Julia Fisher’s suggestion: Should the horrible people who aren’t like us be told to check their privilege?
Frankly, it all depends!
For many purposes, we prefer the previous language, in which people who had a lot of advantages were told that they had a lot of advantages—perhaps even that they had “all the advantages.”
“Advantages” sound like things you’d want to confer on other people. In many contexts, “privilege” sounds like something a scold employs to make people loathe themselves.
In fairness, tyrants have always enjoyed spreading forms of loathing around. And alas! As part of our biological inheritance, we’re often attracted to tyranny and its unpleasant approaches.
Writing at The New Republic, Julia Fisher suggested a different approach! Admittedly, she never should have been discussing this topic at all. Because she attended Georgetown Day School, Fisher shouldn’t be stating her views about the concept of privilege.
(For background, see our previous post.)
Fisher shouldn’t have spoken at all! But since she so predictably did, we thought we’d focus on one thing she said. The highlighted passage made us think of a famous movie scene:
FISHER (5/6/14): Told to check your privilege, it’s pretty easy to feel shut out of conversation; an advantage in life might be turned into a disadvantage in debate. “Check your privilege” can come across as an expectation that a person be repentant for sins he has not committed. In its most generous usage, of course, “check your privilege” isn’t meant to make anyone feel guilty—only to make them recognize their privileged position. But it has the effect of invoking guilt, in large part because the phrase is so often used ungenerously, as a weapon rather than a gentle reminder.Should people offer “gentle reminders” to those who have all the advantages? Should they try to be “generous” with such running dogs?
Leave it to a privileged person to offer such suggestions! That said, let’s motor on:
When they start their privilegesplaining, the privileged children who type for Salon may tend to be less than generous. In their hearts, they know they’re right. Just like Goldwater did!
That said, Fisher’s suggestion made us think of that famous movie scene. In the scene, Edie Dugan and Terry Malloy are walking not far from the waterfront.
In this very famous scene, Terry Malloy seems to decide that he admires this gentle person—that he may even want to be like her:
On the Waterfront (1954)When Edie drops one of her gloves, Terry picks it up and slips it onto his hand. To our eye, he starts to notice, in this scene, that Edie is a better person than he is—that she’s different from many of the people he knows on the waterfront.
TERRY: You know, I've seen you a lot of times before. Do you remember parochial school out on Puluski Street? Seven, eight years ago?
You don't remember me, do you?
EDIE: I remembered you the first moment I saw you.
TERRY: By the nose, huh? Some people just got faces that stick in your mind.
EDIE: I remember you were in trouble all the time.
TERRY: Now you got me. The way those sisters used to whack me, I don't know what. They thought they was going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.
EDIE: Maybe they just didn't know how to handle you.
TERRY: How would you have done it?
EDIE: With a little more patience and kindness. That's what makes people mean and difficult. People don't care enough about them.
TERRY: Are you kidding me? I'd better get you home. There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind.
Am I gonna see you again?
To our ear, the fiery youngsters at Salon sometimes sound a bit like the sisters out on Puluski Street. The way they whack their moral inferiors, we don’t know what!
Maybe they just don't know how to handle the racists they find, it seems under every bed.
Whatever! When we read Fisher’s inappropriate words—words which never should have been spoken—we thought of this famous scene, which launches On the Waterfront’s undercard.
In the film’s primary theme, Brando fights with and defeats the mugs. In its more resonant secondary theme, a little tenderness works.
In the passage we’ve bolded above, we thought we heard Edie Dugan’s voice. Just think what a squish Julia Fisher would be if she had gone to Friends!