“Brown v. Board of Education” Series: Jeremy Payne

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Jeremey Payne currently serves as an advisor in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. He is a two-time alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with an undergraduate degree in the area of health and wellness and a master’s in education. His special interest areas and future research/teaching aspirations focus on the impact of deep level similarities and intercultural competence on the mentoring relationship, social identities and communities and social justice education.

Payne grew up 15 miles south of Chicago Loop in the Southwest border community of Blue Island, Illinois. His family lived in poverty, often lacking the means to meet very basic needs. He didn’t actually know how bad it was to grow up in poverty because his mother and step-father showered their home with love as they best understood it and utilized creative methods to help supplement the basic resources the family lacked. When he was younger, Payne only noticed the inequities and disparities which his family navigated. He was able to begin building language around these experiences during his first year of college at Southern Illinois Carbondale. Najjar Abdul-Musawwir taught African American history and art in a way he had never experienced it before.

Payne received what he defines as his “first crash course on how the remnants of segregation and racism manifested in multifaceted and sometimes complex ways” in high school. Because his grandmother was a retired teacher and his parents imparted to him the importance of education, he only missed 1-2 days due to suspension throughout his K-12 education. Not only did he have an unmatched love for learning, but going to school for meals was essential to help manage his family’s household budget.

Payne shared that he was suspended once for refusing to do pushups in an unpleasant environment and swearing in exchange with a faculty member. He expressed that, when we generally think about segregation, we have to remember how separate policies, laws and regulations were and still are applied differently to different people. Over time, segregation has evolved into something more sophisticated and somewhat more sinister. It’s not always easy to recognize and call it out.

Payne was suspended due to some of these ever-evolving forms of segregation. The lingering effects of the “super-predator” label of the 90’s was at play; the idea that black and brown juveniles of the 2000’s would create unimaginable violence. The “zero-tolerance” strategy was also at play. This method of discipline requires immediate and harsh penalties for first time offenses. These harsh strategies were transformed from laws and prisons, adapted to schools and implemented as immediate expulsion, regardless of the situation.

This early formative experience inspired Payne to work with young people in numerous capacities. He aspires to challenge views and attitudes that are bias, serve as a role model and limit restrictive forces on talents, gifts and possibilities that are not only projected from others, but also internalized from within.

 

  • In recent news there has been a lot of protest regarding current racial issues; do you think that college campuses still see segregation?

I would like to preface that I am not an expert in history and/or declare to be the gatekeeper in all things diversity and inclusion. I strongly believe the moment I declare this label limits my possibilities for learning and elevates me to a status of elitism, intellectualism and perfectionism that I’m simply not interested in maintaining. I will leverage my lived and learned experiences and knowledge gained within my village (formal, non-formal and informal educational experiences).

Yes. Period. In my humble opinion, a post racial/segregation society is not achieved by simply removing oppressive barriers, but by creating an environment that can unequivocally say that all people are living a dignified life and experience some sense of euphoria (whatever that looks like for folks). One should be pressed today to confidently say that this is the case for all people, regardless of our socialized identities and hostile political climate. Addressing the question becomes even more complicated when you consider our complex and multifaceted identities. If you turn on the news lately, you see issues playing out in numerous ways. Identities are intersectional, and racial issues have revealed themselves in the name of sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability/disability/temporary abilities religious beliefs or disbeliefs and immigration status or location.

Dick Gregory said it best: “Ignorance is not bliss, it is time consuming and costly as hell.” I’ll give you a specific example. Martin Luther King made the case for living the dream by addressing war, economic, poverty and other social atrocities of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we have made significant gains as a society. However, racial segregation STILL persists in the state of Wisconsin. Four months ago, WalletHub ranked Wisconsin as the most segregated state in America. The study looked at racial comparisons in the areas of wealth, employment, education, social engagement and health. These areas of gaps have implications for students’ experiences, for better or worse. This proclamation should not be viewed as solely deficiency gaps, but should be seen as an opportunity to address resource gaps.

 

  • Can you comment on segregation in a modern setting?

At the individual level, modern segregation and dehumanization may surge when people hold negative attitudes that are guided by confirmation bias, stereotypes, exaggeration and speculations. Even the most well-intentioned person possesses blinders that prevent them from meaningfully supporting marginalized people. To help someone who has been marginalized, I think one has to continue to challenge deeply held biases. Dr. Ivory Toldson said it best: “Trying to help someone who has been marginalized when you have biases is like trying to walk in fog with blurry vision.” To lead someone who has also been blinded by marginalization requires clear revelation, constant education and platinum empathy. That’s why one should raise some serious concerns when things seem to change, but still remain the same. Examples include the way that we treat our neighbors south of the border; children being locked up in cages and dying in U.S. border custody, recent incitement of violence against black Muslims, violence enacted against religious spaces, etc. Sound familiar?

Analysis of modern segregation requires the analysis of the lingering effects of historical segregation. I have to remind readers that there were periods when African Americans collectively flourished, were self-reliant and operated successful black communities before being violently destroyed both physically and systemically by white supremacists. Before the European Slave Trade, Africans of the Diaspora lived in societies where they flourished as educators, doctors, engineers, mathematicians and governed complex political systems. Domestically, African Americans have also flourished. Examples include East St. Louis before 1917, Chicago before 1919 and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, just to name a few. This was approximately 33 years before Brown vs. Board of Educationruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Between the period of 1890-1960 realtors, politicians, bankers and white community members went to great lengths to maintain culturally homogenous communities. Some examples include banks redlining to prevent black owners from accessing home loans, GI and FHA home loans unfairly distributed after World War II, homesteading; poor distribution of land before and after the Civil War, sundown towns in Wisconsin before and well after the Civil War where white community members enforced laws, intimidation and enacted violence as comparable, if not harsher than Jim Crow southern states. These few examples can be tied to contemporary “isms” we see in institutions in terms of equity gaps. When we review these gaps in equity compared by different social identifiers, we have to know that these achievement/access gaps are not natural happenings. It’s not by chance that white folk live in highly concentrated communities that are culturally homogenous. It’s not by chance that schools in urban, rural and suburban areas are still fairly culturally homogenous. These are direct results of the aforementioned efforts of segregation. The segregation methods mentioned above continue to reinforce racial polarization. The distance between affirming humanity and supporting efforts to address these social issues are widening without proper education and action to address these happenings.

 

  • Can you define de facto segregation? Do college campuses see de facto segregation?

I had to check in with a few colleagues to make sure I understood de facto segregation. I’ve never had this language for it, but it is my understanding that it is separation even when laws do not mandate it. I’ve listed some examples above that would be labeled as de jure segregation, but I also see a lot of crossover of the two due to lingering effects over time and new manifestations of segregation.

I absolutely believe college campuses see de facto segregation. While black and brown students clearly do not make up the majority of Midwestern colleges and universities, they still bear the burden of the misguided imaginations. Some believe black and brown students are the reason their children are not admitted to colleges, claiming that black and brown students are only admitted due to affirmative action, special admission processes, admittance solely for athletics and free college attendance. These people are often surprised by black and brown brilliance that is constantly on display. Students bare these resentment in subtle and overt ways. Resentment may look like struggling to find a partner during group projects, not being directed to high impact experiences based on discretionary decisions that are misguided and/or being outright  disrespected. I would go as far to extend this to black and brown faculty, staff and community members. The surprise and fairly mild response over the recent admission bribery scandal only highlights the hypocrisy/double-standard applied to different social groups. An additional example may be the lack of inclusion, awareness and acceptance of undocumented students, as well as accessible college information and financial support to make up for students who aren’t eligible for FAFSA, Pell Grants, and/or other federal work-study.

  • As a community, what can colleges do to improve campus climate?

I think the Campus Climate Department and campus partners have been great in helping to craft a fairly thorough strategic plan for 2018-2024. This department has also been integral in providing educational, cultural services and trainings around numerous diversity topics and leverage various campus entities to be doing the same. I think we have to continue to leverage the voices of many and continue to be proactive in our approach for maintaining a welcoming and affirming campus.

My general feedback would include:

  • We have to fight the urge of saying and embodying the mindset of “I’m not surprised when XYZ happened”. We have to continue to be surprised and act compassionately when we see bias, hate, “isms”, etc. play out. We must fight the urge to become desensitized to varied issues because the stakes are too high.
  • Preaching to the choir is not always preaching to the choir. We have to continue to educate ourselves and hold even the most well-meaning folks accountable for addressing complex issues.
  • I’ll modify this one to fit my point. I forget who said it first, but we are all in some shape or form responsible for the dismantling and/or supporting the thrive of segregation. If not us directly, we all know the bad seeds that are slightly racist, or say mean things from time to time, or enact exclusionary practices. We let this person be because, that’s just John Doe being John Doe. We all have the responsibility to challenge these folks as well.
  • We have to acknowledge the work of social justice is daunting, but absolutely necessary for all people to live full, equal, and dignified lives. DeRay Mckesson said it best: “We are fighting for a society that no one has personally seen.”

 

 

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