By Karen Yuan and Lucy Price, CNN
Updated 7:35 AM ET, Thu July 14, 2016
8th grader royce mann white privilege poem intv_00035828
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New York (CNN)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.
Teen slam poet apologizes for white privilege
Teen slam poet apologizes for white privilege 09:23
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.”
Royce named Alton Sterling’s son, who recently called for protests to be nonviolent after the shooting of his father and subsequent ambush of law enforcement in Dallas, a source of inspiration.
“Alton Sterling’s son was really inspiring. This soon after losing his father to police brutality that definitely shouldn’t have happened, to tell protesters to act in a nonviolent way.”
But Royce has also faced backlash, to which he said, “There are definitely people who do deny that white privilege and male privilege exist.”
“Some people feel that I’m ashamed of my race. … In reality, I’m not ashamed at all. Nobody should be ashamed of their race because that’s an uncontrollable thing. I was born this way and nobody should be ashamed of that.”
He said he wanted “to reach the people who are ready to have an open dialogue about this. … If they say, I disagree with you and here’s why, I would be more than willing to discuss it with them.”
Royce’s mother said she didn’t help him with his poem at all. “It was totally his thing. I thought he might get some mixed reaction … but never wanted to discourage him from doing it.”
The video shows Royce receiving rousing applause after he called in the poem for change and more equality: “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.”
The teenager told HLN he thought the day will come when that ladder will turn into a bridge.
“It will be a long time, but I think within my lifetime, we’ll see a lot of progress.”
Watch YouTube video of Royce performing his poem (Note: Video contains profanity)
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF POEM
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 in 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 honest, being 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 f—— love being privileged and I’m not ready to give that away. I love it because I can say ‘f——‘ 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 makeup 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 will be food on my plate.
I love it because when I see a police officer I see someone who’s 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 privilege safety blankie to protect me.
If I lived a life lit by what I lack, not 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 — you were given a pen and no paper.
I’ve always felt that that’s 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 by of the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have.
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 and 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 8th-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 like that could be me one day.
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.
Dear white boys: I’m not sorry.
I don’t care if you think the feminists are taking over the world, that the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten a little too strong, because that’s bulls—.
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.