It has not been a great couple of weeks when it comes to other Jews embarrassing me with their ghastly public displays of racism.
Previously, of course, it was Donald Sterling. Now it’s Tal Fortgang, viral internet sensation.
But here’s the thing: I don’t much care that a college freshman doesn’t understand the concept of privilege; most don’t and that’s part of what going to college is all about, opening up someone’s world so they experience more than just the narrow slice they previously knew.
What bothers me about Fortgang is the way that he trades on the Holocaust to make claims about how little privilege he has:
I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend…
Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland…
Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures…
Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other…
That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are.
There are very few things I find more offensive than someone trotting out their grandparents’ experience during the Holocaust as cover for their own racism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever else.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from our families’ experiences in one of the darkest moments in human history, it has to be that all forms of bigotry and hatred must be openly challenged and resisted at every turn.
But Fortgang doesn’t understand this. Not at all. For him, the Holocaust provides him with cover, it allows him to claim that his family struggled and suffered, and so no one should ever tell him “You didn’t build that” or claim that, as a a white man in America today, he really has it pretty darned good, including in all sorts of ways that might not immediately stand out to him.
And so, the young man who explained to the New York Times that “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” has also deleted his Twitter account … but not before people took photos of a bunch of his tweets:
To be clear, I understand that this young man is, simply, a young man. He has a lot to learn and he’s probably starting to learn some of it … unless his 15 minutes of infamy teach him only that the Left is out to get honest hard-working Americans like him who, through nothing but their own hard work and merit, made it to the hallowed halls of Princeton.
My problem is, admittedly, less with Fortgang (or even Sterling) and more with the millions of others who point to them and say, “Yes! Here’s someone who’s finally willing to say what needs to be said.” These are people who are old enough to know better but who cling to this notion that they, somehow, are being victimized by their status as members of society’s dominant group(s) … even as they wonder why they can’t “use the N-word” or why anyone would get upset about the murder of an unarmed black teen or whatever else.
These are the people who insist that Donald Sterling is the real victim because his property is being illegally taken from him and because he was recorded without his consent, and these are the people who will be raising up Tal Fortgang as some sort of folk hero of the downtrodden white men of America. I’m guessing that Fortgang will learn something about the experiences of others in his four years at college. The people who are sharing his ridiculous piece on Facebook or Twitter, however, either missed that opportunity or hard-headedly refused to take it when it presented itself. They’re the ones I worry about.
[Screencaps of Fortgang’s tweets are from Matt Binder, whose own assessment of the whole privilege-checking business is well worth reading.]