Honesty: A White Male Privilege
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely witnessed the recent dust up surrounding Michelle Wolf. Everyone from MSNBC, the New York Times, to even the current President felt violated by Ms. Wolf’s roast of guests at this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner.
Was the usual conservative, heightened fake outrage that we expected, in full effect? Of course.
Were women, in the name of motherhood and feminism, appalled by the jokes regarding Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Definitely.
And were there, undoubtedly, a few instances of liberal saviorism decrying Ms. Wolf’s comments as sadistically snippy and propping up Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the noble figure in the room? You bet.
But while all of this might be true, this week’s superfluous media storm underscored the uncomfortable reality that brutal candor, tough love, earnest dialogue, truth to power, or any form of honesty is (and perhaps has always been) a privilege purely relegated for white men.
Think that’s a statement with analytical bias? Think again.
According to the World Economic Forum, there are currently half a dozen studies pointing out that women, on average, are more honest than men. But as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book, Lean In, when women are more straightforward they are deemed as assertive, rude, and often labeled with the b-word. In contrast, when men display the same traits of candor they are described as a bold, fearless, and courageous.
In a 2014 study University of Regensburg analyzing this issue, researchers found those mis-characterized and unfair distinctions were even more heightened among race. In particular, African American females, whenever attempting to speak truth to power, were often denied wage increases, exposure to upper management, and were less likely to be promoted. As opposed to white men, who experienced diametrically opposite consequences when exuding a similar level of candor.
Look no further than the rise of clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson as another proof that being honest is a male Caucasian luxury . The Canadian professor’s lectures have gone viral for what Bill Maher believes as “welcomed uncomfortable truth telling.” Others have praised Mr. Peterson’s rhetoric on culture, masculinity, and identity politics as a harsh necessity.
Yet, in an interview with Bill Maher, Mr. Peterson urged fellow liberals to tone down their rhetoric against the ideological opponents for the sake of civility. When he was called out by fellow panelist Alex Wagner, an Asian American woman, he sidestepped the blatant hypocrisy. (Professor Peterson, when confronted by protesters at his speeches, often calls them losers, cowards, and wastes of life on campus). In reviewing social media the next day, Mr. Peterson’s supporters attacked Mr. Wagner for unfairly chastising their wise leader. No pundit called out this double standard.
This is a classic case of honest white man privilege. A illusionary pasty beacon of honesty rises to fame, urges similar thinkers to be just as altruistically bashful, but decries the opposition when they act in a similar manner
We can find other examples of white male exuding their privilege of unchecked bullshit hypocrisy. Elon Musk states he has built a culture of openness, but when former and current employees raise objections about his management style Mr. Musk has attempted to sue or threaten their professional life.
Same with hedge fund titan Ray Dallio. In his recent book, Principles, the CEO of Bridgewater Capital, boasts about an algorithm that ensures “radical transparency” at his firm. However, when John Cassidy, of the New Yorker interviewed him in 2011 Mr. Dallio denied the journalist access to his employees, monitored his time at company headquarters, threatened to shut down the interview if he contacted friends and competitors, and left less than promised time to be interviewed.
At Bridgewater, every office and cubicle is monitored by video and any negative discussion, even simple office gossip, can be punished by termination. Walk around the surrounding forest of Bridgewater, and you’ll see dozens of employees on their cell phones making calls that would have been monitored if they had been on site.
These examples are in itself problems for a variety of reasons. A professor shouldn’t be propped up as a shaman of transparency when he’s not. A organization that is set up like a modern day 1984 should not praised as a poster child of profound translucency.
But more troubling, is the fact that we all know if these men were not white or male they would not get away with lack of scrutiny about their presentation of honesty. An African-American professor, such as Cornel West, who preaches “an honest examination” of oppression in America has been deemed controversial. Angela Rye, an African-American political analyst, is often characterized as overly-contentious even though Politico has deemed her as one of the most fact based commentators on CNN (granted a low bar). If any female CEO discussed “radical transparency” and their employees phone lines were tapped, they would never be invited to give a Ted Talk (as Mr. Dallio did) about the benefits of candor in the workplace.
So, as the news cycle, paints a narrative of how Ms. Wolf scandalized an event that celebrates the privilege of a living in an honest and open society. One should remember that the real scandal is that privilege has, for the longest time, been solely relegated to white men.