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Check Your Privilege: Princeton Freshman Tal Fortgang Flees the Internet After Essay Criticism

A Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang has “gone viral” thanks to an essay he wrote for the conservative student publication The Princeton Tory about the current vogue of the phrase “Check your privilege” and what it means to him. The essay was picked up by TIME and Fortgang was subsequently profiled by The New York Times.

In his essay, Fortgang writes that the phrase “teeters between an imposition to actually explore how [he] got where [he is], and a reminder that [he] ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.” In fact, he then goes on to imply—as all those who argue the wrong points about race inevitably do—that those who believe in white privilege are actually racists themselves.

Those on the right—e.g. Fox News—and those on the left—e.g. (according to Fox News) everyone else—naturally took sides, not for the argument made but on the person making that argument.

Mediaite.com’s Luke O’Neil tracked the response, showing that those on the right paint Fortgang—and the story of his grandparents fleeing Nazis and then achieving the American Dream—as proof that all this “white privilege” stuff is liberal hooey. The other side suggests that Fortgang is simply out-of-touch, slightly racist himself, or (most likely) has the wrong idea about what white privilege is. Fortgang has since deleted or hidden his Twitter account, but screenshots of controversial statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict abound.

The Times profile notwithstanding, most of the response to Fortgang’s essay seeks to prove that this 20 year-old kid isn’t actually an expert in matters sociological and historical. Big surprise. The most significant question raised by this whole situation is: why must we destroy everyone we disagree with?

This was just some kid who wrote something that caught a little heat online. He’s most likely experienced fantastic highs—like appearing on national television to be praised—and staggering lows—such as whatever led up to his deleting his Twitter account—yet little has been said about the substance of his comments. Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton say far more outrageous things every day, yet their careers continue to improve. It seems, in modern America, you can’t say anything dumb unless you plan to make a living doing it.

To read what Fortgang got wrong and what he got right about white privilege, check out Part 2 here.

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.