Yale English professor Claudia Rankine writes in the New York Times Magazine (H/T Simple Justice Blog) about White Male Privilege. She wanted to know what white men thought about their privilege, but she ran into a problem:
“The running comment in our current political climate is that we all need to converse with people we don’t normally speak to, and though my husband is white, I found myself falling into easy banter with all kinds of strangers except white men. They rarely sought me out to shoot the breeze, and I did not seek them out.”
Why would white men not talk to a black woman? Is it because they are racist or privileged? Consider that Rankine approaches White Male Privilege from an historical perspective. That America once gave certain rights to free white land-holding men and not to others leads her to believe that this applies equally today. She has difficulty considering that White Male Privilege is largely a myth.
The term White Male Privilege is inherently racist and sexist. It is a slur. Rankine acknowledges this:
I imagined myself — a middle-aged black woman — walking up to strangers and doing so. Would they react as the police captain in Plainfield, Ind., did when his female colleague told him during a diversity-training session that he benefited from “white male privilege”? He became angry and accused her of using a racialized slur against him. (She was placed on paid administrative leave, and a reprimand was placed permanently in her file.) Would I, too, be accused?
It’s not an accusation of racism, it’s just a fact. Rankine ignores this and proceeds to use her privilege as a black woman to use a racist slur. She is able to do so because it is a social assumption that a black woman can’t be racist even (especially?) when she is. A white man has no such privilege—he is a racist even (especially?) when he isn’t. Rankine begs the question that white men have privilege. This is inherently racist.
What must it be like for a white man to be subject to the implicit assumption of racism? Even questioning the assumption leads to further accusations of racism and privilege. It is no wonder then that a white man is unwilling to engage a black woman in casual conversation.
Later, Rankine makes a peculiar comment about racial violence highlighting how she incorrectly assumes white men are racist because they are white:
““Stand your ground” laws, for example, mean whites can claim that fear made them kill an unarmed black person.”
This is mostly used by cops to justify killing unarmed black men. Scott Greenfield of the Simple Justice Blog dubs this the “Reasonably Scared Cop Rule.” What’s notable is that it applies to all cops regardless of race. Black cops are just as likely to kill an unarmed black man as a white cop.
What happens if a woman accuses a man of rape? His life (unless he is a protected politician: see “Politics” below) is effectively over, even if he is innocent. In the era of #MeToo and #BelieveTheVictim, women have all the privilege. Rankine could falsely accuse the men she speaks to of rape and they would have no recourse. If it came to light that she fabricated the accusation, she would likely see no punishment. It is no wonder then that a white man will not engage a black woman in casual conversation.
Consider the case of a white male teacher having sex with a 17-year-old girl. Compare his punishment to the relative slap on the wrist that a female teacher impregnated by a 17-year old boy will get. She might even get to go on a talk show tour with the father of her child.
Rankine, a black woman, has a white husband and a daughter. Imagine if she had an affair with 20 different men and dragged her husband into divorce court demanding full (or majority) custody of their child. A judge would note her privilege and grant her custody, along with receiving child support payments, and even alimony. She could take more than half of the liquid assets while kicking him out of the house and “forgetting” to sell the house to avoid splitting the proceeds. Her “privileged” white male ex-husband would have no recourse.
What happens if Rankine’s husband, a white man, hits her? He could be arrested for domestic violence. A judge will quickly issue a restraining order. But what happens if she hits him? Almost certainly nothing will happen. No arrests. No restraining orders. A white man is expected to take it when his wife abuses him, both physically and emotionally. This is her privilege.
Imagine the situation where a husband and wife get into a joint physical altercation. Who will be punished when the neighbors call the police? Both of them or just the white male husband? It is his privilege to take her punishment.
Men are subject to a continual stream of denigration of healthy (i.e. “toxic”) masculinity and boyhood/fatherhood in media and society. Although it is everywhere, consider the Gillette advertisement and the Lego Movie 2 specifically. Advertisements and movies critical of fathers are easy to find. Good luck finding any critical of mothers.
Pick a random mainline Christian church and listen to the online broadcasts of their Mother’s and Father’s Day sermons. You are most likely to find a Mother’s Day service heaping praise upon mothers for everything they do. It’s not unusual for Father’s Day services to barely mention fathers or to take the time to criticize men (“man up!”) and praise single-mothers. This is privilege?
The public educational system is heavily biased in favor of girls. Girls have many privileges over boys, including higher grades in both math and language as well as girls-only extracurricular activities. There is only one area where boys exceed girls: math testing for boys of rich (mostly white) families, but society will not stop until girls beat boys in every area.
Rankine describes a discussion with a white man who laments that his son can’t get into Yale because he can’t play the “diversity card.” She writes:
“Was he thinking out loud? Were the words just slipping out before he could catch them? Was this the innocence of white privilege?”
Is Rankine unaware that top-tier universities routinely accept people on the basis of their minority status rather than their academic merits? Or perhaps she is unaware that these same universities accept people on the basis of their political connections (see below)? She isn’t. She probably views this as valid compensation for imaginary White Male Privilege.
If a single black woman wants to adopt a child from China, she can do so. If a single white man wants to do so, he cannot. Society is generally uncomfortable with men being alone and unaccountable with small children. There is no problem when women do this. The man is presumed to be a pedophile. Even in the States, when a single man does his adoption home study, the social worker will place him under much greater scrutiny than they would a single woman. This is her privilege.
Studies show that children do best with heterosexual adoptive parents. Among other reasons, heterosexual (and often white) marriages are more stable than homosexual and single-parent families. Yet, Catholic Charities had to shut down in a number of states because it refused to allow adoptions to homosexual couples, even though CC were fighting for the best interests of the children. Homosexual couples could still go to many other adoption agencies, but this wasn’t good enough to satisfy their privilege by reducing the availability of adoption at the cost of children.
It is well known that women’s wages are a bit lower than what men make for the same nominal job (~90%). Studies have shown that this is almost completely accounted for by the desire of women to work fewer hours, get pregnant, and raise children at home. In large companies that utilize race and sex quotas, it can be argued that women are paid more for ‘equivalent’ work. These policies benefit minorities and women most. It is their privilege.
White Male Privilege is a smoke screen for two things: political privilege and feminist privilege. Most of the above examples show how women hold substantial privilege over men in today’s society. Rankine notes that there is another group that holds substantial privilege:
“White men have held almost all the power in this country for 400 years.”
This is correct, but it’s also a case of faulty reasoning. Why have white men held power? Do they hold power because they are white men or are they all white men because they held power? This is the difference between White Male Privilege and a Ruling Class. The reason white men hold all the power is because the ruling class has historically been made up of white men with significant barriers to entry. There are many white men who hold no political power, myself included. We have no such privilege as a result of being white or men.
Rankine has noted this without realizing it:
“What was it that Justice Brett Kavanaugh said at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing? “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the No. 1 law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” He apparently believed this despite the fact that his grandfather went to Yale.”
Kavanaugh is part of the ruling class. He has connections. Sure he also worked hard, but he is a member of the elite. Hard work and connections can both be important. Race? Not so much (e.g. the Obama family).
But let’s take this even farther. The Democrat party is increasingly made up of women and minorities. Society has changed to allow construction of a new Ruling Class, but this class is just as exclusive and privileged as the historical one. It just happens to be a lot less white.
There is an elite ruling class made up of one group of white men and another group of females and minorities. Being a member of the ruling elite grants special privileges, like immunity from committing sexual assault or racial discrimination. There is no white male privilege—this alone buys you nothing.
Do certain white men have advantages in certain areas? Sure they do. But advantages are not restricted to that class alone. Women, minorities, the rich, and many other arbitrary classes have their own advantages. Moreover, skill and ability are not the same as privilege. The notion of an all-encompassing White Male Privilege is a myth and a slur. You could very easily argue, as I have done, that women, the ruling elite, and various minority groups have significant unearned privileges.
“I wanted to keep talking with this man, and I knew my race and gender meant he was wary of me and my questions — questions that might lead to the word “racist” or “sexist.” If only skin color didn’t have such predictive power.”
This had nothing to do with skin color or gender, but everything to do with describing someone using a sexist and racist slur without considering that maybe it didn’t apply. When you implicitly call someone a sexist racist without a shred of evidence, you’re going to put people on the defensive. Plus, people will be uncomfortable talking with you because talking to a sexist racist (you) is uncomfortable. Maybe it is time to put sex and skin color aside and judge people on the content of their character. If you don’t slur people, skin color won’t have much predictive power.