A San Francisco public school teacher just penned an op-ed stating that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wearing mittens at President Joe Biden’s inauguration — the popular image so many people had fun with recently — embodies “white privilege, male privilege and class privilege.”
The author of the piece is Ingrid Seyer-Ochi — who’s also a former UC Berkeley and Mills College professor and ex-Oakland Unified School District principal. She began her piece for the San Francisco Chronicle by saying a few weeks back she “processed the Capitol insurrection” with her students — notably “images of white men storming through the Capitol, fearless and with no forces to stop them.”
Seyer-Ochi recalled she told her students at the time: “This is white supremacy, this is white privilege. It can be hard to pinpoint, but when we see, it, we know it.”
Then she said she and her high schoolers “analyzed images from the inauguration.”
The question again was, “What do we see?”
Seyer-Ochi’s answer was that, “We saw diversity, creativity and humanity, and a nation embracing all of this and more.”
And while she acknowledged that Sanders “was barely on our radar” on Inauguration Day, the following day “he was everywhere.”
Mittens of ‘white privilege’
“What do we see?” Seyer-Ochi recalled in her op-ed asking her students once more. The answer?
“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.”
More from her op-ed:
We talked about gender and the possible meanings of the attire chosen by Vice President Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden, the Biden grandchildren, Michelle Obama, Amanda Gorman and others. We referenced the female warriors inspiring these women, the colors of their educational degrees and their monochromatic ensembles of pure power.
And there, across all of our news and social media feeds, was Bernie: Bernie memes, Bernie sweatshirts, endless love for Bernie. 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.
I mean in no way to overstate the parallels. 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.
Seyer-Ochi noted that when her students saw Sanders “manifesting privilege, when seemingly no one else did, I struggled to explain that disparity. I am beyond puzzled as to why so many are loving the images of Bernie and his gloves.”
“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 added in her piece. “Unless those same folk had privilege. Which they don’t.”
What was the reaction?
When the Chronicle tweeted out Seyer-Ochi’s op-ed Monday, it will come as no surprise that not everybody was on board with her perspective:
- “It was literally almost 2 weeks ago. It’s a pair of mittens. Seek help. Please,” one commenter requested.
- “When he turned around and used that moment to raise millions for charity that was also traumatizing for my students…” another commenter said.
- “I cannot overstate how much I hate this and how damaging s**t like this is to the left,” another user noted. “Did they want him to wear a dashiki!?! I mean what the f***!? He is an old man trying not to f***ing freeze to death in DC in January.”