To My Fellow White Boys…
In light of the different criticisms ‘Privilege Week’ received, I hope to defend the moral necessity of checking one’s privilege- particularly if you are a straight white male. Acknowledging the different privileges one enjoys because of race, gender, sexuality— or different combinations thereof— can be challenging but is ultimately a crucial step to making the world a more just, equal place.
It is indisputably, objectively true that being white and male comes with a number of privileges. A vast majority of us can feel confident that getting pulled over by police for a minor traffic will not escalate into a degrading, or at worst violent, spectacle. We can walk home in a big city late at night without getting cat-called at by old men or fear what shadows might contain. We have parents that escort us happily to Boy Scouts, to music lessons, to sleep away camp, and to ever more expensive colleges. The list goes on, and it is precisely because these privileges white men enjoy are enjoyed at such an unconscious level that we must be reminded of them and maintain an awareness that as a group, we white boys have it pretty darn good.
It has been a journey of many years to truly understand how systems of oppression work and my role in perpetuating them. In high school I adopted the conservative viewpoints expressed by family and community members; I thought that people are poor by their own choosing and that my family lived comfortably because my parents worked hard. I learned slowly the inadequacy of this conception of race, privilege, and inequality in my time as an undergraduate as I met people from different backgrounds and learned in my classes, but my time as a graduate student and new teacher in Philadelphia made me confront fully the reality of systemic inequality in our country.
A case in point: last year one of my brightest students— a young Latina woman— had some of the strongest grades in my class and had received admission to several well-regarded state schools, but in the third quarter she stopped showing up to school and turning in work. Eventually she shared with me that she was using her time tending to her younger siblings instead of her schoolwork because her mother was in the Dominican Republic caring for a dying grandmother, and with a heartbreaking nonchalance she added her father “wasn’t around.” She ultimately turned down several her admission offers to attend the city Community College in order to save money and help her family. I am confident that if this young woman was born into a more privileged set of circumstances she would have achieved more material success. To illustrate with an opposite scenario- one of my acquaintances from college spent four years at William and Mary partying and skipping classes, but because his father is wealthy and well-connected he is now working on Capitol Hill. These are just two scenarios that have opened my eyes to the reality of white, male privilege.
So, my fellow white boys, please realize that no one is trying to say you’re a racist or a bad person. But you have, in fact, enjoyed a number of advantages because of that ‘Y’ chromosome and a lack of melanin in your skin. And to be an educated, rational, and morally alert person in this world today, you must embrace this truth.
Zack Hardy, English teacher