What’s on Your Pandemic Playlist?

If you happened to be inside a hospital early in the pandemic, you might have heard these words floating through the corridors — “The smiles returning to the faces. Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.” They’re lyrics from “Here Comes the Sun,” George Harrison’s 1969 classic about resurrection from the dead of winter. Across the country, hospitals played the Beatles’ song over paging systems as a celebratory ritual when discharging a patient on the mend from the coronavirus. Many still do.

Music has been therapeutic for people outside hospitals, too, and more than a few of the prescribed tunes were written and sung by the “quiet Beatle,” also known as the spiritual one. Harrison, who died of lung cancer in 2001, continues to pop up on pandemic playlists during a dark winter that indeed “seems like years.” Among his most turned-to works are not only “Here Comes the Sun” but also other creations, including multiple tracks from his signature solo album, “All Things Must Pass.”

See the article about George Harrison’s coronavirus comeback, in NCR … 

Give Up My White Privileges? Sure. Which Ones?

Shortly after the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I found myself connecting with friends and acquaintances who seemed prepared to admit that we’ve enjoyed privileges interlinked with race (and age), and that right about now would be a good time to start unhanding these privileges. For the most part, they’re people like me—white baby boomers, with a skew toward males who attended Catholic schools long ago. The feelings among them are genuine and might well reflect a moment of realization for many Americans, not just white liberals but also others.

Still, there are questions. What privileges are we talking about? And what exactly is it that we’d be giving up?

My friends and interlocutors are speaking of the now-familiar advantages. These include an assurance that I could approach authorities, including the police, and expect a fair hearing; that I could browse aimlessly in shops without clerks monitoring my every movement; that if I move to a new locale, the neighbors won’t eye me with suspicion; and many other privileges of membership in my race.

These are surely advantages (they’re also the more visible ones, catchable on video). But what would it mean for me to no longer have them? Recalcitrant cops aren’t going to start manhandling me just because they’ve decided to go easy on Blacks. My new neighbors wouldn’t look at me warily, by virtue of having lowered their guard against Black newcomers. Shopkeepers won’t start tailing me after they’ve turned their gaze off patrons of color.

In other words, I can lose all of these privileges, at no cost to myself. They’re easy to renounce (if not necessarily change at the social level). Could the same be said for some other advantages, harder to see and therefore acknowledge? I’m thinking mainly of the pecuniary benefits made possible by systemic racism, or what the Latin American liberation theologians call “structures of sin.” Here’s one little corner of a structure: how my whiteness affects my property taxes. It’s something I scarcely thought about until seeing a Washington Post article under the headline, “Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows.”

…read more

Thank You, Black Families, for Subsidizing my Property Taxes

Here’s something I never thought about: how my whiteness affects my property taxes. My introduction to this question comes by way of a July 2 Washington Post article under the headline, “Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows.”

I’d have thought Black homeowners pay less in property taxes than their white counterparts, relative to home prices. That’s because the value of their homes tends to appreciate more slowly, in neighborhoods often viewed as less desirable. So, local tax assessments ought to be lower. In fact, Black families pay more, adjusting for market value—13 percent more than white families, according to a new study of 118 million homes nationwide by Indiana University and University of Utah economists. Though the causes are varied, it’s reasonable to conclude that assessors haven’t been particularly worried about overtaxing Black families.

My takeaway: I’ve likely reaped a white-family discount on property taxes, and have done so through 31 years of homeownership, thanks to a heavier burden on Black families. And does that even graze the surface of white, middle-class privileges? Don’t bet on it.

Forthcoming—an opinion piece on what it would mean to really “give up” white privileges.

Mixed Blessings

What happens when a prayer is censored?

As Ruth Langer inspected the grainy images of medieval prayer books, she began to notice that some words had been blotted out with ink or smeared as though with the lick of a finger—signs of censors at work.

Go to the Article


Relative Poverty

The indignity of gross inequality

Which view of economic inequality has greater merit? The one espoused by Adam Smith, the father figure of capitalism? Or the teaching that unfolds from the Bible’s pleadings for justice and righteousness?

It’s a trick question. In fact, these two perspectives are broadly the same. Smith, like the biblical writers, was opposed to gross income inequality. For both, how people are faring relative to others in society is not simply a question of envy. It’s a matter of human dignity and social well-being.

There’s another outlook on inequality that has many adherents. Let’s call it the We Got Stuff school of thought. …read more

Master Teachers

Inside the classrooms of six Boston College faculty

At 8:15 one Wednesday morning last January, most of the 40 students in G. Peter Wilson’s 8:30 Financial Accounting class were already present. Wilson waited a minute or two longer, surveyed the lecture room occupied mostly by freshmen in Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, and said: “Let’s do it.” All heads turned toward a bingo cage on a wooden bench at the front of the room. The professor gave the toy a spin and yanked out a numbered yellow ball—indicating the study group that would report on its research momentarily. Then he rolled a red dice. “And the lucky number is two,” he announced, signaling the student who would deliver the group’s brief presentation. In the back of the room a young man pumped his fist and exclaimed, “Yes!” … read more