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Meet the Poster Child for ‘White Privilege’ – Then Have Your Mind Blown

He’s 20, he’s white, and he’s a freshman at Princeton University.

According to the ethnic and feminist studies college students and professors who frequently and vehemently complain that this country is steeped in racism and sexism and is only fair and just and equal for white, heterosexual males – he is the poster child for so-called “White Privilege.”

His name is Tal Fortgang, and just eight months into his Ivy League experience, he’s been told on numerous occasions to “check his privilege” – a phrase that has taken social media social justice campaigning by storm.

It is meant to remind white, heterosexual males that they have it so good because they’re white, heterosexual males. They haven’t faced tough times, they don’t know what it’s like to be judged by the color of their skin.

Oh, but they do.

Those sick of being labeled are the very same ones doing it to others, and Tal Fortgang has a powerful message for them:

There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive. Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.Talinside

But they can’t be telling me that everything I’ve done with my life can be credited to the racist patriarchy holding my hand throughout my years of education and eventually guiding me into Princeton. Even that is too extreme. So to find out what they are saying, I decided to take their advice. I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend. I have unearthed some examples of the privilege with which my family was blessed, and now I think I better understand those who assure me that skin color allowed my family and I to flourish today.

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.

Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?” Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.

Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacrificing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most—his wife and kids—to earn that living. I can say with certainty there was no legacy involved in any of his accomplishments. The wicker business just isn’t that influential. Now would you say that we’ve been really privileged? That our success has been gift-wrapped?

That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still conquering them now.

The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.

It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realize the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.

But far more important for me than his attributes was the legacy he sought to pass along, which forms the basis of what detractors call my “privilege,” but which actually should be praised as one of altruism and self-sacrifice. Those who came before us suffered for the sake of giving us a better life. When we similarly sacrifice for our descendents by caring for the planet, it’s called “environmentalism,” and is applauded. But when we do it by passing along property and a set of values, it’s called “privilege.” (And when we do it by raising questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals.) Such sacrifice of any form shouldn’t be scorned, but admired.

My exploration did yield some results. I recognize that it was my parents’ privilege and now my own that there is such a thing as an American dream which is attainable even for a penniless Jewish immigrant.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated. It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates “privilege.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color. My appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, and to assume that it does and that I should apologize for it is insulting. While I haven’t done everything for myself up to this point in my life, someone sacrificed themselves so that I can lead a better life. But that is a legacy I am proud of.

I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.

Tal Fortgang is a freshman from New Rochelle, NY. His column originally appeared in The Princeton Tory on April 2 and had been reprinted with permission in its entirety.

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IMAGE: Tal Fortgang at Princeton University

About the Author
Tal Fortgang -- Princeton University

Add to the Discussion

  • This reminds me of that great scene in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” when Annie asks him, “Didn’t your grammy knit you an afghan?” To which he responds, “No, my grammy was too busy being raped by Cossacks.” Good article.

  • jumper297

    Powerful for anyone willing to listen and think about it. Unfortunately I feel it’s a wasted message for the very people he wrote it for.

    • DD

      It will barely make a dent in the brainwashing of students and other progs around the country. The collective leftist hive will buzz in confusion for a couple of hours or days perhaps and then spew out the official line of how the faithful are to respond. Regardless of whether it makes any sense at all / debunked, we will hear and see that same official line parroted over and over again whenever this topic arises.

  • John P Center

    my wife’s family was mostly butchered in euroland for being jewish her grand father got out in 1935 but his 8 brothers and sisters didn’t. only one of them survied the war. and ended up in israel. (another place these p.c. fools hate’) and my step father was a refuge from the turkish genocide of the Armenian people. muslims being raceist. how can that be to a p.c. fool.

  • abqblondie2

    Brilliantly written. Perfect explanation, and it exposes the total unfairness of Affirmative Action. Color should NEVER be used as a determination for anything, rather use, academic ability, character, need, and back ground ie. what obstacles have been overcome, and the likely hood of success.That way disadvantaged people from ALL races are given equal opportunities.

  • xerocky

    Why does anyone have to go back and verify their ancestral hardship to prove anything to anybody else? We’re American’s. Q: Why did your people come here? A: Because life in the old country became impossible. What do you care that I’m a heterosexual white man? What does anyone care what my parents parents parents did? The whole thing is nonsense. This article is fine, don’t get me wrong. But if my family made their way through the world by selling slaves with just one rickety old ship, what the F does that have to do with YOU A hole? Mind your own godam business.
    Just as you can find some heartache in somebody’s past, then surely you can find a crook too. Things happen, that’s life. I’m not going to hold it against every black man that I see that my aunt was raped and beaten by one, am I?
    Stick to the person you’re talking to. Don’t worry about his parents, or his grandparents. Life isn’t going to suddenly become more fair when you learn that they too have a story. Life isn’t fair, it has not a clue how to be. Any professor who tolerates this white privilege nonsense in his class, or any Dean who puts up with it on his campus should be fired for discrimination. Period. End of story.

  • Tanuki Man

    Hear, hear!

  • Bill Bull

    Thanks for speaking up young man. They have no sense of history, and continue to use race as an excuse for in most cases there own bad behavior.

  • Largebill

    “Check your privilege” is just as racist as anything the idiot who owns the Clippers said.

  • DJLMN

    Political Correctness= Neoracism,(aka revenge racism.) Every time someone is judge by their race, it is racism. period!

  • Jason P. Levy

    You seem really smart and you seem like you generally have your shit together, but I think you’re misunderstanding what “white privilege” means.

    White privilege doesn’t have anything to do with your own resources, values, or work ethic. It has to do with other people’s perception of you. Its the idea that someone can be just as hardworking, and just as intelligent as you, but if they’re of the wrong skin color (or even have a name that sounds like they have the wrong skin color) they’re not, on average, going to be as successful as you.

    The privilege is not primarily economic, but social. You, Tal, do not have to justify your presence in nice neighborhoods to passing cops. You don’t see people walking past you on the street tense up like you’re about to mug them as you walk past. You don’t have people make assumptions about your political or social views as a result of your skin color. You haven’t had job applications passed over in favor of comprably situated candidates because your name is a little too “urban” sounding for a position representing a company. You’ve never been given a jail sentence where the white perp in the courtroom next door, who committed the same crime as you walks away with probation.

    White privilege comes from all the little slights and assumptions that society collectively makes about people of color. Each one may be innocuous and probably even innocent in and of themselves, but put it all together and you end up with a situation in which people of color need to work just that much harder to get to the same place their white peers.

    The point of telling people to check their privilege is to make them aware of this situation, so that they can spot those little slights and idiosyncrasies in behavior and attitude, and hopefully correct them.

    • MrSupaHot510

      Very well articulated. It seems to me that white Western European people can’t quite comprehend historical and socially situated and racist legislations and practices that have plagued this country ever since its founding against the Natives, Blacks, the Jews, Irish, Japanese, Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos, and Arabs. Being White in the US is normalized to the point where the actions of white folks are normalized and not racialized. James Holmes killed a lot of people but is labeled as a guy with mental issues. A black guy kills someone and the Right is quick to pinpoint his “ghetto” upbringing and “blackness.”

    • LT

      Thank you Jason. What you wrote is well said. The problem though is that his professors, the very people who I assume has directed the statement to him said, “Check Your Privilege” didn’t include the word “White.” I mean this guy is taking it to a level that didn’t need to be and will raise quite a few eyebrows from his university. What was he thinking? Clearly, the professors just want the kid to think about making statements that are slanted and that may not be inclusive to all people in the classroom with different backgrounds. This guy is arrogant beyond belief. And he is doing himself no favors to his academic career at Princeton. Maybe he should transfer if he dislikes the culture so much. Or better yet, maybe Princeton should ask him to leave. Because guess what? I would view it as a “privilege” to go to Princeton.

  • Rower1935

    Well said.

  • MrSupaHot510

    White men complaining about white privilege is like a spoiled little kid throwing a tantrum because this year he only got 30 presents, 1 less than the year before.

  • marnie

    An appropriate rebuttal would be something along the lines of “Check Your Prejudice.”

  • CanineCo

    Powerful… Logical… Completely applicable to valid, provocative discussions of gender and ethnic preferences at American universities.

  • autdrew

    This was incredible!!! Well said! My husband came from a Polish, immigrant family with a single mother who eventually married an alcoholic. He had zero “white privilege” and destroyed his body serving this country he loves for 23 years. I was the 2nd child of a teenaged mother, 2 different deadbeat dads. We both grew up in inner city Detroit during the rust belt years. No way have we been privleged.

  • Derek Huffman

    My reply to “check your privilege” is “fuck your guilt”.

  • Mindy

    Fantastic. You don’t want racism? Don’t make assumptions about white people either.

  • Kitty Callinan

    YES!!!!!!