I posted Monday about the “Writing the Other” panel at Millennicon. Today I wanted to address one of the comments. Jim Van Pelt (whose writing I love, by the way — check it out) described an academic panel in which the moderator opened by saying, “If you are white, male and straight in America, you are also, automatically racist, sexist and homophobic.” Comment link here.
This next part is scary to write. To be clear, I’m not talking about you. I’m not talking about Van Pelt. I’m not talking about anyone except myself, ‘kay?
That moderator is correct. I am a straight white male raised in the U.S. I am also racist. I am sexist. I am homophobic.
While on the phone with a woman from tech support a few months back about a software problem, I found myself getting fed up, angry, and aggressive. Afterward, I asked myself whether I would have been equally aggressive had the other person been male. I wasn’t happy to realize the answer was no. Given the same conversation, I will be more restrained with the male support person. Because the female is someone I’m “allowed” to be angry/aggressive at. Because I am sexist.
I feel safe walking around my neighborhood, or to and from the parking lot at work, but I try to be aware of my surroundings. Walking down the street, if I see a group of teenagers coming toward me, I automatically assess them as more of a potential threat if they’re black. Because I am racist.
When my kids talk about getting married, I’ve told them that whoever they want to be with, that’s fine with me. I’ve taught them that not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, and that’s okay. Yet deep down, a part of me still hopes they settle down with someone of the opposite sex, because I want them to be “normal.” Because I am homophobic.
I’m believe in accountability, and a big part of that is the need to own your shit. This is mine. I’m not proud of it. I’ve been working on this stuff for years. I’m not done yet.
Does this make me a bad person? You’ll have to make your own decision on that, but I don’t believe it does. I know who I am. I know my strengths, and I know my flaws. I could try to hide those flaws, but it wouldn’t make them go away. And maybe by sharing those flaws, I’ll work harder to change them.
I am racist. I am sexist. I am homophobic.
People tend to flip out when accused of these things. I understand the urge. I had to stop myself from trying to explain or excuse my behavior above. From trying to show how, even though I screw up sometimes, I’ve done a lot of other good stuff. (The nice guy defense.)
I’m not going to tell you how to respond to accusations of racism and sexism and homophobia. I will share that owning my flaws takes some of the fear away. It lessens my need to get pissed off, to argue and defend myself. I feel like I can listen. I might decide someone’s accusation is correct. I might not. But at least I’m in a space where I can listen.
A part of me thinks I should delete this thing and post a picture of my cat. But after Monday, this felt like something I needed to write.
Discussion is welcome, as always.