Skip to Content
A conversation with Eddie Glaude Jr., keynote speaker at MLK Commemorative Breakfast

A conversation with Eddie Glaude Jr., keynote speaker at MLK Commemorative Breakfast

January 13, 2022 at 12:34am

FIU’s Office of Social Justice and Inclusion is honoring the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a month-long celebration inspired by King’s lifelong dedication to equality, social justice and peace. 

The 2022 celebration will be centered on the theme of Disrupting Inequity. The university's signature event, the MLK Commemorative Breakfast — which supports the university’s MLK scholarship endowment and Youth Forum initiatives— will take place on Friday, Jan. 14, at 8 a.m. at the Graham Center Ballrooms and will feature Eddie Glaude Jr., as the Dotson Family MLK keynote speaker.

Glaude — who is the James S. McDonnell distinguished university professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton — combines a scholar’s knowledge of history, a political commentator’s take on the latest events, and an activist’s passion for social justice. He challenges all citizens to examine their collective American conscience, "not to posit the greatness of America, but to establish the ground upon which to imagine the country anew."

Members of the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion and FIU's Division of Diversity Equity & Inclusion posed the following questions to Glaude prior to his campus visit to learn more about his work.

Who is Eddie Glaude Jr.?

I am just a country boy from Moss Point, Mississippi, a small town on the Gulf Coast, who loves the life of the mind and who is trying to do some good in the short time he has.

The theme for the 31st Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Celebration is “Disrupting Inequity." How do you think we can actualize and establish a call to action around this theme?

The first step is to acknowledge the inequity itself. Americans tend to live in the fog of our myths and illusions. So, it is difficult to break through with the facts of our living. We have to tell a thicker story about how we have arrived at this moment. And that will require that we look the ugliness of who we are squarely in the face — that we admit that we remain a racist nation. That admission sets the stage for a different way of imagining the nation. So the first step is to tell the truth. The second step involves moving beyond patting ourselves on the back for acknowledging our failures and doing the hard work of addressing directly the inequity that defines our lives. Policy built our world. Policy must build a better one.

You have spoken of the necessity of the American people to confront the lies that we tell ourselves as well as the myths and illusions that secure our innocence as a nation. This suggests that truth is subjective and varies depending upon an individual’s perspective.  Does the refusal to acknowledge an objective truth suggest that white America, in particular, is willfully blind to what’s happening in our nation? If so, how do we get white America to accept the truth?

I am not convinced that the refusal to acknowledge the problems we face as a country is rooted in a denial of objective truth. I think many Americans believe that racial justice is a zero-sum game (to echo Heather McGee). As long as they believe that racial justice requires that they have to give up something materially then they are willing to fight for the status quo. Zero-sum racism presupposes a condition of scarcity. We have to dispel that lie (we are the richest nation in the history of the world) and get white America to see that there is a better way to live than one based on the assumption that white people ought to be valued more than others.

Although many will acknowledge the devaluation of Black life during the slavery and Jim Crow eras, many more remain reluctant to admit to a continued devaluation of Black life in the 21st century and how such devaluation manifests itself in biases that impact our lives socially, politically, and economically. You have an extraordinary platform that allows you to share your thoughts and ideas with millions of people, but the average American does not. How can we engage others to challenge the biases that limit the potential of people of color to succeed in this country? How do we change the narrative that was sparked by the embers of racism and disrupt the inequities that continue to strangle communities of color?

Here I turn to James Baldwin. We have to bear witness. Tell the truth about the suffering that defines so much of American life. Let that suffering speak no matter the costs. Covid-19, for example, revealed so much about the inequities in our society. It was like a blue dye shot in the social body and we were able to see where the disease was located. Racial inequality in health care services and in health care delivery left certain communities vulnerable. Think about who had to work through the worst days of the pandemic and who died disproportionately because the virus metastasized in the gaps of inequality that define our way of life. We change the narrative by offering different ways of seeing and being. So much of this is a matter of imagination. There are forces that want us to believe that the world-as-it-is is all that we have and all that can be. We are stuck, they argue. But the imagination allows us to see beyond the opacity of now. We have to do what the historian Robin D.G. Kelley calls “freedom dream.” Imagine a world that isn’t defined by greed, selfishness and hatred. Do what Baldwin asked us to do: to imagine ourselves without the need of an enemy.

The social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd last May helped to bring to the forefront the racial inequities that persist in America. While these inequities are complex, the significant educational inequities lead to many campus leaders responding to how their institutions would ensure transformational change happens. As the chair of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and a board of trustee member of Morehouse College, do you think that higher education institutions are making the necessary changes needed to address educational inequities?

Some are trying. But so much more work needs to be done. Higher education reflects the class stratification that defines our societies. Some institutions thrive while others struggle to keep their noses above water. We have to address that inequality directly! We have to make these places reflective of the world within which they exist. And I mean on every level: from the board down to the janitorial services. Diversity must be a constitutive value of higher education. Not a philanthropic gesture, where these institutions think they are doing certain communities a favor. So much more work needs to be done. This is not a time for self-congratulation—too much is at stake.