I am hard work. I am learning and quietly leading. I am striking out on my own and starting anew. I am family connections, bonding through food and drink and laughter.
I am silence. I am sucking it up and denying. I am complicity, I am rugged individualism. I am believing I can do it on my own, and that others should too, even when it is clear that we cannot.
I am privilege. I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered man, raised Christian in the United States of America. I have been afforded every convenience and ease, and still that has not made me whole. I am broken by white supremacy. I am abandoned culture, the Devil’s bargain of whiteness. I am forgetting, dissolving.
I am attempted memory, reconstructing culture and tradition. I am German and Irish and French and English. I am hard work applied to breaking the silence, to acknowledging, to proclaiming that I cannot do it on my own — that no one can.
I am an ardent and imperfect white male antiracist.
As a child, I lived in an all-white community in suburban Milwaukee. I saw people who, almost exclusively, looked, talked and believed as I did. But early on, I also had an awareness of my privilege. When we visited Milwaukee, I saw people who were homeless and I wondered why I had what I had when they did not. I learned pity. I wouldn’t have called it that, but that’s what it was.
I was raised Catholic by my parents, and attended a Jesuit high school. I learned the value of service — that it was my responsibility to help others. I benefited from that message, because I learned that my life is not all about me and what I can get. At the same time, this message of service was filtered through white supremacy culture, where my identity was seen as the one to which everyone else aspired, and so inevitably my service had aspects of saviorism — of me coming in to help “the less fortunate”.
As a young adult, I joined City Year and Teach for America, where I continued to serve. I was serving in this way because it was what I was supposed to do, because it was what I perceived others needed, because it allowed me to perceive myself in certain ways, because I thought that I was better than the “nothing” that these students had gotten before. I am still unlearning this attitude about service, moving towards recognizing how I and other white people have been damaged by white supremacy culture, by recognizing that other people don’t need my service to solve their problems. Instead, we need systemic change.
I became a teacher, a principal, and a coach to serve. Instead, I found myself in the middle of an ongoing transformation. I have grown into an increased awareness of my racial identity, how that has privileged me, and the responsibility to which I aspire because of that privilege.
I elevate the brilliance and resilience of my Black siblings, my Indigenous siblings, my Latinx siblings, my Asian siblings, my Middle Eastern siblings, all my siblings who have been battling white supremacy culture since it began. And I honor that they have not only been battling white supremacy culture — they have been growing and celebrating the beauty and meaning of their own cultures and people.
I recognize that my own biological ancestors upheld white supremacy culture by abandoning their ancestral cultures when they came to live in the United States. And I recognize that my ancestors, biological and spiritual, have important lessons to teach me about my own culture…what it was, what it is, and what it can be.
When these values are challenged, I operate from two stances, dependent on the context of the challenge…who is challenging, who they are challenging, and how they show up:
First, the stance of assertion– if a challenge to my values is an existential threat to one of my siblings of color, I assert the humanity of my sibling and the love I have for them. I defend my sibling of color verbally or physically. I make it clear that I do not tolerate threats to my siblings. I state my values, beliefs, and stance with clarity and when needed collaborate with my siblings of color and white siblings to neutralize the threat. Above all, I assert the humanity, beauty, and brilliance of my siblings of color.
Second, the stance of inquiry — if a challenge to my values is not an existential threat to a sibling of color, I inquire. I ask questions of the person who is challenging my values, try to understand their viewpoint, state my own viewpoint, and connect or contrast my viewpoint and values with theirs. I operate from the belief that we all have humanity, beauty, and brilliance deep inside us, no matter what ugliness we are currently demonstrating.
And if at any point it becomes clear that the individual challenging my values is unable or unwilling to enter inquiry with me, or that they are a threat to my siblings of color, I speak my truth and move back to the stance of assertion. My highest priority is to uphold the humanity, beauty, and brilliance of my siblings of color in this assertion.
I know that I often fail to enact my stance. I am both rigorous and forgiving with myself, with the knowledge that I must step up and try again. And continue to fail. And step up again.
That is what it means to me to be an ardent and imperfect white male antiracist.
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