Are you threatened by us?
Dear college students,” began one tweet. “Are you threatened by us, Senior High School kids? Are you scared that we have more potential than you do?” Soon, the tweet made its rounds on the internet and gained more attention than it deserved. Surely the sentiment was taken out of context. Nonetheless, it struck a chord.
When an unsuspecting digital nomad tripped a wire by saying “Are you threatened?” during an ordinary day of random surfing, conversations sparked. The tea was exceptionally good that day. What was a typical rant from someone in the throes of teenage angst became a strong piece of discourse between two groups of people. Freud referred to cases like this as the “narcissism of small differences.”
A younger group imposing its advantages on an older generation is nothing new. We’ve all been through that before. For a person, group, or subculture to foreshadow another is symptomatic of a privilege being enjoyed, sometimes acknowledged, but often unchecked. And for another group to feel threatened may also be a symptom of a displacement of a privilege once reveled in.
With this generation perceived as feeling entitled and with an era marked with online fighting, is it about time we checked our privileges? Phoebe Maltz Bovy in her book, “The Perils of Privilege,” postulates that every online fight will result in an accusation of privilege.
Is privilege-checking, like many things in this country, long overdue? Or should
it never have a foothold in our culture
in the first place?
Checking one’s privilege is defined by Urban Dictionary as “a phrase for when one makes an ignorant remark about another’s life issues.” It’s been widely used for quite some time now, but only dispersed locally recently. Privilege was mainstreamed by women’s studies scholar Peggy MacIntosh in 1988, originally referring to white male privilege. Today it refers to privilege of any kind, whether in terms of gender, religion, class, education, age, etc.
To ask “Are you threatened by us?” is indicative of a benefit enjoyed by some. It drew ire because it is a privilege unearned. By virtue of being born at a certain time and educated a certain way, a particular group feels that it is better than others. To feel threatened, on the other hand, may also indicate a privilege monopolized that will sooner be experienced by another. “When you’re accustomed to privilege,” writes Chris Boeskool, “equality feels like oppression.”
Privilege-checking is not a habit of ours as Filipinos, especially when we feel like we are more accustomed to concepts of poverty and disadvantages. Yet our online conversations manifest our privileges nonetheless.
It is seen in heterosexual views on gay rights, male inputs on women’s issues, middle-class perceptions on the struggles of the marginalized, a sane person’s cognizance of suicide, or the youth’s awareness of the realities of adulthood.
We are all born with unearned advantages by virtue of attributes that we did not even ask for. That I am a man with particular physical and social characteristics has granted me a special kind of treatment just because I am a man with those characteristics! But we are also all born with unearned disadvantages. As Arit John writes, “Everyone benefits from and is a victim of privilege.”
Our culture can make a lot out of privilege-checking, especially after having been more accustomed to its opposite. It sheds light on the idea that we are able to think, feel, or act this way only because of particular privileges that we do not even deserve in the first place.
But privilege-checking doesn’t make a huge leap toward progressiveness. Worse, it assumes that we have the right to certain issues only if we have personally experienced them. On the other hand, it works best when we use it as an internal compass or as a tool for self-reflection. This is its turning point. We become more aware of a system that rewards some but punishes others.
Finally, we no longer feel threatened by each other.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.