In her recent online stoush with a group of angry transgenderites, Julie Burchill was told to ‘Check her privilege’. What on earth does this mean? Well, depending on who you ask, it’s either:
an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. (knowyourmeme.com)
“A term screamed by far left sheltered liberals when they hear a white person say something that might offend someone that isn’t a straight white male.” (urbandictionary.com)
In this case, the rough translation was that “Burchill should shut up because she was born with lady bits.”
The racial politics have been playing thick and fast in Australia of late. What I haven’t noticed is the most vocal participants in the current slanging match stopping at any time to check their privilege.
What privilege? The privilege of people living affluent middle-class lifestyles, on very healthy incomes, living in the suburbs they choose to live in, and sending their kids to the schools they want them to attend.
This is not about anyone’s right to identify as Aboriginal if they choose. It’s about people who are living a lifestyle indistinguishable from the rest of the affluent class in Australia, but who nonetheless argue for and obtain special treatment, based on who their grandparents were.
In any other country, this would be called ‘aristocracy’. In Australia, it’s grounds for lawsuits, attempts to obtain compensation payments, and a prodigious amount of what is best described as emotional blackmail. The disgraceful Goodes incident is a case in point: a wealthy, famous, young man was allowed to get away with – and was rewarded for – bullying a poorly-educated and disadvantaged 13 year old girl.
I look at the winners of Indigenous scholarships and cadetships, and I don’t need to comment on skin colour, because it’s completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that these people are almost universally from privileged backgrounds that are indistinguishable from mine.
I’d happily bet that, like me, these people had poor grandparents and aspirational parents. Like me, they may be the first generation of their family to go to university, and as a result they are now earning good money themselves. And it’s because of this that they don’t need help, especially not help that has been created to try to assist a group of people who haven’t enjoyed their privileged background.
I have said elsewhere that what we have in common with Aboriginal people is far greater than what separates us:
if we really want reconciliation, we must look at our common history and experiences in this country; our shared heritage of poverty and mismanagement, and also our shared growth, triumphs and failures.
Ron Merkel QC himself said that Bolt’s remarks were ““a head-on assault on a group of highly successful and high-achieving” Aborigines. But if these people – and others like them – are highly successful and high-achieving, then where are the genuinely impoverished and genuinely underprivileged Aboriginal people who these scholarships and cadetships and other incentives were designed to help?
Were there no applicants from these backgrounds? If not, why not? Why aren’t we fostering genuine aspirations in this population?
I’m not starting the next class war, or at least not deliberately (the ABC has anticipated me there). I just think that perhaps the next time an affluent, well-paid, well-educated, articulate person starts speaking about injustice and racism – purportedly on behalf of other Aboriginal people – we need to start asking them to check their privilege.