Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome, advocates to another episode of The Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their schools. Today's special guest is Mr. Matthew Kincaid. He is the founder and CEO of Overcoming Racism. So without further ado, Matthew, thank you so much for your time and thank you for joining us.

Matthew Kincaid:

Absolutely. And thank you so much for having me.

Sheldon Eakins:

Now, you and I have been talking for a few minutes or so before we hit record and so I'm really excited about today's topic. But before we get into that, I'd love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah, absolutely. So as was said, my name's Matthew Kincaid, founder and CEO of Overcoming Racism. I've been leading anti-racism intensives since I was 14. But I founded Overcoming Racism with the goal of supporting education-based institutions, envision and actualize anti-racist change through shifting systems, policies, and culture. That has grown to us working with businesses and healthcare providers and colleges as well. But the main core focus of our work has always been with educators.

               I'm a former educator myself, taught seventh and eighth grade social studies and was an AP in New Orleans, Louisiana before founding this organization. In a lot of ways, Overcoming Racism was founded to specifically solve issues at our schools, seeing our students, doing all of the things that we were asking them to do but still facing significant barriers both inside of school and outside of school, and using our work to reimagining those possibilities and to make sure that the systems that our students were existing in worked for them. So that work grew and spread and eventually became an organization. But the main focus was to fix the structural issues within the school that I was in in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sheldon Eakins:

So primarily, just to make sure I heard this correctly, the work that you do is focused on addressing a lot of the systemic issues that are prevalent in a lot of our schools out there. Is that correct?

Matthew Kincaid:

Exactly. I think that a lot of either teacher professional development or a lot of rules and structures are based on theories and ideas that our students are broken vessels that need to be fixed, and so we create rules and systems and structures and policies that are rooted in this kind of deficit-based mindset of how can we make sure that these students can function within the school environment? So our work is about flipping that dynamic, believing that students aren't inherently broken, that actually students bring with them all kinds of different tools and assets and cultural wealth, and how can we make sure that the systems that our kids exist in, which are oftentimes the broken part in this agreement, work for all students? And so that was our goal and that is our goal, is to support that paradigm shift in education.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying that. Okay. So here's the thing. A couple of years ago, I think a lot of schools were really open to engaging in really doing some sort of a audit or looking at the systemic approaches or helping out with teacher trainings and really providing a more well-rounded approach that is not based in a lot of the colonizational type of structure where our educational system is today. But then recently, I would say within the last, I don't know, year-and-a-half, year or couple years or so, we're seeing a lot of pushback to the opposite direction.

               For example, you're seeing, I would argue that every time... I glance at Fox News, just every now and then just kind of to keep up what's going on, but every now and then. But it seems like critical race theory is a big topic that continues to deter the movement or the work that needs to be done in order to really address, again, those systemic challenges that are prevalent in a lot of our schools. So I think it's really ironical how when we think about our educational system since, let's just call it the industrial revolution, and who it was built and founded for, and then when we talk about where we're at now and on what's being considered racist or anti-racist, or what's considered reverse race, I mean, I'm hearing all type of different things these days. I wanted to get your take on why is this work that you do and the work that I do, why are these things so important these days?

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah. I think that it's, in some ways, perhaps more important than ever, if not at the very least just so young people can understand how in this country it is possible for a group of white people to be upset about something, have the unilateral power to redefine what that thing is: so to create this definition for critical race theory that is not in the realm of reality and then ban this thing that they have now redefined. So what's really, you can use the word ironic about all of this is that if critical race theory at its core, like actual critical race theory, was about legal scholars in the late 1960s, early 1970s saying, "Hmm. The law and policy have been used to uphold racism in this country. If the law and policy have been a successful tool to uphold racism, then if we critically examine the law, how can we use the law and policy to be a tool to dismantle racism?"

               So in a lot of ways, CRT existed to help to explain how policies like the policies we've seen passed in Florida and 15 other states across the country can come to fruition. So it's ironic because now we are banned to talk about how a small group of people can redefine what is proper or improper as it pertains to teaching about race or racism in schools.

               What's fascinating is that people like yourself and myself, and obviously generations of educators of color that come before us, the shoulders that we're standing on, have been for centuries advocating against racism in the school system and have been met with opposition and met with opposition and met with opposition as you said. Two years ago, it seemed like that door started to crack open. It literally took a matter of months for white politicians, parents, whomever, funded by whomever, to say, "Eh, this is actually what racism is in education. We don't like that." And then to get policies passed. So that's one of the things that I think just speaks values about why our work is so critically important. Because if we don't teach students to have a power analysis, then they won't understand why change, structural change can be so long and can take so much and can take so much sacrifice for some communities and can seemingly happen like this when other communities determine that they're upset about something, even if the thing that they're upset about isn't even a real thing.

Sheldon Eakins:

You just said something that really got me thinking. You said for centuries, let's just say a couple of hundred years, that you have people that are like, "Yo. What's happening is not fair." We can go historically, when you say you're a history teacher, I'm a former history teacher. When we think about after the Civil War and Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights movement, and now whether or not we matter, all these different things for years, hundreds of years. But then within a matter of a few months, folks that are in power have been able to shift things and keep it. "No, no, no, no, no, no." I like how you said, "Ah," or what, I can't do the sound effect. But basically you was like, "Nah. We going... No. This is getting out of hand. Y'all need to get back in line."

               I have a problem with how things are, like you said, a matter of months. To me that speaks so loudly with how... I mean, it's one thing for me to say as a black man, to say, you know what? I feel like our black students are being mistreated. I feel like you do have some systemic challenges. I'm looking at your dress code. I'm looking at your discipline. I'm looking at your representation of special education. I'm looking at your representation or lack of representation of our gifted and talented programs and our advanced honors course and all those types of things. I'm looking at all of this stuff. I've been saying this, but you can literally pass a law that says I can't even bring that up anymore. And I have a big time problem with that.

               Then here's the next thing. So we talked about it from a systemic approach, but now I'm seeing banning of books, that's even the next step. So I'm curious, when it comes to folks that are reaching out to you, and let's say it's a school leader, or maybe it's a superintendent, somebody that's reaching out to you and saying, "Hey, we want to overcome racism to come in and do some work." How does that conversation go these days now as you're consulting, or as you're even discussing the possibility of doing this work with them?

Matthew Kincaid:

I don't think that, outside of maybe making a spiritual connection between some of the theories that exist within CRT to some of our work, I don't know if I could count on one hand how many times the topic of CRT has come up, like I said, I've been doing this work since I was 14 years old, in my entire career of doing this work. Now once again, because people with power have determined that critical race theory is something to be demonized and made to be illegal, that's a conversation I have to have with every school leader that I talk with, with every superintendent who engages with us, with every district that we go to. What's fascinating about that is that I am not a critical race theorist. I have a ton of respect for the field, and I have a ton of respect for the individuals who have used the legal system to think about and reimagine what is possible in terms of ending racism and making society more equitable to all people.

               When we talk about cultural wealth, one of the critical race theory themes is actually that all children have inherent value. So this notion that it is anti-white is actually the opposite, is that the systems that we exist in now, where we can predict the success of a student based on the zip code that they grow up in, the only way that we can maintain those structures and you cited a whole bunch more, AP, gifted and talented, special, like discipline structures. The only way we can maintain these disparities is if we either intrinsically or explicitly believe that some students are more valuable than others because if we didn't have that belief and we believed that all students inherently had value, white students and students of color, then we will look at the status quo of the education systems that we created and existing and we say, "Well, why is it that we can predict that these children will succeed better within these systems and structures than these children will?"

               So these conversations have fundamentally changed the way that we engage with our partners, even though the core thrust of our work is about making school work for all kids. I love Pedro Noguera. He talks about this like social contract, right? School's based on this basic social contract: kids exchange basic compliance, basic rights and freedoms. When you go to school, there are rules. There are structure. You can't necessarily yell out whenever you want to, can't get up whenever you want to, teacher asks you to do something, you're kind of supposed to do it, right?

Sheldon Eakins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew Kincaid:

In exchange for those basic rights in compliance, we as educators promise kids that they will get education and learning. We tell students, "If you have this magical thing called education, it will make all of these different things better about your life. You'll make more money. You'll be more healthy. You'll live longer." We even sometimes go as far as to say, like, "You will break generational curses and you will solve all these issues for your family." I mean, that's a pretty good deal. All I have to do is come to school, sit down, be quiet, listen, and I get this magical thing called education and all of my problems will be solved.

               But what's fascinating is that social contract does work for most kids. If the students ever wanted to en masse decide they weren't going to trade their basic rights in compliance, there's nothing we could do as educators to solve that. I mean, the power that we have is ceded to us by students. But when you start to examine the students that it doesn't work for, whether it be students who have special needs or students who've experienced trauma or students of color or students in the LGBTQI+ community or students who are taught by inexperienced teachers, and we know that children of color are most the frequently exposed to inexperienced teachers. We know that the social contract isn't working for these kids.

               So you would think it would be our moral imperative for all educators, for all parents to say, "Oh, we know this social contract is broken, that even when these kids give their compliance, they're still not getting the education and learning that we promised them. We have to fix that system." But instead, who are the kids that are most disciplined in schools? The same kids that I just listed. We just discipline them more. So that's what our work is about. It's about shifting that dynamic. But now these white supremacists, in my opinion, have interjected all this noise into our work. We can't even do that. We can't even make school work for our kids because now we have to answer all these questions about a version of critical race theory that doesn't even exist.

Sheldon Eakins:

You mentioned it's like the boogeyman, right? It's a nice way to scare folks, "Oh, your kids are being indoctrinated and they're being taught to hate America. Or we're trying to make you feel bad or guilty and all this." But again, I love how you frame it. It's like, we ask kids to behave or we ask them to perform a certain way based off of our standards. And in exchange, they're supposed to get this, you said, magical experience, which is supposed to prepare them for life outside of those walls. But then we're not holding our end of the bargain and then we're not allowed to really address that issue. That is a way that I haven't considered, but you're exactly right. That's what's happening these days.

               Now you will have schools that will say, "Well, that's not our problem. Racism doesn't exist here." What type of response... I see you smiling over there because I'm curious. What are your thoughts when you have these communities that will say, "Well, that's not our school or that's not my classroom. We don't have a systemic issue here." What is the response that you might have when someone says that to you? Or what are some ways that you utilize to help folks identify, yeah, there is some room for growth for you?

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah. I mean a couple things. The first thing is, let me see the data. If somehow you have managed to eliminate racism in your school district and you have managed to close gaps of opportunity or gaps of access, you've managed to create a curriculum that is culturally affirming to all students. If you've done those things, then like, tell me how you did that because the rest of us are still trying to figure it out. So that's the first thing is like, okay, great. You've ended racism? Wonderful. That's extremely exciting. Show me the data. Let me see the discipline data. Let me see the representation data in your teaching force. Let me see the academic data and the outcomes. Let me see what you've done and then tell me how you did it. That's the first thing.

               But the second thing is that I think when people talk about, you use the word the boogeyman. I think it's such a good word because we've created this, I wouldn't say we, but there has been this creation of fear around talking about racism because we only think about racism as the results of the negative consequences of the system. So for a lot of people, and this is why the Florida law specifically says you can't mention that color blindness is wrong, the solution to this is to say, "Oh, well, if we don't talk about it, if we don't see color, if we pretend like the disparities don't exist and if particularly like I am comfortable within the structure," then that's symbolic of the fact that like, oh, we've ended racism here.

               But my bigger dynamic that I really think those of us who are really doing the work talk about is the proactive nature of anti-racism. You're not just doing anti-racism work because of the negative things that could be playing out in your district and probably are playing out in your district. You're doing anti-racism work to prevent the instances of racism, to ensure proactively that we are creating a culture of equity for students, that students are being in environments that are safe for them and are intellectually stimulating for them and that value their cultural wealth.

               We are proactively trying to build an equitable, inclusive and harmonious environment. And so even if you somehow magically were able to have ended racism, this is like a garden. You can plant this beautiful garden, and I look in there and I see all the flowers and everything is great and it is beautiful. If you don't go out there and put fertilizer in the soil, if you don't water those plants, if you don't make sure that those plants that like the sun are in the sun and the plants that don't like the sun are in the shade, if you don't tend to that garden, all of that will die.

               So our work is about the proactive maintenance of anti-racist systems and structures and institutions. That should be something that everyone should want to be a part of. But once again, instead it's this boogeyman. I think that folks are comfortable with the illusion that things are fair when in reality, if we were to just peel back the first layer of the onion, we see that they're not, and that working needs to be done.

Sheldon Eakins:

Do you remember the movie Candyman?

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah. Oh, unfortunately it's seared in... So I haven't seen the new one because I'm still traumatized from the original.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah.

Sheldon Eakins:

So I was one of those kids and I remember when I started seeing the CRT stuff, it just remind and boogeyman, it just reminded me of if you say it five times, then Candyman's going to show up. And I love your analogy regarding the garden. It's like, "Okay, if you say that you ended racism and I can confirm that through your data, I can ask your students and their parents, yeah, that that school is, yeah, we haven't had any problem. That's not a thing. That's not here, not at our school." If that can be confirmed by, validated by data... So quantitative and qualitative research and data can support your claims but that's doesn't mean, "Okay, let's invest all of our funds and professionals available. Let's talk about something else because we've ended that issue." No, you need to maintain it. And I love how you talked about that importance.

               Now here's the thing. I want to shift gears just for a moment because I had a really good conversation with a buddy of mine, shout out to George Jorge Valenzuela. He lives in Virginia and he was talking about how the governor just passed or is really pushing to move the word equity out of schools. But here's the thing I don't understand, and I don't know what your take is or if you're familiar with what's going on over there in Virginia, but diversity and inclusion are still acceptable terms. Those are still acceptable words in that state. I'm seeing this happen where it's like diversity, inclusion, we're good with that. But when you mention the word equity, that is a buzzword for all ages. Why do you think that diversity and inclusion are fine but equity is such an issue these days?

Matthew Kincaid:

Well, because diversity and inclusion can't function outside of equity. So if you eliminate equity, then you also take away the effectiveness of both diversity and inclusion. If we were to break down what those three words mean, which I think most people don't, we don't even think about the dynamic. One of the first things that people oftentimes come to us is that they want to address diversity because it is the quote-unquote safest, and it's the one thing that we've heard our entire lives, like, "Oh, we need to be more diverse." There's this unfortunate myth that if you get a critical mass of people of color in a room and that room is diverse, then that means that racism will cease to exist. But in reality, if you have not shifted the systems and those people of color that you're attracting to your organization, that you're saying "come to our schools, you'll be safe; come work for my company, you'll be safe; come into my hospital, you'll be safe." If those institutions have not examined their systems, then all you're doing is potentially inviting people of color into unsafe spaces.

               So diversity is a passive intervention. You get a bunch of different people in a room, check. It's diverse. None of that has to do with the ways in which people engage. That's where inclusion comes, right?

Sheldon Eakins:

Right. Right.

Matthew Kincaid:

Inclusion is about people being able to show up as their full and authentic selves and accepting people's differences and creating this harmonious culture. Well, it's really hard for that to be actualized in any sort of realistic way if you also haven't done a systemic analysis of whether or not your systems are equitable, which at the core is not giving everyone the same thing, but giving people things based on need. And the way that I like to think of equity is that we will know we've achieved that when we can no longer look at different groups of people and make inferences about their success and/or failure in that structure.

               We know we do not have equity in pay in this country because, I can assume, because of the data that women are being paid less than men. We know that we don't have equity in education in this country because I know that children of color, particularly black and brown kids, are two to five times more likely to be suspended than white children for the same infraction. So equity is the piece that actualizes all of this, and equity is the piece that sparks the most systemic and policy-based change.

               For diversity, just get more people of color in the room. For inclusion, just talk about how we can make sure that this is a space where we're nice and kind to one another, and people feel seen and valued or whatever. Equity, you have to change policies. You have to ask the hard questions. You have to change systems, and you have to have a critical analysis of what people need and then you have to work to meet those needs. And so, yeah, if you take the equity out and you keep the diversity and inclusion, then in a lot of ways, you just replicate the same thing that we've been doing over and over again in this country, which is integrating people of color into unsafe and harmful spaces.

Sheldon Eakins:

Diversity, equity, inclusion, it's a long phrase. And so a lot of people will just say, DEI. DEI. It's become very synonymous, but they are three different things. I love how you talked about how diversity is again, you put you and me in a room, technically we're diverse because you come from a different place than I come from. We got norms and traditions and things like I live in Idaho. You're in Louisiana, right? So there's going to be a diverse experience that the two of us will bring to the table. So that's very, like you said, it's the safe word. Then when we talk about inclusion and how that, again, making people feel welcomed and belong. Those are easy things. But when we talk about equity, and I remember I was in, I'm not going to say where I was at, but not too long ago, I was in a place-

Matthew Kincaid:

I'll respect that decision.

Sheldon Eakins:

-and the question that was brought to me because I did a Q&A and someone asked me, they said the challenge that they had with the word equity was it means that you are taking away from one person to give to the other person. I tried to explain to them, no, you're looking at it as if it's just, you have, let's say you got a $100 as if the resources or what's available is limited. So now I'm taking or reducing that amount to give to someone else. But equity is way more than just looking at it as just a finite amount of something to allow someone else to get... It's experiences. It's opportunities. It's the availability of things that will allow someone to ultimately be able to succeed. But this whole idea of you're taking one thing from somebody to give to another person, I think, again, it's all a way to try to keep these type of terms or these type of things that we need to look at to change as a way to keep, again, the status quo.

Matthew Kincaid:

I love the way that you put that. I think that questions like this are those times when people allow their veiled racism to shine through because what you've said back to the person, which is the truth, is that actually you're operating from this place of scarcity and our work fundamentally operates from this place of abundance. You're operating from a deficit-based perspective. We're operating from of an asset-based perspective. We're not having the same conversation. But let me step into your world for a moment. If resources are scarce and equity means, and the exposure to your own culture in school and all these other things that we want to do on behalf of children of color, if these things are scarce and your fear is that equity means taking from one student to give to another, then by definition, doesn't it mean that's already happening and that you're comfortable with it as long as the children who have the most, who have enough to be sustained in our structures are white or are wealthy or have access to those tools and resources? Aren't you basically saying, "Well, I'm comfortable that these children don't have enough"?

               Because based on your premise, you've identified a group of kids don't have enough. That means that what you're afraid might happen is already happening. That means that children in these communities are already being taken from so that children in these communities can have more.

               So when we start talking about even these policies, that's exactly what they're doing because all we're saying is that we want our children to be exposed to an education system that's very similar to the one that white children already exist in. We don't have to stop talking about white people who contributed in history to also add in people of indigenous descent, people with Asian descent, people with black descent, whatever the case may be. We don't have to throw away all of the cultural values that exist within the European diaspora to also name that there are valuable cultural attributes that exist in Asia and in Africa and in the Middle East, and the list goes on.

               So when these bans against critical race theory comes up, one of the main things that people start talking about is like, "Well, we don't want white kids to be uncomfortable. We don't want white kids to be exposed to an education structure and a pedagogy system that makes them feel less valuable." But what they're really saying in so many words is we don't want white kids to be in the education system that black and brown kids are in every single day. That's not good enough for our kids. We don't want our kids to be exposed to the education system that may treat them with contempt, but black and brown kids go to education systems that treat them with contempt every day.

               I learned almost nothing in school about being black outside of the fact that we were enslaved and that a lot of us got killed trying to get rights. Like, that is the extent. Like, there was nothing before slavery. Like, yeah, things have been pretty bad for you in this country. And then two people stood up, Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and then the benevolent white people were like, "Yeah. You're right. Y'all should have rights." And then the white people gave you your rights. Also, the white people freed you from slavery. You should be grateful. You're in the best country in the world. That was the extent of my education about black history that I got in vignettes in February.

               So do you not think that makes me as a black child sitting in a school in a country in which 80% of public school educators are white, you don't think that makes me feel uncomfortable? You don't think that makes me feel like the structure is treating me with contempt? All the things that white parents are afraid of, that these white legislators are afraid of when they're writing these policies that are banning CRT, which aren't actually the results of what would happen if we promoted equitive education, all of those things are happening right now for black and brown kids in our school system.

               So what is being said in that example that that person asked their question, and also in these policies is we are perfectly fine as long as the dynamic is that your kids have a little and our kids have abundance; your kids have few examples of their successes and our kids have a lot. We are fine with that. Even the notion that we might swing that pendulum a little bit and add in more systems and structures that were designed intentionally with your kids in mind so that they could be in a school system that feels like what the school system feels like for white students, makes, I guess, those folks feel like that dynamic is being flipped. So that's a fascinating question because what I hear when I hear that question is that person saying I'm comfortable with the status quo, and [crosstalk 00:30:18]

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. Let's keep it the same.

Matthew Kincaid:

... the status quo.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. Woo. Listen, brother, you are bringing the fire today, and I wish we had-

Matthew Kincaid:

You got me a little warmed up. I feel like... And I know it's time to end. You going to be like, we just getting started. [crosstalk 00:30:35]

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. Yeah. We going to-

Matthew Kincaid:

You got me warmed up.

Sheldon Eakins:

We going to have to bring you in for a part two-

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah, we'll do that.

Sheldon Eakins:

-because you bringing the fire and I really have enjoyed this conversation.

Matthew Kincaid:

Likewise.

Sheldon Eakins:

I consider you as providing a voice in Leading Equity. Why don't you close this out with one final word of advice you can provide to our listeners.

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah, absolutely. Just let's continue to fight. There's this quote by Paulo Freire. You maybe familiar with his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Sheldon Eakins:

Of course, of course. My favorite book.

Matthew Kincaid:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly, you know what I'm saying? That was really most of our audience, but yeah. You all may be familiar with that. It's a phenomenal text. He says, "It is imperative to maintain hope even when the harshness of reality suggests otherwise. It is imperative to maintain hope even when the harshness of reality suggests otherwise." If you're either an educator listening to this, or if you're a person like myself and Dr. Eakins who are fighting in education-based institutions to move the needle on systemic racism, it can feel pretty hopeless right now because we've been putting in blood, sweat, tears, years of our lives to get to this place, and it feels like in a matter of moments, a lot of that has been swept away. So it is imperative to maintain hope during the harshest realities, otherwise, one of the things that white supremacy is designed to do is to inspire hopelessness in us.

               So I just hope that we can continue to work together, to collaborate, and to overcome these odds because at the core of everything that we do, we do for kids. If we give up the fight, kids are the ones that will suffer the most. So I want to thank you all for listening. If you want to look us up or learn more about our work, you can follow on Instagram @overcomingracism or shoot us an email, [email protected] Thank you so much, brother, for having me on this podcast, for having this space and for giving me a platform to share my story. So, just extremely grateful right now.

Sheldon Eakins:

Listen, the pleasure is mine. I'm sure our audience has a lot to think about as well. So again, thank you so much for your time, Matthew.

Matthew Kincaid:

Absolutely.

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