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White, lonely guys. - Elf M. Sternberg
White, lonely guys.
Last night I attended a pro-am dance exhibition, part of a fundraiser for a homeless shelter in our state capitol, and as I watched the young men on stage, many of whom hoped someday to dance for a living, I saw a phenomenon that I don't think I'd ever actually seen in the wild before. The further one of the men was from white or male, the more he allowed his face to express emotion.

The sample group was small, less than a dozen, with seven of them white. The white guys were positively stone-faced, only allowing themselves the briefest hints of triumph at the end of their performances.

The five darker-skinned guys were alive with emotion. Even in their complicated routines, they remembered that they were there to show the audience something. They smiled, they laughed, they were positively joyful in the face of a very friendly crowd.

This morning, I read an article in the Boston Globe about how the real threat of middle aged men isn't drinking or obesity, it's loneliness. One of my friends pointed out that the article highlights the line, "... until your wife gets all the friends in the divorce" and said, "That's because they let their wife do all the emotional labor of maintaining friendships. Without a wife, they don't know how to do it."

But what struck me about the article, and this may be an artifact of last night, is how white the article is. The illustrations are about white guys; the activities described are the stereotypes of white guy bonding activities (baseball, not basketball), the lifestyle described is the whitest one you could possibly imagine.

The training to be reserved, to repress any hint of emotion, comes early for white guys. Maybe they're terrified, in this era where we've fought to acknowledge the legitimacy of homosexual relationships, that any such expression might lead to, you know, that. We've somehow created a culture where being reserved and unemotional is privileged. They get to treat the fact that they're at the top of the food chain, the ones who don't have to express themselves loudly or forcefully or emotionally to get what they want. I'm reminded of the critique that there is no such thing as "white culture"; it's simply a marker for a position of power and privilege, and exists for no reason other than to preserve and defend it.

The young white men I saw last night aren't being taught how to express themselves, how to communicate their pleasure to an audience, perhaps even how to communicate their pleasure to themselves. They seemed to be onstage mostly to express their mastery of the subject. It's rather too sad that they didn't succeed.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful

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