For Angela Glover Blackwell, a brief stint at the Rockefeller Foundation brought to light a fundamental difference in how we think about driving positive change, and fighting for justice abroad versus here at home. The international focus was on equity – what are the outcomes we hope to achieve, and how do we back into the inputs required? The national focus was on equality – how do we make sure that everyone gets the same inputs to start with.
Through the work of her organization, PolicyLink, she has spent the past 20 years pushing for equity to be our North Star. Calling for us to recognize equity as moral imperative, equity as a potent antidote to inequality, and equity as the superior growth model for our country.
She joins us to talk about the power of an equity mindset, not just in education, but in our entire society.
- The Equity Manifesto
- The Radical Imagination Podcast
- Ms. Glover Blackwell on The Curb-Cut Effect
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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits.
Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver.
And this is “Equity According to Angela Glover Blackwell”. Back in pre-COVID times when going places was a thing, I attended an event here in Denver called “Rethinking Equity to Reweave Communities”. The keynote speaker was Angela Glover Blackwell.
I had no idea what I was in for. Ms. Glover Blackwell has been a leading voice in the movement for equity in the United States for many years. In 1999, she founded PolicyLink, which is a national research and action institute focused on advancing racial and economic equity.
The work of PolicyLink spans economics, healthcare, education, and criminal justice, and has really been instrumental in pushing the national conversation beyond equality to equity. Equity as a moral imperative. Equity as a potent antidote to inequality and equity as the superior growth model for our country.
I was deeply moved by her clear-eyed assessment of many of the broader issues affecting our society, her unapologetic focus on the needs of the most marginalized, and her forceful advocacy for a focus on true equity. While her work is much broader than just education, her call for equity to be our North Star couldn't be more relevant to the practice of antiracist school integration. So when she agreed to come on the podcast, I jumped at the opportunity.
Let's hear the conversation.
Angela Glover Blackwell: I'm Angela Glover Blackwell, the Founder in Residence of PolicyLink.
Andrew: And you've been a leading voice on equity in America for many years now. How did you find yourself in that role?
Angela Glover Blackwell: Well, I have been an advocate for justice ever since I came out of college. I came out of college into the Black Power movement, grew up under the civil rights movement and it was important that I came out of college into the Black Power movement because it had an edge to it, an economic analysis to it, a real celebration of Black culture. And a goal of not just integrating but really having power and influence to be able to shape the society in a way that appreciated the values of inclusion.
So I came out of college into that. And I was an organizer for the first seven years. Then I went to law school and practiced public interest law for 10 years. Then I started a community-building organization in Oakland that focused on trying to bring the best that we knew about policy to deal with concentrated poverty to a local community, and to try to align practice and policy and organizing together. And I went to the Rockefeller Foundation for a short period of time as the Senior Vice President and then started PolicyLink.
I gave that history because it wasn't until I started PolicyLink that I consciously started talking about racial equity. And the language actually came from being at the Rockefeller Foundation. Because prior to that, I probably used the language of liberation, social justice, racial justice, equality, equal opportunity. While I was at the Rockefeller Foundation I noticed that they talked about their international work in terms of equity and their domestic work in terms of equality.
And I actually pulled together a working group while I was there to get people to think about, Why are you using this language? And what I took out of that working group is that the equity language used in the development work was much more focused on outcomes. What people were going to achieve in terms of the yields from their crops, in terms of the education of the girls, et cetera. And the equality language in the U.S. was much more focused on rights, getting rid of discrimination, talking about integration. And I thought, Yes, equity is what we need to be talking about domestically.
It was time to, while we'd never achieved equality, to move beyond equality, to start talking about what people had to be able to do as a society for everybody to reach their full potential.
So when I started PolicyLink, I encouraged my colleagues to use the language of equity, to begin to talk about equity, to begin to lift it up as a goal, and to understand the role that race plays in America. That you can't actually have true equity if we don't deal with the racial angst, divides, the disadvantage that had been associated with baked-in racism, et cetera.
And so we started talking about racial and economic equity. And in doing that, we actually got a lot of pushback from colleagues, from funders, from people who said, Oh nobody will understand that, it has different meanings, it'll be confusing. And I tell you, I thought because people didn't understand it that was the reason to use it because people had to stop, they had to ask, they had to think about it. They couldn't just put it in box and go on and you know, it's now become ubiquitous. So much so that it's hard to think that it actually was only 20 years ago that that language was not even part of the domestic conversations about justice, but it has really thrilled me to see the way it has gotten definition and focus and it is ubiquitous, which doesn't mean that everyone understands it in the same way, but it does show that we can shift ourselves a bit and in shifting have some more challenging North Stars.
Andrew: Right. So the idea that if you're just talking about equality, you don't need to get into the specificity of issues around race or racial justice. That if the goal is everybody gets the same, then you don't really need to talk about who the everybody is. But if you want to talk about equity, then you need to talk about the circumstances that people are coming from, the structures that are in place that create barriers to people having equal opportunity to achieve.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Yes. I embrace a lot of what you said, but I want to go back and take it apart a bit. You started saying, if you just talk about equality and I don't want people to hear me suggest that equality isn't a big deal or an important aspiration. This is a country that was based on notions of equality and people do gravitate toward it. And equality does suggest respect. I think there's a lot that one can do under the equality banner.
However, you're right. That when you begin to talk about equity, it does cause more probing because equity says, Where do we want everybody to be? And in this nation, when you start to ask, Well why isn't everybody there and why are there whole groups of people who you can predict won't be there, and you can predict it based on their color, their language, their address, it suggests something more baked in and historical that we have to look at.
And when you go back and look historically, it really does bring anti-Blackness structural racism, the way the country was founded, what existed even before the country was founded, and it does cause you to understand the continuing impact of that racism.
And so, yes, I think the equity conversation forces you into history, forces you into the moment, which is different from what's in your heart. It's what's in your society that is holding people back, and it opens up a way forward that if we make progress, I think create some substantial platforms that we can stand on as we try to go to the next level.
Andrew: Right. And what was that, the, the hole that PolicyLink filled when you created PolicyLink as an organization? Was it to kind of fill that gap? The space between equity and equality?
Angela Glover Blackwell: PolicyLink actually filled two gaps. One was the language, one, which I don't think anybody realized that there was a gap there, but once equity got introduced people recognized that there was a difference that needed to be understood, wrestled with.
But the other thing that we did, because I had come out of organizing and local community building work, as I was at the Rockefeller Foundation and thought about how to bring the community building sensibility into national policy, it became apparent to me that most national policy organizations, because of where they were located, the rhythm of change, the people they interacted with, actually were not bringing the full sensibility of those who were working for change in their local communities into the policy work.
So the other gap that PolicyLink filled was the gap between the wisdom, voice, and experience of people working for change in their local communities and the world of policy, state, national. And one of our beliefs was that local leaders are national leaders. They're solving the nation's problems. They need to be treated as such and their voice needs to guide national policy.
Andrew: Yeah. I think I heard you say that people are driven by the idea of elegant policy rather than the needs of the most affected.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Absolutely.
Andrew: What does equity mean to you? Why should we care about equity? What is the underlying root that focusing on equity gets at?
Angela Glover Blackwell: The definition of equity that we use, and that many people and institutions across the country use, is equity means just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. You'll notice it didn't say race, but you can't have a society in which allcan participate, prosper, and reach their full potential without focusing on race. Because who is not able to participate, who is not prospering, whose potential is left on the ground every day is people who are Indigenous, who are Black, who are Latinx, but it's also people with disabilities, sometimes people who are gay or lesbian or transgender, sometimes it's women more than men.
There are a lot of people who can benefit from an equity frame, but the fundamental thing about the United States of America is that racial frame that actually grows out of a hierarchy of human value in which some people's lives are just valued more than others. So that equity frame challenges us to be able to actually get at the racial issues.
And I find that once we are in the equity conversation, it's challenging for people. And that's a good thing because people need to experience the challenge of understanding the deep flaws in the nation and to think about a more perfect union.
I mean, it is one of the beautiful things about the language of this country, it’s full of gems. Equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, a more perfect union. Even though this country falls short to those ideals every day, you can't help but admire the language. It's full of possibilities and equity attaches itself right to the possibilities of that language.
Andrew: Yeah. You know, we look at the demographic trends in the country. We look at what sort of future, particularly as we're thinking about schools, you know, what sort of future our kids will inherit. The changing demographics of the country seems to make a focus on equity that really forces you to confront racial issues even more relevant and important.
Angela Glover Blackwell: I think that when we started PolicyLink in 1999 and started pushing the language of equity, that we really felt that we were continuing the moral fights of the nation. That there were too many people who were Black and Brown who were being left behind predictably. And it was an outrage, a sin, an atrocity, and we needed to force the country to face it and do something about it.
As time went on and we got to it about the midway point in our twenty years, which would put us around 2010, we began to realize two things: One, that we were becoming a nation in which the majority would be people of color more rapidly than had been originally thought. And two, you will recall in 2008, 2009, 2010, that we were in an economic crisis, an economic crisis that was really shining a bright light on equality and making it clear that inequality had become toxic. Hollowing out the middle class, baking in poverty, making economic mobility almost not existent.
And we thought these two things collide in a way that is very interesting because when you look at the future of the nation, and the changing demographics, one thing is undeniably true, and that is the fate of the nation is dependent on what happens to the very people who are being left behind. Because as we become more and more a nation made up of people of color, the middle class that we have been so proud of, we're not going to have the vast and stable and growing middle class if people of color don't become the middle class. The median age for people who are Latinx, the fastest growing group of people of color, is 28. The median age for people who are White is 42. So that even though we're not yet at the point where the majority of people in the nation are of color, the majority of those under five have been of color for some time. And in this year 2020, the majority of those under 18 are of color.
So we began to see a lot is dependent on getting the equity agenda right. And if we get equity right, we get growth right. We get democracy right. We, we invest in the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation. We get community right. We get the environmental issues right. And so we began to say that equity is in fact the superior growth model. And while I will never step away from the need to do it from a moral place, it is also a national economic and democratic imperative.
Andrew: Right, right. There is obviously a compelling, moral argument to be made that equity is a fairer more, just system. But you're saying that even if you don't care about that, even if you set aside the moral piece of it, and all you're interested is in kind of the growth of the nation and economic wellbeing of the nation, that we have no choice but to focus on equity because the future of the nation is people of color.
Angela Glover Blackwell: That is exactly right. And I think that the moment that we're in is making it less and less acceptable not to care about the moral issue. What really makes me feel so hopeful in the year of 2020, which is one of the worst years I have ever experienced in my lifetime, the thing that makes me hopeful about it is that we are putting the issues of racism front and center and we are connecting them to what's happening to everyone. We are talking about race in the context of anti-Blackness, which is so important in terms of understanding that hierarchy of human value and how it has been the narrative in the back of the minds of the nation from before its founding.
How else could a nation be found on stolen land, genocide, human bondage, and slave labor? That hierarchy of human value allowed for the founding of the nation based on those cruelties, but it didn't go away after the Civil War. It has continued to be there, which is why we have some communities that there are so few amenities there that should not house anyone, housing millions of people, which is how we have schools serving so many of our children that really have no expectations that they have a potential that could be anything that needs to be invested in. There's so many things that are influenced by it.
And so having to think about that is the moment that we're in. And in that moment we have a whole new set of possibilities because we have to understand the anti-Blackness, we have to embrace that it's not enough to say I am not racist, you have to individually become antiracist and work against it. Our institutions and our nation have to become antiracist and in doing so we will reap the benefits of finally caring for our environment because the people who were hurt first and worst by environmental degradation are low-income people of color.
We begin to care about our economy because this economy of extraction that only cares about its shareholders, and not stakeholders and not communities, it’s not an economy that is sustainable into the future. We begin to care about our cities and our suburban areas because why should we abandon any part of our geography when it all has something to offer?
So while people may not embrace it because of the morality, you quickly see that to actually get it right you have to embrace not just the economic and the democratic benefits, but the moral ones as well, which will make the nation a stronger, more sustainable place.
Andrew: That was like the first glimmer of hope I felt in a long time. I appreciate that. These are some dark times.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Thank you. I'm glad I could offer it. These, these are some dark tough times. There was no question about that. The death, the death, the unnecessary death, the, the trying to fan race wars in our streets at the very time that people were coming together to, to, to work together, the economy and the jobs that are lost. Oh my goodness these are hard times.
Andrew: Yeah, a little hope in there. Let's talk about, little bit about equity in the education space. I think this framework that there's a sort of moral imperative and also the best growth model is equity for the country, I think there are some ways that is applicable to our education system. Both in terms of the outcomes that, that our country is better off when we actually educate all of our kids, that our democracy is stronger when we actually educate all of our kids, when we give equitable opportunities to all of our kids, but also the way that school's actually function day to day, the educational system that exists in the country is incredibly inequitable.
How do you look at the role of an equity mindset as we talk about the education system in our country?
Angela Glover Blackwell: I think the equity mindset is very powerful in the education context because it is not satisfied with equality. It asks, what do we want to achieve and backs into the inputs that we have to make in order to achieve it. And it is very likely that they will not be equal.
For example, that if we think that we have achieved all that we must get rid of discrimination and the horrors of it in the educational system, just making sure that all children have teachers who've been trained the same, spend the same amount of time in the classroom, use the same books, exposed to the same curriculum, will not produce the outcome that we want when we consider that so many Black and Brown and Indigenous children come to school without the kind of stimulation for educational development that many White children get in terms of not having had the early childhood development experience. That many children have not had the kind of a physical development that they need because they haven't had access to healthy fruits and vegetables and exercise. That many children come with trauma because they live in communities in which police violence and street violence and other things have traumatized them from an early age. That they don't have once they get to school, even if things are great in the classroom, they don't have the stimulation of violin lessons and theater and, and other kinds of things that families that can go out and buy that are adding.
So that if we ask, What does it take for all children to achieve at high levels, graduate, and go on to reach their full potential, the inputs may be very different. We may need to invest in high quality early childhood education for all children. We may have to invest in wraparound services in terms of health and other things so that the children have what they need, we may have to make sure that we're improving the communities and access to healthy food. We may have to bring in other professionals and other support into the school building to make sure the children have all of the things that we know they need in order to prosper.
And so I think that when you apply equity in the education context, it quickly moves you out of thinking that just working in the classroom or the school building to try to make sure that when children are there they have the same experience, will not get the outcomes that we want for all children. Which means we may have to provide more money for schools that have many students who need extra support. It means that we may have to make adjustments in terms of the relationship between where school is located and the kind of funding that it gets. It may mean that we may have longer school periods for children who have certain kinds of needs.
So we need to disaggregate by race and then look at how groups are doing and make the investments accordingly.
I think equity really ups the ante in terms of school improvement and forces people to take a hard look at what children bring to school and what we can do both to help them come ready to learn and continue to make the progress that they will surely have demonstrated when they start ready to learn.
And Head Start is showing this again and again, great Head Start programs deliver kids to the schoolhouse door really on the same footing. And then it quickly fades away as the school system demands more but doesn't put more in for those children who aren't able to get it from their communities.
Andrew: Yeah. I think one of the things that the COVID crisis has really laid bare is all of the things that we ask our schools to do, all of the ways that we treat our schools as a social safety net and ask them to provide all of these wraparound things. And I think a lot of people in schools, probably school leaders and teachers, would argue that's not their job and that they are already stretched so thin as it is to ask them to also be social workers and healthy food advisers and play all of these other roles that kids need is, is a little much.
I think at the same time, if you are looking at schools from an equality standpoint it's unreasonable to think that we can provide healthy food for every kid in the country through our public schools. But if you look at it through an equity mindset, now you see what we actually need to do is direct those resources to the places where they are the most in need.
And as you know, we're, we're not even doing the equality piece at this point, you know, there was, EdBuild had a report last year, $23 billion funding gap between schools that serve largely kids of color versus schools that serve largely White kids. So we haven't even gotten to equality much less to, to the step that that would actually be getting us closer to equity.
Angela Glover Blackwell: You're so right. We haven't gotten to equality. And in many instances, we aren't even thinking about equity. Equity needs to be our North Star. I'm very big these days on equity being the North Star. Because even though it may be hard to achieve, if you end up doing reform efforts you do a different reform in intervention if you know what your North Star is. And we need to keep pushing toward equity as the North Star.
And I was struck as you were talking about all the things that we ask teachers in schools to do, and we do ask them to do a lot once we have the aha moment that these children need more than just books. But the fact that we then put it on schools shows how as a society we're not really getting it. Because it's not for the schools to make sure that all children have enough to eat. That has to do with our economic approach, with the minimum wage that we're paying, with the absence of thinking about parents as being the first and most teachers in our economy, how do we make sure that they have time.
It means that systems that provide health and food and other things don't see themselves as being in partnership with the schools, that we actually are still, even when we have the aha moment of saying, Oh yes, the children need more. If we think the schools are going to do it on stretched inadequate budgets, it means that society doesn't understand its role.
We are confused as a nation in terms of who we look to for what. Should we be looking to schools to be the healthcare system? Should we be looking to schools to make up for the deficits in our jobs and our economy? No, all of these things ought to be thinking together that if we invest in the children who represent the future of the nation, everybody benefits. You don't want to nickel and dime your future or your children's future.
You want to really invest in it. We need to have that switch in our heads and that's why we need to be having these conversations in community and not just with the school board. We need to be having them in community.
Andrew: Yeah, talk a little bit more about that. Because I think a lot of people would probably agree with you on the needs, but how to go about solving that problem is I think where we often see the disconnect between the elegant policy and the real on-the-ground needs.
Angela Glover Blackwell: It means that we have to have tough conversations. Now in most communities across the country, the parents and the teachers and the educators are talking with the business leaders and the business leaders understand that education is important. They talk about their future workforce and how they have skin in that game.
But what do they do? They adopt a school. They provide some scholarships, they send in their staff to volunteer and read to children, and maybe somebody comes in and gives the graduation speech.
But the main thing those businesses ought to be doing is making sure that they are paying livable wages to the parents of those children. Making sure that they are providing parental leave. Making sure that they are speaking up nationally and using their outsize influence on policy to make sure that we have universal access to healthcare.
And so we need to have, have those tough conversations. We cannot accept a hundred thousand dollar check from a multibillion dollar corporation to be able to make sure the kids can go on a field trip. You are a part of this and to be a part of it, you need to do your part, which is to make sure that the economy in the community works for the children and the parents in that community and in the nation.
We can't allow the police to just come in and have a conversation with young people about, Wouldn't you like to be a police officer? This is what I do during my day. That we need to be having honest conversations about the fact that what sense does it make to use city and county dollars to get more police when what we need is more child development programs. What we need is safer communities and safety comes out of trust and knowing who your neighbors are. It doesn't come out of having somebody intimidating and throwing people up against the wall.
It's the tough conversations that bring in all the elements of community and say, If we really care about the future, the future is embedded in the children. The children are embedded in family, families are embedded in community, and it's all embedded in our city, in our county and in our township, in our sitate, in our nation. What are we doing to achieve equity?
Andrew: You know, as we think about the current crisis that we're in terms of COVID, at least, lots of people are home. My kids have started the school year all fully remote. We are creating a new education system on the fly. There is great risk in that of people falling behind and particularly the more marginalized people falling even further behind. But I think there is also some element of hope in we have seen that we can do big things. We have seen that we can take massive steps when, when there is the motivation to do it.
And I'm wondering what you think about on the other side of this crisis, how do we think about creating an education system that actually puts equity as the North Star?
Angela Glover Blackwell: I want to push back on one thing you said, you said we have seen that we can do big things. I think the nation has lost its confidence in its ability to do big things, because we could do some big things right now that we are not stepping up to do. We could test, what are we, 300 million people in this country plus? We could test them. That would be a big thing. And it is not as big as going to Saturn. I mean, you know, it's right here. We can touch it and feel it and count it. It is a big thing, but it's not a huge thing. We don't seem to have the will to do that.
Here we are sending all of our children home to learn and a kind of small thing we could do is make sure that every corner of America has access to broadband. That’s just part of, a part of the infrastructure of the nation. That's not huge. Oh, we
Andrew: Right. That's not the interstate highway plan. That’s not…
Angela Glover Blackwell: It is not the interstate.
Andrew: It’s not bigger than things we have already done, yeah.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Thank you. That is not huge in terms of infrastructure investment. We could make sure that every child has access to a laptop of high quality. That ain't no big thing. That’s kind of a, a nice thing. It ain’t a huge thing.
And so I don't know that we have an appetite for doing big things, but we need to get that back because if we do a big thing now it'll pay off it. Really the thing that has been laid bare by this crisis is racial inequity and nowhere is that racial inequity more visible than in the fact that so many children are not learning at all because we have shut down the schoolhouse and we need to step up to that moment and not let that happen.
Being able to make sure that every child has access to broadband, has a device, and has the support system to be able to use that device effectively is our charge right now. And we are missing the boat. And we need to step into this moment and it is a shame if we don't do so because we can. It is not beyond the reach of the people who are in every hamlet, every city, every town, every county in this nation, we could do that.
Andrew: That's not even that big of an ask.
Angela Glover Blackwell: It's not that big of an ask.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, I guess maybe some more things are up in the air at least and up for questioning. And that does make me think that there is potentially an easier to, to design something from scratch on the other side of this rather than trying to slowly turn the tanker ship that is the education system.
Angela Glover Blackwell: You're right. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and this is a huge crisis and there's a whole lot that we ought to get out of it. And the least of it ought to be to make a big, huge leap for educational equity in America.
Andrew: Yeah. What does that look like in terms of the design principles or the North Star of equity? How do we go about building an education system that has that?
Angela Glover Blackwell: Well, one of the things that I always think about in the realm of this question is a visual that allows us to understand that we all benefit. And the visual that I use is the curb-cut. Those cutouts in the sidewalk, in the corner that are there all across this country. They are there because of advocacy of people with disabilities in wheelchairs, for whom having rights to be able to go to public places and access jobs were hollow rights if people could not get around their communities and being able to have those curb-cuts in the sidewalk benefit us all.
How many times have people been pushing a stroller and been so glad they didn't pick that contraption up from corner to corner, or workers pushing carts and pulling wagons, being able to have their work ease because of that cutout in the sidewalk, or like me always traveling with a suitcase running right behind me, made that train ‘cause I didn't have to break my stride?
But more importantly, those curb-cuts save thousands and thousands of lives every year because they orient people to cross the street at the corner. It is an example of solve a problem with nuance and specificity for those who are most vulnerable in society and the benefits cascade to everybody. Once you know what you're looking for, the curb-cut is every place and it is a wonderful frame to use when you think about problem solving.
Think about the Head Start program. The Head Start program in America started when Marian Wright Edelman and others were in the Mississippi Delta, looking at the children, not doing anything during the school year and not starting school ready to learn. And they said, We need to give these children a head start and they were able to get a pilot program started called Head Start.
Well, as Head Start grew and got evaluated, people all over the country, people who were White, people who were wealthy, realized that it was a mistake to send children to school who had not had a developmental experience.
And so this notion of early childhood development has become brand. But think of all the children whose education has benefited because we started to solve a problem for the most targeted and marginalized but realize the benefits went to everyone.
So we have lots of examples that show that when we focus on those who need the most attention for all kinds of reasons, sometimes it's because of vulnerability, sometimes it's because of marginalization, sometimes it's because of discrimination, everybody benefits.
Here’s one more. I call this the would-be gold standard of the curb-cut effect. The G.I. Bill would be because it wasn't administered in a discriminatory way. However, the G.I. Bill was designed to help, out of the 16 million returning veterans from World War II, the maybe hundred thousand people who might need a little help to get reintegrated into community. Well, 8 million peo the educational system of this country does not stand on the world stage as a star. It stands on the world stage as out of tune, out of step, out of time. And if we would just start to think about, What is it that those who’re being left behind need? What's the stimulation they need? What are the jobs they need to get ready for? How do we think of education as one of the most important values of the nation? If we started doing that for the children who were being left behind, we would be revamping this education system, investing in it, and connecting it in a way that would benefit everybody.
ple took advantage of the education and many more millions took advantage of the home ownership opportunities.
It is no exaggeration to say the G.I. Bill made the White middle class, because what came out of that in terms of the beginning of community colleges and people getting education and the building of the suburbs and the jobs that went along with that, solve problems for those who need the attention most with nuance and specificity and you solve them for everybody.
And I think this totally fits the conversation we're having about education, becauseIt's true all across the board, that thing about democracy we're being so stingy about, voting and participation, but if we would really open it up, make voting a national holiday, you can register to vote any place, helping the children to understand how important it is. We would be reinvigorating democracy in ways that would make us so proud as a nation. And everybody would benefit from that.
I think this notion of the curb-cut effect really is the design frame to think about. And when I thought about it, I wasn't thinking about design, but I have been surprised how many people who only think about design have been gravitating to the way that I have used it because they've thought of it in terms of physical design, they hadn't thought of it in terms of social design.
Andrew: Right. Since the COVID crisis started and certainly, certainly over the summer, you know, thinking about, What does it mean to try to start up an educational year with so much uncertainty? That's the thing that kept coming back to my mind and, and the local details changed so much from place to place, but the mindset of what do we do in this moment to create an educational experience for the most marginalized, for the people who need it the most, be they English language learners, be they kids living in poverty, be they kids with IEPs or 504 plans. How do we target the education to those kids? And if we could do that, and I guess maybe this is where this equity mindset is so important, because if you come at that from equality, you say, well, well like my rich White kids also need to be able to go to school and they don't actually like they, you know, I would like them to get out of my house from time to time, but they do quite well. We've got devices, we've got high speed internet at the house, we are very fortunate in that regard. And if you can try to solve the problem for the most marginalized, then the assumption there is that those sort of benefits will trickle up, that everybody will benefit from that kind of design.
Angela Glover Blackwell: What I say is trickle down never works. The real thing is to cascade up and out and that's when we really get big change. Let's think a little bit about COVID, when you mentioned that. Just think who was the most vulnerable when COVID first hit? It was people who were living in close quarters. Jails, nursing homes, places like that. If we had focused on those nursing homes, if we had focused on the people who were in the nursing homes and the workers there, we would have gotten in front of this more quickly.
If we actually thought about who's going to be most at risk in terms of coming in contact with people who might have COVID, it's those frontline workers. If we were really protecting them and investing there.
Every time, if you have a crisis, if you have a problem, ask yourself: Who's most vulnerable here? Who's most marginalized here? Who's most forgotten? When we think about it, who's most going to have the most difficult time coming out of this? Go there, study that situation, talk to the people there, figure out what they need, solve it from that point of view. And while you may have to spend more time and money in the beginning, the benefits will cascade to everybody.
Andrew: Right. And not tell them what they need, but go to them and figure out what they need.
Angela Glover Blackwell: So important.
Andrew: Right. And I guess it goes back to this hierarchy of human value, that if those people are the people that society undervalues, then there's less drive to go and solve problems for those people because they are treated as expendable by society. And it's only really when, I mean, even with COVID, right? Like the, it, it became real to people when Tom Hanks got it and when the NBA canceled their season, you know, it wasn't until it actually started to impact the lives of other people. But if we'd been looking at frontline workers, if we'd been looking in the prisons, if we've been looking at nursing homes from the very beginning, we would have seen this as actually something we need to take.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Yeah, that's absolutely true. This hierarchy of human value is not just the stain, but it is a drain on the nation and they need to jettison it.
A wonderful woman whose name, Isabel Wilkerson, has a new book called Caste, in which she looks at racism in America in the caste context, comparing it with Germany and India. And she talks a lot about the hierarchy of human value. People want to know more about it, I would refer them to that book.
Andrew: When you think about pushing back on this, because it does seem like that is underlying so many of these problems, equity as a way to address the hierarchy of human value in the caste system. You talk a lot about solidarity, about the need for skin in the game, about the need to go into communities. That feels, that to me at least, like another way to push back on that, that in being in solidarity with people as a way to see their humanity, which helps to push back on the societal notions of the kind of hierarchy of human life.
Angela Glover Blackwell: It is certainly true. What we really need is transformative solidarity. A solidarity that goes beyond, Yeah I sympathize with you, that goes beyond, I'll support you on this issue. It really is we are transforming society. We all have skin in the game of a better nation and we need to come at our work with that goal in mind that so often, and I certainly don't mean to belittle White people who are joining, thinking of themselves as allies of Black Lives Matter and other struggles. I think that they are coming at it in a way that is very good. And I think they should ask themselves, are they being allies to Black and Latinx and Indigenous people in their struggle? Or are they in the struggle for themselves because they have as much stake in building a fully inclusive society as anyone.
Racism is destroying White people, they don't think of it as their problem, but it is destroying White people. They have an urgent need to make sure that we become an antiracist nation. It will liberate them. And so this notion of working on these problems, because they are your problems, owning the problems is essential for transformative solidarity.
Andrew: Yes. I mean, that is so much of the mission of Integrated Schools, is really being in solidarity, as being in community is having skin in the game. You know, we talk about desegregating our families, making a different choice about where to send our kids to school, recognizing the undue power and privilege that our education system affords White and privileged people in terms of where our kids go to school in the first place.
But then, then using that as a first step to getting into community, to truly integrating our kids and our families, and then being in solidarity. And only at that point, looking forward to what does it mean to collectively work for our, for, yeah, for all of our liberation.
Angela Glover Blackwell: It's so true, so true. I appreciate what you and your colleagues are trying to do. I think that is so much the way we have to look at it.
You know, this very notion of White privilege. I struggle with it because people are certainly privileged in this society if they are White, but very often when you think what their privilege, the privilege is not being discriminated against. And that, that shouldn't be a privilege.
If you think about a White person who has a teenage son and a White person whose teenage son goes out on a Friday night to have fun with their friends, that if you're White you probably aren't thinking, I hope and pray my son does not get killed by the police tonight. You probably are not thinking that.
And if you want to call that a privilege, you can. But what I think about, is what does it mean in a society when a Black mother has to ask herself that question, that a Black father has to have the talk before the child goes out. That is a society that abuses, oppresses, discriminates against Black people.
And the flip side of White privilege is discrimination against people who are Black and Brown. And I often wonder what would have more impact if we thought, I am exercising discrimination against Black people, rather than I am exercising my White privilege. I just wonder.
Andrew: Yeah. That's yeah, that's amazing. I have often struggled, and we have a lot of internal discussions about just this idea of White privilege, because it does capture so much that feels very real, but it also feels like a problematic framing. And maybe some piece of the problem is that what we refer to as privilege is a sign of a broken society. And that society is broken for all of us. It's broken for White people, not in the same way, but it is broken for all of us. And it affects all of our humanity. We are all harmed by the ways that the society is broken, clearly not equally, but what we refer to as privilege is actually an indication that we are living with something that is problematic.
Angela Glover Blackwell: It’s true. I'm going to give you another example. If you are White and you can go into a high-end store or not a high-end store and walk around and browse with the intention of spending your money and not be followed, not be looked at suspiciously, is that a privilege? Or is the fact that a Black person wanting to look around with the intention of spending money and buying something is followed is extraordinary disrespect, low rung on the hierarchy of human value. I mean, everybody who goes into a store to be able to be a customer should be treated as a customer. The fact that people based on the color of their skin or their language or their religion, that the people are not? That is a broken society, as you said, and what we call privilege should be the status quo for everyone.
Andrew: Yeah. We need a new name for it.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Yeah. We need to get rid of the hierarchy of human value and we need to achieve equity. We need to get on this journey and, and complete it.
Andrew: The ability to complete it, your career has spanned so much. A lot of your work has focused on policy and on enacting policies that try to advance the cause of equity.
And I wonder what you think about the role of more broad drivers of change in society, public will, culture, activism, and the ways that kind of pushes policy to change. And then the ways that changing policies can pull society along to catch up with them. And is there, is, is there one that works better? Is it better for policy to be ahead of culture or for culture to be pushing policy or to work hand in hand?
Angela Glover Blackwell: I don't know the answer to that one, but I think it's rare for policy to be the pull. I think policy is usually reacting to a shift that has happened in the culture in society. If you think about equality of marriage act, the culture change, the television shows changed, the awareness of people about members of their family who came out and talked about who they loved. Everything was starting to change, and then we got the equality of marriage act.
I think there is an example of policy moving in another direction, but it was because of organizing that when we got the Civil Rights legislation, I think the government was ahead of the society, the majority, I think the majority of people were not there.
And it took Dr. King and all, all of his colleagues to do what they were doing. And it took the television showing the dogs attacking the civil rights workers. But it took that, but that's unusual in some ways, but those are the moments that we remember. The usual is society changes, the culture changes, policy that follows it. We have a foundation, we stand on it. Something else happens. We forget where it ever came from.
And then sometimes we have these moments where we just have a sharpness in terms of a civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter movement, anti-war movement.
So it happens, but I think the times that make us proud, the times that are memorable, is when people organize and they organize and they organize and they grow when they build their strength and they learn to refine their message and then lives are lost and people take chances and young people are brave. And when those things happen, society takes a great leap forward.
Andrew: Right. I think about Brown v. Board, was maybe another time that sort of the policy got ahead of the society, led to massive resistance and the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. I like to believe that that's true. I think that sometimes when we tell the story in that way, we create the impression that it was inevitable, or we create the impression that it wasn't a really powerful on the ground, thoughtful, community organizing and activism that pushed things and maybe pushed faster than a lot of the country was ready to go.
And maybe this goes back to what you were saying earlier about we don't seem to be ready to do big things as a country right now, because, if we think that, the changes that happened in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, and the ‘70s were inevitable, then we just sit and wait for more changes to come, rather than going out and actually fighting for them and actually trying to push on policy to change, and then trying to push on society when policy does change to support that.
And this is another piece of the work of Integrated Schools. White people will find a way around the cleverest policy, particularly when it comes to where they want to send their kids to school. And so the, you know, the best, most elegantly designed policy, Whiteness is like water. We'll find a way through it somehow, you know?
And, and so if there's not a comparable push on the ground of organizing, of movement, building of activating people and awakening their sense of moral obligation and their drive for equity, then it's easy to, to, to lose sight and then think, well, the policy’s there, and so, you know, if I can work my way around the policy then that's fine and I don't really have a responsibility anymore.
Angela Glover Blackwell: You are so right. You were just so right. I can do more, no more than agree. It is so important to know your history, to go back and revisit it, to teach it to your children. That's why all of us were so sorry to see John Lewis pass, but what a gift it was to have every cable station, every network television, telling that story, reminding us that he was beaten and vilified and all of that.
I remember when I was in elementary school, they told the story of slavery and the Civil War as if it was just a dance in the park. And it is so important to go back and understand what slavery was, that people who were enslaved were the ones who built this country and to understand how brutal it was, but to understand that there was an abolition movement that began the day that the first slave arrived. That people were always trying to end slavery. That Frederick Douglass was not the only abolitionist. There were thousands of abolitionists who were enslaved.
And we need to understand what happened in terms of after slavery, reconstruction was the beginning of a glorious moment and the violence that shut it down, the abandonment of Black people by the federal government to allow the South, to brutalize people, to understand Jim Crow and all that that meant, to know that when we talk about the Great Migration, we aren't just telling a story of people who moved to the North because it was industrialized for opportunity. People wanted to be in the South. It was their land. They had built everything that was there, but Black people were brutalized. They were lynched. They were isolated. They were kept from jobs. They were being imprisoned. People were leaving that brutality the same time that they were seeking opportunity.
We are such an ahistorical nation. We need to go back and understand that history and understand what you said. We make progress. These leaps that I'm talking about, they come about because of struggle. And we are in a struggle now in the, just like the civil rights movement. If we can make a leap in this struggle, it is going to be good for everybody. It is going to definitely be good for the people who have been suffering and don't have access to what they need to reach their full potential, but the nation could reach its full potential and it could be a glorious potential if we really build an inclusive democracy and a shared prosperity.
Andrew: Yeah. All right, you got me twice now with a little bit of hope.
Can I ask you, I'll ask you one more question, because we, we didn't really talk about Radical Imagination. On your Radical Imagination podcast, which I encourage everyone to go listen to, you close all of your interviews with this great question.
And so I want to turn it back on you. Your career, your life has defied many odds and the impact has already been widely felt and will be widely felt for generations to come. It seems to me that that requires some sort of superpower. So what is your superpower?
Angela Glover Blackwell: Oh, well, thank you for mentioning the Radical Imagination podcast. I do hope people will listen to it, you can get it wherever you get your podcasts. And you really have turned it back on me, haven't you? Um, I think that my superpower is to be able to listen. And to listen to what people are really saying and not to let it get distorted with the static in my own brain, but to clearly hear.
Andrew: That's beautiful. Well, thank you for listening to me. Thank you for all the work you've done. Your career is one of inspiration and thank you for providing a little bit of hope in these dark times.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Andrew: Big thanks to Angela Glover Blackwell for coming on. I continue to be humbled by the willingness of people to come and share, and am so grateful for the opportunity to speak with someone who has had such an impact on the movement for equity.
There’s so much I'm left thinking about, but the thing that I’ve really been grappling with is her issue with the term “White privilege”. And, first I just want to play a quick clip from Ep 14 - Kirkland on Integration, where the amazing David Kirkland talks about this:
David Kirkland: The philosopher Lewis Gordon begins to distinguish between what he calls privilege and license. He says that White privilege are things that we think everyone should enjoy— the privilege of safety, food, comfort. He says, but some people have luxury. The idea of luxury is that there is an extravagance that comes in addition to their privilege. He goes on to argue that luxury isn’t even the problem. He argues that the problem is a license – that there is a thing called White license, the idea, the fundamental framework, the ideology that not only are you privileged, not only do you have luxuries that go beyond your privileges, but you also feel entitled within that system, that you have license to that system. You have a license to say what is valued, and what is not. A license to articulate how resources get used. You have a license to construct the language and the definitions of success and failure.
Andrew: To be clear, I don’t deny the underlying phenomenon that this phrase, White privilege, is articulating. I am aware that my experience in the world is vastly different due to being a White male. But I do continue to struggle with the term White privilege. And while I don’t know what a better option is, I think I have three main issues:
So, first of all, and this may be mostly semantics, but when I talk to my kids about privileges outside of the context of race, we talk about good behavior earning privileges and bad behavior costing privileges. There is a sense of personal agency in the privileges one has or doesn’t. And while I recognize that that isn’t the context or usage intended by the phrase White privilege, the linguistic ambiguity makes me uncomfortable. Much like the move from achievement gap to opportunity gap, or, even better, opportunity barrier, I believe that we should strive for language that doesn’t obscure the intentional, systemic creation of harm.
My second issue with the phrase is that the things that come with Whiteness shouldn’t be considered privileges at all. I am not receiving things that should be bonuses - things that are special extras. I am receiving what should be the status quo - what should be the entry point for all people - rights not privileges. So referring to them as privileges feels almost like accepting that the hierarchy of human life that Ms. Glover Blackwell spoke of, is a reasonable or inevitable way to organize our society. White privilege feels static, inevitable, unmoving, and it glosses over the explicit, intentional, anti-Black and anti-Brown racism behind it.
And I guess the final piece of the term White privilege that I struggle with, is that it is really only a privilege relatively speaking. While I have more access, more public trust, more space to exercise my full humanity, the existence of White privilege means I continue to live in a country that is broken - perhaps more broken for others, but broken for all of us. A country that has not heard the call of the moral imperative of equity. A country that continues to forgo the superior growth model that Ms Glover Blackwell makes the case for.
So, yes, I continue to be privileged compared to others, by a society fixated on a hierarchy of human value, but maybe, just maybe - with equity as our North Star, with transformative solidarity, and by focusing with nuance and specificity on the needs of the most marginalized, maybe we can do something big so that our kids or our kids kids might live in a world in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
I encourage you to check out the Radical Imagination podcastfor more Angela Glover Blackwell, and I want to leave you with the Equity Manifesto put together by PolicyLink. Before I do, a quick ask to join our Patreon, Patreon.com/Integratedschools- you’ll be supporting this podcast, and helping us keep it ad free.
You can also email us - [email protected], and check us out on social media @integratedschools.
And it’s a privilege to be in this with you as I try to know better and do better - a privilege I work to earn everyday.
It begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.
It embraces complexity as cause for collaboration, accepting that our fates are inextricable.
It recognizes local leaders as national leaders, nurturing the wisdom and creativity within every community as essential to solving the nation’s problems.
It demands honesty and forthrightness, calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic.
It strives for the power to realize our goals while summoning the grace to sustain them.
It requires that we understand the past, without being trapped in it; embrace the present, without being constrained by it; and look to the future, guided by the hopes and courage of those who have fought before and beside us.
This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.