Celebrating 10 years and 500 episodes
Damien M. Sojoyner is an Urban Anthropologist with a diasporic framework at the University of California, Irvine. He teaches graduate courses in Black Political Theory, Prisons in the United States, and Black Ethnography in the Anthropological Imagination. He teaches undergraduate courses on Prisons and Public Education and Urban Ethnography in the United States. He has published one book entitled First Strike: Educational Enclosures of Black Los Angeles (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), and numerous journal articles for publications including the Berkeley Review of Education, Black California Dreamin', Transforming Anthropology, and Race, Ethnicity and Education.
Dr. Sabina Vaught is a Professor and Inaugural Chair of the new Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leading. Dr. Vaught was most recently at The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, where she was a scholar-in-residence working on two major book projects. Prior, she was chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, where she collaborated to establish the Indigenous Education focus, found the Carceral Studies Consortium, and build the Women and Girls Across Gender Initiative. Before her time at OU, Dr. Vaught was a faculty member at Tufts University, where she served as Director of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Africana Studies, and Educational Studies, and Chair of the Department of Education. She was also Co-Chair of the board for a nine-university consortium housed at MIT: the Consortium for Graduate Studies in Gender, Culture, Women, and Sexuality.
Dr. Vaught’s research considers carcerality and liberatory knowledge movements broadly and the race-gender labor and conquest relationships among schools, prisons, and insurgent communities specifically. In her scholarly work, Dr. Vaught draws on a constellation of knowledge traditions that help make sense of insurgent and counterinsurgent movements: feminisms, the Black radical tradition, Indigenous studies, and legal studies/Critical Race Theory.
Listen to Damien M. Sojoyner and Dr. Sabina Vaught's lecture at chapman.edu/wilkinson.
Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on the Significance of Race is a ten-part podcast series of informed and enriching dialogues to help us better understand our world – how we got here, who we are, and where we are going as a society. This series engages in conversations with scholars, artists, filmmakers, and activists to investigate racial inequality, systemic racism, racial terrorism, and racial justice and reconciliation. Through education, art, and storytelling, we can all learn to be allies and engage the world to help evolve to a place of compassion and social equity.
Guest: Damien M. Sojoyner and Dr. Sabina Vaught
Host: Jon-Barrett Ingels
Produced by Public Podcasting in partnership with Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University.
[00:00:03] Dr. Damien Sojoyner: You would literally have to make class. I think it’s important to draw this distinction which is that in the south, there was poor and then there was wealthy. There was pretty much no in-between for anybody for White or Black. The masses of White people in the US south were in dirt poverty so how do you make class right? Well, education is one of those ways in which-- how class is-- education as we know it right now.
[00:00:33] Dr. Sabina Vaught: The threat is the political, intellectual organizing of young Black people on the West Coast and that's where you see the influx of school resource officers, and then they become sort of a normal part of a structure that's already there to make them seem reasonable and even necessary.
[00:00:53] Host: Chapman University's Wilkinson College of Arts, humanities, and social sciences and Heritage Future present, Engaging the World. Leading the conversation on the significance of race. A 10-part podcast series exploring racial inequality, racial terrorism, and racial justice and reconciliation while honoring the voices and stories of people of color. We take into account the complicated history of our country and humanity in general while examining where we are today and looking at the challenges that lay ahead through art, storytelling, and education we can all learn to be allies and engage the world to help evolve to a place of compassion and social equity.
In this episode, we connect with Dr. Damien Sojoyner, Professor of Urban Anthropology at UCI Irvine and Dr. Sabina Vaught chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leading at the University of Pittsburgh to discuss the history of public education, historic Black colleges and universities, the carceral state, sovereign systems of education, and unwinding theories of the school-to-prison pipeline. Here is Dr. Damien Sojoyner.
[00:02:08] Dr. Damien: Public education, the first call for public education that is, occurs during reconstruction when the formally enslaved made demands upon this new state government during reconstruction to use property tax dollars that were going to be extracted from the former plantation block and ordered to found public schools. There had been schools that were in existence before but their existence was for a very small slice of the population being land-owning White males. This call for public education was going to be a radical redistribution of knowledge and resources to all people within what was being reconfigured as United States at the close of the Civil War.
Northern industrial and financiers really didn't want that type of education format to unfold in large part because alongside with this demand for public education, was also a demand for land at the same time. The former enslaved their whole idea of reconstruction was that "We were going to get schools and we were going to get land and we will be left alone. We have endured the horrors of slavery so now please just give us what is owed to us at the bare minimum and then allow us to go on."
The reason why this came in direct conflict with the goals of the northern financiers and industrial class was that their vision of the US south was to be fully incorporated into this imperialist United States expansion program which meant that it was the development primarily of a waged labor system, moving away from a plantation economy to a waged labor economic system, incorporating the southern economy into that system. Thus, we have both schools and prisons becoming very important to that project.
You have the establishment of Black education which is founded by people such as Rockefeller, Peabody, Andrew Carnegie as well who began to pump in millions upon millions of dollars to the tune of over a billion dollars by the turn of the 20th century in order to found schools primarily educating Black people. You would literally have to make class. I think it's important to draw this distinction which is that in the south, there was poor and then there was wealthy. There was pretty much no in-between for anybody for White or Black.
The masses of White people in the US south were in dirt poverty so how do you make class right? Well, education is one of those ways in which-- how class is-- education as we know it right now. What took place was that there was a support of the abolition movement by this northern industrial class but without an economic component. It was more or less clearly a political endorsement of the notion that Black people should be free. Not necessarily free to choose with how they go about their life but free to participate in the civil process of the United States.
What happened was they completely circumvented the federal government, and through philanthropic means established Black education almost like completely by themselves without any government intervention. What took place was that these schools which originally were thought of-- that we think of right now as being of bastions of Black education were training grounds. There's a particular purpose in mind which is that they have to literally make a Black lower middle-class class which doesn't exist at all. That's on one hand right but secondly, is that it's kept in mind to discipline White labor because White labor is not on board with this idea of a free wage labor system at all.
White labor by and large still is beholden to a plantation model. The idea of success for White laborers during this time is that "I'm going to somehow someway figure out how to get my own plantation and then get my own slaves and build up myself through that way." That was virtually impossible because of all the wealth that's being tied up. What happened was that within roughly a 15-year period, where you have a massive amount of money that's being poured into the system, White laborers see that there's now the creation literally by what efforts in this creation of a Black working lower middle-class strata within the US south now who has money through this free wage economy because they're becoming workers.
Now they're demanding upon state representatives to have access to that same type of education. Booker T. Washington in 1913, within two years of his death laments the fact that all the promises that were made to him about the grand vision of building up this industrial model of education is now being slashed and burned. Much of that money that was going to Black education is being transferred now into the buildup of White education. Then that's when you get your large state colleges for example.
Now all these state schools that have behind it agriculture and mechanics whatever, like Texas A&M, North Carolina A&M all these state schools which are built upon an industrial model this is like the beginning of that. Much of that philanthropic money that goes into Black education which at the turn of the 20th century was a billion dollars at that time period. A billion dollars in money so I don't know what the translation is with inflation, but I'm sure it's something crazy like a trillion dollars whatever, was then pretty much transitioned over to the state and the states adopted that model by 1915-1916.
The states are full on board into building up the south in order to make class. Then you just get it rolling at that point. I bet these schools are just part of the ideological manifestations that people now have a desire to go to school, to get a job. Literally, it's a nation-making enterprise through education. Someone like Rockefeller at the same time that he is putting money forward to form Morehouse and Spellman, which are-- Morehouse is an all-Black male institute. Spellman is an all-Black women institute.
He also founds the University of Chicago which is a only-White male university with the explicit purpose of funneling White men through the University of Chicago to then become the financiers on Wall Street. You can see through Rockefeller’s intervention the making of class. I mean when you look at education, it is very clear on what the intent and what the objective is for the time period. Importantly, it's also clear that it was a way to block the original call for education, and what the intent for education which is tied directly to land at the same time, which is then tied to particular forms of freedom.
[00:09:22] Host: Dr. Sabina Vaught takes us to 1954 to examine the aftermath of the case Brown versus the Board of Education.
[00:09:31] Dr. Sabina: The family, Linda Brown's family, participated in this particular legal action not because her parents were dissatisfied with the quality of the curriculum or the pedagogy. In fact, they were very happy with her schooling the issue for them was really one of-- primarily one of safety. She had to walk a significant distance to get to her school through some dangerous crossings, and there was a school nearby that seemed much easier and safer to get to and of course that was a White school. That's the very reductive story, very elementary story of Brown v Board.
What we have though happen is this conversion that follows this thread of the purpose of desegregating schools, not being about access to resources and access to choice or self-determination, but really to access to White people. You've heard this famous doll study in the Kenneth and Mamie Clark Study and it's been replicated. What's interesting is that in order to tap into this idea that in fact desegregation was about giving Black children access to White children and White teachers and White things, only part of the data that came out of that study were shared.
It was indeed the case that Black children in the north or in cities tended to identify the White doll when the questions were asked about which is prettier, which one do you want to be like, who do you want to be friends with? In fact, those children who took the test and lived in all-Black communities where they weren't forced to interact with White systems or people on a regular basis, overwhelmingly chose the Black doll. That piece was left off and there's this then shifting of the purpose and the history a revisionist project through Brown v. Board.
What we see then happen in the 10 years post Brown 1 in the 16 southern states you have nearly 42,000 Black teachers lose their jobs, and lose jobs permanently so this is not losing a job at one school and getting a job at another district. This is a complete loss of employment in the education sector. 832 Black principals lost their jobs. You have in a decade post this perpetuation of the logic that this is about education is an assimilation project and it's about an assimilation with access to Whiteness and insubordination.
You have the evisceration of a generational and across families and communities, labor force. Many people as we know consequently moved west. Once that became clear that that was the trend, then people moved west in hopes of finding among other things educational employment.
[00:13:08] Dr. Damien: Right. I think one of the ironies is that as this movement of Black people from states such as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama to [unintelligible 00:13:18] Mississippi moved to the West Coast. This hope is met with intense surveillance of Black youth. The very black youth supposedly who were to be benefiting from this new founded education model set forth by Brown versus Board, now in fact are met by a multi-layered surveillance state operation.
[00:13:44] Host: Dr. Sojoyner explores the rise of policing in schools in Los Angeles in particular has a direct response to the organizing of Black youth looking to protect themselves, their rights and their freedoms.
[00:13:58] Dr. Sojoyner: When Black people are moving, they're forced moving to California and Los Angeles in particular they're forced to live into very particular areas of the city. There are housing covenants which are in place which say that Black people can only live in certain places. In addition to there are several White terror groups such as the spook hunters who go around and literally terrorizing Black communities. Whether that be through fire-bombing fights, White parents will show up at schools and try to intimidate Black youth as well.
These Black southerners are not unfamiliar with this form of violence that they encounter once they get to California. They rely upon the same strategies that had worked and existed in the south which is that they organize themselves as a way to counter these many forms of violence. The Gladiators, the Slausons, the Businessmen, these are all organizations that form as a way to counter much of the violence that is coming their way. There's a meeting of an organization called the Wealth Welfare Planning Council which is a conglomeration of private business owners, religious affiliations and public elected officials.
They decide that one of the biggest problems is the organizing of Black youth. They call them negro hate groups. What they say that these negro hate groups are doing is because they're forming in these ways and they're fostering hate they're not integrating into Los Angeles in a way that's deemed to be healthy. As a way to help with this organization of integration, the social welfare state under the social workers are then placed strategically into certain locations, into housing projects, into parks as a way to try to block the organizing of Black youth. Leading up to the 1965 Watts Rebellion you have all of organizing that is going on with this Los Angeles and the Gladiators.
One of the other key places where this is taking place is within schools. 1965 happens and what the LAPD doesn't know and many of the city officials don't know, is that schools are one of the primary targets of organizing, so literally there's a wonderful book by Gerald Horn which is called Fire This Time. He literally maps out where each of these organizations such as the Slausons, the Gladiators [unintelligible 00:16:39]city where they're organizing from, which schools, from Washington, from manual arts, from Fremont, from Jefferson. They're pulling from all of these schools and organizing.
Well by 1965 the LAPD now is like, "Oh shoot, we are way behind what is going on here?" I bring that up because in 1967, there is this famous incident that takes place. There's a football game between Crenshaw and Jefferson High Schools. There's a fight that breaks out at the game. It's almost like the LAPD is waiting for something to happen. The response by the LAPD is to mass in, I mean en mass like they just descend upon Jefferson High School and they don't leave. It's hundreds of police officers. The students immediately go on strike. The students say, "We are not going back to school until all of these police officers leave."
There's a deal that's brokered between the parents, the school district and the police. Which is to say, "All right, we'll take off the boots on the ground police, we'll move them out of the area but what we're going to do is actually put police in the classrooms." There's a model program called Police and Governance which is started at Crenshaw and Jefferson High Schools and then expands to five other Black high schools in the area in which LAPD police officers are teaching. Literally, they are teaching, so they're not there as the physical presence of law and order as we commonly think of.
That role actually is already in existence because the LA Unified School District already had a police department that was already in existence. This is another layer of policing that takes place that is primarily a tool of teaching. They are asking all of these questions, it's a surveillance tactic. In addition to getting your name, information, all that stuff they say, "Have you had anybody in your family that was ever arrested, did you participate in 1965 Watts Rebellion? Did you have any members of family that participated? Were they arrested? Have you ever been arrested for doing X, Y, and Z?"
They take all this information down and then as they're teaching, they're teaching it as a social studies curriculum. They for example, they go over the Bill of Rights and they say, "This is what the Bill of Rights says." For example, the rights assembly. You have the right to assembly but this is actually what the right to assembly means for you. They emphasize in there peacefully. Now it may be peacefully but we as the police can intervene at any moment. They go over it step by step by step and point by point to emphasize that these are what the constitutionally supposedly is in place but this is what it really means for you.
Question that Sabina and I have been wrestling with is, what if we rethink of this relationship between schools and prisons as instead of schools funneling students into prisons, that the technologies of carcerality that we associate with prison were in fact already in place in schools. In some way, schools are going to inform how prisons should operate because of how this warehousing capacity then begins to take place.
[00:19:46] Host: It wasn't long before police presence became normalized in schools. Resource officers as they became known.
[00:19:53] Dr. Sabina: Damien talked about the mid moving to late ‘60s in the late ‘60s SNCC, Black Panther Party, other groups without actual explicit coordination, but I think with shared awareness, moved into public schools from San Diego to Bellingham, very clear about looking at the West Coast. They moved into schools, middle schools, and high schools to support the development, creation, and growing of Black student unions or Black student organizations. That's actually when although we have this long history of schooling being designed really by militaristic practices and ideologies.
We, of course, have the very common sense presence of policing, whether in actual police teaching their courses, et cetera, or the LA school district having its own police force. Or even in the ‘50s in Detroit, Chicago, there were what might be called school resource officers, we really see this explode on the West Coast in this late ‘60s, early ‘70s period. It's the influx and normalization of school resource officers or school police officers. It's in response, not to what this current narrative is, is that school resource officers are present today as a response to mass shootings in schools such as Columbine, but in fact, their growth or explosion occurred in response to young Black people organizing politically.
You have all of these pieces in place, and I think it would serve us to remind that maternalism never ended, it ended as a formal political movement, but it infiltrated and deeply structured teacher preparation programs that we have now, a teaching force at this time, that is majority White and female, and trained to think of themselves as better mothers, as mothering. We have models of schooling, whether it's the actual school itself, or within school tracking, that the appropriate education for Black and native children is vocational or domestic, to be in service of.
As Damien said, that shifts at this point, there's this threat, and the threat is not violence, the threat is not in violence as it's dominantly constructed. The threat is not any behavioral concern. The threat is the political intellectual organizing of young Black people on the West Coast. That's where you see the influx of school resource officers. Then they become a normal part of the structure that's already there to make them seem reasonable and even necessary. The influx of formal or uniformed, or identifiable, or trained police officers across any of these contexts, is in some ways a problem and in some ways a distraction, because policing itself is structured into maternalism.
When we think about what's a young child's first encounter with law enforcement in school, and this comes back to disrupting this notion of the school-to-prison pipeline, but if we're thinking about carceral practices in classrooms that first encounter, that first line of law enforcement is the teacher, the teacher's aide. That's who calls the SRO, that's who holds the kids still because, at five, they can't sit still for two hours on their reading rug. That's who's initiating policing. When we think about these various movements and trends, we're really wanting to suggest that they create a network of both common sense and literal labor structures that allow for control and enforcement to come from every direction.
Removing the SRO, which is a current push, does little to address policing in classrooms and schools, and districts. Often it removes the one or one of a handful of adults who are Black or native or Latina in that school building. It's reducing to a particular role a problem and removing that person rather than attending to the issue.
[00:24:49] Host: In search of solutions Dr. Vaught and Dr. Sojoyner remind us that solutions have already been in place. Sovereign systems of education have been established in communities across the world.
[00:25:02] Dr. Sabina: The attention keeps being how to change class or how to change schools, but there have been self-determined sovereign autonomous economies, like the Cora Islands, for instance. It's not that an economy either has to work at the broad level for everyone and be imposed and regulated, or it has to be fixed, but rather that there are examples from the inception of what we call the United States of these sovereign or self-determined economies. The same is true for schooling, and I think that's the story.
It's a complicated, messy story because these things are complicated and messy, but I think the point being to not keep focusing on the singularly you have to focus, of course, on the stakes, so many people are being affected, but also focusing on those examples over centuries of how people have constructed and generated sovereign economies and educational institutions.
[00:26:10] Dr. Damien: Yes. For example, there's a school here in LA, called the Marcus Garvey School, which is a part of that tradition that Russel Reff talks about and we are an African people, which is that Black people recognize that the school system is fundamentally flawed in ways that after years and decades of agitation, there's no change, there's no response. The moment that Black people try to engage with city structures, with state structures, with township structures, to try to actually form education within the construct that they think is best fit for their community, not only does it not happen, but usually, the exact opposite thing takes place.
Then, as a result, they're like, "Fine, we're just going to start our own school. That's not a problem at all.” That happens. There's the Marcus Garvey School, which is here in LA, usually they have some tuition structure that's in place, or it may be affiliated with the church, or maybe affiliated with some other group, which gets money somehow some way. That's where Sabina is saying, it's very complicated. It's nuanced. There is no singular path. There's different ideological tenets the schools. There's not one model, there's probably 100 different models, but importantly, and then this is where the question of abolition gets real sticky with regards to education, is in many ways, there is a solution that's already been developed to education.
When people say, "Oh, we have to abolish schools." Yes, that's been done to a certain extent. By communities within the Black community, there's several 100 different models of that same thing within indigenous communities as well. There's models they've been like, "All right, cool. We're just not going to mess with that. We're going to do something else altogether."
[00:28:06] Dr. Sabina: I think one thing that Damien and I have observed with people in conversation, is that there is no uniform model that these, as Damian said, should be very local, and they're global. These are anti-colonial self-determination efforts everywhere, and they do have something in common when they are actually able to be self-determined, and that is that they're collective and that they're local. It's not one person's idea, even if it's one person, "from a community," and it's not part of some widespread platform, but really drawing from what does knowledge mean in a local context? How do we relate to one another as knowers to knowledge as a subject?
All of those things are hyperlocal. That is one of the things we've observed that they do have in common, which means, we should not answer the question like, well, what does a sovereign school look like? It looks local and collective for sure.
[00:29:34] Dr. Damien: I think one of the fears, too, that people have, so if I were to provide that answer to say, let's say it was an education conference of some sort, where there’s policymakers in the audience. When I ask a question like, "Well, what did we do?" My response is "Well, we need to transfer this money that's going to public education, and transfer that actually to these other programs that are already in place these other schools." You will get completely dismissed off the stage. They will be like, "What are you talking about? It's not going to work."
It's just thought of as just being at this point being impossible. That's the impossible reality. People don't know how to govern money, whatever, whatever. They will come up with 1001 reasons as to why not to do that.
[00:30:18] Host: If you'd like to continue the conversation, visit chapman.edu/wilkinson to hear the full lecture with Dr. Sojoyner and Dr. Vaught. For more socially conscious content, visit publicpodcasting.org or follow us at Apple, Spotify, or wherever you podcast.
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