It’s been my experience that when white men are called out on their privilege, regardless of what kind of privilege it is, they have a few select response patterns. First is the “quote me,” phenomenon, which assumes that he’s the one who gets to decide whether or not he’s privileged or if the caller-out was just “mistaken”; next is Appeal to Authority, especially when employed in the “show me studies!” shtick; last, though, is that a man will bring in someone of an underprivileged group and assert that because this person agrees with him, he couldn’t possibly be wrong.
I like to call this tactic “covering your dick.” By choosing someone who belongs to an oppressed group that agrees with them, he can pretend his beliefs are vindicated by the very fact that someone underprivileged agrees with him. Metaphorically, by using an underprivileged person to back up his privilege, he’s placing their face in front of his dick so everyone will be tricked into believing that it’s an Automatically Enlightened Oppressed Person speaking instead of, well, him. From his dick (privilege).
It can be used by privileged people of all stripes, but overwhelmingly it’s used by men, and even more overwhelmingly by white men. This stupid tactic has a long-ass history and many, many permutations.
Some of the most easily recognizable ones, I’m sure you’ll know them, are variations of, “Well, my black friend says he doesn’t mind racist jokes…” and “Some of my best friends are gay.” They get much more complex than that, though.
Christianity has been using the “cover your dick” tactic for centuries via flamboyant, dramatic conversions and confessions. Proclamations of, “I lived a life of sin,” do more to reassure the current followers than they do to convince the unbelievers. The evangelical Christian set in the U.S. still uses this tactic; I have little knowledge of its use in other countries.
Some underprivileged people, enjoying the admiration and honorary dick points that being used as an Automatically Enlightened Oppressed Person, deliberately set themselves up as unlike those meanie-head rebels, strictly pro-status quo. Phyllis Shafly played this role during the ’70s feminist movement, advocating against women’s rights and liberations—and being picked up by male mainstream media. Dr. Laura has made an extremely lucrative career out of shaming women, as have many pro-forced birth “feminists.” Sarah Palin et al. continue this thread of anti-women women.
The same has been borne out with people of color—whether pro-U.S. Rez residents, anti-hate crime/affirmative action Black people, or anti-immigrant Hispanics. (I can’t give sources for these; I’ve met them personally, and wouldn’t endanger their privacy no matter how much I may disagree.)
Part and parcel of the “cover your dick” tactic is actually intense contempt for the AEOP they’re holding up as better—because they are holding up that person as better. The one covering his dick is implicitly stating that an oppressed person’s worth is directly proportional to how much they agree with him, and if the AEOP he’s using is of the same status of the person he’s defending against, it gets even more bitter and hateful.
It doesn’t necessarily need to happen. There’s also a certain system of equivalence involved: a non-white man is worth more dick coverage than a white woman, but a non-white woman is worth more dick coverage than a non-white man (unless she’s Hispanic). An unpretty white woman’s dick coverage worth (DCW) is approximately equal to that of a visibly disabled man, unless said man is also openly poor. And an Asian kid dying of cancer speaking out against socialized health care is worth approximately 400,000 glods.
I had a conversation a while ago with a man who refused point-blank the idea that he could be privileged for consuming animal products, and he held up Lierre Keith as proof and said, straight-out, “Lierre Keith has done more for the world than any vegan has.” While I doubt that all vegans (an example) in social justice movements have been useless, he was expressly privileging her over every vegan woman and radical feminist—because she agreed with him. It was as simple as that: she backed him up when he didn’t want to let go of the idea that he was too “radical” to have missed the fact that he had privilege. He used Lierre Keith not because he valued Lierre Keith, but because he could cover his dick with her; he, a white rich man, used her, a white rich woman, as a weapon against every woman who was vegan and every person of color who +vwas vegan and every vegan who has ever fought for human and animal rights.
He used a woman as a weapon because she agreed with what he wanted to believe.
That’s the essence of “covering your dick.” By taking someone who’s grown up underprivileged in a fucked-up society and positioning them as an Automatically Enlightened Oppressed Person, by using them as a weapon against everyone who might disagree with him and prove him wrong, by using their oppressed status to cement his privilege of defining reality, he covers his dick so that no one notices it’s still his dick that benefits.