Is America Ready and Prepared for Angry, Privileged, Young White Men Like Princeton's Tal Fortgang?
There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, 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.
“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world...It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character... 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.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Social media, a slow news cycle, and being a white victimologist wunderkind in the Age of Obama does have its advantages. Moreover, being a privileged white male victimologist wunderkind at Princeton University, who can use his privilege to get some shine, while also denying the existence of empirical realities such as white racism and white privilege, is some Three-Card Monte 3D Star Trek chess gamesmanship.
There is also a beautiful ugly irony at work in Fortgang's essay: he is denying the existence of white privilege and he is Jewish, a member of a group that recently earned their "whiteness" in the second part of the 20th century. His ancestors in the United States knew a great deal about the realities of white supremacy and white privilege. Many of them were not even be able to gain admission to an Ivy League institution because of a anti-Jewish quota system.
One of the powers of Whiteness is its ability to create amnesia among white folks. Fortgang is an object lesson in that fact.
I am loathe to feed Tal Fortgang's ego by rewarding how he successfully trolled too many folks with his essay in Princeton's student newspaper. But, Fortgang (and those on Fox News and elsewhere who are enabling him) is the future-present of white racism and white supremacy in the post civil rights era.
One of the causes of the Great Recession was how rent-seeking, corrupt, casino capitalists and Wall Street hustlers, were able to game the system with the knowledge that there would no real consequences for their destructive behavior.
Many of them likely went to business school and/or majored in finance or a related discipline while undergraduates. These criminals had a liberal arts education. But somewhere along the way, they may not have taken courses in philosophy or ethics. If so, said financial gangsters did not internalize a sense of justice, a sense of linked fate with other people, or the basic principles of secular humanism and the Common Good.
Allowing for those in the financier and plutocratic classes who are sociopathic (I do not mean this as a mere turn of phrase or fun play on words; I encountered one such person in a classroom who proudly announced that his goal in life was to be fabulously wealthy, he would lie and cheat to that end, and destroy anyone that got in his way. I told this student that the poor have to eat and he would be the meal) it is readily apparent that too many students simply check off the mental boxes to get a grade and do not reflect upon or internalize knowledge as a means towards critical self-reflection. As the university becomes more of a trade school and degree mill those outcomes will be increasingly common.