Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There IsI’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.
Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.
As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.
Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.
You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting?Hardcore...
Oh, and one other thing. Remember when I said that you could choose your difficulty setting in The Real World? Well, I lied. In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don’t get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.
So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.
And a few thoughts from Tim Wise, who isn't reluctant to use the word privilege:
Tim Wise » White Whine: Reflections on the Brain-Rotting Properties of PrivilegeWhites, as it turns out, take most everything for granted in this country; which makes perfect sense, because dominant groups usually have that privilege. We take for granted that we won’t be racially profiled even when members of our group engage in criminality at a disproportionate rate, whether the crime is corporate fraud, serial killing, child molestation, abortion clinic bombings or drunk driving. And indeed we won’t be.
We take it for granted that our terrorism won’t result in whites as a group being viewed with generalized suspicion. So Tim McVeigh represents only Tim McVeigh, while Mohammed Atta gets to serve as a proxy for every other person who either has his name or follows a prophet of that name.
We take it for granted that our dishonesty will be viewed in purely individualistic terms, while the dishonesty of others will result in aspersions being cast upon the entire group from which they come. Thus, Jayson Blair’s deceptions at the New York Times provoke howls of indignation at any effort to provide opportunity to journalists of color — because after all, diversity and quality are proven by this one man’s exploits to be incompatible — but Jack Kelley’s equally egregious fabrications and fraud at USA Today fails to prompt calls for an end to hiring white guys as reporters, or for scrutinizing them more carefully, or for closing down whatever avenues of opportunity have helped keep the profession so white for so long.
We take it for granted that we will never be viewed as one of those dreaded “special interest” groups, precisely because whatever serves our interests is presumed universal. So, for example, while politicians who pursue the support of black, Latino, gay or other “minority” voters are said to be pandering to special interests, those who bend over backwards to secure the backing of NASCAR dads and soccer moms, whose racial composition is as self-evident as it is unmentioned, are said to be politically savvy and merely trying to connect with “normal folks.”
We take it for granted that “classical music” is a perfectly legitimate term for what really amounts to one particular classical form (mostly European orchestral and piano concerto music), ignoring that there are, indeed, classical forms of all musical styles, as well as their more contemporary versions.
We take it for granted that the only controversy regarding Jesus is whether or not he was killed by Jews or Romans; or whether the depiction of his execution by Mel Gibson is too violent for children, all the while ignoring a much larger issue, which is why does Gibson (and for that matter every other white filmmaker or artist in the history of the faith) feel the need to make Jesus white: something he surely could not have been and was not, with all due apology to Michelangelo, Constantine, Pat Robertson, and the producers of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
That the only physical descriptions of Jesus in the Bible indicate that he had feet the color of burnt brass, skin the color of jasper stones, and hair like wool, poses a slight problem for Gibson and other followers of the white Jesus hanging in their churches, adorning their crucifixes (if Catholic), and gracing the Christmas cards they send each December.
That’s what privilege is, for all those who constantly ask me what I mean when I speak of white privilege. It’s the ability to presume that your reality is the reality; that your experiences, if white, are universal, and not particular to your racial identity. It’s the ability to assume that you belong and that others will presume that too; the ability to define reality for others, and expect that definition to stick (because you have the power to ensure that it becomes the dominant narrative). And it’s the ability to ignore all evidence to the contrary, claim that you yourself are the victim, and get everyone from the President to the Supreme Court to the average white guy on the street to believe it.
It is Times New Roman font, one inch margins, left hand justified. In other words, it is the default position on the computer of American life. And it has rendered vast numbers of its recipients utterly incapable of critical thought.
Only by rebelling against it, and insisting on our own freedom from the mental straightjacket into which we have been placed as whites by this system, can we hope to regain our full humanity, and be of any use as allies to people of color in their struggle against racism.
And finally, a few words from Louis CK (language may offend some, NSFW using speakers):