“Check your privilege!” is a popular jab on left-leaning websites, blogs and even protests these days. The idea is that if you happen to be a white, heterosexual male (the boogeyman of the identity politics crowd), that you are inherently “privileged” because of it and that you need to take a step back and realize how privileged you are compared to say, a white, heterosexual female or black heterosexual male.
While I don’t see anything wrong with trying to see something from someone else’s point of view or trying to put yourself in anyone else’s shoes, as a liberal I find this entire notion ultimately self-defeating and only causing more problems than it seeks to remedy.
Beyond the obvious flaws with this line of argument is a poor white man in Appalachia really higher in social standing than Oprah Winfrey? The argument that some voices are worth less or are inherently biased because of that person’s social standing or what they were born into is fundamentally poisonous to the whole project of American Liberalism.
It is exactly the same sort of talk that allowed racists to justify segregation and discrimination while also allowing sexists to justify women not being considered anything more than chattel, but in reverse. Is a white working class male who makes $7.25 an hour really oppressing the rest of society, all the while not being able to afford a college education or health insurance?
The real “privilege” in American society comes not in the color of one’s skin, but in the size of their wallet. While men and women of all races and orientations toil for hours on end and still cannot afford to make ends meet, Wall Street speculators bet on how high the price of gasoline will go and make a profit in doing so. While American workers of all races and both genders are laid off and the factories shuttered, the rich pocket the difference and go on living their lives. You want someone to “check their privilege”?
Try telling the financial elite who sit in their boardrooms every day making dough out of thin air while the rest of us have to sweat for a living.
The future of American Liberalism thus lies not in the identity politics of the 1970s, but rather in an inclusive coalition of people of all races, genders, religions and orientations. Are the problems of a white working class male and a black working class female all that different?
It hardly matters what color your oppressor is if you are being oppressed, or what color your neighbor is if you can get together and break the chains that bind you to servitude. We’re all in this together, and we’re never going to move an inch unless we start acting like it.