Black people in Ireland are like super educated. Because we just believe, okay…the only way to pull yourself, so you know, out of this is by education. So we, it’s the default we over educate. And so at the end of the day we’re overqualified and underemployed. That is the…thing that is happening. So you ask me why do we have to cause a scene? Because there’s nobody…we are not on anybody’s radar. We are not on anybody’s agenda.
Dr Ebun Joseph is a Race relations consultant, Director Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies and Chairperson, African Scholars Association Ireland (AFSAI). Dr Joseph holds the position of Career Development Consultant at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Teaching Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Ebun is an author, TV panellist, Columnist, equality activist and convenor of various webinars on Anti-Racism. With a research focus on Labour markets and race relations, she has presented at several conferences, businesses and non-profits. Ebun is published and contributes regular responses on contemporary issues of racism in Ireland. Her recent book is titled, Racial stratification in Ireland: A Critical race theory of labour market inequality with Manchester University press. She also co-authored the book, Challenging Perceptions of Africa in Schools: Critical Approaches to Global Justice Education with Routledge in Jan 2020.
- Joseph, E. 2020. Critical race theory and inequality in the labour market: Racial stratification in Ireland.
- Joseph, E. 2020. Composite counterstorytelling as a technique for challenging ambivalence about race and racism in the labour market in Ireland.
- O’Toole, B., Joseph, E. and Nyaluke, D. 2019. Challenging Perceptions of Africa in Schools Critical Approaches to Global Justice Education.
- Joseph, E. 2019. Discrimination against credentials in Black bodies: counterstories of the characteristic labour market experiences of migrants in Ireland, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 47:4, 524-542.
- Joseph. E. 2018. Whiteness and racism: Examining the racial order in Ireland
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. And welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. I’m so happy to have with me someone who came—I must admit that a white dude in Ireland introduced me to today’s guest, Dr. Ebun Joseph. Dr. Ebun Joseph, would you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Dr. Ebun Joseph: Hi, everyone. My name is Ebun Joseph. So, I’m based here in Ireland, and I do a lot of things, you know, but one of the key things I do, my industry experience is as a career development consultant. But, you know, in the last few years, I’ve become a little bit of a disrupter in that I’ve… well, you know, been looking at the labor market, looking at inequality in the labor market. So I teach across a number of universities. I started the first Black Studies module in the whole of Ireland.
Kim: Oh wow.
Dr. Joseph: Now, while I say that, and it sounds amazing, but it’s also upsetting for me because in 2018 was the first time, was the first Black Studies module in the whole of Ireland.
Kim: Oh my word.
Dr. Joseph: Today it’s actually still the only one. There’s only one at that college, you know. After the Black Lives Matter protests last year, one of the colleges—actually, the students petitioned the college, that they wanted Black Studies, you know? So that is just the only second one that is going to start the second semester. So yeah.
Kim: And you said this is in 2018?
Dr. Joseph: 2018.
Kim: Yes. Well, we’re gonna talk about that because one of my clients is in Ireland—and Ireland, like many countries outside of the US, swears that it does not have a race issue. So, you know, it’s like, “No, that’s them. We don’t have a race issue.” So I’m going to start this, before we get into that, let’s start how we always start by asking you two questions: why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene?
Dr. Joseph: And thank you so much. Why is it? Well, again, it’s important to cause a scene because if you don’t do it, who’s going to do it? You know, most times we’re looking for change, we’re waiting for change… I think for me the most important reason why it’s important to cause a scene is because as a Black woman in Ireland, everywhere in the world—whether you’re in the United States, you’re in Europe, anywhere in Europe, everywhere—why do a group of people always appear at the bottom of the ladder? Scientifically we’ve proved that there is nothing scientifically wrong with those people. So that means there is something that happens, and unless you are not impacted, unless you don’t care, you have to cause a scene. You have to change it. For me, that is what drives me. You know, how do we bring change about? We’ve looked at incremental increase and nothing, you know… So yes, also, it’s really, really, really important to cause a scene, and I look at myself as a little disruptor.
Kim: So talk about that a bit. How are you causing a scene?
Dr. Joseph: Oh my god… [both laugh]
Kim: I’m sure just showing up in spaces in Ireland causes a scene.
Dr. Joseph: Exactly. I’m telling you, sometimes they invite me for things and I get into the room and I am the only Black woman there. Some people feel excited about it, and I always say, “Guys, I’m just gonna rip my script right now and start from the beginning. How is it that there’s 300 of you inside this room and I’m the only Black woman in here? So, in other words, if I was not invited as a guest speaker, you would have this meeting and there’ll be no single Black person in here.”
So immediately, I’ve just brought the elephant out from into the room, I’ve put it splack on the table. [Both laugh] So there’s no point in running around it, you know; like, who’s going to do it? So in things like that I look at—last year when we had all the Black Lives Matter movement, and protests and COVID as well. So there was just a lot and people were whispering behind and I’m like, “No, don’t whisper behind.” I’m not gonna wait for somebody to invite me to come and have that conversation. I’m going to take my own chair and bring my own table, you know? [Kim laughs]
Usually people are waiting for them to create spaces; no! I went, I just—I’ve never run a webinar—I just went, I ran webinars, and I ran them every week for eight weeks. You will not believe it. You will not believe it. Across eight weeks, I had over 2500 people attend those webinars. So people were not—do you understand? So again, these conversations need to be had. There’s no point in whispering somewhere to say, “These conversations need to be had.” Create the spaces and have them. So, yeah, those are ways I’m disruptive; and of course, you cannot miss me on social media. [Both laugh] If you’re on Twitter and you’re in Ireland, you cannot miss me.
Kim: That’s what I said, that a white man that’s my client brought me to your attention. So he started following more Black and brown voices and specifically wanted to follow more Black and brown voices in Ireland. And so that’s how you came to my attention. So let’s… the only thing that I wrote down from your introduction and everything you said, because it was only one thing, this one thing is at the root of everything and it’s anti-Blackness, and it’s the—I say this all the time: anti-Blackness has been the most successfully exported component of white supremacy globally. Globally. And you really hit it right there because with all the scientific data we have—qualitative, quantitative—which demonstrates, which communicates—I don’t know what word to use—that there is no such thing as race, and yet Black people are always at the bottom.
I don’t care if it’s within the Black community, the darker skin you are, the worse you have it; if it’s among other marginalized groups, let’s say Jewish people, the Black and brown people are the worst treated within those communities and outside of those communities; if it’s in Asia, it is people who are lightening their skin; in Africa it’s people who are lightening their skins; in Brazil, this is the only country that after the slavery, they decided, “Oh, we won’t talk about race. Everybody’s gonna be equal. Everything is gonna be on par with everything else.” And now they’re realizing, “Oh, that doesn’t work, because still the Black Brazilians are at the bottom, and as a government, we have to do something to lift them up.” So I really want you to talk about that, ’cause that is so important to me, because I want somebody from somewhere outside of the United States to talk about this. And then I really want to get into your book, “Critical Race Theory,” and is it “Inequality in the…”
Dr. Joseph: “Labor market.”
Dr. Joseph: So a lot of people, even among—sometimes even among the Black community—a lot of times we try to run away from that word, “Black.” We try to run away from the impact that is skin color, that is being Black or being categorized—whether it’s a symbolic Blackness or physical Blackness—how that impacts on people’s outcome, how it impacts on people’s experiences. We actually try to run away from it. We try to deny it, you know? I mean, in our…
Kim: And it’s one of the reasons I embraced Blackness; I do not call myself African American. First of all, yes, we’re from Africa; don’t know where. So I want to—it puts a stamp on the fact that slave owners stripped me of whatever lineage I have. Most of us can’t get past—when we do genealogy—can’t get past where the slaves ships are. And secondly, I don’t call myself an African American because it’s another default of saying you’re American when there’re other Americas, and when we say that we also make ourselves to default here in the United States. So I fully lean into my Blackness, and it’s only been recently, and I can admit that, it’s only been recently, the more I’ve learned, the more I lean into my Blackness.
Dr. Joseph: Because think about it, that the experiences of people who are Black, it’s not because of the continent they are from. It is because when I’m walking on the street, they don’t know whether I’m from the continent of Africa or what continent I’m from. It’s the Black color they see, and that is the calling card of difference. You know, it’s like, “Hey, here I am.” You know, it’s our calling card of difference, and that is what—again, I keep saying that it’s the elephant in the room, it’s like people expect us to forget. Yet how are we supposed to forget when on a daily basis, we’re still experiencing the impact of it, where the impact has still not gone away? When you look at labor market outcomes, you still see the same group of people at the bottom.
Kim: And it’s interesting you mentioned that because just this past Friday in the US, our unemployment rates came out and—I mean, job rates came out—and we in the US shed 140,000 jobs, and in that 140,000 jobs, the most jobs that were lost were among Black and brown people. We were the biggest category of job losers in 140,000 people.
Dr. Joseph: And the thing we have to ask ourselves is why? Why were this group the default to lose their jobs. Do you know what I mean? You know, so it’s constantly, always like that. You look at the labor market in our Ireland here, the general unemployment rate pre-COVID-19 was 5.4%. Right? But when you then break it down and look at it on the basis of nationality, of descent, you begin to see that Western Europeans, their unemployment rate was between 5% and 9%; Eastern Europeans, their unemployment rate was between 13% and 19%; Africans, their unemployment rate—people of African descent—their unemployment rate was between 42.5%…
Kim: What the fuck? What? Did you just say 42?
Dr. Joseph: Exactly. 42.5% and 63%. In fact, the Congolese in Ireland, their unemployment rate is 63%. You see, the thing is, and that’s what pushes me—because you asked me why do I cause a scene—because there’s nobody doing this. When they need funding, when they need things, they put Black faces on the thing to make themselves look diverse, to show there is [no] discrimination. But there is no policy, there’s no strategic plan to… if there was any other group—OK, in Ireland, we have the traveler community who experience a high level of discrimination—but when you look at the level, I mean Black people in Ireland are super educated because we just believe, “OK, the only way to pull yourselves out of this is by education.” So we—it’s a default—we over-educate. And so at the end of the day, we’re overqualified and underemployed. That is the thing that is happening. So you asked me why do we have to cause a scene? Because there’s nobody, we’re not on anybody’s radar, we are not on anybody’s agenda.
Kim: And I want to bring this to light too, because you mentioned no matter what continent we come from, they look at our Black skin, and this is why I find it very dangerous for people who are doing race studies to allow white people—I don’t care who they are—if you are white presenting, if you—and I say this—if you can look at any form and check “white,” particularly if it’s a government form, and get away with it, I’m not parsing out if you’re Italian, if you’re Irish, if you’re Jewish; if you can get away with that, you are white, and you are treated as such. Now what you do within your own community is something else. But when it comes to the systems, institutions, and policies of the government, of our medical institutions, of our educational institutions, of anything that impacts our lives, if you can check that box, you have the privilege to leverage, whether you want to or not, the default of whiteness.
And that’s what people need to understand. It’s not—because I will have someone say, “Well, I’m Jewish.” OK, but you’re white to me. When I come out the house, I’m Black and you’re white, and we will be treated accordingly. So unless you tell someone that you’re Jewish, you’re white—or someone asks you your name and it’s traditionally Jewish—you’re white. They don’t ask me all that. They don’t ask me what tribe I’m from. They don’t ask me any of that. They just call me a nigga. [Laughs]
Dr. Joseph: So it’s automatically ascribed to you. You know, when I teach about race, I say, “You know what? Race is one of those things nobody asks your permission about it. They just ascribe it onto you.” Nobody says, “Hey Kim, would you like to…” [both laugh]
Kim: Oh, and it’s so funny because when I start to show, I say, “What are your pronouns?” So we’re even gettin’ to that point, but no one ever asks us about… you’re absolutely right about that.
Dr. Joseph: Yeah. Nobody comes to say, “Hey Kim, are you Black or white? [Laughs] What do you like to be described as?”
Kim: Or, “What kind of Black are you?”
Dr. Joseph: [Laughs] No, because they’ve already, in fact, they’ve already… the thing is, they actually don’t even—they impute it onto you and expect you to take it.
Kim: Yes. Yes!
Dr. Joseph: Then when they impute it onto you, it comes—you know, it is not value-free—when they impute this Blackness onto you, it is not value-free. It comes with all the values. So in other words, and I talk about—I try and write about my work—I talk about it in terms of stratification: that there is a racial order. And that this racial order, what it does is that anywhere—because you have to keep asking yourself, how is it that everywhere in the world it’s happening? It’s not like—they’ve not called them aside to say, “Hey, this is how to treat them.”
Kim: Exactly! They didn’t have a meeting. [Laughs]
Dr. Joseph: No. No. I’m like, “OK, they did not, but what…”
Kim: Let’s be honest. They barely even talk about it. So for something to be unsaid, it gets—shit, it gets scaled at mass.
Dr. Joseph: Yes, you understand. I mean, it’s a powerful—you have to look at it to know why we need to keep disrupting, because if you don’t understand how much the forces are against Blackness, you don’t get it. Because, like you said, there’s no conversation; they’re not talking about it. So how do they then know, and how do they then reproduce this, that we have to struggle, that our success is in spite of? Because that is it; because you look at, you say, “Oh Ebun, you’ve written,” and you say… yeah, but that’s in spite of. That is because I work five different jobs, I teach at five different universities. None of my white colleagues do that. And on top of that, I have to try and publish to still be competitive.
Dr. Joseph: And on top of that, I have to try and publish to still be competitive. That’s how we succeed.
Kim: And this is why I call whiteness mediocre and unremarkable. It has never had to compete. It has never had to compete. If you put the default up against you working at five universities, you having to publish just to show up at the door? This is why the fallacy of affirmative action is lowering the bar. Do you know what we have to do to just to even be considered for affirmative action?
Dr. Joseph: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ll tell you, in my book—so anybody who’s read my book will find it there—I talk about it, because there’s an anti-affirmative action. I say, “That’s because you actually don’t understand what affirmative action means.” Because if you understand what it is, you will first understand that the first benefactors of affirmative action was white people.
Kim: And white women. And I don’t know what it is in Ireland, but white women benefit from it more than anybody else in this country.
Dr. Joseph: So when you begin to look at it, that your whiteness has lifted… you never start—because of your whiteness, you never start at the bottom. You start here. From everything that comes has to do with generational wealth, even respect, regard, the automatic expectation that you can speak English? It is ascribed to you. You don’t have to open your mouth. So all of those things is ascribed to you without you having to perform your value. But as a Black woman, we have to perform our value all the time.
Kim: I wanna stop you there because I want… oh, you just said something that really… it’s performance. We… it’s perform. I’m still processing that, because you perform—and I’m writin’ this down—perform our value. Because we don’t get to walk into space and have value ascribed to us.
Dr. Joseph: No. No. You gotta perform it.
Kim: And so this is why when I first came into tech, when I first realized, “You know what? There’s a whole bunch of people coding, but I have a set of skills that these folx need that they don’t know they need. And I refuse to have them dictate my value.” So I came in strategically saying, being as loud as I could be, so that other Black women wouldn’t have to be this loud; doing things how I did it because if you can deal with Kim on a 10, then you can deal with Dr. Ebun on a 2. You’re like, “OK, that ain’t no big deal. She just on a 2. Kim gimme a 10 all the time.”
And it is performing; every time—like I just got kicked off Twitter—and… lord have mercy. Yep, yep. Got kicked off Twitter, and… and I tell people all the time, my target audience is white people. So they must understand that I am educating the oppressor while also processing my own oppression. And so what happened was somebody—of course—I have a timeline and somebody decides they want to say something stupid on it, and I just went the fuck off on ’em. It was the day of the day of the riots here and it was some white person who just… can y’all just shut the fuck up? Shut the fuck up is always the option y’all rarely take. [Dr. Joseph laughs]
And so I don’t know who reported me, but I got reported for harassment and abuse, and they were like, “You have 12 hours. We’re gonna lock your account for 12 hours, and you’re gonna have to delete the tweet.” And at first I was like, “I’m not deleting shit.” But then I realized, because I have to perform my value, I realized I cannot be off Twitter for them to… because I did an appeal; it took three days, I never heard back from ’em. And I was like, “I have to perform my value. My country is imploding. My voice is needed.” So I have to do this thing that I don’t want to do, that is not fair—and I hate the word fair, but it’s not fair—and yet I have to do that just to be back in the conversation.
Dr. Joseph: You have to. And that’s it, if you want to… exactly that, if you want to be in the conversation. So our resistance has to be done in such a way that we’re still in the conversation. And that’s what pushes us to perform that value because without the performance, you are not even there in the first place. You can’t even get in in the first place.
Kim: No. No, no, no, no, no.
Dr. Joseph: Nobody has to physically say, “Hey, you have to perform it.” But you realize that, “OK,”—quickly you get that—”if I need to be on the table, if my voice needs to be heard, if I need to influence change, I need to be there.” And to be there, you have to perform. So it’s an unwritten code. We…
Kim: And then, and not only is it unwritten code but it’s a double-edged sword, because we have to perform our value to be in the room, and once we get in the room because we perform now, we’re angry Black women; we’re all these things, but I had to get there just for me to get your attention.
Dr. Joseph: So it’s a very challenging one, you know.
Kim: You really have… OK, I’m gonna think about this for a while because you just gave language to what this is.
Dr. Joseph: That’s how I talk about it. Like even when I talk about racism, I say, “people performing racism,” you know, you’re actually performing it. So because every time we give into a racist act, you have a choice to either perform that racist act or not. And so when you do it, you have chosen to perform—it’s a performance. That’s what it is. And so even us, as Black women, we have to then perform our values, we have to then perform the contribution we can make. And the choice, we didn’t have to make. Unfortunately, we’re not really given a choice whether you want to or not, because our experiences are context-driven, and they’re not value-free. So when you begin to look at that, it impacts.
Kim: Mm, mm mm mm. Oowee! I’m gonna be unpacking this for a little bit. So tell me about the book you’ve just written—first of all, tell me how you got started in all of this. Was this your original—’cause I know you said labor—was this your original academic path, and you just stumbled upon race, or was race always a part of it? Because for me, it was always… you know, I’m pursuing my doctor’s in business administration. So for me, it was I see that most of these things out here, these organizations aren’t actually businesses, they’re products and services that people have been able to scale, but they have no business structure. So let me go in and help them get business structure, and then I’m smacked in the face every time I come in is because, “Oh, these places are racist as hell.” [Both laugh]
So I gotta deal with—because I tell people I’m not an inclusion and diversity expert; there is just never any inclusion and diversity. I have to deal with that before we can get to anything else. So I stumbled upon it. And being from the South, I never wanted—I mean, I had an epiphany when when John Lewis’s body was being taken over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I called my mom and she just cracked up laughin’ because I was pissed, I was like, “When did I become part of the civil rights movement? I didn’t sign up for this shit!” [Laughs] Because I know, as you said, “performing,” I come from a city that this is what Black folx have had to do all the time, and I know how much it wears on us; I know how much harder it is for us. And yet I know that if I’m not in the civil rights movement…
Dr. Joseph: Nothing moves.
Kim: Nothing moves. I get that now. And it was just a recent connection for me.
Dr. Joseph: Yes, yes. I mean, you said a couple of things. One of the things I talk about in my book—and we’ll get to that—is I talk about how your experience—you know, in the in the United States you could talk about the Reconstruction era—and so when I began to do my research and I was looking at stratification, so I was thinking, “Oh, Reconstruction. What does it mean for us?”
Kim: OK, I wanna stop you right there. Could you explain stratification?
Dr. Joseph: [Laughs] OK.
Kim: ‘Cause I just wanna make sure my audience knows; I would like to make sure everybody’s on the same page. So if you could give us what you mean by it.
Dr. Joseph: OK. So what I mean is that… first I will give the definition and I will explain it. So I define stratification as a homogenizing system of structured inequality where an assigned default starting position determines access to scarce and desired resources based on group membership.
Kim: Sheesh, OK.
Dr. Joseph: Now, in simple terms, let me explain that to you. So if you read my book, you will see there’s a triangle…
Kim: No, that was deep, what you just said. That was deep, what you just said. OK, for those who need it, let’s break it down to the kindergartners, to the babies. Now what does that mean?
Dr. Joseph: So what it means is that first, is that racial stratification is a system that helps to reproduce homogeneity within the system. That is the first thing. So it is a system of structured inequality because you ask yourself—and I say that in Ireland jokingly I say, you know, we have Irish names, and I’m like, “How does Caoimhe keep recruiting Caoimhe? How does Fergal keep recruiting Fergal?” So there’s some way that they reproduce after their kind. So racial stratification is a system… most people, when you look at data, we look at where people end up, so we say, “Oh, 50% likely to be unemployed.” I’m like, “No. Racial stratification is not about where you end up, it is about where you start.” [Kim claps]
So if you start so far back down, where you end up becomes almost inevitable. Unless you have to work 1, 2, 3, 4 times as hard to be able to achieve the same results. So what I want you who are listening to think about like a ladder, right? Somebody is at the bottom of the ladder. They start at the bottom of that ladder, and then another person starts on the fourth part of the ladder. Now imagine if they have to reach for the same goal. Who’s gonna get there first? Absolutely the person who is starting on the third ladder. That’s what whiteness is. Whiteness positions you to start on ladder four. Blackness positions you to start on ladder three.
Kim: Hell, Blackness positions us to not to be on the ladder at all.
Dr. Joseph: At all. Exactly. You’re not even on the ladder at all.
Kim: Because I tell people all the time, if—’cause people in the US, we wanna go back to when America was great. If we go back there, I’m supposed to be a slave, boo boo. We not goin’ back there. [Laughs]
Dr. Joseph: No. No, no, no, no. We’re not going back there.
Kim: We were never even considered in the Constitution. So all these people who wanna keep talking about the Constitution, no, we’re not going back to that either. [Laughs]
Dr. Joseph: I wrote an article recently in Ireland because we’re having this debate about, there’s this book they read in secondary school, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That book allows people to use the n-word. In fact, you actually reward your students in the classroom for using the n-word, and then you confuse them and tell them that it’s wrong to use it. I said, when that book was written in 1937 or 38, when it was written, they did not expect Black people to be in the classroom. And so for you now to be teaching Black people with a book that was written when they did not expect Black minds to be listening to it is a disservice and a violence against our minds.
Kim: Yes, yeah. Oh my word.
Dr. Joseph: If you look at all of those kind of things that… so again, so the systems we’re living by, the systems we’re operating by, was not generated, was not created to house us, to accommodate us; these systems were created to keep us out. In fact, like you said, not even on the ladder in the first place, you know, So nobody is pulling off the ladder; the ladder just wasn’t created to accommodate us in the first place. So that’s racial stratification. So what you think about racial stratification is that it’s not about where you end up, it’s about where people start. And so you look at that: people from the African continent or people of African descent or people who are Black; what they do is everywhere in the world, irrespective of how wealthy you become, your default—so that’s why if you see my definition, I say it is a default starting position. So because of the color of the skin and being Black, your default position is at the bottom of the ladder. When I talk about that, it means that you can actually change your economic positioning on the ladder, but you cannot change your racial positioning on the ladder.
Kim: OK, stop. Because this completely explains why when we talk about Black maternity and infant mortality rates, it does not matter; they have tested for income, they’ve tested for class, they’ve tested for all the things, and Black women continue—and their babies—continue to be in the highest percentile for infant and mother death related to childbirth. And that’s only been, I will say confirmed—because we’ve known it—but it’s only been confirmed because of Serena Williams and Beyonce’s Knowles, who both—Serena almost died, and Beyonce had her own—and because they told these stories, now people believe. And this is why I have fundamental problems with people who keep pushing Medicare for All. You live in a country that has universal health care, and it’s still racist. So it is in those systems—and you’re really… I’m loving this conversation because now you’re connecting dots where I didn’t have the language for it; I’ve been sayin’ it in very fumbly ways. But now you’re givin’ me the language to talk about this.
Dr. Joseph: I’ll give you an example of that, you know, because when I explain to people, I say, “No, you can become as rich and as wealthy as you are. But when you come into a place where you are unknown, you become your default positioning, which is at the bottom of the ladder.” So when you go into the hospital, and you are unknown as this wealthy Black person, you become the default Black person who can withstand pain, or who fakes their pain, or who pretends about pain. Who should be treated second. So you become that default positioning. I’ll give you a quick example with Oprah, and I try to—I use that Oprah Winfrey’s example, too, and people get it really quickly—I think once a couple of years ago she was in Belgium—I mean, in the United States, if Oprah walks into any store, they would close the store for her and say… OK, so she was in the store… Switzerland or Belgium, I’m not sure where now, I can’t remember now.
Kim: Yes. It was in a white-ass country. [Both laugh]
Dr. Joseph: She was in this store and she walked in and she wanted to buy a bag. And she was looking at the bag, and the lady in the store said, “There’s nothing for you here.” It was like “Pretty Woman” all over again. “I want to buy a bag.” She absolutely refused, and Oprah had to walk out from the store, you know? And then, of course they made noise about it and there was apologies and all of that. But you see what I’m saying there is that when Oprah went into that store, she was not Oprah Winfrey the wealthy billionaire…
Kim: The billionaire, exactly.
Dr. Joseph: She was Oprah Winfrey the Black woman. And at that point in time, she was not her economic strata, which was at the top; she was her racial strata, which was at the bottom.
Dr. Joseph: When they see…
Dr. Joseph: When they see us, you know, when you look at that, when they see us, what do they see? You are your default. Every time when you meet people who don’t know you—when I meet people who know me, oh, I’m Dr. Ebun, blabity-blah—but when I’m on the bus, I’m just another Black girl to them.
Kim: Yeeees. Oh, I love this strata idea because now it’s in my head about… it helps people understand how people with the same… so one of the things that I’m loving when I’m seeing my little, my Black girls, my Black women, young Black women, is that they’re at this place where, if they’ve been at the beginning of the careers—and let’s say her name is Sarah, and then you have Maggie. Maggie’s a white woman. Sarah and Maggie went to the same school, they were best friends, they were in the same sorority, they hung out, they live in the same apartment—they share an apartment—they get a job at the same place. All of a sudden, Sarah looks up, and Maggie is getting promoted. And Sarah’s like, “What is goin’ on? I’ve applied for these positions within the company, and I can’t…” and Maggie is just movin’ up and they can’t… they haven’t… they’re at that place where they’re starting to see it.
Because this is a generation of people who were taught “don’t see color”—which is problematic in itself—so they don’t have even the skills that you and I have, because we know that this is a reality; their whole upbringing has been to ignore—not only to ignore, but to strongly deny—and if you bring it up then you get admonished for that. If you say, “I’m having a different issue, I’m having a different experience because of my race,” people’re like, “No, you’re not. You’re just being di-di-di-di-di-di-duh.” So they’re experiencing this for the first time, and it’s interesting to see—and these are the little birds, and I call ’em my little birds; these are the little birds that I like to take under my wing and say, “OK, now you… I couldn’t start this lesson until you had that moment. You had to have that lived experience first for you to get ready for this next moment.”
Dr. Joseph: Yeah. So Kim, you have to realize that the system—particularly the young people who are born here and who have not taken that extra lecture in Black studies or or Black… you know, all of that—they are getting exactly the same education, the same social conditioning that a white person is having, and so they will come out, there will be Black skin, but there will be white mask. Yes, they have a Black skin, but their experience has taught them to treat race the same way a white person would treat race. So they are oblivious, and so they tell you, “Oh, race doesn’t exist.” They’re always talking about race exactly the same way a white person would deny to you, until I say, “Just don’t forget it.”—you know, some people actually have really horrible experiences from secondary school and all—I say, “But when you get to university, and you get into the world of work,” I say, “from there you will begin to see the divide.” I say, “Deny it all you can, you’ll begin to… you graduated first class honors, and somebody else graduated with the third class, the person will become your manager in five years.”
Kim: Yup. Yup.
Dr. Joseph: Your line manager. In fact, you will have to be phoning them to use their links, to get an appointment.
Kim: And they have probably used your information, your scholarship, your hard work to get to that place.
Dr. Joseph: Yeah. So it’s challenging enough, you know. So those skills need to follow…
Kim: And so this speaks to why I say that, and this is why I don’t—Black people are not my target audience, because I cannot process my own oppression and process their oppression too and also get any work done. And we just all be bawlin’ and arguin’ and stuff. I need to get the work done; I need to scale this. And this is why there is… we as a community have to deal with our own internalized white supremacy and anti-Blackness, within our own communities. Because you just hit it on there, it’s this whole assimilation thing, we’re required to assimilate, we’re required to be civil. All of those things are about whiteness. And then when you’re told that, “You’re just the same. I don’t see your color. We’re treated just the same.” You may not see me as different, but the systems we’re in that manage our world see me as different, and not only see me as different, but treat me differently.
Dr. Joseph: Don’t just see you, treats you different. It ascribes all of that to you. So what you can get, it actually controls what you can and cannot get. Like I keep saying, the racial strata helps me to really see it clearly. Those people who have been able to beat it have been those who have worked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times as hard. You know, I used to hear that, I used to try to understand, what do they… I know, yes we’ve worked, but how could I explain it? For me, if you look at the racial strata you will see it. So some people on ladder one, and you are starting on ladder four; that’s it. For you to achieve the same result as a person who is starting from ladder four, where you are starting just trying to get on the ladder. [Laughs]
Kim: Yeah. So tell us, again, how did you get into this work? Was it you were doing labor work for university, and then you stumbled upon, or did you already know?
Dr. Joseph: No, I didn’t know—well, like from my experiences, yes. You would know from… you know, there’s none of us who is free of these experiences, so we’re all impacted—we might deny it, we might lie about it and not—but we’re all impacted one way or the other. In our secret moments of truth, we talk about our own experiences of being treated differently because of your race. But I stumbled upon it, you know? So most times I always say, “I never wanted to become a Black scholar.”
Kim: [Laughs] Exactly!
Dr. Joseph: When I went to university to do my doctorate, I did not say, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna become the Black woman scholar.” No, it just… you understand. So what brought me into those work, I was working—in fact, that’s why I started by saying that my industry experience is as a career development consultant. That’s what I was trained at. But I was working for an organization, and one of the things that I began to notice is that depending on the nationality or descent of my clients, it took us longer for them to navigate the labor market. So my Black clients, it took like two years for them to even get unpaid work. I’m not joking; I’m saying unpaid work. It took us like two years to navigate the system. While some of my colleagues from Spain or Poland—that was around 2007, between 2007 and 2012 when I was working in that organization—from Poland and Spain and even many who couldn’t communicate well in English, who had to learn English, three, six months, nine months. They already got a job.
Kim: Hmm. And it’s a paid job, is not even a unpaid job, it’s a paid job.
Dr. Joseph: A paid job. So I began to say, “I’m not a Cindy,” so I did a master’s first, to show that—because they say “Oh, language of the host community,” they say, “citizenship”—so those are the key things—education—so those are the key reasons why Black people were not progressing so much in Ireland. So I said, “OK, let me find people who have all those things.”
Kim: So again for you, it’s the same thing we find in tech; they always blame the pipeline when it’s not the pipeline.
Dr. Joseph: No, it’s not the pipeline at all. So I disproved that completely in my work, because I then did research to show that people—I compared like with like; in other words, they also had university degrees—I compared their experiences. I compared three different nationalities, their outcome in the labor market. Using my own data, but also using the same source statistics and then using interviews. And it really showed—I compared Spanish, Polish, and Nigerian people of those descents working in Ireland, compared their labor market outcome, and on every count, the people of Nigerian descent in Ireland, who even had citizenship, their labor market outcome was worse on every count. When you’re comparing educated, when you’re comparing masters or PhDs, on every count, they fared worse. Even worse than other counterparts who did not have the host language; in other words, couldn’t speak really well in English.
So that’s how I got into all of that. I wanted to be able to understand, what is it? What is that system? Yes, I know we say “discrimination,” we say “racism.” But how does it operate?
Dr. Joseph: Yes, I know we say “discrimination,” we say “racism.” But how does it operate?
Kim: Exactly. Exactly. How does it operate? This is what I find wanting in a lot of people’s scholarship; is they can talk about race at a very… even—I won’t even say a high level, but it’s not low level—but when you talk about what you’re saying, how does your work help change anything? Very few people have answers for that.
Dr. Joseph: Yeah, yeah. So my book, the book I wrote, it was based on this research, so it has a theoretical foundation and a background, so anyone who really wants to understand, I talk about the system through which this racial order operates, and I call that the favoritism continuum. That there is a continuum; depending on where you are on that continuum, if you’re on the negative end, you will experience disfavor. So in other words, the more of difference that you exhibit in the labor market, or in life generally, the more difference that you exhibit from the host community, it will push you to the negative end. And the most…
Kim: And I talk about that: the closer you are to the default, the better your experience; the further you are away from the default, the worse your experience. And the default is white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, married. Those are the main ones. And the closer you are to those, anybody can check as many of those boxes, the better your experience will be. And this is how, again when we’re talking about internalized white supremacy and anti-Blackness, particularly when you talk about Christianity in the Black community—because that’s one of the defaults—but we don’t have the same experiences. So that Christianity makes people think we’re the same, and yet it requires us to discriminate against other folx, because we have a false sense of where we are on that ladder.
Dr. Joseph: We think we are on a different part of the ladder. Maybe spiritually you are, but in the physical reality, you are at the bottom. And so the defaults, and one of the interesting things from my work that showed up and I write about that in the book is that the GDP of where they think you’re from—so when you are Black, they think “OK, this person is from poor countries”—so the GDP of that country is ascribed not just to the continent or to the country, but to the people, the descendents, and the products that come from there. So you look at it like the darker you are, all of those countries, whether you’re trading with them, their products are always diminished in the labor market, even when—I said that—even when you’re educated, because that education is contained within a Black body, the education is seen as inferior to one that is contained in a white body. Even when you went to the same school.
Kim: So you just hit on something, because there’s a documentary called “Poverty Inc.,” and it talks about these do-gooder nonprofits that come into these Black and brown communities who want to be saviors and how they destroy the economics of those countries, ’cause you’re talking about GDP now, right? So it talks about in that documentary how Kenya had the most prolific and abundant and varied cotton crop; it had the variety of cotton. But because these companies decided to be do-gooders, they ended up decimating Kenya’s cotton crop because they were giving—how do you compete when someone is giving you something for free? And then now all of Kenya’s cotton is imported.
Dr. Joseph: Exactly. So they will work against it to the point where we have no value. Talking down…
Kim: And then blame us for not having the value.
Dr. Joseph: Exactly. [Laughs]
Kim: I mean, if you think about Haiti and what Haiti is still paying back France for… what? They wanted their freedom. Why is Haiti still paying France back? But yet you want to call this a shithole country. All of their resources are goin’ out.
Dr. Joseph: And unfortunately, I think that sometimes they assume that we’re dumb enough not to notice, but even dumber not to mention it. And that’s why we must cause a scene, and that’s why we must disrupt.
Kim: And I could tell you this: as challenging as Twitter is at times—particularly for Black women, because it is a absolute shit show—the fact I could tell you that these platforms democratize this information. It allows me to see I’m not having… it’s not just my experience; it’s my experience, somebody else down the streets’, around the world, all of us are havin’ the same experience. Now this is a whole nother conversation, because if it’s everybody, then it ain’t us. This is not us. [Laughs] Because what they do is make it a failing on us, individuals. Nobody wants to talk about the systems, institutions, and policies in place that they benefit from… [scoffs]
Dr. Joseph: I think one of my lovely tweets—it wasn’t mine, but I saw it on Twitter—but it was quite nice. It says that the system is not broken. It feels that way.
Kim: It is functioning as designed. The US imported [correction: exported] its economic system to the world. Our economic system is built fundamentally on the justification for the annihilation of indigenous people and enslavement of Africans. That is what our economic world system is based on.
Dr. Joseph: And we’re still silently trying to maintain that. Forget about everything that we’re saying, because when push comes to shove, when you send in that application, when they’re CEOs, you are still expected to be at the bottom. There’s still some jobs, they think, “Oh, no, not for you.” Some promotions that you still don’t get. Some levels you still need to struggle and pay and struggle to attain. So it hasn’t gone away, unfortunately. It hasn’t gone away.
Kim: I just put your book on my #CauseAScene Amazon wish list. Somebody in the community better be sendin’ me this book, [Dr. Joseph laughs] because I don’t pay to educate them. Because you’re speaking to… you’re a specialist and I’m a generalist, because what I’m looking at is how do we redefine capitalism without white supremacy? What are the economics of being antiracist? And you’re speaking directly to that.
Dr. Joseph: Yeah, yeah. So we need to look at that. Yeah, that system that I talk about, I talk about acceptance, I talk about the racial order, about the group favoritism, and that the more accepted you are, it pushes you up on that ladder, up on that system. So it is worth looking at, because people want to understand what are the key things. So if you look at that—and unfortunately, even while I describe it that it comes from group favoritism, it is very difficult to legislate against group favoritism.
Kim: Mhm, mhm. Oh, we’re seein’ that in the United States. That is bein’ shown all over the world right now.
Dr. Joseph: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge; but look, we have to keep disrupting, we have to look for that change, we can’t keep silent. Says “evil prevails when good men say nothing,” so we have to speak up.
Kim: So what would you like to say in your final moments on the show?
Dr. Joseph: I want to say that everyone, that if we look at the changes that we’ve made for COVID, where the MBA moved, you know, it stopped for so many months, that would have been an impossible imagination. In Ireland, students in Ireland, students went to university without writing the final exam. How does that happen? But we did all those things like this [snaps], within six months. In fact, within three months, we affected those changes. We’ve been struggling with racism for 500 years. For 500 years. And we’re still saying that we should wait for incremental increase. We’re still talking about how difficult and how impossible it is for you to diversify your team and organization.
When you say that, it’s not a problem of “I don’t know what to do,” it is a problem, it is a lack of care. So what we have today is a care crisis. If you’re not making the change, you don’t care, because the things we care about, we actually do something about it. So that change that we’re asking for, it’s not impossible. We have literally done the impossible for COVID. I know that it is still expanding, but we’ve done almost impossible to accommodate it, because we care.
Kim: And in more recent news, I know COVID is still going on, but here in the US, the—I don’t know what date this episode was gonna is gonna air—but on January 6th, we had an insurrection attempt, a coup attempt, and tech—fundamentally!—all those things that they couldn’t do, they couldn’t ban Trump, they couldn’t take this down… look how quickly everything—between that Wednesday and that Sunday—look how much had changed. Because they’re—and this is what the tweet I was trying to work out when Dr. Ebun was comin’ on the air—because we’re seeing in real time these organizational leaders reevaluating their calculation of reward to risk. They’re now reevaluating that in real time because they are… a crisis management issue they don’t want to deal with. And this is what I’ve been saying before: whiteness needed to be in excruciating pain for there to be fundamental change.
Dr. Joseph: Absolutely. For it has to—and that’s the only thing. Look at COVID. I keep going back to COVID because it’s been the biggest eye opener for me. Whiteness was in pain. When Ebola was in Africa or somewhere like that, we couldn’t make those changes. We just locked them up, we said “Close the borders.” But now whiteness is in pain, like you said, what are we doing? We are trying to make as many changes as possible.
Kim: Oh, yeah. Get it in. Get it in while we can before they get bored. [Both laugh]
Dr. Joseph: So yeah, I say it’s all of that, you know? So we gotta find more people who care. If you say you care, if you really, really care, you can be that change. You can do something. Don’t wait for someone else from your space—I always talk about influencing your circle, your circle of influence—if all of us make the change within our circle of influence, we will have a better world.
Kim: Thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I love speaking to Black women! [Laughs] Thank you and have a wonderful day.
Dr. Joseph: Thank you.
Kim: Thank you.
Dr. Ebun Joseph
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Originally posted on August 19, 2018 I will begin this post as I begin each talk, with a list of my credentials because there’s always
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