By Graham Peterson
When you adopt the philosophy that all of the world’s injustices reduce to merely three dimensions of social categorization–race, class, and gender–you reduce the immense nuance of social tastes, traits, behaviors, and traditions, to the information conveyed in the demographic archetypes of a 45 second Tide Detergent ad.
When you then hunt for infractions drawn along one of those dimensions, the odds are that you will reliably find prey. Everyone, of course, has traits that fall along these dimensions. They are in fact the largest social categories one could draw without circling the entire set of all people. So you are aiming at a large target, and people even in blindfolds can hit large targets.
This has the effect of producing paranoid people, because there is a constant opportunity to exercise these fears. I used to do some minor league dealing a very long time ago. It turns out that there are police cruisers everywhere, whether anyone is tailing you or not. You can imagine: I was a very nervous guy. Similarly, our world makes people’s races, classes, and genders immediately and publicly available, everywhere. You can imagine: advocates are very nervous people.
All of this privilege checking thus encourages people to interpret one another’s behavior in the least charitable way possible, and to make blank accusations of one another’s motives on weak evidence. To seal any leaks in this anti-social logic, the story goes that if someone gets defensive about having their privilege checked, they are indeed confirming that the paranoid privilege checker is correct. Privilege checking, by definition, cannot be mistaken.
Now, the stated goals of diversity training, privilege checking, and so forth, were in the first place to encourage respect, tolerance, acceptance, and dignity among people, in the end to encourage one another to look past mere gendered, racial, and classist stereotypes. The net result has been the exact opposite. We have created a lazy excuse for people to disrespect, dismiss, and denigrate one another, and in the end to reify racial, gendered, and classist stereotypes.
It has to stop.