How does racism hurt white people?

The Lion Defeats the Tiger: The past and future of Sri Lanka

Democracy Now! reports the latest news from Sri Lanka, and interviews Ahilan Kadirgamar, a Sri Lankan Tamil activist and a spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum.

In the latter part of the video (3:06), Kadirgamar explains the history of the Sri Lankan government and the creation of the LTTE, and offers his opinion on the future of Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka.

I have excerpted his answers to common questions below, but the full transcript of the video is available at Democracy Now!

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Can hate speech be free speech?

Hate speech may stifle free speech by monopolizing the marketplace of ideas. Some types of arguments hinder rather than contribute to productive discussion (such as logical fallacies), and some hate speech may fall into this category. Additionally, some hate speech, or rather certain framings of how the world is, limit the scope of discussion and who is allowed to debate.

Generally, some practises can never be questioned in debate. Logical fallacies are not acceptable arguments, and persisting in logical fallacies is considered bad form rather than a valid avenue of discussion. Is it possible that some types of hate speech are inherently fallacious?

Is hate speech ad hominem?

Description of ad hominem:

An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of “argument” has the following form:

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B makes an attack on person A.
3. Therefore A’s claim is false.

The reason why an Ad Hominem (of any kind) is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

Not all personal attacks are ad hominem, as sometimes a negative characteristic about a debater is relevant to the topic. For example, if the debate is about one debater’s level of sexual attractiveness, a claim that the debater under discussion is ugly would not be ad hominem. However, is hate speech (directed against ethnic minorities, queer folk, people with disabilities, etc.) necessarily ad hominem?

For example, let us say that the debate is about whether all members of a minority group are involved in a global conspiracy. An implicit assumption in this debate is that any member of that minority group is not allowed to participate in the discussion. If a member of that minority, Person A, provides reasons why he is not involved in a global conspiracy, the other debaters, who are of the majority group, can argue that Person A‘s testimony is invalid because he belongs to that minority group.

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Why are Asians successful? Are Asians smarter?

Q: Why are Asians successful in America? Do Asians have a higher intelligence than non-Asians? Are Asians more hard-working?

A: Asian immigrants in the United States and their descendants are more successful on average because they are highly self-selected. Overseas immigrants are a biased sample and not representative of their original country’s general population. They tend to be economic immigrants coming from the middle and upper classes, with a higher degree of education and wealth. However, the subset of overseas immigrants (including Asians) that are refugees suffer extreme poverty, on average, because they are more representative of the general population of their originating countries.

All non-whites in the United States are subject to racial discrimination in employment, and are denied white privilege. Even the Asians that arrive with or inherit economic and educational privileges suffer from racism in employment, as they need to have more education than a white person to receive the same pay. They also bump into the glass ceiling.

The United States is not a meritocracy. Racism, sexism, and inherited wealth are determinants of who is in power.

Q: Where is the data that supports this explanation?

A: Sociologist Stephen Klineberg conducted a 1996 survey of Asians in Houston and found that there was little or no social mobility among Asians.

[…] Klineberg revealed that nearly 40 percent of Asian respondents said their fathers had been doctors, lawyers, corporate managers or other professionals, compared to about 30 percent of Anglos, 20 percent of Blacks, and 15 percent of Hispanics.


The occupational profiles of the Asian respondents and their fathers suggest little or no upward social mobility. For example, 44 percent of the Indians and Pakistanis in Houston are in professional or managerial positions, but so were 47 percent of their fathers. Among the Vietnamese, 28 percent are in low-skilled production or laboring jobs as were 30 percent of their fathers.

From the same study, Klineberg found that although Asians, on average, are more likely to have college degrees compared to Anglos, their income and employment positions are lower than Anglos.

While nearly 60 percent of Asian adults in Harris County have college degrees, compared to about 40 percent of Anglo adults, Asians report considerably lower household incomes and are more apt to work in lower status positions than Anglos.

Sociologist C.N. Le reviews research on the “returns in education”, which shows that non-whites, including Asians, earn less than whites with equal qualifications.

Recent research from scholars such as Timothy Fong, Roderick Harrison, and Paul Ong, to name just a few, continues to confirm these findings that controlling for other variables, Asian Americans still earn less money than Whites with virtually equal qualifications. Once again, for each statistic that suggests everything is picture-perfect for Asian Americans, there is another that proves otherwise.

Guofang Li, an academic researcher and assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education, debunks the myth that Asians are by nature more academically successful than other minorities:

Although many Asian students do quite well in school and on standardized tests, Li maintains their success often reflects the additional expensive private schooling provided by upper- and middle-class parents on evenings and weekends.


The persistence of these ideas, says Li, prevents us from unraveling the social realities of those who face problems in the educational system. Furthermore, she says, they authorize a flat denial of racism and structures of social dominance, and silence those who are not economically successful.

More data and explanations debunking this “model minority” myth can be found in the section below.

Further reading:

Do all white people have white privilege? Why?

Q: Why do all white people have white privilege, even though not all white people are well-off?

A: White privilege is different from having money, and white privilege is different from class privilege. When ‘white privilege’ is discussed, whiteness is not a proxy for wealth. All white people have white privilege, not some or most white people. Saying that all white people have white privilege is not lumping all white people together. It is not denying that individual white people may have other disadvantages due to gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or class.

Because this idea is often misunderstood when communicated through prose, a mathematical equation may be more accessible and precise for some audiences. Let a person’s total privilege be represented as:

p = Aw + Bx + Cy + Dz + …

where A, B, C, and D are some positive constants,
w is whether or not the person is white (or how much the person can pass for white),
x is whether or not the person is male (or how much the person can pass for male),
y is whether or not the person is heterosexual (or how heterosexual the person is),
z is how much the person is able-bodied.

For all white people, w = 1, and the first term (white privilege) is A.
For all non-white people, w = 0, and the first term (white privilege) is 0.

Notice that saying that all white people have white privilege is not saying that the total p for every white person is greater than the total p for every non-white person. It just means that every white person has the advantage of A. White privilege is one dimension of privilege, and it holds for all people who are white.

Of course, the above equation is just an expression or model of how white privilege fits together with other privileges, not a proof of the privileges. The purpose of expressing it in an equation is to clear up the misunderstanding that saying that all whites have white privilege is equivalent to saying that all whites are the same.

For more concrete examples of white privilege, refer to the Daily effects of white privilege section of Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. (Update: For a 2001 version, see How I Benefit From White Privilege by Laura Douglas.)

One caveat of expressing privilege as the sum of the different dimensions of privilege is that it does not account for the intersection of race and gender, gender and sexual orientation, or multiple combinations of oppression. A person who deals with multiple levels of oppression is actually dealing with something more complex than the sum of its constituent parts.

“My class privilege score is wrong!”

Q: The class privilege checklist doesn’t return an accurate score of my class privilege relative to others who took the test. Why do people take it seriously if it’s such a poor assessment of wealth?

A: The checklist is not meant to be a diagnostic test that measures how much money you have. Rather, each item on the list is an instance of privilege.

Class privilege is not just how much money you have, but also includes things like access to education, access to technology, the knowledge gained from travelling, and the cultural capital gained from visiting museums and art galleries.

Money can be used to buy material luxuries, but money can also be used to buy access to education and technology. Sometimes a person who has little money has access to education and technology. The checklist is not meant to suggest that the person has money because she has access to education and technology. The checklist would merely indicate that the person has privileges in education and technology. These are still called ‘class’ privileges.

Q: Why is access to education and technology considered ‘class’ privilege?

A: Access to education and technology are class privileges because they are things that can be bought. If you are rich, you can buy education and buy technology. (However, if you have education or technology, it does not follow that you are rich.)

Other privileges cannot be bought, such as white privilege. A non-white person can be a billionaire, but he will never gain enough money to buy white privilege (assuming that we will not have the technology to alter one’s race). However, the non-white billionaire can still buy access to education and technology. Thus, class privilege (which includes educational and technological privileges) can be distinguished from other types of privilege.

Update 1: Fixed the first question and answer of this post after some thinking about the privilege checklist as a privilege walk.

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What is the meaning of the class privilege checklist?

Q: What is the meaning of the class privilege checklist? Is it meant to make people feel guilty? If not, what is the point?

A: No, the class privilege checklist is not meant to make people feel guilty. The point of the exercise is to recognize one’s privilege. Essentially, recognizing one’s privilege is an act of learning/gaining knowledge.

Q: How is the class privilege checklist insightful?

A: Ideally, as the privileged person checks off the items of privilege in the list, she will realize that many things that she has taken for granted are not things that everyone else has. If you are in university, there are fellow undergraduates at your university that made it to university without having the advantages you had.

If you had previously believed that the obstacles you have overcome to get into university are the same as that of all your fellow undergraduates, you should reevaluate that belief. If you believe that the problems you are dealing with right now as an undergraduate are basically the same for all other undergraduates, you should reconsider. In addition to coursework and relationship problems, other students also have to deal with financial difficulties.

Are you stressed about your math problem sets? Other people in your class have additional “problem sets” that they have to stress over and solve in addition to the assigned ones. Both problem sets (mathematical and financial) take time and have time restrictions. Both mathematical and financial problem sets may not yield solutions, not matter how much time you put into it or how hard you work at them.

Understanding the meaning of the checklist requires thinking about the connections between the items in the list and their cause-and-effect relationships in terms of growing up. The deepness of the exercise comes from recognizing the multidimensional factors of privilege. Class privilege is not just rich versus poor, or even a continuum from the the richest person on earth to the poorest person on earth. Class privilege affects things like access to education, access to technology, seeing other worlds, and whether or not you are a “sophisticated” person.

The class privilege checklist is not meant to be exhaustive, as even each item of the checklist can be studied extensively through discourse and empirical studies. The checklist is meant to promote divergent thinking instead of convergent thinking. Other than recognizing one’s privilege, there is no overarching theme. Each item on the list can be (or are) research topics that have interesting ramifications in social relations.