“Not All Whites”: An Open Letter to My Fellow White Males (Gen X and Millennial Edition)

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It sucks to feel that you are blamed for things you never individually did; none of us annihilated the Natives or enslaved Africans. None of us beat women as they were making their way to the polls. We did not support Plessy v. Ferguson; we did not burn crosses on the lawns of those supporting integration, and we did not create a system that defines an African American as 3/5 a person.

But we inherited the system. And while I can absolutely understand the knee-jerk reaction to defend ourselves, to eschew the label of racist or misogynist, especially when we feel it is being hurled at us simply because of our race and gender, the fact is our defensiveness is misplaced. When we respond, “not all males” or “not all Whites,” we are derailing the conversation. We suddenly make it about our fragility and need to be comforted from the realities of our complicity in racism and sexism. We put the responsibility of assuaging our hurt feelings on people who have a much better understanding of racism and sexism than do we, even those of us who consider ourselves rather enlightened and educated. I read one pompous liberal on a local FB page say that he, a White man, was not part of the White supremacist culture. Yes you are, dude. We all are. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just means that we are part of a system we did not construct.

But the answer is not to deny the reality of racism. The answer is not to point out that there are Blacks who hate Whites (this most certainly is true); the answer is not to say that if we all just ignored race everything would be fine. It won’t be. And we do not have the right to ask others to deny their own ethnic and cultural heritages in an effort to do away with the racism that was created through White supremacy culture.

What I often hear from fellow White men is this: “We can’t be proud of our race or gender. Can you imagine the uproar if we talked about White pride?” While I understand the sentiment, the answer is not to be mad at persons of color because they are proud of their heritages; we should be mad at the asshats in the White Power movement that have made white pride synonymous with hatred.

Those people who seek to make us ashamed of ourselves or to loathe ourselves are not understanding what will alleviate the original sin of racism. While there is no “reverse racism,” there is prejudice abounding. Prejudice knows no color. And I certainly understand striking back (verbally, but with restraint) against those who seek to denigrate us and turn us into objects of ridicule. I am a child of God, and you will not deny me of that.

But whether we like it or not, things are not even in this country. No one is saying that you don’t work hard; no one is saying that things are somehow easier on a day-to-day basis, especially for those of us who are working class or are under employed. It is hard out there. However, we are part of a system that privileges both race and money. Too often, our anger is directed at people who discuss race issues in ways that we find confrontational. So we get defensive and the conversation derails. The fact is, most of us are beholden to monied interests, and have little to no shot of equaling or bettering the quality of life achieved by our parents or even grandparents (who lived through the Great Depression, think about that). We have to start having real conversations about race, and that means, yes, we need to go back to the 1950s. At least in terms of our education. We need to learn about the Civil Rights movement, and not the whitewashed version we get from textbooks. We need to watch Eyes on the Prize, and read Stride Toward FreedomAutobiography of Malcolm X, Lay Bear the Heart, and Soul on Ice. We need to understand that the nonviolent movement was largely carried out by persons of color, and too many of us Whites remained silent or expressed our solidarity silently.

I know. Not you. You were not there. But you are here. Now. And we have some major problems brewing. A fascist, racist, billionaire is poised to capture enough delegates to win the nomination of the GOP, or force a brokered convention. Ish is getting real. So we need to stand up and decry the racism that we see; we need to listen to others about their own experiences so we can better identify the ways in which racism manifests itself, and the ways in which we might have internalized racism without even understanding that we did.

Not all White people. I agree. But we have a choice to make regarding which side of the divide we fall upon.

 

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