The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were a fascinating time to be a political philosophy major. The curriculum was quite occupied with trying to keep up with world events. The Revolutions in 1989, the democracy movement in the People’s Republic of China, the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, and the shift to a post-apartheid South Africa all occurred within a relatively short span of years.

And when we weren’t busy listening to the music of BOP (harvey) or Wally Pleasant, we were reading many mid-to-late 20th century heavy-hitters including, but far from limited to, Jurgen Habermas, Richard Rorty, Seyla Benhabib, Frantz Fanon, John Rawls, and Bertram Gross. With democracy seemingly on the march in other parts of the globe, it was an intellectually exhilarating era…especially for Gen X’ers as we pondered “what is next?” and “what part can we play in building a better society?”

Of course, some political scientists decided to go the triumphalist route, such as Francis Fukuyama in his work, “The End of History and the Last Man.” Others, particularly those on the Left, recognized that many disparities continued to persist, even within the world’s “only remaining super-power” – the United States. These inequities were driven by many factors, ranging from discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, class, cultural, and/or faith and were compounded by generations of structural, group, and individual beliefs and acts that kept economic and political power concentrated in the hands of a few (a white male hegemony even if some of few were neither white nor male).

This is the point where in the discussion when many white men and women (and others who may, for whatever reason, identify with them), stand up and say - or perhaps mutter sotto voce - “I bust my hump for $35,000 a year, where is my white privilege?” or “my family came here after the Civil War, we had nothing to do with slavery,” or “we live in a post-racial society now, I don’t understand why there needs to be a Black Lives Matter movement, isn’t it divisive/racist?”

If only if it were so simple as to ask folks to kindly take the red pill in order to expedite the educational process.

Getting people to think outside of their lived experience and ingrained worldviews is challenging – especially if by doing so they need to confront their own ignorance and racism and reflect, critically, on how they have benefitted from being white and have not faced the same challenges as others due to their physical characteristics.

When I have such conversations with white folks (note: the present author is white), I like to start with external factors since they are not as seemingly personal as directly questioning their internal belief systems (see also: fragility, defensive reactions to challenges to privilege). I usually begin by talking about disproportionally negative impacts on Black, Brown, and indigenous people and families in areas such as institutional barriers to wealth creation (multigenerational issues where the challenges are both causes and effects…including access to jobs, receiving lower wages than their white counterparts, not enjoying the same educational opportunities, housing discrimination, de jure and de facto limits to political power and expression, etc…) and the decidedly unequal treatment of our Black, Brown, and indigenous brothers and sisters at the hands of our criminal justice system.

So I have been looking for new ways to think and communicate about racism. Fortunately, I was able to peruse a 2016 dissertation entitled, “Impact of Equity Training on In-Service Teachers’ Development and Perception of Multiculturalism,” authored by one Dr. Harrison Booms. In it, she explores the potential of Jack Mezirow’s transformative learning theory in conjunction with Janet Helms’ white identity theory in the context of adult learning, specifically exploring approaches to discussing racism with white educators. Dr. Harrison Booms walks through Helms’ six distinct phases that white people “experience as they go through cultural, race, or equity training.” In order, they are:

1) Contact (the “colorblind” stage),

2) Disintegration (where they start becoming aware of white privilege and systemic injustices),

3) Reintegration (where the defensiveness kicks in/a countervailing reaction to what they learned in the disintegration phase),

4) Pseudoindependent (where there is an intellectual recognition of the unfairness of racism but also where the person can grow frustrated when not validated for their efforts)

5) Immersion/emersion (where the person critically explores the acts and beliefs of the “dominant race in society” and begins to “associate with whites that have the same beliefs they do regarding social justice”) and

6) Autonomy (where the person has internalized the knowledge that have gained and they live the values, as is “evidenced by a lived commitment to anti-racist activity, ongoing self-examination, and increased interpersonal effectiveness in multicultural settings.”)

The author notes that it “can take several years for any one person to reach” that sixth stage. This speaks to the depth of institutional racism as much as it does to any one individual’s ability to learn or willingness to embrace anti-racist ideas and behaviors.

This might be a useful model when considering how best to have productive conversations on race with white people. By understanding where someone falls on this spectrum, it would be possible to tailor communications that are more likely to be understood by the message recipient. And, from there, help move them in a positive direction.

As this blog will spend more time covering issues pertaining to race, equity, and communications, I will be exploring this and similar topics in greater detail in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

In solidarity.

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  • Spartan Considerations

While I left Michigan 24 years ago, I still retain a number of “Midwestern Nice” habits – uttering “Ope” as I narrowly avoid a shopping cart collision while rounding a grocery store aisle, saying “sorry” nearly as often as an average Canadian, etc…

Such courtesies do not automatically extend to political argumentation, as some might have noticed.

When I moved to the greater DC area, I noticed that folks in these parts tended to be less direct conversationally, oft employing circumlocutions that left their precise sentiments vague. This might have been a function of the industry in which I labored. In any event, I found such verbal (and written) formulations grating. “For God’s sake, just tell me what you really mean!” is what they would have heard, if we were both telepaths. The level of artifice seemed high, and that feeling did not abate when I moved to Howard County, MD.

Turning to the present day, we have citizens who wish to engage with elected officials. That is fine. Sometimes, when doing so, they are not always exhibiting what one might call "proper etiquette." That happens (yours truly having expressed myself less than 100% tactfully, from time to time).

However, especially in the present day, when you have self-described “very informed stakeholders” 1) reaching out via text message to the personal cell phones of public officials, 2) refusing to identify themselves after being asked to do so, and 3) being vaguely menacing, these behaviors cross a line. First, from the point-of-view of the text sender, you are weakening your message and making yourself appear to be some kind of potential stalker (which is very bad form). Second and more importantly, from the perspective of the message recipient, a reasonable person would feel threatened (“you know me”..."get over yourself"). Bearing in mind what is going on in the United States and further considering the fact that the message recipient is an elected official who is a progressive woman of color, it is not unreasonable for said recipient to be concerned for her welfare and the well-being of her family based on the tone and content of the received text messages.

Had the sender chosen to be direct and identify themselves, by name, that would have helped prevent an intense cloud of intimidation from gathering. Had this person asked, “Oh, is there a better way for me to get in touch with you?” after being informed that they were contacting this elected official on their personal phone, that would have demonstrated an open-ness to being fair-minded. Had they not articulated the ominous “you know me” and the dismissive “get over yourself,” it would have shown a willingness to engage in a real dialogue instead of angrily at-times ALL CAPS monologuing.

Now, I do not know the intent of the message sender. She or he might not have intended to harass the message recipient. However, what is important is the impact, and the impact clearly was one where the elected official felt harassed by some anonymous person…who knew her personal phone number. That is very troubling and understandably disconcerting.

Apparently, civility might be a bar too high in these troubled times, but if you are going to be a jerk, at least take ownership of it and have the decency to raise your hand and say “Yeah, it’s me who is saying this.” Hiding in the digital darkness just makes one a coward.

Politics can be rough, but there are still rules. Signing your name (at the very least a well-known nom de plume) is one of them. Sam Seaborn reminds us of this:

In solidarity.

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  • Spartan Considerations

It is a little known fact that political consultants love working for candidates from other parties - in certain circumstances.

The first situation involves consultants who are, for whatever reason, politically polyamorous. Examples in this category include Dick Morris and Roger Stone. Both of these paragons of virtue (do i need quotation marks to indicate irony here?) generally worked for GOP campaigns but were willing to be flexible for money, fame/infamy, kicks, the potential for mischief making, personal relationships with the candidate, relevance, and so on.... The former, of course, advised President Clinton's 1996 re-election effort (I am intentionally under-stating his role, just because). The latter, on a pro bono basis, provided counsel to Reverend Al Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign.

The second scenario generally involves races where the consultant's regularly-affiliated party has effectively zero chance of winning. For example, a Republican pollster working for a Democratic candidate for Mayor of Detroit. The motivation in these cases is not dissimilar to the first situation, but the consultant is generally more loyal to her or his chosen party and looks upon such campaigns as allowable one-offs.

Either way, it provides the operative with the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.

It is important to acknowledge, before I dive into the topic of today's post, that the present author is merely a civilian regarding the Baltimore City Council's 12th District race. I am an interested observer, on no campaign's payroll.

That said, as a Democrat, I find myself in the usual position of supporting a Green Party candidate for City Council. As much as I love my fellow comrades and understand their perspective regarding our corporate duopoly, I would much rather the Greens work within the Democratic Party...especially in swing states.

Yet, in the present situation, I find Franca Muller Paz ( to be the better progressive choice for D12 residents who want an active fighter for their principles representing them on the City Council.

Had I been a resident of D12 in the primary, I would most likely have backed Phillip Westry in light of his progressive bona fides. Incumbent Democratic D12 Council-member Robert Stokes, Sr, seems...ok...but when voters have the alternative of electing an inspirational candidate running on a "people-powered" platform - the choice seems clear.

A quick look at her "Why I'm Running" neatly encapsulates both her vision for the City and the reasons why I support her candidature:

"...our campaign is led by students, organizers, and community leaders. We know how to fight back against corporate interests and win the policies we need to thrive: fully funded schools; ending systemic racism in public safety, housing, and transit; covid-responsive constituent services, and free high-speed community internet. Together, we can be champions for racial and economic justice in Baltimore City."

Can she win? It is a tough road ahead but I believe that the challenge is not impossible, especially in a change election cycle as we are likely to witness nation-wide in November. Moreover, there is an absolute zero risk of D12 electing a Republican to the seat, so this is a golden opportunity for voters in 2012 to elect someone who will work tirelessly "for the many, not the few" to borrow the recent Labour Party slogan.

Turning to a brief electoral history, Robert Stokes is not a deeply entrenched incumbent. In fact, despite being a long-time fixture in Democratic circles, he has been surprisingly vulnerable at the ballot box.

In 2016, running for the open seat. Stokes won the primary by a 328-vote margin over his nearest competitor, Kelly Cross. He garnered slightly over one-third of the vote in that Democratic primary (33.6%). In fact, looking at his vote total (2,600 votes), that same tally running in any of the other district-based Council seats would have meant only a second or third place finish in 10 of the 14 such seats. Turning to the general election, he won with 70.7% of the vote (9,916 votes). That sounds like a decent margin until one realizes that almost all of the other district-based Democrats won with either higher percentages or more votes (with the sole exceptions of Zeke Cohen with 66.8% in D1 and Edward Reisinger with 8,526 votes in D10).

One would expect an incumbent such as Stokes to fare much better in the 2020 primaries, having served almost one full term on the City Council. That was not the case. Other new-comers in 2016 won impressive victories in their 2020 primaries. For example:

- Ryan Dorsey obtained 40.3% of the primary vote in '16, following that up with a 58.4% win in '20 (+ 18.1%).

- Kristerfer Burnett garnered 29.4% of the 2016 primary vote, going on to amass 62.7% in 2020 (+33.3%).

- Zeke Cohen went from a 27.3% plurality to a solid 66.5% majority in 2020 (+39.2%).

Stokes? 33.6% in the 2016 primary to only 40.4% in the 2020 primary (a relatively meager +6.8% pick-up). His vote total (3,180) would have landed him in second or third place in all but one of other district-based City Council seats (D10). His 40.4% - 37.3% win over challenger Phillip Lee Westry was by only 248 votes.

It will take energizing the electorate, turning out new voters, and convincing many Democrats that Muller Paz is the right candidate for the right district at the right time. Having seen what I have seen thus far, I believe. she has the right stuff.

In solidarity.

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