A Point of Agreement on Privilege?

Mutual Exchange is the Center’s goal in two senses — we favor a society rooted in peaceful, voluntary cooperation, and we seek to foster understanding through ongoing dialogue. Mutual Exchange will provide opportunities for conversation about issues that matter to the Center’s audience.

A lead essay, deliberately provocative, will be followed by responses from inside and outside of C4SS. Contributions and comments from readers are enthusiastically encouraged. The following Mutual Exchange will begin as a feature by ’s, “What’s the Point of Checking Your Privilege?”. , Casey Given and  have prepared a series of articles challenging, exploring and responding to the themes presented in Given’s original article. Over the next week, C4SS will publish all of their responses. The final series can be followed under the categories: Mutual Exchange or The Point of Privilege.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly Nathan Goodman and I disagree on our viewpoints of the privilege framework. In “The Various Functions of Privilege Analysis,” he agrees with me that using the framework usually “muddles” conversation because “basic rights,” such as not being harassed because of one’s race, are oddly “referred to as ‘privileges.’” Moreover, he “perfer[s] to avoid” using the expression “check your privilege” because “[e]nough people have a knee jerk negative reaction to the phrase” — a point I made in my response to Kevin Carson.

Furthermore, Nathan acknowledges the collectivist critique that many libertarians have made — which I’ve avoided in this Mutual Exchange for originality sake — that the privilege framework “involves making unjustified assumptions about individuals.” Nathan quite correctly points out that there is no standard “women’s experience” or “black experience,” as each individual is a product of numerous socioeconomic factors (i.e. race, gender, wealth, sexuality, ability, etc.). Furthermore, he rightfully points out that any attempt to essentialize a “woman’s experience” or “black experience” usually favors more societally acceptable individuals over others: “For example, a standard ‘women’s experience’ may specifically describe the experiences of straight, cisgender white women, as they experience misogyny without typically experiencing the homophobia, transphobia, and racism that other women may face.”

Despite all his quite compelling critiques of the privilege framework, Nathan somehow still sees value in it. To save privilege from its collectivist downfall, Nathan posits anti-essentialism as a means to “look at individuals holistically” rather than making categorical assumptions about their experience. But, how is Nathan’s individualistic vision of anti-essentialism any different from the standard libertarian retort to judge individuals by their personal experiences? I don’t so much disagree with Nathan as I fail to see where he disagrees with me.

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