Race in America: 2017 National Book Festival

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>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.>>Steve Inskeep: Michael
Eric Dyson is the author of Tears We Cannot Stop,
A Sermon to White America. Michael Eric Dyson you
may know from television. He’s an ordained minister. Has been an ordained
minister for 35 years, since you were seven years old. Is that correct [laughter]?>>Michael Eric Dyson:
Bless you [inaudible].>>Steve Inskeep: He’s also
a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and has
written for the New York Times and many other publications. Ibram X. Kendi is the author
of Stamped From the Beginning, Stamped From the Beginning,
which is the definitive history of racist ideas in America. Dr. Kendi is a professor of
history and international relations and the founding director
of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American
University here in Washington, D.C. Thanks very much
to both of you. I really appreciate it. [ Applause ] Before we seek answers, gentlemen,
I’d like to frame a question. When you think about the issues that
you focus on, what is the question that America faces right now?>>Ibram X. Kendi: Well
[laughter], so first of all I’d like to thank you all for coming
to hear this conversation on race. And, of course, I’d like
to thank my co-panelists. And it’s truly an honor to be here. The irony of this sort of is that it’s really been the same
question throughout the history of the United States. I think the major question
today is the same question that the United States
faced in 1776, or in 1787 when the U.S.
Constitution was written, and that is, why does racial
inequality exist in this country? Why in 1776 were so many
black people enslaved and so many white people free? Why is it today there are so
many black people in another type of slavery, in prison, and so
many more white people are free? Why are black people on the losing
and dying end of American society and whites are on the
sort of winning and living end of American society? And we’ve been debating this
question for quite some time. And there’s largely
been two major answers. The first is that this
inequality exists because there’s something wrong
and inferior about black people. That black people are
reckless with the police and that’s why they’re being shot
in more cases than white people are. That black people are more
criminal-like and that’s why 40% of the incarcerated population
in this country is black. The other side of the equation
is racial discrimination. Racial discrimination
causes racial inequality. And then some Americans have
argued both, that it is the case that black people are
inferior, but it’s also the case that racial discrimination exists. And really this three-way debate is
debate that I chronicle in Stamped From the Beginning, seeking to
answer this singular question.>>Steve Inskeep: I
appreciate you raising that, because you look back even
the period of the Civil War when people were arguing
about slavery. Many of the people even who argued against slavery nevertheless did not
feel African Americans were equal and didn’t want to
give them equality. It’s a complicated question then,
and you’re saying it is now. What is the question on your
mind, Michael Eric Dyson?>>Michael Eric Dyson:
Well, it’s to pick up on, and I want to echo Dr. Kendi’s –>>Steve Inskeep: It’ll be a
better panel if you say he’s wrong about something [laughter].>>Michael Eric Dyson:
We’ll wait and see.>>Steve Inskeep: All
right [laughter].>>Michael Eric Dyson: He
ain’t saying nothing wrong yet. But it’s an honor to be here with
such a distinguished journalist and a great intellectual. You know, the question is to what
degree is America prepared to go in order to preserve a myth
that it knows is a lie? Now [applause] — right? That’s building on rhetorically
the intellectual genealogy in both the [inaudible] sense
that Professor Kendi has laid out in brief form,
but in powerful form. Because the bottom line is,
what you going to do in the face of obvious mischaracterizations of
human beings and your situation? Because you ain’t just lying
about black folk, you got to lie to yourself about who you are. In order to maintain black
inferiority you’ve got to exaggerate white superiority
to be redundant, white superiority in terms of exaggeration. Right? Now, the only
thing I can say is that the present administration
is the most irrefutable evidence of the mythology of
white superiority. [ Applause ] And I got to tell you, I probably
owe an apology to George Bush. I was, you know [laughter] — I was
like going in man, the soft bigotry of low expectations, that’s
autobiographical and dumb presidents and doing stupid — excuse me, sir, by far you were the
not worst [laughter], the guy in office now is. So to me, but Donald Trump
is the easy translation for what black folk have been trying to tell white folk and
others for so long. Like white supremacy
is narcissistic, it’s self-involved,
it’s self-aggrandizing. It is unconscious of its own
privilege and the extension of that privilege as the predicate
of a kind of victimizing discourse. It’s interesting to me that
a lot of, you know, bunches and bunches and, you know, goo-gabs
[phonetic], and goo-gobs [phonetic] of white folk who tell black folk, oh stop victimizing,
stop playing the victim. How do you explain
what’s going on now? Then the white working class
has been led to believe, and white people in general,
have been led to believe, right, and not just older white folk,
in the millennial generation too, they believe that we
talk about race too much, that black folk get too much ink. And they believe that some of the
greatest victims of race are white. So when you think about that, how in the hell did we
get to that position? The victimization, the victim
mongering, the self-pitying that has collectively been
articulated as the basis of American politics
is rather astonishing. So the question for me is, to what
degree are white people willing to commit themselves collectively
to the delusion of white supremacy and understand that until we
get rid of that we won’t be able to shatter the real bonds
that continue to maniacal us, and we won’t be ultimately free
until we ca free each other.>>Steve Inskeep: This might — go ahead, you can applaud
if you’d like to [applause]. This might be a good
moment to mention that Michael Eric Dyson’s book takes
the form of a sermon [laughter]. I’ll just mention.>>Michael Eric Dyson: I’m going
to get that collection at the end, don’t worry about it [laughter].>>Steve Inskeep: So you raised
the present administration. Let me mention a number
of ways that people try to discuss the relationship of race
to the politics of this moment. People will say President Trump
is a racist, or he’s not a bigot but the people around him are,
or he’s taking advantage of race, or there may be racists among his
supporters, or this is all a bunch of bunk and why are you
raising this issue so much, the guy is actually just saying
things that need to be said. And when you talk to voters you hear
all kinds of things from people, ranging from racial remarks to genuine economic concerns
to a lot of confusion. Is the politics of this
moment really all about race?>>Ibram X. Kendi: So I think any — you know, I wrote a book about
the history of racist ideas. In order to truly write this
book I had to show the ways in which race was constantly
intercepting with other identities
or other phenomena. And so in other words, I had to
show that really black people in this book was really a history of anti-black racist ideas are
a collection of racial groups, or a collection of
racialized groups. And so you don’t just have black
people, you have black women, you have black men, you have the
black poor, you have black elites, you have black professors, right? You have many of these
different groups, and each of these groups have
been targeted by racist ideas. But depending on the group chances
are the idea itself inter sort of sected with another type of idea. So in other words, the idea
that poor people are lazy, and the idea that black people
are lazy, comes together to say that black poor people are
lazier than white poor people. Right? Does everybody sort of
see the way that sort of works? Or, the sexist idea that women
are weak, and the racist idea that black women are not really
women intersects to create this idea of the strong black woman,
which is in sort of — isn’t the opposite of the idea
of the pinnacle of womanhood which is the weak white woman. Right? And so, you know,
I had to sort of show all of these other intersections,
and so racist constantly sort of intersecting with class
and with gender and with –>>Steve Inskeep: Is that
[inaudible] politics now? It’s race intersecting
with each other?>>Ibram X. Kendi: Oh, precisely. I mean, I don’t think
it’s just black people who are outraged by
the 45th president. Right? Black people
aren’t the same — I mean, women are outraged
[applause], poor people are outraged, right, disabled people are outraged,
Muslims are outraged. I mean, I’m looking for somebody
who’s not outraged [laughter], right? I mean, so it’s — no.>>Steve Inskeep: What do
you think about people say that the Trump phenomenon that what’s behind it is
economic anxiety, or unhappiness with elitism, or — you’re rolling
your eyes practically there. Go on [laughter].>>Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I think —
I think some of these people are — the easiest way to understand them
is sort of post racial progressives. And what I mean by that is,
they’re progressive in the sense that they recognize that
class or even poverty or even economic inequality
is a problem, right? But they simultaneously
want to reduce everything to economic anxiety,
to income inequality. And so that’s where the post
racialism sort of comes in, because in their mind, right,
race is no longer a problem. All of these issues
are issues of class.>>Steve Inskeep: Michael,
[inaudible]?>>Michael Eric Dyson: Well, the two are not diametrically
opposed are they? You could be [inaudible]
economically and a racist. I mean, so to ask if — is it
really relevant to ask a kind of deconstruction of the psychological mendacity
that is purveyed by 45? Does it matter whether —
race is as racist does. We — I’m not a Freudian or
a [inaudible] archetypal, analytical psychologist, or a
Carl Rogers indirect approach where I can put him on a couch
or, you know, psychoanalyze him. The thing is, I ain’t
really interested in the existential anxieties that
fuel and feed your demonization. I’m just saying the shit you’re
doing is racist [laughter]. Right? That’s what it is. So look, Donald Trump is proud of
being namechecked in rap music. Look at the jarring
juxtapositions that confuse us. A guy who’s proud of the fact that rappers have namechecked
him, hanging out with –>>Steve Inskeep: That’s given — that’s given as evidence
that he’s not racist.>>Michael Eric Dyson:
That’s what I’m saying. So I’m saying, you — he’s
hanging out with black people. He’s got black friends
that come to him. What does that have to do with —
this is — this is our problem. We think racism, right? The guy, Justin Volpe, who
plunged the plunger up the anus of Abner Louima was
dating a black woman. So, you can sleep with a black
woman and still be a racist. So you can be namechecked by
black folk and still be racist. Even a champagne company was
being namechecked by them so much they said,
hey, we don’t even want to be namechecked by them anymore. So they had to go from [inaudible]
to ace of spades, but that’s inside and out, there’s no worry about it. So my point is — my point is that
in this culture in which we live, racism is not simply bigotry, right, which is Howard Thurman said a
bigot is a person who makes an idol of his or her commitments. Bigotry is real but
racism is also structural. It’s also a set of ideas,
which is why racist ideas, he didn’t say racist people. His book is a genealogical analysis
and the finest philosophical and historical form of
ideas that motivate people, even people who ostensibly
lay claim to being white and liberals may be
subject to racist ideas. Martin Luther King, Junior
said, it’s not the bigot, it’s not the KKK that turns me off. I see them. I know who they are. It’s the white moderate who tells
me to slow down who’s the problem. So what I’m saying to
you [applause] is that — if that if you’ve got a
president who stands up and tries to draw a functional equivalence
and a moral and ethical parallel between neo-Nazis and fascists
and white supremacists, and anti-fascists and Black
Lives Matter folk, you’re dealing with a guy whose corrupted
sensibilities are manifest, and whose inability
to make a distinction between the two reveals
the very racist logic that is so evident to us. So we don’t want to admit
the fact that here’s a guy who seems pugnacious
and willing to fight, but he also reinforces the
pathological beliefs about race that have been the basis for
what Professor Kendi has talked about in his book, and what we know
to be the case for interactions with Americans across the board. So at that level, and then
finally when white folks say, look, it’s just my anxiety, it’s just
that I’m nervous about the future, so you elect a billionaire
[laughter] as your president. I ain’t really sure that you were
that anxiety stricken that you get in office a guy who
has no understanding of what the everyday person is. Martin Luther King, Junior
is in jail in Birmingham, and his white jailors come to him
and say, you know what Dr. King, you know, segregation is right
and immigration is wrong. He said, no, it’s not. And then they start arguing. And he says, how much
money do you make? And when they tell him he say,
well, hell, you need to be out here marching with
us [laughter]. So why then — this
is what I began with. The white working class is now
being celebrated as an ideal prism through which to view things. First of all, they
can be racist, too. In fact, white working-class people
tend to be a bit more egregious in the external manifestation
of race because they’re in direct competition with black
people over scarce of resources. Economic anxiety is the
translation of racial resistance and black animus at the
level of the pocketbook. So white folk who say, oh yes, all
people should live together live in suburbs away from Negros who
don’t have to deal with housing, who don’t have to deal with their
kids going to the same school. Leave the burden to white
working-class people to work out the mathematics and
algebra of racial conciliation. So, yeah, these are the people who
don’t want black people in unions, they don’t want them
in pipefitter unions. They want to dominate
the concrete industry. In other words, white
working-class people have done some of the most vitriolic things
against black working-class and Latino working-class people,
so to elevate them automatically as the kind of paragon of
virtues is problematic, and then I’ll end it by saying this. Then we got –>>Steve Inskeep: Again,
it’s a sermon.>>Michael Eric Dyson: I’ll say
this — I’ll say this [laughter]. What trips me out even further
though is even in the aftermath of the election, Bernie
Sanders, my man, joined, right, but look at what Bernie did though. Bernie joined with other people on
the right and on the left who said, hey, identity politics
is killing us. So in other words, concerned
about queer people, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual people, concerned about black
people, about women’s issues. Wait, wait, wait a minute.>>Steve Inskeep: Is identity
politics killing you by the way?>>Michael Eric Dyson: Yeah,
it’s called whiteness [laughter]. The greatest identity
— let me tell you what. It’s the Kyser Soze
approach [laughter]. It really is. If you know that movie and you know
usual suspects, the very thing, white folk [inaudible]
talking about, oh my God, it’s identity politics. What in the hell do
you think whiteness is? Whiteness is the greatest
identity politics perpetrated as a hoax upon American
consciousness in history. So, yes, I think identity
politics are destroying us. And there were no identity politics,
notice this, until black people, brown people, people of
color, indigenous people, began to challenge
the unspoken hegemony of whiteness as a universal norm. Look at what Professor Kendi did. So the ideal is this, white
people think that they are human. They are not white. We are American, not white. When you people come along saying,
oh, why don’t you stop being black and be human and be American, that’s because whiteness has been
co-equivalent with what it means to be human, and white people
don’t see themselves as white. White folk got to come out
the closet and be a race and an ethnicity as well. [ Applause ] Sorry.>>Steve Inskeep: No,
it’s okay, it’s okay. There’s a lot to say and
there’s a lot more to say. You made a reference there to
the Charlottesville situation, the tragedy there around
demonstrations and around trying to preserve a statue of Robert
E. Lee, which last I saw in the news has been placed under
a sheet, is that right [laughter]?>>Michael Eric Dyson:
So to speak [laughter]. So to speak.>>Steve Inskeep: I’m just
leaving it right there [laughter].>>Ibram X. Kendi: I think the
black folk would rather have it not under sheet.>>Michael Eric Dyson:
That’s right, yeah, exactly.>>Steve Inskeep: Well,
that raises a question. The president himself
raised this question, and other people have been
raising this question and talking about other things
they want to take down, statues of the founding
fathers, other things. What monuments stay if
it’s up to you gentlemen?>>Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I
think for me — let me — let me just say that as an African
American it’s very difficult to live by, walk by, even work
or go to school in a place named after somebody who if they were
still living I would be enslaved. In the case of the Confederacy, I think it was crystal clear what
they intended if their nation lived. I mean, the vice president of the
Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, weeks after the Confederacy
was founded in 1861, stated that our new government
is founded upon the great truth that the Negro is not
equal to the white man, and that slavery is subordination to the superior race is a
natural and normal condition. And Jefferson Davis, who
of course was the president of the Confederacy, my book,
Stamped From the Beginning, is named after when he said the
inequality between the black and white races was
stamped from the beginning. Right? And so it’s clear and obvious
what these Confederate leaders stood for, but we should also remember that these Confederate leaders
were inspired by American leaders. Jefferson Davis was named
after Thomas Jefferson. His father specifically named
him after Thomas Jefferson because he admired Thomas Jefferson. And so there are all of these
sort of ideological relationships between the Confederacy and
the slaveholding America, and slaveholding America that
dominated America before, of course, the Civil War. And so one of the things that I
think about is that people state that the — you can’t really take
down the monuments of presidents. Like those are — that’s
the president. Like how are you going to take down
a monument for George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or
one of these other people? But then when I look at
Germany and I remember that Hitler was the leader of
Germany and I don’t see monuments to Hitler, even though he was
the leader of that nation. Right? And so for me to
me, if it was up to me, I would allow those
monuments of people who truly represented what
America is — says itself to be, which is freedom, which is the
equality, which is meritocracy. Now, you see how I say
ideal says itself to be, it’s not necessarily that, right? But the people –>>Steve Inskeep: It’s
not that they were perfect but that they stood for this idea.>>Ibram X. Kendi: Precisely. And I think slaveholders
did not stand for that idea. And so — and I think people
who are clearly racist who instituted discriminatory
policies, not — you know, not just sort of
racist but bigoted, you know, people who divided people, who
discriminated against people, who rendered particular
groups to be inferior. These are not the people
who should be represented and honored, honored by a monument. We have to — we have to remember
that monuments, or when you’re named after something, that’s an honor. Like this, you know, we’re
honoring people in this way.>>Steve Inskeep: What about — what
about Thomas Jefferson, slave owner, in some ways the classic kind of liberal progressive
who’s delaying progress that you described, and yet he wrote
the Declaration of Independence and the phrase that got
millions of people free, all men are created equal? What would you — what
would you do for him?>>Ibram X. Kendi: So for me, again, the concept all men are created
equal has long been rendered an antiracist idea. When in fact I sort of
demonstrate in the way in which that’s actually
a foundational or assimilationist idea, which in
my work I classify as a racist idea. And the way that works
is you can believe that the racial groups
were created equal, but then black people were raised
in that pathological culture, black people were raised in barbaric
Africa, black people were raised in southeast D.C., and so
they have became inferior. And so now it’s my job,
either liberals today or Thomas Jefferson then, to
civilize and develop people. And so like that idea, the notion
of created equal, is actually not by its very nature an
assimilation — an antiracist idea. What actually is antiracist idea
is if we say groups are equal. You see the difference [applause]?>>Steve Inskeep: So great monuments
on the Mall, Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial,
the Lincoln Memorial, it sounds — I hope Lincoln stays. Does Lincoln stay? Lincoln okay [laughter]?>>Ibram X. Kendi: So I think — I think Lincoln we can
have a little debate.>>Steve Inskeep: Oh,
all right [laughter]. How about you?>>Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I
mean, I’m getting schooled. I mean, but here’s the things.>>Steve Inskeep: You would have
said something different five minutes ago, is that
what you’re saying?>>Michael Eric Dyson: I’m
going to say it now [laughter]. I’m just going to say it now. I mean, you wanted us to disagree, now you’ve got your wish
fulfilled, but not ultimately.>>Steve Inskeep: Typical
media figure [laughter].>>Michael Eric Dyson:
So here’s the deal. I think that Professor Kendi has
broken down here is extremely, extremely important,
especially in the ideological and philosophical argument about
creation versus existence, right? That’s, you know, what the
philosophers would call both an ontological assertion
about the being of people. And a category mistake, how we — how we convince ourselves to
lump them under the rubric of a particular description. So that’s really sophisticated
and nuance. But when it comes to the monuments
for me to apply that thinking, here’s my thought, right. There is a distinction
between Jefferson Davis and Thomas Jefferson for me, right. In the sense that at least
one of them was trying to articulate an ideal that
could be governing and regulative of the notion of democracy so
that his words could be used, even if not with original
intent, to subvert his own beliefs and to include Martin Luther King,
Junior, to include Fanny Lou Hamer, who could use those words as
powerful arguments in behalf of the very people who
have been excluded. In other words, there was
interpretative flexibility. There was what we might call an
interpretation that was countered to the dominant one that — of the
original one, but King later on, we hold these truths
to be self-evident. When King says that in
’63, August 28 at the — behind, in front of Lincoln,
he’s doing such imaginative, ingenious reinterpretation of the
origins that he makes us think about them in fresh ways. So for that matter, to
me, Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson would be
different than Jefferson, Davis, and Stonewall Jackson,
who — you know why? Because first of all,
they were not patriots. Right? I mean, how you
[applause] — right? You [inaudible] have a statue of
Huey Newton before you got one of Stonewall Jackson [laughter],
because Huey Newton wasn’t trying to go nowhere but here, right? Bobby Seale, Angela Davis should
have a statue long before Stonewall Jackson [applause]. So my point is, why? Because they were secessionists. They didn’t even love your country. They wanted to leave your country. They said it was inferior. It was the wrong argument for
the protection of democracy. So how are you celebrating
anti-patriot? That would be like,
if had a president who was selling the
election to Russia. That stuff could never happen
[laughter and applause]. So for me — so for me, I think
that frail, flawed human beings, because there’s another
monument there to Martin Luther King,
Junior, right? And some have tried to argue, right,
plagiarized his dissertation, right, used other men’s words
to substantiate his claim as intellectual, and other things
that we don’t need to get into up in here, so some have argued,
well, the moral depravity of the man contradicts the ethical
ideas for which he gave his life. And yet what I would argue, because
in my book on King I have tried to say anything you going to
say, I’m going to take that, deal with what it means,
and still argue that he’s the greatest
American we’ve ever seen. Why? Because those flaws
mitigate the incredible degree to which he poetically,
prophetically, and analytically put forth the
ideals of American democracy in such a fashion that he
made this nation better. I would argue [applause] — I would
argue that Lincoln at his best, in his reinterpretation, especially
reading Kendi’s book, and Washington and Jefferson and a few others, as flawed as they were laid the
groundwork for reinterpretation that subverted their very
moral trajectory that gave rise to a movement that
contradicted them. I would keep them, and I’m
going to tell you why we get rid of the monuments for
the Confederacy as well. People say, well, this
is a teachable moment. Ain’t nobody teaching nothing. There ain’t no — ain’t
no teaching going on. I don’t see white southerners taking
their children to a Confederate flag or to a monument going, you know, we
want to deconstruct white supremacy at its base [laughter],
and this man was the man. No, because when you have a
monument, as professor Kendi said, you are celebrating an ideal. In a neutral environment
we could teach everything. This is not a neutral environment. And when you celebrate on
sacred soil the public rituals of American democracy, everything
that’s rooted there must have the ultimate intent of embracing
the Democratic energy that has made this
nation what it is today. That’s why I would keep them and
get rid of the other cats as well.>>Steve Inskeep: All
right [applause]. I want to ask two more
questions, if I can, and just get a get
a few more minutes. I invited people on this social
media platform known as Twitter to — I just said, I’m going to
be talking to these gentleman, anything you’d like to know, and two questions stick
in my mind from people. I don’t know who they are actually. But one of them said, would
you ask them, you gentlemen, if they feel they have done anything that have worsened racial
divisions in America? As public figures,
as public speakers, weighing in on controversial topics, is there anything you think didn’t
work out the way had hoped it would?>>Michael Eric Dyson: Well,
that’s a different question.>>Steve Inskeep: Okay [laughter].>>Michael Eric Dyson: Well, it
ain’t always worked out [laughter], but it ain’t because I — now, I’m
not presuming that whoever asked that question is one
of the many kvetching and complaining white people
who say you’re a race baiter because you acknowledge race. I’m not going to presume
that [laughter]. Because let’s make it
a legitimate question. See, here’s the irony, I meet
many white people who think because I talk about
race I’m creating race. I ain’t created it. I’m revealing it to you. I’m just showing you
the chasm, the abyss. I’m showing you the ugliness. And I’m not perfect. Am I flawed? Of course. Have I made statements that ultimately may
not serve the interests for which I claim to serve? Absolutely. But here’s the problem. Here’s the difference. Many white people who are themselves
racists will see me and my mistake as the unalterable manifestation
of an inherent inferiority and a race baiting that they
never see in themselves, or other white brothers
and sisters, number one. And number two, at the end of
the day what we are here to do, and I don’t want to speak
for Professor Kendi.>>Steve Inskeep: He’s about to.>>Michael Eric Dyson: He’s
going to speak for himself. But I’ll say this, as a guy
who’s been a public intellectual for 30 some years, and has been on
this front line and writing books and thinking, and thinking
out loud and stuff, I have never claimed to be perfect. But Grace Jones said,
I ain’t perfect but I’m perfect for you [laughter]. So the great philosopher,
Grace Jones, is sufficient for me [laughter]. And I think ultimately we are
trying to do the right thing. We’re trying to make things better. We’re trying to bring a spotlight
to issues, including our own. I’m trying to squeeze out the
sexism in myself as a feminist. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. Do I need to be reprimanded
constantly? Yes. Should I re-examine
my own principles daily? Yes. But what we must
commit ourselves to together is not demonizing each
other, but looking at the problems that exist so that we can — we can concretely eradicate the
possibility of white supremacy. That’s what I’m about every
day and all day [applause].>>Steve Inskeep: Dr. Kendi?>>Ibram X. Kendi: So it’s — I’m actually struggling
with this question, because I’m actually seeking to answer this question
I guess for my next book. And I think early in Stamped From the Beginning I
talked about the way –>>Michael Eric Dyson: Don’t give it
all away though, let them read it.>>Ibram X. Kendi:
All right, of course.>>Michael Eric Dyson: Just
tease, just tease a little bit. Don’t give them the answer.>>Ibram X. Kendi:
You know, I write –>>Michael Eric Dyson: They
got to pay $25 for that.>>Ibram X. Kendi: Yes. Yes. So I’m not going to give
you that much [laughter].>>Steve Inskeep: So you’re
wrestling with this question?>>Ibram X. Kendi: So I
think early in Stamped From the Beginning I state
that the only thing wrong with black people is that
we think something is wrong with black people. And the only thing extraordinary
about white people is that, anybody want to take a guess? They think something is
extraordinary about white people. But going back to black people,
once I, through studying the history of racist ideas, once I realized
the fundamental functional of racist ideas, and that
function was to prevent people from resisting racial
discrimination, from even preventing people from
seeing racial discrimination, because they are so
infected by racist ideas that when they see inequality they
see what’s wrong with black people. Right? And so that means
those who were discriminating against black people, and those
who were creating those inequities, those who are benefiting from those
discriminatory policies are able to continue to do so
because we can’t even see — we’re not even looking for the
racial discrimination, right, because we think black
people are criminal-like. We think black people are poor. We think black people
are hyper-sexual. Right? So we’re not even going
to look for the discrimination in the criminal justice system. And so I asked myself very simply, are these ideas affecting
black people, too? Do you have black people blaming
black people for racial equality?>>Michael Eric Dyson: Bill Cosby.>>Ibram X. Kendi: Do you have
black people who are refusing to resist racial discrimination
because they think that the problem fundamentally
is black people? And clearly the answer is yes. And so in writing sort of Stamped
From the Beginning, you know, before I could chronicle and study and reveal anyone else’s
racist ideas, I first had to chronicle
and reveal my own. I first had to come
to grips with the fact that I had spent the better
part of my life thinking that there was something
wrong with black people. And so to answer your
question, yes, I mean, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. Particularly in the ’80s and ’90’s
you all know all of the racist ideas that were swirling, even
within black neighborhoods, which people were patting Bill
Clinton on the back for passing and pushing through the Crime
Bill and antagonizing Angela Davis who weeks before was
saying he should not do that because that’s going to lead to what we now see as
a mass incarceration. Right? You know, you have black
people who were pushing for that because they were so scared of who? Black people. Right? And so I realized,
you know, that I too, again, had consumed racist ideas. I also realized that really
racist ideas had principally, historically targeted black minds. They didn’t want you to run away
because they wanted you to believe that you should be enslaved
because you are black. They did not want you to think that
you should have more resources, that you should have more wealth,
that you should not be in poverty, that you should not be in that
impoverishment neighborhood. They didn’t want you, black people,
to think that because, right? Then if black people
did they would resist. And those black people
who recognized that inequality is
abnormal, who do not think that white people are superior, these are the very people
throughout our history who have resisted, right? And so I realized, again, that I had
not done enough resisting in my life because of the racist
ideas I had consumed. So I mentioned a new book. So, you know, I’m actually
writing a book that really sort of takes the reader through
my own sort of upbringing, consuming racist ideas,
and how I ultimately strove to be an antiracist. Right? Because really, I mean, we
like to talk a lot about non-racism. Everyone in America likes to
stand up and say I’m not a racist. But really, there’s no
such thing as nonracist. Right? Either we believe
in racial hierarchy or we believe in racial equality. Either we look at racial disparities
and see what’s wrong with people, or we see what’s wrong
with policies. Right? There’s no in
between in that. Right? And so, you know, I’m sort of
writing about how I came to realize that there’s nothing wrong with
people and everything wrong with this nation’s policies. [ Applause ]>>Steve Inskeep: One
final questions. [ Applause ] Also from Twitter. The question was, is there any hope?>>Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I
think reading Dyson’s Sermon to White America, you know, it’s — I mean, I should say that philosophically I believe
that change is possible. And what I mean by that is,
I feel like an activist, I feel like somebody who
desires to bring about change has to believe that change is possible. You — how are you going
to bring about change if you don’t even believe
it’s possible, right? That’s the first step
[applause], right? And so I feel like I
have all of the evidence as to why we should not
be hopeful [laughter]. I know all the evidence, right? Trust me, I do, and I know
it throughout history, right? I mean, I actually read through
some of the most vicious things that have ever been said
and done to black people. But at the same time, somehow
those black people who were victims of that viciousness still had hope, and I think that’s the very
reason why they resisted, and I think that’s the reason why
I’m sitting here right now talking to you. [ Applause ]>>Steve Inskeep: Dr. Dyson?>>Michael Eric Dyson: I’m sure
this is true for Professor Kendi. Every day I get threats from
white people that they’re going to kill me, call me nigger. I got so much negative discourse
my only hope is could you call me Professor Nigger [laughter]. Every now and again
just say Dr. Nigger. They’re bold and emboldened. They go on my Facebook page, they
send me e-mails, they threaten me. They say, Dylann Roof
had the right idea. Why does a nigger like me exist? This is from white people. And you can imagine, I’m sure if you
haven’t had the experience yourself, what that’s meant to do, the kind of
language it is meant to discourage, the kind of rhetoric it is meant
to side track, the kind of ideas that it is meant to
implant, and the kind of fear that it is meant to impart. And furthermore, trying to tell
other white brothers and sisters who believe it can’t be that bad. It can’t be that rough. It can’t — it’s not us, it’s — when it’s your culture that
is reproducing the pathogens that lay waste to the moral
ecology of this culture. So the same people who think
it is a farce not to believe in global warming don’t understand
that racism in the moral ecology is such a warped and warping experience
and it is system wide to a degree that many white brothers and
sisters may be afraid to acknowledge or fearful because their parents
and their cousins and their uncles and their children agree with it. So I think that in light
of that, Howard Thurman, who I end my book with, nearly,
to echo what Professor Kendi said, he said, our slave for parents
face long rows of cotton in the interminable heat. The rawhide whip of the overseer,
and yet what did they do? They envisioned a future
beyond where they were. He said, never become, never
allow the horizon of your dreams to be reduced to your
present experience, that that present experience
cannot hold you. He said, either you’re
going to be a prisoner of an event or a prisoner of hope. And so I must say that
I am a prisoner of hope, that the reason I can talk about
the negativity and the darkness and then take it, is because
my pastor used to tell me, don’t fight for victory,
fight from victory. And in an anticipatory sense,
in a theological sense, we call it eschatology, the
end is realized in the present. So for me, I am a prisoner of that
hope and I think that there has to be a way that we can change. I meet so many — after
having written this book, and I’ll end here, I meet so
many white brothers and sisters, among many others, who say
I gave this to my uncle, my cousin, I read your book. It challenged me. It was straight no chaser. You tried to show love
but you demanded that we deal with something. I think those people are real,
those people who are willing to give their lives like
Sister Heather Heyer, those people like Viola Liuzzo,
those people who like [inaudible], those white brothers and
sisters who are willing to pay the ultimate price in
alliance with and in fraternity and sorority with us, those
of us who can come together, we are the manifestation, the evidence of the very
thing for which we fight. So, yes, I am a prisoner of hope. That’s why I’m able to swing
against the vicious pathology of white supremacy, male supremacy,
homophobia, and all of the rest of the isms that have distorted
the real true democratic spirit of this nation, and for
that I’m willing to continue to give my life [applause].>>Steve Inskeep: Michael
Eric Dyson, Ibram X. Kendi, thank you very much.>>Michael Eric Dyson: Thank you.>>Steve Inskeep: Stand
up, stand up [applause].>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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