All posts filed under: Privilege

Unconscious Bias Training as a Management Tool

A number of social scientists have pointed to a paucity of good evidence that such ‘unconscious bias training’ is effective in achieving its stated aims. However, I have little doubt that Starbucks’ new initiative will be effective, because it is clear to me that the desired effect is not to change minds but to deter conduct. Boring, uncomfortable training sessions are punishments, which send clear messages about what one must do to avoid further sanction. Frankly, if such punishments were only used to deter employees from calling the police on people waiting for friends before ordering drinks, I wouldn’t object. Alas, such training is far more commonly used to promote hiring quotas. In my workplace (a STEM department in a university), it is widely known that training on ‘unconscious bias’ is the punishment that hiring committees face for not hiring enough female and (non-Asian) minority professors. I have been in the room when an administrator said quite candidly that the latest round of faculty hires had not been sufficiently diverse, “So now everyone [emphasis in original] gets …

Harris, Lilla, and the Politics of Identity

What exactly is the problem with identity politics? Is it an unequivocal negative in our political and intellectual discourse? Or is it a mode of engagement that serves a positive purpose when kept within its proper bounds? My conversation with Mark Lilla is now available: "What Happened to Liberalism?"https://t.co/ixRtrav2OL pic.twitter.com/rvMWsNnb6P — Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) September 28, 2017 These questions cropped up during a podcast exchange last September between neuroscientist Sam Harris and Professor Mark Lilla, author of The Once and Future Liberal. Both men are concerned by the intellectual and political decline of American liberalism, and were in general agreement about its many and various recent failings. Liberalism has ceased to be relevant to many of the voters who once empowered its philosophical platform; it has ceased to offer a coherent intellectual message capable of galvanizing the American mainstream; and its decline has opened the door to uniquely regressive forces on the Right. Harris and Lilla further agreed that much of the responsibility for liberalism’s decline lay with the steady advance of identity politics. However, in the midst of …

Neo-Orientalism and the Left

Stroll through the streets of major cities in Southeast Asia – whether it be in Malaysia, Vietnam, or Thailand – and you start to notice a new fad among Western tourists. It is referred to as ‘beg-packing,’ and involves primarily white Western tourists begging on the streets for money to fund their travels across the region. Some may sell small trinkets or busk for money. I encountered this persoally in the Little India area of Kuala Lumpur, where I watched a young dreadlocked white woman solicit change from passers-by with her kettle drums. Beg-packers who depend on the charity of a poorer country to fund a luxury like travel have rightly received much derision on the Internet since the phenomenon was first reported. As one Malaysian writer noted: “I think that this kind of behavior shows how many people still look at the world with an orientalist view. They see Asia as an exotic place of spiritual discovery.” According to the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, ‘orientalism’ describes how Westerners have historically viewed the East …

False Hopes and Invisible Enemies

People are pattern-seekers. When we observe patterns in the natural world we often seek a deeper explanation for them. An example of a pattern that has captured the attention of academics is the disparity between men and women in fields like mechanical engineering and pediatrics. Culture is an obvious explanation for some disparities: if a wave of Irish immigrants to Boston joins fire departments, and Italians start restaurants, then we might expect that the next generation of Bostonians will contain a disproportionate number of Irish firefighters and Italian restaurant owners. Similarly, if low-skilled immigrants tend to work in jobs like construction and agriculture, we might expect to find a lot of low-skilled workers who move from Central America to the United States to work on construction sites and strawberry farms. Another obvious way to explain divergent outcomes between groups is that some groups – ranging from races and sexes, to religions and political partisans – have been discriminated against or persecuted by others. In other words, members of some groups throughout history were not given …

Privilege Checking the Privilege Checkers

Having the privilege conversation is itself an expression of privilege. … It’s not just that commenting online about privilege – or any other topic – suggests leisure time. It’s also that the vocabulary of ‘privilege’ is learned at liberal-arts colleges or in highbrow publications. ~ Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “Checking Privilege Checking,” The Atlantic All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. ~ Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By A couple of years ago, while studying law in western Canada, I took a political science course on environmental issues taught by a renowned professor. Having become alarmed at the lack of legal protections for the environment, I hoped to learn more about the politics behind such flagrant and pervasive oversights. Unfortunately, the class was a bust. Instead of analyzing political thought and behaviour related to our current ecological crisis, the course taught a strange blend of self-help and pseudoscience. We “learned” …

The Problems of “Privilege”: Lessons from the French Revolution

In recent years, ‘privilege’ has become an important concept in modern politics, academia, and popular culture. It appears in an increasing and disorienting number of forms, from male privilege and white privilege, to “gay privilege,” “black male privilege,” and “family privilege,” and these claims about privilege animate a wide array of political stances. Supporters of Hillary Clinton criticized voters for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein as privileged radicals risking a Trump victory for the sake of inflexible principles. Supporters of the latter candidates returned fire, targeting Hillary voters as privileged centrists out of touch with America’s economic and racial inequalities. Donald Trump, of course, as countless media outlets insist, is (white, male) privilege personnifed; his supporters, meanwhile, are said to demonstrate the extent of their own privilege by denying that privilege exists. In the classroom and in the media, people are increasingly asked (or made) to measure, acknowledge, and strive to reduce their privilege. “Privilege studies” is a growing field, with more and more scholar-activists devoting themselves to its practice. In the midst of all …

Skepticism About White Privilege

Privilege, and race-based privilege in particular, occupies a key niche in the rich ecosystem of error that is campus leftism. White privilege is a central theme of the protests at Evergreen State College, University of Missouri, Yale University, and so on. Detecting and eliminating it is the aim of a new method of pedagogy that effectively renders education the handmaiden of activism. Unfortunately the question “what is to be done?” has here, as in other domains, prematurely eclipsed “what is to be thought?” A close look at the notion of white privilege casts doubt on whether the racial disparities that currently exist within the U.S. constitute any such thing. White Privilege as “Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See” is a seminal work on white privilege. McIntosh observes that many men who recognize that women are disadvantaged are reluctant to admit that they are over-privileged. She extends this observation to race, lamenting that “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an …

“Privilege,” “Lived Experience,” and Other Words I Use Without Thinking

One of my most memorable lovers’ quarrels was about the controversial sociologist Alice Goffman. Go figure. “A privileged white woman who went to Princeton shouldn’t write about disadvantaged black men in West Philly!” I insisted, confidently dropping my favorite rhetorical trump card — “privilege.” “You haven’t even read her book,” my partner deadpanned, calling me out for shamelessly parroting someone else’s thoughts on Goffman. “How do you know she doesn’t have something worth saying about those communities just because she’s white?” (What a smart guy, right?) Discerning reader, you read this and probably thought something like, “Oh, she tried that whole thing.” What’s that “thing” you know I was trying to do, but are short on words for? *** “Privilege” can be a helpful term to describe systemic socioeconomic advantages that make life easier for some than others. It can help us identify what justice looks like, and what it doesn’t look like. I’ll be the first to admit, though: its ubiquity seems to make it easy and safe to use, almost without thinking. It’s what …

Feminism Blinds Students to the Truth About Men

As a student at Barnard, a women’s college in NYC, feminism pervades all aspects of the curriculum. As students, we’re awash in the pervasive narrative that women are always on the losing side of the gender wars. This is ridiculous. At a school where acknowledging intersectionality is de rigueur, one would expect to encounter dialogue about issues that men face too.  However, after two years here, I have never witnessed students or professors broach the topic in a positive way. What’s more alarming is how often female peers display conspiratorial glee when they make fun of and delegitimize men’s issues. Last week for example, a classmate posted a video featuring the scholar Christina Hoff Sommers to the Barnard 2018 class Facebook page. The video had legitimate talking points about male academic underachievement. However, in a  vicious effort to delegitimize the video’s claim that “male underachievement is everyone’s concern,” a fellow student sanctimoniously wrote that the concern is “not [her’s],” followed with an acronym that denoted laughter. This outright delegitimization of male issues was met with …

Now that I have checked my male privilege…

As a graduate student, I have been checking my male privilege for several years. As a man I am more likely to run governments and corporations due to my gender, and I have the privilege of not seeing much of that privilege. Overlapping dimensions such as race, sexual orientation, and sex/gender can shape my male privilege in a variety of ways. However, as of late I have been deeply intrigued by dissent on the topic, including Emma C. Williams’s article suggesting that making someone “check their privilege” has become a polemic bludgeon against freedom of thought, which could promote resentment from powerless groups. There is a tendency for many feminists to essentialize gender victimization into simplistic binary camps – of good and evil – even though privilege is an under-developed concept. The flagship thinking on male privilege is the male privilege checklist, a revised version of Peggy McIntosh’s brilliant White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. McIntosh discusses how privilege enjoyed by white people is invisible to them. The male privilege checklist simply substitutes “white” for …