During the past couple of days, my Twitter feed has been ablaze due to the inflammatory, sexist Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Joseph Epstein. In this piece, Epstein infantilizes the accomplishments of Dr. Jill Biden, and dismisses her expertise.
As a white, straight man, it might be easy to dismiss this, as I am not explicitly targetted by these kinds of people. But make no mistake, there is a purpose to these kinds of pieces, and I cannot ignore it.
Prior to about 30 years ago, a large majority people who had doctorates would have looked like me. And as a result, the expertise of those who have high levels of education were sought after and listened to by a political system that was run by people who looked like me.
There has been (however slowly) a push to diversify academia. Education is the great equalizer. There is ample proof that educational achievement is not determined by race, gender or sexual orientation. Anyone can achieve a doctorate, if they are provided the resources to be able to reach the end. For people like Epstein, there is no greater threat to their position than this fact.
We live at a time where there are great threats to our society. A deadly virus is spreading uncontrollably in some of the wealthiest countries in the world. Climate change is already making an impact on our infrastructure, water resources and food production. If there was a time to start listening to experts, now would be it. Instead, throughout many major countries, there are major active political movements that seek to denigrate expertise, especially from marginalized groups.
The Epstein opinion piece has a larger purpose of entrenching a status quo that favours the already rich and powerful. They want to rob those who have managed, through hard work, an achievement that grants them the legitimacy of being called an expert. If people start listening to experts from a variety of backgrounds, then they will not be able keep their foothold on power, because the masses will become educated on how those in power are robbing them of liberty. The Wall Street Journal, a newspaper owned by people who wish to retain the status quo, is all to happy to give a platform to these people instead of actual experts.
I have always been hesitant to display my “Dr.” title, because I felt it might make me look arrogant. I think this is a common thing, because many people who have achieved a doctorate are extremely humble due to the realization of how little we know. In the end, though, everyone who has a doctorate has earned the right to be called an expert. If we are to normalize the fact that people in marginalized groups can indeed achieve doctorates and be experts, we need to normalize the recognition of expertise. This is symbolically done with the doctor title. Though our backgrounds may be different, we are all equal in our academic achievement.