Don’t listen to me.
I am a straight white male who was born in the United Kingdom in the early nineties. My parents worked in healthcare and banking. My sibling and I never wanted for much when we were growing up, and we both attended university. What do I know about sacrifice and selflessness? What could I possibly know about that? Sure, my life hasn’t been a perpetual picnic in the park (I’m working-middle class), but all in all, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of privilege. I admit that freely. Anyone who comes from my sort of background who says they haven’t been privileged are either lying or ignorant.
So, don’t listen to me. Who wants to hear one more heterosexual Caucasian man pontificate on subjects that he only knows about second-hand? I don’t, and I am one of them. Listen to those who need to be heard. Be a conduit — a conductor — for their voices. Amplify them, spread their word, pass the message along.
Listen to the women who talk about sexism and misogyny. If you are a man, don’t argue or play devil’s advocate. Don’t shove your opinion where it is neither wanted nor needed. Just listen. Learn. Change your behaviour, if necessary. It does not make you a hypocrite to change your mind — it just means that you’re growing as a person. Make the world a better place.
Listen to the members of the LGBTQ+ community who talk about bigotry and discrimination. If you are cis-het, don’t argue or try to justify hate. It is not “just an opinion” when it comes to someone else’s human rights. An opinion is saying something like, “Strawberry ice cream tastes better than chocolate.” Saying, “[Group of people] don’t deserve [basic human right] because of [trait that the speaker dislikes],” is NOT an opinion. It is not free speech. It is hate speech. Listen to them. Learn. Change your behaviour, if necessary. It does not make you a hypocrite to change your mind — it just means that you’re growing as a person. Make the world a better place.
Listen to members of the black community when they talk about racism and injustice. If you are white, don’t try to argue or defend the violence that happens every day, don’t try to justify the actions of hateful individuals. Listen to them. Hear their voices. Learn. Change your behaviour, if necessary. It does not make you a hypocrite to change your mind — it just means that you’re growing as a person. Make the world a better place.
If you are like me, DON’T SPEAK. No matter how badly you want to share your words, even if you feel like you are bursting at the seams, like an overinflated balloon. Your opinion is not needed. Nobody wants to hear what you’ve got to say. That might sound rude, and if you feel hurt or inclined to say, “Hey, that upset me,” then you’re not helping. Stop. Push down that emotional urge to point to yourself and make it about you. Stop. Listen. Learn. You should know the drill by now, right? Change your behaviour if needed. Admitting you were wrong does not make you weak. In fact, it makes you strong. Being able to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry,” takes courage. If someone points out an error or flaw in your way of thinking or your actions, don’t double down. Stop. Breathe. Listen. Think. Let’s all make the world a better place.
And amplify the voices you hear.
Listen to me.
If change needs to happen, surely those in a position of privilege share the bulk of the burden, do they not? In countering sexism, misogyny, rape culture, and so on — does the responsibility not fall on the men to enact change? In countering homophobia, and discrimination and bigotry regarding genders, identities, orientations and sexualities, does the lion’s share of the work not belong to members of the cis-het community? In countering racism, isn’t it the duty of white people to stamp out prejudice wherever and whenever we see it?
So, if you are like me, join me in acting against injustice and discrimination wherever and whenever you encounter it. Let’s use our privilege and power as a force for good. To quote a fantastic punk band called Propagandhi: “And yes, I recognise the irony that the system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds, and that’s exactly why privileged f**ks like me should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream, until everyone has everything they need.”
We as men need to stamp out sexism. It isn’t enough to just be “not sexist”. We have to be anti-sexist. The bar has been set so incredibly low for us as a gender. Not being a complete piece of s**t shouldn’t earn you the badge of “a nice guy”. We should be actively pushing ourselves to be good, to do good, to encourage others to do good. And if I hear someone saying “not ALL men” I am going to scream. No, not ALL men, but enough so that we have a problem. And it’s our duty to make it no longer a problem. If any of your male friends, your brothers, your fathers, your uncles, your sons (and so on and so on) do or say something that is not okay, SAY SOMETHING. Call them out on it. I know it’s not fun, and I know it’s uncomfortable. But it is our responsibility.
We as cis-het individuals need to put an end to discrimination in terms of sexual orientations, identities, genders, etc. It isn’t enough to just be “not homophobic” or “not transphobic” and so on. We have to be anti all of those things. Whenever we hear or see something that isn’t okay, we should stamp it out like a spark that could turn into a forest fire. Don’t be a silent witness, don’t be complicit through inaction. Don’t just be a bystander. Act. Help. Do something. Y’know, make the world a better place.
We as white people need to stand up to racism. It isn’t enough to just be “not racist”. We have to be anti-racist. It isn’t enough to just not use racial slurs, it isn’t enough to not be bad. Neutrality is not an option here. We need to be good. We need to stand up to corrupt systems that allow violence against people based on the colour of their skin. We need to stand side by side with our brothers and sisters, we shouldn’t let them fight this fight alone. We shouldn’t just sit back and watch it play out — it is our duty as human beings to help others whenever it is needed. And our help is desperately needed now.
I am far from perfect. I am not a knight in shining armour, come to save the day and slay the dragon. I do not get it right every time, all the time. I know that they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I am trying. That’s got to be worth something, right? I am trying to be a good person. I am always learning, and I’m always striving to be better. This does not excuse me whenever and however I slip up, either knowingly or ignorantly. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a point where I can sit back and smile and say, “Yep. I got it all nailed!” I think it’s an eternal, continuous process. Listening. Learning. Adjusting your behaviour to fit with what is right. Admitting your mistakes. Holding your hands up in the air when you are in error. Trying to help, to be a positive contributor to society.
I am just a single person.
Trying to make the world a better place.
So, listen to me.
Don’t listen to me.
Listen to them.
Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
8th June 2020
Written for Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Contest