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Grist’s Roberts: It Was a Case of ‘White Dude Privilege Syndrome’

When Talking Points Memo published, shall we say—uncensored—comments from Anthony Weiner’s communications director about an intern. there were a variety of reactions. Maybe that’s an understatement, but we don’t feel the need to rehash the copious amount of opinion floating around out there.

Except for one.

It came from Grist’s David Roberts, on Twitter. “I dunno, and I also kinda think the intern sounds like a social-climbing mercenary hobag. I’m oddly #teamweiner on this one.”

Catch the “hobag” part of that? It didn’t go over well with a lot of people.

We’re only bringing this up now because Roberts has penned an apology, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an analysis of why he said what he said in the first place.

Looking back on it with a few hours’ perspective, this (tweet) is a classic outbreak of White Dude Privilege Syndrome. Let’s walk through it and see what we can learn from it.

White Dude Privilege Syndrome? It’s the malformed idea that as long as you don’t mean to be a jerk, you can pretty much say whatever you want because it’s your own interpretation and intent that really matters (closely related to what Roberts calls White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome, which usually involves saying stupid things about women or racial minorities or gays and thinking it okay—because some of your best friends fall into one of those groups).

In the end, Roberts leaves us with this sage advice:

When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.

There’s probably more nuance to it than that, and some comm theory majors could probably weigh in and explain how meaning is never universal, but blah, blah, blah. He’s sorry, and he goes to lengths to explain what he thinks happened without using it as an excuse. Not much more to ask for there.

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