The Mirror of Privilege

May 16, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Privilege is invisible . . . to the privileged, though often not to others.  In the past (here for example ), I’ve used the analogy of “default setting.”   White, Christian, males assume that this is the default setting.  It’s  natural – it’s the way Nature thinks things ought to be. 

John Scalzi does a much better job with the default analogy.  He’s trying to get White males to look in the mirror without their invisibility cloaks and see their own privilege. 
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US . . . 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. . . . Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

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.
(Read Scalzi’s entire post here.)

I don’t know if his strategy will work.  The privileged man stands in front of one of those distorting carnival mirrors.  He sees his legs and feet of privilege, but they are tiny.  The shoulders and head of his own accomplishment are gigantic.

I keep thinking of Molly Ivins’s line about George W. Bush – that “he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”*

A more recent example comes from the Romney clan.  Mitt himself was born to privilege and then made a ton of money. But he probably does not realize how being the son of a wealthy father, one who had been governor of Michigan and who could send him to fancy schools, had anything to do with his success.

And now the next generation.
Shortly after Mitt Romney's failed 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination his son Tagg set up a private equity fund with the campaign’s top fundraiser. One of the first donors was his mum, Anne. Next came several of his dad's financial backers. Tagg had no experience in the world of finance, but after two years in the middle of a deep recession the company had netted $244m from just 64 investors.

Tagg insists that neither his name nor the fact that his father had made it clear he would run for the presidency again had anything to do with his success. “The reason people invested in us is that they liked our strategies,” he told the New York Times. [emphasis added]
Want a good example of how privilege is invisible to the privileged? – Tagg, you’re it.

The excerpt is from an article in The Guardian  by Gary Younge.  Younge’s real target is not young Tagg but people in the UK who, despite their best efforts, keep having their names crop up in connection with the Murdoch phone hacking scandal. 
Such is the incestuous nature of the British ruling class and the gene puddle from which it draws its stock. Such is their brazen venality, complicity, contempt and mendacity. Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, Westminster – if you’re looking for a tiny minority who are struggling to integrate, look no further than the cabinet.
This is not to say that class in the US is the same as in the UK.  But in both countries, although personal ties to well-placed people are important, those who use those connections to become wealthy and still more wealthy attribute their success to their own personal virtue. 

* Ivins has come up with the perfect simile.  If you’re on third, you are very close to scoring – all by yourself.  And of all baseball hits, a triple is the rarest.

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