What is Cultural Narcissism?
Before we talk about White anger, we have to address cultural narcissism. Cultural narcissism, according to George Simon, includes all the ways a group or society tolerates, encourages, and promotes traits like:
- Excessive striving for outward signs of success (e.g., money, status, physical attractiveness)
- Being overly focused on oneself to the neglect of others
- A sense of entitlement to wealth, fame, recognition, and power
- Constant competition against, and envy of, people who appear to be more successful
Given this definition, I think we live in an extremely narcissistic culture. Narcissism exists on a continuum and everyone moves up and down the continuum all day, every day. And narcissism of any kind blocks the pure experience of anger as simply an emotion to be felt and addressed. Narcissism (in all of us) makes us defend through misplaced anger or dissociated anger: It looks like scary anger on the outside, but it’s mostly fear and anxiety on the inside.
I also just read White Rage, by Carol Anderson. In this book about White people’s behavior towards Black people throughout American history, Anderson provides many of the missing pieces that I never learned in high school. When Kimberly Jones says, “The system is rigged,” she means the myriad deliberate blockages to the autonomy and well-being of African Americans set into law and policy since their forced arrival here in the 1600s. If you wonder what she’s talking about, White Rage walks you through the horrific details.
White Anger & Misplaced Anger
The dominant U.S. culture still values the accumulation of wealth and domination. Everyone works too much, often simply to pay rent and put food on the table. The larger society supports this: we value the treadmill that eventually leads (White Americans) to our own dreams of unlimited wealth and power. We say, work is good. Work more, and you will be good, like me.
So, if we’re White and barely surviving, we look around and compare. We feel anxious, scared. Or, if we’re White and doing okay but feeling not good enough, we notice others with more and feel outraged or discouraged. If people of color get opportunities to which we feel entitled (even basic asylum from terror, as in the case of Mexican immigrants), we get mad. “I should have that!” we say. Our misplaced anger has tremendous anxiety embedded in it.
As White people, we have to own our narcissism, our anxiety, and our misplaced anger. I include myself in this. We feel anxious, misplaced anger when we’re offended or jealous that someone else has what we thought was rightfully ours. We feel we are falling behind, worth less because another is worthy. I think this underlying White anxious resentment drives much of our nation’s politics and created the current administration.
We did this, and we can change it, by:
- Treating our children with dignity and tenderness.
- Learning how to calm ourselves from the inside.
- Re-learning how to know when we’re angry and what to do with that.
- Owning our personal and cultural narcissism.
Homework: Make a list of things you feel jealous about. Notice any anger you feel around anything on the list. Where do you feel the anger or jealousy in your body? Place one hand on that part of your body and take three deep breaths, just allowing yourself to comfort that part of you.