It perplexes the hell out of me that educated people have such a problem grasping the concept of privilege. I think it’s because when we think of the word “privilege,” many of us tend to think of rewards. A gold star, a sum of money, a medal. Especially money. We tend to think of ease and comfort.
And while there is certainly an element of ease involved in white privilege, what it’s really about is opportunity.
I hate to give publicity to anyone who seems like a douchebag (and this guy really, really does), but what got me thinking about this was an article I saw today. It was shared by Guerrilla Feminism on Facebook, and it concerned the writing of a Jewish Princeton student who was denouncing the idea of white privilege. After telling readers of his ancestors’ struggles (and deaths) during the Holocaust, he goes on to say this:
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 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.
Now, let me just take a moment to say that I don’t in any way mean to diminish someone else’s struggle. The experiences of his family in the Holocaust, the experiences of any Jewish person in America, those are experiences I’ve never had and will never know. The Holocaust was horrifying, devastating, and any person that went through that deserves respect and more.
That said…what this guy says after that isn’t quite accurate. If you read the entire article, he describes the hard work of his grandparents and father, earning money, getting into great schools, running a successful (but, he points out, not very influential) business. His place in life, he says, is owed to the hard work of those who came before him, not to the color of his skin, and as you can read in the excerpt I posted, America doesn’t care about religion or race.
This is where we can see a dude who, while he is obviously well-written and well-educated concerning his personal family history, seems to have missed a great deal in terms of American history, not to mention religious studies. Which is weird, because he’s obviously familiar with Martin Luther King Jr. (“the content of your character”). So why doesn’t he care to acknowledge the Civil Rights movement?
What if your hard-working grandfather and father had come to America….and not had access to the job opportunities available only to white people? To the same lunch counters that white businessmen had access to? The same neighborhoods? The same water fountains?
Maybe their hard work would have been a little bit different, and maybe even a little more divided- between family, work, and fighting to be accepted as a full human being.
This guy seems to already know that context is extremely important- he points out that you never know another person’s struggles, another person’s background, their history, their context. And yet, he’s content to focus on one big part of history while ignoring another ENORMOUS part of it.
That’s not to undermine the accomplishments of his family, or even of the man himself. But if you’ve gotten into Princeton, you must’ve had to take some sort of social science? Some kind of history? How could you have forgotten Civil Rights (not to mention, oh I don’t know, slavery)?
Having white privilege doesn’t mean that all white people have lives that are, to quote this article, “a cake walk.” (And I wonder if Kyle Becker of Independent Journal Review even know what a cakewalk is or where it came from?) It doesn’t mean you’ve never had to work hard, that you are rich, or that your achievements are not worthwhile. What it means is that you (and those in the generations before you in America) had access to opportunities that not all people do; that you’ve never had to wonder if MAYBE you weren’t hired at a job because of the color of you skin; that you’ve generally seen people that look similar to you in most facets of popular media; and that you’ve never felt that you had to make drastic changes to your vernacular in order to be perceived as intelligent, let alone fully human.
Tal Fortgang, from whitey to whitey: I understand that you’ve worked hard, that your family has worked hard, and I’m very happy that because of that, the American Dream is coming true for you.
But let me remind you that the American Dream was originally a white dream. Allow me to assure you that if you and your family hadn’t been white? That hard work would have been doubled by displacement, by an uncertain history, by discrimination, and by segregation.
The fact that you can simply ignore the Civil Rights movement and use Martin Luther King’s words out of context in order to deny your privilege, I think, says it all.
(Oh, and America doesn’t care about race or religion? You could stand to do some reading up on your current events as well.)