As we’ve traveled around the country and met all kinds of people, I’ve become more acutely aware of my cultural privilege. As a middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual, white dude, I possess an advantage not shared by everyone. I don’t think the facts support the opinion I’ve heard that “white men are the most persecuted group in our society.” I’ve been thinking about these things in relation to race, sexuality, religion, etc.; but the persistence of the #metoo campaign, and the cascade of sexual harassment and assault revelations has prompted me to dwell on this a little more.
I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I’ve never been unfaithful to my wife. I’d like to say I’ve never made a woman feel unsafe or less than, but I can’t be entirely sure of that. In fact, I’d probably be lying if I said that. Privilege clouds my judgment. I feel certain I have said and done things through my 53 years (especially when I was a younger man!) that others have recognized as harmful, but my cultural position that has implicitly endorsed my perspective may have prevented me from recognizing it for what it was. If you and I were ever in a situation where something I said or did made you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or diminished in some way because of your gender or cultural identity, I am sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me. If you have felt bad because I made an argument against something you said, and that made you feel bad, I’m kinda sorry about that, but kinda not. I’m a free speech advocate – ideas are fair game, in my book. Identity is not.
My wife has reminded me of a behavior I need to modify. I often initiate hugs. I’m a hugger. I realize not everyone is comfortable with it, and for some it can be very uncomfortable. Sorry about my hugging. I’m going to try to back off. But if you invite me, I’m coming in!
My friend, Amanda, caused me to take all of this a bit further lately. She pointed out that it’s not enough for culturally privileged people to simply avoid victimizing others; they need to speak up when it happens. When a person of privilege sits idle while someone is belittled, dehumanized, or dismissed for their identity, they share responsibility for the wrongdoing. In short, when we see something, we should say something. It breaks my heart that I have remained silent while others have been treated as less than. I promise not to do that anymore. If you are tempted to do or say something sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise treat someone around me as less than human, I am going to challenge you. Not to a dual, or fisticuffs. But, I’m going to call you on it. You may not realize what you’re doing. You may not care. You may dismiss my protests as meaningless. You have that right. But, these things don’t change if we keep acting like they’re normal.