Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Heterosexual White Guy

I don’t feel guilty being a heterosexual white guy, but evidently there are many people who think I should. Three years ago, a friend working in the mental health field showed me an essay entitled: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” distributed to everyone, every year, at the agency where she worked. Written by Peggy MacIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, it was full of the usual leftist, victim-group buzzwords, like: empowered, outraged, systemic, consciousness, heterosexism, etc. MacIntosh said that while spending years bringing materials from Women’s Studies into the regular curriculum at Wellesley, she “often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged . . .”

My reaction is: thank God that back in 1988 there were still some men expressing that unwillingness among the Birkenstock-wearing, tofu-eating, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, sensitive he/shes MacIntosh be likely to encounter around the Wellesley College campus. But that was nearly two decades ago and I fear there are fewer men left who are willing to to tell MacIntosh she’s crazy in those trendy, blue-state, Boston suburbs. Twenty years of mandatory sensitivity training in universities and work places have done a lot of damage to men down there. Testosterone is ebbing dangerously in the region that gave us Michael Dukakis back in 1988, and then John Kerry in 2004. At least those two had an excuse, catering to their coo-coo constituency in Massachusetts. But what about Al Gore in 2000? He wasn’t sure how to be a man either and he came from Tennessee. Then again, he did go to Harvard for four years. That time in Cambridge must have damaged him so much that, during his presidential campaign, he had to hire feminist Naomi Wolfe at $30,000 a month to tell him what a man should be like. And it didn’t work, did it Al. All that money wasted.

Speaking of Naomi Wolfe, I saw her on Book TV last week giving Harvey Mansfield a hard time about his recent book “Manliness.” I was gratified that Mansfield wrote such a book in spite of having taught at Harvard, where he was the only faculty member to vote against establishing a Women’s Studies Department there. I watched the whole interview waiting for him to bring up Wolfe’s work with Gore, but he never did. It’s good to know there’s at least one person left to represent the male sex down there in Cambridge now that Larry Summers has been run out of town.

But back to MacIntosh’s essay. I asked my friend if there were any objections at her agency when it was passed out. She said there weren’t and that disappointed me. “No one spoke up?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “And nobody laughed either the way you did.” That surprised me and made me wonder what kind of men she worked with.

A couple of years passed and I had nearly forgotten the essay when a student-teacher in my classroom said, “Tom, check this out,” as he handed me another copy of MacIntosh’s diatribe. There it was with its list of twenty-six white “privileges,” such as #12: “I can swear or dress in second hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.” Not answering letters? Is this the kind of thing they’re outraged about at the Wellesley College Women’s Studies Department? How much does it cost to send a kid to that school? Isn’t that where Hillary Clinton went?

After we read sections like that aloud and chuckled about them, I asked the intern if anyone spoke up about the essay to the instructor. “No,” he said. “We have to pass the course if we want to become teachers.”

Trying to hide my disappointment, I asked, “Well, do you mind if I write about it?”

“Not until I graduate, okay?” he said. “I really need this course. We get these kinds of things a lot and I have to keep my mouth shut or I won’t make it through. After I get my certificate, I won’t care. Write about it then.”

“Okay,” I said. “What will you do if you should get a testosterone surge before June? How will you handle it?”

“I’ll get a muzzle,” he said. “I’m in enough trouble now.”

That’s how it is on campus nowadays for a heterosexual white guy who is unwilling to grant that he’s overprivileged. If he spoke up, he’d be a racist, misogynist, heterosexist oppressor.

Number 22 on MacIntosh’s list of white privileges said: “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.”

Excuse me? Affirmative action puts women, blacks, hispanics, Eskimos, and just about everyone else ahead of heterosexual white guys in hiring, awarding contracts and admission to colleges and universities, awarding scholarships, etc. HWGs are last on the list and we’re supposed to be overprivileged?

No. I don’t feel guilty being a HWG. And I don’t feel guilty about not feeling guilty either.


Anonymous said...

dad. i loved this column. It made me laugh out loud and made me proud. its you going off, at your best. i love you. -Jess

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liza said...

You're not OVERprivileged in some senses: Adequate education, employment opportunities, housing, etc., are all basic rights and entitlements that everyone should share and no one should have to give up.

But for most of US history, government policies gave whites, especially white men, extreme preferential treatment. People of color were systematically shut out of schools, jobs, and housing. Laws favoring whites over others helped create the social and economic inequalities we see in the US today. Even small differences in privilege added up, over time, to create great disparities.

Yes, a great many white people are disadvantaged, too. And some of the issues associated with race in America might be better associated with socioeconomic class.

But you're totally kidding yourself if you really think that "underqualified minorities" are jumping the queue in front of you all the time.

One of the biggest ironies about the affirmative action lawsuits related to college and professional school admittance is that none of the plaintiffs were crying foul about the "underqualified white kids" that ALSO jumped the queue through practices like legacies, etc.

You're entitled to be proud of who you are and where you come from. You should be proud of the hard work that has helped you create the life you want. And you don't have to feel guilty about what generations of white people before you have participated in. You DO however, have an obligation to examine your own life, and to do what you can to ensure that the opportunities open to you are truly, in fact, open to everyone.

Yes, there are things on Peggy Macintosh's list that are acts of individual and overt racism, and I think most of us can say we don't engage in or condone those. But some of the things on her list are examples of pervasive, institutional racism that only folks in a dominant position in society--that's whites!--can change. And only with a collective effort.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Institutional racism? What is that? I've heard the phrase bandied about, but I don't know what it is. Can you define it? The only example I can think of is that euphemism for racial preferences otherwise known as "affirmative action." That would qualify as institutional racism in a sense. Indians get this, blacks get that, women . . .

As a heterosexual white guy, I can preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That's what I can do to make sure every American has the same opportunities I have. I can also work to abolish affirmative action. You could too.

Anonymous said...

2 things: 1. Why do you keep repeating that you are heterosexual? Are you concerned that someone might think you are gay? 2. As a teacher, you have the right to disagree with almost everything the NEA stands for, but you do come across as a zealot, and if you wish to be taken seriously, you must moderate your language because accusing others of using euphemism seems hypocritical from someone who uses hyperbole among other things...and LEARN TO SPELL!!! For one thing, her name is McIntosh, and for another thing, you should proofread your work before posting it. It will make you look smarter.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I keep on saying I'm a heterosexual white guy to annoy people like you. How am I doing? It's tiresome to hear self-perceived "victims" constantly whining about how hard it is to be a woman, black, homosexual, etc. You don't like it and that's good. It's working.

No, I'm not a repressed, self-hating homosexual. You're the 188th person to suggest that and I know it's part of your playbook. Save your breath.

I am just what you read here. I'm not afraid to put myself out there, unlike people like you who hide behind anonymity and take shots. I have a thick skin.

I use hyperbole? You use caps and three exclamation points. Looks like an attempt by a weak mind to make a strong statement.

Anonymous said...

You're an Ann Coulter wannabe. Except she doesn't need a penis to be that way, and she makes a lot more money than you. Is this blog your form of masturbation? You look pretty OCD to me, and angry. Maybe if you keep writing your diatribes on this website, and enough people with too much time on their hands respond to you, your narcissism will be satisfied and you'll eventually die with a smile on your face. I, however, feel sorry for your wife, kids and students who are forced to listen to your distorted "poor me" and "victimization" stories. I'm glad not everyone in Maine is like you. My family of Maine educators is much more grounded in reality.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Your response is hardly a formidable rebuttal for Ms. McIntosh's well-researched essay. You comment on the leftist buzzwords and then later express typical HWG angst by stating your presumption of being labeled a racist, misogynist, or heterosexist oppressor if you state your mind (by the way you just did and no one labeled you as any of these things). You try to make it sound like you are underprivileged, but you are most certainly not. Affirmative action might be the only example of discrimination against HWGs, and you act as if it is truly an egregious offense. I also happen to be a HWG and I can say that the minor discrimination that I face on occasion because of affirmative action pales in comparison to the harsher, more detrimental prejudices held against those of different race, gender, sexuality. As for Ms. McIntosh's article, she overstates our privileges more than a few times, but more importantly she addresses the systems in place that keep HWG in a privileged position. Outward racism may be less frequent these days, but that is because of the organization of our socioeconomic structure. If HWGs want to maintain privileged lifestyles they only have to enjoy them. It doesn't even take subtle accounts of racism to keep things the same. The negligence of our own privileges is enough on its own to be effectively oppressive. You do not have to feel guilty being a HWG. In fact, you should be proud, but you need to be aware of what you are.

Anonymous said...

Wow people like you never cease to amaze me. Honestly, your a common species in today's society where white men are not valued the way they use to be. It seems to me that white men are becoming sensitive to the fact they now have to compete with other races and the other gender. You now have to compete with women, Asians, African Americans, and Hispanics. I understand your pain and I honestly feel sorry for people like you.

Tom McLaughlin said...

To: Anonymous poster two post above:

“You do not have to feel guilty being a HWG.”

Gosh thanks. That may be true for now, but you never know what may coming out of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department. Could there be a mandate for us HWGs to publicly flog ourselves for the “overprivilege” MacIntosh describes in her essay? I’ll bet Holder is making his staff read her diatribe too.

“In fact, you should be proud, but you need to be aware of what you are.”

How can I forget? Whenever I fill out a government form, I’m asked to categorize myself. Lately the demographic is “Non-Hispanic White Male.” Census forms don’t yet ask for my sexual preference, but I’m sure that’s in the pipeline too.

To the Anonymous poster directly above:

“Wow (sic) people like you never cease to amaze me.”

If you ever got out of your bubble at the university and visited the real world once in a while, you’d meet lots of amazing people like me. We’re all out here desperately clinging to our guns and religion.