I have a terrible confession. A confession which many of you who know me will testify is a genuine fact. I won’t waste any of our precious time teasing you: I spend a good amount of my time sharing my thoughts with the world, or more accurately, the little segment of the world who listen. Don’t worry, I’m not locking myself away in my chambers for 23 hours and 54 minutes of every day, and never coming out to see the light of day, as some of you may believe. But nevertheless, I do take great enjoyment, pride and pleasure in sharing my thoughts, opinions, scribblings, and ideas with people.
One of the main mediums I use to do this is undoubtably Twitter. If you have ever spent time on Twitter, then there are four things that you will most certainly have encountered:
1. Me(Well, you are reading this)
2. You will have received a spam tweet or message telling you “Oh, look, you were mentioned here”, or endless variations thereof.
3. You will have received a follow from the most random of accounts, the list of which is highly prescriptive, exhausting and near infinite. Most likely it will be a 1:34 AM follow from the likes of “Free Football Offers.”
4. You will, at some stage, be told to “Check your privilege.”
It seems that the last item on the list, this occurrence, is unavoidable. Last night, as the clock struck 10 in the evening, my time had come. I was told to “Check my privilege.” I was sitting at my desk at the time, and I was about to laugh off the suggestion that, I feel, is usually used to dismiss the ideas on the assumption that a stranger you have never met, but have judged on appearance or brief excerpts of character, is privileged. So I took of my new, lavishly styled gold rimmed glasses (My Milan trip was very successful, if you hadn’t gathered) and pondered the question: should I check my privilege. But then I realised that I don’t need to check my privilege. I understand that I’m an incredibly lucky, and indeed privileged, person, who has had, so far, a wonderful life and I have had the extreme luck of not having to face up to many of the genuine problems that those in minorities may have faced ranging from ritual discrimination to daily hardship.
There is arguably a case to be made in this phrases favour, though, sometimes we all forget that our problems, whether it be two exams running back to back on the same day, missing a train because your transportation to the train station was late or not being able to purchase something or have it deliver. These do tend to pale somewhat in comparisons to those of the third world. I’m not saying that what are essentially”#firstworldproblems” aren’t genuinely frustrating, they are still real, affect many of our lives and comparing them to other problems in the world doesn’t invalidate that these are issues or problems we do have to face.
But I take an exception to this new trend of “Check your privilege” that seems to have become a rapidly deployed catchphrase, and often put down, of the British Left. Most certainly on the internet it’s ubiquitous, and many people on the social networking sites tend to lose site of what they are arguing about or fighting for, ending up discussing whether a female, disabled, Somalian refugee is less privileged than a transexual, Colombian, unemployed, illegal immigrant.
That’s not true in all cases, and I’m not saying that all of those fighting inequality on the internet enter such competitions of lowest possible privilege score, but it is sadly going from rarity to prominence. What we need a strong re-focusing on how we show people they are privileged and that there are those in society that need our help. What is even more disappointing is the growing use of “Check Your Privilege” as a dismissive argument. It seems that many people use this to somehow put down those who may be of, what is traditionally seen as, a privileged background. It’s important that rather than using this confrontational method, we highlight the plight of those in need. Again, please consider this: is telling a stranger that you have never met, but have judged on appearance or brief excerpts of their character to “Check their privilege” really a good way to convey the problems of minorities or the cause you are fighting for? I don’t think so. I think it’s aggressive and it takes focus of those who need it and creates tension.
If you are trying to highlight inequalities and the causes of many minorities in modern Britain to those who may not know much about it or disagree with you, telling them to “check their privilege” only leads to further entrenching their views and ultimately, it means you have convinced no-one of your cause at the end of the day.
But there is a solution. Would it not be better, rather than being highly confrontational and highlighting the assumed privilege of someone you may know very little about, to ask them to “Consider the problems of (insert group here)”? Many of the activists and people telling others to “check their privilege” are highly aware of the problems that perhaps they or those in their communities face. It would therefore make more sense for them to argue the case for helping these people, rather than deploying an over-used and clichéd put-down. These activists are people I respect, often they fight hard to help people, communities and try to counter inequality by raising awareness of social problems: but it’s time for a change in tactics in my view.
So please, don’t spend time arguing over who is the most privileged person like it’s play ground top trumps or using it to dismiss people’s arguments on the grounds of assuming someone’s privilege. Instead, try to raise awareness of the problems of those who tend to be forgotten by the “Check your privilege” brigade shining their spot-light on the privileged, those who aren’t privileged.