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

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