the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

White Privilege

Recently, two bloggers I respect, Danny at Jew Eat Yet and Saucybritches, wrote compelling posts about a popular article written by leading anti-racism writer, Tim Wise, titled “White Privilege and the 2008 Election.”  In the article, the author talks about how McCain has been treated differently than Obama during the campaign.  His conclusion at the end:

“White privilege is, in short, the problem.”

After reading the article, I had a heated debate on Twitter because I found the tone of the piece disturbing.  Tim Wise creates a world based on race, where a person is “privileged” because of the color of his skin. 

“What about someone white who is poor and someone black who is rich?” I asked.  “Isn’t this “privilege” theory insulting to both?  And what exactly does this have to do with the election?  I thought Obama’s nomination was a sign of change.  I hear more talk about race from the liberal side than the Republicans.  Isn’t this racial analysis a little… 1970-ish?” 

Apparently, The Angry Black Woman has met bloggers like me before:

“White Privilege exists whether you know it, acknowledge it, or understand it. Any attempts to convince me that you, a white person, don’t have White Privilege will result in laughter, mockery, and possibly a beat down.

It is a given that, whenever I engage in debate with a white person and mention privilege, the white person in question gets all upset. “I do NOT have privilege!” they say, and then begin to tell the story of their poor, rural upbringing or something. I think this reaction stems from two sources. Firstly, White Liberal Guilt, which I have written about before. Secondly, a misunderstanding of the word ‘Privilege’.

When most people hear Privilege or are referred to as Privileged their mind immediately thinks of economic privilege: people who are rich, or are born rich, who have a leg up in society or get by because their parents have a famous name or something. Paris Hilton is an example of that kind of privileged person. Most white people are not like Paris Hilton, nor would I suggest that they are. That would be cruel.

What they don’t realize is that economic privilege is only one kind of privilege. When I speak of White Privilege, I am not speaking of economics (though they may come into play based on the individual), I am speaking of unearned advantages one has because one is born White. That’s not the only kind of Privilege there is, of course. Another I’m very familiar with is Heterosexual Privilege.”

As I read more about the subject, I began to better understand the academic concept of “white privilege.”  Racism is not overt, as in the past.  But that doesn’t mean that white skin doesn’t give a white person certain freedoms.

Peggy McIntosh, in “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” writes (via Maria Niles at Blogher):

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.”

Besides White Privilege and Heterosexual Privilege, there is also Male Privilege.  Clearly, as a straight, white, male, I am at the top of the leaderboard.

I may be sabotaging my liberal status in this post, but I find most of this race/feminist/gender academic theory as dull as a butter knife. 

OK, so I am a straight, white, male.  Despite living at my mother’s house, I am privileged.  What the f**k do you want me to do about it?  I try my best to respect others and to support policies that will create a more level playing field.  My entire blogging career has been about making a more level playing field.  I am for affirmative action and insuring that women get paid the same as men.  I also want popular mommybloggers to share some of their free goodies with some of the less popular mommybloggers.

I do my little part to make society better.  But why should whites, men and heterosexuals be burdened with all the responsibilities?  Can’t we just focus on the “less privileged” — in general — rather than dividing society solely by race or gender, which is as simplistic as a children’s book. 

I spent the last half hour developing a “privilege chart,” with the first group listed being the most privileged group and the last being the least.  I think we should all acknowledge that we have some privileges and do our best to try to move those below us a notch or two up the list.  You will notice that on my “privilege chart,” — race, gender, and sexual orientation are not the sole identifiers of privilege.  A black woman born to a wealthy family and blessed with good looks and a slender body has many privileged elements in her life.  Whites need to fight for the rights of blacks, men need to care about women’s issues, straights should promote gay rights, skinny women should not buy from designers who don’t produce clothes for large sizes, pretty girls in high school should invite not-so-pretty girls to be their friends.  That would make this entire “privilege” issue humanistic, rather than academic bullshit.  

The “Privilege” Chart

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Thin, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Male Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, White Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Good-Looking, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Heterosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Female NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Thin, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

Ugly, Fat, Black Homosexual Male NOT Born to Wealthy, Well-Connected Parents

52 Comments

  1. Dagny

    You missed the recent Gloria Steinem quote in your reading. Saying that you’re for equality is all fine and dandy but Steinem points out that for that to happen, we need to redefine what the pie is instead of trying to divide the existing pie.

    I applaud you for your recent reading though. When I read these pieces earlier this week, I thought to myself, “Perhaps now others will finally start to understand those things that piss me off.”

  2. Eileen Dover

    I’m kind of offended you didn’t list those who have disabilities. Are they not allowed to move up or down the list of privilege!?

  3. TC

    Don’t worry Neil. You’re not at the top of the ladder yet. Remember, you’re a Jew. And trust me, a fellow Jew…that knocks a whole bunch of privileges off your list. Fewer than if you were non-white or gay, but a good number nonetheless.

  4. Black Hockey Jesus

    I’m kind of offended you didn’t include rocks. Rocks have it tough. And dirt? Don’t even go there, Neil.

  5. dan-E

    what about latins? what about middle easterners? asians? one of the things i find lacking in these racial issues is the fact that race seems to boil down to only a black and white issue. as if all those colors in between don’t exist.

    i mean really. do hispanics in miami and new york worry about white privilege when they’re often the majority ethnicity? do asians in los angeles and san francisco complain about white privilege? (i mean other than the ones who, in their own way, are privileged and need to feel indignant about something to feel a sense of fulfillment.)

    i’m not ignorant to the fact that there are still a lot of race issues that will not go away but come on; if you know anything, you should know this is far beyond just a black and white issue.

  6. Yvonne

    I agree with your central point, even though people are getting bogged down in the detail – you can talk about race/gender relations until you’re blue in the face, but in the end it’s your actions in the day-to-day world that matter. I henceforth swear that I will do everything I can to readdress this imbalance.

  7. G. Savant

    The very idea of White Privilege is repulsive and feels like a step backward. It smacks of blame. When can I, as a mostly-White Heterosexual Man, stop apologizing for being born?

    I know this will most likely make me come off as a complete fool and jerk, but here it goes anyway: If you’re unhappy with your position in life, if you feel that the universe dealt you a bum hand because of your race or your sexuality or your looks or your charisma (or lack thereof) then it’s YOUR duty to improve YOUR life and, if you want to, the lives of those who suffer from similar circumstances, through whatever means available.

    When it becomes the guilt-ridden duty of the ‘privileged’ to help the “un-privileged’, that help is not going to be sincere enough to be lasting and, while the playing field may appear level for a bit, it will be nothing more than an illusion created by white straight men (or whoever else is to blame) for the purpose of fooling everyone else and themselves for a bit.

    Or perhaps I’m completely off base here. I am, after all, a mostly-white heterosexual man, so my opinion is hopelessly skewed with privilege.

    Also, Neil, my wife humbly requests that you try to fit “Good-Looking but Lazy and Horribly Pretentious Half-Mexican Who Never Puts Away The Nail Clippers” into your chart. But I think she’s probably just lashing out.

  8. Jane

    Academically, the term “privilege” as it regards race was not meant to compare one individual to the next, but the experience of the majority to the experience of the minority. And the term “majority” doesn’t mean the number of people in a group, but the ones who hold the majority of political and socio-economic power.

    A few things falling under the umbrella of privilege:

    *the schools attended and the neighborhoods they are in

    *the level of personal safety and crime experienced by the majority. vs. the minorities.

    *social experience – ranging from racial profiling, level of fear, level of trust given by others, the number of shows/books.etc., that reflect minority experiences

    *economic and educational opportunities

    As a white woman who has experienced extreme poverty, as well as sexism and classism, it would be particularly easy for me to negate the concept of “white privilege” if I were to limit it to a thing of my experience vs., say, Alicia Keys or Halle Berry. It would also indicate a blindness on my part to substantiated facts and statistics. Racial minorities, for instance, as a group, continue to make up the majority of those who live in poverty, they continue to be paid less, are convicted of crime more, and continue to own fewer homes.

    I understand the defensive hackles that are raised in such a discussion, because we don’t live in a world of stats and facts, but in our own individual world of experience. I also understand that there’s only so much any individual can do to level the playing field — and there really should be some kind of honor badge for that — but I think the purpose of promoting equality is not served by negating the overall experiences of one group by comparing individual circumstance. In other words, you living on Mom’s couch doesn’t begin to speak to the oppression of hundreds of thousands of others. My living in the virtual hell of poverty doesn’t wipe out the inequalities of race in this country.

  9. TRO

    The playing field can never be leveled.

    Some “oppressed” groups will never, ever let it be leveled. And as long as the Democratic Party’s policy is one of identity politics and pandering to these groups it will stay that way.

    This election is a perfect example of this. Hillary was obviously the best choice for the Democrats and I guarantee you every Democrat leader knew that, but they made a decision to go with the less-qualified person because they calculated that women would support the part no matter what, while a hit to their black voting base might turn-off that voting block for the foreseeable future. And the Democrats simply can not win an election without them.

    You cannot unite a nation as long as you keep pitting one group against another, playing the oppression card when it suits you.

    Finally, “white-privilege” is mostly a black-white issue. Women, I believe, know they have made great progress in the past 30 years and see more progress within their grasp – whether that is through the path of Hillary or the path of Sarah – and gays are also making headway, slow though it mmay be. Other minorities are either even/ahead of the privileged white (Asians/Cubans) or working their way up the chain in our nation (Latinos in general).

    But the black-white dynamic is different and unfortunately I am not sure it is ever going to change.

    And I don’t think the Obama nomination is helping either although I sincerely wish it was.

    There will be a black person elected to the highest office in the land. Just as there will be a woman elected to that office.

    But frankly, I think they will be Republicans.

    ** Neil, I apologize ahead of time if this upset some of your readers. But you knew this would be too tempting for me to ignore. 🙂

  10. TRO

    I also apologize for the typos. “Part” should be party and “mmay” should be may.

  11. Megan

    I think there should be a study done about why people get so defensive when the issue of privilege comes up.

    I’m a white WASP American woman from a middle-class family. All sorts of privilege there, and I admit it. But most of the people in my family don’t see their privilege because they are comparing themselves to white WASP Americans who have more money, rather than realizing that we’ve got a better deal than 95% of the people on the planet.

    I think the Tim Wise piece is fantastic even if it does fail to examine class and gender, because it does something important: it points out the double standards many of us have in our heads.

    Just some well-worn examples: African-Americans have a harder time hailing cabs because cab drivers assume they are going to bad neighborhoods and/or they aren’t going to tip. Why are black drivers more likely to be pulled over for speeding? Why is a black kid more likely to go to jail for drug posession than a white kid? Why is a person who has a WASPy sounding name more likely to get a phone call from a prospective employer than a person with an “ethnic” name and an identical CV? All of these phenomena have been demonstrated in studies.

    When you ask what we can do about it, Neil, the point is to be aware of these double standards when you are making judgements about the people you see every day and who you are going to vote for, and help to make other people aware. Because there are a lot of people who can’t conceive of having an African-American president because they have all these double standards in their heads without even realizing it.

    Maybe you are someone who doesn’t automatically have some background assumptions when you see a person based on their race, gender, age, etc, but I would be very suprised. Such people are few.

  12. Neil

    Jane — I absolutely agree. There are profound inequalities of race in this country. I just think it is limiting and keeps people off the hook about caring for others. I don’t feel the same way as G. Savant. I do think we should be trying to change our perceptions and actions to make minorities rise out of poverty. I don’t want to absolve guilt. I want to spread it around! If I am going to acknowledge my privilege in order to help others, I expect others to do the same in their own way. There is research that good-looking people are treated better and get advantages in life. These people should be aware of this and not exploit their looks to get ahead in their job. In West Hollywood, the gay community runs the show and give business contracts to each other. In the context of that city, being gay gives you a privilege and the city government should be aware of any inequities. If we all would view the world in a way that leads to fairness, I bet you there would a whole lot more advancement in race relations, then seeing the world in a simple black and white one. Of course being a minority is a disadvantage. Being black in America can be tough. But this thought process just creates inaction and resentment. Better to to expand the idea of privilege so everyone is responsible to everyone else. This empowers EVERYONE. Making me — the white, straight, male — as the only one who needs to worry about my fellow man — just makes me more privileged.

  13. Dagny

    “I do think we should be trying to change our perceptions and actions to make minorities rise out of poverty.”

    Ummm. Yeah. Do you realize how condescending that sounds? As I said previously, people want a new pie, not to divide the pie we have currently. That means that everyone is a part of the dialogue. Your statement makes it sound like it is the duty of the privileged to take care of everyone else.

    And “Being black in America can be tough. But this thought process just creates inaction and resentment.”? I’m not even going to touch that one.

  14. SaucyBritches

    Wow! I had no idea this post would ignite so much controversy. While I don’t totally agree with the idea of blanket judgment on the issue of white privilege, you have to remember that in my world…and in my family, I’m one liberal in a sea of conservatives. I post things like that to stir the pot and get people in my world talking about these things.

    Glad to see everyone is paying attention… 😉

  15. Julie Pippert

    I think you miss the point with your focus on apologizing and divvying. The point of identifying race is to learn to see it and respect it, not use it as a divisive element. One’s racial and cultural experiences are very relevant, and I don’t think the goal should ever be to dismiss, ignore or overlook race, gender or culture. I think the ultimate goal should be to acknowledge difference and then let the buck stop at Respect. I wrote a long post about this a while back called Rainbow Connection.

    I don’t believe in the great melting pot and maybe this is because my family isn’t all white all the way back, and it strongly affected us, even down to me who for all appearances is white.

  16. Danny

    I don’t get it. I didn’t post that letter because I think I or other white people should feel guilty or change our behavior in some way to compensate. I just thought it was fascinating to read Wise’s list of points about the candidates and think about them. Is there anyone who DOESN’T agree that if a black presidential candidate had a 17-year-old daughter who was pregnant out of wedlock that it would be discussed differently than the canonization of Bristol Palin’s “brave decision” to keep her baby and marry her redneck boyfriend? Ditto on every point he mentioned. I’m not saying that such an awareness should change someone’s vote, but does anyone think that this isn’t true? Maybe “privilege” is the wrong word because it seems to send people over the edge–and believe me, there are plenty of areas where I don’t feel all that “privileged” these days. But how is Wise’s ruminating about such things insulting to anyone or creating a world where race is all that matters? I think Angry Black Woman articulated it perfectly. I don’t see how acknowledging that people are treated differently because of inherent biases we all carry makes you, the white straight male, the only one who needs to worry about your fellow man. I think your mistake is that you think in acknowledging that biases exist, that you are single-handedly responsible for correcting them if you are in the so-called “privileged” group. I don’t think that’s what that article was saying at all. You need do nothing differently–you’re a good, fair, loving person…even if you are stopped less by cops in Queens!

  17. Neil

    Dagny — Sorry if I sound condescending, but that’s exactly what I was trying to argue against. I’m not the one creating a theoretical world where white means privilege and black means poverty. It is what people are telling me. I was the one who was saying that this is old-fashioned. I see no problem with a black guy feeling privileged because his father is a doctor and he wanting to do more to help the poor — whatever the color. Anytime, you make the issue as solely black and white or male and female, it is going to send condesending.

    I’m not the one going around bragging to the world about how privileged I am. Tim Wise is telling me! So, what exactly do you want me to do what that information. If I am privileged because I am white, that must mean I should do more to help the underprivleged, which, under this scenario, means black Americans. Or else, let’s just expand the concept so we all can feel privileged over someone else.

    Julie — I really don’t get what you say. I thought this was all about the inequalities of modern life. I’m not sure how acknowledging differences and respecting others contributes to change. Most Republicans fall under that category. I thought the difference with the Democrats, and one of the reasons I am voting for Obama, is that he will promote public policy and create social programs that will try to level the playing field.

  18. TRO

    “Is there anyone who DOESN’T agree that if a black presidential candidate had a 17-year-old daughter who was pregnant out of wedlock that it would be discussed differently than the canonization of Bristol Palin’s “brave decision” to keep her baby and marry her redneck boyfriend?”

    <— “Me, me,” he said raising his hand.

    The MSM canonized her brave decision to keep her baby and marry her redneck boyfriend? Seriously, that is what you saw over the past few weeks?

    Fact is . . . and it is a fact . . . had Obama’s daughter been older and pregnant it never would have made the news as the MSM would have ignored it. And once it did make the news she would have been canonized whether she had an abortion or kept the baby and married the father.

    And one can only wonder how they would have described the father, but certainly not in the derogatory way “redneck” was used here.

  19. Neil

    Danny — the whole thing just opens up a pandora’s box of nonsense. Yes, you are right that a black presidential candidate with an out-of-wedlock daughter would be treated differently. But someone can make a strong argument that a white candidate with Obama’s lack of experience would have been treated differently.

    So what?! The more we move away from race, the better it is for everyone.

    In the ideal world, Obama should be able to suck as president, and then the NEXT president also be a black politician. That would be true advancement. We’re all putting too much pressure on the guy to be a symbol which he can never live up to.

    I hope he wins because he is the better candidate.

  20. V-Grrrl

    Old friend of Mr. V-Grrrl comes to our house for dinner.

    He is a millionaire, made his fortune in real estate development but has a day job and works for the federal government. He is white, college-educated, and sharp.

    At some point during the dinner conversation, he talks about the diversity training he has to take at work. He mocks it.

    I ask him why he objects to diversity training.

    He replies that where he lives (in New England), there are hardly any black, latino, or women working in his field. Why does he need diversity training?

    My reply, “The fact that there aren’t any black, latino, or women working in your office and that you think this is ‘normal’ is the very reason that you need diversity training.”

    Sheesh.

    I agree with those who say we will never level the playing field, but we damn sure can’t stop trying to improve it.

  21. Danny

    tro, I never would have used the term “redneck” on my own–that’s what the guy calls himself. I feel no animosity towards him or Bristol Palin, but I do feel sorry for the guy for impregnating the wrong girl and being forced into marriage. But what do I know, right? Maybe it’s a love match and they’ll beat the odds. Not that I care ONE WHIT about their marriage, forced or not–but to say that the MSM (talk about a term laden with hidden meaning!) would not comment on Obama’s unwed pregnant daughter is, with all due respect, completely and over-the-top NUTS!!!

    Neil, you’re right that this discussion can lead to a lot of craziness. But I’m not sure blinders are the answer either. And I still think you’re mistaking the acknowledgement that something exists with some kind of clarion call that you must DO something about it. That’s very male of you, you white privileged blogger!!

  22. TRO

    Danny,

    Then I am nuts, because I am as sure about this as I am sure the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

    If this was Obama’s daughter the MSM would have ignored the story for as long as was humanly possible – think John Edward’s affair and how long that stayed out of the media (years); it took the National Enquirer to finally break it open and even the MSM took weeks to pick it up and only after blogs got it out there first – and then once out there they would put it in the best light possible.

    There would be no stories about Bristol being the mother of Sarah’s baby. There would be no stories about how Sarah did not raise her daughter correctly and that’s why she got pregnant.

    About the only story-line I could see would be if she kept the baby the MSM would say how wonderful it was and how it showed that Obama really believed in “choice” for every woman. Which I am sure he does believe, but is a storyline that has not been afforded Sarah Palin since the MSM has pretty much said that Bristol keeping her baby is de facto evidence that Sarah wants to force every other woman to keep hers.

    At any rate, Neil is correct, this is getting this thread way off track and I am gonna do the right thing and back out of here.

    Sorry Neil, I told you I would just upset the apple-cart.

  23. TRO

    Oh, and Danny, no hard feelings. I apologize if I came across too strong. Much respect your way.

  24. Dagny

    First let me take a deep breath. OK. Here goes.

    The concept of white privilege being old fashioned? Yes, it is. It is a part of the history of this country so much so that it has become institutionalized and internalized.

    Here’s the thing. In a world of true equality, there is no privilege, just individual merits. We will never reach that point though until we are all able to acknowledge our past and present though. It’s an uncomfortable discussion for many — easily evidenced by some of what I have read here.

    A part of me asks myself why I even bother. Then I remind myself that I do believe that one day we can reach that point. It may not be in my lifetime but it can happen. Without the discussion, it will never happen though.

    One last thing. The way that everyone uses the word race? A manmade construct. Anthropologists will tell you that there is only one race — human.

  25. Neil

    Just a sidenote, we can fight all we want about race, but there is one thing we can all agree upon — Brita water filters are the best!

    (that was a joke and not sponsored by my paying gig)

  26. vodkamom

    This shit is too heavy for me. I’m just disgusted by any form of stereotyping. period.

  27. Annie

    That was a great post Neil. I must have taken a long time to put that list together. I got confused half way through it :-). I as a woman have felt
    putdown and even quit my last job because of it. I am not black, but I do know what it is like to be treated like a non human just because I am a woman.
    I do agree with you though, are you supposed to feel guilty because you are on the top of the list?

  28. Redneck Mommy

    Wow, Neil. Came over here looking for some light reading and found this.

    You forgot a few things in your pecking order list. People born with disabilities…physical and mental.

    Just sayin’.

  29. Maura

    This is a fascinating discussion that intrigues me greatly. I think V-Grrrl’s comment is dead-on.

    I don’t have the depth of knowledge in socio-economics to talk about this in a learned, unemotional way. All I really know is how I feel and how that impacts how I react to the situations raised here.

    I can rail against inequality and injustice all I want, but I’ve found that those words do very little in the world from my little platform. The best I can do is let my actions speak for me, try to present an example, acknowledge when I fall into stereotypical or unfair thinking and try to improve myself and how I treat people, and be to others how I would like the world to be.

    If being me in the world as a person who wants to see that change, and working within myself to manifest it, makes someone else change their thinking, I have to accept that’s all I might be able to do.

  30. Irina

    Actually, I do NOT feel compelled to befriend “causes” or people belonging to certain groups just to make things more equal. I think the better way to go is to fight for causes you find meaningful, and to be friends with people you like, regardless of their background. To be honest, I am not sure why the playing field necessarily has to be level. We’re NOT equal and we are not identical and never will be. We all come from different backgrounds. We should try NOT to put other people at disadvantage, but I don’t think we are necessarily obligated to make everyone feel exactly the same as everyone else. That’s just not possible, nor is necessarily a good think for a society.

  31. the angry black woman

    I would agree with your core point if it hadn’t been surrounded by the same kind of whining I hear from people who want to argue with me about privilege all the time. You say: what the fuck do you want me to do abut it?

    Well, first, I would like you to quit trying to make a heirarchy of it all, complinaing that all of this stuff is dull and not worth talking about, and SAYING you’re doing what you can to even out the playing field and just shut up and go DO THAT. Really, the best way to do something about your white privilege is NOT to whine that people are pointing it out, but instead to say “Yes, I have it, but let’s go do what we can to change it!” and then go.

  32. Eileen Dover

    ABW – Give Neil some time. It must have taken him a days to come up with that pecking order.

    He can save the world, one privelege class at a time, tomorrow.

  33. Neil

    The Angry Black Woman — oh, man, if you know me, you’d knew that I whine about EVERYTHING, not just race issues. I never DO anything without talking about it endlessly. It drives my wife, Sophia crazy! But it makes me a good blogger. Who wants a blogger that doesn’t rant about anything? Whining = good blogging.

    And actually, I actually thought this post was about me trying to change things. I’m not the one setting up the hierarchy, the academics who came up with the concepts of White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Male Privilege are the ones. I am trying to empowering EVERYONE by showing them that they might be more privileged than the next guy, and that we all should care more about everyone.

  34. G. Savant

    Here, here, Irina!

    Also, Angry Black Woman: If no one wrote about what should be done and IS being done and instead spent all of their time actually DOING, then how might others become informed about the cause? I mean, YOU WRITE, correct? You take pause from your actions to talk about them, no?

    Pardon me for sounding rude. I’m simply against anyone who tells me (or anyone) to shut up.

  35. Neil

    G. Savant –

    Just to be fair, I did quote from Angry Black Woman’s blog, so I can see how she might be upset about me manipulating her thesis. I actually liked her blog post. I’m not really disagreeing with her that much. I’m just trying to think about the topic of privilege in more general terms. I mean, once there is complete racial equality, there will still be groups more privileged than the other, based on some other UNEARNED ADVANTAGE — so I see no problem thinking about the issue in ways beyond the traditional race, sex, and gender.

    May I remind readers that my second most popular post — after the Interview Experiment — is about why women don’t want to date shorter men, with almost 400 comments. I was shocked how many women had no qualms saying they have no interest in short men.

    I was born to tall parents, another unearned advantage to my life. I think I need to update my list, with another privilege.

    http://www.citizenofthemonth.com/2005/07/15/whats-so-wrong-with-dating-short-men/

  36. Danny

    Well, if you’re doing that, don’t forget to add “bald.” As a short and bald guy, I hear that bias expressed all the time, such as the reality show I watched once when a woman was going to be set up with three strangers and at one point she asked with total horror whether one of the guys was bald. “Oh, of course not!” replied the host, as if the idea of sticking her with a bald guy was so reprehensible that not even the values of TV reality shows would allow it.

    But, anyway, as I said before, I really think it’s the word “privilege” that is getting in the way of this conversation because of its many meanings. Would it work better for you to call it “bias?” Just as one example that comes to mind, I know a black guy who talks about what it’s like to hear the sound of door locks clicking whenever he walks by a row of cars on the street, and noticing some women clutching their purses a little tighter. That’s a life experience you and I will never have here, being the wussy little white boys that we are.

  37. Memarie Lane

    I totally skimmed this post. But I just wanted to say that I’ve lived all over the country and have witnessed different levels of racism in different areas. Where I grew up it was the White people who got the short end of the stick. In Florida it was still Jim Crow pretty much.

    Here in NM it’s very subtle, but since I live in the bad part of town I see things others don’t. We are the only white people in our building. We are also the only people in our building who keep our apartment clean and have never been to prison. We get treated a lot differently by the landlord. If the neighbors have a problem or need something done they’ve learned to ask us to ask on their behalf or it won’t get done. But is this because of race or because of the whole prison record / respect of property thing? I dunno.

  38. Neil

    Danny, if you were a black guy, the bald look would be considered sexy.

  39. margalit

    As one that also posted Tim Wise’s White Privilege theme, I’m kind of surprised that it got to you in the way it did. I’m a poor white woman, not great looking, fat, from wealthy but not well connected outside of the Jewish community and I feel that white privilege all the time. If I were a person of color, I would have probably had a lot of trouble with the state when my son flipped out at the age of 12. Because I contacted the state and asked for help, and because I was a very well educated, articulate woman, I didn’t have much trouble with the various people that were an unwanted part of our lives during that time. In fact, when I had to do the parenting tests, they didn’t even ask me to finish them once I had talked to the shrink for an hour. I KNOW that if I were a person of color, that would not have happened to me.

    Education, being articulate, and not being belligerant about white folk challanging your abilities IS white privilege, and it is nowhere near as obvious in real life as it is in the social service agencies.

  40. Neil

    Margalit — I did read what your wrote. http://tinyurl.com/3vzhln

    And you make a good point about the world of social services, something I do not have much knowledge about.

    I guess the problem goes back to education. From what you said, what distinguished you from others in the same situation is that you were “well-educated and articulate.” That does not mean that a well educated and articulate black woman would not have received the same attention. It means that education gives advantages, and is more readily available to some communities than others. In that way, whites are privileged.

    In my opinion, you just made the most compelling argument showing white privilege — access to good education — because from that, everything else flows. The other stuff, about Obama and McCain, is just a sideshow.

  41. SciFi Dad

    Next week on Citizen of the Month, Neil takes a pointy stick and starts jabbing at the opening in a bee hive.

    In all seriousness, Neil, the privilege is ours (white hetero male here as well) to bear, not to burden others with it. We have, just by virtue of the luck of the draw, more opportunities, more chances, and a better overall “head start” than others.

    Just like you say it isn’t your “fault” that you’re privileged, it isn’t other groups’ “fault” that they do no enjoy the same. However, lamenting the fate serves little to no purpose other than possibly assuaging our guilt. Instead, we have to accept the responsibility placed upon us and go about changing things as much as we can, just as we expect those with less to do as much as they can.

    It’s not an enviable position, being labeled for how we were born, but if you look deep down in yourself, you’ll realize it’s better to have our label than some others.

  42. Neil

    Sci-Fi Dad — I realize that I have this headstart due to my being born white. It is what allows me to walk into a room with my head held high, not worrying that someone is going to treat me differently, like someone might a woman, a black man, or a gay man. Since I have this advantage, it is my duty to acknowledge it, and think about how I am lucky just because of the luck of the draw. OK, I accept that.

    But this is not really a “burden.” It is a burden that is good, like getting married and having kids. When you get married, you can’t get drunk every night with your buddies, but you gain in respect and love and care.

    So, it is GOOD that I share my burden with others.

    Let everyone see how they are advantaged in some way, and that this is both a benefit and a burden. How the good-looking guy gets the job before the ugly one. How overweight people are discriminated against. How gays in the black community are ostracized. I am not trying to run away from my white, male, heterosexual privilege. I like being in a position of power, and I try to be fair about it. But I don’t see why I shouldn’t say, “Yeah, you are a black guy, but you were born tall and good-looking and were born to a wealthy doctor and lawyer. You got really lucky. Use the advantages you got wisely and think of those less lucky than you.”

    Why is that so bad to think and say? Does anyone really think that I have that much more privilege than him — in the scheme of things? I think it is good to be able to see a black guy and accept him as someone with power and responsibility. I try not to see race as the first factor when I meet someone. I know if I see a cute black woman, I look down the top of her blouse, just like I would with any white, asian, or latino woman!

    And frankly, I don’t really understand what this all mean in my day to day dealings with my friends. Am I supposed to be acting differently with my black friends than my white friends? I think we both know when we are being treated differently, such as when I can more easily get a taxi cab at midnight. Clearly, that is white privilege. But what exactly am I supposed to do other than scold the cabbie or write a letter to the taxi commission? I hope, that if I were in a position of power, like hiring a staff, that I wouldn’t pick a white guy over a black guy because I would be “culturally” more connected to him. Now, if he were Jewish, that would be another matter.

  43. abbersnail

    Neil, this post was incredibly thought-provoking, and my brain has been rocked by all of these comments. I don’t have anything of additional to contribute to the conversation, but I wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading what everyone has written. This has given me a lot of food for thought today!

  44. chantel

    First: Thanks for writing this; you’re really good at this. Considered doing this for a living have you??? ha, ha, ha!!

    P.S. you should include Poor White Trash Women with red hair. We are way low on that list.

  45. Jack

    I KNOW that if I were a person of color, that would not have happened to me.

    No you do not know that. You don’t know for a moment what would have happened. You think that you know, but all you are doing is speculating.

    We spend far too much time worrying about what is fair and what is not. Truth is that it is really easy to make a list of things that are unfair for virtually any group.

    At this moment in time we have a Black man running for president and came within a hair of having a woman run for the same office.

    And regardless of your party affiliation we need to mention that there is a female candidate for VP.

    IMO the bigger issue these days is not race, but socioeconomic status and education.

    Those are two things that have a tremendous impact upon what you can do in life.

  46. Neil

    Jack — I agree with that. That is the bigger picture at the moment, even if race is a big part of the scenario. And much harder to resolve.

  47. Jack

    Resolution of this is tough, especially in this economy.

  48. thedemigod

    Incredibly well-written. The comments are also an interesting mix, but clearly people are still very passionate about this issue. It’s abrasive, but thought-provoking, and the more it’s talked about, the more light we can shed on the new privilege issues of this millenium. I’d be nitpicking if I complained about excluding my rung on the ladder (slightly-heavier asian homosexual NOT born to wealthy, well-known parents, adopted by Arab-American USMC father), but I think this is an excellent article.

    Thanks for the thought of the day!

  49. V-Grrrl

    Funny that everyone talks about a Black man running for president as if this is a wonder of wonders! Obama is only HALF black, was raised by his WHITE mother. He’s every bit as much white as he is black. Does that make a difference for him? Is that white privilege with a “black” face on it?

  50. Omyword! Did I Say That?

    Great post. Even if I’m late on commenting, I wanted to say that I think this is an awareness issue. Not a blame issue. Awareness that others have different experiences in life because of their ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, bidy profile, etc, makes us more inclined to make objective decisions when hiring or interacting with people in general. Guilt is a nonproductive emotion. Awareness can change behavior.

    My awareness came when I had a garage sale in the 80s in Laguna Beach, California. A Mexican guy bought my BetaMax VCR for $5. He asked me if I could create a written receipt. I said sure, but why? He smiled and said, “Mexican guy walking down the street in this neighborhood carrying a VCR?” Bingo. Got it. If a cop stopped him, he’d have the receipt.

  51. Omyword! Did I Say That?

    Oh crap – bidy profile should be body profile.

  52. Ben R

    The trouble is with this focus on privilege that the discussion supresses the considerable evidence that groups differ in average ability.

    By ignoring these factors, we risk demonising successful groups, as happened to the Armenian Jews or Jews in Germany. Also the Chinese in Mayaysia.

    We know in terms of evolution, that groups exposed to different environmental pressures may develop distinct genetic traits. This is clear in athletics.

    In terms of academic ability, it is quite clear that Ashkenazi Jews & East Asians, on average, outperform whites.

    For example, in Brazil, it is the Japanese who are the highest-achieving group. They were brought in as indentured labourers to work the plantations after slavery was abolished in 1888. Yet, today, the Japanese outscore Whites on IQ tests. Seven studies of Jews in Britain yield a median IQ of 110. In educational achievement, East Asians in Britain also outperform the indigenous Whites. Similarly in Australia, East Asians (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese) average higher than Whites in IQ, educational achievement, and earnings. There are pockets of ethnic Chinese elsewhere in the world such as in Mexico, Argentina, and especially Hawaii, where they also do well.

    These results are remarkably consistent over time, place, and situation, irrespective of the original status of the people, or the language, history, and political organization of the country concerned.

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