My Big Fat White Male Privilege
The balance between men and women is and will be an important factor in the success of the evolutionary future. Today’s men and women, as collectives, will effectively be the parents of that future, They’ll have as powerful an influence on it as our parents had on us. And that’s a lot.
Let’s have a look at this. The immediate context is this. I’m part of an international men’s organization that wants to be a force for good. Recently some men from Ontario, Canada, where I live formed an initiative to have us examine our “male white” privilege. But I don’t feel – or think – checking privilege is the way to go.
My response . . .
–We men have been the traditional defenders of our communities. I’m not talking about guns, but about standing up for values and perspectives that resonate deeply with us, that reflect our experience and, even deep thought and cogitation over many years.
Men have always been the warriors who’ve done this and many men and many scholars have commented, and maybe you’ve felt it in yourself, that what it took to be a warrior has shaped us, helped differentiate men from women. Men are the way we are partly because of the desire to protect the community and to protect the women and care for them as they make the home. Women too were shaped by this dimorphism and their biological role as rulers of the domestic sphere and the first raisers of children. The men’s and the women’s role each come with steep costs and great benefits, not just costs for women and benefits for men.
I don’t believe that men as a group have oppressed women for their own advantage throughout history. Quite the opposite. I think that evolutionary biology and common sense (what men and women have known throughout history) – and personal experience – show us a story of mutual care and specialization for survival. I don’t subscribe to the view that women are victims of men or that they’re more moral and men less, that there’s one correct way to think about gender, that the presumption of innocence in court is rather passé, or that men should be subtracted from to make us more equal. In my view all these take us away from mutual respect between women and men and corrode the basis of society. Not in an abstract way but in a very personal one with cost to real families, adults and children.
I’m mentioning all this because, once we’ve accepted that the foundation of society is that women are victims and men their oppressors, then it’s just a hop, skip and jump to add in new categories of victim and perpetrator. A new orthodoxy about the right way to see and think arises and you may be shamed or punished for dissenting from it. It’s just a short walk till the entire population feels they must agree or at least pretend to. The whole public sphere can move into lock step be governed with one right way to think and feel.
I want to defend the right of individuals to see things they way they do and to respectfully use their voices to debate with others and find a way forward. That’s how we learn to think more clearly. The freedom to do that with impunity over the last hundreds of years has been the foundation of the success of the western liberal democracies. And if I may say so, it’s been the privilege of white men to offer that to the world. I treasure that.
The alternative to debate and free exchange of ideas is the mob. And in parts of the US and the UK especially we’ve been seeing a strong resurgence of the mob and almost no willingness to entertain any restraint on it. I don’t think we’re immune here in Ontario either. Our present course is leading in that direction.
There’s a different black narrative to the one we’re hearing in the media. This eleven minute compilation video sketches it out. This one with three articulate young black men goes into more detail. Most of us haven’t heard it because it’s just not the official narrative. What these bubble-busting blacks say is as invisible as the male-positive view of history. It doesn’t fit the mainstream narrative and you won’t hear it on CBC or read it in the Toronto Star.
The good news is there are alternatives to the way we’re going. They often look like opening up and making room for respectful conversation among others, starting with ourselves.
(the second response)
For me, Black Lives Matter and the related question of white male privilege raises a fundamental question of who we are.
Are we holders of illegitimate power we should step down from? Or holders of a godly power we should step up to? A very personal response of mine is that it’s a power I need to step up to and that it’s my “privilege” to be able to do so.
Some time ago I had a zoom conversation with a woman who’s spiritual qualities of love and elevated consciousness I very much admire.She showed up on our call devastated and at the depressed end of her bipolar condition (which I hadn’t known about). It was hard to see such a high-flying bird with wings so clipped and brought so low. She saw herself as broken and unable to give her gift. And it was clear from what she said that that inability to give was the saddest thing for her – perhaps because she knew herself as having so much to give.
I’ve thought of her recently. I’m not bipolar but I recognize the two versions of myself, the one in which all things are possible and the one in which I’m not good enough and have nothing to contribute.
What different ways to live! What different visions of the self!
I believe that nothing less than this choice is at stake in our, and others’ response to Black Lives Matter. I do believe that all this is part of a fight for men’s souls and who we are. We’re privileged to give ourselves for the good of all by sharing our gifts, not possessors of a toxic self we must surrender to others.
Privilege in English (derived from Latin but coming through French in the 12th century) originally meant “private law,” a grant or a commission from a higher authority. For me it’s a commission to pick up and step into and do what I can. “All things are possible now,” as [Name] said the other day. I choose to say that’s really so.
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