You don’t have to be racist or sexist to benefit from white or male privilege. You just have to live in a society where racism and sexism exist. (More)

“I just don’t see the paved open road in front of working class whites”

So declared Tom Maguire in response to an excellent essay by Shaun King. Most of King’s essay quoted comments by San Antonio Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich for Black History Month (podcast) and more recently about athletes protesting racial injustice:

There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change. Whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable. And especially white people, because we’re comfortable.

We still have no clue what being born white means. … Yes, because you were born white, you have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there. And they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it. It’s too difficult. It can’t be something that is on their plate on a daily basis. People want to hold their position, people want the status quo, people don’t want to give that up. And until it’s given up, it’s not going be fixed.

Maguire refuses to accept that:

If Pops [Popovich] wants to talk about class privilege, or middle-class white privilege, fine. But ‘white privilege’ did not leap off the pages of “Hillbilly Elegy” and into my lap. I’m sure Hillary can find lots to deplore about working class whites and I suppose they are privileged relative to the deeply impoverished of any race, but I just don’t see the paved open road in front of working class whites that Pops seems to envisage.

Obviously I am insufficiently woke and will be reporting back from the re-education camps.

Yes, Maguire, you are “insufficiently woke.”

The image at the top of this article is a highly-simplified social pyramid with monied white men at the top, working class white men roughly on par with monied white women, and working class white women with people of color at the bottom. The percentages are roughly correct: non-Hispanic whites are about 60% of the U.S. population and white family incomes are roughly equally distributed through the five quintiles. But a truly accurate, fully intersectional representation of privilege in U.S. society would be much more complex.

Even so, that highly-simplified pyramid is useful. It correlates pretty well with studies of housing inequality – working-class white families are more likely to live in ‘good’ neighborhoods than are wealthy families of color – as well as with studies of race and gender bias in résumé responses, and race and gender bias in small business lending.

Studies show that racism and sexism correlate with social dominance orientation, the belief in a ‘natural’ hierarchy that tracks with ‘human biodiversity’ (i.e.: the superiority of whites over people of color and men over women). So racists and sexists look at that pyramid and think: “Well yeah, that’s how it should be!”

Now, here’s the deal. You don’t have to be racist or sexist to benefit from white or male privilege. You just have to live in a society where racism and sexism are still common among people with power and influence.

If you’re a white person applying for a job or promotion, it doesn’t matter whether you think whites are generally superior to people of color. What matters is whether the person reviewing your résumé believes that. If the reviewer does, then as a white applicant you’ll get the benefit of the reviewer’s racism … whether you want it or not.

Similarly, if you’re a man applying for a job or promotion, it doesn’t matter whether you think men are generally superior to women. What matters is whether the person reviewing your résumé believes that. If the reviewer does, then as a male applicant you’ll get the benefit of the reviewer’s sexism … again, whether you want it or not.

If you’re a white person jogging in the morning, it doesn’t matter whether you think white people jogging are just fine but a black person jogging is probably running away from a crime. It matters what the racist person calling 911 thinks, and what the cop thinks when he responds to that 911 call. If you’re a white jogger, that racist person won’t call 911 to report you a “suspicious person.” Had you been a black jogger, you’d probably be stopped and asked for ID … or worse.

If you’re a man jogging in the morning, it doesn’t matter whether you think a man jogs to get exercise but a woman jogs to show off her sexual availability. It matters what the sexist asshole driving or walking by thinks. If you’re a man, that sexist asshole won’t bother you. Had you been a woman, he’d make catcalls … or worse.

As a white man jogging in the morning, you didn’t ask to be left alone by the paranoid racist and the predatory sexist. You may think their paranoid racism and predatory sexism are disgusting. Even so, they didn’t bother you … because you’re a white man.

If you’re a white man, those and countless other interactions go just a little more smoothly than they might have … because you’re a white man. No, you don’t get every job or promotion you apply for, and it’s not as if you never get hassled while you’re out jogging, or riding a bus or subway, or walking down the sidewalk, or browsing in a shop. But if there are racists and sexists in positions of power, your odds as a white man are a bit better … whether you want those advantages or not.

To reject the existence of “white privilege” and “male privilege,” you must believe there are no racists or sexists in positions of power, or too few to matter. By logical inference, you must believe the data that show a social hierarchy are merely the ‘natural’ product of ‘human biodiversity,’ the just desserts of individuals’ strengths, weaknesses, and choices.

You know, the same thing the racists and sexists believe….

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Image Credit: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)

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Good day and good nuts