Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.
—Justice Felix Frankfurter
I read this quote recently and it struck a nerve. Over the last few months my eyes have been opened to what it means to be a white man in America. Having been a white man in America for decades now, this seems like an odd realization. I am a natural navel-gazer, and I’ve spent a lot of time mining the depths of my own mind and psyche. I haven’t spent a lot of time understanding where I fit in society. I read widely, so I certainly had heard of “white privilege” prior to doing the deep work with diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Like many white guys, the first time I heard the phrase I mentally recoiled. Who was telling me I had privilege? How dare they paint me with such a broad brush! What did they know about my life, my troubles, my struggles? And besides, how could someone be anti-racist while racializing something like privilege? Wasn’t that hypocrisy? WTF!
Over time I learned the true meaning of white privilege, but it remained an abstract intellectual concept. It wasn’t until I was able to see and internalize the ways in which society blocks progress for people of color, and for black men in particular, that I began to understand what it means to be a white man in America.
I suppose once white people begin to have a recognition of their privilege, they have some choices about what to do with that knowledge: engage with it and try to reshape spheres of influence; shove it way down deep and pretend you still don’t know any better; embrace the privilege and the inherent racism that accompanies it. And it is important to note here that only white people get these choices—another privilege.
Back to the original quote because I don’t want to make this post too long. DEI wisdom is arriving late for me, and I do not reject it.