Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Princeton Kid is, in fact, Privileged, and Rather Naive and Foolish

Mark Twain once said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt." A few years down the road, this advice might actually come to mean something to Princeton student Tal Fortgang.  Tal has become the poster child for the debate about "white privilege" after his op-ed defending his "success" was published. After opening by questioning "this phrase, check your privilege" that has been circulating around such privileged campuses as Princeton, Tal recounts how he is apparently not privileged because his grandparents struggled to escape the Nazi's during World War II. He then "concedes" that he is privileged to have been raised with values like faith and education, and that he will "apologize for nothing."

And, that is the basis of his problem.

Tal has been raised in the tradition of parents wanting their children to have a better life. And there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is that in not wanting our children to want for or suffer from anything, we leave them with little appreciation for the hard work that has afforded them a degree of comfort. Tal is too blinded by his own upbringing to even understand that no one expects him to apologize - not for his success or his race or his parents' hard work or, even, his hard work. Nothing. The idea of acknowledging privilege is merely to understand that he has it. His life, born of the hard work and struggles of his grandparents and his parents, has given him advantages that he is unable to appreciate as such. That is why he could benefit from understanding the "veil of ignorance," an academic concept that was probably discussed somewhere in his high quality education. Alas, he won't be able to.

And that is why the backlash and criticism of Tal has been so swift. As in this note To The Princeton Privileged Kid, by Violet Baudelaire. Or the sentiment from Mary Elizabeth Williams who simply wants Tal to know: "We Don't Need Your Apology, Princeton Kid." Sadly, Tal seems to be a pretty bright young man who wants to think about big ideas and engage in serious conversations. Yet the immaturity with which he defended his privilege - even though no one asked him to - will probably tag him as the "Poster Child for White Male Privilege" for a long time to come.


GA said...


Unknown said...

Stunning article