I am not a demographic


Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

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.


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27 Responses to I am not a demographic

  1. myiq2xu says:

    Freddie DeBoer:

    Because, look, this is just true: many educated white liberals absolutely suck at talking about white poverty. Follow enough blogs and Twitter feeds, and you’ll find that many simply lack any vocabulary at all for discussing these issues. For many, this is simply an artifact of a very understandable desire to combat racism and take the problems of racial minorities, LGBTQ people, and women seriously. In some cases, it’s a kind of proud, showy ignorance, a signaling mechanism to other liberals. In fact I wonder if that isn’t why Scalzi was so quiet on class in his piece. People are praising him for making his metaphor palatable for privileged straight white men, and he deserves that praise. But I worry that he was quieter on class in order to make the post palatable to the connected liberals who have shown it such regard. The metaphor is white male approved; the refusal to seriously consider white poverty is Twitterati-approved.

    Most poor people in the United States are white. The percentages are, indeed, higher for black and Hispanic Americans, and that’s a matter of great concern and considerable challenge to all of us. But talk about poverty is so often focused on racial minorities that it risks ignoring salient aspects of the discussion, when most victims of poverty are in fact white. Wave a magic wand and eliminate all non-white poverty in the country and we’d still have a huge poverty crisis.

    It’s similar with education. As someone whose professional life is dedicated to writing pedagogy and literacy education, I frequently interact with well-intentioned white liberals who want to “get real” about our education crisis. They try and get real by making discussions of poverty and poor educational performance solely matters concerning nonwhite children. I have to take the time to explain that, while the percentages are indeed worse for black and Hispanic students, and that fact absolutely matters, we can’t meaningfully make inroads into solving educational problems without confronting them in white students, as most failing students are white and most failing schools are white-student dominant.

    Why is there such a blindspot? I think the causes are multiple. I think, in a way that they would never admit, economically stable, educate white liberals often simply identify with other white people on a visceral level, and they can’t imagine being in the shoes of a poor, uneducated white person. It’s a failure of moral imagination. Second, bias exists for sad and intrinsic reasons, and I think lording it over the “white trash” is a convenient and socially-acceptable way to exercise bias in polite society. Witness constant references to “white people’s problems” and the term “sunburnt” to dismiss all problems faced by white people, which demonstrates the invisibility of white poverty and social discord in the educated white consciousness. Third, I think that this is a quiet example of simple, unchosen racism. When consciously enlightened people assume that all problems in education and poverty are black and Hispanic problems, I think that it speaks to a mindset that simply assumes black and Hispanic failure as a matter of course. Sometimes, that kind of insult can be dressed up as social consciousness.

    • Wow, comments on that one say it all. Bu….bu…bu…working class white people suck!

    • wmcb says:

      What I really love are the ones who say “Yeah, but all other things being equal, white males have the advantage…”

      The problem with that statement is that although it’s true, it’s meaningless, because in the real world, that situation does not occur with any regularity.

      • What gets me are all the comments about white working class people not voting in “their best interests” so they should be written off.

        WTF does that even mean? If I’m poor/working class, I want financial security. Sorry, but a shitty apartment in public housing, barely enough money to feed my family via food stamps, and access to abortions for babies Democrats will never allow me to afford is what’s on offer from the left. How am I not voting in my best interest by rejecting that BS and going with the party who will actually allow me to accumulate wealth? Rejecting Dems means rejecting the modern plantation in my eyes. That IS in my best interests, thank them very much.

        • myiq2xu says:

          It is simply beyond their comprehension that somebody can be intelligent, informed, sane and good at heart but still disagree with them.

        • Exactly. Although to be honest (& in the interest of self-critique) I bought it hook, line, and sinker for 20+ years. I remember actually saying when my daughter was a baby that I couldn’t worry about the money. In some ways I was forced into due to my own economic circumstance, but also by the left’s dishonest rhetoric regarding women. But it was me in the end. I made the choice to resent wealth & the wealthy, ensuring I would never join that class as long as I did. Now I get it. I could fix so much if I was wealthy, and I would be so much more empowered to do so. Now I realize how much time and effort I wasted rejecting that. And I intend to make up for lost time.

    • votermom says:

      The link at the bottom of that post is very insightful.

      http://lhote.blogspot.com/2012/04/anti-racism-as-social-sorting.html

      If you’re like me, with a lot of vaguely leftish friends, you likely will recognize what has become a daily encounter. Someone on Facebook will post an enjoyable, aggressive piece that gets it mostly right, about racism or sexism or various other shitty attitudes. Everybody will click like, people will post their various “right ons,” and in general it will all be a little orgy of feeling good. And, more, feeling better than whoever the target of the piece is. What is unclear is the theory of change, how exactly the ideas being celebrated by the people on Facebook are supposed to spread. I suppose it’s possible that some apolitical people read the links and are inspired. I worry that it’s more likely that the self-congratulatory aspect of these daily spectacles confirms every bad stereotype about liberals said apolitical people have ever heard.

      Long but worth reading, imo.

      • In my own life, truly critical understanding has only ever come from self-indictment. That notion, that greater enlightenment comes first from criticizing the self, is totally alien to the culture of competition that hangs around the trendy Internet like a thick fog. The needy aggression that is the default state of the paradoxically passionate and disaffected digital class, cultivated and commodified so brilliantly by Gawker Media and its sundry imitators, cannot stand the loss of regard that might come from genuine self-criticism.

        .

        This. Yes. Exactly.

        • wmcb says:

          I really don’t see a lot of difference between the casual cultural lefty and the worst of the religious fundies. It’s just as faith-based, self-congratulatory, and dripping with condescending pity for the sadly unenlightened. It’s just as “look how I’m not at all like those people over there – yay me”.

          It’s a religion in all but name. And a remarkably destructive religion, at that.

    • wmcb says:

      Oh, Lord. They are all repeating the tired old lie that poor whites vote R because they won’t vote benefits for themselves, just in case some black person might also get a benefit in the process. That they value their whiteness more than their own self-interest. Yada yada yada.

      This shit is just sad. There is no interest there in actually talking to any poor whites and finding out their own self-expressed reasons for voting as they do. No, it’s all “let me tell you why you do that.”

      Then they move on, after they have informed poor white trash why they vote as they do, to esplainin’ to the them why that reason (the one they just fucking made up) is not a good reason to vote conservative.

      It makes for a nice circle jerk for them, but otherwise it’s pointless.

  2. wmcb says:

    Straight white male is not the lowest difficulty setting, or at least not all by itself.

    The problem with this analogy is that it assumes that the variables of race, gender, and orientation are the only significant ones. And in a world where that were true, Scalzi would be correct – straight white males would have the most “privilege”.

    But it’s not true. Variables of class, of income, of family structure, etc play at least as big a part in privilege as the others. A straight white male who grows up the child of a non-educated single mother in a poverty-stricken meth-riddled trailer park does not have any advantage in society over an upper-middle-class lesbian black woman whose parents have doctorate degrees. He simply doesn’t.

    In the real world there is a whole basket of factors that decide who gets to start out on what base. Race and gender are only two. Are they important ones? Yep. But any given straight white male is only “the most privileged of all” if all of those other factors are neutral. In the real world, they rarely are.

  3. Y’all know I’m a Feminist with a capital F, but I also think white men have been done a disservice in these identity wars. They do and have done a lot right in this world, including providing us with most of our technology and building our cities. They even *gasp* designed this system of government that so many love so much. Are they perfect? No, but who is?

    • indigogrrl1 says:

      Lesbians…. they’re damn near perfect. And they smell good too. (just my 2 cents)

    • Rangoon78 says:

      I can’t disagree with the premise. As a straight white male born in 1946 , pretty much had it my way. The San Francis o fire department hired me in 1969. A few months later a court case was filed to nullify the hiring on racial discrimination grounds. I thought I competed fairly and won the job. I sure needed it with a second child on the way. Well I kept the job and retired after 30 years. Racial and gender balance was achieved in record time after that with quotas and hiring preference. Those whites who were denied positions in the decades following my hire may feel discriminated against. Sometimes I have touch of survivor guilt.

  4. votermom says:

    Kucinich calls it quits.
    Too bad, so sad *plays world’s tiniest violin*
    http://twitchy.com/2012/05/16/beam-him-up-kucinich-departs-congress-twitter-bids-adieu/

  5. Lulu says:

    The biggest threat to elites is merit. They will do anything to attack it or claim it as their own. It has become so out of whack that they claim incompetence as merit and merit as insanity. It has to stop or it will put us in the poor house headed for the ravine. Elites will make up the most ridiculous excuses to attack or nitwit excuses for one of their own that it has reached critical mass. The self interest and protectionism for their own class is destroying it and some are figuring it out. They are now the village idiots.

  6. Oswald says:

    Part of the problem is the use of the word “privilege.” It implies that straight white males get something extra that the others don’t. Most SWM can then truthfully state that they never got any special treatment.

    If you mean that other people face discrimination that SWM’s don’t, say that.

  7. votermom says:

    Two new hashtag games
    #MorePopularThanTheObamaBudget
    and
    #LowerUnderObama

  8. driguana says:

    love this ….I agree…I am not White…if we’re to be hyphenated, then I am European- American…if you want to judge me by my color, according to the Wellborn Paint Chart, I am Crescent Creme…kinda like that….krispy cresent creme….

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