What is critical race theory and why does it make some people so uncomfortable? Join us as today’s guest, Dr. Joanne Lunceford, explains the legacy of slavery and the systems that were built during that era that are still with us almost 200 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Dr. Lunceford has a deep understanding that the legacy of those institutions are still impacting people today.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford earned her Doctor of Social Work from the University of Southern California with her studies focusing on race, cognition, behavior, and barriers. She obtained her Master of Science in Social Administration (MSW-equivalent) from Case Western Reserve University and her Bachelor of Arts from Miami University (Oxford).
Dr. Lunceford has worked as a social work and criminal justice professional for over 25 years, and has held many volunteer, organization, leadership, direct service, board, management, and administrative positions. She is the founding Executive Director of The Peace Project (TPP) — a grassroots racial justice/violence prevention organization that assists, uplifts, and supports the community through prevention, advocacy, and consultation services, and was most recently appointed by Mayor Andrew Ginther as the Deputy Director of the Office of Violence Prevention for the City of Columbus.
Dr. Lunceford has served as an Adjunct Professor of Social Work to doctorate level social work students and as an Adjunct Instructor of Criminal Justice, Sociology, and General Studies to career college students. She has also been faculty through the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Probation Officer’s Training Program, teaching how trauma from lived experiences derived from racial inequalities can often manifest itself as violence in communities and the importance of using cognitive-based interventions to address behavioral issues in lieu of incarceration and community separation when appropriate. Her education and career has focused on the intersectionality of Race, Social Work, and Criminal Justice and how to create and utilize strategies to deconstruct race, disrupt racism, and dismantle racial inequality in all systems and disciplines.
Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to the show, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling in today, we have Dr. Joanne Lunceford. Dr. Lunceford’s education and career have focused on the intersectionality of race, social work and criminal justice. Also how to create and utilize strategies to deconstruct race, disrupt racism, and dismantle racial inequality in all systems and disciplines. Dr. Lunceford, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me today, Gabe, for your wonderful podcast. I’m so excited for today.
Gabe Howard: I am excited to have you here as well now. Full disclosure, I saw you present at a conference here in the state of Ohio, my home state. And I was absolutely enthralled because you did a wonderful job of explaining very uncomfortable topics to a roomful of, frankly, mostly white people. And you had us wrapped around your finger. We were very interested in learning from you and understanding. And while it was uncomfortable, it was very educational and illuminating. And I think that’s a real gift. And I just, I absolutely had to have you on the podcast once that moment occurred.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Thanks so much. I’m so glad to hear that. I’m so glad to hear that. Thank you.
Gabe Howard: You’re very welcome. Now, critical race theory is defined as, quote, a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of Western society, especially in its legal and social institutions on the basis of they’re having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people, unquote. It really doesn’t sound all that controversial to me. And in fact, it just makes a lot of sense. But this has just been a powder keg for politics, for arguments, for debate and for hurt feelings going on a few years now. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Well, unfortunately, oftentimes with topics in society that may make people feel uncomfortable, or a certain population uncomfortable, like critical race theory. People shy away from that because it is perceived as something that’s going to judge them or make them feel bad. Instead of realizing that critical race theory is about transforming that relationship between race, racism and power and not wanting that to happen because of perceived privilege and things that might go away from that. It’s really about a way of understanding how American racism has shaped policy and society. So putting those in, in simple terms says, wait a minute, we may have done something wrong, somebody’s telling us we did something wrong. We don’t want to deal with that. We don’t want to have to deal with that because that’s too hard. And we might have to have some truthful conversations and we might have to look ourselves in the mirror about some things. So, we sort of divert the conversation to go somewhere else. And instead of as a true intended meaning so that the change that it can elicit, we ensure that it doesn’t happen.
Gabe Howard: I think the walking theory is that slavery is all in the past, right? I hear this time and time again; slavery is in the past. No one alive has ever owned slaves. So why are we even still discussing this? Can’t we just move on? And there is a huge section of people, and by section of people I don’t mean trolls on the internet. I mean senators, congressmen, politicians, presidents, who feel that critical race theory is just designed to make white people feel bad for something that they had no part in.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Well, and I’m glad you brought that up, that’s true. A lot of people do say, well, you know what? Slavery is over. We’ve had the first black president. Why are we still talking about certain things? Right? But the truth of the matter is, the slavery of 1619 has been legally dismantled and everything. Right. Abolished. What we’re talking about, though, that legacy of slavery, it still lives. There’s a certain population of the dominant culture that is still living with the benefits of slavery. And then there are the certain population of non-dominant cultures that are living with the impact and shame of slavery. Right? So when we’re talking about that legacy, we’re talking about this legacy of colonialism that’s overtaking lands and instituted slavery, created the Willie Lynch theory, created Indian boarding schools, created, you know, Jim Crow laws, black codes, redlining, and and so, so much for non-dominant cultures. And so you have those atrocities, right, that were pretty much intentional. Um, and what we’re saying is they created systems, these systems that are designed to structure the way we live. So they created these systems and then those systems then influenced communities which then produce nonproductive value systems or even reinforce value systems and social norms. And then that then encourages problematic thinking that drives destructive behaviors. So basically when they’re saying that slavery may be over, the actual act may be over, however, the legacy and the impact of it still lives today.
Gabe Howard: As I was listening to you speak, Dr. Lunceford, I was thinking about my own experience. I was born in 1976, and my grandfather was born in 1931. Now, when you’re born in 1931 and you retire in the in the late 80s, that means the majority of your work experience is going to be 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. Right. And that is when my grandfather got his job and built his career. And when he retired, he got a pension. Now, everybody has heard of the civil rights movement. We all know about the 60s. We all know about Dr. King. It’s quoted all over Facebook. I have a very strong reason to believe that people understand the civil rights movement. But I think maybe what people miss is that jobs with pensions for grandparents were predominantly available only for the white culture. African-Americans weren’t getting jobs with pensions, and they were paying higher interest rates on their mortgages and money that they needed to borrow to sustain life. So that means when Gabe came around in 1976, graduated high school in 1996, and I needed seed money to start a business, I needed money for school or health care. My grandfather had it because he was all pensioned up. Grandma and Grandpa were, they were sitting pretty. They had all of this extra money because of the benefits of a time when I was never born. When you say that that the white community is still reaping the benefits or sharing in the benefits, is that an example of it?
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. When you take times like that where African Americans and Brown and Indigenous folks were left out of the equation and being able to be employed, especially in positions that had benefits with insurance and retirement and things like that, and that weren’t as much of a tax on their on their physical health. Then you also talk about, like you said, the benefits of generations later that their descendants then now have. Right. And so when you’re talking about the GI Bill and when you’re talking about different things from the past that mainly white and especially white men were able to benefit from. And then they were able to buy a house or be able to have a house that had equity and had value because it was in certain neighborhood. They were able to have a job to not only give them insurance and benefits, but they were able to refer other friends and family members who usually were white men for positions in that company in different jobs that were coming up. So even when we’re talking about that system of meritocracy. Right. When even when. I’d African-American for the position.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: They may not even had a chance to interview or be even to be able to even fill out the application because John said, Hey, I have a neighbor who’d be great for this position. The manager loves John. And so then says, Hey, yeah, tell your neighbor to come in. The neighbor comes in and talks to him for a few minutes, said, Yeah, come, come to work on Monday. There’s a lot of research on these how racial inequality sometimes exists because without intentional racism, but because of I referred my friend to this job and then everything spirals from there. And so, then there’s even more qualified people out there who were not even afforded the opportunity. And so John’s neighbor then thinks, Oh, I got this job on my own merit and if everybody else would pull themselves up on their bootstraps and work a little harder, they could have these opportunities as well. And so you’re talking about not understanding that there were people who were left out of the system.
Gabe Howard: The societal pushback on that is, if we’re truly looking at everybody as equals, then why does race matter? We should just ignore race. If we’re evaluating everybody on their merits and their merits alone, then that evaluation should not take into account race.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Let’s just take higher education for an example. When we’re saying we don’t want to use race as a factor. Let’s just say Shanae, who is an African-American person, and Julie, who is a dominant culture or a white female. And so Shanae has been in an inner city school. She graduated with a 3.7 GPA. And then you have. Julie, who was in a suburban school with many access to resources and things like that. And she graduates with a 3.7 GPA. But the 3.7 GPAs are a little different because Julie’s school is suburban and had all this other stuff. What we’re not talking about is the legacy of slavery. We’re not saying that, you know what, Shanae was in this inner-city school that due to the legacy of slavery, is in a neighborhood that is impoverished, that lacks access to resources, books and field trips or exposure trips, or however you refer to them and maybe teachers who are burnt out with overcrowded classrooms.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: And we’re saying that despite all that, all the things the that the structural society, racism and structural determinants of health, social determinants of health, all of that, despite all of that, Shanae has went to this school and succeeded and got a 3.7 GPA. So she’s put herself above. But then when you get to Julie, who has been at this school with all the comforts and all the abilities and tutoring services and all this other kind of stuff, she has a 3.7, which is great, but so are those 3.7 different? They might be and we might have to give an edge to Shanae because of what she has to overcome. And if we are able to bring her to a Columbia or a Harvard or my alma mater, Miami of Ohio, or Case Western or USC, because I love my, my alumna schools. But if we are able to bring them here and give her access to resources and opportunities, there’s no telling where she can go in life and what she can do.
Gabe Howard: There are many reasons that diversity is important, but one of the biggest ones, I think, is because of what you just said. I think that the average white person is going to say, well, look, it’s a more challenging school. Therefore Julie’s 3.7 is worth more. And yet you just articulated, hey, look, there’s this challenge, this challenge, this problem. There’s not I believe you use the word cushy tutoring services over on Shanae’s side. So she had to overcome all of that and still get the 3.7. So actually, Shanae is a better candidate and we can go back and forth and argue it until we’re blue in the face. But that the thing that always pops into my mind is we seem to understand the power and value of diversity whenever it comes to selling widgets. And you’re probably thinking to yourself, Gabe, what the hell? Where did widgets come from? I’m talking about focus groups. There is no company in America that would have a focus group that had 20 19-year-old white males. Just I don’t care what they’re selling. They would not want 20 identical people in that focus group. They go out of their way to make sure that there is diversity in that room so that they can get an idea for how to position their product.
Gabe Howard: And they see that as real value. But yet we move over to higher education, we move over to C-suites, we move over to management, we move over to executive decision making or team building, etc. And all of a sudden it’s like, Hey, you recognize that all of your employees are about the same age, the same race, the same gender, and come from the same neighborhood. And they’re like, well, right. They were the most qualified people. Okay, you’re saying that, but isn’t this lack of diversity problematic? And there doesn’t seem to be an understanding of that. And I have this is my favorite story for why diversity matters no matter what you think. And it’s the Franklin County Common Pleas Court House that opened in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011.
Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing racial inequality with Dr. Joanne Lunceford. For the interest of this story, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. None of the architects, none of the builders, none of the designers were misogynists. I’m just going to, I have no idea if that’s true or not. But for the point of this story, I’m going to just give it to them. They were 100% reasonable, women loving people without a misogynistic bone in their body. But this group of men thought a glass staircase
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Mhm.
Gabe Howard: Right in the middle,
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Right when you walk in would be a beautiful idea. Now, listen, as a man, I think it’s a great idea too. I don’t know if you’ve seen this but. It was beautiful. Oh, Dr. Lunceford. It was beautiful. It was glass. It looked like it was floating. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Absolutely. I worked there at the time. I’m very familiar with it.
Gabe Howard: Yes. And again, I want to be very, very clear. The men were not misogynist. I don’t know if they were or not. But for the purpose of this analogy, we’re just going to go with they weren’t that just wasn’t their perspective. They didn’t think about wearing a skirt or wearing a dress or the fact that the required courtroom attire to go to court, to be a prosecutor, a lawyer, a defendant, whatever it is for women is often a skirt or a dress. So, they were required to wear this by societal norms and expectations and yet also expected to walk up a glass staircase that any person could stand underneath and look up. And if they just would have had diversity, if they just would have had one woman, I sincerely believe this whole problem would have been solved by one female architect saying, Uh, guys, what about dresses? And I believe that the men would have been like, Oh yeah, yeah, what about dresses? And then they would have found a solution so that we could have still gotten the beautiful staircase without the peeping tom aspect and of course, without the national headlines about Columbus, Ohio, building this this courthouse to misogyny that frankly are still online and still linger to this day.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: I’m so glad you used that example. I actually worked at the courthouse at that time. I wouldn’t use the steps, when they first came out. I used the elevator because you’re like, who created this? And then who said it was okay? So. The value and the importance of diversity at the table. Exactly. And oftentimes it goes back to when we were talking about the meritocracy, when we’re talking about who’s the best qualified, oftentimes when they’re interviewing and they’re looking for the most qualified person, unconsciously that bias thing, they oftentimes look for a person that’s similar to them in their beliefs and their values. Because they believe that person to be the most qualified, because they mirror what I’m saying and I must be right. So I’m hiring people that think like me, look like me, believe like me and promote like me. They then see them as the most qualified. And if you’ve had the people who have been having access to the jobs and the and everything else, most of the time they were white men and, yet again, Black, Brown and Indigenous folks are left behind, even though they may be the most qualified, because sometimes when they are in the interviews or in the hiring process, many times when there is a dominant culture person interviewing, then that person sometimes will say, you know what? It was just something about them. We didn’t click. It, just something about it. I don’t get it. I don’t think they’re going to fit in right.
Gabe Howard: Whenever these conversations come up publicly, the conversation always turns to how is the black community going to respond? How is the black community going to resolve these issues? And the issue that the black community is supposed to resolve, I guess, is racism. I want to ask you, as an expert, as someone who has studied this, how do you think the black community should respond?
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: So racism is not a black people problem, right? Racism is a white people problem. Black people just live with the impact of it. And so it’s for white people to clear up the race problem because it’s their problem. They created it. So what we’re talking about is there are a lot of broken people in this society, and many of them happen to be in the black community, right, because this society was built and designed to break them. And so then when they get broke, we have the audacity to blame them for being broken and then to the nerve to say, hey, why don’t you fix it? I’m sorry.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: How insane is that? And so to blame people for the condition they’re in because of the way you set up society to devise it, to create the condition. And then tell them to fix it. It’s crazy. So what has to happen is the white community has to deal with those systems that have been created that perpetuate their communities because those have validated and promoted the nonproductive value systems and social norms that that are existing in dominant culture communities, which allows them to say, encourage problematic thinking that says, hey, black people need to fix their own problems. It’s their problem. And so to derive the destructive behaviors of ignoring the school systems, the medical systems, the health care issues, the the abuse, the drug, the addictions, all this other kind of stuff. So you have those destructive behaviors that allow you to turn your head to them and say they’re not our problems because of that. But instead, you have Black, Brown, Indigenous folks living with the consequences of that system that is brought up. So this is why this is so important, because if we really want the system, if we really want society to change, we have to first admit these intentional atrocities. Oh, my Lord.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: How hard is that? Right? We have to admit that slavery happened. We can’t try and write it out the history books and say, you know what, let’s pass legislation where we no longer talk about it and we act like it didn’t happen. We can’t say, oh, no, we don’t want to. We passed legislation. We no longer talk about race. We don’t talk about issues and we don’t talk about slavery and we don’t talk about Jim Crow and we don’t talk about black codes and we don’t talk about Indian boarding schools. Right. Because race is the part that we don’t want to talk about stuff to admit stuff, we don’t want to talk about race. We got to get the courage. We got to put on our big girl panties and big boy drawers and start talking about race. So we have to admit these intentional atrocities happen because that’s the only way we can dismantle and recreate systems. We have to dismantle what we have and recreate new systems so that we then promote improved and just communities, communities that see people as people and humans and humans.
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: And then we can deconstruct these current value systems. That’s how we change that and disrupt problematic thinking that then drive productive behaviors that then heal and unite our country instead of dividing our country. We have to go back to the basics and say, okay, we messed up and it’s okay because we can’t change the past. But what we can do is change how we do things in the future.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Lunceford, thank you so much for being here. I have one last question before we go. Can you give us some hope? Can racial inequality be eradicated?
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Absolutely. Absolutely. In my heart, I believe racial inequality can be eradicated. And when I was doing my dissertation, we call it senior capstone defense, one of my committee members, it was a white male looked at me and said. Joanne. Are you telling me that you believe racial inequality can be eradicated in this country? Because I don’t think it ever can be. And it’s really great to be in this idealistic world. And I said it absolutely can, and I will die trying to make it happen. Because guess what? No one thought slavery could ever end because it benefited too many people. Up until the Emancipation Proclamation, up until Juneteenth or whatever, when no one thought could happen, happened. And I truly, truly believe racial inequality can be eradicated. It may take a while, but we can do the work. And we can make it happen so that generations in the future don’t have to deal with some of the stuff that we have dealt with and ancestors have dealt with because our ancestors dreamed it. We’re going to make it happen.
Gabe Howard: I sincerely hope that he is wrong and you are right. Now, where can folks find you online to learn more?
Dr. Joanne Lunceford: Right now, you can find me on Facebook and you can find me on LinkedIn under Joanne Lunceford. My company is called the RCB Initiative, LLC, and if you have questions, issues, whatever, hit me up, I’ll get back in touch with you. And I look forward to having so many conversations with so many people, because we need everyone in this battle. We need all hands on deck.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Lunceford, thank you so much for being here. And a big thank you to all of our listeners.My name is Gabe Howard and I’m an award-winning public speaker, and I could be available for your next event. I’m also the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon. However, you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to my website gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow, subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and you don’t want to miss a thing. And listen, can you do me a personal favor? Recommend the show, Do it on social media, mention in a support group, send somebody an email. I’ll send somebody a text. Because sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast from Healthline Media. Have a topic or guest suggestion? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/show or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.