By Every Measure Episode 1 transcript

By Every Measure Episode 1 transcript

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Below is a transcript of episode one of By Every Measure, Radio Milwaukee’s new podcast exploring systemic racism in various sectors of Milwaukee, looking closely at how those systems were formed and how they can– and need– to be changed.

LBJ:

My fellow Americans, we have endured a week such as no nation should live through.

Tarik Moody:

In 1968, [crosstalk 00:00:09] commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson, the Kerner Report’s purpose was to uncover the cause of the 1967 riots that occurred throughout the country’s urban areas.

LBJ:

I am tonight appointing a special advisory commission on civil disorders. Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois has agreed to serve.

Tarik Moody:

The report uncovered that the upheaval was caused by systemic racism, in areas like the justice system, policing, housing, voter suppression, and unemployment. The report recommended several aggressive policy changes to address these issues, however, the majority of white America disagreed with the report’s findings, and later, the recommendations were never followed.

LBJ:

Let us pray, and let us work for better jobs and better housing and better education, so many millions of our own fellow Americans need so much tonight.

Tarik Moody:

In 2020, the words of 1968’s Kerner Report still rings true today, especially right here in Milwaukee.

Reporter:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the first city in the country to declare racism a public health crisis, and they’re asking [crosstalk 00:01:19]-

Tarik Moody:

Last year, Milwaukee made national news and took and official stance, made an official statement owning up to the racism in the city and for the first time, we called it a public health crisis.

David Crowley:

Good afternoon, Milwaukee County. It is an honor to join you today.

Tarik Moody:

Fast forward to the present, a little more than a year later, Milwaukee’s newly-elected county executive, David Crowley, is announcing his plan to take action on that proclamation.

David Crowley:

The truth is, we face two pandemics, COVID-19 and racism, and we need to change the way we serve the people of Milwaukee County to combat them both. Today, I’ll make a commitment to you, the people of Milwaukee County, to dedicate the work of my administration to addressing these inequities.

Tarik Moody:

Racism and the consequences of it cast a menacing shadow over the lived experiences of Milwaukee’s residents of color, from wealth, employment, housing, every quality of life metric, we lag behind. So, how did we get here and how do we fix it? I’m Tarik Moody, and this is By Every Measure.

Tarik Moody:

In 88Nine’s new podcast, we’re going to examine systemic racism in Milwaukee. We’re going to look at the data that continues to prop up each of these disparities from the wealth gap to police violence, and we’re going to hear people in the community who are working toward a more equitable society for our residents of color by every measure. Joining us on the podcast is a brilliant Milwaukee mind, a man by the name of Reggie Jackson. He’s a research journalist, data expert, educator and business owner. As a journalist, he has written dozens of data-driven articles for the publication Milwaukee Independent. Reggie has also served as a race relations expert for CNN, Wisconsin Public Radio, NPR, Reuters News Service, the BBC, and several statewide news channels.

Tarik Moody:

Our conversation starts with a recent article of his that sets the tone for the rest of this podcast.

Tarik Moody:

So, Reggie, I was reading a lot of your pieces over the last few weeks, and the one that stood out to me which kind of fits what we’re trying to do with this podcast is the one called Systemic Racism 101: Dear America, I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do. Which is kind of interesting, I posted something about COVID-19 and the New York Times posted the whole data… how COVID-19 exposes racial inequities, and then apparently, I have some high school buddies from back in the day. I went to a white high school. And all of the sudden, we don’t really interact on Facebook at all. And he comes on my feed, and posts, “Oh, now COVID-19’s racist now?” So, can you explain for people like him, what is racism and what is systemic or institutionalized racism? What is the difference?

Reggie Jackson:

Well, Tarik, generally the average American, particularly white people, assume that racism is just individual acts of bigotry and discrimination. That’s how they define racism. They don’t think this is any system in place that perpetuates inequalities, so when they think of racism, they think that, “If I’m not a racist, then everything is all good.” If there isn’t some bad apple out there, then everything is fine. But systemic racism, people use the term systemic, institutional, structural racism. They all pretty much mean the same things, and that means that systems of inequality are built into our society; that any institution that you look at, you can see the impact of that racism.

Tarik Moody:

Systemic racism is so pervasive and so well-known and accepted in our society, that you can predict someone’s life experiences just based off of race.

Reggie Jackson:

If tomorrow morning a little black boy is born somewhere in America, you can already predict how long he’ll live and you know that he’s going to live probably a much shorter life than a white person who’s born at the exact same time. Another way of looking at it is you could predict that a black child who is in say, K3, who is a toddler, you can predict the probability of him spending time in prison. Those things are systemic.

Reggie Jackson:

When racism is systemic, it actually allows you to be able to predict the person’s future. It means that race is an indicator. You can use race as an indicator of what a person’s lived experience will be. And when we look at all of the institutions in our country, whether that be our educational system, our criminal justice system, our healthcare system, you see huge differences, huge inequalities that people of color suffer. Whether that be black people, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, those things are in place and there is absolutely copious amounts of evidence of that.

Tarik Moody:

Despite all the evidence of systemic racism, many skeptics will point the finger at black and brown communities.

Reggie Jackson:

People choose to ignore it and say, “Well, those things are based on their behaviors. The reason that so many black people are in prison is because well, they’re committing so many more crimes than white people are. And the reason that their health is as poor as it is is because well, they keep eating food that’s bad for them.” And they ignore the fact that in our communities, that we have much more contact with the police than white people have, not because we’re criminals, just because we’re black. They ignore the fact that environmental racism is very real, that people of color are much more likely to live in a community where pollution is there, and very prevalent in the soil, in the water, things of that nature.

Reggie Jackson:

When you look at Flint, Michigan, Flint, Michigan is a perfect example. A city who’s population is 50% black, and we all know about the water crisis there, with the lead in the water. But we forget that Milwaukee has a very similar lead crisis, and these are things that are predictors of people’s lived experiences. That’s what systemic racism is, it’s hard for people to understand because they don’t know the history well enough. They haven’t been taught the history of why these things exist. They have been taught to believe that, “Well, if I’m not a member of the Ku Klux Klan or I’m not saying the N-word,” things of that nature, “then obviously, I’m not a racist, therefore racism doesn’t exist.”

Tarik Moody:

One of Reggie’s sociologists defines systemic racism the best.

Reggie Jackson:

He actually wrote a book about it, and his definition says that this white-generated and white-maintained oppression is far more than a matter of individual bigotry, for it has been from the beginning a material, social, and ideological reality. For a long period now, white oppression of Americans of color has been systemic. That is, it has been manifested in all major societal institutions.

Tarik Moody:

And that’s every institution. That’s the criminal justice system, the wealth gap, education, and even healthcare. All systems we’ll cover over the next five episodes. And to truly understand systemic racism now, we must really examine the history and the roots of it in our society, and what role it played in the oppression of an entire people. Let’s go back and dive deep into the history of where it all began.

Reggie Jackson:

We’ve all been cheated in our history classes. Every American has. There’s not a single one of us that learned the true history of America in our history classes. We talk about all of the wonderful things that the nation stands for, and we leave out almost all of the ugly things, and even when we talk about the ugly things like slavery, we talk about it in two or three paragraphs in our history books. So, when I talk to people, I try to give them a history lesson, I try to provide historical context. I show them how the systems have worked, how the institutions have embedded within them principles that lead us to these things, and I like to talk about Jim Crow in particular.

Tarik Moody:

So, Jim Crow laws were basically state and local laws that enforced racial segregation of southern United States, which were began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and were enforced until 1965.

Reggie Jackson:

When people think of Jim Crow, they think of those ugly signs in Mississippi and Alabama that said, “Whites Only,” “Coloreds Only,” whatever, right? But that’s not what Jim Crow was. Jim Crow was much bigger than that. The signs were a manifestation of what Jim Crow was, but Jim Crow when you think about it in this way, these were laws, Tarik. These were actually laws, right? Jim Crow laws. So, what it meant was that you literally, if you didn’t discriminate against black people, you were breaking the law.

Reggie Jackson:

So, Jim Crow is a perfect example of how this systemic racism works, that it’s embedded within the institutions. And when you study the history of African-Americans, and you look at our history from the time the Civil War ended in 1865 until 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, that is the part of our history is the least known by all Americans, particularly white people. They just assume that slavery ended and everything was all good, and then for some reason, black people were protesting Jim Crow segregation. They forget all of the things in between, those 90 years of ugliness that occurred.

Tarik Moody:

90 years of ugliness, he says. That’s basically a person’s whole lifetime, multiple generations. And those 90 years were more than just ugly. It was a total nightmare. It was basically domestic terrorism.

Reggie Jackson:

You had mobs of white people murder black people in lynchings, thousands of people were lynched. They ignored the fact that there were race riots led by whites that went into black communities and destroyed black communities all over the country, and no one was held accountable. They forget all of those things because they never learned them. So, how are you going to talk about this systemic racism without knowing those things? I always say that we have a lot of conversations about race and racism, but they’re very rarely productive because people don’t know enough, and unless you know those things, you’ll never have a productive conversation with that individual. And so many people choose to do that, they choose to ignore all of that history.

Tarik Moody:

In the article Systemic Racism 101: Dear America, I can’t believe what you said because I see what you do, Reggie breaks privilege into three main categories, what he calls psychic reward, societal privilege, and economic privilege. Coming up, Reggie and I will dive deeper into each of these principles.

Tarik Moody:

All right, we’re back on episode one of By Every Measure. On this episode, we’re talking about systemic racism, a term that Reggie and I did not just make up. Yet even top government officials like Larry Kudlow-

Reporter:

Larry, just wanted to follow up on something you told reporters last week-

Tarik Moody:

…. [crosstalk 00:13:06] the White House Economic Council Director denied it, recently back in June. Here’s what he said when he was asked about it on TV.

Larry Kudlow:

Well, I don’t believe in systemic racism. I think the American system is the best system ever devised for mankind, for history.

Tarik Moody:

He even goes on [crosstalk 00:13:25] to bring up Obama as a fact that we elected a black president, that means we are over racism as a country.

Larry Kudlow:

And he got 79 million white votes. 79 million in two elections. Now therefore, I find it hard to understand-

Tarik Moody:

Yeah, that’s just like saying if you’re a fan of Yannis of Milwaukee Bucks, you can’t be a racist. Systemic racism has been examined by countless researchers and authors as well, including Shirley Better, who wrote a book called Institutional Racism: A Primer on Theory and Strategies for Social Change. Reggie expands on Better’s writing and zeroes in on three types of privilege.

Tarik Moody:

That’s interesting [inaudible 00:14:09], why does racism of this type endure? Better says, “There’s profit and gain accrued by all in the dominant group through the maintenance of racism. The positive uses of racism are,” this is where my question comes in, “economic privilege, social privilege, and psychic reward.” I want to talk about all three, but I want to start with psychic reward. I’ve never seen that before. What do you mean by psychic reward?

Reggie Jackson:

Well, Ms. Better in her book talking about oppression, this idea of psychic reward means if you are in the oppressing group, you feel good about yourself. There’s this idea and it’s called the Manichean Psychology, and what it is is this principle that shows that if you look at an oppressive society, and whether the oppression is based on race and ethnicity, whether it’s based on gender, whatever, it doesn’t really make a difference, those who are doing the oppressing will always feel better about themselves than those that are being oppressed. Right?

Reggie Jackson:

So, what happens is as a white person in the United States of America, you can look in the mirror as a five-year-old child and you can see a future astronaut. You can see a future president of the United States of America. When I was a five-year-old boy and I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see a future astronaut. I couldn’t see a future President of the United States in the mirror, because I knew that those things were just not even realistic for me as a five-year-old boy. So, part of what happens when you are in an oppressive society and you are the side that does the oppressing, you always feel good about yourself. There are always positive things you hear about your community. So, when you talk about your schools, your schools are the good schools. Right?

Reggie Jackson:

Your community, “Oh, we live in the safe part of town, we live in a safe community,” right? When you hear about the people who are on the oppressing side, everything you hear about them is positive and rosy and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. But when you’re on that other side, when you’re the oppressed, you never hear anything good about yourselves. You hear about how dirty your neighborhood is, you hear about how you don’t value education. You hear about how lazy you are. That’s what she’s talking about. How you will always, if you’re in the oppressive side doing the oppressing, you will always feel better about yourself.

Reggie Jackson:

I guarantee if you went out and you asked 10,000 white people this question, “If you could choose tomorrow to wake up as a black person or a white person, which would you choose? Would you wake up as a black person or a white person?” I guarantee you almost all of them, 99.9% would want to wake up as a white person. But then that small percentage that wanted to wake up as a black person, they don’t want to wake up as a normal black person. They want to wake up as Lebron James, right? They want to wake up as Oprah Winfrey. They don’t want to wake up as some Joe Smith who lives on 30 Center Street. They don’t want to wake up being that black person, because they know it’s better to be white than to be black in this country. They know it.

Tarik Moody:

So that’s psychic reward, a term that was even new to me. He continues with two more types of privilege, economic and social. Let’s get into social.

Reggie Jackson:

Well, social privilege means that you have a society which values your community and puts things in place that will provide the greatest level of comfort for your community. So, you have a society that will have an educational system that will always talk about you in glowing terms. We talk about people are upset about the monuments coming down and people criticizing Woodrow Wilson and things of this nature. Listen, this societal privilege, this privilege is social privilege that she’s talking about, is that you have the control over the institutions within a society which will create a mindset that leads to you having advantages over people of color. That’s really what it’s about. You have built-in advantages by being born a white person, because guess what? When you look at the institutions in our country, they are all run by white people, particularly white men.

Tarik Moody:

That means you have more opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, and that probably explains why there’s only four black CEOs running a Fortune 500 company. That’s 500 companies. Out of 500 companies, there’s only four black CEOs, and guess what? They’re all men, so that means there are no black women.

Reggie Jackson:

When you look at our educational systems, when you look at our elected officials, when you look at our district attorneys, they’re almost… Most of them are white. 95% of district attorneys in the country are white. When you look at a majority of the cities and towns around the country, they are run by white people even if a majority of people in their community are not white. So, what it really means is that you have these privileges to make a society that will always make you feel comfortable.

Tarik Moody:

So, it’s kind of like me growing up as a youth. I live in the suburbs, and throughout my youth, whether it’s sports or even my high school where out of 450 students, there were only eight blacks and most of the time, I rarely saw them in my classes. And a lot of times, classes like my AP History or Chemistry, I was the only one. That kind of made me uncomfortable, sometimes gave me anxiety, making me… what they were thinking when they were looking at me. Were they thinking, “How did he get in this class? He’s black, he can’t be smart enough to be in this class.” It always made me feel uncomfortable. Being comfortable is easy.

Reggie Jackson:

You don’t have to worry about being uncomfortable in your skin. You don’t have to worry about things related to your level of comfort in a society when that type of systemic racism exists.

Tarik Moody:

A funny thing, I know you wouldn’t call it funny thing is like, even when I drive to Bay View or White Fish Bay to see a movie or go to the Kohl’s or whatever, I’m not nervous, but I’m more conscious of what I’m doing there. Right? Because I’m looking like, “I’m the only one here right now.” So I’m not afraid or anything, but I’m more conscious and thinking about my actions in those areas. I don’t do it anymore. Even when I see a white woman walking down the street, I kind of look up, I kind of have my hands… It’s unconscious behavior that I hate about myself, right? I shouldn’t have to do that, but it’s still part of my… because I experienced as a kid, I was lost.

Tarik Moody:

My dad was doing something, I was young, and I was trying to find where he was again. And to this white woman was saying, “Excuse me!” And the white women grabbed her purse and literally ran. And I was wearing like… My dad dressed me, so I looked like a dork. So I’m like, I had these tight socks, a little polo shirt, and she ran. And that stuck with me, right? So, I guess I see it. I feel it, and it’s just like, I don’t know there’s an end to this. And that comes to the next one, which the one I care more about personally and professionally is the economic privilege. So, talk to me about the economic privilege, when in regards to systemic racism.

Reggie Jackson:

Yeah, the economic privilege goes to explain what you just talked about. You can’t comfortably go to those places and say, rent a house. Right? Or rent an apartment, or buy a home. You can’t go to those places and feel comfortable, Tarik. I’ve experienced very similar things, and just since you explained, this idea that I have to make white people feel safe, I have to put my eyes down when I’m walking past a group of white people so that they’re not afraid of me, even though I’m dressed in a three-piece suit, I have to do that.

Reggie Jackson:

I used to do it too, until I noticed I was doing it, I refuse to do it now. I’m like, “Listen, if you’re uncomfortable, that’s on you. It has nothing to do with me.” But ultimately, there is no reason that we as a society should have different outcomes based on the color of our skin when it comes to the economics, but it’s a fact of the matter.

Tarik Moody:

It is a fact of life, documented, and yet people still deny it and that’s why Reggie doesn’t bother trying to convince anyone of anything. Instead, he speaks to people in the middle, who want to be better, and he boils systemic racism down to three simple, little words.

Reggie Jackson:

I say, “Y’all got the straight hook-up as white people.”

Tarik Moody:

The hook-up.

Reggie Jackson:

You have gotten the hook-up year after year, decade after decade, you have been hooked up financially, even though many of you are struggling. I know some white people out there like, “I grew up poor, I didn’t have this.” Listen, I get it. I get it. American society is built to have poor people. It’s just the way our society works. But there are way more white people that have economic advantages because they’re white than there are people of color and they always want to talk about, “Well, what about some of these black people like Barack Obama? They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.” Listen, black people didn’t have any boots, so don’t tell us about our bootstraps. White, they poor, “The immigrants came over and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Reggie Jackson:

Well, guess what? When we came over on those slave ships, they didn’t give us no boots. They didn’t give us boots after slavery ended. We didn’t have any bootstraps to pull up, and so we are constantly fighting, and there’s a saying in our community and all of the data provides proof of this. We are the last hired and first fired. When economic times are good, we can get a job. But when things go sour like they are now, look at the unemployment rate in the black community versus the white community right now. It’s at least double, and in some communities, triple and quadruple the white unemployment rate.

Reggie Jackson:

Is that because black people all the sudden decided they didn’t want to work anymore? No. It’s because the job they had says, “Man, I got to lay you off, Reggie.” “What about Bob?” “Oh, yeah. Bob is going to keep his job. Bob has been here two days longer than you, Reggie.” “What?” So those are the types of things that we understand, but white people refuse to acknowledge those things. They just think they have what they have because they worked harder than us, and that they’re not lazy like we are. We’re not lazy, we have worked harder than white people have ever worked in this country, and they don’t want to give us credit for that, Tarik.

Tarik Moody:

So, that’s where we’re at today. Systemic racism. As you can see, it goes a lot deeper than most people think. It’s more than simply saying the N-word over and over. It’s more than a single police stop gone bad. It is policies. It’s that hook-up that allowed white people to have advantages for years, decades, over generations to enjoy the promise of America. Over the next five episodes of By Every Measure, we’re going to break down systemic racism in areas of health, education, the wealth gap, housing, and on our next episode, policing.

Reggie Jackson:

When white people think about police, they think about their lived experiences with police, which are generally very pleasant. When black people think about the police, we know that our lived experiences have not been the same.

Tarik Moody:

In the meantime, if you want to learn more, check out our resource page at RadioMilwaukee.org/Measure. We linked up the stories we reference, plus the book by Shirley Better and other recommended reading.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee