Princeton student Tal Fortgang is in the news after penning a fantastically tone deaf missive on white privilege and male privilege, beautifully illustrating just how far one can get in life without fully understanding the basic aspects of society like privilege… hint: all the way to an Ivy League school!
From his perch at Princeton University — a place one must generally be very rich, very white, or some combination of both to attend — Fortgang bemoans the difficult circumstance of people assuming that his high level of access to the best education the United States has to offer is somehow an advantage in life, one that his white maleness almost undoubtedly in his imagination played no part in winning.
Fortgang, who has never been on the receiving end of minority status racially or due to gender, laments the misfortune of being born into caucasian wealth in his viral essay, “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege,” in which he begins by whining:
“The phrase [white privilege or male privilege], handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung… a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.”
Fun fact: white males actually do pull most of the strings in the world, but it’s probably because they work harder and are naturally smarter than us females or people of color, we can only deduce, and not because of existing power structures.
Fortgang very kindly doesn’t heap the same scorn he fantasizes emanating from his non-white and non-male peers upon them, he explains, because — no irony — that would be racist. Really:
“I do not accuse those who ‘check’ me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.”
Seeds, we may observe, sown far less frequently from inside public housing complexes in inner cities and by families whose kids are forced to make do with slashed school budgets and failing districts.
Fortgang launches into a lengthy narrative about his grandparents’ flight from the Nazis, one that occurred more than half a century ago and indeed earned his family a spot in more privileged echelons of American society — of course, not seeming to grasp he himself has not specifically “earned” these benefits, and instead is the beneficiary of the same invisible power structures he swears up and down don’t exist:
“It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character… It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realize the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.”
Also. They were white.
After vacillating enough over its existence to cause reader seasickness, Fortgang concludes of his white privilege and male privilege that suggesting he should “apologize for it is insulting,” which is weird because literally no one is suggesting this, and literally no one ever believes one must apologize for privilege — merely acknowledge that your life may have been a few degrees easier due to power ups. Like that whole thing of being able to walk through New York City as a teenager and not be stopped and frisked by cops.
A lot can be said about Fortgang’s ignorance on the matter of privilege, but Columbia’s Spectator got it right in a rival op-ed, in which the authors admit rolling their eyes at the painfully, earnestly uninformed Princeton piece before explaining calmly:
“… what [Tal Fortgang] fails to understand is that this ‘patron saint’ of white maleness isn’t so invisible—historically, socially, and politically, institutions have protected and supported white men. Recognizing the fact that white men benefit from the kinds of racist and sexist structures on which American society is built isn’t meant to diminish his accomplishments. It’s meant to remind us that white men don’t have an inherent predilection for success—the odds have just been stacked in their favor.”
You can read the entire white privilege/male privilege rebuttal here. Do you find either op-ed to be truer than the other?