Being raised in the 90’s, I remember watching shows like Captain Planet and Bill Nye the Science Guy, and even caught a glimpse of Star Trek, The Next Generation when my dad took control of the TV. Back then, the zeitgeist of the time was represented in the rainbow coalitions appearing in nearly every popular show, and it didn’t just end or begin with children’s programming. From the planteers to the crew of the starship Enterprise, the progressive ideal at the time was tolerance and diversity. Countless episodes in a variety of shows preached the benefits of accepting people of differing backgrounds, and advocating all coming together as one.
However, at some point there was a narrative shift away from the zeitgeist of equality to what we have today: “privilege”.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, before the epoch of Social Justice and before the left’s full takeover of the media and politics, the concept of equality made sense for the left’s immediate goals. Like the commoner to the lord, people who have little power will appeal to those in power for tolerance, diversity, and brotherhood in order to be accepted. Attacking their “overlords” with hostility will usually be met with even greater hostility in return, crushing the soft-hearted rebels before they get the chance to show the world their egalitarian utopia.
But once the left gained a sufficient amount of power there was no need to appeal to equality, because not only did they have their foot in the door, and not only a seat at the table, but now had a command of the cultural narrative.
You can see this narrative shift in how the definitions of the words racism and sexism have changed over the years. Initially it was defined pejoratively as the hatred, bias or negative sentiments toward a particular group of people. It was neutral as far as the speaker or the target were concerned, for a black man throwing racial and misogynistic epithets at an Asian woman was still considered racism and sexism, and the same would be true in the reverse. It was a fairly easy definition to follow, and even the likes of Google and Webster still uphold this definition. However, once the PC left gained power the definition started backfiring on them.
(For example, it is unequal that women are under-represented in tech and science, but it is also unequal that women are over-represented in child custody decisions. If one is to advocate for equality as a moral imperative, then it requires pushing women into tech while simultaneously taking away their children. That’s the problem with equality: it cuts both ways, sometimes against the left.)
Of course, leftists can’t have concepts like equality chopping their own legs off. So, in recent years, leftist acedemics in charge of the definitions changed them in order to exempt leftists from the standards they once held to others. Feminists changed the definition of sexism so that they were no longer sexist. Anti-racists changed the definition of racism so that they were no longer racist. They did this by forwarding the idea of privilege, treating it as an axiom as they once did with equality.
Now, not only is racism and sexism about hatred and bigotry, but also includes the dubious qualifier of “institutional power” – a racist/sexist remark is performed when the speaker says something bigoted, just as before, but they must also hold institutional power over the oppressed. A woman can make bigoted remarks against men and it’s technically not sexist because she supposedly has no institutional power – that power is held by the patriarchy. If he makes a sexist joke then he is reprimanded, but if she makes a sexist joke then she is not. The man can only ever be the cause of offense and women can only be the target. It doesn’t just end at sex, but continues to race and any other marginalization – it all skews one way.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear to me that this exception only serves to (conveniently) protect the ones that conceived the definition from the same standards that they hold to others. Anything they say cannot be wrong, while they’re allowed to chastise others for the exact same behavior.
So why was “institutional power” added? Why not stick to the concept of equality in the first place if it seemed to work so well?
Tolerance, diversity, equality and unity were all useful when the left didn’t rule over public discourse. Such concepts were their foot in the door, to allow them access to more power and more followers because they are things the general public could believe in. Now that they are no longer useful to the left, those things have been discarded from the narrative. “Privilege” gives the Social Justice Warriors a justification for their hatred and vitriolic attacks, and also allows them to entrench their power by policing the dissenters without the double-edge being used on them. This is their main goal. It has always been their main goal. And it was something they could never accomplish under the guise of equality.