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Good God Episode 54: Byron Sanders Part 2

Byron Keith Sanders is back on Good God talking about racial inequity in Dallas and the ways in which we can help create a better Dallas for the next generation.

Conversations like this are so important in fostering an awareness among white people of what life is like in Dallas for people of color. Byron shares a recent personal experience of having the police called on him for block-walking with his daughter for a political campaign.

There is so much to learn and work toward. Start by listening to the podcast and reading the transcript below, or click here for the full video.

George Mason: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," Dickens said. That could be Dallas Texas in this very time. In Dallas, we have tremendous wealth and tremendous poverty at the same time. And race has a big factor in how that plays out.

George Mason: How do we begin to close those gaps? Byron Sanders of Big Thought will be with us, and he'll be helping share his insights into that on Good God. Stay tuned.

George Mason: Welcome to Good God, conversations that matter about faith and public life. I'm George Mason, your host, and I'm pleased to welcome to the program Byron Sanders. Byron, welcome.

Byron Sanders: Thank you so much George. Really happy to be here.

George Mason: Yes. He is the president and CEO of Big Thought, which is an educational entrepreneurial enterprise that helps create imagination for kids about their future and helps to give them creative problem solving tools so that they can think about where their lives go from here. Thank you for the work you do.

Byron Sanders: What a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

George Mason: You're welcome. So Byron, we've gotten to know each other a little bit, and one of the things that Big Thought tries to address is the opportunity gap, the value gap that exists in this city that my colleague and friend Freddie Haynes likes to call a tale of two cities. Just as in the Charles Dickens book, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," this is also the case in Dallas. We have a city with enormous wealth and equally enormous poverty where the education gap is wide.

George Mason: And when the Urban Institute did a study just a few years ago of the 274 major cities in America, they looked at the economic recovery. And what they found was that Dallas ranked 274, not in terms of economic recovery generally, but in terms of the participation rate. The equity inclusion of people of color and across educational lines as well.

George Mason: But this is a city of tremendous racial disparity. And if you talk to most white people in north Dallas, they would have no idea what we're just talking about right now.

Byron Sanders: That's true. You asked a lot of the same white people in north Dallas, many of whom are dear friends of mine, how often they've driven south of 30 or the Trinity, and you get to know why they would have no idea the disparity. But you know, southern Dallas is large enough geographically to fit the entire city of Atlanta in. There are thousands of people who live in southern Dallas. I was one of them growing up. And I hope to soon be one again. We've got a move planned.

George Mason: Okay. Good.

Byron Sanders: Planned in the upcoming years.

Byron Sanders: But you know, one of the things that we have to get very honest with is that you know, it's not a... we didn't get here by accident. And it might not necessarily be the responsibility or the decisions that have been made by the people who are currently residing, right? Or even currently alive.

George Mason: Currently alive. Exactly.

Byron Sanders: And you know, Michael Sorrell, Dr. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn. A good friend of mine, a mentor, he said you know what? Let's just say that we, today, are not responsible for our present state. All of those decisions that were made years ago that have absolutely led us to where we are today, you don't have to feel ashamed about that. We just have to kind of acknowledge what it is.

Byron Sanders: However, 30 years from now, whatever Dallas we have then, that's on you.

George Mason: That's on you. That's exactly right. It is on you. It's on us.

Byron Sanders: And so if we're going to actually be honest about... If we're going to get to where we need to be 30 years from now, where there is equitable participation in the growth of our city and the economic boom in the Texas miracle here in Dallas, then we're going to have to be very honest about some tough conversations. Not just conversations but choices and actions that we're going to need to take.

George Mason: Because we've made choices that have led us to this place.

Byron Sanders: Absolutely.

George Mason: And whether you want to say that they were motivated by racial bias and animus or simply by being privileged people who failed to recognize the consequences of the decisions they were making. Nonetheless, the effect has been to drive racial divides in this city.

George Mason: And for people who are scratching their heads right now, I think we can just say that there are several things that we can point to for example. I mean red lining in neighborhoods created the possibility for people who are white and middle class to grow by being able to get home loans and to build equity in their homes and to have generational wealth created. And that was denied to people of color who were in neighborhoods that were red lined off from banking and from home loans.

George Mason: When we decided where the roads would go, the highway system divided neighborhoods and broke access of neighborhoods of color from public services and those sorts of things.

George Mason: When the school desegregated, white flight led people out of the city and into suburban schools, leaving what is today still 95 percent non-white Dallas Independent School District. Which is not wicked on its face, it simply means that we have taken out a historic legacy of education and success from these schools, and then said perform anyway.

George Mason: And so we have one thing after another, we could go on and on about this, that has happened to get us to this point, right?

Byron Sanders: That's right.

George Mason: But having an honest conversation about that and recognizing that that is so is the first step to being able to do something about it. And what needs to be done? Where do we contribute to the future?

Byron Sanders: Well the first thing that I think we have to do is actually put real numbers to the disparity. Because I think sometimes it's conceptual, and people don't understand how large the gap is.

Byron Sanders: I think that people also feel as though things are getting better. You know, the beauty of the... I guess the triumph of the 1950s and '60s civil rights movement here in America was that we were able to knock down these really glaring infractions against justice. Right?

George Mason: Right. Right. Right.

Byron Sanders: You know. And there's a white's only sign, that's bad. That should come down, right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: Or you're telling me I can't eat here, that's bad.

George Mason: Right. I got to go to a colored school-

Byron Sanders: Exactly.

George Mason: ... Yeah. Okay.

Byron Sanders: Okay. So yeah. I can sit where I want on a bus now. I can walk into any building theoretically, right?

George Mason: What do you people want? What else can we do for you?

Byron Sanders: We took away all the boundaries, now everything's equal, so come on.

George Mason: Exactly. Exactly.

Byron Sanders: Well the reality though is because we didn't address structural issues, because we didn't address access as opposed to just allowance-

George Mason: Right. Good. Good.

Byron Sanders: Because we didn't address being included and actively welcomed in, then we have what we have in Dallas. These are the statistics in Dallas. 1980, in 1980 the average income for a black household was about $40,000. $40,000. In 2016, you want to know what that is... And this is not an inflation adjusted number.

George Mason: Actual number.

Byron Sanders: Actual number in 2016 it's just over $30,000.

George Mason: So it's declined by $10,000 during a period of time that I would guess typical white household... Come on, what is it? Do we know?

Byron Sanders: So the white household is about $70,000 median income.

George Mason: Alright. So the increase has been significant in the white community, but... And I know that in Dallas for example, a black man earns 54 cents on the dollar to a white man in terms of income.

Byron Sanders: Correct.

George Mason: Now how can that be a just system?

Byron Sanders: Exactly. And why do you see the exact same thing that happens with our Latino community?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: In the Latino community, that was actually about $40,000, and they've seen about a $10,000 decrease in income per household as well over that same period of time, while we've seen a tremendous growth in the population of Latino neighbors here in the city of Dallas right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: So you look at that. Then even if you were looking at total net worth, like the total balance sheet, this is the stat that punched me in the gut. It's well over $130,000. I think the number's actually closer to $150,000 total net work for the median white house.

George Mason: Right. Exactly.

Byron Sanders: For the Hispanic household, median is a little over $5,000. And for the black household, it's a little over $3,500.

George Mason: Right. Now we're talking about net worth now.

Byron Sanders: Net worth.

George Mason: We're talking about all assets.

Byron Sanders: Everything.

George Mason: Everything. Exactly right.

Byron Sanders: And we're talking about $5,000 and $3,500 compared to $130 - $150,000. Now why does that matter? Well it should be self evident. But if we're talking being able to climb out of poverty, if we're talking about being able to... Let's not talk about just one generation, let's talk about the next generation. 20 percent of wealth is determined by inheritance, right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: If you only have $5,000 to your name, what are you passing on? Typically not a lot.

Byron Sanders: So you bring all of those statistics to the forefront. You show them for what they are, and then we start talking about solutions that you can bring to the table. And the solutions that we can bring to the table is a wide range of different things.

Byron Sanders: I'm in the education space. And I will acknowledge that there are things that we have to do to make, yes, race conscious and income conscious decisions on how to we're going to apply resources.

Byron Sanders: Dallas ISD has actually taken a really big step here recently. They created an office of racial equity. Racial equity, the whole thought that you are being aware of and making decisions, policy, budget, based on the reality of where we are with racial equitably-distributed access to true opportunity. Right? So if there's schools in southern Dallas that don't have enough resources, put the resources there in order to not just say okay, now it's all equal, but to account for the deficit that we're having to make up.

George Mason: Precisely. And that is actually part of the strategy of DISD now, put the best teachers in the most challenging places, to pay them more, and principals as well, and to improve the facilities, the spirit of the school, and all those sorts of thing. And we're seeing the change that takes place.

George Mason: And outcomes is a result of that. I mean it's not that much of a mystery. It's just that we've lacked the political will and we've lacked the willingness to pay for it. And that's beginning to shift, as we're starting to see. We just passed the TRE, which is going to cost us all a little more in our school taxes. And we've decided, finally, that we think it's worth it.

Byron Sanders: That was one of the best things that happened this year, in my opinion. To take a Dallas based swipe at inequity in our city. Because going explicitly toward things that are not some pie in the sky, but things that we actually know work. Like early childhood education. That's one of the most powerful amplifiers you could do in an education system in order to close the gap.

Byron Sanders: And things like also funding TEI, which is the system whereby we evaluate but also help continuously improve educators in our city. But also to your point, identify who the best are so that we can put them in the most challenging schools.

George Mason: And we need to recruit them as well. And that means we need the bottom pay raised much more.

Byron Sanders: Absolutely.

George Mason: Alright. So we need to pick this up after the break. But we're now onto solutions, and I think this is an exciting time for Dallas to be able to realize. I think Byron, we are starting to wake up to some of these things in a way that we haven't in the time that I've been here. This is a hopeful time, but it's also an anxious time as a result of that. And I think we're up to it, but let's talk about some of those things after the break.

Byron Sanders: Perfect.

George Mason: Alright.

Jim White: Big Thought is a non-profit organization that works with partners across the city to provide creative learning programs that enrich the lives of young people, with a mission to close the opportunity gap for youth by making imagination a part of everyday learning.

Jim White: Through educational programs and system-wide community partnerships, Big Thought provides access to high quality learning experiences that power creativity and foster social and emotional well-being.

George Mason: We're back with Byron Sanders. And we were talking about race in Dallas.

George Mason: And Byron, in the time that I've been in Dallas, I would say that I'm more hopeful right now about the partnership between people in communities of color and the white community about seeking solutions together.

George Mason: Historically, it seems in Dallas, white people know what the solutions are supposed to be for everybody else. But I feel like we are listening and learning better than we have in the past.

George Mason: And I find that actually this is beginning to happen among religious leaders and church leaders. So your pastor Bryan Carter, a good friend of mine as well, a valued colleague. And a number of pastors, Michael Waters and Freddie Haynes and Vincent Parker and people in south Dallas that are people of immense ability and insight, and have tremendous influence and understand the circumstances on the ground. They are a new breed of religious leader for this city that is really important. Not one that depends upon north Dallas and upon white largess in order to succeed.

George Mason: I mean, just being honest about the history of Dallas and the accommodation and all those sorts of things that we know about. But I also think that that's a challenge for us to learn that those of us who have positions of influence in north Dallas, whether it's in the faith community or other areas, we are used to wanting to figure out quick fixes to things.

George Mason: But we're learning that there are larger systemic issues that we have to pay attention to. Race is one of those, but you said earlier you have to become more race conscious, which is a very hard thing for white people to get. Because we love Martin Luther King Junior's line about being a color blind society.

Byron Sanders: Right. Right. It's not the color of your skin, but the content of your character.

George Mason: Content of your character. We love that. But at the same time, before we can be a color blind society, we've got to be color conscious until we get to a place of equity, it seems to me. And then-

Byron Sanders: You know, and I would suggest that we never want to be a color blind society.

Byron Sanders: I Love Lucy, to me was so much cooler in Technicolor.

George Mason: Yeah. Right.

Byron Sanders: And you know, if we can... The goal, the aspiration is not to say hey guys, we're all the same. The aspiration, to me, is to say look at how different we are, and see the beauty in that.

George Mason: Nice. Nice. Yeah.

Byron Sanders: And what it takes in order to do that is actually a little more challenging, right?

George Mason: Mm-hmm.

Byron Sanders: Because the thing that I think we have to be really clear about is that all of us were born into a society that was largely based on a racial hierarchy that was set years and years ago for economic and power based reasons, but that we are the inheritors of, right? We are the heirs of that structure.

Byron Sanders: And it's affected us. It's dehumanized us in ways that we haven't yet even acknowledged. If not really troubling the waters, you'll never even see it acknowledged. Even for those of us who say I am a person who's relatively well adjusted, I've got friends who are black and Hispanic. I love my Indian neighbors. You know, people who have genuine relationships with people of color. I'm not even talking about folks who are just abject racists. That's the easy one.

Byron Sanders: But people who have not been able to even question what our systems and structures have yielded for people of color and why they're able to do that in a city that is technically blue, right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: With its-

George Mason: Political voting record. Yeah.

Byron Sanders: ... political map.

Byron Sanders: Well the reason why is the same thing that I use when I try and talk to my white friends about being aware of their privilege and being aware of bias. I talk about the journey that I've been on as a man, and being aware of women's equity issues. And how it wasn't even until recent that I noticed.

George Mason: This is intersectionality 101. Yeah.

Byron Sanders: Intersectionality 101. I didn't notice how I, myself, would over-talk in a board meeting. How I, myself, would hear what was being said. A woman might bring an idea forward, we'd talk and talk and talk, and then you know some guy, sometimes me, I'd say basically the same thing that she said-

George Mason: And suddenly it was a good idea.

Byron Sanders: ... three conversations ago. And everybody's like yeah, let's nod our head to that. That's a great idea, and move forward. Right?

George Mason: Yep.

Byron Sanders: I didn't notice that when I leave the house everyday, I don't give two thoughts about how I need to actually make it home safe. I don't think about that stuff at all, right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: But women, on the other hand, are taught how to carry their keys. They're taught to look around. They're taught to have a very specific, even step-wise process, to getting in the car at a gas station so that they can just be safe.

George Mason: It's exhausting.

Byron Sanders: It's exhausting and it's very similar for white people to not have to think about being in spaces.

Byron Sanders: White privilege is not having to learn about somebody else's perspective in order to have access to the things in life that one would want to.

Byron Sanders: I was talking with a good friend of mine here recently, when he was saying, you know when I go to a black community, you know I stand out too. I feel uncomfortable. You know it's tough for all of us to be in a place where we are other-ized. I was like, you know what? That's actually a really good point. You probably feel uncomfortable when you're going down to south Dallas or Oak Cliff or Pleasant Grove. And usually when you're going though, there's a choice. You're going for service. You're going because you're going to this event or this program for a non-profit that you're working at.

Byron Sanders: For me, I had to learn about white people. I had to learn to be comfortable, and not just comfortable, but proficient in white spaces. Because if I wanted the job that I wanted, if I wanted the car, if I wanted my kids to have access to the best schools, then it's not an option for me not to know that.

George Mason: Exactly.

Byron Sanders: And it can actually be detrimental to my very physical well-being if I don't.

George Mason: Right. Right. So I think one of the things that has to happen for white people is we have to recognize that perpetuating this system of privilege is not good for us either.

Byron Sanders: That's right.

George Mason: It feels good to us to be in a position of privilege. It is also dehumanizing to us to be in that role.

Byron Sanders: Without a doubt.

George Mason: Because we have put ourselves in a place God has not put us. We have usurped the order of creation, and we have pretended to be what we are not. And every time you do that, it is harmful to your spiritual health and it makes you subject to judgment as well.

Byron Sanders: That's absolutely right. Racism, whether intentional or unintentional is a hierarchy of human value.

George Mason: Absolutely.

Byron Sanders: And that is un-biblical, right?

George Mason: We have tried to figure out how to base racial hierarchies on the Bible, and it has been one of the most ridiculous exercises in nonsense in the history of human beings. That it's not there. We only read things into it in order to justify our privileges. And it's one of the great breakthroughs of more recent years that we've begun to read the Bible more from the underside, more from the margins, which is actually where it was written from.

George Mason: Which, you know, we think this is a novel interpretive approach to things. It's actually the way it was written. The children of Israel were slaves for goodness sakes. You know, and the whole history of this is God trying to get the attention of human kind, to say I made you all from the same place and the same people. And that you are supposed to care for your neighbor and look at the person next to you, and see the image, my own image, in that other person.

George Mason: And if we will learn to do that with one another and stop trying to use our religion to justify our prejudice, and instead use it to undermine prejudice and bring about equity, now we've got a super charge of social change that we can begin to see happen.

Byron Sanders: Right. You have a supernatural mandate in order to give you the freedom to be creative.

George Mason: Well exactly.

Byron Sanders: To be thoughtful. To be ingenious about the ways that we break down these structures.

Byron Sanders: And you know there's a ton of stuff that works. There's a lot of things that work. We can start lots of... And matter of fact, we have started, right? But we can have the will to push even further. Very simple solutions that most people can look at and say okay, that's not right.

Byron Sanders: But start with the criminal justice system. Right? The reality that one in three black baby boys born today will be incarcerated.

George Mason: Right. Right.

Byron Sanders: Think about that from a justice standpoint. Not just for the incarceration and the tremendous economic waste that goes into all of that. It's $150,000 to incarcerate a youth in the state of Texas. One year, $150,000.

Byron Sanders: But think about what happens, because when those guys are out, usually we're talking about men, but there's an even growing population of women of color as well. But when those folks are back into the community, they can't vote, right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: Think about if one third of a demographic-

George Mason: In Florida now maybe-

Byron Sanders: ... Well in Florida-

George Mason: ... How about that? In Florida.

Byron Sanders: Exactly. Because this is the thing. It doesn't take rocket science. It just takes a political will.

George Mason: Common sense. And even the Koch brothers are for criminal justice reform. And president Trump today was on record about that just this very day. We are seeing some signs of progress in that regard.

George Mason: But it's got to be that... we have used the criminal justice system to continue to break down the families and social structures of people of color, and then blame them for being broken down.

Byron Sanders: Exactly. And then people are like why can't you get right?

George Mason: Right. Whereas we all know, in the white community, we all know intuitively that we might get caught with some marijuana or something like that, but because of who we are, we get off. The black kid in south Dallas doesn't get off.

George Mason: And once he's in the system, that magnifies and grows, and you're either going to go one way or the other. But we all would like to believe in second chances, but only some of us get them.

Byron Sanders: That's true.

George Mason: And so if we believe in redemption, if we believe as people of faith that that's our mandate. If that's what God did for us, then we're supposed to do that for one another. Then lets' get busy.

Byron Sanders: George, and building on that point. You don't even have to do anything wrong, right?

George Mason: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Byron Sanders: I had my own personal experience with this very recently.

George Mason: Did you?

Byron Sanders: So I was out with my daughter canvasing for the political candidate that I was backing in just this last race. And I wanted to expose my kids to the participation in democracy. Show her that it doesn't just happen overnight, but it takes us work. Collective participation and equity within this system in order for it to really abound.

Byron Sanders: I was walking in my neighborhood, and got to one house. At this time, my son, we had to run him back because he had to use the restroom. So he stayed at home. So it was me and my daughter. Two reason why I wanted my kids with me. One, I wanted them to have that educational experience. But the second was because I'm a black guy walking around a mostly white neighborhood. I was in Addison at the time. A suburb just north of here.

Byron Sanders: And I knew that there are things that I have to do to make myself non-threatening.

George Mason: Oh, my goodness.

Byron Sanders: And me having my kids with me, I had a process. The kids go ring the doorbell, I stand back three or four feet away. The person comes to the door, the kids say hi first. We're all wearing our stuff, so it was very clear why we're here. And then I talk, and then we engage.

Byron Sanders: So I was taking those steps. We had an interaction with a lady who did not like us being at her house, had a no solicitation sign. Canvasing's actually not soliciting. So we weren't breaking any rules or anything like that. She yelled at us. My daughter and I, we walked away. We said have a nice day.

Byron Sanders: And we knew not everybody's going to be great to you, but the vast majority of people had been up until that point. Moved on, two houses later we're walking to continue our work, and then we see a police officer pull up. And police officer gets out, he walks up and he says hey, I got a call that there were some suspicious people who were doing some illegal soliciting in the community. And I said hey, we're not soliciting, we're out working with a political campaign. He said do you have a permit? I was like-

George Mason: Permit?

Byron Sanders: ... I don't. Okay. Right? So I was like no, I don't have a permit. City ordinance, you got to have a permit to do this. So you have to stop.

Byron Sanders: And I didn't have any information to challenge that right then. And I'm with my daughter, I look at her face and she's crestfallen.

Byron Sanders: Police officer walks away and my daughter and I were about to start walking back to the car. I stop and make a real quick video saying hey, we were told that we just had to stop. We're pretty sure who called the police on us. But we're going to go find another neighborhood. I'm trying to cheer her up, you know? And to her credit, my daughter, she was plucky and she was excited to go to the next place.

Byron Sanders: But as we kept walking, I was like, you know what? Let's just sit down and check it out for ourselves. We looked up the ordinance. And it turns out you don't need a permit. Turns out political canvasing does not fall in the solicitation laws.

George Mason: Right. But the police should know that.

Byron Sanders: They absolutely should know that.

George Mason: Yeah. Right.

Byron Sanders: Well the interesting thing was, do I begrudge the police? He didn't know his stuff. Okay. You know, he's got to come and check it out when somebody calls in.

Byron Sanders: The question is why were the police called?

George Mason: Right. Exactly.

Byron Sanders: Right?

George Mason: Right.

Byron Sanders: And did my race have something to do with it? I don't know. I can tell you there's a whole set of experiences where I've had the police called on me or I've been tailed for doing things that a normal person should be able to do in this country.

George Mason: Driving while black, walking while black, working while black. I mean these are the things that white people really do not have any personal experience with. That it's not when you're doing something wrong necessarily, it's just that you are who you are in spaces that feel somewhat threatening to people who are white.

George Mason: We could go on. I can't believe we're out of time.

Byron Sanders: Oh, my God.

George Mason: This feels like we're just getting started.

George Mason: Byron, it is a pleasure to be in the city of Dallas with you, and to know what you're up to, and to be in good league with you as well. Let's keep working together for the common good.

Byron Sanders: George, I'm looking forward to it brother. Bless you man.

George Mason: Thank you Byron. Okay.

Jim White: Good God is created by Dr. George Mason, produced and directed by Jim White, guest coordination and social media by Upward Strategy Group.

Jim White: Good God: Conversations With George Mason is the podcast devoted to bringing you ideas about God and faith and the common good.

Jim White: All material copyright 2018 by Faith Commons.

Jim White: Big Thought is a non-profit organization that works with partners across the city to provide creative learning programs that enrich the lives of young people, with a mission to close the opportunity gap for youth by making imagination a part of everyday learning.

Jim White: Through educational programs and system-wide community partnerships, Big Thought provides access to high quality learning experiences that power creativity and foster social and emotional well-being.


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