Confessions of a White Cis Man and What I’m Learning: Courage

White Man Learning
“White Man Learning”
by Pat Green

I’ve been watching the news and reading social media with a lot of dread and anger lately. On Tuesday night me and several other parents of transgender youth took part in a session led by a social worker about racism and race relations. Most of us in the room were white, but not all. I am learning a lot lately. But I also know that there are uncomfortable truths I need to face. I hope any confessions I have are something some relate to. I hope we all have more courage.

In my life, even when I used to be a minister, I have told blonde jokes, gay jokes and black jokes. Come to think of it, most of that happened when I was a minister and it was usually with other ministers. I have called women sluts and I have behaved in racist manners. Fortunately, I grew. I realized how wrong it was despite my ignorance of my privilege. As I became aware of my privilege and how I benefit from white supremacy in a straight cis male dominated culture, I changed behaviors in that arena too.

When I see men holding torches, raising their arms, killing 32 year old women and beating a black man in a parking garage, I am horrified. I also know that I bear some of the shame. I see a lot of my fellow progressive liberal peers blame just the republicans and just the racists, but had we all been more aware and had we all actually done something, I do not think we would be in this mess. It is highly doubtful we would have had this president and Charlottesville.

Anyway. Last Tuesday there was one document the leader shared with us. It was called “7 steps to White Racial Responsibility as seen by Dixon White”

Here is what they are:

  1. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT/ACCEPTANCE of racial reality. Stop being a white apologist, find the courage and truth to let go of the greed and fear that keeps us immorally clinging to the dominant position, privileges, benefits and delusions that white supremacy is giving us – In order that we may put behind us our years of cultural white supremacist training, thought and values by facing the very hard truth racially about our self, our race, our culture and our country.
  2. CHANGE THE DISTORTED LENS in the way we view people of color. To look at people of color outside of our insulated and self-serving white biases. To see people of color not as the white supremacist stereotypes we have been programmed to believe but instead as true and complete equals.
  3. LISTEN, LEARN, AND BELIEVE what people of color are saying about their life in America racially. They are our teachers when it comes to race.
  4. REACH OUT to people of color through simple, sincere and genuine friendships that is free of white supremacist notions and biases.
  5. ACT on your new racially unbiased truth and reality, by speaking up and providing accountability when you witness other whites, establishments or institutions speaking, behaving, or performing in a white supremacist manner. Join or create organizations that are actively working towards dismantling our system and culture of white supremacy and do the work.
  6. PASS IT ON by telling, teaching, and sharing your new racially unbiased truth and reality, with all children (and start them early), with your white friends, family, and co-workers, with everyone and every place. Work to decolonize the minds and hearts of all, especially our nation’s institutions. Fight to reform our educational system to stop white washing our history and education, fight to have anti-racist values and the hard truth about our system and culture of white supremacy taught to every child in every school.
  7. DO IT THE CORRECT WAY. It’s not about us, it’s about the fight for justice, our legacy, and our glory is not why we do this.
    • We are not here to save anyone. We are not saviors. We are not heroes, we are not doing people of color a favor, we do not deserve praise for simply doing what is decent.
    • Racially people of color are our teachers, but it’s not their responsibility to teach us, it is our responsibility to learn from them, we must be able to listen and to know when to shut up.
    • Know we white people are illiterate racially, know you will make mistakes, but learn from your mistakes, always growing.
    • Never be a fragile defensive white apologist.
    • If you can’t acknowledge the lies of white supremacy, if you are not taking action against it, if you are not trying to dismantle it, or if you are not educating other whites racially, then you are doing something wrong.
    • Understand that people of color have said the same for 500 years and no one listened. You’re not saying anything original.
    • Understand that because of our reputation racially people of color may not trust you.
    • Stay in your lane, not our place to lecture people of color on race, they can handle their own business. Can we white people handle ours is the question.
    • Let go of white guilt and fear, be guided by a love for humanity and justice.
    • Understand the cost of living the lie of white supremacy is self-destruction, mass dysfunction, and misery for us whites. It affects everyone, including us white people.

There was also a graphic by Dixon White that asked where you draw the line. It looked like this:

White Supremacy

In the room we had an array of reactions. I can only speak for myself. There were some items on the list and in the graphic that made me cheer and want to shove it down the throats of everyone who has called me a social justice warrior as if that is a negative thing. There were also some things that made me wince. The wincing were areas that I had to look in the mirror and take a closer look at myself.

On the way home my fiancee’ asked me what I thought we should do when we are confronted by racism, sexism, transphobic hate, and other horrors we see going on right now. I thought of something Dr Maya Angelou wrote and I reflected it to her as best as I could.

It took a lot of searching in my library and my quote books, but I finally found the quote I tried to share with her. Dr Maya Angelou had this to say:

I would encourage us to try our best to develop courage. It’s the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can be anything erratically — kind, fair, true, generous, all that. But to be that thing time after time, you need courage. We need to develop courage, and we need to develop it in small ways first. Because we wouldn’t go and say, ‘I’ll pick up this 100-pound weight’ without knowing our capacity. So we need to say, ‘Oh, I’ll start by picking up a five-pound weight, then a 10-pound weight, then a 25-pound, and sooner or later I’ll be able to pick up a 100-pound weight.’ And I think that’s true with courage. You develop a little courage, so that if you decide, ‘I will not stay in rooms where women are belittled; I will not stay in company where races, no matter who they are, are belittled; I will not take it; I will not sit around and accept dehumanizing other human beings’ — if you decide to do that in small ways, and you continue to do it — finally you realize you’ve got so much courage. Imagine it — you’ve got so much courage that people want to be around you. They get a feeling that they will be protected in your company.

I have stood for better and have worked my courage muscles as I have improved. But I still need to work those muscles even more. I also have to face that mirror some more. Many of us do.

We can blame the torch bearers and the President all we want. But if we are white and if we are cis and straight, we have to face courageously not only how we have benefited from our whiteness, but how others have suffered. This is not about guilt. This is about change.

The time is now. The time has been now for some time. It is too late for a lot of people who have died because of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other atrocities. We need to not only stop with the false equivalencies, but we need to change.

I hope that one day tourists around the world do not come to America decades from now the way some go to Aushwitz or the Anne Frank House. Our future is shaped by how we act now.

I want to close with this. Earlier today a hispanic woman I care about and respect very much told me about her day working for a man. He asked her if she broke up with the man she was with. He does this a lot, hoping for the answer to be yes. After that he accused her of flipping him like a card. In context it suggested she was a tease. Then, he shared with her an inappropriate video featuring humor about oral sex. Finally, he paid her below industry standard for the work she did that day.

He did not pay her what she was worth and he showed that she has no value to him. She was scared to speak up because she believes she needs the money. She also did not want to cause a scene. I do not shame her in any way.

Every day women deal with this. People of color deal with this. LGBTQIA people deal with this. They deal with a lot worse than this. As she told me the story, I felt her pain and her humiliation. It’s wrong. We can end it. It starts with stopping whatever we do that causes harm. Next step is the courage to stand up when we see others being racist, sexist, anti gay, etc.

That is my confession. It is also my lesson. To have courage.

 

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