As someone who considered himself free from prejudice, this 62 year old white male would like to acknowledge being a bit late to the party in understanding everyone else’s experience in the United States of America (that phrase now sadly seems like an oxymoron but, hey – it is the name of our country).
The key words here are empathy and gaslighting. Allow me to explain…
Even for someone who felt “enlightened” and supportive of equal rights for everyone, I missed a glaringly obvious point for longer than I’d care to admit. Sometime in the last few years the penny dropped and, for someone who considered himself at least somewhat bright, I felt personally embarrassed and more than a little dumb.
That point is this: If you’re a white man, of course you aren’t going to see prejudice and inequality everywhere you look – you’re fucking white! And a man no less – for Christ’s sake, the whole deck is stacked in your favor! Moreover, if you already present yourself publicly as not condoning racism, xenophobia or sexism, here’s a news flash – other white men who are racist aren’t going to include you in their rants. And of course you aren’t going to hang around these people, further insulating you from this rampant hatred. So you don’t see it – you intellectually know it’s there, but that’s not the same thing as experiencing it – not by a long shot.
The byproduct of all this is to not fully realize how bad things are. You think you are doing the right thing and trying to live righteously and fairly, but you’re really fucking clueless. Clueless, that is, until the 2016 election when you suddenly realize you’re not living in the country you thought you were.
So here’s where the empathy and gaslighting part comes in. When these issues arise, it’s important to really listen and try to imagine the world others have experienced that you were fortunate enough to have been blissfully unaware of. To empathize means to try and understand another persons experience – for some people this is going to be easier than for others. Regardless, you must make a sincere effort.
But whatever you do, don’t deny another persons experience – this is called gaslighting, and it is a common tool used for oppression. You cannot deny how another person feels or experiences life, to do so is to not only deny their reality, it is, in fact, essentially denying their very existence. This act of denying anything unpleasant is unfortunately endemic to white culture, and is definitely a significant part of the problem – after all, you can’t fix something that you won’t even acknowledge is broken.
So what is the answer here? Unfortunately I don’t have any answers, except to simply try and be a good person on a micro level. I know it sounds banal, but it’s the best I’ve got.
Let’s just be respectful, try to keep an open mind, and treat everyone you come contact with with some degree of compassion. Oh, and BTW – don’t take everything so personally.
This isn’t about you.