Mike Kueber's Blog

February 23, 2015

Kristof softens his approach to white-man privilege

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 9:57 pm
Tags: , ,

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written ad nauseam about white privilege. Yesterday’s column expanded the topic to white-man privilege.  But Kristof’s tone appears to be softening. Instead of characterizing white men as evil, he know considers the possibility that they are merely stupid:

  • White men sometimes feel besieged and baffled by these suggestions of systematic advantage. When I wrote a series last year, ‘When Whites Just Don’t Get It,’ the reaction from white men was often indignant: It’s an equal playing field now! Get off our case! Yet the evidence is overwhelming that unconscious bias remains widespread in ways that systematically benefit both whites and men. So white men get a double dividend, a payoff from both racial and gender biases. 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.”

A few months ago, I used the headwind/tailwind analogy with a friend during a white-privilege discussion on Facebook, and thought perhaps I had invented it. Now I’m thinking that if Kristof and I both thought of it, someone else probably thought of it before us. You think?

Regarding unconscious bias, who can argue against that? I’ve blogged often about the plethora of studies showing that our brains operate in a certain way, without regard to higher-level thinking. Even Kristof admits there’s not a lot you can do about it beyond being aware of it:

  • So, come on, white men! Let’s just acknowledge that we’re all flawed, biased and sometimes irrational, and that we can do more to resist unconscious bias. That means trying not to hire people just because they look like us, avoiding telling a young girl she’s ‘beautiful’ while her brother is ‘smart.’ It means acknowledging systematic bias as a step toward correcting it.”

Incidentally, a friend told me this weekend that he was recently involved in a road-rage incident in which the tough guy followed him into an HEB parking lot. My friend nonchalantly got out of his car without worry after noticing that the guy was driving a late-model Mercedes. Based on that information, he correctly presumed the guy was not going to assault him.

If the guy had been driving a beat-up car, my friend would probably still be driving.


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