First things first: What Bill O’Reilly referred to last night as a “required,” “far-left course” on white privilege at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he got his master’s degree, is actually an orientation program, the details of which are still being decided, as the Cut’s Kat Stoeffel clearly reported should O’Reilly wish to know what he’s talking about.
But with the basic facts out of the way, we can get to the O’Reilly blow-harding. “I’m a really white guy,” he began in a segment on the Factor last night. “When I was in Hawaii last week, I couldn’t go in the sun.”
White privilege, he said, is “code for ‘white supremacy.’” (For a more sane definition of privilege in this context, read this interview with Peggy McIntosh, who popularized the term in academic circles in the late ‘80s.) O’Reilly, to his credit, had a black man on the program who understood the concept. But after he calmly explained that the term “speaks to the benefits some enjoy based on their race in this society,” O’Reilly responded that he was once poor-ish.
“I didn’t experience that when I worked in Carvel, painted houses, mowed lawns,” said the Fox News host. “I’m going to have to exempt myself.” There you have it: Bill O’Reilly has never enjoyed a structural advantage in his life.
Let us break here for a word from McIntosh, the empathetic expert:
When [O’Reilly ally and Princeton freshman] Tal Fortgang was told, “Check your privilege”—which is a flip, get-with-it kind of statement—it infuriated him, because he didn’t want to see himself systematically. But what I believe is that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life. Whiteness is just one of the many variables that one can look at, starting with, for example, one’s place in the birth order, or your body type, or your athletic abilities, or your relationship to written and spoken words, or your parents’ places of origin, or your parents’ relationship to education and to English, or what is projected onto your religious or ethnic background. We’re all put ahead and behind by the circumstances of our birth. We all have a combination of both. And it changes minute by minute, depending on where we are, who we’re seeing, or what we’re required to do.
Back to O’Reilly. (Apologies for the intellectual whiplash, but … ) “You can’t have a course based on skin color — white privilege,” he spat in disgust. “That in itself is inherent racist and it’d be foolish to do it, right?” he asked the African-American man he wasn’t listening to anyway. Right?