Old White Dude.” Is it a monolith or a myth? Is it a state of mind, stereotype, or club?
“Old White Dude.”
Each word is up for interpretation. Depending on who you ask, “old” can mean 30 or 70. “White” is also up for grabs since we know that the meaning shifts but, in most cases, “whiteness” seems to mean of European descent. The “dude” part we’ll say means those who identify as male or masculine.
However, my fascination with the term “old white dude” is not with the words so much as who uses the term. From my observation, it is mainly people who are arguably “old white dudes” or at least “white dudes.” From Twitter to talking IRL, it is most often white men talking about these “old white dudes.” Why?
Now you’ll hear me say “Black woman” or “old Black women” in reference — and reverence — to the force of beauty and nature that is the Black woman. But it feels like when a white man says “Old White Dude,” it is not a compliment. It's complicated. The term can mean more than one thing, and can change depending on the motivation of the person saying it.
I believe that these white men are saying it for my benefit. Not me individually, but for the benefit of the majority of the world, those who are not white men. They are saying it in the white liberal way of saying, “I am not the problem, because I know what the problem is: old white dudes.”
The second usage is generally to provide context for white supremacist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and/or general MAGA behavior. As if there is an appropriate age to be a believer in the white supremacist patriarchy. This is always fascinating because the global majority — people who are not white and not male — understand that white supremacist patriarchal behavior comes at any and every age.
Then there is a third meaning, which is very connected to the second.
“Old white dude” as absolution. As in, well he cannot help it, he is an “old white man.” Also, and maybe more to the point: “There is nothing I can do about it. He is my: boss, friend, brother, husband, father, uncle, neighbor, co-worker, or he is me ...”
This absolution does double duty. First for the “old white man” because he doesn’t know any better and second for the “woke white man” because he has no control over how someone else feels. But he’s Woke White, so it’s all good. How convenient.
The Woke White moves from embarrassment and guilt to smugness and exoneration all with one phrase: “old white dude.”
However, in 2019, going into 2020 in the 21st century on this here Planet Earth, any of the above white supremacist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and general MAGA behavior is a choice. No age, no location, nor gender gives anyone a “free pass.”
So before a “woke white dude” spends time distancing himself from the “old white dude,” he could: 1. Pause and consider what he is specifically doing to dismantle the white supremacist patriarchy. 2. When the opportunity presents itself (more often then you could imagine) do something constructive as in “see something (racist/misogynist/homophobic), say something” model. 3. Use you privilege and power as a white man to change micro and macro systems for equity and justice for all.