Some Notes on the Shortcomings of the “Privilege” Discourse

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A Facebook friend asked what I mean when I talk about the inadequacy of the “privilege” discourse, and it was a good chance to organize my thoughts. Here’s a few.

1) “Privilege,” as a liberal discourse, uses the language of intersectionality but is in fact incredibly *non*-intersectional, centering only a very few forms of difference and erasing subtler others.

2) It participates in a call-out culture that is excommunicative, guilt- and shame-fetishizing, toxic, silencing, morally compromising, and not edifying for either its winners or its losers.

3) It makes politics confessional and gestural, about becoming virtuous by confessing one’s primordial sin, rather than foregrounding the need to organize concretely and strategically across identity lines, in solidarity, to which performative self-flagellation is simply irrelevant.

4) Symbolically, it implies that everybody should be brought down to a certain level rather than everybody brought up.

5) It is distinctly alienating when directed at people who, rightly or wrongly, feel themselves not to be privileged. It loses them. It drives them into the arms of reaction.

6) It accentuates what makes us different rather than what unites us. (And it falsifies what makes us different too: see point 1.)

Excellent further reading on this includes Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s book The Perils of Privilege (https://us.macmillan.com/…/phoebemaltzbovy/9781250091208) and virtually anything the Chicago-based organizer RL Stephens II writes, including his brilliant critique of Ta-Nehisi Coates (https://www.viewpointmag.com/…/the-birthmark-of-damnation-…/). See also this great Dead Pundits podcast episode featuring the indispensable Adolph Reed Jr. (https://soundcloud.com/…/ep-22-race-class-and-dsa-w-adolph-…).