Podcast | Will white Americans turn words into action?

Resmaa Menakem and Robin DiAngelo discuss what those who gain advantage through systemic racism must do to end it.

DNC chair Tom Perez in a crowd of people

DNC chair Tom Perez, right, joins demonstrators protesting Thursday, June 4, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer, who placed his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the streets of America have filled with activists seeking justice for Floyd and broader reforms of racist police practices. While the protests have been immense and intense, they are not without precedent. Over the past few years, the deaths of Black Americans captured on video have inspired numerous demonstrations again and again. Among the people at these protests are Black Americans and other People of Color for whom systemic racism is an everyday threat. But there are also many white Americans who may be aware of the white supremacy woven into the nation's culture, but are not directly threatened by it. When the protests are over, these Americans have the option to let racial justice fade into the background, a luxury not afforded many of their neighbors. This week on the Crosscut Talks podcast we talk to Resmaa Menakem (My Grandmother's Hands) and Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility), two experts on racial relations, about what responsibilities they believe white Americans have in this moment and what would need to happen for change to take hold. Plus, Crosscut photo journalist Matt McKnight tells us what he witnessed on the streets of Seattle during last weekend’s unrest.


This transcript may contain errors. Be advised that the audio of this podcast serves as the official record.

Anonymous Voice: [00:00:00] This episode of Crosscut Talks is supported by Alaska Airlines.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:00:09] Hey, welcome to Crosscut Talks. I'm Mark. Baumgarten managing editor at Crosssut. Millions of Americans have watched George Floyd die. He was just 46 years old, but he was also African-American like most other people whose deaths have gone viral in recent years, many of whom were killed like George Floyd by police officers.

We have seen so many black people die, but I can't think of the last time I saw the violent death of a white person captured on tape. Robert Kennedy, maybe?

It's not that police don't kill white people. It's just that they kill black people at a much higher rate. According to the Mapping Police Violence project, of the 1099 people killed by police in 2019, 24% were Black. This despite African-Americans making up just 13% of the country's population. That disproportionality, as well as the circumstances surrounding these killings, the victims so often unarmed their alleged crimes petty at best, that has inspired Americans to take to the streets in the days since Floyd took his last breath.

These protests have been immense and they've been intense. But they are also not without precedent. We have been doing this for a very long time. Are we getting anywhere though? Is witnessing this much Black death changing the way white Americans think about their Black neighbors or the police? Is the protesting productive? Or is there something more that needs to be done?

For this week's episode of Crosscut Talks, I'm speaking with Resmaa, Menakem and Robin DiAngelo, two experts in race relations, about what happened on that Monday in Minneapolis and what needs to happen. Now then later, I'll be talking with Crosscut photojournalist Matt McKnight about the unrest he witnessed in the streets of Seattle last weekend.

But before we get started, I wanted to tell you about the next Crosscut Talks, virtual session. We have coming up with us. Senator Patty Murray. Senator Murray will be joining us on Monday, June 15th at 10:30 AM. To talk about the challenges currently facing the nation for more details and to RSVP, go to crossfit.com/events.

Okay. On with the show,

I'm speaking now with Resmaa Menakem and Robin DiAngelo. Resmaa is a healer and an expert on conflict and violence. He is also a black man living in Minneapolis. His latest book is My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathways to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. In it he explores the toll of white supremacy on all Americans.

Robin is a professor at the University of Washington and has been a consultant and educator in the area of racial and social justice for more than 20 years. SHe is also the author of White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. She is also like myself, white, and she lives in Seattle.

Resmaa, Robin, wlcome to Crosscut Talks.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:03:17] Thank you.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:03:18] So, um, we're talking on Monday, uh, exactly one week since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Resmaa tell us in your words, um, what's been happening in Minnesota this last week.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:03:35] There's been a lot of protests. There's been a lot of pain.

There's been, um, an uncorking of 400 years of trauma. What you're seeing is a system in a people that are trying to right themselves with a system that has attacked their bodies attack, their sense of being attacked, their humanity and the murder of brother George Floyd was just a reminder that. The black body is under constant assault and that the assault is not just about the police.

The assault is about how the system sees us and is structured around us not being fully human.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:04:17] How have you been engaging with the community in this moment?

Resmaa Menakem: [00:04:22] I am a clinical social worker. I am a somatic therapist. I'm a healer. I've been doing this work for 32 years. My role has is what assault, what it's always been in that is to hold the community as we go through traumatic things, give context.

Um, I give context as to making sure that Black bodies understand that that the weathering effects of white supremacy is also coming to bear on their body. That's why they're sleeping. That's why they're sleeping or not sleeping. Hah, dealing with more irritability, dealing with, uh, the, what I call the fuzzy brain.

Um, helping people understand that, that, that they are not defective, that something has happened. Something continues to happen. And we can't deal with all of this stuff individually. There has to be communal approaches to moving through this. So that's what I do.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:05:14] Hmm. Robin in White Fragility, you write about racism as not being a binary that it's not about "I am a racist, or I'm not a racist." You say it's a continuum. You write that "Racism is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that I do not see myself escaping from that continuum in my lifetime. I am not in a fixed position on the continuum. My position is dictated by what I am actually doing at a given time."

So, my question for you is what have you been doing in this last week to move along that continuum?

Robin DiAngelo: [00:05:49] Working to help white people become more literate, uh, to raise the consciousness of white people in a way that actually leads to strategic anti-racist action, right? We are raised as white people to be functionally illiterate on this topic.

Now that illiteracy is not benign and it's not innocent or neutral. It protects that system that we are shaped by, and that we benefit from. For example, you can get a graduate degree in this country without ever discussing systemic racism. You can be seen as qualified to lead virtually anything with no ability whatsoever as a white person to engage with any nuance or criticality in this topic.

And this issue in arguably the most complex enduring perennial issue of the last several hundred years. And if we cannot engage with it, we can only uphold it and protect it. Most white people don't even really understand the term "systemic racism" and we're using it more and more, but I'm not confident that the average white person could even articulate what that means.

So we are taught to think about "racist" as a very simplistic formula, a formula of individuals who consciously and intentionally intend to hurt people across race. And I don't think you could have come up with a more effective way to protect the system of racism and that simplistic definition, which exempts virtually all white people from the system they live in.

Uh, if you ask them, pretty much any white person, "Are you racist?", the answer will be no. And then what further action is required of us? If the answer is no. Well, nothing, it's not my problem. I'm not racist. Um, when you change the question to how have you been shaped by racism and how is it manifesting in your life, your work, your relationships, you change, then, the behaviors, right?

That's an ongoing exploration that keeps white people involved.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:08:01] What does that look like on the ground in this last week? How are you engaging with people that need to hear what you have to say?

Robin DiAngelo: [00:08:08] Virtually every racist act that we could identify? The people perpetrating, those acts have said I'm not racist, so I'm not racist is functionally meaningless. As Ebrum candy so beautifully puts it, the opposite of racist isn't not racist, it's anti-racist. So it is actively, uh, working against racism and you mentioned the good, bad binary, this simplistic idea that racists are bad and not racists are good. It's a simple formula of either/or, and most of us are going to see ourselves on the not-racist side.

So I've been trying to help white people understand. Concepts like systemic racism so that they can make sense of what they're they're witnessing, because what I'm noticing over and over and over is the hand wringing from white people about the looting and about the vandalism. We're highly manipulable when we don't understand systemic racism and we can get our attention drawn to things where our attention shouldn't really be.

Uh, we can get confused about what we're seeing and how to interpret it. Uh, if we cannot answer even the question of what it means to be white and most white people can't answer that question, then we're not going to be able to hold what it means not to be white. We're going to have no ability, not only to think critically about that, but to sustain the discomfort of an honest examination and all of these things set us up to be not only, and I am just going to say it, ignorant, but also arrogant and certitude, uh, having great certitude that our opinions are equal to everybody else's. So we're going to weigh in. With not really any deep understanding of what's happening and throw our opinions out there and add even more hurt to people who, who have to deal with us, deal with that arrogance and that ignorance.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:10:21] Resmah in the work that you do, you really have three groups that you're, that you're talking about. African-Americans, European Americans and then the police, which you kind of pull out as being its third, um, a third group. When you watch that video and you see the officer doing what he was doing, what is going on with him? Like what do you see as being the expression of trauma that's coming through in that place?

Resmaa Menakem: [00:11:01] The police as an institution is the spear of this system. The policing and the society comes up out of slave patrols. Right? So that ethos and that, and that culture is steeped into patrolling Black bodies is steeped into managing black bodies is steeped into, into, uh, uh, murdering Black bodies.

If need be. When I watch him on his face, what you see is "I have the whole system behind me. Nothing will happen to me from getting rid of this monkey. I have just shot my first exotic animal and I've captured it. And so therefore not only can I can, can, can you, um, can you tell by my posture, by putting my hands in my pocket that I have subdued this thing. Right. But I have the whole system behind me and nothing will happen." That's what I see on his face.

It is a, it is assuredness that everything that I have been taught, that every piece of my existence will come to bear on this man's neck. And so the trauma is for white folks in general and police departments and policing specifically, the trauma is, is that they have been able to never acknowledge the impact and the trauma that they experienced from the brutality that poor white bodies have been subjected to by elite white bodies. They never have had to continue with that because they gave up their souls in order to be white.

You had white people, Black people, young, old, everybody saying, "Stop, stop, please. Stop, stop. Get up." Right? And at one point a woman comes up to him and says, "Can you please stop?" He takes out his pepper spray and continues to lean on the man's neck. So, what I saw on his face and his body is his unresolved trauma and issues. Uh, in terms of moral injury from his peoples participating in the murder of Black people, um, the murder of indigenous people on indigenous soil, never being resolved and that, and a whole system predicated on him never having to resolve it.

Robin DiAngelo: [00:13:53] I just have to save on my chest is constricted. You know, my heart is tight after hearing what Resmaa just laid out. And this is where the continuum comes in. That I, I may not be that officer, but I recognize what Resmaa just named. I have too been conditioned and internalize that message of white as ideal and as white as superior.  And I actually don't think I'm any less racist than that officer is. And I don't think it's useful for white people to set up, "That's the racist." And I'm not, there's a difference between us, but there isn't anything he's doing that on some level I don't recognize has also been implanted with me. The difference between us is that I have committed my life to try to uproot it.

That will be lifelong. I will never be free. This is why white people saying I'm not racist, again, is just this, this only indicates you don't understand racism and I can guarantee you, it is not remotely convincing to any Black person when white people say I'm not racist and then proceed to give the most ridiculous evidence, like, I had a black roommate in college and I live in Boston.

I really want to emphasize that because I know that shows like this are listened to by primarily a white, progressive audience, an audience that would not see themselves at all as related to this officer. Um, but, but we all play a part and it can't happen without my sense that I'm not him.

As long as I don't think I'm him, as long as I separate myself from his actions, from Donald Trump, I am actually allowing that to continue. It's the, it's the public pressure. It's the, I mean, we would not even have these people arrested without that eruption of public pressure. So, so I just, I just have to emphasize it, that piece.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:16:08] So in the, in the days since, we've seen some different responses from the police. We have seen them act with brutality and violence towards demonstrators. We've seen them making motions that, uh, show some solidarity with protestors taking the knee. Are we seeing something different here or has there always been this kind of two sides of a coin with policing in America? Robin? What are you seeing in the response from police right now?

Robin DiAngelo: [00:16:42] It's very confusing because I, on the one hand, I'm moved when I see officers, uh, in this case, take a knee in support or to walk in support. Uh, but that that's just nowhere near enough. And in some ways it can obscure, um, and kind of appease, but we still have to have that deep systemic change.

Uh, we have to have a police department that doesn't look at the community it serves as, um, uh, enemy combatants that, that they're at war with. We, we have to stop hiring police out of the military who have been trained in a particular way. We have to stop buying all of the outrageous weaponry, uh, from the military and military contractors.

So I, I just had to speak to, to that weight and maybe that's a moral trauma that white people feel that kind of a moral trauma at the recognition that not only is this what our people have done, but that I've benefited from it. My life in such, in such a large part is comfortable because over there that police officer's doing that.

That's how I maintain my home equity. And as long as I don't see it, then it's okay with me.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:18:01] There have been these pictures that have come out over the last couple of days, where you have a police officers who are walking down the street, trying to clear the streets and they're pushing old people over, old white people, knocking them to the ground and then picking them up.

You watch police officers who were walking and they push young people to the ground and step over them and then do the kind of warning move on it. And then you have the pictures of the police officers kneeling just so beautifully, right. Just majestically kneeling. Right? And the first thing that pops into my mind is performative.

Right? Because they weren't kneeling before stuff got set on fire. They weren't saying anything about the cops that they knew were doing crazy stuff. They weren't making sure that the people that get hired actually care about doing a job in terms of protecting and serving. They weren't doing that then.

So it was bought them to bear on their knees now is people have brought them to bear. People have said enough is enough. So for me, it is performative primarily because it is not steeped in an embodied anti-racist culture and practice. That is a performative piece that will not be sustained for the next nine generations.

They are not even beginning to talk about how they're going to make this sustainable, how they're going to begin to read and study with each other, how they're going to begin to turn each other in when they see dirty stuff happened. That's not what they're doing. What they're doing is performative. And for me, that is not enough, going through the motions is inadequate to the horror and the terror my people have experienced at the hands of police and policing and the policing structure. So although it is nice and it makes me feel good and I see it, it's the same way with all of the white people who are locking arms and standing up in front of the police first using their bodies first.

And then you have the black activists and stuff like that that are behind them. Right? So it looks like the white bodies are putting their bodies in harm's way. That's nice. Will it be sustained for the next three years? Will they come back and do the work that they need to do after the news cycle dies down?

This is why me and Robin are talking about building a cultural container, a philosophy, what I call a somatic abolitionist's philosophy. That means you keep coming back. You keep coming back, you get intimate with each other, right? Not just locking hands at that particular time when the heat is on. WHat happens when the cameras go away, do you start to begin to study together and link arms and begin to excavate all of the advantage that you have?

All of the privilege that you have, all of the nasty stuff that you inherited from your ancestors all the way down to now, it looks like culture. Will you begin to excavate that? And my answer for doing this over 32 years is white folks do not give a damn about doing the work. Yes, they'll do the ops and do the credentialing and say, I marched with with Martin Luther King, and, you know, I dated a black man in college and I got two biracial bicultural babies, all of that. But when it comes to this intimate work with other white people, they would much rather be the most woke white person than to be the person that's going to do the work. Hmm.


Mark Baumgarten: [00:21:54] Are you seeing evidence that there is progress being made in this moment? Right now? It's so easy to become cynical. Like where, where do you, is it possible to identify progress? Um, and are you, are you seeing that in, in these actions of the last week?

Robin DiAngelo: [00:22:12] I definitely struggle with hopelessness. Like Resmaa, and this may be provocative for listeners, but I, I don't believe most white people actually care about racial inequality if it's inconvenient.

Um, and so, yes, I struggle with hopelessness and I know that as a white person, I cannot go there. I don't get to be hopeless because that then of course, you know, give up. And let go. And then, you know, you play your part in upholding it. It would serve me to go there.

I think it's clear that history is a cycle; it's not an arc of progress in many ways. It feels like we're back at pre-civil rights, you know, the sixties and, and these, these narratives are being invoked that come out of the sixties. I mean, Trump is, is saying things that, you know, if you loot, we shoot, you know, this is, this is stuff that was said, you know, back in the day.

So clearly, you know, he knows what he's doing and he's tapped into all of that, uh, discourse. I also am seeing that we're having a conversation at a level that we've never had before and that I didn't think we'd ever have. So when news commentators are using terms like systemic racism, when Democratic candidates on a debate stage, legitimately discussing reparations for the ancestors of kidnapped and enslaved Africans, these are huge breakthroughs.

It's a very interesting time because both forces, if you will, are amplified.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:23:47] Everybody loves Martin Luther King. Right now, Martin Luther King was the most hated man in America when he was alive. Everybody loves Rosa parks right now. Rosa parks was one of the most hated women in America when she was alive, just because of white people having an epiphany about something or awakened.

What we have to do is make sure that that awakeness is now turned into action is now turned into study. There has to be a framing of a different philosophy that says it is not enough for you to be awake. You must now do something with that for a sustained period of time. And what I'm saying is not cynical.

It's it's, it's pragmatic. What I've seen for four and 500 years white people's epiphanies around race do nothing for me. It is inadequate for white people to have an epiphany. Does it mean that they're going to give up their advantage? When I talk about progress, that's what I'm talking about.

White people are going to have to give up something. So, although I'm glad that some people have had some epiphanes, it is not enough. And it is woefully inadequate.

Robin DiAngelo: [00:25:05] Have an epiphany, but have an epiphany that makes it not possible for you to return to the status quo that you can't actually live with yourself or go to sleep at night, if you haven't been in your integrity and you haven't aligned what you profess to believe with your actual behavior, because there is no neutral position. So inaction is a form of action. Inaction is a choice that upholds the status quo. Once you recognize that the status quo, the default, is racism, is the reproduction day in and day out, by every measure, across every institution's country, it's the reproduction of racial inequality from which white people benefit.

Our schools are incredibly efficient mechanisms to sort children into unequal places. And who doesn't know that? Who doesn't know that? And yet for most white middle class parents, as long as my child has the best of everything, and in fact, my child can't have the best of everything, which in some level I must believe they inherently deserve for some reason; my child can't have that if Resmaa's child has an equal opportunity. These are not conscious level investments necessarily, but they are there. These are the really hard questions we have to ask ourselves.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:26:33] Yeah. And let me say this: And that is not a question for Black people to sort out. I want to be clear here that ain't my job to do. That is white people's job being derelect and not asking those questions and not doing that job hurts all of us, including you.

But you don't see it because you get benefits. It ain't Black people's job to make white people see this. It is your job. And it has always been your job. And you have, you have parceled it out to me and my people and our bodies, and we don't want the job anymore.

Robin DiAngelo: [00:27:08] And you'll never have those epiphanes as white people if you don't listen to black people, but you can do that in ways that are not extractive where you don't just turn to them and say, give that to me. They write books, they do movies and videos and give talks. They are paid for that work. They're out there and you have to access that, but not with an expectation that it is owed you or to be handed to you.

And I just have to say, cause there will be people listening who will be like, "Oh my goodness. But I went down there and I protested and now you're, you know, you're critiquing that." White folks, expect to get it wrong. You cannot get it right. That can never be the reason that you don't keep struggling. This is what builds trust.

We're going to get critiqued. We're going to make mistakes. We can handle it. Uh, the key is, are we learning and growing and expanding from those mistakes? Are we using them to cross our arms and say, forget it. I'm not saying anything. Um, that's white fragility. Some defensiveness is normal, but you have to move through it.

Can I ask you a question Resmaa? I, you know, I'm always thinking about white people listening. I am confident that you trust me as a white person. Can you tell me what you see in white people that lead you to say, This is one that I do trust?

You said it. I mean, the reason why I trust you is because I done seen you do stupid stuff and then make repairs. I done seen you come back. I done seen you stay in the trenches. I done seen me and you go at each other and then you come back and we come, like we built a relationship. And so, and so, and so over time, I began to develop some trust with you because I see you doing the work with me and I see you developing humility.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:29:04] You know, listening to the two of you talk about, Resmaa, you talking about why you trust Robin, i sounds like you're really it's because you're in community with each other. And I think that being in a society where a history of segregation has made it really difficult to be in community creates a situation where I often am only engaging with Black people when I'm talking about race. Resmaa, you work with a lot of leaders in, um, in the justice community, community activists, clergy, nonprofit executives, and I'm Curious about how they move forward here. Certainly the Black community is not responsible for white people doing the work that they need to do, but is this an opportunity to build community, from the perspective of those leaders?

Resmaa Menakem: [00:29:57] Not with each other. The wounding that occurs between Black people and white people when we just get together and talk about race is so brutal on Black bodies. A lot of it are, things are things that are seeped into the culture that never get caught. So white people leave enlightened and Black people leave brutalized.

Robin is doing her work with her own community. First, she has people that hold her accountable first. SHe's doing her work first. She's reading first. She's crying first. She's getting pissed off first. She's doing that stuff first. And so by the time me and her get together, I'm dealing with some, uh, with a more regulated, nervous system.

But what we do is we say, Let's just all get together and talk about it, right? With totally disregulated nervous systems with people who can't hold it, who have never built a culture to hold it. And so, no, we can't do this stuff together. It is, it is because we always get wounded and re-wounded in the process of that.

It is an unfair thing to put bodies of culture in a room with white bodies, and then just talk about race and white folks ain't done none of the work. They haven't done anything to hold it.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:31:08] It makes me think about a couple of events that happened before George Floyd was killed. One is Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper in Central Park. And the other is, uh, Joe Biden and Charlemagne the God. And both of those instances were about left-leaning white Americans, assuming that they are not racist and therefore they are not able to enact racist actions. They, they clearly were racist.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:31:44] Yeah.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:31:45] It makes me wonder about the state of so-called progressive politics in this country, because both of them, you know, they, they, uh, they feigned ignorance, right? Or innocence, perhaps. Robin, if you are sitting down with Amy or even Joe Biden, you've got, you know, like five minutes with them. What, how do you start doing that work?

Robin DiAngelo: [00:32:13] You just set me up really well to say that I am now working on my next book, which is going to be titled 'Niceness Is Not Courageous: How White Progressives Uphold Racism.' It is specific to white progressives because I think actually white progressives -- well-meaning well-intended white people, um, justice loving, et cetera, et cetera -- actually cause the most daily harm to people of color. Coming across someone who, you know, has the Nazi tattoo and is an explicit open, a Proud Boy, white nationalists, would be potentially terrifying for a Black person, but odds are on a daily basis you're not going to come across that person. You're going to come across me. You're going to come across your coworkers, your well-intended white, progressive coworkers. And those are the, we are the people that send Resmaa home from work every day, virtually agonizing about whether it's worth it to talk to us about the 10 slights and indignities he endured over the course of the Workday, slights and indignities that weren't conscious.

So when I say, we cause the most daily harm, that's what I mean. I'm never going to say the N word ever. Um, but my inability to think critically about race and my own, my own whiteness for the majority of my life, the collective impact of a culture in which white people can't answer that questions, that creates a hostile environment.

Yes. We have to change what we understand. So what I would try to talk to Joe Biden about in those five minutes, and it would be difficult, would be how liberating it is to start from the premise, uh, that of course you were socialized into the white supremacist society. You live in the water you swim in, of course you absorbed that message.

You didn't choose to. It wasn't your fault. You're not guilty. That's not useful. Um, but you did absorb it and you did internalize it. It's coming at you constantly. It wasn't because there was a mean one single person in your life. It's everywhere. And so while you aren't guilty about it, I don't feel guilt, you are responsible for the outcome of having been socialized that way. And again, we're back to, That changes your question from if I were socialized that way to how was I and what is it looking like in my life?

Resmaa Menakem: [00:34:45] So, let me say this thing about the Charlemagne and Joe Biden thing. Right. Everybody's going to the part where he said, If you don't vote for me, then you're not really Black. Right? But what I was actually mortified before it got to that part. Right? I was actually mortified by how he kept saying "the Blacks." He said, he kept saying "the Blacks" and "Blacks" and you know, "I've worked with the Blacks" and "I've done this with the Blacks." And "I used to work with the Blacks" and you started credentialing, right?

So, so everybody missed those pieces and for bodies of culture, and for Black people in particular, those things are tells. Those are, those are tells to your philosophical stance, not interested in  what you claim to be in terms of a progressive or whatever, right? I'm interested in what your tells show me.

And if you're still using words like "the Blacks" and ""Blacks," that's a tell, right? His, his whole tone was, Mark, was this whole idea, whole racial hubris. There's something that  Killer Mike said. Killer mike said when it comes to the Democratic and Republican parties, Black people keep arguing like, who has the best plantation, who has the best slave master. Right? They both need to be burned down.

There are these certain tells that progressives have in terms of the language, in terms of the stance, in terms of the positioning that they don't even know. And one of them is that kind of racial hubris, the paternalistic kind of, like, I know better. I know what's better for Black people than what Black people know what's better for Black people.

And then you go to Amy Cooper. I just want to say this about this woman. Amy Cooper understood and voiced what has always been for white people. And that is, I always have the state apparatus and the state spear at my disposal. When she said, I am going to call the police and tell them that I am being accosted by an African American man, she knew exactly what all white women know. And that is, I will murder you with a phone call. I will murder you with, with my performance of shaking like this in the throat. And so it looks like fragility, but it's actually brutality. I'm glad y'all got to deal with that. I'm glad white people got to deal with that, because I don't have any more bandwidth to deal with it for you.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:37:37] So we are, uh, well over the time that we, that we set aside, which is great. You guys are like, this is a great conversation. I really appreciate it. Um, I just want to ask one more question and just ask that maybe we try to keep the answers succinct and just like closing, closing thoughts. Um, I've ... look, I wish I could sit here and talk to you all day instead of going to work, I swear.

So, you know, one of the things that I have seen in the last week that really kind of has stuck with me and I've been thinking about it a lot is, um, that Cornell West was on CNN with Anderson Cooper on Friday night, kind of like as the, the, the, the first, like really chaotic night was peaking. This is not the protest, this is the, um, the looting and the riots. And Cornell West said, um, he said, "We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment." And I was just curious if either of you entertain that notion, um, or if you, or if you also believe that, and I, and I

Resmaa Menakem: [00:38:49] And you want this to be a quick question?

Mark Baumgarten: [00:38:52] I know, I am cruel. I am cruel, but I'm just, uh, but just, you know, there is, we talked a little bit about, about hopelessness before. I think that this is really, um, the, the purest expression of hopelessness maybe. And I, well, maybe I, um, and I, and I just, I wonder what your response to that idea is. And I'd like to start with Robin and then let, Resmaa have the final word on this.

Robin DiAngelo: [00:39:21] Um, In some ways, yes, it is a failed social experiment. We have never had a true democracy. That is always been an aspiration and we are getting further and further away from that democracy. And I will simply point to Carol Anderson's book 'One Person, No Vote,' uh, for the most maybe current issue. On the other hand, it was set up to serve the owning class elite white men.

And in 2020, it's still the, the 1 of the 1 of the 1%, the concentration of wealth beyond anything in human history is in the hands of white men very specifically. And so in that way, it's not a failed experiment.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:40:14] This is not a broken system. The system is operating as it was designed to do. This system has failed Black people from its inception, has failed indigenous peoples from its inception. Um, this system has never been designed to incorporate Black people or indigenous people as, as fully fledged humans in the system. Uh, but it is operating as it was designed to do.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:40:46] Hmm. Well, Resmaa, Robin. Thank you both so much for taking some time to talk with me and for being on Crosscut Talks.

Resmaa Menakem: [00:40:57] Thank you.

Robin DiAngelo: [00:40:57] You're welcome.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:41:04] And now for a word from our sponsor, Alaska Airlines. Alaska is taking care to the next level, with the renewed commitment to providing a higher standard of cleanliness and safety, from airport check-in to boarding, from takeoff to landing, next level care involves COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures developed with the FAA and CDC.

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Welcome back to Crosscut Talks. I've got Matt McKnight here. Matt is a photo journalist for Crosscut and he has been on the ground covering the unrest that has really gripped Washington state along with the rest of the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Matt welcome to Crosscut Talks.

Matt McKnight: [00:42:24] Hi Mark.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:42:26] So, protests aren't new in Seattle and you throughout your career have covered a number of them. So I'm wondering when you were on the ground on Saturday, which is the day that the mayor put in a curfew, that things really kind of escalated ... what is different about these protests and then also the looting and the, uh, and the destruction that we're seeing later in the days, following these peaceful protests.

Matt McKnight: [00:42:53] I've been covering protests in Seattle for about a decade, uh, May Day, Black Lives Matter, among others. Um, and they've all been different in their intensity. Um, this particular weekend, last Saturday, May 30th, everyone seemed, they just seemed to be a lot more upset about the state of America right now on many levels. Um, you know, we're going through a pandemic, racism has come front and center yet again. And I really felt like that was boiling over onto the streets.

They were markedly more intense than others that I've covered. And there was many people that were out there trying to protest peacefully. There was also this contingent of agitators whose main goal was to just sew chaos into the whole situation.

And the police were much more aggressive than they'd been in previous years, just from having been out there. So I felt like it was all, it kind of all came together in that way that made it just nothing like I've ever seen here in Seattle before.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:44:01] Hmm. So when you go to a protest, um, or more specifically when you went there on Saturday, what are you looking for? What are you letting sort of lead your, your eye as a photographer?

Matt McKnight: [00:44:16] Yeah. So when I'm covering a protest, I am looking for the emotion of people that are involved. I'm asking myself, how are people feeling in this moment? Um, I'm looking for the key moments that are unfolding during the day, like this. This particular weekend of May 30th, um, demonstrators took to Interstate 5 and that's something that they've tried to do in the past, but they were never able to do, so at this particular protest, this seemed like a really, really key moment that kind of told the story of that day.

And I wanted to make sure that I, that I got that as well as I could. And  while I'm doing that, you know, during any particular large protest, I'm also listening to the police scanner. So I'll have, uh, earbud in my ear and I'm listening to the scanner. And while I was on the freeway, I was also hearing that back at Westlake Park cars were being set on fire.

And I was thinking in my head at that time, you know, this is getting out of control. Like they can't, they can't get to the people on the freeway. They can't keep fires out of control. SPD headquarters was being threatened. It was wild.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:45:21] Yeah. And it looked wild. I mean, just looking at the images that you captured both still and video, um, it was, uh, it was chaotic for sure.

Um, you know, we've seen in other cities, journalists being shot with rubber bullets, journalists being arrested, there is some violence towards journalists out there that I have not seen in America before. How does that change the way you approach your work?

Matt McKnight: [00:45:48] Yeah, well, it's just really concerning to know that you or me or any other.

Journalists that are out there. You know, we're trying to bring people to the story. And yet we're in this situation where the protestors might not trust us. The police might not trust us. Um, and we're just trying to report fairly the whole time. So it's really, really concerning to know that we could possibly be in danger.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:46:14] So, uh, one video that you shot on Saturday night, um, has been picked up by a lot of outlets. Um, it's been kind of amazing seeing how it's traveled around the world. Uh, can you tell us what happened in that video and why you think it received so much attention?

Matt McKnight: [00:46:32] I was standing on a street corner and I had seen the, the suspected looters I'm walking down the street towards the T-Mobile.

And then I got a little bit closer notice that they were. Trying to break into it and yelling and cheering and stuff. Um, and then I backed across the street and just kinda let them do their thing. Watch it, they went in as they went in, the police became aware of that and they came running down the street.

Almost as quickly as they got in, they were running back out. Some of them had a few things, I believe. Um, one particular officer, he, he was one of the first to get there, got a guy on the ground, put his knee on the guy's neck, seemed like they've got him under control, you know, when they started arresting him.

Then he saw another guy. And that was the guy that came closer to where I was standing. As I was moving a little bit closer to the scene, in that moment, there was other people in the crowd, you know, and this guy was getting the knee to the neck, they were screaming, "Get your knee off his neck, get your knee off his neck."

And the other police officer that was helping him grabbed his knee and moved it. We're in this moment where George Floyd. Died because knee was put to his neck and here we are a police officers still doing this.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:47:51] Well, Matt, I appreciate you talking to me a little bit about what you're out there doing. Um, you know, keep doing good work for us, stay safe and uh, I'll see you soon.

Matt McKnight: [00:48:02] Okay. Thanks Mark. Appreciate you.

Mark Baumgarten: [00:48:04] Alright.

Thanks for listening to Crosscut Talks. This week's episode was engineered by Resti Bagcal and produced by Jake Newman. You can subscribe to Crosscut Talks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. For more on the Crosscut Talks podcast, go to crosscut.com/talks. And if you like the show, please review us; it really helps other people find us.

For the latest political, environmental and culture news from the Pacific Northwest, visit crosscut.com.

Crosscut Talks is a product of Cascade Public Media. I'm Mark Baumgarten. We'll be back next week with another episode.


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