'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, Spril 28th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
April 28, 2013
Guests: Marion Nestle, Ricardo Salvador, Ramez Naam, Tom Colicchio, Raquel
Cepeda, Andrea Plaid, Jane Junn, Jelani Cobb, Raquel Cepeda, Andrea Plaid,
Jane Junn, Kathryn Joyce, Tarikuwa Lemma, Karen Moline, Jacqueline Pata
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question. How does
talking about women change the immigration conversation?
Plus, the trouble when ideology meets adoption.
And the writers` corner is back featuring bird of paradise, how I became
But first, you are what you eat from your head down to your feet.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
If you are a person who cares about your health, then eating right is at
the top of your list. Think for the 1990 nutrition labeling and education
act, any food in a package must have labeling consistent with health and
human services definition.
All right, so the label on this bag of chips. Honestly, it tells me, girl,
don`t even think about it. At least that`s my translation. And on this
bag of cookies, yes, it also tells me that even though I might like to eat
the whole thing, it is not going to make up for nutritionally balanced
Reading labels is what a responsible consumer does. But what if there are
no labels. Take this apple for instance. I mean, it seems perfectly fine,
nutritious. I mean, that`s what an apple is supposed to be. It grew on a
tree. It`s an apple, for goodness sake. I don`t need a label. I know
what it is. But maybe I do need a label because sometimes an apple is more
than meets the eye.
When it comes to our food, even if it is not in a package, it is important
to know what happens from the seed to your table because not all foods are
created equally. Many foods we consume daily are genetically engineered
more modified. And under the current law, if a food is genetically
modified, it does not need to be labeled. So, it begs the question, if a
food isn`t labeled, how can consumers be responsible? Especially when some
of the biggest commercialized genetically modified crops in the United
States include soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets, corn, Hawaiian papaya,
Zucchini, yellow squash.
Because if you know what a genetically modified organism were GMOS you
might, so it just maybe might think twice about eating it. GMOS result
when genes from one species are forced into the genes of another animal or
plant. Most interesting than what genetic engineering is though, is how
it`s accomplished. You see using viruses or a bacteria to infect animal or
plant cells with new DNA. Firing DNA into cells a special gun injecting
new DNA into fertilized eggs with a needle or using electric shocks to
create holes in the membrane covering sperm and forcing DNA through the
You see, to date, there have been no human clinical trials of genetically
modified foods. The one human feeding study showed that genetic material
put into genetically modified soy transferred to intestinal bacteria and
continued to function.
GMOS studies are done on lab animals like rats. And some of that research
shows that GMOs have been linked to sterility, damage to organs and toxic
and allergic reaction in the animals.
But, here`s the deal. The foods are not required to be labeled. It was
under the administration of president George H. W. Bush that the FDA
promoted bio-technology and formed its GMOS policy which states the agency
is not aware of any information showing that the foods derived from the new
methods differ from any other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.
But seriously, I mean, in my world, if a food grows faster and bigger than
its cousins, well then, it is different. And not only are they growing
faster, but so are the profits, forecasts for the companies at the fore
front of the GMO market.
"The New York Times" recently reported that Monsanto, the world`s largest
seed company raised its full-year profit forecast on Wednesday after
reporting better than expected earnings in the second quarter driven by
strength in its global corn and herbicide business.
Yes, you see that last part is the important point. When you have new
super plants, you have to have new pesticides. And if your company is
creating both the seed and the pesticide, you are making out pretty well.
Those in favor of GMOs, note they are positive possibilities, providing
food for the growing population. Lessening the agricultural impact on the
environment. Creating more sustainable foods. While those are admirable
goals, this is not just about providing for the world. It`s also about
providing consumers with information which is why this week senator Barbara
Boxer and congressman Peter Defazio introduced the genetically engineered
food right to know act.
People have a right to know what they are eating so they can make informed
choices about what they`re putting in their bodies. Labels might help us
to accomplish that, or not.
At the table, Tom Colicchio, the chef and owner of Kraft Restaurants and
often head judge on Bravo`s "Top Chef," Ramez Naam who is the author of
"the infinite resource, the power of ideas on a finite planet" which I
spent all night last night working on, Ricardo Salvador, director of the
food and environment program at the union of concern scientist, and Marion
Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition food studies of public
health at New York University.
Thank you all for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, this is a tough one for me. I have been
trying to read in -- I have a thousand books on the table today trying to
think through it.
Marion, let me start with you. How do we balance between our very real
concerns about genetically modified foods on the one hand and our -- and
the realities that GMOs do seem to create really positive impacts on the
MARION NESTLE, PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I don`t see any problem
with reconciling it. I was on the food advisory committee of the FDA in
1994 when the FDA approved GMOs. And as a consumer advocate on that
committee, we said go ahead, try it. But for heaven`s sake label it.
Consumers need a choice, consumers want a choice. And if you don`t label
it, you`re going to raise all kinds of questions about what are you trying
to hide? And I think they`re trying to hide plenty. And that`s really
what the problem is.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you do think -- I mean, do you agree, they`re trying
to hide something?
TOM COLICCHIO, OWNER, CHEF, CRAFT RESTAURANTS: Whether or not they`re
trying to hide something, I think this is really about freedom. And you
know, we fight wars in the name of freedom. We send our kids to fight in
the name of freedom. You know, we export freedom around the world. And
yet, we don`t have the freedom of choice to know what`s in our food. And I
think, you know, I`m looking at this as a consumer, as a father, you know,
to three kids. And I want to know what`s in their food. Simple as that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It does feel to me like that most basic question, of
just OK, if you`re going to have GMOs, fine, we will make that choice.
That`s the freedom of entrepreneurship, the freedom of ideas in part. But
why not then give consumers the freedom to know this information?
RAMEZ NAAM, AUTHOR, THE INFINITE RESOURCE: Well, I think before we talk
about labeling, we should talk about GMOs, what they are and safety. The
reason that the FDA don`t require labels is the FDA rules say if it`s
chemically identity al to the other food, it should be labeled the same
way. And they FDA can find to difference between a GMO corn and a normal
And we look at safety studies. Every major scientific body is the world,
the national academies of science, the American medical association, the
European commission and the French Supreme Court ruled that they can find
no evidence of any harm to humans, no credible evidence from the hundreds
of studies that have been done. So, that`s why we haven`t required labels
HARRIS-PERRY: So Ricardo, that notion, however, that an apple that is not
or rather in this case, it`s usually a seed, right, that is corn or
something that actually ends up often in our packaged food is simply not
Also seems to fly in the face of the very idea that the reason we do the
genetically modified foods is to make them different, to make them
resistant to pests, to make them more nutritionally valuable. I mean,
that`s the entire reason for them. So, they must in fact be different.
RICARDO SALVADOR, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: Well you`re quite right.
And so, the basic premise is that you`re crossing the species barrier with
genes. The important thing to understand technically, is that what the
gene will do is create a -- you must ask what is that protein going to do.
The protein could be an allergen. And in very extreme cases it could be a
toxin. The key thing is we know what to test for. But, we only find what
we`re looking for.
And as you pointed out, these are novel organisms with the DNA. So, we
must be temper about this, but always be aware of the fact that with new
organisms, without the experience overtime, we must be aware that there
could be unintended consequences. And that`s what the precaution needs to
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, that slightly different from the question of
labeling, let me push on that hey little bit.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re saying to me we can only look and find potential --
you can`t sort of ask is it harmful. An allergen is different than a toxin
for example. What are the questions we ought to be asking scientifically
before we get to -- what is the science set of questions we need to be
asking about genetically modified foods?
SALVADOR: So you need to ask, what is the product? And then test what
this product could potentially do. You also need to test for the system
effects and those are the ones that are most difficult to track because you
are -- you have any number of things that you need to pursue and also track
The important thing is that once you begin to deploy these technologies,
then, you begin to develop a track record and you can examine the track
record for how it performs against the claims.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to know, Tom, how far back in the food chain should I
know about it this? So, if my cow on which is going to become my steak ate
genetically modified feed, is that important to me or only if my actual
piece of corn on the cob is genetically modified?
COLICCHIO: No. Actually, you have to go back to the soil. And what is
happening when we are tons and tons of pesticides on to these plants to get
rid of weeds. And what is actually happening in the soil is pretty much
killing everything that`s in the soil. So, we are looking at a real
unhealthy sort of, you know, ecosystem when we are using all these
chemicals for the food. So, I think that`s how far.
And the other thing, you know, part of the FDA sort of ruling was that, not
only sort it doesn`t need to be the same genetically, but also, it needs to
look and appear the same. And essentially you picked up an apple, it is
now there`s a Newark particular apple that doesn`t brown. So now, we have
something that doesn`t look the same anymore.
NAAM: I think that will be branded in that way. You want that --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, stay with us. Because I want to actually come
to on exactly this question on are we just being like science fearful,
which is part of what I read in the text last night. Our fear of the new
which would be actually be holding us back as a civilization or the real
questions to be answered when we come back from break.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we talk about genetically modified or engineered food,
a few companies around the world have cornered the market. But the company
with the largest market share genetically engineered crops in the world is
none other than Monsanto.
While their earning portfolio may be good, their public image has taken a
few hits to say the least. In February, the Supreme Court heard arguments
in Bowman versus Monsanto at the heart of the case are patent rights. And
whether Monsanto has a right to limit reproduction of the seeds after the
According to the center for food safety as of January, Monsanto has quote
"filed 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in
at least 27 different states."
So, here it feels to me is at the crux of it. If this is about feeding the
world, the profit-driven aspect of this and particularly the big
agribusiness that is Monsanto and the kinds of profits that they earn from
it starts making me nervous right now that this is not just some sort of
like feed the world project.
NAAM: It`s fun to poke at Monsanto. They`re a very, very easy target.
But your life is full of things that were developed for a profit motive.
Your iphone, your eyeglasses, everything that you do was made by someone
who wanted to make a profit. The real question is, what`s the impact on
these things on people`s health and there the science is clear that there`s
no evidence of health? And on the environment, the science is also fairly
clear that these GMOs have reduced negative impact --
NESTLE: Oh, I don`t think the science is so clear.
NAAM: Tom talked about pesticides. What the national academy of sciences
found was that the planting of roundup ready soy reduced the total
pesticide toxicity to fields because roundup replaced much more toxic
pesticides that we used to use.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you don`t think the science is clear. Because I got to
tell you. When you tell me there`s no human health risks, at least in
terms of what we know from the science, but there is a ton of findings
around animals, thousands of sheep and buffalo and goats in India died
after grazing on the BT cotton plants. We know the mice eating GM seem to
have smaller and fewer babies. There are animal studies. And the animal
studies certainly aren`t human studies. But they should give us much more
NAAM: There is animal studies from one laboratory in France where the head
there is sort of a fringy scientist, if you will. If you look at the
hundreds of studies that have been done, those have found by and large, the
overwhelming majority, 99.9 percent that there`s no harm to humans. And
even the other guests here, Marion agrees with this. You too report that
Zarillini study, the national academy of sciences, the American medical
association, even France, the French are anti-GMO. But the French Supreme
Court threw out ban France`s ban on GMOs because it said the government
could produce no credible evidence of harm to humans or the environment.
NESTLE: Yes. But this isn`t about safety necessarily. Even if GMOs are
safe, they`re not necessarily acceptable for a whole range of other
reasons. And it`s those reasons shall the right to know is the most
obvious one that make labeling so important. If they had labeled this from
the first place, I don`t think we would be having this conversation now.
But the industry did everything it could to make sure that nobody knew that
this was happening and that nobody could identify.
I mean, you look at all of these fruits that you have out here, you have no
way of knowing that any of these is GMO or not. The tomato is the most
likely suspect. I suspect it`s not a GMO variety. But it`s impossible to
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask about this idea that the thing that we are
upset about is the lack of knowledge, right? The lack of the right to
know. Because even if we are talking about the packaged foods, right. If
I start reading this, it is full of crap. And crap that is sort of maybe
not good for us if we eat a lot of it. But we have decided it`s
fundamentally safe for human health.
But I know, I can look and say I`m making in choice to eat (INAUDIBLE).
But, how do -- I mean, is this really just about the right to know or is
this about doing things to our food supply that can have meaningful
environmental effects that are not positive, but are potentially negative?
SALVADOR: Let me speak to that. I think you started this line of
discussion very productively. So the very premise that one of the reasons
why we need to depend on lofts external inputs which makes our food system
actually a very expensive food system is that we have an urgency to deal
with the issues of the poor and hunger in the word. And we all agree with
that. No question with that. And the problem with this, though, is that
the food system and the agricultural system of the rich have zero
relationship with the problems of the poor and why they are hungry. If you
really wanted to deal with the problems of the hungry and the poor, you
would deal with their poverty. You would deal with why they`re poor to
begin with. The spigot at the end of the food system of the rich does not
aim at the poor because it`s not a philanthropy. You need to be able to
pay for what the system produces. And it`s very expensive.
Actually, the problem with the modern food system is that we over produce
and create all kinds of collateral damage because of that. Not only do we
overproduce, we produce too much of the wrong stuff. According to USDA
guidelines, we need to eat more of in stuff and --
HARRIS-PERRY: Because we are eating more of this stuff.
SALVADOR: Right. We are producing a lot of junk food or at least the
ingredients for the junk food and propelling with these technologies. And
so, that really makes the point.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we eat the junk food because it`s profitable. I mean,
the reason you produce so much of it is because it`s relatively
COLICCHIO: It`s highly subsidized. We are paying for that.
Now, I just think it is very disingenuous argument that GMOs are kind of
feed the world. I mean, number one, they have been around for 20 years and
in 20 years, we seen hunger increased.
NAAM: That`s not true. The rate of hunger in the planet has actually gone
COLICCHIO: It`s gone way up.
NAAM: In this it may have a little bit. But, across the world, hunger is
half the frequency that it used to be.
COLICCHIO: Also, if you look at a bacteria devastated the rice crop in
Asia, in the Americas, in Australia, mid-Africa, there was a geneticist
working for u-Davis that isolated a rice, that were just in to it found a
genetic marker for it, put it into other rice crops and today it sits on a
shelf at UC Davis because there`s no way to profit from it.
COLICCHIO: And so, If the issue was saving the world, we`re not doing that
because there`s no profit in it. So, you know, what we did in this country
is put public health in front of profit.
COLICCHIO: In Europe, it was the other way around. And I think that that
even though it`s confusing to say that there`s no health issues around it,
we just don`t know.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, so pause right here. We will take a quick break
and come right back on this topic.
HARRIS-PERRY: Man, fun things could happen during in the commercial break,
I get in my ear from my producer that Monsanto is apparently watching and
sent us a statement. As soon as that`s ready, I will read it for you.
But, let me start by asking this question. Tell me the golden rice story
and how should we be thinking about golden rice, what it is and what it
NAAM: Right. So, Tom was talking about how we evolved in GMOs out of a
profit, that`s not actually true. It has been true mostly so far. But
there are GMOs in development that can help feed the world.
So, right now, one of the big problems in the developing world is vitamin a
deficiency. It is about 250 million kids don`t have enough vitamin A.
Every year, about half a million go blind because they don`t have enough
vitamin A in their diets and about half of those die.
So, a long time ago when biotech was just getting started, some scientists
got together and said what if we could actually put vitamin A in a food
that everybody eats and that`s from just rice. So, that rice takes on a
yellow look. Rice normally produces vitamin A in the leaf, now it`s in the
seed as well. It`s in testing and hopefully in the next couple of years it
will be approved. And the reason that it has not been approved so far is
because the regulatory process is incredibly complicated.
So, why would this be anything other than good? The world eats rice, we
put vitamin A in rice, it addresses a fund mental nutritional deficiency?
NESTLE: It`s a poster child for public relations for the GMO industry. I
was fascinated -- first of all, it is not vitamin A, it`s beta carotene.
It has to be converted in the body to vitamin A. And for that you need a
diet that`s adequate in protein and adequate in all other nutrients.
Otherwise, kids can`t do the conversion. Beta carotene is in every single
one of these fruits and vegetables that`s on this table. It is enormously
common in the food supply. The reason that people aren`t eating it is
because of cultural reasons, they don`t think the kids should be eating
vegetables or some reason like that or it is because the kids are sick and
have worms and can`t do the conversion.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it potentially also because of global climate. So, I
guess, I mean, part of the problem that we have in terms of feeding the
world is also just about the environmental realities that mean that these
sorts of things grow in some places and not others.
NESTLE: Well, they grow in tropical regions. These are the regions that
have the highest level of vitamin A deficiency. The reason for that is
social. It is because of the socioeconomic and other conditions in society
that make it difficult for poor people to get the kinds of foods they need
and to be healthy enough to be able to use them properly. That doesn`t
change with golden rice.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, pause me for a moment. I do want to read the
Monsanto statement. It literally came in while we were live on air.
And their quote is quote "our focus, our primary focus is on enabling both
small holder and large scale farmers to produce more from their land while
conserving more of our world`s natural resources such as water and energy.
We apply modern day agriculture sciences such as plant breeding
biotechnology and other agronomic practices to develop and support other
farmers around the world.
You can see the full statement on our Web site at mhp.com.
Tom, any reactions to that?
COLICCHIO: Ninety-one percent of people in this country want their food
labeled. It`s a basic right that we should all have to know what we`re
eating. And so, that`s a great statement. And I applaud most of that. I
just want to know what I`m eating.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And I got to say, that feels like the piece where I`m
like OK, well then, if there`s nothing to hide, why are we hiding
something? If that -- just from a scientific perspective, is that an
accurate way of talking about what a genetically modified crop is?
SALVADOR: Yes. As far as the technology is concerned. Now, very
important thing about this statement that we just saw there. Monsanto is
the world`s number one ago biotech company. So, if you want to examine the
claims of that industry, obviously, you start with number one.
And so, we have actually taken a close look at their claims, such as for
instance boosting productivity, boosting yield such as helping with
environmental impact by making plants more efficient in terms of nitrogen
utilization, most recently helping to help plants deal with drought. In
every case, our examinations have showed that the claims don`t bear up to
So, the key thing to know about the yield curve that the agronomic world
has been pushing the last few years is that it has not been affected one
bit by any of the traits that we are talking about here. Those traits were
not about productivity.
The very best that we can say is in some instances with insect resistance
in years, where you have severe incident infestation, those genes help to
stabilize (INAUDIBLE). But the yield has not been increase. And the
protection again drought really is contextual. The evidence is that it
mild help in cases of mild drought.
And so, obviously, it doesn`t really deal with the urgency of the issue of
drought which is when it`s extreme.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We are going to take a quick break because I know that
that flies in the face of some of what you may claimed about in the book.
And so, I will let you respond to that and I also want to think a little
bit more about this question. If you are trying to feed the world, what is
it that we need no fix?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there is real in the world. Eight hundred and seventy
million people in this world do not have enough to eat. Ninety-eight
percent of hungry live in what we have been called developing nations and
3.2 billion people, excuse me, $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all
66 million hungry school-aged kids.
So, hunger is a real issue. What you suggested is that these kinds of
genetic engineering processes don`t address that. Your text makes the
claim that they do.
NAAM: They do somewhat. So, we seen actually GMOs have bigger impact in
the developing world. Because one of the things they do is they make it so
you don`t have to spray the pesticide in the case of the corn.
And in the future, we see a big challenge and big opportunities. So, the
challenge is, not just hunger today but over the next 35 years, we are
going to have almost double the amount of food that we grow to keep up with
demand. So, how are we going to do that? Lots of ways.
GMOs are not going to fix that all by themselves. But, there are some
promising ideas there. One is, if you look at a field of corn, versus the
field of rice or wheat, the corn grows about 70 percent more food per acre.
So, one idea on the table that`s being worked on, the Bill Gates and
Melinda Gates foundation is funding, is taking the genes from corn that let
them use sunlight marginally and grow much more food per acre, including
those in rice and wheat. And that would be given out freely to anyone in
the world to plant on their land and replant.
HARRIS-PERRY: But also, in New Orleans, which is a food city. I mean, we
are a city more than anything we eat and we believe in what our food.
People are hungry not because the wheat didn`t grow high enough. People
are hungry because they can`t, in fact, not afford. These foods do not
exist in their neighborhoods. They cannot buy them in local grocery stores
because they simply don`t have a local grocery store. And if they did, the
prices would be very high.
COLICCHIO: They will never address food distribution.
NESTLE: Because these are social issues.
NAAM: You better solve the social issues. It`s one tool in the toolbox.
We would be a fool not to use that tool.
SALVADOR: Well, what I would add to this, is that in the world, we already
have enough food to feed everyone. And that has actually been the case
during the entire industrial agricultural period.
So, if we are arguing in order to solve the problem you`ve raised, we need
to produce more, we`re there already. So, either extraordinarily
ineffective in terms of doing this or our theory is wrong. 40 years of
evidence that says our theory is wrong. We actually do have to need to
deal with the purchasing power of the poor. And what comes along with all
these technologies is a system that agriculture which does not have long-
And so for instance, one of the things that I should mention is that while
we can always talk about the dreams that we have for the future, there is a
track record for this technology. And the track record of the technology
right now is that actually has enabled methods of agriculture that have
severe collateral damage as I mentioned before, primarily the environmental
damage. So this is not the way to go. The way to go is to find ways to
produce the food we need and make it affordable and simultaneously work on
the purchasing power.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Marion, you know, you said these are social issues. But
they are also therefore political ones.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, part of the politics here is it`s not just that
there`s Monsanto and whatever decisions they`re making that are good, bad
or neutral. But, they are very clearly working our government. They are
working our policy makers. The Democrats, the Republicans, George H. W.
Bush, all the way to President Obama have been deeply impacted by the kind
of policies that are promoted by this big company.
NESTLE: Yes. I got to see that in action 20 years ago when the FDA was
first approving genetically modified foods and Monsanto sent dozens of
people down pretending to be independent people to testify in favor of the
And it was interesting, the FDA insisted that people say who had paid their
transportation or paid their way down and people had to get up one after
the other and said Monsanto had paid their way down. But otherwise, they
didn`t want to disclose that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love that part of the story because that`s labeling,
right? I mean, basically what would require in that moment was OK, Mr.
Person or Mrs. Person here, you have to label yourself who actually sent
you. And they said Monsanto.
And so, that`s what we want as consumers is that kind of transparency in
NESTLE: Yes. And the argument that the FDA doesn`t label foods with
processes is also specious because we say whether it`s made from
concentrate, for example. You know, we have the -- whether it was
previously frozen. Why not GMO. There are plenty of places that label it.
I have a candy bar from Great Britain that says it may be made with
genetically modified soy, corn or sugar. And you know, the world hasn`t
come to an end.
NAAM: So, one thing I agree with, with all of these fine folks is we are
going to get to labeling. It`s clear that enough consumers want it that
we`ll get there. So, my advice to the biotech industry and to farm
industry is get to labeling yourselves because there`s a difference between
a label that says warning, which invalid, because there is no evidence of
harm and a label that listed the ingredients. So, I support voluntary
labeling that the industry should pursue by itself.
COLICCHIO: No one is asking for a warning label. You know that. And we
are just asking sort of the idea that there is GMO material in this food.
That`s it. It`s simple as that. No one is looking for a skull and
I find it interesting that 85 percent of the $20 billion of the crops that
we subsidize is all corn. We saw it come out of the crops. And so, you
know, one percent goes to fruits and vegetables. So, we know why these
come out of the crop cheap, and we know that processed food are cheap, so
it`s really no wonder why the crops that are -- that are affected by GMOs
all come out of the crops --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Basically, this has a lobbyist and this
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to my entire panel, Tom, Ramez, Ricardo and
Marion. I love the idea of food politics. And we are going to stay on
this undoubtedly over and over again on this program.
But later on the program today, the investigation into the push among
evangelicals to adopt.
And up next, sister citizen. It`s my book. Here it is. And by the way,
it`s out in paperback now. Go get it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Check out the World War II, conges of psychologists became
very interested in field dependence. In one study, subjects were placed in
a crooked chair in a crooked room and that they were asked to find the true
up and down. Now, some people were able to get themselves straight even if
everything in their visual field was off kilter. But many people could be
tilted by as much as 35 degrees but still feel as though they were straight
up and down because they were accommodating all of the crooked images
When I first read these studies, I thought, whoa, that is a lot like being
a black woman in America. Sisters are trying to do the work of being
American citizens but must navigate the persistent negative race and gender
stereotypes that create a crooked room toward to distorted images of
ourselves. Our politics is an exercise of trying to stand straight in a
My recent book, "Sister Citizen, shamed the stereotypes of black women in
America," addresses the personal and political consequences of black
women`s crooked room. Tracing the history of shaming and derogatory images
like jezebel, a stereotype rooted in the hot and tot Venus that asserts
African-American women are hyper sexual breeders who refuse to control
their own reproduction. Mani, an image of black women as cervial (ph)
domestics, more interested in the white family for whom they work and in
A stereotype so powerful that hat at this Haddie (ph) McDaniel became the
first black woman to win an Oscar when she played the role nanny role in
gone with the wind and of course, the angry black woman, a stereotype
enshrined portraying women as irrational neck rolling and hateful.
"Sister Citizen" asks us to look through the lens of black women`s
complicated and sometimes painful experiences in this country. I tell
stories as distant of a life to Gallia free black woman who was arrested
and publicly beaten in 1853 Virginia for supposedly stealing a white man`s
chickens even though there wasn`t much meaningful evidence against her.
And I also analyzed more contemporary figures like former USDA employee
Shirley Cherard (ph) and first lady Michelle Obama. Because these women
help us to understand how modern black women find their true north in a
room still made crooked by shaming stereotypes.
So, the book is now available in paperback. And I would love to hear from
you out in Nerdland about what you think about it. I`m going to be hosting
an online mhp show book club about it in coming weeks. So go read it now.
We can talk about it soon.
And when we come back, I want to expand the "Sister Citizen" framework
beyond the experiences of black women. What happens to our immigration
debate when we put women at the center. What are the specific challenges
facing the women. Who wants to be our new "Sister Citizens."
HARRIS-PERRY: When I wrote "Sister Citizen," I wanted to examine the ways
in which the universal desire to be recognized as a citizen could be
understood in the lens of African-American women`s struggle to carve out a
But, as we hopefully move towards passage of our first major reform of the
nation`s immigration system in three decades, I want to broaden that lens
to include the women who are the inheritors of that struggle.
At the intersection of immigration reform and women`s rights are our
sisters who are trying to become citizens. Immigrant women. Women make up
more than half of America`s undocumented population. Yet, immigration
reform renders them and the concerns that are specific to their lives are
Immigration policy that privileges economic development and the work of
undocumented men over families helped in the labor of immigrant women
relegates women seeking citizenship to second class status. As Michelle
Chen wrote this week in "Dissent" magazine, at a time when more American
women are asking why they can`t have it all, immigrant women endure a much
crueler work life balance, mostly often without papers and largely Latina,
they`re exposed to chronic poverty, the threat of deportation and sexual
trauma. The struggle is inscribed on their bodies and reproductive
destinies. Policy that pushes the concerns of immigrant women to the
periphery would be better served by locating them where they belong at the
Women are most likely to be the initiators of the citizenship process for
their families and their stake in this debate entitles them to a voice in
policy decisions that affect their lives. These immigrant women are to be
ushered fully into the American citizenship story. It will require an
approach to immigration policy that recognizes and responds to their place
on that path.
With me today, Jane Junn, professor of political science at the University
of Southern California and author of the upcoming book, "the Politics of
Belonging, race, immigration and public opinion." Jelani Cobb, associate
professor at the University of Connecticut, Andrea Plaid, associate editor
at racialicious.com and campaign manager for "drop the I-word" and Raquel
Cepeda, author of "Birds of Paradise."
So, it is lovely to have you all here.
And Jane, I want to start with you because I spent the morning reading "the
Politics of Belonging" which is your new manuscript. And part of what you
talk about is this idea that immigration has always have to be understood
to the racial prism of American belonging. Talk to me about that.
JANE JUNN, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:
I mean, it`s always been the case that people who have come to the United
States have been welcomed conditionally on the basis of race and ethnicity.
And in particular, throughout, not only 18th and 19th century, but the 20th
century as well. We`ve constructed our immigration policy around race.
In 1965 when we changed that to be occupational preferences and family
reunification still has a relationship to race and ethnicity and in
particular for Asian Americans with the change in only the 1950s taking
away the exclusion, the full exclusion of Asians from naturalization and
entry into the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, occupational preference sound like a racially
neutral basis, right, but it is in fact not. Tell us why, again.
JUNN: Well, in part is people now think that Asian immigrants are all
well-educated. Part of the reason they are well-educated is because that`s
a requirement to come to the United States. China was on the northern
border and not Canada. You would see stereotypes similar to the 19th
century when Asians were considered to be kumis (ph).
So, on exactly that, that idea that there`s not sort of a single thing,
either you are American or you are not, I think we talk about citizenship
in this kind of binary way.
Raquel, I wanted to sort of ask a little bit about that. Like this very
notion of being an American citizen, how that is framed differently for
Latino versus Latinas, how we just sort of don`t tell the story of women.
What are the specific challenges facing Latinas as we start to think about
this notion of citizenship?
RAQUEL CEPEDA, AUTHOR, BIRD OF PARADISE: Well, the problem with Latinas in
particular is that one story narrative as well. So, we are kind of going
through what our black American sisters went through for generations and
generations where, you know, you just fit into one kind of place and that
is that of being, you know, illegal, having anchor babies. It`s all these
like really hyper stereotype kind of issues that we have to deal with
coming in here. A lot of us come to this country well-educated and
sometimes have to take jobs. Like I`ve met, you know, women -- I met women
cab drivers who have doctorates in their homelands and all across the
America they`re driving cabs to take care of their children, sometimes with
their kids in tow. So, you know, I mean, we have to change that.
HARRIS-PERRY: This language of anchor babies is interesting, Andrea. You
know, as I`ve been thinking of the Sister Citizen text which is really just
about black women, right? But that language of the notion of who is the
Mami has shifted, right? It was in the 19s and 20`s early 20th century
about black women domestic, now it is primarily about Latina domestics,
right? When we think about who doesn`t control their fertility, it was the
welfare queen and still is. Now also the anchor baby language. What can
we learn from each other`s struggles moving forward in this debate?
ANDREA PLAID, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, RACIALICIOUS.COM: I think we need to learn
is the idea that we struggle together. And that we have similar struggles.
Not the same struggle. Let`s not use terms of, well our blues is like
mine. Because sometimes our blues aren`t like each other`s. But at the
same time, we need to recognize that as for example African-Americans have
migrated internally. We`re talking about the great migration. Now, we
have our undocumented sisters who are migrating into this country and they
have their struggles too. And we have to be able to say that their
struggle is part of our struggle. And that we need toe able to be in
solidarity with them as they do what they need to do to become citizens.
HARRIS-PERRY: And your solidarity lately has been about this drop the I
word campaign. You were just at "The New York Times." So, the A.P. just
accepted that there are no longer going to use illegal as a way to describe
undocumented workers and immigrants in this country. You have been
fighting around making "The New York Times" do the same thing.
PLAID: Absolutely. Because what happened is "The New York Times," we have
spoken with "The New York Times" on drop the I-word on our partners such as
present the national association of Hispanic journalists to persuade them
to drop the I word. And we had an action, we delivered a --.
HARRIS-PERRY: I word is illegal, not immigrants.
PLAID: Even though it could be a double I word of illegal immigrants
especially the way that "the New York Times" likes to use it. And so, what
we did is we sent a petition of 70,000 strong to say to "The New York
Times" to drop the id completely. And that was on Tuesday. This past
And what happened was they said we`re not going to drop it. We are going
to use it in conjunction with other words that are more precise. And be
reasonable for them to do this because we don`t want to take sides.
Unfortunately, when you use the I word, you are taking a side. You are
taking the wrong side. And that`s what we were trying to let "The New York
Times" know, is that you are taking the wrong side
HARRIS-PERRY: So Jelani, I know that I always feels a little bit like a
segment like this becomes of this racial grievance segment, right? You`re
saying mean things about us, you are calling us Mamie, You are calling us
Jezebel, you are assuming that we`re not educated. But, it`s not just an
emotional grievance. It has political consequences.
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Absolutely.
And the one thing we have to understand about immigration policy,
immigration law is that it has inordinately be concerned with the
preservation of whiteness in this country.
Like that is the beginning point. You talk about the Chinese exclusion act
in 1882. We are talking about the Japanese exclusion act and when we talk
about really what we are dealing now which is the legacy of the 1924
immigration restriction act. And so, that act set the quota, that was what
first said, we will be accepting people based upon national origins and
then we will backlog it 30 years to the 1890 census meaning that your
people were not already here, you couldn`t come here.
And so, what happened in 1965 was that this was changed, it was reformed.
But there still is a whiff of that. And in terms of its impact, there`s
completely this relationship analogous, the history of black people in this
country, if nothing else then, the status of an undocumented person leaves
millions of women vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s exactly where I want to dig in as soon as we get
back it this question of then, what is the (INAUDIBLE) look like
differently for women of color as we continue to this more. Remember, it`s
a two-hour show. We`re back at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
When seeking to understand the ways in which immigration policies
reinforces gender disparities for women, we need only remember the story of
In 2008, Viega (ph), an undocumented immigrant from Mexico was nine months
pregnant when she was pulled over and ticketed for careless driving by a
police officer in the Nashville suburb of Davidson County.
When she couldn`t produce a driver`s license, the officer bypassed the
standard procedure in Tennessee for unlicensed drivers, which is to issue a
citation. Instead, he followed an immigration agreement between the
federal government and Davidson County that gives immigration enforcement
powers to county officers.
Villegas was arrested and put in county jail for six days. During her time
in custody, she gave birth. With the sheriff`s officer standing guard in
her hospital room where she was shackled to the bed throughout her labor.
I`m back with University of Southern California`s Jane Junn; Jelani Cobb of
the University of Connecticut, Andrea Plaid of Racialious.com; and Raquel
Cepeda, author of "Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina".
So, this, to me, felt like such an example of what you were just talking
about Jelani in terms of potential sexual exploitation. In this context,
it`s about her giving birth. But it`s also about the fact the if she`s --
for Latinas who are working in agriculture, the rates of the likelihood of
sexual assault and then not being able to go forward with it and tell
anyone because they`re more worried about deportation than about the person
who`s been sexually assaulting them being arrested.
JELANI COBB, AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, UCONN: This is what happens when
you create two separate categories of labor. We understand this because
it`s precisely what happened with African-Americans. You create a group of
people who can be hyper-exploited and sexual exploitation is almost
impossible to separate from this. It does remind me just coincidentally of
a narrative of black women who would give birth because they were not
allowed to be in segregated hospitals and a different type of segregation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Jane -- sorry.
RAQUEL CEPEDA, AUTHOR, "BIRD OF PARADISE": It`s not only women who work in
agriculture. I`ve seen undocumented women working at restaurants being
groped. I`ve seen it. It`s pretty, pretty disgusting. But you have 5
million children living with undocumented parents.
They`re in danger. Their sisters and brothers are danger. Their families
are in danger. And people know this, and they just exploit them. That`s
why we have a high rate also of Latinos in sexual slavery, for example, and
HARRIS-PERRY: I think part of what you just said there is so important to
part of what I was reading in the text, Jane, which is this idea that once
I know that this is the kind of vulnerability that I`m potentially open to.
So, if I`m Latina and I know there`s a stereotype of me as being sexually
available and that I don`t control my sexuality, I have all these babies,
and that I`m likely undocumented. But even if I`m an American citizen, I
might not go forward and talk about my domestic violence or report the
sexual violence in part because I recognize how the stereotypes will say
what the interaction with authority is going to be like.
JANE JUNNN, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROF., USC: Right. I mean, it`s very
consistent with a lot of (INAUDIBLE) you make in the book about negative
stereotypes contingencies and that is even if you don`t feel that y fit
that stereotype and you know that you don`t fit the stereotype, if you have
the sense that other people do, you`re always worried that putting it
forward, making it seem as if you might be there in that particular
situation will end up reflecting negatively on you.
So, people will stay silent. People pull back. That is part of what stops
in particular women of color from being the citizens that they can be.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder in part also about how when you`re a community of
people who is racially identifiable, even if -- even if we are racially
identifying inaccurately, which is in part of what I want to talk to you
about it, the behavior of any one person in the community, particularly if
it is a negative behavior and it is highly publicized, then has the shaming
impact and a silencing impact on the entire category of people, so that you
end up not pressing for your rights in part because you`re just trying to
manage the shame that is associated with it.
ANDREA PLAID, RACIALICIOUS.COM: Secondary --
CEPEDA: That`s OK.
PLAID: It`s called what we call secondary embarrassment where one person
does something wrong and then the entire group is thinking. For example,
the most recent example of what happened in Boston, with what happened with
the young men who bombed the Boston marathon. Also, there is this thing of
please let it not be us.
And I think that very much goes into the idea of that secondary
embarrassment of they know the stereotypes about us and please don`t let
that person behave badly so it reflects badly on all of us and we have to
suffer the repercussions.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this becomes a way basketball-wise is somehow about
shaming the entire category for exam of the black women.
CEPEDA: Loving hip hop for Latinas, because I know I cringe. But I
wouldn`t cringe because there are women that exist. If there was more
biological and just economical, all kinds of diversity that show Latin
women and black American women, Asian women, you know, as complex as we
are, but it goes right back down to that one note.
And even, you know, terrorists are getting wind of this of how ridiculous
they are. Let`s recruit people who typically look white, who become white
when they move here. Like, for example, Russian immigrants, they become
white eventually. Their kids or grandkids, become white and therefore
become privileged. When, you know, Latino Americans, other immigrants of
color kind of become black, if you will.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an interesting point. I mean, it`s one that certainly
has been associated with this angst about sort of Chechen Americans in the
context of a post-Boston moment. But it didn`t get read as Chechen or even
as Russian, right, or certainly not as Caucasian, not people from the
Caucasus, right? It gets read as Islamic, as Muslim.
COBB: Right. I think the fascinating thing about this is that when we saw
that riveting moment where the uncle came out and gave that first talk
about what he thought of his nephew`s behavior, he said they brought shame
upon Chechens, he didn`t say they brought shame upon Muslim, he said they
brought shame upon Chechens. We have no basis, we don`t understand, most
of us don`t know where Chechnya is.
CEPEDA: The ambassador coming out and saying, no, it`s not Czechoslovakia.
COBB: The fascinating thing, however, as being -- having spent some time
in Russia, is that people of Chechen descent are not considered white
there. Many of the epithets that are used to describe Chechens are used to
describe Africans. So, they move here and they`re placed in a different
context in terms of race and identities as the same.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jane, you talk about this process a little bit when you are
citing Christina Beltran and you say that she writes Latina -- Latino is a
verb, right? It`s a way of becoming. There isn`t an identity that is
Latino. It`s a thing that we create among people.
JUNN: Right. You don`t become Latino or Latino until you come to the
United States. You don`t become Asian American until you arrive here. So,
it is a process of racialization. The people then internalize and
understand those stereotypes that are attached to racial classification and
influence the kinds of behaviors and attitudes people hold.
And the recognition that everybody who is not white is underneath in terms
of political status, citizenship, belonging -- these are all conditional
parts of citizenship that alter the way that we think about ourselves as
HARRIS-PERRY: How is this especially gendered? I mean, I guess part of --
as I thought about this for sort of race in terms of passing on blackness,
right, what happens in the American context around slavery is that you take
on the race of your mother in the context of slavery. The first gift that
an enslaved black woman gives to her child is the status of slavery.
We actually made reproduction this process of enslavement. So, it does
then feel to me like race for women, particularly for women who made
reproducing, it ends up being a more difficult thing. And so, we hear
anchor baby on the one hand. For Latinas, if immigration is racialized,
how is it also gendered?
JUNN: Well, I mean, there are lots of examples of immigration law for
example (INAUDIBLE) that I think it`s 1875 which specifically is designed
to stop Chinese women from coming to the United States, because of the idea
that they would come and then repopulate the United States with more little
Chinese babies. As a result, you also think about the moves against the
14th Amendment and the citizenship clause to eliminate birth rate
citizenship and change that from the right of soil and to right of the
And these are many ways, they may not be specifically coded or written as
gendered laws. But in many ways, they are the opposition to the birthright
citizenship is the basis of that. Is in the idea that women are going to
come over here and drop their babies.
CEPEDA: And you also see that with Latina American teenagers, the children
of these immigrants, who have the highest rate of suicide ideation attempt
in the country -- three times more likely than their white American
counterparts and twice as likely as black American counterparts.
And I`m working on a documentary with a group of young teenagers from a
suicide prevention program in the Bronx. They tell me that I don`t feel
aside from the pressures of being domesticated and wanting to go to school,
I don`t feel like I fit into white society or black American society, I`m
in limbo. I`m living in limbo.
And that creates a community that`s very shaky.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. As most course in the emotional space. And so,
then, there you are in that crooked room at the same time you`re trying to
do the work of American politics.
Thank you to Jane Junn and to Andrea Plaid. Jelani is going to hang out
for more and Raquel is going to stay with me because she and I are going to
talk about her beautiful new memoir, "Bird of Paradise: How I Became
But before we go to break, I want to send well wishes to my mentor and
adviser, Dr. Maya Angelou. She`s a true sister citizen and a culture icon,
the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Dr. Angelou is recovering
at home in North Carolina after being briefly hospitalized.
Dr. A, we here in Nerdland wish you a speedy recovery. And I know that
you`re facing this challenge with the same courage and spirit that you
inspire in all of us.
We`ll be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about the politics of recognition
immigrant women face in their quest for citizenship. For Latina immigrants
and Latina Americans, construction of identity is crucial in creating a
sense of belonging to a larger community. Creating identity is complex
because being Latina is not truly racial or cultural or experiential. It`s
really a combination of all of these.
Back with me is Raquel Cepeda, author of the new book, "Bird of Paradise:
How I Became Latina", who literally did the work to find her identity.
CEPEDA: Thank you so much to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for the book.
Talk to me a little bit, we were talking during the break about Dr. Maya
Angelou, and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings".
How is it that a personal memoir helps us understand a bigger process?
CEPEDA: Because we deal with universal themes, like family dysfunction,
sometimes unfortunately abuse, what it`s like to be a women, feminism,
relationships with men, with our children. I think all of these universal
themes allowed me to talk to a greater -- to a bigger, larger audience.
HARRIS-PERRY: Family dynamics in the book are breathtaking. I`ve known
some of your work. But I didn`t know your personal story until I read the
text. I want to read one piece in particular where you have this
interaction with your mother when you`re very young.
And you say to her, "Mommy, I have to go. I`m sorry, I say. I want to
have a better life." She says to you, "What do you know what a better life
And you say to her, "I know what it`s not, mommy. You`ve shown me that
much." She says to you, "Go to hell. I hope you die, and go to hell with
It was April 1981 and I`m almost eight. She says this to you when you`re
HARRIS-PERRY: How impactful is that in shaping who you are?
CEPEDA: Well, I never really got a chance to know her well. I used to see
her as a sister figure. I grew up thinking that my aunt -- maybe hoping
that my aunt was my birth mother. So, my mother`s words never had a lot of
weight because I kind of like all children do, judge her by her actions and
not by her words, which didn`t really have many words in between us. Not
when I was living with her.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that sense of distance and actually ends up being a
CEPEDA: Yes, it`s never really hurt me. I mean, sometimes people read it,
like I remember you said you knew my work but not about my life. Even when
my husband when he read was like shocked beyond belief. And we were best
friends before we were married.
And he`s like, oh, my God, I didn`t know you went through this. And I`m
like, well, to me it`s just a thing. It`s not a really struggle memoir.
It`s more about the search of identity.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that you say that, because it doesn`t -- I
mean, on the one hand, there are shocking moments but it doesn`t feel like
I`m flogging through this struggle. Instead, it does feel like I`m peeling
back the layers of identity.
Tell me about -- for folks who haven`t read it yet, tell me about the
decision and the way that you become Latina.
CEPEDA: Well, it was going to not be memoirs. It was supposed to be like
about reportage and looking at Latino identity. And then I say, you know,
sometimes when you add your own personal story, kind of like I said before,
appeals to more people.
And I want to show that we are just as American as everybody else. We had
the same struggles and dynamics in our families. So the first part of the
book was like a memoir and actually bird comes from, I know why the caged
birds sing. It`s a nod to Dr. Maya Angelou.
And the second part, "How I Became Latina" is a chronicle about finding out
how exactly literally I became Latina, how did I become Latina before I was
Dominican-American. What are my ancestors? What happened for me to become
Latina? Who intermingled?
And what I found out was kind of remarkable.
HARRIS-PERRY: And a lot of how you find out who intermingled was a DNA, I
mean, part of it was the tracing of the family story. But the other big
part of it is the DNA. Tell me about that part.
CEPEDA: That was just -- it was incredible. I mean, I saw Dr. Henry Louis
Gates Jr. do his work. And I just thought, it was really interesting. I`m
like, you know, I feel like it would be interesting to do this with the
Latino community, because as Greenspan said from family tree DNA, when
you`re dealing with Latinas, it`s like a genetic crapshoot, which is do not
-- you can`t guesstimate what`s going to happen.
Because of Dominican Republic where my parents come from, is the seat of
the new world of all of the Americas, it was the first place that had a
successful European colony, the first place that had slaves brought in,
African slaves and the indigenous American slavery movement and all of
these other people, New Orleans before it was New Orleans.
CEPEDA: You just don`t know. You just don`t know who mixes in. What I
did was took a DNA test. I started with myself. Then I had my dad take a
DNA test and from then on, starting meeting family members I didn`t know
existed and had them help me create the branches on a tree.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I`m so appreciative of the book because it`s the
science of the DNA. It`s the personal narrative of the finding of the
self. It`s a little bit of hip hop thrown in there.
CEPEDA: Of course.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s all those different things. It really is a lovely
Thank you for joining us today.
CEPEDA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up next, a four-year long investigation into
adoption. The impact of a conservative Christian agenda.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you think about adoption, we often have a picture in
our head of a childless couple who want so much to start a family but
can`t, or of a parentless child in need of a home.
But recently, with the publicity of A-list celebrities adding to their
broods, through transnational adoption, adopting across and abroad has
become increasingly popular and aligned with humanitarian causes. But in
fact, the history of transnational adoption has been rife with abuse.
Just five years ago, Guatemala put a temporary moratorium on adoptions,
$100 million industry, after years of reported abuses like child thefts and
coercion of birth mothers. Since then, transnational adoptions have moved
to other parts of the world with very similar outcomes. And as
international adoption in recent years has evolved into an evangelical
movement, charges of abuse have unfortunately, only grown.
Preaching the gospel of adoption, American evangelicals have an outside-
sized role in overseas adoption, reportedly of some 200 accredited adoption
agencies listed with the state department, 50 agencies including some of
largest are explicitly Christian and evangelical.
Author and journalist Kathryn Joyce lays out the global reach of these
agencies in her new book, "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the
New Gospel of Adoption". She joins me now.
Thank you for being here.
KATHRYN JOYCE, AUTHOR, "THE CHILD CATCHERS": Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me. What is orphan theology?
JOYCE: Well, in the last few years what you started to see at a lot of
evangelical churches was an emphasis on their idea that Christians really
had to get involved in orphan care and adoption, and they were saying that
this is a way that adoption is mirroring the Christian salvation
experience. So, just as God adopts Christians, Christian parents need to
go and adopt children.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s also the other side of the abortion debate, right?
It`s not that we`re against abortion, we`re for adoption. We`re going to
provide an alternative for women who feel like they can`t carry a pregnancy
all the way to term?
JOYCE: Absolutely. I think adoption has always been very involved in the
abortion debate. But now, this has become a way for Christians to be what
they call more whole life, to have a more holistic pro-life or anti-
abortion message, to say we don`t just care about children inside the womb,
but we care after they`re born as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course, the challenge is that the anti-abortion policies
are domestic and the adoption is largely happening globally,
Why is that?
JOYCE: Well, after Roe v. Wade and the changes in society in the 1970s,
domestic adoption in the U.S. dropped dramatically. I think it went from
around 20 percent of unmarried white women, Christian children for
adoption, to now more around 1 percent. So for years, there have been many
more willing prospective adoptive parents than there are domestic infants
available for adoptions, so people started looking overseas.
And now, they`ve been helped along by the idea that overseas, there are
hundreds of millions of orphans in need of adoption.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the book was tough for me, because I entered into
reading about adoption, thinking about my friends, thinking about
colleagues who either are themselves adopted or have adopted and did so o
of such a great largess of heart.
HARRIS-PERRY: Then I`m reading that within these individual people who may
be making loving choices is a system that is as far as I can tell in many
countries taking children from -- perhaps not what we think of families,
but certainly from communities that could have been providing care for
JOYCE: Absolutely. In my reporting and talking to sources, I came across
families in countries like Ethiopia who had relinquished children for
adoption, several siblings, thinking that they were providing a great
educational opportunity for their children. I think a thing that we really
need to understand is that United States, our definition of adoption is not
universal. In other countries, there are traditions of adoption, a lot of
times, it looks more like guardianship or a sponsorship where you send your
child it a wealthier relative to give them better opportunities in life.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in other words, people might think to themselves, oh,
I`m allowing you to adopt, by which they think they mean, I`m giving an
opportunity to go to boarding school in the U.S. They don`t realize
they`re losing parental rights.
JOYCE: Right. Some of them think their children will return in just a
couple of years. Some think that this is a way for the whole family to
advance a little bit and become a little bit more stable. You are
investing in this one child to go and get a better education and then they
So it`s just not the same idea that we have of a complete transference of
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the key stories you tell about abuses is immediately
after the Haitian earthquake, and the idea that many people, again, of
goodwill, unfortunately, though, took this as opportunity to basically go
scoop children out, children who had living parents or grandparents or
aunts and uncles. Tell me the Haiti story.
JOYCE: Well, right after Haiti, there was just an incredible emphasis on
adoption. I feel like this is a way a lot of American media approached the
story was not necessarily looking at the entirety of the tragedy. But
looking at it through the lens of Americans who were connected to Haiti
because they were in some -- in some part of the process of adopting from
Haiti. So, a lot of the media attention focused on how do we get the
children who are matched with American parents out? And a lot of the
attention went there.
With that, there started being some probably incredibly well-intentioned
but vigilante missionaries who went down there. I think a lot of people
remember the story of Laura Silsby (ph) and the missionaries from Idaho who
went and were caught at the border of the Dominican Republic trying to
transport 33 children across the border.
So this is the way, I mean, that was a sloppy example, but this is the way
that frequently very good intentions can fall into serious problems.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s also the example, the fact that it wasn`t as
though America said, oh, Haitian people, adults and children, please come.
It was like, let`s just save the kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us. We`re going to add a few more voices here to
the table and I want to continue on this conversation.
JOYCE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been discussing the evangelical mission for
transnational adoption, which has become a movement among some devout
Christian families -- a movement of hundreds of individual families,
parents and children in this country each with their own individual and
So, joining at my table are two people who have been involved in the
transnational adoption process.
Karen Moline is a mother who adopted her son from Vietnam in 2001 and is a
board member for the Parents for Ethical Adoption reform.
And Tarikuwa Lemma was adopted at age 13 from the Ethiopia, who struggle
with two failed adoptions in the United States.
Also with us, University of Connecticut historian Jelani Cobb.
So, I want to start with you, Tarikuwa, when I say failed adoption, what
does that mean? What is your story?
TARIKUWA LEMMA, ADOPTED FROM ETHIOPIA AT AGE 11: When I was 13, my two
younger sisters and I came to America to corrupted adoption we`ve seen.
They told us that we were going to America for educational exchange program
and once we got to America, we found out that we were adopted. We didn`t
know what that meant.
So our family told us -- that American family told us that they are our
forever family and I reacted with a lot of grief and anger because I didn`t
want a new family. I have family in Ethiopia.
HARRIS-PERRY: How do they respond to your reasonable grief and anger?
LEMMA: I think they didn`t really react that well because they wanted to
adopt a child who was an orphan and that adoption agency told them false
information. And it was kind of my word against the adoption agency, and
plus, they just spent all this money. And that they`re like we can`t take
you back because like you`re our kid by law.
So, my sister and I just lived there for a while and later on, I found out
that they changed our names too. That`s one of the reasons why the
adoption fell I think. I was angry and I grieve over my name changed
because I didn`t want a new name. We already have Ethiopian given name.
And then they stopped us from speaking our native languages.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you at this point were 13. You weren`t an infant who
someone changed their name. You were a young woman.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your story, Kathryn, is the kind of story you tell in the
book that is so hard for me to even comprehend how such a thing happens.
How the set of public policies or individual decisions allow a child who
has a family, a community, even a name to be ripped out of that, around a
sort of missionary notion of it being better in the United States.
JOYCE: Absolutely. I think what happens in a lot of cases, as in
Tarikuwa`s, is that there is so much emphasis and there is so much
enthusiasm for adoption in the United States and especially in the
Christian adoption movement, a lot of people are very deeply moved by the
idea that there are hundreds of millions of orphans in need.
And so, if agencies are going out there and saying, sometimes they`re
taking videos of children and presenting these children sometimes in your
case, they were giving false fact stories, saying, you know, these children
are destitute, these children are about to be completely orphaned, they
might end up in a terrible circumstance and prostitution or something like
that, this sort of misinformation can start at the very local level. Then
it comes across the ocean and parents here, prospective parents here are
seeing that and are deeply moved.
And they move forward with an adoption and there have been lies and
misinformation kind of seeded in from the very beginning.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Karen, then what is a parent, someone who does feel
moved, maybe even has a sense of purpose as is part of the language often
around the evangelical part of the movement, how do you find an ethical way
to be engaged in adoption?
KAREN MOLINE, ADOPTED SON FROM VIETNAM: Well, I think what you have to do
first is examine your motives of going internationally, because, you know,
what I say often if you`re dealing with a corrupt country that has corrupt
practices in every aspect of its business, why would you assume that the
adoption business is exempt from the same sort of practices that taint
And when you have a very emotional process, which is the need and the want
to be a parent, coupled with a business model that doesn`t work, you have
this clash of not knowing what to do. I think because the stories that
like we`ve just heard are not -- are not isolated examples. If anything,
I`ve learned over my years since I adopted in 2001, corrupt stories are
more commonplace than the non-corrupt ones.
But it`s very, very difficult for honest, ethical, well-meaning people to
believe the depth of depravity that take place in this business bringing
these children to this country.
And so, the root of it, as it says in the Bible, of all evil is money.
There are staggering sums of money paid to these countries, and it`s not
that the money shouldn`t -- some form of sum shouldn`t be paid for child
care, for bureaucratic processing. But there is absolutely no transparency
where the funds are going.
And if you`re paying tens of thousands of dollars to a country, you should
see something for your money. You should see orphanages that have decent
care and schooling and nannies. You should see just people taking care of
these children and you don`t. You have starving babies and starving
So getting back to your question, I personally would not recommend adopting
internationally now because you have no control over the process. I would
recommend foster to adopt in this country. The problem is there aren`t
babies. There are very few young children as Kathryn said.
There aren`t (INAUDIBLE) like they were -- most children in the foster care
system in this country are older children, you know, 4 and older. I`m not
sure what the actual statistic of the average age is.
So, you know, when you also have a religious fervor driving your intentions
and some of the worst abuses unfortunately, have come from faith-based
agencies, I think in part because the parishioners do not -- are not
morally capable of believing that somebody who was a Godly person, a
prayerful good person is not just lying, but is stealing children, is
harming innocent victims like the one sitting right here. They cannot
believe it so they won`t believe it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, stay right here. I want to talk a bit more from you
and also talk a bit more about some of the ways, which is that it does
happen in our own country, across a different kind of international line.
That`s the international line of the U.S. state and other questions.
So when we come back. I`m sorry. It`s a lot, but I do want to hear, I
want to hear --
HARRIS-PERRY: In 1978, after decades of gross overreach by some state
child services agencies who were ripping Native American children from
their parents and putting them up for adoption, the Indian Child Welfare
Act was passed. The law provided custodial preference to Native American
parents ending in what an example of Minnesota was the forced adoption of
one quarter of Native American babies less than a-year-old.
Last week, oral arguments were heard at the U.S. Supreme Court for the case
adoptive couple versus baby girl. At issue, a little girl conceived by an
American Indian man and a non-Indian woman. And this little girl was
adopted by a South Carolina couple who raised her as their own for more
than a year.
With the girl`s biological father, member of the Cherokee Nation, invoked
the Indian Child Welfare Act to reclaim his daughter. And the South
Carolina Supreme Court sided with him. The girl has been living with her
biological father, Dustin Brown (ph), since early 2012. And her long-term
fate now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joining us now is Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National
Congress of American Indians and a member of the Raven/Sockeye Clan of the
Nice to see you again, Jackie.
JACQUELINE PATA, NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AMERICAN INDIANS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to put this in the context of this adoption piece.
I don`t really want you it adjudicate this particular case, the baby girl
case. Explain to me why the Indian Child Welfare Act even exists.
PATA: Well, you know, in the years up to 1978 when Congress passed this
law of the Indian Child Welfare Act, there were like a third of our
children were in foster care and outside of our communities, 90 percent of
them were in homes outside of our communities and we had the highest
adoption rates in the country. Eight percent nationally, some states were
double, more than double those rates. And the tribal leaders were very
concerned about the loss of our children to our communities.
And we also had studies that said our children outside of their communities
were not, didn`t stick to their culture, they weren`t successful, we had
more suicides. We knew that the trauma of our children leaving our
communities was both on the families and on the children coming up.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, it feels to me, Jackie, like part of what I
hear you saying and part what I want to include this is we`re talking about
the transnational adoption. But to the extent that indigenous tribes in
the U.S. are also their own nations, this is a kind of transnational baby-
snatching that was happening right here within U.S. borders.
PATA: Yes. And we had a lot of policies that have actually removed
children from our families. We had the boarding school era. We had those
other kinds of eras. But it`s shocking still today. How many native
students, how many native children are in the foster care system and placed
outside of our tribal community.
So the Indian Child Welfare Act was one that says let`s shore up, make sure
that the family gets the children first, the extended family gets the
children, the tribe gets the children or another Indian family gets the
children before you look at others outside entities.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me like the thing that is similar with your
story as we were talking in the break, it`s this idea that, well, it`s just
better to be in America. You should feel grateful that you were -- which
is the same language used for indigenous children. Just be happy that you
have a family.
LEMMA: Yes. They were saying they saved us from a horrible life in
Africa, and how we should just be grateful. And that`s -- like a lot of
people have attitude about that.
But I`m -- I was living in the middle class family in Ethiopian standards.
I had extended family. I had a community that could have taken care of me.
My father was told by the adoption agency, it`s only for educational
So he wanted us to get the American education and come back. He didn`t
want us to get a new family.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because you had one.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, I mean, you`re here at the table because when I
recall the history and even the present reality of Indian -- American
Indian tribes and then I hear the story of taking 13-year-old children from
the continent of Africa, changing their name, separating them from family -
- I mean, slavery is the only word that comes to mind.
COBB: Yes. I mean, there are probably people with problems with this.
That`s just what it is. I don`t -- it`s very difficult to hear your story
and remain composed. The analogy that comes directly to mind, the sort of
cultural arrogance is the worst form of Americanism. The belief that
everyone would be better if they were like us and will bestow upon us the
gifts of our society even gets your will is the same logic at the bottom of
the slave trade.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Jackie, the other piece of logic that was part of the
slave trade and part of the adoption story is part of the missionary aspect
-- this idea that you`re not only saving this child from the subpar culture
but saving them through connections to the gospel.
PATA: Correct. In Indian country, the missionary effort, they divided
Indian country, and they said, OK, certain areas will be certain religions
and we have a great deal of influence of religious various religions in our
But we have a great cultural revival which is part of the healing process
of bringing our families back together from the boarding schools, the
Christian boarding schools, and now, trying to be able to shore up those
children for the next generations and keeping this act in place is a tool
that`s going to help us keep our children at home.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Karen, what are the other policies that we need? Part
of what the Indian Child Welfare Act is about the fact that we needed
policy to address this. And we see internationally other countries
stepping in and saying, you know what, America, you simply cannot adopt our
children. What are the domestic policies we need?
MOLINE: Well, the domestic policies are much more severe regulations of
adoption agencies. Part of the problem with international adoption is that
the State Department issues the visa for the children to come to this
country, so that`s federal. But adoption agencies are state regulated.
States do not have the money to look after domestic adoption, which is
foster care and other child care services.
So, international adoption agency problems are at the bottom of their list.
To be fair to them, they just don`t have the budgets to oversee this.
Adoption agencies know it.
And adoptive parents have problems with ethics of their agencies have very
little recourse aside from suing, which is a very long process. The Hague
standards which were supposed to combat or lessen corruption and
trafficking are in my opinion a complete joke and travesty because most of
the Hague regulations were written by adoption agencies.
So, if you file a complaint of a Hague-regulated agency, the agency gets a
copy of the complaint. So, you know, from day one, you`re sort of screwed
in the middle of the process. You don`t know where your money is going.
You don`t know who the employees are internationally. You have very little
recourse. People don`t believe you. You`re harassed and threatened as we
have as brave adoptive parents who dared to speak out. Agencies are
threatened and harassed and some even been sued by adoption agencies. So,
it starts at the state level with better regulation of adoption agencies
and there must be transparency where the sums of money are going.
HARRIS-PERRY: Where the money going. Kathryn, I felt like part of this as
I was reading this, this is the other thing that kept feeling like slavery
to me. Somebody is making a lot of money off of this process.
JOYCE: Right, right. International adoptions are hugely expensive. On
average, they`re about $30,000. Sometimes it ranges up to even $60,000.
It`s not as though that money is going in one lump sum to any one person or
any one agency. It`s broken down into a lot of different parts.
But, you know, agencies depend on these fees in order to stay in business.
When countries tighten their regulations, you see agencies going out of
business. That happened just in --
HARRIS-PERRY: They jump countries.
JOYCE: They jump countries and if they can`t find a country that has
enough adoptable children, then they end up going bankrupt. Their business
model is based on having enough children.
But also what we saw in some countries like Ethiopia in the early days of
adoption there, when agencies did not have all the orphanages their
orphanages set up yet, some of them were working directly with what are
essentially child finder, a fixed fee to people who could go out to the
rural who don`t have understanding of adoption, and bring them in under
whatever sort of circumstances.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jackie, I want to e with you on this one, just because, you
know, I got in a trouble for a "Lean Forward" commercial where I suggested
that it was a community responsibility to children. Part of what people
said to me is, oh, this is about the state wanting to snatch your kids.
And as soon as I thought, and I though that there is one group who has a
right to field actual threat and concern about that, and that is in the
context of this country Native Americans. So, again, just -- if you could
tell us just one more time. In the context of this, again, not to
adjudicate this particular case, but is the Indian Child Welfare Act itself
potential going to go away, depending on how the Supreme Court decides this
PATA: You know, I`m afraid there will continue to be challenges on the
Indian Child Welfare Act, just because there are adoption agencies that are
looking for, you know, children. But the most important thing in this
particular case is if the law was followed, we wouldn`t have had this case.
The law was very clear, the attorneys knew what the responsibility was.
And we see this -- this is not just one case, we see it across the country,
where the states or the lawyers don`t follow the law and go first to the
family and make sure that there`s a family -- to see if there`s a family
member who would like the children.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, this is the story.
Thank you so much, Jackie Pata, in Washington, D.C. Also, thank you,
Kathryn, for the book, which I think really shed important light. Thank
you to Karen and Tarikuwa. And also to Jelani for spending some time with
Up next, last night was prom night, twice. It was a good night for nerds,
when we come back.
HARRIOS-PERRY: It`s prom season. Last night, there were two proms that we
at MHP Show have been anxiously anticipating.
The first was Washington, D.C., and officially the event was the White
House Correspondents` Dinner. It`s not technically a prom. It`s a dinner
where the big dogs of the federal government spend the evening rubbing
elbows with Hollywood celebrities and the New York and D.C. political
In recent years, it has become known as nerd prom, presumably because only
political nerds to be excited about being in the room with the secretary of
labor and folks like MSNBC`s S.E. Cupp and Thomas Roberts, kind of a nerd
But a great piece from "The Atlantic" claims that nerd prom actually isn`t
very nerdy. In fact, they`re highly unscientific assessment of this year`s
attendees put the celebrity to nerd ratio at about 19:1. If only the MHP
Show team had attended, I`m sure we could have upped the nerd factor.
But while I may have missed the prom, I did make an appearance at the MSNBC
after-party. Well, not me exactly, I was here. But there was a cool Ben
and Jerry`s flavor developed just the occasion. That`s right. While my
colleague Rachel Maddow was tending bar, nerd prom revelers got to enjoy
Melissa Harris-Berry extravaganza, described as being as fresh and trendy
as MHP. We kind of love that.
But nothing made us happier than the other prom last night. This one in
rural Georgia. Wilcox County High School hosted its first ever integrated
prom. And as we told you a few weeks ago, Wilcox County High School proms
are private parties, not school sponsored events. And since the 1970s, the
parents have been hosting two proms, one for black students and the other
one for white students.
All that changed last night, thanks for four students, two black and two
white, and all their dedicated friends and classmates who set up a Facebook
page, garnered national attention, raised money and threw a party that was
open to all students, regardless of race.
Nerd prom and integrated prom, I may not have been in attendance, but as
far as I`m concerned, it just doesn`t get any better than integrated nerds.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" today live from Washington, D.C.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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