Hope and the Politics of Belief: Some Thoughts on a Trip to Prison

An image of a cell door with a key in it

Through a series of interesting circumstances, I recently had the occasion to visit Lansing Correctional Facility, the oldest and largest prison in the state of Kansas. The purpose of my visit was multifaceted, but my part in the process was to bring a group of my own university students to participate in a college-level philosophy class taken by inmate students. The explicit goal was to provide both groups the chance to see how their different experiences might provide more nuanced perspectives on some introductory-level philosophical issues.

Although we did not intend to talk about the criminal justice system as one of our topics, the fact that that was the setting of our engagement was an undeniable part of our time together. Like several others in the group, I was aware of the literature on mass incarceration and the “school to pipeline” process that currently feeds the American prison system. While these models of incarceration are complex, what the evidence demonstrates is that factors largely outside of one’s control play a significant role in whether and how one experiences the corrections system. For instance, things such as race, gender, educational quality, and poverty are all determinants in the likelihood of arrest, the quality of one’s legal representation, whether one will be convicted, the length of one’s sentence, and recidivism rates. Continue reading “Hope and the Politics of Belief: Some Thoughts on a Trip to Prison”

On Privileges that are Not Universally Shared

The definition of the word privilege in a dictionaryAnyone who knows me knows that I walk my dog early each morning — lately I’m regularly going to a nearby park where, well, Izzy goes regularly as well. But every now and then I change it up a little — variety is the spice of life and all that — and so I park here and we walk there or park over there and then we walk here. Sometimes I park in one of the lots but other times I pull over off the small loop of a road and park on the grassy shoulder. Continue reading “On Privileges that are Not Universally Shared”

The Privilege of Being Unremarkable

Obama watching Merrick Garland speakThe reporting surrounding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice both reveals and complicates the concept of privilege in an intriguing manner. Many of the articles, such as this Politico piece, were notable for what they refrain from stating, that he is a white male. This contrasts with the emphasis on ethnicity and gender in earlier pieces about those being considered for the position, such as Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Judge Sri Srinivasan. After the Garland nomination announcement, one article noted Garland’s judicial experience and legal training and specified how he would not add diversity to the Supreme Court. The article continued, referencing Justice Sonya Sotomayor as Latina and Srinivasan as both Hindu and Asian-American. The choice not to relate Garland’s racial, ethnic, and gender identifications reflects the privilege of a white male in the United States. Continue reading “The Privilege of Being Unremarkable”

Of Lactose and Privilege: Or, How Privilege is Largely Unintentional

A block of yellow cheese

As I’ve referenced in another post, a few years ago one of my kids was diagnosed with several health problems, the solution for which was an elimination diet that forbade gluten and dairy. In an act of solidarity, our whole family decided to eat this way, and today we remain gluten and dairy (or more specifically, lactose) free. While my daughter was the only one for whom this diet was recommended by a doctor, many other things started to clear up once the rest of us were on board: my headaches and joint pain went away, as did my husband’s acid reflux, as did our son’s very frequent night terrors. In the midst of all of the good, however, there was a new issue that emerged: because we no longer eat lactose or gluten, we have lost whatever capacities we individually had to digest them. Thus what began as a mild sensitivity for most of us has now blossomed into all out gastrointestinal misery for all of us if we are accidentally exposed.

What this means in a very practical sense is that we are now living in a world that, from a dietary perspective, has many pitfalls and traps, and is filled with what feels like an endless amount of label reading and Pepto Bismol. We have a very difficult time eating at restaurants, cannot eat many pre-packaged foods, and must often work double-time to provide substitutes for our three children’s very full social lives, where birthday parties, playdates, and movie nights include mounds of forbidden foods. Continue reading “Of Lactose and Privilege: Or, How Privilege is Largely Unintentional”

Informed Dissent

A statue holding a vaccine needle

In the ongoing debate about whether or not vaccinations should be mandatory (a debate between so-called “anti-vaxxers” and…well, the people who use that label, the latter of which enjoys majority status to a degree that allows them to forego caricature), the ol’ individual-liberty-versus-public-good rhetoric reared its head really quickly. And perhaps that should come as no surprise. After all, people engaged in the debate are talking about where personal/parental rights stop and the good of the larger public start and vice versa…aren’t they? That’s certainly the nominal subject of the controversy. But “individual liberty” and “public good” certainly live on an ever-sliding scale and are employed by different groups with different politics depending on the context. Continue reading “Informed Dissent”

Korean on the Outside Only

Korean Flag

Photo Credit: flags.net

I was at a dinner party the other night with a longtime friend. Although his parents are first generation immigrants from South Korea, he and his siblings were never taught to speak Korean, as their parents thought it important that they assimilate to American culture as much as possible. As our conversation evolved to talk about the stereotypical markers of Korean culture with which he has little personal affiliation, his wife laughingly remarked that he’s “Korean on the outside only.” His cunning retort was quick: “So couldn’t I say the same thing about you – that you’re German on the outside only, too?” Continue reading “Korean on the Outside Only”