From Wren: I thought I’d hit the “publish” button on this a long time ago, but it seems not. Anyway, this was something shared on Facebook a while back that I thought was a perfect way to explain straight White male privilege, especially since it comes from such a person!
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Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is
May 15, 2012 By John Scalzi
I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.
So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.
Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.
As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.
Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.
You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore.
And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.
Oh, and one other thing. Remember when I said that you could choose your difficulty setting in The Real World? Well, I lied. In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don’t get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.
So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.
(Update, 11:07 pm: The comment thread hit 800 comments by 11pm and I’ve turned it off, because now I’m going to sleep and tomorrow I travel, and this is the sort of comment thread that needs to be watched closely. I may turn it back on at some later point, but inasmuch as 800 comments already made it slow to load up, don’t necessarily count on it. But after 800 comments, most of what could be said has been, I think.)
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John Scalzi says:
May 15, 2012 at 11:49 am
I should note that I’m planning to Mallet anyone who decides to start a debate on the word “privilege” in this thread. I’ve already established that straight white dudes often cannot deal with the term rationally; there’s no need for a) any of them to prove it, b) anyone else to reiterate the fact.
This is also one of those threads where I will remind people to be civil to each other because there is a lot of opportunity here to slip into incivility. The usual suspects, I assume, know who they are.
I should warn people that I’m feeling slightly cranky today so my tolerance for rhetorical nonsense and bullshit is going to be lower than usual. Bring your very polite “A” game today, kids.
Finally, I will credit the genesis for the “lowest difficulty setting” concept comes from this article at Cracked, by Luke McKinney, in which “straight male” is described as being the lowest difficulty setting for sexuality. I’m expanding on the idea a bit.
RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Is the American Dream still alive? Can working stiffs or members of society who are experiencing homelessness attain better lives? Those are the questions that college graduate Adam Shepard tackled by moving to an unfamiliar city with only $25 in his pocket and just the clothes he was wearing. His book "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream" reports on his yearlong odyssey. (Book cover: http://www.ereleases.com/pr/2007-AdamShepard.jpg ) While Shepard states that his story is not politically motivated, he did intend it to be a rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich's books "Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch" on a socio-economic level. He writes, "Ehrenreich attempted to establish that working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever ... my story is a search to evaluate if hard work and discipline provide any payoff whatsoever or if they are, as Ehrenreich suggests, futile pursuits." Shepard's goal was to overcome his adverse circumstances and obtain $2,500, an operable car and a furnished apartment, all within one year. However, he resolved not to use his college education, credit history or any of his previous contacts to help himself. Additionally, he would not beg for money or use services that were not available to others. "Scratch Beginnings" (SB Press, November 2007, $13.95) recounts the people, opportunities and setbacks Shepard encountered. Along the way, he exploded myths and stereotypes about homeless people, discovered what it is like to live in a homeless shelter and formulated some controversial premises, such as: -- Why the book "Nickel and Dimed" was flawed from the beginning. -- Why raising the minimum wage does not stimulate the economy of the lower class. -- Why immigration and job outsourcing are not the causes of decreasing opportunity in the American workforce. -- How certain individuals are profiting from the consumer's fear of the death of the American Dream. Shepard also draws some unexpected conclusions about rectifying the cycle of poverty. And although he experienced a number of twists and turns along the way, he declares, "The American Dream is very much alive ... and it will never die." For more information or to purchase the book, visit http://www.scratchbeginnings.com. Author Bio: Adam Shepard is a 2006 graduate of Merrimack College in North Andover, MA where he majored in Business Management and Spanish. Serving as a resident advisor during his upperclassmen years, he began to take particular interest in the social issues of our nation. Shortly after graduation - with almost literally $25 to his name - Shepard departed his home state for Charleston, SC, embarking on the journey that has now become "Scratch Beginnings." "Scratch Beginnings" is Shepard's first work. He presently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. About the Book: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream By Adam Shepard Published by SB Press Release: November 2007 (ISBN-10) 0979692601 (ISBN-13) 978-0979692604 Price: $13.95 Contact: Kim Guarino email@example.com This release was issued through eReleases(TM). For more information, visit http://www.ereleases.com. http://www.womanist-musings.com/2010/04/privilege-and-american-dream.html
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