Beverly Daniel Tatum – 2017 Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor Lecture

Beverly Daniel Tatum – 2017 Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor Lecture


On behalf the Stanford administration, I welcome
you tonight to the Mimi and Peter Haas Distinguished Visitor
lecture. I would like to give a special thanks to Mimi
Haas for her vision and leadership in working with us to establish the Mimi and Peter E.
Haas Distinguished Visitor program that brings visionary global leaders for a 10-week residency
to engage with students, faculty and our larger Stanford campus community. Thank you to the Haas Center for Public Service
for hosting, and for the more than 30 campus departments, centers and organizations for
co-sponsoring tonight’s event focused on public service and the university. Dr. Beverly Tatum arrives on campus as we
are experiencing, through Cardinal Service initiative, the boldest expansion of the commitment
to service at Stanford since the Haas Center was founded some 30 years ago. Cardinal Service is part of Stanford’s work
to consider deeply new approaches to ethical and effective service. It is a key part of redefining education at
Stanford and is helping spur a civic resurgence in universities nationally. If there is someone who understands the significance
of public service in higher education, it is Dr. Beverly Tatum. Dr. Tatum served as president of Spelman College
from 2002 to 2015, a time of significant growth and innovation at that institution. During her tenure, scholarship support for
Spelman students tripled and opportunities for faculty research and development expanded
significantly. She has received numerous awards, including
the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award and the American Psychological Association Award
for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology. She holds a BA from Wesleyan University, and
an MA and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan, as well as an
MA in Religious Studies from Hartford Seminary. Dr. Tatum is widely recognized as a race relations
expert and a leader in higher education. Her areas of research include racial identity
development and the role of race in the classroom. Students at Stanford and elsewhere, and faculty
and staff alike I should add, have mentioned that her books have been transformative in
their lives. Her books include “Assimilation Blues: Black
Families in a White Community” and “Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School
Resegregation.” And this year marks the 20th anniversary of
the publication of her seminal book, “’Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’ and Other Conversations about Race.” An updated edition of this best-seller will
be released this fall, and we are hoping to get a sneak preview tonight. We are thrilled and honored to have Beverly
Tatum in residence at the Haas Center for the spring quarter, along with her husband
Dr. Travis Tatum, who’s down here. He’s a professor emeritus of education. They have arrived here during an historic
moment for our country—one in which we must confront profound and challenging questions
about our national identity and values, who we are as a country, and who we will become. It is moments like these when scholarship
and informed civil discourse become even more valuable, and we are deeply grateful to Dr.
Tatum for her insight and inspiration. So please join me in welcoming our Distinguished
2017 Haas Visitor, Dr. Beverly Tatum. Thank you. Thank you very much. Let me just say I am completely honored to
be here as the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at the Haas Center for Public Service. And I certainly want to thank Dr. Elam for
that lovely introduction, and I want to thank the Haas staff for making me feel so welcome,
me and my husband, Travis, and a special thank you to Mimi Haas, who is here tonight, for
making this opportunity so possible. Thank you so much. When people ask me what I’ve been doing since
I left the presidency of Spelman College, I tell them that I’m working on, as you heard,
the twentieth anniversary edition of that book, “‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting
Together in the Cafeteria?’ and Other Conversations About Race,” and the typical response when
I tell them that comes in the form of a question or sometimes two. The first question, “Is that still happening?” And then, “Are things getting any better?” A quick glance across the cafeteria is the
average racially mixed U.S. high school or college will tell you the answer to the first
question is yes. And you knew that, I could tell by the laughter. But what, if anything, does that tell us about
the answer to the second question, “Are things getting better?” What does “better” look like? That is a more complicated question. What has changed for better or worse in the
last 20 years, and what is the implication for how we understand ourselves and each other
in reference to our racial identities? And, if we’re dissatisfied with the way things
are, what can we do to change it? I wrote the first version of this book in
1996, it was published in ’97, but I was writing in what I thought of certainly as the closing
years of the twentieth century. Now almost two decades into the twenty-first
it seems we are still struggling with what W.E.B. duBois identified in 1906 as the problem
of the color line, even though the demographic composition of that color line has changed
quite a bit since then. The numbers are pretty remarkable when you
consider that in 1950 the total U.S. population was nearly 90% white. Fast forward to 2014. It was the first time in U.S. history that
the majority of elementary and secondary school children were of color – Black, Latino, Asian,
or Native. As I like to say, new faces, same places. Today Latinos are the largest population of
color in the nation, almost 18 percent. The Black population is at 13 percent. Asians are 6% but growing in population size
faster than any other group, largely the result of immigration. The percentage of multi-racial babies has
risen from 1 percent in 1970 to ten percent in 2013. Despite the fact that our national diversity
is growing rapidly, old patterns of segregation persist, most notably in schools and neighborhoods. More than 60 years after the Brown vs. Board
of Education Supreme Court decision, in every region of the country except the West, our
public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1980, with the highest rates
of school segregation occurring in the Northeast. Nationwide, nearly 75 percent of Black students
today attend so-called majority minority schools. Similarly, large numbers of Hispanic students, approximately 80 percent, attend schools where students of color are in the majority. Both Black and Latino students are much more
likely than White students to attend a school where 60 percent or more of their classmates
are living in poverty as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price
lunch programs. Separate remains unequal, as schools with
concentrated poverty and racial segregation are still likely to have less experienced
teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities, and fewer classroom
resources. Neighborhood schools have once again become
the predominant method of student assignment, and to the extent that neighborhoods are segregated
the schools remain so. When we talk about residential segregation
we inevitably find that we are talking not only about race but also class. Certainly income matters when you’re looking
for housing. But we can’t overlook the way housing patterns
have been shaped historically by race-based policies and practices such as racially restrictive
real estate covenants, racial steering by real estate agents, redlining of neighborhoods,
and other discriminatory practices by mortgage lenders. That history includes the use by many white
homeowners associations of physical threats and violence to keep unwanted people of color
out of their neighborhoods. The legacy of these policies and practices
lives on in the present as past housing options enhance or impede the accumulation of home
equity and eventually the intergenerational transmission of wealth. And though such policies are now illegal at
the federal, state and local level evidence suggests they haven’t been eliminated in practice. Contemporary surveys of racial attitudes among
whites indicate that the larger the hypothetical Black population is the more likely White
respondents are to express discomfort about living in the same neighborhood. The behavioral result of such attitudes is
that progress toward residential integration has been quite limited. Of all groups of color, Asian Americans are
the least segregated from Whites, meaning they’re the most likely to live in White neighborhoods. But not surprisingly of all racial groups,
Whites are the most isolated. They are the most likely to live in racially
homogeneous communities and are least likely to come into contact with people racially
different from themselves. So what difference does it make now? For people of color, living in a hyper-segregated
community increases one’s exposure to the disadvantages associated with concentrated
poverty and reduces access to the benefits associated with affluent communities, regardless
of their own socioeconomic status. Sociologists tell us that residential segregation
continues to be the structural lynch pin in America’s system of racial stratification. Racial segregation limits access to the helpful
social networks needed for successful employment. Neighbors connect each other, or each other’s
children, to employment opportunities and other needed resources. Keeping groups separated means that community
helpfulness is not shared across racial lines. Because of residential segregation, economic disadvantage and racial disadvantage are inextricably linked. Acknowledging now what really are centuries-long
persistence of residential segregation and its consequence, school segregation, goes
a long way towards explaining why the answer to the first question posed to me is still
yes, the Black kids are still sitting together. The social context in which students of color
and White students enter academic environments together in those few places where they do
is still a context in which their lived experiences are likely to have been quite different from
each other and in which racial stereotyping is still likely to be an inhibiting factor
in their cross-group interactions. That said, isn’t anything better? In his commencement address at Howard University on May 7, 2016 our 44th President, Barack Obama,
offered an answer to that question. Speaking to a largely Black audience, he highlighted
the ways the world has improved since his own college graduation in 1983, including
in the area of race relations. Here’s an excerpt of that speech:
“In my inaugural address, I remarked that just 60 years earlier, my father might not
have been served in a DC restaurant – at least not certain of them. There were no black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Very few Black judges… We’re no longer only entertainers, we’re
producers, studio executives. No longer small business owners – we’re
CEOs, we’re mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.” Of course, President Obama was correct that
there has been positive, meaningful social change in our lifetimes – certainly in the
years since I was born in 1954 – but if we focus specifically on the twenty-year period
from 1997 to 2017, we must acknowledge some setbacks beyond just the stubborn persistence
of neighborhood and school segregation. There are three such setbacks I want to highlight here:
the anti-affirmative action backlash of the late 20th and early 21st century, the economic
collapse of 2008 known as the Great Recession, and the phenomenon known as mass incarceration. The first of these setbacks – the anti-affirmative
action backlash of the late 20th and early 21st century – has had significant impact
on Black, Hispanic and Native American access to the best-resourced public colleges and
universities. The case of higher education in California
is a telling example. I probably don’t need to tell this audience, but in 1996 California voters approved an initiative,
known as Proposition 209, which effectively ended all state-run affirmative
action programs. The initiative, which took effect in 1998,
had a devastating effect on the enrollment of Black, Latino and Native students
at the two leading public universities in California, UCLA and UC Berkeley, with enrollment
dropping precipitously after Prop 209. The sharp decrease has led to a greater sense
of isolation for those that do enroll. A similar impact was seen in Michigan following
the passage of its own version of Proposition 209 in 2006. The California and Michigan flagship institutions
have found that without taking race in consideration, it’s very difficult to achieve representative
levels of diversity across the higher education landscape, despite the demographic changes
of the 21st century. Recognition of that difficulty seemed to play
a role in the most recent Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action programs. As you may recall, in June 2016, the Court
ruled on the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, in which UT Austin’s
use of race as one factor among many in a holistic review of applicants was being challenged. To the surprise of many court watchers, the
Supreme Court ruled on the side of the University. Writing the majority opinion for the court,
Justice Anthony Kennedy praised Texas for having offered a reasoned, principled explanation
of its policy, but also warned that the Court’s decision “does not necessarily mean the university
may rely on that same policy without refinement” in the future, reminding us all of the still
unsteady ground on which current affirmative action programs stand. The second setback – the economic collapse
of 2008 – shook the ground of many, but had a disproportionately disastrous effect
for many Black and Latino families. Not only did many families of color lose their
homes, they also lost their jobs in the Great Recession. Disparate unemployment rates continue, despite
the national economic recovery. The racial wealth gap between Whites and people
of color is the highest it has been in 25 years. The economic disparities translate into educational
disparities as well. College access is much more difficult when
families have had little opportunity to accumulate savings and have no real estate assets against
which to borrow. According to the National Postsecondary Student
Aid Study, the percentage of Black students whose families had nothing to contribute to
their college education (or what those of us in the business would say, an expected
family contribution of zero) went from almost 42% in 2008 to 60% in 2012. For the Black elites that President Obama
mentioned in his Howard University commencement speech, the last twenty years may have represented
an improvement in their economic circumstance, but for the vast majority of Black and Latino
families it’s been a downward slide. It’s worth noting that some White families
have been sliding downward as well. The number of White families with an expected
family contribution of zero went from approximately 19% in 2008 to 29% in 2012. The poverty rate among working-class Whites
has grown from 3% to 11% since 2000. The gap between White and Black poverty has
narrowed during that time, not because Black people are doing better, but because Whites
in that sector of the economy have been doing worse, fueling both economic anxiety and anger,
clearly visible among some of the White voters supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy in the
2016 presidential election. The third setback of the late 20th century
and nearly two decades of the 21st that we must acknowledge is the impact of mass incarceration. Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim
Crow,” writes the following: “More black men are imprisoned today than
at any other moment in our nation’s history. “More are disenfranchised today than in 1870,
the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the
right to vote based on race. “Young black men today may be just as likely
to suffer discrimination in employment, housing, public benefits, and jury service as a black
man in the Jim Crow era — discrimination that is perfectly legal, because it is based
on one’s criminal record. This is the new normal, the new racial equilibrium.” And while Alexander highlights the plight
of Black men, similarly disturbing statistics exist for Black women. Though many more men are in prison than women,
the growth rate for female imprisonment between 1980 and 2014 exceeds that for men by more
than 50%. This dramatic increase in incarceration is
NOT due to a rising crime rate. Rather it can be traced back directly to changes
in drug sentencing laws and policies in the 1980s. Since the official beginning of the “War
on Drugs” during the Reagan administration, the number of Americans incarcerated for drug
offenses skyrocketed from 41,000 in 1980 to nearly a half million in 2014. Most of these people have no record of violent
offenses, and are not major players in the drug trade. In her award-winning book, “White Rage,” historian
Carol Anderson describes the implementation of these policies as part of a repeating pattern
of White assertion of social control following periods of Black social gains. These statistics are depressing, and perhaps
you are asking yourself, as I ask myself, “Surely something has changed for the better
in the last 20 years!” And indeed, if there is one thing that might
suggest there was a positive change in race relations in the 21st century, it might be
the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Think back to Election Night 2008. I spent that evening with hundreds of students
gathered at Spelman College to await the results of that historic presidential election. When the announcement of then-Senator Barack
Obama’s victory came, the cheers and tears in the swell of the largely African-American
crowd at Spelman were mirrored in the faces captured by the news broadcasters at the multi-racial,
multi-ethnic, and multi-generational gatherings in places like Grant Park in Chicago, Times
Square in New York, and at the gates of the White House in Washington. Surely it was a night to remember. According to a USA Today poll taken immediately
after the 2008 election, 67% of Americans expressed pride in the racial progress the
election represented, even if they did not vote for Barack Obama themselves. Yet 27% of the poll respondents said the results
of the election “frightened” them. Some of that fear could have been related
to disagreement with Obama’s policies or related concerns. But for some, the fear might have been related
to an unvoiced and maybe even unconscious recognition that the racial calculus of our
society was being changed by the election, a change that could threaten the racial hierarchy
of the nation. As a psychologist, I know that a shifting
paradigm can generate anxiety, even psychological threat, for those who feel the basic assumptions
of society changing in ways they can no longer predict. Certainly the election of 2008 and the re-election
of President Obama in 2012 challenged a fundamental social narrative in American culture. History tells us that social change is hard
and often resisted. To the extent that the election of Barack
Obama disrupted the usual narrative of White victory, it represented unpredictability,
and lack of predictability creates anxiety. And during the last twenty years, we have
seen the level of anxiety rise in our nation. Why? It’s not just the election of a Black president. It’s the 2008 collapse of the American economy. It’s terrorist attacks on our own soil. It’s the slow recognition that other countries
are gaining on U.S. global prominence. Maybe especially, for White people, it’s
the growing sense of being outnumbered in what was once a 90% White nation. Each of these societal changes represents
a challenge to a set of assumptions, deeply held, by many in our nation – and anxiety
– even fear – is the result. And how do we, as human beings, deal with
fear? Not unlike other animals, typically we either
withdraw or attack. In the aftermath of the 2008 election, we
could see evidence of both patterns. The withdrawal takes the form of “hunkering
down” – pulling in and pulling away from those we feel threatened by. When we are afraid, we quickly begin to categorize
who is for us and who is against us. We start to think and act in terms of “us”
and “them.” We withdraw into our circles of safety, and
we attack those we believe are outside that circle and who pose a threat. Such behavior can help explain why there has
been a sharp rise in hate groups, and in racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes since
the year 2008. Indeed, according to a New York Times report,
Stormfront.org, America’s most popular online White supremacist site, saw the biggest single
increase in membership in its history on November 5, 2008, the day after President Obama
was elected. Perhaps more surprising, 64 percent of the
registered Stormfront users are under the age of 30. Which brings me to The Myth of the Color Blind
Millennial. One of the young users of such internet hate
sites was 21-year old Dylann Roof, charged with the 2015 murder of nine Black churchgoers
in Charleston, South Carolina. Following the horrific shooting, I read an
NPR report by Gene Demby entitled “Dylan Roof and The Stubborn Myth of the Color Blind
Millennial.” The story opens with these lines:
“The young age of Dylann Roof, who’s charged with sitting alongside nine black churchgoers
for an hour before standing up and shooting them dead, is sure to inspire some head-scratching
in the wake of his attack. He’s 21, which means he’s a millennial, which
means he’s not supposed to be racist — so the thinking stubbornly (if disingenuously)
persists, despite ample research showing that it’s just not true.” Demby continues by citing the results of an
MTV survey of young viewers regarding their racial attitudes. That 2014 survey of a nationally representative
group of a thousand 14-24 year olds gives us an in-depth look at how the millennial
generation thinks about issues related to bias. Among the key findings — one of the key findings
was that there is a widespread belief — 91% of this population believe in equality — that’s
good news — and the idea that everyone should be treated equally. A corollary to that belief is that one should
not acknowledge racial differences, with 48% believing it is wrong to draw attention to
someone’s race, even if you are doing so in a positive way. Seventy-two percent believe that their generation
is more egalitarian than previous generations, and 58% believe that racism will become less
and less of an issue as they take on leadership roles in our society. For 62% of them, electing a Black president
in 2008 was evidence that race is no longer a barrier to opportunity for people of color. White respondents and respondents of color,
however, reported significantly different life experiences. White respondents, for example, rarely reported
feeling excluded at school or work because of race or ethnicity – only 10% said they ever felt that – while 23% of respondents of color said
they often felt excluded in those settings. Approximately 1 in 8 (13%) White respondents
said they had been treated differently by a teacher because of their race as compared
to 1 in 3 (or 33%) of the respondents of color. Only 19% of Whites reported they were often
asked about their ethnic background, while 60% respondents of color indicated that
this was a common experience for them. Only slightly more than one in four White
respondents said they had been seriously affected by the cumulative effect of microaggressions as compared to nearly half of the respondents of color. Despite the fact that White respondents reported
fewer negative experiences with bias, and 41% agreed that – they agreed with this statement: “I think that I have more advantages than people of other races,” surprisingly almost half (48%) also agreed with this
statement, “Today, discrimination against White people has become as big a problem as
discrimination against racial minority groups.” Only 27% of the respondents of color shared
that perception. Almost twice as many White millennial respondents
(41%) agreed that “the government pays too much attention to the problems of racial minority
groups” than did respondents of color, 21% agreed with that statement. Despite these highlighted differences in experience
and attitude, almost all Millennials surveyed (94%) reported having seen examples of bias, defined by the survey as “treating someone differently – and often unfairly – because
they are a member of a particular group.” Yet just 20% indicated that they were comfortable
having a conversation about bias. Most (73%) think we should talk openly about
bias, and that doing so would lead to prejudice reduction, but like many adults, they are
hesitant to speak up. For 79% of them, their biggest concern about
addressing bias is the risk of creating a conflict or making the situation worse. For me, one of the main conclusions from this
study is that neither my generation nor theirs is living in a post-racial color-blind society. Instead we may be living in a color-silent
society, where we have learned to avoid talking about racial difference. But even if we refrain from mentioning race,
the evidence is clear that we still notice racial categories and our behaviors are guided
by what we notice. Those biases manifest themselves in ways that
matter – who we offer help to in an emergency, who we decide to hire, who we give a warning
to instead of a ticket, or who we shoot at instead of issuing a warning during a police
encounter. Indeed it is the latter example – police
shootings and their aftermath – that has been the most glaring evidence that we are
not living in a post-racial world. There are too many individual examples to
talk about here, and you know what they are. Let me just say that the police shooting of
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014 seemed to be a tipping point. The activism that followed, not just on the
ground in Ferguson, but around the nation and on college campuses, linked by the social
media-based movement #Black Lives Matter, has awakened a new generation to the power
of social protest. If Ferguson was the epicenter of the new civil
rights era known as the Black Lives Matter Movement, the University of Missouri in Columbia
(known as Mizzou) became the most visible symbol for campus-based student activism in
the fall of 2015. Certainly to observers of higher education,
the speed with which the events unfolded at Mizzou, culminating in the resignation of
the two top campus leaders was breathtaking, as was the wave of activism that swept across
other campuses in solidarity with students at Mizzou and in protest of their own campus
concerns about racism and other social justice issues. Social media played a crucial role in that
proliferation. And indeed, a new website, TheDemands.org, was
created to compile the growing list of institutions with a link to the student demands on each
campus, providing templates for student leaders as they drafted their own campus versions. The website creators declared on the home
page of the website, “Across the nation, students have risen up to demand an end to
systemic and structural racism on campus.” Higher education researchers who analyzed
the demands across various institutions concluded, “These students are petitioning institutions
to consider expansive shifts to institutional culture rather than merely stand-alone programs
or add-on policies. The demands are calling for a change in how
marginalized student groups access, experience, and are represented in higher education.” And college presidents are responding. In a January 2016 anonymous online survey
of college presidents conducted by the ACE Center for Policy Research and Strategy, of
the almost 600 presidents that responded, more than half indicated that addressing
racial climate on campus had become a higher priority for them, as compared to three years
ago. But not everyone is sympathetic to the cause
of the student protesters at Mizzou and elsewhere – the pushback has come from all corners
– from fellow students, from faculty, from administrators, from alumni, from trustees,
from state legislators – people who say the students are “overreacting,” or “whining,”
or “need to just get over it.” Often, though not always, those critics are
White. Failure to empathize with the outrage of Ferguson
protesters in the streets or the sense of isolation or threat students of color report
around the country may be due in large part to the racially insulated lives many White
people lead, the result of persistent school and residential segregation. According to a 2013 American Values Survey
conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the social networks of White
people in the United States are very homogeneous. Indeed, the PRRI researchers found that 75%
of Whites have entirely White social networks without any minority presence. This degree of social network racial homogeneity
is significantly higher than among Black Americans or Hispanic Americans. Robert Jones, the CEO of PRRI, writes,
“The chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across
the racial divide is that on average white Americans…talk mostly to other white people.” The result is that most Whites are not “socially
positioned” to understand the experiences of people of color – with the police or on
predominantly White campuses – because they are not part of their social networks. Perhaps because so much of the national media
attention has been on the lethal encounters between Black people and police, especially
since Ferguson, the national conversation about race, to the extent that it has occurred,
has been focused on anti-Black racism. It is however the case that other communities are experiencing similar concerns. In fact, lethal police violence is not just a problem for Black communities. When compared to their percentage of the
U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police than any other group,
including African Americans. Analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 shows that Native
Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. In the same way that the problem of police
violence extends beyond African Americans to other marginalized populations of color,
so too does the problem of isolation and marginalization on historically White campuses extend beyond
Black students to other underrepresented groups. What cuts across the experiences of all marginalized
groups on college campuses is the phenomenon known as microaggressions. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines the term in this way: “The brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities,
whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative
racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or
group.” Often involving the projection of stereotypes, these microagressions can occur at any moment of the day which makes them a constant potential
source of stress. When Michael Luo, a Chinese-American journalist,
experienced one of those moments walking with his family after church on a Sunday morning
in October 2016, he posted this message on Twitter: “Well dressed woman on Upper East
Side, annoyed by our stroller, yells: ‘Go back to China…go back to your f—ing country.” #this is 2016.” In another tweet, he wrote, “Now my 7 year
old, distressed by what happened, keeps asking, “Why did she say ‘Go back to China?’ We’re not from China.” Later Luo wrote “An Open Letter to the Woman
Who Told My Family to Go Back to China” and, to his surprise, the New York Times published
it on the front page. “Dear Madam,” it began, “Maybe I should
have let it go. Turned the other cheek…But I was, honestly
stunned when you yelled at us from down the block, “Go back to China!” I hesitated for a second and then sprinted
to confront you. You pulled out your iPhone…and threatened
to call the cops. It was comical, in retrospect. You might have been charged instead, especially
after I walked away and you screamed, “Go back to your fucking country.” “I was born in this country!” I yelled back. It felt silly. But how else to prove I belonged? …Maybe you don’t know this, but the insults
you hurled at my family get to the heart of the Asian-American experience. It’s this persistent sense of otherness
that a lot of us struggle with every day. That no matter what we do, how successful
we are, what friends we make, we don’t belong. We’re foreign. We’re not American.” In response to his initial tweets and then
to his open letter, Luo received a torrent of responses from other Asian-Americans who
shared similar experiences online. Here is just a sample of those he received:
“This has also happened to me…outside my own apartment building. A woman walked right up to me and told me
to go back to my own country…I couldn’t even believe it and for people who say, ‘they’re
just words,’ guess what: Words hurt and I went home and cried that day even though
I didn’t deserve to feel sad for being American.” Luo captured in his open letter the challenge
that microaggressions pose to the recipients. The “persistent sense of otherness” that
he describes takes a psychological and physiological toll. Social science research has demonstrated that
the cumulative effect of microaggressions “assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce
anger and frustration, deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being and
worthiness, produce physical health problems, shorten life expectancy, and deny minority
populations equal access and opportunity in education, employment and health care.” Which brings me, unfortunately, to The Election
of 2016. There is very little I can say about this
election that you have not already heard. But there are two points I want to highlight:
One, it became clear that Donald Trump’s campaign gave new mainstream visibility to a movement
that for many years had been in the shadows of American life. What is sometimes referred to as the alternative
right (shortened to “alt-right”) is defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a
set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’
is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social
justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.” Those who identify with the alt-right are
characterized by heavy use of social media, and their embrace of white supremacist nationalism
as a fundamental value. Much of their rhetoric is “explicitly racist,
anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist.” Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director
of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks for many when he says he is troubled by what he calls the “mainstreaming of these really
offensive ideas.” He says, “It’s allowed some of the worst ideas into the public conversation in ways we haven’t seen anything like in recent memory.” The second point is that voting patterns revealed
a nation divided along racial lines. Put simply, the majority of White voters chose
Trump, the majority of voters of color did not. During the course of the campaign there was
a lot of discussion among political pundits about the fact that Trump was appealing to
a non-college educated, working-class base that was feeling left behind by globalism
and the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. And indeed, college graduates backed Clinton over
Trump, 52% to 43%, while the majority of voters without a college degree voted for Trump, 52% to 44%. But among White voters, race seemed to carry
more sway than education. More White voters, irrespective of whether
they had a college education, voted for Trump. 62% of White women without college degrees
voted for Trump, as did 45% of White women with college degrees. While perhaps not everyone who voted for Donald
Trump shared the bigoted views of his white supremacist supporters or agreed with the
offensive statements he himself made about Mexicans, Muslims, inner-city Black and Latino
communities, or women, on Election Day those things did not prevent millions of people
from saying “yes” to Trump. And that is a painful reality for those who have
been his target. So now we are living in the Age of Trump, and what
does that mean for race relations? We know that Donald Trump’s election victory
emboldened white nationalists who celebrated his victory in public gatherings, including
in the nation’s capital. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks
hate-motivated incidents, released a report called Ten Days After, documenting almost
900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation in the first 10 days after the election. In these documented accounts from across the
nation – every state is represented – many of the harassers invoked Trump’s name during
assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral
success. The most common occurrences involved hateful
graffiti and verbal harassment, although a small number of the reports included violent
physical interactions. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that schools — K through 12 settings and colleges — have been
the most common venues for these incidents. In such a time as this, what we know
leadership matters. How the leader describes who is in and who
is out matters on a college campus, and it matters in our nation. When I listened to the polarizing rhetoric
of radio and TV commentators during the long 2016 election campaign season, full of “us-them”
language, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago, “Left to Tell,” by Immaculée
Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She wrote about the hostile rhetoric that
was on the radio airways before and during the genocide, demonizing the ethnic minority
to which she belonged. That rhetoric was made especially powerful
because it came from the country’s leaders. I do not mean to suggest that what we are
seeing in the U.S. today is on par with what was happening in Rwanda. But I do want to make clear that what we say
matters, and leadership matters. The expectations and values of the leaders
can change the tone of the community, and the nature of our conversation. Fundamentally, we know that human beings are social animals. And not unlike other social animals, we follow the leader. Yes, we have an innate tendency to think in
“us” and “them” categories, but we look to the leader to help us know who the
“us” is and who the “them” is. The leader can define who is in and who is
out. The leader can draw the circle narrowly, or
widely. When the leader draws the circle in an exclusionary
way, with the rhetoric of hostility, the sense of threat among the followers is heightened. When the rhetoric is expansive and inclusionary,
the threat is reduced. It sounds simple, but we know it is not. The leader has to ask the question, how is
the circle being drawn? Who is inside of it? Who is outside it? And what can I do to make the circle bigger? As Martin Luther King once said, we are caught
in a “web of mutuality,” and that means our collective fate is intertwined. We will thrive or fail together. And here’s what we must also consider: If
a person is 20 years old in 2017, born in 1997, the year my book was published,
all the critical issues I have identified thus far are the
coming of age hallmarks for that generation. I was born in 1954 in segregated Florida and
raised in Massachusetts as part of the Great Migration out of the Jim Crow South. I and others of my Baby Boomer generation
have a long personal history with social progress. I saw the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
on television in real time. I heard his and other speeches and watched
the March on Washington on the nightly news. I saw people who had been denied the right
to vote exercise that right for the first time, on television. I have seen the colleges and universities
at which I was educated get more diverse over time. That sense of racial progress is part of my
generation’s lived experience. Yet for those born in 1997, all of that is
something in their history books. Their perspective is shaped by a very different
set of events. If you were born in 1997, you were 11 when
the economy collapsed, perhaps bringing new economic anxiety into your family. You were still 11 when Barack Obama was elected. You heard that we were now in a post-racial
society, and his election was the proof. Yet your neighborhoods and schools were likely
still quite segregated. And in 2012, when you were 15, a young Black
teenager named Trayvon Martin, walking home in his father’s mostly White neighborhood
with his bag of iced tea and Skittles, was murdered and his killer went free. When you were 17, Michael Brown was shot in
Ferguson, Missouri and his body was left uncovered in the streets for hours, like a piece of
road kill, and in the same year, unarmed Eric Garner was strangled to death by police, repeatedly
gasping “I can’t breathe” on cellphone video that went viral, to name just a few examples of why
it seemed Black lives did not matter, even in the age of Obama. When you were 19, Donald J. Trump was elected and white supremacists were celebrating in the streets. How would that 20-year old answer the question
posed to me, “Is it better?” The answer to that question will probably
depend a great deal on the social identities of that 20-year old. In 2017, twenty years after I first wrote
my book, how we see ourselves and each other is still being shaped by racial categories
and the stereotypes attached to them. The patterns of behavior I described then
still ring true because our social context still reinforces racial hierarchies, and still
limits our opportunities for genuinely mutual, equitable and affirming relationships in neighborhoods,
in classrooms, or in the workplace. So what do we need to do on our campuses? I know that this is a potentially depressing
talk. Let me just say, I know that. I want to draw it to a close with at least
a little hope to move us in a positive direction. And I’m going to end by sharing two examples before we go to questions. Last April, a year ago, I was in Texas, speaking on the campus of Texas A&M. And by coincidence, the week before I arrived
there had been a racial incident. A group of Black teenagers from a high school
in Houston were touring the campus and during the tour they were approached by a
small group of students who yelled racial slurs at them. And you might say, “What’s hopeful about that?
Nothing.” But what gave me hope – What gave me hope is what happened next. The student body president, a young White
man named Joseph Benigno, class of 2016, issued a statement on Youtube, just 3 and a half minutes long, but clear, concise and courageous acknowledging that he himself had been silent
in the face of racist and sexist remarks, often made behind closed doors. He recognized that his and others’ silence gave permission for the hateful remarks to be made publicly. He said, “Our silence fosters hate. Our silence enables the hateful to feel comfortable
and welcome.” He urged his fellow students to take responsibility
for making a change. I was very impressed with his statement and you can watch it yourself on YouTube. Just type in the Statement of the Texas A&M
Student Body President and you will find it. But his example of leadership was for me a sign of hope. I don’t doubt that an incident of that kind might have occurred 20 years ago but I don’t think the student body president would have put out a message on Youtube in response. The second is what every campus could be doing, and that’s creating campus dialogue groups. In October I visited with my friend and colleague
David Schoem and some students from the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program, a
model living and learning residential community that has cross-group dialogue at its center. As part of the residential experience, the
students take a seminar together and participate in various structured dialogues in the residence
hall. Intentionally multi-racial in its composition,
the participating students, both White and of color, who choose the Community Scholars
program as their housing option, spoke eloquently about how much they had gained from the program, in just a few months of their first year at Michigan. The students are deeply engaged with each
other, learning how to talk with one another about hard topics rather than talking past
one another or avoiding interaction altogether. In the fall of 2016, before the election, white supremacist
posters with explicitly anti-Black content were put up around the U of M campus, creating
a hostile environment for Black students who were feeling under attack. One young African-American woman, still in
her first year, said, “It’s hard to focus [on your schoolwork] when there’s so much
hateful stuff… It’s hard to know who to trust…it takes
energy to reach out to Whites without knowing if they are ‘safe.’ The Michigan Community Scholars Program
helps with that.” A White woman in her cohort was quick to second
that, even though as a White student she is not the target of hateful rhetoric. She said, “MCSP is the only place where
I’ve constantly felt supported, listened to, and understood.” When we get it right, it makes a difference. Research shows that when schools and communities
are truly integrated, with real opportunities for students of different racial backgrounds
to take the same classes, participate in clubs and sports together and collaborate on projects,
they make more friends across racial lines and express more positive views than other
students do. As adults they are more likely to live and
work in diverse settings, more likely to be civically engaged, more likely to vote. In my view, that is what “better” looks like. Is it better? Not yet. It could be. It’s up to us to make sure that it is. Thank you for your attention. I’m looking
forward to your questions. I am working on a project that involves people’s frequently asked questions about race or racism in the United States. And so I would be very interested to know what your frequently asked question is. It doesn’t have to be related to my talk at all. But if you would fill out a question, you can leave it anonymously, no names required. I would appreciate if you would identify yourself demographically, for example you could put your age or describe yourself otherwise but it would be useful for me to know if different kinds of people have different questions. So thank you very much for considering participating in my frequently asked questions project.>>Thank you for a very interesting talk. I’m concerned about voting rights and racism in America today.>>Me too.>>Voter ID law and cross-check and many other forms of racial discrimination are rampant and for those people in this room who didn’t vote who had an opportunity to vote, many people in America – and 11% of Americans did not have the correct voter ID even though they were registered to vote because it cost them too much money and it’s a new form of poll tax. I’d love your comments.>>I’m happy to make comments. And let me just say I write about this in the upcoming version of my book. I didn’t include it in my talk for time constraints. But let me just say, you know, one of the things that is very clear is that the 2008 election and 2012, the Obama election was made possible because of high voter turnout in communities of color, and since that time there has been a concerted effort to suppress the voting particularly of communities of color that has been well documented in articles in the nation and elsewhere and it’s really of great concern to me. I think that people should be paying a great deal of attention to this. Thank you.>>I’m a little depressed, so I’m just going to go light-hearted. If you saw “Get Out,” what did you think of it? And just to make it a little more serious maybe something about the role of popular culture and movies – can they do any of the good work that we might hope they can do?>>Well, let me just say that if you haven’t seen the movie “Get Out” you should go see it. And I have seen the movie, and I’m going to tell you something about myself which is I do not like scary movies. And so I didn’t go see it for a long time. I kept reading all these reviews and I was so intrigued by the reviews I read I decided that even though it was described as a “horror movie” I would go see it anyway. When I saw it I would not describe it as a horror movie. I would describe it as a psychological thriller. But I saw it as a real — you know, I don’t want to say too much about it because it will spoil it for people who haven’t yet seen it, but I thought it was, you know, an allegory for colonialism. I thought it was, you know, there are many ways you could think about that in terms of the ways in which the things that people of color have, have been taken from them.>>I’ve gone to a bunch of discussions on diversity and something I’ve noticed is that a lot of times when people are identifying themselves they’ll say that they find certain identifiers offensive. So for example, I’ve seen people say they find the word “Hispanic” offensive and then similarly that they find “Latino” offensive. There was recently an article in the New York Times saying that a bunch of people feel that to say “communities of color” is problematic. And so I was wondering how you can balance trying to respect people’s opinions about what people like to be called with just trying to in general foster discussion.>>Yes. Well, I think it’s really important to ask people what they like to be called. But what your question makes clear is that not everyone has the same answer. And it does vary regionally. And this is something I think a lot about because I’m trying to describe things in my book that’s going to be read in lots of different places. And so, in some — I have had the experience of being in some places where, for example, the language of preference to describe indigenous people, American Indian. Other communities, not. And so in writing I’ve tried to talk about the fact that different terms are used in different places and in some cases I try to use them interchangeably, which perhaps makes nobody happy. But, you know, you do your best. But in the context of dealing with any person in a one on one kind of conversation I think it’s always appropriate to ask them what terms they prefer.>>Thank you so much for your time and sharing both your work and your expertise with us on an urgent issue. I’m curious if you in your experience as well as your life’s work and research in psychology can reveal any insights you might have regarding the frameworks and lenses that people enact as they navigate these conversations and these issues that kind of trigger fear, maybe, that keep them from seeing this as a priority in an increased era of schools that have testing, in schools that need funding and teachers that are stretched thin, and parents that are stretched with different priorities and needs like hunger for their kids. How – is there anything that you can, in your research, in your work, that reveals anything about the psychology needed to combat that and to flip that around for us.>>I’m not sure I can answer it briefly. So, if I’m understanding your question, in a world in which there are many competing problems how do you get people to talk about issues of race — is that an essence of what you’re asking?>>Yeah, and is there something that you’ve researched in psychology that can reveal why that is, why that’s not a priority and how we push people to make it one.>>Well, let me just say, I mean a lot of my writing is about why it’s hard to talk about race, right? And so, one of the things that I would say is that it’s harder for some people than others. Some of us grow up in families where conversations about race take place with some regularity. As a young person – but that’s not true for everyone, right? So I’m going to speak for myself as someone who grew – young African American growing up in an African American family, I would say that I grew up in a family where there was a lot of conversation about current events, but not so much about racism per se. My mother would have seen that as an unpleasant topic and would have preferred not to talk about it. But in other families it would be a more common conversation. In White families, if you grew up in a family of activists maybe you’re having that conversation a lot, but in my experience teaching White students a lot of them will say, we never talked about this in my family growing up. And if you ask people to think about their early race-related memories most people will have one. We don’t have enough time to do this here, but I often ask people to name – you know, think about an early race-related memory – on your way out you can be thinking this. Think of an early race-related memory. How old were you? And many people will identify a school age, you know, 5, 6, 7. And then ask what feeling is attached to it. And many people will identify an uncomfortable feeling. Anger, fear, embarrassment, shame. It could be curiosity or affection, but often it’s something more uncomfortable. And then ask, did you talk to anyone about that? And what you’ll often hear is no. And if you think about 5 and 6 year olds, they usually tell you if they’ve got something weird going on with them, right? They let you know. And so the fact that so many people have an early memory that they didn’t feel they could talk to anybody about just speaks to me
to how early we learn we’re not supposed to talk about it. And that is part of the challenge of trying to, you know, get past all those years of don’t talk about it. And even in that data that I cited you from that MTV survey, you know, all those young people saying you know, bias is a problem, I’ve witnessed it. But, you know, close to 80% saying,
I don’t want to talk about it.

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