“Privilege” is a stupid, obnoxious term.

Avatar

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

Related Post Roulette

401 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam says:

    In ordinary language being “privileged” means having it all while being blissfully ignorant of having it all.

    Which is precisely the point of using privilege to describe the obvious advantages enjoyed by whites, by straights, by men, etc.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Sam says:

      Whites, straights, and men, etc. do not have it *all* though. Not in the sense that an ordinary person would say makes every last one of them “privleged”. They didn’t all go to elite prep schools. They didn’t all learn what each fork is used for. They didn’t all get internships at their daddy’s companies, and they won’t all inherit vice presidencies upon graduation.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Privilege is not either a 1 or a 0.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Vikram,

        That is certainly true. Whites, straights, and men do not necessarily have it all. They do generally have more than anybody else though, which is a privilege in the classic sense of the term.Report

      • Avatar SammySneel in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Privilege is not either a 1 or a 0.

        No, but if you put those two together you can numerically define the girl in the picture.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        True, but they all do benefit from the fact that they are, on the surface, largely indistinguishable from those who have. A real 0.01%er can tell a phony from 100 feet away but J6P (or a cop, for instance) can’t if the phony puts even a token (ahem) amount of effort in. Which boils down to a thumb the size of Paul Bunyan’s on the scale of daily life, whether you’re aware of it or not.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Heh. The SUID bit is a 1 or a 0.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        We should also consider that privilege is not static.

        In a give situation, one might be privileged by being a woman. In another, they might be oppressed by that fact. And in a third, it might be inconsequential. A black man has male privilege but not racial privilege in most instances. A white woman has white privilege but not male privilege in most instances. We’ve talked before about the difficulty in sussing out which one is more or less privileged, more or less oppressed, but it is important to note that privilege is somewhat fluid; it is not a fixed binary.Report

      • @sam ,
        They do generally have more than anybody else though, which is a privilege in the classic sense of the term.

        Yes! Exactly that! “A privilege”. So why don’t we say “As a white male, you have privileges you may not be aware of” rather than “As a white male, you are privileged and ignorant of it.” Surely, I’m not the only one who sees a huge difference between those two statements.

        @kazzy ,

        Yes, if it were me, I would define “unearned privileges” and leave open for future investigation who has which unearned privileges. And we can then tally up whether white men or black females have more unearned privileges. That should be an empirically answerable question.

        If in contrast, we just start off by defining “male privilege” and “white privilege”, we’ve skipped some inferential steps. (I’m not saying that scholars in these fields have done this, but certainly public discourse has done this.)

        Even if both approaches lead to the same conclusion, the process matters if you care about truth.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @vikram-bath Vikram,

        My understanding is that that is what has been done. I’ll know more if I’m able to get out to the White Privilege Conference (WPC) this year. Colleagues who have gone in the past come back with a really intense understanding of how privilege functions.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Vikram,

        I don’t see the difference between your two statements, other than the inclusion of the harsh sounding “and ignorant of it.”Report

      • @sam,
        I broke a cardinal rule in not restricting myself to a single change. I submit that the following two are very different in how a prospective white man will process the statements:
        1. “As a white male, you have privileges you may not be aware of.”
        2. “As a white male, you are privileged and may not be aware of it.”

        #1 is more likely to get a “What privileges?”
        #2 is more likely to get a “But I’m not privileged.”

        Frankly, I think this ought to be a corollary to @kazzy ‘s blame-the-act-not-the-actor thing. Having privileges is something *everyone* can accept. Even a child knows that he has certain privileges that get taken away. Everyone knows they can be a good person and still have privileges. It would be weird to even think they were connected.

        Contrast that with being called “privileged”. You are now describing a seemingly unalterable trait of a person. And maybe there are some good people who are privileged, but it’s definitely not a neutral label. You wouldn’t walk up to someone and call them privileged with the same carefree attitude that you might say they have privileges.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Very well said, @vikram-bath

        I am far from perfect, but I try not to make people feel guilty about their privilege. That runs directly counter to ending it. Especially for those areas where we want to expand access to the advantage.

        “It’s great you have great schools! We want to keep that. But we also want other people to have great schools!”

        This is similar to Jason once writing about how we should want MORE rich people and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t really thought about it.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @sammysneel

        if you put those two together you can numerically define the girl in the picture.

        I think the Miss America judges might dock points for the pigeon-toeing.Report

      • I think what her pose says is “Even if I do this, I’m still hot.” It’s the female equivalent of fighting a guy with one hand tied behind your back because you’re just that cool.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Privilege is not either a 1 or a 0.

        Actually, in this usage, where you’re “privileged” if your are white, straight, or male (or maybe two but not necessarily all three nor as few as just one of those?), in fact it often does gets used as if it is a 0 or 1 phenomenon. People don’t say to a mansplaining straight guy on the internet, Hey man, don’t forget you’re at least an 8.5 on the privilege scale! They say, Hey man, you’re forgetting that as a straight (white in this example?) guy in this society, you are privileged. As in, if you were someone different you might not be, but you’re not, so you are, and in any case it’s one of those.

        That’s how we talk about it. Of course that’s not how it is, but that’s basically Vikram’s point as I take it. If the concept was used in interactions and rhetoric in a way that actually reflected the kinds of gradations of social privilege that actually exist in the world it would totally cloud up the way the term gets used and take a lot of the rhetorical bite out of exactly the kind of usage that Vikram is talking about.

        Privilege actually isn’t 0 or 1, but it’s in large part because we talk about it like it is that using the term has as much social salience as it does.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’ve been thinking about this off and on all day. Until recently, the vast majority of the uses of “privilege,” in the context of race or gender, that I saw outside of academic contexts were in the form of the phrase “under privileged.” The very idea that one can be “under privileged,” as opposed to not privileged at all, suggests that people understood that it was not an all or nothing thing. Only recently, and for me only on blogs (and I believe it originated on feminist blogs, because I started seeing it on race-issue blogs after I started seeing it on feminist blogs), in more colloquial uses, have I gotten the sense that people are being (in some, but not all cases) somewhat sloppy about it, and actually treating it as an absolute. This is a shame, but I don’t think it’s a problem with the word “privilege,” or with the concept as it has been used for some time in academia and even colloquially as in “under privileged,” but a problem with the medium itself, which tends to favor mental farts over carefully thought out discussion. I also don’t think academics should have foreseen this, because again, even it its colloquial uses, it wasn’t a problem before. Maybe they should come up with a new term now that it’s being polluted, but I don’t doubt that any term they came up with would quickly be polluted as well.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        This is a shame, but I don’t think it’s a problem with the word “privilege,”

        By all means, the problem I’m describing is certainly a function of the particulars of the use, not of the term itself. The term itself pretty much just stands there like the Monolith from A Space Odyssey.

        And I was sloppy myself in suggesting that the term is used exclusively or primarily in the all-or-nothing context. It’s certainly used as a relative descriptor often enough, and it’s entirely fair to point that out. I think the kind of use Vikram is talking about and that I also feel pretty ambivalent about is the bloggy/para-academic use where it becomes binary, and if you agree that’s unfortunate, then I think we’re all on the same page. Because I understand what Vikram’s referring to with that kind of use, I probably tuned out memories of uses that don’t fall into that category to some extent, and you’re right to point out that they’re common enough too.Report

      • I don’t think I was the first to say it, but, yes, I think when someone says a person is privileged, it sounds like a 0 or 1 thing, when it is not.

        In general, the places where “under privileged” is used–even sloppily, are not where I think there are big issues. I’m more concerned about how we speak to people who have never taken a social justice class before, has never encountered any of these definitions before, but turns on the radio and hears someone talking about white people like him are privileged and thinking “well, this person clearly doesn’t mean me or most of the people I know.” This guy doesn’t read blogs. He doesn’t read academic papers. He just comes across articles and news pieces here and there out of context.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @vikram-bath

        In general, the places where “under privileged” is used–even sloppily, are not where I think there are big issues. I’m more concerned about how we speak to people who have never taken a social justice class before, has never encountered any of these definitions before, but turns on the radio and hears someone talking about white people like him are privileged and thinking “well, this person clearly doesn’t mean me or most of the people I know.” This guy doesn’t read blogs. He doesn’t read academic papers. He just comes across articles and news pieces here and there out of context.

        This is really troublesome to me on many, many levels. I know people like that, no social justice classes, not prone to reading news, etc. And they get the concept of privilege. Believe me, they get it. For example, when they see or hear of some who’s trans; they get it. They’re astonished that someone would give the privilege of being male to be female; they get male privilege. And they get white privilege, too; if you don’t believe me, just go watch an episode of South Park.

        I think you’re seriously underestimating people’s comprehension of power differentials. You are, presumably, speaking of mostly Americans; I’d suggest you consider the ugly concepts of American exceptionalism. These people do not need tender language to help them understand power differentials, they comprehend quite well.

        I’d suspect, instead, that they do feel a lack of power over their own fate and fortune, and feeling more powerful than somebody else is sick way of feeling a little better about themselves.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’d be open to an alternative, though I think that if “privilege” is ultimately ineffective, “unnoticed privilege” is going to help much. I mean, it’s ultimately going to require as much explaining as “privilege,” save one word, because you’ve already included it.

        I know that, when talking about economics, I think of this in terms of equality of opportunity. For non-material things, like veronica’s story below, this doesn’t work, though. I mean, while it’s probably possible to talk about social dancing opportunities, it’s probably not a very effective rhetorical tactic. What about things like “male gaze,” or the difference between the social acceptability of talking about sex for men and women? I can’t imagine talking about these in terms of equality of opportunity. Privilege seems like the term at the appropriate level of abstraction that encompasses all these things without leaving too much out.

        That doesn’t mean that, as an abstract term, it won’t be open to misinterpretation and misuse, particularly in a medium as loose and, often, as lazy as blogging. I don’t know if you clicked over to the essay I linked earlier as an example of a discussion of these issues (in a particular context, though one with widespread implications) that is significantly less accessible but also less prone to widespread misuse and abuse (if not, here’s a copy, in case you don’t have access to JSTOR). I know the author isn’t very popular around these parts, and you may not be a fan either, but that essay contains a wonderfully succinct quote, one that summarizes a lot of the recent work on concepts in cognitive science (I’m thinking of the work of Larry Barsalou in particular, and that he’s inspired, since you’re a cog sci guy):

        Abstract notions always conceal a sensible figure.

        For any discussion of “privilege,” this leads to the obvious problem that people look not only to their own experience, but to salient, likely emotionally-charged elements in their own experience, in order to understand the word “privilege.” Since most of us — at least most of us who are white, male, straight, etc. — will therefore associate certain kinds of explicit “sensible figures” with it, those who are trying to explain “unnoticed privilege” (and let’s be clear, some of it is certainly noticed), or privilege that is not as obvious or as individually impactful as some brat’s trust fund maturing, will be fighting an uphill battle. But struggling with privilege, and struggling to get people to recognize it, or admit that it is in fact an issue, is an uphill battle, so that’s not surprising. The only alternative is to come up with an entirely unfamiliar term in the hopes that we can determine the sorts of “sensible figures” with which people will come to represent it, a task that requires not only coming up with a suitably obscure term (perhaps a neologism?), but convincing people to use it. I’m not sure that’s any less of an uphill battle, particularly since (as some of our right wing commenters here have demonstrated nicely), it will quickly become a partisan issue, and many of the same forces will be arrayed against it.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to Sam says:

      Who do you think has it better, Malia Obama or middle class white dude from WVa? Whose advantages are more obvious?Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Mo says:

        I know that’s an obnoxious example, but so many advantages are situational. And, at the end of the day, wealth and power are the biggest privleges of all.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mo says:

        Middle Class White Dude from WV.
        Because he works in DC, and is substantially more wealthy than his neighbors.
        (Seriously, the first question I had was “there are middle class whites in WV?”)Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Mo says:

        That example is as useful as the one wherein a climate change denier says, “Well, it’s cold here today, so I guess those people are wrong!” Yes, the president’s daughter is better off than a middle class white person in West Virginia. But a middle class white person in West Virginia is going to be advantaged in a way that many other people are not, simply by virtue of their skin color.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mo says:

        I remember Clarence Thomas pointing out that he had difficulty getting a cab in D.C.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mo says:

        Two kinds of difficulty: from cabbies who didn’t recognize him and from those who did.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Sam says:

      It’s noteworthy that the first response immediately focused on defending the term’s technical accuracy, and wholly overlooked Vikram’s real argument; whether it is an effective word choice for getting those privilege folks to actually think about their privilege the way we supposedly want them to.

      That response can’t help but fuel the suspicion that getting privileged people to actually think about their privilege isn’t really the dominant purpose after all.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        Can’t it be both/and? Isn’t there something to be said for traditionally marginalized people to say, “We are going to define the terms for once”?

        And do you really think there exists a term that will get people who completely reject the idea of privilege to suddenly accept it?

        As I understand it, part of the reason the theory of privilege evolved was to give a more nuanced way of discussing racism (and sexism and homophobia, etc.). Talking specifically about white privilege, much of what constitutes it are artifacts of racism. But calling people who benefited from white privilege racists or pro-racism or benefits of racism… well, that didn’t go over so well.

        So a better term was developed: privilege.

        And, SURPRISE OF SURPRISES, that one is too loaded also. How… convenient… It ain’t the folks who steadfastly defend and promote whatever-it-is-we-call-it that are the issue, it is the words!Report

      • And do you really think there exists a term that will get people who completely reject the idea of privilege to suddenly accept it?

        I do think that there exist people who will get defensive if you call them privileged or say they have privilege who will instead listen to your argument if you instead talk about “unnoticed privileges”.

        My argument isn’t that changing a term will change the mind of a Klansman. It’s only that you will get through to more people.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Thinking about it now, I realize that except on the internet, where misusing words is a national pastime, I don’t think “privilege” is a word that’s extensively used in rhetoric or polemics. It tends to be used more in “literatures,” which is to say, writing for people who are already interested in these issues.

        I actually think privilege is a really good term to use, and my suspicion is that Vikram’s distaste for it have more to do with the way it is tossed around (often willy nilly, like so many words and phrases — “ad hominem” anyone?) on blogs. I know he’s relying on an actual book chapter for this post, but I suspect even his reading of that chapter is informed by his encounters with the term, and the people who use it, on blogs. I could be wrong, but given his particularly strong reaction, I doubt I am.

        My solution? Ban the internet.Report

      • It is accurate to note that I haven’t really found an objectionable usage in the academic literature. My objections are to usage in blogs and personal conversations either overheard or participated in. I do think academics could have chosen more wisely though so as to be less likely to be abused by bloggers.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @vikram-bath, this sort of begs the question: which came first, the academic writing about privilege or the blogger bandying the term about?

        I actually think one of the problems here is that there is always privilege of some sort; someone with some set of advantages that somebody else does not have. When I was a young girl, sports, for instance. Organized sports were for boys, and if you were a girl? Be a cheerleader or get over it, at least in my school.

        There are other kinds of privilege, too. Women have plenty; the privilege to stay home, raise their children, or even take their children into a restroom for a diaper change with glances askew. Women also have the delightful privilege of dressing up in sparkles and feathers, of wearing makeup that pops the color of their eyes, of looking and feeling fabulous, without being looked at askew. I wish men had these privileges.

        Perhaps what you’re seeing is that the word, at least on blogs, is becoming a cliche (forgive the missing little accent thingy,) it’s grown to mean this specific set of privileges considered rich or white male, and not a measure of power differentials and how far back from the starting line those differentials put one while advancing another, simply due to their presence or absence.

        And I really liked you comment down thread about not looking at ‘white male privilege,’ but at privileges; because in many, many ways, ‘white male’ and the word ‘privilege’ together are cliche.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        @kazzy
        do you really think there exists a term that will get people who completely reject the idea of privilege to suddenly accept it?

        As Chris said about privilege itself, it’s not a 0 or 1. A term could be better or worse for that purpose. And an argument that “privilege” is better for that purpose than Vikram thinks is perfectly legitimate. Certainly preferable to attacking him over the question of whether “privilege” is technically accurate enough.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I do think academics could have chosen more wisely though so as to be less likely to be abused by bloggers.

        There’s a tension in academic writing, particularly in the humanities, between jargon and accessibility. The latter will always lead to a greater potential for abuse by lay people, and the latter will insure that much of the discussion remains inaccessible to lay people.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        This comment may be beating a dead horse, and if so I apologize for that. You wrote,

        I do think academics could have chosen more wisely though so as to be less likely to be abused by bloggers.

        Modern academics didn’t coin the term tho. They’re used an already existing term to describe something in the world, something (presumably!) that the word was initially intended to pick out.

        Here’s the first definition that popped up on the webs:

        Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

        I mean, that’s just the meaning of the word. The fact that it has such a negative connotation when applied to people is that it often describes states of affairs that folks have a hard time justifying or even recognizing. And of course, that in modern academic usage the meaning is extended to include (or even focus on) culturally established privileges as opposed to legally granted ones.

        The more I read your comments on this thread, the more I’m confused about what you’re objecting to. Maybe that’s on me for not understanding what the complaint in fact is, but really, I can’t see it. Seems to me you’re increasingly objecting to the fact that some people find the term offensive when it’s applied to them, which is a natural and completely rational reaction to any negative criticism. I certainly bristle when someone accuses my belief-set for deriving from privilege, independently of whether their right or wrong.

        But as zic said quite a while ago, it’s the content of the term they find offensive, not the various and sundry connotations associated with it.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I’m a foreign born Arab American. Before you call me privileged want to try out my TSA/CBP/police encounters from my 20s on?

        I just think treating privilege like it’s a point system is ridiculous.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        i>I just think treating privilege like it’s a point system is ridiculous.

        Who’s treating it like a point system? What does it matter if they do? It’s a concept that either applies to real world contexts, or it doesn’t. Isn’t that the interesting question here?Report

      • The more I read your comments on this thread, the more I’m confused about what you’re objecting to. Maybe that’s on me for not understanding what the complaint in fact is, but really, I can’t see it. Seems to me you’re increasingly objecting to the fact that some people find the term offensive when it’s applied to them, which is a natural and completely rational reaction to any negative criticism. I certainly bristle when someone accuses my belief-set for deriving from privilege, independently of whether their right or wrong.

        I may have drifted off in some of these comments. My claim is this: by referring to multiple unnoticed privileges rather than “privilege” and by saying people have privileges rather than people being privileged, we will have an easier time communicating with others, and we are less likely to trigger a listener’s immune system.Report

      • Modern academics didn’t coin the term tho. They’re used an already existing term to describe something in the world, something (presumably!) that the word was initially intended to pick out.

        You’re right.

        The problem, I think is this: modern academics (or whoever) had a concept of these unearned, invisible capabilities. They searched for a term and decided to call it “privilege”, which already had an established definition and connotations when used in certain grammatical structures. (As noted by Kazzy, “driving is a privilege” is neutral. But I say “he is privileged” is not. It’s quite negative)

        My claim is that if what you intend to say is “unearned, invisible capabilities”, then the singular “privilege” is a poor word to use, and the plural “unnoticed privileges” is a better term that will lead to less confusion.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Vik,

    I fear that this is another example of haggling over terms instead of actually discussing the issue at hand. We can call it privilege or unearned advantage or picketypop… it doesn’t matter… the theory remains.

    Something to consider is that some efforts to end privilege focus on eliminating the behavior. But others focus on spreading the behavior. As you note, being able to protect one’s children is something we wish all people could do. If we reach that place, the privilege is gone. But the behavior is not. The behavior is not the issue. The allocation of access to the behavior is. So, yes, that is privilege, because it is something enjoyed by some and not by all and, furthermore, the disparity is enforced and maintained.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think Vikram’s making a pretty important point here, actually.

      It may well be that it is technically an accurate term. However, it seems to me that Vikram’s saying that it’s a term that will not be understood in that manner by the very people whose behavior and worldview the term is most directed at and whose buy-in is most necessary for the social change sought to occur.

      In essence, the point of the term is to get people of all socio-economic statuses to be conscious of the advantages provided them solely by virtue of their race or gender or orientation. But except for the people at the very top of the socio-economic ladder (and even then it’s exceedingly rare), very few people like to, or are even willing to, think of themselves as privileged – the word is loaded with connotations that go far beyond what would be in a dictionary definition. As a result, the second it is used in a conversation directed at, say, a middle class white male, it is highly likely to just induce an eyeroll and deaf ears to everything else that follows.

      The point is that regardless of the truth of the theory, the theory doesn’t even get heard by the people whose behavior it most seeks to change and in no small part because the terminology used automatically conjures up particular images in the minds of that group of people.

      It’s not possible to meaningfully “discuss the issue at hand” at all if the terms being used mean two completely different things to the participants in the discussion.Report

      • Thanks, Mark. I think you very effectively translated my thought into more adult language. 🙂Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        If you want people to examine themselves, its probably best not to put them on the defensive first. People put on the defensive tend to double down rather than engage in meaningful reflection.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        The point is that regardless of the truth of the theory, the theory doesn’t even get heard by the people whose behavior it most seeks to change and in no small part because the terminology used automatically conjures up particular images in the minds of that group of people.

        Privileged people are often unaware of their privilege. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, either. What it does mean is that they are unaware of the power differential; that their advantages empower them every bit as much as the super-rich person’s advantages empower. Yet the privileged white person (like me) is aware of the power differential between me and someone in the 1%; just not as likely to be aware of the power differential between me and somebody less empowered.

        In other words, we look up the privilege ladder to see our own disadvantage, not down to see our advantage. And we are taken aback when the rungs below us are pointed out.

        Yet pointing out those rungs us not helpful, because we look up the ladder?

        I’m sorry, but this is why it takes concerted effort over time to change the norms, not why we shouldn’t bother to try to change the norm.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @zic Think of the difference this way, which will be more effective, asking the person to look down the ladder, or grabbing their head & forcing them to?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist

        I will say that I often find myself at odds with others in this regard. And many of those are folks within the traditionally marginalized/oppressed groups. So I know I need to check this thought process at times.

        But, I am also within the most privileged groups 99 times out of 100. So I’m the guy next to these folks on the ladder. So, perhaps, my tack can/should be different.

        Practical considerations aside, there is something perverse about an ideology that rewards people who more or less say, “I’m going to keep engaging in harmful behavior because you haven’t asked me nice enough to stop.”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist I get that you’re trying to affirm ambition, aspirations, etc. But if a ladder is even a good metaphor, the assumptions of those higher up the ladder cannot be made be those lower down. Those who are higher up don’t have to question that, while those lower down have to deal with it as a fact of life. That is what using ‘privilege’ as a word to describe class/race/gender power differential is all about; this person over here gets some benefit without asking for it, and often, without even realizing they have the benefit. If you want those lower down to reach up, they have to do a lot more heavy lifting. And part of that lifting is working to rebalance those power differentials.Report

      • @zic

        Privileged people are often unaware of their privilege. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, either.

        Sure. Absolutely. But my point – and Vik’s too, I think – is that:

        (1) the only way to create the social change that is sought is to make those who benefit from the privilege – or whatever we call it – aware of those advantages; and

        (2) the use of the “privilege” nomenclature for this phenomenon, even if it is accurate under the dictionary definition of the word “privilege” makes it even less likely that those persons will be willing to do what is necessary to recognize their advantages.

        In other words, it’s nomenclature that may be perfectly fine for purposes of preaching to the converted and those who lack privilege, but is utterly useless for purposes of obtaining more converts from those who possess privilege (or whatever we want to call it). As it’s pretty much tautological that those who possess privilege also possess the power to do something about the circumstances that give rise to that privilege, it is virtually impossible to do anything about privilege without gaining converts from the privileged themselves.Report

      • I should note that I find the ladder analogies inaccurate. A brown male like me is privileged in a different way than a white female. One way to position us on a ladder would be to assign our various privileges weights and come up with a summed privilege score. But the weights would be arbitrary, and I doubt anyone would be convinced by the final ranking.

        This is further reason to think in terms of multiple privileges individuals have rather than a big block of privilege you either have or you don’t.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @vikram-bath, yes, I had some issues with a single ladder, and the implications of blocks of privilege, too. But it did convey my meaning, so was useful for at least that.Report

      • @kazzy

        Practical considerations aside, there is something perverse about an ideology that rewards people who more or less say, “I’m going to keep engaging in harmful behavior because you haven’t asked me nice enough to stop.”

        It’s not an ideology, though – indeed, the whole point behind the theory of “privilege” is that these are benefits that groups receive but of which they are generally ignorant and unaware. Quite literally, one of the major points behind the theory of “privilege” is that the beneficiaries of it don’t recognize that they’re engaging in harmful behavior. So the only way to do something about it is to show those beneficiaries that they’re engaging in harmful behavior.

        In order to do so, one needs to deal with the reality of this psychology – it is not ordinarily possible to persuade someone without empathizing with them and -at minimum – speaking to them in language that they understand and recognize.

        The fact is that words mean subtly different things to different people based on their experiences of those words, the dictionary definition is nothing but a least common denominator. This has always been the case and it always will be the case as long as their is a diversity of human experience.

        When you don’t recognize this and don’t attempt to correct it, you will very quickly wind up talking about very different things. And in this regard, the burden to speak in a way that will be understood must inherently always be on the person seeking to do the persuading, not on the person being approached.

        If I, hungry for a sausage in a piece of bread, go to a wurstelstand in Austria, order a “Hot Dog” and receive in return a long empty, crusty bun without any sausage, is it my fault for failing to clarify that I wanted a “Hot Dog mit Kasekrainer*” or at least for failing to point to the item on the menu I wanted, or is it the vendor’s fault for not recognizing the slightly different connotation of the word for me as opposed to him? Pretty clearly, it’s my fault, I should think. I’m asking the vendor to do something specific based on his understanding of my words, which I have freely chosen based on my own experiences, without any consideration of his.

        In reality, though, whether it’s my fault or his fault doesn’t matter – I’m still not going to get what I thought I asked for unless I either ask again using his terminology or take a piece of sausage from him by force.

        Similarly, you can’t expect those with “privilege” to both (1) know what you’re talking about and (2) willingly surrender that “privilege” if you’re defining that “privilege” in a way that is unfamiliar to them. And under no circumstances can you reasonably expect to have the ability to take that privilege by force since, after all, they’re the ones who hold the power.

        *Seriously, one of the most wonderful things to exist on this planet. A perfect blend of gooey, oozing cheese mixed in with meat and a subtle blend of spices inserted into a hole in the aforementioned long crusty, almost baguette-y bun.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mark,

        A fair counter.

        The thing is… most of the people who are completely ignorant to the idea of privilege (including the term as we use it here) are at least amenable to talking about the idea once it has been hashed out. Case in point, I will be discussing privilege with my 7th/8th graders. For some, it will be an entirely new concept. There might be some pushback on the word, at which point I’m happy to have a conversation about it and possibly decide on other nomenclature.

        But most of the people (not Vikram) who resist the word aren’t doing so because they are confused or anything of the sort… it is often an attempt to manipulate the conversation to only happen on their own terms and, should it not, they refuse to engage.

        Because I am relatively certain that this segment of people will object to whatever new term is agreed upon when it becomes convenient. I can say this because I’ve had this happen. I’ve said to people, “We’ll call it whatever you want. But let’s discuss it.” Yet that discussion never happens. Instead we spent an hour arguing over words.Report

      • But most of the people (not Vikram) who resist the word aren’t doing so because they are confused or anything of the sort…

        This is speculative. It begs to be tested. I’m not saying you won’t get any pushback if you use less prejudicial words, but I am hypothesizing that you will get less than if you use the standard terminology.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think it depends on the group. My anecdotal experience, which is the best test I can do, is what has led me to think as I do.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I was going to reply, but Mark did it so much better than me.

        In short, & carrying the analogy (flawed as it may be), if you ask me to look down in a manner I find non-confrontational, I’ll be more inclined to look down & try to see what you see (assuming I am a decent person). If you grab my head & force me to look, my inclination may be to punch you off my ladder.Report

      • @kazzy

        The thing is… most of the people who are completely ignorant to the idea of privilege (including the term as we use it here) are at least amenable to talking about the idea once it has been hashed out. Case in point, I will be discussing privilege with my 7th/8th graders. For some, it will be an entirely new concept. There might be some pushback on the word, at which point I’m happy to have a conversation about it and possibly decide on other nomenclature.

        Sure, but I think this reinforces Vik’s point – in effect, you’re saying that those for whom the word has not taken on the connotations Vik refers to here, essentially those for whom the word has as yet come to mean little more than the dictionary definition, are amenable to the underlying theory. The contrapositive that proves the rule, by the way, is that the concept of racial privilege seems to have made its strongest inroads amongst those whites who would generally be viewed as (and would also be much more likely to view themselves as) fairly privileged under any definition – ie, whites from upper middle class and upper class backgrounds for whom the connotations Vik refers to generally applied to begin with. It’s a lot easier to be open to the notion of racial or gender privilege if you’ve already accepted that you’re economically privileged.

        But most of the people (not Vikram) who resist the word aren’t doing so because they are confused or anything of the sort… it is often an attempt to manipulate the conversation to only happen on their own terms and, should it not, they refuse to engage.

        Because I am relatively certain that this segment of people will object to whatever new term is agreed upon when it becomes convenient. I can say this because I’ve had this happen. I’ve said to people, “We’ll call it whatever you want. But let’s discuss it.” Yet that discussion never happens. Instead we spent an hour arguing over words.

        A few things here – if the topic has been introduced as being about “privilege” then I don’t think it’s possible to put that rabbit back in the hat by just saying “call it what you want.” Because you’re making it clear from the outset that whatever term you’re using is just a synonym for a word that is off-putting to them.

        Second, getting someone to discus in any kind of depth a topic that someone else brought up is never easy under even the best of circumstances. To do it you have to actively give them a reason to be interested in the topic unless they’re a truly captive audience (and with smart phones nowadays, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to have a meaningfully captive audience). “Let’s talk about how you’re privileged because you’re white” has about as much interest as a conversation topic to a working class white guy as a door to door evangelist who starts a conversation with an atheist (or even someone from a different religion or denomination) by saying “let’s talk about how you can save yourself in the Rapture,” and for much the same reason. They’re not going to be interested in talking about it because they (a) think they know what you’re talking about; and (b) don’t believe that what they think you’re talking about is a real thing.

        They’ve got better things to do than debate what they should be doing to overcome a problem that they don’t think exists. You’ve got to convince them that the problem exists in the first place and if doing so depends on getting working class whites to apply a word to themselves that they only apply to Kardashians, you’re not going to get very far. This is especially true if, as is quite often the case, the person attempting to do the convincing comes across as fitting their idea of “privileged” better than they fit it themselves.Report

      • @kazzy , for what it’s worth, if you were to do the test (e.g. usedifferent material for different groups this year or if you try it one way this year and another way next year) and if you got results contrary to my prediction, I would change my update my views to match yours. I do respond to evidence, and I would take your word for it.

        Until you try it both ways though…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @mark-thompson

        “Sure, but I think this reinforces Vik’s point – in effect, you’re saying that those for whom the word has not taken on the connotations Vik refers to here, essentially those for whom the word has as yet come to mean little more than the dictionary definition, are amenable to the underlying theory.”

        But isn’t Vik’s point that it is the dictionary definition that presents the issue? If people object because they don’t like the idea of being told they are privileged/have privilege, it is not going to matter much what we call it.

        My understanding of Vik’s point is that the way we use privilege does not jive with how most people use privilege, creating a certain dissonance that makes people less amenable. But if you are saying that the issue is that people DO understand what people like me mean by privilege, do not like it, and thus reject the term… well, what can we do about that? No term will assuage them because they object to the underlying issue.
        @vikram-bath

        Unfortunately, I am not a social scientist capable of carrying out an experiment. But I must ask: What data did you use to come to your conclusion here today? What test did you perform?Report

      • If people object because they don’t like the idea of being told they are privileged/have privilege, it is not going to matter much what we call it.

        I have asserted that there is a big difference between those two things that have a slash between them. I am making these numbers up, but my hypothesis is that when you tell people they are privileged 50% will get defensive, and 50% will listen. Perhaps more will listen and fewer will be defensive in an audience like you would find in a class.
        When you tell people they have unnoticed privileges, 70% will listen and 30% will get defensive.

        So, you notice that in either case, some people will always get defensive. That 30% will be there. But there’s another 20% you could have gotten through to if you pay attention to how people process different phrasings.

        Unfortunately, I am not a social scientist capable of carrying out an experiment.

        Dude. You don’t have to be a “social scientist”. That’s just a fancy word for making observations about the world. If you want to get published in a journal, you need to make sure you have controls and find the background theory for your hypotheses and learn how to assess who got exactly how defensive in each case.

        But if all you’re interested in is the truth rather than in convincing someone else, you just need to try it one way and then try it the other way. And if you told me that you did your best to make it a fair test, that would be enough for me personally since I don’t have a stronger test indicating the opposite result.

        What data did you use to come to your conclusion here today? What test did you perform?

        Great question!

        I don’t have a test. If I had done my own test then I wouldn’t have said I’d be willing to change my mind just because you performed your own test and got different results.

        The reasons for my conclusions are the following:
        – experience shows that wording matters to people’s attitudes (See “special education”.)
        – I have friends who are white males who say they are not privileged and express anger at the claim that they are. Specifically, they say that they worked for what they have (which is true). This response doesn’t only makes sense if what they thought by “privileged” was getting the rich heir treatment.
        – I have seen online discussions in which white males say they are not privileged and again articulate the same defense.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Well, let me first say I agree with the “privileged/have privileged” distinction. And I like the term “unnoticed privilege”. So, if I may, it seems as if you are walking back the title of this post a bit (though I assume it was at least somewhat deliberately provocative… not that there’s anything wrong with that).

        But here is my question… is the conflation of “privilege” and “rich heir treatment” an appropriate one? I mean, we talk about driving being a privilege, not a right. Do only rich heirs drive cars? That doesn’t seem right to me. We talk about people having “privileges” with regards to accessing data or resources… “I don’t have the proper privileges to get into the database. Can you send me the numbers?” Is that calling upon a notion of the aristocracy?

        Because I’m tempted to think that even if you phrased it better, even if you said, “You have benefited from privilege,” which might be even more neutral than the modified terms you suggested, your friends/internet comrades might still say, “I work for what I have!” Thing is, working for what you have is not mutually exclusive of privilege. More often than not, privilege is a boost, not a ride across the finish line. You generally still have to make something of it. And if you get into the idea of privilege legacy, it becomes an even more complicated ball of wax. Yes, you worked hard in middle school and high school and earned grades to get yourself into college, where you worked hard and graduated and used your degree to make yourself rich. But… you lived in a neighborhood with a good MS and HS because your father had a good job, and he had a good job because he similarly grew up in a neighborhood with a good MS and HS, but that was only because your grandfather was able to secure work during a time when it was legal to racially discriminate when hiring and promoting, meaning he had less competition for his job. So, if you fully remove race from that equation, an equation where your hard work is undeniable, we still arrive at a place where you benefit from our system of racial oppression and privilege. Whether we call that a direct or an indirect benefit and just how much of your success was “privilege” and how much was “hard work” is probably impossible to parse out. But it is still important to note that both factored in.
        And, more often than not, when people invoke privilege, it is not because of some desire to discredit hard working white men or take the money they earn from their toil. When I invoke it, it is most often to respond to an argument that says, “If people work hard, they will be rewarded. It is as simple as that.” “No, it’s not as simple as that. Some people work just as hard, if not harder, than others but because of factors beyond their control (sometimes but not always related to race or gender or sexual orientation, etc.), they do not get rewarded.” If I can get someone to agree to that, I consider it a pretty successful conversation.

        Trouble is, the well has been poisoned with privilege. And I’m tempted to argue that the people doing the poisoning are not the folks like myself who want to resist privilege but those who want to resist the resisters. At which point I am not so inclined to adjust my language all that much because said folks will likely just taint those words as well.

        Talk to people who truly want to address privilege and very few of them embody the strawman I see so many folks referring to here today. As I said to Jaybird below, privilege itself is not evil. Many privileges are good or even great things. The goal is for more people to be more privileged; when we say we want to eliminate privilege, in most cases we simply mean we want the disparity gone. I want more people to be rewarded for hard work.

        But somehow, some cadre of people have painted folks like myself as wanting to steal peoples money and call them lowlifes.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @zic

        Right there, you used two different framings of the concept that may be better under what Vikram raised – “unnoticed power differential” and “rungs we don’t see because we look up ladders, not down them”.

        Both of those could lead to a more productive discussion than starting out implying that the advantaged person is a petulant oblivious brat.Report

      • is the conflation of “privilege” and “rich heir treatment” an appropriate one?

        If the conflation happens, that’s all that matters. Pick something that won’t get conflated.

        I mean, we talk about driving being a privilege, not a right. Do only rich heirs drive cars? That doesn’t seem right to me. We talk about people having “privileges” with regards to accessing data or resources… “I don’t have the proper privileges to get into the database. Can you send me the numbers?” Is that calling upon a notion of the aristocracy?

        Notice how in every one of those instances you referred to individual privilegeS? We talk about driving being a privileged, not about the privileged driving. We talk about getting the proper privileges to access the database, not getting privileged enough to access the database. (Actually, you might hear the latter as well, but surely the former is a more normal way of saying it.)Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

      I fear that this is another example of haggling over terms instead of actually discussing the issue at hand.

      Yes! It is! And I am haggling over terms because terms matter! You walrus!

      We can call it privilege or unearned advantage or picketypop… it doesn’t matter… the theory remains.

      Yes, and we can call a rose a steaming turd, and it would smell as sweet. But it certainly isn’t helpful to call it that. It obscures meaning unnecessarily and prejudicially.

      [Protecting one’s children] is privilege, because it is something enjoyed by some and not by all and, furthermore, the disparity is enforced and maintained.

      You know I know what you mean, and I know you know I know what you mean, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to get across your meaning to others who haven’t heard the idea before.

      There is a reason supporters of Obamacare said “health care is a right” and not “health care is privilege, because it is something enjoyed by some and not by all.” Which formulation gets across the belief that it is important that everyone get access?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        But isn’t getting to dictate the way we use terms itself a form of privilege?

        At what point do we say, “We don’t care if you like the word choice, listen goddamnit!”?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @kazzy see my reply to Zic above.Report

      • isn’t getting to dictate the way we use terms itself a form of privilege?

        Yes. But that is not the same thing as saying that “all word choices are equally appropriate” or “I can choose whatever words to use I want without affecting whether I am understood”. As I mentioned in the OP, if you are concerned with your ideas being represented properly, you will choose words with that goal in mind.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        But who is the arbiter of how appropriately an idea is presented? And how do we parse between the people who object to the term privilege in a principled way (as I sincerely believe you are doing) and those who are looking to manipulate conversation to serve their own ends?

        Again, I’ve had multiple conversations in which I said, “We will call it whatever you want. Let’s just talk about it!” and people will remain shut down, muttering something to the effect of, “Well, if you even thought privilege was an appropriate word, clearly I can’t even talk to you.”

        That ain’t about effective presentation.Report

      • There is no arbiter out in space to determine whether the right word is being used. But someone who is an advocate of a certain wording can mount a defense of it, as I have done here with “unnoticed privileges”. Anyone who reads this thread can evaluate whether this is less prejudicial than “people are privileged”.

        how do we parse between the people who object to the term privilege in a principled way (as I sincerely believe you are doing) and those who are looking to manipulate conversation to serve their own ends?

        Well, why do you trust that of me? I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that I did not critique the concept. I explicitly stated in the OP that it is important and deserves a label. That is not a concession that someone who was arguing privilege doesn’t exist would make.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I don’t have a problem with the term, though I do have a problem with how it is often deployed.

    It describes something real, and even though it does have the connotations that Vik refers to, I don’t have a better suggestion.

    Vikram touches on my problems with its usage in his 10:44 comment. Which is that while Chris is right that it’s not binary, it does seem to be treated as such. And we assume a lot when we talk about what “whites” can do. To use list example 1, most whites can do this (it’s far and away easier for whites than anybody else, at any rate) but it seems to imply the financial means to do so. While my wife and I can pick up and leave our mixed-race neighborhood whenever we want, a lot of our neighbors can’t really.

    And a lot of the deployment of the phrase assumes median white or aggregate white benefits. Once again, I had many more of the benefits of being white than many other white kids that I knew. Heck, some of my Hispanic friends and Asian friends had a lot of the “white privilege” benefits that a number of whites elsewhere lacked (because those particular benefits are a function of aggregate white wealth, that varies considerably within).

    None of this changes, of course, that in apples-to-apples comparisons, whites come out ahead. And even the wealthiest African-Americans have to endure things that poor whites don’t (the reverse is also true, but most of that is attributable to the benefits of wealth and the list of that which isn’t is rather short and less impacting in the greater scheme of things). Which is what makes the concept, if not the word, something of significance.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think this is one of those things where if we all tried to put “Some” or imagine “Some” being in front of all these comments, we’d be much better served.

      “White people can arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”
      “Well, what about this guy who can’t? Privilege isn’t real!”

      -OR-
      SomeReport

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        I thought NoPublic had a good point above. Which points to a rather distinct advantage of whites across the spectrum… when people see you, they see someone who has something in common with the privileged whether you are or not. Which is something real, although the advantages conferred are limited. The rich white guy from Silicon Valley has little intrinsic use for the poor white kid from Kentucky on the basis of shared race – the kinship is limited. But there is something there in terms of collective comfort levels and subconscious and conscious mental association.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, yes and no.

        As Mike’s story about frogging showed, even down country white folks from Kentucky can enjoy privilege because of (presumed) kinship.

        But I think privilege is much more pervasive than just individual interactions. One of the major issues with white privilege is the norming of white culture, something we spoke about on Mike’s race/culture piece. Primarily the issue is that white people tend not to see themselves as having race; they just are. Everyone else has a race. So when black people do something, it is seen as black people doing it. When Asian people do something, it is seen as Asian people doing it. When white people do something, it is simply seen as people doing it… or some other demographic identifier (Northern people doing it… poor people doing it… Jewish people doing it…).

        The power of this to privilege some and oppress others cannot be understated. The Silicon Valley guy may have no use for the Kentucky kid, but he does not view him through the prism of race and is likely oblivious to it in any meaningful way.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kazzy, to clarify, I was not suggesting that the poor white guy from Kentucky does not gain any privilege by being white. In some ways, I suspect he may actually gain more than the guy from Silicon Valley, if we are looking very specifically at race (the latter getting most of his privilege from money).

        What I am saying, though, is that a lot of the privilege we confer to whites assumes Mr. Silicon Valley attributes. The assumption that Mr. Kentucky has money. The assumption that he has socioeconomic networks of value. And so on. Mr. Kentucky benefits from being assumed, on site, a respectable citizen just like the Mayor and Mr. SV. And that’s not nothing! But at the same time it’s easy to assume credits to Mr. Kentucky on the basis of what Mr. SV has, and to overassume the benefits of the association. (Not of being white generally, but of that particular aspect of being white.)Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think I’m with both of you here. Either that or in the middle.

        It all depends on the next-best option. If the Silicon Valley guy and the Kentucky guy are surrounded by 100 Mexicans, they will act as if they were always lifelong friends. But if they are both happen to be attending the same football game, they will regard each other as aliens.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think it depends. If we assume the Mexicans different from both groups (let’s say we’re not talking about a very Hispanic-friendly software firm or something)… then yeah. Minorities (including whites, when they are in the minority) tend to flock together in the face of a significant majority. Which is why atheists and Born-Agains are friends with one another in Utah. So when I say “it depends” I mean “You are generally right.”

        It’s worth pointing out here that between Mr. Silicon Valley and Mr. Kentucky find themselves in a situation where they are a minority in their particular neighborhood or workplace or whatever, one of them is much more likely than the other to be able to change their situation to what they are more comfortable with. Which brings up all sorts of uncomfortable things (for both sides).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Got it, Will.

        I think that is related to the tendency of white people to succeed as a group and fail as individuals and people of color to succeed as individuals and fail as a group.

        We look at all the wealthy white dudes in SV and say, “Man, white folks are getting it done!” We look at the white fuck ups and say, “That dude is fucked up.”
        Conversely, we look at Obama and say, “Obama is amazing*.” We don’t say, “Maybe we were wrong about black folks being dumb and lazy and incompetent.” But if a black dude does something sketchy, suddenly it is all about rap music and black culture and the like.

        My question for @will-truman : Is there harm done to the KY guy by these misplaced assumptions?

        * Not everyone says this, of course. Some discount him all the same for one reason or another. But black people, collectively, haven’t gained in stature or perception because of Obama. He is seen as an outlier.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kazzy, I want to respond to the dynamic you lay out, but I can’t quite find what I want to say. It’s not exactly agreement or disagreement. I’ll come back to it if it comes to me.

        But in the dynamic you lay out, I would say that the harm that comes to Mr. K is thus: If whites are assumed successful, in part because every success story is further proof of what “whites” are inherently capable of it, then failure is attributed to the person rather than whatever disadvantages he might have had apart from the white-male-hetero trifecta.

        Which is to say that if he failed despite being white, he was probably stupid, lazy, of f’ed up. Not because he comes from one of the poorest counties in the country, his mother had to raise him alone, he couldn’t afford college and didn’t know the first thing about how to get a Pell Grant or student loan, and so on.

        Mr. Silicon Valley, who was raised in the tony suburbs of Boston and attended elite schools, had not a worry about affording college, can look at Mr. K and say “What’s his excuse? He’s white like me. We have all the important advantages.”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @will-truman

        That is a fantastic point. In a weird way, that might be the best avenue to getting people to resist privilege. “Dude, you’re a white guy and this screws even you (sometimes)!”

        I hadn’t thought of it in that way. Ultimately, it shows just how problematic this sort of tribalism is.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

      I’m not sure how you can manage the dichotomy. I’ve always said people vote their ZIP codes. In your example, non-white people had white people’s benefits. Those benefits accrued — how? How did they earn the right for their non-white processes to execute with “white” privilege? Because privileged people granted the supposedly non-privileged processes their own execution privileges.

      If lots of whites have privilege, many of them went to elite private schools. Increasingly, as the Choates and Stony Brook Schools (my school) open their doors to non-whites, their graduates start processes which execute with sufficient privileges. They do get into better universities. They do form Old Boys Clubs. Most of the advantage of education is conferred by friendships with people who will become important. It doesn’t follow that white == privileged. It is true many white people have privilege. But privilege always inherits from privilege.Report

  4. Would you accept “advantage” as more appropriate term?Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I have several problems with the word privilege. My main problem is that its often used to shut down debate rather than seriously engage with the issues at hand. So if a white man raises several good points against social democracy or something you simply call him privileged rather than refute his points. This is a horrible and intellectually unrigorous way to debate.

    Another reason is more personal. My phenotype is white, people look at me and see a white man. I’m also a Jew and think that history easily demonstrates that Jews aren’t what you could call a privileged group than or even now. Why should I be accused of having white male privilege when for the most part my ancestors were not allowed in the white male club?

    I’m also in full agreement with Vikram on how most people define privilege and how most people would react to it.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to LeeEsq says:

      So if a white man raises several good points against social democracy or something you simply call him privileged rather than refute his points. This is a horrible and intellectually unrigorous way to debate.

      But this cuts the other way; because his privilege allows him to not have to experience a problem first hand, he may not lend credence to the problems of those without that privilege; and because he has that privilege, he often gets to define the terms of the debate; those without it have to push, and often, push really hard and for a long, long time, to have their experience even become part of the discussion.Report

    • Avatar SammySneel in reply to LeeEsq says:

      history easily demonstrates that Jews aren’t what you could call a privileged group

      I so want to make a joke about bankers and popular resentment here, but…..I’m just not up to the task. Please imagine I said something totally tongue-in-cheek that was funny and actually mocked the popular resentment.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to SammySneel says:

        The Jews only broke the economy because they were systematically
        barred from getting into any other realms of finance.

        (oh, also stupidity).

        [Slightly exaggerating facts to make a joke, not here to troll].Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to SammySneel says:

        Slightly exaggerated? Jews broke the economy?

        Wow Kim, you certainly are something…Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to SammySneel says:

        You are kind hitting the point. Jews entered professions like banking because the laws of Europe barred them from many professions until the 19th century.

        There were long-standing rules against usury and money-lending in Christianity and the Catholic Church but the rulers of Europe still needed financial advice and money-lending/changing done. Jews were barred from farming and many skilled-craftsman jobs by law.

        What did this leave the Jews of Europe able to do? They could become bankers. This is why we have the House of Rothchild.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to SammySneel says:

        NewDealer,
        oh, you haven’t seen ANYTHING yet.
        I haven’t even made a holocaust joke yet!
        (I know comedians. Nothing’s out-of-bounds).

        [Seriously, was that actually funny to you?]Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to SammySneel says:

        ND, its way more complicated. Most Jews weren’t into money-lending and banking because you only need so many of them. By the late Middle Ages, the Italians, especially the Venetians, were edging the Jews out. Jews tended to do a lot of marginal work like second-hand shops, peddling, etc.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Jews are totally a privileged group now.
      They may not have all the privilege of a WASP,
      but they definitely have privilege.

      I can say “I’m taking off for Yom Kippur” and
      not get any guff, or have to worry about losing
      my job.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kim says:

        I take this whole thing as further evidence that the word “privileged” is poorly chosen. Jews have certain privileges that others lack. They do not have all the privileges that a white non-Jew might have. Said this way, you can actually make a list and see to where Jews fall rather than having an unanswerable debate as to whether they ought to be labeled “privileged” or not when clearly they are in some instances and aren’t in others.

        Hell, even blacks have *some* privileges. Any white guy listening to rap has to be on the lookout in case someone black sees him. Black people don’t have to deal with that. That doesn’t make black people privileged. It is just one (pretty damn trivial) privilege that they have.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Kim says:

        Vikram,

        Unless your understanding of race relations comes entirely from the traffic sequence from “Office Space”, I’m not entirely sure what that final paragraph is implying.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Sam,
        There are places where a white person driving will get harassed at night.
        These are places where black people generally live.
        Black people driving around (or walking) don’t get harassed.

        Even black people have a little bit of privilege. (which in no way shape or form
        makes up for police’s tendency to harass black people in white neighborhoods.
        Lot more white neighborhoods, for one thing!)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kim says:

        And they get to use the N-word where white people don’t, which gets brought up a lot by white people who are apparently dying to use it.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kim says:

        Go, Sam. Whitesplain racism to the Indian (I think?) guy!Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Kim says:

        Aitch,

        I don’t think the entirety of Vikram’s understanding of race relations comes from that scene. What he wrote though – explicitly saying that white people have to be afraid of listening to hip hop when black people are around – is ludicrously untrue.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

        “Any white guy listening to rap has to be on the lookout in case someone black sees him.”

        I’m confused by this. I’m a white guy who listens to rap. I’m never really on the lookout for black folks when doing so.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kim says:

        Yeah. My two kids – whitey white whites, both of them – aren’t aware that they should be careful about listening to rap music near black kids – which just shows how privileged they really are.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kim says:

        Unless your understanding of race relations comes entirely from the traffic sequence from “Office Space”, I’m not entirely sure what that final paragraph is implying.

        Yes, it does. And it was accordingly made in some jest (though obviously not well).

        What I was trying to get at though was that we cannot really get totally clear answers as to whether certain groups are privileged or not. Jews are a good example as are Asians and white women. It makes much more sense to talk in terms of which specific privileges each of these groups have and do not have than to assign them a label that is wrong much of the time.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kim says:

        Just as a side note, it says something very sad that when trying to think of a black privilege, I had to resort to a fictional example.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

        Black privilege is going to exist in predominantly black communities, most likely.

        Growing up, I was the only white kid who went to intramural basketball. I wasn’t the best kid out there, but I wasn’t the worst. Yet I was picked last… every time. This didn’t sit well with 7th grade me. But, put in the proper perspective, it is but a drop in the bucket of the oppression I’ve felt relative to the privilege I’ve enjoyed.

        More recently, I was speaking with a friend about a new housing development in a predominantly black neighborhood. He said he wouldn’t recommend I live there, citing race as one (of many) factors. He said a middle class black guy would be accepted in the community in a way that I was unlikely to be. So if being part of the community was important, that would not be a good place for me to move. Now, this is obviously a very complicated issue given the racial history of this particular neighborhood, but I think it shows an instance wherein it was beneficial to be black. That presumes that living in this neighborhood could be considered desirable, which a lot of people would say is not the case but which I might argue otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim says:

        The example of “black privilege,” or at least privilege among black people, has to do with skin tone. But that’s probably a long conversation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

        Chris,

        Are you talking about colorism?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim says:

        Kazzy, yes (sorry, just saw this).Report

  6. Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

    It’s not a perfect term, I’ll grant you, if only because it sparks the defensiveness you outline in this post, but I really can’t think of a good alternative. A more scholarly or technical term is likely to be derided as out of touch with reality – c.f. Heteronormative – while all available colloquial terms are, as far as I can tell, even more prejudicial.

    And I’m reminded of Kazzy’s recent dust up in the comments over “white supremacist culture.” In that case, I have to admit that the term was misapplied and more likely to produce defensiveness than was justified, but his complaint that any more suitable term was likely to also be criticized seems spot on, judging by this post. Privileged people who are resistant to the idea are resistant to the idea, not the nomenclature. Finding a new word will only shift to us arguing about that word, tooReport

    • Avatar Fnord in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

      Better to have a blatantly technical term rather than a term that looks colloquial but in fact has a technical meaning.Report

    • Privileged people who are resistant to the idea are resistant to the idea, not the nomenclature.

      This is a testable claim. We can have instructors in one social justice class introduce to their students the concepts of white privilege and male privilege while in another section they introduce the concept of “concealed unnoticed privileges” most of which accrue to white males. Afterwards, we can run some tests or experiments to see who got what out of the material. I know what my prediction is!Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Perhaps we could run it by the Computer Science department. They’d teach the chmod command. In this useful command, three concepts are outlined:

        u user the owner of the file
        g group users who are members of the file’s group
        o others users who are neither the owner of the file nor members of the file’s group
        a all all three of the above, same as ugo

        Owners and others, they’re reasonably easy to define. It’s groups where things get trickier. I can create a group with the groupadd command. People are added to groups with the useradd command. And people can be removed from a group with the usermod command.

        But everything is organised by ugoa. This is the way the real world works. There’s no need to be shy or embarrassed by using the word privilege. Someone has to grant a privilege, the right to read, write, execute and delete files in the system.

        Above all users is root, who has all granting rights. He’s such an important user, his rights are controlled by a special group called sudoers, people who are authorised to grant and revoke such rights.

        Social justice doesn’t apply to rights themselves. It applies to the granting and revoking of rights.Report

    • James, I think you bring up some good points here. One of my tests on whether they are objecting to the terminology or the thing itself is whether they propose an alternative and what the alternative is that they propose.

      When there is no alternative, no “acceptable term” I think that says an awful low. Likewise, if the alternative is excessively euphemistic or complex (that it becomes hard to refer to with any sort of repetition), it may be a difference of opinion or it may be an attempt to manipulate the conversation through terminology.

      I think Vik is quite right here that focusing on the privileges rather than the privilege is a reasonable thing. Perhaps a helpful thing, or you might be right that it is not helpful at all.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        I think you have to conclude that if someone can’t get on board with the term privilege with a modifier like “relatively,” (as in “you’re relatively privileged compared to someone with the same income who’s not [white, straight, male]”), then you’re dealing with either a fairly hard-core idea denier on the one hand, or someone who’s more interested in a certain agenda relating to rhetoric (something I’m occasionally guilty of, and in fact affirmatively think doing is sometimes okay, so long as you’re prepared to acknowledge what you’re doing when called on it) than in actually describing the thing you’re talking about as accurately as possible.

        I’m not interested in that kind of game on this term, though. I agree with Vikram: insisting on the term “privilege” as though it’s binary and refusing to move to a more scaled description really does very little to get anyone to understand the idea, and repels anyone who doesn’t already accept the notion of privilege understood in this way from the person who is ostensibly trying to get them to understand it.Report

      • if someone can’t get on board with the term privilege with a modifier like “relatively,” (as in “you’re relatively privileged compared to someone with the same income who’s not [white, straight, male]“), then you’re dealing with either a fairly hard-core idea denier

        @kazzy , I think you asked somewhere about how to tell whether someone is actually trying to help improve the message or subverting the message. I think Michael has another possible identifier here.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Does anybody know where the internet concept of privilege came from? Who was the first person that invoked the privilege as undertsood on the internet meme? I’ve participated on usenet in its dying days and blogs shortly their after and never really encountered privilege the internet concept till 2012. It seemed to come from nowhere and was suddelnly everywhere.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    I’m open to the idea of white/male/straight/cis/thin/whatever it is this week privilege, but the problem is that the term is so often used in really stupid ways.

    For instance, people often treat it as a form of original sin for which the privileged person must spend his or her life atoning for. Or at least be baptized in the rivers of identity studies.

    The other way is that it often involves really banal or otherwise shady “privileges.”Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

      I agree with this. Apparently there is a tumblr on internet that consists of photographs of white men who take up to much room on public transit. Besides the obvious skiviness of taking photos of strangers and putting them on the internet, its a major invasion of a person’s privacy, its really dumb to call a white man who happens to be sitting on a subway privileged. Apparently any sort of joy or simple pleasure experienced by a privileged person is a privilege. If everything is a privilege than the term becomes practically meaningless.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq says:

        There is now a tumblr of women taking up too much space on the subway/public transit in return/retalliation.

        It all continues.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        For all its wonders, the internet seems to be doing a lot to bring out everything petty in human nature rather than whats good and generous. It is also destryoing the idea of privacy for ourself and others.

        There needs to be a sort of golden of privacy. Do not reveal about others what you yourself would not want revealed about you or something like that.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

      Yeah, it’s intended as a tool.
      “here’s where I think you’re missing my experiences,
      because you haven’t had them yourself.”

      Most people have had the privilege of not experiencing
      incest (here cited because it is an actual element
      of certain subcultures in America). Most people have also
      not actually interacted with someone who has experienced it.

      It wouldn’t be surprising if someone thought ideas that were
      radically untrue about incest victims because they’d never
      realized they knew one.Report

  9. Avatar Patrick says:

    This is speculation about what lays in the hearts and minds of people other than me, but I think some of the people who say “privileged white male” with the most relish intend to cleverly denigrate someone with the colloquial meaning of “privileged” while retaining the ability to defend themselves with the more restrictive, academic definition.

    See also: statist, the conflation of racism with institutional racism

    I think you have a good observation, Vikram, in that you don’t generally want to use a term that comes with baggage attached to describe social phenomenon, for this reason more than any other.

    It’s also weird in that most of the things that one considers “white male privilege” aren’t privileges, really, they’re sort of the way we want humans generally to treat each other as a baseline, right?Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Patrick says:

      It’s also weird in that most of the things that one considers “white male privilege” aren’t privileges, really, they’re sort of the way we want humans generally to treat each other as a baseline, right?

      As a woman, I’m seeing a myriad of ways that, no, that’s not how we want people to treat each other.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Patrick says:

      It’s also weird in that most of the things that one considers “white male privilege” aren’t privileges, really, they’re sort of the way we want humans generally to treat each other as a baseline, right?

      Yes, to the point that they might be better described as rights that happen to have not been distributed to everyone yet.

      I know this is a strong claim, but I think even moving from “white male privilege” to “white male privileges” would be an improvement. The former seems more like an unalterable thing that cannot be questioned, whereas the latter begs for a list.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Likewise, “rent-seeking” demonizes owners of apartment buildings and “statist” emergency room doctors.Report

  11. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    On a related note, one thing I’ve seen more than a few times from racial activists is the claim that even white people who don’t engage in racist behavior still “benefit from white privilege,” usually with the none-too-subtle implication that this is something we should feel guilty about. For example, here. Just something I grabbed off the first page of Google results. Specifically, this:

    The point I’m making is that white privilege is so insidious that just by dint of having white skin in this country, you are afforded the benefits of white privilege. What has made it so hard to eradicate is that whites are afraid of losing something (WP) that they claim doesn’t exist, but gives them a societal advantage.

    This is deeply confused, zero-sum thinking. If black people are hurt by racism, it must be the case that white people benefit from it. Which really isn’t the case at all. If we take at face value the claim that higher rates of social pathology and underachievement in the black community are due to racism, then racism is hurting white people, too. If blacks had the same SES distribution as whites, we would have higher GDP, higher tax revenues, less welfare spending, less crime, less money spent, and more innovation. Sure, we’d have to compete with them for the best jobs, but there would also be more opportunities to go around.

    No doubt there are some individual whites who would be worse off under these circumstances, but as a group we’d be significantly better off overall. The idea that we benefit by confining blacks to an subordinate racial caste is just nuts.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Ditto male privilege, though I don’t think I’ve seen this as much. Does anyone really think that men would benefit by having half the working-age population working as homemakers?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      This is deeply confused, zero-sum thinking.

      What’s deeply confused, the description or the situation being described?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      The idea that you are afforded opportunities that other people aren’t by virtue of your being white, and male, regardless of whether you’re a racist or a sexist seems so uncontroversial that I can’t fathom you disagree with it.Report

    • If black people are hurt by racism, it must be the case that white people benefit from it.

      It depends on how one thinks of “benefit.”

      Look, think of it this way. A straight, white, Christian couple can move pretty much anywhere in the country with their family and not have to worry “Boy, I sure hope people around here don’t have a problem with people like us,” with very few exceptions. This is not something that families comprising blacks or gays or Muslims, etc can say quite so reliably. Is this a tangible “benefit”? I dunno. I would say so, but since you can’t quantify it perhaps you disagree.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Well, the house they move in to might not be available if black folks had the same opportunity to purchase it. So, in that way, I’m comfortable calling it a benefit.

        Also to consider: if racism doesn’t benefit one group, but only harm another… well, damn, just how evil must racists be?Report

    • Brandon, I think I sort of agree. Again, going from McIntosh list, some of those white privileges are things I am glad white people have and want everyone else to be able to have them too. It’s not about giving up privilege but of extending privileges.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Brandon, I think I sort of agree. Again, going from McIntosh list, some of those white privileges are things I am glad white people have and want everyone else to be able to have them too.

        This is not in any way inconsistent with the ways in which privilege is usually discussed. For example, one form of privilege is the availability of better public schools in relatively wealthy areas. Recognizing this as privilege, or privileging, does not mean that we want well to do white kids to have worse schools. Sometimes privilege is about relative, not absolute values.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “It’s not about giving up privilege but of extending privileges.”

        To build on what @chris said, I think the assumption that people who are anti-privilege want to make everyone poor and miserable shows a fundamental misunderstanding of their stance and efforts. This is at least in part the result of people deliberately fostering this misunderstanding.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Right Chris. When people describe a situation as an example of X privilege, they’re not saying that the benefits which apply to group X are bad and shouldn’t be extended. It’s usually the opposite, in fact: that because those benefits are more or less objectively good (having access to good schools for your kids or whatever) the privilege ought not be restricted or limited to only certain groups.

        The negative critique is that lots of holders of privilege appear to want to maintain exclusive exercise of them and actively desire to not extend them to others. Eg, if feminists are to be believed, there was apparently a time, and not too long ago at that, when men were reluctant to extend the “privilege” of gainful employment in certain economic sectors to women. Crazy, I know.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        The irony being that the only people who seem to see this sort of thing as a zero-sum game are the very people who are constantly shouting to the rafters that it’s not a zero-sum game.Report

      • To the extent that discussions of privilege do center around expanding good types of privilege, I think that happens despite a poor choice of terminology rather than because of it.

        I have little doubt that those who are already buy into the concept of privilege are not bothered by the word choice. It’s that that word choice limits the viability of the message beyond those small circles.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I think privilege doesn’t always have that connotation. In fact, I believe many of the privilege conversations we’ve had around here have acted as though it doesn’t (I know that’s the case for the one’s I’ve had with Jaybird).

        Also, would you rather people say it like this?

        I think “privilege” was chosen precisely because people understand what it means. In turn, I think people like you, and me, and many others here, are going to tend to overthink it because we tend towards overthinking.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        There are zero-sum forms of privilege: college admissions are just one.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “To the extent that discussions of privilege do center around expanding good types of privilege, I think that happens despite a poor choice of terminology rather than because of it.”
        @vikram-bath

        How many conversations have you had with folks about privilege? Not the word, but the theory or concept? Some of your comments here make me think the answer might be not many, but I don’t want to assume that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Vik, I think I see you’re objection now. Given the list the OP of so-called “privileges”, the word does seem incorrect. I mean, if those are privileges, they’re clearly pushing the outer limits of correct usage. Here’s how I’d define “privilege”:

        A privilege is an advantage based on race, sex, gender, class, etc deriving from established cultural norms.

        So part of acting on a privilege is that the opportunities or outcomes that accrue to the individual are determined by preferential treatment and sometimes power structures which are entrenched and sustained by various cultural norms and beliefs. Another part is that a person doesn’t have to be aware of the benefits which accrue to them as deriving from institutional practices. So it seems to me things like hiring practices, pay rates, club memberships, acceptance into universities, acceptance into neighborhoods, gender role identifications, certain legal outcomes, career advancement, and so on are better examples of what most people think of evincing privilege than the ones mentioned in the OP.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Some of your comments here make me think the answer might be not many, but I don’t want to assume that.

        I was wondering the same thing, kazzy.

        Vik, I cancelled a comment asking pretty much the same thing since it I got the impression that all this talk of privilege was pretty new to you. Is that true?Report

      • Re: Experience on discussions about privilege:
        Well, this isn’t the *first* one I’ve participated in, but it is the first one here at OT. I do read a few feminist and women-of-color blogs, and I’ve read a few scholarly papers. I’ve also read discussions from privilege-deniers, and it’s their experience that I’m trying to communicate today. I reasoned that most of the audience here is already on board with the concept of privilege being important, so I wanted to communicate the reactions people who are not here seem to have. (That said, I’m willing to bet I haven’t participated in as many discussions as you have.)

        I don’t remember if I wrote this or not yet here, but I am really not questioning whether *you* can have a clear conversation about privilege amongst yourselves. I question whether you can with others who might not start off as receptive to the ideas. And I think minor modifications might get us there.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @vikram-bath

        Do you subscribe to the 20-60-20 theory (or a derivation thereof)? The one that says 20% of the people already agree with you, 20% of the people will never agree with you, an the 60% of the people in the middle are who you need to speak to?

        I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that in general.

        If you do subscribe to it, I wonder if “privilege deniers” might be part of the “never agree” 20% and, if so, whether they should be the ones we are taking cues from.

        Also, fully conceded: As a straight, white, cis male who has just about any form of privilege someone could want in contemporary American society, I know that I sometimes need to check the effectiveness of my advocacy. It is easy for me to say, “Damn the nuance, full speed ahead!” because if everything goes to shit… well, I don’t really feel the brunt of that. I’m working really hard on understanding what it really means to be an ally and an advocate. And I know I’m not there yet. So please do know that I am open to that which you say here, but I have a certain bugaboo whenever the conversation seems to be turning towards, “The main reason ISSUE X, which we all agree is bad, has not been resolved is because we haven’t been nice enough in asking those responsible for ISSUE X to knock it off.” Even if Mr. Nice Guy is going to be the most successful route, I’m still going to grumble about it, even if behind the scenes. But I must be aware of when that bugaboo has gone from being effective and useful to a hindrance.Report

      • Do you subscribe to the 20-60-20 theory (or a derivation thereof)?

        Well, if the derivation is a-b-c where a+b+c = 100%, sure. 🙂

        I get the notion, but it’s never going to be one specific percentage across all issues. I know that when I blog, I always try to write something that I don’t think the audience will agree with. At least not before they read the post. Otherwise, what’s the point?

        If you do subscribe to it, I wonder if “privilege deniers” might be part of the “never agree” 20% and, if so, whether they should be the ones we are taking cues from.

        I don’t think privilege deniers needs scare quotes. People don’t pretend to accept privilege but secretly deny it. If they don’t think it exists, they will tell you.

        Take cues only from yourself. But take them knowing that they will affect how the 60% views your arguments. For what it’s worth, I would be surprised if a privilege denier would read this post and say “right on!”

        …I have a certain bugaboo whenever the conversation seems to be turning towards, “The main reason ISSUE X, which we all agree is bad, has not been resolved is because we haven’t been nice enough in asking those responsible for ISSUE X to knock it off.”

        I’m not saying to be nice. Be clear. This isn’t about massaging the egos of people with unnoticed privileges. It’s about clarity of communication so they know what you are talking about.

        You mentioned earlier about who is the arbiter. I have a different answer now. If you say something to someone, and they make an honest effort to understand you, but they aren’t able to, then you did something wrong. That is determinant of whether your language choice was good enough.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Thus Affirmative Action is a net positive for society, and we should all support it even if we don’t benefit from it directly. Glad to have you aboard.Report

  12. Avatar morat20 says:

    You might enjoy John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is which covers some interesting points. He makes a lovely analogy to a game and notes:

    As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.

    Which sums it up, really. Yes, a straight white male with all the privilege he unknowingly holds might lose. He might face truly horrendous difficulties few others will face. He might, indeed, have the hardest life of all those he knows (including minorities, females, gays, etc). That doesn’t change the fact that swapping his gender, or race, or sexual orientation would only make his issues worse as it would add on many difficulties he is only vaguely aware exist — and only for other people.Report

  13. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I’m of two minds here but largely lean on being with the people who think privilege is a good term.

    Privilege does exist and people who have it are often super-clueless about it and get very defensive. The Pax guy from Business Insider is a good example. He got called out and fired for making a lot of super-offensive tweets that really went Beyond the Pale in terms of their racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and classism. The calling out got him fired from his job as Chief Technology Officer at Business Insider. This got the libertarians of the internet up in-arms. Pax and some blogger at Popehat said that the tweets were supposed to be satirical/performance art and that everyone was misreading him.

    Cry me a river, if you need to point out that you are doing satire, you are doing it wrong. Yes every now and then an Onion story gets confused for reality but most people understand the Onion is a joke. I find a lot of “anti-PC” people like to accuse the other side of being humorless without understanding what it is like to be the victim of prejudice or a nasty smear word.

    So if people get defensive about being called on their privilege, tough. Maybe they are feeling what it is like to be the victim of an off-handed homophobic, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, whatever joke here and they don’t like it very much.

    *Whenever I hear someone describe themselves as “anti-PC”, I hear them say “I don’t want to treat people with dignity and decency.”Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

      Privilege does exist and people who have it are often super-clueless about it and get very defensive.

      Sorry for the passive aggressiveness: I don’t disagree. My argument is not with that claim. My argument is that we have settled on language that *makes* people get very defensive when we could have chosen language that would make people more curious about what we are saying.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I am a bit cynical and don’t think the Paxs’* of the world will ever learn.

        I like the suggestion about talking about “advantages” instead of privileges though.

        *I’m pretty sure this is grammatically incorrectReport

      • Avatar zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I think the problem is that we’re discomforting the comfortable, and it really doesn’t matter what words we use. Pointing out power differential to the powerful suggests that they’re not quite as good/talented/gifted/competitive/resourceful then they are comfortable seeing themselves as being. It potentially implies that the not-so-powerful co-worker in the next cubicle might be, somehow, better because that person may have had to work harder to achieve the same cubicleness. We’re asking the empowered to examine themselves critically, and not take their success for granted with an ‘attaboy’ pat on the back.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Zic,

        Good point. There is probably not a term that would cause introspection over defensiveness.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        What @zic said, a thousand times.

        And look, I see much greater value in solidarity among those of us with less privilege compared to better propaganda applied against those with more privilege. Yes, bigots will bristle when their privilege is pointed out to them, and maybe a slightly nicer work would be better here and there. But not on the whole.

        People don’t deny their privilege because they don’t like the word. They deny it because they don’t like facing the truth.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        s/work/word/Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I think the problem is that we’re discomforting the comfortable, and it really doesn’t matter what words we use.

        This. We could change the word to narrow the meaning but all the scrapped connotations would almost instantly reappear.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Great point, @zic . Well said.Report

      • Zic does make a fair point, but I don’t think it is helpful to just say, “well, they would reject what we would say anyway,” even if it were accurate 70% of the time.

        There do exist people with privilege who nevertheless understand it. (Note the McIntosh link in the OP.) So it is possible for the empowered to admit to their power. Given that it is possible, why not maximize your chances that you will be understood when talking to your target audience? Why not grasp for any opportunity to make your message more palatable?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “…why not maximize your chances that you will be understood when talking to your target audience? Why not grasp for any opportunity to make your message more palatable?”

        Because when this becomes the expectation, it reinforces privilege. Messages are only received if they are palatable. Well, for SOME people. Some other people just have to accept the message no matter how it delivered.Report

      • Because when this becomes the expectation, it reinforces privilege.

        Having your audience react defensively reinforces privilege too.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @vikram-bath

        Having your audience react defensively reinforces privilege too.

        This can also be a leading indicator that your campaign against privilege of a particular flavor might be gaining some traction. It’s no longer laughed aside as a joke, it’s now a thorn in your side.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        *Very* clarifying subthread here, with applications far beyond just talking about privilege, IMO. It’s worth everyone taking a moment to reflect on these two approaches to political (and other) communication in various contexts (which likely won’t and shouldn’t be uniform across all those contexts). I think these two basic attitudes (conciliatory or in-your-face) gets to some very fundamental differences in the ways people approach political discussions generally – it definitely illuminates my view of a variety of different political communicators in the blogosphere and beyond. I’m glad we have a good mix between these approaches here at OT, including, as I suggest, often within individual commenters and contributors, depending on context.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @michael-drew — On that last point, you might like this blog post: http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/a-m-o-communication/Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @veronica-dire, that’s a fascinating post. Thanks for the link.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

      I am anti-PC. Political Correctness has no interest in anyone’s dignity nor yet will it treat people decently. It mawkishly blows its nose into a tissue bought at an upscale supermarket, rattles on about White People and their supposed privileges — never you mind that poverty varies directly with income and not with race, facts have no impact upon such as these —

      Political Correctness is a vast, self-excusing sublimation of the obvious, that privilege is inherited. You may always test the Politically Correct with this experiment — they will tell you white people can live anywhere they want — tell them to move to some dangerous neighbourhood. See if they’ll do it.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

        BlaiseP,

        The problem is that a large part of the anti-PC crowd are people who are outraged, outraged that they can’t use slur words or make casually homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic jokes around the water cooler anymore

        When I talk about being PC, it means treating people as humans with the innate dignity and decency that we all deserve. This means no sexist or homophobic or racist or anit-Semitic or Islamophobic or anything else phobic jokes around the water cooler.

        The solution is not telling minorities to lighten up!Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “poverty varies directly with income and not with race”
        Not over the lifetime of a person, Blaise. Then it varies with WEALTH not income. And wealth correlates very strongly with race.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        NewDealer,
        Jokes are fine. Jokes laugh about truths.
        Insults phrased as jokes are simply mean.
        But everyone knows the difference (at least, I hope).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Those who have been oppressed are most welcome to express their contempt for their oppressors. I have no problem with them. My problem is with the PC Crowd itself. Were they doing something about tearing down the barriers which have kept the oppressed out, I would be somewhat more sympathetic. They don’t.

        Since they do nothing about these problems, will not rid themselves of their own privileges, I have hardened my heart against them and hate them all the more. Race, gender, sexual proclivities, height, weight — look at the checklists these Check Your Privilege lists contain. Who gets to assign values to such characteristics? Why, the PC Dungeonmaster, of course.

        Political Correctness feeds a hungry man with words, not food.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Kim,

        It depends on the context and who is telling the joke.

        Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogan telling jokes about Jews are funny especially if done in a stand-up routine, movie, TV show, among other Jews.

        William Wadsworth IV and Felicity “Bunny” Hutchinson telling jokes about Jews at the Country Club or “inadvertently” as their one Jewish colleague passes by the water cooler is not funny.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        NewDealer,
        What about the straight guy writing jokes for Tobias on Arrested Development?
        (bear in mind that the actor playing Tobias is gay).

        Jokes are jokes, if they’re funny, I don’t care who the hell is telling them.
        Sometimes jokes are better in context (the one I made above (disregarding my ability/inability to tell good jokes) is less likely to be offensive if made by a Jew),
        but I deny the inability of someone to tell a joke simply because of their skin color.

        They had Colbert telling jewish jokes, after all (and I think he’s a WASP from SC!)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Kim,

        The whole point of Colbert is his persona and that he is making fun of the blowhards of Fox News. If he was really a Fox News guy, it would not be funny.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Newdealer,
        that wasn’t really the part of the act I was referencing though.
        (and, yes, it would be funny if he was actually a conservative.
        Over The Top is always funny, and making fun of shills is
        always good for a laugh — the Burger King episode of
        Arrested Development makes that point rather aptly
        [Moral To Fox: asking comedians to do things they
        don’t want to do is really asking for trouble.]).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Jokes at work are always stupid. Don’t tell ’em. Folks already have enough troubles, stumbling along in CorpSpeak, facilitating client-oriented learnings and leveraging synergies and other such mealy-mouthed bullshit. They won’t even speak English.

        The last thing anyone learns in a new language, is how to tell a joke well. CorpSpeak doesn’t understand jokes. Neither does the PC Crowd.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

        David Cross is not gay. He recently married a very pretty actress 20 years younger than he is.Report

  14. Avatar veronica dire says:

    My response to this thread:

    Oh look, a bunch of white dudes critiquing privilege.

    I wonder what’s on TV?Report

    • 1) I have not met him, but I do not believe the author of this post is white.

      2) Am I to assume from your comment that white dudes are not allowed to discuss the topic? Because that strikes me as a somewhat unhelpful means of actually moving the conversation forward.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        In my experience, when any suitably large collection of straight white cis dudes (and I know you aren’t straight and I know some folks on this thread are not white — but when that is the majority) discuss things like privilege, they will spend the majority of the thread *illustrating clearly* that they have privilege — which is the power to remain entirely clueless to your advantages and how they work in the world.

        Which gets painfully predictable and tedious.

        And of course you are *allowed* to discuss these things. As if I could stop you.Report

      • I guess by “allowed” I meant, “discuss with views that are viewed as legitimate.”

        I do agree that, until you know how it feels to not experience a certain privilege (beginning Vikram’s pardon), it’s hard to perceive that you enjoy it in the first place. Until you’ve sat down at an Applebee’s with your family and then wondered if people are staring at you, and if those stares are hostile, or maybe you’re just being paranoid, but boy the people two tables over seem to be glancing in your direction a lot… well, that’s a hard sense to convey to people who would never imagine having to worry about such a thing.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        When I was a kid in Niger, I was often the first white person some people had ever seen. Children would come up and touch my hair, try to rub the white off my skin, sure it was some sort of makeup. We were always gawked at. It never really made any difference to me. I slept in a bed with clean sheets. I drank boiled, filtered water. I shat in a sanitary outhouse. I bathed.

        I wore shoes!

        My life was so much better than anyone else I knew, I never felt as if I was part of the place. Truth is, compared to the States, we were living mighty poor. Didn’t seem like it though.

        This isn’t to say I have any particular insight into anyone else’s personal situation. But I’ve been gawked at because I was white. Sometimes, when you’re gawked at, it’s the first time someone’s ever seen someone like you. They might do dumb things, say dumb things, try to rub the white off your skin, they don’t know any better. At turns, it’s almost a relief for someone to gawk. At least they’re not studiously ignoring you, or giving you that tenth-of-a-second glare with the Stink Eye.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to veronica dire says:

      1. I’m pretty sure Vikram isn’t white.

      2. There are plenty of white dudes here who are defending the use of the term.

      3. To quote a famous New Yorker cartoon from the 1990s: “On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.” You are making a mental assumption of the appearance of a person based on what they are writing as their beliefs. This is probably a problem of the use of the word privilege on the Internet.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

        A quick look at my avatar to the left indicates that on the Internet I actually am a dog.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a qualification for anything, but I am Indian American male. I have plenty of privileges. My intent here is not to deny that but instead argue for a better terminology that will help privilege-holders of all sorts understand the claims that are being made about them without feeling like they are being attacked.Report

    • Oh look, a bunch of white dudes critiquing privilege.

      Hee, hee. I don’t think you wrote what you meant to write. 🙂

      I should note that I am not a privilege-denier. Neither do most of the commentators seem to be. I am critiquing our word choice.

      I wonder what’s on TV?

      You’ll want to check with Jaybird!Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There are two kinds of privilege, it seems to me… and it seems that they’re conflated.

    The first is the type of privilege that it is downright simple to resent. Inheritance issues, for example. It’s the easiest thing in the world to look at a trust fund baby (Paris Hilton!) and hate her.

    The second is the type of privilege that is not zero sum in any real way and is privilege that you’d think we’d want a hell of a lot more of. Freddie writes about it here:

    http://lhote.blogspot.com/2012/03/there.html

    Understand: it didn’t even take one generation. Social capital reasserted itself. Privilege did what it does. At the very moments when my life was most broken, the vast advantages of being born white and male, to educated and caring parents, who read to me and told me I was good, who connected behavior to consequences and advised me to live life consciously– all these realities quietly worked in my favor.

    I can see wanting to blunt the bad kind of privilege but the kind that Freddie’s talking about here? We want *MORE* of that. Bucketloads.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yep. And what do we do with things that we want to become universal? We call them rights, not privileges.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        How many people are aware they are not universal?

        Or, how many people assume that their own experience is universal?

        “I never have a problem finding a book for my child with characters that look like her. Is this really an issue for people? I doubt it.”Report

      • Among things that would not have occurred to me until I had a daughter: Except when there’s one of each, the protagonists of children’s books are almost uniformly male.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @will-truman that’s a great point. I remember, back in the day, reading to the kids in my children’s classes, something I did three times a week (and this was 20 years ago, so there likely has been some progress).

        Girls were happy to hear stories about boys. Boys were not happy to hear stories about girls.Report

      • I recall reading a study about this done a while back. The results demonstrated pretty clearly that stories with boy protagonists received much higher marks from girls than the other way around. Girls liked stories about girls better than stories about boys, and vice-versa, but the tolerance for the other was markedly different.

        As much as anything, I think this is what happens when there is a disproportionate ability of one side or the other to discriminate. If most stories have boy protagonists, then boys can skip over the ones that don’t while girls cannot. If most stories have white protagonists, white people can skip over those that don’t while non-white people cannot.

        (I’m not going to go into here, but this has repercussions on previous discussions about liberals and conservatives in entertainment media.)

        It’s definitely a thing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Ezra Jack Keats is one of the few authors who reliably uses characters of color without making the story a story about characters of color being characters of color. He also represents the urban landscape and lifestyle beautifully, something that is also missing from most children’s literature.

        I feel like there are more female protagonists as you get into slightly older grades… Ramona and Beezus and the like. Probably part of the chicken-and-egg issue with getting boys to read.Report

      • I agree most people are probably unaware. That’s why I suggest the modifier “concealed”, though now that I think about it “unnoticed” might be better. Concealed suggests someone is purposefully hiding it.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        But if we say that people have a right to find books with characters like them in it, people unaware of privilege will say, “Duh, everyone already has that.”

        But they don’t. How do we help them see it? Rights doesn’t get us any closer.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        People are aware of privilege, from their earliest days on the playground. Part of socialisation, coming to terms with the In Crowd, the Out Crowd. Who’s a Brahmin, who’s Shudra. To say we don’t see it is to ignore the obvious. We may lie to ourselves about it, pretend not to see it. But we do see it.Report

      • Kazzy, is this a conversation you’ve had with people? I ask because I would anticipate a slightly different response to “They don’t have very many options in children’s book for characters with leads that look like them…”

        The response I would anticipate is “Why does it matter what race the lead characters are? (Maybe something something here colorblind race doesn’t matter.) Why can they only enjoy books with lead characters that look like them?”

        Which seems like a reasonable response, at least from someone who has never been in the position of being underrepresented. That’s something I struggle a bit to articulate a response to. Not because it isn’t wrong or overlooking something significant. I just have a hard time framing it.

        Have you run into this? If you say the response is more along the lines of “Everybody has access to such books” I’ll believe you. And be a bit relieved, because I think that would be an easier one to respond to.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I think it is all of those, Will.

        Most people have some variation of, “I never thought of it that way…” which is sort of an amalgamation of all that.

        Books aren’t the best example, because people aren’t as tuned into them. And most adult books lack pictures so there is a certain degree of projection necessary/required.

        Let’s look at TV. How many times have you heard people say, “They have BET. Why can’t we have a white channel*?” I have to think at least some of that is the presumption that BET should suffice; that everyone has enough representation. Some of it is also built on a lack of understanding of the importance of representation. Not because these people would necessarily make an affirmative argument that representation is unnecessary, but because they have never had to think about the importance of representation because it has always been there for them.

        It is a really difficult knot to untangle. But there are no shortage of people who’ll point to BET or Tyler Perry movies and say black folks are sufficiently represented.

        * The best is when people go far enough and call it WET. There might have one time been a channel called WET, but probably slightly different than what they’re envisioning.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Let’s suppose black culture isn’t sufficiently represented. When BET was started, it was backed by John “Mad Max” Malone. Seriously white guy. Saw the opportunity, backed with some serious cash. Not a particularly sensitive guy, Mad Max Malone. People also call him Darth Vader.

        All John Malone could see was an under-served market. That’s how most people get rich, creating something for markets nobody’s yet identified. It’s not the newness of the thing, it’s creating the market. In this case BET should have been invented decades ago. Stroke of genius. I think Viacom owns it now.

        “White” people are about to become a minority here in the USA. I don’t buy into these race categories, others might. Cable TV is a big old series of narrow-casted ghettos, cooking channels, football channels, rerun channels — nobody can generalise in cable. Everyone who’s tried has failed. CNN tried the middle of the road approach, Fox ate its lunch because people like being in their little ghettos. No coaxing them out, either. That’s been tried, too.

        So soon enough, we will see a White People’s Channel, just like a Black People’s Channel and Indian soap operas and Egyptian soap operas and France24. A good cable package gets you carte blanche access to a hundred little ghettos. Because everyone’s a minority now and they want a ghetto for themselves. And by God, as long as people like Mad Max Malone and Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone are out there, they’ll get a cable channel for it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Perhaps this is a topic for a sidebar post but what programs would be on a WET channel?

        Full House?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      “I can see wanting to blunt the bad kind of privilege but the kind that Freddie’s talking about here? We want *MORE* of that. Bucketloads.”

      No one I know argues otherwise. Well, some. But they’re usually the type that think “privilege” is invented.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        It seems strange to give stuff like “making your child more robust” the same term, though.

        From the stories you tell of your students, would you say that you’re helping to make them more privileged?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yes.

        See, herein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of privilege.

        No one is saying that having privilege is, inherently, bad. What we/I are/am saying is that a system that privileges some to the exclusion of others is wrong.

        I would never criticize a parent for doing their best to help their child. But I would criticize a system that did not allow certain parents to do the best for their child.

        Why do you assume that a “privilege” is a bad thing?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        From the stories you tell of your students, would you say that you’re helping to make them more privileged?

        I see a confusion there too. One person can’t make another more privileged except by changing the cultural norms and practices that are entrenched in society.Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

        Why do you assume that a “privilege” is a bad thing?

        Because, in colloquial usage, privilege carries negative connotations. At least some of the time, for some people. Hence Vikram’s original point that using the word “privilege” as the technical term for the concept it refers to in social justice work is a poor choice.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        One person can’t make another more privileged except by changing the cultural norms and practices that are entrenched in society.

        Did you see how Freddie was using the word? Was he using it incorrectly?

        For the record, I don’t think that he was using it *THAT* differently than most folks.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        We say that driving is a privilege, not a right.

        We talk about computer access privileges.

        We give children more privilege as they demonstrate greater responsibility to exercise those privileges.

        Which of these connote privilege in a negative light? Because I would those are the most common usages I heard growing up.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        those are the most common usages I heard growing up.

        When we use the word “privilege” in discussions like this one, we’re talking about something else entirely.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        When we use the word “privilege” in discussions like this one, we’re talking about something else entirely.

        I agree. Are we talking only about what Freddie meant by the word, tho?

        Personally, FWIW, I read Freddie as much closer to my view of what the word means than you apparently do.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m not sure it’s such a gigantic leap in definitional changes, though. “If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.” That describes an ability I have, a license that others give me, which is at least impliedly not enjoyed by others who are different from me.

        Where I take issue with the notion is that the privileges we discuss are, of course, unearned. Therefore they are unfair. Therefore I am taking unfair advantage of my privileged position when I use them. But everyone ought to be able to rent or purchase housing in an area they can afford. I am part of “everyone.” So when I enter the housing market, perhaps I’m using that privilege, but I don’t think I’m doing something wrong.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, now I’m just confused. Have we redefined the word? If so, why are we objecting to its usage in an appropriate way based on its new definition? I’m just lost.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        But I also see privilege as something that I *CAN* give to others. I go out of my way to find books for my nephews that they will actively love. Toys like those snap-in science kits and puzzle games that, sneakily, teach them things despite themselves.

        I tell them that they are good. When they were younger, I read to them.

        Are we talking only about what Freddie meant by the word, tho?

        No, it seems to me that we’re conflating two very different things… and using the same (negative) term for both when one is actually quite positive.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        i>Therefore I am taking unfair advantage of my privileged position when I use them.

        Well, certainly some people might accuse you of that. But I think the negative complaint arises when people who have certain privileges claim that they don’t have any of those privileges but as well as support policies which perpetuate the privileges they claim to be unaware of.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        But I also see privilege as something that I *CAN* give to others.

        We’re getting down to root paradigms here, which calls for caution, but I’d say it differently. You’re offering them opportunities, not privileges.

        But I think you and I disagree about what that word means. Seems like we’ve gone over this ground before and come to different conclusions.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        To the extent that social capital is something that can be learned, surely it’s also something that can be taught. If one can teach it to one’s loved ones, one would be remiss in *NOT* doing it.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      I can see wanting to blunt the bad kind of privilege but the kind that Freddie’s talking about here? We want *MORE* of that. Bucketloads.

      We don’t want more of the privilege Freddie’s describing, because that consists of his having the good stuff he describes (which we DO want gobs more of) and others not having it or not having nearly as much. If you really we want more of the privilege, well, I think you’re making a moral mistake. We want more good stuff. If we want those who already have more of it to get the most more as we increase the total amount, then we want more privilege. But as we increase the total amount of good stuff, if we want those who have less of it to get more, or even just the same amount, of the overall more good stuff that is created, then we don’t want more privilege. If we want more of the more to those who now have less, then in fact we want less privilege, because it will then become (if only slightly) less uncommon for someone to X amount (though: relatively a lot) of good stuff. Having X amount of good stuff won’t be as much of a privilege, because more people will have X amount, or more people will be closer to having X amount. There will be less privilege (yay!), though (YAY!!!) more good stuff.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I apparently forgot to type about half of the verbs that that paragraph called for. Luckily, they’re mostly clear from context.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        But when it comes to the “more good stuff”, that’s something that we have weird relationships with…

        I’ve mentioned my many nephews and the many books I go out of my way to find for them. I am under the impression that by giving them books that they like to read that I am giving them advantages that other people don’t have.

        Fair enough… but I don’t understand what my relationship is to the fact that other people out there aren’t taking care of their own nephews (their own *SONS*!) the way that I take care of mine.

        What should it be?Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird , I only just now got through the link. Thanks for sharing that.

      I have one immediate reaction. The author mentions that it took less than a generation for social capital to reassert itself. It struck me that a lack of social does not reassert itself, which is a good thing. Once a family has gotten the social capital the author speaks about, there won’t be some downward pressure always trying to bring them to their original state. (I believe that is consistent with what the author is saying.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Imagine if, in Trading Places, Dan Ackroyd’s character was somehow able to start from absolutely nowhere after losing everything and end up making millions of dollars anyway.

        It’s like that, only pretty much everywhere.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I was talking to a guy whose dad, in his 80s now, is an old-school Texas oil millionaire. He was telling me that in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, His Dad made tens of millions and lost them, to the point of being completely broke, several times. He talked about how they would have to move out of whatever giant house they were living in, and live with friends or family, and then a year or so later, they’d move into another giant house. I was thinking to myself, “Damn, when my bank account hit zero in the past, there was no point at which I was thinking, ‘Eh, now it’s time to make another thirty mil.'”

        In all likelihood, there’s nothing his dad knew that you (Jay), Vikram, or I couldn’t learn pretty quickly. That is, he wasn’t making millions and losing them and remaking them on the basis of some highly specialized knowledge. He just had experience in the oil industry, and he knew the right people. Every time he hit zero, which let’s face it would likely ruin our credit, he had someone who’d seed his rise to multi-millionaire again, or get him in on some new lucrative venture.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Chris,
        Venture capitalists will pay an awful lot for things that are very stupid.
        It may not be possible for you to get $30 million if you don’t know the right people…
        But half a million isn’t out of the question, for a halfway decent product and
        a bit of marketing.Report

  16. Avatar veronica dire says:

    Story time.

    So, I usually go dancing on Tuesday nights. I love dancing. It helps me escape myself and let out a lot of stuff I keep inside. Plus it helps me keep fit.

    On Tuesdays there is a cool queer dance night at a little club in Cambridge. The DJ is amazing. The room is full of magnificent people. The dancing is top notch.

    (Although I’m usually the only trans gal there, which can get awkward.)

    Anyway, I didn’t feel good this Tuesday, so I didn’t go. And I regretted that all day Wednesday.

    The clear solution: go dancing Wednesday night. I felt better. I was brimming with energy.

    But where to go?

    So, here’s the thing: the Boston queer scene can be pretty dull. Which is a surprise, but still true. There are a number of gay bars, but there is seldom much dancing there. (Really, they seem mostly cruising joints. And I’m not gay, so gay cruising is no fun at all.) And the lesbian places — well, the fate of a trans gal in the lesbian scene is too dismal to discuss, so I won’t. Then there are the straight dancing clubs, but for a honking enormous tranny like me — those places can be hit or miss.

    Now, I’ve gone to straight dance parties and had a terrific time. But nevertheless I worry about my safety.

    Last night I decided to take a chance on a nice club in downtown Boston. I’ve been there before, but on explicitly kinky-fetishy nights. I’ve never been there on a normal night.

    I get dressed. I head out.

    On the subway I sit beside a guy smoking Crystal.

    (Not kidding.)

    On the way from the subway to the club I get laughed at, yelled at, hit on by straight dudes — who look terrified when at the last minute they realize I’m trans —

    And about that, last month a trans women was murdered in Harlem when a dude was street harassing her, but then realized what she was. He was so freaked out he beat her to death.

    Her name was Islan Nettles.

    However, in my case the dudes just laughed and said gross things to me. I gave them the finger and carried on.

    Then more, some lady standing outside a restaurant said shit to me. I kept walking but she followed, egged on by the dude she was with. I turned, faced her, sauntered toward her — putting on full tranny mode.

    She backed off.

    I arrive at the club. Outside is a line.

    I don’t mind lines. That’s life.

    But will I get in? A girl like me?

    But the line! It’s all dudebros with their collars turned up. They see me. There are guffaws, whispers, muttered voice. “Oh my god! What the fuck!”

    None of the dudes get in my face, but I decide not to stand in line with them.

    I do not go into the club. Instead I head over a few block to a little drag club I know. Nice place. I’m treated well. But no one dances there.

    The rest of you could JUST FUCKING GO DANCING!

    On the way home some big mean looking Southie dude blew me kisses while waiting for the Red Line. I blew kisses back. His friends laughed at me and then they all got on the train.Report

    • I will ignore your story because I’m going to get hung up on the fact that I don’t like dancing.

      (Kidding. Seriously, thanks for sharing. It can indeed be really easy to forget how simple things can be for a lot of us.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to veronica dire says:

      @veronica-dire

      “…but then realized what she was…”

      Hi Veronica,

      A question about your choice of language here. If I was writing that sentence, I would have said “who she was”. But, clearly, you are more informed on this matter. Is “what” the more appropriate term there? Were you using it to capture the thinking of the attacker?

      I thank you in advance for indulging my ignorance.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — Well, in this case I wasn’t being particularly deliberate in my word choice. But, yes, I have no doubt the attacker was dehumanizing Islan, and I think my use of “what” reflects that.

        I have been called “it” to my face. It is unpleasant.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thank you. That was the sense that I got, but I wanted to be sure.

        More importantly, thank you for sharing your story.

        I think this sums it up: The rest of you could JUST FUCKING GO DANCING!

        If I may, I’ll share a story from the other side of the aisle, where I got (proverbially) slapped up the head with just such a sentiment.

        When I lived in Manhattan, I would ride the subway 24/7. Even if it took me through bad neighborhoods. I just never thought twice about it. One day, I was talking with a female friend and she was complaining about taking cabs. “Just take the subway.” She hemmed and hawed and we went back and forth for a bit. I just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t take the subway when money was tight.

        Finally she just said, “Dude. I’m a girl. I’m not riding the subway alone at night.”

        It was an, “Ooooooooooh Fuuuuuuuudge,” moment. I was completely oblivious until she made it painfully obvious.Report

    • Ugh. I wish I could transfer this particular privilege to you, Veronica. It does suck that someone who actually wants to go dancing can’t.Report

    • I’m not from Boston so I don’t know what a “Southie” is. I can figure out what a “brodude” is from context.

      So was the last paragraph of your story a bit of a happy ending for the evening with a bit of a flirt, or was the guy mocking you and you just decided to pay him back in kind?

      Sorry that I seem obtuse. But I’d have thought that Boston would have a rocking LGBTQ scene.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        He was an obviously cis straight male covered with tattoos and, from his physical attitude and presentation, was certainly accustomed to physical violence. His blowing me a kiss was an act of hostility. My returning it was the same.

        We were in a public place with cameras.

        “Southie” is South Boston, both the people and the place. It is traditionally working class white Irish.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko

        If you are interested in learning more about Southie, read “All Souls”. Great book. Depressing. But captures the neighborhood and, more broadly, the city… specifically the 70’s and 80’s.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Thanks, @veronica-dire and @kazzy . So that was a bad ending to a bad night. Ugh.

        Again, sorry to have been so clueless.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Np. I sometimes forget that “Southie” is a rather local term.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to veronica dire says:

      Veronica,

      Wow, that’s a great story. The weird thing is that it strikes me as not that dissimilar to lots of other stories you could probably tell. One question tho, because I want to be crystal clear about this: you weren’t intending to harm anyone by going dancing that night, were you? I mean, you just being you wasn’t causing … well … harm, was it? Cuz it sure seems like you were the one that was hurt while everyone hurling insults were rather enjoying themselves.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater — I kind of don’t understand the point of the question. Of course I intended to harm no one. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I did something with the intent to do harm. (Which is not to say I haven’t stupidly done harmful things.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Ahh, sure. Now that I read it again it’s pretty opaque.

        Here’s what I was getting at. There is a faction of people who argue that acting in ways which break down traditional social and sexual norms causes harm to others. Contrasting that view with the current discussion, tho, implies that the exercise of privilege by the dominant hetero community effectively permits members of that group to perpetrate harms against others based on the same rationale.

        That’s why I asked you if you were harming others: it’s a premise in a very strange argument about social norms and morality.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater — Ah, yes, I see. Well, I certainly made some people uncomfortable.

        And I wish I did not. But on the other hand, I refuse to hide in my apartment; to hide who I am, to dress down (I suspect much hostility comes from men who find me just a little sexy), and otherwise to live under some kind of rock created by cishet sensibilities.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        Veronica,

        If I may, you made reference or allusions in your story to your size/build/body type… “honking enormous” was the phrase you used. I assume that transgender people come with the same diversity of body type as cis gender people. If so, how much does the way one physically presents impact the response? Russell wrote recently about working with a transgender patient and made note of her build, which was slighter than you imply yours was. This, at least in part, influenced his response.

        Do you think the response you tend to get would be better if you weren’t “honking enormous”? Would it be worse (perhaps because more men might be attracted and then have to deal with that dissonance)? Just different? Or is the ugliness fairly universal?

        Please only answer what/if you want; you need not feel the need to be my or our “tour guide”.Report

  17. Avatar roger says:

    I use privilege as a term to describe someone given unfair advantage in the rules. I do not assume every human starts from the same starting place. They don’t and cannot. For example, some of us are just not as good looking as others.

    The fact that I am not good looking does not mean that the handsome people people reading this are privileged.

    On the main post, Vikram linked to someone who appears to be peddling tribalism, resentment, envy, hate and zero sum thinking.

    I do not care if my kids are black, white or brown, male, female, gay or straight. I care that they are not dumb, evil or ugly. The brown gay ones will do great if they can keep away from tribalistic hate peddlers. The ugly dumb ones I worry about.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to roger says:

      This is all beautifully utopian but keeping away from tribalistic hate peddlers isn’t that easy. a lot of tribalistic hate peddlers have a tendency to like violence and will make sure to get in the way of your “brown gay ones”Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I have found the brown gay ones have done fine in reality. Much better than the less attractive or less intelligent ones. No comparison actually. If someone could peddle victimology to the latter group they would. Only problem is it is a group nobody wants to admit they belong to.

        My experience is the thing I need to protect my family from is not racists. They are insignificant in the big picture to their welfare. Not a non issue, but an insignificant issue to their long term prospering. Small enough that i see zero net advantage for the non minority members. What I do need to worry about is the hate peddlers trying to push victimology on them. This is the mindset which will destroy them.

        That is me. My experience with a very multicultural family across various states.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to roger says:

      “The fact that I am not good looking does not mean that the handsome people people reading this are privileged. ”

      of course not. but i can point you to some studies about the privilege of beauty.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to roger says:

      My grad adviser published an article based on data from some lab experiments in game theory. One of the things they’d asked of participants was that they evaluate their own and other participants’ attractiveness.

      From the abstract: “s. Results indicate that subjects are more likely to enter play and to cooperate with others they find attractive. Men who see themselves as more attractive more often cooperate than other men, while women who see themselves as more attractive less often cooperate than other women. In addition, subjects who rate themselves as highly attractive are more likely to cooperate with others they see as also highly attractive.

      So maybe attractiveness is an unfair advantage.

      And is this a type of privilege we should be emphasizing in our concerns or not?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Ted Chiang wrote a story called “Liking What You See: A Documentary”, about what happens when an operation that disables the common reaction to beautiful people becomes available. It’s quite fair, with characters pro and con given more or less equal time. One of the main subplots is about what happens to a couple where he’s homely and she’s quite beautiful once their treatments are reversed and they become aware of this.

        Chiang is an awesome writer. He’d be better-known if he wrote novels, or at least more than one short story every year or so.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Probably not. Some unearned advantages are easier to fight against than others, particularly the advantages of being white and male because not everybody wishes they were or likes white men. Nearly everybody wants to be physically attractive and like attractive people. Most people have pretty conventional tastes when it comes to what they consider good-looking. Fighting against the advantages of being aesthetically pleasing is impossible. It’ll be like if short men like me have to fight against the advantages held by tall men.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to roger says:

      Roger,
      I’d like to point out that Peggy McIntosh first published that piece in1988. Let’s say you could skim a page like 100percentmen.tumblr.com in 1988, I’d argue you’d find many more all male and all white executive suites, newspaper editorial boards, university departments, etc. Further, looking at accounts of women breaking into predominantly male fields (Susan Antilla’s book “Tales from the Boom Boom Room” comes to mind) you’ll find environments that militated against their full participation.

      Now, fast forward to today and you’ll find that our society is still in transition from where it used to be to where we’re hopefully headed one day – a society where more people have your commendable attitude towards their children’s race, gender, and sexual orientation. I’d also like to point out to you that a crucial metric in this score is not how you, Roger, feel about these things. I’ve already stipulated, commendable attitude. But the key for gender/ethnic studies, sociological examinations is the set of unequal opportunities society provides for individuals based on these categories. How will you be treated by the criminal justice system? By healthcare providers? Financial institutions? In hiring? Not only de jure, but de facto. The evidence is not reassuring.*

      As has been pointed out in this thread before, intersectionality, the matrix of statuses and identities an individual presents, has consequences for answering these questions. But as a shorthand: white privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege… are all apt. Pointing them out doesn’t constitute peddling tribalism, resentment, envy, hate and zero sum thinking.

      * Here are some for instances that should come up easily in Google. I’ve highlighted a sentence, but the full pieces give far more context. Unfortunately, I could probably go on and on citing these kinds of findings in multiple domains of society.

      Sociological Images discussing a study, “The average suggested beginning salary for the male candidate was $30,238, while for the female student it was $26,507”. The study, Larry H., Shayna A.-S., and Laura F. sent in a recently released study, “Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students,”

      Sociological Images again, a study in Milwaukee “What was surprising was that race actually turned out to be more significant than a criminal background. Notice that employers were more likely to call Whites with a criminal record (17% were offered an interview) than Blacks without a criminal record (14%).” The SocImages post, “Race, Criminal Background, and Employment” by Gwen Sharp

      NBER writeup of a study, “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity…. It indicates that a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. Race, the authors add, also affects the reward to having a better resume. Whites with higher quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower quality resumes. But the positive impact of a better resume for those with Africa-American names was much smaller.”. The study, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination” by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Excellent comment.Report

      • <Golf clap>
        Academic citations and everything. Best comment of the week.
        </Golf clap>Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Creon Critic says:

        @creon-critic — Is it okay if I have a crush on you now?Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Creon,

        See my response way below.

        In brief, you are defining equal opportunity as a privilege. I define it as an expectation. To be denied that which is expected is not an absence of privilege, it is either an absence of expectations or an example of intentional harm.

        The class of people whom I have not punched in the nose is not a class of privileged people. Nor would a person who got punched be underprivileged. They were punched.

        In Gibson’s list, she reframes people not being victims of intentional or incidental biases as being privileged. Privilege is not a neutral term, it implies unfairness, something to be corrected. Thus privilege is not the desired state, as universal privilege is a contradiction in terms.Report

  18. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Your article seems to be lacking a suggestion for an alternative term that would convey the same meaning. You can’t just say “don’t talk about privilege” while acknowledging that the issues it is meant to coney are ones that do exist; if you don’t like the current phrasing, suggest something else that would have a reasonable chance of catching on. Because we need something to describe the phenomenon.

    You define the common meaning of “privilege” as being “having it all while being blissfully unaware of having it all”. The only words in that definition that conflict with what privilege (used in its social-justice sense) means are “it all” – privilege is, precisely, “having [something] while being blissfully unaware of having it”. Or, perhaps more to the point in both definitions, being unaware that many other people do not have it.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

      [From one of your above comments.]

      So why don’t we say “As a white male, you have privileges you may not be aware of” rather than “As a white male, you are privileged and ignorant of it.” Surely, I’m not the only one who sees a huge difference between those two statements.

      I’m not seeing a huge difference; and the most important difference is that telling a person they have something is less direct and thus less personal than telling them they are something, so the latter is slightly easier to get offended by. But I doubt a semantic difference like that is a major part of why many people don’t listen. A lot of the time people don’t listen because they don’t want to hear, and at some point blaming the messengers for that becomes more counterproductive than helpful. I think you’re at that point.Report

      • @katherinemw ,
        I’ve amended the article to include an alternative: unnoticed privileges. The two differences from “privilege” are (1) pluralizing it, so that it is clear that there are concrete things that can be named (as opposed to a general aura of privilege) and (2) including the label “unnoticed” to make it clear that it is not just obvious stuff like driving.

        The only words in that definition that conflict with what privilege (used in its social-justice sense) means are “it all”

        Yes. But the “all” does a lot. It’s the difference between caviar with Dom and Cheetos with off-brand Coke.

        slightly easier to get offended by

        That’s really all I’m claiming. If we do have verbiage that is less likely to trigger an immune response, we should use that language.

        at some point blaming the messengers for that becomes more counterproductive than helpful.

        Perhaps I am being picky, but I can understand how it might be unhelpful (assuming that wording doesn’t matter), but I don’t see how it would be counterproductive, i.e. harmful. My read of this right now is that in the worst case, we keep using the language we’ve been using.Report

  19. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    What should the privilege do about their privilege? Most people aren’t terribly reflexive and they don’t like thinking about these things for the same reasons that most people don’t follow politics that deeply. They simply don’t have time for this shit. The number of people involved in or even aware of the debates regarding privilege on the internet or in real life is probably rather small. Most people are simply going to live their lives and ignore the entire concept of privilege.Report

    • Avatar roger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The focus on “underprivileged” and “privileged” sets up a false dichotomy. It assumes someone else is privileged and privileged does not imply lucky or fortunate but unfairly so. It creates an imaginary zero sum situation.

      The dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

      When we go to an underprivileged school, what we are seeing is not someone who lacks privilege. We are seeing someone who is less fortunate. Very different word, but more appropriate. The kids with better teachers and schools are not privileged. They are blessed, or fortunate. They are not getting a special right, they are getting what we would like every kid to have (and which every kid would have if progressives didn’t force them into crappy schools run for their rent seeking union buddies).Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to roger says:

        Fortune suggests a matter of luck or chance. Privilege is not that; it is conditions that exist because our society has, over many years (often decades or centuries) deliberately created them. The very existence of the deeply poor, largely black “inner city” as it exists in America is a creation of policy – it’s not a natural or inevitable circumstance (it doesn’t exist in Canada). The very fact that a large population of black people is present in America is due to the slave trade, not random chance; the fact that most of them are poor is due to a few centuries’ worth of government policies and social institutions that did their utmost to keep them that way. And the same is true of other aspects of life that are described by “privilege”.

        So “less fortunate”, implying this is a matter of luck, is a false description of the situation and provides a justification for things being the way they are rather than encouraging thought and examination of the reasons privilege exists.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to roger says:

        Roger, what KatherineMW said. Even if your interpretation is correct, reversing the trends of misfortune requires a lot of government intervention. Individual initiative and private charity can make things better here an there but only government could marshall the resources to really reverse things.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Katherine,

        May I suggest you tease out your logic a bit further?

        First, you throw out the term privilege and then quickly do a redirect to the less fortunate, talking about slavery and intentional harms. You changed the subject without realizing it. This is not an absence of privilege, it is a victim of harm. If victims of harm are underprivileged, then you have just redefined those that are not victims as privileged and thus receiving unfair advantage. I am pretty sure you do not mean this (well I hope you don’t as it is kind of sick).

        I do agree that there are people that are victims of bad institutions, and that many of these are black or brown, though not most (I find the race card distracting and causing more harm than good). The institutional harms are improperly designed welfare nets which promote dependency and single motherhood; progressive run school monopolies with no parental choice for lower income families; minimum wage and mandatory benefit laws throwing twenty percent of inner city youth out of the market and such.

        By the way, who are more fortunate, those whose ancestors came here willingly or not, or those whose ancestors did not? Just asking.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Lee,

        “…reversing the trends of misfortune requires a lot of government intervention. Individual initiative and private charity can make things better here an there but only government could marshall the resources to really reverse things.”

        The government action is the chief cause of this misfortune. The explosion in single parent households due to poorly designed safety nets; the curse of government run, no choice schools; the tempting carrot of permanent disability; the state driven incarceration of millions due to minor drug offenses and the systemic unemployment caused by runaway regulatory interference in self employment and wage/benefit freedom.

        We need government action all right. We need government action to reverse sixty years of government driven pathological altruism.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to roger says:

        Roger, you are, per usual, too focused on material advantages, specifically monetary advantages. Did you read veronica dire’s story? Use that as a metaphor for non-material privilege.

        Of course, material privilege is a very real thing, but privilege doesn’t stop there.

        Note, also, that privilege is not being used here as “only available to,” but as predominantly available to. So, for example, for the most part white people have, simply by virtue of being white, increased access to both credit, both personally and as business owners. This doesn’t mean that some black people might have better access than some white people (because they they have considerably better credit profiles, e.g.), but that being black is not a factor that increases access to credit, while being white is.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        You changed the subject without realizing it.

        Damn Roger, you’re on a roll. Every time you get in a discussion with people lately, it turns out they’re just so damn ignorant you don’t even have to respond to what they say. Amazing! I mean, I have to admit that I’ve never experienced this kind of run of good fortune in all my years debating with people. The folks I debate are usually pretty fucking smart.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Chris,

        You missed my comment completely. If one of my family members is denied a loan because he is gay or black it is not a case of privilege or underprivileged. That is a definitional error. Probably intentional.

        That is a case of deliberate harm. A person is not PRIVILEGED to get a loan based upon their ability to repay. That is what we should expect. Thus a person not getting the loan who deserves it is not underprivileged — they are being exploited.

        Of course, when progressives use the term, they usually point not to actual exploitation (which does of course exist in millions of forms) but in disparate impact which proves nothing.

        I worked for thirty years in the financial industry. For about half that time I ran underwriting for a state, region or for the country. Racism was really rare and inconsequential throughout the industry. However, a lot of policies may have had disparate impact and for a lot of reasons. We did not turn people down because of their race, religion, sexual preference or whatever. It makes no business sense to do so and would be evil.

        However it is quite likely that more Asians had good or bad credit or driving records than Irishmen.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Stillwater,

        Have you said anything of a constructive nature to me in the past few weeks?

        If you are suggesting I glossed over something important which Katherine said, do us both a favor and point it out. Don’t just snark… It wastes all our time.

        To clarify, I am pointing out that she used the term privilege to mean a person who was not harmed by others. Not being harmed is not a privilege. It is an expectation. You might even say a right. I am accusing her of vewy, vewy sloppy language.

        If you disagree say so. That would be constructive.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to roger says:

        Roger, you’ve apparently missed the whole discussion. “Intentional” and “deliberate,” more often than not, have nothing to do with it. We’re primarily talking about institutional, cultural, and implicit biases of which most people, even those who perpetuate them, are unaware.

        I recommend looking up the research on implicit bias. Google Scholar is your friend.

        Honestly, if you just took a moment to consider where people are coming from, and to actually read what they’re saying, I think you might be able to at least accurately assess the points they’re making.

        Also, I know that race is a factor in access to credit because I, personally, have done the studies. I don’t mean I looked it up. I mean I collected and analyzed the data. I used to moonlight as a consultant for an economic consulting firm (a large firm that is part of a giant multinational corporation) that evaluated the need for race-based policies related to the hiring of MWBEs as subcontractors for government (state and local/county) contracts. Everywhere that company had ever done a study, including the ones I worked on, they found that race was a factor in access to personal and business credit. Everywhere, throughout the country. And this is not because there are bankers sitting around saying, “I ain’t givin’ no loans to none of them n_____s.” It’s just an institutional, cultural, and personally implicit bias that, in the aggregate, works against black people.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        Roger, I’ve said what I thought were constructive comments to repeatedly over the last few weeks, comments which which you misinterpreted, confused, didn’t answer, rejected because you think I’m ignorant and on the side of villiany. That’s frustrating. It’s also a pattern that I think deserves calling out. The fact that you don’t recognize why I’m calling you out renders the practice an exercise in futility, but I admit I just can’t restrain myself from doing it.

        Wrt Katerine’s comment, I actually did say something constructive, which is that you – once again – didn’t respond to the words people have written but something else completely. I mean, criticizing Katherine for unintentionally changing the subject assumes a lot of things, none of which are readily apparent from the comment she made. Personally, I think she meant exactly what she wrote and didn’t change any subjects at all. She wrote what she meant to write and thought it was on point. That you don’t realize that here comment was on point is evidence that you put people’s words thru some sort of interpretation filter rather than simply read them. That’s frustrating.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Chris,

        Can I be real clear…

        Privilege is the opposite of underprivileged. Privilege is someone getting unfair advantage. The term underprivileged sucks when it is used as someone not having what we hope they have in life… Good parents. Good genes. A good environment. Good health. Equal opportunity. Personal freedom.

        People with these things are not privileged. They are fortunate. They are getting what we hope all get.

        People without these things are not underprivileged, they are unfortunate..

        If these things were institutionally taken from them they are not underprivileged they are being exploited.

        It is common within populations with different characteristics, values, needs and cultures to see inconsistent outcomes between groups. This is not proof of exploitation nor of a “lack of privilege.”

        The term privilege is a deceptive term used to bias the conversation by anchoring it in zero sum terms. It assumes a race not a journey.

        Let me explain it a different way. When we are setting a universal expectation such as equal opportunity we are not trying to get everyone to a privileged position. Thus those lacking this characterization are not underprivileged or lacking privilege.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Stillwater,

        Sticking on topic, I explained how I think privilege and underprivileged are inappropriate terms to define what we hold to be universal expectations. She then shifted to some of these things were intentional harms. I then respond that this is not lacking privilege either. It is harming or exploiting people.

        Please, please try to address these points. Do you agree or disagree? Why?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        I explained how I think privilege and underprivileged are inappropriate terms to define what we hold to be universal expectations. She then shifted to some of these things were intentional harms. I then respond that this is not lacking privilege either. It is harming or exploiting people.

        Which reveals that you and her are either talking about two different things, or offering two different descriptions ostensibly about the same thing.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to roger says:

        Roger, you’ve been quite clear this whole time, but you’ve ignored pretty much everything everyone has said about what privilege is in this context. You keep arguing against straw men. Privilege is not just having things. It’s not just being safe. No one is saying it is those things. You keep saying “These things are not privilege.” This may come as a surprise to you, but you agree with everyone arguing about privilege here on this. But you think you’re disagreeing with us, because you haven’t read a word we’ve said.

        I said I would just wait until you said something relevant, and now it’s clear to me that you’re not going to say anything relevant, so I’ll just let you be in this thread. See you in the next.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Chris and Stillwater,

        Again you cloak a personal attack or criticism as an argument.

        If you disagree with me, please explain how and why, being specific. Please.

        Please just restate or cut and paste what it is about privilege that I think is being used inappropriately. Let me know where you disagree and why.

        I am saying the DESIRED STATE should not be categorized as privileged, as this is a disparaging term. Equal opportunity is not a privilege it is a “right” or universal expectation, not a negative thing. Thus those that are not being discriminated against are not privileged, and those being discriminated against are not underprivileged. I am saying these terms are inappropriate as it reframes a universal expectation as a negative that invites tribalistic (us vs them) thinking.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        Roger,

        Again you cloak a personal attack or criticism as an argument.

        Well, that’s a product of frustration more than anything else, since it appears that you’re intentionally – that’s the only word I can think of to describe it – misunderstanding the concepts and properties liberals are talking about in this thread. I mean, even Vikram has conceded that the concept or term applies to real states of affairs in the world. I haven’t heard that concession from you. What I’m hearing is that liberals are using the term wrong. But if it’s just a descriptive term and it applies correctly to real world states of affairs, then there are at least some cases where it’s being used correctly. Those are the situations which I’ve been talking about. I think you’ve been talking about something else.

        I am saying the DESIRED STATE should not be categorized as privileged, as this is a disparaging term.

        First, the desired state of discourse is a completely different discussion than what constitutes a correct description of reality. It seems to me that you want to change the terms we use to describe reality to conform to your conception of how things ought to be, rather than granting that accurate descriptions of reality are necessary in order to determine how to change things and make them more optimal.

        Those two things, In a nutshell, are my disagreements with the views you’ve presented on this thread. It makes discourse impossible, it seems to me, since you’re denying the legitimacy of a concept that from my pov is just obviously correct. And if you’re asking me to argue for the correctness of the term, all I can do is define the term and give examples of when it applies. Which lots of us have done on this thread.

        That’s not to say that the concept of cultural privilege is the only way to look at the types of social dynamics the concept refers to, or is intended to be a definitive, final analysis of the causes and effects of culture in society. I don’t think any liberal thinks that way. But it’s part of the analysis. But you seem to disagree with that conclusion.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        @stillwater

        Many excellent points which i broadly agree with.

        I agree there are certainly other complex terms in social sciences which are used similarly.

        I agree that people differ in the *favorability of their circumstance*, often times in systemic ways.

        I also agree that actual examples of *privilege* according to my selective definition exist. After all, I frequently use the term myself on these pages (I used it routinely in a discussion with LWA a week or two ago). When I use it, it is a description of a situation where some people receive an unfair advantage according to the rules of society which they then use against others.

        Thanks for the considered reply.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        Hey Roger. Thanks for that. And I want to explicitly express my apologies for driving this this discussion in an unproductive direction.

        I’m glad to hear you’re feelin what I’m sayin. My complaint isn’t that I disagree with you’re views on some level or another. I mean, of course, on some level I accept them, atleast in broad outline. We don’t disagree about that. Our disagreement might be best summarized as a dispute about what each of us thinks *the other* is offering as an analysis and solution of particular problems. And notice the inherent subjectivity in that sentence!

        You and I disagree about stuff, no doubt. But it’s not like we’re fundamentally opposed to each other about EVERYTHING. I don’t even know what a discussion like that would look like. So it seems to me that ideological underpinnings are often and naturally *emphasized* as a way to not only make a point, but – unfortunately – to interpret what other people are saying as well. We’re all guilty of it. I’m not sure there’s a solution to it except better descriptions of how things are. And those, I hope, aren’t ideologically determined.

        {{But of course they are, right!!}}

        Worldmaking.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to roger says:

        Thanks. Peace.Report

  20. Avatar roger says:

    A little perspective is in order.

    Anyone born in the 21st century is by just about any standard blessed compared to those of prior eras. Science, nutrition, freedom, opportunity, standard of living, lifespan, medicine. All are better now than ever before. Worldwide humanity has never been more prosperous or lived longer or had more opportunity.

    Anyone born in the US is blessed among the blessed. The standards of living of even our poor are above the standard of living of the average worldwide.

    With that perspective, we need to drop the word privilege when what we mean is “as it should be”. Good schooling and safe streets and freedom from repression and good nutrition are not privileges. These are goals we should hope can be realized by all humans worldwide. Those not getting them are not underprivileged, they are unfortunate or the victims of exploitation (often intended as help by fuzzy headed progressives unable to track long term cause and effect in complex systems)Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Chris says:

        This is the best you three can put forth? You cannot point out any errors in logic or facts? Of course not.

        A decent life is not A PRIVILEGE, and I am surprised you guys indirectly argue that it is.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Roger, if you think that’s what people are arguing, that a “decent life” is privilege, rather than that advantages accrued without earning them, simply by virtue of being white, or male, or straight constitute privilege, then you have not read the fishin’ thread. “Ugh” was the nicest thing I could say.

        Seriously dude, you’re not even trying. I know you’re going to tell us you are, but you aren’t. No one has said that driving a Mercedes constitutes privilege. No one is saying that getting a good education constitutes privilege. What they are saying is that differences in access to those things based on factors that are likely out of the control of the actors in question, accrued in part or in total by virtue of race, or class, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religion, or whatever, constitute privilege. Privilege is not a bad thing in itself. Disparities in privilege are. Recognizing that you benefit from privilege, by virtue of being a straight while male, doesn’t mean recognizing that you are somehow bad, but that such disparities exist, you are on the upside of them, and perhaps even that it is your duty, as a member of a society, to work to reduce or eliminate those disparities.

        Because the “ugh” was unproductive (my reaction was visceral), I will simply refrain from replying to any of your comments until you at least demonstrate that you have some sense of what your interlocutors, to the extent that you have any (the way you’re going here, you’re essentially having a dialogue with straw men).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        Because we have been through this on countless threads and everyone is repeating the same steps without changing any minds.

        We think you are hyper-focused on the material and we also find comparisons to the 16th century to be largely irrelevant except to see how we have improved and where we can do better. Yes it is good that people are no longer getting burnt at the stake and they have flat screen TVs. This does not mean that privilege as we have been debating is dead and gone for the world.

        Now I agree that there are nuances that can often escaped the privilege or not debate. But it still exists as a societal force and there are ways in which privilege is around.

        The Double XX podcast at Slate.com today had a segment on whether it is acceptable to wear PJs as outside wear or not. Hanna Rosin was one of the participants and mentioned that her husband David Plotz frequently wears jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers to work unless he has an important meeting. A black African-American editor once told him that an black-American probably could not even get in the door if he or she was dressed like that.

        That is privilege. The idea that people will not make assumptions about a white guy because he is dressed super-casually. They don’t assume he is working class, or poor, or undereducated, or potentially violent/dangerous, etc.

        It can be bang your head against the wall frustrating when people don’t get this. We are not asking for anything super-radical. Just an acknowledgment and maybe some deeper thought on the issue. Maybe this will lead to change or a bit more compassion.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        Is the monosyllabic comment, “Ugh” congruent with the commenting policy?

        “a comment will be deemed inappropriate if it makes no attempt to address a point germane to the original post or another comment”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        The one ugh didn’t bother me much. By the time we got to four… I got annoyed. I hope it does not become a thing.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        James, like I said in the subsequent comment, it was unproductive. From this point, I’ll just refrain from responding to comments like this one.

        It was one of those things where the comment’s awfulness shouldn’t go un-noted, but I was incapable of responding substantively, to the extent that substantive responses are possible to a comment like this, without being much, much less respectful. So I just said ugh. I apologize to the rest of the commenters here.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        Well, you know the only proper response is “99.” 😉Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Although, in this case OPRE seems to describe the whole kerfluffle.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        For my part I see two sides talking past each other, both with some validity, neither wholly right nor wholly wrong. If I cared more I’d probably be irritated. As it is, I’m finding it all kind of amusing. I’m the last person who’s earned the privilege to say this, but viewed from the outside, you’re all a bit too serious here.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Chris says:

        ND,

        There are a half dozen of you from the left all repeating the same thing in an echo chamber. I am saying something else. Could you try something please?

        Repeat what I am saying and then tell me where you disagree. Note when I argue with you guys I normally cut and paste what you said and then rebut it specifically. May I suggest you try the same?

        Here goes…

        Equal opportunity and good schools and not-getting-harmed-by-others are not privileges. These are expectations, they are things which we hope all humans have. Therefore absence of these things is not underprivileged. It is either misfortune or perhaps exploitation.

        In your example, a black guy being held to a different dress standard is not an example of white privilege. It is an example of discrimination or bias against blacks. Big difference. Huge difference. Do you understand why?

        Please let me know what you disagree with that I said, if anything.Report

      • Avatar Milo in reply to Chris says:

        @roger you say:
        “In your example, a black guy being held to a different dress standard is not an example of white privilege. It is an example of discrimination or bias against blacks. Big difference. Huge difference. Do you understand why?”

        Can you elaborate on this? Because I really don’t see the big difference. One could say “the black guy is being discriminated against” or “the white guy has the privilege of dressing casually without being judged negatively for it”. To me they amount to the same thing, the only difference being who the focus of the statement is.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @milo

        Exactly. In many (not all) cases, privilege and discrimination/oppression are opposite sides of the same coin.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Chris says:

        Kazzy and Milo,

        Let me give an example. Let us say that Kazzy treats all kids equally except those with freckles. The kids he treats equally and fairly are not privileged. They are getting what we expect kids to get from their teacher. Privilege is a disparaging term which implies unfair advantage, not a term which is used to denote universal expectations. Non freckled kids are not getting some kind of unfair privilege, they are getting what we expect for all kids.

        The freckled kids are not underprivileged (as underprivileged implies someone else is privileged as I argued above is not the case). They are being discriminated against. Discrimination assigns blame where it is due, on the teacher, and does not deflect it to the students.

        Separating the kids into privileged and underprivileged mis-frames the problem and implies there is something bad about how the non freckly kids are being treated.

        If I came into the class and gathered all the non freckly kids and told them they are privileged and got them feeling guilty about the situation, I have manipulated them. The appropriate response is to require a teacher to treat kids equal, not to peddle non-freckly guilt.

        Feel free to disagree, but I do appreciate how neither of you is attacking me. The fact that this is becoming rare is a sad commentary on recent discussions.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        It doesn’t imply that there’s something bad about the way the non-freckled kids are being treated. It implies that there’s something bad about what is determining the difference between the non-freckled kids and the freckled kids. Privilege is just a disparity based on something that disparities shouldn’t, in fairness, be based on. It is not a judgment of the content of the privilege itself, but how it is arrived at.

        Part of the point of pointing out privilege is to get people to recognize the sources of the disparities, as well as what we might call second-order disparities that arise out of them.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        “Privilege is a disparaging term which implies unfair advantage…”
        @roger

        But it’s not a disparaging term. And it does not imply an unfair advantage, but an unearned advantage. If I discriminate against freckled kids, the non-freckled kids are being treated better than the freckled for no other reason than random distributions of melanin (or evil… or whatever it is that causes freckles). They didn’t earn the better treatment; it was simply given to them.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        But it’s not a disparaging term.

        Aren’t we supposed to be disturbed about our privilege?

        I’m not in the habit of being disturbed about things that are neutral or positive, as opposed to negative.

        I mean, you might be right, when we all understand the concept accurately. But isn’t it possible that there’s a pretty mixed message out there?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        I think there is some confusing and mixed messages out there. I think at least some of that is the result of strawman attacks on the idea of privilege… “You’re saying I didn’t earn a single thing in my life and should give it all back?” That sort of nonsense.

        But I’m not sure why it is confusing to say that being able to shop without being followed by a security guard is a positive that some people enjoy but which is unearned. And to further say that other people are denied this positive, with the denial also unearned. And to then say that this difference in treatment, which is not predicated on the way people deserve to be treated, is a problem that ought to be rectified, ideally by extending the positive to all.

        It is not the positive that is the issue; it is the distribution of it.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

        Privilege means private-law. Used to mean a grant or a commission, that is, when English words had actual meanings. Legal. Unfair doesn’t enter into privilege. Any reference to unfairness can take its whiny self elsewhere, it doesn’t enter into the discussion of privilege. Privilege is granted and it’s perfectly obvious someone who’s being followed by some security guard has not yet been arrested. The security guard has a privilege, one granted him by the merchant. He can follow anyone. To conflate all this into some discussion of privilege does not make any sense.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        But I’m not sure why it is confusing to say that being able to shop without being followed by a security guard is a positive that some people enjoy but which is unearned. And to further say that other people are denied this positive, with the denial also unearned. And to then say that this difference in treatment, which is not predicated on the way people deserve to be treated, is a problem that ought to be rectified, ideally by extending the positive to all.

        Hold on a moment, please. You’re changing the term from “privilege” to “positive.” Are you sure anyone is objecting to the idea that this state is a positive (or that the opposite state is a negative)?

        Are you sure that anyone is arguing against the idea that ideally everyone gets to have that positive?

        Because I don’t see anyone arguing those positions. (Not here, that is–I’m sure such folk exist.) I’d like Roger to weigh in here, without a long explanatory essay if possible: just a clear statement of whether you disagree that this state is a positive, that some people are in that positive state and others aren’t (or at least that some are more so and some are less so), and that it would be better if all people were?

        It is not the positive that is the issue; it is the distribution of it.

        I agree, but this is why the focus on privilege is so problematic. If we keep focusing on, and talking about, privilege, then how can we say it isn’t the issue? Or if in fact it really isn’t the issue, then aren’t we talking about something other than the real issue? And why? Why not focus on the real issue then, instead of what is not the issue?

        I mean, isn’t the opposite of the positive–the unearned negative (can I call it disadvantage)–the real issue? And if so, why isn’t that the main term (or some like it) that we use in discussion?

        Because that is the issue, isn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Milo in reply to Chris says:

        @jm3z-aitch : “Aren’t we supposed to be disturbed about our privilege? ”

        No, you shouldn’t be disturbed by your privilege but you should be aware it exists.

        This seems to be the key point of miscommunication in these discussions. When people say you (in the general sense) are “privileged” it’s not an accusation. There is no value judgement. Having “White Privilege” doesn’t make someone a racist, or a bad person, or mean they had everything handed to them*. It’s just an acknowledgement of the the way things are. One shouldn’t feel guilty about having privilege or taking advantage of it (everyone is going to try send their kids to the best school possible) but just be aware that not everyone has the same level of privilege and be sensitive to that.

        *I realize a lot comments can come across that way.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        Milo,
        Read the rest of what I said. That explains my point there, which was the least significant part of my comment.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        We focus on the distribution, the privilege, because of how many people are ignorant of it. Because of how many people either assume their experience is generalized to the world at large and/or because of how many people assume that those whose experience is different than their own is a result of something earned/unearned.

        I shared a story above about a female friend who had to verbally slap me upside the head when I couldn’t grasp why she wouldn’t ride the subway at night. “I do it all the time!” was my argument. In hindsight, not only was I stupid, but how horribly insulting I must have been. I denied her experience. Because I was blind to my own. That was privilege. So if you had tried to engage me in a conversation about making the subway safer BEFORE that convo with her, I would have said, “Seems plenty safe to me.” Because of course it did. I was a young, able-bodied, relatively strong man. Until I could recognize and acknowledge my privilege, the disturbance in the distribution of safety on the subway, I couldn’t reasonably have a conversation about safety on the subway.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        “I mean, isn’t the opposite of the positive–the unearned negative (can I call it disadvantage)–the real issue? And if so, why isn’t that the main term (or some like it) that we use in discussion?

        Because that is the issue, isn’t it?”

        You mean racism… or sexism or discrimination or oppression or…

        Yea, those conversations go over SO well…Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        That was an awesome response kazzy. Just balls on. And I want to also say that james’ question is of course the right one and I don’t mean to imply anything but that. It’s a really good question. It would be great if there was a compelling answer to it other than the one you gave.

        This shit is complicated and interconnected and lots of seemingly disparate parts are fundamentally connected.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        Kazzy,

        On your first response. I get that, I really do. But can you grasp why some folks are going to be confused when the emphasis is “privilege, privilege, privilege,” and then you say, “Oh, it’s not the positive that’s the issue, just the distribution”?

        Or is the positive one thing, separate from the idea of privilege, and the term privilege itself refers not actually to the positive itself, but just to the distribution? Because if so that would make sense, but all you have to do is read through this thread to see that it’s not conveying that message very well at all.

        As to your second response, sorry, but whatever it is you’re saying there really isn’t connected to what I was saying.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        I feel at this point we are doing a bit of hair splitting. In part because of a disagreement on what the root word, privilege, even means.

        As I pointed out elsewhere, privilege is very often used to denote a positive…

        – Driving is often said to be a privilege, not a right.
        – As children age, we tend to give them more privileges.
        – Someone with access to computer files might be said to have the necessary privilege to attain them.
        – Often times children are punished by the removal of a privilege.

        All of these are common uses of the term “privilege” with a positive connotation.

        Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.”

        Again, phrased positively.

        So I think privilege can refer to the distribution or the benefit itself. I think it depends on how, precisely, the term is being used. To say that someone has privilege is not to say anything negative of them; only to acknowledge the reality of their circumstances. It is perceived to be a negative because it undermines the idea that we are all self-made individuals. So if you say, “I worked hard to get where I am. I am entitled to reap what I sow,” and I respond with a comment about privilege, you are likely going to take it as negative, even if it isn’t meant as such.

        So when I talk about an individual having privilege, my beef is not with that person. Not in any really meaningful way, at least. My beef is with the system that has allowed that privilege to perpetuate in the way that it has, that has allowed that disparate distribution to take place and hold.

        At this point, I’m struggling to understand your objection. I’ll concede not having read through all the comments. If you could lay it out for me, that might be helpful.

        As for my second comment, it seemed you were asking why we don’t focus on the negative, on the lack of privilege, etc. What I was trying to say is that is often discussed via issues of institutional racism, glass ceilings for women, etc. I don’t know that those conversations are any more productive than ones about privilege.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Chris says:

        Kazzy,

        I’ve already violated my vow not to substantively participate in this debate, so I’ll not do so any further. I’ll just throw this out because I just happened to stumble across it while reading something wholly unrelated to this post/thread, and it’s interesting purely for it’s date.

        [Thomas Babington] Macaulay was also prescient. Writing in the 1840s, he refused to romanticize past times when (as he described matters) “to have a clean shirt once a week was a privilege reserved for the higher class of gentry” and when “men died faster in the purest country air than now die in the most pestilential lanes.” Macaulay foresaw that “It may well be, in the twentieth century … that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty workingman. And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”

        So I guess this debate is even older than we may have thought.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

        James/Kazzy,

        At first, as I thought about it, I was inclined to think, like James, that the issue isn;t really privilege but privation or negative singling out – i.e. the issue is really the negative not the positive in Kazzy’s terms. But thinking on it more, I actually think it’s a mix. I think straight white males enjoy certain privileges that really earn the name (an assumption of competence rather than a requirement to prove it being foremost in my mind), but also enjoy certain “privileges” that are better described as an absence of singling out (among them, perhaps, being able to hail cabs in NYC, which isn’t a special privilege for white males only, but more of a particular burden that African-American (especially males) face, though that’s probably just repeating a common trope I;ve heard more than something I really know about – I’m pretty sure that species of just-not-being-singled-out privilege also exists).

        In any case, I think both are part of white male privilege.

        I’m also realizing as I write this that I have far less of a problem with the term “privilege” as a noun than with “privileged” as an adjective, because for some reason it seems like it allows for more kinds of things to be included in its category than does the adjective, which, as I’ve said, when it comes down to it, seems to operate on a binary basis when being applied to people.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Chris says:

        Jaymes,

        Scattered through the threads are a half dozen or more confirmations that I agree that a disparity of distribution of a positive/favorable situation or treatment exists.

        My argument is that if it is a universal standard which we desire, I would not use the term privileged/underprivileged. Obviously I focus more on the derogatory connotations of the term privilege, which are noted in some but not all dictionary definitions of the term. From the free online dictionary:

        “the advantages and immunities enjoyed by a small usually powerful group or class, esp to the disadvantage of others.”

        Note the zero sum connotation of this particular definition.

        I have come to the conclusion that the term is perfect for how it is being used. It is ambiguous enough that you can use it to imply blame on those you call privileged, yet you can deny it when pressed.

        I too am out on this conversation. 100%Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Roger,

        I don’t necessarily agree with the definition you cited, but I’m willing to roll with it for the purposes of discussion. You wrote as a criticism of the definition of concept that

        It is ambiguous enough that you can use it to imply blame on those you call privileged, yet you can deny it when pressed.

        and that certainly might be true. But here’s how I’d respond: name a concept in the social sciences that is so clear that it doesn’t permit ambiguity and plausible deniability in the politicalconstruct you’re invoking here? This stuff is epistemically opaque, OK? Pretty much by definition.

        One of your complaints, which I’m sympathetic to, is that people take a concept and use it to further their own ideological, political, self-interested, whatevered ends. But the action of corrupting that term for political ends needs to be distinguished from the correct application of that term to real states of affairs. I don’t think you’re doing that in this thread. And maybe that’s on those of us responding to Vikram’s main thesis. I mean, I really don’t know, since even the attribution of blame is can be viewed as political, right? What can’t be viewed as political? Is there any limit?

        So here’s what I’d say about the whole kerfluffle: cultural privilege is a real phenomenon in the US and the concept of privilege can be used for political ends that have nothing to do with the descriptive content of the term.

        If you’re focusing on the political content, then you and I part ways, since my view is that we move beyond the “political” by providing better descriptions of the world. If you’re merely pointing out that there is an overtly political use of the term invoked by certain individuals and sub-cultures, then we’re in agreement. But it compels me to wonder why you’re so resistant to conceding that the concept applies to the real world, as if you view a correct discription of reality as being fundamentally political.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to roger says:

      I will second the ugh of Chris.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to roger says:

      Anyone with the misfortune to be born in the antediluvian 21st Century rather than the glorious 25th (unlimited free energy from controlled fusion, practical immortality from all disease and any accident that doesn’t demolish the brain, man-machine interfaces that lead to previously unimagined levels of intelligence) is so impoverished as to be beyond all aid. White, straight males privileged? Nope, we’re just slightly less fished than everyone else.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to roger says:

      Roger,
      Ok, but what about people within 21st century America? Once you disaggregate the statistics on the positives you cite, you get a pretty ugly picture of what 21st century America means in terms of wealth, health, and likely quite a few other well-being variables you could choose.

      John and Jennifer are both scientists starting out with similar qualifications. John’s male name affords him $4,000 a year more in starting salary! Jennifer is ranked less competent, less hirable, and less eligible for mentoring. Emily and Greg have similar resume’s to Jamal and Lakisha. Emily and Greg are granted the equivalent of eight years experience boost due to their names! Whatever century you’re living in, these types of studies describe one aspect of the sociological phenomenon that’s being outlined in discussing privilege. The century that John, Jennifer, Emily, Greg, Jamal, and Lakisha live in is a constant. Great, none of them died from smallpox or polio. Great, they live in America, land of the free, home of the brave. Now let’s examine what that freedom and bravery means on the ground in terms of hiring, health care outcomes, law enforcement, and so forth. Those disparities still matter. No matter the century.

      (see my comment, September 19, 2013 at 7:27 pm, for the studies)Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Creon,

        Oddly, you don’t once use the term of discussion… Privilege.

        If or when females are discriminated against in fact, then the appropriate term for that is discrimination. This is not an example of lacking privilege as privilege is by definition an unfair advantage. We do not consider equal opportunity to be a privilege it is an expectation or, as some would say, a right. Thus to frame the debate in terms of underprivileged is improper.

        By the way, the studies clearly show that when adjusted for education, aptitude, experience, hours and such that virtually all this “discrimination” evaporates. But that is not this debate, that is another debate which we can have at another time.Report

      • the studies clearly show that when adjusted for education, aptitude, experience, hours and such that virtually all this “discrimination” evaporates

        I haven’t read all the studies CC cited, but at least one of Chicago performed an experiment with identical resumes changing only the names from white-sounding ones to black-sounding ones. Employers tended to prefer the former to the latter. There are others of that sort that have found similar results.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Again, I do not have the time or energy to debate the magnitude of institutional racism or gender bias in the US. I have debated this in the past and will do so in the future under that specific thread.

        Today I am making a stand on your original thread and the misuse of the terms privilege and underprivileged.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to roger says:

      we need to drop the word privilege when what we mean is “as it should be”

      I don’t know that we need to, but I do acknowledge this is a point of confusion. Most people think of privileges as things we should be thankful to have and if we aren’t good can be taken away rather than things we ought to be entitled to. As I mentioned in the OP, there is something weird about calling keeping your safe privilege rather than something like a right.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Vikram,

        There are a lot of comments to wade through, and I have not kept up with everything. Let me try to clarify my positions to you though at least. It certainly intersects with yours (and Brandon’s) thoughts.

        Privilege and underprivileged set up the framework of the discussion in a zero sum fashion which implies the wrong things. Equal opportunity, good schools, safe environment and such are not “privileges”. They are expectations of what humans should have. Thus lacking these things is not an example of “underprivileged.”

        When I say this to those on the left they then switch the topic to some people have been specifically harmed via intentional or institutional acts. That is not privilege or lack of privilege either. That is someone being intentionally harmed. Someone is not privileged to not be harmed. This is absurd.

        The privilege debate is centered in Orwellian language. It is an attempt to bias the conversation by choosing terms which win the real debate just by their being selected.

        I can give examples of real privilege. An example would be a lord living under different rules than a serf. So the term is not useless. In modern usage it is predominantly abused, and often in a sneaky way used to anchor or frame the debate in a way which biases the rationality of those involved.Report

      • You and me both on keeping up with the comments. This is becoming a full time job.

        I acknowledge the potential for privilege and underprivilege to imply a zero-sum game. It doesn’t necessarily do that if the speakers are careful. Certainly “overprivilege”coupled with underprivilege would.

        The privilege debate is centered in Orwellian language.

        Obviously, I’m not happy about the language choice either. Do you think there is a need for the concept described by McIntosh though? I.e., there are things which some people have that others don’t that are not the result of outright discrimination?

        McIntosh doesn’t describe the BandAids as racist, which is good because it would be silly. It is not rhe result of intentional harm. In fact, they are the color they are because probably someone was trying to pick a color that would work well for the most number of people in their customer base. That’s a good impulse. But the end result is still something. What do we call that something so that it isn’t confused with anything else?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Roger, because you have no clue what we’re talking about doesn’t mean we’re speaking in Orwellian language.

        I would ask you to flesh out how “under privileged” vs. privileged implies a zero-sum mindset, but I don’t think there’s any logic that gets you there, so I won’t bother.

        Honestly, dude, just listen to what people are saying. Don’t speak to the hypothetical “progressive” or lefty in your head.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I find the idea that “over privileged” vs “under privileged” implies a zero-sum game, even. It is possible to see two things as related, without being in the state of a zero-sum game. For example, it’s possible to believe that, because schools in a wealthy neighborhood are so much better than schools in a poor neighborhood in the same city, we can, and perhaps should, take some money from the wealthy neighborhood’s schools and put it into the poorer neighborhood’s schools. The likely outcome is that the overall quality of the schools for the city will go up, even while the quality of the schools in the wealthy neighborhood goes down slightly, because the return on the same dollar for a struggling school vs a school that already has just about everything, are that much greater. This isn’t zero-sum thinking, but to listen to Roger you’d think it was.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @chris
        Roger, because you have no clue what we’re talking about doesn’t mean we’re speaking in Orwellian language.

        Undeniably true, as a matter of strict logic. But I can’t help but wonder whether you’re sure that you really get what he’s talking about, and if so, how can you be so sure?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        James, I think what he’s saying is pretty clear. Maybe I am not understanding what he’s saying. You can evaluate that by my substantive responses to him elsewhere in this thread.

        However, I’m tempted to take anything I don’t like that he says and call it Orwellian, from this point on.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Hi Vikram,

        As clarified elsewhere the language problem is that a universal expectation is relabeled a privilege. A privilege is not a good thing, and universal privilege is an oxymoron.

        The term I would use in most of McIntosh’s examples is “fortuitous circumstances.” In cases of actual harm rather than circumstantial harm, I would use the term absence of harm, not “white privilege.”

        The fact that band aids match some people’s skin color is not an example of unfair privilege. Unobtrusiveness of a bandaid is a desired feature. Similarly those that do not have to put on sun screen every time they go outdoors are not privileged. They are more fortunate on this particular dimension.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        As clarified elsewhere the language problem is that a universal expectation is relabeled a privilege. A privilege is not a good thing, and universal privilege is an oxymoron.

        I think this again reveal that you don’t understand the meaning of the term “privilege” and as a result don’t understand the views liberals are putting forward on the topic (which on this thread is a boatload of comments so you’re boatload confused).

        You wrote that a privilege is not a good thing, and in some sense that’s right: it’s a purely descriptive term and contains no normative content at all even tho people associate specific types of privileges with various values and normative judgments. But right before that you wrote this gem:

        As clarified elsewhere the language problem is that a universal expectation is relabeled a privilege.

        Nope. That you think this is what a privilege is, that it expresses what the word means, that it describes the real world states of affairs the word is usually invoked to pick out, shows a massive confusion.

        Now, don’t go and ask me to explain what a privilege is, or draw me into a challenge to provide facts and logic. Me and others have done that already – which you would know if you were actually reading interested in understanding liberal’s views on this (even if only to better refute them!) rather than what you’re doing, which is frankly slightly embarrassing to watch. It’s also frustrating that at this stage in the thread you’re still resorting to – frankly – gimmicks (and linguistic gimmicks at that) to try to refudiate a concept put forward by your political and ideological enemies.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’m tempted to take anything I don’t like that he says and call it Orwellian, from this point on.

        If you can’t find a solution, become part of the problem? 😉 Well, I can’t say I’ve never taken that path. (just joking, except for the second sentence)

        Honestly, I’m not sure I stand on Roger’s use of Orwellian. On the one hand it seems clear to me he’s missing some of the meaning of what you’re saying. On the other hand, I’m not so sure it’s such a terrible description, if not of what you’re saying, then at least of some of what I hear in the privilege debate.

        I don’t disagree that there’s privilege in the sense you’re using it (although I’m dubious the term is the best available), but I do really think that there are people who use it not in the sense of “some people, unfairly and through no fault of their own, face disadvantages others don’t” but in the sense of “privilege is bad.” I think that’s problematic. And I think that sense comes about because of the more everyday sense of the word privilege, as something that’s earned, that you ought not, necessarily, have as a matter of right.

        The types of privileges you’re mentioning are, I think–and I think you think–really matters of right. A LaTosha not having a harder time finding a decent job than an identically qualified Brenda is a matter of right, not a privilege LaTosha should have to earn.

        Nobody’s really given Brenda anything. She may not actually have a significantly easier time getting a job. She’s just getting evaluated on her merits, as ought to be the case as a matter of right. So to call that privilege does verge on Orwellian. It makes things that are matters of right sound as though they are things that need to be earned. Or even muddles up that general conception of privilege, making it something unearned, and then it begins to sound–intentional or not–as though matters of right are something unearned, just because some others are being denied those rights they ought to have.

        Now that’s where I expect pushback. “But that’s not what we mean.” OK, I get that you don’t mean it. But your intended meaning does not control the heard message, and you know well that’s true regardless of how often and vigorously you assert “that’s not what we mean.”

        Now of course the flip side of that coin is that Brenda may in fact have an easier time finding a job, just because there is some bias (possibly unconscious) against LaToshas, particularly if for any given size of applicant pool there are more rather than fewer LaToshas.

        Does Roger not see that? Is he denying that such disadvantages occur to the LaToshas? I see him downplaying how much it occurs–and I don’t agree with him on that–but is he really saying some people don’t face disadvantages? Or is he just criticizing the way the word “privilege” is used?

        (Or maybe I’m misinterpreting both of you. Could be. This is one of those classic irritating League discussions that go ’round and ’round with apparently nobody actively listening to others (and sorry, Roger, but just being careful to quote their direct words, while a good thing in itself, does not prove you actually made efforts to grasp what the author meant by those words). so I end up not reading that closely, either, because I just see shitloads of smug assurance on either side. I should just bow out now, and will. But I’ve done this much because I like both you and Roger and think you’re both sincere and well-meaning people.)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        James, I recommend clicking over and reading the essay to which Vikram linked in the OP. Roger clearly hasn’t, and he would have benefitted from doing so. It’s important to note that in that paper, she describes her list (some items from which Virkam included in the OP) as “daily effects of white privilege.” They aren’t the privilege, they are the effects of privilege. They are things that white people get by virtue of being white, and which many people of color do not get by virtue of not being white. We can call those things themselves, the effects of white privilege rights or whatever you want to call them. They are things that we all want. They are not things that should be more available to people because of their skin color. That increase in availability, which is not reducible to equality of economic opportunity, in material wealth, or even in social capital, is the privilege. It is not the things themselves that are privilege: they are the results of privilege, and through them it is easier to accrue other things that we might then also call the results of privilege, even if they are partially, even largely earned by individual white people.

        Roger believes that privilege refers to the effects of privilege. People have pointed this error out to him (and to Vikram, I believe, though Vikram’s point is slightly different, and more relevant I think, than Roger’s). That he’s continued to insist that the effects of privilege are what people are referring to with the word “privilege” after repeatedly being told otherwise suggests to me that there’s no point in discussing it with him. That he chooses to refer to it as Orwellian because he doesn’t understand it only reinforces that conclusion.

        There is actually a literature on this. That it is misused, as so many words are (like “Orwellian”) in online discussions is hardly a reason to throw the term out. Like I said elsewhere, I’m all for adopting a new term, if we can come up with one, but even if we are able to come up with a suitable term, convince enough people to use it that we achieve a sort of vernacular critical mass, it will end up where it is now, becoming political, with people misusing it, and then with people like Roger limited by partisan myopia in their ability to discuss it. I think for now I’ll just stick with “privilege.”Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “The types of privileges you’re mentioning are, I think–and I think you think–really matters of right. A LaTosha not having a harder time finding a decent job than an identically qualified Brenda is a matter of right, not a privilege LaTosha should have to earn.

        Nobody’s really given Brenda anything. She may not actually have a significantly easier time getting a job. She’s just getting evaluated on her merits, as ought to be the case as a matter of right. So to call that privilege does verge on Orwellian. It makes things that are matters of right sound as though they are things that need to be earned. Or even muddles up that general conception of privilege, making it something unearned, and then it begins to sound–intentional or not–as though matters of right are something unearned, just because some others are being denied those rights they ought to have.”

        This is indeed my opinion. I do not doubt that some teacher somewhere discriminates against… freckled kids. I do not believe it is appropriate though to label non freckled kids as privileged. A right to equal respect is not a privilege, it is our expectation. To label the non freckled kids as privileged deflects blame away from the teacher or institution and peddles guilt to innocent bystanders.

        In other words, I think it frames the issue poorly.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Chris,

        Before I respond, could you clarify the difference between privilege and the effects of privilege? To grab a safe topic, may I suggest you apply these terms to the freckled kid discrimination example provided to Kazzy?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Put another way, in the hope that it will bring clarity:

        One might think of privileges as the effects of privilege, so that, for example, the benefits of being white, which is to say of white privilege, might be conceived as privileges. This does not, however, mean that they are necessarily bad things. It doesn’t even mean that they shouldn’t be universal. It means that, in their status as the effects of privilege, which Roger has not argued against, they can reasonably be considered privileges. So one could say, for example, that “Being able to shop in a store without people suspecting you are stealing” is a result of privilege, or that it is a particular privilege accrued as a result of white privilege generally. It is something that should be true for everyone, but the fact that it is not gives an advantage — the privilege of which we’re ultimately speaking — to white people, or at least a benefit, which we can think of as a privilege.

        Polysemy is not Orwellian.

        Oh, and from the essay linked in the OP:

        I want, then, to distinguish between earned strength and unearned power conferred systematically. Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate. But not all of the privileges on my list are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society. Others, like the privilege to ignore less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups.

        We might at least start by distinguishing between positive advantages, which we can work to spread, and negative types of advantage, which unless rejected will always reinforce our present hierarchies. For example, the feeling that one belongs within the human circle, as Native Americans say, should not be seen as privilege for a few. Ideally it is an unearned entitlement. At present, since only a few have it, it is an unearned advantage for them.

        (Emphasis mine.)Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Lord, Chris, that article is just an archetype of academic left writing. How can I be sure it’s not really been written by Alan Sokal under a pseudonym?

        I’m not really joking. There are all kinds of areas out there about which there is a “literature,” that is overwhelmingly bullshit. Teacher Education, for example.

        I’m firmly on your side that there are advantages that you and I have–as well as effects of those advantages–that some others don’t. I don’t dispute that for a moment, because I’ve seen it in action in various ways in my own life. But don’t ask me to take that kind of bullshit academic writing seriously.

        You two continue to talk past each other. I’m going to go scrub my mind from reading two paragraphs of that shit.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Eh, the Sokal article didn’t make any sense. That was the point — people treated it as though it did, even though they must have known it didn’t (though I think there’s actually more to it than that). This article presents a position by transferring a concept from feminism and putting it in the context of race. It’s not meant as a polemical piece, it’s not meant to present an extended argument, but simply as a sort of demonstration of the concept in another context. I think it works fine as such, and I’m not the one who chose to cite it anyway. Vikram started with it.

        It is a bit of a class, because it’s accessible. It’s not, unlike the Sokal paper, well nigh unreadable.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “There are all kinds of areas out there about which there is a “literature,” that is overwhelmingly bullshit. Teacher Education, for example.”

        As an overly verbose product of both undergraduate and graduate teacher education, I resemble that remark.

        More seriously, I would be curious to see you expand on this.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Kazzy,

        The vast majority of what’s published in the field of Education (I should have spoken more broadly) is wholly speculative and untested. Repeatedly new ideas are trotted out as though they’re proven. On regular occasions there’s some new idea that’s going to transform education, and bunches of people write approvingly of it, and then all those articles are pointed out as a “literature” that demonstrates the validity of the idea. But when you dig into it, you realize that yet again the idea has never been subjected to any actual empirical testing. Which, since the idea is not meant to be just philosophical but to have real-world empirical results, is a bit problematic.

        But don’t feel bad. It’s only slightly worse than that macroeconomics literature.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Heh… that jives with my experience. I’m not one for fads in teaching. I might read about new ideas and new techniques and experiment with them. But I tend think that the great variety we see in young people (or, really, all people) both in terms of their inherent qualities and the context in which they grow, develop, and learn is so vast that anything that attempts to say definitively what should or should not be done with regards to education is going to get side eyes from me. Even with the practices that I believe in quite firmly, I’m willing to deviate from if the specific situation demands in.

        For example, as a general rule, I do not believe in “sticker systems”. I see them more as behavioral training focused on a short time horizon and which, to be successful, require far, far more work than most people are willing to do. That said, there are some children for whom they work marvels. Who are just wired or situated such that it can make a profoundly positive impact. And when I’ve had those children, I haven’t hesitated to work with parents on implementing them because if that is what is best for the child, than I am charged to offer it, regardless of my personal feelings or what the research says.Report

  21. Avatar zic says:

    @roger,

    Quoting you:

    When we go to an underprivileged school, what we are seeing is not someone who lacks privilege.

    I do agree that there are people that are victims of bad institutions, and that many of these are black or brown, though not most (I find the race card distracting and causing more harm than good). The institutional harms are improperly designed welfare nets which promote dependency and single motherhood; progressive run school monopolies with no parental choice for lower income families; minimum wage and mandatory benefit laws throwing twenty percent of inner city youth out of the market and such.

    Not being harmed is not a privilege. It is an expectation.

    There is a lot to struggle with here, but start with ‘underprivileged school,’ means someone who’s not lacking privilege? What? So what are they lacking? Because if we invested in their school and family, you be telling me that that’s what’s causing their problems, which is essentially what you do in the second quote.

    I pulled that because of the third. And I want to hone in on this part:

    The institutional harms are improperly designed welfare nets which promote dependency and single motherhood;

    Because I see the increase in single motherhood a couple of other causes: First, diminishing the power differential between men and women so that women are not forced to stay in untenable marriages. Second, for minority women, the high incarceration rates/dismal employment prospects for men; there’s no much reason to hook your horse to an economic wagon that’s incapable of pulling it’s weight.

    So I pulled the third — not being harmed — because I want you to consider this: what you see is a great harm, single motherhood, is also sign of an ending of harm — violent marriages. Across the world, as divorce becomes more acceptable, women are, in great numbers, opting for divorce to get out of bad, often violent and abusive, marriages. Because until really, really recently, men had the privilege of harming their wives without much accountability for it.Report

    • Avatar roger in reply to zic says:

      Let’s not get distracted by violence in marriage.

      My point Zic is that not being harmed is not a privilege. It is an expectation. You are not privileged by me not punching you in the nose, and if you try to frame the debate as those who have not been pitched are privileged and those who are being punched are underprivileged, then I think you miss the boat.

      Someone in a crappy school is not lacking in privilege, because a good school is our expectation. Someone at a good school is not privileged, they are getting what we expect and desire.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to roger says:

        @roger, I understand this is your point.

        And my point is that the presumption of not being harmed is a privilege; one women often don’t have; like in their homes, walking down their streets.Report

  22. Avatar Shazbot8 says:

    Having many more privileges than another is privilege. There is clearly privilege that you are likely to have in virtue of being white, or male.

    Anyone who denies this is in denial, so to speak.Report

  23. Avatar veronica dire says:

    I’ll say this, rambling on about “zero sum” versus “non-zero sum” seems pretty freaking irrelevant to my life, when I just want to make it home safe tonight.

    Privilege has many aspects. The one I believe most critical is this: it is the right to consequence-free ignorance. It is the right to pontificate about the lives of others, what they need, how they should get it, all stated by people who have zero knowledge of what those lives are like. It is the people with social advantages, but who somehow fail to see that, but who speak boldly, with perfect confidence, since theirs is the dominant viewpoint.

    Let us try an experiment related to my issue: transsexuality.

    How many of you have read a book written by a trans woman? How many have seen a movie or play written and produced by a trans woman?

    (And who produced the movie or play matters. Producers are interested in satisfying the gender preoccupations of audiences, not in giving us an authentic voice.)

    (Editors can be just as bad, but it is at least possible to find thoughtful trans authors.)

    Now, sum up the time spend listening to cis people talk about us. (This is doubtless every movie you have seen with a trans person in it. Add to that the talk shows, the bad jokes, the stupid sitcom gags, on and on.)

    Compare those figures.

    Now, the challenge: how much time have you spent talking about us? How many opinions have you offered? On Chelsea Manning? On the California law for trans students? On the Arizona bathroom laws? On and on?

    The point is this: you don’t need to understand us. You can be completely ignorant, say the most foolish and hurtful things, and pay no cost at all.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to veronica dire says:

      Let us suppose most of us are ignorant of the issues facing trans-sexual people. I have read Chaz Bono’s stuff, The End of Innocence. Been a while, I’m not conversant in every issue facing trans people. I’m deeply sympathetic to their cause.

      Don’t you think trans people have a responsibility to inform us of those issues? It’s not that we don’t care. But why should it matter to us, if we’re not being told of the issues? What’s wrong with saying everyone has a right to self-expression and liberation from stereotypes? Isn’t that a sufficient enough statement of purpose?

      You say privilege entails consequence-free ignorance. My favourite poet is WH Auden, a gay man. He lived in a closeted world. He wrote these words about Jane Austen:

      You could not shock her more than she shocks me,
      Beside her, Joyce seems innocent as grass.
      It makes me most uncomfortable to see
      An English spinster of the middle class
      Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
      Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
      The economic basis of society.

      If we are to learn, and we ought to learn, it behoves such as you to teach us. While we remain ignorant, we are likely to say stupid things, however well-meant they might be.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to veronica dire says:

      Good comment Veronica. ‘Splainin is a big problem. Lack of awareness of other people’s subjective experiences is another. An even bigger problem, tho, it seems to me, is how people who’ve become aware of other people’s subjective experiences try to ‘splain them away because doing otherwise is perceived as some kind of personal or political loss. It’s like a double whammy.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to veronica dire says:

      With regards to the zero-sum issue…

      I think it is really easy to say that things are and/or should be positive sum and to advocate that in theory. But let’s think critically about what that means practically. Let’s say we want the @veronica-dire s of the world to enjoy a night of dancing like I (a white, hetero, cis male) would. What does that mean? Probably more police. And not just more police, but better police. Like, the world’s best police. The sort trained, knowledgable about, and prepared to meet the needs and deal with the threats that someone like Veronica might face. Because lord knows that the cops don’t have the best track record of “protecting and serving” transgender people. And they would have to be paid for via tax dollars, of course. I mean, we aren’t going to burden transgender people specifically and uniquely with funding the protection. What else? Probably stricter laws about violent and threatening speech. I know, I know, freedom of speech is sacrosanct! But is it such that someone like Veronica should fear for her safety simply because she wants to dance. And, oh, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe SCOTUS determined that dance was a form of expression also protected under the 1st. But even if it wasn’t… well, maybe we’d need to be able to prosecute the folks who inflicted mental harm and physical violence upon Veronica.

      There is probably more we’d need to do, but those would be two starting points. So, to those who so casually argue for a positive-sum approach to addressing privilege… what say thee on those proposals?Report

      • Avatar Veronica Dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — Thanks for the kind words. On your broad points I (as expected) completed agree.

        On the specific points, I’m not sure if more police is really the answer. I mean, sure, put out more and better cops, for me and for everyone. But the number of cops needed to stop men from harassing me would be — well, I would be safe in a benevolent panopticon. But I don’t want to live in a panopticon.

        So instead of that, what I want are legal guarantees: employment protection (which I have in MA, but we need federally), public accommodation guarantees (which I have in Boston and Cambridge, but not statewide), a guarantee that if I am ever arrested, I will be put in the correct jail, a requirement that police and government employees use my correct name and gender, a requirement that TSA staff not single out trans folks for harassment, a requirement that schools fully respect the identity of trans students (CA got this recently, cis folks freaked out), some anti-bullying programs with teeth —

        And most of all, the recognition that trans medical procedures are not elective or cosmetic, that they save our lives in just the same way that antidepressants save lives.

        Outside of legal issues, I want trans voices heard. I would love if schools began assigning books like Nevada by Imogen Binnie, which is an stunningly honest portrayal of a pair of trans women, written by a trans women, for a trans woman audience. I would love if cis folks began paying attention, and if they would come to understand that portrayals such as Transamerica or (gasp) Hedwig are phony and have little to do with our lives, but instead to seek out media we have ourselves created, by our own agenda, that tells the truth about us.

        So, yeah, stuff like that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks, @veronica-dire

        Regarding the book mentioned, what age students would you consider it appropriate for? My school runs PK-9 and I’d love to get it in the hands of our kids.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        No, that particular book would be for teens and adults. And even for teens it would be a stretch, as it is pretty open about our sexual issues, as in, how sex actually works for trans women.

        For instance, it opens with a rather detailed discussion of erotic choking and faking orgasms. Later we meet a character who gets stoned pretty much constantly while he obsessively masturbates to tranny porn.

        So I think the parents of your children would object.

        All that said, I would let high schoolers read it, although the usual suspects would holler in the usual ways, but this kind of deep honesty, had I encountered it as a teen or young adult, would have saved me from years of misery.

        I travelled the same journey as these characters, but without a map. It took a looooong time. (I almost didn’t make us.)

        I have no suggestions for pre-teens.Report

  24. Avatar Will H. says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, because the thread was too long, and I didn’t see the few I skimmed as particularly productive.

    Anyway, privilege contrasts with right.
    A right is a thing unearned, while a privilege is dependent on some authority.

    A privilege is also subject to revocation.
    If it’s not subject to revocation, the term is inapt.

    My 2¢.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Will H. says:

      @will-h, this is a very good definition, a good contrast, and much of what @roger is driving at, too.

      And I want to agree with it; it’s how things should be.

      But it is not how things actually are. And that’s a very big part of what we mean we we use the word ‘privilege’ in a social-science construction; it’s a measure, a contrast, of things some people have access to and other don’t, even though many of the barriers between having/not-having access shouldn’t exist — sexism, racism, take the ism of your choice.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

        It is exactly how things are. There are Insiders, those to whom privilege has been granted. And there are outsiders, who haven’t been thus granted. The barriers do allow people through, those with the correct key. The gate is one thing, the gatekeeper another. All these -isms and the concomitant whining about them makes no sense. It’s not an -ism when you’re the one trying to get in and it’s someone else — a specific person — keeping you out because he can.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to zic says:

        I like the term ‘advantage’ that you use above, but I think it falls a bit short somewhere; and especially with regard to the sort of phenomena that Zic references.
        I keep thinking of the Reagan changes to the Library of Congress. Used to, you could pay $10 and copyright a collection, then file supplemental forms (free!) to pull the individual works. I think now it’s $20, and you can’t copyright a collection.
        That’s denial of access, properly, because it shuts out some who scrounge for cash– arguably those most in need of a marketable product.
        But I see some disconnect with “advantage” being the diametric opposite of “denial of access.”Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

        Huh? Collections can be copyrighted. If all the works are by the same author or if even one of the elements of the collection contains work by the claimant — or if the work was originally published as a collection by the claimant — copyrights come in three sorts: a single work, multiple unpublished or previously published collections.

        Really, I’m sick of this Privilege Debate. All these goddamn Humpty Dumpties, “there’s glory for you.”

        ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic says:

        Well, people can use words however they want to, I guess, as long as they’re clear about what the word actually means. I mean, we could refer to the states of affairs liberals refer to by the word “privilege” as “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!” without any real loss in communication. Just so long as people agreed upon what the word meant.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to zic says:

        My bad.
        You can’t file the supplemental form for free is what I was getting at.
        It’s the full fee for the supplemental form, which makes collections a waste of time, unless it’s a lot of stuff or works in progress.
        Which gets really dumb if you think of the visual arts; e.g., a collection of five small painted toads. The five together would be copyrighted, but not a single one individually (without the supplemental form).Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        Just to clarify copyright issues:

        In the US, copyright is automatic. But the right to defend copyright requires registering a work with the US Copyright Office, which costs $35/per registration, with, as WillH points out, additional fees per work if you’re registering a collection.

        Determining how to register works deserves consideration of fair use; a collection would allow greater chunks of the collection to be used under fair use.Report

    • Avatar roger in reply to Will H. says:

      I wrote like 6000 words, and I wish I had just written exactly what Will wrote in less than 40.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to roger says:

        I did it in 21 words. Not that you were paying attention, of course.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to roger says:

        Thanks, bro.
        High praise.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        I wrote like 6000 words, and I wish I had just written exactly what Will wrote in less than 40.

        Well, sure. But then I’d say “how ’bout thisdefinition of privilege – you know, the one that leads to all the contention? What do you think about that one!” And saying you reject that definition will lead to somewhere near 6400 words to hash out. Or trying to hash out something that might not be hashable.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to roger says:

        I’d say this about it too: you’re definition and my definition might both be perfectly valid definitions that apply to different states of affairs. But if context isn’t enough to disambiguate which meaning of the word we’re intending by the use of the word (which *term* we’re using), then different words could be useful. I’d say that different types of so-called privileges could be called by different words correlated with different definitions without any loss of clarity and big gains in understanding.

        The problem, I think, that for discourse to proceed particular definitions need to be agreed on. And if this thread has shown me anything, it’s that people are resistant to granting the definition used by their perceived opponent, even if only to refute their views.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:

      ‘sup, Will.

      My issue is with this part “A privilege is also subject to revocation” and I don’t know, necessarily, that it is.

      The way that I see “privilege” used a lot is similar to stuff like “robustness” or “social capital”.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        Can’t there be multiple meanings of the same word? For you, in certain contexts, “privilege” means social capital, for me it means an advantage based on race, sex, gender, class, etc deriving from established cultural norms?

        Why can’t the same word have multiple meanings?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Don’t like where an argument is going based on the evidence? Polysemy to the rescue! Words don’t have to mean things, Still. And if I use a word you don’t like, feel free to scold me. See how simple this is?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, sure. We’re back to it meaning multiple things, many times within the same sentence, and sometimes we mean it as something that we wish everybody had and sometimes we mean it as something that we wish nobody had, THAT PERSON IN PARTICULAR.

        I think that if someone wanted to call it a stupid, obnoxious term, they could get away with it.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

        Hey, Jay.

        I understand that that is a sense of meaning for ‘privilege,’ but I believe that’s more of a functional appropriation of the term.
        Let’s say that ‘social capital’ is subject to diminishment rather than revocation; and that it’s not dependent on an authority, but on larger agreement among peers.
        There’s the rub.
        It may function in a similar manner to ‘privilege,’ but it has notably distinct characteristics.

        And just to continue fleshing out a distinction . . .
        Let’s say that ‘privilege’ is more like a Congressman getting campaign funds from the party, while ‘social capital’ is more like a Congressman suckering his colleagues into voting for a dog of a bill.

        OTOH, like when boarding a train, they call all the old people up first. That seems to be more of a privilege than social capital.
        Or maybe there’s some accumulated amount of social capital that comes with being elderly, which functions similar to privilege.
        But being elderly sure can’t be revoked.
        Well, I guess there’s that pillow-over-the-face thing; but I was trying (somewhat) to keep from mentioning that one (very much) (no matter how much it might appeal to me).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        We’re back to it meaning multiple things, many times within the same sentence, and sometimes we mean it as something that we wish everybody had and sometimes we mean it as something that we wish nobody had, THAT PERSON IN PARTICULAR.

        Well, no. Disambiguating words means settling on a meaning in a context. Just because you think “privilege” means A in context Y and I think it means B in context Z doesn’t mean using the word ambiguously. It means we’re disambiguating the word.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, that disambiguation thing has a scope as well.
        Take Led Zeppelin, for example.
        There’s the Led Zep III Led Zeppelin, and then there’s the Physical Graffiti Led Zeppelin. Then there’s the Coda Led Zep that has you wondering about Page’s hearing with the way he mixed that one. And then there’s the Stairway to Heaven Led Zep that you’re hoping the signal goes out if it ever comes on the radio. Then the tiny, little forgotten Led Zep that you hear and remember, and think, “Hey, that’s pretty cool! I forgot about that one!”

        Led Zeppelin means many different things to many different people.

        Don’t make me explain Captain & Tenille to you.
        😉Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        But we’re back to discussing contexts. I think that Freddie’s essay, for example, does an awesome job talking about “privilege”. Insofar as it means “a leg up”, I’m going to bust my behind to give my nephews a leg up.

        Insofar as it means leaving them a trust fund… well, I can’t give them that. Hell, for that matter, *I* didn’t have that.

        But a lot of what I *DID* have are things that can be passed on, uncle to nephew, with something as simple as a set of books.

        And those out there who fail to provide their nephews with such? I hope their nephews are the ones holding signs in various parks and on various street corners whilst my nephews show up at various job fairs with various recommendation letters that I have written for them.

        If you think that such privilege is unfair, please, allow me to purchase some posterboards and paints for your nephews to make into signs. I’d ask that they use this list of slurs and this list of statements that explain how entitled they are before they hold them in front of the buildings that are hiring. I’d just ask that they refrain from vomiting on my nephews as they go in for interviews. (Feel free to let your nephews puke on them as they walk out.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird, thanks for reply. I have no idea what it means, or how it relates to anything I’ve argued on this thread, but it’s a really nice story. You should be proud of yourself. Good luck with your nephews.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Here’s how it kind of relates:

        Are my nephews privileged? I can give a small list of things that count:

        They have two parents in a stable marriage and both parents are employed in skilled labor (that is: neither is making minimum wage).
        Their parents do stuff like drive them to little league, tae kwon do, and basketball.
        They have books, books, and more books. Their parents (and aunts/uncles!) read to them.

        These kids go to a school in the school district where parents who have non-minimum wage jobs tend to live and have the teachers that tend to end up in these schools.

        Now let’s fast forward past middle school, high school, and get to college.

        These guys are likely to be called “privileged”. If not by a professor, certainly by a classmate.

        Indeed, they are.

        I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we’re supposed to do about this “privilege”.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird,

        That is how I tried to mentally frame the issue before entering the discussion. I chatted with my wife on whether our grandson is privileged or underprivileged.

        There are some ways where he is “blessed,” lucky or fortuitous. He is a bright kid in an honors program with a loving and supportive family.

        In other ways, he is not. He lives in a lower class, all-minority neighborhood with mediocre schools and no shortage of bad role models. The kind of place where you know you need to lock your doors during the day.

        We agreed the terms privileged and underprivileged were simply inappropriate. If something is an expectation or goal we would hope all people have, the proper term is not privilege, especially when the beneficiaries of this positive situation are not doing anything that is unfair or which harms others.

        Privileged carries pejorative connotations to us (and in many dictionaries). Underprivileged implies victimhood, something which we have spent our lives trying to steer our kids and him away from.

        I will grant that these connotations may not be shared by those arguing for the terms. They are fuzzy words with both both positive and negative connotations. We dislike them because of the negative ones.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Jaybird says:

        @blaisep — Of course polysemy comes to the rescue in this case. If a mathematician is discussing the properties of a “ring” with me, and I keep insisting it is a round thing I wear around my finger, and he keeps saying it is an abelian group over which distributes a semigroup, then can I accuse him of “polysemy”?

        It is clear we mean something different by “privilege” than what Roger (and I guess you) would like us to mean. Too bad. You don’t own the words.

        That you dislike discussing privilege is hardly surprising — you illustrate how privilege works. Which is why we’ll keep bringing it up.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, dear. Now hath God delivered you into my hands. A ring is indeed an Abelian group. But if we remove its additive properties, it becomes a semigroup without an identity, a composition.

        You can have the group. Or you can have the semigroup. The one comes at the cost of identity.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird, Thanks for clarifying what you meant. This part

        I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we’re supposed to do about this “privilege”. especially, since it expresses your worry which is (and all I can do is infer this, since you haven’t said explicitly): people will call all sorts of things “privileges”, even things that shouldn’t be so called.

        I get that. I haven’t denied that. In fact, I wrote a comment to Roger distinguishing between the strained ways the concept is sometimes used in a political context with the purely descriptive content the term refers to in the real world. Towards that end, I’d refer you back to Creon’s comments (and Chris’s too) that included empirical confirmation of favorable treatment given to whites or males relative to blacks or women, respectively, on a systematic basis. So if your complaint is that some people will sometimes use the term for purely political purposes, I won’t object. How could I object? That’s just obvious to me. In fact, it’s just as obvious as the types of privilege that I’ve been talking about.

        Now, the meta question about whether the term “privilege” is stupid and obnoxious is apparently a legitimate one, given all the confirmation that the term is in fact stupid and obnoxious. (One that I already expressed my disagreement about up thread in a response to Vikram.) But independently of that question is the following one: whether or not the properties picked out by the standard conception of the term are realized in our social arrangements.

        The problem I’ve been having in this thread is that there seems to be a desire to change the terms we use to refer to particular states of affairs without an acknowledgement of the states of affairs those terms are picking out. It seems to me that changing the terms to something viewed as more congenial obliterates some of the distinctions the conventional use of the term picks out.

        Now, I know that part of the debate is what the conventional use of the word in fact is. That’s why careful thinkers provide definitions of their terms – to prevent confusion deriving from legitimate ambiguities in the use of the term or to peal away some of the political connotations accompanying it’s use.

        And look, I’m being as forthright as I can be here. When I say certain groups or individuals are privileged according to the definition I accept (the one a wrote out explicitly upthread), I’m not implying that those people should feel any guilt, or that they can be legitimately shamed, or that the concept of privilege can be used as a cudgel in some other political or emotional game. In fact, I can’t (and won’t) offer any prescriptions following from those properties at all except for the natural changes in attitudes which might follow from being aware that those types of things exist.

        If someone expresses the opinion that they disagree with what I wrote above I’d certainly be willing to agree to disagree. But if that person makes an argument attempting justify that my views are wrong, it seems to me that at least one of the premises in the main argument would have to be argued against rather than rather than simply denying the conclusion.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Jaybird says:

        @blaisep — I know what a ring is, peach. I also know that different authors define it different ways, depending on if you require identity of the multiplicative portion (“ring with identity” versus not).

        But if you want to argue about Algebra you’re missing the point — no doubt on purpose. I’m talking about the gold on my finger. Or not.

        The point is this: it is the critics of the term “privilege” who are deliberately misconstruing our meaning, when our meaning is clear enough. And this kind of semantics is really boring and petty (and unsurprising on a forum such as this).

        The second point is this: those of us on the wrong side of privilege have found a profoundly insightful tool to help us understand people like you, and why you cannot ever seem to hear us, and why every conversation gets lost in the weeds — where we see your preoccupations made clear, but where we shout and you won’t hear — and on and on it goes.

        I suppose now you’ll quote some insipid poem.

        But don’t bother; your schtick doesn’t work on me.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Don’t try to bluff me. Nobody’s schtick works on me. The point about Rings and Privilege is straight up: neither of us gets to walk around makin’ shit up about what constitutes either word. The Marxists didn’t like me and seemingly you don’t either, and for the same reasons.

        Know this: Privilege creates Rights. Privilege entails a Granting Operation, likewise a Revocation Operation. Not all grants come with granting rights. Consult an elementary SQL text on this subject. The Grant comes first, Veronica. Then come the Rights. Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Jaybird says:

        So this will go round and round, and I shall step off the ride. But one last point before I cede the stage (if I might mix metaphors): we aren’t falling for your bullshit anymore, and language forms models of reality, and all this talk of “rights” and “privileges” is a model of human culture constructed and maintained (quite unconsciously) according to certain interests, and perpetuated by those who gain, and those of us who do not gain do best to look in different places, and of course a man like you will not hear us — which is why we fight. And on it goes.

        Plus, the security model of your typical database system is clumsy, ad hoc, and irritating. Do better.Report

  25. Avatar Cascadian says:

    It’s lucky to be born smart. It’s smarter to be born lucky.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Cascadian says:

      Choose your parents wisely.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        Parents have precious little to do with it. Nobody’s born into privilege. The parents might try to leverage their own privileges, the ones granted to them — say, getting their kid into their Ivy League school as a legacy admission — but show me a child Born Lucky and I’ll show you a kid from whom much is expected.

        Expectations are the flip side of privilege, the one our Politically Correct compadres don’t like to talk about. The kids whose parents made them do their homework, who revoked their privileges (this time, we can use the word correctly) for a bad grade or misbehaviour or even for embarrassing their parents in a social situation.

        Choose your parents wisely? Privilege doesn’t inherit. Oh, people have tried to make it inherit, trust fund kids might be set up for life — but they can’t get at the fortune, Daddy Warbucks made sure of that, knowing the stupid kid would blow it all. The trust fund administrator has the privilege. The trust fund baby only has the advantage of a periodic payout.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Here’s some Chris Rock

        Shit, there ain’t a white man in this room that would change places with me.

        None of you would change places with me. And l’m rich!

        That’s how good it is to be white.

        There’s a white, one-legged busboy in here right now that won’t change places with my black ass.

        He’s going, ”No, man, l don’t wanna switch. l wanna ride this white thing out. ”See where it takes me.”
        Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        Chris Rock is sposta be a prophet for our times? Let’s just try a little more Chris Rock on for size, see how this Comedy Gold goes over:

        There’s a lot of racism going on. Who’s more racist, black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people, and there’s two sides, there’s black people and there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go. You can’t have shit when you around niggas, you can’t have shit. You can’t have no big screen TV! You can have it, but you better move it in at 3 in the morning. Paint it white, hope niggas think it’s a bassinet. Can’t have shit in your house! Why?! Because niggas will break into your house. Niggas that live next door to you break into your house, come over the next day and go, “I heard you got robbed.” Nigga, you know you robbed me. You didn’t see shit ’cause you was doing shit! You can’t go see a movie, you know why? ‘Cause niggas is shooting at the screen, “This movie’s so good I gotta bust a cap in here!” You know the worst thing about niggas? Niggas always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A nigga will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A nigga will say some shit like, “I take care of my kids.” You’re supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? “I ain’t never been to jail!” What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!

        Don’t ever quote Chris Rock around me again. I hate that man. He’s made a fortune on being an idiot. Let some white guy say that same shit and some people around here would burst wide open.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        What are your feelings on youtube links?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        I’ve grown sick of this whole White Privilege discussion. It’s just one onanistic blamefest, masochistic white people bein’ told how they got Privileges they don’t know they got, by weak little people who lack the gristle for cruelty to their fellow man but the hubris to preach Hellfire and Damnation to the already-converted. Snotty, weepy, disgustingly nice little people, I’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t constantly attempting to reinvent the English language with their Politically Correct Bullshit. I shall beat on such people with the OED till the cows come home for they deserve no better.

        Privilege comes with expectations and responsibility. Privilege is grantable and revokable. Models for privilege exist in the real world. But not to the likes of Chris Rock, who’s made a fortune beating his masochistic and coprophagic audiences with his Blackness. Filthy mouth on a filthy little man.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think a lot of that White Privilege stuff comes from the other direction.
        On The $20,000 Pyramid, the answer would be “Things College-Educated People Say to White Trash to Make Their Lives Feel Meaningful.”

        But you touched on another important distinction– that privilege comes with responsibilities.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        Most of my users don’t have college educations. They’re people on factory floors. There’s a term in robotics, now reduced to an acronym, HMI, Human Machine Interface. It’s tough writing a good HMI. You have to understand the person who’s running the robot. You have to understand the whole production line, the vocabulary of those people. I do not have the luxury of using big words with them. They determine what words mean.

        Does White Privilege exist, beyond the self-validating confines of the White Privilege Conference? There was a day when I mocked the Marxists, then it was quite fashionable to be one, for they were great twisters of words, even Marx’s words. What, pray tell, is a Dialectic? It is an argument which never ends because nobody will define its terms.

        Political Correctness is the same: a self-deluding, self-excusing, pastiche of weak thinking, the bastard child of the Social Sciences, surely the most unscientific of all the so-called Sciences. It’s not that social sciences couldn’t be tightened up and its practitioners made to do some actual science. It won’t happen because it’s become a rat’s nest of weak thinkers more inclined to blame than scientific inquiry.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

        A lot to chew on there, and it took me some time.

        I understand what you mean about interface devices (though calibration is really more along my lines of specialty). I’ve worked with a few reps who were trying to make controls for lifts “more intuitive.” Problem is, being intuitive isn’t the problem. The thing has to be predictable– it has to be similar to other such devices, or there has to be a special training program.
        But thinking about it, two things come immediately to mind:
        A scissor-lift is an inherently dangerous thing, because it will tip so easily. When the wheels are cocked close to 90 degrees, the thing will still go full speed. There should be something that kick the motor into a lower gear automatically once the wheels pass a certain point. It’s a situation where it’s better to go slower.
        The other thing is covers for the control panel on JLGs. I know of two crushing deaths where a fellow got turned around up in the air and ran up against a beam. Once that thing pushes a body into the top of the control panel, there’s no saving a guy from that. He’s done.
        That one guy lasted for five weeks after though before he gave up the ghost.
        But I understand the concept.
        There are even different names for the same tool; e.g., a tri-square or a speed square.

        As for abusing the language, that’s sort of old by now. Everyone loved to call up 1984 with the Little Bush parade of misplaced nomenclature, e.g. “Department of Homeland Security” et al.
        But it’s a common factor all around. Framing is a big thing these days. You’ll even see people complaining about how things need to be framed better rather than developing better policies or acting on principle.
        And you know what? If you piss in a China teacup, it’s a cupful of piss– the same piss it would have been if you would have went in a galvanized bucket.
        But the shape of the piss is all-important to some.
        I have a more functional approach. I don’t want the piss to be too long to start, and I don’t want the squirt at the end to be too long. Galvanized bucket or China teacup don’t matter so much to me.

        As for Social Sciences, I tend to prefer the older behavioralists; Glasser & Beier. I think where they’re at now is more of a development of other areas of medicine. The “medicalist” school of thought where brain chemistry is paramount is in vogue these days, but they’re really playing catch-up. There’s something to all of that, but probably not so much as they wrote into it at first.
        But really, they’re not very good at treating mental illness these days, much less preventing it.

        Probably a lot more than you intended.
        Still, I tire easily of the PC crowd. It just strikes me as phony. But again, that’s probably from my line of work. I deal with data– not bits and bytes, but contours, measurements, heat characteristics, etc. All those instruments have a known error, and all of the measurements are within a defined range of error. I tend to be straight-forward, and I tend to expect other things to be relatively straight-forward.
        But I see the PC movement as being mealy-mouthed; mincing words and declaring their cowardice a virtue (and likely due to unfamiliarity with the real McCoy).
        Not that I’m above deconstruction. I’ve had some fairly long conversations about how certain words, like caballero, don’t exactly translate properly into English at times.
        But the value of identifying a thing precisely is in gauging a course of action.
        That is, understanding a thing has some inherent value to it, but the “Let’s Build Our Personal Self-Esteem Through Language” crowd seems to be more bent on obscuring things.
        The way I call it.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        Heh. I call all this Intuitive Stuff “Corporate Chinese”. Instead of a plain English word on a button, let’s put in a cutesie little icon. Make sure they’re all colour coordinated. Some pony tailed latte-drinking graphic designer, listening to Enya on his Bose headphones, designing that icon — will never make it to the factory floor. Might get some machine oil on his Chucks. Trust the people who have the problem to give you the solution.

        Want a good HMI for a scissor lift? Talk to the guy who makes a living on them. Sounds like a good idea, Will. Be trivial to implement if it’s a stepper motor driving it: coordinate lift height with stepper rotation, higher you go, slower you move laterally.

        As for the beam crush, I’d put up something like a Kinect to handle proximity. Common sense stuff. Insurance actuaries are constantly looking for these sorts of angles. Might be some great money in there for you.

        The Social Sciences are sinecures for Trendmongers. I came up under some wonderful linguists and computer scientists who told me to honour my users. I can be an condescending asshole out here but I take my users seriously, at all times. Treat them as if they know their jobs, don’t condescend to them. The prisoner knows more about his prison than any jailer.Report