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.
He's arguing that straight white males have manipulated the settings of society so that they get to have the easiest time.
That's the standard left-liberal position. Left-liberals want a society in which there are equally autonomous life conditions. That would mean that there would be no differences between the races when it comes to educational or professional outcomes. But such a world doesn't exist.
Why not? The left-liberal answer is that one group in society (straight white males) created a series of false categories to oppress all those who were "othered" in order to enjoy an unearned privilege. The structures of racist/sexist oppression are considered to be systemic.
The left-liberal solution is to deconstruct whiteness and masculinity at a systemic level.
That's obviously not such an appealing prospect for the average non-liberal white male which means it's perfectly understandable for white men to react negatively to claims about white privilege.
What are the problems with the Scalzi left-liberal position on race?
First, it's not even true that whites do best in the U.S. when it comes to employment or education or family outcomes. As I've pointed out before (here and here) Asian Americans do significantly better.
The U.S. Census Bureau just recently released data on which groups in America are most likely to have university degrees. As you'd expect, Asians did the best (were the "most privileged" in Scalzi's terminology):
Asians are the most highly educated group of Americans, with more than half with a bachelor’s degrees or higher, the Census Bureau reported on Thursday.
Among groups of Asian Americans 25 and older, 74 percent of Taiwanese and 71 percent of Indians had at least a bachelor’s degree, the agency said as part of its release of American Community Survey data on hundreds of racial, tribal and Hispanic groups.
The comparable figure for the U.S. population overall is 28 percent.
Whereas 31% of white Americans have a university degree, over half of Asian Americans do. It's a significant difference.
Of course, someone could jump in and argue that the difference is because Asians value education more, or have stronger family support, or have higher average IQs and so on. But that would then illustrate another problem with Scalzi's left-liberalism. He assumes that if whites (at 31%) have an advantage over, say, blacks (at 18%) it's because whites have an unearned privilege. But if Asians have earned their advantage through greater effort or talent, then why can't whites? Why treat whites differently?
What Scalzi ends up doing is to take one relatively successful group (not even the most successful) and tear it down simply for being relatively successful. It's a case of punishing one group for doing the right thing (valuing education, holding together a strong family life etc).
In that sense, the left-liberal position is perverse.
Finally, note too the triumph of ideology in the left-liberal position. The ideology tells Scalzi that whites are dominant and so he continues to believe that they are a privileged group with the system rigged in their favour at the very time that in the real world whites are sliding demographically.
His concern ought to be that whites are in too vulnerable a position right now and what to do about that, but he is too blinded by his ideology to even register that whites might be in difficulty.