Sisterhood Blog

Tal Fortgang's Misguided Princeton 'Privilege' Lament

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

I’ve been watching with exhaustion the saga of the privileged Princeton kid, grandson of Holocaust survivors, who has declared via a bratty op-ed echoing ‘round the web, that he will not apologize for his privilege. White, male, and proud. Take that, ye P.C. police, young Tal Fortgang declares.

Such a moment was inevitable, both as the term privilege and the phrase “check your privilege” gets more widely used by a millennial generation that loves social justice principles almost as much as they love listicles and snapchat. Soon enough, defensive people start to think that privilege means “evil” or “undeserving” rather than “a product of social or economic circumstances that have given you advantages.”

I think confronting the fact that we do have many advantages is complex for American Jews, particularly those whose parents or family were discriminated against. We often use our difficult past to advocate for social justice, but we are more hesitant to mine our less difficult, more recent history in this country to interrogate our present-day lives.

Many (not all) American Jews have inherited a narrative displacement. Look at what happened to us, very broadly. We were uprooted from our former homes, our culture, our language, often after genocide or ethnic cleansing, and we made our way over the ocean as refugees, huddled masses yearning to be free, until we arrived on the shores of a country where… we, for the most part, actually did pretty great! After some initial, often lingering discrimination we were grudgingly allowed to join the white establishment, and there we sit to this very day, by our admittance into said establishment unwittingly or wittingly benefiting from the oppression of others, mostly people of color and more recent immigrants. Yet we tremble in fear that we will suddenly be unwelcome, and feel understandable resentment and anger at the unimaginable losses our families suffered this century and the last. This creates a big disconnect that we still haven’t grappled with, but its inherent tension surfaces over and again with incidents like Fortgang’s lament and with the execrable racism of Donald Sterling, too. And of course, some of it is just ignorance.

I wish I could tell Fortgang that yes, his family’s history in the Holocaust has created residual trauma, echoing through the generations, that is deserving of sympathy and creates a disadvantage, for sure. And yes, the work that his family put into raising their own up is admirable. But at the same time, here he stands! He remains a white male Princeton student, which puts him pretty close to the top of the heap. And I say this as a former white Harvard student, who had to realize, by examining my privilege, that I hadn’t quite earned my spot there as purely as I thought. It was uncomfortable. I got over it.

Back to Tal, who is not exactly as privileged as his WASPy classmate, Biffy St. Snoot, but who’s up there. Now, no one is asking for him to get on his knees and apologize. What the people who have told him to “check his privilege” are asking for is likely is a lack of (perhaps unconsciously) domineering behavior combined with self-awareness, understanding, and most importantly the use of his privileged position to even out a very uneven playing field. It may be time to use that Princeton education and “close-read” the phrase. Think of the verb “check:” it means both halt mid-strike, and also examine, the latter of which Fortgang has yet to do.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: privilege, Tal Fortgang, Princeton, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.