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White Supremacy + Male Chauvinism = Conservative White Males

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) June 11, 2013: On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy went on prime-time evening television to deliver a hastily arranged speech about the black civil rights movement. In his speech Kennedy for the first time characterized the black civil rights movement as a "moral issue."

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "Kennedy's Finest Moment," Peniel E. Joseph, an African American history professor at Tufts University, commemorates and celebrates Kennedy's speech.

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That morning, President Kennedy had used the forces at his disposal to stand down Governor George Wallace in his effort to block the integration of the University of Alabama. No doubt Kennedy mustered sufficient moral courage to stand down Wallace and then go on television to endorse the black civil rights movement as a moral issue.

However, to this day, the conservative movement engages in strident anti-1960s rhetoric that seems to enshrine the 1950s as the good old days -- before the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s helped advance desegregation.

In addition, the strident anti-1960s rhetoric of the conservative movement is aimed at attacking the women's movement that emerged in the late 1960s.

In another op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "Sexism's Puzzling Stamina," columnist Frank Bruni discusses the issue of gender in American culture today.

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Now, in the 1950s, white supremacy and male chauvinism were two strong struts, as it were, in forming the identity of white American males. For this reason, the strident anti-1960s rhetoric of the conservative movement should alert us to the underlying masculine identity crisis of American males.

In Walter J. Ong's short and accessible book FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, Ong argues that males need to work out a specifically masculine sense of identity.

Yes, to be sure, this means that males must separate themselves from the overwhelming influence of the feminine in their consciousness represented by their mothers. But this is the most obvious part of the male need to establish a specifically masculine sense of identity. However, when the male-child does not succeed in separating from the feminine in his consciousness, by working out a specifically masculine sense of identity, he may tend to feel threatened by strong women in his life. In short, male chauvinists tend not to have worked out a sufficiently strong sense of masculine identity.

Next, we need to understand that both male chauvinism and white supremacy are part of our American cultural heritage -- and therefore part of our American cultural conditioning. As a result, white American males over the years have indeed worked out their sense of specifically masculine identity within the larger cultural matrix of American culture. As Bruni points out, popular American culture today is awash in out-dated male chauvinism.

So if white American males today are undergoing an identity crisis, as I have suggested, where can they turn for examples of how other men have struggled to work out as specifically masculine sense of identity?

They could consider the well-known example of the historical Jesus. At a time when the Roman empire ruled the ancient Jewish homeland, he went about working out his specifically masculine sense of identity by preaching and teaching his fellow Jews. However, as is well known, he was executed under the authority of the Roman empire when he was only in his thirties. Of course, as is well known, in the 1960s, President Kennedy, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy also died at comparatively young ages.

Or white American males today could consider the example of Socrates in ancient Athens. He managed to live considerably longer than JFK or MLK or RFK. However, as is well known, his fellow male Athenians voted, on trumped up charges, to have him executed by drinking hemlock.

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But what about the resources of imaginative literature? I'd be willing to consider looking at any male character who struggled to work out a specifically masculine sense of identity that transcended both male chauvinism and white supremacy.

For an example of a male character who did NOT struggle to work out a specifically masculine sense of identity that transcends both male chauvinism and white supremacy, we have Thomas Sutpen in William Faulkner's novel ABSALOM, ABSALOM! Indeed, Thomas Sutpen is a symbol of the problems that white American males today must face.

When we turn our attention to models of human maturity advanced by non-fiction writers, we could consider the vision of masculine maturity outlined by the Jungian theorist Robert Moore of Chicago Theological Seminary, most notably in the revised and expanded edition of the book he co-authored with Douglas Gillette titled THE KING WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KING [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (Exploration Press, 2007).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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