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Ask the White Guy: ‘I’m a Young White Male; What Do I Have to Apologies (sic) For?’

Ask the White Guy Young White Male

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Question:
I’m a 21-year-old white male. Why does it seem like I must apologies (sic) for it? I’m not racist, sexist, nor feel
any kind of discrimination towards anyone. I respect individuals based upon their character and merit. My parents and extended family share the same attitude and just a few generations ago my family were immigrants to this great country. Why does it seem that many people, like those behind this website and the hypersensitive groups at my University, make the assumption that I have some sort of advantage or I am given a better opportunity or even that I am prejudice because I’m a white male. I would not really notice race or feel uncomfortable around certain other races if I didn’t sense the animosity coming from the other direction. 

It’s hard out there for everyone, my peers and I will have the same opportunity to achieve success, no matter what race or sex or religion or however else you people categories individuals. It will be based upon our character and merit… that is unless this “diversity” stuff keeps holding all of us back. So I ask again, why does it seem like I must apologies for being a white male?

Answer:

If you have a passion in life and are sensitive enough to what is going on around you, patterns emerge to give you clarity. Today, I received your email; yesterday, I was speaking at a conference for the construction trade where I apologized to the mostly non-white crowd when I told them that they, the oppressed, were the ones who had to lead their companies out of oppressive behavior. And two days ago, I received an email from a fan who sent me my own words from this Ask the White Guy column I wrote years ago:

Some non-white people do “play the race card.” However, I’ll point out that white people “play the race card” every day of their lives. They may not know it, but they do. Such is the privilege of being white in this country. 

Also read: Ask the White Guy: Why Whites Can’t ‘Get Over’ Color 

The Legacy of Slavery & Racism

The legacy of slavery has benefited every white person in this country—directly and personally. In a very gross analogy, if you run a series of foot races over 300 years but prevent 13 percent of the participants from learning how to run for 180 years and then give them concrete sneakers for another 80 years—but allow them full access for 40 years—it will take the 13 percent quite a few races to be competitive because the other 87 percent advanced their skills by practice and repetition.

Read: Black History Month Facts & Figures

Life is not a foot race, but it is a fact that the average white person would not economically benefit from switching places with an average Black person (Black households average one-tenth the household wealth of white households. Click the image above to view additional factoids). If you believe all people are created equal, there has to be a reason for this—and there is: racism.

The core aspect of your ignorance is the assertion that you did not have “some sort of advantage” or that you were “given a better opportunity.” You are profoundly wrong in that statement.

The animosity you sense being directed at you is due to your behavior, which is shaped by profound lack of knowledge and perspective on how our current national situation has come to pass. You dismiss the very thing that shapes your entire life: white privilege. The fact that you think you can describe your life in absence of racial terms is the pinnacle of white privilege.

Being white means you never have to think about race; you never consider that your application to college will be treated differently; that the police officer stopping you isn’t out for anything more than how fast you were going; that your boss didn’t really mean to insult you to your core when he said “You’re so articulate” or dismiss your entire being by saying “I don’t care if you’re Black, Yellow, Brown, Green or Polka-Dot …”  Read 10 Things Never to Say to a Black Coworker for more.

Shifting Demographics Bring Awareness for Diversity

I am a baby boomer. My generation could get away with being sharp-elbowed in its ignorance of race, gender, orientation, disability and age discrimination and could maneuver just fine in society because America was far less diverse then and people outside the dominant group didn’t have enough political or economic power. Non-white people didn’t see codification of their human and civil rights until after the last baby boomer was born (1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act).

You, my sheltered friend, cannot maintain willful ignorance without detriment to yourself. Because of immigration reform in the mid-1960s, when non-white immigration quotas were lifted for the first time in American history, your generation is where our country crosses into profound diversity. Less than 50 percent of the children born in our country today are white, in contrast to 60 years ago when only one out of nine Americans was not white. 

Corporate Success Through Diversity Management

My publication exists because corporate America has enough of a thirst to understand how to profitably manage this diversity to keep us economically viable. You are an anachronism, and your attitude will sharply reduce your potential for career success in any well-managed company because progressive company leaders understand their fiduciary responsibility to manage diversity. This accountability is discussed explicitly in our Q&A with Ameren CEO Tom Voss:

You cannot have professional success if you think those around you are “hypersensitive.” Here’s a basic fact of life: Your feelings of discomfort are self-inflicted. YOUR behavior must change to lower the “hypersensitivity” that you think is not coming from yourself. It is your responsibility—and your repercussion—that if you continue on your current track, you will simply be sidelined in any organization you find on our DiversityInc Top 50 list.

As it is your responsibility, I will leave it to you to read up on the three-fifths rule in our Constitution, the Civil War, the Jim Crow era, the civil-rights era, and things such as the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I will leave it to you to learn about the prison industrial complex, which, fueled by the 41-year-old “war on drugs,” has resulted in our country imprisoning seven times the per capita average of the rest of the world. Fifty-eight percent of American prisoners are Black and Latino; think about the disproportional impact of this statistic on the families of the innocent.

I’ll leave it to you to read the Pew Research report showing that because of the overt racial targeting of Black and Latino households in the subprime crisis, Black and Latino household wealth (already behind that of white households before the crisis) is now 1/20th and 1/18th the wealth of white households, respectively. I will leave it up to you to learn about the abject failure of public schools that serve the poor. I will leave it to you to discover Frederick Douglass’ wisdom. I will leave it to you to read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.

You are grossly insulting and express profound ignorance when you say that everyone has the “same opportunity” and that “character and merit” are the only determining factors. It’s ironic—you don’t have to apologize for being white, but if you develop an understanding of why you feel that dissonance in your soul, you will gain a powerful advantage as you will be able to build allies and broaden your world.

 

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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49 Comments

  • Paul I always like your comments and this one is no different, and that is not because I find myself in the minor group but because the stalking reality is, just over fifty years ago people of color were consider has an equal human. This young man was born in the protected and sheltered environment of White privileges, he doesn’t know anything else but through the perfect spectacle from which he looks. It’s a unhappy fact, but Blacks and Hispanic (Latino) makes up the largest portion of the prison population because of the impact of the centuries of colonialism. Keep up your good work of educating persons on both sides of the fence, it is needed.

    • The promise of “diversity” is that people of many different backgrounds, interests, nationalities, religions, and philosophies will work together in a university or place of employment. The usual strong implication, or occasional stated reason, is that because of their inherent differences, a diverse population possesses complementary skills and experience, and the resulting whole unit would be stronger.

  • Ownership of the benefits of white privilege is challenging for many of us. Acceptance of the fact that our road to success was easier because we are white and male conflicts deeply and directly with the misplaced pride we have in our “own” accomplishments.

    • Teresa Simmons

      Tom, I like your comment. Unfortunately, it is a deep realization that many just “don’t get”!

  • Amen!

  • There is not a single statement that i disagree with. And we know that there is much more that could be said. The fact that this question even has to be asked and then answered is an indication of how far we have to go. Most people who need to hear this response won’t get it. For those who might, i think it would be beneficial to all if you shared the message with less of a condescending tone. Despite that, I’m glad that you shared your response.

  • Grannybunny

    Disclosure: I’m an Anglo Baby Boomer. I don’t believe the young man needs to apologize for anything he has not personally done, although — based on his insular attitude — he probably has personally done some insensitive things. However, he does need to recognize that he is “advantaged” by virtue of not only his White race, but also his gender.

  • Luke,

    This young man is so glaringly socially and intellectually ignorant of his country’s history. But, you took him to school. Let’s hope he takes the time to get more educated on the broader issue of racial and other types of discrimination.

  • Great read! As much as you enlightened the young man to whom you were responding, you enlightened us all (even those of color). To this young man’s defense, he’s young which explains his ignorance to natural facts, which makes it difficult for him to understand why there is so much ado about what should be, in this day and time, a non-existant issue. However, I am more concerned with those who are old enough to remember, reflect, and realize how much on both sides we continue to perpetuate such hatred and disdain for one another.

    • lo,

      Please do not defend this “young man”. He knows better. That is why he resents the skepticism and disdain he gets for his attitude.

      In addition, it is not both “both sides” who are perpetuating hatred and disdain. It is the “young man” and other Anglos like him of both genders. If “minorities” do not kindly and submissively react to these actions at this late dates, they are justified. How much longer does these injustices and racism have to be tolerated? Forty seven (47) years after passage of the Civil Rights Law and 147 years after the end of the Civil War?

      • Basically this young man doesn’t feel guilty for being white and it drives you crazy for some reason. The kid describes himself and family as excepting open minded people who dont base thier actions on race and your response to him is a deep visceral attack on his character. Why? Because he believes that he is a peer to all people regardless of race. How bout instead of creating more hate with your words you try to be constructive. For example: Well young man I would point out that in your pursuit of gainful employment your more likely to get hired than your black peer. We do have a black president. God willing our next president will be Hillary Clinton. Its not impossible to build a good life for yourself in this country if your a minority like it once was.

        • Luke Visconti

          He feels that this “diversity stuff” is holding us all back and sought out this website to make his comment. He wrote that he “would not notice race” if he didn’t “sense animosity coming from the other direction.” He may describe himself as open minded, but he’s not.

          He feels he has the imprimatur to “not notice race” and dictate the terms of a relationship with people who feel a deep identity with their race or culture. He doesn’t want to base his actions on race—as if Black households didn’t have 1/20th the wealth of white households (Latino households have 1/18th) and that every action they take is based on race, regardless of how they want to feel, every single waking moment. As if women weren’t a single-digit percentage of top corporate positions and a tiny percentage of board seats—despite having earned more than half of the bachelor’s degrees in this country since the late 1980s. Being able to ignore these things is called majority privilege (in this country, white privilege—and/or gender privilege and/or orientation privilege and/or religious privilege). Black people can’t ignore them, women can’t proclaim, “I’m not going to notice gender” and expect the disparities not to affect them.

          He’s blithely ignorant of why people have created groups and movements to liberate themselves—and feel sharp identity with those groups as a result. He has no context and places the blame for his feeling uncomfortable on others, which is probably a common feeling among the majority. But where it crosses the line is by coming to this publication and leaving a comment. All the facts, you see, are right here. There can be no mistake about what this publication is about—and there’s 14 years of accreted knowledge, data, information and thought.

          So this isn’t a comment from someone I grabbed on a sidewalk someplace, this is a comment from a person who has problems and instead of fixing them, or at least not making them public, decided to post them here to make his point.

          Does anything about this website, which communicates with millions of people every month, make you think that I’m a “go along to get along” guy?

          Finally, about our Black President: As cynical as I am, I was unprepared for the torrent of hate and un-American commentary from people (the disgusting “birther” movement, for example). That Donald Trump can find a single person to do business with is beyond my belief and I suppose is his justification for his ridiculous hair (he can do anything the heck he wants to, nobody important enough is going to say boo). I’m not looking forward to what’s in store for Hillary, who is the first real woman contender—and regardless of her politics, far more qualified than anyone she’ll run against. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • Oh that I wish his ignorance were due to his age, but voluntary blindness appears to be another privilege of being white.

      My parents recently attended their 50th high school reunion. My mother attended segregated schools until jr. High (she in fact personally integrated the school) and my father until high school. They were the only AA alumni to attend the reunion. Several of their class visited the towns new Black history museum. I haven’t been to it yet but it does not gloss over the affect of Jim Crow on the black community. They spent the rest of the reunion explaining to thier white classmates , yes ” those, things did happen and yes it could be as bad as they said. The exact same age and they didn’t know black ppl couldn’t use the public swimming pool or try clothes on in most stores. The never saw the “nigger don’t let the sun go down on you signs” in several nearby towns. The never notice thier domestics “who we’re just like family” never got vacation or wondered what thier children were doing as they served thier families Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners. This white blindness knows no age. It’s a universal condition.

  • Luke, Great education and I agree with what you have laid out, but I question the tone of your delivery. My hope is that the young man who was brave enough to ask the question will receive the information and it will cause him to dig further, to grown in knowledge. I will say though it was rather harshly delivered at times. As a diversity practioner, If we approach such in the workplace in such a tone, the receiving party is very likely to shut down and that gets us nowhere. It is a journey and I believe we have to present in a manner that allows folks who are trying to understand to be able to stay in the discourse. To address someone who is asking as “grossly insulting” vs. using ignorance can lead to a stalemate.

    • Luke Visconti

      I don’t think he was a brave young man. I get regular email from white supremacists and his email fit in that mold. I don’t even think he’s a chemical-engineering student – he misused the word “apologize” twice. Even if he is who he says he is, he’s expressing his profound ignorance in ways that are clearly bothering the people around him. I think a “diversity practitioner” needs to understand how and where to draw the line for the benefit of the organization. Tolerating hate is corrosive to the organizational culture; clear-cut behavioral expectations in combination with training and guidance will help people to cure their ignorance by thinking twice before they utter their productivity-draining foolishness. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • Luke,

    I almost feel bad for the 21 year old White male engineering student, but your “dressing him down” hopefully will be received as constructive by him personally, as well as for others who also fail to truly appreciate the degree to which the playing field simply is not level.

    For me, this single article is a bookmarked reference of resources, well done (as usual), and thank you.

  • If the writer’s self assessment is correct, he’s correct that HE has nothing to apologize for. However, if he remains silent when he observes discriminatory behavior, some self assessment is warranted. If he does not feel pain when news reports about a black man freed after 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, the writer then needs to further educate himself as to the realities of minority existence.

    When he is seated or served at a restaurant before a minorty patron, he must either stand up and “Do the right thing” or acknowledge his sense of privilege negated a response. If he gets a promotion over the minority employee that is better suited for the job, does he refuse the position?

    You get my point. His self-perception is undoubtedly based in part on reality, but not in its entirety. I’m not suggesting that he humiliate himself for wrongs that occurred before he was born. However, he must develop an awareness that racism, bias and discrimination still exists and as long as it exists there will be a need for people of good conscience to speak out.

    • Blake,

      He DOES have something to apologize for. His attitude. His arrogance.
      His resentment.

  • First of all, let’s stop using this term “white”. It’s used incorrectly almost 99% the time. When referring to the majority population the correct term is Anglo, meaning non Latino white. Latino whites, as all other Latinos and African Americans, Native Americans, Alaska and Hawaii original peoples suffer the disadvantages caused by the existing, permeating, all encompassing racism, both personal and institutional that benefits and creates Anglo privilege. And yes, white Latinos get better treatment than the rest. But do not share in the full benefits of Anglo privilege.

    The facts are that 95% of all professional and managerial positions are still held by by Anglo males, who make up only 38% of the total population. Sounds like super super affirmative action for Anglo males.

    On top of all the other facts quoted by Mr. Visconti, the fact is, that the fantasy that an Anglo’s success, does not have to do with any advantages given to him/her is [deleted]. Our Nation does not have a level playing field at present.

    • William Baez

      Anglo? That is an insulting term for lumping all “non-hispanic whites” into. Does that include Jews? Arabs? All the peoples of the Mediterranean? Anglo seems to be used primarily by “Mexican Latinos,” no one else.

  • The tone of his response is appropriate for this I insulting question. The only thing I would add is ” where did you get the idea black people or ANYONE is sitting around waiting for white people to apologize?

    No it’s just a passive aggressive way of saying, it’s YOU PEOPLE’s fault. It’s just another way of trivializing us and our very real concerns to such a degree, 2 words will solve all our problems..oh but I won’t acknowledge them cause they happened so long ago.

    No i dont need an apology, i need EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for a job, education, housing ect that he has or will have & An apology isn’t going to get me or mine any of this.

  • No need at 21 for you to feel guilty. Im sure your parents are good people. They neglected to let you know that, while they have nothing personally against minorities, they and you have not paid attention to the prejudices levied against minorities. In their love, they would have you believe that you and themselves got where they got on an even playing field. There were people what were not allowed to be on the starting line with you and really were barely in the race; let alone having to run faster just to get to where you started; immigrant or not.

  • Wow….I am really impressed, although I would add one thing to the analogy provided, that the “full access” is only a “Constitutional access” which does not transfer to being “full.” The centuries of the promotion of stereotypical ideologies of inferiority, the centuries of systematic and instutional racism and discrimination that prevent an entire race of being considered fully human, create obstacles on the track that mimic 10 foot hurdles that break down or build up, depending on the manner in which class intersects with educational and social status of the race. And because race as a social construct has been defined by our skin complexion, unlike other immigrants, the relationship of skin to stereotype binds us to the misperceptions that often lead to these things. Before I am a Dr., I am just a black woman, who will be less likely to explain my experience to a receptive audience than you simply because I am “the” member of the oppressed group. We would love to have you speak to our Institution!

  • Well put! Great information to support your statements!

  • CEM, Anglo is not the correct term. There is a mistaken parallelism between the words Latino and Anglo. The word originates from Anglia, the Latin name for England. Many white Americans find the term offensive (nothing against the English). I recommend Luke add it to “Things never to say to a white person”.

    • Luke Visconti

      I disagree. In common usage, “Latino” and “Anglo” are used in similarly descriptive ways. I also don’t think “many” white Americans find the word “Anglo” offensive, although I’d imagine “many” offensive white Americans have heard the word used in a way they would consider offensive. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • Tahattawan

    The fact that he’s feeling defensive, and even noticing animosity “from the other direction”, could be a good start if it motivates him to educate himself. Give him a chance–these are the ones we can “reach and teach”–don’t we all still have a lot to learn! Keep up the good work. Many good comments coming out of this discussion!

  • Jonscott Williams

    White privilege is never having to wonder if what is happening to you – good or bad – is a function of your race. It is a privilege not to need to constantly view the world through that unfortunately necessary filter. I suspect that he is also experiencing, when in the presence of minorities, a feeling that most of us feel all the time in the presence of Whites, i.e. that each of us is the Black race in miniature, thus what we do/say/produce/create reflects on us and on all Black people.

    His use (despite the spelling) of “apologize” is telling. It implies that he feels he is being held responsible for some unnamed wrong. Unless he has been living under a rock, I suspect he has at least a passing awareness of America’s racial history and, therefore the historical treatment of and the reason for resentment felt by Black citizens. What he may be experiencing is what I have found to be common among some Whites … fear of Black anger.

    It is the fear that led to Michelle Obama being labeled an “angry Black woman” during the Presidential campaign. It is what Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post was alluding to when he posited that … “To Be Elected, Obama Had To Be Perceived As The ‘Least Aggrieved Black Man In America'”. It is the fear that leads White conservatives to complain about Blacks “playing the race card” when we all know the deck has been stacked for centuries. It is a fear that I believe is part of the American White’s ethos … overcome only by insight, honest reflection and open exposure/disclosure between the races.

    The young man need not apologize, but he does need to examine the defensive nature of his reaction (Apologize? Why? For What?) and embark on a journey of discovery … of himself and those who make up the weft and warp of the diverse fabric of our nation.

  • I agree with everything in the article except for

    “You cannot have professional success if. . .”

    I believe that this young white male will have success whether he embraces diversity or not, even if he doesn’t finish college. He may not get to levels he aspire to, but he will have a job and probably make 2 to 3 times more than the average American. . .

    All because he is a white male.

  • Hi Luke, I’m all the way from New Zealand and I just want to thank you for what you have done here and especially this reply. NZ has their own racial issues between the indigenous people (Maori) and white people and while it is not the same situation as in America I do find solace in your words. Due to my Maori heritage I am constantly berated every time I try to enlighten people to the privilege they receive purely for being white and especially male.

    I encounter people like this guy, everyday. People who claim there is not a race problem or gender problem and that we are all treated equal. They hide behind their own ignorance, never wanting to seek further knowledge or be enlightened but instead only seek justification of their own views. This is what I think this guy wanted. He wanted justification that he shouldn’t have to apologise and on an individual level maybe he doesn’t but what he does need to do is open his eyes and peel back the white veil of privilege that surrounds his ideologies. Even to say the ‘hypersensitive groups’ means he belittles what those groups are trying to achieve.

    But enough of my rant, thank you for what you are doing to spread the word, your words here mean a lot.

    • Hello Kate.
      Thank you for writing this. I think we in the US rarely stop and think about the fact that some of the issues we face with discrimination are not exclusive to the US. We have a theoretical understanding of how the Aboriginal people in Australia were impacted by having criminals shipped there from England, or how the Maori were impacted in New Zealand. I recently watched a TV show about apartheid in South Africa, which was sad and disturbing. Thank you for reminding me (and others) that while we do have unique issues with our background of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. in the US, we are by no means the only country fighting racism and discrimination, and striving for acceptance of everyone. The more people we have everywhere raising awareness, the better off we will ALL be.

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