How do we get the straight white men to shut up?

Before anyone gets offended, that’s hyperbole. Bet it got your attention, though. What I’m really asking is how do we achieve diversity on YAR? I have noticed something these past few weeks on YAR. The regulars who tend to dominate the discussions on race, gender and inclusion are… men. (Or I presume so based on their screen names.) I recall several saying they are straight and white. In no way am I saying I don’t enjoy reading what they have to say. I’ve certainly been challenged by them in many ways. It just seems to me there’s something anachronistic about a core group of males who are probably also straight and white being the primary discussors of these matters in this venue.

I remember a recent race and church discussion here in which someone said straight white males should step down from church leadership to give women and minorities* back some of the power. How much does YAR function as a pulpit? We know more people are reading than simply those who post and comment. We’re even going to give periodic summaries of our discussions to an Anabaptist publication.

My fear is that with several straight white males being so adept at sharing their (thoughtful and insightful) views on the subject, the women and minorities* who would like to speak up will see YAR as ultimately no different than any other straight-white-male-dominated venue. I’m not one to just shut my trap on here, heh, but not everyone is like me. Hopefully those who know far more than I ever could will find this a safe place, too.

Maybe I made some of you mad. Good! If I’m wrong, tell me so. Come up with a better solution. Tell me which are the right questions to ask.

*I’m including GLBTQ in “minorities.” Hopefully that’s not a problem.

Comments (17)

  1. Trini

    As someone who people would consider oppressed by white privilege, I take it as a challenge to rise to the call. Not for others to shut up, but for others to be heard. The Internet is a wonderful place, as it levels the playing field and truly opens the pulpit. Where MCUSA seeks that our pulpits become open to people regardless of gender or race (they haven’t yet come to terms with sexuality) our pulpit is more easily accessible and visible to a wider audience. Whilst the church deliberates and passes resolutions and whatnot, the conversation goes on.

    I take that as a challenge to speak up. Do others feel the same way? I don’t want anyone to shut up, in this world of asynchronous communication we can all be heard without overlapping each other. But how do we get the fear out of speaking that is so common in our real life situations, where people who are not from the mainstream are overlooked…

  2. eric

    Just like that. Thank you.

  3. eric

    Actually, it’s a very good question and I would love to hear more responses on it.

    How do we get more diversity on YAR?

    On a related note: a question for those who are not straight white men.

    Where is the balance for allies? When is confronting racism or sexism also perpetuating it by hogging the airwaves? Recognizing that feminism, civil rights, and GLBT don’t need me and never asked for my help, here I am. What would you find most helpful from me/us?

  4. michelle

    eric writes:
    What would you find most helpful from me/us?

    Here’s one answer:

    Don’t be the first to respond. Let the airwaves be quiet for awhile. See who else might step forward. Sit back and listen.

    Not just to straight white men, but to anyone who tends to be the first to write and speak (and at great lengths): What happens if you just let the silence sit? What happens if you become a “lurker” for awhile?

    And to the rest of us: What if we stop being lurkers? What if we take a small risk and speak up?

    I face this question in my classes and in meetings and in casual gatherings of friends all the time. Sometimes I just want the talkative students or colleagues or friends (often male) to just stop talking (or as skylark said, to shut up) for awhile so those who want to think for a bit before speaking, or who aren’t as confident, or who just aren’t used to speaking up (often female) can have some space.

    And sometimes I want to say to those quieter students or friends or colleagues: Please, please – share your gifts with us. Share your thoughts and ideas and questions, even if you are worried about how they might be perceived. You give the group something to think about by sharing. Say it in your own words even if you think it’s been said before, or you think it’s dumb or irrelevant. Speak up. Be generous.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Skylark. I hope some other lurking folks start to respond, not just to this post, but to the many other fascinating topics on this blog.

  5. Skylark

    Whew! I’m glad this post went over fairly well. I’m accustomed to some people (on other sites) taking things far too personally… and at other times, not personally enough.

    Michelle, thank you. I’m guilty of what you say, as well. I’m often one to jump up with my opinion, stories from my experience or additional questions. Since you mentioned classes, oh yeah, that hits home. I had a few professors in college say part way through the semester, “Does anyone OTHER THAN SKYLARK know what solution Descartes posed to the problem he described in Chapter 4?”

    I must learn to shut myself up more. To listen, not just expect to be heard.

  6. michelle

    So I was talking with a friend about this issue today, and in the specific case of YAR, she suggested that those of us who are not men and/or white and/or straight do a little more outreach ourselves to encourage more diverse involvement in the blog. She hadn’t heard of YAR, but my talking about it made her interested. So I will probably take some time to tell people I know about this blog.

    On the other hand, she also wasn’t sure, if she went to the blog and saw that there were a lot of SWM’s taking the floor, many of whom she doesn’t know, she still may not have jumped in to comment.

    Some blogs aren’t necessarily meant to give voice to everyone. Perhaps this blog is really for a very specific group of people, many of whom are regular contributors to the engaging and lively discussion that has happened here. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    A question for the founders: What is your hope, in terms of participation and diversity of backgrounds? On a scale from 1-10, how important is it to you to have more other-than-white voices? more women’s voices? more other-than-straight voices? (and, to harken back to earlier posts, voices from various age groups?)

    That isn’t a loaded question. I don’t think it needs to be a primary value, necessarily. But the answer could give an answer to Skylark’s original question about finding openings for others to speak. Maybe those opportunities are actually on other blogs. Or maybe not. I’m wondering who your ideal audience is.

    Any thoughts?

  7. joe

    is it ok to write something now??

    ok, just checking….

    c’mon, that was a little funny.

    a straight white male

  8. joe

    my above response was mainly because of my feelings. see, i had written a long, annoyed and angry response. i felt offended. i dont know why. so i erased the whole response because i felt it wouldnt have been productive to the conversation. this thread has me really thinking about the topic and why my reaction was the way it was. i will have to explore that a little more.

    i am telling you all this, just for honesty sake.i feel at times looked at judgementally (i didnt say with discrimination) based solely on the fact that i am a white male.

    there needs to be a way, like in the agism blog, to include everyone in the conversation. to not exclude anyone, but to find an even playing field for all involved. so here is to not excluding anyone, including us straight, white males from the midwest. cheers. :)

  9. Lora

    Ever since YAR started, I’ve wondered why there are many more males than females who write and comment. It seems like it’s not just an issue for us, although what makes it harder is that it’s easy to hide one’s identity if one chooses. While I think it’s very important to create a space in which all feel welcome, I guess I don’t really see this as a zero-sum game. I’d welcome new voices to YAR (lurkers, where are you?) but I’d also hate to shut off my straight white male friends who are a part of this.

  10. Skylark

    Joe, thank you for your honesty. I know this is tough. I felt kind of weird bringing it up myself because I’m a straight white female from the Midwest–which is only one step removed from having the whole set of social privileges.

    It’s important, though, because inclusion doesn’t happen by accident. Since these tendencies are ingrained deep within us, we have to be intentional about hearing everyone. That may mean quieting the dominant voices (perhaps temporarily) so the more timid ones can be heard. It reminds me of the principle of Romans 14: someone who is “stronger” gives up something for the person who is “weaker” so no one has a stumbling block in their faith. If that means I, as a white person, stop taking the floor myself and encourage my black, Hispanic and Asian friends to speaking up, I’ll do it.

    I try very hard not to judge my straight, white Midwestern brothers in the Lord. This request for inclusion doesn’t come out of a spirit of judgment. The SWMs on YAR are great people (as far as I can tell), and I have no reason to believe their intentions are anything but pure. I don’t think anyone sat down and said, “Today I’m going to talk so much that women, minorities and glbtq feel silenced.”

    Some women, minorities and glbtq respond with venom toward SWMs. While I can understand why someone would, I don’t think it’s productive. I’ve talked with other SWMs who felt people viewed them with unwarranted suspicion. It’s not right, no, but it IS one tiny little taste of what women, minorities and glbtq experienced historically and still do to varying degrees.

  11. Katie

    Joe, Skylark and all,

    I think we started down this road earlier this month in a discussion on feminism. I think it might be worth reading through that thread again. I would especially suggest checking out some of the links Eric posted in one of his comments.

    Michelle and Lora have reminded me that this discussion isn’t just about this blog but a lot of spaces. I think it has a lot to do with how men and women are socialized to use space differently. Many women grow up with the message that they should try not to take up too much space (emotional or physical) and they should probably check themselves before they speak up (good heavens, you wouldn’t want anyone one to think you are an opinionated uppity woman) I think men get the opposite message growing up. Whether it is the use of our voices, our bodies, or our keyboards, those gendered expectations show themselves every day in so many places. Like Lora said, this shouldn’t be thought of as a zero-sum game but we could all try to work against these tendencies in order to make room for a few new voices.

  12. Skylark

    It’s been a week since the last comment here. Does anyone have further thoughts about how or if YAR should be more inclusive?

  13. eric

    One great option is for someone to post a small comment here on a weekly basis. Keep this title at the top of the sidebar, so we have to see it every time we come to the page. Awareness is a start?

    And who knows, other ideas might come out of that?

  14. lukelm

    Well, since eric posited that we keep this discussion alive, I’ll post a little thought that will send it to the top of the bar again:

    I’d like to speak up for my straight white male brethren a bit and say that I very much appreciate the struggle that those who are sensitive to injustices against minorities experience. For context here, I’m a gay white male. In most anonymous contexts I can obtain all the privilege and power associated with white straight male middle-classness, and I spent the first 19 years of my life posing as a straight white male, so I kind of bridge the two world in some ways, and can identify with a lot of the feelings associated with it (sexual orientation being the easiest minority status to hide.) Maybe I’m even hyper-aware of it, since I’m the one demographic that actually had to process what it felt like to change status away from it. In college, among my friends, I felt that the straight white males (again, these are people who were or were becoming very sensitive to issues of historical injustice) had some of the toughest “identity work” to do precisely because they were identified with the oppressors rather than the oppressed, and had to process that. (Okay – coming out of the closet was still a heck of a lot harder.) But still, I felt that at that time, those of us who were non-white, female, or non-straight were learning to celebrate that status, and the white straight males were a bit uncomfortable and confused about all of it.

    I shouldn’t be so audacious as to speak for all minorities, obviously, but on a personal level, I just want to say that I appreciate and support all my straight white male brethren who struggle to discover how best to relate to those of us who aren’t. I don’t want you to ever feel like that status ever condemns to hopelessly always playing or feeling the role of the oppressor. There are tough issues to struggle with, and a lot to become aware of, and maybe that work is never really done (I would be totally kidding myself if I imagined that I was anywhere near fully processing how being white affects my life or how to best serve non-white people) – but you can still be fully brothers to all the rest of us. Or to me at least.

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