openDemocracyUK

It is easier being a straight white man

Being a straight white man is the easiest setting there is.

Timothy Smith
9 June 2014
Elvis_Presley_promoting_Jailhouse_Rock.jpg

Publicity photo for Jailhouse Rock, 1957/Wikimedia

This article titled ‘Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is’ published recently on Kotaku caused a stir on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. Opinions were divided, with many straight white males taking offence at the tone of the article and at the implication that they might be privileged.

The ‘Straight White Male’ is probably the default privilege position to have in society, which is what prompted the article on Kotaku. One of the main bones of contention with readers and particularly with straight white males is that they did not chose to be born white, nor male, nor straight. This is correct. Nobody can chose their skin colour, gender or sexual orientation. But, that is not to say that by being a certain gender, having certain sexual preferences or a certain skin colour, you are not privileged.

Privilege has been a hotly debated topic in recent weeks and months. Buzzfeed for example recently complied this ‘How Privileged are you?’ quiz, which likewise prompted similar divisions amongst participants. Nobody wants to admit that they might be where they are today partly because of privilege. Or that their life might be slightly easier than other peoples because of this.

As someone who has experienced racial abuse as a child and into my adult life, it is an insult for a white straight male to tell me that he doesn’t have privilege and that we are on a level playing field. White children can go to school and not be made to feel ashamed of who they are because they look different and even sound different. White children aren’t forced to feel that they are from a backwards culture because of revisionist recounts of colonial history that glorify the colonial project and gloss over colonial crimes such as the brutal oppression of the Mau Mau. South Asians for example needed civilizing because of abhorrent cultural practices such as caste and sati, or so we are told. These ideas are continually reinforced.

In any walk of society white people are very well represented, never denied agency or treated as tokens. In all forms of popular culture white people are represented so well that in countries such as India skin whitening is becoming increasingly popular and in East Asia the pursuit of ‘western eyes’ is also gaining popularity. The images that are thrown at us of beauty, sex and fame are overwhelmingly white. There are for example a chronic lack of black models in the fashion industry. When we look at billboards or adverts nine times out of ten we see white faces looking back at us. Children are led to believe that to be beautiful is to be white. Being white is constantly reinforced as superior. Anything else is associated, in subtle ways, with inferiority. From our educations to popular culture.

Being male is also of course a huge privilege. The whole society we live in is tailored to uphold a patriarchal system that encourages male dominance. This manifests itself in the ways women are portrayed in the press, the lack of females in positions of power and continual sexist outburst from men who hold those positions of power. Even in the ways in which ideas of beauty and sexuality are sold to us (which as noted take on a racial slant as well). More than that though, as a man I never have to walk down the street and fear being raped or attacked by a man. I don’t have to put up with being cat-called by on-looking men. Or viewed as nothing more than a sexual target. This is a great privilege that I and all other men enjoy, whether they acknowledge it or not.

The point remains that if you’ve never walked down the street and been called a ‘p*ki,’ ‘n**ga,’ ‘ch*nk,’ ‘fa**ot,’ ‘slut,’ or a slag’ or something of the like, then, you are privileged and you are likely a straight white male. Being able to walk down the street, walk into shops, go to school and know you are by default accepted in society, is the biggest privilege of all. Everyone else starts off behind. If you’re a straight white male you take for granted the fact that you never have to justify your position in society, why you are there, explain where you are from. You never have to explain your sexual preferences, and you never have to be jeered at by on looking men, groped or denied access to jobs because of your sex, sexual orientation or skin colour.

To varying degrees we all enjoy some privilege. I myself am privileged. I’m not white but I am a man and I am straight. I was also born into a fairly affluent family. I cannot help these things but I can be aware of my privilege when I go about my daily life. That is all people who talk about privilege ask, for greater awareness and acceptance of privilege, rather than denial or defensiveness. Just try to know your privilege.

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