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The Horrors of Having to Think Differently

The headline at The College Fix is quite dramatic:  STUDENTS TOLD TO DISAVOW ‘AMERICAN-NESS, MALENESS, WHITENESS, HETEROSEXUALITY’

The first paragraph elaborates thusly:

A political science professor at Butler University asks students to disregard their “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status” when writing and speaking in the classroom – a practice the school’s arts and sciences dean defended as a way to negate students’ inherent prejudices.

Ann Althouse rightly notes, however:

Disregard? The headline said “disavow.” There’s a big difference between disavowing something and disregarding it.  But “disregard” isn’t even the teacher’s word. What is the teacher’s word? I’m guessing, from reading this far, that the teacher would like students to become aware that their attitudes and opinions come from their own perspective and to enlarge their field of vision.

Indeed, the story goes

The syllabus of the class, called Political Science 201: Research and Analysis, goes on to ask students “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.” It is taught by a black, female professor.

So, from “disavow” to “disregard” to “write and speak in a way that does not assume” the listed items are the norm.  So, while there is quite a freak-out going on on several blogs at the moment,* let’s take a deep breath and think this through.

I would note, that I am an American heterosexual white male of middle-class status, so I am of the demographic allegedly under “attack” here.  However, let’s consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, all of those are categories of power/privilege and that, perhaps, if one wants to actually understand the world one has to accept that they are categories of power/privilege and that understanding requires being able to step outside thinking from the perspective that assumes everyone comes from that same position.

And before there is some massive overreaction to the power notion, as many white males can note that they, themselves, don’t feel all that powerful, there is no debating the fact that as a historical class that white heterosexual men from the United States have been a privileged class.

Take a simple example:  voting.   Setting aside the sexual orientation and nationality variables for the moment, it is worth pointing out that white men with income never had to fight for the right to vote in the United States.  There was never need to amend the constitution, pass laws, or win lawsuits for that class of person to vote.  No movements were necessary.  No protests had to be called.  As such, it might be useful, to take a contemporary example, to look beyond one’s own experiences when considering why it might be that some citizens find various attempts at voter id rules or curtailment of early voting to be problematic.  If one comes from a class that never had to fight for voting rights as well as coming from a background in which having a driver’s license (as well as to an automobile) is common, then it is quite easy to puzzle over why some people object to these rules.

If one is a heterosexual, one never had to grow up worrying about social acceptance for one’s sexual preferences—indeed, the culture confirmed and encouraged it.  A heterosexual’s basic identity is never questioned, not by the law nor the culture.  Heterosexuals never have to worry about their access to choosing a spouse being the subject of a public vote, for example.

Or, put another way:  if one assumes that every single human being experiences the world from the perspective of the white heterosexual American male, then one is likely not to understand things like the significance of the civil rights era, of DOMA, of the difficulties of political development, of the politics of contraception, of role and impact of a host of social polices, of the implications of US foreign policy, etc. (indeed, it is a far longer list than this).

There are at least two common clichés that can used here:

1.  Where you sit is where you stand.

2.   Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

These are not controversial concepts (they are the kind of thing one’s grandma’s says), and indeed, true learning requires being able to see other viewpoints.  If one stubbornly insists that the experiences of all are identical to those of American heterosexual white males from the middle class, then one is wearing blinders.

As such, the freak-out here is ridiculous.

Back to Althouse:

It’s easy to point at the probable and amusing irony: He read the syllabus from the perspective of a white, middle-class, heterosexual, American male. Maybe he’d benefit from experimenting with reading it from different perspectives. The teacher said do not assume and he assumed a lot (as far as I can tell).

Indeed.  (Althouse has some criticism of the prof as well, which you can read at the her site).

One of the things I find telling about the reaction that this syllabus has created for some:  it speaks of a deep insecurity that makes no sense (and, ironically, underscores a profound lack of self-awareness).  This is no doubt that to be American, white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class are positions, as noted above, of power.  Persons in position of power ought to be able to step outside their self-perception with a great deal of safety.  If the heterosexual actually going to lose, say, his right to a heterosexual marriage if he manages to think from the perspective of a homosexual?  Will his bank account be drained if he considers that maybe not everyone grows up with an adequate amount of income and material well-being?  The list goes on, and a serious consideration of said list should underscore how absurd over-reaction to this course actually is.

In summation:  it is historically the case that American, white, heterosexual males have been a privileged category (even if members of that group do not always feel like this has been the case).  One cannot understand the world if one never learns that not everyone experiences the world from the perspective of that group.  This should not be controversial (and members of that group need to stop being insecure).

*It would seems a lot of those freaking out didn’t really read past the headline, to be honest.  My fav is a reader e-mail quoted on InstaPundit:  ”That is the scariest story I have ever read.”

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I’d say “faux controversy of the day” … but I suspect that’s too French.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    I concur with the post. I do have an unrelated concern about the exercise: I’m not sure what it has to do with a sophomore level political science research methods class. What social science methodological techniques assume gender, sexual orientation, or the social class of the researcher?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

  3. Mikey says:

    If there’s anything about the modern age that’s really starting to grate on me, it’s the way so many people instantly infer things that are simply not present in what was actually said or written, and then become enraged over those inferences. A professor says “try to write from a perspective you don’t usually have” becomes “DISAVOW YOUR STRAIGHT MALE WHITENESS!”

    Seriously, it’s really starting to get old.

    Steven is entirely correct when he says the professor’s request is hardly different from “if you want to understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” We could all benefit from trying to view the world without the “filters” we’ve constructed based on our background.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 3

  4. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    What social science methodological techniques assume gender, sexual orientation, or the social class of the researcher?

    She might have experience with students making argument with an implied “we.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  5. george says:

    And before there is some massive overreaction to the power notion, as many white males can note that they, themselves, don’t feel all that powerful, there is no debating the fact that as a historical class that white heterosexual men from the United States have been a privileged class.

    I think the problem with that, and the teacher’s comment, is that it disregards financial distinctions. A poor white male really isn’t privileged compared to a rich white female, or even compared to a rich, black female. Is Oprah really in a worse situation than an unemployed, poor white male?

    If consciousness was group (ie if every white male shared the sensation everytime Bill Gates had a bite of some excellent meal, or the rush from exercising financial power), then the case would be much stronger. But that simply isn’t the case.

    I’d argue that just about everyone in that prof’s class had a middle class or higher background, and that prof would have done better to ask them to try to put that aside in their thinking.

    Statistics are great when looking at whole categories, but don’t mean much in individual cases. That a higher percentage of white males come from a privileged position than other groups is, on the individual level, about as meaningful as knowing that a higher percentage of steel bolts will hold than iron bolts, when the bridge you’re driving over is collapsing because that steel bolt happens to be an outlyier and failed.

    Does affirmative action make sense? Yes. Should it be restricted to race or gender lines? No, it should be expanded to financial categories (and perhaps restricted to those), at least until consciousness transcends individual brains.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  6. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not sure what it has to do with a sophomore level political science research methods class. What social science methodological techniques assume gender, sexual orientation, or the social class of the researcher?

    Even in quantitative methodologies, those issues can enter in at least four locations: (1) construction of thesis, (2) selection of subjects, (3) creation of questions — if this is a survey, (4) analysis/commentary on results.

    If you are conducting a qualitative study — which seems less likely in terms of Poli Sci — then they can be found in all stages of research.

    It seems to me that part of the exercise is to help the students understand their own positional in the process of creating knowledge. In other words, even in the hard sciences, there are certain subjective elements that are difficult to escape. The goal is to acknowledge those elements and control them rather than pretending they don’t exist.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  7. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    This happened either of two ways:

    - someone had a hot button and went off when news loosely matched

    - someone cynically used an article “close enough” for a new meme

    See also Mitt Romney and the Cairo memo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    You actually couldn’t script this sort of thing for a SNL-style conservative parody of a spaced out and completely useless liberal arts class. When I first started reading the underlying article I presumed someone had been played by an Onion-type satire, but, no, it’s real. Wow.

    In any event, a few points are worth noting:

    It’s not entirely coincidental that the unemployment rate for the 18-25 year-old demographic nearly is at Grapes of Wrath levels. These kids to a significant extent are going off to liberal colleges and universities, entering useless liberal arts programs, and are being taught, so to speak, by professors who are so loopy they’d need a map and a GPS system to find reality. And, lo and behold, Gen. Y to a large extent is unemployable, will be living at home with their parents well into their 30′s, if not beyond, and barring a large inheritance or a fluke they’ll have no chance in hell to be independent, much less to be successful. Causes and effects.

    The Feds need to get out of the student loan game. Pronto. It’s bad enough that state tax dollars directly or indirectly are subsidizing these sort of idiotic programs. That federal taxpayers are subsidizing this flotsam & jetsam simply is beyond the pale. If Butler wants to grift their students and the latter’s parents with these sorts of nonsense programs then Butler should finance them out of its own endowment monies. And if parents want their kids to end up on food stamps and living in squalor then they can pay for this sort of “education” out of their own pockets.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 40

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    Is Oprah really in a worse situation than an unemployed, poor white male?

    Depends. Is she trying to hail a cab?

    A poor white male really isn’t privileged compared to a rich white female, or even compared to a rich, black female.

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends. Two people submit an otherwise identical resume, except that one resume is submitted by poor white man William Jefferson, and the other is submitted by rich black woman Shani’qa Jefferson. Guess which one is most likely to be invited in for an interview?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 5

  10. mattb says:

    @george:
    I would like to believe that the instructor would also work to include the issue of class in these discussions. Remember that this is an excerpt from a syllabus (which we don’t have access to). Especially in a lower level class a responsible instructor would not just dump that paragraph in there an never address it lecture or discussion. If anything, I suspect that this would be a topic that would be covered in several classes.

    To your larger point, we as Americans are far more comfortable talking about Gender and Race than we are about Class. And given the reaction that this has already generated, it’s clear we’re not particularly comfortable talking about Gender or Race. The fact is, any mention of “class” within a syllabus like this would be immediately pegged as “Marxism” and cause most introductory students to shut down. For that reason alone, I can totally understand why it would not be mentioned in the syllabus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    someone had a hot button and went off when news loosely matched. someone cynically used an article “close enough” for a new meme

    I cannot think who at OTB that reminds me of.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Or, put another way: if one assumes that every single human being experiences the world from the perspective of the white heterosexual American male, then one is likely not to understand things like the significance of the civil rights era, of DOMA, of the difficulties of political development, of the politics of contraception, of role and impact of a host of social polices, of the implications of US foreign policy, etc. (indeed, it is a far longer list than this).

    Or, put another way: if one assumes that every single human being experiences the world from the perspective of the white heterosexual American male, then one is likely not to understand things like rape, lynchings, random beatings by homophobes, the last minutes of Matthew Shepard’s life, the last moments of Emmitt Till’s life, the last moments of Trayvon Martin’s life… etc

    Fixed that for you, Steven.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 2

  13. george says:

    @mattb:

    The fact is, any mention of “class” within a syllabus like this would be immediately pegged as “Marxism” and cause most introductory students to shut down. For that reason alone, I can totally understand why it would not be mentioned in the syllabus.

    That’s a good point which hadn’t occured to me – been living in the frozen north too long I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  14. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    someone had a hot button and went off when news loosely matched

    Which, unfortunately, happens about a million times a day.

    But what I’m talking about goes even deeper. It seems (to me, anyway) that people today do far more inference-drawing than they do actual reading and understanding. Instant reactions replace even the most basic thought. Rather than analyzing what someone has actually said, we paint it with all sorts of unsupported assumptions based on the perceived appearance and/or political alignment of the speaker. Black female professor + request to write from a different perspective = “ZOMG A BLACK LIBERAL IS TELLING WHITE PEOPLE TO HATE THEMSELVES!!!”

    As I said…it’s really starting to get old.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  15. george says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Depends. Is she trying to hail a cab?

    She can buy the cab or the company, and many poor white males couldn’t afford to hail a cab in the first place (and the cab wouldn’t pick them up if they could, because of how they were dressed – there’s a definite look to someone living on the street).

    The problem isn’t in comparing two middle class individuals, one a white male the other a black female – the white male is obviously more privileged in that comparison.

    The problem is in the universality of the exercise: “All white males are privileged, no black females are.” Its simply wrong, because it ignores class distinctions. Though as mattb pointed out, that might just be because its dangerous to talk about Class in American classrooms because of the spector of Marxism – not that you have to be a Marxist (I’m definitely not) to be aware of the obvious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 13

  16. mattb says:

    @george:

    That’s a good point which hadn’t occured to me – been living in the frozen north too long I guess.

    Even at a tier 1 school, I’ve found that topics like feminism or Marx need to be gently introduced because students — especially while males (sorry to say) — come in with already fixed understandings (or rather biased beliefs) about these topics. Unfortunately, there are a number of older profs who don’t understand this… its always fun to TA for them.

    It’s especially fun when it’s clear that you’ve got a student who was raised on right wing radio. Though, on the other hand, overly “liberal” kids can be equally as bad, just in a different way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    I, too, agree with the post. I can’t help but think that the professor’s instruction was analogous to the direction to assume you’re an apple. However hard you may try or think you can do it you can’t do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @george:

    A poor white male really isn’t privileged compared to a rich white female, or even compared to a rich, black female. Is Oprah really in a worse situation than an unemployed, poor white male?

    Just want to point out something George: All else being equal, how many poor white males are there who want to black? He might not be more privileged than a lot of people, but he feels like he is more privileged than the poor black male.

    And he is right.

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  19. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    It’s not entirely coincidental that the unemployment rate for the 18-25 year-old demographic nearly is at Grapes of Wrath levels.

    No, but it is entirely nonsense.

    Unemployment rate for the 20-24 years age group as of October 2012 is 12.7%. It is a bit higher for the 18-19 group, but that is to be expected. The rate for the 25-29 group is 8.8%.

    The unemployment rate peak during the Great Depression was about 25%, double the rate for 20-24 year olds.

    As usual, you are talking out of your ass. The rest of your post is a nonsense rant that makes clear you think college is for idiots despite the fact that you have no understanding of what happens there beyond the nonsense you get from other anti-education wingnuts.

    I went to a school you would surely categorize as a “liberal college” (i.e. not a fundamentalist Christian college) and got a liberal arts undergraduate degree (completed eight years ago). I’ve been gainfully employed ever since, and am doing quite well, and it’s not because of a fluke or inheritance. It’s because of hard work and good education (and maybe a little luck with timely opportunities). Oh, and I used federal student loan money to pay for it, and I’ve already paid it all back.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 3

  20. mattb says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I can’t help but think that the professor’s instruction was analogous to the direction to assume you’re an apple. However hard you may try or think you can do it you can’t do it.

    Right… but the point of the exercise is in part to understand that “you can’t do it” — at least not completely.

    To the point I made above, the problem with overly “liberal” students is their belief that they can, completely, take the position of “the other.” This tends to feed into the entire “white man as a better native than the natives” trope (recently recycled on the big screen in “Avatar” or in the recent Kony campaign).

    Part of the goal of (academic) Feminism is to get one to accept and responsibly embrace their positionally and it’s limits, not to deny it or pretend that you can fully transcend it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  21. michael reynolds says:

    Thank God Mitt Romney never learned to think as anything other than a white male. He might have won.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 3

  22. mantis says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Thank God Mitt Romney never learned to think as anything other than a white male. He might have won.

    Heh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  23. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    … because everybody knows professors got liberal in 2008.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @george: I’m not too sympathetic to white males whining about how they have it So Bad If They’re Poor. Read history and you will discover that the discrimination against females and those of different races/ethnic groups has been much greater than against those that are poor. At least if you were white and male they would let you into the hallway. If you were female or black, you would get the door slammed in your face from the beginning. And being poor is something that is changeable–sex and race is not.

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  25. george says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Just want to point out something George: All else being equal, how many poor white males are there who want to black? He might not be more privileged than a lot of people, but he feels like he is more privileged than the poor black male.

    And he is right.

    Absolutely, gender and race are definitely huge elements in the privilege sweepstakes. Its just that they’re not all inclusive – class distinctions play as large a role. If you asked say Bill Gates if he’d rather be a poor white male or a rich black male, I suspect he’d take the rich black male.

    And if you asked your average poor white male if he’d not rather be say Lebron James, I suspect most would accept that change in a heartbeat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  26. C. Clavin says:

    Tsar proves the point of the post…again.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  27. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    This is the year of “tl;dr

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. george says:

    @grumpy realist:

    If you were female or black, you would get the door slammed in your face from the beginning. And being poor is something that is changeable–sex and race is not.

    So you figure Queen Victoria had less opportunities at birth than your average London male street urchin?

    The point being not that males had it as bad (your average London female street urchin had it worse than your average London male street urchin), but that its not universal. Some white males had it worse than some white or black or whatever females. Because class distinctions can be very real, though Americans like to pretend that its a non-issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

  29. john personna says:

    lol, google trend, “tl;dr”

    I guess last year was the year, and I am late to the popular culture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. mattb says:

    @grumpy realist:

    At least if you were white and male they would let you into the hallway. If you were female or black, you would get the door slammed in your face from the beginning. And being poor is something that is changeable–sex and race is not.

    These arguments all depend on *where* and *when* we are talking about.

    The idea of upward economic mobility is a largely western, enlightenment concept. Likewise “race” as specifically skin color (versus blood or other marker). Hell even something as seemingly fixed as gender can be pretty mutable in certain cultures.

    The broader point is that “privilege” and “power” (I’m using these as social science terms) are constructed and understood through a variety of markers. Many are innate. Some are changeable, other are not. The specific weighting of each of those markers is very much dependent on the specific socio-cultural moment/location.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  31. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. If we want to really freak out the wingnuts, I’d like to point out that a very standard piece of esoteric (occult) training is to write down a set of “opposing” traits (vegetarian/meat-eater, prolife/prochoice, extrovert/introvert, likes classical music/likes punk rock, etc.), go down the list flipping a coin to pick one trait from each set, then act and live that character for the next week. Next week, flip a coin to get another random assortment and carry out the role-playing again. Standard way to learn exactly how much of one’s identity/ego is tied up in habits we may have never thought about….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @george: While class distinctions can be very real, you need to note that the Syllabus in question refers to “middle-class” status.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  33. JKB says:

    Well, Butler University must be a very bad school on the diversity scale.

    Otherwise, why could the professor assume that her students would be all American male, white, middle-class and heterosexual?

    Or were any token diversity students exempt from thinking differently, considering the life-experience of others and stepping outside their own experiences?

    So we see from this syllabus that Butler university believes American, white, middle-class, heterosexual males need to think differently but those others are a-ok maintaining their insular viewpoints. Not even to the point of trying to imagine the American, white, middle-class, heterosexual male perspective. The perspective repeatedly emphasized here as being the dominant power and responsible for most of this American experiment. Perhaps to see what traits beyond the inalterable ones that might have guided the creators of this world.

    True the author of the article jumped to some conclusions but by ignoring what is missing in the instruction, so are others.

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  34. Sarah Wells says:

    Equating a homosexual relationship with a heterosexual one, in terms of importance to the rest of us – is impossible without altering the very definition and point and purpose of marriage. He WILL be prevented from marrying -as marriage has been.

    His marriage will lose MEANING and its appropriate privilege (to encourage its point and purpose, which is not to secure love, but to contain what happens naturally between men and women as a result of sexual union, and the many potential effects upon all members of society.)

    Whatever power does “whiteness” confer today? Really, what is this supposed difference? Do we hear music differently? Feel differently? Have some vast differences in interests and intellect? Are you serious?

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  35. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    If Butler is like the Ivy League, they are propping up a white majority:

    The Myth of American Meritocracy

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Mortimer says:

    @mantis: Thanks for this, Mantis. As someone who teaches at one of these gosh-darned schools, I’ll go even further – local employers have *asked* us to increase our cultural awareness training because our grads had difficulty being interviewed by those who they did not consider to be authority figures, i.e., white older heterosexual males. In a changing economy, this professor might well be helping make her students *more** employable.

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  37. mattb says:

    @Sarah Wells:

    Whatever power does “whiteness” confer today? Really, what is this supposed difference? Do we hear music differently? Feel differently? Have some vast differences in interests and intellect? Are you serious?

    The ultimate privilege of “whiteness” is to unquestioningly assert that “whiteness” confers no privilege.

    This, btw, is true of all form of unmarked privilege that have been discussed on this thread so far.

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  38. William says:

    @Rafer Janders: “Two people submit an otherwise identical resume, except that one resume is submitted by poor white man William Jefferson, and the other is submitted by rich black woman Shani’qa Jefferson. Guess which one is most likely to be invited in for an interview?”

    I know this is the case pf resumes that are equal in content. But the typical poor person is so due to long term disadvantages. Most likely, the qualifications would be lopsided on these resumes. Is there any research into the impact of race on such lopsided submissions?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  39. michael reynolds says:

    @Sarah Wells:

    If you really want to understand the power of whiteness ask a non-white person if they think it’s real.

    Your comment makes the point that people do need to learn to think differently. Maybe you should try it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  40. Gustopher says:

    I hope the professor exempts Republicans from this. Republicans are so good at understanding the downtrodden and persecuted that they have actually come to believe that they are downtrodden and persecuted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  41. mantis says:

    @JKB:

    Well, Butler University must be a very bad school on the diversity scale.

    Otherwise, why could the professor assume that her students would be all American male, white, middle-class and heterosexual?

    They aren’t terribly diverse. The undergraduate population at Butler is more than 82% white. Women are about 59% of the undergrad population, though. In any case, it would probably be safe for that instructor to assume that most of her students would be white. Schools don’t report things like class and sexual orientation in their data sets.

    Or were any token diversity students exempt from thinking differently, considering the life-experience of others and stepping outside their own experiences?

    Female black students are surely already accustomed to dealing with the fact that their experience is not the norm in such situations.

    So we see from this syllabus that Butler university believes American, white, middle-class, heterosexual males need to think differently

    Wrong. They are encouraged to not assume that their experience is the norm. It’s useful and valuable to do so for everyone, but especially if you are in the majority.

    but those others are a-ok maintaining their insular viewpoints.

    Why do you assume their viewpoints are insular?

    Not even to the point of trying to imagine the American, white, middle-class, heterosexual male perspective.

    The point is they have had to do that their whole lives since that is the dominant culture.

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  42. grumpy realist says:

    @Sarah Wells: You’re far less likely to get pulled over by a policeman when you’re driving. You are less likely to be followed around in a store by a store detective. People don’t cross to the other side of the street when they see you.

    You might want to listen (carefully) to the complaints that different-complexioned Americans have about their treatment by authority and the rest of US society before stating so arrogantly that “whiteness has no privileges.”

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  43. Coop says:

    I wasn’t offended in anyway, and take no issue with the teacher’s exercise.

    But I do question its pedagogical effectiveness. What does “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality” have anything to do with understanding? You’d think professors would want to encourage students to think clearly and logically about arguments, not reinforce people’s identities (either consciously or subconsciously). The exercise seems more likely to interfere with understanding rather than facilitate it.

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  44. Mikey says:

    @george:

    She can buy the cab or the company

    Does the cabbie know that?

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  45. Rob in CT says:

    The simpler version of this is “don’t assume your experience is the norm.”

    This actually takes effort.

    And then, as mattb points out well, you can fall victim to assuming you’re really good at it (and pat yourself on the back, and fail to listen)!

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  46. george says:

    @Sarah Wells:

    Whatever power does “whiteness” confer today? Really, what is this supposed difference? Do we hear music differently? Feel differently? Have some vast differences in interests and intellect? Are you serious?

    It changes the way you’re accepted by others, often quite radically, and in by far the majority of cases, to the positive.

    My feeling is that the only argument is whether it is the only attribute which does so. Most would say no, gender does as well (again, being male tends to give more than being female). And everywhere but America, most would say financial status does as well – again, being rich getting much better opportunites than being poor. Even in terms of putting in resumes for jobs – the rich simply don’t do that. When they meet with companies, its with lawyers, and typically involves questions of buying those corporations rather than being hired by them.

    Which one is the strongest determinant depends upon circumstance, but I’d have guessed that anyone who’s spent any time in the world will find it hard to argue that all three don’t have huge influences on outcome – but that apparently isn’t the case, as on this topic we’ve have different people arguing that race, gender, and class don’t make a difference in opportunity.

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  47. mattb says:

    @Coop:

    What does “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality” have anything to do with understanding? You’d think professors would want to encourage students to think clearly and logically about arguments, not reinforce people’s identities (either consciously or subconsciously). The exercise seems more likely to interfere with understanding rather than facilitate it.

    Ok… one more time — everyone comes from specific cultural positions. And in order to think critically, you need to be able to examine and account for your own position.

    In the hard sciences this is thought of as controlling bias and the influence of the experimenter on the experiment.

    On the entire — American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality — this is a short hand for one’s position — hence the “ect.” in the sentence. As @mantis points out, there are more American, Straight, White Males at Butler than any demographic. So, for the interest of brevity in a syllabus, that becomes a stand in for a dominant way of thinking in the country.

    Additionally, all of these understandings and perspectives — American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality — can be held by people regardless of GENDER, RACE, NATIONALITY, or SEXUALITY.

    For example, if you are gay and consider gayness to be somehow inferior to straightness, you have taken, what’s calling in the biz, as a heteronormative point of view. Hell if you’re gay and you think that gay marriage can fundamentally never happen, you’ve adopted a heteronormative point of view.

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  48. mantis says:

    @Mortimer:

    I’ll go even further – local employers have *asked* us to increase our cultural awareness training because our grads had difficulty being interviewed by those who they did not consider to be authority figures, i.e., white older heterosexual males.

    Indeed. As an undergrad in one of those terrible liberal arts programs, I took a class taught by a person I imagine is very simliar to this Butler professor, and in much the same way she encouraged us to think outside of what is the “normal” perspective in terms of race, gender identification, class, etc. As a white, heterosexual, middle class male, I found the class rather enlightening and it has helped to inform how I interact with colleagues and judge certain situations. She was a great instructor and I still stop by to chat with her now and then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  49. Rob in CT says:

    “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.”

    Class is in there.

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  50. mattb says:

    @Coop:

    But I do question its pedagogical effectiveness.

    One more point in defense of its pedagogical effectiveness… we’re not even in the class, yet within the last few hours, this single sentence of the syllabus has become the basis for a in-depth discussion of privilege and these specific markers. Likewise, a good syllabus is designed to spark these types of discussions throughout the quarter/semester.

    So in my mind — provided the professor is committed to ongoing critical discussion in the class — this statement is doing exactly what it should from a pedagogical point of view.

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  51. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I wonder what was so significant about tl;dr in January 2011. Perhaps it corresponds with a lot of people getting on Reddit…

    Not surprising it is big in the U. S. and Canada, but it’s got a non-trivial level of interest in Scandinavia as well.

    As far as our national discourse, I’d expect some level of what Malcolm Gladwell calls “thin-slicing,” but it’s just getting excessive. People aren’t even taking the time to do the most basic stuff necessary to arrive at even an approximation of a reasoned judgment.

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  52. rudderpedals says:

    It seems to me the kid showed up and chickened out of a challenging class. He isn’t the first one to sign up for Chemistry and quickly drop it for Survey of Science, and he won’t be the last.

    The sad but unsurprising thing here is the kid’s lack of confidence and failure of imagination is supported by Althouse’s very special brand of fellatio in support of closed-mindedness. Here’s hoping the latter’s students have exposure to other attorneys who’ve represented real people, the kind the walk in the door needing help and where you don’t get to pick your own clients and facts.

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  53. gVOR08 says:

    If you click through to The College Fix you find an article by one Ryan Lovelace who rather quickly slips from one professor in Poly Sci 201 into constant indoctrination by the whole Liberal Arts college. He describes himself as a Journalism major who will avoid Liberal Arts classes in future.

    Journalism is an interesting choice, given his apparent lack of reading comprehension skills. I fear Mr. Lovelace is confirming one of my prejudices. One frequently sees evidence of lack of comprehension, but it’s amazing how often it seems to be the root of conservative errors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  54. george says:

    @Mikey:

    Does the cabbie know that?

    No, but her chauffer does. How often do billionaires take cabs? And again, poor white males often can’t flag a cab either – either because they simply can’t afford it (even in the socialist paradise of Canada a lot of folks can’t afford the $10-15 it takes to get a cab ride, something the poverty advocates point out when discussing why the unemployed poor often can’t get out to some job interviews in places where there is no public transport, though you’d think it’d be easy to afford cab rides on welfare of $570 a month – after all the appartment is only going to cost $400 of that, and its trivial to cover everything else on $170 a month – they’re probably riding around in cabs all the time).

    And many poor white males dress like what they are – street people – and cabs absolutely ignore them for a variety of reasons.

    And again, as bad as those poor white males have it, the poor natives have it much worse (not many blacks up here, and they tend to have it better than the natives, who because they originally owned the place, are treated way worse than anyone else). Yet still, the rich natives are better off than the poor white, and those I know would be insulted if you suggested that they’re worse off, despite being successful lawyers, doctors, or professors, than some white guy living on the street.

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  55. Mikey says:

    @mattb:

    Additionally, all of these understandings and perspectives — American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality — can be held by people regardless of GENDER, RACE, NATIONALITY, or SEXUALITY.

    Yes, indeed. For example, it’s not only white Americans who associate an increased level of positivity with whiteness in implicit association tests–black Americans do as well.

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  56. Coop says:

    @mattb:

    You seem to be conflating “being” and “thinking.” I don’t see how coming from a particular cultural position makes you think any less or more clearly about a particular argument. And I don’t see how being “American, white, male, etc.” is a “stand-in for a dominant way of thinking.”

    Further, the professor’s exercise was counter-productive to what she was trying to accomplish. For many students, she probably only reinforced the student’s “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, etc” by telling them to forget about it. If her goal was simply to teach them to think outside of their own situation, there are far more subtle, effective ways of doing so.

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  57. Rob in CT says:

    What’s funny about this is that nearly all of my… I dunno, let’s call it liberalization, on this topic came AFTER I graduated from my horrible, no-good liberal arts college. In fact, I think the diversity efforts there were clumsy and ineffectual. Sure, I ran into people with different backgrounds in college. But upon graduation (1998), my reaction to a “privilege” discussion would likely have been negative (though not the freak-out Steven is dicussing).

    In my case, I think the change in my thinking really got going when I started arguing with people online. In particular, I frequented a gaming website with an off-topic section. The commentariat was international (though still majority-American and certainly majority-Western). I ran *smack* into some different perspectives, and some unexamined bullshit I was carrying around. And that, in turn, led to consideration of some other things, discussions on other websites, and so forth. It wasn’t my professors wot done it.

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  58. mattb says:

    @Rob in CT:
    Not only is “class” in there but so is ” etc.”

    Which means that she is saying that students should try to account for and control any positionality that they bring to an assignment. I would hope and expect that a paper written from an unquestioned black power or vulgar Marxist point of view would be equally as unwelcome. And that’s typically been the case in my experience.

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  59. Mikey says:

    @george: I understand what you’re saying, but it kind of misses my point. A cabbie is much more likely to pass up a black person than they are a white person, and this is true regardless of any factors of class. Actor Danny Glover may not be as wealthy as Oprah, but he’s certainly not hurting in the wallet, and he ended up filing a complaint with the NYC cab commission because nobody would pick him up.

    What I’m getting at is the snap judgments that are made. Sure, a cabbie might not pick up a shabbily-dressed white guy, but he’s probably more likely to pick up a shabbily-dressed white guy than he is a well-dressed black guy.

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  60. Console says:

    @Coop:

    Most people, and particularly people in their late teens and early 20′s, don’t possess the experience or empathy to truly examine themselves. And in all reality up until that point in their lives have never even been asked to do so.

    Logic is good and all, but at a certain point you have to understand why you are making the arguments you are making, and why certain arguments appeal to you where others don’t. That takes quite a bit of self examination.

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  61. mantis says:

    Here’s Rick Warren giving us a perfect example of a person who simply cannot imagine anything other than his own experience, let alone act as if it isn’t the norm, with his comments on homosexuality:

    WARREN: Here’s what we know about life. I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. Sometimes I get angry and I feel like punching a guy in the nose. It doesn’t mean I act on it. Sometimes I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don’t act on it. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t make it right. Not everything natural is good for me. Arsenic is natural.

    If this guy were able to think in the way the Butler professor encourages, he would not compare homosexual orientation with violent aggression, adultery, or ingesting poison.

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  62. mantis says:

    @Console:

    Logic is good and all, but at a certain point you have to understand why you are making the arguments you are making, and why certain arguments appeal to you where others don’t. That takes quite a bit of self examination.

    This. Logic would be all we needed if we were all robots. Alas, we are humans, which are much more complicated machines.

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  63. mattb says:

    @Coop:

    I don’t see how coming from a particular cultural position makes you think any less or more clearly about a particular argument.

    It’s not coming from a particular cultural position that’s the problem — its not recognizing you come from a particular cultural position. And what happens if you don’t do that is you often become blind to things that you take as a matter of faith.

    For example, one of the problem that happened with feminism, historically, is that the leaders of the movement (who all happened to be middle and upper class white women) made the mistake of thinking that all females had the same point of view and interests. And that created problems because, while there are some uniting issues, other problems were different due to issues of race and class.

    And I don’t see how being “American, white, male, etc.” is a “stand-in for a dominant way of thinking.”

    No offense, but the very fact you just wrote this means that you really don’t understand what you are writing about. And I say that not so much as a dig, but rather as someone with a significant amount of teaching experience at the college level.

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  64. John D'Geek says:

    @mattb:

    Right… but the point of the exercise is in part to understand that “you can’t do it” — at least not completely.

    The point of the exercise should be to learn Critical Thinking.

    @Dr Taylor: My problem with your article is exactly that — learning to “think differently” is worthless, except as a step to creativity and critical thinking. I haven’t read the syllabus, so context is critical: did she only say “don’t assume rich, white, hetero”? Or was that used as an example to teach critical thinking? If it was the former, it’s nothing but bias (PC bias, but bias none-the-less).

    Those who can truly engage in critical thinking must be able to get out of their box — regardless of what their box looks like — and understand things from a wide variety of positions.

    “Not ‘dominant power X’*” is not good enough. It should not be acceptable to — nor defended by — any serious social scientist.

    *Coming soon, to a theatre near you …

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  65. Rick Almeida says:

    @john personna:

    I guess last year was the year, and I am late to the popular culture.

    Here’s your chance to get hip: this thread provides lots of examples of whitesplaining.

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  66. Rob in CT says:

    I suspect that the prof is just trying to make that sort of point, John. None of us are in the class, so I’ve no idea whether the prof did a good job of it.

    The freakout is about even trying.

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  67. mattb says:

    @John D’Geek:
    I think @Dr Talor and I both agree with you that the ultimate point is to learn Critical Thinking. Note that I did include the clause “is in part” in my rather poorly phrased sentence.

    Those who can truly engage in critical thinking must be able to get out of their box — regardless of what their box looks like — and understand things from a wide variety of positions.

    Correct. And the first stage of that is to understand that one is in a box to begin with. One of the problems that college professors face is that most students don’t recognize that they are in a box to begin with.

    This is especially true of those coming from a historically/culturally privileged position (and I speak as one of those people).

    Again, what we have been discussing is a single sentence from in a syllabus — a document that’s designed to be a brief skeleton framework for the class as a whole. The map is not the territory it describes.

    To try and draw assumptions about whether or not this clause is in there in the service of PC bias or Critical Thinking is impossible to do. And if the professor had included all of that nuance then the syllabus would be useless as a syllabus.

    Likewise, in an introductory or 200 level class, its difficult to talk about things as vague and specific (all at once) as Critical Thinking at the start of the class and expect the students to get it. Trust me, I have the scars to prove it.

    Now by the end of the class is an entirely different thing.

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  68. john personna says:

    @Rick Almeida:

    Yes, “this black woman’s attempt to describe non-biased thinking does not satisfy me, a white person.”

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  69. Coop says:

    @Console:

    Good point, Console. But I still think there are far more effective ways to get people to examine themselves than that.

    @mantis:

    That just makes me angry and want to punch Rick Warren in the face. I guess, that’s what it’s like to be gay.

    But seriously, I don’t think Rick Warren’s problem is that he didn’t have that professor tell him he needs to disregard his “American-ness, whiteness, maleness, etc.” Rick Warren’s problems run far, far deeper.

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  70. mantis says:

    In totally unrelated news:

    House GOP Committee Chairs Will All Be White Men In Next Congress

    There isn’t a single woman or minority included in the mix of 19 House committee chairs announced Tuesday — a stark reality for a party desperate to appeal to women and minorities after both groups overwhelmingly rejected Republicans just weeks ago in the presidential election.

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  71. mantis says:

    @Coop:

    But seriously, I don’t think Rick Warren’s problem is that he didn’t have that professor tell him he needs to disregard his “American-ness, whiteness, maleness, etc.” Rick Warren’s problems run far, far deeper.

    I agree Warren has many more problems, but it is clear he is not capable of recognizing that what he considers normal might not be everyone’s experience. And I think if he had learned to do so when he was younger, perhaps while in college(!), he might be less of a douche today. Maybe.

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  72. Ben says:

    @mattb:

    As @mantis points out, there are more American, Straight, White Males at Butler than any demographic. So, for the interest of brevity in a syllabus, that becomes a stand in for a dominant way of thinking in the country.

    Actually that is false. Butler is almost 60% female. So actually, there are more American Straight White Females at Butler than any demographic. And yet they decide to call out male-ness for some reason.

    I actually agree with most of you about the race and class privilege. Where I start to take issue is the idea that gender privilege is still an issue that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as race and class/economic strata.

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  73. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I guess I’m a little impressed that Althouse didn’t come right out and say that she didn’t like that professor’s tone.

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  74. David M says:

    Seems like a good time to link to Scalzi:

    In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is…..So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

    Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  75. Coop says:

    @mattb:

    its not recognizing you come from a particular cultural position.

    I question whether “recognizing you come from a particular cultural position” actually affects your ability to properly analyze the subject matter of a political science class. Maybe for a sociology class, but I struggle to see how it would matter for “Poli Sci 201: Research and Analysis.”

    And by telling them to disavow or disregard their “American-ness, whiteness, maleness,” etc, you could have some kids that end up embracing it even more, further clouding their judgment.

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  76. c.red says:

    I have to admit I made it halfway through the comments before I realized we were talking about Butler Univ Indianapolis. When that fact sunk in the whole thing made much more sense. Back in the 80s it was a step above a community college (and a small step at that), and was a place for people to go that couldn’t get in any of the four or five Universities above it in the state hierarchy. The students were pretty homogenic and from the few I knew not so interested in expanding their viewpoints much. Everyone may be overthinking this; an explicit warning in the syllabus may just be basic common sense and a way to warn off certain students from getting in the class.

    They may have improved since then – I know they have more national exposure from the basketball program, so I could be doing them a disservice by thinking this, but that was my impression once I realized the school we were talking about.

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  77. mattb says:

    @Ben:

    Butler is almost 60% female. So actually, there are more American Straight White Females at Butler than any demographic.

    Oops… my mistake. Sorry about that.

    Where I start to take issue is the idea that gender privilege is still an issue that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as race and class/economic strata.

    I think this is debatable. Or rather I think the notion that gender privilege has been so eliminated that it no longer debatable.

    Beyond that question, as I noted above, “Maleness” or “Gender” is not simply a state of being, it’s a constellation of beliefs. So its entirely possible for a woman to uncritically assume and articulate “maleness” or mainstream gender views (i.e. saying, uncritically, that men are inherently better at spacial/technical understanding and that women are better at emotive/feeling understanding).

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  78. Septimius says:

    Setting aside the sexual orientation and nationality variables for the moment, it is worth pointing out that white men with income never had to fight for the right to vote in the United States.

    Except for that little episode called the American Revolution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  79. mattb says:

    @Coop:

    And by telling them to disavow or disregard their “American-ness, whiteness, maleness,” etc, you could have some kids that end up embracing it even more, further clouding their judgment.

    [emphasis mine - mb]

    Did you read the article or @Dr Taylor’s post? The professor didn’t ask them to either disavow or disregard anything. Here’s what was asked:

    “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  80. Rick Almeida says:

    @Septimius:

    Except for that little episode called the American Revolution.

    By 1650, all 13 colonies had elected legislatures. Guess who could vote? White, Christian men with property.

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  81. JKB says:

    @mattb: One more point in defense of its pedagogical effectiveness… we’re not even in the class, yet within the last few hours, this single sentence of the syllabus has become the basis for a in-depth discussion of privilege and these specific markers.

    Of course, none of that involves the topic of the course. So the professor is failing in their instruction of the knowledge the students paid good money to be instructed in. In other circumstances, to present as offering one product but instead providing another, it’s called fraud.

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  82. wr says:

    @mantis: “And I think if he had learned to do so when he was younger, perhaps while in college(!), he might be less of a douche today. Maybe.”

    Probably not nearly as rich, though.

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  83. george says:

    @David M:

    Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

    That explains it pretty well – though my favorite comment was the one where one person pointed out that most of us are NPC’s.

    Though I felt guilty when someone mentioned Stephen Hawkings – didn’t even consider the privilege that comes with being healthy, which I’ve been lucky enough to have other than a few accidents. I wonder if that’s in part because the unhealthy are so often excluded from day to day life by their infirmities, that it just didn’t occur to me, or if its just because I’m so used to the privileges that come with it.

    I can see where the prof was going with her discussion – and wonder if she’d also included health as part of it. I think I’d rather be any of the other categories to avoid something like Hawkin’s with his ALS (though I’d love to have his genius). Pretty complex.

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  84. Coop says:

    @mattb:

    Ah, yes. That. You’re right. When I said this:

    And by telling them to disavow or disregard their “American-ness, whiteness, maleness,” etc, you could have some kids that end up embracing it even more, further clouding their judgment.

    I was completely wrong, based on what the professor said in the syllabus.

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  85. Console says:

    @JKB:

    Dude, you can’t even understand the idea that insularity is easier when you are a member of the dominant culture (i.e. gay people meet straight people all the time, but the reverse is not true).

    You’re like a walking example of why this even has to be done.

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  86. grumpy realist says:

    @Ben: As long as doing cooking, cleaning the house, and raising children are considered “women’s work” with not that much value, then I’m afraid we’ll still have the gender mess around.

    (Although I think a lot of this is because men in general don’t have the experience of taking care of small children and learning how time-consuming and tiring it is. Or doing the cooking and housecleaning and laundry. So it’s far too easy to expect the wife to hold down a job AND do all the other stuff as well while the husband plunks himself down in front of the TV with a brewski in hand. Me, I blame their parents for not exposing them to housework enough.)

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  87. Rob in CT says:

    The Scalzi post (which I thought of bringing up too) was good and also involved a long discussion in which people argued over the relative weighting of race vs class vs gender. It was, for the most part, a good discussion (of course, it was also heavily moderated with the mallet of loving correction, so YMMV on that).

    You can be a straight white male and still end up being dealt a bad hand. You could be poor, disabled, etc. Any number of things. These things can trump race/gender, sure.

    In the end, the point isn’t to compete in the victim olympics. The point is to engage in some self-examination. Some people, perhaps particularly young people (not sure on that, certainly it was true of me), are resistant to it.

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  88. Rob in CT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    At least w/in my circle (big, big caveat, especially given the topic of this thread!), that stuff really is changing.

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  89. Ben says:

    @grumpy realist:

    @Ben: As long as doing cooking, cleaning the house, and raising children are considered “women’s work” with not that much value, then I’m afraid we’ll still have the gender mess around.

    (Although I think a lot of this is because men in general don’t have the experience of taking care of small children and learning how time-consuming and tiring it is. Or doing the cooking and housecleaning and laundry. So it’s far too easy to expect the wife to hold down a job AND do all the other stuff as well while the husband plunks himself down in front of the TV with a brewski in hand. Me, I blame their parents for not exposing them to housework enough.)

    What you just described is much much less prevalent with my generation (early-to-mid 30s) than it is with my parents’. And by the time these kids reach the age when most of them will be having kids (probably late 20s/early 30s for people in college now), it will be even less so. Among everyone I know that is around my age, raising kids, cooking meals and cleaning the house is a collective responsibility, unless one of the adults is not working. I know that if I tried to tell my wife that housework, cooking, and watching our son was “women’s work”, I’d be in some deep doo-doo.

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  90. C. Clavin says:

    @ Septimius…
    Um…there was no such thing as the United States before the American Revolution…ipso facto…white men with income have never had to fight for the right to vote in the United States.

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  91. DRE says:

    @James Joyner:

    What social science methodological techniques assume gender, sexual orientation, or the social class of the researcher?

    You have the issue backwards. Valid social science methodologies assume that the characteristics of the researcher are not being reflected in the research. The only way to work toward that goal is to teach potential researchers about the dangers of assuming others share their experiences. In other words a social science methodology class is exactly the place this is most relevant.

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  92. George in New York says:

    One note on the article. The writer uses sexual “Preference” rather that “Orientation”. Preference implies conscious choice, as in ‘I prefer coffee to tea”. I know people will say this is nitpicking but there are power in words. Just look at the different attitudes to “Gay Marriage” versus “Marriage Equality”.

    Most people at this point recognize that homosexuals are born that way and they dont make a conscious choice to prefer one sex over the other. Nor were they damaged at some point in to becoming homosexual.

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  93. C. Clavin says:

    I was born and raised in lily-white Vermont in the 60′s and 70′s. I can count the people of color I was exposed to, before I graduated college at 21, on one hand.
    Upon graduating I moved to FL and began working in Broadcast Journalism. Within a couple months I had been to a KKK rally…and another event that was an entire auditorium of African-Americans, and me.
    So unlike most people I was confronted with race and division all at once and forced to quickly understand what I was feeling and thinking.
    So I started dating a co-worker…a truly beautiful woman of color.
    There’s really no point to this story.
    But the post made me think of it some 32 years later.
    Thanks.

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  94. Septimius says:

    @C. Clavin: Ok, genius. They had to fight an actual war with real bullets and cannonballs in order to establish a country in which they had the right to vote for their government. If were going to play “group identity,” I think this gives American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class some insight into the importance of voting.

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  95. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben:

    Where I start to take issue is the idea that gender privilege is still an issue that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as race and class/economic strata.

    (my emphasis)

    Ben, I give you Sen Marco Rubio on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act: “In fact, much of this legislation is, in many respects, nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits, which may not contribute at all whatsoever to increasing pay equity in the workplace.”

    Because companies will fairly compensate their female employees because it is the right thing to do, you know? Just like they have historically done?

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  96. mantis says:

    @Septimius:

    I think this gives American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class some insight into the importance of voting.

    So because some other white guys fought for independence 240 years ago, you think American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class have better insight into the importance of voting than does a black person who experienced active voter suppression in his/her lifetime? Are you really that stupid?

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  97. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @mantis: It is sort of the same attitude of these people running around screaming “FREEDOMMMMM!!!” when ever Obama farts. They don’t really understand the meaning of the word. My wife grew up in Franco’s Spain. She knows what a dictatorship is and how it colors every facet of one’s life. Everything from being able to speak her own language in public (she still can’t write it) to driving a car.

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  98. C. Clavin says:

    “…I think this gives American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class some insight into the importance of voting…”

    A. Most white, heterosexual, middle-class males have absolutely zero connection to the folks who braved cannonballs and bullets in order to establish this country. Most are immigrants who ironically now wish to close the immigration door behind them. Which tells me they have absolutely no insight into anything having to do with the establishment of this Nation.
    B. If your statement (above) were true…more of them would actually…you know…vote.
    C. If your statement (above) were true…then the last thing they would ever do is focus so intently on voter suppression and limiting the civil rights of others.
    So there…GENIUS

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  99. grumpy realist says:

    @Ben: Yes, I’ve been seeing this and have been applauding the move. Men of my generation were pretty schitzoid about this–they insisted on having a bright, sparkly beautifiul intelligent (and accomplished) wife and then grumped if she didn’t stay home, take care of the kids, and bring them dinner at five and slippers in front of the TV. The fact that their bright and accomplished female classmates weren’t likely to be satisfied as SAHMs somehow totally slipped their minds….at least some of my male friends realized they were being somewhat illogical.

    (Then of course a generation later we had the large number of young women who got law degrees and MBAs, married high-powered men, then dropped out of the workforce to become the Ladies Who Lunch brigade….a sizeable percentage discovered the hard way that having gone through law school fifteen years ago with no subsequent legal experience was worth zilch when it came to getting hired; ditto for all those bake sales and PTA meetings they had “managed.” Nobody cared.)

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  100. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. Not to say that bright, sparkly and accomplished women can’t be SAHMs, but most don’t find the SAHM role to sufficiently use their talents, especially after the kids have reached a certain age. (Those women who adore Martha Stewart? I can’t help but wonder what percentage of them are bored/frustrated housewives looking for something to do with their time.)

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  101. Ben says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The wage gap between men and women is a whole ‘nother can of worms that will spiral out of control into a huge OT flame war. I’m perfectly willing to have that conversation, but let me just say that there is no one true cause of the wage gap, it has many factors, including business decisions, and not all of them is due to straight out misogyny and patriarchy.

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  102. John D'Geek says:

    @mattb: That’s what I was trying to get at when I said:

    I haven’t read the syllabus, so context is critical: did she …

    Two letters — “i.e.” — would have made a world of difference.

    Now, maybe Dr. Taylor was trying to defend Critical Thinking, but I didn’t get that out of his article. It seemed more like a blind defense of this particular professor. Admittedly, the “oh she’s a racist!” blog articles are … how do we say? … “way out there”.

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  103. Just Me says:

    I have no objection to telling people to think of things with a different perspective.

    I do object to the assumption that the only group that should have to do this are the white, male, middle class, heterosexuals. I would hope the professor intends for everyone to shed their own perspective and to not make assumptions about where others are coming from.

    Being insular isn’t unique to white, male, heterosexuals from middle class backgrounds.

    I am willing to bet a poor urban white male has more in common with the black urban male than he doesn’t the middle class, rural, white male.

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  104. Rafer Janders says:

    @mantis:

    Are you really that stupid?

    To ask the question is to answer it.

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  105. anjin-san says:

    Whatever power does “whiteness” confer today?

    Perhaps the power to go about your lawful business without the police screwing with you for no reason?

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  106. anjin-san says:

    I think this gives American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class some insight into the importance of voting.

    My ancestors were busy dying in coal mines and generally being oppressed by the French aristocracy at the time of the Revolutionary war – I’m not sure how I have some special insight into the founding of our country that others lack.

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  107. mattb says:

    @Coop:
    Hey no worries. I do that sort of thing all the time. :)

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  108. mattb says:

    @JKB:

    Of course, none of that involves the topic of the course.

    The course was “Political Science 201: Research and Analysis” – as usual you demonstrate how little you know about these sorts of courses and, it appears, college in general. This section and its goal (in service of developing critical thinking and analytically skills) was completely in keeping with the topic of the course.

    @Just Me:

    I do object to the assumption that the only group that should have to do this are the white, male, middle class, heterosexuals.

    That’s why there was an “etc.” at the end of the phrase… the idea was for students to work to avoid any assumptions of a dominant norm.

    Being insular isn’t unique to white, male, heterosexuals from middle class backgrounds. I am willing to bet a poor urban white male has more in common with the black urban male than he doesn’t the middle class, rural, white male.

    The point wasn’t simply to tell people to stop being white. What you are writing underscores the larger point. She wasn’t simply addressing one subsection of student. She wasn’t telling people to always take a minority perspective.

    She was saying, for example, don’t make statements from a perspective that America is always right.

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  109. Rafer Janders says:

    @anjin-san:

    My ancestors were busy dying in coal mines and generally being oppressed by the French aristocracy at the time of the Revolutionary war – I’m not sure how I have some special insight into the founding of our country that others lack.

    Mine were busy dying in peat bogs and being oppressed by the British aristocracy at the time, but same idea, really.

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  110. Rafer Janders says:

    @mattb:

    She was saying, for example, don’t make statements from a perspective that America is always right.

    Aiyee! Aiyeee! Heretic! Heretic! Blasphemy!

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  111. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    My ancestors were busy dying in coal mines and generally being oppressed by the French aristocracy at the time of the Revolutionary war – I’m not sure how I have some special insight into the founding of our country that others lack.

    It doesn’t, but by the same token, a poor white male living on the street isn’t going to have a lot of experience about white male privilege either.

    Which is the point – privilege and insight are individual, not something you gain from sharing an abstract class with people who have it. Like the game article said, white male is the easiest difficulty level, but if you roll 25 starting points you’re going to have a lot of misery in your life, often moreso than someone playing at a higher difficulty level who rolls 500 starting points to put into things like health, good looks, wealth, maybe noble birth etc.

    Romney’s one of those guys who started in the easiest difficulty level (white male), and rolled 500 starting points for wealth, health and so on. Then you get guys like Hawkins who started
    in the easiest difficulty level, rolled extremely high on intelligence, and extremely low on health. I kind of think his life would have been easier (though none of us would have heard of him) if he’d rolled high on health and low on intelligence. And then you have some of the folks living on the street in the easiest difficulty level who rolled low on health, wealth, family, and just about everything. Same difficulty level, radically different privilege and experience. Romney and many other Republicans never understood this, or why Romney’s giving away his inheritence to start his own business, after being raised with all those advantages, was different than someone trying to start his or her own business growing up in poverty. Voters understood though, at least enough to cost him the election.

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  112. C. Clavin says:

    @ Rafer and Anjin-San…
    One of my ancestors at the time was a Colonel in the Calvery Corps of the Imperial Russian Armies.
    I’m pretty sure that lends me absolutely no insight into the founding of this country that is in any way special just because I was lucky enough to be born on third base…white, male, straight, and employed.

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  113. Just Me says:

    She wasn’t telling people to always take a minority perspective.

    Then perhaps she should have been general (race, ,social class etc) or used some minorities in the list rather than just the etc.

    Which is the point – privilege and insight are individual, not something you gain from sharing an abstract class with people who have it

    I think this is probably a very applicable point.

    Take for instance Obama’s daughters who have been raised in privilege, will have no difficulty getting into or paying for any US college they want to attend.

    I am pretty certain that even though they are African American they probably have experienced far more privilege than a poor white kid who grew up in rural Alabama or even the poor black kid who grew up in urban Detroit.

    Privilege is something that is IMO far more attached to social class than actual race.

    You can probably argue that a white and black kid from a similar social class will confer more privilege on the white kid, but I have a hard time believing that my low income white daughters have more privilege than President Obama’s.

    I am not even convinced the Obama kids (or Romney’s or Bill Gates) have any clue what it is like to know that there won’t be anymore food in the cupboards until payday.

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  114. mattb says:

    @Septimius:

    [White men in revolutionary times] had to fight an actual war with real bullets and cannonballs in order to establish a country in which they had the right to vote for their government. If were going to play “group identity,” I think this gives American, white, heterosexuals from the middle class some insight into the importance of voting.

    I’ve liked this post sheery because it so beautifully demonstrates the entire point that the professor was trying to make.

    Anyone with an ounce of critical capacity should recognize recognize all of the problems with this line of thought. And the very fact that you made it — unless it was touneg in cheek — demonstrates exactly the type of privileged based blindness that leads students to unknowingly say really stupid things.

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  115. gVOR08 says:

    Good work Steven. I never would have believed 114 comments in six or seven hours on this nothing story. You know your audience better than I do.

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  116. Let's Be Free says:

    To me it is a non-assignment. I’m can’t say what I’m supposed to disavow or disregard since it appears I disagree on most issues with virtually every white, male, middle-class, hetero who posts on this blog. Hey, how about doing the right thing and just throwing out stereotypes altogether?

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  117. bk says:

    @Sarah Wells: Hi Jan!

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  118. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @george:

    And if you asked your average poor white male if he’d not rather be say Lebron James, I suspect most would accept that change in a heartbeat.

    I’m sorry George, meant to reply when I was here earlier.

    If I asked the average poor white male if he would like to change places with Lebron James, they would most emphatically say, “YES!!!” But if I asked them if they would like to be Lebron James….

    The answer would be, “NO! No way do I want to be a nigga!”

    I work with these guys every day. Black triumphs everything. They want his skill. They want his money. They want his women.

    They do not want his skin.

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  119. george says:

    @Mikey:

    What I’m getting at is the snap judgments that are made. Sure, a cabbie might not pick up a shabbily-dressed white guy, but he’s probably more likely to pick up a shabbily-dressed white guy than he is a well-dressed black guy.

    I’m not so sure about that. Ever see someone (of any race or gender) who obviously lives on the street try to get a cab to stop? Sometimes they even have trouble getting a bus to open its doors for them (I’ve read of one waving a ticket he was given at the bus door, and the driver still refused to open the door – made the local papers in fact, and some folks defended the driver, saying they wouldn’t want to share the bus with a street person).

    And actually, the cab is a bad example in other ways too, in that a cab is more likely to stop for a white female than a white male, though white males in general are more privileged than white females. And possibly even a black female is more likely to get a ride than a young white male under some circumstances, simply because of the physical risk question, though white males in general are much more privileged than black females.

    But other than that example, I agree about snap decisions, at least in so far that the white has to be pretty far down the class ladder to come in lower in the privilege game than say a middle class black guy.

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  120. Just Me says:

    But if I asked them if they would like to be Lebron James….

    The answer would be, “NO! No way do I want to be a nigga!”

    Do you have a scientific poll on this?

    Lebron also doesn’t really have to worry about putting food on his table or paying his bills and there is a ton of privilege that comes from that and no middle class or poor white man is going to experience that kind of financial security.

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  121. anjin-san says:

    @ Just me

    no middle class or poor white man is going to experience that kind of financial security.

    You might want to research how many athletes with huge incomes end up broke. There is more to financial security than a large income.

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  122. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just Me: No. I have real life experience. You know, something that if you were living a real life, you would have too.

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  123. george says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I admit I’ve never lived in the Ozarks or down south. In the north, most poor white guys wouldn’t hesitate for a second – though I think some might hold out for Michael Jordan if they thought they had that choice.

    In fact, a lot of the poor I’ve met (I volunteer from time to time with food banks) would change places with anyone of any race or gender (or even planet – a well fed martian is still well fed) if it meant they weren’t sleeping on the street at -40, and had a good meal.

    Oddly enough, a certain percentage of street people like living on the street – they’re found homes in subsidized housing, but leave them because they find them too restrictive. But that’s another issue, and I don’t pretend to understand it. If nothing else, they’re a lot tougher than I am, sleeping under a bridge at those temperatures with just a ragged coat is not something I would survive long. People are so hard to generalize about – even among the extremely poor, there are some who prefer that way of life. I don’t understand how or why, but its unarguably true.

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  124. grumpy realist says:

    @Just Me: This is why I’m sneakily supportive of those who would like to change “affirmative action” programs to use income rather than race–I think that when it comes to education a poor white kid from the boonies has it worse than an African-American upper-crust kid. Since more minority families are poor (percentagewise) than white families, they would still be getting a helping leg up…

    I also think that if we’re going to talk about revising affirmative action “to make it fair” then the bloody first action true conservatives should be chomping at the bit for is getting rid of legacy admissions. Talk about engrained privilege.

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  125. anjin-san says:

    its point and purpose, which is not to secure love, but to contain what happens naturally between men and women as a result of sexual union

    What total crap. As a hetro male who has been in a stable marriage for a long time, I utterly reject this.

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  126. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @george: Agreed. Took a drive thru Moselle, MO yesterday. The town is dead. But it is so beautiful. To sit on those riverbanks, is a lesson in humanity. And humility.

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  127. @James Joyner: ]

    I’m not sure what it has to do with a sophomore level political science research methods class. What social science methodological techniques assume gender, sexual orientation, or the social class of the researcher?

    I would think that a researcher has to be aware of his or her own biases and perspectives even when doing things like formulating research questions and hypotheses.

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  128. @John D’Geek:

    Dr Taylor: My problem with your article is exactly that — learning to “think differently” is worthless, except as a step to creativity and critical thinking.

    In all honesty, it strikes me as clearly assumed that I am talking about a step in a process. I didn’t use the phrase “critical thinking” but did note understanding the world around us.

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  129. @mattb:

    One more point in defense of its pedagogical effectiveness… we’re not even in the class, yet within the last few hours, this single sentence of the syllabus has become the basis for a in-depth discussion of privilege and these specific markers. Likewise, a good syllabus is designed to spark these types of discussions throughout the quarter/semester.

    So in my mind — provided the professor is committed to ongoing critical discussion in the class — this statement is doing exactly what it should from a pedagogical point of view.

    Indeed.

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  130. @John D’Geek:

    Now, maybe Dr. Taylor was trying to defend Critical Thinking, but I didn’t get that out of his article. It seemed more like a blind defense of this particular professor.

    While it is possible that I could have been clearer, I would submit that perhaps you didn’t read very carefully if that was the only impression made.

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  131. @gVOR08:

    Good work Steven. I never would have believed 114 comments in six or seven hours on this nothing story. You know your audience better than I do.

    I must confess: I am surprised by the response and am also pleased, in general, with the conversation.

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  132. @george:

    I think the problem with that, and the teacher’s comment, is that it disregards financial distinctions. A poor white male really isn’t privileged compared to a rich white female, or even compared to a rich, black female. Is Oprah really in a worse situation than an unemployed, poor white male?

    You miss the point by making specific comparisons. The issue is not whether Oprah is better off than poor whites, the issue is the relative status of a representative member of a given category (e.g., black females) equal to that of the a representative white male.

    When I was younger I remember the argument being about Bill Cosby and MIchael Jordan, and now its LeBron and Oprah, but in picking LeBron and Oprah you are not making a legit comparison.

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  133. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @george: And George? In the interests of honesty, I do not want his skin either. Does that make me a racist? Yes. The fact that I can admit that fact may make me think that gives me a leg up…. Reality says I am just human. No better, no worse than any other shit bumb in this world.

    But I am trying.

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  134. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I must confess: I am surprised by the response and am also pleased, in general, with the conversation.

    Steven, do not underestimate your audience. You set the tone. we try to follow.

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  135. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @george:

    though I think some might hold out for Michael Jordan if they thought they had that choice.

    Hells bells, Michael Jordan is a hell of a lot better looking than Lebron James…. I’d hold out too.

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  136. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Steven, do not underestimate your audience. You set the tone. we try to follow.

    I am not meaning to infer anything–it is just that I rarely know what is going to attract interest. I write something sometimes expecting/hoping for a nice discussion and I get 5 comments. Sometimes threads get derailed and degenerate. That is all I mean.

    I wrote this in a relatively hurry this morning and then headed to class and had little time to check the comments until later and was pleased at the lengthy and thoughtful thread.

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  137. Mikey says:

    @george: I think it’s easier to establish a general preference than to say a cabbie would or wouldn’t pick up a black person dressed a certain way–they might make an exception for a very well-dressed person or a person in a good neighborhood, but in general would not pick up a black person.

    In other words, I think you and I pretty much agree.

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  138. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I should add that JJ sets the tone, we can not measure up… but some of us try.

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  139. wr says:

    @Just Me: “Then perhaps she should have been general (race, ,social class etc) or used some minorities in the list rather than just the etc.”

    It certainly is helpful of you to demand that a professor you will never meet in your life rewrite the syllabus for a class you will never take in your life to match your preferred terminology.

    Has the internet turned the entire American population into Gladys Kravitz?

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  140. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Steven, do not underestimate your audience. You set the tone. we try to follow.

    I repeat….

    Really Steven, you make thoughtful posts, people reply in kind. Why be surprised?

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  141. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not meaning to infer anything–it is just that I rarely know what is going to attract interest. I write something sometimes expecting/hoping for a nice discussion and I get 5 comments. Sometimes threads get derailed and degenerate.

    Steven, it is sometimes hard to know what people are going to react to, and yes, sometimes you only get 5 replies, but sometimes after you post something I think, “Yeah, that’s it. I can shut up.”

    That may sound like brown nosing but the truth is I don’t often want to say “Ditto.” Sometimes I want to say, “AMEN!” but “Ditto.”….never.

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  142. grumpy realist says:

    Maybe what we’re all trying to say to each other is: be watchful; be conscious of the privileges you take for granted. And don’t assume that your viewpoint is the “standard” one.

    Doesn’t surprise me that you have to use a mallet to get this lesson when it comes to college kids.

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  143. george says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You miss the point by making specific comparisons. The issue is not whether Oprah is better off than poor whites, the issue is the relative status of a representative member of a given category (e.g., black females) equal to that of the a representative white male.

    Actually I think I got her point, I just don’t think its the primary one. As I said, we experience life as individuals, not as members of a group. So belonging to a privileged group in the abstract means nothing if your own stomach is empty and you’re sleeping on rags under a bridge at 40 below. I really doubt that knowing that the majority of your group is privileged and has a full stomach makes any difference at that point.

    Now if we could share sensations, so the feeling of warmth and having eaten and other privileges that come with the group were shared, then I think the abstraction she’s talking about becomes more important. But as it is, its just that – an abstraction.

    Which isn’t to say the conditions she describes aren’t true for the majority of white males. But it isn’t universal, and unless there’s a lot less poverty in the US than there is in Canada (which I kind of doubt, given the respective safety nets), its not even close to universal. Its just that the poor, of whatever race and gender, tend to be invisible. Perhaps that invisibility is especially marked in academic settings, which is why its so often ignored compared to race and gender issues (which of course are also very important), which are observable in the class rooms themselves.

    Not sure how you get a representative prof for the poor though (in the way which was done for gender and race groups – and I think that was a good thing) as soon as they’re paid, they’re no longer representative.

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  144. Kylopod says:

    >Is Oprah really in a worse situation than an unemployed, poor white male?

    In addition to the points others have made, I should note that Oprah did not start her life at all from a position of economic privilege, and her journey there included more obstacles than would have stood in the path of a poor white male.

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  145. Andre Kenji says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’m not too sympathetic to white males whining about how they have it So Bad If They’re Poor. Read history and you will discover that the discrimination against females and those of different races/ethnic groups has been much greater than against those that are poor.

    I don´t know. I don´t see offensive slang(Like Rednecks and White Trash) aimed at white poor people in other languages. There is also the terrible history of prosecution against Italians, Irish and other Catholics(Take a look at the Presidential Campaign of 1928)..

    And surely, I don´t even know if I can call anyone here “gringo”, a word that´s not supposed to be offensive in Portuguese.

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  146. Unsympathetic says:

    I just moved to Pennsylvania with a job that’s not top 5% of the US, but darn close. And the ridiculous insanity that Republicans have made of the state ID acquisition process – and good Christ, I’m moving barely an hour north from Maryland – means that it’ll be a while before I vote for any Republican again for any office.

    A more entertaining solution would be to tell Republicans to keep up the insanity. Maybe they’ll confront reality on reality’s terms after getting monkeystomped in each of the next four presidential and Congressional elections.

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  147. MarkedMan says:

    You know, I’ll be the first to say that all kinds of things other than race affect your opportunities in life, many if not most of them based on the type of person you are. But as a 50+ year old white guy, not-bad looking (that’s not a euphemism for “good looking”, I simply mean that my looks don’t draw second glances either way), I would be a fool to underestimate the assumption of belonging given to me merely for showing up. I can walk into the lobby of pretty much any international hotel in the US, Europe and Asia and ask to use the (locked) restroom, speak to the manager, borrow some stationary, or set up my computer and spend the afternoon working, and the reaction of the staff is almost universally courteous and helpful. When I go to the fitness room, if they bother to have me sign in it is apparent they regard it as a formality rather than an effort to insure that I have a right to be there. In fact, I have a friend, who looks much like I do, that flies 4-5 days a week and does at least 50-75 nights a year in hotels. He has developed a deep knowledge of which hotel has the best executive lounge, the best fitness room, and the best business center and these are usually not all in the same one, so he just goes to the one he wants regardless of where he is staying and no one questions him.

    But sit in that same lobby and watch a young black man walk in, or a mustachioed eastern European or a turbaned Sikh and you can feel the tension in the room just rotate 90 degrees to wariness and caution.

    There is nothing that helps you achieve success like those you are dealing with expecting you to succeed. I owe my success to a lot of things, but pretending I don’t have an advantage because I’m a white American is just foolish.

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  148. mattb says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    There is also the terrible history of prosecution against Italians, Irish and other Catholics(Take a look at the Presidential Campaign of 1928).

    But you have to also understand that, at least the Italians, have only been “white” for a generation or two. Hell there are some people who still give Sicilian a lot of crap for being not white enough.

    Likewise, depending who you asked at the time, Irish and Catholics were only barely “white.”

    As a Brazilian, you know better than most how race doesn’t always exactly map to skin color.

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  149. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    In addition to the points others have made, I should note that Oprah did not start her life at all from a position of economic privilege, and her journey there included more obstacles than would have stood in the path of a poor white male.

    Absolutely. Poor black female is probably the hardest difficulty level in the US, and it says amazing things about her that Oprah was able to make such an incredible success from that beginning.

    But I still think she currently enjoys more privileges than the white guy I saw sleeping under the bridge (it was -20C) two nights ago. That she earned them through her own efforts doesn’t change that, and any theory that states she is currently less privileged because of gender and race than that street person is completely ignoring the impact that money has on privilege.

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  150. Just Me says:

    and any theory that states she is currently less privileged because of gender and race than that street person is completely ignoring the impact that money has on privilege.

    I am willing to bet if the white street person walked into the hotel lobby to warm up he would be immediately asked to leave over a very well dressed African American man.

    People, even in hotel lobbies, notice other things besides race like state of dress and in this case very likely smell (street people generally don’t get many opportunities to take showers).

    I think you can argue that certain groups statistically have more privilege but you can’t generalize that to the individual experience.

    Like I said I am absolutely positive that Obama’s daughters have lived a far more privileged life than my own children, and they will have no problem getting into any college of their choice and paying for it. My kids will have to get in entirely on their merits (no brownie points for race or legacy or who their parents are) and they will also have to worry about paying for it.

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  151. @george:

    But I still think she currently enjoys more privileges than the white guy I saw sleeping under the bridge (it was -20C) two nights ago.

    Well, of course. But that comparison is utterly unhelpful.

    is completely ignoring the impact that money has on privilege.

    Recall: the original discussion specifically noted money: “middle class”–this discussion has never been solely about race (nor about specific one-to-one comparisons).

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  152. @Just Me:

    I think you can argue that certain groups statistically have more privilege but you can’t generalize that to the individual experience.

    Indeed. Social phenomenon are not explainable nor understandable by looking at individuals. It requires analysis in the aggregate. The Obama girls, for example, are hardly representative of the experiences of the representative African-American female (nor is a white homeless man representative of the white male experience).

    Further, one cannot negate overall social trends by pointing out an outlier or an atypical example.

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  153. sam says:

    @Just Me:

    My kids will have to get in entirely on their merits (no brownie points for race or legacy or who their parents are)

    You don’t mean to imply, do you, that the Obama girls could not make it on their own merits, too? If you are so implying, on what basis are you doing so?

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  154. george says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Recall: the original discussion specifically noted money: “middle class”–this discussion has never been solely about race (nor about specific one-to-one comparisons).

    Noted that she mentioned middle class, and its probably a good guess that every student was middle class. But as soon as she had them as individuals think about privilege, she made it about one-to-one comparisons, because we experience life (ie our thoughts and sensory perceptions) as individuals, and not as groups.

    It makes a lot of sense in engineering to talk about general properties of bridge architectures, but I wouldn’t want to drive my car over a bridge where the engineer didn’t examine the bridge individually and instead relied on general type to guess if it was safe. And people are much more complex than bridges. BMI is another example of this. Statistically, a BMI of 30 means obese. A statement saying everyone with a BMI of over 30 should try to lose weight makes sense in that light, except half the NHL and a quarter of the male athletes in the Olympics also have BMI’s in the 30′s. Statistics fails when applied to individuals. That’s drummed into your head in the science and engineering, and for a reason.

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  155. Mikey says:

    @mattb:

    Hell there are some people who still give Sicilian a lot of crap for being not white enough.

    This has happened to me, and I’m only half-Sicilian. Back when I was in my teens (suburban Detroit, mid-1980s), some old dude called me a “WOP-ini” and opined as to how I wasn’t “really white.” But then, it was summertime, and I was rocking the dark suntan…

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  156. Annelid gustator says:

    @James Joyner: Survey design.

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  157. Rob in CT says:

    JustMe and george:

    I think, at this point, there really isn’t a ton of disagreement here. We agree that race matters and class matters (and health, and innate intelligence, and so forth), and that individual experiences vary (sometimes dramatically) from the “norm” for various categories of folks.

    I don’t have any more to add to this, so I’ll just thank the two of you for a reasonable discussion of a difficult topic. ‘Tis not always so, on these here internets.

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  158. Rafer Janders says:

    @MarkedMan:

    There is nothing that helps you achieve success like those you are dealing with expecting you to succeed.

    Repeated for truth. And the reverse is equally if not more so true.

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  159. Rafer Janders says:

    @mattb:

    Likewise, depending who you asked at the time, Irish and Catholics were only barely “white.”

    Back in the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin warned that “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.”

    You read that correctly: even the Germans and Swedes were at one time considered non-white in America, with a different “Complexion.” Beware the swarthy Swede…..

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  160. mattb says:

    @sam:

    You don’t mean to imply, do you, that the Obama girls could not make it on their own merits, too? If you are so implying, on what basis are you doing so?

    This hightlights two interrelated issues that have run through this entire discussion:
    (1) the intermingling of morality, meritocracy, and priviliage
    (2) mixing individual examples against social science categories

    A number of people have already made the second point. I’m more interested in the first.

    On the first issue, at least initially, there should be no moral/merit judgement involved with a discussion of privilege or social power. JustMe’s statement that the Obama girls have inherited a higher level of privilege than his (?) children is in no way a judgement about merit. It’s a statement of fact.

    Nor should there a belief that the view point of the privilaged is some how more or less moral than the viewpoint of the oppressed. That mistaken viewpoint, once popularly held, has been abandoned by most academics.

    The point is that people see things differently from different perspectives. Critical thinking, as always, is about critiquing your own perspective and trying to take the perspective of others in hopes of seeing things more clearly.

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  161. george says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I agree, and thanks for the discussion.

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  162. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “It’s not entirely coincidental that the unemployment rate for the 18-25 year-old demographic nearly is at Grapes of Wrath levels.”

    Which, please note, started quite recently, so unless something radical changed in higher ed in 2007, it’s not due to higher ed.

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  163. Barry says:

    @Dave Schuler: “I, too, agree with the post. I can’t help but think that the professor’s instruction was analogous to the direction to assume you’re an apple. However hard you may try or think you can do it you can’t do it. ”

    However, you can get people to sorta understand that an apple views the world differently, and for good reasons.

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  164. anjin-san says:

    I am willing to bet if the white street person walked into the hotel lobby to warm up he would be immediately asked to leave over a very well dressed African American man.

    So do you think its a victory for black folks that a black man in an Italian suit can expect to be treated better than a homeless person?

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  165. Andre Kenji says:

    A few points:

    1-) Racism is inevitably linked to social prejudice. A Middle Class Black man surely is less likely to be discriminated than a Poor Black man and if Blacks had the same income than Whites then racism would be much less of a problem.

    2-) On the other hand, as someone that has Asian Descent, I can point out to the following: I really do not care for my Japanese Ancestry because I live in Brazil, a country that I love and because I think that multiethnicity is the biggest Brazilian Cultural identity. I don´t have the same complaints about social isolation that many Asian Americans have. I don´t feel that anyone would recuse a date because of my ethnicity, and I fact find Black and Brown women to be fair more attractive. I also don´t face the same discrimination than Brown or Black Folks: in fact, I´m less inclined to be harassed by cops because I´m, well, an Asian.

    I really do not care about that. But that does not matter because to everyone else you are an Asian. People will inevitably point out to that. That´s why even Conservative minorities like Bobby Jindal or Herman Cain can´t say that race does not matter or that race does not exist. You can try to ignore it, but people will point out that you. Both of them can be spend all their day surrounded by White People, they can be accepted by White People, both of them have a very comfortable life, but they will be always identified as Brown or Black People.

    And frankly, that´s something that anyone that´s White and that lives in places where they only see Whites are never going to understand. That´s the biggest problem from the syllabus.

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  166. anjin-san says:

    will be always identified as Brown or Black People

    My wife once commented that she did not undersand why everyone referes to Obama as being black when he is in fact bi-racial. My answer to that was simple – you know you are black when people call you a n**ger.

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  167. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    So do you think its a victory for black folks that a black man in an Italian suit can expect to be treated better than a homeless person?

    I think the point is just that class, along with gender and race, has to be taken into account when you’re discussing privilege. In America, perhaps because it sounds like socialism, class is often is ignored (presumably because it doesn’t exist – Romney’s upbringing was the same as every other white boy’s, right? He just did better from the same starting point.)

    However, as was pointed out by others, the prof in question was talking about middle class, and there’s no doubt that middle class white is considerably more privileged than middle class black or Asian or native or hispanic.

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  168. anjin-san says:

    there’s no doubt that middle class white is considerably more privileged than middle class black or Asian or native or hispanic.

    No doubt at all. I have black friends who are very successful who still have “driving while black” problems…

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  169. Just Me says:

    You don’t mean to imply, do you, that the Obama girls could not make it on their own merits, too?

    Nope, my point is more that the Obama’s children will have the advantage of legacy admission that most applicants without money or fame would have. Does anyone think there is a college in the US that would actually reject the Obama’s daughters even if they didn’t score highly on their SAT’s?

    I don’t know anything specific about Obama’s daughters academically, but given the social class and social status of their parents, even if they didn’t quite meet to requirements, they are going to be admitted anyway.

    But privilege also makes it more likely that kids who can get into college on merits have more opportunity to increase likelihood of admission. Expensive private schools teach to kids who are almost always all on a college track and they work hard to make sure their students are prepared. A lower middle class to low income kid’s parents have to rely on the quality of their local public school, which has to educate all comers and has far fewer kids who plan to attend college.

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  170. Console says:

    The whole “who has it harder” argument kind of misses the point. Earlier in this thread, Mantis gives a great example of an argument by Rick Warren. Warren’s argument contains rationale and logic, but only works if you accept the axiom that homosexuality bad behavior that is in no way comparable to heterosexuality.

    If we found out that Warren had a tough life, that doesn’t really change the folly of his argument. The point is that Warren creates an argument that requires assuming homosexuality not be treated on the same platform as heterosexuality… before the argument is even stated.

    Sure a poor white kid from Appalachia has different problems then a rich black kid in NYC. But that doesn’t magically give him insight to “Stop and Frisk” or Driving while Black. And vice versa. Being black doesn’t magically mean you have carte blanche to speak on someone else’s adversity in America.

    That’s all this is about. We carry baggage with us that colors our views. And the nature of privilege is such that we go around pretending that privileged baggage doesn’t exist.

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  171. Console says:

    @anjin-san:

    Exactly. Race is a social construct. The “but I’m half white” defense didn’t magically get you out of slavery or jim crow. But, that means I don’t know if it’s good or bad that we associate looking black with having to be black.

    Actually reminds me of the Blazing Saddles scene, “Sir, he specifically requested two n**gers… well to tell a family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.”

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  172. dennis says:

    @george:

    Hey, george, would you like to know what the poor White man’s mantra was back in the day (and still probably is)?

    “At least I ain’t a n****r!”

    Now, try this on for a psychological mindf***: After watching those less qualified than I get promoted (and having had a promotion yanked from under me), I think I’d be AWESOME as a White man. With what I know and my experiences, I’d be on top of the world — at least MY world — if I were White. But, alas, I am who I am, and I make due with what I get.

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  173. dennis says:

    @george:

    But that’s not to discount your argument, george; it has merit, in my opinion.

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  174. bill says:

    actually, white males didn’t have the right to vote until they kicked the brits out. but enough of this 60′s era bullsheet- life is unfair yet most figure out how to deal with it-some never do, it’s nature. point, most 3rd world citizens would just love to come here and scrub toilets, pick fruit, etc. for minimal wages and no benefits (aside from escaping their 3rd world sheethole) – Americans, not so much. sustaining this nonsense is just enabling, and we have way more of that than we’ll ever need.

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  175. george says:

    @dennis:

    I agree, at the same class level, blacks definitely have it worse than whites (as do every minority group, though in the US I think blacks and natives have it worst). My argument has never been that gender and race don’t give considerable privilege, just that class (especially money) does as well, and the three don’t always coincide.

    I get the feeling that most of us are agreeing on this, just modifying the emphasis.

    For me one the big take aways has been from the game site someone pointed to – the mention of Stephen Hawkings brought to my attention that I’ve never really considered how privileged (not to mention lucky) I’ve been to have had good health. And from that, oddly enough, its easier to realize how race and gender priviliges can be taken for granted as well.

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  176. Rick Almeida says:

    @bill:

    actually, white males didn’t have the right to vote until they kicked the brits out

    This is completely wrong.

    Again, all 13 colonies had locally-elected legislatures by 1650. Those electorates where comprised only of white, Christian men possessed of sufficient property.

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  177. Rob in CT says:

    most 3rd world citizens would just love to come here and scrub toilets, pick fruit, etc

    Heh, and then after a little while they decide they want more (uppity of them, innit?), and people like you get pissed off.

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  178. mattb says:

    @bill:

    actually, white males didn’t have the right to vote until they kicked the brits out. but enough of this 60′s era bullsheet- life is unfair yet most figure out how to deal with it-some never do, it’s nature. point, most 3rd world citizens would just love to come here and scrub toilets, pick fruit, etc. for minimal wages and no benefits (aside from escaping their 3rd world sheethole) – Americans, not so much. sustaining this nonsense is just enabling, and we have way more of that than we’ll ever need.

    Again, thank you for another example of a comment made from a “white, middle-class, heterosexual, American male” or “dominant ideology” POV. Again this is exactly the sort of comment that the note on the syllabus was attempting to curtail.

    Can anyone pick out all of the unquestioned assumptions in the above statement?

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  179. mattb says:

    @Rick Almeida:
    Rick, you should know by this point that folks like Bill, who care about history getting taught right (i.e. in the way it was taught when he was a kid, before all this PC bs), never actually really care about the *historical facts.*

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  180. Rick Almeida says:

    @mattb:

    Indeed. But once in a while I feel compelled to man the battlements and fight back.

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