Search on youtube: “Toddler Cussing,” “Little Kid Swears,” “Baby Says F*ck.” Mini-me blurting an adult word is funny- obvious, slapstick, funny. In a larger sense it’s a holler or sentiment or evolved thought coming from the unexpected corner, a younger version of ourselves, that is surprising, sometimes in really positive ways.
I’m reminded of a co-worker, a young woman, asking if I had a tampon; I surreptitiously pulled one from my handbag, wrapped the already-wrapped T in a tissue, and handed it to her. “Christ, clown– it’s a tampon, not contraband.” She discarded the tissue and strode toward the loo, carrying the fuchsia-wrapped symbol of all things mysteriously feminine as blithely as she’d carry a pen. It made me so happy– young women who are IN YOUR FACE, guys, about this stuff, no longer feeling the need to protect men from this elemental fact of humanity’s very existence– “we bleed, get over it.” I loved it. Outrageous, a young clown: mini-me.
Aligned, at issue: the Princeton student, frankly not quite a man at twenty years old, who wrote an essay that has had some conservatives high-fiving this outlandish mini-me:
His name is Tal Fortgang. He’s already tired and jaded about people minimizing his accomplishments. Did I mention he’s twenty? What’s darling and precious and loved by conservatives about his essay is the bold sweep of hyperbole: who now, in their thirties, forties, fifties, would have had the courage to say at twenty that they have just about had it with people saying that just because he’s white he has not earned anything himself but has been hand picked hand held hand delivered –thanks to this white conspiracy, this secret HAND shake from the “invisible patron saint of whiteness.” He protests: did I not work? Did my parents not sacrifice, my grandparents, Jews, not suffer discrimination? Not SUFFER? We did, damn-all, and I’m tired of apologizing, I’m tired of people believing that nothing I accomplished is real, that there is no true meritocracy.
Sweetheart. I have to tell you: you can’t see your privilege because it’s in the air you breathe. It’s in the azaleas and cherry trees on campus, the salmon for dinner, the growing up with smart peers and the being welcomed into families of wealthier kids too. All your life you have seen a charming life that could be yours. All your life you have known that this has been within your capability, within your parents’ expectations. You have never known a mob, a parade, a conga line of people chanting: “you’re shooting too high.”
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist and black man: “The fact that I wanted to be a scientist was hands-down the path of MOST RESISTANCE…I wanted to become something that was outside the paradigm of expectation of the people in power… fortunately, my depth of interest was SO DEEP and SO FUEL-ENRICHED that every curve ball that was thrown, every fence built in front of me, every hill I had to climb, I just reached for more fuel and kept going. But as I look behind me I wonder where are the others who might have been this, who are not there? What blood is on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not? Who are those who did not survive the forces of society that prevented (progress) at EVERY TURN?”
So, Tal? The wind you feel at your back is not turbulence from your serious work. It’s the gentle breeze you can’t credit because you’re flowing in a jetstream with thousands, millions, of others. You’re being carried on a current as imperceptible as the earth’s rotation. It isn’t that your work is meaningless, it’s that you don’t, and can’t, acknowledge that many people have to work harder, run against unrelenting gales, surpass low expectations, thrive without encouragement. So. Don’t “check your privilege.” But also, don’t mine your past for any corresponding disadvantage, because it doesn’t exist.
While conservatives lap up your ballsy stance and embrace it as bold righteousness, I’m stifling a chortle. You’re not a toddler cursing, but you’ll be just as embarrassed when you read your essay as a mature person. They’re using you. You’re a party trick. You’re their mini-me.