You know who LOVES Jordan Peterson? NAZIS, that’s who. Hmm… Why do you think that is? I’ll get back to that shortly.
Now, undoubtedly some of you are thinking to yourself right now: “Who the hell is Jordan Peterson?” And for those of you thinking that, also undoubtedly — just like when you buy a new car and then suddenly seeing that same make/model all over the place — you will start seeing his name pop up. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He’s written a couple of books. And he is SUPER popular with white people right now… Especially white people who feel really uncomfortable with terms like “White People.” Or terms like “White Privilege” or “White Guilt” or “White Fragility” (This “uncomfortableness,” by the way, is a great example OF “White Fragility”).
And for many of us white folks who are uncomfortable with terms like “White Privilege” (like I used to be), I think our discomfort usually comes from a very genuine, well-meaning place. We’ve been taught that it’s not right to put people into groups based on the color of their skin. And initially, that’s what this feels like. I remember feeling all “Wait… Are you saying that ALL white people are a certain way? That’s ‘judging a book by its cover!’ We’re supposed to by judging people, ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER!!’ MARTIN. LUTHER. KING. JUNIOR! That sounds like REVERSE racism!!!” Etcetera, etcetera…
It’s hard having conversations about these things when people have different definitions of what is meant by Racism… And these conversations are made even harder by white folks wanting to tell people of color what is and isn’t Racism. But please keep in mind that the dictionary definition of “Racism” is woefully simplistic. Dictionaries were written by white men (as were almost all of the “important” writings of Western Culture), and concepts like this cannot be summed up in a sentence. Racism is MORE than just “not liking someone because of their skin color.” It is more than being prejudiced. It’s more than “They’re all the same.” Racism is systemic. It is a dangerous dance of Power and Privilege and Prejudice and White Supremacy… Even when that supremacy is subconscious. It can be as subtle and pernicious as “I’m not racist. I like PLENTY of black people… I just don’t like THOSE kinds of black people.” And in this country, Racism and White Supremacy are woven indelibly into the fabric of our nation.
There are more things built into our national identity: The belief in Hard Work… That our success is determined by our effort and our ability. The belief that We Are Good… That we are moral and on the RIGHT side of things. And the belief in American Exceptionalism… That there are other good nations out there, but WE are the best. And in many ways, these foundational beliefs seem tailor-made to stand in the way of combating Racism and White Supremacy.
Take as an example White Privilege. When people refer to “White Privilege,” they’re not talking about “All white people are the same,” even though that is what some people hear. White Privilege is simply acknowledging that there are advantages white people enjoy which we didn’t have to work for. And the other side of that coin is that there exist DISadvantages and barriers to success for People Of Color (due to Systemic Racism). Both of these things conflict with The belief in Hard Work. We want to believe that we EARNED everything we have with hard work… and we want to believe that ANYONE, with the same hard work, can be just as successful. But acknowledging White Privilege is not saying you didn’t have to work hard for what you’ve got… It’s saying that the color of your skin was not something which made you have to work even HARDER.
It is very difficult to give up this Myth of Meritocracy. We are rugged individualists. It’s hard — as white people — to deal with both the fact that we have access to things we didn’t have to work for, as well as the fact that the playing field is NOT LEVEL for people of color. As we become more educated about the abuses that happened and still happen, we may experience something known as “White Guilt,” where we feel guilty about the very real harm that has been done and continues to be done… Though many times White Guilt is more interested in being forgiven than we are in making amends or working to change the injustices we see. At the same time, so many of us have grown very accustomed to the Privilege we enjoy… And seeing OTHER groups take steps toward equality feels like steps toward our own oppression. This is where White Fragility come into the picture.
It is the fragility that comes with the perception that our privilege is eroding… And it is mixed with the deep belief that we are a good people. Think about it… Most people walking around today were rasied on a steady diet of “Racism Is Bad.” So coming to terms with out inherent racism is in direct conflict with The belief that We Are Good. We desperately want to hold on to the belief in our Goodness… But when someone points out that we are complicit in Systemic Racism (and as we all know, Racism = Bad), sometimes all we can hear is “You are bad.” But that’s not necessarily what is being said. Sometimes what is being said is, “You are confused.” Or “You are deceived.” Or “You are better than this.” Or “You are ASLEEP.” Or “Wake TF UP!”
Also, hearing that America is racist is in direct conflict with the belief in American Exceptionalism. “If racism is bad, and America is hella racist, HOW CAN WE BE THE BEST?” (#BeBest) At every turn in the process of recognizing Systemic Racism, it seems America’s foundational beliefs are ready to push back against healing and atonement. Not to mention how easily — since America has been mostly white — one can slide from “American Exceptionalism” into White Exceptionalism… a.k.a. White Supremacy. It’s a big mess.
So what does Jordan Peterson have to do with this big mess? For many, many white people, dealing with this whole “White Privilege” thing has come along very fast. Social Media has increased the visibility of Systemic Racism. Many white folks have been dealing with a lot of White Guilt for a very long time… And when Obama was elected, they thought, “Finally, THAT’S over!” And then Black Lives Matter comes along, and messes with our belief that We Are Good. And where white folks wanted forgiveness and absolution and assurance that it’s all behind us now, what they got was more White Guilt, more Fragility, and more talk about Privilege. And the Guilt is turned to frustration. And frustration can turn to anger. Some are so angry that they pick up their Tiki torches and start marching. But the vast majority of white folks are still playing by the “Racism = Bad” rules… And along comes Jordan Peterson, telling white people they have nothing to feel guilty about. Hallelujah, right?
Jordan Peterson believes in the supremacy of WESTERN Culture. And sure, Western Culture has always had White Males on the top of the totem pole… But Peterson stops short of preaching the supremacy of WHITE, MALE Culture (because Racism = Bad). He just leaves us to figure it out on our own (In a “The cream rises to the top… White people are on the top… You figure it out” sort of way). He rejects the idea that White Privilege is real (or at least that it’s any more significant than any other bit of privilege) because he believes it turns people into “victims” (And in the psychology of human improvement, there is admittedly not much usefulness in thinking of one’s self as a victim). And with this, they can once again believe in The Myth Of Meritocracy. And their success is earned by refusing to see themselves as victims… While the failure of others is solely due to their inability to rise above their circumstances. And when the playing field becomes level again, then Hard Work wins out… And we are Good again… And America is Great Again.
But it’s not just weary, well-meaning white people — tired of being told they “don’t get it,” and frustrated by the constant reminders of inequality — who love the philosophy of Jordan Peterson. White Supremacists and Nazis LOOOOVE Jordan Peterson. And even though he has publicly distanced himself from the White Supremacists and Nazis who love him, Jordan Peterson’s denial of the reality of White Privilege and Systemic Racism necessarily leads DIRECTLY to a belief in White Supremacy. Let me explain how…
Racial disparities exist… Disparities in wealth and housing and healthcare and education and criminal justice. In America, whites are 77% of the population, but they control 90% of the wealth. On the other hand, blacks are 13% of the population, but only control 2.6% of the wealth. And as only 13% of the population, blacks make up 40% of the prison population. Blacks with college degrees are TWICE as likely to be unemployed than all other groups. Black home ownership is at an ALL-TIME LOW (42% for blacks, compared to 72% for whites). There are SO. MANY. EXAMPLES. of these disparities between races.
But here’s the thing: Either these disparities are due to the existence of White Privilege and Systemic Racism, or they are due to one group just being naturally “better” (otherwise known as “White Supremacy”). You can’t argue that White Privilege isn’t a reality while claiming to “not be a white supremacist.” If the playing field is level and our team keeps winning, it’s because “our team” is just BETTER. When you can clearly see that disparities exist between blacks and whites, but you keep arguing that it’s not because of Systemic Racism and White Privilege, you might relieve your sense of White Guilt… But in essence you are making the case that it’s the fault of black folks that they have so much less. And that’s why nazis love Jordan Peterson so much: It is the Social Darwinism of the Nazi Party. They believe racial disparities aren’t the result of Oppression… They’re the result of some sort of moral or intellectual deficiency on their part or some natural supremacy on our part. “They didn’t try hard enough.” “They are seeing themselves as victims.” “They’re weaker.” (Incidentally, this is ALSO why misogynists and anti-feminists love Jordan Peterson so much… He allows them to believe men are in power because men are just BETTER).
And this is why Jordan Peterson is so enticing to white folks… and so dangerous. He lends a sense of academic credibility to White Supremacy. He relieves their guilt. He tells them they earned it all. He tells them that oppression is all in the minds of people who have believed the lie that they are victims, and he allows them to believe they are good people… Not people taking part in some “imaginary” Systemic Racism. He tells them the ones pointing out their White Fragility are the REAL racists. And that feels GOOD to white folks. REAL good…
But this is what you are doing when you INSIST that you earned everything you have… This is what you are doing when you INSIST that black folks could have everything they wanted if they’d just work harder… This is what you are doing when you INSIST that you “don’t see color,” and dismiss race as an imaginary construct… This is what you are doing when you INSIST that White Privilege isn’t real… You are OUTING YOURSELF as a White Supremacist. And there is really no “seeing both sides” of this issue. When people claim they can “see both sides,” what they are really saying is that the disparities are there partly because of Systemic Racism, and partly because white people are a bit better. But either there ARE systems in place that advantage white people over People of Color (White Privilege), or the disparities exist because one side is just “Better” than the other side (White Supremacy).
Which do you think it is?
Here are some really amazing resources for folks who are struggling to understand White Privilege…
“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
“Explaining White Privilege To A Broke White Person” by Gina Crosley-Corcoran
“Patriotism is for Black People: Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump and the Selectivity of White Rage” by Tim Wise
“What I Said When My White Friend Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege.” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
“The Case For Reparations” by Ta-Nahisi Coates
As well as a few other things I have written that are not nearly as impressive…
“Dear White People: Stop Whitesplaining Martin Luther King, Jr.”
“I Don’t Know A Damn Thing About Black Lives”
“13 Things White People Do When You Point Out Racism”
And “When You’re Accustomed To Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression”
If you would like to help support this blog (and with it, help support me and my family while I do the good work of writing) you can do that by BECOMING A PATRON. Or you can simply LEAVE A TIP ON PAYPAL to help boost a post. Follow my stuff on Facebook and on Twitter. Otherwise, please share this with the people in your lives. And here’s the really hard one (I’m looking at YOU, White People): DO THE WORK. Read the articles I posted. Seek out other ones. Examine the foundations of your beliefs. And then, after you get it, if you see other white folks struggling to understand this, HELP THEM UNDERSTAND. Things will get messy. Their White Fragility will flare up and defensively attack. People will unfriend you… So be it. But it is not the job of People of Color to explain how they are being harmed to the very people who are harming them. It’s OUR job. DO THE WORK.