Interview with Professor Darrick Hamilton

Nicole Yeager, News Editor

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the University invited Darrick Hamilton to continue the Griot Institute’s Spring Series of lectures and performances from established guests. A griot is “a central figure in many West African cultures” where many functions and talks are held. The University’s Griot Institute for the Study of Black Lives and Cultures follows this mission of interdisciplinary exploration of the aesthetic, artistic, and scholarly enterprise of Africana communities.

Each year, the institute offers a lectureship series in the spring semester that addresses a specific question or issue of concern prominent to Africana Studies. The Spring Series this semester is titled: “Black Radical Thought & Art —Multidisciplinarily Considered.” The series was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’ quote that “ the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” and the constellation of thought referred to as black radical thought.

In an interview with The Bucknellian, Hamilton shared insight on the personal beliefs underlying his work and the key messages he hopes students will take away from the talk. 

Interview

Could you tell me a bit about your background and some of the factors you believe shaped who you are today? 

I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to a pretty elite private school my whole life. It’s called Brooklyn Prep School, and it’s a Quaker school. The Quakers, in my view, have a really good view on education because they emphasize ethics and have a good orientation towards social justice. I also grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant before the current iteration of gentrification, so I feel like I had exposure to a diverse set of experiences involving myself as well as other people from different backgrounds as a result of my school and my home neighborhood. It became crystal clear to me that people are fundamentally similar in terms of their aspirations, and the key component that leads to differences is their resources and exposure growing up.

Where did you go to school and what did you study? 

Right after high school, I attended Oberlin College in Ohio and I studied economics. I chose this field because I rejected poverty, so I wanted to make sure that I had a major that would facilitate a career where I would be economically secure. While pursuing economics, I realized that I could fulfill my interest and also have a comfortable lifestyle. I also realized that I have a love for learning and wanted to continue to be involved with academics. 

I read that you study inequality through the lens of economics. Could you give a brief summary explaining the key points of your work? 

I am firmly committed to economics as my primary discipline, but I also know that this discipline has not done a good job of explaining persistent group-based inequality, such as racial inequality, gender inequality, ethnic inequality; the discipline is dominated by an ideology that treats individuals as agents trying to maximize their well-being without a good concept and understanding of power, and the way that power and resources can be used to impact relationships. So, I realized that I need to pursue other disciplines in order to have a fuller, better understanding of inequality — both why it exists and how we can address it. 

What is one project or endeavor that you’ve completed and consider to be the most valuable or remarkable? 

That’s a difficult question. I would say, broadly speaking, expanding the boundaries of the way in which we understand economics to, not only help redefine scholarship but ultimately to change how society conceives of relationships between government, people and firms. Right now, I feel like a lot of my work has potential political implications and I think we are in a political moment where we are re-conceiving the role of economics in defining people’s lives.

Your talk is titled “Breaking Up the Paradigm of Racial Stratification and Iterative Concentration of Economic and Political Power.What are the main points that you will be presenting tonight? 

I’m going to talk about how race is not an issue, but a pillar in the relationship between economic and political concentration. And likewise, to figure out how we can build broad coalitions between different identity groups — whether it’s sexual orientation, disability status, gender, race, ethnicity — so as to have a moral economy, and to think about the essential goods and services that people need in their lives to thrive and how do we ensure that we have them. And that would be things like health care, education, food, a guaranteed income — if I were to sum that up, I would say, an economic bill of rights. 

Do you believe there is a significance in sharing your work with college students? 

I think that, first off, the younger age group is leading the way. They are starting to facilitate a social movement to move us out of the paradigm that we have been in for the last 50 years of relying solely on deregulations and marketized solutions to affect how we live in society. From my perspective, it’s important to connect with them, not as necessarily a voice of authority but to effect change. Secondly, universities have a sense of moral responsibility to lead in this endeavor, particularly as related to research in understanding relationships and phenomenon. 

What are the key messages that you hope people will take away from your talk and implement into their own thinking on these topics going forward? 

To understand the power of people. To understand that if we’re talking about group-based inequality, pursuing it from a deficit model is not a correct way of understanding it and rather grounding it in resource and structure. And the last point would be that applying public power to counterbalance some of the existing concentrations at the time is something that we are equipped to do and will do. 

 

Professor Hamilton was the second notable figure in this year’s Griot Spring Series, following the visit of American poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni in January. In the next two months, the University can look forward to visits from African-American playwright Antionette Nwandu, Professor Dayo Gore and American poet and novelist Ishmael Reed to continue the discussion on black radical thought.

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