Before we begin, I’m going to have to ask you to check your privilege as a literate person. Checked? Ok, we can continue.
It seems impossible these days to discuss any issue without being asked to check your privilege. Heaven forbid you have an opinion about something that has nothing to do with race; the privilege police want to ensure that you are made to care. Of course, it is important to consider the positions of others and the privileges that may influence the way we think (be they race, gender, class, the kind of family you were raised in, etc.) but this impulse has devolved into the absurd. Evidently the only way for a white person to check one’s privilege to an acceptable degree in 2017, for example, is to feel ashamed.
Recently, DNC chair candidate Sally Boynton Brown called on this shame to pitch herself for the job—a job she described as removing other white people from the conversation. “My job is to listen and be a voice. And my job is to shut other white people down when they want to interrupt. My job is to shut other white people down when they want to say, “Oh no, I’m not prejudiced. I’m a Democrat. I’m accepting.’” Sorry, Ms. Boynton, but none of that sounds very “accepting.”
“I’m a white woman. I don’t get it,” she said. Ditto. I don’t get why you think races shouldn’t be treated equally, giving everyone a voice. I don’t get why you want to divide instead of unite, and I don’t get why you think that’s your job. I don’t get why we shouldn’t love ourselves the way God, circumstance, or a roll of the dice made us instead of being ashamed of it.
The DNC isn’t the only organization focused on checking privilege. The website Casa Girl sells “Privilege Cards,” a “direct yet non-aggressive” way to tell people to check their privilege. The business card-sized cards feature check boxes to inform people which privileges they are revealing, along with a suggestion that said privileges be checked. The terrifying thing is that these cards sold out. We have gone from asking people to be empathetic to encouraging a racism witch hunt.
It will come as a surprise to exactly nobody that this is a deeply divided time in our country, but focusing on policing each other’s privilege only serves to make it more so. Being reasonable means being aware of our differences and understanding that we might see things from different perspectives because of them. Being reasonable means being empathetic to the circumstances of others. Being reasonable means knowing that being white, or male, or whatever else one is is only one facet of a person’s identity (one they can’t control) and shouldn’t demand that they feel shame or be silenced. Being reasonable is seeing people as people, not as merely a demographic group, and valuing them as such. Being reasonable is knowing that we’re not going to get stronger together by leaving anyone out of the conversation.
In America, anything is possible, regardless of color, gender, sexuality, or any other labels. Do some people have it easier than others? Yes. Ought we to be empathetic about that? Of course. But the relentless effort to privilege-shame others isn’t doing our nation any favors. If you’re nitpicking about privilege, then you’re not revealing that you’re “woke” or morally superior to others. You’re revealing that you need to check your hubris.