Comments on “The Problem with “Privilege””

A few people have shared this article “The Problem with “Privilege” on MAS’s page now. And I’m a bit puzzled. I wonder do people actually like it and agree with it? Or is it just that it argues against ‘the politics of privilege’ and like that, regardless of the content of the argument?

To me the argument seems weak as. The author explains the theoretical content of the article in this paragraph:

“My analysis is informed the work of Denise DaSilva. She argues in Toward a Global Idea of Race that the western subject understands itself as self-determining through its ability to self-reflect, analyze and exercise power over others. The western subject knows that it is self-determining because it compares itself to ‘others” who are not. In other words, I know who I am because I am not you. These “others” of course are racialized. The western subject is a universal subject who determines itself without being determined by others; the racialized subject is particular, but is supposed to aspire to be universal and self-determining.”

But what the fuck is this “western subject”? Is it the fantasy of the bourgeois subject? But if it is, surely she should at least acknowledge that it is a fantasy – not a subject position that people actually occupy. Or is she actually claiming that this is what western subjects are? In other words, that “western” non-others [eugh] are “self-determining through [their] ability to self-reflect, analyze and exercise power over others”? Because once you say that its pretty immediately obvious how completely inaccurately this applies to anyone in the west. I mean on the one hand the idea that “western subjects” like the non-racialised kids in flats around from my house, are certainly not “self-determining through [their] ability to self-reflect, analyze and exercise power over others”. But also, Master-Slave dialectic and all that. I mean the idea of power as a “self-reflective”, “self-determining” “exercise of power” – who actually believes in that?

It seems like a total strawman. 

But worse, it seems like an awful place to start to think of what liberation means. The actual conclusion seems really weak as well – like freedom is not self-determination it is seeing yourself as a social being. And seeing how your freedom is a social freedom.

To be honest, I think Bakunin got much further in the 1870s when he wrote:

The materialistic, realistic, and collectivist conception of freedom, as opposed to the idealistic, is this: Man becomes conscious of himself and his humanity only in society and only by the collective action of the whole society. He frees himself from the yoke of external nature only by collective and social labor, which alone can transform the earth into an abode favorable to the development of humanity. Without such material emancipation the intellectual and moral emancipation of the individual is impossible. He can emancipate himself from the yoke of his own nature, i.e. subordinate his instincts and the movements of his body to the conscious direction of his mind, the development of which is fostered only by education and training. But education and training are preeminently and exclusively social … hence the isolated individual cannot possibly become conscious of his freedom.
To be free … means to be acknowledged and treated as such by all his fellowmen. The liberty of every individual is only the reflection of his own humanity, or his human right through the conscience of all free men, his brothers and his equals.
I can feel free only in the presence of and in relationship with other men. In the presence of an inferior species of animal I am neither free nor a man, because this animal is incapable of conceiving and consequently recognizing my humanity. I am not myself free or human until or unless I recognize the freedom and humanity of all my fellowmen.
Only in respecting their human character do I respect my own. …
I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation