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The MRC in the World Community
2005 Men's Walk to End Abuse: Success!
Voice Male Spring 2004
Wanted: Young White Guy to Change the World
By Ian Trefethen
"So, what are your plans?"
That's probably the most common question I hear these days, having graduated from college a few weeks ago. Some of my friends are going to graduate school, some are working for Teach for America; one is a preschool teacher. This summer, I'm painting houses. After August, I have no plans.
I have a unique situation, an extremely privileged situation. I have an undergraduate degree, very little debt, a family that doesn't need me financially, and at the moment, health care. I've worked hard, but there is no doubt in my mind that my privilege as a white, middle-class male has helped me get to where I am. The fact that I don't have to know what I'm doing right away, I don't have to worry about my career just yet is a sign of my privilege. The question is, where do I go from here?
I may not have any specific plans, but I do have some guiding principles. It sounds like a cliché, but I want to change the world. (The older I get, the more clichés make sense to me.) Leaving the protective bubble of college in 2004, I see lots of possibility, as well as a world very different from one that most of us would want to live in. I see violence, on levels from personal to international; I see the largest amount of economic inequality ever; I see ecological disaster, present and future; I see oppression based on a number of social categories; I see unaccountable government, increasing corporate control, and media manipulation.
I want to help end all inequality and oppression, whether based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, state control, or any and all other systems of hierarchy. I want to see significant, fundamental change on a societal level. I want to work toward a world based on cooperation rather than competition, love rather than fear, community rather than isolation.
So I looked in the Help Wanted section of the newspaper. There were no headings or entries under "Revolutionary." I also checked "Freedom Fighter," "Ally," and "Pro-feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-statist, freedom- and peace-loving anarchist." Nothing there either. Apparently, there was more of a demand for managers, truck drivers, and bartenders. Of course, we need people to control us at work, transport all the new, shiny consumer goods we don't need, and serve us drinks so we can try and escape it all at the end of the day. But how come I can't find an ad that reads, "Wanted: Young white guy to be an ally in the struggle against white supremacy. Work with dedicated staff to end police brutality, abolish the prison system, create economic equality, and further revolution. $20K starting salary, full benefits. Call Bill at 617-555-7206"?
The problem is, the more change I want to see in the world, the harder it seems to get paid to do that work.
The challenge I see for myself is to take the privilege that I have and try to create the greatest amount of positive change while doing something I enjoy. Not everyone has the ability to do something they enjoy, and I don't expect to be enjoying myself every minute of the day. Along the lines of Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world," I'm going to try not to hate my life and my work.
There are opportunities. There are "social profit" groups that do great work. There are community groups I can join, regardless of my work. There are lessons to be learned from those who have been at this crossroads before. I also have the tools and energy to be creative and chart a new course. There are an infinite number of ways to change the world every day. It is a challenge to figure out how to make a living this way. However, if this is my greatest challenge, so be it.
Call me naive. Call me idealistic. In 10 years, maybe I'll reread this, shake my head, and eat my words. In the meantime, however, this is an important time of decision for me, and for many of my peers who are serious and passionate about social and environmental justice. We look up to the generations before us, and we look beyond them, because as the Commencement Day cliché goes, we are the future.
So, do I have any plans? Well, I'm working on it. I might go to Guatemala and learn Spanish, then take auto repair classes and be a pro-feminist mechanic. The truth is, I've got nothing planned, and everything planned at the same time. In two weeks I might have it all laid out, or I still might have no idea in 20 years. Wherever I end up, I will keep the principles of equality and freedom close to me--and maybe a copy of the Help Wanted section as well.