Response to Tal Fortgang

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For the last month, social media and various news sources have been engaged in a flurry of commentary on Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang's article in the Princeton Tory (described as "a journal of conservative and moderate thought") which he titles, "Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege". In the article, Fortgang essentially claims that those who acknowledge white privilege engage in reverse racism, and fervently critiques those who attempt such things as pointing out the myth of the U.S. meritocracy. The full article can be accessed here: .

First of all, Fortgang's rejection of any acknowledgement of privilege was immediately shocking. As a Jew, even if I have not experienced them personally, I am well aware of the oppression and discrimination against Jewish people that he describes. However, in focusing on his Judaism, he neglects many other privileges which he does benefit from. For one, Jews still benefit from white privilege-many of the unfair structural privileges granted to whites are granted to us white Jews as well, simply because we're still white. In addition, despite his attempts to reject his class privilege by detailing the hard work ethic of his grandparents and parents, he fails to recognize that their successes have given him a certain class privilege. His attempts to pad his own ego around his own academic success leads him to neglect certain distinct privileges that he benefits from.

Also, Fortgang's blatant dismissal of those who describe the "myth of meritocracy" and point out structural racisms and sexisms is not only appalling, but extremely unfair. Not once does he actually argue that these forces do not exist; he simply dismisses them with absurdity, and proceeds to narrate his family's success story under the assumption that he is not benefiting from any sort of unfair privilege. Fortgang's absolute rejection of the idea of these structural issues in U.S. society hinders attempts to heal those problems, and only perpetuates them.

Finally, in the penultimate paragraph, he suggests that poor, "unsuccessful" people exist in that state simply because of poor values or lack of parental involvement. Here, his assumptions about working class society reveal exactly how ignorant he is of the structural oppressions in the capitalist system. There are numerous multifaceted reasons for continued wealth gaps in the United States, and none of them have to do with what Fortgang refers to as "poor values" or "lack of parental involvement". Such insinuations only continue to pad his ego and perpetuate systems of structural racism and oppression.

Yes, Fortgang, you have checked your privilege-and I think you might want to look a bit closer.

4 Comments

Fabulous response.
This is just another case of a white individual denying privilege because it makes him uncomfortable. Fortang's essay seems to argue that he doesn't "owe" anyone an apology for his success. He doesn't seem to believe that being a white, upper class male had any bearing on his current level of success. While it's impossible to say *all* of his success is due to white male privilege, Fortang's definition, then dismantling, of white privilege is based on an inaccurate understanding of what privilege is in the first place. An awareness of privilege does not mean anyone needs to apologize for being white, and it does not mean that individual hard work did not exist.

However, what Fortgang seemed to ignore was the societal ways that privilege plays out...it isn't all about individual benefit, but systematic. Had he understood privilege in an appropriate way, he would know that it does not mean his success is entirely due to the *presence* of advantage, but to the lack of barriers that so many people face.

You summed up the class-aspect very well: "Finally, in the penultimate paragraph, he suggests that poor, "unsuccessful" people exist in that state simply because of poor values or lack of parental involvement. Here, his assumptions about working class society reveal exactly how ignorant he is of the structural oppressions in the capitalist system."
By intentionally noting the lack of parental investment, Fortgang inadvertently admits to privilege! People from the lower class may not have high levels of parental investment, but that's very much due to class privilege. The ways that Fortgang dismantles privilege is based on a totally misconstrued, individualistic conception of what it means to be privileged. He would highly benefit from taking a damn sociology course.

I think people in upper class admitting white privilege is a very hard thing for them to do. They want to believe that they worked hard to get somewhere and their success wasn't just handed to them. Not that I am at all condoning what he is saying, I just want people to remember to get in the mindset and shoes of the individual and see through his eyes. But this is definitely a very interesting article and these are great critics and ideas!

Fortgang's writing has been floating around in my newsfeed for quite a while now, but I only just clicked on it and read it. I think Fortgang should definitely do a little reading in Dean Spade's "Normal Life" and reconsider his dismissal of the "Myth of Meritocracy". As was already said, he completely fails to address systemic privilege. It is certainly sad how many people agree with his stance, and also analyze privilege in such a shallow way, failing to recognize the more complicated ways privilege plays out all around us.

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This page contains a single entry by peile009 published on May 7, 2014 8:49 PM.

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