The subject of “privilege” for straight, white, Christian males is once again rearing its ugly head. Whenever this topic arises, those who are accused of privilege insist that they are not, while those who are doing the accusing refuse to see their own culpability in the structural problems that face the downtrodden in our American society.
I am one who is accused of privilege, but I implore the reader to focus on the message rather than the messenger. I have tried to be objective, though I admit that I come into this issue with biases.
When you account for education, social class, gender, race, etc. the “gap” is incredibly small. A white boy who grew up in the same social class, went to the same school, and got the same grades as a black boy has an equal chance of social mobility.
Historically, whites have absolutely had a leg up. However, post 1965 Civil Rights America, the argument must change. All things are not equal in 2017 (a mere 50 years, mind you), and there are some inherent challenges that older (say, 25-40) blacks face that whites may not. However, there are fewer and fewer excuses for those who are college age now. This is where you’ll point to the “opportunities” and “systemic” issues, and that is where things get a bit more complex. The statistics are not promising.
Blacks are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods with bad schools, but whites who also live in those neighborhoods have about the same opportunity and often end up with the same level of social mobility.
Furthermore, if you want to talk total raw numbers, there are more whites in poverty, abusing illicit substances, on food stamps, living on the streets, and in prison than blacks. More white people are killed by police than blacks. The difference is that rates are higher for blacks.
That being said, the problem with statistical analysis (and this is coming from a statistician), is that numbers do not give you the “why”. Yes, rates of crime, poverty, etc. are worse for blacks, but why? Is it possible that these issues can be resolved by younger generations?
I would argue (and so would many researchers) that the biggest “privilege” that white people seem to have is in their family structure. This is not about skin pigmentation, but a deeper cultural problem.
Single parent households are the biggest predictor of juvenile delinquency and blacks are disproportionately raised in single parent homes. Over 60% of black families are single-parent. The next highest is white at around 25%. This is a staggering discrepancy.
If you want to know why there is inequality, it’s not some systemic social problem like access to education or jobs, its in the destruction of the African-American nuclear family. If you want to point to the incarceration of black males as a reason why there are so many single parent households, I would argue that it is this systemic issue in the black family that perpetuates this cycle.
There are many theories of deviance that point to most deviant behavior are learned by being passed down by peers and older family members. For instance, when an urban black male begins to academically outperform those around him, he is quickly shamed for it. He is called an “Uncle Tom” and is accused of “acting white” or “sucking up to the man.” Prominent sociologist Elijah Anderson said as much in his seminal work, Code of the Street (1999). This same phenomenon occurs in the corporate workplace as Anderson addresses in The Cosmopolitan Canopy (2011).
He writes of two black men who work for the same company.
One is ethnocentric and “plays the game” of white corporate America. He does enough to be respected for his work, but has not risen past middle management. His white co-workers offered to include him in social activities ranging from going to the bar to dinner at their homes. He always declined, and now they no longer invite him. He is bitter, distrusts white people, and is jealous of his more successful black co-workers.
The second man started in the company five years after the first. However, his full assimilation into the corporate culture allowed for a meteoric rise in the company which he now serves as Vice President. The other black people in the company think of him as a “sellout” or “Uncle Tom.”
This is reminiscent of the street. A very large portion of the urban African American population is ethnocentric. They outright refuse to assimilate into the larger culture. By their own design, they create counter-cultural music and use counter-cultural slang. To conform to “white” society—otherwise known as society—is to no longer remain black. Educated, articulate black men are now “white” in the eyes of the streets.
So there is a problem of assimilation. This is not about skin color, mind you. On the contrary. According to research, black immigrants from Jamaica and Africa have a high rate of assimilation to the broader American culture compared to some other groups. They learn English, they dress appropriately, and speak in a way that better represents the ideal American. Black immigrants detest the African American culture as being lazy and ignorant. These immigrants also find themselves in much better socioeconomic situations than blacks born in America (Foner 1997; Morawska 2014; Waters 1994). If American success was about skin color, these immigrants would be in the same situation as native blacks. They are not, because they understand the value of assimilation.
I believe that the research shows that if young blacks who are coming up right now would fully embrace assimilation into the larger American culture, and work harder to maintain their parental responsibilities and partnerships, their children would flourish.
And when it comes to the “patriarchy” or “male privilege”, binge drinking, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, being sexually assaulted as a child, and stress related diseases leading to death are all much higher in males.
Males are more likely to drop dead at a younger age from disease or suicide than females. This has always been a factor since Emile Durkheim’s study of suicide back in the late 1800s, and continues today.
And, of course, the gender pay gap myth has been thoroughly debunked over and over and over again by anyone with half a brain. Not to mention that the majority of college graduates are female, so in a few years that majority of the educated workforce will be female. You could show that most of the Fortune 500 companies are run by men, but those are old jobs that were held in a time when they may have been privilege, but for our generation and those going forward, the rise of female college education should put a pause on the argument of contemporary patriarchy.
Again, when you account for race, social class, gender, education, family unit, etc., the “privilege” gap vanishes.
Thus, this is not an issue of privilege. This is no longer the 1900s when there were certainly advantages to being born a straight, white, Christian male. Going forward, this argument will only become more and more archaic.
Learn more by checking out some of the resources I cited in this article:
Foner, Nancy. 1997. “The Immigrant Family: Cultural Legacies and Cultural Changes.” The International Migration Review. 31(4): 961–974.
Morawska, Ewa. 2014. “Immigrant Transnationalism and Assimilation: A Variety of Combinations and the Analytic Strategy it Suggests.” Toward Assimilation and Citizenship: Immigrants in Liberal Nation-States. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 133-176.
Waters, Mary C. 1994. “Ethnic and Racial Identities of Second-Generation Black Immigrants in New York City.” International Migration Review. 795-820