Unpacking The Invisible NPR Tote Bag

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“White Privilege” has been all over the news this last couple of years.

It’s been there because the Big Left has ordained that it should be. My theory; in a nation full of “privilege” – class, racial, academic, social and, let’s be honest, the privilege of being born here rather than Russia or Nigeria or Burma – Big Left needed to focus on racial, “white” privilege to whip up black votes for Hillary Clinton, a geriatric white plutocrat. As a result, all discussion of other “privilege” is off the table.

Terms, Terms, Everywhere Are Terms: White privilege exists, of course. It goes hand in hand with the idea of “we-ism” – the idea that everyone on earth is more comfortable around, and accomodating of, people more like them than less.

Beyond that? In my more sardonic and less cautious days, I defined it as being a descendant of a society from a harsh, lethally inhospitable place that had zero words for “hakuna matata” but more words for “stab him!” than Eskimos have for “snow”; a dour, patriarchal warrior culture that killed everyone that had designs on enslaving them. As a result, my culture has no commonly-held concept of being enslaved. We operate from the standpoint of people who’ve been free (or at least subjects of generally benign monarchs) as far back as our cultural memory goes. On behalf of all my cultural cousins, I am sorry for those of you who are descended from matriarchal hunter gatherer societies that couldn’t effectively resist the slave merchants, but I can’t change history any more than you can. Just the present – a present I and my cultural cousins have been trying to change for 240-odd years, now.

More soberly, and after interviewing a representative of Black Lives Matter on my show, I arrived at the idea that “white privilege” is the ability to walk into a room and not have everyone wondering if you’re “one of the good ones”. It was a little after that that I first encountered the academic paper in which the term “white privilege” was coined, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It supplied fifty definitions of white (also male) privilege.

Every one of which, by the way ,translates to “freedom”, “justice” and “being accorded the dignity of being treated as an autonomous individual rather than a member of a group” – all of which are supposed to be values near and dear to our Republic and Western Civilization itself, and all of them things we should be working tirelessly to spread to everyone.

And when some mindless Social Justice Warrior jabbers about “smashing white/male privilege”, the proper response is “so – you want to smash freedom, justice and individual dignity? See you at the barricades”.

Discussion of all other privileges – academic, social, class – were drowned out. As they were intended to be.

But with the complete subsumation of the left by identity politics, it’s time to return the favor Peggy McIntosh did us; it’s time to define Urban Progressive Privilege.

Unpacking The Invisible NPR Tote Bag: I’m going to borrow McIntosh’s format – which I suspect was actually tacitly borrowed from Jeff Foxworthy – of the simple list of attributes of Urban Progressive Privilege.

To wit:

Urban Progressive Privilege; Unpacking the Invisible NPR Tote Bag

Mitch Berg

“You were taught to see Urban Progressive Privilege as a bit of talk show rhetoric – not in terms of a very vislble system conferring dominance on my group via a meritless meritocracy”.

As an urban progressive, you have been taught about “privilege” by others who have that privilege. Being able to caterwaul about privilege is a prerogative of the privileged.

Like the concept of “white privilege” (which, conventional wisdom tells us, that “whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege”), the first rule of Urban Progressive Privilege is “I don’t believe there is such a thing”; it’s the water in which the Urban Progressive swims. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have Urban Progressive Privilege. I have come to seeUrban Progressive Privilege as an invisible and group package of unearned assets that I can count on using daily, but about which it’s hard to be anything but oblivious.

Urban Progressive Privilege is like an invisible weightless NPR tote bag of special permissions, immunities, secret handshakes, Whole Foods gift cards, a virtual echo chamber accompanying everyone who has that privilege, filtering out almost all cognitive dissonance about political, social or moral questions, and a virtual “cone of silence” immunizing them from liability for anything they say or do that contradicts the group’s stated principles. As we in Human studies work to reveal Urban Progressive Privilege and ask urban progressives to become aware of their power, so one who writes about havingUrban Progressive Privilege must ask, “having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people who believe exactly as I do about politics, society, philosophy, morality and the like, all or nearly all of the time.
  2. I was educated from my earliest years through post-secondary education by people whose political and social beliefs mirrored mine, and who didn’t challenge any of mypolitical, social, philosophical and moral beliefs.
  3. My progressive beliefs were never challenged through four or more years of higher education – indeed, they were reinforced, while competing views were shamed and shouted down.
  4. When I went into the working world, my politics, social background or philosophy were never adversarially questioned.
  5. I work, very likely, in an environment staffed with people who agree with and never challenge my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions.
  6. My social life is made up of people who share, pretty much to a fault, my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptins.
  7. I can avoid, during my daily life, spending time around anyone who will challenge my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions.
  8. My neighbors – the people in my physical community in which I live – share, almost without exception, my political, social, philosophical and moral beliefs.
  9. If someone in my social or professional life does express a point of view discordant with my and my group’s political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions intrudes into my sphere, I can count on overwhelming support from the rest of my personal, social, professional circles to defend me. Those who don’t share our beliefs thus either keep quiet, or are shamed into silence. Thus, their beliefs have no impact in my life. .
  10. My informational world – my news media, my online social circle, my institutional associations (churches/synagogues, my social groups – will not contradict my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions.
  11. I can count on the news media I listen to – my community’s newspapers, TV stations, as well as stereotypical outlets like NPR, PBS and the like – to reinforce my political and social assumptions.
  12. I can count on as the entertainment media not to contradict my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions.
  13. I can count on the education system in my community not to undercut the political, social, philosophical and moral I’ve tried to pass on to my family.
  14. My kids’ schools give them textbooks, lectures and other materials that reinforce, never undercut, my political, social, philosophical and moral worldview and that which I’ve tried to teach them.
  15. I can be fairly certain that when I go to your kids’ school, the principle will not condescend to me based on my perceived academic or social background.
  16. I have never had anyone laugh at the accent or vocabulary of my native spoken English.
  17. I can rest fairly certain that no “well-meaning” pundit or scholar will ever paternalistically castigate you for “voting against your interests” (as determined by the pundit’s / scholar’s political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions) for voting in accordance with my political, social, philosophical and moral beliefs.
  18. I can choose to ignore the parts of our society outside the East Coast, West Coast, and selected “progressive” archipelagos in between, and express not only ignorance but mockery of the rest of the country, without being seen, shamed, and scorned as a provincialist.
  19. I can express scorn for individuals, groups, religions and social classes that don’t share my political, social, philosophical and moral beliefs, accents and worldviews, entirely based on those beliefs, and not be shamed and labeled as a bigot.
  20. I can make racist, sexist and classist statements about people who do not share my community’s political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions, and rest assured I will not be castigated for violating community standards.
  21. I have never been treated as a foreign culture in my own country; I have never had journalists, academics or pundits dispatch a special group to research, analyze and report on why your social circle believes and votes as they do – because the media, academics and punditry are from your class, and share your political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions; the more aware ones would be offended by being subjected to such a condescending, patriarchal bit of cultural chauvinism.
  22. My children and family are safe, almost entirely, from the economic, social and criminological consequences of my political, social, philosophical and moral beliefs; indeed, I personally am almost entirely insulated from them.
  23. I can simultaneously say “I believe in science, and have a fact-based worldview” – while never being corrected, much less called out or scorned, for expressing beliefs that have no scientific basis (belief that there are no evolutionary differences between men and women, believe a human isn’t a human until it emerges from the birth canal, believe that there’s scientific evidence that homosexuality is genetic).
  24. I can simultaneously eschew racism and racists, even as I gang up with others like me to oppress black, latino, asian and females who disagree with my political, social, philosophical and moral assumptions. I can say things like “That’s not a real, authentic (Black, Latino, Asian) person!” and not get scorned as a racist and patriarch.
  25. I can exhibit ghastly contradictions in my world view and be reasonable sure that nobody in my regular social circle is going to say or do anything about it; if I call someone I disagree with a “fascist” or “patriarch” or “1 percenter” while displaying Che Guevara memorabilia or studiously intoning approval for “Chavezism”, nobody in my social or professional life is going to castigate me for it.
  26. I tut-tut about the virtues of Western civilization and praise Multiculturalism – but do so entirely from a perspective that could not exist outside of Western civilization. Nobody in my personal or profession or social circles ever brings this up, because they all believe the same thing.

I’m looking for more examples. Keep ’em generic – not related to any specific issue. .