Did I Just React like an Angry White Man?

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Bailey Lovell

An Alabama storyteller doing his best to make up for his state's backwoods way of thinking

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*Bing*

My phone notifies me that I’ve received an email. I look and notice that it’s from the university where I just recently applied for a job, my dream job. My heart races and I instantly think, “This could be it! They could be asking me to come in for an interview!” I open the email and see a standard, probably automated, email thanking me for my application and asking me to complete this short, simple Affirmative Action form the university uses to help determine their progress in hiring people from marginalized communities. I think, “Oh okay! This works. I’m gay, after all, so this will be fine. This will benefit me.” I open the form and list my ethnicity and race, gender, age, disability status, and veteran status.  Nowhere on the form is there a section for me to list my sexuality, which is one of the most defining parts of my self-identity. There is no multiple-choice question that allows me to tell the hiring department about growing up gay in a tiny Southern school where I never truly felt safe. There was no, “If yes, please explain” paragraph box for me to talk about how it felt to attend church every Sunday morning and hear that I am a “disgusting pervert’ who is going to “burn in hell.” Where is the part of this form that asks if I know how it feels to be a sexual assault victim when most people don’t even think that it’s possible for a man to be raped?

To this form, to this hiring department, I am just a white man. I feel so overwhelmingly defeated at this realization, and before I can even stop myself, a terrible thought flashes my mind: what if I don’t get this job because I’m white?

“Nope!  Not going there!  Can’t be that guy,” I immediately check myself, but I still thought it. I was a privileged, angry white man for a split second, and that terrified me. I’ve always hated those men who hear of opportunities for people of color and then scream “But that’s reverse racism!” The entire world is set up to provide white men with access to nearly every single thing they want, and whenever initiatives arise that are intended specifically to provide people of marginalized identities access to opportunities, some white man out there is likely calling his lawyer, demanding that the law be changed so that he too can access that opportunity. I never want to be that guy! Ever since I had my awakening and realized that racism is real and ugly and everywhere, I have advocated for increased opportunities for people of color. And ever since I was 12 years old and learned about Affirmative Action from an episode of Boston Public (y’all remember that show?!), I have advocated for it because it helps open doors for people who are just as qualified and able to do the job as a white person is but who may not have been given the same opportunities. I completely understand that affirmative action and equal employment laws are beneficial to society, and I have always been a champion of them. So what made me turn into an angry white man when I encountered the laws/regulations/results of years of advocacy by others?

Because this is the first time they have ever personally affected me. I hate knowing that the first time I ever see affirmative action in my own life I immediately think that it is going to work against me and “cost me” my dream job. My entire life I have thought of myself as a person of marginalized identity, but, as evidenced by the experiences that inspired this blog post, I act like an angry white man at the first chance I get. I throw on my privilege and am outraged to see that my race could prevent me from an opportunity, even though I know that that is something that other minorities and people of color experience on a daily basis. In that instantaneous moment of doubt and disappointment, I forgot everything I know about how helpful Affirmative Action laws have been and I was just another angry white man shaking his white fist at a system that just makes it harder to be a white man in white America.

If I would have paid more attention in high school history class (or perhaps if I would not have been taught by football coaches who never seemed to make it past the Industrial Revolution), I would have known that sexuality is not a protected class under the executive orders that outline affirmative action laws. And even if it were, the thought of listing my sexuality on job applications scares me. Would that cause me more harm than good? Homophobia is real, too. And knowing that I thought that my sexual orientation could be used in my favor is just another example of my privilege. Thinking that my sexuality is something that I can put on or take off to benefit me is incredibly problematic, and it’s something that has caused me to do some serious soul-searching. All of this has caused me to do some serious soul-searching. And I don’t like everything that I’ve seen in myself.