My eyes nearly rolled out of my head while reading about how he had “checked his privilege.”
And fortunately, after seeing it pop up a few times in social media forums (thankfully, only posted by people calling out how ridiculous it was), I saw what I thought was an excellent response to it.
As the original essay, and the response, rolled around in my head, and I saw people’s comments about them floating around the inter-webs, I began to notice something about the language of the response that I thought was producing an interesting effect.
The author of the response states at the beginning that she will be directly addressing the privileged kid, and goes on to do exactly that. Everything she writes is from the second person point-of-view, right from the beginning, all the way to the final paragraph where she states, “Otherwise you’ll just look like a complete f*****g a**hole when you write a hypocritical article completely missing the point of everything.”
And then we all cheer. Because he has come across as a privileged, spoiled, bratty a**hole with absolutely zero willingness to consider that his life has been positively affected by white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and class (to name a few) privilege. And now Violet has put him in his place. Good for her. Glad someone did it.
To be perfectly clear, I can’t think of a single thing about Violet’s response that I didn’t find was bang-on.
Where things got interesting for me was in realizing that my reading her response, as it was written, in the second person, was initially mostly about me gleefully revelling in the ridiculous things someone else said (that I vehemently disliked) being wittily exposed as such. The things he said were ridiculous, and I certainly don’t think I would ever express anything like that myself, would I?
No. I can honestly say I don’t think that I would. Have I held views, and made judgements about things that were informed by privilege? Of course. Have I benefited from my own unique blend of circumstances and characteristics, and their alignment with institutional forces that privilege me? Certainly. Have I made it an ongoing effort to confront my privilege, and to acknowledge it? I think so (no, I’m not asking for a medal for this).
But also: Have I ever gotten defensive about what I felt was a suggestion that I hadn’t worked as hard as I thought I had (or as hard as someone else had to) to earn something? Possibly only in response to someone pointing out that maybe privilege played a role in my achieving it? Or even only in response to someone making a statement about how hard someone else had to work for something, or acknowledging the challenges they face (and perhaps not even referring to me at all)? Have I ever thought of some challenge that my parents, or grandparents had to experience and in some way claimed that it diminished my own (undeniable) privilege? Have I ever responded to the suggestion that my judgement of something was informed by privilege, and thought, “well, I’ve had to deal with some of those things before too, so I don’t think I really need to check my privilege (as much?) here.” Or perhaps, when confronted with one of these situations where my privilege has been called out, and I felt uncomfortable about it, have I ever said, or even just thought something like, “well, sure, I might not have that particular problem to deal with (but don’t forget, I have had to deal with some similar things!), but I can think of lots of people who have it worse than _____, so (instead of taking this opportunity to have my own eyes opened a little bit, and check my own privilege) maybe you (or they, as the case may be) should check your (their) privilege.”
Uh, sadly, yes, uh-huh, yep, probably, yeah and affirmative. Thankfully, I think I can say that the most blatantly obvious and yucky examples of me having done that were back in the days when I had yet to be introduced to what exactly privilege meant. Having said that though, I still get regular, previously unconsidered (sometimes it’s a matter of “not considered in sufficient depth”) insights from listening to others about how soooo many aspects of what I say, think and do are informed by privilege. I guess privilege is sort of like that. Becoming aware of one, a few, or even many manifestations of it in your life doesn’t make it go away.
It’s kind of fun to be an onlooker to what feels like someone sticking it to the Princeton Privileged Kid, I suppose. And maybe there’s no harm in that.
I guess I just hope that once we’ve all taken our satisfaction in it, that many of us take a step back and consider the uncomfortable question of what we might (in some degree) have in common with the PPK.