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Hey, they're up first, listeners, we have a bonus episode for you. Last week we heard from the people who knew and loved George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and a Aubrey. Their death sparked a summer of protest. And today we're going deeper. We're looking at the system that fueled this moment. We ask generations of protesters in South Los Angeles how this all looks familiar. First, what does a mother say to her black son who just wants to go for a run?
Here's Rachel Martin.
This is an NPR special report, The Summer of Racial Reckoning. We all saw the images, the protesters in the streets. We heard their voices calling for justice after George Floyd was killed by a police officer who put a knee to Floyd's neck and didn't let up for more than eight minutes. For many, this was a gruesome example of the day to day injustices that black Americans face. For a lot of white Americans, Floyd's death was a long overdue awakening about the racism that still shapes our politics, our culture, our relationships and the systems that have continued long after the civil rights movement of the 1960s to disadvantage black Americans.
The conversation you're about to hear brings that into sharp focus. Morning Edition host Noel King talked with Minnesota State Representative Ruth Richardson and her 17 year old son, Sean. They talked about how being black in America changes how you think about even the most routine parts of a day.
Best part about being a 17 year old is more freedom. I'm able to go out more with my friends. I can do things solo.
Freedom. Sean is a junior in high school. School is fine, but what he really loves is track. He can run the hundred in ten point seven one seconds flat. His friend timed it. The track season was canceled because of covid-19, but if he can run that time officially, he will have the school record. Distance running isn't his thing. Sean is a sprinter.
It's just kind of like how I explain it. Does it feel like freedom? It does. It does. I feel like I don't have to worry about anything on the track. You're just focused on that one thing that you want to do on the track, winning, winning, running, everything. I mean, I love everything about it.
Now, imagine what it's like to be State Representative Ruth Richardson. She's Sean's mom. He keeps getting bigger. He needs money to go on a date.
He eats everything sandwich after sandwich, whatever is in the house. It's there one moment and then you open the refrigerator and it's gone still.
He's such a good kid for Mother's Day, he drew you a portrait. Now, imagine what it's like to tell your kid that he can't do the thing he loves most in the world because it isn't safe.
When Sean was young, he's got a lot of energy. He's a runner and all he wants to do is be outside. And I had to tell my little boy that you can't run in our neighborhood if you're going to run. I need you in a track uniform and I need you running with other people, because even with that, you could still be seen as a threat. You know, he's got black friends. He's got white friends. That's like you can't do the same things that your white friends do.
It's going to be viewed in a totally different way. And so, of course, teenagers, they're going to defy their parents. But I remember having a conversation with Chad after I had told him that he couldn't run and he had to fight me. And he was he had been running. And he told me the story about how he was running. And this woman drove in front of him and just kind of blocked off his space of where he was running and knocked on her window and asked him, did you just steal from that store?
Is that why you're running?
Sean, how old were you when that happened? I think fifteen. Your kid. Yeah. And what is your thought when a white woman asks you, are you running because you stole something at that time?
I didn't really take it like, oh, you know, I'm I'm African-American and I'm running. I got stopped by a Caucasian woman and she asked me, you know, did you steal something from the store? It was just kind of like kind of shrug my shoulders. And I was like, oh, no, I didn't. And just, you know, finish my run. But, like, looking at it now, it's like that wasn't OK at all.
You are 17 and the best part of being 17 is freedom. Yes, for sure. When you look at friends of yours who are white, do you feel like they have more freedom than you?
Yes, for sure. But I feel like when I'm with them, it's almost like I feel like I'm really like one with them. I just feel like I'm more safe in a way. I feel like I'm more safe with more people around me than if I'm alone.
Do you envy their freedom? Uh, not really. I would say kind of, yes. Not really.
Kind of, yes. It's not like you'd come out and tell his friends that it wouldn't change anything. So why focus on all this negative stuff?
I mean, if I can't run in the neighborhood, it's like I can run on a track or something, you know, it's not the end of the world. It is the end of the world. It is the end of the world. Because if you can't run and our neighborhood, if you can't walk out into the world and just be seen as a 17 year old boy who loves to run, there's something deeply wrong with that. John, I definitely agree for sure, is your response to what your mom just said, there's nothing I can do about it.
I mean, that's how it is, how much you can really do. I don't think it's just it's not just about one neighborhood. It's about a reality in our neighborhood and our city and our state and around the US that the impacts of. Racism, the impacts of discrimination have a long reach, a very long reach.
When she was 19, she says a police officer shot and killed her cousin. She's seen the police report. It says he was shot in the chest.
Roof's mom, who was there, says he was shot in the back. He was running for his life.
You know, people talk about how far we've come from being enslaved to the reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act, you know, the Voting Rights Act. But regardless of all of that, we all just witnessed a police officer kneel on the neck of a black man. And that is a visual of everything that is wrong.
What do you think the right response is to address racism in our country?
I mean, that's a really big question, because, look, you can change legislation, but you can't change hearts and minds. When I visited the site of George Floyds death, there was a sign that said Smash White Supremacy. And as I was watching the sign just kind of blowing in the wind, it was on a white sheet and spray painted with red letters. It was like the answer is literally blowing in the wind at the site of where George Floyd was murdered.
The systems that we have built within this country have been built with racism. At the core, people will talk about our systems being broken. Our systems are working just the way that they were designed to work.
So as long as the system works this way, she will tell him, you can't run outside. Sean, this is how a mother protects her son and he will tell her it's not the end of the world, Mom.
This is how a son protects his mother.
NPR's Noel King talking to Minnesota State Representative Ruth Richardson and her son Sean, about how systemic racism has shaped their lives, individual or interpersonal racism can be easy to define for some people, especially white Americans who have benefited from inequalities built into our society.
Systemic racism can be more difficult to identify. Noel sat down with Ijeoma, also author of So You Want to Talk About Race, and they talked about how systemic racism works.
The framing around racism has always been there is a white person who doesn't like people of color or a Klan member or someone you know, who's making their hatred and ignorance very obvious. But what's actually been impacting our lives are systems that rely on subtle and not so subtle biases against people of color to disempower us and put us at risk. And so we've been fighting for job opportunities, for safety, from violence, for equal education.
And that is upheld not by how you love or don't love people of color, but by how you participate with our systems.
Let's say there's a United States of America where there is no systemic racism, there is racism. There are still white people who don't like black people, but there's no systemic racism. Is it a better country for black people? Oh, absolutely.
Far better than if the opposite were true, because that would be an area where I can walk down the street and no matter what someone feels about me, no matter what they assume about me, if I can send my sons out to go play and not worry, someone's going to think that they're robbing them and then be able to call the cops and have my children shot. Right. I can go in for a job interview. And if someone doesn't like me because they don't like black people, it means I have recourse.
It means that they know that perhaps acting upon that is too dangerous for the success of their business because we have anti-racist laws that prevent that from happening. It also means that the ability for people to pass it on their interpersonal racism from generation to generation is limited because they don't have the systemic support. So you may think what you think, but when you go to school and your schools are reinforcing anti-racism, when you go to work and your work is reinforcing anti-racism, perhaps what your parents thought about people of color loses its validity.
Whereas right now it's reinforced.
We are seeing changes in ordinary Americans willingness to accept that systemic racism exists. On the other hand, President Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told reporters, quote, I don't believe there systemic racism in the US. And to make his case, he said, we elected President Barack Obama, Attorney General Bill Barr, and believes there's no systemic racism in policing. There used to be, but the laws have changed. It doesn't exist anymore.
Is it worth trying to convince people who are unconvinced and seem unconvinced of all that systemic racism is real?
I don't think we have time. I think that we push forward and we change the system and let the other people catch up. I think that it's much more important right now to be activating the people who know that something is wrong. There are plenty of people who can say everything right, who can say systemic racism is a problem and the Black Lives Matter sign up in the window and they consider their job done. I would rather do the work of getting those people to go to city council meetings.
Right, to go to their school boards to start activating for real change.
What would it take to end systemic racism? I understand that is a very big question. But if there were a couple of things that you could point to and say in 25, 30 years to make this country less racist at its core in its systems, what would you point to?
I would say that by then we would have defunded the police force and come up with a new system of prevention and of building community that reduces crime in a positive manner. I would see an overhaul of our mental health system that doesn't criminalize mental health issues, and I would see a overhaul of our educational system. I would say those are some good places to start, you know, but we can just keep going forever.
That's author Ijeoma Alua talking with NPR's Noel King about systemic racism.
The protests over George Floyds death brought back memories of other moments in American history when people demonstrated against police brutality, the city of Los Angeles has its own painful history. With us, All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang went out to learn about that history, specifically the Watts rebellion in 1965 and the Rodney King riots in 1992.
I spoke with three men, all African-American, who bore witness to those events over the decades. Each of them has given serious thought to how policing in L.A. should change, and each has arrived at a different answer. We moved here in 1953.
Bruce Patton has lived in the exact same spot in South L.A. for almost 70 years.
So this wasn't here. This portion wasn't here. And there was a swing that hung in that corner of the whole of the port to that side of the port.
And you would be sitting in the swing.
I was sitting in this one one patent's earliest memories of the troubled relationship between police and African-Americans unfolded in August of 1965 in the nearby Watts neighborhood. Police had stopped a black driver. A crowd gathered.
A fight ensued and the incident ignited existing tensions between police and the black community here.
I remember we were at my grandmother's house mowing the lawn and we would see smoke in the distance. We, of course, did not know what it was. In essence, we just knew it was a disturbance and that some black people finally had enough. And like a pressure cooker explosion, Patton was just 13.
He didn't understand enough to be scared at the time. What he did pick up on was something very different from fear deep down inside.
It was a joy that black people would stand up and have the audacity to stand up and push back.
What do you mean that you felt or your family felt a sense of joy? Can you talk about that a little more like fighting back.
Fighting back? That was the joy.
The problem is, Patton says his community has been fighting back against a problem that never seems to change police violence against black people. And for Patton, at least, the solution to that problem is very clear. He says we need to take all guns away from the police.
There's no reason for policemen to have a gun. That is what gives them the propensity to kill you. It's their approach to the people in these communities that make police officers fear for their lives because he says these police officers go into neighborhoods like his without asking the right question.
The idea is that an officer sees you with a situation his mind should be as a doctor is and say, how can I help that person? How can I help that person?
You think that's a missing question? Police officers aren't asking the question, how can I help?
They're not concerned about the questions. 27 years after Watts burned, racial unrest spilled through the streets of South L.A. again when four LAPD officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of a black man named Rodney King. Protests erupted on April 29th, 1992, at the corner of Normandie and Florence Avenues, right in front of a liquor store called Thom's.
And right here at this intersection, it was mayhem. It was crazy. It was like like World War something going on.
Gilbert Johnson lived in a different section of South L.A. at that time, which meant after he joined a gang, he wasn't allowed on this particular corner for years.
I just got off the phone with one of the OGs from this area, double OG Big James, and told them, like Abreau, I'm right here on Normandy influence. You know what I'm saying? Just to check in, it's protocol to the straight business.
Johnson says this intersection outside Toms has changed a lot since 1992.
Tom's liquor, you see loitering, you'll see they will give you props. You could drink your liquor in the parking lot. They would sell literally crack pipes behind the counter.
He was only eight years old during the Rodney King riots, and there was so much anger in his house at the time. So when the looting started, his brother, his uncle, they all got in on it.
Yeah, hell, yeah. Everybody was doing it. You know, it's got out there and capitalize off the situation. So what did they bring back, do you remember?
Oh, man. Yeah, I remember some some weapons, TV's full clothes, all of that. It was it was a pretty good moment as far if you look at it from that standpoint, because we were poor, you know, we used to get free food, stand in lines to get food, recycle cans, to get food. Stamps back then, he says it didn't feel wrong because the system had already wronged them so many times, Johnson would end up spending most of his young adult life in and out of prison.
I have my rap sheet as long.
And he says cycling through the criminal justice system like that only reinforced his views against law enforcement. Today, he is a community organizer. He leads programs like Youth and Gang Intervention.
But when it comes to policing, he calls himself an abolitionist, as in abolish the police.
You know, I've talked to hundreds and hundreds of people across South L.A. and they do not want more law enforcement.
I mean, but if the police were defunded, do you feel at all concerned that this community might have trouble addressing crime or dealing with violent criminals or holding people accountable who do commit crimes?
I think that's that's a hard question to unpack, because, again, thinking about trauma, you know, you say a violent criminals. I look at them as humans that maybe needed treatment or needed help, needed a hug, needed some love rather than needing getting beat or needed, you know, going to jail, you know. And so I feel like when we talk about creating community alternatives to policing, gang intervention is one. Yes. But also there's neighborhood watches where the community could be first responders.
It sounds like what you're saying is the community knows best how to take care of itself. Absolutely. In the scenario that you're you're painting for me, is there a role for the LAPD to play at all? Do you see your community ever having a functioning, workable relationship with the police here? Although you don't know, I don't. My position to Gilbert is I completely understand.
I've been in the place that you're at, and this brings us to the third man in our story, Marquis Harris Dawson, another native of South L.A. who's now a city councilman.
I think there's obviously a use for LAPD and other police departments while Bruce Patton wants all guns gone from the LAPD and Gilbert Johnson wants to see the LAPD completely gone, Harris Dawson just wants to see the police here focus on fewer things.
We asked police departments to solve homelessness. We ask them to solve truancy. We asked them to solve blight, traffic problems, pedestrian safety. We ask them to solve a whole bunch of problems that they oftentimes are not the appropriate set of individuals to do.
And while the LAPD getting overloaded with all these tasks, Harris Dawson thinks the city is also overloading it with money, money that could be better spent on schools or health care. And he says when it comes to policing its initiatives like the Community Safety Partnership, that are the best way forward, that's a program that's been in place in South L.A. since 2017. It's where police officers embed inside a neighborhood, the same cops for several years and they watch kids grow up there.
They actually get to know them in Harvard Park.
Before we put the community safety partnership, there was a community that had seen six murders, had one of the highest violent crime rates anywhere in the city. Community safety partnership with just 10 officers assigned to that area. Zero crime calls for two consecutive reporting periods, zero homicide, but most importantly, trust.
And he says programs like this, they measure successful policing differently. One of the big differences is oftentimes officers are evaluated by how many citations they give away or how many people they arrest. Here we say, how many interactions did you have? How many church services did you attend? How many events with young people did you participate in?
Ultimately, Harris says the more police officers actually get to know the people they're policing personally, the less likely the police will resort to violence.
I asked Bruce Payton and Gilbert Johnson, two men who have seen so little improved between police in their community.
If they think these protests right now could bring that kind of change, there is a direction.
There isn't as a direction for the first time because there are more people listening.
The community is rising up right now. We have we have opportunity. We have a chance to really organize and galvanize all this momentum and push it in a positive way. We're going to see a lot more change and a lot more people are out protesting because they want change. So, yes, I see this as a moment of hope.
Amidst all the chaos, three men, three visions for policing in South L.A., all working towards a more just system. That's NPR's Ailsa Chang. George Floyds killing has provoked a lot of questions about police and the communities of color they're supposed to serve, and All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro explored that question with a group of three black police officers. They're all from different generations and each have their own stories to tell about the racism they have experienced, both on and off the force.
Isaiah McKinnon is a former chief of police and Detroit deputy mayor. McKinnon remembered how he was greeted on the force.
My very first night as a Detroit police officer and the supervisors, the sergeant lieutenant came into the room and the announced roll call. And as they announced the assignments, they announced this one officer's name and they gave the assignment and they said McKinnon scowled to seven. And this officer said, Jesus effing Christ, I'm working with you. And he said the the racial derogatory term that I welcome to the Detroit Police Department. Yes. Yeah. And so I rode with him for eight hours.
He never said a word to me. And it's just interesting because when I went out to the street, the black people didn't want to talk to me either because I was a turncoat. So it was it was a very difficult time.
When Vincent Montagu joined the police force four decades later, he says things had changed some. He's now 37 years old and the president of the Black Shield Police Association, which supports officers serving in the Greater Cleveland area.
I think things were are more covert, how things were handled. I would say in the police academy, you find out who people really were in a police academy. I would say the academy was very divided. They tried to bring us together, but oftentimes black officers were told you have to have thick skin to deal with this, because if you can't handle what they're saying in the academy, you can't handle it on the streets. So that's what we were told.
But it was different for officers that didn't look like us. They were not told the same thing.
None of those experience surprised Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles police officer who joined the LAPD in 1980.
While I'm troubled by what I'm hearing, that each of us have gone through this, and you would think that the chief's experiences would have made it better for me and mine, for Vincent, not so much. And so that that part saddens me.
I hear all three of you saying that there are deep seated problems built into policing in America.
And so I guess the question I have for you is, as thousands of people march in the streets and lawmakers are being pushed to change policies and divert funding, could this be a moment of change, if not from the inside out than from the outside in?
I don't think so, because I think that these police chiefs are being disingenuous. You know, they say what they need to do in the moment to kind of calm folks down. They make appointments of certain folks who may look like me to make the community think that this person will somehow be someone that you can come to and trust when I say I'll skin folk and kinfolk. So there's some black folks out there who are in positions of power who have the ability to make a difference, but they're so wanting to go along to get along.
You know, they they're the ones who and this is not unique to law enforcement who once they make it, they pull the ladder up.
Isaiah Vincent? Oh, I'm optimistic because we have young white people that's involved. You think about this that I think both agree. If this was just black people doing this protesting, they would say, to hell with them. You know, they're doing the same thing again. You know, you don't see this many young white students or people involved. And now older white people, they're saying black lives matter. You know, the reality is that people are concerned about what's going on.
Well, now I see that black officers are not afraid to take a stand now, and especially the younger black officers, they're stepping up because in the past, if a black woman stepped up, she was the angry black woman. A black man steps up. He's just angry. But now I think black officers are having more of a voice and they're not as afraid to see what needs to be said. So I've had conversations with coworkers in regards to the protests and I challenged them.
And it was uncomfortable because I don't necessarily agree with everything they said and they expect because I am wearing blue. I have to agree with what they're saying, and I don't I like I'm not you, I'm not Caucasian, I'm Hispanic, I'm black, and I see it from my perspective.
Let me say this real quick, Ari. You know, I hate to be a Debbie Downer. I'm a realist. But let me just let me just encourage my brother to continue to be you, because, listen, if this were easy, everybody would do it. And so when I joined LAPD, I was a you know, I was always clear on who I am. And I say this when I speak. I'm a black woman. First be clear.
I'm a black woman first and I am a mother of four black men second and then third. I happened to be a sergeant of police. I never, ever bled blue because every black person knows, no matter what job you have, is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when they tap you on your shoulder and remind you, in case you forgot that you're a black person.
So I say go in being unapologetically black. So, Vincent, do not ever feel like you need to sell yourself. You need to go along to get along. You need to compromise. You need to at the end of every night, be able to look at yourself in the face and look at your face in the mirror and be happy about who you are.
Vincent, do you want to respond to that? Yes. And I want to say, first of all, thank you for for that. Their heartfelt comments and what you said.
I wish I had heard it within my first year on a job in these protests all over the country, we're seeing people chant, defund the police. It's a hashtag, it's on posters.
What are you all think of this movement to take some of the funding away from police and give it to people who specialize in homelessness, addiction, mental health, non-violent interventions?
Well, I'll start. I don't think it's a bad sort. The the phrasing might be wrong, but for all of us who've been in this work for a long time, look, all they're saying is if you're not representing me, you're not enforcing the the laws properly and fairly. Do we really need you to come in and beat us up to kill us and those things? So let's look at another way of doing this.
Let me say real quickly about the defunding, because I think that when these young people say defund the police, what I hear is them almost using it as some kind of a weapon against the police. What we need to have done, what officers will understand is when they are held accountable and I don't know why. And all of the conversations that we're having, you would think accountability was a four letter word.
I just want to listen more to the community because the community is speaking out, they're crying, and they've been speaking out for years and no one's been listening. But officers get real defensive when it comes to the change. When you say defund the police, when you say these things, they get real defensive and saying it's going to take money out of pocket, then the narrative changes. But at the end of the day, the community, the public worldwide, they're requesting police change whether we want it or not.
And so defund the police could be a reality in police departments whether they want to or not. They pay taxes for us to serve them. And I think sometimes we forget that we serve the community. Well, thank you to all three of you for sharing your stories and experiences and thoughts with us. I really appreciate your time and your your candidness.
Thank you. It's our pleasure. Thank you.
Vincent Montague is president of the Black Shield Police Association, which supports officers serving in the Greater Cleveland area. Cheryl Dorsey is a retired sergeant in the L.A. Police Department, and her latest book is Black and Blue The Creation of a Social Advocate. And Isaiah McKinnon is a retired police chief with the Detroit Police Department, and he was also Detroit's deputy mayor. NPR's Ari Shapiro talking with three generations of black police officers. After a short break, how to talk to your kids about racism.
Hey, I'm Sam Sanders, host of It's Been a Minute on my show, we catch you up on all the things in news and culture, this space force. I totally missed this. What is the space for stop in space? I don't know about space for you know what? I've been in my apartment for four months.
Oh, man. Crushing it. Thank you.
Feeling good news without the despair. Listen now to the it's been a minute podcast from NPR. The legacy of racism permeates so much of our everyday life that many Americans didn't even notice when it showed up on their breakfast table.
We're talking about Aunt Jemima, the face of the Quaker Oats syrup of the same name. Originally, Aunt Jemima was depicted as a slave. The company modified her image over the years, but the whole brand was still offensive to a whole lot of people, including columnist and former NPR host Michele Norris, who spoke to our Scott Simon about her own complicated relationship with Aunt Jemima several years ago.
I learned long after she died that my grandmother, Brian Brown, worked as a traveling Aunt Jemima. And your listeners, upon hearing this, will maybe scratch their heads and say, what does that mean? Well, what it means is there was an army of woman, black woman who traveled the United States in the 40s and 50s during pancake demonstrations at county fairs and rotary breakfasts and all throughout the country to try to promote pancake mix, which was new at the time.
Convenience cooking was new.
Tell us what you learned about how she kind of subverted and created her own Aunt Jemima on the road when she was performing?
The woman that's on the package today looks quite modern. She looks like she might be on a local church council. She replaced the old image in 1989 when they got an upgrade and the old image of the Jemima looked like a mammy, look like a slave woman. She had to do rag on her hair. And in the advertising, she spoke with broken English, a kind of slave patois to suggest that she did not have education. And what I learned is that when my grandmother did this work and that many of the other women who did this work, that they were not allowed to wear street clothing.
They may have wanted to show up and dress quite nicely for these pancake demonstrations, but they had to dress up like Aunt Jemima. That was part of the contract. But they were also asked to speak like the in the broken English that you would see in the advertisements. And many of them, including my grandmother, refused to do it. So they knew that when they were going into these small towns, my grandmother had a six state region that included Iowa, the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
And when they would go into these towns, they knew that in many cases they were going into small towns where people had not seen one before. And so my grandmother and I found recordings and examples of news coverage when she gone to these towns and she talked to reporters and she explained that she would sing gospel songs when she was serving these pancakes because she wanted people to know that she was a woman of God, that she would focus on young children and she would recite poetry.
And, you know, as I wrote about this recently and I said she must have blown their little minds when they came expecting to see someone who spoke in the slave method. Instead, they heard someone speak in the crisp addiction that I remember from my grandmother. But my grandmother was doing work that was well paid and she was stepping on a stage that was available to her. And so she used this as a stepping stone toward a a better life.
Your grandmother was regarded as a celebrity in many of these towns, but I gather when night fell, she couldn't stay there.
Well, and talking to other people whose family members did this work, they would go to towns and they would look for a small sign that was usually in the lower corner of the window and I would say tourist. And that was an indication that that was a home that would feed or house people of color when they were traveling.
Michelle, you talk with love and admiration, as many people do for your grandmother. Why do you think the subject never came up? I think this is a particularly steep hill for families of color, for black families in particular, because there was so much pain to overcome, it was such a difficult life to love a country that doesn't love you back. And there were things that they just didn't talk about for several reasons got part of it was it was pain.
You know, they were trying to move forward and in in order to move forward, they they couldn't wallow in pain and frustration and anger and anxiety part of it. And this is where the word grace comes in. Part of it is that they wanted very much to give the next generation wind in their wings. They didn't want to pass on their frustrations and pass on their pains necessarily so that the next generation could move forward without being weighed down by some of that.
You know, I've spent much of my career behind a microphone. There are stages that are available to me that just were not available to her. And I think about that when I step out on a stage, when I speak to the public and recognize that things are are easier for me, not easy, but easier for me because of the kind of work that women like her did, sometimes quietly, always boldly. But activism comes in very many forms.
We're seeing a kind of activism on the streets right now where people are taking to the streets and demanding rights and demanding that this country live up to its promise. But sometimes activism takes on a quieter tone. Sometimes activism rolls into a small town and shows the people of that town what black elegance and black eloquence and black success can sound and look like, even when they're not expecting that. Michele Norris, our colleague for many years, a columnist talking about her grandmother, Ian Brown.
Thanks so much for being with us, Michel. Good to be with you, Scott. NPR's Scott Simon there.
Norriss grandmother likely used that stepping stone because of the vast economic inequality that existed then and still exists in the U.S. today. One proposal for addressing the gap is to pay financial reparations to the descendants of slaves. It's a topic that economist William Darity addresses in his book From Here to Equality Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century. He spoke to Morning Edition host Noel King about why reparations are a key component of beginning to try and correct the disadvantages black Americans face.
The book reminds us that slavery and emancipation wasn't that long ago. We talked first about a 90 year old woman in North Carolina who was getting a civil war pension from the government until she died just a few weeks ago.
The fact that somebody who was the child of a civil war veteran was still receiving pension funds in 2020 is extremely striking. The individual that you're talking about is a woman who was white, whose father was white. And it's again suggestive of the ways in which there was a divergence in the rewards that the federal government gave by race to the folks who were descendants of the enslaved versus the folks who were the enslavers or folks who were complicit with the slavery process.
I think a lot of us learn in school that emancipation happened, enslaved people were freed and then they were able to go and make money, just like everyone else in the United States of America, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Your book does a fantastic job of detailing all of the ways in which that was untrue.
The first being jobs. When enslaved people were emancipated, they couldn't just walk out into the world and demand payment for doing a job.
No, they couldn't. And one of the reasons they could not was because of the institution of a series of laws that we now refer to as the Black Codes. And the Black Codes created restrictions on the authority that individual black folks had over their family life. But it also created restrictions on their employment opportunities and their capacity to exercise agency over the types of jobs they took.
There was a moment reading your book where I wondered, in all honesty, as you lay out the black codes, as you lay out the ways in which they were institutionalized, it seemed worth asking, you know, did the North even win the Civil War?
I mean, one of the things that is so clear in your telling of this history is that, yes, emancipation happened. But the Southern states, the Confederacy made lots and lots of demands, particularly around what would happen to black people and what would happen to their labor.
And the north gave in. I think that's correct. The North did give in. And I think that the North gave and in part because the price for providing full citizenship to black Americans would have meant having a sustained and long term division among white Americans, because the price for achieving full citizenship for black Americans would have meant the Confederates ization in full. And in turn, the North would have had to commit to having the union army play an extended role in the southern part of the United States.
And ultimately it was not done.
When did the black codes and the practices associated with the Black Codes continue into the period of formal legal segregation? It's what we refer to as the Jim Crow period. And the laws that undergird legal segregation in the United States or American apartheid really don't get overturned until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
And so when we look at these vast inequalities now between white wealth and black wealth inequalities that extend to health outcomes, homeownership, education, the size of people's bank accounts, the neighborhoods that people live in, where do those gaps come from?
I think it's a consequence of a host of social policies and practices that have been put in place in the aftermath of the Civil War. So the starting point is the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40 acre of land grass that they were promised. At the same time, substantial allocations of land were being made to white Americans and then subsequently over the. Of the next 80 years or so, there was a series of white massacres that took place across the United States where black communities that had begun to develop some degree of prosperity and independence were literally destroyed.
And then in the 20th century, there was a sustained pattern of discrimination in access to home ownership on the part of blacks, starting with the existence of restrictive covenants, following through with redlining and the accompanying predatory lending practices that were associated with obtaining home mortgages. So we have a set of public policies that lie at the heart of the creation of this gaping wealth gap. And this means, in turn, that we need new public policy to reverse those conditions.
Part of the promise of this book is that you will offer a roadmap to reparations. Put simply, who do you think should get reparations?
We propose that there are two criteria for eligibility. The first is what we refer to as a lineage standard. An individual would have to demonstrate that they have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States. And then the second is an identity standard. An individual would have to demonstrate that for at least 12 years before the enactment of a reparations program, the individual would have had to have self-identified as black, Negro or African-American.
And then would you make the argument that checks should be cut to individuals, to families, or should there be a large pool of money that could go toward supporting education, supporting homeownership?
We feel strongly that direct payments must be a major component. We have talked about support for education, support for entrepreneurial activity, some resources that go to historically black colleges and universities. But the preponderance of the funds must go to individual recipients and they must go in such a way that we, in fact, eliminate the racial wealth gap. That's the big objective of the reparations project. William Darity Jr. is the co-author of From Here to Equality Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century.
His co-author is Akehurst and Mullin, also his wife. Thank you so much for being with us.
Thank you so much. The challenges of systemic racism can feel daunting and overwhelming. Noel King spoke with anti-racism scholar Ibrahim Kendy about how parents can start to be part of the solution, and it starts with how they talk to their own kids about racism.
I started by asking him about a distinction that he often makes. Should parents teach their kids to be not racist or to be anti-racist?
From my understanding, when parents desire for their kids to be not racist, they typically do not talk to their kids about race. They avoid conversations about race or even explaining the racial inequities and dynamics in their community as a result. Typically, those kids are taught to be racist by society. And so, by contrast, when you're essentially raising a kid to be anti-racist, you're deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and racism. You're deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals.
You're deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures and we should value them all equally.
There's research now that shows kids can internalize racial bias between the ages of two and four. How should adults talk to such young children about racism?
You can use books as a conversation starter. What I find with my four year old daughter is when I'm reading her books, she asks questions about books and so use tools like books, and then the child will potentially guide the conversation. I also think you can turn on the demonstrations on TV or go to the demonstrations. And I suspect even three year olds will ask what is going on? Again, it gives you the opportunity to talk about race and racism.
May I ask a four year olds often will ask you to read the same book over and over and over again. Is there a particular book that you read to your daughter where you think, OK, as I read this to her, I see her young mind getting it?
Oh, well, she loved her love. And I think partly because I have locks and and she just saw me in the book and certainly saw her.
So when you talk to your daughter about how to talk to other kids, if they hear something racist or something racist is said to them, these are young kids we're dealing with.
What should their response be if it's a black child, if it's a child of color, it's critically important for the parents of black children to even long before they go and experience another child telling them their hair is ugly, to be constantly sharing with them and telling them that their hair is beautiful, because when they receive that type of racist idea from another young child, they may not internalize it. They may not see themselves as the problem. They may see what the child said is the problem.
And then simultaneously, I always encourage Imani, who is our daughter's name, to if something happens to her, for her to have the ability to speak up about it. One thing I want to emphasize, though, is parents, caretakers. You know, anyone who loves young children are typically teaching them how to be kind. Why? Because we recognize that we should raise children. It's the same thing when it comes to being anti-racist. We can teach these concepts before the children can fully understand them, just as we teach many different values and as they grow, they're going to understand it more just as as we're growing.
Hopefully we're understanding it more in this country and around the world.
We're seeing a period of immense turmoil and unrest with racial injustice at the center of it.
What are you telling the children in your life about this particular moment when George Floyds daughter was on television and expressed, of course, how sad she was that he was no longer there and Imani saw that. And so she asked us about it. And ultimately where we sort of landed on was me explaining that there was nothing wrong with black people. If one day she is rejected because of the color of our skin and she doesn't have awareness of racism. Is she going to blame herself?
And there's nothing worse for a very young child to be struggling with their own sense of self and their own confidence in themselves. And so I actually see this literature in these conversations as protective even.
Candy, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You're welcome. Thanks so much for listening to this Sunday edition of Up First, we'll finish our series next week with civil rights leaders looking at the way forward. Catch us tomorrow morning, as always, for the latest news.