The Last Unspoken Taboo: Unravelling the relationship between privilege and white male suicide

bourdain In light of the recent spate of suicides by successful white men, we step beyond the shock to investigate what it means to be white and how our invented construct of race has left society proscribing unnatural expectations that can prove fatal.

Forgive me Society, for I have sinned. Born of Caucasian stock, I have not once been the victim of discrimination due to the color of my skin. I was educated at Ivy League level and have held a host of high-pressure jobs in Europe as well as North America. But I am also Irish, and behind the veil of perceptions surrounding race stands another individual — one who was raised amid the chaos of civil war in the north of Ireland, a witness to more sectarian violence than I care to remember. It was an unstable time; when my sister and I were young, my mother taught evening classes in bomb-riddled Belfast knowing she might never see her family again.

Am I white? Yes. Does the sinister backdrop to my otherwise peaceful upbringing match the stereotypical story of white male privilege? That one is harder to answer. Humans are fluid and cannot be categorized to neatly fit into strictly defined boxes. The notion of race has been proven as scientifically bereft of merit, yet society is littered with prescribed racial divides, pressures and expectations that have no basis in reality. From within that entangled mess “patriarchy” and “white male” emerge as interchangeable descriptors. This is incorrect. They are different and must be considered as so; privilege is the result of money and religion, not just skin color.

So, what has changed? The rise of suburban privilege in the post-war era saw multinational corporations bring the benefits of a well-connected planet to Westerners of all backgrounds without the end user having to hear the anguished voices of far-away lands. But with the dawn of internet and social globalism, beaten-down societies from all corners of the world have taken to forms of mass communication to resist the patriarchy and Western greed in a way that was previously unknown. It is noisy and it is shaking the foundations.

At the same time, the color-defined demographic against which the world is rising is experiencing one of the highest rates of suicide since records began. White, middle-aged men account for 70% of self-inflicted deaths each year, and despite being some of the first to hurl insults of a psychological nature — snowflake, libtard et al – studies show that white men are less inclined than women of any race to seek help for psychological issues. According to the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, the average profile of an American using a gun for suicide is a married, white male over the age of 50 who is experiencing deteriorating health. Notably, the mortality rate for working class white men, between the ages of 45 and 54 had been steadily rising since 1999, and it sure wasn’t them who generated the subprime mortgage crisis.

“Stephanie” is a mother of four from Warwick. Her family, a lively legion of Italian-Americans generously populated by traditional males, has more than its fair share of macho. But for all the bravado, Stephanie’s family also hides fragile secrets beneath its gregarious surface. In 1999, Stephanie’s cousin put a gun to his head and took his own life. “The family response was tough,” reflects Stephanie. “It wasn’t something anyone would’ve seen coming. He was always very playful and energetic. Involved in sports all his life always had lots of friends and girlfriends.

“Right before he died, he told his girlfriend — who came into the room as he did it — something to the effect of, ‘Tell my mom I love her and tell my dad… well, he knows.’ And that was it. I think boys want to make their dads proud, even as men. And if something feels like it will make you seem ‘weak,’ it’s shameful. So, they overcompensate and keep things hidden.”

Medical studies support the experience of Stephanie and so many like her. White males facing a crisis of the mind may be put off seeking help due to a reluctance to engage in activities in which the objective is emotional disclosure. The cause? Prescribed patriarchal notions that as a white male you can’t possibly be at the top of the food chain and be anything other than the embodiment of perceived macho strength. By contrast, studies of non-Caucasian communities not only show that men are more likely to express their emotions, but live in neighborhoods where greater support networks exist to assist those in pain.

As a result, young white males of all economic and cultural backgrounds are sent into a world where emotional support is severely lacking. Crueler still, white societies infected with the patriarchal viewpoint drums it home that a white male must go to school, marry a nice girl, secure a good job and die wealthy. Not only does it instill some questionable values, but it does not allow any room for individualism or misfortune.

But this is the 21st century, and the corrupt legacy of free trade and irresponsible banking is coming full circle. The West must now reap what it once sowed, and when the crushing realization hits that not every white male can – or wants to – become the embodiment of suburban privilege, the second part of that formative education kicks in; that the individual is a failure. A social cul de sac. A disappointment for their family. For those in their 40s and 50s, this lack of hope is compounded by declining health as the once hopeful youth gives way to the rocky road of middle age. Add a propensity toward gun ownership into that churning social quagmire, and you have a fatal mixture that no amount of propagated Americana can heal.

And then there are those coming behind. Despite the populist rap that millennials are lazy and inept, this generation is the one paying for the financial crimes of the second half of the 20th century. Millennials stepped into the workplace just as the Great Recession took hold, meaning lower wages, longer hours and fewer perks than enjoyed by previous generations. And the reaction by the demographic makes for troubling reading. A study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 20- to 34-year-olds are killing themselves at higher rates than people of a similar age back in 2000.

“For whites, their reference group is previous generations of whites,” explained Shannon Monnat, a professor of opioid epidemics at Pennsylvania State University. “When they look back on their parents and grandparents, it feels like their generation is doing worse.”

Social media hasn’t made things easier, either. In a phenomenon known as Facebook depression, a digital form of neuroticism develops where the sufferer obsesses over the fact that everyone can be seen and that everyone can see you. This lone wolf behavior is exacerbated by the group’s tendency toward lower and later rates of marriage and a widespread decline in religious affiliation. With the prospect of a bleak economic future, and the fear of having to navigate it old and alone, the option of suicide before it all hits the fan becomes increasingly appealing.

Apologist essay this is not, but redefining what it means to be a white male is now more important than ever before. Not only are we coming to terms with the fact that we have been lied to all our lives, but that we have been lying to ourselves all along as a consequence. Some have adopted the bloodstained guilt of the patriarchy, while others are trying to make a positive change and move relations forward. Many of us, myself included, have attempted suicide and survived, while others, myself also included, turned to substance abuse. These are the actions of a demographic in turmoil silently screaming out for the help that we’ve been conditioned not to ask for. Let us break down walls of inherited trauma and prescribed expectation. Let us cast off false racial labels, rather than cast aspersions.

For you are not alone.

None of us are.

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