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Check My Privilege, Please!

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I know, I know: there is absolutely no need for another piece about this whole "check your privilege" fracas that's popped up in the past week or so, but hey -- part of my own privilege is getting to write about stuff if I feel like it.

Plus, I've just been more and more irked by this series of articles that cast the "check your privilege" stuff as the tool of a movement designed to shut certain (read: white or male) people out of certain debates.

There are so many different categories of person--straight, cis, rich, etc, etc, etc--to address, so I will just focus on the white folk for now. They're the most complain-y, anyway.

My biggest problem with these articles is this: in what world are white people, and especially white men, actually lacking in outlets to express their views? White people dominate the media to a ridiculous extent. They dominate politics to a ridiculous extent. They set the terms of public debate to a ridiculous extent. If you're a white person and you can't find a way to say what you think about something, that just means you're not trying at all. There are few easier things in life than to be a white man with an opinion.

To read these anti-check-your-privilege complaints, you'd think we lived in a world where debates over race or gender or sexuality are being led by a rampaging minority, determined to crush all opposition in its wake. But that is a fantasy world. In the real world, white people--or straight people, or rich people, or, just insert your category here--are just about as powerful as ever.

What's happening now is that all these people are possibly being confronted and challenged about what they say in a new and more concerted way. There's all this pushback and response, and people are being told that maybe they should shut the hell up for a second.

And you know what? Sometimes we should shut the hell up! White people everywhere: the world will not end if, from time to time, we are made to listen to other views or other communities. In fact, we might even benefit from hearing those views! We might even learn something from them! We might gain new insight on what it means like to live in a world that seeks to thwart you at every turn, rather than usher you through to the front of every societal line.

I am a pretty privileged guy. I'm white, and I'm male. (I'm gay, but I was raised in San Francisco and live in New York, so there are worse things in life.) By virtue of my white maleness, I get to move through life with relative ease. I live in a black and Latino neighborhood, but somehow the cops always miss me on their way to the latest stop-and-frisk. My trips through the airport are almost completely hassle-free. I approach solitary walks on dimly-lit streets with carefree jollity. I'm well-educated, I make a decent living, and I have a huge platform where I get to write about what I want, all the time. It's a pretty good existence!

And, every now and then, I have to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, my voice isn't the one that needs to be heard at the head of the pack, or that something's going to make me uncomfortable because someone against whom society and culture have a deep, lingering institutional bias wants to knock me upside the head for a second. In the scheme of things, it's not much to deal with.

Yes, the hurling of "check your privilege" across a college campus is probably annoying sometimes. But college is full of people trading intellectual buzzwords, and, as someone who has been to college and has been in lots of situations where I'm being checked rather than doing the checking, I can confidently say that white men will make it through OK.

So please, everyone, keep telling me to check my privilege! And, fellow white people, let's get over ourselves, shall we?