Check Your Coastal Urban Privilege.

AuthorGlastris, Paul
PositionEditor's Note

It's been three decades since Peggy McIntosh, a women's studies scholar at Wellesley College, published her landmark essay, "White Privilege and Male Privilege." In it, she observed that even her most well-meaning male colleagues-those aware of the discrimination female scholars faced--were nevertheless blind to the ways that they, as male academics, benefited from that discriminatory system, from easier career advancement to the power to decide curriculum. She then posited a corollary: that whites like her were similarly unaware of the advantages they enjoyed from a system of policies and social norms that disadvantaged minorities. "I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege," she wrote. As illustration, she offered a list of some of those privileges, such as the freedom to go shopping "fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives," or the ability to "criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider."

Mcintosh's essay is the urtext of what has become a core principle among academics, diversity trainers, social justice activists, and liberal society at large. The concept has been applied to other dominant groups--"cisgender privilege," "age privilege"-and led to the catchphrase "Check your privilege," which roughly means, "Be aware of and admit to your own favored personal situation when talking about problems in society."

Like a lot of people in my generation, I have issues with the use of the word "privilege" in some of these contexts--among other things, it implies that a freedom as basic as not getting harassed by police is a kind of special perk rather than a fundamental right. But the basic point is correct, and essential: many of us, especially we white men, go about our daily lives blissfully unaware of the benefits we enjoy--Mcintosh calls them "unearned advantages"--from not being the victims of oppression.

In fact, I'd like to extend Mcintosh's concept to another form of unearned advantage: the economic opportunities enjoyed by residents of a handful of the nation's largest and wealthiest coastal metropolitan areas. Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., and their suburbs, have raced ahead of most of the rest of the country in recent decades. But the well-educated liberals who most benefit from all this economic growth--the...

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