Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, has an op-ed commentary in today’s paper which, in a friendly, non-abrasive tone, suggests to the haters who have been defining us all by our skin color, plumbing and sexual orientation for years, that they shouldn’t do so.
Here are a few salient excerpts:
I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.
Not long ago I wrote about Evergreen State College, which was roiled by protests after a white biology professor, Bret Weinstein, disparaged the particular tack of a day of racial healing. He raised valid points, only to be branded a bigot and threatened with violence.
That reception was wrong. I said so. And a reader responded: “I don’t need one more white male criticizing young people of color.” Other readers also homed in on my race — or on the professor’s: “Weinstein will be fine. He’s white.” That automatically and axiomatically made him a less compelling actor in the drama, a less deserving object of concern, no matter his actions, no matter his argument.
… I question the wisdom of turning categories into credentials when it comes to politics and public debate. I reject the assumptions — otherwise known as prejudices — that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them. That appraises the packaging more than it does the content. It ignores the complexity of people. It’s reductive.
I know I’m supposed to applaud Frank Bruni’s plaintive cry. I know I’m supposed to see his words as a seminal event, as the breaking of courageous new ground in the fight for all of us to be seen as individuals. I know, because so many readers’ comments about his column do just that.
But I am burdened with knowledge beyond Mr. Bruni’s agreeable words.
I know that I – and others – have been writing about this for years. I know that I have gritted my teeth over people – very often on college campuses but hardly restricted to them – tell me, every day, that factors I have no control over define me – and the beliefs I do have control over are irrelevant.
I have heard and read, too many times, about people being told “he’s a _________ so he can’t talk about that – mostly with the “a'” being White male – to think this just came into Frank Bruni’s frame of reference.
So, yeah, I agree with Mr. Bruni’s words. And, yeah, I’m glad he wrote them.
But where the hell was he during the years and years that this has been true? The years and years during which I have written, literally, hundreds of blogs on precisely this issue?
So I will end by saying “better saying it late than never”. But also saying “Shame on you, Mr. Bruni, for being this late in saying it….
…and even greater shame on your cohorts at the New York Times, along with so many other mainstream media venues, for still not having the intelligence and/or honesty and/or guts to say it at all.