White Privilege & Accidentally Playing in a Public Sandbox

Depending on the circles in which you spin around, you may have come across Gavin McInnes’ piece about Asian American privilege. I won’t link to it. You can find it on your own. (Privilege is misspelled in the blogpost title on one of the websites, btw.)

I don’t know the intent behind the piece. Some say it was an attempt at satire. Others say that’s just McInnes’ style. The godfather of hipsterdom wrote a piece using Asian American privilege as the centerpiece. The piece discusses race, and some people thought it though-provoking; others feel provoked.

“Tackling Asian Privilege” on one website has garnered more than 600 comments. It’s been linked several times throughout the day by my some of my Facebook friends. And then there is Twitter.



I have learned that the rules in the social media/interweb/everyone-is-a-writer public sandbox are slightly different for me. And by me I mean a non-White American. McInnes can use Asians (I prefer Asian American.) as a tongue-in-cheek example in his clever, original take on race dynamics in America so long as Asians don’t get upset. We don’t get to be upset. We just get to be the example. And if we get upset, we are told to grow a thicker skin, get a grip, learn to read, etc. We get ALL CAPS AND TOLD THAT WE DON’T GET IT.

Get it?

It’s because McInnes’ audience, his public sandbox if you will, actually didn’t include me and a host of my other non-White American friends because we aren’t his target audience. He would never say that. At least I don’t think he would. We may read his stuff, and we may even appreciate his cleverness and humor until it smells a bit like appropriation. That is what ought to make “us”, the non-target audience, uncomfortable. We are fine in the sandbox until we realize we are being allowed to stay. We weren’t necessarily invited.

This has happened before. Poorly designed t-shirts or advertising campaigns. Poorly written and designed Vacation Bible School curriculum. Poorly written and designed Christian leadership books. Poorly conceived fraternity parties. Poorly conceived team mascots. White privilege means you get to tell me that I don’t get it. That I misunderstood your intentions. That I should be honored that “my culture” is being represented in such a way. That it’s all in good fun. That I’m being politically correct. That I need to stop taking everything so seriously.

No. White privilege may be and mean a lot of things, but it does not get to determine how I respond or feel.

Mr. McInnes, I’m not humorless. I actually find a lot of things funny, and I am told that I am pretty funny. I just didn’t think your writing was particularly funny. And I didn’t get the point you were trying to make, but because a bunch of people seemed to like what you wrote and followed up with some comments I found offensive and racist I guess I didn’t get the inside joke.





  1. Excellent post – thanks for your much needed perspective.

  2. So glad you mentioned Vacation Bible School curriculum. I’m glad I’m not the only one who cringed through “Rickshaw Rally” several summers ago while volunteering at my dad’s tiny Chinese Southern Baptist church.

  3. dWong March 6, 2013

    After reading the actual article, some comments can only be spoken and not posted.

  4. B. Chun March 7, 2013

    I think you do need to grow thicker skin. Like the author said replace Asian with White and you will realize how absurd it is. There is no such thing as white privilege and there is no such thing as asian privilege. Some people succeed and some people fail, that is how life goes.

    • Karl Ostroski March 7, 2013

      B. Chun – I’ve seen examples in my own life (I’m a white male) where access, favor, preference, opportunities, and a host of other benefits were given or attributed merely because of my race. While it’s not the sole or primary factor for all of life’s ups and downs, it plays a part, and in many contexts a significant part.

    • erikklouse March 8, 2013

      B. Chun – I am a White male like Karl, and would like to give you just one small example of White privilege at work. I mentored a Black college student a few years ago who was a music major. He shared with me once that he wasn’t doing well in his classes. This surprised me, as he was one of the most gifted musicians I had ever seen. When we talked further, he said that the only tests that were given in class were about reading music, but not performance or musical ear. In his community, everyone he knew played music by ear. However, in this class with a White professor he was only expected to read music and perform European based pieces. That is a White privilege – White students had an advantage over him simply because of a style preference but not because of talent. Obviously his college grades would suffer in this case as well.

      • Ty Ty (@TyTyDunlap) March 16, 2013

        Does this student have a genetic predisposition to not study sheet music? Does he or “his community” have a heredity that somehow disallows his ability to hear and appreciate French composers? How condescending.

      • Karl Ostroski March 29, 2013

        TyTy – I highly doubt erikklouse is suggesting an inability to learn to read sheet music. The emphasis on written music, common in some cultures (including White culture) and less common in others, and the absence of emphasis on “playing by ear”, which has a greater emphasis in some cultures, indicates an un-level playing field for the class evaluation. While the student could likely learn to read sheet music, they’ve not needed that to succeed musically in other circles and might not have the skill the other students have. This, combined with the absence of performance or auditory skill evaluation, causes the disadvantage.

    • Kathy Khang March 8, 2013

      I don’t see the absurdity, but then again I don’t see a need to grow thicker skin.

      I also do not see life as a zero-sum game. It isn’t some people succeed and some fail, as if to say it’s one or the other. All people experience success and failure. White privilege doesn’t mean all Whites succeed and everyone else fails. White privilege means situations and circumstances are set up for easier success, access, credibility, validity, etc.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Lisa Liou March 8, 2013

      I am a white woman who married an Asian American man. I hear all the time that there is no such thing as white privilege, but I wish these people could have my experience because it would be so crystal clear to them.

      I knew for sure white privilege existed when I married an Asian American man and I lost the privilege to go wherever I wanted with my family without fear of a racial incident (not every freeway stop on a road trip would be safe for us). I knew I lost the privilege to walk down the street without worrying that someone in my family might have to hear, “Ching Chong” yelled at them from a car driving by (this has happened more than once). I knew I lost the privilege of having 100% white kids who could live most places in America without being stereotyped or experiencing taunts on the playground.

      When I was growing up and my world was 100% white, I never had to worry about any of these things. Now I do. I even worry that my husband could lose his job because he isn’t white enough for it. Our interracial family lives this reality daily. I’m the only white person in my family and since I am a woman, even that is not enough to gain white privilege for us as a family unit.

  5. gwenkuo March 11, 2013

    Very nice post! Sharing with you some thoughts of Asian American (woman) here.. http://wp.me/p3bwN9-8g

  6. Ty Ty (@TyTyDunlap) March 16, 2013

    McInnes’s point to his article was not to demean Asians, in fact, quite the opposite. (But to that point in a second.) In general, he was commenting on victimhood as an accepted given to which some people subscribe. To phrase it in a different way, some minority groups — and many whites — hang their hat on the idea that the world is mostly filled with the blue-eyed-devil hell-bent on keeping the minorities down. They cite drop-out rates and income and claim institutional racism. Yet, when McInnes substitutes a group that performs better than whites on several metrics AND is a minority (as in NOT white), then the original argument just completely falls apart.

    Put bluntly, his point is basically “if Asians can succeed, African-Americans can, you can, too. Whitey isn’t out to get you.”

    • Karl Ostroski March 29, 2013

      TyTy – I don’t see how one example causes the whole argument to fall apart. An exception doesn’t negate the norm. (For instance, just because I am ridiculously good-looking doesn’t mean everyone else can be so.) 🙂

      Related, Dr. Beverly Tatum notes in her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria a study of level playing fields (Whites and African Americans, I believe) where education, social location, geographic location, school, etc. where equivalent between the groups yet the African Americans did not do as well as Whites in terms of grades. No mention of “Whitey” out to get you.

      Also, I would think the varied experience of different ethnic minority groups in the US would also affect “success” or social experience. Just because one experiences X doesn’t mean the others do as well.


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