Anthony Hazard: How to Fight Racial Injustice
Anthony Hazard is an ethnic studies professor who researches and teaches about race relations and African American history. Dr. Hazard earned the PhD in History at Temple University and a Bachelors in African American Studies at Arizona State University.
This conversation is both fascinating and critically important. We first discuss how Dr. Hazard found his career vocation, then turn to some difficult questions around race relations, economic exploitation, and talking to people who may be skeptical about the relevance of racial justice. Dr. Hazard shares personal stories, historical context, and practical action steps for combatting racism and promoting equality. Please listen and share with friends.
Gavin Cosgrave: Was there any experience that catalyzed your interest in racial justice and ethnic studies?
Anthony Hazard: My time as an undergrad at Arizona State gave me the opportunity to study psychology and African American studies. The faculty there were working hard to have the program become a full-fledged department.
In my junior year, the courses I took changed everything for me. I was blown away at how race touches so many aspects of our society. On a personal level, being African American and being a student-athlete at a predominantly white school, I was already thinking about what it meant to be black in a space like that. That was a moment of transformation for me as a thinker, scholar, and student-athlete. Midway through my senior year, I knew I wouldn’t qualify for the track and field Olympics. In office hours, conversations and events, I knew I wanted to be a part of that world.
GC: Many people might say something like this: “The U.S. used to have a race problem, but then we had the Civil War, slavery became illegal, and in the 60’s we had the Civil Rights movement. There may still be small problems now, but race isn’t really a problem anymore.” What would you say to that person?
AH: Huge question, there are a few ways to answer it.
First, if we look at politics, it’s clear that race is being deployed in certain ways by certain figures. The heavily racialized language that the president in particular uses shows how embedded race is in our society, that race is so embedded in our society.
Another way would be to look at certain indices like family wealth. The economic inequalities that exist in this country today are such that indigenous peoples and people of African descent are at the bottom. Why is it that black families don’t have that kind of generational wealth that people of Asian descent or white people do? There’s a long history that got us to this point.
Were there changes in the Civil War or civil rights movements? Yes. But the larger challenge is that when we invoke history, we need to do it correctly. If we talk about the change that comes out of the Civil War, we need to talk about how Reconstruction ends in 1877, then the violence that is wrought and the destruction of Black communities and the implementation of Jim Crow laws. There is a historical link here. States in the south rewrote their state constitution to implement segregation, and that doesn’t go away until 1964 on paper.
GC: What are the biggest racial challenges in our modern day?
AH: On an individual level, folks are more anti-racist today than 50 years ago. Particularly in the last 5 years, we see instances of inter-personal racism occur. But thinking about the structures of inequality that have existed since the colonial period, it’s clear to me and other historians that those foundational inequalities haven’t been dealt with.
It’s going to take not only movement from the people, but leaders who have the guts and knowledge to implement the changes that are necessary. We know about the 1% at the top, but that inequality is expanding. It’s not about a difference of opinion politically, these are moral and ethical questions. Do leaders want to address ever-expanding poverty?
GC: What can someone do to contribute to racial justice?
First, educate people about difference and our shared humanity. On the outside, we look different, but it’s getting to a level of understanding that the very idea of race has been made up by certain people in certain positions of power back to the colonial period. What we think of as racial difference isn’t really racial difference. On the inside genetically, we’re all 99.9% the same. One strategy is educating people about what race really is and what it is not. That strategy has been tried to various degrees of success.
I’ll paraphrase Dr. King: this country has written a promissory note for economic justice. Not only the legal right to sit in the same restaurant, but the note that hasn’t been cashed is for the equal opportunity to earn a living wage, to attend schools that offer us a foundation for university and to grab ahold of the so-called American Dream. Economics is left out of the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.
We might look at the “I Have a Dream” speech and think we all need to be color-blind and love each other and work together, but there are still millions of poor black and brown people even though we have the same legal rights. You can’t legislate people’s feelings. You can pass all the laws you want, but that doesn’t mean people will change the way they feel about people who look different than them. It doesn’t mean 350 years of economic exploitation and oppression will be changed because of a law. Economics sits at the core of not race relations, but racism. If I had those magical powers, that’s what I would be working for.
GC: How much personal agency should be required of people who have been historically marginalized? Should we be trying to make the “American Dream” accessible, or giving something to those who have started the metaphorical race behind?
AH: It’s a myth that black and brown people in this country haven’t always worked extremely hard. The onus isn’t on black people to demonstrate the reality of race, the onus is on people who don’t believe that equality should be real to educate themselves. In popular discourse, we hear that people want handouts. Actually, we want fairness. We want the country to own up to its promises. That’s it.
GC: I think many white people want to make a positive change, but they’re scared about saying something wrong or stepping on someone’s toes. It’s easier to step back and let other people do the work.
AH: We can again look to history and recognize that white college students in the 1960s decided for themselves that they would join SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), go down to Mississippi and register black folks to vote, or join the freedom rides. There are examples of white people deciding to join this actively. The effort means far more than any verbal faux pas that may occur.
GC: What resources would you point people toward to get educated about race?
AH: There’s a 4-part PBS documentary called “Slavery and the Making of America.” It’s narrated by a recognizable voice, Morgan Freeman. That would be a foundational place to start, but also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org