Monday, April 27, 2015

Dear White Guys

Dear White Guys,

I love y'all  You're my friends and colleagues and family and brothers in Christ.  What I'm about to say, I'm saying in love.

There's a pretty fundamental difference in the way you have conversations and the way the rest of the world does, and most of you haven't noticed it yet.  It's making y'all look a little silly, and hurting the rest of us, so let's talk about it.
You've been taught that, when someone asks a question, you should share your knowledge.  You know something about that, and should tell us.  You've been taught that the right thing to do is to speak up.

People who are female, and people of color, have been taught that when someone asks a question, the right thing to do is to stop, ask ourselves if this is something that we are experts on, if we have some knowledge that the person asking doesn't, and if we have knowledge that we are certain no one else has. 

We then have been conditioned to ask ourselves if we are 100% certain about our answer, can we express it perfectly in a way that makes sense to everyone else, and are we prepared to defend, without emotion, if challenged.  We are conditioned to ask ourselves this, because we are nearly always challenged. 

(Of course, some people are naturally more likely to speak up than others.  And other social status factors intersect: class, and ability, birth order, etc.  But gender and class are indisputable factors.)

You, and I, have certain areas where we have more expertise than the others around us.  You and I both also have areas where we don't know what the f**k we are talking about. It's just a fact of life. 

So, here's this thing that's happening: someone asks a question, and you jump in to answer immediately.  The rest of us contemplate. If it's an area where you have a particular expertise, well and good.  But just as likely, (because possible areas of expertise are nearly infinite) someone else knows more than you do, and knows that your answer isn't particularly informed.

If you wonder where the (harmful) stereotype of the bumbling, incompetent white guy comes from, this is one of the places.  You, dear men, tend to talk about things you have no earthly clue about, and sometimes the rest of us are just giggling about it behind your back.

The laughing isn't fair, I know, it's just survival.  We laugh because other times, your training to answer any question, no matter whether you know the answer or not, is really harmful and disruptive.  Sometimes a right answer is really important, and your uninformed answer really muddies the water.  Sometimes your wrong answer discourages people who actually have more life experience than you in this area from answering.

And if there's one thing you can do to be more feminist, to help the anti-racist movement, or fight oppression any where in the world, it's this:

Stop, before you answer a question, to consider if you're actually the person who should answer it.

Your theological, political, sociological reflections on the life of oppressed people, unless you are really *with* them, and accountable to them, can cause grave harm.  Even when you're trying to help.

We'll still listen to you, trust me, we are very trained to do so.  Just help us out, and yourself, and give yourself that moment's reflection: Do I know more about this topic than the person asking the question?  Do I have life experience or training that means I am more likely to know what I'm talking about that someone else here?  Whose voice needs to be heard in this discussion?

If you can do this, we'll all be a little better informed, and we'll all have better discussions about the things that matter.

Because your voice matters too.  Along with all the rest of ours.

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