Sean Heron, David Keiser,
Eric Rofes, Tony Smith, and Matt Wray
Bad Subjects, Issue #
In October of last year, Eric Rofes, a graduate student in
education at UC Berkeley, called together a group of five white
men to form a panel for an upcoming conference on new issues in
education. Our chosen topic was public discourse around affirmative
action and we were particularly concerned with how white men were
and were not figuring in these debates. It seemed, as Eric pointed
out, that white men were most visible in these debates in two
ways: as "angry white men" celebrated and lionized by
conservative commentators or as "whiny white males"
demonized and derided by liberals. Suspecting that both labels
were little more than media stereotypes, we wondered who those
white men really were. And, we wondered, what, if anything, did
they want? Furthermore, why were there so few white males visibly
and vocally protesting the assault on principles of gender and
racial equity? Where were progressive white men on this issue?
Where did we, as white men, stand?
In the face-to-face discussions, phone conversations, public
presentations, and email exchanges which are the sources for this
article, our conversations ranged over a wide array of topics,
but we found ourselves returning again and again to questions
of identity. Although we come from different class and ethnic
backgrounds, have differing sexualities and markedly different
work histories and experiences (see our short biographies below),
we share common identities as white, male, thirty something graduate
students (except Eric -- he's 41). However, in the course of
getting to know one another, we have found that we have somewhat
different ideas about what those identities mean. We also discovered
differences in our thinking about what it means to identify or
not to identify with whiteness and masculinity. Consequently,
our discussions focused less and less on the political effects
of affirmative action and more and more on questions of whiteness
and masculinity. Questions arose about our different locations:
how do our differences complicate or challenge the stereotype
of "white male?" On the other hand, are our personal
identities really that different from hegemonic masculinity?
We talked about when and how we first became aware of our whiteness
and our masculinity. What kinds of attitudes, experiences, and
ideas, what kinds of bodily felt reactions has this awareness
generated? We discussed what it might mean to be a race or gender
traitor; i.e., what are the politics involved in identifying or dis-identifying with whiteness? with masculinity? Each of us
has at times experienced not wanting to be white and/or male --
what does this have to do with being in support of affirmative
action? What sense of responsibility do we feel as a result of
our position as "white men?" How do we deal with this?
Do we ever feel our white maleness as a burden, as an oppression?
As we talked, our questions seemed to lead us not to answers,
but to more deeply felt, not yet articulated questions.
We are acutely aware that talking about and analyzing white
male identities is not the same as fighting for affirmative action.
But we do believe the former is a necessary form of political
activity, and one that is generally disregarded by both liberals
and conservatives. As for the latter, some of us have done significant
work supporting affirmative action. At times, we feel that what
we are doing is exploring new forms of white male-bonding, trying
to form a new sense of male identity and solidarity, one that
is not based on domination of white women and people of color.
At other times, we worry that our sense of whiteness and masculinity
is more in line with dominant ideologies than we would like to
believe -- that we are living and giving breath and form to dominant
gender and racial constructions even as we try to fight them.
In what follows, we have tried to be honest about both the potential
of and the limits to this kind of political praxis.
Sean Heron: I grew up in the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts,
the center of liberal thinking in the only state that McGovern
won in 1972. Depending on my mother's marriage status we either
lived in a solidly white upper middle-class neighborhood or in
a lower-middle class black neighborhood. In the black neighborhood
we actually lived on a street were everybody was white, but the
houses at the ends of the block and on all the surrounding streets
were occupied by blacks. I attended a small Quaker Friends school
in the neighborhood, so I had very little contact with the
(black) neighborhood kids who didn't live on my street. For a
short while I played street hockey with some of my black neighbors.
I had been invited by a black friend of mine who I went to school
with. This series of informal street hockey ended after I was
brutally beaten up by this group of kids. I was beaten up by
5 black kids. My friend didn't participate but he also didn't
do anything to stop it. Later he came to my house to sheepishly
apologize and explain why he didn't stop them. As he put it there
was nothing he could do. He was caught between two worlds. We
both knew at 13 years of age that it had to do with the color.
In an awkward way we were negotiating through race politics as
they had trickled down into our adolescent lives.
Like my neighborhood, the Friends school was also a kind of
white middle class liberal island within a working class black
neighborhood. On two sides of the school were housing projects.
The soccer field between the school and the projects behind the
school was a consciously contested zone. Before playing in the
field we usually had to clear the field of broken glass and debris.
One day we cleaned up the remains of a piano which had been destroyed
in the field. It was not uncommon to come to school in the morning
and find an abandoned car in the field. The serenity of most
of our home lives was in stark contrast to the violence and destructive
vandalism which emanated from the housing projects. So as my
life was middle class it was lived in these areas of urban transition
where changes in neighborhood demographics were starkly marked.
In a very subtle but important way I knew the geography of my
neighborhood by black and white.
In college I wanted to understand why it was that neighborhoods
were so segregated. I wanted to know what forces were at work
that made those color boundaries so clear. From my own personal
experience I knew that those physical boundaries contributed to
my understanding of race and how it functions in the social world.
I began to see how the mechanisms at work in these micro relationships
and experiences on the north side of Cambridge could be translated
to every community in the country. In short that was were I first
understood race, racism, and where I stood in its matrix.
I have been yearning for the opportunity to discuss with other
white men who I feel share my political values about what it means
to be white and male. There has always been a part of me which
was suspicious of whites moving between their whiteness and other
identities. In Cambridge in the late seventies and eighties reggae
music and rastafarianism were very popular with the down-dressed
college prep crowd. There were white people who set their hair
in locks and took on mellow mannerisms. I was struck by how easy
it was for these white people to move between these different
identities. It became clear to me that to some extent what they
were rejecting was their own whiteness and that made me uncomfortable.
I was uncomfortable with it because I thought their experimentations
were based in their privilege. It is a special type (although
not unique -- there are many other examples) of teenage experimentation
with identity in that it is an effort to take on a new race identity.
My general point is this: white males do exercise enormous
power in this society. One of the powers we have is the freedom
of movement. By this, I mean the freedom to move through both
physical and social space. Progressive white men who work in communities
of color, say as urban planners, have the freedom to move between
the community of color and the world of whiteness. My experience
is that white men who work in these communities, or who work for
causes such as affirmative action, are not usually conscious of
the contradictions of their position precisely because they enjoy
this freedom of movement. Progressive white men do not understand
each other in most cases as acting together in opposition to white
male privilege. This is because most of their interactions with
other progressive white men takes place within the larger place
of whiteness. The question I am posing is "What would it
be like if progressive white men didn't have that freedom?"
That is, if they didn't have that larger place of whiteness to
In my work in poor communities of color it became clear to
me that, whatever I thought I was, people immediately saw and
understood me as a white male. They knew where I was coming from.
Identity is a tension between how you see yourself and how the
world sees you and classifies you, fitting you into one of its
neat little boxes. I don't have anything that exoticizes me.
I am white and a man, so my struggle is to own that identity
and take responsibility for it. It would be a dead end for me
to think of myself as anything else. I used to think that it
was important to make jokes about whites as a way to be explicit
about my whiteness. But, I am beginning to resent and find offense
when people make generalizations about whites. I used to use
jokes in a banter which allowed race to become a conscious and
de-energized thing in inter-ethnic settings. I would even go
as far as to say some of my jokes to ease that tension become
something like that of a "white minstrel."
For all of my bravado in saying I want to be proud of my whiteness,
I do not want to be part of that larger whiteness or maleness
which is sexist and racist and which gets its power and identity
from the oppression of others. At this time I do not know where
this place is that I want to be. I do know that one way that
white privilege is exercised is the ability to move through both
physical and social space with considerable ease. So such an
effort to create a new space for white men must be authentic in
its efforts to remain fixed. The discussions about race have
been aided by the those who have begun to rework the old and now
obsolete construct of white and black. Most of these reformations
have been taking place on the side of the equation which has been
traditionally black. Those who are of mixed race and mixed ethnic
backgrounds are now marking out a place of their own. I wonder
how the efforts of the men in this little group, and especially
those who come from poor rural working class backgrounds, to find
new spaces on the white side of the equation are similar to those
who try and find new spaces for themselves on the black side.
One thing we can't forget is that in this whole question of identity,
I can't be white unless someone isn't. It is important that in
our efforts to break down these strict boundaries we understand
how this contributes to the empowerment of those who are oppressed
David Keiser: This question of marking out differences
in whiteness and masculinity is really important to me. As far
as whiteness goes, unlike Matt and Tony, I grew up in one of the
most urban areas in this country, New York City. My experience
in dealing with surrounding people and surrounding culture was
very different, because the people and the cultures were so very
different. My grade school, PS 166, was approximately 1/3 Blacks,
1/3 Puertoriqueños, and 1/3 white. Since then, my experience
in schools has really changed. As I've progressed through college
and now grad school, my surroundings have become much whiter --
I feel a dearth of perspective.
In terms of teacher training, course offerings, and faculty
diversity, I see a corresponding absence of women and people of
color. Issues of race and gender become invisible. That is,
the cream of the crop -- as a PhD. program at Berkeley might be
considered -- in still white as milk. But I came to my white
male awareness via gender, not race. I want now, by way of a
story, to turn to the question of masculinity.
When I was an undergraduate, I took an introductory course
in women's studies. We talked mostly about our day to day experiences
-- it wasn't too theoretical, or even very historical -- it was
more like "how do you feel when this happens to you?"
Consequently, I had to deal with who I was as a male. I couldn't
just take this course "objectively" and go about my
business because every time I would speak, I would be interrogated
as a male voice -- not just David's voice. I was heard as part
of malespeak. This was very painful.
The following semester, I had the privilege of facilitating
the class with another woman. I did a whole lot of crying that
semester because strong feminist women would directly confront
me. Dealing with questions face to face regarding issues about
my masculinity, who I was both internally and externally, and
how I was relating in the world (especially to women)-- that was
tough!! It was my baptism of fire and, I think it has made me
a better "feminist" now. And now, I find myself engaged
in activities that are largely considered "feminine;"
i.e. helping and sharing activities. As an educator I help people,
I dance with people. This is fun for me. But the way we've constructed
it in this society, it is seen as soft, or weak, or feminine.
I see this all the time. For example, I'm teaching a writing
workshop in downtown Oakland and there is a lot of everyday, vernacular
speech floating around the room. Last week, I learned a new term
-- "bitch-made." It was used in a poem one of my students
wrote. Now generally, I have a problem with that word "bitch"
when it is applied to women...but I thought I understood the meaning.
I thought it meant a guy with a pretty girlfriend, or a rich
girlfriend, someone who is making their lives better. That made
sense to me. But students laughed at me, because what it meant
for them was that a guy was weak or soft. These gender attitudes
are still very much with young people growing up now -- internalized
and taken for granted. But I think classrooms can be a privileged
space for discussing these attitudes. As educators, we ought to
use these spaces to challenge and critique isms and phobias.
Now to get back to the race question: I'm Jewish and Italian,
and I'm a little bit darker skinned than the rest of you guys.
I can go into many places in South Berkeley or Oakland, and be
treated OK -- people don't trip that there's a white person coming
in to drink. I don't catch too much shit for this -- people treat
me as a participant. People of color and women don't often have
that same privilege!
I'm engaged in a Brazilian martial art called capoeira that
has a reputation of being extremely male. I work with a group
that is run by a woman -- it's the only group in the Bay Area
that is taught by a woman. Many of the women in this class came
from another teacher who teaches with a masculine style. My point
is that I seek out spaces that are nurturing, but that are also
labeled, alternately, "feminist," or "ethnic,"
or even "soft." And I do this as a way of crossing
borders. At the same time, I acknowledge that it is a privilege
to be able to go back and forth as I do. I see it as a way of
struggling to embrace my "browness" in a way that doesn't
put off anyone who is darker than me. How do I cross borders
and still "own" my Jewish/Italian identity?
Matt Wray: I think that is a key question. When I
think about what it means to be in a position to cross borders,
I think about the idea of being a traitor. People like Mab Segrest
and Noel Ignatiev have written compellingly about what it might
mean for progressives to think of themselves as race traitors.
A traitor is someone who is not loyal, someone perfidious, someone
who forsakes an obligation, a responsibility, an allegiance.
Traitors betray. What exactly am I trying to betray?
First of all I am trying to betray a certain notion of white
identity, a certain kind of whiteness. I grew up in a small,
rural, all white town in New Hampshire. Whiteness took many different
forms there, from trailer park "white trash" to blueblood
WASP. Historically, one of the main ways whiteness has been
constructed and lived in America -- its hegemonic form -- has
been an arrogant identity. Whiteness thinks itself supreme. Whiteness
thinks it belongs. Whiteness always has a sense of entitlement
-- it gets pissed off if it gets left out. Whiteness knows it
deserves the best. Whiteness knows what is fair and just and
whiteness knows what is equal. Whiteness believes it invented
equality, therefore when whiteness speaks, everyone must listen.
White makes right.
Something may be puzzling about the way I'm speaking: I'm
saying "whiteness does this and whiteness does that."
In so doing, I'm giving agency to this thing called whiteness,
this ethno-racial construct, this set of embodied social practices,
this discursive formation that shapes our identities, both constraining
and enabling us. Whiteness is bigger than any one white guy --
it's something that only exists as collective interaction. In
short, it is precisely the sort of "special interest group"
mentality about which neoconservatives have railed against for
the past 20 years, although they seem to be blind to their own
special interests as whites. Maybe by understanding whiteness
as something outside of or beyond white-skinned people, as a nonessential
part of being white, we can begin the necessary work of decoupling white bodies from whiteness. White identity need not be a supremacist identity.
How then, I ask myself, am I to think about whiteness? Is
it a kind of mass delusion? A narcissistic gaze that allows us
only to see others as negative images of ourselves? How whiteness
works is an extremely important question, one that white people
are just beginning to ask themselves. There isn't time to explore
this question further here, but it is important at this historical
juncture for white people to understand and recognize our own
whiteness, to be able to see when we are being white, in the hegemonic
sense which I've described above, in relation to the debates around
Like Sean and David, I have a story to tell: I remember when
I first came out to San Francisco in 1990. It was kind of a shock
really. Having been raised in rural, small town environment and
having gone to college in small towns, I wasn't really prepared
for the radically different experience of living in an urban zone.
I had lived for about 1 1/2 years in Chicago, but Chicago is
not SF! San Francisco seemed to me incredibly diverse and remarkably
integrated, both racially and culturally. I spent a lot of time
just sitting on the bus or taking the BART train and watching
people -- staring and trying not to stare at all the different
people, fascinated by the mix of unknown tongues, of colors, of
the babel of body languages. Now, when I think about all that
watching-- it makes me a little uncomfortable, but at the time,
it was something I had to do-- as if I needed to learn all the
I had moved here to apply for a job in an environmental organization.
There were two job openings and I was applying for both, quite
confident I would get one or the other. It didn't really matter
to me which job, as director or assistant director, since I was
qualified to do both and the pay was not significantly different.
But what did matter to me was that I get to work with a woman.
The organization was, at that time, heavily male dominated, and
I felt strongly that the directing team must be gender balanced.
I made my convictions known to the all-male hiring committee,
in my first interview, but as the interview cycle progressed,
all the female candidates were eliminated in the early rounds.
Two things were clear to me, although they were never explicitly
stated: one, they wanted to hire me; two, they were not going
to hire a woman.
I didn't know what to do. I felt trapped. I couldn't really
turn down the job. I had no other job prospects and my rent was
coming due. Once again, my morals and politics were being steamrollered
by economic necessity. I caved in and took the job. Over the
next two years, I tried to hire as many women into positions of
leadership as I possibly could. Maybe I ended up making a difference
-- maybe not. I tell this story because it keeps coming up for
me whenever I think about what it means to be white and male.
However much I might not want to admit it, I got that eco-job
in large part because I was a white man. My loyalties, however
mixed, were for the most part not with the white men who hired
me, but with the white women and people of color who were absent
from our workplace, and who were hardly visible in the organization
at large. Did the privileges and power accorded to me as a white
guy help me make a difference for others? Was I acting like an
ally? Did I act responsibly? How could I have acted differently?
I'm not sure. But, for me, the important thing to remember is
that, in a sense, these questions don't go away. At least, I
don't think they should go away, because they are key questions
for all of us, particularly for white men, who want to work in
At the same time, I think there is a danger in getting hung
up on these questions. There is always the potential for there
to be something slightly sad or even absurd about white men sitting
around bemoaning their race and gender privilege and trying to
"come to grips with their white manhood"-- it can be,
as that phrase implies, a solitary, masturbatory, anti-social
act. As Tony says, the danger in talking about oppression as we
do is that we might come to believe that we are oppressed, thereby
losing sight of the ways in which we are privileged.
Eric Rofes: I don't know about the rest of you, but
I can't listen to much of this talk without feeling embarrassed
and uncomfortable. And it feels embarrassing and uncomfortable
to talk about it too -- to talk about being a white man and to
talk about what that means in an atmosphere where race is so highly
charged -- a place where white men talking about being white are
seen as whiny and complaining, as saying "I want to be a
victim too!" So I sit here and feel some of these feelings
of discomfort and I think, I just want to shut up. I don't want
to be here. I don't want to talk at all.
But I'll get over it. I want to say a few things about my
background and my research interests here. My major understanding
of myself growing up in New York was as a Jew rather than as a
white person. It was a time of much confusion around questions
of race and questions of anti-Semitism. Jews and Blacks were
in a very different sort of relationship than we are today. My
own experience of being white was minimized by the fact of living
in mostly Christian white neighborhoods, where I was identified
as a Jew and made fun of and picked on because I was Jewish.
I've often wondered why we lived where we lived. I think
the question of where we live is a very political question. My
father was a leftist of sorts and my mom was certainly liberal,
but they were from a Left which didn't really examine racism --
at least not in terms of racism as a lived reality. They voted
the right way, they supported the right causes, they talked a
great deal about the Black civil rights movement, but we lived
in white neighborhoods.
Since I was about ten years old, I was sent each summer to
an experimental summer camp for Blacks and Jews. Often, there
were a lot of working class Jews, but I was raised middle-class.
Summer camp in the late 1960s and early 1970s provided me with
my first understandings of the painful, ugly realities of race
and racism. There were real divisions in this camp -- you got
in trouble with your own kind if you dated outside your "type."
It kind of felt like "West Side Story" which was very
popular at the time. Camp gave me my first experiences with real
live people who were not white. I never really saw this as significant
until I went to college where I found myself with a lot of white
people who were meeting people of color for the first time. I
don't feel like it gave my any great knowledge or superior ability
in dealing with racial issues, but it did give me an early childhood
experience with real relationships: some friendships, some dating
with people who were not white but black, people for whom the
race issue was very charged and present in their lives. It got
me thinking. Growing into adulthood, I felt the pull not to identify
as a white man. I think a lot of white men, particularly liberal
and progressive white men, myself included, want to identify as
anything other than our gender and our race. For me, that first
took the form of wanting to identify as a Jew and wanting to adhere
to the position, which I now disagree with, that Jews are not
white. Then this identity question crossed over and entered into
my sexual identity as I identified as a gay man. I saw my sexual
identity as somehow saving me from being a white man.
But over the past five to eight years, I have worked in mixed
race organizations, it has become particularly clear to me that
I am a white man. And with that identity comes very significant
assumptions and privileges that too often go unexamined. I feel
lucky to have been involved in organizations which were struggling
questions of how the organization could be "owned" by
people of different races and by women as well as men.
Lately, as you all know, I have been interested in the role
of white men in the affirmative action debates. I am particularly
interested in the absence of white male voices supporting affirmative
action. What are the racial and cultural dynamics that support
this absence? As a related question, I'm interested in the images
of white men circulating in the public discourse around affirmative
action. These are almost always images of white men who oppose
affirmative action, and who oppose it in a whiny sort of way.
Here at Berkeley, while there have been one or two white male
professors who have spoken very loudly in support of affirmative
action, for the most part, from what I see at the rallies, in
the organizing efforts, and in the media, I haven't heard white
I think there is a question about whether we should even hear
those voices. This question is one we should openly discuss.
I say that because I feel that progressive white men are pushed
to do one of two things: to roll back their politics and end up
opposing affirmative action, because they understand their interests
to be compromised by affirmative action. Or to sit around silently.
To say nothing and to do nothing. And that's no good.
Tony Smith: This notion of responsibility that you
all have mentioned, and how we take it or don't, is crucial.
I think the ways we, as individual white males, work to rearticulate
our identities feeds off of our privileged position, which allows
us to disidentify with the particular Other that it presently
behooves us not to be. While I agree that I "am suffering...along
with all my brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds,"
my suffering is mediated through a seine of privilege. To speak
of our oppression as white males is like eating a food which I
like, but of which I can't eat too much, otherwise I get sick.
There is a danger inherent in claiming too much oppression.
The danger is that we might start to believe it. What good does
it do any of us to create a system wherein we are all oppressed?
That sounds more like a reification of what presently exists
and it raises a big question for me: how does change occur when
our personal political strategies put us at odds with claiming
the power to implement visionary policies?
I worry about this because, if the oversimplified polarization
between white male and all others continues to dominate discussion,
change is less apt to occur. In our society there is an accepted,
even sanctioned, space wherein resistance to white male power
can take place. But as long as the white male is the focus of
this resistance, the white male remains in a position of power;
this is hegemony in action. We must be willing to explore the
ways that the white male identity is configured in a society that
it is raced, classed, and gendered. I believe it is critical
to place the white male identity in the mix. Not as a tool that
stirs the mix, but as yet another ingredient.
Whitewashed notions of a pure meritocracy must yield to the
social realities of their historical placement. The difficulty
of being a white male who supports affirmative action, in this
increasingly stratified and factioned discussion, is that the
white identity is the too often attached to notions of power and
control. I am unable to reduce my whiteness to a brief answer
to the question of "what does it mean to be a white male?"
I can only offer my experiences which stem from roots buried
deep in a small rural town in Northern California. My whiteness
is not the one of money, it is not the one of privilege, my whiteness
is more a memory of food stamps and a single mother. How does
this experience figure in the picture of dominant white culture?
It doesn't: the poor white is missing. And yet, here I stand
and I experience the privilege of my color everyday. But my path
into the academy was one more characteristic of the lower classes:
through the body. It was only via an athletic scholarship that
I gained access to this University. Everyday I am forced to reconcile
personal issues of entitlement and privilege as I have seen others,
as deserving as I, encounter powerful resistance. The longer
whiteness is equated solely with privilege, the longer we all
suffer. Placing the white male identity in a position of power
and privilege which is there to be usurped, reifies the very positioning
My discussion of this issue is not intended to reduce the
importance of questions around race and gender; rather, it is
to begin an investigation of how white male identity has been,
and continues to be, constructed. It is inappropriate to insist
upon a common or generic collection of advantages, or present
disadvantages, in our discussion of the white male and affirmative
action. In clinging to outdated definitions of power and what
it means to be in control, the white male who aligns his politics
with the right has separated himself from those he calls alien
and alienated himself from the possibility of new perspectives.
It has become crucial to dissect the meaning of white privilege.
We know from our experience how difficult this task really
is. And not just for white men. Each of us in our daily practice
claims certain attributes and we acknowledge moments of oppression.
In a recent article called "What's a Straight White Man
To Do?", George Yudice claims "the politics of identity
and the politics of disidentification are premised on a dialectic
between claims of oppression and attributions of responsibility."
I think he may be on the right track here, but I am not fully
convinced. Is he claiming that we have to take responsibility
for our own state of oppression and that we also have to be sensitive
to the ways we are implicated in the oppression of others while
simultaneously emancipating ourselves from structural politics
which fail to address issues of the environment, foreign policy,
and economics? Where do we stand if we are capable of reaching
this place? If we are successful in reaching this space, it seems
to me that we remain in a position of privilege. It seems to
me that the position of a reflexive agent who is capable of accurately
assessing their position in relation to others is a position of
privilege. So, once again, we encounter the danger of claiming
that white males are oppressed.
Sometimes I feel like I am conveniently oppressed. I feel
like I am oppressed just enough to maintain my identity as a resister
to all that is wrong in the world. My oppression maintains my
claim of marginality. My power is made more manifest by my denial
of it. This position is full of contradictions and questions.
I am left asking whether or not all white males are privileged
to act "queer on the streets but straight within the sheets."
We do come from very different places. Some white men are dealing
with the "pain" and discomfort of being placed in the
"good old boy's club" and not knowing the password.
Is this what oppression feels like? Is the oppression white
men experience similar to the oppression other groups encounter?
It seems like I come back to the same questions time and time
again. In the end, I am left wondering if the ways white men
are allowed to feel really do maintain the hegemonic relations
of sexism, classism and racism. Are white men really to blame?
So I return to this question of responsibility. I believe
we are fully implicated unless we act. But, are my actions representative
of my desire for a community of progressive white males or am
I only engaged in personal identity politics? I can't help but
feeling like the question of my oppression is representative of
my privilege. And yet, if I am not free to name the things which
I believe are oppressive, am I not oppressed? I exaggerate the
point because it sharpens my question: how can I begin to act
as an agent of change if I do not acknowledge my limitations and
those things which limit me? Reframing the dyad of oppression
and responsibility as a dialectic may be one way to begin working
through this perplexing terrain. All that said, would you guys
laugh if I told you that I really do feel constrained by my role
as a progressive white male?
Sean Heron is a 6ft 1in tall middle class straight white male
with blue eyes. He is studying for a masters degree in urban
planning at UCLA. Before his stint in the world of academia, he
worked for 5 years as a housing and community developer, 3 1/2
of those years were spent working in the Tenderloin Neighborhood
of San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Lee Keiser is an Italian-Jewish New Yorker who currently
divides his time between teaching writing in Oakland, writing
poetry himself, playing the Afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira,
and attending graduate school. He has worked as well as a special
education teacher, crisis counselor, group home manager, and gourmet
food salesperson and stockboy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Eric Rofes is a doctoral student in Social and Cultural Studies
at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. He is a white,
Jewish gay man who has worked as a schoolteacher, school administrator,
nonprofit manager, and HIV-test counselor. He is the author of
several books, including the recently published
Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men's Sexuality and Culture
in the Ongoing Epidemic.
Tony Smith is a doctoral student in education. Prior to his career
in graduate school, he played professional football. His work
is focused on placing the body in places reserved for the mind.
He is a white guy who is curious to know what it means to be
white. At present he is teaching at UC Berkeley and completing
his dissertation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Wray has worked as a chimney sweep, a taxi driver, an environmental
activist, and a bike messenger. Currently, he makes his living
as a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley, where he is a
Ph.D. student in Ethnic Studies working on a dissertation about
white trash. He is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.
Reach him at email@example.com.