Check Your Obedient Privilege

May 14th, 2014   Submitted by Davi Barker

CheckpointLet me begin with an apology. Normally I try to maintain some level of intellectual stoicism in my writing, but tonight I’m pounding on my keyboard. Over the years many events have inspired me to write about white “privilege,” whether it’s the Occupy Movement or the Knockout Game. This time it was an article by a courageous college student named Tal Fortgang who wrote Why I’ll Never Apologize For My White Male Privilege. Thanks to him the issue of white “privilege” is surging on social media to twerking Cyrus proportions. Usually I come to my senses before I publish these rants, but if you’re reading this it’s because this time anger got the better of me. Hopefully I can tease out some kind of teaching moment about race.

‎”When striking at the branches of evil few realize that the stick they swing is cut from the same tree.” ~me

I’m putting “privilege” in quotes because there’s a difference between a “privilege” and a “right.” A “right” being something innate and universal that should belong to all people, and a “privilege” being a special advantage, or immunity granted only to a particular person or group of people, often at the expense of others. Most examples of a white “privilege” that I’ve heard were not privileges granted to white people, but rights violations against people of color. The term suggests that the “privilege” should be taken away, rather than the right restored.

No one calls marriage as a “straight privilege.” They call it a “human right,” because they don’t want to take marriage from straight people. They want to give marriage to all people. Bring all the historical injustices, and modern statistics you want. It’s still the wrong word for the wrong concept. Yet, when I point out this simple distinction over the definition of a term I am circled by an echo chamber of cultural Marxists lambasting me as a white supremacist. One thing that sparks my skepticism of a social theory is when its adherence respond to scrutiny with hostility instead of curiosity.

Marginalized People

Some simpletons think my skin disqualifies me from speaking about race, and if you think that you’re part of the problem.

The first time I was asked to “check my privilege” was by an anti-war activist I was working with. Of course, I happen to know that this person drives a nicer car than me, lives in a nicer apartment than me, and comes from a richer family than me. My philosophy informs me that she deserves the products of her hard work, as well as the products of her family’s hard work. But her philosophy suggests, as an axiom, that this disparity is evidence of oppression… or at least it would if she shared my skin color.

During a planning session I expressed a concern that libertarian voices were being shouted down, even though it was supposed to be an open forum. I was told that I should “check my white privilege” and let more marginalized people speak first. In reality the work group was dominated by Marxists who shouted down anyone who disagreed, regardless of race or gender. So, apparently I was already adequately represented by those Marxists because we shared a skin tone.

Then I was told that “white people need to be allies, not leaders” and that “white people don’t get to tell people of color how to resist.” But it was apparently perfectly fine for people of color to tell white people how to resist. Defining white people as “allies not leaders” is literally moving them to the margins, which we apparently deserve because of our “privilege”.

Two Equalities

There is an important distinction to be made between formal equality and material equality.

Formal equality means equal treatment, and concerns institutions within society, as in equality before the law. Formal equality is what was meant by “created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Material equality means people being made equal with respect wealth or resources. Material equality is the goal of Marxists and Communists, and is factually impossible to achieve because people are individuated and objects are indivisible. The two equalities cannot coexist because in order to impose material equality, formal equality must be violated.

The civil rights movement demanded formal equality. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to, “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is a perfect expression of formal equality. It cannot possibly refer to material equality unless the content of everyone’s character is identical.

Whatever extent the institutions within society lack formal equality for people of color is despicable and should condemned, and resisted by all people of conscience. But the evidence presented for white “privilege” does not make this distinction. It conflates the two equalities, claiming that material inequality in income, employment, and education are proof of formal inequality, and ironically calling for formal inequality as a solution.

Fallacious Logic

Cultural Marxists use “victimization” as an argument, as if whoever has suffered more must be intellectually correct. This is tragically fallacious logic, probably the result of public schools teaching statistics in the social sciences before they teach statistics in the actual sciences. If white “privilege” exists, and you want to treat people differently on the basis of their “privilege” it must be measurable. Otherwise you’re just projecting your prejudices into the world and calling it justice. Drawing the line along racial lines does not reflect anything measurable, and if you draw your lines in the wrong place you’ll be fighting the wrong battle.

In discussions of racism I see two logical fallacies routinely committed.

The “coincidental correlation fallacy” is the assumption that a correlation between two variables automatically means a common cause, or that one caused the other. Correlation may imply causation, but doesn’t prove it. For example, multiple independent studies have shown that ice cream sales and rape strongly correlate, and interviews with convicted rapists, and victims, reveal that a high percentage of them ate ice cream shortly before the crime. That would lead those who believe this fallacy to assume ice cream somehow caused rape. Similarly, cultural Marxists argue that because race and income are correlated racism must be the cause of income disparity. Racism may very well be one of many causes, but the correlation is not sufficient evidence of causation. Proving causation requires a counterfactual dependence. In other words, a control group.

The second more common, but less acknowledged fallacy committed during discussions of race is the “ecological fallacy” which assumes that the nature of individuals can be inferred from the nature of the group to which those individuals belong. This includes confusing ecological correlations and individual correlations, and confusing a higher average with a higher likelihood. Both or false. This is the central fallacy of all stereotyping. If an individual exhibits a unique trait it is fallacious to conclude that all members of their group exhibit that trait. Similarly, if a group statistically exhibits an average trait it is fallacious to conclude that any given individual from that group exhibits that trait. For example, it can be shown statistically that those who experienced child abuse have lower IQs as adults, however that doesn’t mean it’s safe to assume an individual with a lower than average IQ was abused as a child, or that someone who was abused as a child has a lower than average IQ.

Because of these fallacies it’s impossible for me to conclude that the popular statistics are proof of racism or white “privilege.” Even though racism and preferential treatment exist in individual instances, statistics are not sufficient evidence to claim they exist in all instances, or that they are causal.

Privilege exists. White people exist. Some white people experience privilege. But to claim that being white de facto equals being privileged is false.

Defining Racism

When someone says that color blindness is a form of racism it’s difficult to take them seriously. You can’t have any kind of coherent conversation with these people if you can’t pin them down on a clear and consistent definition of racism.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines racism as:

“the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races; prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

The Mariam Webster Dictionary defines racism as:

“a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; racial prejudice or discrimination.”

These are perfectly sufficient definitions for discussing reality, but apparently not for academic ethnic studies programs.

According to ethnic studies professors these definitions describe “racial prejudice” not “racism.” That’s a distinction without a difference in reality, especially when you consider that “racial prejudice” is right there in the Mariam Webster definition. But in academia they make a distinction between common racial prejudice, and racial prejudice plus power. According to them, people of color don’t have power, so they are incapable of racism.

This is false on it’s face, and it’s an embarrassment to the intellectual tradition that experts parrot this tripe with a straight face.

For example, when I was in middle school I was routinely terrorized by ethnic gangs because I was white. I know this because they used racial slurs while I was being pummeled. Can the ethnic studies professors seriously argue that these thugs, who outnumbered me, were not exerting power over me?

In fact, numerous people with fancy ethnic studies degrees have told me that I was not the victim of racism, because racism involves institutional power, not individual power. See, because the principal of the school was white, and therefor I was still the one in a position of racial power.

In reality, when the principal intervened I was punished for fighting because the gang had more witnesses claiming that I punched first, even though I had not even punched once. The principal routinely held me to higher scrutiny than my assailants because my anti-authoritarian tendencies were already manifesting, and that pissed him off. My locker and backpack were searched more often, and I was punished for petty things like carrying a plastic knife from the cafeteria, because zero tolerance for weapons. So much for white “privilege.” In reality, power favors the compliant over the disobedient, not the familiar over the minority. So, the gang actually did enjoy institutional power, because their victim was denied formal equality by the administration in power.

“Racial prejudice plus institutional power” is obviously a specious and arbitrary definition concocted by bigot academics to limit the range of possible discussion. I wonder if the academics of Oceania were as eager to use their “definitions” as a mallet. But this is not how the proponents of this ideology use the term anyway. Even if I grant them that my bullies were not racist, these activists won’t even admit that they were racially prejudiced. They also will never acknowledge that by their definition white bigots are not racist because they are individuals and not institutions. Somehow the lone white supremacist picking his nose on his own porch and thinking racially prejudiced thoughts satisfies their definition of institutional power, but an actual political institution that exerts power to enforce material equality at the expense of formal equality does not.

It doesn’t matter how many bookshelves you have in your office. There is no amount of academic literature that can overcome a contradiction in the first premise. What’s clear is that the ethnic studies definition of “racism” is designed solely to prevent the universalization of ethics, and when it suits that purpose they will wobble back to the dictionary definition. Reduce all definitions to subjective preferences, and call anyone who disagrees a racist.

Obedient Privilege

Justice is about balancing scales. Weights and measures. No matter how many people I ask no one has given me a suitable way of measuring white “privilege,” nor a way to balance it that isn’t itself unjust. So what am I supposed to check exactly?

People don’t have a lot of credibility with me when they claim to be standing up for marginalized voices, but when someone is marginalized right and front of them they act like it didn’t happen because the victim is white, or worse like they deserved it because they are white. I totally understand the need to empower the marginalized, and I think all people of conscience want to create formal equality for all people. But why should I work with allies on an issue when there is no reciprocity? I expect to be treated as a formal equal, and if people think I should be regarded as unequal because I was born one color and not another I just can’t work with them. Why should I tolerate being silenced because other white people have had more than their fair share of speech?

Racial inequality, at least in the US, stems in part from America’s history of chattel slavery, but those motivated by racial justice seldom celebrate the early white abolitionists who opposed slavery on principle from the beginning? Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Lysander Spooner. When these white men intersected with power they were not “privileged” for their race. Like me, they were targeted for their anti-authoritarian tendencies.

Power favors the obedient. If you did a study I’m sure you’d find that those obedient to State authority enjoy a much higher income on average than the disobedient. I’m sure you’ll find the obedient enjoy greater access to public services, and higher education. The obedient absolutely experience preferential treatment from law enforcement, and the “justice” system if compared to the disobedient. In fact I’m willing to bet the disparity between the obedient and the disobedient is greater than any other social class.

Privilege is not a matter of race and power. It’s just a matter of power. Those in power, and those obedient to power enjoy privileges that those without power, and those disobedient to power do not enjoy. There is a deep unacknowledged hypocrisy among people who say, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” out of one side of their mouth, and “power to the people” out of the other side.

So, next time you hear someone preaching the ideology of “privilege” casually suggest that they “check their obedient privilege.” How much higher is their income because they do what they are told? How many prison sentences have they avoided by doing what was legal, instead of what was right? How many of their fancy degrees were earned because they cowed to their pushy professors? How many advantages do they enjoy because they grovel for the State. And most importantly, how many of the liberties that they enjoy were won by rebels and criminals who disobeyed? It seems to me this is a far more accurate measure of privilege in society, so maybe it’s time for a little chastisement, and a little obedient guilt.

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17 Responses to “Check Your Obedient Privilege”

  1. whynameandisrequired?No Gravatar says:

    In Privilege Checking Olympics the only winning move is not to play.

    Every time it is mentioned, I just shift my gears and do the moonwalk out of conversation.

  2. Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

    YES. YES. YES.

    You know, conservatives and libertarians are accused of being racists on a regular basis. It simply isn’t there. I don’t doubt that some dark corners have them, hell I’ve seen one, but it is not the dominant view by any stretch of the imagination.

    On the other hand: Have you ever seen a more consistently racist group than liberals?

    Also, here is a bunch of stuff that I think you would find to be useful reading (The author is an ancap):

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2122 “Kafkatrapping”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3567 “What ‘privilege’ means to me”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4934 “The true meaning of moral panics”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=5220 “Down the feminist rabbit hole”

    And racism related:

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4278 “On not ceding the truth to racists”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=142 “Racism and group differences”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=473 “The Post-Racial Hall of Mirrors”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=1584 “Reading racism into pulp fiction”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2083 “A Specter is Haunting Genetics”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4994 “Objective evidence against racism”

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=5001 “Preventing visceral racism”

    And not directly related to the others, but as background:

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=260 “Gramscian damage”

  3. DianeNo Gravatar says:

    The divide and conquer psychological mind manipulation strategy is alive and well and being used now more than ever, in the forms of skin color, race, religion, gender, nationality, and any other form of diversity utilized to keep people from waking up and unifying in constructive action. As long as the divide and conquer strategy is played successfully, we’ll all be kept in slavery. Worse than that, we face extinction as a species. See http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org and http://www.whatonearthishappening.com.

  4. autonomousNo Gravatar says:

    Obedience is submission to another’s superiority. Since no one is inherently (by nature) superior to me, I am not obedient to anyone. Nor do I want anyone to be obedient to me; not my wife, not my children, not my friends, not my neibhors near or far. No just purpose is served by obedience to equals. And no superior being can expect my obedience who is unwilling or unable to clearly communicate directions to me. Certain groups attemt to arrogate my submission to them, but they can only torture or kill me, they cannot force me to submit to them.

  5. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    This article is pure gold. I particularly like the ending where obedient privilege is discussed. I know from personal experience that my wealth and social status have been greatly diminished by my choice to be a disobedient in life.

    • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

      Great stuff, Mr. Barker thanks.

      “I totally understand the need to empower the marginalized”

      You might want to rethink that one. Freedom is in no way empowering, and only freedom counts.

    • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

      Ok, so now that a certain someone actually read the “Seth King” avatar’s comment, this avatar can slink back toward offering responses in appropriate areas…

      “I know from personal experience that my wealth and social status have been greatly diminished by my choice to be a disobedient in life.”

      Too many others, of course, claim to be libertarians while still taking an approach to life whereby “those obedient to State authority enjoy a much higher income on average” (I’m pointing fingers at several Austrian School professors out there).

  6. Scott Thomas OutlarNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post. Bravo!

    Going along to get along in this world always seems to bring the highest privilege. It’s unfortunate that coloring within the lines, walking lockstep with the herd, submitting to arbitrary rules and laws, and playing the game inside the boundaries of the bureaucratic system offers the path which fast tracks social status and finanical reward in this Bizzaro world we live in.

    Kudos to those who swim against the stream when necessary, who seek truth no matter the risk, who buck the beast system even though it’ll likely cost them, and who stick to their guns in issues of moral integrity.

    Being principled trumps being privileged through obedience any day of the week, and twice on Sundays when Karma is being weighed.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      ” On matters of style, swim with current; on matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – Unknown (often attributed to Thomas Jefferson )

  7. michaelNo Gravatar says:

    @ Davi. Thanks for the article and I largely agree with it. It reminded me I had something sitting on the back burner. It’s an attempt to see privilege and race through the lens of Empire and I use “leftist” lingo to push an Anarcho-Capitalist point. Some parts of my piece I like and others parts maybe I’m blowing it out my ass. lol Critique away

    Privilege is something that can be objectively observed in the history of Empires.

    The ruling tribe becomes the standard by which all things are judged. Greece, Rome and the Western Empire all have this in common.

    Empires build great effigies of them selves at the expense of the Public. It is the logical consequence of Narcissism. Narcissism is self love/self worship and is seen in both empires and religions. Abrahamic religions make man in gods image so like wise we make the State in mans image.

    This geocentric theology from religion has been transposed in an anthropocentric reflection of Empire and in the West it is the basis for political privilege and power.

    The three pillars of an Empire are economics, tribe and the state. Statisim is the economic domination of one privileged group over everyone else. If you want to end oppression then you need to do way with Empire and the monopoly of violence the State empowers.

    Religion can be layered into Empire or a State and often times is employed as a tool.

    Racism acts a kind of protectionism and replicates the image of the ruling group as the standard by which all things are judged. It is the geocentric mirror of the ruling tribe within society that is woven into Empire and justifies economic dominance and the creation of special economic privileges. Sometimes these privileges perpetuate the ruling tribe and sometimes they are used to manipulate marginalized groups into compliance through privileges designed to secure their loyalty within society by way of quotas and compensation. The objective is not equality of law for all individuals but rather the maintenance of dependency on the State.

    Anarchism seeks to make a more horizontal society through recognizing that society is composed of top down hierarchy’s. It seeks to allow people to pursue their dreams free from third party coercion which is founded in an equality of authority. Any hierarchy whether it be the state, religion, corporation, institution, foundation, or organization that violates the NAP/natural law theory and is an aggressor against an individuals sovereignty is a hierarchy anarchists need to oppose. Not all hierarchies are coercive and some like the Masons net work business men among themselves and provide charity.

    It is not possible to have equality within law in a society who’s Empire dictates the social, political and economic values based upon the image of the ruling group. Social justice can’t be bestowed upon a people by a benevolent State because privilege is systemically written into society. Rather it can only happen within a free market where the law equally protects its citizens allowing them to voluntarily make their own choice’s within the market place free from interference from some State or a group.

    Social Justice from an anarchist perspective isn’t guaranteed egalitarian outcomes but rather guaranteed equality of justice rooted in principled non aggression and libertarian natural law theory recognizing private property and individual sovereignty. Only then will justice protect society.

    Justice can only exist in societies where the custom of seeking justice originates within the community. The law within Western culture is an Anthropocentric reflection of the Empire and it effectively protects the privileged groups, the Corporatocracy and those who want to ascend upwards into the Empire.

    Reclaiming justice means doing away with the institutionalized privileges of the State and consciously recognizing Hierarchy’s within society. Otherwise everything breaks down into antagonistic groups. Equal opportunity and unhindered access to markets within society can happen through both abolishing the State as well as raising the social conscious to recognize and have mutual respect for your neighbors rights even if on religious or philosophical grounds you think they are immoral or less then worthy.

    The mechanism behind Statism is the Law. The Supreme Courts of every country interpret law in favor of their Constitutions which act as protectionism for their privileged group. It is through Law that economic rents, privileges and aggression against some groups, become institutionalized within society. This is why for example racism is systemic within the American Justice system.

    Mutual respect among individuals (regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, religion ect) and the willingness to stand up for your neighbor rights, insures moral equality and is what makes up a peaceful community.

  8. Janos SzaboNo Gravatar says:

    “It does not matter for what specific purpose minorities now organize if they seek an equal share in consumption, an equal place on the pyramid of production, or equal nominal power in the government of ungovernable tools. As long as a minority acts to increase its share within a growth-oriented society, the final result will be a keener sense of inferiority for most of its members.”

    Ivan Illich

  9. hayleyNo Gravatar says:

    I just looked up racism in a very large old Funk and Wagnalls dictionary (1938) and it wasn’t a word then. Not in the dictionary at all, even as a possible suffix for ‘race’. Hmmmm.

  10. hayleyNo Gravatar says:

    Curious now, so searched for the origin of the word ‘racist’. It was Trotsky in 1930. An interesting account is at

    http://penetrate.blogspot.ca/2010/01/racist-word-invented-by-ussr s-leon.html

    “Fast-forwarding to today in 2010, the only changes to the word and its underlying concept from 1930 (besides Marxists having perfected the art of achieving the same thing with less blood but no less misery) are that the word’s targets have expanded from just Slavs who won’t submit to the Marxist internationalist plan to uproot and destroy their culture and traditional way of life, to all white people, Slavic or otherwise, who won’t submit to that same vile Marxist plan. Also, those who arm themselves with the word have expanded from a handful of communists to the entire liberal and neoconservative establishment in nations all across the world.”

  11. GabeNo Gravatar says:

    There’s a subtle irony that isn’t talked about today, which when you look at the approach from the ‘opposing’ side, it’s almost laughable.
    If we were to believe that racism is based solely on people being in a position of institutional power and were to use your example, Davi, that your principal was white, hence you had said institutional power over others, then all actions of blacks against other races is and has been racist for the last 5 years as the person “in the seat of power” in the US self-identifies as black. He has a phone and a pen and isn’t afraid to use it, remember?