Why I DO Want to Talk About Race

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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. What’s really interesting about this piece, Tom, is that while Steve Locke never thought of you as a “white” man, it’s clear you never thought of him as a “black” man either.

    Content of character before color. I think this is what MLK had in mind.

    • Justin Cascio says:

      It’s not so clear to me that Tom doesn’t see his friend Steve as a black man; one of the points he makes is that he actively seeks out black people to befriend, so that they will show him a world that is different from his own. I like that Tom admits to the joy of connecting with other people, even if he regards it as a guilty pleasure. Perhaps Steve enjoys the relative exoticism of a Quaker venture capitalist for a friend.

    • I had a problem with the fact that Tom did describe Steve as being a man. Yet all the white men were introduced as merely ‘dudes.’ I felt Tom was attempting to make up for something. Why are some tags regarded as harsh, like ‘white man,’ for some reason when I refer to a Mexican National as a Mexican, not a Latino, I’m frowned upon? There is what I call, a “bubble wrapped” mentality running wild lately when it comes to spoken and written words. Yet there are evil actions occurring in broad daylight with straight faces and we seem to all be okay with it, when compared to words. It worries me for the future.

  2. Tom – I always wonder why some are determined to use Profiling? It does have it’s place, but is also so prone to overuse, simplification and abuse.

    It seems that they can profile anything, but always do it in the most Heartless of fashions!

    As a gay, disabled, multinational, abuse surviving male, I have yet to find anyone of these inveterate profilers who has the heart to get past one group to profile – and get to the heart of individuals. Some make such mileage out of profiles and wonder why they travel forward so little on the back of them.

    “A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles”.
    Tim Cahill

  3. I like to think of race and gender as belonging to different country clubs. Oh sure, they all play golf but are they really the right people to be seen with? I mean, seriously.

  4. I have this in common with Tom, this actively engaging people who are different than I am by race, gender, culture, religion, age, etc. I don’t think I do it well because when these differences are pointed out, conversations often usually die. I’m uncertain why, but I assume it’s something missing on my end, some lack of understanding. I too seek this type of interaction for selfish reasons. I want to learn from people who are different, not people who are most like me. I really don’t care about the differences per se. If I could adopt one short slogan as a credo, it would simply be, “Tell me your story.” I think that resolves many issues. If you want peace, actively seek friendship with those who society says are your enemy.

    • Julie Gillis says:

      It’s possible that the conversation may die out if you are seeking people out for selfish reasons. People don’t like to be used as a “lesson” for someone, and they usually can tell when that is happening. I’m not sure if this is what is happening for you, so the rest of my comment is generalized based on similar experiences I’ve seen.

      People of color, different heritage, religion, gender, class etc are not tokens or game pieces to collect just to benefit someone who is curious about difference. That in and of itself is a great example of the oft maligned word “privilege.” People of color do not exist to be teachers, or educators for whites. They are, in and of themselves, fully engaged human beings. If they choose to become friends with other people, people different from them I’d say it’s probably because they find things in common with them! Reasons most everyone becomes friends.

      Now, that being said, I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy the fullness of life and be open to having friends from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. But I do think, at least for me personally, that to go out and find them….Like if I said..wow, I think that chola girls are fascinating! I think I’ll go and find me one to learn from!…I think that’s insulting and I would suspect the chola girl would too.

      I think its essentializing (there’s that damn word again!) a group of women, seeing them as an object to teach me. It’s not their job to teach me. Rather, I should expand my range of activities, interests and so forth and if a chola girl and I find things in common to be friends about, then we can start the conversations around race, culture, etc that might exist between us as equals.

      I do think we should actively seek friendships with people, but to me that entails actively being part of the culture the people you want those friendships with are in and engaging with the culture as to find real things in common, not just cherry picking people to learn from because they are diverse. It is a slower way to make those friends and connections to be sure. It’s a lot quicker I guess to just go find a gay person to learn from and so forth. It’s harder to start living a bit more in queer culture, but I think the resulting friendships are stronger and things are learned on both sides more organically.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        Also, a personal example from my own life. I study, focus on, and produce shows about sexuality. As such, it’s not at all uncommon for people who see my shows (who are very different than me) to approach me and ask me out for coffee or email me. Often this turns out to be a Q and A session where they want information on polyamory or other things. I used to go into those coffees thinking they were interested in me as a friend, but I’ve learned that 9 times out of 10 they are simply information gathering and asking me to spend a few hours of my life (for free) to fill them in on things that they could have googled. Or they could have gone to a local poly meet up, gotten to know people and participated in the community. FYI? That’s how I did it. I googled, read, researched and then met people in their community and got to know folks.

        Now, it’s not an insult to be considered some kind of authority figure. Except I”m not an authority figure. And it isn’t an insult to be asked questions. But it is dismaying to be only wanted for a set of information which they could have easily gotten from the internet, they could have done the work on their own. It is dismaying to realize it isnt “me” they are interested in, but the information. I don’t want to be their cool “sex positive friend.” that they might utilize as a witty story at a cocktail party yeah?

        I’d much rather be close enough to them to be invited to the cocktail party.

        So, what I do now is either offer my consulting services or point people to a few basic links and then say, if you want to hang out and get to know each other in different ways, let me know. So that’s just a personal example of being on the receiving end of things.

      • Thanks for your reply Julie. I guess I should expand on what I meant by selfish reasons and learning from others. If I met someone interesting, for example a musician, and I had true curiosity about her experience, I might befriend her with the hopes of learning her story. Not because she was different by race, gender, etc, but because of those experiences she had that were different from mine, and interesting to me. That part works well. Getting into any kind of discussion about feminism, racism, etc usually doesn’t work. As I imagine you gathered, I’m also white, male, middle-aged, and privileged. But I believe that everyone is prejudiced. The word holds many connotations, including positive ones. Affirmative action is an example of prejudice in favor of historically repressed ethnicities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I also agree with you that I have lived a privileged life, but I can’t say that I climbed over anyone else to get it, it was a function of when and where I grew up combined with who my parents were. I’m sure a lot of people would trade places with me, but many others would probably laugh at that idea, never wanting to live where and the way I do.

        Thanks for giving me more things to think about. That was helpful.


        • Julie Gillis says:

          My only thought here is that I try to befriend people to whom I can also be a friend. If I have nothing to offer that musician, other than my interest in her career, it’s not really a friendship. If we meet and talk and have a strong connection on a number of levels then bam, mutual friendship. But if we meet and I pursue a friendship purely for my own interest in her career, while knowing I really had nothing to offer her back (or seeing that she was bored with me ;) I think it would be better to ask for an internship at the symphony to meet a wide variety of musicians, one of whom I might have a real connection with WHILE learning about the world I’m interested in.

          Best of luck and thanks for the kind reply, Dave.

          • David Blaine says:

            Well, exactly. A mutual friendship. Dumb of me not to put it that way. Often there is something I can offer in return. I guess I made it sound like I was just a bloodsucking eel!

            • Julie Gillis says:

              Not dumb! Why I asked and clarified my own position! I think there is nothing wrong with wanting to know more about another culture, diversity, stories so long as the reaching out is done with ethics, honor, and humility, and with something to give in return.

    • tom matlack says:

      David in essence that is what GMP is all about.

      “Tell me your story”

  5. Anonymous Guy says:

    I gotta be that thing in the punch bowl here and ask what look like stupid questions:

    How do you really know what group a person is a member of? If your friend never talked about being “black,” then how do you really know he was “black”?

    If I set out to collect one of each person for my multicultural charm bracelet, how would I know someone is African American or Mexican or white or transgender or Buddhist if that person did not self-identify that to me?

    Silly questions, but we have to be frank about the answers.

    We can’t assume what a person’s identity is just from the way that he/she looks or talks or dresses. Please.

    Who knows, you could be missing out on some great cultural crosspollination from people whom you assumed were “white” but were not. I have some friends from South America who are tired of being misidentified as Mexican because they have Hispanic last names, as if there are no countries south of Mexico. “For the millionth time, I don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo!”

  6. DavidByron says:

    To my mind this idea of asserting collective guilt is a very slippery slope.

    Yes. That is a big sign to me of political hate. I have about eight characteristics I look for and that’s one of the better ones for avoiding false positive. It’s a big deal.

    But more generally it is linked to tribalism. It is a rejection of liberal justice which says that a person is guilty for their own crimes and not anybody else’s crimes. Collective guilt says that a person is guilty simply for belonging to a hated birth group.

    Profiling is very similar but I don’t think it is nearly so bad. In profiling you are making what I guess the supreme court might call an “administrative convenience” of treating a bunch of people worse because it makes it easier for you. It’s easier to pull over only Latinos than it is to pull over everybody. It’s easier to frisk only black people than everyone. It’s easier for women to take precautions about strange men than to fear everybody. This sort of behavior is illegal for the state under the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal treatment because it places an unfair imposition on the targeted group for little rational purpose. Actually fearing only men doesn’t even have a little rational purpose, but it certainly places an unfair imposition on men.

    Profiling isn’t collective punishment. Profiling doesn’t assume that all the target group are guilty. Profiling just says that it doesn’t matter about harming all the innocent members of the target group.

    (The other seven signs of political hate would be discrimination in law, prejudicial attitudes, presenting the target group as dangerous, presenting the target group as sub-human or lesser, creating lies about the target group, creating a revisionist history about the targeted group, tolerating or encouraging violence against the target group)

    • David Blaine says:

      Gee, David Byron, that last paragraph sounds like what most countries do during war time. Or to start a war.

    • Julie Gillis says:

      Thank you for this comment David. It’s really helped me understand your point of view and I mean that in all seriousness.

  7. John Patrick Cleary says:

    Remember the original premise, Steve Locke’s response was headlined-simplified as “why I don’t want to talk about race”. To then have an in depth analysis of race misses the transcendent advice of the artist/human that the focused conversation stands in the way of progress (random association heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). Instead I would suggest looking at one of the men in the background of the painting, listening to the feelings it evokes and then have a conversation……with yourself.

    • “Instead I would suggest looking at one of the men in the background of the painting, listening to the feelings it evokes and then have a conversation……with yourself.”

      I keep returning to the image over and over. It is complex and dynamic in the dialogue of the three characters.

      Being Gregarious, I would welcome the opportunity to have dialogue with all three, but when I consider that dialogue and how it would unfold It comes in many questions, except for one character – the Guy on the left in the green shirt. The question is simple – “What are you up to?”.

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