Just because you're privileged doesn't mean you suck

Recently, I wrote a short essay on privilege and programming. It was quite popular on /r/programming and generated hundreds of comments, both there and on this blog.

I was surprised and flattered to see the majority of the comments agreed with my post, however a few people brought up a concern which I’d like to address:

Why this is person trying to convince me that I should regretful for being able to use a computer at a young age just because others couldn’t?

This is a very common misconception about privilege.

Being privileged doesn’t stop you from being awesome. For example, one of my favorite films of all time is Lost in Translation. It was directed by Sophia Coppola, the daughter of the director of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola. I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that, had she not been his daughter, there is very little chance that Lost in Translation would exist. Not only did her father fund it, but he raised her in the world of cinema, allowing her to absorb how it worked from a very early age. By the time she started directing movies, she had a huge head start.

Does being privileged mean that Sofia Coppola is somehow a worse director than if she had a different father? Of course not. Her work stands on its own.

I would never suggest that you shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunities you’ve been afforded. My parents worked very hard so that I could have the access to computers at a young age. It would have been rude to throw all that away.

Having access to a computer is just one way I was privileged. There are countless others: I wasn’t raised in poverty, or in a country riddled with disease or corruption. I am a white man and have never faced racism or sexual discrimination.

I don’t feel regret for who I am, I just recognize that not everyone has it so easy. Privilege is about being mindful of the fact that not all people have equal footing.

It also an important first step towards correcting injustices, for if you truly believe that everyone has the same opportunities as you, there is no reason to advocate for change.

Imported from: http://eviltrout.com/2013/01/03/just-because-youre-privileged-doesnt-mean-you-suck.html

Hey there! Your main point is great! It's true that 'you're privileged' is not an insult.

I just have a quibble:

> I would never suggest that you shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunities you’ve been afforded.

I think this might be reaching too far. Part of, as you point out, 'being mindful of the fact that not all people have equal footing' is not using your privilege in a way that harms others, and 'taking advantage of the opportunities' you have can certainly harm others. "You're privileged" is not an insult, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't stop throwing your privilege around either. Your example makes sense: "I don't use computers because not everyone has access to them" is obviously not correct, but be careful about how you use your privileges, and don't use them if they hurt others. Using a computer isn't going to harm anyone else.

Actually as I was writing it I thought of adding something like the golden rule to that line, but hesitated at the last minute because I thought it would be too verbose. That was a mistake.

People absolutely shouldn't take advantage of privileges that will harm or take advantage others. If your "privilege" is owning a slave for example, that would be very bad.

I had an interesting thought about taking advantage of your privilege. What if taking advantage of your privilege is the reason others are at a disadvantage. Imagine a game of musical chairs where some are really strong and fast, while others are weaker and frail. If the strong take advantage of their privilege, then obviously they will win the game. If some of the strong let the weaker win, then you help level the playing field. The weak will have the ADVANTAGE of winning sometimes. Some would say "That is the point of playing the game! to see who is better!". I would respond with another question "Is life a game where we see who is better?". In the case of musical chairs, it tests your speed and strength. What does the "economic" game test as we have it now, capitalism with some competition? And are the traits it tests for something we want to encourage?

Pardon me, and I hope I do not make you paranoid, but as a white man you have been subject to discrimination for about the last 40 years. Good luck trying to obtain your employer's EEO records to see who was hired or promoted around/above you.

Holy shit, now that I think about it, you're right! For my entire working career, I've constantly been passed up for promotion and missed out on job opportunities.

Except, wait. That's total bullshit!

I've was once told by a recruiter "You're gold. And you know why? Between you and I? Because you're a white dude who speaks English. I can place you in a second."

My parents struggled to buy my first computer for about $1,000 - which was a lot of money for something they had no idea the purpose of. For the first 2 weeks I just played games on the 32MB beast, and they had a grim look on their face like "What did we do..."

Fast forward many years later and it's enabled me to be fully independent and greatly expanded my ability to express myself.

I care little about how you acquired $1,000 to buy the machine and much more about your GitHub etc.


Another article (which I've unfortunately since forgotten the name of) phrased it nicely; being a white male is just "easy mode" on life. That doesn't reduce your hardships or invalidate your accomplishments any more than simply being a non-white-male is an accomplishment itself.

That was from John Scalzi's blog.


by Sophia Coppola, the daughter of the directory(Should be director)

Bruce Wayne, and Tony Stark both support your theory.

I dont usually contribute into flamewars, but lets make an exception here.

First having computer since early age is hardly any privilege. There were other options outside expensive IBM PC. I started programming on TI programmable calculator and latter on soviet 8-bit Atari clone. It was 1991, my country just went through revolution, and I was cleaning toilets for a month to buy my first computer/calculator.

Secondly being programmer today is hardly privilege on its own. Today even pilots make less money than cashiers, wake up! If you count all expenses and unpaid overtimes you might be very surprised.

Take my for an example: In my 30-ties I have poor health from sitting behind desk for last 20 years. I will probably spend another 20 years in small cubicle without windows and die in my 50-ties by hard attack as my father did. In 10 years I may be unemployable thanks to age discrimination, technology shift or outsourcing. I would call this hardly privilege.

Next please read this quote carefully. In paranoid politically correct world (you just helped to create) those words may easily miss-fire : "one way I was privileged" ... "I am a white man" ... "not all people have equal footing".

Also being white male in US/UK/Canada is hardly any privilege today. White discrimination is one of reasons why I would never move there (I am from post soviet country):

* My children would be last in line for higher education

* I would be last in line for most government/corporate jobs

* White are not welcomed at social services. I may easily end-up homeless by loosing my job and consequent divorce.

* as white male I dont have some basic human rights when facing certain charges

As a white male software developer in the UK, I have mostly worked with other white middle class males - most corporations are staffed with them - to think that you'd be last in line for corporate jobs certainly does not match my own or my friends experience.

If you're white, male and middle class then it absolutely still is an advantage in this country ... sure if you're white and male and poor then things aren't great, but if you're black and poor things are worse - it's not as bad as the U.S., but it's still not great.

As for children - as a middle class person hypothetically moving the the UK you'll probably live near the catchment area of a good school, live where there's less crime; it'll be easier to get jobs because the people interviewing you will be just like you.

Anecdotal evidence and sarcasm does no one any good. Especially anecdotal evidence with no context. Had you been in Japan, that would very much fit a stereotype that provides no information on how white males are treated in areas where they are the majority. I could provide tons of anecdotal evidence on the contrary, but no one should take my claims seriously. Instead, Mr. Bakke, since you've made the assertion that white males are discriminated again, would you mind providing some evidence to enlighten us?

Let me assure you from first-hand experience that American-born white men are doing just fine in the US today.

I have frequently in my Ivy League education and NYC software development career deferred to a woman or minority, but only when I have explicitly acknowledged that person's relevant expertise in a given situation: otherwise, I am assumed to be an authority on whatever question is at hand (and fortunately, it is often a correct assumption!).

If you are concerned that being a "white male" is not sufficient for Americans to grant a similar amount of respect to some wife-beating, anti-Semitic thug with an engineering degree worth shit, then I have to say that that's a feature, not a bug, and please stay the fuck away.

God forbid one of you fuckers ever show a modicum of humility, admit to the tiniest mistake, or learn to pronounce one word of comprehensible English. I'd rather work on a team with ten women and fifteen non-whites than have to sit through a ten minute meeting with one of you bigoted ex-Soviet shitheads.

This sort of reaction is pretty common among members of groups that have been privileged but feel that their privilege is being eroded.

It's not that white people are discriminated against in the UK etc, it's just that they now have to compete on a more even footing with non-whites than they did in the past. Some people see this as a loss of something they were used to depending on, even if unconsciously.

Your list of examples of white discrimination is complete nonsense. I'm white as can be and:

*The government funded my education,

*Social services funded my living costs while I was unemployed after university.

White male raised in Africa here, interesting thing most folks do not know about africa is that nothing is given on a plate for free - despite being white. Most people are raised to go out and fight for what you want because there is so much heavy competition for resources, its quite motivating when you are told at school that if you dont work hard/smart you will quite literally end up living in the bush (we have no social services here either).

Its this culture that gives white males their edge over the competition and its been born out of decades of seeing the world in this way.

At the moment I'm living on a council estate in south London in a mixed community and I can see why some minorities are not excelling despite all the assistance given by society/government. There is a definite difference in how some races manage raising of their children. The indians in our building are 110% focused on education of their kids, for these families school is 24/7. The jamaicans are quite different their young (9 years) are generally out on the street until late at night with no parents to speak of, causing issues for neighbourhood, parents generally sit at home all day watching TV with no commitment to their children's future. There is apathy for anything that is considered intellectual or 'white' in general which just propagates the problem even more.

What will be interesting is if in 100 years from now after all the positive bias we will still have the same scenario or we will feel better because there will be more less capable wh males.