Smith: Check yourself: Successful or privileged?

Smith: Check yourself: Successful or privileged?

May 5th, 2014 by By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Robin Smith

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Remember back in July 2012 when the statement "You didn't build that!" became controversial in the presidential campaign? The remarks made by Barack Obama specifically fingered successful business owners: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Clearly, successful individuals are shaped by their families, their teachers and their cultures. Still, some politicians want to shame and guilt those who achieve a modicum of success, attributing their accomplishments to the work of others or simply to the pixie dust of ancestry.

That same narrative has a new catch phrase that is frequently heard on college campuses. I first read the phrase "check your privilege" while traveling on business out of state. It seems to be a growing refrain among those who want equal outcomes versus equal opportunities, and those whose actions are guaranteeing collective mediocrity while badgering any who strive for personal success.

For fun, you can visit, among many other sites, to survey your standing in the world of the shamed. Prepare to hang your head if you're not a racial minority; if you are a Christian; if you're an individual with regular employment and income; and if you approve of heterosexual relationships. Your woe is extreme if you're a male at birth.

To further "check your privilege," the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois has marshaled its resources to define the "dominant" privileged sectors of society and offer "action steps" to fight the urge to succeed. A few for your learning:

• Understand your privilege will not go away until the root systems that give you privilege are abolished.

• Be an ally to communities you are not part of.

• Recognize how your privilege can destruct community empowerment.

• Use your privilege to benefit groups you are not part of.

• Educate others with your privilege to check themselves.

• Call out people and embrace being called out about privilege.

Understand that in no way did your own efforts, your personal sacrifices or your dogged determination and grit have any role in your life successes or accomplishments. According to the social-justice-equal-outcome-crowd, you are privileged ... and should be publicly shamed, humiliated and degraded into the embrace of the views of your detractors.

A freshman at Princeton University recently rebutted his multiple chastisements by retracing his ancestry, recalling his many relatives who fled an oppressive Nazi Germany and Poland to seek liberty in America.

Tal Fortgang noted his ancestors learned the English language, obtained U.S. citizenship, became hard workers as laborers, raised their nuclear family, sent them to a Jewish day school. Their offspring are now productive, "successful" members of society.

Fortgang condemned his "moral superiors" for "diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness ..." and for treating all merited success as "a myth, and for declaring that our nation runs on racist and sexual conspiracies."

It's time to reject the politics and efforts of those who condemn the able-bodied, working population for channeling their energies to seek excellence in education and business.

To those who live in self-pity and find their only accomplishment in tearing others down: Get a job, get a grip on reality and get a life.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.