I'd like to take a moment to look at the concept of oppression, and specifically white male oppression. In my view, all oppression is a disease or a parasite. It may appear to benefit its host, but in the end any benefits are not worth the illness.
White male oppression is inflicted on us, primarily by us. It works by first damaging our empathy, causing us to be less able to feel the pain of others, or take pleasure in their pleasures. We are taught that we need to be tough, and that we can not show any emotion other than anger. Expressions of empathy by young boys are met with ridicule from other young boys. We are taught that competition is a manly thing, and cooperation is for girls and other weaklings.
We are taught to be competitive. We are rewarded for being assertive, and for taking leadership roles. Young girls are never "assertive" they are "bossy." Young people of color who try to assert themselves put their lives at risk. Being a follower is not a manly thing, listening to others speak rather than speaking is something that weak or second class people have to do, not us.
These oppressive patterns start early. At age five, young boys and girls give similar imaginative answers to the question, "what would you do if you were the opposite sex?" By age eight, the answers are remarkably different. Eight year old girls have a lot of ideas about how nice it would be to be a boy. A startling number of eight year old boys, when asked the question "What would you do if you were a girl?" just answer "I'd kill myself."
Kill yourself rather than be a girl? It must be pretty bad, then! Wouldn't want anyone to think you were anything like a girl. Boys don't cry, boys are tough, we don't feel our pain, let alone other people's pain. So is it any wonder that we don't even notice that the things we take for granted are being systematically taken away from other people who are not white and male?
When people talk about "white male privilege" they are talking about "citizen's privilege" and the fact that only white men really have it. Everyone else is, at best, a second class citizen. Do we benefit from that? Absolutely. And we get to benefit without even noticing it. We don't even have to look at the things other people aren't getting. Basic things, like respect, the assumption that we are productive and reasonable citizens, or the expectation of living past thirty.
So the benefits we get from this oppression are really only the things everyone should be getting, coupled with the fact that some people don't get them. But what is the harm?
The harm is immeasurable. Literally, if you are a white male victim of white male oppression, you have no way of measuring the harm that is being done to you. You are being cut off from massive and massively useful parts of your own psyche. Tools like empathy that nature has evolved for all of us to use are being denied to you. You will likely have a hard time relaxing and feeling safe around people who aren't like you, and being in a sub-dominant position in a group will likely provoke discomfort.
Being a white male who is used to being in a dominant position in a group, I was surprised to find out that, when I shut up and started listening, that other people (like women and people of color) would often express the supposedly unique and brilliant idea that I was about to say.
At this point, I might feel that I have just lost some sort of game. The other person is now basking in the public approval of their good idea, and the validation that comes from having their voice heard. If I had a normally functioning empathic system, I could share their feelings exactly as if they were my own. That's what mirror neurons do. If I weren't indoctrinated into hierarchical thinking, I wouldn't see this as a game that I have just lost.
Because I am a person with an intact sense of empathy and a non-hierarchical way of thinking thanks in large part due to my single, feminist, hippie mom, what I tend to feel in those group situations is a general sense of rightness, and empowerment. The group is empowering everyone to have a voice. I am not being forced into any role. I don't have to take the lead, there are other smart people present thinking about such things too. It feels like we are all free individuals helping create this strong group, and this strong group is empowering us to be free individuals.
When I feel that way, it feels like there is suddenly more power in the room than there was previously. Why is this, I wonder?
I have a theory about power, and hierarchy: you can't bring yourself up by putting others down. You are sinking all of us, just sinking yourself a little more slowly. When we try to steal other people's power, whether we win or they do, we both use up some power in the conflict. And nobody gives a hundred percent when they are feeling under duress or that they got the short end of a bargain.
So by playing the dominance game, even if we win, we lose. By letting people who are at a disadvantage win, we win. In a more equal society, more people are bringing more powers and abilities to the game. We all win. Power is not a zero sum game. Dominance and competition are games that may seem to benefit the winners, and of course they do in the short run, but only if you don't consider the broader, and deeper harms.
None of what I've written should be taken as an attempt to gain sympathy for people, like myself, in a dominant position. Instead, it is a plea to others like myself who may be thinking, "Sure, this equality thing sounds like a good idea, but doesn't that mean I will be losing out?"
Perhaps. Everything in life is a trade-off, isn't it? You get and you give. Hopefully, and in a just world, each walks away having gained more than they gave. Equality would benefit us all, even those at the very top. Even the ruling class suffer from oppression, dominance and hierarchy. They just suffer a lot less.
Remember, all people may be dying from this disease in a metaphorical sense, but some people are dying from it for real. Changing that is the right thing to do. It isn't about our feelings on the matter, and good people do the right thing whether they feel like it or not.