I wrote this email after having a couple conversations with some straight White male friends who have little to no understanding of privilege and identity. I thought I'd share in case this is helpful to anyone else trying to start a "beginner's" dialogue with friends who don't quite get the gravity of Nov. 8.
Our next vice president is a supporter of conversion therapy — the practice of sending LGBTQ people into therapy to teach/force them to be/pretend to be heterosexual. As a form of my own conversion therapy, I'd like to help "convert" you into a White ally, a person who does not experience prejudice, but will take an active role in learning about the ways our social constructs lend to racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, and more, and being able to speak about these issues productively and openly.
Why is being an ally important? Because you have women (me), and friends of color, and of LGBTQ+ identities in your life who experience the world very different from you, and would like a friend they feel is not dismissive of those experiences, reduce those experiences, laugh at them, or assume they are made up or blown out of proportion.
It is important to get perspectives outside of your news feed or Reddit — which can be your echo chambers for other White men disavowing privilege and identity views, or even for stating men's rights activist agendas implicitly or explicitly — and for you to enter into dialogue with the assumption that you have no understanding of what another person's experience is, regardless of what you may have read on the internet.
This is maybe the most important thing you could do for me, because I am in need of male allies, especially now, and I am in need of male friends who identify as feminists in an active way. I am afraid as a woman under a president who incites hateful rhetoric against women, perpetuates rape culture, and who is leading with a Republican House that does not value women's health or the right to choose.
The first step in this process is to understand privilege, and simply identify what your own privilege is. Privilege, in my own definition, is not active advantages you receive, but rather the things you experience in your life that have always been and always will be. Privilege are the things you take for granted, as they are your norm, but are not the norm for people of color (POC), or another marginalized group. A definition my sister sent me: "Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally."
Because of privilege — even if you are never once in your whole entire life openly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. — you are complicit in a flawed social system as you benefit daily from being White and a man and straight in ways that, by no fault of your own, you are blind to, because you have never known anything different. Now it is your responsibility to "see."
Example: just by virtue of being a man, people trust that you have more authority in your profession, and you receive more eye contact and time to speak in meetings. You might not think this is true because this has always been your reality, and you have never known it to be a different way. Try being a woman for a day, and you will notice men speaking over you all the time "mansplaining," and other men diverting their eyes to seek another man's opinion when you are explaining something. Another privilege men experience is that they are taught to trust themselves, that they are right, and to not apologize. I went back through this very email and deleted 5 "I thinks" added in sentences, and one apology.
And the biggest privilege of all is that you were able to make it this far in life without having to understand what privilege is.
Here is a simple start to understanding privilege.
I will continue to send you things I think will help you and me gain a deeper understanding of identity. This is so important to me, and all I ask is that you enter with an open mind, and an assumption that the experiences you read about or that I tell you about are valid.
I also want to add that I hope this is an ongoing conversation we both engage in. I know that in lots of ways you feel set in your beliefs, and understanding doesn't happen overnight. For this reason, let's please openly talk about this and share ideas. This is meant to be a dialogue ... not something for you to pretend to internalize for my sake, and then just censor yourself around me. That is the last thing I want.
Cover image via Andrew Phillips I Unsplash