As I contemplated blog topics for this month I came across several articles chronicling the journey of young , gay, black men and felt moved to write about their challenges. The difficult search for acceptance that they uniquely face. Then it hit me. My privilege staring me in the face. Who am I to speak to the experience of young black men, gay or otherwise. Even though some of the stories moved me to tears, it is not my story to tell.
So I decided to explore why so many affluent, white, gay, men are completely blind to their privilege. Our sense of entitlement may be unconscious, but, in the wake of all the police violence against people of color, including many within our community, more of us need to wake up.
How is that gay men in their fifties, sixties, and beyond, have forgotten their own history? Many of us have experienced police brutality when being gay meant cops weren’t our friends. We remember Stonewall, bathhouse raids, eggs and rocks thrown at peaceful protesters while the police sat back and laughed.
For some the very fact of their own oppression sets up a belief that they cannot possibly be oppressors themselves. They erroneously believe that sexuality, and the challenges it has presented in their lives, makes them immune to the effects of the privilege they enjoy. Some believe it’s impossible or them to be racist because they have been oppressed.
Others seem to believe that because we’ve fought our fight and won, we should be able to enjoy life without concern for the oppression of others. “Let them fight their own battles.” they think while settling into cozy complacent lives. Remember, our rights can easily be lost if the battle for all human’s doesn’t continue.
Some of us are determined to see and understand their privilege at work. From that very powerful place we can choose to forgo the benefits of our fortunate births for the sake of a better and more just world. But that isn’t an easy road. It requires a level of self awareness and honesty, that most of us don’t have. We must share our power freely so that everyone can have a seat at the table.
How does one go about doing that? The first thing it to recognize your privilege. If you’re a man, if you’re Caucasian, if you’re young, if you live in the “first world” you enjoy some level of privilege in our culture. When you’re treated as special because of any of these traits, see it for what it is. How you choose to address it depends on the situation. Awareness is the first step.
If being young and pretty, dressed the right way, or being the right color gets you something. Refuse it. It isn’t easy to do. You may even get a look from the person making the offer. But, you’ll have made a personal stand against a simple example of how this powerful negative force works.
As you become more sensitive to where your privilege is operating recognize that there are more subtle, and far more oppressive ways, it works. Take action against politicians and parties that support this regressive status quo. A shift in values is what’s needed to start ending the invisible constraints that are placed on people simply because of the circumstances of their birth. As gay men we know better. Time to start acting like it.