I'm a middle class white male and have been for a long time, at least as long as I can remember. Truthfully, those classifications have never really played a significant part in my own self-identification, and they never really became an issue until the self-awareness that comes with the late stages of middle school and early high school. It's at that point when students begin to notice what makes them different from one another and when history begins to become a bit more vivid. As our teacher began to read the horrific details of slavery in America's history, I couldn't help but slide deeper into my chair before noticing an African-American friend of mine giving me a playfully dirty look.
"I didn't do it!" I remember whispering to him. "I would never have owned slaves, and if I had I can promise you I would have destroyed all records of it ever occurring, so we wouldn't be learning about it now," I joked back to ease the tension. He was an old friend of mine, so I'm sure when he tripped me as I walked down the aisle to sharpen my pencil it was completely unrelated.
Such is the story for middle class white males growing up today, and it was especially painful for me considering how obscenely pale my complexion is. I might as well have worn a "odds are it's my fault" sign everywhere I went, but if the sign was made out of white paper it would have just blended in with my chameleon-esque albino features.
Considering my background, I noted with worrisome interest when Colby Bohannan, a student at Texas State University, created the Former Majority Association for Equality, an organization dedicated to raising scholarship money for white males only. Even now, reading his website, I felt guilt and began apologizing to my black laptop. In an interview with CNN, Bohannan passionately urged people to understand the scholarship is not meant as disrespect to women or other minorities - it was simply created to help out white male students who may be struggling to pay for the high cost of college. For what it's worth, he appeared sincere, and his comments matched the mission statement of his organization:
"One obstacle that we immediately anticipate is to not appear racist or racially motivated. We do not advocate white supremacy, nor do we enable any individual that does. We do not accept donations from organizations affiliated with any sort of white supremacy or hate group. We have no hidden agenda to promote racial bigotry or segregation. FMAE's existence is dedicated around one simple principle, to provide monetary aid for education to white males who need it."
This situation is truly a delicate one, and I can sympathize with both sides. I understand women and minorities were treated as second class citizens throughout a majority of American history, and it was white men who were the culprits. That wrong should be righted, and I'm glad the United States is making strides. On the other hand, I can see where the frustration is coming from, too.
For example, I was required to take an honor course at my university, and the class size was incredibly small. In fact, there were only around eight students, and I was the only male. The class was extremely diverse, which was great, with white and African-American women with straight and homosexual orientations. I enjoyed the class immensely and it was definitely an experience that stood out, but it also doubled as an apology tour. As our African-American professor detailed the crimes of slavery, the unjustifiable fact that women received the vote so late in American history, the appalling treatment of homosexual couples - it felt as if it would be inappropriate if I didn't clear my throat, stand up and address all the other students.
"Yeah, about those things - that's on us. I'm sorry about all of that business. If it helps at all, hey, lesson learned. Not going to do those things again, right? Who wants a high five?" I can say that the only thing worse than trying to give a group of people a high-five to apologize for civil rights abuses is when the group leaves you hanging. I gave myself a high-five and took my seat.
So, is Colby Bohannan right or wrong for starting a white males only scholarship? Psh, I'm not answering that question. I'm not going anywhere near it. All I know is that I feel an overwhelming urge to apologize to everyone reading this.
Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University with a Master's degree in Political Science. Though still looking for a job, he prefers to be called a "professional occupational seeker" rather than "unemployed" for self-confidence reasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.