Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Strange Privilege

Modern liberal politics is sometimes astonishing. Take the "privilege" concept. There has been a kerfuffle about the casting of white actress Tilda Swinton in the movie Dr Strange. Her character in the original comic book story was Asian, so it has been suggested that "white privilege" is at play. Margaret Cho, a bisexual Asian-American comedian and actress, criticised Tilda Swinton's casting on racial oppression grounds and she was supported by Omar Sakr, an Arab-Australian poet, in a column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sakr really went the whole hog in his column. Some excerpts:
Of course Cho was polite in her emails; if people of colour weren't polite every time we're confronted with problematic behaviour by powerful white people, we'd be rioting every hour of every day.

...There is absolutely nothing surprising about Cho's emails or her account on the podcast; both will be familiar to anyone from marginalised backgrounds or who faces systemic discrimination.

...Plenty of people have come to Swinton's defence with variations of the line, look how genuine she is, isn't this what we want to see?...Personally, I think a privileged person approaching a member of the underprivileged, whom they don't even personally know, to say "please explain to me how I've participated in your oppression" isn't something to champion...the whole thing reeks of white guilt seeking to be absolved.

...Having plenty to say despite openly admitting you haven't read anything on the subject surely sums up the white condition in 2016 (see: Trump) - in addition to expecting random people to educate you. This, perhaps more than anything, is the most aggravating part of the exchange. The articles, essays, books, and speeches written by people of colour already exist, and the arguments have been made a thousand times. Breezily saying you haven't bothered with any of it is the epitome of privilege.

There's a lot more of the same. The gist of it is the idea that Asian women like Margaret Cho are oppressed by white women like Tilda Swinton and that the role of Tilda Swinton is to educate herself about what an oppressor she is, to admit fault, and to let Margaret Cho have what she wants (and then to get out of the way).

The irony of these "privilege" claims is that it is often the most privileged people in society who claim to be horribly oppressed. Margaret Cho works as an actress, a comedian and an author. She has a national (perhaps even international) audience for her political views. She doesn't stand out as an underprivileged person.

Nor do Asian American women in general. Consider the issue of income. Asian women earn a much higher median income than do white American women (to the point that Indian-American women earn more than white American men).

The following charts come from the United States Department of Labor (2013). The first one shows a comparison of earnings according to ethnicity. You can see that white Americans earn only 67% as much as Indian-Americans. To put that in context, black Americans earn 80% as much as white Americans and that is considered to be evidence for the oppression of black Americans. So you would think that white Americans earning only 67% as much as Indian Americans would be evidence for the oppression of whites. But instead it is the Indian Americans who get to be thought of as oppressed, with whites as the oppressors.

The second chart includes data based on sex as well as ethnicity:

The information here is striking. White males are told over and over that they are privileged both in terms of race and sex. And yet when it comes to median earnings they do less well than Indian women and only marginally better than Chinese women.

And Margaret Cho belongs to a group (Korean women) which clearly earns more money than the group Tilda Swinton belongs to (white women - though she is British rather than American).

Maybe it is time for Asian women like Margaret Cho to stop pretending that they belong to an underprivileged group.


  1. It's great to see white feminists being reminded that they're at the bottom of the heap when it comes to victimology. It's particularly delightful to see feminist Hollywood stars finding themselves victims of the Two Minute Hate. I can't think of anything better than the inhabitants of the sewer called Hollywood turning on each other.

    It's another wonderful example of what Steve Sailer calls the SJW circular firing squad.

    1. The term "SJW circular firing squad" is excellent. And, yes, it is now the turn of white women to feel the heat of the logic of leftist politics. I think this will add to the pressure for a split on the left - we'll probably see some white leftists return to an older style of leftism. But, in doing this, they will become more marginal than they are now.

  2. It's a given that critical race theorists have already formulated responses to this type of data. While this data might move some in the middle to rethink these kinds of issues, the left is skilled in doubling down on their rhetoric. Thus the median income for white men may not be as great as asians, but that's because asians work harder than whites (and they have to work harder than whites who earn the same). Further, the relative financial position of whites is still subject to the influence of unearned privilege. In theory (in a just society) whites should be even lower down the order than they are now because part of their income is a result of unearned privilege. Even the white dustman is subject to this idea. Perhaps in a more fair and less racist world he would simply be destitute and would die on the streets, making way for a black man to collect garbage.

    1. I agree that this is how critical race theorists might react to the data. Even so, the chart runs so much against the narrative, that I think there is a power to it.

  3. The only way to make sense of the term "privilege" is to say it means prejudging you because of your appearance (race, sex) and NOT meaning how good any particular member of a group has it. Since all women make less than their corresponding men, feminists are, of course, going to maintain that men are privileged over women, because when men look at women they impugn certain attributes to them as far as how well they are able to do a particular job, and this is why women make less than women.

  4. Mark, off topic. Have you seen this? . Mentally ill woman is abandoning her husband and two young children to walk to Aleppo to "end the Syrian war". Many such cases. Sad!

    1. No, I hadn't seen it. Coming so soon after the Berlin terror attack, you can only shake your head at women like this.