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Why is Privilege the wrong word?

The lesson is not that white men should be treated like African Americans or women, but that they should be treated like white men.

Privilege is the wrong word, the wrong framework because what white males have is what everyone should have.

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  1. Leo

    Perhaps dignity is the correct word. White men are not privileged, they are merely treated with dignity, as all people should be.

  2. jump

    Are you deliberately trying to bait some of the trolls of late?
    Other than that, agreed.

  3. Apneaman

    Since when do trolls need baiting?

    More hypocrisy of imperialism.

    Days After Free Speech Rally, France Arrests 54 People for Offensive Speech

  4. guest

    Privilege automatically implies something that not everyone can have, whether those that have it are entitled to it or not. I guess basic “entitlements” might be closer to the word you were looking for, except that has been turned into a dirty word of late.

  5. jump

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T, come on, sing along now!!!

  6. Everythings Jake

    Not all white men are treated the same (acknowledging that certainly even the lower range of treatment my be preferable to many other possibilities), but the basic assurances of, I guess, middle class Western white male existence should be real for all, except for the right to climate destroying consumption.

  7. Jessica

    I have seen/heard “privilege” used both for things that everyone should have (the ability to walk down the street without being harassed by the police) and for things that no one should have (the ability to ignore others’ concerns because they do not belong to the privileged group).
    Also, there is also sometimes an emphasis on race, gender, and the like as sources of privilege at the expense of recognizing social class as a source of privilege.
    On the other hand, I have seen the concept of “privilege” wielded skillfully to help break down insensitivity to the experiences of others.

  8. JustPlainDave

    Given that “white male” seems to be *western/northern* white male, the massively unequal allocation of global resources required to support what they have says that privilege is absolutely the right word.

    Of course, I’d use “privilege” to describe a much, much larger portion of western/northern society than just white males, but folks don’t tend to find that perspective very congenial. They/privilege seems to be a lot more powerful political language than we/entitlement these days. Relative privation is become the universal solvent of North American political discourse, I fear.

  9. I think it works fine Ian. You might be thinking too hard on this one. 🙂

  10. V. Arnold

    @ JPD
    Yes, that would seem correct.

    But there was something fundamentally wrong with the Hebdo cartoons; free speech, yeah, but responsible? Nooo…
    Racist? Yeah…
    And then there is the aftermath…
    Total disaster!!!
    Just look at what’s going on in France; it’s insanity, full stop!!!
    And then there is this;

  11. Don’t know if this is the most appropriate thread, but have you all seen this:

    Charlie Hebdo founder says murdered editor ‘overdid’ provocative cartoons

    A founder of Charlie Hebdo has condemned the murdered editor Stephane Charbonnier of “dragging the team” to their deaths by overdoing the satirical magazine’s provocative cartoons.

    Henri Roussel, 80, who participated in 1970 in the creation of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo (then called ‘Hara-Kiri-Hebdo’), addressed Charbonnier posthumously with the words, “I really hold it against you,” in a column in the left-wing magazine Nouvel Obs.

    Roussel, who writes under the pen name Delfeil de Ton, said that Charbonnier was an “amazing lad,” but also an obstinate “blockhead.”

  12. nihil obstet

    “Privilege” derives from “private law” (privus= individual; lex, legis=law). It’s a grant to a person of exemption from laws that apply to others or of powers denied to others, so yes, it does imply a special status that is an exception to the general, common law.

    As Ian says, it is the wrong framework. For the most part, white men feel themselves subject to the law and unjustly treated when others imply that they have special rights and exemptions. I think that’s a lot of the reason why they spend so much time and emotional aggression on any incident arguing that the victim was actually breaking the law.

    I don’t know how to get us back to the idea that the police and other government-sanctioned force must be restrained from exercises of power over free citizens.

  13. Steve

    Do Africans in Africa have “African privilege”? Do Asians in South East Asia have “Asian privilege”?

    Yet, somehow it’s only “*western/northern* white males” that have privilege.

  14. Lisa FOS

    I am transgendrered in the middle of tranistioning.

    As a fully, for many years, transitioned friend of mine said: “I knew when I made it, I was no long descriminated against by being transgendered, but because I was female”.

  15. Professor Rogers

    Steve, you forgot “Indian privilege” as well.

    Identity politics is one of the few main things keeping liberalism alive in today’s United States.

  16. peter

    the privilege framework plays along really nicely with neoliberalism. i think it’s not a coincidence that our elite universities are such hotbeds of privilege discourse.

  17. Ian:

    Privilege is the wrong word, the wrong framework because what white males have is what everyone should have.

    Yes, of course.

    It’s blindingly obvious that this is the wrong framework, as revealed by the tiniest amount of thinking, as in:

    “The just solution to hereditary privilege is to remove the advantages conferred by it from its current beneficiaries. But, if certain people are privileged such that they’re clearly less likely to be stopped by law enforcement while driving or walking, is the solution really to remove that “advantage,” so that everyone suffers from an equal amount of pointless, official harassment tending toward physical arrest and relatively permanent impediments such as court system involvement? In other words, would an equality of potential injustice be a prevalence of justice?”

    Why it is that so many on the contemporary left seem to have this framework so obscenely wrong is the real question, Ian. Why do so many of my fellow American liberals apparently suffer from an odd form of amnesia?

    If you’d care to take a shot at answering that, I’d be more than happy to consider your thoughts.

    Stuart Zechman

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