Don Pridemore’s weird fuss about white wristbands

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Here’s the full text of a press release from state Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford, who is running for state Department of Public Instruction superintendent:

HARTFORD – Rep. Don Pridemore issued the following statement Monday:

“I am appalled that the leadership at the Department of Public Instruction would allow and foster the idea of ‘white privilege’ on its website. The suggestion that white people are to wear white wristbands while working within urban schools is unconceivable. I am at a loss as to why the DPI finds it helpful to initiate something this inflammatory and divisive just when we as a society are making great strides in breaking down racial barriers.

“Either there is a lack of good judgment at the very top of the DPI or a lack of knowledge of what goes on within the department. Once the light was shined on this deplorable policy, the idea of white privilege was removed from DPI’s website. I expect a full disclosure and explanation from DPI sooner rather than later, especially when sensitivity training seems to be a big part of DPI’s agenda. DPI should be fostering an environment where individual differences are celebrated and respected, not ridiculed and symbolized.”

Oy. A lot going on here. The line that I have bolded, in particular, seems to edge riiiiiight up to real race-baiting. Obviously “urban schools” is a stand-in for “mostly black” schools. So is the point that it’s wrong to mention white privilege when these white people are surrounded by minorities?

Is that an uncharitable reading? I’m serious. Am I missing something? What’s “unconceivable” (sic) about some discussion of white privilege in an urban school? I don’t get it.

Also, I may be burying the lede here, but it seems worth mentioning that this whole story is made up. It blew up in conservative media last week — from Charlie Sykes to Town Hall and lots of others. The original outrage, I guess, was that DPI had posted some materials about “white privilege” that seemed a little liberal-P.C. or touchy-feely or overly race-focused to some people.

Well, fine. White privilege is certainly a real thing and worth talking about — even conservative radio host (and friend of the blog!) Jerry Bader believes white privilege is a real thing and worth talking about — but on the other hand this particular teaching tool, the idea of “white privilege” bracelets, clearly is a bit silly and reductive. Not something I’m really ready to go to the mats for, if you know what I mean.

But here is the thing: This material was never shown to a single student in Wisconsin and it was never planned to be shown to a single student in Wisconsin. Here is DPI’s statement:

The material about the white wristbands was not covered/discussed in a training VISTA volunteers received—training which was conducted by an outside (non-DPI) group. At the end of a training session, a packet of ‘additional resources’ was offered by the trainers as the volunteers left. Subsequently, that entire resource packet was posted to the VISTA web site.

Again, no DPI official, or any VISTA volunteer has used, requested, or encouraged anyone in any school to use the wristbands as ‘reported’ and shared by external groups that thrive on spreading rumors and misinformation. The bottom-line is that there is no wristband program in Wisconsin.

(Thanks to liberal blogger Blue Cheddar for pointing me to the link.) So in sum: Someone posted some training materials nobody read to a website nobody looks at. Commence freakout.

I have emailed the Pridemore campaign with some questions — like what he means by that urban schools reference — and will post the campaign’s response if I hear back.

About Robert Mentzer

I am the opinion editor at Daily Herald Media.
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