I’ve said this multiple times before, especially when I’m conducting a workshop or training. I really didn’t realize that I was a White man until I was about 24. Yeah, I know. Right? Talk about privilege…see, I had become pretty focused on my subordinated identity as a gay person that I didn’t really leave time/room/effort to recognize that I had tons and tons of privilege as a White person and even more so with being male.
Privilege is, in and of itself, the benefits afforded to you by an UNEARNED advantage (say it with me now…UNEARNED). Simply by being born a White male that never questioned my gender identity, I was never going to encounter oppressive social structures based upon race or gender. For an excellent overview of these concepts, read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on privilege lately. Why is that? Well, see…November 8th happened. The election of our 45th president. I stayed awake until about 3 a.m., gripped in the horror that Hillary Rodham Clinton would not be the glass-ceiling-shattering first women president and instead our country had elected an openly racist, misogynist, immigrant-blaming, classist, sexual assaulting, Commander in Chief. My home state had even swung toward him—something that hadn’t happened in a while.
So, what did I do about this? Ashamedly, pretty much nothing. See, this is where privilege comes in. I turned off MSNBC, ignored the local news, took a break from Facebook for about two weeks. I just couldn’t handle it. And it really wasn’t about Hillary losing—it wasn’t about a candidate for me—it was about losing ideals. The ideals that we had finally moved the needed toward acceptance of different people, that there was no way possible that a majority of people would vote for someone who was so intolerant and openly hateful toward people not like him.
Now, it’s been almost four months since that fateful day and I’ve come to a really important realization: by withdrawing, I was exerting my privilege as a White man. As long as I didn’t tell people that I was gay or accidently showed them my Pennsylvania Access card, I could maintain inclusion in the new America of Trump. I wouldn’t be shot by someone for looking different, have a family member’s final resting place be destroyed, have my child possibly die en-route for life-saving surgery, or even be impacted by the other overwhelming hate that has increased since the election.
What will I do differently? What is expected of those of us with privilege, engage, but with those who look like me! I have to fight back against other White people and men believing that what’s going on doesn’t somehow impact us. That, to help them realize, in actuality, WE are the problem. WE allowed him to be elected. WE will be responsible for millions losing their health care. WE are responsible for the increase in hate groups. WE have the power to stop it and make things better for others WITHOUT losing for ourselves. As a fantastic t-shirt says, “equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you, it’s not pie.” (PS- get yours here!) I’m going to remind myself daily to not withdraw. That silence does, in fact, equal death (as my ACT-UP folks would argue). How will you fight back? Tell us in the comments.