St. Olaf College | News

Institute hosts conversation with Georgetown professor on “Capitalism, Race, and Class”

The St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community hosted a conversation with scholar Marcia Chatelain on Capitalism, Race, and Class: The Case of McDonald’s.

The event, moderated by Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri, explored the ideas of Chatelain’s book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, published earlier this year. In her book, Chatelain discusses the intersections and relationships between American politics, the civil rights movement, and the fast food industry. 

In the conversation, Santurri and Chatelain discussed topics such as the benefits and drawbacks of corporate philanthropy, initiatives to buttress black capitalism, and the larger issue of McDonald’s culture as providing space for the dispossessed. Chatelain herself learned about African American history in high school through a corporately funded extracurricular opportunity. 

“What I am always really concerned about are the terms in which we start to believe that the wealth of corporations is what allows us to live a good, quality life. Because we see what happens when we have economic instability, like we have right now with COVID, is that these are not dependable sources for the common good,” Chatelain explained. “I do have a lot of mixed emotions that my first serious engagement with African American history had to happen in this extracurricular mechanism that a group of Black franchise owners were nice enough to create for high school students, instead of living in a world where I learned African American history at my school.”

Watch the full conversation in the video above or on the Institute for Freedom and Community web page.

Portrait of Marcia Chatelain
Dr. Marcia Chatelain

Chatelain is a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (2015), she teaches about women’s and girls’ history, as well as black capitalism.  She is a current co-host of the Slate podcast “The Waves,” which covers feminism, gender, and current events. An active public speaker and educational consultant, Chatelain has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in academia in recognition of her social media campaign #FergusonSyllabus, which implored educators to facilitate discussions about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She has held an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship at New America, a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.

The Institute for Freedom & Community encourages free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues. By exploring diverse ideas about politics, markets, and society, The Institute aims to challenge presuppositions, question easy answers, and foster constructive dialogue among those with differing values and contending points of view. Established at St. Olaf College in 2014, The Institute offers a distinctive opportunity to cultivate civil discourse within a liberal arts setting.

This conversation is part of the Institute’s 2020 fall series, The Presidential Election and a Nation in Crisis: Polarization, Pandemic, Prejudice. The series has focused on the political divisions in the U.S. leading up to the 2020 presidential election, as well as discussions about similarly polarizing issues such as race and class, and the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NPR host Amy Walter, known as one of the best political journalists covering Washington, will be the guest in a discussion on Monday, October 26, on The State of the Presidential Election. Yale University professor and Cuban exile Carlos Eire will be the guest in a discussion this Tuesday, October 27, on Icons and Iconoclasm: In Religion, Politics, and the Academy. The fall series will conclude with a discussion on November 10 with Mike Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, on Public Policy and COVID-19.