Tuesday, October 21, 2014

White Privilege

I caught Jon Stewart's interview with Bill O'Reilly the other day. Jon tried to get O'Reilly to admit that "White Privilege" existed in the US. O'Reilly handed him his head, incidentally demonstrating why Stewart would have been a terrible, awful, no good choice for news show host. Stewart is a wonderful satirist, and a very funny guy when interviewing his show business buds, but in trying to conduct a semi-hostile interview with O'Reilly he wound up looking like the befuddled pot head he described himself as being in his college years, while O'Reilly looked like the skilled debater he is.

Part of his problem was that he saddled himself with the dumb formulation: "white privilege", which is a lame and inaccurate way of describing the sorts of obstacles blacks face in America. A privilege, says my online dictionary is:

...a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

That's not a good description of the advantages that whites enjoy today in America. Whites, by virtue of being white, don't get to go to the head of the line, pay lower taxes, or enjoy immunity from prosecution from crimes. The legal privileges were essentially removed in the civil war and many socially enforced informal "privileges" have been attacked by a series civil rights laws.

None of which contradicts the undeniable fact that blacks, on average, are much poorer economically, have less access to good neighborhoods and schools, are far more likely to be targeted (and shot) by police, and are subject to a lot of destructive discrimination. These are huge factors in American life, but have little or nothing to do with any "privilege." Rather, they have a lot to do with history and circumstance.

Rhetoric isn't a strong point with Stewart. If he wants to joust with the likes of Bill O'Reilly, he needs to be much better prepared, and he needs to take his thinking beyond slogans to details.