How White Male Fragility Disrupts Daily Life

angry-white-man-in-car-flickr

On Tuesday, I was waiting to park on campus after having driven in circles around the block four times. The one way street was backed up as construction vehicles and buses squeezed through. I saw a red pick-up truck begin to pull out of the spot I had been patiently waiting for when, all of a sudden, a small SUV swerved in front of me and began reversing toward my car. I slammed on the brakes with only half of my car in the spot, unable to move forward.

Confused by what was happening, I looked over at my mother-in-law who was visiting for the holidays. She looked just as puzzled as me.

Then, I saw the driver of the other vehicle point two fingers out of his window, signalling my attention behind us. Unsure of what he was trying to say, I interpreted him as asking to leave his car there for two minutes. In either case, I was in a rush to my first class of the winter term and had no time for this disruption of my already frantic morning.

I got out of my car to ask him what he was doing. Looking incredibly frustrated, he yelled, “I don’t know why you couldn’t just go park in the spot behind you. There were two spots.” Looking back, I realized he wanted me to attempt to put my minivan in a spot barely large enough for a compact car. I watched as a small sedan struggled to squeeze into the spot. Regardless, it struck me that this White man’s logical answer to not having a spot was to simply reverse into my car and attempt to strong-arm me out of one.

Irritated, cold, and rushed, I turned back to him and said, “Well, I was waiting on this park, sir. Can you please move your car?” I wasn’t going to give in to his flexing of power nor was I going to be intimidated by him.

He snarled his face becoming very irritated and said, “There were two spots!” He didn’t care that I was in a minivan which clearly wouldn’t have fit in that other spot. He didn’t care that half of my car was already in this spot. He was just angry that I wasn’t behaving in the way which best met his goals that morning. No doubt my blackness enraged him further, and my “Not Your Respectable Negro” shirt might have also broadcasted what I’m about.

Trying to remain calm, I replied, “Sir, I was waiting patiently here. I have a class to attend.”

He interrupted me with, “I do too! Now, because of you, neither of us is going to get a spot.” In my mind, I had to wonder what he meant by that. Clearly I would be getting a spot.

I realized that he was probably irrational and frustrated about something that had nothing to do with me. I decided not to engage with him further. As I walked away, I heard him call me a “fucking dumb ass” vowing not to move his car. Rather than respond to him, I sat in my car, opened my tupperware bowl of Trader Joe’s bomb ass apple cinnamon oatmeal, and proceeded to enjoy my breakfast. I was not going to be moved.

We sat there completely still for about three minutes, playing the most infantile game of parking spot chicken I never wanted to play. Then, he sped away.

I told my mother-in-law that I should have videotaped the confrontation or at least taken a picture of his license plate. For the rest of the day, I found myself peering out of the window at my car, worried he might key it or slash my tires.

After the altercation, I felt myself shaking. First, I was nervous because I had no idea what this man was capable of or if this could have been the time when he decided he felt threatened enough to shoot me dead in the street. Second, I was frustrated that I had been placed in a very public shouting match in front of my department building all because this guy was an asshole. And, finally, I just didn’t feel as though I had done anything to warrant his behavior in the first place.

Granted, this wasn’t the first time I have had White men (or women) lash out at me just for existing on my own terms. It happens far too often and seems to be excused in society as “boys being boys.” But, at some point, we have to acknowledge that the conflation of maleness with violence, recklessness, and disrespect all too often ends tragically (re: the “Affluenza” kid). Typically, these issues result in long term problems for everyone involved except the fragile White person.

Funnily enough, as I was driving later that day reenacting the story for two of my sister friends, a White male in the crosswalk began looking at me, throwing his arms up in the air and pointing. I saw him mouthing words that I couldn’t make out. Confused, I just sat there looking at him. We all did. He seemed angry with me even though my car wasn’t moving.

I soon realized that me speaking inside of my vehicle and moving my hands around to tell the story of my day led this man to believe I was somehow concerned with him. He just knew that his presence in the street walking lawfully was upsetting me enough that he needed to defend his right to do so. Once again, White male fragility was given center-stage as if my existence was pinned into a secondary position.

It was in that moment that it struck me (again) how fragile whiteness must be. In both of these cases, my mere existence conjured up the physical manifestations of anger and hatred within seconds. And while the second issue was much less threatening than the first, it was along the same spectrum.

The fact is: many White people of all genders deem themselves the center, the nucleus of society. This can’t be said for all White people, but there is certainly enough evidence to show that a substantial subset of the White population is committed to media, products and services, and even governmental programs which are meant to better the station and status of White people alone. Any deviation from this framework sends them into a tailspin. The rag tag bunch of terrorist militia men in Oregon are an example of this. They are literally threatening to kill people because they don’t feel privileged enough. If that isn’t White fragility, I don’t know what is.

As a Black woman, my mere presence in predominantly White spaces (like the college campus where both of these experiences occurred) means that I encounter these types of issues entirely too frequently. It wouldn’t be a far stretch for me to say that, at least once per day, a White male projects his issues onto me, undermines my legitimacy, disrespects me, or otherwise threatens my safety. Sadly, for many people of color, this is just another fact of daily life.

Some say the more things change, the more things stay the same. Perhaps that’s true in this case as well. Even in 2016, just a few days into the year, I am reminded what White male fragility has really come to learn nothing about itself. And, in the process, it continues to be a burdensome nuisance I am forced to navigate each day.

 

Photo credit: John Greenfield/Flickr

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Jenn M. Jackson

Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief
Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

15 Responses

  1. Tyler James Colby says:

    If you told your stories truthfully and correctly, there is absolutely *no* indication that race (yours or his) had anything to do with anything – only your assumptions. The first was two adults acting like children over a parking spot. The second was a man who clearly misrepresented your body language.
    I see this all the time in these”think”-pieces: a black person (usually, like Brittany Cooper, a woman) has an encounter with a rude person (or, like your first story, you BOTH were rude; you BOTH thought the other was in the wrong) and even though race is *never* mentioned or even , without fall, is always the first thing you people (writers, not blacks, so settle down) jump to.
    A guy thought he was entitled to a parking spot, you thought you were entitled to the same spot, and were both in a hurry, yet instead of it being a battle of stubborn wills it’s RACISM!
    And, aside from in your own paranoid mind, how is a disagreement, where racism was not present in words or actions, and where you behaved just as childish and combative could you possibly *know*, not *assume* there was any racist intent? Unless, of course, you are able to read people’s thoughts – if that’s the case then I apologize and would direct you to the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and make yourself a rich woman.
    Something should also be said about a woman, being just a combative, wearing a t-shirt which lets everyone know she relishes in not showing or giving respect (which by default means she doesn’t deserve it either) is demanding it for herself. Ah, the sweet taste of irony.

  2. Tyler James Colby says:

    If you told your stories truthfully and correctly, there is absolutely *no* indication of race (yours or his) had anything to do with anything. The first was two adults acting like children over a parking spot. The second was a man who clearly misrepresented your body language.
    See, I see this all the time in these”think”-pieces: a black person (usually, like Brittany Cooper, a woman) has an encounter with a rude person (or, like your first story, you BOTH were rude: you BOTH thought the other was in the wrong) and even though race is *never* mentioned is always the first thing you jump to.
    A guy thought he was entitled to a parking spot, you thought you were entitled to the same spot, and were both in a hurry, yet instead of it being a battle of stubborn wills it’s RACISM!
    And, aside from in your own paranoid mind, how is a disagreement, where racism was not present in words or actions, and where you behaved just as childish and combative could you possibly *know*, not *assume* there was any racist intent? Unless, of course, you are able to read people’s thoughts – if that’s the case then I apologize and would direct you to the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and make yourself a rich woman.
    Something should also be said about a black woman, wearing a t-shirt which let’s everyone know she doesn’t care to show you respect (and is thus not deserving of it herself) demanding it from someone else. Ahh. Sweet irony.

  3. That you managed to read anything into my presence in the first situation as “childish” or “rude” tells me exactly what you are about.

    There is no way that me waiting on a one way street for a park (where no one else is waiting) and then having someone reverse toward me (unlawfully and against traffic on a congested street), nearly hitting my car makes me rude. What happened is that he probably assumed I was parking in the other spot (incorrectly). The not rude thing to do would have been to simply ask me and then drive away once I indicated that I wasn’t taking the other spot. That’s what normal people do.

    However, this White male thought it more prudent to curse at me, scream, and block my car which was already halfway in the spot. I wasn’t rude at all actually. He, on the other hand, was exerting his masculinity and attempting to bully me out of a park.

    To your final point about me not deserving respect because of a t-shirt, you sound just like the racists who think a hoodie means that young Black people deserve to be shot and killed. In addition, you clearly have no familiarity with AAVE since you don’t understand the difference between “respectable”‘ and “respectful.” You should get clear on that before trolling another site owned, operated, and targeting young Black people.

    Lastly, whether you *choose* to see how this situation or this man’s behavior was informed by race is insignificant. Truth is, had I been another White male, I am sure both of these situations would have gone a lot differently.

  4. redcan says:

    Contrary to popular belief, black people can be racist. That’s what’s going on in your post. You had a misunderstanding with the guy trying to get what you thought was your spot. That happens everywhere everyday. He saw it differently than you. Nobody has a perfect vantage. To be honest, you are both assholes. Think about this: he finally relented. That probably makes you the bigger asshole. Another thing you did is pretty racist. You made the link that because the other person was white and male, that his behavior is based on his race and/or gender. Wow. You know how much you detest the idea of black people being pulled over more because they are black. You detest that because cops do the same thing you just did and generalized one group of people as suspect. That’s what you are doing when you chalk up some asshole’s behavior to his whiteness or maleness. Congratulations, you are the very sort of person you despise. It happens to me all the time. Somebody infringes on me. Black people, white people, women, men, anybody. I could assume they are assholes and stand my ground – like you did. Or I can be the adult in the situation and realize that I may not have a perfect understanding of the situation, give them the benefit of the doubt and just let it go. If there is any aspect of life that gives white people privilege, it is this: if someone confronts a white person for being an asshole, they have to consider the possibility that their behavior is wrong. They do not have the luxury of chalking up the exchange to what they believe are racist views or everybody else. When I self reflect in those instances – it gives me a chance to modify my behavior, so I’m not so much of an asshole the next time. It does not sound like you’ve had that privilege, because your still acting like an asshole.

  5. redcan says:

    One more thing: white male fragility. It would be more offensive if I didn’t feel sorry for you. Fragility is weakness. Imagine if I generalized all black females as weak because they are black and female. Wouldn’t that be incredibly racist and sexist? (Hint: yes it would). If you think people don’t respect you enough, it is probably because you don’t respect them. Just trying to help.

  6. Viky says:

    I just discovered your site from Awesomely Luvvie so I’m catching up on a few articles. I completely agree with you that there is a distinct portion of the United States who believe that only certain people have value. That population believes that the poor deserve to be poor, that the honest labor of one is worth less than the honest labor of another, and that even the lives of one are worth less than the lives of the other. This (now pervasive) belief is representing itself in our economy, in our government policies, in the courts, in the jails and in our police stations. I do believe it is driven by fear — that a way of life is slipping away and their dominance is no longer assured. Fragility is a very kind way to describe that behavior. I’m grateful to your voice to help me understand better.

  7. Chris says:

    You are a very sad individual. It must be horrible to live in your paranoid victimized mind. Life is so short good luck on your journey – Peace

  8. Alex says:

    Firstly, you are my hero. You dealt with the situation fantastically, and with a lot more grace than I would have.
    Secondly, you are absolutely right. We, white people, need to grow up and deal with this. Racism is an issue that was created and is perpetuated by the white race. The burden of fixing the problem should not be put on the people who are victims of the system. We have to stop putting our comfort over the lives and safety of people of color.
    Thank you for writing this article. The fact that you’re willing to explain these issues in such a gentle way, despite the fact that you clearly have to deal with these experiences all the time, is truly amazing.

  9. Ohh boy says:

    I can’t deal with her opinion articles. I just found them and have went back and read a few. They are littered with bigotry and I couldn’t agree more with you assessment of this article. In the original article while she does say he was rude she does not mention him cursing her. Below she now says he cursed her. Her whole article is nothing but assumptions about the reasoning of another races actions.

  10. You either can’t read or didn’t read. The article clearly states:

    “I realized that he was probably irrational and frustrated about something that had nothing to do with me. I decided not to engage with him further. As I walked away, I heard him call me a “fucking dumb ass” vowing not to move his car. ”

    If you are going to comment here, you need to provide quality feedback and commentary. Otherwise, you can simply find somewhere else to troll.

  11. Thanks for stopping by:)

  12. Thanks for your comments!

  13. Ohh boy says:

    It’s social media I think I can comment where I please. Why post if you only want responses that fit your narrative. My distaste for your article does not constitute trolling. I stand corrected and for that I apologize. I have to confess I could only stomach about a quarter of what you wrote so it stands to reason that I didn’t get to all of it. Your article is still nothing but bigoted assumptions on what that man felt about the situation. You both behaved childishly. Not every white person that gets into a standoff with you is doing so because you’re African American. Maybe he had a bad day or maybe both of you are just giant pains in the ass that felt you deserved the space more than the other.

  14. It’s actually not social media. This is a privately owned and operated web space for Black millennials to discuss particular issues we face. You do not have the right to comment where you please because I can simply block you. Also, you are trolling because this is one of many comments you have posted in the past few days across several articles to disrupt dialogue on issues and replace it with your opinions of me and my writing. Feel free to share those thoughts on actual social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. But, here, we are looking to foster real dialogue. Lastly, as someone who didn’t even read the full article, your opinion about my conclusions is irrelevant.

  15. Ohh boy says:

    Well there you have it you can block me …doesn’t matter. It’s not really private if shows up on Disqus where anyone can register to comment. Btw blogs are in fact social media. Just because you think I was trolling doesn’t make it so. I read several of your bs blogs and commented my opinion. The internet is not really the safe space you wish it could be. I would hardly call you a millennial(what they stand for not the age) You just stoke the fire of hate. Why was the man you had a silly parking lot battle with the one with fragility when you’re the one whining about it on the internet.

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