Privilege By Another Name

There’s been a lot of talk about “white privilege” recently—largely owing to a viral essay written by a Princeton freshman who’s enraged with having to “check his privilege.”

It naturally caught the eye of the conservative media and this student, Tal Fortgang, got the chance to go on Fox News to share his views on privilege checking. The left, of course, responded in kind and published numerous pieces attacking Fortgang.

The American right loved it for expressing a colorblind view of race, a tabula rasa view of individual achievement, and expressing a desire that people simply be judged by their “content of character.” The left became enraged that a white, Princeton student would pen something that knocked white privilege and fail to understand the inherent benefits conferred to Whites in American society.

While it would be easy to see this situation as just another soon-to-be-forgotten episode in America’s culture war that always results in Whites losing, there’s an overlooked fact in this case.

Fortgang isn’t really white—he’s Jewish.

To outside observers, this would seem to be a ridiculous statement and would regardless have no bearing on what he wrote for The Princeton Tory. It’s not ridiculous as Fortgang cites his Jewish identity heavily in the piece and Jews are commonly known to see themselves as a separate group from Whites.

This is in turn makes this Princetonian’s essay not a work attacking the concept of white privilege, but one reaffirming Jewish identity and the accomplishments of his people.

Sure he makes arguments about hard work, education, and other points typical of a gentile conservative—but those aren’t the key elements. He bases his arguments around the Holocaust experiences of his family members and how the concept of white privilege undermines belief in the “meritocracy”—a system that is incredibly beneficial to Jews and which they play a large role in managing.

Why Fortgang argues against white privilege is because it can be a tool used to undermine Jewish power and standing within society, not because it is another academic excuse for why certain minorities can’t succeed within Western Civilization.

All of his arguments revolve around his Jewish identity, his pride in it, and how it supposedly disproves him having white privilege.

When Fortgang wants to talk about the struggles that his family faces to assault the notion that “Whites” are always privileged, he instantly travels into Holocaust territory:

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.

Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

The hard work and struggles of his father are secondary to the story of his grandparents who survived the concentration camps. We are all taught that the Holocaust is an incomparable atrocity in human history and outweighs any sufferings that were inflicted on Whites and non-whites alike, so it is understandable that this young man is inclined to make it his main argument.

When it comes to talking about his family’s dedication to education (a cornerstone on the path to the fabled American Dream), Fortgang manages to weave in his Jewish identity into that concept as well and makes it inseparable from his overall argument:

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad.

Even from a young age, Fortgang learned of his Jewish identity and how it was different from what his family would’ve considered a normal, White American one. He didn’t first learn the English alphabet--he learned the Hebrew alphabet, implying that his path to success was guided by Jewish tradition.

DailyKos decried Fortgang for accepting his whiteness and then detailed the history of how Jews were previously outside the confines of White society. What the DailyKos fails to realize is that Jews are still outside of whiteness—by their own understanding—and they also fail to realize that Fortgang’s response wasn’t to Whites considering Jews White, it was to non-Whites considering the Jewish people White.

And Fortgang is not the only Jew to react incredulously to accusations that he is just another bigoted White man. The now infamous Donald Sterling (birth surname Tokowitz) reacted to charges of racism with this simple quote: “I’m not a racist… I’m a Jew!”

What is now happening in America is that the non-Whites that Jews have spent years supporting by promoting mass immigration, civil rights, silly academic theories, and other minority empowerments now see them as no different from any other White people. They are by far the group that has benefited the most from the privilege bestowed by the meritocracy and it is only natural to question their success if you accept that society is skewed in favor of these privileged individuals.

How might non-Whites react when they learn that Jews, like Fortgang make up nearly a quarter of the students at Ivy League schools? Might that be a privilege that comes with being Jewish, instead of being White?

Both Fortgang and Sterling illustrate the uneasy relationship that Jews might possibly have with a multi-racial America. They will still see themselves as the people that will dwell apart, but the black and brown peoples that will populate the country will see them as just another group of Euros.

What this might lead to, I’m not certain I can say. But it is likely that American Jews may alter their racial beliefs when they become the target of non-White racial animus.