The Antidote to White Supremacy

One white man’s journey to greater awareness

A recent post on Craigslist asked a few questions that echo what some white men are feeling.

Are we all racist simply by virtue of being white?

Are all white men complicit in exploiting and oppressing blacks and women?

Do all white men need to commit mass suicide before activists are happy?

Image from the Library of Congress

The “Black Lives Matter” and other protest messages are apparently getting under the skin of some white people. It is hard to miss the dialogue and the placards condemning white privilege and demanding justice. The pandemic fever-pitch is rampant, especially when the sights and sounds of George Floyd’s suffocation are still fresh in our minds.

All White Men Suck

The Craigslist poster asked the same questions that I had asked many years ago as I sat in a class full of differently-colored people. In fact, I was one of only two white guys. Mike and I were the “minorities” in a two-year Master’s program cohort. The class focused on oppression by the dominant white culture, and it was taught by a “ballbusting feminist”, who was a rockstar in that classroom. The major themes of the class could be summed up succinctly with these points:

  1. White men had created a paternalistic culture that promoted the interests and success of white men to the exclusion of others. This was white supremacy.
  2. Virtually all of our social, political, and economic institutions at that time (1980) were controlled by the dominance of the white male and the oppression of women and people of color.
  3. Power and decision-making structures throughout our culture were pervasively controlled and perpetuated by white men.
  4. Male researchers and predominately male physicians had developed and prescribed birth control pills, primarily for women, to great advantage for all men.
  5. Being a lesbian was a political statement to deny white men power, control, and sex.
  6. Every decision and action in our personal and professional endeavors needed to be guided by this socially-conscious awareness.

The Gut Punch

My white buddy, Mike, suffered an instant gut-punch from these beliefs, and proclaimed to the class, “This is bullshit!” and promptly bailed. The last I knew, he was playing his guitar with no regrets at a club outside of town. That left me immersed in a bubble of new ideas and tanner faces.

I decided to stick it out, keep my white head down for once, and see what I could learn. It was fantastic! Well, okay, it was hard to take at first. I didn’t have to swallow all of it. They weren’t talking about ME, necessarily, were they?

They were describing a system that we all were a part of. But a part of me wanted to learn and understand life through the eyes of others. Among other things, I realized that the other, non-white men winced, like me, at the radical feminist ideas and mission. We had found something in common.

I bonded with two black men who were cultured, caring, fun, accepting, and loyal friends. Based on their characters and values I learned to trust them far more than many of the white people back in my former (all-white) world. My cohort also included Asian-Americans, Chicanas, Pacific Islanders, and men and women with roots from nearly every continent. They each brought a perspective that was a bit different than my sheltered, truly-privileged worldview from a small white city.

Acquiescence, Reduced Guilt, and Discomfort

Did I buy all of the radical ideologies from the professor? No, but I learned to respect and understand her point of view as it governed the class. The ideas challenged my thinking and I learned a great deal from them.

Did I respect my classmates and see them as equals with something to offer me? Yes. In most cases, my classmates showed capabilities that soared far beyond mine.

Did I realize that their definition of racism was inherently different than mine? Yes. Being a “minority” and not having my views “count” with the majority was sobering.

Did I come to understand that they felt systemic racism (and sexism) at every level in our culture? Yes. When I grew out of my initial white male identity and experience, I could see that racism and sexism were endemic and pervasive.

Did we have more commonalities than differences? Absolutely. When we stripped away the labels, we were all fundamentally similar, especially when you consider the diversity of all of humanity.

Did I begin to learn what being a minority was like? Yes, but I knew that once I had my “sheepskin,” I would still be a privileged white man and I could go back to my white world.

Did I understand racism and sexism? I understood these problems far better than I had before, even though I realized my understanding was tempered through my own inextricable white filters. I realized that there were levels of racism and sexism, and even if I was colorblind, I would still inadvertently possess some racism and sexism.

The Lemmings on the Cliff

When I returned home, I found my friends and neighbors who had never left their white communities still had mostly the same views on racism as they did before I left. Their values had not been tested and steeped as a minority like I had, albeit only for a couple of years. And they had not seen racism in action like I had. That does not mean I am somehow better than my old friends and family. It just means I have a very different understanding of some social issues now.

Not every white person can have, nor wants to have a world-changing experience like I had, living as a minority, even if it’s just for a couple of years. But maybe that kind of experience is what it would take to change awareness and create change.

The Craigslist poster need not worry about the extinction of white men. Nobody is demanding mass suicides yet. And if white men line up like lemmings on the cliff, I will pass. Instead, I will be busy promoting equality, liberty, and justice for all.

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Author of Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator by Arcadia/The History Press, University of Vermont EdD.