As you all know by now, I am originally from Jamaica. I have only been in America for four years. Contrary to what a lot of people may think, there are many White men living in my country. Some of them are Jamaican and others are expatriates on years-long work assignments. Naturally, we also have plenty of tourists.
While living in Jamaica, if you asked me who had a bigger ego, I would have told you, Jamaican men. My White male friends — and boyfriends — were primarily European. While I’m sure egos run wild in Europe in any country, I never felt it firsthand from any of them. I also felt no desire or need to tap dance around their egos.
They were the most feminist men I had ever met. One ex from Spain told me, “You’re a power woman. Don’t ever take sh!t from anyone. Not even me.” English was not his first language, but you get the point. This was my typical experience, whether they came from Hungary, the UK, Spain, Italy, or even Jamaica.
Landing on U.S. Shores
While living in Jamaica, I did frequent the United States, and in so doing, found myself in a long-distance relationship more than once. I never dated Americans in Jamaica, so the long-distance runs were my first introduction to dating White American men. I stumbled across the same problem every time.
At some point, I would excel too greatly at one thing, and he would become upset. Sly remarks would follow about my college degree, followed by remarks about my travelling, housing choices, and overall lifestyle. Other times, we would disagree on a specific thing and the underhanded remarks would follow.
This has been my experience with almost every White American male I have ever dated or befriended. Even in my marriage, experience has taught me that there are some topics best avoided if you don’t want to somehow bruise an ego.
Whenever I travel, I can also count on losing at least one White American male friend per trip, either right before, during or right after the trip. I kid you not. Meanwhile, my European White male friends want to know how the trip went, how much did it cost, what did I do, and whether or not I think it’s worth a visit for them.
An Honest Tantrum
One American was actually honest enough to tell the truth, or rather, yell it at me angrily. “Yes, I’m jealous!” he practically screamed at me. “I’m jealous that you get to travel and see sh!t. You think I don’t want to travel too? But I can’t afford it! Lucky you for being able to do it!” He also brought up:
- That I owned my home rather than rented
- That I only had to work 3 days per week
- That I owned my own business
How did this conversation start? I don’t blame you for wondering. There was a group of about six of us who were supposed to hang out that Saint Patty’s night in 2018. It was shortly before my trip to Utah and Colorado with Tristan, which I had actually invited this idiot to. All along, he had pretended he would come, only to tell me at the last minute that he couldn’t afford it.
I get this a lot, so it didn’t even faze me. I told him we could all go camping when I got back in prep for a few music festivals we had planned to attend. He then began to complain that what was a camping trip compared to some fancy trek into the desert? I saw where it was going, hugged the rest of the group goodbye and took my leave. While I waited for my Uber to come get me, he had his little toddler tantrum on the porch.
Always, after these episodes, I ask myself. What are they really mad about? Is it because I’m a woman, an immigrant who just got here, or because I’m Black?
The Halfhearted Compliments
Not all White American males I know are this vocal about their feelings. The others may choose more passive-aggressive ways of showing it. I first began to notice it when I made my initial big leaps forward in my writing career on U.S. soil.
I specifically remember the day I was published on a major lifestyle blog. I was super excited. I crafted my text message and copy and pasted it to all my friends. Some I changed a little per the person, but overall the message was the same.
Shortly afterwards, tonnes of responses poured in. My Jamaican and European friends shared my excitement, as did one White American male friend. Those who did not know the website looked it up. In contrast, my White American male friends responded with “OK” or “Cool” or something else monosyllabic. I believe one may have said, “Congrats!”
The Backhanded Compliments
When I was working on my novel, the problem was the same. I enlisted the help of a young history professor to help me fact-check the historical points as a beta reader. Within three days of trying to hammer out the details, he said to me, “People like you strive for the superlative; I am perfectly content with my mediocrity.”
He was upset because he had pointed out an error that was not history-related, which turned out to be wrong. Rather than blatantly tell him he was wrong, I had forwarded an article from Britannica covering the topic. Well, how dare I!
After I published, I still received some backhanded compliments. Women of all colours, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities were excited about the novel. My male friends from Jamaica bought it and congratulated me even when they did not make it past the first chapter because they weren’t big on reading fiction, least of all something written in 1800’s English.
But, the response that sticks out most among my friends — who had their own thoughts on the matter — came from a White American male. His praised included telling me that it was wonderful novel for a first try and that his four-star rating was meant to “encourage” me as a writer to do better next time.
In the words of one of my friends, which I later reiterated in my chats with others who asked about it:
Isn’t it ironic that you write an independently published book as a Black, female Jamaican immigrant about feminism, slavery and racial struggles, and a White American man comes along to give you four stars as a favour so you can grow? Or even better, so you can improve the way you tell our own ancestors’ stories for him?
Shortly afterwards, I wrote a blog post about my trips in the Caribbean last year. He commented to say my blog was well-written and if I had ever considered professional travel writing. He did not for a second stop to think that I already do this as — cue: dramatic gasp — a professional writer.
My friends read the comment and shot me emoji eye rolls. “What is wrong with this guy?” they asked me.
I laughed. “Welcome to ‘Murica! Most of them aren’t even aware they do it.”
I then wrote a post alluding to it, entitled:
If you already read that post and remember what it was about, I’m sure it makes a hell of a lot more sense to you now.
The Unexpected Perpetrators
When it comes to the dangerous tap dance around White men’s egos, the ethnicity of the woman has little to do with it. While I am sure, it is much worse for women of colour, I hear the same complaints from White women.
In fact, it was speaking to White women that helped me formulate my list of things not to discuss with most White American men. Many shared that they also had similar issues with their boyfriends or husbands and that they had learned over the years to avoid certain topics to keep the peace. I have also heard similar complaints from African-American men who work in “White spaces”.
Here’s what’s funny. When Liberal America hops on the topic of White male ego and how toxic it becomes in an already patriarchal society, the focus is often on old White men, usually of the Republican variety.
Well, I’m here to disabuse you of this notion. Those men are in the spotlight because they have the power to act on their biases and their desire to keep women in line. But, in my experience, White millennial men of the Liberal variety are just as guilty — even the self-proclaimed feminists.
The Real MVPs
My European and Jamaican male friends will always be the real MVPs. I can tell them anything — from my greatness to my smallness — and rely on their support. Any disagreement is on the merit of the argument, not my alleged privilege because I “strive for the superlative”. I have rarely, if ever, faced any hostility regarding my accomplishments, even when it surpassed their own. Nor, have they given me any backhanded compliments to help me grow.
The same is true for some of my White American friends and family members. One said to me the other day, “You’re so consistent and determined with your goals”.
“It’s the Third World fever,” I joked. “We start way behind when we get here, so we really are determined to catch up.”
He promptly requested that I infect him with this fever of mine as he had been struggling with one particular goal of his, even though he has come a long way. The following day, he joined us on a family outing, and I had a grand time sharing the desert house design plans with him. He shared his feedback and amusement with how thought out I had it already: no backhanded or halfhearted compliments included.
After these experiences in America, here’s what I do know. The next time a White American tells me I am “lucky” that I “get” to do anything or tries to make me feel bad for holding myself to “superlative standards” I’m going to share some words that might be difficult to swallow.
But, who knows? Perhaps my words will only be passable for a first-time novelist somehow writing her 40th novel or maybe I should consider becoming a professional wordsmith first…