When Kansas City coffee shop owner Jackie Nguyen spotted the sticker reading, “I’VE HEARD ENOUGH FROM OLD WHITE MEN,” during a shopping trip earlier this month, it made her chuckle because with light humor it spoke to the lack of diversity and inclusion seen in the highest places of power in America.
So she bought it. And, after checking with customers and friends who said it was not offensive but was something they too believed, she displayed it at her Vietnamese coffee shop — Cafe’ Ca’ Phe’ — in Kansas City’s West Bottoms.
Nguyen, a reluctant community activist, became known throughout the city after she joined others and organized local “Stop Asian Hate,” rallies following the killing of Asian workers at Atlanta-area spas and a string of anti-Asian attacks across the country.
The rise in attacks on people of Asian descent corresponded with rhetoric from former President Donald Trump and other political leaders who blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic. As if lies he told early on, like “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” bore no responsibility for the more than 500,000 deaths. Pay no attention to the old white man behind the curtain, who still thinks he’s the Wizard of Oz.
Nguyen added the sticker to an area in front of her cash register where there is a collection of stickers — “Death to Racism,” “Support Asian-owned Businesses,” “Black Lives Matter.” She prides herself in being inclusive and a voice for civil rights and social justice.
But what happened next, I could have predicted. As a journalist, I’ve experienced it myself. Any time people of color push back against racism and inequality in any form, there are those, (I call them defenders-of-privilege-and-everyone-else-be-damned) who turn up to make their flawed case for the status quo. So quick are they to claim white victimhood, they often make their own racist comments while trying to defend the idea of reverse racism.
Days after Nguyen’s sticker went up, the email came from a white person calling her racist for displaying it, and suggesting she remove it.
“Perhaps you should examine your own racism toward white men,” the email said. “If you are truly against racism you should be against it for ALL. If your family were refugees from Vietnam it is likely that it was those old white men who provided aid in getting your family out of there. Please think. Not all white men or old men are racist.”
That prompted Nguyen to begin a conversation that drew thousands of responses on her Instagram account, where she answered the accusation.
“Don’t remove the sticker, keep challenging other’s perspectives,” one comment said. Others who commented were most put off by the email making assumptions about Nguyen’s roots and her family’s story.
No such thing as ‘reverse racism’
Displaying the sticker, Nguyen said, “did not come from a racist motive. So much of our history has been dictated by old white men and we need to change that. I’m saying that old white men have been the ones making all the decisions in this country for too long. And look around you: We are in a helluva mess.”
Besides, she asked, “is reverse racism even a thing?”
No. It’s not. Not a real thing. The fragile majority does not get to watch an oppressive system pin down minority groups for hundreds of years and then cry racism, or sexism or any -ism for that matter, when these groups raise their fists in the air and demand change or call out the establishment.
The “old white men” on Nguyen’s sticker are not necessarily the old guy living down the street, your dad, grandpa or your favorite Uncle Jake. It’s a euphemism for this country’s power structure — white, male and over 40, for the most part.
Nah, that sticker is not racist. It reminds me of one a white friend sent to me. It said, “Do you want to talk to the man in charge, or the woman who knows what she’s talking about?”
For a lot of us, including some old white men, the sticker speaks truth.
Jeff Jarvis, who is director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York, wrote, “As an old, white man, I must learn how to share, to give up my power and privilege to those who have been deprived of them.” Jarvis says the defenders of privilege push back out of fear of losing position.
Ain’t that the truth. There are those who continue to deny that America, under the leadership of “old white men,” was built on slavery, and the undervalued labor and lives of most anyone on the spectrum of color.
The overwhelming majority of the people in power, writing our laws, in charge of Hollywood, sports teams and running our top universities are white men. There are no Black governors. Only three of the 50 are minorities. But thanks to a young and diverse collection of activists, a reckoning over race and other social inequities is happening in this country.
We have heard more than enough from “old white men.” And whether it takes a sticker, a protest or a verdict heard ‘round the world to change that, it’s time some others have more of a say.