I’ve noted before that I’m not overly fond of the word “privilege” being used in political discussions these days. It’s a fine word, mind you, and it can be quite relevant. But it’s overused, a lot of people use it incorrectly, and too often it’s simply bandied about as a substitute for actual engagement. Privilege, in my opinion, has become the liberal’s version of the conservative’s “statist” and the libertarian’s “coerced.”
But when I read this story this morning, all I could think was, privilege:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was floored when his daughter Liz became the target of a Facebook “attack” from within the family for her opposition to gay marriage.
“We were surprised that there was an attack launched against Liz on Facebook, and wished it hadn’t happened,” Cheney said Tuesday at the National Press Club, as quoted by ABC News. “It’s always been dealt with within the context of the family and frankly that’s our preference.”
To me, this seems like a pretty slam-dunk, textbook case of what privilege skewing your reasoning looks like. Cheney is clearly miffed that his gay daughter and her wife made a public issue out of their same-sex marriage rather than keeping it in the family; at the same time, it simply doesn’t register with him that when his straight daughter speaks out against that same marriage on the campaign trail she’s doing the exact same thing.
That’s pretty much privilege in a nutshell: Gays insisting they should be allowed to be married is rude and hostile; straights insisting they shouldn’t is just folks being folks.
The Being Hostile v. Folks Being Folks version of privilege is probably the most common example I see day-to-day. In this particular case it has to do with being straight, but you see it all the time with every historically dominant group: Christians, males, caucasians, what have you. I’ve never been to Israel or Nepal, but I’m pretty sure if you go there you’ll see the same Being Hostile v. Folks Being Folks getting in the way of clear thinking with Jews and Hindus.
More and more, I keep coming around to the conclusion that one of the responsibilities that needs to come with being a part of the majority is the cultivation of empathy.