As a white male, Will rarely has to deal with the constructs of race in a negative way. He is not denied access to certain areas because of race, and in fact, race is an advantage almost every time for him. However, Willis one of the few people where comes from who are racially aware. He has a sensitivity to racism, and where he is from, this puts him in the minority. It is a strange type of minority of course – the Southern white male who empathizes with the plight of ethnic minorities.
Will was working as a summer associate at a large law firm where he hoped to land a job after graduation. The entire process there was designed to test the ability of Will to “fit in” with his surroundings. What that meant in practical terms was that Will was surrounded by a host of other rich, white males, most of whom came from Southern backgrounds. While not all were racially insensitive, there was an aura of racial insensitivity that pervaded things at the firm. In one instance, a partner began to name his own excrement after the brown-skinned Indian man who worked as an associate at the firm. Crudely, he would say, “Sorry guys, but I’ve got to go take a Sameer.” Will was thrust into a situation where, quite strangely, he had to choose between observing his moral center on the issue of race or to satisfy the people at his firm, who largely held his future in their hands. To say that this was a difficult choice would be underselling the difficulty.
On a particularly difficult moment, another partner was listening to a political radio show. Only Will and the partner were in the car, and the man exclaimed, “I don’t want my tax money going to lazy black crackheads.” Will spoke up in that moment, explaining that he did not think it was fair to categorize people on public assistance in that way, and aside from that, it was rude to speak in those terms. In this instance, Will was in a difficult spot. He understood that there were certain expectations at the firm. Even if one did not engage in the kind of racist dialogue that many in the firm engaged in, one would need to laugh along with the jokes in order to maintain appearances. Will, however, refused to do this, and thus was put into a difficult position.
In that moment, he began to experience a bit of what it was like to be a real minority in the corporate workplace. The pervasive atmosphere in many places is very hostile toward people of color and their interests. While a white male resisting this culture is still in a better position than a person of color who might not ever have access to the firm job at all (Payne-Pikus, 2010), people in Will’s position come to understand the very peculiar difficulties associated with going against the grain. He did not earn an offer with the firm, in part because he was told that his interests did not “match that of the firm.” It was a very convenient way of kicking him to the curb, and he began to understand a little bit of what white privilege is all about. When that cloak of privilege was removed because of his choice to stand up to racist rhetoric, he was essentially pushed out of the club, losing its protections in a meaningful sense. He experience persecution on the basis of racial ideation, even if he was not black.
- Payne‐Pikus, M. R., Hagan, J., & Nelson, R. L. (2010). Experiencing Discrimination: Race and Retention in America’s Largest Law Firms. Law & Society Review, 44(3‐4), 553-584.