Privilege checking is a public shaming ritual that accomplishes rather little other than emotional damage for the victim and smug self-congratulation for the perpetrator. It mistakes the intersectionalist mantra for theoretical insight, empirical accuracy, and political efficacy.
The genealogy of privilege checking stretches back to the early 1970s. The model was established first within “second wave feminism,” when radical (lesbian) feminists challenged the political commitment of their cultural (straight) feminist comrades who continued to love men. By the late 70s and early 80s, it had become the modus operandi of “third wave” feminism in the USA. Books by bell hooks from that era could serve as primers on how to privilege check.
Intersectionality was au courant 20 years ago, the era of pitched skirmishes over identity and resistance to postmodernism, when the politics of theory was substituted for a theory of politics. Today, only extremely late adopters trot it out as a cudgel. Around this idea an academic church of sorts has formed, whose adherents, operating much like orthodox Lacanian disciples, are enthralled by a catechism. They mostly speak to each other, policing errors, reaffirming the faith, rarely venturing outside their beloved community. This is why a simple question can set off a fierce counter-attack: the adherents experience it like a sharp slap in the face. It is as if the intersectionalists suddenly realize there’s a reality outside their idea that doesn’t receive it as an article of faith. The shock of this negative epiphany can be met only by a swift over-reaction.