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Family of Fellows: Patricia Banks and James Banks

In early September, each CASBS fellow gets to know the rest of the class through ten-minute introductions. When 2018-19 fellow Patricia Banks introduced herself, she mentioned, among other things, that her father had been a fellow.

That would be 2005-06 CASBS fellow James Banks. So when father visited daughter at CASBS a couple of months later, we knew we had to get them together for a conversation.

Patricia A. Banks is an associate professor of sociology at Mount Holyoke College. James A. Banks is the Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies Emeritus in the College of Education at the University of Washington.

Patricia Banks and James Banks

CASBS: Let us get this out of the way. Patricia, surely you’ve heard this a thousand times. How does it feel to have to share your dad? Sure, he’s your and your sister Angela’s father. But just a little digging shows, in multiple places, that he’s widely considered the father of multi-cultural education. Not a father – the father!

Patricia Banks: I always laugh when I hear that!

C: Patricia, you were finishing your PhD at Harvard at about the time your dad came to CASBS. Well, it’s an entire family of academics – your mother, your sister...

James Banks: Someone said you need to be an achiever to belong in this family…

C: James, welcome back. This is your first time visiting CASBS since your 2005-06 fellowship year. How does it feel?

JB: Thank you. It is evoking very warm memories. A few minutes ago I took a look at my old study, number nine. The memories are very warm; it was a wonderful time.

C: And we’re now sitting in Patricia’s study, number twelve, a few doors down from your old study.

JB: The Bankses, in the same bank of studies…

C: OK, so during the first few months of your CASBS fellowship you worked on Race, Culture, and Education: The Selected Works of James A. Banks. A copy of the book happily resides in our Ralph W. Tyler collection. The subtitle suggests you were at a moment of pause, synthesizing your work up to that point. What did that synthesis mean to you then, and how do you feel about it now?

JB: The publisher, Routledge, asked me to put together a collection from my body of work – the major markers of my contributions. And yes, it coincided with my coming to CASBS. It really forced me to think about how my work had evolved. What’s interesting is that it had evolved from Black Studies to multiethnic education to multicultural education. My career had reflected or echoed the development of those fields. So that was very informative, that in-depth look that I had not undertaken before. The Center was a perfect environment in which to do it.

Coincidentally, I’ll be leaving the University of Washington in 2019 – I call it a transition rather than a retirement, by the way. At that point I’m going to compile a second group of papers. This collection will be focused on another project I worked on at the Center, on citizenship education.

C: For decades you’ve had a passion for equality and social justice which, yes, includes racial and ethnic studies but also discrimination, disparities, inequalities, and inequities toward a diversity of groups like immigrants, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and so forth.

JB: Yes, exactly. That expansion of concerns over time basically parallels the broadening from Black Studies to multiethnic to multicultural education.

PB: Though I know all this, I would say, very generally, it’s really interesting to hear it again. It points to connections I hadn’t thought about, necessarily. In your textbooks [looking to James] you were conducting analyses of culture, which is what I do in my work. Also, in my work, my intersection in the literature has been that research on cultural patronage and markets has tended to focus exclusively on social class. And so I've not only looked at social class, but also at race and ethnicity.

One of the projects that I'm working on here at the Center is looking at corporate patronage of black culture, so I'm shifting from the individual focus of patronage to corporations. But I have to tell you, one of the things that's interesting about the new book is that I'm noticing some of the patterns that I'm finding with corporate support of black culture are also relevant for corporate support of culture associated with other racial and ethnic minority groups – for example, the Latinx population, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. So, I'm fairly confident the project is going to include, at some level, discussion of those other groups.  So, we see that similarity in our work, starting with African Americans, seeing that as a basis and then seeing that there are some similarities with other racial and ethnic groups.

I also should note that one of the pieces that I published just a month or two ago, when I first arrived at the Center, is a paper on the art market for contemporary African art. It’s my first piece that looks to issues of culture and race and ethnicity outside the United States. It extends to the global, just as your work extended to the global.

JB: One of the things I found is that looking outside the United States – at, say, citizenship and related issues in Mexico and France – deepens one’s understanding of the United States. The global becomes a way to deepen and to make one’s understanding more complex.

C: From a quick, shallow dive into both of your work, it seems like we see a search for the roots of social identity, whether it’s through multicultural education or the sociology of art markets. How identity is constructed and formed.

JB: Identity is an overarching concern. Identity becomes very powerful, particularly for African Americans, for example. They see their identity – as Amy Gutmann would say – not recognized and not celebrated and not reflected in the hopes of the larger culture, until they, as Ralph Ellison talked about, are invisible. They become the invisible.

PB: Absolutely. In fact, this is a focus of my first book, Represent: Art and Identity Among the Black Upper Middle Class, in which I looked at how collectors in New York and Atlanta construct their racial identity – specifically, black identity – through collecting art.  And so there is that connection there, both of us beginning with African-Americans.

During my interviews with black art patrons many have said, “I want to see myself in my home. I want to see myself in the art that is on my walls.”  When it comes to work I'm doing now on philanthropy at African American museums some say, “I want to see myself on the walls of the museums.” So, it's this lack of recognition that people are seeking to address through their patronage in the private sphere of their home when it comes to art collecting and with philanthropy at museums, translating that to the public sector.

JB: Let me give you a more basic, personal anecdote. I know writers like anecdotes. I grew up in the south in the fifties and sixties and there were almost no blacks on television except Amos and Andy. You're too young to know Amos and Andy, but it was a very stereotypic program, and we all laughed at it. So then Nat King Cole’s program arrived. It was the first show hosted by a black emcee. The whole family would stop what it was doing and run to the TV every time Nat King Cole’s show came on television. That is a dramatic example of the desire for recognition and how recognition is so needed by people.


C: James, in a video interview about five years ago, you said, among other things, that in your estimation class is becoming a stronger divider than race stratification, both within the African American community and more broadly as well. And Patricia, in your ten-minute intro here in early September [2018], you noted that you were partly drawn into your work through the work of social theorist Pierre Bourdieau. But the gap you discerned was in Bourdieau’s over-emphasis on class. As a result, you seek to expand beyond class and include ethnicity and race more. Are the cross directions both of you describe reconcilable, or are both true depending on the context?

JB: Both are true. For example, William Julius Wilson’s book The Declining Significance of Race, a book that perhaps has been misread by many, might have been less misread if he instead called it The Increasing Significance of Class. I really like his work because it is incisive, informative, and original.

PB: I love Bill Wilson’s work. I think his work is brilliant; it’s one of the reasons I became interested in studying what I do. He was on my dissertation committee in graduate school at Harvard and I taught a course with him on race, class, and urban poverty. His work just brilliantly deals with the intersections of race and class, particularly with respect to understanding inequality. And it was the complexity of those intersections that I didn't see in the research on cultural patronage.

The research on cultural patronage had largely neglected race and ethnicity. So I said, we need to account for race. Now in doing so, I'm also suggesting that class matters. One of the things that I talk about when it comes to art patronage – we just spoke about identity – is this desire that some African-Americans have to see themselves recognized in culture. For me, it's to see yourself in the art that gets displayed in your house and to see it in museums. Well, what makes that possible? It is social class that enables that recognition. One has to have the “cultural capital,” the economic capital, and other resources that allow one to participate in patronage.

While I am looking at how racial identity is constructed on an individual level, it is social class, it is being upper middle class or upper class that enables those types of patronage. So, my saying we need to look at race is not saying that class doesn't matter at all. It's just that the theory in the area where I was looking just hadn't addressed race systematically.

JB: That’s why I think Wilson’s work is so important – it helps us see that race and class interact.

PB: I just have to say – the Banks family deeply admires the research of William Julius Wilson. I actually was introduced to his work through my father. In our house we have a library, and growing up in an academic household, one of the things that I would do was just pull books down and read them. The Declining Significance of Race was one of the books in the library. I read some of his work well before I got to meet him.

The Declining Significance of Race was one of the books I actually took from the home library. I have to tell you, Daddy, I took that book from your library. I used it when I was at Harvard and taking courses. I use that book now in a course I teach called “Class in the Black Community.” The same book. So, my students are now being taught from that copy of the book.

C: Wow! So great you both mention William Julius Wilson. He was, you probably know, a [1981-82] CASBS fellow and winner of the 2017 SAGE-CASBS Award. He was here in June 2017 to deliver the SAGE-CASBS Award lecture. And we have to note, Patricia, that your other two PhD committee members at Harvard, Larry Bobo and Michele Lamont, also were CASBS fellows [Bobo in 1988-89 and 2007-08; Lamont in 2002-03].

PB: Thanks in large part to them – all leading scholars – I obtained a theoretical grounding in the literature on race and ethnicity, on the one hand, and the literature on class and culture on the other. But, in my own research on cultural patronage, I didn’t think those literatures were meeting. There was a gap in the literature.

C: What about the social-political contexts under which you both entered your respective CASBS fellowships. James, in your case it was a post-9/11 world, with neoconservatives ascending, some anti-immigrant sentiments in the air; in the education sphere, a teaching-to-the-test fetish dominated at the federal level; you arrived right on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, which exposed raw all sorts of awful inequalities. Patricia, you arrive on the heels of the Occupy movement, the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, xenophobia and nationalism in some quarters, and so forth. Has the context of the moment impacted or informed how you think and what you try to do as scholars?

JB: I’m going to argue that there’s always a set of issues and circumstances that we have to push back against. The pushing back is continuous, across administrations, across time. You’re right – some things become more intensified at certain moments. But there’s a set of forces I have to push against, and the work pushing against them is continuous.

After almost 50 years of this work, I get some consolation – and I often site Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s book Cycles of American History – that a period like the one we’re in today will be followed by a different cycle. Perhaps more appropriate is Martin Luther King’s quote…

PB: …“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

JB: But it doesn’t bend automatically. It takes action to make the arc bend toward justice. It doesn’t just happen. So I amend the quote to say it takes action and commitment to bend toward justice.

C: Patricia, did your father give you any advice when you decided to become a scholar or enter the academy?

PB: In terms of broader advice, one of the things that my father always told my sister and I is that we should choose to study what we are passionate about. It's really important to address issues that you personally are passionate about and that you are engaged with and that will sustain you for a career like his, a career that will span decades.

JB: That’s the advice I also give all my graduate students, by the way. What are you committed to? Choose something that you care about, care deeply about. It’s not always easy. I was not encouraged to study blacks in the early days, just as it was not easy for women to study gender a few decades ago, and so on…

C: Evidently, James, during your CASBS year CASBS also provided working space for your wife, Cherry McGee Banks, and you found that instrumental and important because you collaborate with her a lot. Earlier we talked about the book of selected papers you worked on – Race, Culture, and Education. The book’s dedication is “for Cherry, who has shared the journey and the dream, and for Angela and Patricia, who give me hope for the next generation.”

JB: Having Cherry here, at CASBS, was very important. It enabled Cherry and me to work collaborately and for Cherry to complete some of her important academic work. Our year at CASBS enriched both Cherry and me intellectually and personally.

PB: I have to say, my mother has been a prolific scholar as well, and my parents really have been partners in a lot of their scholarship. It’s been an important collaboration.

C: And Patricia, in your intro in September, you said “I’ll end with a personal fun fact. I am particularly excited to be here because my father was a fellow here in 2005-06. So I feel at home.” The room melted for a moment when you said that. It’s so cool for CASBS to be part of this family thing.

PB: And what’s so nice about this year is so many fellows have brought their families. Partners and children. In many cases, fellows’ partners are scholarly collaborators. It’s a very inclusive environment with respect to families.

C: Well, to make this a full family affair, of course, we need your sister Angela here as a fellow at some point. We note that she’s a law professor at Arizona State University specializing in immigration, citizenship, and culture. Sounds highly cross-disciplinary, which is fantastic, and surely she’s heard from both of you about your CASBS fellowship experiences.

PB: What’s exciting about so much of her work is that she is grounded in the social sciences. So much of her legal scholarship is very much engaged with sociological research. So yes! I think she would be a great fit here…

JB: …And she has a chapter in my latest book on immigration. The chapter has been highly praised. Of course it was rigorously reviewed externally. The fact that she is my daughter was not a factor in its publication.

C: We believe you! OK then, Angela: you’re next.

PB: Absolutely! One of the things I love about CASBS is not just its interdisciplinary nature with respect to social science scholars, but it’s also been great to have fellows from law, medicine, the policy world, and the humanities. The Center experience is particularly invigorating because of that.

JB: Yes, and you’re also not going to bring about lasting change without all the perspectives that are brought together at places like this…

C: Thank you both for participating.

PB: It was fun, thank you.

JB: I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

C: Oh – can you sign the Center’s copy of Race, Culture, and Education? It’s right here.

JB: Can I write “To CASBS, with gratitude”?

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