This Viral Video Shows Exactly What’s Wrong with the Idea of “Privilege”


A video featuring teacher Adam Donyes attempting to explain “privilege” to his students went viral recently. In a mere week, it received nearly 35 million views, 750,000 shares and almost 20,000 comments, with many viewers claiming it makes sense out of the issue of “privilege.” However, the truth is that it substitutes material reduction and emotionalism for intellectual and moral substance and serves as a lesson in ideological hounding, not justice.

It is very popular today to invoke “privilege” as a license to entitlement. Social scientists, the mass media, school teachers and politicians have taken to publicly lamenting “privilege” lately in response to the obvious material inequality that exists the world over. However, there are several deep problems with this disordered movement, and here we will discuss two: First of all, the premise that all people should be materially equal is not only un-American but an impossible and unjust standard, and second, reducing all considerations to material equality ignores the real constituent elements that rightfully explain disparity among people in this great land.

But first, let’s return to the video. The “teacher” lines his students up and tells them they will have a race, the winner of which gets a $100 bill. He then goes through a series of questions and tells his students to take two steps forward if their “parents are still married…. They grew up with a father figure in the home…. If they had access to a private education…. To a free tutor….  If you never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off…. If you never had to help mom and dad with the bills… etc.” At this point, one can see in the video that the participants are fairly spread out, indicating even to dummies how unfair the race is going to be.

The teacher goes on to claim: “Every statement I’ve made had nothing to do with anything any of you have done, has nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.” But consider the arbitrary and relatively inconsequential nature of some of his questions: Cell phone service? Helping parents out with bills? No access to a free tutor? Many children deal with these situations without necessarily being disadvantaged, and yet these things are put forward emotionally as if one who has experienced them has gone through something unfair.

The “teacher” then nonsensically states: “You still gotta run your race but whoever wins this hundred dollars, I think it would be extremely foolish of you not to utilize that and learn more about someone else’s story.” There is nothing about winning this race that compels one or even suggests that there is a reason to learn more about someone’s story.

Nevertheless, the conclusion of the video is: “If you didn’t learn anything from this activity, you’re a fool.” True enough! We ought to learn from this materially reductive, farcical scenario that it would be foolish to believe this video teaches something substantial and true about the nature of privilege. While advantages and privilege really do exist, they are more complex and less determinative than this video would suggest.

The premise that all persons deserve material equality ignores the gigantic and real considerations of virtue, vice, character, family, and free will as our Founding Fathers would have considered. It is true that those without an intact family, without a father in the home, or subjected to public schools are indeed at a disadvantage, but it doesn’t follow that this injustice must be corrected by society at large. There are no accidents of birth or disadvantages caused by free choice that require an emotional (shaming) or monetary tax on others. Primarily, we must come to recognize that character, intellect, and free will are the first considerations in the home, in the school and in society. We certainly have a responsibility to help the poor, but not before we make efforts to form a good society.

Even as an analogy, the $100 bill is a terrible reward. All humans desire happiness, but in reality, material rewards are not proper ends and don’t make man happy in a lasting way. True happiness comes to the well-ordered man by the acquisition of virtue and the aversion to vice. The happy man becomes the father in a well-ordered family, and the well-ordered family is the building block for the good community and society. No amount of money or material succor can impact this truth. However, ignoring reality and pretending like material equality is what makes man happy is an intellectual and moral crime.

The shadow of “privilege” is just the latest materially reduced image our guardians are projecting onto the back of the cave wall while the masses chained up at the bottom of the cave ogle and bemoan the contrived injustices set before us by those who would keep us from the truth. The good society does not have “equality” as its highest end, but rather equity in the virtuous application of law and order that corresponds to the dignity of the human person in the created order reflected in the natural law. That is a lesson the “teacher” in this video would do well to learn.

Photo credit: Screenshot via YouTube

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a writer in residence and teacher of philosophy and theology at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. He is also a senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has written for numerous venues on matters of faith, culture and education.

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