Does the rhetoric of “privilege” take pressure off the 1%?


There are two ways to read this satisfyingly provocative essay in Jacobin. Connor Kilpatrick argues that the intellectual left’s relentless focus on privilege—white, male, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, college-educated, et cetera—substitutes an abstract problem for the concrete problem of political and economic dominance by the wealthiest 1% of American households. Privilege is a sideshow. At best, it encourages us to ignore the problems of the middle class in favor of the problems of the most destitute. He writes:

[Privilege] is an attempt to shame the middle class—those with some wealth but, relative to the top one or one-tenth of one percent, mere crumbs—to make them shut up about the rich and super rich and, instead, look at those below as a reminder that it could all be much worse.

Kilpatrick cites as an example this article from Vox, which quotes a TED talk by Alex Giridharadas re: who gets to feel indignant for being in the 99%. Infuriating quote after the jump.

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US income inequality reaches record high

Fast-food workers strike for higher wages next to history's most inspiring statue of Ronald McDonald.

Fast-food workers strike for higher wages next to history’s most inspiring statue of Ronald McDonald.

There was something I was supposed to remember today—something really important, possibly related to fundamental threats to our American way of life. What was it? I swore I’d never forget. Oh yeah—a decade of skyrocketing income inequality. According to tax data, the top-earning US households captured a larger share of the nation’s income than ever before, breaking a record set in 1927. If I remember correctly, the years after 1927 saw a rising tide that lifted all boats. I’m being sarcastic, of course. There was a worldwide depression, but that situation was different, because back then most of the high-end income came from the financial and real estate economies. Wait—I’m still doing it.

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Stuffy deans downplay Iowa’s status as #1 party school

Hawkeye football fans celebrate with a wax effigy of John Kerry.

Hawkeye football fans celebrate with a wax effigy of John Kerry.

So it’s not just that I remember being 21: the Princeton Review has ranked my University of Iowa the #1 party school in the nation. The way they do it is they take some mice who have never partied before, and then they release them on campus and see how many of them have little stamps on their feet the next morning. Mice who get pregnant have to leave the study and go to community college. The University has basically been running the same experiment for years, but now that it’s achieved scientific results they’re being dicks about it. I quote spokesman Tom Moore:

In each of the last four years, alcohol harm to our students has decreased. It is, frankly, still too high. We are heartened, though, by the steady progress we have made, and are committed to continuing this progress.

Moore then ignited his hair with a flaming shot and fell backwards through the window.

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What does a protest do?

Demonstrators at last week's Occupy Wall Street protests object to the Euro, the Reddit logo, semiological uncertainty and running out of cardboard.

The protestors who camped out on the streets of New York’s financial district as part of Occupy Wall Street did not disrupt much. Mostly, they blended in with the other people camping on the streets of New York as part of the ongoing Don’t Have a Place to Live demonstration, which also is probably related to Wall Street. That’s what OWS is upset about, kind of. The ostensibly leaderless group convened in order to show that they will “no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” They did it by going down to Zuccotti Park and tolerating it in person, shortly before they decamped to tolerate it from a distance in Union Square and also before they got rounded up in plastic netting and pepper sprayed.

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