Measuring Privilege the Wrong Way

This thought-provoking and problematic “check your privilege” list has been circulating on Twitter this morning, seemingly at least partly originating from this tweet


Normally, I am all for discussions of privilege. These conversations are needed and don’t happen anywhere near often enough. But this chart, goes about it (almost) all wrong.

For starters, it legitimizes that being classified as White, Man, Able-Bodied, etc are good and characteristics to aspire to – you get more “points” after all. The entire “point system” is problematic too because there are no “points,” there is no exact science to discussing and measuring systems of privilege in real, everyday life. Indeed, part of their power is that they can’t be measured. The power of invisibility. Likewise, as we know from Invisible Man, being a minority is to be invisible at times, and this is also problematic. 

The point system, as this twitter user suggests, encourages comparisons about who is treated worst. According to this chart: a transgender, Middle Eastern Muslim who is a disfigured, autistic, gay, homeless man is the “least privileged of all.” This is kind of ridiculous. Ridiculous in terms of having an “exact calculation.” Additionally, this privilege list is “racist,” “sexist,” etc., in terms of how it classifies (and doesn’t) such ascribed and achieved statuses.That is to say, this chart implicitly suggests it covers all possible variables, when it doesn’t.  

In the humanities, we know that nothing has an exact answer and that there is never any one answer. Given this, I still have questions about these rankings. For instance, I would think that a person being non-reliigous would “cost” him/her more than ten points.

From another perspective, this chart is ambiguous. How “poor” does someone how to be before they are considered “homeless”? What is the difference between being “poor” and being “middle class” given today’s economy? How “tall” is tall? And being a 6′ 6″ individual, sometimes being tall is not a privilege. Also, privilege and discrimination are not static. Gay people have only faced en masse discrimination since around the World War I/World War II era and in ways it is getting worse as (most) Republicans hate gay people and we’re so close to having codified human rights. 

Context is important. And this chart ignores context. It also ignores geography (and chronology). Depending on what era, country, state, etc someone lives in the discrimination and “privileges” one receives differ.

This checklist does get credit for recognizing intersectionality. For example, it readily shows that a “White woman” is treated very different than being a “Black woman.” It might help some people realize how good or bad they have it, but it does little else. 

Especially meaningful conversations about White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, Cisgender Privilege, etc, etc, etc, take an approach like this, this, and/or this. Lists such as these provide direct and indirect solutions, too. White people regularly complain that discussions of privilege are too pointed and oriented toward blame. In reality, discussions of privilege should be focused on being more and more conscious of the world and helping others have better and better opportunities and a happy existence. 

 What are your thoughts? 

History, Memory, and Why (Some) “Clutter” is Absolutely Essential

Often times we have urges to clean and downsize our possessions. I’m guilty of this, too. Sometimes too much so. We see something we haven’t used in forever and decide to get rid of it. Or see “old stuff,” “boring history” and see no value in it. Doing this too much is dangerous–yes, “dangerous” is appropriate diction–because objects, more than our brains, store memories.

For example, after guest speaking at Alvin Junior High, I went down memory lane for about a week. During this time, I looked at all of my old yearbooks from elementary and intermediate school. If I had gotten rid of these, I wouldn’t have these memories: pictures, names, and notes from teachers.

When people talk about having houses that are almost empty or that have been destroyed by natural disasters, memories have been destroyed. (Keep lots of pictures and have backups as possible!)

Or as this article discusses, when children don’t want any furniture from their parents, memories have been destroyed.

Objects (just like people) store memories. human brains are infinitely powerful but need help. It functions better with cues. Students learn retrieval strategies for taking tests. Objects are retrieval mechanisms.

I’ve read that if you stopped speaking and writing in English, for example, that in 5-10 years, you would have “forgotten” most of English. With brains it’s less about “forgetting” and more about under use. Similar things happen when we get rid of things, and consequently, memories are forever deleted. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Part of why nursing homes are so sad and detrimental is because people have to give up almost everything that gives them memories. Indeed, we are who we are because of other people and other things. Living in an empty, strange, isolated place is bad news.

Additionally, knowing and studying History is in part dependent on people not discarding everything. Imagine how much less we would know about 1800-1899 if no one kept anything! Save “stuff” for future individuals, if not for yourself.

Finally, we must acknowledge that we are privileged to be able to save primary sources and cultural artifacts. We have means of storage and shelter. When you decide to get rid of something, you are giving up your own voice as an historical actor. Think of all those across time and place who long for a voice.

Help yourself and others preserve and understand themselves and future peoples by saving and preserving, not discarding. Everybody can be a historian.

(Did you notice that “the” is not in this article once!? Compare that to most blogs/articles!) 

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Two Tips for Students: Attend Class and Don’t Guess

Dear Students,

I’ve written various blogs with tips for you in the past. For example, Live these 15 tips (and less than 300 words) and I Guarantee Your Success in College “What! Why did you give me this grade?!”: Helping Students Understand Grades, 21 Essential Concepts for Succeeding in Introductory U.S. History, and 14 Must Know Rules of Grammar Guaranteed for Successful Writing

I wanted to elaborate on one point I’ve made before: attend class, always, no matter what.

Missing class is something that, in some ways, I don’t understand. I was an undergrad from January 2005 to May 2008. During this time I took 127 credits and never missed a class and was never late for a class, even when I was sick. All of these classes, except seven, were face-to-face classes.

In other ways, I do understand missing a class. In my second semester of graduate school, I missed a month of class for surgery. But that is it. I was present for all other seminars. 

So, I understand that things happen and you get sick, you have a family emergency, or you have to work. One absence is okay and will usually go “unnoticed.” Beyond that, missing class is generally unacceptable. This semester I have been especially aware of attendance concerns given the direct correlation between attendance and grades. I have an unusual number of students failing in one of my classes this semester, and without exception, these students have missed at least several classes and have not responded to my “what is going on,” “do you have questions about anything?” and “attendance is important” emails.  

In a nut shell: if you are present for the quiz and do the work, do the readings, you will probably pass my course or any other course.

Another really important piece of advice I have been needing to formally address on my blog is, please do not just guess when you don’t know the answer to questions. I have been seeing this trend for maybe two years now. If you do not know the answer to a question, please just leave it blank. Or, write a brief message along the lines of “sorry – I forgot to do this reading.” I have seen many guesses that have made me “LOL.”

The danger of guessing is that you directly show you don’t know the material and that by guessing and writing the wrong answer, you are making it harder to learn. By writing down the wrong answer, you are telling your brain that is the right answer. Writing is an important learning tool – use it wisely. 

Now by “don’t guess,” I do not mean you should be afraid to write down your thoughts or you should be afraid of being “wrong.” I am only talking about situations when you know you didn’t do a reading and/or you know you don’t know the answer.

For example, every semester, in every class, the first quiz includes the question, “What is the objectionable material warning, and why is it important.” We cover this the first day of class, and the syllabus explains it in great detail. Yet, every semester I get responses that are something like “a warning you get when you don’t bring materials to class.”

Guessing will not earn points. If you don’t know an answer on rare occasions, you will probably be just fine. 

Also, “don’t guess” by using excessive filler or by rewriting the question as a statement. I have seen this in the past few years, too. For example, a quiz question might ask, “How was World War II transformative?” I’ll occasionally get responses something like, “World War II was a very transformative event that produced major change around the world given that it was a world war involving many countries. These changes were only amplified because it was the second world war. Transformations included further transformations as World War II included and added to changes across the world and involved millions of people.”

No joke! Please don’t do that. Writing and reading such statements is not a very productive use of anyone’s time. A response like this would earn zero credit.

Please do know that your professors do read your work – we care about your ideas!

For most of you, these will not really apply to you per se – as you are already attending class, reading, and writing great responses . Hopefully, this information will serve as a good reminder for all of you. As always, let me (or your specific professor) know if you have questions.

And remember that  will + skill = success. 


Your Professor 


9 Problems with Money in 2015

1) Overall, Women are (still! hasn’t this been illegal!) paid less than Men in the same job. Women and Men have the same number of hours in a day and have the same working capacity. (Plus Women aren’t given as many opportunities for jobs that would pay more.)

2) Overall, non-Whites are paid less than Whites in the same job. Non-Whites and Whites have the same number of hours in a day and have the same working capacity. (Plus non-Whites aren’t given as many opportunities for jobs that would pay more.)

3) Those paid less than other people in the same job are charged the same amount as people paid a higher wage for the same job.

4) On average, there is little-to-no correlation between compensation and actual dedication, productivity, and creativity of the laborer. After all, every one has the same number of hours in a day. 

5) Likewise, there is little-to-no correlation between how much it cost to produce products, physical or mental products, and the amount for which these products are sold.

6) People who were (and are!) accidentally born at the right time and to the right racialization and to the right genderization were (are!) automatically many steps ahead of everyone else.

7) Nothing is off limits from being thought of in terms of money.

8) As a social construction, money does not exist. Money is a mere illusion. But, people take it as real and existing in a vacuum.

9) There is little serious conversation about the inhumane nature of money, as it currently exists.

Just things to think about, continued from this post


United States Constitutional Amendments: 28-37


“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” This amendment takes effect immediately.


Every person has a right to fair and equal wages, the right to unionize, the right to a thirty-five-hour workweek, and eight weeks of vacation, holidays, or personal leave yearly. This amendment takes effect immediately.


No person shall be denied access to medical doctors and any procedures, medication, or services necessary to maintain a high quality of life and basic health. Such services are to be rendered at expense of taxpayers. As the right to live is a human right, profit is not acceptable. This amendment takes effect immediately.


The right and privileges of marriage shall be available to all of those old enough to freely consent to such contracts. The contract is valid until either one or both of the two parties null the contract or one of the parties dies. This amendment takes effect immediately.


No personal willing to put forward the necessary time and effort can be denied the opportunity of obtaining an education. Primary and secondary school, college, graduate school, and medical school benefit all citizens and are thus paid for by taxes. Adult students receiving such an education full time shall be provided a stipend. Instructors have academic freedom. This amendment takes effect immediately.


No person can live in an unhealthy environment. Therefore, green energy must be used. No government entity may outlaw green energy or discussions of global warming/climate change. This amendment takes effect immediately.


Individuals with incomes that place them in the top 10% of income earners may not use any loopholes to avoid paying taxes and shall pay a higher percentage of taxes. This amendment takes effect immediately.


Corporations must pay taxes on at least 20% of their earnings. Loopholes may not be used. This amendment takes effect immediately.


The right to vote shall be guaranteed to all citizens 18 years or older, unless two doctors not affiliated with each other determine the individual to be mentally incompetent – this exception may not be used to prohibit current or former convicts from voting. Voting shall happen in such a manner and in such a timeframe that all people can vote. This amendment takes effect immediately.


All people have the right to exercise the Democratic rights of initiative, referendum, and recall. Appointed officials can also be recalled. Procedures shall be established to ensure the fair and equitable availability of these rights. This amendment takes effect immediately.


Hopefully these and similar amendments really will become part of the Constitution soon. We need a flurry of new amendments to protect the people, promote a healthy society, and enhance prosperity. What other amendments do we need? (And I really don’t like the word “amendments” in this context – it should be called something along the line of “protections” because everything here should be a given.)


“American History and the Structures of Collective Memory”: Working Survey Results From My Students

Michael Frisch‘s “American History and the Structures of Collective Memory: A Modest Exercise in Empirical Iconography” caught my attention some time ago. Please read or at least skim the article if you can. If you do not have access to an academic database, send me an email, and I can email you a copy of it. Anyway, in this article Frisch talks about a really interesting experiment he did from 1975 to 1988 with 1000 students. This experiment focused on giving students a survey where they wrote down ten names that came to mind in response to the given topic. I decided it would be interesting to duplicate this experiment, with a few minor changes. I conducted this experiment in my Fall 2015 class at the University of Houston. 47 students were enrolled in this class. On the first day, before talking about anything, I gave each student a piece of paper that said: 

Without thinking more than just a few seconds, please write the first ten names that pop into your head in response to the following prompt: “United States history from 1877 to the present.”

Ten blanks followed.  Looking at results for names placed on the first line, there were 41 total responses and 23 (or 56%) unique answers. Specific top results for the first line were as follows.

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
Off Topic 6 14.6% 1
Abraham Lincoln 4 9.8% 2
John F. Kennedy 4 9.8% 2
Barack Obama 4 9.8% 2
George Bush 3 7.3% 3
Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 4.9% 4
George Washington 2 4.9% 4

“Off Topic” answers had responses such as “racism” and other things or places, not names. Technically, George Washington is “off topic,” too, but it is a name at least. Two students ranked him as the first name that comes to mind when they think of U.S. history from 1877. I’m not sure if this is a “not following directions,” “not fully reading the directions,” or a lack of historical literacy. Looking at the results collectively, so all of the responses for the ten blanks, all students wrote in their top ten list, there were 321 responses and 161 (50%) unique answers. Top results were as follows: 

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
Off Topic 46 14.3% 1
Barack Obama 23 7.2% 2
John F. Kennedy 17 5.3% 3
Martin Luther King, Jr. 17 5.3% 3
Richard Nixon 12 3.7% 4
George Bush 11 3.4% 5
Bill Clinton 11 3.4% 5
Abraham Lincoln 10 3.1% 6
Ronald Reagan 8 2.5% 7
Bush 8 2.5% 7
George W. Bush 7 2.2% 8
George Washington 6 1.9% 9
Teddy Roosevelt 5 1.6% 10
Clinton 5 1.6% 10
LBJ 4 1.2% 11
Dwight D. Eisenhower 4 1.2% 11
Ford 4 1.2% 11
Adolf Hitler 4 1.2% 11
Rosa Parks 4 1.2% 11
FDR 3 0.9% 12
Hilary Clinton 3 0.9% 12
Malcolm X 3 0.9% 12
Mitt Romney 3 0.9% 12
Albert Einstein 2 0.6% 13
Henry Ford 2 0.6% 13
Ben Franklin 2 0.6% 13
Thomas Jefferson 2 0.6% 13
Harry S. Truman 2 0.6% 13
Herbert Hoover 2 0.6% 13
Winston Churchill 2 0.6% 13
Malcolm X 2 0.6% 13
James Madison 2 0.6% 13
Roosevelt 2 0.6% 13

 I also asked students: 

Without thinking more than just a few seconds, please write the first ten names, excluding presidents, generals, politicians, etc., that pop into your head in response to the following prompt: “United States history from 1877 to the present.”

(Will save these results for another day.) and also asked: 

Without thinking more than just a few seconds, please write the first ten topics, themes, ideas, images, sounds, etc., that pop into your head in response to the following prompt: “United States history from 1877 to the present.”

For this question, looking at the first line, there were 38 responses with 28 (or 74%) unique answers. Results were as follows: 

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
racism 5 13.2% 1
World War I 3 7.9% 2
war 3 7.9% 2
World War II 3 7.9% 2
jazz 1 2.6% 3
hippies 1 2.6% 3
segregation 1 2.6% 3
Roaring 20s 1 2.6% 3
slavery 1 2.6% 3
retro 1 2.6% 3
Civil Rights Movement 1 2.6% 3
social media 1 2.6% 3
Off Topic  1 2.6% 3
wars 1 2.6% 3
Industrial Revolution 1 2.6% 3
capitalism 1 2.6% 3
jazz and rock 1 2.6% 3
music 1 2.6% 3
emancipation 1 2.6% 3
Holocaust 1 2.6% 3
The Beatles  1 2.6% 3
gender inequality 1 2.6% 3
baby boom 1 2.6% 3
golden 1 2.6% 3
economic crisis 1 2.6% 3
agricultural plowing 1 2.6% 3
civil rights 1 2.6% 3
rush 1 2.6% 3

 I did the same survey, with the same questions the last day of class, too. For the first question (list ten names), there were 29 responses (unusual number of late/absent students this day!) and 19 (or 66%) unique answers for the first line. Top results were:

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
Richard Nixon 5 17.2% 1
Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 10.3% 2
John F. Kennedy 3 10.3% 2
 Barack Obama 3 10.3% 2

Total results for all students top-ten answers included 229 responses with 107 (or 47%) unique answers. Specific results were: 

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
Martin Luther King, Jr. 22 9.6% 1
John F. Kennedy 16 7% 2
Barack Obama 12 5.2% 3
Richard Nixon 11 4.8% 4
George Bush 8 3.5% 5
Off Topic 8 3.5% 5
Adolf Hitler 8 3.5% 5
FDR 8 3.5% 5
Anne Moody 8 3.5% 5
Bill Clinton 5 2.2% 6
Ronald Reagan 5 2.2% 6
Rosa Parks 5 2.2% 6
Dwight D. Eisenhower 4 1.7% 7
Hillary Clinton 4 1.7% 7
Charlie Chaplin 3 1.3% 8
Teddy Roosevelt 3 1.3% 8
Roosevelt 2 0.9% 9
George W. Bush 2 0.9% 9
Malcolm X 2 0.9% 9
Susan B. Anthony 2 0.9% 9
LBJ 2 0.9% 9
Harry S. Truman 2 0.9% 9
George Washington 2 0.9% 9
Thomas Jefferson 2 0.9% 9

For the third question (the one about images/themes/etc), on the last day of class looking at just the first response, there were 27 responses with 22 (or 81%) unique answers. Looking at all ten blanks for each form, there were a total of 268 responses with 177 (or 66%) unique answers. The list is too good to not include everything. Results were as follows: 

Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
Great Depression 9 3.4% 1
racism 8 3% 2
war 7 2.6% 3
liberalism 6 2.2% 4
Civil rights 6 2.2% 4
WWII 5 1.9% 5
women’s rights 4 1.5% 6
postmodernism 4 1.5% 6
LGBT rights 4 1.5% 6
Vietnam 4 1.5% 6
Enlightenment 4 1.5% 6
conservatism 4 1.5% 6
Women’s suffrage 4 1.5% 6
lynching 3 1.1% 7
Manifest Destiny 3 1.1% 7
sexism 3 1.1% 7
White Privilege 3 1.1% 7
equal rights 3 1.1% 7
Neo-slavery 3 1.1% 7
slavery 2 0.7% 8
minority rights 2 0.7% 8
segregation 2 0.7% 8
immigration 2 0.7% 8
feminism 2 0.7% 8
“The Immigrant” 2 0.7% 8
imperialism 2 0.7% 8
Industrial revolution 2 0.7% 8
terrorism 2 0.7% 8
“Pie in the sky” 2 0.7% 8
antiwar 2 0.7% 8
Civil Rights Movement 2 0.7% 8
Conservation 2 0.7% 8
change 2 0.7% 8
industrialism 2 0.7% 8
Indians 2 0.7% 8
Roaring 20s 2 0.7% 8
WWI 2 0.7% 8
hopes and fears 2 0.7% 8
Birth control 2 0.7% 8
Military Industrial Complex 2 0.7% 8
Liberal Consensus 2 0.7% 8
“Aint No Bugs On Me” 2 0.7% 8
fear 1 0.4% 9
Femme fatale 1 0.4% 9
Macy 1 0.4% 9
Cold War 1 0.4% 9
economics 1 0.4% 9
Wealth inequality 1 0.4% 9
Police killing everyone 1 0.4% 9
White v Black 1 0.4% 9
Scientific Management 1 0.4% 9
freedom songs 1 0.4% 9
skyscrapers 1 0.4% 9
“The Bitch Manifesto” 1 0.4% 9
Normandy 1 0.4% 9
film noir 1 0.4% 9
assignations 1 0.4% 9
the power of media 1 0.4% 9
“Brother Can You Spare A Dime” 1 0.4% 9
factories 1 0.4% 9
communism 1 0.4% 9
MAD 1 0.4% 9
McDonald’s 1 0.4% 9
hope 1 0.4% 9
politics 1 0.4% 9
politics 1 0.4% 9
lynching 1 0.4% 9
dust 1 0.4% 9
Uncle Tom’s Cabin 1 0.4% 9
Vietnam War 1 0.4% 9
“Kill the Indian Save the Man” 1 0.4% 9
Second Industrial Revolution 1 0.4% 9
soldier song 1 0.4% 9
progress 1 0.4% 9
amendments 1 0.4% 9
anticommunism 1 0.4% 9
soul music 1 0.4% 9
Trail of Tears 1 0.4% 9
Constitution 1 0.4% 9
“Coming of Age in Mississippi” 1 0.4% 9
protests 1 0.4% 9
Men v Women 1 0.4% 9
schools and federal guards 1 0.4% 9
freedom 1 0.4% 9
poverty 1 0.4% 9
highways 1 0.4% 9
global power 1 0.4% 9
history 1 0.4% 9
evolution 1 0.4% 9
rebellion 1 0.4% 9
Civil Rights Revolution 1 0.4% 9
first electric chair execution 1 0.4% 9
Watergate 1 0.4% 9
economic problems 1 0.4% 9
tears 1 0.4% 9
Holocaust 1 0.4% 9
“Over There” 1 0.4% 9
war and peace 1 0.4% 9
Indian massacres 1 0.4% 9
suburbs 1 0.4% 9
Henry Ford 1 0.4% 9
new 1 0.4% 9
Whites v Indians 1 0.4% 9
prohibition 1 0.4% 9
communists 1 0.4% 9
military 1 0.4% 9
industrialism 1 0.4% 9
Wage gap differences 1 0.4% 9
modernism 1 0.4% 9
fears 1 0.4% 9
worker’s rights 1 0.4% 9
historiography 1 0.4% 9
Great War 1 0.4% 9
Depression 1 0.4% 9
voting rights 1 0.4% 9
“Strange Fruit” 1 0.4% 9
destruction 1 0.4% 9
cell phones 1 0.4% 9
telegraphs 1 0.4% 9
Roosevelt Corollary 1 0.4% 9
race 1 0.4% 9
Ghost Dance 1 0.4% 9
Mad World 1 0.4% 9
Great Depression 1 0.4% 9
Black Renaissance 1 0.4% 9
conservatism 1 0.4% 9
Civil Rights Movement 1 0.4% 9
hopes 1 0.4% 9
love 1 0.4% 9
internet 1 0.4% 9
Golden Age 1 0.4% 9
gender equality 1 0.4% 9
bayonets 1 0.4% 9
idealism 1 0.4% 9
Not so roaring 20s 1 0.4% 9
economy 1 0.4% 9
Victorianism 1 0.4% 9
happiness 1 0.4% 9
railroads 1 0.4% 9
patriarchy 1 0.4% 9
activism 1 0.4% 9
abolition 1 0.4% 9
“Cotton Mill Colic” 1 0.4% 9
13th Amendment 1 0.4% 9
Sit-ins 1 0.4% 9
Progressive Era 1 0.4% 9
Imperialism 1 0.4% 9
White Man’s Burden 1 0.4% 9
industrialism 1 0.4% 9
racial tension 1 0.4% 9
protest music 1 0.4% 9
capitalists 1 0.4% 9
Second Wave Feminism 1 0.4% 9
suffering 1 0.4% 9
environmentalism 1 0.4% 9
Victorianism 1 0.4% 9
the war 1 0.4% 9
hate 1 0.4% 9
Microsoft 1 0.4% 9
“Birth of a Nation” 1 0.4% 9
Moral Majority 1 0.4% 9
Great Society 1 0.4% 9
privilege 1 0.4% 9
white 1 0.4% 9
Rise of Conservatism 1 0.4% 9
feminism 1 0.4% 9
propaganda 1 0.4% 9

I haven’t done this survey enough to have a true comparison to the original, but the idea is that we all have a very similar cluster of big names that come to mind. Looking at the results from my students, I mainly just enjoy looking at the data. The informal survey/assignment was fully anonymous, by the way. I’m not ready to really interpret it, but I thought I would put it out there and get some ideas and reactions. I was surprised in the post-survey at how different many of the names were and at how many names were included that we never discussed in class. Many of the names were very contemporary, too. In a number of cases, when only a last name was provided, we don’t know who the student was specifically thinking about. I also think it is really interesting how many more different types of answers came out when the question asked about images/sounds/etc. By not focusing on names specifically per se, we might realize there isn’t as much of a collective memory or a very different kind of collective memory. One thing the survey shows that I really like is that they learned because they mention things they would have only heard about in my class!  Special thanks to my mother for entering the first part of all of this data for me from the papers, so I could focus on other projects and just analyze and edit the data. Excel and Textalyser were also huge helps!  collectiveme


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