Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is


A fat dog lying on its back, smiling.

John Scalzi is a film critic, a columnist, and a multi award winning author of science fiction.

He also blogs.

A blogpost he wrote in May 2012 has been my go to ever since for explaining straight, white, male privilege to people who don’t want to think about it.

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?

If you have straight, white, male, or otherwise privileged friends who refuse to contemplate their own privilege — or if privilege is a new or difficult term for you yourself — please read it. Seriously: it’s brilliant.

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Intersectional Feminist Spaces 101 and 201

Crossknit is the online moniker of a “calligrapher, crossfitter, editor, graphic designer, knitter, lawyer, seamstress and spinner” who has written two amazing posts guiding the new (and not so new) to navigating the pitfalls and subtleties of intersectional feminist spaces — that is, feminist spaces that recognise that racism is always present alongside misogyny, as well as other systems of oppression based around dis/ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc., etc.

How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101 was written in January 2017, and covers:

  • Getting corrected.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Derailing.
  • Being called out.
  • Lived experience > theoretical knowledge.
  • Do your own research.
  • Privilege.
  • Racists with black friends.
  • Listening / being with discomfort.
  • Dis/courtesy.
  • Useful vocabulary

So you think you know a thing: Feministing 201 was written a few weeks later, and covers:

  • Some things are not for you.
  • Don’t say this!
  • Burden of education.
  • Centering marginalised voices.
  • Shame.
  • Ally cookies.
  • Being the teachable moment.

They are both awesome — not only informative, but also sassy and amusing. If you are looking for an introduction or a refresher on being involved in the struggle for social justice, I highly recommend them.

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Confronting Whiteness with Rachael Rice

One of the most important things that white people can do to end racism, is to face whiteness head on. That’s what Rachael Rice does in this series of conversations with other white women, which range across:

  • international community work, capitalism and intersectional economics
  • colonialism, appropriation, trauma and sustainability
  • awkward family conversations about racism
  • white fragility, especially from white women

and more.

You can access them here.

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bell hooks: read her work

I hope you’ve heard of bell hooks. She is a USian black woman, a Buddhist, an artist, an acclaimed feminist theorist, cultural critic, and writer. Her work is focused around understanding the ways in which systems of exploitation and oppression intersect, and ending them through education and relationship.

In my opinion, the best way to get to know bell hooks is through her writing. She has written for 40 years on the interplay of racism and sexism in daily life. Highlights of her work, for me, include Feminism is for Everybody, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Teaching to Transgress: Education As The Practice Of Freedom, and All About Love, but every single one of her works is worth reading, with care and attention.

You can also see her in action by looking up “bell hooks” on Youtube. There are many videos of her giving lectures, seminars and interviews.

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Civil liberties — UK and USA

Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties in the UK) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) are important organisations to know about if you’re in the UK or the USA respectively, especially if you’re engaging in civil disobedience, or want to support those who do.

Liberty was founded in 1934. Its work involves campaigning for civil liberties and human rights in the UK. It is independent of any other organisation, political or otherwise. At the date of writing (update on 16th June 2018), their priority campaigns are: pushing the UK government to end indefinite detention for immigrants; and #keepbritainkind, a campaign to put human rights at the heart of British politics. You can join Liberty as a member, take part in petitions and campaigns, or donate.

The ACLU was formed in the years following WWI in response to draconian, unlawful action against ‘radicals’, as the US government feared a revolution similar to that which formed the USSR in 1917. Its work now is focused around upholding the US constitution against the constant attacks it currently faces. The ACLU accepts donations and has various campaigns which individuals can take part in.

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Be the Change: 5 tips for activists from Autostraddle

Autostraddle describes itself as “an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community for multiple generations of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends)”. Mainly aimed at a younger cohort, it nonetheless has resources and information relevant to all ages, as well as all genders and all orientations.

At the beginning of 2017 they published Be the Change: 5 Tips for Queer Activists Charging Into 2017  by KaeLyn, a response to the horror of USians about to begin living under a Trump presidency.

While the title makes the content sound very specific, it in fact contains information and reminders that apply to activists of all vintages, orientations, and experience levels, to whit:

  1. Avoid burnout.
  2. Think intersectionally.
  3. Act in solidarity.
  4. Use your privilege for good.
  5. Know and respect your limits.

It’s well worth reading at any time.

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Capacitar International

Capacitar International uses a hands-on approach to teach simple wellness practices around the world, for free. They are especially committed to communities affected by violence, poverty and trauma, and work towards solidarity, understanding and reconciliation.

Their approach is based in popular education and community peer support, which is not only in itself empowering for communities affected by trauma, but also means that as an organisation they are able to reach a large number of people with a small amount of resource.

They have a number of programmes, including multicultural wellness, trauma healing, caring for carers, and organisational development, as well as gatherings, workshops and retreats.

Their website has a free download of simple healing and wellness techniques, available in multiple languages. It contains a wealth of practices from a number of different modalities, which can be used alone or with a partner:

  • breathwork
  • Tai Chi
  • fingerholds
  • EFT — Emotional Freedom Technique
  • energy holds (partnered)
  • acupressure (partnered)

The document is a little difficult to read, due to design and layout, but is a gem, nonetheless.

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National Coalition-Building Institute

The National Coalition-Building Institute does extremely effective work in reducing prejudice, resolving conflict, and welcoming diversity, based in the model of co-counselling. Most of its work is in the USA, but it has chapters around the world.

It works in two main ways: through training, and through supportive cohorts in localities and within organisations.

Their one-day Welcoming Diversity workshop is unique in the field. It starts from the premise that we all have prejudices and stereotypes that we carry around in our head, and each training begins with active permission to make mistakes in front of one another. It moves on to recognising all aspects of diversity in the room, into caucus groups around identities present in the room which feed back to the whole group, and finally practising how to make effective interventions in the moment when we see prejudice and discrimination in action.

Peppered throughout are ‘speak outs’ from individuals who have experienced prejudice and discrimination, giving direct insight into the impact of that. This sounds simple, but is, in my experience, an absolutely transformational aspect of the training, both for the speaker and the audience.

Their two-day Leadership training follows a similar pattern, but goes into more depth on the process involved in leading the training, in supporting individuals who are giving speak-outs, and in mediating interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. Once you have gone through the Leadership training, you gain access to annual retreats, and you are then free to develop a local chapter, to cover a geographical area, or to welcome diversity and reduce prejudice within an organisation.

As a Leader of a chapter, you also get personal support from another chapter leader to face the issues and personal button-pushing which you will inevitably experience in a leadership position.

I have been a personal fan of NCBI’s work for 20 years. My one caveat with their model, though, is that it is not appropriate for everyone. That is because the speak-out process, and the support given in retreats and one to one, is based in co-counselling and thus relies on emotional catharsis. While it can be deeply healing and transformative for most people, there are people for whom it can be unhealthy, including people with unaddressed trauma, and some people who are neuro-atypical.

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