Home > math, white privilege, women in math > Male nerd privilege

Male nerd privilege

January 2, 2015

I recently read this essay by Laurie Penny (hat tip Jordan Ellenberg) about male nerd privilege. Her essay stemmed from comment 171 of Scott Aaronson’s blogpost about whether MIT professor Walter Lewin, who was found to be harassing women, should also have had his OpenCourseWare physics course taken down. Aaronson says no.

Personally, I think it should, because if I’m a woman who was harassed by that dude, I don’t want to see physics represented by my harasser up on MIT’s website; it would not make me feel welcome to the MIT community. Physics is a social community activity, after all, just like mathematics, and it is important to feel safe doing physics in that community. Plus the courses will be available on YouTube and other places, it’s not like the physics represented in the course has been lost to humanity.

Anyhoo, I did really want to talk about white male nerd privilege. Penny makes a bunch of good points in her essay, but I think she misses a big opportunity as well.

Quick summary. Aaronson talks about how he spent his youth and formative years terrified, since he was a shy nerd boy. Penny talks about how she did too, but then on top of it had to deal with structural sexism. Good point, and entirely true in my experience. Her best line:

At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright. Privilege doesn’t mean you don’t suffer, which, I know, totally blows.

So, I had two responses to her piece.

First was, she was complaining about her childhood, but she wasn’t even fat! I mean, GAWD. She was complaining about being too skinny, of all things. Plus it’s not clear whether or not she came from an abusive home. So I’ve got like, at least two complaints up on her. She thinks she’s had it bad?!

My point being, we can’t actually win when we count up all the ways we were miserable. Because the truth is, most people were actually miserable in their childhood, or soon after it, or at some time. And by comparing that stuff we just get stuck in a cycle of feeling competitively sorry for ourselves and pointing fingers. We need to sympathize, not only with our former selves, but with other people.

And although she does end the essay with the idea that we have to transcend all of our personal bruises and wrongs, and call each other human, and forget our resentments, it doesn’t seem like she’s giving us a path towards that.

Because, and here’s my second point, she doesn’t do the big thing of naming all of her privileges. Like, that nerds get good jobs. And that white people get loads of resources and attention and benefit of the doubt just for being white. At the end of the day, we are privileged to be sitting around talking about privilege. We are not worried about dying of hunger or exposure.

When Aaronson complained that naming male privilege is shaming, I’m prone to agree, at least if it’s done like this. What I’d propose is to figure out a way to talk about these structural problems in an aspirational way. How can we help make things fairer? How can we move this problem to the next level? Scott, you’re wicked smart, want to be on a taskforce with me?

Would it help if we gave it another name? Basic human rights, perhaps? Because that’s what we’re talking about, at the end of the day. The right to be free, to not get shot by the police, the right to hold a good job and care for your family, stuff like that.

Of course, there are plenty of people who are unwilling to move to the next level because they don’t acknowledge the structural racism, sexism, and other stuff at all. They don’t see the current situation as problematic. But on the other hand, there are loads of people who do, and Aaronson is clearly one of them.

As for problems for women in STEM, we’ve already studied this and we all know that both men and women are sexist, so it’s obviously not a blame game here. Instead, it’s a real cultural conundrum which we would like to approach thoughtfully and we’d like to make progress on as a team.

  1. JSE
    January 2, 2015 at 10:08 am

    The opening lines of the Great Gastby are very good on this:

    In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

    “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”


  2. January 2, 2015 at 10:11 am

    waaay to much to discuss here, but will just say it all reminds me a bit of an old (17-min.) ‘This American Life’ episode (act 2) about a fellow named Griffin Hansbury… offered without comment:


  3. January 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Two ideas, neither of which are mine:
    (1) This essay proposes that a better teaching style would help encourage a more diverse population to succeed in STEM fields: https://medium.com/@uberpreeya/walter-lewin-the-art-of-teaching-and-physics-gender-problem-9ebe5ea3adc0

    I love it because it is a positive position (tells us what to change and how to change it) and makes a lot of sense. Of course, there is a biased/discriminatory philosophy behind the teaching style, so both would have to change at the same time.

    (2) Some commentators on Aaronson’s blog indicate that MIT eliminated an online physics community when they removed the lectures. That seems serious, though perhaps this group can reform easily elsewhere (stackexchange)?


  4. David18
    January 2, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Tried to read Aaronson’s and Penny’s pieces, but tl;dr. My impression: both came from privilege, both need psychological counseling which would have helped and the fault lies with their parents and school staff for not referring them. I am told by people who deal with teenagers in schools that the number one priority is being popular and socially accepted.

    Second, biologically, the executive centers (which figure into judgment) don’t mature until age 16 or later. Moreover, many people in STEM are on the ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) range and thus, without counseling, ill-equipped to further manage their emotions compared to the “neurotypicals.”

    Furthermore, one of the largest ism’s in this society is IQ. If you believe IQ is bell-shaped, as many people have IQs of 80-100 as those in 100-120 range. Much of the talk of disparity and diversity leaves these less fortunate people out. We say it is wrong to be discriminated against because of skin color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, but not for sub-100 IQ.


    • January 3, 2015 at 3:44 am

      As for the IQ issue, there’s a reason it’s different. There’s no inherent difference among races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, etc. in terms of capabilities, whereas those with low IQs are not as capable at mental tasks. People with really low muscular mass are much less capable at certain things, just like people with low IQ. It so happens that our society values mental work more than physical work (see below), so those with lower IQs who are less capable at mental work have it worse off.

      Although I do think it’s silly that we should value mental work over physical work. Why should the person who lifts heavy objects in the hot sun all day, who works way harder than many 9-to-5ers behind a desk make half as much? You could mention “training” but most desk jobs require a college degree but don’t actually utilize much of the knowledge learned there.


      • Debitor Serf
        January 3, 2015 at 1:06 pm

        “Although I do think it’s silly that we should value mental work over physical work. ”

        “Although I do think it’s silly that we should value mental work over physical work. Why should the person who lifts heavy objects in the hot sun all day, who works way harder than many 9-to-5ers behind a desk make half as much? ”

        Are you trying to be nonsensical or sarcastic? I’ve been all over the internet and never once have I seen someone question why the value of a laborer is less than the value of the mental worker. That’s like asking why the mason earns less than the architect… Even Marx recognized the difference..

        The question you should be asking is why does the ‘owner’ of capital or the means of production get paid exponentially as much as the people employed to do the work to earn the owners the money?

        Why do the Walton heirs deserve more money than the combined wealth of 100,000,000 of the poorest americans?

        This is where the ‘real’ privilege in America is.


  5. Min
    January 2, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Excellent post! 🙂

    I disagree that naming male privilege, or White male middle class privilege, or whatever privilege is shaming. It is only shaming to those who should be ashamed. (Besides, we are a guilt society, not a shame society.)

    We do not talk about White male middle class privilege enough, at least, middle class White males do not. If we really came to grips with our privilege, there would be a whole lot less assholery in the world.

    It is true that pointing out someone else’s privilege is not calculated to win friends and influence people. If possible, it is better to join people than to alienate them. But they do not always let you join them, particularly if they believe that they deserve their privilege.


  6. KT
    January 2, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Perhaps I’m being overly rational here, but I don’t see (white/male/female/abled/blah) privilege as having to do at all with the personal circumstances or history of a person, but instead being about how our outer shells are perceived and the reactions that go along with that. So Aaronson’s white male privilege is entirely independent of his actual feelings, personality, worries, life, etc., and as long as I smile I’m seen as a nice white lady (regardless of whether I’m a seething b*^&*h inside, or grew up poor, or have a hidden disability) and treated accordingly.

    Going back and reading at least the list in Peggy McIntosh’s essay introducing the idea of “white privilege” or “male privilege” is still useful. (https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf) It’s got stuff like “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the
    existence of their race.” Nothing about whether you felt loved as a child or could easily converse with romantic interests.

    Our personal discussions of childhood and shame and growing up are useful in developing empathy. We should have them. They’re not the same as having discussions about “[t]he right to be free, to not get shot by the police, the right to hold a good job and care for your family.”

    People were trying to have that second discussion by talking about “privilege”. I like the word, but it has to be changed because too many people take it personally, and about 85% of the white-ish people I’ve talked to have responded with an immediate, “But I had problems, I’m not privileged!” With the exception of “normal,” mathematicians are good at coming up with names for new technical concepts. What’ll it be?


    • January 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Great points!


    • Min
      January 2, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      KT: “about 85% of the white-ish people I’ve talked to have responded with an immediate, “But I had problems, I’m not privileged!” With the exception of “normal,” mathematicians are good at coming up with names for new technical concepts. What’ll it be?”

      Fortunate? Favored? It’s not really a technical concept, and whatever term you come up with most people to whom it applies will think that it does not apply to them.


      • KT
        January 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

        I was hoping we could get something funky. You know, when you hear, “monstrous moonshine” you think “that must be interesting!” and then “what the heck is it?” I’m not going to do well at this at all, but what if we called it “shell reflex quotient” or something? That’ll never catch on…

        What I’m trying to name is for instance the percentage likelihood that you’ll be shot in a Walmart when you pick up an air rifle. If your shell is white and well-dressed, the reflex to shoot you is lower….? Maybe that would help people with the understanding that we’re talking about externals instead of internals in that particular conversation.


      • KT
        January 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm

        You’re totally right that “fortunate” and “favored” are both true in many ways and those to whom the words apply will not necessarily accept those as a label.


        • Min
          January 2, 2015 at 9:39 pm

          Hmmm. Remembering my youth in the Bible Belt, “blessed” is not bad. It has religious connotations, but IMX people don’t object much to being blessed.


    • Debitor Serf
      January 3, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      The following argument is a bit extreme, but there are places in the world that laugh at the concept of ‘privilege’. For example, saudi arabia. there are three classes of people. Members of the royal family (who get free flights on airlines in the kingdom, among other things), then citizens, and foreigners (aka everyone else). Of course the royal family gets everything, that’s what privilege is!


  7. ~ mclovin
    January 2, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Aaronson writes “All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings—even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery”—actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement! Contrary to what countless people have said, this is not intended to blame women for their choices—or even, really, to blame the Neanderthals. Rather, it’s intended to blame a culture that told male nerds since childhood that they’d be horrible people if they asked—even more horrible than if they didn’t ask!—thereby ceding the field to the Neanderthals by default.”

    As a nerdy socially awkward guy who can’t get a date, I sometimes wonder how math professors who met their wives when their wives were grad students and they were postdocs/professors ended up asking out their wives – or maybe it was the wife doing the asking (apologies for this torturously phrased sentence).


    • Min
      January 2, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Yeah, there is a double standard for males, too.


    • Debitor Serf
      January 3, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Alcohol, dummy.


  8. January 2, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    aaronson seems to have slightly gone off the deep end with some of his recent ramblings. & wrote a brief comment on his last blog & he seems to have deleted it. so much for open discussion. its amazing how much vividity that some can recall their childhoods with. heck can barely remember half mine. and maybe thats not a bug, but a feature :p
    more recent lins on gender/race balance in STEM fields here


  9. January 3, 2015 at 11:40 am

    One way forward could be if everyone, not only feminists, included all the other bigotries when discussing their own. The way discussions of misogyny almost always include mention that racism, homophobia, classism, are all also really bad. Which they are. But for some reason that tip of the hat is very rare when people are talking about other -isms.

    (Am I being sarcastic? Yes and no. I really do think it would be a Good Thing if everybody realized that bigotry is bigotry and horrible in all its forms. But I also think that a lot of the discussion really amounts to hey!-I-want-better-treatment-for-Me. It sounds better when it’s about a whole group, though. So trying to get people to pay attention to anything but themselves? Part of me just thinks Good luck with that.)


    • Debitor Serf
      January 3, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Take a look as the rich kids of instagram and you’ll understand why ‘classism’ is probably the most underestimated ‘ism’ of all the social constructs created by professors in their ivory towers in small towns across america.


  10. Debitor Serf
    January 3, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t deny that white privilege exists but I seriously think people overestimate it’s effect. I as a white male have been benefited by white privilege – but I’ve been more benefited by high test scores, being 6’0″ tall and being rather handsome 😉

    But in my experience, what I’ve found is far far far more beneficial in life than a structural ‘white privilege’ (even though in many major cities these days whites are not the majority racial group, especially not in my city) is having money, particularly family money. Family money, regardless race, allows entrance into the right clubs, right schools, right sports, right neighborhoods where the rest of the privileged people interact. Even though I grew up white male and avoided getting arrested, my family’s lack of money meant that my schools were poor, had gangs, and I had to work rather than study so my grades suffered. So when I went to look for a job, I didn’t work at the best companies, so my resume didn’t look as good when looking for a second job, and so on and so on……


    • Auros
      January 3, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      It’s very hard to untangle the privileges of class from the privileges of race, if you’re white. The American white middle class has had its wealth subsidized through the expropriation of most or all of the value of minority labor (especialy blacks, but also Chinese working the western railroads, Hispanics in agriculture and other service jobs, etc; arguably there’s even an effect within the upper middle class where the availability of H-1B visa holders — mostly from India, Korea, and Russia — are dependent on a particular employer in order to stay in the country, and their lack of bargaining power puts downward pressure on all wages). The biggest factor in recent generations was probably the investment in (white) homeownership from the 1940s forward, with redlining of black districts being an explicit policy of Federal Housing Administration. This both excluded blacks from the subsidies, and created opportunities for them to be abused — read Ta-Nehisi Coates “Case for Reparations” for exhaustive details. Within the lifetimes of our parents, we were spending a noticable sliver of GDP on enriching whites at the expense of blacks and other minorities. (If you look at the impact of racially-biased policing today, we arguably still are — we subsidize the security of white neighborhoods, and thus white housing wealth, at the expense of minorities — but at least that’s more through stupidity and misguided beliefs about public safety.)

      This is not to say that you’re wrong about money being important — a black kid born into a family headed by a hedgie is obviously more likely to go to college and get a good job than a white kid born to a poor, uneducated family in Appalachia. But you have to remember how unusual that black family would be, and how many black families whose forebears were just as smart and hardworking as that hedgie (or your own parents and grandparents), missed out on opportunities to move up the ladder because of policies that were *designed* to benefit whites at their expense.


      • Auros
        January 3, 2015 at 7:04 pm

        BTW, just as a post-script about H-1Bs: I’m not opposed to inviting high-skilled immigrants to come work in the tech sector. I’ve met some fellow tech nerds who are, because they think it lowers their wages. My feeling is that those people should be welcome to come here and work, but that their visas should not be tied to an employer. If they’re good enough for some tech giant to higher, they’re good enough to *stay*, even if that tech giant has a round of layoffs, and good enough to be recruited away by a smaller firm without having that firm invest in a huge immigration law department.


      • Debitor Serf
        January 3, 2015 at 9:44 pm

        “The American white middle class has had its wealth subsidized through the expropriation of most or all of the value of minority labor”

        That’s a huge overgeneralization. You could say that the tombs of Egypt and the gold and silver of Rome were expropriated by the value of minority labor; and the Kings and Lords of medieval england took 1/3rd of a sef’s labor in the form of payment in kind;

        But in modern america, and more specifically, non-slave holding states in the US? Not anywhere near the extent you allege.

        If many minorities have been ‘shut out’ of the labor market over the years and had service jobs or menial labor, it’s tough to say that the value of their labor has been expropriated, especially if regulated to service jobs. It’s tough to argue that the african-american who valets my car is having the value of his labor stolen from him.

        however, there’s an argument to be made that the value of the labor for facebook, m$, google employees has been expropriated. The tech companies pay their employees quite handsomely, and no one feels sorry for the $150,000 a year programmer, but their labor collectively is worth billions to Zuckerberg, Gates, Sergey, that they could effectively muttiply the salary of every employee by 10 and still continue to be billionaires.

        Which again, brings me to my earlier point that the politics of divisiveness is, in an abstract sense, exactly what the plutocracy wants, to keep the attention off their extraordinary wealth. A $150,000 a year job with $100,000 in student loans from Stanford who pays $800,000 for a 3 bedroom house in Sunnyvale is still a working chump; and basically goes to work every day to make his boss filthy rich.


        • Auros
          January 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm

          Debitor Serf, you really should read the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece, if you haven’t. Labor value doesn’t have to be directly taken by the employer — though that happens, through wage theft, unpaid overtime, and simply preventing wages from rising in tandem with productivity. The big method of stealing the value of black work, during the post-WW2 period, was through the housing market. Blacks could not get traditional mortgages, and their efforts to buy into the system that was working, as a method for whites to build wealth, instead acted as a portal through which the money they earned from their work could be transferred to capital holders (mostly whites). At the time, at least, because taxes were higher, this also subsidized the federal gov’t, which in turn was subsidizing the whole housing market, in ways that benefitted whites.

          The rise of the system under which student loans sap the earnings of folks like your example is simply a broadening or generalization of a sytem that was already in place. The vampire squid got tired of restraining its appetite, and moved on from sucking the earnings out of minorities, to attacking the whole population.

          Though it does still do its worst to minorities — look up the early ’00s history of minority families who qualified for conforming loans, being steered into Alt-A or subprime loans with balloon payments, that were *designed* to blow up in their faces, letting the banks collect a bunch of interest and then seize the houses, and possibly other assets besides.


  11. January 3, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Love this take so much better than the Penny piece, which I found problematic in many ways, especially it’s reliance on perceptions of sexual appeal and attractiveness as major indicators of privilege, in high school and young adulthood, no less.

    What I so often find fascinating in discussions of privilege is that everyone is quick to point out that there are those who are much more privileged than themselves, but find it very hard to imagine anyone could be less privileged, specific to their own unique circumstances of hardship.

    There is no hard, bright line of privileged versus not-privileged and until a majority of people can understand that, things are not going to change much. Wherever any individual stands on the spectrum of privilege, there will always be someone above us and someone below us. We have to be willing to work with those on either side, to gather more of us into a sort of fluid *pool of equality,* by pulling to the middle whenever possible.


    • Debitor Serf
      January 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      why? Why does everything need to be a pool of equalty? I have a minor in philosophy and this was a topic of discussion quite frequently. I understand making the rules fair, and removing structural and systemtic inequality from the system, but I don’t see why those with ability should be held back because the system abstractly favors people who look like them.


  12. January 3, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    lol at “rich kids of instagram”. now theres someone we can all unite/ join in hating/ demonizing right? 🙂 a new phenomenon, they are now major tabloid fodder, think theres a reality show on tv for them too now….
    re “privilege” here, some of this is related to the decrease in the inheritance tax in the US, which was successfully propagandized by the right wing as so-called “death tax”. this is an interesting way/ case study in which govt policy highly/ directly influences the social definition of “privilege”…..


    • Debitor Serf
      January 3, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      But the extreme wealth is real privilege. Paris Hilton earned more money from Perfume and DJ’ing last year than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime.

      Everybody wants to point at each other saying with the ‘isms or the white privileges and but the uber wealthy who own darn near everything are laughing all the way to the bank. We’re all divided against each other saying “you’re a nerdy white guy you so you get a better job” and he looks at the asian invasion in IT and says “but you have privilege because you’re asian” and females look at men and the LGBT vs the straight. But in the end, we’re all just fighting over crumbs. Literally crumbs.

      I read today that online shopping in the US this xmas season totalled $61 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. However, Bill Gates is worth $82 billion and that is AFTER he’s given away billions. He earns money off his money faster than he can give it away for free! The wealthiest americans own 42% of the country’s financial assets and the top 5% together own 72% of all the country’s financial assets.

      The rest of us, the 95% of us remaining, are fighting over the 28% of the financial assets remaining.

      Me thinking you’re privileged because you make a little more as a white male vs. an asian male vs. LGBT vs. minority vs. whatever ‘ism’ you want to put into the equation is still nothing, it’s really meaningless, so it’s so petty, like school children fighting over a set of dice.

      The rich laugh at us. It’s a big joke, you shouldn’t be resenting the poor white man because he has a less chance of being arrested as compared to a minority, you should be joining arms with him to fix the broken financial system that accumulates the ‘real’ privilege in so few who have their own private security forces to protect them from the rest of us.


      • Auros
        January 3, 2015 at 7:43 pm

        “you shouldn’t be resenting the poor white man because he has a less chance of being arrested as compared to a minority, you should be joining arms with him to fix the broken financial system that accumulates the ‘real’ privilege in so few who have their own private security forces to protect them from the rest of us.”

        Amen to that.

        I think it’s worth keeping an eye on the complexities of what it would mean to have a just world — but the huge disparity between the power of the modern plutocratic elite, and EVERYONE else, even upper middle class white folks, is kind of jaw-dropping. Though maybe it shouldn’t be — we probably should consider the period of broad equality and success for the (white) middle class to be an exception, with plutocracy being the historical norm. A society with true small-d democracy, and broadly shared success, is something that has to be fought for, and then maintained, continuously, against whoever tries to corrupt it for narrow personal gain.


      • Auros
        January 3, 2015 at 7:48 pm

        Of course, there’s the non-trivial problem that, at least at the moment, the plutocracy is having a lot of success in persuading the poor white man to *refuse* to link arms with other disadvantaged groups — stoking resentment against the “rising threats” of feminism, affirmative action, etc…

        I have this dream that at some point, members of the white working class are going to start having light-bulb moments about how the information sources they grew up with — the affinity fraudsters of the right-wing noise machine — have been lying to them about basically everything, for decades.


      • January 3, 2015 at 8:33 pm

        agree with virtually everything you say. except that paris hilton started out fabulously wealthy before she “made” money DJing or perfume. oh yeah and have you heard how well kim kardashians mobile game is doing? its a massive top-of-charts hit, and not merely in the way that a measly song album like taylor swift goes to the top of the charts; she is projected to earn more from that than even her *lucrative* tv show & other projects!

        and [eg with paris hilton] the rich are paid crazy sums of money for so-called “jobs” that no normal person would recognize as a “job” such as just showing up to a club in nice clothes with her friends…..

        so the real model for wealth is that there are people that earn money for *labor* and people that *dont!* eg via “investments” or pseudo jobs. except those so-called “investments” are not available to normal ppl, eg such as hedge funds that have very high/ consistent returns but are not open to anyone with less than $1/2 to 1M…. and the current govt system is relatively blind to this basic reality, and so is much of the populace, which is either largely ignorant of wealth inequality, or considers it inconsequential…..

        absolutely, wealth disparity is the REAL ENEMY and all this @#$% commotion about geek girls or geek boys or assgrabbery or grabassery is worthless cockfighting except via human peons…. wage slavery, try to escape it! its a way of life, a lifetime debtor prison!


  13. Sam Davis
    January 3, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Hey Cathy – I have for a while now done Reevaluation Counseling, where one of the principles is that we *all* had hard childhoods that set us up to feel (most of the time) that we are not being treated fairly. Boys in particular have a lot of expectations thrown at them (competitiveness, gnawing doubt as to whether you are tough enough to be a superhero or bad enough to be a Bad Guy, etc.) and RC is the only place I have heard the term Male Oppression to summarize the ways that boys grow up feeling disempowered. I am pretty convinced that a lot of sexism stems from most boys’ early anger at their moms, displaced to the other women around us. But regardless, once we grow up to be men, a lot of us white guys are still acting out all of our anger at how we were treated as boys, and are in extreme denial that we now have a lot of power and privilege due to being white men. So a lot of times, I think us white guys often hear the words “white and/or male privilege” as denying that we had it hard when we were small boys. But it’s *not* to deny that we had it hard back then – it is to state the plain fact that we have a lot of privileges now, that other people don’t. More or less the same goes for other people who have other kinds of privilege, I think.


  14. January 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I comoletely agree that while the dialogue of privilege could be constructive, the way it is currently framed is counter-productive. It reminds me of how Republicans have framed Social Security and Medicare are “entitlements” instead of basic *rights*. Instead of lowering the bar so that white men (even poor ones) have to apologize for not being discriminated against, why don’t we take a page out of the right wing playbook and demand that all of our liberties be respected.


  15. January 4, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Regarding Walter Lewin and OCW, I’m of two minds. The issue of separating the art from the artist comes up a lot. The anti-gay Catholic Church had no problem with Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Some, but not all, Holocaust survivors and their descendants are able to enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, and even go out of their way to travel to Europe for performances. Second, who is being punished by removing his online lectures from OCW? Lewin or people who want to understand physics.

    As a parent of an MIT alum I participate in group discussions with MIT parents and MIT parents of alumni. This topic came up and we debated it. Apparently Lewin had a real gift in being able to simplify and explain complex physics – a rare talent. The parents were split on the issue. OTOH, it was reported that current students felt that his lectures should stay in. Frankly, I think his lectures should stay in, but I don’t have a high confidence level in my position on this issue, as I oppose listening to Wagner. Am I being a hypocrite on this issue? It’s a tough one for me.


  16. January 4, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    On the issues of “privilege.” isms, and “micro aggressions:” If you are talking only amongst yourselves and don’t care about affecting change, you can of course use these recently common progressive terms. But if you are intent on changing attitudes and outcomes, these terms only create resentment, alienation, and animosity to your cause(s) in the majority of the population who don’t share your progressive outlook and are “triggers” to tune you out.


    • January 5, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Yeah I think that’s the crux of it. There were many good speakers in the civil rights movement, but Martin Luther Kind was the one who was able to communicate to a broad audience


    • Auros
      January 10, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      I’m kind of hoping that Jim Webb’s involvement in the 2016 campaign can help reformulate Democratic ideals in a way that speaks to the white working class more clearly, even if he doesn’t ultimately win. I liked Jamelle Bouie’s take on his candidacy.


  17. January 5, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    an issue finally reaching zeitgeist critical mass now in New Yorker cartoon on “male nerd priviliege”


  1. January 10, 2015 at 7:56 am
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: