If you guys haven’t read Tal Fortgang’s controversial piece “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege,” I encourage you to do so. Otherwise you’ll be lost in what I’m about to say 🙂
Tal Fortgang is a freshman at Princeton hell bent on relaying some pent up angst in this piece he wrote for the university’s newspaper. I love that he is telling his side of the story, but alas! how could it be so!?, a teenager is expressing an opinion on his view of the world without hesitating to put himself in another’s shoes beforehand. I can relate – I was the prime example of someone who thought she knew everything (especially in my teenage years), and I am so very grateful that the older I get, the less I feel I know. Staying open to different ideas, cultures, ways of life and thinking about other peoples’ motives is not only a sign of maturity, but has also helped me in my professional life. I wish Tal had thought about why someone might resent the privilege they see in his life; while his family has struggled to live the American Dream, many Americans are still struggling with obstacles that Tal’s young mind could never fathom.
Fortgang hyper-focuses on telling his side of the story so narrow-mindedly that while reading it, I had to take several mental breaks from his self-centeredness. It seems that he is putting this story out there so anyone who has ever told him to “check [his] privilege” (what a weird phrase, by the way) will read this story and know how hard his family suffered to get where they are today. Tal: open your mind. You’re going to have a different opinion than your classmates and most people you’ll encounter throughout your life; our opinions are shaped not only by our family but also our environments. Just because an 18 year old tells you to “check your privilege” does not mean he is attacking you. Your classmate worked equally hard to earn admission to Princeton and was granted admission based on an application no doubt involving his very valid thoughts and opinions. Remember, the main goal of universities is for the free exchange of ideas; you’ve expressed yours, now sit back and listen while others respond.
I am also a white person, and never once has someone told me to “check my privilege” – maybe because I don’t have the dynamic duo, white + male. However, I am self-aware enough to realize just how damn privileged I am and to be thankful for it every day. My grandparents, parents, and I have worked hard too, but you don’t need the sob story. Lots of Americans have worked hard, dude. Overcoming obstacles does not mean you are invincible and deserve an elitist attitude; rather, use your profound education and means to be an example to society without a chip on your shoulder. Most importantly, realize that when people may tell you to “check your privilege,” they are not necessarily attacking you. They are simply pointing out the lack of barrier in your life that is present in the lives of others.
In summary: You’ll be amazed at how much more you see with an open mind and someone else’s shoes on your feet. Recognize that you have it better than a lot of people, and use that as a stepping stone into how you can work toward equality for all, “privilege” or not.