The problem of ‘broflakes’: young white fragile males


Over the course of 2018, Francis Tuson has become acutely aware of the fragility of conservative young white males in his social circles, who seem to think they’re under a dangerous and widespread attack by liberals.

A disturbing trend has developed among several young, white male acquaintances of mine. They seem to have latched on to the idea, that “the liberal left wing has begun to push too far” and it’s time for them (not left or liberal) to push back.

According to them those now considered “historically disadvantaged”, people of colour, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, among other minority groups, can no longer claim that they face discrimination. The young men pushing back have come to believe that “white men are under attack”. And in their view, they are unjustly being labelled bigots because those on the perceived “left” characterise their actions and attitudes as racist, sexist, homophobic and generally prejudiced against those different to traditional societal norms.

The internet calls these men “broflakes’’. The word made it to the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2017 shortlist for Word of the Year. They are ‘bros’ because they are young and cocksure, and ‘flakes’ because their egos are as fragile as snowflakes.

They resemble a modern version of young Pharisees, as they embrace ‘tradition’ and the ‘good old days’ before the liberal left allegedly swept in and confused the social order. Broflakes feel captured within fairly liberal social (and social media) circles, hence their need to reclaim their space. It is, they say, this rank liberalism, that leads them to assume, mistakenly, that the dominant global paradigm is left-leaning. They find the levels of liberal activism not only unnecessary but harmful. To counteract it they share and produce content affirming their belief that they are in fact victims and not perpetrators of prejudice and discrimination.

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, with a YouTube account of 1.7 million subscribers, has just one example of the kind of logic that fuels broflake fire. Peterson’s demagoguery fuels a growing movement of angry, defensive, bigoted and extremely conservative young white men, actively antagonistic towards people campaigning for values such as equality.

This is hardly new. I am drawn to the words and actions of Jesus.

Jesus supported those who were oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against in and by the society of his time — even antagonising those in power where needed. Remember the scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and elders?  If so, you might just be able to draw comparisons.

There are several other misconceptions, delusions and areas that broflakes refuse to engage with, thus exacerbating the problem.

Allow me to unpack some of these.

Broflakes assume that if one has experienced difficulties in life, one cannot be a beneficiary of privilege. But it is perfectly possible to experience hardship and still benefit, whether or not we are conscious or even willed such an advantage. Thinking otherwise undermines those who continue to be disadvantaged and ignores those who are disadvantaged by virtue of our privilege.

At best there is a failure to see and at worst to admit that these are not mutually exclusive.

Take the privilege of race, for example. A poor white person still benefits from ‘white privilege’. Whites are generally more likely to be considered for job opportunities and less likely to be labelled a criminal or considered dangerous and violent. Conversely, a relatively well-off person of colour can still be the victim of racial discrimination:  passed over for promotion, fall victim to racial slurs and more likely to be assaulted by police. Even their hard-earned achievements are glossed over. It’s “only because of affirmative action” that they got the job or promotion, some will say.

Broflakes also hold the fallacious belief that the culture of prejudice is an inevitable and unfortunate result of human nature that we must simply accept.  Like it or not, they say, there are fundamental differences between sexes and races that demand a difference in treatment. One shouldn’t hope to challenge or change the system — just accept your fate: accept the card you’re dealt and do what you can with your place in the system. No ideas above your station, now!

Broflakes refuse to recognise the existence of “intersectionality”, the interconnectedness expressed when different races, sexual orientations, ages, religions, creeds, disabilities or genders come together.

This negation of interconnectedness comes through in their inability to connect issues like gender-based violence, racism, hate crimes or even historical oppression and inequality. The upshot is dogmatic either/or thinking. This is ridiculous. Think about it, it is quite possible to be a rich, white, gay, blind male and receive all the privilege and discrimination that each of those separate identities attract.

If broflakes were a small fringe group, while unpleasant to interact with it wouldn’t be vital that we educate and convert them to a different viewpoint. The problem is that they are a rapidly growing group of young white males, many of whom will be in positions of power in the near future. These are not necessarily bad people. They are just hurt, misguided, ignorant and a little too self-absorbed.

While Jesus’ apparent liberalism angered most Pharisees, a few saw the good in what Jesus was saying and doing. These humbly came to accept their role in oppressing others and understood the things they needed to change in order to become better people. The only one mentioned by name in the Gospels is Nicodemus. We must believe that there are Nicodemus-like broflakes to whom, like Jesus, we can appeal.

To succeed we must awaken them to the plight of the marginalised, victimised and discriminated against, by modelling embracing and non-discriminatory treatment in our own interactions.

People are generally put-off by activists, given their unapologetic anger and lack of tact. Though anger and tactlessness may be acceptable and appropriate in many circumstances, especially when the activist has fallen victim to the abuse they are campaigning against. But it should never be the responsibility of the marginalised and victimised to convert those ignorant to their cause. It is our responsibility, those of us who have come to recognise our privilege, to become allies and supporters and to bring the members of  communities to fight with us.

That said, the activism of allies is complex. At least some tact is required when attempting to convert the opposition. We must shy away from further alienating them with our grandstanding opinions. Instead, we must, lovingly but firmly, show them why activists are angry. Where broflakes are receptive, we must appeal to them using Jesus’ way of caring for the most marginalised and discriminated against.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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The problem of ‘broflakes’: young white fragile males

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