An Easy Verdict: Anne Frank, Not ‘Privileged’

There are a lot of things going on in actor Daryl Deino’s American Spectator article from last week, entitled “Anne Frank’s ‘Privilege’?!” In the conservative publication, Deino recounts a disturbing conversation he overheard among a group of 20-somethings in a Glendale, California Starbucks:

One of the kids sported a buzz cut, scruffy beard, tattoos all over his arm that made no sense, and appeared to be either Caucasian or Middle Eastern. He tried to explain the concept of “privilege” to the others by using Holocaust victim Anne Frank as an example of someone who had privilege because she was white. Burying himself even deeper, he went on to speculate that if Anne Frank were alive today, she wouldn’t have to deal with being pulled over by the police for no reason or having her résumés thrown in the garbage.

The young man’s “two female friends”, one of whom “appeared to be Hispanic”, duly filled their male friend in on the flaws of his argument. As did another, older, Starbucks customer.

From this it’s easy to (generously) conclude that there exists, in California, precisely one hipster-presenting gentleman who needs Holocaust history lessons, as well as a crash course in Anachronism 101. In case said dude is reading this: Racism, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of bigotry exist within specific historical contexts. Whether a white-looking Jewish person (such as yours truly, who, as a girl, looked a lot like Anne Frank) benefits from whiteness in at least some situations in America today tells us precisely zilch about how pallor would have impacted the fate of a Jewish person in the Holocaust. Jews — including really, really pale ones! — were killed for their “race” because different forms of racism operate differently. Geez.

It’s self-evident — or ought to be — where coffee shop dude went wrong; less obvious is whether there are any broader implications in the existence of a poorly-informed individual making (and getting called out in real time for!) ignorant and hurtful remarks. Deino notes that he had “come across discussions on Anne Frank’s ‘privilege’ in certain Internet circles before,” and that “[a](and — despite this sort of thing being very much — I hadn’t previously come across this “a”) in 2014.

Point being, I do not see evidence of an epidemic of checking of Anne Frank’s privilege among young progressives today. And thank goodness.

The anecdote certainly evokes bigger issues across the ideological spectrum, from Sean Spicer’s odious “Hitler” gaffe, to anti-Semitism on college campuses, to the use of “privilege” rhetoric to dismiss tragedies. There’s absolutely a long and twisted history of “privilege” rhetoric (on the far-left and far-right alike) intersecting with anti-Semitism, enough so that Starbucks guy’s views fit into a context of sorts. The question is whether they’re more a sign of a wider issue on the left, or of a broader culture of historical ignorance that lends itself, all too easily, to anti-Semitism.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. She is the author of “The Perils Of ‘Privilege’”, from St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter, @tweetertation

An Easy Verdict: Anne Frank, Not ‘Privileged’

An Easy Verdict: Anne Frank, Not ‘Privileged’

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