8½ Rules of Privilege

As many beautifully-snarky people have pointed out in recent years, it’s getting harder and harder to be White, male, heterosexual, and/or cisgender in this country these days without having to occasionally think about one or more of these identities in ways that might make us uncomfortable. (Full disclosure: I am all of those things listed in the previous sentence.) I have the utmost faith that we can handle it, though, and that we will emerge better for it.

I only recently (i.e. in the past 4-5 years) came to understand the extent to which I do not have to consider how my race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. affect my daily life. Other people do not have that luxury.

I’m not talking about any great epiphany that I had. Really, the most important thing that I have come to understand and accept is this: with respect to people whose lives are not like mine, I don’t understand their daily reality, and I will never fully understand. To put it another way, I get that I don’t get it.

I’ve had numerous discussions on social media and in real life (yes, IRL conversations do still happen, even with people who live glued to a computer like me) recently about how to recognize and understand our various forms of privilege, and how it can be difficult because of the way our society tends to view most of my attributes (White, male, etc.) as the “default” setting.

As a sort of confession, I used to be of the mindset that racism, sexism, etc. were not my fault, because I never owned slaves, I hadn’t even been born when Mad Men took place, and so on. It’s a seductive view for someone who wants to be on the right side of history while keeping a perfectly clear conscience, but it’s not true. Continue reading


What I’m Reading, February 10, 2015

Progressives Have Hope; Just Don’t Ask Jonathan Chait About It. Lisa Factora-Borchers, Truthout, January 30, 2015

Enlisting a philosophical argument that peaked in the ’90s, Jonathan Chait brought it back to 2015 with an article in New York magazine published earlier this week with a lukewarm punch: The PC movement is leading to the downfall of the liberal social agenda in the United States. In one of the most “This isn’t about me at all or personal whatsoever” personal essays in recent memory, a White, liberal, middle-age, cisgender male journalist declares the rise of tone-policing and trigger warnings as bad for democracy and just plain bad for the United States.

It’d be easy to dismiss Chait’s oddly outdated, half-thunk think piece, which conveniently blames women of color for complicating the social liberal landscape with their demand to be treated as equal stakeholders. But to overlook Chait’s self-appointed superiority complex as the work of one anachronistic guy would be to ignore the growing litany of complaints emerging from straight White men – claiming their own marginality.


By skewering “PC” culture to make his case, Chait stumbles into an argument usually reserved by the right: The powerless are threatening the powerful.

I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet, Paul Miller, The Verge, May 1, 2013 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, January 23, 2015

Why Mitt Romney’s tax returns are the most important historical document of the 21st century, LOLGOP, EclectaBlog, January 18, 2015

has given us all a tremendous gift by not giving us something — his complete tax returns. The fact that he’s only the second presidential candidate in the last three decades to not release them — the first was fellow Republican multimillionaire John McCain — makes them all more valuable as symbol.

Now when President Obama proposes ending an array of tax breaks for high earners and their heirs, it isn’t a vague proposition. We see Mitt Romney who amassed a great fortune, often by chewing up companies and spitting them out, paying lower tax rates for collecting checks than some pay for collecting bedpans.

It will also be great context when his old running mate Paul Ryan continues to propose cutting Mitt’s taxes during the next Congress.

Who Regrets Slavery? Not Steve Scalise, BooMan, Booman Tribune, January 15, 2015 Continue reading


A quick thought on privilege

(This was a comment a made on a Facebook thread centered around this article, to which someone added this video, which ended up bringing in race, religion, and LGBTQ issues–in other words, a normal Friday morning for me. I figured I’d cut and paste my comments here for an inexpensive blog update! This is all verbatim what I wrote, except that I corrected a few spelling and grammar errors inherent to the Facebook commenting format.)

This will be a condensed treatment of the concept of privilege, but here goes: I’m a white, heterosexual, educated, affluent, originally-raised-Episcopalian, reasonably attractive and healthy American male. In other words, I am about as high up on the privilege ladder as you can get. About the only “minority” status I have is that of atheist, and people who don’t know me can’t exactly tell that just from looking at me. If I may borrow Stephanie for a second, if I were to tell Stephanie that sexism does not exist in America because I have never experienced it, or because her own stories of encountering sexism just don’t make sense to me, Stephanie would be within her rights to give me an epic rhetorical beatdown. As a guy, I have privilege in this society to ignore some pretty pervasive sexism. If I don’t want to see it or deal with it, it can be invisible to me. The same can be true for me about LGBTQ issues (no one has yet complained that, by advertising my engagement on my FB page, I am rubbing my sexuality in their faces. LGBTQ people don’t get that kind of deference from the whole freaking world). Christians can claim “persecution” when in reality they are just having to share the public sphere with others. Guys can claim unfair advantages for women when women haven’t even achieved parity. My actual point, though, is about the “race card.” When a person of color “plays the race card,” it is pretty much assumed that the sole purpose is to be divisive or to distract from something else, and that is a load of crap. There is racism all around us all the time, but most white (or white-identified) people do not have to deal with it as a daily fact of life. Just one example: I drove by four police cars yesterday, and in two instances I was going about 5 miles over the speed limit, but no one pulled me over. I have never been pulled over without verifiable evidence of speeding or making an illegal right turn on red, and I have never had my car searched for drugs “just in case.” For many if not most people of color in America, though, the simple act of driving a car down the street requires taking on more risk than my privileged ass can comprehend. I’m not claiming any greater knowledge of the reality of life in America, just that I get that there is much of daily life for others that I do not “get.” Claiming that a context-free allegation of racism is playing the “race card” is a cowardly refusal to even consider that the person might be correct. Note also that privilege is not limited specifically to white heterosexual males. The default setting of society is “white heterosexual male,” so nearly anything that unthinkingly falls into one of those categories can have the effect of propping up privilege, without awareness of how it might hurt others.

None of this means that I don’t get to have a say in issues pertaining to other groups. It just means that I need to listen for a change. It is really amazing how little privileged people actually listen to people without their same privilege. Google “mansplaining” if you want to have a sad chuckle.