While we’ve been embroiled in daily negative reports about Donald Trump, one lasting positive effect of his candidacy could be the exposure of those in our society — men especially — who, like him, aren’t aware of their privilege and therefore are either directly engaged in, or at the very least, complicit in, racist and sexist words and actions.
Trump’s comments about women and sexual assault, Muslims, minorities, etc., are difficult to hear because they’re coming from a man running for president — but also because it forces us to confront our own worst tendencies. Trump is able to do and say these things with little or no consequence because of his privilege as a wealthy, white man. And before you think he’s different from you, before you distance yourself from his actions, consider your own privilege and how you’ve used it to say and do things that are insensitive and inappropriate.
As a college-educated, Christian, straight, cisgender, upper-middle class, white man — privilege is something I never have to think about. In this sense, everything in my life has been handed to me. That’s not to say I haven’t worked hard (at times), but it is to say that opportunities and successes came with few obstacles. I am at the center of the dominant culture in our society. If you don’t believe that, start replacing the adjectives at the beginning of this paragraph with their opposites and pretty soon you’ll be describing some of the most marginalized people in our society. Though I have been placed at the center of our dominant culture through no choice or actions of my own, I have an obligation to not only be aware of, and acknowledge, the immense power that position affords me, but to commit to dismantle the structures that create this center to begin with. Being unaware of this status or refusing to acknowledge it is unacceptable. This ignorance is what allows us to casually dismiss misogynistic comments as “locker room banter.” It keeps us ignorant to our own privileges and makes it impossible for us to partner with those in our society who have been marginalized and consequently lack the same privileges in the work of ending injustice in our society.
Throughout my life I have been ignorant to my privilege. And at times I have used my privilege as Trump has – to get away with saying or doing things that denigrate women, people of color, and ethnic minorities. I have ignorantly subjected my friends and family to words and actions that were racially and ethnically insensitive, sexually inappropriate and explicit, homophobic, and misogynistic. In thinking back through my life I can name specific moments that I am ashamed of and embarrassed by. I have also laughed with, or remained silent when others around me did the same. These were almost always things intended in humor or jest (an assumption afforded by my status at the dominant center), but in looking back I know they weren’t always received that way. In these actions I showed the worst of myself and betrayed my own privilege while utilizing it to belittle those without it.
Donald Trump has exposed the privilege afforded to white men in unprecedented ways. This campaign season has revealed the deep inequities and ideological distortions that continue to render so many violable and inconsequential in our society. This is a chance to repent for what we have done and who we have been, but repenting isn’t only apologizing and seeking forgiveness (though we must) – it is turning around and heading in a different direction.
Men, and white men in particular, have a choice to make this election season and moving forward. We can either choose to ignore the realities of our privilege and the security that privilege grants us, or we can choose to name and acknowledge the privilege given to us and commit to holding ourselves to higher standards; call out misogyny, racism, and homophobia in others; and stand with those around us who face these injustices.
This piece was written in partnership with Jessica Vazquez Torres, Monisha Smith, Emily Brewer, and Brittany Jablonsky.