Published on November 21, 2014

By Dr. Mom
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

The only surprising thing about Jonathan Gruber’s disdain for the American people is that somebody called him on it.

Full disclosure: I spent a lot of time in college. I mean a LOT of time. Seventeen years in a brick-and-mortar university, day one to Ph.D., and another year and a half for an additional Master’s online. My father worked for a university as staff for almost 40 years. My husband is a staff member there now. I still live in the college town in which I grew up and took three degrees. I grew up with the children of professors, deans, and administrators.

So I know a little bit about colleges and the students, professors, graduate students, administrators, and staff that inhabit them. Moreover, for most of that time, I was an ardent and loyal liberal, a radical feminist, a perfect soldier for the secular progressive cause.

Don’t worry. I got better.

But my point here is to respond to the justifiable outrage against Jonathan “voters are stupid” Gruber. I’m sorry to break it to you, America, but the only thing unusual about Jonathan Gruber in the academic world is his willingness to go public with his hubris.

I have been to many symposia, seminars, and annual meetings (those are fancy college words for “meetings.”) They are festive occasions, despite their pointy-headed nature, usually stuffed full of stuffed shirts breathlessly telling each other what they think, patting one another on the back for their genius, when not stabbing each other in the back to get a chunk of some other genius’s grant money. Being nearly always of like political mind (especially in the Political Science meetings which I primarily attended), they freely express their disdain for the insufficiently intellectual American people, and their abject, unreasoning hatred of conservatives and Republicans. Moreover, they share these opinions in their classrooms, with their students, leading discussion with the assumption that their political perspective is right and all others are wrong.

But perhaps there is hope for them. Indulge me for a moment.

Back in the day, feminists blamed everything on “the patriarchy,” which is feminist-speak for “society,” so-called because it tended to be run by the male of the species for way too many years to count. Now–perhaps because women have made great systemic strides in getting what feminists wanted for them–the liberal grievance industry (which is the core of the academic world) needs something else to blame for all injustice, and what it has landed on is “privilege.”

“Privilege”—especially white privilege—is the combination of all the good things that happen to people because of their status (white, male, etc.) and all of the bad things that happen to others that don’t have it. Thus, white privilege supposedly allows white teenagers to walk around a store without the store manager suspecting that they are going to steal something (having worked in stores, I suspect the white teenagers who decry their guilt for this privilege just don’t realize they, too, are being watched.)

In colleges today, it is popular for incoming freshmen (I’m sorry—“first-year students”) to be told that they are beneficiaries or victims of this privilege and to be encouraged (in the way we grown-ups are “encouraged” to pay our taxes) to identify and denounce it. This leads to perfectly normal young men and women making silly lists that essentially detail everything they do and attributing their ability to do it to their privilege. The list-making process, or merely the identification of your panoply of privileges is commonly known as “checking” your privilege.

Professor Peggy McIntosh, the woman who popularized the notion through her 1988 paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” in 1988, was the first to make such a list. According to her, her first epiphany was, “I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.” Thus, privilege can be unintended, accidental, even unavoidable (as in the above demographic reality)—but the problem is that it is unearned and others don’t have it.

The claim of privilege does not elevate the allegedly privileged; it shames and silences. Oh, you are expected to talk long enough to publicly confess (in the manner of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China), but in the end you are deflated, relieved to be unburdened of your guilt, but still made to understand that, regardless of your individual talent or ability, you are still the commonest of the common. And your privileged contribution is no longer needed.

Though doubtful of the ubiquity of white or male privilege, I am certain that there is an inoculating trait that allows one to be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, to discriminate against people based on their perceived intelligence, their political ideology, their status as stay-at-home moms or breadwinner dads or religious people or unborn children—a privilege that allows almost unfettered expression and the most outrageous behavior to go unchallenged: college professor.

Check your privilege, Professor Gruber. We eagerly await your list.


Kerry JacobDr. Mom is a married mother of three boys and the author of Souls, Bodies, Spirits: The Drive to Abolish Abortion Since 1973. The hills she chooses to die on are the Bible and the Constitution, in that order. In addition to her American Studies doctorate, she also holds a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology and is, therefore, perfectly equipped to interpret the current Administration. She also tweets as DrKC4.


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