Madness in America: Part II

by | May 22, 2018

TAA 0012 – C. Travis Webb and Steven Fullwood continue their conversation about what it means to be “healthy” in America. Is it possible to engage politically and maintain a reasonable amount of faith in one’s agency?

C.T. WEBB 00:16 [music] Good afternoon, good morning or good evening and welcome to the American Age Podcast. Today I’m talking to Steven Fullwood again. Steven, how are you doing?
S. FULLWOOD 00:23 Pretty good. Pretty good. How are you doing today, Travis?
C.T. WEBB 00:26 Yeah, pretty good. Steve and I are trying a new thing where we warm up the conversation a little bit before we start recording to relax because Steve and I actually– we haven’t known each other very long at all. So I got to know him through Seph and so–
S. FULLWOOD 00:41 For one dinner.
C.T. WEBB 00:42 –we were kind of just feeling each other out. That’s right. That’s right.
S. FULLWOOD 00:43 One dinner.
C.T. WEBB 00:44 Over a great dinner. A great dinner actually [laughter]. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So we thought today that we would continue our conversation from last time. Not last week. So this would be too weeks ago. But we were talking about– Steven suggested a topic on just insanity, madness in America and what that means. Why are we and why are we so crazy as a country. And so we were talking about what to do and the conversation and I had suggested since I’d really like to just kind of keep talking about the same thing because there’s a lot of stuff we didn’t cover. So Steven, you want to kind of lead us in to what you’d like to talk about today?
S. FULLWOOD 01:24 Yeah, absolutely. And so before– I think you mentioned we started recording that maybe a definition might help us here. And so I pulled up madness [laughter] and it sort of leads you back to mental illness. Madness: the state of being mentally ill especially severely. Pseudonyms: insanity, mental illness, dementia, derangement and more. Extremely foolish behavior. A state of frenzied or chaotic activity. So what’s going on in the White House right now is clearly madness. So there’s your go for that.
C.T. WEBB 01:57 I know.
S. FULLWOOD 01:58 And then mental illness is another thing which I think– I still have questions about it. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions, disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, disorders– excuse me, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. So it can either be an ongoing thing or short– have an interval life or what have you according to this–
C.T. WEBB 02:33 Yeah. Acute or chronic, right? So the two–
S. FULLWOOD 02:35 Yeah. Exactly.
C.T. WEBB 02:36 –differences.
S. FULLWOOD 02:37 And so it ties me up. It ties me up this definition of madness and about what constitutes–
C.T. WEBB 02:45 How does it tie you up?
S. FULLWOOD 02:47 Well, I think that and I’ve mentioned this before. I don’t have it verbatim but we were talking about sort of adjusting yourself to a mentally ill society. Is that [laughter] too a form of mental illness or is sort of– I think depression is a natural response to craziness whether it’s a mental, physical, some sort of reaction to something that’s really messed up. For example, the Florida shootings, chaos in the White House, just feeling sort of a field and not feeling very good about the state of things. And so–
C.T. WEBB 03:28 Powerlessness is another one I would throw in there too when it comes to depression. Just really kind of a loss of a sense of agency and kind of inability to affect the world.
S. FULLWOOD 03:39 That’s a good thing and so what I’m curious about though is how to be healthy in an unhealthy society. And I wanted your take on that.
C.T. WEBB 03:50 Yeah. So I don’t fucking know.
S. FULLWOOD 03:54 I mean, I really don’t know. I have some ideas [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 03:56 Yeah. So I guess one thing I would want to push back against is a healthy or unhealthy society. So I cut my teeth on deep trenchant criticisms of American culture and the United States history with good reason. There’s a lot of shit to be embarrassed about in our history, in our present, in fact. But then you grow up a little bit or one grows up a little bit. You read more. You read about other cultures and whatnot. And I have yet to land on an anthropological account or a historical account or a sociological account of a society– now, I’m talking– I’m being pretty specific when I say society. So I’m talking about kind of above the band level. So very small groups. We’re talking tribes, chiefdoms, states, nations, religions, etc. They all involve– just there’s no way to organize that many people and not just have awful rampant terrible injustice. And so that’s all I would want to say. So I am completely on board with the discussion about how do we figure out how to stay healthy as sensitive human beings.
S. FULLWOOD 05:35 Sensitive, caring, compassionate human beings.
C.T. WEBB 05:37 Yeah. Yeah, in a coarse society, right? So, I mean, America is a pretty coarse society. But here’s the thing, I don’t think everyone feels it. I think there are plenty– not I think, I have known in my life plenty of people that are just fine with the state of things. They do their 40-hour a week job and they enjoy football or basketball or they enjoy like the cooking channel or the Iron Chef. I know that one used to be popular [laughter]. That’s just their life. So staying healthy I think is a particular question for a particular set of people like you and me and probably some other people that we know. And so how do people like us stay healthy?
S. FULLWOOD 06:23 Okay. Yeah, that reduces the amount of people significantly. So one of the authors I grew up reading was James Baldwin. We’ve talked about him a couple of times. And one of the quotes that really struck me while I was in college was– he said to be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. And I found that– I remember holding on to that because I had a lot of rage, but it wasn’t simply just racial. It was being male and not being able to develop in certain environments. You had a script, you walked in, they gave you your script, and this is what you do in class, this is what you do in the playground, and this is what you do in your neighborhood. But I remember feeling a sense of injustice as a child that I recognize even in my own kid who’s 33. When he was younger he really hated injustice even though he was a kid and he got into trouble and whatnot. But that sense of injustice really bothered me because I felt like I was constantly being told to rein back on either my personality or my curiosity or my imagination. And so–
C.T. WEBB 07:33 Well, it’s not just– can I jump in?
S. FULLWOOD 07:34 Sure, absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 07:35 It’s that you’re told two things, right? So as– particularly minorities in the United States, although I certainly dominant culture–
S. FULLWOOD 07:45 It’s funny because you say minorities and I always cringe at word because I know you’re looking at it as numbers, right? You’re just looking at numbers.
C.T. WEBB 07:53 Yeah, that is literally what I mean it as because pretty soon white people will be the minority in this country. In California I think we are. So I do mean it just statistically but I’m happy to change my language for that [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 08:08 It’s just that I sort of flinch when I hear that word because I think about how minorities feels like it’s almost– it’s a word that sort of positions someone to think that they’re not just– that they don’t have the numbers but also in the 80s I heard it so much, in the 90s I heard it so much and it’s like going– well, I mean, I understand the numbers but I don’t like it as a term. I don’t think it really works.
C.T. WEBB 08:35 Okay. I can hear that. So what do you think is a better term?
S. FULLWOOD 08:37 That’s a very good question. I knew you were going to say that. I have no other word at the moment. I don’t [laughter]. I don’t but I know that minorities doesn’t work for me but I’ll have one for you.
C.T. WEBB 08:45 Okay. You’re going to text me. You’re going to text me a better term and then I will incorporate it into my language because I’m very happy to do that [laughter]. So what I was about to say before you continue your point is that so you’re actually given multiple scripts, right? This is what’s so confounding and infuriating about the bind that you’re in, right? So as a black American you are given a particular kind of script around masculinity, around avariceness, around sexual acquisitiveness, right, you’re given a particular kind of physicality. There are all these ways that you’re told to be and acceptable.
S. FULLWOOD 09:23 Yeah. And there’s another script too that everything revolves around white culture and it doesn’t. That’s another script. That’s another script and it’s annoying. It’s untrue [laughter] but it’s the thing that you’re– I’m constantly supposed to be in dialogue with the “white man” about what he or she is up to in terms of the culture, but it’s a lie. And so I consider most of these scripts lies. They’re just ways to kind of manage.
C.T. WEBB 09:54 I absolutely agree with that. They’re both untrue. And you’re also given the contrary script that you are supposed to sort of pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be who you are, be an individual. And so those two things if you’re inculturated with those completely conflicting scripts of course rage is– you we’re talking about Baldwin, it reminds me the father in Go Tell It on the Mountain when he or was it the first one the bag boy and he would– there’s that line about how he would tell the customers thank you with such force they had to look back as if they were struck [laughter]. And they were just–
S. FULLWOOD 10:33 It’s been a while since I read that book. I don’t remember that line but it’s exciting to think about it.
C.T. WEBB 10:34 –there was just that kind of pent up just fury at what is so patently unjust. So let me ask you a direct question. So do you think that there is still– do you think that the operant script in culture, not in politics, not in business because I do think that there are slightly– there should be at least some fuzzy boundaries drawn around those distinctions. Do you think that in culture the requirement is still that non-white Americans should be in dialogue with white Americans around white culture?
S. FULLWOOD 11:21 Absolutely. Without a doubt.
C.T. WEBB 11:23 Okay. Give me examples.
C.T. WEBB 11:23 I think that there’s– okay, so it happened in California recently I guess at the Contemporary Museum of Art, where they fired a woman who was trying to do more work by “diversifying” who they were showing and that sort of thing and she was fired. It seemed like a black mark on that institution. These conversations wouldn’t have to happen if these critical scripts weren’t still in operation. We’re still talking diversity. We’re still talking about– talking to people, non-white people, about diversifying places which seems kind of ridiculous. It seems like a conversation that if whites really wanted to have diversity there would be more work to do that. And it wouldn’t be let’s talk to you about what you need for us to make it diverse. It’s sort of like what possibly could you not know about oppression or racial– what do you call it? Racial profiling or police shootings; what could you possibly not know about that? And I think about what Toni Morrison said Charlie Rose in one of his programs, she was speaking about sometimes some of the criticism that she receives on her books is that she would stop wasting her time writing about black people and get to the real issue which is the confrontation between black and white people. And she goes, “As if our lives had no meaning at all.” And then she goes, “And if you have to feel good about having your foot on someone’s neck, you have a serious problem.” To her she felt– she said white people have a serious problem and they need to think about what they are going to do about it. Leave me out of it. And Charlie Rose– it was like, “Well can you give us some free advice?” In Charlie Rose’s way and she goes [laughter], “It’s all in my books.” And I love that response. It’s all in my books. Listen, I just told you leave me out of it. And if you want something there are the books. And I think–
C.T. WEBB 13:19 So you don’t see a contradictory message? You don’t see that that itself is a kind of madness? So you don’t see don’t see the contradiction in on one hand saying leave non-white Americans out of the work that white Americans need to do and at the same time incorporate non-white Americans into dominant culture?
S. FULLWOOD 13:42 Give that to me one more time because I think I know where you’re going and I just want to make sure make sure how.
C.T. WEBB 13:45 I don’t know if I can. I’ll do my best.
S. FULLWOOD 13:48 I don’t know if we’re asking non-whites to be out of the equation. What we’re trying to do is after 400 years how much more do you need to know? I don’t understand diversity programs. I try to stay out of them unless I know that I’m being paid for it and I’ll go.
C.T. WEBB 14:05 Okay, so let’s [laughter] narrow this down a little bit. What do you mean by diversity programs?
S. FULLWOOD 14:10 Diversity programs for me when people are trying to have a conversation, a hard conversation about race, about gender, about sexuality, sexual orientation, and the people who are doing the most talking or who have the most investment in it are the people who are mostly affected by it. Those blacks, those queer folks, those women, those disabled folks or differently abled people, they’re the ones trying to drive the conversation. And I’m not sure– when it comes to racial relations or development I stand to the side and I watch it and I’m not sure how effective it is. I’m not sure how effective it is.
C.T. WEBB 14:55 You mean–
S. FULLWOOD 14:56 Go ahead.
C.T. WEBB 14:57 You mean effective at–
S. FULLWOOD 15:00 Effective at really getting at the issues.
C.T. WEBB 15:01 And I’m not trying to be pedantic.
S. FULLWOOD 15:02 Really effective getting at the issues. And mind you, I don’t want to miss-speak, they’re wonderful conversations in a room but talking is not enough. Talking is not enough. You know as well as I do affirmative action was about women. It was about all kinds of people who were traditionally shut out of the workplace but it got reduced race in the 90s.
C.T. WEBB 15:24 Yeah. Yeah. It did.
S. FULLWOOD 15:24 And that became the bone of contention for a lot of people and it was like, “Well, I don’t want somebody who’s just black to get a job that I rightly deserve.” And I’m like these aren’t really even the– this is not the issue. These aren’t the issues. So I’m curious about what people are bringing to the table right now in terms of equality in the US and even if that’s an issue anymore. And I feel like diversity issues and diversity programs I’m not sure if they’re just– if they are let a few people through the door [laughter] to make it look like we’re doing something and then later on ignore these people. I’m not sure where it is anymore. So I know that I’ve kind of jumped around a bit but I’m suspect about diversity and I’m suspect about what people claim to really want.
C.T. WEBB 16:07 So when you say suspect about diversity do you mean suspect about attempts to diversify, fill in the blank, universities, work places, etc.
S. FULLWOOD 16:16 Work places of all kinds. Yeah, absolutely. I do.
C.T. WEBB 16:21 So suspect of the intent or suspect of the practical application? So do you think it is–?
S. FULLWOOD 16:29 The practical application. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 16:31 Okay.
S. FULLWOOD 16:32 Go head. Do I think?
C.T. WEBB 16:34 No, no, I was just– so are we literally talking about quotas and stuff? You think that it’s to say something like, well, we need to have– some significant percentage of our workforce needs to be represented by non-white hetero males or something like that. You think that that’s problematic?
S. FULLWOOD 16:50 I think it’s problematic in its application in the way in which we’ve typically gone about doing it. I have no problem with the actuality of it because it’s interesting to think about the– So a friend of mine sent me an article today, I’ve yet to read it, about black men have about the– black men who grew up poor or grew up middle class have the same amount–
C.T. WEBB 17:13 Oh, shit. Go ahead. I was reading this. No, no please go on for the listeners. Please go ahead.
S. FULLWOOD 17:18 You have the advantage you have read it and so they sent it to me and my flip remark was I’m not surprised [laughter]. And so I think what I’m getting at is that I have a weariness and I’m sort of exhausted at the age of 52 of this notion of diversity. I’m not sure– I know that people need to talk to each other and work things out and that we’re constantly bombarded with information that we read and absorb and digest and talk about in the streets and we have our lived lives and we have our digital lives, I don’t want to sum it up. I just feel like I need to leave it open it’s just that I’m just expressing weariness about it and about its practical application. That call it something else. It’s not really that. So–
C.T. WEBB 18:06 Yeah. I mean, I end up in a bind around the idea because in our very first conversation you and I had which I thought I detected some skepticism, mostly I think because you said, “I’m very skeptical of that idea [laughter].” But around what even whiteness is, right? So I kind of referred to it as like a glamour, as like a way of–
S. FULLWOOD 18:30 Glamour. I love it.
C.T. WEBB 18:30 –sort of denying our bodies. A way of denying our bodies and kind of the messy aspects of just being a human being. And so that is basically what I think about it. I mean, I think racial pseudoscience is precisely pseudoscience. I think it’s all bullshit. Even when people get into, well, they’re statistically significant, diseases hit certain communities and stuff like that. But to me, I just think that it’s most likely explainable by just kind of social networking, right? So you tend to– social groups tend to marry. They don’t tend to intermarry between social groups and so genetic differences would begin to express themselves more prominently in this kind of– in these smaller communities. To me and there’s no biological basis for any of it. I think that’s all kind of bullshit. But here’s the bind for me and where I think– to kind of trying to at least keep a toe on the topic of insanity. So I can say that. I can believe that. You and I can have a productive conversation about that. Maybe I can convince you of that if you’re not already but then you walk out on the street, right, and you get profiled or you walk out on the street and you get followed in a grocery store. Now, I’m not saying that this is your experience. I’m saying that this is absolutely the experience of black, brown, maybe not yellow but various hued Americans.
C.T. WEBB 20:05 And so from an intellectual point of view, a completely defensible position I could take and would argue for forcefully that race is a dead end bullshit category. But yet the society that we live in, the social universe that we inhabit which sort hems in all of us says otherwise. And so how do you confront that honestly? So you’re talking about sort of conversations. Let’s say put me in a room full of inner city kids that have been harassed by the– not kids. Inner city adults, working adults, right, in non-white neighborhoods, I’m being very careful not to use the word minority, in non-white neighborhoods that have been harassed by the police not just for their lives but for generations, right? And so here I come or here someone like me comes and I don’t mean white, I mean an intellectual. And says, hey, race isn’t real [laughter], right? There is no black, there is no white. Who isn’t going to call bullshit on that? Who isn’t going to say, oh, racism isn’t real? Then how come eight generations of, fill in the blank, have been ending up in prison for bullshit? So I’m sorry. Go ahead. What were you going to say?
S. FULLWOOD 21:36 No, actually so I’ve been playing with this thought of yours for a while. I think ever since we had dinner [laughter] months ago about race being bullshit. I know that and I know it intellectually. I know it intellectually but what I’m finding– so just I want to make sure I understand your scenario. So you go up to them and you say there’s no race and they say bullshit because there’s lived experience. There’s compounded experience.
C.T. WEBB 22:08 That’s exactly right. Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 22:09 It’s intergenerational experiences. The experiences that people have daily like you said sort of being profiled or just sort of tired of the surveillance, exhausted by the surveillance. And then here comes Travis as an intellectual because he can choose to be an intellectual but someone looks at you and sees white and they go, what are you doing and how are you contributing to or defying this thing that wants to choke everyone and it doesn’t just want to choke black people. It wants to choke everybody because it keeps you in these– I was going to say artificial dialogues but they’re not artificial. They’re really grounded in people’s experience and lived experiences and so forth. I find that there are levels to racial reasoning. And what I mean by racial reasoning is the intellectual history of race but also race as a dogma, race as– lived experience. I’m not finding the actual words that I want to use but I can see it in front of me.
C.T. WEBB 23:23 I’m following you. I’m following you.
S. FULLWOOD 23:24 And I feel failed by the American project. I used to walk around calling it the American– the white male American project that I feel it’s a failure. But I also know that it’s not solely that. That there’s capitalism, there’s religion, there are all these sort of things that people experience and live through and love and will die for because of these artificial constructs around race or even around gender, around sexuality and they don’t allow people to imagine anything different. We started off talking about UFOs and mental illness [laughter] earlier but this idea of being able to conceive of something different I feel very challenged by my own life but listening to other people talk about these things. When someone’s being shot down in the street you’re in a state of mourning and you’re almost in an extended state of mourning in a way because of all the lost potential that the US could have, not just black folks and white people but just everybody. It feels like we could do so much better and that we’re still dealing with the same issues over and over again. So we can’t even conceive of other worlds or extraterrestrials and stuff like that. And so I think that’s a form of mental illness. How about that? I got my toe back in the [laughter]– toe back and it is a form of mental illness because you can’t think. And therefore, if you can’t think you really can’t love. I don’t know about that part now that I think about it. I think you can love. I don’t know about that part. I’ll just say I think it’s hard to imagine other things when you feel like you’re under siege or you feel like you’re trapped in something that you just happened to be born into. It’s just a lot of wasted potential. A lot of wasted potential.
C.T. WEBB 25:21 Yeah, I mean obviously I am with you on sort of the bind that these– did you say racial logics that basically– you used a particular term for it.
S. FULLWOOD 25:39 Racial reasoning?
C.T. WEBB 25:41 Thank you. Racial reasoning, right. It was alliterative or almost alliterative [laughter]. That there is this way of sort of finding oneself or moving through the world based on racialized stories about who we are as people and not just who we are as people but even more damning, right? So what’s the most damning about the history of race in America is not just its– I mean, so its history is awful. But it was the psychic damage that it did to the black community in the United States. It didn’t just destroy their past; it erased the possibility of their future. I mean you– it didn’t actually, right? As we–
S. FULLWOOD 26:32 Of course not and it never can. Go ahead.
C.T. WEBB 26:32 –as we can see now, right? No, no, but this is part of that story, right? So Robert Penn Warren has a famous poem in which he says that the negro isn’t metaphysical. Right, he has this really sort of potent line that somehow– that metaphysical musings and seeing the inner workings kind of the guts of the universe and all of its abstract glory, even though that is a super awful mixed metaphor. I apologize. That somehow that that was the province of “white people.” And so he was articulating a kind of story, right? The articulation was not just that Africa was the home of savages, right, this is not my idea, but this is their idea. It’s that that was in fact their nature. And so not only did you have to deal with as a black person in America– so I probably even shouldn’t say black Americans before pre-civil rights because they weren’t really fully acknowledged as Americans but a black person in America not only did you have to– you had to see yourself through the eyes of a people that refuse to see you. That was the psychic damage that was done to black Americans in the country and something that still resonates today. Right. You had brought up that article, right? One of the things that they found out in this study of millions of Americans is that if you were born wealthy and black in the United States you were far more likely to end up black and poor than if you were born white and wealthy in the United States. It was much more likely that you would keep your wealth or that you would end up kind of in the sort of upper part of the pack, upper middle class. That’s not just current structural racism. That is a psychic wound that shapes how Americans perceive themselves.
S. FULLWOOD 29:03 Absolutely. And I want to talk about that psychic wound because there was something that I find– because it kind of goes back to what I think Toni Morrison said about as if our lives had no meaning at all outside of this racial sort of conflict and that is I feel very in line with Baldwin, again, and another quote that I’d like to read to you. Innocent people pay for what they do and still more for what they allowed themselves to become and they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead. A crucial thing here is that some of these individual abdications, menaces, life all over the world. For, in the generality, as a social and moral and political and sexual entities, white Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people of any color to be found in the world today. Now, what I found interesting about that quote was it’s his idea of doing something to someone and not suffering for it. Of course people who call themselves white have a larger legacy– I think, I want to say larger legacy than just racism in America. I think that this is our playing ground and this is where we play things out, but my interest here is when I was thinking about mental illness what does it mean to not knowledge injustice to keep yourself safe or to keep your land? I’m often at the Schaumburg. When I worked at the Schaumburg I was often asked questions about– and sometimes they weren’t even questions. They were just comments about why can’t black people do what the Jewish people did or why can’t black people do this? And it always feels so good to go up to the–
C.T. WEBB 30:49 The Irish they had a great [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 30:52 Everybody did all this. One dropped off the skies and the whatever and became white. So this is [laughter]– what’s interesting to me about that is there’s this really– America’s really good at fairy tales calling itself history and you’re a proponent of this. I mean, not a proponent. You understand as someone who–
C.T. WEBB 31:12 Yeah. I know what you mean.
S. FULLWOOD 31:13 –understands history it’s the empire that’s going to tell a particular kind of story. But with the Schaumburg and other archives that have collected people’s papers and institutional papers and so forth you find out that there is a long history of folks doing all kinds of things and then having them sort of crushed. All black towns crushed. Banks, institutions, things that people constantly have to be reminded of because it’s not a part of the daily diet you get from just being in the US around history or even around media. So I think a lot about the cultural moments that we survived and I am quite aware of what’s I think psychically, physically, emotionally, what’s been done to people of African descent in this country but I think a lot more now about what whiteness has done to the moral center of people who consider themselves white and how they deal with that or not deal with that. So that’s one of the ways I’m understanding or maybe dipping my toe back in our original talk about mental illness, what do they do? How does that feel on a daily basis to always feel like there’s another? Now, all white people aren’t the same obviously. Sometimes I have to say that when I’m talking to people because I want the communication to go through better.
C.T. WEBB 32:38 I feel like you need to start– with you I think–
S. FULLWOOD 32:40 Yeah, you got to say [crosstalk].
C.T. WEBB 32:42 Every podcast you have to say–
S. FULLWOOD 32:44 Not exactly all white people, not exactly all black people, not exactly all straight people [laughter] but I also feel– Now, that says something about the level of dialogue sometimes that we’re engaged in and trying to have what you call an authentic dialogue or an honest one or an organic one that isn’t based upon stereotypes or based upon the thinking of the day that it should really– it takes a lot to be a human in the US, to walk outside and to get in your car, get on the train or walk down the street and say, “Good morning. How are you doing?” When you feel all kinds of things about the world. I get up in the morning, I don’t want to watch the news or read the news but I do [laughter] and it’s not the best way to begin a day some day because it can be really demoralizing and frustrating and why wouldn’t people want to be ignorance is bliss? Why wouldn’t you want to be just go get your Starbucks? My mortgage is up. I want to get a mortgage or I want to just focus on things that seem to be obtainable. Seem to be.
C.T. WEBB 33:51 I basically, I mean, that last point that you made I think for me, that’s where sort of the proverbial rubber, if you’ll forgive the cliché, meets, hits the road, meets the road. Rubber meets the road, right? So what do we do about it, right? So how do we move that dialogue? How do we shift that dialogue? Because of course if you are comfortable as you just said–
S. FULLWOOD 34:23 With the way things are then–
C.T. WEBB 34:24 –you kind of probably– yeah. You just probably want to stay comfortable. You have a comfortable life. You have a comfortable– and then you– so let’s take the very privileged out of it–
S. FULLWOOD 34:34 Out of it, yeah.
C.T. WEBB 34:35 –then you’ve got kind of– yeah, thank you. Yeah. And then you’ve got the sort of struggling to get ahead, know that they’re not really at the center of the culture “white people.” And when we start talking about white people, for someone like me or someone that has a particular kind of cultural appetite or intellectual interests, you can hear something like white people and you don’t have to wear it very heavily, right? Because my mind wanders the field. I don’t need to wear my whiteness in that way. That’s not a cornerstone of my identity.
S. FULLWOOD 35:14 That’s also a privilege. That’s also a privilege that you have.
C.T. WEBB 35:16 Now, that is the intellectuals– but that is the intellectuals’ privilege. So I would not say so. That one I would push back hard on. I don’t think that is a white privilege. I think that is the intellectuals’ privilege. I think that there are people that have always in every group, regardless of oppression, have managed to slip free of the social constructs that seek to bind them. And now it may be true that a certain kind of economic liberty makes that easier, but I’m not even convinced of that. I mean, read the Great– I mean, I know you have but The Great Gatsby kind of puts that bed to lie. I mean, puts that lie to bed, right? I mean, if you’ve seen people that are more bound up by what is expected of them, then the Buchanan’s in The Great Gatsby I don’t know them in literature. I mean, maybe Tolstoy or something but– Anna Karenina. In that way it is a privilege but it is the intellectuals’ privilege that I would say is shared by everyone in my tribe regardless of what social construct they are hemmed in by when they step out onto the street, right? Because that’s different. So the world that you live in, in your mind is different than the world that you have to inhabit when you walk out your door, right? And that I absolutely–
S. FULLWOOD 36:46 And the worlds that other people imagine you in. So there are all these different kinds of worlds in dialogue or in opposition to each other. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 36:53 Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Anyway, no, no, please you finish actually. Why don’t you take us home?
S. FULLWOOD 36:59 Okay. I like this intellectual privilege because I try to exercise it myself although I’m not as accomplished as a PhD like yourself. I’m really curious–
C.T. WEBB 37:11 Oh, shut up. Whatever [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 37:13 I’m really curious–
C.T. WEBB 37:13 Whatever. Get out of here.
S. FULLWOOD 37:14 –and I’m also excited about what love could do and so I don’t think my three brains– I think my three brains are connected but also know that the reptilian part of it wants to stay safe, right? And so I’m just considering being comfortable with being uncomfortable and not having an answer to what– I have a sense of what ails us and I’m still learning about– just personally but communally but community-wise in the US and so forth, but learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable about– to open up how beautiful the world could be. I keep on thinking, and I said this a couple of times tonight, wasted potential. There’s just so many things that the US could do and it feels like we’re being– our Congress, I mean the folks in the government are just greedy [laughter]. And then after a while–
C.T. WEBB 38:07 This is nonsense. Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 38:08 –I stopped going, “How could they do that?” I’m like, “Yeah. They do that [laughter].” And become a little less– I wouldn’t say optimistic but just the US is already uncomfortable no matter what station you’re at. It’s uncomfortable. I would even say that, and we’ve talked about this before, and we sort of have a longer conversation about it, about the good life and what constitutes a good life. I think what constitutes a good life for me is one that involves questioning, being curious, being open, and having a better understanding of what mental illness is or what I believe it is and madness and so forth helps me navigate this culture better. I consider myself a world citizen not just in the US or just a part of New York. I’m interested in other cultures. I’m learning other languages. I want to see how it sounds in someone else’s language and I want to be– It’s funny, yeah. I wanted to do something a lot more rendered in with but I’m just [laughter] curious–
C.T. WEBB 39:18 That’s all right.
S. FULLWOOD 39:18 –very, very curious and excited about learning about what constitutes a really good life that’s not sponsored by the government or sponsored by Kodak or any other– not to say Kodak.
C.T. WEBB 39:31 Right, brought to you by– yeah, yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 39:32 Yeah. I want to bring it to you. And so I’m also looking for a coalition of people who feel that way. And typically they’re artists because they have a little brain space, a little more heart space for the impossible.
C.T. WEBB 39:44 Yeah. Well, we’re doing something good. I would defend that. I would say potential– we’re trying to kick people in the pants. So that’s what I hope at least.
S. FULLWOOD 39:56 Absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 39:57 Steven, thanks very much for the conversation today.
S. FULLWOOD 40:00 Thank you very much, Travis. I appreciate talking to you.
C.T. WEBB 40:03 Yeah. I’ll talk to you soon. [music]

References

First referenced at 06:23

James Baldwin : Collected Essays

James Baldwin was a uniquely prophetic voice in American letters. His brilliant and provocative essays made him the literary voice of the Civil Rights Era, and they continue to speak with powerful urgency to us today.

First referenced at 11:23

Beloved

Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

First referenced at 35:16

The Great Gatsby

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

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