Born a Stormtrooper
by Daniel Kinka, PhD
You know what I liked about the character Finn from the new Star Wars* movie? Finn was born into this club; this culture that he didn’t really feel he belonged to. So he got out. He switched sides. Joined the good guys. As a white, middle-class, U.S. American male, I find it very easy to commiserate with that character. Especially now.
Seriously. Can I join the other team? I want out. I don’t resent my upbringing or my birth. I’m proud of my parents, and my family, and my Ukrainian-Norwegian heritage (I think), I guess. Whatever. I am certainly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I just feel like playing for the other team. I don’t think all middle-class white men are sexist bigots. I think there are a very small percentage who are “and some, I assume, are good people.” I imagine that not every stormtrooper was a bad guy either. But one day you wake up and realize that Darth Vader or Donald Trump just got elected to rule the galaxy, and you think “fuck, how’d I end-up on this side of the force?” I want to renounce the strange feudal power that my white/male/middle-class-ness is heir to. Even before this election, but especially after, I want to renounce the title of “white male.” Of course, I can not.
This is a stupid thing to complain about. Things are bad for women. They’re bad for African Americans. They’re bad for LGBT people, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims, refugees, etc. etc., ad infinitum. What the hell do I have to complain about?! You know who’s the least likely to suffer under a Donald Trump presidency? Probably me. But I hate that. Why should I get a pass? I hate these ass holes, but they’ll never persecute me. I look and live just like them. With a $100 suit and a shave I could run for office and be taken seriously — no platform required. Because I have blue eyes and a penis I’m shown, time-and-again, that I can steal and belittle with impunity. Apparently, as a former competitive swimmer, I can commit sexual assault and get away with it (lest any punishment should dim my bright future). Who knows, maybe I could even shoot someone on Fifth avenue and get away with it. And the whole thing makes me feel disgusting. Off with the white armor. Time to find some jedis and try to keep up.
It’s hard to renounce privilege. Who doesn’t like a leg up? I’m extremely thankful to have had easy access to a good education and a zillion resources, many of which are completely invisible to me. But when I hear a podcast about an extremely bright black woman in a suburb of St. Louis; a person that by all rights should have had access to every tool and teacher and comfort that I did, but was denied those resources because of where she was born and what color, I am profoundly disgusted with my “privilege.” “Congratulations on your recent degree from Death Star University, this is really going to open doors for you!”
I like to think I’ve always spoken out against things that I see as wrong. But how easy is that? I repost all the scathing articles about institutionalized racism and police shootings of black men and overt sexism and xenophobia. (What great sacrifice!) My girlfriend and I sat in the driveway and cried while we listened to President Obama’s eulogy in Dallas. I have even been known to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertions about the shape of the moral universe and which way it arcs. But considering the extraordinary advantages bestowed upon me from birth, I haven’t done much. It’s all well and good to be that one stormtrooper who can say “hey man, I voted for Bernie ‘Obi-won’ Sanders!” But until you steal that TIE fighter and get the hell off the Death Star, what have you really done?
Sure, I work hard. I’ve worked really hard and I’m proud of my accomplishments. But when you start every race three strides ahead of everyone else on the track, how proud can you be when you win? Remember the scene in Star Wars where the stormtroopers really beat the hell out of the teddybear army on the teddybear planet? Did you think it was because the stormtroopers worked harder; had better resumes? Or do you think it was because the stormtroopers had laser guns and the teddybears had spears? This is really the crux here: You don’t get to chose whether you’re born with privilege or not, but we should all have the grace and humility to acknowledge it if we were. Fellow white dudes, this is a fact! Accept it. And if you fell out of the womb near the top of the pyramid, be a decent human being and lend a hand to the people who’re climbing up from the bottom. At least get out of the way.
What are you supposed to do with #WhitePrivilege? #MalePrivilege? Resent it? Use it to make a shit-ton of money and give it all to the poor? I recently read an article that I think shows a really good way to be an ally. I think that that’s probably a good start. But to be honest, I don’t know. I don’t want to get in the way. I don’t want to patronize or pretend to be able to truly empathize, and I definitely don’t want to suggest that any disenfranchised group needs my help. But I want to help. I believe in equality and I want to fight for it alongside the people that have fought and struggled harder than I ever have and maybe ever will. You should too. First, acknowledge privilege if you were lucky enough to inherit it. Second, try to put it to good use (and let me know if you figure out how). Obviously voting and civic engagement should be high on the list, but I think sometimes just a phone call could help — let people know that you believe what they believe and that you are there for them.
p.s., I’ve seen a lot of posts since Trump was elected about how to be positive and productive going forward. Here are a couple links to causes that seem worth getting involved with or just simple ways to be a positive and productive force for change and equality. I’ll update the list with other good things I can find and with suggestions from people who know what they’re talking about.
How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You from @editoremilye via attn:
The White Man in that Photo from Films for Action
What To Do If You Are Witnessing (Islamophobic) Harassment from Maeril | Art Blog
Writers, Start Writing from the Paris Review
* Yes, I’m going to reference Star Wars a lot in this article. My analogy is sophomoric, but I think it works. Stick with me.