“Talking Points does not—does not—believe in white privilege.”
That was Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s big, brave pitch during his third-person “talking points” segment on Tuesday’s edition of The O’Reilly Factor. The peg for the segment was the uproar and race issues surrounding the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this month. O’Reilly was blasting the idea of people citing “white privilege” to help explain anger or inequality in a predominantly black community. He railed against a perceived failure of black leaders to spark a “cultural revolution” in their “precincts,” and the lack of personal responsibility instilled in young African Americans.
Of course Bill O’Reilly doesn’t believe that the concept of white privilege exists. (Neither does much of the rest of Fox News.) He has denied the existence of such a privilege for white Americans in previous segments, including one in which he falsely claimed that Harvard Kennedy School was requiring freshmen to take a class on the subject.
O’Reilly’s latest salvo of white-privilege denialism has already been mocked and (rightly) criticized enough. But one aspect of his crotchety monologue that was particularly unappealing was how he invoked the general economic and academic successes of Asian Americans in order to highlight the supposed failings of African Americans.
“So, do we have Asian privilege in America?” the Fox host asked rhetorically. “Because the truth is that Asian-American households earn far more money than anyone else.”
O’Reilly also compares the statistic on Asian-American children raised in single-parent households (13 percent) to that of African Americans (a “whopping” 55 percent) to make the point that Asian families in this country are stronger. This is a favorite bugaboo of O’Reilly’s, and in the past he’s even said that First Lady Michelle Obama should come on his show and tell black teens, “You stop having sex; you stop getting pregnant.”
O’Reilly has made the Asian-privilege point before. He’s also praised Asian folks by asserting that, “Asian people are not liberal, you know, by nature” because “they’re usually more industrious and hard-working.” (It’s worth noting that not all Asian demographics fit neatly into this positive stereotype that colors the way O’Reilly talks about Asian citizens.)
First, let’s be consistent and call this phenomenon “yellow privilege.” So, sure, you could reasonably argue that there is a general yellow privilege that people who look like me enjoy in the United States. For instance, Asian-American men under the age of 35 have a far lower chance of being wrongly accosted by a police officer than a young black man would. The difference is that, unlike white people, we don’t have a bitter, well-paid armada of commentators to go on TV and complain about black people every time someone brings said privilege up.
But the real reason O’Reilly’s black-yellow comparison is so annoying and intellectually dishonest is because it is patently bizarre to compare the Asian-American experience to the African-American one. Such a crass talking point—one that uses the favorable stats of one minority group to attack the culture of another—overlooks, or at least glosses over, some of the most obvious facts and tragedies in our nation’s history. Generations of Asian Americans did not endure the traumas, legacies, and residual effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and decades of racist housing policy. These are factors that O’Reilly mentions only as an aside, preferring to talk more about the importance of getting black kids to “speak properly” and behave themselves in public.
Asian Americans and African Americans have had very different experiences in America, a complicated reality that O’Reilly and many of his colleagues do not seem eager to tackle. But at least his commentary in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy has been more refined than some of his co-workers—a thought that is less a compliment to Bill, and far more indicative of the kind of organism that Fox News has become.