Social media outlets such as Tumblr have been buzzing with words like “social justice blogging” and “white privilege” in recent years, with internet debates continually being linked back to race and social background. But what does it mean to tell somebody to check their privilege?
In short, privilege is, as the name implies, a special advantage that not everybody has. In the case of internet politics, this refers to whether a person has an “advantageous” race, sexual orientation, financial background etc. and if they do, according to social justice bloggers (those people on the internet who aggressively defend minorities), they are probably unaware of the struggles that some minorities go through. You can even do a ‘privilege calculator’ online to check whether you are privileged. For example, one privilege calculator tells us that being born in the Middle East gives you a score of -600, and being an investment banker gives you +25. If your final score is above 0, you are generally privileged.
Supporters of privilege checking argue that it educates people to see the struggles that minorities or the oppressed go through and to remind privileged people that they’ve had it pretty good so far, while critics call the use of privilege a way to positively discriminate against people.
Is it right to use privilege? Probably not, since it still counts as judging somebody on the basis of their character rather than the arguments they use. Everybody’s background influences their opinions, we largely have no choice in that. Somebody born in an Indian slum and somebody born in Beverly Hills are going to have different ways of seeing the world because they’ve had different experiences.
Social justice bloggers like to think they’re bringing everybody up/down to a level playing field where people are completely informed about issues and nobody has an advantage over another. In reality, social justice bloggers are judging somebody on the basis of their race, their gender, their social status. It’s not somebody’s fault if they’re born a white man, and they should not be penalised for it.
Of course, if somebody is making ignorant statements like “poor people are lazy” or “gay people are just promiscuous,” call them out. But call them out on the basis that their arguments are unsupported and false, not because they’re rich or straight. If you really want to educate people to see the point of view of the oppressed or the downtrodden, do it in such a way that doesn’t condescend them and alienate people from the debate. People shouldn’t have to apologise for not being oppressed.