Hey, guys! Hope you all had a wonderful, joy filled winter-time holiday of your preference. So, for my last post of the year 2016, I decided to go back to my roots and write a general think piece. Today, I’m going to focus on the concept of privilege and why I think it has, like many other words, been ruined as a term.
Leftists, particularly of the Marxist-inspired progressive variety, have a real issue when it comes to the application of terms, mainly because social Marxism is a very uncompromising world view. There are oppressed classes and there are oppressor classes, and things have to fit into that mold, otherwise the theory doesn’t really work. Even when this world view is applied strictly to economic class–where the poor are the oppressed and the rich are the oppressors–it runs into the occasional road block. The late 20th century gave way to an even more expansive application of this mentality, however, where the oppressor/oppressed paradigm did not apply only to money but to things like gender and race. The oppressed proletariat wasn’t just poor people anymore: It was women and racial minorities. And the oppressive group-in-power wasn’t just the rich: It was men and white people. This isn’t necessarily a rare thing. Malcolm X was very open about deriving his views of race from Communists theories about oppression, for example. It didn’t become a mainstream view of racial and gender relations, though, until much later.
This is where the concept of privilege cropped up. It’s not an inherently useless term. To say that privilege doesn’t exist is just downright wrong, and obviously so. Trust fund kids are privileged. Not knowing the horrors of living in a war torn desert wasteland is a privilege. Your biggest problem being forgetting your iPhone charger and having to go the day without checking Facebook is a privilege.
The initial idea behind privilege wasn’t even all that objectionable. At it’s core, it meant that Person A has different life experiences than Person B, with each of them facing their own unique set of problems that the other likely has the privilege of not having to deal with as often. You can raise gripes about this, but it is not overly objectionable. Nowhere in the explanation does it state that Person A or Person B has more problems or more privileges than the other, it just states that they have different ones. Where leftist groups started going off the rails is when they took that initial idea that “different people have different problems and different privileges” and turned it into “this group has all the problems and none of the privileges, and it’s that group’s fault.”
It is here that privilege goes off the rails and veers into meaninglessness, in my opinion. I stated before that the left has trouble with the application of terms, and “privilege” is a prime example of that. The trouble arises because the Marxist mentality favors blanket statements, applied to entire groups. It’s not something overly concerned with nuances. This leads to modern-day progressives having no real gradient in their application of terms. No real means of saying “A is worse than B which is worse than C.” They have a habit of grouping A, B, and C together under the exact same term and leaving it at that, as if they’re all commensurate to each other.
We’ve seen this happen with “misogyny:” killing women for not going on a date with you is misogynistic, but so is catcalling, and so is air conditioning at the office, and so is toilet paper, and so is a subway poster for a gym, and so is this package of string cheese, and so is this doll, and so are Disney movies, and so are Halloween costumes, and on and on. We’ve seen it happen with “racism:” killing a black person because you hate niggers is racist, and so is saying you have black friends, and so is accidentally mispronouncing a name, and so is wearing your hair a certain way, and so is asking someone where they’re from, and so is wearing a style of clothing, and so is liking a certain kind of music. “Privilege” has fallen into this same trap.
Unlike “racism” and “misogyny,” however, “privilege” is a term that, in its current usage, actually entails this blanket generalization. There is no way to not overuse the term with its current connotation and usage in academia. “Privilege,” by their definition, is something applied to everyone who has a certain physical characteristic, across the board, no matter what. It is this application that lets a wealthy black entertainer say, “A homeless white man has more privilege than I ever will because he is white and I’m not.”
It is here that I have to ask how privilege is relevant enough to be worth talking about in any capacity, let alone be a main talking point on anyone’s list. This insistence on applying the term “privilege” to anyone and everyone who shares one physical characteristic has really shot the entire concept in the foot and rendered it useless. “Privilege” was supposed to be a term indicating that someone had it good where others typically didn’t. But with this blanket, universal application of it, “privilege” is no longer indicative of anything. It means nothing.
Chadley, the trust fund kid who grew up in the Palisades, went to Europe for summer vacation every year of his life, got a Maserati for his sweet 16th, went to Harvard not because his grades were good but because both his parents were legacies and they pulled some strings, and who got a job at Wall Street right after graduation has “white privilege.”
Darl, who lives in an ancient cinderblocked trailer in the middle of Appalachia, who uses cans of Coke for currency, who is missing half his teeth even though he’s not even 25 yet, doesn’t have more than a fifth grade education, and whose dying a slow death from lung cancer because the walls of his trailer are lined with asbestos, and who doesn’t even have access to a doctor to let him know that, let alone the money to pay for anything resembling a treatment for it also has “white privilege.”
Having “white privilege” is, at this point, in no way indicative of what someone’s actual life is like. It does not indicate the advantages or disadvantages they have. It doesn’t indicate what problems they are or are not faced with. It is just a strictly theoretical term arbitrarily applied to them. If you can have two people like Chadley and Darl–two people on the complete opposite extreme ends of the Quality of Life scale–and say that both of them have the same privileges by virtue of being white, then congratulations! “White privilege” is worthless! To quote The Incredibles: “If everyone is special, then no one is.” If every white person is privileged, then none of them are.
Chadley is without a doubt a privileged guy. The issue with calling it “white privilege” is that it implies that it’s a privilege that other white people have access to as well. I don’t know why this is necessary for me to point out: But if someone does not have a certain privilege . . . they don’t have it. Chadley has the privilege, and Darl patently does not. You’re not really talking about Darl when you talk about white people being the ones “in power.” But if white privilege is something that only matters when it actually manifests itself, why is it spoken about like it’s something that all white people have at all times? Are you starting to see why applying “privilege” to entire groups of people based off of a physical characteristic doesn’t make much sense to me?
Let’s say that white people have the privilege of not being abused by cops. I’m not saying that’s actually the case, but it’s a very frequent talking point used, so let’s just run with it. What about the white people who are abused by cops? Did their privilege just not check in for work that day? It’s really starting to sound like “privilege” just refers to how certain situations would conceivably play out in hypothetically, with no regard for how they actually do play out for individuals. So the white guy has the privilege of not being abused by a cop in a hypothetical run-in with one, and if reality doesn’t mesh with that hypothetical situation . . . whatever. Privilege was still on his side, theoretically.
So is “privilege” just having . . . the potential capacity for things to possibly go better for you in certain situations, hypothetically? Because that is very vague and doesn’t do much to address the what-ifs. What if that white guy is a heroine addict too poor to even dream of affording an apartment? Does he still have the white privilege of not being a potential victim of housing discrimination? Is that a privilege he has because in another universe where he wasn’t a drug addled burn-out, he could look for an apartment without that issue? Why does that hypothetical, make-believe situation matter when that’s not how things actually are? Hypothetically, a black kid has more chances to get drafted into the NFL than his white cohorts. Does that mean that black kid has that privilege even if his knee is blown out and he’ll never walk again, but, hey, he could have possibly had it better than other people in this idealized, fake situation I just made up! Privilege!
Of course, that above example wouldn’t work very well: Using the same paradigm, even if that black kid was drafted in the NFL making millions of dollars a year to play a sport for a few months, he would still be considered the objectively more disadvantaged one compared to both Chadley and Darl. Once again, by virtue of skin color.
At this point, “privilege” seems like a blank check. And somewhere along the lines everyone forgot that checks are utterly worthless unless you have the means to actually cash them. But hey, Darl’s walking around with a blank check! Forget the fact that he knows no one who can sign it to give him money, doesn’t have a bank account, and isn’t literate enough to open one up. He has the check! In another world, he’d be able to cash it. And that’s all that matters, apparently.
Plus, ignoring all of that: constantly talking about white privilege is just a bad idea, and we’re starting to see the end result of it now. White nationalism is what happens when you start telling all white people, their life situation be damned to a.) see themselves as a united interest group and b.) shoulder the burden of what white people did in the past since they are now one collective group. White nationalism is what happens when white people start seeing race as an important factor in their lives and one that should dictate how people should be treated, or how their opinions should be regarded. All of this talk about how “white people have it good and need to acknowledge it,” in short, is making more problems than it is fixing.
This is anecdotal, but I don’t care: I am a dark-skinned woman from a poor background. That aforementioned poor background is one generously passed down from my white family. I am currently more financially and socially successful than most people in my family have ever been because I worked hard and went to a good college and did some networking and all that jazz. But apparently my white single mother suffering from depression and raising six boys on a paycheck barely above minimum wage has objectively more privilege than I do because her skin is paler than mine. So just on a personal level–without trying to delve into the actual logical inconsistencies–fuck off with that bullshit.