Tal Fortgang not sorry for being white and privileged

 
Two men walk through a tunnel on the Princeton University campus. Are hard work and family values the keys to walking the halls of Princeton?

Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang has been told repeatedly to "check his privilege" - to be aware of how his socio-economic and cultural background shapes his views - and he's not happy about it.

"The phrase," he writes, "handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung."

(Weltanschauung means "worldview". I had to look it up. But then, I didn't go to Princeton.)

Start Quote

It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit”

End Quote Tal Fortgang Princeton University freshman

In an opinion piece originally carried last month by a conservative Princeton student publication and reprinted on Friday in Time magazine, the 20-year-old condemns those who paint him with the "privileged" label for "diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive".

To answer his critics, Fortgang recounts his ancestry, which includes a grandfather who fled Poland after the German invasion in World War Two and a grandmother who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp.

"That's the problem with calling someone out for the 'privilege' which you assume has defined their narrative," he writes. "You don't know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are."

He says he is privileged, but not in the way the liberals think:

It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realise the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.

He says the virtues of "faith and education" passed along from his parents are his privilege.

"It's not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates 'privilege'," he concludes. "And there's nothing wrong with that."

Asking him to apologise for it, he asserts, is "insulting".

Start Quote

This guy is going to go far”

End Quote Rod Dreher The American Conservative

The right-wing media have been quick to embrace Fortgang and his story. He's appeared on Fox News and been cited by Glenn Beck's the Blaze.

"This guy is going to go far," writes the American Conservative's Rod Dreher. "And should."

On Saturday the New York Times ran a profile of the freshman, saying his essay "touched a nerve".

All of this nerve-touching has rubbed Salon's Kate McDonough the wrong way. She calls Fortgang's piece "a ridiculous baby tantrum".

"Nothing in the essay is a new or shocking expression of white privilege or the astounding sense of entitlement and self-regard shared by white racists," she writes.

A lot of people in the United States also believe that race-blind meritocracy is real and that discussions of privilege and institutional racism are just sore losers being sore, and many of the people who think this way also happen to make our policies or control most of the wealth in this country.

She continues:

It's likely that Fortgang will have the opportunity at Princeton to learn about the racial wealth gap, the legacy of red-lining, the unemployment rate among college educated men of colour versus their white counterparts, the convergence of racism and sexism that leaves women of colour disproportionately impacted by domestic violence, the gender pay gap experienced by black women, the deadly violence faced by black children and the myriad other manifestations of racism in the United States. Basically all of the things that he will never have to experience as an extraordinarily privileged white man.

Start Quote

Like most entitled white guys, upon finding himself on the opposite end of the entire world's fawning approval, he started crying about it”

End Quote Luke O'Neil Mediaite

Being asked to "check your privilege" means "recognising, identifying and challenging the insidious operations of racism", she concludes. "He doesn't want to confront racism and white privilege because those things have - and will continue to - really, really help him out in life."

Fortgang is a good candidate for an "ideological stoning", writes Mediaite's Luke O'Neil.

He says Fortgang "courageously struck out against the oppressive climate of basic cultural awareness and bare minimum human decency that has despoiled college campuses everywhere".

"Like most entitled white guys, upon finding himself on the opposite end of the entire world's fawning approval, he started crying about it," he continues.

O'Neil says that many of the privileged class, if they go back far enough, can find an ancestor who didn't have it so good. Does everyone with a grandparent who faced adversity get a free pass?

"Violet Baudelaire" on the Jezebel Groupthink site explains privilege in terms of a one-legged man running against a two-legged man in a race. Just because the two-legged man trained hard and persevered doesn't mean he didn't have an innate advantage over the one-legged man. Just because one-legged men occasionally win their races doesn't mean they are competing on a level playing field. And having a one-legged grandfather doesn't mean you can claim you don't have "two-legged privilege".

She writes:

Checking your privilege doesn't mean anyone is asking you to say "I only have things because I am part of privileged groups". It does mean someone is asking you to say "By position of a characteristic I was born with, I have been helped, or at least not hurt, more than others without this characteristic". It does not mean anyone wants you to apologize for it; it does mean someone is asking for an acknowledgement of the implications of it, either for how it is impacted where you are now, how it might be skewing your perspective or level of knowledge in discussing a subject, or for how the lack of that same privilege may have made things different for someone else.

Race and privilege have been hot topics of late, with the controversies swirling around Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and basketball team owner Donald Sterling, and last week's Supreme Court decision upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action in college admissions.

This explains why an Ivy League college freshman and his "no apologies" defence of a colourblind US meritocracy has become a national story.

It's a Weltanschauung conservatives are eager to endorse.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 289.

    You should really check out the people you quote. "Luke O'Neil" recently claimed half of Americans deserved to die. The other two attacking Fortgang are radical feminists. Generally people who think people of their own colour should walk around with their heads hung low are not very rational.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 288.

    @Joseph Constant

    So let me get this straight, Europeans shouldn't feel pride about good things that Europeans have done, but should feel shame about bad things Europeans have done... How consistent... Can we apply this mode of thinking to other races aswell? Then every1s a sinner! Yay!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 287.

    To some extent I understand what he's saying, but he has completely missed the point of the privilege debate. No one is asking him to apologize or attribute his every action to his privilege. However, ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT IT EXISTS. He needs to acknowledge the fact that no matter what he does, he will always have the fact that he is white and male. It's a societal condition.

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    Comment number 286.

    No one is born equal, and I won't argue with that. People are born very inequal in terms of wealth, health, prospective futures and many other varying seperate different degrees. What seperates us from animals, is our ability to not just recognize inequalities, but to treat others as equals in spite of that real or precieved inequality. "Check your Privledge" is really just saying that.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 285.

    A professor who makes a five digit salary would be a legitimate leader if only he was giving his time and money to help the poors. Who do you think the ones in need are thankful for: the liberals and their advices they continuously shower on others but never apply to themselves or Bill Gates and his 15 billions dollars foundation ?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 284.

    GO FOR IT FORTGANG. If the obviously blind government of South Africa could have fulfilled and implemented the vision of Mandela for a fair and just society it would not have been necessary to introduce WHITE DISCRIMINATION and laws to rectify the wrongdoing of the past. Justifying benefiting the now privileged blacks at the cost of the whites is just turning the hamburger over...

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    Comment number 283.

    Liberal ideologies are rooted in the belief that we are born equals. This is not the case, some of us are born bright, handsome or wealthy while others are dumb, ugly, or poor. This diversity fuels evolution and... revolutions when the pace of the latter is too slow.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 282.

    Rise of mediocrity & narcissism is broadly correlated to increasing influence of money and power in college admission in the US. Now USA ranks 16th (2012) in QUALITY of original research & higher education, slipped from 2nd in 1996.
    Check this peer-reviewed article- http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/106/05/0691.pdf

  • rate this
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    Comment number 281.

    To Some1withanOpinion. When an individual does a good thing, it is glorious to that person, but when the same individual does a very bad thing, it becomes the collective sin of his/her race, tribe,nation. First, there are many good Europeans out there even across history, but collectively, the race,contrary to its profession of Christianity, is the supreme master of racism, prejudice and bigotry.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 280.

    A survey around 2007 confirmed that at least 75% of the students in the three ivy league Univs (Princeton, Harvard & Yale) comes from the rich & powerful families, not only form the US but also from around the world. It has nothing to do with talent.

    Probably 5-10% are admitted on merit- mainly to groom that >75% who would eventually inherit influential positions in both Govt & private sector.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 279.

    "Anti-racists" complain about Europeans dominating European societies, eg, media, politics, business, etc, but they never complain about Asians dominating Asian societies, or Africans dominating African societies, or Indians dominating Indian societies, or Arabs dominating Arab societies. What makes Europeans so unique that we deserve to be singled out? Are we the only ones with a stained history?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 278.

    @230 Bob, when I try to rate comments positively, or negatively, I am asked to sign in, yet here I am, clearly signed in and typing in this comment. Right wing views aren't getting generally negative ratings they used to get. I do consider the HYS ratings to be a bit of a giggle though. I'm hoping it's accidental that left leaning HYS'ers are being affected by this more than right leaning HYS'ers.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 277.

    Minorities, especially Blacks never want whites to be ashamed of being white.They just want whites to admit that there are privileges that inherently comes with being white. Even those who abhors slavery, educational & economic opportunities denied Blacks for centuries, don't want to admit they benefit from wealth built with slave labor. Minorities simply want to be given same opportunity.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 276.

    "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Whatever happened to the standard set in that famous dream?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 275.

    Most of Mr. Fortgang's critics are liberals. Many will be white; some will be from either the Atlantic or Pacific coast of the U.S. Fortgang has demonstrated remarkable bravery. Given that he currently attends a bastion of left-wing/liberal/progressive kant, I am less convinced of his good sense.

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    Comment number 274.

    Asking white people to feel shame for the crimes of white people 200 years ago is like asking all people with glasses to feel shame for the crimes of all mass murderers who wore glasses 200 years ago.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 273.

    Sadly, it's the people who believe there should be a "fairness" in life. A person chooses a line of work that pays so poorly and makes life choices that produces negative results. Governments have proven people will not change and achieve success when given a handout.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 272.

    So if you're not a white male then all your problems in life are because you've been discriminated against. If you're a white male all you have is yourself to blame. You need to start taking responsibility for your own lives and problems. I've been discriminated against throughout my life in both work and academia and called racist names just because of my skin color. I haven't let it hold me back

  • rate this
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    Comment number 271.

    One wonders if the attacks on the opinions of this young man by other privileged but guilt ridden white folks is understandable. That he has found a way not to become as neurotic as they over that which he has no control only deepens their guilt. If he refuses to have no apologies, then does their pathology compel them to do so for him?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 270.

    I'm not saying every white person is a racist nor am I saying racism has not improved since the 40's. I am not an American; I also cheer for America when they elected the first black leader in any Western country. But as you can see; even though he's the President now, there're so many attacks against him simply because he's not white. To say racism or white privilege don't exist is just lie.

 

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