WHERE DID PRIVILEGE COME FROM: No dogma can save us from our bad judgment!

FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2014

Part 5—The privileged white woman’s tale: Fifty years back, in another bad time, Bernadine Dohrn forgot to check her privilege.

What happened when she forgot? Because this brief passage is so fascinating, we post it for the third time:
The concept of white privilege also came to be used within radical circles for purposes of self-criticism by anti-racist whites. For instance, a 1975 article in Lesbian Tide criticized the American feminist movement for exhibiting “class privilege” and “white privilege.” Weather Underground leader Bernadine Dohrn, in a 1977 Lesbian Tide article, wrote: “...by assuming that I was beyond white privilege or allying with male privilege because I understood it, I prepared and led the way for a totally opportunist direction which infected all of our work and betrayed revolutionary principles.”
Because she hadn’t checked her privilege, Dohrn prepared and led the way for a totally opportunist direction which infected all her work and betrayed revolutionary principles!

Later, she self-criticized. But even after checking her privilege, she continued to show bad judgment. Nothing, not even checking our privilege, can protect us against that.

By the way:

Are people betraying a sense of “privilege” if they feel they have the right to build bombs, then use them, in support of a noble cause? (Dohrn’s crowd went that way, even after conducting that check.)

There is no ultimate answer to that question. But sometimes, people who think they’ve checked their privilege may continue to exhibit a fairly strong sense of same.

Things work out for people like Dohrn. Today, she’s an associate professor at Northwestern Law School. She’s past director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center, which is fine with us.

That said, her experience may help us see the potential problems with bumper sticker directives like the one which is suddenly hot.

In theory, it’s a good idea for people to “check their privilege”—to be aware of advantages they may have which other people may lack.

In practice, though, this approach may work out poorly. Because we all have imperfect judgment and weak brains, adherents may end up sounding like bureaucrats in The Great Leap Forward, as Dohrn does in the statement we’ve quoted. They may apply a good idea in highly unfortunate ways.

Could that happen even today as people are told to check their privilege? Of course it could!

The directive can be used as a way to shut people up. It can be used as a way to spread unhelpful guilt and self-loathing.

Revolutionary cadres have always enjoyed inducing this loathing among running dogs. They may not notice their own lack of judgment as they engage in the practice.

In our view, the dumbness of the work at Salon can be seen as a form of privilege. The children rarely seem to feel that their work has to make any real sense as judged by traditional intellectual norms.

There’s little sense that their editors tell them, “Check your potential dumbness.” The youngsters know that they are right. So of course did Dohrn.

The dumbness is always within us! So is the impulse to tyranny, which may explain the way a sense of privilege can survive a privilege check.

We thought of these points in the last week when we read a fascinating memoir by Mariah Dickinson in the quarterly Rethinking Schools. You can read part of it here.

After graduating from American University in 2009, Dickinson spent two years in Teach for America. Today, she’s a strong critic of the program, which is fine with us.

We’ve never been big fans of Teach for America. That’s especially true of the miracle tales its founder likes to spread.

To our ear, several of Dickinson’s critiques seem to make perfect sense. But lordy!

Dickinson lards her tale with the language of “privilege.” She describes the Teach for America training sessions “as a sort of indoctrination boot camp for privileged idealists.” She muses about her own “life as a white, economically privileged woman.” Concerning the work load adopted by some TFA teachers, she says, “It is an example of privilege to be able to work yourself to the point of burnout, knowing that you don’t have a family to support, and you only have to hold on for two years.”

We can’t exactly call that “wrong.” But, despite her checking of privilege, a sense of privilege seems to emanate from Dickinson’s short memoir.

By the second day of her training sessions, she thinks she knows what should be happening better than session leaders do. (We can’t say we’re convinced.) At one point during her teaching years, she makes a suggestion to a program director—and it isn’t adopted!

She seems to be sure that she and her “critically thinking friends” know more than others around them. But even her checking of privilege can’t save her from judgments like the one which follows. Indeed, belief in the doctrine of checking-your-privilege may create thinking like this:
DICKINSON (2014): I was disturbed by the language that TFA used, starting with “closing the achievement gap.” Achievement is an individual act of effort and skill. Opportunity, on the other hand, is a condition of circumstance. To say that there is a gap in achievement is to say that the students on the wrong end of this gap are failing to perform, rather than that they are being set up to fail by an inequitable system. How can an organization mobilize its members to shift a failing education system when it blames the very groups it claims to be helping?
Gack! We’re sorry, but no—when you talk about “closing the achievement gap,” you aren’t thereby blaming “the students on the wrong end of this gap.”

Checking her privilege didn’t forestall that rather peculiar deduction. And as she continues, Dickinson’s critique doesn’t get much better:
DICKINSON (continuing directly): One day we watched a video of a “successful” corps member in his classroom. It was a lesson on classroom management. He had enlisted his 3rd-grade students into a rallying cry, “work hard, get smart,” to the point that they begged him for extra assignments. I watched this story unfold and wondered, what is the message here? This corps member was saying that, if only his students worked hard enough, they would be smart and achieve in school and life. Does that mean that students’ families struggle financially because they do not work hard enough to achieve a “middle-class” life? How classist, oversimplified, and misinformed.
There can always be an issue when we urge children to surpass their parents’ attainments. But luckily, no—if you exhort kids to “work hard, get smart,” you aren’t thereby saying that their families don’t work hard enough.

Dickinson inserts the language of privilege into her short memoir four separate times. She describes the times when she was forced to listen to people with blonde hair or blue eyes.

But alas! Even these revolutionary perspectives can’t protect her from the dumbness which afflicts us all, even when we haven’t purchased some easy point of dogma. Indeed, true belief may encourage errors of judgment, as may have happened with Dohrn.

God save us from the imperfect judgment of youngsters armed with dogmas! On the brighter side, we checked to see what Dickinson is doing today, three years after her term in the classroom.

The white, economically privileged woman landed on her feet! Today, she’s a senior consultant for Booz Allen, the mega defense contractor which is owned by the Carlyle Group.

Who knows? She may be doing something good there. According to her LinkedIn profile, she’s working in “Education Management.”

But no facile admonition can protect us from our dumbness and our bad judgment. At Salon, youngsters armed with the language of privilege seem to us to prove that point every day of the week.

57 comments:

  1. Meanwhile, that said, in other news of interest to the liberally-privedleged:

    New York Times!
    77%!
    Naming Names!

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/report-nyt-did-pay-jill-abramson-lower-salary-than-male-editors

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. How To Stop A Divorce And Save Your Marriage?(Dr Brave).


      Hello to every one out here, am here to share the unexpected miracle that happened to me three days ago, My name is Jeffrey Dowling,i live in TEXAS,USA.and I`m happily married to a lovely and caring wife,with two kids A very big problem occurred in my family seven months ago,between me and my wife so terrible that she took the case to court for a divorce she said that she never wanted to stay with me again,and that she did not love me anymore So she packed out of my house and made me and my children passed through severe pain. I tried all my possible means to get her back,after much begging,but all to no avail and she confirmed it that she has made her decision,and she never wanted to see me again. So on one evening,as i was coming back from work,i met an old friend of mine who asked of my wife So i explained every thing to her,so she told me that the only way i can get my wife back,is to visit a spell caster,because it has really worked for her too So i never believed in spell,but i had no other choice,than to follow her advice. Then she gave me the email address of the spell caster whom she visited.(bravespellcaster@gmail.com}, So the next morning,i sent a mail to the address she gave to me,and the spell caster assured me that i will get my wife back the next day what an amazing statement!! I never believed,so he spoke with me,and told me everything that i need to do. Then the next morning, So surprisingly, my wife who did not call me for the past seven {7}months,gave me a call to inform me that she was coming back So Amazing!! So that was how she came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and she apologized for her mistake,and for the pain she caused me and my children. Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster . So, i will advice you out there to kindly email this wonderful man {bravespellcaster@gmail.com},i f you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to "bringing your ex back. So thanks to Dr Brave for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family once again.{bravespellcaster@gmail.com}, Thanks..

      Delete
  2. Anybody want to bet Bob himself posted the Dohrn language to Wiki?

    ReplyDelete
  3. OMB (OMB!)

    "The directive can be used as a way to shut people up. It can be used as a way to spread unhelpful guilt and self-loathing.

    Revolutionary cadres have always enjoyed inducing this loathing among running dogs. They may not notice their own lack of judgment as they engage in the practice."

    Can anyone find examples better than Tal Fortgang and BOB?

    KZ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's one small example of shutting people up and making them feel guilty: the demand for PC language. Terms that were normal are suddenly declared to be loathsome: e.g., stewardess, Indian, colored, illegal alien, midget, cripple, etc. People grew up using these terms merely for description, not as pejoratives. Suddenly, we're are told that we are loathsome for using these words. We hesitate to speak, for fear that we may use some other non-PC term, out of carelessness or ignorance. Note that it's pretty much always the left that decrees what we cannot say.

      Amusing story: Some years back, TV stations decided that the only permissible way to refer to black people was 'African American'. One announcer therefore described ice-skating star Surya Bonaly as "French African American."

      Delete
    2. PC isn't PC any more, DinC. IMHO.

      KZ

      Delete
    3. Yes, David. I remember that "decision" TV stations made
      some years back. I believe it was at the 23rd Annual Meeting in Urban Legend, in South Pseudo-Liberalville.

      http://jimromenesko.com/2012/08/06/great-moments-in-olympics-coverage-when-tyson-gay-became-tyson-homosexual/

      Delete
    4. http://www.ehow.com/how_4443550_become-stewardess.html

      Delete
    5. http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/index.htm

      Delete
    6. http://www.coloredgirlconfidential.com/about/

      Delete
    7. http://www.teaparty.org/no-amnesty/

      Delete
    8. http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/eye-on-college-football/24399928/arkansas-state-hide-the-midget-trick-play-works-in-godaddy-bowl-against-ball-state

      Delete
    9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_People_of_the_Pryor_Mountains

      Delete
  4. I apologize to Mr. S. On the previous thread I noted he had yet to post today and speculated he might be on another of those Friday "Missions" he sometimes takes.

    How was I to know he had been hijacked by youngsters armed with dogmas! Alas! The tyranny!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Bendadette Dohrn - Lesbian Tide - Tides Foundation - George Soros -
    Barry Hussein Obama - Bill Ayres - Bernadette Dohrn

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not that it's relevant, but I was invited to a party at Bernadine Dohrn's house last year. Unbeknownst to me, we were in the same graduating class. She invited the whole Class of 1963. However, I didn't attend that reunion, so I missed my chance to socialize with her and Bill Ayers. We could have had some exciting conversations

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Dave! You should have gone. That was your chance to pal around with terrorists.

      Delete
    2. I once had beer with Betty Ann Duke. Years before she disappeared. Haven't seen her since.

      Delete
    3. I should add to my comment at 2:29. Don't bother tracing me and calling the FBI. They already interviewed me. My cat "Whiskers" was a patient of Louis Buck.

      Delete
  7. "The directive can be used as a way to shut people up. It can be used as a way to spread unhelpful guilt and self-loathing. "

    Modern progressives seek out guilt and self loathing because they are dysfunctionally familiar to them. They enjoy feeling them and inflicting them on others. This nature is alien to people like Tal Fortgang most likely because his parents raised him not to mistake self victimization and self loathing with compassion. Checking one's privilege and even more telling others to check theirs is a sign of poor emotional development probably caused by poor parenting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Modern progressives have nothing on the original progressives.

      Delete
    2. Do you understand that your group diagnosis (guilt, self-loathing, poor emotional development caused by poo parenting) likely tells us more about you than about "modern progressives"?

      Check your therapy.

      Delete
    3. you tell'm deadrat. how dare he talk about our mother that way.

      Delete
    4. I've heard privileged described as "original sin of the left." I think that more or less sums it up. In the view of modern social justice warriors, non-minorities are incorrigibly tainted with privilege. They are therefore not allowed to talk -only to listen and obey.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous @3:16,

      How come she always liked you best? Talk about privilege!

      Delete
    6. MintheC,

      You heard it somewhere so it must be true.

      We're not allowed to talk? As far as I can tell, our cohort won't shut up.

      It hurts to be incorrigibly tainted with privilege. Owning everything is some comfort though.

      Delete
    7. deadrat knows all about poo parenting. He just doesn't feel insecure like Somerby and need to cite the world's foremost authoity as his source.

      I will do that for him.

      http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Hankey

      Delete
    8. the hell you say, my brother. mom always liked cisgender best.

      Delete
    9. Please give MintheC a break deadrat. Unlike those who comment that they "read an article" somewhere, you should not depreciate those who rely on oral tradition.
      Your privilege as a reader is showing, as Cecelia would say.

      Delete
    10. It hurts to be incorrigibly tainted with privilege. Owning everything is some comfort though.

      Since people who are the same color as you "own everything" you think you as an individual own everything as well by virtue of your skin color. What a bizarre way to think.

      Delete
    11. I didn't even know we had a cister. My bad.

      Delete
    12. Anonymous @3:43P,

      MintheC could have said, "I read some rightard screed that described privilege as the "original sin of the left.'" Since I don't do my own thinking, that more less sums it up for me." I would have marginally more respect for that than for his reliance on "oral tradition."

      And the word is "deprecate."

      Delete
    13. Anonymous @4:39P,

      Could you be any more clueless?

      Get that literal mindedness checked out by a professional to make sure it isn't part of a larger cognitive deficit.

      Delete
    14. Anonymous @3:29,

      Misquote: poor parenting. Poo parenting leads to anal retentive children.

      Delete
    15. deadrat at 5

      Thanks for the correction. I apprecate it.

      Delete
  8. The humor of this whole series is that it has now revolved for the third time around an alleged quote from an article allegedly written by Bernadine Dohrn in a defunct feminist publication, Lesbian Times.

    If you follow Somerby's link you will find the source of the quote is a Master's Thesis by a graduate student at Georgia State University.
    Surely Wikipedia would never badly paraphrase from something as
    easily checked as a master's thesis quote of a publication defunct for thirty four years. I mean that would be like the New York Times badly paraphrasing something Susan Rice said 5 times on television
    less than two years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Musings on the mainstream press corps require exploration of many teeny, tiny, trickling tributaries.

      Delete
    2. What I think is funny -- in the way Glenn Beck is funny -- is imagining any of today's Princeton undergrads as modern-day Bernadine Dohrns. Bob certainly does have a vivid imagination.

      Delete
  9. Isn't it time for Tea with Walsh and Lemon yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He'll probably just serve some of those tatty Tuscaloosa treats
      to fill the gap.

      Delete
  10. Which statement is more likely to encourage a black child to excel in mathematics, A or B?

    A. David Blackwell, a black man, was an outstanding mathematician. He co-created a field of mathematics called Dynamic Programming.

    B. You weren't privileged the way your white classmates were, so you are at a disadvantage when trying to learn mathematics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not that I intend to disparage your deep connection with black children, but which of your many condescending comments is most likely to encourage children and adults of all colors to itch to smack you into next week?

      Delete
    2. Children and adults of all colors except cacambo.

      Delete
    3. Well said, David in Cal

      Delete
    4. Nice paralipsis, deadrat.

      Delete
    5. Thanks, DAinCA. You don't think it slipped over into proslepsis, do you?

      Delete
  11. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/man-dies-bullet-misses-vest

    The young woman who shot her friend -- well, they were proving something or other. It's actually very sad. Both people involved surely deserved better.

    Of themselves. But I suspect they were busy justifying themselves to themselves (if I may guess mightily): I'm white and I'm proud and I play with guns.

    Bob should pay more attention to people like this, to the privilege not yet attained but that is still touted as if given at birth (to compensate for the possibilities denied by right-wing oligarchs). Checking privilege, indeed.

    ReplyDelete

  12. How To Stop A Divorce And Save Your Marriage?(Dr Brave).


    Hello to every one out here, am here to share the unexpected miracle that happened to me three days ago, My name is Jeffrey Dowling,i live in TEXAS,USA.and I`m happily married to a lovely and caring wife,with two kids A very big problem occurred in my family seven months ago,between me and my wife so terrible that she took the case to court for a divorce she said that she never wanted to stay with me again,and that she did not love me anymore So she packed out of my house and made me and my children passed through severe pain. I tried all my possible means to get her back,after much begging,but all to no avail and she confirmed it that she has made her decision,and she never wanted to see me again. So on one evening,as i was coming back from work,i met an old friend of mine who asked of my wife So i explained every thing to her,so she told me that the only way i can get my wife back,is to visit a spell caster,because it has really worked for her too So i never believed in spell,but i had no other choice,than to follow her advice. Then she gave me the email address of the spell caster whom she visited.(bravespellcaster@gmail.com}, So the next morning,i sent a mail to the address she gave to me,and the spell caster assured me that i will get my wife back the next day what an amazing statement!! I never believed,so he spoke with me,and told me everything that i need to do. Then the next morning, So surprisingly, my wife who did not call me for the past seven {7}months,gave me a call to inform me that she was coming back So Amazing!! So that was how she came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and she apologized for her mistake,and for the pain she caused me and my children. Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster . So, i will advice you out there to kindly email this wonderful man {bravespellcaster@gmail.com},i f you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to "bringing your ex back. So thanks to Dr Brave for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family once again.{bravespellcaster@gmail.com}, Thanks..

    ReplyDelete
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