A semi-brief note on Jews, Privilege, and Whiteness

Related Post Roulette

142 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul DeGraw
    Ignored
    says:

    I should add that I can’t tell whether the Princeton Tory is supposed to be a serious or trolling name. Probably both but I mainly lean towards they seriously consider themselves to be like old-school Tories.

    Oh Princeton.Report

  2. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    To ask when Jews were considered white we would have to determine what white actually means. When i had to asks people their race when doing an intake at work people would say white means Caucasian. They would also say Caucasian means white. Not really all that helpful. Just trying to get a definition takes a bit and, even then, race his little actually biological evidence as an actual thing.

    I agree telling someone to check their privilege is most likely lazy, dismissive and intended more to shut down a conversation then to start one. While i’m one of those people who thinks privilege exists and is a really useful concept, unfortunately i see to many on my side who fail to really grasp the concept. Certainly it is about sex and race/ethnicity but their can be many other ways some can be privileged or not.Report

    • Avatar NewishLawyer in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      I am generally always tempted to check other. If there was a category that said “Of European-ancestry” that would be more acceptable and palpable.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        Argh. Used the wrong name.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        I’d go for a Euro Ancestry category also. What is interesting is that Euro ancestry doesn’t’ always say as much as people think. My grandparents were from Greece and Poland (Jews). That makes me a classic American mutt but greeks and polish jews have little in common nor any connections in the last couple thousand years other than being from the same continent. Europeans are far more mutts then most people think given the history of peoples moving around and mixing. There are also plenty of examples in Euro history of groups having privileges and others being disadvantaged that would be a start to a conversation: jews, the irish, protestants and catholics have both been privileged and oppressed, etc, etc.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      and Caucasian means (often) MiddleEastern, and ought to mean Indian as well.
      (Just like American indians are of Asiatic origin)Report

  3. Avatar EB
    Ignored
    says:

    All those questions sound pretty useful. They are also exactly what is meant by “check your privilege”-ie consider the ways in which your life experience may differ from someone else’s, and don’t assume that your experience is universal.

    Can this concept be misapplied? In sharp distinction to the rest of human knowledge, yes it can. Pin my experience, however, people who object to being told to “check their privilege” are not reacting to specific language. They’re objecting to the very idea of the project-that they have unearned social privilege. To cite the experience of your ancestors as a defense against a ‘charge’ of unearned privilege is pretty rich, fwiw.Report

    • Avatar NewishLawyer in reply to EB
      Ignored
      says:

      I know that check your privilege is trying to be shorthand for all those things but my stance is similar to that of greginak.Report

    • Avatar giovanni da procida in reply to EB
      Ignored
      says:

      To my ears, “check your privilege” sounds like “shut up”, while asking questions like the ones above invite discussion about why you think the way you do.Report

      • Avatar EB in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        My point, which I imagine others have tackled downthread, is that what you’re describing isn’t what actually happens. You can ask the question as politely as can be, and the reaction will still be negative. “That’s rude” is often just a way to avoid having to say “I choose not to think about that.” It’s the challenge to the privilege, not the phrasing , that causes the conflict.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        It’s not about asking the question politely. It’s about asking different questions.

        That is to say, it’s not actually a question, but an order. No matter how politely phrased, it’s still an order, and so smacks of hierarchy and dominance, and intrinsically defines the target of the order as being in error. Of course people won’t respond well.

        But asking people questions about their own lives invites them into a conversation. It’s harder, slower, uncertain, and lacks the satisfaction of smug moral superiority, so of course it’s a less common approach–it requires more of us than most humans find it easy to give. But it gives a better chance of reaching people.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        You know who also asked questions? Socrates and look what happened to him…..

        🙂Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        You know who also asked questions?

        You.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        @saul-degraw

        Yeah, but that mofo deserved to die, he was corrupting young ‘uns.

        (Is that history’s first recorded incidence of someone pleading “But think of the children!”?)Report

      • His so-called “apology” was a non-apology apology. Not once did he say “I’m sorry.”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        James, I think the “children” Socrates was accused of corrupting were young adults in their teens and twenties.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        It may sound like “shut up” but, in a way, so can any shorthand instruction to a person who doesn’t know the shorthand.

        If “Check your privilege” is the entirety of the statement, and it is used in a more or less general audience – i.e. one where many don’t know how to execute the suggested action of privilege checking (and Mr. Fortgang’s essay makes it amply clear he doesn’t) – then it’s not very useful. In that context, it would server better as an introductory or concluding sentence to a paragraph of instruction.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to giovanni da procida
        Ignored
        says:

        @dragonfrog

        I think that among many university students especially freshman, there is probably a tendency to use the phrase too much and without much guidance and as a buzzword more than anything else.

        This is somewhat understandable because college might be the first time many people are exposed to people from radically different backgrounds for a significant amount of time and real interaction. This cuts all ways. In Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, the authors noted it can be an unbreakable cycle. The working-class kids (largely from farming communities) met real diversity for the first time and often reacted to it with anti-Semitic and homophobic actions of a shocking sort. This caused the usually richer Jewish students to isolate them more instead of trying to bridge gaps, etc.

        I find it tragic.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        This cuts all ways. In Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, the authors noted it can be an unbreakable cycle. The working-class kids (largely from farming communities) met real diversity for the first time and often reacted to it with anti-Semitic and homophobic actions of a shocking sort. This caused the usually richer Jewish students to isolate them more instead of trying to bridge gaps, etc.

        I did not read the book, although I read your summary of it a while back. But whatever the book actually says, I suspect the process was a little different from the notion that isolated, working-class kids encountered diversity and were so distressed that people were different from them, they just started being antisemitic and homophobic. I don’t deny that encountering unwonted might have been a part of it. But the distress might also have reflected a sense of alienation and a sense of not belonging.

        This sense could have been brought on by the challenges to privilege that encounters with diversity can bring. But it could have also been brought on by the very real class differences between being working class and being middle class (or higher) in college. In this context, the working-class students draw on the to them comfortable (and to us discomfiting) antisemitic and homophobic (and perhaps also racist and sexist) tropes in shaping how they talk about this alienation.

        Also, the more affluent students may not have encountered working-class people or people from farming communities on anything like the basis of nominal equality that officially obtains on college campuses.

        In other words, I don’t think I disagree with you. I would just like to unpack “diversity” as a causal force and suggest that it operates in multiavariate ways and that other forces operate in along with it.

        I’ll also I don’t think we should presume that small “farming” communities are completely lacking in racial or ethnic diversity, or that residents of supposedly “cosmopolitan” urban centers actually embrace or live “diversity.” It probably depends on the community in question. Some cosmopolitan cities are patchworks of ethnic enclaves whose residents might work with people from different backgrounds in a centralized business district and might go to restaurants that serve different cuisines, but who otherwise socialize primarily with those they consider of their own kind. And some small, “farming” communities might very well be places of interaction between different groups of people. It’s not that the cosmopolitan is parochial and the parochial is cosmopolitan. It’s just that there’s room for different experience.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to EB
      Ignored
      says:

      To cite the experience of your ancestors as a defense against a ‘charge’ of unearned privilege is pretty rich, fwiw.

      He didn’t. He cited the experience of ancestors to show that white people are not necessarily privileged. Then he want on to explain the ways in which he actually is privileged.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        OK, white people are not necessarily privileged, and anyone telling his ancestors to check their privilege, at least with regards to racial issues, would be correctly derided as a fool. But he is not his ancestors.

        It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates “privilege.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

        Anyone who can say that, is clearly a white man. I can’t even think how to argue how thoroughly that he doesn’t get it, than with the above quote.

        Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions

        That he can call systems of power “conspiratorial imaginary institutions” shows very plainly on which side of those systems he has lived his entire life, and how thoroughly he has missed some lessons that were available in the story of his ancestors, had he been listening for the right parts.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        dragonfrog,
        Indeed. I can point to institutionalized racism that benefited jews over blacks in this very city. It was written into the executive guidelines. Jews got FHA loans, blacks got the housing projects.Report

  4. Avatar Creon Critic
    Ignored
    says:

    What’s missing from his piece is the context of the discussion in which he was told to check his privilege. Was it a discussion about gender? The experience of Native Americans in the US? Or the experience of people who are even smaller religious minorities, Hindu, Sikh, etc.?

    Also, it depends on how the message was delivered. As a kind of, “time for you to shut up” message or more of a “have you considered the issue from this alternative perspective?” A perspective with which he may have limited experience. In a classroom especially, “shut up” is a less constructive addition to the discussion; “here’s an alternative perspective” is the way I’d go.

    Last, he writes of his grandparents, “It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.” I’m tempted to ask, what year he finds America attained this distinction? America has striven towards achieving King’s dream, but any informed reading would say in fits and starts. And if that kind of naivete, “a country that cares not about religion or race”, was on display in a classroom where we were scrutinizing the United States’ rather mixed track record, I can see one aspect of a reply being check your privilege.Report

    • Avatar NewishLawyer in reply to Creon Critic
      Ignored
      says:

      I know he was talking about welfare and the national deficit but other details are lacking as you noted.

      I agree with your last paragraph. He is aware of the privations suffered by his grandparents but he did grow up in the good comfort of New Rochelle, New York.Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s funny–you don’t look newish.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        Also, I’m shocked, shocked to find some unexamined class privilege at Princeton. Not for nothing that their light bulb joke goes,

        How many Princeton students does it take to change a light bulb?
        Two, one to call the electrician, and the other to call the butler for some martinis.

        Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        Princeton has some very progressive places but they are one of the most elitist of the Ivies in ways that are almost a throwback and no mere campus conservatism.

        This is my alma mater’s light bulb joke:

        How many Vassar students does it take to change a lightbulb?

        Eleven–One to screw it and ten to support its sexual orientationReport

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        At my alma mater it would have been:

        Don’t, to show solidarity with people in the Third World that don’t have electricity!Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        Throwback indeed. Stiff competition on this weird student institutions expressing elitism front. I can’t tell which I find more weird, Princeton’s eating clubs, Harvard’s final clubs, or Yale’s secret societies. Even though people, including myself, have been pretty down on “check your privilege” – there seems ample reason to bluntly demand some critical self reflection on these campuses. (Not necessarily a justification for the “shut up” version though)Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to NewishLawyer
        Ignored
        says:

        @creon-critic

        Princeton always struck me as having the most throwback elements towards old WASPiness but this is probably a subjective thing and milleage can vary.Report

  5. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    Does the meme “check your privilege” have automatically mean ‘white,’ or does it mean the privileges you might have that you take for granted? It’s too often taken to mean, white male, and not the better reading of what sets you apart from this other group that you may be taking for granted.

    Because from what I’ve read about this particular story, the privilege that needed checking was not of race or religion but economic class. I don’t think someone who comes from a wealthy family, where the wealth was created by his grandparents, gets a pass there. Sure, they may have heard the stories, but Warren Buffett’s grandkids would have heard the stories, too. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the privileges of wealth, however.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      In my experience, check your privilege is usually a way to shut people up without coming up with a proper counter-argument. They might have a point. The person told to check his or her privilege might really be a jerk who hasn’t engaged in much self-examination about anything but its still a very poor debating tactic.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        @leeesq I gather that; and often, I agree. I do think it’s an important habit to develop in oneself, however, and I wish more people examined their own particular privileges when faced with a new set of circumstances about the human condition.

        I’m just probing the assertion of whiteness in the phrase.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        Yep, that’s why my standard response to that statement is: “Piss off!”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        I’ve seen “Check your privilege” used relative to privileges other than white privilege.

        And while it might sometimes be used as such, it is wrong to always read it as “Shut up because I have nothing else to say.” Dare I say reading it as such is itself evidence of certain privilege…Report

  6. Avatar dand
    Ignored
    says:

    what happen if durring a discussion on Israel and Palestine someone who’s Jewish asked an Arab student to check their Gentile Privilege? does the academic believe in such a thing?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to dand
      Ignored
      says:

      Not really in my experience. The academy has a very difficult time dealing with anti-Semitism from non-traditionally sources.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t think that’s the case. But I do think that indoctrination on the part of the American Conservative Jewry has made people a little more likely to bitch about things that aren’t really there.

        Take your comment on “anti-Zionists don’t actually provide reasonable solutions” for a decent example. If you aren’t listening, it’s really hard to see when folks are making sense (and yes, the KnowNothings on both sides do Not Help)Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    The reason why Jews are generally not see as suffering from a lack of privilege is that in contemporary American society, what problems Jews experience for being Jews isn’t exactly obvious. Jews are seen as being a great success story in the United States and any past problems are basically that in the past. Any global problems irrelevant. See the bellow essay for more:

    http://whatwouldphoebedo.blogspot.com/2011/07/anti-semitism-and-first-world-problems.htmlReport

  8. Avatar Mordecho ben Tsvi
    Ignored
    says:

    Jews are usually accepted as “white.” White in this context means the type of person who gets power in our society with relatively little effort; someone who won’t get stopped by a cop while walking down the street for looking funny or who will not appear remarkable as the boss of an enterprise or in a position of authority. Not very long ago, Jews were not members of certain clubs or associations. Recently, we read that sending in a resume with a name like Tyrone Jackson will get fewer calls for interviews than Charles Watson; Jews have changed their names to disguise their origin for a long time.
    This issue of getting white priviledges is better in North America than many other places. In the USSR the internal passport had a line for nationality, and if it said “Jew” you would not get the same break from a cop than if it said “Russian.” In Israel, being a Jew gets you some breaks from the cops that other s do not get.
    Of course, being white is not something you are born with, it is granted. Being Italian or Irish did not always count as white. Being Mexican or Arab does not seem to count as white today. Finally, being white is not irrevocable; holding an Iron Cross did not keep anyone out of Auschwitz.
    I am an alter kaker. The idea of an 18 year old thinking he earned anything is mildly amusing.Report

  9. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    I agree that “check your privilege” or any of it’s variants (e.g., “only a __, ___, ___, person would say x, y, z…”) often function as ways to tell people to shut up and are usually not very useful.

    That said, in my better moments, when someone says that to me, I think it behooves me to try to think where they’re coming from or how what they’re saying might be true or something I ought to consider. Checking one’s privilege is perhaps best a personal project, perhaps with a nudge from someone else.

    Of course, I said “in my better moments.” In my usual moments, I just get defensive. That’s probably bad on me, but it also demonstrates why the “check your privilege” approach doesn’t work…because it elicits a defensive response.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      That said, in my better moments, when someone says that to me, I think it behooves me to try to think where they’re coming from or how what they’re saying might be true or something I ought to consider. Checking one’s privilege is perhaps best a personal project, perhaps with a nudge from someone else.

      Exactly; it can be constructive criticism; a way of helping make yourself a better person. I wish constructive criticism was more welcome and viewed as a horror, because improving yourself is not a horror (unless it’s excessive plastic surgery we’re talking).Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        What’s wrong with extensive plastic surgery? I’m planning to do it.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        The problem is, phrased as an imperative–(you) check your privilege–it does not, and likely cannot, communicate as constructive criticism. It communicates as sneering dismissiveness.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        People have told me to check my privilege, and I have done so. Easy peasy. No sneering required.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch that’s probably true; but I stand by my greater complaint; when we hear criticism, we tend to hear, “loser” instead of food for being improvers.

        @veronica-dire There’s nothing wrong with plastic surgery, even extensive plastic surgery. It’s excessive (and that’s the word I used) that disturbs, the forever-young clown face alternative to growing old. We earn our gray hairs and wrinkles; badges of life lived; denying them is not (imo) of self improvement, the thrust of my comment.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @zic,

        Well, that’s exactly why it’s a bad approach, right?

        But for nearly all people it’s a lot harder to talk to people in a way that promotes having them actually hear, rather than trying to also sneak in a smackdown. And there’s no difference between the privileged and the non/less privileged on that. So people use the phrase, despite the fact that it’s likely to be unproductive, because above all else they’re human, and that’s the type of things humans tend to do.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here, but I think there is a certain presumptuousness in assuming that sneering and/or dismissiveness is never justified.

        I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed this and recognized we don’t see eye-to-eye (though we’re probably closer to eye-to-nose than eye-to-toes), but I feel that demanding people — particularly people who have are and have been marginalized — voice their pushback in a way that is amenable to those who are marginalized them is unfair. And is a further entrenchment of privilege. E.g., “We will only listen to your critiques if they are phrased just so.” While such a position can be advocated for from a position of intellectual honesty and clarity, to assume as much — especially given all the ways that the powerful have changed the rules to suit their needs — is asking a lot.

        And if I am misremembering and/or am mischaracterizing your position on this, my apologies.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        I think there is a certain presumptuousness in assuming that sneering and/or dismissiveness is never justified…I feel that demanding people — particularly people who have are and have been marginalized — voice their pushback in a way that is amenable to those who are marginalized them is unfair.

        For the record, it is not my view that sneering is never justified, nor that it is fair to “demand” that marginalized people talk amenably to the privileged.

        However, I’m not talking about what is just, but about what is strategic; about the matching of means to ends. We can insist on the justness of a particular response, but if we use that as our reason for avoiding a more strategic response, have we wisely matched the means to the ends? If our goal is the justness and pleasure of the sneer, then yes. But if our goal is to encourage people to be more self-reflective, then probably not.

        It might itself be an injustice that amenable replies are more effective than sneers at achieving that end, but that has no bearing on their relative strategic value.* To choose between the two options, then, we have to ask “what is our true goal?”

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s why I generally get irritated by discussions of justice. Justice is an end, and so like all other ends it needs to be pursued strategically. Deterring a strategic choice on the grounds that it’s not just to ask the justice-pursuer to choose that way defeats the larger goal.
        _____________________________
        *To be sure, being strategic does not always mean being nice. Strategy is context-dependent, and sometimes non-nice behavior is called for. But as an accomplished sneerer myself, I’ve seen little evidence that sneering produces self-reflection in the target. It’s an empirical claim, and so subject to evidence falsifying my hypothesis.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        James,
        yes, indeed. justice is an end that should be pursued strategically.
        murder is a means to an end, but it should be pursued Very Strategically.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        We earn our gray hairs and wrinkles; badges of life lived; denying them is not (imo) of self improvement, the thrust of my comment.

        That’s Stockholm Syndrome. Aging is a disease, and the cure can’t come soon enough. The problem with plastic surgery to disguise aging isn’t that wrinkles are awesome—it’s that it just doesn’t work very well.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley — I have no doubt you mean well, but the claim “we’re just trying to help you with strategy” is one that is deployed a lot, and — well, frankly — it is often deployed to derail a legitimate conversation about a real injustice. Furthermore, it very often comes across rather *-splainy (mansplainy or cissplainy or whatever) , where the speaker talks down to us.

        If only we would listen!

        Look, I know you don’t mean it this way, but this happens and should be considered when we talk about this stuff.

        (And, in fact, if you ever bring this up and find folks getting pissed at you, this is why. They think you’re doing that.)

        Anyway, I often find it a good idea just to let folks have their say and move on.

        (It might surprise some of you, but sometimes when my friends get to ranting about cis folks, I’ll think, “You know, this maybe goes a bit too far.” But I won’t interrupt. I’ll let the conversation go on and let my friends blow off steam. It seems to cause little harm. So far cis society has not collapsed under our withering scorn.)

        (On the other hand I’ve recently found myself rather at odds with many other trans women over the topic of drag. Long story. Short version: I’m pro-drag.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Veronica and James,

        I had my white balls soundly busted a few years ago by some AAs when I mentioned that attacking and then mocking white privilege might not be the most effective way to reveal the concept of privilege to the target audience. I thought I was making a good and rather obvious point, but in their eyes I was engaging in the worst form of white ‘splainin. Apparently, I was presuming to tell black folk how to talk about black stuff. It seemed to me then and still does even now that if the purpose of mentioning these types of hidden privileges is to get the audience to understand something they were previously unaware of, mockery and ridicule might not be the most effective method. I thought we were engaging in a dialogue. They didn’t.

        I dunno. This shit’s complicated.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater — Indeed.

        Here’s thing thing, people can see through you.

        And this includes me. I’m no better. This is about all of us.

        And I’m sure you mean well, at least according to what you tell yourself. But self-knowledge is a tricky thing and our motives are seldom so pure.

        And I ain’t above this, not even a little.

        A big part of privilege is realizing that, hey, the reason I need to talk over these people, to shut down their discourse, ain’t really about helping them, but instead it is about elevating my own status, about positioning myself as the “knower,” the expert.

        The white savior.

        But people see through you. Status games are pretty obvious when we are looking at others, but not when we look at ourselves.

        Which, by the way, is why I frequently try to relate this to humility. It matters.

        It would be a fun study: to compare the acceptance of “privilege” with an overall competence in metacognition. I bet the correlation is very strong.

        Has anyone here besides me read Impro by Keith Johnstone?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        VD,

        In the case I was referring to, a post was written mocking a particular white dude for acting on his unexamined privilege and the responses, following an entirely predictable pattern, were predominantly antagonistic. The writer took the antagonism to her post as further evidence of white privilege, and mocked those people in their turn.

        The whole dynamic struck me as counterproductive. I mean, if the point of writing the post was to reveal a form of white privilege, the only people who got the message were already aware of the concept and how it applied to that particular issue. Those that didn’t were made increasingly hostile to the concept and rejected her entire post (and the concept as it applied in that instance).

        If, on the other hand, the point of the post was for a black woman to express her perceptions of whites and white behavior with all the accompanying ridicule, then why engage in the antagonism and ridicule?

        Granted, there might be other ways to view the dynamic, but it struck me – and still does – that discourse written by blacks that tries to reach out to whites to reveal a pov or expose privilege needs to be a dialogue.

        That’s all I’m sayin.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater — Fair enough, but it cuts both ways. What I mean is, if you can see all the ways she might better state her case, and then go to tell her, and thus end up pissing her off — But wait! weren’t you the self-appointed expert on how to communicate!

        Doctor, heal thyself.

        (See the point? It’s kinda obvious. If not, I’ll explain.)

        Anyway, as I suggested in another post, in these cases it is best to just back away, see what you see, take the lessons you take, move forward with them, all good. But trying to stop this person in this conversation seldom helps.

        You are not well-positioned to teach her stuff. And you probably are coming at it from a place of privilege.

        Plus you might be totally wrong. It’s possible.

        Anyway, there is plenty of time for “tone” discussions. And you can be sure that black folks have such conversations with other black folks. I can speak for myself; among other trans women we often have the “tone” conversation. But see, when one of us brings it up, when we are talking among ourselves, we are more receptive than if a cis person is talking, for all the obvious reasons.

        Again, if you are claiming expertise on communication, know how your own credibility is limited when speaking to us. I mean, maybe that sucks, but we get a lot of -splaining, a lot of tone policing, a lot of talking down and talking over. I think we get to have a bit of a short fuse on this stuff.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        VD,

        It certainly cuts a whole bunch of ways. And I won’t disagree with most of what you just wrote. What I’m saying is slightly different. It’s that all those cuts cannot slice crosswise. Even tho everything I say to a black person comes from a place of privilege (due to my skin color and cultural position and whatnot) not everything I say is an expression of privilege. And that distinction is important, it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @veronica-dire

        Truths are truths. You want to pretend there’s nothing to be learned from others, that your case is so unique that it can only be talked about in its own context, knock yourself out. It’s self-indulgent nonsense of course, because everyone can learn from the experiences of others. And I’m not trying to impart straight white cis male wisdom, but what I see as universal human experience.

        Here’s the real deal, you’re not actually that special. Society screws up in viewing you as special, you screw up in insisting on that specialness. The Irish gained equality when they were normalized, blacks gain equality as they get normalized, gays have gained equality as they’ve become normalized, even though some fought hard against that normalization.

        You want to view yourself as so unique that the experience of others can teach you nothing? That’s foolish, because first, foremost, and above all, you’re human, and there are regularities of the human condition. I have a lesbian student who did her senior project this year on a comparison of civil rights movements, looking for commonalities in successful strategies. She’s got 10x your wisdom.

        You’re not special, you’re not a unique little snowflake. You’re just another human.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater — Sure. All I’m saying is this: at that time and place, you were not positioned to help that girl. Furthermore, if you will ask her to learn better communication skills with whites, can you not also learn to better talk to a girl such as her?

        By which I mean, there is a whole history of broken conversational dynamics between the races (and the genders also), and if you really want to reach her, you need to learn how her conversational dynamics work. That is, if you really want to engage — with her as a person, including whatever baggage comes with that.

        Of course, right now she might just be too angry to deal. In which case, I think Tod’s empathy should come into play. Understand why she is angry and then step away.

        (I’ll often encounter very angry trans activists, and I just let them be. They have their own journey to make and I’m not in a position to help.)

        Also understand that “debate” can be used as a tool to abuse. Do you get that? I think a lot of “Internet intellectual” types think that debate is always the right and proper thing. Does everyone here get that this is not so? That there is a time be quiet, to step away?

        (No, I’m not telling anyone to shut up. That is soooooo not the point.)

        Often the people you are talking to are coming from a place of trauma. Your words can hurt them. When people get hurt, they often get angry. Sometimes a conversation is taking them into a very bad place, and maybe if they were wise they would themselves step back.

        But maybe you could be wise enough to step back first.

        I often speak out against “detached theories” and the like. This is the sort of thing I am talking about. To you, the topic is a curiosity. For us, too often, it is a white-hot nerve of ongoing trauma. Do you really expect your blithe observations will be welcome?

        And this is why we seek out “safe spaces,” but I don’t want to live my whole life in a “safe space.” I love the bright city lights.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch — I think you are addressing things I said when I first joined the forum instead of what I am saying today. Some of those positions have shifted, at least to small degrees.

        One thing to point out, this is the first non-queer Internet forum I’ve spend much time on since I transitioned. Which does not mean I never talk to cis-het folks. I chat with cis-het people at work, obviously, and people at clubs and whatever. Plus I am married to a cis person (although she is queer, so I guess that doesn’t count). But nothing I do out there is quite like in here. So all of this is new to me.

        You say I don’t believe in listening and learning, but you are exactly wrong.

        And by the by, the whole rant about how I’m not “special” — that was out of line. You don’t say something like that to someone like me.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        James,
        the blacks will continue to be marginalized as long as the Right needs someone to hate. And they always need someone to hate, because if America ain’t hating on someone lower than ’em, they’ll start looking upwards.

        Well, I suppose we could always marginalize the Right…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @kim

        “the blacks will continue…”

        I usually ignore you, but ignorant phrasing like that is easy to avoid, offers nothing that better phrasing doesn’t, and is offensive.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        You seem to think I’m just being a cis trying to tell the poor benighted trans folk what they really need. I don’t see it that way, but I do get why you do, and I doubt any words will persuade you to change your mind so I won’t insult or further irritate you by trying.

        As to being special, you missed my point.

        I think there’s no real conversation to be had between us, because you don’t demonstrate interest in one (whatever you might say, your repeated calls to shut up don’t invite real conversation), so I’ll bow out for a while.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch — That isn’t what I think at all.

        That said, I do think you’re talking down to me, trying to (as Ta-nehisi puts it) “son” me. I don’t appreciate that.

        This ain’t about your being cis.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        I hesitate to point this out, since I got excoriated for doing so the last time I did, but “the blacks” are people, and it helps make you not look like a clueless, or worse racist jerk to just say that, as in “black people.” Same goes for “the whites” or anyone else.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Hey Veronica,

        Thanks for taking the time to write out your thought/explanations on all this stuff. Like I said before, it’s fucking complicated. At least it is to me. I get your point about humility tho. Presumption plays a really big role in perpetuating the dynamic we’re talking about and I agree that humility is useful antidote to both expressing those beliefs in an inappropriate context as well as being one effective “cure” to holding/believing them.

        One of the things I can’t get away from is what I’ve been viewing lately as a paradox of privilege wrt race issues in America. Given the happenstance of my position in society (white, male, christian heritage, physically able bodied, etc) I’m incapable of understanding on a personal level the types of power dynamics we’re talking about. As you said, it’s an intellectual issue for me. (Tho I’d add that it’s more than merely a curiosity 🙂 And that fact – never having been on the receiving end of the types of passive, let alone active, types of bigotry we’re talking about – reduces my views on the topic to … what exactly? … an intellectual exercise? The paradox is that my privileged position in society renders my views on race and other similar power dynamics, and maybe more precisely, my efforts to ameliorate/correct those imbalances, to being merely the expressions of privilege. Or something like that, anyway.

        It seems to me the idea it’s a paradox gains traction insofar as we view these types of issues as a power struggle, and perhaps what I’m interested in is getting past defining these types of things exclusively in terms of power. Seems to me lots of thinking people also want to get past that – and often enough the way those folks express their views looks pretty much like a desire to preserve existing, and to them favorable, power imbalances. (And in all too many instances I think that’s exactly what they’re doing.) But if the whole dynamic is defined in terms of power, then as a matter of logic everything I say about the issue gets understood/evaluated/interpreted/analyzed/reacted to as if it were an expression of power by those who are on the receiving end of institutional bigotry. That is, everything I say can be viewed as perpetuating the current power dynamics. And that strikes me weird. Paradoxical, in fact.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        James,

        You’re not special, you’re not a unique little snowflake. You’re just another human.

        I think this comment misses something important about Veronica’s position in our society, myself. Wrt to the issues we’re talking about – expressions of bigotry derived from social privilege – she’s in a position you and I could never (like, logically never) be in. Just recognizing that fact strikes me as pretty essential to the discussion we’re having right now.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        kim,

        What’s your point?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Stillwater,
        My point is that experiencing bigotry is possible for anyone, but that it does take work.
        (Personally, I’d suspect the easiest one to pull off would be ableism. Just plunk your ass in a wheelchair for a month.)

        I’m to the point where I feel like that might be a pretty damn enriching experience for most folks.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater — You should read that book I mentioned above, Impro by Keith Johnstone. On the surface it is a book about improvisational theater. And that’s a cool subject. But in reality it is one of those really about everything that matters books.

        (Which makes sense, if you think about what it really takes to be a good actor, how you must use your most internal, most vulnerable places as the tools of your trade. A lot of the training that Johnstone suggests is helping actors find that place.)

        Anyway, he talks a lot about status and what he calls “status games.” The ostensible reason he talks about this is his belief that “getting the status right” is half the battle of playing a convincing scene.

        I’m not an actor. I don’t know if that is true. But he writes well.

        But the thing is, since these status games are supposed to be life-like, he talks much about status in our lives, how it actually works off the stage.

        One observation: we play status games literally all the time, raising and lowering our status relative to our partners. It’s just what we do. And we are very sensitive to it.

        (A teaching trick he suggests: have your students play a scene where they maintain a status just above or just below their partners. It builds sensitivity to status. It makes them really observe each other, instead of only thinking about what they-themselves will do next.)

        Okay, but my real point: he suggests that we engage in status games with our friends and partners, again literally all the time. The reason this is not a problem, he claims, the reason we don’t drive our friends crazy, is that we do so playfully. We don’t suppress status. We don’t erase it. Instead, we use it as a tool, and let it shift freely, and (this is most) unseriously.

        This sounds deeply true to me.

        I think this must have some important lesson regarding privileged-versus-non-privileged discourse. I think status games play a role, somehow. Furthermore, I think getting to a place of “playful status” is probably critical.

        But I have no idea how.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      Definitely helps if it’s followed by some explanation and description of the privilege and how it might be active in that context. The reason privilege is an issue is that it so often goes unrecognized.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        I agree. And something like the “standing” of the person who calls privilege also plays a role. If Kazzy were to tell me to check my privilege, I’d be less inclined to get defensive and more inclined to try to see it, as Zic suggests, as constructive criticism. (Of course, Kazzy’s not the kind of person who says “check your privilege.” He’s willing to ask the difficult questions that Aitch refers to above, and listen to the answers.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        I’m curious… what about my “standing” would make you more receptive to me as the deliverer? Because you and I share similar privilege? Or because I’ve otherwise proven myself not to be the kind of person to shut down conversation? Something else? I agree that the deliverer matters — and I’d like to think that I’d be the sort of person who it would be received favorably from — just trying to get at the “why”.

        Thanks.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        It’s possible the fact that because you share many forms of the same privilege as I do, that factors into my statement. But it wasn’t something I was consciously thinking of when I said it.

        For me, it’s more that I realize from reading and interacting with you on this site (I used to be “Pierre Corneille,” in case you didn’t know), that you want to have a dialogue and not shut people up.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        Clearly you haven’t been reading carefully enough. I want nothing more than to shut people up. I’m just lousy at it. 🙂

        And, yes, I know you are artist formerly known as PC.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        Okay, I’ll be quiet 🙂Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Gabriel Conroy
      Ignored
      says:

      @gabriel-conroy I think this gets to the heart of why I simultaneously think the recognition and discussion of privilege is important in almost any political/cultural conversation *and* find most discussions around it lacking.

      Most disagreements that get into “privilege”seem to be arguments that ultimately have two main conflicting points of view crossing sabers:

      1. Person A (usually from the group deigned “privileged” in the context of whatever is being discussed) refusing to acknowledge that other points of view than their own might have some or even greater validity, and

      2. Person B arguing that Person A’s “privilege” negates any point of view that does not conform with Person B’s point of view.

      It seems to me that the unspoken word that everyone brushes up against (but never uses) is empathy.

      I wish that word would get more use in these conversations. As it is, the argument that swirls around “privilege” (to my eyes) ends up being essentially everyone making justifications for why they alone should be excused from practicing any empathy at all.Report

  10. Avatar veronica dire
    Ignored
    says:

    Privilege is relative.

    I am white, thus I have white privilege. I was raised middle-class, thus I have class privilege. I have a good job, so there is that. I am able bodied (to a fair degree) and of sound mind (more or less). This implies privileges.

    When I am dealing with people of color, working class people, people with little education, people with disabilities, I try to keep in mind how society is constructed to favor people like me, and how these advantages are largely invisible, by which I mean taken for granted, and how this hinders my ability to fully understand the struggles that less privileged people face.

    This is not prohibitively difficult to understand.

    Furthermore, knowing of privilege helps me understand a very important point: if I want to understand the experiences of those less privileged, I have to listen to them. I mean, really listen, which requires that I set aside my theories and notions of what things must be like. I make it a point to never utter, “No, you’re not looking at this right… I read in a book somewhere… Let me tell you what this really means…” and on and on, things like that. I don’t say them, because how the fuck would I know?

    Humility — it’s a thing.

    I also lack a few important privileges. Sometimes I talk about those.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to veronica dire
      Ignored
      says:

      Privilege might in theory be a relative thing but it does not seem to be used that way. People inclined to use the phrase “check your privilege” seem to divide the world into the bad or clueless people with privilege and the virtuous people without it. You are privileged or you are not, end of story.

      I’m also really not seeing any evidence that referring to somebody as privileged is a good way to have them rethink their position. It tends to get people to double-down more than even go through superficial re-examination.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        @leeesq — I would humbly suggest that what you “hear” people saying about privilege has as much to do with your capacity to listen as it does with what they are saying. Also keep in mind that those who are young and passionate tend to wield their tools in a clumsy way. Be patient with them. But if you take the time to get one or two layers into the conversation, you’ll find much more there.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to veronica dire
      Ignored
      says:

      @veronica-dire

      I would humbly suggest that what you “hear” people saying about privilege has as much to do with your capacity to listen as it does with what they are saying.

      Hi-yup.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    How about this:

    “Realize that as a middle-class eighteen-year-old you have learned, roughly speaking, nothing about the real world. Princeton is an extraordinary opportunity to rectify that. Declaring yourself a ‘Scalia groupie’ at this point will simply build a shell around your current self-satisfied ignorance. You have two choices: be humble and open to learning from other people’s experiences, or remain a waste of space. “Report

  12. Avatar Stanley
    Ignored
    says:

    I happened to stumble into this discussion and am impressed by its civility relative to so many other sites where the comment section is rife with blabbering hatred. The discussion here seems fair and somewhat balanced and for that I laud you, whomever you are, Mr Master of this Site. Unfortunately, the initial article which introduces the topic is so rife with errors and misstatements as to render much of what follow quite useless. As Tal Fortgang points out, the problem really is that people insist on making assumptions about the person they are ostensibly engaging in “conversation” with without ever really finding out who they are or from whence they came. All of you above in this string have made assumptions, including the assumption that the writer of the initial piece presents an accurate picture of what occurred. Unfortunately, and you can trust me on this, you’re all way off base. You see I know this story; I AM this story; Tal Fortgang is my son and you, my new friends, are clueless.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Stanley
      Ignored
      says:

      Hey, welcome.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Stanley
      Ignored
      says:

      Calling everyone clueless is not exactly something I equate with civility but that could just be me. Nor does it seem to be the way to win friends or influence people.Report

      • Avatar Stanley in reply to Saul DeGraw
        Ignored
        says:

        I hesitated before using the term and honestly did not meant to offend. However, I chose it for its “literalness” in this case since I know 100% of the facts and unfortunately you have misrepresented so many of them and made assumptions on so many more. It’s not necessarily your fault but you never talked to anyone in my family and clearly lifted your “facts” from other sites including an off-the cuff twitter remark (“scalia groupie”). You assumed Tal’s politics based on snippets you saw or read in the blogosphere but I as I am sure you are aware, that there is nuance to any thoughtful person’s worldview, even at 20 (yes he is 20 and not 18 as you wrote). You simply misrepresent (and I have no problem granting you do so unintentionally) because you are quite uninformed of the facts that occurred, the motivations behind his article, his political views or anything else about him. I have watched intently how the narrative has evolved online over the last week and its quite incredible to see the game of telephone we used to play as kids occurring in real-life. Finally, I am not here to make friends or influence people, nor am I here to offend anyone. I simply joined in because I thought the discourse here was most civil and could therefore be a place where I could safely alert the participants to the very incorrect presentation of the “facts”. My only issue with you is that you wantonly tell a story that I know with 100% certainty you know nothing FACTUAL about. I am sorry if that offends but I know of no other way to say it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul DeGraw
        Ignored
        says:

        Feel free to tell the story. People here may not end up agreeing with you, but they will listen.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul DeGraw
        Ignored
        says:

        @stanley

        I say welcome, too. I’d also like to hear the story.

        Having said that, I’m going to say something that might sound uncivil or at least confrontational: It’s very difficult to know 100% of the facts of any case, no matter how close one is to the situation. That seems to be true of this situation.

        From what I understand–and I have read only the OP and some link I found on Yahoo news–this situation involves not only what the gentleman at Princeton wrote, but also a conversation or set of conversations he’s had on campus or in class. Conversations being conversations, there are at least two perspectives to each of them, the perspective of person A and the perspective of person B (and C, and D, etc.) Each one would have approached and interpreted those conversations from his or her own perspective. That would be true even when most of the facts are stipulated by everyone in the discussion. There’s still can be an interpretation that is more right or more plausible than another.

        Again, I realize what I’ve just said can sound like a challenge or can sound confrontational. And I don’t want to pile on too much. If you’re close to the situation, then of course you could offer a view that most (all?) of us here are ignorant of and that we need to hear.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Stanley
      Ignored
      says:

      As Chris, welcome. Hope you stick around.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Stanley
      Ignored
      says:

      Thanks for stopping by, and any first-hand information you could add would be extremely welcome. (Or if you don’t want to violate your family’s privacy, I completely understand.)Report

      • Avatar Stanley in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Before I call it a night–its been a heck of a week for our family, I will just respond to the requests for clarification. Protecting our privacy, especially in light of threats already received, will preclude me from saying very much but for starters, the entire introductory paragraph is made up from whole cloth. I assume that Mr DeGraw read it somewhere (although I don’t know where) and didn’t invent it but it quite simply is not what happened. It is someone’s complete invention. Tal’s motivation in writing this article (which he never intended nor dreamt would gain any attention beyond the readership of the Tory on campus) was not one incident, not one attack and not one confrontation. In fact, it’s not even just about Princeton. Read the very first line of his article and you will see it right there in black and white.Report

      • Avatar Stanley in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        and the “Scalia Groupie” comment was lifted from his twitter page where he responded to a recent followers query as to what he would like to do in the future with: “either supreme court justice or GM of the New York Rangers”. so much for subtle humor. Oh and his twitter page has now been shut as a response to threats he has been receiving. see where assuming you know something can be problematic?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say I’m horrified your son has been receiving threats, and I wish the best for you and your family.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling certainly speaks for me when he says he’s horrified at the death threats.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @stanley

        I also think that death threats or any threat of violence are an unacceptable response to any speech or expression of viewpoint whether liberal or conservative.Report

  13. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    Having read the kid’s article, I do wonder ever Saul got some of his facts.Report

  14. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    Groups sometimes become white after being oppressed by whites. The Irish, for example. Maybe Italians too.Report

  15. Avatar Brandon Berg
    Ignored
    says:

    Insofar as the phrase “check your privilege” is being used as shorthand for a valid point, that same point can always be made more clearly and explicitly, and in a way that is less subject to misinterpretation, by actually making the point. In cases where it’s not shorthand for a valid point, it probably shouldn’t be said at all. Which is to say, there’s probably never really any good reason to say it.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
      Ignored
      says:

      When it works, and only when it works, it invites the person on the receiving end to question themselves, and where they stand. it invites them to ask questions that they might not otherwise ask about other people.

      It’s something that Does Work in the ingroup it can be used in. And, as it works, it is an affirming, “togetherness” sort of thing.

      It also shouldn’t be used nastily. There’s a way to say check your privilege that invites the other person to ask back “what the hell?” if they don’t get it. (I’m picturing a half smile and an eyeroll. making it more sardonic, and “you’ll get it…” and less of a beatdown).Report

  16. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    Now that I’ve read Mr. Fortgang’s essay, I’ll make a few observations that he might or might not find useful, if he were to read this blog post.

    I have probably the almost ideal portfolio of privileges someone in 21st century American society could ask for, especially if all one is concerned about is the first-start advantage that helps so much in the race for economic well-being and social power. I’m a white, straight, cis-gendered, native English-speaking, at least 3-generation American male raised in one (actually two) of the variants of Christianity. I have working-class background and was a first generation college student, and those facts have presented challenges to me, but even so, my family was affluent enough that I never wanted for any of the basics, and in fact had more than I needed growing up. My parents owned our house outright and had some money stored away. I’ve also been gifted with at least a strong, although not prodigious, intelligence and aptitude for education that has helped me immensely.

    Still, like Mr. Fortgang, I have my own accomplishments. I’ve done those things through my hard work and keeping my nose clean. I’ve had some personal challenges that were really trying for me, and they’re of the sort that many here would listen sympathetically but many also would mock me for having those challenges or seeing them as challenges. (I’m being deliberately vague and don’t want to go into them here and now.) In other words I, like everyone else, have my own story and am more than my privilege.

    But I am also my privilege, too. I cannot speak for Mr. Fortgang, although it will sound like I’m trying to when I say the following. I’ve become more aware of my privilege as I’ve grown older. I’m 40 years old now. When I was 18, I was much more certain that my accomplishments were my own than I am now. To be clear, at 18, I said all the right things–in an interview I had at the University of Denver (which I eventually didn’t go to) I remember telling the professor how much I owed what I had to my parents (a true fact, but at the time I probably only partly believed it)–and I had (and still have) a nagging sense of undeservedness. But overall I really did believe that most of what I had I had worked for and deserved.

    Over the next 22 years, I learned much more about myself and others that taught me and still teaches me that I have certain advantages that others don’t enjoy. The apparently simple fact that I have never been sick (other than colds or occasional flu), knock, for example, has been huge. Not to mention the more “social” aspects of my privilege. I won’t go into all of them, but just refer the reader to my “portfolio” of privileges above.

    Again, I’m not going to try to speak for Mr. Fortgang above. There are likely challenges he’s faced that I know nothing of. And in his essay, he at least recognizes his privilege. I’m also not going to do the condescending “oh, he’ll learn when he grows older” because, well, I hate it when older people say that to younger people as if the young have no self-conception. I will say, however, that for me, growing older has been a continuous “teachable moment” about my privilege, especially as I gradually lose the privilege of youth (but graduate into the sometimes beneficial sometimes harmful “privilege” of middle age….there’s a lot of unearned respect for me that I had never had before, but also a greater possibility of employment discrimination than I’ve faced before).Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems important to note that privilege is not a tangible, static thing that one either always has or doesn’t have. It is contextual. It can vary in its intensities. And privilege exists along a variety of metrics which can and do intersect.

    So the question of whether someone does or does not have privilege can only be answered if we know the circumstances in which we are viewing him and relative to who.

    Everyone — at some point in their life and in some way — has privilege. Everyone — at some point in their life and in some way — will be discriminated against or oppressed.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      This reminds me of a thought I had during a conversation with a friend: Talking about “privileges” is more constructive than talking about “privilege.” “Privileges” are concrete and quantifiable. “Privilege” is nebulous and hand-wavy. “Privileges” forces you to say exactly what you mean and state your assumptions. “Privilege” allows you to insinuate while maintaining plausible deniability.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        I really agree with this. One should expect to get a “WTF?” response out of most people when one uses slangy shorthand, and one should be glad to explain.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        To be clear, I’m not accusing you of those things, Kazzy.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        @brandon-berg

        That’s fair, thought he reason it might often be offered in the singular is because a specific type of privilege is being discussed (e.g., “white privilege”). Now, if that still feels nebulous, I understand that. Referring to “white privileges” — the set of societal benefits bestowed upon white people simply as a function of being white — as opposed to “white privilege” might be preferable. Something to think about. When I call people out on privilege, I generally try to identify the specific form it’s taken. “Do you think it might be easy for you to say that because X?”Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Right. What I meant was that instead of saying “Check your privilege,” someone should say specifically what privileges he or she means, and why they constitute a valid argument against what the other person says. It seems to me that the answers to these questions are too often elided, not only from the words actually said, but sometimes even from the thought process behind those words.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        You’ve obviously never been hungry when you make your argument about why we should eliminate the Death Penalty. Check your privilege.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        “You’ve obviously never been hungry when you make your argument about why we should eliminate the Death Penalty.”

        I have. I swear, sometimes on a busy night it takes the chef at Huitrerie Regis 45 minutes to properly prepare the chateaubriand with zinfandel reduction.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Maybe we could come up with a lack of privilege way to shut down the conversation.

        “I swear that I would listen to your argument if only you didn’t use the word ‘nukular’. Please check your (insert whatever it is here).”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        I hear you, @brandon-berg . And appreciate your thoughtful criticism. I’d say that the reason such specifics are often elided is because some folks grow weary of constantly having to be the “teacher” on such issues. I believe the hope is that “Check your privilege” will be — or should be — sufficiently understood and puts the onus on the person receiving the message to do their own self-reflection and understand where they might have erred.

        In much the same way that sometimes we just want to tell people to stop being a asshole without explaining exactly what they did that was assholish and instead just hope they understand it or can figure it out. Obviously, the notion of privilege and what constitutes it is not nearly as ubiquitous as would be necessary to utilize such an approach.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Kazzy,
        Self-reflection is a good thing. And when the damn phrase works, it’s affirming “Hey, you’re acting like an idiot, but we know you can do better. Think a jot, and figure out where you’re wrong.”

        Problem is, if someone gets hostile or doesn’t see where they’re wrong, you gotta jump in and help ’em see.Report

  18. Avatar David Ryan
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve heard we Irish can also pass for white, though I’ve never been able to pull it off. Maybe it’s because my mother is Jewish.Report

  19. Avatar David Ryan
    Ignored
    says:

    Also a belated welcome aboard, Saul.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *