JPB Gerald began his career as an English language teacher. Bothered by the inherent racism he saw in the field, and reflecting on his own upbringing in predominantly White, “good” schools, he broadened his academic interests to race and Whiteness. Currently a doctoral student at CUNY — Hunter College, JPB has been writing and doing interviews for many outlets in the midst of conversations about school in the fall. While he has great insights into the challenges to equity presented by COVID, he also brings a deep understanding of many of the issues we address at Integrated Schools.
This conversation was going to be about “Pandemic Pods” and equity, but we quickly found ourselves zoomed out to a broader conversation about meritocracy, “THE SYSTEM”, and Black Lives Matter signs in gated communities. With insight, humor, and authenticity, JPB helps us think about what it means to take care of our kids in a way that doesn’t harm other kids.
- Unstandardized English – JPB Gerald’s Podcast (and you can support his work on Patreon)
- The Ezel Project – JPB Gerald’s course on whiteness
- JPB on Twitter
- Combatting the Altruistic Shield – JPB Gerald’s article describing the concept
- JPB Gerald and Mira Debs on Pandemic Pods in The Washington Post
- Cheryl I. Harris – Whiteness as Property (1993)
- JPB was inspired by Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa who have written several pieces together, including Undoing Appropriateness, and Unsettling Race and Language
Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I’m Andrew, a White dad from Denver.
Anna: And I’m Anna, a White mom from LA.
Andrew: This is “Checklists and Merit Badges: JPB Gerald on Whiteness”, and I’m thrilled that Anna is back to guest co-host this episode with me. Anna, how are you doing?
Anna: Hey Andrew, I’m good - yeah things are tense around here. My kids had their first day of school today. TK and 3rd grade. First day of school and we are all here at home. Not l how I pictured it. And while I don't love it, I am grateful, I think, that our district is remote right now. It is hard for all of us, but I think they are doing their best to consider the public health of our teachers and students and communities so I appreciate that. All of us cried at one point or another today. And we are gonna wake up and try again tomorrow. And I am also really grateful for the school community, for the friendships I have there, and also really fortunate that my family is healthy, housed, and has food on the table. So, it’s ok - how are you?
Andrew: Yeah, we don’t back until Monday but yeah, I have some trepidation for sure. I think my 4th grader, I have some faith that she can independently do some work. My 1st grader, I don’t know, I think it’s going to be a lot of hand holding, and I’m not sure how any of that happens while also getting anything else done, like this podcast. Definitely grateful that those choices don’t involve things losing my house, or leaving my kids alone to watch themselves. Because, that’s real, too.
Anna: For sure - things are extremely difficult for so many people, and for a variety of different reasons and circumstances, and, I’m really excited to share this conversation.
Andrew: Yes. Me, too. There has been a whole lot written about you know, what school looks like in the fall recently, particularly with regards to the steps parents are taking, like pods, and I think a few voices have really risen up through all the noise. And we were very fortunate to have had one of those voices, Dr. Shayla Reese Griffin, last episode, and today, we get to bring you another, JPB Gerald.
Anna: Yeah - his perspective has been so helpful, and I’m grateful because it turns out he has a lot of insight beyond just the current crisis, a lot of which really resonated with me. He began his career as an English language teacher, and as he started to come to terms with the ways racism showed up in those spaces, broadened his scholarship and work to racism and Whiteness more generally.
Andrew: Yeah - and now he’s got his own podcast called Unstandardized English, which everyone should check out, and he’s written some really great stuff, I think. As a Black man who grew up in very White spaces - going to the quote unquote best schools - he’s got an insight into Whiteness and what it asks in those spaces of people who are not White that I found really profound.
Anna: YES! He blew my mind on so many things. He talks about meritocracy, how individual choices make up “THE SYSTEM”, self interest as a justification for racism, and what people can do to push back on all of this.
Andrew: Yeah - he’s great, but let's not give it all away, other than to say, that he highlights the ways we White people tend to like checklists to tell us what to do, and then merit badges to celebrate the work we’ve done. Let’s hear the conversation.
Andrew: Maybe you can start by just introducing yourself.
JPB Gerald: Okay. My name is JPB Gerald. My first name is Justin, but go by JPB. I am a doctoral student at CUNY, City University of New York Hunter College. My research focuses on language, race, and Whiteness in education because my previous background was as a language, or an ELT, professional English Language Teacher.
Anna: And in the midst of your studies you also have launched a new project, right?
JPB Gerald: It's a project I'm doing where I teach people about Whiteness, where I have them go off and try to change their institutions. It's called the Ezel Project because I want the world to be safer for my son, Ezel, who is five months old.
Andrew: That's beautiful.
Andrew: How did that transition come about for you, from language to, more broadly, Whiteness?
JPB Gerald: So I was a language teacher for eight or nine years. I started studying, just generally, education. So I was, because I was a language teacher, I actually ended up in a class about teaching English Language Learners and research and English Language Learners. And I came across articles linking language and race, particularly the work of Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa. And I was in the process of doing a survey for that class where I asked people, pretty broadly, What is your experience teaching race in your Language Education classrooms?
Andrew: This was a survey of teachers, was a survey of English language teachers, right?
JPB Gerald: And I made a mistake in getting it out there, so I only had participation of the fellow classmates of my master's program. But that made it interesting for me ‘cause I knew them and I wanted to see what they were doing. And the responses I got were curious to me. So some people simply answered the questions and then a couple of people messaged me. I put the thing on whatever Facebook page for my master's program. And a couple of people sent me private messages saying, We should not be talking about race.
That was one of two responses that got my hackles up, like what is going on here?
Andrew: The first, the survey said, Do you talk about race? Not, Are you or are you talking about it well or anything like that. Just do you? So like a reasonable response to that could be, No don't ‘cause I don't think that I should. You don't like that? Yeah. That would be one…
JPB Gerald: That’s fine! And then another question in the same survey, Did your teacher training program discuss race? ‘Cause I really just wanted to know, I just wanted to see what the lay of the land was. And a lot of them said, Yes. And then some of them said, No. Let's be clear. This is my master's program. I went to that program. We did not talk about race. So I was wondering like the people who said, Yes…
Andrew: What were they referring to?
JPB Gerald: What are you talking about?
And then it was interesting. The people that said, No, often were the people that said they did discuss it in their classes ‘cause they had more experience in like race theory and so forth, ‘cause they’d gone out and studied it themselves like I did.
Anna: So the teachers that did talk about race in their own classrooms were the ones that recognized that your program had not in fact talked about race in your program.
JPB Gerald: Right. Maybe at some point we read an article that mentioned race. I don't remember ,that could have happened. We didn't have a class on it. We didn't even have, we definitely didn't have a unit. We definitely never focused directly on race or the race of our students. And I don't think I remember discussing being Black, more than tangentially at any point in the program. They certainly wouldn't have stopped me from doing it, but it didn't come up.
And the sad thing is, I didn't even really notice the absence of it until after the fact, until I really put the survey out there and knowing that we hadn't studied it, I expected them all to say, No. And then when they said, Yes, I was like, These people think that they studied race and they haven't. So I got kinda mad after that.
Andrew: So the confusion around how much race was actually in your master's program and the assertion by some people that you shouldn't even be talking about race, this is what sort of pushed you from the language space into race more broadly. And I guess this is sort of what led to the idea that you have come up with of the altruistic shield. I’m wondering if maybe you can tell us a bit about what the altruistic shield is.
JPB Gerald: So one of those things they tell you in, in research is that sometimes the most interesting thing is what they call the marginalia. It’s like what's hiding there, that's not just the question.
The question I asked is, Did people study race, right? But then the question I really started asking is why is it that even before I asked them about race, they get so upset? So then I started thinking about that. I said, What is it about this field makes it so that people try to stop you from talking about it before you talk about it, before you even get close to it.
We all know, at least now, that it's difficult for people to talk about race, but that's not just a teaching thing, but it's that people in certain professions, I was theorizing, will put up the goodness of their work, the prosocial reputation of their work as a preemptive defense.
There's many frameworks for the defensiveness itself, and I'm not saying they're useless. But I was saying like before they even get to that, the goodness of the field, it like keeps them from getting close enough to, before they even get accused or criticized.
Yeah, the altruistic shield basically is anyone who's doing something that is commonly known as good for society, it could be any person who thinks that their job is, uh, prosocial or altruistic, will use that identity as a preemptive defense, so that's the shield, from any engagement with the possibility that they might be complicit in White supremacy or racism. You could use it for other forms of oppression, but my lens is race, so that’s what I talk about. So I guess you could say altruistic shield for classism or gender, things like that doesn't mean it's not valid, but my analysis and my theorization is focused around race, so...
Anna: For myself, I think it's, this is a completely relevant conversation as a parent in an integrating school. Like, unless you're really doing the work to inspect, like if, if you've made the decision to attend your neighborhood public school, to invest in your neighborhood, to believe, you believe in integration, that doesn't excuse you from like some deep internal work of decentering Whiteness and practicing antiracism just because you're there.
JPB Gerald: Yeah, I wrote the thing because I was in the language field and I was talking to language educators to be like, this is particularly true in our field because it's one of those things where not only am I teaching students of color mostly, but I'm also teaching immigrants mostly. And therefore I am helping people who are just so unbelievably oppressed that I must be a saint for what I do.
JPB Gerald: So I am not to be challenged. And the thing is, I don't want to come down and make it seem like I don't think that teachers work hard. Of course they do. The problem is there are things that are built into the system and chosen by people. It's not just this mystical system thing that make it so that no matter how hard you work, unless you're also working on this specifically, you're just reifying and underlining things that are harmful to certain people, especially to people that you think that you're saving.
Anna: I think this is such an important concept to think about as a parent in community, like we can't live on acts of yesterday. We are all participants but our participation does not limit our harm. Like we have to do the work to get real with structural racism and our participation in it, and where it lies in our body and where it has been internalized in us. And where it comes out and, and where we're hiding behind the shield. And so I really, I feel like that gives me a lot to reflect on like, do I use the shield? Do I wear it? Do I put it up for certain things? Do I get defensive?
Andrew: Yeah, it's a fascinating concept. It definitely gives me a lot to think about too.
I'm wondering if you see a connection between this defensiveness, how, how it shows up, uh, you know, sort of more broadly. And, and what relationship that may have to this current conversation about pandemic pods. You know, recognizing that the term pod can refer to a wide range of things from pulling your kids out of school and hiring a teacher to sort of child care collectives. But is there a way that this defensiveness, the shield, impacts those discussions, do you think?
JPB Gerald: When I talk about these pods and how it can increase inequity, depending on how they're manifesting, the fact is if at the very least there is the potential for increased inequity and particularly not just… I do hate when, if I point out that it's along racial lines, people will say, But what about class? Yes, class too, but we can't just use class and pretend that race is not there. People will say, Why are you blaming individuals, it's a systemic issue. To me, this is the most common thing I'm getting as pushback to what I wrote.
So it's a systemic issue and that's usually systemics in like all caps, A SYSTEMIC ISSUE, which I find interesting in a couple of ways. Because five, 10, 15 years ago, nobody would have said systemic issue or certainly White folks wouldn't have said systemic issue. They were still in the individualistic. Racism, it’s just those bad people over there.
Another thing I’m thinking with the systemic, they say, It's out of my head hands. Like, The school system is failing us. True. Yes. And it's very easy to point to all of the problems in the system, which are very extant. This is just the latest and most stark example, but it's not new. If it had not been failing us all this time, then I don't think all of this would have happened. So sure, yes, it's a systemic issue, but how do we think this system is built? Like the system is not imaginary, right? It's not theoretical.
Anna: These are actual actors making decisions, pulling levers, hiring people, firing people, writing policy, putting policy into law.
Andrew: And in response to what is being asked of them, right? Like the demands that are put on the system is what drives the policies to appease those kind of loudest, most listened to voices, which tend to be White and wealthy voices. And so yeah, to say it's the system doing it means the system is responding to you, right? The system responds to me. I can't blame the system because the system is inclined to listen to me.
JPB Gerald: The reason I got upset about the pods, it's not just ‘cause inequity is a thing, but I don't know that it's all that unusual. Like the particular details of it is a little weird and so forth and the reason that this is popping up and all over the place is because it's just kind of stark.
But the system being blamed, you know, for this? I can tell you some of these people will turn around and say, Why don't these Black people just work harder? And blame it on them individually. They'll say that the system is the reason that they can't choose equity or choose things that support the full community, but then they'll turn around and say, This is an individual decision and that's why you deserve all of the things that you get.
Andrew: The system is the problem for me and my family. But the system is certainly not the reason that you don't have generations of family wealth built up or...
JPB Gerald: And so one of the things I bring up a lot is like the sort of the concept of the lawn sign for Black Lives Matter in a gated community, right? Like when you think about that juxtaposition, you want to show your support for the movement. And I believe that most of them really do. Like they see these moments and they're just like, This is bad, I need to do something, and they'll put the sign in their lawn. But they don't have any Black neighbors. And I'm sure they, they themselves are not standing on the lawn keeping the Black people out of their community, but what are they doing in their community with the gate, whether they have a literal gate or just a metaphorical financial gate, that is making it so that community is more integrated? And like genuinely integrated, not two token people on the block.
Andrew: Yeah. We've distanced ourselves from the explicit racism in all of these decisions with this kind of clever language that allows us to ignore it. It's like it allows us to protect Whiteness without saying that that's what we're doing
JPB Gerald: Yeah, exactly. And to protect Whiteness and to protect property. And of course, Whiteness as property is one of the theories that's the most resonant, from Harris in 1993 and getting very academic here, but people should look it up. And so like, when you think about Whiteness as property, thinking about it's something that we have to protect at all costs, not we, but you I guess, have to protect at all costs.
Andrew: You’re off the hook.
JPB Gerald: And it's very literal in the sense of that is where most White wealth has come from in the United States, property that was stolen obviously, is that, if there's only so much property, and there is, then you must not allow more people to share in it because of this zero sum way that our society is constructed. When people just say it’s hatred, that's not, it's not interesting. The question is not, Is there hatred? It’s, Why is there hatred? And if you look up like Kendi and some other thinkers, you'll see that although people certainly do hate, a lot of the time racism is a justification for self-interest. And if the other people are just as good as you and they deserve the same treatment, then what you're doing is bad. Very few people are okay with doing what they think is bad.
Andrew: So you need some justification for why it's okay.
JPB Gerald: And you have to deserve the property, the literal property of the house and the property of Whiteness and the other people have to not deserve it.
Anna: This is getting us like directly to the idea of meritocracy and of tying meritocracy to race and racism.
JPB Gerald: If you are able to convince yourself and justify the fact that you have more than others, right, because meritocracy is the idea that both intelligence and effort put together mean that well, you are smarter and you worked harder. So therefore you have more.
Andrew: And are deserving what you have.
JPB Gerald: Right, exactly.
Anna: And as one of the things that I, uh, from your podcast, Unstandardized English, the episode on exceptional merit, you said, “Unequal societies that are not actually meritocratic depend on the idea of meritocracy in order to operate.”
JPB Gerald: Yeah, because you have to tell people that if they're in a bad place, they deserve it. And maybe if they work a little harder than you could get out of the position you're in.
Andrew: You don't have to tell that for their sake. You have to tell that to them for your own sake.
JPB Gerald: And it, and the hard, and what's even harder about it is that, it's very difficult to quote, unquote rise in America, but a few will, and the problem is, when you do and you are embraced by the quote unquote elite, they don't say now go back and help people that are in your community.
They say, now you're part of our community now. So don't worry about them and they break the chain so that the collective action is more difficult. And it's hard because you see this in, like, academia, you see this in lots of places where they say, Look, just wait, don't rock the boat. Maybe when you get a little bit more power maybe you can do what you want to do. Don't say anything yet. Don't say anything. And you say, All right, when can I say...? Not yet, not yet. Give me a little bit more. And then all of a sudden you're 50 and then you didn't do anything. And that was 20 years when you could have been trying to do something.
Andrew: Like, we let you in from the outside but like now that you're here don't rock the boat.
JPB Gerald: With meritocracy, we will allow a few people who are outside of the property of Whiteness in and those people will be the exceptional people, but we don't want their entire group to be part of things.
Andrew: We need a few of those exceptional people to say, See, this is not about race.
JPB Gerald: Exactly. And it's one of those things that's for me, being a Black guy at very White schools that were not integrated, let's put it that way. They were quote unquote gifted schools and then, at an Ivy league university, those are all places where exceptional merit is prized for everyone, but particularly if you're not White.
And so I've only come around to this criticism of meritocracy and tying it to race in recent years because it was superficially beneficial to me for a long time. Because the schools will tell, You're here, you deserve this. But when I realized that when they criticized me in school, it was for the ways in which I didn't match their conception of Whiteness.
Not just my skin color, but I mean the, when I veered off of the way they thought of intelligence and so forth. And I thought like I was in the best positions I could be in academically. This is the most exclusive schools. If that was still a place where they were doing this to people who they thought were quote, unquote exceptional, then how is everyone else being treated in other places?
Andrew: Yeah, I think you wrote “What happens when a student, as capable as any other, is told he is loved by his schools, but fed Whiteness as the standard to match? What all such students deserve and need is radical love.”
JPB Gerald: There's a conditional love that is given from Whiteness, unfortunately. And when I say Whiteness, I'm not necessarily talking about all White people or whatever. But there are conditions that have to be met to be accepted by Whiteness, especially if you're not nominally part of it. And if you match those things then they'll let you halfway in the door. But you always have to be looking out behind yourself to ensure that you don't get thrown back out.
And one of the things that happened to me, like I, I went to the same school for 14 years and most of that time, like looking back, there were some things that were screwed up, but I didn't understand them as being related to my race until I was an adult and I looked back at it. However, some of the things I knew at the time were related to my race is that one of the conditions that Whiteness proposed to me and to people in general, was that you didn't take anything from them. So all of a sudden, we get to 11th grade and now I'm Black because I might take their place in the colleges they want to go.
Yeah. So like I went, I've known that since I was three. And we didn't really talk about race that much. And then all of a sudden, everybody wanted to be questioning me about affirmative action. So it was just a very conditional type of love.
Andrew: How do we start to push back on this, you know moving from this kind of conditional love to do what you've called radical love. What can we be doing to make progress on this?
JPB Gerald: So I think that the individual work that people need to do, do the readings, consume the podcasts and stuff like that. People need to do it. That's, I can't really tell how to change your hearts and minds. I don't think a lot of the time that you can forcibly change people's hearts and minds by themselves. I think something has to happen. Some circumstance has to be there. Because if someone isn't ready to hear it, it's just, it's not gonna work.
And I think that I had things that I really had to learn. Yeah, about race, but about lots of things. Because as a man, there were things that I had to and continue to have to learn about gender. As a person who didn't grow up poor, there were certainly things that I had to learn about class. And some of these things, I was not going to learn from personal experience. I wasn't to learn about a woman's experience from my personal experience, I had to learn and listen to people. And I certainly had to be in the right mindset to learn these things. And I don't claim that the journey is finished for me on all of these things, because it's not. But I said all of that to say that although I think people have to come to their individual changes themselves, what I try to do is bring people to the concept that they do have the power to change whatever institutions they're connected to. Whether that's a parent working with their school system or a teacher working in a school or just a worker at any job that they're a manager at this place and they start to think there's a problem with racism and I don't really, I read this book and I don't know what to do about it.
And the thing is, I think sometimes we get caught up because people will read nine books and then they don't do anything. Not just because they don't care, but because they don't really know what to do. And nor should the books necessarily be telling you, ‘cause like a book that's like do these three things, it's the checklist, right? But like tomorrow, what can you do in your workplace to make your workplace safer for racialized people? You could do something.
Andrew: Not fix all the problems tomorrow, but what step can you take tomorrow to actually take to move in that direction?
JPB Gerald: Because I know the circles that I have grown up in, I know that the people I know are people who went to Ivy league schools and such, because I did, and therefore that's who I met growing up.
I know that they, most of them, have some sort of institutional power somewhere. And parents are in the same position, especially if they work together. So I offer, I offer guidance to people on like, All right, you work in this place. Okay, let's talk about how Whiteness impacts the place where you work or study or your kids go to school or whatever it is. What switch can you flip so that tomorrow there's a little bit more light in the darkness, right? That doesn't mean you're going to stop after that. ‘Cause I, I don't want people to come to me and I say, Oh, we can work on this thing. And then you did one thing and you're like, Solved racism.
I’m like, No, you don't get a merit badge for doing one thing.
Andrew: Yeah, I think the challenge of changing the mindset is really important. And I think the other piece of merit badges and checklists is that I think, particularly now in the kind of cultural moment we are in, there's a lot of people who are thinking about their complicity in White supremacy in new ways. Which is, I think powerful and at least some like sliver of hope in this, in these otherwise relatively dark times. I think it's also, there's an opportunity in this moment to really highlight gulf between the people who have done some race work, particularly like White people, particularly like White teachers, White parents, people who have done some race work and people who haven't done any. People who are just beginning to be comfortable referring to themselves as White and people who have done a lot of thinking and readings about it.
And I think it, it leads people often to want to declare their wokeness, to put on their sash with their merit badge and be like, No, look at, I read Kendi, I read Robin DeAngelo. I'm good. I have arrived. And then take the merit badge, claim the stamp of I am antiracist, I'm an antiracist parent or I'm an antiracist teacher. And I guess that also feels problematic. Like probably better that they've taken any steps than none at all, but the feeling like you've arrived and that you are done with your work just because you can see some gap between you and some people behind you feels really problematic.
JPB Gerald: I think a big part of that, what I say and why I do the work that I do, is people who read a bunch of books and they certainly should, and that often will give them a better sense of terminology, which is, it's better that they do that than that they don't do that. But if they really are internalizing it, they would know you're not supposed to declare that you finished anything. You could finish the book but couldn’t finish the journey in any way. But somehow people read the book and they don't understand that they're not finished yet.
That's why I try to talk about different aspects of Whiteness itself, because there's books about aspects of Whiteness and there's books about race. And it's still just the natural inclination of people, particularly White people, not just White people, to externalize and still want to say, That's that problem over there. Or they'll read a White Fragility or something else that's about an aspect of Whiteness and say, Well I have this problem, that's a part of me. So instead of saying, It's the problem over there, it's like a gangrenous limb that I got to cut off and then that was gone and now it's over. No, it's still there.
Andrew: That gangrene is still creeping up your shoulder.
JPB Gerald: It's all there. It’s all of you. You have to keep doing it. So I think all the people saying, It's a systemic issue, are the people who've read a little bit about Whiteness and are just like, Oh wow, look at this system.
And I'm like, uh...
Andrew: And I think like, taking the step away from, like you said it before, like that, Those people are racist, I'm not burning crosses, I wasn't carrying a Tiki torch and wearing my khakis. Like those people are racist. So then the next step of, Oh shit, this is actually bigger than just those people or me. There is a systemic issue going on here. But then you can’t stop.
JPB Gerald: Right. It’s like, This is system. And then you see that some of the things that you're doing are bad but you still have to get a little bit farther between understanding that, Okay, It's not just some of the things you've done are bad. Then that's easy to say, We all make mistakes. Which we do, but like you said, Oh, I made some mistakes. I won't do that anymore.
But you have to really say, The big choices I’m making. Not even just like, I used to find it hard to talk about being White. Good that you've made this progress. But where am I sending my kids to school? What am I pushing for in the school? What are the consequences of what I'm pushing for in this school? Am I using my cultural capital to prioritize my child in ways that's going to harm a child whose parents don't have the same cultural capital?
And it comes back to this idea of people say, I'm just taking care of my kids, when they do the pod stuff or anything. It's just the latest manifestation of that. And yes, but we need to think about what it means to take care of our kids in a way that doesn't harm other kids. Because if you say I'm taking care of my kids and some other kid has less because of it, you're going right back to the concept that your kid deserves it and that other kid deserves it a little bit less. It's really hard to get people to admit that they actually believe that their kid deserves something more than another kid.
Andrew: It’s not like, I should work equally hard for all kids. I feel like there's a difference between my kid, I'm going to make sure that my kid is taken care of, but to the next level of my kid deserves more, that's the part that I think gets often, like we, we gloss over that linguistically: I'm just trying to get the best for my kid without having to face the the fact that that means inherently that I do, my kid deserves more than others.
JPB Gerald: If you're on an airplane and the planes going down and you only got two arms, you got to pick up your kid. That's fine. But in that situation, everybody is in the same amount of danger. But the point is the general danger of life now is not shared equally. That's one of the things that if people are going to be saying Black Lives Matter, they can't be saying, But my kid matters a little bit more. You know?
Andrew: Black Lives Matter, just not as much as my kid.
Anna: Well, and I think going back to the meritocracy thing, one of the other things you said was “meritocracy and anti-racism are antonyms”. And I think part of the meritocracy thing is like, I've worked to get to a point where I have the ability to give my kid lots.
I've earned that. I confer it on them because they deserve it. And our good friend, Courtney Martin said, “What if my kid deserves no end of love and only proportional resources?” And so I can look around and see, okay, right, okay, so meritocracy doesn't really exist. This is a fallacy. But I gotta get this for my kid. And then we, and we divorce ourselves from that and then at the other side, we're like, Okay, I got to take this Zoom class on antiracism, antiracist parenting, I gotta be an antiracist parent.
And then what we're trying to do at Integrated Schools is fuse those two things. That like, actually those two things are connected.
JPB Gerald: You make a good point about the resources thing, or I guess she made the point, but you know what I'm saying, but we equate love and resources, especially in this country. So we think that if I love my kid, I'm going to give them every possible resource. Even if the resource is not replenishable, you know what I'm saying?
Anna: Even if it's finite.
JPB Gerald: Right. Exactly.
Anna: I'm going to put the life jacket on my kids standing on the beach.
JPB Gerald: That's basically what it is. I'm going to put a life jacket on the kid that's already on the beach. Yeah.
And one of the things that's really, it's important to think about with, I'm going to protect my kid that's already protected by society, is we also think that, and the research has even shown, is that so much research is built in this way to reify oppression. That a family that loves their kid but doesn't give them a lot because they don't have a lot, is seen as depriving them of this or that. And the way the research bears out is that,the people that say, If you don't take your kid to this class, then they’re not gonna... and, If you don't take your kid then they're not going to... and then it's, If you don't... And then this just goes on again and again, and it's just all so much, just so much pressure.
And I understand the pressure, so I don't blame anyone for feeling overwhelmed by the pressure, but like we have to push back against the pressure. It's fiction.
And I remember this from being one of those kids who was sent to this and that. All I wanted to do is to stay home for the summer and not get sent somewhere. And after a while it just became it's summertime, I guess I'm going to this camp. And there’s nothing wrong with camp, I'm just saying the idea would be, if the kid just is home or something, then they're losing. They’re losing.
Andrew: Right. Like, you're not giving your kid any, what's going to go on their college application, that they did nothing for a whole summer?
JPB Gerald: And it's hard because you say, I don't want my kid to fall behind in the rat race. But like, when you think about it being so consumed in all this, you're not winning anything, like this is not fun. You know what I'm saying? To be doing this and trying not to fall behind all the time. The way Whiteness as a system and meritocracy and all these things work is they're only good for like two people. We're all fighting each other down here and some people are losing more than others. But it's not good for anyone besides like Jeff Bezos, that's it. That's who, that's who's winning. And everybody else is losing to a different extent.
And people think they're winning by pushing other people down, but then there's another family over there that's doing a little bit better. And so there you're losing to them. And then there's another family who’s doing a little bit better. So you're losing them. And the question is how much of the property of Whiteness do you have? And if you have a little bit less then you need to make sure that the people below you don't get any of it, so...
Andrew: The wages of Whiteness.
JPB Gerald: Right. The wages of Whiteness. And that's why the concept of the love and the resources and the fact that we can't separate the two, is probably why the entire country's in the situation that it's in.
Andrew: Where do you see signs of hope? I feel like that the people who have declared themselves to be antiracist teachers are problematic, but, and you mentioned in some writing that like the people most likely to actually be doing the work or the least likely to claim that mantle, the least likely to try to display their merit badge. What do you see as either like character traits or like hopeful instances of people like really engaging in the work and trying to do it better?
JPB Gerald: I think that what I've noticed, at least from, especially with my own podcast, is that not everybody, but a lot of the people that are on there, are fellow early-ish career scholars who are doing things related to language, race, Whiteness, all that sort of thing. And what I've noticed about the ones that I've really gotten along with is, there's a curiosity, maybe it's better... I don't want to necessarily call it humility because you know, that sort of creates a different image, but I think there's a curiosity and there's also a, there’s a self-interrogation, but I use interrogation positively. ‘Cause I think there's a problem sometimes where people self-flagellate all the time.
It just so that they're wringing their hands. I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do. And then you're just looking for an ice flow to grab onto and you'd be like, Oh, antiracism, I got it. All right. Now I can stop bringing my hands. Whereas if you're curious then you're probably never gonna find a stable ice flow intellectually. And that curiosity, that sort of perpetual inquiry, and I sorta hit a wall myself a year and a half ago where I realized that the only way out was through. I was talking around race, but race was still showing up.
Anna: I think I really appreciate that. And I think one of the things that I have heard from you is this idea of the defensiveness. And this all caps, I'm not this, or, What do you expect me, or It’s the system. And like the ability to slow down, because I think it's natural to feel defensive. You know, I feel like lots of times in this work for myself in my own journey, I can't deny the fact that I get defensive. And the ability to, to slow down and sit with that and think, Okay, what part of this is what I need to hear right now? Where can I grow from this?
JPB Gerald: That's a big thing. ‘Cause it's one of the hard things about any form of oppression that people are trying to either unlearn or work against in themselves or work against in other things… is that it's not going to go away tomorrow and you're gonna screw up. Like you will, like you're going to, so it's more about how do you get back up after you fall and expecting that you will?
When I find that people are doing the work, they are not afraid to call themselves White, but they're also not afraid to call me Black. That's one thing. Because I've noticed and it's not a one-to-one thing, but like in 2020, knowing that I write about this stuff and I say Black often, and that's one thing. If people are still saying, Yeah, you know that African American man. You want to make sure that I don’t upset anybody by saying. And when they're trying really hard not to upset anybody, they're probably going to upset somebody and then they're not gonna be able to handle it.
You gotta get past that point. You can't just be like locked up in that position forever. Just, unsure of what to do. And also if you're unsure, you should ask someone who either you're close to you and you trust or someone that like, as a person who does this, you actually pay them to learn about this stuff. Say these things, talk about these things. And if you've never had a chance to do that, you're never gonna do it, you're just not gonna do it.
Andrew: In the people you've come across interviewing for your podcast, guests you've had on, have you found hope? Have you found people who are engaging in this, uh, well?
JPB Gerald: Two of the people I interviewed this spring, they're both identified as White and they were language teachers. And I was asking them questions about how they came to understand themselves as White and how their Whiteness had impacted their work and their lives.
And they went to grad school and they got the language for what they were already feeling, which is what happened to me too. And they, how they really show up in their work to challenge, especially their White students, to do things differently. But what I noticed about both of them, and I don't know if this is hopeful or sad, but both of them, they had siblings who did not identify as White. Both of them grew up from a very young age with a sibling who was visibly, and treated as, not White by the world.
And they saw the difference between this person being treated that way and the way they were treated. And they had a very early understanding of this and although they didn't necessarily have the language for it, they thought it is bad that these people are being treated this way.
And I've also noticed that some of the people who are taking the class I give on Whiteness, like they have had similar situations where they're interested in learning this stuff because they had some close early peer relationship. And I wonder, Okay, so you have a close early peer relationship, but somebody doesn't guarantee that you do antiracist work as an adult, but it certainly doesn't hurt for you to at least be more open to it .
And so it made me hopeful for them. And for anyone who's had a close peer relationship, that they really just need language to be introduced to them to understand these things. But it also made me wonder about people who've had no peer relationship when they were younger, what they can do. Because I think in their case, that group, which is again most White people, needs to do a lot more extra work because they don't have that close peer relationship.And I don't think that can be forced upon them. I think they have to do that work.
Andrew: That's the, that's the crux of Integrated Schools, right? Is even if we didn't get it ourselves growing up that, you can actually give that opportunity to your kid. Like you said, it's not a guarantee, it doesn't ensure that your kid will turn out to be arrived at antiracism, but it certainly gives them a much better chance and it makes the journey much easier. To, to put words to what you have been feeling is much different than changing your heart. Like the journey and the work that has to be done to change your heart when you're fully formed is so vastly different than the work that your kids have to do.
Which really it's not that there's no work, but it is sure easy for kids to find each other’s shared humanity.
JPB Gerald: And that's why, I mean, it's why you all are doing what you're doing. ‘Cause even if their parents don't have the background to figure this out and then in as an authentic a way as their kids do, then the parents might simply have to do all this work to figure it out. If their kids have close peer relationships they have a much better chance of doing it.
Anna: There it is.
Andrew: That's the mission.
Thank you so much for coming on, for all your work. And before you go tell us just a little bit about, uh, your podcast Unstandardized English.
JPB Gerald: Yeah. It originally started as being a podcast where I went over various words in English and talked about the racism in them. And then I started talking about everything. So it's called Unstandardized English and you can find it on, what do they say, Wherever you get your podcasts.
Andrew: We'll throw a link in the show notes as well.
JPB Gerald: I, you can find my, all my articles and my writing on my website, JPBGerald.com. If you're interested in working with me, it's on there too.
Andrew: Thank you so much for your time and for your insight and for all the work that you're doing. And we'll have to stay in touch and keep up with your projects.
Andrew: Huge thanks to JPB Gerald for coming on and sharing. There’s a link to Unstandardized English in the show notes,
Anna: Yes - there are also details on the Ezel Project, which is a great opportunity to learn from JP, and to support someone doing this work. Man, that was a big conversation. Lot of big topics - what do you think?
Andrew: I think the thing that I’m sitting with is this idea of saying “Well I just need to do “what is best for my child” - and how that so often does not have a net neutral outcome- like in the case of pods, lining up teachers and tutors, pulling out of a public school system altogether, those aren’t neutral decisions, and they have a cost, societally, even if we choose not to see it. So I loved when he said we have to think about what it means to take care of our own kids in a way that doesn't harm other kids. How about you, Anna? What stood out to you?
Anna: Yeah. You know, as someone who is in the practice of antiracist school integration, certainly I’m still learning, we’re still practicing and considering my impact all the time - this idea of cultural capital that he talked about - what are the ways I use my cultural capital at school, intentionally or inadvertently, that can potentially harm families at school who don't have the same cultural capital?
This is not the “use my privilege for good olympics” - this is not, like, saviorism. This is about, how can I let that privilege, that power, that social influence, that whatever, just to let it go and sit back, be in community, whether if it is on a Zoom, or in the 6 ft socially distanced line to pick up my kids’ supplies. When I see the principal, can I just say hello and not ask for all the inside info, have the special side conversation, find out in advance who our teachers are - all of those Whiteness, cultural norms, that are just unnecessary and harmful.
Andrew: Yeah, how do we let go of those things? Particularly in this moment, where there's the desire to hold on to them, to cling to them is stronger, because everything else is so crazy.
Anna: Everything else is slipping through our fingers, so what sort of certainty can I hold on to?
Andrew: Well, big thanks to JPB, and thank you, Anna for coming on and co-hosting with me.
Anna: Yeah, it’s so nice to be here.
Andrew: If people want to chat about these topics more, what would you recommend they do?
Anna: Well first, I recommend that they should join our Patreon - patreon.com/integratedschools - not only are there message boards, but we also have an awesome monthly podcast happy hour - a bring your own beverage opportunity, a chance to chat with you, Andrew, as well as other listeners.
Andrew: Yeah, and, it’s a way to support this all volunteer effort and keep us from having to read you ads. Our listenership has grown quite a bit lately, so if you’re new here, welcome, and we’d be incredibly grateful for your support. And, if you like to make matching donations to support Black and Indigenous and People of Color, JPB also has a Patreon account - patreon.com/unstandardized, you can hit him up there.
Anna: And, don’t forget to share this episode with your friends, and connect with us on social media - Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - join us in conversation!
Andrew: And, as always, we’re grateful to be in this with you, as we try to know better and do better. See you next time. . . .