The San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed on Monday by former college professor and school district principal Ingrid Seyer-Ochi which claims that self-proclaimed Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) manifests “white privilege, male privilege and class privilege,” as indicated from the viral image of him at the recent presidential inauguration.
Seyer-Ochi, who currently serves as a San Francisco Unified School District high school teacher, begins the essay — titled “S.F. high school students get a lesson in subtle white privilege” — by describing the discussions that took place between her and her students about the recent presidential inauguration.
"Sen. Sanders is no white supremacist insurrectionist. But he manifests privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege, in ways that my students could see and feel." https://t.co/uyAGMpAuR9
— SFChronicle Opinion (@sfc_opinions) February 1, 2021
Analyzing images from the January 20 inauguration together with her students, Seyer-Ochi discusses what they saw.
“We saw diversity, creativity and humanity, and a nation embracing all of this and more,” she writes. “On the day of the inauguration, Bernie Sanders was barely on our radar. The next day, he was everywhere.”
Discussing diversity and discrimination in the U.S., Seyer-Ochi once again asked her student what they saw at the inauguration.
“They saw a white man in a puffy jacket and huge mittens, distant not only in his social distancing, but in his demeanor and attire,” she writes.
Though she describes her discussions surrounding the meaning of the day, the peaceful transition of power, gender, and the attire chosen by the attendees, Seyer-Ochi was most struck by how seemingly innocent Bernie Sanders memes that resulted from a snap of the Vermont senator with crossed legs and large mittens had grabbed the attention of so many.
“And there, across all of our news and social media feeds, was Bernie: Bernie memes, Bernie sweatshirts, endless love for Bernie,” she writes.
“I puzzled and fumed as an individual as I strove to be my best possible teacher. What did I see? What did I think my students should see? A wealthy, incredibly well-educated and -privileged white man, showing up for perhaps the most important ritual of the decade, in a puffy jacket and huge mittens.”
Though she ensures the reader that Sanders “is no white supremacist insurrectionist,” Seyer-Ochi describes him as having manifest “privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege, in ways that my students could see and feel.”
“When you see privilege, you know it,” the author claims she taught her students weeks earlier.
“Yet, when they saw Sen. Bernie Sanders manifesting privilege, when seemingly no one else did, I struggled to explain that disparity.”
Seyer-Ochi then expresses her bafflement as to the rise in popularity of the now-famous image of Sanders.
“I am beyond puzzled as to why so many are loving the images of Bernie and his gloves. Sweet, yes, the gloves, knit by an educator,” she writes. “So ‘Bernie.’”
The author then criticizes the “blindness” toward the privilege Sanders “represents” that so many have displayed.
“Not so sweet? The blindness I see, of so many (Bernie included), to the privileges Bernie represents,” she writes. “I don’t know many poor, or working class, or female, or struggling-to-be-taken-seriously folk who would show up at the inauguration of our 46th president dressed like Bernie,” she adds.
“Unless those same folk had privilege,” she concludes. “Which they don’t.”
Sanders himself, when asked about having become a viral meme on social media, had told host Seth Meyers on Late Night that he was just trying to keep warm.
“I was just sitting there trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on,” Sanders said earlier this month, after stating that he wasn’t aware that he had become a viral meme during the event.
Many on Twitter found themselves both puzzled and disturbed by the San Francisco Chronicle essay.
“Girl he was sitting in a chair,” wrote journalist John Paul Brammer.
girl he was sitting in a chair https://t.co/YK1OOcadGv
— JP (@jpbrammer) February 1, 2021
“This person is teaching this to high school students,” wrote columnist Josh Barro.
This person is teaching this to high school students https://t.co/a6H5sfG3yP
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) February 1, 2021
“BREAKING: Teacher in school full of rich kids hates political leader who seeks equality,” wrote author Matt Stoller.
BREAKING: Teacher in school full of rich kids hates political leader who seeks equality. https://t.co/tdXqrLivrj
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) February 1, 2021
“What fresh hell is this take, I don’t even understand,” wrote journalist Laura Bassett. “The dude wore mittens and a big coat because it was cold and then he turned around and raised a ton of money for charity.”
What fresh hell is this take, I don’t even understand. The dude wore mittens and a big coat because it was cold and then he turned around and raised a ton of money for charity https://t.co/q3oWVLxU6e
— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) February 1, 2021
The op-ed was the latest in a spate of attacks by a “woke” culture which continues to attack once-sacred individuals and institutions.
“Now they’re after Bernie,” wrote author James Lindsay. “You may think you’re safe from Critical Race Theory, but no one is.”
Now they're after Bernie. You may think you're safe from Critical Race Theory, but no one is. https://t.co/Js5SEPjah5
— James Lindsay, won't fit in your box (@ConceptualJames) February 1, 2021
As one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden revoked a Trump administration order that had banned federal agencies, contractors, and recipients of federal funding from conducting certain diversity training.
The order had specifically targeted workplace training that explored systemic racism and privilege, including “critical race theory,” which former President Donald Trump had deemed “un-American” and potentially harmful.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.