What’s More Annoying: Checking Privilege Or Complaining About Checking Privilege?

Privilege comes with so much baggage these days, amirite? Especially on college campuses when entering students are often first exposed to the concept. The impulse to bristle and become defensive can be very strong. “Who, me? No, I’m not privileged. Something bad happened to my grandparents too. They worked hard and then my parents worked hard and that’s why I’m here today. Why should I apologize for that?”

Our impulses are not always our best friends. Yes, it’s hard to feel criticized or to have the sense that, upon achieving something great, your effort and perseverance will be dismissed as “luck.” Princeton dude who started this latest round of public brou-ha-ha-ing about privilege: I get it! It can suck to be identified as “the oppressor.” But try to see it, and yourself, from a different point of view, one articulated calmly and thoughtfully in Time by your classmate Briana Payton:

White men are the only ones who have been afforded political and social rights since the founding of this country. In a sense, this constitutes a head start, or a privilege. Women and minorities, on the other hand, have had to fight for equal status. Moreover, that fight still rages today. Women earn only 77% of what men are paid, and it’s worse for women of color. There’s also unconscious bias, which undoubtedly affects behavior, but is more difficult to address due to its subtlety. For instance, a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school found that white males are more likely to receive a response from professors than minorities and women report. If Fortgang can’t accept that his gender and race are beneficial to him, then he should at least concede that they are not a hindrance, which is more than can be said for women and minorities.

There is much more and Payton’s thorough, patient argument is well-worth reading in its entirety. So is the invaluable, well-worn tool Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. TL;DR? I’ll sum up.

You don’t have to sit around feeling guilty because you’re privileged. In fact, please don’t! What a waste of energy. There is no Expiation Dance you can do that will rid you of your hetero, able, cis-gendered, affluent white maleness, nor does there need to be. You can instead, as Payton herself does, acknowledge the ways you are fortunate, allow that to increase your empathy for others, and use your powers for good, like Spiderman. That’s it! That is all that is required of you.

Because I am 10+ years older than you, Princeton Dude, and remember well being a stubborn college kid still learning about the world, I’m not going to delve farther into your piece and point out the flaws in your argument. It’s kind of unfortunate that anything we write as eighteen or nineteen year olds should see the light of day, let alone the censure of opinionated strangers. (Poor Shailene Woodley! She just needs one good history / women’s studies class.) If you can understand how you might have been mistaken, summon up that manly courage and apologize. Once. It’s good practice! Then we can move on.



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