“The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsive.” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays.
Apparently, all men are created equal.
Some old dead white guy said that once, or something close to it at least. Which is typical. Of course he’d think so, he’s an old white guy. One may even strive to say that all people are created equally, but that was a bit before women could, like, vote and stuff, so Tommy Jeff was probably just being realistic and true to the era.
Perhaps there’s some poetic truth to that statement. It’s nice to think that everyone on this earth is equal to everyone else at their core. We’re all human, we all bleed red, right?
But actually, we just really aren’t. We are not all equal and we never have been, we probably never will be. We are certainly not all treated equally and we are not all born into the same circumstances.
In America, they tell their school children that any of them can grow up to be the President of the United States one day. But before 2008, that was really only a theory. The people who grew up and became president were white, male, reasonably affluent, and openly (if not actually) heterosexual.
Of course, we liberals hailed the election of Barack Obama as a time of true change, that yes, a person of colour could be elected to the highest position in the land. The leader of the free world could be a biracial man born to an unwed teenage mother. It was Change and Hope and really great marketing and it was beautiful.
But he’s one anomaly in a long line of rich old white dudes who have held that office. He’s the exception, not the rule. It is progress, but one black president after a litany of white ones is not equality and it is certainly not justice.
Most people have some privilege. For one reason or another we value some people more than others because of an accident, a circumstance of their birth that they have no control over. Be it a Y chromosome, a lack of melanin pigment in the skin or an inherent attraction the sex opposite your own, your life will be just that bit easier because of it. It is what it is, society is weird. Life isn’t fair. But the problem occurs when we fail to recognise and accept the fact that inequality exists.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen a white person get upset when someone tells them you can’t be racist towards white people.
“NO! Racism is totally all the rage right now, and I WILL be included as a victim of it! REVERSE RACISM!!” they type furiously on social media.
It’s not strictly true that white people can’t have racist words thrown at them, though let’s be honest, when has a white person ever flinched at being called a ‘cracker’? It’s just so incredibly benign. There’s no history to back the word up, to make it painful.
Yes, technically, according to the dictionary definition anyone can experience racism. Oxford defines racism as, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race, based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
But here’s the thing about dictionaries: they don’t understand the human condition.
What is perhaps more correct, is to say that white people are not truly affected by the experience of racism in the Western world. White, heterosexual males may individually have struggles in their lives but they aren’t marginalised by society. No one looks at a white guy and thinks twice about whether or not he’s right for the job, or might be about to steal that nice car over there based on his skin colour or gender alone. He’s not right for the job because he lacks the experience or someone else is more qualified. He’s a possible car thief because he’s been standing around that car for a while and looks jumpy. But it’s not because he’s a white man.
White men are judged on their merits and aptitudes and benefit from simply being male and white. People of colour don’t have that luxury, nor do gay people, trans people, women, disabled people (intellectually and physically) or people of a lower socio economic class or religious minority ie. Muslims. White, hetero, upper middle class, cis gendered, privately educated, able bodied males and frankly any mix of these circumstances hold privilege and they have advantages from birth that others never will.
“But I can’t help that I’m A, B and C and not X, Y and Z! Why are you bullying me, I can’t do anything about my privilege! And why don’t straight white men like me get a special day and a parade?!” said that one guy that doesn’t ever get it.
Every day is your day, white hetero male. Every damn day from the beginning of time has been your special day.
If you don’t want to be that guy then all you need to do is recognise your circumstances and maybe have some humility about it. Take responsibility for recognising what you have and not apologising for it, but understanding that your life will be easier than someone else’s for no reason other than the circumstances of your birth. Accept your privilege and understand that you lucked out. If you want, strive to close the gap by being decent and empathetic. You can’t change the world on your own but you have the power to reflect inwardly and start by looking at yourself when someone reacts to your actions negatively.
For example, when you’re a white guy, and a woman doesn’t seem to appreciate you opening the door for her, don’t turn around and call her a dumb feminazi bitch for rejecting your swarthy chivalry. Firstly, you should never use the term feminazi as it was popularised and perhaps coined by Rush Lambaugh, and you are better than that. Then, once you’ve erased that word from your vocabulary, keep in mind that all women are not a collective swarm of likeminded beasts, we are individuals and will react to situations differently. Women are complicated, because people are complicated and women are people.
Now, think about why you opened the door for her and take gender out of the equation.
If you opened the door for a stranger because she was struggling with a heavy bunch of boxes then you have nothing to worry about. You probably got a smile and a thank you. You treated her like a human, that action is genderless. A human was struggling and needed assistance. It’s a nice thing to do. Bravo, pat on the back for you.
If you opened that door for a woman you don’t know at all who is not encumbered with obstacles, and appears completely capable of opening said door themselves but you feel it necessary to step in anyway because she’s a woman, that is sexist. Maybe you didn’t even think about it and you meant no offence, but she can’t read your mind any more than you can read hers.
To her, your actions said: Hey little lady, allow me, a big strong capable male stranger, to assist you with a task as simple as opening a door because I don’t think you can manage it even though your hands are free and you are completely able bodied, you adorable little thing, you. Perhaps not those exact words, because as I said, we’re all different, but it’s definitely an option.
Maybe you’re a good, decent, non sexist guy but this woman perceived you differently because of her experiences. Maybe she was not flattered by your attempts at chivalry because in her lifetime, men have always treated her as incapable of simple tasks. A life that might include a time before the mere concept of equal pay for equal work was established (1972)* and when rape within marriage was still legal (pre-1976)*. Things that you as a white male have never had to think about due to your privilege, your lucky accident. She’s not treating you with contempt for holding a door open, you just reminded her of a different time, a time that treated her with contempt because of her gender.
Or, consider that it’s not even about you. Maybe she’s had a shitty day and doesn’t feel like throwing you a fucking parade because all you did was open a goddamn door.
And that’s fine, you don’t need a parade, because life is your parade.
*Stats relate to Australia.