This week, Jeremi and Zachary are joined by Dr. Peniel Joseph to discuss his new book, The Third Reconstruction, and his interpretations of American history.
Zachary sets the scene with his poem entitled, “The Third Reconstruction.”
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and Associate Dean for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of award-winning books on African American history, including The Sword and the Shield, Stokely: A Life, and most recently, The Third Reconstruction.
This episode was mixed and mastered by Rayna Sevilla and Jasper Murphy.
- Dr. Peniel JosephProfessor of History at the University of Texas at Austin
This is democracy, a podcast about the people of the United States, a podcast about citizenship, about engaging with politics and the world around you. A podcast about educating yourself on today’s important issues and how to have a voice in what happens next. Welcome to our new episode of this is democracy.
Uh, every week is special on our podcast, but this week is really, really special. Uh, we’re joined, uh, by one of my, uh, best, uh, academic friends, one of my best friends as a whole, and one of the truly great scholars of race and democracy, uh, in our society. He’s been on our podcast a number of times before.
Today, we are really privileged, uh, and fortunate to have, uh, Dr. Pinel Joseph with us to discuss his brand new book, which is just out this week, which I hope every one of our listeners will be, uh, reading in the next few days. Uh, it’s called the third reconstruction, uh, Pinel. Thank you so much for joining us, uh, at such a busy time to talk about your new book.
Oh, it’s my pleasure, Jeremy. Thank you. Uh, Dr. Pene, Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair, uh, for ethics at the, the LBJ school and the history department at the university of Texas at Austin. He’s the author of numerous, uh, seminal groundbreaking books that have shaped the way that we think about our history as a society.
Uh, he began his career writing some of the, uh, cutting edge scholarship on the. Power movement. Uh, then went on to write about Stokley Carmichael and Barack Obama. Uh, and, uh, now of course, uh, this really great book, uh, on, um, the third reconstruction, I should also mention, I almost forgot, uh, his wonderful, uh, and really.
Groundbreaking book on Martin Luther king and Malcolm X, uh, as well, the sword and the shield. And now, as I said, we have the third reconstruction, uh, before we go to our discussion with Dr. Pinel Joseph, we have of course, uh, Zachary series scene setting poem. Uh, what’s your poem title today? Zachary, the third reconstruction.
you’re stealing his title. Come on, man. Shamelessly, go ahead. Zachary. Let’s hear. The third reconstruction. The first time I ever saw a voting booth, I voted for a black man. My father, let me check the box in the basement. Gymnasium of a high school in Madison. I stood on his feet probably at four years old.
As I maneuvered the pen over the seemingly and terminable names, as they fed the ballot into the great machine, I watched the digits advance on the little screen and held my. The first time I ever heard the president of the United States, it was his voice on the radio. It was his face on the television screen.
And when I first understood what it meant to be an American on a corduroy couch on January 20th, 2009, they were his words. The first time I ever saw my father cry. I was watching the same man from a pulpit in Charleston. I was hearing the same voice, cry out the words of that ancient song. He was asking for grace.
He was demanding our epiphany. He was saying that in the end, They will always lose. And the first time I ever cried for a reason, it was his eulogy from another pulpit in Atlanta singing the praises of John Lewis. A man I saw once in a giant auditorium from afar, just as in the same auditorium, I saw that same man speaking to the stars.
And though I never understood his words that what he was trying to say was never really clear. It made all the difference in the world, even if in the end they do sometimes win. You’re gonna make me cry again, Zachary. Uh, what is your poem about? My poem is about, um, how powerful it was for me as a young person, uh, born at the turn of the 21st century, uh, to grow up with a black man as president.
How important and, and how transformative that was. Um, and I think that, that that’s really, uh, the core of what we’re talking about here and the third reconstruction. Absolutely. The promise and the peril of that indeed. Right? Indeed. So pan one of the, uh, things I love about your new book and what’s unique, I think to this book from the rest of your I, where is, uh, this book you’re, you’re really quite personal.
You talk about your mom and you talk about what Obama meant to you. Uh, pretty early on in this. Oh, absolutely. It was a, you know, as a fellow writer, the older we get, uh, the more introspective we get and we are also trying to flex, uh, different muscles. So I think, um, putting in memoir and, uh, writing in a different way was really exciting, um, in addition to the historical, uh, and the political analysis.
So I’m, I’m really excited about the book in that. You, you have, uh, a really, um, powerful statement. You have a lot of powerful statements in here, but one that jumped out at me pretty early on around page 23, you say American history. Since the end of the civil war has involved a struggle between reconstructionists.
And redemption for the nation’s very soul. The contrasting approaches of these two perspectives have shaped the nation’s entire history. Not only on matters, connected directly to race, but also in how Americans have defined citizenship, which is a key topic in your book, the national identity and democracy since 1865.
What, what do you mean by that really powerful sentence? Well, no, thank you. You know, I think it it’s like me and you have had these conversations for really two decades now, and I think the, the further you become a student of history the past, um, the more it enables you to understand the present. So I think when we think about Barack Obama, uh, and, and Zachary’s great poem was just about Obama, but also people like John Lewis or Fannie Lou Hamer.
And then we think about the movement for black lives. And then we think. Trump and Maga and the tea partiers and the birther movements. Um, the, the way in which I argue in the book that we should make sense of January 6th, both the, the white riot, but also the hearings and the debates about it. Um, justice, Kaji, you know, Jackson, um, how do we make sense of all the things that are happening, um, around us?
And I think reconstructionists versus redemption is really what has. Framed American democracy from 1865 to the present. And I think there are times when redemption win, um, and are winning that debate. And there are times when reconstructionists are winning that debate. And I think. Obama was so important.
And I argue that he’s the, the, the, the first hinge point for the first re for the third reconstruction, because that, you know, you, you look at how that, that affected Zachary, how that affected all of us. You know, it, it affected generations of people, both in the United States and globally. um, because it, it made people think that we could be a multiracial democracy for real, you know, France doesn’t have a black prime minister.
The UK doesn’t seem like it’ll ever get a black prime minister or even a south Asian prime minister, whether they’re conservative, whether they’re to, or liberals. Right. It it’s, it’s a real big deal. And so I think that when we. And frame it reconstructionists versus redemption. We’re able to say a lot about not just race, but about American democracy, big government versus small government reproductive rights, gay marriage.
Um, and like you were alluding to really citizenship and dignity. And how is that gonna look even in Austin, Texas, our own beloved Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wisconsin, because even in liberal, Um, and progressive states and cities and paradigms, you have redemption inclinations that frame, uh, when we discuss school choice or we discuss climate change and environmental racism, segregation, or we discuss political power or wealth and equity.
So I think it gives us a good, um, conceptual tool to understand why Charlottesville, but also. Uh, why Obama? Right. And Obama, you know, uh, in Richmond, Virginia. And how did that happen? In the capital of the Confederacy and the night before the election, he’s in tears and there’s over a hundred thousand people there predominantly white.
And so people will say, well, wow, that’s right. How did that happen? And I think this gives us a framework in the history. That’s told here a way for us to conceptualize, um, both the past the present and, and hopefully the. Right. And, and you see a cycle, right? I mean, in some ways you’re doing your own cycles of American history here.
Right? You see these cycling through these moments of reconstructionists promise. The first one after the civil war, the second one, after the second world war reaching its pinnacle with the civil rights movement in the third with Obama. And you see also in each case, a pushback or a backlash as you call it.
Right? Absolutely. I think we are in hap you know, these unhappy patterns. Um, of, of history and we can see it in all three periods of reconstruction. I think the reason why we usually focus more on the second reconstruction than the first is because it provides us with a context to get to Barack Obama.
And like I say, in the book, it’s not just Barack Obama though, that that second reconstruction really configures a social justice, racial justice, um, consensus for the next 50 years. And that’s how we get Hillary Clinton. That’s how we get. Um, John ooff, that’s how we get really the most wealth and power and equity that people of color have ever had in women in the whole history of the Republic.
It’s from 63 to 2013. When you look at our Republic before then you don’t have as many people of color and women who are. Elected officials who are business persons and entrepreneurs who are successful, fabulously successful, um, who are able to create wealth, um, who are able to become leaders, uh, in so many different industries, not just acting and pop culture and sports, but in the sciences and in at universities.
I mean, me and you are examples of that. So I think that period is hugely, hugely important. and, and it makes sense that during that period, people thought that Obama’s victory was sort of gonna be a capstone. Uh, but as we see, and I, and I try to delineate in the book, especially when I talk about Obama.
And BLM and sort of that creative tension, um, Obama wa was, was really not the, not just the end of one era. Um, but it was also the beginning of a new period of reconstruction where you were going to see that kind of backlash against everything that Obama represented, because he represents so much. You know, I think it’s really interesting the way you describe the sort of cyclical nature of American history, um, uh, and, and of this reconstruction at a societal level, but how do we understand it at the personal level?
How can people who voted for Obama in 2008, 2012, uh, and then turn around and vote for Trump in 2016. How, how do we understand that phenomenon that tho those two conflicting ideas can, can perhaps exist in the same person? Well, I think. Those two ideals can exist in the same person. But part of it is how we tell the narrative and the story about Barack Obama and also American history.
I think one of the most powerful aspects of all three periods of reconstruction is the narrative power. The narrative power, both by redemption and reconstructionists. So in the first reconstruction, uh, the narrative that wins is the lost cause redemption narrative over and above the emancipation narrative, the abolition democracy narrative of, um, w E B Dubois and Ida B Wells, um, in.
In the second reconstruction, the narrative that wins is gonna be King’s narrative. The, I have a dream narrative, John F Kennedy’s narrative, the narrative that it’s a moral issue of civil rights and human and political rights. And I think in the third reconstruction, what we’ve seen is really. Two narratives budding together, both, uh, really at least three narratives, truthfully budding together.
One is the Obama narrative. Um, America is a place where all things are possible. Really what he reiterated to us. He iterated the first time at the 2004 democratic national convention. And then in 2008 throughout the whole campaign. Oh 7 0 8, but certainly in grant park. In November, um, November 4th, uh, 2008, where, where he’s saying America is a place where all things are possible and in some levels he says his election proves it, but also just that multiracial crowd proves it 40 years earlier, that that place had been a site of, of real political catastrophe for the country.
Uh, and the democratic party when the Chicago police. Brutalized nonviolent peaceful anti-war protestors. And those protesters shouted. The whole world is watching and they were really mocking the United States. They were mocking the notion of American democracy because in certain ways, when we look at 1968 in Chicago, they were saying the whole world is watching that American democracy is a.
We are being beaten and brutalized, including there were grandmothers being beaten by the Chicago PD in the summer of 1968. You flash you fast forward 40 years later. And it’s a peaceful demonstration with really a couple of hundred thousand people in grant park. Um, celebrating a president, elect who many.
Was an impossible dream. That’s really, really powerful. So that narrative, um, seems to be winning. And then we see the birther narrative, the tea party narrative, and really. The Trumpian mag narrative is really the first narrative I would argue since the reconstruction era. So I think Trump and Maga the narrative is even more powerful than George Wallace.
It’s more powerful than Reaganism. It’s more powerful than gold. Warism. Right, because it goes back to that 19th century, that idea that black success was going to repudiate, uh, white privilege and white supremacy and had to be stopped at all. Cause so we are locked into this narrative war and then BLM black lives matter has another narrative.
And their narrative is a narrative of, of, of really radical and revolutionary abolition democracy. And what Dubois meant by abolition democracy was this. Of a world after slavery that was free of systems and institutions of punishment and marginalization and death and anti-blackness, and that was going to be a multiracial democracy where all people, uh, were gonna have, um, You know, positive outcomes and aspirations and opportunities.
And I think when we look at those different narratives, the 16, 19 project versus the assaults on so-called critical race theory. We see how important the power of storytelling is. So I still think Barack Obama hugely important. I admire him a whole lot, but what I show in the book, the narrative that black lives matter was, was articulating was really equally important, cuz it was a narrative of black dignity from below people who perhaps Barack and Michelle Obama.
Never would’ve met. It met in their lives, people who are incarcerated, people who, who, who are on the margins, people who are disabled, uh, mentally and physically, um, and that those people mattered and that the president didn’t understand their suffering. At the level that the people were experiencing it understood.
And that’s why I have a part in the book where, uh, in December of 2014, he’s he’s has a meeting. Obama has a meeting with black lives matter, um, activist in the white house. And, and you know, they’re going back on and forth on, on change. And I say that, you know, Obama. At that meeting never could have imagined a Donald Trump presidency and the, the, the, the, the juxtaposition is that the black lives matter activist, the Ferguson activist absolutely could.
And they were warning him in that meeting. This is coming, this is coming, and he absolutely refused to believe it until 2020. Uh, one thing I show is that the optimism of 2004 and 2008 is replaced in 2020 with one of the darkest speeches Obama ever. Gives during COVID at the democratic national convention, which is, um, of course, you know, on zoom at that point because nobody can be there in person.
And Obama says that, you know, democracy is imperiled. This is the person who’s the absolutely the most optimistic leader of any race of is entire generation. Um, he, he switches because he sees the coming storm that I think BLM had already witness. It, it, it’s a, it’s a part of your book that I think jumps out and, and I have those pages marked up.
Uh as I mark things up when I enjoy reading them right before that section, uh, pane, you talk about, uh, Barack Obama as the first president to visit a federal prison. Right. Um, and I didn’t know that actually, um, So at some level he is trying to, to reach out. Right. And, and part of what I, I, I feel is underlying your argument in your book is that there’s a certain desire to connect, but yet there’s also an exceptional narrative that he carries and, and, and perhaps a naive TA about the pushback, the backlash, uh, and your book is basically reminding us that every moment of progress seems to spark this backlash.
What should Obama have been doing that he wasn’t doing, but that he could have done if he had known the history you outlined. So well here, you know, one of the things I talk about in the book, and I think me and you agree with this, Jeremy, is that we need to move beyond American exceptionalism, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need a positive story of America.
And I’ll say that again. We need to move beyond American exceptionalism, but it does not mean we don’t need a positive consensus building aspirational story of America, Martin Luther king Jr. Called it building the beloved community. So what I mean by that specifically is that, you know, Obama. Needed to tell us about not just the beauty, but the bitter parts.
And I know that’s not great for campaigns. I completely understand that that’s not great for campaigns, but it’s super important for us to have a narrative that can talk about histories of racial, slavery, antisemitism, uh, discrimination against women, uh, queer folks, uh, uh, Latinx folks, um, Asian American Pacific Islander and indigenous disabled people, just the whole gamut, but also talk simultaneously about the activist of all colors, of all backgrounds.
Who’ve pushed back against that. Who’ve dreamed of a different reconstructed America, a multiracial democracy, an abolition democracy, and have pushed all of us into getting. Labor day Memorial day, uh, writes for veterans, writes for poor people, uh, who are, who, who want to end homelessness and racism and antisemitism who really wanna build that beloved community and make this country a shining city on the hill.
So I think that that story is what’s so necessary. That’s why I I’m a supporter of the 16, 19 project. I think like anything, it can be criticized, nothing is completely perfect, but I like the idea of this new origin story for American history that looks at the good, the bad, the ugly, but also the beautiful.
Parts of American history. And once we provide people, those parts of American history, it makes them stronger. It makes our democracy more stronger. It makes people more patriotic. It makes people love the country more. Once they understand all that we’ve been through and it makes us try to. Change at James Baldwin says to achieve our country for the first time.
So Obama didn’t give us all the benefit of the doubt. I think we’re all stronger than politicians. Um, ever assume. I think we’re smarter than politicians ever assume. I think we’re more resilient and we have more empathy and compassion than politicians. Assume. So you could talk about the bad that happened during the first, second and third reconstruction.
But like I do in this book, I also talk about the good and the P promise and the potential that’s the whole thing. So what we have to say is that yes, we can be the greatest country ever on the face of the earth. We’re not quite there yet, but there’s many people who strived right. To make us, uh, that, that, that, that golden, that shining city on the hill.
And I think Obama. Starts to do that really? Starting in 2015, when he’s not facing any elections, he starts to do more of that. A great speech on history at Selma, uh, a great speech, um, uh, towards the NAACP, uh, about mass incarceration. He starts to knit together a much more humanistic story where he’s he’s.
More comfortable talking about the flaws of the country, because if we just keep on talking about American exceptionalism, we can’t explain the gun violence in the country, the racism, the police brutality by saying, all we’re doing is constantly perfecting our union. We, we, it it’s a bedtime story, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have this, this positive, um, uh, feeling and this love of country, but we have to love the country enough to criticize the country.
Right. I agree. A hundred percent. Uh, I think that opens up another really important question that, that you raise so well in the book, which is, uh, and it’s an issue through each of the three reconstructions. How do you get people who have had power? To feel comfortable sharing it with those who have not had power.
And you make the point in the book very well, that there’s a through line. You call it from Nixon to Reagan, to Trump, uh, of, of those who have had privilege often racial privilege, but not exclusively. It could be economic privilege. It’s not always racial. Um, Use hoarding that privilege, not wanting to share it.
Uh, H how do you craft a narrative along the lines you just described that makes people comfortable sharing their privilege peril? Yeah, I think that’s the, the test and the challenge. And I think part of it is laying bare the most important parts of our history. I think you can see why. From a redemption perspective, there’s been such an assault, not just on the critical 19 project, but calling any kind of effort to have a more complex, truthful American history, critical race theory that is somehow anti-white and going to brainwash our kids.
You could see that from a redemption perspective because stories. are really the most important part of all of this. And I know you agree, the stories. We, we tell each other the stories we tell our families, uh, the way in which, you know, I, I, I tell my daughter, you tell, uh, you, you know, uh, Zach, you, you, you, you know, it’s, it’s so important.
The stories we tell, so. The 16, 19 project and the way in which so many hundreds of thousands of teachers were using that and continue to, um, in certain states that are allowed to use it, that was important because I think when you tell a deeper story of American history, it means that. The newer generations, people who are the sons and daughters of those who are in power are gonna be much more receptive to the idea of power sharing, because yeah, we can legislate this.
We can come up with policies, we can come up with nonprofits, but, but the end at the end of the day, the institutions are us. We are the institutions, right? And so we, we have to have a baseline understanding of, of American history. I think these three reconstruction periods are really the most important parts of our history.
So I think the more in which we’re able to craft a narrative, that’s inclusive. A narrative that lets people see themselves in that story, but also understand, um, what happened with Tulsa, uh, what happened with, um, Japanese internment camps? Um, what happened with the long and bitter history of antisemitism here in this country?
What happened with what we’ve done to. Our Latinx, our Hispanic population, what we’ve done to indigenous folks, what we’ve done to a API folks and queer folks, the better off they’re able to understand, um, how. We can build that beloved community and really the sacrifices that are gonna be called for, because we’ve embedded a system of unequal power relations.
And when people hear this word equity, they become frightened because they think their kid’s not gonna get to the right school and have the right outcomes. Or they’re not gonna any longer have access to the same neighborhoods. But power sharing means not that you’re gonna be diminished, but. Everyone is gonna be, or more people are gonna be elevated.
And I think part of that, the central part of this is the story we tell about America and us and our place within America. I wanna be careful how I phrase this, but how, how do we tell that unified American history? How, how do we come to, to one sort of narrative? Of our country, uh, that acknowledges the many flaws.
The many, I don’t wanna say mistakes, but, but, but tragedies in our history without splitting us into people, groups, if you understand what I mean, H how do we, how do we use this sort of, um, Difficult reckoning with our history to create unity and, and not division and, and Zachary be before Pinel answers.
Maybe you should also share your struggles, uh, at your school over these issues struggles you’ve had in diversity council and elsewhere to get people to come together around these issues. Yeah. I, I, I think. What I would just say is I think there’s a, there’s a unwillingness sometimes among certain people to recognize the complexity of these issues, that we don’t what, that, that it’s not as simple as splitting people into people, groups, or to say that these are the oppressors and these are the oppressed.
It has to be a nuanced understanding. And I guess my question is how do we have that nuance understanding, uh, but also come to some sort of consensus about, uh, our history and, and what we need to do moving. Well, I think that’s a great question. I think, I think one, we have to be willing to speak truth to power because there are, um, structures and systems that have oppressed folks and continue to, you know, I think two, we have to learn and listen to each other’s stories.
So I, I make it a point of, you know, reading. Um, obviously, uh, not, not just African American history, but, um, histories of, we, we see the late barber, Aaron Reich just passed away, you know, histories of white working class histories. Um, you know, think about Tommy orange and, uh, they’re there history of native people, um, you know, uh, histories, you know, I read, uh, Julian Zeller’s great book on, on rabbi Heshel histories of, of, of Jewish Americans.
Um, just histories of the whole multiracial. Component of the United States. It’s important to read that, but we also have to acknowledge that, you know, the core feature. Of American democracy. One that I think has been a stain on our democracy, but hope so has been unifying, especially for redemption. And in certain context for certain reconstructionists is really anti-blackness right.
And so anti-blackness is what creates the racial caste system that Isabelle Wilkerson and others talk and write about, right. That hierarchy. You think about the caste system as a ladder with, with, with blackness at the bottom whiteness. At the top and, and other racial groups in between trying to figure and oscillate between both of those poles where they fit in.
Right. So, so I would say Zachary, there, there are, um, oppressors. It doesn’t mean that somehow all white people are that, but systemically. There is, um, a system of, of white supremacy in the country that goes back to the founding of the country. But in 1865, we actually had a way out right through Friedman’s bureau, reparations through, um, uh, land.
And equity for African American farmers. We actually had a way out of white supremacy and what we see through the history of the third reconstruction. The first reconstruction I write about it in this book is that it was violently repudiated, right? It wasn’t just policies and black codes and convict lease system.
This was organized. That systematic terror. Right? When we think about January 6th, 2021, January 19th, 1871 is when Congress, uh, launches the official investigation into clan violence. And by March of 1871, there’s gonna be public congressional hearings that lead to the enforcement acts during the grant administration.
Right? So this is big news, right? That Stevens is saying, uh, colored people are being slaughtered by the thousands in the. That’s what Thaddy Stevens is saying. The, the, the venerable, uh, Congressman from Pennsylvania, uh, who is one of the, the, the, the stalwart abolitionist and reconstructionist of the time period.
So we have to be courageous enough to call that out. Especially now because we’re facing a backlash, um, that, that, that really happened very quickly after George Floyd and Brian Taylor, and has really been congealed in legislation, but a backlash against that kind of, of truth telling. But we have to listen and learn about each other’s stories.
Zachary, I would say that’s the biggest thing. We have to listen and learn about each other’s stories. And sometimes people will say, Well, um, my group suffered your group, suffered the organizing principle. Of the suffering actually has been anti-black. And it’s important for us to understand that that’s why the, the struggle for black equality and black citizenship and dignity is a universal struggle.
It’s just universal and black, because if we get that, no other group is gonna somehow be isolated and suffer. Anti-blackness has been the organizing principle of the racial caste system, both in the United States and globally. So part of it is courage. Part of it is listening. Um, part of it is gonna be struggle.
It’s gonna be struggle because it, it takes, um, white, uh, people who are in solidarity with anti-racist movements to, to really help us push forward. Um, and in certain ways, I think 20 20, 1 of the most optimistic aspects was the number of white people who were out in the streets, um, alongside of black and other people of color, uh, uh, during the black lives matter demonstrations in the summer.
And we had never seen that level of, of outrage or commitment in either the first two periods of reconstruction. So that still gives me. I wonder though, how do you approach an issue like since it’s labor day, uh, labor unions, right? Where, where you have, uh, a, a, a structure that was, um, in some cases created to try and keep, uh, black people and people of color out of the workforce.
But at the same time, uh, in, in, in other cases was created to, to help black people attain, uh, uh, greater rights in the workplace. How do we, I guess my question is, if we’re looking at. Every issue of American history, um, through, um, this understanding of anti-blackness in America, how do we avoid overlooking the economic, the, the, uh, other otherwise social and, uh, political divisions, uh, that also shape our, our country and, and in issue like organized.
I think we look at it simultaneously. I think labor is a great example, cuz I talk about S C I U 1199. My mom was part of a labor union for 40 years at Mount Sinai hospital in New York city. So it’s, that’s very near and dear in a lot of ways. My, my politics were shaped by labor and labor movements and reading about labor movements.
Um, you know, labor is a complicated issue on the one hand, when we think about labor movements, a lot of times we always leave out. Uh, enslaved black people as part of labor movements. Um, and I think the work of Robin Kelly and Sada Hartman and other scholars have really done a long way, gone a long way towards rectifying that.
So we’ve gotta think about labor capacious. Uh, then at the same time, we’ve gotta be truthful. About both labor that has been anti-racist, uh, even in the 19th century, you think about the Wobblies, the international workers of the world versus the Knights of labor. Um, you think about, um, uh, the CIO versus the AFL Congress of industrial org, uh, organizations versus the American Federation of labor.
You think about Eugene Debs is socialism versus Hubert Harrison’s socialism. So we have to be. Um, very cognizant of the pitfalls of just saying, oh, we can have black, white, uh, uh, unite fight, um, kind of kind of slogans, but one thing I’ll, I’ll say, uh, Zach, if, if, when we think about contemporary labor, um, it’s become much more multicultural and much more, uh, multiracial bus riders, unions, justice for janitors, 1199 S C I U is the most multiracial union in the country.
We have to tell that complete story, the story of black people forced to be so-called scabs because they weren’t allowed in labor unions. Um, but also the story of utilizing, uh, the United auto workers and the, the, the Detroit, uh, Dodge revolutionary union movement drum and the different. Um, uh, revolutionary union movements coming outta Detroit and Wildcat striking against the UAW so that black folks could be foreman and have dignity, uh, on the, on the shift line and on the worker line.
So we have to tell that whole story and I think telling that whole story now, when we think about labor, And so many, um, immigrant labor laborers in terms of we’ve got 11 million, um, undocumented in the country. So many of those are Spanish speakers, but there’s also from west Africa, from the Caribbean.
And how does that shape the labor movement, especially household labor. Most of us we’re me and your dad are generation X. If we live long lives, we’re gonna have, um, Caribbean and Spanish speaking, um, um, home. Aid workers, cuz unless you’re somehow, um, healthy until you’re a hundred years old and you know, you know, you don’t need anybody, you know?
I mean maybe that, that could be your dad, you know, he’s gonna be fine. Right. I, so I hope so. You know, most people millions across the United States are gonna need them. So I would say this re this requires, um, it requires courage because yeah, you’re gonna, you have to remember Dr. King pissed people. Obama pissed people off.
Um, uh, Jesse Jackson, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella baker. You’re not always going to get the standing ovation when you tell people what they need to hear instead of telling people what they want to hear. Right. But one of the things, um, king says in his speech, uh, a drum major, uh, for, for the drum major speech is.
He’s not interested in, in, um, uh, molding some kind of phony consensus. He says, I’m a builder and I’m gonna shape consensus through my organizing. Right. That means you tell people what they don’t want to hear. So part of this, it, it requires courage. Um, On us really, you know, it, it require, and again, it, it requires a lot of study and, and listening and patience, uh, because yes, the story is complicated, but there are some, some really robust truths that we should all be willing.
Um, Willing to articulate. And I think at, at our best, we, we do, I think the recent, you think about the president and the student loan forgiveness, and when people were pushing back, uh, the, the white house was tweeting out all the PPE loans that, um, conservatives had gotten from the government and not paid back millions and millions of dollars, but they were upset over these 10 and $20,000, uh, loan forgiveness.
Um, so we, we have to be ready. To speak truth to power. And I think in certain ways, because of the times we live in, sometimes people think it’s gonna be easy. Like you saw George Floyd, you saw the, um, millions of people in the streets, but that didn’t translate into the policy at the federal level that a lot of people thought or assume.
So there’s been no. George Floyd justice and policing act passed. There’s been no for the people expansion of voting rights act pass. There’s been no. John R. Lewis voting rights act pass. Part of it is, is we have to be in it for the long haul. Zachary. We have to be in it for the long haul because the backlash, um, is right here.
It’s thick. It’s it’s among all of us, especially us. We live right here in Texas, even at the university of Texas, the backlash is here and we, this is the, the point in our history where. You can see it’s a time for choosing and, and, and actually living up to your commitments and principles become the hardest thing to do in this time, rather than in 2020 or 2008.
It’s easy in 2008. It’s very easy. Lets say you’re on the right side of history, you got 69 million people backing you up. It’s harder, right when you’re in that minority, that, that minority and, and we have to again be. Principled enough to live up to our commitments at this. So Panal, I want to close, uh, by quoting part of your conclusion.
And then I wanna ask you to, uh, reflect if you’re, if you would, for a few minutes at, at our closing on, on your mom, because I think she’s sort of the, the angel hovering over this book in many ways, and I’ve learned so much, I’ve known you for so long, but I’ve learned so much about you reading this book.
Uh, and there’s a wonderful photo of you and your mom, also a little tiny Panal with his mom. And I love that photo by the. Worth the price of the book just for that. Um, but you write at the end, uh, beautifully. I believe that the struggle for black dignity and citizenship can be achieved in our lifetime, but it must continue even if it takes several lifetimes.
And then at the very end, you say today in the midst of another period of reconstruction, which you’ve described so well for us here, we have a grave political and moral choice to make. I choose. Uh, it, it seems to me a lot of that hope comes from your mom. Uh, and, and I’d like to close if you’re willing, just reflecting on, on her influence on your analysis and, and, and all of you, all that you’ve shared with us today.
No, thank you, Jeremy. Yes. My mother Jermaine Joseph, um, 83 years. Young, still lives in. Um, Queens, New York, uh, really my biggest teacher and the most influential person on me, uh, intellectually, politically, morally the whole, the whole works. Um, Haitian immigrant, who came to United States in 1965, uh, worked at Mount Sinai hospital for 40 years.
Uh, I was on my first picket lines in elementary school and really somebody who. Encouraged me and my older brother to read and to write and to think, but also to, um, be active, to be active citizens. Um, if you believed in something, um, she was fine with you, um, going out and demonstrating that belief. Um, certainly, uh, She wanted you to be careful, but to, to demonstrate that belief.
And so she’s been hugely, hugely important. Um, the history of Haiti and the Haitian revolution, which I discuss and its connection to black American history, uh, the connection, um, between, you know, black feminism and these. These different social movements, but also just American politics in history. She’s a big, uh, fan and reader of John F.
Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy alongside of Malcolm X and Martin Luther king, Jr. uh, really loved reading books on not just the Haitian revolution, but Theodore Roosevelt and the American presidents. I remember getting my first book on the American presidents and presidency in kindergarten. With her from the local public library in Queens.
And that was a book that we used to always check out, check back in, check out, check back in. And, and the final president there initially when we checked it out was Jimmy Carter . Wow. Wow. Jimmy Carter was the president. Reagan had not been elected yet. And so they had Jimmy Carter’s 1977 and they had a dash.
And I remember that book. Right. And that’s how I memorized. You know, 39 presidents of the United States. So she’s been my biggest, um, champion, but also my biggest teacher. And, and she, again, you know, throughout the book, I look at these. Different black activists. A lot of them, black women, like Ida B, Wells, Angela Davis, Tamika Mallory, but she’s been my biggest, um, example.
And she does provide me, uh, a measure, a large measure of hope and hope really is a discipline. It’s a faith and it’s a discipline and it’s a belief and it’s a, it’s a discipline based on our practice. I think sometimes people who don’t feel hopeful. Are really not out there in the world, trying to help and do good.
I think the more you’re out there in the world trying to help and do good, the more hopeful you feel because you’re not just reacting and, and sitting back on the couch and, and woe is me. It you’re actually rolling up your sleeves and getting into the arena. And it’s important for us to do that. And I think my mom did that just through example of, uh, going to work every day.
Very very long commute from Queens village to east 92nd street every day, sometimes six days a week. Like I write. So it’s really, you know, our parents worked harder than us and, and as you, you, you know that, uh, better than me, Jeremy, and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s really important for us. All of us who are so privileged to, to be able to read and write and study, to remember.
That there were generations who absolutely worked harder than us suffered more than us. Right. And were more resilient than us. So the only thing we can do is try to match their courage and that resilience because we have given been given so much privilege in our lives. Right in our lives. We’re, we’re never gonna work as hard as they did.
We’re never gonna have to go to another country, learn another language on the fly like they did. Right, right, right. I mean, it, this is extraordinary. So they’re the role model. So really we have no right to complain personally. And I don’t mean politically, but I mean, personally, so the example that she.
And the discipline that she exemplified is really something that I, that lives within me to this day. And so the book is really dedicated to her and, and, and these, these black and really other women, all women who’ve, who’ve shaped so many of us, uh, men who’ve been fortunate enough to be, uh, at their, at their, the stool by their feet, just taking in their.
Yep. Well, a as you know, Panal in the Jewish faith, we, we have a phrase, uh, ledor vador, which means from generation to generation. And, and I think that captures your book so well, your book is a mitzvah because it, it captures the importance of one generation teaching another. And, uh, we go through different periods of reconstruction because sometimes, uh, we forget.
And to remember, and to learn the history and to keep building on that history and improving ourselves and pushing harder, uh, in creative and hopeful ways. I think your book is a, a Chronicle and analysis of that, but also an inspiration, uh, from your mom for us to do, uh, more of that, uh, I encourage all of our listeners to pick up the book.
Uh, the third reconstruction it’s now available and in every book shop, go pick it up, go find an independent bookstore to buy it from. Uh Panal thank you for joining us today. Oh, thank you. Thanks to you and Zachary. Thanks for reading it. And, um, I really enjoyed this conversation. So did we, Zachary, uh, thank you for your really, um, tear jerking poem, uh, and for your insights and for your bringing these issues every day into the discussions you’re having with young people, which is so important.
And thank you most of all, to our loyal listeners for joining us for this week of this. Democracy.
This podcast is produced by the liberal arts, its development studio and the college of liberal arts at the university of Texas at Austin. The music in this episode was written and recorded by Harris co stay tuned for a new episode every week you can find this is democracy on apple podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
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