Tal Fortgang, I believe your argument has merit. I don’t know why people have told you to “check your privilege” – that is just an aggressive and combative way of addressing someone, regardless of how a response like that was prompted. I have not even heard that statement before and I have technically been in a “privileged” environment for my entire life.
I agree that you should not apologize for anything – for a past that you had no control of, for looking a certain way that makes people scorn you or think that you are insensitive or ignorant. People don’t have the right at all to assume that you have everything handed to you or the right to think that I got into college because I make the small slivers on pie charts a little larger. But I think we are all missing one crucial point – people aren’t just talking about your past when the word “privilege” is thrown around; they are talking about your present and your future.
You have the privilege of people only questioning whether things were handed to you or your family in the past. I am inundated with questions: questions about my capabilities, questions about my heritage and just confused, not-so-furtive looks that have riddled my history and will continue to for as long as I can foresee.
When my skin was once a taboo, it is now seen as a jackpot for diversity opportunities in college admissions and the workforce. I am a number. Things are handed to me because I fit a quota.
“Dude, it’s just not fair. I cannot believe you got into Yale. It’s so easy for black people to get into college.”
I was rejected by three schools with a higher acceptance rate.
“How does it feel to be the first person in your family to go to college?”
Where did you get that idea? My great grandparents went to college. Can I just pay for my sandwich and go?
Upon walking into my dorm area a security guard approaches me:
“Excuse me, can you tell me what entryway you live in?”
I’m wearing a backpack and you saw me scan myself in. It’s also two pm and my shirt clearly says the name of this school on it.
All of us are judged to some degree for how we look and that is not going to change in the present that we currently live in. Whether it be grouping our culture, backgrounds and ideas with other people that look like us, or thinking that our racial makeup somehow undermines what we have worked hard for, people will constantly jump to conclusions about who we are as an individuals solely because of superficial means.
How I want to end the last paragraph is by saying for you to just settle for people telling you to check your privilege because, it honestly does not get better. You go to a wonderful college. You are surrounded by amazing people and resources that are inimitable by most places in the world. You had people sacrifice a lot so that you could have a better future. But, if I ended on that note, then what would that make me? Insensitive? Someone who has already given up on the possibility of change? Is it possible for you and I to be on a neutral ground where we are not constantly being judged for our appearances?
So then what should we be focusing our energy on to combat this? I don’t think it should be going on the defensive like you and I did or even the offensive and trying to always police others political correctness. Maybe the only thing we can do is just keep talking about it. Talking is important so that these questions about our society don’t get swept under the rug and “post-racial” and “post-whatever-else” America just becomes a weird place full of subtle queues, but we actually reach a conclusion.
Let’s always keep talking. It’s a terrible answer, but I think it will have to do for right now. In the meantime, check your privilege and I will check mine as well.