“Dear women, I’m sorry.”
Thus begins Royce Mann’s three-minute slam poem “White Boy Privilege.” In it he speaks to his peers about the injustices they’ll face that he’ll be excused from experiencing, apologizing for the unfairness of that but admitting that he wouldn’t change places with them.
It’s a searing, honest piece of spoken word that’s surprisingly articulate considering it was authored and performed by an Atlanta-area middle schooler.
At just 14 years old, Mann has already managed to grasp what a depressing number of adults can’t seem to — how systemic racism and privilege work hand in hand to ensure that true equality remains just out of reach. “When I was born, I had a success story written for me. You were given a pen with no paper,” he says in the video, which was taken in May at his school’s slam poetry contest and re-uploaded to YouTube by his mother.
Video: Sheri Mann Stewart/YouTube
From there it’s garnered its fair share of attention. Or, perhaps Mann would remind us, a little more than its fair share. It’s nothing short of ironic that a white child could say what people of color have been saying for ages using slam poetry, of all things, to get his message across. But that shouldn’t stop people from sharing the message, and it hasn’t.
— Lizz "Private Transaction" Winstead (@lizzwinstead) July 10, 2016
The internet, of course, is a den of monster dicks, some of whom rushed in to make sure this mom knew that where some people saw inspiration, they saw indoctrination and an awful mother. It’s unfortunate that’s how racist internet commenters make themselves feel better, but we guess they have to have a way to soothe themselves once they realize a child has more emotional and intellectual prowess than they have.
Mann’s mother ought to shoulder at least a little of the responsibility for how her son turned out. Children have their own minds, but when your child goes on to absolutely nail the concept of privilege like this, you’re clearly doing something right. Because when your child can speak succinctly with true empathy to the experiences of others without becoming self-deprecating, there’s hope for the next generation to succeed where we must soon admit that we have not been able to.
If we don’t wish to fail them completely, it is our responsibility to teach our kids to speak out any way they can and to put their actions behind their words as well.
Toward the end of his poem, Mann becomes more and more fervent in his speech. He calls our collective inability to admit that people are not equal “embarrassing,” and he’s right. It does become more than a little humbling to know that a child has spoken up about something a lot of adults won’t.
In the end, Royce Mann isn’t apologizing for being white or hoping that other people will internalize shame about their skin color. He’s saying that privilege is real. In fact, it’s awesome; he isn’t willing to give it up. But he’s even less willing to live in a world where everyone is not afforded that same privilege, and we believe him when he says that he’ll do what he can to “turn that ladder into a bridge.”