From left: VB President Stephanie Unwin, Yale historian Dr. Elizabeth Hinton, Yale sociologist and legal scholar Dr. Monica Bell and Yaseen Eldik, FIXER’s Executive Advisor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Black History Month
A Conversation with Dr. Monica Bell & Dr. Elizabeth Hinton
In honor of Black History Month and the commemoration of Black achievement, we were thrilled to host Yale sociologist and legal scholar Dr. Monica Bell and Yale historian Dr. Elizabeth Hinton at our New York offices today for a talk with Team VB. These two inspiring and influential experts add to our roster of incredible women who #MAKEITHAPPEN.
Elizabeth Hinton: I'm mixed race. My mom is white and Jewish and my dad is Black. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is a small college town, and I really struggled with being comfortable with my identity. I was constantly navigating two groups of friends—my white friends and my Black friends. It wasn't until I came to New York to study at New York University that I was able to begin to get comfortable with my identity within a group of friends that was truly diverse. I've always been really fascinated by the history of my ancestors and understanding their stories of overcoming adversity and trials—on both sides. That love and passion for my history, from my racial and ethnic backgrounds, got me focused on issues of injustice and justice.
Dr. Elizabeth Hinton, Professor of Law and Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Yale University
Monica Bell: I am from Anderson, South Carolina, which is a small town in what we call "Upstate" South Carolina. The most critical part for me coming to my now-stage was church. I grew up in a very high-controlled environment, where there were all these kinds of rules—you’re required to wear ankle dresses and celebrations or holidays aren't allowed. I kind of adopted this ability to be in a place and be a part of an institution, but also able to observe it at the same time. I think that is very much why I'm a sociologist today. I love observing and analyzing people, how they live life, and how they negotiate sometimes straining, difficult situations.
Dr. Monica Bell, Professor of Law and Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale University
MB: Allyship can't just be moments of “saving” and intervening. It has to be working alongside over a sustained period of time. This means asking, who are we in relationships with? Who do we view as experts on things? Who do we invite into our spaces and also, beyond that, what spaces are we willing to go into that we normally wouldn’t? It’s about totally repositioning yourself in the racial hierarchy.”
EH: Go out of your comfort zone and read and listen to podcasts and documentaries on issues that might be uncomfortable. Do the work within your communities, social circles, and based on your commitment to allyship. If we're really going to move the needle on justice, it's going to take an army of people, educating themselves and educating others, and working together to make that change happen.
On The Impact of Policing
EH: The question is why, especially in a nation as affluent as the U.S., that we have such persistent and such deep poverty and inequality. It comes down to a history of social policy administration. If you want a racially-inclusive society, we need to begin to invest in public schools, mobilize public and private sectors for job creation programs, or completely overhaul public housing. That's not what has happened. The long-term response to unemployment and failing public schools, dilapidated housing, has historically been more police and more surveillance, and more frustration—so that people who are low-income are more likely to come into contact with police, and more likely end up being sent to prison. The buzzword has been mass incarceration, but one way to think about it is that it’s really mass criminalization.
MB: There's been a long trajectory of changes in how policing operates that coincides with a certain sort of political moment. In the Eighties and Nineties, you had things like broken-windows policing, where you just saw more police on the streets. Broken-windows is the policing of really low-level offenses in a pretty aggressive way and, nonetheless, because of the breakdown of other resources, the police have to be a kind of go-to, even if you don't want that. So, for example, if you want to relocate to low-income housing, you might need to get a police report to show that you're in danger in your current housing in order to be able to move. There are all these different ways that policing is embedded in everything, because of the lack of alternate resources. Many of us take for granted what we’re able to access.
On Taking Action
EH: Pushing ourselves to encounter cultural moments or engage in history or social thought or conversations that are out of our comfort zones is so important. We can break down these divisions and come together and can realize that things like sexuality and race and class and gender—the extremes that divide us—aren't really extreme divides at the end of the day.
MB: I’ve found that, in my own experience, what really helped is letting people find the ways in which we can connect. Having that kind of foundation then makes it easier to talk about ways that I might feel marginalized. It’s easier to have those conversations once we’ve connected in other ways.