The Social Justice Debate: Jordan Peterson on White Privilege

Last week I posted John MacArthur’s response to a seminary student’s question about social justice in the church. In that reply, MacArthur invoked the concept of intersectionality and defined it in a manner which echoed Jordan Peterson in his infamous lecture on white privilege.

Since I first heard Peterson on white privilege, I have considered writing a critical response. The MacArthur post provoked me to finally get to it.  In the 10 minute clip below, Peterson explains why he doubts the privilege associated with “white privilege” is actually due to whiteness. Here is the clip. He begins with his views of intersectionality, followed by a critique of white privilege which starts at 4:45.

He doesn’t play fair here by only criticizing one theoretical article from 1988. Nearly all social science concepts start with a notion of some kind which then serves to generate testable hypotheses. As of now, there are empirical studies on the concept. However, his audience leaves thinking white privilege is only the idea of an isolated professor.

At 7:01, Peterson reads from a list of attitudes and behaviors taken for granted by white people. The list was crafted by Peggy McIntosh in a 1988 paper (the full list is here) titled, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” Note that she says it is a personal account.

Okay, so here’s her white privilege list, some of it, there’s like 50 things. ‘ I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.’ ‘If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.’ That’s actually a wealth thing, by the way. ‘I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.’ ‘I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.’ ‘I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.’ ‘When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.’ There’s 50 of those, I think, something like that.

Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to China, you’re Chinese, is the same true if you’re Chinese? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture? So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege. There’s many things it could be. Certainly could be wealth. And the intersectional people have already figured out there are many things it could be. So like, what the hell? Seriously, well, what’s going on?

Well, we let these pseudo-disciplines into the university because we’re stupid and guilty, seriously. And they have no methodological requirements and plenty of power and plenty of time to produce nonsensical research and produce like resentful activists and now we’re bearing the fruits of that. It’s not pretty, so white privilege.

So Like Seriously What’s Wrong?

Other than Peterson’s argument by exasperation, the main problem I see is his assumption that majorities of one kind or another build and own the culture. In America, that is silly, and an aspect of white nationalist fantasy. I realize he is Canadian but his arguments apparently appeal to Americans who like the majority white. In America, our history leads us straightaway to race. You can’t talk about majorities and minorities without talking about race.

Let’s apply his argument to America instead of China and see if it doesn’t sound like race is at least one of the important issues of privilege in America. Remember he is criticizing the idea of white privilege. Here is what he said in the video. After that I will substitute America for China.

Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to China, you’re Chinese, is the same true if you’re Chinese? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture?

Now let’s substitute America for China.

“Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to [America]? If you go to [America], you’re [American], is the same true if you’re [American]? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture?”

See the problem? He seems to be saying that the real, true Americans are the majority Americans. He solidifies this messages by asking, “isn’t that just part of living within your culture?” Jordan, what do you mean “your culture?” In America, the culture isn’t mine as a member of any majority. It is supposed to belong to all citizens. However, it is very clear to me that simply because I am white, I never have had to deal with some things that my African-American friends have had to deal with. By law, it is just as much their culture as mine but they contend with different social rules that they did not get to construct.

Peterson continues to talk about “your culture” as if it belongs to some unspecified majority alone. In what is the most shocking part of this rant to me, he justifies majority privilege as the right of the majority. Then he essentially excludes the minorities from the culture by saying they “accrue fewer benefits” and “aren’t in the culture.”

So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege.

An American distinctive is the belief that people from all kinds of backgrounds can make good and have a better life. Many of us want to believe in the promise of America for everybody to realize the same benefits of being an American. Peterson appears to promote a backward view toward an America where the majority stores up benefits for themselves. In the end, he doesn’t refute the concept of white privilege as much as he tries to shout it down. For what purpose? I can’t think of any good one.

While I believe the concept of white privilege does need more empirical support, I also believe there is a use of the term which is simply descriptive. It stands for the observation that race matters in American society and has mattered since the founding. One does not need to embrace identity psychology to simply recognize that racism has not been eradicated from our cultural institutions (e.g., the church, political parties, law enforcement, etc.) and that efforts to minimize that fact are corrosive to our culture.  White guys stomping around yelling, “seriously, what the hell?” doesn’t get us any closer to treating others as we want to be treated or ensuring equal treatment under the law.

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Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Tony Evans, White Privilege, and the Two World Policy

Tony Evans Interview
Screen capture from Dallas Theological Seminary interview

Tony Evans raised eyebrows several weeks ago when he said the African-American family was “a lot stronger” during slavery than now. He later issued a statement saying “slavery was “ungodly, unrighteous, and unbiblical.” However, he maintained that Black families today have “lost some of our unity” in contrast to Black unity during slavery.  While we disagree about the stronger slave family, I appreciated Evans’ efforts to address his earlier remarks.
Evans had other things to say in that Dallas Theological Seminary interview. Although I appreciated the fact that the conversation was happening at all, I have to take issue with something else that Evans taught in the interview. Talking about African-Americans adapting to “the White world,” Evans said:

It’s not an equitable adaption because it’s not the same situation. And so that’s just a reality. Now you can fight about it but that’s the way it is. And since that’s the way it is we need to learn spiritual truth that enables us to do that and not fight against that reality. That becomes a growth opportunity for both sides.

With this quote and in the rest of this segment, Evans provided a pretty good description of White privilege. Begin watching at 14:16 into the video:
[youtube]https://youtu.be/KyBrnK_c1O0?t=14m15s[/youtube]
Transcript (from Dallas Theological Seminary’s page):

Dr. Evans: Well you do have to fight against it because you are – and a lot of times swimming upstream against background history, what your mother and daddy taught you, what your experiences have been, if you had negative experiences with a minority and you’re Anglo, that’s gonna color that. You know so and we also have to understand there’s a real reality here and that is African-Americans have to function in a White world. You know, your work is going to typically be in that world and you have to, you don’t have a choice. You have to do business in that world.
So but the Anglo world rarely has to function in an African-American context. It does it because it chooses to. African-Americans do it because you have to. And that dynamic colors a lot because Anglos are much less acquainted with my world. I’m much more acquainted with their world because I have to be. And therefore that colors the perspective and that colors who the power brokers are because you know, for my ministries to survive I have to be heavily dependent in our national ministry on stations that I don’t own and have limited influence in, and for people I need to engage them in a way that doesn’t so offend them that they’re not willing to support me even though I’m African-American because that is the world in which we live. So you always as an African-American dancing a little bit.
Dr. Bock: You’re negotiating with a majority culture.
Dr. Evans: You’re negotiating with a major – now for other African-Americans who are offended by that and some are offended by that and I get often called an Uncle Tom. Well you know the question is do I want to stay where you want me to be or do I want to stay where God has called me to be? And to do that you do have to negotiate without compromising truth or principle.
Dr. Bock: Yeah you know it’s interesting. Most or many Anglos I think who live in our culture don’t understand what it is to be in a minority culture. I will say there are pockets where this can happen. And that is if you – as my children did. My children went – we chose to put our children in public school. They were a minority at Hillcrest High School here in Dallas. I mean they were, there were like 170 languages, there was only a 12 percent, I think it was 12 percent Anglo population in the school.
Everyone else was either from Latin America or they were African-American or they were from another foreign country. It was a real mix. And my kids got the experience. I actually thought it was a terrific experience for them of what it was like to be in a minority, what it was like for everyone around you to be different. My equivalent of that experience was when we moved to Germany.
We moved to Germany I didn’t have the language, or at least not very well. I mean I could order food and do some, but didn’t really have the language. I would go to a PTA meeting where our kids were in schools in the German schools and be struggling to get the language. I knew what it was like to be Hispanic in an American PTA meeting and not really know English. You know I experienced what that’s like.
And there is a negotiating is also a word but there’s also a coping that you have to go through. There’s adjustments about here you have all these thoughts in your head and what you’re thinking but you’re not able to express it and connect with people in the midst of it, that kind of thing. And you realize you’re on a different page and you’re coming from a different place and all that goes into – there’s a frustration with not being able to really show who you are in the midst of some of this.
Dr. Evans: Absolutely. You have to adapt. People have to adapt all the time to different scenarios. The difference is that because African-Americans have to be in the White world and therefore have to adapt, and Whites don’t have to be in the Black world and therefore don’t have to adapt, the adaption is not equal.
Dr. Bock: That’s right.
Dr. Evans: It’s not an equitable adaption because it’s not the same situation. And so that’s just a reality. Now you can fight about it but that’s the way it is. And since that’s the way it is we need to learn spiritual truth that enables us to do that and not fight against that reality. That becomes a growth opportunity for both sides.

I agree with Evans that White privilege exists, but I disagree with him when he says we should “not fight against that reality.”
Evans knows that the adaptation of African-Americans to “the White world” is “not an equitable adaption.” However, he doesn’t seem to challenge it head on. He says that Blacks have to adapt to the White world, even saying African-Americans are always “dancing a little bit.”
When I first heard this, it bothered me. The more I thought about it, the more it seems to me that this way of thinking could too easily become an apologetic for White privilege. Although I agree that too often White privilege is real, it should not be. However, Evans appears to oppose fighting “the way it is.”

Now you can fight about it but that’s the way it is. And since that’s the way it is we need to learn spiritual truth that enables us to do that and not fight against that reality. That becomes a growth opportunity for both sides.

If I understand him correctly, I disagree. I don’t want to live in a White world. I live in God’s world where, according to my beliefs, privilege is not given because of the color of one’s skin. In contrast to Evans’ message, I believe we do need to fight against “that reality.” I can’t imagine any spiritual truth that should enable acceptance of White privilege. The growth opportunity is in confronting and opposing the harmful status quo.
Bruce Hornsby had it right in the song “The Way It Is

Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah but don’t you believe them

Remarkably, Evans suggests that his success as an African-American radio personality has come, in part, because he has not offended “White world” station owners.

…that colors who the power brokers are because you know, for my ministries to survive I have to be heavily dependent in our national ministry on stations that I don’t own and have limited influence in, and for people I need to engage them in a way that doesn’t so offend them that they’re not willing to support me even though I’m African-American because that is the world in which we live. So you always as an African-American dancing a little bit.

I want to know more about this. What has Evans had to dance about ? What has he had to do and say to avoid offending White station owners? We need to know more about this, not sweep it under the rug.
I understand that White privilege exists, but I don’t believe that White privilege is the way it ought to be. I call on Rev. Evans to reconsider and issue another statement, this time denouncing acquiescence to this two world policy.
[youtube]https://youtu.be/cOeKidp-iWo[/youtube]

Matt Chandler on White Privilege

Writing Tuesday on his church blog about the tragic shooting in Ferguson, MO, Matt Chandler validates the concept of white privilege.  The blog post is an expansion of tweets on the subject. According to the Christian Post, he also talked about the matter in his Sunday sermon.
I am glad to see this and intend to discuss white privilege and stereotyping next week here on the blog.