I was talking with this White dude from Seattle yesterday about my research. He proceeded to recall a story about when he was younger, negative comments were thrown at his brother in a town hall meeting that assumed he was privileged (in the monetary sense) and didn’t understand the value of hard work. This individual told me about how his father made them get jobs at a young age and always had to work for respect*, and that he was offended that someone would just make assumptions based on the color of his skin about whether or not he grew up in a privileged environment.
I wanted to burst out laughing, but I held it inside and did my best to reflect the ironic humor in a non-offensive, academic manner. “I find it amusing that we now live in a world where White men are experiencing the negative effects of stereotypes and racism and claim that they are offended, without understanding that this has been the experience of women and people of color for hundreds of years.”
In my own sick way, I’m glad that White men are experiencing this. You can’t pull a pendulum so far in one direction and expect it to fall back to the center; everyone has to hurt for anything to get better. Until then, you only have a bunch of high-minded do-gooders from historically advantaged groups believing that they are helping without understanding; “I don’t see color…” (Brave New Voices 2012)
I find it offensive when people demand that we all identify as “Americans” or “humans” or some other transcendental identity that disregards someone’s social experience in the interest of “coming together,” “moving forward,” or “getting over the past.” People who make this claim do not understand what it means to identify with a subgroup in which a significant percentage of one’s experiences have been affected. In order for us to “come together,” “move forward,” or “get over the past,” we all need to understand why someone would choose to identify with a subgroup, and, more importantly, not care about how others choose to identify.
* He also mentioned that the father withheld his actual worth from his children so that they didn’t know they were monetarily privileged until later in life. Funny, my mother withheld our monetary struggle from me so that I didn’t know we were actually struggling until later in life… different sides of the same coin I suppose.