David Marcus of the Federalist urges University of Toronto psychiatry professor Jordan Peterson to exercise more caution in his denunciation of those who complain about “white privilege.”

Peterson’s main argument against white privilege is that race is but one of many possibly infinite differentials in human beings that may accrue benefits. He cites attractiveness and intelligence as two examples that could give individuals unearned advantages. But in the American context (Peterson is Canadian) these are somewhat strange comparisons. This is because ugly, dumb people were not subjected to centuries of slavery and a further century of debilitating Jim Crow laws. …

… Although he doesn’t quite manage to say it, what Peterson is rightfully rejecting is not the idea that white people in America have privilege. In fact, above he confirms it. He is arguing that, as a pedagogical tool, this fact is extremely limited and potentially dangerous. He is rejecting the idea that white people today have a reason to feel guilty about their skin color, and the idea that accepting such guilt will lead to some kind of good end.

Furthermore, he rightfully criticizes the lack of serious scholarship surrounding privilege theory. It is a concept almost always backed up anecdotally and rarely subjected to serious empirical investigation. When it is, the evidence of bias is often sketchy at best. But once we admit, as Peterson does, that white people do accrue unearned advantages, either by science or storytelling we have a responsibility to examine this and try to make sure that people are not subject to denigrating treatment based on their skin color.