces. Secondly, it reflects the theory that white men who are in these privileged positions tend to exercise their power against the subordinated group. When white men make up the vast majority of police officers, and therefore carry the vast majority of pistols, tasers, and billy clubs, it is not only unsurprising, but almost expected, that such white male on black male violence should occur. 

When reading articles such as these, many people become irate. These matters are incredibly sensitive, and people feel often feel as though they are being attacked. But neither Sidanius, Veniegas, nor I am saying that white men have some uncontrollable penchant for violence. Nor am I vilifying the police. However, this phenomenon is real, supported by numbers, and it is a matter of life and death. To ignore the way in which whites are socialized to see themselves as the norm, and others as (potentially threatening) aberrations, and the violence that can be bred when men are socialized to be "strong," is to ignore the reality of the world in which we live, and to prevent solutions from being developed and deployed.

(And, to be fair to my roommate, we should also get around to addressing the treatment of women on this earth, too.)