[00:00:00] This is hard when you try to talk cross racial groups about race, right? And not to soft pedal, to hold people accountable for a choice to be so ignorant. But at the same time, try not to let people go unless you have to because in that moment of exchange lies the possibility that they will. Actually get somewhere.
They may not get where I want them to go right away, and they may not get where I want them to go in my presence or in my lifetime, but I, I do believe that there's a, a better chance of them. Getting further, if we can create spaces of both accountability and connection. Community is a precarious thing.
It can promote inclusiveness as well as division. It can provide space for empathy and safety, but also change the way it defines itself over time. It's our most precious commodity. And [00:01:00] yet to overprotect it is to stifle its power. I am Helga Davis. My guest today is Tricia Rose, chancellor's professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, host of the Tightrope Podcast with Cornell West and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America.
She graciously joined me from her home in Rhode Island while on sabbatical this year. In this conversation we discuss how she balances her love of the early days of hip hop. With the global profit powerhouse, it has become the beauty of chaos and how essential it is to build safe, stable communities at a time when everything is being done to isolate and separate.
Tricia Rose. Hello. Hey, how are you? Oh, I'm very happy to hear your voice is how I am. Oh, I'm happy to hear yours. You, [00:02:00] you have a, a miraculous voice. You must know this. It's just amazing . It's really in headphones, especially you, you can hire me out or hire myself out for outgoing, uh, voicemail messages. So let me know.
Oh, I, that may be, That's a career waiting to happen there. Many of us need your, your voice on the outbound. So I was trying to figure out what the way into this conversation would be, and then I started watching you a little bit on the interwebs, which I don't usually do. Something said to me, just, just look and see what she's talking about in this moment.
And so I wrote down these things. Uh, black feminist popular performance respectability [00:03:00] politics. That you're a defender of black vernacular culture. You talked about how the ghetto becomes a cultural choice rather than the result of structural racism. Hmm. And also how we are consumers of our own demise.
And I'm wondering how you got here, how you got to thinking about these things and writing about these things. , and I wanna be clear, I'm grateful , that you have, because when I listen, I feel less crazy. Hmm. About the things I see and about the things I feel and how I go about responding or not responding.
To them. Yeah. Well, I mean, I'm very happy to hear that. Uh, it gives you a sense of, of confirmation [00:04:00] that you're not crazy. Although we, we both are perhaps crazy to the regular world as we know it right now, , and that may be a good kind of crazy, you know, and Martin always said, you know, what is it maladjusted to injustice?
So this may be our, our fate, but um, it's such a great question. How did I get here? Because it, it not only invites me to think about my own journey in relationship to these incredible elements of black life, which is culture itself. Black expressive vernacular culture, black women's expressive participation.
But also to think about what's changed about those spaces, right? Um, and, and what might have provoked the really profound changes that have taken place in those spaces. So, you know, the relatively short answer, cuz you know, that's also like a, an, you know, a chapter in a book question doesn't have a short, but it doesn't have to be a short.
I'll give you ad like, don't, don't forget I'm [00:05:00] an academic. We can go really long. . Well, you know, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. It's all digital now, so . That's true. Well, okay. The editing pen is ready. Okay. I got, got you. No, no, I got you. Got you. So, so here's, here's sort of what happened. Um, you know, the first, uh, stage of my years reflecting on black life in the us in particular urban culture.
You know, comes from my college and graduate student life, right? I'm from the Bronx. I grew up in Harlem actually, and then moved to the Bronx when I was about eight. So my adolescence was spent in the Bronx, uh, and also at the same time it was spent in a very elite white. Private high school almost an hour away.
So you know very well what the complexity of that is. And you know, I'm certainly of an age when, you know, radical politics were part of the popular arena late 1970s, uh, mid 1970s. So I came to [00:06:00] the experience of, of. Popular, expressive vernacular culture as something that you had to seek out or be a part of in a more, um, kind of organic way.
Mm-hmm. , right? You couldn't simply consume it on Moss like you can now and absolutely never have seen or known anybody black ever. Um, you literally, we could, we, you know, they could take us to Mars. People on earth would still think there were black people, you know, just based on how much representation there is.
But back then it was in integrated into life right in to, in large measure. And that was a very powerful force to me. I, I started thinking about how important it was that there was this space that, of course, was shaped by society. Of course, it was shaped by all of the in incredibly problematic. Uh, racist structures that drive American desire as [00:07:00] well as the economy.
But at the same time, there was so much integrity and complexity in the space of, of creation. Mm-hmm. of things that black people made their own, whether they were re, you know, grafted, you know, and designed in the way. One remakes a quilt or whether they were really sort of in, in point of origin, a kind of imaginary black creative space in, in its entirety.
So for me, you know, I came to to loving early hip hop as a teenager, right? And mm-hmm. , it came of age when I came of age. So, you know, I was in, I was, you know, 16, 17 in 1979. So for me, you know, hearing hip hop in, in the public popular arena, Just a, an amazing thing. It's the first genre I saw come into existence.
right? I mean, remember now gospel, r and b, you know, jazz, blues, uh, reggaed, all these things existed. Mm-hmm. , they were here, [00:08:00] somebody created them, but you didn't see that moment. Right. They were, they were already kicking for decades. Mm-hmm. hip hop was just, it just didn't exist and nothing sounded like it before.
Mm-hmm. . So I was fascinated by that. I mean, just fascinated. Uh, so I just started writing and then went to graduate school, and that's what I, I wrote my first book and. , you know, my graduate dissertation on mm-hmm. , at that point, it was filled with contradictions. It was always, you know, had a pension as most vernacular cultures do for misogyny, homophobia, and other things.
That's sort of what. Vernacular cultures explore, but it wasn't the defining characteristics of what was going on, and it wasn't profitable actually at all for a long time, but more importantly, when it was profitable, it wasn't profitable because of its exploitation. Right of various tropes. It was just part of what happened.
So as, as that shifted and, you know, time moved along and, you know, hip hop [00:09:00] became incr, you know, I mean a global phenom, you know, outstrips country music, which is saying something , you know, as, uh, in terms of profit and as the industry changes and as technology changes, so many things happen, you know, I begin to see that hip hop is vulnerable, um, for lots of reasons.
To being mined for the kind of voyeuristic desire around listening in on black so-called dysfunctional culture. Yeah. That has driven lots of representations of black life. Right. So where. Things like deep systemic racism and violence. Instead of seeing them as the context within which these amazing, heroic people come into being and try to survive, we instead say they are the pathology we've forced them to live in, and we just wanna consume their natural pathological state.
Mm. . Right. And so that when I see that [00:10:00] happening, you know, now I, I, you know, I, I became quite despondent about the situation, obviously cuz if my investment was pretty high, , , um, and, you know, early on in the first iteration, so I was, and then the, the, the, the misogyny just becomes rampant. Black women MCs disappear from record deals.
Like, I think there were maybe one or two for right, for over a decade. So you don't even have women's voices. And then when you get them, they're basically doing the same thing that the brothers were doing in their own gendered way, right? Mm-hmm. . So you know, brothers are shooting each other, selling drugs, getting rich, drinking alcohol, having sex with a thousand women on a regular basis.
Their whole value structure is about, the more of those things that happen, the more important they are, right? Same thing with women in reverse. Now they narrate themselves as a male fantasy rap about that, get their. Get their money, get their, you know, commodities through performing that identity as a sexual commodity.
Now, what makes that whole thing [00:11:00] complicated is that black feminism begins to take a turn for toward imagining that sexual agency is about sexual freedom, even when that freedom expresses the terms of its own oppression. Mm-hmm. . and therefore anything that challenges it is enacting of respectability politics, a kind of bourgeois containment and silence around sexuality.
Mm-hmm. . So what I've tried to do historically on this point, you know, which was in sort of stage two and three of my engagement with hip hop, was to say, well, look, if my freedom is accessible to me, mostly, not only, but mostly when I articulate a male patriarchal fantasy, then that's not the freedom I want.
Mm-hmm. So how do I prove to you that you could be. Wild and as crazy and as sexually, you know, experimental as you want. I don't care. Just as long as you came up with it . Yeah. [00:12:00] I want you sister to come up with it. I don't want you to basically be a porn star. Right. But we, and we're not divorced from. that culture.
Right. But remember how I started black people dis you know, speaking in a way that was, in a sense, in its own world, trying to create its own space because it was so marginal to American mainstream life. Mm-hmm. . So we weren't given that opportunity. Mm-hmm. inside of hip hop. You see what I mean?
You know, I was, I was thinking a lot, and I've been thinking a lot about how, how to navigate now. It, it seems that everyone has, uh, a D E I mandate and they're calling people in to help their corporations, their organizations become more aware mm-hmm. , uh, to behave better. To, mm-hmm. to course to try and course correct [00:13:00] a thing that has been in existence, perhaps for the entire existence for that organization or corporation.
So I started thinking about, well, what would be the thing to break? The conversation to, to come from the outside and radically force a different kind of conversation. And so what I was thinking about was the idea of chaos. Hmm. So I started looking at what chaos was before it became, uh, a tool of the devil
And in the 14th century, chaos is described as a, as a gaping, void, empty, immeasurable space. Abyss that which gapes [00:14:00] wide open. Then by the 16th century chaos. Gained this theological use to describe the time before the creation of the universe. Mm. And so if chaos is a space of infinite potential, what about implementing chaos as a device used toward social, sexual, cultural freedom within an individual or group of people?
So here's, here's my sort of affirmation of, of that idea and then, uh, my, my critique of it too. So my affirmation is that there's no question that in those moments of, of, of as much freedom as we can imagine, right? As much freedom as we can create, that new things can come out of that, right? Mm-hmm. and that you wanna figure out where are the places I am most.
[00:15:00] Right. And that, and that in a sense, that's the critique of my line, right. That I offered earlier in the conversation about that's a freedom I don't want. Right. When it comes to sort of, you know, trying to find my freedom through a sexual, a male sexual fantasy. Mm-hmm. , not that I couldn't perform it occasionally, I mean, you know, some high heels and a short dress are really cute.
Come on. I'm not stupid . I'm not without my pleasures, you know, my guilty pleasures. Right. But what I'm saying is that when you live your. Through that trope and you imagine that they are equivalent, that you are free, as you can only be understood as a free being when you perform it. that that is not the gateway towards something else.
Now, I'm not saying that's what is going on with everybody, and I'm not saying that there's not amazing artistry in women who are basically working with the tools that the world is giving them. Mm-hmm. . and I [00:16:00] respect that, but I think that it's important to see the limitations that we're forced to be in.
If for no other reason, for the next generation, for the four year olds, for the three year olds, for the trans girls to be, Hey, I don't have to play in this game at all. Somebody older needs to say, this is both miraculous and a sign of constraint. Right, because it's, it's in that interpretive framework of a distance from one's narrative of domination.
It's, it's the distance we can maintain between us and the, the framework that normalizes our domination. That distance is critical for developing an entirely new alternative. Hmm. And that's what I think black culture has been so genius about doing, saying, oh yeah, we're gonna sing some hymns. Oh, sure, sure, sure.
We're we're we, we love Christianity. And like, no, we about to change this whole thing. , we gonna, we're gonna change the who matters? We [00:17:00] gonna change why they matter. We're gonna change who's, you know, who gets. Celebra, right? You see what I'm saying? Like, we got some distance from this puppy. We know you want us to take it up,
That just makes me so happy. . Yeah. You know, just like, let's keep doing that in that, not that exact thing, but Yeah. Yeah. That kind of idea. Right. So what worries me is that as black culture became a central commodity in consumer culture, And as consumer culture became this behemoth around the world, the main thing that we export, right, is culture.
We, we don't make, you know, widgets, we don't send widgets. They send widgets to us. We send back, you know, you know, rappers, , basically . So, so what happens when consumer culture becomes this? Piece of capitalism around the world. Now we, the first time many of us really understand our cultural space. It's already so mediated.
Mm. That it's hard to figure out what it would've been like if [00:18:00] everybody else wasn't determining what should be popular. Partly based, not entirely, but partly based on a set of. really problematic understandings of who black people are. So it's the circulation of black ideas and black images that changes the distance between our creativity and the narratives of domination.
I want more space there. I see myself when I make this generally unpopular argument, , which I'm completely aware is not a big, a big hit among the young people. Um, oh, but why I continue to, oh, you know, I continue to make it because I hope they'll go read black noise and see how much I love black people and see how much I love black culture and see it in hip hop wars and see it in longing to tell, see how much I love, uh, you know, the power and agency and creativity and say, look, but that, that's a gift.
But it's a gift that can be destroy. . It is not something that does not need our [00:19:00] protection or our investment or our critical engagement. , right? Mm-hmm. . So for me, it's not about dissing people. It's not about, you know, uh, certainly not about morally shaming people, right? And certainly not about asking for more sort of p prudery.
Anybody who's heard me talk about hip hop knows that's not my interest at all. I just want a full range of experiences. And, and we're seeing more and more in general, right? We're seeing. Representations of black women in creative Rashonda Rhimes alone has created Right, a, an extension of mm-hmm. , you know, range of black women representations that has exceeded what we had probably the whole previous a hundred years.
So, I mean, I understand things are certainly changing, but I am concerned that there isn't a kind of a black feminist critique of the thing I'm asking us to take seriously. There isn't enough of it to my mind, not given what we're up. And not given how little respect black women are given in the world.
That's where my [00:20:00] concern comes now. You know, look, anything can change on the drop of a dime. So I am not, I am not saying it's not a doomsday mm-hmm. theory, but what is black feminism if it's not a critique That is, is in the spirit of creating space for more distance between us and the narratives of domination that are willing and trying to destroy us.
to them. What about this idea of chaos, of just. Total disruption of, so, yes. Well, right. You're really arguing for space, right? Well, yes, but, but here's the, here's the thing. So, and this is, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this cuz this is complicated for me, so I want chaos, but I also know that humans need structure for their own stability.
Insanity, indeed. Mm-hmm. And for their own fostering of real change. Right? Real change requires infrastructure. You can't just imagine it, it's not like a, a personal thought structure. Mm-hmm. , it's like you need mm-hmm. safety it to some degree. I mean, it's [00:21:00] never totally safe, but you need more safety than not.
you need trust. You need community affirmation. You need rituals. You need things people believe in together. So you need human community that has a, a productive human structure. So why Chaos is both. If someone said, we're going to have strategically planned chaos, or we're going to have moments of chaos as a, as an intentional practice to create space that doesn't yet exist.
now you got me all in. I'm like, where? Where do I go? ? Get me a ticket. You know what I mean? So tell me the address now I'm for it. Mm-hmm. . I just want chaos. And I go, yeah, okay. Well what do you really mean by that? , the kind of chaos that I was describing that is planned for this purpose, I think is brilliant.
And I that's, I love that idea entirely, but sometimes we get very radical in our, you know, we're gonna burn a down theory and start over. And I'm like, okay, well just remember that all structures and [00:22:00] constraints and community is not a sign of oppression. Agreed. And I think. Part of what you said is integral to whatever idea of chaos I was going after.
Mm-hmm. Which is that there must be a place of safety, um, and that we just, we need a different house. Mm-hmm. So, as you were saying, I don't object. necessarily to the houses that exist, but I, I wanna also build this house on the block and see what can happen there. Mm-hmm. and that it's, it's not this or that as the people say it's this and that.
Mm-hmm. , and I agree that we need structure, we need safety, but even the thing with needing other people,
What if you're not around other people? Mm-hmm. . How, how [00:23:00] does the individual then imagine themselves or explore this idea? While being perhaps isolated in a community where they are rendered invisible because of how they walk in the world, because they're not understood because mm-hmm. , they are not recognizable to the people with whom they make community, nor to the spaces they occupy.
Uh, perhaps professionally, but I mean, do you, do you think that it is impossible to find another single person on earth in this technological moment? Right. That you could build community with who, who shares whatever primary characteristics of isolation you're referring to? Yes. Right. You, you, no. Well, I mean, I mean, like nobody on earth.
You, you really believe that. I see. I don't believe that. I think you have to work unfairly hard to find that person or those [00:24:00] people. But I don't see myself, and I don't see other people only as one characteristic. So there must be pieces of who they are, that there's some connection to them. That can be made.
The emphasis on the individual has been the, the kind of Trojan horse. Mm-hmm. that I think has made it harder for us to see the places where we might be able to connect, even if it isn't at our say, primary identity point, whatever that might be. Mm-hmm. , you know, an individualism is a perfect market construction of liberalism.
We're, we're really not individuals, even as we craft ourselves in ways that might break the molds that have been presented to us. We're still doing that in the context of generational points of continuity, right? Mm-hmm. and generational connections or class connections or, you know, language connections or spiritual connections or, there, there, there are [00:25:00] things that connect us.
It doesn't mean that there aren't sources of profound difference, but I would say that.
It's about figuring out how to prioritize both What? What makes an individual purely individual, and to look for those connection to the group, whatever the group is. Mm-hmm. or groups plural. Mm-hmm. that will nourish parts of who we are. It may not nourish all of who we are. That's why I don't give up on hip hop.
Say for example, just to bring us back. Right. Which is to say, look, if I were to decide that hip. Couldn't possibly represent me because of the reasons I'm concerned about hip hop, then I wouldn't listen to it at all. And I will say I don't listen to a lot of it at this day and age. It's been a long mm-hmm.
you know, it's been 40 years of listening to hip hop. I'm kind of a little sleepy about it right now. a little, little worn out. Helga, but, but, but you still find amazing, amazing things in the genre, right? Mm-hmm. . So part of it is seeking that connection, even though as a, as a space, it, it doesn't. . [00:26:00] It's, I'm not, it's demographic.
Let me put, put it, put it that way. Mm-hmm. Does that make sense or do you do Yeah, but what, what do you think, do you really, do think that there are people who are full on individuals in isolated, uh, individuality in the world and their survival? No. I guess I, I feel that they experience isolation to a degree that might perhaps, uh, feed the idea.
Yes. That they are. Yes, I agree with that, and I think, I think the world we've created makes that much easier to experience that isolation. Right. That can mm-hmm. separate us from things that we might. , uh, actually be able to connect to, but to me that's actually, I, I don't even know why that problem exists.
I mean, I have a knee jerk answer for that. Uh mm-hmm. , you know, which would be around, I mean, what, what technology has done is created micro markets at a level. Nobody was, I think, expecting, and that those micro [00:27:00] markets, they target us as individuals. Constantly. And so all of the connections where we might have to sort of hear and see and participate in things that were different enough from us, but had some connection, those days are over, we're micro marketed too, and I think that has contributed to our isolation or to the experience as you so eloquently put it, the experience of isolation, even when that may in fact not be the, the pure quote unquote, You are listening to Helga.
We'll rejoin the conversation in just a moment. Thanks for being here.
And now let's rejoin my conversation with author and professor Tricia Rose. I was listening to this, this talk. It had Angela Davis and Percy Sutton. I, I went down the YouTube Freedom Rabbit Hole. Rabbit Hole,
One of the things that Fannie Lou Hamer was talking about was how the power structures in the South forced black people to have more unity. So it tho those things that were designed to kill them, brought them together. Mm-hmm. . And then I think about somebody like [00:29:00] Clarence Thomas, who. Purports that that's what we need more of to bring us together and to make us, uh, less dependent upon white graces.
I don't know. And then it just, it, it started to bother me. Well, I'm, anytime he talks, it bothers me. You know, he shouldn't really be speaking, he should be as quiet in the public as he is on the Supreme Court. That's my feeling. . Um, but there's an interesting point there. So, so Fannie Lou is saying in this, in this, you know, whatever segment you saw on YouTube that.
That the ex, the collective experience of, of white racism, of Jim Crow violence mm-hmm. Of subordination, of, of the culture, of, of, of terror that constituted Jim Crow living, created, uh, a collective experience around which people could rally and, and maintain their [00:30:00] connections and build, build things from, right?
Mm-hmm. build a world. . Mm-hmm. . And, and, and a critical feature to that would be segregation, right? In a sense. Mm-hmm. , because mm-hmm. , you know, you forced me to be only around black people. Well, we gonna create our own entire world, right? Mm-hmm. , we gonna, you know, if you leave us alone, we'd be all right. It's just you keep bothering us, , you know, um, and taking things from us.
Okay? But, so now this is interesting because what I've been doing in the last, uh, you know, chunk of, of my intellectual journey has been. really to focus on systemic racism very closely. Mm-hmm. , not to make an argument that it's just sort of the structure of society and it's terrible, but to say that it is an elaborate network of relationships in policy, practice, and behavior that have a profound effect on our life chances, even when we're successful.
That is to say it's not just that it produces. Intensity levels of poverty and higher [00:31:00] percentages of poverty, say for example, but that all across the economic structure. People have, are, are basically finding themselves in a sense, you know, dinged by racism, right? Mm-hmm. by systemic practices of discrimination.
But what's happened is that we've been asked to talk about racism as an a practice of individual behavior. In society. Right? Because you remember that's why I was so grumpy about the word individual before because I'm thinking of it through the lens of like, we're all individuals and we're, you know, masters of our own fate.
And if you work hard enough and you use your individual grit will in determination, you'll get where you wanna go, honey, right? That's story that we're forced into hearing, denies the collective reality of a whole system that is actually creating. Very similar outcomes without the name tags and colored fountains and white fountains and mm-hmm.
without the explicit violence, except by the police, right? Mm-hmm. , but without, mm-hmm. , the other kinds of, of [00:32:00] normalized violence that existed under Jim Crow. Mm-hmm. . So what we have is a world without signposts producing profound. Still segregation schools are, uh, as, as segregated as they were in the late 1960s, early seventies.
Yeah. I can go down the list. Right. And so, but we don't have a narrative of togetherness that, cuz we don't know we're facing this thing. Hmm. Even though activists tell us, Hey, there's systemic racism. We don't have a curriculum to understand it. We are not given the space to really explore these things and the world is constantly separating them out.
Well, there's education and that has a set of problems and then there's criminal behavior and then there, you know, so on and so forth. But I'm saying no, this whole thing is an integrated system. And if Fannie Lou Hamer is right, which I, my sus, my suspicion is that she is, cuz she's Fanny Lou Hamer. Mm-hmm
That means what we need is to know and see what has been hidden from us. They took the signs. Hmm. And [00:33:00] they change the story and they change the surface of the behavior, and they've made it more indirect. But that doesn't mean it has stopped. My, my thought here is that we, we need is a way to create a collective understanding about the conditions that we're facing.
To build the things that, that we've built before in a new way. So then where are your places of freedom? Man, you know, it's funny you should say that. I'll say being alone, . I was literally thinking that first. I was like, man, I need to just go lay down by myself. alone. Oh, Tricia Rose . I know. Isn't that funny after all I gave you?
No, no. I mean, uh, you know, that was, I was really half kidding. But I do get a lot of solace from. Withdrawing from the intensity of the world as we know it. The world is a [00:34:00] very intense place right now to me, and it's very unpredictable and it feels volatile and, and frankly dangerous to be in. Mm-hmm.
Mm-hmm. . So when I say be alone, that's sort of what I'm referring to. But, you know, I have a, an amazing husband partner. I mean, we're true like life partners, dogs, and so we spend a lot of time doing lots of things together and, you know, It's a creative space, it's a fun space. It's a joking space. You know, there's a lot of beauty in that.
That definitely is an important part of my sanity and spaces for restoration and, you know, renewal and connection. But in terms of. other places, smaller communities of friends who are in, you know, you gather across life, you know, you sort of, you move around if, if, if you move around. Some people stay where they grew up.
But if you move around a lot, then you sort of gather people and move them along with you psychically, um mm-hmm. and, and, and staying in touch with, with a handful of those people and [00:35:00] feeling like they know you in different ways because you've connected at different stages of your life. Those, those relationships can give.
uh, give me, you know, a sense of belonging across sort of time and space. It's just a weird kind of logic, but that certainly rejuvenates me, helps me feel like there are relationships that can survive this, this world. Um mm-hmm. that just like I said, feels, you know, I mean, I'm, I'm a little worried about it.
I can't, you know, I can't say, yeah, I can't say I'm, you know, like, we're, we're on, we're on an upswing. I do not feel. . Um, but what are the things that are worrying you? Oh, Lord, we don't, we definitely don't have enough time for that. But , let me just give you the top two. I mean, first of all, I mean, democracy was never a perfect answer, but it was a better answer than a many of the alternatives.
Mm-hmm. , and it looks like it's really in a terrible state and a combination of. , oh my God. Anti-black [00:36:00] antique, anti-Semitic. You know, unity of thought is galvanizing a kind of new white supremacy that I thought was beaten back into moderate submission. For good. You know, I never thought it was over. Mm-hmm.
Mm-hmm. But I thought it had a, a box around it somewhere, and I would have to go look for it, but apparently I've been living in the box myself and didn't even know it. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. , you know what I mean? I mean, I'm, you know, so that is, that is definitely a true worry. Um, the arming of the country. Yeah.
Because you can't take that bullet back. You can't have a debate after that. Mm-hmm. , the bullying of kids, the, the mental health crisis that young people are facing, they're the canary in the mind. They are telling us something. We are not listening, and that all assumes we survive climate change, which I'm not even, I haven't even touched on.
So there's all of that. And then there is, as you, as you said, the experience of isolation. [00:37:00] and the, the feeling that you are either for me or you're against me. So that even if we disagree about something important, we can't find the space to create even tentative community through differences. Mm-hmm.
because you have to be able to do that. So that's another place. Um, That's another place that worries me for sure. Mm-hmm. . But, you know, culture and art is, is a very important antidote to this. I mean, you know, your own creative boundary, uh, crossing career and life is so, is the kind of model, I think is one of the ways out.
Instead of saying, Hey, I'm a musician, or Hey, I'm a comedian, or I'm a yeah. You know what I mean? But to say, Hey, I wanna look for creative spaces in the world to be an artist in spirit, if not in practice. And I wanna take that energy with me everywhere I go. That feels to me like the way of being through where we are, not the way out.
Cuz I'm not even sure there's a full way out, but it's about the way of being in [00:38:00] Right. Um, and mm-hmm , that that not only builds hope, but builds connections that are unexpected, unpredictable. There's a guy in my neighborhood who has. The most beautiful pit bull, and I love this dog. Even though I don't know the dog's name, I see him walking the dog often and the dog carries.
Mm-hmm his own leash in his mouth, and occasionally, especially in the summer, he will put some kind of sweatshirt on the dog. and put the handle of a full on boombox in his mouth and then they, they walk down Malcolm X Boulevard together and it is a completely fascinating and beautiful and horrific thing.
at the same time. Yeah, that, that's, that's pretty intense. It's so intense. And then I passed him on the street on my way, just kind of walking in the morning and, He looked at me and he said, you know what? You weird as fuck, but [00:39:00] I really like you . Wow. Mm. What did you say back? Did you, did you reply? I, I just kind of looked at him and had to make that decision.
Are we gonna engage this Helga or just say thank you and keep going? Yeah. and on that morning I was more interested in sitting and watching the geese. Mm-hmm. in the mirror than I was in getting into that conversation with him. But it was fascinating to me that for him mm-hmm. , it felt like a compliment.
Mm-hmm. , but I would much rather hear that than, yeah, yeah, yeah. A number of other things. That could be said to me in order to attract my attention. And this is really the struggle, and I mean this across every group, right? How do we interrogate those types of things and still hold onto each other because everybody's gotten [00:40:00] something wrong.
Yeah. I mean, ain't nobody on this earth hasn't gotten one of these things wrong, you know? They don't exist. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. and, and we've all gotten some things wrong. Mm-hmm. , how to be responsible to our own growth and also, Still hold onto each other in other people's growth. Um, as long as they're not doing, you know, extreme harm.
And that's my, that's my line. You know, it's like if this is getting violent now, now we're in another situation. But if there's room for me to, to not banish you, because the culture of banishment, it seems to me to be the last resort. not, not something that you want to practice. And that's what we've been asked to practice.
I mean, mass incarceration is a culture of banishment, uh, for its own purposes, not even for any good reason. Mm-hmm. , I mean, you know, the good reason might be, you know, a, a serial killer, you know? Okay. Well maybe I have to find a special place for you cuz this is not gonna work. Okay. He's eat eating my neighbors, you know what I'm saying?
We gotta, we gotta put a, put a put a stop to that . [00:41:00] Did you say he is eating my neighbors? Exactly, yes. That's what I said. . But, you know, minus that, you know, the, you know, the, the thing is we've been asked to sort of be in a, to survive a culture of banishment. And so I, so I try very hard, you know, and this is hard when you try to talk across racial groups about race, right?
And not to soft pedal, to hold people accountable for a choice to be so ignorant. But at the same time, try not to let people go unless you have. because in that moment of exchange lies the possibility that they will actually get somewhere. They may not get where I want them to go right away, and they may not get where I want them to go.
Mm-hmm. in my presence or in my lifetime, but I, I do believe that there's a, a better chance of them. Mm-hmm. getting further. If we can create spaces of both accountability and connection as much as possible. Tricia, we're all [00:42:00] already so afraid to say anything. Anything, the truth. Yeah. That's true to each other and, and afraid of offending.
And I don't get your, your pronoun. Right. And I don't, it's, it's all the things. So this is, this is what bothers me. It's not those things. Specifically, but taken in aggregate, we're left not understanding how to even begin to have the conversations we need to have. Yeah. That, you know, there's a lot of truth in that.
We are, we are terrified of every, everybody's afraid of something. Yeah. Everybody's afraid of something terrified. But you know, part of it is that people are, people have been really hurt and they've been harmed. There are lots of different groups of people in that people, right? Mm-hmm. and that level of harm has encouraged.
the expression of, of a kind of anger, especially harmed over time and not being acknowledged Right. For that harm. [00:43:00] And so when they hear something, you know, that could be black folk hearing white fragility and they just don't want to hear it anymore. Or it could be, you know, a queer person being sick, hearing about some, you know, nonsense.
Mm-hmm. about, you know, gender and the fixity of so on and so forth. You know, and I mean, I don't wanna hear, I, I'm just not hearing this today. Right. So is that, That impatience and frustration and real harm. Mm-hmm. , just to give two examples, but part of our - I see part of my job, at least I can just speak personally to be about trying to model that that harm does not go away when I make the choice to be hostile and react.
Again, violent people are off my map. Remember the ones who are eating people, all those people are, are off the map. So I just gotta be clear. I have some limits . But if we're in a reasonable world where I could sort of manage the perimeter, then I try really hard to, you know, I don't launch into [00:44:00] the spaces of, of ignorance for entertainment purposes, but I try to manage those exchanges in a way.
It tries to both hold people accountable, but also recognize that we're all, we're all in the same air. That is to say the air of homophobia, the air of incredible misogyny, the air of racism, right? We're in, we're all born into this air. . So of course people who are privileged in that space, depending on the category at stake, are gonna be ignorant.
I mean, we've certainly cultivated ignorance as a curriculum, pretty much . So I try to remember that. Right. I try to remember how little they have to know. , you know, it's, unless they've worked very hard to know something else. Mm-hmm. , it's not an obsession, but I'm saying on the ground, I try to imagine. For the moment in which, okay, the where are they coming from?
What do they think the world is actually [00:45:00] comprised of? Is there a point here of connection? Is there a light here? Right? Can I see a tiny light? And, you know, maybe this is cuz I'm an educator. I, I don't know, maybe it's just a personality or a temperament, but I think that trying to, as I've gotten older to, to not be so reactive because it really is an angering thing.
Mm-hmm. , I, I empathize really with both sides of the, the af you know, the afraid offending and the afraid of hearing offensive things. Cause they were sort of like both sides. Mm-hmm. , you know, I really empathize with both sides, but I think. . We have to figure out how to create a space where some of that temperature comes down enough for us to see where there might be places that connection could be fostered so that people can learn and unlearn.
We're not gonna rage our way out of this. It's not gonna happen. I mean, it's just not, I mean, white supremacy will tell if you just study that for 15 minutes, you see rage is not gonna get you out. [00:46:00] So we have to find another way. But where's your love? Where's your love? For your brother who's eating your neighbors.
Oh, yeah. I'm gonna leave that to you, Helga. I think I would , but, but it's, I might have to have a limit. It's a question. It's a question. All. Oh, it's a question. All right. My point was to say that I, I know what your, remember my point was, but I'm, I'm asking you , how, how do we extend that love, that desire to include, understand.
Mm-hmm. understand. everybody and leave. Mm-hmm. , leave that person out. Okay. So remember what I was specifically trying to say was that I think that the culture of imprisonment, right? The culture of banishment, that we have practiced for everything. And by that I was thinking about mass incarceration. Yes.
And I was basically saying, I think it's, it's why we are growing less and less capable of seeing ourselves as, [00:47:00] as a, as a human community. Mm-hmm. . But if someone is literally. Eating people or killing people on moss. Uh, maybe banishing is, I still wouldn't call for that, but I, I would call for some form of contain.
Okay. And then, and then once that's safe, all right, I, I'm happy to have somebody talk, you know, and be in conversation. I, but I, I, but it can't just be, you can't have forces that are just ravaging a community and under the guise of, everybody should be free. We're just gonna let ourselves go down the drain.
There has to be. So I was using that as an, as an symbol of an extreme threat to the possibility of. . Mm-hmm. . But you, you raised a good point. You got me, I got, I got . I'll give you that one. You got me. I was a little glib there. I was just deciding I was gonna stigmatize the serial killers, you know, the cannibalistic serial killers.
And you, you, I thought there wouldn't be too many people against that, but I see you got me . But it's, I mean, because people [00:48:00] are also saying it about, uh, drug dealers and. The, the people in my neighborhood are angry about all the drug dealers on their corners, all the heroin addicts. Mm-hmm. on outside the supermarket, all the people who are shooting each other.
So, so they're saying that kind of thing. Yeah. About those folks too. And so I'm also trying to figure out, even as I walk. Through and past these things every day, which I experience is completely violent. What is it that I'm, I'm hoping to, ooh, what is it that I'm, I'm hoping that people see in me that will still stand in the face of all of that, and.
Do more harm. Yeah. I mean, there's so few places [00:49:00] for non-combat distanced engagement, right? Where we can tentatively. approach one another. Mm-hmm. , I mean, certainly, you know, to some degree religious and spiritual organizations have played that role in some ways, you know, for some types of situations. But any place that could provide that kind of environment that I was describing, that I think would be.
At the beginning of some possibility because I think, you know, this harm, this, as you said, you, you experience it as violent. You know, what you were describing, you know, heroin addicts, you know, drug dealers on the corner. Mm-hmm. . These are violent environments where the brutality of. Divestment of depletion of the taking of resources from the community, the destroying of human relationships and bonds through all kinds of mechanisms.
These battle scars are on the bodies of the people you're describing? Yes, [00:50:00] they are. And. You know, it's both horrible to have to live adjacent to it, but that is the risk and consolidation of violence that defines systemic racism. Mm-hmm. , and if we had a language for it, I feel like it would be easier to say, look, this person here is both harmful to the community, but a product of the harm we're all subjected.
So when I'm thinking, what are we gonna do to fix this? My solution will not be, oh, let's just sweep away the drug dealers. Let's banish them. Let's put these, you know, these people with no self-control, who just take heroin all day? Let's put them in jail too. No, no, no. The solutions will be things like rehabilitation centers, jobs, healthcare, you know, community supports, uh, childcare.
Affordable housing. Mm-hmm. , the things that build stable, safe communities. You don't adjudicate every [00:51:00] conflict with a police person who's, you know, who sees their role as, you know, managing violent conflict with more violence. So to me, the a better understanding of why. These conditions are so prominent, I think may help us, and maybe I'm in a fantasy world, but I feel as though it may help us think of the solutions that we actually need.
Mm-hmm. , not the ones that are frustration and fear. Encourage us to pursue.
What's a thing you do every day? That every person can. To help you feel grounded and. Ready to walk into your day? Yeah. Yeah. Well, I, I meditate every day. Mm-hmm. and I listen almost every day and I should, you know, I'm just being honest. I don't do it every day. Listen to no Pema Chok, um, who I really, really appreciate.
She's a Buddhist [00:52:00] nun and, uh, I listened to the same books on. Audio, you know, like audio audible type of thing. It's not, I don't read them. I listen to them. Mm-hmm. , and you'd think I would've mastered it by now, but every time I listen to it, I'm like, man, I, I didn't hear her say that before . Well, I see what she means.
I didn't know that's what she was talking about. You know, it's like whatever I'm dealing with mm-hmm. allows me to see something I, I didn't see before, or to see it in a new way. But it gives you these very productive strategies that are so emotionally intelligent. Thinking about what to do with all of the kind of core human behavioral crises that we put ourselves in, you know?
Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . So I find that very positively, self-regulating. , you know, it sort of creates an equilibrium. Mm-hmm. . So between those two things, uh, they follow a cup of coffee. Now, a day does not go by. I will tell you now, I don't think a day has gone by in 50 years that I have not, maybe 40 years, [00:53:00] that I have not had a cup of coffee immediately after brushing my teeth, which I've also never not done.
I've always brushed my teeth. That's every day. And that actually is a spiritual for me. And I drink that coffee and then I hit the meditation space with and listened to Pema Chodron. So that's my . Everything happens after that. , do you brush at night also? I brush my teeth twice a day, every day. Rain shine, post nightclub.
You know, I don't go to sleep. I, I have my husbands laughed hysterically. I'd be standing in there half asleep. Definitely one vodka. Too many and I'm still brushing my teeth cuz I know I'm not gonna sleep. Right. If I do, if I don't brush my teeth and, and there we have it . That's what it all comes down to.
One more thing that every person can do every day, . But, you know, it's funny. That's my thing, but it's some the very simple basics that matter to you. Some, some people it's making their bed. You know, for some people [00:54:00] it's, uh, you know, cleaning off a certain space or it's the ritual of a certain kind of care of the self, whether it's spiritual care, reflective care of bodily care.
The, the, the pattern of, of repetition is an affirmation in its own. . Mm-hmm. . So, although it's silly, right? On the one hand you're like, why don't you just go to sleep? It, it, there is, it, it's a commitment to the self. Um, yeah. And to the sort of maintenance of the self that, you know, I think is, is important.
Now, there might be other things I should be doing instead. I'm not suggesting it's the right choice, the most primo choice. Mm-hmm. . But it, it's about the idea that I think is, is really important, uh, to say, look, come, you know, rain or. I'm gonna do this. Um, I'm gonna do this. Thank you Tricia Rose. Thank you Helga.
Thanks for listening. That was my conversation with Tricia Rose, [00:55:00] sociologist and Africana studies professor at Brown University, host of the podcast, the Tightrope with Cornell West and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. I am Helga Davis. Join me next week for my conversation with Poet New Yorker, poetry editor and director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.