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White Male Power

March 15, 2022 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Three percent of the population takes the overwhelming majority of leadership positions. This elite has seven characteristics:

  • At least one highly educated and/or well-endowed parent who can show the way in the educational system
  • At least one parent or caretaker who is born locally and can transfer the majority’s culture
  • Male
  • Heterosexual
  • White
  • Educated at a university
  • Highest middle school completed.

Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk has written a book about his personal quest for the reasons behind professional success, other than working hard and taking risks. He concludes that there is a dominant group, defined by those seven characteristics, that is never discriminated against and never has to adapt. They posess the social, cultural and financial capital that is required to get ahead in life.

Luyendijk doesn’t mention social class as one of the seven characteristics but weaves the importance of it through the book. If you aren’t part of higher or higher middle class, you are not aware of the unspoken but crucial codes that define you as ‘one of us’. Luyendijk experienced this working at The Guardian, an English newspaper, where he understood every word that was being said but didn’t have a clue about the decisions that were made.

Your social class also determines your ambitions in life. Luyendijk gives an example of being an avid reader as a kid and thinking: when I grow up, I might write a book too. Film director Martin Koolhoven had a working-class background: he loved watching movies as a kid and thought: when I grow up, I can even watch more movies. The thought of actually making movies didn’t occur. I recognize this personally, being raised in a working-class family: when I travel 1st class on a train, I wait until someone is coming to tell me that I don’t belong there.

The merit of Luyendijk’s book is that he makes the social domination of white, educated men palpable and measurable. It is open for discussion if some of the characteristics should be altered: an education at university implies that an individual has completed one of the highest types of middle school, so that is one characteristic instead of two. Moreover, I think that physical condition and appearance should be added: it is difficult to occupy a leadership position if you aren’t in good physical shape and it is more difficult to be appointed if you have for example a dental or skin disease that make you less attractive in the eyes of the selection committees. Finally, I agree that being male and being heterosexual are still considered important, but my hope and expectation are that both characterics are becoming less crucial over time.

Joris Luyendijk. De zeven vinkjes. Hoe mannen zoals ik de baas spelen. Uitgeverij Pluim, 2022