When I was a child, I never saw my father do the dishes. He never rinsed, scrubbed or dried a plate, platter or even a glass. As I grew, I recognized how only the females of our family got up to clear the table that they set . And I grew to be damn proud to be in the Seated Men’s Club. As my Mother delivered my Father his coffee, I sipped the last of my milk and slouched back in my chair just like him. When we got our first dishwasher, we were told that it would decrease the work of washing all the dishes. But night after night, I still saw my Mother and later my sisters clearing the table, rinsing the dishes and placing them on the racks. Night after night, like my Dad, I witnessed this from the comfort of my own chair. Once the coffee was drunk, the boys and men in my family retired to the TV room. The women and girls weren’t done until the dishwasher door was sealed and the familiar swish and hum of the jets signaled that they could leave the kitchen to join us.
Privilege is an assumption that white men inherit. Like millions of us, I inherited mine in silence. No one told me that when we went for car rides, the oldest male sibling always rode shot gun. The girls got that seat when we men had our own cars. No one told me why the shopkeepers nodded and smiled from behind the counter when I walked in the candy store but hawkishly prowled the isles when kids of color came in. On the rare occasions when my Mom’s female acquaintance broke the silence about white male privilege over coffee, I rarely saw her invited to our house again. No one told me why. Our privilege was and is protected and sanctified through keeping our families and communities closed. Like what happened in Alabama, that closure continues to protect white male privilege through policies and laws. We- in our all white male opinion – declare these laws are necessary. We- in our all white male opinion-say it is because of what society needs. We- in our all white male opinion-say it is what GOD (still a white male) needs. Of course there are women who believe in these all white male opinions, but more and more are recognizing that their belief was inherited too. As they recognize this they are demanding change. Change, any change is the demise of white male privilege.
Like many of my brothers, my awakening to white male privilege has been slow with fits and starts. It started with recognition. Every new recognition of how when I am frustrated, angry, dismissive and arrogant toward a woman or person of color simply because they don’t agree with me reveals my privilege. With that comes another fall from that mighty privileged throne. I remember a few years ago asking my partner, why am I expected to do more household chores than you? Without batting an eye she said, because you are home more than I am. My reaction was to go to battle with her logic, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t find a single logical reason to debate her point. All I saw was my opinion that it just shouldn’t be that way. Why? Because of my privilege.
When women or people of color challenge our white male opinions, we begin our battle to defend our privilege by trying to educate them. When this fails we move to pointing out the deficiencies in their arguments or confusing them with our own opinions in pseudo science from every discipline. And when all else fails we attempt to put them back in their place with statements like: STOP BEING SO SENSITIVE or YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! Subtly and not so subtly, we use our verbiage to block them from continuing their questions, questions about our privilege! Just like our forefathers blocked women from voting, we use all kinds of rhetoric, like traditional family values, to protect our sacred cow- white male privilege. But Why?
Why are we white men so attached to a privilege that clearly destroys opportunity, freedom and basic safety for so many other people? In her article: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies”, Peggy McIntosh, an American Feminist and Senior Research Associate of the Wellesley Centers for Women, states that being white and especially white male affords us a constant flow of cultural affirmations of our worth, presumed greater social status, and freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely. But what do we lose when we blindly embrace all these benefits? We lose connections. As women and people of color move on from the growing list of white male phobias: xenophobia, gender phobia, gynophobia and ethnophobia, we white men find ourselves alone with our own Buds. These are men that grew up, think, dress and inevitably hide out from change like we do.
Similar to the effects of our Government’s xenophobic policies, hanging onto white male privilege isolates us from the diverse new connections that challenge and support us to grow. Opening to these connections, exposes us to new relational tools that are not in the White Male Privilege Tool Kit we received as children and teens. We need to learn about these new tools. We need people, many of whom are women, to teach us how to use these tools. But first, we need to admit to ourselves and one other male (can be a therapist or coach) that we recognize how limited our original tool kit is. This is where it all begins to change.
As a Men’s Coach, I have found that the simple willingness to recognize how outdated our existing tool kit is, frees us from the many ways we white men hide out from this new world. A world where we are not chained to our desks, phones and other screens where white men typically go for comfort. A world where we no longer have to constantly build our financial portfolio to secure our freedom, that is: freedom from needing anyone but ourselves! A world where we can spend an evening listening to women share their accomplishments, without the threat of them taking what is ours. A world where we experience the new joyful freedom of helping women and people of color move, buy, work and play more freely themselves; free of relying on US!
What will all this allow formerly privileged white males to do? Really, the sky’s the limit. But for today it will allow us to roll up our sleeves, get present and wash the dishes.