Could you tell me a little bit about what you do and how you ended up where you are now?
My name is Tevin Jones, and I’m from Landover, Maryland. All my life I went to all-Black schools, so from elementary on through college. I went to college at Morehouse, and I majored in Political Science. While I was there, I was involved in student government, and I joined Phi Beta Sigma fraternity my senior year. After that, I went on to get my Master’s at the London School of Economics, and I came back. My first job was at BET working in programming research. And from there, I found a new job at CNN. And, me and my friend have our own digital marketing firm. One of our huge projects is with the Shade Room. So, I feel like my life is really encompassed with a lot of African-American everything.
So you grew up in Maryland and you went to all Black schools all the time? Did you have friends that were not as lucky as you? Did you hear about people that had been Black faces in white places? Or for the most part were you always surrounded by people that were part of the community?
I’ve always been surrounded by people who were just mostly around Black people. I think my first real experience—you could say college but most of my friends in college were still mostly around Black people…So we could all relate. Even my first job, it was with mostly Black people. So, right now, this point in my life, I’m actually adjusting to being around people other than folks that are my color.
What about your time getting your master’s degree in London?
That’s interesting too. Because that was a diverse experience. The school was made up of a lot of people from around the world, but everybody was segregated to their own section of people. So, we had a huge population of people from China there and they were together; there was only a few Black Americans in my class, and we hung with the Black British people, because one thing about Black British people is they really do love our culture.
I felt like I always had to be on, and I always had to prove that I’m good enough to be here with you.
I appreciated that, because being there, I felt kind of alone and kind of by myself, because a lot of people couldn’t relate and a lot of people had these stereotypes of what it was to be a Black person in America, because either they’ve never seen one, or they’ve never come in contact. I just stuck with my people while I was there.
Did you find in class at all that race came up as an issue?
It did, because I felt like people were trying to challenge my intelligence, as to like, why am I here. And I would always get into a back and forth between a few of my classmates, because everything I would say, they would always come with a rebuttal. Always something. And so, I felt like I always had to be on and I always had to prove that I’m good enough to be here with you.
So, yeah, it was crazy, and then even the white Americans that went to school there too, they would paint this picture…I’ll never forget, I came to class, and my teacher started talking about the class before mine, and the students said, “there is no inequality in America.” So, my teacher asked me to tell my class, if I thought this was true or not! And so, of course, of course I said there’s inequality.
You have to let other voices be heard and acknowledge their contributions.
I felt like the white Americans that were there were painting this picture because they don’t see it, they’re not around a lot of people of color, and they don’t really sympathize with everything that’s going on. So, they’re telling everybody, “there’s no inequality in America! Everybody’s equal.” You know that colorblind type of stuff. That I can’t relate with.
Were these people your age, or younger, or older, or?
They were all my age.
That’s disappointing…So, do you think that there’s a way, through education, that we can intervene in that kind of perspective? Obviously, there are a lot of different ways for people to figure out that America is not an equal place. But do you think that there are things that colleges can do administratively, or things they could teach, or things that would come through in curriculum, that would help people get with the program?
For starters, there definitely has to be diversity in not only the administration but in recruiting and getting more diverse populations at school, so then you can get a perspective from everybody. But, curriculum-wise, you have to really be truthful! I think that’s the best way to do it; you can’t just glaze over everyone’s histories just to create this kind of image, this kind of idea, of the United States or whatever topic it is—create this picture where Black people didn’t have an influence! Or, you know, other races didn’t have an influence. You have to be truthful, and you have to let other voices be heard and acknowledge their contributions.
Have you been following the kinds of race protests that have been going on at the schools?
Do you have any thoughts on them?
I think my perspective on the protests at schools is a little different, because when I was in school, in undergrad, it looked like kind of a showy thing. It would be a hot thing for a few days, people would come out, and they would put things on Facebook and on Instagram and say “I was there, I was there,” but then there was never any followup; there was nothing else to it; it was just a flash and then forgotten about.
And then you can see, like, just with people our age in general, there are a lot of things that pop up, like, for example: you have Troy Davis, or even if you go to KONY, when that was a big thing—it was a huge thing, but it went away so quickly, people jumped on the movement, people put up the hashtag, and people just followed the trend without a) figuring out what the real issue is, and b) without formulating their own opinion on things. That was where my issue was, and why I really never got involved. Because a lot of the big blowups, the big protests, they didn’t happen while I was in school at the time. But, when I was there, I just didn’t jump in those type of things, because to me it was just “for show.”
Do you think that the kinds of protests that are happening now have more substance? Or would you wanna see them do better?
They definitely have more substance now. Because, when tragedies and issues keep recurring and recurring, it becomes more prominent in people’s minds, and it evolves from being just flashes here and there to things that are happening every week and more often, so it’s keeping the movement going. On top of that, I think people have found a platform to actually voice themselves other than just standing out there protesting. That’s why there’s so much involvement with politics, because on the Democratic side, that’s why it’s such a big issue now—because these movements have found a voice, and they found someone to speak to. And I love the not letting it go. It’s going to be maintained, and they’re gonna make sure that it’s in the popular conversation as we choose the direction of where the country is going.
Yeah totally. I think the news has an important role to play in that too. Because, like you said, it doesn’t feel like a flash in the pan because these things keep happening over and over. But also, these things have always been happening, right. It’s kind of feeding on itself now, because we’re hearing about them more so we know about them, and then people are protesting more because they’re more likely to hear about them—24-hour news cycle, they gotta deliver what we’re interested in hearing.
And the increase of social sharing! As these social media sites have become more used, more prominent—over the last few years! All this stuff is always, constantly in rotation now, and these news channels and these news stations, they can see what the topic of conversation is, and they can see what people are really talking about, so they get that information to keep the cycle going.
Do you have any thoughts on Black Twitter?
I love Black Twitter! It’s crazy, because at one of my previous internships I was talking to my boss, and I was saying, “Black Twitter is a real thing.” And I did a little research on it so I could bring back the facts. It was about 2012 or -13, at the time African-Americans made up about 25% of Twitter, which is a pretty huge amount! And so, the influence was there. And there is so much influence that you’ve seen Black Twitter take down a Paula Deen, or just make things popular in pop culture. I love Black Twitter; it’s the best.
I wanted to ask you, too, because you did Political Science—did you get to read a lot of Black political scientists when you were in college?
My focus was not on political theory, it was on U.S. Government. We were able to choose a track, and—political theory, it was just too over my head. Philosophy, all that, it was just way over.
I went to Columbia, and they have a Core Curriculum, and so you have to take a political science survey in your second year. It’s called Contemporary Civilizations, and it’s like, you read one Black person, and then everyone else is a white man. The two women are white. Some of the non-required texts have people of color, but not every professor teaches those texts.
At my school [Morehouse], a lot of the curriculum was really Black focused. And it made you know where your people came from, and your people’s accomplishments in these fields. To me, it told a more rounded story, and instilled it with a type of pride in being yourself. And on top of that, when you go to school, go to regular elementary, high school, and you get so much European mainstream history, it’s good to go somewhere that you get the rest of the perspective. And that’s what I really appreciated about it, about going to a historically Black college.
**One of the things I’m interested in about the response to the movement at all these colleges is how people are casting it as a sensitivity problem, and a free speech problem. I’m interested in getting at how important that is. If we step outside of the Founding Fathers, “we need all of these specific rights,” etc., how important is free speech as a nebulous ideal, versus creating space that’s safe for students? This is specifically in college.
What do you think about the whole argument about sensitivity versus free speech? Do you have any thoughts on that?**
That’s tricky. It’s tricky, because, I do think especially now, a lot of people are very sensitive—sensitive to the point that you can’t joke about certain things. But on the flip side, some people don’t have a filter, and you have to understand that, to be quite frank, some things you can’t say out in public that you can say in the privacy of your own home, or at the dinner table. And I think people lost that, and they’re starting to take that type of thing that they would say at the table, and starting to bring it out into the public, and it’s offensive! It’s very offensive!
And, you get people like Donald Trump, who can pretty much say the most racist things, and people are okay with it, because he’s a mainstream figure. The type of things that people are saying at home, he’s saying in public, people feel like, “okay then, I can say these things in public, since these other people aren’t super offended! So, why not.”
To be quite frank, some things you can’t say out in public that you can say in the privacy of your own home, or at the dinner table. And I think people lost that.
So, it’s definitely a challenge. It comes down to how you grow up and understanding that other people are different; other people have different types of sensitivities than you. But also, it comes down to, as you said, the fact that colleges are supposed to be at least a safe space. It’s a community, and this community is not supposed to be offending and alienating people. You can take this to a bigger example, even for rivalries in football games, and things like that. In those moments, your school is one, and when you don’t have a sensitivity to how other people feel, you’re fracturing that oneness. Schools have to do a better job of maintaining that and not just letting things slip through and saying, “oh well.”
I understand, you know, some people bring in more money than others, and you might give them a pass, but the administration should be looking at each student as an equal. And should push for people being sensitive of how other people feel!
It’s tricky. Very tricky. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s impeding on “free speech” per se…you can say whatever you want, but there are consequences to the things that you say. You’re free to do whatever, you’re free to say whatever, but when those consequences come in, then you have to pay for them, then what?