When I lived in South Africa, I was often confounded by the role of men in Itipini, the shantytown community I worked in: unemployed, uneducated, with little prospects for the future, they seemed to be more of a burden on the community than an aid. Four and a half years ago, I wrote:
On my drive in to Itipini, I see a few young men pushing carts into town, hoping to make a few rand (for beer) that way. They are only 18 or 20 and I wonder how they would reply if they were asked – as I was at that age – “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I realize future-thinking is a luxury of the financially secure but it is hard for me to see how the path they are on is a positive one. They have little education and few employable skills. Having something to look forward to, I’ve realized, is a great gift. What do they have?
Women keep on keepin’ on it seems. As men spiral into nothingness, women still keep the household running by whatever means they can. In so doing, they are building up their own skills and their own reservoir of power. Men don’t realize it now but they’re going to look up some day and realize any social status they once had has completely dissipated.
After the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in July, I read this interesting blog post: “What’s Wrong with White Men?”
Why is no one asking what’s wrong with White Men in the United States?
With the newest mass shooting in Aurora, CO captivating the nation, it seems someone should ask the question. After all, if we had a pattern of Women walking into public places, heavily armed, and killing everyone possible, you can guarantee the headlines would read, “What’s wrong with American Women!?”
Now, after the shooting in Newtown, the same things are being raised, this time in the New York Times:
I come from a small town near Fort Worth, Texas. In this region, like many others across the United States, young men are having a very hard time of it. When I consider how all of the people I knew there are faring, including my own family members, the women have come out considerably better than the men. While many of the women were pregnant in high school and have struggled with abusive relationships, financial hardships and addictions, they’ve often found ways to make their lives work, at least provisionally, and to live with their children if not provide for them in more substantial ways.
The same cannot be said for many young men in the region, who are often absent fathers of multiple children by multiple women, unemployed or underemployed, sullen and full of rage. While every woman in my family has done O.K. in the end, every man on one side of my family except for my grandfather has spent time in jail, abused drugs or alcohol, suffered from acute depression, or all of the above. Furthermore, pervasive methamphetamine use, alcoholism, physical and psychological abuse and severe depression have swept not only my hometown and my region but large segments of the United States. If this pattern is not familiar to you personally, I am certain it is the lived experience of someone you know.
So perhaps it’s time for a serious conversation about white masculinity in the United States of the twenty-first century, especially lower-class white masculinity. What role can the church play in this conversation? What is the vision of masculinity (of personhood) presented in the Bible? Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) How can we ensure this fullness of life for those who are losing out on the way the world is structured?