In an email to IvyGate, Tal Fortgang, P ’17 and author of a viral article in the Princeton Tory, charged us to “[m]ake me look bad!” Well Mr. Fortgang, with your blessing…
Tired of being oppressed for being a white male in America, Fortgang (who hails from Westchester) wrote the infamous Tory article detailing why he has earned the immense privilege he gets from being both male and white. The article has been covered everywhere from The Blaze to Slate, and republished in Time. Comments on the original post have ranged from praise to disbelief.
“Consider the idea that a person who loses an argument is the only one who gains something from the exercise. That will turn you into a person with the ability to grow and not just someone others perceive to be an entitled asshole.”
“Great article! Well written and with great eloquence. I commend you on taking an unpopular stance in a politically correct/liberal leaning society.”
The growing coverage culminated in an article in the New York Times: “At Princeton, Privilege Is: (a) Commonplace, (b) Misunderstood or (c) Frowned Upon.” They discussed Fortgang’s article and the subsequent discussion in fairly even-handed form, bringing in arguments from all sides.
The article was cowritten by Gabriel Fisher, who is also a Princeton freshman in the class of 2017. Fisher probably felt personally interested in the original piece, which spoke about Fortgang’s Jewish roots — in addition to his role on the editorial board of the Daily Princetonian, Fisher is on the executive committee of Hillel at Princeton.
Fisher is part of the University Press Club at Princeton, allowing him access to, for instance, The New York Times. Though his editors wouldn’t allow him to give us a quote, Fisher pitched the piece to the Times, wanting to write comprehensively about the discourse Fortgang’s article began, as well as a look at Fortgang himself.
Fortgang told us that Fisher’s role was to interview students on campus for reactions. “The Times then took the negative things that people said and crafted a nicely balanced story that did not garner any threats of violence towards me at all,” Fortgang wrote, clearly very pleased with the article and responses.
Fortgang is not the first current Ivy Leaguer to make these kinds of arguments — over at Columbia last fall, we had a series of op-eds in the Spectator by white men claiming the prejudices they face for being, again, the very difficult combination of white and male (our personal favorite part is when Goldwasser voices “disappointment” in Columbia’s Vagina Monologues’ choice to have a cast of only students of color; he’s wise enough to know that this was a “misguided and counterproductive” form of discrimination.)
“I know a lot of people still reading this column are probably having a train of thought along the lines of, ‘Oh, poor white boy. Nobody ever listens to him,’ which is not what I’m trying to say at all, and which is also exactly my point.”
When asked about the definition of privilege, Fortgang wrote us that “‘Privilege’= the idea that what I have is unearned or somehow mitigated because of some unsavory past or present conditions that allowed my family to profit unfairly. That good?” Almost, Tal.
Fortgang seems to believe that his family’s struggles earned him equal, if not greater, privilege than that of other people’s family struggles. Regardless, as Dunni Oduyemi, C ’16 and Parul Guliani, C ’15, wrote in Columbia’s The Eye, “nobody is asking for personal apologies for historical injustices—that’s literally not the point.” To be fair, the phrase “check your privilege” is constantly over- and misused, making it unclear exactly what “your privilege” is. But Fortgang still fails to see that privilege is about the opportunity he has based on the the simple factors of him being male and white.
Tal: you should be proud of your personal successes and family history. It was good of you to recognize and appreciate the extreme challenges your family faced to get you to where you are. You’re just a freshman now, and we at IvyGate hope you spend the next three years learning how to think critically and taking some race and gender classes.
Update 10:45PM Jake Goldwasser, author of this op-ed cited above, has reached out to IvyGate to make the point that he “readily acknowledge[s his] privilege” and that his “article wasn’t about privilege at all, it was about compassion.” As per his feelings on the Vagina Monologues, “My opposition to the Vagina Monologue’s choice to have only students of color was not out of fear that white people will somehow be oppressed. I was not whining, and I wouldn’t dream of calling it ‘discrimination’ like you say I do in your post. I was reaffirming my resistance to segregation as a tool for social progress.”
“As a MESAAS [Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies] major, I have spent the past four years studying other cultures. I am concerned with circumstances other than my own, just like I am sure you are. I have read Said and Fanon and Kincaid, and I have spent time sincerely trying to understand the issues at hand. It is frustrating to see my column summed up in half a sentence and viewed as a claim of prejudice–there is nothing in my article that claims I am the victim of prejudice.”
To that end, you are (as always is the case) encouraged to read his piece in full.