Calling Flavia, Flavia's commenter "i," and the usual WWPD audience:
The following just appeared on my Facebook newsfeed: "Young, Privileged, and Applying for Food Stamps." I immediately knew that this would not be an article about food-stamp fraud, that is, about wealthy people getting food stamps (for kicks?) by manipulating the system. My guess, however, wasn't exactly right. I'd assumed this would be about an upper-middle-class kid regressing to the mean, or, I suppose, dropping below it. Cut off by the parents, and learning just how little a degree in Medieval Tapestry is worth in this economy. Or at least something about a PhD on welfare. Instead, it's by - and about - Katrina Briski, a white, college-educated young woman from, in her words, "a working-middle-class-family background." An example she gives of "suburban comforts" she's had at her disposal is Chipotle. This is "privilege"?
But that's exactly what's interesting about the essay. The author has somewhere along the line latched onto the idea that she is privileged. Not merely that she should be grateful for what she has, which most everyone should be, but that she comes from the stratum of society that ought to feel guilty for all it has. Even though what she has - white skin and a state-school non-STEM BA - is not exactly an Andover-Princeton-Goldman trajectory. Going by the information she herself provides, Briski neither started out nor ended up (thus far - she's young yet) wealthy or high-status. There are others relative to whom she is privileged, and her race, level of education, and childlessness defy stereotypes about who requires government support. Given her age and life situation, she might be more "broke" than "poor," although it's really too soon to tell. But "privileged," without painstaking contextualization, would seem to misrepresent the author's place in the world.
One might speculate that this perception of herself as "privileged" has informed her career choices, such as taking unpaid internships. One might also speculate that this self-perception is what prevented her from getting a job at Trader Joe's - if you come across as "privileged," you probably will have trouble finding work at a supermarket. I say this not to judge Briski's choices. Quite the contrary, these strike me as rational choices for someone who - presumably in the course of her education - came to believe that she had better own her privilege... despite not owning a heck of a lot else. I am judging the system that produces these expectations.
This phenomenon - by no means unique to the author - seems pretty clearly related to the fact that so many Americans now go to college, and college, which continues to think of itself as a thing-for-the-elite, continues to teach students noblesse oblige. "Service." The idea that it's greedy to want pay from one's first jobs. This, even when the students have massive debt and are not in much of a position to hand out helpings of oblige to others.
For all the talk of unchecked privilege, I suspect there's also a great deal of overestimated privilege among Young People Today, who've dutifully learned about all the systematic oppressions that don't apply to them, yet find themselves quasi-unemployable and fully without the trust funds one somehow imagines every white, college-educated kid has to his name. Relative privilege is something, but it doesn't pay the rent. Thus, I think, OWS.
In further "privilege" news, the NYT's "Room for Debate" on circumcision bans has, not unexpectedly, drawn a horde of passionate commenters. Men who weren't circumcised and who imagine the procedure to be some kind of penisectomy (having evidently not taken in the number of children in Hasidic families), men who were circumcised as infants and who attribute whatever's gone wrong in their lives to their parents' fateful decision to make them a millimeter or whatever smaller in that area, and women... no, not so many women.
One can get to the point at which one thinks, 'hey, I grew up thinking this was sensible, but now that I stop and think about it, it is at least worth discussing,' until one comes across this winner, who believes that Americans accept male but not female circumcision not because one is mutilation and the other not so much, but because of some kind of nefarious cabal:
Does the author really think that male circumcision really gets a pass because it is (a) a religious practice, and (b) relatively safe? Is there really no importance in her reactions to the question of factor (c): that circumcision is part of a religious tradition that has very special privileges in the USA? Isn't it really the case that some religions are more equal in the eyes of the law than others?Thus far, that comment has gotten 12 "recommends." Walt and Mearsheimer, I've found your next cause. The Euphemistic Circumcision Lobby.