White Toxic Masculinity: Written For White Males by White Males

This blog post was a collaboration between Justin Schleider and Doug Timm. We are good friends as well as accountability partner. We both believe in and are actively working towards Collective Liberation

Together we, Doug and Justin, (his name goes first because of alphabetical order not because he did more work or is more important although we let him think that) feel a drive and commitment to offer our voices and ideas to issues we feel are important.  Based on the growing evidence from the insurrection and reporting with primary source video from the insurrectionists themselves, we felt a need to put pen to paper.  Our attempt here is to not defend, but rather examine how white males, a group we belong to, are driven by rage, falsehoods, and toxic masculinity.  

These are our thoughts and experiences. We wrote this as white, cis-gender, heterosexual males for white, cis-gender, heterosexual males. We fully understand this is only our truth and we still have areas of unawareness that need to be addressed. 

Doug- I can only speak for myself, but having had a lifetime of interactions with other white males, and being a white male, I have seen the best and worst of white males.  My voice in this is to hopefully give some insight into thought process, history, and then give suggestions or ideas on how to become better.  I have been lucky enough recently to be a part of some conversations, webinars, readings, and videos shared that have allowed me to be in a place where I am ready to put some of these ideas down on paper and share with the world.  All my thoughts are subject to and should change as I learn more.  But this is where I am now.  

Justin- A quick background. I am an openly white male (if you didn’t laugh at that you probably want to stop reading now) who grew up in a segregated white middle class neighborhood raised by two teachers. Even though my Jewish upbringing othered me at certain times I was fully able to assimilate into whiteness.  My elementary school was 90 something percent white. My middle and high school years were much more diverse although white was still the majority. Growing up I participated in many activities including Boy Scouts, 4-H, summer camps, and played multiple varsity sports in high school. I speak for all Jewish white males with my thoughts. (I implore you again, if you didn’t at least chortle at that please stop reading now.)

Let’s Go!

We are going to define white toxic masculinity as the negative thoughts and behaviors of those who have the ability to pass as white by society’s definition as well as identify as a male. We are going to focus on those two groups of identification and their intersection, because in our eyes this is the group that over the past four years has done more harm to America than any other group.  

Let’s start off by understanding that there are branches of white toxic masculinity and that we are only examining how it showed up in our lives.  

Justin- In my opinion the more majority and power groups a white person belongs to, the higher the rate of othering they can potentially tap in to. “By “othering”, we mean any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”.” (link)

In other words a white, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian male would be able to ‘other’ most groups of people. Through no choice or fault of their own they are able to tap into the most amount of toxicity. This does not in any way shape or form insinuate that all people in that category engage in toxic masculinity. What it does show is that through their membership they are exposed to, as well as able to ascribe to, the worst forms of toxic masculinity. This shows up in hate groups as patriarchy, anti-feminism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and racism. In my life I never notice one cruel joke or disparaging remark about being a white, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian male. Instead the jokes that either dehumanized at the worst, or ‘othered’ at the best, those outside of that specific group. 

Justin- People become toxic when we feel that we are superior to the other groups. It puts one group above another by chopping them at their knees in order to stand taller. This allows the power-over mentality to become the norm instead of the power-with. The masculinity aspect of white toxic masculinity shows up when males elevate themselves above women. We may learn this from our parents reinforcing the attitude by reinforcing gender roles, schools separating by boys and girls, the physical changes between the multiple sexes, movies, or any other reason. I noticed this belief coinciding with the sexual maturation of myself and my male peers. We were able to bond over the objectification of women. The objectification of women is what I have noticed as the biggest trait of toxic masculinity (which obviously differs from white toxic masculinity). It allows men regardless of race to have something in common and bond. 

Justin- This is also where the fear of being rejected takes ahold. I feel that if we are able to talk down about a woman it is a safety mechanism against rejection. 

Justin- Toxic masculinity finds various ways to speak down and about women. This is why you saw such a reaction against Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Kamala Harris. Men will hate on women regardless of party. Patriarchy is fully embraced and celebrated in all forms of toxic masculinity; it is not specific only to white toxic masculinity. 

Justin- Whiteness showed up differently than masculinity. I honestly have no idea when I realized I was white. I was always the majority. My family did not discuss our whiteness. It was rarely if ever even acknowledged. In my experience whiteness showed up when racist slurs or jokes were said outside of my family. My middle school experience is when I first started hearing and understanding this. 

Justin- As a teen when the pain of being ‘othered’ isn’t about you, it is easier to say nothing or laugh. There were times when I said nothing when I heard racist thoughts and ideas cloaked in the veil of humor. In education we call this being a bystander instead of an upstander. This allows the behavior to continue by giving our tacit approval and not addressing the harm as it occurs.  

Justin – This exposure to racism becomes a fact when you are surrounded by those that reinforce the idea. For example, when I repeated a racist phrase in front of my dad he addressed it with me explaining what it meant and why it was wrong. He asked me where I heard it and what it meant. I had no idea of its significance nor the harm the phrase carried. If he had not addressed the phrase, or worse had reinforced it, this would have become solidified in my vocabulary without my full understanding of the meaning. Plenty of other young teens would not have been chastised. The phrase would have been lauded or appreciated, reinforcing and continuing racism. 

Doug – We are taught a narrative at an early age from family, school, media, and friend groups that white masculinity is our lane.  This is then reinforced constantly in interactions and power dynamics of society.  Breaking this cycle has to start early.  Breaking this cycle later in life, when perceived power is achieved, becomes much more difficult.  My disruption happened in elementary and then was really reinforced in high school and beyond through experiences and choices in life. 

Doug- My chosen profession of education also assisted in this disruption. This is also an advantage I have as an educator and a father of a son, to help disrupt this cycle with young white males.  

Doug- There were and are always experiences which pull(ed) me back.  They tug me back back to feeling superior, because I can fall back in that lane and be safe and secure at any moment.  I am a white cisgendered male.  I am reminded constantly about that lane.  I think if you ask those closest to me, they will say, they see it creep back at times.  I think this will be a filter and self pushback that I will have to deal with for life.  

Justin- One of my last thoughts is that I know various white men with guns. Some of those that own the guns have openly said that they have them because when “they come for them they will be ready”. Sometimes the group they were referring to was Black people; I know this because they had made racist comments before or they explicitly talked about the race riots that “were coming”. Other times they were referring to the government or someone robbing their house. Males in general are taught they have to protect their family. From my experience the more I have interacted with someone who believes in white toxic masculinity the more invested they have been in firearms. That is not to say this is a rule or even a generalization that can be made; however, this is what I have noticed in my experiences. 

Justin- I highly recommend people read this writing on toxic white masculinity written by Jayson Harsin (@jaysonharsin). This paragraph explains how toxic white masculinity has created and embraced fake news:

“These toxic male ‘truth’-tellers are often associated with flouting ‘political correctness’, saying what is on their minds – snowflakes and trigger-warnings be damned. Such speech is ‘honest’, ‘trustworthy’ – and therefore deemed to be true. The auratic quality of emo-truth performances is characterized by displays and perceptions of hate, rage, intimidation, insensitivity and violence; bullying, yelling, lurking, trolling, with only scorn for dialogue and listening.”

In short if it is said loud enough, often enough, by white males perceived as being strong they are believed by other white males. This is how white male toxicity has successfully combatted universal truth. We have seen toxic white masculinity not believe in climate change, wearing a mask, or that individualism will ruin planet earth. The internet has allowed white toxic masculinity to run rampant and the fringe to join together. Their combined belief in an alternate false reality is what lead up to the Capitol Insurrection on January 6. It was not economic worry, the pandemic, nor was it the often repeated yet untrue tale of a “stolen election”.

Doug – White males don’t have a group.  If you asked a white male what is your culture, the answer you would probably receive in most instances is “American”. This is understandable, as our history has been taught to us, through a very narrow lens. Our schooling has taught us “ownership” and “deserved rights”. Our schooling taught history that we “discovered” we “revolutioned” we “innovated” we “expanded” we “fought slavery” we “gave civil rights” we “fought wars” and we were taught so many wonderful things that we were able to do. 

Doug – It is really important to understand that the “we” referred to are all white males. A white male “discovered” America. White males conquered the land because it was our “manifest destiny”. White males created the Constitution, which we have lionized as the greatest document ever created. A white male led a white army to defeat the British. White males fought great white males in the Civil War. White males saved the world from the Nazis. A white male was the first on the moon. We can go on and on with the examples. We are constantly told either implicitly or explicitly that the world is ours. The single story has been reinforced over and over in our school system. 

Doug- At the same time, the narrative about other races and cultures has been taught to us from a deficit mindset. This narrative has inherently created a psyche where many white males feel they “own” everything about being American. This was evident and in your face on January 6th.  

What can we do to combat white toxic masculinity in our lives and school?

Justin- White males need to learn. Learn about adultification, ageism, patriarchy, race, history, othering and belonging. If we can’t name and identify our actions how can we figure out the harm we may be causing. 

Justin- Teach identity in school. Students have to understand who they are. When we explore identity in this way we can also teach them about the hypocrisy and deficits that each identity contains. We can combat the ideas that there are only two sexes, that white males did everything great in history, or that being a man means hiding emotions and being aggressive. We can teach about how whiteness was created to divide us and hoard the wealth and privilege that America had created for a group of people. 

Justin- White males have to be allies, comrades, co-conspirators or whatever the in phrase is at the current moment. Regardless, we have to act. It is imperative that we name white toxic masculinity when we see it. More importantly, we have to see where it lies in ourselves. We have been, and continue to be, the problem and need to be a part of the solution. Finally, we have to start to surround ourselves with people that aren’t white. Authentic friendships and interactions with those outside our identity group is the only way to truly understand what we are missing. At the same time we have to be the voices that interrupt white toxic masculinity when it arises. Speak up when you see it. Call our peers in. And most importantly don’t be a bystander.  

Justin- We have to teach about consent. This entails everything from teachers asking students if they can post their work on social media to teaching our students that they have every right to say no to anything they do not feel comfortable with that involves their body. Normalize consent. Use it across the classrooms and subject areas. 

Doug – We have to put ourselves out there.  Be willing to sound stupid in order to make sense later.  Speak your truth, the important part is your words.  Sometimes we are taught to listen.  That is important at times, but in this work, you have to speak to make sure you understand yourself  and where you are coming from.  

Doug- Make sure we teach more about other cultures, races, genders, etc. from a mindset of achievement and growth.

Doug – If we continue the narrative of the white men as heroes through a very narrow focus, and don’t disrupt this, we will continue to produce white males that are entitled.  In every reconstruction there were white males who stood alongside those being oppressed. White Quakers were slavery abolitionists starting in the 1600’s. Thomas Jeffererson wrote an anti-slavery passage in the constitution (yes there is more nuance to the story). What if we added white men that fought against injustices created by white men? What if we added to the narrative of our white historical heroes, and found a new purpose? 

What if the narrative was about white abolitionists?  What about Cassius Clay, not the boxer.  Muhammid Ali’s birth name Cassius Clay came from this man.  Here is a video as well – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7A7kn6zQe4&ab_channel=WeirdHistory

What if the narrative were about John Gregg Fee or Oswald Villard who helped form the NAACP?  

The call to action is to gain experience and talk with lots of other people.  The work then is in disrupting this white toxic masculinity.  Only white males have the real ability to interrupt other white males.  At that point there can be no “but” or “let me play devil’s advocate”.  I am you, you are me, I just need you to see the world as I see it.  

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