On privilege and things

NOTE for regular readers:
As you know, I avoid the overtly political here, reserving that sort of traffic for my Twitter and Facebook accounts. The avowed purpose of this blog is to honor my medical diagnosis and do what I can to “download” whatever experience and—dare I say?—wisdom I’ve accumulated before my run here is finished.
But here’s what happened. A young man from Rockford, illinois who calls himself Jimmy B.O.A. posted the following Tweet, which sparked an exceptionally interesting comment thread (Jimmy clearly has high quality followers). I wanted to join in, but quickly realized my remarks would extend too far beyond the 240 character limit to even build a thread. Thus, a post here which I can link in the comments.
And besides (he adds in his best self-justifying voice), this isn’t about a “news of the day” political issue. It does speak to a piece of who I am which, I submit, gets it past my self-imposed “no politics” rule.
First, Jimmy’s Tweet:

POC can fight against racism until the death of them. Shit will never change, until the minute good “White Folks” speak up, and condemn each and every person that commits “Racial acts” against people that doesn’t look like them.

You. Must. Not. Spare. A. Racists. Feelings.

Let’s set context first, OK? I’m an old white dude, a bleeding edge boomer specifically. And I’ve been speaking up and speaking out my entire life. Attended my first civil rights march when I was, not sure now, either 12 or 13 years old. Was involved in anti-war activities and efforts to support UFWOC (later UFW) by the time I was a freshman in high school. Et cetera, et cetera. So, I’ve “been to the barricades” many times, and I’ve never stopped advocating for what seems right to me.

And I’m grateful to Jimmy for launching this thread. It has kicked off some interesting and useful conversation (something that seems a rarity rather than the rule much of the time on Twitter).

I absolutely concur. Nothing changes unless and until those standing in the way of change are challenged and called out. One of the advantages of being my age is that I have seen this play out time and time again on any number of specific issues over the decades. Barack Obama and Dr. King were right about the arc bending toward justice, but it’s a long arc and it needs our help along the way.

Need to say though, that as I have continued to “do the right thing” as best I can, I have had to learn a lot of new stuff over the years. And a lot of that has to do with privilege. There was a time it all seemed pretty simple to me (if a little risky at times). When I saw something that seemed wrong, my job was to stand up and speak out. That remains my guiding policy, but in recent years something began to happen that confused and disturbed me at first.

And I’ve seen some folks post up about it in this thread. Other white folks whose feels got bruised when they tried to speak out and someone challenged them (sometimes caustically) on their standing to discuss the issue.

See, I’ve come to believe that confliction (a lot of it anyway) is all about privilege. And I’m realizing one of the most pernicious things about privilege is how difficult it can be to recognize when you’ve enjoyed it your entire life.

In today’s context, now that someone has invented and defined the term “ally,” it just won’t work any more for me to roll up and start white mansplaining to folks who are marginalized and disempowered in one way or another how I think they “should” act to be most effective (let alone how they should feel).

Because I don’t know what I don’t know. Oh, yeah. I’ve spent periods of my life impoverished. I have more than a passing acquaintance with alcoholism and drug addiction. I’ve seen the inside of jail cells for less than noble reasons, lived in “the inner city,” and on and on. But when all is said and done, I remain a white male and therefore, by default, less vulnerable and exposed than many others.

When in discussions—especially discussions about “resistance” of one sort or another, but really discussions of any sort with POC, women, LGBTQ+, and other friends and associates I love, respect, and want to support, I’ve learned I have to listen before I speak. To stay open and receptive. To stop and carefully consider when someone tells me to “check my privilege.” Then, if I still can’t see it, to ask for help.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable at times. Especially when those challenges land in a way that feels like my intentions, motives, or sincerity are being questioned. But I’m finding that beyond the discomfort there is important stuff for me to learn and understand. About myself, and about the people I want to support.

Also, I believe it’s damned important that the conversation has been elevated to the place where privilege is on the table. The fact that certain members of that dwindling dominant white male culture feel so threatened and put-upon by voices for change (and are completely blind to the absurdity of claiming they are somehow “victims of discrimination”) speaks to that importance.

So, yeah. I will continue to speak up and call out my cis male white brethren whenever and wherever necessary. I’ll also participate and, if it seems appropriate, offer my input and opinions to my sisters and brothers in the struggle; but I will do my best to do so with humility, an open heart and mind, and the understanding that it’s not my job to be the lead sled dog.

6 thoughts on “On privilege and things”

  1. All so true, but sometimes because of our privilege and experience we do need to become the lead sled dog and we should not shirk that duty, for it is the lead dog that generally gets eaten by the polar bear. But someone has to be the one it front who gets all the rocks thrown at them.

    1. I would agree if that level of engagement is desired by the stakeholders. We do have a body of experience which may be useful. But IMNSHO that needs to be somebody else’s call. Sometimes it’s important to bite our tongues, step back, and give people room to make their own mistakes. God nose we did.

  2. very well said, excellent post. Recently I got into a discussion regarding the “Lynching memorial” with someone who said it made them ‘uncomfortable’ !!
    all I could say was GOOD! We need to be made uncomfortable to act and to do what needs to be done.
    I’m 72 and have been in SF since ’57. (mostly) So I feel like I have had a front row seat and seen a lot of change. More to be done!

  3. Hey my dear friend, good post. You know my history (herstory) and therefore have some context for my remarks. Since I am responding to you, that is context of my remarks. We are fairly close in age, I older and getting more so daily. We we all privileged not just by the color of our skin (a big source of privilege) but by where we were born and educated. We in California in the pre Reagan days had access to the finest educational opportunity in the world from K thru a doctorate…and it was almost free. I was very aware that the kids of color who had the same education I did would not have the same opportunities and double standards have always pissed me off. As i came into adulthood, there was that god damned draft. If you wanted to see white male privilege at work…local draft boards. Just typing that sentence brings back memories that break my heart all over again. White men have dismantled the policies of the “Great Society” as well as they continue to try to put women in their place thru punitive laws that deny us the right to determine the care of our bodies…you ll the know the drill, I haven’t the heart to reiterate it. All I know is be kind, take care of those less fortunate and giggle with babies…also, when possible…grow stuff…love you madly big guy

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