A White Guy Told Me Being Called ‘Privileged’ Is Akin to the N-word.
I like to play and watch video games online. For years now, I’ve followed the Twitch stream of one of my favorite gamers, a white man whom I would watch play online for hours because he was arguably the best in the world at a game I enjoy.
Every day he or the few players on his stream that afternoon would casually use terms like ‘gay,’ ‘fairy,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘nigga’ as joking insults or commentary. For months I overlooked these — as many blacks, queers, and others often do to participate in this space — until I finally grew annoyed and ashamed enough to unsubscribe from his stream when he claimed these words were “awesome” because there “aren’t any good swear words to make fun of white dudes.”
I sent him a long message on my way out telling him the constant barrage of these words was childish and coming from a place of privilege since the reason these words are so poignant is that they rely on a storied history of oppression that he’s ignorant of or immune to by being a white guy.
He wrote back saying (lightly editing to remove identifying information):
The reason for most of what I say is to overplay it. The ridiculousness of the statement or situation is what makes something funny to me. This can go from a verbal ridiculousness or be obnoxious in game. The word gay has 3 meanings to it. The 3rd meaning is described as “stupid or unfortunate”… Does that make it so I am bashing or hating gays? No, not at all. Words have multiple meanings and should be interpreted as such. Am I going to change using the word gay? Probably not.
I don’t like where this privilege stuff is going. I am going to say this: People need to understand context, tone, and what kind of humor is being used.
Yes words has a history attached to them. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. Some words gain a greater traction behind the power they wield, while others lose meaning over time.
“You once said on stream that you like using “gay”, “nigga”, and “faggot” because there aren’t good cuss words to describe white dudes.” Citation needed. If I did say that, it’s not something I truly believe in…
You want to know what a good word that is very insulting to white people? It’s “privilege”. I’d say this word in general is very insulting and not limited to white people. It’s not because the word itself is insulting, it’s because it’s an ignorant assumption of someone getting a good dice roll for their life. What sense does it make to call someone else more privileged than you are if you’re living in the same conditions? What do you know about this person? What make you oppressed from them existing? It’s total ignorance and it’s frankly really insulting to try to call someone out because they somehow have “privilege”.
The point of my stream is to have fun for myself. Once my stream becomes feeling like a job, I will probably try to not stream as much anymore or stop. Some professionalism is ok, but being politically correct is far too demanding and makes me feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time.
I disagree with his response because these jokes rely on the demeaning history of the words, and that same history necessarily carries other implications as well. Privilege, I argued, is not an ignorant assumption of a good dice roll but rather an attempt to add context to someone’s existence. It’s less a statement about a snapshot in time as a recognition of the conditions that lead to that snapshot and shape every picture going forward. As an able-bodied man born to a middle class family in the US in 1991, I’m also privy to an absurd amount of privilege, but I have no issue with people having privilege in so much as them wielding it in a careless way.
It didn’t appear that my message made it across the wire in tact. In any case, I categorically disagree with his definition of privilege, but that’s a semantic discussion.
I’m much more interested in the feelings underlying the perception of being insulting by someone calling him privileged. This reaction is common — white male fragility is not new, even if a name for it has only recently made it into the mainstream public discourse, at least in progressive circles — however, the framing of the word ‘privilege’ as comparatively evocative to the nervous, shameful feeling I’ve become an expert at concealing when a straight white guy unexpectedly drops ‘nigga’ or ‘faggot’ online is new to me.
It’s an opportunity for me to frame future discussions around mutual feelings, a shared experience, even if — or perhaps especially because — I still disagree with him so strongly.
I don’t think his feelings are correct, but they are real.
He responded once more to say he was ending the conversation because he was bored of debating, he’d responded initially “mostly to see if [I] would bite back”, “[My] responses this time [was] far more reasonable”, and “[He doesn’t] mind minor criticisms that much. [He takes] a lot of comments to heart despite not really showing so.”
It’s a frustrating response riddled with issues I consider still stemming from a misunderstanding of privilege and an unwillingness to cede the morale high ground due to a destructive and immature arrogance. He never offered what I wanted — an admonition that he was carelessly abusing his power in a way that ostracized minorities within the gaming community and emboldened an already virulent climate of toxic masculinity online. I refused to give him license to continue behaving the way he was without the knowledge his actions were having a destructive impact, something I suspect he wanted, if unconsciously. However, our conversation is also an example of two people having a candid conversation online about a tough cultural issue and both walking away having learned something.
After giving it more thought, I subscribed to his stream again a few weeks later. Since then, I haven’t heard him use ‘gay’, ‘fairy,’ ‘faggot’, or ‘nigga’. Recently, one of his best friends on the stream called something ‘gay’ and he didn’t laugh. Awkward silence followed until they both moved on. I unsubscribed again, this time for good. He’d decided, perhaps unconsciously, to walk on eggshells. It still wasn’t enough for me. I’m not sure if that’s progress.