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On complaints from old white guys

The Abilene Reporter-News

Opinion by John Powell – Yesterday 1:13 PM

In two recent opinion articles in the Reporter News, the authors complained about the general state of affairs in our country.

©. John D. Powell

One writer (March 3) suggested that immorality and the decline in religious belief were undermining our democracy. He included a list of things he considered immoralities.

The other author (March 17) included a laundry list of Republican talking points blaming Biden and Democrats for everything he found objectionable. He trivialized climate change as our new focus of worship, though he won’t be around to see its consequences.

He concluded with the tired old statement, “We want our country back.” 

Both authors suggest a return to a set of values and a worldview from years past. Those values worked well for some people.

I am a 72-year-old white guy, and I, along with the two authors, benefitted greatly from that past era. However, we now live in a larger, more connected, more inclusive world, and it is imperative that we make room for others at the table of opportunity, not just people like me.

The world always has been diverse, but those of us in charge did not acknowledge or make much room for that diversity. Now, finally, we are. Our society is haltingly making room for women, people of color, people of different sexual orientations, people with disabilities, and a host of others who historically were not granted the same rights and privileges as those in charge.

Those are good changes, but even good changes can be painful and messy.

One of my primary disagreements with both authors is not that they express opinions different from mine. They are free to do that. My concern is that they focused mostly on symptoms, not problems. Focusing on symptoms alone will not solve problems.

Several years ago, the engine in my son’s car started blowing smoke. I’m not a mechanic, so I talked to one. After describing the sound and the smoke, he said, “You blew a head gasket.” The smoke was the symptom. It was alarming and annoying, but no amount of attention to the symptom was going to fix the problem. 

These two articles identified lots of smoke.

Some of the smoke comes from white Christian privilege. Most of us over 50 grew up in the middle of Christian privilege and didn’t know it. It was simply the way things were. We sat through prayers read over the loudspeaker just before morning announcements at school. We prayed before football games thinking it might keep players from injury. We admired manger scenes on courthouse lawns. It took court rulings to remind us that we are a representative democracy, not a Christian theocracy.

There was a lot of other smoke in the form of blaming others for being immoral and uncivil. Some of their examples are indeed symptomatic of significant social problems, but social problems don’t arise because people simply decide to be immoral or uncivil. Such problems typically arise when people feel powerless.

Many of us who grew up with white male privilege have decided along the way that our personal rights and privileges are more important than the common good. Too often we ask, “How will this affect me?” without much consideration for how it will affect those more vulnerable. Over time, the system has been structured to favor us, not others. 

Gradually, that’s changing. There are still setbacks because old white guys don’t yield their power easily. We’re not comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re not accustomed to being confronted by people  not like us. You know, women, people of color, LGBT folks, people of other religions, people from outside our borders. We are especially not comfortable with their anger.

When I hear the anger, it’s easy for me to get defensive. I might even blame those making all the noise for not being adequately grateful for living in this great country. I have to remember, however, that many of them do not live in the same great country I do. They live within the same borders, but not with the same privileges, opportunities, or access. They live with a set of worries and threats and unwritten laws that are foreign to me. 

I need to be willing to listen to the anger, to make the effort to see the world from their perspective and to give up the illusion that I deserve a place at the table more than they do.

If I can’t do those things, I become part of the problem.

John Powell lives in Abilene.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: On complaints from old white guys

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