On Sept. 25, 2018, Cabot Phillips came to the University of Georgia in a “Liberal Privilege” tour. Sponsored by Turning Point USA, a conservative organization on campus, Phillips argued college campuses contain a liberal privilege that harms conservative students.
“I think that liberal privilege is, in society, the special benefits that are given to you if you are on the left,” Phillips said in the talk. “Being liberal in society means you’re going to get better treatment as a whole, especially on a college campus.”
Conservative thinkers have indeed faced backlash for their beliefs. University of California-Berkley students protested conservative speaker Milo Yiannopolous to the point of cancelling the speak and a campus lock down. If conservative students feel marginalized for their political ideology, then they may feel that way.
However, “liberal privilege” should not flourish in the negation of other privileges, as Phillips said in his talk. Such negation obfuscates understanding how all privileges interact to benefit or detriment students on all identities -- including political.
“How does liberal privilege manifest itself? I think that’s the most real privilege we have in our society, as far as the most privilege and the one that will reap you the most benefits in our society, I don’t think there’s a more legitimate one than liberal privilege,” Phillips said in his talk.
Political ideology is one of many potential identities students hold. Aspects such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation comprise how an individual an individual is privileged or disadvantaged over others. Conservative students may be disadvantaged by liberal privilege but benefit from male privilege. A liberal student may benefit from liberal privilege but be disadvantaged by white privilege. No privilege exists on its own.
By stating that one privilege, the one that Phillips is harmed by, should be addressed more so than other privileges, Phillips privileges liberal privilege above other privilege. As multifaceted being with various identities that can benefit or hinder us in society, privileging privilege helps no one.
Again, this is not to say that liberal privilege does not exist or that conservative students don’t feel marginalized on campus. The issue comes when fighting liberal privilege is favored over fighting other oppressive systems restraining student expression, autonomy and opportunity.
If anything, the Left and the Right should cooperate to make campus safe and accommodating for all. Applying the feminist notion of intersectionality, or the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, political affiliation and gender, would nuance our understanding of marginalization, especially regarding liberal privilege. It’s more productive than playing privilege whack-a-mole.