Thursday, July 10, 2014

I'll check my white male privilege right after you check your arrogant liberal assumptions

I am not sure how Matt doesn't get bored writing the same posts over and over again, but I certainly don't have that patience. I've already responded to the arguments in his latest post, so I will refer you there rather than repeat myself.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily even respond to this post at all, given that I have already, except that I wanted to expand a little bit on my main points, which were:  1) Privilege is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon; 2) Privilege is not equivalent to being wealthy or having only pleasant, enjoyable experiences; 3) There are different kinds of privilege; and 4) Privilege relates to structural inequalities, institutional biases, and social hierarchies.

Matt, if you really come from an impoverished social stratum, then certainly that is an aspect in which you are not privileged. I don't know enough about your background to confirm whether that is the case, however. You have mentioned some years of struggle, but going through some financial rough times in itself does not necessarily place a person in a lower social class. My parents did not have much money most of the time when I was growing up (in fact, if I recall correctly a record I saw, one year their combined gross income was $6). But, due to various sorts of privilege my parents had on the basis of some personal characteristics and cultural capital, the system was not stacked against us and we always knew we could get by in the end. My parents had enough optimism to buy a house in an area that they couldn't afford at the time so that I could attend a good school. I can say the same about my adult life, which has had its share of financial struggle (I've never been well off financially), but always in a context of cultural capital, social support, and institutional privileges that has prevented me from losing all hope or fearing too much.

Anyway, the point is, regardless of your income or your social class, there are many aspects of your life in which you are privileged.

Privilege is being fully absorbed in your very narrow concerns when you have the opportunity to learn about other things. Privilege is sitting in your Starbucks, making your living by writing the same few unresearched thoughts over and over again, and not having to worry about the people who grew the beans in your coffee or, if you added sugar, the people who toiled in sweltering heat in the sugar cane fields. Not having to worry about the people who risked their lives in mines or worked in inhumane sweatshop conditions to provide the raw materials for your computer, your phone, and your clothes. If you do ever think about these people, it is clear you do not think these things are as worthy of discussion or attention as BeyoncĂ©'s music, boys who wear My Little Pony Backpacks, or media coverage of twitter comments about a Coca Cola ad.

Privilege is being able to say things like this: 
Can you name me one particular right or immunity that I possess and you do not? What is one specific and tangible benefit that white males universally enjoy, while all other people are deprived of it?
Well, Matt, I would venture to guess that you have not been racially profiled by the police. How many times have you been stopped and frisked? When you went to the jewelry store to buy your wife's wedding ring, was there any possibility that a security guard would apprehend you and assume you were a thief, based purely on the color of your skin? Have you received a predatory loan from a bank that was targeting people with your skin color? In fact, in addition to your own financial resources, was most of the wealth generated by your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents extracted by people of a different race through fraudulent real estate practices, bad loans, price gauging, and wage inequalities? Are you afraid that rich people are suddenly going to start moving into your neighborhood because they are now interested in its history, and price you out of your home?  Are people very opinionated about how you wear your hair, and do people of other races come up and pet it, like you're an animal?

How many hours, on average, are you detained when you fly on an airplane or cross a border? If you were to take a short trip to Canada, do you think that, upon re-entering the United States, you would be forced to strip naked and answer humiliating questions on the sole basis that you are a Christian? When you write things on the internet that reveal anti-government sentiments, should you be as worried that government agencies are spying on you as a Muslim who expresses similar views? (Given the revelation that the FBI found "Mohammed Raghead" a fitting sample target name in an instructional template for surveillance... certainly the answer should be "no.") Do people create conspiracy theories about the President of U.S. secretly affiliating with your religion - because they believe that being a member of your religion is the worst, most evil thing possible?

How often do people ask you where you are from, or assume that you aren't American? Do people think that you came here illegally, for the purpose of obtaining food stamps? Has anyone assumed you don't know how to speak English?

Did your mother start measuring your waist when you were 10 years old? In sixth grade, did you start having nightmares that all the kids in your class revealed, contrary to your own perceptions, that you were actually fat? When you sat at the lunch table with your male friends, did half of them not eat anything? Did you watch your male friends hold on to cars in the school parking lot to steady themselves, or see their hair fall out, or learn about health problems resulting from under-eating? How many times have you gone the whole day without eating? How many times have you forced yourself to throw up after meals?

How often have you been inappropriately touched or subject to sexual comments by bosses or professors after having achieved something that you were proud of? How many times have you been groped on buses or trains? You mention that men are victims of sexual assault too. True. Let's put aside the fact that these victims are disproportionately people of color, gay, impoverished, in prison, or otherwise marginalized. When you reported your rape, were you asked what you were wearing? Do frequently have the thought, "Is this person going to try to rape me?" Are you constantly subject to stories, real or fake, that prime you to live in constant fear of assault, even in the grocery store parking lot in broad daylight, if you don't get into your car correctly or look into the back seat first or have your keys in your fist?

How long is the list of simple, everyday things you have been told that you cannot do on the basis of your gender (e.g. go camping, mow the lawn, grill a hamburger)? When you are happily carrying things around, do people interfere and try to take the load from you about 90% of the time because they assume you are weak? When you were one of two males in your math course, did your professor/teacher, upon passing the very first tests back, say, "I didn't expect you to do well!" - when you had given him no reason to have any expectations about your performance whatsoever? Have you been passed up for a job opportunity that was given to someone of a different gender with less education and experience? Have you ever, in an effort to get a coworker to address an important issue, had to put on a "damsel in distress" show, complete with tears, because the only circumstance in which he would listen to you was if he was if he felt he was in some way "rescuing" you?

Do you have to worry about what will happen to you, your wife, or your kids if someone has an accident or medical crisis, because the state in which you reside does not recognize your marriage? Do people constantly tell you that your feelings toward your wife are not natural? Do people publicly suggest that your love for your wife is exactly equivalent to someone's love for a horse, and do they suspect you of being a pedophile?

Yeah, you're right. I can't even think of one benefit that you enjoy on the basis of being white or straight or male. You got me.  I'm sure if I were to broaden my perspective to what being white, straight, and male means globally, I would find no evidence of any advantage there either.

There's another point I want to make. You commonly misinterpret criticisms as meaning, "you can't have an opinion that is different than mine." Listen, Matt. I have people of quite different political/religious persuasions who are close to me, who play an important role in my life. We are able to have discussions without calling each other fascists. We are able to expand areas of agreement and get to the roots of our disagreement. I interact with people who have the same religious and/or political positions as you, Matt. I know that it is possible to be conservative, Christian, libertarian... whatever labels you want to use, and still maintain a commitment to facts, evidence, and sound logic. That is the big difference.

You have inserted yourself into this network of media - television, print, online - that reinforces mythical narratives about the world. Not all conservatives buy into this. Not all Christians buy into this. However, this network, which acts as an echo chamber of made-up facts, has institutional and corporate support (more on that in a second), and like a spreading weed, is taking over more and more spaces of public discourse. What I'm talking about here is not just different perspectives or different interpretations of facts. This is an utterly fabricated reality. It is a world where Obama is a secret Muslim socialist, where Hitler implemented stricter gun control laws, where people on food stamps regularly eat caviar, where undocumented immigrants are voting in significant numbers, where (judging by one of your most recent posts, which was totally devoid of accurate information) undocumented immigrants are primarily coming from Mexico in search of government handouts and there are no laws whatsoever to protect migrant children - oh yeah, and the border is not enforced!, and there is some conspiracy involving academia, corporations, and the government.

The ironic thing is that, while there seems to be some part of you that has populist leanings... in the end, the media complex in which you have embedded yourself is supported and funded by some of the political and corporate figures who have a vested interest in maintaining a certain status quo. So, by uncritically accepting their narrative and repeating their sound bites over and over again - in fact, to make your living by parroting this misinformation - you are availing yourself of social hierarchy and structural inequality. You are making your living, essentially, as a mouthpiece for particular political and corporate elites.

Here's the thing, Matt. You are self-employed. Your blog is your living. You actually have the opportunity to do research on the issues that you care about, and make some sort of positive, productive contribution with your work. But you do not. You write about the same four or five topics over and over again. Roughly:

1. Anything related to sex
2. Anything related to women
3. Relationship advice
(so far, not much different from a women's magazine)
4. Reasons why Liberal Secular Progressive Feminists are fascists who are somehow suppressing your freedom of speech
5. Reasons why schools and government agencies are bad.

You bring up conflict diamonds only as a device to demonstrate that Liberals are hypocritical in a post that is really about pornography (#1 in the list above). You bring up victims of gun violence only as a platform to criticize feminists or liberals who support policies (gun control) that you oppose (#4). You make an off-handed statement about having compassion for child migrants, only to say that they should all be deported on account of the law (or, what you erroneously perceive the law to be), without taking any time whatsoever to ponder who these children are - like, give them real faces (see below) - what they are trying to escape, what they might have to suffer if they go back, and what laws exist to protect them.

Matt, there is more for you to think about and research than other people's sexual behaviors.  I know that it can be fun and titillating to think and write about sex all the time, finding the perfect provocative photos to insert in the right places, but there is a bigger world out there. Some people have things to worry about that do not relate to sex or liberal-fascist bogeymen!

What have you done to educate yourself about the prison-industrial complex - its growth and astonishing scale, the racial biases that exist at all levels, and its destruction of the communities and families of people of color? Are you able to identify the 3 major alliances in the Middle East, describe their relationship to the United States, and explain how these alliances have been shifting the past few years? Do you know why Somalia is so unstable, or what the U.S. support of warlords and foreign interventions has to do with the rise of Al-Shabaab? What kind of attention are you paying to what is currently happening in Gaza? Have you spent any time reading about the potential consequences of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Or the impact of the War on Drugs in South and Central America as well as the U.S.?

I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all - like I am trying to one-up you. Certainly we all have holes in our knowledge (and I don't assume that my knowledge is perfect or that you are necessarily completely ignorant about all these topics). I am simply suggesting that there are many other topics worthy of consideration, which yes, would require research. You know... like, actual work.

So, when people ask you to check your privilege, they are NOT saying, "have the same opinion as me." They are saying, "Do some reading outside of the echo chamber. Obtain more knowledge. Listen to the experiences of other people. Be humble. Don't act like you have all the answers to everything."


Now I am going to quickly nit-pick a few things that Matt said toward the end, as a case in point (re: Matt should spend more time obtaining knowledge about the things he writes about).

Please use real words when you write to me. I like Dr. Seuss, too, but I think adult conversations require actual language. “Cisgender” is not a real word.  It is a series of phonemes (distinguishable units of sound) that has a specific meaning that is mutually understood by a group of people; therefore, it is a word. As far as I can tell, it was just invented by some guy on the internet back in 1995. Because, anytime we can trace the origin of a word, it is not a "real" word. I know all words have to start somewhere, but when they’re born in a chatroom because a transsexual activist wanted to come up with a label that would normalize his behavior, I can’t help but balk. So then, what exactly are the legitimate conditions and parameters for creating new words, Matt, Arbiter of Language? Matt obviously thinks it is acceptable for him, a shock-jock blogger, to make up words in his blog posts (although I must admit, I find it entertaining every time he uses the word "neoliberal," thinking he made it up, having no idea what it actually means in common usage).

Having studied linguistics a bit, I find it particularly annoying when Matt makes all these arguments on linguistically dubious premises.
 Also, Kira, how dare you call me a man in the first place? The funny thing about ‘cisgender’ is that you automatically contradict yourself the moment you use it to describe anyone. If gender is fluid, and if, in this progressive utopia, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are but select options on a three-dimensional spectrum which allows all of us to be male, female, neither, both, or some mixture, then you cannot ever confidently identify another human being by their gender. I never told you that I identify by the gender assigned to me at birth, so, by your own convictions, only a reactionary Neanderthal would be so primitive as to hoist that identity upon me.

And even if I did tell you, at one point, that I identify as male and that I was born a male, how do you know that I haven’t since expanded my understanding of my own gender expression (or whatever)?
It is true that everyone is not required to identify with a particular label or fit themselves into a particular category. However, given the fact that you adamantly deny that transgender is even a real thing, anyone is probably safe in assuming that you do not identify as transgender. Based on your general attitude in all of your posts, anyone would also probably be pretty safe in assuming you have not expanded your understanding of anything.

White males are responsible for slavery? So the Egyptians, the Mayans, the Chinese, the Indians, the Arabs — these were all white civilizations, were they? And the Africans who both owned and sold slaves, they were also white? OK, then I guess the good news for us white folk is that we can now take credit for the pyramids and algebra. After all, if you’re going to hang the sins of every civilization around our necks, we should at least get to claim their achievements as well.

Or you could put down the gender books, pick up a history book, and realize that you’d be very hard pressed to find a form of evil unique to the white man. Our history is stained by violence and tyranny, but so is the history of all people, from Central America, to Africa, to China and beyond.

By the way, the Europeans and the Americans were among the first to abolish the terrible institution, while some countries in Africa and the Middle East have yet to come on board the abolition bandwagon. Maybe you should go talk to them.
When it comes to telling people to pick up history books, you would benefit greatly from taking your own advice. Now, you could easily just make the point that anyone is, in theory, capable of doing terrible things if they have the power to do so, and that there is nothing inherent to whiteness per se (which is not a concrete biological object) that explains slavery in the Americas. You didn't need to add all this distorted, unhelpful information. Because, in doing so, you conflate very different things (and create a pseudo-evolutionary "white savior" narrative). The word "slavery" applies to different phenomena. Different forms of slavery have existed and been abolished in different eras. The slavery that existed in the Americas was qualitatively - and quantitatively! - different than the forms of slavery that existed prior. And yes, Europeans and Americans abolished this particular form of slavery... because they happened to be the ones who created and had control over it. When you talk about currently existing slavery in other parts of the world (actually, it still exists in the U.S. as well) a lot of it is tied to economic structures that are ultimately driven by the interests of... you guessed it... Europeans and Americans.

Oh by the way, if you want to read Matt's post without giving him clicks... here you go.


  1. Wow. That is some list. I'm going to save this for the next time someone complains about privilege

  2. You are awesome. I was thinking about doing exactly what you are doing right now, but you are obviously much more intelligent than I and create arguments that are logically sound. Keep up the good work. I am a fan.

  3. I'm glad your back, hope you had a great vacation.

    Great post. It's difficult for me to comprehend why people can't acknowledge that privilege does exist. I can recognize that I enjoy a multitude of privileges because I'm white. It doesn't mean that I'm a bad person nor does it mean I haven't had to work hard for things in my life or experienced hardships. However, if I get pulled over by a cop, I know it's because I likely committed a traffic infraction and it wasn't because of the color of my skin. My husband enjoys the privilege of being able to wait for the bus without creepy dudes telling him to smile or calling him "sweet thing." Why is this so difficult for people to acknowledge these things and attempt to see the world in a different way?

    On a different note, every time Matt starts a post with a letter or email he received I know exactly what's coming. I'm convinced the majority of these letters are actually penned by Matt. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt though and say they're authentic. It is such a cheap ploy to use your hate mail as the basis of a blog post. The authors of these hate letters aren't interested in having a reasoned argument with Matt (they know that would be a futile endeavor). They just want to tell the guy that he's a dick or whatever for reasons I totally understand. when Matt flaunts these letters on his blog as representative of the state of all liberal discourse and tells his readers that this is how all liberals/progressives/feminists/fascists, etc., think and we all resort to name calling because we can't form a cohesive argument, it is demonstrative of just how intellectually dishonest Matt is. Or perhaps intellectually impotent. That his faithful followers let him get away with this, over and over, is even worse than Matt ghostwriting his own hate mail.

  4. What year do all of you think we're living in? 1950? 60 maybe? I mean seriously, we have a black man as president! And not only that he got reelected after one of the worst presidential terms in history. If white privilege was as big an issue as you guys put on, that would never have happened. And really, thank God that we live in a time where that could happen. We're only 50 or so years past segregation. Look how far we've come.

    And in regards to some of the world events that Bella brings up in this post (TPP etc.), you do realize that those issues arise as a biproduct of, if not directly from, leftwing policy and ideology.

  5. Also, you want to talk about an echo chamber, you can look no further than the leftwing media as the shining example. I listen to ALOT of it and it never ceases to amaze me how much it is filled with misinformation, misrepresentations, and for the most part straight up lies. And they all repeat the same BS all the time. It's revisionist history on an amazing level. And it's a funny thing about revisionist history. While it's existed forever on some level or another, the left has had a monopoly on it in modern times.

  6. I just ran across your blog and I LOVE IT. Thank you for taking the time to do this. You are able to articulate everything I'm thinking when reading through Matt's posts. Don't stop!

  7. I don't agree with most of your post, however I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on the Middle East and the world at large. You sound like you have quite an understanding and many of us could use better education on that subject!

    You speak of privilege as if Matt has some special ability only given to some few people. But then you state "...regardless of your income or your social class, there are many aspects of your life in which you are privileged." So in what ways do those privileges differentiate him from you?

    Please, you ask a thousand questions but make no points. Do bad things happen to people every day? Absolutely. But what relevance does that have to privilege? How is NOT being a victim make anyone privileged? As you say, "I can't even think of one benefit that you enjoy on the basis of being white or straight or male." I would argue that the opposite is true. If you're not white or not male, you get benefits that whites and males do not.

    You speak of gun control and illegal immigration in such a way that I can only infer you are for both. If so, let's start with a few facts:
    1. The cities with the strictest gun control have the highest crime rates. Why? Only the criminals have guns. If you're going to commit a crime and you know the common person can't have a gun, you win far more often than not. The reverse is also true: cities with the loosest gun controls have the lowest crimes. Again, if you're going to commit a crime but you can't be certain the other guy isn't packing, you'd think twice. Kinda makes sense.

    2. Illegal Immigration: what do you propose we do? Can you please explain immigration law and why Matt is erroneous? My understanding is it's against the laws of every nation on the planet to cross their borders without their permission. Until recently Mexico played games with us, claiming we are racists for closing our borders while they cruelly prosecuted and deported illegals on their Southern border. And if we don't protect our borders, what's to keep terrorists from entering?

    All legalities aside, what do we do with the 50,000+ "immigrants" that have crossed?

    Do we keep them from their families and hold them here? Just a few years ago there was a huge outcry because sending "immigrants" back would break up families. Now here we are suggesting that very thing - break up families because to send the children back would be cruel. Where's the outcry?

    How do we manage healthcare and education when both are already having troubles? How many are carrying diseases? Are you ready to inoculate the entire US population from TB or Rubella or any of a hundred illnesses that we've previously wiped out?

    Remember we're debating feeding, clothing, housing, educating and medicating a large city that suddenly appeared on our doorstep. Our country is up to debt over our children's children's heads and we need "compassion" for citizens of other countries? Where does it stop?

    "It is a series of phonemes (distinguishable units of sound) that has a specific meaning that is mutually understood by a group of people; therefore, it is a word." Thank you for the definition, but I was unaware of the word's definition and I'm fairly intelligent. Anyway we should refrain from using recently invented words as an attack on others as most people will get hung up trying to define the word rather than reason with intent of the statement at large.

    Why suggest Matt needs to take his own advice and pick up a history book? Was his statement incorrect?

    Matt's point is that slavery was not unique to white men, nor was it the most horrifying nor the most brutal. There's nothing distorted or untrue about that statement. To your point, it was slavery and thus atrocious and immoral. In what way was slavery in the Americas different that all slavery current or prior?


  8. Thank you. Very excellent points. On immigration, I think the best answer is to tighten up the border, complete the fence. If we can make it a lot harder to get here then the moral problems that arise about what to do with all of the illegals isn't as serious. We also need to enforce our current laws so that we stop incentivizing illegal immigration. Right now minors are literally crossing the borders and then finding the nearest border control agent and turning themselves in. This problem was manufactured by bad policy, and likely on purpose for political reasons. As soon as Obama broke the law with his executive order on immigration there where plenty of people that where saying this very thing would happen.

    Your statement on slavery is mostly accurate. The slavery in the US and Britain wasn't unique. There was slavery like that for a long time in Latin America and other places. But not all slavery throughout history was the same. Slavery in the ancient near east was very different and amounted mostly to indentured service. Joseph was a slave that eventually became the most powerful person in Egypt short of the pharaoh. In many instances slavery was voluntary to pay off a debt and there where laws in place that wouldn't allow the salve owner to charge interest on that debt. There where also laws that put a time limit on how long slaves could be kept and when they where released, the slave owner was required to give them financial stability at the start of their free life. So slavery was different depending on the time and context but the slavery in the US wasn't, by any means unique.

  9. Well stated. I heard last night that Bush enacted the border changes in an attempt to reduce human trafficking. Whether or not it was a good idea is debatable - as with many of Bush's policies. Of course Obama has only made the problem worse by largely stopping deportation and now putting 70% of border guards on paperwork and babysitting duties.

  10. Thanks Plattbob3! I don't have time to respond to all your questions (given how much time I just wasted with my new post), but I appreciate your interest and want to at least point you somewhere in the meantime. I just heard an On the Media segment that did a fairly nice job summarizing some of the main points, as I recall. - if you click on the second box (Beyond the Border Crisis) you can listen. Here is another good source of info:

    1. Thank you for the links. Unfortunately I didn't see the "On the Media" link in time, but I was able to read the NY Times article.

      The article paints quite a horrible picture. But I can't help but feel the article was very prejudiced. It takes place in 1 small town and uses this to extrapolate the goings-on of multiple nations. 1 small town is experiencing horrible acts therefore all towns and cities are experiencing horrible acts. I can't dismiss the claims of this town. They're caught in the middle of a war fought by guerrillas on all sides. It's the worst place to be and for many, I'm sure it's the only place to go.

      The violence is perpetrated by multiple groups with few morals and fewer laws. In part these towns and cities are seeing a drastic increase in violence because the evil doers are being squeezed into an increasingly narrow corridor. Note that those perpetrating violence are evil, not the groups squeezing the evil doers, not the fool-hearty Americans (and Mexicans and Hondurans) paying to get their next fix.

      So what do we do? How do we fix this? Can we stop the horrible atrocities in nations South of us?

      We build another tent city... and...

      Thanks for your time.