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Letter to a successful white male May 11, 2014

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality.
Sculpture by Sergio Bustamante

Sculpture by Sergio Bustamante

Congratulations! You’re a successful white male. Or, as you might prefer to put it, you’re a successful person who just happens to be a white male — why would anyone think your gender and race have anything to do with your success? That’s textbook sexism and racism. You worked hard to get where you are. You never asked for special treatment, nor do you recall ever receiving any.

Of course, you don’t deny that women and people of color were once officially discriminated against in our society, with fewer rights and opportunities available to them as a matter of policy. But that’s all in the past. Today, the law requires that everyone be treated equally, and indeed, you yourself would never dream of discriminating against anyone, nor can you recall ever witnessing discrimination. If anything, the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction: you’re always hearing about special programs and organizations and scholarships for the benefit of women and minorities, and everyone’s under pressure to increase “diversity” — who knows how many qualified white males have been discriminated against due to “political correctness”?

You naturally assume, then, that if women or minorities are underrepresented in certain fields, they must generally be less suited for them, or less interested in them, or less inclined to do the work necessary to succeed in them. Those who complain about being victims of discrimination are whiners, looking to blame others for their own shortcomings. Perhaps you yourself have suffered rejection in the past, say from astronaut school — at which point you didn’t accuse NASA of discrimination, you simply faced facts and got a different job.

Nevertheless, you keep hearing talk about “privilege” and “unconscious bias” from people who seem unimpressed by your logical reasoning. In order to silence the agitators, perhaps there is some scientific way to demonstrate the absence of discrimination in our society?

We could perform a controlled experiment. For example, we could send emails to university professors from fictional prospective students seeking to discuss research opportunities prior to applying to a doctoral program, varying only the name of the fictional student to signal gender and race — and discover that faculty ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from white males (particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions). Or, we could send fictitious resumes in reply to help-wanted ads, varying only the name on the resume to sound either white or African American — and discover that white names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. Or, we could ask university science faculty to rate a fictional student application for a laboratory manager position, varying only the student’s name to be male or female — and discover that the male applicant was rated as significantly more competent and hireable, and was offered a higher starting salary and more career mentoring, than the (identical) female applicant. And so on.

Please understand: the fact that you are privileged does not mean you don’t deserve your own success, didn’t work hard for it, or ought to feel guilty about it; nor does it mean that you are to blame for the inequities of our society. There are, however, things you can do to help. You can support programs that encourage young women and minorities to pursue fields where they’re underrepresented and lack role models and encouragement. You can make an effort to seek out qualified women and minorities when considering candidates for a job, conference, etc. You can avoid perpetuating unjust stereotypes.

But before all that, before we can fix our society and make it more just and equitable, there’s a simple yet crucial step you can take right now.

You can acknowledge the problem.



1. dmseattle - May 12, 2014

Are Jews white?

2. 50 percent more callbacks » Butterflies and Wheels - May 12, 2014

[…] Ezra Resnick writes a Letter to a successful white male. […]

3. pitchguest - May 12, 2014

dmseattle – Haha. That is a perfect rebuttal to this insipid blog piece.

Brunt - May 13, 2014

How is it ‘inspid’ when hard evidence of discrimination is given? Obviously the skeptics love of evidence is irrelevant when you don’t like what you’re hearing.

4. Notung - May 12, 2014

Certainly, if people are being discriminated against then that’s a problem. Teach those who discriminate not to discriminate, I guess.

Thing is, my white race and male gender probably had no effect on my hiring. Why? Well, the two people who interviewed me were a woman and an Asian, and I know that I wasn’t up against any non-whites or non-males.

My point is this: you can’t reason from the general to the individual. Just because smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers doesn’t mean that you can know any given individual who smokes has cancer from that alone.

Yes, perhaps in some situations I’d win unfairly because of racial/sexist/classist discrimination against whoever I’m up against, but you can’t say that therefore I HAVE won unfairly. Furthermore, I might have had biases or whatever stacked AGAINST me in my particular situation. One of my friends was rejected for a job in favour of a woman, purely on the basis of their respective genders. I personally overheard the employer talking about it, ‘justifying’ his decision. Yes, it doesn’t happen as much, but you can’t tell my friend that he was the ‘privileged’ one in that situation.

tl;dr – yes, there’s discrimination in some countries against non-whites and non-males in a very general sense, but you can’t reason from the general to the individual.

Suido - May 13, 2014

“Well, the two people who interviewed me were a woman and an Asian”

The descriptors you left out speak volumes about your unconscious racial and gender biases, respectively.

Acknowledge the problem.

dmseattle - May 13, 2014

Not only acknowledge it but Notung should go to a re-education camp where his consciousness can be raised by group discussion.

Notung - May 13, 2014

I have no idea what you’re on about, I’m afraid.

dmseattle - May 13, 2014

If you are talking to me, I was trying to poke fun at Suido’s “Acknowledge the problem.”

Have you never heard of the vicious wicked re-education camps during the Chinese Cultural Revolution? “Self-criticism” was one of the techniques. It sounds harmless but when used as a tool before a crowd it was a way to punish and enforce conformity.

Notung - May 13, 2014

No – I was talking to Suido – it just nested mine under yours because I replied after you.

Ezra Resnick - May 13, 2014

Thanks for the comment, Notung. I agree that the existence of societal bias favoring white males doesn’t necessarily mean that every white male has benefited at every juncture of his life. However, given the compound impact of effects like those demonstrated in the studies I cited, I think it’s pretty likely that all white males have benefited from privilege to some extent.

By the way, the fact that you were not hired by white males doesn’t guarantee there was no bias in your favor. For instance, one of the studies mentioned above found that “the gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.”

Again, my purpose here is not to make you feel guilty or to claim that you don’t deserve your job; it’s to raise awareness of the problem, so that we can try to fix it. Besides “teaching those who discriminate not to discriminate”, there are more things we can do, as I suggested in the post — bearing in mind that bias is often unconscious.

5. Eliza - May 12, 2014

Once, Jews were not white, nor were the Irish, Italians, Mormons, and other groups. They were all racially marked (cartoons of the Irish, for example, made them look apelike in some of the same ways black people were depicted). However, they are white now. So if that’s your heritage, your grandparents or great-grandparents may have faced discrimination in the U.S., but in general, you don’t, at least not on the basis of race. The fact that this country is deeply Protestant is a whole other matter; that operates on a principle somewhat like heterosexism, where you are presumed Christian and Christian norms of kinship, for instance, are built right into federal and state law. You know, since you asked…

6. Durphurp - May 13, 2014

It has everything to do with being white, but nothing to do with being male.

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