A guest post from Colin Stokes.
I looked around the packed room, scanning for colleagues and acquaintances who had also come to this free keynote from an amazing antiracism educator. I saw a few familiar faces among the hundred or so energized people of all colors.
What I didn’t see were any other white men.
Since then I’ve seen it over and over. At racial justice events—forums, community meetings, screenings, workshops—women are the overwhelming majority of participants. When a few men are there, they’re Black or Latino or multiracial. I’ve almost always been the one white guy.
Now, I’m far from the only white guy interested in racial justice. But our numbers are nowhere near the 30% of the U.S. population we make up, let alone proportional to our hold on levers of power. (White men hold 62% of elected offices in the U.S.)
For a demographic that has not typically been shy about making our voices heard, it’s a glaring absence.
So why are we holding out on antiracism?
Maybe it’s no mystery. Racism funnels benefits our way every moment, whether we know it or not. On the surface, there’s no incentive for us to dismantle it.
But plenty of white men are guided by sincere values of justice. We care deeply for our friends of color. We’re inspired by brilliant artists, athletes, and leaders who inform us of the cruelties of racism. What keeps us from living out these values?
Maybe we fear feeling scolded, treated as guilty for the brutality of white men throughout history. But in my experience, racial justice activists are so surprised to see a white man sincerely invested that they treat me like a VIP.
Besides, aren’t we supposed to be tough? Can’t we take a little criticism?
Maybe not. Maybe we’re lacking some crucial skills. Many American white men (especially straight ones) are socialized to value individualism and self-reliance. As a result we are unaccustomed to feeling vulnerable in the presence of other people.
My wife spends hours with her moms’ groups, supporting each other through every personal and professional challenge. I spend a few minutes with my male friends exchanging Star Wars and Marvel opinions and trying to crack each other up.
If we don’t know how to struggle through difficult emotions with people who love us, doing so with a group of strangers seems overwhelming.
I wonder if our work as white male antiracists begins with each other. This coming year I’m joining a virtual cohort called White Men for Racial Justice. One of its leaders, Ron Carucci, told me most members come to learn about the racial justice part, and discover powerful and intimate friendships with the other men. I’m curious about how this connection might be the key to bringing more of us into the work.
Meanwhile, ask the white men in your life to join you at a racial justice event. And If you’re a white man, show up! After all, we’re still showing up in the halls of power. They’re not changing unless we do too.