Corey and Steve talk to Claude Steele of Stanford about his article “Why Campuses are So Tense?”.
What is Manifold?
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Join him for wide-ranging conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.
Corey: Our guest today is Professor Claude Steele. Claude is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, Emeritus at Stanford University. Previously, he has been the dean of the Stanford School of Education, the provost at Columbia University and the executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California at Berkeley.
Corey: He’s the author of numerous articles on the topics of addictive behaviors and self-affirmation, but he’s best known for his work on the influence of stereotypes on minority student performance in higher education. He’s the author of the 2010 book, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. He’s a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the board of directors of the MacArthur Foundation.
Corey: Claude has received honorary degrees from the University of Chicago, Yale, Princeton, the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Welcome to Manifold, Claude.
Claude: Great to be here.
Corey: You and I have a common friend, Ed Gordon, which is how you came to be in our show.
Corey: And I asked Ed to reach out to you and great to see you agreed. I know this is a little bit of a digression, but I think Ed Gordon is one of the most remarkable people of the past century in higher education. He’s 98 years old right now. His doctor recently informed him that he probably had about 10 more years to live, and this encouraged Ed to start writing an NSF grant. I describe him as the grandfather of research on minority student education. I knew him through my father, but probably less well than you did.
Claude: Can you just remind our listeners who Ed Gordon is and how you came to know him?
Claude: Yeah. We’ve never worked together, but I’ve always known of him and thought of him just as you’ve described him as sort of the father of this area of research, minority education and the like, and a contemporary of Kenneth Clark’s. And so a co-conspirator, fellow traveler, with all that work and the development of those ideas, and they’ve just had such foundational impact on how we think about these issues. And then he’s worked at ETS for many years. He had a career at Yale. He’s had a career at City College of New York. So, he has popped up and contributed in a million ways.
Claude: But one of the things that was most impressive is this summer, he came to California and he gathered a group of people together at the home of Linda Darling-Hammond, another well famous educator, and he gave us a lecture at the age of 98 that I thought was one of the most insightful things I’ve heard in a long time. So, if his doctor gives him another 10 years, we’ve got a lot of good things coming our way. So, he’s amazing, and a man who has lived a lot of history and made incomparable contributions.
Corey: He gave a speech at my father’s retirement party about three years ago, and I think at the party, he was the only person older than my father and probably older than anyone else there by 20 years. But again, with a phenomenal speech. And whatever they enjoyed talking to Ed about, and this is something I think I really come to appreciate as I’ve gotten older, is when you meet people who have lived that long, the kind of perspective you get is really kind of astonishing because Ed has really clear memories of Harlem where he lived in the 1940s and ’50s.
Corey: And I remember discussing with him how times New York had changed over these years. And as the place desegregated the effects it had on the neighborhoods, and it’s just something I think people forgotten over this long course of history, the effects of these important social policies.
Corey: Our topic for today is your recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, why campuses are so tense, identity, stereotypes and the fraying of the college experience. But I want to, again, begin by going back to those sort of tumultuous periods that led up to your entry into higher ed in the late ’60s, and some of the issues that really motivated you to carry your studies.
Corey: So, your biography says that your parents were very politically active and took you and your brother to protest during the ’60s, and you’re interested in politics but began to really want to try to understand how this force affected people in a scientific way. Is that accurate?
Claude: Yeah. I think, that’s a narrative built through retrospect, not so much at the time it was happening. It just seemed like ordinary life to me, but in retrospect, I did come from a family that was politically active in the civil rights movement and throughout their adult lives, and then we sort of inherited that perspective.
Claude: That was just the tenure of the times. There was a change in the air. We were moving out of a Jim Crow world into an extensively to be integrated world. And there was excitement and anxiety, pressure. I mean, it was an intense time. There was also the Vietnam war going on. There was a draft in which people were vulnerable to be pulled into it.
Claude: So, all these things, I think, energized that moment and made politics relevant to everybody. You couldn’t go anywhere without talking about these things in racial politics, maybe in particular. Racial politics, and then eventually the war and our role as a nation in the war.
Corey: So, your Wikipedia bio describes you as an intense reader of fiction also, and that this got you interested in trying to understand how individuals see the social world. I’ve had a lot discussions with many of my scientifically oriented friends who want to say that you really shouldn’t believe anything unless it’s in a scientific study.
Corey: And my response is that the vast majority of what we know about the world actually isn’t from science, it’s from human observation, and they’re great in deep truths that come from fiction that don’t come from randomized controlled trials or experiments. Firstly, is it correct that you were partly led into science through fiction?
Claude: I think, again, in retrospect that it was a road in. I read as a kid voraciously a lot of fiction. You’re kind of looking for your place in the world through that kind of thing. I think the social psychology and fiction have a lot in common, where you’re trying to deal with how the individual interfaces with their social world, their social context and the problems and the challenges, and the opportunities that it presents.
Claude: And as you just pointed out, if you want a holistic appreciation of that aspect of our lives, fiction is a good avenue to it. So, I have a great appreciation for fiction. I think as a scientist, I have a great appreciation for it. It’s to this day a source of insight for me. Not to speak of enjoyment much of the time, but the activity of writing a novel and the activity of designing a social psychology research program are probably not that … So, you’re sort of at the same level of analysis of human experience when you’re doing both of those things. So, there’s a lot in common there.
Corey: I personally have to say I think I’ve probably learned a lot more about human beings from novels than almost any other source. Tolstoy has been a really incredible well of insights. Not to say, Ralph Ellison is also hugely influential. I know Steve is also a big fan of certain kinds of fiction.
Steve: Yeah, but I can’t resist, Corey, since you’re a philosopher. You’ve raised a difficult problem in epistemology. So, you’re saying you know things, but not through the scientific method. Not to derail this conversation, but I can’t resist asking you what do you mean by you know things?
Steve: Certainly, novelists have to be … They have to have a deep insight into the world to construct a realistic and interesting fictional world that you inhabit. And they have deep psychological insights into people, but in terms of, I don’t know, knowledge or facts about the world, what is it that you can learn about the world without performing some kind of experiment to validate it?
Corey: You know, that’s interesting. I was having this thought recently. I know a fair number of things about my father. I don’t think I’ve ever performed any experiments on him. [crosstalk 00:08:51].
Steve: Some factual things you just observed, right?
Corey: That’s right.
Steve: So, you know your father was tall or you know your father was short.
Corey: So through fiction, what I get is a sense of hypothesis from the author about how human beings work. And then that leads me to then make observations in the world. It kind of directs my attention. I guess in that sense, it’s led me to have the kind of experience that I have with my father. My family deleted the knowledge about them. So, I wouldn’t say take it purely based on what I read in fiction, but it then leaves me in a certain path. As Claude may have said, it may lead you toward an experiment, something you really want to investigate further.
Steve: Yes, I mean, so for example like when they sketch a character really deeply, then you feel like you’ve actually known that character even though it’s fictional, the person didn’t really exist. But if they make some social observation, like if you do X to a group of people, then Y will happen. They could be right or they could be wrong actually about that. And then maybe it motivates you to do the social psychology experiment to see was the novelist actually right when he or she said that.
Corey: Claude, I don’t want to have us [crosstalk 00:09:50]. But let me remind you, this did happen very recently. It reminded me how difficult it is to write across … I hate the term, but … Well, not hate the term. It’s difficult, but identity lines. I was reading a female novelist description of a male character. And she’s describing this thought process kind of continually going over your emotional experiences. My thoughts was …
Steve: [crosstalk] I don’t do that.
Corey: And this is something I want to get into Claude. We’re talking about stereotypes, but over the course of my life, I had various white people from wanting a better word, assume that I was more like them than I was. So, I’ve been called an Oreo at various times by white people, never by black people. So, there’s kind of a projection. They assumed that I’m a lot more like them. I have to say, “Look, I try to be …”
Steve: You’ve never been called an Oreo by a black person?
Steve: Wow, never.
Corey: No. And I had to explain to them. “Look, I think you’re projecting quite a lot.” There’s a phrase that Bruce Springsteen has that I really like. He says, “Over the course of your life …” It’s always a horse, but a car. “People get into the car over time, and nobody gets out of the car.” So, these early experiences are really formative to you and as you kind of rise to the hierarchy of life, and become provost at Columbia or executive vice chancellor at Berkeley. Your early experience have enormous effect and they don’t leave you, and people project an image on you as if you’re like this person with no connection to your background. That’s just not true.
Corey: The experience you have as a kid, being called the N word, being treated a certain way, that’s with you and that doesn’t go away. I mean, that’s something that people … It is my experience white people have not realized in dealing with me over time.
Steve: Well, I can’t resist asking this question because … I mean, I’m an ethnic minority, but a different ethnic minority than you guys. And I think that Asian Americans, while they have their own challenges, the challenges are not nearly as strong as what African Americans face in society. So, I actually feel like I can’t really feel what it’s like even having read Ralph Ellison and all this other stuff.
Steve: I still can’t really get a sense of what it’s like to be walking down the street in East Lansing and some guy could drive … You told me the other day, some guy drove by and yelled the N word at you. It doesn’t really happen to me. What they yell at me is a little bit less charged. So, I just feel like there is some kind of gap. I cannot bridge that gap. Maybe if I did some science experiment where I wore a hologram of you for a week or something, but not currently possible, I would say. What do you think?
Corey: So, give us some background, Claude. This is the first time in honestly close to 30 years. I think the last time I was called the N word was on a BART platform in the early ’90s by a Latino guy. It’s quite interesting. The previous time before that was actually in Morocco. The guy more or less the same skin color as me when I did not accept his offer to be a guide and he called me the N word and a Jew.
Corey: But yeah, riding my bicycle down the main drive here in Lansing, Michigan, someone yelled the N word at me. Anyway, let’s start to get that. But at least, I like to hear thoughts and Steve’s view about …
Steve: I think probably there is a difficult to bridge gap psychology even though I’m an ethnic minority, for me to appreciate what it’s like to be African American is pretty tough. Do you feel that, that’s true?
Claude: Yeah. I do think that there’s probably something in your experience that by through analogy, give you some insight into the experience of African Americans. Because every group, every person, there are negative stereotypes about them.
Steve: For sure.
Claude: You’re in a situation that’s very important to you with that stereotype. You could be judged in terms of it. You can feel that pressure. I think, for example, white people, they’re a form of stereotype threat that they feel that has an intent and often unspoken impact on their experience is the stereotype threat of being seen as racist.
Claude: They make a misstatement or flub a name or something and their worry is that they’re going to be seen in terms of that stereotype about white people as racist. That can be quite profound and yeah, it can give them some insight into the stereotype threat that African Americans are going to experience as being seen as possibly less qualified, less smart, less able to contribute to society in important ways.
Claude: And so I think by analogy, that’s one thing I appreciate about the framework of stereotype threat is that everybody has that, some form of it. Older people, being something I can resonate can be seen in terms of stereotypes in situations that are very important to them and can feel that pressure. And that can give you some sense of what that pressure is like in the instance of race.
Steve: Corey and I are very paranoid about being mistaken for boomers, because we’re Gen X, we’re not boomers.
Corey: We’re like one year under the cutoff.
Steve: Well, I’m a few years over.
Corey: I have the same issue.
Claude: I have the distinction of being born on the first day of the baby boomers. January 1, 1946.
Steve: Yeah. So, you’re an old boomer like we’re old X’ers.
Claude: Yeah, I can’t evade that one, and it has accumulated a lot of negative stereotypes in the last couple of years.
Corey: So, you mentioned stereotypes, it leads us into your article. And you interestingly discuss stereotype threat faced by both yourself that you faced when you entered school, and by a young white student that you’ve met recently. So, can you talk a little bit about that and why you chose those two to contrast?
Claude: That’s a good question. What we were just talking about, I think, was the motive behind picking those two examples to open the article with is that I wanted to right away make it clear that indeed race is an identity in the United States, in America that has some very strong negative stereotypes, and big consequences tied to them. And I thought that personal story about coming to graduate school and seeing the excitement that people had about Arthur Jensen and his hypothesis that my people were genetically inferior intellectually.
Claude: And that because it was seen as science, we were expected to take that seriously. It gave me a question that it didn’t give my white friends and colleagues which was … As a scientist, am I supposed to be open to this really dark possibility that me, my race, my family, is that what’s involved in being a science? Can I trust the science like that?
Claude: So, I wanted to convey in that brief example what it’s like to be sort of under the spotlight of a negative racial stereotype. But I also wanted to make sure the reader knows that the scope of the article and the arguments in it include the stereotype threat that whites feel. So, that was a very vivid … I tried to get a very vivid example of a white student in an African American political science class that was populated primarily by African American students. How would that student feel?
Claude: This white student in face of all these blacks talking about tough issues of violence in the post Civil War South and the sort of subjugation of African Americans in American life. How would a white person feel in the middle of that discussion? Well, they’re going to feel an intense form of stereotype threat.
Claude: And the larger argument is that our history has given us these roles, assigned us these roles, black, white, and it has constructed stereotypes about them that we have to contend with. And that when we come together in an institution, like institution of higher education, that’s part of what the challenge is, is to develop an approach to education, a pedagogy that enables people under both of these forms of pressure to succeed, learn, prosper, thrive in this situation.
Claude: That for me, was a way of characterizing what a challenge of integrated life is in the United States that we’re doing something that I think is kind of amazing in human history, which is we’re having a society in which we want everybody to be able to come together and benefit for our institutions, their opportunities to make contributions and the like. And we’ve been a little bit unrealistic about what the nature of that challenge is. And so that article is trying to bring that into view.
Steve: So, coming back to Corey’s observation that maybe what you read about in a novel might inspire a social psychology experiment. I’m curious, having gone through what you had to go through at Ohio State with Jensen, I guess visiting your campus, did that experience then inspire you to actually ask, “Oh, can we measure the negative impact of being worried about a negative stereotype about your …” Did that actually kind of inspire the actual experiments that you did?
Claude: Well, the quickest answer is no, because that experience, which I offer as just one of many as Cory was just describing. He just went through something similar in recent history. These experiences continue to tie to your identity. So, no. At that point, I admit, I didn’t have an intellectual grasp of it. It was just an upsetting kind of threatening thing.
Claude: I tried to contend with it as best I could. I tried to finish the article with the hopeful outcome of some general strategies that I think a lot of people experienced some general strategies that help you deal with that kind of pressure. But at the time, I didn’t have any coherent articulation of something like stereotype threat, a concept like that. That was 25 years down the road.
Steve: But later on when you were designing the experiment, were you able to introspect and say, “Hey, sometimes I probably had to get over this fear of how the other people were stereotyping me in order to perform, and maybe I could measure that directly in this experiment.” Was that sort of your thought process in designing?
Claude: It’s interesting, because I think this is a point about the nature of science. No. That research on stereotype threat came from trying to explain this mysterious underperformance problem where you have, let’s say, black kids and white kids, they’re equally prepared, same prior grades and so on. Yet, at some subsequent level of schooling, white kids are getting lower grades. So, why would that be happening? Because they’ve got the same preparation.
Claude: If you told me there was a difference in preparation, of course, I’d understand that. The schools that African American kids get to go to in this country generally are not as strong as schools that certainly middle class, upper class white families have available to them.
Claude: So, if you get a difference in performance at college, I wouldn’t be surprised. But when you’ve got kids coming from the same kind of backgrounds with the same preparation, and you still get this underperformance, well, where does that come from? So, we just started out with a problem to understand and over, I would say, five or six years really trying this experiment, trying that, using archival data, reading novels, everything.
Claude: We kept getting this effect that when the stereotype could be relevant to, for example, taking a test. African American students perform worse than if you could give them that same test, but make the stereotype about their group’s abilities irrelevant to it. Representing the test is not a test of intelligence, for example.
Claude: As soon as you did those same tests, African Americans performance went up a higher. That idea, that phenomenon of stereotype, that presented itself to us. And we wrangled with how to describe it and interpret it and so on. I wouldn’t say the rest is history, but it really presented us to us. I think that is how a lot of … Certainly in my experience, my more important ideas have come that way. You get a problem, you try to understand it. And then understanding it, you come up with something you couldn’t have thought of on your own.
Steve: Do you mind if I ask a little bit more? I was just really fascinated by the specific research topic. So, I had a college roommate who’s African American, and we went to Caltech, which doesn’t have affirmative action. In fact, his father and mother has … I think his father and mother went to Morehouse and Spelman. And they wanted him to go to Caltech because there would be no stigma. Because if he made it at Caltech, everyone would know he made it at Caltech.
Steve: One question I have is, is the stereotype threat alleviated for kids who go to like a historically black college? Do you manage to get into an environment where you’re not worried about it? And do those kids actually perform better controlled for test scores and stuff like that because of that?
Claude: Well, it is. There’s a big fat fact out there, which is that African Americans who get into the STEM fields at a professional level, doctors, scientists, the vast majority of them come from the small number of historically black colleges and universities. And the same is true for women in STEM fields. The majority of them still come from single sex colleges and universities.
Claude: There’s a big piece of evidence that I think reflects something like this, that in those environments, they’re less likely to worry that they’re going to be seen in terms of a racial stereotype or a gender stereotype, because everybody is like that. Whereas at Caltech, I’m not sure what you’re going to tell me happened in that story, but I’ll predict that there’s going to be … Even though there isn’t affirmative action, there’s probably considerable worry that I could be seen … If I screw up here, I could be seen in terms of that stereotype or confirm that stereotype.
Steve: There’s no question that … I’m sure. I mean, he and I are good friends to this day. So, there’s no question that there’s extra pressure, but no, he was under tremendous pressure to represent. You know what I’m saying? But luckily, he’s quite a talented guy, so he didn’t have a problem with it. He’s a hard worker too, but he was under that pressure.
Steve: But I still think he felt that having gone to a school that didn’t practice affirmative action for the rest of his life for the people who knew, they would realize that, okay, he didn’t have that additional stigma maybe that some people have to deal with. And I think that was actually strategic on the part of him and his family and choosing the school.
Claude: Wow. Interesting. Yeah.
Corey: But that kind of assumes that people know Caltech does not practice affirmative action.
Steve: Right. Exactly. It’s a small community that would know that.
Corey: And that they judge people more harshly. Go to schools that they know practice affirmative action. I’m not sure that either of those things is actually true.
Steve: Yeah. I agree with you. I don’t think that many people know anything about Caltech. It’s a totally obscure tiny school, right? So, that strategy may not have been a great strategy, but his father is a chemistry professor, so maybe they were viewing things from a very narrow academic lens when they chose the school.
Claude: Well, the UCs don’t use affirmative action, for example. University of California with those 10 campuses, that’s 285,000 students and you still got considerable underperformance. That’s the name for the phenomenon having the same credentials yet not performing as well. You still get that in a huge system that doesn’t, by law, isn’t able to use affirmative action.
Corey: It’s interesting. Thinking about your experiments and the interventions that they suggest, and maybe you can elaborate on these, but where you tell a student they’re not being judged based of their intelligence, and you suggest that in your feedback studies, they’re high standards.
Corey: These strike me as very early versions of the nudge approach to changing social reality. Give a small intervention that has a disproportionate effect. But on the other side, going to an all black school or an all female school is a large social intervention. So, it seems like it’s actually pretty complicated what’s required to change this kind of underperformance. It seems like you may have to have interventions across the entire magnitude.
Steve: But I think a lot of the nudge stuff doesn’t replicate. That’s the thing. It’s more plausible to me that, yeah, going to Spelman or going to Wellesley really does substantially alleviate some of the pressures, whereas a small nudge might not fix what could be a very pervasive effect.
Claude: Well, yeah, nudges usually are aimed at changing the students’ mindset to some degree, their narrative about what the situation they’re in. And I think it does generally pay off and replicate that if you can create a realistic but hopeful narrative in the students’ mind about the situation they’re in, the school they’re in and how people feel about them and so on. You can have some gains. You can produce some gains.
Claude: I wouldn’t argue that they’re always as a big effect as going to a single sex college or something. That’s where you got the whole context different. I think this all these things are kind of around this fundamental American challenge is that in the mid ’60s we sort of thought you just open the door to these institutions and everything would be fine.
Claude: But with 50 years of looking back at things, you see the significant impact of the subtle things like stereotypes and the way people are treated and the way some of our general pedagogies, the way we teach people and the way we organize higher education, how those affect people different.
Corey: Steve and I, we started college in the early ’80s. I think this was still at the time of the kind of heightened idea of, yeah, your identity didn’t matter. We’re just going to school to learn about timeless truths. And I still buy into that. Maybe I’m a little old fashioned, but I just do distinctly remember going to classrooms and as you say, seeing these series of white guys up on the wall who are famous, great scientists.
Corey: I can understand that kids may have doubts about their own place in that system when they see these people don’t look like them. My perspective at the time was, “All right. None of those guys look like me, but I want to be one of them. I’m just going to work hard enough to become one of them.” And I think maybe this is a …
Corey: I mean, I was sort of a paradigm perhaps naive entrant into this idea of identity free assimilation, but it seems that things have changed a fair amount. I can’t say it’s bad that they change. There’s definitely a lot of cognitive dissonance in me going through college. There’s a lot of discomfort. There’s clumsy racial things that happened and a lot of simple lack of awareness on the part of people I went to school with.
Corey: And so maybe these things are sort of bubbling below the surface and they’ve kind of expanded out now and force changes that probably made my experience more comfortable. But I’m really torn personally, because I’m not sure which is right or if there is a right answer to the question of whether your identity should really have a role and how you’re educated. It’s something I’m uncertain about.
Claude: Well, I agree with you. In my own mind, I make a distinction between diagnosis that identity makes a difference. We just stumbled on the big fat evidence that it does make a difference. I entered this research problem. I began this research problem just exactly like you described.
Claude: And what I was surprised about is why would kids who have exactly the same credentials and a strong background, why wouldn’t they perform as well? Why wouldn’t they persist as much? What’s the problem here? That’s what pulled us in to recognizing that identity can be a factor. The things that go with your identity can be a factor, but it doesn’t mean that you need to address that identity. To fix the problem requires reifying identity in some way and imagining some world that is perfectly, that is exquisitely sensitive to the nuances of your identity.
Claude: I don’t think that’s the point. That’s why in this more recent piece, I tried to use my own example of being under a lot of identity pressure. But over time, just learning that, well, I can do this. Actually, I’m supported in doing this by the people around me. And that had a huge effect of mitigating these pressures.
Claude: But it’s important. I don’t want to take you off your line of questioning, but this is an experiment that I think people often don’t talk enough about but it’s really important in this line of research. We gave black and white Stanford students a set of really difficult anagrams to solve. And we told them, half of them that solving anagrams is kind of related to … It’s kind of a measure of cognitive abilities.
Claude: And the other half we told, “Well, it’s nothing to do with cognitive abilities. It’s just a game people play and it isn’t predictive of anything.” So, black and white under those conditions. Then under a variety of ruses, we asked them to do more. To volunteer. “How many more of these anagrams would you be willing to do for us?”
Claude: Well, the white kids, no matter how you describe the anagrams, as tests of cognitive ability or not test of cognitive, they said two. “We’ll do two. I’ll do two. These are really tough anagrams. I don’t want to be here all day. I’ll do two for you.”
Claude: And for the black kids, when we told them that the anagrams had nothing to do with cognitive abilities, it was just a game, they said the same thing. “We’ll do two. We’ll do two more for you.” But the black kids who believed that the anagrams were measures of cognitive ability, how many do you think they were willing to do.
Steve: Yeah, I was going to say more. [crosstalk].
Corey: But not a measure. Okay.
Steve: No, they were …
Corey: Yeah. Yeah, I thought you’re saying ones who thought it was a measure. If it’s not a measure, yeah, I thought more.
Claude: Yeah. Which reveals something kind of like what you said when you see those pictures on the wall. You want to be one of them. And our families told us, “You got to work twice as hard.” It was an unfair world to join that elite group. A lot of the stereotype threat effects happen because people are trying too hard rather than because they’re giving up.
Claude: Giving up is rare, but trying too hard, trying too hard, overdoing it, doing two things at the same, you’re trying to do the task and at the same time monitor how well you’re doing the task. It just takes up a lot of cognitive resources. It’s difficult to sustain that level of involvement and it wears people out and maybe they may drop out or give up that pursuit. It’s just important to understand the nature of this pressure. It’s usually driving people to try too hard.
Steve: So, coming back to Corey’s point, I think you mentioned this in your Chronicle article as well that at least when we were in school, we are probably too young to really have experienced Jim Crow and segregation, anything like that, but the idea was I think definitely the ’80s were more racist time than today. But the goal seemed to be always everybody had in mind a race blind society as what the ultimate end point would look like.
Steve: And so I think as older guys now, we have a little bit of whiplash, because now we’re being told, “No, no. Race blind is not what we’re after. We’re after something actually even more exquisitely complex than that where you have full recognition of someone’s background and history and things like that.” So, how do you think the goalpost move? What caused that goalpost to move and the recognition that race blind is maybe not the best thing that you should strive for?
Claude: Yeah. Let me introduce the term, and I apologize. It’s an opaque academic term, identity contingencies. And what I mean by that though is something very simple. It’s just the things that you have to deal with in your life because you have an identity. Particular identity. Because you’re a woman, you’re going to have to deal with things in life that are different than what men have to deal with.
Claude: If you’re poor, you’re going to have to deal with things in life that wealthy people don’t have to deal with. If you’re wealthy, you’re going to have to deal with things in life that maybe poor people … And so on. That’s what the term identity contingencies refers to. That there are just realities tied to our identities that reflect how society is organized around identity. And the history of society and how that history has been organized around identity and stratified and how identity has been used for 400 years plus as a basis for allocating opportunity and for deciding who’s part of the social contract.
Claude: So, identity is real. And the way we experience it in our own lives, that there’s just certain things we have to deal with. So, as an African American, I have to deal with the fact that people could see me in a certain way that stereotype threat. So, when you get me to promise to be color blind, I kind of don’t see that. All that stuff that’s really part of my experience, it’s tied to my identity.
Claude: We’ve kind of held hands and agree, “Well, we’re not going to see that.” And it could be that given the identity I have, my road to this level of schooling, let’s say, let’s say it’s getting into college, my road to getting into college could have been very different than the road for somebody else getting into college. And it might have produced all kinds of experiences and feelings that are different. So, if we’re color blind, then we’re not adapting to some realities that are out there, that may make a difference in how effective our universities are, for example, or our colleges are, for example. So, that’s a basic point.
Claude: Now, color blindness sometimes is a standard of fairness. We want law enforcement to be color blind. We want incarcerations, practices and sentencing to be color blind. We want healthcare to be color blind. We want access to capital to be color blind. So, I’m not sure we’re going to get rid of that as a general approach to how you do an integrated society, how you bring everybody into society. I’m not sure we’re going to get rid of that.
Claude: So, to put a black hat on color blindness completely, I don’t agree with that. I think there are certain things that are essential, where is it essential. At the point of educating people, I think we have to recognize that people come from very different groups that have had very different experiences in this society and continue to have very different experiences in this society. And that what those different experiences could do to the experience of going to college is to make some people mistrust and have just a great deal more wariness about how they’re received in that institution.
Claude: They’re just going to come in as a result of … As a black person, can I just completely trust that everybody around me just think that I’m [inaudible 00:38:04] and promising and is going to invest time in me? I’d be blind to a lot of history to a lot of my own identity contingencies if I had that level of false consciousness.
Claude: So, I’m inherently a little more wary coming in. And if my university is not in any way aware of that, and doesn’t come to me a little bit, as in those interventions, come to me, assure me that they see my potential, and that they’re going to treat me in a way that demands the best out of me and then really invest in me. Unless I see some signals like that, I’m going to be at a disadvantage.
Claude: I might not even trust the feedback I’m getting from people. I’m going to get what other people who are in the same boat and we’re going to kind of focus more on how can we trust here. That’s the analysis. It’s not to sweep away color blindness, but it’s to recognize that color blindness is making our institutions, our pedagogies blind to people’s reasons for being wary and mistrustful and worried about how they’re being treated.
Claude: Martin Luther King has this quote toward the end of his life, what he worried about in relation to integration was that our children won’t be taught by people who love them. I just think that cuts through a lot of it. Can I be assured that I’m going to be loved?
Claude: So, a piece of pedagogy that says the way to treat students is to tell them to look to their left, look to their right and be disinterested to a kid that needs some signal that you … I don’t know if it needs to be loved, but that you believe in their potential. That’s a terrible pedagogy. And that’s a big part of the problem with the challenge in American life throughout education and throughout the corporate world as well.
Corey: Claude, you’re probably very well aware of this change that happened. I became aware of it because of a recent article. I can’t think of where I read it, but about the large number of black school teachers who lost their jobs after Brown. To me, it was a revelation. Of course, black kids have been taught by black teachers for decades before that.
Corey: But when Brown came through, these black kids went to white schools. Were allowed to go to white schools, and many of them went. But white schools would not accept the black teachers. So, a whole generation of black teachers lost their jobs through Brown v. Board, and that led to … Perhaps, that’s what Dr. King had in mind when he was making this comment. It wasn’t an abstract observation.
Claude: Absolutely. It was real. A good source and entertaining source of this is a Revisionist History podcast by Malcolm Gladwell that tells the story.
Corey: That may be where I heard it. Yes, that’s right. I think that’s right.
Claude: That’s maybe where you heard it. Yeah. It tells that story, which is a revelation to a lot of us that the … In desegregating American schools, which by the way are not that desegregated, still are almost desegregated as they were in 1954. But that the effort was to integrate the kids and not the teachers. So, the kids got moved around in Boston and the like, but basically, people weren’t going to let black teachers teach white kids, and so black teachers lost their jobs.
Corey: And I think there is now a fair amount of evidence showing that a very important factor in the performance and academic success of black kids is having black teachers.
Claude: Yes. Even one.
Corey: Even one. Yeah.
Claude: And their whole experience in school having one teacher turns out to make a big difference in the achievements and the outcomes for black kids.
Corey: Do we know why? Or what it is that teacher does, or if it’s merely that teacher’s presence that has an effect?
Claude: Well, I don’t think a lot of … I think the research needed to unravel that in any precise way has yet to be done. So, we’re at a point of noting the phenomenon that it does have this effect, but I don’t think we’re really clear about exactly how it happens. It could be that I just need to have an existence proof. That’s one thing that Kenneth Clark meant to me as an African American kid coming into psychology is that Kenneth Clark was the only African American social psychologist I had ever heard of or that existed.
Claude: It was powerful because, well, if he did it, maybe I could do it, and that’s highly motivating. So, I never met him until many, many years later, but he had that role of the Obama presidency. I could be a president. I could be. that’s very different than living your life as I couldn’t ever be a president of this country. That’s it.
Claude: That’s a lid on possibilities that I think does affect people at the individual level. He could be the black teacher, has that kind of an effect. It’s an existence proof. It could be that this person had some faith in my abilities or faith in my potential. That could be another way it happens.
Corey: My father reports almost exactly the same experience. I think he was considering becoming either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. He told me that he knew of a black psychologist and didn’t know of any black psychiatrist. And that ended the discussion.
Steve: Really? Wow. That’s incredible.
Corey: Yeah, it was very clear in his mind.
Claude: Yeah. It was very clear in my mind. I didn’t agree with Kenneth Clark’s interpretation of the doll studies that actually begins, give cycles back to your opening comment about your children’s experience in integrated schools. If you’re interested in a really great history of that whole episode, the involvement of social science in that Supreme Court decision that the doll studies and the role they played in that desegregation Supreme Court decision.
Claude: There’s a book called Contempt and Pity by Daryl Scott, which is hard to put down narrative, a story about what happened there. Actually, the data are closer to the … The actual data are closer to the experience you describe your children having where integrated schools were harder on black kids.
Claude: But the need to have the data support, a psychological condemnation of segregation that there’s … They need to get a psychological rationale for getting rid of segregation, because the political rationale would just never have passed, never could have gotten the South on board. And the Supreme Court probably would have had a split decision, and maybe it never would have happened.
Claude: So, it was a legal strategy to make a psychological account of the damage that segregation would do. Well, it leads to this low self-esteem kind of thing. Well, it actually doesn’t, but you could interpret the doll studies are ambiguous enough that you could … Given the pattern of data, which I don’t want to bore you with right now, but given the pattern of data, you could go either way. So, they all held hands and they went away that said, “Segregation leads to lower self-esteem, even though really you could make the exact opposite interpretation of the data.”
Steve: So, Corey, the conversation you guys were having was before we started taping, right? So maybe you want to …
Corey: Okay. Claude, this is a complicated case of editing. Let me artificially sort of retell the story, and we’re going to have to figure out how to edit this in, because I think this is really good. So, I tried to do this, but let’s set the stage.
Corey: I’m reading through your biography and I noticed that Kenneth Clark’s work is pretty important to your academic development, and perhaps your political development. Now, I have very young kids. My daughter is five years old. My son is four. Another daughter is two years old. And my kids are going to integrate schools.
Corey: This is a long running discussion as part of our group here, but I’m shocked by the degree of integration and tolerance in interracial kids in the Midwest. I have very strong stereotypes about the Midwest before I came here, but they’re surprisingly large number of interracial kids in our class. I’d say maybe a quarter of the kids are interracial or third, and my kids are too.
Corey: It’s interesting at the time I was at Stanford in the late ’80s, I was told that the largest group of minority students on campus were interracial, which shows that California is actually quite a ways ahead of the US in this regard. But what I noticed is that my daughter was really fascinating. There’s a real deep interest in skin color and my daughter would draw herself as white for the first couple years of her life.
Corey: She’s extremely talented artistically. She draws a lot, but she’s drawn herself as blonde, which I found really kind of disturbing. And my kids were really obsessed with skin color. And it’s clear that she had gotten the idea that white was better. In fact, she drew the entire family and the only person who was racially brown was me.
Corey: But interestingly enough, she’s recently started pre-K, and she’s gone to extremely diverse school where I think most of the kids in her class are minority. And within a week, drawing herself white just stopped. I can’t say it’s causal, but it certainly does appear that her being in an environment where it appeared that her skin color was the norm and acceptable changed entirely.
Corey: I do want to get into this a little bit. I want to know your thoughts on what I’ve described and hear a little bit more about Clark’s work, because I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.
Claude: Well, I can recommend going on YouTube. YouTube has everything, so it actually has footage of the doll studies. And they look like this where you got a black kid, four or five years old, and there’s a white doll in front of them and a black doll in front of them. And they’re asked by the experimenter, “Well, who’s the nice doll? And who’s the doll that people like to play with? And who’s the doll that’s the prettiest?” And so on.
Claude: And the black kids in answer to those questions often point to the white doll as the prettiest, the nicest, the most popular and so on. And then the experimenter says, “In which doll looks like you?” And then there’s often a fumbling and some emotion comes forth. The child for the first time maybe recognizes that they have this view of what is a positive, valued, attractive person, and it’s not them.
Claude: And it’s like a moment of confrontation. And then they point to the black doll as like them. And that’s the evidence that the Supreme Court used to say black kids have a low self regard, because they think they’re not the thing that is good, pretty and popular and so on.
Claude: Now, my interpretation of what’s going on is a little different, which is that they’re just picking up from their environment the value structure of that environment who’s pretty, who’s nice and it’s color coded. They’re just picking that up. They don’t really process it very deeply. Not at four, or five, or six. They just kind of going along, so they call yourself white or with blonde hair, and you’re not thinking about it very much.
Claude: But if you are put in a world that’s different where there are black kids around, then there’s a whole different value scheme going on. And what’s nice and pretty and so forth is not necessarily white, but it’s some variation on African American life and looks and experience. So, the context is sort of giving them these associations.
Claude: This is the root of implicit bias is that we grow up in a society and we just implicitly without being aware of it from the nightly news and from driving through communities and we just pick up associations. Well, black people don’t have a lot of money. We just picked that up. We’re not even thinking about it. It’s there.
Claude: It doesn’t mean that because I’ve picked up those associations that I actually think less of me, of myself. It’s just that there are associations out there. If I was in a different society, skin color would have a completely different meaning and wouldn’t mean the same thing at all. If I grew up in Lagos, you just wouldn’t mean it the same thing.
Claude: Maybe who comes from a rural area or an urban area, that might be a big deal with Lagos, but everybody is black and Lagos, so it doesn’t mean anything. In America, given our history and the way our society is still organized around race, race color codes things and that’s just picked up.
Claude: I don’t know if I’m unique among psychologists, but I’m among a set of psychologists that do not interpret the doll studies as definitive evidence that black kids have low self-esteem. And that’s one of the impetus for doing stereotype threat research is that it didn’t seem to me like black people internalized the negative stereotypes about them in a sense of integrating it as a view of themselves these negative views out there.
Claude: In fact, growing up in a black community, I felt people just knew you had to contend with them that people are going to see that way, and you just had to contend with that in some way or another. You had to deal with it in some way or … That captured the reality, the impact of stereotypes. Stereotypes out there is not necessarily something I believe and have internalized like Gordon Allport has argued perhaps most famously. It’s internalized. It’s hammered into our consciousness and it affects a person’s integrity. I don’t know about all of that.
Claude: I just don’t see that much of that. Maybe it’s some extreme circumstances that it happens. But most of the time, it happens in situations where I know people … The stereotype, the way people think about black people could affect how they treat me or what they think about me, then I got to deal with that.
Steve: So, this dichotomy that you just illustrated. I mean, it does affect … In the current setting, a lot of older guys like me would say things like, “Hey, you’re going to face some …” I might say this to my son or my daughter. “You’re going to face some racism. You might have to work harder than the other kid.” And it’s better that they kind of know that. And in a way that by being too nice, too exquisitely sensitive to people’s backgrounds as you’re educating them, I feel like you’re training. You might be making them overly sensitive to these issues and not as resilient as if you warned them from the get go. “Hey, some people are not going to like you because of the way you look, and you just better be ready for that.” So, how do you feel about that?
Claude: I’m not clear on the contrast. One strategy is to say, “Look out, it may be coming for you and be ready for that. You can handle it.” And what’s the other approach?
Steve: Well, the other thing is to say that the kid is likely to internalize that rather than just realize society is structured in a certain way that it might be disadvantageous to them and maybe learn to react to it. The fear would be that they internalize that as a notion of lesser self worth. But if you’re really worried about the second thing, you might not make the kids sufficiently resilient to deal with the challenges that they’re inevitably maybe going to face in that society.
Claude: Yeah, I think I agree with you. I think I call it to myself at any rate, so the art of parenting as a minority. How do you prepare your kid to deal with a world that may be prejudiced against them and you know has stereotypes about them? How do you prepare the kid for that? There’s art to it.
Claude: You can’t go to the extreme of saying behind every rock there is a racist and that’s just what everything that happens to you comes from that. That would be so weighty and onerous that who could survive that? And you can’t go to the other end of the continuum, the false consciousness end where, “No, we’re in a post racial world. It’s all over and everything. Those shootings on television, I don’t know what they mean but ignore that.”
Claude: So, you have to help a child understand the reality. I think of my parents being especially good at that. There was just a lot of talk that they gave us a sophisticated approach to the realities of my contingencies, my identity contingencies. I mean, my father was very straightforward about things like, “Look, the world don’t have to be perfect for you to get and keep a job, man.”
Claude: So, he’s acknowledging that the world is not perfect, but he’s at the same time saying you got to get a job and it’s hard for a black kid to get a job and keep a job certainly in my day, but you got to do it. You’re up to it. I believe you can do it. So, there was a lot in that kind of message that prepared me for the realities and enabled me to persist when I was in that situation.
Claude: He was a truck driver. He didn’t have any education at all. His father was a slave, but the advice he gave me helped me get tenure as an academic. It doesn’t have to be a perfect world. Yeah, there is racism in it and there are stereotypes. And with that frame, I certainly didn’t internalize it. I saw myself as a warrior against it.
Claude: And you could use it as an energy mobilizing thing. I do think it probably led to some under performances here and there because of maybe getting me to try too hard to beat that stereotype and just whistle Vivaldi and just [crosstalk] prove the stereotype and all that goes on. But as a piece of parental advice in this situation, I am grateful for it. I thought there was wisdom in it. And I think it’s broadly shared.
Corey: It’s interesting. I’m listening to the subtleties of what your father said to you, because I find it very challenging these days, because the world is clearly changing rapidly. I got to assume that my experience is not what my kids are going to experience because the world moved 50 years. I had my kids late, but 40 years hence.
Corey: So, it’s interesting. Your father actually didn’t say anything about … It seems like he gave you fairly general advice that could apply across eras. I think some parents are inclined to interpret the world for their kids through their own experience. And that’s something that I’ve been very reticent to, because I’ve noticed that I experienced a lot more racial difficulty growing up than my daughter seems to be experiencing.
Corey: I remember being very clear having a kid asked me, “Why you’re so brown?” And I think I made up something like, “I got left in the toaster too long.” I was like three. It’s possible someone said something like that to her recently, but I don’t get that impression. I think there’s much more comfort even in the Midwest here, which I wouldn’t have expected with the different racial groups.
Corey: So, I see the challenge being to try to talk to your kids in a way that doesn’t make too many presumptions about a world with which I’m not very familiar actually. Because I don’t know what kids at that age think, and I assume they’re more tolerant, but I don’t know what the issues are. I do know that skin color matters to them, because they’ve zeroed in on it.
Corey: I’m honestly not sure about this decision. I’d like to hear your reaction. I made a decision when I found my kids talking about skin color with a very dark skin black girl. And they started pointing out that … My daughter pointed out to her that she was darker than my daughter was and that she was sort of similar to my color, and has made this very dark skin black very uncomfortable. It was really, really apparent to me.
Corey: And when we got home, I basically told my daughter, “No more talking about this.” Because it was obvious it was going to affect some people really negatively. I wasn’t sure. I hope we can open the conversation with my daughter a little further hence, but it was something that made me uncomfortable, I guess. So, I guess there are a couple of questions in there about how specifically to address a changing world. But also, what you do when you figure out this kind of conversation may affect people pretty vulnerable.
Claude: Yeah. I generally err in the direction of finding a way to have the conversation as opposed to not have it, because I suspect there’s risk of making a mistake, but I think kids can understand a lot and they’re going through a lot. I think they can benefit from having a constructive frame about things that calms them, desensitizes them a little bit to the issue.
Claude: So, just as a general principle, and I think parents want to get in there and control the narrative to some degree as opposed to let society control the narrative. And I think like a conversation with your daughter about why that her remark to her darker skin friend might be hurtful. A conversation about that might be useful. In that would come up sort of understanding of other people’s feelings, just the raw capacity to take other people’s feelings into consideration. And then a particular issue of skin color and the role it’s played in American life.
Claude: You don’t need to go into a lot of detail. It doesn’t have to be an academic discourse, but it can be informative. And I guess what to shoot for is something that’s kind of informative but diffuses the … Normalizes these things a little bit and puts them in a positive light.
Steve: I’m curious.j Did your daughter immediately understand what the issue was? Or was it she just like, “Dad What are you talking about? Why would she be sensitive about that?”
Corey: No, she grasped it immediate.
Corey: That was the striking thing. That makes me sympathetic to Claude’s idea. I appear to be a sensitive kind of thoughtful academic, but deep down a guy who just doesn’t like to talk about a lot of stuff. And so I have to check this inclination and be more emotive.
Corey: I don’t want to hijack this podcast with a discussion of my kids, but it’s been a really fascinating experience to see how much they think about this stuff. So, my son is fairly light skinned. My son is one of these people who could be from anywhere. Like one of our colleagues says he kind of looks like a Uyghur. He looks a little bit Asian. He’s got this kind of curly locks of hair. When his hair is short, he could be Southern Italian. Does not look very black.
Corey: And at some point in time, we’re talking about the sun and tanning and the effect the sun has on you. And I said, “Well, what happens when you’re in the sun? You’re going to get darker because you’re going to get more tan.” And I said this maybe six months ago, and then he starts saying to me asking questions, “When is it going to be winter? When is it going to be cloudy?” And I’m like, “Well, winter comes in December 22. Why are you asking?” He says, “Well, I want it to be winter and cloud, so I don’t get any darker.”
Corey: And this is a conversation this kid stored for six months retained and reasoned about. I realize I do need to have a conversation with him about this, but it’s a complicated conversation and asked him why he feels this way. He’s probably a lot less emotionally. My daughter is a little bit younger, but it’s an issue that I didn’t expect to confront. That may be one of the most surprising things about parenting a minority kid.
Claude: When I hear that story, I think my kids have had that experience too. I think it’s first a reflection of the world that they’re in. They’re going to integrate schools where there are a lot of white kids and they’re probably in the minority extracting a lot from the story and you can correct me.
Corey: It’s all correct.
Claude: Yeah. So, again, it’s that majority is setting all the standards for beauty and niceness and style. They’re in the minority. They want to belong in that world that they’re in. And so that kind of structures a disadvantage around skin color in that situation.
Claude: And I think an important thing a parent can do is expose them to an environment where skin color has a different meaning. Where maybe it’s cool to be black. Throughout my life, I’ve sought those kinds of situations. I deeply involved as a consumer of jazz, especially growing up and into adulthood because that’s where black people were so brilliant, so obviously brilliant. And the sensibilities of the African American experience were so beautiful that in that context, skin color is cool.
Claude: And it’s maybe helpful for kids to see that, because they’re contending with this. I just think a structural situation. And again, that essay I’m trying to get at some of the challenges of integration that we don’t want to think about. And that color blind notion, I bet your children’s teacher is just saying, “Well, I don’t have to respond to your race. I don’t see color. I don’t see color.”
Claude: Oh, shit, the whole room is structured around color, because the whole society and the whole history of this society has been constructed around color. So, the kids, they see it and they experience it. How much they process it and internalize, who knows. That’s murky waters, but they’re just reflecting the structure of American society and their perceived role in it. And maybe it’s cooler to be a little lighter here than it is to be darker. I think it’s helpful to go broad and see the Obamas and to see even sports is another great area, but areas of life where skin color is at least not a negative thing.
Corey: I was recently in Nigeria just this past summer, and my son has been intensely interested in traveling where I travel. Of course, I told them we’re going to go to these places someday. But your comments make me think that I’m probably going to take him there sooner rather than later just to put him in a very different environment.
Claude: Yeah. It’s really changing for … Because he’s going to see some things which will lead him to understand his life differently.
Steve: Sorry. My kids have spent a fair amount of time in Asia. And so they at least have seen worlds where everybody looks like them, and that’s fine. But the thing is I don’t think they really like to go to Asia. They somehow like America much better than Asia, so it didn’t fully work with them. But at least they’ve seen something that probably shifted them at some psychological level.
Claude: Yeah, there are a lot of reasons to like or dislike a place aside from that. Like with Nigeria, there are a lot of reasons that your kids may not like that. They’re going to miss some of the things they really love to do. Getting on socially is going to be a challenge. And so there’s some things like that, but they will see a different world and that probably will lead to a different framing of their experience.
Corey: I was talking to one from Ethiopia recently and she really made me aware that it’s pretty heterogeneous in Africa how much people are obsessed with skin color. So, she was saying that in Ethiopia, there’s massive color bias. And in fact, the term for darker skinned people in Ethiopia is the same as a term for slave.
Corey: And so one of her real foci in her research was trying to get people to overcome this kind of colorism. But again, I saw much less of it in Nigeria, perhaps because there’s just less variance. And you tend to find this kind of interest where there’s the most largest range of colors within a country.
Corey: So my uncle actually does a fair amount of research on this. And he says he found the least amount of colorism in rural Africa. And the time, this was quiet in the late ’70s. Actually, Afghanistan he found none. But where you did tend to encounter integration of different kinds, especially with skin color, then people became obsessed by it.
Corey: So, it is just a backup your point one of these unforeseen consequences of integration. I think we’ve seen a bunch over the years. We’ve seen economic effects it has on black communities. You’ve seen the educational and economic opportunities affords people. But I think what we’re seeing now is some of the consequences people perhaps didn’t notice initially in this great experience.
Claude: Exactly. That’s a great term for it, this great experiment. I mean, American society as an integrated society where everybody, immigrants, Muslims, black people, LBGTQ, handicap, everybody has … We have a public commitment to everybody having equal access to opportunity in this society.
Claude: Most societies have not, if maybe not all societies have not responded to diversity like that. It’s like one group conquers the other group and that’s that. Separate but equal, buddy. That’s the way we used to do it. No pretense that you’re going to be equal really. And maybe a pretense you’re going to be equal, but no opportunity to really be equal.
Claude: As a fruit of the civil rights movement, we are publicly committed to this. I remember going to Paris as a younger adult, and just being knocked over by the fact that people just didn’t seem to respond to my race in the same way. It wasn’t an issue for them.
Claude: But as I got more and more familiar with French society, I realized I probably couldn’t be … I don’t know if it’s still that way. I’m not sure I could be a professor there or an elected official. They hadn’t had a civil rights movement. And Britain hasn’t had the civil rights movement. We have. And so, we’re launched on this idea.
Claude: It’s in our DNA. It comes from the old world mixing with the new world on this continent that we are trying to have an identity integrated society in which everybody can contribute from the standpoint of their and identities but not be disadvantaged by their identities. That’s sort of what we’re trying to accomplish here in a sense.
Corey: France has actually been a pretty big topic of conversation for us. I spent a lot of time there when I was younger. And we’ve talked about one of the main influences my life was my father’s graduate school roommate who graduated with a physics degree from Minnesota in ’64 and couldn’t get a job in the states and moved to Paris and live there until 2010 when he died. But many black Americans went to Paris in the ’50s and ’60s, and virtually all came back except this guy, Tony Stovall, who was there for almost 50 years.
Corey: He’s a fascinating character, and I spent many, many weeks walking Paris streets with Stovall and having give me his incredibly detailed take on French society. You’re exactly right. Paris is extremely integrated on the streets. My father describes exactly the experience you had which is one time he’s walking at night down on a Paris street. He’s there visiting Stovall and a group of teenagers are coming towards him, white teenagers and he tenses up. And he’s got close, the teenagers just parted, just walked right past him as if … It just didn’t matter. And he was just struck by this.
Corey: But Stovall and I would sit down and Stovall would point out to me this segment of society. This was in the ’80s and ’90s. The blacks had not and probably could not penetrate. You couldn’t be a black waiter. At the time, blacks do not work in the post office. Blacks were not on television. There are no black elected officials. This kind of difficulty still challenges black people in Paris and Arabs in Paris and many other immigrants.
Corey: There’s a sense of égalité, fraternité but in fact, many segments of French deciders are just blocked off from people. After the rise of Obama, I have discussions with my European friends about this, and they talk about, “We don’t have the racism you have in the States.” And I’m like, “Obama would never happen in your country. It would never have been to France or anyplace else like this.”
Corey: And so I think you’re exactly right that it’s this great experiment. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this Chinese kid recently who … He joined the military. He was a Chinese national, joined the American military and became kind of a cause celebe, because somebody screwed up and they’re getting ready to deport the kid.
Corey: And of course, having joined the American military it is somewhat of a disadvantage if you’re going to be sent back to China, but the kid loved the American experiment. He just loved the idea of integration and equality, all these different groups and led him do something pretty radical. And eventually, just before they’re forced him to get on a plane, they came and they regularized his status, but he’s a guy who really realized that there is this real unique feature of American society.
Claude: Yeah. I’m going to work on that. That’s what I think of in terms of my intellectual future at any rate is focusing on the realities of integration, and what the challenges are and what’s going to be required to make it work, because I don’t think we …
Claude: We’re kind of lost. In fact, I have to run because I’m talking to Clay Carson, who is an African American historian here at Stanford and has done maybe the definitive history of a lot of the civil rights leaders, certainly Martin Luther King. He’s in charge of the Martin Luther King papers. I’m talking to about the history of SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, because it’s an interesting story of exactly these processes.
Claude: It began with the notion of a beloved community, of respect for each other, kind of in a framework of the politics of respectability. And in a decade, it became a black power, black nationalism. Whites got kicked out of the movement. It became violent. You had to get guns and the Black Panthers.
Claude: So, I’m really interested in that history because it reflects such a rich reaction to this American experiment. And I think there are lessons in it that our institutions today can extract from that transition to help us figure out what can work and what can’t work. But the basic question is, well, how the hell do you integrate a society like this? W
Claude: We come together, but we got very different histories and you’ve always treated my people in a certain way. Can I trust you now? You’re giving me feedback on this essay, but can I trust that? Could that be coming from my essay or from how you guys see my group? It’s just like gets right down into the moleculars, the sort of granular level of experience. So, I think it’s a much richer and important experiment we’re in than we realize.
Corey: Well, thank you, Claude, for your time. This has been a really interesting discussion.
Steve: Yeah. I really enjoyed your remarks and I find that you’re refreshingly optimistic about the future of race relations in America. I mean, so many people are down on it right now. It’s really great to hear your thoughts about it.
Claude: Yeah. I believe we’re with each other in this society. Nobody is going anywhere. We got to make it work. And I believe in many of our lives, there are so many instances where it does work. Our relationships, marriages, it works all over the place. So, I think the big challenge is to get our institutions better informed and designed so as to meet the challenges and really move us forward.
Claude: There, I don’t think we’ve made adequate progress. And I say that as somebody who’s been responsible for the culture in several institutions, and disappointed at what we were able to do. So, that’s where I think the challenge is.
Corey: Well, hopefully, you’d be willing to come back and talk to us about the SNCC project as it develops, because I would love to hear more.
Claude: Yeah, I’d be delighted to do that. That would be a delight. As soon as I get a hold. I’ve read everything now. And now, Clay is going to give me a simple narrative through this morass. I recommend the book, it’s called The Struggle, and the author is Clayborne Carson and it’s a story many of us … I lived through it, but I think most people have forgotten it.
Claude: It’s an extremely poignant story of people … Freedom Riders, sit-ins, Freedom Summers transmogrifying over a small number of years into the Black Panthers and shootouts with the police and expatriated leaders and sort of the death of the movement. So, it’s like a movie. And what happened in that transition is so interesting with regard to all these questions that we’ve been talking about. So, I promise I’ll come back and give you my story, my interpretation.
Corey: And I’ll definitely get the book. Thanks again, Claude.
Claude: Great, thank you, guys.
Steve: Thanks a lot.
Corey: We appreciate it.