I am the child of privilege — or so I am being told. I am white, I am male. Put them together and you would think I’ve been sitting on a trust fund — unearned, unappreciated and unjustified. There are people who think that being male has historically been an unalloyed privilege. The many dead of our national cemeteries suggest otherwise.
And one thing about the United States is that you never, ever hear or see tributes to military veterans and casualties. I demand that we stop ignoring their sacrifices entirely. Not only that, you might complain that women didn’t get the right to vote, but they got on the lifeboats first! Why don’t we ever talk about that?
My first real job was with the New York office of a national insurance company. Sexual harassment was a problem, for sure. But the term did not yet exist and the problem was not formally recognized.
We had no acknowledged diversity problem, either. In fact, we simply had no diversity. African Americans, Hispanics — you name it: None. Our office was exclusively white and not by accident. When I asked my boss why we had no black employees, he told me directly that it was his policy not to hire any. And when once, by accident, a temp agency sent over an Asian file clerk, she made the mistake of using the common ladies room. Women from the office next door demanded she be fired. She was.
This would be a good place to leave things, but Cohen gotta Cohen, so:
Once I was passed over for a newsroom position I very much wanted. “We needed a woman,” an editor told me. I said nothing, although I seethed. In short order, I was made a columnist, so I didn’t even get a chance to cry. But the instant rush of utter unfairness lingers. The woman chosen was qualified, but her qualification had nothing to do with her sex. I was told she was just a needed statistic.
Think about this. The guy has lucked into a lottery ticket job for journalists, he’s kept it while countless journalists who spent their careers busting their ass for a lot less have lost their jobs while phoning it in even by elite op-ed page standards, and he’s still bitter about being passed over for a job for a woman in a newsroom he concedes was dominated by white men decades ago. Although you can see why he doesn’t want people examining white privilege too closely.
Here, of course, one thing that jumps out at me is that even with decades to think it over, Cohen doesn’t consider the possibility that he was simply being let down easy, and the woman was actually chosen because her work was better (he also complained about this back in 1995). He also doesn’t consider the possibility that diversity can be a bona fide organizational need. It’s not just that you want to hit certain statistics; you actually want the breadth and depth of perspectives in your overall organization that can only come from having an appropriate range of diversity.
Cohen has become extremely well known over the years, for example, for his not-so-woke views on race:
- Back in 1986, he wrote a column for the Post defending the right of shopkeepers to refuse to let young black men into their stores.
- He followed up on the same theme decades later, writing in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman that racial profiling is good: “If young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk.”
- Later that year, he discovered that being enslaved was bad after watching 12 Years a Slave but counterbalanced that with a column observing that “people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”
There was also the time back in 1998 when he allegedly sexually harassed Devon Spurgeon, at the time a 23-year-old editorial aide. He has obviously continued to write his column for the past 20 years, and he and his powerful friends in journalism cast him as the victim in this situation.
There’s a phrase I learned a few years back that goes, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.”
Cohen’s career, I think, exemplifies the wisdom contained in that aphorism. He’s a guy who’s enjoyed a well-compensated, high-status, easy-to-do job for decades who nonetheless quite sincerely feels put upon by the fact that he lost a job to a woman sometime in the 1970s and sometimes get called a racist because he thinks young black men should be subject to discriminatory treatment.
And, as Ace Rothstein would say, dat’s dat. I’ve given up hope that Cohen will ever be replaced by someone who can write well, do research, tell me something about politics I don’t know, anything like that there, but good god could he please stop whining about it.