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gina_schouten

Cool-headed deliberation is the job, after all.

by Gina Schouten on October 5, 2018

I’ve been reading that the deliberations over Kavanaugh’s appointment in light of Blasey Ford’s allegations against him are firing up voters on the right in the sense that those voters, like Kavanaugh, find the mere investigation to be crazy, a moral outrage, incomprehensible. I’ve never felt so strongly like I’m living in a completely different reality than those who disagree with me politically. This makes me want to say why I think what I think as plainly as I can, because however wrong it might be, I’m almost certain it isn’t crazy or immoral or incomprehensible. Before the testimony, I thought only that further inquiry was in order. Now, in light of Kavanaugh’s testimony, and independent of Blasey Ford’s, I think Kavanaugh has shown himself to be unfit for appointment to the Supreme Court. Here’s why.

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Good Parenting vs. Good Citizenship?

by Gina Schouten on September 13, 2018

I’ve been a parent now for six months and change, and I have exactly nothing figured out. I have gotten pretty good at thinking of things in terms of stark tradeoffs. Hooray, he fell asleep while I was nursing him, and stayed asleep when he went into his crib! (Crap. This means a missed opportunity to put him down “drowsy but awake,” and thus to train him to fall asleep on his own.) Hooray, I am really enjoying singing this song to him right now! (Crap. This temporary alignment of my interests and his surely means I am losing all ability to discern my own interests when they diverge from his.)

Don’t judge me too harshly for this insanity. Everything written about parenting seems expressly intended to make its readers think of their choices in terms of tradeoffs. (Seriously. If you don’t want your kid to be sleeping in your bed when he’s sixteen, you must put him down drowsy but awake!)

And a lot about our social environment seems expressly intended to generate tradeoffs. Take just one example: Privileged parents generally face a choice between schooling options that middle-class parenting culture approves as best for their children, and schooling options that progressive politics regards as best ethically. A fair bit of attention has been paid to this choice in popular media over the past week, largely in response to a book by Margaret Hagerman about how progressive, middle-class parents make decisions—decisions about where to live and thus what schools their kids will attend, and with whom, etc.—that perpetuate racial inequality. This is to be welcomed. It’s an important issue. While the tradeoff is generated by policy-level decisions—our practices for funding schools, our willingness to tolerate residential segregation by race and social class, our willingness to tolerate the extreme social inequality that makes that residential segregation so consequential—the policy failure generates seriously difficult decisions for individuals.

The philosophical considerations that bear on those decisions are complex. I want to quibble with the way the ethical tradeoff is being framed in the popular media discussions of it, encouraged, perhaps, by the way Hagerman herself sometimes frames it. Consider this remark from her interview in the Atlantic:

“I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.” (Italics mine.)

Contrary to Hagerman’s worry, this does not sound even kind of crazy, and I hope her work helps to make it sound less crazy even to those who ultimately disagree with it. But we shouldn’t frame the tradeoff the way Hagerman does in this quote. It’s misleading and it’s bad marketing.
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The Rational Grounds for (Anti-Racist) Optimism

by Gina Schouten on January 12, 2018

Thanks to the Crooked Timber bloggers for this opportunity! I’m very excited to be joining the group!

I just finished reading the twentieth anniversary edition of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, a 2017 update to the 1997 book by Beverly Daniel Tatum about racial identity development. Tatum begins the long and excellent prologue to the new edition with the question: Are things getting better? In reading the prologue, one gets the sense that the answer is quite clearly that they are not, and indeed, Tatum confirms this at the end of the book:

“As I was writing the prologue for the twentieth-anniversary edition of this book, I was struck by how much bad news there was in it. The events of the last two decades have done little to improve the quality of life for those most negatively impacted by the structural racism of our society. Recognizing and acknowledging the persistence of residential and school segregation; the economic inequality that grows from limited access to socioeconomically diverse social networks and high-quality education as well as continued discrimination in the workplace; and the stranglehold of mass incarceration, unequal justice, and growing voter disenfranchisement left me feeling disheartened. But I am an optimist by nature and I have lived long enough to know that meaningful change is possible. I was determined not to give in to a sense of despair but rather to actively seek out signs of hope—stories of people making a difference and promising practices that could move others to meaningful action. I found that these signs of hope are everywhere” (343).

Tatum goes on, in the epilogue, to “share some of what I found in hopes that the examples will uplift you as they uplifted me” (343).

Tatum’s stories are uplifting. But they don’t make me feel optimistic about the future. Some are about local initiatives like the Atlanta Friendship Initiative or the Community Coalition on Race in the towns of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey. Most are about things taking place on elite and liberal arts college campuses. But if Tatum is right, in the rest of her book, about how our racial identities form and when, developmentally, things begin to go wrong (spoiler alert: childhood and adolescence matter, a lot), then I don’t see why isolated anti-racist efforts of the type that she catalogues should give us much hope.

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