Accusations of ‘privilege’ are a form of one-upsmanship – and a charge against which there is no real defense
In recent years, Skidmore College, where I am a professor, has been roiled by political incidents large and small. As at other colleges and universities, these eruptions have ranged from sometimes violent protests designed to prevent controversial speakers from speaking to “call-outs” and disruptions to prevent the teaching of ostensibly offensive books or to punish people for using ostensibly offensive language.
In an effort to encourage dialogue, the president of Skidmore recently invited a scholar named Fred Lawrence to give a lunchtime lecture to faculty and staff. As author of a book called Punishing Hate and the secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society, Lawrence seemed suited to offer advice about the troubles we’d been going through on campus. How could we better differentiate between offenses serious enough to warrant concern, and the more minor slips or unintentional derogations sometimes called “microaggressions”?
There was a time, not so long ago, when to speak of privilege was to identify forms of injustice that decent people wished to do something about
Robert Boyers, a professor of English at Skidmore College, is the founder and editor of the journal Salmagundi and the founder and director of the New York State Summer Writers InstituteContinue reading...