A redneck with a cable show said some very stupid and hateful things about black people and gay people. It’s captured the American imagination for the last week and reignited the red state/blue state divide.
Around the same time, the (arguably) most influential investor in one of the highest-growth industries implied that women are intrinsically less interested in being tech entrepreneurs. He has said in the past that people with “strong” accents can’t be good CEOs. He’s been saying crazy shit like this on the regular for a while now (I highlighted one of his comments from summer 2012 in a talk I gave last year). He’s still investing in companies that create a lot of wealth for a few (mostly white, male) people.
Somehow we’ve latched on to the Duck Dynasty guy as the problem. He’s the guy who evokes liberal wrath. And of course what he said is abhorrent, much more viscerally offensive than what Paul Graham has ever said. But here’s the thing: Duck Dynasty guy has close-to-zero actual power in the world. He has a reality show on a cable channel that, prior to Duck Dynasty, was most well-known for reruns of Murder She Wrote. He’s not making decisions about who builds wealth. He’s not making decisions about the future of industries. He’s not deciding who gets to grow a company, making it into the owner class, and who gets left behind. Paul Graham is. That’s where our attention and our anger and our calls for change need to be directed.
The reason bigotry has ever been a problem is because it comes alongside discrimination and unjust power distributions. The Duck Dynasty class of bigot is dying. It’s plain to see (at least to me) that the bigotry they project is wrapped in a desperate cry for their loss of influence. So, frankly, I think we should ignore them. By getting all worked up every time a powerless bigot says something in public we encourage people to think that bias only exists when there are ugly words involved. In a world where that’s how we judge bias, Paul Graham gets a pass. And he and others that think like him will continue to decide who makes it and who doesn’t.