Transcript of: http://www.usfca.edu/stream/diversity/wise/
0:00 BEGIN TRANSCRIPTION
0:05 [Music, opening graphic]
0:18 Tim Wise: Thank you so much. Wow! This is great! This is nuts! All these people. It’s – so, like I know one of two things is true. One is that issues of racial equity and injustice and unearned privilege and oppression are matters of paramount concern to six hundred or more people here at the University of San Francisco and its assembled guests, or an alternative possibility is that extra credit still counts for something in higher education.
0:54 TW: Maybe a little of both? You know, it’s ok. I don’t care. Extra credit! Yay! Whatever, I mean, you know, if that’s why you’re here it’s cool with me. The lights are up, the sun is still out. I’m going to notice if you get up to leave, even with all these people so, I’ll probably call you out, so you might just want to hang tight regardless of your motivation for being here.
1:15 TW: It’s always good to see this kind of crowd for this kind of conversation because I do know a few things. I’ve learned a few things in the 23 years I’ve been engaged in one form or another of anti-racism activism and the 17 to 18 that I’ve been on the road talking about these issues. Among the things I’ve learned is that no one really likes to have to engage these topics, even those of us who do it everyday don’t always love it because it’s difficult. We know it’s scary. We know it’s frightening. People get uptight, right, about even the simplest conversation, and so I know it’s not easy for you to come and engage in this – I mean, I was going to call it a dialogue, but who am I kidding. Like I’m going to talk, and you’re going to listen, and we’re going to do some Q & A. But still, like to even come to the monologue that’s about to happen is sometimes tough because you – and it’s tough for different reasons for different people. I mean, for people of color, you know, there’s a real fear from learned experience, right, that to come and engage in this kind of conversation with white folks around is distressing, is difficult because there is an understanding based on life experience that when people of color talk about issues of racism, for instance, even in their own life, let alone as a larger sociological phenomenon, that there’s a very good chance that white folks, even reasonably well-intended white folks are going to shut down, are going to not process, are going to dismiss it or minimize it or marginalize it or accuse the person of color of playing the race card, which is that terminology we use when we would rather just not actually talk about what’s real in other peoples’ lives, right? And so – or even the fear of retaliation. The fear that someone, when you complain about that, that it could cost you in some real concrete way in the classroom or on the job, so people of color have learned to just sort of shut down and stuff a lot of their experiences with this issue, and certainly not to talk about it very openly with those of us who are white in the room.
3:05 TW: And then for those of us who are white, we have a whole nother set of fears, right? Very different. It’s not the fear of being minimized or marginalized, let alone retaliated against so much but it’s the fear that, “Oh my God, if we talk about race, we’re going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to say something stupid. Those people are going to think that we’re racist. Oh my God, oh my God, so I’d just rather not say anything than have them think I’m racist. Ok, news flash for the white people in the room, if you’re worried that people of color might think that you’re racist, ok? Done and done. Like, they already – they already assume that’s a real distinct possibility, whether you open your mouth and confirm it or not. Why? Not because they hate you. Don’t freak out. Like, it’s just that people of color know that if you grow up in a society where racism is inculcated throughout every institution historically and today, there’s a pretty good chance that you picked up some of it. And people of color know that because they know they’ve picked up some of it, right? So if people of color know that they’ve internalized some of that mess, how do you think they’re going to expect that you didn’t? So if we’re afraid to talk about race and racism for fear that we’re going to betray some bias, that is no reason not to have the dialogue, because the assumption of the bias is already there. And, ironically, there is this body of research that has been out for maybe two or three years now, which actually finds, ironically, that the one thing that most confirms in the mind of a person of color that a white person might in fact be hiding racism is our unwillingness to talk. Right, so it’s precisely the moment when we shut down, even when race is the obvious elephant in the room, that’s the moment where that person of color in your life goes yeah, see? Uh huh. I think I know why you’re not talking. Right, because you have something to hide. So if anything, the lesson of this is what? We would be a lot better off just to have the conversation and take a chance and probably screw up from time to time, but then get up and dust ourselves off and try again, even if we do make mistakes, rather than to shut down and ultimately confirm the very suspicions that we’re trying to debunk, right?
5:04 TW: But I know it’s tough. It’s tough because we’ve been told for a long time now and this is in keeping with this color blind, color mute motif, right, where we’re not supposed to think about color, not supposed to notice color, not supposed to talk about color and its consequences, right? There’s this new sort of meme that goes around in our society, which is that the conversation is actually the problem, right? In other words those folks who will say, “If you just stop talking about race and racism, it will go away. It’s talking about it that keeps it alive.” It’s one of those problems that if you just didn’t talk about it, it would go away. Yes this is genius thinking here. This is the kind of thing that you would not apply to any other social problem on the face of the earth. Right? Think about this. Like, pick any problem! I got one. World hunger. Try this out. Imagine if someone were to say, “Do you know there are billions of children all around this planet who are starving for lack of food!” And someone were to say, “Shhh! Damned fool! Don’t talk about that! If you talk about starvation, people will starve. That’s how that works. If you just wouldn’t talk about it, on the other hand, food would miraculously appear on the plates of those hungry children. My God! What an easy solution! We could save billions of dollars in aid. Bono would have nothing to do, like – there would be – we could solve all – just silence will solve the problem. That’s incredibly smart, or ridiculously stupid!” But that’s what people are saying. No problem on Earth – would you say that about crime? Like you know, if you’re worried about crime, and being victim – I’ve been held up at gunpoint before. Why would – if I were to say, “Oh yeah. Crime’s scary. Shhh! Don’t talk about that. Don’t talk about crime. If you talk about crime, someone is apt to get carjacked just down the road. If you would talk about it, we could close all of the prisons, fire all the cops. My God! Why hasn’t anybody thought of that? Because it makes no sense. You can’t solve a problem that you’re not willing to point out to identify it, to actually discuss. But somehow, on this topic, we think that less conversation will solve the problem. It’s sort of like blaming the speedometer on your car for the speeding ticket that you just got. Right? But the speedometer is not what caused you to go a hundred in a sixty-five. It just told you what you did, right, and suggested that maybe you ought to think twice about that the next time you do it. In other words, the speedometer is just a way of expressing social reality, in this case, the speed that you were going. Right, it has nothing to do with causing the social reality of your speeding, right?
7:30 TW: So that’s the difference and yet on so many levels, we are being told to shut down, to not notice things. The other night, I was at Providence College and – another Catholic institution – and very different in a lot of ways from this one, multiple, multiple ways, very different, but similar in others. And so there was a young woman – I’ve written about this on my website, so you may have read about it. There’s this thing going around the Internet, that got around, so I had to respond to it. Because there’s this rumor going around that I had attacked the Catholic Church at a Catholic college, which is not really at all what happened but let me tell you what actually happened.
8:04 TW: So, I gave this talk and it was really mild. Like it was way more mild than the one you’re getting tonight, so really, really mild. You’re not going to disappoint you with that one. It was ok for there but I’m coming a little stronger tonight, so anyway, so I gave this really mild talk but then during the Q & A there was a really nice young woman who got up and asked a question and she started off – it’s always – you know you’re in a college setting when the question starts off like this: “Well, I think you’re being anthropologically reductionist, because that’s – right – that’s that kind of ridiculous word casserole that we learn to use in college that we will never use again after we are out of college but we learn how to speak that way in college and then we deploy that at will to just demonstrate how intelligent we are, until we get out in the real world and someone says, “Alright, that makes you sound like a jackass. Just stop.” But so she said, “I think you’re being anthropologically reductionist and this is why. Because when you look out at this audience – ” and it was about 500 people, 450-something, she said, “When you look out at the – you see all these colors and I just don’t even see that. I just see all these wonderful human beings made in the image of God” and then she was relating back to the Catholic mission of the school and all this other stuff.
9:19 TW: OK, so here’s the thing. Like this is an expression of color-blindness and color muteness. It’s this idea that just even noticing someone’s racial identity just noticing that makes you, in effect, you know, a racist, or in big-word terms, anthropologically reductionist, but fundamentally the same concept, right? That you’re the problem. You notice it. I don’t. I’m more enlightened than you, and my response to her is the same one that I would give to anyone who said that kind of thing, only – well it had a special answer because we were at a Catholic college where this image-of-God thing is especially relevant, because it’s like hanging on every crucifix in the joint, and so I noted to her that if want to say that we’re all made in the image of God, that’s really sweet. Meanwhile, you have an image of God all over this campus that is lily-white and anthropologically bears no resemblance to the actual Jesus, so maybe we could start with that.
10:15 TW: Which to say, apparently means that you’re attacking the Catholic Church. Who knew? Who knew that that was an attack on the faith. And people – “You’re attacking Jesus!” No, I’m not attacking Jesus. I’m attacking that white dude on that cross. I don’t know who that is. It’s not Jesus. I don’t know who that is. I’m criticizing him and whoever put him there. But it’s different. You know? I told you, this is going to be a different talk, but anyway, what I also said – what I also said to her, more to the point about color-blindness and color-muteness, because I was just having a little fun with her, and it was a lot of fun actually, but what I said to her relevant to our talk tonight is to say that very nice thing she said, which I believe she actually meant very sincerely. I said, “It’s nice, but you know, I think it’s a little naïve,” because the truth is whether she wants to acknowledge it or not, whether any of us want to acknowledge it or not, color has had consequences and continues to have consequences. If we do not notice them, or we pretend like we don’t but all the brain science says that when she doesn’t see people’s colors, she’s not just being naïve, she’s also lying. That’s what the brain science research says, but whatever. You can’t ever convince anyone they’re lying about something. I can’t even convince her that Jesus isn’t white, so you know, we had a rough night, but in any event, I said, you know, “It’s naïve because color has had consequences, and the fact that you decide not to notice them or not to think about them or not to process them doesn’t change that fact. It doesn’t alter by one iota what those consequences happen to be. In fact, it makes addressing those consequences almost impossible. If you’re not willing to name them and call them out when you talk as she was about, “We should treat everyone like an individual,” all of that’s very find and good but to abstract an individual human being from their social context and call that justice is profoundly unjust. When you take someone out of their social context and say, “I’m treating them like an individual.” You are treating them like a dictionary definition of an individual, but the lives we lead are not dictionary lives, they’re encyclopedic lives and they have context. And when you take a person out of their context in regard to race and ethnicity and sex and gender and sexuality and religion and all of those different identity markers that we know have consequence and have meaning, and then pretend that you’re treating people like the people they are, the fact is, you’re not. You’re treating them like the abstract notion of the human being. Not the people in the lives that they’re actually leading, and that’s not justice. So this color blind and this color mute norm is becoming an increasing problem, and I want to suggest to you that it isn’t just a problem for those on the right. I’m going to give you an example of this, I think, on both the right and the left but both are problematic for those of us who care about creating racial equity in this society.
13:01 TW: So, here’s an example of how folks on the right sometimes do this. So last year, there was this really interesting thing around the 4th of July, Independence Day it happened, as the result of something that Chris Rock tweeted, right? I don’t know if you follow Chris Rock’s Twitter feed, but if you do, you might have seen this thing that happened, right? So Chris Rock tweets this thing on the 4th of July, which was, on the one hand, just absolutely hilarious and more importantly, absolutely true. Like inarguably true, ok? Some things are arguable. Even with 140 characters, you can make an argument that isn’t necessarily solid, right? But this one was pretty solid, and so Chris Rock tweets this:
13:39 TW: This is Independence Day, his tweet on the 4th of July, he says: “Happy White Peoples’ Independence Day!” See, that’s funny right there. Like, he could have stopped and not even wasted the rest of the characters and it would have been funny. But he had some characters to spend and so he decided to spend them. He said, “Happy White Peoples’ Independence Day! The slaves weren’t free, but I’m sure they enjoyed the fireworks.”
14:05 TW: Now here’s the thing. Not only is that funny, but it’s inarguably true historically. It’s really no different, right, than what Frederic Douglass said in the famous oration, “What, To The Slave, Is The 4th of July?” It’s no di – Its not as proseworthy as that, ok? It’s 140 characters and it’s sorta snarky, so it’s not as good as Douglass, but like the concept is the same. Basically, all Chris Rock is saying and all Douglass was saying and all that anyone who studied this subject matter ever is saying is, “You know what? You see the world through the lens of your experience, right? And so if you experience this society one way, you’re going to see it that way, and if you’ve experienced this way, you’re going to see it a different way. This is not arguable among rational human beings, right? But there is a divorce attorney in South Carolina by the name of Jeff Schreiber. I mention his profession in case you ever want to liquidate your bledded – bledded – blessed wedding and bliss, and you’re in Charleston, and you want to dissolve your marriage, and you want to find a good conservative, you know, family-values guy to help you do that, because that’s what he describes himself as, a nice, family-values divorce attorney. Works all the time. Anyway, you know, yeah.
15:16 TW: Doesn’t want LGBT folks to marry, but he will split straight folks up for enough money, right? So anyway, this guy, Jeff Schreiber, whose name I mention because his tweets were not anonymous so neither shall I be in reference to him, he gets really angry at Chris Rock and decides to tweet back. Ok, a little life advice: don’t ever get in a Twitter war with a standup comic. That is not going to go well.
15:41 TW: That is not going to go – you’re not going to win that. That is just like – you’re not – you’re not gonna win, right? But he – he didn’t think about that. He was just pissed, so he writes back. First he does hashtag – and I’m going to G-rate this, but the hashtag GoFYourself- I’ll leave it to your imagination what the “F” stands for. And then he says, in response to this inarguable statement by Chris Rock about racial history and perception, “Slavery existed for 2,000 years before America. We ended it in 100 years. We now have a black President.”
16:11 TW: Right, as if to say, “Shut up, shut up and shut up! Other folks did it, too. We got rid of it faster than they did, and there’s a black dude running stuff now, so enough!” Enough with this kind of historically inarguable reference that Chris Rock made. And this is indicative of a larger mindset, right, that’s very common, unfortunately, I feel in white America in the way that we respond to any attempt to have this conversation in either a historical or a contemporary context. It’s the fact that our inability to see simple facts the same way, even inarguable facts really speaks to our condition, and that’s the kind of stuff we’ve got to grapple with, why it is that two reasonably rational people or 2 million rational people or 300 mostly rational people can look at the same set of historical facts, and even contemporary realities and see them completely differently, right? Of course, when Jeff Schreiber says that, you know he’s being a bit dishonest because first of all, when he says the thing about, you know, other countries had slavery for 2,000 years bef- and this is sort of the, you know, “They-did-it-too” defense, and this you know this doesn’t work in other parts of life, right? Like, I sort of remember trying this with my mom. Right? I remember – I remember many attempts to convince my mother that yes, it is true that I broke the that window playing baseball, but Mother, you should note that I wasn’t playing baseball alone. That I was playing with Billy or whomever it was, right? And that Billy and I both are responsible, and as I remember, and you may have had similar experiences, I think I recall something that my mother said having to do with a bridge, and then a gentle inquiry as to whether or not young Master William were to throw himself from the bridge, whether I might in the manner of a damned fool, join him in the doing of that? And I recall not being able to get very far with “The-other-people-did-it” defense, but he thinks that is the answer to historical truth. That we can somehow dodge our responsibility to deal with the problem if he can find somebody else who’s done it – maybe even done it worse. Maybe even done it bigger. My God! Oh my God! You know? It’s not an argument, but it’s one we hear a lot.
18:28 TW:Or the idea that somehow we got rid of it in 100 years. Now, see here’s the deal. I’ve been white a long time, so when white folks say, “We did some stuff,” now, I want to know who we’re talking about. When we use the word “We” I need to know whom, because I’m fairly confident that people like him didn’t do it. They’re not – I don’t think this dude would have been an abolitionist. I don’t think – because we know that the reactionaries of that were not. Yeah, they were Republicans, but that’s got nothing to do with anything, right? They were not – they were not the conservatives of their day. By definition, the conservatives, this is just their term that they would use for the – they wanted to conserve the traditions and preserve the norms of antebellum South, so they weren’t the ones trying to end enslavement. They were the ones trying to maintain it, so when he says, “We did some stuff,” he doesn’t mean people like him, and then when he says, “Oh, and we’ve got a black President,” now, ok I’m real sure he had nothing to do with that.
19:20 TW: Like, I’m really sure he did not get involved in that. Like, he was not in on that decision, right? He isn’t happy about that at all, which if you go back and look at some of his older tweets, it’s real clear. Like he’s pissed about that, right? So all of this stuff, these are deflections that we use, right to somehow get away, and of course, even if he had voted for the President, even if you did, don’t get all smug, right? The fact that we have a person of color as president is no more meaningful to the issue of whether or not racism is a significant problem than the fact that Pakistan elected Benazir Bhutto for the first time in 1988 and again in ’91. She was head of state twice. She has since been assassinated. That’s how much some folks loved her. We wouldn’t say that sexism and patriarchy have been eradicated in Karachi because she became the head of state, or that the same thing had happened in India or Israel or Great Britain or the Philippines. They’ve all had female heads of state, but we wouldn’t conclude from that fact alone that therefore millions of girls and women in that place no longer experience the patriarchal oppression of male domination and sexism in those states. Even my 9-year-old daughter would kno, if I were to say, “Hey, you know? What you really ought to do if you want some equal opportunity, is you need to move to Karachi, because there – there you’ll be good. And how do I know this? Because a woman was he head of state. We still haven’t done that, so clearly, that’s where you need to go. Or Manila or you know, London, or Jerusalem, or wherever else.” No, even my 9-year-old, who knows nothing about those countries, would be like, “Daddy, no. I’m fairly confident that’s wrong.”
20:52 TW: Because even she would understand that individual accomplishment, though it’s meaningful, doesn’t tell us anything about systemic truth, right? So when those principally on the right make that argument, but not only on the right, make that argument they’re engaged in sort of a conservative and reactionary version of color-blindness, color-muteness as a norm that they believe is valuable. Now, people on the ostensible, liberal left do a similar version of this. Little different, but speaking of the President, since we were just talking about him. I mean, let’s remember, shall we, the first time that for most of us, we came to actually know anything about Barack Obama. When was the first time that most of us were introduced to him as a – as a national figure? It was 2004. It was the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and he gave the keynote, right? And so remember that keynote? It was this really lovely oration, right? It was the firs time he had spoken to a national audience. Made huge news. Big splash in the media, and obviously within the Democratic Party. And I remember there was a lot – there was a lot of applause lines in the talk as there always are at keynote speeches, and as most of his speeches in particular, got several really strong applause lines, but there was one part of the talk that you may recall. Was like the most overwhelming response of any part. It’s the part where then-state senator, running for the US Senate – a position he would win that November, Barack Obama later, obviously now President, said the following. He looked out, he said, “We’re not a white America and an black America. We’re not a Latino America and an Asian America. We’re the United States of America.” Right? And it was this moment where everybody just swooned, right? It was like, “Oh my God.”
22:27 [Speaker applauds.]
22:29 TW: It was like mass hypnosis. People were just, “Oh my God. That’s so beautiful.” And the clapping went on and on and on. Like two hours into the clapping on this line, I was like, “It is late and I have small children. I have to go to bed.” I woke up the next morning. I turned on the Today Show, and people were still [clapping] you know. I don’t think he had said a word in twelve hours, or eight hours, whatever it was. I’m being facetious, but not by much. Like this was a huge applause line. People loved that. But there was a problem with that, right? Maybe not as offensive as what Jeff Schreiber said about, “Why don’t you shut up? And slavery has been gone for blah, blah, blah.” I mean, it’s his way of doing – it’s a lot tackier, right, but in effect, what Barack Obama was saying – remember he wasn’t speaking in aspirational terms, right? He wasn’t saying, “Hey, if we do the following things, we will not be a divided country. We’ll be a United States of America.” He wasn’t saying it like that. He was saying it in descriptive terms, wasn’t he? He was saying, “We are this place, right now as I speak,” and he had to know better than that. He had to know better than that and yet even he understood that as a condition of his political trajectory, he would have to lie to 285 million Americans in order to have any chance of a career. He knows today that he has to. I suppose that doesn’t excuse the lie, but it explains it. I’m not trying to let him off the hook for the lie. I don’t think people ought to be excused for the dishonesty that they spin, but let’s be clear about something. You know and I know as well that the President of the United States, ostensibly the most powerful person on the planet, or at least in this country isn’t even as free as I am to come here and tell you anything I’ve said tonight.
24:05 TW: Now what does that say? Right? I am 44 years old. I am white. I have a Bachelor’s Degree and I can come and tell you more about the system of racism and get away with saying those things than the President of the United States, to say nothing of the other people of color in this room who try to tell the rest of y’all this stuff all the time, and don’t get heard.
24:31 TW: So that is how NOT post-racial we are, right? That’s how NOT honest it is for us to have a conversation about race as if it’s not in the room, as if it doesn’t matter, right? And the problem, of course, with all of this, is that color does have consequences, as I said before. Let’s talk about a few of them so we know what I mean by that, so I’m not accused of exaggerating the problem or making it up, or just simply asserting it without evidence. Now there’s lots of evidence I could offer you. It’s all footnoted in the books that I’m totally going to sell you when we’re done here. That was the subliminal merchandise pitch that I’ve been told by my kids I need to do. So yeah, we’ll take care of that, but in the short version of that, understand some of these consequences, that if we don’t name them, and we’re not prepared to see them, we definitely aren’t going to do anything about, and that’s going to be hugely problematic.
25:19 TW: So, for instance, we know that right now as I speak, not twenty years ago, fifty, a hundred, right now, the typical white family in America – I don’t mean by that the typical white family in the top 1% – I mean the median, the midpoint in this country – has approximately 20 times the net worth of the typical African American family in the midpoint. Eighteen times the net worth of the typical Latino family at the midpoint. About $100,000 more in net worth per typical white family, relative to typical black or brown family. It’s not because white folks have worked harder. I think this is fair to say, it’s not because we prayed harder, God knows that, right? But it is – and it’s – God knows it’s not because we possess some superior investment wisdom that people of color are lacking, right? I mean, if you haven’t learned anything in the last five years of global economic meltdown, you at least should be able to take this one nugget away: There are obviously – there is an awful lot of money that can be lost by white guys, right, without any help from black people, interestingly. Without any help from Mexicans, be they documented or not. Without – no Asian Americans, sure as hell no indigenous people helping them do this. 12 trillion dollars lost and/or destroyed and/or looted by not just a bunch of rich white dudes, but like the smartest, most high SAT-havin’ high-IQ-havin’ B-School-graduatin’ white men on Wall Street who just lost 12 trillion dollars worth of other peoples’ money because of their illegal and unethical and incompetent machinations and, I know people don’t like me mentioning that they were white, because people – you see, that’s a racist thing. You mentioned they were white. That’s sort of racist. No, it’s just descriptive. It’s just descriptive and here’s the reason I mention it: if they’d have been black, somebody would have mentioned it.
27:02 TW: Right? If a handful of black folks lost 12 trillion dollars of somebody else’s money, are you kidding? People of color losing 12 trillion dollars of mostly white peoples’ money? You’ve got to be kidding. You know exactly what the conversation would be. The conversation would be, “Well, how did they get these jobs anyway? Oh, I know. Heh, heh, heh, heh. I know, they got these jobs on Wall Street because of that Affirmative Action, not the old merit system, like Daddy’s personal contact list. The way that all these other frat boys got those jobs. No, no it’s Affirmative Action.” And that would have been the conversation. Right? It would have been racialized. It would have been about, “They’re not competent. They shouldn’t have even had those jobs. They maybe stole that money because you know how they are. They just steal stuff.” Right? But now, white folks do that. Nobody has said like, “Ok, white men? Banking? Done! No, you can’t have that job anymore because you have demonstrated by your own actions that you were incompetent. We’re going to profile your ass right out of that industry.” Like, and I’m not saying we should do that. I’m just pointing out the inconsistency. I’m not saying, so if you’re dead-set on working on Wall Street and you’re white, don’t worry. You can do that. That’s fine. But I’m just saying, like, we would have a different analysis, right? And think about it. It took eighteen months for these rich white men – so intelligent – because how do you make – how do you billions of dollars as a hedge fund manager unless you’re incredibly smart? How – and you’ve got to be brilliant to make billions of dollars creating nothing of value whatsoever.
28:42 TW: Which is what hedge fund managers – they don’t create value. They move money around. They manipulate currency and commodities and peoples’ portfolios and they make nothing and they make billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars because they’re just so smart. Except when they lose 12 trillion dollars of other peoples’ money, and then they’re not so smart. Twelve trillion. That’s 20 percent of the net worth of this country accumulate over 230 plus years. It took over 230-some odd years to create that money, and it took them 18 months to wipe it out. And I’m telling you what, if black and brown folks had managed to do that – first of all, do you have any idea how long it would take for black and brown street thugs to steal 12 fricken’ trillion dollars? First. Like that would take 5,000 years. Right? Five millennia, and they’d have to rob you around the clock, too Jack. It wouldn’t be like a part-time job. They would have to keep their hand in your pocket non-stop, 24 hours a damned day. And 5,000 years later, you’d be like, “Hey, y’all got 12 trill yet?” And they’d be like, “No, not even close. Check back in another couple thousand years.” But the white dudes are so good at this, it took them a year and a half. Right? That’s fascinating. Are we not supposed to talk about that? Apparently not. Because when people of color screw up, it’s a racialized pathology. When white folks screw up, it’s just some individual, got a little too big for his britches. Got a little too shady and shifty, but he doesn’t represent anything bigger, right? He doesn’t represent anything bigger. So that’s why race matters. So that twenty to one – back to the wealth gap, because that’s where I was. Remember? This is – you’ve got to understand – this is a little bit like jazz, ok so – and not that smooth jazz. I mean, like real jazz. Like discordant over here and then back over here but at the end, I’ll come right back here. It will all make sense.
30:23 TW: So, back to the wealth gap. That twenty-to-one wealth gap can’t be about ability and merit and intelligence, because these folks weren’t that bright to lose 12 trillion dollars and that eighteen-to-one white to Latino gap can’t be about brilliance and intelligence and hard work and merit. It has to be about something else. And of course, it is, right? It’s about, in large measure, the accumulated disadvantages of history, because if white folks had been able to accumulate stuff disproportionately relative to people of color, then they’re able to leave that stuff to their descendants disproportionately. And then you end up with an exponential increase in the wealth gap even as the income gaps have shrunk a little bit. I mean – and that’s the good news. The income gaps have shrunk. Not enough, but a little bit in the last 30 and 40 years, but the wealth gaps have gotten bigger. Why? Because wealth expands exponentially. Right, because of interest and things of that nature, as opposed to income, which tends to expand, if at all, only arithmetically. Right, so in a sense, you end up having a worse wealth disparity than you did before, so how do we say race doesn’t matter. Color doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t notice those things? Even upper-middle class black and brown folk, who have good incomes and high occupational status and college degrees, still on average have about one-third to one-fifth the net worth of comparable white folks, so it isn’t just about poverty.
31:33 TW: Let’s get that out of the way. It’s not just about, “Oh, the reason that’s true is that you’ve got a disproportionate number of poor black and brown folks, and that’s why.” You can control for that. You can just compare middle and middle. You can just compare upper and upper. You can just look at black families and Latino families and white families with the same family structure, with the same education, the same occupational status, the same income, and there’ll still be, you know a three-to-one or a five-to-one wealth gap. And that matters because it’s wealth that we use, not income that we use to help pay for our kids’ college educations or put a down payment on a house. You don’t just take that out of your checking account. Right? That’s normally – or start a business? You don’t just have like a little line item in your checking account that says “Business startup.” Like that’s – you get that with equity that you have in your home, or other assets that you’ve been able to procure or inherit. So that inequality matters. It’s not just that, though. It’s also even in the realm of just employment and the job market. We know that the – according to Labor Department data from just a month ago. African American folks with a college degree – once again, we’re not just talking about issues of poverty as opposed to wealth. We’re talking about even black folks with a college degree are still approximately twice as likely as whites with a degree right now to be out of work. Latino folk with a degree about 50 percent more likely than comparable white folks with a degree to be out of work. Asian Americans with a degree about a third more likely than comparable white folks with a degree to be out of work. So people of color with the same kind of credentials right, still having disparate outcomes in the job market. The CDC tells us – the Centers for Disease Control tells us according to their research, going back several years, unchanging even as we make progress in certain areas, but in this area we’re not moving forward at all. Maybe as many as 85,000 – almost 100,000 black folks a year are dying in this country who would not if their mortality rates were similar to those of white Americans. You may ask, well that doesn’t necessarily prove it’s racism. Well, no one’s going to say it’s all that but there’s enough research now in terms of health care disparities and health outcome disparities to tell us that a significant chunk of those 85,000 annual additional excess deaths are, in fact, linked to one or another form of systemic injustice, whether it’s less access to high quality, affordable, preventive health care, which is not just an issue of economics but is also very much related to geography and the kind of job that one has, which is oftentimes tied to race, independent of class. It’s also now- we have at least 20 studies in the last 10 to 15 years which tell us that one of the primary contributors to the ill health among folk of color is actually their day-to-day experiences with racialized mistreatment. Macro and microagressions, and especially the micro ones, right? The ones that individually don’t seem like such a big deal but over time have this cumulative effect on the black and brown body. This is why, for instance, right now, African American women with a college degree – African American women with a college degree and a good job and healthcare coverage still have higher rates of infant mortality for their offspring than white women who dropped out of high school. I want to say it again. Black women with a college degree and more likely to have a good job and healthcare status than those poor white women having worse outcomes for their offspring than lower income, less educated white women. In fact, interestingly, black women who have never smoked a day in their life, let alone during the gestational period of their soon-to-be-born child have double the rate of infant mortality compared to white women who smoked every day.
34:57 TW: Black women who went to their doctor visits, their well-baby care and all the visits they had to take and go to and all the checkups you’re expected and encouraged to do when you’re pregnant – women who were black and did that according to the doctor’s orders, higher infant mortality rates than the mortality rates for white children born to white mothers who didn’t go to a single doctor’s appointment during the gestational period of their soon-to-be-born child so that’s not about class and economics, is it? That’s about something else. That’s about the racialized experiences that some are having and the effect that’s having on bioaccumulatively on the cells, right? They physiological response of racialized mistreatment. So even if all 85,000 of those excess deaths aren’t about race, let’s just say that only 10% were. Just to be conservative. Just to be ecumenical. Let’s say that only 8, 500 black folks a year are dying directly because of some form of racialized mistreatment. Would that not be enough to where you might think that that would enter into our healthcare reform discussions? And yet it didn’t, did it?
35:59 TW: All of this time we’ve spent as a country, as well we should, talking about healthcare reform, talking about trying to make it more affordable and more accessible, but yet that whole piece, which isn’t about affordability and accessibility. These are people who have access. They have care. They have a primary care physician. They’ve got coverage. But they’re still having negative outcomes, but the President doesn’t talk about that. The Party doesn’t talk about that. Congressional leaders don’t really want to talk about that because then you violate the norm of color blindness and color muteness. You violate this agreement, this tacit agreement that we’ve got not to talk about it. Well how are you going to solve that problem. You could get universal coverage, in theory. That’s something that this healthcare reform certainly doesn’t really give us, but you could get that in theory, and those folks’ situation isn’t necessarily going to improve unless we address racism and discrimination as public health issues, which public health experts have been telling us, it is a public health matter. Just like smoking, you know? Just like any of the other things that we’ve labeled as public health issues. There’s HIV/AIDS, right? High salt. High fat content diets, right? We understand these things as public health concerns, but racism and discrimination, even if it takes, whether you say 8,500 deaths a year, or 85,000 or somewhere in between, like that seems a crisis level to me, and yet we don’t talk about it very often. And that’s not just people on the right that don’t. It’s so-called liberal folks who don’t. But forget overt discrimination. Let’s just think about the institutional inequities that come from things like networking for job. The vast majority of jobs in this country have been, for a very long time, and are today filled through networking by word-of-mouth. Who you know, not what you know. Right, we understand that that’s true, so that means that – and research has found it’s true in both white collar professions, so-called, and blue-collar professions, right? In any kind of profession, there are these networks, sometimes formal, often times informal that work to privilege some and advantage some and disadvantage others. And we know that the people who are more likely to be in those networks are going to be white, and they’re going to be male and they’re going to be affluent, right?
37:54 TW: And so people of color and women of all colors and working class folks of all races, even if they’re the best person for that gig, for that job or for that slot in school, right, if they don’t know the right people to be able to pull the right strings, they’re sort of scratched from the beginning of that competition, so they’re not even the direct victims of racism, they’re not actually overtly discriminated against, which is to say they have no case in court. They can’t do anything about it legally, right, because you have to actually prove not just a direct act but usually an intentional act, and this stuff isn’t necessarily intentional. But now when the New York Times runs an article, as they did a week-and-a-half ago, which tells us that upwards of 40, maybe as many in some cases as 50 percent of new hires in corporate America, are coming from existing employees making referrals to their bosses, right? Think about that. If you’ve got almost half of the new employees who are getting their jobs through referrals of existing employees because the employer thinks – and maybe there’s rational thought here – I don’t know – don’t much care because it isn’t about that, but maybe they’re saying, “Hey, you know what? We figure rationally speaking that if Employee A is doing a good job and they know this other person, and they’re friends with them, that person’s probably just as capable as their buddy, there, and so maybe we ought to give them a chance. It sure makes it easier, doesn’t it? It cuts down search time, cuts down the cost of trying to fill jobs, so it ends up having an economic rationale. I get it. I understand the efficiency rationale of it. But what’s the effect of it. What’s the consequence of that if the people who are mostly in those networks are white, and they are, in overwhelming numbers of these cases. And they’re upper middle class, and they are. And they’re disproportionately men, then the existing employee referrals are going to probably benefit those folks. Not because any of those employees are blatantly racist. I don’t know if they are, and it doesn’t matter, right? They might be. They might not be. They could all NOT be, in theory and the consequences of that type of policy, practice and procedure would not change irrespective of the intentionality of the persons bringing it about.
39:53 TW: So we have to be prepared to talk about that. We have to be able to talk about the fact that there’s a problem, and one that needs addressing, when black and Latino folks combined are only about 25 percent of all the drug users in this country, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse to CDC, every source you could possibly consult. Combined, black and brown folk – about 25% users, but in a given year, they will represent 90% of the people who at some point in the year will be locked up for a drug possession offense. White folks, what the Census calls non-Hispanic white folks, about 70% of the drug users, in a given year. Only about 10% of the people who will be locked up for a drug possession offense, in all – in the aggregate. People of color between 5 and 9 times as likely depending upon the state to be incarcerated for a simple drug possession offense as is the case for white folks. And the problem with color blindness and color muteness with regard to those truths, is that unless we see these systemic, institutional and discriminatory roots of those phenomena, and many others that I could mention, then the problem is, we end up defaulting to an explanation that we contrive in our head and that our culture hands to us, and so therefore makes it really easy for us to contrive.
41:07 TW: You see, it’s not as if there are two options. Option 1 is seeing the systemic problem and understanding it. Option 2 is just not thinking about it at all. That’s not really what the two options are. The two options are either understanding the sociological context of the things that we see, the phenomena that we see from wealth disparity to incarceration disparities to health outcome disparities to income disparities, educational outcome disparities. It’s either seeing that, or not seeing it and then coming to your own conclusions to explain the phenomena. Because you saw the phenomena either way, you see, and I think about this as a parent, so not even as an educator. Now, just thinking about it as a dad, with two young children who come up in a world where like every child, right, you want to understand the phenomena that you observe, right? Not just sociological phenomena, but just physical phenomena. Like, you know, your kids, they want to know why does the light come on when you flick the switch? Now, I know that there is a scientific answer to that question, but it has been so long since I took a science class, I do not pretend to know what that answer is, so my answer is a perfectly legitimate 21st century answer, which is, “I don’t know. Google it and we’ll find out.”
42:20 TW: But the point is, it’s the natural curiosity of a child, right, to ask questions about just about everything. And sometimes they’ll observe things and they won’t even know what they’re observing or what it means and they may ask you or they may not, but when children – it doesn’t matter, they could be five years old, they could be younger than that. They certainly – by the time they’re seven or eight or nine are observing all types of social disparities and they need very much for people to fill in the blanks of their understanding because otherwise they’re going to default to something. What do you think they’re going to default to? Well, think about it, right? If that child is able to see at the age of 8 or 9 or 10, and I don’t just mean white children. I mean children of color, too, right. Able to see the disparities in terms of who lives in that part of town versus who lives in that part of town. What are the resources like in that community as opposed to this community. What are the resources like at that school as opposed to that school. Who lives in my neighborhood and who doesn’t? Right? Who do my parents hang out with, and who do they recreate with and who do they work with in their job, and who do they not? Or even better, like you know, children just glaring at the television while you’re watching the news as a parent and seeing who’s getting led off to jail for one of those drug possession busts that always seem to be the lead news story in local news. It’s always got to be some crime thing, and it’s usually very selective, the kinds of crimes that are being – that are being examined, and so if the child walks by that, they’re going to start asking questions, if not to you, to themselves, which is, “Why is that? Why does that look that way? Why are those people the ones being arrested? Why are those people, who live on that side of town, and they don’t seem to have the same infrastructure quality in their community, the same road quality, the same building quality, that kind of thing? Right? Anybody can see that with their own eyes. You don’t have to be a sociologist or an anthropologist to see that. You just have to be awake, right? And if you notice it, you start to draw conclusions. Well, guess what the default position is? It’s the one that every one of us grew up with because like regardless of your race, ethnicity, cultural background, socioeconomic background, whatever. If you’ve been in this country for more than a minute, right, you’ve been exposed to – and even, hell, even if you just got here, you were exposed to this when were wherever you were before you came here. Because we export this argument. We export this philosophy, right? The thing that we were all raised on or exposed to regardless of all those other things that make us different, is what? The idea that in America, anybody can make it. Anybody can make it in the US. My goodness, if you work hard, you’ll make it. If you didn’t make it, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough. It’s this individualistic notion of achievement. This notion of meritocracy, right? And the problem is, if you’re raised on that, if you’re raised on the idea that all it takes is hard work, and anybody can make it if they just try hard, and then you look around and you see the sociological reality of disparities, whether it’s wealth, income, jobs, criminal justice system, housing stock, all those things, you just put two and two together. Don’t you. You just put two and two together and you way, “Well, you know, anybody can make it, so if those folks, quote unquote, are not making it, at the same rate – even close, and they disproportionately are down here and these other folks, they’re making it much better on average and they’re disproportionately up here, it becomes very logical, doesn’t it, to conclude that, “I guess these people really are superior, either genetically or culturally in some way.” It becomes very easy to reach that conclusion, not only about race, but about class itself, right? Lower income folks are down here. “Well, you know, it’s them. They just don’t want to work hard.” Right?
45:39 TW: The people up here who are rich made all that money. They’re just much smarter. And the fact that we still believe that even after the meltdown on Wall Street, right? Even after that 12 trillion was looted. Not by poor people. We’d have had to build extra prisons if poor people had lost and looted 12 trillion dollars, right? That wouldn’t have been looked at as accidental and incidental. We haven’t jailed a single one of these fools that did this stuff to us, so right, we understand that there’s a fundamental difference but if we don’t talk about that with our children, they’re not going to get that. They’re going to assume that those folks down here, whether it’s people of color racially, lower income folks economically, women in terms of sex or gender, right? We’re talking about you know, well, they’re just not as good, so my little daughters, right, if they don’t understand sexism, and they don’t understand that discrimination against women still happens, and there are still boys and men out there who will –think of them as lesser, because they’re girls and will be one day women, if they don’t know that, and if I don’t tell them because that’s the thing, you know, we’re told as parents. Like, “You shouldn’t talk to your children about that. That makes them into permanent victims.” No, no, no it doesn’t. It alerts them to the social reality that may one day knock them flat on their ass, if you haven’t prepared them for it. What kind of father would I be, friends, if I were to send my children down a dark alley, where at the end of that alley, there was an electrified fence, but I didn’t want to tell them because I didn’t want to make them neurotic?
46:56 TW: So, I’m like, “No really. Just go. It’s all good. You’ll be good. Sally! She’s going down there. No problem.” And then they get down there and they run into this electrified fence. They’re like, “Dad! Really? You couldn’t tell me about the fence? “Oh no, because that would make you a victim. That would imbue you with a victim mentality if I told you what the possibilities of oppression were.” No! It would mean that she might be able to sit down, not only individually, but with other women and male allies and figure out how are we going to get under this fence, over this fence, around this fence, blow the hell up this fence, right? Figure out how to do something about that, but if I don’t tell her, she can’t be prepared. The same thing is true with race. Same thing is true with the class system. Same think is true with straight supremacy. If we don’t talk about that, we don’t do any favors to the folks who we keep in the dark about that social phenomenon, and they will default to a conclusion that will ultimately be disempowering to those persons at the bottom of the hierarchy, and ridiculously empowering to those at the top, right? So it ends up that white folks in that kind of society told this thing about, “All you gotta do is work hard,” and then seeing how it plays out at the end of the day, end up internalizing notions of their own superiority. People of color may end up internalizing their own notions of oppression and inferiority. Same thing with working class folks. Like all of a sudden, if I’m the master of my own ship, so to speak, the captain of my ship, the master of my fate, whatever the proper metaphor is, and all of a sudden, I’m out of work for 99 weeks, or 26 weeks or 52 weeks, can’t support my family, about to lose my house, like millions of folks, including millions of white folks are in the last several years, right? What does that do to me? What does that do to my self-image the next time I’m out there trying to get a job, and everybody’s telling me the reason I’m in such bad shape is because I’m such a piss-poor provider. I just don’t work hard enough. I’m a taker, not a maker, right? I’m one of the 47% who just don’t want to work hard enough to pay more taxes, you see? That’s a meme that is now a national political meme, for God’s sake. That’s the kind of stuff that we wouldn’t have said 70 years ago about poor people. 70 years ago, there was actually this sense – now, it was racialized – there was a racialized disparity in it, obviously, right but there was a sense, let’s say, in the 30′s, that people were out of work, not because of some character flaw. I mean, the rich thought that, right? Because the rich wanted to bash poor people because they wanted them to work for nothing and no benefits and no unions and all that. But everybody else, like the average work-a-day person, right, understood that there were these systemic forces. We used to actually valorize those who were struggling and riding the rails, looking for work. I mean, Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath were written the way they were. These were people that we admired. You know, Woody Guthrie wrote songs about hobos and they were heroes. Somebody would shoot his ass today for writing that song because ultimately when you say that, you make heroes out of the unemployed. My God, yet like they used to say about the rich some of the stuff we say about the poor. They were the robber-barons, they were the ones with the bad values. They were the ones who were taking advantage of the world and pillaging the society, but now we’ve flipped it around. We’ve come so far back in 70 years, about people at the bottom, right, whether they’re people of color or white folks on the bottom now in the midst of an economic meltdown. It’s almost like we’ve inverted Dickens. Right, because like when Charles Dickens wrote that book, A Christmas Carole – remember he wrote that story, you know – and he writes A Christmas Carole in what, the 1870s or whenever it was? And you remember, Scrooge, right? There’s this line where the come, the charity folks come to Scrooge’s office, and they’re asking for money for some children’s charity or whatever it was, and Scrooge’s famous line is, “What, are there no workhouses, no prisons?” Right? In other words there are – “Why can’t they just go to the workhouse and the prison for being poor and being impoverished? Isn’t that what – do we not have those anymore?” and they assure him, no, we still have those, but we’re trying something a little different. And he’s like, “Well, you know, count me out.”
50:39 TW: Now understand when Dickens wrote that character, like Dickens knew that Scrooge was the asshole. Ok, pardon the expression. Like Dickens didn’t write Scrooge and the Dickensian hero. He was the jerk. We understand that, but it’s almost like now, that attitude, that Scroogian attitude, if you will, is now the kind of thing you can parrot and be a presidential candidate or a vice-presidential candidate and you can parrot that with impunity. And act as if the people at the bottom are there because they are, again, the takers, not the makers. They are not productive. They don’t want to work hard enough and all this. And millions of people will ratify that. Not enough to elect those individuals but millions of people will ratify someone for vice-president who admits that his hero, the reason that he got into public service, was because he read Ayn Rand, for God’s sake. I mean, if you have had to sit through, or have been subjected to that which she wrote, and which some, for reasons unbeknownst to other literature experts still call “literature” I apologize for that experience on your behalf. The fact that you would have to have actually been taught such dreck as good writing, let alone good philosophy. This – this is a woman who actually said, “It’s not just that she didn’t like big government, and taxes. That would be like pedestrian conservative stuff. No, no, no, no, no. No, no. That’s not what she said. She said that charity was evil. She said that altruism as a motivator for human action is evil, and a guy that wanted to be vice-president of the United States and still wields a significant amount – though dwindling – influence in the United States Congress says she’s why he got into public service, which is both frightening and indicative that he didn’t read Ayn Rand all that carefully, because she did not believe in public service. So he didn’t really learn the lesson of Ayn Rand but he learned the part that he wanted to learn, in which you don’t help people at the bottom because they’re there of their own accord.
52:25 TW: Now what’s the great irony in all of this? Do you see the irony in this? When we don’t talk about color, and the way that people of color have been for decades under the boot of that systemic oppression and inequality and how it’s affected them in the housing market and the job market, wealth accumulation, schools, et cetera. We don’t talk about the fact that double-digit unemployment in the black community, particularly black teenagers – hell, that’s been a normative thing for a couple of decades, now. I think black teenage unemployment hit double – hit like 42% for the first time in the early to mid 90′s, so this has been a norm. And you know what? When it was just hitting those folks, quote unquote, we didn’t call it a national emergency, did we? We didn’t have stimulus bills or stimuli, whatever. We didn’t do that. We didn’t have Congressional hearings to talk about it. The media didn’t spill all this ink about it. What’s happening to these children and how are we going to make sure that they’ve got opportunities? Keeping in mind, right, that for black teenage unemployment to be at 43%, is a really important statistic, right, because you do know that you’re only counted in the unemployment data if you’re actively looking for work, so people who would try to excuse that number by saying, “Well, they don’t want a job. That’s why …” Ok, by definition, that’s not the case because these are folks who have to actually be looking for a job to even be counted as unemployed. And they still can’t find one- 4 out of 10. Right? If that were white folks, we would have called it a national crisis. How do I know that? I know that because three years ago, when it happened to white folks, then it became a national emergency. “Oh my God! You mean white unemployment’s hitting double digits? We’ve got to do something! Holy crap! We’ve got to spend some money. We’ve got to do something, right?” What’s the irony here? If we had taken care of business, 10 and 15 and 20 and 25 and 30 and 35 and 40 and 45 and 50 and keep on counting, if we had taken care of business years ago and addressed these crises like they were crises, maybe we wouldn’t be in this condition. Maybe those white poor folks and unemployed working class folks who were getting bashed for not paying enough taxes and not making enough money and not helping to produce enough and not contributing enough to the economy, maybe they wouldn’t have ever found themselves in long-term unemployment because we would have done something as a country to prevent that reality from affecting any working person, but we didn’t do that. And we didn’t do that because the problem wasn’t on our side of town. It was over there, and we don’t really know any of those people, and we don’t much care, and even if we are sympathetic, they brought it on themselves, and that’s what my country tells me so therefore, I’ll go along with it.
54:39 TW: So the housing crisis – subprime lending – that wasn’t new in 2007, right? That was happening in African-American and Latino communities and indigenous spaces and Southeast Asian communities, that was happening in communities of color low and working class income communities of color fifteen years ago, sixteen, seventeen year ago. Mid-90′s or even early 90′s in some places. And it didn’t really make a splash in the press. Every now and then you’d hear things like in North Carolina, there was a big lawsuit against Citibank and their subprime lender, CITI because CITI was roping in African American families to the tune of $240,000 additional on a mortgage over a 30 year period, charging higher interest rates than they would have for white folks with the same credit scores and the same collateral and the same income.
55:21 TW: And they got busted. They got caught and there was a big lawsuit and they had to settle it out of court for hundreds of millions of dollars, so every now and then, right, you’d hear a story about justice getting done, but for the most part, this was covered in the black press. It was covered in the progressive press, didn’t really make the front page of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Didn’t make ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN – I mean any of those, right? And it wasn’t talked – politicians didn’t touch it. Bill Clinton didn’t touch it. Bill Clinton actually oversaw as President the biggest deregulation of the financial services and banking industry of any President in the history of this country. This was a bipartisan shame. He didn’t do anything about it. The larger Democratic Party didn’t do anything about it. The only folks in Congress that wanted to do anything about it was the Congressional Black Caucus and nobody wanted to listen to them. Yet Maxine Waters wanted to talk about it and you had grass-roots, community-based organizations like ACORN, which has now been destroyed by liars who made up stories about who they were and what they’ve done.
56:14 TW: Right? ACORN was trying to stop this stuff. ACORN was saying, “Stop giving these loans to folks at these inflated interest rates. They will not be able to afford them. Stop preying on our communities.” But nobody stepped in. And here’s the problem. When nobody steps in to stop the bleeding on that side of town, and in that community, and you’re one of those lenders, after awhile, you get a pretty clear message, don’t you, about what you can and cannot get away with. And you start to think to yourself, “Now, I will be damned. We’ve been ripping off these folks and they’re not even going to stop us. And now, why hell, if they’re not going to stop us, we’re not going to stay in the ‘hood. We’re going to go out to the suburbs where a lot of those white folks live. We’re going to take advantage of them because we know there’s some middle-class folks out there that want to live like rich folks. They’ve been watching HGTV and Bravo, right? And they think they can flip houses. They’re just real estate genii, right? They’re so smart, they can just turn a house. They can put some stainless steel countertops and some new appliances and flip that sucker because somebody did it on HGTV, right? So we’re going to take advantage of their desire to make more money, and then, if we exhaust the suburbs, hell, we’ll go to the exurbs.”
57:20 TW: The exurbs. Y’all do know what that is, right? That’s this geographic ring that white folks created when we discovered much to our chagrin, that black folks and Latino folks also like Olive Garden, so we had to – we had to get past the suburbs, because oh damn, they like Red Lobster too. Alright, we’re going to keep on moving and we’re going to go farther away. And then these lenders were like, “Hey, we can follow you out there. We’ll put a Countrywide Financial right in the middle of that strip mall. We have no problem doing that. And they did, so now two of the hardest-hit communities in this country for foreclosures are Nassau County and Suffolk County. That’s Long Island. These are middle-class, mostly white communities being devastated. You’ve got folk all throughout the State of Nevada, not just Latino and Latino folk, who’d been getting hit by this for a very long time, but a lot of white, middle-class folks as well. A lot of white folks in the Valley of Central California who were getting slaughtered by this thing because 20 years ago, nobody wanted to do anything. And that’s the thing, right? When we allow ourselves to remain indifferent to the suffering of some, and when we not only remain indifferent but we refuse to even point out the suffering of some, or if we do point it out, we refuse to talk about its cause, then we’re not going to be able to see when that consequence sneaks back up on us. And eventually, if you wait around long enough, it is coming back on you. You best think about it and you best care about it because if you don’t, we’re going to get to that place. We’re only 25 years away. That’s it. 25 years from now, half of the country will be people of color. Half will be white. That’s a fact, and it does not matter what you or anybody else thinks about it. It is a fact, so deal with it.
58:49 TW: Right. I know there’s some folks that don’t like it. I know. I know. I know. There’s some white folks in Arizona really not happy about it. I know. But that’s alright. I’ve been there. I’ve seen those people. Their average age in Arizona is about 137 years old. So you know, tick, tock. And I’m not – I’m not advocating the death of old, white people. Do not tweet that. Do not say – that is not what I said – I am not saying that. I hope they all live a good long life. I’m just saying two things. One, everybody dies. Two, age is highly correlated with that particular condition of being. That’s all I’m saying. And so what I’m saying is those folks who are trying to hold off the coming of a multi-cultural, multi-racial democracy, they’re going to lose if we do the work. They’re going to lose if we do the work. And I say, “if we do the work” because if we don’t, they could win. Hell, they could hold on for a long time. Pass that sickness down to the folks that are not 137 and we could be doing this fifty years from now and a hundred years from now. But if we are willing to put in the effort to demand a new country for a new people and a new society and a new cultural reality, then whatever those folks want who are saying, “I want my country back!,” they cannot have it. And they will not have it. Their country is gone and thank God for that. This new country is here and so it’s up to us –
1:00:15 TW: It’s up to us to thank them for their service, and now, move along please. And if we’re prepared to do the hard work and to fight for equity and to fight for justice and to link the fates to those at the bottom of that structure, racially, economically or whatever we’re talking about to the fates of the rest of us, then we will be an unstoppable force, but we have to see that connection because if we don’t, then we will get to that day when we’re a 50/50 country, and we’re not going to survive. I’m just telling you. Not just people of color. White folks, too. Like you can’t maintain a healthy society if you’ve got half of the population twice as likely to be out of work, three times as likely to be poor, 1/20th the net worth, nine years less life expectancy on average, double the infant mortality. You can’t survive that way. That’s not a recipe for survival. That’s a recipe for utter social catastrophe for everyone’s children and everyone’s grandchildren and everyone’s great grandchildren, and for the whole entire posterity of this country. So if folks really love this country the way they say they love this country and will wave that banner and that flag in patriotism and use it as a bludgeon against other people, if they really meant that – they really meant that- they would deal with this. They would not encourage either color-blindness or color-muteness. They would encourage honesty. Without it, we’re not going to survive. Thank you all, so much for being here. I appreciate it.
1:01:32 [Applause. Music]
1:01:37 Question and Answer
1:01:40 Host: I’d like to introduce the USF students that are going to be sharing and facilitating the Q&A with Tim Wise. We have our USF Senate President, John Chibnall. We have Taylor Jackson of the ASUSF Finance Committee among other things. And we have Dominique Crosby, who is the intern in the Office of Diversity Engagement among – and Housing and Res Life.
1:02:17 John Chibnall: Well, first of all, Mr. Wise, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate your talk.
1:02:21 TW: Thank you.
1:02:21 JC: The first question that we want to ask from the audience from students who submitted online was, “What was your first experience in recognizing and addressing your white privilege?”
1:02:33 TW: I think, you know, if I had to pinpoint that and I talk about this – I tell this story in greater length in “White Like Me,” but – which, actually, I don’t have that book here for sale, I have “Dear White America” and “Color Blind” so it had been mentioned earlier that I had “White Like Me.” I don’t actually have it here, but anyway, in that book, I talk about this incident. I was a campus activist in college in the 90′s, late 80′s and into 1990 and at that time, for those who will remember that time, for some of you who might have been students at that time, there was – the primary movement on college campuses at that particular moment was around South African apartheid, and so many of us who were involved in the divestment struggle, trying to get our institution to divest from companies that were still invested in white supremist apartheid South Africa, you know, we went on hunger strikes. We built shanties to be, you know, reminiscent of the housing conditions faced by an awful lot of African black folk in South Africa, and that happened on campuses all around the country, and we were part of that. And so, my senior year, which was 89-90, we had done that again. We had built shanties and we had been camped out in them for almost two weeks. We were on a hunger strike – the fourth day of a hunger strike and we were having – which is also about some white privilege, but that’s a slightly deeper part of the story, ok?
1:03:55 TW: It really is, but we had a debate that night on the campus and the debate was against the New Orleans Libertarian Party. It was fascinating. And at the end of the debate – the debate was sort of boring actually, and at the end of it – about 300 people in the room and one of the last questions of the night, had nothing to do with the debate, there was just a young black woman who was a first-year student at Xavier University, so I was at Tulane and she was at Xavier, which is a black Catholic university just down the road about a mile and a half, and she had come over for the event. So she stood up and she looked at me – it was the last question of the night – and she said, “I just want to thank you all, first of all. Obviously, I support divestment, and I’m a New Orleanean. I’m embarrassed that an institution in this city is still invested in apartheid South Africa, so I obviously support the divestment struggle, but Tim, I want to ask you a question.” And I said, “Sure.” And she said, “First off, two part question. Number one, how long have you lived here in the City of New Orleans?” And I said, you know, “Almost four years.” And she said, “Ok, follow up: in the four years that you’ve lived here, I need you to tell me one thing that you’ve done to address apartheid in this city, since after all, you benefit from it.” And I’ve described it previously as the feeling coming over me, very much like the feeling you get when you see the flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. And it’s the sense – and it’s that sense that, oh man, I’m busted.” Right? And now I’ve got – and sometimes in the case of the flashing blue lights, you might have a few seconds to come up with some BS excuse as to why you were changing lanes and not have a seatbelt on, or speeding and whatever. But, I didn’t have like 30 seconds. Like, she was at the car, you know. She had the flashlight in and she’s like, “So tell me now.” And I just remember having this incredibly pathetic answer that was so pathetic that I knew as it escaped my lips how pathetic it was. And I said something to the effect – oh, hell, let’s not play games. This is what I said, not to the effect. I said, “Well, you know, um –uh – mmm, well, you know” and here it comes. “We all pick our battles, and – ” No kidding. Yeah, yeah. It’s alright. I’ve dealt with this now. Come to terms – so, but right when it got here, and it was almost like, oh wait – stop! And it was right there on my teeth and and I tried – I tried to stop and I couldn’t and then there it was. And then this young woman who – I don’t know what she’s gone on to do. She would have made a fine attorney though because I think – you know, they always tell attorneys you never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer in court. I think she knew the answer that was coming. I think she knew it wasn’t going to be really impressive and so she asked it. She got the answer that she fully expected. You could see by the look on her face. She crossed her arms like that, and that was when I knew I was done. And she said, “I just want to thank you for your honesty.” And then she sat down. And I remember going back to the shanties that night and just having this complete intellectual and emotional breakdown about the implications of what she was saying, which was, “You know, this has been a relatively easy battle for me to pick.” Not that it was a bad battle. It was perfectly legitimate, but it would have been a lot more legitimate if I had thought about, and if most of the other white activists at campuses all around the country had given some thought to linking the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the struggle in New Orleans, right down the block. And then all this stuff flooded my brain, and like realizing, you know, that there was a school down the road from Tulane, five blocks down on Freret Street called Fourche High School that has since been stolen by Tulane University and turned into, in effect, a charter school, mostly for the children of alum – faculty there and staff there – which is a whole nother problem, but at the time it was a 99% black, 45% free and reduced price lunch school and Tulane didn’t even recruit there. And I knew that in the back of my head but then when she brings this question up, I’m like, now I start to think about what does that mean? Tulane doesn’t recruit five blocks away. They came 542 miles away to Nashville, TN to recruit me, and I didn’t have really good grades. And I had a really sort of pitiful SAT score, but they still wanted me. They wouldn’t walk five blocks to see if anybody at Fourche could cut the mustard. They had no problem employing some of the Fourche kids’ parents to cook the food and cut the grass and clean the toilets, but they didn’t think that their children were capable of being undergrads. And then the very same week all this was going on, the New Orleans police killed a black man named Adolf Archie in cold blood. Beat the hell out of him. Drove him all around the city. Broke every bone in his face because they were convinced that he had killed one of their own, and because they thought he was a cop killer, they put him in the car, they took him to the station. They put him in a back room. They pulverized him. Broke every face in his body – broke every bone in his body – uh, in his face. Dumped him at the hospital, where he died two hours later, and the coroner wrote it up as “homicide by police intervention.” That was the official cause of death. Homicide by police intervention, and not one cop was ever punished. Not one cop was fired. Not one cop was prosecuted. They all should have been put in prison, but not one of them was even given desk duty or had their gun taken away, and meanwhile, that’s coming back to me. It only happened four days before this debate or three days before this debate, and I’m realizing, Oh my God, Adolph Archie was murdered and we sat right here at this shanty and we looked in the paper and we said, “That is terrible!” And then we closed the paper and put it down and did nothing. Meanwhile, we were being protected around the clock by Tulane University Police Department, who were actually reaping $14,000 in overtime to keep us safe. That is the moment at which I came to both understand my privilege at some really deep, visceral level and made the commitment to try to challenge that in thought and deed and to speak out against that because it was just so overwhelming that I’d been doing all this good work but I hadn’t been owning that piece of myself. I’d only owned the good, nice, liberal and radical piece and not this other piece and so I owe a lot to that young woman who, I wish I knew who she was. I wish I’d stayed in touch with her. But it made a huge difference in opening my eyes, and I’m forever grateful for that, so yeah.
1:09:57 Taylor Jackson: Alright, so this is another question from the audience. “Our current government only appears to have room for people who identify in singular racial categories, like the Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus, et cetera. As our racial categories become less finite and more people who identify as multi-racial take a seat at the political table, how do you envision our racial allegiances and priorities will be changing? Will multiracialism strengthen or weaken attempts to move toward more color-consciousness in the public sector?”
1:10:25 TW: I think that’s a great question and a very open question as to what the answer is. I don’t – I don’t think that we know yet for sure what will be the result on the larger struggle against white supremacy of an increasing realization and recognition of – and an increasing reality of multiracialism or multiculturalism. I mean, in a sense, multiracialism isn’t new. Approximately 80 to 85% of African-Americans are in fact multiracial. And so we’ve always had multiracialism, right? We’ve always – indigenous people have been, for a very long time, a blended peoples in this society, like Latino folk are by definition, indigenous people. In most instances, though, they’re encouraged very heavily to forget that fact and to rather identify with the Spanish, which is to say, European side of whom they are, but I’ll leave it to your imagination as to why they’re encouraged to do that and what that’s really about. But having said that, the fact that people are multiracial, multicultural is certainly not in and of itself sufficient to move us off the mark of white supremacy because we’ve been that multiracial blended place for a long time and we’ve still been this place where whiteness still trumped everything, and so the only way that that will change, I think is if we’re very clear about the way that multiracial, multicultural people can and often are used as sort of go-betweens in this debate, right? And to understand that there’s an attempt, I think, and this is speculative I suppose, but it just appears to me that there’s a real attempt to get multiracial, multicultural people to self-identify as that exclusively, to essentially say, you know – it sounds really nice, which is, “I’m not going to pick a side. I’m both of these things,” or “I’m all of these thing.” Which is cool. Like if that’s the way you want to self-identify, I think people should have the agency and the power to identify however they want. But when the society seems to be saying, “Isn’t it cool? We’ve got this whole new category and that’s going to change the game,” I start to wonder because the truth is, people who are blended, people who are multiracial, multicultural are still in a system of white supremacy, whatever the least powerful thing you are is. In other words, if you are white and anything else, you are likely to be perceived as the anything else. Right? If you are a person of color and a white person, then the odds are, depending on how you present phenotypically, you’re going to be seen in that way. Or at least the risk is that. And I would think it very dangerous for multiracial, multicultural people to ever forget that, though I think folks want them to. I think there are folks who want them to forget and just stay in that box- this new box that we’ve created of multiracial, multicultural, forgetting what Tiger Woods learned the hard way, right? Which is, you remember Tiger Woods a decade ago, said he wasn’t black. Said he was “Cablanasian” which is a word he made up, so as to honor his mom, who was Thai, his dad, who’s African-American, but he’s also got all these other – he’s got Caucasian, he’s – I guess that’s the – I don’t know what part of the Cablanasian – maybe that’s the “Ca” part, I don’t know. Then he’s black. Then he’s got a little Latino. Then he’s got some indigenous, so he just created this term, Cablanasian. Ok. Cool. God bless. And when he did it, I remember defending him and saying, “Hey, you know. He’s got to have the right to say who he is. People have a right to self-define.” But stay tuned, right? And a decade later – a decade later, approximately, as soon as Tiger did what Tiger did, I knew immediately that I needed to go and check some of the chat rooms, sports-related chat rooms, news columns, and sports sections where people were writing about this and just sort of see what was being said, and much to my surprise, and I’m clearly being sarcastic, no one – no one said, “Well, you know, sleeping with a bunch of women, that’s just what Cablanasian men do.” Nobody went there. Shocking. Nobody said, “Well, Cablanasian men, I mean, you know…” right? No, no, no. He was black then. Like all of a sudden he wasn’t Cablan- he – nothing. And he was just black. He was a black – you know, the same thing happened to OJ, right? OJ was really – he was blackened again as soon as he was accused of committing murder. He had been spending, what, like 25 years not being around black people. He had run away – he said when he left USC he never wanted to go back to that community. He was from a community similar and right in that area. He said, “I don’t ever want to go back there.” And he spent 25 years, you know, chasing rental cars through the airport for Hertz and making movies like Naked Gun that were really, really popular with white people, and not so much with others. And so he had not been black in a lot of folks’ eyes. He was one of those athletes that white folks were like, “I don’t even think of him as black,” you know, because they think that’s a compliment. You know, and he – he never really – there was no challenging that, but the minute he was accused of committing a murder, right, which then put him back in that stereotypical “danger box” known as blackness, then all of a sudden, you know, he’s “y’all’s problem” again to deal with, and so you gotta understand, I think – I think identity is both self-defined and it is given to us by the society, and as long as people are aware of both of those things, then I think it will be alright in terms of being able to move forward. My fear is that there’s so much of a pressure to – yeah, there’s pressure to get multiracial people to choose, and that’s a problem on the self-identification level, but there’s also a real effort to get them to separate themselves as this unique body, forgetting that, you know, they will be blackened, or they will be Latino-ized or they will be Asianized, or they will be made indigenous in the eyes of someone who wants to see them that way. Because race and identity is not just about how you view yourself. It’s about how other people view you. If they view you as one thing, you could be ancestrally – I mean, there are tens of thousands of black folks in history in this country who were ancestrally African-American, very clearly in terms of their lineage, but they presented phenotypically light enough to be able to pass out of blackness into whiteness and to reap occasional, if somewhat limited and often revoked, privileges of whiteness, even though they weren’t technically white. Right? And just as similarly, I’m sure there have been European peoples, who because of phenotypically appearing darker even though their ancestrally, quote unquote, white, whatever that’s supposed to mean, can oftentimes reap the disadvantages of brownness. I don’t have any doubt about it, alright? But let’s just remember identity isn’t just chosen. It’s given and think if we do that, then we can create real coalitions that otherwise might fall apart. Other questions?
1:16:35 Dominique Crosby: Our next question. What do you think is the most effective way to increase racial representation in our public sector, particularly in elected offices?
1:16:45 TW: Well, in order to increase racial representation in a public sector in terms of an elected office, you know, you have to – it depends on what elective offices you’re talking about, I suppose. At the local level, it’s obviously a lot easier because you’re talking about a restricted range of geography and a restricted range of representation, so that’s why, for instance, you know – like Mississippi has the largest number and percentage of black elected officials of any state in the United States. But now, I guess the followup, you know, question would be, does that really get us where we need to be? I mean, you’ve got lots of black folks that are sheriffs and mayors and sitting on City Councils and city administrators and town officials in Mississippi, but now, you know Mississippi’s still Mississippi. I’m not saying it hasn’t changed. It’s changed in a lot of ways, and you know, I’m always as a Southerner, I’m very quick to point out that I think those of us in the South are a lot better at talking about this stuff than the rest of y’all, because we know it’s an issue, so we don’t play a lot of games like, we just sort of know that we have to talk about it, so I don’t mean to be hypercritical of Mississippi. I’m just saying that come on, the fact that they’ve got some black folks in office has not really changed the structure of the society of that state. And in the second-most elected black officials, I think is Alabama, but the same thing there. So, ultimately, I think you want to say – two things are important. And one is yeah, you want to have better representation in public office. It’s really hard to do at the statewide level, though. I guess somebody asked me the other day, you know, “When do you think we might reach some level of racial representation in the United States Senate?” And I said, “Well, considering where we are now,” you’ve got two black United States Senators, both of whom were appointed, to sort of fill in ends of terms. Whether or not they’ll stay there or not, who knows? That’s very temporary, right, potentially but to get to real representation of black folk and Latino folk and Asian-American folk, it’s very unlikely because these are statewide things, so even if you’re able to capture a good portion of a vote in certain parts of the state, you’re not going to get it in other parts. So unless we really change the way we do elections in some regards, it’s going to be a long, hard road to get real anything near equitable representation. It doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it’ just means, you know, we’re going to have to really look at how we do elections. And then the other piece though, and I think this is maybe the more important piece, is that in the mean time, while we’re trying to move toward better representation in the hopes that getting some of that would help promote racial equity, which maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t. I mean, maybe it would, like, you know, we have a president of color, but we can’t even talk about racism from the presidential level, so has that helped this particular struggle? Even if you are a supporter of the president, I think you could make the argument that in this particular debate and with regard to this particular issue, there hasn’t been a whole hell of a lot of movement and there probably isn’t going to be. And that’s not necessarily all his fault, alright? That’s a bigger issue, but you know, at least we’ve got to say representation alone is not the end-all, be-all. In the mean time, while we’re trying to get it, however nice it would be to have, and this is not just true in politics, it’s true in corporate America. It’s true in our colleges, while we’re trying to get better at this in terms of representativeness, we also need to be making sure that whoever we’re electing is prepared to challenge these issues. I mean, you know, for people to think that Barack Obama has some special obligation to address race and racism just because he’s a man of color, lets everybody else off the hook. You know, I think what Michael Eric Dyson said at the time of Obama’s first election is very true. I’m not going to expect any more of him. I’m also not going to expect any less. I expect that he would do what anyone else would do, but sadly in this country, that’s a piss-poor little, right? There’s not a whole lot, but I don’t think we should say, “Well, if we get a white president that they don’t – they’re not expected to deal with this.” No, they are. You know, the idea that when we – when we – eventually have a female President that she will deal with sexism, but men don’t have to. Like at some point, yeah, we want better representation. We want that to happen, but in the mean time we have to demand better of white folks and we have to demand better of men, and we have to demand better of straight and cisgendered folks. And we have to demand better of people with money and expect that there are actually other ways of living in this skin and living with this particular combination of X and Y chromosomes and living as a straight or cisgendered person or living with money or living with any other form of privilege. We ought to expect more of ourselves rather than just expecting others, once they get in office, to do it, right? Because it’s a bigger, systemic problem.
1:21:06 TW: Yeah, I’ll be happy to take a couple more quick – if we- maybe one or two – if there are any from the audience, or if you all have some that aren’t from the audience, and if you’ve got some, too. One or two more, if you’ve got ‘em , real quick. Yeah, go ahead.
1:21:14 Audience member: [inaudible] Thank you. I’m a mom, so I can yell, too. We have our son in public school – a new charter school in Oakland called Urban Montessori –
1:21:31 TW: Right
1:21:31 AM: – that was, in my understanding, started by a bunch of white people, uh,
1:21:36 TW: Yeah.
1:21:37 AM: Do-gooders.
1:21:39 TW: Yeah.
1:21:39 AM: And it’s supposed to be this, this school that has the potential to change Oakland and we’re both very passionate about – about equality, but one of the things that’s happening at school is there has – that the children of color are three times more likely to be sent to the office.
1:22:01 TW: Yeah.
1:22:02 AM: I’m getting a lot of pushback from faculty and administration who repeat the idea that we live – that this school is about diversity –
1:22:17 TW: Yeah
1:22:17 AM: and therefore, you know, don’t stir the pot.
1:22:20 AM: Let it work itself out. I basically had one woman who did a school like this in the Midwest tell me that no person of color wants a bleeding heart white liberal speaking for them and I’m not speaking for anybody but my own son and the fact that his friends are leaving school because their kids are constantly getting sent to the office. So I don’t know how to
1:22:44 TW: Well I, you know, on the one hand, yeah, I don’t think folks of color want bleeding-heart, white liberals speaking for them. I’m also pretty sure they don’t want their kids kicked out of school at three times the rate of white people, so I think there’s some middle ground between that notion that you’re speaking for other people and simply pointing out a sociological problem, which I should note, is not just a problem in that school. I mean, that ratio that you just noted, approximately three-to-one, is a nationwide ratio. Anywhere from two and a half to three times the rate of suspension, expulsion. And this is in spite of the fact that, and there are fourteen or at least that I know of – studies that confirm it as of the mid-2000′s, or maybe 7 or 8 more now. Russell Skiba, Indiana University’s one of the key researchers on this issue, that that suspension/expulsion ratio, referral ratio to the office is not related to behavior. It’s not related to an actual disparity of anywhere near 3 to 1, in terms of behavioral infractions. In fact, what the research has found, is that students of color who are suspended or expelled or referred to the office are almost, you know – are disproportionately sent there for really subjective infractions, whereas when white folks are sent, they actually did some stuff. Like white folks’ infractions – that they don’t get sent as often, but when they do, it’s like for violence and drugs and really bad stuff that’s serious, and for people of color, it’s disproportionately talking back, being disruptive, all of these things are very subjective. Loitering. Like which is really just taking too long in the hall to get to class, is really what that is. Right, and so these are all judgment calls, and all of the research and brain science tells us that those judgment calls are informed by our implicit, and even sometimes, explicit biases that are about race, and about class, and about all of these things, and so, unless one assumes that kids of color are just that much worse than white children, and if you assume that, you are by definition a racist and need not to be allowed anywhere near children, let alone as an educator and administrator, or a charter school director or anybody. You don’t need to be anywhere near kids if you believe that. But unless you do believe that, then something has to be done about that disparity. And you know, the good news is there are some – there are some methods for dealing with that disparity, institutional and personal training methods that can be implemented to reduce the likelihood of that and some of it – and we don’t have time to go into all of it, but for those who are interested in that, and it certainly sounds like you are, and my guess is that a lot of folks are, if you Google Russell Skiba, S-K-I-B-A, at Indiana University, the center there that he is attached to, and I believe the director of, he’s a Sociology processor at Indiana, or I’m sorry, in the Ed School at Indiana. This is his area of expertise and he – not only are his articles there, but he’s got – he’s got stuff, you know, reports and scholarly articles and journal articles that talk about the things that other school districts have done to reduce that problem. Different ways of making sure that that doesn’t happen. Different guidelines that people can use to just check themselves, because a lot of times, that disparity is manifesting not because people are blatantly racist but because they don’t even – they really don’t even realize they’re doing it, and a lot of times, the referrals, you’ll notice, he talks about this in his work, about 35% of the referrals come from 5% of the teachers. Right? 35% of the referrals from 5% of the teachers. Now that doesn’t make any sense except as a residue of bias because – because how is it that little Johnny over here behaves for all his other teachers, but not for that one? How is it that that girl right there, like she she’s OK first period, second period, third period, then fourth period she loses her mind, and acts up, then fifth period, she’s good again. And it’s not a problem. Like that doesn’t make sense. If you’re a problem, really acting out in school, you don’t just like selectively say, “Third period is my time!” Like, “I’m screwing with that teacher!” Like, you would mess with all the teachers. You know, and so that’s part of it, and I think the other part of it, and this is both about behavioral disparities, punishment disparities based on quote, unquote behavior, but really attitude. Or whether it’s about academic disparity, I think that one of the keys, and we’re just so reluctant to do it because we’re so afraid of losing control of the narrative, but you know, a couple of years ago, I had a friend of mine who I went to high school with, and I’d known her since 1982, and hadn’t seen her, probably since ’86 when we graduated from high school, so it had been a long time. I don’t think she was even at our class reunion or anything, and she hits me up on Facebook, and she says, “Hey, you know. I’m living in New York and I’m about to start a new career as a teacher.” It was going to be her second career. She was going to start teaching in the New York Public Schools, and uh, which was cool, and her mom was an educator, so I thought, “Oh great. You know, you’ll be really good. Where are you going to be teaching?” And first, before I tell you the answer to this question, I should tell you, you know this young woman, now middle-aged woman, like I’m a middle-aged man, grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Blond, blue eyes, former cheerleader, Southern accent. I’m not saying any of these things as a pejorative. I’m just saying them to tell you that where I’m about to tell you she was getting ready to go, is way different than where she was from. So she’s like, “I’m going to be in the South Bronx!” I’m like, “That’s great.”
1:27:45 TW: So I said, “Really, no. It’s great.” South Bronx is a great community, but it ain’t Nashville, and it ain’t what she’s used to, right? So I said, “Well, what community in the South Bronx?” And she said, “Mott Haven.” I said, “Oh, great.” I don’t know how many of you know Mott Haven, or the South Bronx but Mott Haven is the poorest community in the South Bronx, second poorest community in the United States behind Pine Ridge in South Dakota, so when you say – and if you’ve read Amazing Grace, which is Jonathan Kozol’s book, about the lives of children and the community in South Bronx, that’s the community he’s writing about. So, median income $7,500 per household per year, and they’re getting ready to send this totally untrained, totally ill-experienced and unexperienced teacher to teach these young people – I think it was 8th grade but I – you know, so they’re getting ready to cut her loose in that community and I said – she said, “What do I need to know?”
1:28:36 TW: And I said, “Well, tell me what you do know.” Now, she had gotten her certification at Hunter, which is a good school for preparing you to teach in the New York Public Schools. I mean, they actually do a pretty good job of getting you prepared, probably better than Teachers’ College at Columbia, despite Columbia’s reputation because they know a lot of their grads are going to go outside the city. Hunter, you’re going to be going in the New York Public Schools, so they – they try to get you ready, but no matter what they tell you, I said, I said, “Here’s the only thing I know to tell you, like, beyond what they’ve taught you. This is all I got, and take it or leave it, whatever. I said, “You’ve got to go in and on Day One, you’re going to have to establish to the young people in that room that you get it, that you know the deal.” And she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “That you know how stupid it is that you’re standing in front of them as their teacher.”
1:29:17 TW: And she was, sort of like, “What?!” You know, I think she was a little – I said, “Yeah, you’ve got to – because they – the minute you walk in and open your mouth, and that chiffon Southern accent falls out, like, I’m telling you right now, as soon as you do that, they – they have your number, and here’s the thing.” If you are poor and of color in this country, and the – and you don’t have any power, no power at all, except one thing, there’s only one power you have in that classroom, and what is it? You have the power to scare that teacher. You have the power to ruin her day, maybe make her cry. Maybe even make her quit, and if you’re 13 years old and you got no power based on age, race and class and geography, oh, you will take that power. That will be the one thing that you will use, not because you’re a bad person, but because it is the only weapon in your arsenal. So, watch me use it. So I told her, I said, “They’re coming for you.” Now, I said, “but, if you, if you, if you make fun of you, if you basically are self-deprecating enough to be like, ‘I know. Crazy, right?’ Like you don’t go in there like Michelle Pfeiffer, Dangerous Minds. You know, I’m going to play some Bob Dylan tunes and get you all, you know, geeked for the revolution or whatever, with some folk music. You know, like don’t do that! You know, don’t do that!” I said, “But if you go in there and you tell – ” I said, “Really, what I would say, first thing I would say is I would get up and I would say, “So, forget the curriculum.” I think she was going to be an English teacher. “So just forget the coursework and the book and syllabus. We’re just going to do this for today and maybe tomorrow, and however long you want to talk about it. Let’s just ask one question. “What do you think it means – ” This is what I told her to ask them. “What do you think it means that the New York Public School System thought it was a good idea to send me, someone who’s never taught in a classroom before, into this classroom to teach you? What do you think it says about how they view you? And what do you think it says about how they view me? Please discuss.”
1:31:05 TW: Because I guarantee you, you ask them that question, and they will be able to talk your ear off for days because they will know exactly what the answer is. The answer is, they don’t care if we learn and they don’t care if you quit. Because if they really cared if we were going to learn, they would send the most experienced teachers in here, pay them whatever it took to get them here, and leave them here because they know that they can be effective. And they would send the inexperienced teachers to the places where it’s really pretty easy and you don’t have these kinds of struggles and you can get your – you know, you can learn the tools you need to learn. But they didn’t do that. And they don’t care if she quits because they’ve got 50 more just like her that they’re ready to plug into Mott Haven in the middle of the year and it does not matter. And they already know that. The difference is, they don’t know you know that. They already know. They know the system. They don’t believe you know the system. And you don’t know it as well as they know it, and you should say that, too, but at the very least, you want to make it clear that you get it. This is the most ridiculous, absurd thing, so what are we going to do about this ridiculous, absurd thing? They don’t care whether you learn. They don’t care whether I quit. Now let’s show them something. Right? Let’s actually try to change this situation and show them that they made a mistake when they sent me in here. Because I’m coming in here to work with y’all, not for you. I’m not here to teach you. I’m here to learn from you. We’re going to create some truth in this classroom, and they didn’t mean that. They didn’t want me to do that but now that’s what I’m here to do. Now what?” I said, “You’re still going to have challenges. They’re still going to push back on you , but I promise you, you do that, and you will create a certain rapport and trust with those young people that they’ve never had with any other authority figure, least of all, a white authority figure, ever attempt to establish with them, so you will not be making those referrals because of behavior, because they’re going to want to come to your class. They’re going to be excited to come to your class, even if everything else about the day is just horrible, they’re going to come to you to seek out advice. They’re going to come to you to talk. They’re going to see you as an ally and they’re going to teach you things that you need to know to be a better teacher, and more effective teacher in that space, and sure enough, she had struggles and it wasn’t easy, but she talked about really building those kinds of relationships and ultimately, what happens, not only in her case but I’ve heard the same kind of story elsewhere. When you do that, other teachers start wondering, why? Why do they all go to her? Or why do they all go to him? And then all of a sudden, you’re modeling behavior that can take away some of that disparity, whether it’s in drop out rates or whether it’s in failure rates, or whether it’s in disciplinary referrals, but it’s about acknowledging the sociological truth that every eight-year-old child of color in this country already sees with their own eyes, as whether they’ve got words for it or not. They already see it. They need to know you see it, and the minute that they know that somebody in authority sees it, it’s a whole different world. You know, because then they know, OK, this doesn’t have to be them trying to break me, and them trying to keep me in my place. This is not a cop who just so happens to have a teaching certificate. Right, because a lot of times, you know, people act like just – just cops. I’m not trying to be mean here. I’m just saying like it’s that real hard-nosed cop. You know, it’s really – that’s not even – it’s prison warden. Right? It’s people that act like prison wardens. Like their job is to keep the lid on things and then, of course you don’t get respect because you’re not giving any respect back but if you give folks the respect of saying, “Hey, y’all see it, and here’s what I see, and we ought to talk about this,” I assure you, that kind of problem, whether it’s disciplinary stuff, that’s going to go down. The academic disparities are going to go down and schools like that are going to have the chance to fulfill the mission and the obligation. But that’s the kind of stuff teachers have to be encouraged to do. And they have to understand the value of doing it. They have to see some ways in which that can be done and they’ve got to have leadership prepared to push for that, and it’s scary because you lose control. If you go in and give up your curriculum just so you can ask a sociological question – “Oh my God. But what if –but what if it goes off the rails? What if, what if they, what if the whole class gets hijacked and just because they don’t really want to learn? Ok. No, they’re ready to learn. That’s why they came that day. They could’ve just not come. They showed up in spite of the fact that they don’t really trust the school to do any – to do right by them. So they came to learn. That’s why they are there. But they want to learn something of value that’s connected to their lives, and the minute you offer that, a lot of those other problems – they don’t go away but they get blunted just enough to create some real space for schools like that to function in a more appropriate and effective way. Thank you all so much for coming. I appreciate it.
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