I've talked a lot about writing minority and marginalised groups. I've stressed the importance of fiction and why we need diverse representation. I'll continue to talk about it a lot in the future.
And yet, you might say, "Carl, who are you to talk about this like an expert? What do you know about the needs and wants of a group you're not a part of and whose life experience will be totally different to your own?"
That's a fair question. I'd go so far as to say it's a good question. I've asked myself that question a lot and I'll no doubt ask myself that question again. But every time I ask that question, I come up with the same answer.
You've probably heard people talk about privilege plenty in recent memory. I may have mentioned it myself. I have a lot of privilege. Being a straight white male in the first world, I lucked into all kinds of privilege that make my life relatively easy. I'd like to stress that point that I lucked into my privilege. I didn't earn it, I didn't work for it, I didn't ask for it. I was born lucky.
It would be wrong of me to have that privilege, which I did nothing to earn, and do nothing of value with it. It is a great power I hold and with great power comes great responsibility. I am Straight-White-Man, fighting for truth, social justice and the politically correct way!
Now you might say, "What are you talking about? What power? What privilege? Not every straight white dude is successful politician or a corporate ceo or a respected academic." You might be a straight white dude who feels like you don't have a whole lot of privilege and say "None of my gender, sexuality or skin colour has made me successful. There's plenty of straight white men living in poverty and killing themselves and having a hard time."
You're right. You are 100% correct. But the privilege that comes from being a straight white dude does not look like the privilege that comes from being born rich like Carlton Banks. If you, my fellow straight white men, are asking what possible Great Power(tm) you've received by virtue of your birth, then answer me this question.
When is the last time somebody threatened to rape you for having an opinion?
I'd bet money it hasn't happened.
But that's a reality for women.
When is the last time you told somebody what you do for a living and they said "No, really, what do you do?"
That probably hasn't happened either.
But in less than a month, I've seen two news stories about women of colour being treated as liars when they claimed to be an architect and a doctor.
When is the last time somebody called you an abomination and that God hates you or that civilisation is collapsing because of you?
I've never heard that.
But for homosexuals everywhere, that's what they hear. And don't try and shrug that off and say "Oh that's an extreme minority saying that" because that bullshit doesn't matter. It's being said. The LGBTQ+ community is hearing that. It doesn't matter if one person is saying it or a million, that it's being said at all is a problem faced by real people.
Straight-White-Man's privilege, his super power, is that society rarely tries to silence them. I can talk about feminism without being threatened with murder and rape. I can tell people I'm an author without people saying "No, really, what do you do?" I can have relationships, get married and nobody will tell me I'm a pedophile waiting to happen.
So because of that privilege, because I am safe to speak my mind, because society listens to what I say and respects me by default, and because I did nothing to earn my super powered mantle of Straight-White-Man, I have a responsibility to use that privilege and my voice to speak out for and in defense of others.
Because (and say it with me now) with great power comes great responsibility.
Before we finish, it's super important for me to mention that part of that responsibility is also shutting the hell up. When I say "speak for" I don't mean "speak over." I will never be able to fully describe the experiences and needs of the people I am not, I can only lend the legitimacy of my privilege to it and say what people wouldn't listen to if they said it. But when people from minority and marginalised groups are speaking for themselves, show your full support but don't try and take the spot light off them.
And in all things, to borrow a phrase, don't forget to be awesome.
(Also: Check out my friend's new blog Disabled Brown Female for thoughts on the world from somebody with a very different experience of the world)