Episode # 1.2 -
Dr. Brian Lowery, Senior Associate Dean, Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, talks with us about his research and what must be done to combat racial justice and how we move toward meaningful change in America.
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Several of Dr. Lowery's Published Journal Articles:
Herd Invisibility: The Psychology of Racial Privilege L. Taylor Phillips, Brian S. Lowery. Currents Directions in Psychological Science. May 1, 2018, Vol. 27, Issue 3, Pages 156-162.
The Hard-Knock Life? Whites Claim Hardships in Response to Racial Inequity L. Taylor Phillips, Brian S. Lowery. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. November 2015, Vol. 61, Pages 12-18.
Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity Eric D. Knowles, Brian S. Lowery, Rosalind M. Chow, Miguel M. Unzueta. Perspectives on Psychological Science. November 17, 2014, Vol. 9, Issue 6, Pages 594-609.
Since the death of George Floyd rage has sparked in America, and for once, it seems some white people are finally starting to look at themselves. They're shocked even--questioning their own guilt in the process, and finally listening that there is a problem in America with race. But unfortunately, it's not enough because there's still many people who aren't interested in listening at all because they don't like what they hear. And they don't like what they see that systemic racism is alive and well in America. And it's up to us, white people, to help fix it. We are the problem, folks, whether we like it or not. So let's dig in.
Welcome to White Speak the podcast that explores the truth about what it's like to be Black in America and the history and context of what brought us to where we are today. I'm Cayman Grant.
Our next guest, Dr. Brian Lowery, a Senior Associate Dean at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business is no stranger to the idea of white privilege. Dr. Lowery has studied the psychology of racial privilege, including the psychological consequences of being white in this country, and the deep discomfort we face when it's brought to our attention. Recently, he published an op ed in the Washington Post describing his own experiences of racial discrimination growing up and calling on white allies to take a hard look at themselves, saying that talk alone will not be able to dismantle a system that has existed since our country's inception. Today he talks with us about his research and how we move forward toward meaningful change.
Thank you for joining the show. I'm so excited to have you here. Good. I'm excited to you know, I loved your art. article from the Washington Post and I've read a lot of your your findings of research, but reading your Washington Post op ed, it's so different hearing from you that way because it felt so there's a rawness to it that I hadn't seen in your other work seemed like it was like a last straw for you or something. What made you write it
is a really good question. Um, you know, I've had students, graduate students that have worked with me, and I've been doing research on these topics for about 20 years or so. And in the past, they said, Oh, we should write this. So we should write that. And I've always said, No, and this is the first time I just sat down and felt like I needed to do it. I think it was the people responding as if what was going on was a new, like that festival. That was really what was a bit hard for me. I had a strong sense that people should know, right, that they should know this is been going on. They've been living in this world and this is what it has been forever, right. And in some sense, people have averted their eyes, right? There's no there wasn't it? It wasn't hard to see. I mean, it was it wasn't hidden, right? We we've had things on video even before. And so to behave as if this was some new outrage seemed misguided to me. And I really wanted to say something about that. I also didn't want to highlight my own personal story. But I did want people to understand that it's not just those people like I know, I have many white friends and I exist the world where they often are not around at least professionally, many black folks and so people know me in a particular way. But I don't talk about those stories in those contexts. Right. And I don't that thing that people might assume something about my life or how it's been that that isn't accurate. And I just also want people to know that it this is happening everywhere, right that I go out on the street, if I get pulled over, I worry about it. Even though you know I'm a I'm a faculty member at Stanford University. And that is I know that is true for a lot of people like me, which is why I also want to say that This is not I'm not holding myself up as some special example, right? This is just what it is for people like me. And there are people who have much more intense stories. Like I don't think my stories as the most extreme may just stories of being black in America. And I just wanted people to have a sense of that, that it's not just the George Floyd's, right. It's the people who you see and don't see and the people who you think you know, and the people who you may or may not know, as well as you might think you do.
Yeah. And white people. We don't have to deal with that, even though it's everyone's problem. But how do we convince people that it is everyone's problem? In my experience in the United States, it always comes down to economics. But other than that,
is there a way? I don't know? I mean, this is what I tried to say in that piece. And what I think about often is, it shouldn't be thought of as charity, right? I'm not I'm not asking for somebody to come and help me or save me from anything. And this is what I was. I tried to be explicit that couldn't be in the piece was I want you to save yourself, like we are all in this like you might not. And at the same time, it's different, right? Like I, I worry about my physical safety and I worry about the physical safety and health of my family and my friends that happen to be black. And I think if you're white and have means you don't have those same concerns, but you are still participating in a very corrupt system, right? We're all a part of that. And I think people have these fantasies, like what would they do if they were in Germany and in the late 30s, or 40s? Or what would they have done during the civil rights movement? And somehow people can see that we're living in a world that is corrupt now, right, that this is in some sense for many people, the dystopian world that you are imagining when you watch these TV shows, and what are you doing now is the question like, how are you living now? Are you if you understood it, would you be proud of the life you're living in the context that you're living in me? How do you explain what what are things that they could do to under Stand right are two, two, you know, because people like, Oh, you read books, you can do this, you can do that. But you read books all day long. And this is why I'm doing this series to is to try to translate some things, but what can they do, from your view? A thing at an individual level is examine your life, the life that you live in right now, right? If you are in a great school district, but you don't, it looks very homogenous, like what is that about? Why is it that way? When you go to PTA meetings, what do you what are you talking about? Do you raise these issues? If you are and I you know, again, like I know, obviously, many, many I have a lot of boyfriends. And no, it's the case that people say things when I'm not around out of me, my friends, but I know they hear things right that people are making jokes and saying things that are disparaging, like when that happens, are you okay with the discomfort of saying something about it, right, because I get that it will be uncomfortable is not easy, right? And some of this too, I'll just say that as a man. I see this as issues of gender or There have been situations. Thankfully, None. None since, you know, recently, but I've certainly been in situations where I feel like uncomfortable because the things that are being said about women seems hugely inappropriate. And I feel the pressure of one and not to say anything, it's not going along or do anything, but it's certainly not easy to step up and say something that puts you out outside of that group. So I I'm sympathetic, that it's hard, right? I don't I don't want to minimize even that, even speaking up. It's hard. And the question is, like, do you do it? It's hard. Do you do it? That's some small individual things. And then you get into things like, you could ask a question, what if we or your children or your friends kids who were being expelled for the for minor infractions? Or what if you had to have a conversation with your sons about the police potentially being a danger to them, like what would you want to do if you had power in that situation? And many white folks America have enough power they can do something about that. Do they? anything about that? Or is that someone else's problem? And then you can go further and talk about policy and say, what kind of policies do you support? What kind of what do you look for demand and leadership? So I think at every level, you can ask yourself, what kind of world are you trying to create? Right? What kind of change Are you trying to be a part of? And from my side, I think that's the most you could ask for if an individual just to examine the choices they're making. Ask them to examine the choices they're making, and are they participating and making the world a better place? So kind of at least the kind of world that they'd like to live in? Not just for themselves, but for everyone else, too.
Do you think that if you hear it from white people versus Black people, or like if men stood up for women, if White people spoke to white people more about this, that there would be a curve of change? Perhaps that is, you know, that it's much more influential? Did you do any research in that or maybe that's your next topic?
No, I don't I don't have work on that. But I do. I do. Think But there's a discomfort in having people outside of your group raise concerns. Right? So there's that one, right. And there's it feels, I think more challenging. And also there's evidence that people will assume that it's self interested and therefore take it differently. And it would be self interest they'd be right. But I don't know why that's necessarily a problem. But I think it's, um, it's hard when you when you say that the the people who should bear the cost of change are the people who are suffering from the injustice, right? Because they're often in a weaker position to they're not in a stronger position to push for that kind of change. Right? It costs more, it costs me more to do that than it does for say, a white male colleague of mine to say something the same situation. And it's a is that I mean, we really want to ask the people who are already struggling under the under this kind of injustice or oppression to then shoulder the cost of changing it. So I think yeah, this shouldn't be the people who should be the people who are most benefiting from the situation. They were willing to speak out about
it. The whole goal of this podcast is to get white people to understand. And we both know what it's already taken just to get them to listen, it's taken a pandemic sports not being on TV, no one being able to see anybody to make all of this come to a movement that seems to already be dissipating, because now there's wars in Chicago and other cities. And, you know, it seems like it's kind of losing momentum.
I mean, that was all predictable. I mean, this is it makes sense.
Well as per your studies, Mm hmm.
Yeah. I don't tend to be an optimistic kind of guy. I mean, I'm just realistic. I see what it is. And we mean, I think things could be better. But I don't have an assumption that things necessarily will be better. It could be. They might not be.
Well, we I want to get into what racial policies later that we could target because one of the things that I want to do is through this podcast is define the racial policies that could be changed or effectively be changed seems like the only thing that is changing in this movement. Right now we're changing Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and "master" suites. And I don't see any action.
It's hard to change stuff.
Especially when it's uncomfortable. It's easy to go out on the streets, but changing policies that affect your outcomes, your kids outcomes, that that's a different situation right now. What do you think it is that's preventing racial policies from being changed? Despite the outcry that's happening right now? Is it because it's mostly young people out there or that there's no leadership? What do you think it is? I think
the the young people are out there often because they don't have much to lose. Right? They I mean, I think it's not mean every generation is the youth are going to save us but the youth become us eventually. Right? They have jobs, they have mortgages, they have kids to go through school and then things are vastly different when you're in That situation and when you're a college student or high school student and don't have those kind of responsibilities and those worries yet, so I, you know, I always appreciate the youthful energy out there. But that's I mean, as we've seen not sufficient to generate systemic change. So I hope that there's something more than said before, there's gonna be a lot to overcome to produce that. I think people's vested interests are hard to overcome.
I mean, that's the thing, though, that white people seem to think that they have to give up a whole bunch in order for minorities to have equality. But is that really true?
Um, depends on what you think you have to give up and how much it is how much it's worth to you. I mean, look, I don't think the press would be better off quite happy about that much, but it's going to cost something. Yeah. If you live in a neighborhood that's 98% white and that neighborhood becomes 7% people of color, right, has a shift like is that giving up a lot? I don't know. I think some people would think of that as intolerable. And other people would think that's not that much. I don't I don't I mean, I guess, how do you value what you have? How do you assess what you have? How do you think about what is producing the experience of comfort or ease in life? And what of that? Would you be willing to trade for more or more just society? You know, I think that's what it comes down to.
In one of your studies, I recall that white people are okay, I think there were four studies done, white people seem to be okay with giving up something economically, but for for minorities to gain something, though. They weren't quite so accepting, which is an interesting thing, right? Because it's like, okay, you're willing to give up?
Yeah, I mean, the psychology and some of the studies that I do just shows that people, they, it's a strange situation where they don't really see it as zero sum they see it as how much should they have, whatever that is, and even if they understand that, giving some of those wouldn't make things more equal, they still feel like it's fundamentally unfair to give up something they think they should have. So it's not, it's not really what you actually have is what you think you should have. Right? That's the base from which people are making decisions about what's fair and what's not fair. So if people see, and I think people do they see black folks, and they say they don't have what they should have is unfair. And that's inappropriate, and we should do something about that. But they could simultaneously believe that what they have is completely fair, even if those two things are intention, right, meaning that for the other good to have what they should have, you'd have to give up something that you have, if you feel that way. You can think it's just in right for black folks to have more and simultaneously be opposed to anything that would diminish what white folks have because you think would be unfair to make that change. I mean, it's just the psychology of people's perceptions of fairness is much different than the objective reality on the ground.
What do you think it is, that's making people so White people get so defensive when anything is said to them about anything. Where do you think that sensitivity comes from? I know you have research and studies in those areas as well.
I mean, humanity, that's what I think comes from. Meaning that people, people want to see themselves as good people. And to suggest that there's something other than that is really a tough thing to take. And our society somehow being called racist has been accused of racism has been transformed into being called just a bad person, full stop. It's not a description of a behavior or particular outcomes. It's just you might as well just say the person is immoral and leave it at that without giving any further description. So I think anything that suggests that someone has engaged in the racist behavior or might be racist is basically the same as saying they're an evil human being. And I mean, people just are, for obvious reasons, really sensitive about that. And that becomes problematic, right? Because what we're talking about is people's outcomes and behaviors. That people engage in it has now this strong moralistic tone, but it doesn't. It doesn't have to. Right. But it right now it does. And I think that's getting in the way a bit of people examining the situation. They're in their own behaviors and the clear headed way.
Yeah, I mean, it seems, I feel like in America, it's never truly been acknowledged what's going on here. And you know, a lot of people deflect and say, I didn't own slaves. So I have nothing to do with this right? Or how somebody might say, those people might be racist, but I'm not I have a black friend, that kind of thing. It's interesting how their mind goes to these places, but won't just sit there and listen for a second or acknowledge that there really is a problem.
Yeah, I mean, I find the whole idea of like, I didn't own slaves. And that's the past interesting because flex the same people who revel in the history of the United States, right? They're the same people who weigh the flag and are proud of the history but it's strangely not Although strangely, it's selective, right? So there's a denial of a big part of the history, but a cherishing and a championing of other parts of the history it is that part is sometimes hard to take, right? So you have to take the good with the bad. It's like a family, like it's not all great, you can still be proud of it and recognize that it has serious flaws and work on those. And I often see people unwilling to acknowledge the obvious flaws in the United States historically And currently, right. It's not just ancient history. That's the other thing that's strange about that claim that it's been ongoing. And there's been evidence of it since not just at the beginning, but how are the year since? And you see, that's what I think you see right now, you see it in the disparities in terms of the outcomes of the Cova pandemic, right? It's always been there.
Absolutely. It has been, if you could have one wish to change one policy, what would it be?
So really good question. I would probably focus on housing, actually. Housing equity and So I think I would start with eliminating segregation, right? This country is incredibly segregated. This is, well, one in major cities, housing segregation is incredible. I grew up in Chicago. I mean, it used to be like, normally in the top three of the most segregated cities, but most major cities are and in this country, most white people don't actually have they don't really have a black friend they claim to but they don't they just they just mean someone they they run into regularly, but not a black friend. And I just think that it's the segregation is problematic, not simply because people don't know and understand each other. But because the opportunities fall along those lines, right. There's studies that suggest things like, lifespan can be predicted by zip code, you boy and things like that. Right. So you know, that in this country education, educational outcomes are tied to property values because they're used to fund schools, right. So there's, I would probably start with housing. There's one thing I can do But to your point about leadership, I would say that right now, it's really interesting times because unlike past movements, there's not a clear hierarchy of leadership, certainly in the black lives movement. I think that's been done purposefully. And I get that, but just energy on the streets is not sufficient for change like that has to at some point translate into clear demands either dismantling and creating something new. A new system still requires political will or demanding change of the existing system, but just energy in the streets is not enough. That's a great start. I think it motivates or it's impetus for change, but it's not sufficient produce the kind of changes I think we need.
Yet you have it the three DS I remember the dismantle that what you were saying right there, explain this to people because I think that's actually one of your incredible ideas.
Yeah, just the idea is that white privilege is uncomfortable, right? It doesn't feel good things, reasons. We already talked about it. It says if you saying that everything is easy for you, you benefit in an unfair way.
I've had a hard life. I mean, I have not had privilege. I grew up poor.
Yeah, I mean, and you know, in a country, little country, town and little barn. I mean, the thing about that is I'm making fun of it. But I'm actually very sympathetic, like the claim is not that anyone's life is easy, right? So that that's not the point. The point is just that you're better off in this country, if you're white, and if you're not, so even if you're poor, you should hope that you're a poor white person as rather than a poor black person in this country. So everybody has hardship. And that's, that's not white privilege is not a claim that your life has been, you know, without hardship, and what people because people think of it that way, and it's uncomfortable, they have these different ways to defend their sense of self, right and so the we talked about Three DS of Defense's denial like I deny that you benefit that, that it exists at all deny the white privilege exists in distance you say like, okay, yeah, white privilege might exist, but I personally haven't benefit out on
a color. I don't know.
And then, and then examples.
And then what it's I mean, you know, when people hear that, and who are in the know, it's kind of like, it just makes your hair stand, you know, but it's important that that people know what they they shouldn't say and why.
Yeah, I mean, I think people can say, oh, but I'd like to understand what they're saying. Right? Let's Yeah, right. And then the final one is if you can do those things, and you recognize that exists, then you move towards dismantling and that's the way we want people to go right where they say like, you know what, this does exist. I do benefit from it. This doesn't feel good and it's not right. What can I do to to deal with that? How do I manage how do I change that? So that's, you know, where we'd hope people would go to the place of thinking about how do you make a more just society, even if that means giving up some of these advanced advantages that you might
benefit from? Give me a couple examples of advantages.
There's the like, if you aren't, if you end up in trouble in the legal system, the people in power are likely to look like you. Right? And they have some there's the much not, you know, again, not say they're gonna be nice or unnecessarily unfair, but you're better off. If those people look like you. They share some sensitive values, that that's a huge, huge benefit. And then also, I think that's also true in most economic situations, too, right. And your job if you have a good job, people are likely to look like you share your values you actually have in this country, even though there's this association of violence and people of color, but honestly, like I have, I have much more to fear from white people than white people have For me, right? Like I'm constantly going to places where I really do have to be wary about physical safety in places where the reality is that white people might be afraid in certain communities. But that's not because they're white. Right? And the reality is
a poor neighborhood, it's because the resources are poor. Because if you go to a white neighborhood, and it's poor, they don't have resources either. And it's scary as well.
Right? Exactly. So it's like, it's rare that you have physical safety is at risk, because you're white, like your physical safety might be a risk because the people are desperate. Right? That's true, but that would be true for me as well. So I think that people don't really get that like I was just in tile for something. I was like, wow, be great, but I could never it'd be really hard to live here in a comfortable way. Right. It's just and that that's an interesting thing. Like I I don't think that most white folks recognize the range of freedom they have in this country. And I mean that like in a like in a physical space kind of way, that not everyone's So that everyone doesn't have that same degree of comfort in all corners of the country. Absolutely, just like, I think small, small things, but it shows up in all sorts of ways that are just hard to even quantify. And it's designed, as you pointed out before, so you don't see it. Right? It's, it's created in such a way that there's nothing to see just this is just how the world is. And it's hard to see that the world is designed that way, and that it doesn't exist in the same way for everyone. Absolutely. Why did you go into what you do? I mean, didn't you know this was going to be hard? That's a great question. I so there's the one part which is that I you know, I am, I moved around a lot when I was a kid. So I went to a bunch of different schools. I went to schools and in the city that were not very good. Like one or two schools like that. I went to parochial schools where it was, I was wondering, I don't know five or five or 10 handful of black kids in the school. In the The differences are just were incredible, just Stark in terms of what those experiences were. I lived in places when I was a kid, I didn't necess and some of these things in the article were when I walked home from school in middle school, I'd be afraid, like, physically afraid that someday, you know, I was gonna be hurt, or somebody was gonna beat me up or do worse because I was black and to live like that. And to see that it's just like, you just want to understand like, What? How do you make sense of this out of people justify this? How is it that I'm the bad guy when people are trying to hurt me? I mean, it's just such a really,
humans are horrible. It doesn't make sense. The logic doesn't play.
Yeah, it's I think somebody was like, so I just really was interested in that. And then, in terms of research I do it was a desire to understand I was not mean obviously I wanted to be successful, but it wasn't who wasn't hugely driven by I like careerist goals. And I've been happy with the stuff I've done. But it's not. No, it's not always easy. I mean, you've read some of the stuff that I do to go into rooms that are mostly white and talk about white people. And white privilege is a strange thing when you read the word, if I'm right.
If I'm right, you
know, they're all taking it defensively. You know, I don't I don't see color.
And you also know that if you're right, it should be hard, right? If I was, if I wasn't right, you know, if it wasn't hard, I would question the research. Right? Like, that's what it is. I just
understand and it's, you know, it's, it's been interesting. It's also right now really interesting, because it's so present in a way that it always was, but it wasn't as acknowledged when I was doing the work. So it's just strange to see people talk about these things in a way that is in somehow novel when I've been doing that work for you know, a little while now.
I read in one papers about the herd and visibility concept. Can you explain it? Yeah, it's
the idea that not you don't have to act of every not every white person has to do work to hide the existence of privilege. Like if it's, if it's if it's being done, it's diffuse. So you get the benefit, even if you're not actively doing anything, right. It's like if enough people would get vaccinated, even if you're not masked, vaccinated, you're going to be okay, because it just isn't going to circulate in that community. And it's a little I mean, herd invisibility is the attempt to capture that idea.
Do politicians ever use your research? Not that I love, I don't think people know exactly what to make of it sometimes.
So, I mean, because as you said, like, it's not how you convince people to change policy is deeply rooted in the studies how we can get in their mind, right?
I hope so. I think so. But it's been hard to convince people that I don't know maybe it's just uncomfortable to work. Maybe it's the way I write about it is too abstract for people to So like translate into direct action? Like you're an
academic you're supposed to
translate, you know why I do this the way I do, you know, but I love it. Like I was like geeking out on this stuff, you have no idea of all your like findings all printed here and I will forever have them. But to me, this is the answer to when you want anything to change you have to convince. So how do you do that? You have to understand where they're coming from? What's going on in their mind. Your studies have a lot of that information. I think it's very valuable. Thank you. So tell me, where do you think all of this hate comes from?
I don't know. Honestly, I don't. I'm gonna be more I'm gonna be optimistic for a second.
Oh, yay. I love it.
I don't think hate is the problem. I don't think I think they are. Honestly I feel like most people don't hate like and the people who are listening to this. I actually I'd be really surprised if what's driving, any of them is hate. And even when people do hate, they probably don't understand that's probably not the experience of what's happening. I agree with you 100%. And I think what's happening is people are trying to make sense of things. And the but the sense they want to make of it as one that they can accept that fits the way the world feels to them. Right. And we've The world has been created in such a way that for certain people, it's easier not to understand the world that makes sense to you the world, it's common sense, not just the world that you know, you have to go out and do work. Common sense tells you that people get what they deserve. Common sense tells you that well, those people are just violent, common sense. I mean, it's and it's structured that way. So it's, I don't judge people for that because that's some of it is human beings are lazy. Some of it is you could know but what's the motivation to understand Something that that doesn't make you feel better or make life easier for you. And so you really have to ask something of people, and I get that, like I, I want to, I'm asking something of people to examine yourself and in the world you live in and, and think about the kind of person you really want to be. Right. And that's again, it does take something, right. And that sense like privilege is what is privileged privileges, not needing to do that and feeling okay with the way the world is like, here's what privilege doesn't look like. For most black folks, you have to work hard to understand why you are deserving of things in life. Right? You have to work hard to understand why is it that people like you are in jail in these huge numbers, right, you can just common sense doesn't allow you to both feel good about yourself and your community and accept things as they are critically, right. And that's constant work.
I sometimes try to explain it a little bit to people through math. Loves hierarchy theory, and how security is number two is it but that you can't have the top one, self actualization until you satisfy the lower parts of the triangle? And since security's number two, how would you feel if you thought that if something horrible happened to you that you don't have trust to call the police, the fire department is not for you, that protection is not built for you that you have nowhere to turn that an inkling of what this is.
I think it's really hard for people that aren't in that situation to imagine that they can't believe that that's what the world can be, because that's not what their world is. And so it requires some imagination. And I think you see, that's part of what's happening now is that people are, I think, have the time and space because we're all shut in to pay attention and see what's happening and not like turn off the news. And like whatever have to get up early to Go to work or get their kids ready for school and you've been forced to see. And I think that's changing how people respond. I don't know how long that will last. But I think right now it requires less imagination, because it's more in your face, and it's harder to turn away right now.
Well, I really hope it continues. I worry that it won't I worry that racial policies won't be changed. So nothing else changes except the entre Mimas and the master suites. Hmm. Change happens over time. Hmm.
I mean, commitment to change.
I think it's, like I said, I think it does. It is asking something of people to stay committed to it to ask questions when people do it in other domains, right. Like I said, if people have resources like spin, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to give our kids it manages in the world, right? Like I don't have kids, but you do. So I assume you do spend your time doing that. But that actually reminds me of something I wanted to bring up to you.
I want to get your thoughts because I thought it was really interesting. So my son in grade one, last year, about two months after, Trump didn't even know who Frederick Douglass was right? He thought he was a good guy. Yeah. I live in a good guy. So my son in grade one is learning about abolitionists. And I thought there is diversity in school, but very little. And I thought, Okay, so now, isn't that a little young, too? You can tell white people built the system, the curriculum, it singles out something, I think in a child's mind, I don't know. I mean, maybe it's a good thing to learn it earlier, but I don't think so. Because I don't think they can in first grade. Do they understand these complex things? Or do they look at it as the past and have an understanding of that, you know, and But otherwise, it's like you were treated different. You were different. You were less than a while ago.
Yeah, that's, I don't respond to that. And when did he talk about it? So I
he just knows who he is. And he knows exactly when he was born and died. He still does. That's funny. I think it's because he sees them. He saw himself in these stories. I just felt like it's an identification that my son has to bear on his shoulders and grade one. Yeah. And I don't know, maybe it's not?
Oh, no, I think it is. I think that the kids are smart and trying to make sense of what's going on around them that for them, I think maybe even more than for adults, which is an add on I'm not a developmental psychologist. But my guess is that they think of history or a history is for them a way to try to make sense of what's going on now. Like I think they were really trying to figure out the world around them and who's who and what's what, and there's probably information in history for them on the like, contemporary issues. But you know, he I would guess even if you live in this world, it doesn't you don't have to be told in class that you're less than right. It's an adult learn to ignore or blog. And my sense is that kids They don't have that machinery yet. Like they just bring it in. Right? And then the question is like, what kind of sense do they make of it? But I think there are there are studies on this pretty quickly. kids understand, like social position they get who's powerful and who's not. And what, you know, what groups are higher status and others pretty quickly. I think they have to learn later probably how to make sense of why that is what that's about. But the brute force or the brute facts of social class, I think they pick up on that quite young.
Yeah, that's how I felt about it that they shouldn't be teaching that subject matter in grade one, my eldest son actually, when the George Floyd protests started the first week of them when they really ignited he he saw on TV we always have the news on and he looks he goes, why are the police doing that to the people? And I look at them in there's no fighting yet. It's just Two sides, a standoff, the protesters and the police. And I said, Well, why do you think it's the police doing it to the protesters? Right? He said, Well, the police are the ones with the guns like it and
they see everything in a simple, obvious way. Right? This militarization against the protests. I mean, it's just I mean, obviously even more than that, this is why it's incredible to me when people say like, well, we have to be concerned about the police and agreed like I'm not like blanket all police are bad that certainly Oh, yeah, no, that does not stick. But at the same time, they are agents of the state would have been invested with the ability to use force, right. And it's unilateral meaning like, they can do violence to me, and that will be okay. I guess simulate obviously now they can get in trouble. They do violence, they can get it ever,
really because they have qualified immunity. That is that hasn't been the Supreme Court decided not to review the case and it In the end, they can just say I thought he was a threat.
Yeah, it, there's no way around it, they have the power. That's the problem. But here's the thing don't work for us even though you know when people say that I'm like, yeah, you can say that all day long and but they're not hired trained or anything to think that way. I mean, as a institution, the police are a sanction force in society, right? Like they that's that's what they are, they can carry guns, they can detain you, they can do all these things, and we try to limit them. I think we have not, we've not been serious about limiting that power. I think in this country, what we've done historically is directed that force against like people of color, primarily and so it's been okay, because it's I think people who have power feel like it's been in service of them, and to some extent it has been now it's not looking quite the same,
right. And now it's kind of like the, you know, Vietnam, right. It changed when they were taking the young black men nobody cared but Then as soon as they started tape pulling the white kids from school, it became a self preservation more so then the protests really started. So these the police, they keep getting more militarized, then it becomes self preservation, you might see more rise up, which is not right. We should be worried obviously about the black community.
You know, I think we're we're approaching a different stage now. The state sanctioned violence, and especially now with federal agents going into into cities unmarked. That's it. That's incredible. I think people saying the violence being directed towards like young white protesters or older white protesters. That's that's changing. That could have been your son. Nowadays, it could be you you out there. It could be you
as a mother. Yeah. It just makes you much more sensitive.
Yeah, I am. I don't you know, it's interesting. So I read some article that was basically saying like, part of what's going on now is white supremacy is killing white people. Like, that's going to change things, right? I mean, I think the Trump handling of the pandemic, people are dying in red states like unlocking large numbers. I mean, it's still disproportionately affected people of color, but it's not as a rural white folks or red state, Republican, white republicans are being affected by it as well. It's clearly just a
shit show against self preservation because it affects them now, right?
And in this country, you're right, that race is just been a powerful tool politically, in this country, and now to generate outrage on multiple sides to generate clicks to generate, you know, to get more eyeballs that generate more revenue. I mean, it's just an incredible thing. I
mean, the fact that they even put George Floyd on television like that, they showed his murder for eight minutes and 46 seconds over and over and over again. I was sitting right where I'm at. I have a TV behind me to my right, and I'm like that Aha, why are they putting this man on TV like this? Right? We're just kept showing it showing it. I'm just like, would you do that to a white person? But then I thought about it. And I'm like, you know what? Harry Edwards was activated by the death of Emmett Till George Floyd became the Emmett Till, you know, so the mother said, put his face on the front page, show everybody what they did to my son. So in essence, George Florida's become the modern day Emmett Till. And it always makes me tear up because I don't know if you saw his daughter was on somebody's shoulders, and she was yelling, my daddy, my daddy's changing the world. Mm hmm. And I was like, oh, like, at least there's something good that comes from that. But the point I'm trying to make is that they're putting it on TV. Like it's somebody. I don't even know what to compare it to. Like a hunter just brought his kill from the woods or something and they're showing it or something. I don't know. It. Just It's disgusting. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it's, uh, it's hard. Like it's how do you think about witnessing the pain of other people? Or in or the degradation of other people? Right? Yeah, it is a tough a tough thing. And I mean, in some ways it's like, yeah holds up a mirror to people right? This is the this is the this is what you tolerating This is the world you live in. Right? Is this really this Really? Why are we okay with this? And it's great that nobody was and but even with the cameras on more deaths have happened since so, you know, it's it's just so so egregious and horrific. Do you ever question because I find when people say, Oh, the black community, violent crime all this crap, I'm like, you know, if the black community were really violent, don't you think they would have risen up against white people at some point
by now? I think people are afraid of it. Honestly,
that is what they're afraid of because they know the truth but deep down know the truth about what they've been doing to the community.
Yeah, I think people are afraid. I think that's I think when white people are worried Yeah, to some extent, I think that's what they're afraid of. And it's amazing to me because it really like beard, things will go black on black crime or black crime. That's just that's not real. So the
same number on the white side and same number on the black it's just crime for audience like that is the fact there's no such thing as black and black. That is another code word spin thing that they use to create fear.
Yeah, and just just think confusion, too, right? It's just throwing a switch like more, you know, some more smoke out there. I think Blackhawks are just not, there's just been no systematic violence directed towards white folks. And in fact, in my experience, like people are end up being surprisingly welcoming to white people who come in the community, like if you come in the community and you want to understand and participate like pairs, that's fine. Right there. I think that it's just surprising to me how little white people understand the black community, right and what what it is, and in some sense, like, and I've said this in other places, too, that we can talk about how inequality and the oppression but also like this, there's an incredible amount of joy and love and laughter and creativity. Like it's also like, it's sad that people don't do people see it as like in this it's like this mass produced way like they see it out and like musicians and athletes, but they don't know what that is to be in the community. Right? Like it's they don't know, they the most, like I said earlier, like most people don't have deep connections to like, they just don't know what it is to be in that community. And that's too bad. I really feel like there's something that there's something that's really missed because people by folks and other folks aren't allowed to fully participate in society, right? That something is lost, in that people don't they don't even know Understand what they've lost? I don't know. It's, it's sad. It's just like this. This country is so twisted up, right? It's just like what it could be. We just so far from what it could be, and people are just so afraid. It's just a really sad situation really is.
It's twisted, and it's built this way. But here's the thing. This is what bothers me more than anything. They don't own it. So abroad, we pushed our democracy well, whose democracy you're talking about, because not everybody in our country's free, and I find it really interesting as well that most people don't know that the Iranian hostages the hostage situation that they released the black people right away in 1979. Because of the oppression that exists in America, they saw them as victims of their own country. So they sent them back to America. They were released along with the women, things like that, that the American media, never touch on when The guys raised their fist on the Deus in 1968, john Carlos and Tommie Smith. If you look at Sunday, I would love to do a study of this. When you look at the international newspapers versus the American ones, two different narratives, America's newspapers are saying not patriots, not patriots and the rest of the world's going, why are they doing that? And then they're going into the history and what's wrong in America, but locally, in America, we're denying anything's even wrong. I asked this question once in a in my writers room, what is the role of media, in society in American society, that they're protected in the constitution? And everyone kept throwing stuff around? I'm like, Nah, that can't that can't be the answer. Why is it protected? And we came up with to protect the democracy. And I think that that is the answer, but that they haven't been doing it because capitalism has been what's fueling it. You can't protect your democracy. If you're Your goal is to make money. It can't be both. Mm hmm. How do we fix that?
I mean, we could decide we could decide as citizens that we want to pay for independent, not driven by capitalism, source of truth, right? We could pay for it. You know, I think this idea of this country of like rugged individualism is going to be its demise. Like, I mean, I appreciate the dynamism. Like, that's great, but it's just a fantasy. It's nonsense, right? Like the idea that you you can do anything on your own in this day and time it's like, it's like on its face. outrageous. Any decision you make is dependent upon so many other things and decisions that other people have made prior and you know, and maybe even making simultaneously like, I mean, you think about, like, just driving somewhere like somebody built those roads in that way, right. Not everyone has access to those same roads in the same way. That seems like a crazy thing, but in Chicago, and this happens other places, people you know, they were cutting off have certain roads to control the flow of people, right and community. We do that all the time. We just don't think about that, like you, you, you have the sense of freedom, but your constant decisions are constantly being made, that are opening doors are closing and closing doors for you. It's not, it's not like you can just decide independent of the broader society, like who you get to be and how you get to live and people that are, you know, privileged, and I and I would include myself in that to some extent now, it's like, easy to lose sight of that and believe that you produced it all right, and not see that it is a collective production, right. And when you talk about media, I think in a society, we'd have to understand like, what do we value? What are we willing to do collectively sustain what we value and we could make a decision then media is something that we should collectively sustain as opposed to allowing it to just be driven by market forces. We could do that. We have it but we could So yeah, I don't so yeah, this whole rugged individualism estates Is This Really? I worry about that? How would you define the role of government? What's the job of a government to support the well being of the people? That's that's what I would say basically.
Right? And that's why it's created right to you know, so that's a positive way of it. I'm looking at it in a very simplistic to manage the population, for example, like they'll close the bars in California at one or at LA County at 1am. That is to drum that's to decrease crime rates. There are reasons they do everything, but you're going to tell me I have to leave somewhere at one. It's like everything is just so no one wants to wear a mask. That's my right.
Oh, that's incredible. That's incredible.
You want your rights but you but yet, you know, it's like your body. You're right. It's it's very selective, right?
Yeah. I think there's a simplistic libertarianism that Americans have fallen to this just not it just doesn't sit with reality. It's just not the way things were. Great. I mean, and people, I think I've seen that now with school people have kids, they're like, I can't it's hard to work because my kids aren't in school. Right? Well, yeah. Because all this stuff is connected, right? There's not just the decisions you make. There's like what we do collectively is it affects you, like, you can just decide on your own. You can just, you know, you could try to educate your kid on your own, I guess. But man, that's gonna be really hard and holding down jobs. So you depend on these collective endeavors. Right? What I
think with the, the school thing is that this is partially why people are so upset and angry is that they finally get to live and understand what it's like to be poor for a minute, because even under the quarantine, you couldn't have anyone come in to help. Right? So you actually were educating your kids, right? And you had to do the work. Your house got dirty. You're, you know, depending where you live and who you know what, but you started to, you know, not you but it happened to me too. Yeah, the whole country right.
So and then all of a sudden everybody sees what it's like to have no control over something right and that's what poverty does it gives you no control over your life. Yeah When you see the breakdown of like the social systems right or like you lose access to them like it changes thing right? And it even still like for people like me I was fine because I could still like I had income coming in because I can do my job virtually, but for people couldn't write it's even harder and you know, you hear stories about them trying to get trying to get the benefits or trying to you know, people were getting this small business loans. It's like incredible and so just saying like this is this is really what it means to live in a society like we are we are in this together. You can you can think what you want. But the reality is, if there's enough people going out without mass and getting sick, that's gonna affect you. It's not your it's not your decision, but believe that somehow that has nothing to do with you is ridiculous. And I think that's being driven home to some extent that we're in this together.
I think one of the things we've lost over the years is shame. Nobody is afraid of shame. For some reason, you know, I don't know if that's just the end result of what what's feeding that for me to say to somebody, you could kill me with my immune disorder, right that you give that nobody cares. Nobody, even though I know they do on an individual level on a macro level though they don't
you don't think oh, my guess I don't know, my guess is people are they feel ashamed if people like them judge them. It's just that there's different there's such different standards, right. So my guess is some people would be embarrassed to be seen in a mask by their friends. Right? And other people would be embarrassed to be caught not in the mask.
That's true. That's a good point. On a different note, I wanted to ask you what you think your role in society is? Oh, it's a great question.
I'd like to be someone who helps people see their connections, their connections to others. That's, that's What I'd like to do, I'm working on a book right now, that's mostly How are you know, What's the title? Do you know yet? No, I think it's gonna be I have a preliminary title selfless. It's a it's a study on what it what it means to be a self what a self is. And my argument is that it's the self or a self is really relationships and social interactions that that end up being attached that we attach to bodies but the really what it means to be yourself is the relationships and interactions that you have. And in that sense that when you interact with someone in our interaction right now, we are co creating each other. Right? There's a this interaction becomes a part of myself and a part of yourself and then back and forth is the negotiation of who and what we are right and to go through life that way. And I think that I thought people really understood that I think people get that when you talk about kids, you go back to mothers and you can tell with your experiences, I think that mothers have a strong sense of responsibility for constructing Like the self of their kids, like, I think they're concerned about making sure that their child develops well and is healthy. And you know all these things. And my argument is in some sense that every interaction we have is that way, we're constantly creating other people, and that we don't sometimes take that as seriously as we should. And then other people are creating us, we don't exist in vacuum. So this, it's about that. And it's also about the tension between that and the desire for freedom, like a desire to feel like oh, this kind of this rugged individualism and desire to feel like I can choose unencumbered by I can decide what I am in the context of the reality of being constructed by other people. So it's a book that examines though the tension between those what I think of is deep existential needs, right and need to fit into the world and be constructed in the context of other people and the need to feel like you can act on the world as an individual. So that's what the book is about. We'll see. I
I think this is what's hard about it, like the point I'm making is that what I believe to be true that those of you Relationships are you like literally they are you? It doesn't feel that way. But I think that is true when you examine it, and you're constantly fighting against it, right? There's a balance that you're constantly trying to strike like when you are with your family. My guess is it feels you know who you are. And you feel in that context, if you're a mother or daughter or wife, right the day something that is deeply comforting about knowing who you are in those relationships. There's a sense of being censored, but at the same time, you can, it's probably not hard to imagine that being too much. We feel like I have to get away from this. Sometimes I have to find something that's not being defined by some part of me that is not being defined by these other people even if you love them, right. And it's that tension. I think that's like deeply human.
That's everything that drives us you think like that. We
think that's the thing. So a huge part of what drives this whole thing this and you can talk about it in the in the More like evolutionary way if you want, like, you have to have a sense of your place in the world and you human beings don't can't do this on their own, you have like, what's your role? Who are you? Right? That is, in some sense a function of who you are around? Like, how do you think about these things? Well, it's like the culture and context in which you live, it tells you how to think about those things. But without that you don't you don't know what it means to say I'm this or that. And at the same time, like, like, it's hard to get up in the morning and not feel like anything you do matters, right? You have to feel like the choices you make matter. The things that you're doing have impact and that you are deciding to do them you came in, it's like I decided, right? I think those things are constantly intention.
And our culture puts so much pressure on individualism and, and, and success and all of these things are what's supposed to be in what's you know, and we've created the sick culture around it, you know, so the need for police is what why do we have all these police you know, you look at all questions, everything but everything connects to everything. Yep. And that's why I like the academic research to it's like, Okay, so this means this, you know, or for studies say, I'm trying to be I'm trying to move more toward your direction. Now, I love that you're doing this, like I I'm trying to find a way to engage with people and connect with them around like really important ideas. I think people are hungry to understand, right? And they really are. They really are. Maybe things are changing. I occasionally get questions and even really simple questions. For example, one was, you know, can I put a black hand if I put a thumbs up, like the little things, you know, and you know, it's like, the black community is not a monolith, either. Some will be offended by that and some won't, you know, it's, you know, maybe don't do it justice.
to like, people I want people to like, I want you to be sensitive, but the thing the reality is like you you have to do work and be willing to like, listen to feedback. At the same time Yeah, you're gonna make mistakes you're gonna piss people off because in some people will be pissed. Some people won't care but like blowing it off is the problem, right? It's not that you that you might piss somebody off like, of course, you're gonna piss somebody off. But how do you think about that? How do you deal with that? How do you evaluate that judgment? Right, and then move on. I also think in the black community side, it's or any other side, it's, I think we have to be willing to maybe biking has been too willing to do this. For some part of the history. It's like to give people some space to like learn, right? What's funny about that is actually I think the black community has been, in my experience, very forgiving. I think often like white people who see it and understand it sometimes have less patience, because I think they have a different experience of it's like they it's like they see what people could do better. They think they sometimes like they're not trying, I think we have to find a way to give people the space to grow right? be demanding but give them the space. evolve and grow.
I agree. And I think that that's a great point to end on today. Thank you so much for doing this. We are so grateful to you.
Thanks for having me. great to talk to you too.
White Speak is executive produced by Terry City, Andrew Kraus and producer Terrell Jones. Our creative director is Kim Russell of Wahoo Designs. Links to more information about the show was on our website at White Speak Podcast.com. If you liked the show, please subscribe on iTunes, Spotify and Google podcasts or wherever you regularly listen to your podcasts.
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