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A point of view on racism with Dr. Mary Frances Berry. Up next on the evening Extra. Welcome to evening exchange I'm Jeanette Pinkney Kojo Nandi has the evening off. All this week we've been exploring the new face of racism in the United States with no doubt members of the African-American community. On Tuesday we talked with Dr. Francis weltering the author of the crest theory on color confrontation yesterday the Reverend Jesse Jackson was our guest and tonight we are joined by national and international civil rights leader Mary Frances Berry. Before we start our conversation I want to let you know that we will be taking your phone calls in the last segment of the show. Dr. Barry welcome to you. Want to start with you as we have started with our other guests asking what your definition
of racism is. Well it has of course many definitions it's not a cop out but there are many definite definitions but it essentially means in the context of we're talking an attitude that someone else is inferior without any objective evidence to prove that this is the case and treating people as if they are in furious which which also means that you must have the power to determine what happens to them because otherwise we have no power. It doesn't matter that you would gauge in behavior toward them which keeps them subordinated. So it's assuming people in Syria and being in the position to act in such a way to their detriment. So I would take it from your definition that you believe people of color people who are in the oppressed group cannot be racist people who are in the press the oppressed group can have racist attitudes and they can wish that they could do something to somebody else. But it's very difficult most of the time to be able to exercise that instinct so we can have racist attitudes most human beings do. But in point of fact I'm talking about power too which
is in the equation. And I asked you that question because we had a caller last night a black woman called and said that she had been treated in a racist manner by black people in the swellest by white and I asked her what she meant by a racist manner Dr Reverend Jackson said that it had to do with mean this with violence that sort of thing in terms of attitude and behavior. But I wasn't sure that that actually equaled but race is what I think when you start calling everything racism meanness racism violence racism no matter who perpetrates it then what you do is dilute the definition so much that nobody can figure out what it is you're talking about. So it's just it's ascribing people and because you think they're inferior that they belong to a group of people who you believe are inferior to you and that you are in the position to do something about that. Do you think that racism will ever be eradicated. I do not believe that racist attitudes or behavior will be eradicated in my lifetime. I used to think so when I was young and naive.
I've learned better over time. The most important thing about it is to assume that it's there and then to figure out what to do with it as far as African-Americans are concerned because the way we came to this country and because of images of Africa that are in people's minds and images of us that are in people's minds including our own minds. You have a perpetuation of this kind of attitude behavior and the first thing anybody wants to do when a group of people when they come to the United States is to make sure they distance themselves as much as possible from being thought of as African-Americans. You say you don't think it will be eradicated in your lifetime does that mean you believe that it will at some point I have no idea what will happen. Dead and gone. I'm just saying that I know I have no hope that it will be and I think it's unlikely given human nature and given what happens and given what we know about power and the power of ideas and behavior that it will happen it's something that will
always sort of be there in the equation. What's your view of what the origin of racism are you. If you believe it will always be there there's some some reason you think that the origins of racism. Historians putting all my historians hat and tell us about those of us who are in the United States African-American people because we were brought here slaves. OK the way we came in as inferior is subjugated treated as incurious having color associated with our condition. Which meant that in the minds of white folk we were the inferior class. And that description that subordination got to be part of the definition of us. And then after that of course you have Jim Crow and it continued history of subordination which has never ended so it's constantly in everybody's mind it's in our minds closer than everybody else's. And it has been an idea that has been pursued from the beginning and has to rule has staying power asking you to keep on that historians hat.
Do you see that we are now returning to the time of the black codes the post reconstruction period. Given the way that the Supreme Court has been even though no period of history is exactly like any other historians always have to tell you that before they say history teaches us. Then I say that let me just say that what we are in is a period like the late 19th century after the overthrow of reconstruction which occurred at the Supreme Court now is controlled by people who have the kinds of attitudes and make the kinds of decisions toward us which are not healthy and will likely perpetuate in so far as possible the state is that we're in. We don't have a national administration that supports us in our quest by and large. That's like the analogous to the late 19th century. The mood of the country is sort of let's forget about this except with a brief sort of peroxide ism of interest when there's a rat of something like that. And so in many ways it's analogous to the late
19th century there are differences though. We're smarter more of us a literate. The difference is in communication and so we're not the same people we were then and neither are other people and the conditions are not the same but there are similarities. When we talk about the Supreme Court not to digress too far but the presence on the Supreme Court of an AF of only one African-American and having that person be in the form of Clarence Thomas I mean what do you think that that says about us as a people and what does that bode for us as a people. Well what it says is that we chose those of us who supported Thomas and I wasn't one of them. But those African-Americans who support him chose color over character which we should never do. We ought to be smart enough now that our race history is that just because someone is black that doesn't mean that they will be in favor of what the majority of us regard as our interests. Having someone on the court means that that's a difference from the late 19th century because we didn't have anybody on the court. Then
having someone on there on the court that has that view those views after all this time and after all that has taken place means that in a sense we're going backwards and sort of going forward that's dangerous that's an important sign. Do you see his presence as do you think that his presence will be used to justify the movement of the court not that he alone can make decisions but will they use his presence and his acquiescence or. Assent to say well it must be OK with black people our black person agrees with us. Well it's kind of tough now because there are a lot of people who are black folks who supported Thomas who now every time I see him they ducked their heads and they forget that they supported it and they say well you show us support today. And if I did I apologise. You know I don't know what to do but do you know I couldn't believe it. That kind of thing. But it is indeed true that people who do not wish us well in our quest to overcome racism and supported him
might think that it's great that the fact that he's there ratifies whatever and then it can be explained. It just depends on how smart we are. We can simply say that we repudiate everything he stands for and won't do us any good we can get him off the court. But at least we can make it clear that he doesn't speak for us. Let's talk for a little bit about Los Angeles has a moment ago you refer to the country sort of wanting to forget about civil rights until there is a riot. Yeah you know what I think is the most and interesting thing about this racism and the civil rights agenda that I've been thinking the other day Clarence Page was a columnist with The Chicago paper. I was reading an article he'd written in question him about it at a commission hearing. And he said that during the civil rights agenda the ascendancy of the civil rights agenda over the last few years the condition of African-Americans had gotten worse in the country. OK. I pointed out to him that the civil rights agenda the struggle against racism has not been in ascendancy not for the last 12 years anyway I've been in this country and in the last 12 years the condition of African-Americans has gotten much worse and the
condition of African-Americans before that 12 year period has gotten a lot better. He certainly wasn't perfect. Certainly a lot of problems. But indeed when the struggle against racism when we received and paying attention to that struggle. We reap the whirlwind and a lot of things going sour and a lot of bad things happening to people. And what happened in Los Angeles is just one example of those bad things happening. And when you talk about us receding and not paying close enough attention to that struggle is that we African-Americans is that we Americans black and white people of goodwill who are you say Well Americans in general that's one we but we as African-Americans have a special responsibility I would think to be concerned about ourselves. And part of the problem with racism and being in a society where you are considered as an inferior caste as it were is that psychologically I'm told some people get in a position where they want to distance themselves from themselves if I mean to
put it that way. And it's very painful to have to think all the time about the predicament we're in. One of my nephew said that to me I said son I said to them you know that could have happened to you what happened out there to Rodney King you should be careful. He's a young engineer. You should be careful when you walk around notice where you go and what you're doing you know and he was telling me about some policeman stopping him and how he told him you need to stay as a look. You cannot do this he said well it's too painful to have to think about that all the time. Well as long as you're black and in America you have to think about that all the time and a lot of us a lot of people in the African-American community have tried to get away from that pain and trying to get away from that pain so that they don't have to think about it. They don't have to think about the struggle. And then one way to do it is we've heard over the last few years you folks blame racism for everything. Well I don't I don't know anybody who blames it for everything and let it be clearly understood. I don't blame it for everything. But it's not something that we can forget about. Do you think that racism is sometimes used by this as an
excuse. Oh absolutely there are people who you see politicians for example there have been a whole train of them who did something and get their hand caught in the cookie jar or some other jar I won't say which. And the first response they give is you know all these people races after me and you know they just doing this. And I do not doubt that there are folks who would like who like to prosecute black elected officials. I do not doubt that there are people who are after them. But what I have always say there is you should assume in the society that somebody is after you you should behave as if somebody is after you all the time if you are in a highly visible position because when you're in the lamplight you make a good target. And so if you get caught with your hand in the jar then scream that you were stupid not to take into account don't scream every African American has to confront racism. So you can't just use that as an excuse for nefarious behavior. You know you talked a moment ago about the pervasiveness of racism. It made me recall my trip to West Africa where for the first time when I saw a black airline
pilots black bank tellers black everything people running the countries that I visited for the first time I realized what a cloud we carry with us here in this country because for the first time while things might have been moving slowly and not going the way I would have liked them to for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons I knew was not because of my skin color. And it was only in leaving the country that I could become aware of how pervasive and oppressive the racism here you know because there are all kinds of reasons for things to happen. There are class reasons for things happening there are reasons that somebody doesn't like kind of shoes somebody wears. The way they talk there are all kinds of reasons but with us it's not wrong to always indulge in a presumption at least that racism probably had something to do with it. Now we've got a few you know airline pilots around here we got one of two you see them here and there and we get a few people in these positions but I say to white students when I go to talk to them on campuses and making speeches and talking to them I say how would you like it
if every class you went to when you went to class every one of your teachers was black. How would you like that. You're saying you know you don't understand why black students want more African-American faculty and all that kind of you wonder what racism feel like pretend that every teacher you had and every class you went to you were the only white person and there were all these black How would you feel about that. Well the short answer is they didn't feel very good. I want to talk a little more about Los Angeles and whether you think it's just going to blow over what you think the results of that I think happens as a result of Los Angeles depends on what we do as African-American people. And I haven't seen we doing very much about it as a matter of fact. If we were mobile as to insist that something be done there ought to be people out demonstrating like we did when we were picketing the South African embassy around South Africa. They ought to be people out every day saying do something about the situation and we're not off to meeting ourselves about what to do both locally in Los Angeles and in a national
kind of movement to do something about the cities. I mean I was at the save our cities March and there were a lot of folks I know who weren't there. So we should be doing something I think that the electorate those people who go vote most of whom are white folk and folks who are you know the Republican agenda whatever it is I think that they would like to simply forget about what happened. Sweep it under the rug have the Senate and the House passed this Band-Aid bill that they're talking about legislation which really isn't going to do very much about the problem. And then everybody go away and think about something else. You just said that there were a lot of folks you know who were not at the save our cities March who presumably you would expect to be there think should be there. Does that mean that we're not taking the responsibility that we should are we sitting back waiting for an administration that we know does not love us to do to do something for us they too have to heal a wound that they have inflicted. Well we don't understand that yet. That is the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Throughout the history of our being here in the United States whenever major
change has occurred to improve our situation it is come as a result of our doing something some kind of action on our part. You know Frederick Douglass said a power concedes nothing without a man and we keep forgetting that over and over and over again and we lament then we wring our hands as we've all been doing since the Rodney King thing. People been running if I've seen one group of people wringing their hands I've seen. You know. Thousands lamenting this but we need to do is be about the business of a movement to try to do something about it both within the community and in terms of demanding our fair share of the public policy decisions that are made in this country too. So I want to ask you to speak to our viewers who are individual people in the Washington area watching. What is it that these individual people who are not elected officials or commissioners or anything of that nature. What is it they can do to make a difference in our condition. What I say is sure there is the big picture. There's always going to be the big picture and things like voting and and supporting organizations and that kind of thing. But everybody should
every day commit themselves to do at least one thing whatever that one thing is. Give me an example tutoring a child go to to one find some children and go into them. If you're not doing that and don't say you don't have to have time you have 10. If you don't want to do that go on mobile as some kind of movement to help get drugs out of some particular neighborhood people say well if we get out of that neighborhood it will run to the next neighborhood. Well if we have some people mobile as never neighborhood then it can run from here to there. Go and try to do that. Go and try to take some kids on a trip somewhere out of the city somewhere to do something interesting. I mean there are things that people can do themselves to try to motivate some students who don't know where you go to find out about money to go to college. Go and work with them and do that fun. Some group of people who you can do something for using your skills and your talents and you do something and I want to say this to people they say well but it's not going to change the big picture. Well it may that change the entire big picture in that they get big policy terms. Go do that too but if everybody would just do something every day and
Evening Exchange
Mary Frances Berry
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WHUT (Washington, District of Columbia)
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On the general topic of racism, Mary Frances Berry discusses her past involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, historical efforts to combat racism, and the state of racism in the early 1990s.
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Guest: Berry, Mary Frances
Host: Pinkney, Junette
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Duration: 0:38:00
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Chicago: “Evening Exchange; Mary Frances Berry,” 1992-05-28, WHUT, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 25, 2022,
MLA: “Evening Exchange; Mary Frances Berry.” 1992-05-28. WHUT, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 25, 2022. <>.
APA: Evening Exchange; Mary Frances Berry. Boston, MA: WHUT, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from