13 May 2014

Latest Media Obsession: Checking Your Privilege

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Tal Fortgang‘s rejection of collective guilt (“I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.”) in the Princeton Tory last month, provoked a Tsunami of media discussion.


The classic condescending left-wing rejoinder, explaining to Fortgang that, just “because your ancestors dealt with some shit,” he is not allowed to forget that he is still just the “fully abled person in a race against a man with only one leg” came from “Violet Baudelaire” at Jezebel.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy, in the Atlantic, for instance, took the position that Fortgang just didn’t understand.

A certain sort of self-deprecating privilege awareness has become, in effect, upper- or upper-middle-class good manners, maybe even a new form of noblesse oblige, reinforcing class divides. When Fortgang’s classmates admonish him to check his privilege, what they’re really doing is socializing him into the culture of the class he’ll enter as a Princeton graduate. Failure to acknowledge privilege is very gauche, maybe even nouveau riche.

Besides Fortgang, she contends, is taking it too seriously. Privilege-checking really only amounts to a method of class affirmation, combined with (what used to be called) One-Upsmanship.

The self-deprecatory, class-signaling approach might (but rarely does) serve as a first step towards genuine self-examination and, in turn, some broader social-justice commitment. But the main result of privilege talk is scrappiness one-upmanship among the privileged.


Daniel D’Addario, in Salon, described the practice of even questioning leftwing PC as producing “an unsavory debate,” and then (descending to crude utilitarianism) scolded Fortgang for bad PR.

Princeton cannot control the public statements made by its students (and parents of students), and nor should it try to. But it’s amazing how neatly these unofficial spokespeople keep stepping into the school’s pop cultural caricature as a status-obsessed carnival of eating clubs and lawn parties. What Princeton seems to do uniquely well is to train people to say “I went to Princeton.” (Consider Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz — he of the Princeton tiger tattoo!) And it hardly seems ideal that the university’s place in the public conversation right now has absolutely nothing to do with academics and everything to do with embarrassing op-eds. “Princeton” is an adjective attached to a woman urging other women to compete for the most successful men in order to enjoy comfortable lives. And now, to a teenager bragging in print about how his ancestors had the unique idea to work hard, one other people’s ancestors evidently didn’t. Check your privilege, Princeton. Or at least: check your PR strategy.


The only possible PC-response from the male white heterosexual is here:

One Feedback on "Latest Media Obsession: Checking Your Privilege"


I have no connection with Louis Vuitton. Can I still comment? Good. I’ve always wondered what the difference is between social justice and regular justice.


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