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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