'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, July 22, 2012
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
Guests: John Carlos, Alek Wek, Jemele Hill, Dave Zirin, Donna De Varona, Greg Meeks, Nilton Borges Jr., Mark Quarterman, Michael Ralph, Tiffany Derry, Syrena Johnson, Charlotte Druckman
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, sports politics and a long
awaited decision about the statue of Joe Paterno at Penn State University.
Plus, what does African-American mean for Africa, if you`re American?
And this week, we lost the legendary Silvia, but she leaves a legacy for a
whole new generation of chefs.
But first, the latest on the tragedy in Colorado and how it affects us all.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Today, President Barack Obama will travel to Aurora, Colorado to meet with
the grieving families of the victims of a shooting street that turned a
midnight screening of "the Dark Knight Rises" into a horrific tragedy. As
of this morning, 26 victims remain hospitalized this morning, nine in
Official say the suspect, 24-year-old James Holmes, a former neuroscience
graduate student, is being held in solitary confinement, while he awaits a
court appearance in the county on Monday.
Yesterday, federal and local authorities disarmed the explosives rigged
inside Holmes` apartment that were quote, "designed to kill whoever entered
it." Police have started to allow residents evacuated from surrounding
homes to return.
Let`s get the latest from the ground in Aurora with NBC correspondent
Good morning, Kristen.
KRISTEN DAHLGREN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Melissa.
Yes. You can see Holmes` apartment behind me here, the one on the third
floor there with windows broken out by authorities as they were disarming
those bombs. Now, his building is still roped off. It is unclear when
residents will be able to return. But as you said, in four buildings
surrounding here, they have been allowed back home. I spoke with one woman
just a short time ago and she said I`m so glad it`s over. So, you can
imagine what it`s been like for them.
Meantime, it doesn`t look like any investigation going on inside right now,
but yesterday quite busy here as they worked to disarm what they are
calling a sophisticated network of bombs inside the building. Authorities
say that they found a waist-high trip wire at the door, 30 improvised
grenades inside and three jugs of some kind of improvised napalm. They
disarmed the bombs using a remote-controlled robotic device. We could hear
a small blast outside here yesterday, and they also worked to preserve
what`s going to be used as evidence in the case against them as they
continue to build that.
Last night, the FBI left here with what looked like a laptop and hard
drive. And they also are saying that they have found evidence inside the
apartment that shows this was calculated and deliberate both in the
shooting and arming this apartment here with that network of bombs,
HARRIS-PERRY: Kristen, thank you so much.
Undoubtedly, what we have seen since this tragedy as horrific as it is, is,
still some of the best news you can imagine at this point that they were
able to disarm that with no further loss of life.
So, thank you for bring us that report.
Let`s bring in Congressman Gregory Meeks, Democrat of New York and MSNBC
political analyst, Jonathan Alter, a Bloomberg view columnist.
Hi. Thank you, both, for being here.
So, we`re starting to get to a point a couple of days since the tragedy
where we can start to think about what it means more broadly. Obviously,
the president is going to Colorado today. He is going in his role as, you
know, as president to comfort families. But when will this turn to a
policy conversation? Will the president now have a conversation about gun
JONATHAN ALTER, BLOOMBERG VIEW COLUMNIST: I don`t think it`s likely, but I
think he should think about doing that, obviously, after a certain period
of time has passed. It wouldn`t make any sense to begin that conversation
now. But at a certain period, whether U.S. a day, a week, two weeks, I
think he should at least consider trying to address the issue, put it in
larger context it has been seen too explosive, not to make a pun, to do.
ALTER: But you know, I remember seeing then-senator Barack Obama not long
after he gave his famous race speech in Philadelphia, and I was on the
campaign plane, and I was in a shooting. These happen quite often in the
United States, and I said would you, consider, senator, giving a speech on
gun violence similar to what you did on race? Will you try to thoughtfully
reason your way through the various complexities of the issue. He said,
yes, I am thinking about that. He did not do that at the time. Since then
the politics have sort of suggested that it`s impossible for anyone to do
But I do think it`s a leadership moment, Melissa. In other words, a true
leader takes on something that might be very controversial and I don`t
think it would necessarily hurt him as much politically as everybody
assumes, the key swing votes in the suburbs aren`t necessarily, you know,
strong second amendment types.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and we still remember the exquisite speech that he
gave in Tucson following the shooting involving Congressman Gabby Giffords.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, let me ask you, Representative Meeks. Obviously, this
is a very particular tragedy that focuses our attention, but the vast
majority of gun violence in the country does not happen in these kinds of
shooing. It happens one victim at a time, often in our cities and often in
cities that are represented by Congressional Black Caucus members. I know
you all actually pretty regularly introduce bills to try and to address gun
Will you on the back of this tragedy once again as conscience of congress
say hey, it`s time to talk specifically about assault weapons bans?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS, D-NEW YORK: Congress definitely has a role and has to
step up in that regards. And I think we need to make sure it`s also the
education of the American people because often times, we have these fights
in congress with individuals from states that have liberal gun rules who
said we got our second amendment rights and we don`t have the boat there
while the pass of the course.
For example, the assault bans weapon, it seems that it makes common sense
not to have assault weapons. Yet, we could not extend it after it had
MEEKS: So -- and the American people, I know people talk about the NRA,
and the NA is very powerful, but its people in a certain group who elect
individuals based upon the position they take. So, I find members of
congress, some of whom, you know, would say that they are not for assault
weapons, for example, but they said they represent their constituencies so,
therefore, they are voting, they are distant because if they didn`t, they
wouldn`t get re-elected.
We have to go pass that one, understand that what is good for the country
and clearly, having the kind of laws that some states have. What took
place here you have an individual can just buy guns.
HARRIS-PERRY: And all of the ammunition from the internet.
MEEKS: It does not make sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It felt like that another political story that is
potentially. So, one is the gun control bill, that one that is tough
because you know, there is a second amendment piece, the NRA, there`s you
know, the Brady`s came out with a very powerful statement saying we need to
But for me, it was watching that chief of police, the speed at which he`s
able to respond, the quality of his response, and then kind of reading in
on him and learning that that locality, that Aurora, Colorado, who is right
now considering budgets cuts in its police force. And I thought, wait a
minute, this finally a chance for to us talk about the need to make sure
localities have sufficient funds for first responders? Like even beyond
the guns squad?
ALTER: You know, I don`t actually think that in most community the first
responders are under some of the intense budget pressure that a lot of
people are suggesting. But I do think that this --
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Camden, Stockton, Detroit.
ALTER: A lot of it has to do with strategies that they use. And this
point us back to guns, because he police are the strongest advocates of gun
control. A lot of Democrats have missed is that they should be really
working in collaboration with police, when they speak about gun control,
they should be surrounded by police. If you get all of those people
involved it helps protect people politically, who are trying to take
chances in Congress before the law changes, the conversation has to change.
So, we can`t really expect yet to get -- to get changes in the law. But we
can end the gag order.
The NRA has essentially imposed on our national conversation. We can`t
even talk about it, so this is an opportunity to say, you know what? We
are going to talk about this. We`re not going to let you silence us,
MEEKS: I even think that maybe, what should happen for example, not by
even talk to my governor about it and I think this, you know, governor
about it, and mayor Bloomberg has been --
HARRIS-PERRY: Very, very strong on this.
MEEKS: -- is, you know, maybe to take a state like New York to sue a state
like Georgia or a state like Virginia or a state like north Carolina,
because when you look at the number of crimes in New York that have taken
place with guns, and you track those comes and come from states like
Georgia, Virginia, or north Carolina.
And so therefore, maybe to begin to have a conversation, maybe there should
be a lawsuit that will start a broader conversation that is going to take
place in this nation. But the conversation has to start. You are
absolutely right. I could agree with you more.
HARRIS-PERRY: I very much like this idea, Congressman. I mean, certainly,
we saw attorney generals of conservative states willing to take on
governments, and their unwillingness to address healthcare through the
affordable health care. I like the idea of moving that sort of progressive
conversation as well.
MEEKS: Exactly right. We are talking about interstate commerce. Again,
maybe something that we can drive into the court system, you know, get to
the Supreme Court, and make it part of the conversation for America that we
have to address.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s make sure that Supreme Court we get it in front of is
not Mitt Romney`s Supreme Court, so --.
MEEKS: I agree with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Thank you so much. Thank you to Jonathan Alter
and the Congressman. I appreciate.
Congressman Meek is going to hang with me a little bit longer. We have a
lot of conversation left to have.
And coming up, the London Olympics are five days away. I`m an Olympics fan
and with representatives all over the world meet in one place, you can bet
politics is always part of the equation on sports and activism, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The wait is almost over. This Friday, the 2012 summer
Olympics begin in London.
Now, the Olympics are a time when athletes from around the world gather in
the spirit of competition. It is the ultimate test of hard work, training,
and sacrifice. The coveted prize, a gold medal.
No, you haven`t turned into a promotional commercial. I`m going to make a
claim that a robust discussion of sports belongings on Nerdland. Because
even though athletic competition is supposed to be in a political space,
history tells us that when the finest young people from around the world
gathered to represented their countries, politics often comes along with
them, sometimes, geo-politics comes into play.
During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, members of the Israeli team were
held hostage by Palestinian terrorists. The standoff left 11 members of
the Israeli team, five Palestinians and a German police officer dead.
In 1980, the U.S. did not field in Olympic team and protest the Soviet
Union war in Afghanistan. The Soviets responded by boycotting the 1984
games in Los Angeles and it was one of the final skirmishes of the cold
But not all moments are somber. There are individual or team athletic
performances that can be political and triumphant. After the Palestine was
saying, the Iraqi soccer team qualified for the 2004 Olympic games after
years being brutalized, they fell short of medaling with the lost to the
Italian team, but their presence on the field was a victory in and of
Then there was Jesse Owens, in the summer of 1936 Berlin summer Olympics,
the world was on the link of world war II, Jesse Owens humiliated Adolf
Hitler and his notion of Arian supremacy by winning not one but four
Olympic gold medals.
And in a year of unprecedented policy attacks on women`s right, right here
at home, for the first time, women outnumber men on the U.S. Olympic teams.
So then, there are also these moments that make an impression and stay with
us forever, though the instances in which athletes become political with
one single action.
In 1968 bronze medal winner John Carlos made the statement heard round the
world while saying nothing. He stepped onto the podium wearing black
socks, no shoes and a raised black glove fist. His one action on the world
stage showed that he stood up for those who were impoverished and
disenfranchised. An equally as important, athletes can be more than their
sport, that they can also be agents of changes.
At the table, none other than Olympic bronze medalist Doctor John Carlos,
also Donna De Varona, former Olympic gold medalist sportscaster, Dave
Zirin, sports editor for "the Nation" magazine and Jemele Hill, columnist
Thanks to everyone for being here.
You have been hanging on my bedroom wall since I was a little girl because
that statement, that moment, is one that I think has resonated for so many
of us that have considered our work to be political work in this country.
Take me back to that moment, you`re a very young`s let athlete. Why do you
make that choice?
JOHN CARLOS, FORMER OLYMPIC ATHLETE: Well, I think it was necessary to
make the choice based on the fact that I grew up in the streets of New
York, in Harlem in particular. I saw the change. I saw a White flight as
a kid coming in. I was sort of prejudice start to sneak in various
agencies in New York. I saw unfair housing, unfair education and at the
same time, I saw a quandary of people that didn`t really know how to deal
with the situation that they were involved in. They didn`t know how to
deal with prejudice that was being thrust upon him. They didn`t know how
to deal with the police, when the police would come in and do various
I began to realize that someone needed to take a stance. You know, we have
a tendency to sit back and look for someone else do it, and not
collectively think as a group we can make this change. I felt from very
early age that someone has to be strong enough and wise enough to make a
stance that will encourage people to find the fire within themselves to
stand up for what`s right and just.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it was not without cause. Deep personal cost to you on
the other side.
CARLOS: Well you know, when you sit back and think about making change,
you know, you sacrifice as necessary to make the change, you know, you
think about the war right now. And people are giving cost, their lives.
My life is no more important or less important than their lives. They are
fighting for this country. I`m fighting for this country the same. So you
know, I wasn`t concerned about cost as much as I was making sure that when
I leave, I leave a better world behind.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I think there is no question that statement has -- it
just resonated throughout time. I wonder as I ask about cost and about
sacrifice. If there is something about Olympic athletes, given that there
is such a long time horizon, that you are sacrificing kind of personally at
all points for years to get to that sport. If, in fact, Olympic athletes
might be particularly well suited for an understanding of what that sort of
sacrifice looks like.
DONNA DE VARONA, FORMER OLYMPIC SWIMMER: I think what Olympics represent
is a global gathering of athletes all over the world and we speak the
common language. None of the athletes want a sort of boycott. We tried a
massive agreed to fight against it. We went to Washington, we were called
spoiled. And athletes themselves don`t want to see discrimination. We`ve
all paid the same price to get there. Some of us do better by winning gold
medals, but very small percentage make money.
I was there in 1968 during the protests, and I remember the price John paid
and African-American -- his teammates paid for standing up. At that time,
ABC was covering the Olympics and luckily we had Roone Arledge as president
of the ABC Network, and when U.S. Olympic committee ousted John, we said
come over to the hotel, let`s talk about it, and Howard Cosell did the
interviews, but that was ongoing dialog.
DE VARONA: I remember being in the `60 Olympics, standing next to Wilma
Rudolph in the cafeteria line, we weren`t talking about civil rights then.
And then, everything blew up. It was in `66 and `68. I was working in the
inner city with my teammates, trying to go into the inner city and
encourage young people. So, `68 was a tipping point, because enough wasn`t
getting done at the time. And so, what John did took courage and again,
he`s paid a huge price for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is pretty amazing, to hear you say in `68, enough wasn`t
getting done. I mean, `68 is after the passage of the `64 civil rights
act, that is after the after the passage of the `65 voting rights act and
yet, there was sensitive, a still more to do, and another young person,
right, an athlete could be part of changing that conversation. But not so
little bit about this idea of Wilma Rudolph, you are and were Olympic a
DE VARONA: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: This year, we`ve seen a record number of swimmers of color
on this Olympic team. These African-American swimmers represent -- there
is sort of black folks don`t swim, you know, stereotype in the world. And
so, even though they are not overtly political, just them being there, just
their presence kind of changes the idea of what the sport is.
DE VARONA: Well, when you look at Lia Neal. I grew up -- my adulthood has
been in New York. There was a group of us that decided we needed a 50-
meter pool in New York City, because we wanted to produce Olympians. And
the idea was that public and private funds would support the asphalt green
project. So, you know, corporations coming in by a time that opens it up.
So, those of higher economic privilege can work together with those that --
maybe couldn`t afford the pool or the training.
And so Lia Neal is our first product, our first Olympian that out of the
asphalt green project. So, it`s that old statement, build it, they will
come. We always felt African-Americans would do well in the sport, but
it`s been a middle class, upper class sport and when desegregation
happened, we closed all those big pools. I made my Olympics at Astoria
pool which was a park pool and they put the 50-meter course in. Those
pools are close all around the country so, where are you going to learn to
swim? Where do you get that option?
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a brilliant point. Yes, Dave.
DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION: Melissa, there is a great irony to
this discussion, because John Carlos` dream was to be an Olympic swimmer
and he was unable to do some of.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because you didn`t have the resources available in your
CARLOS: No, because of the color of my skin it wasn`t resources. My dad
said to me he said where would you train, son. You can`t join the clubs,
you can`t swim in the public pools, you can`t go to the ocean. Where would
you train? You can`t go to the Harlem river, you lose too many of your
friends every summer? And that was the first tip that I had that we had a
social problem, we had discrimination taking place.
And my dad reminded me, he said, John, you and your buddies go up to Harbor
Ridge Pool and jumped in water, what would happen? My father would swim
like a rock straight to the bottom. He knew what was going on. And he
said, what happens when you and your buddy jumped in the water?
And I just reflect, seconds, and as soon as we hit the water, the white
folks would call their kids, Billy, Bobby, Betty, out of the water, hurry
up, hurry up. It blew me away because I was saying, God, they act like
someone who roll me over on. And at the same time, you are all putting
suntan lotion on trying to look like me.
HARRIS-PERRY: John, I love you. That is -- that is a brilliant insight.
That pools really were kind of a fundamental public battleground around the
issue of Jim Crow and racial integration and the idea you become bronze
medalist in part because of the swimming. And, then, of course, civil
rights heroes for all of us.
CARLOS: My dad said to me, he said John, will you let this stop you? And
I said, no, Pop. I just have to find another way. But you know, you can
look back at Harry Belafonte. He used the state of his interviews in the
past. He had the same situation in his day to the point where he would go
to a make hotel, and they would tell you there are two things you don`t do.
You don`t go to the restaurant, you don`t go to the pool.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well up next, we`ll continue on our questions of sports and
politics. But instead of feel good of the Olympics, we are going to talk
about the Penn State scandal.
There is a lot breaking right now. We`ll have it, after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking for the Olympics as one of those events
that tend to make us feel good about sports. Just hearing the very words
Penn State these days is enough to make us feel very bad about sports.
The story are you surely familiar with by now, a former assistant coach on
Penn State`s football team, 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of
raping and molesting at least ten boys over a period of 15 years.
The case highlighted not only the heinous crimes of Sandusky, but
critically importantly, the failure of leadership at Penn State University
when those in a position to stop Sandusky, those like head coach Joe
Paterno, failed to act.
Now, Paterno, of course, is the coaching legend, winning a record of 409
games in nearly 46 years at Penn State. But as more as learned about his
role in the sandal, his legacy continues to take hit after massive hit.
Most recently, Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who independently
investigated the handling of the Sandusky allegations, condemned the lack
of action shown by Paterno and other Penn State administrators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOUIS FREEH, INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION: Our most saddening and sobering
finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky`s
child victims, by the most senior leaders at pep state. The most powerful
men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the
children who Sandusky victimized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In light of these new findings, the drum beat to erase
Paterno`s physical presence from Penn State campus particularly the statue
of him outside the stadium has been growing louder. And just this morning,
the decision was announced by Penn State University president Rodney
Erickson, that the statue would come down and is in fact now, down.
In a statement Erickson said, I now believe that contrary to its original
intentions, Coach Paterno statue has become a source of division and an
obstacle to healing of our university and beyond. I believe that the
statue would be a recurring wound no those who have been the victims of
Joining me now to break that down and tell us more about what`s happening
at Penn State, once again are John Carlos, Donna De Varona, Dave Zirin and
ZIRIN: Well, it`s unbelievable. I mean, I think this is the most rapid
and just violently dramatic fall from Grace in the history of American
sports. I mean, if you just think about a year ago, Joe Paterno was on the
Mt. Rushmore of what sports are supposed to be all about.
ZIRIN: And now his statue being taken down. It says something about the
place that I think child abuse, child molestation, has in the national
consciousness as just being a horror of the likes which there is no excuse
for. And so, a lifetime of good deeds means nothing compared to shielding
someone who did that.
My great concern right now though, is in the wake of Louis Freeh`s report.
It focuses so much on those who already indicted. It focused so much on
Joe Paterno, who already passed away. I want to look at the rest of the
board of trustees. I want to look at Governor Tom Corbett, who for two
years sat on the allegations of Jerry Sandusky while continuing to raise
money from Penn State Alumni and Jerry Sandusky`s charity Second Mile.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s important to point out this is a state
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it has implications - I mean, that`s why the governor is
part of this narrative.
ZIRIN: Yes. And the governor sits on the board of trustees. And there is
a growing drum beat in Pennsylvania to say Tom Corbett, you have things to
answer too, as well. I mean, Louis Freeh, there is a lot in the report
that is very useful. But he has a faithful, decades-long lieutenant of
powerful people. And it is very easy to pile on those already indicted or
who already passed away and not look at those in power who might still be
HARRIS-PERRY: Jemele, let me as you about that - I mean, in part, I think
you`re right. This fall from Grace does seems to be from the sense in this
kind of action, the sort of sexual abuse of vulnerable kids is just too
far, too much, too horrible to be countenance. But if we were to step back
from it and ask not maybe about this most heinous crime, but still the way
which many division one sports programs have predatory relationships on
everything from land grabs to, you know, in their community that sometimes
even on their own campuses.
JEMELE HILL, COLUMNIST, ESPN.COM: Yes. And I make this connection and a
lot of people at Penn U. didn`t like it, between what`s going at their
university with the hazing death that they are dealing with, the drum major
Robert Champion, is that, whenever have you so many universities have
institutions or some part of that university that has become bigger than
the university itself. At Penn State, it`s football. At FMU, it`s the
And so, I think the most difficult aspect to address is the systemic
failures that lead to these decisions being made. Maybe we don`t see
another controversy as heinous and grim as what happened at Penn State, but
the same types of actions continue to take place.
At Ohio state, you know, you had Jim Tressel (ph) who willingly lied
because he wanted to win football games and by protecting student athletes.
So, that`s why we have to look at these moral failures, where do they come
from, and why?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it feels like money feels like it is inculcated
here. I mean, you know, as part of the Olympics narrative is about amateur
athletes for the most part, right? But it feels something like there is so
much money here, that it feels like part of what`s going on.
DE VARONA: Its power and money. And if you look at the legacy of Joe
Paterno, and a tragic legacy, lifetime of winning and then this denial.
And that`s what happens a lot times when there is money and power involved,
people get into the greater good.
Let`s look at finally the Olympic community deciding and the collegiate
community deciding get look into drugs and sports. It`s the tour de
France, the exposure of that. We knew it was going on in our day that
athletes were cheating.
Let`s look at Bush opportunity and athletics commission. I was part of
that. And I said, let`s really look at the opportunity and athletics
commission. It came down to two things. One, division one athletic
director saying you know, we`re heading for a train wreck, because there is
no control on big-time sports. And then, the other thing was the focus was
trying to lessen the impact of the guidelines as it applies to title nine
and the opportunity for women in sport. And this is really civil rights
legislation applied to education. There is no word about sport in this.
So, if there is a legacy and it is very sad, this should open up the whole
discussion about exploitation of athletes and at the same time, we exploit
them, we enable them. So, when they are done, they fall through the black
hole. What`s next?
HARRIS-PERRY: And we will in fact, we will continue on this conversation
next, and ask whether or not famous athletes should take an open stand on
political and social issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Naturally, being a political scientist and a huge sport fan,
I love to see the two mixes and when I don`t have to hearken back to Jesse
Owens, Mohammed Ali and John Carlos to do. It`s 2010, the NBA Steve Nash
gives his Phoenix sun`s teammates to wear their special los suns jerseys
for a playoff game in order to protest Arizona`s paper flees immigration
law SB 1070.
It`s 2011, when baseball San Francisco giants become the first American
pro-sports team to release a video for the nonprofit it gets better
project, speaking out against homophobia and bullying.
Shortly thereafter, a number of other pro baseball teams, including Red
Sox, Rays and Phillies follow suit. And now, this spring and the eventual
NBA champion Miami Heat catch some heat for paying tribute to the late
Trayvon Martin with this picture of them in their hoodies tweeted by of the
ultimate superstar Lebron James.
Athletes, particularly professionals are often derided for not taking a
stand in a very political time in our country. Is that fair?
Joining me again, Olympic medalist John Carlos and Donna De Varona and
sports journalist, Dave Zirin and Jemele Hill.
So, I`m probably actually I`m fine with athletes not telling me who to vote
for, like athletes Hollywood star, you know, even if we are on the same
side, I can live with that. But something about the human rights aspect of
it, right? SB 1070, your moment around poverty and racism. The idea of
the Trayvon Martin solidarity, is that where sports stars can take that
moment to take a political stand?
CARLOS: Well you know, I look at athletics as part of the human element.
You know, we`re human beings before we`re athletes. It` very difficult to
be an athlete and thinks you have no concern about what you left behind.
You know, you have to look back and remember there were other kids that
might not be the superstar, but might be a genius in terms of being a heart
Your job is to make sure this kid has equal protection to get a decent
education to have decent housing to have a meal in his stomach at night.
You can`t just live and ride on superstardom because you are not a true
superstar if you are just concerned about self.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. There is a real responsibility there.
DE VARONA: Well, I think the truth is, that a lot of athletes into the
radar because they don`t have the visible platform. They are not a Tiger
Woods. But they are out there doing great things.
Gary Hall Senior, is involved in something called walk fit, trying to get
schools to just walk in the morning, because they don`t have P.E., and he
has enlisted hundreds of Olympians around the country.
You have Anita De France, who was a title 9 scholar, athlete started as a
swimmer who was walk on in rowing, won a bronze medal pro tested against
boycott. She is now chair of the women in sport commission of the
International Olympic committee. And what`s happening in London? Women
are involved in every sport. Not every discipline, not the same number of
events. Every country is participating, she devoted her life to it.
HARRIS-PERRY: An 8-month pregnant Malaysian athlete woman going to be
there at the Olympics eight months pregnant, which I kind of love. True
DE VARONA: And Nancy Hogg said women`s sports foundation with Billie Jean
founded with all of us, and we have been consistent on title nine. Nancy
Hogg said went to school, became a lawyer. She is trying to get the USOC
to put language in and they are looking at it for protection for athletes
which address the last discussion we had about exploitation of athletes.
ZIRIN: I really try out to point out to people all the time that John
Carlos is an awesome guy, but he didn`t come down from planet awesome.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Right.
ZIRIN: There was a thing called black freedom movement which informed what
he did. The Miami heat didn`t wake up one day and say let`s put on hoods
and do something controversial. There have been walkouts at over 40 south
Florida high schools alone on behalf of justice for Trayvon before they did
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
ZIRIN: Mohammed Ali in 1960 was cachous clay, whose dream was to bring the
showmanship of professional wrestling into boxing, no more, no less. So,
what happens in the street is critical to the kinds of things that athletes
do on the medals stand around the field of play.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, it`s the social movement of which They are human and
citizens and part of it, they become part of it.
HILL: But the problem is, it is such a liability to the majority of
professional athletes to take a political stand. I agree with you, there
are plenty of athletes doing things in private that we don`t know about.
But the ones that do have the spotlight like Lebron James did or Tiger
Woods, the reason they don`t feel that it is maybe in their best interest
to do it is because we make it difficult. Look how scrutinized Lebron
James was without even doing anything political.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Michael Jordan, who refused to -- and like I said, you
know him staying out of electoral politics seems fine, but when he refused
to endorse Harvey Gant, what he said was, well, you know, who am I to tell
you, what he said was Republicans buy shoes too.
HILL: But he was a best of perfect person to point out because
unfortunately, he gave an athletic legacy that taught athletes to be
benign. They are all following from his example, because he didn`t believe
in getting involved, not just politically, he didn`t believe in saying
anything and he made a lot of money, and they all look at that and said you
know what? I`m going to follow Michael Jordan because he showed me the
way. I`m just not so sure that`s a positive legacy to lead.
ZIRIN: And that`s why when they speak out and you said like how it`s
exciting, and interesting, it`s exactly because of Jemele said, because it
is a liability. Because we do recognize that they are taking a risk
because the time in the spotlight is so short. That`s what makes it
different from like George Clooney saying something. I mean, he might get
a backlash or just make another film in ten years. An athlete has a
limited window in which to use cultural capital to make a stand and when
they do it, we notice. That`s what makes it strong.
HARRIS-PERRY: We do. And in fact, I`m going to encourage folks at home if
they don`t know your whole story, and you Dave penned this book together,
"the John Carlos story" and it`s indicative of exactly what it takes to
have the bravery to take that moment.
So, thank you so much for being here. Thank you, Donna. Thank you, John.
Thank you to Dave and Jemele. It`s lovely to have this conversation with
you. And I can`t wait for the Olympics.
Up next, it was former south African president Nelson Mandela`s birthday
this week. A reminder of how his struggle changed our politics is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, South Africa and the world, celebrates Nelson
Mandela`s 94th birthday. President Obama and the first lady sent their
heartfelt congratulations and former President Bill Clinton joined Mr.
Mandela in person.
This past February marks 22 years since Mandela`s release from prison,
which is still several years shy of the 27 years he spent behind bars. In
1994, he was elected president of South Africa in the nation`s first
multiracial elections. Decades ago, it was Mandela`s imprisonment and the
oppressive politics of the apartheid regime that rallied people in this
country for the cause of equal justice in South Africa.
Americans protested around the country and demanded economic sanctions on
an unjust government an ocean away.
We took a look in the vault and found this clip from NBC nightly news in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: On the Berkeley campus in California today,
more than words were flying as anti apartheid demonstrators battled with
police. But 100 protesters were arrested. The trouble started when
symbolic south African shanties put up by demonstrators were torn down by
university workers for the second time this week as a fire hazard. The
demonstrators counteracted with bottles, rocks and garbage cans. Police
moved in to arrest them. Twenty nine people injured altogether.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was then. My question? What can rally Americans
around Africa today?
Up next, I`m joined by super model and activist, Alek Wek.
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier this month, the world`s youngest nation, south
Sudan, celebrated its first year of independence. After decades of civil
war which cost the lives of 1.5 million people and displaced hundreds of
thousands, south Sudan became an independent nation. Although more than
300,000 south Sudanese have returned home since the official end of the
war, refugees continue to seek shelter in the country today as border
Now, the economy of both nations relies heavily on oil production, much of
the disagreement centers around the contested oil field, 3/4 which lie in
the south Sudanese territory. But as you can see from the map there, south
Sudan is obviously landlocked. So leaders of both nations were going to
sign an economic and border agreement before the August 2nd deadline.
However, south Sudan announced yesterday, these canceling direct talks with
Sudan, accusing a southern neighbor of carrying out new air strikes. While
the Sudanese population wait for an agreement, refugee camp still up and
food scarcity mounts across the region.
One woman trying to aide in the region`s independence and well-being is
south Sudanese supermodel and refugee advocate Alec Wek who recently
traveled to the region on behalf of the U.N. refugee agency. She is here
with me in Nerdland at the table.
Thank you so much for being here.
ALEK WEK, SUPERMODEL: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you know, I wasn`t sure if folks could see on that map,
so, the south Sudanese, where you were born, it`s now it`s own independent
nation, one year old, but in order to get the oil, that -- that resides
there, out for trade or anything else, it`s got to move through Sudan,
which means moving through north Sudanese pipes and so, this is really
where the dispute is, correct?
WEK: No, absolutely. I mean, the situation is just become much more not
just complex, but like I said, I mean, growing up in south Sudan, getting
born and raised and well just like any child, I mean, I enjoyed having
friends from different tribes and so forth and then the war broke out and
it became really terrible, and we lost our father. You know, there were
nine of us, but then it divided us. Because all of a sudden, are you
looking at each other, like is this your enemy, this not? But literally,
we are the same people.
So, I think it`s like the oil it`s -- it`s a blessing, but also it`s a
curse. And I`m not into politics, but I think in order to do anything,
there needs to be peace and going back for the one-year anniversary of the
independence, I never thought that would come growing up in the civil war.
You know, running with thousands of people towards the Bush looking for
refuge. It was really, really profound.
So going back, I realize I was like the only way we could really conquer
this as a nation, I mean, the U.S. took 200 or so to have independence in a
really profound way and have become a part of that. But I think just for
one year, how much Sudan, south Sudan has gone so far, how much it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. There`s been a bit of a conversation on one hand.
One year of independence, and you talk about -- I`ve read a bit about your
own personal very harrowing story of escape in the context of civil war.
HARRIS-PERRY: But if you go back today, you are just back, still jet
lagged just back, that the need to seek refuge, some of that human
suffering is just as real, particularly around the border disputes, as it
was previously, before independence?
WEK: Right. No. Absolutely. Like I said, you know, it`s a new country
which means new nation, new government, new everything. You have to
consider there is going to be challenges. And I think when Muslims get too
overwhelmed and 50 percent of the nation are the youth, and I always
believed in education. My father worked, board of education. My mother,
you know, worked. They say what did your mother do? She worked, not just
full time when she clocks out. She took care of nine of us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nine children.
WEK: Five girls and four boys.
HARRIS-PERRY: We were chatting just before we came on air, your mother is
living now in London, but actually now you have an independent nation in
south Sudan is interested in going home, heading back. What does it mean
to have been sent a certain way for exiled for so long and for people who
did flee to begin to have a home to go home to?
WEK: I mean, it`s very overwhelming, you have to understand, you can`t
just -- I met with a governor when I went back with OHCR and I went to the
fields and I have seen the returnees, I`ve seen the refugees, you know,
coming back to safety, and like having water up to here and they have to
carry their children up. If not, they would drown.
I mean, it was so touching, watching an 83-year-old woman when she should
be enjoying her fruits, but, yet, you know, her sons have died and she has
to take care of her grandchildren, and she didn`t have any hate. Like I
wish you could grow up like the age I am and even more. That was so
profound for me. It really moved me.
So I think the future is to have the infrastructure to have children
educated. Because you can`t make any decisions and you can`t get along
with anybody if you --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well you make that move. You`re talking about sort of
what`s possible in the future. We`ll talk more about that when we come
More with model and activist Alek Wek in just a moment and coming up more
on Africa and America and the continental divide.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: The relationship between the
African continent and the Americas is, to say the least, complex.
Particularly for those whose identity and history straddled the Atlantic,
even our name is complicated. When European slave traders brought human
chattel to the Americas, they stripped of their familial and tribal names,
and arbitrarily branded them Negros. It`s an English word derived from
Spanish, which means black. Now, those who could, resisted the label,
calling themselves African, as in the Free African Society of Philadelphia,
which in 1787, referred to themselves writing we, the free Africans and
their descendants of the city of Philadelphia. This was to change when the
white racist American colonization society organized to send free black men
back to Africa.
In order to protect their nascent claims on citizenship, African was
abandoned in favor of colored. Colored remained the preferred term
throughout the early 20s century. That`s why in its founding in 1909, the
oldest civil rights organization in America called itself the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Now, leaders like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington had long
used the word "Negro", and in 1930, the NAACP itself campaigned for news
organizations to use Negro with a capital "N." Think of Martin Luther King
Jr. standing on the National Mall and declaring "the Negro still is not
In the militant movement that followed King, young men and women
abandoned Negro and demanded black power, asserted that black is beautiful.
And said it loud. I`m black and I`m proud, right? In 1989, "The New York
Times" reported on a movement led by Rev. Jesse Jackson to refer to black
folks as African-American, exclusively linking the term to a global
identity. Jackson said, "Black tells you about skin color and what side of
town you live on. African-American evokes discussion of the world." Two
decades later, America`s first black president is undeniably African-
American, but he is not the descendant of colored people known as Negros.
So in the era of an Obama presidency, how do African-Americans
understand the historic and cultural ties to the continent and what
difference does it make to black politics? Here to help me discuss the
global political connections of the African diaspora, is South Sudanese
activist and supermodel Alek Wek, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of
New York, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Also, Mark
Quarterman, research director for the Enough project to end genocide and
crimes against humanity. And Michael Ralph, professor of Africana studies
at New York University. Thank you, all, for being here. I greatly
So, Congressman Meeks, I want to ask you in part, because I can
remember my first politics being anti-apartheid politics. It was a time
when I feel like young activists really understood what was going on in
South Africa because it mapped on to the American experience -- bad white
people and good black folks who were oppressed, who needed to become free
of laws that looked like Jim Crow. But contemporary African political, you
know, geopolitics is not -- does not map easily on. How do we develop that
sense of attachment, connection, and advocacy for the continent?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D ) NEW YORK: Well, you know, I think that -- if
you look at the opportunities for the continent to grow, it is now moving.
If you look at GDP, five percent increase. So, this opportunity is to see
it grow and be successful. So, it is this next level I think that is
important for young every African-Americans. I know individuals that I`ve
talked to, they are talking about what business can I do? How can I be more
helpful to different countries in Africa? Maybe they -- I may have a
product or it`s some new technology that will help them, it will create
jobs in Africa, but also create opportunities here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Turn a profit.
MEEKS: That`s exactly right.
MEEKS: But you`re looking at those interconnections, so how can we
trade and, you know, when I talk to African nations, it`s for example, they
don`t want handouts, they want to be part of a global population. You
know, it`s a global economy now. They want to step up. And so, I think
that is the connection that we can make now, and we can even see. I know
for myself, you know, one of the things that I did, because I still wanted
to know where I came from ...
MEEKS: So I took the DNA testing to find out that I came from Sierra
Leone, part of the Mende tribe. And, you know, and so, that connection is
important. I think, but you see more individuals, young people either, you
know, I told -- talked to my daughters, for example, and they were glad
that I -- they were part of the motivation, the reason why I wanted to have
a DNA testing. So, I think that is going to also connect us to the
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting to hear the congressman talk about DNA
testing. Maybe, you know, I have often felt a little bit of anxiety about
the idea of the primary when we find our identities to that. But there is
-- it does seem critically important, because of that history, I just told,
we were cut off from the specific African history. We just have this kind
of like mythical Africa, as this place, as opposed to this is my home, this
is the place that I can name.
MICHAEL RALPH, ASST. PROF., NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yeah, I think that
the intention (ph) of paradise defines African-American experience in
relation to Africa. So, there is some people who always wanted to know
where in Africa they might be from and have sort of felt a sense of longing
by not knowing that. I think at some level, DNA testing presents what`s
understood to be that opportunity. But there are -- but also DNA testing
is something like a statistical projection of where you might be from.
RALPH: It is not necessarily always accurate, or, you know, from
different testing agencies you might acquire different results. Or,
actually, some African Americans don`t want to know where precisely they
are from, because in fact, not knowing precisely where they are from
creates a sense of solidarity for the African continent as a whole.
HARRIS-PERRY: Like kind of Pan-African identity.
RALPH: We have defined this, like diasporic sense of Africa as a
continent, as (inaudible), because people don`t know where exactly they are
from, and therefore feel like all of Africa is fair game.
HARRIS-PERRY: How much of a difference does it make for folks who
were doing work, policy work, and NGO work on the ground to have within the
Americas an advocacy organization or identity group that would say, OK,
this is on our agenda. Yes, all of the issues, domestic issues of African-
American then and the problems and promise facing us here are on our
agenda, but so too, either Pan-African or kind of specific African agenda.
MARK QUATERMAN, ENOUGH PROJECT: It would be extremely important, but
unfortunately, Africa really has never had a constituency, a mobilized
organized constituency in the United States. Now, I`ve been working on
Africa-related issues since 1981, and we`ve been talking about this issue
why aren`t African-Americans more mobilized on Africa issues? Really, since
then, and from before that, too. There was that period that you talked
about previously with the anti-apartheid movement. When we could relate to
what was happening to black South Africas.
QUARTERMAN: The apartheid regime was segregating blacks.
QUARTERMAN: It was carrying out violence against them. It was a
HARRIS-PERRY: It looked like -- it looked like -- Cape Town looked
like Mississippi, right? That felt like it made sense.
QUARTERMAN: That`s absolutely right, but there really hasn`t been
beyond than an organized, mobilized large constituency for that. And it`s
important, because African-Americans are quintessentially American, and
Americans have been rather insular in the way they look at the world. They
have looked inward rather than outward. And there are specific reasons. I
mean we were fighting for our citizenship here.
QUARTERMAN: For identity here, and we are looking overseas. But all
of these things come together.
HARRIS-PERRY: But you do have -- you have Bono and George Clooney
and, you know, so you do -- it feels like there is a way, in which there
are some very identifiable, often white celebrity faces that are saying,
you know, George Clooney is there, and Brad Pitt is there. And, you know,
it always like -- it`s part of why I was so excited to have you on today.
Like is this sense that obviously this for you is your home. This is a
very specific narrative. But also because you have an international
cosmopolitan status that allows you to do the kind of work that a Ben
Affleck might be doing, but to do it in a face and in a body that is
representative of the very space where you are doing your activism.
ALEK WEK, MODEL AND ACTIVIST: Wow. Well, thank you so much. For me,
it -- it becomes personal. Because it`s not just like I want to give back,
what is the organization I want to work with. I have witnessed it, you
know, fleeing my hometown, wow, where I was born and raised with my mother
and my father and my eight brothers, going towards the border (ph), walking
for two and a half weeks and coming back after six months and looking at my
school all burned up, and people cooking. And I couldn`t understand at age
eight, but I`m so grateful for my parents to always shield me from that,
but there is only as much as they can even getting into that plight, like
to Khartoum, I remember it, because I realized there were too many of us.
And they were like, oh, you guys are the Wek army. And my mother was like
don`t (inaudible) my family.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Right.
WEK: But, I mean, to cut the story short, the -- the South Sudanese
people have been through so much, especially the young men. There has been
so much bloodshed. So when the independence came, I couldn`t actually
grasp that it was there. And even in London or in the U.S., it -- not even
close to 100 percent of people will vote. So all of that bickering, you
are this tribe, you are the Dinka tribe, you`re the Balanga, you are the
Jurjuro (ph), and I grew up. If you look, we`re all Sudanese. Even the
Dinka. We have like Dinka Borge (ph), you know,
WEK: Agara (ph) and we all look alike. I even look like, you know,
from West Africa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right.
WEK: So I`m like what are we talking about?
HARRIS-PERRY: We are all the same people.
WEK: No, it was -- it was just really emotional, and I think that we
need an infrastructure, and for sure, the only way we`re going to move
forward is with the youth. Because they are 50 percent of the nation, and
if we don`t teach them what`s right so that they don`t repeat the
atrocities that the others have done around, even though people can try and
put you against each other, there`s this story and there is that, and then
there is the correct and that cannot lie. And I am so forever grateful
that the UNHCR stuck there and they don`t have a lot of funding. They are
literally the biggest funders at the moment. But going into the ground, I
mean it`s not just because I come from southern Sudan, but the culture, the
WEK: My nephew that grew up in London, he studied, like you were
saying earlier, he studied, you know, he majored in -- excuse me,
technology and he is going to go and open up his own business.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is exactly what we`ll come back to. I want ...
WEK: My brother, agriculture.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean it`s just -- as soon as we come back, I want to
talk about exactly this. Which is this notion as you have given us,
congressman, of the promise of investment. Which countries are beginning
to see of the continent of Africa the space for investment and also, the
real challenges that retain and are still part of the nations of the
African continent. More, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, HIV/AIDS activists, researchers and doctors are
meeting in Washington, D.C. for the 19th international AIDS conference.
Much of the week-long summit will be devoted to the locus points of the
epidemic, sub-Saharan Africa. Because of the 33 million people living with
HIV around the globe, 22.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the
U.S.`s $7.8 billion in foreign assistance to the continent is focused on
alleviating the reach of the HIV crisis. Meanwhile, the Chinese government
announced this week, that it will invest a staggering $20 billion in the
African continent for infrastructure projects and agricultural development
over the next three years. Solidifying their developmental dominance in
the region. Here with me at the table is South Sudanese supermodel Alek
Wek, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Mark Quarterman, research director of the
Enough project and Michael Ralph of New York University. Mark, this
distinction as we were looking at how other nations spend money on the
continent, this idea of 20 billion coming from China in infrastructure, in
business, in profit, and with no human rights strings attached. On the
other hand, the U.S. policy, which is mostly about medical care.
QUARTERMAN: Now, this is absolutely right. This $20 billion is a
three-year program, and it`s doubled their last three-year program. Last
year, China trade hit a record of $166 billion. And China has long since
passed the U.S. as a major trading partner for Africa. But there have
been criticisms, needless to say, of China`s work in Africa, of (ph)
strings attached (ph). The concern that China is investing without regard
to human rights and has in some ways supported regimes that abuse human
rights. Also, some African leaders have pointed to China as a model of
development, where you can grow economically, rapidly without
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, the U.S. has relationships with African
regimes, but we often don`t think of them as African. So, Egypt and Libya,
and the other nations that actually do dominate our news cycle, but we tend
to think of them as Mideast regimes, not -- as well as they often think of
themselves, that way geopolitically. But they are, of course, part of the
QUARTERMAN: That`s right. And we`re talking about sub-Saharan Africa
QUARTERMAN: And China`s focus on that, and especially China`s focus
on natural resources. I mean China is an Africa to stay. And ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And to extract.
QUARTERMAN: And much of the criticism, most recently from South
African President Jacob Zuma has been that China`s relations with Africa
are not all that different from European relations in the past.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. Where they extract natural resources, oil,
minerals, et cetera, and send in inexpensive manufactured goods. By
sending out natural resources, Africans aren`t able to gain the value of
those resources by further developing them. By manufacturing them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Turning oil into gas.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. Turning oil into gas. Or turning minerals into
QUARTERMAN: And things like that. So, no, this has been a criticism
HARRIS-PERRY: So is this the opening -- Congressman Meeks, where
perhaps U.S. business and U.S. policy can say, OK, yes, of course, we
need the humanitarian work, of course, we need to address refugee crisis,
of course, we need to address the health issues around HIV/AIDS, but let`s
also develop a model for business investment that allows, for example, your
constituents in New York. African American constituents to say I want to
be part of doing something on the continent, that`s not just -- as
important as charity is, that is something in addition to the charity.
MEEKS: Absolutely. Nothing. That will cause the nations of Africa
to continue to grow. Because what we need to do is to practice -- have the
kind of investment in Africa that will also create jobs for Africans. And
what`s taking place even when you talk about China, they are bringing
masses of Chinese workers with them ...
MEEKS: So the Africans are not being employed. So, that`s why it`s
important for, example, we think that just had a bill pass out of the
Senate committee and we think we`re going to have it on the floor with
AGOA, African Growth and Opportunity act, so that they have American
businesses that are doing businesses in various countries, that are
creating jobs for Africans and teaching them so that they can then grow and
become manufacturers of their own products and thereby keep the wealth
within their own nations and what I think is also tremendously important,
and I talked to the African Development Bank, so that they can talk about
MEEKS: You know, and too often, what we had before the border
squabbles and because you didn`t want -- pure borders -- because of the
fights, can you imagine if we can then fix the border, than you could be
trading across those borders. We look at the great progress, for example,
and this is where I look for South Sudan, hopefully shortly, and Rwanda ...
MEEKS: ... which was full of crises, and you see what`s driving
businesses that are starting to take hold in Rwanda, and they are looking
now, because they are landlocked. But if suppose you had a railroad that
was taking goods and services from all over -- from Uganda to Kenya, you
know, then they will become very economically independent and also that
would cause the governmental structures to have to be put in place.
MEEKS: So I`m looking forward to having relationships,
parliamentarian to parliamentarian, so you could put those kinds of
infrastructure, and government that`s focused then on the benefits of the
people and utilizing the richness of Africa to help educate Africans on how
to help themselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have only one moment. I want to give you the last
word, Alek. If there was one thing that African-Americans should know
about Africa -- one thing that we think we know that we don`t, what would
be the one thing we should -- we should know?
WEK: I mean, I don`t think just African-American. I think just
people in general ...
WEK: ... the people from South Sudan, not just because I come from
South Sudan, they are very dignified people, refugees, not looking for
handouts. They want to be self-sufficient, just like you and I.
WEK: If anything, they contribute more to the community. And I think
it`s very sad that the whole oil situation with the north, because I`m not
into politics, but I believe politics has a lot of decision making, and the
fact that the youth are so persevering and so full of joy. I saw myself in
And I wasn`t -- you know, it wasn`t too long ago that I was, you know,
Alek Wek, 14 years old, landing in London, before I was discovered in a
park to be a model and gain a voice in fashion. And I agree 100 percent
that some way we have a social responsibility to give back. Because
whether we like it or not, we have been given. And ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I thank you for using your role and your cosmopolitan
existence to give a voice to the continent. You are going to stick around
with us, Michael. So, you are going to still be here. And thank you to
Alek Wek, thank you to Congressman Meeks.
WEK: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, thank you to Mark Quarterman. We`re going to
stop by Harlem, where everyone knows the name Silvia. That is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, we lost a legend in the passing of Harlem
soul food restaurant founder Sylvia Woods. She was 86 years old. For
years, Woods` namesake restaurant has been a must stop on the political
circuit, bringing in public figures of all kinds. Now, Sylvia`s is a
classic southern soul food cuisine. Fried chicken, ribs, cornbread.
Seriously, some of the best food in the world. And Sylvia Woods will be
missed. But her passing also gives us pause, and an opportunity to take
note of a change happening in restaurants around the country. Black
executive chefs are on the rise, and they are serving fare well beyond the
traditional southern soul food.
Recently, I stopped in on Nilton Borges Jr, he is the executive chef
at the trendy Amali restaurant on New York -- excuse me, New York City`s
Upper East Side. And his menu is riddled with fare like Pink Snapper, and
Arahova Feta, Octopus A La Plancha and other magnificent Mediterranean
cuisine, all of it with a twist. You see, Nilton is Afro-Brazilian and
part of a new generation of chefs breaking down stereotypes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And your place here on the Upper East Side is pretty
unique for a chef of color.
NILTON BORGES, JR. EXEC. CHEF, AMALI RESTAURANT: It is. And it`s
pretty unique for a chef of color I think almost anywhere in the city.
It`s very hard to see today like black chefs doing this kind of food.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me like that is in part because our
experience of wanting to dine out is wanting to consume not just a food,
not just a meal, but a whole culture. And there is this sense somehow of
authenticity. How can you authentically make this kind of food?
BORGES: I`m from Rio, I grew up by the beach, and it`s very similar
approach to the Mediterranean life. We would eat a lot of fish, and simple
preparations. I used the approach that they had towards cuisine to making
HARRIS-PERRY: Tell me a little about that. What difference does it
make to be a black chef?
BORGES: To be like an example for black chefs today, which and not
just black chefs, for immigrants and blacks and chefs period, because I
think now with the whole media approach and how celebrity chefs are, like
so it`s really people like really look at that and like, wow, like I want
to -- I want to be that as well. I want to get to that point.
HARRIS-PERRY: How -- how do we begin to think about breaking through?
So that not just the team in general, but there is racial and gender
diversity of all levels of the team?
BORGES: If you want to be successful and to grow, to work hard, and
to do your job, and don`t look back, and put your head down, one day it
will pay off. And no matter like you`re going to break the odds, and I
feel like I`m an example of it. Like came from Brazil about 11 years ago.
I didn`t speak any English. I started working as a dishwasher and started
making my way up.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s pretty extraordinary, the idea that you went
in 11 years from being an immigrant dishwasher who does not speak the
language to now having your own restaurant here on the Upper East Side.
BORGES: But there were days I thought about not doing it anymore,
because it was really hard, and you work for long hours. You don`t make no
money. And ...
HARRIS-PERRY: You stand on your feet ...
BORGES: You stand on your feet, you get yelled at -- like I`m
thankful to be in the position that I am now. And thankful for the people
that I met on my journey and that led me here, and I`m very glad that like
you know, I was able to break through.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we are cheffing it up with a little
HARRIS-PERRY: Barely a generation ago, the people who prepared the
food in America`s kitchens didn`t choose their line of work. Their line of
work was chosen for them. Under Jim Crow, the title of cook, along with
others like sharecropper, maid, busboy or a porter, was one of the short
list of positions available to black laborers, who were shut out of all but
the least desirable and lowest paying jobs. To working in a kitchen was
not a position of power or privilege, but a means of basic survival. In
1976, thanks to the lobbing efforts of the American Culinary Federation,
the Department of Labor officially upgraded the title of chef from service
occupation to the professional and managerial category. So, American`s
career cooks had finally arrived. Unfortunately, the black workers who had
long been among their ranks didn`t arrive along with them.
Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 60 percent
of chefs and head cooks are white. 18 percent are Latino, and 15 percent
are Asian. And at the bottom of that list, only nine percent of
professional chefs in the U.S. today are black. Here with me to talk
about mixing things up in the kitchen is I can`t believe it, Tiffany Derry,
executive chef and owner of Private Social, a restaurant in Dallas, Texas
and a former contestant for all of you who are obsessed, as I am with the
TV show "Top Chef," also, Syrena Johnson, who has been here in "Nerdland"
before. She is the 2011-2012 Chefs Move recipient who will be graduating
from the International Culinary Center next month. Charlotte Druckman,
contributor to the off-duty section of the "Wall Street Journal," and the
author of -- an exquisitely named book, "Skirt Steak," releasing in the
fall. And still with me, Michael Ralph, NYU assistant professor of social
and cultural analysis. Thank you all for being here. It`s really
TIFFANY DERRY, EXECUTIVE CHEF: No, thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, excuse me, I`m a little beside myself that you are
here. A little starstruck. But I want to ask you, is the pathway
different for chefs of color, particularly women of color?
DERRY: Oh, I think there definitely is. I mean just from I started
almost 15 years ago. And it was my first job. They told me no women were
allowed in the kitchen, and I couldn`t start in the kitchen, I actually
started as a server. So, now, when you look at it, even when I look at my
own kitchen, there is only two women, but it`s just a little different. It
is a little different. The struggle is different from I would say men and
I would say maybe African-Americans, just have it a little different in the
HARRIS-PERRY: No, I`m wondering a little bit, Syrena, so you -- you
know, we told you a story once before, you are a scholarship award winner
from a John Belch Foundation. You were living and working in New Orleans
and now are finishing up at the International Culinary Institute. Tell me
a little bit about your food journey, which might feel a little bit like
quite a journey, in fact.
SYRENA JOHNSON, "CHEF`S MOVE" SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT: My food journey
basically started in fast food. Like it`s similar to chef over here. Like
I started in McDonald`s, like one of the big fast food places and I kind of
gradually worked my way up into high-end places and it started -- it was a
struggle. And not many women in the kitchen and as not many black women in
the kitchen, especially so it was kind of hard and I had to work extra hard
to try to make my ranks up to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Every chef that I talked to uses the phrase hard work
over and over and over again. And I hear about the hours and the standing
on your feet and the getting yelled and screamed at in the kitchen. Is
this part of why we see a less diverse in terms of gender and race
CHARLOTTE DRUCKMAN, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think
it`s possible, but I think that when we talk about what kinds of kitchens
we`re looking at or seeing, I think culturally, we tend to talk about a
similar type of kitchen, which comes out of that French or European
tradition. Right, I mean, it`s a really specific way of structuring a
workplace and it`s -- for so long, it was considered the benchmark. And we
kind of borrowed it. Right?
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a brigade.
DRUCKMAN: And what`s interesting to me is that as diners, we have now
shown that we`re not that interested in eating that style of food or even
necessarily that sort of level of formal, you know, cuisine and experience,
but we are still holding that structure up as the example. And within that
structure, yeah, yelling is completely part for the course. You know, it
is also not welcoming to women, because if you go back to France, when that
brigade system was first put in place, women were not allowed in
professional kitchens, I mean women weren`t really allowed in professional
DRUCKMAN: So there`s that kind of -- you know, I don`t think that in
a lot of smaller restaurants that are chef owned or just in general less
formal restaurants, you will necessarily see that kind of behavior. But,
you know, I do think that if that`s the stereotype that you are looking at
as a restaurant thing, yeah, it`s not necessarily going to be fun at times.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, to your point about sort of what kind
of food we`re interested in consuming as diners, like I want to ask you a
little bit about this, because it feels like there is a kind of
authenticity piece that becomes part of the value of a restaurant when you
can say, with one things I loved about -- how you present on camera which
is just like, look I`m making fine food, but it`s also like deeply rooted
in a particular authentic tradition.
DERRY: Exactly. I call it soul food. I mean and I don`t necessarily
mean food from the south. I mean ...
DERRY: Things that you connect to. And I think in all cultures,
there is something that is a little bit southern, a little south. You know
so you -- it hits the nerve. It`s part of a home cooked food. You know,
and I tried to present that, but maybe in a different way. Maybe it`s not
necessarily just collards greens and pig feet, maybe some smothered collard
greens now that are maybe in a dumpling or something. So it is still
flavors that are existing still in the food, but maybe it`s not presented
as it used to be.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Is this part of what we`re looking for, this
kind of like culture -- like we are not just looking for good food or great
food, but we are also looking for like a cultural experience as part of it?
RALPH: I think this transformation, discussing the idea of soul food,
it`s even partly why some black chefs rejected the term all together,
RALPH: Like they would say, he`s been labeled as a hip-hop chef, and
he says, why? Because I`m black, I`m young. And I think it`s interesting,
someone like Frank Ocean who doesn`t necessarily want to be called an R&B
singer. Like the best -- the way that those label can mean when you are
doing something different or racially distinctive, when there is ways that
these artists are innovating and creative as anyone else. But I do want to
say something about the idea of the black chef. It`s kind of a long
history, actually, to the idea of the black chef in the U.S., and it even
connects to this idea of gourmet or French cuisine. But there is -- there
were really highly esteemed black chefs in the U.S. as early as the 18th
century, like in the 1700s, there was chef named Black Sam, who had a
tavern in Manhattan. And then he later went to work for George Washington,
because he was so successful as a chef. And not just as a good cook, but
he with French cuisine, because he had been a French ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to say, James Hemings, right, the brother
of Sally Hemings, who was, of course, the second wife as I like to call ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... of Thomas Jefferson. James Hemings is the reason
we have French fries in America, right? Because he was there for the French
HARRIS-PERRY: ... and brought them back.
RALPH: Exactly, and, you know, when you think about the fact that
James Hemings apprenticed with French chefs, and they were French chefs
inspired by cuisine from parts of the French Caribbean and from Africa.
You know, you could argue that possibly African cuisine and elements
influenced French cuisine, and later enriched American cuisine, so that --
there`s kind of an African element to the formation of French cuisine.
Now, just like later on it was picked up by blacks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, it`s not just there`s always this constant
feedback. No (inaudible), right, then in the south? So, I`m thinking about
New Orleans. Like the food that we eat is always French and Caribbean and
southern, all together on a single plate. Are you coming home to New
Orleans when you are done here?
JOHNSON: Of course I am.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good. And what are you planning to work in a fine
dining establishment when you come home?
JOHNSON: You know what? When they first asked me that question, just
first starting off, I would say, yes, fine dining, because I just thought
that that`s what you had to do.
JOHNSON: But now being in it, I`m like I want to learn everything of
it, but when I come back, I want to do like something like a doggie chase
(ph). I want my own thing. I want to cook my own food, I want to make
people happy. If I had a little diner with a couple of regulars every day,
that will make me happy. I don`t need magazines or people coming in,
eating my food to give me five stars for me to feel happy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I love that. Up next, we`re going to talk more
about why the enrollment by people of color culinary institutes like Syrena
is on the rise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DERRY: My mom and my dad were kind of the people who I let them try.
No, like, you need to just sweet this and do that. And I remember one of
my first things was spaghetti. I was the spaghetti queen. I would throw
chicken, sausage, shrimp, everything in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was our guest, Tiffany Derry, who is a contestant
on Bravo`s "Top Chef." It`s one of many shows that have brought American
chefs out of the kitchen into the spotlight. Pop culture`s newfound
fascination with culinary artists has exposed a broader audience of food
lovers to the culture of the kitchen, and it may help explain a bit of this
good news across the country. Enrollment by people of color in culinary
schools is on the rise. Still with me at the table, chef Tiffany Derry and
Syrena Johnson, author Charlotte Druckman and Professor Michael Ralph. Are
you a yeller in the kitchen, Tiffany?
DERRY: I just want to say that I speak a little bit louder ...
DERRY: So when you started to say I`m yelling, I`m like ...
HARRIS-PERRY: What -- but difference does it make for you? So, here
are you in the body that you`re in with the life experiences that you have,
and you are in charge of the team that is undoubtedly diverse. Do you
experience a difference in your role as a leader of the kitchen?
DERRY: Yes, I think we have different roles and I think that in some
ways, especially for women, you tend to kind of be a mother figure. You
know, that a lot of these guys have been with me for very long. And so
they rely -- I was at the hospital at 2:00 in the morning with another guy
because he was getting ready to have a baby. So, you know, there are all
of these roles and when you are in the restaurant, you are stern, and you
make sure the food is right. And you are just making sure, but there has
to be a balance. And we were talking about turnover. So, those are the
things that you have to balance. You know, how do I keep everyone happy
and satisfied, because the turnover rate in a restaurant is crazy. How do
I cope with the 12 to 15 hours, six days a week? How do you do all of these
things and stay at the top of your game? It takes a team.
DERRY: And I think that as chefs, you have to realize that, it takes
the team, I cannot do what I do without my team.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s not just your capacity to make wonderful
food, but also to manage and to lead, and all of those things. And so, we
were looking into all the numbers around the restaurant industry and it
looks like in sort of 2008, it bottomed out. But we see this kind of
interesting -- one percent or 99 percenter shift where, you know, things
like the Bennigan`s restaurants and kind of what the 99 percenters eat at
has had a tough time. But a lot of fine dining establishment are doing
terrifically. Like, really this big increase in that area of the
restaurant. Is that why folks are saying, OK, this seems to me where there
are jobs so I`ll going to get the training to go this direction?
DRUCKMAN: Well, I think which we were out to just talking about,
there is to that idea of pedigree that prevails where, you know, if you
have worked for a specific chef, who has a specific reputation, and that`s
going to help launch your career, which kind of makes sense, right? So I
think that that`s part of it. I also think that if you are looking at --
if you want to be a chef, and you are looking at who is out there, that you
can aspire to, who are you hearing about mostly? You are hearing about most
of those fine dining chefs. And even those who have checked out of fine
dining, and done other things, that`s kind of where they started. So I
think that`s a lot of why people will opt to do that. I think there`s also
just that idea of maybe I`m going to go get that education first and then I
can always mess it up later, but at least I have it. You know.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. I`ve got that on my wall. It`s part of
it`s interesting about John Besh`s foundation, the chef`s move. I want to
take a look at their mission statement, right? Because part of what he is
suggesting, is that we need in fact to take the Syrena Johnsons of the
word. Because the mission of Chefs Move! is to give New Orleanian with the
drive and ability, the opportunity to train in a world class setting,
expand their horizons perspective and then return to New Orleans to become
a leader in the New Orleans culinary scene. So now you -- so, you know,
working in McDonald`s, you have Besh as your -- as the person who will work
you through the world is that the way that we will -- you know, is that the
way that we are going to make a more diverse group of people, literally for
white men like John Besh to say it is our mission to make a more diverse
JOHNSON: I think it`s a start. I mean I`m here on this show, and
nobody knew me before this, and it`s only because I had his name behind it.
And I couldn`t have went as far as I did now because of this. It`s a big
help to me. But I think it`s a big step. Because I mean before then, I
mean, and unless you had to scramble to get money to pay for tuition, black
people really weren`t going to any kind of school. Culinary school,
anything. So it`s like with this opportunity, this was the only reason
that I was going to go to school. I never had plans to go to school. I
love to cook. Didn`t have the money, didn`t have the means and just was
going to continue to work hard until maybe somebody saw it, rise up at long
the ranks. But this scholarship was actually my claim to fame to get to
where I was right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: But then you did the work, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: ... which is always the other piece.
JOHNSON: Exactly. That`s the other half of it. Exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and then I think that`s, you know, yes, the
opportunity, but then also you did work. Like I will give you a quick word
on this. Is there something that -- should we care as diners? Should we
care who is our executive chef? Should we make our choices in par
financially, based on these kinds of issues and concerns?
RALPH: Yes, I think (inaudible) but it`s also important for us to
have a complicated idea like who is the chef, right? Because on the one
hand, the idea of training (ph) makes sense, right? A great chef can train
a chef. You know, and I think there are a lot of parallels with Syrena`s
story, right, academia is similar, right, like who is your mentor, adviser,
other fields like that. But I also think that, you know, sometimes you can
be relatively talented, right, and not have had that pedigree. And ...
RALPH: And then get connected to those networks and then, and also,
we are talking about "Top Chef," right, every season, it is like a handful
of chefs who are talented like Tiffany, right. And most you have this
training and pedigree, but then a few people don`t, but they are also very
talented. And it just -- it goes to show you that you don`t need that
pedigree, but also that, you know, when you have the chance to share those
networks, and that training expertise ...
HARRIS-PERRY: You have a responsibility.
RALPH: Yeah, and it`s a great metaphor for education as a whole.
Like give opportunity to people and then see how well they work with it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yep. More in just a minute. But first, it`s time for
a preview, weekend with Alex Witt. Hi, Alex.
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa. Thanks so much.
Well, stories, everyone, emerging this hour on what`s happening to Colorado
shooting suspect James Holmes in prison and whether he is still talking to
police. We are also hearing some compelling tales of heroism from the
Century 16 theater. At least three people died shielding their loved ones
from the killer`s bullets. And you are about to hear who some of these
In other news, this is a bizarre story, that`s a story that is really
a story with no definitive answers. Is Katherine Jackson, the mother of
Michael Jackson, missing? We are going to bring you a lot of reports on
some new developments there.
America, what are you thinking about on this July day in the year
2012? There is a new survey that suggests it is not what you might imagine.
There is a tease for you, Melissa. Back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, thank you to chef Tiffany Derry who made my day
by being here, chef Syrena Johnson, who we can`t wait to have back home in
New Orleans doing wonderful things, to Charlotte Druckman who has got a
fabulous book coming out, "Skirt Steak" and to Michael Ralph, my friend and
colleague at NYU.
Up next, five minutes in less than two minutes.
HARRIS-PERRY: With the Olympics beginning at the end of this week,
and portions of the games airing right here on MSNBC, "HMP" is going on a
little hiatus. No, don`t worry. We`ll be back soon enough, and you can
continue to get your fill of MHP on our Web site, MHPshow.com. Our next
program is on Sunday, August 12th. But for those of you who have been
generous enough to join us on the weekends here in Nerdland, since the show
launched just five months ago, we wanted to leave you with a little look at
all the fun we have had so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Last week I
asked if the name Trayvon Martin meant anything to you.
So, the question is -- are there daddy issues at play in the 2012
Who is to blame? Who did he think he was talking to? What is it that
Citizens United did?
How would this potentially impact the meaning of privacy? Has the
president done enough? Can we have it all? If the number of women in power
was greater or equal to that of men.
Let`s talk about President Obama`s mama and Governor Romney`s mommy.
If you thought you`d been to Nerdland before, if you thought how nerdy
Nerdland could be, was as nerdy if you`ve been before, you don`t know
Nerdland until you see what we can do with jelly beans and a little
arithmetic. Welcome back. Newt Gingrich or hip hop artist Kanye West? The
Romney sons, all, as you can see here, have a very nice, clean-cut image.
There is more than we can possibly fit. First lady`s fan. These
jelly beans can do whatever they want.
Make that 58,000.
To say I`m excited for my next interview just might be the
understatement of the year.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When your mother tells you, you can`t wear an
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about vaginas versus penises?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We walk into a room, and we are aware that we`re
about to catch flak.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can`t have a policy that comes out of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From a legal perspective, the answer is not
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A story of all American families.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jobs, jobs, jobs.
UNIDENTIFID MALE: You should define you based off your concept of
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a self-esteem issue for me, because I am
an example to my daughter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes just being yourself can be
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are just so many young black ballerinas
that have so much potential.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most exhilarating and gratifying thing I have
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ve never been so excited about politics in my
HARRIS-PERRY: Beyonce, call me.
HARRIS-PERRY: In three weeks, we will be coming back, refreshed,
renewed, ready for more fun and nerdiness. I hope you join us. And yes,
Beyonce, I am still waiting for that call. Coming up, WEEKENDS WITH ALEX
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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