The Hateful Eight: Calling Privilege
It’s in the air tonight… in case you forgot to drink your usual pint of Hater-ade, remember that I’m talking about all manner of things that piss me off. Let’s talk about the eventual phrase that most Starbucks #racetogether conversations probably denigrated into: “check your privilege”.
Privilege is a fun concept to throw around – whenever someone asks me to check it, I always rib that I’ve left mine in the car. It’s an innocuous and reasonable reminder to others that their upbringing may have an effect on how they view an issue. Privilege is a thing, and something that should be recognized, if not discussed. But accuse someone of having privilege, and their credibility instantly goes out the window. Why? Because it’s become a knee-jerk reactionary topic for people who can’t hold a rational disagreement and need something to fall back on. It’s one of the only lines that makes me feel fortunate to not be a white guy – although I do fulfill the cisgender and straight requirements that most often come in the package privilege trinity.
The entire approach is an exercise in pigeonholing and assumption. At the end of mentally stabbing each other in all the privileges we can invoke – straight-male privilege, not-poor privilege, educated privilege – we feel better about staying in our comfort zones. Compartmentalizing those with fundamental differences from us in a one-dimensional mold… it’s just easier to deal with someone who isn’t multi-faceted and complex, right? It’s a statement that suggests those with the misfortune of having whatever personal experience are the only ones qualified to speak on it – even acknowledging its existence and proceeding with a measured statement isn’t good enough. It’s counterproductive to the discussion of eliminating the foundation that privilege is built upon: allowing those who you consider ‘privileged’ to voice themselves in no way diminishes the oppressive aspects of society that you’ve undoubtedly felt.
This is when you go from being a reasoned person to an ideologue, where something resonates with you to a degree that it embeds itself in your personality, and every attack on that idea becomes an attack on you. No longer are you one who seeks resolution, because in theory, that should be the goal regardless of where you see yourself on any spectrum (political or otherwise). Those who don’t believe in privilege have taken advantage of this – its war cry-ification, if you will – to cast those who dare utter ‘check your privilege’ as the entitled ones, (see here, here, here, and here, among many) which actually does serve to cripple the important message (precisely what they want, since they can’t wrap their head around the fact that privilege exists). When used with such regularity, and wielded with a sense of moral superiority, it can be seen as a suppression technique, where the opinions of these privileged folk are made invisible, ridiculed, and shamed, while the exact implication of privilege is never fully articulated because it’s used as a double-blind.
It’s not an inherently bad saying. Just one of those that’s been rewritten through overuse, mischaracterized through mockery, and privileged to the point that it could probably benefit from checking its own.