If you have the misfortune of being a male with fair skin complexion in contemporary university culture, chances are you have been told to “check your privilege” – I know I have. To be fair, I grew up as the very archetype of “privilege.” Being the only child of a relatively well-to-do middle-class Caucasian family, raised as a Protestant Christian, the benefactor of a private primary and secondary education, and of course, belonging to the male sex, I never really had to face that much financial or social adversity. Sure, I have had my challenges as every human does, but I freely admit that I have not struggled as much as others have purely because of circumstance.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but cringe when I am told to check my privilege. Firstly, I find the slogan to be entirely misappropriated by people who do not seem to comprehend (or simply reject) the inherent unfairness that is life, the so-called natural lottery. I no more chose to be born into “privilege” than a person chose to be born into a disadvantaged position. Do I deserve this privilege? No more than the person born without it deserves their lot. All any of us can do is play with the cards we have been dealt and try to make the best of whatever our circumstance may be. Beyond this, it is the duty of every human being to strive for a better society, one based on the merit of an individual rather than their class/ethnicity/belief/sexuality/etc.
But this brings me to my second point, instead of trying to induce humility in the “privileged” person, the slogan is weaponized to try and produce feelings of guilt. This is wrong. I cannot change the actions of some of my ancestors, nor can I change the fact that I benefit from those actions – pure, wicked, or otherwise. I can only live my life according to what I have inherited with as much love, equity, humility, charity, and fairness as possible. I encourage everyone else to do the same.
However, all of this to say that I received an epiphany after being told to “check my privilege” by a straight, white, female professor with a Ph.D. from a top-rate American university as well as a master’s degree from an Ivy league institution. This was different than any other time I had the slogan used on me, and after some thought, the reason came to me in the form of a question: is there anyone more privileged than a university professor?
Generally, I avoid Marxist and neo-Marxist theory and dislike its usage, but I make an exception this time to expose the “progressive” bourgeoise academy whose members teach this slogan to their students while simultaneously occupying some of the most influential, prestigious, and venerated positions in modern western society, namely that of a university professor or administrator. In the age of secularism, the academy is arguably the closest thing many people have to a “religious” institution that dispenses “Truth,” and professors are by nature the mediators and wholly untouchable priestly class of this quasi-cultic affair.
Do you see the irony and unfiltered hypocrisy of a university professor telling a student to check their privilege yet? Let me make it clearer for you. The average salary of a full-time public university professor in Canada ranges from roughly $80 000 to nearly $200 000 per annum – which places them over the median income of Canadians. Furthermore, it takes a lot of “privilege” to possess the time and money, often in excess of $100 000, necessary to pursue a Ph.D. (less than 1% of Canadians hold one) which has effectually become the bar for entering the professoriate in Canada and the United States. Then, if you are fortunate enough to be part of the elite 3% of doctorate holders who become professors, a position of incalculable influence over young adults in their most formative years, you can proceed to tell them all to check their “privilege.”
Make no mistake, many professors are hardworking, dedicated, and exceptionally intelligent individuals worthy of respect and are invaluable teachers of knowledge and mentors of character. I would never try to degrade these people or their contribution to society. However, for the professors that zealously promote this slogan of “check your privilege,” I say maybe it is time for the proletariat students to rise up and demand that the bourgeois members of the “progressive” academy check their privilege. After all, is there anyone more privileged?