If I see one more white man who’s holding a fish in his profile picture preaching at someone for having a “victim mentality” I am going on a wedgie-giving spree.
The audacity of white men—the most privileged demographic of all—to claim that conversations about oppression, about equity and justice—are nothing more than victim mentality is absolutely unmatched.
And what would be hilarious, if it weren’t so goddamn frustrating, is that often those same men go on to bemoan the injustices done to white men, of all people, claiming themselves to be the actual victims. When asked to provide evidence supporting this claim, they usually say something like, “well, everyone hates white men! Just tearing us down for no reason at all and destroying America from the inside out while they do it! “ (Just in case you think I’m being dramatic, that is an actual comment from one of my recent videos on this subject).
Before we dive in, “not all men” and “not all white men” are duly acknowledged. I’m going to ask you to utilize the “if it doesn’t apply, let it fly” strategy if you’ve made it this far into the post and are starting to feel unfairly criticized. Rather than getting defensive and seeing this as a personal attack, I invite you to think of someone you know who does behave the way I’m about to describe, and think about how you might help that man do better.
Why Some White Men See Conversations about Oppression as Victim Mentality
The most obvious answer to why some men must declare conversations about systems of oppression as victim mentality is because these conversations directly implicate them as the wrongdoers. We live in a capitalistic, patriarchal society that was founded, and subsists, on white supremacy and misogyny. Because white men have always been the primary benefactors of these systems that oppress anyone who is not a white (straight, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian) man, they fear that they will be forever considered the perpetrators of these harms.
This fear often stems from a lack of comprehension regarding systemic issues. When some white men encounter people having conversations about the systems of oppression that harm them, they may feel personally attacked, even if the focus is on dismantling oppressive systems rather than blaming individuals. It’s important to emphasize that acknowledging systemic flaws doesn’t diminish anyone’s worth. Nor does it directly blame or implicate any one individual. Rather, it aims to raise awareness and foster collective responsibility for positive change.
There are plenty of white men who have embraced this invitation to help us dismantle systems of oppression and build something better. Unfortunately, the men who aren’t doing that work tend to be the ones who label that work as victim mentality.
The Threat to their Perceived Identity
Conversations about oppression challenge established norms and narratives that have long upheld white men’s dominance. For some, admitting the existence of systemic injustice feels like a direct assault on their identity. This perceived threat triggers a defensive response, with some men resisting the idea that they might have unintentionally benefited from a system that disadvantages others. A healthy response to this threat to identity is to untether their identity from the system that benefited them at the expense of others. That means recognizing that although they did not put these systems in place, it is their job to work with the rest of us to dismantle them. And while many white men see that as a privilege, the men who claim “victim mentality” see that work as a threat.
At their core, they fear that if other people groups are given equality, they will then want power, and with that power, they will seek revenge. They fear deeply that the pyramid of privilege will be turned on its head, and suddenly the white men who have existed at the top will find themselves at the bottom. They will, in effect, become the recipients of the oppression they have ignored or enabled. For their own sake, it is far safer to pretend that these systems of oppression don’t exist at all, and everyone else is just looking for something to feel mad about. If they don’t have to acknowledge that there is a system that benefits them at the expense of others, they don’t have to worry about dismantling it, or worse, becoming the victims of it themselves.
Creating Allies, not Enemies
I’m going to be brutally honest here—I don’t believe all white men are capable of becoming allies. I think that, for some men, every breath we spend trying to convince them of the realities of privilege and oppression is a breath wasted. They are too devoted to whatever fear, insecurity, or bigotry that keeps them angry and resentful of marginalized people. However, I do believe (I must believe) that there are some white men who engage in this “victim mentality” rhetoric who can be educated. I believe those men would like to see the world change, but they struggle to get past the fear of being blamed for the oppression of others, as well as the fear of becoming oppressed in kind.
It is not my intention to make excuses for those men or to pardon their fears. It is 2023, and by now those men have had every opportunity to educate themselves on the systems of power, privilege, and oppression in our society. That said, their fears and beliefs are valid for them, which makes them a reality we must contend with.
When it comes to those men, I believe there are a few ways forward. First, we must help them shift from viewing conversations about oppression as a “victim mentality” to recognizing them as reflections of a reality they have never had to endure. We need to help them understand that they are not to blame for these systems of oppression unless they choose to continue propping up those systems. Just because they didn’t create these systems, and have never ever had to experience them, doesn’t mean they aren’t real. And it doesn’t excuse them from joining us in doing something about it.
Second, we must inspire them to take action. Encouraging white men to be allies in dismantling oppressive structures can transform defensiveness into proactive engagement. The invitation for them to join a movement that promotes equality for all is far more effective than blaming them for how we got here. By acknowledging the systemic issues at play, white men can contribute to creating a more equitable society. Emphasizing the shared goal of dismantling oppressive systems allows for a collaborative approach, fostering genuine allyship and dismantling the barriers that hinder progress toward a more just and inclusive future.
This work may not be for everyone. It is perfectly valid to be too hurt and angry to invest in the work of making allies out of white men who try to delegitimize oppression as “victim mentality.” But for those of us who can do that work, I believe we must try. More than ever, we need the white men who are doing this work to invite other white men in. To confront those men’s mistaken beliefs, and to call out any bigotry they see. At the end of the day, it is usually men who have the most influence over other men. We need you men now.