If you’ve kept up on the news or followed the social media buzz in the past few days, you have no doubt heard about the piece by a Princeton freshman entitled “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege.” Tal Fortgang’s article originally appeared on the Princeton Tory, a “journal of conservative and moderate thought,” and was published as an opinion piece in Time magazine online on May 2nd. His piece, a manifesto arguing against political correctness and defending his white male privilege, has received a storm of media attention from both critics and supporters of his opinions. As a person who lacks many forms of privilege, his piece and the responses it has catalyzed touch on issues I’ve grappled with my entire life. As a Middlebury student who sees students playing into the myth that we live in a post-racial society constantly, I was honestly excited to see a written piece that challenges this myth within an academic institution that “places a policy of diversity and inclusion at the core of [its] educational mission.”
Amongst the flood of discourse that this student’s manifesto has engendered, one response gets at the core of the issue – his failure to understand what “checking your privilege” really means. A contributor to the Groupthink blog, Violet Baudelaire writes a well-articulated response to Fortgang clarifying what it means to have privilege, what implications that has for interacting with others, and the variant forms of privilege (i.e. white men are not the only people who experience privilege). Here’s just a tidbit from her blog post:
Checking your privilege doesn’t mean anyone is asking you to say “I only have things because I am part of privileged groups”. It does mean someone is asking you to say “By position of a characteristic I was born with, I have been helped, or at least not hurt, more than others without this characteristic”. It does not mean anyone wants you to apologize for it; it does mean someone is asking for an acknowledgement of the implications of it, either for how it is impacted where you are now, how it might be skewing your perspective or level of knowledge in discussing a subject, or for how the lack of that same privilege may have made things different for someone else.
Discourse surrounding gender, sexuality, and race are commonplace on college campuses, and this year Middlebury has experienced what I view as an active resurgence of dialogues on these important topics. From the Wade Davis talk to the Amy Wax lecture, a variety of critiques have been entertained with the often-implicit undertone of dealing with privilege in a world where most people don’t have it. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or class situation Middlebury students are unified in an important type of privilege: the opportunity to attend an elite institution of higher education. With that privilege comes the responsibility to consider the different ways that privilege figures into the status of people everywhere and how to eradicate the inequalities it provokes.
Comment below on your thoughts on the Tal Fortgang’s opinion piece, Violet Baudelaire’s response, and anything and everything privilege related.