Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Back To It, Almost

with 10 comments


When I put up that link in the last post, my intention was to come back the following day and outline what I felt was so very wrong with it.

And there is a lot that is very wrong with it.

But it’s February, and cold, and I have one of those non-sickness sicknesses that makes me fuzzed out and then feel fine an hour later and then…yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Excuses are us.

But today is different.  Partially that’s because it’s a bit warmer–something that ALWAYS happens before the last major nor’easter of the season, which is ALWAYS in the first week of March, and which is now predicted to arrive here Monday.

Partially, it’s because this keeps bugging me.  So let me get on with it as far as possible.

First, there’s the title:  This Comic Perfectly Explains What White Privilege is.

If that’s the case–if this comic is the most perfect explanation possible of the whole idea of “white privilege”–then the concept is even more ridiculous and incoherent than I thought it was.

And a lot of people who claim to be rational actors making decisions only on science and evidence are…well, just say cheating that principle a whole lot.

Her first point is that “I’m 78% more likely to be admitted to a university because of my race.”

The italics are mine, because they matter.  And if anybody could prove this, it would be spectacular evidence of “white privilege,” or something “privilege.”

“Privilege” is an UNUSUAL and UNEARNED advantage.  If Yale and Vassar are going around saying “we’ll only take 3% of the class in African Americans because we don’t want black people here and we’d rather have white ones,” then that would be “privilege.”

And we’ll avoid, for the moment, commenting on the fact that that is exactly what they do to Asian applicants.

I’m hoping to get back to the complete absence of Asians in this “explanation” at a later point in the post.

Unfortunately for our cartonist, her only “prove” that a higher percentage of whites than “poc” are admitted to universities consists of the statement: “A poc with my exact same grades has only about a 22% chance.”

Now, statistics are often misleading until put into context, but this one is worse than that.  It’s entirely meaningless.

“Grades” don’t even begin to tell the story of adequate preparation for college work.  Academic standards vary widely across the country, and even across states.

An “A” in senior year English from a school that requires a 20-page research paper and the reading of four books and 3 Shakespeare plays to get there is not the same thing as an “A” from a school that never requires more than a page-long book report and restricts its reading list to short pieces and excerpts of Shakespeare “translated” into modern English.  An “A” in senior year math from a school where it consists of introduction to Calculus is not the same as an “A” from a school where it consists of pre-Algebra.

That’s what the SATs are for–to let colleges look past the grades and see what they mean.

What’s more, a “poc”–as long as the color isn’t yell0w–isn’t less likely to be offered admission (and lots of money) from an elite university than a white person, but many times MORE likely. 

That’s what affirmative action is for.  In fact, a “poc” (not yellow) can expect to be given a 100-300 pt advantage on the SATs from any of the top 20 schools in the country, and on every level from undergraduate to medical school. 

Elite universities are flat out desperate to admit “poc” any way they can get them, and they’ll fudge benchline standards, throw fists full of financial aid dollars, and do anything else they can (for instance, shoring up sports teams with extra players and awarding admission for athletic ability) to get within screaming space of their “diversity” goals.

White applicants with the exact same boad scores will not be offered admission, and Asians with the exact same board scores will be laughed out of the room.

And that doesn’t begin to go into other issues, like home and ethnic cultures.

The reason these things never say anything about Asian students is that Asian students defy all the “explanations” of “privilege.”  They’re often immigrants or the children of immigrants who came here poor and often live in poverty throughout their childhood, but they still outperform everybody else.

If you’re going to talk about college admissions rates and “privilege,” then  you’re going to have to deal with the achievement gap and the culture gap. 

And that means two things, neither of which people like this cartoonist want to touch with a ten foot pole.

1) You’re going to have to bring standards in inner city schools up to the standards at places like Andover and Wilton, IN WHICH CASE you’re going to have to accept that, for a generation or two, high school graduation rates are going to be much lower among “poc” than they are even now.  (Because it takes a while for culture to catch up and it never does in the first generation.)

2) You’re going to have to give up the idea that all cultures are equally worthwhile for all purposes and accept that getting “poc” into elite universities at the same rates as everybody else will require deliberately eradicating the culture many of them live in now and replacing it with one that valorizes achievement, intellectuality, and education. 

Note something about number 2 above, though.

That only holds IF what you want more than anything else is to increase the numbers of “poc” in colleges and universities.

Cultures have different strengths and weaknesses, and the consequences of some will be different than others, but not necessarily without value. 

Her second pt is that “The likelihood that I will go to prison in my lifetime is about 4-11%.  A poc’s chances run to about 44-50%”

My big problem here is that this isn’t “privilege” of any kind–it’s the default setting. 

It is not the case that most of us go to prison and only a privileged few get not to.  In a free society, most people–the vast majority of people–don’t go to prison, and shouldn’t. 

This statistic would only be evidence of racism–either individual or “institutional”–IF it was the case that “poc” committed no more crimes than white people AND that the circumstances of thse crimes were comparable.

But this is not the case.  Not only do “poc” actually commit larger numbers of crimes per capital than whites (never mind, again, Asians, where the crime commission rate is in single digits), but the circumstances are almost never the same.  And disparate circumstances bring disparate sentences.  Getting caught with an ounce of marijuana gets you one sentence if that’s all you’ve got on you, and another if you’re carrying a gun or a knife.

People like this cartoonist tend to try to get around problems like this by leaving out the details in cases they then proclaim to be “just the same.”

The most egregious example of this kind of deliberate obfuscation concerned the fate of an African American woman in Florida named Marissa Alexander, who was said to have “fired a warning shot” at her abusive partner and been convicted, instead of let off on a stand your ground defense, which we were told she would have been “if she were white.”

Of course, George Zimmerman wasn’t white, either, but that’s another mare’s nest.

The problem with the Marissa Alexander case is that it was not in any way comparable to the Trayvon Martin one. 

Not only did Alexander leave the scene once to get a gun from her car and then come back to use it, she stopped again at a neighbor’s house to make phone calls, she told three or more stories to the police on the night of the incident.  It went on and on and on.

What’s  more, the actual issue was whether the trial court should have allowed her to stage a self defense (of any kind) defense, and the appeals court voided the verdict and set Alexander out on bail because the trial court didn’t.

The Stand Your Ground law is very bad law indeed, but it’s bad law not because it’s “institutionalized racism” but because it’s subjective law.  It depends on the subjective feelings of the shooter, and subjective feelings are, by definition, not objectively verifiable.

Of course, if we reject subjective law, we’ll have to reject a lot of what now calls itself sexual harassment law, and sexual harrassment regulation.  Which may be why people like this want to scream “white privilege!” instead of dealing with the problem.

Her next point is that “a white male with a criminal record, is 5% more likely to get a job over a man of color with a clean record.”

I’d look into this if I could, but I can’t, because the only reference she gives for it is “jamietheignorantamerican.tumblr.com”

Let’s just say I’m skeptical.  Were there comparable levels of education and training?  Were the crimes similar, did they all contain similar elements (like drug use, sexual assault or violence)?

I don’t know, and I can’t find out, so we’ll just leave it there.

As to her last point–that media outlets report more on black-on-white crime than on black-on-black, white-on-white, or white-on-black crime…eh.  Media outlets provide what sells, so maybe they do.

On the other hand, white-on-black crime is in the single digits, Asian-on-anybody crime is even lower, and it’s entirely possible that they’re just reflecting both the actual statistical rate and the particular circumstances of the crimes in involved.

On the other hand, having  had some experience with media, they could just be making it all up.

As for that last bit–“white privilege is the privilege to be ignorant of the world around us”–it’s not only nonsense, it’s profoundly morally evil.

Guilt is individual and intentional.  If either of those two are not in play–“institutional” this and “not meaning to” that–then what the purveyors of “white privilege” tropes are peddling is UNEARNED guilt.

Not only do I not think you should “educate yourself” based on such charges, I think that anybody who accepts unearned guilt perpetrates great harm against all the rest of us.

People like this artist should learn to be profoundly ashamed of themselves, and NOT for having “white privilege.”

Written by janeh

March 2nd, 2014 at 11:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Back To It, Almost'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Back To It, Almost'.

  1. Hmmm. Well, the cartoon was just about exactly how ridiculous and incoherent I thought the “white privilege” argument was, so there’s that.

    If I might contribute something to the panel on biased crime reporting? We do not, sadly, live in an age in which there is so little violent crime that it all makes the front page or the Five O’clock News. Drunks get in knife fight: not news. Householder takes shot at intruder: usually not news. Domestic argument with violence: SO not news. Someone kills total stranger horrifically: news every time. Woman passes out drunk and winds up in bed with someone: not news. Woman is drugged and has sex with date: probably not news unless he’s famous. Man breaks into house and rapes someone who doesn’t know him: news every time. Inter-racial crime is disproportionately the sort of crime which is news, and would be even if we were all green.

    The cartoonist’s slightly brighter accomplices point out that a black man convicted of murder is more likely to be sentenced to death than a white man convicted of murder. True enough. What the accomplices leave out is that Black men commit disproportionately “special circumstances” murders: murders or strangers, accompanied by rape, torture or mutilation–the sorts of things for which the death penalty is actually applied. And a black man convicted of special circumstance murder is LESS likely to be sentenced to death than his white counterpart.

    If you want to make a case for white privilege, you have to pick your statistics VERY carefully–“with malice aforethought” might be the right way to phrase it.


    2 Mar 14 at 12:28 pm

  2. If your arguments are based on what you personally feel strongly to be the truth, any statistics are there merely for ornamentation, or perhaps as a bit of window-dressing to show how modern and scientific your ‘thinking’ is. You aren’t actually examining the data and the statistical analysis in order to figure out what valid conclusions you can draw. And never forget, facts and figures are boring.

    I’m no statistician and have forgotten most of what I learned in the basic courses I did do, but I was taught by a good professor. A frequent class exercise was to take a published journal article and explain to the class what the strengths and especially weaknesses were in the design and the analysis of the results. Mind you, this was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, since they were mostly education journals, but I am still automatically suspicious when I see lonely figures unaccompanied by footnotes to something I can check out that supposedly “prove” something or other.


    2 Mar 14 at 4:33 pm

  3. Perhaps I should pay more attention to US newspapers.

    I’d never heard of “white privilege” and assumed “poc” included Asians!

    We have statewide exams at the end of High School and its been noted that the children of Asian immigrants have been doing very well. I gather that the same is true in the US. Why hasn’t anyone filed an antidiscrimination suit against the universities?


    2 Mar 14 at 4:46 pm

  4. Uh, JD? We have, repeatedly. We hire Harvard and Yale lawyers to go before a Supreme Court made up EXCLUSIVELY of persons admitted to those schools and against a Justice Department which takes orders from another admit, and argue that the system which admitted them is flawed. It’s like telling generals there’s something wrong with the promotion system. We don’t win much, and in the meantime the newspapers call us racists. The most recent defeat was Michigan, but if you wait a few years I’m sure you’ll see us beaten again.

    Personally, as far as I’m concerned a school not supported by tax money ought to be allowed to pick any sort of Freshmen they want–but then I wouldn’t be telling bakers in Arizona they had to bake wedding cakes if they didn’t want to either.

    A school which collects tax money, as far as I can see, ought only to be concerned with proven intellectual ability and performance to date. Every now and then a state agrees with me and passes a law to that effect. Then the entire staff and faculty collude with various “civil rights” agencies to evade the law.

    You thought the law should apply to everyone? And that the law should be obeyed even if one disagrees with it? Not how things work in the modern progressive era.


    2 Mar 14 at 5:31 pm

  5. Hijack 1

    Speaking of the Supreme Court, this is beautiful:



    6 Mar 14 at 11:49 am

  6. “Privilege” is an UNUSUAL and UNEARNED advantage.
    No. “Unusual” is no part of any definition of the word in any available source. It is NOT the way the word is used, so any attempt to add “unusual” to it is incorrect.

    The most complete definition I found, from the online American Heritage Dictionary:
    priv•i•lege (prĭv′ə-lĭj, prĭv′lĭj)
    a. A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.

    No caveat about “unusual”.

    So already the analysis is fatally flawed, starting as it does from an incorrect premise.

    Just to be complete, how might “Special” be understood in this context? I would go with:
    spe•cial (spĕsh′əl)
    a. Distinct among others of a kind:

    So the question of “white privilege” then is, are there any distinct advantages or benefits – unearned by the recipient – of being born white?

    Of course there are. You’ve even elucidated them quite clearly before, and even the arguments you make here are actually proof of those advantages and benefits.

    You rail:
    ““Grades” don’t even begin to tell the story of adequate preparation for college work. Academic standards vary widely across the country, and even across states.

    An “A” in senior year English from a school that requires a 20-page research paper and the reading of four books and 3 Shakespeare plays to get there is not the same thing as an “A” from a school that never requires more than a page-long book report and restricts its reading list to short pieces and excerpts of Shakespeare “translated” into modern English. An “A” in senior year math from a school where it consists of introduction to Calculus is not the same as an “A” from a school where it consists of pre-Algebra. “

    —That’s THE POINT.
    THAT >IS< an example of white privilege. A distinct benefit of being born to a middle class family, or above, in a good school district, with two intact parents, one of whom is available for ferrying children to extra curricular activities, making sure they have a good breakfast and lunch or lunch money etc., etc, in action. Not to mention family or school trips to museums, exhibits, performances, vacations (for some) to Europe or other world destinations.

    The child did nothing to earn that situation – but that is the situation that allows them the opportunity to earn an “An “A” in senior year English from a school that requires a 20-page research paper and the reading of four books and 3 Shakespeare plays.”

    But that is nevertheless “white privilege”

    THAT is without noting that the child in such circumstances also, as another free benefit, learns all the social behaviors/cues expected.

    And no living in such a situation does not GUARANTEE success.

    But it makes it one hell of a lot EASIER TO ACHIEVE and hence much more likely.

    And the beneficiaries of that privilege are most often utterly blind to just what an advantage they have over inner city blacks and others lacking those white privileges.

    I can see one straw man argument lurking out there that not all recipients of “white privilege are in fact white.

    Nor do those from humbler circumstances succeeding regardless of lacking those benefits falsify the existence and the benefits of white privilege.
    The barriers to success are simply immeasurably lower for those white kids in the middle class and above suburbs than they are for anyone else. THAT is white privilege.

  7. Why, if you’re talking about the advantages – the privilege, if you will – of having been born into a middle class family with two parents with the skills and interests necessary to help a child achieve in school – as ‘white privilege’ when it’s in fact a result of social class and family culture? Giving it a racial label is highly misleading – unless, of course, you think there’s something inherently white, something rooted in the genetics of whiteness, about having families able to foster their children’s learning in such a way? Such a conclusion would convince anyone that there’s really no point in anyone who is not white from even trying for that type of lifestyle. Another possible conclusion – that lower percentages of non-whites with such backgrounds can be explained, not by skin colour or genetics, but by family history and culture. Increasing such percentages require skills that can be acquired by anyone who wants to make that kind of cultural shift – a process that can only be derailed by focusing on race rather than need or other practicalities.

    It’s a commonplace idea that life is unequal – there but for the grace of God go I; some people are more and some people less fortunate in the tools the start out life with and acquire along the way. I don’t think anyone who gives the matter any thought is blind to the fact that some people have greater advantages in life than others. Trying to attach this idea to skin colour just reflects muddy thinking. It’s not skin colour that is the problem, and it’s not group guilt based on skin colour that is a solution. Practical solutions for individuals who identify their problems will affect the families and the groups they belong to, and assistance from those who can give it may help. Wailing about whites have everything just because they’re white and blacks have nothing just because they’re black is, to put it nicely, a distraction from the real issues of poor education and family background.


    9 Mar 14 at 12:49 pm

  8. ” Giving it a racial label is highly misleading”

    Except that, in fact, it is a huge majority white phenomena. Granted, it’s “really” social class, and other races have in fact made it into the middle class, it nevertheless remains also a fact that the great majority of those benefiting from being middle class and above are white. And living in suburbs that are almost entirely white.

    Completely separated not just by class but by geography from ‘the other.’

    Which means that they just really don NOT get the ” commonplace idea that life is unequal – there but for the grace of God go I”.

    It has to be carefully and completely explained to them, and still it seems most never actually understand, that there achievements are NOT wholly of their own effort.

    That, to resort to a sports metaphor, they started a 4 lap race with a 3 lap head start.

    ” I don’t think anyone who gives the matter any thought is blind to the fact that some people have greater advantages in life than others.”

    Well, that’s the problem. Very, very few seem to give the matter even a moments thought. Failure to achieve is described in terms making it a moral lapse, rather than an almost certain outcome of starting from an extremely (relatively) disadvantaged position.

    Like, for example, the entire Republican party and all their talking heads.

  9. But if this situation is as widespread as you say, how is it improved by adding race to the explanations? Race generally implies a genetic basis (at least for those who think that ‘race’ in the human context is a meaningful concept at all, given the overwhelming similarities and comparatively small differences that have so far been identified among the various groups.


    9 Mar 14 at 2:22 pm

  10. I like John Scalzi’s metaphor, that privilege can be explained by likening life to playing a video game. White male (in western culture) is the easiest setting there is to play the game. We can all come up with what would be hardest…. Everyone else has a personalized setting, based on their own particular place in the spectrum of privilege/disadvantage for various aspects.

    When you play the game at your own setting, not only do you not see how those playing at more difficult settings must strive to achieve the same level as you do, you may not even be aware that those difficulties exist for them. You may assume that all your own achievements come from innate talent or hard work, not ever seeing that the percentages fall in your favor more often than in theirs. So their failures must come from lack of trying or another moral deficit. After all, if YOU can do it…

    And since white males generally play on the easiest setting, their perceptions are tuned not to perceive the barriers that exist for everyone else. My dear husband, one of the fairest people I know, still doesn’t believe there is any discrimination against women in his field (engineering) because he never saw any examples of it in person. He doubts that women actually encounter street harassment in anything like the numbers that are reported. Sadly, among his first responses to statistics on sexual assault & rape is that old standard of misogynists everywhere, “but what about all the false accusations?” Makes me crazy and I continue to try to educate him, gently.

    Privilege does’t cushion anyone against bad things happening in their lives or challenges having to be overcome. For this reason, though, people with privilege tend not to think about or believe how much WORSE it could be without privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard to get where you are, it just means that when the dice of life are thrown, they tend to come down in your favor a little more often.

    I don’t think most people with privilege ever do spend much time thinking about what that advantage has meant to them. It’s like water to a fish…invisible until it’s missing, or gets too hot.


    9 Mar 14 at 2:58 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 241 access attempts in the last 7 days.