Let’s ditch the “rich old white dude” trope—and similar slurs

February 28, 2016 • 1:30 pm

Cue Andy Rooney:

“You know what really bothers me? Hearing people and their opinions dismissed because they’re seen as ‘rich old white dudes.’ I see this everywhere on the Internet, especially from the Authoritarian Left. (That’s a term I learned from my friend Jerry Coyne.)

“Now the Left is supposed to be against racism, sexism, and ageism, yet, here we see all three combined, and used to silence—or denigrate—a group of people whose opinions are by no means homogeneous. I mean, Bernie Sanders is a rich old white dude, and the Koch Brothers are two rich old white dudes. Bill Gates is another rich old white dude, too: he’s recently turned sixty. Bill O’Reilly is a rich old white dude, but so is Bill Clinton: a very rich old white dude. What do they have in common besides a Y chromosome, a big bank account, white skin, and a certain age?

“And why does being ‘rich’ mean your opinion doesn’t count? Yes, many rich people are conservatives, but many are not. Many are philanthropists. Being rich isn’t itself a vice, it’s what you do with your money, and how you made it, that counts.

“What are labels like that used for? Simply to dismiss a class of people, and still their voices, because of the color of their skin, their age, their wealth, and their sex. This is exactly what we’re not supposed to be doing.

“And here’s another thing: the term ‘BernieBros,’ devised and used by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to imply that those who favored Bernie Sanders over Clinton were either sexists or misogynists. Never mind that there are gazillions of women who support Sanders. It’s not okay to use the term ‘BernieBros’, just as it would not be okay to use the term ‘HillaryChicks.’

“Now I suppose people might respond that the term is used to show that one group is dominating discourse in the media or on the Internet, and we need fewer of them. After all, it’s supposedly okay to ‘punch up’ like that. Well, there’s a case to be made for diversity (though now that we have the Internet, almost anyone can have a voice), but you make it not by smearing or denigrating an entire group, but by making reasoned arguments.

“By all means criticize the lack of minority voices on television, but don’t dismiss the opinions of people simply because they’re the wrong age, race, or sex. After all, being young, black, poor, or female doesn’t automatically make you right.

“So let’s stop the nonsense about ‘rich old white men,’ ‘BernieBros,’ and the like. When you use them, you’re practicing exactly the same kind of bigoted stereotyping that you, as a liberal, find despicable.”

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86 thoughts on “Let’s ditch the “rich old white dude” trope—and similar slurs

  1. I surely do miss Andy Rooney. I don’t think he would be the least bit put-off by this obvious imitation. He’d likely say “Well said”.

  2. This reminds me of a video I saw recently. Someone was talking about how white has so many negative connotations (oppressor imperialist, bigot, racist) that like the “N” word, it would have been abandoned long ago as an insult. And don’t get me started with “cisgendered white male” the worst of the worst. :p

  3. Andy, I thought I was sick to death of you, but to my surprise I entirely agree with you. This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately, because it’s become so rampant. At the same time, I constantly hear the term “white people’s problems,” and then there’s the continual election talk about “white” voters. I’m not quite sure how we got to a place where the wider culture treats all white people as exactly alike, when my parents were barely considered “white” to begin with. In a generation, we’ve gone from my parents, people who were often not allowed to date outside their parish (which equaled ethnicity) much less their religion, to the bizarre assumption that all “white” people come straight out of Father Knows Best. Even in the ’50s, this wasn’t true. There are First World problems, and rich people’s problems, but there are way too many poor and lower class white people to pretend this equals “white people’s problems.”T There’s a reason Bernie is running against the 1%. Even if the entire 1% is white, that means 99% of white people aren’t part of it. The “rich old white guy” thing is the same thing, making a vast array of assumptions about someone to shut down their right to an opinion, based on certain categories they can be put into. It’s anti-progressive, and I won’t have any truck with it. I correct and/or argue with anyone who makes statements like that around me. The worst part is that this type of shameful stereotyping only stokes more right-wing backlash from Fox News viewers and Donald Trump supports. It even helps create them, I’m afraid.

  4. I have always been fairly left wing but I dispair often at some of my fellow travellers who can display a most remarkable ignorance towards people with a wider experience than them. When youngter, I certainly was guilty of the same behaviour, and I make allowances for the young things – but the older ones have learned little along the way. “Well said”

  5. One of the most eye-opening exchanges I had was when I was told that they wouldn’t be lectured by a straight white man. I asked him back “what would you think about someone who said that same thing, but substituted in ‘gay black female’?”

    This to me seems a disconnect in the liberal ideal. The desire to do away with discrimination, yet there is the incessant need for framing all societal discussions in racial gendered classist terms. While I vehemently oppose conservative politics, I can see why conservatives mock liberals and think they’re being contradictory on this issue. It’s because you have to embrace the narratives about power and oppression to make sense of the double standards in language and justified use thereof.

    1. I think a lot of white working class behavior that gets attributed to racism is really due to hatred of white liberals. We can be pretty loathsome.

      1. That’s another thing I’ve seen from my fellow liberals – the display of contempt at the working classes at the same time as being incredulous as to why the same people vote conservative. As if somehow calling them xenophobic, bigoted, reactionary, uncultured, jingoistic, etc. is meant to make them get on board with progressive politics.

  6. Yay!

    This is how Rebecca Watson responded to Richard Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment, by dismissing him as a rich old white guy. And it’s what we hear PZ myers calling someone weekly – weakly (Can you articulate a criticism without starting by being a bonafide bigot yourself, PZ?)

    1. I reasonably assume that Ms. Watson hopes to live long enough to become an old white gal, and hopefully rich (enough to satisfy herself).

    2. That is in fact, a quite comprehensive misrepresentation of her response. She listed her objections quite clearly and quite reasonably. Her sarcasm could also be seen as a response to the sarcasm that Dawkins aimed at her, quite unprovoked.

      1. A quite comprehensive misrepresentation of her response? Here is the first paragraph of her response:

        The Privilege Delusion
        Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man! 

        1. You present it as if that single remark was the substance of her argument. It wasn’t, and you should have acknowledged that. She had a right to defend herself from an entirely unprovoked, badly thought out, condescending and highly personal attack from Prof Dawkins, and she did so on grounds that you do not acknowledge. You make it look like she was attacking Dawkins for his age, which is a complete misrepresentation.

          And she was clearly using a stereotype to highlight what she felt was stereotypical behavior.

          Agree or disagree, but she had arguments that you ignore or conceal.

          1. Agree or disagree? There her words are for you to see – the wealthy old heterosexual white man trope – that you said was a quite comprehensive misrepresentation of her response. Why would you fail to acknowledge this, and suggest I am ignoring or concealing something?

            1. Simply stating that there is more to the situation than you present. You have completely missed the fact that some people (me included) interpret that entire situation quite differently to you.

              1. Simply stating that this is a situation in which a plain fact can be denied by some people (you included).

            2. Perhaps you should read the entire article.

              Your quote was only the first paragraph of a fairly long piece and claiming, as it appears you do, that it was her entire response is an error of fact.

  7. Well…As a (comparatively) rich old white man, I have to say that, when I hear the pejorative, I don’t feel it as such. To me, that says something about about relative power. Last time I checked my privilege, I found it was quite intact, thank you.

    On the other hand, as Hank Hill asked, “What the hell kind of country is this where I can only hate a man if he’s white?”

    1. + 1 to your first graf.

      I’m not gonna be shedding any tears for rich old white guys (though I’d take offense at any ageism associated with the “old”).

  8. I’m far from rich but I am old, 75. I’m gdmnd tired of being dismissed because of my age! In ’65 I marched across the bridge in Selma, since I’ve championed every PROGRESSIVE cause! Fuck you youngsters if you even begin to assume you invented commmitment!

  9. I agree. Whatever our backgrounds, some of us are going to have stupid or ignorant ideas.

    In my lifetime, and I’m only 52, I’ve noticed a big improvement in the way girls and women are treated. There are still people who haven’t “evolved,” but these days their opinions are in a minority in most places.

    Women, carrying on my example, haven’t yet achieved full equality, but it’s with the help of men (of all colours and income) we’ve got as far as we have.

    As always, we need to argue ideas, not people. Sexism isn’t less bad because it comes from someone who isn’t an old, white, man, although you’d be forgiven for thinking this when you hear the opinions of some of the Authoritarian Left. Remember the Goldsmith U feminists siding with the Muslim Brothers against Maryam Namazie?

  10. So I am one, and I have to say I do not experience any real limitations on making my voice heard. In fact, I have almost endless opportunities to have the first or last word in many situations, due to my status as an old, rich white dude.

    I doubt that many people want to be lectured by someone who is certain of their position and shows no real interest or curiosity about the perspectives of others. My feeling is that this is some of the stereotype being pushed back against. One thing I love about the scientific mindset is what I imagine to be an air of intense curiosity and a humble willingness to learn. A willingness to see what is actually there, and to withhold judgement – this opens a world of possibilities. One of those possibilities is that the outcome is influenced by the stance and demeanor we bring to our conversations.

    My experience is that I am generally able to have a meaningful conversation when I start with respect and curiosity. When I am willing to listen as well as talk. At least I understand one person’s perspective somewhat better. And if they bring anger or intransigence to the conversation? I can chose to listen, seek to understand and be content to have heard, even if I myself have not been heard. I get plenty of chances!

    Perhaps there are things going unsaid in some reactions to old, rich white men – a certain assumption that we insist on framing the discussion and refereeing the outcome. An assumption that we are the dominant voice and get the last word. Is that a characterization, a stereotype, over-generalizing? Perhaps we could ask the next time we get this pushback, and then listen to the response.

    1. As an old, white guy, not so much on the rich, I agree. Old happens to everyone and they do not start in the same place or end up in the same box. One thing I notice particularly on the internet conversation is the love of labels. You are right-wing conservative or left liberal and on and on. Most of us do not belong in one box, but many boxes.

      Just do as you stated, stay interested and stay curious. If I see one trend in the getting old fact of life, it is that many do lose curiosity and that can leave one old and boring – something to avoid.

    2. I’m an old, white guy – not rich, but maybe a little cranky. I have no problem with the idea of “start with respect” – I always do – but I expect it to be returned.

  11. It’s not just rich old white dudes. It’s white collar white dudes. I’m tired of being told that because I can’t empathize with a cause, I can’t sympathize with it or support it. No, I do not accept that I should listen and not speak because I don’t know first hand what it’s like to be part of a minority group. Nor do I accept that because I share some characteristics with a class of people who historically oppressed minorities that all people like me should be silenced. Isn’t that the behavior we are supposed to be speaking out against?

    1. I once substitute taught at a middle school, in a 7th grade elective class named to-the-effect, “Career Exploration.” As I had been in the navy, worked in health care, in the restaurant industry, in a lumber mill, and on a hay wagon (even catching old hens on the roost at night in a hen house of several thousand), I thought I might have a bit of insight and advice about “zigging instead of zagging” and avoiding certain job/career minefields.

      But a young man in class kept repeatedly interrupting me with words-to-the-effect that I couldn’t possibly have anything relevant to say to him. He had never laid eyes on me before. I reasonably assume that he was judging me based merely on my appearance.

      There is no one more confident of the rectitude of his opinions than an adolescent male human primate. (Re: the old saying, “There are two kinds of people: those who know that they don’t know; and those who don’t know that they don’t know.”)

      “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

      – Mark Twain

      1. Not sure who may have said it first but my grandfather use to say it to me. You can tell junior but you can’t tell him much.

      1. “There is still “trailer trash;” i.e. poor white dudes.”

        Only if you construe “dudes”…ahem…broadly. 😀

        IME the trailer trash label applies to both of the (most numerous) genders equally.

        1. Kind of funny how that works. Classism seems to wipe out all those other arbitrary points of discrimination and focuses squarely on circumstances.

            1. We have the same thing in Australia. The egalitarian ethos is drilled into us from birth, yet we still disparage those “bogans” for having the unfortunate habit of enjoying life the wrong way. 😉

              1. Hey, thanks for the new word! I’ve loved Aussie slang ever since I first learned “Waltzing Matilda.” 🙂

                “…the unfortunate habit of enjoying life the wrong way.” Ha, ha, well put.

                Sadly, it seems that every sector needs to have another one to look down upon.

  12. “Being rich isn’t itself a vice, it’s what you do with your money, and how you made it, that counts.”

    Who would have ever thought rich, old, white dudes needed defending but here we are, and I join with everyone else in being pleasantly surprised at agreeing with this post.

    Carl Kruse

  13. In August of 2015, Bernie Sanders reported net worth assets at a minimum of $187,026 and a max of $759,004. Sanders also owns a condominium in Vermont valued at about $100,000. He has debts of at least $25,002 and as much as $65,000.

    Figuring Sanders’ maximum possible debt and minimum possible assets gives a minimum possible Bernie Sanders net worth of $222,026. Figuring lowest possible debt and highest possible assets gives a net worth a high as $769,002. Combining average assets with average debt gives an average Bernie Sanders net worth of $528,014.

    Old white dude? Yes. Rich old white dude? Nah.

    1. “Rich old white dude? Nah.”

      Given my age, and life expectancy, and annual income after taxes $528,014 would mean I’d likely never have to work another day in my life. I consider that rich. Your privilege is showing. :p

      1. Yeah, but that’s one or two orders of magnitude less then the real rich old white dudes. You can’t even get a top of the line yacht with only 6 figures.

  14. Since you do not know me, nor anything about me, let’s agree that “Your privilege is showing. :p” was an addendum to your post that was unnecessary to make your point.

        1. OK, I agree. Sorry you were offended by my post. But seriously, how can anyone put Bernie Sanders in the same class as Bill Gates and the Koch brothers when considering wealth?

          1. “OK, I agree. Sorry you were offended by my post. But seriously, how can anyone put Bernie Sanders in the same class as Bill Gates and the Koch brothers when considering wealth?”

            I need to start using sarcasm, or joke, or not serious tags on my posts. I wasn’t offended by anything, in fact in all seriousness I don’t consider him rich at all, though he is better off than I am. I was just playing with the you don’t think he’s rich cause you’re a “rich old white dude” theme. lol

            1. I got it but only because I’m familiar with Mike’s style. I think I would have gotten it just from the :p, but sometimes one doesn’t have time to read all these comments slowly enough to pick up nuance.

              Hey, Mike, you might like this site I just found a few months ago. (Looks like WP wanted a capital “p”.)

              https://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Smilies

              (Scroll down for a chart.)

              1. Thanks, Diane. I just checked on Chrome, and they work perfectly there, so it must be Firefox. 🙂

              2. @ Haggis

                Ooh, now I’m seeing all your experiments! 😀

                Yeah, I was happy to find that site as otherwise I was pretty smiley-challenged here. Since there’s no edit function I hated to just experiment.

                You can even find a link at that page to one that lets you emoji…but since they’re usually too hard for me to make out on my laptop anyway, I haven’t been tempted to use them much.

              3. “I got it but only because I’m familiar with Mike’s style. I think I would have gotten it just from the :p,”

                If this hadn’t been a rather humorous post I might have been more cautious, but it never occurred to me anyone would have taken that comment so seriously. It’s not like we were discussing world hunger, and I said “you think those kids in Africa have it bad my wife made broccoli and cauliflower last night.” The kind of thing I regularly say among friends.

              4. “…my wife made broccoli and cauliflower last night.”

                I LOVE broccoli and cauliflower! I need a wife!

              5. “I LOVE broccoli and cauliflower! I need a wife!”
                Hardly a cost effective way to get broccoli, and cauliflower. In my defense I was indoctrinated into my hatred of them. My father used to call them poison trees and brains.

              6. “Hardly a cost effective way to get broccoli, and cauliflower.”

                Oh, I wouldn’t stop there! There’re cooking, cleaning, scheduling, shopping, writing thank-you notes, holiday cards for those who still send them, yada yada yada.

              7. “Oh, I wouldn’t stop there! There’re cooking, cleaning, scheduling, shopping, writing thank-you notes, holiday cards for those who still send them, yada yada yada.”

                In that case you don’t want mine.

              8. “In that case you don’t want mine.”

                In that case, your wife and I have a lot in common. 😀

              9. The only reason she EVER cooks is so she can have broccoli or cauliflower. She barely knows how to run the washer, and dryer, and hates shopping.
                To be honest I wouldn’t want one of those wives you want cause I enjoy cooking, and shopping. I could skip the cleaning though. :p

              10. Yes, the whole package of traditional domestic chores can be divided into many sets of preferences and dislikes.

                I pretty much did all the expected stuff till the kids were gone, then it was, “go forage for yourself.” ;D (My H occasionally cooks, too.)

  15. It’s a multifarious and deep-rooted problem. Sociological academia has been creating an inbred echo chamber for itself over the past 40 years or so, and this incestuous maelstrom of bad ideas has been busily trying to redefine words like sexism, racism, privilege, patriarchy, etc.

    The kind of people we’re complaining about here quite literally believe it is impossible to be racist towards white people, or sexist towards men. Because they’ve redefined those terms to exclude groups they arbitrarily decide are “privileged”.

    Given the increasingly globalized nature of society in general, I think I’m just going to adopt the policy of claiming minority status (after all, “white” people account for no more than 16% of the world’s population), and use their own “logic” against them.

    Though I think the best weapon against them is simply time. They are a tiny minority, despite their well-placed influence in society’s power and information structures, and they have no internal censor. They will make increasingly ridiculous demands and proclamations as time goes on, and the majority will eventually see how crazy they are, despite their facade of good intentions.

    Or so I hope.

    1. It is the identity politics issue. People are not seen as individuals but as members of a demographic group and are judged based on perceptions about that group.
      The contortions needed to ensure that ‘good’ groups will never be accused of racism have some ludicrous consequences.
      According to identitarians ‘Racism = Prejudice plus power’. Well, if there is one group of white people who currently don’t have power (thank goodness!) it’s the KKK. Which means that the Ku Klux Klan, alone amongst whites, cannot be racist!

    2. The kind of people we’re complaining about here quite literally believe it is impossible to be racist towards white people, or sexist towards men.

      Actually, I think there’s something to that. When I was young, I taught in an all black public high school, with an almost all black faculty, and I never experienced anything akin to racism.

      Real racism and sexism involve a conviction that the target is somehow inadequate to be considered an equal of one’s self. Blacks may resent whites, and women may resent men, but it ain’t the same thing at all.

  16. The term BernieBros was not invented by the Clinton campaign, but by people on Twitter who are attacked daily by some Bernie supporters for having a different preference in candidate, and voicing that support. It’s a shocking thing to see for an old white lady like me. When Rep. John Lewis, a Civil rights hero, endorsed Clinton, he was immediately attacked on Twitter and called an Uncle Tom and worse. Dolores Huerta, an icon of the Hispanic civil rights movement, was attacked as well. This is an ongoing pattern. Harassment, disparagement and name calling are hallmarks of the BernieBros behavior. Granted not all Bernie supporters behave in this way, and he has plenty of older supporters as well as the younger ones. This particular subset is very loud and want their way, right now. Many are apparently tantrum throwers who will hold their breath and not vote for Hillary Clinton to punish those who don’t support Bernie. Welcome President Trump.

    I do worry about the future of this country.

  17. I guess that what bothers me about rich people is that the media and the society give them and their utterances way too much attention, no matter how misguided and outrageously wrong their opinions may be. Bill Gates being an example; he is taken to be an authority on third world poverty, climate change, internet policies and technicalities – you name it. But how is he truly smarter?

    and I think it does matter how they made their money. In many cases, such as the Kochs or Romney, it was by inheritance but considering Bill Gates again: he copied UNIX OS, called it MS-DOS and sold it to IBM who couldn’t make their own DOS work properly. Then he stole the GUI idea from Apple, who had stolen it from Xerox, and cobbled together an extremely buggy interface to MS-DOS which he called Windows. This he sold to millions so that his customers would do the debugging for him over the next twenty years. He even had the gall to sell “beta versions” of Windows at one time. Not a rich man I have a lot of respect for.

    1. Historical corrections:

      (1) Bill Gates “borrowed” QDOS, not UNIX.
      (2) Apple *paid* Xerox, in shares.

      (also, 3: Bill Gates’ parents were sufficiently wealthy that he presumably thought that goofing off at Harvard wouldn’t cost him.)

  18. It’s almost like you’re claiming that rich white men have nothing to do with the underrepresentation of other voices in the media and politics and everywhere else. Just innocent victims of identity politics. I dislike simplistic ID politics as much as the next person but as a poor white dude I feel almost as turned off by being portrayed as a victim. I’m not a victim.

  19. Well spoken. I miss Rooney and that was a good dose of mimicry I think even Rooney would approve.

    Liberals take a couple of cues here. First, dead white European males were not always bad.

    Mahler

    Second, if you think you are a feminist just because you hate men, you are someone who hates men.

    Third, if you dislike ‘them’ (the others) just because you think you are better, then you are someone who thinks they are better than others. Not necessarily wrong, but being right and being nice at the same time is better than being unnecessarily pretentious (even if you are right).

  20. Well stated!

    It’s so disheartening how legitimate issues of imbalance in stature and influence can so easily slide into the most facile analysis, once people start creating categories and slapping on labels.

    For instance, over at Pharyngula, where Dawkins is often target “of privilege,” I was agog at some of the commentary on the recent post about Dawkins. A commentator claimed that Dawkins can comment on anything he wants, and be listened to with respect, because he is “privileged” and seen as having “no ax to grind.” To quote the commentator: “Richard Dawkins, because of who he is, because of his background, his race, his education, his pale skin, his straight heterosexual cis-gendered preference, and because he supports the status quo, is assumed to have no bias, no ax to grind. “

    I wondered what world this person lived in, where Dawkins was not being criticized?
    Dawkins has been as controversial as he has been influential, with TONS of pushback on Dawkins’ views, on religion and otherwise.
    This idea that the list of traits quoted has somehow absolved shielded Dawkins from criticism is ludicrously at odds with the evidence.

    Further, such a comment suggests no clue as to why Dawkins has the ear of a large audience to begin with. I, and plenty of other middle aged white males don’t have a big audience for my views. That’s because I haven’t EARNED my way into the public spotlight by being an eloquent, compelling writer on science, and public educator!
    The idea that Dawkins may have just arrived in the spotlight by actually earning it is left out of the equation all together!

    Which of course doesn’t mean Dawkins should be taken as correct on every subject he speaks on (again, I’ve never seen anyone that slavish, and Dawkins is regularly criticized!). But if we are talking about people who have the ear of a large audience on whatever they want to talk about…Dawkins’ race and gender are hardly deciding factors. Dawkins has, for instance, 1.37 million twitter followers.

    Has this person ever heard of Oprah? A black woman who has over THIRTY MILLION twitter followers hanging on her words, on whatever she wants to opine? Or Beyonce? – 14million followers hanging on her views on whatever she wants to talk about. Or for that matter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a black rock-star scientist who has around 4 times more people than Dawkins following his digressions on any subject on-line?

    Dawkins’ skin color, gender etc aren’t a sufficient basis on which to diagnose his influence. Just like Oprah, or Beyonce or Tyson, Dawkins actually earned his way into the public sphere of influence, and we have to distinguish whether Dawkins ought to be listened to on any subject by what he says and does, and not dismiss, or attribute, his influence on the basis of his skin color, gender etc.

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