Yes, you’re the problem, but I’d love to help.
This past school year, I worked alongside so many inspiring student leaders to accomplish one of my proudest achievements: the establishment of a Student Diversity Council on my undergraduate campus.
As a part of this, I helped to create a campus-wide survey to gather issues directly from those who have experienced them. This was to be a fantastic way to gather starting points for the Council to work on and create potential educational programs; however, when I opened the results to the survey, I was witness to something far more disturbing. Out of the significant number of responses to the survey, there was an overwhelming amount of responses that indicated a frustration with my undergrad’s dedication to diversity.
The reports claimed rampant reverse racism, negative attitudes against white people, and an overall hatred of diversity on campus.
How did it come to this?
All of my life, I’ve lived in rural Illinois. The town name may have been different over the years, but the environment wasn’t. I was one member of the 99% WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) community and I was comfortable in those small corners of the world.
but then something changed
I first noticed that I was different in the 5th grade. As I sat in my classes, I started paying close attention to the “popular boys”. Those who, all of a sudden, had a newfound value as “better” than everyone else as we began to make divisions in the value of a person based off of insignificant things such as an aptitude for sports, a passion for only those things that our culture deemed acceptable, and evaluations of one’s physical beauty.
I began to ache. As my body began to stretch and contort into shapes yet unknown, I also began to lament because I had turned into a pariah overnight. No longer was it acceptable to speak to Emma, she was too popular. No longer was it acceptable to talk about Pokémon at lunch with Paul, that wasn’t cool. No longer could I try my luck at playing basketball with my former friends, I wasn’t good enough to play with them.
I found my niches throughout the year, but still continued to pay close attention to the boys in my classes. I began dressing like them. I would force myself to become interested in the same things that they are. I suppressed my own passions, interests, and true self in the name of being accepted in my small corner of the world. This worked, if only temporarily.
As we progressed to Middle School, my careful study of the popular boys became more intense. I would actively imitate their gestures and actions at home in an attempt to treat my social ineptitude as a homework assignment; if I can become better at my craft through practice, popularity must become a new craft.
And thus, I continued in my studies, both academic and social.
Flash forward to High School. New people, new environment, new studies.
I continued to deny myself the right to be myself with a passion that is comparable to keeping an addict from his fix.
It was then that I began to crack. My façade of social understanding wasn’t required around some of the new friends that I made. They began to slowly tell me a story that seemingly took years to tell. I wouldn’t realize until much later that they were recounting the story of my own life and attempting to form a human chain strong enough to pull the true version of myself out of the deep hole that I had forced him to flee into.
I came out to myself in April of 2010. I came out to a majority of my friends shortly after. I came out to my family in March of 2011. I came out publicly soon after.
Yet, it wouldn’t be until much later that I was able to realize the damage I had caused in denying my own existence; a battle that I still fight daily.
Being a white, homosexual male in Southern Illinois isn’t easy, but it is absolutely a cake walk when compared to the experiences of those who have more visible differences than I.
The names I have been called, the violence I have endured, and the shame that some tried to cast on me are absolutely nothing compared to my friends who have been told that they are less than human because of something as insignificant as the color of their skin, the nationality of their ancestors, or parts of the magnificent tapestry of their identity.
My story is a drop of rain of the larger ocean that is American culture. A land that was founded on the ideals of freedom from tyranny, a freedom from those who would dictate how people should live their lives, has now become the land of pointed fingers.
The very same people from small towns just like mine have been raised to find fault outside of their own circles for issues that they themselves caused while at the same time, denying others who have been hindered the ability to look for blame outside of their circles.
Why is it that we’ve raised our sons and daughters to be so ignorant to ask for “white pride events” or “the dissolution of diversity programming altogether” in the name of false equality?
Was it easier to tell our sons and daughters, “this world is one where we all are equal and deserve equal rights, but some are less equal than others and therefore deserve less rights” rather than telling them, “we are lucky to be privileged and are therefore responsible to use our privilege to fight for those who our ancestors have wronged”?
Why do we find it acceptable to wear our new clothing to our churches just in order to show off to the congregation and then tell our children to not talk to the homeless man outside of the store because of the color of their skin or the perceived character we’ve chosen to prescribe to those who don’t subscribe to our way of life?
Is it that we’re not frank enough? If so, I’ll be frank for them:
Why are we so comfortable in allowing our fellow White, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Americans to do the absolute minimum while expecting our Black, Hispanic, Muslim, LGBTQ+, and many other mind-blowingly beautiful sisters and brothers to jump through millions of hoops to still not be good enough for our “high standards?
And, to be frank, it is because: no matter how much work they do, they’re still not going to be white, heterosexual, cisgender Americans.
Time heals all wounds, but healing cannot happen unless the broken bones are set and the necessary precautions are made for the healing to occur.
Yet, if we are expecting time to heal our society, then we’re painfully mistaken. We expect the metaphorical broken bone of our society to heal when the body that it’s attached to is long dead.
So where do we go from here?
I don’t expect time will tell.
It’s up to us to work. It’s up to us to leave our legacies. It’s up to us to make our societal garden grow. It’s up to us to make up for the mistakes of our ancestors and to admit that we are likely wrong a large amount of the time. Admission becomes our salvation.