[AAS Podcast] Episode #17: Legacy and Racialized Politics

Friday, Sep 6, 2019
by Department of African American Studies

Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. and Professor Imani Perry look back and reflect on the events of August 2019. Together, they examine the New York Times 1619 Project; its impact, backlash, and the questions it raises. Perry also shares insights on the writing style of her newly released book, Breathe: A Letter to My SonsShe speaks on the influence of Toni Morrison's literary legacy and what inspired the composition of her book.

We then sit down with Eddie Glaude Jr. and Julian E. Zelizer, Author, and Professor at Princeton University, to discuss the challenges of balancing and teaching within the academic and public media arena. They then explore the historical cycle of racialized politics displayed by President Donald Trump and its impact within America as we approach the 2020 Elections.

 


 

 Podcast Transcript:

 

(0:00)[music playing]

Eddie Glaude: Hello, and thank you for listening to African American Studies at Princeton University, a conversation around the field of African American Studies and the black experience in the 21st century. I'm your host, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. I'm the chair of the Department of African American Studies here at Princeton. You're listening to Episode 17, recorded on Monday, August 26 2019, and today, I'm joined by Professor Imani Perry. Imani Perry is the Hughes - Rogers Professor of African American Studies and faculty associate in the program in Law and Public Affairs and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. She has written and taught on a number of topics regarding race in African American culture. And she's a prolific writer. Her more recent books include: May We  Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation. And the award winning book Looking for Lorraine, the radiant life of Lorraine Hansberry. Her latest book is scheduled to hit the stands in September, and we'll be talking about it today, Breathe: A Letter To My Sons. So we just recently had a kind of historic event in mass media with the publication in the New York Times magazine of the 1619 project.

Imani Perry: Uh-hmm 

Eddie Glaude: And you know, we could have easily, we could easily talk about the specific pieces, uh, if we wanted to, but I wanted us to kind of pull back a bit

Imani Perry: Hmm

Eddie Glaude: And think about the effort to renarrate the story. 

Imani Perry: Yes

Eddie Glaude: And I want to, I want to approach it from the vantage point of, of your work. 

Imani Perry: Yes

Eddie Glaude: And the things that we've been talking about over these so many years. One of the more important recommendations of more beautiful and more beautiful and more terrible is that we renarrate.

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: And that renarration is important, not only in the context of these micro practices, 

Imani Perry: Uh-hmm

Eddie Glaude: How we describe communities,(2:00) where it seems as if they're not picking up the trash

Imani Perry: Right. 

Eddie Glaude: How we talk about undocumented workers in the range of ways in which we talked about a rate, that we talked about the contradictions in our society, and how the way we narrate or tell that story, orients us

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: ...to how we respond. So let's pan out a bit. 

Imani Perry: Hmm

Eddie Glaude: And think about the 1619 project as it effort of renarration, what do you think about it?

Imani Perry: Uhm. I think it's fantastic. I think, you know, there's a reason that at this moment in history, we are trying to find ways of telling the story of the nation that help us understand how we got here, right? And in a number of great ways, right? So, certainly, when you start this story of this country, and I say that, you know, there's, there's lots of ways to tell origin stories, there's a, there's a series of different moments that we could identify as the beginning. I think 1619 is impart significant, because it both marks that kind of British settler colonial project in this nation, and puts uhm African people at the center of it, and in particular, much more greater particularity, the exploitation of their labor, combined with the extraction of resources from this land, right? That helps us understand, of course, the depth of racial inequality that we live with 400 years later, the climate disaster that is in pending, right, because part of the logic of that settlement was extraction and exploitation that was reckless. And helps us understand how central markets have been to the formation of the nation, we tend to tell these sort of romanticized stories about the republican form of government,(4:00)uhm, sort of the, the mythologies attached to the narrative of Plymouth Rock are more likely to form the central narration of the nation and of the Constitutional Convention than Jamestown. So something important is shifting in this narration, because it is necessary to shift the paradigm to make sense of the world we live in. Right, we pick up there millions upon millions of historical facts, we pick up upon some for, uhm, very particular purposes in our time. And I think there's something really extraordinarily important about telling the story of how we got to a point of such uhm, suffering. At the same time is there such abundance and even excess in the nation. Right?

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, you know, I'm always whenever I think about origin stories, I'm always reminded of Edward Said's wonderful book, Beginnings.

Imani Perry: Yes.

Eddie Glaude: And you know, Said always riff, riff the thesis with that book with this line that, you know, the problem of beginnings is the beginning of the problem. 

Imani Perry: Right

Eddie Glaude: Where we start...

Imani Perry: Hmm-mm

Eddie Glaude:... matters.

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: And so I think you're absolutely right, that to begin with 1619, you know, which we begin with the fact that America was a corporation before it was a country. 

Imani Perry: Absolutely. 

Eddie Glaude: Uh, the reality of-of slavery, as complicated as it is, and the venture of servitude,

Imani Perry: Hm-mmm

Eddie Glaude: and the range of, of class differentiation

Imani Perry: Yes

Eddie Glaude: That's the present there coming to view. But it's also very complicated story to begin 1619 to kind of draw, and not to say that there was a straight line drawn 

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: Between that start that starting point in which slavery comes into view. 

Imani Perry: Hm-hmm?

Eddie Glaude: And say, our colleague, Kevin Cruz's piece about the way your race, uh, informed the traffic jams,

Imani Perry: Yeah

Eddie Glaude: Informs the traffic jams in Atlanta,


(6:00)

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: But races, you know, in 1619, is a very fluid and complicated reality during that period. 

Imani Perry: Right. 

Eddi Glaude: So to. So on the one hand, it's a beginning that allows

Imani Perry: Hmm-mmm

Eddie Glaude: Some clarification but on another hand, right, it raises all sorts of questions.

Imani Perry: Right. I mean, races unsettled, right? Even the status.

Eddie Glaude: When you say unsettled, what do you mean?

Imani Perry: Uhm. Or not yet. It's not yet codified. Right? The question of, so I should say, so it's not as though slavery didn't yet exist, right. And we can see that and, you know, the Spanish colonies, and even in Sir Francis Drake's in Roanoke, a landing some you know, I guess, almost 40 years earlier. So uhm when I say it's unsettled, I don't mean that there isn't already a conception of a racialized form of slavery, I don't mean, there isn't already a conception of hierarchies of human beings. But it's not clear that we're gonna have at that point, that there's gonna be such a deeply codified structure of racialization hierarchy, especially when these people from various parts of the world are having these fresh encounters with each other. Right. And battles and wars. Right. And so there's this, there is, and also, the question of, you know, what is it I think over, you know, a majority of people on that initial settlement didn't survive, right? So, uhm, even what this enterprise is going to be is not, is not sure at that moment. And I think that's actually instructive for this moment, as well, because we tend to take the configuration of our world for granted in ways that we probably shouldn't, right, the order of the world, particularly the kind of legacies of the domination of Europe. The history of, uhm, Empire and the United States as the inheritor right, the, the new nation that inherits(8:00) the role of the European empires. There's an open question mark, about how long that will be sustained in this moment. And so I think, as you looking at the, the flux, that is actually always a part of history, even though we don't often attend to it, and in our immediate time is really important.

Eddie Glaude: And you know, it's, it's always hard to think about the way in which these national narratives work. 

Imani Perry: Hmm-hmm 

Eddie Glaude: So with that, you know, it's one thing to say that it's not necessarily a kind of litany of our sins, because it's not just simply that

Imani Perry: No.

Eddie Glaude: But it's also not just simply a kind of confirmation from the underside, right? Of the grandness of America. 

Imani Perry: No.

Eddie Glaude: So it's not just simply an affirmation of the project from those who've been excluded. So I've always, you know, as we think about because it's a historic moment in...

Imani Perry: Yes. Right. 

Eddie Glaude: ...mass culture in,

Imani Perry: So what do we do with it

Eddie Glaude:.. in republic domain. 

Imani Perry: Right. 

Eddie Glaude: What do we do with it?

Imani Perry: That's right.

Eddie Glaude: It's the question, right? 

Imani Perry: Right. 

Eddie Glaude: How does it, how does it generate a layered and more complex conversation?

Imani Perry: Right. And I, I do think we always run the, run the risk in the United States because of how powerful the mythologies of American exceptionalism are. Irrespective of the nuance and the complexity of the stories we tell than being collapsed.

Eddie Glaude: Constrictive into, right.

Imani Perry: Right. And so I think that's it, a danger. And that's part of why I keep sort of trying to, sort of talk about or think about, what does it mean to have the exploitation of labor and land at the very foundation of your creation? Because that is as fundamental, a part of the American project, does anything else that we might say and perhaps more than anything, I tend to think it's even more than things that we might say that are laudatory about the American project. There's a, there's a tension as an essential tension between the ideal of democracy, right? And what it meant to build this incredibly wealthy nation (10:00) that, that moment, right, even before you get sort of established the government, when it's still a colony, that moment, you're, you're seeing the seeds of that fundamental tension.

Eddie Glaude: Right. Right. And that's really important, right? Even, even if we make the claim, right, that that form of slavery in that moment, isn't plantation slaves

Imani Perry: Right. It's not.

Eddie Glaude: It's not complicated.

Imani Perry: Right. No.

Eddie Glaude: It's, it's, it's something different

Imani Perry: Right

Eddie Glaude: But there's still the seed 

Imani Perry: Absolutely. 

Eddie Glaude: That allow for us to make that move. And, you know, I think, for me, as I was thinking about wonderful pieces, and the issue of the New York Times Magazine, I was also thinking about those moments of descent. I mean, radical descent, people who did not concede to the American project, folks who always resisted that they, that they can't be conscripted into the, into the story of America, you know, what do we do with them? As we renarrate, and what, what resources might they offer us? 

Imani Perry: Hm-mm

Eddie Glaude: As we're thinking about this project. Does that make sense?

Imani Perry: It does. I mean, it makes me think, and this is partially my current obsession with the dismal swamp.

Eddie Glaude:  Yeah the dismal swamp, tell them what the dismal swamp.

Imani Perry:  And the dismal swamp [inaudible] coast to Virginia, North Carolina, this massive swamp that was the site of a maroon colony of, you know, African Americans who not only escaped, but left. Uhm, not, were not engaged and kind of idea of an escape north. But opting out, right?

Eddie Glaude: Yeah

Imani Perry: Building an alternative community. And I think it's really, part of my obsession is that there's partially the narrative of African Americans is that there weren't that many Maroon colonies. And in fact, lots of research now is showing that they were much more robust than previously thought. Uhm, but also, you know, when we think about a series of a variety of kinds of relationships to this land, right,(12:00) one of those that has existed for a long time is saying, well, we might not be able to go back across the ocean. But we're going to opt in to another kind of, of political order, similar to you know, enslaved us, enslaved black folks running to the seminal. 

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, yeah.

Imani Perry: Right. And, and, you know, that there's a, so, so the descent, the refusal, the opting out, different relationships to the project have always been present. They don't this idea of a sort of nationalists. Imagine, black nationals imagination doesn't begin in the 20th century. [inaudible] 

Eddie Glaude: Right. Right.

Imani Perry: That's, you know, and I think that's also important, right? 

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, yeah. You know, because I think it's important, because even as we try to renarrate the story of the nation, we need to understand that they're just those elements of that story that aren't assimilable to this idea of America itself. Right. And, and we might have to understand why that's the case. But let me, let me, let me transition really quick, because when I read many of the pieces, I just thought of one of your, one of your favorite novels about the late Toni Morrison...

Imani Perry: Hmm-mm

Eddie Glaude: A Mercy

Imani Perry: Yes

Eddie Glaude: Uh, and she was so very deliberate in that moment. 

Imani Perry: Ohh. Yeah

Eddie Glaude: Why don't you say, say a little bit about that. And then I think it'll be a wonderful transition to talk about the next book.

Imani Perry: Okay. Yeah, I mean, A Mercy is, in itself a kind of origin story of the nation. And it's an origin story of the nation that really take seriously the, the conditions of all of the figures, right, so there is an indigenous woman who is, uhm, sort of navigating around the domestic sort of ambitions of this European landowner. There are tensions between the Portuguese and the British there and the French. Uhm. There are a range of different relationships to blackness, (14:00) 

Eddie Glaude: Right. 

Imani Perry: [inaudible]. And then there's a scene that, for me is so powerful, of European women being in the hold of the ship..

Eddie Glaude: Hmm-mm

Imani Perry: ...right, coming from Europe, unsure what's going to, what they're going to encounter. Now, in African American literature, the trope of the Middle Passage is incredibly important..

Eddie Glaude: Yeah

Imani Perry: ...right, that you sort of this journey through death to new life on these shores But something else is happening constitutionally for the Europeans are coming too, right. They are also becoming something different, right? And in this encounter people with the wide variety of histories who also have a wide variety of different kinds of, of hardscrabble living, right. Uhm. So that you need more nuance, to understand the, the foundation than simply the categories of slave or free, or man or woman, right? Uhm. Or European, and African, that they're all these varieties in there. Uhm. And people, and one of the things I think is really potent is that you see the character of the figures in the novel, transformed by virtue of what they encounter on these shores and, and the prevalence of greed...

Eddie Glaude: Right

Imani Perry: ..and desire and also loss..

Eddie Glaude: So-

Imani Perry: ..the rapture

Eddie Glaude: Yeah

Imani Perry: So, so yes, I think that, that novel really is the kind of I mean, it's, that's another example of the kind of sort of retelling of the beginnings that we need.

Eddie Glaude: So it would be a wonderful kind of recommendation to all the folks who are listening to the podcast for them to not only read the 1619 journalism, to read that magazine, but to read, pick up Toni Morrison's novel, A Mercy, and to read them together.

Imani Perry: I think that would be fantastic, yeah.

Eddie Glaude: I think that would be amazing thing. But when I think of Toni, and I think of her writing, and I think of her style. For some reason, I think of you're writing and your style. 

Imani Perry: Yeah? Ohh! Well..

Eddie Glaude: Right, there is ah, there is ah(16:00) something in the power of, of how you approach ideas and on the page, there's a lyricism, there's a, an. uhm, elegance...

Imani Perry: Thank you.

Eddie Glaude: ...to the way in which you write. This year has been an amazing year for you with the publication of look, you know, May We Forever Stand, Looking for Lorraine and Vexy Thing.

Imani Perry: Hmm-mm

Eddie Glaude: Or Vexy Thing then Looking for Lorraine

Imani Perry: Yeah

Eddie Glaude: Both of those same simultaneous.

Imani Perry: Right. Same week. [laughs]

Eddie Glaude: Same week. Yeah. And now Breathe:A Letter To My Sons is coming. It's gorgeous book.

Imani Perry. Thank you.

Eddie Glaude: It's a wonderful book. Talk a little bit about the language, cause one of the things about Breathe we could talk about the content, but I wanna talk about the writing. Give me a sense of, of what went into, uhm, some of those gorgeous sentences.

Imani Perry: Well, thank you so much. I mean, I, you know, there's um. It's a very much a work that I, I was I was trying to enter into our tradition, right.

Eddie Glaude: Illusions are everywhere.

Imani Perry: Illusions are everywhere, you know. And even, you know, just to go back to A Mercy for a moment where a threat of the story is the phenomenon of a mother trying to figure out how to protect her children. 

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Imani Perry: So it is actually sort of right at the center of this project, as is Song of Solomon, where you have a, an aunt who is trying to impart lessons to her nephew much in the same way. So there's a direct influence. Uhm. And, and for me, the, the exercise of the writing is about, you know, how this, this question of how to navigate this world that is, uhm, uh, so cruel, so unjust,(18:00) so terrorizing in it's uhm the wildness of, of racism, right. And racism is, is, is a wild eyed enterprise, right? Uhm it's blindsiding, it's cruel. Uhm, and we have, I mean I think it's, it is not I don't mean this in the kind of pat romantic fashion to say that the gift of improvisation in our tradition is directly born of the navigation of, uhm of the circumstances, right, it's sort of how do you take the resources that you have at your disposal, and create beauty and navigate and get some place despite all of the roadblocks. So for me, entering into the aesthetic tradition, was, in fact, a way of trying to apprehend, uhm, the pieces of what we have to navigate not simply in an explicit fashion, but at the level of, of how we make meaning, which is, which has a kind of impressionistic quality, right, but you can't, as much as you know, those of us, I am, one of my hats is a literary critic, right, as much as we try to describe, there is something that lies beyond description, right, that we're always trying to impart and parched, partially, that's a disposition, right? Uhm, for me, it's a disposition is very much connected to the black south, right? Uhm, where the, the, the terror was close up, we carry that in our honestly, feels in our bodies, right, and so trying to get catch it, catch a hold of that, uhm, to impart that in a way that feels true. Right, and not so, not so arrogant, as to think that it can be laid out in a kind of straightforward way. But, but, but also (20:00)thinking that, you know, the beauty is part of the point.

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, you know, when I read, when I read and breathe, and it's beautiful, and it's packed with a kind of wisdom and grace that your sons are going to uhm really, really cherish, I believe. But it's a book that also carries with it when I say packed, it carries with it, the other books. 

Imani Perry: Oh, yeah. 

Eddie Glaude: Cause they were all written. Right? in some way together. 

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: So I'm thinking of, of the power of the tradition, of, of the sociality of black life, of the, of this importance, this instant black institutional culture that you chart in May We Forever Stand and the gift that comes to us through that. 

Imani Perry: Right.

Eddie Glaude: The way in which Vexy insists on a kind of critical, right, a laboratory praxis, as we take seriously, right, the operations of patriarch and how it organizes the world and shape how, shapes how we see, and how we be, how we exist. 

Imani Perry: Hmm-hmm

Eddie Glaude: Right? So this way of thinking about how we inhabit space, and what's impinging upon us

Imani Perry: Yeah

Eddie Glaude: ..and what does it mean to be attentive to these operations of power. And then the exemplar of Lorraine 

Imani Perry: Yeah

Eddie Glaude: Uhm, as someone who, whose imagination allowed her to see beyond all of these to imagine, and otherwise interesting sorts of ways.

Imani Perry: Yes

Eddie Glaude: And then to see all of that distill, right in this in, in, in a way that is attentive to the very distinct nature of your two children, cause they are not the same.

Imani Perry: Right. They're, they're, they're individuals. And really, as we all are.

Eddie Glaude: As we all are.

Imani Perry: Right? So in some sense of-

Eddie Glaude:  But then, they are radically different people.(22:00) [laughs]

Imani Perry: Yes, yes. You're right. They're radically different people. But, but, but in a sense, it's sort of, you know, we, we, we find ourselves, uhm I think, and encounters with, with people we love, and in particular children, um where we are trying to, uhm, sort of impart values and ideals, right, and ethics. And then we also uhm have a responsibility, I think, to respond to that particular magic of, of each young person. 

Eddie Glaude: Yes.

Imani Perry: And so it's directed to, to my children, but it's also kind of a message for those of us who are adults. Uhm I think about having some sensitivity to that. And I, I'm, I'm particularly aware of that, because part of the anxiety, right, in this moment, I think, for black parents is can become so overwhelming about making sure your children do the right thing and are completely protected. And the reality is that we cannot protect them in the way we would like to. And not just black children. But that's the case for most parents in this world. Right, across the globe. And so when you understand that, I think there's an opportunity to take that as an occasion, to actually have a kind of deeper reckoning with their humanity. Right?

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, absolutely.

Imani Perry: So not just to reside in fear, but say, okay, given that we can't protect them against, what can we see? And then what can we do? What can we recognize? How can we love at the deepest level? Right? And also, to not, you know, so the beginning of the book is a riff on, you know, uhm the Souls of Black Folk, right, and the voice saying, how does it feel to be a problem? I refuse. And I think we should all refuse (24:00) to conceive of black children as fundamentally a problem or to conceive of ourselves, as by is fundamentally a problem. There's a lot in this the order of this world, that is a problem, but our humanity is not a problem.

Eddie Glaude: To the question. We sell them.

Imani Perry: We sell them and say a word. Right. Cause it had, right.

Eddie Glaude: Right. Well, this has been wonderful. We began our conversation talking about the 1619 project and the importance of stories, importance of beginning. We transition with A Mercy, the late Toni Morrison and thinking about complex histories, how we even make that story more complex. And then we end with the story that you've passed on, the story of how to love in this moment, how to exist in grace. So Imani, it has been an absolute pleasure, as it always..

Imani Perry: Yeah. Thank you so much.

Eddie Glaude: ...feels chatting with you today. So I look forward to our next conversation, particularly about Breathe, and I can't wait. And there's another book on the way guys, she's working on what about the South, can't wait.

Imani Perry: Yeah we need to talk about that. All right. Thank you.

Eddie Glaude: Up next, an interview with Julian Zelizer, looking forward to-

[music playing]

Eddie Glaude: Man, it's so good to have, have this opportunity to sit down and talk with you, Julian. I mean, we both are doing this interesting work, at least according to us, of straddling the academic world. And this broader public world, I wanted you to talk a little bit about the way you understand doing public history. Because you're intervening in a particular sort of way that I just find fascinating. You're always trying to contextualize and historicize to give people a broader sense of the way in which we're kind of grappling with the current problems of today. So what does it mean(26:00) for you to do public history in the way that you do it?

Julian Zelizer: You know, one, one objective, always an immediate objective is to take things I learned and study about in the academy, and to translate them to make them intelligible, and then to connect them to what's happening on a daily basis. And that's tough to do. But at some level, that's always my mission. A second thing is to offer analysis and opinion that isn't always directly connected to what I do, but is obviously informed from everything I write, study and teach. And at some level, I hope that expertise comes out, even if I'm talking for 20 seconds on TV, about what just happened in the news. But I think it's a vital role. It's not for everyone, but it is a space that needs to be filled. And it's important to have people who are thinking, try to understand the context and try and understand where things come from and are going through history. To add to the conversation.

Eddie Glaude: One of the things that I find most challenging about this is, is, is try, you know, we, you know, you said 20 seconds, the twenty second sound bite. We could be grappling with something that's really complex that requires nuance thinking, and you have to figure out how to say what you wanna say, within a very short period of time, and you don't even know whether or not the interviewer will follow what you're saying. But you try, you're trying to make this intervention, I find that the most challenging aspect of what we do what, what are some of the challenges you face in the moments that you've tried to in some ways add a little depth to a conversation that's driven by the sound bite in some way?

Julian Zelizer: Yeah, it's difficult. So I have different ways in which I intervene. My, the heart and soul of what I do is opted writing for me. And so there I have a little more space, I have 800 to a thousand words, to try to explain something, it's my platform. And I can control the tenor and the substance and at some level, the structure. So I always have that, and that's my go to. Uhm, radio, I usually have a little more time as well,(28:00) I do a lot of NPR and they give you more than the 20 seconds to develop a thought, although it's hard there too. Television is really difficult. Because a, you don't know what's coming at you so, so you have to think and try to crystallize your thoughts very quickly. And then you have a short space of time to say things that you know in the back of your head are incomplete, or they need much more nuance and analysis. So there is a trade off you make and at some level, you're doing the best you can, within that short space. Understanding the interviewer might not follow all of your references, and you don't even know the audience well, but you're trying to at least put that into the conversation and, and hope that it, it leaves it to a better place. And on these panels, it's also difficult because the other panelists have very different styles. They're not there to debate, they're not there to deliberate. They're there to really just argue. And so that doesn't lend itself to the kind of work we do here at Princeton, for example. And so you have to find ways to work. I've been doing this since 1998, in different places, way before CNN. So I've just tried to negotiate a way to do that, that I'm satisfied, there's a value added to hearing my 20 seconds, even if I know that 20 seconds is incomplete.

Eddie Glaude: You know, I've always tried to struggle, I struggle with this, you know, trying not to slip into crossfire kind of mode where you know, you have the, you know, the left and the right and you're trying to somehow you get pigeonholed into one of those ideological currents, where you try really just sit down and just think about the question that's just been asked, as opposed to having your talking point. Uhm, and, and, and just and just making it no matter what the question has been. I've seen people say, you know, you know, if they ask you something you really don't, yet you're not prepared for just turn it to what you wanna talk about and, and make your move. So cause I think it's important as, as scholars, for us to intervene in the public (30:00)conversation in a very different way, right to bring our skill sets to bear on the problem at hand, but it's, it's, it's a challenge. And so you've done it in a very, on a -- on a variety of different platforms. Was that deliberate that--

Julian Zelizer: No--

Eddie Glaude: [inaudible] or just kind of evolved?

Julian Zelizer: --none of this was deliberate, I'd never intended to do anything like this. I'm just--

Eddie Glaude: How do they come -- how do they come to do it?

Julian Zelizer: Well, I, my first job was at SUNY Albany.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: And in 1998, the impeachment of Bill Clinton was taking place and the local CBS TV show asked me to come on and do the morning show, just explain what impeachment was and what was gonna happen. So I did, uh, and they liked it a lot and they kept inviting me to do it. And it was a small station, Albany, Schenectady. But I did it. I said, "I'll practice and learn." And that continued and gradually the opportunities expanded and the same happened with radio, local NPRs and upstate New York would invite me gradually national NPR did. And, and same with the writing of Op-eds. I did a few for the LA Times. I had a great editor who found me and really started to nurture me and teach me in some ways how to do this. Um, and then when I reached BU, things exploded. It was in 2004 that was my next job and the media market was much greater and BU really emphasize getting their scholars out and I took advantage of it. Uhm, so I've always continued then to work across different platforms. CNN became my major one. Um, but I, I enjoyed doing lots of different things.

Eddie Glaude: So - so you, it wasn't a kind of deliberate thing, so for you, right. 

Julian Zelizer: No.

Eddie Glaude: So it just happened, just happens to be the case. But you're committed to public history though, right?

Julian Zelizer: Yeah, I am. And I write about politics. I've always done that. So I went to graduate school wanting to contribute. I was either going to be a journalist actually, or an academic. I chose academics. I thought I was more practical to get a job. That was my thought in college at Brandeis, I went and so I was already writing about Washington.

(32:00)

I was writing about history. That was very relevant to what was going on today. I always saw the connections. The jump was then getting involved in the media and getting involved at this level where it's a weekly, daily part of my life at this point. That was really the shift, but it was uh, there was a natural relationship between what I do when I'm doing research or teaching and what people were asking me to talk about in public.

Eddie Glaude: Do you ever find yourself confronting, um, a question about the seriousness of the work? So once you make that transition, right, so you publish with, uhm, of trade press, uhm, although historians are more inclined to have access to those sorts of publishing houses, but you find yourself in - in engaged in this broader conversation and some - some of our colleagues actually assume that -that - that you've in some ways gone over to the dark side, that you've--

Julian Zelizer: Right.

Eddie Glaude: --that you give up a kind of seriousness. The moment you engage in that work. What do you -- do you confront that and how do you -- how do you respond?

Julian Zelizer: So I, I always know that is there. I have never actually heard it to my face.

Eddie Glaude: We never hear it to our face.

Julian Zelizer: We never hear it. I assume there's people who say it, uh, or think that. The good thing for a historian is, it's true in terms of your publications, your books, you can write trade books, you can write popular books and do them in a way that has all the credibility in the world and the academy. There's lots of historians who do that. The - the material itself, like what you write about as well lends itself to a broad audience. It's not narrow.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: Statistical requiring a level of expertise. Uh, the rest of it, sure. I, there are some people who think that there's others who will come up to me. "Love your op-ed". "I saw you on TV. It was great. It was really helpful." And so you have to live with - with that. Uh, I ultimately believe in the value of what we do and I think it's important to do. And, um, if there are some in the academy who don't like that, so be it. Uh, and they can

(34:00)

they can not do it. And that's fine with me as well.

Eddie Glaude: I tend to imagine myself in - in - in the tradition of the generalist of - of the early part of the 20th century. 

Julian Zelizer: Yeah. 

Eddie Glaude: When you think of Richard Hofstetter, when you think of John Dewey, you think of scholars who - who were able to do, um, see I mean, Walter Lippmann others, right? Who were doing serious work?

Julian Zelizer: Yeah.

Eddie Glaude: Um, uh, thinking at - at - at a particular level of sophistication. But they were a journalist as well. They were trying to - to in some ways engage a broader public, uh, in a way that could open up new pathways for inquiring new ways of doing and being. And often times, people think about what we do is kind of just simply a market decision as opposed to being a kind of a reflection of actually an intellectual position. You know, as a pragmatist of sorts, this is what I take myself to be doing, right? That is to bring my skill sets to bear on the problems that we confront in our current set of arrangements, right. Um, and it seems to me that it's often difficult to do that in a -- in a -- in an academy that is increasing -- increasingly specialized. Where professionalization and specialization define what we do, where you kind of get in your niche corner and you do you speak your very, um, how would you say very unique speak. And, and that's - that's where you reside. So then when we show up people who are actually aspiring to be journalists and speak to broader publics, often times we get, and I'd love to get your reaction to this, oftentimes we get, um, kind of, shall we say, red in terms of the various market forces that are defining the academy. Anyway, that we're just out there trying to get paid. And it's all about branding. It's all about this sort of thing. What--

Julian Zelizer: I think. Yeah, I think there's something that's a good point. There's two ways in which you read that is different than the Lippman era. 

Eddie Glaude: Exactly. 

Julian Zelizer: One is that there's this kind of cynicism about what happens in the academy or what professors are up to or generally 

(36:00)

just in society. Everyone's out to make a buck. And so there's an element for some people, they see a professor, "Oh, they're just selling their stuff. They're plugging their books, they're, uh, making some extra money, and that's why they do it." Uh, the other part, which has intensified in the course of my own life doing this is as the political world hardens, uh, politically, everything is read through the lens of where are you coming from and what's your point with it. 

Eddie Glaude: Right. 

Julian Zelizer: That's often frustrating to me cause that I do try to make points, uh, that I see how they could easily feed into one side of the political spectrum. But I'm not saying exactly what they want me to say. Uhm, but it's hard to be read in a different way. Uh, everyone reads through red and blue, uh, in some ways and or - or listens and watches. And I mean, literally since the 90s, I think it's gotten much worse. Uhm, and so then some of the subtleties of what you're even able to do in - in the public square, uh, are difficult or they're often lost in translation. And that's unfortunate as well. In addition to the market-oriented uhm, perception many people have of why you're doing what you want to do. But I think your first point is important for me. Uh, it's the same as what you said. This was genuinely driven by, boy, this is an interesting opportunity. And I tell people this all the time to have the privilege and I see it as a privilege to write and to say things about how I see what's going on or where we got to this point and share them with people I ordinarily am not going to be able to share this information with. And uh, to have people listen and digest that at some level, even if it's for a few seconds. It's really a privilege to have that kind of role in American society. Uh, and it's a great, uh, not benefit, not an economic benefit, intellectual benefit from this job that that opportunity 

(38:00)

sometimes can emerge. And that's what I believe. And no one makes that case really. But it is -- that's what drives this from the start to finish.

Eddie Glaude: I mean, we have it, we actually have opportunities to shape conversations.

Julian Zelizer: Yeah.

Eddie Glaude: I mean in the corridors of power, right? So to - to sit down and have a conversation. If I'm on Morning Joe and I'm talking with Pete Buddha Judge or, or you know, having an exchange with, uh, Amy Klobuchar or - or arguing, uh, with some congressperson about, um, uh, current policy issues and - and trying to offer a different frame. The frame that in some ways that could, uh, bring to light a different way of seeing the problem at hand. It makes it in some-- in some senses worthwhile, you know, and interesting sorts of ways. So one more question about this and then I want to turn to you as the political historian who can help us think about this moment. You know, oh my, this is interesting. Uh, the news has become, and I'm here, I'm focusing more on - on your television appearances than your written stuff.
The news has become like entertainment. It's like a, it's not quite a sitcom, but it's a drama that folk are watching regularly. Do you ever find yourself surprised by the way in which people react to you as you walk the street? Cause it's not like it's the nightly news with Tom Brokaw or David Brinkley. I just dated myself, right?

Julian Zelizer: Right.

Eddie Glaude: But - but, but okay. Peter Jennings, I'm still dating myself. Um, but it's, it's really striking to see how people consume the news and how as a person who participates in that environment. How you are then read in the public domain. What, what do you make? Am I -- am I getting, am I reaching for something?

Julian Zelizer: No, I think it--

Eddie Glaude: I'm not trying to say you're a celebrity, but it's - it's - it has some residences there.

Julian Zelizer: Well, it's -- the way the news is - is, uh, has unfold on television. Uh, it has it there -there isn't it, there's two parts of it. One

(40:00)

is just the commercialization of news, which really starts in the eighties through today. And you have networks devoted just to, uh, the dissemination of news. That's their business. And that's how they earn their money. That's how they make their revenue. Uh, and so at some level, uh, it -it -- that is the entertainment provided. It's substantive. It matters what is being discussed. Um, but there is an element where there's a drama to it.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer:  And I do think since President Trump's election, for sure, uh, people I get that response all the time, are watching with this level of passion and engagement that ordinarily, I can't remember ever, you know, in the Obama years for example, people said, "I can't -- I can't stop watching, you know, CNN or MSNBC, I can't -- I can't keep my eyes off the TV set." Uh, there is this element. So - so part of it is the dramatic way in which news is packaged. Apart from it is the drama of the moment we're living in where I think people are like, what is going on? How does this unfold? What comes next? Which is a real-life political drama that is grounded in reality? 

Eddie Glaude: So - so let's, let's shift gears. I think that's absolutely right. It is grounded in reality and people are trying to in some significant way, figure out how they're going to make sense of it. That is make sense of the reality that they're experiencing, navigated. And how do they acquire the - the ability to imagine, uh, the situation being otherwise, you know, folk are trying to figure out, right? How do we get out from under it and that, and that varies, right? They reached backwards or they - they try to reach for a broader vision that's not necessarily a retrieval of the past, but something has to emerge. And it seems like we're doing some work in that sort of space, which - which I think more academics or more scholars should do if they -- if they're so inclined.

(42:00)

 "Faultlines" came out in January. 

Julian Zelizer:  Yep. 

Eddie Glaude: It's extraordinary. A book is your history of the U.S. since 1974, right? 

Julian Zelizer:  Yup. 

Eddie Glaude: And I take it the book had a present just kind of motivation cause it - it helps. It seems like the arc of it is to help us understand our moments a little bit more. You'll coauthor it with our colleague Kevin Kruse. 

Julian Zelizer:  Yeah. It has a president -- it goes right up through today and it has an epilogue. Uh, and -- and it definitely informs what's going on. You are reading about the roots of our current politics and culture. It was written and finished before President Trump was a candidate, really a serious candidate. We updated it before production to add, you know, a section on him and the election and what it meant. Uh, so the --  it comes out of a class that we taught here. I still teach it. And it was really trying to understand in some ways the roots and evolution of polarization and then the rest of American society, the different social movements that we read about from conservatism to the, uh, black lives matters to the gay rights. Where do all these come from? How do they fit into the period? And to think of the period from 74 through today as a distinct period in American history. Seventy-four being a bit artificial.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: But it is when Nixon resigned. And so it was an important take-off. But in the end, uh, I do think as we finished it and it's being read now and we're watching what happens on the news and reading about it, uh, you see the relevance and you see the origins of - of what's going on today, that it's not simply created in January 2017. That there were roots to the dysfunction. There were roots to the kinds of media politics we see. Uh, and the real -- very real movement divisions that exist right now over key issues about our future. 

Eddie Glaude: Well, you know, on this podcast, uh, we were always talking about the issue of race, uhm, 

(44:00)

  and trying in some significant way to think about it with - with - with our colleagues and with others, uh, at a certain level of sophistication, uh, because we think it's one of the, uhm, uh, the key antinomies of American democracy. Uhm, and it seems to be in the forefront, uh, in our current moment, uhm, in a number of different ways. And it's not so much about the access of black and white, but it feels as if there's a kind of crisis of Whiteness, uh, that we're experiencing. You know, we've seen this in political science studies around the 2016 election. John CDs and others have tried to kind of accept it become -- they made an argument that political identification right, has now hardened in such a way that - that these kinds of racial views are then mapped onto how one understands oneself as a Republican or Democratic. That there are these correlations between political identities and one's racial views in the lie. Talk a little bit about what you see from the vantage point of the various platforms that you use, whether it's your op-ed pieces, whether it's your wonderful podcasts, politics, and pose with - with Sam Wong and - and the way in which you use Twitter, right. How are you seeing the current crisis around race at this moment? 

Julian Zelizer:  It - it's going from bad to worse in many ways. Uh, you know, I've written a lot about the civil rights struggle in the 60s. I'm actually writing another book that, uh, goes back to that period right now about Rabbi Abraham Heschel.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: And looking at the movement in that early period I've written since the 70's, a lot, including with fault lines on institutional racism. And that's the traditional story that we shift explicit legalized forms of, um, racial discrimination. Some of them are 

(46:00)

 eliminated. And then the - the - the bigger problem is how it's just inscribed until almost every institution. And that is never resolved. In fact, you have a backlash to dealing with that by the 70's and 80's. But what's very notable now to me just observing and watching this is the very explicit racialized politics that's unfolded from the president to, uh, various, uh, groups, um, political groups. And - and within the Republican Party.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: Where whiteness in some ways either explicitly or implicitly, is a defining theme of what the Party is about and an opposition to a much more diversified, pluralistic society, uh, which is undeniable at this point. And that's very obviously traveling and problematic. Uh, and - and so the two are now working at the same time, and that's very explosive. And I think what's disturbing off and about the way the President handles this as he plays in into that politics of whiteness with - with relish, uhm, abandon. And when that comes from up top for those who are in that camp already, it gives it a kind of - of legitimacy. 

Eddie Glaude: Yeah. You know, I've been thinking about this a lot in my own work and often times we tell the story of Donald Trump, for example, and you've, you've heard this before, I'm sure, where they traced the, you know, the -- if they were to do a kind of political - political lineage, what Pat Buchanan in the from Buchanan to George Wallace and dah, dah, and the like. But I've been thinking about Donald Trump in a broader sense as a kind of the latest instance or example of a kind of ongoing betrayal where the country has a breakthrough and you've used the language of backlash or your colleague Van Jones would call it a whitelash. And then there's a kind of retrenchment. That kind of return to, uh, a particular, um, 

(48:00)

 or let me say it differently reorganization of - of the racial regime in light of the -- of the previous advance. So whether we're talking about the end of slavery and then of course, uh, uhm, reconstruction and the slavery by another name and the lost cause and redemption, all this stuff that happens in the aftermath of that. Or we can think about the civil rights movement and then, of course, call for law and order and - and, um, the tax revolt in California. You know, double down and Ronald Reagan's elected and then Barack Obama black, like, you know, this stuff. And so we read Donald Trump through Buchanan and, and, and Wallace actually see Donald Trump more in the line of Reagan, not in terms of his personality, but in terms of a kind of betrayal. So Ronald Reagan, and I wanna test this on you--

Julian Zelizer:  Aha, go ahead.

Eddie Glaude: --and see what you think. Ronald Reagan is to black power with George Wallace was to the civil rights movement. So you as a figure, you know, this is the guy who, who - who - who - who -who fired Angela Davis. This is the guy who was the face of the state's repression of the Black Panther Party. So for him to be elected in 1980--

Julian Zelizer:  Right.

Eddie Glaude: --signals of black folk across the country, not only because he came out of the Goldwater Camp and you've - you've written a wonderful book on this as well. This is a conservative turn, which is--

Julian Zelizer: Oh, that I -- the Fierce Urgency of Now.

Eddie Glaude: The Fierce Urgency of Now, and then before that, you wrote Conservatives in Power, the Reagan years with--

Julian Zelizer: Yeah, I did.

Eddie Glaude: --Meg Jacobs, right? 

Julian Zelizer: Yup, my wife.

Eddie Glaude: Um, uh, so - so there's this sense in which when Reagan is elected, it's an announcement, right? That - that - that the country is turning his back on whatever happened prior to that moment. And so Trump's election, right, isn't just simply a kind of reactivation of the ugliness of say Pat Buchanan's nativism or George Wallace racism. Um, it's actually something much more keen to. The latest example of 

(50:00)

 the country turning its back on real serious transformation given the fact that many people thought we were turning a corner with the election of our first party. 

Julian Zelizer: I think that's a very important point. And there's people who are gonna re-examine the history of the Republican Party since Goldwater. And there was this story line that the party became more coalitional and it included different factions. And there was this one element in it, uh, on the side, sometimes played to sometimes not, which was reactionary. It, uh, was, uh, playing and supporting racism and racial politics and nativism and - and it was there, but the history tended to be about the bridge builders and the people kept putting that back in the box. Uh, and I think there'll be it now serious moment of introspection and historical examination that there may be that got the story wrong and it's not back and forth. It's not backlash, front lash. This is integral, uh, to the party since the 1960's. It - it is a key element. And, uh, leaders knew it was there, they used it. They often either explicitly or subtly appeal to this. Uh, and - and what Trump does, as with many things, is he brings out into the open the sicknesses and dysfunctions of our politics. And he relishes in them. But he doesn't always create them. And I think what the history of, of Republican politics, it's important. And - and Reagan is a key figure. Um, it's - it's not the first time that criticism has been raised. 

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: And, uh, from, uh, his, uh, attacks on the welfare queen, which were loaded in racial imagery, um, to his state's rights speech at the beginning of his campaign in the show Bucani, these are -- these are ongoing questions. And I think I can paint all kinds of moments like this. The 1988 campaign where 

(52:00)

George H. W. Bush, the, you know, icon of civility and respectability goes deep into the Willie Horton ad and having Lee Atwater unleash a ferocious, uh, racialized, uh, attack. And the tea party, um, this was being discussed, the birther element of the tea party and many other things. This has been there. So there comes a moment where you say, "Well, this wasn't simply an aberration or a sideline faction,"  it actually was part of the Republican coalition. And - and we have to as a nation, not just the Republican Party, reckon with how that was legitimate. Uh, and, and why you know, all of that remains so integral in post-sixties politics. 

Eddie Glaude: So the last question, thank you so much for your time. We're not prognosticators, but, um, we find ourselves and in a very interesting moment as a country. I -- when I watched Bill Barr, uh recently at, uh, you know, at his press conference talking about the Mueller Report, not the four-page op-ed, but - but you know, uh, framing - framing the Mueller Report, um, I - I couldn't help but think about this in a broader way. Um, that Barr wasn't just simply throwing his career away for Donald Trump. That what we were witnessing was an extended argument about executive power. The Bar comes out of a camp of folk who have been arguing for the Imperial Presidency since Nixon. And that this is an extended argument. Um, and so now we have, uh, the Mueller Report. It's been handed over to - to Congress. There's talk about impeachment and I tend to put that conversation not so much in -- not only in the context of - of the wrongdoing of Donald Trump and his

(54:00)

issue but within that broader context about the question of executive power. The role of the executive in relation to the other two branches of government. So I'm - I'm thinking Congress has to step up and it has to be mindful of the politics, but it has to be mindful of this broader argument that has in some ways, uh, shadowed our democracy for - for generations now. Where do you think we're heading? Um, now that the Mueller Report has been delivered? Now that Bill Barr has been revealed, uh, his framing has been revealed for what it -- for what it is and what it was. Where are we headed at this moment? In your--

Julian Zelizer: Can I say I'm not sure. 

Eddie Glaude: Yeah, of course. 


Julian Zelizer: But look, the, I - I see it in a similar light and there - there has been this embrace of - of presidential power and there's been a conservative line of that argument, which is very important. Starts with Nixon accelerates really under Reagan. That's when a lot of the thinkers behind this idea that there should be almost no limit to what a president can do. 

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: Dick Cheney was a big proponent of that and that was a defense in Iran Contra. 

Eddie Glaude: Sure.

Julian Zelizer: We might have circumvented the law, but a President has to do what's right if Congress won't come along with them. And we saw this with the Bush presidency or right through today. And Barr comes out of that tradition.

Eddie Glaude: Exactly.

Julian Zelizer: And it's going to be that -- it's in some ways the principle defense, uh, uh, other that and a stupidity defense. Literally that President didn't know what he was doing and not no one around him knew what they were doing. And so that should excuse it. But what's really an issue is not simply Donald Trump. It's not simply what's the best political strategy, which is this circular conversation based on speculation and prediction as opposed to are there restraints to presidential power? Uh, do we believe in those anymore? I think Donald Trump in some ways made a bet that "No," that there are no limits to what he can do. He said that. That's how he acts. 

(56:00)

 And often he's right. He goes there and nothing happens and everyone expects this is when something will happen. But now you have it in very dramatic fashion. You've a very long, lengthy, detailed report. It is not subtle in the ways that the President tried to obstruct justice lays out a case that arguably is the strongest thing we've seen. Uh, stronger than Nixon. 

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: Nixon really revolves around one tape where he says one thing.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: This is just ongoing efforts combined with what we've seen in public, where I argue that you can see his Twitter feed. That is a form of obstruction when it was going on. But will anyone do anything? Or will Congress sit this one out? Meaning Republicans because of Partisanship, say "We're not going there." And Democrats because of political fears say, " Better not to deal with this." That would be a statement about where we are with presidential power. It - it is the strongest statement possible in terms of an imperial presidency is what we have. Uh, and so I think Nancy Speaker Pelosi has a huge decision. I understand. She's -- I - I don't know what her politics are. Part of me says she doesn't want to do this. Part of me says she wants to keep doing and just say that's not what they're doing. Uh, kind of play both parts.

Eddie Glaude: Right.

Julian Zelizer: But I think there is a debate that has to go now beyond what's the best political move for 2000. It's not about that. It's about what's the obligation of Congress when this has been exposed so clearly, uh, in terms of restraining the presidency.

Eddie Glaude: Yes, so people are waiting for the constitutional crisis in some dramatic form. It seems like--

Julian Zelizer: It's here.

Eddie Glaude: --it's here. 

Julian Zelizer: Right.

Eddie Glaude: It's been here for a minute.

Julian Zelizer: And it's really a matter of - of, uh, does Congress react, respond. Uh, and all we're talking about now, just so people understand is not impeaching President Trump. It's starting an impeachment proceeding to consider that. And that's where this 

(58:00)

rhetorical mess has, I think it confuses people. And so to take this report and say there are not grounds for the House Judiciary Committee to start a proceed and say, "Hey, are we there?" Uh, if you don't do it for this, I don't know what a President has to do, uh, for that to ever happen.

Eddie Glaude: And the -- Professor. Julian Zelizer, thank you so much for taking time out to talk with us on the ASMR 21 podcast. Keep doing what you're doing. We certainly need your voice. 

[music playing]


Julian Zelizer: Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be on this. 

Eddie Glaude: Take care.

Julian Zelizer: Bye-bye.

Eddie Glaude: That concludes episode 17 of African American studies at Princeton University. We were grateful to have with us Julian Zelizer and our colleague Imani Perry. But before we close, here are a few public events involving our faculty. There's a book talk Race After Technology, uh, with Ruha Benjamin and myself, it scheduled for September 19th, uh, at 6:30 at the Princeton Public Library. And then there's another book talk Race For Profit: How Banks and The Real Estate Industry Undermine Black Ownership and that's a conversation between Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Imani Perry. That's on Wednesday, October 23rd at 6:00 PM at Labyrinth Bookstore here at Princeton. Also, we wish to thank Courtney Brian for providing the music for the show. To the staff of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton, our Departmental Manager, April Peters, my Assistant and Events Coordinator, Deon Worder], our Communications and Media Specialist, Anthony Gibbons, and our Technical Support Specialist in Audio Engineer, Elio Leah. Thank you for listening. We'll see you again next month. 

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