An Open Letter to White Men from a White Man
I know that many of you, not only those in my social circle, are doing the work. We’re reading the books and listening to the words of black people. We are truly attempting to analyze and internalize the information we are receiving from the vast array of black voices that are speaking to us right now. We are challenging our fragile responses to being included in the generalized group, “white people.” Many of us are learning when to ask for advice and when to shut up. Many of us are finally starting to understand what it means to really listen. And most of us know how difficult these lessons can be.
Many of us, as we listen and learn, come up with some truly thoughtful, insightful, meaningful ideas that deserve discourse and debate. We have ideas that could turn into solutions. Trust me when I say that I really want to hear those ideas and chew them up with you.
But, but, but…
We were raised with the story that we are supposed to lead the charge. That we are supposed to come up with the brilliant ideas. And we were told to yell those brilliant ideas from the top of our lungs, to share them with the world, and the world will follow. We were told that it is our responsibility to speak to everyone, and that people will fall in line behind our enlightened authority. It’s time to unravel those myths and bury them.
I see a lot of you laying out solutions, suggestions, and demands on social media. (It is not lost on me that writing this is exactly that.) Some of those ideas are solid. But I think that now is not the time for our solutions, suggestions, and demands in these largely public forums. We need to be using our social media feeds and our privilege granted influence to share the words of others. We need to use any loudspeaker afforded to us because we are white men to amplify the voices of oppressed and marginalized people. Right now, specifically, we need to amplify black voices.
We need to share what we are reading and listening to with as little comment as possible. Let’s bring the well thought out words and sounds of the people that live on the receiving end of systemic racism to the front. Do the work to find the words of black writers that influence your growth, and then celebrate them. Put their words on your Facebook page and Instagram feed. Ask questions in private then take the answers you find in the philosophers, poets, musicians, and activists of marginalized people and share them with the world.
This approach may feel like pedantic parroting. Worse yet, it may feel to you like disingenuous grand standing. Those feelings will sting. That’s OK. Good things can come from being uncomfortable. Put the words of black people into the eyes and ears of people who may choose not to see or hear them unless they are delivered by a white man. We don’t want to believe those people exist in our lives, but they do. You know it, I know it.
So, what to do with all those brilliant ideas and solutions you have? Act. Act with your body. Act with your money. Act with your privilege granted influence. Act in small ways and large. Shine a light on racism and oppression when you see it. Vote. Know that you will not be praised. There will be no pats on the back. There will be very few “likes” or emojis to take credit for. Your enlightenment will be seen as overdue and barely meeting the bar. And that too, is OK.
You can also create. Write songs, essays, poetry. Maybe there will be an audience someday. Maybe there won’t. Write those words anyway. Create space for others. We have the power to do that. Create some silence for yourself as well as others. Silence that can be filled with nothing, or filled with voices you would never have heard if you hadn’t created that silence.
And let’s talk to each other about these ideas we have. This is no time to stop thinking and feeling grand new thoughts and feelings. We will need to challenge each other and call each other out. We will need trusted friends to share these ideas and feelings with. Ideas and feelings that the oppressed understandably don’t have the energy to carry.
This struggle to lay down the incessant need to rescue the world, solve every problem, and generally be the smartest human in the room is a very real struggle. I’m working it out every day and it is some heavy lifting. It is effectively an attempt to destroy everything that most of us were taught was required of being a man. If not from our parents, then from the world around us. It’s time to redefine what being a man is.
But right now, in this moment, we need to use the tools we have inherited to turn up the volume on people other than ourselves. And that shit needs to be turned up to eleven.