It must be nice to be privileged based on God-given factors that society upholds. The sweetest part of it is not knowing that you have it. Yet, you show it off in ways that will likely set some people off. And they have the audacity to tell you to “check it”.
That’s what happened to Princeton University’s student Tal Fortgang. This young man wrote an article to the school’s newspaper The Princeton Tory entitled “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege“. He starts off writing about how opinions (particularly his) have been struck down by his “moral superiors” and how it felt like being targeted by – are you ready for this – a drone:
“Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.
It sounds to me like Fortgang was one of those people who said or did some things that riled up other folks. But, having privilege can make one blind, deaf and dumb to not only the real world, but also their own actions. Fortgang thought that the people were out to guilt trip him due to the fact that he’s a white male (not because he’s likely a pompous douche) and as such, he is part of the power structure built and reserved only for his race and gender. In short, he feels like an undeserving victim.
The usual script continues. Fortgang blames others who told him about his apparent privileged attitude. He subtly accuses them of racism. He lashes out at them for ignoring his personal accomplishments and lumping him into the privileged white male club. And having the gall to suggest that racism and sexism are still running things. In fact, he doesn’t believe that there is a racial and gender hierarchy in today’s society. Instead, meritocracy is real, and those who haven’t “made it” only have themselves to blame.
So, Fortgang decides to take the advice and “checked his privilege”. But instead of a real introspection and a little research as to the advantages placed on white males by an unfair society and how he benefits from it, he takes us on a personal family history lesson describing their many trials, tribulations and accomplishments in a fruitless attempt to shut down the idea that he has white male privilege:
Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.
It’s amazing that his family went through the hell of Nazism in World War II and remained strong enough to eventually come to this country and worked hard to earn the fabled American Dream. And if Fortgang did work hard to get to Princeton, that’s also admirable. The real problem with bringing the story into the article is no one is saying any of those struggles and achievements are acts of privilege, because they aren’t.
Those with privileges don’t know what they are and what they mean. Most often, people confuse having “privilege” as being born with silver spoons in their mouths or having money to burn. While that is one from of privilege, there are others that don’t require cash. Being born white means having certain societal advantages, rights and benefits given to you due to having white skin. Being born male means the same, provided that you have a penis. Get the picture?
Sadly, like Fortgang, not all will, and they are the ones who have privileges. They are often the first ones to cry victim when someone speaks about it. They will still argue how they don’t have privileges even if you present a list of things they can do and get away with that you can’t. And like Fortgang, they will apologize to no one due to their delusion that their position was purely 100% earned.
Fortgang may have thought that he was taking a stand. He may even thought he was speaking on behalf of the victimized, hard working white man. But instead, he came out sounding ignorant as hell, looking like a total jackass, especially after checking out his tweets, and embarrassed his Alma Mater, all because of a little thing he’s not sorry for.