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8 Questions with Dr. Carol Anderson

Oct 31 2018
Photo by
Stephen Nowland/Emory University Photo Video
Photo by
Stephen Nowland/Emory University Photo Video
Harrison Barnes
Dallas Mavericks
Oct 31 2018
B

asketball is my first love, but it’s not my only one. From the small town in Iowa where I grew up, to Chapel Hill where I went to college, to the Bay Area and now to Dallas, I’ve been lucky to get to meet a wide variety of people, each with their own beliefs, dreams, habits and ways of looking at the world. Interacting with different people who have different stories sparked my curiosity about what makes people not only good at what they do, but also good, period. I am drawn to leaders who set out to make positive changes in their communities.

In that spirit, I’m going to be interviewing people I admire this season. I want to get to know them better and then share our conversations here.

My latest interview is with Dr. Carol Anderson, professor of African American Studies at Emory University, author and all-around interesting person.


Harrison Barnes

Big fan of your work, Dr. Anderson. I actually just read your latest book, One Person, No Vote.

Carol Anderson

Thank you for reaching out, I really appreciate it.

Harrison        

I wanted to go back to your first book, White Rage, which came out in 2016. It started off as an op-ed you wrote about Ferguson for the Washington Post. Can you talk a little bit about how it came together?

Carol

I was at home, and I’m watching the news, and I’m shaking my head because the pundits had it all wrong … and it didn’t matter whether it was MSNBC, CNN, or FOX — they were all talking about “black rage” and “look at all of these black people burning up where they live.” And underneath that was the subtext of black society. And I’m going, Y’all don’t even understand. This is white rage. And that’s when I just started writing. It became the op-ed, where I put it in historical context. We’re always so focused on the flare-ups, on the flames, on the violence, that we miss the real violence in this society. I also wanted to make clear that we have been using the criminalization of blackness for a long time. That chapter on Michael Brown broke my heart.

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Photo

Harrison

It was a tough read.

Carol

Phew. A tough read. Because how many times have we heard that narrative, you know, Black people just don’t care about education. Or, You know, the problem isn’t the schools, it’s that black parents don’t care about schools and black kids don’t care about schools. And so a lot of this work was bringing up the historical facts so that we can begin to dismantle those lies. And so of course there was the civil rights movement, the war on drugs, and then the election of Barack Obama, where some folks lost their minds. Ha ha.

Harrison

Ha ha, yeah, they definitely did.

Carol

I mean, they lost their minds so much they voted for Trump. He’s everything that Obama is not. But that’s what they wanted. They wanted someone who could give them pure uncut white supremacy — talking about the Birther movement, questioning Obama’s birthright citizenship, questioning, suggesting that “Mexicans are rapists.”

Harrison

Four years have passed since Ferguson. What lessons do you think there are from that situation?

Carol

To me, policing hasn’t gotten any better. We still have unarmed black people just being gunned down in their grandma’s backyard, or you know, sitting in their car. What has happened is awareness and mobilization — organizing that is happening among the people. So you’ve got what looks like this separation. On one hand you have incredible grassroots mobilization. And on the other hand you’ve got calcification and reaction happening in the upper echelons of society and in the policy realm. That’s why this midterm election is so important. It is going to signal where we’re headed as a nation — whether we’re going to see the culmination of the vision of the grassroots, or whether we’re going to see the domination of that kind of reactionary vision of the policymakers in the Trump regime.

Harrison

That’s actually a good transition to my next question, which is about your new book, One Person, No Vote. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy from your publisher. Very well-written. I wanted to ask: Why did you write it now, and where do voting rights fit into the bigger conversation about where you said equality in America was?

Carol

I wrote it now because when I was out giving talks on White Rage, I would get to that chapter on how to un-elect a black president, and I’d start talking about voter suppression, I’d get a question from the audience saying something like, “I don’t understand. Everybody’s got an ID. How hard is it?” And that is one of the ways that this really pernicious law works — by looking very reasonable. Once I started explaining that only certain types of government-issued photo IDs are valid. And people start going, “Wait, what?” Because they can’t believe that the government would do this. So I set out to really lay out how the right to vote was under a full frontal assault.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Harrison

I like the example that you use in there, where you pointed out the Catch-22: You need to show a birth certificate in order to get a driver’s license to vote, but in order to get a birth certificate you needed a valid driver’s license.

Carol

Absolutely. I mean, you come out of North Carolina, right? North Carolina is ground zero for voter suppression. The stuff they’re pulling right now, with these constitutional amendments that they’ve got on the ballot.

Harrison

I agree. I talked to Dr. Harry Edwards a few months ago, and he’s close to Colin Kaepernick. In my interview with him, he said, “There has never been a protest by an oppressed minority in American society when mainstream America has stood up and said, ‘Amen, we agree with that protest.'” What do you think about the role of peaceful protest in American history?

Carol

I go with Frederick Douglass: “Power has never conceded anything without a demand. It never has and it never will.” I love that. Fredrick Douglas wasn’t playing! I think one of the things we misunderstand in the Civil Rights Movement, for instance, is that we hear “nonviolent protest” and we think peaceful. But these folks were trained warriors. They knew that it had been the shroud of legality that hid the evils of Jim Crow from the bulk of society. That this all looked normal, so they had to destabilize that narrative of “normal.” That required revealing the brutality of Jim Crow. That’s why you had folks sitting in their Sunday best at the lunch counter getting the crap beat out of them.

I’m trying to think about when there has been a peaceful protest, because the sheer act of protesting destabilizes the quiet complicity that, Everything is fine. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos put their fists up in the 1968 Olympics, that was peaceful, quote unquote, but Lord, everybody heard it. Colin Kaepernick kneeling. Damn. White folks lost their mind. Did they not? Right? I mean, who burns Nikes? He’s just supposed to get out there and throw the damn ball. But Colin knows when he steps off of that field, he’s no longer Colin Kaepernick. He knows he’s a black man in America and he knows he has a target on him.

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Harrison

So let’s talk about academics for a second. You’re a professor of American Studies at Emory University. What do you teach?

Carol

I teach courses on war crimes and genocide, the civil rights movement, 20th century African-American history, the Cold War, and one about American human rights policy.

Harrison

Do you think today’s young people face tougher challenges than generations in the past? And vice versa, what ways do they have some things figured out and past generations didn’t?

Carol

I think that every generation has its hill to climb or its mountain to climb. I mean, think about it, my grandfather was enslaved. That’s one damn hell of a hill, right? My father came through Jim Crow. My uncle almost got lynched. And I came through the era where it was towards the end of the civil rights movement. I think for this generation it is a combination of being so connected via social media, and so isolated in other ways. And where, prior to this regime, the racism was so hidden. So that’s really hard to figure out.

Harrison

I know we’re getting towards the end here. So this is my final question. You touched on this a little bit, but as a historian, what worries you most about where the country is today and what gives you hope?

Carol

What worries me the most is that we have based a lot of our policies on myths and not facts. Myth: Black men don’t care about their kids and they just abandon their kids. Fact: CDC reports that black men spend more quality time with their children, regardless of the relationship with the mother, than men of other races or ethnicities. We’ve got more and more people who are in their echo-chamber bubbles and are living in myths and not facts. And so then dangerous, destructive things can happen there.

My hope is the kind of energy we are seeing at the grassroots level. And that people see the venality, the meanness, the crudeness, the hatred, the racism, the xenophobia of this regime and they don’t want any part of it. And they don’t want any part of it in terms of not going, “I’m done.” But in terms of, “O.K., what can I do to help change this.” That’s where my hope is.

We’ve got more and more people who are in their echo-chamber bubbles and are living in myths and not facts.

Harrison

I love it. I love your optimism.

Carol

Thank you so much Harrison. You know,I created a class when I was at Mizzou called, The Black Athlete in American Society. And I created it for athletes first and foremost.

Harrison

One of these days I’ll have to take it online!

Carol

I don’t have it online yet!

Harrison

See, but by the time it gets online, I’ll have more time to do it, so that’ll be perfect.

Carol

Perfect. Thank you so much and have a great season.

Harrison Barnes
Dallas Mavericks