A Few Woke White Men: some thoughts from the internet

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A Few Woke White Men: some thoughts from the internet

Do white women wake up to racial disparity and the need for personal change and movement and a different way of thinking quicker than men?

i published this piece yesterday repeating a friend’s question as to why there seem to be more woke women than men when it comes to racial matters.

There was some incredible conversation that happened in response to my Facebook status which was this:

Black friend made a comment on another post: Why does it seem to be white woman getting it more than men?

Interesting comment and if i think of white people who largely ‘get it’ the first five that spring to mind are women and then out of the next ten maybe three are guys… so that really does seem to be true in my online lived experience.

Also, the majority of men who have given me the hardest of times in conversations of white privilege and reconciliation and reparation tend to be men and it tends to be quite aggressive maybe because of that.

Any thoughts? Differing experiences? Reasons?

How do we reach more men?

So i thought it would be helpful to capture some of that and would love to hear what you have to add to the discussion. Men, i hope we are listening…

‘Men have a testosterone response. They are traditionally not good at listening and are comfortable with confrontation.’ [Megan Furniss]

‘Machismo’ [Tony Tatamawele Nomfusi French]

‘Women understand the experience of being seen as lesser humans.’ [Mariette Olwagen]

‘White women experience oppression in the form of patriarchy. So when someone gives them the language to express that, they get it. White cishet men on the other hand are virtually untouched by the systems of oppression that operate in our society. I don’t expect them to immediately get it. It’s a blessing and a curse because even though their lives are pretty fantastic asides from any personal tragedies that may occur, they are also far removed from the suffering of this world. And as a Christian, what a curse that is! I would say to reach men, in particular white men, we need to teach them humility.

I would also turn around and say that white women are the biggest patriarchy princesses out there. Thin white women get away with murder. Often their kind of feminism is the kind that benefits white women who fit a certain tolerable mould and denies racism or queerphobia. And in the same breath, black men are as patriarchal and intolerable as can be with their toxic masculinity. Yet, they will turn around and fight for the revolution that espouses the death of white supremacy and systematic racism while oppressing women in all spaces.’ [Lillian Notayi]

‘The white male is at the top of the pyramid of racism and patriarchy etc. He has the most to lose by toppling these systems hence the defensiveness. This is my explanation and not an excuse for slow progress.’ [Tony Tatamawele Nomfusi French]

We need to shift the focus away from men believing that they are permission granters.’ [Megan Furniss]

‘Woman, even white woman also get discriminated against, experience the side effects of privilege. They experience it through sexual harassment, through lower paying jobs and many other forms of micro oppression. I believe this subconsciously and consciously helps them to better understand the struggle of black, coloured, indian etc against privilege.’ [Alvin Fredericks]

[Alvin went on to define Micro Oppression:  Small, largely unoticed forms of oppression, like having to wear a school skirt which is uncomfortable and impractical, while boys can wear pants. Most people just accept it as normal, or part of the rules, but it is oppressive. That’s what I mean by micro oppression]

‘It’s because women are also treated as less than and are silenced in a very similar way by men when we speak out about it (“not all men” = “all lives matter’) – if we really believe in gender equality there needs to be racial equality, if we really believe in racial equality, there needs to also be gender equality – they can’t exist separately of one another. We also need to examine as white South Africans and descendants of colonists generally, the highly militaristic nature of the culture we grew up in (I grew up in the Zimbabwean bush war) and how this traumatised generations of men and emotionally stunted them. Many South African men have been wrecked by experiences during apartheid and how they were raised, combined with entrenched patriarchal entitlement – and so to even begin to see the need for transformation is more difficult, as it breaks apart the whole edifice of their identity. And the guardian of shame is anger and violence – both real and structural.’ [Jemima Spring]

‘My guess is that there is a measure of shared experience, whether racism or sexism.’ [James T Davis]

‘I feel that whilst it appears more white women have grasped things better, I feel like in many ways we can be more dangerous. We “get it”, but we’ll never truly get it because it’s not our lived experience. And this gap of experience/knowledge/pain, can make us pretty dangerous and likely to cause hurt. I speak from my own experience here: in my attempt to learn, I placed a burden on one of my friends of colour to educate me, and the space I was trying to understand, was a painful one for her to occupy. My “getting it” came at a cost to her personally. And also, we think we get it and think this translates into us deserving to have our voices heard, which is also a dangerous thing. Maybe I’m wrong here. And maybe I make no sense. But it’s just a current concern of mine (on a personal level too).’ [Fiona Mills]

= = = = = = =

Then there was this mini conversation:

Christie Mae Roberts: Heightened empathy perhaps?

Megan Furniss:  I haven’t seen that working well.

Christie Mae Roberts: I meant that women (as a gross generalization) are perhaps more empathetic (whether innately or socialized is another story) as a reason for receptiveness to another’s experience?
Not empathy as a strategy.

Lillian Notayi: I think we need to cultivate a culture that values emotional intelligence. And it’s a both/and situation. We need to cultivate a teach more about empathy and humility while also not allowing men to be the permission granters or even the people that we allow to validate what is true and what is real.

Christie Mae Roberts: Absolutely. I think one of the effects of toxic masculinity is that it stunts the emotional well-being of men. If we can do better in raising boys with empathy (in modeling, giving permission for emotions etc), maybe we can raise men who are more receptive to listening rather than leading?

Lillian Notayi: Oooh I see. Perhaps, that is true

Christie Mae Roberts: If you have Netflix – give “the mask you live in” a watch – fascinating (and heart-breaking as a mother to a boy with another on the way)

= = = = = = =

Some really helpful conversation, and interesting, or maybe not, to see that the majority of it was coming from women. Men, how do we engage with each other on these things? Is social media perhaps not a place where men typically operate on a deeper level? If so, where will we create those spaces to talk about these important things?

The comment that hit me most was this one: ‘Women understand the experience of being seen as lesser humans.’

What do you do as a guy reading that? Ignore it? Pretend it’s not true? How do we not stop and breathe in deeply and repeat the words in our head and let the lightbulb go on and turn it into a question for us?

What do i do in my day to day life that perhaps makes a woman feel like a lesser human?

What do i do in my day to day life that perhaps makes a black person feel less than human?

Am i doing anything in my day to day life that makes a coloured person feel less humanlike?

Is there something i am doing regularly that makes an indian person feel not quite human?

Was there anything i did this last week that made anyone feel less than human?

What do i need to change and more importantly, What am i going to change? 

Something for everyone [except black women, you can sit this one out!]

Black men/Coloured men/Indian men… YOU ARE NOT EXEMPT IN THIS! And this IS an area where i can speak to you boldly as one man to another. While i [hopefully] take a more humble approach and focus more on listening and learning and trying to understand when it comes to matters of race, with regards to our treatment of women we meet as men and there we are equal. And from the comments i have heard there is work to be done for you in this as well. Which sometimes gets covered over or lost in the race stuff which takes center stage. And i know you can’t be a man without being a black man or a coloured man or an indian man because the two are so intertwined, but for a moment just stand in front of the mirror as a man and ask yourself, ‘Where must i do better?’ 

White women… YOU ARE NOT EXEMPT IN THIS! And this IS an area where i can speak to you boldly as one white person to another. While i [hopefully] take a more humble approach and focus more on listening and learning and trying to understand when it comes to matters of men/women, with regards to our treatment of people of other race groups and cultures, we meet as white people and there we are equal. From the comments, i have heard there is work to be done for you in this as well. In the same way you cant separate your being a woman from your being white as the two are integral parts of your identity. But for a moment stand in front of the mirror as a white person and ask yourself, “Where must i do better?”

But white men, this post is predominantly aimed at us because the most work is yet to be done by us. And if you’re thinking #NotAllMen and that you are hardly as much of the problem as Steve Hofmeyr and that guy you work with, well Steve Hofmeyr may be out of your reach, but the guy at work isn’t. The guy who makes the inappropriate joke or comment, the WhatsApp group that targets BM and CM as suspicious characters simply because they are there, the man who shuts a black person or a woman down in a business meeting, your family member who calls the old man working in your garden ‘boy’, the frustrated white person in the shopping line who takes it out on the black teller… those are all opportunities for you to step in and #NotOnOurWatch the situation – to interrupt racism and prejudice as you see it in front of you.

While at the same time building deeper friendships with black, coloured and indian people as well as women. By taking a more humble stance of listening and learning and trying to understand and maybe even asking someone what their experience has been as a coloured person in South Africa, as a black woman in the business world, as an indian student at the university and so on.

We need to do more, and we need to do better because we are being left behind. Anf if, somehow, it is not you, then it’s someone you know and that does not let you off the hook.

[To read the original post which inspired this commentary, click here]

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

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