‘We have to grow the hell up,’ Eddie Glaude Jr. says at KU antiracism talk

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Every moment that it seems as if we’re on the cusp of change, we double down on our ugliness, Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr. told a crowd at the Kansas Union Friday afternoon. 

Glaude, a distinguished professor at Princeton University and the founding chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies, told the crowd in person and those watching via Zoom that the pattern repeats itself over the course of American history. 

The passage of the 13th and 15th Amendments — which banned most slavery, and gave Black men the right to vote — was followed by the legal regime of Jim Crow and convict leasing, another form of slavery, Glaude said. 

And what did we get in response to the moment Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and “we thought we had turned the corner?” 

“We got the vitriol of the Tea Party, we got a spate of voter suppression laws, and then we vomited up Donald Trump,” Glaude said. 

During Glaude’s lecture, “The Ethics of Antiracism,” he said we live in a world shaped by the “value gap: this belief that white people matter more than others.” He said he and his son are examples of the shifting times, as they did not grow up in sanctioned segregation as his own parents did, but “the value gap, even today, still dictates much of our lives.” 

That gap looks different under different conditions: the horrors of slavery were very different from the legal restrictions of Jim Crow, for instance. 

But “we still find ourselves in a society, in the public and private sectors, organized in such a way to benefit some more than others,” Glaude said. “And this isn’t a matter of intention. It’s just the way these places are structured. And I suppose this is what people mean when they say that matters seem to never change in this country.” 

Today, we see the value gap in housing, education, labor markets, policing, health care, who leads universities, overall experiences and the experience of unjustified exposure to premature death. 

Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies, speaks on Feb. 25, 2022 at the Kansas Union. (Screenshot)

He said we have witnessed a panic over the changing nature of this country in many ways. He cited the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.; “the spate of voting laws aimed to disenfranchise Americans”; violent assaults against Asian American people; and the attacks against Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project

“Let’s remember that the value gap is not simply the possession of white racists, of loud racists, the people shouting ugly racial epithets. Don’t let yourselves off the hook too easily,” he said. “It is maintained in the habitual ways in which we live our lives.” 

He said we think of racial equality as a possession, “something that you can give to me — who are you to give me equality?” That’s not the same as a loud racist screaming epithets, but it still carries the assumption that some people are valued more than others, Glaude said. 

He said we are more comfortable with stories that confirm our innocence instead of hard truths. But we must confront who we are and what we have done as a precondition for being together differently. 

“Oftentimes, universities, like the University of Kansas, want to use diversity data to demonstrate how good they’re doing,” Glaude said. “The proverbial pat on the back, something to billboard, window dress; but fundamentally, nothing has changed. 

“If we are to go beyond the usual tinkering around the edges, we have to tap the root and finally build places that reflect the talent and skill of all Americans.” 

And no one necessarily needs to lose anything in order for others to gain, he said. In this country we are taught to believe we exist under a condition of scarcity, and to believe that “you can’t have what you want if they have what they want,” when we can build a society where we all thrive, he said. 

“They tell us that the pie is finite, that we only have so much pie. It’s not true! We can bake a bigger damn pie,” Glaude said. But the top 1% don’t let that happen and they’re “gouging all of us anyway.”

“It’s a toxic combination in this country of racism, of greed and selfishness, that’s undermining American democracy, that’s rotting it out from the inside.”

He said we can’t become the kinds of people that democracy requires because as soon as it seems that we’re losing our grip on a certain understanding of the country, “we will throw democracy away in defense of it.” 

“We have to grow the hell up as a country,” he said. “… What I’m asking of us demands a certain kind of maturity.” 

Glaude’s talk was the keynote speech of Black History Month at KU. Glaude is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and chair of Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies.

Glaude’s books include “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul” and “In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America.” His most recent book is a New York Times bestseller, “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for our Own.”

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage:

Mark McCormick: Does CRT make white students feel bad? Try being a Black student (Column)

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“So much of the ever-changing debate about critical race theory — a term for an academic body of work not taught in K-12 public schools — centers the feelings of white students. We rarely seem concerned about how Black students have felt in public schools,” Mark McCormick writes in this column for Kansas Reflector.


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