[Feature] What The Royal Tutor Says About Privilege

Bruno turns in a paper to his tutor, Heine

Nobody can deny that Bruno is a very smart prince.

Out of all the exaggerated personalities showcased in The Royal Tutor, his is certainly the most intellectually inclined. He reads for fun, got a 100% on his tutor Heine’s exam, and of course he wears glasses, the all-purpose sign of an intelligent anime character.

But what makes Bruno special is his hyper-awareness of the invisible forces that have allowed him to devote so much time to the pursuit of knowledge.

Bruno's confident in his hard work

Bruno’s privilege comes into sharp focus in episode seven (“The Whereabouts of a Dream”), as the young prince takes the stage to present an academic speech at the local university. Bruno’s gone without sleep for days as he pored over books, tirelessly re-drafted his paper, and gave the assignment his very best effort. But in these moments before his presentation, Bruno’s demeanor isn’t self-congratulatory.

“If not for my title as the third prince, I would be an ordinary man, born with nothing,” he thinks.

Bruno checks his privilege

Bruno’s work ethic alone didn’t get him where he is, and Bruno knows it. Had he been born a genius peasant with twice the natural ability rather than a prince, this opportunity wouldn’t have been handed to him on a silver platter. (Take, for example, Heine, the Royal Tutor himself. While we know very little of his background by episode seven, we know that even though he’s brilliant enough to earn Bruno’s enthusiastic respect as a teacher, all the hard work in the world won’t elevate him above the position of grooming those who would be king.)

I know the feeling. A white woman with an upper-middle-class upbringing, I know I’ve had privileges other people have not. The biggest gift I have received from my parents was a blank slate—I graduated college, and then graduate school, with $0 in student loan debt. Beginning adulthood with $0 is hardly a comparison to being a prince, and a few decades ago wouldn’t have been anything to write home about. Now, in a time when student loans account for 10% of all household debt, it is a significant advantage.

Not being indebted to anyone has influenced the risky choices I have made in my work. Today I pursue a career I love as a freelance writer and small business owner—a career that has no safety net. A huge reason I’ve been able to succeed in my career is my own tenacity and grit. I worked hard to get where I am, pitching and getting rejected and getting back up. I am constantly launching projects, writing new pieces, and putting myself out there every day. But one thing I don’t like to think about is how my privilege helped me get here, because even if I do fail, the stakes still aren’t all that high for me. So what if I had a dry month early on and needed to dip into my savings? I still didn’t have to worry about avoiding a debt collector’s call.

This is the part where privileged people get a little sensitive, myself included. “It wasn’t just my privilege that got me here; it was my hard work!” Effort plays a big role, but there’s no such thing as a self-made person. So many people invisibly influence our accomplishments. Maybe our parents sent us to school or encouraged our after-school hobbies. Maybe the local library, funded by taxpayers, is where we discovered our love of learning. In Bruno’s case, it’s certainly a princely allowance that has given him license to purchase every academic text he wants.

I sometimes hesitate to say that the success I’ve had as a writer is something anybody can emulate, even if they work as hard as I have. I started at square zero, not at square negative four, and I realize that. Bruno has a similar realization, that even though he had to climb the ladder of academic knowledge the same as any other scholar, privilege means he’s essentially started at a higher rung than most:

Bruno takes the stage

“That is why I must expend tens of times more effort than others, or I will never become someone special enough to inspire others,” Bruno says.

Bruno wants to inspire others

Privileged people often feel guilt for their success, which helps nobody. That’s why Bruno’s line above is an inspiration. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have resources to help you succeed, don’t get defensive about it—use it as a motivator to help yourself, and others.

Privilege isn’t fair. Bruno’s opportunities come from nothing more than an accident of birth. What’s impressive about Bruno is that, while privilege is often invisible to people who have it, it’s something that Bruno is continuously examining. What’s more, it’s something that is overtly visible to the people around him. That’s the thing about privilege—if you have it, you can ignore it; if you don’t have it, you can detect it in the way privileged people talk about their “own” success.

What Bruno learns in this episode is that his position as prince may be coincidental, but it doesn’t mean his wisdom is. “The content was excellent,” Bruno’s scholar hero tells him of the speech, “but I think the standing ovation also came from the audience seeing how wise you are for a royal. They might expect more from you than you think.”

Dr. Dmitri compliments Bruno's wisdom

There are high hopes for Bruno

Yes, Bruno is a royal with opportunities like no other. But because his audience is sharply aware of that privilege, they may expect greater things from him than they would from a poor genius. Bruno better be smart, because if he works hard he’s in a position to help a lot of people. His subjects know that his intelligence and effort and privilege combined give him a great advantage. Bruno is able to succeed, with the audience’s blessing, because he knows that, too.

To bring this back down to earth, very few of us have the kind of privilege a prince has, but many of us can acknowledge that we have some advantages that we did nothing to earn. We could all stand to be a little more like Bruno—aware that even if it isn’t solely our own efforts that got us where we are today, it’s still worth it to work hard in spite of that.

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  • alecksis

    The Royal Tutor is such a delight so far. <3 Thank you for this post!

  • Rory More

    Middle class white guy signing in XD I honestly don’t think I’m far enough in life to have felt the effects of that but I do know that I had the astounding joy of growing up with a family who cared about me dearly and earnestly supported me no matter what path I chose to venture down. Personally, I think that’s my greatest privilege

    • Caitlin

      You are absolutely correct that a stable, supportive family is a huge source of privilege, but not exactly in the way that you meant (though it is also the way you meant, I have no doubt).

      You have felt the effects of privilege in your life; you just probably haven’t been aware of them. That’s the sneaky thing about privilege: unless you put in a lot of effort to be conscious of it, it’s easy to take the advantages you get from it for granted. Being white, male, middle-class, and having a loving family aren’t things you earned, but they give you a leg up over people who are different, and it starts so early that if you’re breathing, you’ve felt and are still feeling the effects of it. Being white and male makes it easier for you to find a job and less likely to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence, as well as being taken more seriously in general; being middle class means greater access to resources than low-income families; and having a loving family puts you at a lower risk of mental and physical health problems than abuse victims, and gives you a safety net that allows you to experiment and take risks.

      None of this makes you any more or less virtuous than people who lack these privileges. However, it is important to be aware of your privilege and how it has affected your life, and to listen and learn from people with different backgrounds so that you can do your best to try to support people who lack these advantages.

      • Rory More

        Undoubtably, I will receive many boons because of these traits in my life to come. I actually find the job one very funny because at my age women tend to get jobs much easier! I know once you go corporate this changes but I’ve been turned down for many minimum wage jobs when a girl had applied and only got one eventually when enough spaces opened up and all the girls that applied could be hired with room to spare. I know anecdote isn’t evidence but the first two were coincidences but the next 6 I would argue weren’t. I know this changes later but I’m planning to be self employed anyway so I’ve handed that one away XD

        I go nightrunning so I most certainly feel the advantages of being male there. I wouldn’t dare risk it if I was a woman and the fact that that’s reasonable thinking makes me very sad

        However, once you’ve met me, I’m sure you’d be able to agree that I’m very hard to take seriously, regardless of my sex or gender identity XD

        It is something I do like to consider though. Staying humble and recognising that us as individuals are merely parts of other people that have helped us in our lives really puts certain things in perspective. I have a knowledge of Psychology because my family gave it to me, I have a knowledge on gender issues because my friends share theirs with me, I have a limited knowledge of calculus because my math teacher put in an incredible amount of effort, beyond her role, to help me through class and all of these things have helped shaped me and the desicions I’ve made, even the unconscious biases I’ve developed that I am not aware of (by their very nature) so I do feel very privelaged to have made the concections that I did 🙂

        • I have absolutely seen women be given jobs instead of men – always low paying jobs with a limited career path, and because the person hiring had certain ideas about what they wanted their new employee to look and act like. Being hired because your new boss wants to think sexually about you, or because they assume you will be more subservient than a male employee isn’t a sign of privilege.

          You say anecdotes aren’t evidence, but it’s more that individual experiences are not ever going to disprove the fact that privilege is a society-wide issue. ALL men have male privilege, even the ones who do not have white privilege, cis privilege, class privilege, etc. Recognising that no man is exempt (just as I personally am not exempt from straight privilege or able-bodied privilege despite lacking male privilege and white privilege) is a really fundamental part of intersectional feminism. Even if you aren’t aware of its positive impacts on your life, you do experience them.

          • Rory More

            Oh I never implied it was, simply that I think its almost amusing in a morbid kinda way that the very same thing that I know is bound to help me later in life was the very same thing stopping me now. Like the whole “You’re too experienced for this position” issue. Since I’ve now got a couple references under my belt that is probably behind me. Unfortunately, probably not so for many of the girls who beat me for the other jobs I applied for….

            Again, if I thought that, I don’t think i’d be a very good patron XD

            A serious question though, what do you think the effects of male privilege are like for those who aren’t cis? Saying that people recognise (if not respect and support) their identity?

          • From what I’ve read, it seems that trans men who ‘pass’, i.e. are perceived as cis men by those around them, notice the stark difference between how they were treated before and after. This is one example, but I’ve read several pieces like this over the years: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/male-privilege-trans-men/

            However, the experience of trans women before they transitioned is another story, as trans women are often punished for feminine behaviours as children and forced – often through abusive experiences from parents or peers and at the cost of their mental health – to learn conformity to the appropriate level of masculinity to afford them the full ‘male privilege’ package. From the same site as the link above: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/trans-women-male-privilege/

            Celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made some ill-advised comments on trans women recently and many trans women wrote responses, so if you google this you’ll find plenty of input from trans women themselves, always preferable! I hope this gives you a good starting point though.

          • Rory More

            Thanks for the awesome response! Might give it a look later today but I’m not sure it’s late enough in the day here for me to lose my faith in humanity just yet

            Have a splendid day and keep up the awesome work!

  • This is awesome, thank you for skillfully weaving this story. Hopefully it provides people with the awareness and catharsis that Philip Guo’s essay on silent tech privilege gave me (http://pgbovine.net/tech-privilege.htm).