Healing privilege: the white guy’s role in racial equity
Updated: Mar 4
What role can straight, white, progressive men play in advancing racial equity?
It wouldn’t seem to be our wheelhouse. After all, we’re the primary beneficiaries of white-dominant social norms. I see us trying to fix this: we experiment with identities as decolonizers, form men’s groups and advocate to prioritize BIPOC perspectives.
But it’s easy to wonder whether we matter to this movement. Organizations don’t want white guys leading their bold new equity strategies.
Isn’t it best to stand aside and let others lead?
I think we can do more than just stand around. In fact, I suspect that the white male perspective is a necessary component of creating a racially equitable future.
Everything is interconnected and change often comes from unlikely sources.
Here are some ways I think we can uniquely contribute:
White men can de-center unhealthy masculinity.
All people have masculine and feminine traits; both have healthy and unhealthy versions. Unhealthy masculinity is correlated with norms of white-dominant society, like being controlling, self-oriented, addicted, and aggressive. Since white men perpetuate unhealthy masculine traits more than others, we can make a huge contribution to removing them from society. How? By replacing them with positive masculine traits in ourselves. We can learn to be deeply present, grounded, humble, and of service to the highest good, gradually shifting white-dominant social norms. Imagine that.
We can leverage personal healing to inform systemic change.
Toxic masculinity is rooted in shame and fear. Our wounds shape individuals and institutions alike. In organizations, shame-based wounds show up as perfectionism, rigidness, and fear of open conflict. As white men heal and transition away from privilege, we gain useful insights into how white-dominant institutions can make a similar transition.
For example, I am learning to endure my acute discomfort of open conflict. It is allowing me to respond more skillfully rather than habitually withdraw, shut down or gloss over challenges. I now see that my reactive behavior was tolerated because white-dominant social norms can empower white men to act like jerks: “boys will be boys!” Now, when I conduct a training in workplace conflict, I see the same need for reckoning and learning new skills at the organizational level. I am better able to support the transition from avoidance (a privilege) to ownership, learning, and improvement (a liberation).
We can call out the corruptibility of power.
White men learn the subtle nuances of privilege at an early age. I recall once bragging to a sibling that I could watch TV past my bedtime by playing to our mom’s emotions (sorry, Mom!). I had already learned to use coercion and manipulation as a coddled boy.
As white men heal, we begin to see the nuanced ways we used power to get our way. It makes us hyper-sensitive when others use these same subtle, destructive strategies. We can channel the sensitivity as a force for accountability when we sense others becoming corrupted by power.
I’m curious what you think. Are white men a necessary part of creating racial equity, or should we just stand aside and let others lead? Please comment, like and share.