[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #1: Convergences and Dissonance: Movement and Elections

Wednesday, Oct 5, 2016

Podcast Transcript:

(00:00) [music plays]

Eddie: Hello, I'm Eddie Glaude. I'm here at Princeton University here in the Department of African American Studies. It's a, August 11th 2016. Today I'm joined by some of favorite people in the world. Faculty members here in the Department of African American Studies. Ah we are here with ah Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies and author of More Beautiful, More Terrible: The Embrace in Transcendence of Racial Inequality in America. Also Naomi Murakawa, Social Professor of African American Studies. The author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. And lastly Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor, author of From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation. So here we- we're gonna have a- a discussion about contemporary issues. About this current moment and how complex it is. So let's begin with the election, the Trump and Hillary Clinton phenomena. So what do you make of the latest disaster in this country called the election? What do you make of Donald Trump and what do you make of Hillary Clinton?

Imani: Um, I think it's an interesting moment because, um, we sort of ah-- the dominant narrative is that there's a presentation on the one hand, that there's a kind of um, ah, an unstudied history on a k-- um, demonic? Or fascist person, right? And on the other side, there's a- there's a presentation of someone who's um, ah, reasonable and experienced and liberal, right? Um, but--

Keeanga: Who will get things done?

Imani: Who will get things done? Right. Um, but if we read behind that, right? We're seeing on the one side there is a- a center right candidate who is socially liberal, but economically neo-liberal who um (02:00) a- has an- has had a career of, of-of-of that as a political agenda and is also um, interventionist of a war hawk. Um, and on the other side, there's someone who is um, tapping into the- the kind of the basest um, forms of ah- bigotry and animosity. And so the spectrum um, is-is-is-is a right wing spectrum and it's one that does leaves little possibility for people who um, have any critical perspective on issues of economic justice, on issues of racial justice, we can go on and on and on. Um and certainly is an indication of how, so I mean I guess we could- we could say for the past 40 years the rightful drift of- of the nation has taken place.

Keeanga: Yeah, I think this is clearly a contest between um, barbarism or neo-fascism. Which are two pretty sad ah, choices um, to have to make. And I think as ah, Imani just said that it's indicative of how um, far to the right formal politics have moved over the last ah, 40 years so that um, Hillary Clinton ha- who is the democratic party's um, choice. Ah, really when you look at her platform and what it is that um she has to offer ah is something that, you know, people have described as resembling ah Reagan- um, Reagan's politics of the 1980's. Ah, sons some of the social um liberalism. But you know, I think that there's been ah- from the left at least, some critique of ah, the first Clinton administration in the 1990's. Um, and a focus on her ah, support of um, policies and practices um, of the Clinton administration (04:00) in the 1990's. But I think what has been left out of this is what she is actually proposing domestically.

Imani: Yes.

Keenga: As- as part of her program and the disastrous consequences that would actually have for, um the people that she is purporting to ah- ah help. Um, and so her focus on ah, for example um, ah ending this most current iteration of urban crisis in cities across the country, calls for um, more of this kinds of public private partnerships. Ah, calls for the creation of um, empowerment zones which basically allow corporations and businesses to come into under-resourced areas um, for massive tax ah benefits- tax breaks where they are not paying taxes ah, and have no actual guaranteed commitment to hiring people. And this is her solution. Um ah, which, you know, if you're not paying taxes then where are the actual funds to support the public infrastructure that is needed to mitigate the worst aspects o-of poverty. So I think that the wariness should not just be about what Hillary Clinton supported or stood for, 25 years ago. Um although that's important and gives us some insight into the crisis that exists today um, but it's also important to look at and interrogate what she's actually proposing um as policy solutions for ah the current crisis of poverty, underemployment and um under-resourced ah public institutions now.

Eddie: What do you think, Naomi?

Naomi: So it's important to evaluate what Hillary Clinton is actually proposing and it's true that something that gets elated um in the way the conversation is being set up as opposition to fascism. Um, you know, I do wanna say that I-- there have been some (06:00) movement successes um, that have registered in the language of the Democratic Party platform but not in the policy specifics. So um it's meaningful, it's powerful that the platform has the language and mass incarceration and abolish the death penalty, something that the Democratic Party platform hasn't suggested since 1972. Um, and it's a credit to the incredibly hard work that people have been doing um the last couple of years and the last couple of decades to get those things on the agenda. Um, but look at the platform and it goes immediately from end mass incarceration to a platform of building and rebuilding in particular reliance on this language of rebuilding trust between police and communities have color a reference to some historical Hausean day that I have no idea when it ever existed. But I know what rebuilding means in this context and it's let’s give more money to the police. So you have a platform that says end mass incarceration but then it moves to money for the police, more money for drug courts which we know freeze up the court clog and other criminal course- courts to facilitate processing of criminal convictions and more support for building the legitimacy of the criminal justice system which is the primary concern. Not actually ending mass incarceration. 

Eddie: So I find it interesting that we-we-we when we're talking about- we began our conversation talking, wanting to talk about the election between Trump and Clinton and we found ourselves talking about Clinton. Right? And there's a sense in which we've all have kind of had to endure um a kind of critique, right? That ah if we don't really behind the (08:00) democratic nominee in effect we're supporting Trump, right? And so I find it interesting that one of the moves that we made in just the beginning of the conversation is to begin to deconstruct who and what Clinton- Hillary Clinton stands for. Who she is and what she stands for? And there seems to be little to no concern about um, the prospect of a Trump presidency in relation to-to-to-to her and what she supposedly represents. Um, so how do we perhaps maybe not, maybe. So how do we- how do we think and talk about Trump ah in this moment even given our critiques and criticisms of Clinton?

Imani: I- I have concern but I think it's-it-it's a different order of concern, at least for me and I think probably for all of us though. The response to focus on- focusing on Clinton has everything to do with the kind of romantic narrative about who she is that has become overwhelming, right? That this is the realization of-of feminist dreams, right? In a way that-that-that it was narrated Obama would be the realization of the Civil Rights movement that um, that and-and the contra-- and-and the coalition behind her is depicted as a sign of, you know American's coming together as opposed to a response to fear mongering. I do have um concerns about Trump, but they're actually not so much about the prospect of a Trump presidency. Um, I think it's highly unlikely that Donald Trump would be elected president particularly given the last several weeks. Um, I do think that he has um, legitimized a kind of aggressive public assertion of very ugly forms of bigotry that I think will um, that have evidenced themselves in violence and I think will continue to do so long after he is a candidate. Um, but I think that's a part of the larger spectrum of American politics, right? This is not - these are not an opposition it's a part of the morass that- that we are all um, caught in. So I think it's incredibly (10:00) important that we don't um allow ourselves to- to succumb to that capture, right? The language of electoral capture from our-our call it Paul Frymer but instead actually understand politics to mean more than a set of options that are likely to- to-to-to come about based upon a national election. I think that's the-the-the sensibility of this moment.

Keeanga: Me, I actually think that it's important to talk about Clinton because one of the um-um, things that has-has presented itself as a problem to me at least is that the overwhelming focus on the daily antics of Donald Trump's campaign. Means there's almost no focus on what Hillary Clinton has been doing. What she wants to do? And so over the last week she has collected, what I would call a rogue's gallery of endorsements from war criminals and war hawks who have formally um been associated with the Republican Party, who are republicans, to almost no public scrutiny. No public discussion. And so part of the logic of the lesser evil approach to um politics is to downplay your scrutiny, criticism, questioning of the democratic party candidate to overwhelmingly ah focus on the-the lunacy of the republican candidate. And so in effect Hillary Clinton gets a blank check to do whatever she wants, um to ah get endorsements from ah, you know whomever. People that ah under any other set of circumstances, liberals and progressives would be highly critical of, um are find themselves being silenced because of the perception of the greater threat of Donald Trump. So I think it's actually quite critical to (12:00) talk about um, Hillary Clinton's political agenda, the people who are coming out of the woodwork, the neocons ah the people from the Republican Party who are coming out of the woodwork to support her and think about what that means. What does it mean for people who led the Iraq war to come out in support of Hillary Clinton? What does it mean for her campaign to be actively soliciting the endorsement of Henry Kissinger or Condoleezza Rice? Does that- does that actually mean something? And we have to talk about that.

Eddie: I mean Joe Scarborough said she was a neocon's neocon, right? So, yeah well-

Keeanga: What do you think Eddie?

Imani: Yes. You've been asking your questions. What do you think?

Eddie: Um, you know I'm I-I wanna, I- I think I really wanna complicate um a couple of things. Not complicate what you said 'cause I agree totally. But ah, you know, I won't- I don't wanna reduce the support for Trump ah to just bigotry. Um, it is that, in part what I'm what I-- what I'm thinking about is right, the effects of an, of-of-of economic policy on white- on white workers. How vulnerable they are and how they're giving expression to ah the fact that their wages have flat lined, that their abilities to- ah their ability to-to-to imagine ah paying for their children's college, um that-that their-their homes aren't worth anything ah anymore and the way in which that sense of economic vulnerability is getting expressed and how his- how he is exploiting it. But I'm also aware that it's not new, I mean there's a reasonable gap for- and you know white trash 400 years of what's happened to- to the white poor in some ways. Um, and there-there's a sense in which the economic reality of-of many of the folks who are supporting Trump combined by the- the vicious racist bile ah that often obscures it, right? Um-um at least to me gets in the way of (14:00) fundamentally understanding or-or-or acknowledging or addressing um where Clinton and Trump actually converge, right? And that is um in an around an economic set of policies that will continue to decimate the most vulnerable in our communities and then to use rhetorics, whether it’s the language of-of race scapegoating or whether it’s the language of kind of multi cult easy multicultural identity politics. To kind of obscure, right? These economic realities that are just-just-just devastating, right? Ah everyday ordinary people.

Imani: Can-can I propose a slightly different account. Because I think, I think that's true but one of the things that had concerned me is to- is this question. To what extent though is the appeal about economic vulnerability, generally? Or is it about this conception that there are certain privileges that are supposed to go along with being white. Particularly vis-a-vis not just vis-a -vis people of color in the United States, but in around the world. And this anxiety about um global capitalism about a multiracial led is- is not necessarily right because there's a question about why align with Trump the multi-multimillionaire as opposed to any- well, there's not identification with other vulnerable people. Right, so I think, I really do think it essentially about whiteness even it is- if it is about vulnerability, I think it is about white vulnerability as a problem. It's distinct.

Naomi: Yeah. Um, so I think that comment is really important especially um when we look at this language that keep saying Trump supporters are the angry poor and working class white people who have been left behind. And, well it's undeniable that poor and working class (16:00) people, all people including white people have been screwed. So it's not who Trump supporters are. Actually, the median income of Trump supporters is about 72,000 a year. That's higher than the national median income. That's also higher than the median income of Clinton and Sanders supporters. Um, and I think what happens in this conversation um, is that there's a willingness to say, "Oh, it's really poor white people who are to blame for racial bigotry." Because they’re the ones who are operating so irrationally and translating their legitimate economic concerns into illegitimate racial concerns. And I think that whole line of thinking is a way of displacing blame and saying that ah racism can be found in the speed jacks of relatively poor and institutionally marginalized white people rather than looking at the architects of global violence against non-white people around the world. And notice that those are the people who are supporting Hillary Clinton across the board.

Eddie: See, that's fascinating. I mean, I mean we know that- that the story for example of the caricature of the-of the KKK is that it's principally poor people- or principally poor white people who participated, we know that's not true, right? Historically that's not true, right? But I'm just- I just, just you know I-I think, I think that- I think both you are right. And I-I-I would suspect that ah this sense in which white privilege doesn't accord one any kind of protection against the forces of neo-liberalism. Has opened the door for a certain kind of ah anxiety, a certain kind of um, (18:00) ah rhetoric that-that-that is a vicious in its implication and in its effect. Um, any-- and we saw this earlier ah, with ah um, the guy who wrote the bell curve.

Keeanga: Oh, Murray?

Eddie: Charles Murray. Um, and the way in which or even in the-the national was it the national review or national journal which would the conservative ah, Bill Kristol.

Keeanga: The National Review?

Eddie: The National Review, Bill Kristol's magazine where there's a sense in which there was a characterization, I'm trying to speak to your point Naomi, of-of the supporters of Donald Trump as this lazy white people looking out- looking for a handout who are strung out on drugs, right? This opiate folks, right? Um, and it was almost as if the rhetoric that described the black poor have been picked up and dropped onto the white poor when-when we know that there's always been a kind of description of the white poor in this country as somehow being dysfunctional in certain sorts of ways. So, so I-I agree, I agree with the- the point. Um so, I don't want to scapegoat everyday ordinary working- ah everyday ordinary working life folks. I don't wanna do that. And I don't wanna say that only poor white people are supporting Trump. But there seems to me to be a very- a class inflict nature in the- a class inflict in his support that-that-that is really fascinating to me. That has something to do with registering economic vulnerability, but maybe I'm wrong.

Keeanga: I think some of that is media generated for the reasons that um, Naomi ah points out. Which is that um, I think it's easy to dismiss Trump's campaign as this kind of you know, barnyard, yahoo, um, you know crazy white folks. Um who don't have a real grip on things? But actually I think the kind of um class ah anger in- in disillusionment that you're referencing Eddie, um, was found in the Sanders campaign. Um--

Eddie: Absolutely.

Keeanga: And so, (20:00) I think the Sanders campaign, in many ways became um a- a sort of focal point for a particularly working class, um ah millennials who have been completely displaced by um, our current ah economic ah the- the- the current eco- economy. And it's not to say that um there isn't that kind of ah sort of working class support um, for ah for Trump. Um it's not to deny that at all. Of course there, ah, there certainly is an element to that. There's always been an element of ah working class ah white people who um you know, who are-are certainly compelled by the narrative of the others' fault for their own um, ah depressed situation. Whether it's Mexican immigrants, whether it's ah, you know, poor black people, ah, whether it's women, you know, whoever it is. It- it's someone else's ah- fault instead of the people who actually have their hands of the reigns um of the economy. But I also think that um, the-the basis upon which we can actually claim a-a kind of neo-fascist fixation with the Trump campaign is the extent to which um it's middle class white people ah who actually um have found some kind of affection with ah the Trump campaign. Which is probably more worrying um than the-the caricature of ah Trump being supported by a poor, you know quizzically.

Eddie: Does the poll data show that ah?

Keeanga: Pardon me?

Eddie: Does the poll data- does the poll data show that ah college educated white [inaudible].

Keeanga: Yeah, I mean there is a particular- there's a particular poll that came out in July ah that showed growing support among um (22:00) young white men of college age ah um, ah, growing in support for Trump. Um, because of the- the free speech character of the campaign, that you know, you can say whatever you want-- political correctness.

Imani: I-I also wonder if maybe part of this suggest that the way that we talk about class doesn't totally apprehend the act anxieties. So that it could- because precarity now is spread across everybody except for the ultra wealthy, right? So that there can be a sense of precarity that isn't actually about being working class but is about middle class doesn't mean the same thing or doesn't accord you necessarily the same se- I also think there's something about the performance of macho which we associate with white working class male culture. But is real- but is of also about a certain performance of patriarchy that um is can be ah attractive particularly when people don't feel like they can exercise power in some other ways. Um, that I think is- that I do think is par-- I mean I do think there's a lot of ah that is media generated but there's also a performative aspect that we see that's attached to his appeal.

Eddie: Let's-let's we've been talking about the election. Let's talk about movements. Right? And so, I think ah Keeanga, you were, you were right to-to-to-to say that the kind of populace impulses that inform the Sanders campaign, right? Reflective particular sorts of commitments. Just as however they wanna describe their populace forces informing the Trump campaign, right? Ah, but there's a way in which I like to s-- I've been saying around the country that people have gotten it twist a bit. People think Sanders ah is-is-is the motivating cause for all of the populace energy when it's in fact the populace energy that makes Sanders possible, right? That he's a reflection of something.

Keeanga: Absolutely.

Eddie: He's a reflection of something. He didn't make anything happen. This is why the convention was so interesting in so many different ways. How do we think about (24:00) or how- how should we be thinking about movements in this moment? Whether um, at what we've seen electoral politics or what we see outside of electoral politics, right? So we just saw recently the movement for Black Lives Matter, right? Released its policy platform which is- which was a platform that was really interesting in the- in the sense that it-it extended beyond, right? The terrain of just simply electoral politics and imagine a much more expansive ah, um landscape for engaging in political activity. So how do we, what do-what do we have to say about movements in this moment? Given what we've just described with Trump and Clinton?

Keeanga: Well, one thing that I would say ah, to Naomi's point earlier which I think is very important is the way that ah the black lives matter movement at least has put its imprint on um, the selectorial season and can be seen through um, one, the creation of a racial justice platform for the Sanders campaign um, that did not exist ah before he was confronted by activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. But I also think that the way that Hillary Clinton felt compelled um to address the concerns of the movement if only rhetorically but still importantly um, and how that ah has been reflected in the democratic platform, um, but also in the um, ah the democratic party convention in actually having the parents of ah some people who were um killed by police ah there. Although it was also telling ah that some parents weren't there um and it's interesting to see who is invited um ah-

Eddie: Who talked?

Keeanga: And who spoke and then ah who was not um invited to be a part of ah a part of that aspect of the- the convention. So I think that you know part of the issue is that um the democratic (26:00) party I think has been concerned that without Barrack Obama at the head of the ticket um would they be able to get the same kind of crushing black voter turnout um that really was responsible for sweeping Obama into office in both 2008 and also 2012. So I think that they um have been particularly sensitive to ah-ah at least addressing rhetorically um black ah political concerns. Um, but when we talk about what is actually on offer, you know, it's a-it's a completely different um story in terms of what actual policies are being um ah promoted ah to shift the ah situation with underemployment, unemployment um and a lack of resources in black communities. And so in that sense, I think that-that was ah one of the powerful aspects of the movement for black lives, um platforms as-as you say, it looked much f-broadly, much more broadly um than just the-the the campaign, um or ah, you  know just um tsk. Hmmm. It was very broad.

[laughter]

Eddie: Yeah. 

Naomi: So I also found the- the platform for the movement for black lives um a phenominal document um sweeping ambitious so important. Um and in addition to the policy specifics putting forth the language of divest from the criminal justice system- fund black futures, which is a language that um BYP100 has been putting forth for-for some time. Um and I do think it's important to acknowledge the-the successes of the movement in-in (28:00) all kinds of ways. It's also a moment to be wary of spectacles of empathy that get used in electoral politics. Um I found it really hard to watch mothers of the movement on stage at the democratic convention. Um hard in so many ways its and-and can confusing in a sense. Because you sort of feel like initially you're watching a-a moment of respect and recognition for mothers. And you in turn as a viewer sort of want to participate in this respect and- and recognition. And it's so um emotionally heavy that it takes a minute to realize that Hillary Clinton is putting mothers on the stage when she herself has almost nothing meaningful to say about reducing racialized state violence. In fact she is a deep proponent and architect of racialized state violence.

Eddie: Yeah, yeah. That's a powerful formulation. And that convention was surrounded by kind of celebration of a- of US military power of US police power. I mean so even though the mothers were brought on stage, right? It was immediately framed, right? By the grieving of mothers who've lost officers in the line of duty kind of ah people who were fought for the country and as you- as you rightfully said Keeanga that there's a sense in which the convention almost looked like Reagan's 1980 convention or you know George W. Bush's with all the- the patriotism afoot, right? That they actually got buried in that so. But you were gonna say something Imani?

Imani: Yeah I mean I-I um. It-it, I found the movement for black lives platform really important and I'm gonna say (30:00) in sort of about way that-that-that connects to-to what you've all said about the convention in particular so I've been worried over the last couple of years about how in the midst of this incredible blooming of organizing all across the country in various pockets various communities, that there's this rapid cycle of co-optation. So, the same time as social media allows for people to be networked, um, and to-to-to gather rapidly there is also the sort of the rapid co-optation of figures of the movement, the turn to celebrity, um, that is part of sort of how-how both Media and Capital work today so that people get-get turned into commodities rather quickly. And so the-the existence of a platform that moves beyond individual personality I think is really important. I also think even though the languages of policy a lot of what's in there is political vision it's not policy. It's about a different ordering of society that is imagined that isn't dependent upon whether this or that leader or this or that organi--individual organization says, "We support this person or that person for president or we believe that this, you know, we're gonna run for this office." Those types of things I think they're um I think it's really significant. And I so, so that moment at the convention with the Mothers of the Movement which I-I similar to it, um, Naomi just expressed that I felt--I had a very difficult time with it, um, and I and what I was trying to articulate in the aftermath is that it wasn't-- I didn't-I didn't wanna say they were being exploited by the Democratic Party as though these mothers didn't make a decision to align themselves with the party in this moment. They did, they are political actors. They have a set of beliefs, but rather what was the spectacle supposed to do to us and I think that what it was doing to us was um, as Naomi talked (32:00) about, insincere and disingenuous and manipulative, right? Um, and so again, you know, so this is a form of legitimizing the Democratic Party with suffering by putting black suffering on display. Um, and so, um, those types of theatrical moments that are a huge part of our political culture I think there is a possibility of getting around them with things like platforms and agendas and organizations working together on a set of goals as opposed to, um, moments and figures. 

Naomi: Yeah, I think in terms of the-the policy platform which I agree with, ah, Imani is not really about public policy but is really about a political vision, um, for, ah, what BYP100 refers to as, "Black Futures". Um, but I also thought that it was a document that um, marked um, the process of political maturation um that is happening within the movement which is to say a year ago or a year and a half ago, um, you know, there was ah, I think most people in the movement were certainly lured ah, into the fantasy that President Obama, um Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch ah, were reasonable people that one could meet with, ah to try to advance the, ah agenda of Black Lives Matter as a movement to stop police killings and to stop, ah-ah racial injustice in the criminal justice system. And I think that for um, a number of people that it was tempting to sit around the table and think that perhaps this was a shortcut ah, to get our demands met. And so I think over the last year and a half after um a number of studies and reports, (34:00) commissions, even a task force convened by the president himself um, that was purported to ah be aimed at improving policing in the 21st century and to still after all of that have American police on pace to kill even more people this year than were killed last year. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Imani: Right.

Naomi: Perhaps says we need to change our tactics because all of the meeting and glad handing with elected officials, um, right up to the president himself has not actually changed the situation with American policing and so this document is so far reaching and is radical and militant and not concerned with its perception to elected officials, represents, um, I think, ah a healthy, ah, um, differentiation within the movement 'cause there certainly still are those who think that um, the backroom deal is possible, the meeting with the president ah, may produce something. But for another section of the movement, it's clear that our power is in the streets in our ability to organize and to be independent and this document I think, helps to begin to separate out those, ah different political tendencies. 

Eddie: Yeah, I think you know for me it's a-it's a wonderful, ah-ah-ah counter to, um, ah Barack Obama's speech at Howard. Right? So if you think about the commencement speech at Howard, I mean, he has a horrible reputation or history of how he speaks to black constituents but one of the things that he did in that speech is he put forward an idea or conception of what politics actually involved or entailed, right? In some ways, he was kind of chastising, ah, activist to kind of understand that this is what politics is all about. And of course for him, (36:00) it's about compromise, right? It's about, ah, a certain way of navigating, right, the limits and constraints of dealing with people who are--who hold different views and how you have to kind of make-- they didn't say you have to compro--compromise your values but in some ways, he did say it--

Imani: He said to come to the table. [crosstalk]

Eddie: You have to come to the table with the willingness, right, to leave certain things behind in some ways, right? And so there is a way in which that-that commencement address, right, ah, put forward an idea of politics. It was very narrow, ah, very-very limited in its ability to transform the fundamental assumptions of how so--how societies are arranged, right? And so this idea of the platform not being policy but a political vision, right? 'Cause into my mind, one of the-one of the most insidious dimensions of-of-of-of political rationality of neoliberalism is the attack on the imagination, right? It constrains how one conceives of oneself as a political actor. And what-what the-- and so the portions of the-of the platform that I-that I disagree with that I don't think work but just the-the overall platform it seems to me offers a kind of way to kind of expand the nature of what we mean by politics in this moment so that these folks can't just dismiss these-these activists as these naive people who don't understand how to get things done, which has been one of the ways in which, um, ah, liberals, ah, black and otherwise have used one of the ways that they have used to discipline, right? Ah, and try to contain the efforts of-of-of-of these activists it seems to me. What do--what does African-American studies offer to this moment, right? I mean we're all ah scholars in this field, um, you know, I had a um donor (38:00) ah write me the other-the other week saying, "If there's any moment--is there ever a time to-to-to-to demonstrate the relevance and the need for this field, ah it's this moment." Um, I don't quite know what that means and its particulars but I understand the gesture. Um, each of us in our own way has tried to con--contribute to the converse--the public conversation, um, what skill set do we bring to bear, ah, on-on-on-on this-this current moment?

Imani: I mean, I guess-- the one thing say I-I-I thought about coming to this conversation today is that all of you have done work that in varying ways has helped me deepen my understanding of how we got here, right? So kind of offering, um, more robust analysis with a more detailed record to help us understand the way relations of power have worked, the way races worked and the way the social and political institutions have operated and I think that that's an essential function of what we do is to tell the story through. I think that's the language that-that you used Eddie but, um, in order to both understand our current moment but also to get-- have a sense instead of how-how change occurs, um. And I think that's in-- I think that's-- I think it is often dismissed as an-as an ideological function but it's actually about being serious scholars by doing serious critical work, um, that has ah, necessarily, as part of it a commitment to principles like justice and equity and-and humanity and those types of things. And-and so I think we have work that we do in public in this regard but I also think this is why our teaching is essential work, right? (40:00) So that when we were teaching students we're teaching them how to read, um, moments in time, events, um more thoroughly than oftentimes they have ever, um, been expected to, ah in their lives, um, and so I-- so-so when you look at you know, so you can read the report and say, "Oh, this is amazing. This report is showing all of the horrific things that the police in Baltimore do." Right? But we also have to understand how these reports functioned in-in the past, how they function at the present, what is the mandate attached to them, um, ah, do they have any enforcement power? Um, what does it mean that this is after the fact? What does it mean? How do we read this in light of Freddie Gray? And all those types of questions are the kinds of questions that in our practices and theirs, we-we ask, we ask more thorough questions about, ah, about the artifact or the event.

Eddie: Yeah, I mean, so, I mean, so that-that-that's really helpful, um, and I agree with it. What do you make of the, um, the description of the moment as a kind of [inaudible] of black intellectual work-of the work that we-- that you just described, right? So there-there is an argument out there, right? And it circulates, right? That over the last 8 years in particular, right? That those of us who have the skill set to do the work that we do have in effect dropped the ball that we have been in some ways, many of us at least, um, trying to find the word, complicit.

Imani: Of course. 

Eddie: In the moment. So that some people would say that this has been an idea of black intellectual work. The an idea of intellectual work around people of-people of color, vulnerable people generally, (42:00) ah that--

Imani: Some people might be you.

[laughter]

Naomi: You say that.
Eddie: Oh you know, I didn't want to say that but yeah I-I-I have said in-in-in some ways, right? So what-what, I mean I've made the claim right that there has been-- that we've dropped the ball in terms of kind of thinking critically in public with others in some ways that-- some of us have done we've aligned ourselves with-with ah-ah, folks in power.

Imani: We may not-- perhaps that word "we" don’t, perhaps "we" isn't the right word to describe that, right?

Naomi: Right.

Imani: So that there are certainly, um, you know, I mean we talked about neolis--neoliberalism has affected every dimension of our lives including the lives of scholars and-and-and that happens in many forums in universities is the casualization of labor, it's the, you know, it's the loss of the security of-of-of jobs but it also is an increasing kind of competitive landscape and the idea, um, the kind of the-the-the hamster wheel of productivity, the idea of--of um, academic celebrity, the-the attention machines all of those things affect our guilt as much as um, as any other institution in the society. So the question to me is sort of when we talk about we, so I-I agree with you absolutely but that has become and that is also the case with scholars who work on race, um and who work on-on all the various fields that we work in, but I do think there's also--there's another set of questions about how we constitute the "we" and certainly I think the way that we are constituted in this unit, um, is notwithstanding engagements in public is not towards celebrity but towards seriousness and rigor.

Eddie: Yeah. You know I--I would agree with that, I just wanna--

[crosstalk]

Imani: Push the question, yeah.

Eddie: --problematize it a bit because I wanna implicate myself.

Imani: Okay.

Eddie: --always, right, in-in this processes and procedures and these dynamics, right?

Imani: Uh-hmm.

Eddie: So even as I try to strake--strike a position that in some ways, (44:00) ah, is critical of the very things that you just described, right, understand that I find myself participating, right, in these things and trying to intervene in ways that are consistent or constant with the politics I hold but understanding, right.

Naomi: Right. 

Eddie: My own implication in-in-in doing this work, so I'm on television, I'm on ra-- I'm on the radio, I'm writing in this sort trying to think seriously in public, understanding what that means but also understand there's no place and I'm not suggesting that you are making this claim at all but there's no place where our hands aren't dirty.

Imani: No. But don't you--

Eddie: In this moment 'cause we're all in this, right?

Imani: We're all in-- but don't you feel-- I mean like, I mean just to go back to what we're talking about a minute ago where every time there's-- we hear the news report about the DOJ report don't we-we want Naomi to be on television clarifying.

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Eddie: Naomi, please. Exactly. Right.

Imani: One thing because we want people to understand, right? I mean, it's not about attention seeking but really wanting to sort of expand--the political discourse is so narrow and so flat, right? Um--

Eddie: I should tell the world that you always tell me to go on televi--nah. [laughts]

Imani: Yes, which is because of wanting to-- I mean, there's--the conversations are so-are so diminished and part of it is structure, right, you know the sound bite, the-the speed that you know that's hard to have a kind of extended deliberate conversation, but--

Keeanga: So, I would say a couple of things, um, when you ask what can African-American studies do? I think many can do many things but it depends on where you are, um, and that has to do with, you know, what the particular objectives are, um, of a, you know particular department, how it sees itself. So, I don't, you know, I don't know what thought process other folks go through in that regard but it does seem that um (46:00) you know, at least to some extent that ah, you know, we've made, um, some effort to talk about these things, um, publicly.

Naomi: There was this terrible editorial criticizing historians-- the historians--a bunch of historians came out against Trump, is it Stanley Fish?

Eddie: Stanley Fish.

Imani: Oh, yeah, Stanley Fish.

Naomi: Oh that was horrifying. 

Eddie: Yeah, it was a horrifying moment. You know I always make this distinction in my head, right? So there's a moment with um, when Dyson wrote the piece in response to Cornel or criticizing Cornel in The New Republic, right? And part of that argument was around profits, right? And he wanted to put forward a different conception of profits, right? And there's something called court profits, profits whose sole function, right, is to- is to work in and with the court and there are ways in which intellectuals work this way, right? I mean this is--

Imani: Oh, yeah.

Eddie: I mean this is [inaudible], going back all the way to our reading of [inaudible], right? Organic isn't just simply connected to working vulnerable, organic can also be connected to, right, elite. And so Stanley Fish was doing just clear work in that moment in responding to those historians, right?

Keeanga: So let me just say I think that, um, one is-is we're people in the world who have opinions about things that are happening who are affected also, um, by things that are-are happening and-and I'm-I'm not sure why, um, if you happen to work in a university, you know, you shouldn't have an opinion, ah about these things and have something to say about it. Um, so, you know, that's-that's what people do. We are in the world of a world and have things to say about it. The other thing I think is it's about also understanding, um, that people can have different roles so, you know, um, I'm not getting chained to something and getting arrested in a civil disobedience although I could, um but we've (48:00) written books that, um, you know, we hope to--that help complicate a dominant narrative, um, that systematically tries to deny, ah, the impact of racism and injustice in-in this-in this country and around the world. Um, and you know, I wrote my book in particular with the idea of um trying to ah help the movement, um, by bringing a sense of the-the history that um, you know, has surrounded this issue of police violence, um, ah, the history of ah- ah social movements and the strength of ah black political movements and being able to transform politics in the United States. Um, and I think, you know, that is a particular ah role um that we can ah play as well in terms of being able to talk about these things, to write about these things. Um, and the point, you know, is to not get them confused is to not, you know, think that you are, um, you know, doing the same thing as activists who are making decisions on a day-to-day basis about how to um direct ah the movement. But I think as-as-as, you know, people who are in the world and concerned about what is happening that, you know, we should talk about that and be concerned with that and not see that if you happen to-to work at a university that um, that means that you are not allowed to have an opinion or that you should, um, talk about or-or you know try to influence things. No one- no one else is asked to make those decisions, you know?

Imani: Uh-hmm.

Eddie: Uh-hmm. I mean look, one of the things that I wanted you to do with us ha--sitting down and having a conversation, ah, was to kind of think out loud together as we do every day (50:00) ah about the issues that-that we care most about. Um, and typically we do this um in the privacy of our own offices or in our classrooms with our students, um but I do know that how I think, ah, to echo something [inaudible] how I think and how I write is so has been and continues to be so fundamentally shaped by my interactions with you, um, and it seems to me that we're in a moment of crisis, ah, where we have to be as bold and imaginative and courageous as possible and how we think and how we write and-and-and what we do. And so in this--as we kind of wrap up, um, this conversation, um what-what some--what are some parting words? What are some parting words?

Imani: I think there's two, and this is sort of this is last about the kind of movement questions or politics questions that we've talked about but I think there's two um demands that are upon all of us in this moment, maybe there's three but I'll start with two. One is I think from the conversations that we had, we--the conversations we've had thus far, it seems--its evidence of how critical community is, right, and that's political community, that's intellectual community that sort of people to be in conversation with on issues that-that matter to us and I think it's important both because it helps us be better, um, or do better work but it's also important um to push back against this sort of hyper-individualistic, hyper-competitive landscape in which um we operate and then I think on the other sort of piece of that around the question of identity and that does not just suggest that id-- our identities aren't important, of course they are but that a set of commitments and values beyond how we (52:00) identify our essential to not use identity as a proxy for once. Politics but as an entry point, right, perhaps to understand to a deeper understanding of the world. And I think that makes--that actually facilitates us finding the kind of intellectual political communities that-that um, that-that we need in order to do this work. And oh, one last thought which is sort of the third piece. It's related to the question you asked about what are our function is, I think one of the things that's really difficult is that there's, um, a lot of times those of us that want to do socially meaningful work there's anxiety about the kind of elitism attached to being academics, um, that can sometimes push us to mute our--what we have to offer and I think that we can--I think it's really important to figure out how to sort of offer what we know rather than telling people what to do but not hesitate about being offering what we know, right? I mean, and we also have to be open to learning. But that dynamic relationship I think is-is-is really, really key because if we're gonna be useful, it's going to be at fearing things that we actually do as opposed to in instance like we can go saying as opposed to thinking that we're doing serving another function.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Keeanga: I'll just say that I think that this is a very um, we're entering into a very politically intense ah period um particularly as it relates to race and racial injustice in this country. For the first time in um 8 years, there won't be ah a black president who has been overwhelmingly reluctant ah to talk about and discuss issues of, ah race in this country. And so, um, it's difficult to know, ah what the-what that means (54:00) um for the future with presumably Hilary Clinton um at the helm but we do know or at least that um I'm fairly certain that ah the Black Lives Matter movement is not going anywhere anytime soon, um, and so if you combine that with the kind of generalized ah economic anxiety I think that existence in this country that was most demonstrated um  by the explosion of the Sanders campaign, um, but it makes for a very politically volatile, um, period that we're entering into. And so, in that sense I think, um, not just what- what we say or do, ah, can have meaning but I think that um, it will be important to, ah think about these things to, ah, um, talk about them with others. I think it's great that you're going to, um, The Dream Defenders, ah conference, I think that um, there's-there's a lot to think about--there's a lot to um, to talk about and you know, I don't have anything particularly profound except to say-- except that, um, I don't think that these tensions and dynamics are going to be lessened um, but I think, ah in some ways they will perhaps be um heightened in the next um in the next few years.

Eddie: It seems to me we have to cultivate the habits, our habits of reading, our habits of seeing. We have to ah stand firm in ah exhibiting excellence in our craft. Ah and in doing all of that, um, we don't stop being people in the world who love other folks, right, to care for ah people who are in our communities (56:00) and beyond who we take ourselves to be and how we describe who we take ourselves to be, to be committed to this question of justice, right?

Naomi: I'll conclude by saying that I--I like it that this began as a conversation on the election and turned into something entirely different, um, and-and I appreciate that. Um mostly, I think election politics destroys political life. It means that for a year, really, for more than a year every four years, we're supposed to pay attention to the horserace and the polls and we're supposed to feel forced into corners of making, um being told we have to make a choice for the lesser evil, um and this is destructive and distracting from what really matters and from the conditions of slow death that are being advocated and perpetuated, um, by both political parties and maybe that's where we play a role on the conversation. I mean, that is also where we, um feel grateful. I certainly feel grateful for the vision put forth, um by the movement for Black Lives which is indeed a grand sweeping vision that is not about this election cycle and not about the-not about the next.

Eddie: Right.

Naomi: Uh-hmm.

Eddie: Um, I'm speaking to some, ah kids ah in the summer jo-- summer journalism program here and one kid was, "How do you be an ally if you don't have the experience?" Right? And I was saying, "Oh, it's not a matter of having experience. We used to wear shirts back it more house is a black thing you want-- we wouldn't understand," um and it-it was so wrong, right? It's not about having the experience it's about being committed (58:00) justice, right? And if you're committed to that then we could do the work. So even in our space, as we-as we ah engage in this ah this practice which is really about solitude and having to think, ah and craft sentences and to-and to be committed to the craft in a way that requires starting discipline we can still be motivated by issues in justice to do the work that we know we've been called to do. And so I'm thankful for you guys participating in the conversation. Thanks.

Naomi: Thank you.

Imani: Thank you. 

Keeanga: Thank you.

[background music]

Eddie: This has been a wonderful conversation. If you're interested in learning more about African American Studies at Princeton, just go to our website www.aas.princeton.edu and thank you for visiting. Take care.

[background music]

[end]

 

 

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