Equality is the watchword and the catchword of our day. The egalitarian idea dominates the postmodern spirit. The masses approve of it. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of all; it has set its seal upon our time. When history comes to tell our story it will write above the chapter “The Epoch of Equality.”
As yet, it is true, Egalitarianism has not created a society which can be said to represent its ideal. But for more than a generation the policies of civilized nations have been directed towards nothing less than a realization of an equal society. In recent years the movement has grown noticeably in vigor and tenacity.
We are told by the intellectual establishment in the Western nations today that the best way to achieve this desired equality is to recognize and break down entrenched systems of privilege. In this context privilege is defined as:
“…a set of perceived advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess.”
“…any right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person or group beyond the advantages of most.”
The set of circumstances in which some people and groups enjoy advantages and benefits that others don’t is a serious obstacle to social equality. It must be addressed and remedied if we are to achieve a fair and just society. Of course the question of why such an egalitarian society is desirable in the first place is never asked or answered. Equality is simply one of the divine mysteries of postmodern liberalism and thus needs no explanation and will tolerate no questioning.
The notion of deconstructing privilege has become quite popular among the more fashionable intellectuals, academics and watchdogs of socially correct and respectable opinion. It is therefore at institutions of higher education where privilege narratives enjoy the most support and exposure. It should come as no surprise then that cisgendered, heterosexual white males – the favorite whipping boy of cultural Marxists the world over – are defined as the privileged class in pretty much all such narratives. Individuals who are members of this social class find themselves continuously hectored on campus by various communist, feminist and “anti-oppression” activists demanding that they “check” their privilege.
The most interesting thing about this narrative is the unspoken assumptions that lie behind it about the nature of the oppressed vs. the oppressor and the marginalized vs the privileged. Note that the strategy of “privilege checking” is to badger and shame white males into voluntarily giving up their privilege and ceding social power to marginalized groups of minorities, women, homosexuals, transgendered people, the disabled or what have you. The bitter irony is that this only serves to affirm and reinforce the agency and power of white males while continuing to deny these qualities to those other groups. It is just assumed here that the marginalized groups have no agency at all. In this way these narratives of privilege, while perhaps misguided in intention, remain essentially correct in substance. Whitey must be asked to check himself, no other group is going to be checking him.
The phenomenon of “white guilt” assumes white supremacy as a default state of relations between whites and blacks. Blacks do not have the agency to be responsible for their own position in society. If a black person is poor it is because whitey put him in that spot, if a black person is relatively well off, then it is thanks to all the programs whitey set up for him. Agency is a property of white people and white people are the active party in all these scenarios. The practice of busing black youths in to white school districts assumes that the best thing for non-white children is to be exposed to white children in schools. The reverse is not assumed. Guilt-ridden liberal hand wringing over “white flight” from areas that blacks start moving to takes it as a given that the worst thing for blacks is to have whites turn their back on them. The insufferable anti-racist activist Tim Wise titled his book “White like me” because it is a book about white people. Wise understands that race relations between blacks and whites will be decided by whites, and his goal is to convince white people to give more stuff to blacks. Either way it is up to them, not the blacks. Ultimately liberal anti-racism makes its way back to the White Man’s Burden. It can’t be avoided.
Leaving aside the annoying pestering over privilege checking, the leftist narrative here represents a fairly accurate view of reality in spite of itself. It is true that in all cases in which blacks have advanced as a group in our society it is because whites have chosen to promote them, often times against their will. Whatever power blacks have today has been granted, not taken. Black slavery was ended by whites. Jim Crow was ended by whites. Black suffrage was advanced by whites. Affirmative action is a white idea. If powerful and organized groups of whites had not defied the will of other powerful whites in order accomplish these things, they would never have been done. If we are to believe what we are taught in US government schools, a white President started the bloodiest war in the history of our country for the sake of black slaves.
Similarly apartheid in South Africa was not ended by blacks taking power, but by other white countries putting pressure on South Africa to hand over power. While Nelson Mandela and the ANC may have been the favorite political pets of white liberal intellectuals and college kids in the West, in reality they were nothing more than thugs and terrorists. Their tactics were brutal, particularly to other blacks, but they represented little threat to the South African government. He and his corrupt band were given the gift of state power that they could never have taken from white people on their own, and the result has been disastrous for both blacks and whites in that country.
There is a similar paradigm with men and women. Feminists are not capable of seizing power from men or ending the “oppression” they claim they suffer at male hands. The feminist strategy has always been shaming and badgering men into giving them some the trappings of power, but never the actual substance. The assumption of both male superiority and female lack of agency is the very essence of postmodern feminism.
This dynamic was affirmed by Sir Patrick Stewart at a recent public appearance where he spoke about violence against women. If you watch the above video you will note that all power is assumed by Stewart to be in the hands of men. The choice to not beat women is the man’s choice. Indeed, it is only a weak and contemptible man that would let a woman control him like that. The safe social spaces created for the victims of such abuse are created by men, with approval and funds provided by men. The most fascinating thing about this clip is that Stewart gets a round of applause from a room full of women and even a hug from a feminist for a speech in which he completely denies female agency! The male privilege being exercised here is totally off the charts.
All narratives of privilege and oppression operate essentially the same way. The ability to think, plan, make decisions and act, is assumed to only exist on one side. Indeed it does only exist on one side. The oppressed and marginalized are people that have things done to them, they themselves do not do anything. They cannot. If the oppression is to be ended, it must be ended by the oppressors. The oppressed have no capability to take power. The real privilege that oppressors have and that anti-oppression intellectuals take for granted is their agency. Ironically it is this very privilege which they are asked to exercise in order to check their privilege.