Does white privilege also cause plagiarism?

When I saw the 10th or so “you must read this” tweet, linking to Gillian Schutte’s latest piece on the Mail&Guardian’s Thought Leader blog, I finally caved in and read it. With some trepidation, mind you, seeing as I’ve not read anything of Schutte’s since her “Dear white people” tried to tell everyone with low melanin levels what they were supposed to think. If you’ve been here before, you probably know why I reject that form of identity politics, and Schutte seems to be quite heavily invested in it.

But here we were, 10 months later, and given that so many people were endorsing the most recent piece (including a few people whose judgements I trust), I thought I’d give it a try. The piece itself was typical of the Schutte pieces I’ve read – too crude and generalising for my tastes, but all the while making some points certainly worthy of reflection.

Then I looked at the comments, and saw this:

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A quick skim of the post linked to there reveals significant overlap in style and content with Schutte’s piece. Compare, for instance, points 31 and 32 in Schutte’s piece with 14 and 15 in the other post. As an occasional member of the opinionista class, I didn’t want to leap to conclusions or make unnecessary trouble for a fellow writer, so I reached out to a senior person at the Mail&Guardian, asking him to look at this possible plagiarism.

It’s 3 days later, and nothing in the post has been edited to reflect the extent to which it’s derivative of the other piece (which seems to be an extract from a published book, Richard Dyer’s “White: essays on race and culture”). Schutte does link to the essay in question (twice, in fact), but simply linking to something falls far short of acknowledging that you’ve borrowed extensively from it. Especially given that there is no indication in the piece that the two links are any different to the other links in the piece – most readers would assume that the links are to additional or supplementary, rather than source, material.

Even worse, what you see in this case is not simply paraphrasing, such that would require something like “as Richard Dyer explains,…”, but rather, verbatim lifting from the source without any quotation marks whatsoever.

In short, Gillian Schutte’s Thought Leader piece is plagiarised, and amounts to Thought Parasitism rather than Thought Leadership (with credit to a friend for that phrase). The extent of the parasitism? 15% of Schutte’s piece is word-for-word the same as Dyer’s. And this, in a piece that takes the moral high-ground, lecturing others on the positions they should take. And if you’re wondering, yes, the problem was pointed out to her, both in the comment above, as well as in two tweets that were cc’ed to her.

If this were a student submission, I’d award 0%, and remind the student of the conventions of citation, which are there so that we can give credit to those who inform our thinking. These conventions are a vital part of intellectual activity, in that they are one of a writers’ vehicles for claiming ideas or phrases as our own. They are a safeguard of originality, and make your achievements in getting a good mark for an essay, or getting your book published, the achievements that they are.

When we don’t respect intellectual honesty and the academic conventions that support that honesty, we devalue everybody’s achievements in this area, because the currency for determining value is being undermined. Yes, you’d explain this to a 1st-year student, and maybe give them a chance to re-submit. I normally wouldn’t refer a 1st-year student to the University’s disciplinary tribunal for this sort of offence, especially a 1st-timer.

Schutte might well be a 1st-timer in this regard. However, she has a Master’s degree. What she doesn’t have is an excuse. And when you think back to the consequences that a Darrel Bristow-Bovey, for example, had to endure for his plagiarism, you’d know that there was a time when South African media consumers and producers took this seriously.

Let’s see if they still do, and let’s see if Schutte does.

Edit: Schutte’s response?

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A further edit, seeing as Schutte is accusing me of ‘lying’, never mind being an arsehole. As I say above, those hyperlinks give you no reason to believe they are references to a source. Plus, Schutte doesn’t seem to understand that quotation marks are necessary when you use someone else’s content, word-for-word.

She says:

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And that simply cannot be squared with, for example, this (with the red bits being verbatim stolen text):

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By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.

38 replies on “Does white privilege also cause plagiarism?”

Attention sluts should rather stick to fluffy issues, instead of trying to impress the the rest of the general population with their pithiness.

Gillian Schutte should go and join the EFF (thats if they would want her) if she is so desperately seeking attention… “white privilege” .. with an Afrikaans surname yes i can totally understand white privilege! but have you not heard of black privilege?

Thought Leader isn’t a blog where anyone can just post anything, it’s got an editorial process. This means the M&G need to take responsibility for not taking it down yet. I hate plagiarism in any form and this is absolutely wrong.

Most of what she has to say has been seriously recycled anyway, but this is exactly the kind of careless stuff that makes me see red. It is the kind of laziness that comes with the territory of being a blogger and Facebook denizen as well as a writer for mainstream publication. It illustrates why the students at UCT (tweeters, texters and Facebookers all) often have a hard time with referencing. Her irritation rather than contrition at being caught out is all too familiar.

Full and regular acknowledgement robs of intellectual kudos, would she want that?. The arseholedome reaction is just the last stroke of sawing to a fall.

Well miss, “moralistic-finger-pointer-and-advocate-of-extreme-white-guilt”, it seems your petticoat is showing! Once your credibility is blown, there is nothing left! Your writing skills will most definitely not save you! It is time to fall on your sword/pen, and simply fall silent! We do not want to hear your excruciating self-appointed prophesying of white doom anymore! You have now eventually been exposed for what you are!

I have absolutely no time for Gillian Schutte or her shamefully thoughtless writings. Thank you for exposing her, although it is a pity she has neither the subtlety nor the humility to take the lesson.


She takes the lessons alright, exactly where her masters surve her.

As an aside, what is an “arseholedome”? Picturing a large dome with a butt on it. Schutte needs an editor in more ways than one…

The ArseholeDome is so large and populated by so many arseholes that it does not just have its own tube stop, it actually has a terminal.

It appears that the M&G Thought Leader team has asked her to revise and they have posted the revision.

Gillian goes into a long spiel about how she still doesn’t think she plagiarised. She really could have done herself a favour by just admitting, at the very least, that she made a mistake or a miscalculation.

Yes, I saw it. As pointed out on Twitter by some, it’s a notpology – not acknowledging the full extent of the plagiarism, and also ignoring the obvious violations of intellectual honesty with a tenuous argument from authority (via Tim Berners-Lee). It’s also a violation of common sense, in that she keeps talking about it as “clearly referenced”, when it is anything but.

She was adamant that it was all original (on Twitter, the day I post my blog). Now, at least she grudgingly admits that it wasn’t entirely so.

I’ll leave it there, though. Her apology could be taken apart, as could the lack of correct attribution in even the corrected version. But this has been given enough oxygen, and I don’t want to give the bigger cretins, like Dan Roodt, more ammunition.

Yeah, agree. Thanks Jacques for highlighting it though and going through so much effort at proving the point. Since writing and journalism is my craft and trade, I appreciate that sort of thing 🙂 Cheers.

I take my hat off to whoever is the original writer/thought leader because he/she spoke the truth about the majority of white South Africans and their white privilege. Put our experiences and interactions with white people into words. This dialogue needs to continue.

😀 really? Not the “point of this post? I must have been wrong then in assuming the “point” was your accusations of plagarism? Especially since you just said and I quote:
“You’re a) more of a plagiarist…”?
And on that note (the quote above) “Yes 😀 me and half a million other ‘’ users.
I therefore cannot help wondering “No accusatory (false ones) article about Scoop.its plagarism? My plagarising YOUR article (after all you went out on a limb falsely accusing Gillian of copying Someone Else’s work)?” *thinking* Its not the article content that bothers you is it Jacques …Its the article author… The truth (in this case @GillianSchutte) hurts #justsaying

Gillian this very bad darling. You have to reference other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Gillian’s last scintilla of credibility has been snuffed out. Anyone printing any of her usual vitriol from here on in is complicit in her offending.

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