During my study abroad trip this summer, I met an interesting young woman who hailed from the heart of Georgia. She is a rising junior majoring in Psychology, with plans to become a criminal profiler. She enjoys fruit, and is, by far, one of the sweetest people I have ever had the opportunity to meet.
At the same time, however, she is a stone-cold conservative and a religiously-minded individual that authored this extremely offensive article, which had been published on The Chronicle, a daily newspaper that covers the events of Duke University. She argues the idea that political correctness prohibits the freedom of speech, and insisted that it has caused a socially degenerative trend of self-victimization in our society, while going as far as to claim that homosexual acts “are mistakes.”
This piece is reminiscent of a similarly abusive article written by a student at Princeton University, albeit the one written by our favorite Ivy League hero is more eloquently argued.
That being said, most students at Duke University agreed that the ideas espoused by this deceptively charming Southern belle was indeed harshly offensive. However, they sharply criticized the dissidents of the article, who chastised and attacked the author for her intolerant viewpoints. They argued that despite her backwards and offensive ideals, she was still entitled to her freedom of speech, and that an attack on her article precluded the importance of intellectual discourse.
This, right here, is the epitome of “privilege.”
And so this claim then begs the question: What exactly is privilege?
Think of it this way: If we are to justify one extreme end of the spectrum, we must do so for the other as well. Imagine being told that your entire existence is a “mistake.” Then imagine being told that the struggle against the plight of those who share your erroneous existence is unnecessary, disrespectful, and even socially harmful. When these claims are juxtaposed with sugarcoated ideas of love and respect, it all feels like a slap in the face.
You can’t say “Well think about his/her upbringing, think about what he/she has gone through in his/her life” about one party, and not the other. Because privilege, by its most fundamental definition, is the enforcement of a system of inclusion that is inherently exclusive. In a sociological sense, we refer to this dilemma as “institutional privilege,” as it is an issue that subtly affects groups of people as a whole.
This is why it is hard for those born with privilege to understand the subtle “benefits” they enjoy throughout life. More importantly, however, this is why the phrase “check your privilege” cannot be used as means of shutting down an individual’s values and arguments. Because just as it is not one’s fault that he/she was born without privilege, it is not the other’s fault that he/she was in fact, born with privilege. We have become so blinded by our mission to end systematic oppression that we ourselves have become perpetrators of individual oppression. We must realize that a solution cannot be reached without cooperation, and much more crucially, mutual respect and understanding.
We can clearly see than an unfortunate issue with the concept of “privilege” is its improper usage. Much like feminism, a small pocket of extremists have used the cause for ending privilege for their personal yet misguided soapbox. A festering batch of poorly informed nutjobs on our all-too-favorite social media website Tumblr have espoused misleading principles that ultimately serve to defeat the goals of discussing and educating the public of social problems that plague our interdependent community.
At the end of the day, however, privilege exists whether we like it or not. The first step to eradicating this comes from understanding how privilege affects specific individuals as well as our society as a whole, regardless of our upbringing and inherited circumstances.
Tune in next week for chapter two, where we will focus on how privilege affects racial inequality, especially in the college process.