I don’t claim to be perfect, but I do try my best to educate myself about social injustice. If someone says a phrase or expression is problematic, I look it up online to see why. On my podcast, I regularly interview people of color, women, disabled people, and all the letters of LGTBQIA, not just the first two. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but overall I think I’m fairly “woke.”
And yet, there’s one group of people that, unbeknownst to me, I’m still oppressing. It turns out I keep tossing out a slur that dehumanizes an entire group of people without me even knowing it.
That group of people is white people, and the slur is “privileged.”
At least that’s what Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kirk say.
Back in May, Boghossian and Lindsay wrote an article for Allthink where they compare the concept of privilege to the Christian doctrine of original sin. They write:
For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn’t deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.
Everybody is a sinner; everybody is privileged; and both are the fall of Man. Both are the stain upon everyone who, by virtue of existing, falls short of moral perfection. Both are a kind of disease that threatens society. Neither can be escaped. Both must be abhorred and demand redemption from the guilty. [Emphasis mine]
Which is strange because I’ve yet to hear anyone in my social justice group of friends that say it’s wrong to be either white, male, straight, cisgender, or able-bodied. Maybe a few radical extremist Keyboard Warriors on Tumblr, but they’re radical extremist Keyboard Warriors on Tumblr, so you can’t really take them seriously.
Boghossian and Lindsay continue:
Rather than combat discrimination head-on, many left-leaning activists glorify the challenges associated with the misfortunes of individual identity, particularly those related to immutable accidents of birth like race, gender, and sexual orientation. Where the traditionally religious elevate God, then angels, then the saints, and then the rest of us, these identitarians hold sacred a hierarchical order of intrinsic societal advantages and disadvantages – not as they are, but as they are spelled out in the academic language of critical theories of race and gender. [Emphasis mine]
That’s funny, I don’t remember any of my friends of color being happy about racism. And I don’t know about you, but I damn sure ain’t happy that I’m still fighting for my right to exist as a queer person in 2016!
The only difference between privilege and original sin is that, according to Boghossian and Lindsay, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” rule doesn’t apply when it comes to social justice:
While we can love the sinner but hate the sin, we seem poorly equipped to love the privileged, unless merely as mascots and objects of envy. Sinners have been born into a struggle against a fatal flaw; the privileged are just born flawed – unwholesomely lucky and blithely ungrateful. The sinner is born flawed and thus writes his own undoing. The sinner, then, in being unable to help it, is a wretch, and behind all contempt for him there is pity. Not so with the privileged. The very word privileged almost makes you find its target contemptible. The privileged don’t hinder themselves; they hinder you. A sinner can be redeemed; the privileged must be taken down a notch.
TL;DR: Saying “Check your privilege” is just as bad as saying, “You’re going to Hell.”
Despite the many flaws in Boghossian and Lindsay’s article (lack of citations and examples being the #1 flaw), the article pales in comparison to the steaming piles of shit that are TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kirk’s latest videos about race. In the first video, where he answers 20 questions black people ask, Kirk basically blames black people for shitty ghettos, praises gentrification, and ultimately says black people need to get over themselves. According to Kirk:
If I hate anything about black culture, it’s that it’s such a victim culture. Almost a victim cult—“Our Lady of Perpetual Victimization.” Every unfairness that exists in your life is the fault of white people or society stacked against you. You might as well tattoo, “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?” to your fucking forehead.
Naturally Martin Hughes of Barrier Breaker called Kirk out on his bullshit, but apparently Hughes committed an unpardonable sin: He accused a racist of being racist! It’s the only explanation I can think of to explain why Kirk responded to Hughes with a 30-minute rant where he tells Hughes to “suck a big fucking white dick.”
Even though I can laugh about Boghossian, Lindsay, and Kirk’s bullshit now, I used to be in their same camp. As strange as it sounds, when I first heard the word “privileged,” my knee-jerk reaction was to defend myself. You don’t know me! You don’t know what I’ve been through! I grew up poor! I got bullied in high school! I worked hard to get where I am now! What do want me to do? Dye my skin? Yeah, it was pretty ugly. Then I learned that privilege doesn’t mean I’ve never struggled in my life; it means I haven’t had to face discrimination based on certain factors of my identity. I’ve never been followed around in a store. I’ve never had to worry about the police killing me for no reason. I’ve never had to worry about being turned down for a job because my name isn’t “white enough.” It’s not about me; it’s about how I’ve received several unfair advantages based on the color of my skin.
Maybe it’s my naiveté, but part of me wonders if the angry knee-jerk reactions to the concept of privilege are due to poor communication. That’s why I try to explore these complex social justice issues in a nuanced way. In fact, I’ve had several Facebook friends thank me for explaining things in a way they can understand. However, part of me knows that no matter how “calmly” and “rationally” I explain these issues, assholes still won’t listen. In that case, they can stay in their little safe space echo chamber with all the other fragile white boys for all I care.
And I’ll make sure to give Kirk plenty of bananas, too.