In this episode, Dr. Cornel West and Professor Tricia Rose dance with their respected guest Jane Elliott on The Tight Rope. Known for her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise and continued advocacy for anti-racist education and activism, Elliott debates with our hosts about the nature of racism and the language we use to discuss it. They wrestle with the inspiration of the present moment and the necessity to recognize the economic realities of the “lies” about race, along with the ever-importance of education. Join in the spirited conversation with “moral titan” Jane Elliott who emphasizes the possibility of change in our society on this episode of The Tight Rope.
Dr. Cornel West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University. A prominent democratic intellectual, social critic, and political activist, West also serves as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. West has authored 20 books and edited 13. Most known for Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, West appears frequently on the Bill Maher Show, CNN, C-Span, and Democracy Now. West has appeared in over 25 documentaries and films, including Examined Life, and is the creator of three spoken word albums including Never Forget. West brings his focus on the role of race, gender, and class in American society to The Tight Rope podcast.
Professor Tricia Rose is Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University. She also holds the Chancellor’s Professorship of Africana Studies and serves as the Associate Dean of the Faculty for Special Initiatives. A graduate of Yale (B.A.) and Brown University (Ph.D), Rose authored Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994), Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk about Sexuality and Intimacy (2003), and The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop and Why It Matters (2008). She also sits on the Boards of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Color of Change, and Black Girls Rock, Inc. Focusing on issues relating to race in America, mass media, structural inequality, popular culture, gender and sexuality and art and social justice, Rose engages widely in scholarly and popular audience settings, and now also on The Tight Rope podcast.
Jane Elliott is an internationally known teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education. Many will know of Elliott from the now famous “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise” she devised for her third-grade class of all-white students in Riceville, Iowa in 1968. Implemented the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the exercise was created to help her young students understand structural racism on a personal level. Elliott has spent more than 50 years as an anti-racism activist, educating people about discrimination and unconscious biases.
Insight from this episode:
- Strategies on white allyship and what to ask instead of “What can we do? How can we get involved?”
- Details on Jane Elliott’s 52 years on the tight rope of fighting racial bias.
- Reflections on the repetition of history and the dangers of an educational system that is meant to indoctrinate racial bias and systemic racism.
- Details on the racism of our language and alternative vocabulary for conversations on race.
- Strategies on how to effect change after education has taken place and keep fighting in the face of entrenched interests and white privilege.
Quotes from the show:
- “If you’re committed to spiritual integrity, if you’re committed to moral courage, you’re going to fight every evil. And white supremacy is an evil.” –Dr. Cornel West The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “I jumped off the boat a number of years ago when I said to my students, would you like to know how it feels to be something other than white in this country? That was the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. They all agreed that sounds fun because they had no idea what was going to happen.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “If you want to learn about what’s going on today, in the last three and a half years, don’t go to a history book in a high school or a college. Go some place and find out the truth about what happened in those days [her childhood]. You’ll find out that it looks exactly like what is happening right now.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “The answer to this whole problem is education. In schools in this country, we do not furnish education; we furnish indoctrination: here are the ways you must act to be a good American citizen.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “With that cultural infrastructure, with that resistive tradition, we [Black Americans] were able to make tremendous strides that really weren’t logical to make.” –Tricia Rose The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “We need to stop using the phrase “white supremacist” because white people are not supreme. They are pale faces who have learned to play the game that will keep them on top and other people on the bottom. And we do that at our own peril.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “You are not born a racist. You are not born a bigot. You have to be carefully taught… It hasn’t been like this forever, and it doesn’t have to be like this forever.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “The evil… is not rooted only in ignorance. It’s rooted in interest. It’s rooted in power. It’s rooted in structures of domination.” –Dr. Cornel West The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “America isn’t in crisis. The United States of America is having now to come up with the penalty for what we have done to people for the last 300 years in this country.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “We believe what we have learned. We have learned the wrong thing. We need to re-educate policemen, instead of re-training them.” –Jane Elliott The Tight Rope Episode #9
- On the outcomes of Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercises: “I don’t know if I believe people who say that. How blind can you actually be? ...They say out loud, “I just never knew. It’s terrible.” What they mean is, “I don’t like when this is happening to me.” So they’re languaging it as empathy because that’s what you’re asking them to do. But I don’t necessarily trust it.” –Tricia Rose The Tight Rope Episode #9
- “The structure reinforces the ideology and the ideology reinforces the structure. You can’t break it on only one level.” –Tricia Rose The Tight Rope Episode #9
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