White Privilege

The NYT Magazine has an article entitled:

I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.  The subtitle is: "My college class asks what it means to be white in America — but interrogating that question as a black woman in the real world is much harder to do."

So much so, evidently, that in a very long article ruminating on the question she almost never asks the question, much less gets an answer.  I suppose I got off on the wrong foot by wondering why a Yale professor of poetry would use the word "interrogate" in such a strange way.  In my dictionary, questions are asked and persons are interrogated.  The root of the word interrogate means to ask a question of someone.

I also think that the whole concept of "white privilege" is a bad idea, but not because persons of color don't experience lots of outrages and inconveniences that whites usually don't.  It is a bad idea for a few reasons, one of which is that the root meaning of privilege is a special right accorded by law.  (Privilege comes from the latin for private law).   Most of the so-called "white privileges" are rights granted by law or custom to all, but often denied to persons of color by discrimination or prejudice.

So why not just call it discrimination?  Because, I guess, academics need to publish stuff which at least feigns an element of originality.

 A probably more important defect is that the phrase is more suited to annoy than persuade or educate.  For me, a middle class retiree, it is a mild annoyance, but for the white person desperately trying to pay the rent and medical bills in a land of disappearing jobs and a shrinking middle class, it's an outrage.

Being asked this question by an obviously well-off, globe trotting black person is likely to feel like a slap in the face for the interrogated person.

But if annoyance and polarization is your goal, go ahead and ask.  Just don't be surprised if more of those questioned react with indignation than illumination.  Or, better yet, just ask your hyper privileged Yale students.  They will probably be eager to disown their privilege - at least as long as they can still enjoy it.


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