White Boy in a Black Land

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.


  1. This: “But I am still a racist in its more subtle manifestations of assuming certain things about black people that are probably are not true, of hiding my fear behind do-good attitudes, of not taking action to make this country a fair place for men and women of all races.”

    Racism is not dead. It’s hidden. It’s subtle. It’s in the things we think and the assumptions we make – the things not said, and not heard (because that’s no longer “socially acceptable”) … but that manifest in other ways (where it still most definitely is). From judging a black man in a playground, to defunding Planned Parenthood.

    The key is being able to see those assumptions, those thoughts, that hidden bias. To voicing it, no matter how bad it sounds, and then being able to change it. One mind at a time. Great post.

  2. Great post Tom – glad you can say the truth instead of pretending – we have a lot of work to do and it starts by individuals developing trust. And then, as my friend told me, we just gotta keep fuckin each other until we’re all the same color.

  3. I think we’re all too hell bent on eradicating something that can’t be eradicated.

    We all make snap judgments about people. We take a look at how someone is dressed and leap to conclusions about their financial status. We listen to people talk and estimate whether or not they’re stupid. If the people we’re judging are of the same ethnic background then we’re just judgmental jerks. But if they’re different, we run the risk of being racist.

    By that rationale, everyone is racist. And everyone will always be (at least a little) racist.

    • There’s an important difference between prejudices and racism. Prejudices respond to education. Racism, which is systemic and beneficial to one group at the expense of another, is often normalized by the dominant culture. Snap judgements are how most of us get through the day. Racism, on the other hand is what decides that two people who commit the same crime get vastly different prison sentences.

  4. Thank you for your candidness. Very few are ever willing to explore their prejudices and how they contribute to this racist society.

  5. God, this post was beautiful. Hearing about ANY country where people are welcoming and friendly just makes my heart smile. I wish I could meet Protus!

    Do you believe you are actually ‘racist’ to some degree, or that you simply have a fair amount of privilege because of YOUR own race? I think there’s a big difference in the two. Down to its bare bones, racism is — as I see it — the idea that there are differences between people based SOLELY upon their race. Thing is, in America, this is very true — but it’s institutional. It’s not something YOU intended to have happen, but the generations before you set it into motion and, for better or worse, we have to deal with the results of it and try to correct it. In my opinion, when a bunch of white conservatives vote to defund Planned Parenthood because they mistakenly believe that everyone starts out with the same clean slate and should “make their own way”, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, etc., they’re acting from deep within their own privilege. They believe that the same doors that might be more easily opened to them (being white) are just as accessible by minorities when, in fact, they’re not. I don’t know if I would consider that racism, in that people seek to treat minorities differently as a result of their race; I think that subtlety you speak of comes from the premature expectation of total equality. They believe that perfect equality should happen on THEIR watch, with neither a push down or a hand up should be given to anyone, while it’s safe to say that many minorities are still deserving of additional measures to counterbalance the natural advantage one has just for being white.

    Anyhow — that might just be semantics. But I totally agree with you that things are not yet as they should be, and any experience that gives a person a greater understanding of that is to be shared the way you’ve just done. Thank you for that.

  6. Loved this… Thanks for sharing!!

  7. The inter-racial couples with the “beautiful” babies huh?

    Our words betray our thoughts.

  8. Is telling a black kid to pull up his pants and improve his appearance, racism or leadership? If it comes from his black mother is it the same or is it okay? Does she become an Uncle Tom for trying to uphold a standard?

    Is it racism for a white kid to never think in terms of race religion or creed, an approach these topics in his life with ambivalence and a carefree attitude.

    The issue is too slippery to define easily or with a high degree of accuracy in each situation. I think too many people have a racism on the brain and make a perceived slight out of any situation. It’s like a disease, where the more you obsess, the worse it gets.

  9. Intelligent, thoughtful and beautifully written. Thanks Tom! It shows the many conversations that go on in our minds about race, it is not black and [or versus] white: it’s a foggy grey. The more we talk about it in as honest a way as this, the clearer it will become.

  10. I LOVE this quote:

    “Racism, it seems to me, has become one of those words with such a violent and explicit association that the more subtle and, in many ways, even more damaging forms are excluded from the category, making the resulting macro realities appear to come into being with no one having to take responsibility.”

    This is exactly what I have been trying to explain to all my friends for so long!

  11. I am a Kenyan lady born and raised in Nairobi and now living in the USA. Two things i have to tell you:

    1st- Sorry to burst your bubble, Protus was nice to you mostly because he wanted a bigger tip. Tourists visiting Kenya are known to be big tippers so the nicer he is to you and your family the higher the chance that you will give him a huge tip. Kenya is a poor country with a very high cost of living and he is not paid very well so any chance he can get to make money he will take it even if it means bending over backwards for you and your family. Next, his job is highly tied to him pleasing you (and the other tourists), their is a high rate of unemployment, if you expressed any dissatisfaction at something he did, he would have been fired immediately and replaced like the next day. The tour company/ hotel/ safari business is highly competitive, they want you to come back.

    2nd- “I am left wondering if my own reaction to Protus and the many other kind Kenyan men and women we met was influenced by their status as the majority, rather than the minority in their own country”. You are correct, Kenya has a small asian and white population, black people are the majority from the president, cabinet, govt workers, police, company CEO’s, the military etc. I grew up proud to be black, the sky was the limit. I had no fear of being stopped by the police for “driving while black” , i could shop at high end stores without being followed around in case i shoplift. Things you don’t think about when everyone looks like you. There is classism but racism is not as huge.
    I don’t deny that Kenya has a lot of problems from bone crushing poverty to diseases and high crime.

    I love my life here in the states but boy was i in for a “re-education”. As a black foreign woman from Africa life has been pretty interesting. Anyway I hope my long winded rambles make sense.

    • If Proteus was solely profit-motivated, he would not have shared his knowledge with his competitors.

      I live near a U.S. city with a high tourism trade. We’re extra nice to tourists here because they bring us money. But that habit bleeds over into everyone’s lives, and we’re all just nicer to each other. I’ve lived in many cities; this one is different.

  12. Cool pictures.

    • Trev, if the only thing you got out of this article is how cool the pictures are — you are part of the problem.

  13. Thank you for this incredibly eye-opening read. I admire your willingness to re-evaluate yourself and tackle a lot of the tough questions that most people are afraid to ask themselves.

    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, even though I’m sure that I will be slightly suspicious of any white guy that asks me out from now on (yes I’m black). Finding out that a guy only asked me out because he felt obligated to would rip me apart. :(


  1. [...] “White Boy in a Black Land” Tom Matlack travels to Kenya and confronts his own views on race both here and abroad. “Am I a [...]

  2. [...] Matlack at the Good Men Project recently reflected on the experience of being white during a journey he took to [...]

  3. [...] August 8, Tom Matlack wrote a post, “White Boy in a Black Land” about how a trip to Africa forced him to confront his own views on Race and Racism. Tom asked [...]

  4. [...] What Tom experienced on safari is not dissimilar to my experiences in corporate America, except without the warm welcomes in hope of a good tip. I’ve been dependent on the kindness of strangers in a potentially hostile environment where no one looked like me. From my Wall St. days to my time in advertising to the many years I spent in magazine publishing–not including the guys who delivered my mail or worked in security–I can count the number of times I’ve worked with another black male on one hand. On the rare occasions I did work with another person of color I felt obliged to challenge them to a duel; as Highlander taught us, there can be only one.A black male in the upper echelons of corporate America is far more rare–and harder to spot–than any leopard in the wilds of Africa. [...]

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