Take a ride up the intertubes to your favorite mainstream left-leaning political blog and pick a random article.
Slate, Salon, Huffington Post or anything published by Gawker will do the trick.
Depending on what day of the week it is there is a roughly 75% chance that the article you pick will make two claims:
1. Society is oppressing (gay/trans/female/transwomen/minority/minority transwomen of color) people.
2. The party at fault is an all powerful coalition of “straight white males,” sometimes wealthy but not necessarily.
The myth of the all-powerful straight white male is quite embedded in leftist orthodoxy. The use of this demographic group as the ultimate boogeyman has roots far deeper than mere trendy blogs we see it most commonly in today. It has been a staple of sociology and all the other “critical theory” disciplines based on “intersectional identity politics,” including “(insert group here) studies” programs and the like.
(As an aside, I always wondered what was the basis “(insert group here) studies” as an academic subject… If we measure the merit of academic disciplines by what skills they teach their disciples, what benefit could, say, “queer theory” have, other than providing ‘queer’ people new negotiating strategies for the bargaining table of identity politics? Can it really provide anything other than a launching pad for certain forms of activism inside higher education?)
But I digress… The universality of the “straight white male boogeyman” in modern Western thought is undeniable. In the past I might have had to qualify that by saying “modern Western LEFTIST thought,” but today that’s unneccessary; as absurd as it may seem, SJWism is fast becoming nearly the “only game in town” as far as mainstream political dialogue is concerned, especially in North America. So it goes.
The Straight White Man, as the dogma goes, is the ‘oppressor’ of three main classes of people:
1. Ethnic and religious minorities, by means of slavery and exploitation.
2. Sexual and gender-identity minorities, by means of heteronormative (i.e. traditional) marriage laws and such.
3. Women, by means of past disenfranchisement, income inequality, rape, sexual harrassment, being mean to them in online gaming communities. etc.
The question is this:
IS the white man really such an oppressor? Is he really wielding so much privilege over the non-white, non-Christian, non-Straight, non-males over the world?
To answer that question, it would make sense to look at the concept of oppression and what it really entails.
1. What Is Oppression?
The concept of oppression is as old as politics. As long as there have been disadvantaged groups, there have been people feeling their disadvantage was not fair. This concept likely has roots in humanity’s earliest history and a full treatment of it is definitely not possible here.
However, I can make one claim regarding the “type” of oppression that leftists obsess over, and that is this: It has its roots in the philosophy of Marxism.
I cite three points to back this up:
1. Of sociology’s “three classical sociologists” (Marx, Durkheim and Weber) Marx is the oldest generally considered the most important.
2. ALL critical theorists cite Marx as their original inspiration.
3. Most current academic proponents of identity politics, consider themselves Marxist or are at least influenced by those who do (e.g. types like Slavoj Zizec).
Having tentatively established that the leftist theory of oppression is Marxist in origin, it makes sense to think a little about what “oppression” meant for Marx.
For Marx, oppression (or as he’d call it ‘exploitation’) was primarily an economic relationship between capital owners (bourgeoisie) and workers (proletariat). Workers in a capitalist system produced ‘X’ amount of output every day at work, but only took home “X minus Y;” “Y” in this case representing the profit taken by the capital owner. For Marx, it was a great problem that the worker produced “X” but only made “X minus Y,” because this implied he was being paid less than what he was worth, yet he could not reclaim the value he was entitled to, because he did not own the factory he worked in. His exploitation, effectively, rested in this: he worked to produce a profit for someone whose claim had nothing to do with working to create that profit, but with being the passive owner of the property the laborer worked. The above is the “essence” of exploitation according to the grandfather of modern critical theory. So the next logical question is, do the contemporary leftist claims above “straight white male oppressors” meet the above test? Let’s see.
2. Are Straight White Men Really Elite Oppressors?
In answering this question, I will grant leftists their premise (which I feel is debatable), that oppression wears a different face for different groups; that is to say, that there are different “kinds” of oppression. I’ll even grant them their basic assumptions regarding the “flavors” of discrimination their various “victim groups” face. But, for the sake of maintaining a truly meaningful definition of exploitation, one that leftists in ALL their varieties can agree on, I will demand that all these forms of oppression ultimately be part of a system of economic exploitation as defined above. Should I identity a true and genuine form of economic exploitation, I will ask a second question: “Can “straight white males” as a group really be blamed for this?” I will start from the top:
- Ethnic and religious minorities.
According to the latest statistics, underrepresented minorities (URMs) in the U.S. make about what 65% of whites do. Further, in 2011, URM-headed households had a total wealth of around $6000 compared to whites’ $115,000.
Surely, ethnic minorities are not getting an equal slice of the pie in America. The statistics are similar for other Western countries. It is undeniable: URMs in the United States make less than white people do. But is it a result of exploitation? Generally speaking, the facts say “yes.” Minorities are disproportionately members of the lower socioeconomic classes of America, and there are obvious and visible roadblocks to progress by the lower classes: anti-Union laws, the war on drugs, excessive college tuition and then some.
But is this an act of exploitation BY whites AGAINST blacks, or by the rich against the poor? Are whites identical to the capital-owning, law-manipulating, social-mobility blocking elite here? There’s certainly more of them in per capita in the elite group, but if this situation a conspiracy of white against minority, why aren’t the rich whites helping the poor whites advance above minorities? The very best an SJW can say here is that it’s “a mostly (but not all) white group of rich people vs. a poor minority AND white majority.” Doesn’t sound quite as sexy when you put it that way.
- Sexual and gender-identity minorities.
Here we find our gays, our transgenders, genderqueer… The whole LGBT spectrum.
Are LGBTs oppressed or exploited by society? Well, economically they’re certainly not; gays make more than straights. They are deprived of certain rights… But they’re more likely to be deprived of those rights in non-Western countries headed by non-straight non-white men. They do suffer from stigma and negative stereotypes, but stereotypes aren’t oppression; it’s not wielding power over someone to simply judge them.
If there’s any issue that’s been beaten to death recently, it’s women’s rights.
Feminism seems to have been the defining feature of the zeitgeist of the past 2 years or so. Sites like Jezebel, XOJane and pretty much every mainstream media outlet (from time to time) have created a monster, an unstoppable beast of privileged white women complaining about how privileged white men have kept them down. But are their claims true? I don’t think this one really needs to be dealt with at length. The mere fact that practically every media outlet on the planet feels the need to pander to white women, in my opinion, precludes the possibility of them being oppressed in any way. I’m willing to consider the possibility of “intersectional” feminist issues (i.e. issues of women’s rights in Muslim or South Asian communities) still being relevant, but beyond that I don’t think, in the context of Western political discourse, the idea of women as uniquely “oppressed”
White men aren’t the global elite. Sacrilege, I know… But true sacrilege. The elite, the real rulers of the world, are defined by money and power, not race. The Chinese Communist Party, the Saudi Royal family, Wall Street… These are the elite. Some of these groups are not white at all. Others are mostly white but made up of only a tiny percentage of white people. Some white countries, such as Ukraine, are dirt poor. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that straight white men, as a group, are some sort of all-powerful group. Even if straight white men wanted to oppress women, minorities, and gays, they wouldn’t be able to, because they don’t have the power to do it. 90% of straight white men are in the same boat as the rest of humanity and suffer similar disadvantages.