Amidst the protests and demonstrations about police brutality, there’s a lot of talk about racial biases going on in the world these days. And as a heterosexual white male of privilege, I just wanna say THANK YOU! Our lives all get better when we come together and get real about the world we live in and the world we’re working toward.
I know I won the birth lottery by being born into a white family in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have the luxury of not talking or even thinking much about my race because I’m not constantly being reminded of it. Especially now that I live in the middle of homogeneous Utah, I look about like everyone else. But I’m not.
Having grown up in a multicultural melting pot, it’s awkward for me when everyone looks like me. When I’m around straight white men only, it feels wrong. This is not an apology and I’m not ashamed of who I am, I’m simply sharing my personal experience…and I don’t think I’m the only person to have it.
When there are women in the room, men act differently. When there are black & brown people in the room, white people don’t talk the same. When there are transgendered folks in the conversation, the conversation changes. That’s all true, and you know what? The quality of the conversation consistently sounds better to me — a white guy — when it’s more inclusive. There is more room for me to show up with more of myself. Plus I don’t have to be the one who outs anyone for their racist or misogynistic or xenophobic comments (I’ll do it, but I really hate doing it!).
While my body is a very white one, my perspectives and ideas aren’t really. Culturally, I don’t fit in that well. I’ve grown up too poor, worked too hard, and traveled too much. Because I won the birth lottery, I can look the part, sure. Many of my friends will never have that option in life, they can’t pretend when they want like I can. But if I look like I’m fitting in when I’m in a room of fellow white people, it’s only because I am indeed pretending. I grew up around a lot of Black culture, Mexican & Native American culture, Indian culture, Asian culture, and I miss it when it’s not there. And no, I’m not talking about food.
For me to feel comfortable, diversity of thought is required. Because my thoughts usually seem to come out of left field for most people for some reason. When other cultural perspectives are in the conversation, then mine aren’t so weird anymore. Well, okay sometimes I’m still definitely the weirdest one in the room, but when there’s a spectrum of backgrounds and experiences and our biases are exposed as the blindspots they are, only then does it feel safe for people to start to see me.
Also, I like getting challenged! Stripping gendered pronouns from my vocabulary isn’t natural for me yet, but it’s a great thing. I don’t like getting attacked, but I do like getting called out when my own biases are showing. We all have them, after all.
Hey, if you had some food in your teeth or something gross hanging out of your nose, I’m going to find the most tasteful and expedient way I can to tell you — before you do something even more embarrassing with it. Please always do the same for me, you can safely assume I want the clue. “Excuse me, your biases are showing”
As a straight white guy, I will continue advocate for getting more divergent voices in the room. I will continue to do my personal best to help bridge and translate and connect those born without my privilege to those who were born with even more than I got. I will continue to find conversations that are uncomfortable for me and places that aren’t as welcoming to my kind and show up until asked to leave. And I will do my very best never to be asked to leave. Because I believe we all need each other.
So I don’t let the Black Lives Matter conversation drift to “all lives matter”. Please, if you ever find yourself heading that direction, you need to sit down and shut up for a minute because you’re missing the point in a rather colossally offensive way. Go find the people you’re talking about. Not to see how the other side lives, but to be among the “they” until it feels more like an “us”. Listen. Your world will be a better one for it.
Lucky for me, I’ve been the token outsider in a lot of situations. I’ve been the one non-woman allowed in woman’s groups and feminist circles. I’ve been the one straight guy amongst groups of gay men. I’ve been the only American around plenty in my travels. The only one lathering on sunscreen and still getting sunburnt when everyone else was fine without it. I’ve also been the only honky crazy enough to go where there ain’t no other honkies to be found. And heck I used to sing in a vocal group called “One White Guy” where I was, y’know, that guy.
This approach isn’t just for whitefolk, if you can be the only person like you where you are, score! I highly recommend it, and I urge you to be on your best behavior. You might not want to say much at first, and truly, listening is a gift all on its own. If you’re invited to speak, do. If you’re not, show up again anyway. Be humble, be respectful, be real.
Just know that doing this will ruin your default perspective forever, your ability to fit in with those who look more like you do…and that this is one of the best things that could ever happen to you.