White Male Privilege: Where Do You Stand on the Social Justice Scale?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

New York City.- “That’s because you are a privileged white male,” she said.

She was explaining why my perspective on… I don’t remember what… was wrong. Not just wrong, but invalid.

White Male Privilege. A catchy phrase, to be sure. But what, exactly, does it mean? The more I thought about it, the less logical it seemed. So I looked it up.

Most of the sources define it as “institutional” or “social” advantages available to white men that are not available to women and people of color. Like Jim Crow laws in the South… apartheid policies in South Africa… and some Muslim and Jewish religious traditions.

But in contemporary Western societies? In the USA today?

I could find no laws, regulations, or policies that favor white men. I could find plenty that gives preference to women and/or minorities. But none for white men.

But this belief in white male privilege isn’t going to go away. There’s a lot of emotional force behind it. I’m guessing it has something to do with two ideas, incubated for decades in academia, that are now spreading like wildfire:

  • Entitlement– As a living being, I am entitled to everything the world has to offer. I don’t have to earn it. If others have it, I should have it too.
  • Dependency– I am not responsible for my own wellbeing. Someone or something has that responsibility.

If you buy into these ideas, it makes perfect sense to say that if there are inequalities in the world they are inherently wrong and necessarily the fault (and the responsibility) of whatever group or person is at the top.

This, of course, is not just idiotic. It’s dangerously destructive. We all know this in our bones, even if some of us don’t know it in our heads.

My friends that believe in white male privilege wouldn’t allow their adult children to act on the basis of such beliefs. They tell them, “Hey, the world isn’t fair. And although I might not have been the perfect parent in your estimation, it’s up to you to solve your own problems.”

This sort of hypocrisy is lost to proponents of white male privilege. And you can forget about pointing out the irony that, by definition, the phrase “white male privilege” is both sexist and racist.

But perhaps this will work. It’s a very simple test. And it is not in itself a refutation of the concept of white male privilege. Quite the contrary, it begins with the assumption that there is such a thing.

And it is very simple. Just two steps. Here they are:

Step One. Put white men at the top of the privilege scale.

Step Two. Fill in the rest.

(Note: For simplicity sake, we are going to take the very white male perspective that there are two genders and four racial groups. Feel free to make your list longer.)

For my first attempt, I’m going to assume that gender trumps race, but that race still counts. With that as a guiding principle, the privilege scale might look like this:

* White Men

* Asian Men

* Hispanic Men

* Black Men

* Asian Women

* White Women

* Hispanic Women

* Black Women

But hold on. That would indicate that all white women are less privileged than all black men. With even a very successful white businesswomen being less privileged than an unemployed black man.

Hmmm. That doesn’t work.

Let’s try giving priority to race, with white at the top and then Asian and Hispanic and black. Like this:

* White Men

* White Women

* Asian Men

* Asian Women

* Hispanic Men

* Hispanic Women

* Black Women

* Black Men

But that puts white women nearly at the top of the scale. We can’t have that! It would mean that they can no longer be considered to be oppressed. They would be the oppressors.

I’m sure there is a way to do this that would work. It wouldn’t be the same for everyone –  but you could do it your way, and I could do it my way, and Uncle Ted could do it his way. But what good would it do the social justice movement if everyone had their own idea of privilege?

It would be tantamount to suggesting that, yes, we live in a world that is unfair and also unequal and that we can’t agree on a scale of gender-race privilege. And if that is true, what then? We’d have to get to work on improving our individual situations. On getting more of everything we want by working against the obstacles, whether they are racism or misogyny or our personal limitations. Limitations like each individual’s health and intelligence and ability to acquire financially valuable skills and willingness to work as hard as it takes to be a success.

But then we would have to give up the happy notion that we can do it by blaming white men.

2 thoughts on “White Male Privilege: Where Do You Stand on the Social Justice Scale?

  1. I know you’re a straight shooter Mark, so let me get straight to it…

    Given that you’re talking about “white male privilege” and referred to South Africa, perhaps a little more perspective would go a long way in helping you recognise the reality of white male privilege. There’s an old adage in South Africa that says, “It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the truth when you are sitting on the right side of the privileged fence.”

    The first thing I’d like to address is your comment, “And you can forget about pointing out the irony that, by definition, the phrase “white male privilege” is both sexist and racist.”

    When you come from a country like South Africa, the phrase “white male privilege” is not ironic – it’s a reality. 24 years after the fall of the racist regime, the legacy of Apartheid and “white male privilege” is still glaringly obvious. From the boardrooms of large corporate companies to the dusty streets of the townships, the stain of what you refer to as “irony” is clearly reflected. It’s not only physically obvious but white male privilege has left deep scars in the psyche of all South Africans.

    I often hear privileged white males say, “Apartheid happened 24 years ago, get over it.” Well, privileged white men forcibly removed millions of black people out of the cities and farmlands to underdeveloped and inhumane settlements. Those townships still exist today on the outskirts of the economic centers and generations of black and coloured people are economically disabled by the historical policies of white men.

    Please allow me put your “scale of privilege” into perspective too…

    The scale that you have asked your readers to consider was an accepted legality in South Africa. This is why 80% of the money in South Africa today is still in the hands of the white minority. Apartheid ensured that we will always identify people according to race and gender.

    That brings me to your closing paragraph, “It would be tantamount to suggesting that, yes, we live in a world that is unfair and also unequal and that we can’t agree on a scale of gender-race privilege. And if that is true, what then? We’d have to get to work on improving our individual situations. On getting more of everything we want by working against the obstacles, whether they are racism or misogyny or our personal limitations. Limitations like each individual’s health and intelligence and ability to acquire financially valuable skills and willingness to work as hard as it takes to be a success.”

    As a coloured man from South Africa I can confirm that we definitely live in a world that is unfair, unequal and scaled on gender-race privilege. One only needs to look at the millions of displaced Africans, Muslims and other displaced people of colour around the world. Now ask yourself, how is a black child who is undernourished, uneducated and displaced supposed to raise themselves out of poverty and into a world where they have more than enough?

    The reality is that a very small percentage of these individuals are able to defy the odds and achieve greatness. However, when you consider that most of the wealthy people in the world are white and male, then the achievements of these few successful black people becomes substantially more important and impressive.

    The bottom line is that you shouldn’t see the term “white male privilege” as an insult. The term doesn’t mean your achievements boil down to the fact you’re white and male. It simply refers to the fact that NOT being a white male is a determining factor for success to the majority of underprivileged people in the world.

    White privilege means that statistically speaking, white males had fewer barriers to face than a person or even a woman of colour. It basically means you get an advantage from birth simply because you have a penis and preferable skin colour.

    Tom Head once wrote, “It has to be accepted that you started off with that advantage. It’s not your fault – it never will be – but all that marginalised communities ask is that you *accept* its existence. It really is nothing personal.”

    I am happy to take this conversation a little further for more clarity. However, time limitations combined with the fact that I am swimming against the tide to achieve success, stands in the way of me spending any more energy trying to explain why “white male privilege” isn’t a racist statement but a historical and factual reality that keeps the majority of the population of the world, desperate, hopeless and broke.

    So I end off addressing your introduction to this article where you say, “But in contemporary Western societies? In the USA today? I could find no laws, regulations, or policies that favor white men. I could find plenty that gives preference to women and/or minorities. But none for white men.”

    Of course you wouldn’t find those laws in the US because there is no need to bring balance to historical wrongs against privileged white males. The United States is the poster child for “white male privilege”. In the entire country’s history you’ve only ever had one black man at the head of the government and no females regardless of race. Just look at the “equal” representation of minorities and female’s in Trump’s cabinet – It’s a collective representation of “white male privilege”.

    With a man like Trump at the helm, a few stand to benefit, a select few will grow truly rich. The rest of the world? Well, I guess Mr Trump will simply, “Grab it by the p*ssy”.

    Yours in wealth…

    Aiden

    • I appreciate your thoughts. I will think about them and respond to them in a future blog post, either in full or in part. Please keep reading!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.