On Friday, TIME published an essay by freshman Tal Fortgang. You see, Tal attends Princeton University and is fed up with people telling him to “check his privilege.”
Tal decided to go on an exploration of sorts. He looked into his family history so he could once and for all discover what his privilege really means. Yet somewhere along the way, he forgot to check the most important place: the dictionary. Simply: the definition of “privilege” is “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.”
No one said Tal doesn’t deserve what he and his family have earned, but he spends his essay arguing just that. He equates the phrase “check your privilege” to “a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.”
No, Tal. “Check your privilege” is not an instruction to feel bad about everything you have in life, as if you are personally responsible for the world’s injustice. The phrase aims to encourage people to take a moment and think about how their circumstances are not the same as everyone else’s. Because believe it or not, there are advantages we don’t even realize we have, and therefore, we cannot speak for all people.
He does briefly touch on that idea, though: “You don’t know what [people’s] struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are.” And it’s perhaps the only solid takeaway from his piece. We should not judge others, because we don’t know their stories.
Still, that one gem of advice does not make up for the rest of his essay’s flaws.
Tal fails to fully understand the concept of privilege. No one is asking him to apologize because he has been afforded more opportunities in life — the phrase simply means he should open his mind to realize others are not born into such fortunate circumstances.
The very fact that Tal was able to write such an essay is a privilege — speaking up is a benefit that many people aren’t given. Being able to read and write are also advantages. Take a look at the illiteracy rates worldwide: (774 million is the worldwide illiteracy estimation and two-thirds of that number accounts for females — but even in our own country, the estimation is 32 million).
And let’s not even get started on the idea that he’s able to attend school—let alone an Ivy League university — while 276 Nigerian girls were kidnapped (and are still missing) for wanting an education.
On that note, why are we still talking about this Princeton kid when we could be putting a positive spin on privilege and using our voices to speak up for those who can’t? #BringBackOurGirls.