Never check a privilege, Princeton writer Tal Fortgang! Are you mad?

 

Another fine Ivy institution. (Lisa Poole/Associated Press)
Another fine Ivy institution. (Lisa Poole/Associated Press)

Lately it has come to my attention (read: my manservant read it to me off a tablet) that a Princeton student has been making waves by denouncing the concept of privilege.

“A Princetonian? DeNOUNCING it?” I bellowed, upsetting a small lacquer table on which I had been resting my polo mallet. My pony, Mortimer, neighed nervously, and I had to console him by hand-feeding him golden raisins and the heart of a pauper child (read: having my manservant hand-feed him golden raisins and the heart of a pauper child). “Talk about biting the hand that feeds one!” I added as Mortimer nibbled his fingers.

I soon read the article in its entirety, as well as the veritable sea of responses, all in varying degrees of dudgeon. If you printed out all the responses to the Princeton Privilege Guy and laid them end to end (you would have to do it, not me, as I am unaccustomed to this sort of manual labor), it would stretch around that Ivy League campus twice, or, for comparison purposes, just once around the circumference of a private island on which I midsummer. (Summering in just one place is gauche and arriviste.)

It seems to me that people are approaching this in a way that is COMPLETELY and APPALLINGLY wrong, like someone who tries to use a lobster fork for salad.

“Check your privilege,” people told this fine lad (any Princeton lad is a fine lad), and instead of rearing up to his full height, shaking forth his leonine mane of yacht-ready hair, and bellowing, “I HAVE INDEED CHECKED MY PRIVILEGE AND FOUND IT AMPLE AND MAGNIFICENT, LIKE MY PERSONAL ENDOWMENT! (read: trust fund . . . ladieees) CAN YOU SAY THE SAME OF YOURS?,” he tried to object that, in fact, his ancestors had to work hard to get him where he was. As though, somehow, that was something to boast of! As though he admitted the idea that too much privilege might leave one unfit to converse on a given subject!

This must halt.

Privilege is not what it used to be, as my grandfather used to murmur wistfully.

When privilege was privilege, you would die before having to check it. Check it? Like a piece of luggage on a jet that was not private?

My manservant informs me that this is America (I spring here, wintering and autumning elsewhere for tax havens), where privilege is frowned on. In order to get anywhere, be it public office or making your voice heard on the Internet, you must insist that you suffered. The absence of privilege is a kind of currency, and — unlike bitcoin, tiny chunks of marble or gilt leopard paws — it is a currency I lack.

It seems that Tal may have mistaken the origin of this phrase, as though being told to Check Your Privilege meant “apologize for or explain away the advantages you’ve had” rather than “consider the perspective from which you come before you enter a conversation.” This seems a minor inconvenience at best, like being given the keys to someone else’s custom Maserati instead of your own. 

Besides, I think we are coming at this from the wrong end of the stick. (I have never seen or touched a stick, but I feel confident that I grasp what a stick is from my extensive reading.)

I think it is time that someone spoke up for privilege. Just because one comes from privilege does not mean that one must be silenced, or my name isn’t Rockefeller Carnegie Kennedy Croesus V, VIII and my money isn’t so old that it is certified on the National Registry of Historic Places. Why, I have disdainfully returned wine to sommeliers that was older and more distinguished than your entire lineage. And I will not apologize! Next they’ll want me to apologize for my coat made from peasant-toupees!

Yes, I have checked my privilege. It is still there, and it is glorious. My privilege accompanies me on my yacht, on the croquet field and would, I assume, remain with me if I ever attempted to stroll past a police car in the evening, allowing me to pass by it entirely unmolested. In the workplace, I am called Boss, not bossy. I love whom I choose, thanks to my right of jus primae noctis! My privilege is my second-most prized possession, after a large rug made entirely of sluggish Persian cats. 

I will gladly consider it before entering any conversation. Consider it, and savor it! Check my privilege? My privilege has earned at least a check-plus.

Indeed, it is safe to say that the club of people whose opinions carry instant weight on racism, privilege and sexism is the ONLY club that would not readily admit me as a member.

(However, I am sure that if my grandfather offered to donate a building of sufficient size, they might reconsider.)

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | May 7