Being an ally is something I will never regret. Not being able to recruit more allies that look like me is something I do regret. White. Heterosexual. Males. We should not feel guilty for who we are.
I did not select my genes, nor did I choose who my parents were; I was simply born. To damn myself for being white accomplishes nothing. But, while we can accept our predetermined identity, we can also feel anger towards what has happened to oppressed people throughout American history at the hands of those who resemble us.
We should feel enraged that white settlers decimated the Native American population and currently their health concerns are being ignored. We should feel enraged that millions of blacks were treated as mere property and today still have to defend their humanity. We should feel enraged that being gay was punishable by death and today many members of the queer community are gunned down. We should feel enraged that the “cult of true womanhood” restrained millions and today gender inequality plagues the workforce. We can act upon this rage and channel its power to confront the systems in place that subjugate human beings to inhuman conditions.
In “The Heart of Whiteness,” Robert Jensen distinguishes being “not racist” and “anti-racist.” Jensen recognizes that most Americans are not racist, but very few take initiate to combat racism. To actively challenge the institution our society was founded upon is acting in an “anti-racist” manner.
This concept of actively being involved in the fight for justice is the key component for substantial change. But, before we can offer support to oppressed and marginalized groups, we must first come to terms with our own identities. We are white, heterosexual males living in a country founded by white, heterosexual males.
This grants us unique privileges. While you may argue to the degree in which we benefit from them, there are two that have always existed: ignorance and activism. We, as white, heterosexual males, can easily ignore the injustice occurring across the nation. In fact, far too many of us have been doing this for far too long.
Our identities can numb us to the pain felt by those who societal values have deemed as “other.” These are the heirs of those who perished on the Trail of Tears, toiled in the cotton fields of the south, were jailed for demanding suffrage and were beaten at the Stonewall Inn. Luckily, we can simply ignore all that. Or we can act. The other privilege we have is the ability to support and fight for those same heirs.
Society, following the thinking of Rousseau, placed us at the apex. Our position allows us to openly discuss matters of social justice with other white, heterosexual men without being perceived as a threat, as aggressive, as whiny or dangerous. Why? Because we are the people who benefit from the inequality society produced.
This can be painful. Coming to terms with an identity is something that people struggle with for years, even lifetimes. I still struggle coming to terms with my own identity. But, what I can understand is that millions of people across the nation, who had just as much control over their identity as I, are fighting for justice and looking for hands from all races, genders, sexualities and religions to help push back against oppression.
We have the ability to offer a hand that far too often pushes down on those fighting or idly taps its fingers on the side. Clubs on campus like Black Student Union, Union Pride, Women’s Union and the countless other social justice clubs gladly welcome people like you and me. In fact, many of them want more people like us to participate in their events and join their dialogues.
You might feel uncomfortable, but they deeply value the steps you took to enter the world of social justice. Your willingness to engage will speak volumes to them. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., what affects them directly, affects all of us indirectly. As we support and better understand those around us, we can finally begin to understand ourselves.