The Lowest Difficulty Setting in Action

I noted a couple of years ago that Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting in the game called life (in particular the Western civilization variant of it). This annoyed many a straight white male, who didn’t see his life as being particularly “easy.” Noting that “lowest difficulty” is not the same as “easy” did not assuage this agitation. And well, I can understand it: If you genuinely think your life sucks — and it may! — it may be hard to imagine that you still get advantages other folks don’t.

So maybe this will help: A 25-year study followed the experience of nearly 800 children in Baltimore, from first grade into adulthood. Half their families were low income, many with parents who had not finished high school; 40% of those low-income kids were white.

A couple of relevant points from the article:

Looking at where these children started in life and where they ended up, the study results are troubling but clear: At 28, hardly any of the children from a disadvantaged background, black or white, had finished college.

But even without the benefit of a college degree, whites, and white men especially, had vastly better employment outcomes. At every age, the white men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more.

And:

[T]he consequences have been especially dire for African-Americans. As young adults, African-American men had fared much worse than whites in the job market, even though they and their white counterparts had about the same levels of education and the whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use and binge drinking…

Indeed, throughout the course of our study, it was clear that African- Americans face greater barriers to employment. Having an arrest record or failing to complete high school were less consequential for white men than for African-American men: 84% of whites without a high school degree were employed at 22; among African Americans, just 40% were.

And this is the point of the lowest difficulty setting metaphor. It isn’t that folks who are straight, and white, and male, can’t or don’t find themselves on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder. They can and do, and there’s no doubt that it sucks. But even then, they can catch some breaks that others — in this particular study, black men — don’t (or don’t catch as often).

Which is to say: Even as much as your life blows, straight white dude, the black dude in exactly the same situation is likely to have it worse. And not because of anything he (or you) did. Just because it’s the way things are.

This study applies specifically to Baltimore, it appears, and factors in Baltimore’s own history of racial and cultural biases. But I would not in the least be surprised if other studies in other major cities across the US (at least) cropped up similar data. Baltimore is not exactly unique in terms of its racial dynamics. Nor does it seem that the authors of the study would be surprised; the sales copy of the book the above article is based upon notes: “[Baltimore's] struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore’s children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.”

Now, bear in mind that when I said “maybe this will help,” that I don’t actually expect the sort of straight white man who fervently believes that is life is harder than anyone else’s, harder than anyone else can possibly imagine, and that society is even now feasting upon his set-upon bones, will pause to consider the data above. For that sort of dude, mere data are not nearly enough in the face of certain belief. For everyone else, including the straight white males who aren’t already conflating their own personal unhappiness with society squishing straight white men in general like bugs, this might be useful.

(Here’s another take on the data, at Science Daily (but largely written, it appears, by Johns Hopkins’ PR folks). There’s more in the study than just the one aspect I’m highlighting here, all of which are pretty interesting.)

168 thoughts on “The Lowest Difficulty Setting in Action

  1. Quick note:

    1. Mallet is in play, as it always is with entries like this. Please be nice to each other.

    2. This comment thread should not be used to reheat objections to the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” metaphor. Most of those objections have been dealt with here and here. If you try to drag the comment thread over to those topics again, I’ll likely tap you to get back on track, or Mallet your comments if you can’t. I thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    3. Again, to be clear, there is nothing being said here to suggest that individual straight white men can’t and don’t have difficult times and that their individual circumstances can’t be dire. Trust me, I’m well aware. Please try not to confuse a general observation regarding straight white men as a class, with a life experience of a specific straight white man. I will quickly find you tiresome if you do.

  2. Many of those white dudes,(and indeed it’s a conservative mantra) will claim that this data just bolsters Victimology. Here’s the thing: the difficulties faced by nonwhites, gender variant/queer/ women is just fact. To deny it, you are essentially Gaslamping people’s lived experiences. We succeed in spite of this hurdles; but it is crazy-making to think that the hurdles of sexism/racism/homophobia etc don’t exist.

  3. So how about a thread on solutions? I’m not a fan of the “lets pass a law” attempts, since they usually have unintended consequences and those disadvantaged by the law tend to just take it out somewhere else.

  4. Please try not to confuse a general observation regarding straight white men as a class, with a life experience of a specific straight white man.

    I think this can be one of the hardest points to grasp when talking about systems and institutionalized discriminatory practices. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but the evidence, such as the information gleaned from this study, still points to the overall trends of racial discrimination in our society.

  5. Normalize for two parent family, with high school degree, no kids till after marriage and marriage after 21 and you see a high degree of success in all races and sexes. It is a behavior issue. If you look at the stats for failing this set of behaviors there is a strong race disparity but the issue is still the individual behavior and not the society. Providing victim hood for something the individual can not help (skin color, orientation, etc.) obfuscates the solution.

  6. For those of you who are considering reading the comments of the original article: don’t. Just…don’t. It’s basically a sea of stereotypes and victim-blaming. (I know that the comment sections on articles such as this are close to the worst of the internet, but sometimes I get hopeful or curious. One day I’ll learn.)

    Thank you for the links to information about this study! It’s rather enlightening data.

  7. Kilroy:

    “So how about a thread on solutions?”

    I’m entirely certain people will try to offer solutions here in this very thread, consistent with their own political leanings, which may or may not reflect what’s possible or what would be consistent with the data.

    However, I should note that I think trying to make this a thread about “solutions” runs the risk of derailing the thread away from the point that this is further evidence of the “lowest difficulty setting,” in a general sense, and that many people still have a very difficult time accepting that it does exist, despite the data.

    Craig Gidney:

    I’d like to congratulate you for calling Rod Rubert’s comment three comments before it happened.

    Rod Rubert:

    I agree it’s a “behavior” issue. I think we would probably disagree on whose “behavior” is at issue, however.

  8. Scalzi:

    Arguing about whether straight white men have advantages over others seems to be about as beneficial as a debate on evolution. Some things just are and pesky facts are not going to convince those that have already decided to believe to the contrary. Or maybe just a good discussion on global warming. I’d kind of like to see a venn diagram of all three of those groups actually.

  9. @Kilroy, *any* attempts at solutions are likely to have unintended consequences. That’s the nature of the universe, not just government.

    Also, “pass a law” isn’t a solution in and of itself, and nobody thinks of it that way (except people who are happy to pretend it is, so they can go on being privileged). Laws can be *part* of solutions; that’s a large part of why we have governments instead of anarchic collectives. (Which is a whole ‘nother discussion, and not one to have here.)

  10. Rod Rubert:

    If you were able to rework the numbers in this study and come to the conclusion that it was these behavioral factors more at play that race/ethnicity/etc… I think it would still then leave open the question of why so many white folks had more “favorable” behavior and why so many black folks did not. The question would, in that unlikely case, still come back around to the systemic issues facing black people today and in previous years.

    More to the point, how is the marital status of a child’s parents anything he or she can help? Any more than that child’s skin color?

  11. Kilroy:

    “Arguing about whether straight white men have advantages over others seems to be about as beneficial as a debate on evolution.”

    I would agree, and yet if continuing evidence of evolution (or global warming) is not regularly put out there, the people who are willfully ignorant about the fact of it will still argue their own same tired points to a new crop of people.

    So there is yet some benefit to making the point that these advantages still exist.

  12. Rod: Normalizing for a two-parent family could confuse the results. For instance, if systemic disparities in the legal system mean that blacks are given longer sentences than whites for the same crime (citation), then a black child with a convicted parent is more likely to be in an effectively single-parent household for a longer time than a white child with a convicted parent. It’s all connected.

  13. The problem with the “behaviour” excuse is that the study shows that when white men behave as “badly” as black men (or in the case of drinking and drugs), they still face fewer consequences.

    “But the consequences have been especially dire for African-Americans. As young adults, African-American men had fared much worse than whites in the job market, even though they and their white counterparts had about the same levels of education and the whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use and binge drinking.”

    “Having an arrest record or failing to complete high school were less consequential for white men than for African-American men: 84% of whites without a high school degree were employed at 22; among African Americans, just 40% were.”

    That’s the thing here, poverty is a magnifying glass for this kind of thing. If you compare black and white men living the American middle class dream, you might have to look a lot closer, but when things start to get tough, the differences really show.

    It’s like if you take someone who’s unfit and someone who’s extremely fit and send them off for a walk together. If you only make them walk for 15 minutes, you won’t see much difference, but at the end of two hours of walking, the outcomes will be radically different for the fit and the unfit person.

  14. So, to put it succinctly, if you control for some of the many things that racism affects and ignore the rest, racism doesn’t have an effect.

    [laugh] Well, that’s certainly a helpful and enlightening observation.

  15. Scalzi:

    I concede the point. And now back to my regular life obtained through little hard work and mostly from early advantages of having grown up an upper-middle class white male with excellent educational opportunities.

  16. Arguing about whether straight white men have advantages over others seems to be about as beneficial as a debate on evolution. Some things just are and pesky facts are not going to convince those that have already decided to believe to the contrary.

    Sometimes there’s no convincing some people despite having solid evidence. However, it’s not just about convincing the skeptics and naysayers. Seeing these sort of issues talked about and supported with evidence also provides other benefits:

    1) It gives more tools to those who need them so they discuss the issue with others in their social circles; and

    2) It shows those who often have the validity of their own experiences questioned/dismissed/denigrated that there *are* others who are listening & support them, that more people are taking systemic inequalities seriously, and that people (even those who are not directly affected by these inequalities) are committed to doing the work to correct them.

  17. Interesting. A former coworker of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day. I immediately made the connection back to your “lowest difficulty” setting and sent him a link to it.

  18. Also, pointing out the reality of systemic and institutionalized discrimination and how it affects different people among multiple intersecting issues of marginalization and social privilege is not “providing victim hood.” It’s acknowledging the validity of people’s experiences of inequality in the system, rather than erasing them by handwaving it away as a matter of “individual behavior” and “bootstrapping.”

  19. Sometimes there’s no convincing some people despite having solid evidence. However, it’s not just about convincing the skeptics and naysayers.

    Actually, I think for many people, reminding them that this occurs may help combat the urge in themselves in future behavior. That’s useful.

  20. @Suzi:

    Careful. Couching things in terms of fitness leads to paths which none dare take.

    The question, ever and always, is: What is the barrier? What is stopping us from achieving our goal? Why does the world resist our aims?

    The comparison to climate change is eerily apt. Sunspots and increased solar output? Natural fluctuation? Historical climate records? Correlations without causation, or even significant effect. Model failures? Irrelevant. Everything is somebody’s fault, and that somebody is one or more featherless bipeds, not God, Nature, Chance, or whichever Prime Cause you may happen to tip your hat toward. Learn this lesson well, and you will be unanswerable in any contest of minds.

    (And no, that’s not an attempt to steer the conversation toward climate change. It’s a metaphor. Some things, be they climate or societal evolution, may be outside the purview of our power. Doesn’t stop it from somehow being somebody’s fault.)

  21. @Suzi: Thank you for saying this. That’s the meaning I got from the article as well. I thought of it like this – there’s no situation a Western/White man could be in that could not be made infinitely worse by being a member of a marginalized group. And for those men who want to argue that marginalized people have it so great, I never hear any of these men expressing a wish to be one of these people. I believe such men are well aware of their BS.

    @GeekMelang: Thank you ,for saying this. As a WoC, I don’t ever think of myself as a victim or feel like a victim, but just because individual people don’t FEEL like victims doesn’t mean they aren’t being victimized. I’m going to argue that most marginalized people don’t FEEL like victims. That doesn’t mean they aren’t.

  22. whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use and binge drinking.

    This makes sense as they have more money and spend less time in jail so they can afford drugs and alcohol and have the time to use them.

    Stereotypes are nice because we hate looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves. Just like we prefer rape to be stranger rape and not “the nice guy next door”.

    Institutional racism is scary because it means we are still a party to it. We think giving up our privilege will somehow hurt us rather than benefit us as well as them. When my town gets in arguments over raising taxes to pay for school needs I hear “we send our kids to private” or “we don’t have kids”. I wonder who they think are going to be the workers of tomorrow? Whose going to provide services for us when we retire?

    I want everyone’s kids educated and to have good healthcare and food because it’s good for me as well as them. My country is stronger when the majority of the citizens are educated, healthy, and productive. It benefits very few people to have a large portion of the population be poor. It cost us lots of money to keep generation after generation poor and uneducated. Keeping the “other” down is a waste of resources. It’s also morally wrong. Will we get this concept by the year 5000?

  23. That’s the thing here, poverty is a magnifying glass for this kind of thing. If you compare black and white men living the American middle class dream, you might have to look a lot closer, but when things start to get tough, the differences really show.

    Hm, that’s also a good point–poverty REALLY makes the unequal treatment obvious (though we just might be surprised on how pervasive and deleterious it is, even for middle class folks. Remember the multiple studies where people with “black” names and photos get way less interviews and way more rejections than those with “white” names and pictures, even though the resumes are exactly the same).

  24. “This is unfair.”
    “No it’s not.”
    “Yes it is. Here’s proof.”
    “Stop wallowing in victimhood.”
    *head explodes*
    “Tut tut. So hysterical.”

    From Scalzi, “…mere data are not nearly enough in the face of certain belief.” So, so true. There are those who won’t believe in white male privilege, no matter how many studies demonstrate it. Matt Walsh and his sycophants, for example. And it can be tempting to just stop talking about it publicly, because you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. But shutting up just cedes the podium to those who deny reality. And if the only ones left talking are the ones who deny that white male privilege exists, or that sexism exists, or global warming, etc., that can lead to a bad and scary place.

    It’s important to remember that, even if the people you are ostensibly arguing with refuse to listen, other people may be. And it’s important that those who are silently following the conversation hear the other perspective.

    Of course, I’m still not going to post this on Matt Walsh’s site. Who need the abuse?

  25. “And what of those women having babies?
    Most of the women of disadvantaged background, white and African-American, became mothers as teenagers, worked sporadically and when working, their employment was concentrated in the low-pay clerical and service sectors.
    The difference, though, is that many more white women were married or in a stable co-habiting relationship”

    Can we start with reducing teen pregnancies?!
    That has got to help the women. The idea that marriage or cohabiting made it better is, at best, a bad bandage.

    These women will never be able to get any traction in the job or education market if they are saddled with children.

  26. Peter Cibulskis: “Can we start with reducing teen pregnancies?!”

    Sure. I mean, it’s not like there’s any stigma or controversy on increasing and easing access to effective birth control, right?

    Also.

  27. “Can we start with reducing teen pregnancies?” Sure. Planned Parenthood has been very good with this: sex education, contraceptives, abortion (when necessary). Too bad the same people who believe in the victimhood of straight white maledom tend to oppose sex education, contraception and abortion..

  28. Oddly, Killroy, “let’s pass a law” works in a surprising number of cases – like Affirmative Action, so loathed of the Straight White Male Right Wing. Or a law granting ready access to contraception and abortion, since that works so much better at that “reducing teen pregnancies” which got tossed out by somebody who obviously believes Abstinence is the only solution! (I didn’t read the OP, but the replies to that smug bit of “solution” are…telling.)

  29. The ultimate problem is viewing ourselves are ‘male’ vs ‘female’ or ‘white’ vs ‘black’. We need to work eliminate gender and race identity – not strengthen it through broken laws

  30. Can we start with reducing teen pregnancies?!

    Got any suggestions? Mine are below.

    Maybe if we taught more about enthusiastic consent, talked about sex in healthy ways, not just about biology – stop telling boys they are men for having sex while slut shaming girls – start treating date rape as rape – start treating rape as a crime – give teens more options of things to do – jobs/internships/after school fun and/or educational options – oh and stopped rolling back access to healthcare and birth control and abortion and taking dollars away from planned parenthood (and gagging them) maybe then we could have less teenage pregnancy?

  31. Sara, while that’s an interesting thought, it seems to teeter awfully close to a Libertarian Dismount. That is, in this world, right now, gender and race identity do exist, serve some useful purposes, and will continue to define people for some time to come.

  32. All of what you say is true and has been the case for a very long time. Interestingly, the place where we are seeing this change the most is in school. Girls are doing much better, at all levels K – College than boys are right now.

    When I first started teaching, I strongly supported more support for girls in education because there was data to back up the idea that this was needed particularly in fields like engineering. Things have changed however. Now it is boys who are struggling.

    All of these kinds of decisions need to be based on data, not speculation. People who are out of the loop tend to have a hard time catching up.

  33. @Sara so far attempts at colorblindness have made sexism/racism more polite and harder to fight rather than fix the problem.

    Step 1. See everyone as human this is sometimes done by making laws to do just that.

    Step 2. Make laws to make sure we don’t backslide on “everyone is human” & figure out how to bring everyone up to equal level/starting point (yeah I’m ambitious)

    Step 3. Everyone regardless of age, race, gender, physical/mental challenges, sexual orientation, religion, etc. is truly considered fully human and equal under the law and is at an equal starting point so our concept of meritocracy is true instead of a lie – year 2500? 3500? 4500? 5000?

  34. @Marc Fair enough, if people can’t be trusted to discuss an analogy with a fit and unfit person, replace unfit and fit with my mum (who has an injured knee) and her twin sister.

    I’m afraid I don’t see the comparison with climate change here. :(

    On the subject of behaviour and choice, I think people make choices in life that are easy for them. I’ve never tried drugs, much less bought, sold or been arrested for drug related offenses. Why? Because that was so much easier for me, in my life, than getting involved in drugs. People around me didn’t do drugs much, neither of my parents did drugs. I had ways of earning money legally, I’ve never lived in circumstances where the only industry hiring was drugs.Sure, I made some sensible choices along the way, but most of those were maintaining the blissful status quo of my sheltered life.

    Similarly, I went to uni and got a degree, mostly because it was really easy. My school helped everyone fill out their applications, my sister and most of my cousins had been, along with several of my uncles. The amount of effort it took me to get to my comfortable current life is shockingly small.

    I could congratulate myself on missing all the potholes that all those other people fell into and wondering why they let themselves drive so poorly, but in reality, I was just driving on a much smoother road.

  35. Your larger point is a great one, John, but I hate your framing. You created a hierarchy of poor circumstances and applying it to everyone, which makes it easier to dismiss. Race, gender and sexuality play important roles in our lives. Having the “right” box checked at birth gives you advantages over everyone else. But there are many more boxes! How you and the people in your life respond to the boxes you have checked changes the meaning of those boxes.

    I wish we could talk about the various privileges individuals accrue in aggregate. In aggregate, being a straight white male* gives you more privileges—some of which are huge—than somebody who is not. But other factors in your life may reduce or eliminate the benefits you see. Life is the greatest YMMV there is.

    Te-Nihisi Coates, in his brilliant Atlantic piece on reparations, doesn’t sort people into hierarchies. He focuses on specific injustices. His argument doesn’t require that we sort out where we fall in the privilege hierarchy. Instead, he demands that we try to address a particular area of disadvantage. The study you quote does that as well. I don’t have to thinking about what setting my life game is on to recognize that I, personally, and we, societally, need to be aware that racism impacts our decisions. Same thing with studies showing how gender impacts our perceptions and actions.

    Dismissing other people’s struggles doesn’t get them to focus on the specific problems of racism, sexism, or other issue you’re trying to get them to look at. Instead, it distracts them by demanding a comparison to their circumstances.

    *Using straight white male as shorthand for privilege is in-and-of-itself biased, as it ignores other, significant barriers to success people have: disability, poverty, parent-in-prison/dead, trans, etc. As convenient as it is, it forces the conversation into a very narrow spectrum of privilege, essentially privileging the most wide-spread forms of prejudice. A straight white male with fetal alcohol syndrome does not have a privileged life: that’s damn close to playing life on the hardest setting. Of course, YMMV.

  36. Scalzi, thank you for following on with the SWM Lowest Difficulty Setting theme. It’s something that came up this week when dealing with our niece’s older brother – a SWM if ever I met one!

  37. @London – I think @docrocketscience referred to what you just did, at length, as a “Libertarian Dismount”.

    You also kind of missed the point of what Scalzi said in his original post on the subject, and reiterated here – that yes there are always individual examples that disprove the general rule, that’s why it’s called a “general rule”.

  38. Suzi – where the fit vs. unfit analogy falls apart is that if an unfit person just keeps plugging away, eventually their fitness level will increase.

    Translate that to the SWM privilege situation and that becomes the conservative cry of “welfare queen” and “you’re not trying hard enough” and “you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you really wanted to”

    Just plugging away doesn’t solve the problem for the disadvantaged person the way it does for the unfit person.

  39. PS – I love the phrase “Libertarian Dismount”. That cracked me up this morning and i need to find ways to use it!

  40. I tried to explain this to my dad, Mr. We’ve-Done-PLENTY-For Black-People. I think my parents have gotten worse with age.

    The working your way out of cyclical poverty myth is a way for privileged people to sleep at night without actually doing anything to change the status quo.

  41. Kara – first applied (by Scalzi) to an argument in discussions of Marriage Equality: the LD is “the state shouldn’t be in the business of sanctioning marriages anyway, so this is all irrelevant.” It’s usually a deliberate derail.

  42. “serve some useful purposes, ”

    No, they don’t. All the good they provide can be *easily* provided for in other ways.

    @Sara so far attempts at colorblindness have made sexism/racism more polite and harder to fight rather than fix the problem.

    We need to fix that. People think the goal is colorblindness. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to make color/race/gender/etc. no more significant than the color of one’s hair or the length of one’s pinky toe: people might notice, but nothing in life depends on it.

  43. Marc Cabot: “Everything is somebody’s fault” and “Doesn’t stop it from somehow being somebody’s fault.”

    Why the focus on fault and who is (or isn’t or is alleged to be) at fault? I think you missed the point, which was not to assign blame but to describe the situation.

  44. @London: You pretty much just proved Scalzi’s article. The simple truth is that a gay non-white woman with fetal alcohol syndrome is going to have a tougher time of it than the straight white man in a similar situation. Doesn’t mean the latter’s life is easy, per se, but relative to the former, it is easier.

  45. @Xopher: They to the “derail” is the second part “so this is all irrelevant”.

    Ensuring gender/race/color equality is important, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate gender/race/color identity.

    Ensuring LGBT have the same marriage rights is a good thing, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate state based marriage laws.

    We should celebrate and push for pro gay marriage laws. However we should not claim victory when all 50 states (or every country) has such a law. We should only claim true victory when marriage is no longer a state issue.

    Its a question of how far out you are looking. Do you want to solve the short term problem of legal equality or the long term problem of genetic-identity.

  46. Kilroy:

    > And now back to my regular life obtained through little hard work and mostly from early advantages of having grown up an upper-middle class white male with excellent educational opportunities.

    You said it. We didn’t.

    But if you did have all that, then yeah, that did apply a major-league force multiplier on any hard work you have applied.

  47. I have mixed feelings about this study and John’s take on it.

    On the one hand, I think it is good to keep reminding people that racial injustice is not over and it is not just theoretical. America’s problems with race were not fixed in 2008 (or alternatively, 2008 did not prove that America’s racial problems were fixed or immaterial.)

    On the other, it reinforces the idea that it is normal for white people to be middle class and that white people who are not are “exceptions.” The same article pointed out that a quite large absolute number and percentage of the Baltimore poor are white. Yet everyone here speaks about “exceptions” proving the “general rule.” From a certain perspective, the “general rule” of American poverty is that the poor are white. Casting the problem of poverty as primarily a racial issue fits right into the “welfare queen” dynamic. Conservatives don’t want us to stop thinking about the poor as “them” and poverty as something “over there.” They also don’t want us to lose the identities “everything normal is white” and “to be white is to ipso facto be normal.” (White male straight) liberals (usually unconsciously) don’t want to cede the privilege of being the “objective” center of the universe; so they also shy away from anything that implies they bring a backstory to the debate (or alternatively that every white/straight/male brings the exact same backstory to a conversation and it they don’t, then they are the anomalies that prove the rule for everyone else.)

    I should emphasize that I am not taking issue with the study; I am taking issue with the subjective impressions we seem to take away from it.

    I don’t generally subscribe to Great Persons theories of history, but I wish MLK had been fortunate enough to be given “longevity.” Maybe only someone of his stature could have pushed forward all of the concerns he had about America’s progress.

  48. Sara:

    “Ensuring LGBT have the same marriage rights is a good thing, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate state based marriage laws.”

    Well, no. That might be your ultimate goal. Which is not the same as the ultimate goal. It may be that a number of people see the ultimate goal as marriage equality before the law, and might see the state’s role in marriage as a positive or at least necessary thing.

    Likewise, your ultimate goal may be to eliminate gender/race/color identity, but that’s not the same as the ultimate goal. I suspect many people would be happy to celebrate their genrder/race/color identity, and to have full equality under the law, and in society.

    However, in both cases, you are indeed performing the dismount — you want to talk about what you think things should be, rather than focusing on the current matter of what is. In doing so, you’re intentionally or otherwise wrenching the subject away from the topic of the entry.

    So let’s reel it back in and focus on what’s before us at the moment, please. Thanks.

  49. Oooh, I’ve got one, adapted from Michael Parenti, in regards to “if you normalize it to an idealized vision of the middle class from the 1950′s”: If you don’t count the last eight or nine years I haven’t aged much at all in the last decade.

  50. Suzi: ” I’ve never tried drugs, ”
    But the article talks about these two similar groups, poor, same city, white men vs black men.
    The white men had higher rates of drug use (hard and soft) and binge drinking, but the white men did better off than the black men.

    That alone is “proof” that drug use/addiction was not a driving force outcome, but something else. As soon as you look at the police arrest and conviction rate disparities, the answer is a little clearer. Black men are 10 time likely to be arrested and convicted than white men, for the SAME CRIME. That alone could be the proximal cause of the majority of the disparity.
    (I have no studies to cite, but I would bet a huge amount of money at 2-1 odds that arrest and conviction bias alone is a MAJOR driving force.)

  51. “”you want to talk about what you think things should be, rather than focusing on the current matter of what is”. I want to do neither of these things. I want to talk about _how to get from what is to many people’s goal_.

    Lets talk about the topic. Right now it is clear from the evidence that being a straight white male makes life easier for you in the career sense (it makes life harder in the family sense, but this is a different topic). The question now is to look into the root cause of this.

    Sadly, I can not find a PDF of the study – if anyone has a link that would be much appreciated.

    One example from the CNN article though:

    “how they found their current jobs, whites more often mentioned help from family and friends, while more African-Americans found jobs “on their own.””

    How can we solve this? By making sure that *everyone* in middle school, and high school learns the importance of generating a network of people from which they could get jobs. We could also create more opportunities in high school for *everyone* to get internships and thus broaden their network.

    Note that this has nothing to do with dividing the world more based on meaningless genetic identity. Instead it looks at the root cause of the issue and tries to ensure that everyone, has, for free, the same opportunities.

  52. RE: the “how do we stop talking and start fixing” comments:

    One of the takeaways I got from a discussion at WisCon was that while it may feel like an insurmountable task to wave a magic wand and open the eyes of ALL cluelessly privileged types, most of us have at least occasional opportunities to achieve focused eye-opening on an individual basis in our day-to-day dealings with people. As an introvert, I found that notion reassuring; I am far more likely to approach an individual friend or colleague to broach the tricky topic of dissimilar levels of privilege than I am to get on a soapbox on a street corner and rant to all and sundry.

    In my (admittedly limited) experience, I actually have had a bit of success in that individual-approach type of strategy, frequently citing Mr. Scalzi’s fine essay in the process. Talking to one person rather than to a crowd allows me to more effectively tailor my comments to the specific person I’m talking with, and while it doesn’t happen all the time, I’ve seen a gradual shift in behavior, responses and attitude in some of the folks I’ve talked to.

    The drawback to that approach, of course, is that it can take a lot longer to achieve increased understanding one mind at a time than it might to just cut to the chase and legislate the outcome we are striving for. But then again, maybe the individual approach actually COULD be faster and more efficient, given the extent of partisan gridlock in most legislative bodies nowadays.

  53. I suspect many people would be happy to celebrate their genrder/race/color identity, and to have full equality under the law, and in society.

    This is impossible: So long as people’s identity is based on a random, meaningless, piece of genetic trivia they will be considered equal. To take a phrase from a different context and apply it here: separate but equal is not equal.

  54. *wrysmile.* When faced with a choice between two equally qualified applicants, one of whom is a white ex-convict and the other a black man with a clean criminal record, employers slightly favour hiring the white ex-con. That is, not only is this a difficult choice for them, but they *slightly prefer* entrusting their business affairs to the white felon to having to deal with a non-criminal black guy. There’s the difference, quantified — without setting a single foot wrong, someone born with dark skin is judged to be just as or slightly *more* undesirable than their counterpart with white skin and a history of criminal behaviour. How does someone bootstrap past that, and why is it acceptable to expect them to?

  55. just because individual people don’t FEEL like victims doesn’t mean they aren’t being victimized.

    @lkeke35, that ought to be quoted and quoted again for honest truth.

    The ultimate problem is viewing ourselves are ‘male’ vs ‘female’ or ‘white’ vs ‘black’. We need to work eliminate gender and race identity – not strengthen it through broken laws

    @Sara (a straight white female) – No. Firstly, as others have pointed out, Libertarian Dismount. Secondly, the problem with NOT viewing ourselves as “male vs female” or “white vs black” (and btw, the experience of people of color [POC] extends beyond this dynamic and framing it as purely “white vs black” erases the experiences of other POC such as Latinos, Asians, and others) is that the identity, view and perspective that gets defaulted to is the culturally dominant one – that of the straight white able-bodied neurotypical middle class college-educated cis man.

    Thanks to varying forms of privilege, some of us can live just fine without having to acknowledge systemic oppressions at all because they won’t affect us, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Erasing people’s identities doesn’t help, it makes things even worse, because as much as we may not like to admit it, systemic inequalities and institutionalized discrimination exists and is harming people daily and dismissing the fact that people experience oppression in different ways based on who they are only perpetuates the problem.

    We are NOT “all the same” and that is ok – our identities are part of what make us who we are. Being black, Latino, white, LGBTQ, straight, etc., are not the problem – the fact that many people unthinkingly accept a system that privileges or oppresses people for being many of these things is the problem.

  56. Book release a coming, time to start stirring up controversy/traffic….. too predictable. Sigh

  57. Sara:

    “This is impossible”

    Well, it might be to you, to come around again to the point that you appear to confuse your own personal opinion for what is objective fact. It’s not necessarily the case for anyone else. Likewise, your “separate but equal” allusion here is entirely wide of the mark, not in the least because no one but apparently you is talking about access to civil rights being portioned out “separately but equally” in any case. Indeed the opposite.

    Sara, you should understand that just because you apparently like to think that your positions are factual, and phrase them in a rhetorical manner to bolster that opinion, does not mean anyone else is obliged to agree with your opinion.

    Finally, you are still attempting to dismount and talk about the way you want things to be, rather than sticking to the topic at hand. This is your second flag on the field, Sara. If you can’t not wander off from the subject, you might want to sit out the thread. I’m not telling you to do that, yet. But I’m getting close. Please try to stay focused.

  58. Wow being a woman is meaningless genetic trivia? I’ll send an email to my ovaries, since the hysterectomy I don’t have that pesky little womb trivia anymore.

    I like living in a multi-cultural/multi-gendered world. I don’t want to be in a cookie cutter world. I want people to be able to be free and proud of who they are.

    Could we all be blatinoasian bitranswomen? (sorry gang I couldn’t fit everything into two words I’m just not creative enough)

    What exactly do you picture in your head when you’ve wiped out all our genetic trivia?

  59. I’m a little baffled at how people can dismiss a longitudinal study like this. I grew up bog standard white middle class, both parents college graduates, all my siblings and I graduated from college. I knew plenty of people who didn’t have those advantages when I was growing up, so I was acutely aware of it all. I’m just honestly unable to grasp how this sort of finding can be in any way controversial or disputed.

  60. Amen!

    Thank you for this article, and the related article. As an African immigrant in the U.S, I am well aware that the issues faced by blacks in this country have little to do with their behavior and quite a bit to do with discrimination (past and present). Ta-Nehisi Coates over at the Atlantic did a great job with his Reparations article (which has almost nothing to do with Slavery as claimed by those who don’t bother to read it), but has everything to do with how African Americans have been consistently excluded from any programs that benefit Americans (i.e GI Bill, FHA etc) up to the present.

    As an African immigrant, it has been interesting seeing people who are initially hostile to me suddenly give me a fair shake when they find out I’m an African Immigrant. It has nothing to do with anything I do and everything to do with their prejudices.

    I have also been the victim of discrimination (employment, housing, law enforcement). I have never done any type of drugs (not even weed), because I knew that unlike my white friends (some of whom smoked weed once in a while), the consequences would be very different for me.

    In the late 90s early 2000s in the Boston area I used to compare notes with my white friends. I used to get stopped between 2 – 7 times a years ‘randomly’ while driving (wanna guess that the incident rate was for my white friends). In about 2002/2003 The Boston Globe and Northeastern university did a landmark study that found rampart racial profiling in traffic stops in the Metro Boston area (who gets stopped, who gets a warning vs a ticket, who gets searched) that bore out my experiences. There was also a study done a few years later in the Boston and Philadelphia region that charted job call backs based on whether one had a ‘black’ or ‘white’ name. For black sounding names, the callback rate was 50% less, and as you went up the education ladder, the disparity got worse. This really didn’t surprise me. I have a ‘white’ sounding first name, a very hard to place last name and an accent that sounds vaguely British. I have had quite a few jobs mysteriously filled between the phone interview and showing up (in some cases people had that deer in the headlight look when I showed up and you could almost see their mental wheels spinning as they tried to figure out how to get rid of me). Had the same thing apartment hunting (as in an apartment was available when my wife (who is white) made the appointment, she shows up before I do and when I show up, suddenly the story changes.

    And keep in mind that I came to this country with a bunch of privileges (I grew up upper-middle class where I came from). I went through a period of poverty here (and trust me, while discrimination hurts, it hurts even more when you are poor and really need that job and you just took 2 buses to get there and as soon as you show up they take one sneering look at you and tell you its been filled). Now, when I was growing up I joke I would have made a great Republican.I would have told you that those who don’t make it are just lazy. But of course, that is discounting that both my parents had College degrees and careers. I never wanted materially, I got supported in all my academic endeavors. I was discounting all the advantages that my parents had given me. Most African American parents cannot pass on any wealth to their children because they have had multiple generations of having the fruits of their labor stolen (i.e, through housing and job discrimination etc). Add to that the force-multiplier of ongoing residential and school segregation (blacks did not fight for school segregation because they thought that seating next to a white kid would make their kids excel, they knew that this country was never going to expend any resources on their children, but it would if the school had some white students), job discrimination, law enforcement discrimination etc.

    One of the thread running through Ta-Nehisi Coate’s phenomenal article is that even when blacks played judiciously by the twisted rules laid out for them they still ended up getting the short end of the stick. You saved enough to buy in a nice neighborhood (despite the fact that due to red-lining you had few sources of financing. Good for you, unscrupulous real estate agents block bust it (by scaring the remaining white families into selling) and suddenly your property value just tanked. And it goes on and on.

    It is really hard for some people to understand just how much the cards are sometimes arrayed against African Americans. Even if you make it, you’re never very far away from a beat-down (Ask that AZU professor who got stopped for ‘jay walking’) or public humiliation from peopel who just refuse to accept that you got where you are on merit. I’ve been stopped by a cop and asked how I was able to ‘afford’ my car (apparently a Nissan Maxima looks to ‘expensive’ for me). I’ve had a cop point a gun at me and force me to the ground for daring to think I could go jogging.

    I also think that people here ‘privilege’ and hear ‘you didn’t earn it’. This is a profound misreading of what the word means. I have middle-class privilege, I have male privilege (especially in the Tech sector where I work). I remember that idiotic (sorry, I cannot think of a better term for it)

    Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege
    http://theprincetontory.com/main/checking-my-privilege-character-as-the-basis-of-privilege/

    For me, this paragraph was the kicker

    “The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.
    It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.

    It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.”

    To the author of that article.

    First, your grandparents worked hard, as did your parents. Bully for you. The grandparents and parents of African Americans worked hard, they just never got to keep their fruits of their labor (slavery, jim crow etc). Also, to claim that your parents came to a country that grants equal protection under the law and cares not about religion or race is laughable. This country was founded with black slavery as a central tenet (see Jefferson/Hemmings). This country almost split apart because one side so felt that keeping and selling slaves was their God given right (Civil War, and for those predisposed to make ‘Heritage Not Hate’ and ‘It had nothing to do with Slavery’ just head here and count how many times slavery is mentioned).
    http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html

    After that, we had reconstruction, the failure of reconstruction etc. It wasn’t even until the modern Civil rights movement that we even began paying lip service to the equal protection under the law clause, and we still have a ways to go (take a look at our prisons, and the so called War on Drugs that is essentially a war on poor black and brown people).

    Privilege does not mean that your accomplishments are being discounted. What it means is that you were playing on a field where you started with, and have a persistent advantage. As a male engineer, when I walk into a work situation, often times I get an immediate leg up that a woman engineer does not. There is the assumption that she does not belong. As a black man, there are a lot of situations where I start off from 10 feet behind the starting line.

    Sorry for the wall of text.

  61. One of the things that amuse me — in a “OMG, humans, am I right?” way — is when some of the people who actually believe that “victim culture” provides such great life bennies for victims, try to cash in somehow by portraying *themselves* as victims.

    (Witness the efforts of right-wing Christianists to try to make marriage equality about “religious persecution”. Ha ha yeah sure. Get off the cross now, you’re embarrassing Jesus.)

  62. @timeliebe. I love that phrase. Perhaps it applies—the nature of unconscious bias is that its damnably hard to spot in oneself. But I disagree: if you set up your argument so with a claim that naturally leads to exceptions, you’re not arguing your point well. That’s whats so admirable about TNC’s approach to reparations. He doesn’t leave that opening. If you want to honestly engage with his thoughts and arguments, you can’t say, “well, my parents emigrated from Russia in ’89, so this doesn’t apply to me” or whatever.

    As well, if you want to argue something for the purpose of effecting change, then you want to frame it in terms that will disarm their emotional defenses as much as possible. Telling people who don’t think white privilege is a thing that their struggles are lesser doesn’t make them more likely to fully engage with the data you’re presenting.

    @jubilantia Not at all. That thinking is infinitely reductionist. To any life circumstance X, you can add hardship Y and make it worse. That doesn’t tell us much about anything, except until you get to the point where you’re in so much pain that its the only thing you can think of, it could be worse.

    My point is we should be aware that when we use straight, white, and male as our signifiers of universal privilege, we overlook and marginalize other aspects that we have biases and prejudices. When you’re talking about race, white is germane. When you’re talking about gender, male is germane. But able-bodiness is a privilege of no small import. Intelligence is a massive advantage. Mental illness can wipe out all sorts of other privilege. SWM implies that those and countless other things are less important. They’re not.

  63. if you go by incomes,,, shouldn’t ‘straight asian males’ be the super easy setting? Would be interesting to look for incomes of asian females. At work, so no time to look it up. my boss is a woman who immigrated from India. There are about 30 technical staff (US/Canada based… so not including India team) maybe 5-6 are white guys.

    group includes
    africans, pakistani, indian, chinese, saudi, and probably others. Group is spread around the US. Only 3 others in my office.

    this is pretty much the norm. Tech staff generally have incomes well above the national average.

    http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/asian-americans-lead-all-others-in-household-income/

  64. @BW:

    Why the focus on fault and who is (or isn’t or is alleged to be) at fault? I think you missed the point, which was not to assign blame but to describe the situation.

    The person who makes the definitions, wins the argument.

    I have no quarrel, none, zero, zip, nada, with our gracious host’s assertion that SWM is the easiest difficulty setting for a game whose inherent individual play patterns vary widely. He’s completely correct, at least in the context to which a reasonable person would apply. it. (E.G., in Japan, it’s SJM. Same page, different playbook.)

    I also have no quarrel etc with the notion that some of that is due to systemic racism. It’s here, it’s real, it’s insidious. And it should be, in most contexts, forbidden by law. I’m fairly libertarian but the notion of freedom-to-associate always and ever trumping equal protection is way, way down on my list of things to accuse the Progressive State of ruining our lives with. I’m cool with that.

    What I’m not cool with is the notion that absence of equal outcomes is taken as definitive evidence of absence of equal opportunity, and that the idea that there may be some inherent quality in a sub-population that causes it on average and in large groups to be more or less successful than other groups in a given context is per se ridiculous. It’s more complex than “White people is smarter than them Negroes.”

    Let me be perfectly clear: Anybody who says that, or anything similar, deserves the ridicule they get.

    But when you are dealing with societies of tens and hundreds of millions of people, a whole bunch of little differences can add up to a significant marginal effect. And what part of our current difficulties are due to such accumulated small differences, and what part is due to sociological phenomena we can address with legislation and education, is in my opinion more or less completely unknown. And that’s not going to change, because anybody who tries to have a reasonable discussion on the topic is immediately shouted down as a racist eugenicist Nazi. I saw a perfectly respectable article in a perfectly respectable periodical recently which suggested that research into the physiology of racial differences should be banned, because it only gives ammunition to bigots.

    If wanting to know the truth is bigoted, hand me that corncob pipe, ’cause I’m about to start strummin’ on my banjy.

    If you think I am exaggerating, go and read the Wiki article and the Talk page for the article on heritability of IQ.The numbers are staggering, but the entire article is a series of facts interspersed with apologies for the facts being what they are.Then compare and contrast the global warming article, which when it mentions an inconvenient fact, tosses off a glib refutation and continues on its way undaunted. (Again, I am not trying to turn this into an AGW argument. I’m saying that the same pattern of behavior is apparent here.)

  65. @London intersectionality is important.

    I’m not sure you understood TNCs article as well as you think. He’s very careful with his words. But he is talking about institutional racism. And institutional racism is about white privilege. It’s about how in America we’ve continuously set up laws to keep white on top and POC on the bottom. It’s brilliant writing. He is fantastic in how he sets his arguments out. And he is so careful with his words.

    The article this post is about is also about institutional racism which again is about white male privilege. It just doesn’t use those words.

    No one is saying being a straight white male means your life will be a bed of roses. But it does mean that you have a better chance at getting an education (not necessarily a good one), a job (it may be a crap job), not thrown in jail when you commit a crime, not stopped by the cops just for walking/driving POC.

  66. Ah frak it. Sorry, but “Secondly, the problem with NOT viewing ourselves as “male vs female” or “white vs black” (and btw, the experience of people of color [POC] extends beyond this dynamic and framing it as purely “white vs black” erases the experiences of other POC such as Latinos, Asians, and others) is that the identity, view and perspective that gets defaulted to is the culturally dominant one” should be

    “Secondly, the problem with viewing ourselves as “male vs female” or “white vs black” (and btw, the experience of people of color [POC] extends beyond this dynamic and framing it as purely “white vs black” erases the experiences of other POC such as Latinos, Asians, and others) is that the identity, view and perspective that gets defaulted to is the culturally dominant one…”

    Apologies for the confusion and mistype.

  67. (And on second glance, apparently I was right with my wording the first time – this is what happens when you’re trying to comment and fighting off a massive sinus-pressure headache. Again, sorry, going to wander off and find some strong aspirin.)

  68. I’ve been seeing a lot about how modern people, especially Americans, regularly dismiss and ignore objective facts and conclusions of studies like this. I haven’t seen if this is a more modern phenomenon (perhaps motivated by propaganda machines like Fox News et al) or if there’s some psychological or biological motivating factor (that propaganda machines are just exacerbating).

    I know that we regularly dismiss that which does not support our beliefs, but the recent attacks on science, education, etc boggle my mind. I’m not trying to derail into discussing this (although if anyone has any data, I’d love to see it), but whenever there are facts presented, I know that anecdotes or excuses are going to be the primary response.

    It’s good to question data, but when you’re questioning data strictly because it doesn’t agree with your beliefs, that’s some bizarro form of confirmation bias. This study presents seemingly valid, worthwhile data to the scientific community and looks to be a great basis or model for other studies in other cities.

    It is clearly evidence of the straight white male being the lowest difficulty even bearing in minds the original objections of socioeconomic status to the theory. How is there any reasonable objection to this data? And if the only objections are not reasonable, how do those continue to exist?

    I don’t understand.

  69. if you go by incomes,,, shouldn’t ‘straight asian males’ be the super easy setting?

    No, because if you break it down, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hmong, Cambodian and other Southeast Asian men don’t have the same income advantage, and even when you take Asian males as a group, they make less per capita when you control for age and education.

    This has changed over the past (the gap has closed) and probably will do so even more in the future, but it’s not quite the case.

  70. @Tasha, I’m not making any claim that institutional racism doesn’t exist. There’s far too much data to contest that fact. But the way John has framed his discussion draws a comparison between the lives of readers who are straight, white, and/or male and the lives of the black men of Baltimore. It draws people into a game of “whose disadvantage is worse,” which creates what the one poster wittily called libertarian dismount.

    The study shows that—no matter what your individual life is like—America has a serious, ongoing problem with race. If you care about justice or other people, you care about this (which is probably the people that you can reach with this data). The data speaks for itself without an analogy.

    I think the progressive, academic-y left is horrible at framing. At times, it seems like the left has read all the studies of cognitive biases and decided to do exactly the opposite of what works. People don’t change their mind when threatened? Check, we’ll scare them before we start talking! People tune out when insulted? Right-o, we’ll make sure we call them misogynist racist homophobes!

  71. @Sara – Insisting on discussing abstracts in the face of a reality that doesn’t match them is no way to participate in a conversation establishing that reality.
    It’s like telling someone “it shouldn’t matter what people think,” when they’re being bullied. Simply not caring doesn’t erase the reality every day at school. The abstract concept may be worth discussing, but it’s not the discussion to have in that context.
    It’s also intellectually dishonest to only engage in discussions in which your abstract philosophical point is accepted as true, and flat disrespectful to insist on turning a conversation about something else into one about your abstract point. Especially when people in the original conversation are discussing something urgently relevant to their lives.

    @London – There is a difference between “dismissing” experiences and acknowledging that there are factors in some people’s experiences that just aren’t present for others.
    For example, every single person who has played sports knows how privilege works. I doubt you would debate that an athlete born with certain body types and talents will be able to make more of the same opportunities than a hardworking athlete who is smaller or less coordinated, and probably will get more opportunities as well. No one is going to say they didn’t win a championship, but they sure didn’t get there purely through the sweat of their brows.

    The difference with race is that there is literally no ability differential that goes with the skin colors, but the effect in life is the same as if there were. If you can understand the dynamics of one, there is no reason you shouldn’t understand the other. It may require more self-understanding, but it’s no less true.

  72. @Marc Cabot

    You said

    “What I’m not cool with is the notion that absence of equal outcomes is taken as definitive evidence of absence of equal opportunity, and that the idea that there may be some inherent quality in a sub-population that causes it on average and in large groups to be more or less successful than other groups in a given context is per se ridiculous. It’s more complex than “White people is smarter than them Negroes.””

    Actually, you’re making a rather insidious argument that is not supported by Science. The argument for black racial inferiority keeps coming up precisely because people want a foolproof argument that does not indict society. Therefore, if blacks are genetically intellectually inferior, then that would explain the disparity. This is the argument made in tome after tome, recently in “The Bell Curve” and most recently in “A Troublesome Inheritance”. I actually have a weird interest in these arguments because while I consider myself reasonably intelligent I score really high on IQ tests. So when I read that the average IQ of Africans is 75 (as stated in the Bell Curve, and that figure comes from a 1927 Study done in South Africa that found Bantu people genetially inferior (of course, this totally has nothing to do with what was going on in SA and Africa in that time period) and was then quoted by Lynn, of Mankind Quarterly, and then mis-quoted by Murray and Herrnstein in The Bell Curve), I have to ask why is so much questionable ‘Science’ invested in finding a genetic cause for Social Inequality, rather than look at current society and history. I’m reminded of my first and last MENSA meeting, where I was treated to initial hostility at the door (‘are you sure you’re in the right place’) and tie that back to these kind of stereotypes. Keep in mind that anything below 80 is borderline retarded, and you have to wonder about that claim.

    It does not also address the huge ‘stereotype threat’ and resulting congitive load that African Americans face in intellectual pursuits. A good book to read on this is “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele. Introducing a stereotype to a target population has deleterious effects. Give whites an IQ test and tell them that it is a test of ‘reaction time’ (something that a stereotype of whites indicates they lack compared to AA’s) and they do worse than if they had been told nothing. Give the same test to a group of blacks and they do better than if told it was a test of intelligence. American society is awash with negative black stereotypes, it would be pollyanaish to assume that they have no effect.

    But back to your question. Nowhere does Scalzi even address the genetics argument, because it is a red herring. You are raising a straw man argument. The issue at hand is that blacks and whites get treated differently controlling for all other factors.

    I don’t really want to turn this into a forum of ‘lets trot out questionable science to attempt to prove that blacks are genetically inferior’ but you did not mention a link or even a study, you only alluded to them. And I suspect that is because those so called studies wither under the harsh light of the Scientific method.

  73. @Guess – speaking as a Asian female in tech, I can tell you that some settings are easier and some are harder. Although I’ve proven my technical chops over and over again, I still get a lot of mansplaining directed my way, and I frequently get talked over in meetings by SWMs of equal or lesser experience levels.

    On the other hand, people just assume I’m working hard and that I’m smart because all Asians work hard and are smart, and cops have more than once let me off with a mild warning even though I was going 15mph over because I’m a soft-spoken, polite, harmless little Asian girl. (Just try doing that as a black male of equivalent education and background!) So: hard settings mixed with easy settings, and trust me, I’m well aware of where my advantages lie.

  74. @London, Scalzi is not playing whose life is worse. He’s saying as a whole this group of people have it worse as a whole. He is talking about institutional racism. By institutional racism/sexism/any *ism white straight men are on the easiest play setting.

    As a woman I’m careful about walking alone – where and when even though I live in a good neighborhood. My husband thinks nothing about going out be it 10am, mid-afternoon, midnight. He has male privilege. It’s not evil or bad per se to have privilege it just is.

    As a white woman I shop anywhere I want to and never worry about store security thinking I’m there to steal. I’ve watched store security stop WOC simple for daring to shop – what could they be thinking walking into T J Maxx?

    Again my white privilege is not evil per se it just is. But it needs to change. And one of the only ways for it to change is for us to recognize under what situations we are benefiting from privilege/institutional racism/sexism/any *ism.

  75. @Sara

    So long as people’s identity is based on a random, meaningless, piece of genetic trivia they will {not} be considered equal.

    Not really. We don’t have to erase all differences in order to achieve equality. I celebrate my heritage – my family has Irish Catholic roots as well as German ones. Several generations ago being working class Irish Catholic would be enough for lots of people to consider me not-white (or at least not white enough – but even so my ancestors certainly had privileges that non-whites didn’t). Now no one holds it against me, nor do they think it odd that I bring it up in conversation without shame, and they don’t make assumptions about my employability or potential achievement on that basis. Mostly it only comes up in my complete inability to tan.

    Race, identity, nationality – they have biological roots but they’re culturally constructed. We can actually get to a point where they are just interesting data points that enrich people’s identities and our society’s culture, not excuses for being crappy to each other. We don’t have to be completely culture-blind to get to that point.

    Being Irish-American is no longer an impediment because A) the culture and the political realities changed around us and B) the Irish are not a visible minority. The political situation that created the prejudice against the Irish (mass poverty and immigration, anti-Catholic propaganda, etc.) relate to a fairly short-lived period of our history, but it still took close to 100 years or so to really shake itself out. The history of slavery and systematic racism against black people runs much deeper, has lasted longer, and frankly black people can’t usually blend with the dominant group even if they wanted to (and let’s be clear they shouldn’t have to) so it will take more time and conscious effort to resolve, but that’s not an excuse to throw up our hands or pretend the problem is unresolvable.

    Note: Added the {not} because I assume it was a typo. Your post was self-contradictory without it, but please correct me if I’ve overstepped and misinterpreted what you wanted to say.

  76. There was a time when I thought racial discourse was going to become more complex as America changed demographically. Now I am starting to have second thoughts. In the course of my lifetime, I would never have suspected that 1) Asians and Latinos would mainstream as fast as they seem to be doing and 2) that the position of African Americans would remain so damn stagnant. I have the feeling that 40 years from now Asians and Latinos will have become “white” the way my ancestors went from being “ethnic” to “white.” Meanwhile I fear that we will somehow still be failing our African American citizens.

    I don’t think that there is something inherent in African American cultures or genetics that predetermines this outcome. It is systematic bias and as someone upthread mentioned the accumulation of millions of small preferences might be as responsible as overt racist decisions. Other POC tend to discriminate against African Americans as well; so I am not sure the un-whitening of America is necessarily going to raise all boats.

    If you believe in bullshit like “objective” IQ comparisons, then African Americans would be doing better than Latinos.

    There are several different meanings of “white” in play here. There is the “white” that means flavorless, odorless, inert gas used as the standard to measure everything against (and by definition everything and everybody is a “deviant” in one way or another when measured against this standard.) There is “white” meaning you can pass as a reasonable facsimile of the Standard in everyday events. Then there is “white” as in White Power Bob. And finally there is a white as one collection of flavors in the melting pot, Cindy is White/Greek; Polly is Haitian/Black; Astrid is Latina/Puerto Rican, etc. Some of the friction in privilege discussions arises when it pushes people who are white in the second and fourth ways too hard on their relationship to the first definition, as if they really embody that concept personally, when of course nobody does. (If by some chance, you actually are the living embodiment of Whiteness, I apologize, it cannot be easy being that different.)

  77. If you read the Science Daily article (or any more detailed commentary about the Hopkins study), the bit about differences in social networks and other human capital really matter. I work with students to help them get placed in internships and post-graduation jobs. Lots of studies show that people are predisposed to help those that are (a) similar to them, or (b) that they know on a personal level. When jobs are scarce, personal connections can make the difference between rejection and an interview. Every day, I see sharp differences by income, race/ethnicity, and to some extent gender, in whether people are confident enough to reach out and make connections, and whether they have connections to reach out to in the first place.

    In thinking about solutions, a huge part of what can be done (and that we do try to do where I work) is to ensure that students’ education includes not just technical skills but training on professional development. And, that we create opportunities for students to build these networks.

    Most of the kids I work with want desperately to improve their (and their families’) life situations but don’t know how – as in, they don’t know what types of jobs are available, what the salary ranges of those positions might be, and the basic credentials needed to be competitive for such a thing. By the time they get to high school, many are already behind.

  78. @baiskeli

    If the point of the discussion is merely, “SWM have it easier and they should acknowledge that and stop blaming people for not being SWM,” then you’re right, and my posts are totally irrelevant. Mea culpa.

    However, if there is any element of why SWM have it easier – and there is, because otherwise nobody would be talking about systemic racism, and I certainly didn’t start that discussion – then the question of whether there is some other partial cause is extremely relevant. Because if there is, all the legislation and education in the world will not fix it. How close we can get to fixing it is dependent on the relative impact of the various partial causes. And, as I said, we are talking about accumulated small differences over a population of hundreds of millions and the marginal effects thereof.

    You’re also totally correct that a lot of the studies, historically, were laughably nonscientific, let alone blatantly biased. No question there either. The reason that “racist eugenicist Nazi” is such an effective argument is that we did have a lot of racist eugenicist Nazis and their spiritual kin *cough*MargaretSanger*cough* running around spouting nonsense and the rotten fruits of their efforts still contaminate the discussion to this day.

    The thing is, I’m not arguing that Australian Aboriginals are just a step higher than the chimpanzee. I’m arguing that observable data indicates that things like the heritability of IQ, basic time preferences, length of physical maturity period, and a gazillion other things, taken together, do do have genetic components, and do, collectively, have an observable marginal effect on the success of sub-populations in any given societal context.That’s not an insidious implication of Black Inferiority, that’s an observation of the nature of the physical universe.

    When somebody says something like “The difference with race is that there is literally no ability differential that goes with the skin colors, but the effect in life is the same as if there were,” that just doesn’t pass the laugh test. Nobody who can observe the Universe realistically can make that statement. The difference is, if you complain about the color ratio in the NBA or long-distance running, you’re being a bigot, but if you complain about the color ratio in Grandmaster-level chess or the STEM fields, you’re being an advocate for social justice.

    Have there been great black chess players and scientists? Yep. Have there been great white basketball players and long-distance runners? Yep. Everybody should be free to follow their talents and inclinations to whatever level their natural abilities can take them. And we, as a society, are doing nothing but cheating ourselves by denying equal opportunity to all our citizens, especially children in need of education and opportunity.

    But if certain sub-populations can so clearly demonstrate predispositions to certain kinds of physical excellence, I don’t understand and have never had it convincingly explained to me why it’s totally impossible for certain sub-populations to demonstrate mental predispositions likewise. True, a lot of the studies are biased junk… but not all of them are, and to get around them, a lot of second and third order effects get argued. I don’t see anybody arguing that whites would be more equally represented in the NBA if their culture just valued basketball more and had equal opportunities to learn it. It seems to me that in this context, Ockham’s Razor only slices the privileged. And again, I don’t understand why that is.

  79. I hate IQ test.

    When was the IQ test last updated? Was it tested for its biases? Is it changed to meet the needs of those it’s testing or is it assumed the same test works across genders (yep) and cultures which really makes no sense to me.

    When we translate a book we know some of the meaning of a word is lost in translation. But why would a test on intelligence need to be modified for its target audience? Because white males at some specific time are the ideal intelligence for the world. Institutional bias working in a neighborhood near you.

  80. @Marc Cabot

    You said


    “Have there been great black chess players and scientists? Yep. Have there been great white basketball players and long-distance runners?”

    “But if certain sub-populations can so clearly demonstrate predispositions to certain kinds of physical excellence, I don’t understand and have never had it convincingly explained to me why it’s totally impossible for certain sub-populations to demonstrate mental predispositions likewise.”

    You are either working hard at missing the point or you are not hearing the words coming out of your mouth. Either way, this discussion is not going to be productive. So Adieu.

  81. @Tasha. At this point, we may be passionately agreeing, but I do think framing maters.

    Since you used the word “intersectionality,” I’m going to assume you’ve spent a fair amount of time either in academia, in discussion with people who are, or reading academia-informed literature. Which means you’ve had time to get comfortable with the idea of your own privilege. You are at least privileged educationally. Now imagine that you’re not. Imagine that you’re depressed. You’re poor and don’t see a path forward. Now imagine John Scalzi, dude who lives on a huge plot of land and makes his living writing books and going to conferences (which maybe you dream of, but can’t afford to go because you barely pay the bills driving a truck on the night shift—I know that guy and he doesn’t support affirmative action, btw), tells you you’re playing life on the easiest setting. Doesn’t sound so inviting, does it? Sounds kind of like a kiss off. It certainly doesn’t make you want to sit down and read a study about how somebody else has it harder than you, let alone do anything that will change racism.

    That’s where I think so much of the left fails. We niche out identities, call them disadvantaged and expect everyone else to fall in line. That’s not the lived experiences of most Americans and its not a good way to change their minds.

  82. IME, most of the people who object to the conclusions of studies like this come from an individualist mindset. And also IME, that mindset is found most often in people who are themselves struggling. When you feel like you’re already paddling furiously to stay above water, any suggestion that you might play a part–for good or ill–in someone else’s drowning seems like an attack. It thus becomes mighty attractive to believe that anyone else who’s drowning brought it on themselves.

    It should be no surprise that most of this objection comes from working-class white folks–mostly men, but many women, too. Instead of recognizing that the people (mostly white guys) at the top of the power heap are screwing them over by stealing their labor, they’re buying into the myth that it’s all those “other” people who are keeping them from being able to comfortably take care of themselves and their immediate families. They look at the tax bite from their paychecks, and assume that the reason they have so little to live on is because the government is giving it to people who don’t want to work as hard or live responsible lives as they do. They don’t question why their pay is so low in the first place; why their raises haven’t kept up with inflation; why a larger and larger chunk is being taken for health insurance; why their company’s CEO makes 10,000 times what they do.

    The carefully crafted propaganda machine that they’re surrounded with keeps telling them to ignore the man behind the gold-plated curtain and blame everyone else around them instead. They’re starving rats, convinced that every other rat is out to steal their meager ration of bread, and using what few advantages they have to keep their share. And that’s the way the hand that feeds them wants it. If the rats ever recognize that they’re all in the same cage and act together to demand more food in the first place, well . . . Happy Bastille Day.

    It’s hard–very hard–to care about the struggles of others, even if you acknowledge them as real, when you yourself are in crisis. But if we ever are going to stop suffering ourselves, we have to. None of us, either alone or in Balkanized small groups, are going to be able to fix this problem alone. We have to acknowledge our shared struggles, and that others may struggle more than we, if we’re every going to have enough power to take on the people who are benefiting from our being distracted by the infighting. That means in part that working-class white folks need to recognize when they DO have more power and privilege, and use what small advantages they have there wisely. I get that it’s scary to do that. I get that when you’re in survival mode, you feel like even caring about other people puts your own survival at risk. But it doesn’t. What it does do is build alliances, which leads to the long-term benefit of everyone.

    All that said (verbosely): Any white folks who aren’t working class and still object to this stuff need to get their heads out of their asses and stop being shitty wastes of carbon because you have no excuse.

  83. There was a time when I thought racial discourse was going to become more complex as America changed demographically. Now I am starting to have second thoughts. In the course of my lifetime, I would never have suspected that 1) Asians and Latinos would mainstream as fast as they seem to be doing and 2) that the position of African Americans would remain so damn stagnant.

    You know, I was pretty damned astonished that the stagnation of African Americans has a large component in policy and implementation of policy. And it’s been recent, too, not dusty history from the 19th Century. (Remember, Shirley Sherrod was working on reparations to black farmers…reparations for RECENT discriminations against them by the federal government).

  84. @Tasha, one more point: when you call out straight, white and male as the easiest setting, you’re being ableist and a slew of other things. Straight has advantages, but those are not clearly greater advantages than a stable income. Is it easier to be a middle class gay man, or a unemployed straight man? Depends a lot on other factors. Gender is deeply complicated, and gender roles can hurt men as much as women, particularly when violence against males is trivialized (like in prisons: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/its-not-a-contradiction-for-men-to-discriminate-against-other-men/374370/). Mental health and disability can impact ones life outcomes as much as race, depending on their severity, your resources, etc.

    Life is complicated and to reduce it to three sets of binaries is tragically reductionist. I suspect you’re aware of those things, but when we use SWM as a shorthand for privilege (or maybe apex privilege), we ignore a lot of important things and diminish the hardships and prejudices faced by a lot of people.

  85. I’m glad you followed up on this, and with such a great and enlightening example. I recently read the original Easiest Difficulty Setting articles and felt the biggest issue is that it lacked examples – not data, but simple examples of how things are easier for the SWM. This goes a long way into helping that. Thanks for the link.

    While I’m a SWM, I’m also disabled. So I get the idea of privilege and disadvantage real quick – any label or aspect immediately makes people judge you and changes their expectations and behaviors towards you.

    (And looking forward to Lock In)

  86. London: I think you’re missing a key component, which is this: If all else is equal, a SWM will have things easier than someone who doesn’t have those vital statistics. If all else is not equal, of course an individual SWM may be disadvantaged compared to an individual non-SWM.

    Additionally, it’s also important to acknowledge that those non-equal situations are statistically irrelevant. Of course they are very relevant on an individual level, but we’re looking at the big picture, here, because we’re talking about things like setting public policy. You can’t account for every exception when you’re dealing with 300 million people, so generalizations based on statistical facts–such as SWMs having more privilege than non-SWM are useful.

  87. One of the things I’ve noticed about these conversations (and something I had some trouble internalizing, frankly, bein’ a straight white guy) is that an awful lot of the institutional racism is in the form of increased police attention. Minorities get stopped more often, they get searched more often, they get arrested more often, they get charged more often, they do time more often.

    So what’s going on here, really? Is it just that racism is endemic in police departments? (Even ones where the officers are mostly the same race?) Is it the intersection between poverty and crime? Is it something cultural? Is it just that cops would like to treat everyone the same way (i.e. like crap) but people with resources and connections can fight back while poor folks can’t?

    Honestly, I don’t know. I’m tempted to say “probably all of the above”, which makes it a nasty problem to deal with.

    Gotta say, moving to Hawaii is -different- compared to living in Texas. Virtually no black population, virtually no Hispanic population. The racial dynamics are odd, though as a white guy I can basically not worry about it – and I’ll grant that’s something of a privilege, though I don’t know it’s exactly something I’d apologize for.

  88. The racial dynamics are odd, though as a white guy I can basically not worry about it – and I’ll grant that’s something of a privilege, though I don’t know it’s exactly something I’d apologize for.

    Generally, what I say about privilege is “Don’t apologize for it…work to make sure it goes to everyone.”

  89. @London, I know what it looks like to be on the upper end of poor. I started working at age 8 to help my family out. As a teenager I worked 2 jobs to put food on the table – I worked after-school in a daycare and weekends in a nursing home. I did go to private schools on scholarship for k-3 and 10-12. Do you know what it’s like being poor around really rich kids?

    In my 20s, I took out loans and put myself through college nights while working a full-time job, raising a teenage stepson, and having problems with depression and suicide. We lived paycheck-to-paycheck and a single crisis would have put us out on the street. My husband was blue-collar no degree, I worked as a receptionist, moving up to secretary, then technical writer before I found myself divorced, no job, no income, living with my brother, no savings at 30.

    I got a job, got married, got a chronic illness, had to stop working in 2001, just as I got better I got hit by an 18-wheel truck in 2012. There went any plans to go back to work. Oh and thanks to my illness being “invisible” and fantastic male doctors, who couldn’t pinpoint the problem, they told me “I don’t believe your really ill your just lazy” I don’t get disability. Currently I’m 1-2 crisis away from disaster.

    I know fancy words because I hang out on blogs with POCs and women and LGBTs talking about these issues. I don’t know if I spend a lot if time around academics. Possibly they are on some of the blogs I’m on.

    I admit my privilege it doesn’t make me angry or feel guilty. It does help me see things differently. It helps me not blame someone who couldn’t pull themselves up out of poverty – not just POCs but poor white people also – our system is designed to keep people down.

  90. (Remember, Shirley Sherrod was working on reparations to black farmers…reparations for RECENT discrimination against them by the federal government).

    Right, and you also nailed exactly why those that are getting by on the easiest setting have simply tuned out all accusations of racism, all accusations of discrimination, and all the complaints of every policy, cultural, and media force who wishes to change the status quo.

    Because, in reality, a small number (in the ballpark of hundreds) of black farmers were horrendously mistreated by a racist government agency, who did them serious harm and worse broke the law in doing it. To try to resolve that past wrong, the government lost all it’s marbles, and handed out millions and eventually billions of dollars to people who had never been farmers, never applied for government farming loans or assistance, and often weren’t even alive when it happened. Meanwhile the original class of aggrieved black farmers received almost none of the reparations. It just became a government cash extravaganza to people who have real no grievance to get their handout. The NYTimes published a detailed look at the problems with this example of corruption: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/us/farm-loan-bias-claims-often-unsupported-cost-us-millions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    And that’s it. Those of us operating on the easiest level are all done listening to how we have the privilege. What we have is the privilege to pay for the corruption. No one is going to jail for abusing us, the tax paying easiest setting straight white men. Certainly not the 90,000 people who claimed government checks who had absolutely no legitimate basis to be owed that money. I also know that a lot of people who are operating on the next easiest setting – maybe Gay White Male or Straight White Female, or Straight Asian male? – feel similarly.

    I will work and pay taxes for my whole life, as well as every other straight white male I know, and after 50+ years for each of us working and paying taxes, it will not equal 1% of the money stolen from the government in this case. And that’s one agency, in one case, in one administration, over the course of a few years.

    The ship has sailed. Tyson Nehisi Coates wants to talk about reparations for post-Jim Crow American racial problems? Sorry. Not willing to listen. John Scalzi wants to scold us for not wanting to work to make sure everyone can play on the easiest setting? Not interested.

    We are all done apologizing for building western civilization. We are all done apologizing for funding the corruption. We all done apologizing for not funding the social safety at your desired levels. Actually I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but speaking for myself, I am all done. Come back and see me when the corruption is solved. Come back and see me when the welfare fraud, disability fraud, illegal immigration fraud, car insurance fraud, workers comp fraud, EBT fraud, and lawsuit fraud is reduced to almost nothing. Not interested in being blamed anymore, and not interesting looking the other way for fraud and corruption. I am all done being a patsy.

  91. But if certain sub-populations can so clearly demonstrate predispositions to certain kinds of physical excellence, I don’t understand and have never had it convincingly explained to me why it’s totally impossible for certain sub-populations to demonstrate mental predispositions likewise

    Exactly the same argument was made about Jews in the ’40s and ’50s. They (we) dominated college basketball, and there were all sorts of complaints about Jews having natural athletic advantages that were unfair to Protestants.

    No, really:

    http://www.amazon.com/sport-which-Jews-excel-1900–1951/dp/1243577754/ref=sr_1_2

  92. The ship has sailed. Tyson Nehisi Coates wants to talk about reparations for post-Jim Crow American racial problems? Sorry. Not willing to listen. John Scalzi wants to scold us for not wanting to work to make sure everyone can play on the easiest setting? Not interested.

    So, basically, you’re punishing folks twice over. Because you can.

    Sorry, not interested in this particular excuse. Because that’s all it is…an excuse to do nothing.

  93. 55%

    “Blacks were 55% of shooting homicide victims in 2010, but 13% of the population.
    In these deaths ,…the shooter was 90% of the time black.” WaPo Mar 2013

    This one segment of society actually distorts our firearm death statistics vs. other countries to the point that if you compare states with ultra low black populations to western European countries they are roughly equivalent in that homicide metric.

    So yes SWM is the easy setting (and even them we still commit suicide with a gun way too often) , but please explain why Latino and Asian don’t have this disadvantage that is internal to black society ? Since shooting a fellow black is not about being stopped more often by cops , or not getting a job interview, else Latinos would have this problem in certain states.

  94. Well, the “lowest difficulty setting” is by definition the “easy” setting. It might be a hard game, so “easy” isn’t easy, but at this point I don’t think it’s too surprising that some people are taking it the wrong way. Plus also there’s the fact that the “easy” setting in the vast majority of games is really fucking easy.

  95. A large part of where one might stand on this issue whether one is fundamentally a lumper or a splitter. If one’s favorite method of categorization is to group things by their similar features, then yes, SWM will be an accurate way of describing the social space. However, if one is primarily a splitter, and categorize by finding differences, then SWM will have insufficient granularity.

    And of course, not to say that people can’t be lumpers about some subjects and splitters about others.

    Let’s lump a little. Let’s say that being a US citizen, compared to some other regions, is playing with the lowest difficulty setting. Sounds a little broad to me, but overall, fairly accurate.

    Conversely, saying straight white male, good looking, born wealth, even teeth, and mellifluous voice is the lowest difficulty setting might a seem a bit too specific.

    Your mileage may vary.

  96. “”What I’m not cool with is the notion that absence of equal outcomes is taken as definitive evidence of absence of equal opportunity, and that the idea that there may be some inherent quality in a sub-population that causes it on average and in large groups to be more or less successful than other groups in a given context is per se ridiculous. It’s more complex than “White people is smarter than them Negroes.” “”

    Hmmm. As i was reading about this study, I found myself wondering if the opposite(?) kind of study has been done. If you look at a group of equally privileged youth (meaning educated, engaged parents with stable incomes and home lives, good schools, etc) from diverse ethnic groups and see if their outcomes where any different based on race?

    I honestly don’t know. But in my personal life I have worked (and lived) alongside a lot of people of color and women in male dominated fields that had good outcomes in their lives, largely because of good life choices. So maybe individual outcomes has something to do with both behavior and racism?

    As has been said, its complicated and not prone to an easy solution. It does appear to me that things are moving in a positive direction-while the 2008 election didn’t mean the end of racism surely it is a very significant sign of progress?

  97. “Sorry, not interested in this particular excuse. Because that’s all it is…an excuse to do nothing.”

    Yes, it is an excuse.

    It is silly to try to change anything against the tide that is running opposite the direction we want to go. It is always the same. We need to do more X to get what we want. X almost always involves me giving away some of the labor that I expend everyday.

    I am fine with making a decision to do X thing that costs Y, to get what was envisioned. I am fine with doing my financial part to right an economic wrong that was done to black farmers. There was a government entitlement, black farmers should have equal access, they did not, it’s finally been exposed, let’s fix it going forward, find the people who were damaged, make them as close to whole as feasible, punish the criminals who broke the law the first time around, and use it as a teaching moment throughout the rest of the government. But that isn’t what happened. None of things happened. Not one of them. Instead, every nickel I’ll ever earn and pay in taxes has gone to subsidize a few criminals who claimed harm, and lied. One or two individual crooks stole my entire life’s contribution to the social safety net. It’s worse than moving all the grains of sand one grain at a time.

    I have absolutely no idea how to change the things that are wrong. I pretty much agree with all the things that are wrong. But the last 15 years has taught me not to bother to try. It is literally fruitless. People are a cancer. It’s every person for themselves.

  98. @SILBEY

    Exactly. I remember running into that and going “Wait whaaa..?!!”. It’s a good example that shows just how arbitrary those so called ‘innate abilities’ are.

  99. “White” is the Easy end of the Race slider.
    “Straight” is the Easy end of the Sexual Orientation slider.
    “Male” is the Easy end of the AAB Gender slider.

    Other sliders may be set to Medium or Hard. But for any given setting of other sliders, you’ll be better off with the three slider settings above than if they were set otherwise.

    And BTW, you people who keep talking about “feeling guilty” or “apologizing” for having privilege: It’s not about that.

    You didn’t cause it.
    It’s not your fault.
    You can’t change it (and you can’t be blamed for what you can’t change).

    What you CAN do is acknowledge it, try to use it for good, and subvert it whenever possible. And LISTEN when disprivileged people point out that you’re coming from a place of privilege.

  100. What you CAN do is acknowledge it, try to use it for good, and subvert it whenever possible. And LISTEN when disprivileged people point out that you’re coming from a place of privilege.,

    Can you provide a few examples where this does not involve taking money out of my pocket and giving it to another person? Very interested in concrete steps. Not so much in gibberish.

  101. Exactly. I remember running into that and going “Wait whaaa..?!!”. It’s a good example that shows just how arbitrary those so called ‘innate abilities’ are.

    The #1 thing that convinces me that we can’t just trust the data on this is that.. in all the studies, they never both to test and record intelligence. You do this great longitudinal study, track a lot people, bring in a lot of data, but never test and track and correlate or correct of any measure of intelligence?

    Why is that?

  102. MRAL:

    “Well, the ‘lowest difficulty setting’ is by definition the ‘easy’ setting.”

    No. The best you could say is that it’s the “easiest” setting, relative to other settings. But even that is not the same thing as “easy.”

    dh:

    “We are all done apologizing for building western civilization.”

    Oh, dear Jesus. My eyes can’t roll far enough back in my head for this bit of ridiculously hyperbolic soapboxery.

    I notice, dh, that you note that you are speaking for yourself after you’ve proclaimed what “we” are done doing. You should have probably done that a smidgen earlier. There’s no space for “we” on your particular soapbox, there. Certainly I, whose family tree has all sorts of plaster from “building Western Civilization” all over it, am not up there with you. There’s just enough space on it for you.

  103. @Tasha I’m truly sorry that your life has included so much hardship. It feels awkward to disagree with you and your experience, but I do feel that many people who have experienced less hardship nonetheless feel burdened and don’t want to be told their life has been played on the easiest setting. You’re white and (I’m assuming) straight, yet I can’t imagine many people, white or otherwise, would think you’re life has been primarily informed or defined by either white or straight privilege. You haven’t been playing life on the easiest setting plus one.

    Ultimately, i think what most bothers me about this framing is that it is dismissive. Acknowledging that people have widely varying experiences and are not defined by any trio of traits is not denying that racism exists and has a powerful influence on people’s lives, regardless of color. It doesn’t repress the way assumed gender roles and power dynamics hurt both men and women. It doesn’t excuse heterosexism.

    If we expect people to “get it” by presenting their lives as the sum of three binaries, they might not want to go along. They might look at somebody like you (or themselves) and say, hey, that’s not easy. And the people insisting that if you check the right three boxes, your life is easy look foolish. It’s much better showing how racism impacts people. How poverty can make life a constant balancing act to keep those 1-2 crisis away. How illness can radically alter the course of a life.

  104. Can you provide a few examples where this does not involve taking money out of my pocket and giving it to another person? Very interested in concrete steps. Not so much in gibberish.

    If you come to a counter after a woman/POC/etc., and the person behind the counter goes to you first, say “S/he was here first.”

    That requires paying attention and noticing when you’re being inappropriately preferred. Do this in all areas of life. If you notice that a woman in a conversation keeps being interrupted whenever she tries to talk, say “[name] has been trying to say something. [Name]?” then be quiet and listen to what she has to say.

    Further applications are left to you as an exercise.

  105. “We are all done apologizing for building western civilization.”

    Um. We (white folks) did not build western civilization by ourselves. And that’s kinda the point behind reparations.

    “We all done apologizing for not funding the social safety at your desired levels. ”

    I’m not gonna dissect your whole speech, but that part right there is the speech of somebody whose privilege affords them safety. And speaking as somebody playing on the Second-and-a-half most easy level (straight white mostly-abled bodied cis atheist female with middle class upbringing and some college education) I DON’T FEEL SAFE. And it doesn’t make me feel better to realise that many of my friends aren’t safe either. So take that “we” and back right on up.

    Discussions of privilege aren’t meant to be a self-flagellation fest for privileged folks. When people talk about the systemic problems they face, what they want is basic acknowledgement and discussion of solutions. Nobody’s trying to take away what you have.

    I was literally born at 4500 feet, give or take, on the terraced shelf of a mountain-side created by a mammoth ancient lake. And I grew up hiking those same mountains. But when my cousins from Sandy Eggo came and visited us, we sometimes had to keep their lowland lungs in mind. Help them acclimatise. It’s easy to climb to 5000, 6000, 7000 feet when you are used to starting at 4500, but if you were born at sea level, it might be trickier.

  106. @shawna, being straight gives one certain privileges; being white gives one a ton of privileges; being male gives one a different set of privileges that may be advantageous over being a woman. None of those things define a life, nor are any of them, individually or combined, The Privilege. Wealth, health, able-bodiedness, being free of mental and cognitive disability, intelligence, attractiveness, simple good fortune, and countless other things give those who have them privilege as well. To prioritize one aspect of life over others trivializes the experience of most people.

    Not only does calling those three elements as “life’s easiest setting” dismiss people who have struggled in other ways, it’s politically unsound. You don’t get anyone to listen to studies and life experiences of racism when you tell them they don’t count. Which is what calling “SWM is life’s easiest setting” does for SWM who haven’t had such easy lives.

  107. No. The best you could say is that it’s the “easiest” setting, relative to other settings. But even that is not the same thing as “easy.”

    Well okay, point conceded. Even so, I think it’s a metaphor that, while clever and elegant and everything, is very easy to misunderstand.

  108. @Shawna: This is what I never get about this kind of discussion. You (and you are hardly alone in this, I could have adressed this to any of 5 other posters) say a bunch of entirely sensible things, with which few would disagree.

    It’s just that if those things are true, _Scalzi is wrong_.

    SWM is not the ‘lowest difficulty setting’ if disability, income, education, class or culture could make it vastly easier or harder. But you present yourself as entirely agreeing with him.

    What’s going on here? Is there some kind of language thing where the word pattern far/further/furthest has been forgotten? That hardly seems likely for a professional author and obviously well-educated readers.

    A game is certainly not easy if a mass survey of 10s of thousands of players _playing on the easiest setting_ failed to find anyone who made it past the first level.

    If I was the game designer, that maybe would be one of the first priorities to focus on. Not that other things don’t also need tweaking, it’s just that I suspect if you made any progress on that core issue, a lot of other problems would start to work themselves out.

    In any case, using a frame in which that core problem is defined out of existence hardly seems like the right starting point.

  109. @London again no one has said it is easy. It is easier I didn’t list all I’ve gone through nor did I list all my achievements. They are irrelevant. We aren’t comparing my life to someone else’s. We are comparing how white people in general are treated by the system to POC and Men to “other genders”

    The example @Xopher gives are much more relevant to this discussion.

    This is about treating non-white, non-straight, non-men as people, as full human beings – listen when they talk, don’t assume, speak up when you see them being ignored/abused.

  110. Richard AD Melvin, I direct you to this bit of Scalzi’s post above:

    Which is to say: Even as much as your life blows, straight white dude, the black dude in exactly the same situation is likely to have it worse. And not because of anything he (or you) did. Just because it’s the way things are.

    You and others in this conversation keep ignoring the “other things being equal” bit of this. It’s essential. The argument is nonsense without it. You leave it out and then claim the argument is nonsense.

    It’s really beginning to seem willful, like you want to dismiss the argument and are caricaturing it to make it ridiculous. This is called Straw-Manning. Please cut it out.

  111. Folks, let’s not wander too far off in a discussion about reparations. While it’s a fabulously interesting topic and well worth discussion, it’s not entirely on topic here, and I’d like to bring things back to point.

    London:

    I can’t help but notice that you are writing “Life’s easiest setting,” when I wrote “lowest difficulty setting.” This is either unintentional (which could happen) or an attempt to subtly change the frame of the discussion. Either way I should note that in doing so you’re making a different statement and argument than I am. When I am saying “lowest difficulty setting,” it still implies difficulty. Whereas your new frame suggests that things should be easy in some way for those who operate on that level.

    So essentially what you’re doing is changing the conditions of the discussion and then maintaining that no one likes to be told what you are saying. Which may be true, but you’re making a different argument than I am.

    MRAL:

    The above comment to London is to your point, although in a general sense (and not in reference to London here) I have to say I do often wonder how much of it is people not initially making the distinction between “lowest difficulty” and “easy,” which is understandable given the sloppiness of colloquial usage (but which should be sorted when pointed out), and not making the distinction because it’s advantageous to their argument not to do so.

    Everyone:

    That said, it does appear we are once again trying to air objections to the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” metaphor, which, as you’ll recall from the top comment here, I’m not especially interested in doing again (indeed, the discussion of it so far is not really raising any new objections). So let’s go ahead and bring that to a close very soon as well, please.

  112. The First Rule of Privilege Club is, “Don’t talk about Privilege Club.”
    The Second Rule of Privilege Club is “When someone breaks the First Rule, call them on it but NEVER mention Privilege Club or the First Rule.”
    I think this explains most of the high-drama, low-content responses I’ve seen when someone points out privilege. Some sort of text/(subtext) thing like “Harg (you) blah (broke) BLAH (the) krarg (First) gargle (Rule!) BLARGH!”
    Present company excepted, of course.

  113. I should hope that I’d extend those courtesies to anyone, not just minorities.

    Honestly, I think a lot of the resistance to this idea isn’t so much in the personal application – nobody loses when people are more understanding and when we recognize each others’ dignity and rights. And being able to step back and say “hey, just because I haven’t had a rough time doesn’t mean nobody’s had a rough time, and just because I wasn’t racist to people doesn’t mean that those people haven’t had people be racist at them” is a fine thing as well.

    The ugly part comes when people are admonished to “check their privilege”, not as a way of saying “hey, not everyone has had your background and their differing experiences mean you should listen to their viewpoint as well”, but in the “you have gonads, skin color, and sexual orientation such that we can put you in the box of people we don’t listen to, so shut the hell up”. Running into that kind of an attitude in the context of equality of races, genders, and sexual orientation is jarring, no? And just like I should be able to look beyond “hey, I’m not being racist to people” in order to see “hm, but maybe other people are,” when you tell someone that they’ve got privilege because of societal forces beyond their control and because they’re a member of a particular gender/ethnic/etc. group, YOU might not be telling them “and thus we don’t have to care about your opinions”, but other people do mean it in exactly that sense and you’re using a lot of the same terminology.

    I’m not saying this because I feel personally put upon – hell, on the easy-mode scale I’m practically running a Game Genie over here, right? But at the same time, I’m no happier having my perspective placed in the intellectual ghetto than you were when you were treated in the same way. Should I be careful that I’m not over-generalizing my background in ways that make me blind to the hardships of others? Sure, absolutely, and when I do so, please bop me over the head and let me know. And you, likewise, can be careful that, in your haste to slay the demons of past prejudice, you do not come to resemble them.

    Not merely because it is right to do so, though that is also the truth, but if things devolve down to “SWM talking to SWM because nobody else will listen to them” and “minorities talking to minorities because SWM won’t listen to them”, well, those with the privilege come out on top and everyone else gets the shaft. You’ve got to have the cooperation of people with privilege to make it work; trying to get that cooperation while dictating to them what their attitudes should be will not end well, no better than when it was the other way around.

  114. @Xopher

    The whole point is, by simple math, there _can’t be_ any other things of significance if the difficultty setting is not merely low, or lower. but lowest. Otherwise you could change those things in such a way that you got a lower difficulty setting.

    Not very often you actually get to use a literal proof by contradiction in a political discussion; please consider that the entirety of my motive…

  115. I think your reductio is ad absurdum. Refraining from taking this further as Our Host has asked us to wrap this part of the discussion.

  116. To add to @Xopher Halftongue examples

    If you are in a position where you find someone’s qualifications being discounted because of their race/gender, speak up!

    If you see a cop mis-treating a black person, speak up (or even just hanging around is enough to modify the cops behavior)

    A lot of it takes noticing things. If you notice the hostess is rude to the black couple in front of you but very friendly with you, say something, ore even express some empathy.

    If you see a cashier treating a poor person terribly because they are poor (or on welfare), speak up. I’ve asked to speak to a manager after a cashier was treating the woman ahead of me rudely because she was using food stamps.

    If a friend of yours makes a racist joke, or someone in your company does so, either speak up or make it very clear you do not approve. For example, my wife is white, and other white people sometimes feel free to express their racist side to her. And she dutifully lets them know in no uncertain terms that she will not stand for it. I do the same for men who express mysoginistic thoughs to me.

    And for me, one of the biggies. If someone you consider a friend expresses that they feel they were treated badly, do not play devil’s advocate. Actually listen to them (one of my friendships ended when I told a friend about my latest bad cop experience. They first said ‘I must have misunderstood the cop’, asked questions like they were a prosecutor and when satisfied that something bad had happened to me said ‘but the cop is an idiot. You’re one of the good blacks and maybe the cop couldn’t see that’. Needless to say, the conversation did not end well. Same goes for gender. If your friend tells you that she is uncomfortable going somewhere because of how men treat her, don’t try to explain away her misgivings.

    Often-times, there is a huge power imbalance and you have more power in the particular situation. So use it.

  117. I do often wonder how much of it is people not initially making the distinction between “lowest difficulty” and “easy,” which is understandable given the sloppiness of colloquial usage (but which should be sorted when pointed out), and not making the distinction because it’s advantageous to their argument not to do so.

    I do agree there’s a lot of bad faith when it comes to this particular topic. But I think the reason I’m generally inclined to be charitable is that I didn’t react too well to the metaphor at first either (I didn’t, like, put my fist through the monitor or anything. It just didn’t work for me). But then I thought about it- not even that hard- and I realized that while it’s not perfect, it also makes certain dynamics that are otherwise 300-level stuff very intuitive. Now I think it’s a good metaphor as one part of a larger, much more complex conversation. Which I think basically addresses London’s points.

  118. A poorly run reparations program does not mean that the reparations were not warranted nor other reparations are inappropriate.

  119. @Mr. Scalzi himself. I’m not nearly clever enough to have switched the wording intentionally. I’m not sure the nuances of the difference matter if the person you’re conversing with is prone to feeling dismissed. But I’ve made that argument above as well as I’m going to.

  120. Just realized I am now an acronym. SWM. This will probably morph into ‘swim’ or something and then that will become a derogatory term. Would be entertaining if that happens.

    Anyway, back when I was in college, there was a protest and the black student union took over the school newspaper. There was a party , something happened, cops came… I think one person got arrested. I don’t remember the details. Anyway the school newspaper quote the police report which used the acrononym ‘M/B’ (male black). That was deemed racist. End result was the school decided to add a few each semester. The revenue from the fee would be destributed to all all groups on campus that do not have white males. There was a big fight amongst the non-white male groups over who was the most oppressed. I remember a young women in one of the women’s groups screaming at a black guy over who was the most oppressed (too bad this was before cell phones and youtube… )

    anyway… I am a non-practicing Jew. Was out drinking with some friends of mine. Couple of mexican, one or two gay guys, and a black guy… possibly others from the opressed sprectrum. Its Chicago… and unlike Scalzi, I was fun to go out and get wasted with in college.

    Long story short. Got drunk (shocker) Lost a drinking game… So I joined the Jewish group to play the ‘I am an oppressed Jew stuff’.

    Went to some open forum and got in the on the oh year I am more oppressed than you. Was pretty wasted when I did this. May have been stoned too. Don’t remember. I think I called LGBT members Nazis. Eventually got called a jew bastard and some others stuff. Was rather amazed that few people were offended when anti-jewish remarks were made. Anyway, some people apologized to me later and I totally played up the ‘I am so totally pissed off at you you racist prick’ routine. My friends were seriously cracking up over this. Most of my friends were assholes. Its why we all got along.

    true story.

  121. London:

    “I’m not nearly clever enough to have switched the wording intentionally.”

    Heh. Well, okay then. I do think it makes a difference, personally. Thanks for the clarification.

    Everyone:

    As a heads up, I’ll be turning off comments on the thread when I head to sleep tonight, which I suspect will be relatively early (I’m already yawning. I am old, it appears). Probably in the next hour.

  122. “A poorly run reparations program does not mean that the reparations were not warranted nor other reparations are inappropriate.”

    Agreed. But it does mean that another one will probably just be as corrupt as the next. Poorly run also tends to me, you know, sloppy or just done that well. But what is the norm for all sorts of distribution programs are simply flat out fraud on a massive scale. The black farmers were a great example. After the corruption destroyed the integrity of the first program:

    From the NYTimes:
    “New settlements would provide “a way to neutralize the argument that the government favors black farmers over Hispanic, Native American or women farmers,” an internal department memorandum stated in March 2010.”

    There is zero evidence to suggest that anything substantial will be accomplished.

    Then it spread to other groups that were not actually aggrieved but who felt like they were owed something because another group was actually aggrieved. Certain people can suggest it’s not about score settling or grievances or getting even or guilt, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

    Another poster wrote:
    “I DON’T FEEL SAFE. And it doesn’t make me feel better to realise that many of my friends aren’t safe either. So take that “we” and back right on up.”

    It’s time for a wake-up call. I no longer concern myself with anyone else’s feelings of safety. I am well on the way to contributing a million dollars of my income to programs and it’s a tiny insignificant ant hill of the mountain of money already directed towards bridging the gap, to making people “feel safe”. It’s never going to be enough, there is always another hand looking for more. If that’s victim blaming so be it.

    JS, re:western civilization, I am taking the turn of phrase from your description, where you claim that SWM are playing on the least difficult setting in the game of western civilized life. I agree that I personally have done nothing to advance it, except for pay what has been asked of me to pay, to finance it. Everything else that I have done or not done has been to my economic benefit. It’s certainly not charity.

    You also wrote:
    “Oh, dear Jesus. My eyes can’t roll far enough back in my head for this bit of ridiculously hyperbolic soapboxery.”

    Yeah we get you look down on us who might agree with you on privilege but disagree with you on self-flagellation. I reject your attempts to induce self-flagellation because you have no operating theory on how it will lead to any improvement, or even any change whatsoever. You actively eschew solutions. In fact, it seems to only accelerate the demands made upon those who are playing on the least difficult level.

    When you talk about this it’s really just a yawn fest. It’s just talk for the sake of it. There is no action, there is no prescription, there is no solution. We can do what you say to do (for example as Xopher suggests, we can defend a woman who is being ignored) but there is absolutely no suggestion or even expectation that it will matter one bit. And there is a risk in anything we do that it will have inadvertent negative side effects. I’ve done as Xopher and others suggest and then been told that defending a woman who didn’t ask for it is misogynist and assumes that the women is not a person with full agency to defend herself. It makes me, essentially a bully. Xopher and others didn’t address what I am supposed to when I must make decisions about which groups interests to advance. When the person behind the counter is of Asian descent, and it’s a white woman who is being ignored, which groups interest do I defend, and which do I defer to? Can someone helpfully make a grievance chart that gives me a quick reference of whom gets more deference points, or when it’s okay to mind my own business?

    The business is corrupt and it’s best just to ignore it. There is no upside to it. There is no hope for change, the grievance counters are working full-time to determine who wins the grievance brokers’ world cup and there is no accountability for being wrong.

    RE: I/we. If I am held to account, as a group of easiest level players, for building a corrupt system that rewards others in my same situation, then I will use the royal we. It’s only fair. If we get the blame, we get the credit. When describing how this makes makes me feel, I will stick with “I” instead of we. I can only speak for myself as a member of the group of cheat-mode players. Also seems fair.

  123. dh:

    “Yeah we get you look down on us who might agree with you on privilege but disagree with you on self-flagellation.”

    This is where I roll my eyes again at you, dh. You’re imagining any directives for self-flagellation on my part, not in the least because I don’t do it. Being mindful and aware of advantages doesn’t automatically equate with the need to feel guilty, although I’d be happy if the recognition also came with a desire to use one’s advantages positively, with regards to others. Beyond that, as I’m fond of saying, I’m not responsible for what the fantasy version of me you have does inside of your head.

    “If I am held to account, as a group of easiest level players, for building a corrupt system that rewards others in my same situation, then I will use the royal we. That’s fair.”

    No, it’s kind of silly, both as an attempt to retcon your use of “we,” and as a justification to use the royal “we.” Also, I’m not sure where you think you are being held to account for building the system, unless you want to admit you’re a Highlander-like immortal who has lived for thousands of years and has been working with the Illumniati behind the scenes to shape Western Civilization. Rather, you’re just a dude, like many other dudes, me included, who benefits from the way things have turned out so far.

    Everyone:

    Shutting down the comments for the evening. Sleep well!

    Update: Comments back on.

  124. Well, John, while I doubt dh thinks he’s a Highlander, I’m sure he’s convinced There Can Be Only One, which conveniently for him, is dh.

  125. Just because you’re playing the game at the lowest difficulty setting, doesn’t mean that you can’t lose the game.

    It’s possible to extend the game analogy and suggest that your various “privilege positions”—race, sex & gender, economic background, etc.—add “lives”, or number of times you can hit the re-set button after Game Over.

    It’s also more than possible that I’m not the first to extend the analogy this way…but there are only so many hours in a day, and the stack of comments is long.
    :)

  126. It’s kind of fascinating (and sad) that people’s first reaction to being told they have some sort of privilege is almost always defensiveness. I realize it’s just basic human psychology to turn things around to oneself, but since it’s also something I’ve been fighting to rid myself of (raised Catholic – we’ve turned existential guilt into an athletic event) so it’s fascinating to see how it plays out with other people. Personally I don’t tend to get defensive, I just feel guilty (see above Re: Catholic), although I’m sure I’ve played the game of “my childhood was worse than yours” before. But that guilt is just as misplaced as the defensiveness. The point isn’t to feel bad about things that you didn’t do and don’t control – it’s to empathize with your fellow human beings, realize that their experiences are different from yours, and possibly to learn to reserve judgement. And as Xopher pointed out, pay attention, intervene where you can, or at the very least don’t make an unfair situation worse.

  127. LE @12:57: I think (in some ways, and for some of us, not all) that defensiveness from those of us who have any of the “lowest difficulty” settings stems from the fact that we aren’t willing to give up whatever edges we may have–never mind that we can’t give them up anyway; we still feel guilty for not wanting to. Life is a difficult game on any difficulty setting, after all, and when “winning” means “surviving comfortably,” well . . . I mean, I need this job, right? If my race gives me an edge, I’m going to take it! Maybe I can feel better about my unearned racial advantage because my gender cancels out that edge? Or other difficult circumstances in my life make my setting not really “lowest difficulty”? Yeah, that’s it! You people who aren’t SWM (or in my case, F), you just don’t understand my life! And so on . . .

    In other words, the guilt is (as you acknowledge) related to the defensiveness in ways that most of us just don’t want to face. Feeling guilty about something that isn’t my fault, or my choice, is ridiculous, too–but it’s hard not to take it personally, even when I know I’m being ridiculous. And even when I know that the only thing I, personally, can do to improve the situation starts with being aware of what’s going on, for that matter. I think most of us have to work to avoid the knee-jerk response–or at least, I do. So it goes.

  128. As a straight white male, the original post sort of bothered me. I wasn’t clear why and so I did an intelligent thing and said nothing and thought about it for a while.

    After a while, I decide that it bothered me because it seemed to belittle my accomplishments. And…. It does. But, does that mean it’s not true. Certainly there are times when being a straight whit male can be a disadvantage, and I experienced some of those, and they made me pretty angry. They really stand out in my mind as clear examples of reverse prejudice, and they are unfair.

    Thinking further, I realized that they stand out and bother me, because they are quite rare and exceptional. Had I been born black, the opposite would likely be true. The times when it was a disadvantage would likely be so common as to seem normal, and those times when it was an advantage would be rare and exceptional.

    So, as a white guy I probably don’t tend to notice the advantages, but the disadvantages really stand which is probably another thing that makes this topic do emotionally charged. A SWM doesn’t feel the advantages, but feels the disadvantages, so, emotionally, from the perspective of a SWM the idea that this is the easiest difficulty setting seems both wrong and insulting because of the belittling of accomplishments that the idea is burdened with.

    That being said, white seems to be the easiest race, straight the easiest sexual preference, and male the easiest sex.

    The comment still seemed wrong to me, and I wasn’t sure why. After some more thinking, I feel that I put my finger on it.

    Saying that being a SWM is the easiest difficulty setting implies that the most important things about you from a life difficulty standpoint are your race, sex, and sexual preference.

    I don’t think this is true. I can think of other characteristics that are just as important, maybe more so. Being born really rich could certainly make life a lot easier. Being really smart helps a lot. Being healthy is also a pretty big deal. In this society religious affiliation can also be very meaningful.

    Most important though seems to be who your parents, what their values are and what they pass on to you as a child. There are a couple of studies that back this up. If your parents instill in you good values, work ethic, and good habits that will be a huge advantage as you go through life versus someone else who has to figure out things (or not) for themselves. My parents for example really excelled in some aspects of raising me, and were really really poor in some others. When I look back over the 50 years of my existence I think that their areas of excellence as parents coincide with the parts of life that have been easiest, and that their areas of failure as parents are what created the most difficulty and struggle in life. Who they were and what they taught me seems to have been a bigger factor than the SWM. Perhaps somebody here was raised by wolves and turned out ok and will dispute this, but I think the evidence supports me as people who are adopted well into childhood or come from abusive or broken homes have a far greater disadvantage than someone someone on the wrong side of SWM who does not.

    So my problem isn’t that white is easier than black, or male easier than female, but that the statement ignores all the other factors in the algorithm that ultimately determines life’s difficulty setting, and focuses on just three that are current hot buttons in society right now. It oversimplifies and causes us to focus on the wrong thing, thus ignoring the other (some arguably larger) components of the problem.

  129. Al Smith:

    “Saying that being a SWM is the easiest difficulty setting implies that the most important things about you from a life difficulty standpoint are your race, sex, and sexual preference.”

    Actually, it implies that because these are the lowest difficulty settings, neither you nor anyone else has to think about them at all — that they are, in fact, utterly unimportant. Nor does it imply that other factors don’t come into play.

    Yet again I will note these complaints have already been addressed in previous entries, which is why I noted them at the top of the comment thread, and said I didn’t want to go over complaints about the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” metaphor in this thread. Let’s table it, please.

  130. Oh. Sorry. I didn’t bother to read all that other stuff before I posted. I see now that doing so would have been a good idea.

    I Probably should have stuck with the original “do something intelligent and say nothing” default setting I normally run on.

  131. “Reverse prejudice”. My eyes hurt from being lodged in the back of my brain. Can anyone explain why it is that *every* *single* *time* a straight white male is involved in a discussion about privilege, suddenly racism and prejudice is somehow in reverse? Is it because straight while males believe that prejudice only works one way? The implication being, of course, that prejudice should only work ONE way… away from them.

  132. Mary Francis:

    defensiveness from those of us who have any of the “lowest difficulty” settings stems from the fact that we aren’t willing to give up whatever edges we may have–never mind that we can’t give them up anyway; we still feel guilty for not wanting to. Life is a difficult game on any difficulty setting, after all, and when “winning” means “surviving comfortably,” well . . . I mean, I need this job, right? If my race gives me an edge, I’m going to take it! Maybe I can feel better about my unearned racial advantage because my gender cancels out that edge?

    Some of it is that, because people tend to think that it’s a zero sum game rather than a growth game. If we stop discriminating against women, race, etc. and those people do better, that means they get my stuff that I’m more likely to get because I’m on the up axis. But that’s not what actually happens. White people don’t lose their chances to get a job or a mortgage or be trusted in a store when you have increased and legally protected equailty. They are still white people, they still are trusted in those things. It’s just that the black people also get to have jobs, mortgages and be trusted in a store, is the goal.

    And doing that stops wasting resources and people’s productivity and puts heaps of more money into the economy. Discrimination is an incredibly wasteful, inefficient system. When you stop blocking people from the economy due to their identity, which keeps them in poverty and unable to advance and throws them in prison, etc., they put into the system and the economy improves and GROWS — more money, more jobs, more houses, etc. Tech developments ensue. Standards of living improve across the board — not just to the female non-white gay folk. Rich people actually still get plenty rich. And in SFF, we get more authors of more variety and so we get more readers buying books and going to cons where they feel welcome and the SFF market grows and is glorious — which is in fact what is happening, albeit slowly and apparently requires a lot of screaming to get through people’s heads.

    The second component is the feeding children in Africa syndrome in the U.S., which is the same thing — thinking of yourself in isolation rather than an ecosystem — that the people who are in the disadvantaged groups are not the same part of your culture and your country and just as valid. Take when London said that Asians were mainstreaming. The assumption there is that Asians were somehow not part of the mainstream before, the mainstream being white. White is the default, white is the normal by which we define everybody else in relation to. But that’s not the actual American culture. Asians are just as much a part of U.S. culture and throughout its history as “white” people. Their culture, history, are as American as someone whose family was Italian. And yet, because of the discrimination in that history, we treat Asians as the group over there strange to us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMJI1Dw83Hc

    And technically Asian people are white. The Census in fact has nearly everybody as white — Arabs, Greeks, Asians, Hassidic, and Latinos unless they identify themselves as non-white, are all considered “white.” That’s because race isn’t a biological factor, nor is ethnicity. It’s a social construct. And white isn’t even really a race in that construct — it’s the catch-all group they put everybody when there’s not a specific sub-set. (But the specific sub-sets are just as American mainstream as the whites.) And of course women are in every group and economic group.

    But we don’t treat people the same. We treat them on institutionalized assumptions based on often mistaken judgments we make about what group they belong to. (See video above.) Like that they are less mainstream because we’ve decided that they are not “white.” And the solution is to get rid of what makes them different — their culture and history including discrimination — and they should assimilate and become more “white” whatever concept of that we have. The Irish used to be considered non-white and mocked as apes. (As did those Italians.) The Irish — with the red hair. Because discriminatory ideas about whole groups of people have very little to do with them and everything to do with coming up for social and often legal justifications for discriminating against them and taking them out of and blocking them from the economy and the fruits of it and keeping them under control through threat, force and poverty. And claims that the disadvantaged protesting are angry, unreasonable, relentless, deceived, threatening, persecuting, unfit, scamming, playing the victim, refusing to “assimilate” i.e. be quiet, etc., all come from that social instituting that these groups are “outside” the usual and proper identity, and need to be controlled.

    And the third and largest component — and this is the result of civil rights actions that have actually improved discrimination in some ways — is that in the course of fifty years, the society changed and some discriminations which were a good normal thing aren’t seen that way by many anymore, not in public. So if you get faced with discrimination and privilege, that makes you think you are the bad person in the society and you could get in trouble, and that’s more important to counter than dealing with the actual discrimination, because hey, it’s about you. We get a lot of, yeah I know black people are discriminated against, but let me tell you why you shouldn’t talk about the privileges we considered not-black have. Or at least you should do so politely, deferentially to me to show that you respect me as a nice person, because that’s the most important thing (plus then I can ignore you.)

    We know the discrimination is there, most of us agree that it’s not good to have, but it’s less important than whether people think we’re spiffy. We feel like there’s no way we can win and be “good” people because we keep doing and saying things that are cluelessly discriminatory and because the social discrimination is there in a vast way, and so we’d like to avoid the topic altogether. And so much of the conversational energy first has to be expended on convincing folk that discrimination should be discussed — the first step to changing it. That’s what the lowest difficulty setting concept was about — discrimination is there and needs to be discussed.

  133. I’m mildly curious as to how many black people have posted on this thread. Not in a critical way, but more in a “frustrated with the cliques on the internet way.” For all the talk about privilege, and it is good talk, I do get frustrated that it seems like white people therapy as opposed to a force for improvement.

  134. I think it’s time we talk about the *real* lowest difficult setting; being right-handed. Freaking whitey righties don’t know how easy they have it. YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR HAND PRIVILEGE SCALZI.

  135. I started twice to write a reply which I eventually realized is a variant of the libertarian dismount and probably doesn’t belong here. So instead, an observation:

    Even with low difficulty settings, the game can be hard. Some of the advantages are not immediately obvious, though. If we play a game where my variant automatically saves my position every few minutes and yours does not, it is fully possible that I end up with the same result as you without ever dying and having to use these savegames. So, no difference in the end, right? Well, actually just the fact that you didn’t have a margin for error probably made your gameplay a lot different. That’s what Suzi and others mean with difficulty settings being a magnifying glass when things go wrong.

    A decade ago, I went into a freelancing business with no guarantee of an income. If that had failed miserably I could always have asked my family to loan me money for food and rent for a few months until I got back on my feet. It turned out that I never needed to do this, but I had no way of knowing that in advance. Without any form of a safety net, I would have had to wait a year or two while building up some savings. Being able to afford mistakes helps you even when you don’t make them.

  136. @Marc Cabot:

    But if certain sub-populations can so clearly demonstrate predispositions to certain kinds of physical excellence

    Eugenics – oh, sorry, it’s “human biodiversity” these days, isn’t it – always has this tedious, Orwellian predictability to it. Let’s take a current snapshot of !GROUP and pretend they’ve always been that way, quietly ignoring that fifty years ago, Jews were inherently predisposed to be good at basketball, or a hundred years ago, that the Irish or the Italians (who hadn’t been accepted as ‘white’ yet) were of lower intelligence than people whose forebears were Anglo-Saxon. We have always been at war with Eurasia; that’s just science.

    If you think I’m being unfair, Marc, note that you reject a study showing disparate outcomes because taken in a vacuum, it doesn’t offer (to your mind) “definitive proof” of racism; yet you are perfectly willing to rely on speculation and isn’t-it-possible to argue that white guys can’t jump, but they are probably better at IQ tests. When you are demanding a harsh and rather unrealistic standard of proof for one thing and are all loosey-goosey and speculative with another, then you’re working backword from a solution, not following the evidence.

    (And of course this study wasn’t done in a vacuum. The pervasive and long-term effects of systemic racism have been very well documented, not just in this study.)

  137. Dear Mark,

    There are sooooo many things wrong with your “biology is destiny” reasoning that calling it ‘reasoning’ is almost an oxymoron. I won’t attempt to deconstruct it all. I’m just going to dismantle your maunderings on intelligence.

    1) We do not have a magic brain scan machine that measures intelligence. We have IQ tests that correlate a numerical score on a series of written and visual questions with mental ability, but the correlation is noisy. It is the single biggest problem, and always has been, that folks who create IQ tests have tried to address: coming up with a set of questions that gets read and understood uniformly the same way across the breadth and width of the socioeconomic population. It’s been a known problem since day one. There’s most likely 5-10 points noise in the results. That is, if you take two people from very different socioeconomic situations and their IQ test scores differ by only 5-10 points, you don’t actually know who “objectively” has a higher IQ.

    Note, this understanding on my part is based on reading actual, real sociology papers, not Wikipedia. I prefer primary sources, thank you very much.

    (I am avoiding the whole can of worms about whether IQ is especially meaningful––Stephen Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man addressed all of that very well. For the sake of this discussion, let’s pretend it is meaningful––the position that is most favorable to your arguments.)

    2) Again, if one looks at real studies and not the pop-sci ramblings of sociobiologists, the very best comparative studies of IQ — that carefully select their subject populations to try to null out as much as possible differences in socioeconomic background, education, and so on — do not find major differences between the so-called “races.” Nothing that exceeds the aforementioned error margins. (Yes, there are a few that do––they are in the minority. The larger and better controlled studies say any differences are practically down in the noise.) In other words, if you take, say, a group of white man and a group of black woman who grew up with similar educational, economic, nutritional, mentoring, and familial opportunities, and test them you’re going to find very little difference in their mean scores.

    Which makes any claim for systematic differences problematic.

    But, again, just for the sake of argument, let’s make believe those measured differences are real and not just noise and bias in the tests as noted under Point 1. Then we get to Point 3:

    3) Studies have also been done to see how much affect IQ scores have on “success in life” for SWMs. The measure of success varies (health, wealth, not getting locked up in prison, power, whatever you want) with the study, but the results are pretty consistent. Higher IQ scores within the same group correlate with higher success. The problem is, for your argument, that the correlation is not steep. In other words, your average SWM with an IQ of, say, 125, is not substantially more successful than one with an IQ of 130-135. There is a measurable difference, when you look at a large enough group, because then you’re able to pull a modest level signal out of the noise. But that doesn’t make the signal bigger. A handful or double handful of points gives you only a modest gain in observed “success.”

    A 10 point increase in IQ score makes your life modestly better. It doesn’t make it hugely better. On average.

    The purported differences between “races” referred to in the previous section correlate with only modest differences in average success in life. The disparity in success on measures in the real world, on average, between, say, SWM’s and SBM’s is vastly, vastly greater than can be attributed to measured differences in mental ability. Even if you believe those measured differences are real.

    Boom; there blows your whole argument. It’s gone, it’s smoke.

    And that relates to why you can’t have a rational discussion of the subject without being branded a eugenicist. Because the vast majority of the people who are “debating” the subject are sexist, racist eugenicists, and they will dominate the discourse and poison the well.

    Which is a shame for a rational, considerate thinker like you, but damn those are the breaks. Blame them. It sure ain’t the fault of this QSM.

    So, yeah, if you try to take this line of argument with me, I am going to tell you very politely and at considerable length, exactly where it can be shoved.

    It is not sunny there.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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  138. Dear Folks,

    For the literalists who just can’t live with the “lowest-difficulty-setting” phraseology, because, y’know, it can always be worse?

    Just substitute “much-lower-difficulty-setting”, OK?

    Now all you special cases get allowed for, and the point still stays the same– you’re operating from and with substantial privilege, far more than most. Exactly how much? And, is someone maybe even more privved than you? So not the point!

    pax / Ctein

  139. My metaphor with privilege is this: life is like a game of cards. Each bit of relative privilege you have is an extra card (or more than one card – consider wealth and social class as examples – you get one card for each million you have, one card for each social class level you are above “untouchable” or equivalent) in your hand. Now, the number of cards you have doesn’t affect your skill at playing the game. The extra cards you have may not be “good” cards (it’s still possible to lose a game of poker even if you have a hand which looks like it’s better suited to bridge). But the more privilege cards you have, the better your chances of getting a “good” hand at any given stage of life.

    So that’s individual privilege. Here’s how societal privilege works, using the same metaphor.

    At the end of each round, or each day’s play, the overall winners of the game (who may be the ones who start with the most cards in their hands, or the ones who are most skilled, but are more likely to be a combination of both) get to alter one of the “house rules”. It could be something like “if you want to win with four aces, you need a pair of twos as well” – just a little something to make the game a bit more interesting for them. Or it might be something like “winner takes $1 from each losing player”. Either way, the overall winners of each day’s play get to alter one of the house rules. Purely out of standard human interest, the changes are more likely to be changes which alter the game in their favour.

    The most usual form of alteration to the rules is along the lines of “winners get another card in their next hand”.

    But consider the sorts of changes which happen – for example, the “four aces needs a pair of twos as well” rule means that anyone who starts with less than six cards in their hand is simply not capable of winning the game with four aces any more. The “winner takes $1 from each losing player” rule seems harmless enough – but what happens when a player doesn’t have $1 to risk? Which players are more likely to be paying out – the ones with more or fewer cards in their hands?

    This is how institutional privilege works – it changes the rules of the game to benefit certain people, and the ones who benefit most are the ones who have the most cards in their hands.

  140. I showed this blog post and the one from 2012 to a self-proclaimed anti-feminist with whom I was having a discussion on Quora. He said: “I read your link and tried my hardest to see past the rhetoric, but I could not as it does not mention any privilege that a man has that a woman does not.” I thought you might be amused, John.

  141. If you think I’m being unfair, Marc, note that you reject a study showing disparate outcomes because taken in a vacuum, it doesn’t offer (to your mind) “definitive proof” of racism;

    Object to and refute my position on biodiversity all you like, but I strongly object to this assertion and the implications thereof. I said systemic racism was real and insidious, I meant it, and I believe it. I’ll go one step further and say that it seems likely to me that said systemic racism probably forms the lion’s share of the discrepancy in outcomes described by the study. The assumption that because I don’t believe in the human being as Platonic tabula rasa I must be a racist hiding behind pedantry is exactly the problem I was trying to point out.

    That being said, the history of science is replete with the problem being not what we didn’t know, but what we knew that wasn’t so. Every historical example given (e.g., Jews as masters of basketball) which people think refutes my argument, in point of fact strengthens it, because nobody wants to accept my assertion as to what my argument actually is. Nobody wants to believe that in a hundred years we will be the ones our descendants laugh at for their primitive superstitions. That seems to be the way to bet, though.

    Often, things are more complicated than they first appear. Again, that seems to be the way to bet, on balance. On the other hand, if you have to construct epicycles to explain what looks like noncircular motion, and every time you learn more about the motion, your epicycles get more complex, you might want to consider the possibility that the problem isn’t insufficient depth of epicycles. “It might be worth trying to figure out how much of this complex system is layers of epicycles, and how much is just the Universe being perverse,” is my entire point. But, as we have seen, the acceptable answer to this is that it is epicycles all the way down, and anyone who questions this is at best ignorant and deluded, and at worst a malicious bigot.

    In any event, if I am willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to people who say they don’t want me to feel guilty about my privilege, only to make me mindful of it, I would hope that in return I could expect a reciprocal courtesy as to the sincerity and lack of malice of my position. Is that unreasonable?

  142. @Edward I can’t see any benefit to a POC participating in a conversation where so many people are complaining about “white discrimination” or who are claiming that “SWM” don’t really have some institutional privileges. They hear this BS every day. They are forced to deal with discrimination every day of their life. Why seek out places to be put down, told you really don’t have any harder than white people who have made sure you can’t benefit from past generations wealth, etc?

    As a woman I rarely go to or participate in discussions that are anti-feminism. I don’t have the spoons or the interest in being told I don’t “have it that hard” or “women have it better”. My daily life if I leave my house, and occasional conversations with my husband, is more than enough daily discrimination thank you. Reading books, watching movies, watching TV, reading “friendly blogs” provides more places where I’m reminded that I’m not a protagonist in my own story. Watch the news and I’m reminded of all the violence done against women for being women. Heck conversations here based on some commenters are reminders of how not important the extra trials almost all women face (sexual harassment/assault) compared to the trials a smaller amount of SWM go through (ones that happen to people of all the other categories but usually have less support & may be excluded from government programs).

  143. The assumption that because I don’t believe in the human being as Platonic tabula rasa I must be a racist hiding behind pedantry is exactly the problem I was trying to point out.

    Sorry, who here advanced the idea that ‘the human being’ is a ‘Platonic tabula rasa’? Are you truly arguing that is the precise opposite of ‘some subpopulations of humans are naturally better at sports/IQ tests than others’, because it seems to me you’re instead doing that thing where you present an extreme argument nobody has made because it’s easier to dismiss it.

    I have no idea if you are a racist, Marc; I did note that you are, unquestionably, advancing the same poorly-reasoned, quasi-scientific isn’t-it-possible arguments offered in favor of ‘human biodiversity’, and that you apply a much stricter standard of absolute proof to the study in the OP. Perhaps you are merely a contrarian, or someone who reflexively believes that if a particular view (e.g. eugenics) gets short shrift that its adherents must be unfairly shut out of the academy. I will say, though, that you are also responding with the somewhat predictable counterarguments argued by proponents of eugenics, You Are Shouting Down True Science With Your Unfair Cries of Racism being chief among them.

    Every historical example given (e.g., Jews as masters of basketball) which people think refutes my argument, in point of fact strengthens it

    Pretty sure that only works for Obi-Wan Kenobi.

    Nobody wants to believe that in a hundred years we will be the ones our descendants laugh at for their primitive superstitions. That seems to be the way to bet, though.

    No, it really doesn’t, because it rests in the dumb idea that all human knowledge has an expiry date, and everything we believed a hundred years ago is held to be false and superstition now. Seriously? I was a liberal arts major and even I know that’s a ridiculous and untrue view of scientific history.

    You’re also rather obtusely missing SILBEY’s point, which is that you are arguing the exact same ‘superstitions’ of fifty or a hundred years ago. It’s just that the ‘certain sub-populations’ in question have changed.

  144. I don’t really want to derail, but as long as people are bringing up the topic of IQ and IQ tests I’d just like to point something out that always seems to be missed.

    Much has been made of the heritability of IQ, as if that were proof that genetics is destiny, but that’s not what “heritability” means. In biology, heritability is the calculated estimate of the amount of variation in a phenotype that can be attributed to genetic variation – however that does not mean that a phenotype is caused by genetics. Even that estimate assumes that you’ve controlled for all other factors, which is virtually impossible. And IQ in particular is an imperfect and biased measure of the underlying phenotype. The amount of variation in the phenotype also varies with the scale of environmental variation, so heritability can increase or decrease in relation to the environment with no related change in genetic variability.

    There’s a reason that heritability measures can change over time for the same sample population. In other words you can measure the IQ of a set of people at one time point, and measure the IQ of those same people at another time point, and the heritability of the measured IQ can change (this is especially true when looking at children as they age).

    /biologist

    To bring it back around to privilege, those with class privilege generally live in less stressful environments than those without it (less crime, less pollution, more stable living situation, fewer money worries, etc.). As a result, measures of the heritability of IQ go up in middle and upper middle class people purely because variability of the environment has gone down, regardless of genetic background. Yet another reason why any discussion of IQ should always be given extreme scrutiny.

    “That word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” -Inigo Montoya

  145. Dozens (scores?) of comments down the line, and I’m still looking for the original study (you know, with the data? And the cut-off lines for poor vs not poor? And how many students of different races were originally enrolled, and which ones were lost to follow up?)

    All I’m finding is a book for sale and not any online links.

    As to the whole “these people have it easier than the rest of us” I’m wondering when we’re going to get to the point where we stop pointing this out, and start working on a way to get everyone to that setting level. Which might start with considering if it is socially, humanly possible for being reproductively viable, of the majority ethnic group, and physically taller and stronger to not matter at all to the point where “SWM” is indistinguishable from any other set of identity pearls.

    All God’s chillins got troubles. All of us have gifts. I think the note upthread to be aware of our own gifts and use them for good (and not evil) is valuable.

    Of course, we’d need to agree as to what is good vs evil, first…

  146. Well, “we” are trying to get to the same difficulty level… with the exception of the SWM, who is the set of “identity pearls” creating policies and laws intended to keep all of that tasty privilege.

  147. Betsy – weeeellll, I’m not a SWM, and I’m also creating laws and policies. And I think it’s a bit unfair – and more than a bit unhelpful – to claim that SWM are working to “keep” all the privilege.

    Beyond that…I go back to the concept that it is possible to create a situation where there is no detectible difference between males & females, between parents and non-parents, between majority ethnic groups and minority groups. I’m not sure that this is even possible, much less desirable.

  148. Here’s something to consider (full disclosure: I’m a mixed race dude, so my experiences put me outside the group for both Blacks and Whites), For this person-of-color in particular, any time I am passed over for a job, a woman clutches her purse in an elevator, someone refuses to acknowledge my existence when standing inside my personal space when getting coffee, at the copier, and acknowledges someone else who happens to be White, a small quiet voice asks – did that just happen because I happen to be seen as “Black?”

    That’s a very real question ringing inside the heads of a lot of people of color as we work our way through the maze of corporate life. That question makes us second-guess ourselves when making decisions, less likely to trust our co-workers, more likely to congregate discretely in the lunchroom to double-check that we weren’t being paranoid, and in general at a disadvantage.

    It may not be anything you consciously did, but being raised in the world we are raised in, we learn to read the subtext, the raised eyebrow, the set look on the face, the smile that never appears to reach the eyes, because frankly, based on Trayvon, Fruitvale Station, Avner Louima, and too many other examples to even count in our media, and in Fox’s reinforcement of its “Scary Black Man” ideal on “Cops (choose your city) on TV for years, we People-of-Color and Black men in particular are seen as scary, and dangerous, and angry, and criminal minded and constantly late and not to be trusted.

    And that subtext would appear to be running in the head of every Woman who clutches her purse in the elevator, facial twitch, and stoic ignoring of a fellow human being. We can’t read your minds, but we’re getting pretty good at interpreting the facial expressions you don’t even know you’re making.

    So consider that next time you say “Life is hard for me too.” because I’m willing to bet, that small voice is not inside your head talking about things over which you have no control, no say, and no ability to change, like “Race.”

  149. Keranih:

    I go back to the concept that it is possible to create a situation where there is no detectible difference between males & females, between parents and non-parents, between majority ethnic groups and minority groups. I’m not sure that this is even possible, much less desirable.

    Two things: some of the “differences” claimed between different groups aren’t differences. They are simply made up shit used to justify discrimination, like the claim that race is biological and biologically significant rather than a cultural identity and effects I.Q.’s.

    And second, the efforts to create equality protected by law and accepted by society, including equal access have nothing to do with trying to erase differences between people or say that they aren’t there. What it does do is say that those differences aren’t justification for systemized and ingrained social and legal discrimination, such as unequal pay, marriage equality, black people going to prison for crimes white people get probation for, etc. And in SFF, whitewashed covers on the claim that non-white people on covers don’t sell, women authors getting feminized or sexual covers unlike male authors and not being promoted as much by their publishers on average, sexual harassment of women authors while trying to work, etc. That’s got nothing to do with our differences and everything to do with a systemic belief that discrimination is supported by society and justified in that society, and that in fact the discrimination should be legally protected and backed up with force from law enforcement and the military.

    We don’t have to and have little reason to change our differences, which create a rich mosaic of life. We have every reason, however, to eliminate discrimination and increasing legal and social equality, because that discrimination hurts everybody, even those in privileged groups, and definitely hurts economic and technological development.

  150. “When asked at age 22 how they found their current jobs, whites more often mentioned help from family and friends, while more African-Americans found jobs “on their own.” The white job seekers in our study had family, friends and neighbors who could help them access good-quality, higher-paying jobs.”

    This is just saying that white people are MORE likely to have a job network, because of privileged connections.

    However, simply having white skin does NOT somehow 100% guarantee a social network.

    But in general, I agree.

  151. I am one of those straight white males, although I live in Canada and belong to a historically (but practically no longer) oppressed ethnic minority, so that may skew the stats you cite a little bit, but probably not enough to matter.

    Y’know what? My life periodically sucks. I mean, REALLY sucks. I have struggled with mental and physical health problems, financial crises, major career and romantic failures, you name it.

    Given all this, I remain in the middle class, out of jail, out of an institution, working full time and a (sporadically) published author. I’m married and a father. I have never gone hungry, I have never lacked a roof over my head and have never gone without necessary medical care. And I KNOW this is at least in part because I have intrinsic privileges in this society, and a strong social network (in the class sense of the word) that helped pick me up when I fell down. I am very well aware that someone without those privileges AND facing the same handicaps might not survive at all.

    An illustrative anecdote: I remember reading a news story about a guy, maybe 15 or 20 years my junior. He grew up in the same predominantly Jewish Montreal neighbourhood as I did, in an upper middle-class Jewish family somewhat higher up the socio-economic ladder than mine.

    I never met him, I know almost nothing specific about him, but our general circumstances were pretty similar. The only glaring difference is that he was adopted and black. And, guess what? VIRTUALLY EVERY TIME his parents gave him the keys to the fancy family car (as I recall, a BMW or an Audi or something like that) the COPS PULLED HIM OVER. I’m not talking about once or twice, I’m talking about dozens of times. I’m talking about the cops demanding to see his licence while he was filling up the car for his Dad at Esso.

    I’ve been driving since I was 16 and I’m 51 now. Do you know how many times in my driving history I’ve been pulled over? Once, when I pulled a stupid illegal left turn right in front of a police cruiser. I was about 21, and I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was the only time it ever happened.

    It got so bad for this young guy that his father threatened to sue the Montreal police if it he was ever pulled over again. And, as extra insurance, he went to the media and got the story written up in the newspaper, which is how I heard about it in the first place. Think about all the social capital this man had to use up to protect his son from repeated harassment by the state, and then imagine what might have happened to this young man if his father hadn’t had that social capital to spend in the first place.

    Then tell me that there’s no intrinsic bias in the system.

  152. “Saying that being a SWM is the easiest difficulty setting implies that the most important things about you from a life difficulty standpoint are your race, sex, and sexual preference”

    The key here is that those things are easily distinguished (sex pref less so) and capable of overriding a lot of the other difficulty settings. It’s a bit recursive to say, but again, part of having SWM status, or any other privilege means that it’s easy to discount the importance of those things in daily life. Being a man may not be an important thing about you, but being a woman IS an important thing about me. I’ve got a whole host of the straight/white/class/education type privileges, but the F part of being a SWF still does play a significant role in my life.

    I happen to be married to someone in the exact same field. I’m stronger in some soft skills like communication, but otherwise we’re very close. My educational background is stronger, since I have a master’s and he didn’t finish college, but our technical skills and capabilities are nearly identical — like, “I left a job and he subsequently applied for the position” kind of identical. Basically, we’re about as close as you could get to actually flipping the M-F slider on a person and seeing what happens.

    Eight years ago, our salaries, job responsibilities, and prospects were equal (interesting in itself, given the education differential). After my twins were born, I left my job and took a six months’ hiatus, then went back to freelancing, which I had done for several years prior to the pregnancy. I took a few more months after the second pregnancy, then freelanced again and have done so ever since

    Yes, we chose to have babies, and chose for me to take a little time after the births to deal with the physical aspects of motherhood (sleep, nursing, physical recovery). But I thought I’d be able to minimize it by keeping my tech skills up and working on personal projects during the time off, and then going back into what had previously been a successful freelance career. Nine months really isn’t a very long time to be out, especially split into two chunks a couple of years apart. Neither my husband nor I thought it would hurt me a lot in the grand scheme of things.

    Those nine months translated into what is currently a $20K annual paycheck differential and a leap onto the management track. I will likely never be able to catch him up — while I may well get to where he is now, he’s not sitting still either. Our household makes significantly less money every year because of gender, and the pay gap will continue to grow over time. We made the decision as a couple to have kids, but all the negative consequences of that choice fell on me, and will continue to affect me for the next 25-30 years of my career.

    That’s clearly a gender issue. You can’t really handwave and say “you could just not have kids” — most people of both sexes want kids, and kids often happen anyway even when you don’t want them. Plus, as a society, we need the majority of our workforce to continue having children. Yet only the female workers are penalized for it, and significantly so. Statistically, even the women who don’t choose to have children are still penalized to some degree — the pay gap may be “only” 5-10% if you control for everything else, but it’s a pretty crappy argument to claim that consistently making $5-10K less is somehow not meaningful discrimination.

    So yeah, I think gender IS a pretty important thing. It’s not the end-all-be-all, but it has a major impact on women’s daily lives.

  153. EAB — Even if you hadn’t taken time out for the kids, as your careers progressed, the pay gap would have still widened. In the early stages, you were paid less than your husband for the value of your skills (you had an advanced degree, he didn’t.) Over time, he would statistically be more likely to be promoted than you because he’s a man, so the gap widens. The older you both get, the less interested companies would be in both of you, because you’re more expensive (unless you got into the higher company running levels,) and you would be considered even more undesirable because you are an older female who is not considered worth the expense based on your gender.

    For free-lance, as well, there’s a huge pay gap because clients are less inclined to do business with a free-lance woman than a man, and they also are more likely to be satisfied and have fewer change demands with a male free-lancer than a woman. One woman who was making some headway as a business writer and web consultant found that she was still struggling to get many jobs and that jobs she did get often came with lots of requests for changes. She set up a male pseudonym and got tons of jobs and very seldom requests for changes. And there have been numerous sociology experiments on this and it has remained consistent — women are less likely to be interviewed for jobs, be hired for jobs, get promoted or tenured, be moved into executive management, be seen as competent if their gender is known (see orchestral blind auditions,) and so on and so on, while having the same education, skills, and experience as males. And same for racial biases. It’s real, it’s measurable and it does damage not just to women in the workplace but to the whole workplace and the economy.

    In SFFH, women writers are promoted on average less, given feminized or sexualized covers, have work promoted as romance, are assumed to be bad at writing battle action and political material even if they are ex-military or politicians, get sexually harassed or dismissed and kept off panels at cons, etc. Black authors may have their books shuffled into African-American sections instead of SFFH, POC authors are told that they don’t really write SFFH, books with non-white leads get covers with white people on them — because booksellers believe with no research that the audience is racist and won’t buy otherwise. All of this crap hurts options for readers and hurts the market, which always needs more readers and variety of books, not less. And when you add class on top of that, it just gets worse for everybody.

    The less of it we have, the better we do. But we can’t get to having less of it if first off people refuse to acknowledge that it’s there, no matter how many numbers get trotted out to show it.

  154. I was struck by Craig Gidney’s comment:

    “Many of those white dudes,(and indeed it’s a conservative mantra) will claim that this data just bolsters Victimology.”

    I’m curious how one responds to those arguing the same but are outside such categories, and who present contradicting data (Thomas Sowell, or John McWhorter—to name just two)? Both well educated, black and neither conservative (Sowell, libertarian and McWhorter a self-described, “cranky liberal Democrat”).

    Both present a similar conclusion reflecting data (for Sowell, significantly more than a 800 child study from a single city), their experience as professors and growing up within the black community.

    McWhorter, for instance, wrote, “Losing The Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America” positing the apparent, “conservative mantra” of victimology (also separatism and anti-intellectualism) as factors why black Americans remaining disadvantaged. In fairness, he acknowledges white privilege but relegates it as unimportant and unproductive:

    “It would be a tragedy if any more than a few professional hotheads took this as an opportunity to continue obsessing over racism, rather than conceiving of ways to help the poor. Many suppose the two are the same, and it is precisely that idea that is outdated.

    The point is valid even when the terminology is “societal racism,” “institutional racism” or “white privilege.” Obsessing over things that cannot be changed and are not the real problem anyway is of no use to anyone. Doctoral theses carefully teasing out the role of “racism” in this phenomenon or that one will seem about as useful to posterity as the scribings of an alchemist.”

    So far as I’ve read, there’s plenty of reason to question not just the notion of white privilege, but the studies alleging to prove it’s existence—or at the very least, it’s actual power to influence outcomes.

  155. I would put forth that if one has to study the “notion” of white privilege, they have more than enough of it. Because only someone who has it would question its existence.

  156. DL — While there are some leftish libertarians, the majority of libertarians are conservatives, so nice try. There is clear data evidence over and over that black people and women are not promoted and tenured in academia as white men. It is such a problem that there is considerable effort going on in academia to eliminate what is clear, biased discrimination. That two black professors managed to overcome discrimination in the system doesn’t mean that the discrimination isn’t there, anymore than two white men not doing well in their lives means that discrimination isn’t there in the larger society. The data shows the bias is there, the pay gap is there, the incarceration bias is there, etc., and having a significant effect on careers.

    And more than careers. Today I read a news story about how black and multi-racial women giving up their babies in Florida are seeking more often Canadian families because they feel there is less racism in that country and their child is less likely to get killed than in Florida.

    (White) men are the majority runners of business, industry, tech, government, religious organizations, science organizations, school systems, academia — name it and they run it. They own most of the wealth in the world. That alone creates a privilege of the position of power and legislature, which is then coupled with the fact that they promote (white) men more often to join them and pay them more, which creates more privilege.

    But more to the point, the history of the last several hundred years and the within our lifetimes civil rights battles in the U.S. and elsewhere are not magically erased because we fought tooth and nail to get an amendment to the Constitution and a few slightly better laws to help women. The prejudices of the 1960′s are still very alive and kicking — a lot of the people who had them are alive and kicking and still running business, government, churches, etc. And the data reflects that this is still on-going in the society on a large scale, even if we didn’t have the Klu Klux Klan recruiting at the Gettysburg battlefield museum. And yet that bias is completely unnecessary and economically harmful, including to poorer white men. Far from being victims, the people who are speaking up about the discrimination that comes from both conscious and unconscious discrimination are working to stop their victimization.

    So “question” all you like. The data doesn’t support your side and never has. And the anecdotal evidence in addition to that sweeps your side right out of the water in sheer mass. But again, the problem of the discrimination is not limited to the group being targeted by it; everybody loses from it, including poorer white men and the health of the society and the economy as a whole.

  157. “[T]he majority of libertarians are conservatives”

    Kat, provide evidence and I’ll concede. But, I wasn’t speaking about all, or even most libertarians. Just one.

    Attention to race and political leanings provided examples for my question (which you in no way answered), not an assertion against the existence of discrimination. I chose both intentionally as neither: align politically, are politically conservative, are white and yet both are recognized professors reaching the same conclusion—citing both data and experience.

    Additionally, both support a similar claim about the data: commonly held conclusions are unsupported. Both also assert the data presented, including additional sources, actually support conclusions to the contrary.

    My question again: “I’m curious how one responds to those arguing the same but are outside such categories, and who present contradicting data?”

    “The data shows the bias is there, the pay gap is there, the incarceration bias is there, etc., and having a significant effect on careers.”

    Interestingly, Scientific American reported a study that disagrees. Here are a few notable key findings from the actual study (snipped for brevity):

    “For the most part, male and female faculty … have enjoyed comparable opportunities within the university, and gender does not appear to have been a factor in a number of important career transitions and outcomes.”

    “There is little evidence across the six disciplines [either] have exhibited different outcomes on most key measures.”

    Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist of the US Dept of Labor stated, “It’s not the glass ceiling that keeps women out of the corner office; it’s a choice of how much time and effort to put into one’s career.” and “The myth of the wage gap is pervasive, but demonstrably false.”

    I concur, data does not support my “side”–whatever that means. It either supports a premise, or it doesn’t. My point is clear: many well-educated and accomplished non-minded, non-white, non-male and non-conservative people make contrary assertions about conclusions from the data.

    So yes, I question. It’s integral to science.

  158. And as I said, question all you like. The myth that women get paid less and rise less because they work less is false and has been proven so in study after study that accounted for the variables of differing work times. Women who work the same hours, have the same experience, education, and qualifications still get paid less than men in the same jobs. And the data shows that academic women are not tenured at the rate of guys, with again the variables being covered. They are not cited as often as men, enough of a problem that it’s become a major issue in academia. They are not put on committees as much as men, etc. I’m married to a professor; I know oodles of professors, white, black, female and male, including the ones who actually study these stats.

    And quoting one of Bush’s economists, who believes in discredited disastrous trickle down voodoo economics and helped institute horrible anti-labor policies, who writes for a conservative propaganda paper and works now for William Casey’s conservative “think tank” scoping money off of conservative billionaires, has about as much scientific credibility as quoting Ken Ham about evolution. (Or perhaps the 3% equals 97% on climate change argument.) Science is about research, questioning, and retesting, and the bulk of the research and evidence shows the biases clearly there in every sphere. We can see most of them without the studies, but the majority of the studies back it up.

    And Sowell is a conservative who’s against gun control, the minimum wage, abortion and a ton of other conservative positions, and is a disciple of Milton Friedman, the conservative’s economic love child. Which I’m quite sure you knew when you brought him up. So far from being outside of ideology, this is just the usual far right excuses for ignoring systemic discrimination — it’s not there, they’re just lazy.

    SFF writers who are female and/or POC are not lazy. They are, however, dealing with whitewashed and sexualized covers, claims that their books aren’t as marketable (even though most of the book buying audience is female,) industry blocking from areas of fiction, less promotion and reviews, less buys in magazines, booksellers keeping POC authors’ books out of the category selling area, sexual harassment at cons, online rape and death threats, and other very real documented problems of discrimination that effect their careers and economic prospects.

    All of which again hurts white male authors too because fiction is a symbiotic market that requires author variety and growth bringing in new readers for all. And SFFH is the most symbiotic of all the markets. And yet it’s cutting off its nose to spite its face sometimes. And this happens all over.

  159. “It’s not the glass ceiling that keeps women out of the corner office; it’s a choice of how much time and effort to put into one’s career.”

    OMFG. As if it were that simple in a world where women are still expected to take on the bulk of responsibility for childcare and household management. Sure, it’s a choice, but in so many respects, it’s a choice with repercussions for a woman, no matter what she chooses, that her male counterpart doesn’t face and often doesn’t even see (going back to the effects of male privilege once again).

  160. “The myth that women get paid less and rise less because they work less is false and has been proven so in study after study that accounted for the variables of differing work times.”

    Repeating this no more makes it so than wishing.

    AAUW’s Graduating to a Pay Gap acknowledges, “Differences in the number of hours worked also affect earnings and contribute to the pay gap. [W]omen in full-time jobs reported working 43 hours per week on average, and men in full-time jobs reported working an average of 45 hours per week.”

    The report also notes: “Among recent graduates who made the same education and career choices, women still earned just 93 percent of what men earned, leaving a 7 percent unexplained pay gap.”

    CONSAD’s An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women for the Dept. of Labor similarly states, “[I]t is not possible now, and doubtless will never be possible, to determine reliably whether any portion of the observed gender wage gap is not attributable to factors that compensate women and men differently on socially acceptable bases, and hence can confidently be attributed to overt discrimination against women.”

    I challenged the idea of white male privilege and stereotyping its critics with one study (two more in this riposte) and three accomplished individuals, who share conclusions and some political positions as evidence.

    Thus far, your arguments have claimed I doubted the existence of discrimination, ignored McWhorter and the cited study, dismissed Sowell’s conclusions over alleged political identification, past influences and unrelated political positions, affirmed your position via personal relationships, dismissed Furchtgott-Roth’s position because of her former employer (or his political leaning) and reflected on writers and readers.

    Absolutely none of that is evidence that “the majority of the studies back it [gender bias] up,” gender bias has significant influence (or even exists) or counters my criticism of white male privilege stereotypes.

    I honestly see nothing further for you and I to discuss.

  161. DL — Since you’re trolling and Scalzi’s in San Diego, I concur. This whole article was about a study that showed the evidence, connected to numerous other studies that supplied the evidence. Trotting out quotes from conservative hacks pushing failed economic theories while claiming an inability to run Internet searches on your own does not a logical argument make. You’re taking an 1800′s stance on female and POC labor, using rhetoric that is centuries old in civil rights issues, ignoring hundreds of studies in favor of a few folk you find more congenial. You also totally missed the point of the AAUW study concerning women working fewer hours (and the discrimination from a number of angles that causes it,) and the meaning of the word unexplained. I.e., it’s unexplained in the sense that there’s no logical non-gender explanation like work hours for the 7% gap to be there — after all the variables are accounted for, there is still a gap that is the result of bias discrimination. That study actually supports my point, not yours.

    Other studies have nailed down that discrimination further and in more detail, from the need for blind auditions for orchestra musicians to studies of reactions to identical resumes with male-female names or white versus black-sounding names. The white-washing book cover issue and cover bias towards female authors is well documented and physically visible. The incarceration rates are physically visible. The voter i.d. laws meant to keep minorities and married women from voting are physically visible. So posture all you like; it’s the same old stuff meant to maintain status quo. Which really doesn’t benefit anybody except a tiny handful of men at the top.

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