Who is privileged?
This is about the concept of “privilege”, as it is used by certain people today. As in “you’re privileged, I’m not, therefore shut up”. I’m not going to get into what’s wrong with this line of arguing. What I am going to discuss is the problem of working out who, exactly, is privileged.
Some of you may have heard of the bouhaha about Oprah being refused a handbag by a racist store clerk. Clearly an example of ‘privilege’ at work, yes? Well, there’s another story – of a service-job holder whose life has been turned into a living hell by one of the most powerful and privileged people on the planet due to a simple misunderstanding (she says that she had simply said that the bag Oprah was interested in was the same as the one in her hand).
One cannot say for sure which of these is right. I do suspect that this is a misunderstanding, given that English isn’t exactly widely spoken in Switzerland, and that the clerk’s comments weren’t clear. On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve heard of a store recommending that you spend less.
What I can say, however, is that one of these two people can get lots of air and press coverage, and one has given only one interview that I have been able to find, despite being in danger of destitution. So, that’s something to consider when using the term ‘privilege’ loosely.
On a related note, I have been discussing the subject of “unconscious bias” and what I consider the flagrant abuse of psychological studies. The reason I think these are abuse is articles like this:
Even if Oprah were wearing average clothing and suffering from a bad case of low self-esteem that day, psychological studies reveal that self-proclaimed non-biased individuals are infected with a near subconscious racism
What this writer seems utterly unaware is that one could just as easily say that Oprah was motivated by subconscious racism in this case. A theory that explains everything explains nothing.
Orwell wrote about people being convicted of thoughtcrimes. We’ve moved beyond that; we’ve got a society where people can be convicted of unthoughtcrimes.