On this episode of Here and Now, a candid conversation about race in America.
- "Here and Now," the program featuring the news and interests of the African American community. Here's your host, Sandra Bookman.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Coming up on this special edition of "Here and Now," a candid conversation about race in America after an unprecedented year of political, social, and economic upheaval. This afternoon, we are airing the "Eyewitness News Town Hall Black History Month-- United for Our Future," which I originally hosted online. Take a look.
Joining us today is a panel of educators, activists, and parents who are going to offer us their unique perspectives. We've got five illustrious guests joining us today. First is Marvin Amazan. He's a 27-year-old community activist and school teacher from Long Island. He is, in fact, encouraging residents, especially young people, to become more civically involved. Ronald Chaluisan, who is the executive director of Newark Trust. It's an organization dedicated to expanding opportunity to improve outcomes for public school students in Newark. He's also a veteran educator and administrator.
Jennifer Jones Austin is also with us. She is the CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. It's an anti-poverty and advocacy organization. Jessica Jackson, she is a student at UCLA majoring in African American studies and English. She also happens to be the granddaughter of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Also with us, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Thank you all for being with us this afternoon.
I'm going to start off with a-- maybe it's a softball first question. And I said to you before, I'd like for all of you to give me your answer to this, to talk a little bit about why is it in 2021 that it is still important that we celebrate Black History Month? And I think we're going to start off with you, Marvin.
MARVIN AMAZAN: I think it's important to celebrate Black History Month personally for the youth so they could know what came before them, so they have some type of heroes to look forward to. I'm a teacher right now at Union High School. And first off, say hello to my [INAUDIBLE] let me say hello to my students before they get upset with me tomorrow and don't turn on their screens. Yeah, it's important every day I try to show them a new-- somebody new from history, and it's almost-- it's almost embarrassing to say that they sometimes don't know who these people are.
And it's hard when some of them want to be astronauts, some of them want to be lawyers, and they don't have direct people to look to. Yeah, we have people of today, but they should know that this is something from history. We've been doing this thing. This is not just something that we've just started doing or we-- this is just a now thing. This is something that's been happening, and we should continue to focus on this. Because at the end of the day, if we don't, then this is going to get lost in history and the people growing up will never know what we came from.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, that long lie is what you're saying.
MARVIN AMAZAN: Definitely.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Ronald.
RONALD CHALUISAN: Sure. So for me, I think it's because I do believe very strongly that the young people are our leaders of tomorrow. And as such, we should be treating them today as leaders. And as leaders, you understand what is possible by looking back at what has occurred. And so for me, it's all about hope, it's all about possibility. It's all about understanding that you have played an important and critical role in history and that you will continue to play that role as you move forward.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And, Jennifer, I think you made a lovely point earlier in our conversation before we got-- gotten started here. You said you don't think Black History should just be about celebrating, you know, accomplishments.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Indeed, indeed. You know, what happens is, the person who has the pen-- or in these days, has the computer-- gets to write the story, and then that story becomes "the" story. And what our society has done since Dr. Carter Woodson established Black-- I guess it was Negro Week, and then President Ford made it Black History Month, is the story has been all about the positive, the upbeat, but it hasn't been about the struggle.
And if you center only on the positive and upbeat, that it doesn't help young Black Americans to understand the struggle that went with it. And so I think that it is important to lift us up, but it's important during this time, because there is no other time when attention really is paid to the Black community and our struggle and our story, to tell the full story.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And, Jessica, you're the baby of the bunch. You're currently studying African American history at UCLA. Talk to me about what Black history means to you.
JESSICA JACKSON: Well, for me, I grew up in Washington DC. And coming from a private school, I learned absolutely nothing about my history. And that gap really filled the void for me, and so it was-- I was dedicated when I got to UCLA to study African American studies. I was raised on the saying that you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.
And so I'm really-- I just think for the youth, it's really, really important that we have a holistic view of what it means to be Black in America and what it means specifically to be a Black American. I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. I think that we should have the whole picture. And while I'm a huge fan of Black History Month, I love looking at the positives, I think that this country as a whole-- this country as a whole has an issue acknowledging the past and the truth about the past.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Sandra, may I just quickly add to something Jessica said?
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Mm-hmm.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: So I have a 23-year-old daughter. And I grew up, like Jessica, in a civil rights family. My father was actually president of the national chapter of the Operation Breadbasket, which was the economic arm of the SCLC following Jessica's grandfather, Jesse Jackson. My father and Jesse Jackson worked together here in New York to push for jobs and greater wages and opportunities for Black Americans back in the late '60s and '70s.
When my daughter was just four, my father said to me, when are you going to start talking to her about the experience of Blacks in America? And I looked at him, and I said, she's too young. And then just a few weeks later, she went off to her independent school, and they began talking to her about Martin Luther King, all about service and about how we should all go out and paint murals and, you know, and we should hand out food and said nothing about the work he did to bring about civil rights for Black Americans. So that's why, as Jessica [INAUDIBLE], it's so important.
JESSICA JACKSON: And to that point, Jennifer, if I could just add on, they talk to us nothing about how the country felt about MLK at the time. The way that it's painted now, you would never guess it's very much the same kind of attitude of what's going on now with our current activists-- constant rebuttal, constant attacking. And I think that's really a misuse of information.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. Dr. Muhammad, I'm going to have you jump in on that because you have-- you got some deep feelings about how history is taught here and why it's taught the way it's taught and how African American history is not part of that, you know, that large lesson often enough.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, the 401 years of Black history is a story of resistance against every possible demonstration of dehumanization in this society. Some of it was very individual and personal. Some of it was spiritual that gave us a new form of music, the Negro spirituals. But more than anything, I think the reason why Black history is both so important and also so threatening is because it exposes that there's no aspect of American society, the actual way in which our democracy does and does not work, the way that our economy produced massive wealth that made America the richest nation in the world, the way that our culture doesn't make sense in any other part of the globe, both from our music, from Hollywood, except for the presence of Black people as both creators and also caricatures in that story.
Therefore, when we look at education systems, health care systems, the way that our criminal justice system functions, all these things are in relationship to a form of what some people would call anti-Black racism. It actually explains the country we live in, whether you are white or you are Latino or Asian, whether you are 10th generation or whether you are new to these shores. So when we make Black history the center of the story, when we move it from February to every month, then we actually understand the country we live in. And we have way more power and agency to do something about it because we understand how it works.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Why does it serve some to keep that history out? And how do you rectify that? How do you, you know, change the way history is taught in this country? And you know what, how it would definitely benefit us, but how you believe it would benefit the larger population as a whole to fully understand what it is we're talking about here.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: I'll jump in and I'll share--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: I know that was a long question.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: No, no, no. I mean, just, you know, why is it important for everybody to understand? Well, let's just begin with the fact that right now, you know, in the midst of COVID and, you know, as we continue to see the killings of Black persons unjustified, killings of Black persons by both, you know, people in law enforcement and civilians, people say, well, that's not me. Right? Like, that's racist activity, but that's not me.
And, you know, and then people will say, well, is not being racist enough? And what I center on in these moments is that they don't understand very often what racism has done to Black Americans, you know, from one generation to the next to the next. They don't understand, you know, the residual trauma.
They don't understand how it is interfered with our educational attainment and our wealth building. So if you don't help people to understand how harsh and severe was slavery, and even efforts aimed at Reconstruction and then Jim Crow and civil rights, if they don't understand that, then it's well, it happened way back then. Why can't they just get themselves together? So I think that that's part of the reason and the rationale that we need to educate everybody.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And the truth of the history is, just to pick up on your point, is that, look, slavery may have happened way back then, but the institutionalism of systems like Jim Crow, like redlining, like a failure of the GI Bill to benefit Black Americans as it did so many of their white counterparts, all of that is systemic. And those systems are still in place today in a lot of ways.
RONALD CHALUISAN: Right. So, Sandra, if I may, one of the things that, as you were just speaking, right, we look at what just happened over the last 12 months, and we look at the necessity of families having access to internet, having access to the computer technology, of being able to not only for school, right, but for health, for socialization, for learning. And then you look at the neighborhoods, and you look at which neighborhoods are wired, and you look at how companies make decisions, and the reality is that it feels to me the digital divide right now is our generation's version of redlining, right?
It is a decision, it is a monetary decision to wire some neighborhoods because of return on investment and not wire others. And at this point, you now have, you know, what, for 1% of capital marketization, for $15 billion over five years. You could make a huge dent. That's just from the companies, the big tech companies, if they were to make that decision, right? That's based on a Deutsche Bank study. And that decision isn't being made, even when it is front burner. It is in our face. We understand it. We see it. And every single day, you have another picture of a young person trying to access something that's outside of their reach. It just makes no sense to me.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: You know, we have-- that is a question I wanted to put to you guys. How-- during this last year, you know, after George Floyd was killed, you saw people who had never before taken to the streets because they admit, I didn't get it, that that can't happen in my country. And they were marching side by side. You see people now saying they understand why it is that, you know, you need to support Black businesses and doing what they can to support.
How do you get-- do you sustain that kind of engagement and make it work to the extent that you start to see some of this systemic racism disappear? So that, as you said, you said, you know, the digital divide at this point. You have people acknowledge they're just-- they're not just moaning. Everything has been set up against them. And-- but despite that, people have still, you know, been able to succeed. How do you keep the momentum going, keep people engaged, and at the same time, start to dismantle some of these systems that have had so much negative impact on African Americans?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, if I could jump in, I think that, first of all, this, you know, simple rule people have to practice what they preach. And so it's a lot easier to emote in a moment, to show outrage, even to participate in a protest. But if that doesn't change your behavior and how you spend your time and the influence that you may have, particularly for folks who are functioning in workplaces where they are, again, in financial services or in the health care system that are, you know, as Ronald just described, perfectly complicit with policies that discriminate.
I also want to make a really important point on this, which is that we need far more sophisticated leaders at every level of society around the intersection of racism and economic inequality. Because in a country where we just saw a massive opioid crisis, where big pharma-- the paper trail of the deliberate distribution of addictive over-- prescription drugs to people incentivized McKinsey Company, incentivized Purdue Pharma.
I mean, so at some basic level, if the white majority population and its elites are willing to kill off white people for the purposes of generating profit, then we also have to recognize that all the scapegoating that has gone on in the past four years under the Trump administration is also a little bit of, look-- don't look over here, look over there.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Of cover.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Yeah. So, you know, we are fleecing your pockets, we are divesting of your electrical grid because we live in a state like Texas, where we don't believe that government regulation is good for the energy sector. And so, you know, everybody lost in Texas over the last week, but it's still, you know, majority of white people who are standing around looking around like, how did this happen?
Well, it happens in a society where racism is so baked in that it is used partly as a divide and conquer strategy. And until we are able to see those two things working together, unfortunately, we're going to produce great leaders who are really good anti-racist fighters, but really bad at going to corporate leaders and saying, you got to change the way you do business.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: That's-- Jennifer, I know this question's also in your wheelhouse. You know, that's been your fight for years now, anti-poverty.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of my greatest concerns when I think about the-- what occurred back in 2020 as people took to the streets protesting police misconduct, police brutality, excessive use of force was that we saw people-- everybody under the rainbow out there saying, you know, Black Lives Matter. But I wondered, you know, they were out there talking about police misconduct, excessive use of force. Addressing that issue does not necessarily take anything away from others who are either engaging in racism in other spaces or benefiting from it.
And I couldn't help but think, you know, changing the belief system so that they are not killing Black persons, you know, banning chokeholds, creating databases that look at discipline and share that information, all critically important. You know, firing somebody, presumptive terminations for chokehold bans and excessive use of force, all very important. But would those very same people have been out there on the streets protesting if we said, now let's look at racism and economics. Let's talk about wage differentials, wage disparities. Let's talk about inequitable funding in education in low-income Black and Brown communities and what we need to do about that.
Let's talk about poor access to quality health care and what we need to do about that, and how maybe if we undue racism in those spaces, it's going to take away some of your privilege. So for me in this moment, it's about addressing criminal justice reform all the way from policing through sentencing reform, but it's also about swinging this door as wide open as we possibly can to make sure that people understand, no, it's not just the cops, that there are bad cops. There are people every day sitting around us benefiting from this racist system, and we got to call it out and work on it in each and every space.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And that kind of has us circling back to education. If you don't know your history, you don't really understand how the system has gotten stacked up against people of color in this country every way. You take a-- you take 10 steps back, and then you take 10 steps forward, and then you get dragged 20 steps back. Maybe it's Jim Crow. Maybe it's redlining. You know, maybe it's the digital divide. So just to take this a step farther, is there something that you guys feel that, you know, Black communities themselves can be doing besides marching and protesting to, you know, to help in this fight?
I mean, how much-- I don't think we can do it by ourself because there are systems that need to change. But what specifically can we do in our communities to, you know, to get past some of these roadblocks? You know what, Marvin, I want you to take this one because I love the fact that you were one of the people, you were out there-- at least start us off-- you were out there marching this summer and then decided, I got to do something different. I need to contribute here in a bigger way. Talk to me about what you see the power that communities have or neighborhoods have that they may not even realize they have at this juncture.
MARVIN AMAZAN: It's funny that you say that, the neighborhoods instead of communities too, because I have, like-- I'm very passionate in thinking that we have a lot of Black neighborhoods and Black communities, where we may live in the same vicinity, but sometimes we don't share the same common goals, right? So it starts off by once we figure out those common goals, we have to go directly to the people who control what's going on.
So for me and myself, once I was out there marching and I was realizing that we're just marching and we're, you know, we're telling our demands, but the people that we're demanding stuff too aren't directly there. So we have to start going to the places where the people that can make those changes can actually hear us, and we can get into the doors and start to make those changes.
One thing that I say that the communities start or the neighborhoods start doing is coming together, really start focusing on, like, the civic engagement. Come together, getting the understanding of what you need so that when you can move forward, you go into those town hall meetings, you go into those different places, you have something to ask for. You have something-- something tangible that they can give you so that you can start to move forward.
Start looking at the little things that, like, the systematic things and how you can change them. Start trying to put people in place so that you can change that. Because at the end of the day, if we have certain people in place that are not looking out for our best interests, then we can never really move forward, right? We can't change those systematic things that are in place to move forward. So we have to start getting those willing people in. The young people right now, everybody's willing and able. It's right plain in everyone's face. So this is the best time out of any time to really just ask for what we want. And hopefully, if everybody is held accountable, then we can start to move forward.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Jessica, one of the tools that you-- talking about young people and how they see these issues today, one of the tools you pointed out many young people have been using quite effectively is social media. Talk to me a little bit about that, about keeping young folks engaged and how social media has helped with that.
JESSICA JACKSON: Well, really quick, Sandra, I really liked what Marvin had to say about community building and establishing those leaders in our community, and I think that's super important. But I think, especially when it comes to social media, what we experienced last summer, 2020, was the sense of allyship fatigue, where a lot of our allies got super tired the first two months and they were like, oh, this racism stuff is too much for me, but I really support the struggle. And I think the issue with that, and it goes right back to education, is that this is not foundational in our high schools and our middle schools and our primary schools.
Black history isn't taught like it's American history, as we've stated multiple times before. And so when we miss that foundational structure, it's almost passé. It becomes a trend. And I think that's what a lot of BLM has become for a lot of young people, especially the allies, is that, you know, every couple of months, we get another report of an unfortunate young Black man or young Black woman who has been murdered by police and it's a hashtag. And then when it's a hashtag, we're, you know, kind of bumping that up for a couple of weeks, a couple of days, and then it's over and the next thing comes.
And so this repetition, it's a little bit too much for young people. And so for me, it's almost-- it's not a question of what Black people can do because I feel like we're doing so much already. And it's almost as if we've been pulling the horse for so long by ourselves while our allies push the carriage, and that's not enough. So I think what it really is a question of is, how are allies is going to step up? How are non-Black people going to step up and kind of fill those boots that we've been carrying for generations?
SANDRA BOOKMAN: So let me ask you--
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: OK, I despise--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: [INAUDIBLE]
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: --the term "allies."
JESSICA JACKSON: I agree. I'm not here for it--
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: I have no use for that.
JESSICA JACKSON: --because I'm not feeling it.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Because allies is like, oh, I'm helping you with your problem, right? Where frankly, it's not even-- it's Black people are impacted by white people's problem, racism, their problem. And so when they say, "we're your allies," no, you're the one with the problem, right? Maybe we can help you overcome it, but you've got to do the work--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: But you've got to admit you have a problem, right?
JESSICA JACKSON: Exactly. It's a projection.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: So what is the conversation that, you know, that white parents need to be having with their children? You know, we talk a lot about the conversation, especially if you have an African American son, but certainly your-- if you have African American children, there are certain conversations we have to have with our kids that I don't know that other people have to have. So what is the conversation that white parents need to be having if we are all going to be engaged in and some-- somehow shifting the history in this country?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: You know, this is interesting. So the one term that my students use, they call them co-conspirators because being a co-conspirator suggests that you're-- that you are subverting the system, that you are both liable for the consequences of trying to dismantle something. So that's one way we could talk about this. You know, I think it's really important to have a clear vision of different kinds of white people because I think it's easy to speak in categorical terms. So just to level set, you know, it's fair to say that about half the country is not really interested in what we're talking about here today.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: I think that's fair.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: That's fair, right? I mean, maybe 30% to 40% of it is, you know, kind of close to self-avowed, self-identified white nationalists or white supremacists. But to get over that halfway mark, we could just look simply at Barack Obama got 43% then 39% of the white vote. Trump got the majority vote in both elections. So if you could just think about that, then I think we have to be honest about who we're talking about here.
So if we are really talking about the potential 30% of the liberals who are, you know, self-avowed committed to something that is akin to equality, then they have to have the same basic conversations we have. They have to teach their children how racism works. They have to teach their children how power is maldistributed in this country. When they are growing up in New York City and there's a bunch of Black women pushing white babies down the street, that that is not because those Black women-- that's their highest aspirations. That's because the labor market discriminates in such a way that those are the occupational categories that they have. That's just one example out of a zillion.
But they have the same obligation if they are co-conspirators to this work to socialize their children to be anti-racist, hard stop. And I'll just throw one little wrinkle into this-- this pond of advice, and that is that we have good evidence that Black people have been far too conservative on this question of systemic racism also. And that while we may be socializing our own children to be careful in police stops, partly what we've been saying is be deferential, survive the stop, but we haven't necessarily been saying, make sure you work together with me to file a complaint, ensure that you defend your right to be a citizen.
And so that's just one example of the ways in which Black folks themselves have not pursued this problem of anti-racism as strenuously. Listen, for folks that we're talking about that are white liberals, it is really important that we have these conversations with them, whether they are co-conspirators or not, about their obligations. If we're not putting pressure on the people who are proximate to us about the systems that are chewing up our-- chewing us up and our children, then we're also not doing as much work as we can do to change this.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: So let me add, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I would add that what really impedes our progress in our ability for Black and white families to have these conversations and really to begin to undo racism is that we have yet, as a society, to answer, you know, what, like, the fundamental question of distribution of power and resources.
And, you know, what keeps many families, white families, from really delving into and becoming anti-racist is, well, what does this mean for me? Right? I see your pain. I understand what has happened. But if I really become an anti-racist, that means that maybe I've got to let go of some of my privilege and the things that I've been able to attain and amass because of it.
And so until we address, you know, the fundamental, you know, the core challenge, the foundation upon which racism was built in this nation, this, you know, capitalism and this power struggle and power differential, people are going to say that they are anti-racist. They're going to claim to be allies. And, Dr. Muhammad, I love this term "co-conspirators." But we have to be concerned about how far they'll really go. Because right now, to really engage, the mindset is, I have to give up something.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Is racism a disease in this country? It just is so insidious. And I would talk-- you can talk to people that they have no-- I really believe they have no idea that they have it, that they benefit, that-- just talk to me about that. I mean, it's-- you know, we can talk about the systems and talk about, you know, getting those out of the way and leveling the playing field, but there is this thing that seems to be ingrained in so many Americans. How do you get rid of that?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, I'll take a quick stab at it. So, you know, first, I use the metaphor of vaccination. So if we delivered a small dose of bias education to three-year-olds, a recommended dosage, just a little taste of understanding, you know, lifting the veil of innocence-- you know, Baldwin often talked about the great crime of white people was their innocence, that they claimed they did not know what was happening to Black people.
And so if we could imagine a small vaccination essentially of a curriculum delivered in a timely fashion to three-year-olds, and then a repeated dose, a booster shot at 5, and then you repeat this cycle over time, you could imagine that those children would be very different adults than the ones that we're struggling to explain and fix and work with and convince and cajole and all of this stuff. So that's number one. Number two, what do we do with the adults we already have?
So if I could invent a pill like the pill-- the red pill and the blue pill that Laurence Fishburne had in "The Matrix" to help Keanu Reeves see how it all works, you know, if I could do that, then I would distribute it for free, just like we're distributing COVID vaccinations-- well, not all for free. And then finally, I'm thinking about Jordan Peele and that moment in the movie when the mother hypnotizes him with her teacup, if we could do that to more white people. In other words, we don't have good answers.
Social psychologists are really good at telling us how bias works, both implicit and explicit bias, but they also are good at telling us that we don't have a lot of good evidence that once people know that they change their behavior. Because it's hard to learn a foreign language when you're 30 years old. It's hard to play a new instrument when you're 40 years old. In other words, it's hard to to rewire how your brain works.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: The synapses are already firing in a certain way.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: So I don't want to-- I don't want to-- my opinion is this is not-- does not mean we give up on this. I have-- I have seen more students show up in my classroom between 18 and 25, their light-- their eyeballs go off like light bulbs. And all of a sudden, you know, I've had folks change entire careers, give up everything that they had laid out for them, you know, by their parents and opportunity to get in the fight. So it's worth that work. But the return on investment is much smaller at that stage than it is much earlier.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And--
RONALD CHALUISAN: You know, Sandra, I've been really reflecting and thinking about my time in classrooms, my time with young people, just literally sitting in middle school classrooms, high school classrooms, and having conversations with kids. And the one-- we're very nervous about-- we-- and I'll do we as educators, I'll speak I as an educator-- we're nervous about opening up Pandora's box, right? So if you actually give voice to young people to speak, they're relatively honest. They'll, like, tell you really what's there. And then you're sitting going, and now what? Right?
And now you've created a situation where there's some trust in the classroom, there's some trust among young people. They tell you full on what it is like to live and be and want and desire and know what they deserve and not get. They will tell you that. And then it's like, where do you go from there, right? And so that's one piece of what I'm thinking about. And then the other piece, you know, I grew up in a family of addiction, and I think about that notion of it's an every day commitment. It is an every minute commitment.
And so I go to the point of, are we willing to really make that commitment, right? Because it's the sum total of so much that creates the system piece, right, that the notion that people are giving-- like, that's a really interesting notion to me. That for you to have what you need and want, I'm giving something up. Like, there's something dramatically wrong about that framework. But I wonder if we have the patience, the diligence, and the persistence to actually just continuously every day make the commitment to say, when I see this, I am going to-- I'm going to-- and it's exhausting. Right?
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yes.
RONALD CHALUISAN: But it feels unless you do that, we're not going to have those answers. It's going to be a false promise to young people in some ways. They're going to say, "tell us," and then we're not going to do anything about it.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: I want to ask Jessica and Marvin, as the young folks in the group, is this a conversation that you have with people your age about-- you know, in a lot of ways, you guys are starting at the-- you're at the beginning of your fight for whatever the thing is that's most important to you, you know, within the context of this conversation. Do you talk about that, about just, you know, going your way and getting yours? Or is it an important thing among young people to, you know, to finally get this right when people our age haven't gotten it right?
MARVIN AMAZAN: I'll--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Or fixed it. I guess I shouldn't say got it right. Mm-hmm?
MARVIN AMAZAN: Ladies first, ladies first.
JESSICA JACKSON: Oh, thank you. I mean, I feel like for my generation, it's become a conversation of, yes, we are tired of the old generations constantly messing things up and just not willing to address the issue, which I love about Gen Z is that it's very much take the fight head on. We don't really want to, excuse my French but, BS anything.
But at the same time, what I'm learning for my generation, especially as peers at my school and from my high school kind of engage in these weird racist phases, it's-- it doesn't really come across as a disease almost as like a cultural framework that they have. So while racism is very much taught, I kind of feel like I don't know why it is that white kids go through this phase. And not even just white kids, non-Black kids of any race go through this weird racist phase where they end up traumatizing their Black peers.
And a lot of us my age and I'm sure a lot of the older generations who have yet to kind of reconcile with that trauma are discussing it in our groups, we're discussing it with our peers and with our non-Black friends. You know, and I don't know what that disconnect is. I'm still very interested in understanding where that comes from and what the origin is. And I know that everything comes from home, so obviously it's an educational thing as well. But I think--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: When you say traumatizing their peers, what do you mean?
JESSICA JACKSON: I'm trying to think of a really, really good example to use. But let's say, for instance, let's go with the N word example. And let's say just by chance you're having an argument with your non-Black friend, and they say, oh, you stupid N word, something like that. Or it's an issue of skin color and it's, you're too dark for this or you're too Black for this.
So questions and issues like that come up a lot in primary school. I've witnessed that second incident quite a lot at summer camp. And, you know, I never really realized how used to that I was. It was never really inflicted upon me, but just seeing that in public, seeing that happen on a day-to-day basis and just being like, oh, that's just so-and-so. That's just how they are. They just don't like me. Why is that normalized for us?
And so why do we internalize a normal-- like, normalize that trauma. Why do we decide to carry that around for them? And then they get to come back and say, oh, I'm a brand new person. That was just a phase. But for Black kids, it's never a phase. It's never a question of being racist. I don't know anyone who's grown up Black, openly Black, who has gone through a phase of prejudice. It's just not something that we do.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: As a joke or as a nickname or for fun or--
JESSICA JACKSON: As a little fun aside to your friends in these game rooms, these chat rooms. Why is that a thing that non-Black kids do? Where is that coming from? What's funny?
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: I'm reminded of what happened back in the late spring, early summer of last year in 2020, when Black children across the nation, Black young persons, who'd attended predominantly white private institutions for grade school began writing and telling their stories. My daughter happened to be one, and she began telling us stories about friends with whom she'd been in class since she was kindergarten saying things like, oh, it's Diversity Day, and every kid's got to figure out what they're going to do for Diversity Day. And then one kid-- Black kid says, oh, I got to figure it out. And somebody says, well, you wear your Blackness every day. Right?
Or it's college acceptance time, and, you know, all of your white friends begin getting their college acceptances and you're getting yours. And all of a sudden, you realize that because you've gotten into a school that is difficult to get into, now you're the token Black kid. But you never saw any of that heretofore. And so then you realize it's been there.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Right?
RONALD CHALUISAN: That's-- so that's so-- that's-- Jennifer, that's so interesting to me and just, you know. So, you know, I'm 60 this year, and so I grew up in the '60s, '70s. My family's from Puerto Rico. It was really a phase-- a big phase of assimilation, right? It was this notion of, like, that was the predominant kind of thing, right? And so you kind of go through this phase. And then you get to these places, and suddenly it's like, oh, that happened because you're this. And it's almost like you feel, right, you just get to a place where you're embarrassed almost to say your accomplishments, right?
Because suddenly-- and Jennifer spoke about ally being her word. Diversity is my word. I love that one Black person makes it diverse, right, or one Puerto Rican person. Like, why is that? Like, why is it that I'm the-- right? But that notion of, I wonder if our young people are getting to a place or will get to a place or can get to a place where, like, the accomplishment is the accomplishment because it's the accomplishment.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yes.
RONALD CHALUISAN: Like, don't have to think about, nor do you have to make the excuse, nor do you have to answer to anyone for accomplishing what you've accomplished.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: That you only got it because somebody needed to have a Black person there and you got lucky, that somehow you didn't do the work.
RONALD CHALUISAN: You didn't do the work, right.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. That-- ugh, I think that we-- probably everybody sitting here has had that conversation or that, you know, that thing happened to them. Marvin, I know you wanted to add something to this conversation.
MARVIN AMAZAN: Yeah, so I believe the question was, do we continue-- do we have that conversation? And yes, I believe before where maybe for some people you tend not to have that conversation, you tend to just leave it up to, oh, that's just the kind of person that this person is or this is just the way it is. But the more you start to realize that this happens often or this is something is, you have to have these conversations.
Me and my friends have these conversations all the time. I think it's about making it uncomfortable. We have to have these uncomfortable conversations in order to move forward. If we don't start to have these conversations, everybody is going to be sitting there quiet not understanding exactly the way somebody else is feeling or why it's making somebody feel this way. So we just sit there. But now we have to get more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. That's what I call it. Get more comfortable--
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah.
MARVIN AMAZAN: --yeah, with feeling uncomfortable.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: And I guess in a way not really caring if the other person feels uncomfortable.
MARVIN AMAZAN: Correct.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Because if you're open and honest about what you think, how you think it, you know, why you think that way or why you would say it, then maybe you would also be forced to confront the issue.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: The events of January 6 at the Capitol, I think there are some people who say they were shocked and surprised. I was shocked that it went as far as it did, but not surprised by what was said, what was heard, what the signs read. You know, a lot of people will attach that to Donald Trump, you know, the things he did and said for four years and made perfectly clear. But I would say he was sort of just the match, that the fuse had been there all along.
Just talk to me a little bit about that day and what-- what you think it said about the state of race relations in this country. I am, quite honestly, don't believe that this was all about politics that day. I think that-- I just-- I'm not buying it. If you could, I could just-- I would like to get your individual takes on what you saw that day and what it said about where we are as a country, particularly when it comes to race relations.
MARVIN AMAZAN: I'll go ahead and start. I think it's funny because I like to have those uncomfortable conversations, like you said, and I actually had the conversations with my students. And to hear them articulate-- and these are seventh grade students-- to hear them articulate what went on at the Capitol was amazing, just to say the least.
And, like, the youth will always be our future. And I think one thing that they said that stuck with me was a sense of entitlement. Like, the fact that you think or have the notion to go about doing something like that and just thinking that it would just be OK and there would be no consequences to your actions, that just shows the sense of entitlement that some people do feel like they have in this country.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Anybody else want to chime in on this one?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Yeah, sorry about that. I was just going to say that I saw the-- a window, it was like a time machine into the consequences of Abraham Lincoln's election in 1960, a moment when the nation verged on Civil War. And with his inauguration, we were just a few months, from January to April, to the start of the Civil War.
And, you know, we have-- as human beings, we have this odd way of reading about history, about the rise and fall of empires, about the massive genocides that have unfolded in the past, and unless that happened-- that something like that is happening at scale right in front of us, it just all seems, like, unbelievable. Like, but this is what it looks like. This is what insurrection looks like. This is what the consequences of a political party that is a minority party, but capable of mobilizing a majority population to do every kind of anti-Democratic thing in order to secure power on the basis of many different axes, including, obviously, racism.
So I saw that moment, the proximity with which we are to the most terrible time in our history and the possibility that we're having a conversation here just like Americans all over the country in the middle of the 20th century, and Frederick Douglass joining in and trying to inspire co-conspirators in that moment to actually raise arms against the Confederates or the slave owners at that time. We are having conversations that we might look back in a year or two or five years from now and say, if only we knew. If only we prepared for the worst. So that's what I saw. I saw history literally come to life right in front of my eyes in the most profound and deeply disturbing ways.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: You know, Dr. Muhammad, I'll tell you that I appreciate what you're saying because-- as well as you, Marvin-- when the moment was happening, the first thought that I had, and then I talked with, again, with my third 23-year-old daughter, and we both agreed that we actually were not shocked. We were only surprised that it took that long to, you know, to see that. Meaning that we'd gone from November whatever that was, November 2 to January 6 that we'd gone, you know, two months before there was that very big public act of insurrection.
But I couldn't figure out whether or not it was a culminating event or a catalytic moment, right? And so, you know, it felt like it was culminating in something big, insurrection in the moment. But what was it in some ways the catalyst for more of what's to come? Was that moment where they seized it and said, look what we can do? I worried about them hanging, you know, from the columns, you know, knocking down those doors and then going back and saying, look what we made happen. Let's be inspired and encouraged by that.
But I've been walking around for about five years saying to myself, we are experiencing the nation over a master class in white privilege. At every turn, we were experiencing a master class in white privilege. And one might say we didn't pay anything for that master class, but we are paying. I think people saw-- I think many people saw that their democracy, their country as they've known it, you know, in crisis. I don't know how many people are relating it back to systemic racism.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: What do we need to do to move forward? There's a new administration. I think that there is a sense that, to some extent, the country has moved past a rough time. We're still in the middle of COVID-19. You know, we're still trying to get attention on those communities hit hardest by this virus, to get them the resources they need to make sure that happens. What do you think Black communities, communities of color, need to be doing, you know, to move the needle further?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: We, as Black people, need to hold our political leaders accountable, no matter what they look like, no matter how proximate they are from coming from our own communities and making it all the way to DC. We cannot stand on the sideline as cheerleaders simply because they won an election. That is-- so we need people to hold politicians accountable.
The second thing is that we need to build our civic muscles, which is why I'm so excited about Marvin and Jessica. We did a lot of work between the '40s and '60s to create the possibility for social movement because people organized folks. They did the sit-ins-- not the sit-ins, the teach-ins. There was the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. There were the Freedom Schools in the South. There were, in the Black Panther era, Freedom Schools all over the country.
Black people invested time, energy, and effort in educating a new generation of young people to know and to see, to understand how to diagnose their condition in order to be able to change it. And while there's a lot of ferment now happening, we have not been investing in this work for the last 40 years. We have been telling our young people, get a good education. But what did a good education really mean? Get a good education to assimilate in systems of power that weren't built for you.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Thank you very much for being with us this afternoon and sharing your thought. Obviously, this is a conversation that needs to continue.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Thank you.
JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN: Thank you.
RONALD CHALUISAN: Thank you.
JESSICA JACKSON: Thank you.
- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.
SANDRA BOOKMAN: Thank you for joining us on "Here and Now." If you missed any portion of today's show, you can watch at abc7ny.com. If you'd like to comment or share your story, email us at ABC 7 or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I'm Sandra Bookman. Enjoy the rest of your day.