A Dose of Stupid v.22

It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:

A Gentile Privilege Checklist:

There were a few bloggers and commenters who, when responding to David’s reference to gentile privilege (a concept that immediately made sense to me), stated, explicitly or implicitly, that they didn’t believe it exists. In doing so, they broke one of the fundamental rules of anti-oppression work: you never, ever dictate to a group what its own experience looks like. If you haven’t lived as a member of that group, you simply do not have the right to tell them how they are or aren’t oppressed.

The latter italics and bolds are mine. I find that line particularly important because it essentially states that unless a person has lived as a member of group that person has no place in telling the members of that group what their experiences have or have not been. That seems fair, except… a privilege checklist is a person dictating to a group that its own experience looks like, which Julie proceeds to do:

Because gentile privilege often operates in tandem with white and Christian privilege, I’ve included a sort of “prologue” of instances of white and Christian privilege that happen to apply to Diaspora Jews (items i-vii). It doesn’t make sense to look at complete lists of white or Christian privilege when talking about Jews, since most European Jews have white privilege and many Jews identify as secular or even Christian, so I’ve only included instances relevant to the intersection of the various identities that comprise Jewishness.

Of course, the point of a checklist is to operate with the same blind, biased, bigoted, racist, sexist and prejudiced thinking that causes inanity like anti-Semitism. Rather than viewing others as people with differing experiences, a checklist is designed to blame and shame, blame for causing others problems and shame for being who or whatever one is. It scapegoats while trying to hide behind a thin veneer of logic and political correctness.

However, for the sake of understanding the argument, let us look at the checklist:

The Gentile Privilege Checklist (Liberal and Radical Edition)

White/Christian Privilege

i. My religious and cultural holidays are national holidays. Even if my job requires me to work on some holidays, generally speaking, I and my community members don’t have to explain ourselves to employers and teachers, request time off to celebrate and/or worship, and risk falling behind or losing pay when we take that time.

ii. Even if I “pass” for a member of another group, I can advertise my identity through my appearance, language, or other markers without fear of discrimination, harassment, or assault. Revealing my group identity has never felt like “outing” myself.

iii. I have never felt pressure to alter my body – chemically, surgically or otherwise – or engage in displays of strength or violence to compensate for perceptions of my group as ugly or weak.

iv. I can visit my place of worship or a community building without fear of injury or death.

v. Even if I’m in a sparsely populated area, it is never difficult to find other members of my group.

vi. Generally speaking, my community is not targeted for hate crimes or threats.

vii. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I will not be held personally responsible for it, expected to explain or condemn their actions to members of other groups, or punished for continuing to identify as a member of my group. Others do not use those crimes to justify instigating or ignoring assault and harassment against me.

Gentile Privilege

1. If I achieve success in my career, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to cunning and greed, or my group’s supposed control of the field, community, government, or world.

2. If I save money, accept money, or don’t spend as much as others think I should, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to stinginess or miserliness.

3. If I am angry, upset, or worried, my emotions are not attributed to my group’s supposed neurotic or infantile tendencies.

4. If my group suffers a monumental, culture-altering tragedy, no one speculates or tries to prove that I have exaggerated or fabricated the tragedy for material gain.

5. If I am robbed, it is not because the thief assumes, based on my group identity, that I am unusually rich.

6. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I am not regularly portrayed as a monster that engages in demonic, inhuman acts.

7. In liberal and radical circles, It is not widely believed that my group has caused its own oppression, and I am not viewed as selfish or hypocritical for speaking about my oppression. It is generally accepted that fighting my oppression is not tantamount to endorsing the oppression of another group.

8. In liberal and radical circles, the very existence of my oppression – in any form or in any part of the world – is not routinely called into question or denied.

9. If, within a liberal or radical discussion, I feel that an individual’s criticism of members of my group is problematic, it is not immediately and universally assumed that my objection is delusional or a deliberate attempt to halt discussion. While it is acknowledged that one can “play the X-card,” legitimate instances of my oppression are given more attention than false accusations.

10. When economically oppressed groups organize to fight poverty, racism, and other injustices, they do not scapegoat me for those injustices.

11. When I work with liberals and radicals who are not members of my group, they do not view me with suspicion, require that I prove my loyalty to their cause, or wait for me to distinguish myself from the “bad” members of my group before they decide to trust me.

12. I can speak out against, or work to put a stop to, activities that promote hatred of my group without confirming beliefs that I am controlling the media or using a position of uncanny power over the community, government, or world to quell freedom of speech.

13. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – goes to war, I will not be blamed for starting it.

14. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – loses a war, I will not be blamed for sabotaging it.

15. No one assumes, based on my group identity, that I am physically deformed. Upon meeting me, no one violates my privacy by asking to see that deformity, nor do they violate my bodily autonomy to search for it.

Thoughts?

Several, actually.

Starting from the top, the holidays celebrated in a country are generally based on who makes up the majority of that country. While it is presumably unfair that Christmas is practiced by most people, the fact is that most US and European citizens are Christian and therefore their countries are probably going to celebrate Christian holidays and observe Christian functions. It is not bias to do that just as it is not bias that in Japan the Japanese practice a host of festivals and religious events relative to their culture.

Items ii through vi are not unique to being Jews. A host of white Europeans have experienced the exact same thing along with Africans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. Many of those groups were also Christian. Item vii is amazingly hypocritical given that Julie is attributing to whites and Christians the blame for actions committed by members of their group. She is holding them “personally responsible for it, [expecting them] to explain or condemn their actions to members of other groups, [and punishing them] for continuing to identify as a member of [their] group.”

The gentile portion is equally non-specific and can apply to a host of groups, including many gentiles. Only 2, 3, 4, 5, 12 and 15 appear to be specifically about Jews and overtly bigoted at that. The rest can apply to other groups, 6, 9, 10 and 11 specifically able to be applied to whites, particularly white men.

That is, of course, the problem with this kind of concept. The notion of “checking your privilege” has nothing to do with actually addressing the important issues brought up within the list. The list is designed only to do a lot of finger-waving and shaming. If one does not feel enough shame and guilt, then it can be used as evidence of one’s bias, bigotry and blindness. More so, the lists scapegoat entire groups of people without allowing them any chance to retort.

As much as one may agree that Jews face prejudice and bigotry, assigning collective blame to all non-Jews for not being born Jewish or converting to the faith is simply inane. It is equally and utterly asinine to, while claiming no one ought to tell others what their experiences have or have not been, tell others what their experiences have or have not been.

12 thoughts on “A Dose of Stupid v.22

  1. “i. My religious and cultural holidays are national holidays. ”

    Except in Isrtael, or Saudi Arabia, or……….

    vi. Generally speaking, my community is not targeted for hate crimes or threats.”

    Except in India, Nigeria, Egypt……………

    “3. If I am angry, upset, or worried, my emotions are not attributed to my group’s supposed neurotic or infantile tendencies.”

    Being gentile doesn’t spare black people from this charge.

    “5. If I am robbed, it is not because the thief assumes, based on my group identity, that I am unusually rich.”

    Like that hasn’t been the experience of innumerable white men.

    “7. In liberal and radical circles, It is not widely believed that my group has caused its own oppression, and I am not viewed as selfish or hypocritical for speaking about my oppression. ”

    Utterly ignorant. This is exactly what happens to white men when we complain of anything.

    And so on. Not only is this list clueless and hypocritical, it unfortunately reinforces the stereotype of the “whiny Jew” and I would have thought this writer would have to preferred to avoid that kind of thing.

  2. “13. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – goes to war, I will not be blamed for starting it.”

    “Men start the wars…”

  3. You don’t need to change too many words to turn this into a “Non-(straight-white-male) Privilege Checklist”, that much is obvious. I’d like to see the reaction to that on Alas.

  4. Jim:

    Utterly ignorant. This is exactly what happens to white men when we complain of anything.

    Which is why I think privilege checklists are often problematic. To me, it seems there’s a lot of hand waiving to make sure that only certain groups can lay claim to the term. White men are not considered one of them. That’s a problem to me. Privilege is a meaningless concept if it is applied unevenly.

  5. Two things are probelematic about the concept of privelege as it is currently used. By focusing on specific groups and ignoring others, you make some people’s suffering invisible, which is a form of oppression, so the effort is hypocritical. Another hypocrisy in this effort is on the part of people who on the one hand decry Eurocentric individualism and then on the other hand decry the advantages that members of certain groups inherit from their ancestors and these ancestors toil.

    The second probelm with the concept as I ahve seen it enunciated is that it presumes that this or that group has all the pricvelelges and this or that groups is completely disadvantaged, and also that if one group has advantages, its corresponding opposite therefore must not have any advantages. This is simply false – white women have lots of advantages and so do white men, and these adavantages can exist without canceling each other.

    A third probelm with these checklists is that they depend on closed categories and tend to reify them. These cateories are provisionally useful – white men, women of color – but the trap is a tendency to rley on the categories to much and to ignore the subdivisions and cross-sectionalities in the categoeries if the y are reified.

  6. Jim:

    By focusing on specific groups and ignoring others, you make some people’s suffering invisible, which is a form of oppression, so the effort is hypocritical.

    Absolutely. That’s another reason I have a problem with it. If one accepts the definition of privilege, as it’s often used, then one should be able to fit their group into the privilege definition. For example a white straight male should be able to find that he has certain privileges and disadvantages. However, whenever anyone tries to apply anything remotely like this to white males or other groups that don’t meet the “I can use the privilege concept” they get shot down. I think it would be one thing if they were ignoring that other groups can use the privilege concept, but often it’s stated that there are only certain groups that can. So while white males have disadvantages they can never say use “privilege” as a concept to those disadvantages.

    Besides that problem, it’s never immediately clear if privileges apply to all members of the group, or just some. For example, is it right to call something a male privilege if all men don’t enjoy that privilege. What’s more, to me a privilege is something you have a choice in. An example: in the U.S. it’s often said that driving is a privilege. Drivers have a choice as to whether they want to drive or not, it’s not something that they are required to do. Lastly, my concept of privilege is that some party grants privileges to the another party. Like a parent granting privileges to their children. Is it really a privilege though, if a parent grants privileges to the parent? What would distinguish that from just making a choice about something?

  7. BMF,

    Another thing about privelege, and this is justt the basic semantic structure of the word, is that it is unearned. I have two problems with this:

    Typically a lot of what gets labeled privelege is earned, and calling it privelege denies that, and that is theft.

    Secondly, the notion that this or that individual is enjoying unearned privelge denies that individuals can inherit advantages from their ancestors. Example – my son is going to inherit my house; I do not intend to sell it and live off the proceeds in my retirement. Is this some unearned privelege of his, does the homeless guy down the street have an equal claim on that house? Or is saying that this is an example of privelege entrench Western norms of individulism?

  8. Jim you make another good point. I think privilege, at least the way I’ve heard it often defined, is a combination of earned and unearned advantages. At least that’s the impression that I’ve gotten. Of course, it would seem to make more sense to look at only the unearned part.

  9. BMF,

    That’s the same impression I’ve gotten – earend and unearned advantages get conflated. That’s a tendency I have noted in another ideological groups, anarchists, when they say “property is theft.” That conflation is telling; and it resembles a similar conflation I have seen in the thinking of another ideological community, anarchists. On the West Coast at least, anarchists generally are trust fund babies who have never earned anything in thier lives, so it’s not a distinction they understand.

  10. “Rather than viewing others as people with differing experiences, a checklist is designed to blame and shame, blame for causing others problems and shame for being who or whatever one is. It scapegoats while trying to hide behind a thin veneer of logic and political correctness.”

    Very true. They are all used for shaming, discounting other’s views, and to give readers a feeling that the world places insurmountable barriers in their way.

    I think I twisted the whole “privilege list” nonsense on its head with my Victim Privilege List

  11. To be honest, I think the Victim Privilege Checklist is the best one i have seen. It is as close to reality as any of the others I have seen. What I mean by that is I can think of numerous experiences, most of the them recent (as of this year), that the whole list could apply. Not just portions, but the entire thing. Of course, what you describe is the essence of victimology.

  12. It’s interesting to see one of these done for a “group” that is defined purely by not belonging to a given group (gentiles meaning not-jewish here). Whilst a privilege checklist has a tenuous claim to legitimacy when discussing a distinctly identifiable group, this usage gives complete lie to that legitimacy. Instead, it really highlights how these checklists are designed to tear down and denigrate those not belonging to specific protected groups.

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