Princeton student attacked for questioning the shaky concept of ‘white privilege’
PRINCETON, N.J. – A Princeton University student’s editorial regarding “white privilege” in an obscure student newspaper has unleashed a media backlash that will undoubtedly convince others to think twice before criticizing the concept.
Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang recently penned the editorial, “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege” for The Princeton Tory, a small conservative student newspaper, after a fellow classmate told him to “check your privilege.”
The phrase is based on the radical concept of white privilege – that society is stacked in favor of white males and against minorities and women. In his editorial, Fortgang argued the popular “check your privilege” comment is being used to silence those who have a different perspective.
“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,” he wrote. “But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all of 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 male whiteness who places it out for me before I even arrive.”
Fortgang went on to describe how his family struggled to escape the Holocaust and start a new life in America. He describes how the hard work of his grandparents, parents, and himself translated into the “privilege” of attending Princeton.
His point, it seems, is that each person has a unique experience and family history that comes with unique privileges and disadvantages, but the biggest privileges in America come from “altruism and self-sacrifice” rather than skin color or sex.
Fortgang’s perspective, however, turned him into the whipping boy of liberal commentators, spawning countless editorials – including some from his classmates. That happened after Time.com reprinted the 20-year-old’s op-ed with the more titillating title “Why I’ll Never Apologize for my White Male Privilege.”
“They didn’t tell me they’d change the title of the piece, which I think drastically changed the mentality people had about how they were going to approach reading it before they even started,” Fortgang told Newsweek, adding that he’s received threats of violence over the episode.
Regardless, the whole debacle really highlights a fundamental rift in American politics. Vice.com’s analysis of the situation provides a good explanation of why Fortgang’s editorial raised such a ruckus:
“He expressed something that many conservatives feel on a deep level, which is that the discourse of ‘social justice’ (the current catchall phrase used to describe pretty much everyone to the left of the Democratic Party) warps language and belittles their views,” Harry Cheadle wrote for Vice.
“When a leftist talks, wealth means greed, masculinity means sexism, pride means racism, traditional values means homophobia, and rural America means a bunch of idiots. … It can seem like left-wing activists have built their own vocabulary and grammar, and if you don’t use their language and agree with them on everything you are scorned and insulted.
“When they call you ‘ignorant’ they don’t mean that they want to educate you into enlightenment; they want to shame you into shutting the f*** up,” Cheadle wrote.
That, essentially, is how the “check your privilege” phrase is used in many contexts. Whether or not Fortgang acknowledges that his whiteness has advantages, his editorial points out a popular tactic used by the left to squash opposing viewpoints.
If someone is white, and you don’t agree with what they say, throw out a “check your privilege” and the debate’s over. How lame.
If progressives championing the idea of white privilege want to debate the merits of their beliefs, that’s one thing. But those who shout others down by telling them to “check their privilege” do nothing but discourage intelligent discussion of the topic.
If they automatically reject every point of view but their own, there’s no point in talking to them, anyway.
Authored by Victor Skinner