On Difficulty Settings

Once again, John Scalzi sticks his head out and says the things that most people won’t say for fear of getting thumped on the Internet. This time he tackles the concept of privilege, as it applies to straight white males, with a gaming metaphor in an attempt to explain it in a way that doesn’t carry all the baggage of the word “privilege.”

His post is absolutely worth a read.

Privilege is definitely a loaded word, and I can see why Scalzi would want to avoid it. I’ve had my problems with the term in the past, but not so much with the term itself as with the application of it. It took me a long time to understand that not everyone grew up the way I did, but that’s mostly my oblivious-introvert side which is to blame.

I lived in a small apartment in a not-so-wealthy neighborhood, with only my single mom and a handful of friends for company. Until I was in my late teens we only had whatever channels we could get free over the air. We were the last to have a TV with a remote, the last to have an air conditioner in the house, I was the only one among my friends who never had a game console. Those seemed like luxuries then but they feel like the norm now. Life changes. I never went hungry, never went cold, and never missed out on anything I really needed, but I always felt I had less than my friends did.

The point of the concept of privilege is not to say that straight white males can’t lead shitty lives, because some of them absolutely do. We have the same capacity to be dirt poor as anyone else. The same frightening diseases that strike down black and brown and red people come for us too (I know five people personally who have died of cancer, all were straight and white, two females and three males). The point is that all other things being equal, someone living my life who was gay would have faced more challenges than I did. They would have been just as poor and all the rest, but their being gay would have added to the challenges. Same with someone living my life who was female. If my mom had been some sort of coloured, then I would have faced different challenges then too. I’m aware of this.

As I said, where I get hung up on privilege is in the application. I have never taken offence when someone reminded me that my point of view might be lacking perspective because of my straight white male nature. I have, however, become infuriated on a few occasions when people have essentially said, “Shut the fuck up. You’re a straight white male so you don’t know anything. Your opinion doesn’t count.”

Maybe I do know something.  I know that I have fewer challenges than some other people might, but I still have challenges. Shutting people out of the conversation because they’re straight and white and male is not the right approach. Shutting them out because they’re being assholes is fine, but don’t play the privilege card just to invalidate my argument, because that feels to me like an ad hominem. Remind me of my status, sure, but don’t exclude me because of it. Straight white males are maybe the most important people to bring into the privilege conversation, but they won’t come if you shit all over them. Scalzi’s post is definitely a good start, I hope he reached some people.


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