Friday, April 24, 2015

Checking My Privilege

Back when I was in college( right after electricity, just before indoor plumbing ), the big thing on everyone's  mind was the existential battle going on between Communism and Democracy, represented by the Cold War standoff between us and the Soviet Union. Maybe it was the nuclear arsenals and all the saber rattling, but it seemed that no matter what class you were in, eventually the subject would come up. Existential conflicts will do that to you, I suppose. Sure, there were other issues, the Iran hostage crisis, for example, and gas lines. But basically, all the intellectual heavy lifting was being done in the arena of international politics.

Well, thanks to having had two kids finish grad school, I have been introduced to a brand new concept, which thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall, has risen to the top of the heap in academia...privilege, specifically my need as a white man to check mine. I am not schooled in the finer points of this issue, but from what I am able to pick up on social media, I will attempt an explanation. I welcome anyone reading this who is in their middle twenties, to correct me if I get this wrong.

Apparently, society runs along within a patriarchal construct, whereby white men enjoy tremendous advantages in practically every area of life, even and especially when they aren't aware of this advantage. It permeates all aspects of human interaction, and the only way to overcome it is to first, be aware of this privilege, and second, to check it. By "check it" I assume this would take the form of some sort of self-censoring, self denial mechanism whereby we white men, upon sensing that we are about to become the beneficiary of some huge unfair advantage that our whiteness affords, suddenly correct our behavior in a way that places us at the back of the line, behind people of every other color, and women...lots of women. I thought, in my ignorant privilege, that this was what affirmative action
was all about. But, AA is just the legal arm of the issue, while the "check your privilege" concept is
more like a hearts and minds sort of thing. The list of things that I enjoy privilege in is rather long and includes, but I'm sure is not limited to:

1. White privilege.
2. Male privilege.
3. Wealth privilege.
4. Heterosexual privilege.
5. Able-bodied privilege.
6. Educated privilege.

That's a lot of privilege. And to think that when I was born in 1958 I spent my first year living in a trailer park in south side Richmond. But, I suppose the fact that I have managed to overcome those humble beginnings serves as proof of just how powerful those privileges are. The fact that the
majority of those who lived in that trailer park in 1958 are statistically still there does not in any way call into question the power of privilege, rather they serve as an indictment of the unfairness inherent in a life that is ruled by the class struggle. My escape from the trailer park only proves that I benefitted from:

7. Competitive privilege.....the unfair advantage that many white males have gained by participation in team sports at a young age.

Of course, to fully buy-in to this privilege thing, I would need to devalue most of what I've accomplished so far in my life, since it was all so ill-gotten and undeserved. It would also require a reorientation of my thinking about what brings success in life. Instead of relentless hard work and sacrifice being the source of good fortune, I would have to believe that the guarantor of prosperity was the random accident of my birth as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual male. If I do this, I will become a guilt-ridden, self-loathing, emasculated wuss....which from much of what I have read seems to be the whole idea.

I better check my:

8. Sarcasm privilege.