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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Fuller, December 14, 1996. Interview O-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Method suggested for obtaining social change

In a pluralistic American society, Fuller insists that Americans must acknowledge racial and economic differences. He argues that such acceptance and an uncomfortable shift of power between the powered and the powerless will produce effective and genuine racial and economic change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Fuller, December 14, 1996. Interview O-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So what do I talk about after a conference like this? I want to talk about change. And I want to talk about the struggle to make things better for people who are poor and who are powerless. The one thing that all of you who are struggling—and the younger people understand as you continue to struggle—is that most people want change as long as nothing changes. [Laughter] It's like you come to a conference and people feel liberated because they discussed change. Not because they're going to change anything, it's the discussion about the change. People talk about all these win-win strategies in America today. But if there's going to be any change, many times there can't be no win-win. Because there's got to be a transfer of power, and when you start talking about transferring power, there's no way for everybody to leave happy. Everybody leaves happy from some of these things, and I know ain't nothing happened. This change thing that I want to talk about, I want you to think about it in deep ways. If there's going to be change in America, you have to deal with the issues of race and class. Cause both of these issues have a direct impact on the life chances of people. This society never has been colorblind, will never be colorblind, and, at one level, shouldn't be. Now let me explain. It's like people come up to me and say, "When I see you, I don't see a black man." [Laughter] Well I'm like, "Tell me, what do you see?" So the issue is not that you see a black man, the issue is what difference does it make? And for you to say that you see me, and you just see a human—that's what Ralph Ellison talked about in Invisible Man. I am not invisible, I am not a figment of your imagination. I am who I am. And so to really understand me you have to see me. And you can't see me if you don't see that I'm black. So the issue in America is not that we're going to become colorblind, the issue in America is that we're not going to allow color or gender or disabilities or sexual orientation to determine what our relationship is going to be. So, you can't function in America without having a deep understanding about race. And it is about pluralism, it is not about assimilation. It isn't really so much about a melting pot, I want more of a stew—you know, where they got all of the ingredients, but they're all sticking up in there. They didn't get all blended so you don't know where they at. You know, the potatoes is there, and if you're still eating that red meat, that's there, and all of this stuff is there in this stew, so that everybody sees that. If you can begin to visualize it that way, we can begin to have a different conversation about how we move forward. A young lady today talked about "celebrating diversity." You can't celebrate diversity unless you recognize it's existence. And you celebrate the strength that the diversity brings, you don't move to try to make it not be there. So, race is right there. Class is right there. There is nothing quaint or redeeming about being poor. You got these people who start intellectualizing about poverty. The only people in America who would tell you that money is not important are people with money. [Laughter] Don't hear no poor people standing up and talking about how wonderful this is. I mean, it's always interesting. People say that throwing money at poverty won't end the problem. How does one end poverty without money? And so the reality of it is, if you're poor in America, you're in the vicious cycle. Because in America you need resources to have influence. If you're poor, you don't have resources, so how do you have influence? Long term, it's always been my view, that the way you get people out of poverty is to put them in a position where they can have relative economic self-sufficiency.