A Response to the Time Article “Why I’ll Never Apologize For My White Privilege”

Posted on May 5, 2014 by


Story from Time

Original Story from the Princeton Tory

Dear Mr. Tal Fortgang,

You’ve presented your viewpoint, and personally I wonder how TIME Magazine would even bother posting something ridden with so many logical fallacies and very little evidence to support their points of view.

But I’d hazard a guess that TIME Magazine took it up because 1.  Princeton!  and 2. TIME Magazine must be desperate to say something to troll for hits;  commenting about race without really driving any productive dialogue seems to drive a lot of web traffic (I don’t know for sure).

But whatever the reasons, you’ve got the platform and the high horse right now.  Like many other people we’d like to knock you off it (or have you knock it off).

Before I point out the weak points of the article, first, here’s what I can respect about you and your article.

  • Your family experience and past supports the fact that your family has had struggles.
  • Unless random individuals from Princeton, Facebook, etc know your life intimately, no one should diminish your individual accomplishments and hard work.
  • You do realize that you are privileged

My main beef is that “not apologizing for your white male privilege” does not mean you get to make dismissive diminishing comments about whomever disagrees with you.

Here is an outline of my beefs.

1. Just because you have any experience in struggling and hard work in yourself and your family legacy, doesn’t mean you get to dismiss what other people say and do.

You yourself write a post about how you do not want to be diminished, but you yourself diminish success stories sometimes likely told by people of a different sex and/or people of color.

You climaxed the Princeton Tory and opened TIME with this line.

Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color.

“Always” is the word that bothers me in their statement.  Do you know anyone who actually tells their success story “always” by their sex or skin color? I’d be curious at the examples you bring up.

If you can’t think of anyone, much less all the success stories you apparently hear “always”, then your opening premise is already false.

However, if you do manage to think of a few, I’m guessing you are likely oversimplifying the stories you hear.

Why would you be oversimplifying?  Maybe you’re just hearing what you want to hear of their stories, rather than fully understanding their specifics and context.

Maybe you’re just hearing a storyteller mention their “sex” and/or “skin color” as hindrances in their social situations, in their narrative, and you automatically assume that it’s something unnecessarily brought up?

2.  Without any cited example quotes from real life from real people, your argument against people who “check you” is based completely on strawman arguments and imagination.

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them 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.

Who are “those who ‘check’ you?  Who, exactly?  Where?  When?  What?

Without any actual examples of anyone actually saying for you to “check your privilege” as a way of “diminishing you and the hard work you’ve done”, it seems like you yourself are making the assumption that “check your privilege = diminishing my hard work and accomplishments.

I’m familiar with the phrase, “check your privilege” both on Facebook and in classes.

I mean it’s something I do myself all the time, and all it means at least for me, is “understand that you have had some advantages in life.”

I think you do a good job of realizing some of your advantages (i.e. your values).

However, you only really make visible a select few that won’t confirm any other advantages you might have enjoyed.  Maybe you just didn’t know because they were simply embedded into your lifestyle.  Were you able to take SAT prep courses?  What was your grad school graduate dad able to tell you about going to college?  Were there any military recruiters at your school telling you that this was the way out of your neighborhood?

One good test for you to actually “check your privilege” or “understand your advantages” is asking yourself this:  have you yourself ever been made to feel that you don’t belong at a good school, a good neighboorhood, and/or a good job?

If you can honestly answer yes, then tell us the circumstances.

If you can honestly answer no, then you enjoy an advantage that many people of color and/or a different sexual orientation don’t enjoy, but by no means is it a condemnation or a demand for an apology.  It’s just what you were given, and by all means, use it to get where you feel you need to go.

3.  You word things quite carelessly.

Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

I’m wondering where this “Check Your Privilege” doctrine is that declares that “we are all governed by invisible forces.”  I googled the phrase, “”we are all governed by invisible forces” and the first result was some extremist website at Princeton.

Extremist website leading to your article, ha ha, yes.

Funny how wording things curbs and influences perception, right?

In your statement above, I’m curious as to what exactly these racist and sexist ‘conspiracies’ that people believe our nations run on.

One label that you use that I question is use of the word “conspiracies.” First off, what are these ‘conspiracies?’  Two, how do you know that they are “conspiracies?”  I assume that you’re talking about things in history like slavery or ummm…Native American genocide.

Conspiracy is a noun with a negative connotation that usually brings to mind usually lunatics and crazies.  If you are really interested in not “diminishing” points of view, then you could probably see the problem in using such language to refer to ideas that are simply different from yours.

4.  In all likelihood, no one actually demanded that you apologize for who are.

In all likelihood, no one was asking you for an apology.  “Check your privilege” simply means that you truthfully acknowledge that you have some benefits and advantage that have helped you.

You say yourself that “you don’t know what people’s struggles have been,” but in a paragraph you label differing points of view as ‘racist’, sexist, and attribute it to their views being nothing more than “conspiracies.”

“Checking your privilege” is about being humble about what you have been given without the pompousness and dismissiveness that pretends to or pretends to know that everything is equal.