Loving Privileged White Males, Not Loving Oppression

By Guest Contributor

Last week’s op-ed, “A Call for a More Inclusive Movement,” attempted to show how white privileged men are excluded from feminist and other activist discourses on campus. It is important that all members of our college community, including those who are viewed as vehicles of oppression, feel welcomed in spaces.

Weil suggested that privileged white males should not feel ashamed of their identity.  This absolutely is a critical point to honor. In so doing, and in working to create welcoming spaces, however, we must not obscure systemic dynamics of race, power and privilege.

Middlebury as a space was historically created for privileged white males. The power and money that fuel this college, despite shifts in the face of the student body in recent decades, is still in the hands of white privileged males.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, it’s tough. As privileged white men ourselves, we have struggled a lot in searching for understanding and in trying to see in a new light that which we are taught to ignore.

We have not come to an answer. Yet, this scarcity appears to us as abundance. Perhaps we have stumbled upon the greatest lesson: we do not possess all the answers.

We are all socially positioned in unique ways based on our multifaceted identities, which by no mean boil down to merely our gender and race. From this situated point, we fundamentally have different experiences, even of the same space. To us, this means we should listen to peoples’ experiences and not write them off if they do not exactly align with our own.

Weil asserted, “so-called feminists like Kaufman have created a culture wherein economics is synonymous with male-dominance.” Interestingly, this presupposes that Kaufman has not herself experienced the department of economics as a space dominated by men.

In fact, by excluding the possibility that Kaufman studied economics, Weil further illuminates how even he himself imagines it as male-centered.  In fact, not only has Kaufman taken an economics course or two, she majored in International Politics and Economics.

Whoops!  Okay, yup. We have done it too.  A lot.  As privileged white males ourselves, we have made normalized assumptions that discount possibilities of validation of the experiences of other folks. To be honest, we still repeatedly make this mistake.  We admit this because we find it really important to take responsibility. Without acknowledging how we mess up, we really can never set things right.

We ourselves are on a long journey riddled with imperfection. However, in that we see the potential to learn and grow. And unlearn and shrink as well. A dose of each is certainly necessary.

Throughout our lives, both subtly and overtly, we have been taught a lot about how we are to act in this world. Growing up as privileged white males, we are imbued with a sense of confidence, often ensuring our voices are heard and considered in decision making.

However, the flip side of this is that we are often taught to doubt others. We are taught to doubt those who are often systemically excluded from decisions that disproportionately affect them. Okay, yes. Here, we supposedly really respect critical thinking. And yes — critical thinking is good. But there is a difference between critical thinking and denying someone else’s experience merely because it deviates from our own.

Our commitment to being critical thinkers must include rigorous self-critique.  Not out of distaste for who we are, but out of love. Love for wanting to live a caring life. Love for embracing our own fragility. Love for those whom we mistakenly harm.  Love too for our fellow privileged white males.

It is through love that we are guided to take responsibility for the ways in which we perpetuate and benefit from our dominant positions. This responsibility for challenging ourselves and our fellow white males on multiple forms of oppression should not be undertaken with the notion that we ourselves can fix everything. We cannot do this alone. Thinking we can is one of those scary things our white male privilege often teaches us.

Sure, we need to speak up. But also, and much more importantly, we need to step back and listen. We need to listen deeply and truly honor experiences different from our own.

As privileged white males, we need to listen to our fellow privileged white males. Sadly we are taught to keep our emotions bottled up, a source of such great destruction. Possessing privilege does not make us bad people, but it does make us responsible for working to challenge and dismantle its unjust foundations. If you wish for a safe space to engage in this process with fellow privileged white males, please join us on Fridays at 4:30 p.m. in Chellis House behind Proctor.

Written by DAVE YEDID ‘15  of Port Washington, NY; SAM KOPLINKA-LOEHR ‘13  of Ithaca, NY; and JAY SAPER ‘13  of East Lansing, MI