On Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 we hosted a screening of Part III of Race—The Power of an Illusion followed by a one-hour panel discussion with experts. The panel explored issues of racial formation and citizenship as they unfolded in the early 20th Century in the US, and the creation of “whiteness” as a new racial category that collapsed diverse ethnic European immigrants into one group, replacing the focus on racialized differences between Europeans to differences between whites and non-whites.
“Whiteness” became critical as the legal standard for full American citizenship excluded all people of color in the US including Japanese and South Asian populations. The video and panel also considered the implications of whiteness and racial discrimination in the construction of legalized housing segregation in post-War World II America. Housing discrimination helped create concentrated poverty in cities as well as the great wealth differentials between African Americans and whites that persist today in neighborhood and institutional segregation that constitute contemporary racial injustice. Finally, the discussion will turn to what can be done to dismantle systemic racism and economic inequality.
The expert panelists includes Jason Corburn (Professor of Public Health/City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley), Michael Omi (Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley), john a. powell (Director, Othering & Belonging Institute and Professor of Law, African American Studies, and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley), and Leti Volpp (Professor of Law and Faculty Director at Center for Race & Gender at UC Berkeley) with moderator Rachel Morello-Frosch (Professor of Public Health/Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley).
(Scroll down for a transcript of the panel discussion)
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Hello. It's a pleasure to welcome all of you to a panel conversation based on the documentary video series Race, The Power of Illusion. Today we are discussing part three The House We Live In. My name is Rachel Morello-Frosch and I am a Professor in the School of Public Health, and the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. Before we begin today's panel, I'd like for us to collectively recognize that UC Berkeley sits on the territory of Huichin the ancestral and unseated land of the Chochenyo Ohlone the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. The UC Berkeley communities has and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land since the institution's founding in 1868.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: I'd like to thank the sponsors for this panel series, the Othering and Belonging Institute, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, the Center for Research on Social Change, and the Center for Race and Gender. In addition, I would like to thank California News Reel for allows us to screen this documentary that they've produced, and invite our viewers to visit the documentary's website at racepowerofanillusion all one word .O-R-G for a collection of resources related to the series including a recording of this panel. Today's panel is the last in a three part series. You can watch recordings of previous panel conversations by going to the Othering and Belonging Institute's website and checking out their YouTube channel. In part two, the film and panelists explored how ideas of race have evolved throughout American history, how structural racism continues to solidify the dominance of one group over others, and how American institutions were designed to privilege whites, ultimately concluding that we still have a lot of work to do.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: In today's panel, panelists will explore issues of racial formation and citizenship, and examine the creation of whiteness as a new racial category that collapsed diverse ethnic European immigrants into one group. The overarching questions we hope to grapple with today is how do legacies of structural racism affect present day racial formation, and the racialized landscapes that permeate where we live, work and play today. How do we systematically transform these structures and racialized landscapes as researchers, scientists and social justice advocates, particularly during the current economic and public health crisis in which we find ourselves? So here today to help us unpack these issues further is an extraordinary group of UC Berkeley faculty whom I have the pleasure and honor of introducing.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Our first panelist is Professor Jason Corburn who is with the Department of City and Regional Planning, and the School of Public Health. He's also Director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development, and the Center for Global Healthy Cities at UC Berkeley. Professor Michael Omi is an Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department with a focus on Asian American and Asian diasporous studies at UC Berkeley. He is also the coauthor of the seminal Racial Formation in the United States. Professor John Powell is the Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, and is Professor of Law and African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. He's the author of Racing to Justice: Transforming our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. Finally, Professor Leti Volpp is with the School of Law and is Faculty Director of the Center of Race and Gender Studies at UC Berkeley. Welcome everyone.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: So the format for today's panel will include conversations with our panelists first, and then we will save some time for Q and A with our audience. So I want to kick it off with kind of a broad overarching question for the group. So part three of this documentary film describes the shift from explicit forms of racism such as Jim Crow policies to more implicit forms of institutional discrimination, including redlining, the GI bill, and New Deal era reforms that excluded certain groups. It also excluded from protection certain groups of workers including domestic workers and agricultural workers. So these policies excluded people of color from government assistance programs but not in name but in practice, and in turn further cemented economic disparities in race and quality in life. How do you think common understanding of race and racism have changed over time, and how has it shifted what Americans consider to be the government or the state's responsibility in providing a livelihood and a safety net to people? I'll start with Michael.
Professor Michael Omi: Thanks Rachel, and it's really a pleasure to be here today with my esteemed colleagues in this dialogue. Let me try, that's a big question, so let me try to be as brief and concise as I can because I'm sure other folks have other perspectives to weigh in on. I think that in many respects much has changed, and much hasn't changed obviously with respect to understandings of race and racism. In some ways, I thought the film ending on colorblindness was an interesting entry point because I think for a while people assumed that the best anti racist ideology gesture or practice was simply to ignore race, that in fact that the civil rights movement had torn down all these discriminatory barriers with respect to voting, with respect to housing, with respect to public accommodations, and that now we were free of that, that that was a legacy of the past. Now I think what's very interesting is of course the ways in which that colorblind ideology has been sort of falling apart with particularly President Trump's much more pronounced and blatant kinds of racist and xenophobic statements.
Professor Michael Omi: But also what's been really interesting is that the political discourse of race has changed in different ways, not only on the part of the right, but think about that the COVID-19 pandemic once touted as the great equalizer has proven itself to be really a challenge in terms of exacerbating disparities, health disparities between groups of people. Certainly, the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others have instigated these popular sort of social justice movements so that now flags, confederate statues, policies and practices are being reexamined. Corporate folks are talking about structural and systemic racism. It's almost like everybody's taking a knee now. In this kind of shift in climate, it's very interesting for us to chart what is the evolving ways in which peoples' common understandings of race and racism have evolved in some fashion.
Professor Michael Omi: I think some other folks could talk more directly about the role of the state, or what people think of the state as being involved in this, but I wanted to just flag that we're sort of at a very, a moment of inflection, a moment of change in our common understandings that no longer can we say, "Well bad policing is a result of a few bad actors. It's a few bad cops out there" but in fact, much more attention has been drawn to the systemic structural nature of policing in the United States, and that's a real major difference.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Great. Jason, John others, want to jump in about this in terms of thinking about how common understandings of race and racism have changed? Leti?
Professor Leti Volpp: Sure I'll say something if Jason and John aren't jumping in. So this is also echoing what Michael just said, and let me also say I'm so happy to be here on this panel with these amazing colleagues and to talk about this wonderful film. So what you see in the film is this shift from explicit de jure discrimination, discrimination on the face of the text of the law, we could think about the film so incredibly showing racial restrictions on naturalization where you had to be white, or then in 1870 of African nativity or African descent, and that not being completely lifted until 1952, right? You then have this brief era where we have the Civil Rights Act passed, and then there's for a short period of time, an embrace of understanding that racism and institutions can have a disparate impact, and that one can look at that disparate impact as a sign of racism, right?
Professor Leti Volpp: I think a couple terms that might be helpful here actually echoes what we just heard Dalton Conley say in the film of equality of opportunity versus equality of conditions. So something that critical race theorists talk about is the difference between formal equality and substantive equality, so formal equality meaning equality of treatment, equality of process, versus substantive equality meaning equality of outcome. I think it's an interesting moment for us to think about those within California, Prop 16 being on the ballot, which is trying to repeal Prop 209 which outlawed affirmative action, in other words substantive equality in public employment, education and contracting. But there was a very quick shift away from understanding that the courts could think about substantive equality to say, "No, we need to look at discriminatory intent. We can no longer think about impact."
Professor Leti Volpp: "So everything is facially neutral, but where is the disparate intent? We need a smoking gun. We need the evil doer, the few bad apples" as Michael said. I think the presumption really has been for decades right that racism is because of individual attitudes, individual decisions. Institutions are presumptively race neutral. There is an ever increasing trend towards racial progress, and that the appropriate stance is colorblindness, right? If you talk about race, you're racist, right, and if you criticize racism you're being racist against white people, okay? So I think it is a good question for us to consider which is whether as Michael said, is it a moment now of "everybody taking a knee" is this a moment of shift right where we're going to see something different?
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Right. That segues really nicely into my next question which is this film has talked a lot about the fact that land and wealth are at the center of racialized dispossession particularly in the United States from the displacement of indigenous people from their land, to redlining and segregation of neighborhoods for African Americans and other people of color. So geography has become a major expression of race and class stratification in the United States, particularly in our cities, and that's something that the film emphasizes quite a bit. So I want to turn to Jason. Can you talk as a planner and a public health person, can you talk a bit about how these patterns of racialized landscapes have shifted over time, and why and how do you see racialization playing out today in our cities and communities?
Professor Jason Corburn: Yeah it's a great question, and I think a really powerful sorry statement that John made in the film about how geography does the work of Jim Crow. I think that's for sure still with us today. So the idea that as Leti and others said, we would enter in a level playing field and then somehow acquire wealth through land is still kind of this myth, this narrative of American opportunity still with us. I think the reality is that our institutions that control land and that allocate opportunity spatially have not changed much. They're very local at the same time, there's a strong role for the federal government. I think what we saw in the film and what we still see today is the real power of local governments, cities, states, counties to make these decisions which both could mean opportunity, but I think today it has meant really a lack of really challenging racist land use decisions, and access to opportunities.
Professor Jason Corburn: So we have things like zoning like was mentioned, we have other things like local housing associations and school boards, and other local institutions that are really spatializing racism in many ways. So as you mentioned Rachel in the film they talked about things like redlining. It's not as if the legacy of redlining isn't still with us today. I mean your own work and other here at UC have shown the health legacy of redlined areas today in terms of asthma rates and morbidity, mortality and things like that. I mean urban renewal another policy mentioned, land use policy still with us today the legacy of that, racial steering by real estate agents and developers still happening today. So the idea that we are in a moment of greater awareness of structural racism and equality and spatialization of racialization is true, but I also think the intuitions as we might expect are much slower to respond. We also see the criminalization of space still happening, so things like zoning making it harder to be a street vendor for example, and then you become criminalized to do that.
Professor Jason Corburn: Then we see the force of the dehumanization of policing in the United States, Eric Gardner of course was supposedly selling cigarettes or something on the street, and then is killed by the New York City Police Department. So and I guess the last example also central to your own work Rachel is the continued legacy of environmental injustice, the disproportionate burden of toxics, and lack of access to assets like quality green space, and transportation, and economic opportunities still spatially inequitably distributed, base largely on the legacy of these land use and things like zoning decisions. So we still have not I think changed those institutional decisions and that decision making enough to address the legacies of what we saw in the film.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Yeah that's great, and it kind of raises for me another question which is what can cities do to address and the federal government for that as the legacy of these inequities and spatialized racism that we still see whether it's the current patterns of redlining that we still see? I wanted to point this to John because Chase Bank just made a huge announcement that it's going to pledge an investment of $30 million to close the race gap between people of color and white through investments in mortgages, affordable housing, small business loans. So yeah I'd like to get your thought on this, again, sort of getting back to the role of society and different institutions to address this, and given this announcement today which is pretty interesting. So John, what are your thoughts?
Professor John Powell: Well again, thanks for having me on the panel, and being with such incredible panelists. One of the things that's a bit hard is that race, racism and talk about structural and systematic racism it's everywhere. It's both space, it's in our culture and our psychology, it's interactive. So what happens in one domain affects what's happening in another domain. So you can be relatively not biased or not racialized in one domain and you still with reproduce a racialized system. The system it doesn't depend on certainly doesn't depend necessarily on racial animus, although there's a lot of that going around. We're seeing in a way many of us are surprised a new surgence of the explicit racism that existed in the 1950s. If you think about even in terms of immigration, the restricted immigration policies, when you look at what was happening in the 1920s and 30s, what we're doing now is very analogous to that.
Professor John Powell: We thought that was the bad old days, and we've gone forward now and we have more sophisticated racialization. But no, we have that more sophisticated and a resurgence of that old blunt kind of racism that existed before the Civil Rights Amendments, and the government plays a huge role. I mean the government at every level plays a huge role. Sometimes, the government, not even just the government but private actors will say, "I'd like to do it but" and I always say to my students, "You can forget everything that comes before the but." What the say is that all these other factors, banks mights say their underwriters who tell me what the credit scores need to be. "It's not me." Everyone can pass the buck. There's some degree of truth in it, but it's also missing the mark. I think what Chase it's $30 billion dollars, not million I think, that sounds like a lot, and I applaud Jamie Diamon, it's not enough, on multiple levels, it's not enough.
Professor John Powell: If you don't do stuff to really not just dismantle the system which we talk about a lot dismantling racialized structures, dismantling systemic racism, we live in systems and structures. So we have to affirmatively think about what are the structures and systems that promote the outcomes we want. We almost never think about that. We think about removing these barriers, but there's so many barriers there, and they are reinforcing. So you move one barrier and they're 20 more, or you make one move and then there's another move. Malcolm X said, "Racism is like a Cadillac, there's a new one every year." There are all these different factors. Racism is not one thing. It's expressed in all these different things. I think trying to remove things one at a time we will never get there. I think what we need to do is sort of think about how we organize our society to be the kind of society we want it to be affirmatively, not just reactive.
Professor John Powell: We still have to do that in every sector of government, private sector, the cultural sector, the arts, the academic sector. Here at UC Berkeley, we fought for years about do we have to have SAT scores for students to get in, and if we don't, or we lose our prestige as a top ranking university and COVID being this sort of opportunity to engage that. The reason for not doing it that is we both had done some work, and want to keep our status, but it also had a profound racialized outcome that we were not willing to engage. So if we change these systems, things are going to have to change on multiple levels, not just in Black and Latino, and Asian and Native America. Things have to change for the whole country including the whites.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Great thanks. That's go back to Jason a little bit because the federal government has exactly been an ally to dismantle these racist structures that people have already said. I'm just wondering Jason if you could talk a little bit about the ways in which cities, particularly some of the work that you've been doing in Richmond that have tried to kind of fill that void and address some of these issues at a local scale around police violence and community violence and those kind of things.
Professor Jason Corburn: Yeah and I think John and others should weigh in too. I think there's a couple things happening locally, and of course racism is deeply designed into all of our institutions and structures. Like John just mentioned, one strategy just isn't enough. I think we could all recognize that there are solutions and strategies already out there that need to be acknowledged and recognized. So the first is what's happening at the local level is to center those voices and ideas and social movements and strategies that are pushing back against racism and inequality, decolonizing decision making so to speak.
Professor Jason Corburn: So that's the first thing is not to have it think that it's going to come from the ivory tower or the elite institutions that actually created the structures that are working as planned and as designed, so recognizing some of that great work that is happening around the country and right here in the Bay area, I mean cooperation Jackson, in Mississippi around community land trusts, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community organization in Boston that controlled land and did development and housing and community facilities and a whole host of other things, the RYSE Center in Richmond really an organization dedicated to youth and trauma, healing and recovering from violence, but also changing systems and institutions in radical ways, with great ideas coming from young people, community controlled development, the work that John's group is helping to lead. So there's a host of things.
Professor Jason Corburn: One of the things that I'm involved in that I think is really powerful is when we have folks who have been dehumanized and marginalized by the system like folks who are been incarcerated and coming back into the communities to see them as healers, as credible messengers to address the legacy of this trauma from the policies and practices that we saw in the film and many of which continue today. So an organization that I work with called Advance Peace hires formerly incarcerated folks to go do street outreach, recognizing that the violence of the state and the structural violence turns into things like neighborhood violence and gun violence as well. We need to address both the healing of people and the healing of communities. That's got to be done through the valuing and centering of folks who have lived that experience, can bring that message to communities, and then it's also got to be institutionalized.
Professor Jason Corburn: It's not going to be one off efforts just on the backs of non profits, but we've got to change institutions. We've got to move from cities that put 50% or more of their budgets into policing and dehumanization, to 50% or more of their budgets into peacemaking, and have offices of peacemaking, and hire local people to run those offices. There's no reason we can't do that. It's happening in communities, it's happening and we need to learn not from these just experiments, but practices that are really changing the way we function as a society.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: That's great. I want to segue a little bit into something that the film series has talked about quite a bit is this notion of white identity politics, which mobilizes anger, and tends to redirect it away from structural economic, political and institutions and towards this constructed threat of the other, threats from immigrants, and refugees, and so called racial minorities and so on. This echoes some of what Leti has written about, and even from an article she wrote a long time ago The Citizen and the Terrorist in which she talked about popular understandings of post 9/11 racial violence against perceived foreign threats, and as a result of displaced anger for the love of nation. Just this past week, we're reading headlines about a kidnapping plot against the Governor of Michigan by a white militia. Maybe Leti we can start out with you about can you talk a little bit about these themes and these conversations that you had in your writings since in post 9/11 and how they're playing out today, what you see as different, or is this more of the same?
Professor Leti Volpp: Thank you so much Rachel. It's a wonderful invitation. So I wrote this piece called The Citizen and the Terrorist very shortly after 9/11 to try to understand how it was that there were myriad thousands of hate attacks against persons who "appeared Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern" and that people who conducted these hate attacks seemed to be informed by the policies of the US government, right? So they had been told through explicit racial profiling policies where the Bush administration engaged in interrogations, detentions, deportations, special registration, the Absconderapprehension initiative, a number of different policies which were solely targeted at non citizens like special registration. It was directed at 25 countries, 24 of which had majority Muslim populations with the last being North Korea right, saying that all male temporary visitors of a certain age need to register, and if you don't, and if you do, we may find you out of status, and we'll end up removing you.
Professor Leti Volpp: So thinking about this correspondence between what the government does and what the people do was I think a question for us. What seems different is when I think about what George W. Bush did then in some ways he did say this is a crusade. He declares war on Afghanistan which is another way of informing the public who the enemy is, right? You've got the enemy at home who's the enemy alien, right? But he also did things like said, "We shouldn't target anybody because of the group they come from." He me with Muslim leaders, he went to the Islamic Center in Washington D.C. He took his shoes off before he went inside right, all kinds of things that you cannot imagine the current president doing, right, who basically campaigned on explicitly racist rhetoric, right?
Professor Leti Volpp: Mexicans are rapists and criminals, parading out what he calls angel mothers or angel families who are people who have a relative who's been killed by an undocumented immigrant, talking about people from shithole countries, people from Haiti, people from El Salvador, people in temporary statuses, just everything, right that he's been doing at the same time, his rhetoric right being accompanied by policies, right? So as John said, in terms of what's concretely happening on the ground, Trump has been using executive orders to essentially reform our immigration policies, where there are very, very few people who are able to come into the United States. So it's not just the Muslim ban, right? There are also suspensions of entry on non citizens whose presence is thought detrimental to the US labor market in the time of the COVID pandemic right?
Professor Leti Volpp: There's another one that says if you can't show that you have health insurance, you qualify for a health insurance policy within 30 days after your arrival, we're not going to admit you to the country, right? So there're very clever ways that Stephen Miller in his office and others have been crafting for the administration to actually keep people out. We can also think about the repeated invocations of the Chinese virus, right, and think about post March right COVID-19 hate crimes. We have a whole phenomenon of COVID-19 hate crimes. How is that similar to the public being informed that this is who is responsible for a particular terrible phenomenon? So I guess I'd say what seems different is in retrospect, Bush almost seemed sometimes like this soft liberal multiculturalist in compared to Trump who's engaged in naked racism as a means of trying to get the electorate to vote for him. I think the thing that's so tragic are ways in which white Americans feel swayed by this and then vote against self interest in so many ways by supporting him.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Yeah so I want to turn to Michael and then John, but Michael can you maybe given that you wrote a book on this topic, what do you think are the implications of current forms of white identity politics or how we need to be thinking about racial formation today given sort of the lay of the land that Leti just gave us?
Professor Michael Omi: I think that we need to think about the broader sort of historical trajectory of race and racism itself in the United States in thinking about how to locate particularly this resurgence of white nationalist identity. I say that because despite folks talking about the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice that in many ways it's a lot messier process, and in fact, that there has been major moments in American history, Reconstruction, think about the rise of Jim Crow terror supplanting that, and even the civil rights gains of the 1960s how they were challenged on the part of the political right to contain those movements, those policies, those practices, trying to ensure a broader sort of racial equality, racial access, et cetera. I say that because in many ways, it's always been surprising to me that this is not just we're not on a sort of a progressive, enlightened track in respect to race, that at any juncture, we can leap back, we can go back to a place we thought we wouldn't go back to, a very dark place in which biologically based notions of racism would have surfaced again.
Professor Michael Omi: So I guess what I'm saying is that there's ways you got to be really attentive that there's always a way in which we slip back with respect to these things. Here I'm thinking there is a broader context which is in fact we're seeing the rise of kind of a right wing nationalism across the globe. Much of this has been fueled by demographic changes, broad patterns of migrations set about through economic social things as well as through climate change that are really creating situations in which people are being marginalized, or othered, or seen as the problem for national decline. I think here in the United States, we're at a moment we're seeing a whole sort of spectrum of groups of white supremacist groups, of conservatives in fact that are making an argument that the country's demise, why we're falling out of favor in the world scene, why we are falling apart as a nation is in fact is because of race, of the racialized other in our midst that we have to keep out, build a wall.
Professor Michael Omi: You can't keep out that Chinese virus, but you know where it came from. There's ways in which all these things are being sort of suggested here. I guess what I want to say is that we're seeing the explicit rise of these things, and it's been very interesting that white racial identity is very politicized in the current period. It's up for grabs. Will folks take a progressive direction, or will there be a deepening of white racial reaction? I think sometimes about Gore Vidal once said, "We are the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing." I think that's quite right that unless we look at the twists and turns of racial politics, the trajectory of racial understandings over this past century, we really won't get at what in fact are the roots which are animating the kind of current reaction we're seeing on the part of folks like the Proud Boys.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: That's great, and I want to circle back to that question of history and knowledge of history, but before I do that, John, you've argued before that white people need to cultivate a new relationship to whiteness. What would this new relationship to whiteness look like in your view?
Professor John Powell: Well that's a great question. Michael just suggested that let me back up. What I'm suggesting is that there's actually going to be more than one expressions of white identity, and there always has been. When you think about white purity for example, whiteness has been associated with purity not just in a biological sense, but also in terms of a cultural sense. So when we look at the turn of the 20th century, the concern was even Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans were going to contaminate this white purity. Of course anti miscegenation laws were about white purity. The Proud Boys and Trump himself, they're obsessed with this kind of white purity. What you see as you move around the world, different groups have different ethnic purity. So purity itself becomes part of the problem. Of course no group is pure, I mean that's a fiction. But it becomes a psychological point both of organizing but also terror that we're going to lose, these white people, "We're going to lose our purity." But it's also important to say there's a whole different group of whites who don't buy that.
Professor John Powell: So there's more than one expression of whiteness. I think we have to both acknowledge that and lift up a more positive expression. A more positive expression from my perspective starts with the notion of challenging both purity and dominance, because whiteness in America and America itself is deeply associated both with purity and dominance, the right to dominate. So when you think about the white man's burden, what is that? His burden is to actually civilize and control the rest of the world. To a large extent, the United States has not rejected that claim. To be just to name it, I spent some time in China and very troubled by a lot of the things that I see there, but I also believe that the vitriol about China especially coming from the Trump administration is also about white dominance, that the idea that a non white country ... In fact when Japan defeated Russia in think it was 1906, part of the Western response was not the two countries fought, is that a non white country had defeated a white country.
Professor John Powell: It's like, "Oh my God, what's the world coming to?" I think that's part of our angst is that can we in fact, there was a headline in one of the papers four or five years ago of the rise of China, they were entering to a period where the first time in 300 years the world might be led or dominated by a country that's not Christian, that's not democratic and is not white. It's like the democratic part maybe I have some sympathy for, but not Christian and not white, as if the natural order of things. So a new white identity would be one where whites did not assume or practice, or perform dominance, that they have a right to dominate and instead they recognize, and some are doing that, but we need help. We recognize we're in a profound relationship with each other and we do this together, and not just in the United States, but in the world.
Professor John Powell: The physical space is another expression of white purity and white dominance. We need to keep the neighborhood white. We need to keep out contaminating elements. That was the United States' thing in terms of redlining, that non whites were contaminants. You only allowed them in when you could control them and dominate them, and so that sort of deeply cooked into the identity of whiteness that most people just sort of assume it. So I think that's one of the major changes. I think you're going to see expressions of both. I think you're going to see white people trying to live and be different, and you're going to have white people who are deadly afraid of what happens when the country is no longer majority white, and what happens to a ... As you know California crossed that Rubicon time ago, but the data shows consistently that most white Americans even liberals become anxious when they think about the country not being dominated by white Christians.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Yeah, yeah, so that gets me to my next topic that I wanted to cover, which is because I think what everyone has just said in relationship to this last question is the critical the fact that the critical education around race has been eroding. Just earlier this week, governor in California Newsom vetoed a bill to introduce ethnic studies into California curriculum. This move has had resonance and the timing with the federal government's actions which over a few weeks ago the administration Trump administration issued an executive order that explicitly bars federal agencies and contractors receiving federal funds from promoting "divisive concepts" such as the idea that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist, and it has explicitly called out work around critical race theory, the 1619 Project have been listed as explicit targets. So pointing to an escalation in what some people have called the culture wars, and which has now expanded to educational projects.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: So I'm wondering if the panelists can talk a little bit about the importance or necessity of education around race and what you think is at stake right now, and what is the significance of these projects that many of us have been working on like this, like these panels including this one, the 1619 Project and other things. Yeah maybe I'll start with John.
Professor John Powell: Well first of all, the Trump administration, in literary context we call that prior restraint, I mean I think I hope some moderate and conservative first amendment advocates and lawyers jump on that. Again, it's back to McCarthy and it's even worse than that Rachel. One of the things they want to do is create a hotline so if you think anti black racism or critical race theory "Call us up, report them to the government." I mean the erosion of our basic democratic assumptions, even though we're never there is just phenomenal, and the fact that so many people like you were saying Bush is now looking like a liberal with so many people who have organized around Trump accepting this, and I think it's really important to just be clear, they're not conservatives. These are right wing nationalists. Anyway, so they're really far out, I mean just gone. It's that frog in hot water. The water's boiling now and people are still sitting there waiting.
Professor John Powell: I think it's more important now, I mean I think as the country become increasingly diverse than it is that in some ways, it's not only important to teach, but it's also important to teach that this is American history. This is who we are. So you're not simply studying about Asian Americans and Native Americans or black Americans, you're really studying about the formation of white identity in white America. There's a great book by Arlie in terms of strangers in their own land, and while I think the book is very insightful, I always bristle a little bit, meaning whites in Louisiana is how did this become their land, and when did it become their land? We just erased the Native Americans completely, they were not there. So it's understanding how we got to where we are. So I think it's even more important. The last thing in terms of Trump is not just in not teach that, he's saying, "Instead teach patriotic ideals."
Professor John Powell: What the hell is that you know what I'm saying? So how does slavery-
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Oh say that's fascism.
Professor John Powell: I could say a lot more, but I think really teaching this in every place like high school and the media and culture, and I think it can be done in a way that's actually vitriolic, or one group is sort of tearing at another, but the other is that yes this is our country. We are in process. We are hopefully trying to make a country where belonging, inclusion is a reality and it's not predicated on assimilation. It's not predicated on people coming here, changing their name, changing their identity, changing. I mean in a sense America has always been white America. America has always been Christian America, even though it never was just white, and it never was just Christian. It seems to me we have to move beyond that and really look at the world as the seven or eight billion people who are here and how they contributed. We've all contributed, and there's warts and pimples on every civilization that we look at, that's just part of thinking, that's just part of being curious.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Leti do you have thoughts on this? I just also want to point out, this also hearkens back a little bit to the red baiting. I don't think there's any irony in Roy Cohn the brainchild of all the red baiting was a huge mentor to Trump. So some of these does feel like history repeating itself. Leti any additional thoughts on this question of education?
Professor Leti Volpp: Yeah so I mean I'm just thinking too of Trump four times Kamala Harris a communist, right in the review he did yesterday, right? I mean I teach an excerpt from this very film to undergraduates when I teach my legal studies course on immigration and citizenship. People are really shocked. They don't know this history, and I think it's also just to supplement what Josh and Jason and Michael have been saying. It's like people sort of swim in the water, in the boiling water where they are, the air that they breathe, the current set up is naturalized, right? People think this is the status quo. They have no idea of the history that led to this place of disparate entitlements, right? People think they deserve the position that they're in if they're in a relatively good position without thinking about the kinds of questions of intergenerational wealth transfer.
Professor Leti Volpp: Just to make a point about local stories, so one thing not mentioned in the film is about racially restrictive covenants, so these private contractual relationships where on the deed to the house, there'd be a covenant saying, "No person who is Asian or Black" using oftentimes other language "can live in this house." These covenants were all over Berkeley basically all property that was east of what was then called Grove Street which is now MLK, and all property north of Dwight Way, right? That continues to shape racial practices in terms of where people live in Berkeley. You see the intergenerational transfer of wealth. I'm also thinking that Rani Bagai who wrote that really desperately sad suicide note to his wife. The City of Berkeley just named a street Kala Way after her because she had tried to purchase a house and her racist neighbors basically hounded her out of Berkeley.
Professor Leti Volpp: I think there's so many ways in which I've seen these examples of how this particular history text is taught in Texas versus the northeast. I'm thinking of Lynne Cheney right? There are all of these projects to try to reshape what happened here, and this kind of amnesia right, that's already been mentioned. If people don't know this history, it's all disappeared, right? The last thing I'll say is the US Center for Immigration Services under the administration took off language about this is the United States is a nation of immigrants, and they replaced it with language about protecting Americans and securing the homeland, that's what it currently says is part of the mission of Citizenship and Immigration Services. This is the situation that we're in at the moment, and I think it's urgent for us to think about how as educators and in other contexts we can try to turn this tide.
Professor John Powell: Let me just add one other thing, as we sort of argue and teach about our past, we're really arguing about teaching about our future, so really important to engage in this. If we're going to have a future that's worthwhile, we have to really sort of understand the past.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Yeah so- go ahead.
Professor Jason Corburn: Sorry Rach, I just wanted to build on that just really quickly, while it's critical that we hold government accountable, and we see the history in the current moment, there's also this incredible power of the corporate sector and technology to control the narrative and to control social media, and what gets censored and what gets is legitimate part of the discourse. I think we have to be as attentive as educators to that censorship and that control as government. It's so closely intertwined of course. We see that obviously happening today. So I think we need to be as critical of the corporate influence over discourse narrative policies as we do of government at multiple scales.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: So that brings me this is great because this brings me to an audience question, an audience member's question which is what systems or structures do you think are most important to dismantle and to address these forms of racism that were covered in teth film, but also environmental racism which some of you alluded to? And maybe let's start with Jason and move around quick.
Professor Jason Corburn: Just quickly and I'll turn it over to my colleagues, as John and others have said, I mean it's not about one institution only because these things are so interconnected and overlap and inform one another, they're co-constituted. For sure, racial residential segregation is a major one. We have not addressed the legacy and the current role of that. I would say we need to be much more explicit with that. My second would be how we reify race and racial categories in science and medicine. We continue to do that from eugenics on forward through today whether it's in pharmaceutical drugs or research in our own labs right here on the Cal campus. We need to be much more critical within our own institutions and power particularly in the sciences and with data and data science around categorization of people, and how that gets reified into blame and policy.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Right. Michael do you have additional thoughts to add to that in terms of thinking about institutions or structures?
Professor Michael Omi: I love Jason's remark about how and others have alluded to this to, just what an incredibly sort of entrenched model this is of whatever we want to describe as structural racism, and the degree of that. I actually think Jason's quite right in putting out a couple of things that many people think that a residentially based segregation has been one of the linchpins of understanding a whole host of inequalities with respect to schooling, access to jobs, access to healthcare. So there are these particular nodes that are very influential with respect to the inequitable distribution of resources and of course of rights itself. I guess maybe I'm just seconding Jason here, but I also want to say it is very important for us to look at the ways in which as Troy Duster said, there's been a sort of backdoor to eugenics. We're looking at things from epigenetics and other things from things as harmless, seemingly harmless as ethnic DNA testing, or sort of forensic DNA things to try to profile and build up a database of folks who were convicted felons and perhaps their relatives as well.
Professor Michael Omi: There's ways in which we are moving towards unless we're very careful sort of a way of once again ascribing a race as a kind of biological or genetic concept. That has very profound social implications for how we popularly understand race, and also the use of racial data that we may be assembling for purposes of both surveillance and for policing.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Great. So this another question that came up is this documentary was released nearly 20 years ago in 2003 so I kind of want to go around and get sort of your quick input as to what issues or topics would you bring into this film if you were to update it? What additional things would add complexity to this story that has been told in this film series, and how would you update it? So maybe we can start with Leti?
Professor Leti Volpp: I'm actually thinking about ways stories are told in the film that it's actually not updating, but it's making it more complex. So one of the moments that you see is in 51 of the 52 cases, that we're protesting their restriction for naturalization on racial bases, they said, "Consider me white" right? There's one case where somebody said, "Actually consider me of African nativity or descent" and he's somebody who was three quarters indigenous and one quarter black. They basically said, "You're not black enough to naturalize" right? So if you were more than 50% either not black or not white, that meant you couldn't naturalize. I think it's actually a really interesting question which is well what if some of these litigants have actually said, "Actually consider me of African nativity or descent" would courts have ruled differently? I think it raises important questions about cross racial alliance and solidarity that the film doesn't really deal with.
Professor Leti Volpp: It's sort of thinking about these different groups in a segmented fashion in relationship to whiteness. So anyway, so that's something that I would say.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: That's great. So in the one minute that we have left, John, do you have thoughts about how you'd update this film?
Professor John Powell: Yeah three things very quickly, one power. I think people having power, people having the power to decide and co-create the world they live in, and two the complexity. By some accounts, the fastest growing group in the United States are multiethnic, multiracial. What that means is not clear, but it does mean something. Three, that there's a global phenomena in terms of othering around national identities that we're a part of, and how do we affirmatively create and move towards something different.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Great. Michael any missing tidbits? Jason any missing tidbits that you would insert there for the film?
Professor Michael Omi: I mean all the problems remain the same. I would say what I'd like to see is some discussion about what it would mean to jump start a kind of national dialogue about these issues to be able to grapple with the impact of structural racism. Let me just say that I think we're at a moment here where I'm sort of wishing for the third Reconstruction to come around. But what's interesting is we seem to have this incredibly polarizing between a white racial reaction and also now a growing spurred on by Black Lives Matter and others a growing sort of radical social democratic movement. It's going to be really interesting to see how those things play out. This is what I like to say, what's the kind of political landscape in which these things get played out.
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch: Okay I'm going to let you have the last word. Thank you to everyone, to our panelists, the audience and our sponsors, the Othering and Belonging Institute, American Cultures, Berkeley School of Public Health, Center for Research on Social Change, and the Center for Race and Gender. Thank you everyone and have a great weekend. Thanks for a great discussion.
Professor John Powell: Thank you.
Professor Leti Volpp: Thank you.
Professor Jason Corburn: Thanks