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April 14, 2020

An Open Letter to Straight White Men, from a Straight White Man.

Privilege is not inherently a malicious descriptor.

People are born into their circumstances, unknowing of the injustices perpetrated throughout the world.

At some point, awareness arises of these injustices, and individuals must grapple with this awareness. It’s what action we take with our privilege that determines who we truly are.

Many will sit with their privilege (often male and often white) and consciously or unconsciously hide behind it; greed and entitlement become ways of holding onto power, hiding from guilt or fear, or remaining stuck in a selfish view of the world.

As a white, privileged male, I have the choice of how I want to use this privilege. I feel deeply grateful to have grown up in a family that made us as aware as possible of injustices. My whole life has been spent internally grappling with my privilege, while others experience daily racism, homophobia, hunger, famine, genocide, rape, or violence.

Privilege doesn’t hide me from human suffering, but it gives me more “breathing room”—not worrying about shelter, food, safety, and so on. I don’t experience the same pain caused by externals.

I am a white, middle class, straight male who works in a low-income elementary school. My whole life, I have tried to grapple with the unfairness of the world. I spent my high school and college years hiding from and avoiding injustices because of my guilt. How could I be so lucky to go to college, travel the world, have food, be safe, when so many others don’t?

I lived a self-centered life (albeit still trying to be as kind, caring, and aware as possible), which was my way of coping with my insecurities. At some point, I woke up and realized that my guilt over my life wasn’t changing the deep injustices pervasive everywhere. My guilt paled in comparison to living on the street or dealing with daily racism or constantly watching over your back to make sure you weren’t assaulted or harassed. Guilt was not an excuse for inaction. I always knew this—but again, I could hide behind my privilege.

So, I reminded myself of who I was as a child and rethought what I want to do with not only my privilege but also my life.

This article isn’t about patting me on the back. I’m not writing it to feel better about myself. I used to try and make myself feel better by calling myself one of the “good” men. It was my way of coping with years of selfishness.

I don’t need this any longer. I know I’m a human doing the best I can, and now I owe it to myself and others to do better. I have a long way to go to be of true service to humanity, but I am actively trying my best to find my place in making society a more fair place to live—not out of guilt anymore but out of compassion, love, fairness, and justice. I have the same duty as everyone else to try and make this world a more just place. I felt this way so strongly as a kid, and my privilege allowed me to retreat into my “safe” world.

This article is to those mostly men, mostly white, mostly privileged. This article is to help remind us that we have a choice: greed and entitlement or generosity, activism, and support.

It’s talking to the men who say poor people are looking for handouts or who say that women should dress more conservatively as to not be harassed.

It’s to those men who think they are the center of the world and therefore deserve more money, praise, or material items.

It’s to those men who are scared of the “other.”

It’s to those men who have held power, hold power, and control in ways that benefit them and no one else.

You, my friend, are not only causing the world a great deal of pain, but you’re secretly struggling on this inside—struggling to find purpose, to connect, to be open, to show your feelings, to be honest, and, most importantly, to be empathetic and kind to other humans. If you can find that, you’ll find a beautiful world to engage in instead of hiding behind your ivory towers.

This article is not written by a woman, a person struggling to pay the bills, an immigrant, or anyone else who you could look at and say “other” too. This article is written by someone who looks like you but has decided to live differently.

Greed and entitlement are choices that don’t have to be made.

This article is to challenge you to wake up and own the harm that you, your relatives, or anyone who looks like us have caused. Retreating is not an option anymore. This is to ask you to look at yourself and own your own fears and insecurities.

This article is not to be angry at you or make you feel bad about yourself. You are a person worthy of love, kindness, and forgiveness—but first, you must make amends with how greed and entitlement have fogged your vision. You must make amends to anyone you have directly or indirectly caused harm to. You must be courageous enough to stand up and own the harm you’ve caused with your action or inaction.

You are a person who can be of great benefit to the world by using your power, money, and privilege to begin the most important journey of caring for each other. Not caring passively but caring actively. Caring with the resources you have accumulated to be of service to those who need it.

Open your heart, and you’ll find a kind, caring, compassionate person somewhere hidden inside.

Be the change you know in your heart is who you are meant to be.

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