Sitting in a privilege ‘sweet spot’?

Over the past two years, I have spent a great deal talking about (and even more time learning about) the way that group privilege operates on our evaluations of people, of events, of ourselves. It’s almost like an evaluation of ‘room temperature’ – where we sit on various latitude lines will influence what we think of as ‘normal’, and whatever our perceptions, they are filtered by our ‘set point’. And while your neighbour is shivering and complaining about how ze’s freezing to death, you’re throwing on a t-shirt and left baffled as to how anyone can call 15 degrees ‘cold’.

Another thing I have noticed is the yawning diversity in people’s willingness to recognize their own privilege. Some are ready, even eager in some cases, to accept that their own judgments are the product of a particular perspective that may not be shared by other people. Many others, with frustrating frequency, look into the face of the existence of privilege with the stony, reluctant resolve that is usually reserved for sexual requests involving drop cloths and rubber hoses. Any and all possible excuses are found to escape rather than simply accept the possibility that the sails of their ‘rational’ argument might have a gaping hole that they just cannot see.

Now my experience here at FTB has been… let’s just say it surprised me. I thought that I would have a much rougher ride toward acceptance than I did. People seemed to be familiar with the concept of privilege, and willing to at least listen when the topic is discussed. I credit the feminist skeptics with breaking this ground and bringing the idea of male privilege into the mainstream. To my perhaps greater surprise, many readers have been the one schooling me when my own privilege pokes its head through. It is that latter phenomenon I want to explore today, because it’s been on my mind for a while.

The reason for my surprise at my reception isn’t because I blindly assume that nobody before me has ever thought about these topics before. I contrast my experience here with what I have seen in the world and in other spaces where privilege is raised as a topic. Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, I bought into the stereotype that the majority of my readers would be white males (and who knows, maybe y’all are). Like the hypothetical temperature example above, I rather assumed that, like in other spaces where the topic has arisen, I’d see significant pushback when discussing issues of race because people would see it as an attack rather than a neutral description of behaviour. It is notoriously difficult to see reason when your back is against a wall and you feel like someone’s gunning for you – especially when that gun is aimed at your race.

Thinking about that got me thinking about my own experiences where I’ve had to acknowledge how my own privilege has filtered my judgment. These days it’s no problem – I live in a world of privilege dissection, and recognizing that I’m not perfect is something that has become much easier as I’ve gotten older. If I work at it real hard though, I can still remember those many years ago (read: my early 20s, like 4 years ago maybe?) when I was so woefully blind and ignorant of the power that my being male carried, and still carries. I used to be almost as bad as the MRA set when it came to things like mansplaining and finding the “real reasons” for things*. Just because the people I was arguing with lived sexism and misogyny didn’t mean that I couldn’t just armchair philosoph my way into propping up the status quo, right?

I am sad to say that it wasn’t my female friends that eventually turned me around on the whole ‘feminism’ thing. As much as I would love to be able to claim that a persuasive, rational argument opened my eyes, it was in fact my exploration of race issues. Understanding white privilege was easy – I’d seen it a million times in others. Understanding my own colour privilege was a bit tougher, but because it aligned so  closely with the colour-based privilege I’d seen before it wasn’t too much of a stretch. Understanding that, by being a man, everything I knew might be draped in falsehood and misperception was a tough thing to accept. The consequences of such recognition meant that I was going to have to say “I’m wrong” a lot.

Of course, the upshot of actually learning to do that – to admit that I just didn’t get it – is that other things in my life got a whole lot better. I no longer feared losing arguments or exposing my own ignorance. After all, it was just another opportunity to learn – who wouldn’t love that? And yes, I would look weak in the eyes of people who equate strength with inflexibility, but was that really important? I realized that the path to truth is paved with stones of honesty, and that self-delusion is the worst kind.

All that to say this: I may have been situated in a ‘sweet spot’ for privilege recognition. Because I’ve seen privilege from both sides – being on the wrong side of white privilege, being on the ‘right’ side of male privilege (not to mention colour privilege, able-body privilege, cis gender privilege, first world privilege, insert your favourite here) – it is a trivial task for me to recognize and admit that there are things I don’t get simply by virtue of never being on the receiving end. It would be far more difficult for me to understand if I were white, and I dare say if I were… I dunno… a paraplegic trans lesbian living in Somalia or something. Being able to see ‘both sides’ puts me in an advantageous position to not only recognize privilege, but explain it to others.

Or maybe it’s easy for everyone and I’m just an asshole.

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*Seriously. Ask the people I went to grad school with. I used to ‘cheers’ friends at the bar with the opening line from Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. It even made it into my MSc thesis. I thought it was a really funny joke, and that the women in my program were just being uptight. If I could go back in time, I’d kick my own ass. For a lot of things.

Movie Friday: DIY

Here’s a chance for you to make your own Friday movie.

Gender Commercial Remixer

Just take any two commercials, and swap the audio from the ‘boys’ commercial with the video from the ‘girls’ commercial (or vice versa). Hit ‘mashup’ and enjoy!

And then cry, I guess. If you have kids, maybe show this to them so they know how stupid advertising executives think they are.

h/t Radical Bytes

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Movie Friday: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

In moments of extreme self-congratulation, I fancy myself a pretty good writer. When I really put effort into it, I can occasionally produce passages that break through the barrier of the prosaic into the realm of the poetic. I’ve been told by a handful that I have a particular talent for explanation, and that my ability to put things into relatable words makes this a very readable blog. I know my writing has changed over the past 2 years, since I’ve been writing more or less every day. Things come to me more easily, and occasionally I can read my own stuff and even be slightly impressed by it.

I think that if I keep it up for another 10 years or so, I will be in a league with Greta Christina. Greta has been one of my favourite writers for a long time, and her blog is a daily read for me. I’m 100% positive I’ve gushed like this before, so I’ll forestall the fanboy-dom long enough to say that Greta has a new book out called Why Are You Atheists So Angry?: 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. Here is a fun promo video:

Read this book, then punch a bible. Then… I dunno, do something else.

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Trayvon: my thoughts and reactions

So this morning I tried to focus pretty much exclusively on the facts of the case and leave my own personal interpretation out of my analysis. Of course, this is a blog and I am far from an objective, dispassionate observer of events. I also mentioned that I couldn’t quite put my finger on the issue that was so sickening to me when I first heard the story, but in order to do that I’m going to need to walk through a couple of other things first.

1. I am deeply cynical about the chance of George Zimmerman facing arrest

As I mentioned this morning, Florida’s gun laws are pretty clear-cut – if you feel threatened, you have a right to shoot to kill. It strains credulity that an unarmed 17 year-old kid (no matter how black) could pose any kind of serious threat to an armed man 10 years his senior who outweighs him by an entire human being, but that’s not important. Much like mandatory minimums, the law does not make room for discretion – it is certainly likely that Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened and fired his gun. Under all interpretations of the law that I’ve seen, there was no chargeable offense committed.

Considering the close relationship between Mr. Zimmerman and the police department, coupled with the department’s history with letting anti-black crimes slip, I can’t see much happening. Even though the federal justice department is involved, they have limited jurisdiction unless a federal law was broken. Again, from the analyses I’ve seen, unless they can demonstrate that Mr. Zimmerman fired his gun with murderous intent rather than during a struggle (and I have no idea how one would go about proving that), I think this is going to end up being another one of those examples where the clear immorality of the act committed is dismissed by the legal system. A legal system, incidentally, that is not on Trayvon’s side to begin with. [Read more…]

Trayvon: a stroll through the facts

A couple weeks back a story crossed my eyes that made me feel sick to my stomach for reasons I couldn’t quite place. It was the story of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old kid who was shot and killed in Orlando by neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Obviously the story upset me for the normal reasons – a fellow human being killed is not something that can simply be shrugged off. That being said, this is hardly the first story I’ve heard about someone getting killed in the fucked up, gun-happy, cowboy fetishizing United States. For a country with more than 12,000 gun murders a year (compared to 170 per year in Canada), there’s simply no way that a person could be this sickened every time someone gets murdered – I’d never get anything else done.

But there are some details about this case that make this case particularly gruesome.

1. Trayvon was murdered in his own neighbourhood

Martin was shot after returning home from a local convenience store, where he bought snacks including Skittles candy requested by his 13-year-old brother, Chad.


The man in question is Neighborhood Watch Captain George Zimmerman, who was present at the time of the shooting.  According to Crump, while Martin returned to the townhome, police received a 911 call reporting a suspicious person; Zimmerman was the man that made the call.

Without waiting for police to arrive, Crump said, Zimmerman confronted Martin, who was on the sidewalk near his home. By the time police got there, Martin was dead of a single gunshot to the chest and the only thing they found on him was a can of Arizona ice tea in his jacket pocket and Skittles in his front pocket for his brother Chad. [Read more…]

Good for the goose, bad for the gander

So this morning we looked at the ways in which our judicial system is seemingly set up to disappoint those in greatest need of justice, particularly black people. Our racist biases (which, I believe, we are all subject to regardless of how “non-racist” we like to fancy ourselves) find the cracks in our institutional frameworks, causing disproportionate destruction to those groups against which we have the strongest antipathy. It is completely insignificant to protest that we don’t mean to be, or that we don’t feel racist – it’s the outcome by which we have to judge actions. The only time that intent matters is when we’re trying to figure out how to fix the problem – not in how we label it.

The first half of understanding this particular issue is recognition that the system itself has structural elements that, by assuming that everyone walks into the halls of justice as equals, perpetuates societal inequalities. The other side of the coin, as far as this argument goes, is that individual actors within the system make judgments that reveal internal discriminatory biases. When we make judgments about others, those judgments are informed by processes that are both conscious and unconscious. The issue, of course, is that while we can moderate the way our conscious mind works, we do not have the same level of control over, to put a fine point on it, the parts of our brains we don’t control.

Once again, this leads us into trouble: [Read more…]

Justice may be blind, but we’re not

So tomorrow I am going to be talking about a story that’s been in the news for a while and has only recently begun to pick up steam. It’s a heavy story with a lot of moving parts, and there’s absolutely no way that I can cover it comprehensively. What I’m hoping to do with today’s posts is drop a couple of anchors for ideas in your brains so that I can breeze through some of the concepts tomorrow (or at least link to these posts).

One of the realities that we’ve explored in various guises here at this blog is the idea that the justice system is often racist. Not racist in an intentional, conscious bigotry sense (although that may occasionally be the case – more on that later) – that would be absurd: a system cannot have intention to the same extent that a person can. But as we’ve been discussing, the intent of racist actions is more or less immaterial – we judge racism by outcomes. If an institution discriminates against someone intentionally or passively, the only difference that makes is in how we try to fix the problem – it makes little difference to the victim.

Whereas the legal system is supposed to see all people as equal, it is built upon a foundation that assumes that all people are treated equally going into the system, and that the human beings that make up the system are impartial. However, we can quickly see that is not the case: [Read more…]

Today’s policy boner

So I have a shameful secret to divulge: I get viscerally, enthusiastically, quasi-orgasmically happy about evidence-based policy. Some people get a little thrill in their nether regions when their favourite celebrity is on TV, or when their sports team wins an important game, or when their favourite band announces a new album. All of those, to me, pale in comparison to the rock-hard excitement I get when someone does something really cool in policy research.

So (and he knows me personally, so please don’t repeat this or it’ll get weird) Dr. Aslam Anis, you’ve given me a boner:

Prescribing heroin instead of methadone is more effective and less costly in treating street drug addiction relapses, a new analysis suggests. It was a collaboration with UBC, the University of Montreal and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

“We gave them option of trying methadone or diacetylmorphine [heroin] under medically supervised conditions, and we found people who were getting diacetylmorphine were retained in treatment much, much longer, so they had a much better outcome,” said study head Dr. Aslam Anis, director of the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.


“Our model indicated that diacetylmorphine would decrease societal costs, largely by reducing costs associated with crime, and would increase both the duration and quality of life of treatment recipients,” the study’s authors concluded. While the clinical trial was based on a year’s worth of data, the researchers considered different timeframes — such as one year, five years and over a lifetime— in their analysis. [Read more…]

Canada: this is your government

This is one of those stories that, if it weren’t so goddamn sad, would be fucking hilarious:

With Conservatives targeting a Liberal staffer who posted the sordid details of Vic Toews’s divorce to Twitter, the Speaker of the House has ruled that threatening videos by the hacker group Anonymous violated the Public Safety Minister’s parliamentary privilege. Andrew Scheer told the Commons Tuesday the Anonymous videos “constitute a direct threat to the minister in particular, as well as all other members” of Parliament.

Okay, so this part’s not that funny. A group of Anonymous supposedly ‘threatened’ Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (who you’ll remember has appeared on this blog a few times before) after he announced his intention to pass a bill that would allow police to access information on the IPs of Canadians without a warrant. Mr. Toews then said that anyone who thought it was a bad idea to let police snoop people’s personal data without any kind of judicial oversight was simply standing with child pornographers. Anonymous, being who and what they are, did not like that, and released this “threat”:

Again, that’s not the punchline. While the threats were comparatively mild, Toews and his Republican North colleagues threw a shit fit and demanded answers. This Inquisition was spurred on by the revelations that a Liberal Party staffer was responsible for a novelty Twitter account that revealed the (publicly-available) details of the depths of Vic Toews’ depravity in the form of affidavits signed during his divorce proceedings*. All of a sudden the “liberal conspiracy” klaxons were sounding from the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, and the government was out for blood. [Read more…]

The passing of history

It is a fairly common and mainstream opinion to deride formal apologies from governmental institutions for historical wrongs. Often it is couched in the language of privilege: “why should the government apologize for something that happened a hundred years ago?” , as though there is a statue of limitations on right and wrong. Other times it comes from a place of arch-liberal cynicism: “words are cheap and easy. An apology is meaningless – just a political stunt to deflect attention”.

There is some superficial legitimacy to both of these responses. After all, if the current government has not committed an action, what exactly does an apology mean? That they feel just super awful about the whole thing? That they think they are somehow responsible for actions that took place before they were elected into office? That we should all, by extension, feel guilty for something over which we had no control?

In my eyes, an apology, properly done, affords us the opportunity to do two things. The first is to, in an entirely inadequate way, attempt to recognize and ease the pain of those who have suffered injustice at the hands of a government whose duties ostensibly include protecting people from victimization (rather than participating in it). The second and more important function of these apologies is to acknowledge our history, both good and bad. Especially when our history is so ugly: [Read more…]