In a city where people are murdered nightly and the police response time is in the hours, large blocks of time and taxpayer money are spent discussing a far more important question: How evil is that statue of Robert E. Lee and when can we tear it down?
Most people actually from this place are appalled. The statues are a token of heritage, sad and shameful though parts of it may be, and yet while the streets are collapsing and criminals murder people on their front porches, the city council holds meetings about a long-dead general’s bronze likeness.
I was drinking when the talk turned to this. My opponents, of course, where professional academics, white, rich, and certainly not from anywhere near my hometown of New Orleans. I was on the defensive from the start.
Yes, there are confederate monuments in my home town. No, they aren’t meant to be racist, at least not any more than the Washington monument is, or Columbus Day, or the flags of countless other countries where slavery has once or is still taking place. But that’s fine, growing up southern I have learned that we are a convenient scapegoat, one of the few groups it is ok to stereotype relentlessly, the only place in the world to ever have slaves, and deserving of whatever belittlement we get. However, I believed these monuments should stay, so long as they aren’t on any official state building like a courthouse. Let us have our great, defeated men. Let’s not judge them through the lens of what we now know is right. Was Thomas Jefferson not a great man? He owned a bevy of chattel slaves. Must we rename every place in America that bears his name in remembrance? These statues are a part of us, a part of our history as losers after all, a reminder that we were conquered and on the wrong side of history, a reminder that we southerners are resigned to backwater status, in part because our ideas where so wrong. Or rather that we clung to them longer than the North did by a few too many decades.
But according to one of the fellows I was arguing with, I didn’t have a right to defend these monuments. Not, at least, before I stopped a moment to “check my white male privilege”. You can imagine my shock, not so much at his words, but for the simple fact that people like this genuinely exist outside of the internet.
I was too stunned to respond with any power, and so, in typical esprit d’escalier fashion, I’ve come here to do my dressing down of the term.
Let us look at what was meant by it, that insistence that I have white male privilege and should somehow be induced to “check it”.
I believe this phrase insinuates that by virtue of being a white male, one has an almost mystical advantage over people who don’t happen to be that particular combination of things. One apparently needs to constantly be vigilant of the huge benefits that fall from the sky in response to the holy glow of his skin and the dangling of his testicles. What the particular advantages are to being a white male are somehow never discussed. Statistics are shown that white men do better at certain things. They earn more money. God forbid you take the position that white males do better because on average….they do better. You can say that about Asian immigrants, but not about white people. You might as well get thee to Stormfront as to say something like that. When you ask for facts, figures, statistics, you are rarely given any, but if you are, they tend to be things that people do on their own volition. Things that come of hard work and responsibility. It is my privilege that I don’t get arrested, my privilege that my parents stayed married, and my privilege that I show up on time to work and don’t get fired.
None of it is me. None of it is my sacrifice or my responsibility, my hard work or my grit. Blow all that stuff away man, don’t you know your skin color comes to the ultimate cause of your socio-economic advantage? Furthermore, this forbids me from discussing certain topics like statues.
The logic behind the phrase is weak, and you might think any serious person could just kind of shrug their shoulders at its ridiculousness and move on with life. But the way it has been weaponized over the past few years is anything but weak and easy to dicount. In fact, it has been used to quite some effect to discredit, to demean, to silence, and to shame a group of people into believing that their difficulties (and the struggles to overcome them) are not real or significant or relevant— and that this irrelevance is because of the magical and incalculable power of their genitals or the color of their skin. Oddly, this is the same sort of thing these exact groups have been claiming to fight against for the last two decades. They fix this nasty inconsistency by claiming that you can’t be racist towards white people or sexist towards men.
Which flies to the heart of why this phrase bothers me so much. It has to do with the way the language is being forcibly and inorganically changed to arm groups who eschew logic with weaponized words and phrases that are ill-defined and aggressively silencing of dissent.
Let’s look at another notable example: “toxic masculinity”.
This phrase fills gender study classes and discussions on the internet, but all it amounts to is an attempt to normalize language with which to blame masculinity for all sort of broad societal ills. The word itself eliminates the need for argument, because it can be defined loosely as whatever the person using it wants it to mean.
Yet, can you imagine telling a woman who was acting irrational, emotional, and unreasonable, that it was simply her “toxic femininity” acting up? Or telling a black person who has stolen something that their “toxic Africanism” was to blame? What about that “Toxic Judaism” at the heart of all sort of stereotypes about Jewish people? When stereotypes come true for men it is “toxic”, for everyone else, it is inconvenient and thus ignored. You have to hand it to the regressive left, their tactics are quite clever sometimes.
When I list such harsh comparison, the term seems hateful, as it is. However, you can get away with pathologizing all sorts of normal male behavior with this sweeping phrase because that is how the term has been purposely weaponized. And the same can be said of the term “white male privilege”.
For privilege, as defined by the dictionary is:
“A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”
Please tell me, oh social justice warriors, what right I have that a black woman doesn’t?
I have the right to be forced to sign up for the draft, the right to be just about the only group of people who can legally be discriminated against (there are two gyms and a hospital near my home that are female only, for example), and on top of that I have the social right to be viewed as a boogeyman whose opinions on monuments must be tempered with self-flagellation.
I’ll warrant that white males did have rights that others didn’t in the past. However, the part that people seem to forget is that all of those special rights didn’t just fall out of the sky. The typical European male wasn’t just bestowed with magical powers that the typical African had no access to. And this leads us down a dark path, a path which I would never seek to take on my own. But by telling me to check my privilege, they’ve insisted. In “checking” it, what I see is that the only thing you can blame here for the historical advantages the white person would have had, would have been the success and dominance of his society, also something which wasn’t just arbitrarily handed down by some magical God of privilege. But the left usually gets terrified at this point, and backs away from going down this road where they have been leading us to the whole time with their badgering and shaming. They are only comfortable fabricating issues that discuss how certain groups are advantaged or disadvantaged, while any discussion of the why that doesn’t end with “because of white males being evil/the patriarchy/it’s a social construct” makes them scurry for the hills.
But let’s say white privilege is true. I have it just because I’m white and male. Being white and male groups me in with others just because of the color of my skin. So I have some tie that binds me to other white males – it is fine to group me in with others in order to discredit my accomplishments, silence my voice by claiming that my privilege blinds me to what it means to struggle in a meaningful way, or to demonize me because of some collective original “sin” that I’ve had nothing to do with. I wonder if it works the same way when one considered the myriad of accomplishments, world changing discoveries, and humanity uplifting projects that white men have wrought over the millennia. Can I be proud of the internet since a white man made it? Can I take credit for all the white men who stormed the beach at Normandy and quite literally saved the world? Or am I only allowed to do penance for the misdeeds of my group? Explain to me exactly how this works, someone please. Oh, that’s right, it works in whatever way helps you win the argument at hand.
The groups who are changing our language to suit themselves would no doubt take any sign of pride at being a white male as further damning evidence. They would then arm themselves with buzzwords and launch an accusation not against your argument, but against you yourself, as incapable as ever of entertaining thought experiments that don’t further their narrative.
“But you don’t have any idea what it is like to be a black woman!” these groups scream.
They then go on to tell you to check your white male privilege, insinuating that they themselves, in fact, know exactly what your life as a white male is like. Their own experience is inestimable, yours is obvious and can be defined as they see fit. Welcome to identity politics.
The hypocrisy is loud to those with even the slightest interest in listening for it.
Of course people are born with advantages. No one is denying that. Obama was born with a thousand privileges and advantage that 90% of white males would not have had. I mean, his father went to Harvard on a scholarship. Which is exactly the point— the advantages and special rights that white males built for themselves (or yes, enslaved others to build) have entirely been voluntarily given away by those same white males, or at least, made equally available to all. So why must we continue to act as if the white skin and the penis have anything to do with a positive life-trajectory?
It is like a young guy who inherits millions from his grandfather. The grandfather founded a factory that exploited the population of his little town, and thus came by his millions. The young man feels guilty, he cannot abide this, no more will he live in a mansion on the hill, and instead he will give away his money to everyone in the town, and move to live in the same neighborhood as everyone else. Only to be soundly berated and ostracized once there for being greedy, rich and advantaged. He can never live down the historical deeds of his grandfather, even though he receives none of the benefits of his dominance.
When people succeed, citing a privilege that is nebulous, not quantifiable, and impossible to prove is a shitty way to treat them. Individuals have privilege based on the circumstances of their upbringing, races do not. It is a disgusting phrase, not only in the way it targets white men, but also in the way it infantilizes minorities and women. After all, if white men have privilege, why do other groups need to even try? It absolves those that fail from striving by claiming that the world is stacked against them from the start. Just as much as a white man’s success is unearned, your failure too is undeserved and the result of unexplainable systems of oppression that are robbing you of the ability to have agency.
Enough already with the whole thing. All I want is to keep my sense of history by retaining some centuries old pieces of marble scattered around my city. Is that too much of a privilege to ask?