Berkeley Talks transcript: Eva Paterson on transforming the nation’s consciousness on race

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #130: ‘Eva Paterson on transforming the nation’s consciousness on race.’

Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast or wherever you listen. We’re taking a little break this winter and we’ll be back with new episodes on Jan. 14.

Savala Trepczynski: This is Be the Change, a special summer podcast from the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, the home for social justice at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

I’m Savala Trepczynski and I direct the Henderson Center. I wanted to find a way for us to be in community over the summer. I love you guys and I miss you guys when you’re not around and to have candid conversations with people who are the change we need to see in the world.

My guest today is Eva Patterson. She’s the president and founder of Equal Justice Society, an Oakland-based organization that is transforming the nation’s consciousness around race. She has spent her entire career focused like a laser on civil rights. She’s a mastermind litigator. She’s a kind and bright presence in the world. She thinks outside the box and she’s a Berkeley Law alum.

Eva Patterson, welcome to Be the Change.

Eva Paterson: Hello. I’m glad to be here.

Savala Trepczynski: I’m very glad to have you here. You are fresh off a tremendous victory in the courtroom.

Eva Paterson: Yes. Yes.

Savala Trepczynski: Well, outside the courtroom, right? Very meaningful, huge settlement that I want to circle back to, but I want to start our conversation by asking you to tell me what are the first times that you remember seeing social justice, experiencing the need for social justice, or witnessing people who were doing the work of social justice.

Eva Paterson: This is going to sound very weird, but it actually came when I was seven years old and we lived in France because my father was in the service. I’m going to be personal and real. And my dad came from that generation of people that thought it was okay to hit women. And so, one day you’re too young to know this, but there used to be these ringer washing machines where you’d turn a ringer and wash your clothes through that. And so my mother washed clothes, we were living in the French countryside, and my dad didn’t like the way she was washing the clothes. So he came and started hitting her. And I was this little skinny girl, and I remember fighting him. And when I think about my life, I think that’s where it started, was seeing my mother and standing up for her.

What’s interesting is my first big law reform case was on behalf half of battered women in Oakland who called the police and no one would come. And I was on a panel 20 years after the case was settled and I realized, wow, I did this for my mother. So it really, I think, started very personally. So I think that’s where I became Crusader Rabbit, which is another outdated cultural reference.

Savala Trepczynski: Crusader rabid?

Eva Paterson: Rabbit. See, you don’t know these…

Savala Trepczynski: I’m sorry.

Eva Paterson: … these references. I’m an OG. I was born when Plessy v. Ferguson was the law and Crusader Rabbit was this little rabbit that would go around, had a little cape on and the little rabbit would save everybody and fight. It was like a mild Batman.

Savala Trepczynski: I will think of you as a young superwoman.

Eva Paterson: Wonder Woman.

Savala Trepczynski: A Wonder Woman, even better. When you were working on behalf of battered women, years later, were you conscious of the connection to that moment or did really only so surface later?

Eva Paterson: It only surfaced later. I was a legal services attorney in East Oakland. And from the day I started right after I graduated from Berkeley Law… When you’re a legal services attorney, you see just clients on a general intake basis, and there’d be women coming in and they’d say one of several things. I’m in a relationship. When my boyfriend beats me, I call the police. The police don’t come. I’m in a relationship. When I call the police, the police come and side with him. I’m in a relationship. I call the police after I’m beaten, they come. They tell him to walk around the block. Then they leave. He comes back and beats me more. So this was happening…

Savala Trepczynski: Unbelievable.

Eva Paterson: … day after day after day. And so I went to law school because of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. I had my eyes just looking for equal protection violations and all my clients were Black women. So I thought it was a case involving the police not helping Black women. Turns out it was everybody. Everybody was beating up everybody. Nobody was being helped. And I was on a panel 20 years later talking about this and the light bulb went on. I went, I did this for my mother and strangely enough, my dad, who later apologized for his violence and said that it was because he was so ill treated as a Black man and he came home and took it out on us, he became an administrator at Legal Aid in St. Louis.

Eva Paterson: And ironically, he was so proud of this lawsuit. He was going around telling everybody my daughter did this, look at this, look at this. And in my head I was going, hello. But no, I think there was probably an unconscious knowledge that I was providing other women the help that my mother couldn’t get.

Savala Trepczynski: You and your work seem to me… This is going to sound highfalutin, but I really mean it. You seem to me to have a really firm grasp on the best values in our constitution. Not least of which is the 14th amendment-

Eva Paterson: Indeed.

Savala Trepczynski: And I’m curious whether growing up in a military family or growing up overseas, you lived in England and France for a while. How those experiences impacted your sense of what it means to be an American or the values of being an American.

Eva Paterson: It’s an interesting question because my senior year in high school, my dad was stationed to Vietnam. And so I entered college the next year, the fall of ’67. And most of the students were turning against the war. And I remember arguing with all of them and I cannot believe I said this. I said, the president says the war is good. We have to do what the president says. So I had that view being a military brat.

And so a couple things flow from that. I understand how people can just say you have to support the president. It seems like a patriotic thing to do. But I also came up with what I call the seed of doubt theory. Because I was arguing with people and they said, no, no, you don’t have to do what the President says.

And so then I went to teach-ins and listened to people and Dr. King came out against the war and then Robert Kennedy came out against the war. And those things gradually watered the seeds and I became a very involved anti-war person. So I think I got a sense of patriotism and that the country’s important from being a military brat.

But I think I got my sense of right and wrong from going to Sunday school. I went to Sunday school all the time and they taught you certain values.

And I also was a Girl Scout. You know, now that Trump’s trying to militarize the Scouts, I think I learned a lot of values through the Scouts. So I think it was a number of things.

Savala Trepczynski: Do you think of yourself as someone who got radicalized?

Eva Paterson: Oh, absolutely. Oh my God. I wish…

Savala Trepczynski: No one can see this, but there’s a gleam in your eye.

Eva Paterson: Oh no, that’s what gives me hope for everybody. I went in arguing with everybody in the lunch line and the dinner line that the war was right. We had our own version of Bernie Sanders who was Eugene McCarthy. He challenged Lyndon Johnson. And we were right by Wisconsin. So a lot of students went to Wisconsin to work for Eugene McCarthy, just the way so many people worked for Bernie Sanders. And I was arguing with all of them. And so, yeah, I became radicalized. I entered college September, August of ’67. By May, I was involved in a building takeover with the rest of the Black students at Northwestern. It was a month after Dr. King was assassinated. There was not Black studies, all kinds of horrible things, went on with racist activities at Northwestern.

And so I learned a lot by being around people. And then we got a Black studies class taught by Lerone Bennett, who was the editor of Ebony magazine, and he taught from his book Before the Mayflower. And I learned everything about what we were like in Africa. Because I grew up with the Little Rascals, seeing Black people as cannibals and just stupid. And all of a sudden I realized there were these magnificent empires in Benin and Kush…

Savala Trepczynski: Who knew?

Eva Paterson: I know, who knew? Who knew? Lots of people knew but we weren’t taught. So it really did radicalize me. I was at college at exactly the right time, from ’67 to ’71. And my whole, all my values, turned around, but it was through education, exposure to new ideas, having the space that you have in college, because you’re not worrying about money so much to really think and explore.

And it was the times, too. I mean, people were coming home in body bags. People I went to high school with were shipped to Vietnam. Every young man got a draft number. Every young man in college had to confront whether or not he was going to go to war.

So it was crazy times. And we had Nixon with his crazy self and just like Trump doing illegal things. And I remember we’d watch TV in the common room at the dorm and Nixon would come on and you’d just start screaming because he was such a liar.

Savala Trepczynski: That feels familiar what you’re describing.

Eva Paterson: No, exactly. Exactly. You see the President and you just go, you’re just lying.

Savala Trepczynski: Patriotism is tricky for Black people in this country. What’s your experience with patriotism been like, I mean, in a way we’ve sort of been talking about that, but really specifically, as a Black woman, has it felt complicated to you to love this country?

Eva Paterson: My best friend is Shauna Marshall, who was the Academic Dean at Hastings and I would spend holidays with her family and her mother, Rita Marshall, said it the best. She said, “I love America and I hate America.” And that’s just how I feel about it.

You look at the healthcare vote when it started that last night on the floor, I was just despondent like, “You’re going to do something that’s going to result in people dying.” How could this happen? You have the Black President thwarted from appointing a person to the United States Supreme Court that would only happen to a Black person. And so when that kind of stuff goes down, you just hate the place. But then there has been a Black President. We kept Obamacare alive. And so there is this profound duality that I feel about this country. I love it. And I hate it.

Savala Trepczynski: I want to talk about Equal Justice Society, the organization of which you are president and founder…

Eva Paterson: Co-founder.

Savala Trepczynski: Co-founder, co-founder. Thank you. And I have a thousand questions, but I’m going to try and focus on just a few.

You modeled EJS partly on the Hamilton Houston Marshall approach to dismantling Plessy v. Ferguson, which involved a long term litigation strategy, super strategic, and a reliance on social science. And I’m curious whether you think that the model continues to be as robust and useful if we’re on a slippery slope around the meaning of truth and fact, as we seem to be at the moment. I hope we don’t slide more, but do you get what I’m saying here?

Eva Paterson: I do and I was on sabbatical when Trump got elected and one of the most wonderful moments was seeing all those lawyers going to the airport-

Savala Trepczynski: Yes.

Eva Paterson: … to keep people coming into the country. And I heard it said that now people are going to want to go to law school because they see what lawyers can do. If I can give a little tutorial…

Savala Trepczynski: Please.

Eva Paterson: The 14th amendment, if you’ve seen the movie Lincoln, it’s the amendment that came after the 13th amendment. It granted citizenship to all the newly freed slaves that ended up having us be able to vote. It also said that must be equal protection of the law. There can be no discrimination. That was perverted under the standard of separate but equal, which was knocked down by Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, Jack Greenberg, and a whole panoply of wonderful lawyers.

The Nixon court led by Rehnquist decided to further eradicate the power of the 14th amendment by saying the only way you can prove that the 14th Amendment’s protections for equality have been violated is to show that the violation and discrimination was intentional. Now, the Ku Klux Klan head just two years ago said they’re not a racist organization. They’re just for being Christians. So if the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t feel it’s racist, how are you ever going to prove that anyone does anything with racist intent?

The law we wanted to have put in place says, if you have a hundred Asian Americans applying for a job and only one gets the job, you have a hundred white people applying for the job, a hundred get the job, that disparity is enough to show that the constitution has been violated.

So, we decided that we wanted to show that a lot of bias operates unconscious level. There’s several famous examples about this. There’s an article entitled Are Lakisha and Jamal as Employable as Emily and Brandon? You have Black sounding names at the top of some resumes. You have white sounding names at the top of the identical resumes. The white people will get the callbacks. They’ll get the jobs.

So if you ask the people making those decisions, are they racist? They’d say, absolutely not. Yet, there are stereotypes that get triggered when you see the name Lakisha that don’t get triggered when you see the name Emily. And social science demonstrates that that happens in all areas. Think about the example of orchestras that didn’t have a lot of women in the orchestra-

Savala Trepczynski: Right, the Klein auditions.

Eva Paterson: Exactly. So they’d have everybody auditioning behind a big screen and then they’d even muffle the footsteps so they couldn’t tell if it was a woman walking on the stage or a man.

Savala Trepczynski: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Eva Paterson: That was the second iteration of it. And what happened is the percentage of women went up dramatically. If you asked the people making those decisions, “Are you against women?” They’d say no. So you could not prove intent. Yet, you would look at the outcome and you’d see that women were hurt. So we think that using that model would work. We really thought President Clinton would appoint the deciding vote. But in the interim, we gave a presentation at the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference and Justice Kennedy happened to be there. And we talked about implicit bias. We gave a whole PowerPoint. He came up afterwards and said, “Well, can I give instructions about implicit bias to juries?”

And I’m kind of a smart aleck. And I said, “Well, you’re on the Supreme Court. You can do whatever you want.” But the next term, he had the case presented to him from the various circuits who were looking at whether or not, if a hundred white people apply to get an apartment and they all get it, and a hundred Latinos apply, no Latinos get the apartment. Is that enough to show that the law’s been violated?

The lower courts all said, yes, just showing statistical imbalance is enough. People thought the Supreme Court took the case in order to say, no, you have to show that the discrimination was intentional, which is much more difficult to prove. Justice Kennedy wrote about, in his opinion, going for the disparate impact, the statistical imbalance theory, that unconscious bias and stereotypes play a role in making our decisions. So just in the same way that my views on the war were influenced and changed by intellectual discourse, his view on bias was influenced by intellectual discourse and social science. So if we can get to Kennedy, cool. We’ll never get Gorsuch. He’s hardline and we just pray for the notorious RBG to keep eating her Wheaties and to staying well.

But think about this, when we first started advancing this theory, people said, “Oh, it’ll never work. It’ll never work.” And someone told me that when Charles Hamilton Houston was around, the Supreme Court had been invited to the White House to watch Birth of a Nation, one of the most racist films you’re ever going to see. And so you have to just keep pushing and I hate to be corny, but it’s that Maya Angelou statement from her poem And Still I Rise, I’m the hope and dream of a slave. Yeah. You and I, here we are UC Berkeley. We’ve got access to their radio show podcast. You’re at UC Berkeley, I can practice law. I can notice a deposition. People have to come and answer questions. We have to keep fighting. Charles Hamilton Houston took over the Howard University Law School as the depression was starting and look what he did. So just keep fighting.

Savala Trepczynski: Perspective, perspective.

Eva Paterson: Yeah.

Savala Trepczynski: And Maya Angelou, never corny, never, ever, ever. In fact, when I got the notification that I had passed the California bar, that phrase filled me.

Eva Paterson: I know.

Savala Trepczynski: Because I am the hope and the dream of the slave.

Eva Paterson: We are. And they’re looking down on us going, you go ahead, sisters. I mean, they could never have imagined this. And when people get discouraged about Trump, we survived slavery, Nixon, Reagan, we’ll take some body blows. We’ll get through this.

Savala Trepczynski: The tagline for Equal Justice Society intrigues me, transforming the nation’s consciousness around race. The word transform and the word consciousness, they’re not ordinary words, right? Like it’s not changing the way the nation thinks or impacting the way the nation talks. They’re words that, to me, are really big and include many layers. Was that intentional? Or am I just a word nerd and reading way too much into it?

Eva Paterson: I’m a word nerd. It was intentional. And I have to credit our former chair, Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We were having lunch one day and she said, you all are transforming the nation’s consciousness on race. And I went, aha. It was so brilliant and deep and evocative. And then we thought we’re transforming it through law, social science and the arts, which is what we do. When we started EJS, people weren’t talking about race at all, even in the progressive community.

And one of the first things we said is we want to put race back on the table. This was the year 2000. People just didn’t talk about race. It was, I guess, seen as impolite. We have friends who were involved in legal services and they came to one of our first conferences at Stanford in the year 2003 and they were blown away by talk of implicit bias and race. And so they had an agenda of going back and talking with legal services attorneys about dealing with racism, because people were not talking about. It’s kind of hard to imagine, but people were not talking about race.

Savala Trepczynski: It’s not hard for me to imagine.

Eva Paterson: That’s too bad.

Savala Trepczynski: I don’t know. I mean, I’m from a mixed family. There’s a lot of folks in my family who live their lives as white people and don’t think about race and there’s a lot of color for whom race is a defining characteristic for better and worse. So that’s not hard for me to imagine.

Eva Paterson: Okay. I feel you sister. But for legal services, people need to talk about race.

Savala Trepczynski: Yes, yes, yes.

Eva Paterson:: It’s just crazy, but that’s all been transformed.

Savala Trepczynski: Implicit bias. I am a fan of the concept of implicit bias and I think it should be deployed broadly. I am also aware of the criticism, I’m sure you’re aware of it, that part of what makes it attractive is that it absolves white people, meaning people who experience whiteness, of complicity, right? It’s sort of, oh, everybody has it. Oh, I don’t even know I have it. So it’s not my fault that there’s a way that talking about race through implicit bias is not radical enough. What do you make of that feeling or criticism that some people have?

Eva Paterson: One of the co-founders of EJS was Michelle Alexander of the New Jim Crow. And she first reminded me of this concept at our conference at Stanford at 2003. It was called Color Blind Racism. And the first two days were Colorblind Racism with a question mark. And the last day was Colorblind Racism with an exclamation point. And what we found by talking about implicit bias was this, there was a profound, emotional reaction in the crowd. There were about 400 people there. People were weeping because for the first time they could be engaged in a conversation about race where we weren’t calling them racist, where they could look within themselves and think, well, yeah, I have been at parties where people said the word nigger, and I didn’t say anything. Well, yeah, I do cross the street when a Black kid comes my way. So it enabled us to have a conversation about race that you could not have if you said you’re a racist dog, because people just shut down.

As our work in this area evolved, this is what we found. We found that talking about implicit racism, implicit bias, allowed you to start having a conversation about race where people could acknowledge the disparities and the unfairness. As the Trump campaign rolled out and let me back up a minute. We thought that explicit bias was on the wain, it was on the way out.

Savala Trepczynski: Explicit bias.

Eva Paterson: Explicit bias, people saying nigger and beaner and all kinds of nonsense like this. But remember this is 2003. So we thought it was on the way out. What we found when Trump talked about all the nonsense that he talked about in the racist ways that he does is that people kind of thought couldn’t say those things anymore. And he gave them full permission to do it again.

In addition to talking about implicit bias, we just had a conference that you were at called the Resilience of Racism, where we dealt with implicit bias, but also explicit bias and structural racism.

So, let me answer your question in another way. We were just involved in a case in Bakersfield. If you are a Black kid in Bakersfield, your chance of getting suspended is 500% higher than if you’re white. If you’re Latino, it’s about 400% higher. We know that there are straight up racists in that school district. There’s no two ways about it. People saying Latinos don’t need to be educated, they’re just going to work in the fields and the oil factories. They don’t want an education. There was one-

Savala Trepczynski: Are you riffing or is that an actual quote or something that was said?

Eva Paterson: That’s an actual quote. Dolores Huerta and her foundation, they’re plaintiffs, at our press conference, she got up and said, kids were told that. A bunch of Latino kids were standing in the hallway and an administrator came by and said, break it up. You look like a herd of cattle.

There was a Black kid who had his hat. He was told to take the hat off. He did. He went into the principal’s office. They wouldn’t give him his hat back and gave him some kind of disciplinary action. And then a bunch of white kids came in and just got their hats and walked away. A Black kid had emotional problems. His mother suggested that when he was having problems, he should go sit in the bleachers, go get a note from the principal, and then go into class late. The teacher knew this, the principal did this. The kid did this, went into the class, the teacher who knew all about this said get out. The kid said no, no. And the teacher said, get out.

So, the teacher then called campus security. They came in, they said, get out of the class. The kid wouldn’t do it. They then called campus police. They threw him on the ground, tasered him twice, put him in handcuffs and they were about to take him off to juvenile hall. So in our discussions there we say, we know some of the people here are straight up racist, but we also know there are some people who don’t think they’re racist, who are the Jamal and Lakisha people, who really think they’re color blind, but in their unconscious, they have these negative stereotypes of Black and brown kids, as do we all. So it’s a continuum.

We in no way want to pretend that explicit upfront white supremacy is a thing of the past. It’s there it’s alive. It’s well. But we also believe there are people who want no part of racism, yet still do things that negatively impact Black, brown, Native American, Asian American people and so we want to get to them. An implicit bias discussion is a way to have that conversation. So we, in no way want to let society off the hook for racism, but I don’t believe every person is a racist. I just don’t believe that.

Savala Trepczynski: The cost of living with implicit bias and explicit bias is fairly intuitive for people of color. And we’re talking about race bias. There’s many, many different kinds of bias. It’s fairly intuitive what the price is for people of color to live, internalizing these things. What is the price for people who are white?

Eva Paterson: Some pay no price. I think that’s the nature of privilege. I talk to white friends who just skate through. They know if they’re doing something weird when they’re driving, they’re not worried about getting arrested and beaten.

I was at a bar in Bakersfield watching the 49ers. And it was when Colin Kaepernick was kneeling. There are a couple white guys by me and they said, we just hate that. We just hate that. I said, well, he’s trying to bring attention to police brutality. I said-

Savala Trepczynski: You said that to these white guys in a bar in Bakersfield?

Eva Paterson: Yeah.

Savala Trepczynski: You’re my hero.

Eva Paterson: And so I said I’m, at the time I was 67, I said, I’m a 67 year old Black woman. And I’m afraid. They went, you don’t look 67, which made me like them. And they said, no, you’re not, no, you’re not. I said, yes, I am. I said, look, it’s Sandra Bland. She allegedly changed lanes wrong. She’s dead. I said, every Black person lives in fear of being stopped. These guys, I think, could feel my sincerity. And so I think they’d have to start thinking twice. They knew I was not BSing. I do. I am afraid of being stopped by the police. So they, I think, would have to examine the fact that they never think twice about being stopped by the police. If they’re stopped, they never think they may end up dead.

So, I think there are unevolved white people for whom implicit bias is irrelevant and for whom their privilege is irrelevant. I also know there are enlightened white people, my friends, who understand implicit bias. They understand explicit bias. They understand structural racism. And I think it pains them to see that this goes on and to know I experience it and other people of color experience it.

Savala Trepczynski: I want to ask you about Blackness. One of my favorite topics. I think, correct me if I’m wrong, I think that you are a woman who experiences a lot of joy in Blackness.

Eva Paterson: I do.

Savala Trepczynski: You do. Okay.

Eva Paterson: I love our of people.

Savala Trepczynski: Yes, exactly. Part of where I get that from is just talking with you and seeing you in the world. You also talked about being the beneficiary of affirmative action-

Eva Paterson: Absolutely.

Savala Trepczynski: … without any of the shame or the wahala that is predicted by opponents of affirmative action for people of color. You’ve talked about not feeling like a victim. That being victimized is not part of your consciousness, even though you’re deeply conscious, right?

Eva Paterson: Yeah. I’m not a victim. Look what I get to do.

Savala Trepczynski: It’s true. It’s true.

Eva Paterson: Look what I’m doing here right now. I’m talking about my views. I’m saying the President is horrible. I’m not going to be put in prison. I get to sue racists. I’m as smart as they are. It’s fabulous.

Savala Trepczynski: Well, I want to hear more about your joy in Blackness because I think that we need it. We, people of color, need it. I think people who are not Black need to have a little understanding of the multifacetedness of Blackness, right. And because our culture, our national story of Blackness is so dark. Not without good reason, but I want to hear what the joy is for you, where it comes from, what it looks like, whatever comes to your mind.

Eva Paterson: Well, I have to tell you that I’m sure I struggle with internalized negative feelings about being Black. I don’t think there’s any way to be in this society and not, but I’ve had a lot of therapy trying to bring things up to the surface and look at things. I think being a boomer at the time I was a boomer and like I said, taking over bursar’s office with the other Black students and winning. I mean, we won our strike in like four days and learning about Benin and Kush. I was in Kenya in February. I saw people who looked like me. I was on five flights. Four were flown by Black women.

Savala Trepczynski: Incredible.

Eva Paterson: Oh, I was weeping.

Savala Trepczynski: It’s an alternate universe.

Eva Paterson: Oh, my God. I was in this little plane going from Nairobi down to the Maasai Mara to see safaris and there was a Black woman flying. And she had her plump Black dark arm that looked like mine in the cockpit, adjusting something in the ceiling. I just started weeping. It’s like, that’s my arm. That’s my arm.

So, I think a lot of bad things have happened to us and I’ll weep. That’s the part of America. I just hate. And when you see another unarmed Black person just shot and it just breaks your heart. But we’re ebullient.

I had a dream the other night about I was at this function and I was showing Michelle Obama around. And I was thinking about that later. I thought-

Savala Trepczynski: Oh wait, this is a dream, sorry for a minute. I was like, what, what? Wait a minute.

Eva Paterson: No, it was a dream. And I thought about it later and I thought, wow, I’ve incorporated this sense of this wonderful Black woman, because they say you’re everybody in your dream. And that she was beautifully dressed and just took care of herself. And when she had to leave, she left and there was no guilt. And she took an elevator when she needed to. And so I woke up going, look how I’ve internalized this sense of how fabulous it is to be Black. I’m in a Black women’s reading group. They’re incredible chefs. And we’re going to somebody’s home, second home in Mendocino. And my best friend has a summer place in Clayton with a swimming pool. We went to this wonderful Black wedding last weekend. People jumped the broom and it was an interracial, intercultural marriage. So they also broke the glass honoring Jewish tradition.

I looked around this tent, it was this tented affair in Santa Cruz. And just people looking good, drinking champagne, having oysters. It was just fabulous. It was just fabulous. And so, and I’ll go on Twitter sometimes and I’ll just… Black Twitter just cracks me up.

Savala Trepczynski: It’s a thing.

Eva Paterson: Oh, my God. There’ll just be some stuff… You’re just falling out. You cannot believe it. It’s just like who thought of this? Who put this out? And it’s just, there’s just an ebullience that I have. But there’s also sadness and to circle back, I’m no perfect Black person. I haven’t overcome all the shit that’s come down on us.

Savala Trepczynski: Okay. So the last question that I want to ask you is about the case that you just settled. We touched on it a little bit earlier for people who are listening, this was the case with the Kern High School District and the students and who looked like “cattle” in the hallway and so on and so forth. What is the big victory here for you? Is it having a model that works? Is it the individual clients who have been vindicated in some way? What’s the real sweet spot of the victory?

Eva Paterson: It’s multifaceted and layered. We did a press conference day before yesterday, and the case is called Sanders v. Kern High School District. And any of you who are litigators know that all of a sudden Sanders that is not a person, it’s just the title. And a woman came up to me at the press conference and shook my hand and said, thank you so much. This case means so much to me. I’ve been in this district for such a long time. I can’t believe that they’ve had to be held to account for what they’re doing. And it turned out it was Arlene Sanders. And I went, wait, you’re Arlene… You’re Sanders. And she went, yeah, I’m the lead plaintiff. Whoa. And I just started crying. It was just, I said, this is, I feel emotional. I said this is why we went to law school, that things are bad and as a lawyer, I felt like things were improved, but I’m a lawyer. I’m looking at documents and drafts, but for you to come up and say, this means so much, it just meant the world to me. It just meant the world to me.

We had been at a community meeting. I think I mentioned this, but there was a young girl who was trying to celebrate Black history month in her school. And she was told she could celebrate for five minutes Black history month. She came up afterwards. The celebration of Black History Month is now in the settlement. So the young woman who was only allowed to celebrate five minutes for Black History Month sat there at the press conference and heard that the celebration of Black History Month, the school district has now that’s official. She came up afterwards, shook my hand. She’s now graduated from the high school district and she was just delighted. So there’s the actual people in the community who are really happy.

On a more esoteric level, we were able to get the district to acknowledge that implicit bias is one of the reasons for the disproportionate suspensions and expulsions. And every person in the district, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, are going to be trained several times a year on implicit bias.

We also have people coming in, dealing with different ways of classroom management. It’s easy to kick a kid out of school. Our social science research indicates that if you miss one day of school, your chance of graduating plummets. But it’s easy if you’re unconsciously afraid of a tall Black kid and the best way to deal with it is to get him out. What we want to teach them is different ways of managing disruption and understanding that the kid may have come from a home where he had nothing to eat.

And this comes from my client so this isn’t me using stereotypes. The kid may have walked past a drug dealer on his way to school. The kid may have emotional problems. And so once he gets to school, he’s going to be acting out. And you think that it’s just to disrupt the classroom. But what we’re hopefully going to teach the people at the school district is to figure out what’s going on. It’s the whole notion of trauma informed education, to really look at the full child.

So, we first started thinking about the concept of implicit bias at this conference in 2003. When we first talked about it, people thought it was loony. Now we have a school district that acknowledges it and acknowledges it as part of the reason for the disproportionality. That’s in a settlement agreement.

Savala Trepczynski: Incredible, incredible.

Eva Paterson: It’s just unbelievable. Also at a time when it feels like we’re just losing, losing, losing, we won. The community won. The community was excited about this. The community was involved.

And so even though it seems like we’re in this hell that is the Trump presidency, you can still win. And what makes me excited is that there are going to be kids going through the current high school district, who aren’t going to be mistreated and aren’t going to be internalizing a sense of their inferiority. And hopefully, and this goes back to what we were talking about earlier, hopefully, we’ll be able to enlighten some white people, because the teachers are predominantly white, about race and racism, and that they can look at themselves and that they can become those enlightened evolved white people that we’re looking at.

The other piece is that I talked earlier about challenging the intent standard. We put a cause of action saying that the 14th amendment standard for finding culpability should be implicit bias and not intent. That survived a demur.

Savala Trepczynski: Incredible.

Eva Paterson: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Now the California Department of Education was knocked out as a defendant. And so we’re going to be litigating the dismantling intent cause of action at the appellate court. So exactly.

Savala Trepczynski: Oh, my gosh. I am… Jazz hands. I’m excited. Amazed. Just incredible.

Eva Paterson:: Exactly. So we’re litigating this stuff. When I graduated from Berkeley, I read the book Simple Justice, which I would commend to everybody. That was the first time I realized that Brown v. Board of Education was a decades long strategy using social science, starting at the graduate school level, challenging separate but equal. It was strategic. My mind was completely blown. That changed me dramatically.

Savala Trepczynski: It’s empowering, right?

Eva Paterson: Oh, my God.

Savala Trepczynski: But you don’t just have to… It’s like, what’s that saying? Water heats slowly and boils suddenly. It’s bit by bit by bit by bit. I find that very empowering.

Eva Paterson: Exactly. We had a conference at the University of Michigan right around the time of Gruder and we combined intent and implicit bias. And people said, what do those two things have to do with each other? They just thought we were just lunatics. And it’s interesting that I thought about this. That’s another piece of this.

It’s okay to be unconventional and people may not always get what you’re trying to do and you listen to people who criticize you, but don’t be put off by a vision that seems a little unusual. Because people thought you can’t possibly challenge the intent standard. What are you talking about? Justice Kennedy bought our analysis. It wasn’t the 14th amendment, but it was the same reasoning. So you have to believe in yourself.

Savala Trepczynski: Bit by bit by bit.

Eva Paterson: Exactly. Exactly.

Savala Trepczynski: Eva, you are incredible. Thank you so much. This has been delightful.

Eva Paterson: Well, you’re incredible, too, and you’re running a wonderful institution and we’re all so proud of you.

Savala Trepczynski: Thank you.

Eva Paterson: And the ancestors are smiling on you.

Savala Trepczynski: And you, too. Plessy v. Ferguson Yay. Thank you, Eva.

Eva Paterson: My pleasure.

Savala Trepczynski: That was Eva Patterson. This is Be the Change. I’m Savala Trepczynski. Thank you so much for listening. This is our last episode in the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I know I have.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at