The Power of the Black Vote: Taking Back the Classroom
Trymaine Lee: (BAND PLAYING) This is the ocean of soul. The incredible crowd moving marching band at Texas Southern University.
We're here at TSU, because this fall with the midterm elections approaching Into America is hitting the road to bring you a special series, we're calling, The Power of the Black Vote. We're traveling through the south and onto the campuses of some of America's most prominent historically black colleges and universities.
We're engaging with the next generation of black thinkers and doers to understand the issues that matter to them, and how black people are harnessing the power of democracy to shape America's future. And we're kicking things off right here at Texas Southern University in Houston.
America is at war with itself over the stories we tell about who we truly are. Right Wing lawmakers across the country have passed a slew of so called Critical Race Theory laws that make teaching lessons on the truth about racism, the role that black people have played in shaping this country, and how white supremacist ideals have been woven into our society and even our laws impossible and Texas, has been on the front lines of that battle.
Archival Recording: This week, voters in South Lake Texas sent a strong message. Nine months after the school district proposed a diversity and inclusion plan, voters gave a landslide victory to conservative city and school board candidates opposed to it.
Lee: In September 2021, Governor Greg Abbott outlawed teaching history that could cause quote, discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of a student's race.
Archival Recording: And you know what critical race theory does, it in part tries to rewrite the history of the greatest country in the history of the world. But even worse, it divides people on the basis of race, and then pits those people against each other, attacking each other.
So we passed two bills were signed in law where Texas banned the teaching or use of a critical race theory in every subject, in every grade, in every public school in Texas. Texas now has the strongest ban on critical race theory of any state in the United States of America. (CROWDS CHEERING)
Lee: Books have been banned or pulled from the shelves, civic engagement programs have been cancelled. Teachers can face firing and other discipline for teaching in a manner outside of what's been prescribed by the state. So as Into America visits HBCUs ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, we look to the students and community leaders who are pushing back on these pseudo historical narratives because after all, it was Texas Southern University students who took a stand 60 years ago to do just that by staging Houston's First sit in at an all-white lunch counter to abolish racist segregation laws.
And today, TSU students are learning and living the legacy.
Archival Recording: What we're fighting for is our history. We're fighting for the fact that we want to know our identity in this America.
Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. The aggressive stance that America's political right has taken on school curriculum ahead of the midterm elections in November could signal a major setback for racial equality and progress in this country.
So we sat down for a town hall at Texas Southern University with some of our country's next teachers, policymakers and journalists to ask how do we decide whose story matters and what history is told?
Lee: (STUDENTS CHEERING). Welcome to Intro America: The power of the black boat tour. The lessons we learn in classrooms just like the one we're in shapes how we see ourselves and how we see America and in so many ways how America sees us. Here to help us unpack what's at stake.
Please welcome Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, Creator of the ground-breaking 1619 Project; NBC News Senior investigative reporter, Mike Hixenbaugh; esteemed educator and school founder from San Antonio, Akeem Brown and last but certainly not least, let's give it up for one of your own TSU Student Government Association President Dexter Maryland.
So let's jump right in Nikole. Why is it so dangerous to tell the truth in America? Why is it so important to keep American history shrouded in this kind of mythology?
Nikole Hannah-Jones: That's a great question. That's a two hour lecture. But I'll try to keep it short. What we kind of typically think about as history is really memory. So it's kind of how do we as a society, collectively think about ourselves? How do we think about our history and that history tends to be very managed and manipulated to justify existing hierarchies to justify power, right?
So we all know that we are raised with the narrative of American exceptionalism, that we are the greatest and freest society in the history of the world. So how does one hold that in your hand and the fact that we were founded on settler colonialism, genocide and slavery at the same time?
So what we do is we marginalized those stories as yes, it happened, but it's insignificant. So if we look, historically, what we're seeing right now is not new, these battles over how we teach history, what stories we sent, what is our collective understanding of our national narrative have been ongoing, and you see them really start to gain traction, at times of kind of social discord.
That it is in moments that we're seeing with great polarization, that conservatives and it doesn't matter which political party you're affiliated with but typically, conservatives really start to stoke these fights about culture and how we think about ourselves as America, particularly if there's a challenge to this idea of American Greatness and exceptionalism.
Lee: You know, beyond simple ignorance, right, what's at stake here? Why does it matter, certainly, to black Americans, but also white folks who are consuming some of the same mythology.
Hannah-Jones: Right. What matters is we have all been taught the history of a country that does not exist. So the history of the country has been taught doesn't explain January 6, it doesn't explain why you have legislatures all over the country that are trying to make it more difficult to vote, why you have one political party that's now saying, well, democracy is not majority white, we may not actually believe in democracy anymore.
So we've been taught the history of a mythological country, that leaves us really ill prepared to deal with the challenges of our society. When you get a more real and accurate history, then you know, how to meet the challenges that we're facing. But we've all been taught this history very poorly. And because we've been taught this history so poorly, it's impossible for us to understand exactly what is happening in our nation right now.
Lee: I turn to Mike Hixenbaugh, who has been covering this debate since the beginning. He also co-hosted the NBC News Podcast, Southlake along with our colleague Antonia Hylton. It's about a wealthy Texas suburb that finds itself at the center of the Critical Race Theory debate after the school board tries implementing a plan to address racism within the community.
This certainly isn't just philosophical, right? There are real world implications and has been politicized. And one state lawmaker who wrote Texas Anti-CRT bill recently addressed the Board of Education. I want to quote this directly. He said, "No one is saying that we don't have systemic racism but what we're saying is we've made a lot of progress. We have a long way to go. But the way to get there here is to come together as Americans." And I want to ask you, you hear that, what is this bill actually trying to do? Do you think it's pure straight up censorship, or you know, something else at work here?
Mike Hixenbaugh: Well, first of all, his quote is accurate. There are lots of people, and I've heard from them who say systemic racism doesn't exist. That is at the center of the argument. You know, one of the main critiques of these bills, not just in Texas, but across the country is they're written in somewhat vague terms, and it leaves a lot open for interpretation.
And so what you have is in places like Florida, where a college recently put out guidance to educators, that said, as an example, you can teach about Jim Crow, but you can't make a sweeping statement saying that Jim Crow was implemented by white people. You know, there's all these educators across the country who are trying to figure out how do I do this and it's led to, I think, a form of soft censorship, even if they're saying you can teach about history.
But to the extent that these lawmakers are okay with history being taught, what they don't want is for that history to be connected with current events. You can teach that Jim Crow existed, but you can't pull up a chart that shows the wealth gap between white Americans and black Americans and how that charts back to you know, forever in this country and say that this current gap, this disparity has roots in history, and that we are still dealing with issues of racism in our policy, even if it's not explicit, that are holding certain people, black people back in this country.
That is absolutely what they're aiming to eliminate that we're all equal now, you can't use the word equity. Any kind of racism is in the past, and let's move forward.
Lee: Do you buy that they actually believe this or is this a political strategy? They know their constituents they know how to play.
Hixenbaugh: Well, it depends. Yeah, it depends on who you're talking about. You know, it's politics. Yeah, they tapped into this and saw beginning in 2020, with the blowback to Black Lives Matter, we had like a, maybe a four day span in 2020, where the whole country was like Black Lives Matter. And then we were like, you know, Amazon was putting out statements and school boards were passing resolutions.
And I think Republicans following Donald Trump's lead saw that you can get a lot of people really animated when you say like, this movement is dangerous to America, they're coming for your schools, they're coming through your children, they're coming for your suburbs.
The reason it's effective, though, is because people at the local level, this is resonating with them. White suburban moms hear these messages, and they think that, my kid is at risk. They are teaching my kid this dangerous information. I don’t want him to learn this. And I think all of that is real feelings of animosity and fear that people hold and politicians are definitely capitalizing on those things.
Lee: Speaking of dangerous ideas, Nikole, I want to get back to you. What exactly is the power of a more truthful telling of American history. We're certainly debating what that history is, and how it's told, but in trying to course correct what we've all been taught and what we've learned, what is the power in that truth?
Hannah-Jones: What the 1619 Project argues is that the legacy of slavery is shaping our society in all of these different ways and we just don't understand that it's doing that. So that whether we acknowledge the truth about our history or not, we're being shaped by it. And that our inability to grapple with the fact that we were founded as a slaveholding Republic, that the majority of the men we consider our founders, their occupation was that they enslaved other human beings, that until we grapple with that, we can't actually become the country that we already believe we are that we say we want to be.
And you can think about this with your own families, if someone in your family does something to you. And then every time you see them, they just pretend like it never happened, There's no moving on from that until there's an acknowledgement of what happened. And then some repair. And then you can actually have reconciliation, but what we've wanted to do is just patch over it.
And so that's why in 2020, we see a black man get lynched on national television. And that's why we see this constant cycle of protests and rebellion in black communities, because we have never actually dealt with the truth of what we were founded on. So when you understand the power of truth, it means we can actually grapple honestly, with the divisions in our society with all of the ways that were exceptional, that we shouldn't be proud of. And for black Americans and other marginalized groups, it's finally able to give us our proper place in the society that we built.
It is an extremely demeaning thing to grow up a black child in this country, and the only time you ever see yourself, it's to know that white people enslaved you, white people freed you. And then 100 years later, Dr. King had a dream. And we don't talk about why 100 years later, he needed to have this march on Washington.
For us, as Americans to have that holistic and more truthful history is - it's empowering to our communities, which is also one of the reasons why it's banned. But it also impacts the policies that we do and do not support it. Ultimately, that's what it's about, right? If you think that a system built on 250 years of slavery, and 100 years of racial apartheid, that perhaps that's why Black people are struggling.
Then you support policies that tried to fix the system and not fix broken people. And that's a very frightening thing to conservatives who don't want to see that type of redistributive policy.
Lee: I brought in Akeem Brown, founder of the brand new Essence Prep Charter School in San Antonio. Our episode last week was devoted to the first day of school at Essence, and why the school almost didn't open at all. After got dragged into the uproar over Critical Race Theory. I asked Akeem to explain the mission of Essence Prep to the audience.
Akeem Brown: Yeah, our mission is exactly what I think I heard from Michael and Dr. Hannah Jones. This is the idea of making sure that our young people feel affirmed, and they feel that they belong in a space similar to the space that we're sitting in today at TSU.
I describe Essence Prep as the elementary model of it historical black college and university where children can go and feel free, feel comfortable, but also see the assets of their culture, embrace those assets, learn the full history of what and who they are, but more importantly, learn what role they play in society to challenge those systems, those systems that have been working against them quite forever.
So the mission of Essence Prep is to uncover the essence of every child's identity. It's just that simple.
Lee: So with that, I want to read you a line from the bill that ban – one of the CRT bills, right? Bans the concepts that quote, an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any form of psychological distress when account of the individual's race, or sex. I'm going to ask you, who do you think they're talking about here? Who are they protecting here?
Brown: Well, after the six month battle that I faced with the Texas Education Agency, specifically with the State Board of Education. I know they're not talking about us. And that's unfortunate, because my mission, my vision is speaking the same truth of that statement, that we no longer want to feel uncomfortable. I'm speaking about us.
We don't want to feel uncomfortable in classrooms anymore. And we want those classrooms to affirm and believe in our space, right? That it is our space. We want our teachers to reflect our experiences and share those experiences and embrace who we are. The truth of the matter is they weren't speaking about us, us being black children or brown children, they were really speaking about white children.
Essence Prep was founded on the vision to create a space for that very reason so that children of color, no longer feel out of space, discomfort, because we feel that every day. Every day that a young black woman is sent home because of the braids in her hair, the barrettes that she decides to wear, her tone in her voice.
That is the discomfort because of her sex, because of her race. And that is exactly what we're trying to reverse at Essence Prep.
Lee: Dexter, I want to ask you, this man, the same people who are writing these laws are the same ones approving funding for publicly funded institutions like this one here. Do you think in the midst of this broader political fight over CRT and 1619, that the mission of a school like this could be undermined?
Dexter Maryland: You know what I was actually just thinking about that. It's disheartening, because the history of historically black colleges and universities, what does that look like, with these laws in place? I was in an African-American studies class before these laws were made. And I was able to learn about my identity. And there are some students in the audience that was in that class with me, and to truthfully stand on what is being black in America?
What is African-American in America? And with these laws being put in place, what does that look like for our future? And I think that it's, it's really leaning more so towards fear of our generation, learning true history and becoming the change makers that we want to see in the world. And I don't think they want to see that.
Lee: Governor Greg Abbott is up for reelection against Beto O'Rourke. It's going to be an uphill battle for Beto. It's likely that Greg Abbott will once again when is the same governor who signed these bills into law. And so a lot of folks are turning towards what's happening locally, and to the fight at school boards, which have become ground zero in this.
But this isn't anything new. There's a long playbook here, right? Segregationists and white supremacists have always used the school board to control what students are learning. And I want to ask you, Nikole, given this history, and what you've studied, how have these school boards been weaponized? How have they been weaponized to cause harm?
Hannah-Jones: So what we're seeing is part of a very long pattern of turning school boards and public schools into the central battlefield of the culture wars. Why is that, right? Nine of 10 American children attend to public school. So it's almost democratic of institution. There's almost nowhere else in society where this many people mixed together in the public sphere as public schools.
There's an intimacy right? A kid sitting next to another kid in a classroom, the exchange of knowledge, right, the empathy building that they exposure to people, that you're not able to control what it is that they're teaching your child. And then schools are to shape citizens and how we think about ourselves as Americans. So the way to stoke fear during periods of polarization has always been to go through the schools, right?
Because you know, this as a parent, or someone has to say somebody is doing something to your child or stoke fears about someone is harming your child or making your child feel bad, and then all logic or rationality goes out of the window and people will stop are really regressive policy, if you talk about it as being harmful to their children.
This is what we saw during school segregation. And I would argue that the people who have been taking over school boards, they have inherited the legacy, they are working within the legacy of segregationists who stoke racial fears, who stoked fears of marginalized people in order to gain power, and to control what students are learning, what students could be in the classroom with your kids. And that's what we're seeing right now. So really, regular looking people can get very rabid, when you start talking about they're teaching little Johnny that he's racist, right?
They're exposing little Johnny to things that, you know, will make him turn gay, or whatever, you know, the latest bogeyman is and so, that side seems to always, I like to quote Dr. King. He says, "Those who wish us ill seem to use time much more efficiently than those who wish us well." And you saw this again and again, that even during segregation, there were groups of white parents who opposed the white parents who were forcing segregation, who were shutting down schools, but they weren't organized.
And we've seen the same thing. I know, Michael has reported on this, that it seems like the people who are actually like, wait a minute, who I think are the majority of Americans, we don't want book bans. We don't want you telling our kids that they can't discuss the actual country that they live in. But they're not the ones going down to the school board meetings.
And they're not the ones who are taking over the seats on the school board. I know you're not asking this, but I just think it needs to be said, healthy societies don't ban books, right? Healthy societies don't try to keep children from learning things. A society that wants to suppress speech that wants to deny our children access to learning, that isn't a scared society, that is a society that actually doesn't believe that it can win the argument. And so instead, they use power to deny our children the right to learn.
Lee: So clearly, there is an attack on the truth. But I wonder how many in this room feel that this assault on CRT and 1619 puts your own sense of self and your life in danger, does it feel like an attack on black folks as a people and not just the truth? Raise your hand if you have some thoughts?
Archival Recording: I definitely feel like well, yeah, people are definitely being attacked because of these laws, or whenever we are learning about the injustices and the experiences, they're kind of just like swept under the rug, because they don't want to focus on that. Growing up as like a black kid in a predominantly white area, I just felt constantly like invalidated with everything that I did or said, just not as important, just in general.
And I felt like it's kind of like, molding like a new group of people to maintain that like superiority over us, and make us feel like our history and our stories aren't as important. And we need that, like we need to be seen in order to feel important. So that's how I feel about it.
Lee: Thank you. I have to ask, how many of you went to a school where you felt your identity was affirmed? Just about a quarter of the students in the audience raise their hands. Wow. I wonder what that actually looks like in practice, like when you were going through that education experience, and you felt affirmed, what did that look like in your experiences?
Archival Recording: My elementary school was very affirming, because one key example I can think about is when Barack Obama became president, as a first black president, all of my black teachers made it very known that black men was becoming president, we were very, like, affirming the fact that I had black teachers, black women teachers, our black history program was a highlight of our year, you know, from music to dance.
And it was also very just, you know, affirming, as your identity seen that you're surrounded by so many black kids, and you guys are all happy and enjoying, what your culture is at the time. And that really does come from having teachers who directly love you and as well as want to share and explore your experiences. And then as you know, time progresses and you move on, it's always nice to have a great foundation.
That happens in early age and early stages of kindergarten and preschool and, and first grade and second grade. And then you go into the real world. But it's really that on an elementary level that really sets that foundation from your early black teachers who really show you that love that you really need going into this troublesome world.
Lee: That's beautiful. I saw some other hands up. This brother right back here with the beard. Another beautiful, beautiful, bearded brother.
Archival Recording: My first affirming school experience really didn’t start to like until higher education. I came to an HBCU and I felt more at home in a school environment than I ever have prior. And I have a stronger native American heritage than most of my other classmates. But I was able to really connect with of African Americans and Mexican American students also because we have so much in common.
I was more affirming in upper education than when I was in secondary school and elementary school because I was the minority of the minority. Okay? If we talked about anything African American, you can best believe we talked too less about what was Native American.
Lee: You know, it's interesting that you mentioned feeling affirmed once you got to an HBCU. NBC News generation lab surveyed 275 HBCU students in August. One of the questions was, what factors influenced your decision to attend an HBCU? 45% said they wanted to attend a school with other people who looked just like them? Is that part of the beauty of being an HBCU that you can turn to your brothers and your sisters and everybody is kind of together?
Archival Recording: Yes.
Lee: A man threw his fist up like yes, sir, this is it. We have to take a quick break. But when we come back, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Dexter Maryland, talk about how we can find our truth in history. And Nikole answers some student questions. Stick with us.
Lee: (STUDENTS CHEERING) Now we're back with more of a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones and Dexter Maryland, at Texas Southern University. Nikole, everything we've heard sounds daunting. It sounds like a weight on our shoulders. How do we cut through all the chaos and rein it in and teach a history that is everyone's truthful and affirming and values who we are?
Hannah-Jones: Well, if one thing that black people know is struggle, so it's never been easy for us, telling our stories, it's never been easy. But there's never been a moment in our history where we just gave up and rolled over and accepted what was happening. So you know, all the students in this room, you come from a university with a long history of protests, the resistance of students who were willing to put themselves on the line, so that they can have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else.
All of these laws, they're hurting our entire country, but they're particularly hurting us. They're demeaning our history, they're demeaning our experiences. They want us to believe that what we experienced and what we know isn't true. So to me, what we have to do is we have to resist, right, we can study the roadmap of how they got these laws passed and we can apply the opposite pressure to that.
You all have a right to learn your history, you have a right to go to your legislature and say you cannot pass these laws in our name. And what I love about a place like TSU, hope I don't get TSU in trouble, they're teaching it anyway. And what we are seeing is that educators and students across the country are refusing to accept these bans.
And, you know, having been young, once upon a time.
Lee: Long time ago.
Hannah-Jones: I know as soon as some adult tried to tell me what I couldn't do, that was the first thing that I was going to try to do. And so I hope students would do that same thing when it comes to their education.
Lee: Dexter, given that long history and tradition of folks on this campus, you know, standing up and pushing back against the powers that are trying to disenfranchise and subjugate black folks in particular, how is that manifesting today? What does activism look like on this campus in particular, given your long tradition?
Maryland: I think it looks like this. It looks like us learning about our history because it shows like Dr. Hannah-Jones talked about our resilience against all things in this history of our university. So learning those things are really allowing us to continue to advocate for ourselves in a way just like this.
Lee: There was another action that I wanted to ask Dexter about. Earlier this year, Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz came to TSU campus to talk with students and staff about the school's infrastructure needs and other issues in a closed door meeting. But Cruz is one of the most vocal opponents of Critical Race Theory. And the meeting happened in February, Black History Month.
And I wonder how you all responded on his campus.
Maryland: Okay, okay, we're going to talk about it. So Student Government Association, we took a poll to understand how the students felt about Ted Cruz not only coming but coming during Black History Month, and they didn't like it. They didn't want it. Short notice, we didn't really have a lot of information about it.
So we put out a statement on the behalf of the student body, not behalf of the university to make that clear on the behalf of the student body stating that we will not show up to this. So that's basically what we did. There was pushback with that but now, seeing at the university, they saw that we are in those rooms now, I can say that.
Lee: We reached out to TSU, but they did not provide us with a comment on the situation. Nikole, it's been a long time since we were this age, not for me. I mean, it was just yesterday for some of us it's been long time. But when you hear these students so engaged, articulating the world as they see it and taking action, how did that make you feel?
Hannah-Jones: I feel proud and I feel unsurprised. I'm not surprised that students who made the choice to come to an institution like this would feel engaged, will be determined to have their voices heard. And one thing that you all know, I say this all the time when young people are like, what should we do?
Don't ask us, if we were going to fix it, it would have been fixed a long time ago. What we know is that civil rights activism was born in high schools, and it was born on college campuses, and that you all will be the ones who are going to lead us out of this, if it's to happen. So to me, I feel hope and I feel pride.
Lee: You are now part of the HBCU family at Howard University. No booze, okay.
Hannah-Jones: Yeah, we're taught respect, appreciate it.
Lee: But I do wonder what can HBCUs do to better support their young people, because there's politics in all spaces, right? And there's cultural tug and pulls in all spaces. What can HBCUs in particularly do to support their students?
Hannah-Jones: I mean, I think there's a few things. One, as we heard from the students here, what HBCUs do is they allow you a space where you can just be, right? Where you're not spending your so much of your energy, in opposition to the institution that you're in trying to prove your basic self-worth trying to prove your intellect.
And I think that then gives you the space to plan resistance when you're not having to resist the very place that's supposed to be educating you. But I also think that HBCUs have to then be more supportive of student movements, right?
That the very incident that you're talking about, allowing a politician who has kind of waged war against everything that a place like TSU stands for, to come during Black History Month, for a photo op, this should have been conversations that we're having with the student body right up front.
So HBCUs are not a utopia. What we know is that there needs to be much more collaboration and cooperation between university faculty and staff and the students that they are to serve. But I think these are the places that are breeding, the folks who are going to lead us out of these troubles if we are to get out of these troubles.
Texas is really ground zero for what's happening in the entire nation, folks are not working so hard to keep you from voting and to keep you from learning because you don't matter. And because they don't have a fear of what you will do once you have that education and once you exercise your vote. So I hope that this will be, HBCUs would continue to be a place to help black students come into their political activism, and to turn this country into the country of our highest ideals.
Lee: Now, Dexter, I don't want to put you on the spot, but you are the President of the Student Government Association here. And as we know, this is a publicly funded institution, and politics can get funny, right?
Folks are appointed from the same governor who signing law that are hostile to our community. And I wonder from that vantage point, what can this school do to better arm and help you guys push for the kind of community and world you want?
Maryland: I think it's exactly what Dr. Hannah Jones said. What we're fighting for is our history. This university just has to stand up, which I believe they can and will and support the advocacy of not stripping our history from my curriculum, and allowing us to have that identity and a sense of a nation that really wants to show up there from us.
Lee: Now, I want to thank you all so far for participating. You guys have been super engaged. I know I'm not the only one with questions. Before we turn to the Q&A, I know you have some questions for Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Maryland: Yes, I actually have one question. So we talked a little bit in the greenroom. And you brought up something about Frederick Douglass and how those excerpts really connect to your project. Can you really share with us here at TSU why it's important to not only read current history, but to go back and look at those things that Frederick Douglass wrote in WEB Du Bois and how that relates to our current times today?
Hannah-Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I became a history nerd because to me, history explains the society that we live in today. If you don't study your past, how can you make sense of everything that we're seeing, but much more importantly, when you study someone like Frederick Douglass, who has to be the greatest American right that this country has ever produced.
This was a man born into bondage, who obtained his freedom, who was on the run, literally was a fugitive and yet was going out, raising money for abolition, fighting people who didn't believe that slavery should be over and penning some of the greatest words for liberty that have ever been written in the history of our country.
So if we understand that, that a man born in that time when you had no legal rights and citizenship or you were not even considered a citizen, where you are considered property, if he could fight, what excuse do we have, right? If he didn't say, oh, it's hard. Oh, I have other things I could be doing, and what excuse do we have and that's why I study history because I take a great deal of strength knowing that if a man had that amount of courage in those times without my platform, right?
Without the rights that I have, then I have an obligation to become a good ancestor myself one day. And also I have to just say, for the record, I'm not Dr. Hannah-Jones. I'm Professor Hannah-Jones. I don't have a real doctorate, just a fake one. So don't call me that.
Maryland: I'll make note of that.
Lee: Thank you very much. Now let's turn to our students, we've been waiting to hear from y'all this whole hour. So go ahead. First of all, say your name, your year and then state your question.
Unique Star Simmons: My name is Unique star Simmons, I am a graduate student of the College of Education. And my question is when we think about where we are in our current state with media oversaturation of CRT, Critical Race Theory, as well as anti-race, there's a direct correlation as well to the teacher shortage, right?
As well as the under representation of black teachers. What advice or just maybe words of encouragement or experiences that you may have that you can provide to current education students, right? Because we already know that there's a pay gap and deficiency. So that's not an occupation that people want to jump into versus engineering or something of that stature.
And so we really look to when we talk about the truth as educators, we want to provide our students with a holistic education. And so I'm looking to hear what you could share with us in terms of, you know, keeping us inspired to stay the course as educators and future teachers so we can change the course of this country.
Lee: And Nikole, we can now add educator to the list, your long list of experiences.
Hannah-Jones: My 15th job. Yeah.
Hannah-Jones: So one, thank you so much for choosing to be an educator. I talked about in the preface for the 1619 project that it was an educator named Mr. Ray Dial who changed my life, the 1619 project would not exist if I had not had that Black Studies class with Mr. Dial. He was the only black male teacher I ever had.
We know the research is clear, that all students benefit from having black educators but particularly black students. You know, you're going into a service profession, just like journalists, you didn't go into this to make money, you go into this because you believe this was a mission that you have. So what I would say to encourage you is that there are black children out there right now who will need you to be their advocate.
I know it's not easy. It's never been easy, the pay isn't great. And now on top of that, you have laws being passed against you. And you're expected to be able to shoot somebody if they come in your classroom, right? All these things that are being placed by educators. But the thing you're not getting is respect.
But what I hope you know, is that your students will respect you, and the parents will respect you. And it is you who have the ability to transform the lives of so many of our kids. So please, stay, you know, stay in the profession. And I'm just really happy that you want to be an educator.
Lee: Excellent. Thank you very much.
James Houston: My name is James Houston.
Lee: James Houston, a senior at TSU asked what was no doubt, the most provocative question of the afternoon?
Houston: I have a question that's definitely like gasoline on flames right now. But who cares? So here in the United States, you know, we see like China's a threat, supposedly, right? And the reason why we're not worried about them is because they have a declining birth rate. So the real question is, do we really see these naysayers as enemies or even a threat considering they have a declining birth rate?
Hannah-Jones: So by naysayers, you mean white people?
Houston: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.
Lee: Are you saying, should folks just wait it out? Because in a number of generations, they're going to be a minority and then –
Houston: Basically, basically.
Lee: Okay, what do you think about that Nikole?
Hannah-Jones: Well, this is the question I could tell you, it's probably not going to make it into the episode but I'll answer it anyway.
Houston: That’s not good. That’s not good.
Hannah-Jones: So one, I don't think any of us up here saying we should think of anyone as our enemy. Right? So I would just say I'm going to slightly shift your question. But the answer is, white people becoming which they won't be a racial minority, they'll be the largest racial group in a plurality. So whenever you hear someone say, we're going to become a majority minority country, if you understand English, then you know, that's an oxymoron and impossible, right?
Because majority and minority are numeric figures. So you can't be both less than and more than at the same time. And what they're also then saying is that all people of color will be one monolithic group that votes together that thinks together, all we have to do is look at the Hispanic vote and know that that's not true either, right?
So white people will still be the largest racial group within a plurality. And all we have to do is look historically, to the entire American South. And what we saw on the American South when white people didn't have majority, they implemented anti-democratic policies that kept them in political control even though they didn't have the numeric majority.
This is why we have the insurrection on the Capitol now. This is why we have efforts to subvert democracy now is the belief that they will not have the political majority so they don't really want democracy anyway. And we have a history of 100 years called Jim Crow, or racial apartheid, where minority rule by a racial minority, using violence to maintain that as well as election shenanigans, kept them in power.
So I don't think we can take any kind of refuge in the notion that white people may lose their numeric supremacy, because we have already seen that in the American South. And the last thing I'll say is there's also nothing within either the historic record or polling that says that this generation of white people, the older generation, if they die out, racism will die out. Because guess who said that also, in the 1960s.
They said, if we just let those segregationists die out, racism will end. And yet here we are still fighting that same racism. And actually, when they do the polling, the racial views of young white people, yes, it's better than their grandparents but they're still not good.
Hannah-Jones: So knowing all of that.
Lee: No fire and flames for you, brother. (STUDENTS CHEERING) That's all for now, I got to thank all of our guests, and the entire campus of Texas Southern University for hosting us. And of course, thank you, to you, our listeners.
For more of our Texas Southern Town Hall on the power of the black vote, check out our video special on Peacock. There, you'll be able to catch more of my conversation on campus. We'll drop a link in our show notes. And join us next week when we head to Durham's, North Carolina Central University, where students tell us how they're managing their student loan debt, and working to build generational wealth.
So how much in loans do you owe? How much do you owe? You're checking already like.
Archival Recording: Collectively, cost me about $37,000 a year, three and a half years somewhere like in the 90s.
Archival Recording: I'm not a math major. But somewhere in the 90s.
Lee: Mark, how much do you owe?
Archival Recording: Ooh.
Lee: her laugh says it all.
Archival Recording: Ooh yeah. I'm just thinking of white perspective.
Lee: And by the way, if you haven't listened to last week's episode of Into America yet, be sure to download that right now. We visit Akeem Brown's Essence Prep Charter School on the first day of class and get a behind the scenes, look at all the back to school excitement. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using the handle @IntoAmericaPod or you can tweet me @Trymaine Lee.
Our email is IntoAmerica@NBCuni.com. Into America is produced by Sojourner Ahebee, Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Joshua Sirotiak. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Aisha Turner. I’m Trymaine Lee.
Thanks to all the people from NBC News and MSNBC who helped this townhall come together behind the scenes. I want to give a special shout out to Stephanie Cargill, Lindsey Davis, Brandi Foster and Mike Hunting. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll see you next Thursday for more of our series, The Power of the Black Vote.