White Men Are Not the Problem

Millennials tend to get a bad rap these days, blamed for many of the changes occurring in work as we know it.  While this younger generation may be ushering in some much needed changes in how, where, and why we work, I’d argue that much of what we’re seeing in the changing workforce is actually due to the evolution of technology, which happens to coincide with the coming age of those born in the 80’s and 90’s.  Similarly, I’ve been part of many conversations around diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and the most commonly bashed demographic is that of the white male.  This has to stop if we want to make real progress.

Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  He details the process by which we adopt a paradigm, or way of thinking, and then over time, as anomalies build up, the need for a new paradigm arises, often spearheaded by the younger generation of people who have not been fully indoctrinated into the old way of thinking.  As the new paradigm grows in validity and takes root in the minds of the community, there are of course people who will refuse to get on board.  Kuhn concedes that unfortunately, for those who refuse to buy in, the only way for the new paradigm to become fully accepted in the conscience of society is for the old naysayers to die off.  Unfortunate, but realistic.  You’re never going to win everyone over.

What I see happening today is exactly this process of paradigm shifting.  We are welcoming in a new era of equality, diversity, and leadership.  Patriarchy and the old way of doing things is getting a much needed, radical shake up.  This is revolutionary so that those who have historically been ignored, mistreated, and oppressed may rise up and have their voices heard.  By giving everyone a voice, we can get much closer to a world of inclusion, connection, and solving our biggest problems.  While this shift may indeed be scary to those who have profited in the past, it is insufficient to call this group of people “white men.”  That’s not to say the group isn’t made up of predominantly white men, but we must move away from this oversimplified condemnation of an entire group of people.

To me, associating patriarchy and oppression with the white male is no better than saying all women are soft spoken and weak or all black men are criminals.  It is easy and convenient to make broad sweeping generalizations based on something we can see on the outside, but it’s also dangerous and extremely limiting.  Within each of these groups of people resides rich, complex humans who have scars, aspirations, and the ability to love.  I am a white, cis-gender, heterosexual female, and I often feel excluded from the dialogue about women.  If I can check so many boxes for this generalized group of people, and yet feel so left out of the conversations, can you imagine how so many others must feel?  On top of this, when it comes to phrases like, “we need more women in technology,” I like to crassly remind people that my vagina can’t code.  What is it about hitting a certain percentage of women in a particular field that is so important?  Why not focus on getting people who are innovative, critical thinking, and passionate about creating a better world through new developments into those fields?  I’ll concede that being a female has shaped my brain chemistry and my life experiences to a certain extent, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of my identity.  We have no hope of making sustainable change in this world if we aren’t willing to look below the surface.

So what, you may be asking, do I see as the solution?  For starters, we need to stop assigning blame and passing judgment on people for having a different worldview.  In most cases, a difference in beliefs may be due solely to the fact that people were brought up in a different region or era.  Think of diets around the world.  While this is an oversimplification, it showcases the point.  Someone who has a different dietary regime from me is not morally reprehensible, just different.  I can learn to appreciate different cuisines by first acknowledging the value in a different way of doing things, and then by stepping out of my comfort zone to try something new.  I’m not suggesting we accept views that seek to keep others down, but that we move past an “us vs. them” mentality.  I know many white men who are part of the charge toward a better, more equal future, and it feels unfair to label them as the oppressors, just as I don’t want to be labeled as a certain kind of person because of one or two visible traits.  Let’s shift the focus.  Let’s come together to listen to one another and begin to understand those beautiful, unique nuances that make us individuals.  Let’s look beyond the tip of the iceberg to what’s underneath the surface.  Let’s focus on how we can create a better future, together.