It’s not easy being a straight white male. Obviously, I’m being ironic (or sarcastic or sardonic, I can never tell the difference between the three) but sometimes it’s not exactly a walk in the park. I assume that most straight white males would read this and react one of two ways; they would either agree with me (but for totally different reasons, like because blacks and feminists are taking over the world) or would call me a delusional twit. However, I say this from the lens of a non-confrontational straight white male. Let me explain what I mean.
As someone with a conscience, I have been trying to help change the world since as far back as I can remember. After attending a number of meetings with different social change groups, going to marches, talking to senators, and other similar tactics I was looking for some other, more effective way to make change. Although I consider myself somewhat oppressed (in the sense that I’m not completely free), I am still one of the least oppressed groups in the world. For a while I would honestly wish that I was gay or a woman or black just so I would be able to fight from a seemingly more respected (in the activist world anyway) stance. Then I finally began to grasp the concept of solidarity; instead of trying to figure out how to help the poor oppressed people, or yearning to be one of them, I would listen to what they said and help in ways that they asked me to. For the most part, this means recognizing my privilege and, more importantly, pointing it out to others who look like me. This is something that I have no problem doing on Facebook, a blog, or the comment section of some racist website, but when it comes to real life situations, I find myself sorely lacking a backbone. Sure, if I’m with ten other so-called radicals and we’re confronting one homophobic douche bag, it’s no problem. In other situations, not so much. I’ll give you a very recent example.
For about three weeks I stayed, along with my partner, our dog, and a friend – in the backyard of a very kind family. Another tenant lived in a trailer home parked in the driveway. The woman in the trailer is a very kindhearted medicine woman in her mid 50’s. We spent much time together smoking bowls (of marijuana) and talking about life. One day she introduced us to her partner, a man also in his mid 50’s who had just retired from 25 years in the Alaskan wilderness felling trees. A man who had two bumper stickers on his pickup truck- one saying “Obama- impeach him”, and another “I learned all I need to know about Islam on 9/11”. A man with a special room in his house dedicated to weaponry of all kinds. Despite all this, he seemed like a pretty nice – if not completely insane – fellow, who admitted to having a slight anger problem. We met a couple times and we talked about motorcycles, growing marijuana, and good places to get beer in Portland. I was a little intimidated by him – he had forearms the size of my legs, teeth like redwoods, and never took off his sunglasses – but I figured at the very least I could use him as a character in some story that I probably would never write.
A few days ago he came by to help his woman friend move from the trailer. When he arrived he was quite drunk. I have nothing against being quite drunk (hell, I’m not even apposed to driving in that state, as I know people who can drive better while drunk than most people drive sober), but he was being a little aggressive with the stories he was telling about his anger. Again, I took it in stride and tried to pay attention to the way he spoke in order to portray it later.
After a few minutes of bullshitting, we went down to our camp to smoke a couple bowls of some of Portland’s finest. Halfway through the conversation, the talk turned to religion. Him and my partner had similar Christian upbringings, and like my partner he had distanced himself from this. However, this is where the similarities ended. He kept informing her that she was still a Christian. Rebecca, my partner, would try to reason and say that she is not at all a Christian and he would respond by telling her that of course she was. Just because she wasn’t crazy like some of the Christians didn’t mean she didn’t believe the Word. She doesn’t, and kept telling him this, but he refused to listen. This turned into a rant about bad Christians. He told us that he is part Indian, and a tribe member, and that the Christians that committed genocide against his people were not real Christians. Again, he was being very aggressive and even though the sun was almost all the way down, his dark black sunglasses remained on his boulder sized head. My friend and I exchanged ‘what-the-fuck’ glances, but both remained silent.
As Rebecca and I had plans to baby sit for family friends that night, I got half in the tent to grab some stuff. As I did this, I heard him say “don’t get my wrong, I love everyone…except for the fucking Muslims. I hate the fucking Muslims.” At this, I turned around to come out of the tent, trying to pump myself up to say something. It is these situations that I’m talking about, where my duty as a straight, white, male with a conscience requires me to confront. As I turned to stand up, I noticed him grip the sides of his chair and make like he was going to rise too, like he was waiting for me to say something so he could punch me in the face. I said nothing. I looked at Rebecca and our friend, who were also saying nothing, and then got back on my knees and continued to pack our bag. He went on for another few seconds, then Rebecca said something about it being a big topic and he responded by saying that we shouldn’t be talking about politics or religion anyway. Then it was over.
This was about five days ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. How can I call myself an ally, how can I pretend to be a radical if I can’t even act in the simpliest of situations. What’s the worst that would have happened? Would he have hit me? Would he have called me a Muslim lover? Or would I have gotten through to him? Could I have put new ideas in his head, could I have planted a seed of some sort? I don’t know. I try to console myself by promising that I will act next time. I will say something; I will stand up when someone is being ignorant. Because what starts with verbally hating Muslims in a backyard could easily progress into something more. And if it does, it will be my fault.