Nicholas Kristof Is Being "Helpful" Again

[Content Note: Racism; misogyny; privilege.]

Addressing unconscious/implicit bias is a crucial social justice issue; it's one about which I care a lot and write a lot. Conversations about unconscious bias are critically important to have—but they need to be led by people who don't use unconscious bias as an argument against personal accountability, or who imagine that conscious bias isn't equally as important.

Which brings me to the latest in the New York Times from Nicholas Kristof: "Straight Talk for White Men."

Kristof opens his piece about white men's unconscious bias thus:
Supermarket shoppers are more likely to buy French wine when French music is playing, and to buy German wine when they hear German music. That's true even though only 14 percent of shoppers say they noticed the music, a study finds.

Researchers discovered that candidates for medical school interviewed on sunny days received much higher ratings than those interviewed on rainy days. Being interviewed on a rainy day was a setback equivalent to having an MCAT score 10 percent lower, according to a new book called "Everyday Bias," by Howard J. Ross.

Those studies are a reminder that we humans are perhaps less rational than we would like to think, and more prone to the buffeting of unconscious influences. That's something for those of us who are white men to reflect on when we're accused of "privilege."
When white men are accused of "privilege," complete with scare quotes. Neat!

Following some examples of how women and men are treated differently—examples sanctioned by SCIENCE, because of course marginalized people's lived experiences are not evidence, since we are not recognized as authorities on our own lives—Kristof writes:
It's not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness. Maybe that's because in a race, it's easy not to notice a tailwind, and white men often go through life with a tailwind, while women and people of color must push against a headwind.

While we don't notice systematic unfairness, we do observe specific efforts to redress it — such as affirmative action, which often strikes white men as profoundly unjust. Thus a majority of white Americans surveyed in a 2011 study said that there is now more racism against whites than against blacks.

None of these examples mean exactly that society is full of hard-core racists and misogynists. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke University sociologist, aptly calls the present situation "racism without racists"; it could equally be called "misogyny without misogynists." Of course, there are die-hard racists and misogynists out there, but the bigger problem seems to be well-meaning people who believe in equal rights yet make decisions that inadvertently transmit both racism and sexism.
Emphases mine. It's swell of him to acknowledge that "of course, there are" people who consciously practice racism and misogyny, but only after stating, without qualifications or caveats, that white men aren't "intentionally doing anything wrong" and don't "notice systematic unfairness."

Casually conceding, sure, there are some real jerks out there sort of loses its oomph when it follows the serious implication that all racism and misogyny expressed by white men is down to unconscious bias, and the serious assertion that white men don't notice systemic injustice, as if there aren't white men who actively seek and exploit "systematic unfairness" with the explicit purposes of harming women of all races (especially black women) and men of color.

And it's not just a "small but vocal minority." Which the "of course, there are die-hard racists and misogynists out there" construction is designed to imply.

It is actively unhelpful for Kristof to be using a discussion of unconscious bias in order to suggest that conscious, active, harm-objective racism and misogyny isn't all that common. It's an argument that gaslights every woman and every person of color who reports lived experiences that suggest otherwise.

This is the familiar and ubiquitous "he didn't know any better" apologia, routinely used against marginalized people to excuse harm perpetrated against us, codified as "science," care of a white man who is (inexplicably) respected as an authority on racism and misogyny.

Let me try to put this into words Nicholas Kristof will understand: Someone has to choose the music in the supermarket. If racism and misogyny are all, or even mostly, unconscious bias, who's making the decision to play these tunes?

[Previous Kristof: Take Your Boobs and Go Home; Here's Your Big Chance to Ask: What About the Men?; Dylan Farrow, Rape Apologia, & Rape Culture 101.]

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus