My relative lack of cultural identity doesn't make me less of a person

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 11, 2018, 7:16 PM | comments: 0

If there's one thing the Internet can show you, it's that people are exceptional at being assholes to each other. The latest example of this is the Serena Williams controversy, which has yielded little constructive conversation. I already wrote about my feelings on it, but if for some reason you think I'm unqualified to have an opinion (I'm getting to that), then take Martina Navratilova's opinion. She's among the best players ever, and did so while being openly gay in the 80's. I think what she says carries significant weight, and I agree with her.

I'm a white, straight guy, brought up in a middle class, Christian, Midwest environment. I have no real ethnicity or nationality to identify with, though my grandfather was 100% Polish, so I guess that puts me in the 25% bracket, and there are jokes about that I don't really get or find offensive because I have no context. My socioeconomic background could not be any more generic. I went to school in Cleveland during the court-ordered desegregation years, which meant that I was bused to the primarily black east side half the time, and the other half went to local schools in white-ish neighborhoods that were mostly Latino and Eastern European while black kids were bused to the west side. This entire arrangement to me as a grade school kid was meaningless, and I only understood it to be "busing" without intent. At that age, we were just a bunch of kids learning to read, write and do math. I kind of knew that I was a minority, but I couldn't think of any reason that it mattered. The world was pretty simple in my eyes, even if I didn't understand the racist jokes my grandfather made all of the time.

In high school, I moved to a mostly-white suburb, and it all made sense. In college, it made even more sense, and I spent a lot of time being angry at people for being stupid around issues of race and sexuality. After college, when I started coaching girls volleyball, I became angry about the inequality of women. I've spent a lot of time being angry, despite not having any real skin in the game, only because it felt like, morally, it was the right thing to do.

These days, it seems like the discourse is reserved only for the people who are aligned with the people disadvantaged. Men are routinely dismissed as "mansplaining," and white people are disregarded for their privilege. This totally goes on, for sure, but more and more, this judgment is rendered early and without context. That's not OK.

I've been an advocate for other human beings my entire life. I'm not looking for recognition or congratulations for that, but I do expect the courtesy to offer an opinion and not have it rejected outright because I'm a white dude. Not everything comes down to two divisive sides. Sometimes there is plenty of nuance, or seemingly opposing things that coexist. The Serena situation is a perfect example of this: We can and should talk about sexism in the sport (and silly coaching rules), but we can also expect that our greatest athletes conduct themselves with exemplary sportsmanship. I may not have much obvious identity to connect to, but I am a parent and a coach, and I feel strongly that it's not OK to damage your equipment or yell at officials, no matter how right you are.

We can be angry at the situation without declaring everyone as with or against you. That m.o. is the campaign that got the guy in the White House elected. I don't expect that we can ever go back to the naiveté of my grade school experience, but we don't have to shut down conversations because others don't think they're as simple as you do.


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