Ghosts in the Schoolyard: A Conversation w/ Eve L. Ewing & Ta-Nehisi Coates

PETER STARR: It is my distinct honor tonight
to introduce Eve L. Ewing and TaNehisi Coates and welcome all of you to the Greenberg Theater for what promises to be enlightening
conversation between these 2 celebrated authors, educators, and culture critics. Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a journalist, poet, playwright, visual
artist, sociologist of education and assistant professor at the University of Chicago School
of Social Service Administration. Her research focuses on the impact of racism and social inequality in schools and
on the lives of the young. She is author of the stunning volume, which you will have the opportunity to purchase tonight “Electric
Arches” which was named one of the year’s best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. Her new book, which she will discuss, “Ghosts in the Schoolyard:
Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side.” Dr. Ewing also writes the Ironheart comicbook series for Marvel. Interviewing her will be renowned author TaNehisi Coates, whom we are delighted to welcome back to American University after
four years of absence. Mr. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about
racial, cultural and social inequality and is a distinguished writer and resident at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
He’s a bestselling author with many national awards to his name including MacArthur Fellowship
also known as MacArther Genius Grant and a 2015 national book award for his insightful and moving book entitled
“Between the World and Me.” As I’m sure you know, he is the current author of Marvel Comics the Blank Panther and Captain America. I would like to extend thanks to Professor Kyle Dargan, who you will hear from in a moment, to Mimi Fittig, who
helped organize this event, and the entire Greenberg staff. It is a heavy lift to pull together an event
like this. I want to thank all our colleagues. With that, please join me in welcoming Eve
L. Ewing and TaNehisi Coates to American University. TA-NEHISI COATES: How is everybody doing? EVE L. EWING: How’s it going? We stood back there for 10 seconds to figure
out who was going to sit in which chair. TA-NEHISI COATES: I think I had it backwards
I thought the star goes first. EVE L. EWING: That’s you. TA-NEHISI COATES: The star goes second, so
it was you. EVE L. EWING: We made it. TA-NEHISI COATES: All right. So with some regret due to some changes in
my life I don’t get to do something I used to do quite a bit of earlier in my career;
and that is sit, you know, be intellectual and be curious about writers who inspire me,
who I find to be deeply profound, and who I find to be engaging in questions that shape
our society today. So, it’s a real treat to be here with Eve
Ewing. It is a throwback to me. I was texting her earlier today and I was like, how much time do we have because I have so
many f***ing questions! [Laughter]
And I know the audience has questions so I will try to do this right and be good to you guys and not just ask my questions. I met Eve through Twitter. Back when I had a Twitter presence, I think I was
actually working on “Between the World and Me” and I was reading Robert Haye and I Tweeted something random, like when
you Tweet what you are thinking at the moment. And Eve Ewing answered! And I thought, who is reading Robert Haye? I have to follow her! And everything bloomed from there. And I soon discovered Eve is not only a poet, sociologist,
used to be a teacher, one of our blooming experts in terms of education and just a really,
really brilliant writer. EVE L. EWING: Thank you so much. TA-NEHISI COATES: All true! All facts! [Laughter]
With all of the glowing things out of the way. EVE L. EWING: We are done now! TA-NEHISI COATES: I have a lot of tough questions. EVE L. EWING: Good. Good. Good. TA-NEHISI COATES: Eve, I want to take it back. I was very interested, like when I read “Ghosts
in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side” my question is, What
was school to you as a younger person? Were you a good student? Where was school in your life? EVE L. EWING: Such a good question. No one has ever asked me this before. TA-NEHISI COATES: I am a journalist. EVE L. EWING: Are we okay on sound? I feel like it is echoy. I have a complicated relationship with school. I’ve always loved school and I am good at “schooling.” I always say school’s reward is a comparatively limited
set of skills among young people. I happened through happenstance to be good at those skills. I am good at talking. Schools reward verbal acuity. I am very extroverted and schools reward that. The thing is, at a pretty young age, my parents,
through partially circumstance, basically stopped helping me do anything in school. So I would always ace everything until something
required parental involvement. I would get As on everything and when it was
time to make a diarama, I would just tank, because I was 8, I couldn’t marshal the resources. The school assignments that measure class
and your ability to marshal class resources, I would fail abjectly at. The other thing is, I had a younger brother
who attended the same school as me. We had widely divergent experiences. What we understand now about black boys, suspension
and expulsion, there wasn’t a language for that. It was just, my brother got in trouble all of the time. My brother got really bad grades all of the
time, even though he was really smart. At a pretty young age, I was suspicious, I was like, I understand this person
comes from the same household, is smart. I don’t know what that means. but I know he has a lot of capabilities. Why is he not rewarded in the same way as
I am? There is a story that I don’t remember, but
he tells me this story, which is that when he was 9 or 10, he got kicked out of the classroom. the teacher put him in the hallway. and he was sitting there crying because he had been put
out of the class. I happened to be going to the bathroom. So I left my class and I saw my brother in
the hallway and I got really upset. I was, like, this shall not stand! I took him I took him down to the office and
I was, like, we need to call my mother. The teacher pulled my brother out of the class. Those types of things early on made me feel
like this is not for everybody. There were things outside of myself. What the world called “meritocatic”. Me being deserving and being smart; also had to do with things outside myself like how
people were perceived differently. TA-NEHISI COATES: How do you go from that–
I think with all writers whether we chose a specific thing that we are interested in
and try to take it back, a lot of times there is a suspicion about the world. How did you move from that period into being
a teacher, negotiating all that was going on in the classroom? EVE L. EWING: Man, if you really want to understand
that grades are a scam, as soon as you become the person giving the grades, Snap! This is all utterly made up. [Laughter]
I told somebody the story recently just having those early encounters as a teacher being
22 years old, right, and having these young kids in front of you. The thing about teaching is that I only became
people took me more seriously as an intellectual (air quoted) when I left the classroom, because
there is pervasive idea that teaching is not TA-NEHISI COATES: I’m sorry did you major
in education? EVE L. EWING: No, English.>>What!! EVE L. EWING: Shout out to the English majors. [Laughter]
I thank God every day I majored in English! It’s great! So, yeah, I didn’t major in education but
got a teaching degree. I went for my first master’s degree and got
a teaching credential in the State of Illinois, which I maintain because a couple years ago
I was visiting a teacher in the classroom and volunteering and working with kids. I hadn’t been in the classroom as a fulltime
teacher in years. I was just visiting. There was an emergency, the kid cut themselves. I have to go! You watch all of the kids. I am not legally able to do this. [Laughter]
Ever since then I was, like, I need to keep up my teaching credentials. So I am still a licensed teacher in the State
of Illinois and can be legally be left alone with children. TA-NEHISI COATES: Would you ever go back? EVE L. EWING: Oh, absolutely! Teaching middle school — shout out to the person
who loves middle school. [Laughter]
This goes back to the question I was asked and I became tangential, teaching is not seen as an interrogative pursuit. It has historical stuff to do with teaching being a feminized
profession, a caretaking profession, where there is a pyramid of a man on top, who is
the principal/superintendent and there are underling women, caring for the babies. So people began to take me seriously when I wasn’t
in the classroom, even though teaching remains, as far as I am concerned, the most intellectually
demanding task I have ever engaged in. Think of the people you know and love in your
life and how hard it is to translate what you are trying to get them to understand through
the magical miraculous individual idiosyncratic person that they are, multiply it by 170 kids
every day. That’s so hard. I think that is intellectually addictive in
a way and extraordinarily draining. but I would absolutely do that again! TA-NEHISI COATES: I think you make a great
point. There is a terrible, terrible saying, “Those
who can’t do, teach”. When I started teaching not even middle school. I say that because of the difficulty
level, because I was teaching at the college level. I was like, It’s not true. It’s not true. There’s a difference between practicing something
and being able to explain and teach somebody, it is a skill in and of itself. I don’t think we always quite get that. So you get into the classroom. How does your interest go from being in the
classroom to actually studying policy from a broader level? You start off as a student and start off as
practitioner and teacher in the classroom and now you are in a position to study it
systemwide. What led to that? EVE L. EWING: There was a particular moment
you know, growing up in Chicago I had an understanding of the policy landscape in a vague way. When I was a kid, Paul Yallas was
negatively influential person in the public education landscape and he was the head of CPS. And then Arne Duncan was my boss when I started teaching. I had a vague awareness of policy, but there
was a particular day when we had a brand new superintendent, which in Chicago is called
the CEO, if you want a commentary on the pervasive nature of marketbased
TA-NEHISI COATES: Yes. Yes, I do. EVE L. EWING: We had a new CEO, his name was
Ron Huberman. He had been a beat cop. He was good at that. They made him police administrator, made him
top police guy. He was like, you are so good at laying people
off, come work at the public transportation department. He laid off people at CTA and cut a bunch
of bosses. The Mayor said, You are so good at that, I
will bring you to the school. One of my colleagues said, I am not listening
to a bus driver telling me what to do! The person running the district is a career
hatchetman. TA-NEHISI COATES: Who has never worked in
a classroom? EVE L. EWING: Who has never worked in a classroom. One day my principal said, We have an 8 a.m.
meeting which is disaster time. 8a.m. to 8:25a.m. is the time you get
your life together before your class comes. We knew it is a crisis! Cancel your vacations, pay off your credit
cards, get your resumes together because everybody is getting laid off. What she told us was, Okay, teachers. You are probably safe, but we will have
lunchroom staff, clerks are getting laid off, security laid off, assistant principal. All of these people she had been told to layoff
to save all of this money. The public was, Okay, it is great you are
not firing teachers. I started thinking, I will have a job, but
there will be 40 kids in my class. If somebody throws up, there is no custodian
to clean it. If a parent calls me, there is no clerk to
answer the phone. If the heater is broken, there is no engineer
to fix it. What is this? I had an out-of-body experience where I felt
the building was literally crumbling around me. I could see the ceiling coming down. TA-NEHISI COATES: What year is this? EVE L. EWING: 2010. And I go up to my classroom. I look at a bunch of eighth graders. I look at them and say, We are having a great
year! I am killing it! You all are frankly, killing it. [Laughter]
We have a classroom cohesion. I have all of these grants to do all of these
projects. We are reading, working on a play, we made
a film and podcast, doing all of this cool stuff in the class. I am looking around, I didn’t do this, you
didn’t do this, no adult in this building I can point to is responsible for this utter
devastation and doom. So I had the very naive idea that I was going
to try to find the person who was. Right? And try to figure it out. That’s how I became interested in policy. TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s 2010. Is Rahm Mayor yet?>>Hissss. EVE L. EWING: Did somebody hiss? [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: Can you stop filming, please? Rahm became Mayor in 2011. TA-NEHISI COATES: I am trying not to get distracted
because I am interested in this. I had an incident where my son was in public
school in New York City. They brought in Kathy Black, a magazine executive. Some people know this story. They hadn’t adopted the term CEO, they adopted
the idea of Chancellor. EVE L. EWING: Chancellor is also a trip! Go on. TA-NEHISI COATES: Yeah. I don’t know if this has changed at that point
there was a notion, if you had been successful in any sort of business endeavor, you therefore
knew how to run a school system. EVE L. EWING: Yes. TA-NEHISI COATES: New York City School System
at that. EVE L. EWING: The nation’s largest school
system. TA-NEHISI COATES: At that point my son is
in public school. EVE L. EWING: How old? TA-NEHISI COATES: Eleven or twelve, fifth
or sixth grade. Where are you asking me to put my son? My greatest possession. In the hands of somebody who has never been
in classroom, never sent their kids to public schools, don’t know anything about it at all? I want to know, how did we get to a point
where we feel as though almost anyone EVE L. EWING: Anybody! TA-NEHISI COATES: anybody can do this? They would not make anybody head of fire department
or police department. EVE L. EWING: Right. Right. TA-NEHISI COATES: How did we get to the point
that school systems are easy? EVE L. EWING: There is something particular
about the profession of teaching where people presume the further away you are from it,
the more apt you are. Right? I think, to your question, How did we get
there? I think there is a number of things. Number one, I think we as a society have moved
more towards kind of technocratic, postindustrial ways of thinking about things. Right? This is the same logic that says the way Amazon
is going to end employment discrimination is by having an algorithm that uses all of
the data of its most success did we talk about this? TA-NEHISI COATES: Uhhuh. EVE L. EWING: We will take the data of our
most successful employees and run it through an algorithm to find the most successful people. It was wildly discriminatory predicated on
data people that were majority white men. Right? TA-NEHISI COATES: Uhhuh. EVE L. EWING: It is the same logic we can
automate and quantify everything. The thing that makes it particular about schools
is, buy by and large, we are talking about this logic where people being served are lowincome
people of color. Keep in mind there are people all over the
country that these things would not happen. TA-NEHISI COATES: They would not bring in
a magazine exec. EVE L. EWING: We know that people are poor
because they are bad. Black people in particular are poor because
they are lazy. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. EVE L. EWING: The idea is, How do you control,
discipline and manage them? Right? How do you process them in the most efficient
way? How do you take the input and get the desired
output in the most efficient way. There is nothing in there about care/nurturing,
about the magic of childhood, about kids being special. Right? Nothing like that. Those things are reserved for people who can
pay for private school, Montessori school, Waldorf school and special things. People like Barack Obama send their kids to
University Chicago school, costs $30,000 a year. When it comes to other people’s children
to borrow a phrase from famous education scholar Lisa Delpit, when it comes to other people’s
children, it is discipline and control. These people are fools. If they knew what they were doing, they would
have fixed it by now. The best thing we can do is bring in the celebrated
business minds of our generations to fix this. I think that that extends to other aspects
of our culture like the fetishization of Steve Jobs, the wildly successful capitalist, by
abusing the people around him it is lauded, and he’s our idea of genius. I think it also has to do with who was in
the building. TA-NEHISI COATES: We can stay here. I was on the trajectory but got distracted. I have a million fucking questions for Eve. [Laughter]
I want to head into “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South
Side”. For me, someone who was already sympathetic
to the ideas. The notion of schools as public investment
in the neighborhood and what it means to actually close a school, I think there are a lot of
ordinary people who read newspaper and say, Low test schools, close the school. They are failing. I think one of the things you do in the book
is open it up and explode the myth. Can you open what schools mean in the neighborhoods
beyond test scores? EVE L. EWING: Yeah. I think that it is important to think about
public schools and landscape of everything else that is happening in Detroit, Chicago,
Philly, New York, New Orleans, D.C. These places reliant on public form schools
are involved in disenfranchise whether in healthcare, public transportation, et cetera,
et cetera. TA-NEHISI COATES: Pause for a second. When you say reliant, reliant how so? Reliant beyond learning how to read? EVE L. EWING: Reliant in a fundamental way
necessary for survival on a day-to-day basis. Some people need the public bus to live. Right? Some people need the public bus to get to
work, to feed their families. Right? There is a way in which
TA-NEHISI COATES: Some people only eat when they go to school. EVE L. EWING: Exactly. Some people only eat whether they go to school. CPS the last year I was teaching became did
something that New York has now also done say we will make free breakfast available
for all kids. Right? TA-NEHISI COATES: Uhhuh. EVE L. EWING: When I was teaching, they switched
to this thing called Breakfast in the Classroom which is exactly what it is. [Laughter]
It is a new program breakfast in the classroom. In it you will serve breakfast in the classroom. Right? [Laughter]
TA-NEHISI COATES: They are giving you more work, actually. EVE L. EWING: The other teachers hated Breakfast
in the Classroom. The logic was if kids had to show up early,
if some people were playing on the playground, some people go eat, it becomes a disparity. Instead, when the kids come in before they
go to school, Miss Hinon will stand is there and hand it out and have breakfast in the
classroom. [Laughter]
Teachers hated it. This is unsanitary. It’s not my job. Granted, I had eighth grade home room, and
I outsourced all of this. Whose job is it to go off and give breakfast. I was going to take attendance. Breakfast is over at 9:10. Eat or don’t. But we are done at 9:10. We will do something else. TA-NEHISI COATES: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. EVE EWING: My kids acted different. They ate breakfast. This is the greatest thing ever! Now, the people who had fourth graders, who
spill food on themselves all day, they were not into it at all. [Laughter]
There are crumbs on my floor! It’s disgusting. [Laughter]
I loved it. I think that people don’t think about the
basic services. You know, I have been in schools before Christmas
where you know, I sat in classrooms and wrapped gifts for kids because that is the only gift
they get. Right? Every year I do the program with the Times. We buy Christmas gifts and it may be the one
thing they get that year: Coats, shoes, basic things. Aside from what I talk about in the book,
which is emotional stability. Right? For some of the schools that closed, those
were schools where students and their parents and their grandparents in some cases had all
attended the same school. Also, some of these schools were named after
famous black people. Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, these are
the kind of symbolic gesture of violence that take place in the milieu of larger pattern
of devastation of black communities. Right? A school means so much more to folks in ways
that I think I don’t even want to say stuff like breakfast and coats, that does not translate
to wealthy people. I think people of all backgrounds can relate
to the idea of having an emotional attachment to their school, which makes it so absurd
that people are unwilling to translates it in an empathic way and translate to attachment
to their school. TA-NEHISI COATES: I couldn’t. I had the idea test scores bad, close the
school. The first thing was safety. Huge issue in Chicago. EVE L. EWING: Derrion Albert brutally murdered
on camera, Eric Holder was already the Attorney general, maybe 2009. He was brutally murdered, two high schools closed. People in the community said, if you close
this one school and merge with another school there will be violence because there is rival
gang factions in these different schools. Nobody listened. They closed the schools and there was a riot
in the street. A 14 year old boy got hit and killed with a
railroad tie on camera in front of classmates. He was not involved, just trying to get home. When the 2013 school closings were announced
his mother said, Children like mine will die if you do this. It goes back to test scores. As a researcher and scholar, part of what
I am conscious of is what things get constituted as legitimate evidence and from whom. Black people on the internet always joke when
there is a research finding that is something your grandmother could have told you for free. Right? It is your grandmother has been saying. [Laughter]
I struggle in thinking, I am always pushing myself and other people to think about what
constitutes legitimate forms of knowledge? TA-NEHISI COATES: Yeah. EVE L. EWING: So why is it what a test score
is is a type of data. What a mother saying, If you do this, this
will happen; that is also a type of data. The question is, How do we reconcile those
things and how do we cope in a world where only one of those types of data is backed
by institutional legitimacy? TA-NEHISI COATES: I don’t know if you noticed
this, in your career there are things black people say in their communities go into higher
ed that is all about rigor and testing sites. Maybe not. People would say stuff you know, this country
was built on slavery. EVE L. EWING: You hear that every Saturday. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. It’s not in the rigorous way. Numbers. People know it’s knowledge. You go to college. You have to cite this and do that. You go through all of the citation, yes, this
country was built on slavery! EVE L. EWING: If you had to write a whole
case TA-NEHISI COATES: To find out some dude on
15th knew instinctively. [Laughter]
Me and Eve has an ongoing, Eve doesn’t want to call herself a journalist, which is fine. I won’t rehash that here. There is great journalism in this book. EVE L. EWING: Fair. Fair. I respect your opinion. [Laughter]
TA-NEHISI COATES: Thank you, Ewing. The voices of people actually being effected. I think what you just said spoke to the significance
of actually having folks like that speak in the book. Another thing that is also significant going
to the same place, there is the charge that school closings are racist. There is a woman in the book, a superintendent,
black woman. EVE L. EWING: Barbara Byrd Bennett. She is in prison. She was indicted on bribery charges. She is the was the CEO who oversaw
TA-NEHISI COATES: CEO. The CEO is in prison? EVE L. EWING: Yes. Yes. And the person who replaced her had to step
down because of investigation of misconduct from the Inspector General. Our leadership is all jacked up. Anyway, I have to say because it’s my favorite
quote. I’m sorry. You can finish your question. TA-NEHISI COATES: Go ahead. EVE L. EWING: Barbara Byrd Bennett was taking
bribes from companies who provide professional development for principals. She would make sure they got the contracts. Principals who got the PD knew it was bad. They would be forced to take it. This company would get a contract. She would get a kickback from the contract. There are all of these ways in which our public
schools are being used for lucrative. TA-NEHISI COATES: Like Newark. EVE L. EWING: Right. Same deal. She sent an email to a person, an indicting
piece of evidence deposit the blah, blah, blah, blah, I have tuition to pay and casinos
to visit. [Laughter]
That’s how they got her. [Laughter]
The joke I always make is that you know she’s not from Chicago because in Chicago we don’t
send emails about our crimes. Right? [Laughter]
You are, Meet me by the spot. You have to use a pay phone. I will see you over there. You know when. [Laughter]
You don’t send an email “Please send me the bribe money”. Send. Await bribe. TA-NEHISI COATES: Subject line: BRIBE! EVE L. EWING: Comes back with an X.
[Laughter] EVE L. EWING: So she is out. TA-NEHISI COATES: Before she got convicted. EVE L. EWING: Chicago politics are so fun! TA-NEHISI COATES: Before she got convicted
there was a charge this will not be better than that story. [Laughter]
The charge that was made by parents was that the school closings are racists. Again, one of the situations you look at it. I don’t see race in this. She sort of rejects. EVE L. EWING: How dare you? I am a black woman. TA-NEHISI COATES: How insulting. It is racist for you to say that. Again, we are speaking about knowledge your
grandmother knew, people in the corner knew. You go through step by step and do the math
of why this actually is racist, you do it from two perspectives first of all from the
perspective of housing and perspective of education if you could speak on those two
things the housing policy and education policy that these schools are based upon. EVE L. EWING: The first two chapters exactly
what you are saying, the reason I wrote this chapter, which started out as a piece for
the New Yorker. The reason it didn’t pass the smell test. From regular black people and from my own
observation in the community where I taught called Bronzeville, where the book is centered,
there was massive amounts of public housing. Thousands and thousands and thousands of units
of public housing. Everybody knew it was there because it was
extremely visible. Right? If you had ever been to Chicago and drove
down Lakeshore Drive you saw Hilliard Homes. It was demolished starting in 1999, some 2012
and 2010. The Ickes Homes were still standing. People like to talk about the President and
his ability to tell you things you saw with your own eyes were not real. He does not have a monopoly and did not invent
it. There are black people perfectly willing to
do that. The justification being given for why the
schools were being closed was that they were underutilized, meaning they had very large
capacity and not a lot of students. The building I taught in could hold 960 kids
we had 280. Now, it had always been the plan for us to
have 280. It was the official capacity of our school
in terms of the staffing capacity. We used the extra space to build sets for
plays, have little conferences, you know, we used the space to do other things. Ultimately a high school came and colocated
with us. I knew that those kids, part of there were
so many buildings with such large capacity because the projects were there and they had
been torn down. It was such a selfevident and recent historical
event to not be mentioned at all even in passing, even briefly acknowledged. You don’t have to take faults for it. It’s not your fault Barbara ByrdBennett just
acknowledge some of the reason the buildings were empty there was public housing and it
got demolished by Mayor Daley. Just say that. The utterly insulting, degrading lack of any
kind of historical acknowledgments of something that happened within a decade was it made
me mad. Right? So that was kind of and the story of how the
public housing came to be was a long one. The short version was basically starting in
the great migration, black people were concentrates in this part of the city through restrictive
governance, which you have written about extensively violence, actual bombings. TA-NEHISI COATES: Actual bombings. EVE L. EWING: From 1917 to 1921 there were
58 bombings that took place, one every 20 days. Black people who tried to move out of Bronzeville,
realtors who tried to sell to black people, physical bombings. It’s not coincidence. And the public housing authority once founded
in 1941 initially tried to say, Okay. Let’s use public housing as a social experiment
to integrate the city. Very quickly they were afraid of upsetting
white people, both politicians and white residence. Instead they used public housing to re-entrench
segregation to keep black people where they were. This is how you ended up with an extremely
high concentration, in particularly, children, living in a small place, which necessitated
a lot of schools. On the school side the superintendent at the
time Ben Wills, rather than let black kids transfer to schools they would build mobile
trailer units and make kids go to school there they became known as Willie’s Wagons. Black parents would lay their bodies down
in the places they were constructed to try to prevent it from happening. There was a huge resistance. Basically, the schools were crowded and empty. None of it was accidental. It was because of the policy actions that
kept people in one place. TA-NEHISI COATES: None of it was, actually,
divisible from the fact of race. At one point, there is a point in Chicago
school history black kids can’t go to school all day. EVE L. EWING: Right. Right. When the schools became super crowded. Let us transfer to another school. We can’t have that. The other school is a white school. Parents would show up and demand to enroll
their kids into a white school and be taken out by the police. They game came up with the doubleshift school. If you were a kid going to school in the 60s,
if you were K-55 you attend school half the day, go home and the other kids you double
enrollment by easy trick of kids getting half education. This is my parents’ generation. It’s not ancient history. When I give talks in Chicago, I went to suchandsuch
school. We did this. It’s not ancient history. To go back to the question of until now it
was not something you could necessarily read about in a book. Everybody knew. What I wanted to do was make it legible in
a way that is, Yes, this really happened. TA-NEHISI COATES: One of the tools people
use to hide racism or systemic oppression is they start the clock when they want to
start the clock. History begins when they want it to. This is racist. If I start the clock in 2010, I just made
a decision. EVE L. EWING: We just got here. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. We can be historical when we want to be. It strikes me and we talked about this we
have a multilevel problem even in your history of housing. If you think about housing during the 40s,
50s and 60s, there is actual racism among the white people in these neighborhoods. EVE L. EWING: Correct. Right. TA-NEHISI COATES: Let’s say Chicago Housing
Authority there were actual riots. You have a systemic problem, and then you
have a structural problem of folks who are themselves racist also who provide incentives
and create racist structures. How does one begin to untangle that? EVE L. EWING: I was going to ask you that. [Laughter]
TA-NEHISI COATES: I think about it all of the time, man! EVE L. EWING: Yeah. TA-NEHISI COATES: Is it a question of I think
of the question of, well, all of the old people are racist and they will die off! [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: That’s not a good plan. TA-NEHISI COATES: People say it all of the
time. I think it is naive and optimistic. EVE L. EWING: We just looked at kids doing,
Hail, Hitler! TA-NEHISI COATES: [Inaudible]
EVE L. EWING: Yeah. Right. TA-NEHISI COATES: We also know many elders
who have been in the struggle. TA-NEHISI COATES: To complicate it even more,
you can manage a world where it does happen but the systems still remains in place. EVE L. EWING: Exactly. TA-NEHISI COATES: How does one begin to untangle
that do you think? EVE L. EWING: Well, one basic prerequisite
that is not sufficient but necessary necessary but not sufficient first understanding what
racism is and how it operates. Naming what you name. I say it is a perpetual motion in the book
it is like riding a carousel. It’s not you the horses are going up and down
they will keep going without you. If you do nothing, the default is that you
are explicit in the movement that is already happening. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. EVE L. EWING: In order to not participate
in that, the reason the concept of “antiracist action” is so critical helps us understand
that. You have to get off the horse, find the panel
and smash it. Once you get off, it’s still going. TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s right. EVE L. EWING: I think understanding that is
really important. It helps us pinpoints what you just said,
which is that we have to name structures that with or without us are currently set up to
perpetuate this. We have to understand that, even if it doesn’t
happen within our lifetime, we have to pinpoint specific ways to interrupt and disrupt those
structures to begin to kind of erode this edifice. I will give you an examples that been on my
mind because it’s been in the local news lately. They reported that black people in Chicago
are literally going bankrupt off of parking tickets and basic traffic small traffic violations. Now, you will remember when the DOJ did their
investigation in Ferguson, it was found that this was one of the major forms of criminalization. TA-NEHISI COATES: Plunder. Funding the City. EVE L. EWING: The City’s budget was contingent
of taking money from black people enmasse. Lo and behold it turns out through the great
reporting that we have the same problem. Literally going bankrupt over $50, $75 tickets
people getting the boot on their car. It is an example if it is what you need to
get to work and so on; that’s just something that just seems so and there has been such
great local reporting on how this plays on other things. Black people in Chicago are more likely to
get cited for not shoveling the show than white people. Black people are more likely to get tickets
for being cyclists. We are not proponents of cycling in the city. [Laughter]
These are things that add up in people’s lives. You get a warrant out I shouldn’t say this
on camera. I most of the time don’t pay the parking meter
because I am a conscientious objector because Mayor Dayley sold contract parking meter private
company in big pot of money that all got spent. He went to the place and got a payday loan. The money is spent. Now when I pay the meter, it doesn’t go to
the school or fix a pothole. It goes to the company. I have a very complicated algorithm I run
in my head. [Laughter]
The likelihood any time I park my car of getting a ticket. [Laughter]
Most of the time I win. I gamble and I win. [Laughter]
Every once in a while I do get a parking ticket. And I will be slow paying them. One time I left one on the table and my husband
is, did you pay the ticket? No, you know. You can’t have me driving our car around with
an unpaid ticket. TA-NEHISI COATES: Um, um, um, I have to think
about the fact that I live in the world that somebody could take my husband to jail because
of a parking ticket. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. EVE L. EWING: These are the kinds of things
that until we name that and understand that these extremely menial unimportant things
are extraordinarily disruptive and destructive in people’s lives and that’s and find ways
to interrupt them. The good news is because the problems are
often small, then the solutions can be simple. Right? That’s why bail funds have been phenomenal. Chicago is one of the first cities to fight
that, fight and say that people not being able to pay, you know, a bond that is $100
or $75 and miss work or they lose their kids because there is nobody home to take care
of their kids destroys their lives over $100. To me that is where we can win. It is a long, slow protracted win, but it
requires the first step of having the analysis to look and to not have the person come out
and say, Well, I didn’t mean. It wasn’t my intention. I am not a bad person. Okay, fine. Your parking tickets are ruining people’s
lives. Now what do we do? It requires moral courage on the part of political
leaders to perhaps do things that are unpopular. It requires moral courage and imagination
of people who organize at the grassroots and understanding of making those kinds of demands. Right? That’s why I have become cynical about electoral
politics. I think electoral politics is important. How do we build our political capacity the
rest of the year to have the parking ticket fight? The person who sometimes shows up to that
meeting. It is me and same 10 people at parking ticket
meeting. Everybody wants to march in the streets, but
nobody wants to come to the meeting about the parking tickets. [Laughter]
It is the struggle also. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. EVE L. EWING: Yeah. I could go on. TA-NEHISI COATES: Necessary but not sufficient
the electoral piece of it. EVE L. EWING: Yeah. It has to be it is drilling a hole from both
sides. You know? TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. EVE L. EWING: I think we have to demand things
of our political leaders that will pay longterm dividends. But we also have right now kids in Chicago
they are trying I promise I will shut up with the answer to this question. TA-NEHISI COATES: Sure. It’s your book, girl. EVE L. EWING: This is something I have become
very passionate about. They are trying to build a $95 million police
academy in Chicago. Young people have been young black from good
kids mad city organized group going around on the street asking regular people in front
of the liquor store on the street corner. What would you like to do with this money? It is grassroots organizing and asking questions,
which not only helps you gather information but also catalyzes people’s political imagination. What would I do with that money? It is my money. I am paying for that. What do I want? I think that that is why we need to do imaginative
igniting all of the time. TA-NEHISI COATES: I think there is something
else in this too. It will be my last question and we can take
it to Q&A I promise to let you talk. When we talk about unraveling this. I think part of it is who we valorize when
they fight about the statutes they say it is just symbolic. I think it is important. You have taken on a powerful symbol moving
into the world of Marvel and comic books. EVE L. EWING: I knew you were going there. TA-NEHISI COATES: I know it is powerful. Let me tell you how I know it is powerful. I don’t so much know even though you see it
from the responses I see women, girls and from black people. I know it is powerful from the response I
see from massage in any event, racist and white supremacist. EVE L. EWING: They mad! [Laughter]
TA-NEHISI COATES: I will do this preamble and let you talk. I want to let you finish. EVE EWING: I want to hear what you have to
say. TA-NEHISI COATES: I write some comics [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: You do a little TA-NEHISI COATES: I do a little something
something! I have been watching. The first complaint is, why are we taking
established heroes and turning them black, turning them into women? Why can’t we invent
EVE L. EWING: Why do we have Korean Hulk? TA-NEHISI COATES: Why can’t Tony Stark be
Toni Stark and have your black female. Well, we got a black Riri and had a black
woman to write it and people pitched a fit about it. TA-NEHISI COATES: It was quite clear at that
point you just want us out. Period! In many ways, it was in great continence with
how white supremacy, which is not in the business of coalition politics. This is not agreement or comprise. EVE L. EWING: Right. TA-NEHISI COATES: This is me. I run this shit or it don’t exist. EVE L. EWING: That’s the supremacy part. It’s in the name. TA-NEHISI COATES: It’s in the name. All of offer systems of oppression work this
way. When you moved into this. We talked about this before you did it. Were you shocked by the blowback? I love how you handled it too. TA-NEHISI COATES: First I have to shout out
publicly. TA-NEHISI COATES: Because I warned you? EVE L. EWING: The reason we got cool is because
you really stepped out and were, like, hey! It is me, TaNehisi. EVE L. EWING: I was, like, Oh, which one? [Laughter]
TA-NEHISI COATES: TaNehisi Brown? EVE L. EWING: TaNehisi Brown. Word. Cool. Hey. [Laughter]
You real had had a conversation with me about it. I didn’t know how to contend with TaNehisi
contacting me and Marvel contacting me. I want to shout you out. You have been super supportive and continue
to. You warned me. You also answer a lot of random questions
from me all week long. I really appreciate that. TA-NEHISI COATES: It’s good to have company,
frankly. EVE L. EWING: I am thankful for that. Greg Pock, I also have to shout out. I am grateful. So the first time so for those who don’t know,
there was a petition that was circulated last year saying that I should take over writing
of this character. That was when I am on Twitter 47 hours a day. [Laughter]
It’s me or one of the bots pretending to be me or one of the monkeys on the typewriter
I have left. People harass me people have called me every
name. I have been called everything but a Child
of God on Twitter. I have been called every name. I have been attacked by people for everything
from saying that Archelle is a rapist, to saying we shouldn’t have police. One time I Tweeted I was a sociologist and
keep track of things that make people mad. I am on here talking about America is fascist
and founded on slavery. Let me say something about Robert Kelly. [Laughter]
These people the things that make people mad I keep a running list. Things that make people mad talking about
Arcelles, talking about gender you don’t know your baby’s gen-ing. Another thing that made people super mad people
take things I say on Twitter too seriously. I know if you buy freerange eggs you should
be a freerange abolitionist. Oh, the rage! The rage! For days people were, like, chickens don’t
rape and murder people! [Laughter]
Chickens don’t rape! Everybody thinks they are creative with this
I will show her. Chickens don’t send. Tweet! I will show her a thing or two. Eating my freerange eggs. This is how you eat my eggs of rage! I am always keeping track of these things. Really? Are you really mad about this? TA-NEHISI COATES: Yeah. Yeah. So, so, when the Ironheart petition went up,
the level of rage and the consistency it was just a flow of just in every form. Comments on the petition, Tweets. Just blaaaaah. TA-NEHISI COATES: At the petition. EVE L. EWING: At the petition. Keep in mind petition for Eve Ewing was equivalent
in my mind Eve Ewing to visit NASA and go to Mars. Now I said about my haircut in jest. If you follow me on Twitter I say a lot of
things on Twitter in jest. Well, she only got hired because her and Riri
have the same haircut. If you believe a multi million dollar. TA-NEHISI COATES: Billions in fact. EVE L. EWING: Conservative estimate. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. EVE L. EWING: hire people, black people, black
women. [Laughter]
Of which I am the fifth black woman since 1961 to write for Marvel
[Applause] EVE L. EWING: Don’t clap! It’s bad! So bad. Thank you. I appreciate the intent. I recognize the intention of the clapping. I see you. I appreciate you. [Laughter]
But it’s trash. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. EVE L. EWING: If you really think that that’s
how I got this job, I truly cannot help you! [Laughter]
I pray for you. Best of luck with your life. I was super surprised and fascinated. What I have been saying in every interview
since then and now I will say it to your face, which was, that you were the person who said,
um, no, they are right. They are right. TA-NEHISI COATES: They are. EVE L. EWING: Because this matters a lot. The question of who our heroes are, who we
valorize, what our mythology is as a culture, super heroes we are thinking about this a
lot in the wake of Stanley’s passing the way super heroes are our shared character mythology
about who is good, who is important, who is strong, who is brave, who do we look to in
times of crisis. Right? That is why Captain America. Right? The fact that you just his existence and the
fact that you are now writing Captain America is so you know, this is a dude out here with
a star on a shield he is a soldier. TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. EVE L. EWING: This is profoundly important. These are the stories we tell our children. TA-NEHISI COATES: Uhhuh. Uhhuh. I think because it’s “neuroculture” we think
it is in a box over here. EVE L. EWING: Resident evil. TA-NEHISI COATES: It is a billion dollar industry. EVE L. EWING: It is. At this point the dawn of comic books was
my grandfather’s generation. At this point this is a who is more iconic
than Superman? TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s right. EVE L. EWING: Or Spiderman. TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s right. That’s right. EVE L. EWING: I think what you helped me understand
was that, you know, I was, like, I just don’t get what the big deal is. I don’t get I know what the big deal is nor
me, black women in terms of representation, but why are you so salty? I am writing fake stories about a pretend
person who shoots laser beam. TA-NEHISI COATES: It is supremacy and they
don’t comprise. EVE EWING: They don’t comprise. It is qualification. You are not qualified. Like the comics are a new arena but our grandparents
got told. I mean, that part I was, like, oh, I know
that song. That’s a longtime banger that you ain’t qualified. White supremacy’s greatest hits. TA-NEHISI COATES: Classic. EVE L. EWING: Classic. TA-NEHISI COATES: On the CD commercial such
as we don’t take TA-NEHISI COATES: Right. Right. [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: I think I recognize that. You helped me understand and to reframe the
work in my head as part of this culture war. Right? And that that was not how I preferred to think
about it. But those were the stakes that came to me. Right? I have to sort of rise to that occasion while
also trying to write fun stories about adventure and fighting and choreographed scenes. You don’t just write the words on the page. You don’t get to write “Fight!” [Laughter]
That’s been a lot and thinking about it in those terms has been a lot. The day it was officially announced that I
would be writing it somebody Tweeted me with a picture of his daughter dressed in like
a little black girl with her hair, out dressed in kind of too big Ironman costume. He said, My daughter and I are so excited. Thank you for giving my daughter somebody
to look up to.” I literally have that in my phone. I will put up you can call me any name. You can come at me however you want to come
at me if it means that this kid gets to be a hero. TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s right. [Applause]
TA-NEHISI COATES: So maybe we can do EVE L. EWING: I have no idea what time it
is. We were born here. Time began on this stage. TA-NEHISI COATES: It was my bad I asked a
comic book question. EVE L. EWING: You know I can’t do concise
answers. TA-NEHISI COATES: No, you are good. You are good. KYLE DARGAN: Thank you, Mr. Coates. I know people have questions. Thank you for your curiosity. Dr. Ewing, thank you for your brilliant conversation
so far. Can we have a round of applause? EVE L. EWING: I like the curiosity, curiosity
and heroicity KYLE DARGAN: I am Kyle Dargan professor of
creative writing here at American University. I will be running the Q&A for the rest of
the night. As I said the last time, it is not S&R not
a statement and response it is a Q&A. Please be respectful of our speakers and those
who have questions. We have microphones towards the bottom of
the stage to the left and right. We would appreciate if you ask your question
into the mic and speak up as well. When you are ready, I will alternate back
and forth between the microphones for about another 20 minutes, 25 minutes. Whoever is first. EVE L. EWING: Thank you all for coming. I appreciate you. KYLE DARGAN: Sure.>>Thank you both so much. I appreciate it. EVE L. EWING: Hello.>>I am Andrew from Milwaukee. EVE L. EWING: Hey!>>My question relates to midwest. EVE L. EWING: Great question.>>I am lucky to be in a room full of people
education based on test scores only back in Milwaukee and rural Illinois how do we marketbased
solutions for education will fix our schools and cities that test scores are all that matter
for funding schools? How can we make that relevant to the population
that is outside of the classroom outside of discussions like this that is in the fields. EVE L. EWING: Thank you for asking that. So I mean, in Wisconsin and Chicago folks
are waiting for us to catch up. Wisconsin had some of the most tremendous
educational organizing massmovement, people in the State House fighting the fight with
people from Chicago driving up and occupying and bringing food and sandwiches and making
space. I think that we are in an amazing time for
grassroots for arguing in education. I think that what needs to happen is for the
conversations to be linked up between folks. Right? So right now in the Boston public schools,
there are several schools that are up to be closed. Somebody wrote a blog post this week saying
she bought copies of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” and gave it to school counselors. I want to make things clear days for reparation
new Jim Crow or people before me took information out there and synthesized it in an accessible
way. If you are a scholar which is the perspective
I approach, you are speaking from because you are saying “us here” if you are communicator
it is your job to synthesize things for people grassroots. People on the front lines are eagerly engages
in political education and want to have the conversations and putting their bodies on
the line for this fight. It is our job also to listen to them. I think it is happening. Thank you for your question.>>Hi. So I wanted to I know these are larger policy
issues. I wanted to look down to the level of your
students and even from early ages. I so long had to navigate being a student
of color with the double consciousness before I had the language and before I had the theory. Not only how early with can we start having
those conversations with our students but what do those look like? How do the students get taught although
the decisions are being made about their lives they are not being informed about. I get to go to college and take incarcerating
black class race, sex and gender in U.S. military. They are conversations I needed to have earlier. How do we do that and how early do we do that. EVE L. EWING: What is your name?>>Rassa. EVE L. EWING: Thank you, Rassa.>>Thank you!! [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: Feel free to chime in. TA-NEHISI COATES: Got nothing to say. It’s all you. EVE L. EWING: I think there are many difficult
conversations we have with children out of necessity; that we need to start to altering
our consciousness to think of these as being equally necessary conversations. Now, that being said, black people for a long,
long, long time have had to talk to kids about things before it feels developmentally the
time. Right? Many young people learned about Emmett Till
at a young age. You can’t go here. You can’t do this. You can’t talk that way. At any age when we find ways of having the
conversation with them that are appropriate and give them opportunities to ask questions
and build on the questions that they already have. So when children ask you, Why is that person
sleeping on the street, right, thinking about the answer you give. It is an opportunity to talk to a young person. I understand that things like structures and
all of that stuff seems complicated. We also have to give young people a chance. I was talking to a professor at NYU, we did
an event together at the Strand he said his son in sixth grade founded a children’s freedom
fund a bail fund run by kids. Now, when I was that age we did the trick
or treat for UNISEF nobody asked me. We were given our little boxes we trick or
treated for UNISEF we where we got extra change. We watched a video we watched a harrowing
video of malnourished children in other parts of world. It was November contextualized. If you are the other black kid in the room
you are looking around like seeing yourself in the video you don’t see yourself other
times in the classroom. I don’t understand why we can’t translate
something like that to, for example, fundraising for bail funds. Right? It is an example. And people are doing this work. There is a school in Chicago called Village
Leadership Academy run by Nakisha Hobbs they said, Eve, will you come judge our social
justice programs most people say will you judge poetry or science fair. I said, yeah. Every grade level starting in kindergarten
chose an issue they cared about based on things they observed and come up with some sort of
project where they presented it, made a song, did research. The kindergarten class was, their issue was
homelessness. They were not too young to notice homeless
people living outside near their school. They were making demands. They had looked up who our Senators were. They were saying they were writing letters
to Senator Tammy Duckworth saying, What are you going to do to help homeless people? I watched it. Lead in the water. Transportation access everybody had an issue
starting in kindergarten. I filmed it and posted a film of this little
girl. The Senator responded to the tweet. I am a vet. I care about homelessness. These are five year olds. If we ever tried to argue with a 3 year old. Kids understand “fair” and “not fair” pretty
young. They will tell you, It’s not fair! We need to find age appropriate ways as early
as possible to talk about that. I also think that a role educators and writers
can play is creating age appropriate material to have those conversations. The last shoutout I will do and stop with
this question is Mariame Kaba, an abolitionist organizer. Hopefully many of you know her work. She published a work called Missing Daddy. It is a book about a little girl’s whose father
is in prison. Separating him. How she misses him. He misses her. Kids make fun of her. Those are not just for kids whose parents
are in prison. It’s for kids of all backgrounds to learn
that some people miss their parents because they are in prison. Writers, scholars have a role to play to make
these conversations easy to facilitate them. Thank you so much.>>Hi. My name is Ray. I am a huge fan of your poetry. My question is about School Boards when you
look at meeting minutes, policy platform speeches by elected officials in Board of Education,
what kind of language or policy positions sets off alarm bells in a way that you think
anybody paying attention to education issues should be aware of? Thank you. EVE L. EWING: I love that question! TA-NEHISI COATES: Eve, if you can bracket
it off to what your phrase for achievement EVE L. EWING: Are you putting a footnote on
the question? TA-NEHISI COATES: It is such a great question. EVE L. EWING: It really is. I was just working on putting this in my syllabus
today. I will answer your question first and pivot
back to your question. Achievement gap is a phrase that I don’t use. This relates to the question because I think
that in education there are a lot of things we take for granted without interrogating
them as with life. I think achievement gap has gained parlance
as a way of talking about as a shorthand for a lot of things without actually talking about
the things and interrogating what it is we are actually saying. For example, when we see in many school districts
Asian American students have higher scores on achievement tests. We don’t call that achievement gap. That’s awkward. [Laughter]
White students are presumed to be the neutral norm against which we are measuring all things
even when they themselves are not nationally, across the board, we just don’t do that well
educating people in the United States. Based on pretty much any measure. Educating the majority of people, we don’t
do great. High school graduation rates, college however
you want to measure it, literacy, we are not awesome at this! So I think that what and the phrase “achievement
gap” presents the problem around the gap. The hole. If we get the black kids up to close the gap
without actually talking about, okay, what is this measuring? What are the scores measuring? Where did they come from? How are we feeding people? How are we housing people? So on and so on. I want to talk about the housing gap. I want to talk about the breakfast gap. I want to talk about the, “how did you get
to school today”. I want to talk about boots and it is 20 degrees
today gap. We don’t ever seem to get there. To your question about School Boards, I have
been on a rant this week and beyond because in Chicago we do not I don’t know where the
questioner went okay there you are we do not elect our school School Board in Chicago we
are the only school district in the State of ill ill who appoints our School Board the
only form of school governance is local school council which is exactly what it sounds like
at the school level. What I am trying to fight for right now and
what many people in Chicago are trying to fight for is having the right to vote for
school boards as we go into the mayoral election where do you stand I have the right to vote
for the incompetent instead of you appointing the incompetent person. Let me at least do my thing! [Laughter]
I think that for me, things I look for are, number one, what does this what is this person’s
commitment. I think more broadly if somebody says, will
you support this educational organization or this person or whatever, things I look
for that are red flags, or, like, green flags of goodness, I look for people who have a
commitment to listening to the stakeholders that are most impacted by education. I look for what structures do people want
to have in place to hear the voices of parents and teachers and young people and actually
have a structure in place for implementing the things that they hear. Do you have meetings regularly? Do you seek feedback from people? I look to see if people are talking about
the basic fundamental needs of our students that are not being met rather than just talking
about this hypercountrification. I look for people who are interested in asking
questions rather than presuming they know all of the answers. Education is really hard every single day
I am confused about how to fix many things. I am always interested in people to have a
stance of inquiry and finding out and being open to learn more. For me a huge red flag is really intense involvement
with kind of some of the mega education foundations and also private companies and corporations
that are funding things in education. Whenever somebody asks me about an organization,
will you support this organization I look to see who is on their board. If somebody from the Walton Foundation or
Gates Foundation I am trying not to curse I am not going to hang out with them. I’m not going to ride with them as one might
say. [Laughter]
That’s because, I mean, many of these foundations even when people have good intentions have
a way of getting attached to certain interventions regardless of whether they are actually supported
by research and putting tons and tons of money in them in a way that radically shifts the
landscape because people are desperate for money and resources. The Gates Foundation has been the biggest
culprit they put lots and lots and lots of money into an idea and are, you know what? It didn’t work. Focusing on having schools westbound schools. Sounded great. Put a lot of money. A lot of people chased the money. Ten years later we are left with the aftermath. The point is, I am always interested in people
who are more dedicated to asking questions of those who are most impacted instead of
acting like they have all of the answers instead of having dogmatic approach to one answer.>>Hi, my name is Nathan. I would like to thank you both for coming
here to AU. EVE L. EWING: Can you use the mic
>>Yes. My question is something centered around your
answer to a question how do school closing impact the way students get to school on a
regular basis whether it be through public transportation like the school bus system
or through parents having to drive their kids to school. EVE L. EWING: Great question. Also, you can ask me about anything but I
will answer that question. [Laughter]
So it depends on the do you mean in Chicago in particular or in general?>>Either. I mean, obviously you probably have the most
experience in Chicago, but it would be really interesting to know that anything you can
provide on this issue. I come from West Virginia. It’s fairly rural. I did not live within the bus system for my
school so I had to rely on my parents or one of my friends being able to get me to and
from school every single day; so that meant sometimes I had to be at school 30 or 40 minutes
before the bell sounded to accommodate my parents’ work schedules. EVE L. EWING: I am so glad you gave the additional
context. I want to say that rural school districts
actually have huge amounts of school closures that are devastating to communities. I mean, talk about a school being a pillar
in a community. It might be the only institution that people
share for miles or hours around. It is extremely under-theorized and under-discussed
in the literature. There is a lot of stuff about school closings
in Chicago and Philly a lots of papers. If there are scholars interested in this topic,
I am coauthoring a lit review about this. Rural schools are extremely underrepresented
in the literature compared to how devastating it is and how frequently it happens. The question of transportation is one of those
things that there are so many ways in which the divisions of class in the United States
lead people to these divergent realities that it never occurs to other types of people that
this is a reality. Right? And I think that transportation and how you
get to school is such a big deal. It plays into how much children can sleep
per night. Right? It is a really, really big deal. Children need a lot of sleep. It has huge cognitive impacts if they don’t
get a lot of sleep. Things like breakfast. Are you going to get breakfast because you
are rushing or because you have to get up early? Safety. Right? In Chicago and many other places it gets really
cold and dark after a certain amount of time. I taught eighth grade. I was always trying to keep in touch with
my students whether they went to high school. One of my former students went to an amazing
high school. She was saying she didn’t get to do any extracurricular
activities if she stayed late she would have to go all of the way back to the neighborhood
it would take an hour. It was cold. Dark, it wouldn’t be safe. Those are the things if you have money it
just does not occur to people that something like not having a reliable car or a car that
breaks down. Right? Having to rely on the bus schedule. Having to ride a bus that doesn’t feel safe
to you. Rights? Many of us grew up in places where we had
to choreograph our way home. I knew I cannot be on this corner, but I can
be off at this corner I will ride to here and walk back. I had a whole path to avoid where I didn’t
want to be. Those are things people don’t think about. Then they become totally accounted for in
policy decisions. So everybody is talking this week about how
the newly elected Congressperson OcasioCortez. She is broke. I cannot afford to live in D.C.
TA-NEHISI COATES: Mocking her. EVE L. EWING: That was me when I first was
a Chicago public school teacher. I had extra jobs in the summer. It is an example of it not being designed
with us in mind. It is a roundabout answer to your question. It matters a lot. In Chicago it might be a distance walkable
and bussable but is more around safety. It is an example of you know, I visited Hawaii
last year. In Hawaii there’s all of the mongooses it
is not mongeese. Don’t shame me later because I said mongooses. Google it. The reason there are everywhere when they
had plantation they didn’t want rats to eat the sugar cane. The mongooses will catch the rats. They hunt in the day and rats come out at
night so it didn’t work at all. Now there is an overrun of mongooses everywhere! [Laughter]
The reason I bring it up is there is a way in which people come up with absurd policy
solutions to there was one one of the things that was promised when the schools were closed
that was all of the new schools would have air conditioning, which is like a big deal
in Chicago because it gets super hot. That promise was not kept. They sent all of the teachers, teachers came
to work one day and everybody had the paper fans in their mailboxes. Just distribute the fans to the kids. It is an absurd thing! The reason I bring it up because there is
a program in Chicago called Safe Passage, where they hire people to stand at the corner
and wear yellow safety vests. They are unarmed. It is usually the person who would do it anyway. Somebody’s grandma standing on the corner
with a yellow vest. It was a solution. It costs money. Right? Instead of saying, Okay, what can we do about
the violence in the city? Somebody I don’t think the quote made it into
the book. When people shoot I am ducking and dodging
with the kids. What am I supposed to do? I have a vest on. That is one of the solutions that has been
put forth. I think I am not saying it is a bad thing
to have community based people to stand and usher people to school. It could actually be awesome. But it is an example of patching over a problem
with the somewhat strange policy solution the fans in the mailbox instead of thinking
critically about what can we really do about this. Thank you. TA-NEHISI COATES: How are we doing on time? KYLE DARGAN: These may be the last two questions. EVE L. EWING: I can’t make promises. I will do my best to be brief.>>I am Whitney from Philadelphia. EVE L. EWING: I love Philly.>>It is an excellent city! Everybody should love it. You talked about the school closings in Chicago. In your research or preparation of the book,
did you look at all how there are similarities? You mentioned Paul Yallas was superintendent. When I was in Philly and they went through
a wave of school closings at the same time as Chicago. Did you look at the policies being replicated
around the country? EVE L. EWING: Thank you so much for that question. Detroit, Philly, Chicago, Baltimore are all
really similar in the to a lesser degree in New York and also, D.C. and Newark? What do they all have in common? [Laughter]
They are similar in school closings and now Boston it is happening. I think there is a pattern of black post-industrialized
cities that have large populations of black people who are hanging on as the cities continue
to be remade and evolved in ways that are not for us. Continuing to be in public schools as the
city as these cities are transforming themselves into the new iteration of what they want to
be in the 21st century. The presence of poor black people is inconvenient
for that plan. Another thing the cities all have in common,
they rode the wave of industry, of American industry during a certain period of affluence
and success. Right? Now we are seeing the decline and the downfall
of that. So people are struggling and not able to have
the same kind of stability, class stability or class mobility that they once did. I think that all of those things play into
why we see very similar patterns across all of these cities. The Philly school closings were happening
in 2015. It was right when I was doing a lot of writing
for what became the book. If you know anybody in Philly, I will be there
on the 28th. I am doing Oh! I am doing the day Ironheart comes out
I will do a signing at Amalgam Comics a black comic shop in Philadelphia. I will do a book signing on the 29th. What I have been doing in Detroit and Philadelphia
I have been trying to do events for people in local context. You probably know more about it than I do. I absolutely think it is the same. It is the same pattern and I think it is not
a coincidence. Thank you.>>Hi. I am cognizant we are running short on time. I will be as concise as possible. EVE L. EWING: It’s not your fault. Our fault. TA-NEHISI COATES: My fault.>>I wrote out my question. The role we are expecting our teachers meet
extend past academics my partner is director of social justice education at a school that
is all boys, predominantly affluent and predominantly EVE L. EWING: They have a director of social
justice and education?>>They do but that is a different thing. EVE L. EWING: I have to open the water for
that! [Laughter]
>>In the demographic in the school area it is a lot more conservative than he anticipated
when he accepted the job. He’s having hard time trying to do intellectual
gymnastic you were talking about trying to communicate nuanced topics to young kids,
it is middle and high school especially in that demographic do you have any advice of
tackling race issues especially when the world around them is teaching them
EVE L. EWING: Is it really your partner? Is it you?>>No you are, my friend. My friend just wants to know. TA-NEHISI COATES: Has a friend. EVE L. EWING: Having a real hard time. TA-NEHISI COATES: Me and my friend. [Laughter]
>>No, there is someone in the audience who knows him. EVE L. EWING: So it is a real person. You didn’t say your name.>>Minty. Think gum. EVE L. EWING: You are highlighting the age
part, but I don’t think it is the age part that is complicated. TA-NEHISI COATES: Wawawong! [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: I think it is race and gender part that I would surmise, one might surmise. You know, it is always a tricky question for
me, for years people would ask me, I am teaching this group of white kids about race, what
can I assign to them? This created a conundrum for me because I
was never white. I never had to learn about racism from a book. I got called the N word for the first time
when I was six. Right? My mom another thing that happened around
that time was somebody put a flyer for a Klan march for somebody on my street. My mom didn’t ask for that. I didn’t ask for these problems. My little cousin when she was seven we were
getting ready to ride bikes I was an adult. We were putting I am helping her with the
training wheels. She goes, Did you know that white people used
to own black people? [Laughter]
I was, like, abort! Abort! TA-NEHISI COATES: [Laughter]
EVE L. EWING: I was, like, I did!! Why don’t you tell me what you know. Tell me more. Trying to fit I was freaking out but trying
not to. So black people don’t really get to pick when
we talk to our kids about race. Right? So one time I went on Twitter and I was, like,
White people! Please tell me where you first learned about
racism. How did you people’s answers were amazing. The number one answers were many people said
the autobiography of Malcolm X. I don’t know what that was somebody shaded
him in the audience. Several people said the movie Friday. [Laughter]
TANEHISI COATES: Interesting. EVE L. EWING: I am just giving you the modal
responses. The movie Friday and Public Enemy. That’s like in between. You are, okay. All right. And I think that what we can learn from that
is, literature, so many people said fiction. Literature and popular culture do so much
to educate young people. We are living I was for some reason the other
night I was thinking of Lois Lowery. I don’t know why I started thinking about
Lois Lowery. I was thinking about The Giver. At 1:00 a.m. I started thinking about Number the Stars. That’s the first time I learned about Holocaust
was when I learned about Number the Stars. We had a holocaust survivor come to our school
and talked to us. I am thinking about that now as young people
and adults are horrifically unaware of holocaust and other human rights atrocities. Right? I think that we are living in a really phenomenal
unparalleled age for children’s literature and young adult literature as well as teachers
putting all kinds of incredible resources online for young people to learn about things. So I think that your partner
>>Who is real! EVE L. EWING: Who is definitely real and exists. Has a lot of resources at their disposal. I hope they don’t feel they are alone. I think that it is time to marshall those
resources and share them. Right? Share them with other people. Make lists. Ask for recommendations. The trickier thing that I can’t help you with
is the institutional environment in some of these places. Right? Why, for instance, a school might say, We
are going to pay someone a salary to be the Director of Social Education and have a predominantly
white student population and not say we will have these color ships and what will we do
to extend the resources that we have here in the capital to other people, which would
be a restrictive way of addressing it. Instead to have teaching the other kids about
social justice, which is also important. It is an institutional question I can’t help
you with. I want to take the opportunity to say I am
profoundly suspicious of institutions that have no enacted evidence that they truly care
about anybody’s racial justice. Right? But is that profess to care in word rather
than indeed. I am always extraordinarily suspicious and
try not to get myself in situations where I have to pretend to believe somebody that
I have no reason to believe. TA-NEHISI COATES: Are you shading me? EVE L. EWING: Am I shading you? TA-NEHISI COATES: I had a conversation with
somebody about EVE L. EWING: What are you talking about? TA-NEHISI COATES: We will talk about this
afterwards. EVE L. EWING: I am not shading you. I am shading every University. I am shading every University in America. I am so now I really want to know. TA-NEHISI COATES: You don’t remember? EVE L. EWING: I don’t know what you are talking
about. We need to end this now. TA-NEHISI COATES: I want you to do the thing. EVE L. EWING: Okay. KYLE DARGAN: Speaking of literature, I’m sure
we have fans of poetry in the audience. I know there is a book. TA-NEHISI COATES: This is such a treat for
me. As I said, Eve is I am losing all of my words. EVE L. EWING: I can’t believe you said “Are
you shading me” on live stream. TA-NEHISI COATES: I will try to get back in
her good graces. She is a multidimensional threat. Before I actually read “Electric Arches” there
was a novel I taught in nonfiction. This is such a treat. You have no idea what you are about to see. [Applause]
EVE L. EWING: Thank you. Thank you so much. [Applause]
EVE L. EWING: I don’t usually can I stand is that going to mess everything up if I stand
up? Actually, can I use your mic no, it is in
my pocket. It is becoming a whole thing. You can’t sit down to read poems, guys. It’s not cool! Thank you all so much for being here. I am going to read TaNehisi asked me if I
would read the first poem in the book. It is a first story from the future. TA-NEHISI COATES: This is how I knew you would
be okay for comic books. I will stop commenting. You don’t want to hear me. EVE L. EWING: I hope I am okay. So this poem was inspired by something I read
that Assata Shakur they don’t drop by the moon we are created by our conditions. I think she meant it as a metaphor when you
see black people protesting engaging righteous rage that there is a reason for that. That is that we have faced generations of
oppression and systemic violence. Right? But I think that when I read that I’m sorry. Can you please not film me. Thank you very much. It’s really distracting. When I heard that black revolutionaries don’t
drop from the moon the afro futurist thought, but what if they did. It’s a true for story from the future thank
you so much. It’s called “Arrival Day”
It it happened undercover of night or early morning depending on who you ask. The hour when the press stops running, when
the baker arrives and unlocks the door. The cables came down. Silent and charcoal mate and slithering hit
the earth on bus stop bench on top of cigarette dialysis when NASA boys looked for foot age
of arrival some security capital are a somewhere in America, that hour was all blank. Everywhere all blank. Like as if each of them had a magnet for a
beating heart, their veins murmuring, Clear it away! Clear it away! Until the tape was empty. In years before when men warns of crushing
or rowboats tying flies they spoke only of darkness their eyes will be dirt the men said! They will cover the windows with tar in the
places where we talk to God. They will sees our daughters who will return
to us in rags holding mud babies and asking for a room to sleep. The hateful men and wives wore reading glasses
and drank cinnamon tea on the days they wrote letters to each other how the coming people
would steal. How they loved the sound of grinding teeth
in place of real music. How the girl ones were greedy and lustful
and felt no pain but made endless noise how small ones could trick you looking like children
but skin was mercury but could not be shot dead don’t fall for it. They wrote letters on glass, plastic and metal. They said they are coming and they will paint
everything black. So they had no words for the moon people whether
they did come. The moon people could not be captured camera
lenses looking on them turning to salt cast trails on the eyelids of the looker they wore
yellow cool cigarette green and Georgia clay red and violet, they wore violet and were
loud as hands worked hammering iron of jail doors bicycle trains smashing into wind chimes
bowing low to passengers some sashaying through turnstile dropping it low as they went underneath
as they sang. The moon people were listening and knew about
Sam Cook, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gay, Missy Elliot, they sang while smashing a bottle
on squad car, Hennessey bottle, pressed cold juice, whatever is near enough this here christened
a new thing drove them down my street your street your street tires painted to look like
vinyl 45s tied yarn and moon people turned them on high as they drove the colored waved
in the sunlight which was now streaming clearly on to the porch where I sat rubbing the rusting
chain of the swing and thinking of grass when the boy down the street who in smaller days
I walked to school when his mother worked early who loved lime popsicles the best who
danced his way from his own porch to the basketball court in the afternoon. Who the police had recently declared a man
stopping him midtwostep to ask questions he could not answer because query beneath any
of them because the query beneath them was why are you alive. None of us can say, that boy he came to me
and walked up the steps where the paint is peeling and knelt at my side and I did not
look him in the eye. Instead, I watched a fire fly the first of
the summer land on his left shoulder and I thought, here are two glowing ones. He did not notice. Only held my hand and told me, we are free
now. I could not believe I had lived to see it. The promised light descended to us at last. Thank you so much! [Applause]
EVE L. EWING: Thank you. Thank you, TaNehisi. TA-NEHISI COATES: Thank you. The invincible Eve Ewing. Cheers! Thank you all so much. [Applause]
(Standing ovation). EVE L. EWING: Thank you, Kyle. Thank you stage people. Thank you stage people. [Applause]
KYLE DARGAN: I would like to remind everyone we have signed copies of Eve Ewing’s book. I would like to thank the Greenberg Theatre
for hosting this event. It is good to see you all. Get home safely. If you have the desire to transfer to English
major tomorrow, come see us. [Laughter]

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