Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Privileged Information
July 10, 2006 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Dr. Peggy McIntosh wrote a paper in 1989 titled White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies (later released as White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack), which she wrote because, "...have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious." Since then the lesson she sought to teach has inspired other lists, such as The Male Privilege and now The Daily Effect of Straight Privilege.
posted by FunkyHelix (130 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
What about being "abled" privileged, as opposed to being disabled? What about being "not-having a migraine-at-the-moment" privileged, vs. people having a splitting headache?What about being-beautiful privilege, vs. us ugly people (Catherine Deneuve says this is the most unjust privilege of all)? What about being smart vs. being dumb? What about the incredibly wonderful privilege of being consititionally good-natured and cheerful, over those poor wretches who were born depressed and having lousy personalities? For crying out loud, you could contrive one of these lists for any human difference.
posted by Faze at 2:28 PM on July 10, 2006 [2 favorites]


awww, the world is a rough place.
posted by 517 at 2:31 PM on July 10, 2006


you could contrive one of these lists for any human difference.

Yes, but most people are aware of most of the privileges they receive for, say, being smart, but may never have thought about those gained simply due to the color of their skin.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:33 PM on July 10, 2006


While there's clearly some merit to a lot of her points, a lot of them are reaching. Just to pick out a few:

I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
Yes, it's possible in a few places, but it hardly applies everywhere. Although I clearly haven't been seeking out all white neighborhoods or anything, over the course of my life I have never lived more than a block or two from someone who was non-white.

I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me. Rightly or wrongly, I think both races have been trained to mistrust each other in America.

I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
I can also go into that same music shop and find music from all over the world, and that same supermarket carries everything from Mexican food to couscous. Hair-dressers are fairly segregated, but that's a factor for both races.

If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have. This can go either way. Either you're a non-white and thus "playing the race card" or you're a non-white and thus you "understand the real issues." It's a factor of audience and context.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2006


Interesting how this is titled as "White Privilege," yet this list of rights seemingly applies to any distinct social group.

Some of the points listed strain incredulity, and appear to be biased to push the hypothesis of the paper. I can't take it seriously as a discussion on the implicit privileges of a single social group, but rather as a more general study on the social dynamics of any distinct social group.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:49 PM on July 10, 2006


White, straight and male, I hit the knapsack trifecta! w00t!!

What's the point of all of these checklists anyway? Dr. McIntosh et al. aren't telling me anything I don't already know so now what? Am I supposed to apologize? Am I supposed to feel bad? Now that they've pointed out the obvious what would they,specifically,like done?

From the "Male Privilege" link comments section: "Let me be the first to say “right on”, and to let you know I’ll be using this (with all credits given) in my men and masculinity class…"


"men and masculinty class"??? WTF?!? No wonder everything is getting "offshored". In India and China they're teaching engineering courses and we're teaching "Men and Masculinity".
posted by MikeMc at 2:58 PM on July 10, 2006


Obvously, daddy never gave McIntosh the "Life isn't fair" speech.
posted by tkchrist at 3:07 PM on July 10, 2006


In India and China they're teaching engineering courses and we're teaching "Men and Masculinity".

Totally. Identity politics is a veritable cancer on academia.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 3:08 PM on July 10, 2006


"8. I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces."

This seems misleading if you're referring to the US, because it implies that men are in less danger of assault and violent crime. In the US, men are most often the victims of violent crimes, whether you consider crime perpetrated by acquaintances or by complete strangers.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:15 PM on July 10, 2006


The people who think of these points as just "facts of life" are missing the idea of the invisibility of privilege. They're looking right at it, but they still can't see it.

The point is to quantify some of the things you take for granted. And saying, "phew, well, that's not really important" is, in fact, taking something for granted that others cannot take.

If you start from there, and think about the meaning of some of these things, you might come to realize how insidious and everyday privilege is. It's not major discrimination we're talking about here -- and that's the point.
posted by adzuki at 3:26 PM on July 10, 2006


A lot of these responses seem (typical of mefi) incredibly defensive. Even if identity politics sucks, even if life is unfair--if I say "these certain privileges are unfair," then why is "other things are also unfair" a germane rebuttal? Consider if someone put up a post about, say, AIDS. How many people would immediately respond, "So what? Cancer and heart disease also kill people!"

Ditto adzuki.
posted by kensanway at 3:33 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


"17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male heroes were the default."

I found this one to be a little interesting, because it assumes that the hyper-masculinized agressive hero is not, in fact, a stereotype. If you were to look for mainstream (male) heros for kids that have traditionally "feminine" (as absurd as it is to apply a label like "feminine" to traits such as intellect over strength, or empathy over judgment) I feel that you would have quite a hard time. The burdens of stereotype cut both ways, and although I don't doubt that there are absolutely certain benefits given to men, there is still an unfair taught perception that all men are potential aggressors, rapists, and other horrible things.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:34 PM on July 10, 2006


"The point is to quantify some of the things you take for granted."

"If you start from there, and think about the meaning of some of these things, you might come to realize how insidious and everyday privilege is."

And then I'll do...? If people show me respect should I tell them not to? Should I alert store security guards that I may well be thief and they should follow me around? Perhaps I'll wear a sign that says "I'm A Breeder-Ridicule Me About My Sexuality". Should I ask the car salesman "How much more do you think a woman would pay for this car? I want to pay that much too."
posted by MikeMc at 3:41 PM on July 10, 2006


"Even if identity politics sucks, even if life is unfair--if I say "these certain privileges are unfair," then why is "other things are also unfair" a germane rebuttal?"

You'ld be correct if the authors had made attempts to prove these assertions, but they have not. Since these many accusations of privilege are made with no substantiations whatsoever, they do not constitute an argument warranting rebuttal. As they are, they are more similar to propaganda or trolling, and a "tu quoque" in response is about what I'd expect.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:50 PM on July 10, 2006


Yeah, I get the premise. But a lot of these are a result of the “one size fits all” monoculture from the majority. I could create a laundry list of privilege average sized men have.
e.g. I can go shopping and find shoes in my size and get reassured that even though my chest size is under 40 inches I wear an XL sweatshirt.
I can speak to another man without immediately being engaged in a machismo competition. etc.
This will drop off as there becomes less of a ‘white’ majority and more mixed minorities. For now, it’s the stock in trade and those privileges come with that simply because of the universality that went with the average, the majority.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:53 PM on July 10, 2006


Damn McIntosh users are all so goody-goody.
posted by fleacircus at 3:55 PM on July 10, 2006


The premise is wrong. It's all based on misdefining "privilege". What the supposed privilege consists of is just the treatment everyone should be able to expect. In other words, it's just the lack of adverse discrimination.

This is "privilege" in a relative sense but if one believes there is a sort of baseline of treating people with basic respect, lack of stereotypes, etc. then what these authors call privilege is just neutrality. The focus has to be on bringing treatment of disfavored groups up to the standard. Making people aware of the problem is fine, but representing decent treatment as undeserved is a false tactic.
posted by jam_pony at 4:01 PM on July 10, 2006


Meh

I got this same line of crap the first day I walked into a multi-cultural studies class at DePaul as a 30 something white guy in the 90's.

I was told I should sit back and listen for the first few sessions because I had unearned white privelege I was bringing along.

All I did was get up that morning for the damned class, and all this is is some numbskull professor throwing a lot of rhetoric at what is so obviously true.

Minorities tend to do worse in this society because perhaps if they are Hispanic, they probably have a little less grasp of the language and end up getting crappier jobs as a result, and if they are black and grew up listening to Jay-Z instead of MLK or Frederick Douglas, they devalue education and think getting good grades is just "acting white."

I don't know where this whole "representing" thing came from, but I swear to God the Klan wishes they would have invented it. That whole mindset has done more to keep the black community in the gutter than anything a white supremist could have been smart enough to come up with.

I swear you even mention race in a discussion about crime statistics and you will have an avalanche of academics and activists falling on you like somthing from the Alps.

And while they can all tell you the reason you "can't" say stuff like that, nary a one refutes the numbers.

I have enough trouble looking after my own family I swear, but when people carve themselves into cultural holes/ghettos like that, I have a very hard time listening to stories about how I am discriminating against them.
posted by timsteil at 4:07 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


As a white, blue-eyed,-blond haired, average height and weight, fully abled, straight, protestant, well-educated male...I have to say the world certainly seems like it was made for me, and it fits like a glove!
posted by fraxil at 4:11 PM on July 10, 2006


As a man I have never gotten out of a speeding ticket and I have to buy all my own drinks. I have to pay more for auto insurance. I can be drafted into military service. I'm not claiming to have it bad, I know that I enjoy certain advantages over women. However on net I'm not convinced that women get a worse deal than men do. In America, in the current time.

And seriously lots of the criticisms amount to treating biology as a conspiracy. Men make more money because they are less risk averse and more aggressive and typically have more one dimensional priorities that are more likely to be centered around making money.

Women are less likely to end up in prison or die early because they are more risk averse and less aggressive. That the advantages that women enjoy are typically treated as the fruits of not being flawed in the ways that men are and that the privileges that men enjoy are from abusive social institutions is nothing more than baby talk.
posted by I Foody at 4:16 PM on July 10, 2006


Average height? Ahem, aren't you forgetting item #1 of "The Tall Privilege Checklist"? To wit:

"Because I am 2 standard deviations above the average height for my gender, I am assured of meeting the requirements of all females posting "Seeking Male" ads, including those who are 2 standard deviations below the average height for their gender."
posted by Creosote at 4:19 PM on July 10, 2006


Thanks for posting this. Alas, I no longer have the energy for debating this kind of thing on teh eenterwebs.

+1 adzuki and kensanway
posted by drewbeck at 4:21 PM on July 10, 2006


It's not major discrimination we're talking about here -- and that's the point...

The point? And?

Jesus Christ. So. I wring my hands over my supposed privilege? Or this list some how motivates me to do what exactly? Be nicer to less privileged people? How do I identify that? Take a fucking pole every where I go? Or do I hold people MORE privileged than I am to task somehow? Because there are a lot of those, too.

Besides codifying into our laws equality clauses - with respect to recourse of said laws and access to basic socially shared resources - what the fuck else do we do? Make everybody the same height? The same sex? What?

To me this McIntosh type bullshit that leads to dystopian Harrison Bergeron thinking.

For example. I just sold my house. Now in hot markets like ours with multiple offers with each offer people write letters. To get you to emotionally identify with their position. I got one couple who with an escalator clause went significantly over our asking price. I had another single parent with less income give me under asking. Should I be FORCED to give more weight to one privilege classification over another? Seriously.

What kind of metric or formula is the logical equalizer and extension of identity politics?
posted by tkchrist at 4:23 PM on July 10, 2006


I teach this stuff at college level and men just don't see it. That's the point.
posted by trii at 4:25 PM on July 10, 2006


"17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male heroes were the default."

Curiously, as a small child I was genuinely angry that hardly any of the fairy stories we were given had lead characters who were boys. Jack and the Beanstalk and... what? Sure Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the rest had Princes in, but they didn't really do anything. You couldn't identify with them.

And Jack was supposed to be an idiot.

Curious, because I've never really thought about the whole role model thing. I suppose my early role models drawn from fiction would have been Moomintroll, Eeyore and Little Black Sambo, which is, I suppose, where I derive my interest in Finland, misery and pancakes fried in butter from. If I could have been any of them it would have been Little Black Sambo as he seemed to have a lot of fun, an enjoyable diet and he lived in a warm climate.

It's interesting that criticism of feminist topics is always interpreted as defensiveness. It may just be criticism. It may be right, who knows? If you just dismiss it out of hand, you never will.
posted by Grangousier at 4:34 PM on July 10, 2006


I teach this stuff at college level and men just don't see it. That's the point.

Not only that, but look at those who get defensive here: I don't think one person outwardly denied that these facts are true.

Instead, they just don't matter. Or minorities are being opportunists. Or it's "just politics". Or that other people have other different advantages. Or that there isn't formal research to justify these claims.

They don't see it, but they don't deny the truth of it either.
posted by adzuki at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2006


I teach this stuff at college level and men just don't see it. That's the point.

Well. There goes being judged by "the content of their character."
posted by tkchrist at 4:40 PM on July 10, 2006


As a white, shorter than average, blue-eyed, brown-haired, heavier than average, smarter than average, academically inclined, well educated girl, I often think that the world seems as if it was made for me.

adzuki: I deny the truth of many of the points. Most easily verifiable, his domestic violence stats are wrong, for Australia. Should he write a new list, 'the privilege of being a Yank on the internet: #1, I can always assume that everybody is from the same place as me, and that they are always talking about my country?'
posted by jacalata at 4:47 PM on July 10, 2006



Instead, they just don't matter. Or minorities are being opportunists.


Oh. Bull. Not one person here has said that.

We want to know who decides who is privileged and how and what we are supposed to DO about it. Am I supposed to assume everybody with a different skin color, height... or with differing genitalia... is more privileged than me? Isn't that a might patronizing and possibly racist in itself?

Clearly, the burden is on those classified, third hand by y'all, as privileged to DO something about it. While you all get to sit and judge. So what do you want us to do? Don't hold back.
posted by tkchrist at 4:49 PM on July 10, 2006


It takes a real disregard for others to be able to look at lists like this and react with a simple "meh, this is obvious and pointless." Every person has some privilege, and every person is also oppressed in some way. But the fact of today's American society (where these lists can be situated), is that privilege tends to cluster around white, straight, able-bodied, English-speaking, Christian men.

Examining your own privilege is an exercise that can help make that system more visible and more real. I know that racism still exists in America, because (for example) I am able to walk down the street in Dorchester and not worry about getting searched by police officers, while some of the young black men that I know cannot. I also know that I participate in racism in America, whether I want to or not, simply by having that privilege.

The kind of privilege that these lists point to is systemic, not individual. So, while it is really great for each person to work hard to put down their prejudices, systems of oppression will continue to play out in America until people actively work to change them. These lists point out that there are some privileges that you can't just put down. While others have rightly pointed out that feeling guilty about those privileges is pointless, ignoring that them is also irresposible. A possible way to combat the kind of oppression mentioned in my example would be to spend time educating young black men or police officers about racism, prejudice, stereotypes, and the law.

Anyways, if you don't like what I'm saying, try reading some bell hooks.

And for anyone not in America (or anyone who isn't the authors of these three lists, for that matter), it might be a good idea to sit and make some lists of your own. Oppression plays out differently in different contexts.
posted by cubby at 4:57 PM on July 10, 2006 [2 favorites]


I was taught using this piece. I still find trouble agreeing with this perspective. I dislike being reduced to a particular image that is generally asserted at me, and generally reduces a fairly complex issue to a cardboard cutout...

That bit out of the way, I do feel that the general point of the White Privelege article is designed not so much to assert a scientific truth, but present a metaphor that allows white people in this case to understand some of the more insidious effects of institutionalized discrimination.

In any case I found this to offer a pretty good summary of Identity Politics.
posted by BillJenkins at 5:00 PM on July 10, 2006


I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
Yes, it's possible in a few places, but it hardly applies everywhere. Although I clearly haven't been seeking out all white neighborhoods or anything, over the course of my life I have never lived more than a block or two from someone who was non-white.

Living near != associating with
posted by Rubbstone at 5:07 PM on July 10, 2006


People who are having the "no duh, I knew this" reaction should keep in mind that when this was written with its original lousy title, thinking about white privilege in this way was not new. The same is true for people frustrated by the lack of pragmatic advice (i.e., supposing we agree with the essay, what do we do about it?) -- keep in mind that at the time of its publication, simply acknowledging white privilege, even amongst leftist academics, was a big psychological step.
The essay is obviously dated, and has its flaws, but on the whole it makes a good point, one that still gets buried in discussions about race.

To put it another way, this essay's intent is to jump-start empathy, which a lot people have great difficulty with, I find. Our education system trains us to be unimaginative, which impedes empathy.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:14 PM on July 10, 2006


What kind of metric or formula is the logical equalizer and extension of identity politics?

Checks from the government. Big, fat checks from the government.
posted by darukaru at 5:15 PM on July 10, 2006


The problem is that McIntosh mixes up serious issues (that being white means that she, like myself, will not face the same amount of harrassment from police or other authority figures, that I will never be pulled over for driving while black, that the chances of being denied housing because of my skin colour are extremely low) with completely pointless ones, like having someone not being able to cut your hair. Where I lived in the States, there were hair products for black hair on the shelves, and few for straight fine hair, and the grocery store had plenty of cilantro and really good tortillas, but no plain lard for me to make the pie crust that is a big part of my culture. (Just some strange chickeny lard). She mixes up minor irritations with really serious social issues, and then wonders why some people react badly.

Pick your fights - fight against how crack is punished far worse than cocaine, fight the egregious racism among police, fight the subtle prejudices that sends people looking for other reasons not to promote (doesn't dress professionally, wears colours that are too bright), fight the poverty and the defacto housing segregation. (Or for male priviledge - fight the pay inequity, the inequalities in child caring and housework - and also recognise that men are not being given role models that aren't just as stereotyped and boys are in fact beginning to do more poorly in schools). Let the hair products and foods sort themselves out. Frankly, I took to using a really nice facial mask I got at a primarily "black" cosmetics store, and learned how very tasty cilantro can be.
posted by jb at 5:16 PM on July 10, 2006


It's interesting that criticism of feminist topics is always interpreted as defensiveness. It may just be criticism.

I do think it's important not to dismiss criticism of... well, anything, really, but it's not like the claims of defensiveness are coming out of nowhere. A lot of people in this thread seem to feel like they're being accused of something, expected to feel guilty, and asked to make some kind of elaborate compensation. This does come off as a little defensive, since the linked articles never blame individuals for being privileged, and indeed, go out of their way to excuse them for not noticing their privilege.

I can understand disagreeing with the articles, and especially with particular points in them, but the defensive tone of many comments here makes them sound less like rational disagreement and more like people are afraid to even consider what's being said.

(Although, personally, most of the points on those lists seemed dead obvious to me. I'm constantly noticing various little ways in which being a white man makes my life easier and more comfortable. For what it's worth, I have no guilt.)
posted by moss at 5:18 PM on July 10, 2006


how very tasty cilantro can be

Oh my yes!
posted by moss at 5:20 PM on July 10, 2006


Adzuki: "I don't think one person outwardly denied that these facts are true."

Are you kidding?

"I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces."

Again, the victims of violent crime in the US are most often men, not women. I've been advised to avoid walking alone by statistical evidence, by firsthand experience, and by public bulletins from the police. Looks like this sweeping generalization doesn't hold here!

In general, the onus is upon you (the supporter) to prove these many generalizations true, not on Metafilter to prove all of them false. You can't claim proof by "no contest" - that is the logic of crackpots and propagandists.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:26 PM on July 10, 2006


See. Nobody wants to say it. Nobody want to be the one who says what we should do about it. Not really. Because either they don't know or the answer is totally unworkable.

These articles DO point out the obvious. Then they hand the gauntlet over to those who are supposedly privileged to change things.

Wha? When you narrow down all the categories to see who left is at the top of the privileged pyramid... fucking nobody is left to do all the muscle work for change. Except the people being blamed for all the problems. Yeah. That'll work.

Sure a couple people have said "you need to be aware..."blah blah blah. Ok. I agree.

Most of us ARE aware that the world is inherently unfair. To me it seems the articles authors are the only ones surprised.

What we resent is the assumption that we don't want to, or have not, done anything about it. The fact is the white, straight, supposed privileged, men have been the ones actually doing much of the ground work to make this world better. Lot's is left undone. However dividing people up even more is NOT going to help. It never has and never will.

Still the question is largely unanswered. What do you want DONE about privilege?

Should all financial transactions take into account identity? Should all hireling? What?

To what extent will you go to see fairness codified into society? Who is to do this? How do we identify who is who? Be frigg'n specific. The reason people don't want to debate it is because they can't. The reasoning of identity politics falls apart.

No matter how "aware" we are nobody is giving up privileged to disfavor themselves from competing in the world. As people try to present the specifics the entire notion of giving one group favoritism because of some identity over an other the whole thing starts to fall apart. So they go back to the "you can't understand" canard - like that's an answer.
posted by tkchrist at 5:30 PM on July 10, 2006


“They don't see it, but they don't deny the truth of it either.”
To quote tkchrist: “Harrison Bergeron thinking.”

Ok, it’s truth - what’s the redress? What sort of plan goes in place? What’s the execution? It’s pretty much masturbation otherwise. What’s there to act on? And it can be insidious. I’ve never understood how a 5’2” female = 6’5” male in terms of job equality when it comes to an area like physical performance. Education of course is key, and any inequities should be addressed. But look at, say, ‘white trash’. Let’s say you know a black guy who happens to be lazy as hell. You point to him and say “Jeff sure is lazy.” People will break one off in your ass. So let’s take a broke, lazy white guy. You point at him and say “Jeff sure is lazy” and you get chuckles all around. Why? Well because white folks have it all handed to them on a platter. So screw that guy, he gets to starve.
This is not to deny the validity of the observation of systemic privilege - just pointing out, it’s a two way street. 100 years from now president Jennifer Rodriguez’s plan to help the white minority will be shot down again based on the stereotype that white folks have it all handed to them on a platter. Meh. Hopefully we’ll grow out of all that.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:37 PM on July 10, 2006


Smedlyman, why is it truth? Truth requires proof.

43. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

44. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

Why should any reasonable person accept such trite generalizations on their face?
posted by kid ichorous at 5:46 PM on July 10, 2006


In general, the onus is upon you (the supporter) to prove these many generalizations true, not on Metafilter to prove all of them false. You can't claim proof by "no contest" - that is the logic of crackpots and propagandists.

I am not making the claim. I am observing mefi and how people respond to allegations of unacknowledged bias and privilege. And I notice that many people are attacking the claims without actually addressing the claims themselves -- that's the content of my last post.

I claim no proof. I can and do make observations about the world, and how it affects me. I can state those observations, and there is no onus on me to prove that the generalizations are true. And certainly there is no onus on me to prove the truth of some internet article that I happen to agree with.

There is no standard of proof here because this is not a sociology publication. This is casual and civilized discussion, and nothing more. :)
posted by adzuki at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2006


This whole concept of "invisible privilege" is predicated on fairly obvious circular logic designed to shut out voice of disagreement or dissent. Because the privilege is "invisible," anyone who disagrees is just failing to properly perceive it.

I think the same system of argument can be used just as effectively to support the existence of the practice of withcraft. Witches were believed to cast evil spells in secret, and people are not in a position to clearly observe their nefarious deeds.
Thus, anyone who disagrees with assertions about witchcraft being real is just missing the signs of witchcraft, because they're often difficult to detect, i.e. "invisible"
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2006


Interesting that the "male" privilege one was written by a woman.
posted by delmoi at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2006


Did anyone actually deny that this stuff happens (other than the stupid trivial points that are impossible to confirm)? What's the argument here?
posted by pantsrobot at 5:53 PM on July 10, 2006


Smedlyman, why is it truth?” - posted by kid ichorous

For sake of argument. I don’t care to take a position on the substative value of the statements themselves, just the implications. As in “apes can fly and are from the planet Jupiter” - Ok, it’s true (implicitly for this discussion) if so then how did they get here from Jupiter? Where are their wings? etc. (nifty nickname btw)
posted by Smedleyman at 5:57 PM on July 10, 2006


metafilter: What's the argument here?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:57 PM on July 10, 2006


n for stubstantive.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:59 PM on July 10, 2006


/I'll stop trying to type now.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:59 PM on July 10, 2006


I don't understand how the people who don't like this article simultaneously argue (1) the points are so obviously true there's no need to read the article and (2) the points are so obviously false and overgeneralized that there's no need to read the article.

Point (1) is erroneous: obvious problems still demand remedy.

Proponents of Point (2) largely seem to base their criticism on about 1-5% of the overall article. It is unclear if they actually contest the overall point.

I think the larger fallacies are (1) treating this as a statistical proof of inequality, when it's more like a game of empathy--a way for you to slip on what may (or may not) be another person's perspective and see how it differs from your own; and (2) thinking that the lack of a specific policy proposal vitiates even discussing the project. The point seems to be for you to think about this as private actors and--since the private life is also political--your own conscientiousness can positively enact social change. This might sound silly, but I've met a number of incredibly caring, decent, truly good men who have been sexist or racist. This includes myself, though, out of modesty, I may not agree to those positive adjectives.
posted by kensanway at 5:59 PM on July 10, 2006


44. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

And he really hasn't been talking to me.

Actually, this point is really interesting -- I'm sure it's true. But then again, how often are men interupted by men? Because people who study conversation patterns have found that it is a male conversation pattern (developed in childhood and adolescence) to interupt other males (and doing so successfully and holding the attention is a way to gain status), whereas females have strong stigmas against it (they have other ways of creating status - they in-group and out-group, as opposed to boys who tend to create heirarchies rather than circles).

So, are women being interupted by men a sign of sexism, a sign simply of male conversation habits, or both? (Because the male is interupting the thus presumably lower status female).

I have thought for a while that women should learn more about the way men talk, because I have seen from experience that many women are not as agressive as they could be in conversations. Some may think that people don't listen to them because they are female, but often it's just that they are using the wrong conversational tactics for the environment - like in meetings, or in university seminars (which makes me think that when I teach again, I should try to get the girls to be more agressive in section - it will help them in the future).
posted by jb at 6:02 PM on July 10, 2006


Minorities tend to do worse in this society because perhaps if they are Hispanic, they probably have a little less grasp of the language and end up getting crappier jobs as a result, and if they are black and grew up listening to Jay-Z instead of MLK or Frederick Douglas, they devalue education and think getting good grades is just "acting white."

That's an absurd overgeneralization. (so was your comment about Hispanics, by the way, since most of the ones who grow up here speak English)
posted by delmoi at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2006


Also, it's interesting how this purported "invisible privilege" is detectable only by those people whose pecuniary interests are served by having everyone believe that patterns of subversive discrimination exist. Conveniently, the corrective measures proposed to address this "invisible privilege" inevitably function to benefit those social groups to whom this "privilege" is visible.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 6:08 PM on July 10, 2006


A lot of people in this thread seem to feel like they're being accused of something, expected to feel guilty, and asked to make some kind of elaborate compensation.

That's probably got something to do with two misunderstandings.

1. Academics use unfortunate terminology when they write. I remember reading a lot of articles in school that used the noun "whiteness" to describe the system of white privilege that isn't really consciously run by anyone, but is a complex system that's partly held in place by the fact the people who benfit from it aren't really aware of itor how they fit in to it. That's a really rhetorically stupid usage, because it inspires an emotional reaction in the audience who'd benefit most from reading the argument.

2. The rhetoric preferred by leftist academics is pretty shrill and self-righteous in general, which is off-putting to average readers. Add to that the unnecessary use of academic jargon and compund-complex sentences when a simple sentence will do and what are intended as observations sound like accusations. E.g. of this is the infamous Andrea Dworkin to whom is misattributed the statement "all sex is rape." She didn't write that, and didn't really write anything that meant that, but here's a bit of what she did write:

There is never a real privacy of the body that can coexist with intercourse: with being entered. The vagina itself is muscled and the muscles have to be pushed apart. The thrusting is persistent invasion. She is opened up, split down the center. She is occupied--physically, internally, in her privacy.

Now, this is an unsubtle, clunky, fallacious but here, but it's not saying sex is rape or that all men are rapists, or evne that sex is bad. Dworkin might have been better served by writing something plainer, because what she means by the whole of chapter seven of Intercourse (where that quote comes from) is that in socities where there is a lot of gender inequallity, sex might not be so enjoyable or fulfilling for a lot of women because it's then often just another act men perform at the women. Dworkin's clunky writing and unfortunate rhetorical choices aided in male readers feeling attacked and ultimately in Dworkin being misunderstood.

The same holds true for MacIntosh here. Her valid point risks being lost in the academse, and the people who would most benefit from her point are turned off by her word choice and phrasing and bad praose style.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:08 PM on July 10, 2006


jb-Do you have any sources on the conversation patterns, and status systems? (because the topic interests me, not for a burden of proof).
posted by BillJenkins at 6:09 PM on July 10, 2006


The first I was surprised that a work that aims to be scholarly has such a passive-aggressive tone. And then I remembered that a chick wrote it.

Then I felt deeply, deeply sorry for the circumstances of my birth, saw a beautiful rainbow, told my neighbors about it and now I'm dancing in a meadow with black people and inuits as I type this. Thank the goddess for wifi.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:14 PM on July 10, 2006


whereas females have strong stigmas against it (they have other ways of creating status - they in-group and out-group, as opposed to boys who tend to create heirarchies rather than circles).

Bah. All the egregious interruptors I know are women.

And the way women relate to one another has its downside -- for the most part, when I disagree with my male friends, we disagree, and are maybe angry for a moment, and then it's forgotten -- we can go have a coffee the next week and think nothing of the disagreement. But the social drama my wife endures is dumbfounding -- there are women who shun each other over stuff like where or not a woman is going to do "visualizations" of her unborn child during pregnancy.

Or, (and these are all obviously generalizations) when I do somethign wrong/mean/selfish to one of my male friends, the matter is often resolved like so:

Him: hey, that's fucked up.
Me: Oh, sorry.
Him: It's cool. Don't do it again.
Me: Okay.

Wheras some of my women friends react very differently -- they see the wrong/mean/selfish behavior as a sign of some Deep Flaw in me that they have been appointed to lecture me about. And, what's worse, if it were my wife guilty of that behavior, she's be mistreaed in some way -- the silent treatment, or gossip, or shunning.

None of this is meant to suggest that sexism doesn't exist, or that in many situations, men don't have extra rhetorical status in mixed groups, but only that my experience of how women realte to each other in groups is no paradise.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:16 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


You want to know what to do about privilege if you have it? Be aware of it, don't use it against others, don't take advantage of it to the detriment of those around you, and do you best to use it for good. That's what. You have an advantage; use it to make the world a better place.

It's not rocket science.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:17 PM on July 10, 2006


Interesting that the "male" privilege one was written by a woman.

Eh? The author, Barry Deutsch ("Ampersand"), is a man.
posted by moss at 6:27 PM on July 10, 2006


kensanway and adzuki win this thread on chutzpah and warmth alone. oh, and patience. grats you two. funkyhelix, shame on you for dropping this on metafilter and not sticking around to defend it.

BillJenkins- Some good stuff on gendered speech can be found in Luce Irigaray's work, especially this book.

A resource I use to explain white privilege in the classroom is Charles Mills' The Racial Contract. (But I teach it after Locke and Rousseau, so your mileage may vary.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:32 PM on July 10, 2006


My first year as a college professor I was supposed to bring ice to a big function for incoming students. I was supposed to get to campus an hour beforehand, drive to the field house, give the lady office 223B my signed form 567C, have her accompany me to the ice machines in front of the building and count the bags of ice, etc.

I woke up late. Fuck, this is going to show up on my tenure evaluation. Drove my rusty old truck to campus real fast. The parking was all filled in front of the field house, I would have to park way on the other side of campus--oh fuck it. I hopped the curb and drove across the lawn right up to the freezers. Threw open the door and started pitching bags into my truck.

There were tons of people and you could see they were alarmed. There's a guy driving a beater across the lawn! He's stealing ice! Then they would look closer, and you could see it in their faces: Oh, it's a white guy in a suit. Must be OK.
posted by LarryC at 6:42 PM on July 10, 2006


funkyhelix, shame on you for dropping this on metafilter and not sticking around to defend it.

I shared some links I found interesting, and am watching the resulting discussion. My end of the Metafilter contract is done. No where does it say I have to stick around and beat back the dogs.

A person has to pick their battles, and I've realized that picking to argue here is pointless.

You may feel free to continue though.
posted by FunkyHelix at 6:52 PM on July 10, 2006


What's the point of all of these checklists anyway? Dr. McIntosh et al. aren't telling me anything I don't already know so now what? Am I supposed to apologize? Am I supposed to feel bad? Now that they've pointed out the obvious what would they,specifically,like done?
No, you're not supposed to feel bad, or apologize. The hope is that you will recognize the patterns of hegemony and refuse to take part in it, to the best of your ability.

This can be done in small ways: refusing to feel "scared" of minority populations, recognizing what is a genuine reaction to an individual and differentiating it from gut level reactions that racism teaches, refusing privilege in "privileged" in the right situations, etc, etc.

It's not about being correct, it's about being a decent human being to everybody and trying to move past a really stupid cultural pit that you, by the way, benefit from sometimes. Identity politics can get really tiresome, but to paraphrase -- "If you think being lectured on white privilege sucks, try living under it's thumb."

It's also important to remember that white privilege is only a filter. It's a conceptual way to look at a particular problem, but it's not actually necessarily a final arbiter of reality. It is equally important to recognize that what is referred to as white privilege is also what we conceive of as the base "just" life that any citizen should enjoy --when looked at this way, then people who are privileged become the baseline, and then the question is why do some groups of people live below the baseline disproportionally when compared to other groups?

Of course, some people will have equally predictable reactions to the question when it's phrased that way as well.
posted by illovich at 7:05 PM on July 10, 2006


I'm going to spin this a different way:

Minority privilege - the asset that allows you an irrebuttable presumption of having been offended that can be coverted to cash in a racial discrimination arbitration.

Put another way, it's the ability to obtain all of the benefits of society while simultaneously scorning them and without having the burden or obligation to maintain them.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:06 PM on July 10, 2006


Funkyhelix, good on you for not being one of those posters who puts up a link and proceeds to beat everyone over the head with your opinion of it.
posted by jacalata at 7:09 PM on July 10, 2006


I like Illovich's constructive take on this better than "Yup minorities have it bad"
posted by pantsrobot at 7:28 PM on July 10, 2006


4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

God, you know, that WOULD really suck if I had to think about whether or not there were racists in a neighborhood before I moved in. I actually never thought about how that would feel, to have to factor that in as I was checking out an apartment.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

Hmm, yeah, I had noticed that one.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

Yeah, come to think of it, I'd never thought about how sweet it was for me that the whole World History 7th grade course was organized that way. Greece and Rome, let's see... China, the Vikings... I wonder what WAS happening on Africa at that time. Did we even hear about Africa before slavery?? Man, that sucks!

And so forth. Lots of specifics I'd realized, lots I hadn't. Hadn't ever seen this resource. Thanks!
posted by salvia at 7:29 PM on July 10, 2006


Oops, posted too soon. Anyway, it seems to me that most of what's being said in support of the article above does not actually detail why minorites are discriminated against, but are just confirming the fact (there I admitted it) that everybody except the minority in question is un/knowingly racist.
posted by pantsrobot at 7:32 PM on July 10, 2006


Nobody's making accusations, pantsrobot. Just that it'd suck.

Reminds me of someone (Cornell West?) saying "The issue is not 'why are black people so mad about racism?' but 'why aren't more white people?'" Racism does kinda suck, doesn't it? I can't believe that even with almost no one being explicitly racist, so much of the invisible systemic stuff (textbooks) still hasn't been changed.

Oh, and seeing comment's like Pastabagel's, I'm suddenly appreciating that:

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
posted by salvia at 7:37 PM on July 10, 2006


"comments," no apostrophe
posted by salvia at 7:37 PM on July 10, 2006


8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

Yeah, come to think of it, I'd never thought about how sweet it was for me that the whole World History 7th grade course was organized that way. Greece and Rome, let's see... China, the Vikings... I wonder what WAS happening on Africa at that time. Did we even hear about Africa before slavery?? Man, that sucks!

And so forth. Lots of specifics I'd realized, lots I hadn't. Hadn't ever seen this resource. Thanks!
posted by salvia at 10:29 PM EST on July 10 [+fave] [!]


I'm guessing you are being sarcastic. Testify to the existence of my race? White is not a race. And no world history course starts with Greece and Rome, it starts with Egypt if not earlier with Mesopotamia.

And you didn't discuss what was going on in subsaharan africe for the the same reason you really didn't focus on the Aztecs or the Incas. They were culturally seperate and distinct from the history that ultimately gave rise to western European culture, out of which came the United States.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:41 PM on July 10, 2006


I also feel like a lot of this material is outdated, probably reflecting facts from the author's youth, but not today. For instance, the accusation that curricular materials focus on whites. In today's educational climate, a great deal of attention is paid to explicitly recognizing non-white groups, especially blacks. My high school American and World history classes, as well as World and American literature classes all focused a good portion of their time on non-white groups, and I went to a fairly average public high school.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:45 PM on July 10, 2006


And no world history course starts with Greece and Rome, it starts with Egypt if not earlier with Mesopotamia.

I went to a Catholic school which had older textbooks (they often had the public school district's contact information stamped in them -- i think there was some dumpster-diving going on). In World History, Egypt was hardly mentioned (which always pissed me off, since I was fascinated with it), and Mesopotamia was glossed over with a mention of Hammurabi's Code. Essentially, there was a short chapter with not much information beyond "The cradles of human civilizaion were the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus River, and the Yellow River." Things have probably improved since those books were printed, but the version of "World History" that a lot of people experienced in school was incredibly Europe-centric.
posted by clarahamster at 7:51 PM on July 10, 2006


Oh, and seeing comment's like Pastabagel's, I'm suddenly appreciating that:

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
posted by salvia at 10:37 PM EST on July 10 [+fave] [!]


You overlooked the obvious, didn't you? The assumption that being self-interested and self-seeking is something negative?

If racism isn't directed at white people, and I'm white, how can my worrying about it possibly be self-interested? It's a meaningless tautology. In Mugabe's Africa, is there a Black Privilege List? 7262. I will never have my farm taking from me by the governement."

Maybe that's the point of the whole list - things that white people don't have a problem with becasue they aren't non-white. Great. How about a Thin Privilege list, or a Perfect Smile Privilege List? Maybe a Blonde Privilege List? Big Breasts Privilege list? 271213. No matter how untalented or unintelligent I may be, I will always have a career in cable television or as a trophy wife.

Come on, come on. 1989 called, it wants its nonsense back.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:53 PM on July 10, 2006


Things have probably improved since those books were printed, but the version of "World History" that a lot of people experienced in school was incredibly Europe-centric.
posted by clarahamster at 10:51 PM EST on July 10 [+fave] [!]


Well, sorry, you went to a lousy school. I had a fifth grade world cultures class in Vanillia Pudding and White Bread, PA that began, on page 3, with Louis Leakey, Lucy and Zinjanthropus in Olduvai Gorge. From there it was Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Bablyon, Linear B and then jumped to the other early cultures of the world. It *ended* with Greece.

And this is back in the early 80's.

When Dr. McIntosh gets a chance, maybe she can paint my house with that broad brush of hers.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:00 PM on July 10, 2006


White is not a race.

Didn't say it was.

it starts with Egypt if not earlier with Mesopotamia

Didn't say where it started. But yeah, my history class (the late 80s) was a lot like clarahamster's. Cool if things have changed.

western European culture, out of which came the United States

I would have liked to know more about the development of African culture and don't consider it totally separate from "the history... out of which came the United States."

You overlooked the obvious, didn't you? The assumption that being self-interested and self-seeking is something negative?

Cool. I'll model a non-defensive reaction, you model throwing out various aggressive semi-logical rebuttals but not actually constructing an argument.
posted by salvia at 8:07 PM on July 10, 2006


Sorry, Pastabagel, I take the last part back. It's kinda aggressive itself, and I'm sure you've got some logic there. I gotta go home and clean my room now so I can't stick by the computer to have a debate. I'll just have to differ with you on whether or not white privilege exists.
posted by salvia at 8:14 PM on July 10, 2006


Law Talkin' guy writes This whole concept of "invisible privilege" is predicated on fairly obvious circular logic designed to shut out voice of disagreement or dissent. Because the privilege is "invisible," anyone who disagrees is just failing to properly perceive it.

I think the same system of argument can be used just as effectively to support the existence of the practice of withcraft....



If it is such an obvious case of circular logic, I would rather have heard you refute an actual claim made in the article. Surely if circular logic were being used, there'd be a logical fallacy. Something that is "proven" true without any basis ...

But there isn't any such thing. We've been over this - the list is light on proof. And I believe it's totally absent of logical argument because they're just lists of things that the privileged can take for granted.

I am arguing for the ideas present in these lists, because they are striking to me in their simplicity, directness, and pervasiveness. As others have said, it's a lack of neutrality. I find that truly awful if I really think about it.

For the life of me I cannot understand this opposite reaction, the complete failure to honestly consider the other perspective. Are the lists, on the whole, not things that whites or men can take for granted and that minorities and women cannot? Yet there is a refusal to take them at face value ...

When I read arguments like "if you're a woman men will buy you drinks" as if that evens it out, or an attack on the methodology, I feel like the writers are missing the point. Somewhat ironically, I might add.

You can read it as a list of social grievances, or you can read it as a list of things that other people have to deal with that you don't. I find the latter much more interesting and much more rewarding read.
posted by adzuki at 8:17 PM on July 10, 2006


Adzuki writes We've been over this - the list is light on proof. And I believe it's totally absent of logical argument because they're just lists of things that the privileged can take for granted.

...

You can read it as a list of social grievances, or you can read it as a list of things that other people have to deal with that you don't. I find the latter much more interesting and much more rewarding read.


I'm sorry, what exactly are you saying here? That people aren't obligated to provide support for bald assertions regarding a purported "invisible privilege"? If so, why exactly is this one particular issue exempt from the rules of rational discourse? Why am I obligated to suspend my capacity for critical thought when evaluating someone else's claims about "things they have to deal with that I don't"?

Any random person could comprise a list of "things they have to deal with" that many other people don't. Without supporting proof, what value do those claims have? I can make all sorts of ridiculous conclusory statements regarding "things I have to deal with" that others don't. Would women and minorities then be obligated to take my unsupported statements at face value?

Lastly, you make some mention of writers "missing the point" by positing counter-examples of privileges enjoyed by women. Please clarify-- what exactly is the point they're missing? If I understand your post correctly, you're claiming that making lists of unsupported allegations regarding "things people have to deal with" that others do not is valuable exercise in seeing the world from someone else's perspective. That being so, why would someone else making allegations to that exact same effect be missing the point?
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 8:45 PM on July 10, 2006



Adzuki: If it is such an obvious case of circular logic, I would rather have heard you refute an actual claim made in the article. Surely if circular logic were being used, there'd be a logical fallacy. Something that is "proven" true without any basis ...


But Adzuki, you're advocating a double standard here, because you're asking the community to factually refute claims which you refuse to factually support. As you said earlier:

Adzuki: I claim no proof. I can and do make observations about the world, and how it affects me. I can state those observations, and there is no onus on me to prove that the generalizations are true. And certainly there is no onus on me to prove the truth of some internet article that I happen to agree with.


This is a classic example of circular logic, since you seem to be assuming the statements to be true a priori until proven false, and have offered no substantiation for their truth other than the statements themselves, and some subjective testimony about their persuasive power and simplicity.


When I read arguments like "if you're a woman men will buy you drinks" as if that evens it out, or an attack on the methodology, I feel like the writers are missing the point. Somewhat ironically, I might add.


And you'd be correct, but this is still a strawman. A more persuasive counter against the idea of a net male privilege would be the contentions that women have the privilege of longer lifespans, the privilege of avoiding the draft (like our president...), are victimized by crime in lesser numbers, and so on. It seems like a futile and arbitrary exercise to try and quantify and tally up all of the unique accusations of privilege enjoyed by men versus women, and try to determine once and for all who the greater victim is....
posted by kid ichorous at 8:46 PM on July 10, 2006


all i know is that i'm white, male and straight and been treated like a freak for most of my life ... which does give me some empathy towards what minorities face

but privileged socially? ... no, you'll never convince me of that after some of the shit i've been through ... you'll also never convince me that if we magically did away with all the privileges on that list that there wouldn't be another list of privileges that would evolve around other aspects of people

the real logical fault of this is that it assumes that these privileges hold true for all members of the class described ... any casual look at the social dynamics of a suburban high school will tell you that it just isn't so ... that although specific things on this list may be true for all, they are often more than counterbalanced by other things

my major problem with identity politics is that i don't have an identity i can identify with ... and you can argue that perhaps i'm fortunate in that i don't have to deal with negative racial attitudes, that i have the freedom not to deal with it ... but frankly, that freedom's been negated by the burdens of other things

there are millions of minority members who earn more, live better, have better jobs and more social support than i do

sorry, but i've got my own issues to deal with in this society as a minority of one ... and the broad issues being highlighted here aren't about to address my concerns
posted by pyramid termite at 9:30 PM on July 10, 2006


At one point in our nation's history, universities had a lot of intellectual and cultural influence.

That day has passed. Pop culture is, for better or worse, our national culture. The old-fashioned high culture the universities once taught is considered boring and irrelevant. The professoriate is an object of ridicule. The man on the street thinks professors are a bunch of pointy-heads who couldn't make it in the real world and spout pretentious French gibberish.

The academy has lost its cultural and intellectual authority. I submit that these essays, and others like them, represent an attempt to claim a compensatory moral authority.

I also think that, in an age of rapid technological and cultural changes, where the world of 2026 will be as foreign to us as the world of 1906, that opting to focus on petty identity politics of this sort is decidedly the easy way out.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:34 PM on July 10, 2006


Based on the responses to this thread, I'll add one
X. My state of privilege is the norm, it's "real life", so any threat or criticism of it I can ridicule as crazy-talk. Usually through the use of some idiotic reducto argument (a la "in 100 years when Jennifer Gonzalez is president this thinking will be proved to be unfair to whites", or "maybe fairy-winged unicorns will shit fairness down from the heavens to fix things")... To deny my state of privilege is to reject reality.
Or is that already in there?
posted by fleacircus at 10:10 PM on July 10, 2006


If pop culture has supplanted academia as you say, then how about this from Chris Rock:

"there's not a white man in this room that would change places with me, none of you and I'm rich"
posted by Space Coyote at 11:03 PM on July 10, 2006


Jeez, reading this thread is like getting punched in the face.

For the "life is unfair so shut the fuck up and what the hell do you want me to do about it anyway" crowd, maybe the intent of the lists is simply to help you take a brief walk in another person's shoes. Maybe it's really not asking you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of some egalitarian ideal. Would it be so monstrously offensive then?
posted by treepour at 11:48 PM on July 10, 2006


My god people stop for a second. This isn't about you. This isn't about life not being fair. This isn't about how you are supposed feel guilty or anything of the sort. It's not about identity politics or why the white man is bad. Look at some of the items. Really. Think about things like
29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my prsent setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
or
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
You know what, those are things I take for granted. And I don't have any guilt about having those privileges.

And that's the point. This isn't about "oh noes white people are being big and nasty and white." This is stopping and thinking about what race really means. How it really affects people far beyond the cookie cutter racism that everyone reading this essay can see and probably shuns. Sometimes just the act of putting things down and making people acknowledge them is a huge step in itself. Yes the list is dated. It was made in 1989 for christ's sake. That's a generation ago, a generation that has made progress towards granting these privileges to more and more people. Yay! Go civilization!
posted by aspo at 12:25 AM on July 11, 2006


Oh one last thing. The maleness essay is not nearly as well written.
posted by aspo at 12:28 AM on July 11, 2006


Eep, on second reading that you in "This isn't about you" is directed to everyone who seems to think this essay is about how they should feel guilty because they are horrid people for having privileges of race or sex or whatever. Normally I wouldn't feel the need to clarify, but in the context of the discussion I think there's too much room for misunderstanding. Bad word choice on my part.
posted by aspo at 12:46 AM on July 11, 2006


As much as I enjoy Chris Rock, he's dead wrong on that statement: I'd change places with him in a heartbeat.

I have seen situations where heterosexuals say they have "no problem" with homosexuality, they "just don't want to know about it," yet they don't seem to realize that every time they mention their spouse, hold hands in public, or even kiss or show afffection in any way in public, it's behavior that would be "rubbing it in our faces" were it two homosexuals doing the exact same thing. So, yeah, some of that list rings true, at least.
posted by Poagao at 12:52 AM on July 11, 2006


maybe the intent of the lists is simply to help you take a brief walk in another person's shoes.

Treepour, do you think making this sort of claim about white Americans advances that goal:


"23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider."


Can they really? Not only is this completely untrue, it's a slap in the face to anyone who has risked social censure to stand against government injustice. It essentially claims in broad strokes that whites who worked in the civil rights movement risked no real consequences to their social standing, let alone life and limb. It belittles the witchhunts of the red scare, glosses over a red-state climate of intimidation and reprisal in which free speech can invite death threats.

Alienating rhetoric of this sort is certain to push misguided whites into the waiting arms of the GOP, because it tells them that the Left doesn't value what they have to give. So much for that brief walk.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:58 AM on July 11, 2006


Kid Ichorous: But Adzuki, you're advocating a double standard here, because you're asking the community to factually refute claims which you refuse to factually support. As you said earlier:

But you're trying to establish the factual truth of an observation like "12. If I have children and pursue a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home."

Is this an issue that a woman might have to deal with, which a man will not? That's the question I ask myself to gauge its truth. The community seems to want harder evidence. That's impossible for me to give, but the lack doesn't refute the statement. You can then say that it has no value, but I don't buy that -- people make observations and generalities about their experiences all the time without being subjected to standards of proof.

Kid Ichorous: A more persuasive counter against the idea of a net male privilege would be the contentions that women have the privilege of longer lifespans, the privilege of avoiding the draft (like our president...), are victimized by crime in lesser numbers, and so on. It seems like a futile and arbitrary exercise to try and quantify and tally up all of the unique accusations of privilege enjoyed by men versus women, and try to determine once and for all who the greater victim is....

See, *you* have injected the idea of "net privilege" into the argument, as if listing these things scores points for women in a zero sum game. This isn't about proving that net, women are worse off. It's about listing ways in which their gender is an issue for women. And for men, if you'd like.

It does go both ways. Your list for female privilege could include "1. I don't have to worry about being drafted". That's be totally valid, and attacking it based on salary wouldn't refute the validity of the idea. Because the idea is just an observation of inequality.

And the list as a whole is not just a list of trivial inequalities for the sake of making the list longer. It's posited that these are inequalities that the beneficiaries take for granted without realizing.
posted by adzuki at 5:15 AM on July 11, 2006


I have thought for a while that women should learn more about the way men talk... they are using the wrong conversational tactics for the environment - like in meetings, or in university seminars

But this is exactly the problem. Why is the male pattern of talking the default or the right one. Maybe men should learn how women talk and learn that to women, interrupting is rude and condescending. Maybe men abd women should learn how each other talk and try to find a way that works for everyone.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:03 AM on July 11, 2006


And the list as a whole is not just a list of trivial inequalities for the sake of making the list longer. It's posited that these are inequalities that the beneficiaries take for granted without realizing.

And this is the argument predicated on circular logic implicit in the definition of "invisible privilege" that I endeavored to refute in my original post. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge these so-called "rampant inequalities" can be said to have merely failed to detect them, because they're a beneficiary of them. This essentially gives a monopoly on the discussion of these "inequalities"to only those who believe they exist.

Furthermore, this shoddy position can be re-vamped to support the existence of virtually anything via this train of circular logic inherent in its definition, see my earlier post about how I could claim that witchcraft exists using the exact same reasoning.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 6:26 AM on July 11, 2006


Still, it remains better to be at the top in the penthouse...you can be nice to those not so fortunate, help when possible, show them the way etc. But if you want to move out, or down, then do so.
posted by Postroad at 6:32 AM on July 11, 2006


Furthermore, this shoddy position can be re-vamped to support the existence of virtually anything via this train of circular logic inherent in its definition, see my earlier post about how I could claim that witchcraft exists using the exact same reasoning.

Here's what this argument says to me:

"As a black man I have to deal with people expecting me to speak for all blacks."

"I haven't noticed that to be true. I don't expect a black man to speak for his entire race. I don't see that expectation in others or in the world."

"Well maybe that's because that expectation is never applied to you because you're white. If it were, I promise that you would notice it."

"Aha! That's circular logic. You could prove that witches exist just as easily".


When someone's perspective allows them to see things more easily that you, what more do you want from them? Obviously claiming that they really do experience these things, and explaining why you do not is not enough for you. You seem to want to disbelieve these experiences the same way you disbelieve in witchcraft. Do you really need for minorities to prove that their individual experiences with racism are true?
posted by adzuki at 7:36 AM on July 11, 2006


I can't understand how some people think that these lists are in any way not attacking the privileged group they discuss. It's like walking up to someone in the street and saying 'you have no idea how lucky you are to have clothes, and live in xxx, and get dinner every night, and this, and that, and so on, and you know, nobody else has that. And they can't have it because you don't acknowledge how lucky you are!'.

It's possible that back in the day, it didn't have this effect. However these days, just about everybody knows* that the world is being run and ruined by white males. In that context, this is just another way to say 'see how good you have it? It still is all your fault!'.



*has been told, even if they don't believe it themselves.
posted by jacalata at 7:37 AM on July 11, 2006


But adzuki, my perspective allows me to see that claims of sexism are always made up, and I can see that because I'm male, and women can't because they have a vested interest in believing that sexism exists as an excuse for not being more successful. Why don't you simply accept my superior perceptive abilities? What more do you want?


/unprovable claim
posted by jacalata at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2006


Re: Law Talkin' Guy

"I was reading these Chekhov short stories the other day--where he chronicles rural poverty in Russia--and though I was initially moved by the plight of the human qualities of how these characters suffered, I did some research and discovered that Chekhov made it all up! I'm willing to bet that the hospital he discusses, the different heroes and villains, don't even exist in reality! I was talking to a friend of mine who was moved by these stories and said, How can you feel empathy for these characters when they're obviously fake? He told me that although the point of a characterization in a novel was not whether the characterizations duplicated empirical reality, but whether they allowed us to learn what it was like to live as someone else. I said, How can we actually say that this is what they live like? Chekhov hasn't provided any statistical measurements. And how can I feel compassionate when he suffers from a logical fallacy of composition--surely not all small border towns in the snowy country of Russia are like this? He stated that this missed the point. Chekhov's characterization--whether about large sociological details like wealth disparity, or small ones, like the way a certain waiter's badge makes him look like a flunkie--were purposely hypothetical; they did not demand or proffer proof, but asked us to say, what if this were the case? Then what? I stated this was circular reasoning--and how can I miss the point if he is unwilling to furnish proof that Chekhov's characters and the specific events he discusses actually existed in the historical record?--and we were unable to talk any longer."
posted by kensanway at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


jacalata, you, as a human being, probably believe that the experiences of others can be true, and that their observations have merit. We consider those claims that are compatible with what we observe, and we reject the claims which contradict things we know.

And so, regular human communication can deal with unprovable claims. We can deal with them rationally without rejecting everything that is unprovable.

Do you deny that racism and sexism exist? If not, then would you deny each and every instance of racism, or sexism, simply because the instances are seen through the eyes of someone who can offer no more proof then, "yes, it's real and it's happened to me".
posted by adzuki at 8:22 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


adzuki says: When I read arguments like "if you're a woman men will buy you drinks" as if that evens it out, or an attack on the methodology, I feel like the writers are missing the point. Somewhat ironically, I might add.


I was the only one to mention buying drinks in the thread and it was a joke and it was listed along with incarceration rates and compulsory military service. Kind of like how the list had bullshit next to serious claims. You had to go out of your way to miss any point I was making. Somewhat ironically, I might add.

My point is that women and men are for the most part treated differently because they are different. I don't think male privilege is as accurate a label as privilege gained from one dimensional priorities, being less averse to risk, aggression, and stubbornness. These are all attributes that men have on average much more than women and these attributes explain a great deal of the differences in social rewards that men and women experience. So if real differences are the reason that men and women have different experiences and men and women are on the whole enjoy pretty much equal privilege then what is the problem?

The thing about the psychological sexual dimorphism that I've crudely outlined is that as a society we punish it as often as we reward it. Huge amounts of men commit crime and men are locked up for it. Men choose dangerous jobs and die or are injured. Men spend more hours working away from the home and die younger. Do you think women should make as much money at work as men? What if on average they work fewer hours (they do)? Do you think we should incarcerate as many women as men?

So while I think that the white privilege list is generally valid I don't think the same about the male privilege list. Is the fact that a women is less likely to face incarceration than man a privilege? I don't think so, not if it is a real consequence of committing less, and less serious, crime. Women are clearly better at obeying the law when compared with men. Similarly most men are better than most women at a number of things.
posted by I Foody at 8:34 AM on July 11, 2006


I have seen situations where heterosexuals say they have "no problem" with homosexuality, they "just don't want to know about it," yet they don't seem to realize that every time they mention their spouse, hold hands in public, or even kiss or show afffection in any way in public, it's behavior that would be "rubbing it in our faces" were it two homosexuals doing the exact same thing. So, yeah, some of that list rings true, at least.

I was hanging out with a friend last weekend, and we were debating the merits of living in D.C. versus Northern Virginia. I said I would never live in D.C. because of the poor services, high taxes, blah, blah, blah. She said she loved D.C. for the city life, being able to walk places, yada, yada, yada. We argued back and forth until she said: "I can trump anything you say. If my partner and I were in a car accident in Virginia, the state would not recognize our legal partnership."

And she was absolutely right. I had no rebuttal for that. And as bias-free as I try to be (I don't think it's possible for people to be completely without bias), it was a slap in the face reminder of the privileges that I, as a straight woman, take for granted.

All of those who are being defensive in this thread are making the classic mistake of thinking that their individual actions are being called into question. And by refusing to admit that there is still inherent bias they guarantee it's continuity.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:16 AM on July 11, 2006



If the intent of the peice(s) is to foster empathy - ok. But it doesn’t come off that way.

"The issue is not 'why are black people so mad about racism?' but 'why aren't more white people?'" - posted by salvia

Which makes the assumption that white people could do something about it. The premise here is flawed. In that there is a kind of unthinking oppression going on - there isn’t. Racism is a learned thing. The questions should be directed at what perpetuates it and, more importantly, why?
Who benefits? I grant many white people do, but not to the extent that a small minority of very privilaged individuals do.
We recognize that racism is an artifice, but don’t recognize the artificers here. Divide and conquer - it’s not just a cute name for a video game.

On a personal level - I had a friend in high school, black guy, who killed himself. He couldn’t get a date for the prom, amongst other things. Never really felt accepted. So what was I to do? Force some girls to go out with him? I was as good a friend as I could be. I was around for him. Made him laugh when he needed it. Hung out, introduced him to my other friends, etc. And he did the same for me. If anyone used any racial slurs it wasn’t in my presence and I’d’ve flattened anyone I found doing that. It was just sort of a set asideness. A sort of otherness there. How the hell do you change that? I couldn’t have felt more empathy for him, he was my friend.

This kind of discussion is all well and good until you get to the brass tacks. Yes, we need social institutions to foster understanding. But the assumption is that I am unaware of these things - and yes it’s not about me - but then what’s the point?
Generally speaking white males are unaware of their privilege. Ok - so? Once they become aware, the next step is?

Back to square one - why does that disparity exist in the first place? Because someone benefits from it and it’s not the minimal social privileges that are the purpose, but the large material privileges that foster divisions in religion, ethnicity, etc. etc.

People on metafilter bitch loudly about how the Republicans are using the issue of illegal immigrants as a stalking horse to appeal to the mouth breathers and yet some folks can’t make the connection that those social privileges might serve the same sort of purpose?

Either this is preaching to the choir or scolding the ignorant, as a teaching tool it might be great, but the other shoe, as far as I’ve seen, wasn’t dropped.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:29 AM on July 11, 2006


ereshkigal45: "I can trump anything you say. If my partner and I were in a car accident in Virginia, the state would not recognize our legal partnership."

I think this is so important to remember: people who look privileged on the outside may, in fact, be dealing with all sorts of institutional/societal oppression on the inside.

I mean, consider for a minute that the legislature/people/government of Virginia have said to a woman they do not even know: "if the person you love most in the world is near death, we will not let you anywhere near her, because we don't think you're her family, even though you're considered family a hundred yards away on the other side of the Potomac."

If it's an especially snowy day, does she advise a friend arriving from out of town at Dulles Airport to take a cab into DC to avoid the risk of an accident in her own car? Does she take a more expensive flight to go on vacation instead of driving through Virginia, the risk of injury/fatality being lower? These things aren't just silly meaningless facts: they directly affect the choices she makes on a daily basis.

As a gay man myself (somehow compelled to out himself on MetaFilter because of this post), I've had to accept similar limitations, especially with regards to my career (English teaching) and the country I live in (Indonesia): there are certain things I have been specifically told I cannot talk about with my (often very religiously conservative) students, certain conversations I avoid at work, and certain topics I avoid in my conversation classes. One of these classes uses this book, and Unit 16, "Ben and Mike," deals with two straight men who are perceived to be homosexual, which is the closest the book gets to addressing homosexuality at all, and which, I feel, presents the very essence of my being in an undesirable light.

Now, do I teach this unit so all the classes my school offers are offered the same material, or do I skip it and fill the time in with something else? The fact that I even have to ask this question - "is the lesson I am teaching inherently offensive to me?" - tells me that the tools of the career I'm in are not geared toward accepting deviation from a perceived, straight norm.

Every time I look for filed pictures of people to present, say, the vocabulary of family members ("grandmother," "aunt"...), I only have access to a library of supporting materials and books which feature straight families. That, to me, is oppression.

Every time I'm asked if I have a girlfriend, I have to think about the consequences and assumptions that come with saying no.

Every time my eighth-graders decide to exchange another homophobic comment about the weak/insufficient behavior (especially on the sports field) of a classmate, I have to hold back from raising any possibility that their teacher might be one of them.

The oppression I feel, however seemingly insignificant to anyone other than me, is real, and it undeniably guides my actions, chooses my words, and affects my life. Peggy's got it right.
posted by mdonley at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2006


jb-Do you have any sources on the conversation patterns, and status systems? (because the topic interests me, not for a burden of proof).
posted by BillJenkins at 6:09 PM PST on July 10


I really should have looked up some references before I said it, I was just repeating some things I had heard on the radio/read somewhere/heard from my husband whose brother is a social psychologist. But lucky for me, I didn't rememeber wrong, and I found you some references. It seems one of the people doing this research is Deborah Tannen, and here's an article, and another which sums up some of the things she and others have found.

have thought for a while that women should learn more about the way men talk... they are using the wrong conversational tactics for the environment - like in meetings, or in university seminars

But this is exactly the problem. Why is the male pattern of talking the default or the right one. Maybe men should learn how women talk and learn that to women, interrupting is rude and condescending. Maybe men abd women should learn how each other talk and try to find a way that works for everyone.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:03 AM PST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


You're right that the fair thing would be for men and women to both find a nice compromise -- but the reality is that is not going to happen soon. My immediate advice to women right now would be to learn these skills -- actually, I try to give this advice to all my students in seminar, male or female. But looking back at my seminars, I also realise that I will have to fight to get the girls to talk more. In one class, mostly female, the girls talked alot. In another, not much at all. Pretty well the same topic (pre-modern history). It might have just been the luck of the draw (the girls in the second class were quiet even in private conversations with me). But they are doing themselves a disservice.

I am biased - I don't like female conversation patterns partly because, though female, I never mastered them and I find them frustrating. I prefer mixed gender groups, or the company of geeky guys. However, I do very well holding my own in formal meetings, including primarily male ones.

But the world is hierarchial and isn't about to stop being hierarchial - and if women want to get ahead, they really do need to learn to play that hierarchy.

posted by jb at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2006


Do you really need for minorities to prove that their individual experiences with racism are true?

Yes, I do. Is that so unreasonable? Individual claims about any other purported hardship should be substantiated before anyone presents them with the expectation that they be taken seriously, at least by me. Why should "invisible privilege" be any different?

Also, I notice you've glossed over the portion of my earlier post asking you to explain why a man sharing his own personal experiences of privilege accorded to women is "missing the point." Since you're saying that the point is to see the world from someone else's perspective, I would think such a counter-example would be perfectly on-point.


As for Kensanway, surely you can appreciate the difference between information presented as fictional short stories and understood as such, and a scholarly publication presenting sweeping, brazen claims regarding hotly contested social issues.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 11:41 AM on July 11, 2006


The hope is that you will recognize the patterns of hegemony and refuse to take part in it, to the best of your ability.

What in the fuck does that mean? That is another non-answer that sounds great when you simply knee-jerk agree with the superficial premiss. And the premise is " all White straight males are privileged" which REALLY means "all White straight males are oppressors."

So. Are you saying I should ethically NOT take a job, loan, tax break, or contract offered to me when I know another candidate in competition for it (equally ore more abled) is a member of the supposed "oppressed" classes? Who has done this?

Why are we defensive? because these lists are a passive aggressive attack on me and by virtue of my skin color all sorts of assumptions are being made. The assumption is made that we don't know about the injustices of other people. And that we don't want to change things for the better.

I have not oppressed anyone. I am being blamed for vagaries of history and sins of my forefathers. But I am not being credited for who I am and the strides in human progress my ancestors also made.

There is a personal irony here. Legally I am not considered Caucasian. I am enough Native American to actually claim federal benefits. My grandmother used to scold us to go to the county "assayers" office (what ever the hell that is) and get registered with the reservation. I could have. And though that I could have paved an easier path through college and gained significant advantage. But I didn't. Mostly because I was lazy. But also because I thought it was all bullshit.

And you know what? I DO feel guilty about my "privilege." because my entire life I have been TOLD to. "White" males are the only ones held to these standards in this list. The rest of the world gets a buy.

You find yourself on a 10 man life raft in the middle of the ocean with say 10 Somali's of the same tribe. You are the only white christian male (or female). You are number eleven. Even if your a professional survival instructor, you are number eleven.

When push comes to shove guess who goes over board?

If the situation was reversed and the majority white Europeans at the very LEAST there would be debate over the merits of individual contribution to survival.

Few others in the world is conditioned to these values or held accountable to them.

The reason we want to know the POINT of these lists—and don't accept this "raise awareness" bullshit— is because I actually do want to know what to do. To get you fuckers off my back. And because I actually care. It seems though the identity politics crowd craves no action... at least nothing THEY need to do... rather they want to bitch about injustice (raise awareness) and then want us "oppressors" to do all the work to fix it. Well. Look. I got a full plate. I am working my privileged ass off as it is. I already thought I was helping. So to save time I need to know what you want me to do.

Obviously living correctly, putting my own life at risk helping less fortunate people, isn't enough to get me off the list. All it takes to get on the list is skin color and what is hanging between my legs.

Short of actual details on what people need to DO, and a debate on the merits of THOSE actions, the thinking these articles and classes stressing identity politics inspire nothing but resentment and division.

You want to help? Then teach classes and make lists that stress how we are the same. What we values and privileges we share. And see those become true.
posted by tkchrist at 11:54 AM on July 11, 2006


kid ichorous: Treepour, do you think making this sort of claim about white Americans advances that goal: "23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider." Can they really? Not only is this completely untrue . . .

First, this was probably more true when the list was written than it is now. Times change, some items may be more relevant '89 than they are now. I see no problem with this. No one claimed this list is universally true in all times and places.

But even today, I think there's still a kernel of truth to it. If I'm black (for example) and I criticize the government, I believe that there exists a significant chance (if the audience is broad enough) that what I have to say will be dismissed because I'm black. E.g., "Oh, he's just an angry black guy. You know how fired up they get about things." Such a dismissal would indeed portray me as a culture outsider.

If you don't think this is a realistic scenario, I dunno. Maybe we live on different planets or you're from a more enlightened future or something.
posted by treepour at 11:56 AM on July 11, 2006


Ok. mdonley at least has some balls here ... no insult intended. She actually has come out (literally) and gave me a specific instance to work with. Something I can DO. And one I can, and have, embraced and materially see though to codifying into law. One that does not detract from MY rights and privileges.

Equal marriage laws.

Mdonley I, a straight somewhat white male, would die (and or kill if need be) for your equal rights to marry the consenting adult you love. That you must live under threat for simply being who you are is not acceptable to me.

But Indonesia is not the US. And there you see the problem. That culture has not embraced the same values nor has it's democratic institutions taken root fully. So to to say that McIntosh has it "right" is highly unfair to me. I can't help you in Indonesia. Nor can I go back in time and see that the ideas you need to live freely are accepted more broadly.

So again. McIntosh is applying identity politics and creating a double standard. A standard that I cannot hope to address fairly. Not without melanin treatments and a sex change.

But I can work to see that what I believe—that we are the same in most ways and should have the same rights—come true.
posted by tkchrist at 12:16 PM on July 11, 2006


smedleyman: "Generally speaking white males are unaware of their privilege. Ok - so? Once they become aware, the next step is?"

Haven't you ever been going through some bad time, and you explained it to someone, and they said, "Wow, that sounds hard!" And you thought, "Thank you for understanding. It IS hard!" And then, the two of you are on the same team, and you feel bad for their difficulties, and they feel bad for whatever difficulties you've got, and you're friends?

Let's say, you were going through some bad time, and you explained it someone, and they said, "Thats not really happening to you! Why are you always trying to get special treatment for these life difficulties you're imagining!?! It's not my fault anyway! And what could I even do???" You might feel like this person is kind of a jerk. Not only does s/he not understand what you're going through nor express sympathy, but s/he actively wants you to question your perception, s/he took personally some statement you were making about difficulties in your life and reacted defensively... You're on opposite teams.

"The issue is not 'why are black people so mad about racism?' but 'why aren't more white people?'" - posted by salvia

Which makes the assumption that white people could do something about it.


Not necessarily. Years ago, I read a story about parents whose children were born super-premature. The baby can't really survive outside the womb without a machine, so they had to decide whether it was a miscarriage or a birth! Like a Terri Schiavo feeding-tube decision, but for your own tiny baby. Crazy, no?

As I read this article, I felt bad for the families. Yet, I didn't DO anything to help solve premature births. Nor to help those families. I didn't even give a dime to the Ronald McDonald Foundation. I didn't say "everyone has some sort of medical problems eventually -- why do they want special concern?" Nor did I feel guilty, even though I'm lucky enough that this never happened to me. Nor did I feel like a bad person, even though in my life, I very well may have said something about babies within earshot of some woman whose child died.

I just thought, "God, that sounds hard!" If God forbid it happened to one of my coworkers, I would be more attuned to some of the dilemnas her and her husband could be facing. I would hopefully say one fewer ignorant comment. I would hopefully have a slightly better understanding of difficulties others were facing.
posted by salvia at 12:23 PM on July 11, 2006


I'm still waiting for someone to even try and defend proposition #23 - that white people have the privilege to speak out against their government without fear of social ostracism.

I'd like to know what value such an historically incorrect and racist statement has, and why a prominent social scientist like McIntosh should not be called to task for making it.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:24 PM on July 11, 2006


The reason we want to know the POINT of these lists—and don't accept this "raise awareness" bullshit— is because I actually do want to know what to do. To get you fuckers off my back.

Why does it make you so upset that people say people who look a certain way have certain advantages? Don't you think it's true? Why not just agree with them? No one is saying it's your fault.
posted by salvia at 12:34 PM on July 11, 2006


I just thought, "God, that sounds hard!" If God forbid it happened to one of my coworkers, I would be more attuned to some of the dilemmas her and her husband could be facing. I would hopefully say one fewer ignorant comment. I would hopefully have a slightly better understanding of difficulties others were facing.

I know you totally mean well. But your assumption is that we DON'T do this already. Most people do. It's basic human empathy.

McIntosh is unfairly putting the burden solely on the people identified as "privileged" to be understanding. Everybody else get's a buy. FI: Take the accepted use of the word "nigger" and other racial pejoratives by black comedians.

Essentially nobody else is held to the same standard. And that does not wash. Nor will it work.

Also awareness is not the fundamental issue. It's an entire ethical can of worms that is not being addressed by the identity politics crowd.

The issue is: is dividing people up via identity functional and progressive? Or is it regressive? Does it heal resentments or cause them. What mechanisms do we use to heal these divides once we make them wider?

Awareness alone doesn't answer these very real questions. We are past the awareness step. We are at the actions step.

The question is, once we are aware, what else is fair in identity politics? Do give more weight to oppressed classes in terms of competitive economics? Do we pay reparations? Who shoulders the costs.

At this point the politics of blame all falls apart. The notion relies on somebody else - the oppressor majority - to do all the work to fix things.

That won't work.
posted by tkchrist at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2006


Treepour, you state (correctly) that a black person could be treated as a cultural outsider for criticizing the government.

This is not a proof of McIntosh's claim that whites are able to criticize the government without being rendered cultural outsiders. Any knowledge of American politics in the 20th and (thusfar) 21st century - from the labor movement, to the civil rights movement, to the red scare - shows McIntosh's statement to be completely wrong.

Is it not racist to make unsubstantiated and obviously false generalizations about people of a certain color?
posted by kid ichorous at 12:57 PM on July 11, 2006


You claim to get it, tkchrist, but it's clear that you never will.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:01 PM on July 11, 2006


No one is saying it's your fault.

Of course they are. If I am said to have unfair privilege over everybody else by virtue of who I am by birth. What else does that mean? And. Who else is to fix it?

Look there there are certain things, true, we cannot do anything about. We are born unequal. And this is nobodies fault.

We can however address the laws. And we have done so in this society. Not completely. But fairly well.

But after that we delve into other territory of the ethics individual to individual interaction. And that is tricky to navigate and still be fair. Who is the arbiter and how is the field made level? Or SHOULD it.

Take for instance sexual harassment policies. There is no denying that things were bad for professional women until this was addressed. Awareness was raised. Then solutions implemented.

But the solutions were implemented scattershot , thoughtlessly and largely draconian. Disproportional in favor of female workers (at first). Eh. It was new territory.

The policies were mostly extra-legal covenants companies felt compelled to make in the panic to head off lawsuits. And those solutions became institutionalized quickly.

There was serious unintended repercussions in the corporate world. repercussions that gave corporate HR departments totalitarian reign over basic human interactions. Policies that denied human reality (IE: most people meet their mates through work) and made life in corporation nearly unlivable. The terrible conditions we see working in corporate America today.

I would be fired today for dating met my wife if we were employed by the same company today. Luckily we went into business together on our own. Our policy now is we demand all our employees screw each other. ;-)
posted by tkchrist at 1:17 PM on July 11, 2006


You claim to get it, tkchrist, but it's clear that you never will.

Case and point. As long as people say stupid shit like this then "clearly" I will never HAVE to get it.

Especially when the magical "It" is never defined. So keep slicing and dicing society up into fragments that hate eachother.

Then. Nothing will change. I and my progeny will likely have hegemony for the foreseeable future. You will forever be bitter and resentful to everybody else for life. And, for me, the guy on top, that STILL works out fine.

You dig?
posted by tkchrist at 1:25 PM on July 11, 2006


tkchrist, I totally feel where you're coming from. The bit I quoted -- (The reason we want to know the POINT of these lists—and don't accept this "raise awareness" bullshit— is because I actually do want to know what to do. To get you fuckers off my back.) -- I asked Winona LaDuke the same question about seven years ago (without the "you fuckers" part).

I know I'm not answering you directly. But have you ever seen the Without Sanctuary lynching photos? Something changed in me after the first time I went through all those images. Those events weren't so long ago. The first photo I pulled up was from 1935. My grandparents were fifteen years old then. Man. My grandma's experience of the Depression completely affected my mom and now my life. My grandma had holes in her shoes -- others saw people being hung from trees by rabid crowds. Admittedly, most of the photos are from earlier, the 1910s. But the general principle is still pretty valid. The house I live in was built in the 1890s, twenty years before those lynchings happened. Jesus.

The thing about the politics of blame is that I think if you don't identify with the oppressor, then there's no sting to it, no blame involved. You might just get tired of hearing about it (I can only hear so much about the US's national deficit, too). But no one has ever come up to me and said "You're a racist!" Or "You! Solve racism in America!" Nor did the original post. So, why is it so hard for you to agree white privilege exists?

You ask what needs to be done to fix the divide. Is the divide-mending supposed to occur by people shutting up about what happened and still happens and just getting over it? I'll ask you, would you want to be friends with someone who wanted you to shut up about problems or hurts and couldn't just say "yeah, that sucks?" (Or at least "yeah, that sucks, we've talked about this a hundred times, what do you think of the national deficit?")

The other day I was at the car wash and asked this guy if I could trade him four quarters for a dollar bill. He gave it to me, that was the end of the exchange, then he came back over and thanked me for not being scared to ask him. I was like "WTF?" But apparently he'd asked someone else for the same favor fifteen minutes before that and this person had acted like he was about to rob them or something. Was it his race? His dreadlocks? His dirty pants? His big old van? Can't say for sure, but the ambiguity is there. Plus, even at my grimiest -- even when I was hitchiking by approaching people at gas stations for God's sake -- no one has ever, ever reacted as though I was about to rob them, not even very tiny women that I could've easily overpowered.

My point is that there are -- somewhere in America -- at least a few people who are uncomfortable around black people and treat them differently in part because of how they look. The divide for myself has started to get bridged when I stopped being the person who said, "you're overreacting, what can I even do about it?!?" and started saying "whoa, someone did what? That sucks." And then we were on the same team about the issue.*

A friend of mine has some phrase, "the grace that flows freely," and it is perfect for certain situations. When someone does a really big favor for you, you probably don't tersely say "thanks" once and then say "the topic is now closed." You're grateful, and your gratitude probably flows freely. If I regret having hurt someone, my regret and sorrow at having done that is a constant fact, a grace that flows freely.** If I feel bad for historical circumstances that a group experienced and in some cases may still experience, my concern about that is a grace that flows freely. It doesn't cost me anything, it doesn't hurt me, to think about the ways race still affects people's lives and to admit that it sucks.

* I don't mean to essentialize race -- a roommate and a college friend both look "black" but don't identify with these experiences or struggles at all because of the context in which they were raised. And no, I don't think I'm really so perfect -- this was just one good experience.

** Sure, sometimes I get fed up, but I'm talking ideally here. If I'm actually sorry I slammed their fingers in the car door, I can probably say so more times than they need to hear it.
posted by salvia at 2:30 PM on July 11, 2006 [3 favorites]


Okay, it is worrying that none of McIntosh's supporters seem to acknowledge the racism and irrational assumptions behind claims like number 23.

We can be so ardent when denouncing the invisible racism of others, but when that finger is pointed at us, at a visible example of irrational racism in the axioms we speak and assume, where is the rage?

For those who support McIntosh:
Have you ever rolled your eyes when an Amiri Baraka rails against the invisible cabal of "Jew bankers", or when a Republican pundit heaps blame for every social ill upon immigrant workers? The next time you do so, please consider whether the axioms you believe in might have their own bogeymen, might make their own unfounded and unfair assumptions about skin color or gender, and might suffer from the same human shortcomings of reasoning. And consider whether you have a duty to scrutinize your own assumptions with the same "cold eye" you cast on others.

We, on any side of this issue, owe this consideration because we ask it and expect it from others.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:59 PM on July 11, 2006


Salvia--great, mature post!
posted by kensanway at 5:01 PM on July 11, 2006


Those lists are racist, sexist exercises in bigotry.

That isn't invisible to me, it is quite evident.
posted by Megafly at 6:57 PM on July 11, 2006


tkchrist - I know you probably won't see this, as I've hopped in way down here at the bottom.
Several of your above comments seemed to revolve around the whole - "Hey! Ok! I get it! I'm privileged, the 'others' are less privileged, all right. What the hell am I supposed to do?" argument. I understand and relate to what you are saying.
The course I have chosen to take can be modeled simply on an analogy involving a credit card and the accompanying bill.
Unfortunately, when you were born, many characteristics were purchased for you on a theoretical credit line (your whiteness, your maleness, your sexual orientation) and because of this you are said to be privileged.
If you are really interested in rectifying the situation, you need to pay back the balance - in service to those who have suffered from your privilege.
For example: Who has suffered? Many. Are you wearing clothes? Odds are - you received a discount on those clothes due to the cheap, available labor that was used to produce them. Therefore - someone, somewhere suffered so that you could buy a $15 t-shirt. You owe them those resources.
Pay off your credit debt to the poor, the hurt, the marginalized! You owe them! You could not have the life you have if someone, somewhere was not suffering in poverty.

Full disclaimer: I am drunk. But seriously. Drunken wisdom, and all that.
ok. goodnight metafilter.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:08 PM on July 11, 2006


Unfortunately, when you were born, many characteristics were purchased for you on a theoretical credit line (your whiteness, your maleness, your sexual orientation) and because of this you are said to be privileged. If you are really interested in rectifying the situation, you need to pay back the balance - in service to those who have suffered from your privilege.

How has the color of his skin deprived anyone of anything? How has his choice of sexual orientation caused suffering?
posted by kid ichorous at 10:16 PM on July 11, 2006


Incorrect wording on my part - he didn't choose his sexual orientation. Nevertheless, how does his sexual orientation cause suffering?

I think I've posted in this thread more than enough, but there are some important questions to ask given the wholesale assumptions that are being made here.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:49 PM on July 11, 2006


kid ichorous, you state that statement #23 is racist because it makes "unsubstantiated and obviously false generalizations about people of a certain color" when it claims that a white person can criticize the government without fear of being perceived as a cultural outsider. You point out that this most certiainly isn't the case today, nor has it been the case throughout several significant portions of American 20th century history.

As for the latter point, I agree -- but I don't think this invalidates the list or makes McIntosh's statement "completely wrong," because no one (as far as I'm aware) has claimed that the list is intended to be universally applicable to every moment within the entire history of 20th-21st century America. Could it have been true in '89? Maybe it could have, at least in the majority of situations. I don't know for sure, but it seems to me at least much more plausible in '89 than it does now (or, say, during the McCarthy era).

If you claimed that #23 could have been better stated, I would also agree. I admit that I bristle a bit at what I feel is an overly-confident tone. But I don't think that makes McIntosh a racist -- I think it means nothing more than #23 could have been better stated. Whereas you see an unacknowledged racism, I see what I consider a very valid point that's consistent with McIntosh's project: namely, that it's generally (at least at the historical moment in which the list was compiled) much more likely that someone of a minority race -- vs. someone of the majority race -- will be viewed or portrayed as a "cultural outsider" when criticizing the government's policies.
posted by treepour at 11:50 PM on July 11, 2006


Salvia, I liked your post allot.

But the one flaw is this: So, why is it so hard for you to agree white privilege exists?

I agree that privilege exists. I feel a bit bad about it. And it likely has some racial component in many places and certainly did in recent times past. It does me know good to dwell on it at this point.

I wake up every day and thank the universe for how lucky I have it. Seriously. I make it a point. And I work my ass off to keep it.

I think "Wow, people not born as lucky as me must have to work even harder." Wow that must suck. But there you go. You want more. Then WORK YOUR ASS OFF to get it. Stop trying to take what isn't yours (the general you, not "you" salvia) out of some sense of justified entitlement.

I'm not entitled to this lifestyle and neither is anybody.

I was hoping somebody would bite at my direct examples of loans and reparations. But nobody did. Wisely. And hypocritically. because Id Poll people USED to when McInosh wrote that list. Reparations were the solutions the academics endorsed. They (race based quotas and reparations etc) proved utterly unethical and unworkable. People still propose them disguised as other notions because they have emotional appeal to a particular political base. But nobody has any idea how to make them work.

I keep my advantage and I try to help other people. But I hate it when people then rub my advantages in my face WHEN THEY WANT THEM TOO. The only people they want to sacrifice for a better world is me. Taking nothing else into consideration but my gender and skin color. This I find offensive because of my values and sense of fairness.

My parents, who grew up dirt fucking poor in SE Idaho in the depression, worked their ASSES off to see I had some kind of advantage in life. Who wants to see their children work harder than they did? Nobody.

We are often in competition in this life. In the US it's us middle class people who tend to forget it BECauSE we have it so easy. Until our jobs get shipped of to India or something. In india they know we are in competition. It's the privileged who invent over romanticized notions of how the world works. And we lose our advantages to people who don't share our values. We lose the power to make the world better because somebody else who doesn't give a shit is suddenly in charge.
posted by tkchrist at 12:17 PM on July 12, 2006


Thanks, kensanway. I liked your Chekhov analogy a lot.

tkchrist, I hear where you're coming from. A sense of entitlement bugs me too. Maybe we've just had different experiences on some of the other stuff (eg, being asked to sacrifice).
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on July 12, 2006


“And then, the two of you are on the same team, and you feel bad for their difficulties” - posted by salvia

Putcher hands up saliva, my concession to that idea went over your head. Fostering empathy? Great. It doesn’t read that way tho. Probably a problem in execution. And perhaps the change over time.

I was walking on a military base once, a couple of people, obviously dating, were walking holding hands. The guy (black) let go of the (white) girl’s hands. I felt insulted.
Did I get it? Did I understand why he felt threatened. Yes. Does that mean I shouldn’t feel insulted because he thinks I’m a racist cracker? No.

Bit later as a civilian, I walked by some gay guys holding hands. This was near, but not in, the “boystown” area in Chicago. They kept holding hands. I felt gratified. Then some idiots behind me started laughing and said “Fags” or some such. And my wife and I (and the men in question) confronted them. Me being who I am, berated them (”What are you guys from fucking Kansas?” is I believe what I said). They gay men were happy that my wife and I defended them, but they didn’t seem surprised. That was gratifying.
There is a difference in these two encounters and note - I am exactly the same person.

But again - what you’re saying and how you’re saying it and how the piece in question reads - two different things.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2006


Sorry if I missed the concession, smedleyman. I like your stories and what I take to be their point.
posted by salvia at 3:26 PM on July 13, 2006


No prob, salvia. Not a criticism. Just clarifying.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:23 PM on July 13, 2006


/matter of fact I think you defend the general issue well, and make a better point than the pieces themselves.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:24 PM on July 13, 2006


« Older Max Factors:...  |  NES Zidane... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments