November 27, 2014 at 2:17 pm #68468JoeyParticipant
I’m white and British, so I haven’t personally been affected by the horrific events in Ferguson and other acts of police brutality, racism and police militarisation that affect the African-American community over there. However, my heart absolutely aches for them. I do want to do all I can to help. I’ve posted petitions on my blog and my Facebook page and raised awareness of why Darren Wilson’s case held no water and how the issue ties in to larger issues of racism in America. But… am I doing enough?
And then I consider the civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, Ebola, the Ukrainian civil war, the persecution of LGBT+ individuals in Russia and Uganda, the Mexico and Hong Kong protests, countless other young black men being shot in the street by racists in the USA and elsewhere, my own government’s cuts and unjust anti-terrorism laws that curb our civil liberties, global warming, and the massive amounts of sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia that exist… and I can’t help but wonder. Is it okay for me to go about my business as usual? I’m white and male and live in a country that’s currently a decent place to live. I’m relatively poor, but I am at university, have an internet connection and can afford to feed myself and pay the rent on my flat. Sometimes when I’m doing this – when I’m goofing off with friends, reading, watching TV, studying… I can’t help but think. Is this okay? Am I abusing my privileges here and unjustly taking advantage of my position in society?
Since Ferguson has been all over the social networks lately, I keep seeing posts saying things like “inaction means taking the side of the oppressor” and thinking I’m not doing enough. I feel guilty when I’m not talking about Ferguson. But then there are the protests in Mexico, and ISIS, and Ebola, and Ukraine, and… how can I be a good person? How can I take the side of justice and goodness when I spend most of my time doing nothing about these issues? I can’t be an activist 100% of the time. I want to live my own life. But as a privileged person, is it morally okay to? And when I feel bad about myself for this, I end up mentally reprimanding myself for it. “You’re upset about Ferguson? You have the gall to think that when you’re white and live thousands of miles away, when black people in that neighbourhood are being gunned down by the police and putting their lives in danger for justice? You can forget about it, they can’t. So you shouldn’t forget about it, just because it gives you a headache and distracts you from studying or playing video games. No excuses.” Am I trying to make excuses for my own laziness and reveling in my own privilege? Where do I balance using my privilege to help the disadvantaged and taking care of myself and my own life?
There’s also the fact that I disagree with a lot of the tactics some people are using to tackle this, such as looking for racist statements made by friends and relatives on Facebook and making their phone numbers and email addresses and places of work published to harass them and get them fired. While I have zero tolerance for racism, I also realise people are capable of change. Some people may live in super-conservative, racist households and have known nothing else, some might simply be misinformed about the facts of the case, and in at least one example I know of the “racism” was sarcastic satire making fun of the racists! Besides, you accomplish nothing from that other than making people more racist – if someone already has a low opinion of black people based on their upbringing and the media, having their life ruined because of a racist statement they made surely will only push their resentment further? It’s counter-productive and immoral, I think. And yet… I feel very conflicted about it? On the one hand I want to call that behaviour out because I feel it’s immoral and harmful and telling people to stop doing it would be the right thing to do. But on the other hand, as a white person, I don’t have the experience of racism that people of colour do. People have sent me anonymous messages before telling me I can’t tell black people what to do in their own struggle without sounding racist and paternalistic myself. But I’m in a moral quandry over this. A serious moral quandry. Is it better for me to keep my mouth shut and accept that people know what’s best for themselves and it’s racist and wrong of me to try and speak for them or tell them what to do, even if I think it’s right? Or is it better for me to do what my own moral code tells me is the right thing and the only sensible way forward?
I try my hardest to be a good person. I’m kind to everyone I meet personally. I try to spread happiness and love. I avoid violence wherever possible. I donate a little to charity whenever I pass by a charity box. When called out on something wrong I have done, I think about it, apologise, and try to correct my behaviour. (And I have done plenty in the past I’m deeply ashamed of.) I also try not to judge when people do things I consider wrong, because I don’t know their situation. A good example would be, say, violence in the occupied Palestinian territories. I abhor the violence Palestinians are committing, and think it’s morally wrong, but I also understand that the violence is a direct result of the unjust occupation and the cruel treatment the Palestinian people are receiving from Israel. Therefore it’d be wrong of me to suggest the Palestinians quit their violence without putting a greater emphasis on suggesting Israel end the occupation. When someone makes a statement or commits an action that offends me, my first thought is – “Why? The person saying/doing this is a complex human being with a life story as complicated as yours and thoughts as deep as yours and rooted in their own needs, priorities and experiences. So why did that person say/do the thing you disagree with? Do you understand them before condemning them?”
But that’s an issue I can be detached from, since I’m neither Israeli nor Palestinian. The issue of racism, though (and sexism, since I’m male, and transphobia, since I’m cisgender…) is something I can’t be detached from. As a white person I benefit immensely from the racial unjustness of society. It feels like it would be wrong of me to abuse my privileged position and not try to speak out and fight injustice whenever possible, but it also feels racist and paternalistic of me to try and speak for/over people of colour and tell them how to fight their own battles based on my own moral code. So how do I do the right thing in those circumstances? What is the morally correct thing to do? And if I should speak out against injustice, how much is enough? How much time can I devote to myself while still fulfilling my moral obligations? And is this whole thing me being immoral, selfish and simply seeking validation from a bunch of strangers on the Internet to calm my nerves while people in much less fortunate positions than I am are being gunned down simply for having too much melanin in their skin?
I feel really uneasy about posting this in “tough times,” because how can I as a white male really understand what the phrase “tough times” means when I will never have to face racism or sexism? But I can’t think of another appropriate forum to post this in.
Please help me become a better human being…November 28, 2014 at 2:53 am #68497AnonymousInactive
You cant fix the world – one person just cant and being a white male has nothing to do with this. My suggestion though would be to volunteer in person and get your mind off these things. You will be amazed at the tenacity some of the people there actually have.November 28, 2014 at 4:58 am #68499LilyParticipant
Im with Moongal. You might be a white man with privileges but you really need to see how fiercely people who have nothing can fight their battles. Im not saying that all is right and fair in this world but you need to stop thinking that they are weak and cant protect themselves. Know that like you or myself (I am a brown woman from a third world country and consider myself extremely blessed too) they can fight their battles and perhaps with greater tenacity than we ever could. You being male or white or educated has absolutely nothing to do with it. They can hold their own and all we need to do is support them when it is wrong – we arent born to fight every battle, not even our own.
And dont forget to breath and take time to look after yourself. You cant save the world, we will only ever impact a handful of people or causes in our lives – lets try to do our best with that. Also, I couldnt help but thing..what is the underlying insecurity within you that makes you want to do all this to make yourself feel better?
Also, congratulations for being a good human being – you already are. Give yourself a pat on the back, the depth with which you think and feel..your desire to help end the disparities in this world is commendable. Very few who even think along these lines. Dont forget to look after and appreciate yourself.
With warmth your way
Lily.November 28, 2014 at 7:17 am #68503AikiBenParticipant
There are parts that I would agree above and parts that I don’t. Firstly, it’s not YOUR job to fix the world, when you try to take on such a responsibility you will be overwhelmed, which will surely make you feel disempowered, and your ability to bring love into the world will therefore decrease, just using this logic you can know that this approach is not correct. By the sounds of things you are already doing great things. It is important to have your own life together, to be centered yourself, before you can truly help another. From a position of strength you can offer strength.
By all means, you could go over and help directly (hands-on so to speak), if you think this is the best thing to do, but perhaps you can have more effect, reach more people doing what you’re doing. Slightly contrary to the above, yes, you are already doing very well if you are raising yourself and the few people around you to a higher level, and those effects spread out like a ripple. But of course, some people do effect entire communities, countries, and even the world.December 4, 2014 at 11:01 pm #68791LohParticipant
I feel you think too much actually…… If you do want to make a difference, you can just start with anything in your life. If your struggles are deriving from being white or having other privileges, you can take some training regarding cultural competency. I think most of these cultural competency lectures mentioning how to perform self discourse on white privileges, which can help you better understand a range of -ism issues in our society.December 5, 2014 at 10:06 am #68813JadeParticipant
Unlike everyone else here, I think that it’s a very good thing you feel the way you do. Those of us who have compassion and empathy for people who are suffering systematic abuses are often confronted with feeling helpless or “cheating” the system through our own good fortune.
You ask how you can be a better person, how to help those who are suffering, and the answer is to help and support people who don’t have the same privilege you do. Have you ever heard of “white saviour complex”? Don’t fall prey to it! It’s true that your white male privilege has given you advantages in life, but use those advantages to support and be an ally for women and non-whites.
Listen, respect, and support. Remember that the personal is political and that if you can make a small difference or contribution on a local scale (i.e. volunteering or charity work in your city), that’s a worthwhile effort. The problems of the world are too complex to be solved by one person, but if we all chipped in little by little together, a drop of water can become a tidal wave. 🙂