I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a white man, Erik Hagerman, who lives on a farm in Southeastern, Ohio. He decided that, after Nov. 8, 2016, he would “avoid learning anything that happened to America.” Hagerman—“The Man who Knew too Little”—has staved off of social media, refuses to discuss or look at politics, and has asked his friends and family to not engage him on the topic: he calls this The Blockade. He’s even gone so far as to alert the coffee shop he frequents of his blockade. The article is an utterly interesting and engrossing read into the life of a privileged white man.
This works for Hagerman for a few reasons—two of the biggest ones being that he lives on a farm in rural Ohio and is very well-off financially (he was a “corporate executive at Nike”). The Times also reports that he has a financial advisor who takes care of his investments—when the financier sends Hagerman updates, he never even looks at them. In the Times article, Hagerman says, “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?”
Even as I sit here to attempt to find the words to process Hagerman’s situation, I am at a loss. I am struck by his ignorance. So, Hagerman: You’d been following the news for decades and when a racist, sexist, xenophobic man white man was elected president, you felt that the only thing you could do was to ignore it? Would you be able to do this if you were Muslim? Or what about a recipient of DACA? A Black man? The answer, of course, is no. POC, womxn, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled peeps can’t ignore the reality of life under Trump; it is very much life or death for so many. Cruel policies around immigration could—and have—meant deportation for some. The rescinding of protective laws for transgender people are setting back years of work, protest, and policy reform. Hagerman is only able to ignore this because he is a rich, white man.
I’m reminded of a time, right after Trump won the election, when I was discussing the state of national affairs with a white man. I was saddened that the country had elected this horrid person and the dude I was talking with simply said, “This won’t change anything. I’m not sure why everyone is upset by this.” Sure, nothing might change for him or Hagerman. But for millions of others, lives have been and will be upended.
What about Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old father, husband, and landscaper from Michigan who was brought to the United States when he was 9 years old, had paid his taxes for years, and has been fighting for citizenship ever since? Things didn’t go unchanged for him. Instead, Garcia was led from Detroit back to Mexico, having been recently deported on Jan. 15—on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Garcia couldn’t just live peacefully and ignorantly and forget everything Trump has been saying and doing to Mexican-Americans. Opting out of the national conversation is just not an option for many people.
Hagerman knows nothing of Heather Hyer, even though his sister Bonnie works and lives in Charlottesville, Va. She says, “He has the privilege of constructing a world in which very little of what he doesn’t have to deal with gets through. …We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others.”
I am here writing this to both understand what Hagerman is doing as well as how he is able to do it. Let’s start with the basics. Hagerman is:
- a cis, white man
- financially secure
- owns his own land
- has demanded that friends, family, and the people in surrounding towns work with him to obey his wishes
Rich white man syndrome strikes once again: his whiteness and wealth allow him to be so controlling and insulated from the world. All of the above factors allow Hagerman to access the benefits of his privilege. The article goes on to speak of a friend of his, an immigrant who just recently became an American citizen. Hagerman has shut her down about speaking about anything surrounding the administration and immigration. Just like the current administration in silencing those around us, this man is doing exactly the same.
OK, OK everyone. I might be digging into this dude a little hard. There is also the aspect of mental health that I haven’t brought up. He could be doing this because he wants to take part in “self-care,” healing his mind so he can help others. I mean once you get to the end of the article, Hagerman talks about a haven he’s making that he calls The Lake. It’s a piece of old coal mining land he owns, and he plans to use it as a rehab facility for others to use as a media escape. This could be an admirable way to use his resources and time to fight the political climate, but excusing yourself from injustice just isn’t an option. Recharging yourself and your mental health and needing to show yourself some love so you can clearly take on the daily battles in your life is utterly important. However removing yourself from the conversation completely is unwarranted. When even one of us—as part of this human race—is hurting, we all are. We need to come together to fight for each other and ourselves.
What this really all boils down to is privilege. Everyone should be able to access that pinnacle of privilege that Erik Hagerman has accessed as a white man: Respect.
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