Friday, May 25th, 2012

Free To Be… Straight White Males

Here is a tweet that Gawker writer Max Read retweeted a few days ago.

So, sort of a backstory, to begin. Last week brought us two Internet rumpuses regarding and/or demonstrating an especially privileged kind of blindness/obliviousness/ridiculousness. One was TED curator Chris Anderson's flabbergasting decision to withdraw a TED speech about wealth inequality on the grounds that it was "too political." The other, John Scalzi's head-patting essays on Kotaku, comparing straight white male privilege to playing the game of Life, as it were, as if on the easiest setting of a video game. Thus it was that we began to Yak.

David Roth: Maria, I am but a humble sports-doofus. So what is a TED speech? Also, a follow-up: why are there TED speeches?

MB: A question for the ages. Opinions vary wildly. Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company wrote an article in 2010 ("How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite") in which she claimed that TED was "creating a new Harvard—the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years."

DR: Which is hilarious, of course, but also maybe backhandedly/depressingly apt. The New Harvard would naturally be an online correspondence school for very rich adults who want to be flattered w/r/t their role in The Future. The New Harvard should also serve tapas or something.

MB: Maura Johnston took the piece very neatly to smithereens right here at The Awl. Then Kamenetz herself turned up in the comments explaining about how she is Elite, and went to Yale, unlike us Awl guys.

MB: One really does keep reading, though, that "TED talks" are supposed to be improving the public in some way. They're also touted as being "exclusive," because they're so expensive to attend in person, and there is some kind of screening process for attendees. No idea what kind of riffraff they are looking to exclude. I'm imagining A Night At The Roxbury. Alternatively, you may wait and watch the TED speech on the Internet.

DR: "I paid $7,500 to hear the Eat, Pray, Love lady talk about creativity."—A Job Creator.

MB: Exactly, and/or "I watched it on my computer and she sounded like a total ding-dong."

DR: "But I saved what David Roth makes in three months by doing so, so I guess I still came out okay."

MB: But this Nick Hanauer wealth inequality talk last week was different, because it was forbidden the glorious pulpit of TED proper, and so it tore all over the regular Internet instead.

DR: I was startled to find, in the wake of this story, that there are THOUSANDS of these TED talks, all of which people pay to go to. It's like finding out that the people in a David Brooks book are real.

MB: You would have to take acid and travel to an alternate universe for that.

DR: Thousands of Davos Men, out there listening to tech CEOs talk about innovation. Consuming soybeans in symbolically significant ways.

MB: Anyhoo, the guy Hanauer claimed to have been "censored."

DR: The problematic thing, here, seems to be that he is maybe kind of a jerk.

MB: He's terrible! Super bossy, always bragging about his airplane this and his ski chalet that.

DR: A jerk I agree with on the points of his argument, admittedly.

I was startled to find, in the wake of this story, that there are THOUSANDS of these TED talks, all of which people pay to go to. It's like finding out that the people in a David Brooks book are real.

MB: You'd have to be completely insane not to. Insane like Edward Conard, I mean.

DR: But he seems to fit well into the cohort of TED people, which seems like a bunch of very wealthy people who are used not only to being right, but to being dapped up like crazy for how pyrotechnically, dazzlingly right they are, talking past each other in a series of open emails. Emails written in a weird, condescending tone that expresses a sort of disappointment at the other side's inability to comprehend the manifest rightness of the argument they're making.

MB: I suspect the real problem is that these TED guys are "good boys" who have been steadfastly obedient the whole time, and have somehow failed to ask one single tiny question of authority ever. So they should get an A, because that is what always happens to good boys.

DR: The strange thing, I guess, is that these guys are by and large on "our" side of important issues. Like, these are the multi-millionaires who are NOT obsessed with privatizing social security and policing the vaginas of poor women.

MB: The mere absence of villainy isn't enough to make an actual leader, unfortunately. Chris Anderson's response to the Hanauer affair demonstrated a total failure of imagination. He goes, "I think a lot of business managers and entrepreneurs would feel insulted"—what, to be forced to hear that they require markets for their products? Maybe the worst was his monstrous ignorance regarding the economy.

MB: So, how much of this broad-spectrum ignorance is owing to "white privilege", do you think?

DR: To me, the whiteness of all this seems secondary. Or inevitable. This is obviously a white (well, Jewish) guy talking, but I feel like all people, at a high enough level of affluence, converge on a certain colorless whiteness-by-default. Just a sort of assumption that the world works best when it works in the way that's best for you. Which is maybe similar to white privilege, or the same.

DR: It's far harder for me to imagine being wealthy enough to attend a TED conference than it is for me to imagine being, say, someone of a different race with a similar upbringing to mine. (I grew up in a wealthy suburb with less-wealthy parts.)

MB: Really? I can so easily imagine you being rich enough to attend a TED conference.

DR: That's the plan. Write enough 800-word columns for $75, and someday, boom, there I am listening to Marc Andreessen talk about The Future of Innovation.

MB: I ain't saying I can imagine you going, just I can imagine you rich.

DR: I already am. I sold my book "Ham Jokes And Overreaching Political Parallels About Football" for $6.8 million. I'm going to give a TED speech about how hilarious ESPN's AM programming is next week.

MB: Saving my allowance so I can attend in person. My TED talk will be about how the U.S. economy can be saved if only DirecTV will stop snail-mailing to tell me how they "miss" me, because they must have squandered a million dollars and half a rainforest on just me, by now.

DR: (I also think the secret of Davos is that no one goes to ANY presentations, and just chases, like, Eli Broad around all weekend)

MB: Hmm. I could chase Eli Broad for a while. I would be wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and screaming.

DR: In any case, the assumption is the thing. And it's what bothers me about the prospect/fact of TED attendees currently representing the lefternmost flank of the discourse at the moment. The prospect of a discourse in which vicious billionaire libertarian crumbums who also hate gays are one pole and fatuous techno-futurist libertarians who don't hate gay people are the other is really not a very appetizing prospect.

DR: Which, yeah, #privilege to even be having this beef. But also the issue here is that we can talk about Twitter starting revolutions, but we can't talk about power as it exists in our world. At least if it seems "partisan" or "political," which was Anderson's beef with Hanauer's inequality talk. Which, in the end or at least to me, amounted to taking a guy to the woodshed for some Very Uncool Mellow-Harshing.

MB: God, yes. Something else I wanted to ask you about l'affaire Scalzi: these commenters on Kotaku saying look, I am a straight white guy and my life is super effin' hard so fuck you, you know. How do you feel about them?

DR: Sad, mostly? Because most everyone's life is hard. If they think it's because they're straight white guys, they should really read more.

MB: Disagree there. Sometimes I am very sure it must be. Baseless assumptions are made all the time. And this is especially alienating for those white guys who are wronged, of whom there are a lot, with so much suffering these days. Because they are wronged for serious, and then they are yelled at for even pointing out that they've been wronged. On an individual level, this seems terrible.

DR: Yes, those are surely the real victims. I just can't buy that at all, although clearly everyone is (increasingly?) alienated from everyone else. But the version of that alienation that converges on a sense of victimhood is the saddest to me, though. Because it's wrong and small and vain, but more because it makes the whole rest of the world your enemy.

DR: Obviously the internet helps with that. Wealth helps with that. But walking around in a city is a nice reminder that it is bullshit.

MB: "Get over yourself, everyone's life is hard." Same with Hispanics and divorcees, you know, and dinosaurs. All my own demographic niches, I react really strongly against that kind of alienation. Get up, you know. "Come with me if you want to live!"

It seems like such a primitive, obvious thing to have to say, and yet just take a gander at that featured comments thread over at Kotaku, it is eye-popping. This guy wrote an absolute book about how hard he has it because he is a white guy and people don't feel like they have to be sensitive to white guys. He was very sincere, and he was promptly flambeed.

DR: Lots of dudes being all "THIS! I also had to work hard, where I imagine minorities didn't!" in the comments, too, though. But in terms of the flambee-age, I'd say deservedly so. I mean, privilege is privilege, and it's complicated, but there's no reason to be a dick about it.

DR: And more to the point: BIG-BOY PANTS. Does he imagine anyone has it easier? Life is complicated, and clamoring for victimhood is just definitionally Not A Good Look. Especially when you're born with advantages, and then insist on turning turn them into meta-anti-advantages.

MB: You're right obviously (Trayvon Martin alone will silence anyone, in this respect.) I just wish there would be less judging and more compassion for everyone all the time equally.

DR: Agreed. But also, this dude: "I have been in so many situations where I'm expected to go above and beyond what is expected of me because I'm a white guy. I'll be asked to move heavy loads to someone's car or other menial work, even though it's not in my purview, because, hey, I'm the white guy I have been denied jobs because 'well, we have enough guys right now; we really need to hire more minorities.'" I understand that his life is hard, but I would advise he invest in some big-boy pants. Like, the pull-up kind.

MB: Yeah, but this argument, it's like ping-pong, back and forth forever. One side demands that the mean or median effects of white privilege be taken into account, which, again, is a good idea in terms of formulating policy but a terrible idea in terms of determining how you, an individual, should treat other individuals; the other side is insisting look, I am an individual, treat me like an individual!

MB: Anyways, I would hate to be a straight white male myself, because half your peers are complete idiots, horrible, and have made a complete hash of everything.

DR: Oh man, HALF?


DR: You need to meet more straight white males! We're terrible. I mean, if you want to talk about sports, we're pretty great.

MB: The other half are lovely! I am a lifelong fan. Don't be so hard on yourself.

DR: Or, I guess, get really fussy about meat-restaurants. But beyond that, yikes like a motherfucker.

MB: Plus the gnarly half have hogged all the moneys and the property and power. So if you are an ordinary straight white male and you want even a particle of any of those things, you'd best start apologizing NOW.

MB: Is this fair, I ask you? That it should be so impossible to defend the rights of the decent portion of the straight white male population.

DR: You know, I kind of think that's silly.

MB: Certainly not. I mean, maybe you are a straight white man but what you really are is a person, with your own set of weirdo obstacles, like maybe you are really short, well obviously you are not short, David. But maybe you can't do math or some other thing you need to be able to do.

DR: Sure.

MB: I object to the idea that we don't treat everyone equally.

DR: Although I can do all those things AND I'm tallish, but also shitty at math. But I also reject the idea that there's something actually hard about being a straight white male.

MB: Sometimes there is—but for individuals, not as a group, is the thing.

DR: It may make my novel less appealing—another novel by a straight white man. But also: no doors are closed to me because of that, and anyway white straight dudes have kind of hogged literary fiction for some time.

MB: It COMPLETELY makes your novel less appealing. Another DeLillo! Just what we need. And yes, many doors are closed to you, just like many doors are closed to anyone, for any number of different reasons.
DR: You think so? Because I kind of don't think those doors are truly closed. ALSO, I'll take having to rewrite my novel over repeated stop-and-frisk or daily stinkeye or all the other things that come with escaping the curse of being a straight white dude of decent means. And more to the point, I think it's churlish and kind of bullshit to complain about it. Privilege is privilege.

DR: And anyway if I have to write better to sell my novel, I do at least have the benefit of having had my parents send me to a fine liberal arts school with all the MONEY THEY MADE.

I mean, maybe you are a straight white man but what you really are is a person, with your own set of weirdo obstacles.

MB: Oo, this is just where I wanted to go. All these guys on Reddit (guys of every color, but I'm just talking about the white ones, here) became completely incensed, legitimately incensed, because they'd found themselves on the wrong side of prejudice.

MB: I, on the other hand, am total brown trash and benefited a lot from the opportunities extended to Hispanic girls of slender means. Who could get a decent SAT score. Who were in very short supply, where I went to school. Just by chance. So I was offered more and better opportunities than my white male compatriots of like accomplishments, as a young kid. This is a fact. Just because I was kind of a freak.

DR: You are also smarter and more deserving of opportunities than most people, honestly.

MB: Sorry, no.

DR: What, just because you are short and speak quickly?

MB: Well, in the sleepy seaside hamlet of Long Beach, California, there were maybe two or three Hispanic kids at my high school who could mop the floor with the standardized tests. So the scarcity created value, you see. And freakish-seeming-ness. I mean, I'm grateful!

MB: Anyway, I want to be very clear, what I wish for and what we don't have, is equality. For a young white straight guy not to be resented out of the box but judged on his merits. This is the part of the conservative position that I can get right behind.

DR: Again, though, I haven't felt resented or discriminated against, and I think that the presumption of that resentment is a really good, quick way to become an unbearable, curdled person. The world is the world, that exists, but this quest for victimization is POISON. In politics and personality and everything else. That way lies the cruelest and smallest and most sorry-I-have-to-go-stand-somewhere-else-now solipsism.

MB: Oh I agree, believe me. Not only do I revile the victimhood, I totally help myself to the privilege when I need to. For instance, when I were a lad I used to work in law offices in downtown LA and there are a lot of Spanish-only-speaking guys in that part of the world, and they would be perpetually offering me these very unpleasant observations and invitations, and I would become very crisp and lofty and totally pretend not to have understood and go, "I beg your pardon?" When us brown persons learn to speak exactly like an NPR correspondent, then we can PASS. Which is very useful.

MB: So the colorlessness of privilege, I loved your phrase. It's such an important distinction. What it really means is that you can lay claim to the maximum rights: respect, fair treatment, dignity. That is to say, rights that everyone should have. And if you can get an education, like I did, they are far easier to assert.

MB: But anyway, come on, surely you've felt discriminated against? I am friends with the odd ultra-feminist who will judge you wrong on contact, just for starters. Before learning your name, even. Are you denying this?

DR: It has not been my experience, honestly. Or if it has, I've kind of jogged on by it. Assholes gonna asshole. Again, I'm lucky to be able to say that. But if someone is like "ugh, white sports dude" then I figure I don't need to reach that person. Because what am I reaching? (Also, they must not be familiar with my work, which: their loss)

MB: Because where you can just skate past and not care, I go straight off the deep end, and it's not even directed at me.

DR: I get that. That is a very reasonable response.

MB: And conversely, I really could give a damn about the Hispanic thing, for me personally. I mean, I care a lot about, e.g. the mess in Arizona, but for myself, whatever. Like some editor is asking me about all the Hispanic hoo-ha and I haven't got the faintest clue aside from knowing a bit about the news. I'm like, hmm, I love salsa music (also the condiment) and watching telenovelas with my aunt but otherwise I'm kind of blah on it? I am privileged, in the sense that I don't experience much in the way of prejudice in my life? So why would I be leaning on this?

DR: Right. THAT I could see being infuriating. When I worked in an evangelical real-estate office, I remember feeling like Exotic Jewish Dude, and that was weird. But what it's about, finally, is not feeling caricatured or hamstrung or otherwise dehumanized by your identity. That's close enough to equality, right?

MB: I AGREE. Oh golly, "dehumanized by your identity," that is the thing that truly is hard to articulate and is the real reason the Kotaku commenters got so furious at the Easy Videogame Setting guy. The reason it is so irritating that you can't talk about wealth inequality at TED.

DR: And TED-style libertarian techno-futurism is, finally, intensely dehumanizing, to me. Because the world humans live in is a world of power and influence. That is: of human bias and pettiness and ugliness and smallness and so on. When you lose that context—all of it, all the various kinds of privilege and reflexive privilege-denial—you are not talking about things as they are. You're talking about "killer apps" or "innovation," to and for rich people. The future won't look like that. It won't care about it. It shouldn't.

DR: But the idea of a future where there's a fucking app that gets rid of bad governments and lets us Celebrate Our Preferences via eCommerce… that is not only not real, but also infantilizing, if not quite dehumanizing. Because what are we then? Avatars for Progress?

MB: But in reality the power and influence part is total hogwash because the real story is we're these little temporary organisms hanging around wondering what the hell is going on.

DR: Well, sure. But we all have bosses. They have bosses.

MB: So the overlay of so-called Power is a fantasy, pathetic actually, crumples after a moment's reflection.

DR: And if all those bosses are watching TED speeches about creativity in management instead of remembering that their employees actually need health insurance or whatever, then no one is winning. Because everyone's losing something human in the deal, right?

MB: Yes, bosses. Not to minimize anyone's suffering; on the contrary.

DR: We lose our dignity; the higher-ups lose their agency, or trade it for surfing on Future Tsunamis. And no one makes eye contact with anyone else, somehow, because we're fuming over something or other. All the slights we absorb because we are [Fill In Yourself], and for no other reason.

MB: Yes, yes. Everyone is losing when we make these divisions. White, rich, poor, privileged, conservative, progressive. The sadness of the Facebook IPO.

DR: Oh lord, the tragedy of our time.

MB: What isn't sad about that. Sad little bajillionaires fussing over their bank balances.

DR: And wondering why no one can engage with them. I like that they call them TED "talks," when only one person speaks.

MB: "Power and influence," as you say.

DR: A small, elite segment applauds. Everyone else goes about paying down their credit cards.

MB: Pleasant dreams, Mr. Roth, scion of Privilege.

DR: Ah yes. I'll climb up on this pile of influence and sleep sweetly.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

David Roth writes "The Mercy Rule" column at Vice, co-writes the Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix,, and is one of the founders of The Classical. He also has his own little website. And he tweets inanities!

89 Comments / Post A Comment

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Finally getting Lana Del Rey.

saythatscool (#101)

@dntsqzthchrmn Ummm "Del" Rey?

Too ethnic. What am I? Some sort of greasy, bean eating matador?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@saythatscool I was "thinking" about the watching-video-games part, but the point is taken.

saythatscool (#101)

So you're saying you want more Black women on Girls? I get it. But it ain't gonna happen. I talked to the folks at HBO and Lena and they both said "it's a no go." I may be able to talk them into an octoroon or something. Maybe the Rock has like a younger sister or something and she can start hanging around the Dunham art openings…

I think the point is that Lena is never gonna put any Black folks on the Wall of Fame at the pizza shop. Cracker ass cracker.

"Mom, every other website has a racism/feminism troll-inviting thread, can the Awl have one too? MoooOOOOMMM?"

saythatscool (#101)

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston I heard Hamilton Nolan dates a Black woman.

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston You've been on a bit of a tear recently. Maybe you could spend the (SORRY, AMERICANS-ONLY) three-day weekend breathing deeply, meditating on your public persona and the difficulties of communicating warmly and humanly in a text-only environment.

@Choire Sicha@facebook I'm just having fun being a little bit sarcastic. I certainly don't intend any insult, and I certainly didn't think my previous comment was insulting anybody. Don't you think there's something funny about specifically referencing discussions on the internet that turned into online disasters? That Kotaku thread that turned into a disaster referenced Scalzi's thread, that was already a disaster. It's self-perpetuating, which I find funny. So I wrote something gently sarcastic. I guess the tone maybe isn't right for this website.

EDIT: You know what? Actually, that's fine Choire. I'll go back to lurking. I'm perfectly happy being a reader. Apologies to anyone who was offended by my putting text in front of other text in front of sarcasm.

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston : I for one would like to request continued sarcasm, plus text.

Alternate take : I will also settle for straight-out insults, because seriously we're all on the Internet here.

@Gef the Talking Mongoose No, commenting on the Awl isn't for me. I thought it was for a brief time, but even the gentlest of comment disagreements is too much for this site, as Choire's very slight rebuke has shown me. Everyone's in too much of a hurry to agree with each other here. Which is weird because: y'know. Internet. I'll never understand why people have to wrap their whole identities up in the ideas they hold, or the writing they do, as if those things determine your worth as a human being and aren't simply efforts, mechanical products of a life lived. To be able to fully discuss ideas you have to be able to let them be attacked without taking it personally, and to understand that disagreeing with a product is not insulting a person.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston Trust me, if there was no room for disagreement, I wouldn't be here. Maybe you're thinking of J***b*l?
Rather, I think Choire (and here I should explain that I have power of attorney for personal thoughts and opinions for Choire) was reacting to your non-stop criticism and negativity of the site's content? I'm a difficult sort as well, but I temper that with 30% general delightfulness because (1) tone is difficult to convey and (2) no one really cares about your or my or anyone's opinion unless you're bringing something to the table alongside it. In other words, you have to EARN it. But if it's just you posting blog equivalents of "fake and gay!!!!" then, yeah, people will get tired of it and call you on it. Also, it is so very, very hot today that this may not make sense and where is my houseboy to fan mejksdfhssionnnnnnnnnnnnn

bibliostitute (#233,999)

@Choire Sicha@facebook Respectfully Choire, I just moved that much closer to completing my Awl verticals race in order to say that there is a three day weekend in Israel this weekend as well. But you weren't to know!

Thanks for being responsible for my favorite information-locations on the web!

Mr. B (#10,093)

Am I the only one who had to Google "TED" to see what the fuck it was? Even after finding the Wikipedia entry, now at least I can tell what the letters stand for, if little else.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Mr. B It's basically the Unabomber, the founder of CNN, and the 26th president of the United States just sitting around having a chat about life 'n' stuff.

Actually, that would be pretty great!

scrooge (#2,697)

@Mr. B I thought Ted was the name of the guy who gave the talks. I mean, who else would be called "Ted" but a privileged white guy?

barnhouse (#1,326)

Sure I know and I totally ID with that. I'm just for equal-opportunity sensitivity, is all, reciprocal, universal and absolute. (Very likely, I know!)

barnhouse (#1,326)

Rats! Come back here, you!

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@barnhouse Yikes, sorry! I just decided to eat jellybeans and listen to "Call Me Maybe" and then take a nap instead. Also didn't want to spoil readers of my forthcoming memoir: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become a Misandrist."

barnhouse (#1,326)

@MichelleDean Eh, it's a holiday weekend!! "Call Me Maybe" sounds so good right now.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@barnhouse Right now? Don't you mean "all the time"?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

The thing I'm wondering about, I guess, is how much of this is just The Internet? Because sure, there is some of that not-niceness stuff online, but walking down the street as me-who-I-am I don't get aaaaaany of that. So is The Internet the Real Thing, the place where the social mores that enforce privilege are broken down and we can be honest with each other? Or is screaming at each other in text boxes inherently disconnected from how things play out on an interpersonal level and ultimately not all that meaningful? And how does all that connect with the TED stuff – does it mean in THE FUTURE we will all be online and so will be yelling at one another about privilege, or that the super-rich ding-dongs building THE FUTURE will build it in such a way that it enforces their view of how the world should work?

David Roth (#4,429)

@MikeBarthel This comment is full of very interesting thoughts, all of which I wish we'd been wise enough to touch upon. My inclination is to say that the internet is mostly the problem, here — with regard to TED (which vetted rich people can watch in person, and which the rest of humanity can stream like the proles we are), and the whinging quest for victimhood. I imagine there are people who are like that in person; I've met a few, at weddings, and I can say that uncles broadly seem to be a good source of this type of person. But as long as people at least act like humans here in meatspace, we'll be broadly okay. Or more okay. There's something about saying things out loud that mediates and moderates; it's hard to imagine that Kotaku commenter saying "you just expect me to carry these boxes because I'm a white guy" out loud, for instance. Because it'd be very silly to say.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

"Let's take this discussion about privilege offline where we can all be nicer to each other."

Art Yucko (#1,321)

…does this mean it's okay for me to post creepy animated .GIFs on the Awl?

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Art Yucko Someday they're going to take away my img tags, and I will be Sad.

deepomega (#1,720)

@David Roth Good points (and I liked this piece) but I feel like I can ONE HUNDRED PERCENT imagine him saying this out loud in certain contexts – drunk at a bar on a friday, for instance. The internet doesn't (in my experience) create new thoughts and ideas for people, it just seems to make them think they are worth sharing.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@deepomega How does every racist joke begin? *looks around the room carefully*

deepomega (#1,720)

@stuffisthings Holy shit. We just solved the internet. The problem is people are using it in rooms without other people looking over their shoulders, so when they look around they feel like they are just talking to themselves and people who look like them. We just need a few Benetton-diverse "shoulder guards" standing watch behind every internet user's chair!

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@deepomega Yes! Get your inflatable disapproving black friend today, only $9.99 on Amazon!

Danzig! (#5,318)

@MikeBarthel "So is The Internet the Real Thing, the place where the social mores that enforce privilege are broken down and we can be honest with each other"

If Reddit is any indication, nope

alexandra (#233,950)

Yo, what the FUCK? "maybe you are a straight white man but what you really are is a person" No. The reason people get mad about racism is not because of book deals.

As another Hispanic girl who tested well, I do hear you that sometimes it feels like we get unfair opportunities due to being anomalous– but my experience of that was very different from yours, and made me even more convinced that gobs of privilege are pretty much poured over a lot of white boys (and girls) from day 1. Also relevant in this case is the issue of "passing," which is why I always go "I'M GUATEMALAN" when white people compliment my "nice tan."

alexandra (#233,950)

@alexandra Sorry that was a really obscure complaint, wasn't it. Two issues:

1. Not identifying with your Hispanic background beyond a vague interest is fine, but don't downplay the serious challenges facing Hispanic Americans
2. David displays a remarkable awareness of his privilege, but Maria in her desire to pardon the individual comes off as super dismissive of the huge problem of racism in america
3. I am oversensitive about racism because I live in the South

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@alexandra Yeah in general I'm probably more sympathetic to David's view, but Maria makes a good point about something that often bothers me about "privilege" as commonly understood — that it tends to encourage the same kind of fundamental attribution errors that underpin racism, and assuming things about individuals because of their membership in some immutable genetic category like race, gender, or sexuality.

There is "white privilege" that relates specifically to the fact of having white skin and how you are treated because of that, which IS applicable to individuals, and then there is "white privilege" in the much broader sense that white people (of the straight male variety especially) have a greater propensity to be born with more social and economic resources than others.

Also, I think the discussion is misframed by focusing too much on "advantages." I'd argue that the main mode of operation of white privilege in modern America is not so much that white skin confers advantages, but that it makes mistakes more forgivable (look at the justice system), which is much more complicated discussion.

Also the "game of life" metaphor is terrible because it's basically saying to unsuccessful white guys "Hey look, you're playing the game on easy and you STILL suck." Which nobody likes to hear, true as it may be.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Thanks for this (Maria here.) Super interesting. I'm not looking to pardon the individual, I'm looking to treat all (individuals) equally, nothing more. (I'm totally in favor of Affirmative Action btw, which is based on demographics not individuals, and am basically a yellow-dog Democrat, just for reference.)

But anyone who puts that goal of equality among individuals first is bound to face accusations of dismissiveness of "the huge problem of racism in America."

vespavirgin (#1,422)

@alexandra ME TOO, but not Guatemalan–Chilean. Where I grew up, hispanics were REVILED. OMG. They were bums. Lazy. Smelly. You did not associate with them. Where? Staten Island. And despite being in NYC, there were no opps for Latins who tested well. Me and the bro got naught from our swarthiness, except sometimes followed around stores and one time denied a seat at Denny's (in Florida. We don't have Denny's in NYC). These days, I'm pretty convinced my lack of ability to advance at my place of employ is due pretty much to me being vaguely other. I'm not obviously _something_ enough that all those ivy leaguers can pat themselves on the back over, but I'm just other enough to make them uncomfortable.

This piece just about killed me being a few clicks down from the Harvard Boys of Conan O'Brien's writers staff. You wanna talk about white male privilege? It will be a long long time before any little brown girls get to write comedy for shows like The Simpsons, Conan, 30 Rock (yes, I'm calling you out, Tina Fey).

barnhouse (#1,326)

@vespavirgin It's true about closed shops of one kind or another (and SO many are entirely closed to "just us and our friends") but isn't that a whole nother problem? How many zillion white Harvard guys wouldn't like to be in the Conan club but still can't get in?

Jet Speed S (#234,018)

@alexandra Well, this is part of what rankles many white guys, I think, in that as a "straight white guy" I get lumped in with the "white Harvard guys," and assumed to exercise the same privilege. Even though I am a poor working-class guy who had poor working-class parents, and who would never in a million years get to associate with the "white Harvard guys."

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I think the real trouble starts when we get into arguments about whose privilege is biggest. Some people feel a bizarre need to catalogue and measure other people's advantages in order to establish a sort of inverted hierarchy with themselves at the top (or bottom, as it were).

Of course, this is way stupid. First, it's just a new expression of the same old kyriarchical crap it is the feminist mission to destroy. Second, even the slightest study of privilege reveals that it is highly contextual. Privilege doesn't mean you have it totally easy all the time everywhere — there are definitely places where straight white men aren't welcome — it means that you have easier access to SAFETY. One of the most basic forms of privilege is the ability to comfortably avoid places where you aren't as privileged.

Maria, here, identifies some of her own privileges: she's brainy and Hispanic and grew up in a context where that gave her educational advantages. Note other brainy Hispanics in the comments with different experiences; again, with privilege, context is everything. "Brainy" itself is a privilege in college applications but a hindrance in, say, gym class.

Recognizing privilege can be really handy. That douchebag at Forbes could have avoided the I'd become expert at Google Scholar debacle if he had recognized that his argument boiled down to "poor black kids would do much better in life if they exercised all the privileges of rich white kids."

But just shouting "hey your life is easy mode" at straight white dudes can be counter-productive. Inevitably, you get the response that a bad thing happened to me, how the hell is that easy mode? From there it just spirals down eternally into internet argument hell.

I think that the best approach is to unify what both of these writers are saying. David recognizes that he's not on a level playing field and acknowledges his own debt to privilege. Maria recognizes that everyone faces disadvantages and challenges and doesn't try to dismiss anyone's problems as imaginary or stupid.

barnhouse (#1,326)

well said, Doctor.

Bittersweet (#765)

Really jazzed about reading "Ham Jokes And Overreaching Political Parallels About Football," even if it was written by an over-privileged straight white guy.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

I'm still confused about the initial tweet. Was the writer implying that straight white males never prevail in the justice system? Was Max Read endorsing this viewpoint?

Alex Balk (#4)

@stuffisthings Max Read is famous on the Internet for being a privileged racist, so I'm sure.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Alex Balk Gawker is a strange beast.

max bread (#5,970)

@stuffisthings I don't think even Max Read knows what he was doing, to be honest.

CaptBackslap (#10,313)

@stuffisthings Is that his real name? I think it's because of early exposure to Max Headroom, but whenever I see a writer's name comprising Max [English word], I wonder if it's some sort of clever pseudonym. So I usually end up wasting a couple minutes before deciding that, no, Max Boot (ferinstance) is really the guy's name and it's just a coincidence he favors putting soldiers in every country in the world.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@max bread He is my favorite Twitterer.

atipofthehat (#797)


I can't even work the handles anymore, much less read the thing.

Ledrew (#654)

These are great. Would love to see MB and/or DR get into it with someone less innately sympathetic to their take, too. Widen the circle, while still making with the Respect Initiative.

Ledrew (#654)

@Ledrew Though I guess that's what comment threads are for?

David Roth (#4,429)

@Ledrew I think I actually do disagree with Maria on the privilege/everyone-a-victim question. She's just so freaking nice and smart that it's hard to get heated about it.

hman (#53)

I'm a stupid gay non-white male. Can someone please summarize this for me and tell me what to be angry about (again)?

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@hman Mexicans, I think.

C_Webb (#855)

@hman Someone named Ted did something douchey. He may or may not be black or white.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Tapas. Campesinos are mad because some guys from eHarvard stole all their tapas and are reselling them for $6,000 per small-plate. I bet those are some thought-provokingly delicious sardines though.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Art Yucko Also, the world is racist against me because whenever I say "tapas restaurant" people think I'm saying "topless restaurant" because I'm white.

C_Webb (#855)

Maria, I'm working on summarizing this post to the tune of "Free to be You and Me," but I can't seem to get Marlo Thomas on the phone.

C_Webb (#855)

@C_Webb Oh jesus is she dead? Please don't let her be dead.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@C_Webb She is fine! whew. I mean, if Wikipedia is to be trusted.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

Now someone explain N+1 to me!

deepomega (#1,720)

@IBentMyWookie Imagine, if you will, an entire editorial board populated by white dudes. GROUND-BREAKING.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@IBentMyWookie Kids tell world they are the shit. World listens.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@deepomega ooh, ooh, can they be upper-middle class?

deepomega (#1,720)

@IBentMyWookie Depends: How would you describe Harvard and Yale educations?

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@deepomega "Not worth nearly as much as people who have them seem to think they are"?

riotnrrd (#840)

@stuffisthings "But still worth more than a degree from Brown."

bibliostitute (#233,999)

@IBentMyWookie usually N+1 strikes me as a sort of weird offering with one really great or worthwhile piece being held up by the trembling arms of quaky and frankly boring brooklyn literary stylings. But maybe that's because I can't seem to find anything enjoyable in N+1 besides whichever big article rocks this issue?

boob party (#233,955)

Has no one pointed out that straight white guys might take offense to Scalzi's writings because he's a science fiction writer and video game developer who blogs about his MacBook Air or whatever? And not, apparently, doing anything about this issue of privilege for which he's so passionate?

I would guess it's not that people find the idea that they're privileged abhorrent; it's that the people telling them they're privileged usually aren't telling them what the fuck to do about it. What did John Scalzi add to the conversation about equality (or whatever this is supposed to be about, because really I'm not sure) besides a fresh analogy to whip out during a guilt trip? Because until I see someone who goes beyond "You're privileged" to "You're privileged and here are some concrete things to do about it if it bothers you," my instinct is to tune these inconsequential tl;drs out.

If I want a guilt trip, I'll talk to my grandpa about what I do for a living.

David Roth (#4,429)

@boob party Why would anyone need concrete instructions on this? Anyway, briefly: the thing to do about one's privilege is to be congnizant of it, and then be an adult about it, and then treat people as you'd hope to be treated. I'm not qualified to talk about policy, which is maybe what you meant by "concrete things to do about it." I am, tenuously, somewhat closer to qualified to talk about how not to be a solipsistic turd about things like this, so I tried to do that instead.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@boob party Wait though, what do you do for a living?!

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@David Roth Yeah that's an interesting point that always comes up in these things, "but what do I dooooo"? As if there is a 10-step policy checklist for proving you're not racist or something.

I would say if you're a generally socially responsible person who doesn't make assumptions about people based on their race, gender, or sexuality, then you can safely ignore these discussions unless they interest you.

If you're the sort of person who reflexively responds to a story about, say, someone getting offended about something racist by writing "They should get over it, it's just a joke, people make jokes to me all the time," then you're going to keep getting lectured about privilege until you cut it out.

I think the (stated) purpose of Scalzi's post was to provide a new line of argument for the people doing that lecturing, not to solve all problems of racism/sexism/homophobia.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@barnhouse He's a landscaper. He spends ALL his time on other people's lawns.

boob party (#233,955)

@David Roth I guess what I meant by "instructions" was something closer to policy, although your comment was helpful for my understanding of why people feel it's important to talk about "privilege."

So this kind of speaks to your dialogue: As a Straight White Guy who tries his best not to be a solipsistic turd in the first place, when I see an article calling out Straight White Guys for not recognizing their privilege, I'm all like "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???" So maybe Scalzi's analogy does add to the conversation in that it's at least another conversion tool, but for anyone who already thinks this way, it's just frustrating to feel like the subject of scolding but not get any clearer direction, maybe at a higher, broader ("policy") level.

@barnhouse I write about things on the internet, just usually not in comment sections.

@boob party And you know, as much as I love 'em, Scalzi has precisely the fan base that includes the half-smart types that always do reply to the introduction of the concept of privilage with "But MY life is HAAARRD!" So he had the thought that here is an interesting metaphor for folks to chew on. And so he wrote a blog post which is what folks with blogs do.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Demanding concrete step-by-step instructions on how to fix racism is itself kind of a product of privilege? Ain't some shit you can slap a band-aid on. In a way, what you're being asked to do is stop demanding a clear path to a clean conscience. Society works to give you some advantages it denies other people, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, no matter what you do.

So you recognize that about yourself. You don't pretend that everything you have, anyone else could have gotten just as easily. You forgive people who are a little resentful of your advantages. Policy-wise, you support reforms that erode the system that stacked the deck in your favor.

BadUncle (#153)

I loved this, but feel dumber than usual, owing to all the referenced writers with whom I'm completely unfamiliar.

LondonLee (#922)

My last boss went to TED and Davos every year, guess that's where he learned to sack me and my entire department a few months ago. Fuck the lot of them "influencers" or whatever stupid Fast-Company-esque label they have these days.

Bittersweet (#765)

@LondonLee "Influencers" is just a fancy way of saying "rich executives who want more money and 'restructure' their way to higher bonuses."

Rod Trunq@twitter (#12,565)

I think the problem I had with Scalzi's piece is that it's just a bad analogy? Life isn't a videogame, and anything that starts with "If we think of life as a videogame," is probably going to be pretty incoherent. Once the essay got to telling me that wealth is a "stat" but race and gender are "difficulty settings" (and expected me to appreciate the difference and find the point salient)…that's when I clicked close tab.

Tos (#234,011)

it's too bad this comment thread evolved into something I don't understand nor am interested in because this dialogue is great.

It relates to a "controversy" that's erupted on a gay lit site triggered by a poet writing about his love of a certain (female) poet's beauty, an opportunity for people to flourish their outrage and write screeds laced with this year's vocabulary words (privilege and entitlement) in language that's posh (I'm-in-the-garage-asphixiated-posh – not former spice girls posh) and headache inducing.

the way Maria & Dave (or, Dave & Maria ) address this topic is honest, unlike so much of the "coded" language that seems to have popped up in the last few years and, on gay lit sites, reads like Foucault arm wrestling with Genet.

Maria's admission that she's used her browness but isn't really suffering from any particular discrimination (and the personal marker of being hispanic coming to salsa & watching telenovellas w/ grandma)- hahah, I've done that, too. It's called leveraging white guilt that imagines an "education" will address systemic issues of our historically racist country esp. because she places that in the larger context of ridiculous TED conferences with their self-generating & illusory atmospheres of power / powerful.

And addressing the assumption that being a white dude endows one with amazing special powers & that being false (unless one of Jonathan Franzen, or the art of fielding guy, or Bret Elis) … (- or, I'm not passing the way I imagine, though the shit I get about looking "white" always, inevitably comes up at family reunions esp.)

I'm probably projecting half this stuff, but I liked the piece.

dillinger195 (#234,045)


I think there are two parts of the SWM contingent that need distinction. One is the oblivious whiners who say "But my life is HAAARD!" and want to bitch and moan about being victimized so, okay, fuck them. But then I think there is the responsible contingent, the people who recognize they have the privilege but maybe just don't want to be generalized at all?

Sure, it's easy to then say, "OH, IS THAT RIGHT? You don't like being generalized, eh? Well boo hoo, welcome to my world!" But I don't really agree that the attitude of score-settling is the best way to go about it either. Eye-for-an-eye and all that.

Unfortunately that brings us to the fact the only real solution to any of this is for the SWM to internalize and recognize (but not try to rationalize) his privilege, use it to inform his outlook and just not be an asshole to everyone else, and then for everyone else to just stop generalizing others based on their appearances, period (white or otherwise). And that ain't gonna happen so… ???

chrisanthem (#234,117)

First of all you need to understand that you are talking to a lawyer and try not to sound stupid. Awl of you!

I did not read all of the opinion piece only wanted to comment.

Did you get dinged because you are stupid or cuz yer stupid you got dinged?

To the cops you are dumb white and straight. You could make captain or get a bullet in your face.

Brian Kevin@twitter (#234,340)

>>I do at least have the benefit of having had my parents send me to a fine liberal arts school with all the MONEY THEY MADE.<<

Straight white male here, profoundly non-victimized. The only way in which I'm a teensy bit tempted to nod in the direction of the Kotaku commenters is to caution people whose parents' money helped shepherd them into a bright future from equating THAT with the SWM experience. That most rich and powerful people are also white doesn't confer one ounce of privilege on the great majority of white people who are neither rich nor powerful. If I am a SWM Kotaku commenter who has zero chance of attending your fine liberal arts school and will likely go deep into debt for a far inferior education, I might be justifiably irritated when the David Roths of the world tell me that we're both soaring on the wings of the same white privilege.

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