There is a lot to be said about Tal Fortgang’s article (http://theprincetontory.com/main/checking-my-privilege-character-as-the-basis-of-privilege/) on the concept of checking one’s privilege. Like it or not, we owe Tal a sincere thanks for mustering up the courage to bring up an issue which is not openly debated on college campuses across the United States. At Tufts University, “check your privilege” often means “you are someone whose thoughts and experiences I can summarily ignore.”
In open letters and Facebook posts alike, critics write condescendingly about Tal as representative of others who look like him, paying little attention to Tal’s unique story, a story which I care about so much because I share a similar ancestral past. Like Tal’s family before him, my great-grandparents came to America with nothing. My great-grandfather was a letter-carrier for the United States Postal Service. Another great-grandfather worked in a factory, sewing buttons onto dolls, but could only do so when work was available. They led by no means a life of luxury and privilege; they were poor immigrants with great dreams for their offspring.
As a Jew, let me be the first to assure Tal’s most adamant critics that Jews generally have not had the same experience as those who look like us. Hotels in the Northeast, for instance, long refused us service unless we changed our names and hid our true identities.
But years of letters delivered and dolls repaired made it possible for children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to pursue their education doggedly. Should the earnings of those who followed be criticized any more than those of my great-grandfathers? We are all more than the color of our skin. Let us deepen our understanding and elevate our dialogue by avoiding dismissive three-word slogans.