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"White" and a Man

12 February 2023:

Last night I went to sleep early so in turn I woke up early. When I woke up I started watching videos on social media and came across one by Jubilee titled, "what if white men were 100% honest?" Jubilee is a site that releases video content designed to help viewers develop empathy. They often bring people together from similar or different communities to engage in controversial conversations. From what I have observed reoccurring themes that surface are that people from the same community have diversity within them and do not think or experience life the same way or people from different communities may have more similarities than one may think. It also does a great job of exposing varying ideas on different challenging topics and modeling what having healthy civil discourse with people who have radically different views from one another, can look like. Best scenario, the consciousness of viewers and participants is elevated while the worst scenario is vulnerabilities are exposed and judgements can be formed.

I've watched a lot of these videos. Some of the topics were, "do all black people think the same, do all feminist women think the same? Conservatives’ vs Liberals, African Americans vs. Africans. Conservatives LGBTQ members vs Progressive LGBTQ members, Progressive Muslim, Jews, Christians vs Conservative Muslim, Jews, Christians." The list goes on. One thing that is consistently the same is the setting. The names are visible as well as the faces of the participants in the discussion. There is no hiding, and the space is deemed "safe."

For this, "what if white men were 100% honest" discussion, the environment was different. While it was the about the same number of participants who were asked a similar but different stream of questions, all of the participants had their voices disguised, the room was darkened and viewers could not see them. We, the viewers, could only hear their voice. My initial response to this was that of judgement-why do they get a DISGUISE when no one else does? Why are they PROTECTED? Is that the only way to get them to fully PARTICIPATE? By the end of the discussion, my thoughts changed from judgement to genuine interest in understanding, "do white men truly not feel safe telling their truth? What are they afraid of?"

About three years ago, I asked myself the question, "is this what it feels like to be a white man?" The reason for this was due to significant changes in my circumstance. I was a Captain in the USAF. I was an intern in a very competitive and esteemed program. People saw me as "super smart", asked for my opinion on things and actually WANTED me on their team. They wanted me not for my body or labor or physical skills, but for my mind. This was VERY new for me. It felt really good and even in my attempts of self-sabotage through self-doubt and insecurity, I kept coming back to the same conclusion, "They really want me for me. It's REAL." I felt the most seen, the most valued, the most respected in that environment. During 2018-2019, my first two years in the program, I forgot I was black. Not for a lack of awareness but simply for two reasons. The first being reduction of stressors. I didn’t feel like any move I made was under a microscope and if I made one mistake, I faced ridicule or being discarded. I had space to learn, make mistakes, receive candid feedback and be encouraged to take risks to grow. Additionally, I was in an environment where I wasn’t experiencing so many micro-aggression/racist comments and if I did, I alone was not the only person who chose to counter it. Other people spoke up. Other people showed up. And because I didn't need to have a defense up for this or the pressure that comes with it, I felt like I could be present and learn. Be present and focus on the operational work and perform there. The second reason was the way I was being treated. I was treated just like everyone else- all the other interns. My friends. And that treatment, in my eyes, was really good.

On the flip side though, I did start to experience a new pressure. As an intern, people started viewing me as a cut above others. They expected me to be very smart, to be "more than" your average Captain because the program was so difficult to get into and had such a positive reputation. Now I've experienced a similar pressure before but its more from the lens of, "Don’t f**k up because if you do, everyone will know that you are only in the position you are in to meet a quota, or something else, not that you earned it" my Imposter voice. This pressure was more of, "everyone expects you to be great, so you better PROVE IT."

The more conscious I became of the faces on the walls, I started asking myself the question of, "what do white people feel when they see these pictures?" Last year, I for the first time saw a black woman Wing Commander on the wall at work and it stirred a discomfort in me because I was not used to being represented in this way. Being "seen" at such a high level in the workspace. I’ve gone years, most of my life walking down hallways where most of, if not all of the pictures of leaders on the walls were of white people. Were of "white men". How does that make them feel? Is there a discomfort knowing that there are other people who have made significant contributions but rarely and, in many cases, never, make it to a position that warrants their picture on the wall or the power that this status yields? Or is there a pressure to uphold that image, that power? Is it something that is not even noticed because it’s so normalized or is there a comfort and strength in seeing such wide representation for oneself? I wonder.

One of the men in the video said that as a white man when he attempts to share his feelings he is often met with, "suck it up buttercup". Since he is at the very top of the social ladder, people see his gripes as less significant as others. Another man mentioned that he was harassed regularly by his supervisor who was a woman. When he reported it the reviewing leaders laughed at him. They said that men cannot be harassed by women. While retelling this experience the man was devastated and broke down into tears. Then apologized. APOLOGIZED??? HE was the victim and in pain. Why is HE apologizing???

I empathized with this man and his experience. Years ago, when I reported harassment by a fellow male employee (prior to commissioning into the USAF) I was fired within the same week. So I get THAT pain.

So how does one free themselves of this? Is there a desire by any men who are white to do so? I've caught myself being disappointed sometimes…actually, extremely disappointed in some of my white man friends. White man peers and even others I’ve looked up to who were positioned as leaders. I had a hard time remaining compassionate for those who refuse to fully participate and be vulnerable in discourse that could help elevate the conscious of themselves and others. Especially when so many are being crushed by the life-threatening impact that racism, sexism, misogyny and so many other phobias have created. Impacts such as bias driven abuse or murder, discrimination, isolation, economical and health disparity, workplace toxicity, anxiety, depression, and so much more. I used to confide in a close family member about my feelings on this and they said to me, "Kristin, stop trying to change people. YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHITE PEOPLE. You don't know what they are dealing with and what they have going on." They were right, I don't know what white people have going on. And I won't know if barriers continue to exist that prevent us from talking and being vulnerable with each other. From growing in our human race.

"Suck it up buttercup". This would have been my attitude when I heard Prince Harry and Meagan Markle describe their experience in the palace if I hadn’t been through what I have been though over the past five or so years. When Prince Harry described himself as "trapped" and stated that his family is "trapped but they don't know it " during an Oprah interview, the old me might of had minimal to no compassion for him. But today, I get it. Trapped in a world that sees you in a way that none of us alive today created for ourselves. But how do we get out? How do we free ourselves from manufactured cages that bar us from speaking the truth living within us and the precious perspective we each possess because of our individually lived experiences?

The scientific method is what so many of us have been taught repeatedly in grade school as a proven method to acquire knowledge. By writing out a problem statement, developing a hypothesis, drafting methods for testing that hypothesis, conducting the experiment, doing the analysis then providing a conclusion-- all seem like a decent framework for getting answers to these questions. I’ve been doing a bit of my own test to this theory as I am a Field Grade Officer who has chosen to speak openly about my mental health journey and the experiences that brought me to becoming severely depressed and suicidal. Will the Air Force still value me as a leader as I have chosen to be open about my truth or will I be best suited out the door? We will see! So far, I have been enjoying the journey in finding out as it has been extremely healing for me, and in the feedback, I've received, extremely helpful to others in ways I may never know.

So back to the question that prompted this post, "what would happen if white men were 100% honest?" My theory is, that ALOT of people, to include white men, would be set free. Then maybe we could make progress in actually being one homo-sapien human race that celebrates all of our ethnic and intersectional diversity instead of a people that hides, shrinks, competes and continues to build barriers to seeing ourselves as something other than what we truly are.


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