Have you ever been told to “check your privilege”? It can be quite annoying, can’t it? Especially if you consider yourself a worldly liberal who is highly accepting of others. A comment like that is hard to come back against without sounding like an entitled bigot. And actually, that is the problem with it.
Shutting down debate
Telling somebody to check their privilege is an inflammatory comment. It isn’t designed to make somebody really think about their position. It is designed to insult and embarrass. There are different tactics you can use during a debate and this style is known as arguing ad hominem – or roughly translated, aimed at the person. What this means is you aren’t really attacking their ideas, you are attacking the person themselves.
Why this is a bad tactic
Well, to begin with, it’s cheap. It is not showing your skills as a debater. It is the modern-day equivalent of sticking your thumb to your nose, poking out your tongue and saying “na na na na na na” (Yes that was the correct amount of “na’s”, I counted!)
There is also the fact that it is designed to shut down the other person. If you are resorting to using this in some ways you have already lost. Because effectively you are saying, or at least this tactic suggests, that you no longer want to take part in a debate.
If somebody is displaying racist views should we not call them on it?
Well, yes, in a manner. Silence is never the way to combat prejudice. But it is important to remember that people do have a right to freedom of speech. Sometimes it is hard to tolerate the fact that people use that freedom of speech to spout hurtful racist nonsense, but they do! And you should challenge people who are saying things that could be hurtful to others but there are ways and means.
If they are saying things that are hurtful why shouldn’t I hurt them?
Ever hear the expression an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind? Think about what you are trying to accomplish. If you just want to make a person look silly then surely their outdated views are doing a pretty good job of that?
If you want to persuade them then the way to do that is via discussion. Nobody ever changed their way of thinking just because someone made them look silly. If anything that way of dealing with things creates an us versus them mentality. Why do you think we celebrate Martin Luthor King day and not Malcolm X day?
Also not every white male is privileged
Yes, traditionally white males have received a lot of advantages through history. However not every white male has been born privileged. Telling someone who was brought up on the poverty line by abuse parents to check their privilege makes you look like a bigot!
Many views on contemporary issues are ingrained from a young age.
The old adage about the apple not falling far from the tree applies here too. If somebody was raised in an environment where racism, sexism, any type of prejudice was the norm then getting that person to shelve that side of them will be taxing. However, if you are a skilful debater not impossible.
Out in the open
I think the most important thing is for people to be able to voice their views. If people don’t feel they can exercise their free speech then there is no way their views can be challenged. Having archaic bigoted views out in the open may seem unpalatable, but if they are out in the open they can be discussed. So next time you want to utter this phrase, perhaps check your debate skills?