All posts filed under: Privilege

Privilege and Double Standards at the Kavanaugh Hearings

After weeks of controversy, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as a justice on the United States Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault against him. These allegations deeply divided an already fractured country. Americans watched both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testify before the Senate, and they attempted to ascertain which was telling the truth in the absence of any evidence to corroborate either of their stories of what happened more than three decades ago. One would hope that senators could have worked together to examine the available evidence in a manner that showed respect for all parties involved. In reality, this was far from what happened, as senators from both parties appeared more interested in advancing their own political goals by any means necessary than in making their best effort to discover the truth. Perhaps most outlandish was President Trump’s decision to mockingly imitate Ford’s testimony during a campaign rally, which ought to be condemned by anyone who believes that alleged victims of sexual assault deserve to be treated with respect. Also …

Privilege Versus Paranoia

If you are white and enjoy any level of public platform—politician, professor, policy wonk—and you use said platform to address social issues, you are certain to be accused of seeing life through the distortive prism of white privilege. Black leaders and social justice firebrands will make the allegation in the most austere terms—witness that spicy moment during a recent debate on political correctness when Michael Eric Dyson bluntly labeled his conservative adversary, Jordan Peterson, a “mean, mad white man.” Even those on the Left, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have not enjoyed immunity from this charge. Privilege is framed as a condition that, once acquired, can never be cured. However, it defies credulity to propose that Dyson and other leading social justice voices are alone in seeing life for what it really is, stripped of all parochial subtexts. Common sense suggests the existence of a complementary malady afflicting the accusers: racial paranoia, one might call it. If some are inclined to miss the unfairness around them, is it not equally possible that others see unfairness where none exists? Nowhere …

The High Price of Stale Grievances

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it. ~ Thelonious Monk (Monk’s Advice, 1960) As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. ~ Ekow N. Yankah (New York Times, 2017) In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage. But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at …

A Different Kind of Privilege

If you live your life in and around higher education (including Christian higher education, as I do), then you see and hear a lot of discussion of the topic of white privilege. White privilege refers to the many things white people supposedly don’t have to think about (such as how they are perceived in a retail environment, how they interact with law enforcement officers, etc.), but which are bigger issues for African-Americans and perhaps other non-white persons. At the same time, there is a growing critique of the slice of Americans (a recent Atlantic essay characterized them as the 9.9 percent) who dominate American life as the winners of a meritocracy. Americans have typically been friendly to the idea of aristocracies of talent as opposed to aristocracies based on blood and family, but increasingly there are fears of a ‘cognitive elite’ that is becoming increasingly cohesive through geographic, educational, and marital clustering. The worry is that this group is driving economic stratification faster and further than old aristocracies ever could. Against this backdrop of ideas …

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 …