Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Meet me at Camera 2: White Privilege

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    Actually, I think that "privilege theory" is one of those academic ideas (like Baudrillard's concept of Simulacra and Simulation) that don't really map into the "real" world.

    It's keenest exponents are US academics. I'm sorry, but if you are a tenured academic at Berkeley, for instance, then notwithstanding your being African-American, trans-gendered and having a quiver full of "genuine" disabilities like non-coeliac gluten intolerance or whatever, you are still better off than practically all the six billion other people in the world. Even if people are reflexively nasty to you if you're dumb enough to visit (in person or online) the more unpleasant backwoods of the planet, you can still get in your Tesla, drive home to a nice apartment and spend several hours cooking yourself a nutritionally appropriate meal.

    Also, it's part of an obsession with language. Let's look at that esteemed liberal institution, the University of California at Berkeley. Use the wrong words to describe non-white people there, and you will be in serious trouble. However, for the last sixty years, tucked away on a mesa in New Mexico, UCB has run a lab developing a range of nuclear and non-nuclear means to kill said non-white people.

    Yeah.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Great post, Russell. Especially the last paragraph. I loathe the pointscoring that goes on around some discussions of privilege (and other topics), and I think it's destructive. But trying to remember to be mindful of one's privilege is a good approach. No need to feel guilty about something that you didn't make happen, but do be aware that it helps you in all sorts of unexpected and often invisible ways.

    I quite like John Scalzi's analogy too: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. The analogy of course breaks down, because analogies usually do, but it's another useful way of grasping the concept.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Also, it’s part of an obsession with language.

    All that drives me nuts. But I wanted to put it aside and acknowledge the reality of being the default. As I said on the programme, my way in to it is through my sons and their reality – and believe me, few things make me angrier than petty pointscoring over "ableist" language.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    If anyone hasn’t already seen it, XTOTL’s cartoon on privilege (via The Wireless) neatly sums it up. And yet another real-life example has surfaced in the form of Brandon Lipman. (Of Auckland, that is, not of San Francisco.)

    If there’s only one thing right now that makes me threaten to break my screen in half, it’s when privilege, cronyism and nepotism are repackaged as ‘bootstraps’ and ‘honest hard work’. It’s a favourite marketing ploy of the nouveau riche, and sadly it works all too well - a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the Peter Principle.

    Whenever you hear such hypocrisy from such people, just add the following disclaimer: “Terms & conditions may apply.”

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5443 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    That cartoon just got a link from the Huffington Post.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Lott, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    However, for the last sixty years, tucked away on a mesa in New Mexico, UCB has run a lab developing a range of nuclear and non-nuclear means to kill said non-white people.

    This may be pedantic, but I think those bombs will kill you regardless of your skin colour. And, regardless of what you think of its origins, and indeed of military research in general, it does need to be pointed out that Los Alamos National Lab does more than just weapons research.

    Waitakere • Since Aug 2009 • 113 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And yet the comment thread underneath it is still depressingly full of people who aren't getting it. :(

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Let's look at that esteemed liberal institution, the University of California at Berkeley. Use the wrong words to describe non-white people there, and you will be in serious trouble. However, for the last sixty years, tucked away on a mesa in New Mexico, UCB has run a lab...

    Sounds as if they're simply mindful of the lesson dealt by history. The overwhelming majority of physicists involved in the Manhattan project were Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe, whose presence in the US was mostly due to their being stripped of privileges to a life-threatening degree in their homelands.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Shaun Lott,

    This may be pedantic, but I think those bombs will kill you regardless of your skin colour.

    It's not about whether the weapon, when used correctly, will kill. It's about who the weapon is most likely to be used on. And overwhelmingly, those weapons are used on poor brown people. The chances of any of those weapons being used against, say, the US bankers who broke the world economy recently is indistinguishable from zero.

    Which is exactly privilege.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Deborah made the point on her blog that White Male Privilege is like thinking you are great on your bike forgetting about the tail wind going your way, you just don't notice it
    I haven't worded as well as she does but it is a good analogy

    You are not always aware of how easy your life is thanks to race etc

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 578 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I quite like the idea of using privilege against itself. Being the white bloke who stands up and derails a panel that's talking at the women present by saying "hey, you rich white men are ignoring the experts on this subject who are right here"... is more likely to be productive than the existing discussion.

    Also, I love using bicycles as an example of privilege, because most people can ride a bike but know which side of that particular privilege they'd rather be on. Unfortunately too many people just say "I don't wanna" and that's the end of it.

    There's a quote about it being hard to get someone to understand something that their job depends on them not understanding. And that's a big part of the problem with privilege. What benefit does a privileged person get from acknowleging it, and it needs to be more than "you stop yelling at me" (they can usually just leave and get the same benefit).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Moz,

    I quite like the idea of using privilege against itself. Being the white bloke who stands up and derails a panel that’s talking at the women present by saying “hey, you rich white men are ignoring the experts on this subject who are right here"… is more likely to be productive than the existing discussion.

    Yep, it often takes a Nixon-in-China approach to take a lead.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5443 posts Report Reply

  • krothville, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    What you're missing out on there is 'intersectionality'. So a disabled Berkeley academic's dis-privilege intersects with the privileges that go with coming from a rich family, for instance, being white, or being educated.

    If, for example the Chancellor of Auckland University was Maori, they would have the dis-privilege of being more likely to be pulled over by the police while driving, perhaps, intersecting with the money and power of that position.

    Since Sep 2014 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • James Hart,

    I personally think our economic system and the way it is organised (drives other inequalities) is a more pernicious power structure that people should focus on. But, yeah, I'm an educated cis heterosexual 'white' male with two parents and no disabilities from an urban area, so I guess I would say that. I think a better setup is everyone being mindful of their power and how they acquired it, no matter the context.

    Onehunga • Since Nov 2006 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    The white middle-aged middle-class non-disabled employed man is the norm against which all other people are measured. It is surprising how few of them recognise that, or realise that they are in reality such a small minority of humans.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Deborah,

    I loathe the pointscoring that goes on around some discussions of privilege

    What are they? Genuinely interested in what you interpret them as.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Moz,

    Which is exactly privilege.

    Thanks.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    like thinking you are great on your bike forgetting about the tail wind going your way, you just don't notice it
    I haven't worded as well as she does but it is a good analogy

    You are not always aware of how easy your life is thanks to race etc

    Ok as a brown person, it feels more like the tyres are flat on your bike, you get them repaired and check it out, all good ,go into pay the bicycle repair man and someone comes along when you are in the shop and slashes the tyres. The repair man says ''well they were fine when you checked them" another $10 to fix them now. One step forward two steps back.
    Imagine being shy or autistic while not being white. No win ever.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    An example that irks me in society.
    T'other night on the news some doc had a medical tribunal hearing over his prescription of drugs for sports people regarding performance problems. He was issuing these pills for hormone enhancement for an enormous range of problems many of which were not related to the drugs ability. As he left this hearing he walked chatty with his lawyer to the escalator where a young woman was also approaching. She saw the 2 of them and stood aside so they could walk in front of her to embark on the escalator. WHY?? She was first.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    As he left this hearing he walked chatty with his lawyer to the escalator where a young woman was also approaching. She saw the 2 of them and stood aside so they could walk in front of her to embark on the escalator. WHY?? She was first.

    Likely she's been walked into too many times and has decided that her safety takes precedence.

    If that irks you using the roads in Lakemba would drive you batty.

    One thing I notice is that many of the headscarved women drivers give way to everything. Which makes some intersections really ugly, because they have no problem driving half-way across an intersection then stopping to let a car that they have right of way over turn across in front of them. Which is at best slow because not all other motorists go "it's wunna them muslim nebbishim, I will walk all over her" and drive through. Of course, the ones that do drive through can be found by listening for the crunch when they find a headscarver that doesn't defer to every other car on the road :)

    That's a clash between "a woman shall defer to any and every man she meets, leaving her owner to sort out precedence problems", and the Road Rules. periodically this nearly kills me and I decide the Saudi solution is appropriate. ("nearly kills me" is not being used as a figure of speech in this case).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Moz,

    I lived in Sydney for 11 years. Worked in Redfern, central city and other areas. Know what you mean, came home disillusioned. So tired of the prejudice..

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • merrica,

    White? Check. Well, mostly puce really. Depends on the sun.
    Male? Last time I checked. Yes.

    Also part Romani. Lucky I grew up in Nz where being Roma doesn't hold the stigma ot does in Europe. Mind you, we never told anybody our background all the years I grew up to avoid the possibility I guess.

    Get a bit funny about the idea of privilege. I know it's there...but I don't know if it has quite the influence people say it does.

    NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • oga, in reply to merrica,

    Get a bit funny about the idea of privilege. I know it's there...but I don't know if it has quite the influence people say it does.

    Said the white male. As another white male who experiences barriers from able-bodied privilege, I find the bike/car analogy to be quite effective in communicating the nature of privilege to people with privilege (white, male, not disabled).

    What my bike has taught me about white privilege

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    No need to feel guilty about something that you didn’t make happen, but do be aware that it helps you in all sorts of unexpected and often invisible ways.

    Well... exactly. To be blunt, straight white middle class "guilt" is no bloody use to me or anyone else. Perhaps, just perhaps, not going on air and suggesting black people in Baltimore just need to "calm down" or bending over backwards to explain how unarmed black men bring being shot down on themselves -- and conveniently hand-waving off any acknowledgement of systemic racism whatsoever? Yeah, that's useful. With all due disrespect, Rich, that's not academic wank.

    And, yes, please take it all personally and get obsessed with language -- because the way people of colour (and women and LGBT) get talked about and to in the workplace, the media, politics at every level, the courts and police stations? It's personal. It has consequences -- because words mean things, and they form actions. And none of us -- NOBODY -- exists above and beyond that.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I have middle class privilege. I have secure housing (currently). Both my parents attended boarding school and university during the Depression and barely noticed it. We were all expected to get not only university qualifications, but post graduate ones. So having a child with an impairment who will not follow the family model is both challenging and beneficial for us all.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

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