Confessions of an Angry White Male

by Kevan Higgins | 11/13/98 6:00am

Picture this: Seamus McLeary, a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky Irish Republican national emigrates to the United States to study at Michigan. He's never played football before, but Irish are very good at picking things up quickly, and soon Seamus is the starting quarterback for the Wolverines. Seamus is a hero to Irish everywhere.

Michigan has a great year -- undefeated, unchallenged -- and they're poised for the national championship if they can just get by those jerks, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, from South Bend. Come game day, Seamus is nowhere to be seen. He's left a note on his locker saying that he can't participate in a game against a team whose name perpetuates stereotypes about his country, particularly since the Irish currently are and have been fighting for the past 30 years. The Wolverines completely soil themselves and lose to Notre Dame, dashing the hopes of every person in Michigan, Michigan alumni worldwide and, of course, the 50 other players who would've taken a bullet for Seamus.

My question is: Should I be mad at Seamus? He had the chance to be a national hero, for both the U.S. and Ireland, but he didn't do it because of a principle.

I think that anyone of Irish descent would agree that we can't be mad at Seamus. Why should he allow the U.S. to promote the idea that all Irish are beer-swilling, staggering, alcoholic leprechauns who fight for the hell of it? It just ain't true.

So what does this mean? Seamus can represent his nationality any way he wants, even though whatever his note said, Notre Dame is going to say he got too drunk to play the night before. And really, what's wrong with the "Fighting Irish"? It just shows pride in Irish strength and refusal to back down. Yet, for some reason, you never hear about the "Spendthrift Jews," the "Snobby Brits," the "Stupid Polacks," the "Mafioso Italians" or the "Smelly French." No school was ever founded with that nickname. Now personally, I don't care that they're called the Fighting Irish, but I could see how somebody, maybe somebody whose parents were killed in a terrorist bombing in Ireland, might care.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

I went to an all-boys Catholic school. We were very homophobic and used words and actions as a means of affirming that we all liked girls. I don't think we were wrong in doing that. We were creating relationships with friends during a time of extreme fragility and we used our actions to affirm that we were all on the same side, that of being attracted to girls. I think that we were grossed out by the idea of homosexuality, just as a gay or lesbian might be grossed out about heterosexuality, and we chose to act homophobically amongst each other to affirm each other's intentions. I think it would've been very difficult for any of us and all of us to deal with one of our friends being attracted to us at that time. I'm sure that it would've been pretty damn difficult for that person too, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time. Should it turn out now that one of my friends is gay, I'm probably going to have to beat myself over the head with a brick.

We tried to get girls. They got treated like dirt, and though this was the one area where I tried to be a good guy, I got pulled into it too somewhat by the group mentality. Two girls in our sister school got pregnant and didn't know which kid at our school was the father. These Catholic school girls got objectified and generally disrespected.

My high school was 20 percent black, but somehow the cafeteria was segregated from the first day of class and I never developed any strong relationships with a black student until my senior year. That was the way it was -- two different socio-economic backgrounds, two skin colors, two different ways of being treated. There was racism at my high school in our nation's capital. It was subtle, but it was there, and it pervaded all of us white students, though I don't know if it was through our own doing or not.

I've played cowboys and Indians and wanted to be an Indian, because as a child I understood that they got screwed. I don't want the Redskins to change their name because I grew up with the Super 'Skins, but I'd go along with it if it came up because it clearly is offensive.

I've pulled my eyes apart at the sides and acted like I'm Asian. I throw out anti-semitic remarks like candy, and I laugh at "The Simpsons" when Apu is made fun of for being Indian. I could go on and on.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm a racist, sexist, anti-semitic homophobe. I'm the insensitive white majority. I think that a lot of you white men out there will also find that you are too, in subtle and almost imperceptible ways. And I'm an angry white male. I've gone from being angry at everyone else for lashing out at me to being angry at myself for not understanding why they were lashing out. So I would say to those of you who do get it: sorry, I'm trying, and I think everybody else is too.