Focus on the Structural Inequity, Not Interpersonal Racism, Says Gabelli School’s Clarence Ball
Interviews | Aug 03, 2020 | Gabelli School of Business
Of all the honors a business professor might snag, an Emmy would seem to be one of the least likely. But Clarence Ball III did just that in 2014 when he won one for the documentary “Looking Over Jordan: African Americans and the War.”
That same year, he joined the faculty of the Gabelli School of Business as a lecturer in communications and media management, and in addition to teaching communications theory and corporate communications, he has worked as the college’s interim director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We recently sat down—virtually, of course—with Ball, an award-winning competitive speaker, and speech coach, to talk about we can better understand each other during these turbulent times.
Full transcript below:
Clarence Ball III: I do not think that solving interpersonal racism, A, is possible within our lifetime. I also don’t think it’s necessary. We should really be trying to solve structural inequities or systemic racism because then we can attack the policies and not the people.
Patrick Verel: Of all the honors a business professor might snag, an Emmy would seem to be the least likely, but Clarence Ball III did just that in 2014 when he won one for the documentary, Looking Over Jordan: African Americans and the War. That same year, he joined the faculty of the Gabelli School of Business as a lecturer in communications and media management. And in addition to teaching communications theory and corporate communications, he has worked as the college’s interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion. We recently sat down, virtually of course, with Ball, an award-winning competitive speaker and speech coach, to talk about how we can better understand each other during these turbulent times. I’m Patrick Verel, and this is Fordham News.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed, people are having conversations about race issues in ways that they haven’t before. And I know many are struggling with how to proceed. How can we have productive conversations, especially since we can’t have them in person for the foreseeable future?
CB: That’s a really good question, Patrick. I think a lot of the allies at Fordham have been reaching out to me directly, some people that I know very well because we worked together a lot, and then other people that I’ve seen in passing, we work around the office together, just trying to stay connected. And what I’ve noticed from the allies is that there are some that are interested in other people seeing them doing the work, and there are some that are interested in doing the work privately. I don’t think either one is better or worse than the other, I think we just need to have the conversation.
But the people that have reached out to me privately, we’ve been able to have some more robust discussions. So I think if you know people that might be experiencing trauma from these issues, you might reach out to them directly and have more in-depth conversations before you go public with your thoughts.
PV: One of the things that seems to be key to the conversations about race is this idea that you can take a hate the sin, not the sinner approach. Do you agree with that and can you expand a little bit upon that?
CB: Yeah, I absolutely do agree with that. I agree because racism was done to all of us, right? It’s not just the people of color that have been victimized by racism. There are people that really do believe in supremacy that are of all colors, and that’s detrimental to all people.
So seeing that racism is something that was done to us through a series of laws and policies, right? Some people walked away from those laws and policies believing that they were better than other people. Other people walked away from those laws and policies feeling like they were less than other people. I don’t think that any of it is true. We’re all human, right?
And so I think when you go into the history of it and you look at indentured servitude, as opposed to slavery, you will see that many of the immigrants, I think two-thirds of all of the immigrants, arrived to British America under indentures, and that did not have respect of race. And you didn’t see race distinction in indentured servitude until the 1600s. So there was a case, John Casor, I believe against Virginia. And it was decided that because he was Black, his indenture would be for life. And from that case on, you see race kind of having this difference in regard to policies and how they treat us.
PV: You mentioned this idea of having these conversations kind of one-on-one, personal conversations as being more productive. Suppose you’ve reached that point now where you know you want to have that conversation with somebody about it. Any thoughts on how to go about starting that conversation?
CB: Yeah. I really think that you should begin having a conversation like that with a person that is ready to have the conversation. I do not think it is wise to force really difficult topics like race, structural inequities. I don’t think you should force conversations like that on people, but rather wait until they’re ready to have them.
Two things I want to add to this. Most of the times when people are having these conversations, it’s really to combat interpersonal racism. Interpersonal racism is when you have two people and, interpersonally, they don’t relate to each other until you’ve got these microaggressions and so on and so forth. And for whatever reason, people, their feelings, their emotions, they kind of want to sift through these issues. I do not think that solving interpersonal racism, A, is possible within our lifetime. I also don’t think it’s necessary. We should really be trying to solve structural inequities or systemic racism because then we can attack the policies and not the people.
PV: Talk to me about these summer workshops that you’ve been involved with at the Gabelli School. I understand you’ve been working with both undergraduate and graduate-level students. Can you tell me why is it so important to have these conversations about how to be an anti-racist now and what’s involved in these workshops in particular?
CB: So the Gabelli school is doing a lot of trainings. We’re doing a lot of lunch and learns, panel sessions, like you said. The impetus, I’ll share a few of them with you. We had a talk with the chief diversity officer, Raphael Zapata, and myself about a few weeks ago. And then from that talk, we just unpacked the different police cases that have been in the news lately. We shared some thoughts about that. We talked about structural and systemic racism, and we talked about the problem of interpersonal racism versus structural racism.
Recently last week, we had a different session, and this was with Gabelli Forward, which is under the programmatic umbrella of the graduate school. So at the graduate school, it’s really for our prospective students, which, in that case, would be people that have 10 to 15 years of work experience under their belt before we get them as students. And so what we tried to do was to have a discussion about being anti-racist in the 21st century, but gear it toward not only what we do at the university, but what might you encounter in the workspace.
The last thing is we’ve got these initiatives with Gabelli Launch, which is also under the graduate school’s programmatic umbrella. And Launch, this is for students that have already been admitted. And we have two programs. We’ve got one for executive MBAs. Again, this is our population. They’ve got 10 to 15 years of work experience. And so we’re going to have a more corporate discussion with them. We’ll take them through conflict personas, so on and so forth.
The other is for our Master’s of Science programs, which, demographically, have more international students than domestic students in our Master’s of Science programs. So that’s a different conversation that we’d like to have with them because they will come into the classroom here without the context of what racism is, particularly coming from where they come from. So we kind of give them a crash course of what racism looks like in America and why people on both sides are so emotional.
PV: Any surprises come out of it so far?
CB: Surprises? I was really surprised… We had a psychologist on the Gabelli Forward panel, and her research interests are in trauma that is related to racism. And so, listening to some of her findings from her dissertation and some of her research work that she does with Fordham, I found out that I’ve been traumatized and that there’s trauma like living in different places in my body, and that we all have trauma. It’s why we get so emotional if things don’t quite go the way that they should, and it’s a constant struggle between history and the things that you were taught and the things that you’ve seen, and then juxtaposing that with the move that the world is going into.
It’s a really emotional thing to do and I learned a lot academically from her during that panel that I don’t think I would have learned because I’m not sitting on a couch as much as I should.
PV: Right now, we’re talking in particular about these workshops, but is there anything else that you’ve picked up along the way since all this began that it’s kind of resonated with you?
CB: Yeah. I have a friend and she’s a history professor at Columbia. And her research is kind of like antebellum, postbellum reconstruction. And I’ve just been learning from her that the history lessons that I was taught in K through 12 were borderline inaccurate, and then, at best, omissive. Like there’s just so much that’s not there. And it is also structured in such a way where it really promotes a supremacy.
I am now unlearning so much, which is important, and we all will have to do some of that work in the midst of all of this, but I’m unlearning a lot. And then I’m going to find actual research, scholarly articles, to kind of reinforce a lot of the things that I missed in K through 12. And it’s helping me to get to know myself better.
PV: I felt that way when I was in grad school and I learned about redlining for the first time. I felt like I should have known about that way earlier in my life, given that I grew up in the New York City area. Yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting, the idea of unlearning things.
CB: I agree.
PV: Yeah, never too late to unlearn stuff, right?
CB: Never too late to unlearn. This is related, but not related. We’ve got a summer program right now and the kids are doing a project on redlining. And they’re finding out that New York, although it’s one of the most diverse places in the country, is also one of the most segregated when people go home to their neighborhoods.
PV: I guess it gets the reputation because everybody gets mixed up in the subway-
PV: And then when they go to work. But yeah, when they go home, not so much.
CB: Not so much.
PV: Yeah. Well speaking of New York City, you’ve been involved for the past two years with a partnership with Cardinal Hayes High School and Aquinas High School where you mentor Hispanic and Black students. How’s that gone so far?
CB: The program at Hayes and Aquinas has been pretty awesome for the Gabelli School. I mean, it does two things for us. First, it is a pipeline program. Historically at Fordham, students of color have been underrepresented. Let’s put it that way, right? And they’ve been underrepresented in such a way where now the university is trying to recruit students, right, that have the academic ability to survive in an environment like Fordham. It is a recruitment program.
So we work with the honors program at Hayes. These are very high achieving high school students with good test scores and good GPAs. And they are already interested or have been in conversations with Ivys and other really large institutions, research 1 institutions within the US. And yet, they really weren’t considering Fordham before this program. And so we’ve been able to go to the school as the Gabelli School of Business, teach them things about business principles like finance and marketing and strategy and operations, and then give them a project that is very closely related to the capstone of the sophomore year at Gabelli. And they learn it. And then they do this pitch proposal competition.
And in the midst of all of that, we’ve got Fordham students, which is, this is the other side of the coin, it’s a recruitment pipeline, and it’s also a community gaze learning initiative for our college students. So they are the college mentors that are in the classroom with the high school students walking them through the college assignments. And it helps the high school students, but it really reinforces the learning for the Fordham students, so that when they come into the class, they have reinforced their learnings about finance and marketing strategy, so on and so forth.
From the program, I think we’ve admitted about 10 students between Fordham College, GSB, and the Fordham College Lincoln Center at Rose Hill. And now, yeah, we’re going into year three of the program and we are looking to add a third institution, depending on whether or not we can do so virtually.
PV: Given that your expertise is in communication. Is there anything that you’ve kind of taken note of in the last two months that’s really made you hopeful for things to come?
CB: At the business college, a lot of the professors’ researched interests in various fields has some cross-pollination with conflict resolution. Even in management, they’ve got these organizational dynamics things that they do. And so what I’ve learned in the midst of all of this, is that serious conversations about race and inequities really involved critical conflict resolution principles. First thing, you’ve got to be willing to resolve the conflict, right? A lot of people come to the table for this particular conversation interested in learning, but not necessarily interested in resolving anything.
So you’ve got to come to the table ready to resolve conflict. And then when you do, you’ve got to really use best practices around listening and making sure that the other person is understood, and not using a hot button language or terms, so on and so forth. So that’s what I learned from this. And I know that it’s something that a lot of other professors at the Gabelli School are dealing with.
PV: Anything else you want to add before I let you go?
CB: The only thing that I’m thinking about within the context of Fordham in this conversation is it’s time for us to put our Jesuit values to work.
Note: This story was originally published in the Fordham News and was republished here on GabelliConnect.