Monday, May 05, 2014

The 'Princeton White Privilege Guy' Shouldn't Be Silenced, But He Doesn't Understand What White Privilege Means

Tal Fortgang wrote "Checking My White Privilege" for the campus conservative publication the Princeton Tory. 

I am not familiar with the expression 'check your privilege' with which he frames the piece.  He says it is used to silence him as a white male from contributing his opinions in general.  He does not provide any specifics, so it is hard to know the context in which the phrase is actually used.  The closest he comes to an account of how it is used is not, he allows, meant to silence him.  Rather, he says, the charge "teeters between" urging him to examine the roots of his opinion to see if they are framed by privilege, and to suggest that he apologize for having those privileges.

If that is what 'check your privilege' means, then examining the roots of his opinions seems like a reasonable call to critical thinking.  If they do, in fact, mean that he should apologize for his privileges, that would seem to go over the line.  But he does not say they do, so it is hard to know what his actual complaint boils down to.

The bulk of the essay, though, is not really about checking his white or male privilege at all.  It is an account of hard and heroic things done in his family. He checked his family's story of surviving persecution and working hard, and concluded that he does not have any privilege, but only a legacy of good values.

Which means that in his essay on 'white male privilege' he never actually addresses white male privilege.  He is right that his whiteness and maleness is not the whole story of his life.  But neither does he say anyone else said it was.  He does not acknowledge, though, that there have been untold small advantages of whiteness and maleness in his path thus far, which, indeed, is some of the story of his life.

In fact, in this short essay, he does not show any understanding of what his unnamed interlocutors are talking about when they urge him to 'check his privilege'.  That work is still undone.


Tilly said...

White privilege is a term used to stop debate much as racist is...

Tilly said...

The accusation of white privilege is a thought stopper too.

gruntled said...

Now that we have stopped to think about it, what do you think white privilege really is?

ceemac said...

Here's a link to a Ross Douthat column looking at the book "Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality."

It just occurred to me that the privileged have a greater margin for error in college just like they do in the justice system.

I think you have posted on the class disparity of 1st encounters with the justice system for the the same offenses.

It's a pretty big margin for error if your parents can pay cash for a 5th year at Centre and are willing to do it.

Bubba said...

You mean that he doesn't agree with your definition.

gruntled said...

And what is that definition?