Sometimes, in the wilds of the internet, all it takes to get people's blood boiling is a screed from one college freshman. Such is the saga of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton first-year who wrote an inflammatory essay in the campus conservative magazine about being told to "check his privilege."If you're not familiar with the phrase (described by the New York Times as "conversational kryptonite"), it's often used to remind those who may not be aware of their elite status (including, but not limited to, white male Princeton students) of their personal social advantages.
- Fortgang wrote that "check your privilege" has become a kind of liberal policing mechanism. "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." (Extra points here for his exceptional use of jargon.)
- In other words: This Princeton freshman is damned if he's going to apologize for being white and male.
- The backlash was swift and ferocious. Fortgang was told he needed a history lesson, and that he "missed the basic definition of privilege."
- Much of the furor revolved around the fact that asking Fortgang to "check his privilege" isn't a request for him to apologize for his social status. It's asking him to acknowledge that he got a pretty big leg up in the race to success.
- Others noted that while Fortgang's reaction was rather unhinged, "check your privilege" has become more of a cudgel than a gentle reminder.
- Some of the reaction was less about Fortgang's comments than the frenzied way they were circulated. How, for example, did Fortgang's comments end up getting republished at Time?
- Meanwhile, Fortgang was lauded as by the right as a youthful crusader for meritocracy. He appeared on Fox News as a kind of man of the people, reiterating how unapologetic he is for being a white man at one of the country's most exclusive universities.
- Of course, the internet will forget this maelstrom as quickly as it erupted. But the controversy could have put Fortgang on the road to conservative stardom. Because right-wing campus magazines are, apparently, the place where pundits are born.