Skip to main content

How Racism Mutates

A Conversation with Deborah Archer

As a civil rights lawyer, NYU professor, and President of the ACLU, Deborah Archer works to overcome the systemic injustices in our society every day. Chanda and Deborah connected to talk about how racism affects all aspects of life, the navigational skills you learn as a Black woman, and how the law struggles to keep up with the evolution of racism.

Listen to Our Episode

Souphak Kienitz  00:00 

Thank you to Target for sponsoring this episode. Target is committed to using their size, scale and resources to help heal and create lasting change in Minneapolis and across the country. Up next, she is the first African American president of the ACLU. She’s also a civil rights lawyer and an NYU professor. She is Deborah Archer, enjoy the show. 

Chanda Smith Baker  00:38 

This conversation on the podcast is coming to our listeners through a partnership that we did with Westminster Town Hall Forum, and that conversation you can find on their website and it was aired on NPR. This is a bit of, you know, after the in between where we can talk a little bit and I’ve learned a couple of things about you, and one is that you’re a mom of sons. Yes, and I am a mom of four sons and a daughter. This last year has brought me to a new place as parent. I’ve had many, many stops along the journey, my oldest is now 28. But this last year, I have thought more about what their reality looks like growing up with these images of black men getting killed or black people getting killed, because now I’m bringing my daughter into this conversation in a different way than I have in the past. Yeah, just talk about being mom for a minute.  

Deborah Archer  01:45 

Yeah, I, when you raise the images and seeing this from a television, and then being home because of the pandemic and seeing this kind of repeated and repeated on the television brings for me questions about how much was too much for them, right trying to strike a balance, which is something I think, a balance we try to strike every day, or at least I try to strike every day as the mother of black boys. Giving them enough information to make them aware of the challenges inside, the way that society is going to react to them because they are black boys. Giving them enough information, so they can protect themselves in this world that they can adjust their behavior as they need to, to be safe, but also just don’t want my children who are 15 and 17, to feel traumatized. How much is too much that I’m traumatizing them, and with those images that were coming every day of just graphically seeing the moments at which people were losing their lives and the violence. I got to a point where I had to take a step back and is letting them watch it too much, is letting them watch it, harming them more than it is benefiting them. They understand what’s going on the world. Do they need to keep seeing these images? I did take a point at which I had to shut off the television, for them and for me, for us all to take a break for a couple of days from what was going on in the world, but it was difficult. We live in Manhattan, and in an apartment, and our living room window faces Broadway in lower Manhattan, and every day, multiple times a day, there were protests up and down Broadway. Many times during the day, we would go down and join the protests. So it was something that I couldn’t protect them from entirely, but I certainly thought about how do we strike a balance? I’m wondering for you, how did you strike a balance between wanting your children to know, understand, and feel deep in their bones, the kind of injustice that was going on, but being a mother and wanting to protect them from the kind of trauma that comes from seeing people who look like you murdered at the hands of the state? 

Chanda Smith Baker  04:20 

Yeah, in my case, I guess I have the benefit of having four that range from 28 to 15, and so the conversations I have amongst each other are different than the ones they have with me. I did have a second when the verdict, I knew the verdict was going to be announced, and I wanted them all to be with me, like just come sit with me on the couch, and my youngest was, had zero interest in watching it, and I had, you know, you get down here, like moment like, right now, I’m like, this is a moment in history, and you need to be part of it, and I said it and then I stopped, and in recognition that they need to take this in, in a way that makes sense for them, and so I think I’ve had to balance, sort of, the historical moment that the verdict, and sort of, the significance of what happened, following George Floyd’s death, to a movement of policing that we hope will improve. I’ve had to separate that, from the mental health and wellness of my children, and I’m holding, in myself, and holding sort of those tensions.  

Deborah Archer  05:52 

Yeah. My children, with the lockdown, I think my children also, were kind of immersed in the conversation in a way that I hope was beneficial to them. I hope they were taking it in, because all the conversations that I’ve done since taking over as a president of the ACLU, and even before that, all through last summer, as someone who was involved in racial justice work, and so responding to COVID, and responding to the policing, it was all that in my living room, with them sitting, sitting beside me hearing those discussions, and I really hope that it was the educational experience that I imagined in my head that it was, for them to hear people and not their mother, because, of course, kids discount whatever mom says, but listening to the other people that I’ve been in conversation with, to saying incredibly, eloquently speaking to pain, speaking to injustice, identifying for them what they’re seeing, and kind of explaining some of that, I think that, that was, that’s a powerful moment, as well that I hope really helps shape them and fortifies them as they go out into the world to fight these challenges long after you and I  have stopped. 

Chanda Smith Baker  07:23 

Yep, I’m only smiling because one of my kids said, Mom, I finally know what you do, and I remember just stopping and dead to my tracks like, really all those talks didn’t matter, but they’ve been able to see the work, up front and personal, and I do think that it will matter to them, in the long run, you know. Regarding the videos, you know, one of the other speakers as part of this series was Jelani Cobb, and we spoke a little bit on just the release of these videos, and you know, of course, we’re talking about the impact in our households. Do you think we understand the impact that it will have on us as a broader community of witnessing these videos over and over again? 

Deborah Archer  08:14 

Yeah, so I do want to get a step back with the videos. I have, my husband and I have said, whoever invented the camera phone needs to win a Nobel Prize because it has transformed racial justice and social justice in this in this country, kind of in the way that the videotaping the civil rights movement in broadcasting that on television, helped to change conversations around civil rights and being the civil rights. Without those videotapes, we would be at the same place with people discounting what black people say, and other people’s color say goes on in their communities, we would be in a place where we are relying on this narrative, this stereotype that shapes so many of our conversations of excessive black criminality and that would shape how we viewed the stories. It would mean that the defense of he resisted, or she resisted, would always win as it did before they were videotaped, and so I think we do have to pause and reflect on the way that the fact that these incidents were taped and then broadcast is just is allowing America see what we’ve seen and to know what we have known for so long, but really the collective trauma of watching those tapes over and over again, I think it’s hard to measure. I feel weary, I feel tired in a way that I don’t know I have felt before, and in part of this, I think having to relive those moments to watch them over and over and over again, and so I do wonder what kind of impact it’s going to have on us, as a community. One positive thing is just the way that I think it’s built community, not only within, not only with black people, not only with Latinx folks, but just a sense of community, and a broader community, and the way that people have rallied behind those who have been targeted, we’ve seen it with the anti Asian hate and those videos that have been captured, and how powerful they have been in helping people to rally around Asian community as they’re dealing with their pain, to have a better understanding or awareness of the pain that they’re going through and the need for us to be in community and in solidarity with folks. I think that that has been powerful as well. 

Chanda Smith Baker  11:09 

Yeah. Do you think the law has kept up with the technology? 

Deborah Archer  11:14 

Not at all, not in so many ways, and I think that a lot of the work of the ACLU is doing is to figure out how we address, regulate, embrace, protect these new technologies that are allowing people to connect and to communicate, to protest, to speak up, to be in dialogue, to document in new, in powerful ways, and so I think we’re seeing challenges we didn’t imagine, legal issues we didn’t imagine, power and potential that we didn’t imagine, and we needed to figure out how the law responds to that, and then criminal justice context around Fourth Amendment in searches, technology creates a challenge for us in the First Amendment context, protecting the right to speak and engage and not have government interference, and how far is the reach of the protections when we have private companies that host these conversations, but they have become such important components in the community and public dialogue. So how do we think about all of those things? How do we approach all of them? How does the law engage or not engage are issues that I think we will need to address as we move forward? The challenge to have the bandwidth right to fight to think through these issues that we have fought for decades or centuries, to address some of these more entrenched, civil rights and social justice issues, but also to be able to think creatively and expansively about the new ones that are coming down the pike. 

Chanda Smith Baker  13:06 

Does the ACLU have a position on how quickly video cams, content should be released? 

Deborah Archer  13:14 

In terms of police body cameras? 

Chanda Smith Baker  13:18 

Yeah, the body cam, 

Deborah Archer  13:19 

I think, we think, we think it’s important that they be released, that it’s important for accountability. It’s important for the public to know what happened and to know what happened as quickly as possible. We certainly understand the need to balance that with privacy concerns or due process concerns., but in light of those concerns, we still believe that this should happen as quickly as possible. It’s troubling that some recent incidents, that the family, the public are not getting access to what happened on those videotapes and that it doesn’t serve. It doesn’t serve anyone well. It undermines faith and trust. It undermines transparency, that undermines immediate accountability. So there are lots of concerns, but I think we do fall in favor of releasing information to the public as quickly as possible. 

Chanda Smith Baker  14:18 

In your presentation with the Westminster Town Hall Forum, you talked about how racism mutates. For those of us that are tuned in or those of us that are experiencing it, we more readily understand how, you know, when it mutates, what it feels like how it’s excluding how it doesn’t allow for that sense of belonging, but for others that may not understand like if it keeps taking on new forms, how does one stay in tune to what racism is or isn’t? 

Deborah Archer  15:01 

Yeah, I think for me the one of the challenges of this conversation that we’re having about systemic racism, and the way that racism is woven into the fabric of America is to not lose that conversation, that thread that connects chattel slavery that connects Jim Crow, that connects legalized segregation, that connects separate but equal to what we’re seeing today, this is not that what we’re seeing today is completely divorced and separate, it was about this evolution, and it was about an evolution that compounded the problems that came before. So I think it’s important for us to have those conversations that help us connect the racism of the past with its current manifestation. In talking about the law, part of the challenge with using the law, is that the law doesn’t evolve as quickly in the way that racism evolves quickly, and we’ve had a lot of conversations recently, about a case Shelby versus Holder, where that case, gutted the Voting Rights Act, and eliminated one of the key provisions Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which was really, really fundamental to how we were able to transform our our democracy and the way that Section Five worked was that it tried to stay ahead of the discrimination. It tried to stay ahead of the way that in voting rights, we were evolving from outright denial to grandfather clauses, to literacy test, to ID laws, to put changing polling places, and Section Five require that any change in voting had to be precleared with the Department of Justice, or with a court in DC, and that meant that we were able to catch discriminatory laws before they were evolved and implemented We were able to stop them, we didn’t have to know what was coming next, because whatever it was, it was going to come next, had to be cleared before it could be adopted, and we don’t have that. So we just have laws that evolve to get around the law. We have laws that really, very precisely use a language to evade the law, to look a little bit different than what came before and different enough, so that there’s no legal precedent holding us back. An example is the way that we use the criminal legal system to achieve racial segregation and racial discrimination, because our criminal legal system is a hallmark, is racial inequality within that system at every stage of our of our system on who gets stopped, who gets arrested, who gets convicted, who is incarcerated, and for how long, are all plagued by racial inequality, and now we see using that racial inequality in the criminal legal system as the tool to advance racial segregation and housing. To say I’m not keeping people out, because they’re black, I’m keeping people out who have caught had had contact with the criminal legal system, the result is the same, the tool is different, but the result is the same, and the law doesn’t necessarily keep up and evolve as it needs to, to block this kind of evolution, and so that’s a challenge for us, as a nation that relies so heavily on a court system to advance and enforce equality. 

Chanda Smith Baker  18:50 

And I wonder, I think we are learning more clearly now the interdependence of our systems between housing and education and policing, that I think, traditionally, we have, sort of attack them from a solution point of view, as though they are isolated. So we have divorce it from its history in terms of solution setting, and we also are addressing it as though it is a siloed sort of event versus part of a broader ecosystem that allows for safety, security and economic advancement. 

Deborah Archer  19:28 

I think that’s right there, and I think, personally, that segregation, and housing is central to that, because there’s really nothing that place doesn’t touch and control. Again, our access to food or access to quality education or access to economic opportunity, the number and nature of our interactions with police are all deeply impacted by where we live, but again, our education impacts and influences criminal legal system. The criminal legal system impacts and influences our economic policy, our transportation policy, both historically and today, impact access to economic opportunity, impact access to education. Everything is so woven together, and when I work with my students, I think part of the challenge is that my students and others believe that there is one lever that we can pull to solve inequality, if we can just identify that lever, right, and then they’ll pull it and everything will be solved, and not spending the time to realize that even a moment on videotape where a police officer has taken the life of a black person, so much has happened to bring them to that moment. It is not just a question of what happens between that individual police officer and that individual person, it is about what happens in our system of policing, it is what happens in our system of public safety. It is about segregation, and inadequate housing and the way that segregation locks people out of opportunity, the way that we view a segregated black community as more dangerous, and then how we respond by saying that it needs more policing, and which leads to over policing where someone cannot move without coming into contact with the police. They can’t go about their everyday life without coming into contact with the police, and it’s about how we then empower police to respond. It’s about the way we treat and address homelessness. It is about how we treat substance abuse disorders. It’s about how we’re responding to high unemployment and lack of economic investment in communities of color. There’s so much came into that, into that moment. All those systems feed each other, all those times. 

Chanda Smith Baker  21:54 

Yeah, I’m thinking about Richard Rosthein’s book, The Color of Law. 

Deborah Archer  21:59 

Always, everything… 

Chanda Smith Baker  22:01 

Everything, it’s all in there. 

Deborah Archer  22:02 

It’s all about The Color of Law. It really is. 

Chanda Smith Baker  22:06 

It’s all about The Color of Law, and when I think about, you know, segregated communities, and there’s lots of arguments out there about how to address the consequence of that, but overall, we’re not suggesting that we need to integrate in order to have our rights be protected, right? It’s not about proximity to whiteness, that should get us to justice. Right? 

Deborah Archer  22:35 

That’s 100%, right, and I think we spend too much time thinking about how to make sure that black people and other people of color, get access to white spaces in white communities, to white schools, to get access to the opportunities that have literally really been hoarded in those communities, and less time thinking about how we support, develop, build, and enable people of color to access opportunity and resources and what they need to live, choose fair lives, right in their communities. It reminds me, historian, Manning Marable and his theory of under development, and he believes that our systems were built to intentionally and specifically under develop black people and black communities, and we have to do the work to identify those systems that were designed to underdeveloped black communities to reinvest in those communities, to reverse the decades of disinvestment and discrimination that has made it so many, it has made so many of them inhospitable to success and opportunity for the people who live within them, and so you’re 100%, right, that it cannot be about access to in proximity to whiteness. I think we have to do both, integrate those white spaces, challenge them as white spaces, make them accessible to everyone, but also do our best to better distribute resource and opportunity to all communities, and stop the kind of resource hoarding that we that we see now, and then I would just add that as we integrate communities of color, we have to do a better job of protecting the lives and opportunities of people who have lived and worked in those communities over decades, who are now facing displacement and exclusion from forces like gentrification, things that we have to pay attention to, so that the people who have lived there can continue to live there and prosper as we reinvest in those communities. 

Chanda Smith Baker  24:55 

Yeah, you’ve spent your career sort of working on issues of equity and in critical race theory, and I’m curious if this last year has taught you anything different about racism? 

Deborah Archer  25:14 

Interesting question, anything different about racism, I think that it has, this last year, has proven to me so much of what I’ve been taught and learned and what I understand about racism that we’ve seen it play out, not only in with racialized police violence. We saw it play out with COVID. We often hear people say, when America catches cold, black people catching them, getting pneumonia, and I saw that like, with COVID, that it impacted the world, but impacted people of color on another level. So I think so much of what I was taught and understand I saw, what I do think I learned, what has been reinforced, is the need for us to support young people who are engaged in the fight for a social change, for us to take a step back and follow their lead. They are more creative, more passionate than I could have ever imagined. They don’t feel constrained in any way, by the conversations, by the fights, by the losses of the past. They are going to do what they have to do, and then force us all to come along with them, and I think I’ve learned that we should come voluntarily, we should not be forced along right? We should do what we can to support, them to keep them out in the front, to keep them in the lead, and then to follow their lead as they fight for the communities in the America that that they deserve. 

Chanda Smith Baker  27:00 

Yeah, and here you are a daughter of Jamaican immigrants. The first African American black president of the ACLU, it’s a bit of a bootstrap story. Folks, can say that once you’ve arrived at a certain level of success or security, that you are no longer interacting with racism in the same way? Has that been your experience? 

Deborah Archer  27:31 

Not at all. I’m interacting with racism, I don’t have the same challenges that I did before in the areas in which racism and economic inequality come together, but certainly I’ve interacted with, we have challenges around racism. I’m just stuck on the, you know, it’s funny, I do think people will say that that’s a, her story is an example of you can, you know, you fix this, you can change this, just pull yourself up, but I what I am is a story, an example of how our system can work. If our system comes together, the kind of supports I got, and my family got for, economically. I’m certainly the beneficiary of affirmative action, where people are looking at non traditional qualifications and,  seeing the the signs that someone has potential. I am the beneficiary of people who invested in me, who made sure, right, I, what we see today does not reveal all of the hundreds of people who have had to invest in me to make sure that I was successful, and so I just wanted to say that that I am here, not because I had some superhuman strength to pull myself up and to change and overcome. I am here because so many people helped me navigate and cross and get over all the hurdles that were in my way, that I was just lucky to have people in my life helped me do that, and I also again, I said that I experienced racism. I recognize my privilege that I don’t have to ask frequently, experienced it in the life and death ways that so many other people experience racism and economic inequality in their lives. During this pandemic, I had job security. I was able to keep my family fed. I was able to keep us safe. We had the privilege to be able to work remotely and to not have to go out. My children had the technology support and space to be able to take advantage of remote learning and education, and they had, we had the resources to supplement their education to make sure that they didn’t lose ground, and I know, and we had the medical care to make sure that we were healthy to be able to get the medical care and support that we needed to remain healthy. So many people of color just didn’t have those, those supports, that safety net, that structure, those resources and that privilege and so I recognize that, but I do come into work every day I experienced microaggressions. I was recently walking through the park, I’m lucky to have my office near Washington Square Park in New York City, and I walked through the park, and a man came up to me and said, you’re an N word, just like those at 125th Street, and then I had to come into work and teach my class and go on about my day, just as if nothing happened. I have been the victim of discrimination more times than I can count. I have, I feel like racism has worked exactly the way it was designed to work in my life. So often, just as I was feeling a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement, there is racism, to remind me that you don’t fully belong. You are not fully accepted, and you may never fully belong, and I’m going to remind you of that. So racism, it’s a complicated thing, and so I will answer your question more succinctly by saying, yes, I still experience racism, despite all that I have achieved, but yes, I recognize that my privilege makes it different and gives me resources to manage it, to navigate racism in a way that other people just don’t have, those tools, resources and support to manage the way that racism and really just put us in its vise and squeeze us. 

Chanda Smith Baker  32:20 

Yeah, I was reading one of your interviews or watching an interview where you talked about an incident that you had, I think in high school, and I’ve had similar instances where a student, a white student, called you the N word, and I imagine much more happened than that. 

Deborah Archer  32:40 

Yeah, I feel like from the very beginning, even before that, I grew up in Connecticut, we were first, in Hartford, Connecticut, and my parents were able to save and maneuver to get us out of Hartford, which was incredibly and deeply segregated by race and class, and move us to working class suburb of Hartford, call Windsor, Connecticut, and when we move, we were one of two black families in the neighborhood, and our neighbors made it clear we weren’t welcome, and at that point, I was 10 or 11, and remember, waking up to go outside on my way to school to find that KKK had been written on our house and our car, and my parents having to explain to just my brother and me at that time, what KKK meant and why our neighbors didn’t want us and after that, I was just terrified to be in our house, I was terrified to go to school, I was terrified to go to the park to walk those streets and I ended up having to stay with my grandmother for a while, and that continued to continued in high school. When I went to college, I really kind of still basking in the glow of being the first person in my family to graduate from, to go on to college. During my first semester, someone slipped a note under my door that said go home N word, and then I was no longer feeling, I never felt safe in college, and it was my first semester and I had to go through an investigation and wonder every day was it this woman who did that to me or  was it this woman? Who was it that doesn’t want me here and what’s going to happen next, and at the same time still be a student and to do well and to take my final exam, and so it’s, you know, things like that just every day. I have another memory that just came to me while we’re talking of being so excited to have been named Aspen’s Ideas Scholar, and I was going to thank you, it was years ago, going to the Aspen Ideas Festival, and I’m on the plane to Aspen the only black person on the plane and the white woman next to me leans over and says, so are you going to Aspen to sing in one of the clubs, and I thought, here it is, again, and that through my time at the Aspen Ideas Festival, I just kept thinking about that, that really at every turn, I’ve been, I’m reminded about why I do this work in ways big and small. 

Chanda Smith Baker  35:25 

I really appreciate you sharing all of that and I think the reason that I raise it is because I think with the, with the videos and the conversations, that issues of racism could be identified as those things that end with death, or those things that get recorded, and the day to day interactions that show up for people of color, get missed, and that people may think that success erases those experiences. They live out they play out differently, as you describe, right, but the interaction, the intersection between sort of the economic, the class and race that you know, they evolve, but I think it’s important, because that’s right, you go into a place and you know, are you here to meet someone? Like why are you here, like the questioning along the way, and it stays with you while you’re there, like, they don’t even think I belong here, right, like I was invited, I am the speaker. What is happening right now? 

Deborah Archer  36:37 

And the anticipation that that’s going to happen when I’m going into a space where I know, people who look like me normally aren’t. It’s the anticipation of where, how’s it gonna come at me? Where’s it gonna come? Who’s gonna do that? 

Chanda Smith Baker  36:52 

How has that informed your readiness? 

Deborah Archer  36:59 

You know, unfortunately, I think it has, it has shaped, it has created a wall that I put up, sometimes when I go into these new spaces, and I meet new people. I don’t necessarily anticipate that they’re going to welcome me with open arms. I don’t anticipate that everything will be fine, and I said, I’m ready, I’m ready for the different ways that I’m going to have to respond. I’m ready with my ID, I’m ready with when we had things that were in person with the letter saying, you know, thank you for agreeing to be our speaker, you should find Jim in Room 5A and I’m ready with the documentation to backup my right to be where I am, and we and I’m making my children do that as well, right, making sure you have everything you need to prove that you are who you are, that you are where you supposed to be, that you have a right to engage in that way, and we shouldn’t have to live that way. I shouldn’t have to anticipate the rejection and the discrimination and the hostility and prepare myself for it and brace myself for it, and really, in asking the question you’re, you know, thinking in just in every space that I go into, including in my classroom, I’m often prepared for the challenge that I think comes to a professor that looks like me versus a professor that doesn’t look like me. I have to prepare in new and, and different ways, preparation for life takes on new meaning and new layers. Absolutely. 

Chanda Smith Baker  38:37 

I taught a class here at one of the universities and one of the required readings was Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility article, and one of the students went to the dean, because they didn’t think I should be requiring the reading to find out that the school requires, and I’m just like, it was just like, it was one of those moments where, and I remember thinking, man, like, I just don’t want to do this, because I know this is not going to end well, and how can I navigate this space, and, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the navigational skills that we learn as, as brown and black people as a black woman, you know, you have had to develop a skill set at a very early age of figuring how to move forward when people are trying to keep you back, and I think it is, I think you said it so well. In the town hall presentation where you talked about, I think, or at least I put this down here sort of black success and black pain, rage as a tool to move forward, and I’m wondering if you know, before we go if you’ll just talk about how you’ve been able to use those experiences to inform because they are, in fact very painful, but have you been able to use them and certainly for me, it inspires and motivates me to continue in the hard work, because I don’t want that for future generations, and for my kids and grandkids and so on? 

Deborah Archer  40:20 

Yeah, I think you’ve said it better than I can. I have felt that pain of racism in so many different ways, it motivates me to keep fighting for myself, so that one day I can be in a space and feel without question, kind of comfort and relax and to breathe. I want my children to not have to navigate spaces like this, but I also think it informs who I am as, as a lawyer and as an advocate, because I know how this feels. I think people can to easily dismiss the pain that comes from this kind of racism, this death by 1000 cuts, and I never do, I understand that the big victories are important, but it’s also important for us to attend to and pay attention to the myriad every day ways that we injure mind, body, and spirit, and the ways that we make it so that people can’t live choice for a lot as those things happen every day, moment to moment, day to day, week to week, and we need to attend to those things, as well, and so I try to use all of my experiences, the ones of the past, the ones that happened yesterday, the ones that I know or to come to continue to be motivated to do this work. This work can be hard as I said it, and there’s ebbs and it flows progress has always met with resistance and retrenchment. We take two steps forward, one step back, sometimes we take two steps forward, and we take two steps back, but I am motivated by that pain, to not want to continue to experience it myself, and to not want my children to experience it, as I said for them to not worry about their children the way that I worry about them, but for them not to worry about navigating life, the way that I had to worry about navigating life. 

Chanda Smith Baker  42:30 

That’s a very hopeful message, and as we wrap, part of what feels like a bomb, for me right is to be able to know that the work that I’m doing every day is is mattering to people that are experiencing the same level of pain, and I’m wondering if you’re feeling that through your work, like not just at the ACLU, but beyond? 

Deborah Archer  42:54 

Yeah, so I feel it in my everyday work in my work at NYU, where I teach the civil rights clinic, and I’m the co-director of our center on race inequality and the law, I feel a sense of healing and purpose in doing this work, and I think the same as with the, is true to the ACLU, and as I said before, there’s so much at stake in our society right now, not just on racial justice issues, but on other issues, where there has been damage to communities where we have to rebuild those communities, but also important work for how to move forward. I think that is the work, the ACLU spans the waterfront, and it’s going to continue to really cover the waterfront of civil rights and civil liberty issues. I think our priorities have to include increasing access to the ballot box, we have to fight the escalating attacks on transgender people, particularly transgender kids around the country. You raise some of the challenges around speech, free speech and privacy, including defend freedom of expression online. We’ve got advanced Fourth Amendment protections against high tech government surveillance, challenge discriminatory uses of artificial intelligence, and really, also expanding and protecting the rights of immigrants, LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights. There’s so much work to be done that at some days, you’re too focused, too tired, too busy to think of anything else, but how we move forward, and certainly that is a wonderful place to be in to have the tools and opportunities to transform our community and in our nation, and certainly, the work of the ACLU gives me hope, provides me with motivation, but also really importantly, an opportunity to make the difference, and to see the kind of change that I want to see in my community. 

Chanda Smith Baker  44:59 

Deborah Archer, it’s been nice talking with you. It was such a pleasure to meet you. 

Deborah Archer  45:03 

Thank you for having me. It was really a lovely conversation. I hope we can talk again. 

Souphak Kienitz  45:11 

Thanks again for our friends at Target for sponsoring this episode. If you’re interested in sponsorship, please email or give us a call. Visit for our contact information. Thanks to Deborah Archer for being on the show and Chanda Smith Baker for being our host, Sarah Gillund for making the artwork and copy for this episode and Darlynn Benjamin for coordinating and making this conversation happen. If you like this episode, you can tweet Chanda @chandasbaker and let her know if you really want to say thank you, please follow us and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next week. 

Close Transcript -
About Our Guest

Deborah Archer

Elected in 2021 as the eighth President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Deborah Archer is the first person of color to lead America’s premiere civil rights and civil liberties organization in its over 100-year history. A leading civil rights and civil liberties advocate, civil rights lawyer, professor, writer and commentator, Deborah challenges audiences to confront America’s legacy of racism and to understand how systemic racism impacts all aspects of American life, from transportation to education to housing to economic opportunity to criminal law.

Deborah is a Professor of Clinical Law at the NYU School of Law. A graduate of Smith College and Yale Law School, Deborah is also faculty director of the Law School’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law. She was previously an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and the international law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and on two separate occasions chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, the nation’s oldest and largest police oversight agency. Her articles have appeared in leading law journals. She regularly appears in print and on television to comment on critical political and policy issues.

sponsored by Target