Duke’s UNIV 101 course, The Invention and Consequences of Race, moves along and we discuss with the professors the lacunae in their own educations about race, racism, and America’s history.
RACE COURSE, EPISODE 3
And so, honestly, I, part of why I agreed to join on is I don’t think it should only be, you know, people of color that say, studying race is important.
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You’re listening to the Race Course, a podcast from Duke Magazine, where we followed Univ 101, The Invention and Consequences of Race, a new university course designed and taught at Duke as part of its efforts towards antiracism.
In the first episodes we heard the course struggle a bit with technology but still find a way to drop some serious knowledge — like, for example, that race is not biological and is in fact entirely invented — and saw how that landed:
Has it just whacked you on anything, you’re like, Oh, my God. I was nowhere on it. And now my eyes are over.
It’s surprisingly enough, the raises like a non biological factor was just hit me. And they hit us with that. And week one, and it just has been blowing my mind since actually shared that with like my family members. … So just learning about like, these different, like, the race is not a biological thing. It’s never something that you’re told. But when, like when you go to the doctor, when you’re experiencing race on a daily basis, you just kind of assume it’s biological because everyone treats it like it is. And so to learn that there are deeper powers behind this and it’s all systemic, and that it’s like, it was a carefully crafted way to tear people down. …
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It’s not shocking that students found some of the material of the course astonishing. The students took the course as a way to start their education in one of the most complex and vexing problems Americans face. They understood there was a lot to learn.
Their professors, who either studied issues of race or recognized their importance, had their own often surprising stories about how they became aware that race needed studying.
Professor Kerry Haynie, Duke professor of african and african american studies and professor and chair of political science, is one of the four coconvening professors who created the course.
You know I first found out about Tulsa probably sometime in graduate school
I’m going to let that statement sit for a second. Kerry Haynie, a tenured professor, who has cochaired Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences, who helped establish the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity, did not learn about the Tulsa Race massacre of 1921 until graduate school.
That’s Tulsa. A young black man may have tripped as he entered an elevator, and steadying himself touched a young white woman. Screams, police, arrest. Mobs gathered both to attempt lynching and to defend against it. Shots led to a dozen deaths. As a result the white population rioted in the Black district, destroying 35 city blocks, more than a thousand homes, injuring more than 800 people. At least 37 people died, most black, though subsequent investigations suggest at least 150 people died. Often called the worst racist massacre in American history.
Haynie didn’t learn about it until graduate school at Carolina.
I recall being at a lecture by John Hope Franklin. Dr Franklin gave a talk and made some reference to the tulsa event … he’s from oklahoma… born and raised in ok and he made some reference to that …and i began to look it up
a major event in american history that i had not encountered either in hs or college and had several history courses and
never encountered that.
It’s the sort of thing that will focus your studies. And of course we have race massacres right here in North Carolina that Haynie wasn’t taught about.
it was you know, eye opening. and then you know learning about wilmington, right? so i grew up in nc and didn’t know about wilmington until graduate school, so that’s not taught and i don’t know about today but when i came through nc history was required. but
the coup in wilmington what it was was not in the nc history courses that i took or the us history courses that i took
so now knowing about wilmington and tulsa and there are others… again
The Wilmington coup and the Tulsa race massacre are two of the most profound racist events in American history, and until very recently they haven’t been discussed by mainstream culture, much less taught. And now as people learn more about these events and teachers try to weave the stories into the history curriculum, many push back against teaching them.
… they talk about that some … some would call that critical race theory “oh, you…
“but it’s just telling the history as we know it to have happened. and talking about the implications of those events.
One more step down the long road to this course.
The experience of rising awareness to the incompleteness of American education on the topic of race has been part of every one of the professors’ journeys. Aimee Kwon, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, with many co appointments, actually didn’t learn about Tulsa until she was OUT of graduate school.
You know, I didn’t learn about it until what the last 10 years, exactly. I didn’t even learn about Wilmington until I moved to North Carolina. I was like, wait, what? And it’s just, there’s so much learning.
It’s really been eye-ppening for me and I grew up in the south myself, but I just didn’t learn a lot of this, unfortunately, even though we’re at the epicenter of these racial tentions. And it’s not an accident that my generation didn’t learn this history.
It’s not an accident that we weren’t taught these histories. And you know the crisis we’re having over so-called Critical Race Theory, which, you know, the detractors simply can’t even define. People don’t want to teach this history because it is history of such violence and shame. BUt we need to learn from that. But we need to learn from that. It’s the solution is not to just you know put a blanket on it and pretend it never happened.
Kwon has less background in American racial issues than Haynie. BUt what she’s brought to the class helps remind students that despite the exigency of current anti-Black racism in the United States, even that fits into a larger context.
I’m not a scholar of race and race studies in the US; actually I work in global empire, and so my work on race comes from that history of colonialism
But I’ve been very excited to be part of this conversation, just honored
But I think maybe if we can continue to have this class on a sem by sem basis there’s an oppty to really expand the curriculum, maybe do more in the humanities, which is my own area and bring in more historians, and them maybe a sort of global approach that includes colonialism, and how slavery that is transatlantic and all of that is interconnected
And like the students, Kwon has found herself challenged and drawn in new directions by the course.
I actually really started doing my own research in this direction. SO I am working on a piece that really puts together the colonial context of Korea, Japan in conversation with the segregation of Jim Crow. and so obviously the relationship between the colonizer and colonized and Korea, Japan, you know, phenotypically, you’re the same, versus the black and white divide in Jim Crow South, are quite distinct. BUt there are all of these ways that racism and segregationa nd devaluation of human beings are justified, right, that are very similar the tactics that are used. O I think it’s important to put these contexts into conversations because oftentimes we look to study histories by nation by nation, but you know, there’s a lot of interconnections.
Charmaine Royal, Professor of African & African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, and Family Medicine & Community Health, has a broad background in teaching about race; her Race, Genomics, and Society is one of Duke’s most popular courses. She remembers the first group she taught it to:
The students in that class were like, “Dr. Royal, you’ve got to make this inso a lecture course. Everybody’s got to take this course. And they would not stop.
That class grew from a small discussion-based class to a lecture. But despite the enthusiasm of so many students, when she came to this new University 101 class, she brought a surprising belief:
I’m not a mandatory kind of person. My feeling is particularly about this topic …I mean, the training, the mandatory trainings, I’m definitely a no-no for that.
That is, she sees — and her colleagues mostly agree — that the tide of trainings in the workplace about racial sensitivity do little good and may do harm; they’re just another thing employees feel forced to sit through. She fears the same if a course like this one is made mandatory at Duke.
You don’t want to do that because they become resentful and you will actually end up getting the opposite effect or the opposite outcome from what you do.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean she lets Duke off the hook for making sure its students learn about a deeply important topic.
I think in some ways, we, as an academic institution have a responsibility to ensure that the students who come through Duke, learn about race, because race and racism are so much a part of not just American society, it’s a global thing. And they need to understand the answer. And if not here, they may not learn it anywhere else, if not through a course like this.
But she’d lure them in rather than force them.
even if it’s not mandatory, I think there are ways to entice students to take it, that we could still get people taking it, even if we don’t make it mandatory. Because if it’s so I think if we get to the point where this course is so fabulous, then we don’t have to worry about it being mandatory. Because and especially with what’s going on in our world, our students are getting more interested in more engaged in the topic and wanting to know more and wanting to do more. I think we could get their involvement and their participation without making it mandatory, … if we do it well, really well. I think we’ll have to be curbing the number in terms of students who will be interested in taking the course.
Of the four coconvening professors in the course, Don Taylor, professor of Public Policy, came from the furthest academic distance to join the faculty for the course.
I, I suspect, of the four faculty, this time, probably the least likely one to be involved in this course.
Professor Haney and Professor Royal and, for example, you know, race has been a long part of their scholarship, and I’m more of a new arrival at that. And, but I have been teaching a class in the Sanford School, our our practical ethics course, that over time, I have added more and more, you know, teaching about race. That, you know, as part of what has was driven my interest. … So, you know, normalizing this discussion of race in an academic way, is very important, I think. And so, honestly, I, part of why I agreed to join on is I don’t think it should only be, you know, people of color that say, studying rice is important.
That’s a strong statement, but it may be the most powerfully in line with the university’s position on bringing antiracism into the curriculum, though he agrees with professor Haynie:
I was very much agreed with Kerry, that what we need to do is bring our scholarship to this topic, I’m actually not fully sure what antiracism means. you know, so that’s the strategy. Now. I have two minds on that, you know, professors can be so picky, oh, you got to use my exact language. You know, like, I’m so clever. If you don’t say it the way I do, I’d take my marbles and go away. And I don’t mean it in that way. It’s just that language was adopted so rapidly at the highest levels of Duke. But I think, in talking with scholars of rice, meaning people that have been studying this for their entire career, I’m not sure that’s the most useful framing. But inside my point, there is, at least in my mind, this is this classes. I mean, if it has an effect of reducing racism, I’m glad for that. But you know, teaching people about race, it could make it worse, right? I mean, I’m not saying it’s going to but, I mean, if you’re bringing academic scholarship, you can have fealty to the scholarship, but you can’t control what people are going to think about it.
That let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may attitude is part of the honesty he brought to the course. As the professor who has done the least research into race, Taylor comfortably did not teach a class period during the course; if necessary he was ready, but even that would have been very different than the research-based classes all other presenters taught.
I have been on on emergency backup, like if somebody got sick, I’ve got something that is a I’m going to call it more of a confessional perspective. And the reason I did that is because I just don’t consider myself an expert in the study of race, I don’t think just being interested in it is really enough to be a teacher about it now. In the Sanford School, public policy course, race. So the way I frame the course is, is I basically say, US history is this tension between two ideas, equality and hierarchy. And, and we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, physical cell, it’s one of many topics. And I am writing a book that’s really a memoir of race. And so I can be expert in how I personally learned and how I feel about race, but I we just, well, I just didn’t think I’m just not the best person. And that’s also why I say, it’s probably not going to be me again doing this. Just because Duke, you know, one of the points of the class was to point the students to there’s some incredible experts.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL, who would have been a more likely person than myself to have been a part of the steering group of this, but he’s on sabbatical this year. So in many ways, I’m just kind of standing in for him. I mean, not not not and let me just make sure I’m not saying I can do what he does. But we just needed another professor. And, and honestly, I think having a white guy, we sort of decided if this all went bad, and people started raising hell than I was going to say, as a white guy. This is important. And this is an academic topic, we are not trying to brainwash your kids. You don’t need any theory, like critical race theory. I mean, forget about theory, we just need a more truthful, full, complete telling of history. And, and when I tell folks is I’m not telling them what to think about it, or what it means for today, but I want them to understand what has happened. And then we need to wrestle with what it means for today. Like they don’t have to agree with me, but I want them to be aware of history, and not wait until they’re 45
So going from not having it to having it that’s a great victory. I think we have successfully said this is an academic discourse and that’s what we’re keeping this as. And that’s in my mind important because we are a university I mean, in the end, right?
I think that what we want to do is just keep making the case that we are studying this as an academic enterprise, and Carrie is uniquely insistent and gifted, saying, I’m going to bring the evidence, I’m not going to tell you what to think about it. But I’m gonna try to keep pulling you back to the evidence and let us have a, you know, a dialogue about it. And I think that’s important,
Like his colleagues, Taylor sees ways to improve the presentation of the course — shorter classes, discussion sessions. To encourage freedom of discussion the class was taught this year as a pass/fail and the professors aren’t sure that’s a good idea moving forward. But above all, Taylor recognizes that for all the faculty involvement in this course, he’s aware of and grateful for the amount of faculty work that came long before it.
Yeah, I think one thing when this got in now that we were doing it, I think there were some there were a few faculty that felt like they’ve been laboring in the vineyard for all these years. And they were the four front and doing it. And there’s no doubt that they were correct about that. So that’s why I think all of us that have been involved in starting this do not think this is not. This is a course that needs to be shared and given away in a leadership sense to other faculty. And also, I think there needs to be other classes that are more basic focused on race. So for example, a couple of folks in the Divinity School and religion department, were saying, I look at you guys syllabus looks great. But you’re not talking about the concept of race in pre modern history. And I was like, Yeah, you’re right, we’re not because I have no idea about anything about race in pre modern history. And so but there are some people that do so it will be neat to see interesting and appropriate to see different courses that tried to take race as an important topic, and bring our scholarship to investigating in that in that way. So I think the faculty will be up to that challenge. And, you know, we’ll see where that goes next.
Next on the Race Course:
“All we ask in return is the delivery to our vessels, five days from now, every child, woman, and man with at least 2500 milligrams of melanin in their skin per square centimeter”
Space Traders, and Critical Race Theory. Next time, on the Race Course.