This is a message for straight, white, and non-disabled men who follow my work in some way. Others are welcome to listen along, but I want to start out by being clear who I am trying to have a conversation with.
To my fellow straight, white men: I am one of you. I have always been one of you. Your culture is my culture. Like you, I am trying to figure out how to live a good life, and treat others fairly.
Like you, my life has not been easy. In my case, I have struggled with being bullied, obese, learning disabled, autistic, a survivor of suicide attempts, and a survivor of sexual assault. Who knows what terrible things you've had to struggle with in your life. Whatever those things are, I want you to know I believe you and I believe you struggled.
To me, part of treating others fairly is listening when other people tell me they've struggled--or are struggling right now. I grew up in a culture that said admitting when you struggle is weak, and that I should be self-reliant. In the last few years, I've seen the ways that's made me unhappy and separated me from people I love.
For the last several years of my life especially, I have been listening and learning from people who aren't straight, white men and learning about the ways they have struggled and are struggling. Can I tell you something honest? It's hard for me to admit it.
When I first started listening to black advocates, it made me uncomfortable how often they called themselves "black people." I wanted to chime in and say, "We're all just people--no labels are needed." After all, I've known so many black people who have struggled like I have: they've been bullied, or struggled with obesity. But, I've also learned that black people in America struggle in ways I never will.
I've never been pulled over by a police officer and worried that my life was in danger. I've never worried that my name, or even the spelling of my name, could cost me a job interview or keep my application for an apartment from being considered.
I'm learning that in addition to the *individual* ways that I've struggled, black people in this country also suffer from widespread problems with the systems of society. I've learned that this isn't unique to black folks either.
Hispanic and lantinx people face their own set of struggles against systems in our society. As to Asian Americans, Indian Americans, or any non-white group of people (often shortened to *people of color* as opposed to *white people.*)
Most of the systems that people of color struggle with every day were built on purpose, but I didn't know that growing up. I thought we lived in a country where all men were created equal. I thought America was a land of liberty and justice for all. Can I be honest again?
I didn't want to believe anyone who told me otherwise. It horrified me that some other person in America didn't have all the same opportunities that I did. And if, God forbid, someone started a tweet about racial injustice in America by referring to "white people," I'd lose my mind. I had an instant reflex to shout, "That's racist!"
I'm still working on that reflex. But, I'm learning that my reflex to interpret any critique of the racist systems in America (often collective referred to was *whiteness*), is a really incredible tool for shutting down essential conversations about equality in America.
But, this isn't a message fro white people. This is a thread for straight, white men, like me. That means we have to talk about more than just whiteness. We also have to mention that all women face the same personal struggles we all deal with, but also face a series of systemic, societal struggles which are often collectively referred to as *patriarchy.*
When anyone critiques the patriarchy by talking about "men," I get uncomfortable. I am a man, after all, and I've never assaulted anyone, or harassed anyone. In the past, I've felt that it was sexist for women to point out problems with men as a group, because not all men are like that, right? Because if all men are the problem them I am the problem, and I don't want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.
While men's professional ambitions are celebrated, women are often called "ball-busters" if they act in the ways men do every day. Women are poorly represented in both public office and corporate management teams. Worse, one in six women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Did you know that? Most women live in a perpetual state of wariness about what a man may do to them, including men they know well.
In the same way my reflex to cry, "that's racist" shuts down essential conversations about racial equality, my reflex to say, "not all men," acts as a headwind to any conversation about gender equality. Friends, I have been guilty of both. Too many times.
And, I have the same reflex when the LGBTQ community talks about the struggles they face with society. No presidential administration, congress, or court has ever put up for debate my right to marry, my access to health care, or my full and equal protection under the law. But, that's happening right now for every trans person in America. And every marriage in America that isn't between a man and a women faces jeopardy in the days ahead.
Especially heartbreaking to me is the reflex I have when disabled people mention the utterly pervasive ways they're left out of society. Like so many folks, when faced with these issues, I silently withdraw, utterly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.
Do you see where am I going here? I have struggled, really and profoundly, in my life. But there are struggles I will never have to face because I am a straight, white man. That is a problem, and it means that I am a problem unless I am part of making things better.
Anytime we, the straight, white men of America, shut down conversations about equality and justice because our feelings are hurt, we become part of the system that people struggle against. Anytime we threaten to take our ball and go home because we feel attacked, people sho struggle against the same systems that protect us are *actually* attacked.
That's why I'm writing you today. I've noticed that every time I talk about whiteness, or patriarchy, or heteronormativity, I get dozens (or more) messages from other straight, white men telling me you feel hurt, attached, betrayed, or abandoned by me.
I want you to know that I love you. I want you to know that I have no interest in making you ashamed of who you are--including the fact that you are straight, you are white, and you are a man.
Quite the opposite, I want to help you learn to live fully, with acceptance of yourself and genuine connection with others. But, to do that, we have to come to terms with bad habits that were conditioned into us. The fact is the straight, white men struggle under whiteness, patriarchy, and heteronormativity too. We struggle less, but we struggle regardless.
Straight, white men are killing themselves in record numbers. That's a terrifying testament to the loneliness, isolation, and fear we're dealing with.
So, please know I am not attacking you when I point out the problems that whiteness, patriarchy, and heteronormativity cause in our society. Instead, I am inviting you to learn (as I am learning) how to live in harmony with others. I'm inviting you to examine the ways in which you are not free to live as your true, honest self, and the ways that contributes to your relationships with others.
Perhaps most of all, I'm trying to get you to listen--really listen--to the stories of pain and loss that white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and heteronormativity cause every second of every day. I want you to listen, and to have empathy, because it's going to take our participation to make things better.
The psychological mechanisms that create defensive reflexes are well understood. I'm going to work harder to avoid triggering your feelings in justice conversations. In return, I ask for you to turn your gaze outward, to think less of how you feel judged or misunderstood by others, and instead build a daily discipline of active listening to people of color, women of color, women, disabled folks, and LGBTQ folks in your life and who do advocacy and education work in media.
There is nothing wrong with being a straight, white, and non-disabled man. But, the fact that a broad statistical majority of us minimize the suffering of others in our personal beliefs and political action is a problem. Please join me in turning the tide among our brethren.
Peace, love, entropy