Over on twitter I posted a rather thoughtless tweet that listed off ways one might get labeled a “privileged white boy”. I deleted it, realizing that those ways (focusing on money, ignoring criticism, avoiding exposure to other cultures, etc.) aren’t responsible for the accuracy of the label itself, which one does not “earn” but simply has due to circumstance.
With help from a friend, I strung together this definition:
Privilege (noun) : The existence of conditions that favor the success of a set of individuals (some subgroup of a population) over others on the basis of contrived, unmeritorious criteria.
Manufacturing privilege: the “low-effort filter”
Because humans cannot instantly tell the inner character of a person just by looking at them, people who speak the same language (or no language) tend to cluster together based on superficial criteria that they have in common, which can include skin color, clothing, etc.
Violence comes in all shapes and colors, but in America events conspired to produce a group successful in deceiving, killing, or subjugating other groups under its rule. That group was primarily composed of white males who spoke English, and it formed a social network that used various forms of filtration to determine membership and rank within it. In the war-heavy culture, women played more of a supportive rather than leading role, and for these and other reasons, women had fewer rights than men for a long time.
Fast-forward to today, the vestiges of those old social networks and “low-effort mental filtration mechanisms” (white skin? male?) are still around. More commonly known as discrimination, the filter’s white skin? criteria is now weak enough to allow a man with black skin to head the White House.
However, the social networks, their low-effort filters, and their side-effects, are not completely gone. Hence, a white immigrant family like mine, upon entering this country, through no direct fault of ours, receives the subtle benefits of these old biases—privilege. Conversely, those who are born or immigrate to this country bearing characteristics that are incompatible with the low-effort filter, receive, also through no direct fault of theirs, a few extra obstacles.
Dealing with privilege (as a general thing)
Using any privilege one has to help others is obviously helpful. But the root of the issue, seems to be a basic tendency to use easy-but-inaccurate criteria when deciding who our friends or foes are, who to work with, and our tendency to align ourselves with the interests of some “in group” at the expense of some “out group”.
Many companies still require a college degree for jobs that do not need them. When companies hire programmers and demand a college degree, they are using a low-effort filter. When higher-ups prefer candidates who share their liking for obscure pop culture references, they are using a low-effort filter. And these sorts of low-effort filters often end up being indirectly racist or sexist, because of course people who have been historically economically disadvantaged will prefer cheaper education options than going into debt via university-racket, and of course people from different cultures will have different “pop cultures” than yours.
If you’re one of these people don’t feel too bad. You’re not being racist, just indirectly-racist. Mostly you’re being lazy, and your laziness results in additional obstacles (bullshit) to people who have to put up with it all the time.
I’m not saying “endorse everyone and everything,” only that it’ll probably lead to a better world if we put more effort into understanding without bias, which is sort-of an obvious statement but is easier said than done. It requires not dismissing a person or group because they don’t share your views (find out how they came around to those views), and at the very least finding more sophisticated reasons to dislike each other than outward physical appearances or some word on a social media profile.1 Even if they seem really bad, consider there’s probably an interesting reason for it.
I know that when I’m able to do this, I make fewer mistakes, the world starts to look slightly less crazy, and things begin to make a little more sense.