The notion of checking one’s privilege — white, male, cisgendered, and otherwise — has caught on to the point of triggering the inevitable backlash. And while the right has always scoffed at the notion as being divisive and unhelpful, even when they agree with the idea of class war (sort of), the left is beginning to find it all a bit heckle-worthy too. Over at the heady and increasingly influential Jacobin, Connor Kilpatrick condemns the idea of privilege-checking as a deviation from issues of real power:
Right now Americans are inundated with a variety of liberal politics that try to turn what should be political reckonings against the truly powerful into an epidemic of guilt and complicity in which a huge portion — or, sometimes, nearly all of us — are to blame. That’s not only not true — it’s politically ineffective.
If conservatives’ focus on abolishing the capital gains tax and poking fun at the postal service undermines its populist appeal — which I believe it does — privilege-checking does the same for the progressive left. How? By rendering Joe Blow a fatal blow: condemnation for being part of the majority, and merely by existing. At the New Republic, Phoebe Maltz Bovy seconds Kilpatrick by highlighting a bizarre manifestation of the “white privilege” meme, namely that of elite white parents instructing their school children in the evils of…well, themselves. Not that they can’t be redeemed, of course. There is light at the end of the tunnel (though putting things in terms of light and dark is probably “problematic”). From a NYT profile of the Friends Seminary school near Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood:
Students and faculty members are starting white affinity groups, where they tackle issues of white privilege, often in all-white settings. The groups have sprung from an idea that whites should not rely on their black, Asian, or Latino peers to educate them about racism and white dominance.
Odd isn’t it, that lessons in white self-reliance would blossom in the nation’s preeminent blue city. But there you have it.
The idea that these white kids’ privilege is part and parcel of the same “dominance” enjoyed by their poor brethren in northern Idaho is laughable. But then that may be the point of this white privilege business, to distinguish Idaho whites from their Manhattan counterparts. Unknowingly riffing on rogue conservative John Derbyshire’s notion of a “cold civil war“ (read: culture war) among white Americans, lefty Fredrik deBoer suggests white privilege theory is a way for morally superior whites to trash their supposed inferiors. Lambasting one white progressive proponent of race-based soul-searching, deBoer asks, “How can she actually be a part of a positive movement against the structural privileges that she claims to oppose when her arguments about those privileges inevitably end with her playing the role of righteous aggressor?”
Of course deBoer, Kilpatrick, and Bovy wouldn’t want it known that I’m utilizing their intra-left squabble to bolster the opposition. Sadly for them, the Internet is still a relatively open plain — and I’m just too fascinated by what’s happening on someone else’s staked claim.
It’ll be interesting to see where this foray into white-led white-shaming will lead. But speaking of open plains, one can be sure it won’t be anywhere close to northern Idaho.