Get out your monocles! The dynamics of the word Privilege

Home » 2014 » February » 12 » Get out your monocles! The dynamics of the word Privilege
The issue: The people behind this Tumblr account called Privilege 614 threw an invite-only party.
I really believe Privilege 614 is well-intentioned. Any word in its title other than Privilege and this thing would have blown over as some rich kids having a party and photo blog.
Instead, yesterday there was a viral outrage by another sect of young professionals in Columbus who found fault in its seemingly discriminatory principles. A lot of memes and hashtags and namecalling has come from that anger at Privilege 614, and I want to use this post to describe some of where I think it is coming from.
The memes are funny, but the vast divide between one group’s outrage over the word Privilege and one group’s admiration of the word Privilege is really, really fascinating and something I think we should talk about on not just a local level, but a national one.
I don’t think it has gone unnoticed, either, that judging by the photos many of the people at this party were African Americans and many of the people who reacted negatively were Caucasian. Does that mean anything? I don’t know.
To start the discussion though, here’s why one side of young Columbus was mad yesterday:

Poor person outrage
Has anyone at this party read about the one percent? The Gasby-ian principle of flaunting your wealth/ status is quite literally offensive to some people. Judging from the photos of the party and on the blog, the majority of Privilege 614 were young people. I think part of the negative reaction to it stemmed from young people being disappointed to see so many other young people openly proud of their social status. We don’t want you to be apologetic for what you have, but have a little respect for the people that have nothing, right? Because they live in our 614 too.
Artist outrage
One of the greatest ironies of art and creativity is that the most prominent ideas people have about those topics seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. They are dichotomous of one another. Either art is elitist and exclusive to the enjoyment of rich people (an idea I’ve seen expressed by both lower and upper class people) or it is the noblest of professions for the people and by the people (mostly educated middle class people and actual artists I know think this way about art). The Privilege 614 thing attempted to bring together the founders’ version of the creative class. It even promotes itself as a little bit about art. Something so inorganic as a networking event, really, is the last way to attract creative types unless they work in fashion. Privilege 614 felt like a rich person’s idea of what art is… nearly always a slap in the face of the people struggling every day to actually make the art.

White guilt/ Liberal outrage

Privilege is such a loaded term and white privilege is something that I think by-and-large the group that reacted so angrily toward Privilege 614 is well aware. As a progressive white person living in modern America I try regularly to be aware of the privileges I have and not make decisions or judgements based on them. This social group clearly wants people of a certain “caliber” (education, class, dress style) to be in their city and at their events; judging people by their status (whether as someone invited to the party or someone who could be invited to the party) so provocatively snubs and actually mocks the social problems that prevent others from being a part of this elite ($$$) group. To take the word “privilege,” one I think so many liberals and progressives try to damn on a regular basis, and hold it in high esteem is so insulting to people who have tried to work against the damage decades of privilege admiration has created. Glorifying the notion of privilege is infuriating when you consider the people who have been hurt by its standards–and we have considered it and consider it every day.

Exclusivity outrage

Oy. I don’t think exclusivity has ever or will ever work in young Columbus (ie. The Social, Bar L’etranger). We have chosen not to live in New York for a reason. We have pretension here, certainly, but I think the majority of the young crowd here holds dearly, bless us, a midwestern ideal that country club memberships are not nearly as credible as a man/woman who earns what he/she has by his/her own merit. We don’t like politics and we don’t want to play them. We’re talking about what, on its most base level, looks like rich kids of high school versus the kids who got their Calvin Klein tees at Salvation Army. Exclusion also reminds us of our religious small town upbringing (Ohio!) that rejected people immediately for one aspect of their person hood. I  think the reaction to Privilege 614 made its exclusivity more nasty than its founders ever intended it to be (anyone can go to their parties), but it’s, again, the glorification of something that has hurt so many people in the past that feels ignorant.

__________

Edit: A good friend of mine made this comment on Facebook that I think is really interesting too and something to consider before the outrage takes over:
“* I think that the creators of this event are young and didn’t give much thought to how weighted that word is in some circles (which is itself a topic of discussion/knowing that it is a weighted word is itself perhaps a sign of some “privilege”)”

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