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Thread: A discussion on privilege

  1. #1

    Default A discussion on privilege

    Something about the idea of “Privilege” has bothered me ever since its rise to prominence (perhaps not the right word) amongst various communities.

    To start, I’m referring to the idea of “Privilege” as used to describe the idea that one might have certain inherent advantages conferred to them, by no merit or action on his or her part, by way of long-standing social structures and/or fortunate traits intrinsic to the person. For instance, white privilege describes the advantages one gains in American (and other) societies by virtue of being white-e.g. a societal presumption of good or neutral intention (compared to a presumption of guilt or negative intention for Blacks), ability to go about one’s business largely free from harassment by law enforcement, and the like. There are all sorts of privilege identified these days-white privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, male privilege, thin privilege, and on and on.

    Let me make it clear that I recognize I have a lot of privilege in our society. I’m white, male, identify as the gender that matches my sex, educated, gainfully employed, financially stable, a homeowner, and not considered ugly or unattractive by many. I recognize I will likely leave an encounter with law enforcement relatively none the worse for wear. I recognize I can walk down the street at any hour with only nominal concern for my physical safety. I recognize that if I were to be in an armed encounter with someone of a racial minority, all I really need to do is make sure the bullets go in the front and that I was convincingly “afraid” for my safety when questioned.

    Conversely, I’m gay, an Atheist, have a distinctly rural accent, and grew up in a working class family. I feel like I have to work harder to prove myself than do those who came from middle- and professional class families. I was the first of my family to attend college, so I had to figure all that out for myself. I have to deal with the lack of legal recognition of my relationship and all that comes with that lack of recognition.

    Onto my discomfort. I feel like this whole idea of privilege is used as a weapon, as a cudgel, against those who disagree with the agenda of the accuser. It seems to me the idea of privilege, while nominally intended to spur societal conversations with the aim of changing things for the better, is mostly used to lessen the experiences, ideas, and convictions of those with opposing views. Someone suggesting that weighing 300 pounds is unhealthy is accused of not understanding because of their thin privilege. Someone who has overcome plenty of challenges and suggests that people need to overcome their own challenges is told (direct quotes here, copy-pasted from their source) that “Remember your privilege. Not everyone has the ability to do what you've done in terms of overcoming triggers, etc,” and “I'd really prefer to not try ro [sic] argue with you about hetero privilege, especially as a straight, married, white man. I mean, we can go there if you want, but... I think the "people thought i was gay so i experienced what actual gay people deal with for their whole lives for a small period of time" card is not such a great card to play.” I’ve known this person since high school, and he’s about as sympathetic to “the cause” as you can get. Yet, the instant he suggests that some people need to take action to help themselves, this is what he gets. And I see it all across the web.

    I feel like this whole idea of privilege is not encouraging conversations. It’s stifling them. It’s telling some people that they don’t have the right to speak on certain topics. It’s telling them they have no right to have opinions on certain topics, even if they’re otherwise allies for “the cause.” It’s telling them that their feelings, their experiences, their challenges, their frustrations, and their fears don’t matter. They’re not sufficiently pure, they’re not sufficiently victimized by society, they’re not sufficiently experienced, they’re not welcome and their opinions aren’t welcome and their support isn’t welcome.

    And it occurs to me, as well, what good does pointing out all this privilege actually do? Does anyone actually think that broad swaths of society will feel so bad that they’ll willingly give up what they have? Will all those thin people who work out all the time and carefully watch their diet and forego delicious bacon and sweets and chips suddenly stop doing that and let themselves become less attractive to society so that heavy people feel better about themselves? Will white people suddenly start telling cops about all the stuff they’re guilty of doing?

    I don’t mean to suggest we should continue treating people poorly. Our law enforcement and legal system should not presume Black people are immediately guilty. A white guy should not be able to just make sure the bullets go in the front and claim fear and then get away with it. Thin people with great bodies should not walk around calling larger people names or mocking them.

    But, there’s a gulf of difference between conducting one’s self in a courteous civilized manner and piling on disadvantages to make someone else feel better. There’s a gulf of difference between asking people to conduct themselves in a civilized fashion and suggesting that anyone who disagrees or just doesn’t agree enough is not allowed or entitled to speak or have an opinion. There’s a gulf of difference between making victimhood part of one’s identity and rising to overcome one’s challenges.

    So help me out, my friends. Am I way off base here? Is there something I’ve missed? Am I onto something? I’d love to get some other insights into all this.

  2. #2


    I think that one of the reasons privilege is used as such a cudgel is a relation to how the structures that grant societal privilege are used against those who are unprivileged. However, I think the worst offender in the world of privilege bashing is the Tumblr Social Justice Warrior™ (Hereafter, SJW). I find that users of that site who consider themselves SJWs tend to have more extreme views on privilege. I think that some kinds of privilege that get claimed are overinflated. However, Tumblr has a knack for this overinflation. There are definite levels of privilege. Race is a much larger source of privilege than thinness, for example.

    I myself have privilege from being white and from being born male and presenting as such. I also am better educated than many people.

    However, as a genderfluid person, I have neither the privilege of having my gender match that which I was assigned at birth nor the privilege of having my gender widely recognized or legally recognized. I am atheist in a nominally Christian country. I am asexual, and in a relationship that would legally be considered gay.

    Today's big issue seems to be race. The SJWs would be quick to attack me based on my whiteness if I am not sufficiently apologetic for the circumstances of my birth. If I am too apologetic, I cannot own the issues in a way that allows for progress. There is a very thin line to work with around SJWs. However, not all people interested in social justice topics would fall under the umbrella of the SJW. What is the defining trait of the SJW is the almost militant feelings towards those who have privilege, as if someone needs to apologize to brown nose levels for the benefits they gain from the circumstances of their birth. The SJW

    As to privilege being used to quash conversation, I think that it is a gross misapplication of the idea of privilege, and that those who use privilege this way are being counterproductive to their own cause. Privilege is meant to encourage conversation, just as feminism was originally a movement to promote equal rights for the sexes. However, as movements and discussions gain steam, radicals will come along and attempt to poison the well. In equality movements, this comes in the form of supremacy movements that support the idea that one group is inherently better than another. I believe that the poison in the privilege well is the SJW, and that until we find a way to get past the SJWs who abuse the idea of privilege for self-flagellation or silencing others, we cannot have effective conversations about it's effects. Unfortunately, privilege has invaded so much of the landscape of social justice that it is holding very many movements back.

    Yes, privilege politics is hurting discourse. However, the idea of privilege was not intended to do so.

  3. #3


    I agree that using the idea of "privilege" as a tool to spur conversation is worthwhile. However, it is not a way to negate the ideas of another person in discussion. What bothers me is that those who use "privilege" as a response in their arguments, rather than discussing the topic at hand in a meaningful manner, are not trying to use it as an argument, but as an excuse.

    I've had plenty of challenges I have had to work through to get myself to where I am today. I worked full-time to put myself through college. I got married and had kids while still in college, working full-time to support them while obtaining my degree. My hard work paid off in a good job, that I bust my ass at and get paid rather well for.

    Some people say it's all 'male privilege' or 'white privilege'. These people look at what I have achieved, the struggles I have overcome, and claim I got here simply by being born the sex I am and with the color skin I have. Their arguments are that they cannot get to the same point because nobody will give them a chance, after all, they aren't the right sex or color. Then they sit back and don't even try.

    You know what? I recently interviewed a man for a position in our company who was black. This was a technical interview, as this is for a highly skilled position. He was incredibly good, and we hired him. We have women working as engineers in our company. We don't hire them for affirmative action reasons (those days are gone, thankfully). We hire them because they're good.

    Society might see someone who is black as questionable, while most people with lighter skin are ignored. The change needs to come from all sides. Don't want to be thought of as a thug or hoodlum? Don't act like one, dress like one, or hang out with the ones who do.

    We might see overweight people as an issue. I got one overweight guy here at work trying to bust my chops about the money having to be spent for health care on me when I broke my leg skydiving. The cost of a broken bone is nothing next to the care he needs on a regular basis for his heart problems and diabetes. So, the exercise I get to stay in shape and take care of myself is now a "privilege".

    So are those people who argue "privilege" complaining about a true privilege, or are they just using it as an excuse for their own lives? I agree Tumblr is probably one of the worst places for offenders of this sort. Someone says something to a SJW woman on there, she claims PTSD and blames all men for their "privilege". Meanwhile, three women who were held captive as sex slaves by a monstrous man don't claim this, and don't see all men as bad.

  4. #4


    I'm glad to finally see so many discussions on this topic.

    As someone who has a ton of privilege I think recognizing privilege, and listening to people who have significantly less than me is important. Some might people try to lesson my accomplishments, and they're free to try. I have no reason to get defensive about it. I have had an easier path than my women, minority, gay friends. It's easily quantifiable. That doesn't mean I don't have to work for things. It just means I probably have less obstacles than many others. Not being sympathetic and empathetic about it would make me an indifferent asshole, and being an indifferent asshole doesn't do me or anyone else any good.

    Some people might preach that privileged men shouldn't take part in the discussion. I think that's a good strategy if you want to turn people away and make sure they never listen to you. If you're trying to ensure the conversation will come to a logical conclusion, then it's a terrible strategy.

  5. #5


    While social privilege is a pretty intuitive concept, I prefer not to bring it up simply because it's so misapplied. In my experience, people are very fond of ascribing to themselves low privilege and to others high privilege, which is not a very productive exercise. Moreover people are usually only willing to accept certain kinds of privileges as legitimate. Usually privilege is applied in a way to reinforce people's prejudices.

    For example, I've been lectured on "white comfort" (a subset of "white privilege") even though I experience no such thing and don't consider myself white. But if I bring up that the circumstances of my birth are in many ways underprivileged, e.g., because I did not receive U.S. citizenship, people try to diminish the significance of it because it does not fit their prejudiced notions. I don't mean to be too anecdotal, but it's certainly been my experience that the introduction of "privilege" into a discussion has always degraded it, regardless of what theoretical value the concept has.

  6. #6


    I've always found it to be a simple ad hominem attack used by an unhappy person to explain how powers beyond their control have held them down.

    I was born into a family with two crack-smoking parents, but it's the fact that I'm a white male that makes me earn six figures a year? How convenient for me, though I know plenty of white males who are on the verge of losing their houses.

  7. #7


    I get the privilege thing, but the latest uses of it I've been so confused how it applied to the message of the person writing it.

    Anyways, it seems the use/idea of it is(/was) to counter the notion that if "x just applied themselves," or "y tried harder," they wouldn't have the social issues that plague them. Using on anything outside of a response to that kind of message/context seems a bit odd to me, but I'm also not the most SJW person either.

    The term is a bad one to begin with, it is pretty abrasive and abrasive isn't going to get people to listen or consider a differing point of view. If anything, in my opinion, it causes people to ignore any real discussion and/or stay out of it, and the last thing that needs to be done is to encourage people to not discuss. Even if it is not meant to be, privilege is (likely) going to come across as belittling and attacking someone, it doesn't really inform or create discussion or further a cause. One of the issues I have with a lot of "movements," they have too many people trying to support/speak for them, and many simply create bigger wedges then bring people together (mostly as they get too passionate, use phrasing and wording that piss people off and put them on the defensive and yeah).

    An off the cuff example:
    Poster A: If black people studied harder and cared more about school, they wouldn't be poor!

    Poster W: Check your privilege! you'd struggle too if you had to go to a poor school with little funding and bad teachers.

    Poster R: I agree that studying and caring about doing well in school is important, however the fact that many schools in poorer areas perform much poorer then middle class-upper class school districts creates a disadvantage for even the hardest of studiers. We should look towards successful programs done by these schools, as well as better means of funding, so that those who are black, white, asian, etc., that study and care about school can succeed no matter where they are born.

    Kind of obvious which I think is best, but yeah which seems much more likely to create a good discussion and which will just run the poster off/make them get defensive?

  8. #8


    I think the issue is overblown by media and politicians. Privilege isn't quite a myth, but its damn close. Those I know with physical handicaps prefer to make their own way with as little accomodation as possible.

    I do know a few blacks who constantly drop the race card, but they're the sort who refuse to make the effort required. Accomodation and affirmative action wouldn't help them regardless. Most know its on them to get where they want to go.

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by Maxx View Post
    I think the issue is overblown by media and politicians. Privilege isn't quite a myth, but its damn close. Those I know with physical handicaps prefer to make their own way with as little accomodation as possible.

    I do know a few blacks who constantly drop the race card, but they're the sort who refuse to make the effort required. Accomodation and affirmative action wouldn't help them regardless. Most know its on them to get where they want to go.
    I suppose this is approaching the other extreme.

    Two questions: One-do you believe everyone should be afforded equal opportunity to succeed? Two-do you believe everyone is currently afforded equal opportunity to succeed? I'm talking at the overarching level here.

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by GoldDragonAurkarm View Post
    Two questions: One-do you believe everyone should be afforded equal opportunity to succeed?
    A trick question, or perhaps just naively simple. Do you mean by hatchet, axe and saw, as posited by Rush in my youtube link? Or perhaps removing variability via gestation tanks and collective child care like 'Brave New World'? Maybe even a committee to select Master Race DNA to remove all chance of inequality?

    Then there's the question of success. Who gets to define it so that we can be sure all have equal opportunity to get it? What happens if my idea of success is different than the approved version?

    Two-do you believe everyone is currently afforded equal opportunity to succeed? I'm talking at the overarching level here.
    Yes, insofar as government is able to legislate it. Of course everytime you write another law to enforce "equality", other new inequalities and unforeseen consequences squirt out the side as a result. Its a game of whack-a-mole, with Government as the Whacker, responding to this, that, or the other group protesting some slight, real or perceived.

    No matter what you do, some animals will be more equal than others, whether by luck or design. Even in the perfect socialist state, where you maybe don't keep score with money, those with the power become more equal than others.

    And no matter what you do, some people would rather blame others for their shortcomings rather than do what it takes to fix them.

    I'd prefer that government stick to the basics. Thou shalt not lie, murder or steal, beyond that leave it to the people to sort it out themselves. At the overarching level....

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