Mary Beth Writes

This very small story has been lurking in my mind for decades and I have been thinking about it again, just recently.

One afternoon I overheard my dad complaining to my mom about schoolteachers. I suppose they were having a busy week in the print shop when a teacher from the high school dropped off, late in the day, a print job that needed to be completed in less time than was convenient. I’m guessing it was the school newspaper.

Because the teacher delivered the project “at the last minute” it was inconvenient for my parents to fit it into the flow of work in the shop. Dad was irritated and said that teachers didn’t have to meet deadlines like businesspeople did. Schoolteachers didn’t have “common sense.”

Usually he respected school and teachers so that complaint stuck in the “I don’t get this” compartment of my brain. (It’s a big compartment.)

Common Sense is an enormous phrase in American lingo, and it is as judgmental as hell. We use it to say we understand something that others don’t. It sounds as if we are regular folks here, just doing our job while rolling our eyes at people who don’t know as much as we do about whatever it is we think we know.

I grew up believing that having Common Sense was pretty much the 11th commandment. If a person doesn’t have common sense they better be a child or have “issues” so that we can protect and pity them. Otherwise, to be a full-fledged American adult one better not be a fool. And the person who decides who has common sense and is or isn’t a fool – is us.

I am just realizing that this phrase is one of the masks that Privilege wears.

Male Privilege is what men say about women – “Oh those lovely ladies and their wacky ideas of how to run things. They have no common sense; you can’t put them on the board.”

Privilege is how we belittle immigrants and their inconvenient (to us) accents and their crazy way of celebrating this holidays. “Those people wear clothes that don’t match and their kids study too much/are in gangs and they just don’t have practical American sense.”

Privilege is how we disempower people who are not our generation. “Oh, those kids with all their techy toys and no common sense.”

White Privilege is where we say that we aren’t racist, but the way those Black people are acting isn’t logical, is foolish, they have no common sense.

At my jail job, part of my employability workshops included how to make a simple budget. Sometimes a guy would say that he would never buy secondhand clothes for his kids. I’d point out the obvious problem with his common sense – he was in jail, wouldn’t his kid rather have him around?

Last year I was tutoring a little kid who was wearing new boots that had given to her by her dad who was seldom actually in her life. Her eyes shone. She was as happy as can be about her boots from her daddy. Maybe there is a loving sense in new clothes that is different from common sense.

Common Sense is a fraught phrase that allows us to judge others. We should be very careful hearing and using it.

 

Comments

I was able to receive your post just fine. So some things worked as planned ... thank goodness.

One of your best!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks, Jack! Len is so intrigued that you say you like it... that he's going to read it now... Hah.

I read this last night. It is food for thought. I guess this is like the cultural bias that exists in many “ intelligence tests”. I know about that but never considered that what I thought was “ just common sense” could be biased, too. Thank you.

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