This piece originally appeared in TIME. It was written by Briana Payton, and appears under the original title, “Dear Privileged-at-Princeton: You. Are. Privileged. And Meritocracy is a myth.”
By: Briana Payton
While Tal Fortgang is not responsible for white male dominance in society, he should at least recognize that this social hierarchy is not a mere coincidence.
When I read The Princeton Tory cover story “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege,” written by my classmate Tal Fortgang, I realized that I had just witnessed an attempt at checking privilege that was so unsuccessful it was borderline satirical. Fortgang, a fellow Princeton freshman, complained about the overuse and misuse of the phrase “check your privilege,” and asserted that the phrase was “toeing the line” of reverse racism. To prove this, he detailed his family’s history of persecution under the Holocaust, their journey to America and their ultimate rise to entrepreneurial success. He claims that the only privilege he has is that his ancestors made it to America, were hard-working and passed down wonderful values such as faith and education.
This so-called “privilege check” would have had a much better start had the author first Googled the meaning of privilege, because he holds a fundamental misconception about what it actually is. Privilege is not an idea aimed at muting opinion or understating the worth of accomplishments. It is not a stab at personal character, nor is it something for which one needs to apologize. But it is also not a myth. Privilege refers to the very real benefits that society affords certain groups over others, and it is manifested in many ways. This country has a history of overall preference for white males, and Fortgang even complains that people prompt him to feel “personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.”
While Fortgang is not responsible for white male dominance in society, he should at least recognize that this social hierarchy is not a mere coincidence, nor is it a testament to the power of hard work. Such a micro-level explanation, when applied to our country’s current state, would imply that white males have by and large outworked most women and minorities in the many fields in which they dominate.
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