20/20

Uncheck Your Privilege

Any headline that includes the phrase, “then have your mind blown” is probably unworthy of being opened. So when we heard that The College Fix had just published an op-ed by Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang titled “Meet the Poster Child for ‘White Privilege’—Then have your Mind Blown,” our reaction was a collective Eye roll. By “have your mind blown,” The College Fix must have meant “spend the rest of your night clenching your fists and fuming over the sad irony that those who don’t understand the meaning of white male privilege are the ones who benefit most from it.”

We decided that we had to respond to this op-ed, which completely misses the point and grossly misinterprets the meaning of privilege and the way it functions.

Tired of feeling like he has to apologize for being a white male, Fortgang is frustrated that his family history is rendered irrelevant by discussions which link skin color with privilege. But nobody is asking for personal apologies for historical injustices—that’s literally not the point. 

To be clear, nobody wants, or needs, more nuanced understandings of race than people of color. The fact that family history and other factors that influence a person’s station in society are often ignored in favor of skin tone just speaks to how reductionist our understanding of identity can be.

Fortgang accuses those who tell him he’s privileged of toeing the line of racism. (Let’s forget for a minute the inherent contradiction in the idea of “racism against white people.”) His success, Fortgang argues, should not be diminished to a socially constructed narrative of white male privilege and ascribed to “some invisible patron saint of white maleness.” But what he 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.

Fortgang continues to criticize those who ask him to check his privilege, saying, “Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them ‘stigmas’ or ‘societal norms’), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies.”

First of all, meritocracy is a myth. We are not all born with the same opportunities to succeed—and that is not a conspiracy.

But perhaps the most infuriating and telling part of Fortgang’s op-ed is its ending: “I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.” Except, he clearly hasn’t checked his privilege—because he doesn’t even understand what it is. The very act of writing a defense of white privilege (and a condemnation of those who point to it) is in itself an exercise of the very entitlement he refuses to acknowledge. 

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Joel Finkelstein posted on

Thanks for backing up Mr. Fortgang's eloquently written opinion piece. He simply asks for the right to an opinion and you spend your time telling why he isn't entitled to one. Typical.

Steve posted on

Thank you for proving why the people who disagree with Fortgang simply have no argument, and are trying desperately to pull at anything like asking how someone could turn on their computer. That was about as well thought out as the author of this article's piece.

Saul posted on

...at 'Let’s forget for a minute the inherent contradiction in the idea of "racism against white people."'

Seriously. That's just dumb.

Anonymous posted on

How is that dumb? Racism is prejudice plus systematic oppression. Yes, there may be prejudice towards white people (people assume things about them based on the color of their skin), but prejudice alone is not racism. In 2014, there is not systematic oppression against white people in the way that there is against people of color. Are people of color banned from public spaces the way they were in the mid 20th century? No. But they still face obstacles that whites do not. Stereotype threat, for one, on school entrance exams and job interviews.

Anonymous posted on

You can use the word racism without it meaning "systematic oppression." I just looked it up and only one (the second) of the three definitions of racism was even close to suggesting that.

Anonymous posted on

It is absolutely dumb. Ever heard of affirmative action? My parents came to this country without a penny in their pockets. However, someone of "color" or however you would like to put it has an easier time getting into university just because I am technically 'white'. There are specific organizations and scholarships aimed at giving these minority groups a leg up, when my ancestors absolutely had it no better than yours. In fact, I can almost guarantee that.

Anonymous posted on

I (who wrote the original comment to which you just responded) am also white. I liked how you assumed my race based on my opinion though; nice touch. Yes, there are many scholarships that we as white people are not eligible for. There are scholarships for women that men aren't eligible for. But look at the bigger picture. If it were giving these groups "a leg up" as you say, they would be the majority demographic at universities—and that's just not the case. And please, don't make assumptions about my ancestors.

Mark posted on

I believe you know that until very recently, women were systematically discriminated against at universities, starting with admissions at the undergraduate level, and it got worse the higher you went in universities (for professors, whole departments were male-only; if there were any women in the department, there would be one).

The assumption, freely stated by many of the male professors, was that women were only there to catch a husband and might very well drop out of their undergraduate program as soon as they did. Women's colleges, apparently sharing that view, specialized in Italian, French, art, and art history courses: a lively, vivacious and well-educated dinner hostess would be a real asset to a diplomat, banker, or university president husband.

Bad old days, long ago? No. The stigma remains, most notably in recent years when Harvard President Lawrence Summers explained the lack of female physics professors. (Women used to be mediocre novelists, too, until they started writing under male names; they also did badly in orchestra auditions as violinists and such, until orchestras agreed to hold auditions from behind a screen, whereupon they did very well (it must be the women had been shy about performing in public). Even today, I have heard serious people wonder why, among classical music composers, almost none are women or Jews. The hypothesis advanced, quite seriously, was that, while they can play the music well, they lack the creative spark to write it. The possibility that women and Jews could not get a patron, a prince or a church, to provide them with sponsorship or employment while composing the music apparently never occurs to these people.

Multiply all that by about 10 and you get the situation faced by people with darker skins.

And if you, as a white male, think that "affirmative action" recipients have it made, I know quite a few people who would love to trade places with you. (Obviously, I am not talking here about the largest "affirmative action" groups: "legacy" and "future endowment enhancement possibility.")

Neither white nor black posted on

"Racism is prejudice plus systematic oppression"

So Donald Sterling is not a racist under your definition?

Anonymous posted on

Yes, he is absolutely racist, because 1) he is clearly prejudiced and 2) systematic oppression against African-Americans exists. How is that concept so hard to understand?

Bored@home posted on

If systematic oppression means being paid millions of dollars a year to play a game once a week... Sign me up.

Bikerdad posted on

Correction good sir: NBA players generally play 2, sometimes 3 times a week.

Anonymous posted on

systematic oppression against blacks exists therefore anyone who doesn't like black people is racist?

I thought you were defining racism as "nu uh it doesn't count unless it's institutionalized". So just saying that black people suck is institutionalized oppression?

Look it's obvious to everyone that you're just trying to redefine racism so that you can't be racist against whites. Just quit while you're behind.

Michael Ejercito posted on

Are you sure there is no systematic oppression of white people anywhere in the world?

Straight, white male posted on

Racism is not systematic oppression, racism is judging someone based on their ethnicity. Black teenagers assaulting white people is racism. There is racism towards white people, and only idiots deny it.

Dan posted on

No, this is what racism means: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism

Your definition is just blather made up for Women's Studies 101 classes.

Anonymous posted on

"Racism is prejudice plus systematic oppression."

No it is not. There is not a single dictionary on the planet that defines it that way.

"Yes, there may be prejudice towards white people (people assume things about them based on the color of their skin), but prejudice alone is not racism"

Yes it is.

rac·ism
ˈrāˌsizəm/
noun
noun: racism

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Anonymous posted on

Oh cool you know how to use a dictionary! Look: it doesn't matter your definition. It can not be denied that racism towards blacks is different than "racism" towards whites. Racism towards blacks carries with it 300+ years of oppression, and that's why "racism" towards whites (if we can call it that) will never be the same.

Ohmy posted on

I love how your argument is completely destroyed and you start babbling about some oppression Olympics stuff.

StopLying posted on

Racism is racism. It has nothing to do with systemic power, it has everything to do with race. Stop trying to redefine words to suit your twisted agenda and excuse your own racism.

You can try and pretend all you want, but the truth is what will come in the end, and when the veil of bullshit, linguistic gymnastics, and blatant lies is lifted, you know where articles like this will sit in history? The same place as stormfront.

Anonymous posted on

Oh sorry, I completely forgot that if you have a different skin color, it's an automatic carte blanche to be a dickhead to people for no reason.

Dave F posted on

Add new comment
Anonymous posted on May 1, 1:26pm
How is that dumb? Racism is

How is that dumb? Racism is prejudice plus systematic oppression.
Yes and in post Progressive/Communist Amerika, if you want to see prejudice, walk down the street in Washington DC with a white man. I've seen racism around the world (the US is not unique, in fact better than most). The looks that a white man gets on the street in DC (or I assume other major US cities) is HATE. Hate because I have been prejudged to be a privileged person, because of my skin color. In the post Progressive/Communist Amerika, the only legal discrimination is against white and Asian people. Forget all that systematic oppression against people of color. The law requires discrimination against me in hiring and education.

Anonymous posted on

I don't think you've refuted any of Fortgang's substantial arguments. He doesn't claim that his personal family history is troubled. He claims that there are systemic forces of oppression which have worked against Jews, just like the systemic forces working against people of color.

His argument demands that we discuss privilege in a more nuanced way.

Fortgang is arguing that, as a Jewish man, he has not benefited from the system which stacks the deck in favor of white men--and thus does not consider himself to be white-privileged.

Please respond to that, instead of eye-rolling and getting angry. The discussion NEEDS to be more nuanced if it is ever going to be more effective.

Anonymous posted on

I think the point that Fortgang is missing though is that, despite the historical discrimination his family has experienced in the past, his status as a white heterosexual male in American institutional life means that he is immediately privileged over people of color. While I sympathize with the serious struggles his family has faced, their ability and capacity to succeed wasn't hindered by their race. He doesn't seem to understand that he does still benefit from some white privilege. His own family history of marginalization should make him more sensitive to the struggles of POC. It's kind of sad that it doesn't.

Anonymous posted on

Yes, Fortgang should acknowledge that he does not need to worry about being stopped and frisked on account of his skin color and that his whiteness offers him protections that he is very clearly unaware of. I fully agree.

But I don't see the major distinction between race and religion. (You use the word family, but I will use the word religion, since the discrimination which Fortgang mentions is collective, not personal).

White Jewish males weren't accepted into ivy league universities in this century, and were discriminated against in the workplace due to their religion. (Yes, in this city and in this day, it seems hard to believe that.) And it goes without saying that white Jewish males and females, 70 years ago, were murdered on account of their religion.

Fortgang seems to be correct that the privilege which he has experienced is not really summed up by the term "white privilege."

Anonymous posted on

And let's not forget how much harder it is to get into an Ivy League school as a Jew (or any other less desired minority), and especially as an Orthodox Jew.

Shay posted on

"While I sympathize with the serious struggles his family has faced, their ability and capacity to succeed wasn't hindered by their race."

Did you even read his piece? Do pogroms and the Holocaust not count as hindrances?

Michael Ejercito posted on

So that whole Holocaust thing counts for nothing?

Or maybe you think it is a myth, right?

Anonymous posted on

Let's just remember that as a Jewish white man coming to America in the 20th century, he HAS benefited from the system. True, it was tough for Jews. As someone who also had grandparents on the run from the Nazis, I'm not denying that for a second. And it's also true that his grandfather was probably very hardworking, as are most successful people. But there are facts on the ground: his grandfather could open up a hardware store, and he'd be eligible for social security. African Americans, no matter how hardworking they were on their farms, couldn't. That's just true.
The other problem here is that he's equating himself with his grandfather. Yes, his grandfather worked hard, but that doesn't negate the fact that he was born into a world which was set up for him to succeed: he had the money to attend an excellent private school. It's true, I'm sure he worked very hard and had to be very bright in order to get into Princeton. But there are plenty of people who are also very hardworking and very bright but who can't end up as the Editors-in-Chief of their high school papers, because they're parenting their siblings, trying to make enough money to take the SATs (forget taking them three times and hiring private tutors), or trying to get their parents into drug rehab. Yes, we all face challenges. But he was born into a world which was set up for him to end up at Princeton. Not everybody was.

Michael Ejercito posted on

So your argument is that Hitler's attempt to exterminate Jewry was done to set up Mr. Fortgang for Princeton? That is quite a claim.

Strategist posted on

If so, how is it that we have three Jews in the U.S. Supreme Court? Jews do not suffer the same type of discrimination Blacks suffer, period. When the Great Justice Thurgood Marshall was arguing school desegregation, there were Jews in the Supreme Court. As far back as the 1940s, a Jew was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. So, the discrimination Jews suffered in the United States is nothing close to what Blacks suffered and continue to suffer in this country. If you want to know the epitome of White privilege, look at what happened to Mr. Debo Adegbile! The man was eminently qualified to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice but the power of White privilege was used to deny him that opportunity. A Jewish immigrant to the United States starts off with White privilege that an African immigrant will not get. This is a fact!
As the Columbia article correctly observed, meritocracy in the United States is a myth! Consider the standard of merit that is used to determine who enters which undergraduate school or law school: SAT and LSAT. Neither of these examinations can hardly be deemed a valid standard of merit, because SAT is a mere two subject examination while LSAT has zero positive relationship to either the study or the practice of law. Yet, because of White privilege, these examinations are used as standards of merits. If you have enough money to learn how to game the system by taking standardized test prep courses, from the third grade fro some, you too can be and adept at standardized tests and when you score high in them, you can declared a genius, even though, overall, the only thing you have done is do that which you have been trained to do since third grade. As a result of White privilege, Whites decide what constitutes merit and a high scorer is deemed deserving of admission and one who did not score as high but equally intelligent and more well-rounded is deemed unqualified. Take the writer of the original article for example, he is a freshman at Princeton and he considers himself to have achieved the ultimate already, even though all he has done was probably score high on standardized test and be admitted to Princeton: TO study "history" and "political science." Of course, the same White privilege he denied gets him media coverage by Jews in the media. Do you think that if the same article was written by Black students about Affirmative Action, he or she would have gotten the same privilege? No!

Michael Ejercito posted on

How are Jews privileged? Judenhass is history's oldest hatred; there was even a war waged for the purpose of exterminating Jews. Jews have been subject to pogroms and intifadas.

Happens posted on

You're wasting your breath here.

People who are under-achieved would rather appease themselves by attributing the success of others to "privilege" or some divine-granted inequality than to recognize the hard-work and determination needed to reach that level.

Anon posted on

Why does everybody assume all white people are rich and study for the SATs starting in 3rd grade? You're talking about divisions across socioeconomic lines, not racial lines.

Strategist posted on

If so, how is it that we have three Jews in the U.S. Supreme Court? Jews do not suffer the same type of discrimination Blacks suffer, period. When the Great Justice Thurgood Marshall was arguing school desegregation, there were Jews in the Supreme Court. As far back as the 1940s, a Jew was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. So, the discrimination Jews suffered in the United States is nothing close to what Blacks suffered and continue to suffer in this country. If you want to know the epitome of White privilege, look at what happened to Mr. Debo Adegbile! The man was eminently qualified to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice but the power of White privilege was used to deny him that opportunity. A Jewish immigrant to the United States starts off with White privilege that an African immigrant will not get. This is a fact!
As the Columbia article correctly observed, meritocracy in the United States is a myth! Consider the standard of merit that is used to determine who enters which undergraduate school or law school: SAT and LSAT. Neither of these examinations can hardly be deemed a valid standard of merit, because SAT is a mere two subject examination while LSAT has zero positive relationship to either the study or the practice of law. Yet, because of White privilege, these examinations are used as standards of merits. If you have enough money to learn how to game the system by taking standardized test prep courses, from the third grade fro some, you too can be and adept at standardized tests and when you score high in them, you can declared a genius, even though, overall, the only thing you have done is do that which you have been trained to do since third grade. As a result of White privilege, Whites decide what constitutes merit and a high scorer is deemed deserving of admission and one who did not score as high but equally intelligent and more well-rounded is deemed unqualified. Take the writer of the original article for example, he is a freshman at Princeton and he considers himself to have achieved the ultimate already, even though all he has done was probably score high on standardized test and be admitted to Princeton: TO study "history" and "political science." Of course, the same White privilege he denied gets him media coverage by Jews in the media. Do you think that if the same article was written by Black students about Affirmative Action, he or she would have gotten the same privilege? No!

Kristin posted on

The "idea of racism against white people" is no "inherent contradiction." While I understand the idea that not all people are born with the same opportunities, the idea that opportunities are based on race is ridiculous. A poor white child lacks opportunity as much as a poor black child. Actually, the poor white child may have even FEWER opportunities; there is no NAACP to back them up and "lift them out." If we are ever going to reconcile the races in this country we need to be able to have an honest discussion

Anonymous posted on

There's a difference between discrimination and racism. Racism = institutionalized discrimination. When white people find themselves facing barriers to jobs and opportunities based on the color of their skin, then maybe we can talk about "racism against white people." But me calling you out for white privilege isn't racist.

White girl posted on

When white people face barriers to employment? Ha. My white husband works for a company where (although he is one of the MOST successful in the whole company at his job) he is unable to get the exact position he wants because he was told by higher-ups that they were looking for a woman or black (and bonus points for a black woman). And fill the 2 spots they did. With a black man and a white woman. They both suck at their job, but hey! They're not white men. So don't say there are no barriers for whites. That is a blatant lie. Blacks who are willing to do the extra work to be qualified for a position, whether educational or career-related, have more than a head start simply because of race.

Anonymous posted on

Yeah. Because they've been facing decades of discrimination and have been categorically disadvantages. That's not called a "head start". That's evening the playing field.

? posted on

Do you really want to be known as the race that has to have the bar and standards lowered so you can get that job? There are very few whites who would not hire an African American just because of their skin color. Believe it or not. Probably less than there are African Americans who would rather hire a fellow African American over a white.

Anonymous posted on

No that is making an uneven playing field against whites, by having double standards against them.

No wonder you people desperately try to redefine racism. You just don't like white people and totally fine when they get the shaft.

Black Girl posted on

And he is the most successful according to you! Neither of you are in the interviews and of course the woman and the man suck because you already see them as inferior.

Wrong posted on

I don't have to be in meetings. My husband is consistently recognized as one of the top in his field in the company (through official company rankings, not just gossip), while the people I'm talking about score MUCH lower than him. And I am a woman so why would I see a woman as an inferior?? There are blacks and women in his company that do an outstanding job. Then there are those (like the ones I'm speaking about) who are known to have only gotten and kept their spots because of race and/or gender. You can't cry racism only when it goes against your own race. We cannot even begin to start saying racism is gone in this country until all racism (including affirmative action) is removed from our laws. The job or spot in college should go to the best person. PERIOD. None of us existed for slavery and few of us were around for segregation. I can't help what happened in the past anymore than I can help my sex and race. Same with you. So let's move on from the past.

Wrong posted on

I don't have to be in meetings. My husband is consistently recognized as one of the top in his field in the company (through official company rankings, not just gossip), while the people I'm talking about score MUCH lower than him. And I am a woman so why would I see a woman as an inferior?? There are blacks and women in his company that do an outstanding job. Then there are those (like the ones I'm speaking about) who are known to have only gotten and kept their spots because of race and/or gender. You can't cry racism only when it goes against your own race. We cannot even begin to start saying racism is gone in this country until all racism (including affirmative action) is removed from our laws. The job or spot in college should go to the best person. PERIOD. None of us existed for slavery and few of us were around for segregation. I can't help what happened in the past anymore than I can help my sex and race. Same with you. So let's move on from the past.

Michael posted on

White people do face barriers to jobs. I worked for several years in the personnel department for my local school district. I was often asked to produce candidate reports for posted teaching positions. These candidates reports would often specify 'codes 2,3 and 4' only. These were internal racial codes. What that meant was that someone white would not be considered for that position, in fact their resume would never make it to the hiring committee.

This was done under the guise of 'leveling the playing field'. That's fine. I understand the notion that minorities suffered job discrimination for many years. This was a way of making sure that was no longer happening.

One could argue that the playing hasn't been leveled enough, and perhaps you're right. But you cannot say that whites do not face employment barriers, that simply is not true.

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