I have been reading a book titled “The Death of White Sociology” that focuses on the birth of the black sociological viewpoint and also the death of what they term “white sociology.” It describes a shift in worldview from the traditional Euro perspective to the black sociological point of view written about blacks by blacks. It is a fascinating read. Parts of the book examine the ways that our culture, media, and academia in the United States fostered the potent messages that blacks were inferior to whites. It observes the period after slavery and maps out the different ways that the “common sense” lies of black’s inferiority were spread and maintained.
As I read through the book I became shocked to find that the very same tactics used to keep blacks “in their place” looked strikingly similar to the ones being used against men in today’s world. This is not meant to say that men are facing the same rampage of racism that blacks faced and continue to face to some degree. It is however, very apparent that the mechanisms that maintained and spread the lies of blacks inferiority to whites are strikingly similar to those being directed towards men in today’s world.
The book describes three basic arenas where the ideas of black inferiority were spread. The first was “common knowledge” which was basically the general public mouthing the accepted stereotypes of the day. Most of the public simply “knew” that blacks were inferior. it was accepted as fact. The second was the media who amplified the “common knowledge” by portraying blacks in a negative and stereotypical fashion. Third was academia who did studies that sought to prove the erroneous “common knowledge” of the day through biased and questionable research. The three together packed a powerful punch.
The Three General Paths: Common Knowledge, the Media and Science.
We all are familiar with the ways that ideas and stereotypes get spread at the water fountain at work or over the backyard fence. This sort of negative stereotyping of blacks was prevalent with almost everyone assuming that blacks were inferior to whites up until the 1960’s when things started changing. The stereotyping was global and was applied to not some blacks or to just criminal blacks but to all blacks. The same sort of stereotyping is now true today for men. Even paying casual attention at the beauty shop or shopping mall will show you that men are seen as the problem. Not some men, not criminal men but all men. The basic assumption is that there is something wrong with men. This is very similar to the early 20th century where all blacks were the recipient of extreme prejudice based on race. The similar assumption was that there was something wrong with blacks. As people today blame men as being, pigs, violent, selfish, greedy or other negative attributes the implied message is that men are indeed inferior to women. This same sort of prejudging could never happen now about blacks, women, Jews, gays or just about any other group. Men are the last group to be held up as a scapegoat by our culture and it is not hard to see, unless you are the one doing the judging.
We are also likely familiar with the media and their ways of perpetuating stereotypes and prejudiced ideas. Blacks were surely the recipient of these for many years. Think of Steppinfetchit and the way the media used him as an example of slow and dullard blacks, and as a befuddled and shiftless fool. Then came Amos n Andy with the same stereotype: blacks were slow and dull and not making very good decisions. Then after the 1960’s this started to shift until we ended up with the Bill Cosby Show, Will Smith and others who were being portrayed in a much different and highly positive light. Contrast that with the path of men being shown in the 1950’s and early 1960’s TV shows such as Father Knows Best, Roy Rogers, Bonanza or Andy Griffith. Now we don’t see those types of portrayals of men, what we see is more like Amos n Andy with men being routinely shown to be dull, insensitive, slow, and needing women to make decisions. It is clearly no longer the blacks facing stereotypes. Now it is men, especially white men, who are getting a similar sort of stereotyping and no one seems to notice or to care.
The most unlikely sources of proliferating stereotypes is our scientific community but sadly this book points out the various ways that our academics went out to prove that blacks were indeed inferior and in need of whites in order to be civil and successful. The book describes the white sociology and social science research that was designed with the intent of proving that blacks were inferior and needed whites. In today’s world we see something very similar in the research of social scientists that seems to try and prove that men are at the root of our problems and are consequently inferior to women. We will go into that in more detail later.
For now let’s move on to examining the specific ways the book showed that blacks were proven to be inferior and how this is similar to what we see in men today.
The Specific Paths That Were Used
Probably the most potent and global of the memes that were spread to prove blacks inferiority was summed up by the book authors as:
“Blacks are defined as the perpetrators and creators of social pathology and not as its victims.”
By linking blacks as being perpetrators and creators of social pathology the culture was able to devalue blacks and paint them as inferior to whites. When blacks were shown to be victims of a hateful culture people turned a blind eye. The predominant meme was that blacks were the creators and perpetrators of social pathology and anything varying from that was ignored. Even in research when blacks were seen as victims it was all too often hidden from view by the researchers. This sort of devaluing took a huge toll on the collective esteem of blacks. When you live in a place that paints you as the problem and only sees you in that light it makes it pretty tough to feel proud and good about yourself. Many will remember that one of the first things that Black activists did in the 1960’s was popularize the phrase “Black is Beautiful.” It was this sort of phrase that helped to begin in shifting the long standing disdain held by the culture towards blacks. Far too many blacks had surely internalized these hateful messages. It is easy to see how this was damaging and how it took a great deal of effort to turn things around. Prior to the 1960’s I think often the activists had to deal with blacks whose spirits were simply too broken to even care to defend themselves. They had been too damaged by the weight of the years of judgements placed upon them by the culture. The 60’s started changing all of that pumping esteem back where it should be.
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the issues of men in today’s world will immediately see the connection here. At this point it is no longer blacks who are defined as the perpetrators and creators of social pathology, this has shifted and now it is men who are sitting in that seat. It is far too common to hear the cultural meme of “Men cause wars” or “Men are jerks” or “Men are violent” or “Men have ruined the economy if only women ruled the world.” Men are actively being blamed as the creators of social pathology both on a micro level and macro. Have a look at any newspaper and see if you notice any articles on men as victims of social pathology? It won’t take long to notice that men as a group are very rarely listed as victims, only the perpetrators while women are repeatedly seen as victims. What at one time was a mechanism to keep blacks in their place has now been shifted. This harness is firmly around the necks of the males in our culture. As with the blacks before, this is now taking a toll on the esteem of our men and boys. Since their sex is held as the root of our cultural problems they grow up thinking that they are inferior to women, that their sex is the cause of our difficulties, that growing up to be a man is something about which he should ashamed.
This sort of shaming was very rare in the 1950’s when men were held in relatively high esteem especially if they were providing and protecting. Then from 1960 onward things started to change. By the late 1960’s blacks were beginning to shed the onerous cultural burden that we are describing. At the same time women were expanding their sex roles and getting good press as being model human beings. Areas where women and girls faced victimization became common topics in the public domain, the media, and our new laws which attempted to protect them. The culture began to see women in a most positive light. Sadly, even to the casual observer, our culture seems unable to hold both women and men in a positive light. As it saw women as good and worthy of support it started its equal and opposite descent into seeing men as a problem. This was likely intensified by the false blame heaped on men at the time for allegedly having been the oppressors who had intentionally held women back for centuries with the associated assumption that all men had to pay for this. Men cause wars. Men’s greed ruins the economy. Men were now getting the cultural shadow projections. It was about this time in the 1960’s when young men started killing themselves nearly SIX TIMES as often as similarly aged young girls. Could this dramatic shift be related to boys feeling the impact of the cultural negativity that was now being broadcast about their sex? (see chart below) But we are getting ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to the book.
The Bondage of Common Sense
The book points out that after slavery blacks were held in a different sort of bondage, one that was unwritten and basically invisible. This bondage resulted from what most people know as “common sense” or common knowledge. It is what most people believe automatically without thinking. It is the accepted “norm” that lives just below the surface. What was this accepted normal, this common knowledge? It was that blacks are inferior to whites. This was just a given. These thoughts and memes were obviously culture-wide. The scholars from this book have mapped out just how this “common sense” functioned and how it resulted in putting blacks into a continued bondage. This is an unsettling story of the power of mainstream thought as expressed by “most” people. It’s a story of the power of the media to reflect that thinking and perpetuate it through news and entertainment. And finally, it’s a story of the power of our academic institutions to then capture the essence of the erroneous assumptions and assume they are true and then go on to prove them through “science” thus adding mortar to the bricks and solidifying a solid wall. When people hear that science validates their “common sense” those beliefs become entrenched and act like immovable objects.
So what were these memes that carried the cultural message of blacks inferiority? Let’s go through a few of them as described in this book:
Blacks are better if they are around whites.
In the early and mid 20th century one of the tactics the researchers used in painting blacks as inferior was to do research on blacks, whites and mullatoes. The conclusions were almost always the same. The more white influence in your blood the better you were. If you were light skinned you were automatically seen as better. They took this a step farther and would write about blacks being more cultured when they had more time being around whites. It was as if, the good manners and attitude of whites mentally rubbed off simply by contact. When blacks did poorly it was often assumed that they simply didn’t have the good influence of white people. This meme disdained blacks and glorified whites as being the truly cultured ones.
It’s easy to see how this transposes in today’s culture. Now it is men who are deemed “better” if only they would act more like women. Men who are not around women are seen as suspect. Men who don’t emote like women are thought to be in need of learning to be more like women which is assumed to be the default. This meme now glorifies the female way as being the default and shames men for not living up to this. This meme now glorifies women and disdains men.
Research showing blacks were superior to whites was hidden from public view.
When the early researchers would do studies where data was obtained that showed blacks to be better than whites in some way the researchers would consistently hide the findings. It simply wouldn’t see the light of day. In this way whites continued to be seen as always superior.
In today’s climate we see something very similar. When studies show that men and boys are victimized in some way the data is hidden and not published. Other times when men do better than women it is seen not as a strength of men but as discrimination against women. The man’s strength is ignored while the woman’s disadvantage is seen as a call to action with people scrambling to institute change. When men are shown to be victims in research, such as the domestic violence studies, the data is hidden and not published. These sorts of things solidify the cultural attitudes of the superiority of women and men as inferior. Even our president voices this message when he said in a speech “Girls can do anything boys can do, and do it better, and do it in heels”. Girls/women are seen as superior. Boys and men are seen as lagging behind.
Aversion of whites toward blacks proves their inferiority
The book points out that the aversion of the whites towards blacks was used as proof that blacks were inferior in the 20th century. The assumption was “why else would whites look down on them?”
Women’s aversion and disdain of men is now used as proof that men are inferior. Just think of some of the catch phrases we have heard in our culture. All men are rapists. Man hating is honorable. Men are Pigs. Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them. It has gotten so bad that the media responds to a man having his penis cut off by his wife with laughter and jokes. Can you imagine any other group that might garner such a response without censure? I can’t.
The psychological research of the day in the early to mid 20th century was not geared to help blacks but to blame them and chronicle how they need to change.
Articles that were written and placed their focus on blacks tended to feature issues that showed blacks to be at fault for problems and stayed intent on how they needed to change. This of course ignored the needs of blacks.
We see the same pattern in today’s research on men. It is not geared to be of help to men it is geared to expose and blame them for social problems. Over the past fifty years we have seen a profound shift in researcher’s attitudes and assumptions towards men. In the mid 20th century researchers were analyzing male roles and naming them as “confident” “risk taking” “level-headed” “independent” “aggressive” and other descriptors that seemed fairly accurate and not excessively value based. But since then we have seen a remarkable shift so that in today’s world we have psychological research that is labeling male norms not as the reasonable above descriptions but as “violent”, seeking “power over women”, having “disdain for homosexuality” and being “playboys”. Have a look at the chart below to see the shift in norms. It is eye popping.) We have gone from describing men as strong, aggressive and risk takers to seeing male roles as pathological and the source of our problems. The similarly to what blacks faced is striking. What you don’t see, just as you didn’t see it for blacks, is any mention of where men are facing hardship or discrimination.
The same sort of bias can be seen in the American Psychological Association’s section on the study of men and masculinity. What you see is a group of psychologists who openly blame men for the world’s problems and support the sexist sorts of attitudes described in the previous paragraph. The focus is on what is wrong with men and what is omitted is the places men face hardship and discrimination. Even the programs supported by this division focus on helping men to change the violent ways of other men in order to make the world a safe place. While this is a noble goal it speaks volumes to the worldview of this division. There are no programs to help men who are facing hardship or discrimination. In fact those men are never mentioned and bringing up this sort of topic will bring on shaming and fuming.
Blacks are just animals – without the influence of whites it was assumed that blacks were simply animalistic/primitive and constantly focused on sex. The fear was of black men raping white women. Black men murdering and stealing etc. Now this is focused on men. They even call men by the name of an animal “Men are PIGS”. All men are rapists! Men are violent! Same message, different recipient. Men cause wars, men are insensitive etc. Picture an exasperated woman shaking her head and saying out loud, “men.”
Blacks are Violent and criminals – The source of crimes are blacks. They were perennially linked to crime and in so doing linked to being the problem themselves. People who are the problem are not deserving. In today’s world men are linked to crime and to violence. Not just the one or two percent of men who commit crimes (just as it was a minority of blacks who committed crimes) but all men are seen as the problem just as blacks face a similar harsh and undeserved judgement. It is a curious fact that women are more often the abusers of children but we have never heard anyone blame women as a group for that. It would seem absurd to do so yet it seems okay for most people to label and judge men as a group due to the actions of a tiny percentage.
Blacks are immoral – Without the white influence blacks were seen to be immoral. They were thought of as animalistic and always interested in sex with little restraints. Rape was a strong fear that was apparently encouraged by the memes of the day. Immoral people are looked down upon. They are the problem. Now it is men who are looked down on as being immoral and lacking in restraint without the civilizing impact of a woman in their lives.
The book pieces together the various lies about Blacks that were maintained over time that had the powerful impact of “proving” that blacks were inferior to whites. So inferior in fact that the general assumption was likely that they deserved their sub-human treatment. These scholars tell us that this is part of the purpose of these common sense lies. They relieve any guilt that the bearer may have felt about poor or inhumane treatment that was doled out. Here’s a quote from the book:
“The group in power is always likely to use every means at its disposal to create the impression that it deserves to be where it is. And it is not above suggesting that those who have been excluded have only themselves to blame.”
So the “common sense” that was the cultural meme was propagated as common knowledge but had the impact of not only condemning blacks as inferior it was also key in justifying poor treatment or poor conditions. Blacks were obviously the victim of this type of thinking with the idea that since they were were root of social pathology they really didn’t deserve to be served like others. The same can be seen with men today. The assumption is that since men are the problem they really don’t deserve to get any sort of special treatment. These are both ways to justify poor treatment by those in power.
I think we are safe to assume that these memes were being propagated unconsciously. I don’t think that most citizens were intentionally hateful and judging towards blacks, they simply were going along with the tide of thought that was prevalent at the time. It is obvious that these sorts of memes were very damaging to blacks. It doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of the hurtful impact of being seen as inferior. Over time I am sure it was building up and building up. A new consciousness needed to arise in order to leave the old programming.
As we have seen blacks begin to shed the old judgements and racist attitudes a curious thing is transpiring. Black women are doing much better than black men on almost every parameter. Could it be that black men are now more free from the racist attitudes but are now forced to carry the harsh judgements about being male? This seems to surely be a possibility.
Today I think men are suffering because of this sort of cultural meme. Like the early 20th century no one notices that they are carrying and expressing this misandry. Even the men are slow to realize it. This is eerily similar to the invisibility of the 20th century treatment of blacks. No one (or very few) knew at the time that they were acting like bigots. It took years of challenging and exposure of the hatred for people to realize they were carrying and propagating racism. I can only hope that we are able to more quickly help people see that they are carrying a similar hatefulness towards men.
And so it goes.
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.