Fascism is a Cycle
One of the best nonfiction books I've read in recent memory is The Man They Wanted Me to Be by Jared Yates-Sexton. I read it last summer and I've been screeching at everyone who will listen, telling them that they need to read it; everyone in American needs to read it desperately because it was already urgently relevant to our time and our political and social climate last summer, and it is even more urgent now.
The book is a unique one in my experience as a reader--equal parts personal memoir, American history, and social examination of the present. Yates-Sexton blends all of these ingredients seamlessly into an eminently readable and gripping narrative that, via his own lived experiences as a white man growing up in the Evangelical Midwest, closely examines the history that brought us to our current political crisis and the way this current social ill can be treated and (one hopes) cured.
The memoir portions are moving and vivid, tracing the author's struggle to define masculinity for himself amid a culture of fear that allows men and boys only one outlet for their social and existential dread: violence. It is remarkably honest and raw. It's not for the faint of heart. I suspect that men particularly will have a difficult time reading this book, because it speaks so directly to the deep wound I believe all men carry in their hearts: our culture's denial of male emotions, other than anger and hate. This book will make you feel. And you really need to feel this, especially if you are a man or if you are the parent of a boy.
I bring this book up this week, when I'm writing so much about civil unrest and fascism, because it has a lot to say about how wounded masculinity will only ever lead to fascism. And also because Yates-Sexton's next book American Rule, which comes out this September, deals even more directly with the subject of fascism, exploring the ways fascistic governments run on cycles and how fragile masculinity that refuses to heal its own emotional wounds fuels those cycles, to the detriment of all people everywhere.
I want you to read American Rule when it hits the shelves, and before you do that, you need to acquaint yourself with Yates-Sexton's central thesis of damaged masculinity and the way it festers in our culture. In order to understand his thesis, you must read The Man They Wanted Me to Be. It's so relevant to our present moment that I think reading this book and absorbing the lessons it has to teach counts as one of the many things you can do to actively help the Black struggle in America. Understand what our Black neighbors are up against. I mean, really understand it, as much as you can if you are not Black yourself. The Man They Wanted Me to Be will help you understand. It may seem strange or wrong for me to suggest that the work of a white man can help you get to grips with the Black struggle for justice, but once you see the way Yates-Sexton lays bare the myth of the strong white heterosexual American male--the primary force behind the oppression of all oppressed parties, especially Black people--you'll understand why this book will be a critical part of unlearning racism.