OPINION: How to do the work

A beginners guide to being less racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic from start to now

By on November 7, 2017

Fuck up.

You will not start off perfect, for you are a cis-gender white man — full of privilege — and this is a beginner’s guide. Say something racist about basketball, or math or immigrants. Say something sexist about cooking, or cleaning or jobs. Say something homo or transphobic about what sex really is or about what a man really is, or about what marriage really is. You will feel eyes boring into your skull and then turning away, for you are a cis white man — full of privilege. Know that feeling and know that you do not want to feel that feeling ever again.

Let go.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is what they always seem to say. Your school has just about 10 people of color anyway. As you sit your slightly larger white ass in history class, learn bit by bit about people of different cultures. You will only learn bit by bit however because public school does not want to paint in such abstract strokes as to insinuate that people who do not look like you have a full ability to create and have culture (let alone individual thought). Start to feel that transgression, mentioned earlier, peek its way out from behind the wall you’ve built in your mind. “Is that right?” interrupts your teacher. You are learning about the Holocaust (in much more detail than slavery or internment) and you are the only Jewish kid in your class, therefore, your COLLEGE-EDUCATED HISTORY TEACHER wants to fact check the death toll, or the pronunciation of a death camp, or the winner of a battle with (you guessed it) YOU.          Get out. Find someone who is willing to be patient with your ignorance, for you are a cis white man — full of privilege. Search the internet, find a program; just do something. Here are the keys to learning from someone so gracious as to sit down and converse with you about something you know nothing about:

Shut up

Know you are wrong

Don’t be this person

I hear what you’re saying but I really just think it isn’t about the color of your skin. I mean I don’t see a difference between you and me we’re all just people right?

Realize you will never understand.

Grow your capacity for empathy.

Learn more.

Learn about Malcolm and Martin, learn about DuBois and Booker T, learn about Marsha P. Johnson, Cesar Chavez, Bell Hooks and Grace Lee Boggs. Learn that your learning is never done and that while you know more than your peers you actually know nothing.

Once you graduate from grade school, expect to find a college where these problems do not exist and people work together to grow a collective understanding about the issues you have dedicated much mental effort to. Be disappointed.

“My dad says the wage gap is just because of maternity leave,” regurgitates a classmate. Sit silent; for you are a cis white man — full of privilege. The room has an air of discomfort as if the atmosphere is waiting for someone to break through the silence — no one does. The professor will continue, as they are trying to push their students to converse with each other, instead of interrupting their discourse. Think of how much you wish someone would show this d-bag how wrong they were, think of studies, think of statistics, think of leaders. Realize that you do not have to wait for others and that the change you want to see can come from yourself.

“I don’t get it; why do all lives not matter?” questions another student in another class. Do not wait for the moment to pass this time. Do not expect someone else to pick up the confrontation. It is your time. Speak up. You’ve learned to not put the burden on those most affected by hate and prejudice. You only perpetuate this hate by being complicit with your silence. Speak up. Raise your hand; speak with care and be gentle. Explain how the Black Lives Matter movement is centered around police brutality which happens, disproportionately to black people; that the movement is centered around the idea that in American and most societies, black lives, black bodies and black voices are not valued in any realm near where white people’s are. Get carried away. Exert a stern tone, for you are a cis white man — full of privilege — privilege that allows you to speak up, to use aggression in your voice, to be listened to without prejudice. If you can’t use your privilege to erase your privilege is it even privilege at all? Hear the second hand moving; hear the sniffle of someone in the front row; hear your heart pounding out of your chest, for you have failed them. You have failed to perform as an accomplice to the rest of the white folk in the room.

This is not over.

Push yourself.

Step into spaces you have not before; be there with an openness and willingness to learn. Move past the leaders of history and learn from people of now. You will cherish each new learning experience. You will learn that issues this large tie in with philosophy and ways of thinking so deep seeded you will feel defeat before you even really start. Learn of white supremacy and how it pervades your home and the homes of everyone you love. Learn of anti-blackness in America and across the globe. Learn of performance of roles, and learn that white people are only called out if they fail to perform publicly as a non-racist, but not if they discriminate in private. Learn of transphobia and racism in the gay community.

Instead of reading Facebook articles find ways to use your computer for positivity. Work proactively instead of reactively. Write about it all: on paper and on your computer. Read this writing. Reread this writing. Think. Think back because no one can overcome discrimination and hate unless we all overcome it together. Insert gender identities into your writing. Realize that while this country has come a long way with race we have not come nearly as far with sexuality and gender. Instead of saying “you guys” say “y’all” and in classes explain your pronouns are he/him. The only way to lose your privilege is to do the work — and you know there is plenty of work to be done.

Comments

About Ian Zeitlin