Wisconsin Parents Pretty Darn Upset When 'White Privilege' Discussion Sneaks Into MLK Day!
This past Martin Luther King Day, students in the predominantly white Oconomowoc Area School District in suburban Milwaukee attended a school assembly in which white privilege and other social privileges were discussed. And boy, were their parents unhappy about it! So unhappy that the principal of the school ended up resigning, and the district officially "imposed limits" on any discussions of social privileges that are not related to a specific course and necessary for the context of the lesson.
The controversial assembly included an exercise in which students were asked to fill out the following "Privilege Aptitude Test," created by the National Civil Rights Museum, and a discussion of what unearned social privileges are and how they work.
Clearly, the concerned parents did not read the actual test.
"This is a classic example of the school bullying the community," one concerned parent told News/Talk 1130 WISN "They're imposing their views about privilege on our kids and we have no say in it whatsoever."
What are the odds that these are the same people who say that rape victims who want trigger warnings on texts describing explicit rape scenes are "snowflakes"? That they are the same people who say "political correctness" prevents them from openly discussing issues they consider to be important? That they are the same people who get mad about college students protesting racist speakers? Or get mad about people getting "offended" by things? I'd say they are pretty good.
School Board President Donald Wiemer explained to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel why the board had decided to put the kibosh on discussions of privilege, a concept he still does not quite seem to understand:
"Our board is fine with discussions about diversity ... but white privilege is a lightning rod for some parents," said Wiemer, the board president who also serves as village manager and chief of police for the Village of Oconomowoc Lake, a small, affluent enclave on the southeast side of the district.
"We have poor people in Oconomowoc who are saying they're not privileged ... and people that say, 'Don, we worked our butts off to have what we have,'" Wiemer said.
Yes, Don, surely they have. But while they were working their butts off, they weren't all being followed around retail stores by workers who believed they were going to shoplift due to the color of their skin, and they weren't all doing it on one leg, and they weren't all doing it while being taken less seriously because of their gender.
If certain things put people at a disadvantage then, logically, it follows that people who don't have to deal with those things are at an advantage. It is easier to not experience racism or sexism than to experience it. This is not that hard. How are you going to have "discussions about diversity" without going that extra step?
The curious thing about this situation is that these people do not seem to be mad about what we actually mean when we talk about white privilege or male privilege or other forms of unearned privileges. They are mad about what they have decided those things mean. They have decided that what we mean by "white privilege" is that all white people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, waited on hand and foot by butlers, driven around in limousines by chauffeurs, never have to work a day in their lives -- and are all irredeemably BAD. And they are furious that anyone would dare to suggest such a thing, despite the fact that absolutely no one is saying that.
It's a strawman argument, and a common one. They do the same thing with Black Lives Matter, insisting that it means "And white lives DON'T!" They do the same thing with "toxic masculinity," deciding to interpret it as "liberals think all men are bad and toxic" rather than a term that refers to the ways in which certain societal expectations of masculinity are detrimental not only to women, but also to men themselves. They do it with the "pussy hats" some chose to wear at the Women's March, going on and on about how crass hats with cat ears are, while refusing to acknowledge that the very reason for those hats was because the country had just elected a man who went around bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. They do it with Marina Abramovic's "Spirit Cooking" -- digging their heels in and refusing to understand that sometimes performance art is just weird, a concept liberals have understood since at least the mid-'80s. They do it with pretty much everything.
Is this all willful misinterpretation? Is it that they are unable to formulate an argument against these things, and thus resort to changing their meaning in order to have something that seems more reasonable to attack? Or are they just really stupid and genuinely convinced that their interpretation of these things is correct? Is it that many of these terms and ideas trigger such an emotional reaction in them that they rendered are unable to Google and must define them for themselves? It is honestly pretty hard to tell.
It's unfortunate, really, that the children in this school will no longer be learning about these concepts. It is, perhaps, even more unfortunate that their parents won't either.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse