I will never be as confident about anything as many mediocre white men seem to be about everything.
I’m a capable, talented woman of color. I’m pretty sure of myself and my ability, but I’ve got my limits. Some people just … don’t.
And, sadly, many of those people, who lack self-awareness or good friends who question their intentions, decide the best use of their time, resources, and position of privilege is to run for office.
Because who’s better to speak for the many diverse and rapidly-changing communities that make up this great country than a straight white man?
Answer: Pretty much anybody.
That’s why 20-something political operatives and white men Jack Teter and Kyle Huelsman launched the Can You Not PAC.
Their mission is simple: ask, persuade, and/or disempower people with privilege (specifically straight white men) from running for public office in progressive urban areas. And with the help of an advisory board, the group plans to endorse a slate of women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates instead.
“It is our job to bring down the confidence level of mediocre straight white men to their corresponding level of competence,” the duo told Upworthy. “We are in a crisis of under-qualified, over-confident candidates.”
They’re not making this up.
In a recent study out of American University, men are nearly 60% more likely than women to evaluate themselves as “very qualified” to run for elected office. Among the men who assessed themselves as “not qualified,” 55% of them have still considered the idea of running for office despite their qualifications (or lack thereof).
The whole thing began as a joke, but now it has taken off. After starting at the state level, with a Colorado Political Committee, the founders are thinking about expansion.
“After receiving contributions from coast to coast, we realized there was a whole country of people who are tired of electing Ken Doll lookalikes,” they said.
And no, this is not a case of self-loathing. It’s political science.
Jack and Kyle are firm believers in progressive politics, and the data doesn’t lie. A 2012 study from Emory University revealed African-Americans elected to the state legislature are more likely than other Democrats with similar constituencies to introduce measures that combat racial discrimination and improve access to health care.
Similarly, women in state legislatures are more likely to introduce legislation about reproductive health, bills dealing with children, women’s health, and welfare.
So for people interested in progressive change, supporting women and people of color just makes sense.
But some would argue that if this all about dismantling ego and checking privilege, should two white dudes be leading the way?
Asking straight white men to take a seat is far from a new idea. People of color, women, and LGBTQ individuals have been raising this mantle since time eternal. There are organizations like Emily’s List, Equality PAC, and the Latino Victory Project that encourage women, LGBTQ people, and people of color to pursue public office.
But Can You Not is the first one to actively encourage straight white men to sit out. That difference is especially noteworthy.
“I really, really firmly believe that it’s the absolute obligation of people in positions of privilege to dismantle oppressive power structures,” Jack said. That goes for men calling B.S. on sexism, white people checking their privilege, and cisgender people speaking out against hateful legislation like North Carolina’s recent “bathroom bill,” HB2.
As one might assume, the Can You Not PAC is not without critics.
“We’ve been getting push back from two places: white supremacists who want to kill us, and young progressive white dudes who maybe want to run some day,” Kyle said.
The former is difficult to reason with, but getting the latter on board is crucial and has already lead to some enlightening conversations.
“People get defensive, as they should — anyone who wants to run for office better be ready to explain to people why they’re the best representative of their community,” he added.
And hey, idealist, progressive white guys: Can You Not is not suggesting you abandon your political dreams altogether. As Jack said,
“We’re saying that aspirational young white guys who want to be in politics because they love the ‘West Wing’ should use their passion and their time and their talent to make politics look less like them — because it’s good government, because it’s good progressive policy, and because it’s the right thing to do to fight hundreds of years of egregious overrepresentation of straight white men to the disservice of marginalized communities all over the country. Sometimes the best thing you can do is step aside so other people can lead.”
We’ve been a country for nearly 240 years, and straight white guys have been a majority of the decisionmakers (for better or worse) for the entire time.
No matter where you fall politically, adding new and diverse voices is vital to sustaining thoughtful dialogue and best representing this country’s rapidly changing demographics. There’s no better time than right this minute for traditionally underrepresented voices to stand up and drive the nation forward, with or without groups like Can You Not.
“In short: Women, LGBT folks, and people of color don’t need straight white men to save them or to speak for them in politics,” Jack said. “They need them to get the hell out of the way.”
Thumbnail image by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.
Thanks to Jack and Kyle for the amazing interview over e-mail. They had some very thoughtful responses, and I appreciate them taking the time. Here’s what they said when I asked if there was anything else they wanted readers to know.
“Give to us and we promise we won’t give any money to straight white dudes. Better yet — please check out EMILY’s list and Emerge America, The New Americans Leadership Project, Latino Victory Fund, Black Lives Matter, Higher Heights, the Victory Fund, and tons of other national and local groups doing this work on the ground. And also, straight white guys, can you not?”