This has been on my mind for the last few months, and I’ve been struggling to come up with the way to approach the subject. There are two cases I know of where people are born with an advantage over others, and while both of them have been in the news in the last few months, in one case the advantage is condemned, while in the other it is celebrated – often by the same people.
First of all… What is white privilege? Wikipedia (via Google) tells me:
White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
In other words, being born white, I have advantages over people who are not born white. In my case, it isn’t financial, but it is more in the way people treat me. That is, because I am fair-skinned, and well spoken (I talk “like a white”), I have a better chance at a job interview, even against another candidate who has the same intelligence, ability and experience as myself. It means that in many cases, even black people treat me better than they treat other black people. If I walk down the street in downtown Johannesburg, nobody clutches their wallets with all their strength, in fear that I may rob them. In general, I am treated better than people with darker skin. I didn’t ask for this advantage. I was born with it. That does raise questions such as: If one is aware of one’s privilege, is one not then bound ethically or morally to do something about it? But such questions are not my topic for today… They belong in a more in-depth look at white privilege itself.
On to the other advantage that some people have… Recently the 2016 Olympics were held, and much fuss was made of South African female athlete Caster Semenya. The issue is that she is an intersex person. While she identifies as female, she has testes that produce testosterone.
Thus she has as much testosterone as someone who uses anabolic steroids, which have been illegal in competitive sport for decades. High levels of testosterone lead to higher muscle mass, as well as faster muscle repair, so anyone with high levels of testosterone can train harder, and push themselves to extremes they would never be able to reach without that testosterone. That leads to a performance advantage over other athletes. That’s why supplementing testosterone is illegal.
Of course, in Semenya’s case, her testosterone level is natural. It’s natural because she has internal testes producing it, just like a man. Hence the controversy. Again, as in the case of white privilege, this post is not intended to make any kind of judgement. She has an advantage over female athletes who aren’t intersex. Pretending that she does not have an advantage is disingenuous and involves rationalizing her advantage away using rhetoric.
Instead, my purpose here is to point out that we have two clear cases where someone was born with an advantage over others… and the consensus online is:
White privilege is bad.
Intersex is good.
In my mind, an unfair advantage over others is unfair. Or is it? If Semenya’s advantage is not unfair, then why is white privilege unfair? I didn’t ask for it. I am not responsible for the actions of other white people in the past. Do we not all make use of whatever advantages we have in order to be successful in our professions and our lives?
Again, I will reach no conclusion here… The point is to highlight the disparity between the two cases. It seems to me that it is hypocritical to support an intersex athlete (who is born with an anatomical advantage) but to condemn white privilege, which is also an advantage that some are born with. It seems to me that we should either condemn both or support both, and that anyone who supports Semenya but condemns white privilege should examine their motives and spend more time thinking about the subject.
Update: Just a reminder that this post is opinion. Normally I piss off conservatives – maybe this time I might piss of those on the left. I’ve tried to post this without bias, but that’s difficult. My view is that both advantages are unfair. Sure, the one is inherited and the other is the result of years of oppression of black people – but that does not change that neither advantage was asked for, and no person who has such an advantage is responsible for having it. What you choose to do about it when you know you are privileged is another matter, outside of the scope of this post.