I’ve already written my own missives about “rightsizing” and meritocracy, but I have used the “P” word all that much. So I thought that this new book (mostly written right before the 2016 presidential conventions) by Phoebe Maltz Bovy would consolidate my thinking, even about my own life. That is, “The Perils of ‘Privilege’; Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage.”
The basic reason is that of a natural logical paradox. Those who point to someone else’s unearned privilege are creating a reciprocal unearned privilege for themselves. Of that, she gives many examples. And in her Conclusion, “After Privilege”, she tries to unwind our thinking, with suggestions like “less awareness” or less hypersensitivity, repudiating the overuse of the word “violence”, returning to a focus on the macro rather than the micro, and making social justice a means rather than an end.
She makes good use of buzzwords, most of all, “YPIS”, or “Your Privilege Is Showing” (I can think of another “P” word), as well as problematic “faves”. But she tends to go back and forth over the same materials in the five chapters. The organization of the book seems a bit arbitrary.
She gives many little anecdotes. One is a narrative of an upper class young man who wants to prove to himself he can hold down a “real job” in a fast food restaurant – to find out if he can work in a regimented environment. I[m reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” (2001). She mentions the conflict of interest problem in whether a social studies professor can ethically write about a “privilege” issue of one of her students.
She also talks about the context problems caused by membership of people in multiple groups in crisscross fashion. She mentions how this affects our perception of the victims of terrorism (against white or well-off civilians, on the one hand, and against religious populations by dictatorial governments, like in Syria, on the other).
In the Afterword, particularly, she explains the irony of Donald Trump’s reinventing the exploitation of privilege by building a voting block of rural white people without college degrees. But this views elitism (e.g. the Clintons) as another variation of the privilege theme, as fodder for the political Right. It can morph into anti-intellectualism, anti-science, and religious “cultism” as well as a “take care of your own first” idea of charity.
For an individual, the question is, “What am I supposed to do about it?” I could be viewed as in a marginalized group (gay), which brought considerable consequences earlier in my adult life. But I was also “privileged” in being brought up in a state, prosperous family as an only child (cis-male). In ,y working career, my childlessness was seen by other colleagues as a kind of privilege. Later in life, I have benefited from inheritance. I think that implies some obligation. Is it to focus less on my own expressive goals and join in to reinforce other people’s social capital? That could make a difference, for example, in assisting asylum seekers (and refugees), the former having become very difficult to do totally legally and entailing risk. I think the question of “privilege” intersects with that of “fairness”, as my own experience early in my life with the military draft and my use of deferments (ultimately to finish education before service and be sheltered from combat, while giving people grades as a math instructor in graduate school, possibly putting some of them at more risk) now adding to some moral burden. Maybe the right word to use is “karma”, rather than “privilege”.
Whimsically, I’m reminded of an essay about gays in the military that I authored for Colorado’s “Ground Zero News” in 1995, “The Perils of Rebuttable Presumption“, which I never mentioned again.
|Author:||Phoebe Maltz Bovy|
|Title, Subtitle:||“The Perils of ‘Privilege’: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage”|
|Publication:||New York: St. Martin’s, 324 pages, hardcover, Introduction, 5 chapters, Conclusion, Afterword|
(Posted: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)