On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

70. The Fight for Our History (with Roderick Ferguson)


February 17, 2023

With Guests:

  • Professor Roderick Ferguson is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, where he is also a professor of American Studies. He is the award-winning author of One-Dimensional Queer; We Demand: The University and Student Protests; The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference; and Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.

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In this Episode:

In the wake of a year that’s been plagued with book bans, book burnings, and right-wing censorship of all kinds, we’re wondering: why is our American history being banned? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent attempts to ban an Advanced Placement course in African American studies have us thinking about American fragility, and the drastic consequences of this censorship. Not to mention, what does this mean for our constitutional rights—matters like free speech, and the First Amendment? When the government infringes on our fundamental constitutional rights, how can we fight back?


Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. magazine. As you know, we’re a show that reports, rebels and we tell it just like it is. On our show, we examine the past as we think about the future. And that’s exactly what we’re bringing to you in this episode for Black History Month and the others that will follow. 

In this episode, we’re wondering—why are people burning books? Why are books by some of our most prominent authors being banned? Why is it that the AP African American Studies courses received so much attention? Is that because there are authors that are now being blacklisted? Materials that children are being denied learning? And then what does this mean for our nation, when we can no longer hold up a mirror to ourselves, and with some level of objectivity, examine the past—colonialism, a past of Jim Crow, of American slavery, of women’s suffrage, of Indigenous people and the Trail of Tears? Why is it that in 2023, there is so much American fragility, and censorship? And what does this mean about protecting important constitutional rights such as free speech and the First Amendment? How does that fit into matters of state sponsored censorship of materials?

Helping me to unpack these issues and so much more, is someone who has been blacklisted himself, whose materials have been yanked from the African American AP studies course and that’s Professor Roderick Ferguson. He’s the William Robertson Coe Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, where he is also a professor of American Studies. I’m so pleased that he’s actually able to join me right in this moment to talk about the urgency of our American history. Sit back and take a listen.

00:00:02 Michele Goodwin:

It’s such a pleasure and a real privilege to be with you, Rod, and first-name basis okay, because we go way back, right?

00:00:12 Roderick Ferguson:


00:00:12 Michele Goodwin:

And you know when I saw your name on the list of professors whose works would be removed from the African American AP Studies course, I texted you. I was so surprised by that. So, I wanted to talk with you about just what this represents in our country, right now, not just your incredible rigorous body of work being extracted and moved away from the AP American Studies just represents something broader in terms of the kind of censorship that is beginning to take place about matters that relate to Black Americans, Indigenous Americans.

00:01:04 Roderick Ferguson:


00:01:06 Michele Goodwin:

Everybody, let’s start with were you surprised when your name appeared on the list.

00:01:23 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. You know. I was surprised. First of all, it’s great to see you and great to be on the show. I was surprised because it was just unexpected. I mean the College Board was not on my radar, you know? I had received the emails requesting me to come and look at the College Board curricula, you know, emails of we want your input. I had ignored all of them. They kept coming, and then, you know, one Saturday, I’m opening up my email, and a reporter says you have just been listed as one of the scholars who will be removed from the course, and you know, there’s a tweet going out by the Florida Department of Education. 

So, I was not surprised given the context, but I was surprised because it just, you know, I was not close to it, at all, right? You know I think what it represents, you know, I talked a bit about this in the Op-ed that I wrote, is that it really represents a kind of crackdown on critical thinking, critical pedagogy, but also interdisciplinary work around the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, you know, critiques of discrimination, critiques of labor exploitation. So, even though it is targeted at African American Studies, it pertains to all of us, you know? Like, all the work that folks do within the humanities, the social sciences, law schools, you know, environmental schools, all of us are vulnerable. All the work that we do is vulnerable because of attacks like this.

00:03:36 Michele Goodwin:

As if African American studies become a smokescreen for the removal of so much more.

00:03:54 Roderick Ferguson:

Yes. Oh, yeah.

00:03:58 Michele Goodwin:

It seems somewhat nativist.

00:04:01 Roderick Ferguson:

Oh, completely. I think it’s nativist. You know it’s an aggressive nationalism. You know it is…it’s everything. It’s racism. It’s misogyny. I mean if you look at the original tweet from the Department of Education, you know, Angela Davis is ineligible because she is a Marxist. Bell Hooks is ineligible because she wrote “many books on intersectionality,” you know? So, I’m ineligible because of the work that I have done, you know, in queer studies and the critiques that I have made of state violence and corporate violence, right? So, it’s all of that. It’s the nativism. It’s the misogynoir. It’s the homophobia. It’s the transphobia. You know it’s all of it.

00:05:13 Michele Goodwin:

You know I’m wondering what this ends up leading to because, in 2023, we see this erasure taking place with materials that were in place 10, 15 years ago, at least in terms of what were in libraries at public schools. It doesn’t mean that the students were necessarily picking the books up off the shelves.

00:05:36 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:05:39 Michele Goodwin:

You know but there were books that were there, and you know, recent attention can be on Florida and you know AP African American Studies, but we know that for the last two years, there’s been a movement afoot, framed as, let’s remove critical race theory from schools, but really, it’s been a matter of an erasure of American history.

00:05:59 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah, American history, American literature.

00:06:03 Michele Goodwin:


00:06:04 Roderick Ferguson:

You know one of the most banned writers is actually Toni Morrison.

00:06:11 Michele Goodwin:

Which is stunning. She’s won a Nobel Prize in literature.

00:06:14 Roderick Ferguson:

She’s won a Nobel Prize, but she is, according to the American Library Association, two things. She is one of the most banned authors, and 2022 was a year of possibly the greatest bans on books, you know, in school systems, right? So, even though they use the category critical race theory, they’re not using it, you know, in the way that we would, right, you know, to sort of mean a particular formation coming out of law schools. It could be novels, you know?

00:06:45 Michele Goodwin:

Well, right. Well, that’s something that’s actually surprising about all of this, for a number of reasons, which is, one, that critical race theory is a theory. It’s a theory that may get taught every year at some law schools.

00:06:59 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah.

00:07:00 Michele Goodwin:

It may be that it’s not even taught at law schools. It may be that the professor who teaches critical race theory usually has other classes to teach, and so, maybe once every 2 or 3 years actually teaches it. It’s something that not every student desires to take, and it’s alongside law and economics as a theory of how to think about…

00:07:17 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah, exactly, and you never think about high schools.

00:07:19 Michele Goodwin:

Right. Right? I mean there’s so many theories and different approaches to thinking about the methods of law. Very recently, there’s been a lot of talk about originalism, right?

00:07:29 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:07:29 Michele Goodwin:

But it is very interesting how it is this which becomes basically the kind of scapegoat.

00:07:36 Roderick Ferguson:

Oh, totally. Totally.

00:07:38 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah, and the sort of proxy for getting at sort of the denialism.

00:07:40 Roderick Ferguson:

Totally. Absolutely. I mean, you know, and to this point, you know, when I look at…you know there was, when was it, Friday or Saturday? The letter that the Department of Education in Florida sent to the College Board was released, right, and in the letter, they have 19 topics that had been expunged, right, and I looked at it, and I was like, wait, queerness isn’t even…queer theory, queer studies, not even in this letter, right? So, it means that those topics, those authors, like myself, work that I do, we were taken out way before, okay, but we were resurrected, I was resurrected, you know, just for the purposes of demonization and homophobic scare.

00:08:40 Michele Goodwin:

Wow. You know it reminds me, in some ways, just this kind of journeying about imagery and the stories that we tell in the United States, the stories that are prominent and the stories that get very little attention, and I’m reminded of thinking about the 1920s film Birth of a Nation, and you know, because there are choices with the stories that we tell.

00:09:09 Roderick Ferguson:
Yeah, totally. Yeah. Yeah. 

00:09:11 Michele Goodwin:
There can be the choice of lifting up the book The Clansman, which becomes basically the film Birth of A Nation, and something that’s shown in the White House. The NAACP protests in the wake of it, we see the rise of the Klan and the burning down of Black communities and whatnot, and then there are the stories that don’t get told, right? So, the stories of abolition don’t get told. Young people learn the stories of Confederates kind of rebranded as courageous people, as people who cared about home and country and just were simply on the other side of the line, but what’s not included in that are the stories about what slavery really represented, the broad scale sexual assault and rape of not just Black women, Black girls.

00:10:05 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:10:07 Michele Goodwin:
You know we don’t hear about the story of Sally Hemings, who comes away from Paris with Thomas Jefferson, pregnant, at the age of 16, and goes there at 14.

00:10:14 Roderick Ferguson:
Yeah. Yeah.

00:10:16 Michele Goodwin:
Right? So, the stories that are privileged and the stories that aren’t.

00:10:19 Roderick Ferguson:
Yeah. Yeah. You know it’s interesting. We don’t hear, you know, for instance, about Reconstruction that even many of the Southern historians, the conservative historians at the time, acknowledge that the schools, American schools, were at their best during the Reconstruction period because newly freed Black people, who then became politicians, insisted on public education.

00:10:52 Michele Goodwin:


00:10:52 Roderick Ferguson:
You know and so…

00:10:57 Michele Goodwin:
Even that, right? Like, just that little point right there.

00:10:59 Roderick Ferguson:

00:10:59 Michele Goodwin:

That newly freed people who had been enslaved insisting on public education that everybody…

00:11:06 Roderick Ferguson:

Even that.

00:11:07 Michele Goodwin:
Yes, even that.

00:11:09 Roderick Ferguson:
Even that. I mean, you know, there’s a fascinating chapter in Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction on the public school system, where he says that white wealthy people, when thinking about the question of public education, dismissed it because they said why do we need public education, we’re wealthy, we have property, right? White working-class people dismissed it because they said why do we need public education, we just want property. It was actually the newly freed Black people who said, no, no, no, we actually need both.

00:11:43 Michele Goodwin:

Well, you know, we’re having a conversation that would be the kind of conversation possibly banned, right, because we’re talking about matters of history that are sought to be, you know, expunged, as you say.

00:11:55 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:11:59 Michele Goodwin:
But even when one thinks about the passion behind the desire for public education, this is coming from people who would otherwise be criminally and civilly punished if they dared learn how to read, dared learn how to write, you know, had to keep it secret when they did know how to read and write, or even the ability to be able to count.

00:12:11 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:12:18 Michele Goodwin:

You had to be kind of deemed…a carve out, where it had to be justified that the people that you worked for were able to allow you to be able to count and use numbers, because, you know, all of this, you know, embedded in law.

00:12:30 Roderick Ferguson:
Totally. Totally.

00:12:32 Michele Goodwin:

So, yes, these people would certainly see the value of education.

00:12:35 Roderick Ferguson:
Well, you know, it’s interesting, too, because…relating to this moment, you know, one of the lines that I took out of the Op-ed had to…it was a line about racism being necessarily innumerate. You know it doesn’t know how to count, right, because all of this is over a population among the American professoriate that is made up of 6 percent of the faculty. Black people are only 6 percent of the faculty in the US.

00:13:12 Michele Goodwin:
You know how many of us have been the first ones in our department, you know?

00:13:17 Roderick Ferguson:
Exactly. Right.

00:13:17 Michele Goodwin:

Right, like, in these days and times, right?

00:13:20 Roderick Ferguson:

00:13:21 Michele Goodwin:

I was doing an event for the American Constitution Society in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder, and it was a session about elevating Black lives, and the first session was with professors, and one of them was Pat Williams, Patricia Williams, author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights, and she said something that I think just caused a bit of a pause and a chill, and we had hundreds of people who were watching this from all across the country she mentioned how at the time in which she began her law teaching career, there were five women of color in the United States who were law professors.

00:14:11 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. I can believe it.

00:14:12 Michele Goodwin:
You know, I mean, right? I mean that is just really stunning, five? Five.

00:14:18 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Well, this is a thing, right? It’s sort of like…and then imagine that a national hysteria is organized around those five women.

00:14:27 Michele Goodwin:

Well, you know, right? And fortunately, they mentored others and helped to bring other people in, but you are right. That foundation, right, I mean, it means that it is hard to find at American law schools, even in these times, what one could say would be a critical mass of people of color, certainly not of Black people, and you know, the figure that you just shared, that 6 percent, if you are a Person of Color or a Black person, you very well know that 6 percent, and at your institution, I mean, may, percentage-wise, be much lower.

00:15:02 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Exactly. Right. Yeah. It’s a very, very small group, you know?

00:15:12 Michele Goodwin:

It’s a very small group that has tried to help provide an avenue for understanding what this history represents in our country, and it reminds me, Rod, that 25 years ago, actually, in the wake of Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, and others writing in that frame of critical race theory, the very public attacks, right? So, it’s interesting that within the context of the colleges and law schools, what’s now pretty stable, critical race theory, there are courses being offered, though not everywhere and every year, but 25 years ago, when there were scholars that were looking to excavate American history and law and say, well, let’s look at law from a different lens, the public attacks that were published in prominent news and magazines about how these scholars should be grateful that they had law-teaching jobs and that they were just whiners.

00:16:16 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s kind of the anti-intellectualism, systematic and organized, has always been interesting to me, right, because I remember seeing Derrick Bell give a public address, actually at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington DC, which was famous for also, you know, the Black intellectuals that came through and were invited to speak there, and I remember going one evening, weekday evening, to hear him speak, right? Now, here’s a figure who, in another context, in another sort of racial identity, would be lauded for promoting an epistemic shift, you know, in the field of law, but…

00:17:08 Michele Goodwin:

Okay. You know, this is where we say break it down. Exactly, right? The sort of innovation. Exactly. Yes.

00:17:13 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah, but became vilified, you know, for the work that he was doing. You know my first course here at Yale was a Black feminist theory course, and I had imagined, okay, I’ll just teach 15 students, at the most. It’ll be an undergraduate seminar, and then 35 students showed up to a room that was only fit for 20, okay, because that was the demand from the student body, you know, for a course like that. One of the texts that I taught, the whole text was actually The Alchemy of Race and Rights. That would not be a text that could be taught, you know, if DeSantis and the right wing had their way. So, all of the sort of intellectual production, the epistemic innovations that people have made, for all of us, all of us, you know, those things would not be on the syllabi anymore.

00:18:15 Michele Goodwin:

Well, you know what I have on my desk, right now, because of a piece that I’m currently finishing for one of the Yale Law journals is a tribute of William Ellery Channing to the American abolitionists for their vindication of freedom of speech. So, it’s interesting about this particular speech that he wrote, helps to illuminate much about the conversation we’re having and the conversation that’s going to be taking place across the country because he is very sympathetic, as he expresses in this, their work to end slavery, but what he’s stunned by is how in the vilification of the abolitionists, there is the attack itself on the First Amendment.

And he writes about that, and he talks about…he uses the word violent, and it was true, the violence that was inflicted on abolitionists, and he calls it deliberate, systematic efforts that have been made far and wide by those who are anti-abolitionist to basically undermine speech and the press that which should or one thinks is protected by national and state government, and I couldn’t help but think, you know, this is a speech that is written in 1861, and here it is, here we are in 2023.

00:19:49 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s an old playbook. It’s an old playbook, and I said to someone recently, okay, when do you go after literature and speech via legal means? You go after literature and speech through the law when you realize that you have lost ideologically, you know, when there have been advances that you can see, you know? With respect to the Black Lives Matter movement, it was clear that many of those folks had been reading.

00:20:38 Michele Goodwin:
Reading makes a person dangerous, it seems.

00:20:41 Roderick Ferguson:

It makes a person dangerous.

00:20:42 Michele Goodwin:

Right, because…yeah.

00:20:44 Roderick Ferguson:

Exactly. This was Frederick Douglass’ point. It makes a person dangerous.

00:20:51 Michele Goodwin:

Well, because, of course, when one reads, then one understands a certain kind of nuance. So, in thinking about the conversation that we’re having and thinking about where our Supreme Court is and what was probably the most shocking decision, opinion, that came out of the court last year, for so many people who didn’t see it coming, was the Dobbs decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There are some of us that had been ringing a bell for a while.

00:21:22 Roderick Ferguson:

Right. Right.

00:21:23 Michele Goodwin:

Dating back to the time when we were both at the University of Minnesota. I was writing about these kinds of things, but what’s interesting here is that as the court talks about the importance of originalism, right, let’s think about what the ratifier said, you know, the people who wrote the Reconstruction Amendment, it seems to me that the court doesn’t even engage with what the Reconstruction ratifiers actually thought about. 

00:21:50 Roderick Ferguson:

00:21:50 Michele Goodwin:

These were abolitionists.

00:21:53 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean this is a thing, right, that, you know, this is the part of African American intellectual history and Black studies that I find really, really inspiring. It was asking us to be better readers, put simply, you know? Like all that work that Toni Morrison did as an editor, where she’s trying to build a Black reading audience around Black texts, right? All the research that she did to write books like Beloved, much of which comes from the books that she put together, especially the Black book, you know, that book of…that scrapbook.

00:22:38 Michele Goodwin:
A powerful book.

00:22:40 Roderick Ferguson:
Powerful. She drew on that work to write, you know? 

00:22:47 Michele Goodwin:

And she drew upon real life, right? Even talking about Beloved, it’s the story of Margaret Garner.

00:22:52 Roderick Ferguson: 

Exactly. Right.

00:22:53 Michele Goodwin:
Margaret Garner, who escapes from Kentucky and with what can only be true grit and determination decides she is going to walk across the Ohio River to get to freedom.

00:23:06 Roderick Ferguson:
Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Right.

00:23:09 Michele Goodwin:

And she’s going to do that with some kids in tow.

00:23:11 Roderick Ferguson:
With some kids in tow, right.

00:23:12 Michele Goodwin:

With some kids in tow, she’s going to walk…and it’s, you know, think about it, right? Of course, she has no bus. There’s no trains. She is an enslaved woman who’s about to become a fugitive slave, right?

00:23:22 Roderick Ferguson:
Right. Right. 

00:23:24 Michele Goodwin:

By the terminology of the time, and with no UGGs, right?

00:23:30 Roderick Ferguson:

No shoes.

00:23:31 Michele Goodwin:
Right? Exactly. She is doing this, right, and what do we learn if we actually learn her story?

00:23:40 Roderick Ferguson:

00:23:40 Michele Goodwin:

What can we learn about our history?

00:23:42 Roderick Ferguson:
Exactly, and you know, and I remember reading Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, and there was a line that stuck out to me, this was my junior year in college, and she says before I was a writer, I was a reader, you know, and also to your point that reading, it promotes awareness, and if there’s awareness, there might be accountability, and that’s what I really think that these folks are after, you know, the right wing. They don’t want, you know, accountable subjects to emerge.

00:24:16 Michele Goodwin:
Well, you know, what’s being articulated in the space of this is kind of fear about children not being emotionally capable of digesting this history, which is, of course, a bit ironic considering what people leave their children to digest all the time, right, and this kind of…

00:24:36 Roderick Ferguson:

Video games, you know?

00:24:38 Michele Goodwin:

Exactly, but that they can’t digest this, but you know, I think about with these doors open, just what it is that we might learn from those archives. You know, recently, I’ve been doing, for recent years, a really deep dive into the Reconstruction archives, 13th Amendment.

00:24:57 Roderick Ferguson:
Oh, nice.

00:24:58 Michele Goodwin:
And recently, I’ve been looking at the advertisements from the 1700s, 1600s, 17, 1800s, sort of like mostly.

00:25:04 Roderick Ferguson:

Oh, wow.

00:25:07 Michele Goodwin:

Of advertising, either the selling of enslaved Black women or advertising for the return of enslaved Black women, and here’s one from 1793 that was published in the Virginia Chronicle, ”For sale or exchange, a young healthy negro wench and child, tis not convenient to have a breeding wench in the family.” Now, isn’t that interesting, right? So, to sort of pause on that, there’s so much. So, she’s young, and she’s healthy. How old was this child, who has a child?

00:25:49 Roderick Ferguson:


00:25:51 Michele Goodwin:

And then who’s placing this ad, saying, okay, it’s been too long that she’s in this house, right?

00:25:57 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Exactly. Like, what’s the inconvenience?

00:25:59 Michele Goodwin:

Well, right, well, I’m thinking that this might be placed by a woman of the house, who doesn’t…

00:26:03 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. 

00:26:05 Michele Goodwin:

00:26:05 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

00:26:07 Michele Goodwin:

And just, there’s just so much power behind just looking into these archives to be able to understand the American story.

00:26:16 Roderick Ferguson:

Well, you know, you’re touching on a point that is germane for the AP revision, because what they said is that they want to just focus on, or focus primarily on the primary materials without the secondary resources, right, but at what point does it slip from primary to secondary, right, because it’s primary once you’re talking about the ad, but the conversation that we’re having draws on secondary literatures, you know? Like…

00:26:49 Michele Goodwin:

Oh, absolutely, and it would seem to me that of these primaries, right, because you can’t leave them out in the abstract, and they have so much weight, here’s another one from 1799, and this one is about…it’s captioned as ran away, and the person who’s placed this ad says a negro wench named Margaret has a mulatta child and is at this time pregnant. Then it describes where Margaret was last seen, but it has a closing note that says if she returns of her own accord, she will be forgiven, and again, what’s Margaret’s story? So, Margaret is pregnant.

00:27:39 Roderick Ferguson:
Yes. Yes.

00:27:38 Michele Goodwin:
Margaret already has a mulatta child. So, what is the texture of this, and who placed this ad where this person wants Margaret to know all will be forgiven if you come back to me.

00:27:53 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Right, and which primaries, primary documents, will they let see the light of a classroom, right, because there’s one primary document…I have a book, since I’m from Georgia, I have a book of, you know, the sort of oral histories of formerly enslaved folks in Georgia, right, that the WPA put out, and there’s a story that this former enslaved Black woman tells about her sister and how her sister, as a little girl, was sold away to this man, and her job was to lie on the table as she was being raped, right, and then the sister died, as a little girl, okay.

And then I was talking to a friend of mine who is a slavery historian, and she says, you know, there aren’t many stories like that because, you know, people just didn’t want to disclose that kind of trauma, right? So, that’s a unique story, in and of itself, but a unique story that is typical of what was going on, right? Would that kind of story make it into the classroom because, you know, there’s no way you can’t then bring a critique of the slave system as a system of rampant sexual exploitation and violence into that, which is also what the, you know, DeSantis and ilk don’t want you to talk about.

00:29:35 Michele Goodwin:
And yet, it seems to be such an important aspect to really fully capture, if one wants to honestly capture that history.

00:29:44 Roderick Ferguson:


00:29:45 Michele Goodwin:

Because, as you say, it was such a rampant aspect of it, such that the leading argument being made by the abolitionists, and this makes sense, the leading arguments that they were making was about those predations, about the sexual assault and abuse of Black women and girls.

00:30:01 Roderick Ferguson:


00:30:03 Michele Goodwin:

That, yes, picking cotton and being uncompensated for it and cutting the sugar cane was certainly coercive, corrosive, abusive, all of that, but the power behind the movement that they were leading was to be able to tell these kinds of stories. So, all right, a couple of other questions that I want to ask before I let you go, and it’s been such a wonderful conversation. This has like gone by way too quickly, but the AP classes are…basically the idea behind them is that someone is prepared enough to be able to take a class that would be the equivalent of a college class. 

So, I’m wondering how we understand that because this isn’t just high school, which, you know, this is banning Toni Morrison from high school reading is, itself, such an incredible disservice, but when you think about AP African American studies, the idea is that you are no longer within just the space of high school. This is elevated thinking. So, how does one reconcile, in that regard?

00:31:14 Roderick Ferguson:

Well, you know, I think what it is, it’s a comment, also, on what we do in the university, right? And also, maybe a signal that the university is also next, right, that, you know, because it’s an AP course. It requires the approval of the university faculty to say that it even meets with the standards of university curricula, right? You know, so they’re not going after the sort of everyday history course or English course, you know? It is the AP course, the course that links the high school to the college, right? I think we would be fooling ourselves if we think that they are not going to follow that link, you know, in their actions.

00:32:27 Michele Goodwin:

And you know, what’s also stunning about it, right, because, clearly, you know, as we’ve talked about, this has a certainly kind of racial expedience, because when I think about Tess of the d’Urbervilles, you know, when I think about the work of the Brontës and whatnot, you know, these are loaded with things, people being locked away in attics, you know, rapes and sexual assaults, domestic violence, all of these kinds of things, and there shouldn’t be talk of removing Thomas Hardy from the school libraries, you know, yanking the works of the Brontë sisters from the libraries and whatnot.

00:33:04 Roderick Ferguson:
Yeah. Yeah. 

00:33:05 Michele Goodwin:
So, Rod, what does this mean about American education? Ultimately, at the end of the day, when we see this kind of attack, one answer is that, yes, the universities, watch out, because perhaps the legislatures, governors, are coming for you next. What else should we learn from this moment?

00:33:28 Roderick Ferguson:

Well, I mean, I think that what you learn from this moment is that this is a very fragile enterprise, right? It’s a very vulnerable enterprise. We can’t take anything for granted. We cannot take reading for granted. We cannot take writing for granted that those things have become part of a very dangerous political theater, right? The way I look at it is that, in a sense, it’s also confirmation that we’re also getting it right, you know, because, again, you don’t come after writers, teachers, techs, unless they’re doing something in the world, right, and so, for me, this is not a moment to retreat from the work. 

It is a moment to return to the work with even more vigor, right? So, you know, how do we use this to shore up American education, and also to make the case that, look, you know, the work that we do, the work around race, the work around gender, around feminism, the work that is critical of like the big entities of the state and capitalism, the histories of slavery and empire, these things are part of the public good, you know? They are part of the public good. So, it can be a moment for us to revise our understanding of education as a public good, you know, and that part, I find really necessary and inspiring.

00:35:26 Michele Goodwin:

You know it’s been such a pleasure spending this time with you. You know at the end of all of our episodes, we ask about a silver lining. I wonder if there is even one to add to what you’ve said because that reframing as a public good and as not being something that’s just owned by select groups, right, which is how I think that so much of history is understood.

00:35:45 Roderick Ferguson:

00:35:49 Michele Goodwin:

That’s Indigenous people and their history. That’s Asian Americans. That’s African Americans, rather than this is part of us all.

00:35:52 Roderick Ferguson:

Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Exactly, that these are honors shared among us. You know these are gifts shared among us, you know, and we should protect the gifts. You know they have to be protected.

00:36:14 Michele Goodwin:

Well, it has been such a pleasure to be with you. Thank you, so much, for joining us for On the Issues, Professor Rod Ferguson.

00:36:21 Roderick Ferguson:

Thank you.

00:36:24 Michele Goodwin:

Thank you so much.

00:36:25 Roderick Ferguson:

Thank you. Thank you so much.