“The Corrective Lens: Remediating Illusions and Delusions About Race:” Dr. Carlos Hoyt Visits Dublin School

On Friday, February 16, students and faculty members gathered to hear Dr. Carlos Hoyt speak; his lecture was entitled “The Corrective Lens: Remediating Illusions and Delusions About Race.”

Some students had read his work in AP English Language and Composition last year; some had recently read his work on race and racism alongside Beverly Daniel Tatum and Rainier Spencer just last trimester in the same course; everyone had read two short pieces of his work on race, racism, and the non-racial worldview; everyone had heard Ms. Jennings read the end of a David Foster Wallace commencement address to introduce Dr. Hoyt’s work. 

No matter what exposure students and faculty previously had to Dr. Hoyt’s ideas and arguments, few were prepared for just how electrifyingly thought-provoking his lecture to the school would be. Few were prepared for the level of cognitive dissonance and questions his lecture offered, but the atmosphere that followed reflected how appreciative the community was to him for helping us reach such thresholds of thought during a Friday night lecture. 

The David Foster Wallace speech Ms. Jennings read to introduce Dr. Hoyt begins: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

And it ends: “[...] there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying [...]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the ‘rat race’—the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. It is about simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over ‘This is water, this is water.’”

Dr. Hoyt spoke to Dublin about looking at the water around us—the social constructs so ingrained in society in ways that may feel or look like a default setting, like the water the two young fish are swimming though unknowingly. He and his work look at the social construct of race, in particular, how, as he describes, racism is very real and race is a social construct. 

Dr. Hoyt led the school in approaching a kind of freedom—one that requires “attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort.” 

As he said to begin his lecture, “Thinking carefully helps us see more clearly. And thinking clearly helps us act more fairly.” 

His goal? “To help students synthesize their own truths.”

Dr. Hoyt, author of The Arc of a Bad Idea: Understanding and Transcending Race, attended Wesleyan University, Boston University School of Social Work, and Simmons College, where he earned his Ph.D. in social work. A Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a former Assistant Professor of Social Work at Wheelock College in Boston, where he was the key faculty designer of the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege courses, Dr. Hoyt has also held teaching positions at Simmons College, Lesley University, and Boston University. He focuses in “providing instruction in clinical skills and practice, group dynamics, multicultural assessment, and cultural competence.” Dr. Hoyt, for a number of years, served as the Associate Dean of Students at Phillips Academy in Andover. Currently, Dr. Hoyt serves as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advocate at the Chestnut Hill School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, consults to a number of public and independent school on matters related to social identity, social bias, and social justice, and researches and writes in his spare time.

In all of his work, Dr. Hoyt interrogates master narratives and the dominant discourse on race with the goal of illuminating and disrupting the racial worldview. He discusses “society’s centuries-old inability to move beyond the puzzles and perils inherent in a racialized perspective on human differences.”

To engage the school, Dr. Hoyt began by examining racism.

Hoyt and son Evan

Hoyt and son Evan

He spoke about the rise of white supremacy throughout American history, specifically addressing facts like these: that of the 120 billion in home loans underwritten by the federal government between 1933 and 1962, 98% went to white homeowners and that, currently, the average net worth of white families is eight times that of black families. 

He explained that people, in his terms, have been “adversely or advantageously racialized” and that associations and myths and illusions attached to what race “means” are produced by humans. The racial hierarchies and systems of oppression that exist, like the socioeconomic divides set up by the aforementioned system or by redlining, for example, were produced by humans. He explained that the process of racialization involves: first, selecting a feature or features  (usually visible surface-level features) as signifiers of meaningful difference (e.g. skin color or hair texture); sorting people into groups based on the the signifier; attributing more or less worth and ability to people according to which group they belong to; essentializing the purported differences (inherited and immutable); and acting as if the purported differences justify discriminatory treatment (privileging the group deemed as superior and disadvantaged groups deemed inferior). 

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He focused his talk on the disclamation and repudiation of identity derogation as strategically and logically preferable to reclaiming and reappropriating defamatory labels. He used a visual of a room, the room of racialization,  in which the racial worldview prevails. Drawing on the work of sociologist, Donald Muir, Hoyt described three orientations regarding racism. One can be a kind racist, a mean racist or a non-racist. Kind racists and mean racists share a fundamental adherence to the false predicate of racial difference. Whereas mean racists use the belief in racial difference as justification to menace the racial other, kind racists wish to ignore that the very essence of the idea of race is unequal worth, and they campaign for racial equality, effectively an oxymoron. He argues that the only people who qualify as non-racist are those who leave the room of racialization altogether, defying and denouncing the false logic of race.

“This is not about color-blindness,” which is harmful, as Dr. Hoyt described. “It is about striving for a level of consciousness about race that both acknowledges and addresses racism and disavows the legitimacy of seeing and treating people as if they are members of human subgroups.”

He clarified that his aim is to expand the discourse on race to make room for those who relinquish racialization as meaningful or useful process. He acknowledged that many feel proud of their race and that an embrace of race  can help people, especially historically oppressed groups, feel a sense of positive identity, purpose, and solidarity. Dr. Hoyt made this comparison. He shared that his family is very religious. He is not. If they are okay with him not praying at the dinner table while they are, and they still want to eat together and share each other’s company, he is happy. If they can respect his different view and he can respect theirs, all is well. 

Dr. Hoyt writes, “Gaining insight and raising awareness are crucial, but the true value of work in this area is realized when what we learn is translated into what we do to make our communities more inclusive, peaceful, joyful, and consistently reflective of our aspirations.”

His talk catalyzed many conversations, and many students stayed after the lecture to speak with him. The next morning, even more students joined him in the Lehmann cafe for a follow-up informal breakfast discussion. Over Dining Hall pancakes, coffee, and yogurt, around twenty students and three teachers joined Dr. Hoyt for conversation. Wearing his new Dublin School gear, Dr. Hoyt continued to answer and offer questions about his work with humor, candor, and precision. 

Whether challenged, inspired, curious, uncertain or energized by Dr. Hoyt’s visit, the student body was buzzing with energized conversations after his talk. Students and faculty alike have expressed gratitude for the conversation that he extended and opened in new ways, and many have already written to Dr. Hoyt to thank him.

Slide from Dr. Hoyt, Oxford University Press Author Talk

Slide from Dr. Hoyt, Oxford University Press Author Talk

Dr. Hoyt’s visit invited us to think critically in new ways, and the result? A campus slightly more attuned, slightly more prepared—as we learn to see and understand each other better in the context of many social constructs—to remind each other and ourselves: “this is water, this is water.”

Rachael Jennings