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It's been nearly 4 years since protests began after the killing of George Floyd

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Four years ago this weekend, Minneapolis police approached a man named George Floyd. Over the following minutes, as captured on video, an officer put a knee on Floyd's neck and killed him. The moment horrified Americans and led to widespread protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.

INSKEEP: In the years since 2020, NPR has covered bids to change policing and almost every other part of society. We've also covered the nationwide pushback. Supporters of police said they were too restricted. Critics at schools demanded less discussion of race in classrooms. Critics of diversity, equity and inclusion policies have ended them in places. University of North Carolina ended its DEI policy just yesterday. And this debate is far from over. The many points of view about this include that of Eddie S. Glaude Jr., who's a Princeton University professor and author of a new book calling for more Democratic engagement. Glaude sees a society that has not changed much.

EDDIE GLAUDE JR: When we think about George Floyd and we think about all of that energy in the midst of a million-plus people dying of COVID and all of us in our homes watching that police officer with his knee on his neck and watching him die and we saw all of these folk rushed into the streets, risking death with COVID to protest it, and then here we are, four years later, the police are still doing what they do - to me, it reveals - right? - even as we witnessed the murder, even as we were outraged, we stayed at the surface of things. We didn't dive deep enough and really interrogate the harder question about who we are as Americans.

INSKEEP: One thing has certainly happened, and that's that people have talked about race a lot over the last four years, to the point where a lot of the dialogue is that there's far, far, far too much discussion of race. Has anything valuable come out of that discussion?

GLAUDE: You know, it's hard to make that judgment, but I think the way in which we were talking about race, I felt, was a bit too simplistic. We danced on the surface of, you know, explicitly declaring our anti-racist values and commitments as opposed to actually looking at structures, looking at, you know, our own personal lives in a very intimate and deep way. I always like to say this, Steve, that we have to deal with the intimacy of our hatreds. And so, as we always tend to do in the country looking at our history, people tired of it all, a kind of moral fatigue.

INSKEEP: You've used the term anti-racist, which is one that was popularized by the author Ibram X. Kendi. And it's easy to oversimplify his thinking, but one of his ideas is a solution to racist discrimination as anti-racist discrimination, in his view, that you should discriminate in favor of people who had been discriminated against. Of course, there's a counterview to that, that that's still just discrimination, that's perpetuating racism. How do you think about that debate?

GLAUDE: The idea of equating remedies of historic discrimination by way of discrimination is, I think, a gross misuse of the word discrimination in this instance. I think it is important for us to understand that inequality is not an accident in the United States. If you think about a dual labor market, a dual housing market, the history of residential segregation, in other words, the history of segregation in schools, we know that racial inequality is a result of deliberate policy decisions. And so, if we're going to remedy racial inequality in the United States, we have to be just as deliberate in dismantling it as we were in creating it.

INSKEEP: Well, as you know, the Supreme Court recently weighed in on the admission policies of elite universities like yours and essentially said you universities are trying all of these different creative ways to have what you see as the properly diverse student body, and really what you're doing is discriminating against people, and you've got to find a new way. How is that changing Princeton?

GLAUDE: Well, you know, first of all, I think the decision was made in bad faith because they said nothing about legacy students. They didn't say anything about the way in which Princeton uses geography to make a decision.

INSKEEP: We should define - the children of alumni sometimes get an advantage getting into school, and schools like Princeton do reach out to different states as well to get geographic diversity. OK.

GLAUDE: Yes. Or they didn't talk about sports. They talk about football, and they talk about basketball. But what about soccer? What about lacrosse? What about water polo, right? Those students are singled out. And so the idea that this student didn't get in because somehow the standards were lowered in order to bring Black and brown students in - I think it's just bad faith. And let's be clear, Black folk just got access to these schools, and now they want to shut it down. My daddy couldn't go to Princeton.

INSKEEP: What's your story of getting to Princeton?

GLAUDE: Oh, you know, I'm a country boy from Moss Point, Miss., Steve. And Moss Point schools on the coast of Mississippi - that school district was one of the worst school districts in the state, a state which was already last in education. I went to Morehouse, and it transformed my life. And then I went to grad school, and I was at a conference, and I saw Cornel West. And he heard me give a paper as a graduate student. And he said, I want you to come study with me. And my life was changed. It was transformed. I've taught at Bowdoin College, I've taught in Amherst College, and I came back to Princeton as a tenured professor. But I'm a DEI baby, according to some, that I did not earn any of it. And I think that description is not only insulting to me, but more importantly, it's a reflection of the character of those who hurl the slur.

INSKEEP: There's another thing that might be said about someone like you, and I want to put it on the table so you can answer that.

GLAUDE: Sure.

INSKEEP: There is somebody somewhere in a television studio, who would talk, at least in the abstract, about someone like you. You're at an elite university, and therefore you are a member of the elites and against ordinary people. What do you think about when you hear that?

GLAUDE: Oh, I think that's - oftentimes, it's a kind of gaslighting to blind people to what's really going on. Although I know the benefits and experience the benefits of being at an elite institution with billion-dollar-plus endowment, I don't deny my own privilege in this regard. So I think part of what some people are arguing is that elites view ordinary people as fodder, as disposable, that they see them only as persons in the service of their own ambitions, their own aims and ends. They don't trust them to be self-governing because everyday ordinary people don't have the capacity to self-govern. Now, I'm not one of those elites. I fundamentally believe that everyday ordinary people must take responsibility for democracy, not outsource it to elites at the Princetons and the Harvards or outsource it to politicians or to so-called prophetic leaders. They must understand their role and their power.

INSKEEP: Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the author of "We Are The Leaders We Have Been Looking For." Thanks so much.

GLAUDE: Thank you so much, man. Appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOUBACAR TRAORE'S SONG, "BOUGOUDANI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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