When I was a white man

I had almost nothing to fear from my fellow Americans when I was a white man.

I lived around people who were like me. I carried out my work around people like me. I was able to shop and see doctors around people like me. There was no reason for me ever to put myself into a place or a situation where I would be the different one, the minority, to fear another person or group.

I was always in the majority—the super-majority, where privilege is concerned.

Now that I live as a transgender woman, I do have something to fear—especially because I do not smoothly pass as a genetic female. Even so, I wonder if I still am not inestimably safer in the world than a young, African American male.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The problem with white male privilege is that one has no idea what it means to be in such a privileged spot. It is akin to a sighted person attempting to fathom having never seen anything but darkness.

Even as a so-called enlightened people, far too many of us Americans continue to live in the darkness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Until last year, I had no idea what it meant to be a minority, and a minority among minorities at that. In my new status, I cannot even be comfortable about a place we have euphemistically dubbed “restroom.” I have no rest when contemplating my next entrance into the women’s space, never knowing if someone will freak out and speak out; never knowing if I might wind up as one of these statistics, which I took from this report: http://www.ustranssurvey.org/preliminary-findings.
• 1 in 8, who have been hassled, attacked, or sexually assaulted;
• 1 in 4, who have been told they are using the wrong restroom;
• 3 in 10, who report keeping from food and drink when out in public so that nature might not call until they are safely at home;
• 6 in 10, who simply avoid restrooms to save themselves the potential for trouble; or
• 1 in 12, whose “holding it” resulted in a kidney or urinary tract infection.

I had spent my life in the majority. I enjoyed the positive side of life, in every possible way. White American. Male. Married with children. Educated. Professional man. Respected Christian minister. Economically stable. Good relationships all around. Every freedom and privilege.

Every freedom and privilege.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I never feared The Man.

I had no need to fear The Man.

I did not respect those who viewed the government, the police, as The Man.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From my young-adult years, I recall conversations in which my peers shook their heads at the behavior of young, African American males, those who lived in Detroit, Chicago, and the like. Why were they involved in so much violence, always dealing in drugs, knocking over the corner bar for cash? Why didn’t they stay in school, work to get a good education, get out of there? The problem, it often was assumed, was that they were nothing more than punks. Thugs. No desire to do good, but only caring to get the goods on the next guy, even if it meant killing him. As if this were genetic.

Empathy was the last thing that my peers experienced for them, and it took many years for me to shed the negative assumptions before they didn’t even begin to rear their ugly head of prejudice and racism.

Until two years ago, my world was almost totally white. This has been an excellent experience, living in Indianapolis. I have met and made friends with numerous black folks. I have learned so much.

The number one lesson I’ve learned? They are just like me. Regular people. Simply trying to get on in life.

I have learned that I am only lighter-skinned than them, which should mean nothing other than I am lighter-skinned than them.

If only.

In the tiny church Julie and I attended for nine months, from July, 2014, through March of this year—which was, as I liked to put it, 50% white, 40% black, and with two of the sweetest old Japanese ladies you’ve ever met—I had some long, edifying conversations over after-worship fellowship lunch.

One of the African American ladies grew up in the South. As a young woman, she marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. She told of the events with such detail and emotion—I heard in her voice both the courage it took and the fear that could not be shook—that I almost felt I had been right there with them.

Almost.

Talking face-to-face with an African American who actually lived through and worked in the battle for civil rights instilled in me a depth of appreciation for the fight, which I had never before known.

I am old enough to have lived at the time of so many race riots—1968 in my home-state town of Detroit—the Rodney King mess in 1991, when in 1995 blacks cheered for O. J. Simpson as whites were dumbfounded that he had been found not-guilty, and the latter decades of young black men being shot by whites for, well, it depends on with whom you speak and how you lean to determine the reason.

I reached young adulthood just as the Holocaust became a thing of movies and documentaries. I watched them until I could watch them no more, so sickened by the treatment of a group of people for only being different from another group of people.

In the USA, we are barely touched by the racial divides across the globe which result in war, in genocide, in citizens being driven from their homelands. It’s too far “over there” to grab our hearts for longer than the short clip we watch, and then we are onto the latest viral video so that our fancy might be tickled.

As long as my life is not directly affected—I can go to work, buy my groceries, the gas station has plenty of fuel that’s not too expensive, and my TV keeps me fed with eye-candy—I can live as if there is nothing wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I fear that we are living in the greatest age ever of the “I don’t care” attitude. We Americans are so rich—I am referring to the vast middle class, we folks who have good housing and autos, food on the table and health care insurance, and every unhindered right and privilege and gadget and you-name-it—that we need not be bothered.

We don’t need our neighbors, as in days past, so we don’t get to know them. Because we do not know them, we do not care about them.

We whine about the government but, truly, we—the vast middle class—are generally scarcely affected by the many levels of government and their actions, that we do not have to care.

And if we have a family member, friend, or coworker who is in need, who might have delivered the news such as I did last year, or who now has a debilitating disease, or who lost a job and is in real need of tangible help, or who suffered the loss of a loved one or a job or something else traumatic, well, there simply are enough other people around, enough resources, others who are better than we at such delicate matters, that we can click on our “I don’t care” button and be on our merry way.

I hate this phrase—“I don’t care”—more than folks despise the N word.

And if you are shaking your head in disagreement over anything I have asserted in this section, can you see yourself putting yourself on the line for it, for any person’s need, for a social cause, for a wrong which needs righting?

Would you, privileged white person, march for it? Would you place your neck on the line for it?

Would I?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I don’t mean to say that we are not bothered by events, such as those last week which prompted this essay. I do, however, mean to say that the amount we are bothered is minuscule.

We spot and take the exit with ease: “There is nothing I can do about it. I don’t live there. I’m not a lawmaker. I am just a citizen. It’s for others to deal with.”

Does that mean that there is nothing for the vast majority of Americans to do? Absolutely not.

There has never been a greater need for every American to practice the Golden Rule, to treat the next person the way I want the next person to treat me.

There has never been a greater need for every American to practice friendliness toward his neighbor, toward those with whom she works, toward those where all of us interact in our stores and offices and ballparks and elevators and on the street.

We all know that apathy begets apathy, that hatred begets hatred, that violence begets violence. It is a way more desirable truth that caring begets caring, and kindness begets kindness, and love begets love.

There is only one person over whom I have control. That person is me.

How shall I live? How shall I treat the next person I encounter? What kind of ripple will I send out into the world which I directly influence?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I was a white man, I enjoyed every privilege. I have given up the crown of that favor, but I continue to enjoy the vast realm of my white privilege, and every other one I have ever known.

What a terrible thing this is, a full half-century after the civil rights movement, that a young black man cannot boast which I can boast, even as a transgender American.

What a terrible thing this is, that the supposedly enlightened nation of people whom we think we are so often act no better than the very people at whom we look down our noses.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Romans 12:14-21: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “When I was a white man

  1. … well written, well thought out. You have been given a wonderful gift from GOD, and I’m pleased that you are using it. Preach it, preacher!
    Amen!
    tt

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s