In recent years, the cybersphere has proliferated a new generation of political talking points including pronoun choice (for members of the LGBT+ community) and critical race theory arising from the BLM protests. Now, there is a new branch of this exciting e-political banyan: ‘check your privilege’.
For those of us entrapped in this ever-changing online parley, it is clear that discourse on privilege generally reduces to a surfeit of waffle from committed, compassionate, yet often wrongheaded, commentators across the political spectrum. The biggest contributor to this is a new rationale which has recently and broadly refracted itself into every dimension of e-political life: the habitual imposition of ‘privilege checks.’ This term refers to the introspective examination of the advantages assumed as a result of one’s inherited identity group membership. A case in point: white journalist Caitlin Moran was told to ‘check her privilege’ by an army of the Twitterati after posting that she “literally could not give a s**t” about the representation of people of colour in Lena Dunham’s show Girls. This rationale’s idealogues believe themselves to be creating a proficient site from which they may conduct egalitarian political transformation.
On the one hand, this new buzz phrase enables the denunciation of dangerous points of views by revealing the arbitrary positions of power from which they derive. Yet still, it inaugurates the issue of effectiveness: is it, as its ideologues claim, capable of initiating egalitarian political transformation? Or is it a counterproductive endeavour retrogressive of emancipatory aims?
Well, when privilege is tacitly attacked by ‘privilege checks,’ feelings of powerlessness, shame, and guilt inscribed onto disenfranchised groups are displaced onto the privileged - not addressed or removed, but under new management. This is evidenced daily on social media through reductive anti-privilege Instagram infographics. These are often included with the fine print that one should feel no shame or guilt as a result of harbouring privilege. Rather, that acknowledgement of privilege makes cognizant in one’s mind the unearned advantages with which they entered the world in an attempt to inspire social justice.
However, this fine print is insubstantial in effectively negating or offsetting the dissemination of shame caused by ‘privilege checks.’ Instead of inspiring a proficient social justice, it motivates shameful introspection, often resulting in a deprecatory politics rather than one conducive to egalitarian reform.
All in all, what is important is to depart from this ethos, where the privileged are shamed and the disenfranchised remain unemancipated. Moreover, we must flee the political quagmire in which we find ourselves so grossly entrenched as it halts all substantive aspirations of social justice.