An uncomfortable discussion

I cringed in my seat. I was annoyed. The speaker was supposed to be talking about college admissions and how to help your son or daughter pick a major. Instead, he was going down a completely different path, talking about how he as a white guy has received certain advantages that his female or non-white peers have not.

“Can we just keep to the topic,” I thought to myself. 

Where’s my Easy Street pass?

Sure, I’m a white guy, but I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve earned. I didn’t come from a family of means. I had to work to get my own degree, taking on years of debt. I had to overcome countless challenges along the way. As the speaker went on, I was taken back immediately to high school, when I watched my mother search deep in her purse for whatever she could find, just so she would have enough money to pay for that week’s groceries. I thought of other memories too. I considered walking out of the room or standing up and questioning where in my story he found that I had been pampered or given a step up.

I so wanted to interrupt the speaker. The other side of my brain though couldn’t help but grumble in agreement. I wanted to tell him to “preach to the choir.”

Example after example

I thought about the close friend I worked with early in my career who regularly got stuck with the weekend assignment, even though I joined the company later. I used to think it came down to roles and how my role was different than hers? Was it though? Or was it because the boss was a strange man with enough prejudices and biases to keep a therapist in business for decades to come?

I thought about how another boss, who I worked with a few years later, who would regularly fill his highest-level positions with the same type of leaders: white men who looked and acted the same way. He wasn’t blatant, but you knew that if you didn’t fit the mold he was looking for, you were never going to get past a certain level.

Most upsetting, I thought about two of my best friends from one of my former jobs. They’re both smart leaders, experts in their field. People you would want next to you during your biggest battle. Both would make awesome people leaders. They’re passionate about customer service and doing a great job. They care about people and run through walls to get things done and yet few in management have gone up to them and encouraged them to lead. Their skin is not white and they didn’t attend an Ivy League School. When the one friend said I was the only person to ever suggest that he should be leading others, I was shocked. For the life of me, I can’t help but wonder why I’m the only one to see it.

Finally, I thought about my daughter. She’s the smartest person I know. She won a distinguished award when she graduated Magna Cum Laude from her college. She’s had plenty of opportunities, but there’s still a small part of my brain that asks: If she were a man, what opportunities would be coming her way. Maybe it would be the same, maybe not, but the thought still is present in my mind. 

Uncomfortable agreement

So, yes, I was annoyed that the speaker brought sex and race into the discussion, but I can’t help but be glad he did. We’re fractured in so many ways. We have conservatives blaming liberals, liberals blaming conservatives. The rhetoric is turned up so high, but maybe this is exactly what we need, calm, head-on discussion, out in the open instead of behind closed doors. I suspect we need to hear about how we have some of the same hopes and dreams and how we’re actually more alike than we’re different.

It’s uncomfortable, but maybe that’s exactly what we need.

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