Buffy Satchwell: So in our last interview you spoke a bit about combining youracademic interests with your activism and I was wondering how you see that happening today at Kalamazoo College or if you see that happening.
Lisa Brock: Well, yes, the idea of being a scholar-activist, it is a kind offrame, a paradigm that a lot of people have crafted for themselves both historically and today. I mean W.E.B Du Bois is probably African America's most famous scholar-activist. The idea of using your intellectual gravitas or your intellectual understanding towards changing the world as well as actually getting out there with your body to change the world as well. So I think here in at Kalamazoo College--the Arcus Center--my role as the academic director is to foster that kind of understanding, to think about why we do what we do, and if 00:01:00we would like to do that in the direction of social justice and social change. There's so many problems in our country and in our world, the idea that you would craft a life without making a contribution to relieving some of the injustice and alieving some of the injustice in our world seems, in some ways, like a waste [laughs] to me. That's my personal view and so the more people that we can get involved in that the better. I think that the Praxus Center or Praxis Center that we crafted at the Arcus Center is definitely the brain child of that idea of scholar, activist, artist, all working in a way that they cross those areas of each other in some ways that help illuminate directions for social justice. I think clearly we are producing more young people here at K who are 00:02:00thinking in that direction so...
BS: Could you speak about a specific like moment when an action taken by astudent or by you in conjunction with a student like surrounded an issue of like racial justice or anything like that?
LB: Here on campus or more broadly?
BS: In Kalamazoo.
LB: In Kalamazoo. Well, there's been a couple of very illuminating times andvery often--I mean one of the things about being an educator is, you know, there's a difference between preaching and teaching. And I think with students their education is very important and it's also delicate project I think in that you can't force students to do anything and you shouldn't. That's not the socially just way. You try to open up pathways and open up ideas and open up spaces for them to discover things themselves. And so one of the times when this 00:03:00actually happened was when we brought--the Arcus Center--brought Guillermo Gomez Pea in conjunction with the theater department in the fall of 2012. And while he was here Latino Chicano students had been meeting to think about what it meant to be on this campus as a person of color. And we created a space for a time, a whole day for GGP to actually meet with those students. So we created that space not knowing exactly what would happen but the ideas that these students were struggling with their place on campus. One of the sayings that that they kept saying is that "We came here to learn and we're realizing that we've been brought here to be white people's diversity." And they did not feel that they were being heard or the curriculum didn't reflect them and that they were not being attended to in a way that would help them grow and learn, but in 00:04:00fact they were here as kind of ornamentation. I mean these were things that students said to me. Especially one student who was very interested in Spanish and did not feel that the Spanish department had the ability to teach native Spanish speakers or heritage Spanish speakers, but usually taught people who didn't speak Spanish and those are two different pedagogies. So they were running into these different kinds of things. So we created the space for them to meet Guillermo Gomez Pea and what resulted was an action that night at--the next night at his performance in 2012 where after his performance he yielded the stage to the students who demanded a Chicano studies, demanded to be heard, demanded to be here not just for diversity. That's the college's project, not why they come to school. [laughs] They come to school like everybody else does. And so that was a time when we created space for students to begin to think and 00:05:00develop. And, of course, what came out of that that began the discussions that ultimately led to a critical ethnic studies major on this campus. So what we try to do at the Arcus Center, as both educators and social justice leadership trainers, is we try to encourage people to think about their own power, their own space, what they can do, how they can organize. We can help them understanding organizing strategies but we-- we're not going to organize for them and--But when they do decide to organize we generally support them especially if it's coming out of a place of social justice. So that's, that's one time. I was also asked right when I first got here by a group of students who were largely Caribbean students from Jamaica and African students to talk about race on campus and so we together came up with a series of--We ended up doing two long day workshops called Let's Talk About Race, Baby and Let's Talk 00:06:00about Race, Baby Two which came out of the Salt-N-Pepa song from the early Nineties which was "Let's Talk About Sex, Baby" but it was actually a talk about HIV Aids and talking about sex as a way to deal with and, and reveal the issues of HIV Aids. So it was one of those hip-hop rap songs that was very catchy, but was talking about something serious and so we used that term to talk about race. So that was another time when we brought -- I think it was about 90 students at that very first discussion in the spring of 2011 and we just continue to do it. I think, unlike some spaces on many campuses, we encourage students to find their power. [laughs] We encourage them to. And also intellectually I've 00:07:00actually supervised SIPs that are dealing with the history of social justice activists so those are some times on campus.
BS: So with everything going on right now in the country, the Black Lives Mattermovement for instance, we were wondering how you see connections or dissonances between the activism going on now and what was happening during the Civil Rights movement or the Black Power movement.
LB: Mm-hmm or the Anti-Apartheid movement, yeah. Well, there's, there's a lot ofsimilarities. It's the youth. [laughs] I'm, I'm in my late 50s now and I think back. I think I was as you know I was an activist from a very young age and really I think hit my stride when I was in college. I mean in terms of making decisions of where I wanted my life to go and where I wanted to be in that life. 00:08:00And so I think that there's a lot of connections. This--it's youth led. It's a lot of women which was similar in all movements but there's some also, some differences. One is young people today have seen both the successes and the problems with the previous movement, the Civil Rights movement, and they don't want to make the same mistakes. That is winning some things but having your demands get tailored to fit the power structure. And so they're less willing to negotiate on certain things, less willing to be told that their way of struggle is wrong. They're also challenging assumptions that were very present in previous black movements as well as the Anti-Apartheid movement, and that is the issue of sexism and homophobia. It was a huge thing if you think about these previous movements for young and old black people to work together that was a 00:09:00difficult challenge but it, it happened without--with some tensions. And also black and white. That happened but with some tensions. This period post gay rights era, post women's rights era, the young people today are not going to tolerate those, those problems those power issues within the movement because they definitely existed within the movements that we were all in. I don't know how, I don't know how many times I could tell you that I would be organizing something and the male that I was working with would come in and take all the credit. Or situations of young--'cause these are young people too--so young men kind f sleeping their way through the movement sort of with abandon. And those kinds of things are not going to be challenged, or you have gay and lesbian 00:10:00people who, while their skills and talents were used in those movements, like Bayard Rustin, who helped organize the March on Washington, was unable to really speak because he was gay. And they thought--and it's interesting, while homophobia within the movement was a problem, it wasn't just that. It was that there was a belief that the white male power structure would not listen, would not be moved, by a gay person or a woman person. And so, therefore, men in these movements thought that they were the ones that had to have the public platform. And so I think this new movement--they're clearly doing something that we didn't always do and that is working and attempting to transform the movement as you move. So the process of making a movement is as important as the goal. And that is something that I don't think was quite there in the past. And, so I think 00:11:00that's a big difference and I think it's very much needed and it's very refreshing. And they're not gonna abide by the frames. So you hear this situation where "oh, well they shouldn't have, if they riot that undermines everything." Well, their position is black anger is real. Let's come to grips with it. People are tired and these things happen out of a natural response. The fact that they happen over time and the analysis is not that it's a riot but an uprising. This is what an uprising looks like, right? So they're trying to change the frame as they change the entire structure in a way that I think African Americans in the past couldn't do. You know, we wore suits to demonstrations and all of that, in hope that we would convince the power structure that we were as good as them. But as Fanon says that being as good as a racist is not really all that great. So new paradigms, new frames, new 00:12:00thinking, new forms of inclusion are all part of this movement that I did not see in the past. Even though those movements did a lot of good work, but this movement is different in those ways.
BS: So you've mentioned how the movement has kind of changed since the CivilRights Movement. Could you-- But what ways do you think that American society overall has like, changed since the Civil Rights Movement?
LB: Yeah. Well, there's clearly, you know, we've definitely come so far in termsof I probably wouldn't be in this job had not there been a Civil Rights Movement. There would not be a black president had not there been a Civil Rights Movement. But the question remains what does that mean and does that matter in the terms of the way in which racism continues in our society today? It's so 00:13:00interesting, my colleague Mia Henry pointed out something to me that I had not thought about. There was a group -- I signed a letter of black professors. It was called "A Love Letter to Black Students Today" and it was started by professors at Michigan State. And by the end of the weeks that it was out there, there were hundreds of black professors who had signed this letter. And when I looked at it, I looked at it to say "wow, this is how many people support these students," right, this is really great. Because we all have black students who have come to office--and some white students, but black students and Latino students, who come to our office crying cause something racist has been said to them. Or some, some space on campus has felt unwelcome or unheard or a racist joke was said and the person didn't even know they made it, and they didn't know how to respond, you know, but they were hurt by it. And, so we've all had those experiences with our students and so to sign this letter was simply wonderful. 00:14:00But Mia pointed out to me, she said, "Wow, look how far we've come," and I'm looking at how far we still have to go. But she said, "A few years ago, there wouldn't have been these hundreds of black professors on this list." And that's true, but then we're still writing about similar things in new ways. So it's interesting. Once one door opens in terms of racism in this country, we see how racism continues to reimagine itself and continues to survive. And I think that's because we have--and this is my view--it's because we've never really had a revolution. We've never really had an ideological revolution in this country. We've had some legal and structural changes but we've never really had a real ideological revolution and a power revolution, which means that every single school in this country would be teaching a different kind of American history. Every single police department would be completely thrown out and reimagined. 00:15:00Maybe we don't even need the police. We've never even had these questions. We're so locked into our past. And I think about the South at the Civil War. Yes, slavery was ended but the South did not lose. I mean, if you go south today and talk to some of the Southerners, you go to South Carolina and the leadership in those states. And if you look at a map today the places that are supporting some of the most reactionary, racist, anti-woman, anti-healthcare bills, are those states in the South today. There's an overlay of that map. Now, I'm not badmouthing the South, but I think it's evidence of us not having a real ideological revolution. Which means is what happens is power concedes a little bit with struggle in this country. I mean like with the Civil Rights Movement. It went on for years and a lot of people died to get it changed. That's what brought about the change, not because people said, 'Oh this, oh, segregation is 00:16:00a bad thing'--no! The majority of people in America did not think that until the struggle started and it was litigated and legislated and kind of forced into change. When it was realized that we can't keep this injustice any longer--and have a peaceful society. So I think some hearts and minds have been changed by the new post-Civil Rights era, a lot of hearts and minds have not been changed because we did not really have the kind of ideological revolution that we, that we needed.
BS: So in the previous interview you mentioned the James Brown song "Say ItLoud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." Were there any other songs or poems? Or quotes or works of art? Or just things in the media, that you turned to when you were younger, or even now, as a source of identity empowerment? 00:17:00
LB: I thought about this the other day. When I was in high school I--I went to avery good high school. It was an integrated high school. It was a big public high school, we had a lot of different kinds of classes of people. And I--we were told to do a book report for class. I decided to do a performative book report and I had just read George Jackson's Letters, Letters--Soledad Brother: Letters From Prison. It was by George Jackson. I may not remember the exact title quite right. But he was in Soledad Prison, and it was his relationship with Angela Davis that ended up getting her indicted and charged with a killing that his brother did. That's another story. But I actually read that book and it so moved me that a person in prison could write so eloquently and beautifully that I decided to do my book report on him. And I, I remember that in high 00:18:00school. And I--I put my hair, I had longer hair then, and I put it way back because he had short hair. And I got the big black rimmed glasses of the time. And he smoked, and this was a big thing, I had to ask my teacher if I could have a cigarette. And so what I did was act like, I performed writing the letters as if I was him in class for my report. So that book had a big influence on me. I think Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King had a big impact on me. But there were also a lot of people that I read their speeches or heard their speeches. So when I met people from South Africa, I was so impressed. I just thought they were so smart. Willy Kgositsile is a poet from South Africa. I remember reading his poems. Langston Hughes' poem "I Too Sing America." I remember being very moved by that poem. And as I've gotten older very moved by 00:19:00Frantz Fanon. I've just been revisiting Frantz Fanon's writings and there was also a series from Penguin Books. It was an African Writers series that came out in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties and it was just tons of these little books of African writers that you would never have heard of had not they published this in Britain. And I remember reading a Cameroonian writer, Fernando Yono, who was really insightful about the colonial condition. So, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx, Lenin, all the leftist thinkers of the Sixties and Seventies. I remember Amlcar Cabral, who was the leader of the anti-colonial movement in Guinea-Bissau who was killed by the Portuguese. He basically talked 00:20:00about--He said, he made a statement about people's power and fighting power. He said of fighting the Portuguese colonialists in Guinea Bissau, he said, "We have to realize we are not an army. We can't be an army. We're, we are a group of armed militants." And he went on to talk about the difference of what that meant and what it meant to be fighting for liberation. And I'll say something else. One of the ideas that Fanon's struck me, in his book The Wretched of the Earth, was this notion of violence. And it was a very controversial notion. The notion that -- and it was very different from Gandhi's. He was a psychiatrist and an existentialist. And he actually argued that in many ways the violence that is put on people through colonial oppression is gonna come out one way or another 00:21:00which is why often communities who are oppressed turn on each other. They--in terms of beat their wives or beat their kids or shoot each other up and kill each other, because they're so angry at the way life--the card that life has dealt them. So, it's gonna come out. And he actually had patients that when they actually fought for their own liberation--people who had been violent--when they actually engaged in struggle for their own liberation, and some of that was violent struggle, that it was almost as if it was an exorcism because they were taking their lives in their own hands. And he talked about violence for liberation versus violence for oppression. That was very, very interesting to me. And I've seen it not necessarily just in violence but you see people from neighborhoods who have had difficult lives when they really get involved in the struggle, those lives can change. The struggle being the struggle for social justice. Their own social justice in their own neighborhoods. They can make a 00:22:00decision that 'That's not what I wanna do. This actually is what I wanna do.' But it's almost sometimes as if it's one or the other for a lot people who are in desperate situations.
BS: So kind of staying on the media train, what do you think of the ways thatlike the media is being used or is using the current Black Lives Matter movement, just in regards to activists using it but also the mainstream media's like approach to the movement?
LB: Well, the media, the media nowadays is so big and much more diverse than Ithink it was in the past. So I think young activists are using social media in very creative ways. And the fight for net neutrality is actually a very important struggle today, because if we lose that we're gonna have to refigure. I hope we don't have to go back to old mimeograph machines. I remember 00:23:00mimeograph machines. So social media is being used very creatively, I think, by, by young activists today in the Black Lives Matter movement. I think the, the old media is still trapped. They're trapped by the frame. To go back to Fanon, he talked about epistemic colonialization. That is, in fact, the way we know things is so boxed that often our analysis is in that box. So much of what we think we know is framed by what we think we know. So you end up with the media saying things like "Well, black people are burning their own neighborhood." That's not their neighborhood. They just live there. It's an occupied neighborhood. It's occupied by the police. It's occupied by the one or two businesses that choose to be there. It's not their neighborhood. They don't own the things in that neighborhood. They don't own the lands. They don't own their homes. They don't have power in the schools. They don't have power in, in 00:24:00whether or not they have a YMCA or a Boy's Club. So the idea that they are burning their own community is a misnomer, but that is often repeated as if something's wrong when, in fact, they're expressing the fact that they're hurting and they're in desperate straits. So even the frames of that. The notion-The term riot versus uprising. The term their own neighborhoods. The term thug. There's been new questions about whether thug is the new word for N. Even the president used it as if it, as if it has some common meaning. I don't share that assumption of even--They're just young people. I mean, what is a thug? What I'm saying is that what the old--often the frame the old media used is based on racism. It's based on power. It's based on a lack of understanding of how oppression works and I think we need new frames. We need new paradigms that are 00:25:00thinking outside the box. And that's what is very difficult to happen with old media interpretations. And it helps people--it's so funny my cousin called me the other day. No, on Facebook I put something about Baltimore. She said, she said, "Well, Lisa--" She put on Facebook, "Lisa, you don't understand, it was just young kids who were out of school acting up." So I called her and I said, "Yeah, they were, but so what?" I love them. I love them more than the CVS, I'll be honest with you. I love every black life more than any building, any glass, any chair, but our frame in this country is that property matters more than people. And you see that played out all the time. Think about it. Did you see the Baltimore Sun article the other day? That investigative report that was real--that was a great investigative reporting where they said 2600 people -- 00:26:00largely black people -- had being taken into police custody and denied medical care in the last three years. 2600. 2600 people laying, hurting, and being denied health care. I just--to me, that number just--It's unimaginable to not feel the pain of each one of those people. So when I look at the media now and think that these are the kinds of things that are going on and they can value a piece of property more than 2600 people who were in pain and who were hurt. And I don't care what they did. Technically, the police work for us. We pay their salaries through tax dollars. They are not carrying out my wishes. They really are not, because if I was asked, I would say protect the people, not the 00:27:00property. But in fact the history of the policing in this country has in many ways always being that especially in reference to people of color. Anyway, I think the media on the one hand, wonderful -- social media, young people, creatively. I think the old power structure still controls the media. In Chicago, we had an election of a very powerful rich mayor who bought a lot of people in order to get re-elected. Rahm Emmanuel. And as soon as the election was over, all this corruption came out and it was known before. So the media was in collusion, I'm sorry to say, with his election. Literally, two or three days, some of his main people arrested on corruption with the schools or not arrested, but being investigated for corruption. So we have all of the--or the Chicago police report came out. The ACLU basically had a report that the media was not 00:28:00releasing that said African Americans in, are 87 percent of the stops by the police in the city of Chicago where we're 33 percent. So, power. Media. Collusion. Corruption, but social media is hopeful.
BS: Okay, so last time you talked a bit about America being an Apartheidsociety. I was wondering if you can speak a little bit about that, maybe a specific instance or memory that exemplifies that situation or made yourealize America is an Apartheid society.
LB: Well, the laws, slavery. The fact that African Americans were not consideredhuman beings or citizens before 1865. Then, even that citizenship had to be fought for and still has to be fought to actually be realied in terms of that. 00:29:00The ways and the laws that dealt with Native Americans in Native American lands, theft, all of those laws basically targeted Native Americans and propped up white Americans. The Homestead Act, which opened up Indian Territory that had being captured by the U.S. government to whites at no price or very little price if they would just go there and settle. The Chinese Exclusion Act. After Chinese people were used to build our rail roads and build a lot of our infrastructure then they were told to go home and no more could come. Women couldn't come, so you had a--because they didn't work here. One of the things about Apartheid, the migrant labor system in Apartheid where you had white areas and designated Bantu stands or reserves. Or homelands as they called them, which were not really 00:30:00homelands, which were where black people were forced to live. They could only come out of those areas to work, which means you broke up families. Literally, you have systems where--and a very similar systems here today where Mexicans are recruited to work on our agricultural estates, but you have to have papers. If you don't work, you don't have papers. If a man has papers and his wife doesn't have papers and his two-year old baby doesn't have papers, they're not legally able to be here. Which is one of the reasons we have so many undocumented people is because they wanna--They're fighting for their families. And, believe me, they're being recruited. They're not necessarily coming just on their own. And so, we have these systems where we want people's labor, but we don't want to give them full rights. The Apartheid laws have set that in place. The Chinese Exclusion act, what we did with Japanese in World War II by putting them in concentration camps. Many have been here for two, three generations. We didn't 00:31:00do the exact same thing to anybody else that's white so when we--And then to look at Jim Crow Laws, and the way were operationalized. So, we do come from a colonial, settler, genocidal [laughs], Apartheid state. And I think the lack of realization or the denial of that history keeps us from moving forward, keeps us trapped into some of the myths and lies about what America is, so that we can't move forward. Which is why you can have on this campus large numbers--the majority of African American students on this campus have had experiences with the police. Yet, when they wanted to protest and stand up about Ferguson a lot of their white teachers had no understanding. "Well, why would kids want to do that? What does it have to do with them?" Well, it's their lives. It's their 00:32:00lives. It's the lives of their parents. It's the lives of their grandparents. And so, I think there's--So our legal history is an Apartheid history. It's very easy to see if you actually track it and you look at legal and you look at policies and you look at so--And the other thing about Apartheid in South Africa, Apartheid was great for white people. It was even--it was much better for all white people there versus all white people here, because white people there were a minority. So you had this, this sort of perfect racial society where the whites were at the top of the pyramid--and almost all whites could be included--and you go farther down and all the blacks are at the bottom serving the top of the pyramid. Which means the poorest white from England could move to South Africa and have a pool and a maid. And a similar kind of thing happened here, not for all whites because we're a majority and there needed to be 00:33:00whites--working class people, and poor whites to support our system. But we had a, for a lot of whites it was very similar. They were included in what it meant to be white by getting Indian land, by benefiting from black slavery. Even if your family didn't benefit from black slavery, the roads, the economy--the White House was built by slaves. Our Ivy League institutions were built by slaves and the money from the slave trade. We have tons of companies such as Aetna Insurance and other companies that were started during the slave trade. So the slave trade was the primary economy of the United States, and became the engine, along with the alienation of Indian land, what Karl Marx called primitive accumulation. Do you know what primitive accumulation is? It's when you take something. [laughs] You don't pay for it. It's because you accumulate it one way 00:34:00or another, and then you use it to make money. So I think the accumulation of--the taking of Indian land, and the use of black labor to benefit white society, is really unquestionable. It's like a no-brainer in this society. Yet, we can't seem to accept that and therefore have an honest discussion about how that impacts where we are today, and how we think today. So when a racist incident happens people are always like "Oh how did that happen?" Well, if you have any sense of our own history, where we came from, you'll know. But that's where I talk about ideological revolution, 'cause I actually don't, I don't believe in biology of race. We're all the human race. We're all the same. It's the way we're taught and the way we are encouraged to believe. And I think a lot of that encouragement, we're encouraged to believe in order to maintain those in 00:35:00power. And, those in power are not the majority of white people, but a lot--white privilege has encouraged lots of white people to support that power structure. I think if they understand that we are all bound together, and that we can make a better world and a more peaceful world if we work together and have a real ideological revolution that's based on truth, history, and where we need to go, then I think we could do a lot.
BS: Was there any incident in your personal life that made you come to thisrealization about the way this society works? Or was it a lot of your study from in learning from these historical examples?
LB: Both, both. I mean I think I was encouraged to study based on my ownexperiences. And you have experiences as an African American and look in the mirror and you wonder: What they say is not true about me or my people. My 00:36:00grandmother who's like a domestic is one of the smartest people around and my other grandmother if a black woman could have been a millionaire, she would have been one. She was so savvy with a third-grade education, you know what I mean? In terms of her money and buying property and she was a wiz. She was actually a wiz, a statistician. I mean [laughs] she gambled, like at the horse races, and in The Numbers. Black people we had our own system called "The Numbers" or "Policy" and she would win, because she would make a long list of numbers. She would play the odds. She knew exactly what she was doing. She looked at who had won, when, what place they were in, how many--in baseball, too--how many batters hit this; and she won. She was brilliant. So I guess what I am saying is, I had these experiences of very brilliant black people around me and a world that told me they didn't exist. So I started studying this contradiction, and 00:37:00its many ways what W.E. Dubois calls double conscious. African Americans are kind of forced being in this country to look at ourselves through the eyes of the white gaze, but we know our reality to be different. We know we are not what they think we are, so study is the best way to kind of prove that. But I also had wonderful--I think I mentioned to you a minute ago that I interviewed my grandparents. I grew up with four great grandparents, so I was very blessed, you know when you're young you take it for granted, then you realize as you get old. But I was working at the National Archives in, in Washington D.C. and I worked in the genealogy section. So I had a lot of people coming in looking up their own roots, and very interesting, quite a few Indian--Native American indigenous 00:38:00people came in looking up treaty rights and the genealogy of land and stuff like that. So I decided, one Christmas, to go home and interview my grandparents, which I had grown up with and here I'm a junior in college. I'd never actually interviewed them, so I said, "I'm gonna go home and inteview my grandparents." I took my tape recorder and went and sat down one-by-one to interview them. Two stories stood out of my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather that--the things I just did not know. My one grandmother told me--she used to have--This was my salty grandmother. I say I had a salty and a sweet grandmother. My paternal grandmother was salty. You know, she cursed, she smoked--she was the brilliant one. She gambled. She played cards, but she was a master cook. She had a catering business. She ran that as a business out of her shotgun house, two bedroom-kitchen house. Two bedroom house. One of those teeny 00:39:00kitchens. She would organize fifteen/sixteen women, cook for days to put on a party for two-hundred wealthy white people in Cincinnati. She was known for that, but she, she used to always have this blessing at the dinner table on Sunday when we would go to her house for dinner sometimes, and it went like this. It was:
Mag-glee glen and chick-lee pies
Dance, niggers, dance
'Cause whit-folks won't be back until the fourth ofJuvember Thank God for giving vittles to all us God-damned niggers.
[laughs] I'll say it again, and then I'll tell you what it means, and I rememberit because she said it so much.
Mag-glee glen and chick-lee pies
Dance, niggers, dance
'Cause whit-folks won't be back until the fourth ofJuvember Thank God for giving vittles to all us God-damned niggers.
And then she'd say, "Eat." So we grew up hearing that and in this interview, Isaid, "What does that mean? [laughs] Where does it come from?" I had never known and she told me a story. She said she was very close to her grandfather and he 00:40:00had been born a slave. Slavery had ended when he was about 12 years old, and when he was young on the Dody plantation, which is outside of Alabama. There's still a town called Dody, Alabama based on that plantation. She--he told her that he was on the Dody plantation. He was about 12, and all of the white family had gone to New York for a wedding. And the slaves on the plantation, both those who worked in the house and those that worked in the fields knew that the white family--I mean, they knew everything. They knew the white family. It was in their interest to know everything. They knew that the white family was gone and they knew that the overseers drank. The white overseers were drunks and they were gonna probably go into Birmingham. They were not very good overseers. They were gonna go into Birmingham and drink and hang out, right? So she said what 00:41:00the slaves decided to do, was to have a party. They decided they were gonna raid the kitchen and the smokehouses, they were gonna dress up in all the white folks' good clothes, they were gonna use their soaps, they were gonna use their showers, and they were gonna get down. They even invited a piano player from Birmingham. That's the other myth is that slaves and urban blacks didn't have contact. They had a lot of contact. Again, in their interest to have those contacts. So, they had this big party. Brought in the piano player, dressed up in the white folks' clothes, ate all their food. And when the guy who commenced the party, what he said was 'maglee glen and chicklee pies.' The only thing my grandmother could think of was chicken pot pies. When she was a kid they used to call them chicklee pies. So 'maglee glen and chicklee pies' were probably food. So, 'maglee glen and chicklee pies, dance niggas dance,' dance, black folks, dance. Because the white folks, 'whit folks, won't be back until the 4th of 00:42:00Juvember.' You know African Americans often didn't. They weren't educated. They didn't know the names of months. So, Juvember could have been November. It could have been June, but in their minds it meant something. So 'maglee glen and chicken pies, thank god for giving f-, uh, vittles,' food, which is an old southern term for food, 'to all us god damned niggers.' And, of course, black people felt they were god damned because they were slaves, right? So, she said that the, the guy who opened up the party said this. And her grandfather repeated it as a blessing when she was growing up, and she repeated it to us. And now I've repeated it to my son, because it's, it's a part of our, our historical legacy. And I'll just tell you the other story of my grandfather quickly. My paternal grandfather--I couldn't find him in the census records, his birth records. I could find my other three grandparents, but I couldn't find 00:43:00him. Now, he was old, so he might not have had a birth certificate and he didn't have one in his possession. So, but, I looked over a ten year period like the 1890's and the early 1900's. He was definitely born around 1897, 1898. Couldn't find him anywhere, and he told me the county he was born. Sharkee County, Mississippi. So I look, look, look, I couldn't find him. So when I go to meet him, I asked him. I said, "Rev." We called him Rev because he was a minister. "Rev, I can't find you in the records. Why? What's going on?"
He said, "I can't talk. Nothing to say." He refused to talk to me. And I wasvery close to this grandfather, very close. Refused to talk to me.So my grandmother says, "Tell her, it's Lisa. Tell her, you know, you gotta tell her." And for two weeks, he refused to talk to me. So, finally he talked to me, and he had been born with a different last name, and he did have a story. He was born 00:44:00on a sharecropping plantation, and at about age 12, he said he was starving. He was one of a lot of kids on this thing. He was hungry. He was starving. The life was hard and he just left. And he went into Clarksdale, Mississippi by himself. He fled. He left. And when he gets to Clarksdale, Mississippi, he's wandering around trying to find a place to make a living, to sleep, and he meets a nice white man who was working on the new engines. So we're talking about like 1909, 1910.
And this man said, "Well, boy, you can come and live with me. You can live in mygarage and I'll teach you how to work on cars. You can help me, do this thing.' So he learned how to become a mechanic on new engines living in this man's garage. And one night when he was about 16, he went into town, and a group of drunk white guys saw him and said, 'Hey nigga, we want you to dance for us. We hear niggas can dance. We know niggas can dance, dance.'
And he said he stood there and he said, "I ain't dancing."00:45:00
And they said, "We said dance!" You know, that's the other thing in theApartheid south, you had this level of power over sort of the entire population.
And he said, he said, "I'm not gonna dance," so he started walking away, andthey started shooting at his feet. So he started running, and as he was running he said he pulled out his brother from his sock. He had a pistol. That's the other thing, African Americans weren't crazy. With the clan running around. So, they, he pulled out his pistol from his sock, and uh, he started shooting back. So they kind had a shoot-out. Luckily, they were drunk, and he wasn't. So he says they missed him, but he was pretty sure he hit one. So he ran back to the man he was living with, and he told him what had happened.
The man said, "Boy you gotta get out of here, they'll lynch you." So the man00:46:00gave him some money, put him on a train, he took the train to Chicago and when he got off the train he had changed his name. He never looked back because he was always afraid there was a warrant out for his arrest. And so he lost complete touch with his family. We never knew any of his family at all. So, he just completely cut off ties for fear, all his life, for fear of being taken back, for that which was self-defense, but what would have been perceived as a crime. So, those kinds of experiences in my family, and seeing how my family struggled so, they were really, they were denied opportunities even though they were super brilliant and super smart, I think is what really got me going. I think that, that's what also happens. Often people from the outside don't really know why African Americas students would want a course on African American 00:47:00history. I mean, some do, but some like 'what's wrong with learning Greek Culture?' Well, that's wonderful, but you also want to know about your own history because it's been denied to you. And you have experiences that show you how valuable and important and wonderful and brilliant, and magical that history can be. But you often, you learn it through experience, but not necessarily scholarly. So I think the combination of experience, consciousness of that experience, and the--is what made me desire to learn. And then, once I started learning it only reinforced, or upheld, or extended what i kind of thought to be true in many ways. But it revealed just in--like when I teach my African American history, my students are always like "How come I didn't know this person?" "How come I didn't know they wrote ten books?" "How come I didn't know that she was the first self-made millionaire? "How come I didn't know this?" 00:48:00"How come I didn't know that African Americans petitioned the US government for inclusion in 1776?" "How come I didn't know that?" So it's--Yeah, you got me going. But the issue of experience, and scho- and learning, I think is what motivated me, and I think is what motivates a lot of people.
BS: So, as a class we've been reading a lot of Audre Lorde. And she wrote alotabout the particular challenges that come from being visible or even hyper-visible as a black woman. So, could you talk a little bit about the challenges you faced as an African American woman, and especially in prominent leadership roles?
LB: Yeah, it's been interesting [laughs] It's been interesting. As a girl, I wasoften told I was too outgoing, too overwhelming, by both black people as well as 00:49:00white people. And in jobs, people who work with me, or people who supervise me feel like they have to be, especially if their white, feel like they have to be smarter than me, and when they realize they're not, that's a problem for me. And for them, but they don't quite see it as something that they could make go away. So yes, I have had quite a few challenged in work and in life as a woman of color, trying to be myself in this world. I don't know if I have any--I mean there's a lot of specifics, but I don't know--especially in work, but I don't know if I want to share those.BS: Okay. Well, would you mind talking about your work with gender things than? You've done a lot for women's liberation and that 00:50:00whole avenue, so could you share some memories of just working as a black feminist?
LB: You know, it's interesting because I came of age in some ways where myidentity formation what was more race than gendered. Although 'the personal is political,' really resonated with me. And so working with family on gender roles, both the men and the woman in my family, what, I had a relative who I realized was abusing his wife, broke my heart, broke my heart. But even though the relative was my relative, the male was my relative, and the wife was not. I 00:51:00encouraged her to leave. Tried to work with her to get support, but also encouraging young women to speak up. It's interesting to me because as you have heard from previous, the black women in my family were not shy, so I did not have a lot of--although I will say they did play traditional roles. But I think it's very interesting, 'cause I think the African American situation is slightly different. Because my one grandmother, both my grandmothers were trying to prop up their black man who were being put down in society. It wasn't the other way around where the black men were had all the power and were coming home and wanting their wife to support that power. They came home looking for support. 00:52:00But they had also been brainwashed into believing what a male's role was too. And the fact that they weren't able to live that was a part of pain, which was also a problematic pain because it was about living up to a role for men, that actually shouldn't' have ever existed and was based on power. But I do I think my grandmothers attempted to do both in a very interesting way. I think I'm tired. [laughs].
BS: Okay. Well, we are about done, just one more question. Is there justanything that we haven't gotten to in these interviews? Any stories or experiences you would like to share, any final words for this project?
LB: Well, I think this is a great project. I think it's a great project and I'mhappy that you are doing it. I hope that some of what you gather from some of us 00:53:00old people, and it's really interesting because I felt that I was young for so long and to actually come to realization that my era is in many ways moving on, but it was a great time to come up in the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties. It was just wonderful to be able to see your life in the change that you were making and I really hope that for everybody, because it is definitely empowering to actually think you are doing good work. One of the things I will say is do follow your heart and join movements. If you don't like it, join another, but always be in motion trying to make a change. There is a lot of things that need change and things can change if you work at it.