The Real World
When we talk about white privilege, it is easy for the conversation to quickly become heated, and that can be for a couple reasons. First, the mere idea of privilege still does not come across clearly for some people, and some — who are often the privileged— become defensive at the idea of the word. We seem to lack a universal definition for the word, although it seems quite simple. Secondly, the topic of white privilege is inherently a heated issue, especially in today’s climate. It has been thrust into the blaring spotlight of modern media, most notably with the cases of police violence against minorities over the past year. The voices of the victims have risen to an audible blare, forcing the topic of white privilege to be thrown into the ring, as I believe it should. The ripples that linger from Past America’s prejudices need to be dealt with, and I believe — although never completely — they will as time passes.
In his article, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” John Scalzi uses the analogy of a video game to brilliantly convey the idea of white privilege to those who may not grasp it fully. His hypothetical game, called “The Real World,” is a life simulator that simply mimics are daily lives in the medium of a video game. As you start the game, a difficulty level is chosen for you; you are not allowed to do it yourself. The levels range from straight-white-male, the easiest option, to gay-minority-female, the hardest option. You are given the easiest option: straight-white-male. From here, you are immediately given special privileges that the other players do not have, such as access to certain parts of this virtual world, easier routes to your objectives, a help option, and so on. This is simply because of your difficulty setting.
I can definitely say I have been subject to privilege. As a straight white male, I have never had to deal with any unfair predispositions about myself. I have never been pulled out of the security line at O’Hare airport for extra questioning or got pulled over while driving for seemingly nothing other than suspicion. I also attended private school for grade school as well as high school, both of which were mostly white. I did not think much of it until I was older and grew in my knowledge of race relations and the idea of privilege.
Coming from a mostly white educational background has a strong stereotype of its own. My high school, for example, was infamous for being full of “rich white kids,” and this is the stereotype for a lot of predominately white schools. No one — except the students who attended — liked my high school because of that reason. Of course, there was a small population of the stereotype, as there usually is in most cases. There was that pocket of the rich white kids that flaunted their privilege, seemingly unaware of their incredible good-fortune, but I also made lifelong friends there. Friends that are modest, considerate, socially-aware people that do understand the position they are in; they understand they are privileged, just as I do. We were not able to pick our difficulty setting, just as the player who was given the “gay-minority-female” difficulty setting. All we are able to do is be cognizant of our position and be humbled by it.
In no way am I justifying the horrible acts that are a result of white privilege by saying, “that’s just the way it is, so deal with it.” I am in no position to act like I am in any way above anyone else simply because of the hand I was dealt, but there are some who do; and that is when we see the appalling acts that are derivative from white privilege.
We are hearing of these cases more and more, such as the recent examples of police violence. They are causing incredible tension among the public and police throughout the country, the common denominator so far being the fact that the victims have all been younger black men, and the police have all been middle-aged white men. These facts have been raising suspicion about the prejudice of the white officers, implying the fact that the victims were all black played a major role in the murders of the young men. This is an extremely touchy and heated subject in today’s media, as it should be; these events should be stimulating a reaction from the people. Regardless of whichever side one may choose, he or she should care about choosing. It is important to start a conversation about these events. What really was the cause for these men’s deaths? Were they simply a series of misunderstandings? Were they a result of the ignorance that often comes from white privilege and race relations? I do believe white privilege has played a role in these recent events, although the degree of which could be argued. However, the point is that the idea of privilege is more present than ever before, and it should be dealt with, discussed, and debated intelligently.
Now, while I had attended mostly white schools throughout my childhood and adolescence, my neighborhood was much more diverse and allowed me to be exposed to various cultures, helping me to appreciate different peoples and their values. Every summer afternoon the neighborhood kids would congregate at the same kid’s house for the daily game of basketball, a ritual reminiscent of the 1993 movie, The Sandlot. Our group ranged from white kids (my brothers and I) and black kids to Filipino kids, Chinese kids, and mentally handicapped kids. At a young age, the walls of prejudice and judgement were nearly nonexistent for us, and I believe a large part of it was due to that summertime bond that the kids of the neighborhood formed through the game of basketball. Racial prejudice is not an inherent trait; it is learned.
This idea of privilege has been around for a long time, however, it has just recently really been thrust into the spotlight. It is an issue that we should take stake in; it is something about which we should have a conversation. John Scalzi explains the idea perfectly in his article, “Straight While Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” The piece is very significant in today’s media culture and should be read by anyone interested in learning about white privilege or not. I am no stranger to the benefits of being a straight white male, and I acknowledge the privileges I am given and recognize the fact that it is luck; it is not fair. It is like a lottery, and I won the jackpot along with millions of others, but the fact that I won and that Latino man working two jobs with four hours of sleep a night to put his kids through school did not does not mean I am any more entitled to a wonderful life and fair treatment than he is. We are all human, and I think it is about time we recognize that.