Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To my fellow white, heterosexual men:  Stop talking (for now) and listen...



There is quite a convergence in the public sphere:  major story lines concerning race, gender, and sexuality.  Lots of people are speaking out over their personal experiences concerning one or more of these life aspects.
What’s a straight white man to do?
The answer is simple, yet powerful:   listen.  
If you speak, restrict yourself to clarifying questions, words of acknowledgement that you heard what was said, and if you feel so called, apologize.
Now I’m willing to bet that this doesn’t sit well with many straight white men.  I know that it doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m going to assume the best about us for the moment (myself, and any other straight white male still reading), and that the primary negative reaction is well intended:  whatever is in our minds as a racist, sexist, or homophobic person is NOT who we are.  We think of the racist as the one who “uses the n-word”, the sexist who abuses women, and the homophobic as the one who shouts “God hates F---”.  That’s not us, and we desperately do not want to be seen as that.   We’re better then that.  
But in our shouts claiming so, in our worry that we get lumped into a label, we for all intensive purposes attempt to shift the conversation back to us:  how different we are, how much we’ve grown, how much better things are, and how much progress has been made.
None of this should be the point.
The stories being told by non-whites, women, and GLBT persons are real stories of being hated, demeaned, and endangered because of a critical part of their very being.  They are being shared to support others who have been wounded, or in the hope of changing our society to be a better one.  The tellers range from a press conference with President Obama, to shared tweets from women around the globe @EverydaySexism.  The success of the person does not change the experience.  
I want to shout out that “I get it!”  You may want to do so too...
But at this moment, for all intents and purposes,  the personal stories of straight white men trying to show “that’s not me”, or say “I’ve been hurt too”, does nothing to change the realities of being a racial minority, a woman, or a GLBT person, other than push them aside.  Doing so also misses the places where we may hold more subtle views of an “ism” that we’ve failed to recognize, or to tell truth where we’ve not had to worry about things because of being straight, white, or male. 
Our stories matter, but they’re not for now.
I understand that many straight white men will argue with my opinion, citing examples that seem to counter my conclusions:
“People in these groups hurt each other; the experiences of these groups are not the same!”  ---That may be true, but it’s not for straight white men to solve, or to be absolved by.  
“Look at all these people who have had it easier than me!”  ---That simply does not change the truth behind their experience.
Are straight white men just supposed to feel guilty?  Well, perhaps for some things, and not for others.  Whether we specifically feel guilty or not isn’t ultimately where we are to end up.
I believe I am called to use whatever power I have to help these voices be heard.  I am to learn from their experiences.  And, if I am courageous, I can help be part of a common solution:  to continue working towards acknowledging the -isms that still plague our world, and to be part of a solution where our differences are simply that, and not the places of mistrust, fear, and oppression.
But right now, I really need to listen...