“Just Because I’m White” quickly became my most read post upon release, and it still sits unchallenged at the top of the statistical diagram whenever I sign into my WordPress control panel. This pleases me, if only because the message of that post is one that lots of people online need to hear: No one thinks you’re a bad person just because you’re white, male, straight, or otherwise fortunate. There’s no need to get defensive or feel personally attacked when someone criticizes the privileged group that you belong to; just listen and take responsibility for that privilege.
I still stand by this message. But, looking back, perhaps I could have conveyed it with more kindness. I do pride myself on speaking from a kind place as often as I can, after all. So, please accept the following text as a friendly addendum to my somewhat harsh original post (the last few sentences of which are included in grey, to make the connection clear):
You’re not racist because you’re white. You’re not sexist because you’re a man. You are, however, in a position of relative power, and those who lack that power are urging you to use it wisely. So, the next time you read an angry tweet about stupid white men who do racist and sexist things, remember: You get to decide whether or not they are talking about you.
However, I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s easy. As a white man myself, I can attest that it does hurt when a Twitter celebrity scolds all men for something you’ve never personally done. It does feel unfair when Youtubers you’ve never met claim that you as a white person are helping to perpetuate racist structures, even though you yourself aren’t racist. It is annoying when a self-righteous SJW blogger who purports to also be a Star Wars fan instructs you to scrutinize your own mind and weed out tiny prejudices from your subconscious. Yes, having strangers point out the privilege they think you possess is unpleasant. Heck, they can be downright mean about it, such as when female feminists unite under the slogan “men are trash”. I’m not going to pretend like it’s absurd for men to feel personally attacked by discourse like that. I understand that it hurts, and how tempting it is to write it off as mindless PC gospel.
Then again, I can’t in good conscience demand that women, people of color, and similarly disadvantaged individuals phrase their complaints in a nicer manner. Many of them face hatred and prejudice on a level that we cannot imagine, and I feel like they’ve earned the right to complain and not be so tactful about it. They’re angry, and they have every reason to be. Thus, it’s up to us white men to form strategies for digesting their criticisms.
My personal advice is this: Listen carefully to the complaint, but only after you’ve been kind to yourself. The next time the privileged group to which you belong is called out for something, allow the sensitive part of your mind to feel hurt and wrongfully accused, and try to soothe the pain with ample self-sympathy. Remember that your social group only defines you to a small extent – your identity is made up of so much more. Having reminded yourself of that, you should then have a much easier time analyzing what was actually said about your privilege. Use the rational part of your mind, and ask yourself: “What is the accusation, and what do I think about it?”
Do you think it’s valid? Great! You’ve deepened your understanding of the form of injustice that is being discussed, and are less likely to unwittingly help uphold it.
Do you think it’s invalid? Then you may be correct, and you have every right to debate. But do so as humbly as possible. Even if you’re right in this particular matter, the person who voiced the complaint is likely to have more knowledge and experience of injustice than you do. Listen more than you speak 🙂