May 14, 2014

"The idea of 'privilege'... really came into its own in the late eighties, when Peggy McIntosh, a women’s-studies scholar at Wellesley, started writing about it."

"In 1988, McIntosh wrote a paper called 'White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,' which contained forty-six examples of white privilege. (No. 21: 'I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.' No. 24: 'I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race.') Those examples have since been read by countless schoolkids and college students — including, perhaps, Tal Fortgang, the Princeton freshman whose recent article, 'Checking My Privilege,' has been widely debated."

The New Yorker traces the "privilege" meme back to a Women's Studies professor in the 1980s. I vaguely remember when this article came out and hearing various feminist scholars scoff that everyone already knew this. But it was written in a spiffy way that got the idea across and therefore, I guess, irritated some people who felt like they'd had that idea long ago.

Remember when you were young — if you're not young now — and you'd read other people's ideas and think "Hey, that's my idea," as if the writer had ripped you off and the credit was rightfully yours? I remember that as a characteristic feeling of youth. It's a feeling that drops off with age. We share all of the ideas of all of humankind. If you can read it, you understand it. If you understand it, it is in your head, and it is yours. The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head.

Quite possibly, all of the best ideas have been thought before, and each new generation can only restate them. Did Tal Fortgang read Peggy McIntosh? Did Peggy McIntosh crib from W.E.B. Du Bois? We're all doomed to paraphrase, to feel we can only paraphrase, that we've been paraphrased, and that we're being paraphrased without citation. Some of this is delusional, and some of this is obvious. Haven't you already written that somewhere? 

69 comments:

Meade said...

You got that post from me. Didn't you?

Paul said...

Women's studies. Heh. An excersise in solipsism, which is appropriate since it concerns women.

Who's more privileged in today's PC culture than women and minorities?

Prepare for the inevitable backlash.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

We share all of the ideas of all of humankind.

I bet that's on someone's list of privileges.

Kirk Parker said...

"I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group."

McIntosh hadn't met Crack yet, I see.

Meade said...

Also, I invented the nickname "Peggy" for "Margaret" before I was even born. In utero. Just after I invented the concept of The Simpsons Already Did It.

But feel free to paraphrase me.

MadisonMan said...

It's a privilege to comment here.

Ann Althouse said...

"'We share all of the ideas of all of humankind.' I bet that's on someone's list of privileges."

It is the great privilege.

Nonapod said...

When I was younger I found a lot of what I guess is parallel thoughts in the stuff I read (as in "I thought that too"), especially in science fiction stories and political philosophy. Upon reflection I'd realize that I had a general vague idea or concept in my head, but the author was able to crystallize it far better than I could have. Then again, maybe the idea that I thought of something before I read it was self delusion due to an idea seeming so obvious and/or making so much sense to me that it felt like it came from my own head?

Noel Harrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noel Harrison said...

I had precisely this reaction when I read Ayn Rand in high school. Her general ideas about individualism seemed really obvious to me.

Mark O said...

The Iliad is proof that insight into human life has not advanced perceptibly.

n.n said...

Bias is a product of nature. Prejudice is an outcome of nurture or circumstance. Ironically, but predictably, this ill-conceived war has fueled the development of prejudice.

The war on individual dignity has served an ambitious, but weak minority to consolidate capital and control in a society where they cannot stage a revolution.

Illuninati said...

The picture of the blindfolded woman with the scales of justice has been around for many years. But here's the problem. This whole discussion about white privilege or male privilege is intended to ensure that all groups are NOT equal under the law. In other words this discussion is intended to liquidate the blindfolded lady.

"To redesign the social system therefore requires acknowledgement of its colossal unseen dimensions"

Once again we find leftist asserting ownership over other people. "Redesigning social systems" means that lefty master minds get to assert their own privilege which is the privilege uber alles that empowers them to bend everyone else to their wills.

TennLion said...

This is Saunt Lora's Proposition:
The proposition believed by Lorites is that every idea has already been thought of.

Ironically, one of Saunt Lora's fids proved that the proposition itself had already been thought of.

(Neal Stephenson, Anathem)

Tyrone Slothrop said...

True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd.

Alexander Pope

Smilin' Jack said...

Quite possibly, all of the best ideas have been thought before, and each new generation can only restate them. Did Tal Fortgang read Peggy McIntosh? Did Peggy McIntosh crib from W.E.B. Du Bois?

Hee...we have vastly different views of what constitutes the "best ideas."

rhhardin said...

Privilege comes from lex priva, own law.

Just speak of your white male bill of attainder today.

rhhardin said...

The picture of the blindfolded woman with the scales of justice has been around for many years.

Also fur-lined handcuffs.

Earnest Prole said...

Exactly: “The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head.”

It reminds me of the contention that there can be no culture worthy of the name without some form of plagiarism (see my comment on your Nov 3 plagiarism roundup).

Clyde said...

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Drago said...

"No. 24: 'I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race."

LOL

Yes, because white folks can simply demand to speak to the "person in charge" and voila, it happens!

This sort of insane comment is reminiscent of Eddie Murphy's hilarious black guy in white face video on Saturday Night Live where white folks were lavished with "free money" from a bank and they didn't even have to pay it back!

Drago said...

illuninati: "Once again we find leftist asserting ownership over other people. "Redesigning social systems" means that lefty master minds get to assert their own privilege which is the privilege uber alles that empowers them to bend everyone else to their wills."

This is the totalitarian impulse found in every leftist.

But only every single one.

pduggie said...

Mcintosh came up with the list by praying about it

She said, “In 1980, I had read two essays by black women who had lined it out just like a given: *white women are oppressive to work with*. And I remembered reading those essays with astonishment. They were so factual about it. White women are oppressive to work with. And I had two thoughts in 1980, and I still remember them. One was, I don’t see how they can say that about us. I think we’re nice. And the second, which is outright racist, but this is where I was in 1980, I especially think we’re nice if we work with them. Then I thought, did we fill the reading list and the programs and women’s studies with white people’s stuff? And at first I said maybe, and then I said yes. And I asked myself, if I have anything I didn’t earn by contrast with my African-American friends in this building, show me. And I had to pray on it. And I asked my unconscious mind to answer my questions. And after three months, forty-six examples had swarmed up, most of them in the middle of the night. And if I didn’t flick on a light and write them down, they would be gone by morning, because I didn’t want to know them. They were messing up my view of myself as a person who had earned everything I had.”

Conserve Liberty said...

Is anything really origianl, or is all creativity 95% plagiarism and 5% reorganization?

I take photographs as a relaxing hobby. One of the things I enjoy about this blog is the interludes around a photograph inviting us to talk about something other than . . . . the things we talk about all the time.

My wife always says of my photography, "It's all been done before."

harrogate said...

Tal Fortgang arranged some talking points with which everyone is faimilar already. It's an average articulation of it from a college kid.

A little ridiculous, to act as though he, McIntosh, and DuBois are parallel structure material.

wildswan said...

What I want to know is whether I am allowed to read Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Milton, and Shakespeare. Can I learn mathematics (Euclid) and botany (Linnaeus, Darwin)? Is Vogue my only option if I would be true to myself? I understand that University of Wisconsin Madison is going to give a course in gender and biology. The woman giving it (a newly minted PhD in biological anthropology) is going to analyze the female pelvis of three thousand years ago which should give us women that key information we need to withstand to hold our own in the IT dominated world.

Anybody else a little surprised that biological anthropology at UW Madison studied skulls and IQ when it studied men but now that it's studying women it's studying the pelvic area and child bearing? My tiny little skull is hysterical and uttering shrill squeals.

Unknown said...

Because I'm a demo is a mix of privileged and not privileged, it's always been obvious to me when I've had it easy, and when I haven't, by virtue of the societal structure, rather than personal agency.

I think "privilege" caught on because it's basically a compliment, if one with passive-aggressive overtones. You're basically calling someone lucky, but with the added caveat that they recognize the structural underpinnings of their good fortune - which, unlike luck, means that we possess the power to modify that structure to make it more humane. IOW, more people should and can be made to share in the higher expectations of decency that come with privilege.

Sexist or Racist, on the other hand, comes off as a straight, personal attack, over which you are not assigned any personal control, and that quickly becomes tiresome.

Matthew Sablan said...

It came into its own a few weeks ago. I'd never heard it used in the manner it is being used now.

Michael said...

She writes:"One very sad thing—very major to me—is that almost all the men who are now over forty read, “Boys don’t cry,” or something like “Put the damn worm on the damn hook.” And that’s a lie—a huge social lie that makes men of that age have to act tougher than they feel. It’s a tragedy for the entire world, and it’s inflicted on boys; they’re not guilty of it. Usually the boy’s crying, or about to cry, when he’s told boys don’t. This is wreckage to the psyche."

This makes her very sad. It is also a tragedy for the entire world. Wreckage. Privilege.

Thank God most people on the saddened world think this is utter horse shit. Grow the fuck up, woman.

Anonymous said...

"..
"To redesign the social system therefore requires acknowledgement of its colossal unseen dimensions".."


I guess this means it's sort of like String Theory ...with all the other dimensions and whatnot.

MayBee said...

No. 21: 'I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.'

So if not being representative of a group is a privilege, who is pushing the idea of "women's issues" and "the Hispanic vote" and "war on women"?

It seems to me the same people who see this as a privilege are the same group of people who want to make their gender or race into a special interest group. They box themselves in, then look at the unboxed people with jealousy- and then blame them for their freedom.

Leit Bart said...

McIntosh points out race is only one "privilege" (which she defines as something unearned). She mentions birth-order privilege, body-type privilege, and a parents'-privileged privilege.

The list is endless: the IQ privilege, the beauty privilege, the wit privilege, the inherit-money privilege, the green-thumb privilege, the good-skin privilege ...

So what's the point? Be grateful to God for the gifts He gave each of us, or deny God and our uniqueness and guiltily cast our undeserved gifts aside?

McIntosh's mushy answer to that question didn't make me say, "wait, I've thought that, too!" But then, it's been years since the cool-kid privilege skipped over me.

Mr. D said...

One of the greatest privileges I have is that there is no such thing as a Professor of Suburban Left-handed Catholic White Boy Studies, who needs to categorize tendencies, formulate grievances and promulgate speech codes to keep the grant money from the Ford Foundation coming.

Pettifogger said...

Being old, I've never understood the concept of white privilege. With this explanation, I take it to mean being a member of the majority racial group in a country--with some countries probably offering exceptions. But even with a generous granting of exceptions, I assume there is black privilege in many sub-Saharan African countries. And a Latino privilege throughout most of Latin America. Are those not fair assumptions?

Sigivald said...

If we stopped obsessing about race, non-white people wouldn't be "asked to speak for their racial group" either.

Or people could start asking white people to do that.

Seems like it's a non-problem and not much "privilege".

(Then, none of it is privilege - privilege is private law; a legal grant of extra ability or exemption from something.

"A majority of people are in group X and thus people in charge are likely to be in group X" is not a "privilege".

It's not even important, unless you assume - and reinforce, as such identity politics always does - that group membership is the important thing and that Group X Helps Group X.

End all the "Studies" departments and maybe this stupidity will follow.)

Ralph Hyatt said...

I was reading an article the other day that most teen romantic comedies are rip offs of Shakespeare.

And though the article didn't say so, my guess is that his work was a retelling of Greek and Roman and Folk tales.

By the way, slightly off topic but the two examples of white privilege, Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson seem to have made a pretty good living "speaking for their race" and you can go plenty of places, ask for the person in charge, and they not be white. Times change.

Quaestor said...

The only people in this society WITHOUT privilege are working-class male WASPs of the heterosexual persuasion (heretofore known as “normal white guys”), who must struggle every day just to retain their basic Constitutional rights to free expression and equal protection.

Sorry for the glaringly obvious point and the ranting tone, but nothing on the current political smorgasbord is truer. Unfortunately truth isn’t politically kosher these days, thus the magisteria fling those morsels into the cultural thrash bin as soon as they appear. (gawd, I love mixed metaphor!)

Unknown said...

We need to start talking about Left Privilege. It would be pretty easy to come up with 46 points proving Left Privilege. In fact, many of McIntosh's points can be reused with only minor changes.

Bob said...

You didn't think up that.

Naut Right said...

"There are no new things under the sun." Said some hippie looking guy a couple thousand years ago.

MayBee said...

Besides, isn't saying someone has privilege because of the color of his skin or his gender *exactly* the same as making an individual speak for their race?

These privilege-pushers want it both ways.

I say, lets let individuals be individuals.

neal said...

Things should be more equal. Hearts and minds, thumbs, flesh, fur. Scrap it all, do not frozen balls of rock and bacteria not get anything but astrology? Now, if they grow, and change their minds, that should be stopped, or at least form an inquiry. Minds should be the first to go, only proper.

tim in vermont said...

There is privilege and there is privilege. It all depends on whether the particular form of oppression you suffered has sanction or not.

I love this comment from Inside Higher Ed regarding a story where a professor used the word "hillbilly."

"Are "hillbillies" (sp.?) a self-identified real group whose rights are being deprived here? The Appalachian Studies professor assumes that hillbilly and "mountain white" are synonymous. Do some people really identify as hillbillies but disavow the notion that they often or usually go shoeless? If the original professor had said "redneck" instead, would there be a protest by "redneck rights" activists?

This episode doesn't seem to align with cases where actual self-identified groups (e.g. gays, African-Americans) or physically visible types (heavy, short, redheads) are subject to prejudice. This episode seems more like telling students "Don't wear those pants with cutout holes, or you look like a bum." Would that be considered offensive by a "bum" subculture? Are no negative social types allowed?"

Apparently, you have to be in some kind of a union if you don't want to be insulted, and that union has to be recognized like an Indian tribe, for your hurt to carry any weight.

mishu said...

All this white privilege talk reminds me of the Eddie Murphy skit with him acting white.

jr565 said...

It's funny how white feminists talk about white male privilege. What about white female privilege?
All the famous feminists were invariably white women of means.
In fact if you can afford to got to college to study women's studies you're probably white and you probably have a lot of money.
So, please don't put on airs.
Speaking of putting on Airs (or Ayers), bill ayers played the communist revolutionary in college. Yet his dad was a CEO of a corporation. He wasn't just loaded, he was top 1% loaded. And yet he comes odd like the socialist?
John Lennon imagines there's no possessions while living in an entire floor of the Dakotah? Who are these hypocrites talking about privilege.

Unknown said...

The blindfolded lady trope, symbolizing objectivity for hundreds of years, is an ideal, but means effectively nothing if the system istself is not just. And it isn't.

jr565 said...

Tilda Swinton is a millionaire who professes communism. And I bet talks about white privilege too, despite being white and privileged.
Roseanne barre take about reeducating and decapitating the mega rich. Rich being defined as richer than her.
Sean penn goes on the actors studio and says he wishes he could be a revolutionary. And hob nobs with communist dictators. All while being a multi millionaire.

You can see this even in red states versus blue states. Where's the wealth discreprency? In places like New York which is pricing out all the middle class from being able to live here. In red states there isn't such a gulf. And yet who's talking about privilige and whatnot?
The social career agitators who are inevitably liberal, most likely white an most likely privileged.

Paco Wové said...

liquidate the blindfolded lady

Bad men die. Bad ideas never do.

B said...

If you can read it, you understand it. If you understand it, it is in your head, and it is yours. The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head.

This reminds me of doing research. It's a huge struggle that makes you feel astoundingly stupid.

Then when you make a breakthrough the idea feels so clear it's like it's been with you all along. You can't believe it was so simple, how did you waste all the time? So you still feel stupid.

CWJ said...

Now that's funny!

Who cares who said what, thought what first. I remember the same white privilege stuff being peddled while an undergrad during the Nixon administration.

If it (privilege) had "really come into its own" in the '80s we'd have been talking about it for 25 years.

That anyone's reaching back in time for some intellectual antecedent to its most recent incarnation is pathetic, but predictable.

Bob Ellison said...

Meh.

Sorun said...

47. Never being asked what I was doing for _blank_ history month.

48. Never having women of another race ask to touch my hair. (Not a privilege in non-white countries if you have blonde or red hair)

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

The concept of "privilege" is nothing more than yet another variation on "You didn't build that." If someone has succeeded it isn't because (s)he is smarter, worked harder, more creative, more persistent, more attuned to markets and so on ... it is because of some inchoate "privilege".

That lets the losers blame others for their failure to succeed. Of course such failure has nothing to do with the widespread cultural and social dysfunction amongst African-Americans -- though said cultural dysfunction is not, interestingly, at all common amongst the far darker people from Uganda, Nigeria, India, Haiti, Congo, and so on.

Ditto for dithering females and their "rape culture", "triggers" and other such bullshit.

When people call "privilege" the proper response is "Get your personal shit together, get your sorry ass to some real work, and get back to me in ten years."

CWJ said...

Althouse @1:53

100% correct.

That is our great privilege. We have the opportunity to build upon the knowledge, art, and experience of those who have gone before.

Our great conceit is that that privilege has seduced so many into believing that they are therefore as human beings so much smarter than those who have gone before.

The latter is utter nonsense. But is received wisdom of every sophomore, and progressive, nonetheless.

Biff said...

The professor wrote, "We share all of the ideas of all of humankind. If you can read it, you understand it. If you understand it, it is in your head, and it is yours. The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head."

That's strange. In college, I was taught that some things were beyond my ken. Among the activist tools from those days was this gem: "It's a Black thing [or any other "identity thing" the speaker might claim] - you wouldn't understand."

The more that things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


As some wit said on Twitter, the other day:

"What you call 'my privilege' is just me being/doing better than you."

There is always going to be a lot of jealousy in a Meritocracy.

BigFire said...

I'm not privilege enough to rack up massive amount of student loan on useless major.

Big Mike said...

The "privilege" meme has to be the dumbest idea since people warned Columbus he's sail off the edge of the earth.

So part of my privilege is that "I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the 'person in charge,' I will be facing a person of my race." Why on earth does the race of the manager I ask to see matter. If he or she is a jerk, do I care about their skin color? Or do I make a mental note not to come back?

How privileged is a white from Appalachia when not only is he the first in his family to go to college but maybe even the first in his town? As privileged as someone raised by well to do grandparents in Hawaii and who went to an Ivy League college under the assumption that he was Kenyan?

I agree with Bart Hall. The twits are trying to say that I didn't get where I am because I studied hard subjects in college and worked harder than most of my peers. Nope, couldn't be that. Why, that would mean that taking meaningless classes in fields ending in the word "studies," binge drinking instead of trying to understand partial differential equations, and being a slacker is every bit as effective as taking engineering and math classes and working until 2:00 AM to debug programs, save only for my white, male privilege.

Fernandinande said...

“Boys don’t cry,”

"It takes a big man to cry, and it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man." J. Handy

mccullough said...

Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia is the best exposition of the phenomena of independently rediscovered knowledge and the difficulty and possibility of human originality I've come across.

tim in vermont said...

"And that’s a lie—a huge social lie that makes men of that age have to act tougher than they feel"

It always amazes me when I see a little bit of insight from the omniscient narrator who is writing all of our lives.

mtrobertsattorney said...

"The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head."

I believe Ann is channeling Plato.

mtrobertsattorney said...

"The best ideas, when you read and understand them, feel as though they were always there in your head."

I believe Ann is channeling Plato.

The Crack Emcee said...

Drago,

"This sort of insane comment is reminiscent of Eddie Murphy's hilarious black guy in white face video on Saturday Night Live where white folks were lavished with "free money" from a bank and they didn't even have to pay it back!"

Boy - history in this country is surely lacking when whites can openly discuss "free money" for themselves but The Homestead Act, or redlining, doesn't even enter their minds as they laugh and declare it's so not true. They got all this influence, power, and money, fair-and-square because they're just so wonderfully better than everyone else as their racist forefathers ensured and always insisted.

But they're nothing the same - and there's no legacy of white supremacy or white entitlement they carry - so perish the thought.

Everybody but whites are just silly,....

Bruce Hayden said...

Somehow, my previous post here was lost...

A bunch of whiney little girls. Females have doors opened for them with a smile, and a seat in the lifeboat. They have a bulk of the money in the country, and while males earn the bulk of it. This is esp. the case since LBJ's War on Poverty, which is really, the start of the War on Males. It was, and continues to be, a massive scheme to redistribute the fruits of male labor to females sitting at home raising kids fathered by other guys. And, this was the generation that didn't have to carry a Draft Card, nor go to die in a rice field in Vietnam in a badly fought war (under LBJ and McNamara).

Parenting is completely controlled by females. They determine whether there will be a kid, and the guys most often have no choice. If the gal cheats, gets pregnant, and carries to term, the guy still pays for the next 18 years. In divorce, even if the guy was the primary parent, the women almost always get custody.

And, now education has become highly stacked in their favor too. Instead of rewarding students for knowledge, they are now rewarded for cooperation and conformity. And, it isn't the girls getting drugged to act like boys these days, but just the opposite.

Oh, and women live longer too. On our money. And, then whine about male privilege.

Jamie said...

Separate from women's studies - I am struck all the time by the fact that when I start typing a search into Google, long before I'm finished the actual search phrase appears as a possible choice. At first I was a little bummed out that my questions were so ordinary, but then I grew - "enchanted" is the word that comes to mind - at the thought of some number of people all over the world having the same questions that I do.

SJ said...

@BigMike,

a bit of historical pedantry about Columbus.

One of Columbus' biogrpahers in the 1850s invented the notion that Columbus was challenging the Flat-Earth hypothesis.

Philosophers, geometers, cartographers, and sailors have known since before Christ that the Earth was not flat.

(One of the primary pieces of evidence is visual, and was provided by ancient sailors. As they sailed towards land, they saw the tops of the mountains before they saw the base of the mountain. They used this knowledge to intuit that the Earth is not flat.)

Columbus disagreed with many contemporaries about (A) the degrees of longitude Westward between Spain and China/Japan, and (B) the number of statute miles per degree of longitude at the Equator. Interestingly, Columbus was wrong on both counts. But his wrong estimate put him in the Bahamas...

Back to the subject of privilege and race: a racial group that isn't disadvantaged by race doesn't spend much time thinking about it. Especially when going into a business and asking to speak to the "Manager" or "Head Guy".

Instead, they think about whether the "Manager" or "Head Guy" that they ask to speak is a nice guy. Or if he's of the same social class.

Or if he's vulnerable to legal action.

Thus the two-sided nature of discussions of privilege. My white skin and maleness did not remove my need to work hard to achieve what I wanted in life.

However, the background I was born into (which I have in common with many middle-class Whites) removed many challenges that are faced by lower-class Blacks. This background also removed many challenges that are faced by lower-class Whites.

And this background gave me a different set of challenges than those faced by middle-class Blacks.

Such things make for great political rhetoric. But political rhetoric is simplistic, and doesn't accurately describe the difference between poor Appalachian redneck and upper-middle-class Jew from New York.

Fernandinande said...

white folks were lavished with "free money" from a bank

Just like the Pigford and Pigford 2 scams!

MarkD said...

I've had to represent all Caucasians in Japan. They don't think much of you, but I'm OK.