John Scalzi posted an essay two days ago entitled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” It has set off a nutty firestorm in certain internet circles. Prior to reading my comments, you may want to go read his essay.1
I find it fascinating that the commentary on his original essay and on the followup postings, both at the Whatever and at the reprint on Kotaku, have focused almost exclusively on items that didn’t seem to be the point. Let me summarize my perception of Scalzi’s article:
- I, John Scalzi, have been trying to find a new metaphor for White Privilege
- Here it is
The whole point to his essay is stated in the first sentence:
I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,”…
The rest is an elucidation of a method for describing why white people, white male people, and especially white straight male people have it easier in America, all other things being equal. The furor that erupted in the commentary was amazing to me because it seemed that most people either didn’t read the article and just knee-jerked their way to a response, or didn’t get it.
For the record, I think this is a good metaphor. It has flaws, yes, but it’s overall a good one. However, where I think Scalzi missed the mark, and especially so in his reactions to comments, is two fold: He didn’t emphasize enough that he was searching for a way to describe privilege without using the term, and he didn’t acknowledge that there is a fundamental assumption behind the whole edifice, that being the existence of white privilege.
Again, for the record, I think he’s spot on in his description of things being easier if you’re born male, and straight, and white. Do I think “White Privilege” exists? Yes, but that term is so freighted with baggage that it’s not useful to have a conversation surrounding it. Thus, the essay. We just came back to that first sentence I mentioned.
The comments on Kotaku and the Whatever seem to indicate that this is a topic that, like Social Security, can’t be discussed in a reasonable fashion in the public square. People have their opinions and some stick by them no matter the situation.
I’ll end by emphasizing what I got out of the essay:
Outside environmental factors, wealth of parents, genetic inheritances and other factors, if you are born White, Straight, and Male in America, life will be easier for you than if you were not. Personally, I think that’s a statement of fact, rather than opinion.
- If you come back hours later, it’s because you stayed to read the comments. [↩]