In a world where controversial ‘Hot Topics’ are abuzz, Brian Gawlak finds the teachable lessons on trending issues.
I have been following the story of Matt Damon for the past two days scratching my head at not only his comments about diversity in Hollywood, but at the splintered reactions in the comment sections of the articles I have read. Many are angry at Mr. Damon’s comments, and many feel he was taken out of context. If you have not seen what Mr. Damon said, click here.
I remember watching Matt Damon’s Oscar acceptance speech for his original screenplay “Good Will Hunting,” and thinking, “Wow, that guy’s pretty cool.” I always found a lot of commonalities with him – we are both from New England, we are both writers, I’ve been told I kind of look like him, and we are both white men.
We have so much in common, so how could he make such a bold, seemingly ignorant statement and make a comment on diversity to a black woman – the only black woman in a room full of white men? I mean, this is Matt Damon! He’s a good guy, right? Then it occurred to me – perhaps Matt Damon does not realize the privilege and advantage of being a white man because he has never known anything else.
My daughters know that I grew up in a matriarchy where there were not only no white men, but where most of my neighbors were black and Hispanic. I grew up “the minority” for most of my childhood as a white male. I not only saw, but was subjected to a lot of the injustice impoverished minorities have to endure. Perhaps that is why I have a sense of empathy coupled with a sense of guilt for the white privilege (and male privilege) I know exists in my adult life.
I explain to my girls all the time that although I am male, and will never understand or know what it feels like to be female, I know logically everything there is to know about being female so they can turn to me with their questions. I have written in the recent past about my oldest daughter coming to me with questions about growing up, self-esteem, puberty, boys, dating, and so on. We have a system in place where whenever there is a question she does not feel comfortable asking me directly but wants to ask me, she can email me (click here for article).
My daughter emails me almost daily and yet still turns to my wife with the hard hitting questions. I understand why – she knows that my wife can truly answer her specific questions in a way that I cannot because my wife knows what it feels like to be a girl in a way that I never truly can, have, or will.
I decided to use this same logic and discuss with my girls that being white, we will never know what it is to be a minority. We can have a sense of awareness, empathy, and even a sense of guilt, but that still will not allow us to ever truly comprehend what it is like to be a minority in contemporary society. I had this discussion in the hopes of ensuring they never have a #damonsplaining (the current Matt Damon trend over this issue) event in their futures.
I have several friends who are black and Hispanic and who have shared horror stories about being pulled over by police for no reason, or of the fears they have for their children of “driving while black.” My heart breaks that there is still such inequality and hate in the world. I have an awareness of the experience and I have heard enough stories to not only know it to be true, but to be outraged that it is true. I have an impassioned view about how many wrongs there are – but I will never truly know what it feels like. I will never drive while black. I can help a friend have an article published (Click here!), but I will never be mistreated or miss an opportunity because of the color of my skin or my gender.
Is racism an innate human characteristic? I look at my children and all the children I’ve known, and can definitively and emphatically say, “no!” I do, however, know our society is based on capitalism, is hierarchical, and inequality is built-in. We are splintered as human beings and so much divides and separates us (in a very extreme and very unequal way). The top 1% (comprised mostly of white males) owns how much wealth? How does that trickle down? How is the system sustained? What will it take to enact change?
Men like Matt Damon and men like me, with this unfair privilege, need to be conscious of this privilege and aware of what it means to be a white man in America in 2015. Further, we need to become a part of enforcing change for everyone – our daughters, our sons, our wives, our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues.
Can we make this type of change in our lifetimes? Maybe not and probably not. There are hundreds of years of roles reinforcing the system. I think a good first step is for anyone like Matt Damon (or me) to start talking about it. Stepping stones can be laid to build the path of a brighter future.
So I’m talking about it. I am a white male and I have an unspoken “special treatment” and privilege that my daughters, my friends who are minorities, and the majority of our population do not. What about you?
Photo: Flickr/Thore Siebrands
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