Why I, As a White Man, Won’t Shut the Fuck Up About Civil Rights
I believe it is my duty as a straight, white male to use my privilege to fight for an equal world. It's why I joined in Saturday's Women's March. But as someone in a position of privilege, I always catch myself before making the decision to act in the fight for civil rights.
Many voices on the side of progress argue that people of privilege should not speak on issues they are not affected by — that white people shouldn’t be involved in Black Lives Matter, that men shouldn’t be involved in #metoo, that fifth-generation Americans shouldn’t be involved in the fights of TPS and DACA recipients.
It's taken me a while to come to a conclusion on the subject, but I have decided that these voices are wrong.
I wrote a piece about #metoo back in October. Inspiration for the essay came in response to my mom’s coming forward with her own story.
Her disclosure of the adversity she has faced as a woman activated a deep desire in me to speak out against misogyny, in support of all the women in my life. And yet, though it was so clearly in support of the movement and against patriarchal systems that enable sexual harassment and assault, I was apprehensive to publish the piece.
What place did I have as a man to crowd the internet with my opinion about a feminist movement? Would my words be perceived as an attempt to overshadow those women coming forward to tell their story?
On the advice of my mother and female friends, I went ahead and published the piece. Far from backlash for writing the essay, I received support and thanks. The top comment in support of my speaking on the #metoo movement was, to paraphrase, It is important that men speak about the issue of systemic sexual assault because other men and young boys will follow their example and, further, women will be more successful in the movement knowing they have men on their side.
I realized after I published it that this is exactly why I wrote the piece.
I wasn’t only aiming it at women as way of saying “I’m on your side” — I was aiming it at men as a way of saying “Get onboard.” And this is where I find my role as a straight, white man in civil rights in 2018.
In #metoo, men shouldn’t speak FOR women. We should speak TO men who are not aware of the disgusting adversity that women face. In movements like Black Lives Matter, white people shouldn’t speak FOR black people; we should speak TO other white people who don’t fully realize their own privilege. About immigration issues, permanent citizens should not speak for immigrants, but we should speak to other citizens who are indifferent to the struggles of those seeking safety and citizenship in our country.
Just as people of color and women are credible witnesses to the inequality faced by minority groups in America, I am a credible witness to the exorbitant privilege that straight, white males enjoy in our country. I can call bullshit on the white people or men who deny their status, or downplay the severity of American inequality. By speaking peer to peer with other white men who easier identify with me than even someone like Martin Luther King Jr., I can convince other privileged people to start to believe, like me, that they have a responsibility to work on the side of equality.
But there is an important caveat to this assertion.
We should not forget that women led the suffrage movement. That black people led the Civil Rights Movement. That Latinx activists led the labor movement. Civil rights movements have been successful because they have been led by the groups they sought to empower.
Today, the same rules apply. Although white people should be involved in the dialogue to end discrimination against blacks, Latinx’s, and muslims, we shouldn’t lead these discussions. Although men should speak out loudly against sexual assault, our words shouldn’t drown out those of women. Our role must be to listen and learn.
But we must be involved.
If we in positions of privilege sit on the sidelines while people of color and women fight these battles on their own, the oppressive status quo will last even longer, without enough public support, media attention, and votes. If white people continue to separate themselves from progressive dialogues and movements out of fear of criticism or judgment, people of color, women, and immigrants will always be trying to reform unequal systems from the outside. And yet if we who speak from the inside of unequal systems stand up to fight for our fellow human beings, these movements will be that much stronger and equality will be achieved that much quicker.
It is not just the duty of minority groups to fight for their rights — it is the duty of majority groups, too, to use their status to make a difference. Tipping the balance of society is as much about taking power as it is giving it up. Achieving equality is as much about speaking as it is listening.
a writer and activist from Los Angeles. Follow Daniel on Instagram: @saint.clarity, or send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org