Congratulations to Patricia Hill Collins on Award

Photo by Janel Lee

We were delighted to learn last October that sociologist Patricia Hill Collins was selected for the 2023 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture. The Berggruen Institute jury noted that Collins “provides a powerful analytical lens through which we can envision the different and intersecting ways in which our material, social, and cultural worlds produce injustice,” and she has given us “original vocabulary with which to think about social power and contestation.”

Professor Collins’ scholarship has long informed our work. In 2009, we hosted her talk in D.C. about Another Kind of Public Education: Race, the Media, Schools and Democratic Possibilities and Collins has been an annual donor to Teaching for Change since 2017. We’ve been reading her latest book Lethal Intersections: Race, Gender, and Violence — an exposé of widespread contemporary violence in the United States that is too often ignored or individualized.

So imagine our surprise and honor when the Berggruen Institute wrote to tell us that Collins designated a portion of her award money to Teaching for Change on our 35th anniversary. With threats to public education and democracy on the rise, Collins’ donation helps us provide teachers with more free resources and defend their right to use them.

In the hopes that you will join us as students of Collins’ scholarship, we share excerpts from her interviews and writing as an example of how much she has to teach us all.

Themes in Collins’ Work (from TIME interview)

Very often what happens is groups on the bottom are told, “Well, you’re too stupid” or “You can’t read,” or “You don’t have time,” or “You have no creativity, why would we listen to you?” When it’s actually the reverse. When people claim their own narratives, their own discussions, their own music, their own dance, their own philosophy, then that is a rock that cannot be taken away. So my work on Black women lays the foundation for everything I’ve done since. And in that foundation is the idea of intersectionality — that systems of power intersect in the lives of Black women and in everyone’s lives. Not just the life of the individual, but the collective life, the social structures that we are in.

Why Those in Power Suppress Knowledge (from Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment)

Suppressing the knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to rule because the seeming absence of dissent suggests that subordinate groups willingly collaborate in their own victimization. Maintaining the invisibility of Black women and our ideas not only in the United States, but in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and other places where Black women now live, has been critical in maintaining social inequalities.

Freedom to Learn: Threats and Defense (from TIME interview)

[The Nazis], they were using film. They recognized the power of spectacle. And what they did was they took long-standing ideas that were tropes of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and they recast them with conspiracy theories to explain the problems, in a country that was really fearful about where it was going, to German people who lost World War I. And that they succeeded through democratic means — to me, that is the scary part of it. That party was elected, and once they were elected, they changed the rules to keep them in power.

Raw power is just guns and you shoot and you do this, that, and the other. But they had a really carefully orchestrated campaign to snuff out dissent. They had a major book burning in front of a major university in Berlin. So when you burn things, you’re looking at the pile of ashes and you say those ideas are no good and you get people to celebrate that around the bonfire, especially children and young people. You create the space for your own interpretation of the world.

And we know how that turned out. The situation with all the misinformation and all the fake news going on now, with the conspiracy theories that have risen, they recycle, they don’t go away. A lot of this is tied to political opportunism. And we are very much into that period of time again.

But I think the period of time that we’re in is also one where lots of people have access to information where they didn’t have it before. The question now is do you know how to read the stuff that you have? Do you have the critical literacy around social media? Do you have the critical literacy about understanding political messages? So it is today a major public-education function, recognizing that people don’t follow nefarious conspiracy theories if they aren’t already afraid, if there aren’t issues not being addressed.

The Teaching for Change board and staff express heartfelt appreciation for Professor Collins’ analysis, solidarity, and generosity.