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screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-14-20-25Have you heard of “white privilege,” gentle readers? It’s the idea that merely because one was born white, one has unfair advantages in life, advantages non-white people not only do not have, but can never have. It does not matter that one is as far from racist as it is humanly possible to be, the privilege, and the sin, is inherent in skin color. It also directly implies that those not born with such privilege can never overcome that unfair deficit, and therefore, they cannot possibly experience misfortune due to their own bad choices or habits. Anything less than stellar in their lives is the fault of others, particularly those born with white privilege. It is a grand, universal, pervasive, anti-brown and black person conspiracy that doesn’t require a single person to conspire, or to even be aware of the conspiracy. In fact, that white people are unaware of white privilege is absolute proof of white privilege. They’re so privileged they don’t recognize it.

But what about white people of good will, struggling economically, working very hard for mere subsistence for themselves and their families? Are they privileged? It doesn’t matter. It’s a matter of pigmentation–genes–not character, effort and determination.

It’s very much like the poor, non-racist white person who, irrationally accused of racism, protests. The mere fact of their denial is proof positive of racism, because racists always deny their racism.

Fortunately, there are sensitive, intellectually and morally superior activists around to spread the word and combat the scourge of white privilege, as Philly.com reports:

Princeton High School’s principal emailed an apology to parents last week after the speaker at a student assembly on digital safety admonished some students for cheering examples of online racism and sexism.

The speaker, Alison Macrina, lectured the students on their ‘white privilege’ after they cheered. The students then complained to the school.

Events unfolded after Macrina, an Internet-privacy activist, was invited to the high school on Monday, Nov. 14, to discuss the topic and her group, which aims to help public libraries defend against unwanted online surveillance. Macrina is founder and director of the Library Freedom Project.

One of the two assemblies, which were sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and the Princeton Public Schools, took a nasty turn after Macrina began discussing racist and sexist “trolls” on social media in relation to cyberbullying and white nationalism.

At this point, one might be wondering what “cyberbullying” and “white nationalism” have to do with online surveillance in libraries, particularly school libraries. Ms. Macrina explains:

In a series of messages on social media days later, Macrina said a vocal minority of the audience cheered after she offered examples of racist and sexist online attacks.

‘I called them out,’ Macrina tweeted. She described the group of students as ‘wealthy white teen boys cheering for racist imagery and yelling even louder when called out.

Hmm. How would one know these students, who she presumably had never met or seen, are, to a boy, wealthy? Obviously, she could tell they were white. And were they actually cheering “racist imagery,” or merely having a bit of fun with Macrina who would seem to have been taking herself very seriously indeed that day? Or were they, perhaps, merely behaving like teenaged boys have a tendency to do, being teenaged boys and all?

Macrina began chastising the students, and proceeded to lecture them on white privilege.

I suspect Ms. Macrina is not at all used to dealing with high school students, and had not the slightest idea how to handle such things. Assuming, as such people have a tendency to do, that the slightest potential opposition to her way of thinking was an attack, and/or evidence of white privilege, she began to “chastise” them, which would, of course, have caused the kids to act out even more.

After many students and teachers complained that her remarks were offensive, Principal Gary Snyder emailed a formal apology to parents Tuesday morning for the ‘the inappropriate tone and unexpected direction of the assembly.’ Here’s the text of Snyder’s apology:

Dear PHS families, 11/15/16

Yesterday, PHS held an assembly that was intended to teach our students about online safety and digital citizenship skills that are needed in today’s digital landscape. The speaker at the assembly came to us highly recommended, but strayed from the original message and objective. The speaker made statements that made some students feel uncomfortable, and a few students reacted in a way that also caused discomfort to their fellow students. We strive to be a school where all students feel truly safe, and where differing views and opinions can be discussed thoughtfully and respectfully. We will continue our work in that area.

This morning, I read the statement below to the students acknowledging the inappropriate tone and unexpected direction of the assembly and reaffirming the need for us to engage in open dialogue.

Sincerely,

Gary R. Snyder

PHS Principal

‘Good morning,

This is Principal Snyder and I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect with you on yesterday’s assemblies. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the program didn’t go as expected, and for that I apologize. While our speaker sought to make important points regarding digital privacy and online safety, her strident style combined with provocative and inflammatory language caused students and adults to be understandably offended. While I, and some others, were able to see some value in the content she delivered, I acknowledge to you that I also took umbrage with several of her comments. As a result, and unfortunately, many of the important lessons of digital citizenship were largely lost.

Placing yesterday into context and using a phrase from your history courses, I’d call yesterday a “sign of the times.” We live in a turbulent time with emotions running high. While I can’t make excuses for our speaker, my perception is that she found herself caught up in the post-election climate and allowed that to influence her presentation.

So where do we go and what do we do? You know my answer… education is our foundation and our daily work. We will all learn from yesterday and continue our efforts in all of our classes to increase our knowledge and skills in all of the academic areas. The knowledge and skills needed in this digital age are all built upon the foundation of knowledge that you are studying. In addition, from a recent report published from MIT, it is emphasized that for 21st century digital literacy, there is greater need for schools to be teaching and students learning the required social skills of collaboration, cultural competencies, and networking.

I’d like to close by also giving thanks and praise to the students and teachers who continued yesterday with meaningful conversations and civil discourse on the various topics after the assemblies. It is always a point of pride for me to witness PHS engaged in constructive dialogue even in the most difficult of times. When we as a people can get past labels and name-calling, then we can engage in thoughtful and productive dialogue regarding the issues of our time. These discussions were happening yesterday in the hallways and classrooms of PHS. One of the intended lessons from yesterday was to also acknowledge that the conversations are happening online. We are part of a participatory culture that not only consumes news and information, but contributes to the production of that news. Your, and our, ability to do that in a productive and meaningful manner is critical for the times in which we live.

Yesterday, like many days, didn’t go as planned. Our strength is then to decide how best we can respond in adverse situations. As always, our focus is to ‘Live to Learn and Learn to Live.

Snyder’s comments are, obviously, measured and appropriate. Ms. Macrina obviously took the entire matter personally:

On Twitter, Macrina wrote that she was ‘astonished’ by the issued apology, ‘but also not.’

‘This is our world,’ she added. ‘White students cheer swastikas and the offensive one is the one who calls that racist.’

While Macrina never mentioned the school by name in her litany of messages, some students tracked down her account and replied to her messages.

The tone of the article suggests its authors take Macrina’s account at face value and assume the students were, in some undefined way, racist. The article also notes that it’s unknown why school staff did not intervene when Macrina was “chastising” the students.

The answer is obvious: good manners. School personnel generally do not interrupt invited speakers unless things are out of control, or so obviously inappropriate they must be stopped then and there. In this case, it seems that Ms. Macrina was able to continue and complete her presentation, and it was not necessary to shut her down. One can only imagine the howls of outrage had she been stopped mid-lecture. What greater example of institutional white privilege and racism could there possibly be?

I’ve seen a number of invited speakers that went off topic, or were simply very poor speakers, yet they were allowed to continue and finish their presentations, such as they were, because they didn’t go outside–or at least not too far outside–appropriate boundaries. Principal Snyder’s comments would seem to suggest that was the case here, but it also suggests Ms. Macrina obviously transgressed boundaries.

Again, I suspect it is simply because she is not used to teenaged audiences. Teenagers, particularly in large groups, can easily become a bit rowdy and irreverent, which is a polite way of saying some often become rude and stupid. That, however, is generally not evidence of racism, merely evidence they’re teenagers. This is not, of course, to excuse or explain away rudeness and stupidity among teenagers.

Considering the topic of Ms. Macrina’s lecture, labeling kids she did not know as racists, certainly stepped over the line. I’ve no reason to believe she is herself a racist or ill-intentioned “activist,” but she certainly needs to learn how to deal effectively with kids.

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