Dr. Carol Swain joins the podcast this week to celebrate Women’s History Month. She’ll share her own contribution to politics, especially in the areas of race and patriotism, as well as talk about her views on feminism and the challenges of running for political office as a female.
Dr. Carol Swain is a former professor of political science at Princeton and Vanderbilt Universities and the author of the newly re-released book Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise.
Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg. I’m thrilled that Dr. Carol Swain joins us to celebrate Women’s History Month. She’ll share her own contributions to politics, especially in the areas of race and patriotism, as well as talk about her views on feminism.
Dr. Carol Swain is a former professor of political science at Princeton and Vanderbilt Universities, and the author of the newly re-released book Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise. She is also an IWF Champion Woman due to her many accomplishments and standing up for her right, and our rights, to speak freely. You can find the whole write-up on her on iwf.org.
For now, it’s a pleasure to have Dr. Swain on the show. Thank you so much for being here.
It’s my pleasure to join you.
Just getting to know you and reading your bio, you have a fascinating story. All of the things that you have accomplished, I think you’re the perfect guest on Women’s History Month to talk about the accomplishments of women. I thought we would start by taking just a broad overview of your background and your work as a professor at Princeton and Vanderbilt. You’re an author as well. How have you been able to accomplish so many things?
First of all, I can say that I feel like I have lived several lives in one. If I were writing the story of my life, I would have to decide which story to write first. There is the story of my being born in the rural South in 1954. That was the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated schools across the South, except it didn’t in Virginia. It took another 10 years for schools to integrate into Virginia. So I can truly say that I was born into systemic racism.
I will say that I’ve watched barriers fall for racial and ethnic minorities. I’ve watched the restrictions crumble with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which made a tremendous difference and was extended many times, and the Open Housing Act, and those things that changed the world around me.
In the world that I was born into, I was one of 12, rural poverty. I lived in a two-room shack for the early part of my life, with no indoor plumbing. The poverty was such that if the weather was bad if it snowed and the snow was heavy, all the children stayed home from school until the snow melted. One year, we missed 80 of 180 days of school. When I think about poverty and disadvantages, I think that I had it worse than a lot of other Black people.
I married at 16, had my first child at 17. I dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade, and later got a high school equivalency, went to a community college, and got the first of five college and university degrees. I didn’t just struggle through. I graduated with honors from my four-year college, graduated magna cum laude. I have been very successful throughout life despite having all those disadvantages.
Well, can I ask you this? Some people would say you have amazing grit, that grit is what got you through, but obviously, it’s going to be a bunch of different things that helped you overcome poverty, overcome laws that were pushing Black people down, and not giving them the same opportunities as white people. How were you able to overcome and succeed, and like you said, even graduate with honors at your university? What was it that drove you?
Well, people ask that question, and I’ve had psychologists ask me if they could do a study on resiliency, that I have that trait of being resilient under different types of circumstances. I could give a spiritual definition and talk about, as a Christian, God ordered my footsteps, which I’m sure was part of the story. But I would say that I always had a can-do attitude.
My personality was such, if someone told me that I couldn’t do something, well, I was going to show them that I could. So it worked to my advantage that whatever people said, that it would be hard for me because I came from a poor background, or Black people don’t normally do well in this circumstance, I was hell-bent on showing them that they were wrong. That worked to my disadvantage… That worked to my advantage, I’m sorry, not to my disadvantage. It probably scared a lot of people because I didn’t behave in a predictable way.
I can tell you that when I started my undergraduate college, which was Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, I was one of about 20 Blacks. I had Black students meet me to tell me, they did this with all the other Black students, which professors were racist, which ones to stay away from. With my personality, I signed up for those professors first. And I ended up having powerful allies among conservatives who actually believed in individualism, and they held Blacks and whites to the same standard. I took those courses and I impressed those professors, and it really made a difference in a lot of ways.
Maybe one of the secret ingredients to accomplishing everything you did was when people told you you couldn’t do it, you were going to show them that you could, and you’re going to do whatever you needed to do to work hard and make it happen. I want to get into race some, but I want to start with the female angle as well, also a female breaking many barriers. Since it’s Women’s History Month, I wondered, what does this month mean to you? What does feminism mean to you? What would you say about the strides that women have made over the decades?
Well, if I think about my mother, she’s 90 years old, and she developed polio as a child, so she always had difficulty walking and now she’s totally bedridden. She ended up having 12 children. She had limited opportunities, but I know that my mother’s intellect was such that under a different set of circumstances, she could have gone to college, so I know that about her. I know some of the choices that she made that affected us, I believe that was because she had such limited opportunities.
When I think about my own experiences as a woman, my self-esteem was so low that I married the first person who asked me. It was someone older. It was a way to get away from home. But it never occurred to me that I had options. I didn’t know that I would go to college, and the kind of life I live today, I didn’t realize that that was possible. That had a lot to do with just my circumstances of being poor and not knowing what was available to women.
I think during my era if you got married and you had a husband, you would get married, you’d have a husband, you’d have children, and that was the highest aspiration for my social class, which was underclass. For me, once I got out into the world, into the world of work, and into college, then I could see nothing but opportunities for me as a woman.
I can say that a lot of my success, too, had to do with the fact that I believed in America. I’ve always believed in the American dream. My can-do spirit was also coupled with the belief that if I worked hard, there would be a return to my working heart. I think that I came of age at a time when lots of opportunities opened up for racial and ethnic minorities and women because women were included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A member of Congress had added an amendment including women, and it was pretty much a joke. He thought it was going to kill the legislation. He thought it was hilarious, but the legislation passed and women were protected as well.
There’s a lot being discussed today about racism, and the term that’s used a lot is systemic racism, and that America needs to do more for the sins of the past. From your perspective, as somebody who is a Black woman, when you think about minority categories, those are two right there, what would you say, and what do you say, to people who talk about racism in America? Where are we today, and what is the path forward? What has your lived experience taught you, and where are you in that conversation?
Well, I feel like we are moving backward when it comes to race relations. If I look at the conditions of Blacks coming out of slavery, their accomplishments in that post-slavery era, during the early 1920s, during the 1930s, 1950s, Blacks made tremendous strides and had great success during a time when systemic racism was prevalent. They were still thriving. I think that the messages of the 1960s, that came with the unrest of the 1960s, was the beginning of turning the tide for Blacks.
We could talk about some of the social welfare programs that were put in place, such as aid to families with dependent children that had a rule that you couldn’t have a man in the house. That meant if the husband or boyfriend were unemployed, and the mother of children wanted to get welfare or government assistance, the man had to leave the household. So there were things that were put in place that were very destructive to the Black family.
But what I believe that’s most destructive now is the critical race theory philosophy that paints Blacks and other minorities as victims, that we are oppressed victims. I think that if you believe that you are a victim, then there’s not a lot of incentives to work very hard or try very hard. Even when it comes to the situation with the police and the criminal justice system, the focus of the messages that come from the media and from colleges and universities makes it seem like Black people are being discriminated against and hunted down and killed by white people, and that is a false narrative. But if we had a healthy dialogue in this country, we would look at Black culture and some of the messages that have seeped down to the Black community, and the fact that among Black youth there’s an enormous disrespect for authority that leads to failure in school, as well as resistance to police and other forms of authority. Often, when you resist authority, it doesn’t end well for the person.
So I think that we’ve made tremendous strides with race relations, but the messaging, the narratives that are coming from institutions of higher learning are very destructive, and it’s very racist too because they make it seem that Blacks are perpetual victims, and that all white people have the privilege and no Black person has privilege, and that there’s so much wrapped up in white skin. That’s very demeaning to people who are not white, the whole rhetoric and dialogue and messaging behind skin color. I just think that we need to stand up and condemn that type of language, which is inconsistent with American values and principles because we know that under our Constitution all Americans are protected by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. We have civil rights laws that prohibit racial discrimination. That’s discrimination against everyone, including Caucasians. We are at a moment in American history where everything’s been flipped upside down, and it’s destructive to our whole society.
I know one of the things you mentioned there that is key is the importance of open dialogue. We’re at a place in society where even talking about such important issues as a race are things that are so polarizing we can’t even have dialogue anymore. Do you think that the underpinning of the problem also stems from speech and debate and productive debate and dialogue not being allowed anymore in this country?
It’s not being allowed anymore in this country, but if you actually look at where these restrictions came from, it takes us back to Marxists like Herbert Marcuse, who wrote an article in 1965 called Repressive Tolerance, and it had to do with shutting down the voices of traditionalists and those who were conservative and unleashing the voices of people who were marginalized. What we see taking place in the media is that anyone that’s in a “protected” group, they are able to pretty much dominate the conversation. It becomes a one-sided conversation. No one else is allowed to speak.
Much of what is taking place today is about deconstructing and dismantling the traditional values and principles that made America unique, and so it’s a very dangerous time in our nation’s history. If we don’t recognize what’s taking place and stand up and resist, there’s not going to be much America left for anyone, not for women, because we see that with the critical theorists, and I’m not talking about the critical race theorists now, the critical gender theorists, they’ve pretty much-eliminated women through the transgenderism and destroyed women’s sports. And they’re moving in that direction when it comes to erasing recognized biological differences between males and females. It’s not about science, because science doesn’t support what’s taking place. In the area of male-female differences, science is not dominating.
There are so many people who are listening right now that agree with you. IWF has been very vocal about what so many of these laws have meant to women’s sports, as well as other areas.
Of course, we’re here to support women, and I was wondering, what encouragement do you give people, or what do you tell people that they should do if they are concerned? You’ve spent your life in politics. You’re an author. You’re a professor. You’re chairing the 1776 Commission. You’re very active and trying to preserve what so many of us love about this country, and that’s freedom and opportunity for everyone, regardless of who they are. What encouragement, what direction do you give people who are worried for this country and want to try to preserve the freedoms that we currently have?
Well, first of all, they have good reason to be worried. I think that we should take some solace in the fact that it’s not just a handful of conservatives against the rest of the world. I would argue that the average American is not on board with what is taking place. They may not know what to do about it. A lot of people are intimidated, and that keeps them silent. But if we start to stand up and make our arguments based on the Constitution and the civil rights laws and our own understanding of what is right and what is wrong, it’s almost innate that we know these things, I believe that we will find that there are far more of us than there are of them. I am encouraged by the fact that people are organizing.
We know that this guy Chris Rufo at the Discovery Institute, he’s collecting data about the discrimination that’s taking place across the country that’s being fostered by critical race theory and critical agenda theories that, in practice, when they do the diversity, equity, inclusion training that’s being forced on corporations and schools and universities, it often results in discrimination against whites or against males. Many of the things that are taking place are illegal in the sense that they run counter to civil rights laws and to the Constitution.
So, one thing that people can do is document, document, document. Chris has a data bank that they could send their reports to. Also, help prepare the groundwork for lawsuits and enlist allies among racial and ethnic minorities, because racial and ethnic minorities have experienced discrimination on the basis of their skin color. Anyone who is a reasonable person or anyone who is a Christian is not going to condone discrimination against white people because of the color of their skin and because of accusations against their ancestors. That’s un-American. It’s wrong. It’s certainly unbiblical.
Before you go, I want you to give us just a little description of your book Be the People. This is re-released. It’s something that you wrote a few years ago but is apt for today. Tell us a little bit about the book and why people should go get it.
Well, Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise was first published in 2011, and I thought it was going to change the world because of the warnings. Last year, I updated the book with a new introduction after the election. It’s still applicable because back then I was warning about the Obama administration’s alliance with big tech. At the time, it was Google. The Google car was going around mapping people’s homes and reading their computer hard drives, and all of these things were taking place. That was one of the warnings that I issued. I talked about the Orwellian nature of our society, that we were moving into George Orwell’s 1984. I warned about it back then. And I warned about relaxing the Constitution, and now we’re living those things.
I would also say that not just my book Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise, some other books that I’ve published, such as The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration, warned about worsening race relations and the fact that we needed to move away from identity politics towards the American national identity. I argued that if we continued to do identity politics, that white consciousness and white identity and white interests would be the next stage of identity politics in America because it made sense since whites were becoming a minority. At the time that I was writing that book, it was clear that there were lots of grievances, many of them legitimate grievances, not being addressed by politicians that were setting the stage for more division. I still believe my remedy, that we need to move away from multiculturalism and identity politics towards the American national identity, that’s the only way we survive as a nation as diverse as America.
Well, you are correct that there are many people who are concerned about this. I know you hear from them on a regular basis, and many are listening to this episode. We all thank you, not just for your work and your efforts to preserve the freedoms that we all have, but also for sharing your own personal story on She Thinks today. Dr. Carol Swain, thank you so much for joining us.
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