“Old white guy.” I said the words and I didn’t like the taste they left in my mouth…a bitterness I have no desire to cultivate. I didn’t say them as an honest and simple descriptor. I said them with a twinge of disgust as I was talking about Joe Biden entering the 2020 Democratic race. I said them with a rolling of the eyes. I said them despite the fact that just 3 years ago I was hoping against all hope that he would run for President. I said, “old white guy” with the same ugly tone I hear from the talking heads day in and day out. Then, just a few days after uttering those acidic words, I went on a walk with my dad and we talked about the strength of women, the wisdom of women, the value of women. I went on a walk with an “old white guy,” and I was blessed. During our walk, I realized that I would never use those words, with that tone, in front of my dad, because he is my “old white guy,” and he is my rock, my friend, my father whom I respect and admire and love with all my being. I can’t fathom intentionally saying something that might make him feel less than or unworthy of my honor and respect. That night, I went to bed frustrated with myself for falling into the trap of binary thinking…us vs. them, either/or, in group vs. out group. I went to bed admitting that my heart hopes for life-giving conversation, but my tendency is to soak in the culture around me and thoughtlessly repeat the rhetoric I hear. I went to bed praying for the wisdom to speak up and out for those whose voices have been silenced and to do so without spreading hate or shame or fear.
I do understand that when people say, “old white guy,” they aren’t actually referring to ALL older white men. In context, this phrase is usually being directed towards 1 person, 1 small group of people (i.e. congress), or 1 specific situation. I also understand that this is said to express the idea that the majority has been in charge long enough, and in order for much needed change to take place, others MUST be promoted to positions of decision-making power. I agree whole-heartedly with this notion. I desperately want to see women and people of color given equal opportunities to succeed and lead. I want to see them as the heroes in movies, the leads in shows, the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, the headliners at conferences, the owners of booming business, the Presidents of universities, and on and on. I want to see an America that honors and respects minorities and embraces diversity. I want to see equality and equity for the marginalized. I want to see all people treated with reverence and regarded as equally worthy of life and liberty. I want to speak out and stand up for the rights of minorities while continuing to honor and respect the individuals within the majority who have earned that honor and respect. I don’t want to perpetuate the false dichotomy that insists we have to be hateful towards one group to love another, dishonoring to one group to honor another, tear one group down to lift up another, ostracize one group to include another.
Let me be clear. When there is an “old white guy” who is racist, minsogynst, homophobic, power hungry, discriminatory, arrogant, intolerant, etc., I will hold him accountable in the same way I would any individual with toxic beliefs and behaviors that poison our culture. If there is a “boy’s club,” such as the hundreds of cops across the country who shared racist sentiments on social media, I do and always will strongly advocate for real and felt consequences for their bigotry and corruption. Beyond holding individuals responsible for their overt prejudice, I also see the crucial need for the privileged to understand implicit bias and to do the internal work required to break free from this damaging unconscious attitude towards others. I believe it is immensely important for white men to step up and be an ally, an advocate, a champion for women and people of color. I want to see them admit their privilege and then use that privilege for good. I want them to acknowledge their position(s) of power and then seek equality and equity for the under-privileged. I want them to thicken their skin and consider not taking every comment about white men personally. I want them to make a noble effort to hold a deeply intimate perspective of what it means to be a white man versus a woman or person of color in this country. I believe the majority has a responsibility to LISTEN to the outnumbered and the oppressed and to deeply consider the effects of historical trauma and systemic racism in our society. I believe the majority has a moral responsibility to sit with the discomfort of deeply understanding the roots of white supremacy and how white people, as a collective group, have benefitted from structural racism. I believe white men have a responsibility to bring diverse participants to the table, to build bridges of multiculturalism, to open their minds and hearts to the inherent struggles that touch the lives of minorities before they’re even born. I believe these efforts should be a daily exercise. I do not feel sorry for white men. I do believe that some white men are part of the problem, however, I do not believe that speaking about them as a collective whole in a disparaging way will lead us to the loving and lasting change many of us seek.
I am holding onto hope that we can stand for diversity and equality without tearing others down. I’m hopeful that we can carve out those who divide us while holding close to those who unite us regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age, and so on. I believe I can tell my dad, (my “old white guy”) that his wisdom is priceless and that I have much to learn from him while also demanding more diversity, equality, and equity in our government, our companies, our universities, our churches, our media…our country!
The Changes I Plan on Making:
- Instead of using the term “old white men” as if they’re disposable and should be ignored or discarded, I will say: “I want more diversity…others deserve and need to be at the table…I want to hear from someone who represents women and people of color…I desire a fresh perspective around this issue…I would like to see change, and I believe that said change would be best lead by (enter name of woman or person of color here).” I’ve decided that I do not have to say, “old white guy” or “old white men” in a tone of disgust to make the point that I would like to see very different faces and hear from very different people.
- I will honor the gifts of individuals in any and all groups. I’m thankful for the wisdom my dad has to share due to his years of life experience and education. I’m also thankful for the varying perspectives and knowledge that individual women and people of color bring to the conversation. I will continue to advocate for equal and respectful treatment of minorities while avoiding disparaging the majority as a whole.
- I will object to certain individuals and their behavior without objecting to the entire group of people that those individuals demographically belong to.
- I will encourage white men and women to do the work of understanding implicit bias, white privilege, systemic racism, and white supremacy without attaching a shaming message, and I will continue to do this work myself.
- I will avoid divisive language and over-generalizations to pursue conversations that are unifying, kind, loving, candid, and inviting. As I seek change, I want my words to welcome others to the table. I want my words to summon others to join me in my pursuit for social justice and I want Love to be the leader.
I aspire to find a firm foundation in standing up for the marginalized while protecting my heart from the destructiveness of hate. I yearn to speak up and out for what’s right while being careful not to treat an entire demographic as if they are wholly responsible for every individual or small group of bad actors. I don’t want to overgeneralize in a way that labels the many older white men in my life as obstacles to a better America because they were born white and lived too long. I don’t want them feeling belittled or devalued because we’ve decided there’s no longer room for them at the table. I want to lift minorities up while maintaining respectful language for those who deserve respect. Our words carry weight. Our words matter. I pray the small changes I’m dedicated to making will bring light to my small circle of influence, and that eventually it will be easier for me to resist the temptation of using language that produces hurt rather than healing. I pray for life-giving dialogue around hard issues and grace when I get it wrong.
If you have other ideas on how we can have hard conversations without shame and blame, or maybe there’s something you’ve said that’s kept you up at night, and you’ve decided to change your approach, I would love to hear from you!