Time To Earn That Privilege

11 12 2015

(for my fellow white straight dudes)

5 months ago I started a post along these lines: it’s not enough for us straight white dudes to avoid giving offense. Bigotry is real. “Not all men” might be true, but “Some men” is also true and they are a real problem for people less privileged than us. “All lives matter” might be true, but it’s an offensive petulant whine coming from a white dude. Non-white, non-male, non-straight, less-able people struggle every day in ways we cannot appreciate. So we need to do more than not offend. We have a duty to recognize our privilege and become ambassadors for equality. This can be pursued in small, simple actions, such as noticing your attitude at a four-way stop or entering a public building. Because I noticed, to my unpleasant surprise, than in such situations I often felt entitled to go first. Not out of any sense of biological superiority– most of the time I can’t even see who’s driving the other cars– but just due to the habit of getting my way. It’s less pronounced, but the same impulse that leads to things like manspreading. So now I hold the door for someone else whenever I get the chance, regardless of who they are, as a way to break the habit and embody common courtesy.

That was five months ago. Since then the chaos erupting everywhere hit home on several fronts. The tension between police and African Americans keeps boiling over. A close friend lost someone when an aggressive driver plowed into a crowd. If he’d had a gun instead of a car it would have been tallied with the increasingly commonplace mass shootings. White supremacists in Minneapolis fired into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, in no small part because a major presidential candidate is giving space and permission to violent bigots. It’s been terrifying. My little draft about resisting white privilege suddenly seemed pathetically naive.

Then there was this incident of Deepinder Mayell being intimidated by a white dude at a Vikings game. Here’s the takeaway: “But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.”

Five or six years ago, I was on a bus in Portland, sitting near the front. The driver stopped the bus to aggressively yell at a young woman who he felt was speaking Spanish on her phone so loudly that he couldn’t concentrate on driving. I was sitting right across from her. I should have spoken up. I could have politely told the driver that his attitude was uncalled for. Anything to let the driver and the woman both know that his belligerence was his alone, and that she was among friends. But I didn’t do anything. Eventually people toward the back of the bus did speak up and shut him down, but not me. I’m disgusted with myself over this memory. I hate sharing it, but I feel I have to if this post is going to be at all honest. I sat there, safe in the safest cocoon there is; straight white dudedom.

Despite the title of this post, the kind of privilege we white straight dudes enjoy can never be earned. But still. We are the ones who don’t have to fear being arrested, beaten or killed for the slightest provocation. We are not the ones dismissed as hysterical when we say there’s a problem. We are not the ones receiving violent accusations of being terrorists (or terrorist refugees, as if that made any sense). We are in the position of power. We have the least at risk when we stand up to the bigoted ass-clowns. If we don’t stand up to them, we might as well join them, because our silence props them up and threatens everyone else.

Bigotry is out in the open again. We have to fight it. And holding a damn door open is not going to cut it.

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