How can I stay Neutral?

I get a lot of letters sent to me, most of which I can't respond to. This one I did. Steve is frustrated because he feels straight white men are under attack. I wrote him this lengthy response.

Ms. Wu, 

Up until recently, I was completely out of the loop in regards to a certain kind of politics. I lived under a rock. If I was not working, I was home sleeping or spending time with my girlfriend. I was not involved until opposing viewpoints started to appear on my facebook statuses. I don't like not knowing, so I did some research. As my understanding of the politics increased, so did the number of reasons I wish I stayed out of it. Gamergate says they are all about ethics in journalism, but reliable sources compare them to terrorism. 

In contrast, anti-gamergate seems to represent a sense of social justice which constitutes the redefinition of harassment to a much looser context. However, I have witnessed my friends and myself come under personal attack simply because I am a straight white man in my late twenties. My life has been threatened for that. I am not afraid of threats against my life. The point is, where does it start and where does it end? It could just be a bad apple representing the whole basket, but I do my best to be open minded. 

My question to you, as you seem to be a figurehead in all of this, is how am I supposed to make everyone happy. How can I remain neutral without my life being threatened, being identified as a terrorist or pedophile or any other wild accusations that might appear. Given the realm of the situation, any of those are possible.

Thank you for your time,
-Steve


Hey Steve,

Thanks for writing me. I wanted to respond directly to your feeling about white men in their 20s being under attack right now. 

While I can’t speak to your experience, I do know what it’s like to be white in a year that’s seen Fergurson, Baltimore and Sandra Bland. Every day, I hear from black people expressing anger and frustration at white people over the systems that are literally killing them. What I’ve come to understand is that black people aren’t angry about white people for being white - they’re angry at the unconscious privilege we consistently display. They are frustrated at being 40 percent of prison inmates. They’re angry about police violence. They’re angry about unconscious discrimination.

And yet, when black people try to talk to white people about our privilege - we get defensive instantly. It upsets our idea that we’re a good person. We don’t want to think about the privilege we enjoy. We don’t want to consider the ways we dehumanize black people. We shut down emotionally. Academics have coined a term for it, white fragility.

While I could certainly tell myself, “I’m a good person!” and just shut out the critiques of white behavior. But, the truth is, really being a good person means hearing the critique. It means using my privilege to educate other white people about how we unconsciously hurt black people. 

Similarly, women in the tech industry aren’t angry at white straight men. We are frustrated about the unconscious privilege that white straight men consistently show that hurts us. The absence of privilege is not oppression, yet it seems that way to a group of people that don’t understand just how many social and economic advantages they have.

Sexism is not a problem for women to solve. Frankly, it’s a male behavior problem. And if you’re trying to stay neutral, what you’re really doing is saying yes to the status quo. As Anita Sarkeesian recently so brilliantly said, “You can’t stay neutral on a moving train.” 

Reading your email, it’s clear you want “my side” to stop making you feel uncomfortable. What I need you to understand is, this cannot get better without making you uncomfortable. 

The odds are high that you’ll read this and shut it out, responding with “male fragility.” My challenge is to push past that discomfort, and realize my equality is not about your feelings. 

All the best,

Brianna

PS - Threats of violence are never okay.