I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.

Frank Bruni, New York Times, August 12, 2017

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures.

{snip}

So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait. I’m gay. And I mean gay from a different, darker day.

{snip}

Back then — the 1970s — gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were closeted than out. {snip}

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes.

Not long ago I wrote about Evergreen State College, which was roiled by protests after a white biology professor, Bret Weinstein, disparaged the particular tack of a day of racial healing. He raised valid points, only to be branded a bigot and threatened with violence.

That reception was wrong. I said so. And a reader responded: “I don’t need one more white male criticizing young people of color.” Other readers also homed in on my race — or on the professor’s: “Weinstein will be fine. He’s white.” That automatically and axiomatically made him a less compelling actor in the drama, a less deserving object of concern, no matter his actions, no matter his argument.

{snip}

In a new book coming out this week, “The Once and Future Liberal,” Mark Lilla asserts that “classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. White men have one ‘epistemology,’ black women have another. So what remains to be said?”

And where are the bridges?

Race, gender, sexual orientation, class: All of this informs — and very often warps — how we see the world. And for much too long, this country’s narrative has been scripted by white men, who have also dominated its stage and made its rules.

{snip}

The “check your privilege” exhortation asks us, rightly, to recognize that. It’s about “being aware of systemic injustice and systemic inequality,” Phoebe Maltz Bovy, the author of the recently published book “The Perils of ‘Privilege,’” told me. And she applauds that.

But she worries that awareness disclaimers and privilege apologies have ferried us to a silly, self-involved realm of oppression Olympics. They promote the idea that people occupying different rungs of privilege or victimization can’t possibly grasp life elsewhere on the ladder.

{snip}

That kind of thinking fosters estrangement instead of connection. Lilla noted that what people in a given victim group sometimes seem to be saying is: “You must understand my experience, and you can’t understand my experience.”

“They argue both, so people shrug their shoulders and walk away,” he said.

{snip}

I question the wisdom of turning categories into credentials when it comes to politics and public debate. I reject the assumptions — otherwise known as prejudices — that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them. That appraises the packaging more than it does the content. It ignores the complexity of people.

{snip}

My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

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