At first, I found myself becoming defensive when I discovered some enlightened people were labeling me a privileged white guy and worse for being male and being Caucasian that I myself was the cause of the great moral evils in our culture today. First I went to the Lowes and discovered I am not white at all, I am more of a Valspar praline color, well at least my arm and hands are, where the sun shines less, more of a bay rum—you should have seen the looks I got. Second I had to question myself to discover if I am an oppressor of all others who are different from me. I think everyone is different than me so I started asking people in the store if I was oppressing them. I got a wide variety of answers until store security came and escorted me off the premises.
As I sat in the police car I thought “Privileged?” I have never considered myself to be privileged. I have had to work my whole life, no windfalls, no huge inheritances, I live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay my bills for the ever increasing cost of life’s necessities. So I really had to step back and consider what others meant when they accused me of being a privileged white guy.
Here’s what I have come to realize. Because of who I was born to, where I was born, when I was born, not because of qualifications, certain doors of opportunity were open to me that I was not even aware were not open to “people of color” and of course women. Let me explain—“like hires like.” People unlike me who graduated from USC (go Trojans, unless they are playing Michigan) have an affinity with other USC alumni. If I am in the position to hire USC alumni or UCLA alumni, equally qualified, odds are that the person of my AL matter is the one who gets the job.
The reason I was unaware of my privileged status is that I lived in a culture that created an opportunity for someone of my stock. You can imagine my surprise that about 10 years after graduation my friend Max told me we graduated from a hick High School. Well, I guess hicks were ok to hire because I was never denied opportunity due to the color of my off-white skin, political or religious beliefs or my gender, though I now recognize that those that differed from me, especially when it comes to shades of color and gender, found those same doors politely closed.
After three days of observation in the hospital I came to the realization that even if that privilege was invisible to me, I am privileged. So I had to concede, yes I am male, I identify as male, and have parts that support that claim. I had to concede, yes, I am for lack of a better description white, although I still argue that lumping all people of European ancestry into the category of Caucasian as racist. What kind of color is Caucasian? It’s not a selection in the Valspar section. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean, it felt so good to get that jacket off that I was in the mood to agree. “yes, I am a privileged white guy.”
What about being an oppressor? The synonyms for oppressor include persecutor, tyrant, despot, autocrat, dictator, subjugator, tormentor, slave driver, and taskmaster. An oppressor is someone who treats people unfairly and or cruelly and prevents them from having opportunities and freedoms connected with all that we consider certain unalienable rights. I really don’t feel this is an accurate description of me unless of course, you’re one of my employees. I was blind to my privilege, am I blind to my actions that oppress?
I feel oppressed when I am lumped together with other privileged white guys who do fit the description. Who are these privileged white guy oppressors anyway? Zuckerberg? Bezos? Musk? Page? Brin? It seems to me that if an oppressor is someone who treats other people unfairly, or cruel, (or rudely?), (or violently?), or simply ignore the plight of others, the group is a whole lot more inclusive than just privileged white guys.
If we count unfair, rude, or violent behavior at occurring anytime in one’s history then I am an oppressor. Oh this just in this morning from CNN, host Don Lemon declared the biggest terror threat to the United State is “white men.” “So we have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them.” ABOUT THEM, me you mean!!!! What do you want to do to me?
Allow me to back up a moment. I have at times been unfair to individuals, I can think of a couple that I need to apologize to for not giving them an even break. I have been rude on occasion, responding to various situations in an ungentlemanly fashion (like when someone cuts you off –bless their hearts), and I have been violent, I am afraid I still can be. To the best of my recollection, I have never been such to women ( though I have previously confessed I have used “demeaning” terms such as “darling, little darling,” and attempting at humor by saying the only difference between a mad pit bull and a “gal” suffering from PMS is lipstick—that was rude. I have spoken when it was best to be quiet. I have been violent, a couple of physical altercations (but never with women), I’ve yelled, I’ve kicked objects, I’ve thrown things, I’ve been sarcastic on rare occasion. The only people I ever shot were presenting a clear and present danger. Yet despite these behaviors, I really try to be a compassionate, empathetic, gentle, fair, a rooter for the underdog (still a Detriot Lions fan), a lover of people (though some are extremely hard to do so and I fail miserably). Still, according to folks like Don Lemon, I am still a “THEM."
So what do you want to do to me? A re-education center, like the Maoists, helped the “THEMs” with? A concentration camp, to keep me safe, and away from people of color like the Nazis protected society with? A detention center, a gulag, lobotomy, sterilization (too late for that one), strip me of my citizenship, commit me, forbid me from buying, selling, and owning property, execute me? What exactly do you want to do to me, cause you labeled me “THEM”?
Hate is the great divider of human beings. “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” Yes, injustices and prejudices and closed doors and nationalism, bigotry, sexism and the denial of human rights have been our past. I can do nothing to change what has happened. “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past, let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” I need your hand, I need you to stand by me to make a different future, I need to stand by you, I don’t need you to call me a “THEM.” Point out what my blind eyes cannot see and help me right the wrongs. Together “we must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.” Together let us sit down at the table in “humanhood.” Together let's make this country again the land of liberty, let us strive together to make freedom ring. Let us take the grand and noble ideas that are embedded in our history and breathe new life into them, clothe ourselves with liberty and justice for all, and make that new future.