Tag Archives: race relations

On Privilege, Resentment, and Lottery Winners

Think of a person you knew in high school that you just didn’t like. The reason why you didn’t like them isn’t important. They’re just someone you don’t care for and would prefer not to think about them in any capacity.

Now, imagine that same person won the lottery.

Suddenly, this person you seriously resent has been gifted a glut of random, unfeeling luck. They now have access to wealth, resources, and opportunities that you can only dream of.

From afar, they look happy and thrilled. Their life seems destined to be one of excitement, leisure, and fulfillment. They did nothing to deserve it. They didn’t work for it or earn it. They just got lucky.

Would that make you resent them even more? Before you answer that question, ask yourself another.

Is it even right to resent a person who just got lucky?

Most reasonable people might have a problem despising someone, just because they got lucky. It’s petty, resenting someone for their good fortune. It implies that you don’t think they deserve it.

It also implies that you think you deserve it more. There’s something inherently wrong with a system that allows someone like that to get lucky while you are stuck in your current circumstances.

I bring this up because it helps illustrate the hot-button debates surrounding privilege. It has become somewhat of a dirty word in recent years. In many discussions surrounding race, politics, religion, and gender, the topic of which group has which privileges tends to come up. These discussions can get downright ugly, especially when they’re racially charged.

Now, I’m going to be very careful with my words here. I want to make a valid point, but I don’t want it to inspire even more ugly discussions. I also don’t want to give the impression that every side of the issue is equally substantive. Some arguments are more absurd than others. That’s an unavoidable pitfall when discussing sensitive issues. That’s where you’ll get argumentative equivalent of flat-earthers.

With that context in mind, I want to try and deconstruct the rhetoric surrounding which group has privilege, what it implies, and why it matters. The concept of social privilege is pretty simple. In a diverse, multi-cultural society, like the one we’ve established over the past few centuries, certain groups have inherent advantages over others. However, not all of those advantages are the same.

If you’re a straight, cis-gendered man, you have certain advantages.

If you’re a straight, cis-gendered woman, you have certain advantages.

If you’re white in a society that’s predominantly white, you have certain advantages.

The same concept applies to disadvantages. Being a minority in most societies, regardless of development, will incur some disadvantages. If you’re black, gay, Muslim, Jewish, transgender, bisexual, or disabled in a society where the majority is none of those things, you will face challenges that others won’t. For anyone who values fairness, justice, and equality, that’s an issue.

It can be even subtler than that. If you’re born with natural beauty, you’ll have advantages as well. Like it or not, people tend to help someone who’s physically attractive. The same applies if they happen to have a special talent, such as throwing a football or playing an instrument. People without those skills are at a disadvantage, if only with respect to attention.

As a social species, humans already have an innate sense of fairness. These disparities don’t go unnoticed by both the majority and minority. Like playing a game where someone is using cheat codes, people are going to strive for greater fairness.

Some will be more aggressive than others in that pursuit. At the same time, those who have those advantages will try to maintain them. They may not even see them as advantages.

While that seems simple in the context of a game, it gets exceedingly complex when you apply it to society at large. It also gets contentious, as both historic and contemporary protests have shown.

It has even become popular to tell people to “check their privilege” at the door when entering a conversation. Even if it’s done in the spirit of fairness, it can still come off as downright resentful.

That may be understandable, to some extent. It may even be acceptable for some because achieving perfect fairness and perfect equality just isn’t realistic. There’s always going to be someone who gets lucky or is just naturally more talented or beautiful. It’s the nature of reality. It still doesn’t answer the same question I posed earlier.

Is it right to resent a person who just got lucky?

For anyone attempting to answer it, there’s probably a short and long version of that answer. It may depend on the nature of the luck involved. Someone who wins the lottery is easy to envy, but difficult to resent. If you don’t know the person, then chances are you’re not going to resent them. You’ll just be jealous of their luck.

However, the random luck of a lottery winner isn’t that different from the random luck that makes someone straight, white, Christian, and male at a certain point in history within a certain society in which they have advantages. When we’re born, we don’t have a choice in the circumstances. We simply grow, develop, and react within them along the way.

Those circumstances can include some very distressing facts. There’s no getting around the fact that certain groups have brutally oppressed others and effected the system to preserve their advantages while disadvantaging others. Even if it happened centuries ago, the effects of those injustices are still felt today.

Most reasonable, decent people are in favor of righting such injustices. However, the right way to go about it is where a lot of resentment starts to emerge. Some of that is unavoidable, given how easy it is to derail an argument, but there’s another component to discussions about privilege that goes beyond lottery winners.

Whenever someone protests the privileges of any group, be they white men, affluent middle-class women, or people born with natural beauty, there’s often an angry backlash and not just from those seeking to protect their privilege. In fact, most of that backlash comes from people who fit the generalization, but are not privileged.

There are straight white men who, despite their demographics and circumstance, have no advantages whatsoever. They’re poor, destitute, and miserable. They work every bit as hard as those in minority groups, but still struggle.

Then, despite their dire circumstances, they hear rhetoric that claims they’re somehow the most privileged people in the world. Chances are, they’re going to feel resentful too.

That’s because, statistically speaking, only a handful of people who fit the stereotype of “privileged” individuals really enjoy those advantages. These are individuals in positions of power and authority, both politically and economically. Some are identifiable by name. Others are just indirectly influential, due to their wealth, status, and resources.

The vast majority of men don’t have a say in how patriarchal or egalitarian society is.

The vast majority of white people don’t have a say in how racially segregated society is.

The vast majority of women don’t have a say in how men are disadvantaged men are in divorce court, child custody, or alimony.

The vast majority of straight people don’t have a way in how the law handles issues LGBTQ discrimination.

The vast majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus have no say in how their religion conducts itself as an organization.

However, since there’s rarely a single, mustache-twirling villain who exists solely to oppress on certain issues, our only choice is to generalize. We’re already a tribal species, by nature. It’s depressingly easy to channel that into what we perceive as the source of an injustice.

It’s also easy to resent people who are clearly privileged and go out of their way to abuse it. Those individuals deserve that kind of resentment. Like a lottery winner who becomes an insufferable asshole because of his luck, the resentment is both understandable and justified.

The problem with resenting the privilege of entire groups is that it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees. The existence of one asshole lottery winner doesn’t mean that every lottery winner is an asshole by default. By that same token, the existence of one group of people who enjoy egregious advantages doesn’t mean everyone like them enjoys them as well.

There are all sorts of complexities and nuances that go into what gives certain people advantages over others. Sometimes, it’s objectively unfair how certain people exploit their advantages and we should all work for a more fair and just system.

However, it’s a simple matter of removing the privileges to level the playing field. It’s also not realistic to yell at people until they purposefully disadvantage themselves for the sake of others. That’s akin to demanding that lottery winners give up their winnings in the spirit of fairness. It doesn’t just defeat the purpose. It makes us the resentful assholes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, extremism, gender issues, human nature, LGBTQ, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology

Happy Columbus Day (And My Honest Thoughts On It)

First off, Happy Columbus Day!

I know that’s a somewhat political statement these days, but I’ll say it anyways, just to get it out of the way.

I’m not saying it to be political. These days, I try to be very careful about statements that can be even partially construed as political. That’s just the nature of the times we’re living in. We’re so divided, defensive, and tribal that it’s hard to see anything we don’t agree with as a politically-motivated attack.

As a result, Columbus Day has taken on some very political overtones in recent years and not in a good way. It used to just be a day to celebrate the landmark voyage of a famous explorer from the 15th century. That voyage, regardless of the politics surrounding it, opened the door to a new age of exploration between the Americas and Europe. Some believe that is worth celebrating.

On the other side, there are those who rightly highlight the negative impacts and outright atrocities that Columbus’ voyage incurred. If you were a native living in the Americas at the time of his arrival, you had no reason to celebrate. The man ushered in an era that saw the utter decimation of the entire native population.

He was also, even by the standards of his time, quite the asshole. He took slaves. He wasn’t exactly popular with his crew. He might not have been the worst offender of his time, but he certainly didn’t raise the bar.

Like many historical figures from the distant past, Christopher Columbus was a complex figure. There’s a lot we’ve come to know about him, especially in recent years as the less savory parts of his story have become more accessible. With that knowledge and the benefit of hindsight, a critical question remains.

Should Columbus Day still be celebrated as a holiday?

I admit freely that, for most of my life, I saw Columbus Day as little more than an extra day off school. I didn’t know or care much about the man or his story, beyond what I was told in school. Since then, I’ve tried to keep a balanced perspective on him.

If you want a fairly comprehensive assessment on who Columbus was and how we should judge him in the modern era, I recommend the rundown from the YouTube channel, Knowing Better. He does make his biases and opinions very clear, but he still gets the point across.

If there’s one take-away worth gleaning from this video, it’s that we can appreciate the achievements of Christopher Columbus. We can even acknowledge the impact he had on world history, for better or for worse. However, celebrating him as a holiday at this point has connotations and implications that just don’t work in the modern era.

Columbus isn’t history’s greatest monster, but he’s not someone who deserves a state-sanctioned holiday in a country that has a diverse population, including groups that suffered greatly due to Columbus’ legacy. For that reason, I think at the very least, the name of the day should be changed.

Some have proposed calling it Indiginous Peoples Day to celebrate the legacy, as well as acknowledge the hardships, of the Native American populations of the Americas. I would certainly be on board with that.

Perhaps we can call it something more generic like World Exploreres Day or Unity Day. While Christopher Columbus may have been an asshole, he did succeed in one critical area. He took a major step towards connecting the world. Whether they called it the old world or the new world, the result was the same. We are now one world because we dared to explore and connect.

That, in my opinion, is worth celebrating and we can do it without glorifying Christopher Columbus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, political correctness, politics, rants

A (Longview) Question For Those Who Fought To Change The Name Of The Washington Redskins

It’s really happening.

I doubt anyone expected it to happen in their lifetimes, but after years of protesting and pushing, it’s finally happening. The Washington Redskins are changing their name. As someone who has followed NFL football his entire life and knows way too much about the history of every team, I am genuinely shocked. I really didn’t think this was going to happen, especially with how stubborn the owner of the team has been.

Shocked or not, it’s happening. The Washington Post announced it and the team made it official. They are changing their name.

Washington Post: Redskins To Retire Team Name

In an interview July 4, Coach Ron Rivera – who is working with owner Daniel Snyder to choose a name – said he hoped the new name would be in place by the start of the 2020 NFL season. Others have said it will be revealed as soon as within two weeks.

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.

Many are already celebrating this victory. In the battle against offensive sports mascots, this was the equivalent of Goliath. It’s one thing to get a publicly funded college to change their name. It’s quite another to get a private multibillion dollar sports franchise with an 80-plus years history. It’s a huge feat. Let’s not deny that.

Granted, it’s a feat that only happened once money became a factor. This was not done for moral reasons or because someone made an impassioned plea. This was a business decision done for the sake of doing future business. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this endeavor, it’s that. Moral arguments do nothing. Money does all the talking.

It’s because of that, I suspect this is one of those issues that will still divide people. No matter what the new name is, people are still going to see them as “that team that used to be called the Redskins” or “that team that used to have a racist moniker.” Even though the team eventually did what some saw as the right thing, they’ll still be scorned because they didn’t do it soon enough.

That’s just the world we live in. The people who protested the name aren’t going to say “thank you.” They’re more likely to say, “It’s about damn time you racist piece of shit. Now, suffer for the rest of your life while we shame you, your children, and everyone you ever associate with and take it with a goddamn smile.”

That might be hyperbole, but that’s the power of outrage. It’s kind of addictive. The idea of turning anger into kindness, friendship, and harmony just feels like a bridge too far. People do get bored with outrage eventually, but only because they find something else to direct it towards.

That being said, I have a question to all those who are celebrating this feat. I want to ask that same question to everyone who passionately protested this name for years, protesting its racist connotations and use of caricatures. It’s a sincere, simple question that I hope people seriously contemplate.

What real, tangible benefit will changing the name of a football team accomplish for Native Americans communities in the long run?

The key word in that question is tangible. I’m aware of the various studies regarding the psychological impact of Native American mascots and caricatures. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. However, psychological impacts don’t always translate into tangible impacts. You can feel and think all you want. If you don’t do anything with it, then the impact never goes beyond brain chemicals.

As I write this, nearly a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and the unemployment rate on many reservations is around 40 percent. That’s a trend that has not improved substantially in recent years, regardless of how many or how few mascots a sports team uses. The Native American community has a host of other critical issues to deal with that include, but are not limited to:

  • Violence against Women and Children
  • Native Americans are Less Educated
  • Poor Quality Housing
  • Inadequate Health Care
  • Unable to Exercise Voting Rights
  • Native Language is Becoming Extinct
  • Limited Financial Institutions in the Native Communities
  • Natural Resources Exploitation

These are complex issues. I’m certainly not equipped to discuss them in detail. Some are more urgent than others, but plenty involve real, tangible impacts on a community. A lack of adequate health care, decent housing, and good education all incur tangible impacts. That’s beyond dispute. How will changing the name of a football team affect any of these issues?

I’m not being facetious. I genuinely want to know how much or how little that changing the name of an NFL football team will impact Native American communities in a tangible way. I don’t doubt that some will feel better about not having a football team with a racially insensitive name, but is that the only extent of the impact? Does that impact justify all the time, energy, and resources that went into this effort?

Please don’t answer that question now. Preferably, I’d like someone who is in touch with the Native American community to answer at least four years from now. By then, there will have been enough time for the impact of this event to play out. Whether it’s a decrease in poverty or an improvement in life expectancy, it should be clear by then. If it isn’t, then that poses another question.

Was all that effort to change the name of a football team a quality use of time and resources?

Again, that’s not a facetious question. I ask this as someone who really wants to know just how much a football team’s name actually impacts a large number of people within a minority community. I don’t expect to get clear answers now, but I hope they become clearer in the next few years. I also expect those answers to raise even more distressing questions.

1 Comment

Filed under censorship, NFL, political correctness, politics, rants, sports

Free Speech And The Long-Term Fallout Of The “Rosanne” Cancellation

rosanne

When it comes to free speech and freedom of expression, I consider myself somewhat of an extremist. If I were in charge of setting the standards, I would permit un-bleeped profanity, unfiltered hate speech, unblurred nudity, and anything else that One Million Moms finds offensive. That’s how much I believe in free speech.

It’s probably for that reason that I would be woefully unqualified to establish a legal framework for what constitutes free speech and how it would be enforced. I’m not a lawyer, a legal expert, or some colorful TV personality who pretends to be one. Despite my qualifications, though, I do feel like I have something worth contributing to an ongoing debate surrounding free speech.

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet or a TV over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the scandal surrounding Roseanne Barr. Simply put, Rosanne Barr made some offensive tweets that she blamed on sleeping pills. The tweets triggered a major outrage across social media. As a result, ABC canceled her hit show, which had been generating strong ratings since its return.

On some levels, I can understand this reaction. ABC is owned by Disney, a company that has one of the strongest brands in the world. They are not the government. They are a publicly traded company and as such, public perceptions affect their profits and their image. If you think that doesn’t matter, just ask the NFL what happens when a brand gets undermined.

On every other level, though, I see this reaction as one of those short-term solutions that could create many other problems in the long run. Whether you agree with Roseanne Barr’s politics or hate her guts, she was still just voicing her opinion. Yes, it was in bad taste and had some racial overtones, but she did apologize for it. The sincerity of that apology is hard to gauge, but the effort still counts for something in my opinion.

Even without that apology, the potential precedent and backlash are already in place. We, as a society, have established a process for punishing speech that we don’t like or find offensive. The process has nothing to do with an authoritarian government cracking down on its people. It doesn’t even involve the kind of mass censorship that other countries routinely practice. We’re doing this all on our own.

Essentially, we’re doing Big Brother’s job for him. We’re just not calling it censorship or a crackdown. Instead, we’re creating our own category of speech that a significant number of people believe ought not to be expressed or shared. There are no lawyers or police enforcing those standards. We’re doing that through a type of speech-based vigilante justice.

Me being a die-hard fan of superhero comics, many of which are built around vigilante justice, I’m somewhat sympathetic to those who want to right the wrongs that our imperfect justice system leaves unfinished. In this case, however, I don’t see the kind of justice that Batman would pursue, nor do I see the kind of villainy that the Joker would carry out.

I see an emerging system where a huge population of well-connected, well-informed, and generally well-meaning people want to confront people and ideas that they feel our damaging to others, themselves, and society as a whole. I don’t doubt their sincerity or their idealism. However, I seriously doubt they understand the implications of what they’re doing.

I don’t agree with Roseanne Barr’s comments. I didn’t find them funny, but I didn’t find them that offensive either. I see far more offensive comments on message boards and Reddit at least twice a day. That sentiment is out there. It exists. Even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, people would still have these thoughts and opinions.

That’s exactly why the outrage, protests, and subsequent consequences don’t necessarily achieve much beyond removing a few offensive comments from an immense network that’s full of so much worse. It does nothing to actually change the sentiments of those expressing the speech. If anything, it just makes them regret getting punished.

It’s akin to the inherent conflict we feel in accepting a criminal’s apology. We can’t know for sure whether they’re genuinely sorry for doing what they did or whether they’re just sorry they got caught. One is very different from the other. Without reading Roseanne Barr’s mind directly, we don’t know if her show getting cancelled has changed her political persuasions or just made them worse.

Moreover, her losing her show, her job, and her credibility reveals to a hyper-connected world that this is how you combat speech you find offensive. You don’t try to change someone’s mind. You don’t grow thicker skin and deal with it. You just get enough people to voice enough outrage and eventually, you can both remove the speech and punish the person who spoke it.

For those who didn’t like Roseanne’s comments or were genuinely offended by them, I doubt that seems like a bad thing. They are, after all, simply voicing their own free speech and using that to effect change from a non-government, publicly-traded company. They probably see themselves as the heroes in this story.

What happens, though, when the script is flipped? It’s not unlike the distressing thought experiment I pitched a while back that involved swapping the genders of famous movie or TV scenes. Reverse the roles and suddenly, the situation takes on a very different context.

You don’t even need any imagination to contemplate this because it already happened with Colin Kaepernick. Like Roseanne, he expressed himself in a very public way that triggered a very public backlash. He ended up losing his job and any prospects of getting another.

The same people celebrating Roseanne Barr’s cancellation likely protested how Kaepernick was treated. Some of them even protested on his behalf in a very public way to apply pressure not unlike the kind ABC faced. While the two situations are not exactly the same, the general premise is clear.

If someone expresses a political opinion that you don’t agree with, you and those like you can protest as well to silence that opinion and publish the one who expressed it. Conservatives can do it to liberal figures. Liberals can do it to conservative figures. The end result is the same. The speech is silenced and the speaker is punished, but the underlying attitudes remain untouched.

It’s those untouched attitudes that may end up having the biggest long-term impact of both the Roseanne Barr situation and that of Colin Kaepernick. Being public figures, these two made themselves targets with their controversial expressions. However, the way others confronted it is potentially damaging to the very concept of free speech.

Thanks to the internet, social media, and outrage culture, both situations make clear to those of any political persuasion that you don’t have to confront the actual substance of someone else’s speech. You don’t have to thicken your skin, evolve your thinking, or learn how to process offense. You can just protest the speech and punish the speaker, all without getting the government involved.

That’s the kind of approach that does not foster a free, open exchange of ideas. If anything, it ensures that people internalize their feelings and sentiments that others may find offensive. In doing so, that makes it even harder to confront them and potentially change their minds. Roseanne losing her show isn’t going to convince her that her critics are right. If anything, it’s going to make her hate her critics even more.

The end result of this kind of self-censorship is downright dystopian. Imagine a world where everything online, on TV, and in movies is so filtered, so watered down, and so overly polished that nobody even has an opportunity to voice anything offensive. The government doesn’t enforce it. We do.

In that world, hate and bigotry still exists. It’s just hidden and we have no way of knowing about it. History and human nature makes clear that internalizing these feelings can be very damaging. Now, we’ve just given Roseanne Barr and everyone who shares her views to be angrier and more hateful. We’ve also given them a tool with which to fight back against those they disagree with.

It’s a dangerous situation with damaging implications for the future of free speech. We could argue whether or not ABC was right to cancel Roseanne’s show or whether a company like Disney has the right to fire people who damage their brand. At the end of the day, though, the source of the outrage and conflict still comes from us. If offense is all it takes to censor speech, then speech is no longer free.

4 Comments

Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, media issues, political correctness