“OK, now turn to page 43 of the handbook. We need to talk about lockdown drills in case of an intruder.”
I’m a teacher at an all-girls school. We’re always cautious about predators. A young white man with short light hair walks into the courtyard. One of our administrators, Mindy, steps out to ask him what he’s doing on campus, as is protocol. Mindy is in her mid-fifties, a black woman with short straight hair and teal glasses, just under five feet tall. The man looks at her and without a word punches her across the face. I’m staring from just inside. I sprint out and before he even sees me, I choke-slam him against the wall, crushing his throat with my hand. I shove him against the wall and start punching, left, right. I throw him down and hammer my knees onto his shoulders, pinning him to the ground. His arms are splayed and he still stares at me silently; he hasn’t said a word the whole time. In fury, I grab the front of his hair, and slam the back of his head into the concrete. It makes an awful noise and I can feel blood on his scalp. I do it again. Mindy is still on the ground, but is looking at me, shocked. I tell her to come over and check to make sure he doesn’t have any weapons and then to call the police. I notice behind her there is a group of students standing in the doorway of the school, aghast, clutching their binders. They look at me with admiration and horror.
“It really helps to remember the acronym ‘ALICE’ for the steps, Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.”
Oh, "counter" is the fourth step. I guess choke-slam shouldn’t be the first approach. Then I run through the fantasy again. The fantasy.
* * *
I’m a left-wing white guy. And a Jew. Since Charlottesville, I’ve noticed some strange changes in myself.
At work, I’ve spaced out for 20 minutes at a time during meetings, daydreaming about committing violence, always righteously, in overly dramatic, obnoxiously heroic ways, with a very troubling overtone of white saviorism. In addition to saving the girls from a male predator with my brute strength and righteous rage, I’ve had another recurring fantasy of saving the passengers on a plane hijacked by “911-esque” terrorists. I tackle an armed hijacker, turn his gun on him, immediately inspire the other passengers to team up to distract the terrorists, and then deftly fire bullets into all three terrorists' heads. Dark blood drips down their noses from the wounds on their foreheads. If the meeting is particularly boring, I’ll concoct permutations, new endings. Because it just feels so damn good. Like the dopamine rush of a sex fantasy.
I don’t think I’m alone.
I sporadically attend an anti-racist/anti-sexist white male group (yep, those exist). I came into this week’s meeting, brooding. Emotional tumult, eyes boring into the ground, irked by the benign tone of the conversation. It’s time for my check-in. My heart pounds and I think I might cry.
When I divulge, I get nods. Bodies lean forward. Faces get red, energy rising.
What I share:
I’m furious and upset. I feel trapped in my rage. All these impulses I’ve tried to tame over the years —
Because the aggressive, brash, self-righteous feelings polluted everything from my activism to my romantic life —
I’m being provoked by these fucking assholes, these men, and I want to lash out, punch back, but I don’t think that’s what we need right now, what anyone needs right now —
Isn’t that just the same patronizing, hyper-masculine bullshit that lets these fucking Nazis think they have the right to make others feel so terrible, to threaten, kill? I mean, I don’t want to replicate that. That’s the master’s tools, right?
Also, I’m scared. I mean, what if one of them brings a gun? Just one assault rifle. I saw a civilian carrying an assault rifle in Arizona. Scared the shit out of me. So I feel doubly trapped. I don’t want to do what’s selfishly best for me — beating the shit out of one of these guys [note the assumption that I could] — and I also don’t want to die. So in that way, I also feel like, and it’s the only word that makes sense to me here, a pussy.
I mean, after Trump was elected, I thought I might be fighting a totalitarian regime that would be locking up activists and journalists. And perhaps it seems hyperbolic, but I kept thinking: If it came to it, would I be willing to die for a cause? The way some non-Jews hid Jews during WWII; would I have that courage? Or at the end of the day, am I too afraid, selfish, weak? Not a real man.
I look up. Damn, say the white men. Eyebrows raised, but nodding.
One man jumps in. He had been at the last scrap with the “alt-right” when they came to town. He says that he probably should have been throwing punches, but he found out that he just wasn’t that kind of guy. But he was able to have some conversations with them. He said that one alt-rightist said, “If someone can dominate you, that means they are superior to you.” The aspiring anti-racist anti-sexist white guy said he didn’t even know where to go from there.
If there is a political philosophy that embodies the worst of masculinity, it is neo-Nazism.
* * *
So what to do with this conflicted rage? Can it be made useful for a movement, or is it inherently self-centered and destructive?
I don’t mean to comment on the “diversity of tactics” or the Antifa or black bloc. That is a far more complex issue. I’ve been told that Antifa have physically fended off neo-Nazis who have attempted to enter people’s homes in raids in predominantly black neighborhoods. Unverified; but even if that instance is false, the point is that there can be physical intervention that is the product of strategy or defense or care. The physical compulsions I’m feeling are purely from rage — a hunger for violence and vengeance. You threaten me, I fuck you up.
The concern deepens because the spike in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, homophobic hate crimes has compounded an ire that has easily found fuel from regular non-Nazi men out there.
Recently, I was frustrated at a locksmith. I had come to his storefront twice during business hours and he was closed, even after I’d gotten hold of him on the phone. I left an overly polite, perturbed voicemail. Then I called again a minute later thinking I might get him — I still needed a key copied. No answer. I get a call a moment later from an unknown number.
“Why you keep calling me you fucking faggot?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Why do you keep calling me. You fucking faggot.”
I hung up.
He called back. He kept calling me a fucking faggot. I told him that this is crazy and that I’m just going to write on Yelp with what he’s saying. “I hope this isn’t your personal number,” he said. I ask if he was threatening me. He texted me a moment later with a link to a Yelp page for a nonprofit. The nonprofit that I run.
Let me know when you wana act like a big boy. We wear big boy shoes over here.
Don’t call to harass businesses, not a good idea.
It’s a small example, but it was a similar feeling. Caught. Trapped. I wanted to say, fuck it, I believe what he said was wrong and other people should know about it, and I’m not scared of this random guy. But, damn, if he posts something messed up on our Yelp page, even if it’s totally made up, that could affect our reputation and end up really affecting our organization, our employees, and the families we serve. Also, if he’s really some lunatic, who knows what else he might do; after all, he can pretty easily figure out who I am, and I have a lot of other public profiles on the Internet. Fuck!
Anger held hostage.
If I strike back, it’s me selfishly putting my anger above the needs of others. And it might only make problems worse. It’s not like I have changing this guy’s mind at the forefront. But I just can’t stand that he walks away with the message that he can call people slurs, bully them, call out their masculinity, and then get what he wants. He might walk away thinking that since he beat me, he is the superior person, and therefore validated in continuing his practice of violence.
And I feel confronted: Are most guys out there fucking assholes? Do most guys say faggot and retard and pussy? Am I just living in a little social-justice bubble, and really this violent male way of being is in most places, most of the time? And if so, what is my role in changing that?
* * *
It’s everywhere for me right now, the mundane as well. I’ve been playing free online old-school fighting games like "Tekken 3," which I haven’t played since middle school. I’ve downloaded a fighting app on my phone that I play whenever I need to blow off some quick steam; it makes me feel momentarily powerful (in the silliest way). When I watch "Game of Thrones," I replay the battle scenes two or three times. To be fair, that’s not a wholly new practice. Still, it’s that rush. Fantasies of wrath. Of violence.
And now it’s especially on my mind as the neo-Nazi alt-right folk are gathering in my city in just a few days. If I go, should I take the role of security for a counter-protest, as some white men I know are doing (at the request of some organizers)? Should I use my white male privilege to be taken seriously enough by a misogynist white supremacist to have a dialogue, reach for empathy, in the hopes of humanizing the “other” to him? Should I go to a family-friendly anti-white-supremacy rally away from the Neo-nazis and work a childcare shift? Should I continue to step back, manage my socialized masculine impulses of presumptuous arrogant aggression, or should I harness them, or simply let loose as much as my courage will allow?
These men are coming soon, here and elsewhere. Maybe see you there?
Abe Low is the pen name of writer and educator who writes about politics and culture. He loves getting responses to his essays and suggestions for new topics. He can be reached at email@example.com and will do his best to respond.