The White Man’s Burden

Siddh: There’s a lot of things I felt like talking about today, with a couple of videos having gotten me all riled up. I felt like talking about institutional racism, cultural xenophobia, the issue of reparations etc. But I’m gonna keep it (relatively) short and simple (praise the Lord) and just talk about… white guys.

I feel for white guys, in a way. It seems like nowadays “white male” is almost a slur. Example sentence: “Of course you wouldn’t get it; you’re just a white male”. Replace ‘white male’ with, say, the n word and you get what I mean.

And it also seems like everybody hates white guys. Just about every oppressed group/minority has reason to hate white males, particularly those pesky middle-aged ones. But if you’re a white guy, minding your own business, going about your daily life I can understand why you’d feel…annoyed.

If you’re a straight, cisgender, white man you’re probably thinking “I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not my fault some people in the past were dickheads and screwed other people over. Why does everyone hate me? Why am I being punished for it?”

And that’s fair – I can understand that sentiment. I’d almost pity it if it didn’t come with all the perks of being a white guy (sorry couldn’t resist taking that shot).

But here’s what I feel about that: I’m not sorry that you are made to feel aware of your skin colour or your gender or your sexuality in a negative way. Everybody else is too.

If you belong to an oppressed group/minority you are reminded every single day of who/what you are.

If you’re a white guy and you wanna walk down the street to the local Tesco in your busy, urban, student area, you do that no worries. Doesn’t matter if you just woke up and you’re in your trackies. Doesn’t matter if you look like a slob. You could probably even have your top off and no one is gonna say boo to you.

But if you’re a woman, for example, you have 20 considerations on your mind. “How should I look? Is this outfit ‘arousing’? Who should I not make eye contact with? Which road presents the least danger for me?” Because you’re aware that at any given moment someone across the street can deem your outfit or your face or anything about you an excuse to degrade you publicly: verbally or physically. “Nice tits love, come give us a look” – not really what you wanna hear first thing in the morning from some dude with food stains on his t-shirt and his asscrack poking out his sweatpants (or anyone for that matter). And you’re praying he doesn’t touch you or follow you home.

If you’re a person of colour, walking down the street presents the same conundrum. “I better not wear a hoodie. Maybe I shouldn’t wear this religious garb. I better watch what I say. I better not ‘look suspicious’. I better keep my head down and say ‘yes, sir’, ‘thank you, sir’ a lot and be polite”. Because you’re also aware that at any given moment anyone can brand you a thug or a threat because you’re big and intimidating to them or a terrorist because you might say something they deem ‘extreme’ or ‘radical’ or you ‘look like one’…or hell, you just look shifty cus you’re dark and you’re obviously trying to steal something.

If you’re gay or transgender or anything non-white-straight-cisgender-male-looking you’re hoping your appearance doesn’t trigger some ignorant person’s violent urges or their burning desire to call you a “freak” or a “weirdo” or any other hateful term.

These examples are obviously hella basic and are only a few of hundreds and thousands of ways in which people who belong to a minority group are reminded every day that society will treat them badly. Eventually it leads to self-policing. You start preventively doing things and changing your appearance, your behaviour etc. to try and make sure you don’t get treated like the examples above. You look in the mirror and you hate yourself when you’re expressing yourself, because you know it’ll bring you hassle and society keeps saying it’s bad, but you hate yourself when you’re not expressing yourself because you’re not being true to who you are.

Of course if you’re a white guy you’ve probably heard this story before, right? You get it, other people have it tough. But why’s that your fault? Well…it’s not but that’s kinda my point.

Everybody is made to feel aware of who they are every day. And it’s never their fault. We live in a messed up society where expressing yourself or sometimes just existing as who you are makes OTHER people upset and confrontational and abusive and they build systems so that you can’t be yourself without facing enormous pressure and difficulties.

So it’s all well and good saying “I don’t see colour, I don’t see gender, I don’t see sexuality” etc. etc. You may not be ignorant, but society en masse is. None of us should or can say they live in a world where nobody judges each other until we actually live in that world. You can’t close your eyes and say because I – the individual – don’t judge or oppress people, or because I’ve never faced these issues, that others don’t and therefore there is no issue.

The point I’m making for straight, male, cisgender white folks is that it is your societal burden is guilt. In the way oppressed groups and minority groups have their own burdens of fear, shame and self-loathing, your burden is the constant awareness of privilege. And rather than running from it, burying your head in the sand or pretending it doesn’t exist – the most socially responsible thing you can do is accept it.

I myself have privilege. I’m a guy for starters. So all those worries about being sexually harassed on the street aren’t really an issue for me (though that threat does exist for men too). I’m also heterosexual so I can do something as simple as hold hands with my partner in the street without fear of being attacked (I mean…if I had a partner *sobs*). I also associate with the gender I was born into and can express it without fear of, again, being attacked (trend here) or called something deeply hurtful. I also am lucky enough that my family is financially okay so I don’t have to count pennies or worry that the government is gonna screw me over and send me into poverty any given day because they deem me a ‘leech’ on society while they facilitate more profits for people and companies that already make literally millions everyday (shout out David Cameron). But back to the point…

Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person; though it took me lot of time to learn to not beat myself up about my privilege. What does make you a bad person is ignorance to your privilege or, more accurately, an active pretence that your privilege doesn’t exist. It does. It really does. You don’t have to apologise for it, just (a) be aware of it (b) do things to highlight that unfair disparity because your voice will be heard more than theirs and (c) don’t rub your privilege in the faces of people who don’t have it. Of course, I slip up many times too – I’m sure of it… but I hope that my intentions are always good and that I’ll always be open to hearing the perspective of someone else who’s telling me I’m wrong.

People who belong to minority groups are constantly aware of who they are and what consequences that has for them. As a white guy your consequence is that everybody hates you because you’re immune to those everyday struggles. But that in itself is an everyday struggle; the guilt and hatred that comes with NOT being oppressed… ironic, isn’t it?

I understand that there are a lot of different kinds of privilege. Straight, cisgender, white women, for example, don’t have to deal with the same issues homosexual men do or coloured women do or transgender people do and vice versa. White guys aren’t the only benefactors of privilege. But don’t complain that you are constantly reminded of who you are and are being punished or mistreated for it. Everyone else is too.

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