I’m a straight white guy. I didn’t ask for any of those things, but that’s the way it turned out.
However, there is a segment of the population that declares that I am the beneficiary of those things, and that as a consequence I have some “privilege” which I must at best use responsibly while attempting to abjure it. In other cases, it’s implied it’s something I have to “check” or atone for, a taint of blood for which I must be silent while those not of that blood speak freely.
I ran into this (not surprisingly) at least once in grad school, during my Ph.D. process. In the course of a conversation, I said that I hadn’t tried to oppress anyone, apart from making my preschool daughter pick up her toys. A colleague said, “But what about what your kind has done to women throughout history?”
“My kind? Would you dare use that sort of terminology about any other group of people?”
I say this is an effort toward collective guilt, and I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it. Even if I have this privilege, it isn’t something I sought, any more than I sought whatever talents I may have for reading, writing, or playing drums. I don’t feel guilty about any of those, and I refuse to feel guilty for something I didn’t do.
It would make more sense for me to feel I have to atone for my brother’s murders of our parents — I’m at least directly related to him. But no one expects that — quite the contrary, they understand that Michael and I are distinct individuals. And so with this.
Call it privilege, call it microaggression, or call it macaroni and cheese (although since I enjoy mac and cheese, I wish you wouldn’t), it’s our old friend repressive tolerance again. So call it spinach. I refuse to play.