Speaker discusses white privilege, being male in the U.S.
Dr. Harry Brod said he has found a better way to live.
“Since I’ve made conscious decisions to take my blinders off and actually take in who is around me, literally, my world has more people in it than it used to,” Brod said.
He often uses the story of Narcissus from Greek mythology to discuss social privilege. In the story, Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection and doesn’t realize he is looking at himself.
“Before we get to judgments about him, there is a factual question,” Brod said. “Narcissus is wrong about the nature of the world and that is what happens to those of us with privilege.”
The Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA) hosted Brod at the event Working From and Against Privilege at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, in Webster University’s Sunnen Lounge.
Brod is a professor of philosophy and humanities at the University of Northern Iowa. He travels to universities across the U.S. to speak about his own privilege of being a straight, white male. He said his goal is to challenge the social norm.
“Those in dominant groups tend not to be aware of our identity,” Brod said. “As a white male, I have the privilege of being seen as an individual. I am worried about walking away and the audience thinking I’m stupid. I’m not worried about people thinking all white men are stupid.”
Brod said he is committed to the anti-racism and pro-feminist men’s movements because he believes in settling his debts.
“I benefit from the oppression of others,” Brod said. “It is just right to give back. It’s trying to be an ethical human being in a world that’s not.”
Don Conway-Long, Webster associate professor of behavioral and social sciences, said he has known Brod since they were 10 years old. Both share a commitment to the pro-feminist men’s movement.
Brod said he tries to show why dominant groups in society should follow in his footsteps.
“I am an ally to other people in my group to help them liberate themselves from the oppressive behaviors they are acting out on other people,” Brod said.
Brod said when he comes across a bad driver on the road, he may automatically assume the driver is a woman.
“It is right there, it’s not my conscious choice,” Brod said. “It’s not a judgment, it comes in with the air we breathe. When I interrupt someone’s racist or sexist comment, I am giving them the opportunity to breathe some fresh air and to breathe out the pollution we have all been infected with.”
Chris Venable, junior math and secondary education major, thinks of himself as a proponent of social justice and activism. He is involved with LGBTQ and attended Brod’s speech.
“I think these kinds of events and talking about these kinds of issues in an open dialogue is even more important here than elsewhere where they are acutely aware of these kinds of racial tensions,” Venable said.
Brod said he became interested in the anti-racist and anti-sexist movement because he was a child of the sixties and his parents were both holocaust survivors.
Brod believes in a saying he learned from the anti-violence movement.
“Hurt people, hurt people,” Brod said. “If not for the hurt that has been done to us, we would not be hurting others. The process of changing behavior is the process of helping the person who is acting it out to heal the hurt that has been afflicted upon them.”
When someone makes a racist or sexist comment or joke, Brod said he doesn’t view himself as a better or more moral person than they are, but instead gives them credit for making sense of their life experience.
“My assumption is that if I had walked in their shoes and if I came from where they came from, what they just said would be reasonable to me, too,” Brod said. “When I interrupt a white man’s sexist or racist joke or comment, I do not consider myself his enemy. I am his ally. I assume that in there is a person who does not want to be a captive of these oppressive ways of thinking or acting.”
Venable said Brod’s talk made him think.
“There are a lot of really interesting ways to think about things,” Venable said.
“You are not there to show your moral superiority over someone who makes a racist or sexist kind of comment, but you are really trying to show them that you care and that you are trying to see from their point as opposed to having the right view and wanting to fix people in order to agree with you.”
At the end of his speech, Brod told the story of Narcissus and said there is a way to liberate Narcissus from his delusion.
“Make waves,” Brod said. “If you disrupt the image, you give Narcissus the opportunity to liberate himself. Movements make waves and give the opportunities for us to liberate ourselves and come to understand the world in which we live.”