Privilege, recent

The White Privilege of Being Black

On Tuesday, January 15, radio host David Webb interviewed civil rights attorney and CNN analyst Areva Martin on his Sirius XM show. Towards the end of their exchange, Martin accused Webb of having white privilege. Confused, Webb asked Martin to explain how he had come to have this privilege. “By virtue of being a white male,” Martin informed him irritably, “you have white privilege.” To which Webb replied, “I hate to break it to you, but I’m black.”

Much of the reaction to this incident has come from conservative outlets gleefully mocking the double jackpot of a prominent liberal embarrassing herself while attempting to espouse a political ideology they find absurd. I agree that it was funny, and I’m actually disappointed Webb didn’t allow Martin to dig herself an even deeper hole before revealing his hand. But the interview also reveals an obnoxious moral outlook that seems to be alarmingly widely held; not because it is even truly believed, but because it is fashionable.

The broader topic of discussion related to whether or not candidates for jobs in journalism should primarily—but not exclusively—be judged on their knowledge of the area they would be responsible for covering. Webb said he believed this has been the case for him, that he had always done the work needed to become qualified, and that this, and not his race, had determined his success. Martin, on the other hand, is of the view that only a white person could think such a thing. Or, more accurately, she takes it for granted that anybody who believes that hard work is the key to success in America cannot possibly be black.

When challenged to defend her accusation (but before she was informed by Webb that he is black), Martin retorted that “this is a whole long conversation I don’t have time to get into.” But if she were confident in her position, she would be able to explain it in plain English. Instead, she assumed that by simply invoking this concept, the discussion would be resolved in her favour. Because she was using the term as an ideological cudgel and not an argument, she didn’t want to explain at all, and was noticeably annoyed when asked to do so. “By virtue of being a white male, you have white privilege” has the appearance of an explanation, but she was really just rephrasing her previous assertion using more words.

Webb unwisely offered Martin an excuse for her mortifying error when he advised, “You should have been better prepped.” She gratefully seized it and, after a terse apology, immediately shifted responsibility for her blunder by adding that, “My people gave me wrong information.” It is possible that “her people” neglected to inform her of Webb’s race (does she require this information before every radio interview?), but it is almost certainly untrue that they misinformed her. Still, this lie allowed her to avoid an admission that she’d assumed Webb’s race simply because he was advocating hard work and personal responsibility. Martin is certainly smart enough to know how idiotic and bigoted that would have sounded.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of black writers and thinkers committed to dismantling this kind of cryptic, politically motivated racism. I was reminded in particular of a passage in John McWhorter’s book, Losing the Race, in which he wrote: “We must neither behave as children by resisting honesty, nor allow ourselves to be treated as children by having honesty withheld. It ought to be concerning that opinions like these, which defend the idea of treating black people equally and as adults, are nowadays considered heretical by many on the American Left.

Unlike many conservatives and centrists, I am not reflexively unsympathetic to the idea of “white privilege.” In her foundational essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh listed 50 advantages which, she argued, her African American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances do not share with American whites. While some of these are more persuasive than others, I believe they merit thoughtful consideration and reflection, and do not deserve to be dismissed out of hand. I would certainly not presume to tell black people as a group nor any black individual that I understand their experiences a priori.

Nevertheless, I sympathise with anybody who is told, however discreetly, and by those presuming to speak on their behalf, that a belief in hard work and determination is unbecoming of their race. Indeed, I do enjoy the privilege of never having been held to such insultingly low standards on the basis of my skin colour. But this incident offers an example of how the term “white privilege” now has very little to do with how experiences with and within society’s power structures differ by race. The expression continues to rely for its rhetorical effectiveness on this meaning (along with the implication that anyone who disagrees is racist), but, in reality, it has come to be used in an entirely different manner.

Martin is not stupid, nor do I believe that she is a bigot. A more charitable (but hardly flattering) view is that she doesn’t actually believe any of this nonsense at all. In fact, almost nothing she says during this exchange is to be understood as what it literally means in English. It is, rather, politically correct. I don’t mean to use this term in the sense popularised in late-eighties academia. I mean it in the original sense of strict adherence to the Communist party line. In bygone days, Martin might have accused Webb of “bourgeois sentimentality,” and would doubtless have been just as reluctant (and unable) to explain herself were she called upon to do so.

But why would Martin rely on this kind of boilerplate rhetoric during a serious discussion in the first place? Why the refusal to explain jargon and the unwillingness to admit to real motivations? Why not produce some interesting independent thought and analysis instead? Martin is certainly very intelligent and I’m sure she considers herself to be a highly ethical person. She is a published author and she founded her own law firm after attending Harvard Law School and working in corporate law on Wall Street. So it would be safe to assume that she has worked hard to get to where she is today and that she understands the value of perseverance and dedication. But if she wishes to fit in, she must pay obeisance to the prevailing ideology of her peers.

The sad reality is that Martin had no choice but to burble bromides if she wished to remain a member of her progressive intellectual clique. Like Václav Havel’s greengrocer, who put a sign in his window saying “Workers of the World Unite,” not because he believed it but because he wanted to be left alone, so Martin speaks the language of white privilege because that is what is expected of her. “White privilege” might have meant something when McIntosh used it, but for Martin it is simply a way of saying, “I have the approved-of ideas and therefore I win.” It is a moral fashion, and Martin is keen to be seen as exceedingly fashionable.

Unlike Havel’s grocer, the costs of thinking for oneself in America are not torture, imprisonment, and death. Nevertheless, it does take courage to risk the brutal mobbing of dissenters that sweeps social media every once in a while leaving wrecked careers and reputations strewn in its wake. Those who wish to think seriously about racial disparities, or who simply wish to preserve some meaning in the English language so that consequential political discussions might once again become intelligible, might want to step away from the party line.

In The Captive Mind, Czesław Miłosz explored how intellectuals living under communism gradually slipped into self-censorship and stylistic tedium by fearfully adopting politically correct modes of expression. To anybody preparing to brave excommunication in exchange for clear thought, I offer some words of comfort from this classic:

When people are divided into “loyalists” and “criminals” a premium is placed on every type of conformist, coward, and hireling; whereas among the “criminals” one finds a singularly high percentage of people who are direct, sincere, and true to themselves. From the social point of view these persons would constitute the best guarantee that the future development of the social organism would be toward good.


Allen Farrington lives in Edinburgh. He studied math and philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. He also writes at Areo and Medium. You can follow him on Twitter @allenf32.


  1. Robert Franklin says

    I of course have no idea what Martin believes/knows and what she doesn’t. What’s invariably true is that “white privilege” or “male privilege” and similar phrases are simply name-calling. Their sole purpose is to avoid addressing the merits of an opponent’s argument. As such they strongly suggest the person using the phrase has no counterargument to make.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Yes, the male white privilege I enjoy must the same as that conferred upon Hitler, Babe Ruth, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Ted Bundy…. Since whites and men are currently hated and put down for all their evils, it seems that privilege makes little sense, or is being hated a privilege?

    • Sylvia hoffman says

      Any “white privilege” my family has was earned by my immigrant grand parents and my parents who worked tirelessly to raise their families. My grand parents came to Canada with very little and managed to overcome the hazards of weather, breaking land to grow crops and the heartbreaks that came along. They helped build the first schools and churches where they settled. They believed in God, family, and hard work. And that is what helped them succeed. They did not expect the government to help them with every problem that came along.

  2. Excellent stuff. I’ve already had the almost border line slur of privilege thrown at me arguing with people to just watch the whole video about the Cov Cath kids. They say they have, repeat debunked lies, and then say I’m only defending it because I have privilege. Eject. Its stunning. There is no way to reach most of them, they boil over with emotion and eject. Too bad.

  3. Christina Arasmo Beymer says

    This “betraying your people” by working hard (competence in any given field) is a horrible group-think idea. I see the erasure of the individual being pushed by these self-appointed activists. They are SO similar to a type of cult leader or clergy. Their followers run with horrible ideas, hardly caring about honesty, or looking at the source material: Scoring grievance points appears to be the game.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Where many blacks “betray their people” is in embracing, even promoting, the negative spiral of “urban” (ghetto) culture glorifying pimps, hookers, drug dealers, and murdering thugs through the medium of rap “music.” There was a time when black families actually had fathers in residence, taught their children positive values, were members of tight-knit church communities, etc. Why not celebrate POSITIVE “stereotypes,” instead of making the most degenerate self-fulfilling prophecies? It starts with unwed motherhood and ends with a permanent criminal underclass. Then they complain about “unfairness” to “people of color.” Maybe white “privilege” is nothing more than resisting a race to the bottom?

  4. I’m white (and male) and readily admit there is a distinct possibility I have advantages earned and unearned because of it. In my defense I was born this way. What would you have me do about it?

    Seriously what would have me do about it. Should roll over on my back and give up my job? My possessions? Am I worth less than a man of color? I’ve personally never knowingly exercised this so-called privilege over another human being. If I’m being obtuse please enlighten me on what I should do about my God given skin color and genitals.

    • Morgan Foster says

      Keep calm, carry on, apologize for nothing, and recognize that most of the world is not your friend.

    • Marshall Mason says

      I struggled with the same frustration when I first heard the accusations. They weren’t blaming me for something I did but something I was. What I eventually realized was they wanted the same thing religious people wanted when they said I’m born a sinner. They don’t want me to stop sinning since that would be impossible. What they wanted was guilt, constant guilt and perpetual repentance.

      I used to work at a web company in the early years, and what we were seeking from our users was what we called stickiness. We needed to addict them, keep them dependent on our product so they kept coming back.

      That’s what your guilt buys them: stickiness. It’s emotional blackmail. If you feel guilty all the time, you’ll need them to repent to, to demonstrate your guilt, to alleviate it somewhat. This is why the outrage mob is overwhelmingly white. It’s a process of public repentance.

      This is a classic absolution racket like the Catholic Church. It’s big business. It wins a lot of donations and votes. It’s a cash cow for political power.

      • stevengregg says

        Liberals want to build a caste society where they are at the top and you are on the bottom, an Untouchable who deals in filth.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Your culture is bad; all other cultures are worthy of respect in a multi-but-not-white-cultural world.

  5. Great article.

    If I may digress, since we’re on the topic of race, I found this quote astounding, not for its content, but for its grammar:

    “We must neither behave as children by resisting honesty, nor allow ourselves to be treated as children by having honesty withheld.”

    How is it possible that an English professor could make such a basic error (the difference between like and as)? I have to wonder if all through McWhorter’s educational path no one corrected him, because it would have been racist. But without equally applied standards, we might as well have none.

    • He’s not an English professor, he’s a linguist, which is a very different thing. Linguistics is about noting and analyzing how people use language, not about dictating how they should use language. The often used motto is “Linguistics is descriptive, not prescriptive”. Many linguists write elegantly but they write in a way that uses the actual patterns of the language, not the patterns dictated by grammar books. Many of those traditional rules have no logical motivation and have little relationship to how language is actually used and are often no more than markers of the writer’s class (“This is the sort of English up with which I shall not put” and all that).

      • peanut galelry says

        This Mark guy gets it. It was a perfectly cromulent sentence in my opinion.

      • Leon Haller says

        I don’t think that’s true at all. [I’m not a linguist (nor an English prof).] All Western grammars are based on an underlying logical structure (“singular noun, singular verb” etc), even if they have their historically-accidentally originated quirks. Others (“don’t split infinitives”) might simply be standardization mechanisms to ensure that we can all speak to each other.

    • peanut gallery says

      I’m sorry, what’s the error? The sentence is completely understandable and could be on purpose. English grammar should be more like guidelines than law. And I could never understand what the hell a gerund was in middle-school. It hasn’t stopped me from engineering or being understood though.

      • Peanut, if you can’t see the error then you haven’t been taught proper English. Like takes an object while as takes a subject and verb. The error is embarrassing. I don’t care if he’s a professor of physics. If you are writing for publication, get it right. And that applies to his editors as well.

        • peanut gallery says

          I guess I’m just a member of the unwashed masses then. I’ve been critical of English “rules” since I refused to believe “one” is spelled with an “O” while trying to memorize spelling words in first grade. I’m now “O” agnostic. I prefer Japanese where the rules are simpler and if it’s understood, it’s probably ok.

          Ok, but seriously, doesn’t what you said mean he’s correct in this usage? “Children is a subject/verb in the author’s intent. Perhaps I’m missing something. And now I wish Quillette would upgrade this comment section or something, because I really want to know, but who knows if Benita will come back here to respond. ಠ_ಠ

        • Peter from Oz says


          Maybe you should learn the difference between British English and American. The writer is British.

  6. Sorry to see that Farrington writes for “Medium,” which appears to be BuzzFeed for elitist twits.

  7. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

    If there is one segment of society I would like to make much more noise, it is conservative Negros. There are so many of them that got what they have on merit, who found the various systemics to be only a minor problem (one even considered it an advantage), and who consider the infantilizing of their people to be deplorable. We have Mr. Hughes here, but so many more should be speaking up.

    • Stephanie says

      @Ray: Agreed. That about 30% of black people earning over $100 000 vote Republican (despite a major proportion being processed by an educational system designed to incolcate against those views) is significant. Ironically, Democrats need blacks to be poor and disenfranchised to preserve their voting base. More representation of black conservatives in the media would go a long way toward alerting the broader population to this conflict of interest and encouraging the values that lead to success in America.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


        Yup. The Victimologists need perpetual Victimhood to keep themselves in business. Successful blacks, like other successful Victims might just stop thinking of themselves as Victims and start thinking of themselves as successful people and throw in their lot with other successful people. The sweet irony in this is that were we to admit to ourselves what we all know as to the ‘equality’ of the races, we’d then be in a position to take honest steps to support their best and brightest and, given time, achieve REAL equality as opposed to pretend equality + the Victim Narrative that ‘explains away’ the uncomfortable truth.

    • Walula says


      Black conservatives & libertarians receive the same treatment as any minority (gay, Latino, female, etc.) of the same political perspective. They are ironically told to shut up & know their place, are reminded they’re “victims” and are “downtrodden,” and are not featured in mass (mostly liberal) media. All this gives the convenient appearance that there are no free thinking blacks. Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book has an apt quote:

      Nowhere is racist exploitation today more obvious than on Democrats multicultural plantations. Even so, we have the strange phenomenon of plantation administrators and accessories – real Uncle Toms – accusing free-thinking and freedom-loving minorities of being Uncle Toms. The vehemence of the accusations shows how much the Democratic plantation class has always hated runaways.”

      In The God That Failed (1950) author Richard Wright was recruited by communists in part because they needed more black faces at the time to recruit more adherents. Not only was he accused of being bourgeois by his fellow black comrades but eventually by the whites too…for the crime of thinking. When Wright wanted to resign, he was told “People would think something was wrong if someone like you quit…”

      Blacks & any minority must belong to the leftist plantation so the world knows how “helpful” the plantation is. Havel’s essay The Power of the Powerless, which the author referenced above, notes that the legacy of “correct” understanding (in this case the term ‘white privilege’) commands “extremely flexible ideology” that he says is almost “secularized religion.” Such ideology has a “hypnotic charm” where all one has to do is “accept it, and everything becomes clear once more.”

      Asking any minority to abdicate their own reason, conscience, and responsibility to the altar of multiculturalism is to consign their “reason and conscience to a higher authority.” When when one god fails, it seems a new one, in this case intersectionality, pops up to soothe or confuse. If you want to hear from conservative blacks, look them up, then actually read their books…that is if your local bookstore doesn’t censor them, as so many do.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


        Thanks, very well said.

        “The vehemence of the accusations shows how much the Democratic plantation class has always hated runaways.”

        How very true. Who is worse than an ‘Oreo’? A Negro who is ‘white inside’, or as we now say who ‘has internalized whiteness’? And how do we know they have internalized whiteness? Because they are successful, and have no time for Victimhood. This of course *defines* success as white. Dr. Ben Carson disagrees and would rather work for Trump.

    • Jerry Travlos says

      Besides the very young and brilliant Mr. Hughes, there are icons Thomas Sowell and Larry Elder, and you can follow Candace Owens, Brandon Tatum, Anthony Brian Logan, The Amazing Lucas, Jericho Green, and even self-proclaimed radical centrist Derek Pilot, aka Some Black Guy. All are independent thinkers, all are black. Ironically, several of these non-conformists are Californians. Then again, I’m a Chicagoan, so I too don’t fit in with my surroundings!

    • Todd W. Clark says

      Both McWhorter and G Loury speak up on this quite a bit….

  8. George G says

    @ Craig Willms

    “should roll over on my back and give up my job? My possessions??”

    yes these intersectionalist just want your resources

    “Am I worth less than a man of color?”

    according to intesectional theory, you have the most unearned privilege as a white man, those with less privilege are inherently more worthy. so yes your less worthy than a man of colour, your worth even less than a woman of colour and god forbid you every cross paths with a vegan, pan-sexual, disabled, trans-gender, midget of colour.

    “If I’m being obtuse”

    your not being obtuse, this dogma is deliberately conceived to exclude you and is is full of convoluted nonsense jargon to maintain its priest class ( woke academics and sjw activist types) and it isn’t meant to be coherent.

    ” enlighten me on what I should do about my God given skin color”

    constant repentance and donation of all your worthy possessions to a more worthy woke person

    “and genitals.”

    root and stem need removed, salvation only lies in excising your inherent toxic masculinity by transforming your self into a beautiful trans butterfly, soaked in artificial female hormones and with your meat and two veg safely contained in a pickle jar.

    Or Alternatively resist that mentally ill dogma with every fiber of your mind and body.

    Freedom is the right to say 2+2=4

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @George G

      Eloquent. So many of us see right thru the whole program, but how do we stop it?

      • George G says

        @Ray Andrews (the dolphin)

        Thanks. As part of the one-eyed in the world of the blind, how do we stop it?

        That’s the million dollar question. Quillette and others have now printed hundreds of article pointing out the modern political problems and their causes; some combination of:

        a dash of Marxism,
        a pinch of Post Modernism,
        snails and puppy dogs tails,
        over the past century there has been a dissolution of community and common religious beliefs / traditions and an increase in individual, narcissistic consumer culture,
        reliance on chemicals to solve mental health problems (psychological pharmaceuticals) combined at a time in the west where mental hospitals were closed in favour of care in the community initiatives.
        this all playing out at a time of a rise of global corporations which are loyal only to themselves and no nation, but these corporation have provided unparalleled prosperity over the last century which has led to most real problems now being solved so things which aren’t actually problems have their perceived threat elevated to give people a dragon to slay.
        Technology is acting as an accelerator to all of the above.

        I think we can honestly argue about the extent to which each of these is a factor but these cover the main forces at play and there some overlap between them.

        people like @craig willm , gives me some hope. This authoritarian force rising on the left has become so prevalent and unreasonable that reasonable people are naturally repulsed by it, though they may not be able to articulate why or know there are alternatives.

        But solutions seem to be thin on the ground, so in the absence of anyone else coming up with solutions here’s “George G’s four step plan for the salvation of western society”, (patent pending).

        1 – Resist Marxism.
        Anyone one advocating Marxism should receive the same scorn as anyone who would promote fascism / Nazism, they are two sides of the same coin. I was inoculated against Marxism by chance when I read Orwell’s 1984 for a high school book report, it wasn’t on the curriculum but I’d mistakenly understood the book to be something like the film Bladerunner and thought I’d like that. That book turned everything I thought about politics on its head, Left-wing =good, Right-wing= bad. I’ve gifted that book to dozens of people since, ironically I’d make it mandatory reading for high school kids, (you are free to read what the inner party tells you to read). Huxley’s “Brave New World” is up on that pedestal too. I’d recommend everyone to read those two books.

        2 – Resist Post Modernism.
        Moral relativism is seductive, it gives you cover to commit objectively evil actions. I don’t have a great prescription for over coming it, I lived that way for most of my 20’s but I was always self aware enough to know when I was doing something objectively bad but negating any guilt with moral relativism. ultimately that way of life is a form of cowardice – a refusal or fear of accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions. I eventually did, and hope most people, grow out of it naturally over time. Post modern art is a great example for the philosophy as a whole, looking at Tracy Emins “my bed” or Duchamp’s “fountain” I think most people see that and their initial reaction is “that’s not art, that crap is the work of a lazy talentless hack”, go with your gut on post moderism.
        Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a great counter to moral relativism too.

        3 – Recognise what’s at stake and support communities that are building a world you’d want to live in
        Martin Niemöller: “First they came for…” is a great poem for a starting point. Brett Weinstein and Lindsay Shepard are canaries in the coal mine, happily they’ve been rallied around and supported by communities like Quillette’s, keep that up anytime it happens. People need to start putting their money where their mouth is, donate / pay for good media outlets. Buy only politically incorrect razors or just grow a toxic beard.

        4 – My ultimate advise is, like Nancy Reagan says ” Just say no!” , don’t acquiesce to activists demands.

        So to pre-empt one of your likely criticism what if the people your speaking to are not listening, and there I’m stumped. “The Woke” are a cult and I have no idea how you de-programme someone who has the ideologue imbedded into their personal identity. I’m all ears on practical ways to do that.

        thoughts welcome

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @George G

          All good, but in the spirit of constructive engagement I’d suggest a point 0 prepended to the above: Declare war. Munich was a nice effort, but it didn’t work. Throw out Nevile, vote in Winston who understands that evil is not to be conversed with, evil is to be defeated. So no, we do not waste anymore time trying to deprogram the woke, we crush them before they crush us. Remembering of course that we have no intention of actually hurting anyone (tho they might be subjected to verbal violence), but we will defund them. We will purge them from our universities without so much as a trigger warning. Eighty diversity officers?:

        • @George

          Getting this ‘privilege’ thrown in your face constantly is tiresome. It happens at my church regularly and I’ve challenged the pastor directly with the question what would you have me do? I get back vague and innocuous suggestions that mean nothing –

          The use of slogans and platitudes is effective at cementing notions in people’s minds that substitute as truth sans any real examination.

          You should’ve seen when my wife learned about mansplaining… It became a great joke around the house, but then she has a brain in her head and knew it was a meaningless slogan.

        • Like the members of other successful doctrinaire groups, SJWs have well-rehearsed ways of deflecting the most common critiques of their intellectual and moral framework.

          However, I am not sure to what degree they can handle ridicule, calmly conveyed and based directly on their framework and its consequent behaviours:

          Tracey Ullman’s “You Woke?” support group:

          They either see this themselves, or are affected by people who have seen it – and it has 3.4M views.

        • TdwClark says

          Add Vonnehuts ‘Harrison Bergeron’ to that Reading List.

  9. Farris says

    “I would certainly not presume to tell black people as a group nor any black individual that I understand their experiences a priori.”

    Yes but when black use the term “white privilege” aren’t they presuming to claim to know the white experience. The statement above is often repeated by whites, so isn’t failing to hold blacks to the same lack of presumption standard a form of soft racism? Isn’t the declarant of not presuming to know the black experience engaging in a type of moral superiority and preening? Why not simply say that one believes it impossible to know the experiences of living as another race? Is it because such a declaration debunks the notion of white privilege?

    • peanut gallery says

      The whole situation with race “privilege” is a bit disingenuous anyway. Will Smith’s son is way more privileged than some white-trash hilly-billy kids that get beat by his father on the regular. Also, being white isn’t a privilege if your someone where everyone is white. The one black guy might be deprived if enough of them are racists, but that’s not really how any of this happens in real life. Poor black people aren’t surrounded by poor white people that are keeping them down.

    • augustine says

      “Why not simply say that one believes it impossible to know the experiences of living as another race?”

      This idea suggests regarding others as genuine equals. Modern liberals would have to abandon some of their major narratives to start thinking like that. If they discovered good faith reasoning and honesty, how would that affect their need to help the disenfranchised and oppressed?

  10. David says

    Articles such as this are why I make a financial contribution each month. Succinct, engaging, not preachy, willing to acknowledge own potential blind spots. While other more dubious outfits are laying off staff due to financial pressures, I would urge anyone who values the breadth and independence of thought on Quillette to make a small contribution.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


      Yup. Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse, but I want Claire to make the comments more interactive first like other sites, where you get email notification of comments and replies. Once you’ve first read an article, you have no way of knowing what’s been added without re-reading the whole thing. It makes an ongoing conversation difficult. Or should I think more like a socialist and contribute first? The capitalist in me feels like I should pay on delivery for a better product.

      • augustine says


        I sympathize with you here but there are advantages to the current format, mainly that it discourages the worst kind of commenting and leavings from trolls. Having said that, the discouraging may have more to do with the content of articles than the comments format. Some things are a mystery to me, such as why some comments have a reply button and others do not. Reply chains could be made less confusing, certainly.

        Finding new comments: you can use your computer’s page search for dates, names, whatever.

    • You beat me to the punch! I was going to ask Farrington why he didn’t mention the “Unpacking Peggy’s Napsack” article.

    • Well, thats the beauty and the purpose of Quillette: To publish authors with dissenting opinions, no?

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


      Thanks. The first of those tightened my guts. Why is there no link to Quillette archives anywhere?

  11. High Plains Drifter says

    Areva can say what she likes as far as I’m concerned. She’s hot!

  12. ccscientist says

    “White priv” is the excuse trotted out when there are other things really going on. The things currently destroying the black community are welfare leading to single motherhood (children without fathers do worse in life), the war on drugs, group-think that disparages education (acting white) and working hard, and men spending time in jail. Going to jail screws up your chances. There are no white people causing any of these things. Did white people come around and break up marriages? No. Did white people say “drop out of school”? no. Of course it is an advantage to have 2 parents and finish school but it is not an institutional priv produced by laws or something. No higher authorities ever came around and helped me out.

  13. lloydr56 says

    Political correctness: the Toronto Globe and Mail did a search at one point, and found that the earliers use of this phrase in something like the contemporary sense was in a book from about the 1930s on the journeys, work and letters of St. Paul. The scholar author asked: why did Paul go to major cities where there were very few Christians, and his efforts may have been largely wasted? The answer was: it would not have been politically correct to avoid those cities. Paul was working to make Christianity accepted if not established in the Roman Empire, and to achieve this long-term objective, he had to consider the views of powerful people.

  14. Gringo says

    Unlike many conservatives and centrists, I am not reflexively unsympathetic to the idea of “white privilege.” In her foundational essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh listed 50 advantages which, she argued, her African American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances do not share with American whites.
    A previous Quillete article noted that Peggy McIntosh had some privileges that most American whites do not have. Unpacking Peggy McIntosh’s Knapsack.

    Peggy McIntosh was born Elisabeth Vance Means in 1934. She grew up in Summit, New Jersey where the median income is quadruple the American national average—that is to say that half the incomes there are more than four times the national average, some of them substantially so. McIntosh’s father was Winthrop J. Means, the head of Bell Laboratories electronic switching department during the late 1950s. At that time, Bell Labs were the world leaders in the nascent digital computing revolution. Means personally held—and sold patents on—many very lucrative technologies, including early magnetic Gyro-compass equipment (U.S. Patent #US2615961A) which now helps to guide nuclear missiles and commercial jets, and which keeps satellites in place so you can navigate with your phone and communicate with your Uber driver. …..So, long before Peggy McIntosh wrote her paper, her family was already having an outsized effect on Western culture.
    Elizabeth Vance Means then attended Radcliffe, a renowned finishing school for the daughters of America’s patrician elites, and continued her private education at the University of London (ranked in the top 50 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings), before completing her English Doctorate at Harvard. Her engagement to Dr. Kenneth McIntosh was announced in the New York Times‘s social register on the same page as the wedding of Chicago’s Mayor Daley.

    Sorry. Peggy, but my privileges knapsack isn’t as heavy as yours.

  15. Blue Lobster says

    The problem with the concept of white privilege is not that it’s necessarily fallacious but that it’s generally misapplied and/or misunderstood. In the United States, white privilege, especially if “privilege” is understood to refer to socioeconomic status and “white” is understood to refer to the Caucasian race (neither of which may be the case for those given to using the term with regularity), as a group characteristic does seem to hold some water when comparing (socioeconomic status) among ethnic groups. However, characteristics correctly attributed to groups often break down at the individual level. Consequently, white privilege, as well as black/brown disadvantage, may be useful notions to sociologists insofar as they specifically refer to a combination of group-level attributes. As has been pointed out in the preceding comments, it’s a reflexively easy task for anyone to think of individual black/brown people whose privilege is orders of magnitude greater than almost any white persons. When my ire is raised at the use of the term, I find that if I simply remind myself of this often overlooked yet critically important distinction, I tend to feel immediately unburdened by whatever offense I may have taken in a momentary lapse of the clarity of thought to which I am generally accustomed. I think the argument presented in above comments that white privilege is essentially nothing more than a schoolyard insult is correct in that the phrase becomes instantly weaponized when used, incorrectly, to describe the character or state of individuals but I also think it’s potential validity is undeniable when used in reference to white Americans as a group.

    • @Blue
      My earlier point stands – what can I as a white person do about it – practically? What does checking your privilege at the door even mean? Is it a slogan or is it practical advice? Advice to do what exactly?

      • Blue Lobster says

        I don’t know, Craig. If you’re privileged you could devote time and money to a charitable cause. If not then take a chill pill or something. Your problems are your problems.

        • Blue Lobster says

          My point was that white privilege is a statistical concept. An individual is not a statistic; a measurement within a sample of a particular population, maybe, but not a statistic. White privilege, socioeconomically speaking, is an attribute which can be applied to the population “white people” because the available data unequivocally support such an analysis. It is a pernicious feature of our national discourse that “white privilege” has been corrupted into an epithet used to silence individuals. How you choose to use this information, if at all, when confronted with such accusations is up to you.

  16. rickoxo says

    White privilege is becoming such an abused term, it’s basic meaning and usefulness is getting lost. I think the main problem has to do with a broad, sociological term that has certain value in describing patterns among populations being used repeatedly in individual conversations.

    Take another concept that works as a general principle at a broad level describing populations – men are stronger than women. At the broadest level, if one could average the strength of all men compared to the average strength across all women, I doubt too many people would argue that men on average are stronger than women. There are many examples of women that are stronger than men, individual men that are weaker than average women and situations where strength isn’t an important factor. But in many situations, strength does matter and in general, men are stronger than women.

    While it’s easy to make a statement like this as a general description, it’s hard to use this general concept in specific, individual conversations. It doesn’t work in individual conversations, all the details and specificity get in the way (does stronger mean faster, does it mean able to lift more, carry something further, work harder for longer, what if tools are involved, etc.). But as a general principle, there are many situations where a broad, descriptive pattern like that can be helpful.

    Complaining that white privilege doesn’t work in an argument between two individuals or in a specific hypothetical case says nothing about the usefulness of white privilege describing a consistent, repeatedly verified description of patterns among populations. Driving while colored data has been replicated repeatedly, responses to resumes with names indicating racial identity data has been replicated multiple times. These are simple examples of white privilege at a broad, sociological level.

    • Ford99 says

      Look, I hate PC culture as much as the next guy. Or woman. It’s childish. It’s stultifying to smart discussion. It’s frustrating when people trot out phrases like “white privilege” when the term doesn’t apply most of the time.

      However, … this article has a nasty logic problem. Or rather a lot of nasty logic problems. The writer claims knowledge of what the woman was thinking. He interprets her words in ways that aren’t necessarily true or even likely. Once he even assumed to know what she assumed (insert LOL here). He mischaracterizes the incident on Webb’s show by indicating she had time to respond. He contradicts himself; first by strongly implying she’s a racist, and then later by saying she isn’t but she’s probably a communist. He says she couldn’t have been misinformed about the man being black. (Why not? Of course she could have been misinformed. Has this guy never worked with an intern?) He also claims that she lied about being misinformed. With what evidence has he inferred intent?

      All of this, apparently, because a woman didn’t know the skin color of a man she was talking to but could not physically see. To say this tripe isn’t credible is an understatement. I’m totally on board with killing PC culture, 100 percent, but if you’re cool with sneaky, sloppy subterfuge like this crap, I’m out. It’s just a different color of bu***hit. Have fun.

      • Charles Murphy says

        ^Poor reading comprehension leads to paranoia^

  17. Luke McGregor says

    White privilege is a complete misnomer.
    What Peggy McIntosh describes is not white privilege, but privilege that comes with being a member of a dominant cultural and above all privilege that comes with being wealthy.
    By classifying her privilege as white, has played into the hands of racists who seek to denigrate by association of skin colour.
    The privilege that comes with being a member of a dominant culture is enjoyed by peoples of all colours across the world. In most Asian countries, the dominate cultures are actively working to retain their culture and position in their society.
    It’s only in melting pot countries like the USA where self flagellating academics seek to redress historical wrongs by labelling groups as oppressors purely by skin colour.

  18. blitz442 says

    “Martin is certainly very intelligent and I’m sure she considers herself to be a highly ethical person.”

    Why do you consider her intelligent? The kicker for me is that when someone lobs the accusation of “white privilege” and then cannot back it up when asked to explain what they mean, that this is the opposite of intelligence. While she may be clever in a rhetorical sort of way, she did not demonstrate any level of analytical thinking in that interview.

    And the rush to blame others for “not prepping her”, this nonapology, does not exactly scream morality.

    • ga gamba says

      You break that down well. She may even be lazy for failing to examine what transpired and instead choosing the easy way out.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Yes, being politically correct automatically means a certain lack of intelligence. In fact the politically correct are the stupidest people on earth.

  19. GregS says

    Anyone who has worked for any time in government, academia or the corporate world has seen plenty of privilege that is not white and male. While there are advantages to being a white male and there are disadvantages to not being, there are plenty of people who will go out of their way to advantage women and racial minorities, just as there are those who will put up barriers in their path – and more and more there are those who will put up barriers to block whites and males.

    • ga gamba says

      If the institution assigns the goal of promoting x, and one’s own career advancement is determined in part by promoting x, then favoritism of x, which is a privilege, exists.

      Perhaps those who decry the isms and obias of institutions and structures are projecting, imagining the evil they appear to practice.

  20. E. Olson says

    “Martin is certainly very intelligent and I’m sure she considers herself to be a highly ethical person. She is a published author and she founded her own law firm after attending Harvard Law School and working in corporate law on Wall Street.”

    Do all these “accomplishments” prove that Martin is intelligent? Do you suppose that most publishers are actively looking for black authors so they can brag about their diversity? Do the publishers give black authors extra “ghost writing” help to make sure their works are seen as intelligent? How many LSAT points was her race worth in her application to Harvard Law? How likely is it that Wall Street law firms actively look for black law school graduates they can hire so they can brag about their diversity? If you aren’t sure how to answer these questions, you can think about whether a white guy with C grades in high school would have gotten into Columbia and Harvard Law, been given editorship of Harvard Law Review with zero publishing history, had mainstream publishers publish two “autobiographies” despite approximately zero life accomplishments, apparently offered a tenure track professorship in Constitutional Law at a top university despite no apparent knowledge of the US Constitution, could be elected to the US Senate despite zero legislative accomplishments as an Illinois State Legislator, and be elected to the US presidency with zero US Senate accomplishment. Affirmative action and racial quotas ensure that no “victim” class member will ever really know how skilled or intelligent they actually are – is there anything more privileged than that?

  21. To the four who commented on the use of “like” vs. “as” (benita canova, Mark, peanut gallery, Cam):

    The sentence is correct if we assume that the second clause is understood to be “…treated as [if we were] children…”

    To Ray Andrews:
    Please have a look at the Glenn Show podcasts at where John McWhorter and Glenn Loury discuss non-PC ways of looking at race.
    Also, please see Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book “Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape From the Crowd.”

  22. Through out history, it was pretty standard for those higher up in the social hierarchy to ‘punch down’ to those (perceived)below themselves.
    For example, in the 40s and 50s, the term ‘Uppity N****r’ would be causally thrown around with a wink and a ‘you know what I mean’ kind of look.
    Now, they are trying to redefine the social hierarchy with their intersectionality philosophies, that puts the minorities at the top and the white christian heterosexual male at the bottom. The ‘White/Male/Anything Privilege term is them now punching down to those lower in their newly defined social hierarchy.
    It’s nothing new, and quite predictable, and almost always ends up with those lower on the hierarchy scale revolting against those above.
    It’s really not helping anybody, and it will never lead to anything good.

    • In Russia, during Stalin’s rise, the term used was ‘bourgeoisie’, or ‘bourgeoisie sympathetic’, and it had the same purpose of punching down to those below you on the newly defined social hierarchy. The result of an accusation was often death, or a trip to the gulag for you, and those near you. The best way to prevent this accusation was to accuse someone else first, and thus being eaten by the alligator last.

  23. Craig Domin says

    Two points of interest that I do not see mentioned in this story (or any other story this subject) are instructive to refuting white privilege:

    1. An error of logic is made from the start with white privilege in that the assumption that because blacks may have been restricted and marginalized in the past, that it automatically follows that special freedoms then fall on other races beyond any cultural norm. This is not true. Because the Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII does not mean that Blacks had “black privilege” because they were not Japanese. And because some African Blacks had slavery as part of their family history does not mean that Whites or any other race today, have special rights and privileges not available to the society at large. Everyone knows that people who are considered unattractive face far more severe and unchallenged prejudice than any other group in today’s world. It has been proven that pretty people, of any race, are far better off than those considered ugly. This does not mean that pretty people have special rights or privileges that the unattractive do not. Height is also proven to affect ones ability to advance and prosper, especially in men. Does that mean short men can claim “tall privilege”? When SJWs are challenged to identity one real world actual right or privilege that Whites have that Blacks do not, they cannot. Why? Because it does not exist.
    2. When these kinds of mistakes are made it is the perfect evidence that the assertion of systemic privilege based on race is false. When thoughts and rhetoric are judged in the absence of racial identity, and facts and evidence are in play it becomes obvious that the claim is nothing more than a sincere cry for a more compassionate, unified world where prejudice has no place. Most people want this. Making false claims based on race will not get us there.

    • Yes, this COULD be helpful. Why I say COULD be? Remember…along with this postmodern intersectionality nonsense, logic is considered white and western as well and thus to be jettisoned. So they can always make any pitiful excuse for their assertions.

  24. I’d like to think that one hundred (two hundred?) years from now, people will look back on this “race” stuff as a peculiar artifact of a fascinating (and fairly grotesque) culture on the brink of developing into an actual Civilization. It doesn’t take a huge amount of intellectual energy to see it all for what it is, even today, as it’s happening: how bizarre/idiotic/laughable most of the conventions of the Dismal Pseudoscience of Race really are. It’s impossible to express how tired I am of the topic and its self-appointed experts (of all colors). I write this as a “black” man who persists in thinking of himself as a Human… nothing more, nothing less and nobody else’s problem.

  25. Carl Bankston says

    “White privilege” has always seemed to me more of a rhetorical slogan than a meaningful concept. In the first place, it assumes what should be demonstrated. Whites may have an implicit advantage over some other categories of people in many situations, but we can’t simply posit a universal advantage that automatically benefits all whites at all times and in all places. In the second place, even after one assumes a universal advantage, the “white privilege” explanation for it is tautologous. Why do whites have generally higher incomes or lower arrest rates than blacks? Because they have privilege. How do we know they have privilege? Because they have higher incomes and lower arrest rates. Third, attributing privilege to whites doesn’t work well as a predictor of social outcomes. The highest incomes, educational levels, and occupational prestige scores in the US are not held by whites, but by Asian Indians, followed by Chinese. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any benefit in belonging to the majority racial/ethnic category or that there aren’t generalized biases that favor whites, but it does mean even assuming those benefits and biases exist, they don’t explain social and economic outcomes very well.

  26. @Craig Domin

    I think we can safely conceptualize “white privilege” (as distinctly separate from the social advantages enjoyed by “whites” who are also wealthy) as a banal effect that barely qualifies as a bonus… usually. When you write, “When SJWs are challenged to identity one real world actual right or privilege that Whites have that Blacks do not, they cannot,” I can respond that being able to browse around in a tonier department store, without feeling pressure to buy, is a privilege my “white” friends practically wallow in… laugh. Not so funny, though, when not being “white” puts one under scrutiny by default. It’s the normal ability to go about one’s business, *without* scrutiny, that’s a kind of privilege that lots of people, having been born into it, take for granted.

    Unfortunately, because “whites” and “blacks” are generally segregated and most people get their “news” from dubious sources, very few realize that poor “blacks” and poor “whites” are living very similar lives. It’s only in the nether-regions of the middle class that that sliver of “normality privilege” separates “blacks” and their “white” colleagues, I think; empirical evidence would indicate, for example, that a “white” couple with x-amount to spend on a house can go anywhere in America, where houses cost x-amount, without fear of being subtly diverted here or there by realtors with hidden agendas. What realtor is going to discriminate against a “white” couple with enough money to spend on their services? Yet we know discrimination happens; some realtors won’t sell to “blacks”; eluding that twist (by default) is definitely a privilege. The many legends which accumulate around “whiteness” (which is, in many ways, a creation of Hollywood) exaggerate this privilege… but it’s a detectable effect nevertheless and why deny it?

    The real point requiring emphasis is that the vast majority of people are Serfs, really, and calculating relative privilege among Serfs is a funny business.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Another area of ‘white privilege’ is in science, specifically the subsliver of natural sciences. I couldn’t be black and expect to have a career as a field naturalist, much less a route surveyor. It wouldn’t be a question of whether I would be accosted, assaulted, and/or arrested, it would be when and how often. My wife and I, who are both white and older, even when together in woods, fields, or even along roadsides, have been questioned often enough as it is.

      • @TarsTarkas

        “I couldn’t be black and expect to have a career as a field naturalist, much less a route surveyor.”

        This reminds of when, years ago, I returned to the US after 5 years abroad. I was staying with an ex who had a dog-walking service; her clientele lived in the even nicer neighborhood abutting hers. One evening she asked me if I could do her the favor of letting myself into a few of the nicer homes of the people whose dogs were in her care while they vacationed. My ex handed me a heavy ring with a bunch of keys on it and told me I just had to let myself into these houses at the crack of dawn and check that the dogs had food and water etc. She thought I was being “just plain silly” when I told her that it probably wasn’t a good idea that I let myself into a string of nice, big homes in that neighborhood at the crack of dawn. “It’s 1995!” she said.

      • Biceratops says


        You and your wife have been questioned in woods, fields and along roadsides? Questioned about what? By whom? How often? What woods? What fields? What roadsides? Your point is completely lost on me. Also, you said you were older so I suppose it could be forgiven, but in 2019, no one has a career as a “field naturalist”. And surveyors are usually pretty obviously surveying.

    • @StAug
      Suppose what you say is true, and I would say it probably is. What do (I) privileged white people do about it? How do we shed our privilege if that’s even possible. I just don’t see what good it does to shame people for something they have no control over. It’s being used to inflict shame on America. Tell me, is this pejorative used in other mixed race cultures around the world?

      • @Craig Willms

        “How do we shed our privilege if that’s even possible”

        “Whites” shed that sliver of privilege all the time; even middle class “whites”… all you have to do, for example, is go homeless or enter the carceral ecology (laugh) at the lower end of it. Doesn’t do “blacks” a bit of good if/when you do. I think what people who have that sliver of privilege should do is be the best people they can (ie, not add to the problem) . Life is not Fair, after all. Who’s worse off: a slender, attractive female heterosexual “black” lawyer or an overweight trans mime of German extraction, two generations removed from wealth? These calculations are impossible.

  27. Correct, it’s about class which, in nouveau riche America, is simply wealth. The Beverley Hillbillies can buy a mansion and O J Simpson can buy ‘justice’.

    • @Pete Smyth

      “it’s about class”

      Absolutely. Class and Lookism as they interact. Really fiendishly complex calculations involved to decide, accurately, where anyone is, on the hierarchy, compared to anyone else. Class isn’t just about money, after all (as you point to by using the term ‘nouveau riche’… the fact that Bernie Madoff could even by arrested indicates that he was actually just a very fancy Serf in a system whose structure is largely invisible to us).

  28. Trajan Fanzine says

    I believe the real anology the author was stretching foe is whats Nuemann called ‘spiral of silence’….

  29. I think the problem with the term ‘white privilege’ is that when someone says it, many people hear that solution to the problem is to take that privilege away from them.

    The real problem is that blacks are disadvantaged (from both historical and modern reasons)
    And when you are disadvantaged, people who are not disadvantaged look privileged.

    I think the solution of removing the obstacles that make black people’s lives harder is much more palpable than to remove the things that make white people’s lives easier.

    It really is semantics, but in this age of slogans and twitter storms, language matters.

  30. Defenstrator says

    I’m surprised so many people here think white privilege is actually an argument with even the slightest validity. Whenever people talk to me about it I point out they believe in black privilege. When they deny it I point out that any argument made of white privilege is equally applicable to a country dominated by black peoples. And of course if you go to China the people there have Han privilege.

    So obviously what is being described is not a specific privilege, but a general majority bias. Trying to characterize it as specific to a racial group is ignorant and racist. Any characterization of privilege that can be reversed by getting on a plane and flying to a country where the opposite racial majorities hold true, or negated entirely by flying to a place where niether is the majority, can not be taken seriously.

  31. Vertice Montis says

    Someone nailed this pretty neatly back in 1961:

    “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”

    — Robert Jay Lifton in ‘Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China.’

    Enough said? Or am I being a thought-terminating cliché here? 😉

  32. Hestia says

    White privilege is a ridiculously laughable concept. My great grandparents were peasants from Italy, who settled in Mass in the early 1900. White? Yes! Privileged? Hell NO! They worked very hard to earn a living and raised a brood of hard working kids.

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