May 14, 2022•1,180 words
A White Man's Story and It's Beautiful Modernisation: Mediocrity
Inside of me is a cinema where the movies are all about me and my life. The directors are putting grand visions on display, visions of what was promised to me. These movies inspire me and touch me deeply, as movies sometimes do, not least because they are designed for a very specific audience: me. Like a seedling reaching for the light, these visions propel me forward and fill me with hope and perseverance as I make my way towards greatness, pride, fame and, ultimately, glory.
"If only I make the right moves, am intelligent enough to profit from them, if I meet the right people, if I have the right timing, if only God, Spirit, Nature or some other Greater Force smiles upon me, if I'm diligent enough, if I'm persistent enough, conscientious, strong and powerful enough, if I really am special, if I..."
So onward I strode to the Great Soundtrack of my unique splendour, greatness and courage to face the whole world (read: white privilege).
Then a different story started to unfold.
Years passed and, unbeknownst to me, my conviction of my own splendour slowly faded into hope. The bold and white adventurer gallivanting through the world, self-assuredly looking for the next dragon to slay, had morphed into a circus tightrope walker. One day I looked ahead and saw that narrow rope stretch out in front of me and, to either side, a stupendous fall from grace.
The stakes had become so high. I stopped boldly venturing out into the darkness and instead started to pray for balance. As my courage failed me, I lost my momentum and found, at last, the one and only way off the tightrope: straight down.
As I fell, I caught a glimpse of the rope I had been balancing on. It was so high up, oh I'd stood so tall! I could feel the height of it as I slammed into the ground. My inner cinema kept showing me movies with promises of grandeur but I no longer believed in them.
I knew I had failed. Me! The White Knight! The saviour in all the stories, the prince who gets the lady, the conqueror, the king, the sorcerer, Jesus himself (he was white, right?), the spearhead of my white ancestry, failing? Impossible. It could not be.
Like a soldier at a battlefield, I was painfully stumbling forward, forced to reconcile my dreams with the sword in my gut. As I watched myself bleed out, it dawned on me that I was not the Chosen One. Now I was going to join that majority who just didn't make it. There was no excuse, no glimmer of hope, no ambiguity -- death provided me with immutable proof of my own mediocrity.
What died that day felt like me but, really, it was a psychological device.
This device is the deep-rooted story of the Hero, the Messiah. It was the hierarchical pyramid, a piece of the patriarchy, that had died. My value and my identity was so wrapped up in this story that, as it fell out of my supple white rump, I thought I was dying.
Because I believed I was either Batman, the man He saved and then cheered Him on or the man Batman was beating up. I was either Jesus, the saved one who adored Him or the lost and unbelieving on his way to Hell. I was either the Celebrity glimmering in the spot light, the photographer capturing His Essence or part of the nameless audience. I was either a Leader, one of His followers or part of whatever was obstructing the way He was paving for us. And I had not only failed at becoming Him, but indeed I had lost all hope of ever becoming Him.
I simply had no other story to tell. I was caught in one of the Great Stories of the white man. I became one of the many white men who failed at putting myself at the centre of the world and that felt worse than death. My daydreams were the last to change. Long after even the last glimmer of hope had died, my inner cinema of daydreams kept trying to lift my spirits with movies of my future grandeur. Their narratives took many forms but the structure was always the same: the Exceptional One, the obstruction, and the herald who somehow conveyed the Exceptional One's glory to an appreciating audience of those of lesser make.
This story is old.
It began a long, long time ago, perhaps when the gods were separated from Nature and became hierarchical. The story of the "Chief God" formed, as did the story of the Exceptional One -- the Messiah . This story became fundamental to many religions and were cemented in the values of Western peoples by the Abrahamic religions .
This old story is wily. When I started to challenge it, I became convinced that it was not the story that was wrong. It was me. The story was Right, it was just that I was not the Messiah. I was the one who had failed. And, perhaps, just maybe, I would one day find a way back into God's grace.
For a few moments, I would lose my belief in Batman, stop seeing Jesus as a Messiah and instead start to see people and our various doings. I would lose my desire to find someone greater than me to capture their wisdom and grace or to follow in their footsteps.
But like an old friend, the Great Story of the Exceptional One followed me around, fuelling the movies of my inner cinema, convincing me of its reality. Perhaps this Great Story will follow me on my path as a white man on this Earth until the day that I die. This story of exceptionalism is thousands of years older than me. It is in my blood. It is in my roots.
It is now my way to remind myself of my mediocrity.
I try to cling to my failure to be Him. Only if I do not need to be the redwood can I be the blade of grass -- or indeed whatever it is that I really am. Only by challenging the stories of old can we create new stories that support a better future.
What I ask myself today is not whether I made it or not. I don't ask myself whether I'm successful or not, whether I'm a winner or a loser, or whether I'm truly fulfilling my fate, potential or my True Spiritual Nature. Rather, I'm thinking of the stories that I would have needed to hear as a boy to not have to fall off a tightrope and die before I could start to open my heart to life.