Sometimes the strongest messages come from the most unexpected places.
In a video being widely circulated on Twitter on Monday morning, Royce Mann, an eighth grade student from Atlanta, is shown performing a slam poem titled “White Boy Privilege.”
Across the social network, the video is being celebrated as the definition of responsible self-analysis by a white American at a time when racial tensions seem to be ever-increasing.
“If my kid grows up to be anything like this kid, I will be the proudest,” wrote one commenter. “If a child can get it, if a child can preach it, than any adult can, they choose not too,” added another.
The mixed-race audience of all ages watching Mann is captivated by the transparency that ensues. Older women can be heard affirming his observations in off camera “oohs” and “ahhs.”
“That was the first time I did slam poetry,” Mann told me in a phone interview from his Atlanta home. “I wrote it because I became aware of white privilege this year. We have a class called Race, Class and Gender that everyone has to take, and I got really passionate about how unfair it is.”
His school originally posted the video on Facebook in May, where it gained tens of thousands of views, he said, but they took it down because officials were unable to monitor the comments. About two weeks ago, he rereleased the video onto YouTube, where it has been growing, especially over the last few days.
There has been both positive and negative feedback to the poem. Friends and family have called and messaged him, congratulations for the hit.
“Most of the negative comments aren’t content-based, which frustrates me,” he confided. “Like, if they’re just going to start calling me names, then I don’t respect their viewpoint. But when people say they disagree with me about something content-based, then we can have a discussion.”
After the events of last week, he is considering writing a second slam poem. People are way too quick to generalize about groups of all sorts in this country, whether it be “all black people this” or “all police that,” he said.
“We just don’t see people as individuals,” he said. “That’s at the root of a lot of our issues.”
Below is a transcript of Mann’s piece:
Dear women, I’m sorry.
Dear black people, I’m sorry.
Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who come here seeking a better life, I’m sorry.
Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper class white boy, I’m sorry.
I have started life on the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.
I say now that I would change places with you in an instant, but if given the opportunity, would I?
Because to be privileged is awesome. I’m not saying that you and me on different rungs of the ladder is how I want it to stay.
I’m not saying that any part of me has for a moment even liked it that way.
I’m just saying that I’m fuckin’ privileged and I’m not willing to give that away. I love it because I can say ‘fuckin’ and not one of you is attributing that to the fact that everyone with my skin color has a dirty mouth.
I love it because I don’t have to spend an hour every morning putting on makeu-up to meet other people’s standards.
I love it because I can worry about what kind of food is on my plate instead of whether or not there is food on my plate.
I love it because when I see a police officer I see someone who is on my side.
To be honest I’m scared of what it would be like if i wasn’t on the top rung if the tables were turned and I didn’t have my white boy privelege safety blankie to protect me.
If I lived a life lit by what I lack, not by what I have, if I lived a life in which when I failed, the world would say, ‘Told you so.’
If I lived the life that you live.
When I was born I had a success story already written for me.
You were given a pen with not paper.
I’ve always felt that that was unfair but I’ve never dared to speak up because I’ve been too scared.
Well now I realize that there’s enough blankie to be shared. Everyone should have the privileges I have.
In fact they should be rights instead.
Everyone’s story should be written, so all they have to do is get it read.
No, not enough said.
It is embarrassing that we still live in a world in which we judge another person’s character becuase of the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have.
It is embarassing that we tell our kids that it is not their personality, but instead those same chromosomes that get to dictate what color clothes they wear and how short they must cut their hair.
But most of all, it is embarrassing that we deny this. That we claim to live in an equal country, an equal world.
We say that women can vote. Well guess what: they can run a country, own a company, and throw a nasty curve ball as well. We just don’t give them the chance to.
I know it wasn’t us eighth grade white boys who created this system, but we profit from it every day.
We don’t notice these privileges though, because they don’t come in the form of things we gain, but rather the lack of injustices that we endure.
Because of my gender, I can watch any sport on TV, and feel that that could be me one day.
Because of my race I can eat at a fancy restaurant without wait staff expecting me to steal the silverware.
Thanks to my parents’ salary I go to a school that brings my dreams closer instead of pushing them away.
Dear white boys: I’m not sorry.
I don’t care if you think that the feminists are taking over the world, that the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten a little too strong, because that’s bullshit.
I get that change can be scary, but equality shouldn’t be.
Hey white boys: it’s time to act like a woman. To be strong and make a difference. It’s time to let go of that fear.
It’s time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.
Update: This post has been updated with a commentary from Royce Mann.