Friday, February 14, 2014

Privilege and the Progressives

On Downton Abby it is easy to tell who is privileged and who isn't. In the modern way of reckoning, though, everyone on the show is privileged. In fact, most of the population is now figured to be privileged by some reasoning. In fact, no matter how poor and powerless someone may be, he may still be the beneficiary of privilege. This article has a list of ways white benefit.

This list is rather strange. There are a lot of false assumptions such as the very first one: I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. Is it really so impossible for minorities to spend time with other minorities? This is also rather perverse since a white who wants to spend time exclusively with white would be proof of racism.

Several other points assume pervasive racism. Other points are subjective. Number 6, I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented, does not apply to sports. This almost makes a case that black privilege exists. This same is true of number 12: I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented...

Note I am assuming from context that the author is black. An Asian would have more trouble with these points but would not be complaining about other points.

The point of identifying people as being privileged is to de-legitimize them. The self-identified underprivileged are easily offended. Katy Perry was roundly criticized becuase she wore a kimono at the America Music Awards even though her performance was low-key and respectful.

Wellesley College near Boston is another example of outrage over privilege. The campus recently installed an outdoor statue that is a realistic representation of a slightly pudgy, middle-age man sleepwalking in his underwear. One complaint about the sculptor was "Mr. Matelli comes from a place of great privilege which has apparently been used to place a sculpture of the white male body on campus. I find it weirdly invasive."

Keep in mind that students enrolled in Wellesley are privileged by most standards. This is an exclusive college.

A much more virulent example comes from the Huffington Post. In a piece entitled "The Blindness of Privilege in a Time of Oppression", Writer James Peron, takes issue with a (lesbian) member of the Austrian Olympic team who said that Russian oppression is blown out of proportion. Peron's argument includes this assertion, "Iraschko-Stolz speaks from a unique position of privilege, one denied to actual victims -- namely LGBT citizens of Russia." Peron's assert, "No one suggested gay athletes would be harmed by the laws -- on the contrary, the Russian government would make sure privileged athletes are protected from anti-gay vigilantes. Given that Iraschko-Stolz is unwilling to challenge those laws -- medals are more important to her -- it is unlikely she will be bothered in any way." This is inaccurate. There were very real fears that gay athletes would be discriminated against and despite numerous assurances by the Russian government, there was still some apprehension. Peron seems to be upset that an athlete who is gay and who has fought for years to have her sport (women's high jump) included would be more concerned with competing than crusading for gay rights.

Later in the same piece, Peron takes on Rachel Maddow. Maddow, who is gay, says she sees no need to get married. Like the athlete, Maddow is apparently expected to do what is best for gays instead of herself. Peron continues:

A lot of the problems created by the second-class status of gays can be mitigated if you are wealthy enough. Maddow is, and then foolishly acted as if all LGBT people were in her position. Maddow's special financial situation means she can protect herself in ways that other people cannot. She looked at things from a position of privilege and falsely assumed everyone else had the same status.

Iraschko-Stolz is doing precisely the same thing. While "privilege" is often used to describe the position of straight, white men, that is not entirely accurate. Many people -- even lesbian athletes -- can have privileges that others do not, some by circumstance, some as the result of government policy.

This whole thing of defining people by privilege is destructive in a democracy where all people are supposed to have an equal voice.

No comments: