I am a white South African man, and when I wrote about the problems of white masculinity I faced a barrage of abusive tweets, threats and even a phone call to one of my work colleagues to complain about my writing. Ironically, all of this proved the argument I was making.
More importantly: it proved that people — regardless of who they are — struggle to look inwards, to think about who they are and where they come from. When someone raised the point that there was a need for people to look within themselves and discuss the way they love and treat other people (women, in this instance), there was an instinctive move away from thinking about why they behave the way they do and believe whatever it is they believe.
Introspection could lead to change and challenge — an internal revolt, even. It is much easier to withstand the internal revolt that comes from recognising that many of our beliefs are tied only to our surroundings. It is easier to pretend that our mind is ours alone. The contradiction in this is that the human mind is very much a creature of the ruling ideology of the day; and it is only when we lead an internal revolt against this ideology that we actually take control of our mind.
In the documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Slavoj Zizek, the infamous Slovenian philosopher, draws on Hollywood films to outline the ways in which ideology (the overbearing neoliberal, capitalist, individualist ideology that surrounds us) permeates our lives — and even our dreams. Zizek speaks about the tragedy of living within ideology — it is enslavement by our reality, and our failure to recognise this enslavement.
He calls for an internal revolt against the ways in which ideology enslaves our minds. The challenge for us is to live and dream in a way that is not linked directly to the status quo. In the context of a society which is often polarised on the basis of race, I would say that this internal revolt must be about breaking down the preconceived notions we have about people — and ourselves. It is about coming to terms with the stories embedded in our skin, and the stories we read into the skins of others.
This introspection creates the space for us to emancipate ourselves from the ways in which we experience the “other” — those who are different from us. For example, by evaluating the ways in which we, as white South Africans, have grown up in a culture that affirms our superiority, we can break apart these incorrect assumptions and affirmations. We can challenge the myth of white exceptionalism, and separate the ideology and its loaded stories from the people we meet.
An internal revolt against the ideology we are exposed to from the moment we exit the womb does not merely change attitudes and mind-sets; it is essentially about liberation and taking full control of one’s life, mind and body.
It can — and must — simultaneously be about challenging your whiteness (blackness, even?), manliness, straightness. Beyond tackling the problems of identity, this internal revolt must challenge the goals you want to accomplish and the things you aspire to, as these are most definitely tied to the ruling ideology. Your values, your connection to the social world, the things you devote yourself to, and the way you love others are all indelibly connected to the ideology — and unless challenged, it controls your happiness and future.
Zizek notes that the process of stepping outside ideology is painful, difficult — bloody even. Our complicity in ideology — be it the overbearing ideology of money, money, money or the ideology of white supremacy — makes the process particularly difficult. In the face of revolt, the human mind fights back. The abuse and the heckling faced by people who speak out about complex issues like race, gender and sexuality isn’t merely an expression of ignorance — it is the way in which human beings react to internal revolt.
The failure to introspect is a failure to take control of our lives and our minds. It is only through an internal revolt that we can be free and ultimately live and exist with others.