This post originally appeared on the blog HastyWords as part of the blogger’s #BeReal series on 4-13-16.
So the question is – what does being real mean to me ? First off, I have to fully recognize that what I am going to call being real is probably going to offend some people. This is not going to make me hesitate from telling the truth about what I perceive to be my reality and the reality for some of my fellow American citizens, mind you, but it is something I am aware of – that not everyone is going to like what I have to say.
For me, any discussion of being real has to start with recognizing who my ancestors were. I am a direct descendant of English, Scottish, French, Italian, German, Danish and Spanish kings.In fact, I am related to or descend from, in one way or another, virtually all of the Royal houses of Europe. I also directly descend from a large number of the first families of America and because of this I can count Jamestown residents, Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers and Revolutionary War veterans as my ancestors also. I had three great grandfathers who fought in the War of 1812, one with Andrew Jackson. I had over 30 blood relatives, including 3 great grandfathers, who fought in the Civil War.The number of relatives I know who fought in WWI,WWII, Korea and Vietnam is such a high number that I haven’t finished tallying it yet. As far as cousins go,I can count myself a cousin to virtually every single American President , including our current one, Barack Obama. I am also a cousin to Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, Eleanor Roosevelt, JP Morgan, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Tennessee Williams and a bevy of other notable American historical characters.
Do I say all this to say that I am better than everybody else ? No,not in the least bit. There are and have been millions of Americans who can genealogically claim the same or similar things.The ironic thing for me is, I knew nothing about any of this while growing up. One of the great ironies and realities of my life is that now, decades past my childhood and teen years, I finally have begun to have a grasp of who exactly I am in the historical pantheon of humanity and what the historical legacies of my fore bearers and relatives are and have been. To tell the truth, it has made me a bolder,more confident and generally more optimistic person than I was when I was younger and it is large part of what being real means to me at this point of my life.
I would be less than honest, however, if I didn’t admit that my fascination with my historically famous ancestors and relatives is indeed tempered by the realization that I also partially descend from blatant racists and sexists. Racism and sexism were two of the exports of my European ancestors that they brought with them to this country and because of this, both of these “isms” were planted firmly in America’s DNA. For this reason, I feel, it can be said that this nation’s problems with inclusion and with it living up to its words, promises and principles found in its founding documents dates back to its very beginnings. America’s current problems all have their roots in her history. A history that my ancestors and relatives helped create and were heavily involved in.
Born out of these maladies of American society, I also have one gargantuan thing in common with my ancestors and that is the phenomenon known as white privilege. Bestowed upon me by simply being born white in this country, the fact that I was born a white male gifted me with double the privilege.
Built on the aforementioned racism and sexism, what it means is that I see and experience things differently from any non white person or female in this country. Because of the color of my skin and my gender, I occupy an advantageous position in this society and it is an undeniable truth that I have benefited from it my entire life, sometimes in ways I don’t even realize. Two of the biggest representative examples of this are the facts, provable by statistics, that as a white person in this country, at any given time, I am less likely to be harassed, abused or arrested by police than any fellow citizen who is non white and as a white male in this country, I can expect to earn more money during my lifetime than any female who is working the same or similar job. There is an infinite number of other examples that I could list because of their permanence and omnipresence in our daily existence, but time and space prevent me from doing so.
In short, the society I was born into favors my ascension and even encourages it, even as it a large part of the time, does the exact opposite to non whites and females born into the same society.
This topic is not generally or openly discussed by a large swathe of my fellow white brothers and sisters in America and I believe this is a conscious decision on their part, largely based in their desire of not wanting their days of living privileged lives to end. Its as if they believe that if they don’t talk about it or deny it, that nothing will change and that their birth righted societal advantages will remain intact.
To be clear, I believe this line of thinking is faulty and short sighted on their part because change is coming, if ever so slowly. There is coming a day, according to US Census figures, within the next century when this country will become a non white majority nation for the first time in its history and to go along with that, the pressure on society to fully recognize the rights of women continues to mount and intensify daily. The day of reckoning will soon be upon us and it will be a day when America will be forced to move to fully honor and apply her founding principles to all of her citizens. It is an inexorable truth that those who continue to cling to the discriminatory and prejudiced views of the past and present in America, those who cling to their racism and sexism, are irrefutably on the wrong side of history.
To be real, every white person, especially males, in America has a choice to a) either mindlessly or purposefully claim the privilege they are born into and continue to utilize it for their short term gain or b) recognize it, call it out for the evil that it is and then actively resist it and fight against it. I have dedicated my entire life, through my personal behavior, political activism and now my writing, to doing the latter.
And just to keep the record straight – I don’t think I deserve nor do I accept or condone any special recognition for taking this stance. I do it because it is simply and has been simply the right and ethical thing for me to do as a human being. Doing anything less would have diminished my existence and potentially contributed to diminishing the lives of my fellow countrymen. Don’t misunderstand or misquote me either – I love America and because I do love my country of birth so much, I feel I can’t deny the horrible misdeeds and malevolent nature of some of her policies and past events of her history. It is my job, as a true American patriot, to work to make her the best place possible for all of her citizens, regardless of their skin color, gender, age, ability or sexual orientation. I believe I owe this to all of my descendants.
Taken as a whole, this, for me brothers and sisters, is what being real means to me.