Joshua Spodek, Ph.D., MBA

Leadership and the Environment

White Men and Preconceived Notions

Taking on today's hot-button issues with Psychology Today's editor-at-large.

Posted Feb 17, 2020

Psychology Today's editor-at-large, Hara Estroff Marano, and I continue our conversations on challenging topics.

Today we continue with white men and preconceived notions of us.

We were talking about topics before hitting record and I started to describe the pattern that comes up a few minutes into this recording. She lit up in the way someone who has thought about something and has something to say about it does, so we picked stereotypes of white men.

Here's the recording.

As a preview, we start by laying some groundwork. I shared what led me to consider the topic: that I felt the subject of preconceptions based on being a straight white male. Yet when I asked people their preconceptions, they didn't say they had strong ones about white men. What they said clashed with what I and other white men experienced.

Joshua Spodek
Source: Joshua Spodek

We both considered preconceptions necessary and involuntary. We all do it. We likely evolved to do it. We disagreed on how they appeared and how they affect people.

Next, we considered some common preconceptions of various groups based on skin color, sex, geographic origin, and such. Hara shared experiences of maddening preconceptions of her.

Eventually, we got to what I saw as the meat of it: What do people think when they think “white male” or “straight white male”? Or does nothing come to mind? If something does, what? Why?

A common preconception I see, anecdotally, is people seeming to think I haven't suffered, nor could I understand others' suffering. If I say that I've suffered, I've been told that my saying so demonstrates that I don't really know what suffering means. Hara and I explore this perception from various angles.

A big question that came to mind for me that I'd never thought before is whether non-white men think they understand white men while thinking white men don't understand them. And, if their preconceptions are consistent, can they imagine living an entire life with people thinking and responding as they seem to with white men?

Here's the recording.

I think we both thought, "I hope we don't get fired," but also felt, "How can we learn if we don't speak?", so we bit the bullet and recorded. I haven't heard a conversation like it before.

The number of threads we couldn't follow greatly exceeded the ones we could, but if you like controversy or challenging topics, you'll like this one.

On a personal note, you'll hear my views and questions evolve over the conversation. The questions I asked her about trying to understand what it's like to be blamed, I hadn't explored before. Between recording with her and recording these words, I've continued exploring this thread. I've discovered a lot about myself and my experience. Others have shown surprise at something meaningful under their noses that they never noticed.

I credit Hara for her supportive nonjudgment and patience.