Sam Seder: It is Wednesday, August 20th, 2014. My name is Sam Seder, this is the three time award-winning Majority Report. We are broadcasting live in the literal though not metaphorical shadow of the New York Times in the fashionable Dollard lunch district of New York City. Today on the program the chair of Center of African-American Studies at Princeton University, professor Eddie Glaude on Ferguson and race and neoliberalism and America. Also on the program reports of what has happened to at least some of the children we have sent back to Honduras, those who were seeking refuge in this country. Reports out and a video purportedly showing independent war correspondent James Foley being beheaded by ISIS forces in Syria.
Huge percentage of our vets now living in poverty, needing food assistance, Rick Perry poses for a self-portrait at the Travis County Sheriff’s office, otherwise known as a mug shot, booked. A look back on that horrible train explosion of bakken crude in Quebec. A report now shows that that train, which killed, I believe about 40 people, spent most of its time in the United States. All that and more on today’s program. We are back folks from vacation. It’s been just … vacation was nice and I know all three of us here tried to do our best to avoid the news, but what happened in Ferguson over the past couple of weeks has been just shocking and unbelievable.
Also the truce has ended in the latest war between Israel and I guess Hamas. Just tough couple of weeks of news to deal with, but we’re going to talk to professor Glaude, one of my favorite guests over the years. I had spoken to him on the Ring of Fire daily show, just touching on the anniversary of the civil rights act, I guess the 50 year I should say anniversary of the civil rights act, a couple of weeks ago. Wanted to continue our conversation then and this seems to be the sadly inappropriate time to do that.
Just a reminder folks and hopefully I was able to catch up on all the emails over vacation, but it is your memberships that keep this show alive. We’ve had a lot of people who are still going through some very difficult financial times. If you are not one of those people, but enjoy the show and have the means to support it I hope you will. As a bonus we give you an extra 50 minutes of material a day. Head over to Majority.fm, become member. Don’t forget, if you buy crap from Amazon buy it through our Amazon link at MajorityReportKickback.com. We’ll take a quick break and when we come back we’ll be talking to professor Eddie Glaude.
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Sam Seder: We are back. Sam Seder, I’m the Majority Report. On the phone, it is a pleasure to welcome to the program the chair of the Center of African-American Studies at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming Democracy in Black: How Race Still Governs the Soul of America, I guess that’s coming out 2015, professor Eddie Glaude, thanks so much for joining us today.
Eddie Glaude: It’s always a pleasure to talk with you Sam.
Sam Seder: We spoke, I guess it was about a month ago or so, on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights act. We started to talk about a lot of issues I think that really are in play with what has happened in Ferguson. There are so many issues involved in what we’ve seen, starting with the shooting of Michael Brown and then with the police response and frankly the political response. Just give me your thoughts upfront of what we’ve seen there.
Eddie Glaude: It’s been an unmitigated disaster on every level. I think it’s important Sam to just make explicit what I think is underneath what has happened in Ferguson and what has been happening throughout the country. That is in the United States, contrary to our stated principles, there is an operating and ongoing practice in which certain people’s lives are valued more than others. When I say certain people’s lives I’m being a bit generous. It is the case that if you’re white, if you’re rich and if you’re male your life and if you’re straight your life is valued more than others who are not.
We see that in the way in which communities are policed and we that specifically in Ferguson. You talked about what the town of 21,000 people, 67% are black. One out of four who lives in Ferguson lives below the federal poverty level, which means that they make less than 24,000 dollars a year. You see that the consistent experience of a community that is over-policed, that is constantly under surveillance and don’t feel a sense of protection. There’s economic vulnerability, there’s a sense of being occupied by a police force that doesn’t represent them in terms of the idea of serving and protect, protecting the community. There is a lack of representation in city governance.
What you have is a population that is for the most part marginalized from the daily operations of democratic life in this country. A population, many of whom lack the resources to imagine a good life for themselves and for their children. When you have the tragedy of Michael Brown, the obvious murder of Michael Brown, no wonder we are experiencing what we are experiencing in Ferguson.
Sam Seder: It’s been frustrating to me on some level to watch the reporting and the coverage of this because at some level there’s an element of … I don’t know. I guess someone has called it conflict porn. That’s an element of it and then there’s also the obsessive parsing of what will happen legally to this cop who I think by the opinion of many people I’ve read and talked to seem to think that very hard to be able to prosecute a cop in this situation because they have basically … because of this dynamic I guess that exists. In very little talk and discussion about that aspect of this being an ongoing problem, that what has happened with Michael Brown is really the tip of the iceberg in some way, just peering out of the water. There’s really not been a national attempt to look below the surface.
Eddie Glaude: I think Bob Herbert has a piece now out and the most … where he talks about the theater around these events and nothing changes, nothing happens. He was talking about the surprise that America expresses, that white America expresses when they’re confronted with what for all intents and purposes is the horror of living particular kinds of lives in particular sorts of places and he invokes Katrina. Oh my god, Katrina literally washes up into the site of the broader country, or the nation, what people are living daily. That can’t happen in America.
Here we are again with Ferguson and people are asking the question how can this happen in America when in fact it’s happening day in and day out. It’s happening every single day. If we were to go down the line just in this month alone, how many people have been killed by the police? Eric Garner, Ezell Ford. We can just … Michael Brown, we can just keep going. Of course there’s Kendrick Johnson, there’s Renisha McBride, there’s Jonathan Ferrell, there’s Jordan Davis, there’s Trayvon Martin, there’s Marlene Pinnock who was just brutally beaten by a California highway patrol person.
People are surprised and then we have the conflict porn as you so powerfully put it. Then you have the entertainment corporate media driving this and no one is really looking at the root causes. The root cause is that there’s a congenital disease that distorts this country and that congenital disease is white supremacy. I’m sorry, go ahead.
Sam Seder: I wanted to actually talk about that, because when we spoke on the anniversary of the civil rights act it was … When you talk about white supremacy being a throughline through our politics from really the founding of this country. It was a little bit revelatory for me because on some level I think I have always perceived this issue of race as being specific to non-whites as opposed to seeing it from the perspective of … It really is ultimately about providing supremacy for a very specific and I think one could argue historically, white male supremacy. If you perceive it through that lens things make a lot more sense as the way to break things down I guess over the time.
Eddie Glaude: It’s hard for people to hear the phrase white supremacy and not think of people running around in hoods, white hoods and burning crosses in yards or putting up Nazi or swastikas or the like, but white supremacy is really about the belief and the practice that white people ought to be valued more than non-white people. It’s not just simply … We can think about that as holding racist belief when in fact it can be evidenced in the very social arrangements that organize our lives. Who has access to the best schools? Who has access to inherited wealth? Who has access to the best jobs? Who has …
We have to understand as well brother Sam is that white supremacy is not just simply the ideology of white people. It’s a practice that I can participate in, that president Obama can be the head of, can participate in. In the background that’s in my head is this wonderful moment in James Baldwin’s the Fire Next Time where he says, “As long as we’ve done,” I’m paraphrasing here, “As long as we believe we’re a white nation in the vein of Europe we will never achieve our country.”
Part of the challenge is that … just to really quickly, another study says that people believe that racial equality is a zero sum game. That as black folk gain more access to American life many white respondents believe that they lose benefits and resources. When you have this view of racial equality as a zero sum game then we understand what the stakes are. We understand what the stakes are. Now we have this wonderfully efficient ideological frame to blame the very people who are locked out and marginalized for their own marginalization. Let’s make Michael Brown a thug. Let’s make him a criminal. Let’s give an account of the culture of poverty that has produced these people who don’t warrant the kind of respect and dignity that we would accord to others. Does that make sense to you?
Sam Seder: Yes. There’s two things I want to touch on there, but this notion of white supremacy of being a practice. At one point I guess Nelly had spoken about an engaged in … one writer, but the politics of respectability. This notion … We have seen a lot about this and we spoke about this briefly and didn’t get into it, but making poverty a pathology. We see this practice adopted at some level, not just by the Paul Ryans out there, but on some level also by president Obama. Draw this out for us, just this notion of it being a practice, the politics of respectability which is the mirror image of that practice of white supremacy.
Eddie Glaude: When we talk about white supremacy as a practice what we’re talking about is the very ways in which our social arrangements orient us to one another in such a way, that the basic claim that some people are valued more than others are lived out in our choices. That’s abstract, but let’s make it concrete. There’s a way in which most states fund schools via local neighborhoods. We know how schools are funded, through property taxes. We know that residential segregation is shit in the United States. There was a deliberate effort to undermine, efforts coming out of the 1960s to really desegregate housing in the United States and neighborhoods.
Even though schools are funded by way of property taxes and even though we know that residential segregation is rampant in the United States, we still are comfortable with making the choice that some people can go to bad schools and some people can’t go to bad schools … and some people can go to good schools. You don’t have to be Bull Connor to hold that view. You can just say, “I want my kid to go to the best schools.” Holding that view you still perpetuate the inequality that is rampant in the country.
At the same time that those choices are being made, I just want my kid to go to the best school, we need to live in a safe neighborhood, which means we leave these other people living in less than safe neighborhoods and going to bad schools. We can then say those people who attend those bad schools and those people who live in those bad neighborhoods live in those circumstances because of their behavior. It’s not because of any choices I’m making. I’m not deliberately racist. It’s because their behavior is such that they don’t exhibit the wherewithal, the individual motivation to make themselves better. They just want government handouts.
They’re welfare women and mothers. Their children are undisciplined and Obama will say, “They’re feeding them Popeyes for breakfast” with no mention of the fact they’re food deserts or they’re not really performing in school with no real mention that they’re 40 people in the classroom with an untrained teacher in front of them. Part of what we’re saying is that when we think about white supremacy as a practice we’re not talking about people running around calling people the N-word or burning crosses. We’re talking about the very way in which our society is organized which reproduces benefits for particular people and marginalizes others because of just simply where they were born and the color of their skin.
Then you have folks like me and folks like Obama brother Sam who we can gain access to mainstream American life. Then we become the billboard for the inclusion, the inclusiveness of American life, when in fact we’re as stratified and as segregated as we’ve ever been. Does that make sense?
Sam Seder: Yes. Also, just generally speaking, I think this has been argued in both a critical and supportive way of president Obama at least, that he has either as an individual or as the president has an inability to do anything other than to accept that practice on some level. Sometimes they go, I spoke to Randall Kennedy and he wrote the Persistence of the Color Line. I think that was his argument on some level that … In fact I saw pieces to why president Obama, when he addressed what was going on in Ferguson, was never going to please his supporters I guess or people who had anticipated more from him. Break that down for us a little bit. The argument I saw for instance by Ezra Cline was, “The White House knows at this point that anything they come out afore actually creates more polarization.” He just thought it was best for him to sit on the sidelines. Give me your take on that.
Eddie Glaude: That’s so powerful in what it reveals. To make that claim, for Cline to make that claim or for Randy to make that claim we’re basically saying without saying it explicitly that we’re a deeply racist society. To the extent to which Obama or any of us speak directly to racial disparity, to the fact that this police officer shot an 18 year old kid, killed and used deadly force, unarmed, the fact that we want to call attention to the racial diminishence of the militarization of policing in this country will generate and activate a white backlash, would activate white fears. It would polarize us even more. That’s just a nice way of saying if Obama says this it will give license to people to express racist views.
Then the remedy to that is to not say anything directly about it, which in the end achieves what? It leaves all of it in place. It’s a deadly circuit and cycle. I’ve made the claim that if we continue to dance the dance of white supremacy it will always continue to organize our lives. If I’m worried about activating the fear of my light [inaudible 00:24:12] and that leads me to repress the very nature of the kind of hell that I’m catching then I lead in place the conditions for the hell. This is what infuriates me with Obama. He refuses to change the frame. Then the excuse is that he cannot do otherwise. He cannot be otherwise. That to me is a fatalist position which suggests that America will always be this kind of place.
Sam Seder: It basically says that you really need a white guy if anybody can raise this type of issue. Even then the argument remains the same. At one point it has to be addressed. To me one of the most shocking things about the aftermath of this … there’s two things. One is the idea that a police force could go into an 80% white neighborhood or town in the country, 70%, 60% white neighborhood even, dressed like that with that type of gear and then on top of it … For some reason this just sticks out at me, without wearing their badges and their nametags, that they could do that is just … it is easier for me to imagine we just move the entire country and live on the moon.
It is just impossible to imagine that that would stand and the idea that nobody seems to … This is what is just shocking to me. The idea that even Holder who is theoretically the chief … not theoretically, he is the chief law enforcement officer in the country, is not saying, “This practice must stop right now” is … They need to identify themselves as police officers and it’s not enough to be wearing body armor to do so it seems to me.
Eddie Glaude: I think you’re absolutely right. It’s mind blowing. If people can’t acknowledge that point or concede that point they’re being disingenuous, they’re being disingenuous. I’m sorry.
Sam Seder: On some level I’m just speaking to the complete lack of leadership here. How does the federal government not be more proactive at least rhetorically, really draw the lines of what has been crossed here. That’s my view.
Eddie Glaude: They’re walking on eggshells. I had an interesting, a testy exchange on Twitter with Goldie Taylor about this. She was making the claim that we were demanding too much of Obama in terms of responding to this situation, in terms of the criticisms of the second press conference. Did we make the same kinds of demands with regards to Sean Bell and James Bird and Abner Louima and the like. Of course, I believe that there were demands, but these situations aren’t analogous. Nine days of civil unrest didn’t follow in some ways, in the same way.
The point is, and I remember asking the question Sam, why is it unreasonable for black people to expect more from Obama? Why is that considered unreasonable? Why is it the case that Obama can’t speak directly to what is happening in Ferguson? Michael Bell came on the heels of Eric Garner. Ezell Ford was murdered in LA. The young man in an open and carry state in Walmart was shot down all within a matter of one month and we have no mention of the nature of policing. No mention of the nature of policing vis-à-vis this particular community, directly. At that point you just say, “Okay, this is not only a double standard, this is where we are. This is where America is.” It’s like what my great grandmother used to say to me. When people show you who they are believe them.
Sam Seder: I saw an interview that … I don’t know if it was Don Lemon or Jake Tapper, somebody on CNN was interviewing a woman who had claimed that she had had a run in with Wilson a month prior to Michael Brown being shot.
Eddie Glaude: Yeah, I saw that interview.
Sam Seder: Where I guess she was pepper sprayed and he refused … she was not charged, she was not arrested, nothing happened, but he just refused to allow anyone around her to pour milk in her eyes. There was confusion by whoever it was that was interviewing her like, “Did this happen during these protests?” and she’s like, “No, no, this happened a month ago.” That to me is also the story that’s not being told. For every black man who is being killed by police, an unarmed black man who’s being killed by police, how many, literally hundreds, if not thousands …
We look at stop and frisk in New York City, how many thousands or tens of thousands of times are black people being subjected to just some form of police abuse? What that does to just your perception … being in society, knowing that the one group that is literally specifically supposed to protect and serve you is doing exactly the opposite.
Eddie Glaude: Right. Just look at Ferguson as a case study. In 2003 there were 24,532 arrest warrants issued to black people. That’s three per household. 86% of the stops by cops in the town of black folk. When we begin to drill down in the data you’re talking about a community that’s over policed, a community that’s constantly under surveillance. Even with the Eric Garner case, when we look at the video footage what do we see? “Officer, every time I see you you’re harassing me about selling cigarettes. Every time I see you you’re harassing me.” It’s as if he was saying, “I just can’t take it anymore. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. I’m not selling cigarettes.” This is what he’s saying and the next thing you know he’s in a chokehold that kill him.
There is a sense in which we’re, as a nation, we’re comfortable with a certain form of policing that infringes upon the liberties of a particular segment of the population. Elsewhere in the country the notion of liberty has supplanted the idea of justice. People are more committed to liberty than they are to justice. In this instance they’re not. They’re saying it’s okay to police in this way. It’s okay to presume guilt as opposed to innocence, vis-à-vis certain people with certain bodies who live in certain communities. It’s okay to infringe upon their freedom. It’s happening day in and day out.
Then on top of that, I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional about it. On top of that can you imagine a police officer, and I grew up in a household in which I was told how to behave with the police for my life. It was a life lesson because you’ll get killed, this is what my dad told me. Could you imagine as you try to engage respectfully with a police officer that the way in which he or she talks to you is demeaning, is degrading, doesn’t accord you dignity. Is cussing at you, roughing you up. Then you could have not done anything, there’s the threat of arrest. Then they’ll just lock you up and just put you there and then release you with no charge. This is daily. Then people are shocked when people are just, “I’ve had enough. Leave me alone.” Why they’re resisting arrest? Why don’t they respect authority? Come on man. At some point damn.
Sam Seder: At the very least I think the reason I think we have seen such persistence by the protestors in Ferguson is because this has been one of … it seems to me … I’ve seen suggestions … What the people of Ferguson should be doing is organizing and voting for a recall of their city officials and this idea that people could be subjected to this type of … where they are literally being stared down by a … there’s no other way to really describe it, but this paramilitary force. Really, what they’ve got to do is orient themselves more towards the election box.
I think this opportunity for the people of Ferguson to at least have one mode of expression. It’s almost created this zone at least where they’re having one opportunity to be heard at least to some degree, I imagine must be somewhat cathartic to just literally have this opportunity. There’s been some good reporting on the ground where people have had the opportunity to express what’s going on there. It just seems that no one hears that beyond a certain sphere. That it gets mediated and by the time we hear the president talk about it it really comes down to just, “Let’s let the process work.” It’s quite clear the process is not working.
Eddie Glaude: Exactly. What’s beautiful about it is there are organizers on the ground, local organizers on the ground who are mapping out a strategy, who are mapping out a plan to pursue and to address the more structural concerns that undergird this amazingly powerful moment. I should just as an aside, I think this is Obama’s Katrina. I think Ferguson will be as important for this generation and their political sensibility as Obama’s election in 2008 in terms of shifting, waking up, waking up from this sleepwalking that was induced in 2008.
I think what on the ground, there are efforts. I see them, I talk with folk on a regular basis. There are efforts to really imagine a new kind of politics that’s not beholden to the old black liberal consensus narrative. We’ve heard of Jesse Jackson being booed. Al Sharpton has been booed. We see that traditional constituency out there looking towards the ballot box and saying only 12% of the black folk turned out to vote in the last election. This is … then they get castigated with no analysis of what this alienation from the political process might suggest other than just simply black folk being lazy politically.
I think you hit the nail right on the head. This is a form of political expression that’s messy, democracy is messy. It challenges a certain kind of commitment to law and order, but it’s also challenging a certain set of arrangements that I think run counter to democratic life. It has amazing political potential. We need to think about what happened post the riots in Watts’65, the kinds of policies that followed. There was an increase in the quality of black life in some ways, but since then what? Black wages have been stagnant. The economic collapse, which is a great depression in the black community since 2008. Ferguson is happening in a particular moment in which the crisis has come to a head in black America. The nation is going to have to confront it, just plain and simple.
Sam Seder: Towards the end of our last interview we got cut off, but you were talking about this new, reimagining the politics. You quoted reverend Barber from the Moral Mondays movement down in North Carolina, is talking about a third reconstruction. I think at that time you were talking about it as an examination of this destructive force of neoliberalism and capitalism to a certain degree and race being a multiplier in terms of suffering for those who are losers in the neoliberal structure. Karim Abdul Jabar wrote a piece in Times saying that Ferguson’s not just about systemic racism, but it is about class warfare to some extent. Talk about that nexus. I don’t know if you’ve read that piece.
Eddie Glaude: Yeah, I did read the piece. I think it’s always troublesome, even with all the insight of the piece, it’s always troublesome when there is this kind of insistence that one of the other has to be the principal causal driver of outcomes. It has to be either class or it has to be race. What we have to see in this moment is the interpenetration of both, where class and race are interacting in such a way that is producing and reproducing these sorts of outcomes that require us to be much more subtle and nuanced in our analysis.
What we do know is clear that race and poverty interact in such a way that exacerbates the experience of marginalization. What does it mean to be black and poor in a neoliberal context is pretty horrifying in its particulars. What we have to do I think brother Sam is really wrap our minds around the way in which neoliberalism trades in race and producing outcomes. What do I mean by that? That is to say there are particular populations that are disposable populations and neoliberalism is content with that.
Whether they can contain them in hyper-concentrated neighborhoods of poverty where resources don’t circulate or whether they will incarcerate them and make money off of them by using incarcerated labor to produce profits for a private enterprise. What we see very clearly is the way in which what was talked about in the ’80s as the black underclass has experienced an extraordinary descent into darkness over the last four to five to six years. In fact it’s been decades in the making with the disappearance of manufacturing industry, with the shrinking of government, both of which were the principal avenues to black middle class life in this country.
We need to have a really in-depth analysis of the way in which capital is working, the way in which capitalism has reorganized itself in my view, but we need to also understand that race must figure in that analysis because white supremacy is still working even if capital is seeking profit. Does that make sense?
Sam Seder: Yeah. I think actually viewing it as white supremacy makes it much easier conceptually to understand how that works there because ultimately if you are the one … if you are holding I guess the chalice of white supremacy and you necessarily, the most effective at that practice will be the wealthiest white people and those with the most social power. At that point things begin to fall into place as to who’s going to be the lowest on the totem pole, not necessarily in terms of a plan, but as a function of the way neoliberalism operates if you have that notion in mind that it is a practice of white supremacy. Things begin to line up. Poor white people are there to make sure that they’re a buffer between poor black people and white rich people on some level.
Eddie Glaude: The thing is that you know, we can look at how that works by just simply paying attention to the figures around the black-white wealth gap. The way in which inherited wealth is working in our economy and the way in which black folk, people of color, are figured in that calculus. One of the things we do know is that the principal form of wealth for black communities has been historically owning homes. We do know one of devastating consequences of the crisis of 2008 was the racialized diminishance of the housing crisis.
What we’ve seen since 2008 brother Sam is that the gains in wealth in the ’90s have just simply been whipped out in black America, just wiped away. You have to understand that in relation to what were the principal reasons that blocked our access to wealth. It has something to do with the fact that white supremacy has been such a crucial ideology organizing this country. I want to say this too, just as I want to say that white supremacy is a practice, I also want to suggest that freedom is a practice.
Freedom is not an end. It’s not just something you sing and march for and then you say, “Boom, we’ve got it.” No, freedom is a practice. It’s evident in the way in which we act and in the way in which we go about navigating the world. Freedom is an ongoing aim and ambition in the context of arrangements that in some ways seek to thwart our efforts if that makes sense.
Sam Seder: I just wanted to … There was a stat that just jumped at me in some of the reading that I’ve been doing. I think it was from Brookings, but it says that for a white family every dollar of income turns into five dollars of wealth. For the typical African-American family one dollar translates into 69 cents of wealth. In other words we’re also seeing, particularly in the past 15 to 20 years, that the rate in which mobility is working backwards for black people in this country. That if you are born in a median income and you’re white the chances that the kids out-earning the parents is something like 65%. It goes the opposite direction if you’re black. That’s a dramatic change from the 25 years or so, or 30 years following the civil rights act.
Eddie Glaude: Yeah, you hit it on the head. when you have that kind of data in front of you and of course, we could marshal all sorts of other data, it becomes hard to not say what we’ve been saying over the course of our conversation today. We have to confront this fundamental claim that some people are valued more than others. Some people’s lives in this country are valued more than other people’s lives. Some people’s children’s future are cherished more than other people’s children’s future. We have to interrogate what that means and how that does not square with our conception of ourselves as a beacon of democratic life.
My colleagues here at Princeton, they’ve already made the headlines by saying that the US is no longer a democracy, it’s an oligarchy. Part of my work, and I think our work Sam, is to really understand as carefully as we can what stands in the way of achieving our country? What blocks the way? Ferguson is a wonderful example of this. What blocks the way? It’s our refusal. It’s the nation’s refusal to accord dignity and standing to all of its citizens, to all of its people.
There are reasons why that’s the case, because people can get rich off of having disposable populations in their midst. I think we have to just … the data you just laid out and the other data and people will dismiss it. When they dismiss it you just say, “Okay, how can I say that … beyond saying, “This is disingenuous how can I say that I can’t have the conversation that we need to have with you because you’re stuck in this thing. You’re just denying the reality of the matter,” but it’s hard.
Sam Seder: Professor Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center of African-American Studies at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming, I can’t wait, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Governs the Soul of America, thanks so much for your time today. I genuinely appreciate it.
Eddie Glaude: It’s always a pleasure. You have a great one.