I chose to write about John Scalzi’s essay titled “Straight White Male is the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Race relations and privilege are topics that are seldomly discussed on the floor and to be fair, neither are politics. My class prefers to talk more about what projects people are working on or where the next TNO is going to be. It’s not so much that we shy away from these types of conversations as it is our having to deal with our privileged position in life. Just take a moment to look at our class and ask yourself if this is representative of the general US population. There isn’t one black male in our class. There may be many reasons why this came to be but I haven’t heard anyone express concerns. Whether we recognize this shortcoming or not is on us. How did this come to be. What prompted us to apply and attend ITP. We must have had some guidance or have a disposition to art and technology. Perhaps maybe we had the power and the privilege to be exposed to certain information that ultimately led us to where we are today. Maybe some communities of people are not privy to these opportunities.
I’ll spare the reader the musings of my growing up in a humble household as a quasi-nerdy Latino male in an inner city (Newark) where on different occasions I lost three of my close friends to gun violence. I’ll write on the broader topic of privilege and how we all have it. You may have not been born into wealth or high society, but privilege manifests itself in various ways. We don’t worry about food or general safety. We have access to computers, job opportunities, and healthcare. I myself am full of privilege, in spite of my upbringing. I am healthy, educated, and well traveled. I’m in a graduate program that I love in a city that some people just dream of visiting. I eat well, have a healthy family, and have great new friends. I also have the privilege to live in a democracy like the United States – by no means is it perfect but it’s among the best we have. Privilege in essence is the ability and opportunity to pursue what you desire.
Some may have mixed feelings overall about the essay and generally do not believe in the author’s assertions. The essay may have bothered some people, namely straight white males, forcing them to recognize their privilege. Yes it wasn’t their choice to be born a straight white male and I can understand why they may feel annoyed at the author. They even may feel no reason to be ashamed for their position in life. They may believe they worked hard their whole life and deserve all the accolades that is due to them. But privilege is not distributed equally. You can’t claim a homerun when you were born on third base. Pretending you have a right to your privilege is by no means the best way of dealing with it. The best way of dealing with it is by living up to your privilege.
It’s hard to recognize and question our own privilege. We have to make it visible to ourselves and let others confront us with it. And whether you believe that you do not have tremendous privilege, it does not mean you have none. Accept and own whatever gifts you have. Privilege also has a price. Making the most of it requires enormous amounts of effort and risks and it may not always be fun. Recognizing your own privilege and accepting its price allows you to understand how best to use such privilege to advance society – creating value and enriching the world gives a person purpose. This brings to mind the general idea behind ‘noblesse oblige’ – ‘privilege entails responsibility.’ Yes this may seem like a reference to Spiderman, but this is really what privilege is all about.
The general reaction from the 800+ comments that the essay generated showed a level of entitlement. The “Straight White Male” in the article and by consequence those who commented spent their time defending their privilege, showed irritation and believed they worked hard for their privilege, protecting, hoarding it, and refusing to recognize it. In essence they wasted it. It doesn’t matter where it came from, more importantly it matters where privilege flows. And this is where privilege matters most. It gives us the ability to be heard, to be seen, to change norms – it gives us the ability to give others access to privilege. Perhaps our privilege will give us the means to get more under-represented minorities at ITP.