May 06, 2014

Educating Princeton's privileged kid

Tal Fortgang the white privileged Princeton freshman gets schooled about his advantages:

To the Princeton Privileged Kid

By Violet BaudelaireI'd like to explain to you how you have completely missed the most basic definition of privilege; why you, like so many others, immediately got offended at the idea that you have somehow had it easier than others and leapt to your own defense without trying to listen or understand what someone was truly saying.

Privilege is when you get conscious or unconscious benefits from a demographic trait about yourself that you cannot control. These benefits may be overt (getting paid more as a man) or they may be covert (being able to walk down a street alone at night without fear of violence). I want to stress the last type of privilege. A privilege does not have to be something positive; it can simply be the lack of something negative.

Privilege is not personal. Privilege is institutional and cultural. It is macro. You have privilege because you are part of a group that has privilege. It is not because you are special or different or better in anyway (any more than those without privilege are not special or are worse in any way). This is going to be really hard for you to hear, and this is normally about the time where you're going to start railing and ranting about how you are at Princeton because you worked super hard and are naturally brilliant and wonderful. Maybe you are; and no one wants to take that away from you. Seriously - no one is saying that. But let's step back and remember once again, this isn't a personal conversation.

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.

You may be in Princeton, but it seems like we should probably put this in really simple kindergarten examples for you. In the simplest, crudest metaphor I can think of, let's say you're a fully abled person in a race against a man with only one leg. You train a long time, run really fast, and beat him. No one is saying you shouldn't be proud of working hard or running so fast; all we're really asking for is that you admit that maybe having two legs fucking helped a little bit.

Using this metaphor, let's again break down some other arguments you can't really use. For instance, just because some one-legged people are faster than some two-legged people or manage to race doesn't mean that it is still not, on the whole, easier for two-legged people to walk and run. Again, privilege deals with macro level institutional and cultural ideas, not anecdata. If your grandfather only had one leg, but you had two, you don't get to claim that you do not have two-legged privilege. Having ancestors that endured hardships is important only if either you endure those same hardships or if those past hardships have continued on today in the form of discrimination based on your shared characteristics.
We don’t need your apology, Princeton kid

Tal Fortgang wrote an essay saying he's not sorry for being male and white--but who asked him to be?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Tal Fortgang would like you to know he’s not sorry. Sounds fine to me, because I don’t remember anyone saying they wanted a mea culpa anyway.

In an April essay for the Princeton Tory that was republished last week in Time, the Ivy League freshman proved yet again why his university leads the nation in trolly op-eds by declaring authoritatively, “I have checked my privilege. I apologize for nothing.” Just what the world needs—more unrepentant affluent people. Unsurprisingly, the notion of a white male from an expensive school, a young man who likely has not personally experienced much racism and sexism in his life, using his already privileged platform to announce to the world that he disputes “that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies,” was met with a mix of derisive laughter, fuming rage and well-articulated rebuttals.

Fortgang, a man for whom high school graduation is still a recent memory, is already world-weary of “the phrase, handed down by my moral superiors,” that he check his privilege. In his essay, Fortgang goes on to do just that, and decides he’s totally fine with his privilege, a privilege dearly paid for by the grit of his great-grandparents and grandparents, and the hard work of his father. He further mentions, by the way, “everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life,” with no specifics. His piece has exactly the combination of naiveté and obnoxiousness you’d expect from a cocky white kid who pens essays that use the word “Weltanschauung.”
And:Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise. And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.

Right-wing wunderkind syndrome: What’s really behind the popularity of Tal Fortgang?

A Princeton freshman pens a defense of white privilege and gets famous. But why him? And why now?

By Peter Finocchiaro
One thing that is abundantly clear from reading Fortgang’s essay is that he is, yes, a freshman in college. There’s a guilelessness at the core of his argument—that he will not apologize for his privilege, because his privilege is awesome—that makes loads more sense when you consider that only a few short months ago he was living at home with his parents. His life experience, one presumes, is fairly limited. So in that sense, he doesn’t really know any better.

This isn’t to say that Fortgang’s ignorance is justified. (Better writers than myself have already explained why it’s a huge, and emblematic, deficiency.) However, it is to say that Tal Fortgang is a young guy with, by all appearances, a comfortable and insular upbringing. And his relative dearth of empathy can at least partially be explained by that very fact.

Should he know better? Yes, of course. And all the many angry rebuttals are a necessary counterpoint. But again, there’s nothing new about the argument he’s making or the obstinate privilege he extols. He is an ignorant 19-year-old white guy from Westchester, and in that way he is wholly unremarkable.

Which begs the question: Why is Tal Fortgang a thing in the first place? Why did an essay he published in the Princeton Tory suddenly become a national news story? Why was it republished by Time magazine? People have been writing regrettable college op-eds since the beginning of time. So why him? And why now?
The answer:While Fortgang insists in his essay that “my appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story,” it turns out that—where his current popularity is concerned—he actually has it backwards. His meteoric rise to fame owes entirely to his biographical data. His youth is the entire point.

What really draws conservatives to Fortgang is an idea about what young people like him represent—that they don’t need to reassess their ideological assumptions on everything from gay marriage and immigration to inequality and systemic racism; that their attitudes actually aren’t out of touch with the times; that there’s still a future for their paleolithic worldview, because there are young people to carry that torch.
Related topics

The 5 most regrettable student op-eds

Tal Fortgang is not the first undergrad to pen a polemic that will surely haunt him for many years to come

Princeton, check your privilege (or at least your PR strategy)

From Susan Patton to Tal Fortgang--what is going on at Princeton?

Comment:  I posted the following in Facebook:

I'm a self-made man if you don't count the million dollars of housing, education, and healthcare I received.

That's not even hyperbole. I figure I got about a million dollars' worth of benefits in those areas over someone who's poor.

For more on white privilege, see Bill O'Reilly's White Privilege and Educating DMarks About Systemic Racism.

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