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What Was Thinking?

May 12, 2014 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Readers want to know: Why did post Tal Fortgang’s article, “Checking My Privilege”?

Many readers were flabbergasted that posted Tal Fortgang’s article “Checking My Privilege.” The article generated a flood of comments and debate. While some readers agreed with the brunt of the article (including some African-American readers), many readers took offense at the Princeton student’s apparent lack of empathy, vehemently disagreeing with his position.

And some asked “What was thinking?” Others said that we should avoid controversial pieces and just stick to the inspirational articles that we’re very proficient at. Are we posting inflammatory articles just for the sake of controversy?

Well, here’s what we were thinking. A dedicated supporter of the site sent me a link to the article days before the piece went viral and was posted on Time magazine. Tal was not yet the whipping boy in one article after another on various websites.

The primary message I got from the article was: We should all be judged as individuals. "Reverse discrimination" and labeling of any kind is shallow and hurtful. We don’t really know anyone’s back story. And I appreciated the Jewish angle and connection to the Holocaust. I did not think he was denying the disadvantages minorities have; he was expressing his resentment of being unfairly labeled as well.

It was an interesting take on prejudice that I thought was thought-provoking, and would serve as an effective launching point for discussion. Could Tal have done a better job at showing more sensitivity and giving a more nuanced argument? Yes, but chalk that up to youth (he’s only a freshman) and readers will appreciate his primary point that we should not discriminate against anyone, including white males.

Out of Hand

The Internet, unfortunately, has generated two serious drawbacks that I think are to some extent at play here. The first is that we don’t read as carefully as we used to; we quickly scan a piece instead and get just a superficial read of the article. As Nicholas Carr has argued, “Google is making us stupid.” We are forgetting how to slow down and read carefully. Our attention spans are in decline, as any teacher will tell you.

I wonder how many readers, before dismissing the piece out of hand, actually understood the main point that Tal Fortgang was trying to make. (This also helps to explain how readers could think that was defending Donald Sterling’s racist rant by posting Jeff Jacoby’s article which clearly denounced it.)

The second issue to be aware of is that the Internet creates what Eli Pariser calls a “filter bubble,” where we stay inside a constricted universe of information that conforms to our previously held views. Search engines filter information, giving us results based on our Internet habits that offer content we are more likely to agree with. We stay inside our insular group of Facebook friends and are rarely exposed to contrary positions that force us to think. (Click here to watch Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk where he explains this phenomenon in more detail.)

Readers may disagree with Tal Fortgang; you don’t have to agree with every article on We think it’s productive to post thought-provoking articles that spark a discussion. We don’t only post inspirational stories on Our mandate is to encourage people to think about important issues of the day affecting Jews, Judaism and Israel. And many issues are not cut and dry; there is room for debate.

And yes, we'd be willing to post a rebuttal to Tal’s article.

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