Privilege of Indifference

For the majority of my life, I have been a rather timid individual who gets a stomach ache and the feeling of buzzing static in my brain when things get heated. Arguments and even civilized but strong discussions made me want to shut down completely and leave the area. In fact, they still make me want to do that.

It’s a privileged life when you can shy away from conflict and claim disinterest as a defense. My privilege of indifference spanned from bigger items like politics and social issues to smaller things like avoiding the Neighborhood Night Out or ignoring internet conversations where people were passionate about one thing or another.

That being said, in an ironic fashion, willful ignorance is the one item that got me to speak up. Thinking skeptically was a first step, as I was a very gullible child. Knowing where I stood on a topic, and that I had data and research to back it up, helped. But aside from one-sided fun making of items like homeopathy and psychics, I couldn’t hold my own in any sort of debate or argument without feeling that hot fuzz in my brain again and wanting desperately to hide.

I have a very logical mind, but I’m finding more and more that my real strength is in the heart. As sick as yelling makes me feel, others being treated poorly makes me even sicker. People are people, and everyone should be treated equally. Gay marriage should be legal. Women should be able to walk down the street without being treated like a pieces of meat. I felt I could retweet and even make my own pointed broadcasts on these topics. Treating people with the respect and dignity that you’d want yourself felt obvious, and it was maddening that people wanted to repress others.

And then, my entire world opened up further than I knew was possible.

If you don’t know or haven’t guessed by now, I’m a white guy. If I take a walk around my neighborhood or watch TV, I can be assured that most people I see will look like me. This is the way things have always been, and something I’ve never realized before. It’s something you don’t see until it’s pointed out to you. That’s a bubble of ignorance and comfort. That’s benefiting from privilege without knowing you had it. It feels like I woke out of the Matrix. It feels so obvious that I’ve been in a pod all this time. How could I not know I was in a pod? Why did I get so annoyed and introverted when someone tried to shake my pod?

My wife and I have just been through the process of adoption, and we now have the most wonderful baby girl in the world. Adoption is emotionally challenging for everyone involved. Birth parents, adoptive parents, and the children themselves. Our little girl will grow up with a lot of questions, which we will answer, and a lot of emotions surrounding how she came to be our daughter, which we will talk about. I want so much to make everything in the world easy and perfect for her.

And, if you haven’t guessed this by now, my daughter is a different race from my wife and me. Our neighborhood is not filled with faces that look like hers. TV is filled with people who look like her parents. Books. Cartoons. Advertisements. On top of adoption, there will be the emotionally charged topic of race that we will be very open with our daughter about. I want so much to make everything in the world easy and perfect for her.

So here I am, the white guy, thinking I’m doing great with my issues of the heart. Suddenly my daughter comes along and everything changes. I seek out news and issues relating to her culture. I want to be informed. I want to join in. I want to make a difference. I want to learn about and fight against the systematic and deeply ingrained racism of our society.

I want other people to be better than me. I want all the white people out there to realize their discomfort on issues of race is a reason to open their minds, shut their mouths, and listen to those with a different perspective. That static in your brain needs to wake you up instead of shut you down. Be better than me. Learn about white privilege and the current and constant state of racism before it becomes imperative. Learn because it’s the right thing to do, not because you have to.

I had the privilege to be ignorant. I could shy away topics that became too tough or uncomfortable. But for so many, they can never turn the conversation off. They are targeted, followed, profiled, demeaned, slandered, and even murdered. They can’t run and hide. They live with it every day, and they shouldn’t have to.

I am changing my attitude from one of privileged indifference to privileged vigilance. I can’t change the fact that I’m born into a society that treats me one way and others another, and it’s useless to try and feel bad about that. Guilt doesn’t get anyone anywhere. But I can certainly use the way I’m treated to the advantage of others, and try to get others in their bubbles to open their eyes.

I will raise my voice. I will not shy away from the tough discussions on race. I will point out the casual racism that permeates conversations online and in life. I will make the world a more just place for my daughter. As a society, we need a lot of support and understanding to make a huge change. Equality matters.

As linked in Dan Zanes’ wonderful article on being a less racist white dude, take a look at Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. There is a list in that article that will make you really realize what privilege is, if you don’t already know.

Be better than me. Open your eyes before you have to wake up. Let’s get to work.

Comments

  1. I loved this writing and have experienced a similar growth and realization. The only way change happens is when something is uncomfortable. The fact that overt racism still exists in such a profound level is terrifying to me and leaves me scared for our future as a nation. It is useless to argues about prove ledge it exists and it is used, it is the way it is. However, he is right, be better, stand up when you hear something, you see something, don’t just look away and silently object. We are one race, the human race, all brothers and sisters.

  2. Hey, you just followed me on Twitter, so I decided to poke around on here a bit. And of course, this being the first thing I read, you got my brain working overtime.

    For me, confrontation was a learned skill, something I had to develop in the course of finally standing up to bullies (10th grade), and then moreso in the military, where it’s basically a major part of the job description. Since then, I’ve become much more outspoken (as you’ll see on Twitter) and willing to wear my heart on my sleeve.

    Reading this, though, wow. There’s privilege in being a white male, to be sure — that privilege goes beyond special treatment, and if you look at the roots of it, we have our soapboxes to stand on and pools of knowledge to tap into. And largely, my railing against the social inequities in the world has been to stand on that soapbox, using profanity about the situation, and then retweeting the shit that I find into an echo chamber of like-minded individuals.

    But I like the way you intend to capitalize on the position of privilege.

    I’ve always sort of known but never done anything with it, but Scalzi’s “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” kinda woke me up to the idea on a conscious level. Since then, I’ve struggled with the idea of how to do something meaningful about how I feel, and I think your ideas on applying the position provided you by your genetics to subvert itself has a lot of merit. Next step is to figure out next steps.

    Looking forward to reading more.

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