I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.
So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
I confess – I am a straight white man. I can’t help it, I was born this way. Do I have it easier than some people? Without a doubt. Do some people have it easier than me? Oh, you betcha!
But I’m a person, not a demographic. There are a lot of other characteristics that define me besides race, gender and sexual orientation. I am left-handed. I went to a public school. I am college educated with a post-grad degree. I live in California and I am an American citizen. I was born in Germany. I am a military veteran. I am overweight and suffer from male-pattern baldness. I am in my fifties.
Assuming I enjoy some kind of privilege, exactly what am I supposed to do about it? Am I supposed to let all non-white, non-straight, non-males go ahead of me in line? How privileged am I compared to Sasha and Malia Obama? Should they get preference for jobs or college admissions over my grandsons? Money is the best privilege to have and I don’t have it.
I didn’t ask for any privileges. If I apply for a job I want to compete with the other applicants on a level playing field. But even though the field is level, some players will always be bigger/stronger/smarter/faster than the others. That’s life.