On Straight White Men

Sunday Content #10: October 10, 2015

Providence-based illustrator Heather Benjamin has a new book out called Romantic Story that you should buy for the romantic in your life.

A lot of the people I love are straight white men. Most of my partners and a lot of my best friends have been straight white men. Many of my mentors and teachers, too. (Not to mention my favorite writers, comedians, musicians, and artists.)

As our culture’s conversations around identity have grown louder, straight white men may find themselves singled out for their privilege — the ways in which the bigoted, racist and sexist systems that govern us all have probably spared them harm and / or benefited them. These are realities they may not perceive. Being thusly singled out may leave some straight white men — especially the sort who consider themselves liberal and aware — feeling defensive or confused.

There was a bit on Another Round several episodes ago called “White Man on the Street” that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In it, Heben and Tracy took to the streets of Manhattan and asked white men, “What do you think is the biggest problem that white men face today?” (this part starts at 15:45):

The respondents split into two camps: half gave answers that ranged from dingus (“Honestly in the entire world the thing that should worry us the most is a lack of good television.”) to nonsensical (“I don’t really even know to say a problem.”).

The other half, who sounded younger, gave answers like: “The biggest problem we face is holding ourselves accountable for privilege” and “Under-recognition of our position of privilege.” One even went so far as to point out that being “woke” isn’t just something you do; it’s something you have to continue to work at.

Universal in their voices — as I hear them at least — was their surprise at having been asked this question.

I think people are flawed, and I think people can grow. That growth starts with a willingness to have begun to think about this stuff. To have exposed yourself to stories and art and ideas and truths that are unfamiliar to you. Ones that may, at first, sting. And to then ask yourself what you’re going to do differently now.

In a recent Medium post, a white man who works in tech named Rick Klau writes about discovering that his social media and his address book were biased 80% in favor of men — and what he then did about it.

I like this post because he offers clear, concrete tips that other men in his position can follow. He also cribs an excellent metaphor from John Scalzi, one that I hadn’t read before but adore: “In the role playing game known as The Real World, ‘Straight White Male’ is the lowest difficulty setting there is.”

I also want to recommend this article by an Australian playwright Jane Griffiths, who recently staged an Antigone adaptation that divided critics on gender lines. Namely, men hated her play and women did not. In a way that isn’t defensive and I think really smart, she unpacks why this might be:

And this sharp and concise Guardian commentary by Mona Chalabi about how everybody’s a little bit racist sure, but some racism matters more:

Finally, the best thing I read this week was this astonishingly thorough and brilliant analysis of our cultural and political moment — one that is so focused on identity — by Wesley Morris:

In this essay, which I really do hope you read, he name checks a lot of fantastic zeitgeisty things, two of which I want to underscore: First Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree, a giant book that sat aside my bed for about a year and exploded my brain again and again and again. There are few books I’ve read in my life that I find myself thinking about or talking about as frequently. Buy a copy. Set it next to your bed.

Second is Shamir:

Good journalisms:

This killer, concise and gorgeously presented Times interactive about our plutocracy’s fearless leaders:

This investigation by Kendall Taggart and Alex Campbell that reveals how Texas has made it illegal to be poor — which is illegal:

And this first-of-its-kind multi-city ProPublica investigation into the racism of debt collection lawsuits.

I’m stoked about this series on the variously false myths of the American West, with Natalie Shure on Sacagawea, Tim Stelloh on Billy the Kid and Anne Helen Petersen on the making of John Wayne.

I continue to opine that Mallory Ortberg’s Two Monks is the funniest thing on the internet:

🍂 It fall.🍂 Make yourself a corpse reviver.


p.s. ICYMI, Last Week Tonight aired an excellent segment saying stuff really similar to a lot of the stuff I ranted about last week to do with scapegoating those with severe mental illnesses in the wake of mass shootings — but with much better jokes.


Author of A KIND OF MIRRACULAS PARADISE (Scribner, 18) | Host of podcast MAD CHAT (www.madchatshow.com) | www.hellosandyallen.com | they/them

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