I wanted to go out with a bang this week and really end my tenure as a columnist on a high note, so I convened a meeting with a few of Berkeley’s best at Caffe Strada and started brainstorming Christmas ideas. I tossed out a few, the best in my opinion being a German World War II holiday album with some offensive Holocaust puns that were unpublishable, a description of my annual Christmas stocking (it’s mostly Tic Tacs and miniature sticky notes) and a dramatic biopic idea for Mrs. Claus, but nothing felt right.
Then, near the end of our meeting, a man at a neighboring table with a beard that could swing its own nine iron and what was, in hindsight, some kind of puka shell necklace, leaned over and said, “The last thing the Daily Cal needs is another article about privileged white kids celebrating Christmas.”
Deflated and a little shocked, I chugged the last sip of my hot chocolate, adjourned the meeting and went home feeling sorry for myself. But at least I knew what my column would be about.
Privilege, in my house, was getting dessert after dinner or borrowing the Lexus. But privilege is now a buzzword, and it appears to be everywhere. I’ve already received two separate emails this semester chiding me for writing from a perspective of (and requesting that I check my) privilege. Similar aspersions are being leveled against shows such as Modern Family, writers such as Lena Dunham, filmmakers such as Nicole Holofcener, singers such as Taylor Swift and figures from all artistic and political sectors for being nothing more than bastions of privilege, made by privileged people and talking about issues that only privileged people understand.
If you’re unlucky enough to be deemed “privileged” by this self-appointed board of creativity fascists, what you have to say and how you’d like to say it are rendered irrelevant, unimportant, offensive, a crime of omission. And it’s not making the world a better place. It’s making it much, much worse.
Every voice and every perspective is valid and has a right to exist. I have a story to tell. So do Lena Dunham and the characters in Modern Family and so does puka beard. All we have in life is our experiences, and the idea that a “privileged” experience — whatever that’s supposed to be — or any experience that doesn’t encompass one person’s particular struggle is elitist and insignificant poses a big, big problem.
And this is why “privilege” is such a disgruntling word and so dangerous. Its natural goal and implication is to divide. Its sole capability and purpose is articulating difference and opposition and apartness. It reduces everyone to a product of their privilege or lack thereof, and in fact, it abducts a word like privilege and gives it back in the form of a binary: black as opposed to white, poor as opposed to rich, as if there aren’t a thousand other ways for our paths in life to be facilitated or retarded and a million other factors that determine and shape our trajectory through the world’s cruelty.
It’s also turning us into a sad pool of victims and sufferers. With privilege’s evolution into a bad word — an indictment — everyone is clamoring to escape its scope, and now, we have a society of people all scraping the barrel trying to figure out how they aren’t privileged, how they ARE a victim, how they’ve been slighted and how they’ve been held down. It is genuinely, truly disgusting.
This is America, for fuck’s sake. We are not the country where everyone gets to succeed, where there’s equality and success for all and where everyone gets represented by every column. That world doesn’t and will never exist. This is the country where if you set your mind to something, abridge the whining and work hard, there’s a good chance you’ll make it. Privilege warriors will never, ever admit that because they know it’s the way up in life and because they don’t want the low to go up. They would much prefer that the low stay down, provided that they bring the rest down with them. That path up for some is going to be harder, start lower, have more obstacles and see higher mountains to climb than others, but the way through doesn’t get easier by woe-is-me-ing about privilege or assembling your identity as a sum of all the obstacles in your way.
Successful people have no time to feel sorry for themselves, and they don’t waste time trying to make people who have it easier feel sorry for them either.
We have to forget about privilege, forget about differences between those who are and aren’t and disabuse ourselves of the ridiculous notion that some anonymous arbiter’s rating of your “privilege” is a cut-and-dry measurement of human experience to begin with. We have to welcome all stories and all outlooks — not as an example of one class or race or group in opposition to another but as a contribution to the well of universal world experience.
Privilege is a useless word. A profanity. And if I never hear that word again, it will be too soon. That being said, it has been my privilege to write for The Daily Californian (providing blanketing and light reading for Berkeley’s homeless population since 1871).
Until next time,