The Problem(s) with Trump’s Race Relations Narrative

If you were watching the US presidential debate last night, you know that there was a conversation on race relations. Because we’re uncomfortable telling the whole story, the conversation tends to be labored for both Democrats and Republicans. However, the Trumpian narrative, which is also repeated in various forms by conservatives who otherwise agree and disagree with him, is particularly problematic. Here are a few of the problems as I see them.

1. Some neighborhoods are rough, no question, but black and Latino people are by and large not living in hell.

A street in a neighborhood in predominantly-black South DeKalb County near Atlanta – not perfect, but not hell. This is basically where I grew up.

A street on the South Side of Chicago – also, not hell. This is near where a couple of my best friends grew up.

2. A focus on law and order rather than justice and safety implies that more, increasingly militarized policing and prosecution will reduce crime. On the contrary, policies like stop-and-frisk have been proven to be ineffective and increase distrust of police, which makes things harder when you need people to “start snitching”.

3. This focus on policing and prosecution seems to imply that there is an underlying lawlessness that is hard to explain without having to go to personal agency and morality. It doesn’t do anything to talk about the financial instability introduced by historically racialized housing and lending policies, as well as things like harsh sentencing for young offenders that make it harder to get jobs, or urban planning that isolates the poor from the jobs they’d be most likely to get, or even just the advantage of not having such a rough start and how that transfers to one’s children.

4. The fact that somebody, somewhere, or even several somebodies, were able to change their economic stratum does not mean that the system is fair and just. It means those people were superlative. We pat on the back those people who study nights and work days, who never sleep, who manage to make it work, and pooh-pooh those who collapse under the weight, not recognizing or bothering to imagine what we might have done under that pressure. The question: what do we do so that ordinary people working reasonably hard can make a living? Not be rich and live fat, but just live without continuous fear of imminent collapse?

5. Illegal immigrant gangs, which Trump mentioned, are not one of the major challenges we face as far as I’m aware in reducing crime in high-crime areas.

6. The focus on fixing poor and dangerous areas conveniently takes the focus off of the changes in policies and points of view that need to happen among people in power and who have greater wealth. It’s not the job of the people who are getting ground up in the gears of the awful machine to find a crowbar to throw in it. It’s the job of the creators and operators to find the off switch.

The 2016 Election – Voting Free from Fear

This 2016 presidential race is a hot one. The Democrats have a highly credentialed but not-well-liked candidate, viewed by many as a corrupt insider and untrustworthy. The Republicans have a consummate outsider, a businessman not afraid to toot his own horn, viewed by many as a bigoted authoritarian demagogue. In the outside lanes, we have a former state governor who many think is lacking substance in his platform, and a long-time environmentalist who some view as dangerously anti-science. And that’s not even counting the also-rans from the main parties that still have staunch support.

Your left-leaning friends will tell you that voting Clinton is the only way to stop Trump from becoming president and ending democracy as we know it. Your right-leaning Trump-loving friends will tell you that Clinton is too dangerous and corrupt to allow into the White House and that “[he] alone can fix” the problems in Washington. Your right-leaning friends who can’t stomach Trump will tell you that it’s time to get an alternate voice of the right into view by voting Libertarian.

I have made a pledge this election to stop acting from a place of fear. Some of my reasons won’t speak to everyone, but here’s how I think about it:

The Presidency Is The Tip of the Iceberg – We vote for a president hoping that he or she will singlehandedly change the country. The president has a significant impact on the direction of the country, but Congress decides what actually takes the force of law. The president can only set priorities and set the tone. Your senators and representatives have more impact on your daily life than the president, and your local politicians have more still.

We like simple answers, and we like rooting for a team. The presidential election cycle neatly satisfies both requirements, but it’s the mundane, unsexy city and state politics that determine our actual quality of life. For those of us who cannot accept the two primary choices, I have bad news. Unfortunately, you don’t get to sit back and watch someone else fix everything. The work falls to you. Attending zoning meetings, town halls, state assembly debates. Joining the school board and city council. The work falls to you to be a fully engaged citizen.

You Can’t [Ever] Get [Exactly] What You Want – As my friend Rudi asserted in a discussion, no candidate will exactly match your beliefs. The only way to attempt to get exactly what you want is to run for office. Failing that, there’s a complex horse-trading that has to go on. We vote for a candidate that we know will come up short in one area so that we can get progress in two others. For those that like to choose litmus test issues, please understand two things. First, the current keeps moving regardless of whether you plant your feet in the riverbed. Your abstention does no work to change its course. Second, very few big issues get fixed by a single person, so the best your candidate can do is help you start to dam that river by using their louder voice to build a team to do it. And since even people in the same party don’t agree, it’s pretty hard to build that team.

Net-net, you should continue to advocate for the things you feel strongly about. But abstention due to a candidate being pro-choice, or gun friendly, or having ever uttered the words Black Lives Matter, accomplishes nothing. And voting a litmus test candidate in without doing the hard work of holding them accountable is even worse.

Don’t Panic, and Kill Your Television – News media gets their money from your attention. So like any intelligent system, our media has evolved to get as much of your attention as possible. This means sensationalism over substance and partisan reporting over measured facts and clearly delineated opinions. We all (and I count myself in this number) have to back up from the constant stream of shocking and sensational headlines along with the strident think pieces, and measure how we get our information, understanding what it’s there for. (I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about this a few months ago.) I pay The Economist to inform me, not entertain me, so they do it. They have a point of view, but they make no secret of it, and present multiple sides before asserting an opinion. This measured approach is how we have to learn to take all our information.

Where Is Your Hope? – Christians like to ask each other, “where do you place your hope?” This question is a reminder that we idolize and grant power to things that don’t necessarily deserve it. Christians believe in the sovereignty of a deity that transcends political races and tumultuous events. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t chaos in the world, or that bad things can’t happen if you believe hard enough; we all know that bad things happen to good people all the time. It does mean that I do my level best to help make a better world, and I have to rest in a belief that God will sort the rest out. As such, I can vote my conscience after having researched the candidates free from fear.

I don’t have to vote for Trump because of fear that Clinton will create a godless corrupt hellscape, and I don’t have to vote for Clinton because of a fear that Trump will replace our democracy with fascist cult of personality. I vote my principles, no doubt. However, what makes for good pastoral care or discipling doesn’t always make for good governance in a society with diverse beliefs, so someone’s purported “Christian-ness” is not relevant in and of itself. It only matters in terms of how they approach their life (as an example of consistency between belief and action) and policy. I’d be happy to have an atheist or Muslim or animist president who had a coherent and sensible slate of policy positions that produce a society closer to where I believe it should be.

I’ll say it more plainly. Evangelicals, this one is for you. Stop putting your hope for the realization of a more Christian-valued world in the presidency, and recognize that people who aren’t Christians have to live here too.  We are not called to create a Christian government or force people to share our values. We’re called to model a better society through our actions and treatment of each other and those not like us, and thus spread the Good News through love, not human law. Clinton’s Methodist church attendance or Trump’s recitation of “2 Corinthians” tells us nothing about what they actually believe or will do for issues Christians believe are important. Their policy platform, their substantive speeches, and actions while in office for those that have held office are a better view into that. So ask yourself, if you didn’t believe that one political party was inherently more “anointed”, more Christian, would you support the candidate at the helm based on what they said and did? Or would you look for someone else?


So, on to the question that no one asked: Who am I voting for?

I voted for Sanders in the primary. I wanted a more progressive agenda to be set for the Democratic Party, and I think he was successful in leading that charge. However, from where I stand today, I am endorsing Hillary Clinton. Here’s why.

She Knows The System and Has Experience – Trump asserts that “no one knows the system better than [him]”, but he has never held government office. Anyone who has seen the sausage made knows that government is a completely different animal, and many a man (and a few women) have tried to cut through with a business mindset only to discover it’s not quite so simple. Clinton has served as a US Senator, Secretary of State, and has something no candidate in history can boast: an 8 year internship for the Presidency as First Lady. You’d better believe that a woman with her intelligence and ambition observed as much of the conversations and processes as security and decorum allowed when her husband was president.

Among the eligible candidates, I also think Clinton is the one who is most likely to put Supreme Court Justices, federal judges, and Cabinet members in place who will move the country closer to where I think it should go. Clinton’s politics are to the right of mine to be sure, but of the eligible candidates, she’s most likely to be able to engage in the negotiations required to get at least some of these candidates through a Congress that’s likely to continue to be hostile. Unlike Obama, I expect she’d have the full support and unity of the elected members of Congress from her party.

She’s Not Exceptionally Corrupt – That sounds like faint praise. However, given the chief objections to Clinton, this is important. The Clintons have been subject to scrutiny for decades. Everything she’s done or been near has been put under a microscope. To be fair, very few people who rise to the levels of power she has do so with clean hands. Ultimately, though, I’ve seen no evidence that she will bring a higher level of corruption to Washington than what already exists. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that this is going to be some new kind of administration, with unprecedented levels of corruption.

Third Parties are built from the Bottom Up – Bernie Sanders has an important vision. Gary Johnson is championing libertarian values that are a good check on the size of government. However, the presidency, while powerful, is a limited position, as I mentioned earlier. Both Sanders and especially Johnson presidencies would be marked with inter-branch gridlock. For a third party in particular, Democrats and Republicans would likely form awkward alliances to thwart policy suggestions that both disagree with. Even if not, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress still propose the laws. Without a strong popular mandate, a third-party or outsider president would have little ability to influence.

If you really want to see third parties get stronger, run for local office as a member of one. National offices are mostly filled from the benches of state assemblies and city halls. Your future Libertarian or Green champions of the future will have similar stories to the candidates we know and love (or hate): runs for local office followed by service to the state in some capacity followed by a run for a national seat.  Progressive “Berniecrats” (who would merge into the Green Party if it were more robust) and Libertarians have to have their eye on the 2036 election and start building their bench now. I actually hope they do; their voices are much needed and if the Republican Party devolves into a nationalist party with a whiff (or more) of white supremacy, more conventional conservatives will need a place to go to continue to raise their critically useful alternative points of view.


In closing, by all means, vote your conscience. Make sure your conscience, however, is fed from principled action, research, and realistic expectations of a candidate, and not fear. Conservatives who are against Trump should send a message to a party that is leaving them behind by voting for Johnson. Progressives who dislike Clinton are free to make another choice or no choice at all, though it’s not clear to me that Clinton would be more hostile to progressive values in practice than the other eligible candidates. Regardless, please do show up for your downticket races and local candidates and make choices there.

None of us are getting a pony, I’m afraid.

Dismantling the Awful Machine

I got into a conversation on Facebook on one of my pastor’s pages about some of the backlash from Jesse Williams’s speech at the BET Awards (transcript). The conversation was tense but mostly constructive, as people coming from different perspectives struggled to process how they felt about his call to action (and in some cases, inaction from people who he felt were not helpful to the process of achieving justice). For American evangelical audiences in particular, it’s hard for them to reconcile an individualistic view on worship and atonement with a notion of a corporate or collective sin that they do not view themselves as having participated in.

Someone in the thread asked a deceptively simple question:

“Can anyone answer the following question with real, applicable, easily understood solutions? How do we stop/fix racism? As a country/world?”

I made the questionable call to try to answer it. Here is my response, with a couple of edits for clarity.


I can only speak to America, as racial dynamics are pretty different in other parts of the world. I will also try to make this easily understood, but it’s not an easy problem.

I think we have to look at racism as both an individual possibility and a systemic reality. Every one of us carries bias. And yes, it is possible for nonwhites to be racist, it’s just less likely that that will matter to large groups of white people due to the relative lack of power. To work on that bias, as Christians, we have to turn that over to God along with all our other sins, and then act on that repentance with intentional action, by actually getting to know people who are not like us, racially or economically, and fighting our preconceptions every step of the way. This one is everyone’s responsibility.

I’m going to talk next about some things I think white Americans should do, but that’s not to absolve other groups of responsibility. Consideration of and remedies for black or Latino underperformance are valid, but there are two assumptions made. First, it is assumed black and Latino people are not actively working on those issues because they’re busy blaming white people. Second, these issues are somehow made into a precondition for fixing racial injustice (as in, “if you had your stuff together, we could talk, but get your house in order first, buddy”). For the first, it’s untrue at best and insulting at worst to assume that black and Latino people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder aren’t fighting like hell to improve their lives. For the second, Christianity teaches us that cleaning up is not a precondition for grace or movement toward reconciliation with God, so why should we treat each other any differently?

It’s my opinion that white Americans in particular have to let go of the individual racial binary that plays out so often where you are either a) not racist or b) a Klansman. If a lot of well-meaning white people can get past the fact that having racism called out doesn’t mean someone thinks you personally are an evil idiot, that would make it a lot easier to listen and chew on the meat of what people like Williams are saying.

The other thing that well-meaning “post-racial” Americans have to consider is that a machine that has been continually built, improved, and tweaked until about 30-50 years ago to crush black bodies and souls and elevate white ones, even if it is turned off, leaves destruction in its wake that must be addressed. I would argue that the machine is not even turned off; it’s merely no longer manned with workers tasked to keep it running smoothly. We blithely ignore housing, social, and legal policies that actively destroyed black ability to acquire wealth up to 50 years ago (and in a few cases into the present decade, like redlining and disparate interest rates) and then shrug when a bad neighborhood continues to be bad. We chalk it up to a lack of moral fiber. No. This is what was intended by the creators of the machine, more or less.

An example of the headless machine in action is how white men have a disproportionate share of leadership positions at this point for no other reason than until recently, no one else was allowed to. There’s not a committee of white men actively holding the entire nation back. But there are committees that look at hardworking women and black people and other groups, and promote them more slowly or not at all. (My father saw this firsthand in the 2000s as an executive promoted much too late in his career when he was finally allowed in the room where evaluations were given and had to fight on behalf of others for fair treatment.) And there are people that follow their natural impulse to mentor younger versions of themselves, not realizing they’re ignoring bright young women or nonwhites who might be even better proteges.

So the problem, in summary comes down to, are you non-racist or anti-racist? Non-racist means you don’t go calling people names or discriminating. Anti-racist means you speak up when someone else does, and you try to actively dismantle the machine where possible by looking at places where passive bias or historical bias has led to present inequity. Non-racist is relatively easy, and many white people during the civil rights movement were non-racist. But they greeted their friends’ nasty remarks with nervous chuckles instead of disdain, or worse, inadvertently encouraged it. And when the lynching or riots came, they shook their heads and wondered why that happened, when these were such good people that didn’t act like that.

I know how hard it is to go from non-racist to anti-racist; I’m working on it in myself regarding gender. But that movement to anti-racism, to actively dismantle our biases and the machine, is the only way to full reconciliation in my opinion. It doesn’t mean you have to grovel and beg forgiveness at a black person’s feet. It just means you have to consider the possibility that if you’re not paying attention closely, you might look down and find a crank in your hand, turning the gears in an awful machine.

United Healthcare Pulls Out of Georgia – Thoughts on Health Care

United Healthcare is pulling out of the federal exchange in Georgia for 2017. You’ll see headlines about how this means Obamacare is on its last legs, or showing how overbearing progressive policies are bad for consumers. Healthinsurance.org has an article about the Georgia exchanges that has a bit more perspective. I would like to point out a few things about what this actually means in my opinion.

First, Georgia doesn’t have an exchange of its own. It opted to use the federal exchange provided for the states that refused to accept them. What’s more, Georgia actively created laws to prevent the creation of state-run marketplaces and make it harder for navigators to help people get coverage. In Georgia, a navigator must pass the same exam as insurance agents in order to be able to give advice to potential subscribers.

Second, according to this article, United Healthcare had less than 1K individual subscribers in Georgia, with most of their subscribers being in group plans. As such, it strikes me as disingenuous of United to paint their problem as being a gross profitability issue caused by ACA policy when in fact it probably was simply inconvenient for them to operate on such a small scale in the state. It is worth noting that their subsidiary Harken Health has signed up over 30,000 members in Atlanta and Chicago and will continue to remain on the exchanges. (Disclosure: I am subscribed to Harken and so far have been moderately satisfied with the insurance part and ecstatic about the primary and preventative care part).

Georgia has also opted out of Medicaid expansion, passing on billions in federal funding that would have created lucrative medical jobs and leaving nearly 300,000 Georgians earning too much to qualify for federal Medicaid, but too little to afford unsubsidized premiums. The principled stand is supposed to be that the program will ultimately cost Georgia too much money, but the data so far has not pointed to that. Instead, Georgia has opted to send federal tax dollars from their residents to provide health care to people in other states that did accept Medicaid expansion.

I find it interesting that the same politicians that favor deregulation and competition turn a blind eye to the mergers of the largest health care companies and pass red tape legislation to make it harder for an existing federal program to be successful. I have also not yet seen a credible alternative to ACA presented that would address the pre-ACA issues insurance companies had with refusing to pay for care and rapidly escalating premiums. What, then, is really motivating such staunch resistance to the simple question of how to get more people health insurance?

There’s an increasingly libertarian bent to arguments I hear from my conservative friends about the way things should be. The government is always bad at everything, and wants to take away your freedom at the point of a gun. Private companies have your best interests at heart because they’ll be motivated by a desire for profit and good reputation, and efficient markets will sweep away those that cannot provide the quality of service required for both. It is the responsibility of individuals to make optimal choices and protect themselves at all times, and the market can hold companies responsible for business done in bad faith.

This vision of how the world should work is attractive, especially if you believe that you are extraordinary. As much as I find libertarian ideals attractive, I find that when they hit the ground, there are some issues. Markets are great at what they do, but markets require open information. The American health care system is profoundly lacking in that, with dozens of prices for every item and procedure used, depending on who is ordering it and how it will be paid for. Try asking a provider how much anything costs. They couldn’t tell you if they wanted to, but most will answer, “I have no idea”.

Beyond the fact that the health care market is currently opaque, the myth of halcyon days of quality care before ACA took effect is false. Insurers were free to deny coverage to people due to diagnoses, culling the expensive cases and keeping the cheap ones, and there was no provider of last resort in most places. I was personally affected by this and had loved ones go without coverage for years until ACA took effect. I also paid for my own insurance out of pocket as an individual from 2003 to today, and I watched prices climb even faster than people complain about today. When the first ACA provisions took effect, my premium was cut by more than 50%.

At a deeper level, non-aggression and altruism are not natural human states, though it can be cultivated and encouraged in culture. I don’t think that removal of regulations automatically leads to Mad Max. However, given how companies try to take advantage of individuals as much as they can now even in the face of regulation and protection, I don’t see how removing regulations and protections would lead to less fraud. I also don’t believe that I’m so good at discernment and so popular or good at marketing that I could determine fraud, stop patronizing a business, and get enough others to do the same to shut a bad business down. Even if I dodge the bullet, someone else gets hit.

A more libertarian framework could work if people got serious about introducing competition enhancing measures along with the measures to unfetter corporations from regulations and limitations. We could use modern technology and new data aggregation and processing techniques to distribute more information in real time, keep everything visible and above board, keep private businesses a bit more honest. Frankly though, I’m busy enough trying to manage everything else in my life, and I don’t want to have to become an expert in health care administration and analysis just to go have my cough seen about.

Conservative politicians talk a libertarian game but are only interested in freeing corporations’ hands, assuming that in their benevolent interest in profit, they’ll do what’s best for consumers, and let the benefits trickle or rain down from the top. Until we can couple that with digestible, accessible information, and a media more interested in corruption than sensation, the net effect of deregulation will be continued massive profits for an oligopoly of companies and worse outcomes for consumers.

Injustice for All?

The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll whisper “no.”

-Rorschach, “Watchmen”

One of the most insidious legacies of racism in our country is unequally applied justice. Poor black and Latino neighborhoods are overpoliced. “Respectable” black people with no criminal record have a fear of police, and most have stories about themselves or a friend getting unduly pulled over and/or poorly treated, or worse. Many white people find these stories hard to believe because they are so out of line with their own experience. In the places they’ve been, police have often been helpful protectors, occasionally even looking the other way for minor infractions.

I have lately been watching the reaction to Otto Warmbier‘s case. As a tourist in North Korea (pause to let that sink in), he attempted to steal a banner to bring home as a souvenir for which he would be rewarded. The North Korean government caught him, arrested him, and sentenced him to 15 years in their prisons. There is now an outcry to seek clemency and bring him home.

I have also seen the coverage of a recently discovered heroin epidemic here in Atlanta. The episodes of reporting are given sympathetic titles like “We All Make Mistakes” and “Please Understand”. (Seriously, go look. I’m not making this up.) The photos of victims of the epidemic are shown to humanize them, show what good kids they were before something unknown drove them into the path of addiction.

Many of my black friends have greeted these stories with snorts of derision. As black Americans, we know all too well what a mandatory minimum sentence can do, turning a youthful error into a lifetime’s failure. We have seen drugs destroy our communities in the 70s and 80s while the rest of America looks on and wags their finger, whispering under their breath, “I knew it.” or “Just say no. How hard is that?” Even now, as traffic stops turn into homicides, we see characters defamed and radicalized. Where were the cries for mercy then? Where was the humanization? Can you even imagine West Baltimore, Chicago, or South Central Los Angeles getting that kind of careful, loving analysis?

I have no objection to telling the truth. Whether Warmbier’s case warrants mercy is irrelevant to the point that he took the world to be his playground and thought that the privileges he enjoys in this country were transferrable to what is possibly the most dangerous country for Americans in the entire world. The circumstances that led the kids in affluent suburbs to use heroin neither fall neatly in the bucket of personal responsibility nor in that of externalities. That said, I grow concerned on two fronts.

I don’t want my heart to grow hard. If a white person, or any other human, is hard done by by the police, or has a hard experience that tears them apart, I want to feel compassion for them where they are. I see case after case of black injustice though, and I find the same thoughts entering my mind as those I see from my peers. “Well, I guess they’ll see now.” “Welcome to reality.”

At a more philosophical level, I am concerned that our desire to see the shoe on the other foot will lead to a tolerance for injustice. As we fight for people we know and love personally, who look like us and face the same struggles, we must never forget that our goal is to intersectionally end injustice wherever it lives. I shouldn’t want for them what I know people that look like me get. We shouldn’t want that for anyone.

I won’t deny, there is a grim satisfaction to see someone find out a truth the hard way when you know they wouldn’t believe you if you told them in advance. However, those of us who are coming from any non-dominant axes of privilege have to find an extra measure of grace to see us through, and to always see what the privileged and comfortable let themselves be blinded to. What’s worse for us, we have to see it and dispense said grace to everyone.

This is an area where I find Christian theology, properly applied, very helpful. The notion of the Imago Dei, that each human being is an image bearer of God, helps us apply this lens of grace to everyone, even those who by their actions or by our judgment may seem to be the least deserving. This is a bewildering concept to those who do not believe; how could [insert evil person from history here] be an image bearer of God? One answer: the same way a dirty and cracked mirror is still a mirror.

I also find the teachings of Jesus to be useful to help remind me. Jesus was clear about overturning systems of injustice or rules that sought to preserve comfort and ease of a few at the expense of many. Jesus went to those who, by conventional wisdom, were the least deserving, and pulled them closest to him. Then he called us to do the same.

I don’t want to take Rorschach’s stance. More accurately, I don’t want to want it. I see the wave of detritus frothing like a disaster movie, the unclean and unclaimed legacy of discriminations and denials. I see it in this election cycle threatening to choke us, set us back decades. As the authoritarian cavalcade reaches into the lives of those it was designed to protect, I want to reply to their “Save us!” with an icy “No.” But as a person who believes what Jesus said, I’m called to try to find the balance between calling out the unevenly applied care and caring for the wronged, even when they might have wronged me given the chance.

I am still figuring that one out.

Pride and Prejudice – A Lamentation for Black History Month

I just published an article over at Forth District. Take a look at it over there, I love what those guys are doing with their conversations on arts and culture. Post visible at:

http://forthdistrict.com/pride-and-prejudice-a-lamentation-blackhistorymonth/

Awakening to Gender Privilege

A few things have been happening lately, from Hillary being called out for her shouting while Bernie screams continuously, to people scheduling a multi-city rape advocacy parade in freaking 2016, to an ongoing cavalcade of foolishness regarding women and every damn thing that they do. I watch all this go on, and I just start to feel like:
8tllwmw
Race has been an issue for about 400-500 years. Gender has been an issue for at least a few thousand in most parts of the world. It’s so much more deeply rooted that it feels natural in a way race never quite does. To be honest, there is a biological component. Men and women are built differently, and process the world differently. Men and women also need each other in a way that two random people from different parts of the Earth don’t. I’m not an advocate for an equality that doesn’t recognize our differences, any more than I am an advocate for a racial equality that doesn’t recognize and allow for cultural diversity. But I am not an advocate for a system that has women as lesser either, or doesn’t allow for individual women to break a pattern that doesn’t make sense for them.
Historically, I would have described myself as pro-women, and that was mostly true. I didn’t believe in restricting women’s freedoms. I thought their underrepresentation in positions of power was wrong. I also would say I was aware that being a male conferred me certain advantages in our society. I wasn’t blind to the notion of privilege; on the contrary, I used it to better help me understand what it might be like to be on the upside of racial privilege.
But was I anti-sexism? When I saw weirdly sexy ads for hamburgers, did I roll my eyes or give a Beavis and Butthead chuckle? When an attractive woman walked by at work, did I remind myself that she was a colleague, client, or hell, supervisor, or did I just check her out? And in the latter case, how did that affect how I dealt with her in business?
I think about this more now that I’m older and differentially wiser. If I’m mentoring or leading a woman that I’m attracted to, even though I’m happily married and have no intentions of making anything of it, how can I do my job effectively? I have to take extra precautions to ensure fairness. I have to watch my mouth around my peers, and call my peers out in a way that feels unnatural and weak. And how far do I have to go, exactly, to ensure I’m creating a climate that neither feeds nor tolerates sexist behavior? The end result can be a kind of secular asceticism which is both frustrating and difficult to maintain.
It’s not about my desires and challenges, ultimately. As a man, the entire framework is built to accommodate my desires. Nothing is more difficult than speaking truth to power and demanding fair treatment with no protection from those same systems of power. That said, it’s time for me to engage in the second most difficult kind of work: dismantling the platform of advantage I am standing on.