What About Woke White Boys?
So, here’s an incredibly difficult conversation.
What about woke white boys? Ten, twelve, fourteen year old boys who are owning, in the midst of their childhoods, the ugly truth of race/gender in America. The innocence is over for them. Taking heat from all sides. Called betas. Told to check their privilege in silence. Where is their conversation?
As white men, we must own our privilege and learn to listen to other groups and change. This is central to the work. We must raise boys and girls who understand the impact of privilege. But as we work to create this change, how do we meet the new kind of young boys this is creating where they are? These are children caught up in the battle for equality and all the divisions it creates, not simply externally, but also internally for them, in terms of their identity, values and sense of belonging.
As a man, I can take the pressure to set aside my privilege and own my bias. Young boys, however woke, likely need to do some of that work, too. But not in the context of the kind of silence and listening men like me are expected to be able to muster. Adults can and should make space. Children need confirmation and dialogue.
There is a dark awareness that steals over a little boy when he first finds out about the damage being done by racism and sexism. How do we help our sons process a daily awareness of this? As we wheel and turn to face the enemy in the culture wars, will these boys be casualties of the larger cultural fierceness of our fight?
It makes me nervous to speak of this. It can easily be read as yet more assumptions of privilege for our white male sons. But as we demand men wake up and own our privilege, we need a path forward for the next generation, a dialogue in which they can reflect and process the complexity of being woke and white and a child. The risk of failing to do so is this. If the harsh message needed to wake up men of this generation is aimed by default at the woke children coming up next, we risk blunting the very change we seek to create.
In know this subject is loaded. I understand the degree of suffering that privileged white men are creating right now as I type these words. But we have to think forward, design forward. Because the future is being born in our work, and we must care for it, too, even as we fight this battle.
What is the next conversation going to look like? And how will we help create a lattice work of connecting conversations about and across difference? A conversation in which all our children can engage and process the challenges they will have to face when racism and sexism continue to arise?
For our children, how do we create a conversation of connection across difference? How do we help all children, all races, genders, express in ways that are fully empowered? What will the next conversations sound like? Knowingly or unknowingly, we are designing those conversations now.
The fact is, we all need a community of conversations to resource us, something which man box culture strips away from our sons. In that void, divisive voices are seeking to recruit our boys into reactive sexist and racist ways of thinking. Going forward for our sons, we can create that community of conversations, the more diverse the participants the better, both in our homes and in the world.
ADDENDUM. This was posted on Twitter by @gamer_sunlight in response to the final paragraph here. While I am advocating for including our white sons in conversations with diverse groups, this is a whole additional layer of what diversity can mean personally for our sons in this conversation.
Mark Greene is the author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men.