Monday, January 13, 2014

My Problem With "White Privilege"

Anyone who's been following me on Twitter for more than a few weeks has probably taken note of something I like to do every Sunday. I like to use Twitter to identify people pushing the idea of "white privilege" -- the idea that white people enjoy unearned advantage by the simple virtue of having being born white.

Sometimes the debates that unfold are interesting. Other times they aren't. Sometimes the people pushing this idea are up to the task of defending it. More often they aren't. Sometimes they're willing to try. Sometimes they aren't.

But after months of this, I certainly feel like I owe my Twitter followers an explanation for why I plug up their timelines every Sunday with arguments between myself and angry new-age racist lefties. That explanation is simply thus:

The idea of "white privilege" is intellectually offensive.

Note that I said "intellectually offensive," not "emotionally offensive." I have no emotional investment in this idea, and it wouldn't matter if I did; no idea should be dismissed simply because it's emotionally offensive. Intellectually offensive is another matter.

Once considered at any length, "white privilege" is an idea that simply does not pass any degree of muster. It's an insult to the intellect of any individual asked -- although more often demanded -- to consider it.

Purveyors of "white privilege" will often insist that it's a fact, but the idea is at best a theory. But if we treat "white privilege" as a theory we quickly encounter a serious problem: we find the idea of "white privilege" distinctly at odds with what a theory is.

Simply put, theory is used to explain fact. The purveyors of "white privilege" certainly have an arsenal of facts -- the disproportionate representation of people of colour amoung prison inmates, and among those afflicted with poverty being key among them. For those who wish to empathize with minorities, the idea of "white privilege" has a particular appeal.

The problem with "white privilege" is a theory isn't the facts it tries to explain. The problem is that it designates specific facts as ineligible for consideration. To put it most succinctly. under "white privilege" theory, we are permitted to consider racism -- as these theorists most often call it institutional racism -- as an explanation for structural inequality. What we are not permitted to consider is any degree of internal dysfunction within impoverished racial communities. To even discuss these things, "white privilege" theorists insist, is blaming the victim. Purveyors of "white privilege" cast everyone within an oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. To even consider internal dysfunction is even considered an act of oppression.

It would be one thing if facts such as the prevalence of single-parent families among impoverished minority communities were irrelevant to their poverty. For example, we don't expect the big bang theory to explain evolution. But we do expect it to explain why the universe appears to continually expand. Simply put, ongoing expansion is a fact we expect that theory to at least consider, if not produce a plausible explanation for. If the individuals who promoted such theories refused to even consider such facts, it would at the very least be cause for greater skepticism.

Obviously, those who peddle "white privilege" as if it were a passable theory have encountered such skepticism before. Their literature outlines some rather draconian methods for dealing with it: to shorten matters significantly, "educators" who encounter such skepticism are advised to interpret it as "resistance," and to essentially bully their way through it.

Resistance, it seems, is supposed to be futile.

The inadequacy of "white privilege" as a theory is one thing. The sources used to support it frequently rely on specious reasoning based solely on very selectively-chosen evidence. The source material is, at times, actually quite comical. I'll save some of that for a later time.

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