Toni Morrison

In this video, Toni Morrison asks me and other white people: “What are you without racism? Are you any good?”

It’s true — so much of the flexibility and fluidity of my life — back and forth between the arts and tech — has been founded on the privilege I enjoy. People have believed in me and taken chances on me because I have certain gifts, yes, but so do lots of other people in whom they are not always recognized or encouraged. Being a white man has helped me convince the decision-makers (and myself) that of course I’m smart, of course I’ll succeed, that I’m worth the risk, the salary, the arrangement, the accommodations.

And the sense of standing on shaky foundations is part of that experience. Likewise the generational success of my family, all the upwards striving that I’ve benefited from, has also been interpenetrated with advantage. I’m deeply proud of my family and myself, we are all very hard workers, but I’m under no illusions that we have succeeded on a level playing field.

How does that affect me and many other white people unconsciously? It makes us defensive, unwilling to listen, and vulnerable to dangerous politicians who exploit this unease for political gain.

I’m so grateful for being gay, for not being especially masculine or male-identified, for my own experiences of violence and endangerment, because it gives me a glimpse outside my privilege, a way in, a reminder to listen at the very moment when I want to react defensively and protect my cherished sense of self.