Well glory be, there is a white man out there who gets white, male privilege, and is not above trying to get other white men to understand it, too. He is Nicholas Kristof, and he’s an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to call out white, male privilege, and to try and explain it to the community that doesn’t get it.
We’ll get the “not all men” argument out of the way first. Yes, 100 percent of white men are not oblivious the privilege they have in our society. If it were that complete, we wouldn’t have Kristof here, doing what he can to call it out. The problem with that argument, though, is that it refocuses the discussion onto those who only think they’re being unfairly stereotyped and oppressed. It doesn’t add anything at all to the conversation we need to have.
Starting in August, not too long after Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death, Kristof wrote a five-part series called, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” Part One of that series shot down what he called the white community’s smug delusion about racism in America.
At the time, Kristof noted that a plurality of whites thought racism was getting more attention than it deserved. He mentioned a study from Tufts that said whites tend to believe that anti-white racism is a bigger problem now than anti-black racism, due to all the programs and policies we have aimed at curbing unequal treatment due to anti-black racism. He posted a lot of reasonably well-known statistics, such as incarceration rates, income disparities, and more—the stuff that the white community tends to dismiss as either cherry-picked, or just plain not true.
One thing that whites tend to point out is that the stereotype of black men as criminals is rooted in truth. Kristof acknowledged that, but said that what we need to do is figure out how to steer young black men to education and good jobs. “The best escalator to opportunity may be education,” Kristof said, “but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.” And this was just the first part of that series!
Unfortunately, Kristof has caught a lot of flack for his writing on race and white privilege. So, he wrote today’s column, “Straight Talk for White Men.” This is where he beautifully illustrated how blind we can be to any privilege we have. Humans, he says, don’t necessarily think as rationally as we’d like to believe. For instance, there are studies showing that people in a supermarket are more likely to buy French wine when French music is playing, and German wine when German music is playing. That’s true even though most of us don’t pay conscious attention to the music the store is playing.
This is unconscious bias, and that’s part of why white people tend not to see their own privilege, according to Kristof. We’re very prone to unconscious influence and bias, and that bias benefits white men more than they realize. Kristof summed it up perfectly with this:
It’s not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness. Maybe that’s because in a race, it’s easy not to notice a tailwind, and white men often go through life with a tailwind, while women and people of color must push against a headwind.
If you’ve ever run a race, or done a long-distance bicycle ride, as this writer has, you’ll understand that analogy. The tailwind is extremely easy not to notice. On the other hand, you’ll not only notice the headwind, you’ll be very aware of it for every inch you move.
Sadly, it’s not likely that this piece will help to open anyone’s eyes to their privilege anytime soon. But we can thank Kristof for his efforts, and hope that he keeps this up. Perhaps he can help make some headway on this issue.
Featured image via Groupthink on Jezebel