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What’s a White, Privileged Male To Do?

Maybe many of us feel the need to get involved with causes and speak out loudly just to pad our own self-importance. Is it possible that even with good intentions we step on others’ toes? What if doing what I think is the right thing causes the silence of others in the midst of their own struggle?

The best intentions some of us have come out of feelings of guilt. These feelings of guilt sometimes have to do with our association by necessity with a group of people who has a history of oppressing and abusing other people. As a white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian male I have a lot of associations that have by default handed me privileges that others have never had and that some never will have. This is true even if I do my best not to take any direct actions to hurt another person.

What may happen is that an overzealous intention to help others who are struggling may actually have the opposite effect. I may hurt the very ones I am trying to help. If I take my privilege seriously enough I will also understand that it is easy for me to speak and be heard. My chances of being taken seriously are much higher in most social and cultural spaces than those of minorities in both population and power. I need to understand that there is an inherent power that I have by default and I need to practice the virtue of temperance in how I act in the world – especially in the worlds of other people.

I meet regularly with a group of friends and the core of how we help each other is to share our experiences, where we have found strength, and how we have hope. This experience, strength, and hope comes out of our own unique sets of problems from which we are all working to overcome and simply be better people on a daily basis. In like manner I have experience, strength, and hope among other white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian males.

I no longer see myself having a unique role with those in the LGBT community, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, women, and others. I used to think that I had a unique role because I had something to say. Much of what I had to say was out of pure self-centeredness. I wanted attention. I had the arrogance to believe that I was entitled to be heard among those who our society has done its best to silence mainly from direct actions taken by men who share much of my own social standing. Some of my friends call this “terminal uniqueness.”

The net result is that the more I speak, the less of a voice those have who are struggling to be heard. The more I speak into their worlds the less legitimate voices they have to fight for systemic social change to achieve fair balance in society. I need to be cognizant that I don’t step on the toes of the very friends I want to see happy in the world as it is.

So what can this white, privileged male do? I can be a friend to those who are my friends and seek to be a friend of anyone who crosses my path. I can try to be helpful and kind to everyone. I can question why others especially among white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian males are not acting with compassion. I can question why people are being judgmental and cruel as I try to be non-judgmental and kind.

Today I know I can do those things. I don’t know how I will be tomorrow. But I do know that for the next 24 hours I can be helpful to others rather than step on their toes just to pad my own fragile ego.

About Andrew Tatusko

I do: faculty development at penn state | I study: higher education and religion | I dig: music | I'm politically: leftist | I'm not: the doc on celebrity rehab

Discussion

10 thoughts on “What’s a White, Privileged Male To Do?

  1. Great post! We should not feel guilty. That is the wet dream of those who hold power over us. We are not guilty, we are privileged by the system. What we are is RESPONSIBLE. We are obligated as the privileged to make a response that subverts our privilege and amplified the voices of the silenced.

    Great piece.

    Posted by josephpusateri | June 16, 2012, 3:59 PM
  2. What you definitely don’t want to do is get so paranoid about your “privilege” and start wringing your hands so much over worries that you will oppress people with your good intentions that you make yourself paralyzed and unable to do the work that Christ commanded us to do.

    Our cross is not to enact social justice. Our cross is not to right the wrongs and to seek power parity for all sorts of Modernist categories of persons.

    Our cross is to love our neighbor. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the weak.

    Your privilege cannot impede you from doing that work or cause you to do it incorrectly.

    Posted by Jim John Marks | June 16, 2012, 3:04 PM
  3. Thanks for sharing – good food for thought. Also, explore where you put your money – do you purchase books, attend conference, etc. that continue this male led model? 🙂

    Posted by Becky Garrsion | June 16, 2012, 2:59 PM
    • I’d rather see people focus on the money they spend on food which contributes to massive pollution and health epidemics, devices which contribute to massive pollution, wage slaves and possible health epidemics, consumable goods which contribute to massive pollution and depletion of resources…

      I see far too many non-middle class, uneducated, non-Christian women of color as single occupants of enormous SUV’s driving 90 miles an hour while drinking blood coffee, talking on their semi-disposable cell phone made in a Chinese wage slave factory while scarfing down a hamburger that was made from a cow raised in a cage inside a warehouse to believe that “white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian males” are actually our most pressing problem in our culture.

      We can get too easily caught up in the idea that “leveling the playing field” solves the problem. So long as half the conference panel is female, half isn’t white, &c. we’ve done our part to dismantle privilege. Never mind that the quality of the panel may have been reduced in the process, that’s not the point! We’ve got to break down privilege!

      The problem is not privilege or power, the problem is what you do with it. Everyone has power of some kind or another.

      This white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian male said it better than I can: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/voicefromisles/what_to_do_with_power

      Posted by Jim John Marks | June 16, 2012, 3:33 PM
      • A key problem remains is that the conversation in the mediai and Christian publishing world is dominated by white male voices – that dynamic needs to shift to include all players. This doesn’t excluce the male voices but rather ensures they are not the dominant voice. Given the politicaal discourse around issues relating to women’s health and basic LGBT rights, alternative voices are critical.

        As someone who worked as a social worker for a bit, I found the dynamic you described to be most prevelent in the upper middle class suburbs where one has disposable income.

        Posted by bexgee | June 16, 2012, 3:58 PM
    • That’s a tough one. I’m Eastern Orthodox so yes in mare ways than one there. I buy books that white men write. I don’t have any dog in the evangelical fight. It’s just no longer my place. I give time and money to places where all of is may agree with one area, but disagree on others. Is that ok? Where do we draw the line between my ability to love people as Christ calls me as an outcome of my own faith and the places I express that even if those places might have elements that disagree with my own beliefs about some things?

      Posted by Drew Tatusko | June 16, 2012, 4:55 PM
      • There are no easy answers. For me, it’s a matter of being mindful when I make daily decisions. Will I screw up? Yep . But I am trying to be more deliberate instead of doing what seems to be the most advantageous for my career. Makes sense? 🙂

        Posted by bexgee | June 16, 2012, 5:01 PM
      • Yes. Doing what I think is the right thing and measuring it by: is it good, helpful, and kind. Like there’s more empty space in the universe, I need to spend more time being silent and listening.

        Posted by Drew Tatusko | June 17, 2012, 12:06 AM

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