What’s a white man to do?
Anyone who knows me or follows me may have noticed a sharp increase in my writing about race and gender equality issues since I first posted my Color Blindness story on Medium. My partner is probably the only one who can attest to an even sharper increase in my consumption of content on these issues, including books, articles and social media.
I have started a web site (minorhelp.com) along with Twitter and Facebook accounts; I follow a number of influential people on social media; I try to read at least a few articles every day; I have been reading books that discuss these issues; offline, I am looking for ways to expand my social circles to be more balanced; I live in Harlem and make an effort to support local stores and restaurants; I have attended lectures and recently even marched with #riseupoctober.
Through all of these activities, I feel as though I am starting to get a bit of an understanding of just how much my white privilege shelters me from the realities experienced by so many around me. However, the fact remains that I have been white and male for my entire life; and while I have always followed basic tenets such as treating all humans equally and as individuals, my recent increased participation still gives me no real sense of what it’s like to grow up as a racial minority, especially in this country.
By educating myself about these issues, my hope is to figure out some specific ways in which I can make a difference. A lot of the articles I read seem to focus on stupid or inappropriate things that we privileged folks do, such as not realizing we are privileged, or pretending to be color blind, or complaining about #BlackLivesMatter, or asking why we can’t use the N-word, and so on. I have found the vast majority of these points to be extremely valid and justified, and I try to abide by them.
However, what I have not seen as much, are suggestions by people who are in a racial minority about specific things that white people who give a shit can actually do, as opposed to things that we shouldn’t do.
One area in which I am particularly eager to get suggestions has to do with how white guys like me should interact with people of other races. Where do I go if I want to meet interesting people of a different race? I live in Harlem, so I certainly see a lot of people of color. Should I randomly stop someone on the street and say “I need more black friends — what’s your name?” And when I do meet someone, is it cool to bring up race? Do I ask you about your personal experiences? Would it make you feel better if I said openly that I am aware of being privileged, or will you think I am just a stuck-up asshole trying to impress someone? Should I just fake color blindness and pretend that I did not notice that you are a minority?
One of the reasons I started minorhelp.com was to find simple things people can do to support and improve racial and gender equality. Help me out! Tell me what I could do right now, today, tomorrow, next week, that would make you look at me and think: “this guy is making a genuine effort.” More importantly, help privileged people like me adopt simple habits that will help us to be more accepting and less prejudiced. It’s the sort of minor help that can have a major impact.