November 20, 2018
Fixing Something Starts with Seeing How It’s Broken: Mindy Fullilove Talks about 400 Years of Inequality
By Mindy Fullilove and Victoria Richards
(Recently, the online platform Medium.com featured an interview with Dr. Mindy Fullilove about the 400 Years of Inequality project that she leads. Victoria Richards was the interviewer; here are excerpts.)
Victoria Richards: Is there a specific event or defining moment that inspired ‘400 Years of Inequality?’
Mindy Fullilove: The New School has helped us launch this project, which you can find on our website at 400yearsofinequality.org. 2019 will mark the 400th anniversary since the first Africans arrived in Jamestown [as slaves]. The project is to call on the United States to prepare for and observe this anniversary of Jamestown. It’s thinking about the 400th anniversary and saying this is a good piece of history for Americans to pay attention to.
VR: How do we acknowledge that poor people matter?
MF: This is really why we are so involved in this project, because the big idea that came out of slavery is that slavery is horrific. But once we get rid of slavery, what remains is that they justified slavery by creating this myth that some people weren’t people. And as soon as you say somebody’s not a person you can treat them like a cow. This idea that some people aren’t people justifies all kinds of madness. So in a way what we think is that you have to break through that whole concept. All people are created equal.
VR: How do divided societies hurt people?
MF: When we think about a segregated society where people are divided by class and race, even if it’s a stable society, we have problems because the point of segregation is that separate is unequal. It’s set up as separate so that the dominant group can have most of everything and the other people fight over the crumbs. That kind of thing makes the less dominant groups fight with each other….They can’t use the wealth of society to solve their problems. The crucial thing is the denial of resources but also the fact that people just don’t talk to each other and they don’t connect with each other.
VR: Why don’t we teach more often about the harm that divided societies cause?
MF: I think that in America the dominant policy is to teach stuff that makes people think it’s okay to be a divided society. What people are fed is a constant diet of, ‘Don’t like those people, don’t talk to those people, and don’t hang out with those people.’ So, why would they teach that those people are good? That’s not what they want us to know.
VR: How do we convince people that inequality is still a major issue?
MF: When you read the history there’s plenty of data on inequality and then you can see how it carries forward now. That’s why you have to know the history. We actually haven’t gotten rid of inequality even if Black people don’t have to sit at the back of the bus. There are other problems like accumulating wealth, being able to have integrated schools, and job opportunities. Think about it; a whole society put it in the Constitution that people were unequal and we never got rid of that. So what’s the work we have to do now?
VR: Should we rewrite the Constitution?
MF: You can’t just fix the Constitution, because [inequality] is everywhere. So how do we fix it? I know that if you want to fix something you should get people talking about in what ways it is broken. So that’s why I think talking about the history is so important.
Are there any special projects planned to commemorate the Jamestown anniversary in 2019?
2018 is the time to prepare for the 400th anniversary. It’s important for people to get to know some history. So we are recommending three books called Voices of a People’s History by Howard Zinn, Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People’s Power, which is my father’s story of how he helped to build people’s power [in Orange, NJ], and The Third Reconstruction, by Reverend Dr. William Barber. What we’re doing with the support of The New School is recording short videos of people around campus reading excerpts from one of the books and posting them on Facebook. Hopefully, The New School community will start to pick this up and begin to disrupt the ecology of inequality. Our hope is that people all across America will begin to do this as well.