GREETINGS MY RANDOM READERS!
I got a message from a close friend today.
Her two daughters ended up in a confrontational conversation about 'white male privilege' with her roughneck/blue collar boyfriend.
She sent me a few messages--reaching out to “another white male”--because her and her daughters felt like the boyfriend didn't understand his privilege--and he was playing the victim--and expecting them to help him understand the whole argument and digression.
My friend called me, because I’m "a white male who understands his privilege", and she was looking to start a conversation about the whole thing. She said she wanted a bit of help. ...but I had just woke up.
I wasn't ready to conversate. I wasn't even sure that I "understand my white male privilege", and so it got my mind spinning. I started turning things over in my head.
Turns out I'm kind of liminal on the whole thing!
I don't find the concept of “privilege” super useful as we use it in our current society. I’d say it starts fights more often than it opens clear dialogues.
But I also don't think that these alleged privileged positions are "simply a myth" like so many people might claim when they’re being confronted with the idea of a privileged position. (It might be: white, or male, or class/status positions, or race, etc.)
Two things came to my mind immediately--as I was getting some coffee in me-- and those two things were auto parts and internet cartoons.
Please let me explain:
It made me think about all of the times I’d been in a position to send a woman into an auto parts store, usually with a semi-complicated task. Things like: ordering a vintage voltage regulator, or to buy replacement brake pads or to swap out an alternator or a starter. This is basic stuff if you’re ‘just one of the guys' and you’re doing work on cars.
But in my experience--and I've been in this situation at least a half dozen times--if you send a woman into the auto parts store, (especially a young or attractive woman), typically the men at the parts counter will treat them like shit.
They’ll charge them a different price than they'd charge another man. They’ll be condescending to them, and they talk down to them. Maybe using a patronizing sing-song type of voice.
Most of the time (when I've been in this situation), I've had to go back to the parts counter alone and insist upon proper parts and pricing. And sometimes I'd be tempted to 'rip the parts guys a new asshole’ for their shitty behavior towards these women.
So now I gotta ask: Is that an example of “Male Privilege”? My gut feeling/answer would be: “Yes”.
Now for the “Internet Cartoons” example:
The other thing that popped into my head as I was waking up and ruminating on the topic of “Privilege” was a little internet cartoon about Systemic Racism.
The video focuses on comparing the experience of a “white male” child to a “black male” child by following their upbringing and schooling, and comparing their family histories and incomes. The video is giving examples of societal disadvantages foisted on black families via policies like “Red Lining” and “Inherent Bias”. It’s a good video--even if you disagree with its assumptions--because it’s concise and straightforward. Please give it a click if you’re gonna keep reading.
So, with these two examples, I feel like I have a handle on my “own position about White Male Privilege”. I’ve got my “MALE” example with the auto parts experiences, and I’ve got the “WHITE” example with “Red Lining” and “Inherent Bias” from the video.
So I’d say I started my day (via my friends prompt for dialogue), by answering this question for myself: “Do I believe in White Male Privilege?”
And the answer was YES.
(Key Takeaway Point: before I could be sure, I had to use my internal investigation process. I was able to give myself pre-existing examples of why I’ve experienced both WHITE and MALE privilege. If we are not thinking about WHY our answers are yes or no, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.)
So where does that leave us?
I mean, I wasn’t planning on writing a whole fucking article about privilege this morning! But the writing process is helpful. I wasn’t really awake enough to engage in a potentially contentious conversation when my friend 1st called. I was just trying to honestly understand my own position before I dived in with “trying to help” this white woman, and her white daughters, and the white boyfriend…
But wait. That line of thinking opens up a can of worms.
Are they all white people? Are “WHITE” & “BLACK” even useful adjectives in these types of situations? My knee-jerk reaction is no. They are not. My friend is part native and the “baby-daddy” of the two daughters was at least half Puerto-Rican…
I mean--I assume the boyfriend is “white”--but I’ve never asked him. So I guess... he looks white?
Is looking white a good enough reason to presume people are white? Can we say the same for “black people”? I’d say “NO” on all accounts. All races and ethnic groups are more complicated at their core than the “black or white” name tags we’ve grown up with.
So--to have a more genuine dialogue--we’d have to add a bunch of nuance. We’d have to get a lot more specific about what any “named group” of people really "are", instead of slapping a label on them, just to keep the conversation flowing. I’m not gonna digress here. That’s a whole nuther can of worms. I’ll just leave you with this:
If you know the conversation could become an argument--STOP--invite the participants to consider the "definitions of terms". if they can agree on terms, then 'make an deal' that those definitions CANNOT change during the course of the conversation, even if there are disagreements.
(If you can all do that, you’re on track to have an honest dialogue. If you can’t, then in my opinion, you’re wasting your time you're probably leaving the door open for a fight.)
Now let’s get back to the main subject and see if we can draw this whole thing to a close.
I’ll quickly give my “hot take” on the whole dramatic interlude.
I know all of these people well enough to make a few presumptions,
I mean, I could be wrong, but I'm going with it anyway:
Here’s my presumptions:
The boyfriend is “white” and was raised by “white folks” in a rural “white town”
The two daughters are “white” but they’ve come to embrace the idea that being white (and male) comes with inherent privilege--and--they expect the rest of the world to either agree with this position or to “be unwittingly wrong” i.e. ignorant.
The mother, (my friend), agrees with her daughters’ positions--but--it’s not a hill she wants to die on. It would be nice if “White Men” would become aware of their alleged privilege. It’s also unlikely that most of them will, and for her, that’s okay.
So, with my list of 3 presumptions, I’ll say this:
Acknowledging and managing emotions are the key to sorting out problems in this type of conversation. Another presumption we see in most societies is that “men are logical and women are emotional”.
Now we’ve got two “whole nuther can of worms” type situations.
...and I’m not going to digress with that one either.
[I can write articles all week! and I’ll do it too, but you’ll have to praise me or PAY me if you’re expecting fast & consistent results.]
Ironically--in our example of today's “heated exchange between the daughters and the boyfriend”--one of the main complaints from my friend and her children was that the boyfriend was “playing the victim” and also “expecting them to educate him”. It was him who'd brought the conversation up, but when he got answers and input that he didn’t like, he was offended or confused, and I'll assume he started making excuses and defending himself.
So if the key to continuing the conversation in a healthy way is “managing emotions”, what would that look like?
My answer is this:
“ALL PARTIES INVOLVED” will be happier if they admit that they have biases, attachments and presumptions that may or may not be correct. It’s not just the boyfriend who’s philosophical position might need to change. It’s also not just that the daughters are “wrong” and need to be “corrected”.
when emotions get stirred up, and folks are not considering their own attachments, that’s when “blaming and condescending each another” becomes a default position. This is how we end up yelling at each other, or crying, or storming off, or even erupting into violence, if we’re not careful.
So how do we avoid it? How can we manage the tough conversation without it collapsing into everyone shutting down--finger pointing--and getting stuck in their own stubbornness or only defending their own position?
Well, one tool I’ve found (and I use it regularly) is called “Non-Violent Communication”. I find it super helpful in these types of situations. I've outlined the core concept here:
“When I see ______, I feel ______, I need to know ______ and what I want now is ______.”
So if we’re using the “daughters vs. boyfriend” disagreement about “White Male Privilege”, it might look like this:
“When I see emotions getting heightened, I feel upset and uncomfortable. I need to know we can all continue and still respect each other, so what I want now is for the discussion to remain calm or to be postponed until we can continue in a relaxed and easy way.”
I’ve memorized the above sentence, and I will put it into practice whenever I’m getting heated or upset. It works great if you’re on the phone disputing a charge to your bank account, or even if you’re arguing with your lover.
This is the main takeaway: If you use the word “YOU” it puts the other person on the defensive. Once a person becomes defensive, the benefits of having a dialogue start to disappear.
As soon as I’m defending my position and making points to “prove I’m right and you’re wrong”, then we’ve started losing the ability to understand and help each other. This typically ends with people “feeling superior” or imagining that the other person is just “stupid” or they’ll “just never get it”. But that’s not true!
Here’s a great graphic that goes along with the above sentence:
Most of us do this kind of thing naturally. We almost always want to avoid conflict. But it’s nice to know there’s a developed system called “Non-Violent Communication”. I found a few other useful graphics. If you’re reading this and you want them… You can send me a private message or an email.
From what my friend told me, some version of this was able to happen in the “Privilege” conversation. And even if emotions were high, people didn’t start attacking each other or threatening to end their relationships.
I’m only going to say only a few more things, and then I’m done with my spontaneous privilege article for this morning.
Another useful practice is to search out origins.
After I thought it over--and confirmed that I “did in fact believe in some form of white/male privilege”,--I immediately questioned “why” and started to do even more introspective work.
I googled "WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE" in quote marks, and I searched for it on Google--AND--on DuckDuckGo.
(I don’t trust Google and neither should you. Google is full of censorship and inherent bias. It’s not even pretending to be neutral anymore.)
DuckDuckgo.com is an alternative search engine that also has inherent bias. They claim to be a good alternative to Google and in some ways they are. But If you do ‘parallel searches’ using both search engines, you can immediately see where they agree and disagree. Keep in mind that a good metric when “comparing search results” is to notice “how far down the page you have to scroll” before you get the controversial and/or taboo results.
Here are my two sets of results:
Along with comparing and reading a few links from each search, I also seeked out the origin of the term “white male privilege”.
It’s a newer term. Only came around in the 1980s. That makes it pretty young as far as philosophical/intellectual concepts go. Many people dismiss it out of hand based on this fact alone.
Even with comparing search engines’ results, you’re not going to find the “full blown dissenting opinions” about whether or not ‘White Privilege’ or ‘Male Privilege’ are useful concepts.
It might surprise you, but, there are definitely both MEN and WOMEN that think it’s a toxic concept. And they think it should be tossed on the rubbish heap or discarded forever.
It’s good to observe that this privilege concept--despite being young and lacking nuance--is not given a fair shake by ANY search engine.
To find the people articulating the “get rid of it, it’s trash” position about the concept of privilege, you’d have to really dig deep. You’d end up on websites that most people would consider taboo. Examples of these websites might be those that are proudly chauvinist or racist, or sites where women espouse traditional gender and marriage roles and fully reject feminism or modernity etc.
If a person is willing to do that kind of digging, and has an open heart and mind towards the people who believe those things, sometimes they’ll find that they can gain a better understanding and be less offended or demanding when disagreements arise.
The very last thing I’m going to address here is the difference between a “high preference” and a “demand”.
I learned about this from The Plant Yourself Podcast.
It was the episode with Dr. Michael Edelstein. He was discussing his book, “Three Minute Therapy”, and the conversation was focused on whether or not “guilt and shame” were useful tools for self improvement. You can find the episode here:
Dr. Edelstein’s main point that really stuck with me was about “preferences” vs “demands”. He says that having demands--on ourselves or others--is a mistake. But having a preference or even a high preference is ideal.
Long story short--if we have demands--we’re just fooling ourselves. You can’t demand to be heard in an argument, or to get a refund at a restaurant, or demand that your needs be met in any way.
But you can have a high preference. Most of us have high preferences in a lot of areas of our lives, and when we let these preferences slip into the position of “demands”, we suffer. And the people around us suffer. If you’re making demands of any kind, you’re probably being unreasonable.
The reason is: Having your "list of demands that must be met" is just not part of reality. If you’ve ever tried to get a 3 year old to clean up their room, or force a drug addict to be honest and help with the dishes... Then you know that your demands are futile. Demand all you want! Nothing’s likely to change.
What you can do is have an extremely high preference. When you see your preference is not being met, you can attempt to communicate that to the other person. You can do this over and over again--and with as much empathy and compassion as you can muster--and if your preference is never met, then you can express your dissatisfaction and set a boundary against whatever is going against your high preference.
In today’s example, with our ‘conversation about privilege’, I would say that both parties have some high preferences that are masquerading as demands. These young girls (and their mother) are passively demanding that the boyfriend become more self aware of his position as a “White Male”, and start to change the way he thinks and acts about it. They would prefer he'd change how he engages the world around him.
The boyfriend likely has his own high preferences also disguised as demands. He’s demanding to be understood from the “White Male” side, and he's also demanding to be given more information if he’s expected to figure it out.
So what can we all do in this type of situation?
We can use careful communication and be sure that there’s a need for ongoing dialogue, and if there is, we can try to remain in a state of empathy and open mindedness for “the other”, and when we can’t do that, we can agree to delay the interaction until later--or even until “forever”.
Thanks for reading, and please comment or send me a message if you have ideas and input about the messages I’ve shared here today.