America needs “hard conversations” on race, said Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. at his May 16 appearance at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater. Minnesota Public Radio news host Kerri Miller told the mostly White audience at Glaude’s Fitzgerald Theater appearance that, following an MPR on-air conversation with Glaude last year, she wanted a live audience to “answer some of the same questions” she had asked the professor.
Last week, Glaude was the latest featured author in MPR’s “The Thread” series hosted by Miller, who also hosted the Talking Volumes “book club” series. He took questions from her and audience members, mostly on the topic of race.
“Identity and race and politics are often perilous things to talk about in a town hall setting,” said Miller afterward. “But Professor Glaude brought out the best in all of us with his humor, insight, candor and compassion.”
When it comes to talking about race, America “engages in an evasion.” Glaude believes America is still deeply and profoundly segregated. “We are not going to get past this with the Rodney King formula: Can we all just get along? We have a society that’s built on an idea that some people are valued more than others.”
He said the hard conversations on race that America needs “requires much more than the traditional ‘I’m sorry.’”
Prior to last week’s event, Glaude noted in an MSR phone interview that since he graduated from Morehouse College in 1989, and even as a student — he graduated from high school in Mississippi and began college at age 16 — he realized that his life mission was to speak on uncomfortable topics, such as race.
“I had an idea [while in college] that I wanted some way to impact the world. I felt called to say something and be something significant, and participate in some way [to help] bring about a more just world.”
After Morehouse, Glaude later earned a master’s degrees in African American studies and religion from Temple University and Princeton, respectively, and a doctorate in religion from Princeton. He began his teaching career at Bowdoin College, where he chaired the school’s religion department. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2002, where he chairs the school’s Center for African American Studies.
He is the author of several books, including Democracy in Black. Famed journalist Bill Moyers calls Glaude’s latest effort “rich in history and bold in opinion, and inconvenient truths leap from every page.”
“When you are talking risks, you have to be true to yourself and speak the truth,” explained Glaude. “To have Bill Moyers say what he said, and for me to sit down with him, and for him to have read [my book] so closely, it made my heart leap. I’m just a country boy from Mississippi.”
He is currently working on a book about James Baldwin, whom he has been thinking about for almost 20 years. Baldwin “is always present in everything I do.” The book focuses on periods between 1963 and 1972; it is a “thinking history through Baldwin’s eyes.”
Glaude also uses other Black philosophers, political scientists and literary greats in his writings and teachings, such as Lorraine Hansberry, Ralph Ellison, and W.E.B. Du Bois. “They are wings beneath my feet,” he said. “I am a student of Cornel West. I am indebted to my training with him.”
“I am doing what I was called to do,” reiterated the professor-author-political pundit. Glaude’s commentaries appear regularly in many mainstream publications, including the New York Times. “As an intellectual, you spend most of your time reading and writing. Sometimes you want to be still and be silent. [But] there’s always a challenge, and you want to stand on principle. It’s often difficult to do that in these news cycles.
“This thing we call racism we must grapple with. We have to change the narrative,” noted the professor.
“It’s so important we have these discussions,” said Amy Borgeson, a member of the Fitzgerald audience, during a post-event book signing. “I try to do more than I do, which is not enough. I’m as guilty as anybody” by mostly sticking with folk that look like her, she added.
Glaude is still committed to American pragmatism. “I am a scholar of John Dewey. I hold to the notion that everyday ordinary people have the capacity to not only act on this world, but be transformative agents in this world. That’s the way I approach it.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.