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“Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.
The phrase “Check Your Privilege” was used as early as March 2006 on the social justice blog Shrub.com in an article explaining how to accept one’s inherent privilege and understand situations that members of non-privileged groups are going through.
Precursor: Privilege Checklists
The concept of a social privilege checklist was popularized by Peggy McIntosh in a 1998 article titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In the article, she discusses both white and male privileges with a list of 26 advantages that white people have due to their skin color.
* I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
* I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
* I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
* I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
* If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race
Inspired by this article, many privilege checklists in both article and list form began popping up online, especially via the women’s studies listserv WMST-L. In September 2006, social justice blog Alas! A Blog compiled a list of fifteen of these, including those for able-bodied people, black males, members of the upper class, Americans and heterosexuals.
In 2007, “Check Your Privilege” appeared on a number of blogs including Feministe, Shapely Prose and The Geek Side. In 2008 and 2009, the phrase was used on women’s blogs including The F Word, Feminist Critics and The Angry Black Woman. In June 2009, “Check Your Privilege” was mentioned on the Geek Feminist Wiki as a method to remind other people of how their background shapes their thoughts. In November 2010, a Redditor used the phrase on /r/MensRights in response to a story about a false rape accuser’s ability to remain anonymous while the name of the man she accused stays exposed in the media. In March 2012, the domain checkyourprivilege.com was registered, but does not contain any content. That October, an article was published on the British news site the Guardian about how the term has evolved into a bullying tactic for commentators who align themselves with social justice agendas and use privilege-related arguments to derail conversations.
As of October 2012, there are more than 2300 search results on YouTube for “check your privilege,” including both serious vlogs (shown below, left) and satirical videos (shown below, right).
In January 2011, “Check Your Privilege” appeared in a Tumblr post by user feyboy in reference to seeing straight white cisgender women in college complaining about not receiving a monetary allowance from their parents. During the course of 2011, the phrase became a popular tag on Tumblr with the rise of social justice blogs on the platform, along with several others including “die cis scum” and “social justice.” In August 2012, the parody blog Children Who Need To Check Their Privilege was launched to provide satirical commentaries on images of babies and small animals as a mockery of the social justice blogging community. On August 31st, the webcomic Homestuck introduced a character named Kankri (shown below), seeming to represent a parody of a stereotypical Tumblr social justice blogger. In his first appearance, he mentions checking his piety privilege.