What's wrong with the term white privilege

privilege: The false charge


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The use of the term "privilege" has become a communicative nuisance. Especially in the social networks and in journalistic opinion pieces, the noble-sounding word has developed into a battle term that is no longer used for communication, but is used as an all-purpose weapon. Just as there is hardly any distinction now made between racism, xenophobia, prejudice and resentment, "Privilege!" to be thrown at everyone's head who, from the thrower's point of view, has a competitive advantage.

If you want to stifle a discussion, if you want to flatten a counterpart in a discursive way, you simply lack arguments, you simply throw him in check your privilege !, "check your privileges!" That means: What you are saying is just a disguised justification of your privileged position and your interests in power! A vulgar, shrinking Marxism is spreading, which gives an idea of ​​why Marx quarreled with Marxists.

What is a privilege? A privilege, and this is crucial, is not simply an advantage. Linguistically and historically, it is a privilege that is officially granted by individuals or institutions in the higher hierarchy to people who are subordinate to the hierarchy. For example, in the past men were allowed to vote and women were not, in the pre-modern era certain items of clothing were reserved for certain groups of people. Such legal situations with birth lottery winnings or self-developed advantages - yes, there should be! - to equate is dishonest. If you take seriously the idea that language helps create our reality, then the following applies: Pay attention to those terms that have what it takes to divide! Anyone who wants to win over as many people as possible to the fight against discrimination should not pretend that this goal can only be achieved by taking something away from certain people because they are preferred "from above". But it is precisely this wrong message that the talk of "privileges" sends.

Jörg Scheller

41, is professor of art history at the Zurich University of the Arts, author and metal musician.

In the Basic Law it says: "Nobody may be disadvantaged or preferred because of their gender, their origin, their race, their language, their homeland and origin, their beliefs, their religious or political views." What is meant is equality before the law, not the phantasm of factual equality. Of course someone is in a competitive one salesman culture disadvantaged, whose religion demands a contemplative life. Of course, I have an advantage if I am born with lots of white muscle fibers and therefore, unlike my neighbor with lots of red muscle fibers, can do well as a weight lifter. Of course, I have an advantage if I inherit a little house in the southern Palatinate from Aunt Lotte. All of these advantages have nothing to do with a privilege that would have been granted to me as an exclusive privilege by any higher authority. Those who combine privileges with contingency and inequality, which no system can prevent, tend towards the ideological conspiracy. It is insinuated that the advantages are given by powerful, higher authorities, the possibility of chance or simple luck is tactically faded out.

Again and again one can read that whites are privileged per se. Strange - isn't that the basic way in which racism works: to equate individuals with groups, to put the collective singular in place of precise observation and empiricism? In truth, the matter is more tricky. Why did the African American Jay-Z of all people succeed in becoming the first rap billionaire? Is the exploited Romanian privileged in a Tönnies slaughterhouse because his skin color is white? And if a German realtor has the choice of renting a property to an educated, eloquent, wealthy non-white person or to a financially clumsy white worker from Eastern Europe who speaks broken German - who would she choose?

In general, the discussion of privileges mostly leaves out the post-communist Eastern European area, where experiences differ significantly from those that some social theories are based on that are taught at Anglo-American universities. The popular "intersectionality", that is, the criticism of overlapping forms of discrimination, is ultimately only illuminating if it is contrasted with effective forms of preferential treatment. And then black and white scenarios are transformed into a flicker of shades of gray.