Checking My Privilege

After the publication of my book, The Abundant Bohemian, I regularly checked my reviews on Amazon. Happily, they have been very positive, but one, even though the reviewer had nice things to say about it, one criticism he or she had struck a chord with me. Here’s the review below:

Good reminder to live your life not according to others’ expectations and “traditional” narratives about work and life, but to live according to what brings you joy. Definitely felt that at times, the author needed to check his privilege: not everyone can afford to not have a financial cushion, or be a complete vagabond, and some do not prefer that life. His experiences traveling abroad would surely have been different if he were not a white man. Moreover, there is something to be said about saving as much as you can for retirement early on due to compounding interest. Nevertheless, I appreciate the author’s encouragement to incorporate beauty, art, travel, and nature in one’s life as it feeds our souls and reminds us of our humanity.

What I’m referring to is the line about about “checking my privilege.” I admit, this stung a bit. Not because the reviewer is wrong, but because the reviewer is right. This was a concern for me going in and in attempt to address it, I tried to interview people from all walks of life including different genders, sexual orientation, races and ethnicities and economic backgrounds. But still, I’m a fairly affluent, straight white male. I’ve never had to fight for my right to marry who I want. I have to acknowledge, I get a free pass that many others do not. The reviewer is right.

I’ve never been approached by a woman and been afraid of being sexually assaulted. I’ve never been subject to catcalls. I’ve never been on the receiving end of a racial slur. I’ve never been afraid when being pulled over by the police.

Ever since the black lives matter and the me too movement have begun I’ve come to the realization that as empathetic and aware as I believed I am, I still have a lot of learning to do. A few years ago my girlfriend and I lived next to a park where we would often jog together. When she was able to go, I went by myself. But she wouldn’t go without me. When I finally asked her why, she told me that when she went alone she was repeatedly catcalled by men driving by the park. She didn’t feel safe. I had no idea this was happening and hadn’t even considered it a possibility. Recently a female friend of my mine was brutally beaten by a man outside a bar because she had the gall to tell him to stop touching her friends bodies. She spent a week in the hospital.

So what do men like me supposed to do with all this? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, I’m sure many of you have as well. First, we can stop being part of the problem. We can be more conscious about our actions and pay closer attention to how our behavior affects others. Most importantly, we need to listen. We need to listen better. Listening begets empathy, and with empathy we can come closer to walking in the shoes of others. I’m going to keep learning and listening. I hope the men out there reading this will too.