An open letter to my fellow straight white men…

November 14, 2016

It’s time for us to step up straight white men! This campaign and this election have exposed many issues in our country and our world…issues that have been there for a very long time, and although we’ve made progress on them through the years, it’s time for real change and we’re a big part of that.

Being a straight white man, although it comes with an enormous amount of privilege – some of which we’re aware of and much we simply take for granted, can be challenging and painful in certain ways that we rarely talk about. I have spent much of my life feeling (or avoiding) the shame of what white men have done (and are still doing) to women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and those less privileged.

We often don’t like to acknowledge this because it feels awful, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it, and it’s an incredibly painful and powerless experience. It’s also scary, uncomfortable, and vulnerable to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression of any kind – especially as a straight white man. We usually aren’t as aware of it as those who are directly impacted and even when we are, we worry that we shouldn’t talk about these things because we may hurt, upset, or offend people…or be judged, misunderstood, shamed, or attacked…called a racist, sexist, or homophobe ourselves. So, we choose to stay oblivious, to avoid it, or just sit on our hands, which is safer and easier.

Many of us have dealt with our own challenges and obstacles in life – just because we’re white, straight, and male, doesn’t mean we were born with a silver spoon in our mouth, haven’t worked hard, don’t deal with our own issues, or don’t deserve any of the success or opportunity we may have experienced. And, yes, some of us have dealt with various forms of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” both personally and professionally. We also like to point to the fact that much progress has been made for women, people of color, and other minorities in our culture, which is true. Or we see, hear, and read about horrible acts of hate or abuse and say to ourselves (or others), “I would never do that…I’m one of the good guys.”

However, it’s important for us to both acknowledge the privilege and power we have as straight white men and also the responsibility. The vast majority of us are not abusing women, sexually assaulting them, treating them as objects, or consciously trying to hold them back. We’re also not overtly racist or homophobic – treating people of color or gay people in rude, cruel, and oppressive ways.

Yet, these things continue to exist in our culture all over the place – and there is so much pain, suffering, fear, and trauma associated with this for so many people in our world right now. Women are being abused, assaulted, and raped all the time – right in our communities and on college campuses. Plus, just about every woman we know has been impacted directly by sexism and even sexual assault – just ask them, as awkward as that may be to bring up. Every person of color and gay person we know has dealt with racism or homophobia in their lives – in many cases in a traumatic way. Unarmed black men are dying in the streets. Muslims are being targeted and taunted. Kids are being bullied in school for being “different.” Hatred, cruelty, and oppression are taking place in both big and small ways – even if we don’t see it in our own lives or families regularly.

We just experienced a Presidential campaign and election that was filled with overt and covert racism, sexism, and hatred. I choose to believe that the vast majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not racist, sexist, and homophobic. However, his campaign, his rhetoric, and his election have given a sense of permission and “normalcy” to hatred, fear, and discrimination of minorities, immigrants, women, and other groups…and that is NOT okay.

As good, strong, kind, loving, compassionate, and powerful men who love our country, our significant others, our friends, and our children, we have an important role to play in this…even if we may not always see it or feel comfortable with it.

Every straight white man I know has been in situations where other straight white men around us were being overtly or covertly racist, sexist, or homophobic. While we may not have participated in it directly (although in some cases we have, especially when we were young and less conscious), we have often not done or said anything to stop it…or to at least make it clear that it’s not okay. We can no longer do this!

For better or worse, people listen to us in a particular way given our race, gender, and orientation. It may not be fair or justified (both positively and negatively), but it’s true. And even though it can be scary and uncomfortable, and some people might judge us, think we’re arrogant, insensitive, self-righteous, soft, over-sensitive, too PC, or worse, it’s time for us to step up, lean in, speak up, and do more to support the women and girls around us, and our brothers and sisters of color, everyone in the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, and any oppressed or under-represented group in our culture…i.e. everyone who is not white, not straight, and not male.

We also need to pay more attention, look, listen, and feel with as much awareness, compassion, and empathy as we can. We have to call out racism, sexism, and oppression when we see it – both personally and also in our organizations, institutions, and our society at large. This is not easy or comfortable, and isn’t usually encouraged or appreciated by those we may be calling out…but it’s essential. Sometimes we’re in a better, safer, and stronger position to call this out than the individuals or groups who are being discriminated against themselves.

This isn’t about liberal or conservative, Clinton supporter or Trump supporter, or even about our nation…it’s actually bigger than that…it’s about loving, caring for, and supporting our fellow human beings. We are brothers, sons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, coaches, mentors, friends, and more. We are men…and at the core of our nature, we are here to provide and protect…that is our job and our responsibility, above and beyond whatever we do for a living.

And, as straight white men, we are in a unique and important position of privilege and power. We can influence change…we can stand up for kindness and compassion…and for those who need us to stand up with them or for them. We must! This moment in our history calls for our courage and strength…it’s not “someone else’s problem.” We’re all in this together…

With Love, Passion, and Courage,

Mike Robbins

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Comments

  1. I strongly disagree with a fundamental premise that you presume, yet gloss over until about 1/4 of the way through. I DO believe that the vast majority of Trimp supporters fully believe the racist, bigoted, mysoginistic, prejudiced and isolationist views he polluted this campaign with. Educated white men (males) fully understand that filling the office of President requires character. And the “character” (or caricature) that Trump sold exactly mirrors those you bought him.

    And we’re all suffering for it.

    • Steve – thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. I choose to believe that the vast majority of people who voted for Donald Trump did so because they want change, they are unsatisfied with the system, and/or didn’t like or trust Hillary Clinton. Given what the polling tells us (although harder to believe that info these days), a number of those who voted for him, don’t like the things he said and are concerned about his character and temperament. I share those concerns myself…and, this also feels like an important moment in our history – a time for all of us to stand up, speak up, and let go of our fears about sharing what we believe to be true, right, and important. I think straight white men have a specific responsibility right now – one we haven’t always felt comfortable with and may not, but so what. There are many people who feel scared right now, including me, but those of us who are in privileged positions have an opportunity to protect those who need protection. I also feel excited in the midst of my fear – lots of opportunity for growth, change, and healing in all of this.

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