caitlin stasey on the politics of white male guilt

Following the election of Donald Trump, Caitlin Stasey shares an impassioned plea to remain optimistic and idealistic about the future.

by Caitlin Stasey
Dec 2 2016, 3:20pm

"It'll be okay. It's not like they'll be putting people into camps."
"It'll be okay. It's not as if he's going to do ALL of the things he said he would."
"It'll be okay. We survived Bush."

Less of a means to comfort than it is one to silence, the phrase "It'll be okay" — bandied about a lot at the moment — is a dismissal masquerading as a benevolent gesture. It's the battle cry of the apathetic semi-liberal. And he believes it.

He's someone we all know. He doesn't think people should be discriminated against. He has gay friends, black friends, female friends. No Hispanic friends but he employs them and tips generously. He thinks gays should be able to get married but secretly hopes his son is straight. He compartmentalizes the women he fucks and the women he respects. He is socially progressive but fiscally conservative. He is generally white, late 30s or older, and healthy.

He's the guy who voted for himself this past election... I wish I was joking. (No, literally, I know this guy. This is a real person.) He's not a "bad guy." Ya know? He's just not that worried. And why should he be? His life will remain largely unchanged by Trump's presidency and legacy. He's just in a high enough tax bracket to score big from conservative fiscal policy, he's totally for immigration as long as those immigrants go through the proper channels to get here, he'll be dead long before the planet suffocates in a toxic cloud of CO2 emissions and oil spills and he doesn't really want to have to be forced to cover the cost of subsidized birth control.

But he's not a bad guy, OK? Only that he is, and he's a lot closer to home than you might realize.

There's a sinister truth lurking at the periphery of most millennial world views. For those who saw the millennial electoral map of the past election, it may have buoyed your spirits. Despite the fact that there was a significant drop in millennial turnout for this election compared to Obama vs. Romney 2012, it highlighted that the youth vote with their conscience, and that their moral compasses are seemingly all pointed in the right direction. But how steadfast is that commitment to the left?

We've all heard the old adage "If you're not a liberal at 20 you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at 40 you have no brain." Of course intellectually we probably all reject this statement, it implies that to have compassion is foolish, that to be soft is idiotic and while we repudiate the dismissive nature of this statement, it still seems to seep into our collective attitudes as we make the transition from young adulthood to middle age.

Self preservation comes to mean more and more the older you get, you see your efforts as a progressive left winger get constantly shut down. You elect a black man as president one year to have a racist misogynist take office the next. It isn't fair. You care so much and nothing seems to change. So you slowly start to withdraw from public acts of self sacrifice. Maybe you stop engaging in polarizing discourse with bigoted family members, maybe you don't correct someone when you hear them casually use a pejorative, maybe you stop donating to Planned Parenthood, not out of spite, not out of anger, but because you start to focus your efforts inward. Career, family, health, home, holiday, income, children. You aren't giving up, you're moving on.

But a lot of people don't get to move on, don't get to avoid the harsh reality of Donald Trump as President. You know who ends up footing the bill for climate change and it's crippling effects? Poor people! Do you know who doesn't believe in climate change and compensating those losses? Donald Trump! Do you know who suffers from a repeal of reproductive rights? Poor people! Do you know who doesn't believe in reproductive rights? Donald Trump! This is an endless word game we can play for a whole gamut of issues, the dynamic remains consistent. Poor people are the most vulnerable and white guilt might be one of the most useful tools in helping them.

Your guilt may manifest in a variety of ways, one that immediately defeats you and begs the question. "Why try at all." It may hit you when you see the children of Aleppo covered in dust and blood on your Twitter feed. Maybe it waits, lies dormant in you, only surfacing in your final moments of life, exposing itself to you in a panic as you slip from this world into the next. "Did I do enough?" If you're anything like me, your guilt is a companion throughout most of your brighter moments, forcing you to face your privilege at every turn, only retreating once you've donated, volunteered, or at the very least extended yourself to someone or something with which you empathize.

A movement is born in the hearts of the marginalized, realized in their community, activated in their protest and implemented in the streets of white guilt. Guilt — more kindly put as empathy — is our only weapon, and we owe it to the forgotten among us to utilize it.

I wish I could convince you, now, that it's worth it to keep trying, to not give in to the cynicism and nihilism, because despite the little change you may be able to affect in your lifetime it does count, and it all contributes to the inevitable increase in liberal policy and action. Yes we will lose some, maybe many, of our peers to the pressures of maintaining a livelihood, perhaps some of our most resilient and resolute advocates will fold under what seems like a ceaseless reign of discrimination and condescension. But you don't have to. You don't. And if the heartache and suffering of those you will never meet doesn't press you to act, then do it for yourself. You deserve to look back at a life well spent and well given. You don't have to be "It'll be okay" Guy. You can be "I did everything I could" Woman or "I saw the effects of my activism first hand!" Non binary.

Whomever you decide to be, I hope it's someone you can look back on and be proud of. After all, "If you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative at 40, you survived."


Text Caitlin Stasey
Photography Jennifer Toole

Caitlin Stasey