Andre: Hey friends, you're listening to the Hope & Hard Pills podcast where we are exploring how ordinary people can work together to change their societies for the better. On today's show we are talking with Rachel Cargle. Rachel is an activist, a writer, a lecturer. Her activist and academic work are rooted in providing intellectual discourse, tools and resources that explore the intersection of race and womanhood. She's a regular contributor at Harper's Bazaar, and you've probably seen her on Jada Pinkett Smith's show, Red Table Talk.
I was so excited to talk to Rachel because she has such a strong point of view and she's just such a brilliant thinker. I feel like anyone who's serious about doing this work around anti-racism and social change has to be listening to her. Without further ado, we talk with Rachel about her work and about her perspective on racial justice work in a broad sense. Here is our conversation with Rachel. Hi Rachel.
Rachel Cargle: Hi.
Andre: I'm so, so honored and glad to have you on the show.
Rachel Cargle: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to chat with you.
Andre: Okay, so let's just jump into it. I saw the other day, because I follow you on Instagram, like I'm sure many that are listening do. I saw you post something about how people, they get it messed up. They think that you are just a social media personality, that your actual work is not being on social media. I just thought that'd be a good place to start. What is your actual work?
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, well I think that my actual work is as an academic, as a writer, as a lecturer. I always say, like I said on that post, that social media is a tool of my work but it's not my actual work. I think that's probably true for many people who are doing work in this space and using social media as a space to create community and conversation. But we know specifically in this world of doing activism, race work that the actual work happens offline on our everyday platforms. We often associate the word platform with how many followers we have. But really our platform is our kitchen table, our campuses, our churches, our communities.
I hope it's for everyone that their work isn't social media, that social media continues to be a powerful tool of our generation, but we are continuing to be hyperaware of the fact that all of our work is actually offline, and in the way that we exist in the world. I take a lot of pride in my work as an academic who does critical writing, and who's out here doing public lecturing, which I take very seriously, and it's my favorite part of the work that I do. Yeah, social media is a tool, but it's not the actual work that's getting done.
Andre: Yeah. Yeah. Are you working on a PhD right now?
Rachel Cargle: No. Everyone thinks that it's really funny. I'm actually an undergrad. I do not have a degree.
Andre: I don't know why I thought that. It's funny is that people often do that to me as well. They're like, "Andre, I heard that you had several PhDs." I'm like, "I don't have one PhD."
Rachel Cargle: The most common question I get... It's really funny because people get so shocked, and I'm often nervous about what the reaction will be because there have been times I've been invited by grad students at Harvard to come and lecture to the groups. They'll be like, "This is Rachel, she has a PhD." I'm like, "Oh no, no, I don't. Do you all want to send me back home because I'm not who you think I am?" No, I don't have a degree. I'm working on my undergrad.
Andre: I think there's an interesting conversation in there too though about academia and even those expectations, right? That people who are doing this work have high level degrees, and that you need that to do that. I think that one question sometimes that comes up is, what qualifies people to be able to do this?
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. Yeah. I think that there is a critical conversation that needs to be had, particularly about the colonizing authority. It's something that my friend Ebony Janice talks about a lot, and it's looking into the ways that we are defined by the processes and the boundaries that were set in a very colonized space. Academia has its deep, deep issues surrounding racism, surrounding colonization, and I think that there's something that we need to consider about decolonizing intellect, decolonizing academia, and the authority, the white gaze that we think we need approval from in order to feel official, especially in race work.
People always ask, "Oh Rachel, when did you start this work?" I'm like, "When I was born as a black woman." "When did you become an expert?" "When I was born as a black person, that's when I became an expert." I think that we need to get hold of this intellectual genius that we have purely from existing as black people speaking on the things that affect us personally. But also we are out here reading, we are out here researching, when we're out here talking to... we're out her sitting on the stoop talking to our friends. We're doing some ethnographic work. We are doing this and we have authority to speak on it, and we need to do so.
Andre: Right. It reminds me of, you're having these conversations, and sometimes when you're having them online, they're open. There are no boundaries, there are no gates keeping people out. People wander in and they may start arguing some point that's like 101, right? If you had the lived experience as a black person, you wouldn't be saying or asking that question. I think that people really do discount the value of lived experience as a source of knowledge. How do you feel like academia or some type of institutional learning adds to the lived experience for people who are doing this kind of work?
Rachel Cargle: Well, one thing that I really value about academia is learning how to critically analyze the things that we do know. That's not always something that comes natural to people to be able to critically analyze all the information that we hold in us, and so that's one thing I really value. How to be a better writer, how to really put onto the paper the things that we know, how to analyze data that we understand. If you see how many houses their residents are being pushed out, and what that looks like in comparison to the economy. Putting together pieces that we might not always know how to do it, but we do have the information and how to be a little more critical in analyzing what we know so that we can move that to action. I think that's definitely something that the academy provides.
Andre: Yeah. Now, I feel like sometimes going through the academy can be an alienating experience for students and scholars, right? You can lose touch with people who are the most deeply impacted and on the front lines of fighting for these social causes. I wonder, what do you think the role is of intellectuals and academics in liberation work?
Rachel Cargle: To see each other? I think to be able to say, "I see you, I hear you," and to affirm our shared experiences. I think that, that is the thing that gives us the extra energy to keep moving and to keep fighting. I think that there's so much that needs to be appreciated about the ways that we're all doing the work. I think that some people, they're like, "The academy is doing this, so I'm leaving, and this is how I'm going to fight it." Some people say, "The academy is doing this, so I'm staying and this is how I'm going to fight it." Both of those hold deep value in how to approach the issues.
I think that acknowledging that we're all in this, and that it's really shitty and hard for so many, and really just validating how we're all doing the fight and sharing our resources, sharing our knowledge, sharing our tools so that we all feel seen and heard and affirmed, and that we're all just building this toolkit of how we're continuing to fight it in whichever way we decide is the best for us.
Andre: One way that I see you fighting is by being very clear and forceful in the way that you speak about issues of justice. I really appreciate the boldness that you speak with. I wonder about your tone, right? And who you're talking to, and how you came to the decision that you're going to speak clearly and forcefully.
Rachel Cargle: I think that's all I know. I don't know if it was the decision, "This is how it's going to be, but I think that the clarity has been shown to be appreciated from my audience, that straightforwardness. I think it's like I'm saying. "I'm giving it to you raw and you can choose what you're going to do with it." I think maybe I appreciate being taught in that way and so I'm just emulating what I know works really well for me. But I made a post recently by someone else that spoke about how part of that underlying fierceness, and anger, and passion, and emotion that's part of the teaching.
No race work is going to be sweet and easy because there's so much that comes with it. So much pain and so much hurt. Even in the joy, usually the joy that we're talking about came out of a pain. We're celebrating the beauty of the fact that we are even able to do that. I will never apologize for attributing the correct emotions to the realities of how we've experienced it. I happen to do very white facing work, so I have a very large white audience. I've realized that part of my work isn't just teaching, but also teaching my audience how to receive what I'm teaching.
I understand that when I'm being fairly aggressive, that, that's not always an opportunity for the black girl in a business office. She can't necessarily talk to her white boss like that based on what the consequences may be. I take that very seriously. Being able to do that and teach my white audience, "What I'm saying is valid, whether it feels good to you or not." I often talk about the fact that if you only listen to me , and I say, "I'm an Ivy League educated, very well written, very well spoken, pretty cute black girl who, if you listen to me, but you don't listen to your black neighbor or you don't listen to your black coworker, you think I'm your entertainment, I'm not. You need to be listening to every black person and their experience and what they're trying to tell you."
Andre: Right, right, so important. I assume that you probably get criticism from a lot of different groups [crosstalk 00:11:48] -
Rachel Cargle: Oh my God.
Andre: I'm sure that they're white people, people of color, black people. Is that true-
Rachel Cargle: Oh my gosh. People write dissertation emails to me about how they feel and I always, "I don't write this many words without getting paid. I have no clue why you all are emailing me." It's wild. It's wild. Yes I do get a lot of DMs, a lot of emails, a lot of... I've had articles written about me. It's wild. People don't have nothing else to do, nothing.
Andre: Okay. How do you keep yourself okay with facing that kind of backlash? Because it sounds like there's a lot and it sounds like it's often. What do you do so that you don't sweat all of that?
Rachel Cargle: Well, there's two parts to it. One is that this is my work, and how I try to describe it, because I get this question almost daily. The thing is, it's like for me to go to a kindergarten teacher and be like, "How do you deal with four year olds all day? I personally would never want to do that." It's like, "How do you deal with them yelling and screaming and crying, and the ..." Of course the kindergarten would teacher would be like, "Oh, it's my work. This is what I study and this is what I love." For me it's the same way. This is my work, this is what I love, so even the hard parts are part of this work that I do, and it's part of my passion. I take it as... It probably doesn't weighs heavy on me as it would someone else. Just like being in a room full of kindergartners all day would weigh really heavy on me, but it doesn't so much on an actual kindergarten teacher.
That's part of it, that this is just my work and so existing in this space probably isn't as heavy on me as it is someone who isn't supposed to be doing this work. The other thing is, I do a lot of self care. I'm really intentional with being introspective and aware of my needs and my wants and how I exist in the world. Just being really intentional with that as well.
Andre: One thing that comes up a lot when we talk about liberation, freedom, anti-racism, whatever word we want to use, is about, I think sometimes people of color and white people get worried that by focusing on black people it's exclusive, right? I wonder if in your studies, if you see... Well, I also hear the counter argument. That the things that we do for the most impacted benefit everyone, and I wondered if you could comment on that-
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, I feel that way. When you say it's the most exclusive hell yeah, it's exclusive, and I'm not apologizing for it. There needs to be that... We deserve that exclusivity first of all. But also as you said when the least of us are free, all of us are, and that there's incredible value to the whole of society when there is an understanding of black women and their existence, the black community and their existence. Holding the white community accountable for how we exist in this time and space. I will never ever, ever apologize for the exclusivity of my work.
Andre: Yeah. It sounds like also, yeah, sure, it is exclusive and focusing on this group, but the reforms that need to happen in society to make the most [inaudible 00:15:04] free are beneficial to everyone.
Rachel Cargle: Exactly. But also consider that anything that's... There's some archeologists out there studying dinosaur genitalia. If he could be specific in the work that he was doing, I can be specific in the work that I'm doing.
Andre: Very true. Very true. Okay. While we're on this, I really want to bring up a couple of things. Someone's going to be mad at me for this, but...
Rachel Cargle: Is it me? Am I going to be the one who's mad?
Andre: I hope not. No, no, no, no, no, no. I noticed something after 2016 as well. I feel like a lot of white women had an awakening of sorts in 2016 right at the top of the election. Rachel, let me just be honest. I'm going just keep it 100 with you, okay. I don't like the way that a lot of white women are using the word intersectionality and using the term intersectionality.
Rachel Cargle: Oh, for sure.
Andre: I'll tell you a real quick story because I really want to hear you comment on this.
Rachel Cargle: Yes, tell me.
Andre: I wrote an article in February because I have... I grew up in the south in a white evangelical context, and around 2016 is when a lot of those relationships changed probably forever. I wrote an article in February, because those same people were going around the internet saying Andre hates white people. I said, "Okay listen, first off-"
Rachel Cargle: Oh my gosh. People say that to me all the time, it's so funny.
Andre: First off, you don't say, I hate white people, you better have a receipt. That's what I said [inaudible 00:16:43]. You better be able-
Rachel Cargle: When I tell people I have white friends they're like, "What?" No one believes that I have a white friend. [inaudible 00:16:50].
Andre: I wrote basically a receipt of, this is how I actually feel about white people, which I have a very deep love for. Even the people that I had to cut off. But I did have to set a boundary, right? I mentioned in the article that I knew that these people would have believed their children if their children told them, that they had been harmed or they'd been assaulted or something like that. Now I was saying that about people that I know, and so I got a few white women that were saying, "Well, we need to talk about intersectionality because this guy, blah blah blah." I go, "I will only take black women calling me out on intersectionality. I am not okay with this from white women who are not also considering how race influences the very conversation they were trying to have."
Emmett Till was accused of raping or touching a white woman and there was no, well, let's wait for all the facts. He did not live. Anyway, that's where it comes from. I took a long time to tell that story. I'm sorry. But all that to say I'm not okay with the way a lot of white women are talking about intersectionality, and I'm wondering if you're noticing this too and what you have to say about it.
Rachel Cargle: 110% and I teach on intersectionality in my lecture, Unpacking White Feminism. The first thing I say when I even bring up the topic, I'm like, "I know." Because my lectures are usually full of white women, and I say, "I know you all probably have intersectional feminists in your bio but you're probably not." First of all, it's such a black term, before you even try to form the word intersectional in your mouth... Didn't your mom used to say that when you [inaudible 00:18:36] you would try to form something in your mouth before you say it. Before you even try to form the word intersection in your mouth, you need to be saying Kimberle Crenshaw. There's no reason. I need you to verbally cite her every time until it's a well known fact that she is the one who developed this theory.
The first is recognizing that it's a black woman who created this, based on her recognition that black women were being erased in the justice system, point blank. Intersectionality was created for black women. It has been used in other spaces and that's to have an understanding of intersecting oppressions. But I think it needs to be known that it was developed for the needs of black women. First of all.
Second of all, intersectionality is not a word, it's not just a word we say to describe something. Intersectionality is a theory. Kimberle Crenshaw created an entire theory around this. Until you've studied the work of her, she's done Ted Talks, she's written articles, she has books. Until you really have an understanding of the word, you don't know it enough to be using it. I think just along the lines of diversity, the word intersectionality, they think that intersectionality and diversity is interchangeable and it's not. Also, it's like a veil to put over you to make you think that you're not racist. But it doesn't faze me personally and clearly it doesn't faze you either. When someone tries to argue with me about intersectionality, I say, "Okay, can we talk about the theory a bit?" Then it's over. Until we can sit and talk about theory, I don't want to hear you talk about intersectionality.
Andre: Okay. I hear you. I'm wired right now. I could bounce off a wall. There was a moment in one of the Red Table Talks that you were in where I was like, "If I ever get to talk to Rachel Cargle, I'm going to ask her about this moment."
Rachel Cargle: I'm ready.
Andre: Because as we're talking about cross racial dialogue, I think it was Jada who talked about recognizing allies. I think that she was talking about collective liberation and whatnot. I couldn't tell, but it seemed like you got real quiet, like you were making a point right there about how some non-black people want to be allies. I think the point that was being made was that maybe sometimes we're not very trusting toward them, and sometimes we're not recognizing them. I wondered what your thoughts are on about collective liberation and on non-black people trying to collaborate with black people in anti racist work.
Rachel Cargle: Well there's a few things to talk about here, and one of the easiest ways I've found to center this conversation is if we imagine that a man was leading a movement for anti-patriarchy or anti-misogyny. If we saw a man leading a movement against misogyny, we would be happy for it, but we know that he wouldn't be able to speak directly to the real issues of it, and he needs to move over and let a woman describe what was happening and what needed to be done to fix it because the perpetrator can't also be the fixer. While you can support the marginalized group you're supporting, you can't lead them. You will never. That was so black. You will never.
I've been having a conversation, actually, I just did an interview today talking about Robin DiAngelo, and her book White Fragility, and how it's on the best seller list, and how she's going out and doing all this anti-racism work. I've read her book, her book's brilliant. I love it. It has a lot of really critical information, but unless she's giving 50% of the money she's making from that book to black communities, there's a conversation to be had. Because I don't like the idea of a white person profiting off of race work. Not only do you benefit from the system you're going against, but you're also benefiting from trying to break it down. There's conversation to be had about that I think.
Andre: Wow. Yeah. Yeah. I have a couple of friends who are also scholars that, not that this is a scholarly conversation everybody who's listening [inaudible 00:23:26], that are from the Afro-pessimist tradition. They're very skeptical about the ability of black and non-black people to work together without non-black people confronting their anti-blackness.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, I think that's a valid conversation to be had, and I think that there's nothing wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with allyship. I believe that there are white people who are looking to do this work, but I also think that there is some critical analysis and conversation that has to be had about what their role is. I think that their role should always be paying their privilege forward to the marginalized leaders. It's just very concerning. It doesn't sit well with me to consider that she's making however much money she's making on her speaking rounds for a book about race. If the benefits of your race work are still benefiting white people, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know how to... This is something that I've just started really thinking about, so I don't know my fullest thoughts.
But going back to the Red Table Talk, Jada and I argued a lot on and off camera. I think that she clearly doesn't align with my straightforward way of approaching this conversation. One thing that the receipt showed from that episode, I don't know if you remember seeing any posts, but after that episode, after Googling the Red Table Talk with Rachel Cargle, I was interested to see what the media was talking about. Every single article talked about Jada saying white people can be allies and how Anne Hathaway was a good example of white allyship. The media took nothing else from that Red Table Talk except praising the white person in the conversation. That's why we need to be intentional on how we have that conversation.
Andre: Yeah. Yeah. So important. I want to ask you, what does black liberation look like to you? If we were all successful in all this work that we're doing in different fronts and different fields, what do you think the world would look like?
Rachel Cargle: It's been a conversation that my friend, Ebony Janice has been talking about, and it... What does it look like for black people to just exist and not be continuously resisting? What would that mean for our bodies? What would that mean for our minds? What would that mean for our creativity? I'm just thinking, I went to a film festival in Brooklyn last year. It was a short film festival for black directors and every... Let me think, there were probably about seven films that we saw. Five of them were about police brutality and it's like, so much of our creativity is wrapped up in improving our existence, in defending our existence. It's like, can you imagine if police brutality wasn't a thing, what would that creativity and that money have gone to? What would that film have looked like if their hearts weren't heavy with police brutality. I think that I want us to just exist and not resist.
Andre: Yeah. Oh my God. Yeah. Deep negro spiritual sigh.
Rachel Cargle: Yes.
Andre: What do you think the role of black people should be in pursuing that? I know that we talk about, it's not our responsibility to try to convince white people to defect from white supremacy, even though some of us do, and that's meaningful work. But what do you think our role is?
Rachel Cargle: To stay alive, to be happy as often as possible, to be full as often as possible, to be as alive as possible, as often as possible. Because I deeply believe that our joy is a resistance. I deeply believe that, like I said, just staying alive is a resistance. Black love is a resistance, black intellect is a resistance. While some of us, this is our work, know that we're doing that nuanced critical work, but for those... I get a lot of questions from black people like, "Rachel, how do I do this work?" I say, "Unless you feel deeply called to do anti-racism work, your only job is to stay alive."
Stay alive, stay free, stay happy, do everything you can to maintain that, and all of us who are on the front lines of this anti-racism work will continue to listen to our calling and fulfill our calling. But for everyone who that's not their particular work then just exist the way you exist because your anti-racism work looks like you creating a [inaudible 00:28:40] film, your anti-racism looks like how you dance on that stage your anti-racism looks like how you teach in the classroom. I don't put any tasks to black people except to just continue to be alive and be well.
Andre: I want to ask you one last question. I ask everyone that I have on the show this same question. I'm assuming that the fact that you continue to get up in the morning, and continue to teach, and continue to educate means that you believe that it can make a difference. I wonder, what keeps you going?
Rachel Cargle: That's a really good question. What keeps me going is knowing that this is my purpose, and knowing that I continue to get the messages from black women who say, "You've made me feel seen, you've made me feel heard. You've given me language to combat the things that I'm experiencing in various spaces." Knowing that me existing in my power and in my purpose is assisting other black women in doing the same, that's enough for me. Also recognizing that this work has been done over and over again.
I always share the story about, how I was in Brooklyn walking down the sidewalk and this woman was selling books and I picked up a book called 19th Century Black Women in America. It was a collection of lectures done by black women on anti-racism work from the 19th century. Considering that... From reading that, and studying that, and listening to these women, it made me think, "Oh, okay. It's just my turn." Recognizing that it's my turn, and so I'm going to to do it fully, i don't necessarily have any huge hope that anything's going to change in my generation or maybe even the next generation. It could, it might not, but I have to take my turn.
Andre: Wow. That's powerful. Rachel, thank you so much. This has been such an amazing conversation. I am so happy that we got to have it. Where should people go to follow your work and to keep up-
Rachel Cargle: Instagram is my space at rachel.cargle is my page and that's where I do a lot of teaching. I share whenever I'm out lecturing, a lot of the information that I'm putting out, whether it be, my Harper's Bazaar articles, or a live lecture that I'm doing, everything is there, and also a lot of really good conversation within the post as well.
Andre: Awesome. All right, well make sure that you follow Rachel on Instagram. We will see you all... Well, we won't see you because this is an audio podcast, but you'll hear from me later.