A young boy takes the stage. In a shaky voice, he says, "My name is Royce. My poem is titled, 'White Boy Privilege.'"
The video of the 14-year-old student's slam poem at his school has gone viral in the midst of heated national discussions regarding race and privilege.
Performed at a slam poetry competition in May at The Paideia School in Atlanta, Royce Mann's winning poem offers a reflection on the privilege he feels he has been automatically awarded as a result of his being white and male.
His piece begins with a lamentation: "Dear women, I'm sorry. Dear black people, I'm sorry. Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who came 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."
As Royce continues, he acknowledges the barriers that those of other genders, races and classes must confront that he is fortunate enough to avoid: "Because of my race, I can eat at a fancy restaurant without the 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."
Royce concedes that, if given the choice, he would not choose to trade places with anyone else because "to be privileged is awesome."
As he reads his poem, his voice grows louder and more impassioned. "It is embarrassing that we still live in a world in which we judge another person's character by the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have."
Race, class, gender
"It is embarrassing 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."
His poem has captured the attention of many who applauded him for being "woke," or conscious of the ways in which racism, sexism and classism affect society. Among those is "Empire" star Taraji P Henson, who tweeted, "#TheTRUTH GOD BLESS THIS LITTLE BRAVE ANGEL!!!"
In an interview with HLN, Royce and his mother, Sheri Mann Stewart, explained that he was staying focused on getting his message spread.
Royce said that he knew about white and male privilege for most of his life, but never knew how prevalent it was in society until he attended a class called "Race, Class and Gender" that opened his eyes.
But he refused praise, claiming, "I'm not the hero of this movement or anything. There are definitely a lot of people who've done a lot more than me. I'm just trying to do my part."
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