February 17, 2013
Guest: Steven Barnett, Waldo Johnson, Matt Welch, Elon James White, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Anthea Butler, Rajiv Malhotra, Lizz Winstead, Dean Obeidallah
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, how does
anyone make the case against pre-k?
Plus, from Gandhi to King to now, what global struggles for justice have
learned from each other.
And Justin Bieber and race jokes. Yes, race jokes.
But first, we will go Twitter. I tweeted it. I meant it and I am not done
with the daddy comment from Friday.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harry-Perry.
Those of you, who follow me on Twitter, please bear with me for a moment.
You probably already know the story. But let me give the rest of you who
may not know up to date about what happened on my timeline Friday
There I was, watching President Obama back in his hometown delivering a
speech on gun violence and poverty. He was speaking at Hyde Park academy,
the Chicago high school only blocks away from the address he called home
before he moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
When the speech was especially poignant for his recognition of two audience
members, Nate and Cleo Pendleton, who was the shooting death in Chicago of
their teenage daughter, Hadiya that precipitated his visit to the city.
As I listen to what the president had to say, I was, for the most part,
nothing in approval. He offered for the refreshing expansion of our
understanding of the gun violence at plague cities like Chicago. President
Obama recognized that this particular kind of gun violence is about more
than just weapons used to commit the crimes. It`s also about poverty, a
lack of access to economic opportunity for all families.
The president proposed a multi-fascinated policy solution that goes beyond
regulating guns to also embrace a role for the government in helping to
lift struggling families out of poverty. Yes, President Obama and I were
singing the same tune, until the record scratched when he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should do more to promote
marriage and encourage fatherhood. We have single mothers that are heroic
with what they are doing. And we are so proud of them. But at the same
time, I wish I had a father who was around and involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Somehow, in the middle of a speech on gun violence and
poverty, we found ourselves smack in the middle of the president`s daddy
issues. Now, when I heard President Obama`s father detour, I thought,
well, those of you on Twitter know what I thought. Because this is what I
tweeted. Sigh, the fatherhood thing is distressing for me, President
Obama. I know you don`t mean to say single moms cause gun violence, but --
that is when my Twitter exploded.
I went to tweet a link to a 2009 article that I wrote for "the Nation"
elaborating in details my thoughts of the president`s relationship to black
fatherhood. But it was drowned out by barrage of responses from those of
you who, well, disagreed, would be putting it mildly. I heard you loud and
But I`m not sure that after reading my incomplete thoughts constraint by a
140 character limit, that you heard me. So please, allow me to finish that
I know President Obama wasn`t saying single moms cause gun violence, but
there are several reasons we need to be wary when policy makers evoke
familial explanations for structural inequalities. And here at least three
First, policy tends to be blind to the pathologist of the privileged. It`s
only families that are economically disadvantaged who are from communities
of color that becomes spectacles of concern for us. We wring our hands and
distress about single mother on Chicago`s south side living in poverty.
But allow me to remind you that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza may have been
raised by a single mom, but she was left wealthy following her divorce.
And Dylan Clevebold (ph) and Eric Harris massacred their classmates at
columbine high; both were raised in stable two parent households. As was
Jared Loftier (ph) who nonetheless drew his nine millimeter pistol on Gabby
Giffords. The recipe to stopping gun violence is much more complicated
than just add dad.
Second, to the extent the fatherlessness is the problem, there`s little the
president can or should do to create a solution. All of us who were
watching that speech felt genuine empathy for the very human moment the
president shared, on Friday, about his own fatherlessness.
And while the president does have a powerful bully pulpit, President Obama
cannot make men marry the mother of their children. He doesn`t have the
power to make men be responsible parents and by the way, we shouldn`t want
him to. Just imagine all the implications of giving the state (INAUDIBLE)
to, mock around in the choices we make about how to choose to construct our
ON second though, we don`t have to imagine. We know what happens, for
example, based on the track record of the well meaning but inequitably
implemented deadbeat dads` provision of President Clinton`s 1996 welfare
reform act which brings me to the third point.
To the extent policymakers want to encourage stable families particularly
in racialized urban communities, they could start by reforming the policies
that had contributed to the problem of male absenteeism, the war on drugs.
The aggressive incarceration of young, minority men and the rule that is
bar them from voting, living in public housing, securing educational loans
or finding work long after they served their time for non-violence drug
offense, is largely implicated in framing the fabric of the vulnerable
Closing the gap between how things are and how we wish they could be means
taking a serious and focused approach to addressing joblessness, education,
income and inequality, drug laws and sentencing practice that is keep black
and Latino men cycling in and out of prison instead of creating solid
foundations for their families.
So I hear President Obama and those of you who are calling for personal
responsibility and a desire for absentee fathers to step up to the plate.
Sure. I mean it`s a deeply, human, personal emotional reaction. I get it.
But here, we are talking about policy. And let`s be honest, a woman can do
everything right, get an education, marry before having children and can
still end up a single mom. And dads don`t have to be awful, uncaring
deadbeats to find themselves parenting from a distance.
The reality of the world we are living in right now is this. Single moms
are responsible and they are the ones raising sons and daughters every day.
Single mothers in the U.S. work more than their peers in developed nations.
Yet, 63 percent of the children living in single mother families are living
poverty. They are holding up their end of the American bargain that offers
opportunity in exchange for effort.
In response our government owes them more than hopes for a husband. They
deserve nothing less than substantive reform that gives them the tools to
raise children who can imagine a future beyond the nearest street corner.
That means health care, clean, safe and affordable housing, quality public
schools, childcare and equitable day.
Thank goodness President Obama went on to offer that more complete picture
because a crisis as pressing as our nation`s question of urban violence
deserves more than the simple suggestion that absentee fathers are the
I promise. I`ll let my panel talk when we come back after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking about President Obama`s speech on gun violence
and poverty. But specifically, the moment when he said, quote, "we should
do more to promote marriage and fatherhood."
Let`s bring in the panel. With me Cleo Muhammad, is a scholar of African-
American history and now the director of the Schomburg center for research
in black culture. And he is, also, by the way, a native of Chicago`s south
side. Matt Welch is editor in chief of "Reason" magazine and Anthea Butler
is professor of religious studies and graduate chair of religion at the
University of Pennsylvania, and Elon James White is a comedian, writer and
creator of the web series "this week in blackness, as a historical look at
race, politics and pop culture."
All right. You have heard my take panels. What is your reaction?
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I`m interested
when the president talks about his daddy issues. But this is usually
happens in front of a predominantly African-American audience. So that is
the first thing. But I think, you know, this idea that the government can
promote marriage is one that has happen before. It happened in during the
Bush administration where they went to promote marriage. And I always
think when this talk happens, that it`s a moment in which we were saying
what are you going give somebody an extra benefit because they are married?
What are you going do?
And I just think it`s really disrespectful for the people who can`t get
married for one reason or another or don`t want to be married. So to force
it, I understand what he`s trying to do. I don`t know that in practice it
works. I just don`t it does even though I think it`s a moment in which,
you know, he can come as a liberal and sort to join in with the
conservatives and I think that is always a dangerous moment too when he
tries to cross -- .
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, you know, it`s interesting because there`s - there are
these multiple President Obamas, right. There is the President Obama just
sort of doing the cultural bully pulpit, which he sometimes does in church
which feels different than like I`m here to make a policy speech. And
somehow, those things laying on top of each other felt uncomfortable to me
in this moment.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK CULTURE:
Well, it is clear that the president has always triangulated the sense of
being of the left and trying to carve out space for himself in the center.
So he has absorbed much of the rhetoric of the right of the past 40 years,
that rhetoric that gave us the politics of Reagan-nomics, trickledown
economics and trickledown racial justice.
The president`s own recipe for solution to urban and equality and the
audacity of hope really turned on this notion that liberals and civil
rights leaders have had their heads buried in the sand on the question of
the causes of poverty. If he linked those causes and poverty to actual
cultural behavior, which is the very edifies of the cultural poverty that
we have been wrestling with since the 1960s. But more importantly --
HARRIS-PERRY: I would suggest going back further.
MUHAMMAD: Yes. But to our national political discourse, it`s been front
and center. But more importantly, this is not a politics of personal
responsibility that works in the white community.
We don`t hear the president describe the structures of White Households and
the relationship between those structures of White households and the
poverty that ensues in many of those communities. We know for a fact, we
know for a fact that marriage is a dying institution.
HARRIS-PERRY: For everybody.
MUHAMMAD: For everybody. And, that, rate of children growing up in single
parent households are through the charts in white America.
MUHAMMAD: So there`s no way that he can articulate a kind of politics of
responsibility just for blacks and somehow say that he`s doing this as a
president of all the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: I guess part of what I say, though, is, you know, he did
not, in that moment, racialize, although, obviously, he is standing in a
racialized space. There is, on the one hand a critique of President Obama.
But I guess, in a certain way that is almost less interesting to me than
the critique that I experience not so much about what President Obama says,
but the reception of it.
The audience that says yes, this is what is wrong with us. What is wrong
with us is us. What we need to do is do better because if we do better,
then, everything will be all right. Because my angst there is whoa, whoa,
whoa, wait a minute. Does that then keep you from asking for the end of
the war on drugs? So that then, keeps you from asking for the things that
other communities feel free to ask for.
ELON JAMES WHITE, COMEDIAN: The way I look at it, I feel like it is a
little bit more complicated because the idea -- the reason why the audience
was so happy about it is because it is a conversation that`s happening
within the community all the time.
WHITE: And the idea of the fact that fathers are not there. I am someone
who in fact did not have my father around. And so, I understand where
that`s coming from. But what happens is, that as president, coming from
that stance, he has a lot more riding when he says it. And so, he`s saying
something, that in a lot of thing, we have heard in the church, in the
communities like over and over and over. So it is not - he is not stepping
out of that. It`s because he`s the president. And in all honesty, we
asked for him to like you should believe. Talk to everybody. So when he
does it, then all f the sudden, it was like thank you, yes. Because maybe,
if the guy that we look toward in certain parts of the community look
toward as an example, then maybe this will change how things work. And in
all honestly, I just thought that he had reached his old black person card.
Old black people say that all day long.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s true. That is certainly true. But - so, he may be
doing his Bill Cosby impression, but it matters because he`s president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
Yes. And the thing about presidents, that they are actually presidents
with chief of executives of the country. They are the president of policy,
in addition to the president of that sort bully pulpit and moral suasion.
And you are absolutely right in your set-up of all this.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Policies matter and
contribute to this and they are terrible and need to be changed. That is
an urgent, urgent problem. You have such an incredibly high percentage of
poor, minority or lower class minority or white, whoever, men who are
ensnared in the criminal justice system, of course, that is going to affect
the cultural impact, of course it does.
When you have so much prohibition, prohibition creates black markets that
are attractive to people who don`t have a lot of other choices or, you
know, they become ensnared by the fact people can chase them down. Let`s
do a stop and frisk in New York, right. So you have to address that
And then, also, look at what kind of policy that is come after these calls
about restoring the family, the policies like welfare reform which led to
this thing where the government is in the business of declaring people the
father of children of mothers they never met. This happens. This is a
surprise to a lot of Americans to hear because of welfare reform. If you
have a name that is consistent with the name of a guy that a welfare
recipient remembers meeting ten years ago, then, you might get a letter.
And I think you (INAUDIBLE).
WHITE: I got a letter one time. When I was 17 years old, my mom got a
letter for me -- about me being the father of someone. And my mom, knowing
her child said, did you get this girl pregnant. I said no, she goes I
know. And she put the letter down and kept going.
WHITE: That is the real story.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the thing is that it doesn`t necessarily just end there,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn`t.
MUHAMMAD: I want to look a little bit. Because there is some mother thing
is - I think I think part of my reaction to it is having spent the majority
of my daughter`s life, in fact, as an unmarried mom. So I always have a
little bit of this reaction.
But when we look at single moms living in poverty, we know poverty is
associated with it. But single moms, overall, 40.7 percent, almost 41
percent live in poverty except when they have full time year round work at
which point single moms only have a 14 percent poverty rate. So that is an
indication to me that this isn`t so much an issue about economic
opportunity, about the opportunity for good paying, full time, as it is
about any particular issue of family structure.
BUTLER: Yes. I absolutely agree. I think what`s happening is this, the
president`s policies of respectability blind everyone to the fact that we
should be asking about a politics for economic equality. That is something
very different because you don`t have to think about that. If you are part
of those women who work all the time, and you got enough money to take care
of your kid, you are going to be OK. But part of it is economic peace and
he is not speaking of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: No. He did.
BUTLER: But I think that also, what is that happening is everybody forgets
that piece, they don`t push him on this piece and it goes all the way back
to the respectability piece.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to show this real quick on the positive
respectability because I had this opportunity to sit down with Valerie
Jarrett. I want you to respond in parts of the kind of history of this
So Valerie Jarrett is the senior adviser to the president talking about gun
violence, particularly in Chicago. She said this about the community she
remembers growing up in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA: When I was a young
child growing up, not far from where this girl was killed, if I went down
the block and got in trouble, before I got home, my mother had heard about
it. And that comes from the community being involved and raising children.
And so, we have to partner with the local level and we have to partner with
faith based institutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the great politics and respectability narrative, the
old black folk`s card that says back when I was a kid in the community, it
was totally different. And so, somehow, we have to be able to do that
MUHAMMAD: Couldn`t be further from the truth because the truth is that as
black folks start moving into places like Chicago, the rhetoric of crime,
the stigma of shame, the thought of being a dangerous new commerce to these
communities was as virulent and viral as it is today. In fact, it shaped
the very landscape of Chicago`s neighborhoods, creating pathways to exits
those communities for white immigrants who had been previously tarnishes
with the strokes of being criminals. But the big difference is that the
very communities, this sort of community nostalgia of segregation were
itself struggling from outward forces of racism. But there`s a big
That was an era of industrialization. People had jobs. We live in the
same neighborhoods, the very same communities. My mother went to Hyde Park
academy. We are all dropping our personal story.
MUHAMMAD: The very place that he spoke at is where my mother went to high
school. She used to joke about that community and said it`s 63rd and wood
lawn is the end of the line because the elevator railroad ends right there.
But the point is that these are the same communities. Those communities
once had work. They don`t have work there anymore.
William Julius Wilson, he talked about when work disappears, the great
social science of the University of Chicago matched those very communities
and looked at the occupational structures for those communities based on
profiling a zip code. You come from a place wood lawn. You can`t get a
job as well as somebody else can, who may also be black coming from another
HARRIS-PERRY: And you think that is exactly where we will come to after
the break, which is a social science and the University of Chicago.
Because when we come back, I`m going talk to a social scientist of the
University of Chicago about the argument for marriage. Is it just a guy
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES: Happy birthday, Melissa.
Happy birthday to the amazing staffs of the "Melissa Harris-Perry" show.
You got you are doing an incredible work. There`s going to be many, many
years that I will be saying these messages in to the camera.
And Melissa, I have to say, you are probably my favorite roommate that I
have ever had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: While the rhetoric suggests that fatherhood is the answer to
a variety of problems from violence to poverty, the research tells a more
complicated story. Even families where there`s both a mother and a father
present in a home, are not immune to the forces that create a pitfall in to
poverty. The bonds of matrimony are no shield against the instability of
the labor market, wage and equality or the de-industrialization, that had
shot male workers out of the workforce.
And those are the findings of my next guest, a scholar whose research
focuses on men of color, fatherhood and families. Joining us from Chicago
is Waldo Johnson, associate professor of the center of race politics and
culture at the University of Chicago. He is also the author of "social
work with African-American males."
Nice to see you, Waldo.
WALDO JOHNSON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, CENTER OF RACE POLITICS AND CULTURE,
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Good to see you as well, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So tell me, what is it that we need to know about the role
JOHNSON: Well, there are a number of things we need to know and many of
those things we already know. We need to also put them into a broader
context. You know, fatherhood is a, in many ways, a developmental role
that even those who enter into it fully prepare to assume a lot of, many of
the responsibilities often do better at it over time in a way that perhaps
But particularly for those who enter into fatherhood somewhat unprepared
whether as a result of kind of individual failings in terms of early
transition to fatherhood as it lessens, you know, those men are most
definitely much more likely to experience a lot of difficulties in terms of
being able to uphold what are generally viewed as expectations of
fatherhood. It`s interesting because my research suggests that even among
those men who tend to maintain those same expectations for themselves still
must often must find some way to kind of re-construct their notions of
fatherhood often without a good script for doing so.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Waldo, I wanted to ask you a little bit about exactly
that question, in part, because I think, you know, part of how people
respond to President Obama is as a great dad, right. He seems to both
enjoy children, you know, that are his own and others. He is kind of a
baby whisperer, right. We have all kind of great photographs of the
president with small children.
And there`s an actual pleasure in watching the kind of performance of, I
don`t mean that in a bad way, but watching a kind of nurturing father
figure in the public figure especially among -- from an African-American
But I also wonder if there`s a kind of blaming, sort of self-blaming that
occurs if you are, for example, an adolescent father or poor father or
incarcerated father who can`t sort of do the Barack Obama, President Barack
Obama version of fatherhood.
JOHNSON: Yes. And as I was saying, I think that blaming is both kind of
self-blaming as well as kind of societal blaming. A self-blaming in that
results perhaps in some forms of kind of road to us, psychological role
strain, or maybe kind of paternal role strain that is kind of believing you
ought to be doing something that you are unable to do but not quite sure
how you go about doing it.
But then, again, there`s a larger societal kind of expectation that we have
for fathers. And I think many of the points that the panel has made in the
proceeding session kind of illustrates the difficulties with respect to
particularly those who enter into fatherhood unprepared to do so often are
But also those who go in fairly prepared. I mean, the point made earlier
with regard to the whole industrialization as really put forth a huge
challenge, you know, for men in terms of their, what may be viewed as their
major role in terms of that is being providers. So those who were
previously able to go into the labor market and get jobs with little,
fairly limited education find themselves at a real loss right now as we
have moved more into the surface economy. And I think this is no more
apparent than in the African-American community among African-American
HARRIS-PERRY: Waldo, thank you so much. I have long appreciated your work
on fathers and the complex ways you help us think about the roles fathers
Thank you for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And up next, a moment from the campaign that I am never
going to forget.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YVETTE MILEY, MSNBC VICE PRESIDENT, EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Happy anniversary to
one of my favorite shows on cable television. Oops. Melissa Harris-Perry,
congratulations to you and the entire Nerdland team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need moms and dads
helping to raise kids wherever possible. The benefit of having two parents
in the home, and that is not always possible. A lot of great single moms,
single dads but God, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they
ought to think about getting married to someone, that is a great idea.
Because of there is a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty
goes down dramatically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Mitt Romney during one of the presidential debate
last year answering a question about gun violence. If his words sound
early familiar, it`s because we heard similar rhetoric just a couple of
days ago in President Obama`s speech in Chicago.
So what are the rules about who gets to criticize single parent households?
Please welcome, a new member of my panel, attorney and NBC Latino
contributor, Raul Reyes.
So we saw this on the right all the time and boy, people went just nuts
when Mitt Romney say it.
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: It`s very interesting, you know, the context in
which people are allowed to criticize single moms. And going back to the
part of early discussion, I find this surprising because there`s just
sketches that you have say in the minority communities among African-
Americans, Latinos that when they are exposed to the largest society,
that`s when people become very uncomfortable.
But for someone like Mitt Romney whose, you know, his own legacy in terms
of family and wives, you know, is complicated. When he starts talking like
that, it confused me when I first saw it because I didn`t think it had to
do with gun violence because there are so many other aspects and much more
meaningful that contributes to it.
But lately, does seem that single moms are sort of a, not in attack point,
but just a very easy target to blame so much on single moms who are doing
so much and carrying so much weight. And yet, it`s like you said, it is
like a blame game that if only there was a dad there. It`s mystifying.
WELCH: I mean -- look, I`m a member of a two-parent household. I can
highly recommend it to individuals making that choice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. But the other one is great.
WELCH: Talking about yesterday`s sociology and yesterday`s political
discussions, I mean, this is really stuck in the age we have now, the
ability for single mothers who don`t have a life partner to say I want to
go out and find sperm and become a single mom. It`s a different household.
It is a different type of single motherhood that is out there. We have gay
households. We have all kinds of new sociology being developed. And we
are talking like we are stuck in 1974 or something like that.
So I wonder if we are sort of hitting on the stale notes looking backwards
and not recognizing the world in front of us changed dramatically.
REYES: But it`s not stale because those households still fight for
inclusion in other ways.
REYES: Many people know someone with two mommies or non-traditional
families. But those kids, even in urban areas, even in more cosmopolitan
area, they still go through daily struggles or slight. It is not the
HARRIS-PERRY: And I feel like we have to separate out the emotional piece.
This is President Obama saying I wish my father had been there, right. And
I agree with you. You are being married to a man I love who is fantastic
in helping to raise a child who is not biologically his, I am for it. When
it works, it`s great.
But that said, right, when we are talking about the outcomes of children
emotionally how they feel whether or not daddy thing for the rest of your
life, that is different than what we think of as the outcomes, right. And
when we look at the outcomes, there are much more related to issues of
poverty than they are to issues of two-parent households.
So the question how we lift people out of poverty, not how to get people
BUTLER: Exactly. And every time the conversation, the only thing that
struck me is that, I always feel is when we talk about single, you know,
single parent families, it`s almost the blame of the mom, right. And that
is sort of the shame game if you can`t have a husband or something.
Where the real thing we should do is how are we going lift you up so you
have the kind of job you need, the kind of childcare you need so that you
and your -- as a single parent, you and your child can succeed or how many
children you have. It is this -- the really tough thing about sort of
sacrificing a father in a different kind of way than you sacrilege a
And I think that`s the whole kind of push/pull that`s going on here because
I really didn`t like it when Romney said it because it just was so -- if
you are a single mom your kid is going to have a gun and go out and shoot
somebody. It is just not true.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It is just not accurate.
MUHAMMAD: It`s also the retrograde element of the right or the Republican
Party that found Romney in the same context talking about binders for the
women. There is, within that party, and those who hold these conservative
values, they sense women should not be outside of the home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay in your binder.
MUHAMMAD: Right, stay in your binder. So if you are at home, you are able
to provide that uncompensated household labor, that will - and guarantees
these positive outcomes. There`s a larger construct here that comes out of
the Christian right, out of the evangelical movement that produce the kind
HARRIS-PERRY: And of course, the only good stay at home mom is one whose
husband is providing all the income in the household, right. Because if
you are a stay at home mom who is poor who needs the assistance of
government in order to be able to stay at home with your kids.
MUHAMMAD: That is not OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: But right. You should not be able to stay home. You should
have to go to work right away.
WELCH: Let`s recognized that paternalism and maternalism. But paternalism
is a bipartisan affair as we have seen from Obama`s own remarks here as you
said life of Julia. She, her whole life, was sort of taking care of her or
buffeted in some ways by government intervention. And it is particularly
when that paternalism is directed towards lower income, lower class
communities that we should really get our hackles up because there`s a lot
of kind of nasty history with it.
REYES: But I think it`s directed, I mean consciously or unconsciously,
just toward women in general. And even with Mitt Romney, he spoke several
times how proud he was that he never had a nanny, never had household help.
So his wife was raising five kids all by herself.
And I mean, I don`t know their family business, but I think, why not have
let her have someone to help her out. Five kids is a lot.
REYES: It was almost like he was saying this is your job. You do the
woman`s work and you stay busy. You know, it happens in affluent families
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to give you the last word.
MUHAMMAD: To bipartisanship, I mean, let`s think about some of the things
the president held on to, right. So if we talked about it, right, we are
shifting this country since the 1980s just around welfare policies, the
escape-goating of single black women, the president is also evoking this
faith-based initiative construct which is simply says where he sites in the
speech giving support to churches like Apostolic so that they can do the
work they do which is very much at the heart of tapping into the social
conservatism within the Africa-American community that on one hand,
silences the experiences of same-sex or gender loving people and at the
same time is a community that is very quick to grasp on to this personal
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate you bringing that up because it was an
amazing speech that did a lot of really important progressive work in terms
of thinking about the economic connections. But it also has this
complicated web that leaving through it that is part of this conservative
narrative. And I also feel somehow like I should just tell my dad I love
him because he really is great.
OK, up next, sticking with the theme of family and what our kids need of
the number seven factors in to the pre-k debate.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Thursday, the president was in (INAUDIBLE) Georgia where
he visited a public preschool that he cited as a role model for early
childhood education. President Obama made that stop at College Heights
early childhood learning center, in part to promote one of the proposals he
made in the state of the union address, to make preschool available to 4-
year-old from moderate to low income families, which brings me to the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Every dollar we invest in childhood education is save $7 later on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, seven is the number that comes from the study done by
novel-Lord James Heckman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago
who found, that in fact, for every dollar spent on early childhood
development, there`s a seven to ten percent return per year on that early
And that return isn`t just monetary. Without high quality early childhood
intervention, at-risk children are 25 percent more likely to drop out of
school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 60 percent more
likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested
for a violence crime. That is at least according to one summary of
research cited by the center for American progress.
Yet, even with such compelling statistics, only 28 percent of all 4-year-
old`s in the country were enrolled in state financed preschool programs
last year. And only five states in the union have a mandate to offer
preschool to all 4-year-ols. Those in need aren`t necessarily who you
might think due in part to federally funded programs like head start.
Those going without early childhood education are mainly in the lower,
middle class. That is 34 percent of children in families that earn $50,000
to $60,000 a year that are in preschool programs compared to 42 percent of
children in families earning less than $10,000 less annually that are in
Yet, the president`s proposal is aimed at children from families at or
below 200 percent of poverty. And that brings me back to the number seven.
Right now, for every single dollar that the federal government spends on
the nation`s kids, the government is spending $7 on our elderly. Taking
into account the sequester cuts looming March 1st will consider if the
federal dollars and political will are available to make the president`s
proposal reality. And that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: To get them to that right early start, every dollar that we spend
on that, saves $7 down the line, it increases the high school graduation
rates and reduces the crime rates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was senior White House advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who I
had the opportunity to speak with on Friday. And in our conversation, she
echoed the research which touts the benefits of early childhood education.
The question is now, how do we pay for it.
According to the Center for American Progress providing preschool for all
three and 4-year-olds would cost the federal government about $98.4 billion
over the existing spending levels over a ten-year period. But with $1.2
trillion is sequestration cuts on the horizon had start, the current
federal program offer in preschool education to low income families would
lose $406 million in funding in the 2013-14 school year. That means
200,000 children would lose out on the program according to the head start
association. And those cuts would be a huge slash to what is already a
decade of funding for head start.
Joining our table is Steven Barnett, the director at national institute for
early education research at Rutgers University where his research focuses
on the economics of early child care and education.
All right. So first nerd question, we think we know there`s a $7 return in
all of this. But a lot of that comes from observational studies. We look
at kids in head start or preschool and kids not -- talk to me about what
the random assignment shows us. What do those studies tell us?
STEVEN BARNETT, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR EARLY EDUCATION: Well,
that, the $7 figure is actually from both kinds of studies. So there are
randomized trials that show $7 or more returns just as there are simple
observational studies. There`s actually two randomized trials that is have
benefit cost analysis. One of them is not as high as seven, it`s in the
two to three two one range. But there are many, many things - many of the
benefits of the preschool. We can`t put a dollar value on it. I know
that`s my job as an economist, but if your kid doesn`t have an abortion as
a teenager, that is important, but I can`t put a dollar value on it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So if you don`t go to jail, if you don`t end up
pregnant when you don`t mean to, all of those things have some kind of sort
of social good on the back end but we don`t know if it`s a $10 social good
or $20 social good.
But Matt, you actually are a bit of a skeptic on some of these questions of
early childhood education, at least, of this kind of pre-k.
WELCH: Well, I`m having a 4-year-old daughter, right. I have skin in the
scam. I would have -- my bank account would love for there to be
universally good pre-k education in where I live and there`s not. And so,
But one of the seven numbers that you reference is actually pretty pursuant
here which is the $7 for the elderly versus one for the kids. That is the
fact of our budget situation now, long term.
The reason why we have sequester cuts is we are supposed to look toward the
fiscal stability which we kind of are not anymore. So that money that we
are promising to seniors by when they turn 65 regardless of their sense of
need for it is crowding out everything else. That, plus the debt service
on our recurring deficits.
So we have to think about these are competing against one another. So I
mean, if you want to have all the spending on education. The other thing
is we have been spending a lot of money on education in K-12 to not very
good results over the last four years. We have more than doubled the per
student, per capita, adjusted for inflation spending in K2-12 and results
are flat. So why do we think we are going magically have better results
for pre-K, I`m not convinced.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, this is the claim on the right. Well, your
K-12 is a mess, right? Why should we now push it back even to 4-year-olds?
BUTLER: Well, I think we should push it back a little bit more because it
does have some other kinds of effects. One this is, if we think about
those single mothers we talked about before, if your kids are in school at,
you know, three, four and five, and that freeze you up to be able to go out
into the work force. That is one thing. So you know where the child is.
The second is that, I think it helps them to socialize. If you aren`t able
to get your kids in early, those language skills don`t happen. There are
kinds of things, if you are reading faster, the comprehension. So all the
problems that I`m dealing with when they get to college, you know,
hopefully they can start to work on those a lot earlier, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it right? Does pre-k help to generate a set of social
skills as well sort of individual skills like reading and math consciously?
BARNETT: Absolutely. A good preschool program you learn to think before
you act. That`s a really important skill for staying out of jail. It`s an
important skill in school. It`s important in the job market to learn how
to get along with other people, to solve a problem.
Both of us want to play with this truck. There`s the solution that the big
kid takes it away from the small one or is there another way?
HARRIS-PERRY: That Hobbs is the solution to it.
BARNETT: Well, and Hobbs is right. Hobbs is right. That is basically hat
preschool is about. We need to teach kids all of the skills that they need
very early on to succeed in school, to succeed in life. And some of them
are reading math, science. Some of them are taking personal responsibility
and getting along with others.
HARRIS-PERRY: Raul, it sounds so reasonable even despite sort of our
fundamental spending problems. And yet, my bet is we are going to have a
hard time forming any kind of bipartisan movement toward this.
REYES: I agree, unfortunately. And complicating these matters is, I
think, that changing composition of who is in the public schools. I think
right now, roughly I say, one in four people, kids in the public schools k-
12 is Latino. And that number is going to grow from this point on. And
right now, Latino children, three or four, they access pre-k in much and
lower levels than their counter parts, African-Americans and whites. And
so, the language abilities, they do matter. That is because many of these
kids are coming from homes where Spanish is spoken predominantly or the
parents are very overworked and cannot give them a lot of the care that
they need at home.
But I think that is going to be the political challenge to convince
everyone that we need to, you know, support this and contribute to this
when they there`s a tendency to look at those kids as the others lie, you
HARRIS-PERRY: We have to figure out if we can convince Matt first.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Steve Barnett. I really appreciate you coming
in and sharing your research with us.
More with Raul, Matt and Anthea in the next hour.
And coming up, race talk far beyond black and white. Also, the color of
comedy can raise joke push the envelope without pushing out button. There
s More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR, THE LAST WORD: Congratulations Melissa
on a year of making TV smarter. Now, could you dumb it down just a little
bit so the rest of us could seem smart, too? Is that asking too much?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Christianity theology was the touch stone for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.`s
political ideology. But King`s Christianity was neither narrow nor
inclusive. It found common purpose throughout the world, most critically
with Mahatma Ghandi, the anti-colonial activist and philosopher who led
India to dependence from Great Britain through non-violent direct action
After his 1959 trip to India, 11 trips after Ghandi`s assassination and 54
years ago this month, Dr. King wrote in the essay, "My Trip to the Land of
Ghandi," "We were looked upon as brothers with the color of our skins ass
something of an asset. But the strongest bond of fraternity was the common
cause of minority and colonial peoples in America, Africa and Asia
struggling to throw off racialism and imperialism."
But it wasn`t just a feeling of brotherhood and unified objective, Dr. King
experienced a real sense of purpose and strategy. Here`s another passage
from the essay: "The trip had a great impact on me personally. It was
wonderful to be in Gandhi`s land to talk with his sons, his grandsons, his
cousin and other relatives. I left India more convinced than ever before
that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to
oppressed people in this struggle for freedom."
Joining me now to talk about this different type of black/brown coalition
is Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research
and Black Culture.
Also, Matt Welch, editor in chief of "Reason" magazine.
Anthea Butler, religious studies professor at the University of
And Rajiv Malhotra, who is the founder of Infinity Foundation.
And the last time that you were here told me that you were working on a
book on exactly this topic of how African-American history and the story of
India relate and interconnect with one another. Talk to me a little bit
RAJIV MALHOTRA, INFINITY FOUNDATION: Well, Gandhi started his struggle in
Africa. And his model was a Hindu model. And Martin Luther King`s model
was Christian. But both of them converged on the idea of non-violence to
resist against oppression.
So one of the interesting questions is, what if these were applied today,
in the struggles today which have turned violent? What if non-violence
were used rather than violence today?
In their respective struggles, also, there were so many factions and so
many pressures from other groups to make violence the method, and these two
men were great enough to resist that.
So I think there`s a lesson from their common history and also the African-
American experience in this country has been very important in the creation
of non-white identities as a kind of opening door for others. The civil
rights movement led to others being able to migrate, because Immigration
Act followed soon after the Civil Rights Act, which why is most Indian
Americans, like me, are able to come to this country.
So while the African-Americans have very little successfully created a new
identity, a positive identity, and not sort of confused about are we white
or not white, but we are positive as to who we are, I think Indian-
Americans are still new in this country and haven`t done that.
There`s still the Bobby Jindal syndrome that says, well, I`d rather be
white, and then there`s the other type who says, well, if I have enough
money and I make it materially, then I don`t need to worry about these
So the real project of being distinct and American at the same time in a
multicultural set up is something that Indian-Americans have yet to start
in a serious way.
HARRIS-PERRY: As I was reading it and trying to think through this,
Khalil, I was just, once again so struck by how many interconnections. You
bring up the fact that Gandhi was in South Africa. But not just that, but
it was a train case. It was being thrown off of a form of public
transportation, which is, of course, also at the core of both the Plessy v.
Ferguson case here in this country which determined separate but equal, but
also, of course, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott that ultimately
brought Dr. King to the floor as a civil rights leader.
MUHAMMAD: Yes, I think it`s important to recognize in the world that was
defined by colonialism in the early 20th century, black and brown people
didn`t have to read each other`s works to come to a common understanding
that humanity was being oppressed. And that it took certain moments,
context individuals to muster the courage not just to learn from examples
around the world, but also to test those ideas.
And so, even before King, James Farmer and Byron Rosten (ph) had study`s
Gandhi`s efforts in South Africa and later in India and were actually
King`s tutors on this issue, because they started those efforts through
core in the North as early freedom fighters testing desegregation or really
expanding integration outside of the South, long before it became known as
the "Southern Civil Rights Movement".
So that just to me demonstrates how long the effort for anti-colonialism
had been unfolding over the course of the 20th century, since we know it
begins in the late 19th century.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we have -- we have the deep history. We have the
potential of sort of continuing engagement. This president, President
Obama, part of what I found so fascinating, and I continue to find
fascinating about him, is the extent to which he is truly a cosmopolitan
citizen of the world. Chicago may be home. But he`s all of these other
His first state dinner here in the U.S. was with India. And, in fact, we
also know that he and the first lady traveled to New Delhi and were there.
There continues to be a possibility of developing this understanding of
both anti-racism and anti-colonialism or anti-imperialism.
How do we build the international cosmopolitan of imagining our struggle?
BUTLER: I think on this side of America, it`s helping our students sort of
realize that this history is here. And I`m teaching Martin and Malcolm in
America right now. And we just got through this whole piece on (INAUDIBLE)
and how this is in Martin Luther King`s thinking.
I think people tend to see that there`s like this -- they see a separation.
What I want them to see is this togetherness, because now, going forward,
the same movements are happening, whether we`re talking about Tibet monks
or others, talking about non-violence, how these movements have progressed
and the same principles of Gandhi they have gone forward. What we do need
to focus in on now that there`s another way to do this and that way is non-
violent protest. And I think that`s an important piece especially in
America, because I think we think about protest as having some violent
component to it, and that makes a difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: It seems to me also, Matt, that there`s an interesting
narrative with these men that connects back to our earlier conversation
about personal responsibility, because they were also both men who thought
a great deal about their personal individual life choices, but in a more
political way rather than this sort of narrow amorality.
WELCH: If you go back to the letter from Birmingham jail, which is, you
know, one of our great American documents, it`s really a blueprint that
people have used all around the world ever since, including fighting
communism in the 1980s, it talks about the four necessary preconditions to
And two of them are underrated or under-looked at, I think, are self-
purification, which I think probably taken directly from Gandhi on some
WELCH: -- where you really have to say I am driving all impure thoughts
from my mind and motivations and I`m become cure. But it`s also the
gathering of facts, right?
I am going to not just try to find the person on the other side who is a
monster. I`m not just going to go against Bull Connor, I`m going to go
against the accommodationist, white preachers who are saying, you are going
a little bit too fast, right?
So go out there and engage with that and get the facts totally on your
side, and then it`s going to give you a certain moral authority going
forward. And people have picked up on that all around the world. We see
today in the Arab world, the Arab Spring picked up on a lot of the same
currents of the charter revolution movement in the `80s, which were direct
descendent from civil rights and on from Gandhi. It`s really amazingly
MALHOTRA: So he said, be the change you want to see in others.
MALHOTRA: Be the change so you have to start with yourself. And that`s
the purification part of what you just mentioned.
I think another aspect, which we shouldn`t forget is besides the
disobedience from a political level, there was also this decolonizing the
intellectual epistemology. Gandhi wrote a book called "Hind Swaraj," which
means the liberation, the freedom of his nation 100 years ago, in 1909 or
so. And that was his blueprint critiquing British system of thought.
MALHOTRA: British paradigm, framework. He was accusing his countrymen
becoming soldiers for the British army and civil servants of the British
empire, and they were the ones who are firing bullets and enforcing all the
British laws against Indians.
So this is also an intellectual result. That`s right, in popular culture,
we like to say free your mind, you behind will follow.
Stay right there. We are going to stay on exactly this issue of how we can
be part of making progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY REID, THEGRIO.COM: Melissa, congratulations on your one year of
Nerdland. Love being on the show and getting a chance to host the show.
And, by the way, I`m also a fan. The MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY show is on the
weekly DVR at the Reid`s household, alongside "Scandal" and "The Walking
Dead" and "Downton Abbey". That`s high praise. And LL says
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and we`re talking about how anti-colonial
movements, anti-racist movements and the continuing struggles are, in fact,
an international and global phenomenon from which we can all learn from one
Rejoining our panel is NBC Latino contributor Raul Reyes.
Khalil, you want to jump in on this?
MUHAMMAD: Sure. I wanted to say that part of the problem in moving
forward and learning from this history is actually challenging the
metanarratives of the past, to decolonize history. And Rajiv has talked
and written about this.
And just to talk a little bit about Schomburg, I mean, Schomburg is
currently celebrating an underexplored, unknown history of the
relationships between Africans coming from Eritrea, from Ethiopia, from
Somalia, beginning in the 14th century, all the way to the 20th century,
named as Habesh (ph), as well as Siddi (ph), people recognize as Africans,
who rose to be architects, city builders, soldiers, sailors, who really to
this day are responsible for shaping the landscape of the subcontinent.
And so, that`s part of telling this larger story of people who have been
colonized who were before the colonization period able to craft and create
humanistic enterprises. But also, in this contemporary moment, I think one
of the things King says on that trip is he makes a pointed critique of the
bourgeoisie. And he says the bourgeoisie, white, black and brown, behave
the same, the world over.
MUHAMMAD: So the challenge moving from that anti-colonial moment, that
moment of transition and transformation to a world where the colonials were
in charge or should say the indigenous people in charge is a problem of
recognizing what must be done, what must be undone in order to make the
world a better place.
And he talked about the untouchables. He said in India, the problem was
caste. In America, it was segregation. It was the same problem and we did
not want black people to inherit that system.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this -- you know, I think -- what I like about you
bringing us to that is that intersection, right, part of what I heard you
saying is that there is a story to be told about African-American
development of identity and politics and ideology moving together. I think
it`s a story that in part we`re seeing as Latino communities who from all
different parts of the world nonetheless develop a sort of overarching
identity that Latino in the U.S.
But at the same time, doing it without falling into the trap that the
racial or ethnic or linguistic identity is itself sufficient, right, and
remembering that we have to have that intersectional connection with gender
and with class and with all these other identities. Otherwise, we are
going reproduce the same hierarchies.
REYES: One thing I feel that we have seen in the Latino community,
particularly among the younger people, the DREAMers, is that they are
noticing we are stronger as a coalition. It`s been interesting to me,
sometimes I have been at some of these rallies or events, I see these
activists, these DREAMers and they`re carrying signs with slogans from Dr.
King. And I mean, that is sort of a new phenomenon. That now, it`s not
often that the younger generation is willing to look back an entire
And in the past, I think sometimes Latinos and African-Americans have had
this pointless argument about like, well, our struggle is the real one and
you`re different. I think now, the younger generation recognizes that we
are stronger together. And that`s the results of the election prove it,
you know? And also partnering with the -- you know, gay and lesbian
community in order to move forward.
MALHOTRA: As white Americans become a minority, which is about to happen
in a few decades, but we have to change the discourse from we blacks, we
Hispanics, we Asian-Americans to we people of color and create a new
America, a new kind of America. I don`t call it the post-American century
like Fareed Zakaria. I call it the new American century.
MALHOTRA: Which means there`s an opportunity to create a new nation, which
is not built on your Eurocentric history, Eurocentric ideas and
philosophies and world view and politics and all that. So this
HARRIS-PERRY: But in order for that to happen, we have to be reading one
HARRIS-PERRY: So I heard Khalil on the one hand saying we didn`t have to
read one another`s works to see that sense of solidarity. But on the other
hand, to actually read the letter from the Birmingham jail, to actually
engage with the writings of not just the quotes of King, but the writings
of King, the writings of Mahatma Gandhi.
MALHOTRA: Yes. So the infrastructure in terms of institutions,
conversations, forums, to bring people of color together --
MALHOTRA: -- in anticipation of the time when we will actually be the
majority and we have to not talk as minorities anymore. We will be the
majority, that conversation shift has yet to happen, because I think we are
thinking in terms of separate groups. And the institutional mechanisms
need to be brought about in more forums like this, very few forums like
this where it`s actually cross-cultural.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, Matt, it does to me as the one white guy at the
table, I`m going to address you on this.
You know, it does seem to me that part of the reason we have seen the --
sort of a movement towards what you might call the Bobby Jindalism is
because whiteness continues to carry privilege, right? So regardless of
whether or not there`s a numerological minority, where in fact, America
starts to looks more like this table than like tables on other Sunday
morning shows, nonetheless, whiteness carries with it a set of residual
cultural and economic privileges that still make it valuable for any of
these individual groups to want to be as proximate to whiteness as
WELCH: I mean, you can call it whiteness, or you can call it some kind of
ill-defined American-ness with Barack Obama is right in the middle of that.
I mean, he`s as American as it gets, even though his name is Barack Obama.
WELCH: And, yes, there`s always going to be sort of a dominant cultural
I think one of the interesting questions, as part of your -- what your
project is talking about is what happens after the revolution, right? What
happens after you fight against actual serious oppression? It`s a
different thing there.
I mean, one part of you says I want to hold on to this kind of cohesiveness
and this identity here. And the other part is then struggling like what do
we do now? We are more of a plurality or a majority type of thing. And I
think part of that project has to be and it`s difficult and I just have to
say every activist group, it has to be accepting that your own ranks have
more of heterodoxy than you think.
WELCH: I mean, the great thing in America right now, not as a value
judgment, but as a large thing is that we are all becoming way more
hyphenated, like we don`t want to be defined as Republican or Democrat or
conservative, liberal, progressive, as much. We are crazy hyphenated,
So how do you fit kind of a sort of identity or community based politics
within that. It`s difficult and it sometimes gets really ugly.
MUHAMMAD: Can I say there`s a danger here in seeing our demographics shift
and our actual rainbow diversity from the real politics of the world that
we live in and privilege and structure and power? I want to sort of see
the world through the eyes of Harold and Kumar.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right.
WELCH: Is that legal?
MUHAMMAD: It is legal. There`s no marijuana.
Because it demonstrates how conscious we are of identity politics and
playing on these stereotypes. One of the scenes of that movie, "Harold &
Kumar Go to White Castle", is you have an Asian-American John Cho playing
the Asian stereotype as well as Kumar as Kal Penn playing the Indian-
And the opening scenes, the two white guys at work trying to figure out how
to go party because one of them has a lot of work to do. So one of them
comes up with this brilliant idea. He said, let`s go give the work to the
Asian guy. They walk over to Harold and they say, you guys, you Asian guys
love crunching numbers. And then, say, we just made your weekend.
I mean, this notion that that is actually post-racial.
MUHAMMAD: That somehow, you know, he`s at work --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes, yes.
MUHAMMAD: He`s embedded in this larger American culture of obviously of
high finance, and yet and still it really teases the part of stereotypes
that undergird that. And so, the category I think that Matt was talking
about is a category of honorary whites.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: And that`s the danger, is that we think we are all operating on
the same --
HARRIS-PERRY: Khalil, what I love about that is that our next segment are
on race jokes. And somehow you totally made that transition for me.
Thank you to Khalil and Matt, Raul and Rajiv.
And up next, yes, that`s happening. Did you hear the one about the black
comedian thrown off stage at the Republican Leadership Conference? I swear
I`m not joking -- except I`m joking. We`re going to be joking. Stay with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Melissa, I was thinking about your anniversary.
And you are right. It`s right around Valentine`s Day. So I want to thank
you for bringing more of the love to our weekend lineup. Plus, you get to
sleep in a little more on Sundays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When we talk about race, we tend to speak with serious
overtones. That`s right. Joking about race is -- well, no joke. But we
tend to do it, often with a tinge of nervousness, depending on our
audience. And there can be a fine line between being funny and being
offensive as we found out when we went into the vault.
For a look back, but not too far back at the 2011 Republican Leadership
Conference, Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown was there to entertain the
crowd. He was pulled off the stage after telling racially themed jokes.
Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REGGIE BROWN, OBAMA PERSONATOR: A few months back, the family and I took a
nice, relaxing vacation in the state of my birth, Hawaii. Or as the Tea
Party are still calling it, Kenya.
My favorite month is February, Black History Month. You see, Michelle, she
celebrates the full month and, you know, I celebrate half.
My father is a black man from Kenya and my mother was a white woman from
Kansas. So yes, my mother loved a black man and, no, she was not a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I hope we get to keep our show after this next segment
because we are going to ask, did you hear the one about Justin Bieber up on
"SNL" doing his Black History Month thing? Tips from a white Canadian on
how to tell a race joke. That is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Saturday, pop star Justin Bieber took center stage on
NBC`s "Saturday Night Live." And he wasn`t just the musical act. He was
pulling the rare "SNL" double duty of hosting and singing.
And as all things done by the Biebs are, the gig was highly anticipated.
Which songs was he going to sing? What would he wear and how would he do
in his monologue?
Well, he sang nothing like us, he dressed like vanilla ice and his
monologue went like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN BIEBER, POP STAR: What is your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sophie.
BIEBER: Sophie, you sexy, you know you`re sexy. Did you also know that
Phyllis Wheatley was the first black woman to publish a book of poems?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s real good, JB. That`s real good.
BIEBER: Is that ever progress? Girl, you are driving me crazy. But id
you also know that Denzel Washington invented the peanut?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think that was true. But let`s just move on to
the next girl.
BIEBER: Did you know that black folks invented the Kwanzaa?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that`s barely a fact, JB. I think everyone
assumes that one, but here you go (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The Biebs, the lily white Canadian, made a comic on
America`s black History Month and it worked. Or at least the live studio
audience thought so.
With me now, the hilarious comic, co-creator of "The Daily Show" and author
of "Lizz Free or Die," Liz Winstead; comedian and co-director of "The
Muslims are Coming", Dean Obeidallah; also, University of Pennsylvania
professor, not a comic, but usually good for a one liner, Anthea Butler;
and incomparable funnyman who always gets me just a little bit nuts, Elon
James White, who is host of "This Week in Blackness".
All right. It is 2013. Can we tell race jokes? Is race funny?
DEAN OBEIDALLAH, "THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING": I think you can. I think
obviously the rule for comics is you can make fun of your own, and there`s
no problems with that. It`s when you start making fun of other groups.
But to me, really, the test should be, it should be if you`re demonizing or
being playful. I think we know the difference when someone is being funny
and having a good time or we`re all in a joke, or they are intentionally
trying to demonize or stereotype someone in a negative way. To me, that`s
when there should be some lenity.
LIZZ WINSTEAD, "LIZZ FREE OR DIE" AUTHOR: I mean, I was -- respectful, you
know I love you. When ever you say the rule, I always get a little bit
WINSTEAD: I think you can talk about whatever you want. I have said this
a million times. You talk about whatever you want and you understand that
once something passes your lips, it is for all to judge. And your
intention is thrown out the window.
There are jokes that are amazing about race, maybe someone uses a buzz word
and they do not hear the higher context. Maybe you`re trying to point out
some social injustice or something, but they hear a couple words and they
won`t let go there.
And so, I think you just do what you think is the best joke and own it.
WHITE: See, I follow the rule of who is the victim in the joke. That`s
mine. I`m not saying that should be the rule.
But I`m going to make sure, I`ll go anywhere as long as like I`m not
putting down someone or a group that`s already constantly being put down in
general. And so, then at that point, I feel like a joke works completely.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mocking the powerful is more funny than mocking the
WHITE: Right. And like the Justin Bieber thing, I thought that was
hilarious because it`s playing on the jokes of, oh, wait, America really
doesn`t know much about black folks at all, the black (ph) is weird. The
lily white kid going trying to around throw that in there. That`s
hilarious. No problem with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So one of my favorite like make fun of the relatively
powerful, and yet, I`m wondering just like, does this work?
So I`m going to show you -- I love Wanda Sykes. I`m obsessed with Wanda
Sykes. So there`s this moment when she`s talking about black hair and I
thought I`d come to you on this, because we`re about to do the University
of Pennsylvania kind of black hair symposium in two weeks.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let`s listen to Wanda Sykes on black hair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: You`ve ever seen a biracial kid and white mother
that has no idea what to do with the hair, so the hair is just all matted
up and never been combed and lint and car keys and Q-tips all in (EXPLETIVE
SYKES: Find a black friend. Take your child to a black beauty parlor,
just (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drive-through the hood and stick her head out the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We love it. Black hair is full of pain and angst for us.
It`s a great moment.
BUTLER: It`s a great moment. I call it constructive humor. It has sort
of a purpose under it. You know, it`s funny and everybody laughs because
we know somebody like this. But at the same time, it`s like just take the
kid somewhere, OK? You know?
So I think that`s the kind of humor -- the way you deliver has -- makes a
very difference about it. So you know, if there`s malice underneath, and
if she took a different turn about that, then everybody would say, oh,
you`re talking biracial kids horribly, et cetera, et cetera.
But when you take the funny tone and you know how to do the delivery, I
think that changes everything about it.
WINSTEAD: I think, too, when we feel uncomfortable about jokes about race,
oftentimes, it`s unclear what the intention is. Why are you talking race
in the first place?
WINSTEAD: Why is it even existing in your act? And when somebody -- when
there is that intention behind it, you don`t even think about it, you just
enjoy the joke. It`s when you don`t, you analyze.
WHITE: But at the same time, I know folks who would be mad at that joke.
HARRIS-PERRY: They are mad right now.
WHITE: They said, I don`t understand why they like that. Listen, I`m a
white mother with a black child and I do her hair just fine. Calm down.
OBEIDALLAH: The joke has a potential to offend somebody. So everyone goes
on Twitter, it`s full outrage and use all capital letters like oh my God.
OBEIDALLAH: And as comics, either we`re going to give in to that and do
cookie cutter comedy, never push up against any kind of sensibility about
race, homophobia, Islamophobia and give into that, or we`re going to keep
pushing and pushing.
OBEIDALLAH: And I agree with Lizz absolutely when she says, you know, we
can say whatever we want. The consequence of your act, and I agree with
that. I think everyone has absolute freedom of speech, even the racist and
the Klan. But then they should be marginalized to the fringes of society.
Same with the comics who are homophobic and racist and Islamophobic saying
horrible. They can say it, but then push them on the edges.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I think of my dad who was himself sort of a civil
rights guy and activist, and he loved Archie Bunker. Like he just could
not stand to miss Archie Bunker because watching the performance of that
version of racism was himself a kind of cathartic and funny moment.
WINSTEAD: And my dad was Archie Bunker.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is different.
WINSTEAD: It`s weird and I write in my book about his favorite show is
"Def Comedy Jam".
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, wow.
WINSTEAD: And he would watch it at night and love it for wrong reasons.
WINSTEAD: And I was like wow. This is this funniest thing on TV. I`m
never going to be a black man so I`m never going to be as funny as these
guys on TV to my dad. And it was problematic to me.
BUTLER: I wonder, too. I`m thinking about, you know, like Richard Pryor
and Redd Foxx, they had tons of problems today because all the jokes made
me like, oh, (INAUDIBLE) racist, but they had this element of truth in
there. Every joke has something -- a little bit of truth in it even if
it`s a harsh truth. There`s truth.
And that`s why the joke either works or it doesn`t work compared to that.
So I just wonder, have we gone to the point where we can`t make these kind
of jokes because every time, you make a joke, something is going to happen.
WINSTEAD: Or are we so narcissistic that if it`s not your personal truth,
that you refuse to see the greater truth in it.
WHITE: Well, here is the thing, what you are saying is -- we basically
have gotten to that point. So at this point, if you talk about anything,
there`s always going to be some group that might be touched by that thing
At that point, if that group says, you said this thing and don`t
acknowledge what that might mean, I`m like, well, I do. I understand it.
But I`m speaking from this perspective. Does it matter? You are now
banned by that group and you have to apologize.
And at some point, you have to go, all right, listen, I`m not apologizing,
OK? The fact is this joke is the joke. I -- if you are bothered by it, I
accept you are bothered by it. But you have to understand that this is
still part of my truth. I`m not actively making fun of you. I`m talking
about what I`m dealing with right now. Just like Wanda Sykes show.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder though, there are -- it does feel like so you
started with there`s a rule. You know, if I think of is there a race joke
rule, I`m probably going to go with black face for me is a rule, right? As
a bit of a line.
And yet, there`s a Sarah Silverman moment. I thought we`d look at that as
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I spent my life trying to live the world with people
like you. There`s one thing I do know, seeing you burn in hell will be my
personal heaven. Good day.
SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN: I had no idea. I had no idea how cruel white
people could be to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So on the one hand, like my general rule is, black face and
I feel really icky. But then there`s the kind of like she`s almost mocking
the black face thing.
WINSTEAD: She has taken to the black face mocking. It`s what she does all
the time. She does it really well. She`s somebody, who again, takes it
on, makes no apologies for it. And whenever she has to defend it, she`s
WHITE: I have a similar rule, but the fact is that I totally let that rule
go for "Tropic Thunder". I thought that was hilarious. Literally tears
coming down my face.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just because it`s a theme song doesn`t mean it`s not true.
WINSTEAD: Technically is the rule if it makes you laugh, then there`s no
rule, which is why I go back to -- I`m uncomfortable with rules.
OBEIDALLAH: Maybe sensibilities. Maybe rules aren`t the right word.
But something else, you once said about people getting upset. I have
people upset when I don`t make fun of their group. I`ll do a show for like
a Muslim-American organization. I make fun of certain Arab- American. And
then there`s some South Asian go, you didn`t talk about us, you didn`t make
fun of Pakistanis or Indians. So I have to write jokes about them, because
now we`ve gone from -- don`t make fun of me to why aren`t you including me
in this comedy party.
And Russell Peters, who`s an Indian comic, is great at bringing all
minority groups that haven`t been mocked before and they love it because
they understand what it`s about. He`s bringing them into this party.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mock me, please. So everybody, get your jokes ready,
because as soon as we come back, I`m going to ask you to share some of your
favorite punch lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL GRIFFIN, MSNBC PRESIDENT: Melissa, congratulations and happy
anniversary. I can`t tell you how proud I am of your show and what your
team has done. We have really broken new ground with this show. It`s
smart. It`s fun. It`s in-depth. We take on topics that nobody else is
Keep it up.
To everybody on the staff, to everybody on the team, happy anniversary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In the commercial break, I could not get the comics to quiet
down. But speaking of comics, I want to one more time take a look at one
of my favorites, Wanda Sykes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYKES: Isn`t it funny that the only time your race or gender is questioned
is when you`re not a white man?
I think -- I think white men they get upset. They get nervous like a
minority or another race gets a little power. It makes them nervous,
because they are scared that their race is going to do to them what they
did to their race. They get nervous.
So they start screaming reverse racism. This is reverse racism.
I`m like, wait a minute, isn`t reverse racism, isn`t it when a racist is
nice to somebody else? Isn`t that something?
That`s reverse racism. What you afraid of is called karma.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So I wonder, like a moment like that, you know, you are
going along with her and you think, this might be the only way to do that
kind of social criticism. That there`s a way in which if you delivered
that social critique without the humor, it can`t be heard, and that maybe
humor is -- race jokes are the place where we can actually talk about race.
OBEIDALLAH: You can. It also brings more people in, because it`s not a
speech about race. When I do a college show, doing a comedy show, but in
there, I talk about Islamophobia and Arab issues and social and political
issues. They are laughing. You bring in more people.
If I`d be giving a speech today on Islamophobia, you have 10 people show
WHITE: Especially, I get brought out to universities across the country.
I normally feel like I`m brought in to bring diversity to that place. And
I literally will go in there and the African-American studies teacher
whatever is like, we need you here to say the thing about the privilege and
all the stuff, because if we say it, we get yelled at. You say it and
people laugh. And all of a sudden, now, we can have a conversation about
it. Like, really, that`s what it`s for.
HARRIS-PERRY: Honestly, I have been sad at every point during the Obama
presidency that we didn`t have Dave Chappelle, only because I want it, like
I just what he would have done with it, right? Good, bad and otherwise,
and sort of missing that means, I think, there`s certain kinds of social
critics we just end up not happening.
BUTLER: No, exactly. And somebody like Dave Chappelle could have bought
like another kind of lens into it so we can actually laugh about some of
the things that we`re going on.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s been painful.
BUTLER: Yes, exactly, but it is that sense in which, again, you can bring
somebody in to do something else. If I could only bring somebody in my
class to do the jokes and then I could do the serious part. I think it`s
academic, we try to flush all those jokes away from ourselves because we
talk about race and class and gender so much that if we joke about it, it`s
seen as this kind of another thing else again.
WINSTEAD: Well, I think we feel frustrated as social critics. I think all
three of us focus at this table really focus on policy and not just the
servicy stuff and wish we would be brought in more to be the color
commentary on shows that are -- and you do it all the time.
But like, you know , we are happy to do it and talk amongst ourselves
constantly, like when it gets heavy in media and hard, how do you get
somebody and cut through all that and go, you know, here`s like a short
OBEIDALLAH: The three of us, like the mod squad, we go out and tour
colleges together and --
WINSTEAD: People are dying for me to be part of the new mod squad.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so give me your favorite race joke or your best punch
line on it.
OBEIDALLAH: Well, I mean, it`s probably the more -- the newest one I`m
doing about -- and, in fact, talked about it earlier. That white people
will be a minority in America by 2040.
And there are some white people freaking out and I tell them, don`t, there
are some benefits. First, you get a month to celebrate your heritage, like
history month. You`ll get at least a week like whitey week, you know,
celebrations of white people, like bad mitten in Utah and racial profiling.
And white women will finally be exotic. It will be great. Now, everyone
likes to date like Latino, or Asian women. They`ll be now, like, wow,
white girl, where`d you meet her? White castle. I should have known that.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s great. The white minority jokes. It`s good. I like
OBEIDALLAH: I`m trying to make fun of white people.
WINSTEAD: I have two. One is a joke of mine where the joke is basically
simple. It`s like it would have been kind of fun to see Herman Cain as the
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes.
WINSTEAD: Because there would have been mass suicide in the Klan.
WHITE: Oh, dear.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ooh --
WINSTEAD: One of my favorite jokes was, we did 100 years ago when I was
working on "The Daily Show" and it was when the Mars Corporation introduced
this new ad campaign for the Three Musketeers candy bar. And they
introduced a black musketeer. And it was really a success and people are
really glad that they integrate the musketeers. So the joke that we did
was, the ad campaign was so successful, they decided to change the name of
the Fifth Avenue bar to Martin Luther King Boulevard.
WHITE: Oh, dear.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love it.
WHITE: My favorite, it`s maybe not of my jokes, half of those I can`t even
HARRIS-PERRY: I was like -- hit the delay button if we need to.
WHITE: There might be a baby. We don`t want this in our lives right now.
But the joke I think about a lot when it comes like racial humor is a Dave
Chappelle joke. He tells this joke about when he was being picked up by a
limousine driver. And they brought him to the ghetto. He wasn`t prepared
to go to the ghetto. You have to be warned.
And they wouldn`t know, and the guy gets a call. What happened? Who said
what? I`m on my way. And he opens up the window, he says liquor store,
liquor store, gun store, liquor store. Where the hell am I?
Like it`s so hilarious because he`s taking a whole picture of the community
and like the social economic issues. And he looked out the window at 3:00
a.m. and saw a baby. What you doing outside? He goes, selling weed.
It`s one of the most hilarious things. He goes, don`t shot yourself. We
need to go, that kid is a thief. It`s a baby. Like that`s hilarious.
BUTLE: So mine is two-fold. We had a joke when I was broke in grad
school, that if a black person said they were broke, it meant that they had
negative in their bank account. I a white person says he`s broke, we never
believe them because they have $500, and they don`t know the meaning of
being broke. So that was the first thing.
The second one is -- I`m going to ask everybody to forgive me, because I do
love Michael Jackson. But during the time when everybody was sort of
trying to figure him out (INAUDIBLE), Michael Jackson has taught me two
things. You can do whatever you want and you don`t have to be black, even
if you are black.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was always the thing. The only things you have to do
is be black and die.
BUTLER: You don`t have to be black anymore, Michael Jackson fixed that for
HARRIS-PERRY: All you have to do now --
BUTLER: You just have to die.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, there`s that. So I have a joke, I don`t know if I`m
allowed to tell it.
BUTLER: It`s your show.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not.
HARRIS-PERRY: So imagine, here is my favorite race joke. It`s a young
Jewish man who brings three girls home to meet his mother. He says, mom,
I`m going to marry one of these three girls. And I want you to chat with
them for a bit and then you predict which one I`m going to marry.
And so, the mom sits and she chats with the three girls and then he says,
mom, which one do you think I`m going to marry. She says, oh, this one
over here on the right.
And he says, mom, that`s right, how did you know? She says, I don`t like
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. That`s my race joke for the day.
OK, folks. I always appreciate having the humor and the insight. Thanks
for coming and joining us.
And when we come back, I`m going to give you a peek inside this little
black book. You have seen it sitting on my table for a year. Do you want
to know what`s in it?
HARRIS-PERRY: This weekend is the first anniversary of the launch of MHP
show. And if you have been sharing part of your weekends with us this
year, you may have noticed that we always have a large black sketch book on
Here on MHP, we call it Parker`s Book, because it belongs to my daughter
Parker. It`s her way of participating in our weekly discussions. We first
launched and she asked me to get a book and have every one of the guests on
the show to sign a little note to her.
So what we realized is that Parker`s Book has become the historical record
We decided to take a peek beneath the covers to see what messages she`s
been getting. Here are our favorites.
"Dear Parker, your mother can be wrong. But remember, she can be wrong.
(INAUDIBLE) Thurston. #Stayblack."
"Parker, your mother is fun and great. Sure, you are very proud. Spend
her money while you can?" It`s from Katon Dawson.
"To Parker, strive in life to make your mom as proud of you as we all are
of her. And James, too. LOL." Rev. Al Sharpton.
Yes, Reverend Al actually wrote LOL.
How about this one? `Parker, your mom is a superstar. I`m sure you will
be too." Ezra.
And my favorite P.S., "Sorry my handwriting is such crap."
"Parker, I look forward to covering your Nobel Prize presidency and Olympic
gold medals in the near future." That one is from Alex Wagner.
This is one of my favorites. "To Parker, you are the future," from Nancy
And this one really got Parker excited. "Parker, I hear you are already
running for office. You let us know Emily`s List and we are going to have
your back. All the best, Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily`s List."
This is a great one, too. "Parker, I saw the do the `Gangnam Style` dance.
You were amazing. Keep shining and keep smiling," from Michael Skolnik.
"And, Parker, can`t wait until 15 years from now when you`re in the host
chair." That`s Chris Hayes giving away my job.
And, "Parker, I hope to some day meet you, perhaps when you`re the
president," from Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema."
It`s been quite a year. I can`t wait to see what the next year will bring.
Thanks for joining us at our table. When you agree and when you don`t.
Thanks to contributing to our discussions online. Thanks for telling us
about Foot Soldiers in your community.
And thanks for sharing this wild, wonderful journey we are all on together.
And, look, there is a blank page in the book right here for you, Beyonce.
That`s our show for today. Thank you to Lizz, Dean, Anthea, and Elon.
Thanks to you at home for watching us. See you again next Saturday, 10:00
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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