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  1. #1
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    Default Checking My Privilege

    From RealClearPolitics:

    Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege


    There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “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.

    I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive. Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

    But they can’t be telling me that everything I’ve done with my life can be credited to the racist patriarchy holding my hand throughout my years of education and eventually guiding me into Princeton. Even that is too extreme. So to find out what they are saying, I decided to take their advice. I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend. I have unearthed some examples of the privilege with which my family was blessed, and now I think I better understand those who assure me that skin color allowed my family and I to flourish today.

    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.

    Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

    Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?” Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.

    Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacrificing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most—his wife and kids—to earn that living. I can say with certainty there was no legacy involved in any of his accomplishments. The wicker business just isn’t that influential. Now would you say that we’ve been really privileged? That our success has been gift-wrapped?

    That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still be conquering them now.

    The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.

    It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.

    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.

    It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realize the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.

    But far more important for me than his attributes was the legacy he sought to pass along, which forms the basis of what detractors call my “privilege,” but which actually should be praised as one of altruism and self-sacrifice. Those who came before us suffered for the sake of giving us a better life. When we similarly sacrifice for our descendents by caring for the planet, it’s called “environmentalism,” and is applauded. But when we do it by passing along property and a set of values, it’s called “privilege.” (And when we do it by raising questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals.) Such sacrifice of any form shouldn’t be scorned, but admired.

    My exploration did yield some results. I recognize that it was my parents’ privilege and now my own that there is such a thing as an American dream which is attainable even for a penniless Jewish immigrant.

    I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated. 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.

    Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color. My appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, and to assume that it does and that I should apologize for it is insulting. While I haven’t done everything for myself up to this point in my life, someone sacrificed themselves so that I can lead a better life. But that is a legacy I am proud of.

    I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.

  2. #2
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    The whole "check your privilege" thing is annoying and from what I gather largely used to instill guilt rather than to inform and help foster better societal relations.

    That doesn't change the fact that white privilege is a real thing. In my opinion, it's not something to feel guilty about (as nobody is responsible for the color of their skin) but it is something to be aware of so that when possible one may limit the direct negative impacts of that privilege on any person of color that one can.

    It doesn't matter how hard a white person works or how hard their family worked that doesn't change the fact that they get certain societal privileges based only on the color of their skin.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beorn View Post
    The whole "check your privilege" thing is annoying and from what I gather largely used to instill guilt rather than to inform and help foster better societal relations.

    That doesn't change the fact that white privilege is a real thing. In my opinion, it's not something to feel guilty about (as nobody is responsible for the color of their skin) but it is something to be aware of so that when possible one may limit the direct negative impacts of that privilege on any person of color that one can.

    It doesn't matter how hard a white person works or how hard their family worked that doesn't change the fact that they get certain societal privileges based only on the color of their skin.
    Pretty much this.

    The people who most often shout "check your privelage" are people who feel like they have been given the short end of the stick in life, and then paradoxically do exactly the same thing to others they felt they were on the receiving end of. It's nothing but guilt tripping for meer existence. I see this sort of thing in the gay community quite frequently and ends up being a rather nasty point of contention between groups. It's also something can't even defend because if you're "privelaged" you are unable to "understand" the other person, and thus are unworthy.

    Really, they're just trying to bring everyone down to their perceived level.
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  4. #4
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    Oh, god. There's always one daft freshman who writes embarrassingly bad articles. My only source of surprise was that this was originally in the Princeton Tory rather than the Prince, which is the usual venue for clueless freshmen and their stupid stories.

    Anyway, my point isn't that "privilege" should be used as a stick to make people feel guilty for the circumstances into which they were born or to suggest that all their accomplishments are solely dependent on those circumstances.

    It's just that this emotional tale of familial suffering has little to no bearing on the systemic advantages this guy enjoys by virtue of being who he is and where he is right now.

    It's true that the privilege police might be judging him based solely on the way he looks. That's wrong and I don't condone it.

    But it sure beats being judged on the way you look by the actual police.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by senza tema View Post
    But it sure beats being judged on the way you look by the actual police.
    this x 10

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    Quote Originally Posted by senza tema View Post
    But it sure beats being judged on the way you look by the actual police.
    Lots of bad things are not as horrible as worse things; that has little or no bearing on how constructive the promotion of any particular ideological theory is in practice (at least, not unless one must choose between the two).

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    Quote Originally Posted by lowtech redneck View Post
    Lots of bad things are not as horrible as worse things; that has little or no bearing on how constructive the promotion of any particular ideological theory is in practice (at least, not unless one must choose between the two).
    I'm not saying that the concept of privilege can't be used wrongly. That doesn't mean the concept itself doesn't have some truth to it. Blinding oneself to the fact that systemic injustice exists because "checking your privilege" is faulty in some formulations is dumb.

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    deplorable basketcase Tellenbach's Avatar
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    Just the latest attempt to shut down discussion. Those of us who are comfortable with our positions enjoy listening to dissenting opinions. Those who can't defend their positions resort to playing the race card, shouting down the opponent, and now this. It's kind of ironic how systemic stupidity is on college campuses.
    Senator Rand Paul is alive because of modern medicine and because his attacker punches like a girl.

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    Quote Originally Posted by senza tema View Post
    Oh, god. There's always one daft freshman who writes embarrassingly bad articles. My only source of surprise was that this was originally in the Princeton Tory rather than the Prince, which is the usual venue for clueless freshmen and their stupid stories.

    Anyway, my point isn't that "privilege" should be used as a stick to make people feel guilty for the circumstances into which they were born or to suggest that all their accomplishments are solely dependent on those circumstances.

    It's just that this emotional tale of familial suffering has little to no bearing on the systemic advantages this guy enjoys by virtue of being who he is and where he is right now.

    It's true that the privilege police might be judging him based solely on the way he looks. That's wrong and I don't condone it.

    But it sure beats being judged on the way you look by the actual police.
    I agree with many of the points you make, but I think you're being too harsh on him.

    Is he any more daft than the idiots constantly spewing this "check your privilege" nonsense?

    While the point he brings to the table doesn't negate the fact that he does indeed enjoy certain advantages by virtue of his race, and I recognized this gaping hole in his argument while reading it as well, his point is nonetheless relevant, as the "check your privilege" crowd have gaping holes in their arguments as well, and are all too dismissive of the fact that "privilege" isn't by any means the sole, or even primary, determinant of success. This article rightly points to that gaping hole, and, frankly, considering the apparent virulence of this whole "check your privilege" meme, it's a point that probably ought to be made more readily, openly, and often.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zarathustra View Post
    I agree with many of the points you make, but I think you're being too harsh on him.

    Is he any more daft than the idiots constantly spewing this "check your privilege" nonsense?

    While the point he brings to the table doesn't negate the fact that he does indeed enjoy certain advantages by virtue of his race, and I recognized this gaping hole in his argument while reading it as well, his point is nonetheless relevant, as the "check your privilege" crowd have gaping holes in their arguments as well, and are all too dismissive of the fact that "privilege" isn't by any means the sole, or even primary, determinant of success. This article rightly points to that gaping hole, and, frankly, considering the apparent virulence of this whole "check your privilege" meme, it's a point that probably ought to be made more readily, openly, and often.
    First of all, let's take a moment to appreciate the awesome role reversal in which you tell me I'm being too hard on someone.

    Second, yes, I agree that the "check your privilege" patrol can be deeply irritating, reductionist and wrong. Does that mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater? No.

    Frequently, I find that people who criticize the weapon do so through ad hominem attacks that set up bogeys of brainwashed hippie liberal college campuses and disgruntled minorities with hidden agendas and axes to grind ... thereby shutting their opinions down in exactly the same way they complain the privilege patrol is doing to them.

    The piece this guy has written also fails on pretty much every count in actually addressing the problems of the "check your privilege" meme. He hasn't engaged with the issue beyond an outraged knee jerk level ... which, by the way, wasn't because he was called out on his ideas in a class or anything, it actually happened on facebook. So much for Fox's hand wringing over the great hippie juggernaut at Princeton.

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