The Social Justice Blind Spot: Part 5, Checking Privilege

Here's another example of how social justice efforts focus on morality, despite claiming that oppression and injustice aren't moral but systemic.

A huge amount of social justice talk and effort is focused upon the issue of privilege. We've all heard how we should, if we have it, recognize, "check," or use our privilege. So, for example, as a white male I have "privileges," cultural clout and power, that women and people of color do not. Consequently, there are situations where I need to check my privilege to center others. I should also use my privilege to empower others.

Like in my last post, I don't really care, for the sake of this series, how you feel about privilege and the intersectional analysis that helps us identify privilege. My point in these posts isn't to debate any of that. My goal in these posts is to point to a blind spot in social justice.

The blind spot is that, while it is true that privilege has been brought about by systemic forces, the calls to check privilege or use privilege to empower others are moral appeals. Asking someone to "check" their privilege isn't a systemic fix, it's a moral request. 

To be clear, there are things that can be done, systemically, to address imbalances of privilege. For example, we could pass equal pay laws to combat wage discrimination between men and women. But calls to check or use privilege aren't policy fixes, they are moral appeals directed at individuals, appeals that can be rejected or embraced. A person could refuse to check their privilege, and there's nothing illegal about that, nor will there ever be. That person could just choose to be an asshole. The world is full of such people, and there's no "systemic," legal, or policy fix for that moral problem. 

So, once again, we see the social justice blind spot. As the entire conversation about "privilege" illustrates, social justice warriors claim they are focusing on a "system" when in fact they devote a great deal of their time making moral appeals.

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