Tribalism is Killing Us: There is no Them, Only Us
Tina Gharavi on the explosion of white male rage and the unconscious bias that ‘there is a ‘default person at the centre of power’
So many of us are told we are “wrong.”
We are told that we are too thin, too fat, too tall or too short… that we have too much education or too little… that we come from the wrong background, our faces are not symmetrical enough or that our skin colour is not the right shade: too light, too dark…
After Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that “They are us”.
Does it always have to be us vs them? And how come none of us feel like we are in the middle of things. Who is this default person at the centre of all this power?
I recently had a strongly worded debate with a semi-successful Hollywood screenwriter who said he had no white privilege because… he was ugly!
It really made me realise that his rage and anger (and there was plenty of it) was about what he expected the world to give him. How could he have privilege when women were constantly refusing him?
Is this privilege? Can this explain the rash of white male rage we have been witnessing? Is this what Christchurch is? A man angry because he feels he should be at the centre but finds out that his expectations are not being met.
I don’t see my screenwriter acquaintance blowing up Hollywood studios any time soon (for one thing, with a face like that he’ll never get past security, lol), but he did have an anger that was familiar to me. His subtext was: “I’m a white man and it’s hard for me too.” He didn’t want to acknowledge the head start he had in the pitching room by dint of his genetics and gender.
Why did an extra think I worked the catering service on set? Oh, the look of surprise when he realised I was in fact the director!
I am constantly telling my students to write about what elicits an emotional response. So while I endured the agonising wait to make my second feature, I chose to make a documentary about the thing that was foremost in my mind. The story was clear: I’d grown up in a world of separation, factions and groups… splinters of interests and troubled identities.
What good is it? Why is there a dominant group and why in a group of people do we elect leaders with a particular characteristic or personality. Why do financiers always look to my male producers when they speak about financial security? Why don’t women actors respond positively to casting meeting requests from female directors?
And why did an extra think I worked the catering service on set? Oh, the look of surprise when he realised I was in fact the director!
Unconscious bias goes with what our idea of default man is: unconscious bias is about saying who belongs…Who is outside the circle? But it is toxic and creates a sense of expectation to those who are told that they are the centre. Even white men feel the agony of displacement and “othering”.
The Circle of Concern
As expert Professor John Powell says: “No one is outside of the circle of concern. Not even the criminal.” Empathy can not only be reserved for our own, for our tribe. This only separates us again. Creating a group that you exclude or shun only further reinforces that idea of those inside and outside the “tribe”: A tribe of those who are virtuous.
The belief that there is a privileged group is coached and upheld by society. It is signalled: in ads, in dramas, and in the coded messages we give each other; but more critically, it is important to accept that we have the power to transform this. Our collective beliefs create our reality.
“I’m a white man and it’s hard for me too.”
After Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that “They are us”. But so are the white men who have chosen to take this terrible path. Like ISIS, they are also us and now is the time to understand why we are creating a culture that says: you have more rights than the other.
There is no Us versus Them without groups of us participating. Where we have influence is how we tell stories. Films can easily cast female and non-white actors in the roles of authority. We need stories where women are automatically given the role of authority and where we also see white men in roles of vulnerability and need.
As the Geena Davis Institute, which is campaigning for such outcomes, says: “if she can see it, she can be it.”