Bryan Stevenson & Andra Day - The Ideology of White Supremacy in America - Extended Interview

Extended - August 23, 2017 - Andra Day & Bryan Stevenson 08/23/2017 Views: 45,819

Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson and singer-songwriter Andra Day talk about their efforts to confront America's long history of racial violence. (9:00)

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Please welcome founder

and executive directorBryan Stevenson

and Grammy award-nominatedsinger-songwriter Andra Day.

(cheering, applause)

Thank you so muchfor being on the show.

There is no, uh, easy wayto get into this subject.

You know? Uh, in a week,there's been so much talk

about history and heritage.

People talkingabout monuments in America,

people talking aboutthe history of America.

But, in many ways, Bryan,

you would argue that the history

people wish to Americais not, uh...

wish to remember of America

is not really the full story.

What is your project about?

Well, it's aboutconfronting the fact

that we're notreally free in America.

I think we're burdened bya history of racial inequality

that we have not addressed.

And it's becomelike smog in the air.

And we all breathe it in.

And it doesn't take much

to expose these conflictsand tensions.

And so we're tryingto change that.

We want to talkabout some things

that haven't tal...been talked about.

I think we needto talk about the fact

that we'rea post-genocide society.

Before white settlerscame to this continent,

there were millions of nativepeople who were slaughtered

through famineand war and disease.

But we didn'tcall it a genocide.

We said,"Those people are savages."

And we created this narrativeof racial difference,

-this ideologyof white supremacy. -Right.

And that's what ushered incenturies of enslavement.

And, for me, the great evilof American slavery

wasn't involuntary servitude,it wasn't forced labor,

it was this ideologyof white supremacy.

This idea that black peoplearen't like white people.

And we neverreally addressed that.

If you read the 13th Amendment,it talks about

dealing with involuntaryservitude and forced labor,

but it does... doesn'ttalk about ending this ideology

of white supremacy.And, because of that,

I don't think slavery endedin 1865, I think it evolved.

And it turned into decadesof terrorism and violence.

And we don't understandthat history,

and that's whywe started this project.

Between the end of the Civil Warand World War II,

thousands of African-Americanswere pulled out of their homes,

they were burned alive,they were hanged,

they were brutalized.

-And we didn't deal about...deal with that. -Right.

In communities acrossthis country it happened.

And older people of colorcome up to me, sometimes,

and they say,"Mr. Stevenson, I get angry

"when I hear someoneon TV talking about

"how we're dealingwith domestic terrorism

for the first time in ournation's history after 9/11."

They say, "We grew up withterror. We had to worry about

being bombed and lynched andmenaced every day of our lives."

And we're dealingwith a lot of issues

that were shaped by this era,

because the demographicgeography of America

was shaped by racial terrorism.The black people in Cleveland,

in Chicago, in Detroit,in Harlem, in Brooklyn,

in Los Angeles, in Oakland,came to these communities

not as immigrants looking fornew economic opportunities

but as refugees and exiles fromterror in the American South.

And we've gotto understand that era

if we're going to understandthe issues we are dealing with.

When we... when we talk aboutthe Equal Justice Initiative,

uh, you worked togetherwith Google to create a map

and to create an interactivejourney into America's past.

It's painful, and it's powerful.

Uh, it's looking at where allof the reported

and discovered lynchingshappened in the United States,

-which is...-Yeah.

a scary map to look at,because there are...

there are far more incidences

than anyone really caresto speak about.

When you came acrossthis project, Andra,

-as-as an artist,people would think -Mm-hmm.

you would stay away from a topic

that some would considercontentious.

You know, you make music. Whatmade you want to get involved?

(sighs)Well, I think it was...

When I first heard about it,it was just...

it was echoing things,conversations that I had

in my small group of people andfriends and family for years.

But on top of that,you know, one of the things

that-that they-they stressat EJI

is that you can't getto reconciliation without truth.

And I've lived my lifeon that principle.

I-I... The last album I wrotewas based off of that.

-Right. -And so, you know, I...For me, it's...

You might want to stay awayfrom it,

but when you can see that truth

and dealing with those painfulrealities of our history

and-and people...us being accountable for those,

that's the only waywe can move forward

and the way we can reconcile

and the way we can healas a country.

Then, you know,I-I can't think about myself

and what people will thinkabout me when I engage with him

and engage with EJI.

I have to think about the futureof this country

and people and freedomand reconciliation.

-Wh-When you... when you lookat the future though, -Mm-hmm.

some people may say,"Hey, Bryan,

"I get that lynchings happened,

"but why remind peopleof such a painful past?

"Why not move forward? Why dowe have to remember this pain?

How is that helping?Is it not just dividing people?"

Well, I don't...Actually, I-I think that, um,

we haven't engagedin the narrative conversation

that we need to have.You know, the South...

Uh, the North won the Civil War,

but the South wonthe narrative war.

This idea that white supremacy,

racial apartheidwas unacceptable

was not somethingwe ever embraced.

And that's why we hadthis era of terror,

and that's why we hadthis era of segregation.

And it's also why we have thispresumption of dangerousness

and guilt that still followsblack and brown people.

Uh, in South Africa,there was a recognition

that we were not goingto be able to make progress

-without some processto give truth a hearing. -Right.

-Mm-hmm.-If you go to Rwanda,

they will tell youabout the genocide.

It's not possibleto spend time there

-without hearing about that.-Right.

In Germany, in Berlin, you can'tgo 100 meters in Berlin

without seeing markersand stones

that have been placed nextto the homes of Jewish families.

The Germans want you to goto the Holocaust Memorial,

because they're trying to changetheir identity.

They-they don't want to bejust thought of as Nazis.

But in this country,we don't talk about slavery.

We don't talk about lynching,we don't talk about segregation.

We're preoccupiedwith the 19th century.

In my region, hundreds

of Confederate memorialsand statues,

but nothing about slaveryor lynching.

And so, I don't thinkwe've gonna get free.

We will not overcomethese problems

until we confront this history.

And I agreewith what Andra said.

You know, we want truth andreconciliation, we want unity.

But we don't realize, those twothings are not simultaneous.

You've got to have truthbefore reconciliation.

-Right.-They're sequential.

And we haven't donetruth-telling in this country,

and we won't get wherewe're trying to go until we do.

-Mm-hmm. -What role do you feelmusic plays in this?

You know,there are many artists who--

from very early onin the United States--

used their music to communicatea feeling, to-to convey...

-Mm-hmm. -...how black Americanswere coping

-with what was happening.-Mm-hmm.

You know, the song you're goingto perform today was obviously

made famous by Billie Holiday.

What role do you feelthat musicians play in this?

I-I think musiciansare revolutionaries

in the sensethat they take the message

and bring it from just--in this situation--

the afflicted group of people

and they take itto the broader public.

They make... They bringawareness to what's going on.

And... and you know, you can'tactually effect change

-without knowingwhat the problem is. -Right.

And so, I thinkthat musicians are...

You know, they're activists,they're revolutionaries.

They-they...they make people aware

of what needs to happen,the change that needs to happen.

And-and you've seen itall throughout history,

starting with "Strange Fruit,"which I think

was actually our very first,you know,

-politically-driven song, and...-Uh-huh.

And then you moveall the way down...

hip-hop with Public Enemy.

You know, you don't knowwhat's going on

in these neighborhoods or whatthese people are dealing with

unless someone is saying iton a bigger stage,

on a broader, uh, bigger--I'm sorry-- platform.

Right. Uh, Bryan, before we...we let you go,

what would you want peopleto do?

What is... what is this projectmeant to engage?

How is it meantto change anything?

If someone's sitting at homegoing,

"Bryan, I see the Web site.

What am I supposed to dowith this information?,"

-what would you like themto understand? -Yeah. I...

I want themto learn this history.

There are 900 countiesin America

where lynchings took place,

where, in some instances,thousands of people gathered

in public squaresand watched folks

be tortured and brutalized.

You need to know if you livein one of those counties.

You also need to knowwhere those counties are.

And you need to begin talkingabout this era.

I think we can't reallybe honest in America

until we change the landscape.

And so we have opportunities

for people to comeand join our project,

to collect soilat lynching sites,

to claim monumentsand take them back,

to put up markers.

I think we've got to beginto create a consciousness

that is connectedto how we get free.

I'm a lawyer.I do parole hearings.

And one of the interestingthings at a parole hearing is

that they won't let you out ifyou've been convicted of a crime

if you don't give voiceto your remorse,

-if you don't acknowledgethe crime. -Right.

-They don't trust you to notrepeat that crime. -Right.

And so, I actually thinkwe have to start giving voice

about our history of slaveryand lynching and suffering.

We have to talk about it,we have to acknowledge it.

And I think,if we have those conversations,

we'll get to a better place.

We're not interestedin talking about this history

-'cause we wantto punish America. -DAY: Right.

-I think we want to liberateAmerica. -DAY: Mm-hmm.

We want to get us to the placewhere we can actually look

at one another without thisnarrative of racial difference,

this ideology of white supremacy

limiting who we areand what we can be.

Well, thank you so muchfor joining us

-on the show.-You're very welcome.

Really appreciate it.Thank you very much.

-(cheering, applause) -To learnmore about this project,

built with the supportof Google,

go to lynchinginamerica.egi...

eji.org.

That'slynchinginamerica.eji.org.

Bryan Stevenson and Andra Day,everybody.

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