Let’s discuss the idea of privilege

On Friday May 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., there will be a forum titled “What’s All This Talk About Privilege?” at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Westminster, sponsored by Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality (CCRE). For many years, CCRE has been a positive force in our community, seeking to “engage with others in honest and respectful dialogue on issues of racial, ethnic, religious, and other differences.”


It wasn’t luck. It was privilege. Back in 1981, I was a young, white, English-speaking Canadian with a Ph.D. from Princeton, standing before a deportation judge in Boston – a man who held my fate in his hands.

For five years, I had worked at a job in the United States that my J class visa did not permit me to hold. With the help of a lawyer, I had filed numerous appeals and obtained many temporary stays, continuing to work but unable to travel outside the U.S., because without papers I would not be allowed back in. My appeals were now exhausted, except for this one man’s final decision. The procedure was for me to declare that yes, I was deportable, and to throw myself on the mercy of the court. I knew of several other people in the same position who had been deported – to Sierra Leone, to Mexico, to Colombia. After my declaration, I waited for what seemed a long time. Finally, he announced that he would allow me to have resident alien status – a green card. So I was admitted legally into the U.S., and a few years later became a naturalized citizen.

The outcome of my case was not determined solely by the rule of law, or even by the luck of the draw. My story is one of privilege. I believe that I was allowed to stay because I was white. I even looked a bit like the judge. Continue Reading

Adversarial vs Dialectical Views of Conflict

A distinction between two views of conflict, termed adversarial and dialectical, is helpful for understanding the difference between a “nonviolence” approach to problem-solving and other approaches. This short essay takes a dialectical perspective, because it is the more inclusive of the two. The dialectical view does see the sense occasionally of viewing conflict in an adversarial way, but the adversarial view alone neglects dialectical complexities.

Conflict usually presents itself, in the moment, as adversarial. That is, there are usually two adversaries, engaged in a fight or contest, with each side’s goal being to win, and thereby force the other side to lose. An adversarial view may be likened to a snapshot, taken in the present, showing a two-sided competition aimed at victory.

In contrast, a dialectical view likens conflict to a movie, with the current apparently adversarial contest being only a part of a larger story. The contest before our eyes in the present has a past, and perhaps several possible futures. In order to understand the full span and meaning of any conflict, it is necessary to gather information that goes beyond immediate perception. Continue Reading

The People in the Machine (and the Ideas in the People)

book covers: disciplined minds, and end of averageHave you ever written passionately about something you care about, and then been sort of disappointed in the final product? In a vicarious way, that’s how I feel about Jeff Schmidt’s book Disciplined Minds (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

Disciplined Minds is about the negative consequences of socialization – that is, how we learn to fit into our social groups, organizations, schools, and so on. Schmidt focuses in particular on the conformity required by all of the white-collar professional disciplines, and stresses that “discipline” implies both specialized knowledge and acceptance of professional norms that are essentially political. Continue Reading

The Adjuncts Among Us

letter to the editorOn June 6, ballots were counted at the National Labor Relations Board office in Baltimore, as union organizers and representatives of McDaniel College’s administration looked on. By a margin of 82 to 36, the adjunct faculty at McDaniel voted to form a union. Negotiations will take place during the coming academic year on a first contract. What does all this mean, and what big issues are at stake?

First, an adjunct faculty member is a college-level teacher who is hired by the College to teach a course – once, and maybe again, or maybe not. There are a lot of adjuncts in American higher education; at McDaniel there are more than twice as many adjuncts as full-time “regular” faculty members.

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Let’s At Least Read Dr. King

Martin Luther King, Jr.I taught a freshman seminar called The Psychology of Violence and Nonviolence for many years. It touched on such topics as aggression, conflict, mediation, and movements of nonviolent social change such as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. By the second week of each semester, I was invariably approached by students who were dismayed to discover how unfamiliar they were with this important material.

After learning about the Nashville sit-ins of 1960, which broke the icy rigidity of the Jim Crow era and began the process of desegregation in that city, a student named Rachel wrote in her reaction paper: “I cannot believe that I did not learn about this in high school. I feel like this is an injustice to me.”

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Seeking Friendship, not Destruction

king-nobel-peace-prize-We are accustomed to thinking about conflicts as two-sided contests in which one side wins and the other loses. Game theorists use the term “zero-sum” to refer to these win-lose situations, and have studied real and artificial examples of such conflicts extensively.

But most conflicts evolve over time. In addition to the zero-sum scenario with its two possible win-lose endings, catastrophic double-loss and joyous double-win outcomes can happen in real world conflicts.

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King’s Six Principles

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.People like lists, or at least the idea of lists. Most of us don’t like to be disorganized, and lists seem to help us get our act together. Grocery lists, to-do lists, Christmas card lists, all move us toward doing what we gotta do, even if we don’t get it all done.

The Ten Commandments constitute a list, mostly of what not to do. The Sermon on the Mount contains another list, identifying more positively what to do instead. These biblical lists carry messages about how to live. They are revered as kernels of Old and New Testament wisdom, even by people who disagree with each other about what the items on each list really mean. Continue Reading

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