How do you have a conversation about race when the topic is so fraught? On this episode, we’ll explore this tough question and more with Ben Crump, renowned civil rights attorney and author of the new book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.
Links & Resources
- Get a copy of Attorney Ben Crump’s new book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People
- Check out the fascinating results of the Pew Research Center study
- Read Chevonne Harris’s Esquire article How to Talk About Race without Making a Complete Ass of Yourself
Hello and welcome to Ubben Talkin. I’m your host, Michelle Ubben and today we’re talkin about how to have a productive conversation about race. It’s not an easy subject for a lot of us but if we’re going to move forward together as a country, it’s important that we start talking about racial justice issues with people who are like us — and people who aren’t.
Later in the show, we’ll be speaking with attorney Ben Crump, a leading civil rights advocate and the author of the new book Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.
When I think about how my views on race were shaped, I go back to my Aunt Carmen, my mother’s oldest sister. She was an inner-city teacher and principal in Paterson, NJ. My Aunt Carmen bought me black dolls for my toy collection. She invited me to her house to play with some of the black girls in her neighborhood, and she called out anyone who said anything racially disparaging.
Fifty year later I have the opportunity to work with an avenger for racial justice, Attorney Ben Crump, as he seeks to raise America’s consciousness. I consider it a great privilege to work with his team and to grow my personal understanding of what it means to be black in America today.
In a study conducted this year, 150 years after the 13th amendment abolished slavery, findings from the Pew Research Center suggest that most Americans recognize that slavery still casts a long shadow. For those who might say, “slavery ended a long time ago, get over it. I never owned slaves, don’t blame me,” read Ben’s book, which does a great job of connecting the dots in an unbroken line between black people’s entrance to the US on slave ships and their position in American society today.
In the Pew study, 78% of black people say that our country hasn’t gone far enough in extending equal rights to blacks but only 37% of white people agree. And half of all black people think it’s unlikely that black people will ever have equal rights, while only 7 percent of white people hold that pessimistic view.
So how do you bridge that divide? Ben Crump says he hopes that his book will get people talking to each other. But talking about race isn’t easy. The potential is great to say something wrong. The fear of saying something dumb and insulting to someone makes it easier to not talk about racial topics at all. But that doesn’t move anything forward.
Chevonne Harris, in an article last year in Esquire magazine, offers some useful tips to engage others in a conversation about race.
First, instead of being defensive about white privilege, denying that it’s real, or even feeling guilty, acknowledge the obvious – that being white has its advantages in our society – and listen to others describe the experience of being black in America. Harris points out that white people probably aren’t going to be denied a job interview just because of the sound of their name. Citing the Pew research, about half of black adults say being black has hurt their ability to get ahead at least a little, while whites are more likely than other groups to say that their racial background, that is, being white, has helped them, at least a little.
Don’t assume that someone has had a particular experience because of their race. Don’t make assumptions about their musical interests, favorite food, or anything else because of their race.
Ask and listen.
Admit what you don’t know and ask questions.
If a conversation turns awkward, stick with it. If you say something stupid, apologize and continue the conversation.
If we don’t talk about racial issues, we will never build racial understanding. The tough conversations are sometimes the most important. Join me as I talk race with Ben Crump.
Michelle Ubben: Ben, welcome to Ubben Talkin. Thank you so much for being here today.
Ben Crump: I’m very honored to be here with you, Michelle.
Michelle Ubben: Well, I’m honored to work with you, somebody who’s become such a champion for racial justice and civil rights at a time when I think we’re really at a tipping point where consciousness is being raised about these issues.
Ben Crump: Certainly, and you and the company you work for really help frame issues in these matters like nobody has ever done, and I just want to say publicly what I say to you privately, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for caring.
Michelle Ubben: Well, thank you. It truly is a privilege. So let’s talk about your book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People. It has several emotionally charged words in the title. Genocide is a word that most people associate with Rwanda and Nazi Germany, maybe not so much the United States. Was it intended to be provocative to use words like that in the title?
Ben Crump: It was. I’m unapologetic about using this word, Michelle, as it relates to the genocidal situation that’s been created in America by the government and the laws that are supposed to protect us. They’re using those laws to actually promulgate the killing of us.
Ben Crump: 70 years ago the great Paul Robeson, who at the time in 1951 was the most famous African-American in the world along with W. B. Du Bois, who was one of the founders of the NAACP, and other black leaders went to the United Nations Convention. At that time, it was the aftermath of World War II, and you had all these countries filing petitions of genocide based on the atrocities and the killings that had been brought upon them due to war.
Ben Crump: The black leaders filed a petition called We Charge Genocide. They said we’re filing this petition for the daily killings, rapings, and lynchings of black people in America. And then they said, “Using your definition, United Nations, act or acts with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a group based on national, racial, ethnic, or religious identities”, how does this not apply to negro people in America? In that petition, they concluded that either the United States government was complicit with or responsible for creating a genocidal situation in America.
Michelle Ubben: And that didn’t stop in the 1950s when they made the case. It’s only continued and extended since then.
Michelle Ubben: Another provocative word that you have in the title of the book is colored people, which is kind of an antiquated term as it relates to black people, but you’re using that term differently. Tell me how you mean that.
Ben Crump: Certainly, and most people when they see colored people, they automatically assume we’re talking about the color of a person’s skin, but people can be colored by their experiences, their life experiences. They can be colored by their religious beliefs. They can be colored by their financial status. They can be colored by their sexual preferences and who they choose to love. There are many ways to disenfranchise people and marginalize people. So when we say colored people, we’re talking about groups that have been disenfranchised or have been marginalized based on their race, their religion, their sexual preference, their income level, their socioeconomic level. There are many ways to color people and discriminate against people.
Michelle Ubben: Well that’s a very interesting point and it certainly shows that the way that people are seen in our society and how they’re viewed as a group, especially people who have been marginalized, really affects their treatment and their ability or inability to access equal justice.
Ben Crump: Absolutely.
Michelle Ubben: So you just completed a national book tour with media interviews in cities across the country. What’s the audience’s reaction been to this book?
Ben Crump: It has evolved as I go to the book tours because many people have already read the book now, so they’re coming out and they’re asking questions about how to better identify the issues to make it more practical that America understands there is a problem, number one, and then number two, talking about the solutions. I’m so enthusiastic that the audience members come and they want to talk about solutions with me. They have accepted after they read the book and they see the statistics and the hard data and the actual lives that have been affected by this legalized genocide, and then they say, “Let’s talk about solutions, Attorney Crump. Let’s talk about how we are better as a society, how we are better as an America.”
Michelle Ubben: So Ben, how do you suggest that people who read this book have some constructive conversations with their friends and neighbors and people they don’t know to move things forward?
Ben Crump: It’s so deep. I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma just a couple days ago at one of the book signings, and it was a very diverse audience. I was pleased with that. This white man asked that very question. He’s a pilot, and he has a coworker who he flies airplanes with. He says he says some terrible things about people of color, and he said he wants to be able to show him that it really is a problem that really exists. “How do I do that when he’s so close-minded?”
Ben Crump: I said there’s two things. You can offer him the statistics and the hard data and explain to him what the solutions are. And if he still just refuses to acknowledge the empirical evidence, then you have to make it emotional and say at some point, you’re going to expire, and you purport to be a Christian. God is going to ask you why did you treat his children so badly, because we’re all God’s children.
Ben Crump: I had a case where the first elected black man to be mayor of Camilla, Georgia quite literally hired our firm because they have a segregated cemetery that was owned by the city in 2017. We not talking about in the 40s and 50s. This was 2017, and they had a little white fence separating the black people from the white people, and it was all rundown on the black side and well maintained on the white side.
Ben Crump: And I kept thinking to myself they’re worried whether they’re going to be buried with black people or not as if when they go to heaven there’s going to be a white heaven or a black heaven. I kept saying they’re going to find themselves in an integrated hell. Because at some point, if they’re not going to accept logic, you got to appeal to their emotion.
Michelle Ubben: Well, Dr. King said that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. But if we still have racially segregated cemeteries in 2017, it makes you wonder how much progress we’ve actually made. Do you have some words of encouragement to those who are discouraged about our progress toward racial justice?
Ben Crump: Like Johnny Cochran said, you know, it’s a journey to justice. Sometimes we take a couple steps forward, but like on any journey, you’ll have a setback or two. But when I think about, and just this past year alone, I think about Cory Jones’ conviction. An all-white jury convicted a police officer for killing a black man. I think about Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater, Florida standing ground. An all-white jury convicted a white man, rejected his standing ground argument for killing this black man. And I think about Amber Guyger, the case in Dallas, Texas, where we represented the family of Botham Jean with some other great Texas lawyers, and the fact that it represented for the first time in the history of America that a white policewoman was convicted of first degree murder for killing a black man.
Ben Crump: But even though we have that milestone victory and accomplishment, it’s still we have a way to go.
Michelle Ubben: And beyond the unequal treatment of black people in the criminal justice system, you point out in your book that genocide takes many forms including the likelihood that a poor black person is going to be more susceptible to being poisoned by unclean air and contaminated water. Flint, Michigan is a perfect example of that. Can you talk to me a little bit about environmental racism?
Ben Crump: It’s just heartbreaking on so many levels. This community is overwhelmingly African-American, and lead poisoning, Michelle, and this is why this book has to be a conversation piece… lead poisoning affects brain development. If this would have been in any other community besides a poor community that was mostly black and brown people, we would face a national catastrophe. We would literally probably go to war if this was other countries doing this to children, but because they’re poor black and brown people, we have legalized it. Nobody goes to jail.
Michelle Ubben: That’s a really tough message to hear. But we know that communication and raising your voice has a power to change people, both what they believe and what they feel in their hearts.
Ben Crump: Yeah.
Michelle Ubben: So, the statistics and the human stories that you share in your book give people the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes for a minute. And maybe, that kind of advocacy can prompt a change in a place like Flint.
Ben Crump: I certainly pray that it will.
Michelle Ubben: So final question. For a listener, what’s the call to action? What can an individual listening to this do to move us closer to a just society?
Ben Crump: I do believe we got to first talk to each other and not at each other. I think this book gives you the basis to have a very fundamental conversation that America is discriminating against people of color to disenfranchise them and keep them as a marginalized community. And the fact that we can use the law as a weapon for good and not just let the enemies of equality use the law to disenfranchise us and marginalize us and dehumanize us. This book gives you a lot of hard data, a lot of evidence, and a lot of real-life situations where you can see that we have a problem. Let’s admit it, and now, America, we can fix it.
Michelle Ubben: Ben, thank you so much for making time for this conversation today and for your amazing advocacy.
Ben Crump: Thank you. God bless you, Michelle Ubben. I love you and the Sachs Media family.
Today, Ubben talking racial issues with my guest Attorney Ben Crump. If you want to read more about our conversation, visit sachsmedia.com/podcast, and make sure to subscribe for more episodes on communication breakthroughs in unexpected places.