• Pseudo-Liberals, Check Your Understanding of Privilege

    If you have so much as a passing interest in this blog, you will doubtless be aware that the kookiness of the far left functions as both a major irritant and a rich vein of content. And while there is no shortage of illiberal talking points for me to take issue with, there is perhaps none more egregious than the denuded concept of bigotry that has taken root within the cliff-hanging lefty community.

    For those unsure of what I’m referring to, the idea that straight white males (SWMs) cannot be subjected to bigotry of any flavour is one often parroted by those on the far left. In much the same way conservatives have tried to limit the concept of marriage, these individuals wish to redefine bigotry in order to exclude a group of people. The irony of this should be rather obvious, and it only becomes more so as one delves into the details.

    The supporting argument for their claim generally goes as follows:

    1. Bigotry (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) is prejudice plus power/privilege (power and privilege are interchangeable in this context).
    2. SWMs have power/privilege (socioeconomic, political, and institutional).
    3. Therefore, it is impossible for SWMs to be victims of bigotry/impossible for groups without power to perpetrate bigotry.

    There are several problems with this argument, the most obvious of which is its faulty premise. What it describes is institutional bigotry, which is a specific form of bigotry that barely scratches the concept’s surface. This definition can be traced back to Patricia Bidol-Padva’s relatively obscure 1970 book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-Media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level, and it isn’t particularly well-subscribed outside of far left circles. That being said, let’s accept the premise for discussion’s sake.

    I want to start by conceding something that should be self-evident. White privilege is a thing, as is straight privilege, and male privilege. All else being equal, being a SWM comes with more advantages. However, all else is rarely if ever equal. Privilege is far more than just race, gender, and sexuality. It encompasses everything that shapes the character of one’s existence. The preoccupation with specific groups reveals contradictions in the far left worldview. Subscribing to such a simplified, self-serving conception of privilege necessitates committing precisely those transgressions pseudo-liberals claim to abhor: treating certain groups as a monolith; reducing people to skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and on that basis making assumptions about character and lived experience.

    The far left should be exquisitely sensitive to the folly of making wild generalisations about certain categories of people, particularly in light of the fact that they perceive said categories entirely as social constructions. If asked, they would endorse the idea of individuality, yet the irony is that doing so would instantly reveal the flaws in their argument. Individual experience cannot be reduced to a handful of elements within a sea of variables. Let’s use an absurd example to illustrate the point.

    Barack Obama is approached by a homeless SWM. He punches the homeless man, and then cites his hatred of white people as motive for doing so. Of the two people, who holds the power in this example? That the president’s actions were motivated by racism should be obvious, but let’s keep stacking the deck. In addition to being homeless, the man is in a wheelchair, was born with a slew of learning disabilities, and has suffered from severe clinical depression since the age of fourteen. In evaluating his quality of life, how much emphasis should we place on his race, gender, and sexuality? Is he in a more privileged position than the president simply because he’s white? It should be clear that other factors have had a more profound effect on the man’s quality of life. The example is deliberately absurd, but it needn’t be.

    Let’s replace Obama with a gay black woman and the homeless man with a transgender woman. Is the gay black woman transphobic? Who is in a more powerful position? What if the example instead contains a white woman and a black man? Do we have a privilege mathematician on hand who can do the calculation for us? It should be abundantly clear that we don’t have nearly enough information to determine who is more privileged, and it wouldn’t matter even if we had comprehensive life histories. Racism is racism, sexism is sexism, transphobia is transphobia, and so on. We don’t require a hierarchy of privilege in order to recognise bigotry when we see it.

    It’s difficult not to view such ideas with cynicism. The far left has a habit of inventing arguments and buzzwords that appear designed for the sole purpose of allowing them to get away with things they spend their lives railing against. It’s one giant exculpatory gymnastics routine, and I think we’re all a little tired of watching it.

    Category: FeaturedgendersexSkepticism

    Article by: James MacDonald

    James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to sports writing, James holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Social Sciences and covers subjects including sex, gender, secularism, media, and gaming, among others.
    • ElectroMagneticJosh

      I wonder how much of this has to do with the removal of class/economics from a lot of left-wing discourse. It seems that many, particularly from the US*, come from economically comfortable positions and so often fail to identify their own privilege in these areas. This seems particularly true among university student who, by virtue of the fact they are in higher education, have a level of privilege that, to them at least, goes unnoticed (and un-examined).

      They have a conceptual understanding of what privilege means but only know how to apply it to personal identity and, even then, in narrow categories. Your straight, white, homeless man is a perfect example of how this approach can grossly miss the boat.

      But, then again, maybe that’s just my privilege talking.

      *I have no evidence for this – it is purely the sense I get.

      • I’m not sure why this privilege narrative seems to resonate with college and university students. I can’t say I have really witnessed the same thing here in the UK, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been around the campus scene. It was certainly never something that was pushed on me by my professors.

        It’s certainly not a coincidence that my ex-girlfriend, who’s from RI, suddenly started spouting these talking points when she attended Suffolk University.

        • Rhode Island?

          • Yep. She’s originally from Belarus, but was raised in Rhode Island.

            • You’re taking the piss, surely.

            • No. Why? I’m starting to get the feeling that I’ve said something stupid.

              Is it because I’m from the UK and she’s in the US?

            • Yes that was the confusing bit.

            • We met online five and half years ago, then we met in real life a year and a half later. She had planned to move over here, but we broke up on Christmas day of 2014! Best part? She wasn’t due to fly back home for two more weeks, so we endured a fortnight of awkwardness.

              It isn’t for most people, but long distance works for me to a certain extent. I need my space, and it gives you a chance to miss the other person.

            • After 20 years of marriage, I vaguely remember that feeling. 😉

    • Avi Burstein

      To see the absurdity in the “bigotry = prejudice plus power/privilege” argument, one need only try applying it to the KKK, which is now (but admittedly wasn’t always) a tiny, fringe group with zero power in this country. Yet, according to that skewed definition of bigotry, because they don’t have any power, they couldn’t really be called bigoted!

    • Avi Burstein

      In addition to your keen insights, I think an important point that most people miss on this issue is that any specific notion of privilege is very contextually based, and instead of seeing different contexts separately, they are almost always conflated equally. For example, I can readily admit that in a great many situations in the western world an Arabic looking person will be treated less fairly than a non-Arabic person, and based on that fact, it’s understandable that a SJW will be sympathetic to them. Yet, they will then go and apply that sympathy to all Arabs, even those living in Arabic countries in the Middle East, where there is no privilege disadvantage at play.

      A more concrete example: I can be sympathetic to those who object to criticism aimed at a burka wearing woman in the US based on the feeling that there’s too much hostility towards Muslims in American society. (To be clear: I’ll still think requiring a woman to wear a burka is a horribly objectionable practice, and I won’t apologize for my view, but I’d be understanding of the resistance to be critical of those who choose to adopt that practice, in that situation.) However, that privilege-pointing-SJW will typically extend that same defense when the burka criticism is applied to those living in Muslim countries where those misogynistic practices are held by the majority and where no one is being disadvantaged for being a Muslim. They seem unable to recognize that the basis for their defense of the Muslim in the US (being less privileged) no longer applies in a Muslim country.

      Context matters.

      • That’s a very a good point, and it’s one I should have probably included. The idea of a privilege hierarchy based on less than a handful of factors is absurd in and of itself. It’s even more absurd to think that it would remain the same irrespective of cultural context.

    • I tend to think of privilege as something to be aware of within oneself, something that evolves over time, something complex and subtle and nuanced. The concept of privilege as a set of simple identitarian checkboxes is bound to lead to absurdities, especially when dealing with strangers in virtual spaces.

    • I agree that redefining the words racism, bigotry, misogyny, etc to mean prejudice plus power isn’t helpful. If they’re describing institutionalized versions of those things, they should say so. I think a big part of why this is common is because many colleges are teaching this as fact in the US. My sociology professor did so.
      I think we need to look at why this is being taught at accredited universities.

    • Richard Metzler

      Actually, the point that bothers me even more abut privilege is this: just like they redefined racism, SJWs have redefined privilege. It used to mean “private law” – “formal special rights enjoyed by a small elite”, and “informal special rights enjoyed by the 97% of people who happen to be straight” doesn’t really make sense in the same way. However, when you’re using the word privilege, the connotation is still “this is unfair and needs to be abolished”. But when you read the actual lists of “male privilege”, “white privilege” etc on the net, they mostly boil down to “this person is treated as a human being, as everyone should”. It would improve the discussion a lot if people wouldn’t conflate everything into the meaningless word privilege, but instead talk about discrimination and its absence, advantages that follow naturally from a condition (is it really a privilege that thin people are healthier?), rights and duties etc. Also, as noted by other commenters, it would be a useful abstraction to think about “advantages for the ethnic majority in a society” instead of “white privilege”.

      • Eric Bohlman

        Exactly. The current understanding of “privilege” conflates two completely different things: 1) People being allowed to get away with doing bad things simply because of who they are, or getting undeserved rewards simply because of who they are and 2) People not getting shit on simply because of who they are.

        An enlightened, civilized society wants 1) for nobody and 2) for everybody.

    • MonsterBansheeRage3D

      Who is more privileged: Jonathan Butler, the black Missouri University student, from a mult-million dollar family, that was pursuing his graduate degree when he led a hunger strike for racial equality? Or some white trash kid growing up in the “white ghettos” of Appalachia, whose parents are on disability/welfare, and live in a dying coal town with sub-par education and little to no job availability?

      I, personally, can’t answer such a question. However, I couldn’t help but laugh at the glaringly obvious hypocrisy of an extremely wealthy university master’s student telling other people that they need to “check their privilege” of being born with the inherent advantage of a specific skin color. I mean, it’s not like Butler grew up with an immense amount of privilege that was conferred to him simply for being lucky enough to be born to wealthy parents.

      I won’t hold my breath for a hunger strike demanding Butler publicly address and apologize for his straight, Christian, wealthy family privileges.

    • Actually, it not just the Far Left. This sort of thinking, predicated upon Bidol-Padva’s 1970 work infiltrated the educational system in 1973, specifically when the National Education Association said:

      In the United States at present, only whites can be racists, since
      whites dominate and control the institutions that create and enforce
      American cultural norms and values… blacks and other Third World
      peoples do not have access to the power to enforce any prejudices they
      may have, so they cannot, by definition, be racists.
      All white individuals in our society are racists. Even if a white is
      totally free from all conscious racial prejudices, he remains a racist,
      for he receives benefits distributed by a white racist society through
      its institutions. Our institutional and cultural processes are so
      arranged as to automatically benefit whites, just because they are

      From that point it became a core concept among Blacks and most levels of the Left, not just the extremists. It also became entrenched in the US school system.