Hello, and welcome to The West Meeting Room. Today's episode is hosted by me, Sabrina, one of the producers of the show. I'm really excited to get into today's conversation where I interviewed Dr. LaToya Brackett, who is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of Puget Sound. On this episode, we will be talking about race activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Let's get started.
We've met before this episode - I was in the sound booth for another interview that you were in at Hart House and also for a talk that you gave at Hart House called The (In)visible Black Woman. And as a black woman myself, it was really important for me to make it out there and I really loved what you had to say. And I really resonated with a lot of your stories and a lot of your insights that was about being seen and yet unseen in the workplace, being the diversity hire but not actually being expected to contribute. And I think it's interesting how that concept of being seen and not heard, or being brought in but not expected to meaningfully participate. We can look at the activism that's going on right now. And the movement that's happening right now surrounding Black Lives Matter and ameliorating circumstances for black individuals, largely in the United States. There's a movement in Canada as well, but also just globally, how black women can be invisible within a movement where blackness is very visible or where blackness is supposed to be very visible. And I wanted to ask you if you find that black cis and trans women are being ignored, even within the Black Lives Matter movement, even within the current activism that's going on right now, even though the efforts within these movements are to better protect blackness and are to heighten visibility surrounding blackness. And as an extension to that if you have any thoughts as well on how queer black people are being seen or not being seen or being acknowledged equally or unequally within this movement as well.
Dr. LaToya Brackett
There’s so much to unpack there. And I think it's historical that black women, especially in the United States have been doing a lot of the silent work for the movements, especially the civil rights movement. We, we know of black men, but we don't know of the black women beside them. And not just the wives of MLK and Malcolm X, but also, you know, Diane Nash, who is right there alongside MLK and the people marching and everything. And we're, we're often forgotten, but we're often the ones that do the heavy lifting as black women. And it's interesting that we, that you're asking the question of the invisibility of cis black women and trans women and I will also add in trans black men at this point too because of Tony McDade, who was killed by police, and for some reason has been not really spoken about.
There's two areas here that I want to talk on. It's the visibility of the harm against black bodies, specifically black women like Breonna Taylor and then black trans men and then of course, so many black trans women, that has kind of been put on the back burner or not the back burner, but behind George Floyd. We definitely speak up a lot more about the harm being done to black men, yet the other side of it is that most of the folks that are leading this movement that are black are probably most likely are women. And guess who started Black Lives Matter? Three black women. Two, for sure, that are also queer women, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors. And then we have Opal Tometi. These women created this movement. And it's interesting how it is, it was black men's bodies that brought this movement on and how that narrative continues. And we have to remind folks, hey, let's talk about the women that are being harmed, the black women that are being harmed, the black trans people that are being harmed as well. And I think that that is a part of the narrative of which Black Lives Matter was created. But it depends on what society wants to see, what society needs to know, in order to be upset enough to say, hey, enough is enough.
And that reminds us of I would say the white patriarchy that we have in the US, that tells us that men matter first. And so we're also aligning this movement to make people upset, and men matter first. And so a black man matters first, and then you get to black women and then get to black trans folks. It's not right. But that's what, how it's coming about. And so what I would say is when I came on campus, I talked about being visible, but invisible at the same time. That is what's happening even in this movement. It's a great movement. And I think people are forgetting the roots of the movement. The black women that did this. When I say people are forgetting, I think I'm not trying to say a whole bunch of people are forgetting. I want to say that we fight so hard for the black men that have been harmed. But it's black women doing the work that created this movement. So that's where I'm kind of you know, it's that juxtaposition that is historical for us. I think it's, it's something that I do hope that we'll grow to recognize, but in this moment, “I can't breathe” was said by Eric Garner 6 years ago, I believe. And then George Floyd a month ago, right? We're remembering that and that is from black men's voices, right from their mouths.
But yeah, there's so many layers to this that we could have a discussion about. Where do black women show up? Where do black folks show up in the movement? And where are they not having the movement fight for them? I think that that's the key. Where is the movement fighting for the folks that also are also doing the movement? And I want to be clear that that doesn't mean that the black women that are running this movement aren't trying to have Breonna Taylor recognized or Tony McDade recognized. It's usually the system at play that says, we really only want to hear about this. And that's how we will make a movement change. Right? So that's something that I've been thinking about. But there's this visibility and invisibility of black women, of black bodies that are not black men. Let's put it that way.
I feel like my only follow up would be something along the lines of - Do you have any opinions or do you have any suggestions surrounding how do we acknowledge the voices that were already amplifying and the individuals that were already amplifying, but then also recenter things so that there can be equal amplification and acknowledgement and visibility to those who may not get as much time, as much airspace, as much attention but I feel like the answer to that has to also do with dismantling the patriarchy.
Dr. LaToya Brackett
And that's what I was gonna say. [laughs]
Exactly. You kind of said it in your answer too. It's a whole patriarchal thing. And I feel like that is much bigger than just any one person, yeah, to break apart.
Dr. LaToya Brackett
It is. It's much bigger. I think that people are saying Breonna Taylor and people are saying Tony McDade. People are saying all the names that they can. There are signs out there that you will catch that are just the names of women. There are signs out there that are just the names of trans folks, black folks that have lost their lives. People are doing that and then we have to realize, well, why aren't we hearing about it? It's not because we're not talking about it. It's because the system is not wanting to showcase that, and then we get to the point of what will make a change? Is it gonna be Breonna Taylor? Is it gonna be Tony McDade, to the people who have power? Unfortunately, we're not there yet. The Supreme Court in the United States has made it illegal to fire any employment discrimination against trans folks, and that was LGBTQ. And that was a really big deal for us. And that came down, I think two days ago. Really, really important. And then today DACA kids of immigrants, right, that have come in, they're undocumented. So undocumented students, undocumented youth are able to stay here. They don't have to worry about being deported.
And I actually think that that's, those two things in the last week are really important catalysts to remind people that we can fight and we can make a change to the system, but we're always scared of our Supreme Court because of who's on it right. And whether someone might go on one side or the other. But the patriarchy is real, and they're gonna want to know and fix issues for black men first, and that even goes back, to come back to our histories of African Americans, especially in the civil rights movement, when people forget that the women were doing a lot. And actually black women in the civil rights movement are what was the catalyst for white women's movements. So people forget that. We're doing all we can I think. I think the people, and that's why I was like it's, the people that are running this movement, that are doing a lot of this work, are black women and women of color, and it's not that they're not saying it. It’s that they’re not being heard.
I also, I was eating breakfast this morning and someone shared the Supreme Court ruling from today about the DACA, which I believe those individuals are also known as dreamers. I also wanted to acknowledge for any listeners, whenever you're listening, that this episode is being recorded Thursday, June 18, 2020. In case you're wondering what yesterday or today or a few weeks ago or a month ago means - we are recording on June 18. Bringing up you know, topics of the Supreme Court and those in power and persuading or swaying the actions of those empowered to make change - I did want to ask you, because there seems to be so many opposing answers to the question of how do we get things done? What course of action will really affect change? From suggestions of voting to protesting to boycotting stores, there's a lot to do and there's a lot that we can do. And I know that the best answer is often some sort of combination of all of the available options. But I'm interested in finding out what your opinion is towards what is the most effective way to spark large scale systemic changes? Or is the most effective way to start changes is to just subvert the system and tear it down and start over?
Dr. LaToya Brackett
I wish we could tear it down, but I don't know what we'll end up with that. And then you know, who gets into power then? But I would say, so you know, yeah, you have a lot of opposing answers, right, to this question. Because everybody has their heart in one place, in some place, you know. Everyone does their activism differently. And so it's kind of like, you know, someone who has a career in academia, and their field is English. And another person's field is Sociology. Of course, it'd be like, “my field is the best” because that's what you're passionate about. That's what you've learned. That's what you teach. You see it as imperative. And as for me, I see Black Studies as most imperative in this moment. Black Studies came about from students protesting on campuses, not in the streets, in the cities, but on campuses, because that's also a system we have to dismantle, we have to change. And so I would say to individuals, the way to make a difference is to fight the system you know best. If you are part of that system or you know that system, how do you fight that system to make a change?
And that's where I would tell people individually and I would, but honestly, overall, whenever someone's asked me, like, how are we really going to make the world better in regards to race relations, in regards to all the “isms” that people have problems with - sexism, homophobia, ableism, ideologies, all those things. It's gonna be education. And when I say education, I mean an anti-racist education that begins at grade one, in kindergarten. And that means that we have to overhaul our, in the United States at least, our education system, meaning right now the person, Betsy DeVos is not helping at all. She's actually backtracking things that have been progressing in the last decade or so. Just as Trump has tried trying to do a similar thing. And luckily he lost in these last two situations with the Supreme Court.
It's education, because this goes back to what MLK said. He's like kids, they weren't - they know to love, they're taught to hate. Right? So you're taught to hate. So, and this goes to black kids, brown kids, trans kids who are in a classroom, and they don't see themselves in any other curriculum. They don't, they barely see themselves in space. They don't see black trans teachers, they don't see that. And that's a problem. So we have to overhaul, I believe, our education system. Now how we do that? I'm not really sure. I know that within my own institution, as an academic, I do that work. That is my goal. But I'm like, I'm in the college situation. And by that time, students who take my class, it's a big heavy lift to tell them you haven't learned anything about black people from K - 12. You actually haven't even had a black teacher before and I'm your first black teacher and I'm teaching you about black stuff. This is going to be hard having to tell them that. But usually the lift, we get a good amount of students that are like, “wow, I had no clue”. And this makes things so much more understandable to me.
But then we still miss the folks who, somewhere underneath it all, just don't care, maybe have a hate, maybe a disdain for whatever the “isms” are and how they affect them. That's why they need to do it earlier. Our education system shouldn't just be talking about the most important times in which black people make progress. They need to also be talking about the ways in which white supremacy has kept them from making progress. So yeah, education is where I would go with what is the thing that we can change because guess what? How people learn to speak about others, how people learn to write, to read what they read about others - that's a long time of someone's life. And it leads them into their adulthood. And when you're an adult, when you start to vote, right, so all the things that you mentioned, they now have a lens, a better lens to be able to say how is this going to affect me? But how is it going to affect everyone? Because how everyone is doing is how well I will also be doing. Unless they're extremely rich. And then there's a capitalism component to this. And I'll leave it at that I guess.
Thank you so much. I do, I do agree that education is a really important piece of this puzzle. On the topic of creating change and activism and the best ways to do that. I did want to ask you, if you think that the current global pandemic has had a hand in how effective current protests and activist work has been after this tragic catalyst, the murder of George Floyd. Do you think the current pandemic has had a hand in how long and sustained and effective protests have been, especially when considering how many people are currently out of work or staying home or have suspended their hobbies or other commitments? The definite
Dr. LaToya Brackett
The definite answer is yes. I actually just launched a new class for the summer which I'm teaching called Capital in Captivity, and then African Americans in the US economy. And one of the reasons that I started to initiate this, and this was before the Ahmaud Arbery tape came out, showcasing what had happened to him a month earlier, being murdered by two white, well, three vigilante white men. And then it was before George Floyd when I already thought about how during COVID-19, us Americans specifically, are recognizing how fragile their economic situations are, even as a middle class. We talk about, the U.S. talks about middle class, middle class. Middle class is our bread and butter. Well, if the middle class is out of work for three months, most people in the United States, if you're out of work for three months, will be homeless. That is a problem.
And so I think that during COVID, people, yeah, they were having to stay home. Some of them were out of work. Some of us were more blessed to be able to do our work from home, right. And then other things were suspended. Like you said, hobbies and things in the community, and they're anxious and this is new, and they are told they can't go out. They're unsure of what's happening. And I think that this hits, particularly to white Americans more so than it does black and brown Americans because, guess what, we're always being policed. So in this case, COVID is policing everybody. And it's also telling white folks a more individualistic kind of ideology of the white culture here in the states, is individual matters. And honestly, if you look at some videos, people are still not wearing masks in places. And there was a white woman recently who coughed on someone because they were upset she didn't have a mask. She went over to them, coughed on them, and then left proudly, and called them a pansy for wanting to wear a mask, because she's not worried about what they need.
As people of color in the United States, we're often having to worry about what white people need from us in order for us to be safe. Doesn't always work. This changed for a lot of white Americans, even the liberal white Americans, the understanding of what it means to be policed at all times. And then being able to see on the news - and then here's the other thing, you're in front of your computer 24/7. Technology just skyrockets at this point. So when you see this video of Ahmaud Aubrey being lynched basically by a white mob, you're gonna get upset. And in this case, white folks can't say, “Oh, this doesn't happen anymore. No, it's happening.” And it's your neighbors that's doing this. And when you see George Floyd, and you're brought back, you're brought back to this happening with Eric Garner. And he said, I can't breathe. And you see this man with his knee on this black man's neck for eight and a half minutes. You can't not do something. And in this case, you're frustrated with the fact that you can't do much in your own life. What can you do for others? So I think that the COVID, the financial strain on Americans - here's the other thing, when it comes to what we're all uprising about, yes, it's police violence. Yes, it's against black bodies, but when black people, one of the lowest in our US society in regards to being treated well or not - when we are better, all of America's better. Right?
And so people are out there because, hey, I don't have to go work today. And this is important. And I can go out and I can be in the space. But also, hey, I can go outside and actually see people and talk to people, I wear my mask, but I can see people and talk to people. So this need for interacting with others is another thing that I would say personally would make people want to be outside. So I started thinking about this. And I started thinking about why are there so many people in the streets? Because everybody's anxious about what's next? Will we survive? Everywhere around the globe when it came to this pandemic, people are doing, not everywhere, but they're doing better than us. Because they have a different leadership. And we're all upset about the fact that why are we lagging behind? You got people getting $2,000 checks every two weeks, and we got a one, we still only had $1200 USD cheque that came to us, and you had to have paid your taxes and all those things. That's it. One. That's not enough. And being a part of the middle class, that's really not enough because if you are out of work, what are you gonna do?
So I think that people that go to the streets, they're angry. They're angry about George Floyd, I think the folks who also are waking up, so even people that are not out in the streets, because I want to talk about the fact that activism looks different for everyone. Being in the streets is a very able bodied ability, and also folks who might be scared to be out in the streets because of police and things like that. So that is not the only way to protest. That is not the only way to be an activist. And I think we can go into that a little bit more after this. But they're also having these candid conversations with their, with their loved ones, with their white folks or having them with their white friends, or their white family members. And they're, they're actually listening, because at this point, they too, are struggling. They too are wondering “what is next for me? I'm uncertain”. And when people start talking about Black Lives Matter, and the idea is that Black Lives should matter too, and then white folks and people who weren't hip to it before, never understood before are like yeah, just like how I'm suffering right now, and I never thought I would. So is this what it's like? I don't know.
There's a lot of layers to it that I think if we had conversations with folks who have, I know a lot of white folks who have friends or family members who have now been like, wow, this is bad. They voted for Trump before and they're not voting for him next time. Or they've had no or they weren't totally against Black Lives Matter before. But then they're like, Oh, I get it now. What is it that did that? I'm gonna say the foundation is COVID-19. Because it changed the US society, changed the way we had to interact. And it also changed the way people looked at themselves. You can't just be individual anymore, you have to think about the collective. Just because you are okay with getting sick doesn't mean that someone else won't die from getting sick, and then they will pass it. So I think that that communal, the communal restraint that we all have to have also allows us to see how when one of us or one group of us in our community is being hurt, all of us are being hurt. And I think maybe that's something to it. Might want to ask a psychologist. I have a counseling degree, but I'm not too deep on that kind of connection.
But I do think that in US society right now, we have to think about others a lot more than we usually do. And white folks have to think about others more than most people of color already do think about others. And then I also just want to add that as much as black bodies are being slain by the police, the folks that are slain by the police at the highest rate are native brothers and sisters right here. And there's not, their percentage even in the United States is already so minuscule and low, but they are being murdered at a higher rate than even black men and women. So I just wanted to add that in there too, because I live on stolen land. Right? So this is important to me. So that was a really long answer.
Hopefully that gives you some context of how I was thinking about COVID and connecting to folks. And I think about it often. I think about it a lot and how if COVID hadn't been happening, and George Floyd was still murdered, and Ahmaud Arbery was still murdered and Breonna Taylor was still murdered, and her partner at the time was arrested for gun charge and then McDade - if all these things were happening so close together, if COVID wasn't here, would we even have heard of many of them? And then would we have had, would the protests have stopped just with Minneapolis and not gone across the globe? I think that without COVID, yeah. And then also across the globe, I think COVID is also telling people to go outside because this is a global pandemic. So again, we have to think about everyone everywhere, and also that COVID is hitting African Americans very hard. And sometimes during this process they've hit us the hardest, which goes back to the economy as well. That'll suffice for now, I guess we could literally have a whole class about just COVID and how it interacts with different communities and maybe perhaps get others to see the communal lens versus an individualistic one.
Yes, thank you so much. I asked this question because there's, there's just something inside me looking at how things have been going. Even, not just in the injustices regarding the direct murders of black bodies by police, by communities that aren't doing anything about it, that aren't protesting against it or aren't saying anything about it. And now with COVID, with the pandemic, everything is amplified and everything's more effective and has more longevity. But also how corporations and corporate America, and in some ways corporate Canada, is being, I don't want to use this term in like a more professional interview, but is being “exposed”. A lot of companies I know, Bon Appetit, at least for me and a lot of my friends, we love those YouTube videos. That was a big one. But I think it was a good step. Just having employees feel emboldened to come up and tell the truth about their experience. I saw a tweet that said corporate America's biggest fear right now is that black employees will tell the truth about their experience with these companies. And I think it's very true and I think it says something. It's that fear of “canceled” or of being boycotted. But sometimes I think if people don't understand - I know my mom would tell me growing up, if you don't listen, you must feel. If you're not gonna listen to me, you're going to feel the consequences of your actions. And I feel like corporations especially, that's very true as well. If you're not gonna care enough under capitalism to do the right thing, you're gonna have to learn through experiencing economic struggle or economic downfall, what that means to care about communities, the communities that you’re selling to.
Dr. LaToya Brackett
I wanted to speak a little bit about the corporate situation. The other thing I would say is, if there was no COVID, they probably wouldn't care. Because COVID is hurting their pockets already. You see, I'm saying once again, it's where I was saying like, would people have paid as much of attention to these murders if there was no COVID? I'm not giving much credit to corporations. And I don't believe that most of this is genuine. I think that some of the corporations like Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream is one of my favorites. They've always been very consistent and being very political. They had a really dope statement that they gave out about Black Lives Matter and about the situations in America.
Target, which was looted and in, I think it was, might have been in Minneapolis, I'm not sure. I can't remember off the top my head. They came out and they were like, we got insurance. All of our communities are hurting. We're gonna try to protect our employees. I knew that Target would come out that way, because they had already done things like their toy section, they no longer do boys and girls toys. They just have toys, because they didn't want to do that binary component. And Target was being chewed out by folks from the far right about transgender rights. And a Target was like, whatever. And so I already knew some of the corporations that would be real about what they're talking about.
So one of the things is, you'll turn on an app, and it'll say, we believe Black Lives Matter. You begin to get all these emails from all these places that you're a part of saying they believe Black Lives Matter. And a lot of times it's just kind of, it's basic. And what's happening is this, is where we also need to hold them accountable is, they're not changing a lot of their policies in regards to - African Americans are, majority of their jobs are in the service industry. And during COVID they lost more of their jobs because they're in the service industry. And so where is it that you're going to give more rights to your employees?
I definitely don't want to drop a big name right here, talk about that corporation that benefited financially from COVID because more meal orders. But then the employees are always, they've been striking consistently trying to get people to hear them. And yet I don't see change to policies. I don't see those changes. It's great that some of these companies are saying we believe Black Lives Matter. But when it does die down, will they still believe that? So if you say it, show me. And the reality is in this capitalistic world that we're in, especially in the United States, there are some companies that poor people can't afford not to go to, and they will be the ones that are giving the biggest donations to Donald Trump. And that's a problem.
So we have to realize that we are captive to the economy, to this capitalist economy, to the extent that we're not even able to boycott. And that's something that also is hard for some folks to recognize. There's a privilege to be able to boycott certain companies. And I have to remind a lot of times my students when they're saying, Oh, you shouldn't buy stuff from there. And I want to be like, do you know who you're talking to directly? Do you know what their financial means are? Because you have that financial mean doesn't mean that they do, and then it's not on the individual, it is back to the system. And then we get back to the same issue that we talked about before.
But I do want to caution folks to recognize is what they're sharing a façade? Is what they're sharing, they're sharing it because they know you want to hear it? But yet again, the fact that multiple companies are doing this, is what you said, giving this boldness or respect or something to black folks to say, maybe I, maybe I can speak up. I worry about if they're still not going to be heard. And if they're still not gonna be heard when this movement subsides, they will be fired, they will be harmed. In this time, I don't think anybody's going to fire a black person at this point, that would just be a disaster in their company. But it doesn't mean that they're going to abide by whatever these new logics of our society that we hope to maintain.
So I just wanted to give a little caution to the folks looking at corporations and thinking this is dope. The corporations are thinking about the money and they're not thinking about the individuals and they're recognizing - here's the thing - black people always said Black Lives Matter. Now the world is saying it, so it's not because black people say it, which should be enough, right? Because Black Lives Matter. That's exactly what they're saying. It's because white folks or people that are more likely to have the financial means are also saying it too. And they are the ones that are able to choose not to potentially buy from those companies. So I just wanted to throw that in there.
I think there's an idea here of maintenance and the next step, and where do we go from here? Especially as a Canadian looking at American news, it seems like, I know your federal system is very different and states have a lot more individual control of what happens within their borders. But it does seem like things are opening up here and they're kind of like whack-a-mole. Next thing you know, another state pops up, opens it up, even where I am in Ontario, actually, we're starting to have relaxing restrictions and bringing things back to normal, which I have been vocal about how I don't think normal in the productivity capitalism sense is something that we should want to go back to, but that's an entirely different conversation. But bringing communities back to doing what it was they were doing pre-COVID, back to going to work, back to normal as we knew it. If and or when public interest starts to wane, do you think that any particular action or a set of actions can be undertaken to sustain public interest and support the activism that's been done, especially with that perspective that the pandemic has inspired more people who usually wouldn't engage with Black Lives Matter, who wouldn't engage with this kind of activism, because they themselves were living through the experience of being policed in similar ways that the black community is always being policed? Once that pressure stops, do they stop caring? How do we keep them caring?
Dr. LaToya Brackett
I really wish I had the answer to that one. I think it's one of those components where it's what individuals are going to be doing. One of the things, a lot of times people do when we talk about slavery, when we talked about the civil rights movement, they’re like “Oh, that's a long ago and I didn't do anything. That's not part of my story.” So, guess what? These, this month, June, May and June are a part of their story. This summer, the summer of 2020 is a part of their story. And so the next time someone wants to say something, saying, “hey, do you remember this? Do you do remember that this just happened?” I also think that I'm gonna go back to education, especially college professors and high school teachers. We can have these conversations because it just happened. That we bring in this narrative, the story and thinking about how this is gonna be looked at 20 years from now, this is going to be seen as probably the largest movement, civil rights movement and probably the world's, well, at least American history, and what are we going to do with it?
We owe it to ourselves to take this time to do something with all this work that people did. All the time, all the hours. I mean here, I'm in Washington State, and I'm in Tacoma. So I'm about 45 minutes away from Seattle, and they have the “free zone” down there and they've taken over the space and I'm just like, Wow, I didn't think this could ever happen. And I know folks that are working on organizing to defund the police down there. There's actually people defunding the police. There's actually small cities. And so we talked about states and our state's rights. It's funny because the Republican Party is all about states rights, states rights. We don't want to do federal anything. We don't want to impose anything on all the states. Every state has their own ability to do whatever they want. And at this point, our current president, who identifies as a Republican, is mad at states for using their own rights, that was a part of their platform in the first place.
So it's very interesting when they realize that once each state has their own group of folks that are like, let's do this, and their governor is like, Yeah, go ahead. Or each city is saying, hey, let's try and see if we do really need police officers to go to these calls. Do we need people to go to a call about being worried about your neighbor with a gun? That's what's happening where Atatiana Jefferson was murdered through her window by a police officer because her neighbor said, called to say I need a welfare check because my neighbor's door is ajar. And I don't know if she's okay. The cops go, they end up killing her and she was fine, because they bought a gun.
I really hope that if anything, this doesn't die down before the election time. And I don't think that we're going to have marches that are going to be as huge as they are now. But I hope that we decide that every Saturday, every Sunday, in those major cities, there is some kind of rally, some kind of march no matter what, to remind people we're still here, to remind people we're still going to vote. And in an extent of everyone not going to these marches, they're volunteering to register people to vote. They're volunteering to let people understand their new rights under whatever laws are coming down. And then in November, hopefully we elect a better option. And then I have the concern of when we do potentially elect a better option, reminding that option that we're also not okay with you being a white supremacist.
I wanted to call back to the themes of education that you have been bringing up throughout the whole interview. What role do you think that education, and particularly institutions of higher learning or post- secondary institutions - what role do these institutions have in responding to these global events, to this activist work and to the Black Lives Matter movement specifically?
Dr. LaToya Brackett
It's a requirement, especially in the US. Our demographic of students is changing, not just racially, but also economically. More lower economic students are wanting to go to college and are able to go to college. These are the folks that need to hear that you care about people, you know, and that you care about black lives, which we've talked about earlier. If you care about black lives, then you care about everybody, because we're the ones that are often harmed the most. I don't remember who it was that said it, but if you want to know the state of America, look at the black person, whatever the state is of black people is what the state is of America. So it's that kind of knowledge of your weakest link. You're only as strong as your weakest link. And so higher education needs to make sure that they own up to the reality that they too are harming black lives in multiple ways.
As someone who's an African American woman who teaches in Black Studies, who went through these education systems, I know what it means to be black and on a campus in multiple ways. I've been a student, I've been a grad student, I've been a staff person. And now I'm a faculty member. I know what it means to be black in those spaces. And I know that it's, unfortunately, there's a lot of harm there. And the harm doesn't always come from your peers. It also comes from potential faculty that are your teachers, right. But then also, as a faculty member myself, it could also be my peers as faculty members also who choose not to get, to understand what it means to be black in these spaces.
And it's unfortunate because these are places of higher education. Where is it that we, as the people that want to tell people to be critical thinkers, where that's the goal being a critical thinker. We're telling our students be critical thinkers, we're not being critical thinkers ourselves. Maybe I should take myself out of that because I am a critical thinker. No, but I'm part of the system. And so even being a part of that system, I recognize when students that have issues with the system, also therefore have issues with me. And I own that because I chose to be in the system. But I also know that when I'm in my classroom, that's my classroom. And I make that change. And I make that difference to the extent that we get emails, especially right now, we're getting letters, emails randomly, my colleagues and I, and African American Studies students are saying because of what I learned this past fall, this past spring, I am better able to understand what is going on in the world right now, in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, in regards to this very important civil rights movement. We need to make sure that they know how to engage with it, how to understand it.
And so it's not always about, we're not trying to change people's minds to have their own personal beliefs altered, but to recognize that every person is a person, and every person has the right to exist, and why that is. But also to make sure that we correct history to the students, because they've all been in a white supremacist lens of being taught. And that's very unfortunate, including our black and brown students. They too have been taught they haven't contributed anything. They too have been taught they don't have a history before colonialism. That's not the case. And so there's a lot to peel back. And as universities, I will tell you, some universities - I'm gonna speak on my alma mater here. Cornell University, their president, Pollack I believe, she sent out a letter. Most presidents are doing this, she sent out a letter and I was just like, yes, that's how a letter is done. That's how it's done. She did not skirt around the issues. She talked about what it was. She named it. She put the word black in the letter. Some presidents won't even put the word black in the letter. Hello, this is what's happening. It's nice to feel that pride about your alma mater. Even if, as a black student there, I also had a lot of issues with my alma mater, because systems don't change overnight.
And systems don't change because you wrote a letter. And this goes back to the corporations. Corporations don't change just because you have a statement of solidarity. You have to show it. So there's so many layers to that and we have a responsibility. Every university has a responsibility, because if you show that Black Lives Matter, you're showing that everybody on campus matters as well. That's how it works. We have a real responsibility. And I think a lot of universities are using this as a catalyst, unlike corporations. Universities, people who have higher up people who care, they're like, Oh, this is the moment for us. This is the moment for us to say we're going to be doing some changes. This is a moment for some organizations to make those changes.
I would say also probably nonprofits as well. They could say, in this movement, in this moment, let's make some changes, because that's more about bringing the right voices to the table making decisions that they always are making and transforming. And as our demographics transform are our campuses. So what are we doing to make sure our campus transforms to fit the folks that are coming that are black, brown, lower economic status, first gen, all those. And also even students with disabilities, not just physical, but also the ones that are inside the mind and how we adjust for that, because we should be thinking about all the ways that this movement reminds us some people are not being heard. Some people are not being seen, and we're not meeting their needs. How do we? So I actually think that a lot of universities are doing well to do this right.
You have said this in so many different ways throughout your answers in this interview, but one of the ways that you said it, I noted down. It stuck with me. You were saying that when we are better, all of America's better. And I feel like that goes for any geographic location. And I definitely feel like that in Canada, not just blackness, although that is a part of it. But when the most vulnerable, and the most ignored of society is doing better or is doing best, then that just means that everyone is doing best, right? This is a whole big topic, but I've been finding myself as a black and queer woman grappling with the parts of my identity that are privileged over others, while I still also own some very visible and invisible attributes that are often marginalized and discriminated against.
I know that I've been feeling a lot of guilt on this topic lately, namely surrounding the idea of engaging in leisure activities while there’s still activist work to be done. I've shared this story before, but my, I'm a Gemini, my birthday was June 1. And it felt really weird to me to take that time and celebrate just being born. Like that didn't make sense. But then I had to come to the decision that my right to happiness and honoring my right to joy in this life is just as important as the work that needs to be done. But it was still a complex decision. And I feel like that is a big thing for me on the topic of assessing privilege in general. Hearing of people throughout this pandemic who can't pay rent or have lost their jobs or are vulnerable in ways in which I have not experienced vulnerability.
I know that there's a lot of calls on social media and on the internet to white people and non-black POC, people of color, to do meaningful work to aid the movement. Not just posting hashtags or black squares, or what have you, but actual meaningful work. And I find that as a black woman, I don't feel particularly caught up by these posts. But I do distance myself quite a lot from activist work because I find it overwhelming for a multitude of reasons. And I've read a lot of posts that call to black people and say that our existence and our joy is resistance in and of itself. And it is a form of showing up for the movement. But I do feel as though that's not enough, at least for myself, taking all of this unnecessary background. Do you feel as though existing as a black person is enough to absolve an individual from activist work? Or does it somehow lower the amount of participation that's expected of them compared to others?
Dr. LaToya Brackett
So first, I want to say this is not unnecessary background information. And I want to start off by saying I feel you. I am cis straight black woman and those are my identities that I have. I still have oppression as a black woman, but I've been blessed during this time. And for the first couple of weeks of COVID I had to start teaching online from home. And the fact that I have internet that can have me teach online at home, and I have a computer that allows me to do that, that there's a way in which I am sad that I don't have a family or anyone that lives with me. But the reality is, in this time, not having a family at home with me allows me to do my work as much as I want, how I want. So that privilege is there. Also the some of the rulings that have come down to postpone student loan payments is a really big benefit for me in this time. And so I get it. I get what you're saying about feeling uncomfortable with that privilege. And then the uncertainty in an uncertain time, I got the job of a lifetime. That is being an assistant professor. I actually was offered that position that's continuing at the university that I'm at, and I felt guilty a little bit about getting it because I also know that there's a lot of faculty that are losing jobs.
Oh, the other thing I want to point out is, it depends on how you define activism. Because Sabrina, right now you're doing activism work and I want you to hold on to that. Because you asked a black woman from the states to come on to a podcast to talk about these issues, and however many people will listen to this gives them some insight. Whether it's them listening to me talk about how activism looks different ways, and they can then maybe sit a little bit better at the fact that they're not out in the streets. Because not everybody can go out in the streets. To say that everyone should be in the streets, it's actually once again harming another group of people, specifically those who are not able to be out there in various ways. So you could be physically unable to go out but also I have migraines. I get migraines and people who wear Cologne and perfumes and things like that, I can still smell it through the masks that I wear right now. That's a space that I can't be in.
I used to, I've done my part of being in protests. I go to some of the rallies. Maybe I stay in the back, but I won't stay for the whole time. And a lot of times my showing up is usually for the people that are in that space that have put it together, wanting to see how that works out because I give the information that is my activism work in the classroom. It's a heavy heavy lift, but also even at our university right now, as we talked about universities and their roles - we are doing some heavy lifting as the couple of black faculty on that campus to say, hey, let's really talk about this. And guess who they're going to come to?Us. Over and over and over again. We've already been doing it for years. Now it's extra.
So I want to push back on you to say, your activism doesn't have to look the way that someone has told us it's supposed to look. And actually, I started thinking about this last night, like who told us what activism is supposed to look like? I even looked up the word and activism: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political social change. It doesn't say vigorous stopping outside in front of people's buildings or anything like that. It says visit vigorous campaigning. Campaigning looks like many things, which also could be social media. The reality is, on my social media, I'm like, I've been posting about this stuff since I started. Where now what I've been seeing though, which has been really great for me, is the people who've never posted about it, posting about it, because this is their first start. And so for, I'm going to go outside the black folks right now, I'm going to go to the white folks that are actually posting stuff that never posted before. I know that they're being attacked by their own people. And I'm like, do that work. Do that work because this is their job.
Racism won't end because black people and brown people are telling you to end it. Racism will end when white people decide that it's supposed to be ended. Guess what? Because they are the ones that implement that, they're the ones that own that, they're the ones in charge of it. And so I said all of that to make sure that you knew that I appreciate your activism today. I appreciate you reaching out to a black woman that you met one time in a space talking about how invisible yet visible she is, and making me visible in this moment, making you visible in this moment. And I want you to make sure you know that this is a different type of activism. You can grapple with not being out there physically. And maybe ask yourself, who's making me think that I need to be out there physically? Versus having folks probably tell you hey, I really loved your podcast the other day when you were talking about black queer women, right? Or when you had that person on your show that was really important to me. Because it's tells them they're seen, which is also a form of activism.
Which gets back to, yes, celebrate your birthday. Because your existence is resistance. Because when you show up, people can't say they don't see you. Right? They can try not to see you. But you're there. When it comes to, do I feel that existing as black person is enough to absolve an individual from activist work? It depends. So the reality is, I have family who don't have education like I do. But guess what? They've been doing more recently, they've been waking up. They've been asking questions, they've been talking about this race stuff. And that is enough for me. Because I would rather folks that are black and brown, who are just waking up to the realities of how the system has been oppressing them all their lives to be in a safe space with folks and not to have to go up against the system right away. Because it's something you have to actually engage with pretty deeply to be confident in doing this work. I say that if you're not comfortable, confident or feeling safe to go out in the streets and protest, then that's your right. We're not, activism should not push people into spaces that they don't want to be, right.
So what spaces can you be in? And even if that means just being at the family table and saying, hey, let's talk about what happened this week. That is also a form of activism because it talks to education. It talks to making people better able to discuss race, better able to understand what really happens. Some people like might be like, Oh, I don't want to talk about that mess, I don't really care. And once you break it down for them, they're like, I do care. I just don't want to have to suffer from it. And so we also have to be careful to protect ourselves from suffering, from constantly seeing our black bodies being hurt, or murdered in front of us, and knowing that white people are watching it. And some people are watching it and liking it. That's a big deal.
So I don't think that it lowers the amount of participation expected compared to others. I think we are always participating. We can't take this off. We're always participating. The fact that we go outside with a mask on to protect our own bodies is participation. And yet it's also resistance because we know that when we wear a mask, people will see us differently and be scared of us more. So to the extent that a black person is forced to put their mask on and go in a store, and then they go inside and take a picture of a white family that doesn't have a mask on at all, or where black men are in the store, and a cop tells them that you can't wear masks in here. But the city literally said you're required to wear masks. Because we're still being policed. But our resistance is trying to save ourselves by wearing a mask, and also save others, right.
So I think my key here is understand what the definition of activism is, and find your place within that. Because I do a lot of work already being an academic in African American Studies, being a black woman in African American studies. Being a black woman that's a faculty member at a predominately white institution. Being a black woman who took 17 students to Ghana, a black space and half of them were white and half were POC. Two were nonblack POC, and having to manage those spaces for each one of those groups individually, collectively as well. That's the work that I do, and I'm tired. I'm tired.
So if I can't go to the march, then I can't go to the march. If someone wants to tell me that I should have been at the march, I would say, I recognize that that is your type of activism and I appreciate you being out there for all of us. Let me tell you about my activism. And I hope you appreciate that I do what I do, because it's not just the people in the streets that's making things change. It's all throughout because the systems are everywhere. So I hope that helps you individually Sabrina, me talking directly to you and what you're processing and recognizing what you're doing even right here in this moment. And I bet you if I asked you - maybe I should ask the person asking me all the questions a question. What kind of show is this? What kind of podcast do you do? Who do you bring on your show? Tell me that and then be able to tell me that that’s not activism. Because you are doing your part. And that’s all I got to say about that.
Thank you so much. I'm sitting and I'm processing and I thank you for your words. I really appreciate that personally. And I know that that is going to touch someone else as well, because it really resonated with me. I did want to ask you, because you talked about that example with your family and then going into saying that some people, when you explain what all of this is about, they get it. But it's hard to grasp or to grapple with or just to face being subverted under these systems. And part of that resistance is protection. And I wanted to know, how do you keep engaged with everything that's been going on? And how do you engage in this work that you've been talking about, but also protect your spirit?
Dr. LaToya Brackett
Whooo child. Because as a black woman, we tend to not really protect ourselves. We are usually the ones most people go to for help for guidance. They're asking us questions 24/7, and you have to be like, Oh gosh, do I not respond? Do I not give them this resource? And then here comes the part of, so my spirit has got to be replenished when lot of this perhaps dies down and there's a lull and the world opens back up and I can go on a vacation and I ain’t got to worry about how much it costs. So pay me. Pay black women so that we can at some point be able to have that time. Something about me that I think a lot of my friends, people that are close to me understand, is that I like to give. And this is, this is one of those catch-22. Because when I give too much, then I don't have enough time for myself. I like to give back to those, especially young folks.
So when you asked, I was like, yeah, students want to interview me, I will do this. I want to do this and also expand my voice. And this is part of my activist experience as well. And also in this moment, being able to push back on you criticizing yourself for not doing too much and reminding you that also you're a college student. So there's another component there. But I like to give and it feels good when someone says thank you. And this doesn't mean like right after I talked to them. It's like a year later. It's like, I get that email that says, I can't believe how important that class was. It's when I bumped into them a year later and they're like, I don't know why my friends don't get it. And I'm like, you know why we talked about this, right? That's been really great for me, and specifically giving to women of color that come after me. That is my goal, to make sure that their path is a little less crowded, right? That the obstacles are a little less in their way because I can tell them watch out for this. And I can tell them go this way.
But for me, I’m gonna be very honest, as a counselor, trained counselor, I don’t counsel anyone. Actually, I counsel all the time. I don't even know why I'm acting like I don't have a license to do it. I have a counselor, a black woman counselor. And I've been seeing her every two weeks right now. And I've also been made aware that in the United States at least, at least in Washington State for sure, some of the insurance companies are waiving the co-pays for counseling right now because of COVID, because of what's happening to black bodies in the police state that we're in. And so I was like, Oh, I don't have to pay that extra. Cool. Let me pocket that for when I'm gonna need it in the future. I see, I talk to my therapist on the phone at this point every two weeks. And I talk to my family as much as I can and I try to remind people that you are enough.
I've been thinking I'm grateful that in the last week, I've talked to some of the black women that are really important to me, that are my friends, like back to back to back. And I hadn't heard from them in a long time. And we just talked about things other than this - that's also a key - talking about things in our lives that are great and not having to burden ourselves with what this is. So I will definitely talk to some of my like family members that are, they were like, why did you get a degree in that? Why did you get a degree in Black Studies? That ain't gonna make any money. Now everybody wants to know about people who with a degree Black Studies, and I could talk to my family members about the issues today.
But I think the thing that I can also validate the fact that my aunt told me that her son, my cousin, didn't, he was like, I can't go down to no rally. They're gonna just, they're gonna find, they're gonna, I'm unlucky with that. And I said, he's right. And that's okay. And the fact that he knows that that's what's going to happen is a burden already on him. But it's also something he recognizes and understands. And that in itself is activism to me. Because he's also teaching his son about it. He's also teaching his daughter about it. He's also sharing that narrative and saying this is what the world is like. But then there's the burden of, if this is what the world is, like, why do I even try? And I think that's another discussion for another day.
But my spirit, I want to be real. I have a hard time not working. This is my life's work. This is something that I am passionate about, something that I will do probably till the day that I die. It's only yesterday and today I started watching some really silly movies, things from high school that that were funny to me and have no context really to the issues going on in society. And that was important to me. Obviously just chatting with my friends, making jokes. I have a lot of long meetings and I'm the one at the end talking about something trying to make people laugh. Laughing is something that's really important to me. But yeah, your spirit. It's hard when, especially if you're in the thick of trying to fight one institution or something like that. And I don't have the direct answer other than making sure you have spaces to process, you have people to process with. And that's what I usually look for. I have a good group of friends that I know if anything were to happen, they jump up and help me out.
But yeah, I don't know. It's a hard one because we know that there's a burden on black women to do this work. We also know that there is the visibility, yet invisibility of us. And the way in which a lot of times history forgets us. And we're fighting to not be forgotten. But we're also fighting for everybody to pay attention, which also means that we have to do a lot more work for them to hear us. And so we are tired. I think I’m gonna be taking a vacation at some point. I talked to one of my girlfriends the other day, and I was like, hey, let's go to Africa. Let's just go all around Africa. She's like, alright. She's from Malawi. So I was like, okay, you come and we do the Ghana thing. Then we'll go to South Africa and go to Malawi, then go to East Africa. And that's something I'm hoping to look forward to.
And then also planning to have time with a loved one, a girlfriend, someone outside of your family to say, once a year, we're going to come together. And we're going to talk about what we've done this year. That's just awesome. And we're going to congratulate ourselves and we're going to recognize that despite all the oppressions, it's like everything that's keeping us down, look at us. Like we dope. Remember that we're dope. And remember the people who came before us, that sacrificed so much for us to be here today. And honestly, that's something that is always a part of my spirit, of recognizing that I got up today and that's a big deal. I got up today, I'm going to go do my work, and it's going to be a good day. And that's part of my saving my spirit as well. It's a long-winded situation, because I'm processing as well, like you were doing earlier. I know that went long. And as I said at the beginning, like, I don't really know the answer to that one, because I too am struggling with it. And I think most black women that are aware of what's happening are struggling with that. And honestly, it also relates to the system, especially in the United States of us being able to have the health care needed to protect our bodies, our minds, our spirits. And that's another component as well. Probably nothing succinct to say listen to this part where she says that. Because I don’t have it. And I think the key is also being able to say you don't know, and I'm okay with saying that.
Thank you so much Dr. Brackett. Your answer answered all my follow ups, so it was great. And I love that tidbit on saying that you don't know, because I feel like that's also been a pervasive theme in a lot of the interviews that I've been doing - the importance of being comfortable with not knowing. Thank you so much for your time and participation in this interview and for willing to be on the podcast. A lot of what, well everything that you said has resonated with me. And I'm definitely going to be listening back to it to unpack and to process and to take different lessons as I move forward in activism and just in life. Whenever you're back at Hart House, you know, I'm gonna be front row right in the middle, watching you speak. And if I'm ever in Tacoma, I would love to sit in on one of your classes.
Dr. LaToya Brackett
Yeah! Maybe I'll invite you to one of the virtual ones this summer that I'm doing, the Capital in Captivity. I can probably invite you directly just to come into one with a discussion just so you can do that. I'm actually thinking about trying to invite my dad to one because my dad's never seen me teach. I’m sad that my mom never got to see me teach and see what I do. I can't wait to actually physically bring my dad out here. And he's going to be in the background live streaming on Facebook, like that's my daughter up there and I'm just gonna be like sit down. [laughter] And it's gonna be fun because I, I love my dad and I am not ashamed of the pride that comes from those before us of what we get to do, right. And so if he wants to be silly in the background and embarrass me, go ahead. I will take it. [laughs]
I will say that I would love to come back to Hart House. Maybe this is a plug to tell Hart House to get a couple of folks that are ready, in the institution, that's ready to talk about race a little bit more, to bring me back out, but also to bring a colleague of mine back out Dr. Ameera Nimjee, who works here at Puget Sound as well, in the music department. But she's from Toronto. I was like, you know, we have all these conversations about the differences between racism in Canada and here. And when I was at Hart House, everybody was like, so what's different here? And I couldn't always speak directly to that, but she could. But then also the component of the US experience and what, especially as black bodies me being a black body, her being Indian, right? We would have that conversation and I think a lot of people would be able to gain from that. So I'm plugging that and hopefully people will be like, Yeah! Come on! So I would love to come back. I would love to bring someone else with me to say, Hey, this is what partnership looks like. This is how critical conversations happen. This is how I learned about Canada. This is how she learns about the U.S. And this is how we can build to a better existence for individuals and ourselves.
I want to thank you again, Sabrina, for this. Thank you for the work that you are doing, the component that you are a part of. Because podcast is a whole new thing. I am like, I can't do a podcast. If someone wants to invite me on a podcast, for sure. So thank you for your generation of folks that are also doing podcasts and reaching people in different ways. Really glad to have been here. Hopefully, there's some good parts in there that everybody will enjoy to listen to and also maybe gain a little bit of strength in this moment, because we all need a little bit of strength.
So I actually have a website: https://www.latoyabrackett.com/ That is just a homepage about me personally. And I also have a consulting firm. So http://brackettperception.com/ And that's where my Perception Consulting Firm is. And you can see some of the things that I do. I have a scholarship fund in the name, in the memory of my mother, Phyllis Marie Brackett. And it goes to a young girl like me in my high school in Charlottesville, Virginia. And every year we send $1,000 to a young woman to get school. So here's the thing though - we don't send it to the university. We give it to her. We make sure that she has what she needs to transfer from high school experience to the college experience. And that is often not, that is really not covered in scholarships. It's usually here's to the school, but never to her. And so we want to make sure she has everything she needs to make that transition, especially since she's going to be African American, lower income, first generation and raised by a single parent. And that's the folks who need that transition money. So that's another plug. PMB Scholarship: http://brackettperception.com/pmbscholarship And also just reach out. I'm sure if you Google my name, you'll find me and I will respond. And I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I'm getting now, and I look forward to being able to keep my voice going in the future because people are going to still want to hear from black women. They're going to have to still hear from black women because we're doing this work.
Thank you so much to Dr. Latoya Brackett for taking the time for this interview. I really took a lot from this conversation and I'm sure that our listeners will as well. A special thank you to Day, Braeden, and Saba for your help in producing not only this episode, but also the show as a whole. Our intro and outro music was produced by Dan Driscoll. And as always, a huge thank you to you, our amazing listeners. We'd love to hear from you. You can follow us on Instagram @HartHouseStories and on Twitter @HHpodcasting. We also archive all of our episodes on soundcloud.com/harthousestories. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll be back next week with The West Meeting Room.