All posts filed under: Privilege

The Problems of “Privilege”: Lessons from the French Revolution

In recent years, ‘privilege’ has become an important concept in modern politics, academia, and popular culture. It appears in an increasing and disorienting number of forms, from male privilege and white privilege, to “gay privilege,” “black male privilege,” and “family privilege,” and these claims about privilege animate a wide array of political stances. Supporters of Hillary Clinton criticized voters for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein as privileged radicals risking a Trump victory for the sake of inflexible principles. Supporters of the latter candidates returned fire, targeting Hillary voters as privileged centrists out of touch with America’s economic and racial inequalities. Donald Trump, of course, as countless media outlets insist, is (white, male) privilege personnifed; his supporters, meanwhile, are said to demonstrate the extent of their own privilege by denying that privilege exists. In the classroom and in the media, people are increasingly asked (or made) to measure, acknowledge, and strive to reduce their privilege. “Privilege studies” is a growing field, with more and more scholar-activists devoting themselves to its practice. In the midst of all …

Skepticism About White Privilege

Privilege, and race-based privilege in particular, occupies a key niche in the rich ecosystem of error that is campus leftism. White privilege is a central theme of the protests at Evergreen State College, University of Missouri, Yale University, and so on. Detecting and eliminating it is the aim of a new method of pedagogy that effectively renders education the handmaiden of activism. Unfortunately the question “what is to be done?” has here, as in other domains, prematurely eclipsed “what is to be thought?” A close look at the notion of white privilege casts doubt on whether the racial disparities that currently exist within the U.S. constitute any such thing. White Privilege as “Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See” is a seminal work on white privilege. McIntosh observes that many men who recognize that women are disadvantaged are reluctant to admit that they are over-privileged. She extends this observation to race, lamenting that “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an …

“Privilege,” “Lived Experience,” and Other Words I Use Without Thinking

One of my most memorable lovers’ quarrels was about the controversial sociologist Alice Goffman. Go figure. “A privileged white woman who went to Princeton shouldn’t write about disadvantaged black men in West Philly!” I insisted, confidently dropping my favorite rhetorical trump card — “privilege.” “You haven’t even read her book,” my partner deadpanned, calling me out for shamelessly parroting someone else’s thoughts on Goffman. “How do you know she doesn’t have something worth saying about those communities just because she’s white?” (What a smart guy, right?) Discerning reader, you read this and probably thought something like, “Oh, she tried that whole thing.” What’s that “thing” you know I was trying to do, but are short on words for? *** “Privilege” can be a helpful term to describe systemic socioeconomic advantages that make life easier for some than others. It can help us identify what justice looks like, and what it doesn’t look like. I’ll be the first to admit, though: its ubiquity seems to make it easy and safe to use, almost without thinking. It’s what …

Feminism Blinds Students to the Truth About Men

As a student at Barnard, a women’s college in NYC, feminism pervades all aspects of the curriculum. As students, we’re awash in the pervasive narrative that women are always on the losing side of the gender wars. This is ridiculous. At a school where acknowledging intersectionality is de rigueur, one would expect to encounter dialogue about issues that men face too.  However, after two years here, I have never witnessed students or professors broach the topic in a positive way. What’s more alarming is how often female peers display conspiratorial glee when they make fun of and delegitimize men’s issues. Last week for example, a classmate posted a video featuring the scholar Christina Hoff Sommers to the Barnard 2018 class Facebook page. The video had legitimate talking points about male academic underachievement. However, in a  vicious effort to delegitimize the video’s claim that “male underachievement is everyone’s concern,” a fellow student sanctimoniously wrote that the concern is “not [her’s],” followed with an acronym that denoted laughter. This outright delegitimization of male issues was met with …

Now that I have checked my male privilege…

As a graduate student, I have been checking my male privilege for several years. As a man I am more likely to run governments and corporations due to my gender, and I have the privilege of not seeing much of that privilege. Overlapping dimensions such as race, sexual orientation, and sex/gender can shape my male privilege in a variety of ways. However, as of late I have been deeply intrigued by dissent on the topic, including Emma C. Williams’s article suggesting that making someone “check their privilege” has become a polemic bludgeon against freedom of thought, which could promote resentment from powerless groups. There is a tendency for many feminists to essentialize gender victimization into simplistic binary camps – of good and evil – even though privilege is an under-developed concept. The flagship thinking on male privilege is the male privilege checklist, a revised version of Peggy McIntosh’s brilliant White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. McIntosh discusses how privilege enjoyed by white people is invisible to them. The male privilege checklist simply substitutes “white” for …