Another reason I haven’t been writing lately is that many of the things I’ve felt a need to get out of my head are things where white men are seen as the aggressors, as the bad guys. As a white man it sometimes feels a bit odd to talk about these things, and as you may have seen in the past, I often feel the need to place a disclaimer before my posts noting that it’s not really my place.
However, after some soul searching, I can’t help but think that it IS my place. There are a few reasons I could list off, but the one I want to focus on today is because if there’s anything we could use more of today, it’s perspective.
It’s not cool to be white anymore. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure when it was. When I was a kid, I remember hearing about “The Man” and then finding out that he was me. But lately, it’s gotten worse. Being a white man, specifically, labels you as being any number of terrible things. And more and more we’re seeing white men responsible for absolutely atrocious acts, not the least of them involving guns and bombs against those of the plethora of minorities we have in this country.
Racism is alive and well in this country.
“But, Adam,” you say. “Not all white men are like that. What you’re talking about above is a stereotype. That’s racist!”
And my response is, you’re right. Also, thank you for not using the term reverse-racist, because that’s just stupid.
It is racist. And there are some who would say, “doesn’t feel so great now, does it?” right back to you.
And the truth is, no, it doesn’t. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Instead, I want to bring up a recent new article about a bunch of kids from Baraboo, WI who took a photo together of them giving the Nazi salute. It’s a shocking photo. Well, it should be…and for many it was. For myself, well, it brought back some memories. Because as a younger man, I too became infatuated with many of these symbols which we identify as being symbols of hate. I wasn’t very skilled as an artist, but I could draw a swastika. I flew a Confederate flag in my room for a number of years.
Yet at no point did I connect these symbols with hate. The Confederate flag was but a way for me to highlight my background when moving from South Carolina to Wisconsin. It was a way of saying, “Hey, I’m from the South and I’m a Rebel, y’all!” It was an attempt to express myself with an image that I knew had significant cultural history, but I only considered it from the white man’s perspective. Similarly with the swastika. It was a symbol I thought looked cool. I didn’t draw it because of a desire to enact genocide. I drew it because I could.
Now, I know, not all high schoolers are nearly as naive as I was, especially in today’s world where race is much more of a discussion than it was for me. One of the kids who shared the image even noted how they were able to convince the black kid to join in. These kids definitely knew what they were up to.
But do they truly understand the message they were presenting?
When I began to realize what it is I was saying with my flag, I hid it. I folded it nicely and placed it in a trunk, which is where it sat for years until I finally disposed of it. It wasn’t easy for me to give up something I felt a connection to, but that connection was a personal connection regarding my own personal history, and although I thought that displaying it publicly gave everyone that same message, the truth is it didn’t.
I spent several years ashamed that I ever flew that flag, trying to find reasons to justify it. I no longer feel the need to justify it, and I don’t exactly feel shame, but I do feel embarrassed, as well as sorry for anyone who may have seen it and gotten the wrong idea.
So I can’t help but wonder how many of these kids today who are getting wrapped up in the resurgence of white supremacy are really in the same boat I was. Do they have some sort of personal connection? Or maybe they’re just following the crowd? Do these kids truly believe that white makes right or is this something like eating Tide Pods where the full repercussions of their actions aren’t being thought out?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that the one thing all of them need, as well as all of the rest of us, is a little perspective. Just like young high schooler me when he realized that others may have completely different perspectives on that giant X across his wall.
Now, this brings me back to the original point of this whole post. You see, I’m a white man. And when people see that, there are a few things that their perspective can instantly tell them about me, things which aren’t helped by pictures such as the one shared in Baraboo. Unfortunately, unlike the Confederate flag, and outside of sitting out in the sun for a few days, I can’t change the color of my skin.
But I’m tired of feeling as though I need to apologize for the color of my skin. Yeah, sure, that’s what my ancestors caused people of color to feel for centuries, but the thing is, I don’t think they deserved it either.
Yes, there are many out there who look vaguely like me and are the reason those stereotypes exist. Some are incredibly bold about it. And I’m sorry. Not sorry because I’m taking any form of blame for their actions, but sorry that anyone has to face any sort of bigotry. Sorry that we still live in a world today where there is massive inequalities facing all of those who don’t fall under the heading of white male. Sorry that people are dying because of the color of their skin, or their religion, or their lifestyles in general.
I’m sorry that our world sucks.
And although I won’t take the blame for it getting this way, I do hope to somehow manage to make it better.
White men have historically been pretty outstanding in the fields of aggression and suppression. There are many who fall under that heading who are still trying to keep it that way.
I’m not one of them. And I DON’T stand with them.
Love each other.