On March 6, 2019, Director john powell spoke as a respondent to Professor Ibram X. Kendi’s book talk on his work, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In Stamped, Professor Kendi argues that there are two forces operating in the United States – one of anti-racism and another of racism which is comprised of segregationist ideas and assimilationist ideas. Segregationist ideas hold that black people are inherently inferior. Assimilationist ideas view black people as made culturally inferior by their environment. Anti-racism requires an understanding that, as Professor Kendi puts it, the only thing wrong with black people is the belief that there’s something wrong with black people. In his response, Director powell spoke to dominant identities that racism is in service to, UC Berkeley’s professor Rucker Johnson’s research that shows that education and integration reduce racist views, and that people’s situatedness and extent to which they come under racism’s influence is fluid and constantly changing. Director powell offered these insights as reason to believe in the achievability of a just and equitable society.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Well I'm gonna turn the mic over to Professor Garcia Bedolla, but first of all let me just say, wow. Just another round of applause. But first of all, as a professor and a scholar, did you have notes? Did that all just come? Like how was that downloaded like that? That was powerful, but thank you, thank you so much. Professor Garcia Bedolla.
Professor Garcia Bedolla: Thank you as well, and thanks all of you for being here this afternoon. And Dean Carter has a copy of the book, which you can see is very concise. No, I'm kidding. But if you haven't read it, don't be intimidated by the size, it's actually, it's a wonderful read, it's a powerful read, and it was a pleasure to read it, so thank you for writing it.
And I really appreciated how you used both the words and actions of historical figures to really bookmark the narrative and push the narrative forward. And I think it helps kind of tame what is a lot of history that's in there, and really showing how both racial hierarchy and racial violence really have their roots in conquest. It's not often you see de las Casas and the debates of Valladolid in a discussion of anti-Blackness in the United States, and I really appreciate that depth. And as well kind of putting it all into this deeper perspective, which is hard to read and somewhat disheartening, but I think really important to be able to think about. And so I'm gonna do what is horrible to do, is ask you questions of course now that the book is done, about things that perhaps could have been different. But that's what we've been asked to do, so I'm gonna go forward with this.
And just the first thing that struck me was just you talked, you specify in the beginning that you're talking about anti-Black racism, but in the rest of the book frame it as racism, and in the title, the story of racist ideas. And given the care with which you crafted the narrative, I'm assuming there was a decision about using, framing the word in that way, saying that this is racism. But I'm wondering if we lose anything by talking about it as racism and not specifying kind of which type. And that's related to the second question, which as someone that studies Latinx racism and as well sort of thinking comparatively across racial groups, I think a lot about those places of overlap where different forms of oppression intersect, and in particular empire struck me as I was reading the book. And you talk about, which I think is correct, that immigrants when they came to the United States at the end of the 19th century are sort of consuming, right, these racist ideas, but simultaneously we're expanding the empire. And so as you talk about Teddy Roosevelt having Booker T. Washington over for dinner at the same time that he's espousing these very sort of anti, racist ideas about Latinx communities and Asian communities that are now being brought into the US empire and also then expanding schools using Washington's pedagogy to then expand colonization in particular kinds of ways. And so is it useful to really think about where that intersection sits at that historical moment in order to understand. Because I think it's that complexity that makes the system so difficult to get rid of because it's got these overlaps.
Similarly when you talk about John O'Sullivan being so supportive of manifest destiny, again it's a place where you have those intersections. And I'm wondering maybe in the work of your center if digging into those places somehow can give us some analytical traction on how to fix these really critical problems.The other place that I thought was an interesting point of possibility is when you talk about the Young Lords and Puerto Ricans and thinking about, you talk about the tension that exists in the Puerto Rican community between you say White and Black Puerto Ricans, but it's a little bit more complicated than that both in the US and in Puerto Rico, and how Black Puerto Ricans are treated when they come to the United States, as well as then how Blackness and anti-Blackness happens in Puerto Rico under colonialism I think is another place where we could really think about how to deconstruct all of these threads. I appreciated Angela Davis appearing as one of your people. And I appreciated that each of the sections about each of the different historical figures has a different feel, and I think I kind of felt them kind of, they have a different texture I think because of the words, and I think that's part of what makes the book interesting to read. But I felt like Angela's section, there was a little less of her in there, and I'm wondering now that you mentioned that you had done this book on the movement, I'm wondering if she got crowded out by the history a little bit in that moment. But just, I was curious how you came to the voices for your folks, or to the voice in those sections, and to talk a little bit more about that process of writing because I think it's really interesting. But just to say, or is it, I wanted a little bit more of her in it and I wonder if it's kind of that it's the contemporary period and there were other bits of information that you knew a lot about that were crowding you in maybe a little bit.
And then the last I wanted to talk about the future. You do the brave thing in the last chapter of trying to talk about how do we make this better, right, which the depth of the narrative makes clear this is a deep and difficult problem to address. And so I'm going to channel my inner political scientist, which I have to say I'm unfortunately socialized by a discipline, I can't help myself. Because you talk about kind of different institutional and changes that need to happen and so I'd like to ask us to dig in a little bit. So you say, to undermine racial discrimination, Americans must focus their efforts on those who have the power to undermine racial discrimination. Protesting against anyone or anything else is as much a waste of time as trying to educate or persuade powerful people. Which I'd agree with but I was curious, right, so who has that power. And I think part of what makes it so difficult to disrupt power is that it's diffuse, right. And so thinking about business, does business have power?Well there isn't one business community, a lot of that power's transnational, how do you actually find out who holds the keys. Government, at which level? Is it local, is it state, is it municipal, is it federal. And if so, how do you think about majoritarian institutions that were effectively organized to in fact keep folks who aren't in the majority from being in power. So that, do we need to think about local only, where you can actually build a coalition, an anti-racist coalition that can get 50.1% of the vote. Media, like where does media power fit in? Narratives, especially in this moment of we have diffuse media but potentially more powerful media. And so I was curious to think about what you think are the ways to pinpoint where that power sits because I think that's a big challenge for organizing and for thinking about disruption.
And related to that, you suggest creating an agency that aggressively investigates the disparities and punishes conscious and unconscious discriminators. But again, where would that agency sit? Is that a federal agency, and then do you have to struggle with all the states rights issues that we've had legally. Who decides what's wealth, what counts as wealth. Do we want to think about income, do we want to think about what your actual net worth is, do you want to think about in community and households but at the individual level. The devil's in the details, right, in all of these things. As well as there are different kinds of power and it expresses itself differently. And then would it be only disparities between Black and White, or would it be how do we think about then other groups that have other kinds of oppressions but different histories and different ways of living within the US context.
And then lastly just, and maybe this is, hey, I was told 10 minutes, people. But I'm hoping maybe this is in your new book, so hopefully this will be a nice segue into your new book. How do we build the political will to make this happen? Like how do we, what does that movement look like? What can we learn from what is already happening? How do we get people to appreciate the ways in which we are all complicit in these structures?
Small questions, easy to answer. But I think the fact that the questions that it elicited are so deep and I think really central speaks to why it's such an important contribution and why we're so thankful that you wrote it.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Thank you.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: You can let this marinate, okay. Yeah, thank you, thank you Lisa. Dan.
Professor Dan Perlstein: All right, well Dean Carter mentioned that once upon a time I taught high school, so I thought I'd start with a 11th grade US history pop quiz.
Professor Garcia Bedolla: For everyone, or for--
Professor Dan Perlstein: For everyone. Of the, and this is material you probably had. Most of you if you went to high school in the US probably had US history in the 11th grade, and you covered these periods. So, first question. Of the first five presidents of the United States, how many owned slaves?
Professor Dan Perlstein: Excellent. Now let's get a trickier one, how many owned slaves while they were president?
Professor Dan Perlstein: Good. Of those four, what was the average number of slaves they owned?
Professor Dan Perlstein: No, 300, yes. Extra credit. Of the first dozen presidents of the United States,
that gets us up to about 1850, of the first dozen, how many owned slaves? Any guesses?
Professor Dan Perlstein: Good. How many of those 10 owned slaves while they were president?
Professor Dan Perlstein: Good. How many of those 12 owned, let's say more than 50 slaves and asserted the sub or non-humanity of their enslaved?
Professor Dan Perlstein: Seven. Okay, last bonus question. Of those 10 slave owning presidents, who owned the most slaves? You've already been introduced to him.
Professor Dan Perlstein: Jefferson, the apostle of liberty and freedom and what not owned about 600 slaves. So, I mention this to, in praise of the book after all arguing that racism and racist ideas aren't a scar on America's political tradition, they are in some sense, they are America's intellectual tradition. And I think the book, there are other intellectual traditions we claim. Frederick Jackson Turner, the creation of a democratic personality and life on the frontier. A nation of immigrants, you can see all these things in the textbook, the title of the textbook you had in 11th grade. Things like one out of many, building a new nation, and so on. You probably didn't get a textbook entitled something like Creating a Racist Nation or Slavocracy. And yet those are plausibly more apt, and Stamped from the Beginning really demands that we treat racism and anti-Blackness not just as a kind of intellectual activity but as the structure of American intellectual life rather than one aspect of it. He does more, he shows that the producers of racist ideas are incredibly versatile and creative. And you can see this in a number of examples. And he has them. If slaves don't run away, that proves they're docile, and need to be slaves, and if they do that proves that they're brutish and criminal and need to be slave. And this creative conquest. One of my favorites was, so one of the ways, not just the American slave system, but the global slave system was justified, is the image of the naked animalistic African. And he points out that in fact that global system of trade involved sending cloth to Africa because Africans made clothes out of it. And so the very people who were profiting from this system were deploying images that they had to know were false, otherwise their whole business plan would collapse. And the book is suffused with examples like that.
That said, I want to say a couple of words about I guess what's good about damage. So the argument is that there are two forms of racist thought, the kind of, you can think of them in terms of phrase Du Bois used, contempt and pity. The old school is contempt, and the liberal version is pity. But it's not only racists who invoke pity, some of the people who are assigned racist thought in the book include Kenneth Clark, E. Franklin Frazier, Martin Luther King, David Walker, Richard Wright, maybe Fanon. All of them make assertions of something that seems to me like damage, and so my question has to do with both what those assertions do, and it has to do with if the argument of the book is that racist ideas are deployed in the interest of self-interest, that was awkward, then would should judge the ideas not by what they say but what they do. And so we shouldn't judge people like Richard Wright, or Du Bois, double consciousness, on is it a racist idea but what's the work it's doing. And my reading was that it was more about the ideas. I want to take up a couple of those instances. Malcolm X is another one where you'd say, how is there not an assertion of damage. Even if we get that it's doing something different. So one of the examples from the book is when, has to do with Martin Luther King calling Jesus White. And here's what King says, it's in kind of a column he has in Ebony Magazine in 1957 I think. And King says, so the reader writes, if so many people in the world are not White, why is Jesus White? And King writes, the color of Jesus' skin is of little or no consequence. The whiteness or blackness of one's skin is a biological quality which has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the personality. The significance of Jesus lay not in his color, but in his unique God-consciousness, and his willingness to surrender his will to God's will. He was the Son of God, not because of his external biological makeup, but because of his internal spiritual commitment. He would have been no more significant if his skin had been black, no less significant because his skin was white. Now apart from the historical question, if it is a historical question, what color was Jesus' skin, I'm not ready to write that off as a, I guess a racist articulation.
And once I go down there, I guess I have two questions. I've tried to have fewer. So one is, has to do with whether we can or should separate notions of damage from non-damage. I've tried to signal that there are thinkers who I think invoke damage in anti-racist ways, but there are also thinkers who assert a simultaneity of damage and not. One example would be the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who ran a poetry workshop for Blackstone Rangers. They were, if you're not from Chicago, some people are from Chicago, they would be the Crips of Chicago, and she ran a poetry workshop for them. But she described them as possessed of a monstrous grace. And it seems to me there is in the phrase both an assertion of damage, and a capacity to transcend it. In a quote that's taken from the book you can see the same thing. Professor Kendi quotes James Baldwin on Richard Wright and specifically on Bigger Thomas. And what Baldwin says is Bigger's tragedy is that he's accepted a theology that denies him life. That he admits the possibility of his being subhuman and feels constrained therefore to battle for his humanity according to the brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth. And it seems to me there is in that as well an assertion simultaneously of damage and of the capacity to transcend it and figuring out their relationship, I guess that's a question somehow. And I guess I'll stop there.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Thank you. Professor Powell.
Professor john a. powell: Well I want to join in thanking Dean Carter and Kendi for his presentation, but even more so for your book and what you're adding to the field. You know, it's a complicated book. And so it's a long book, but it probably needs to be a trilogy.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: That's what I wanted but they said no.
Professor john a. powell: Okay. And so I was thinking about reading the book and having some of my, EJ and others sort of helped me prepare for today's, and I was thinking about, I guess what I'm suggesting is that this is part of a ongoing discussion. 'Cause I think it's too much to try to cover in 10 minutes or 40 minutes. So I'll try to raise some things that I think are fruitful discussion. And I should say, and this might be by way of compliment to me or compliment to you, or both, or neither. But one of the people who I have a lot of respect for, and when they first ran across your work they said, this person's work is closer to yours than anyone I've read. And I said, okay, let me read this guy.
And I think there's a lot there. So let me just pick out some of the things where I think that shows out, I think you're problematizing the way in which we think about racism just being an idea that could be corrected I think is very powerful. But I'll come back to that 'cause I think, you know, I teach students, and one of the things we teach students, especially in the law school, is that if you're engaging with someone in a debate, this is not that, this is not a debate, but you don't accept their framework. If you accept their framework you're at a disadvantage. And so part of the thing I think, which is what Dan was speaking to, is that on the issue of damage, if you say people who speak to the damage of Black people are racist, then it's a pretty broad brush. Basically everyone, almost everyone. And I think part of it is how we think about damage. And I specifically think about Toni Morrison. And Toni Morrison makes the observation that for decades we've been studying how slavery damaged Black people without looking at how it damaged White people. And I would assert that we've all been damaged by this racist system. So to the extent that we're just focusing on Blacks, I would completely agree with you. But to the extent that we're saying people are not damaged I think that's problematic. I do work in education. We know for example in terms of trauma, which is a real thing. Black children experience about five or six times the trauma of their White counterparts. That's a damage that we can medically measure. And I think we can't ignore it. Now to your point, it doesn't mean there is something wrong with those kids, although there is. But there's something wrong with the system that produced that kind of outcome. And so, so I want to be, I liked the sort of the position you take that we need to stop talking about how to fix Black kids. I worked My Brother's Keeper and President Obama, and one of the points I make is that we spend too much time thinking about how to fix Black kids and not how to fix the structure that actually disinvests, and in fact may damage Black kids. But that process is also damaging White kids. And I teach, one of the things I say is the hard edge of racism in the United States is not about Blackness or even about Latinos, it's about Whiteness. It's about Whiteness. That's the hard edge.
I liked the fact also that you brought in, and I'll bring in my friend and colleague Ian Haney Lopez, who talks about strategic racism. That the elites engage in what he calls strategic racism. And King used the adage that it's hard to wake up a man who is pretending to be asleep. And so yes, people who are pretending that they're not racist, but they're strategically using race, yes we can't educate them out of that. I think that is a different move and I think you sort of adroitly sort of say we need to come up with a different move. In some ways though I think you let yourself off the hook because you say all these other measures have failed and so we need another measure. I would say, the measure of actually power has also failed. If you look at Tom Watson and the populist movement, or look at the 1930s, the Communist movement, or look at the Black Power movement, or any of those movements actually was organized around power. And to a large extent they would agree with you, and they failed too. So in that sense we could say, every effort we made to really address racism and its fundamental roots have failed. But I would say we haven't failed because part of it's definitional. As you said Ruth Benedict actually brought race into the popular discourse. In my own writing I say we make a mistake of thinking about race as a thing. It's actually a process that's constantly changing and being contested and re-contested. And it's shifting. And then in the last little time I have left I think about when I read you I also thought about Derrick Bell who was both a good friend, a mentor, and we have some serious disagreements. For example, he talked about the permanence of racism. And he did it in a way, and those of you who know Derrick from critical race theory, he did it in a way that was, it was impossible to prove him wrong. He said if things look like they're getting better, just wait a little while and then they'll show you that they're getting worse. And I always ask the question why couldn't you do the other and say if things look like they're getting worse why can't you wait a while and see if they're getting better. So part of it's definitional. And I felt like you leaned in that, and at the end of the book you veered away from it by basically saying, we have this process of anti-racism but then new racism. But it seems to me a sort of profound process itself that we actually miss when we think of it as a thing.
The last two points I want to make. Self-interest. In my own writing, and I think you would agree with this, the self is not stable. So it's hard, and you talk about multiplicity in your book. So in that sense someone can be, one could argue, anti-racist and racist almost in the same breath. So there's a complexity that can get lost and it's not in that sense just strategic, it speaks to the complexity of how people are situated.
And in that sense I will, because Dean Carter is hosting this and is an old friend of mine, I think the role of education has to be resuscitated in two respects. Education's not about just facts. So when you say, they know the facts, and you do say this, you do say we need to educate the consumers, but I think it even goes deeper than that. And one may agree or disagree but being a historian you would know better than I. But I would say Lincoln was being educated. Lincoln was a power player, and over the life of his time in office, over his friendship with Thaddeus Stevens and others, with Frederick Douglass, he actually was being educated. So it's not just educating the consumers, you can educate the producers. I wouldn't just rely on that, in that sense I would agree with you. But I think we're in the process of making something different. I'll end by just saying this, I worried a little bit that one could read your work and think you're fatalistic or deterministic. That Trump had to follow Obama. I don't think you really mean that. And also the fact that Trump-like figures are popping up all around the world, which aren't narrowly organized around race seem to be saying there's a larger mechanism at play that we're not necessarily paying attention to. Authoritarianism, the remaking of the self. And I love the fact that you brought in that like Foucault, power is diffuse. So there's too many people, and we've heard that expression Black people can't be racist because we don't have any power. You directly challenge this. I directly agree with you. And it complicates it in I think a very interesting way. So we have power, maybe not as much. How do we do that, how do we understand racism. We looked at what happened in Baltimore when a Black man was killed and three of the five police were police of color, and the press is completely confused, right. This can't be about race because two of them were Black, one was Latino. So I think you're helping us to sort of understand that in a different way. So I welcome the chance to one, have you respond to that, but more importantly, to continue a longer dialogue.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Thank you. Thank you. So Professor Kendi, you have a lot of questions before you.
What I'd like to do is give, you don't have to answer them obviously. But I'd like to give you an opportunity to respond before we open it up to the audience to ask questions, 'cause you all have questions, don't you?
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Yeah, yeah, oh I heard emphatic yes, okay. So just take whatever you want, whatever resonates and speaks to your spirit.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Sure, so I think in terms of the, sort of some of the first questions, when I was trying to conceive of the book it became clear the way in which anti-Black racist ideas were deeply intertwined with anti-Latinx racist ideas and anti-Native racist ideas in particular in the way in which model minority myths were deeply sort of tied to anti-Blackness and anti-Latinx and other notions of Asian people as inferior and then even notions of whiteness of course. And so it was, I thought it was too big of a project to try to integrate all of those forms of racist ideas into one book. And so I decided to focus on anti-Black racist ideas and then at times show the ways in which they're intersecting with other forms. And this book itself, the first rewrite was about twice as long, and so I think as I got into the weeds of it, it almost reinforced that, but I also think and hope that other scholars take up longer histories of other types of racist ideas and ultimately someone writes a sort of composite sort of history of all these different types because I think that's essential for us to understand all the different types since they're so integrated in many different ways. But I thought this project was already so big that that wasn't something that was feasible and certainly my editors didn't.
And I would also sort of emphasize that I think that in terms of some of the questions about the epilogue, I think in many cases I had to sort of trim back so much detail, obviously it was sort of half the size, but I would say that I actually get in my next book specifically into notions of what is power. And how it sort of operates in different types of ways, particularly as it relates to sort of different intersections. And so I actually speak more to that and I try to be much more clearer sort of on that in the next book. But that book is, could probably be twice or three times as long. And so I'm sure I'm not gonna completely sort of satisfy the amount of detail that is necessary. And that's the I think struggle, I think anyone who's written on race and racism, like how do you simultaneously add enough complexity while not losing the reader. While also expressing that complexity that's necessary to sort of explain these difficult concepts. And it was just a constant sort of struggle.
And then in terms of the concept of damage, so, and I think this has been probably one of the more hotly contested sort of ideas about the book because of I think to a certain extent what both of you stated. And I guess one of the positions that I take is that I think it's one thing to say that for instance Black people are damaged, or Black people are even traumatized, it's another thing to say that that trauma or that damage has led to these negative behavioral traits. And so when people would express in particular the negative behavioral traits as a result of the damage, the damage that came down on the lashes of slavery or forms of oppression, or even our school system, that is when I would sort of define it and consider it to be a racist idea. In the case of people like Richard Wright though, I agreed with Baldwin's take on Native Son, and Richard Wright made a pretty clear case that he believed southern Black culture was pathological. And that's one to the reasons why he decided to basically leave. And so anyone who was expressing notions that some form of black culture was inferior or pathological I was identifying that as a racist idea. And I also think in terms of that there are individual people who as a result of the damage or even the trauma of oppression have started expressing negative traits. But when you start stating that the people, that a group of people, that everyone responds negatively to trauma, when that's not, no one has actually been able to prove that we all respond the same negative way to trauma, that is when again I started considering and operationalizing ideas as racist ideas. I do think it's critical for us to write on trauma and damage and I'm glad more and more scholars are sort of talking about and identifying that. But as we sort of agreed, I mean, when you also then state that people are broken and need to be fixed, that's when it sort of I think becomes a racist idea.
And then in terms of Professor Powell, oh there's so much. So, I think that, I think in the case of sort of self-interest, at the end of the book, and I probably could have spent much more time sort of talking about this in the text, and actually, so my plan was to for the next book, after Stamped from the Beginning, to be this history of racist policies. In which that's a book in which I would be very sort of specific in sort of talking about the relationship between self-interest and racist policies. But even more so in the case of I think what you were referring to, showing how some people believe certain policies are in their self-interest but they're actually not. And so that's why in the end of Stamped I talk a little bit about sort of differentiating between intelligent and unintelligent self-interest. And that for some people, if not most, White people in particular, or even Black elites or other groups, that they think that sort of attacking the Black poor is in their self-interest, when in fact in the case of let's say Black elites where studies show that the higher you actually rise on the economic ladder the more likely you are to face racist policies that are typically justified by ideas about the Black poor, that you agree with. That it sort of, so then you're sort of doing things that you think are in your self-interest when they're really not, and so I'm saying this all to say that I agree that we have to really complicate notions of self-interest.
And then as it relates to power and people like Lincoln, you have people who begin to see, either transform of course, or even people who begin to see that certain policies that they were against are actually in their own self-interest. And people teach them that. I think in the case of Lincoln, I think he's a sort of classic example in which he began to see how emancipation in particular was in the self-interest of maintaining the Union. And even emancipating and providing sort of potential civil and voting rights for Black people who were active in the military was also critical to sort of maintaining different forms of relations in the South. So he transformed in many different types of ways, but at the same time the question was always is he doing this out of his own personal new-found self-interest, or is he doing this because he has had this sort of revelation about the equality of Black people? And that's not something we can ever really know definitively, even though he did write that about I saved the Union because, or I freed slaves because it's, we really never really know. And I think that's one of the difficulties of writing a history of racist ideas in general is that I was very careful to never really talk about this is what a person believed because we really don't necessarily know what a person actually believes, we only know what they're saying. Right, or what they're writing. And it's just a very sort of complicated topic. And I'm sort of thankful for all of the panelists for demonstrating its complications.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Quite complex, quite complex. So I would like to see, do we have a microphone for those of you in the audience? Yeah, thank you Cynthia. So here is the deal. This is the norm in the room. We would like to take questions, and you can address them to Professor Kendi or any of the other professors here on the panel. But I will ask you to stay away from monologues and pontificating and those kinds of things. And if you do, pardon me but I will stop you, okay? So I'm going to--
Professor Garcia Bedolla: There needs to be a question mark at the end.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: It needs to have a question mark at the end. And not make a long statement and then put a question mark, I know the difference, I know grammar. So I'm going to take the first question.
Audience member (Doris): Hi, thank you so much for your talk. I went to your talk where you spoke with Angela Davis a couple months ago. Stand up. Hi, I'm Doris. So I went to your talk with Angela Davis over in San Francisco. And one of the things that really struck me there that she's working on is prison reform, and so here we're in a graduate school of education, right, this is one end of the spectrum of racism. And the other end of the spectrum is prisons. And I don't know the numbers, she knew them all and was able to say them all and able to say how your book impacted that. But I would really like you to think about the educational system and the prison reform or not reform system and how they impact each other in terms of your own theories. Small question?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Sure. As I think some, many of you know the work, particularly in the last 20 or so years on what people are calling the school to prison sort of pipeline has been critical. And the ways in which sort of I tried to show the ways in which racist ideas are greasing that pipeline. In my next book I talk about when I was a freshman in high school I basically started to really despise and hate school. And my grades sort of showed, and I think one of the reasons for that is because I started connecting the way in which the teacher was viewing me in a very similar way
as the police officer. In other words, someone that they were trying to get rid of. And so I sort of recognized those sort of connections that I was in a way sort of trash that people were trying to get rid of and out of the school and then out of society. And so we can sort of make those conceptual connections and people studying that, that the school to prison pipeline certainly are.
Dr. Dunford: Hi. Dr. Will Dunford, Assistant Principal City Secondary School, San Francisco Unified School District. Thank you Dr. Carter for hosting this and the way you opened it with revering the Ohlone people and all that sort of thing. Thank you Dr. Kendi for your book, and thank you all the panelists for your insights. My question is kind of related to what you're talking about, damage, and sort of related to what you were talking about, trauma. And so I hear you saying a lot about deficiencies and things like that. And so my question is what are your thoughts on sort of the I guess sort of pathological sort of damage in a sense, specifically with White identity, internalized White supremacy, and White fragility. Not from the Black, say, deficiency, but on the other side.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Sure, so I think that racist ideas as I think Professor Powell was talking about sort of has damaged White people. And policies and racist policies and power has damaged White people but the way in which I would consider them to be damaged is the same way I would consider people of color to be damaged. In which you have White people who think more of themselves due to racist ideas, and you have people of color who think less of themselves due to racist ideas. And that leads to sort of differing forms of conceptual damage that I think is problematic in both ways, but in different types of ways. And so I write about for instance in the early part of Stamped that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with White people, I mean Black people. And then the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people. And both concepts are deeply damaging to both groups.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: John, Lisa, Dan, would you care to?
Professor john a. powell: Well yeah, I agree, I think it's, I think of race as constitutional of the self. And the elites are sort of in a different role as Professor Kendi actually suggests. We just did a study where we looked at poor Whites and poor Blacks. We went to their homes. And as you know when people talk about the opioid crisis, so poor Blacks are struggling but they, although this is changing, they're not killing themselves in the same rate. What we saw is that people would ask for help. So they would say, literally we went in people's homes, usually women with children, and they would say, I'm having to send my daughter across the street to get diapers. We walk into the White person's home with the same economic status and they were just totally consumed by shame. So their sense of Whiteness as being independent, of being self-sufficient, was actually hurting them again. So I think that the damage to White people is profound. I don't know the data, but think of the mass killings, the vast majority of mass killings, some of them done by police that are not called mass killings, are, I mean, there's something wrong, literally when you come to the United States from Europe they show an advisory, this is a dangerous country. Anyway, so I could go on, when you read Hobbes, if any of you still read Hobbes, if you just read him, he sounds like a psychopath. He's afraid of everything. It's like, the state of nature where everybody's against everybody, so we have government, but no wait, who's gonna protect us from government. And this is considered the father of modern Western political science. So anyway, I think that there's something profoundly unhealthy about what we would call White culture, and not even White culture, American culture, that we don't pay enough attention to. And it's not my project per se, but I think literally we need to create a new kind of White person, a new kind of space White people can come into but they don't have to dominate, where they don't have to control, where they don't have to take up all the air. Where they can share power. But that's a different project.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Yes.
Audience Member: Of course it's interesting how sympathetically the media, politicians, and even the police treat the opioid epidemic compared to the way they treated the crack epidemic. Professor Powell, I would like to ask you since you mentioned Barack Obama, that the next time you run into him perhaps you can ask him to stop criticizing Black audiences for the Black media, such as when he came to town and told the young Black kids that they don't need to have eight women twerking around them and wearing eight pounds of gold chains. The very kids that would be highly unlikely to be into that or interested in that, and the way Obama criticized the Morehouse audience for--
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Question?
Audience Member: Don't expect a free handout. Yeah
Dean Prudence L. Carter: What is your question sir?
Audience Member: My question is have you ever considered racism as a system of economic organization where the wealth and resources of the nation are distributed from those who matter most to those who matter least. And what can you say about Professor Mark Miller, I'm sorry, Mark Lilla of Columbia University, who's telling minorities that they should take a backseat so that White people have a chance, in the Democratic Party have a chance to get back into power and that's the only way they're gonna do it.
Professor Garcia Bedolla: That's a pointed look. The short answer, I guess two things to that. One, the election for Trump is the people who didn't vote. Right, so the point is, until you run candidates that actually speak to the real lived experiences of the base of the Democratic Party, most of whom is not White, you're not gonna have those people step up 'cause people are smart and they know where to put their time, and they know where they matter, and in this moment they don't matter. So the argument that we need to look at Trump-Obama, the Obama-Trump folks, and all that beltway mumbo-jumbo is not reasonable and it is not based on facts in terms of what actually happened in 2016 and to understand how folks can win. And I think Stacey Abrams' campaign is a perfect example. If you run a different kind of campaign, you get a different outcome. If you don't have voter suppression and the person running the campaign running for office at the same time. Those things.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I can say very briefly that when you look at the history of racism and the history of capitalism, they emerge at the same time in largely the same place. And so you're really talking about two systems that emerged in 15th century Portugal during this sort of, what some Marxist historians call the long 15th century. And you see them intersecting and interacting and reinforcing each other. And so because of that relationship in which they were essentially born together, and reinforcing each other, it's not conceptually sound to say one is the source of the other. They are both the source of each other.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Other questions. Yes ma'am. Alex, right behind you.
Audience Member: Thank you Dr. Kendi. I'm gonna introduce another complication I think but there seems to be a dichotomy running through everything I've read about racism and the history of scientific racism, which is one of my subjects. That is that there's a dichotomy between say Black and White people or between Asian and White people, or between Asian and Black, there's just all these dichotomies. But there's also a long history of racial passing. And how can contextualize racial passing?
I mean, is it a self-identity thing, or is it where someone like me could look around the room and say, oh you're Black, you're White, you know. Do you know? And I think about things like the one drop rule that made people, you know, in an age the scientific racists were obsessed with genealogy. And how do you contextualize that within the context of what you're saying about traditional and assimilationist views. Where do people who are passing go?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: If society is deeming them as White then they're going into the camp of being superior. If society is deeming them as Black because of one drop, and society is not allowing them to essentially pass for White, then society is operationalizing, or I should say race-making them as Black. And therefore viewing them as inferior to Whiteness.
What you're talking ultimately about is it sort of shows that race as itself is what some would call a social or even a power sort of construct. That these clear lines between whether a person is White or Black based on their phenotypic sort of traits are constantly shifting and changing. And it's really hard to sort of pin down. But ultimately what I'm stating is that racist ideas are based on notions of racial groups. And so when you essentially state that a particular person is in a racial group, and that particular racial group is better or worse or superior or inferior to another group, then you're articulating racist ideas.
Now whether the individual themselves prefers to be identified with that racial group that they're being identified with is a completely different story. And so how we identify as individuals is sometimes different than how society identifies us as individuals. And for Black people we typically don't get to be individuals, 'cause we're apparently always representing 100 million people.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: So I want to follow up, 'cause there's something embedded. It's not quite that question, but I've been dying to ask you, and that is about the role of agency in a history where the structural forces, the dynamics, have really shaped so much, but even in these oppressive situations historically, backstage, as Scott talks about, the historian, Jim Scott talks, James Scott talks about, backstage there have been these forms of agency executed, right, to try to defy and push through. Arguably, even the notion of passing could be structurally determined and one is also damaged, but could arguably even in the notion of passing one is choosing to execute or to display one's agency in terms of certain taste or preferences, i.e., Rachel Dolezal, uh oh, did I say that? And then I'm really curious about, or even in the face of oppression, when I go into spaces today, particularly in elite White higher ed spaces, we're often talking about so much that's been done to us, which is true and it's quite determinative. But what about the spaces of joy in the things that we do. How do you complexify it in a way to create a space where we also are defiant, and joyous, and agentic. And in that way maybe possibly eroding or mitigating or minimizing some of the damage, so to speak. That's my question for you.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Wow. So I mean, I think I try to show that space, that conceptual space being formulated through anti-racist ideas. And I try to sort of show how those who are articulating those types of ideas are not typically stating that Black people are perfect people. They are typically stating that Black people are beautifully imperfect. And it's really that imperfections that is really what's making the racial groups equal. And then simultaneously within those spaces you have people like Zora Neale Hurston, who I think was a critical sort of anti-racist figure in the text making the case that when basically people say negative things about me, I don't see myself as the problem, I actually laugh at how much they're the problem. Right. Or you have the Zora and Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman creating what they called in 1926 the Niggerati in which they were pushing back against Du Bois and Alain Locke and others who were making this case that you need to essentially make art to quote uplift the race and sort of show how upwardly mobile and equal Black people are. And they were like no, we want to make art of joy, we want to make art of sadness, of happiness, of the complexity of sort of Black people. And I tried to sort of show that, that that is essentially what anti-racists like those artists at that time were really seeking to do.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: M'kay. Professor McGarry, and I'll get you next.
Audience Member (Professor McGarry): So, in 1970 James Baldwin was in a conversation with Margaret Mead. It was a eight hour conversation on a stage somewhat like this and he challenged her around the notion when she was affirming Whiteness that Whiteness was just an idea. So my question is, I would also, I wonder would you suggest that Whiteness is also a racist idea. And secondly if so, or if not, is Blackness also potentially a racist idea?
Professor Garcia Bedolla: We like to ask easy questions.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: I see. I don't think I can come back here, no I'm just saying.
Professor john a. powell: I don't think you can leave.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Yeah, exactly. No, this is, I mean. So let me answer this question historically. And so I make the case in Stamped from the beginning that the creator, or I should say the first producer of racist ideas was also the first producer of Blackness itself. Gomes Zurara, who essentially was tapped by the Portuguese king to justify and defend Prince Henry's slave trading in Africa. And in order to do so he had to essentially take all of these different ethnic groups that had all different sort of skin complexions, and make them one, in the way we would understand it, Black people, and then in making them one Black people, he made them one Black inferior people. And so really Blackness as a sort of race was really the first race that was made. And then the next race that was made was Native people. And the way in which that race was made was in conjunction with Blackness. And then in the 1500s, but especially the 1600s, you had the creation of Whiteness as the sort of opposite of Blackness and Nativeness.
And so I'm saying this all to say that it's hard for me to disagree that race as a concept itself is a racist idea, when you look at that sort of history. On the other hand, you've had people, as you know, who have organized groups that have been racialized, who have used the concept of race to basically organize people and formulate sort of movements. To challenge racism against Latinx people or Black people or Asian people. And so then the question becomes, and I think, I'm sort of thinking about what Professor Powell was saying earlier, is part of the reason why those movements did not completely succeed in transforming the world was because they used race as an organizing principle. And that's not necessarily something that I know.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: We're gonna take two more questions. Yes, I saw your hand. The lady in the blue blazer there. I'm gonna go to this back, okay, I'm gonna take three more questions 'cause I only see three hands. I'll take your question in the back and then I'll take your question in the, yeah, Bailey I'll take your question. Yes, go ahead in the navy blazer.
Audience Member: Hi, I'm gonna do my best to articulate my question because you three Black people up there are people I really look up to and so I'm feeling very nervous. I will just say. But my question, so I'm a psychologist but I came up through education, so used to be a teacher, and I'm currently the counseling department in a high school in San Francisco. Yes, the department. I've been leaning in hard and digging deep around race. In part because the time calls for it and because my professional role calls for it. And I'm finding that I am having to do so through kind of manifesting both my own rage and my own love. And the deeper I'm getting into this the more I'm finding that I am falling deeper and deeper in love with the resilience and perseverance of Black people. And so I think my question for you particularly for the Black folks up there is how you see your work as a contribution to our collective healing as Black people, but also as people who are in this country, which for many of us it is the only home that we have and that we have an opportunity to love.
Professor john a. powell: Well I'll start. First of all, I just want to announce, we're having a conference April 8th through 10th called Othering and Belonging. And we actually delve into some of these issues. And I think while we have to sort of resist, I think there's many expressions of a Black Libertory movement that actually goes beyond people who are phenotypically Black that actually points to something beyond the construct of race.
So I think even when things start from a negative perspective they take on a different life. So the work of Michael Omi and how when they talk about racial formation and how there's always resistance. So it's important to understand the resistance. And Dean Carter's always talked about the beauty of that. The Harlem Renaissance and the expression. And we're here in the Bay Area and we have this renaissance going on. We had a bunch of movies, including what should have been the Academy Award winner Black Panther. So part of it I think is as you dig deep is to sort of think of, I say to my students, who are disproportionately students of color, that you're the bridge to the future if we're gonna have a future. And that's a lot of work but it's also incredibly beautiful. That that's what I think we've been called upon not just to refute all the stuff, but what kind of world are we trying to make where everybody belongs.
Where dominance is no longer the organizing principle. Where exploitation and extraction is no longer the organizing principle. And I think that work has to come from us. And I think to your point, because it probably won't get done in the next couple of weeks, the next couple of years, you need to have some fun and have some meals, and have some, you know, that that's life. It's not like, I'm gonna do this work and then live, it's like this is our life. This is the life of the planet. And I'll just end by saying, to me what Whiteness represent is actually a break from what I call four breaks. A break from God, a break from the universe, a break from nature, and a break from each other. And in that sense it's actually an ideology of death because those things you don't understand you also have to control and dominate. And so how do we actually acknowledge, I don't even think we have to create it, I think the connection is already there. And native populations have been trying to teach us that for hundreds of years. We're already connected we just don't live it. How do we actually start to live it in our structures, in our stories, in our policies. And to me that's really great work, and it's spiritual work, I'd look at Pastor Mike when I think about this, it's religious work, it's spiritual work, it's economic work, it's school work. And it's a lot of work but we have a good team, so let's do it.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: I'll say very briefly that what's ironic about Stamped from the Beginning and even certainly in the next book on how to be an anti-racist, is most people think that my preferred audience for these two books are White people. And I would say that I try not to sort of write with an audience but if there was a primary audience it would you be for Black people. And the reason being, and I think this goes to one of Dan's questions earlier that I didn't really answer. When people sort of believe, when Black people believe that they are damaged, or that their culture is pathological or that there's something wrong with them, those people, what racist ideas do from that sense, like the end goal of these ideas is to cause people to not resist. To not resist those structures and systems and policies and power. And if they're resisting anything, they're resisting themselves or people who look like them. Because they've sort of been taught that I should be a slave or I should be in the poor side of town. Or I should be not getting that opportunity or that job. Or I should be sort of being sort of sexually assaulted by R. Kelly. And so it's, for me,
these ideas, or freeing ourselves from these ideas that have been taught to us for hundreds of years can be very liberatory.
And the more I researched specifically slave holders and their production of racist ideas, the more I began to think that those ideas were primarily meant for Black consumption. And now who knows, again, whether that's actually true. And so for me, to research this history for people to see the origins of these ideas that have been fed to them their whole lives. For them to potentially release themselves from those ideas and to see their beautiful faces as beautiful, or ugly too as Langston Hughes would say, is to me the goal of, one of the goals of my work.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: So just quickly, one of the things, and thank you for the question, but one of the things that I have tried to do with my work, and I don't think I've actually thought about it that way when I first started out in the academy, is that I'm actually, I want to break open and widen the spectrum of identity for Black people. We're multifaceted identities, I am Black, I am female, I am queer, I am upper middle class, I am a single mother. I'm all of those things and I love actually disrupting narratives. And I think one of the things that these racist ideas do is that they don't allow us to fully realize and even evolve, although we talk about it as academics, particularly intersectional identities. Right, and how to perform, how to live, how to realize those things. So my goal is actually to disrupt even the notion of Blackness as something that's homogenized. That's my goal with my work. And to show that how it plays out differently in different contexts. And that we have multi, we embody, how do we become the multicultural, 'cause I think for a better world we have to more fully realize our multi-facetedness. And I don't want to just be trapped in one identity even though I grew up in a, I grew up in the South, the Deep South, the most racist place in America perhaps, or one of the most racist place, but Black was deeply beautiful in my community. Which is why I'm more fully, I feel like I'm more fully empowered to even think about that intersection of that identity with all the others. And to also think about how we intersect with the lives of other people in this country and around the world. So, yeah.
Who, yeah Alison is frantically asking us to wrap up. I think there was one last question I promised to get in.
Bailey, was that you?
Audience Member (Bailey): I did have a question. So I actually wanted to kind of get back to the way you opened today, which was in acknowledging sort of being on the land of the Ohlone people here where we are. And Dr. Kendi was talking about how Blackness when it's created as this idea of race is intimately intertwined with the creation of the Native. And particularly the taking of native land and sort of the imposition of settlement. So I guess my question comes from if you're talking about how to be an anti-racist, how does that intersect with being an anti-settler?
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Wow. That's another topic, another, a whole 'nother, we need another two hours. But okay, go ahead.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Did you want to?
Professor Garcia Bedolla: Oh no.
Dean Prudence L. Carter: Dan?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I mean, I think that when we sort of think about sort of being an anti-racist we have to not just sort of level the different intersectional Black groups as Dean Carter was talking about but really level all of the different intersectional groups that make up all of the racialized sort of groupings. And so you're talking about a Black person who looks upon native people as not inferior to them. And really pushing back against this early construction of the weak Native and the strong African that was sort of utilized to sort of justify the genocide of native people and the importation of African people. Like it was sort of dueling happening at the same time with that sort of idea and so I think that, I think that that's absolutely critical. I think that fortunately though within Black thought, particularly Black radical thought, there has been quite a bit of sort of internal colonization forms of theories that have sought to sort of link the way in which Black African Americans are colonized. In the ways that other sort of groups are colonized simultaneously, or at the same time or in different ways.Those theories haven't really became widespread. Not a lot of people sort of understand those theories. But I think all of these ideas are deeply intertwined. And I think being an anti-racist is extremely difficult because you essentially have to be anti-settler, you have to be a feminist, you have to be anti-capitalist, you have to be anti-homophobic, you have to be all of these different sort of things simultaneously. And so how do you as a human being who's been born and raised, at least for me, I was born and raised to be homophobic, patriarchal. And I had to think as a Black middle class person that we were, we had more because we worked harder than Black poor people. And so I had all of these ideas about these different sort of racialized groups that I had to spend my whole lifetime recognizing those ideas were false. And I think that's what we should be seeking and striving to do.