Transcript | Episode 28: Crushing Rural Stereotypes with Kendra Bozarth

Download the transcript (PDF) for Hidden Truths Episode 28: Crushing Rural Stereotypes with Kendra Bozarth. 

[ Music ]

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Welcome to Hidden Truths, the podcast where we examine the root causes of economic and racial inequality. I’m Jhumpa Bhattacharya, and I’m super excited to be joined by our guest, Kendra Bozarth. 

Kendra is the Director of Communications for the Roosevelt Institute, where she sets the organization’s editorial strategy and oversees the publication’s process for all of its work, ranging from white papers and blog posts to social media content and more. Prior to joining Roosevelt, Kendra worked on state-level budget and tax policy campaigns in Kansas as a member of the State Priorities Partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. She earned a bachelor’s in English from the University of Kansas in her own state. Kendra is also the Communications Manager for the podcast The Homecomers with Sarah Smarsh, which shares untold stories of rural and working-class America through the voices of its residents and advocates. Kendra, thanks so much for joining me today.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Hi! Thank you so much for having me, I’m so happy to be here.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: So I’m super excited to talk rural today. We don’t get a chance to do that, that much.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yes! Absolutely!

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: And I feel like there’s a lot of misconceptions about rural America that you are here to demystify.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah, let’s do it.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: I really want to hear your story. Where in Kansas did you grow up? Tell me a little bit about the town that helped produce the amazing force that is Kendra Bozarth.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’d say, technically I didn’t grow up in Kansas in the way that people use that term. You know, it’s my home, it’s where I evolved into who I am, it’s the place I’m heading to when I say I’m going home. But my mom was actuallywho was a single mothershe was actually in the United States Air Force for 30 years so we moved about every two to three years. 

And I moved to Kansas when I was freshly 18 to attend the University of Kansas, and I ended up staying for five more years. So it’s the longest place I’ve ever dug in roots and now for almost half my life, it’s what I call home. And it’s really defined who I am. 

I’d say my biggest connection to Kansas is that the state is really rooted in resiliency. I don’t think a lot of people connect resiliency with Kansas. The state motto is actually “ad astra per aspera,” which means, “through difficulty, through hardship, to the stars.” And Kansas was pro-abolition throughout the 1800s and Lawrence, where I’m from, was really the state’s antislavery stronghold during the Civil War. You should Google “bleeding Kansas.” 

So for many reasons, it’s just about strength and resiliency, and I think there’s a lot of Kansaswhich is labeled a conservative statethat really is about equality and fighting for people. And, you know, that’s who I am. I think Lawrence, Kansas, itself is a pretty progressive town. For me, it not only strengthened my own commitment to diversity and equality but actually living in Kansas, traveling through Kansas, really strengthened my understanding of both of those ideas. 

And so, ultimately Kansas is seen as kind of this “red state” that is super regressive and everyone there thinks the same and acts the same. But in actuality, in Lawrence and far beyond, throughout the entire state, it’s a really dynamic place with a lot of progressivism happening. And that’s where I kind of became the progressive warrior woman that I am today.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA:  I love it. So you brought this experience of living and being rooted in Kansas to the podcast that I mentioned, The Homecomers, right?

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yes.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA:  And I’m kind of obsessed with it because it really isit’s phenomenal. And I think that it really does push the boundaries in our thinking and kind of what we think about when we think about rural America. Because I think for most folks, you know, when they think about rural America, they have a very specific picture, right?

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Mm-hmm.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: So can you tell us a little bit about the podcast for our listeners that may be not already familiar with it? Tell us a little bit about what it’s about and kind of what the goal is with that podcast.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah, absolutely. So Sarah Smarsh, you know, long-time journalist, writer, she’s actually a second-generation Kansas farm girl. And as someone who is from rural, someone who loves podcasts, she set out starting in 2018 to kind ofshe really just wanted to fill this void of shows that are by and for rural. That’s just not really a thing that exists when it comes to podcasts. And she saw that gap and said, well, if someone else won’t do it, I guess I’ll do it myself. 

I think the bigyou know, you kind of talked about stereotypes and these ideas we have about rural, and a big is that you just can’t make it there. And so The Homecomers ultimately like really aims through six I think very deep, very intimate conversations. It really aims to like, disrupt the stories we all tell ourselves about rural and working-class America while also showing you, you know, that resiliency I mentioned and progress that’s happening in a really misunderstood place. And so, I think Sarah provides some understanding. 

And for me, the way I look at it like people think rural is so unfamiliar, it’s like this foreign thing. Like oh, flyover country. Oh, you know, there’s just, you know, one store and no stoplights, and that’s what rural is. But like, it’s not really unfamiliar because the stories coming out of rural are super, super universal. 

I mean, ultimately like the term “homecomers” comes from Wes Jackson. He coined the term; he’s the founder of the Land Institute in Kansas. And so it’s really about the story of the homecomers in general, but for Sarah, it’s really about people who either return to or refuse to leave a place that society tells them they should get out of. Instead, they said, “No, I’m fighting for this place and for people and for community and for the Earth.” And so I think you see that thread, that theme, throughout every single episode in such different ways but also in the same way, right?

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Definitely. And I think like what you’re describing is really about essentially changing the narrative, right

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Oh, yeah.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: on kind of how Americas understand rural America. 

Like what significance does our kind of concept of rural America have for economic policy that we have in states right now? Like you work at the Roosevelt Institute, I can see how this podcast like falls in line with a lot of the work that Roosevelt is trying to do in terms of changing the rules, right

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yes, yeah.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: around economics in particular. So yeah, like how is that how are the two kind of connected? I’d love for you to speak about that a little bit.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, if I could, my title at Roosevelt would be “Director of Narrative Change” because that is just like what I think is, like, so crucial. 

I mean, you all did, at the Insight Center, put out that great report on the power of narrative and like the whole thing had me screaming. But what has me screaming, right, is that we can’t reallywe have all these big ideas happening right now and really great debates moving throughout the country, but like policy change cannot be real and totally change the way we talk about policy and people, right? And so, you know, I say a lot my go-to mantra when it comes to public policy is, “race is not an issue, it’s every issue.” And rural is the same thing. 

And so, you know, narratives shape the way we all see the world and how we approach it. And as Sarah touches on, not only in The Homecomers but in a lot of her work, we’ve really reduced entire communities, entire regions to like these really kind of flawed, and honestly I feel, offensive like political headlines. And so in doing so, we’re like blanketing over the real experiences of real people, you know? 

Like when we paint Kansas, for me for example, when we paint Kansas with these broad strokes of red, we’re literally erasing tons of people and now we can’t provide them with real solutions. Because everyone’s facing today’s struggles in different ways, but we act and assume that they all want the same thing, in the same way. 

And so, you know, getting back to economic policies, like when policymakers write economic rules and policy and build systems for a place that they actually don’t understand, they’re quite literally jeopardizing people’s lives and their livelihoods and their well-being. 

An example I like to use a lot is healthcare when I talk about rural because rural America is truly such an expansive place. And so, you know, we have these Medicare for all debates, we have these universal healthcarewe have all these debates going on. And so when we talk about access to healthcare without actually considering the fact that some people in this country have to travel tens of miles to get to a hospital, then we’re not really talking about achieving equitable access, right? When we talk about reforms to tackle corporate power – which we do a lot at the Roosevelt Institute, which you all do a lot in your work at Insight – if we’re ignoring rural healthcare workers who are being decimated in the system, we’re not actually reining in corporate power’s might. 

You know, I actually pulled a quote for this interview. Sarah wrote in a New York Times op-ed recently that, “The future of rural is intertwined with suburban and urban outcomes by way of food production, natural resources, the economy, political movements, and beyond.” And so, like I mentioned earlier, everyone thinks the majority of peopleabout 80% of the country, 60% of the countrythinks that rural is so far removed from them. It’s just not something they understand or even want to care about, when rural is part of all of us, just as much as urban is.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: I love it, I mean, this ideathere’s a lot of talk about, kind of, how all our states are connected. And I think that people think about that in terms of race and class but not necessarily, like, rural and urban. So that’s a really beautiful quote. And just like, yes, we are connected, that we are kind of one society that is, you know, giving and taking from each other. And that how we do, we need to connect to the rural part of America, I think is a really important message, for sure.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Absolutely, yeah.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: The first episode of The Homecomers podcast is a conversation with political scientist Veronica Womack, right? And she talks about the Black Belt on which, you know, maybe unfamiliar to a lot of our listeners. Like what is a “Black Belt?” 

I would really love it if you can give our listeners a quick overview on, kind of, what a Black Belt is. And I think there must’ve been intentionality to have that as a first episode for a podcast about rural America. So I’m just kind of curious as to why y’all decided to start with Veronica and talking about the Black Belt.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think even myself, I was pretty unfamiliar with what the Black Belt meant. You know, I’d obviously heard of it, but like what does that mean? What does it include? And so, you know, The Homecomers taught me many things, including the Black Belt. 

So it’s actually a region of the rural South. It stretches from Texas to Virginia. It’s crescent-shaped, so it kind of does this, you know, like half-moon effect between those two. And its population is majority Black American and so it’s actually a place that’s kind of considered America’s third world. Like it’s just poor and completely disregarded. But you listen to this first episode of The Homecomers, what you really get a feel of is like the richness that the Black Belt has to it. 

From, you know, its name actually comes from the deep black soil that exists in the lands there, which is just rich and beautiful and just grows amazing crops and amazing agriculture. But also a lot of what Veronica Womack talks about is like the richness of the people and how they value the land and how they value each other. 

And so when Sarah and I were working on the episode list for The Homecomersyou know, because she started this project in 2018 she had everything recorded by, you know, May of this yearso we had all the content and just figuring out like how we wanted to tell this whole story about homecomers. If I’m remembering correctly, I don’t think there was like an explicit conversation about the Black Belt and Veronica Womack going, as a rural place, like going first? But I think there was like this implicit understanding between the two of us that a choice was this because, you know, Veronica Womack is a Black woman, who knows the real story about both Black America and rural America. 

And, you know I won’t speak for Sarah, but I personally believe that you know, Black people have been probably the most is disadvantaged by false narrative. They can really relate to what it means to have your story mistold. And so, you know, in this episode, in all of the episodes, and I’d even say in Sarah’s work more broadly, she really gets out of the way of the storyteller and lets the subject reveal their truth. And so I think starting with the Black Belt and starting with Veronica Womack was the best way to crush a whole handful of stereotypes like right out of the gate.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: I actually did not realize that the Black Belt name came from the soil. I totally thought it was because it was heavily populated by Black families, essentially right? So I learned something new.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah!

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Do you have a favorite episode of the podcast series? If not a favorite episode, maybe two or three key moments or some things that would stand out to you?

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah. I mean, beyond Sarah and probably our audio editor, Jesse Brenneman, I can’t imagine anyone’s listened to these episodes more than me, you know. As I was thinking through my communication strategy, I was playing them and pulling content. And when each one dropped each week, I re-listened to them again. I go back to, like, I just want one little moment, one little nugget; I go back through like a minute of, you know, Kathleen Sebelius talking about Kansas. So I really fell in love with them over and over again in different ways every time, and so it’s hard to pick a favorite. 

I’d probably say, just for many reasons of my identity and just who I am as a person, I probably most identify and just feel seen by Dr. Womack’s episode. I mean, the first time I listened to it, it’s just like, “Well, I guess I’m quitting my job and moving to, you know, Alabama and like getting a farm.” Like, I’m returning to my homeland and I’m like taking what’s mine. 

But then I think like moments-wise, I think like the episode four, which is with Brett Rameyhe is a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, he’s the director of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program up in WashingtonI think that episode really amplified my commitment to the fight for a climate solution. A Green New Deal is just, you know, one of the biggest, boldest ideas we have moving around. I’d like to say, you know, ignoring the ridiculous question of how do we pay for that, which a growing chorus of economists are showing that question carries no merit and we can, in fact, afford it, but also we don’t really have a choice. 

I’m not going to quote him but he says something about how we can’t think about the health of the economy without thinking about the health of a creature like a frog. And, you know, that for me just really, I don’t know, it made me feel like really rooted in the Earth, even though I was like sitting on my couch. But it’s such a beautiful way to think about how the choices we all make, the policy choices we make, affect everything. And so like to me that speaks to, you know, we can’t fight private poweror like rebalance it leastand fight for our future, if we ignore economic security and like worker well-being and only focus on the actual Earth and vice versa, right. And so that was beautiful. 

And then I think another episode that really, really speaks to me and just, you know, elevates the “let’s crush some stereotypes” mission is Elaine McMillion Sheldon, who was in episode two. She’s from Appalachia. She’s a documentarian who does a lot of work with addicts and recovering addicts. And she is all about, you know, just like Sarah, she’s a storyteller and she really gets out of the way and lets people tell their own stories. But, you know, she really elevates the stigma around addiction and she just like made this point that just like punches me in the gut every time I think about it. But like, you know, society looks at an addict and they think, you know, what a weak person and Elaine’s point is like, they should really look around and say, what a weak society we’ve built for this person, you know

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Yeah.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: —we’ve really failed them in so many ways. And they’re not a weak person, they’re just doing what they can in a society that doesn’t value them, that ignores them, and that honestly like stigmatizes them and leaves them in a lonely place. It’s like it’s about isolation, right? And so she really is listing these stories about, you know, how do we rebuild those connections so that people who are trying to recover feel like they have a society to connect to. 

They’re all fantastic. I mean, I think you’ve listened to the whole thing. I think there’s a part of every single episode that people can identify with or find some inspiration from.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: That’s really interesting like what you said following up from like the first comments that you were making about like being tied to the land and just being like, you know, just sitting on your couch, feeling really rooted to the Earth; talking about the frog. 

I think that that’s really interesting because I think that there’s an argument to be made that, you know, we lift up that kind of urban life and urban American as kind of the gold standard in a lot of ways I feel like. But we’ve become so disconnected from the Earth, right?

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Right.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA:  And in some ways, or I think in every way, rural America is still in so many ways connected, right? Because there are still so many farmersor like there’s more connection to the land, like living off the land, being at one with the land. We have a lot to learn from that space

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Right.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: —and maybe that’s the perspective we should be coming with more versus like this complete disconnection that we’ve created from the land, right?

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Right.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Like water is life; Earth is life. I think we’ve just completely divorced ourselves from that.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Absolutely.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA:  Which is why we are where we are today.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: Yeah. I mean, there’s a beautiful scene in again, to lift Brett Rameyand I’m probably a little biased because he went to Haskell University, which is also in Lawrence, Kansas—and so he talks a lot about the wetlands. And so, you know, I get to if someone’s like, “Where are you from?” And I’m like, “Lawrence, Kansas,” and they’re like, “Tell me about it.” And I’m like, “Well, listen to episode four of The Homecomers,” because he talks about it so much. 

But, you know, that was very treasured land for Indigenous people and a few years ago, there was a huge battle across the city about building this highway through the wetlands to connect one end of the town to the other. And so I lovedhe has this moment where he talks about how he was recently back out there and heultimately, I’d say corporate power won, convenience won, and the highway was built. But he goes out there and, you know, he says the wetlands are still here, you know. The frogs are still croaking, and the birds are still flying, and like you can still feel the spirit, especially for him of his own people. 

And, you know, I love New York so much, but when I think about, like, my homecoming story and returning back to Kansas, I think about, you know, getting in my Jeepand even though that highway’s there, getting to drive through the wetlands and like feeling that connection. And it’s just kind of like a unique juxtaposition again, of how we balance those things. And like what you just said, like the connection to the Earth. Like I’m driving in a car on this like man-made highway, but I still feel at one with everything that’s around me.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: That is really beautiful. I think we are going to close there with that amazing statement. 

Thank you so much again, Kendra, for sharing your story and your expertise with us today. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

 

KENDRA BOZARTH: I appreciate you for so many things, and thank you for having me.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: And thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Hidden Truths, the podcast of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. 

You can find The Homecomers with Sarah Smarsh podcast on iTunes or Spotify and learn more about the project by visiting thehomecomers.org

To learn more about Kendra and her work, visit rooseveltinstutite.org and follow Kendra on Twitter @kendrabozarth

For more information about the Insight Center, visit insightcced.org. And if you like what you heard today, leave a review for Hidden Truths on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or other platforms and help spread the word. Thanks, all.

Spell It with a Capital “B”

By Anne Price, President

“When a copyeditor deletes the capital “B,” they are in effect deleting the history and contributions of my people.” – Lori L. Thompson

Last week, in a step to modernize and commit to greater inclusion, The Brookings Institution, a well-established Washington D.C. think tank, announced that it would update its writing style guide to capitalize “Black” when referencing Black or African American people. For Brookings, this is not merely a typographical change but, rather, an intentional effort to recognize how people’s experiences are represented.

While there’s no standard rule on whether references to race should be lowercase or capitalized, most media outlets and publications that rely on the AP Stylebook refer to Black people in the lowercase. The APA style calls for capitalized Black and White, and The Chicago Manual of Style allows the authors to capitalize Black based on their preference. Major news outlets like The New York Times and the Associated Press both use lowercase black and white.

The question of how to properly refer to Black people in print has deep historical roots. In an 1878 editorial entitled “Spell it with a Capital,” Ferdinand Lee Barnett, husband of Ida B. Wells and founder of a Black weekly newspaper, asserted that the failure of white people to capitalize Negro was to show disrespect to, stigmatize, and “fasten a badge of inferiority” on Black people. In 1898, sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois proclaimed, “I believe that eight million Americans deserve a capital letter.”

This is precisely why capitalizing Black also matters…

Read Anne’s full piece here >>

Old Ways Wont Open New Doors sign

Episode 26: Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones

Listen to Angela Hanks, Janelle Jones, Anne Price, and Jhumpa Bhattacharya break down dominant economic myths and narratives while discussing pathways to a more equitable, inclusive economy.


“We’ve been living through this lie and seeing how it has not delivered for the majority of people in this country.”

Free markets. Meritocracy. Personal responsibility. These prevailing conservative economic narratives have influenced public policy and perceptions for decades, with profound outcomes for our economy—now marked by record income inequality—and society.

How can we push back against dominant economic narratives and practices that leave so many people out? And how can we chart a path toward a more inclusive economy that works for everyone?

Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones, both of the Groundwork Collaborative, joined Anne Price and Jhumpa Bhattacharya on the podcast to dig in on these questions and more.

Angela Hanks is the Deputy Executive Director of the Groundwork Collaborative and a regular contributor to Forbes.com. She previously held roles at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), and she served as a counsel on Congressman Elijah E. Cummings’ (D-MD) legislative staff.

Janelle Jones is the Managing Director for Policy and Research at the Groundwork Collaborative. Previously, Janelle was a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for Economic Policy Research, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Her research has been cited in The New Yorker, The Economist, Harper’s, The Washington Post, The Review of Black Political Economy, and other publications.

Angela and Janelle joined Anne and Jhumpa to discuss their efforts to advance a cross-cutting economic narrative for the progressive movement, centered around the idea that “We are the economy.”

Breaking down the faults and falsehoods of mainstream economic narratives, Angela and Janelle discuss the work and value of seeding a new economic vision that puts people over profits, centers women of color and other historically marginalized groups, and integrates more diverse voices as experts, agents, and stakeholders.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on Apple Podcasts

Read the transcript here or download as PDF


To learn more about the work of Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones, visit groundworkcollaborative.org.

Transcript | Episode 26: Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones

Download the transcript (PDF) for Hidden Truths: Episode 26 with Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones

[ Music ]

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Hi, and welcome to Hidden Truths, the podcast where we examine the root causes of economic and racial inequality. I’m Jhumpa Bhattacharya, and I’m thrilled to be joined by my cohost, Anne Price. Hi, Anne.

 

ANNE PRICE: Hey, how are you?

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: And our guests, Angela Hanks and Janelle Jones. Angela and Janelle are two of the visionary leaders at the Groundwork Collaborative. A think tank and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing a cost-cutting economic narrative for the progressive movement. 

Angela is the deputy executive director at Groundwork Collaborative. She previously held roles at the Center for Law and Social Policy, or CLASP, the Center for American Progress, CAP, and served as counsel on Congressman Elijah E. Cummings’ legislative staff. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic, among others, and she’s a regular contributor to Forbes.com. 

Janelle is the managing director for policy and research at Groundwork Collaborative. Previously, she was a research at Economic Policy Institute, or EPI, Center for Economic Policy Research, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Her work has focused on labor markets, racial inequality, unemployment, unions, and job quality. Her research has been cited in the New Yorker, The Economist, Harper’s, The Washington Post, and The Review of Black Political Economy, as well as other publications. 

Together, Angela and Janelle are a powerhouse bringing a wealth of policy knowledge and experience with a particular focus on narrative change and advocacy around race, wealth, and the economy. You can see how we’re really, really, excited to have these two fabulous women on our podcast today. Because there’s so much intersection, I think, between the work that we here at the Insight Center do and what Angela and Janelle are leading over on the East Coast. So thank you both so much for joining us today.

 

ANGELA HANKS: Thanks for having us. We’re really excited to be here.

 

JANELLE JONES: Yeah, this is great. Thank you guys.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: So I kind of wanted to start our discussion by talking about the Groundwork Collaborative’s vision, which is really centered around this foundational concept which I love, which is, “We are the economy.” 

Can you tell us what this means and why you thought this particular message, “We are the economy,” was important?

 

ANGELA HANKS: Yeah, so Groundwork’s mission, as you mentioned, is to advance a coherent, persuasive, progressive, economic worldview and narrative. And the reason why we exist, the reason why we came together, is sort of this idea that one, frankly, doesn’t exist right now. 

On the progressive side, we have a lot of values and things we care about, but we haven’t done a great job articulating how those things fit together and our vision for the economy. So as we’ve been working on this project – and sort of the consequence of doing that means that even in progressive spaces, we tend to, all of us, tend to sort of fall back on the dominant, conservative narrative which is both damaging, and frankly, just wrong. It’s incorrect. And so much of our work is dedicated to making sure that we are advancing a worldview that is both true, that’s inclusive, and that actually reflects the reality of people’s lives. 

So that’s how we get to this, “We are the economy,” idea. The economy often is characterized as the stock market, or GDP, or all these things that, frankly, are intangible for most people and actually tell us very little, in fact, almost nothing, about actual people’s lives. So, “We are the economy,” sort of re-centers people in the economy and reflects the fact that it’s us. It’s our interactions. It’s the demands we create. It’s the labor we provide that actually creates the economy. It’s not sort of these esoteric measures that actually have nothing to do with how people live day to day.

 

ANNE PRICE: This is Anne. I want to jump in on this a little bit, especially around narrative change, and we’re really talking about how people make sense of the world and how they think about issues like our economy. And one thing you said, Angela, in really looking at these kind of intangible measures, I really think about also the narrative around the economy as being this entity that kind of, just things just kind of happen, and that basically our economy is not built on man-made decisions. 

So can you talk a little bit more about how you see those narratives kind of taking place and what really is getting in the way of achieving what you think is racial and economic justice? What kind of narratives are really getting in the way of that?

 

JANELLE JONES: That is a fantastic question and really like the question that we want to answer with our entire organization. You know, people really think that the economy is something that is separate from, you know, what they do, the labor they provide. It’s separate from how their families are doing. It’s separate from how their communities are doing, and we know that that is not true. 

We know that there are a bunch of economic narratives that are really core to the way American capitalism works that are just not true. The one that, you know, people are just born with is that it’s a meritocracy, that really you work hard, you try hard, you major in STEM – somehow everyone’s a STEM major, I’m not sure. We’re just we’re all taking math and engineering classes, everyone majors in STEM, everyone goes to college, everyone majors in STEM, and that’s it and then we all win and we’re all at the top. And that’s, I mean, as an economist, as a mathematician, that’s not really how the numbers work. But it’s also just like not how the economy works at all. 

We know that there are systems and structures in place that make sure that absolutely guarantee, everyone does not go to college, everyone cannot major in STEM, and everyone cannot be at the top. So I think this idea that it really is just individual behaviors and practices that keep people from, kind of, achieving the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg life is something that’s really based into the way people think about the economy that is fundamentally wrong. 

I think another thing that we tend to downplay is really the importance of public power and public structures. So people, you know, we need roads to go to school, we need public teachers, we need – I was going to say we need police, but like I don’t know. We can circle back to actually whether or not we really need police. But we need some rules to keep us from anarchy. And those are things that people are paying for and investing in with public dollars that also lead to the way the economy is kind of structured. So I think people tend to kind of remove themselves and their sense of agency from what they can do in affecting their economic outcomes. And those are kind of some of the narratives and structures that we are trying to displace.

One way that Angela talks about doing that is really unlearning the conservative, dominant worldview which, you know, tells people all these things are true. And instead, focusing on people and putting the way people operate into the economy at the center of what it means for an economy to be working, for an economy to be successful.

 

ANNE PRICE: I want to just ask one point related to that and that really is around the fact that really what we’re dealing with, it’s a neoliberal narrative, one that actually puts markets first over people. That says that basically we, you know, markets work well on their own, that they reward you – and this is obviously a deep-seated narrative, one that people have poured billions of dollars into over decades, to reinforce policy change. 

How are you all looking at this dominant narrative, and do you think that given conversations around some of the economic failures of neoliberalism, that there’s a door opening to dig in on that narrative?

 

JANELLE JONES: Yeah, I think that there is. I mean I think one of the reasons, you know, now is really the time to talk about it is that we’ve been living through this lie and seeing how it has not delivered for the majority of people in this country. We have been saying that markets will make sure that everyone gets a fair shot, that everyone, you know, gets an opportunity to kind of live their best economic life and what we’ve seen is that when we do that, it actually doesn’t work well. 

We have inequality that is the highest it’s ever been since we’ve been tracking it. We have entire communities, and particularly people of color, who are not even, like, considered in terms of measuring economic success. So I think now is really the time to talk about why that narrative is not working. And because we have just like so, so, so much data, and research, and lived experience of folks on the ground who can say that, you know, when we leave things to markets, when we don’t regulate, when we don’t use public power, when we don’t invest in worker power, these things don’t work out and here’s how we’re seeing that it’s not working.

 

ANGELA HANKS: I totally am going to plus one everything Janelle said, obviously, and also add that we’ve seen the failures of neoliberalism play out, and the consequences for actual people. And to Janelle’s point, the data are really there that show that this is actually not the right path forward. 

I would just add that not only that but I think as we think about sort of what’s gone wrong, part of what our task is here is to think about what an alternative vision looks like. So, you know, the economy is not a bunch of rich people getting richer and hoarding their dollars in Swiss bank accounts and not investing in the economy, while the rest of us struggle to get by. 

A well-functioning economy is actually one that invests in people, that exercises public power, to Janelle’s point, that ensures that people are able to live a life where they are able to exercise power on the job, where they are able to invest in their communities and be invested in through the public sector. And all those things are conditions that we can create, both as folks who work on policy, but also as people who exist in this economy and in this country.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Hi. I love this discussion and I really think that we’re getting into something really meaty here, right? 

So we’re talking about neoliberalism and the narrative that it pushes particularly around kind of personal responsibility, right? And this idea that if you’re poor, it’s your fault that you’re poor, and it’s all about individual choices. And we don’t look at kind of the structure of the economy and see ourselves in the economy, right? These are kind of the big narrative themes that we’re talking about, but I want to hone in specifically. 

You know, we are four women of color on this call. Three of us – or three of you – are Black women and I think we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about gender and race specifically. I know you all have a lot to talk about how race, and gender, and specific narratives around race and gender impact our economy or the way we think about our economy or the way we think about race and gender specifically as it relates to communities and the economy.

 

ANGELA HANKS: I think going back to those narratives around personal responsibility, it’s really a powerful and very convenient narrative that it’s all individual. You know, your success or failure in the economy or in the labor market, is entirely on you. It sort of allows us to avoid real questions around race, and gender, and power that I think all of us on this call know are sort of at the heart of a well-functioning economy – effectively grappling with all of those things. 

But neoliberalism doesn’t deal with it at all, right? So you have this system where it’s like, “Oh well, it’s up to you. If you fail, let’s disregard decades or centuries of oppressive policies that have gotten us to this point, let’s just focus on where we are today.” The reality is that’s just not – it does not reflect what’s actually happening to people and it also leads to some really wrong conclusions about what we need to do to create an economy that works for everyone. 

Focusing on personal responsibility, again, it sort of allows us to think less about race, and gender, and power. But if we are thinking about those things and we’re centering, you know, for example, anti-blackness or misogyny, in the way that we’re thinking about the economy, then we come up with a different set of solutions that acknowledge both historical and current structural impediments to people engaging in the economy in all kinds of different ways. 

So going back to this, “We are the economy,” idea. When we say “we,” it’s a shorthand for emphasizing the fact that we have to center the most marginalized folks when we think about building an economy that actually works. Because if people of color are left out of the economy, if women are left out of the economy, then the economy actually isn’t really working. 

That’s really where we should start when we think about what makes the economy function – if the most marginalized among us are not doing well, then definitionally, the economy cannot be doing well.

 

JANELLE JONES: Yeah, I mean obviously all of that is absolutely correct, and I mean the Groundwork motto is, “We are the economy.” 

My own personal economic ideology is “Black women best.” It’s what I’ve been saying all across the country for months, at this point Angela’s heard me talk about it at length. And it really I mean  –

 

ANGELA HANKS: Yes, it’s a great theory.

 

JANELLE JONES: It’s a fundamental theory because even though it sounds exclusionary, it’s not. It’s like if the economy is working well for Black women, what does that mean for literally every other group of people in the economy? It means everyone else is doing absolutely fine. And it is a way to center the folks who have been completely left out, completely marginalized, in a way that, like when they are doing well, we know everyone else is doing well. So I think that it’s, you know, it’s actually a way to ensure that the rest of us are the economy, is to kind of center black women.

 

ANNE PRICE: I love how you’re talking about centering Black women. Here at Insight, we’ve also been talking about how we need to center Blackness and how that could tell us a lot about how we can lift up all Americans. 

And it seems that, you know, doing this work over many years, that kind of moving to this kind of thinking is very challenging. People are still really focused on class narratives and class issues of classicism. And while race has really become part of the discourse in the last couple of years, there’s still this not a sense that somehow centering Blackness, centering Black women, is foundational and could actually help all Americans. 

How are you all really thinking about how to push that conversation further than it’s been?

 

JANELLE JONES: Oh, yeah, I’m definitely not saying that it’s easy. I don’t think, you know, I don’t think it’s going up on billboards. I don’t think it’s going to be the leading motto for whoever is the presidential candidate, but I think it’s important. 

I think it’s a way to talk about all of the things that actually include a bunch of other communities and it’s, you’re right, it’s making that connection. People, you know, I come from the economic space where the conversation around class is like the way we get everyone’s buy in, tt’s what we lead with, it’s how we get a cross-racial coalition, and what we’ve seen is that doesn’t lead to a cross-racial coalition. The way to get to that is to, actually surprisingly, talk about race. 

So I think it’s really hard, it’s really challenging. I think the way we’re doing it is really trying to connect it through, “We are the economy.” It’s giving people the language, the idea, and also like, the research, and the data that shows that when we lift up the people who have been marginalized, it actually lifts up everyone else. When we do things that are targeted towards communities of color, it’s hard to do the economy well for people of color and white people not get any benefit, right? 

It’s hard to make sure that it’s just a small group of, you know, Black women in the Midwest who are thriving but everyone else is doing terribly. That is impossible to do in the way that our economy is set up and the way that U.S. capitalism works. So it’s really just trying to give people the language and thinking around that idea, but it’s definitely challenging.

 

ANGELA HANKS: And I would just add that so much of our sort of policies around class are incredibly racialized. So if you think about domestic workers, you know, the modern labor law was developed to explicitly exclude largely Black women workers. And the result is, you know, 80 years later, we have an economy that still largely excludes this group of people who are still largely women of color. 

And in fact, what you see in the labor market is work is actually trending more toward being worse for more people in the way that we’ve sort of set it out for this particular group of people, as well. So it’s not just if you improve the working standards of – I mean, certainly if you improve the working standards of women of color in those positions, you improve them for everyone. 

But it is also, you know, we ignore those conditions to the peril of everyone, as well.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: And this just leads me to another narrative I think that is really dominant when we’re thinking about our economy which is like the scarcity mentality, right? Like there’s only so much of the pie and so, therefore, we all have to scramble to get our piece of it. 

We’re taking plays into this idea like, if we start to talk about “I love Black women best,” I think that that’s awesome, I’m totally going to steal that. I’ll credit you but I’m going to use it.

 

JANELLE JONES: You don’t have to steal it, it’s everyone’s, please. I want it to catch on, truly.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Because we are the economy, yes, I love it. 

But this idea that, can we speak to that a little bit, about how like when we talk about something like “Black women best,” what happens to other folks? Because we’re living in this scarcity mentality, which is actually completely false.

 

ANGELA HANKS: Yeah, I mean a lot of our work is sort of dictated by an abundance frame. Again, this scarcity mindset is one, like an artifact of neoliberalism. But also one that is frankly totally pervasive in our economy and cuts along class lines, particularly across racial lines, and it’s not productive for anyone. 

If we start from the scarcity frame, we’re going to get policies that assume there is too little and most of us have to fight for scraps. And that’s not the reality, we have an incredible amount of untapped public power that we don’t use. 

We, at the federal level, don’t raise nearly enough revenue. We don’t – our anti-poverty programs, our programs around redistribution, are incredibly ungenerous and this is sort of all born out of this idea that there is very little to go around and so we’ll behave as if resources are scarce. 

I think what we are trying to advance is that a strong economy is one where there’s plenty to go around, and crucially to that, it actually does have to go around. It’s not just that we can create a bunch of millionaires and billionaires at the top and six people have enough wealth to make us one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It actually has to get around or else our economy fundamentally is not one that works.

 

JANELLE JONES: Even on the private sector side, what we’ve seen is like GDP is what, doubled, in a generation and what we know is that like the income for workers, for the typical worker, is actually, like, the same as it was 20 years ago. So it’s not even just on the public side, which is, you know, an entirely different conversation to have that’s crucial to this, but it’s also like we are actually growing the economy. 

The scarcity frame is complete and utter nonsense because the economy is always growing. Like GDP is always growing, we’re always innovating. Productivity is- it’s always moving up. What’s not moving up is security, and stability, and wages for the typical American worker. So it’s only scarcity when it comes to people who are not billionaires and millionaires. 

That’s the only time when like we’re running low, is when it’s for like the typical worker. But for everyone else, there seems to be just like, not just one yacht but like a super yacht, not just a neighborhood but like, an island. There’s plenty for people who have enough money. But it’s just when you’re poor that like, “No. I’m sorry. TANF can only be this amount of money. We’re out, we’re just out of benefits.” So it’s just- it’s nonsense all across the board.

 

ANGELA HANKS: I 100% agree and I would actually even say that when you think about scarcity, I think what we’re actually talking about is a power imbalance. It’s exactly what Janelle said, it’s that all of this is accruing somewhere. It’s just that regular folks aren’t able to access it because folks with a lot more power have been able to rig the rules so the benefits just go to them, even if it’s workers, families, and communities whose labor and demand are actually making the economy grow.

 

JANELLE JONES: Right. The thing that is scarce is the power to actually decide how policy is made, and that I’m willing to just like, take from the people who have it.

 

ANGELA HANKS: Yes.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: I love it. I’m like snapping all over the place but you can’t hear me because I’m putting myself on mute [laughs] while you’re talking. But this is amazing. 

I think that, you know, I feel this way, and I will just speak for myself. But often, for those of us that are doing this work around economic and racial justice, we’re often on the offensive, right? We’re constantly battling harmful policies and narratives that are either already present or continue coming down the pike, particularly with this administration. 

We rarely get the time to kind of, sit down, and reflect, and be proactive, and dream about what is that thing that we actually want to create, right? Rather than just reacting to stuff, like let’s actually sit, be proactive, and dream, and vision about what does this world look like, right? So I just want to do that in this podcast for a minute. 

Like let’s, kind of, close our eyes, take a minute, and dream right now. What is the economic structure that we want to create, right? What does that look like? What does that community feel like? What does it taste like, right? And what do we need to build to get us to that place?

 

ANGELA HANKS: I want to share something that I’ve been carrying around with me for a little while. So actually, we’ve been going around to different cities across the country over the last year asking a similar question to folks who are sort of front lines in the movement, so mostly people who are working locally, that are really sort of advancing racial justice and economic justice in different places across the country. 

And in one of the conversations where we had this discussion and we asked a similar question, a woman said something that I found so striking and I think it sort of speaks to the economy and the structure that I want to see, but is much better than whatever I would say, so I’ll just quote her. 

We asked what would the economy look like or what it would feel like, and the first thing she said is, “My body wouldn’t ache.” 

And I thought that was so powerful because that is the kind of economy that we should —

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Wow.

 

ANGELA HANKS: — be working toward. It is one where you are not, sort of, sacrificing your body in order to make an extra dollar or 50 cents an hour. That you have access to affordable health care and time off, time with your family, and that you’re able to work, see the fruits of your labor, and be able to enjoy that. 

And that to me is such a good way to think about what we want out of the economy, and I think there are certainly policies and structures that flow from that, but that’s been something that’s been sitting with me for a while.

 

JANELLE JONES: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think I was in the room when that woman said that and it was just silence afterwards. It was like, “Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what it looks like. That’s exactly what it feels like.” 

And I think, you know, the systems and structures, Angela, in the case would be changed is if we had different people in power. I think, you know, the economic field would look differently. We would be calling different people experts on the economy because we are the economy, and we’re all experiencing it, and we’re all contributing to it, and we’re all like reaping the benefits. You know, but the economy is entirely man-made. Right now, it’s like entirely mostly white man-made, so we would have some different people making those decisions. 

We would have people who kind of look like the folks on this call deciding how the folks who look like us are impacted by the policies and structures that are in place. So I think we would definitely see a little bit of that. We would also see kind of a redistribution of power. We talked a lot about it on this call and I mean, like, worker power, public power- all sorts of ways in which power is basically isolated and concentrated with wealthy corporations and individuals, all of that is just like, no more. It is the fundamental restructuring of who has control, who gets to decide, and who has a voice, and that’s what I would like to see.

 

ANNE PRICE:  Wow, that’s great. I love how you’re really bringing in ordinary Americans, their voices, into thinking about the economy. And really seeing this is not just an academic exercise, but one in which we’re going to have to build power to change the rules that are causing such great pain and inequality. 

I just want to kind of close my questions on one note, and just thinking and hearing you all speak and really thinking about the fact that we often don’t hear women’s voices in these spaces. We certainly are lacking women of color in these spaces. 

So I’d love to just hear on a personal note from both of you as we bring this podcast to a close, what do you think that you bring that is really adding to discussions around the economy that we’re missing? What do you think that women are adding in this space that is kind of moving this discussion forward?

 

ANGELA HANKS: I can speak totally personally. One of the things that drew me to Groundwork and to what we’re trying to build here, is that we’re doing it with women of color. We are a majority of women of color organization, majority women overall, and I think it really, frankly, changes the way that you approach this work and so I think that’s one thing that’s been incredibly beneficial. 

And I think to Janelle’s point earlier, kind of beyond our individual organization, I think something that I’ve found to be, it’s changing slowly but it is changing, is that increasingly, there are more of us in this space. It needs to change a lot more quickly but, you know, it’s hard to talk about justice, and power, and sort of upending systems that were not designed to include us, when we’re not in the room. And so I think one thing that’s really been heartening, especially as we’ve gone out to other organizations across the country, is that you are seeing women of color really at the forefront of change and really at the forefront of economic and racial justice. Whether that’s activists, economic policy experts, academics- I think that there’s a lot of exciting work going on and I’m glad to be a small part of it and to witness the incredible work that folks across the country are doing. You both included, Jhumpa and Anne, of course.

 

JANELLE JONES: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think we are, you know, this organization is something that I have not seen replicated in many other places, so I’m excited to see that. And I think, you know, the question about, kind of, making space is really important to me. 

So I think, you know, Angela and I are leading this organization and we’re really trying to make sure that something that we do is bring more people who look like us into this space. And not just as, you know, I mean everyone should be doing what they can across the movement, but we’re also bringing people into this space as experts, right? So you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard to understand that like your community has not recovered from the last recession so you’re not prepared for the next recession. That is something that people know. That is something that people know to be true and those people should be on panels with Larry Summers, and Jared Bernstein, and Jason Furman because they have just as much to say. 

So I think for me, making room in the movement for other women of color is something I care a lot about doing. And I think, you know, I’m thinking a little bit of Nina Banks, a Black woman economist who has spent a lot of time talking and thinking about the way Black women have, kind of, always done the work. You know, in the history of this country, we’ve always really done this work in our families, in our churches, in our communities and I think now is the time for us to really take the platform that’s been given and do it across the country. 

And so, you know, nothing makes me more excited than seeing a movement that is led by women of color. And it’s how we get to fight for 15, right? It’s how we get to a national minimum wage of $15. So really since we’re women of color, because we just we have the tools, we know how to do it, we’ve been doing it for generations- really just kind of giving women of color a bigger platform to do the work on a national scale is something I’m super excited about, and I think is important right now.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: I love it. Let’s plot to take over the world. I think that would be so much of a better world to live in, I really do.

 

ANGELA HANKS: Yes, let’s do it.

 

JANELLE JONES: I mean, that’s something I’m really telling my boss every day and he’s like, “Breathe. Let’s breathe.” So we’re trying, we’re taking baby steps but we’re getting there. We’re getting there, tt’s true. We’re well on our way.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: Thank you so much, Angela and Janelle, both of you, for sharing your time and expertise with us on our podcast today. It has been a pleasure listening to you. Seriously, I was just like sitting here in awe just listening to you speak and in complete agreement with everything that you said. 

And am excited to be a part of the economy with you all and really continue the momentum that’s been growing. I really feel like in the last year or so, I just feel like we’re – people are hungry for a change, you know, and hungry to see something different. Because everyone feels just how terrible our policies are right now and this continued, you know, priority of profits over people is hitting people and in a very distinct way. And I think people know, like deep inside that there has to be something different.

 

JANELLE JONES: We’re happy to do it with you all, for sure.

 

JHUMPA BHATTACHARYA: This is awesome. Thank you, again.

And thank you all for tuning into this episode of Hidden Truths, the podcast of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. You can learn more about Angela and Janelle’s work at the Groundwork Collaborative by visiting GroundworkCollaborative.org. For more information about the Insight Center, visit InsightCCED.org. Thanks, everyone.

 

[ Music ]

 

Actualizing the Potential of the 1619 Project

By Anne Price, President, and Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of Programs and Strategy

On August 18, 2019, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project. Curated by writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project is a collection of essays and artwork from renowned researchers, activists, and artists brilliantly documenting the ways in which the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-Blackness continue to undergird our economic and social systems and policies, and deeply impact our American culture and narrative.

Among social justice advocates, 1619 quickly became the talk of the town. Our Twitter feeds were filled with high praise and love for it.

Yes, finally, we thought. This is exactly what we need to be able to diminish the false race vs. class dichotomy. Now more than ever, our colleagues won’t shy away from talking about the impact of structural racism in economic issues. Race will become a part of our collective vernacular, and we will finally stop hesitating to talk about how anti-Blackness — the devaluing and de-humanizing of people who are Black — is deeply rooted in our economy, the criminal justice system, and public benefit programs.

Perhaps that was wishful thinking.

We are headquartered in the Bay Area, which prides itself on being a progressive bastion of justice and equity. In some ways we are, but when it comes to talking about race, we’re no gold standard. There is still a great deal of reluctance, even among the progressive minded, to talk about race specifically, to consider the Black experience as unique and foundational to shaping our nation’s economic and social policies, and to embark on a serious and sustained effort to center Blackness as a necessary condition of economic liberation for all Americans.

We continue to encounter a class focus in our work on fines and fees, government-sponsored child support debt, and the future of workers — all of which disproportionately impact Black people. Many well-intentioned advocates working in these and other spaces are still not speaking to race for fear of backlash.

The 1619 Project shows us that we can no longer shy away from talking about race when talking about justice of any kind…

Read the full letter here >>>

Episode 25: Darris Young

Listen to Aisa Villarosa and Darris Young discuss the roots of mass incarceration, pathways for systems change, and Darris’s life and work in becoming a strong advocate for Black and Brown boys, men, and communities.


“When you believe in the humanity of all people, and you come together on that accord, then you’re able to get [the work] done.”

Darris Young is the lead Program Associate for the Boys and Men of Color Alliance at the Urban Strategies Council. Born in Oakland, Darris is a national organizer and former counselor who has decades of experience working and partnering with Black and Latinx youth and young adults.

Darris joined Insight’s Aisa Villarosa on the podcast to discuss his advocacy work through the Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council, where he collaborates through a number of coalitions to advance education reform, workforce development, violence prevention, and other community-based priorities.

Recounting his journey to advocacy work, Darris discussed his background growing up in the East Bay amid the Black Panther movement, his experience as a police officer, and his transition from justice system involvement to counseling and community organizing.

Tracing this path, Darris and Aisa examine the origins and impact of mass incarceration and other forms of systemic racism and oppression, and they dig in on the spirit of resistance, collaboration, and shared humanity that informs Darris’s tireless work for systems change.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on Apple Podcasts

Read the transcript here or download as PDF


To learn more about Darris’s work, visit the Urban Strategies Council at urbanstrategies.org

RESOURCES:

Amended Senate Bill No. 310 

Our Voice Matters: Support ACA 6: Restore Voting Rights to Californians on Parole.” 

Convicted Felons Closer to Serving on California Juries.” 

Preserving Black-Owned Land Is One of Our Greatest Triumphs Against Racial Wealth Inequity

Click here to read Anne’s full piece on Medium.

When “Going Back” Means Staying Put

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya | Ms. Magazine

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the word American. I hit all the marks by definition—I was born in the United States, in the Heartland, no less; have lived here my entire life; and my career has centered on making America a country that lives up to its values of freedom, justice and dignity for all. I balk at the idea that there is just one type of American.

Yet, like many children of immigrants, there is a seed planted deep within me that sprouts hesitation when it comes to fully claiming to be an American. Watching the President tell “the squad” to “go back to their countries” reminded me why.

My Brown skin can always be seen by others as inherently un-American. That reality haunts me.

Read the full article here >> 

Episode 24: Thomas W. Mitchell

Listen to Professor Thomas W. Mitchell and Anne Price discuss the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) and how it helps struggling families hold on to and build wealth through land ownership.

Click here to view and download the full transcription of this episode.


Professor Thomas W. Mitchell is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. He is a ground-breaking legal scholar who has worked for more than 20 years to help some of the most economically insecure groups secure stronger property rights. 

Thomas joined Anne Price to discuss how struggling families can hold on to and build wealth through land ownership. Describing how wills and estate planning are vital mechanisms for families to pass down wealth to future generations, he highlighted that, while 57% of white people without a high school diploma have a will, just 32% of Blacks with the highest level of education have one.

Whenever a landowner dies without a will, the heirs — usually a spouse and children — inherit the estate. They own the land in common, with no one person owning a specific part of it. Thomas explained how this can become problematic as anyone can buy an interest in one of these family estates; all it takes is a single heir willing to sell. And anyone who owns a share, no matter how small, can go to a judge and request that the entire property be sold at auction.

As the principal drafter of The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), an act to help protect families from real estate speculators who may seek to acquire a small share of heirs’ property in order to file a partition action and force a sale, Thomas and other supporters have helped 14 states* and the U.S. Virgin Islands enact this act into law. The UPHPA represents the most significant reform to partition law since certain reforms were made to partition laws in the 1800s.

Thomas shared the major successes and challenges he has faced in his efforts to achieve enactment of the UPHPA in many states and other jurisdictions in every region of this country, as well as how the UPHPA would impact the economic security and well-being of both rural and urban communities across the country.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on iTunes.


To learn more about Thomas’ work, visit the Texas A&M University School of Law website at law.tamu.edu.

*As of July 8, 2019, 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the UPHPA. The governor of Illinois, Missouri, and New York still need to sign the bills the legislatures passed or for the bills to automatically become law if the governors neither sign the bills nor veto them.


RESOURCES:

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) 

Uniform Law Commission’s most current enactment information 

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act Bill with some of the additional protections the New York City Bar Association and Thomas W. Mitchell worked to add. 

Thomas W. Mitchell, From Reconstruction to Deconstruction: Undermining Black Landownership, Political Independence and Community Through Partition Sales of Tenancies in Commonhttps://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1544380 (this is considered the seminal article on the issue)

Thomas W. Mitchell, Historic Partition Law Reform: A Game Changer for Heirs’ Property Owners, United States Department of Agriculture, E-Gen Tech. Rep., forthcoming, available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=3403088

Thomas W. Mitchell, Reforming Property Law to Address Devastating Land Loss, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2516275 (provides a detailed section by section analysis of the UPHPA)

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act on the Uniform Law Commission’s website: https://www.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home?CommunityKey=50724584-e808-4255-bc5d-8ea4e588371d There are very helpful documents on this link under the “Documents” link including a “Legislative Tool Kit.”

The 2001 Associated Press article (part of an award winning three-part series called Torn From the Land) that served as the catalyst for the efforts to develop a model state statute is available at: https://theauthenticvoice.org/mainstories/tornfromtheland/torn_part5/

The Pew Charitable Trusts just published an article about the UPHPA: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/06/18/new-laws-help-rural-black-families-fight-for-their-land

Spectrum News NY1 television station initially broadcast a segment on partition action abuses in New York City in mid-March 2019 and then broadcast another segment when the New York legislature passed our bills last Friday. The broadcast on Friday, June 21 can be found at: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/06/22/partition-actions-limitation-bill-passes-new-york-state-legislature-after-ny1-investigation (it contains a hyperlink to the initial, mid-March broadcast)

The New Yorker, “Kicked Off the Land” by Lizzie Presser

Moving from Debate to Action

With the first Democratic primary debates taking place last week, we are seeing a more representative field of candidates take on the bigger and bolder policy ideas that have increasingly shaped today’s progressive policy visions.

While further clarity and commitment in articulating them is needed, we are seeing the issues of entrenched racism and sexism increasingly highlighted as the core drivers they are in fostering and sustaining deep and yawning economic inequities in the U.S.

From identifying maternal mortality and gender pay equity as racial justice issues, to putting reparations at the front and center of our national conversation, elected representatives and candidates are connecting the dots among race, gender, and wealth on a national stage.

At the Insight Center, we are committed to continuing to inform and drive this conversation through our work to spark, amplify, and seed progressive thought leadership.

This month, we are pleased to highlight our latest contribution to the national dialogue around bold, progressive policy proposals that are uniquely positioned to target wealth inequities at their roots in institutionalized racism and sexism.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.