The absence Tuesday of Martin Luther King Jr., on what should have been his 90th birthday, was made sadder by how far we continue to fall short of his dream.
An obvious example came Jan. 10, when Rep. Steve King of Iowa wondered aloud how white supremacy and white nationalism became offensive.
Less obvious, but no less dangerous, are the underlying fears surrounding two trending topics of the last week: the Gillette ad, which suggests men not be cowards when they see men or boys being abusive, misogynistic arseholes; and a report that Americans aren’t reproducing fast enough to replace ourselves.
Gillette pitted the passions of the #MeToo movement against the easily played insecurities of wannabe alpha males.
The “Help me, I’m a repressed white man!” crowd took the bait, racking up 17 million views and 900,000 dislikes on YouTube as of Thursday afternoon, generating a fear-mongering firestorm that’s been marketing gold for Gillette.
As comical as the ginned-up outrage has been, it reveals real and dangerous fears festering in our society. One commenter said the commercial is an “affirmation of dark, Satanic forces subverting the West” while many more called it a “war on masculinity.”
Piers Morgan, who’s regained a tenuous grasp on celebrity status by making himself the go-to advocate for fake masculinity, with all the ductile strength and inner meaning of an empty eggshell, proclaimed it a “pathetic global assault on masculinity.”
The premise of all this outrage is the mere suggestion men should hold each other accountable to basic standards of (gentlemanly) decency, treat women and each other with respect, and teach our sons to do the same is somehow an “attack on masculinity.”
To carry that train of thought to its unnatural conclusion, we’d have to accept being “masculine” means feeling entitled to harass, objectify and physically force your will on those around you. And, there’s the rub.
It’s not masculinity that’s at risk. It’s male privilege. Most men already know masculinity need not entail being a jerk.
As our society continues to evolve (sweet Jesus, I pray it does), being male no longer will be cause for innate privilege. And that’s scaring the bejeezus out of the 1950s reactionaries.
In unrelated but also related news, the CDC released a report last Thursday showing Americans aren’t having enough babies to replace the population.
Most of the women who commented on the original ABC News post said they couldn’t afford a big family in the declining American middle class, or they had their own career goals, or it wasn’t anyone else’s business, thank you very much.
I’m not commenting on the size of anyone’s family, or whether or how they use their uterus. That’s a deeply personal issue, and none of my damn business.
But, you don’t have to scratch the surface to find comments of another sort: comments concerned with the changing demographics of America, and just how scary that is (if you’re scared of people of color and/or other faiths).
Comments on the report are laced with fears of migrants and Muslims reproducing (egad!), and it somehow meaning the death of our (immigrant) society.
It is true white ‘Mericans soon will not be the majority. That’s been predicted by 2045, but may occur sooner, since the only demographics reproducing at replacement level in the U.S., well, don’t look like June and Ward Cleaver.
But, we’re 7.7 billion people, on a planet that’s projected to max out at roughly 10 billion people by 2055. So, the only cause for concern would be if we 1) believe the growth in humanity is of the “wrong kind” of people; and 2) we don’t want those “others” coming to America.
This race-based fear was reflected by our reliably xenophobic president this week, when he retweeted Sunday passages from an op-ed by white-supremacist standard-bearer Pat Buchanan — a man Trump called in 1999 “a Hitler lover,” an anti-Semite and a man who “doesn’t like the blacks.”
In his hate-laced screed, Buchanan accused Democrats of engineering America’s changing demographics to attack poor, beleaguered white men.
“The only way to greater ‘diversity,’ the golden calf of the Democratic Party,” Buchanan wrote, “is to increase the number of women, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics, and thereby reduce the number of white men.”
Buchanan, like Gillette, knows how to play on people’s fears. And, for Trump and his progeny, there is no greater motive force than the fear of losing some privilege to women, minorities, migrants, Muslims and “others” in general.
Fear is powerful. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. told us, “Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”
What our country needs desperately right now is women, men and youth of all kinds, who have the courage to focus less on gender, race, ethnicity, orientation and national origin, and more on our shared humanity.
Even a few brave souls, armed with such courage, can begin to break our nation’s bonds of fear, and set us back on course to Dr. King’s dream.