White People Problems

White People Problems


My name is Michael Lovan. I’m a 31-year-old straight, white guy who lives near San Francisco. I’m lanky, mostly vegetarian, and I drive a PT Cruiser. My hobbies include anything remotely artistic, and I’m willfully employed as a customer service rep for a popular video game company. I have a masters degree and I lived in Japan for five years. I’m not much for tattoos, but after a wild night out in Taiwan I came back with kanji inked into my left arm. I’m very sincere, and when I recognize my mistakes, I apologize profusely for them. My life is simple, but don’t get me wrong – I have some serious White People Problems. And none of these problems have to do with whether or not I’m going to fulfill everything on my bucket list.1

The first step to recovery is admitting to having a problem, and my problem is that I’ve been blissfully ignorant about what it means to be anybody other than myself. I pride myself on being intensely empathic, but my compassion for other humans, despite well-intentioned, has been selective and self-serving. As painful as it is to admit to my ego, in many respects I’m just a typical white guy; I’ve travelled the world and sought to be a good person, but I have never attempted to be anything more.

It’s not surprising that I have this problem; it’s entirely symptomatic of the patriarchal society I’ve been raised in. It’s reinforced through the daily digestion of popular entertainment that has seldom deviated from the point-of-view of men who are just like me. I say this not to excuse myself; I may have been ignorant, but I was still the one who sought out works from artists with internalized sexist perspectives. I have a choice where I spend my money, and I have a voice that could have spoken out against friends many times; friends who casually have made a mockery of women, people of color, special needs, and rape, amongst other groups of people and issues. I alone spent and listened, and I alone became complacent and comfortable with the language and visions that permeated my life.

Around six months ago my girlfriend challenged me to define feminism. I couldn’t, because I knew on some level that my definition of feminism was incomplete. What I knew about it mostly derived from the marginalizing comments of men. The conversation haunted me, and I found myself both intrigued and mortified as we continued a dialogue about what it means to be myself and what it means to be her in the world that we occupy together. We can swim in the same fish bowl together for the rest of our lives,2 but it’s at her, my colorful fish, for whom the patrons will be tapping the glass.

A few weeks back I left the grocery store, bags in hand, headed to my car. At the same time, I noticed a woman across the parking lot doing the same. While I strolled comfortably to my vehicle, she never stopped glancing in opposite directions on her fast pace to hers. I had the feeling that she felt generally unsafe; she opened the door, glanced around, got into the driver’s seat with her bag, locked it, and drove away. I’ve witnessed the same pace and nervous energy a number of times since then. I cannot accurately assume the common feeling that these women share, walking to their vehicles in the nighttime, but I can see it everyday now.

I don’t intend to speak for and to other ignorant, straight, white guys, but I will – I have 30 years of experience.

Just because we’re not horrible people who actively campaign against others to spite their differences doesn’t mean we’re a boon to society. We can be gentle and respectful in our daily exchanges yet still cause irreparable damage for our silence and ignorance.

Once we see or hear or read about something that disturbs us, our mere nod towards it isn’t enough: we must process it in accordance with the knowledge we have and learn from it. Maybe take action. To do anything less is to inadvertently become an accomplice for the existence of it in the first place. To do anything less is to be typical. To do anything less is to be damaging to society. We can be better.

Last year, I remarked to a stranger that I was disappointed in myself for not having my life sorted out by age thirty.3 I thought that not being married, lacking creative achievements, and swimming in debt meant I was worthless. I now realize that none of that accounts for anything to me if I have an uncultivated and stagnant mind. I’d like to document my (lack of) awareness of the world as I actively engage in dialogues, reading, listening, and introspecting, with the intention of becoming a more cognizant, aware human being. And maybe once in a while I’ll post an update about how my bucket list is coming along. Because White People Problems.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Once upon a time this site documented my checking off accomplishments from my bucket list; it was entirely self-serving and was extrinsically-motivated.
  2. I like Pink Floyd.
  3. Last year I did this kind of thing at Burning Man kind of places.

3 Comments

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  1. Max Wirt

    I’m straight, white, male, middle class, an artist. spent a lot of time hating myself for the sake of others, but i don’t know anyone who actually wants me to do that. its probably something i came up with on my own to deal with my own ‘white people problems’ guilt. i am not an expert on feminism. i am not an expert on inner city struggles. and i haven’t left my safe worldview where i am loved for my character by other straight middle class white men and others who are forgiving enough to do so. i decided i don’t hate myself, selfish, but i also am not going to go and talk about feminism and help poor minorities because i don’t believe its my place to do so. its my place to listen, to learn, to love, to not be an asshole, share what should be shared and show support. i’m no longer meant to lead everyone, my place to lead is for all the other boring straight white guys in learning to be humble but to be themselves. make room for everyone else and try to change the way straight white guys are involved in the world. i might be wrong, i might be less proactive, but the best way I can fight this stupid world where straight white men dominate is to shut up, realize this world is not meant for me to rule, that i am a small player, albeit an honest and loving one and make the audience other straight white dudes trying to further their own dominance. tired of it, we are idiots, fix ourselves, not others. (in case you weren’t sure this was a white person problem)

    • michael

      I absolutely agree that we are not “meant to lead everyone”; it’s common-sense, really, that no one is lesser or greater a human on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, class, and other intersections of prejudice. What’s disappointing is that there are not only plenty of people who would disagree with that sentiment, but who don’t think critically about privilege, and exploit it opportunistically. I’m still new to this learning-to-be-a-better-human thing, but what I have learned is that it’s essential to recognize the privileges afforded us and listen to voices that aren’t as represented as ours are. We should lead where we can do good, but by no means should our leadership perpetuate oppressions.

      One thing you said struck me – that you could not go and “talk about feminism and help poor minorities because it is not my place to do so.” I think it’s important to distinguish between speaking about these issues, and speaking on behalf of the oppressed. I can never speak on behalf of women, or on behalf of people of color, or on behalf of gays, or on behalf of anyone who isn’t me. There is a major, major, major problem with “mansplaining” – when men feel the need to inaccurately explain something that may very well be evident to the person they are talking to. What I – and you – and any other person like us – can do is recognize these issues and support their being discussed (ideally by the people who are, you know, living in the heart of the issues, and not some loud, white pundits).

      So yes, fix ourselves. Thanks for contributing, Max.

  2. Eric Levin

    What a thoughtful and provocative post. I think the first step for all white men is to acknowledge that they do not know what it is to feel anyone else’s feelings or see the world through everyone else’s perspective. Thus, it is our duty to listen and understand when others speak. It is our duty to try to help, not deny the feelings and experiences of those who differ from our gender and race and position in Western society. Most importantly it is our duty to embrace our position within this culture, a position of majority and prominence and work within our society to change it through our ability to communicate with others and pass these understandings on. I love you Michael.

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