August 4, 2013
Guests: Michael Singh, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Leila Hilal, Salamishah Tillet,
Steve Perry, Mychal Denzel Smith, Jamie Kilstein, Uzo Aduba, Kate Mulgrew,
Laverne Cox, Piper Kerman
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question: When is a
military coup not a coup?
Plus the smoke, mirrors, and saggy pants misdirecting the national
conversation on race.
And the cast from the hottest new TV show, or the hottest new show on your
computer, "Orange is the New Black" comes to Nerdland.
But first, the moment John Kerry has been preparing for his entire life.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Whether it`s the celebrity off spring of the couple known as Kimmy or the
royal birth of Prince George to parents, Will and Kate, or magazine cover
saying you can have it all without the kids, the talk around birthing or
not birthing babies is all the rage these days. So, it should comes of no
surprise that on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced he will
deliver his own bundle of joy in nine months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The parties have agreed here today that
all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other
issues are all on the table for negotiation. And they are on the table
with one simple goal, a view to ending the conflict ending the claims. Our
objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of
the next nine months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Secretary Kerry is hoping to deliver what no other secretary
before him has been able to birth, a peace baby in the Middle East. This
is the moment that John Kerry has been preparing for his entire adult life.
And achieving peace in the Middle East has pretty much been the equivalent
of a man given birth, damn nearly impossible.
Peace. It`s a concept that`s been on John Kerry`s mind since he returned
from the Vietnam War and testified before Congress in 1971 as a member of
Vietnam veterans against the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: On the question of getting out with some chance of peace, as a man
who fought there, I`m trying to say this policy has no chance for peace.
You don`t have a chance for peace when you arm the people of another
country and tell them they can fight a war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: As a man, who has seen the horrors of war, the Secretary
Kerry`s quest to deliver peace in the Middle East is honorable and it began
long before Tuesday`s announcement. For Kerry, this has been a work in
progress since his days as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
between 2009 and 2012, a position that gave him access to key players like
Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian authority
president, Mahmoud Abbas.
So, like any expectant parent, John Kerry has made the necessary
preparations for the birth of his peace baby because this isn`t an
unplanned pregnancy. But in spite of all the preparations one can make,
things, especially trying to brother peace in the Middle East, don`t always
go according to plan as we have seen in the not too ant past. The Camp
David, of course, of 1978 brokered by president Jimmy Carter led to Israel
withdrawing from the Sinai peninsula but fell short of achieving the
establishment of the self-governing authority in the Israeli occupied Gaza
Strip and West Bank.
1993, the (INAUDIBLE) accords which were brokered by then President Bill
Clinton, result to the signing of a declaration of principles and led to a
semiautonomous Palestinian authority that did not complete the process of
final statues issues like the borders.
And the Camp David talks in 2000 between Clinton, Barack and Arafat, were
no more successful virtually ended in the Palestinian uprising began on
September of that year. And those are just three examples from this long
and winding road to try to get peace.
Adding to Secretary Kerry`s challenge, a region now on high alert. At
least 22 embassies and conflicts in Africa and Middle East region are
closed today because of credible al-Qaeda threat. And frankly, the so many
years of peace miscarriages, the phrase Middle East peace feels like a
trope at this point. I mean, what would little east peace even look like
and could it be a lasting and sustainable accomplishment.
John Kerry is not King Solomon, this baby cannot be split, if this is to be
born Kerry will have to find a way to address release of Palestinian
prisoners, what final borers will look like, Israeli settlements in the
West Bank and perhaps most complicated of all, Jerusalem.
If Kerry is able to deliver his peace baby to the Middle East, if he no one
else before him has been able to achieve, it will undoubtedly define the
legacies of he and President Obama. And if he, too, falls short, there`s
no telling how long or severe the labor pains will be.
Joining me at the table, Leila Hilal, director of Middle East task force at
the new America foundation and former senior policy adviser to the
commissioner general of the Palestinian refugee agency, Jeremy Ben-Ami,
president and founder of J Street, the political home for pro Israel, pro
peace Americans. Rula Jebreal, an MSNBC contributor and foreign policy
analyst for Newsweek and Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington
institute and former senior director for Middle East affairs at the
national Security Council.
Thank you all for joining me.
Jeremy, I want to start with you. How important is it this happens now
under this Secretary of State and this president?
JEREMY BEN-AMI, PRESIDENT, FOUNDER, J STREET: The urgency is real. If
they don`t achieve an agreement now, the spiraling of consequences is
really potentially severe. The Palestinian authority likely could
collapse. The Israelis would have to go back in and assume full civil and
military control of the West Bank, violence would like erupt. In the
context of the region you described, violence there sets off sparks around
the whole region, so this an incredibly important moment and incredibly
high stakes decision by the administration to go for it at this moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not entirely unheard of for a second term American
president to put the question of Middle East peace talks on the agenda.
But in this case, it seems to be as much the president certainly but it is
really John Kerry, this kind of narrative of Kerry and his understanding of
what peace is. What do you think about him as the broker here?
MICHAEL SINGH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: You know, I
think you`re right. President Obama doesn`t seem to be deeply involved in
this. In a way he sort of was burned with his first effort at Israeli-
Palestinian peace. And he seems to have stepped back. He doesn`t have
great relationships with Netanyahu or Abbas. And so, John Kerry has really
And I think what Kerry can bring to this, obviously being Secretary of
State is different from being a senator. You have a completely different
role, but he does have the relationships on both sides. He does seem to be
well liked and even trusted by both sides. And I think he knows the issues
relatively well as well from having sat on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee for so long.
Now, he is going to step back and hand this over to Martin Indyk now, the
special envoy. Martin is a person who knows these negotiations very well
as well. And Secretary Kerry in a sense will have to run interference with
the rest of the region. Because as you said, there`s a lot going on in the
region, Iran, Syria, Egypt and so forth. And that is I think where
Secretary Kerry will have to focus now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, in fact, this idea of Martin Indyk actually being sort
of the person who is doing it but part of Secretary Kerry told us was if
anyone says anything and you didn`t hear it from me, then don`t buy it.
Don`t believe it. I am the one person here who is going to speak. What do
you think of this sort of cone of silence that Secretary Kerry is imposing
here? Is it to allow more space to put every single thing on the stable?
LEILA HILAL, DIRECTOR, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, I think it makes
sense when they are trying to negotiate hard issues to keep it quiet and to
avoid the attempt to discredit by potential spoilers. So I think any sort
of negotiation conflict resolution you can say it makes sense. Whether or
not it will work in this case is a big question. The last time the party
sat down for direct negotiations during the Annapolis process in 2009, they
were also very secret talks and they did not end in an agreement. So it`s
no magic solution to a process.
HARRIS-PERRY: So when you say there`s no magic solution, I mean, one of
the magic solutions that we consistently hear repeated every time we sort
of approach this again is the two-state solution. I want to listen to
Secretary Kerry speaking on this for just a moment and have you respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: We all understand the goal that we`re working towards, two states
living side by side in peace and security. Two states, because two proud
people deserve a country to call their own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the framing is different here. He says not because the
U.S. thinks this is the proper solution but he says this has to do with two
proud people, this have to do with people deserving land and state hood to
call their own. Is this a viable reality? It is always the sort of first
thing that we hear on this side of the pond about this.
RULA JEBREAL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think what Jeremy was trying to say, if
this peace agreement would not happen, violence will erupt. Everybody
(INAUDIBLE) and everybody was preparing for that. But I think what the
Israelis are realizing more and more, and this is why suddenly they are
coming along, that if the peace agreement will not be brokered now, before
it`s too late, there would be no Jewish state.
I mean, Netanyahu`s legacy can be that he would be the leader that actually
destroys the Jewish identity of the states because more and more the land
is being eaten up by settlements and by construction of settlements in very
vital positions blocking the West Bank from Jerusalem. And if you go and
look around, you see the wall. And the wall is eating more and more land.
You know, the board between Israel and Palestine is 390. The wall is 680,
so, it`s doubled. The land between Israel and Palestine, the borders are
very blurry today.
So -- but that will mean Israel will wake up one day and realize they are
ruling over a majority of Arabs and they will have to decide if it`s a
Jewish state or democratic state. And if it`s a Democratic state, the
prime minister one day might be called Masmoud Salim (ph) or something like
this. And this is what is urging this negotiation. But I think there is a
lot of challenge on both sides because many factions within the Palestinian
authority and many fashion within the Israeli coalition doesn`t want this.
And they believe that bottom line, they would rather have a one-state
HARRIS-PERRY: And this issue of a Jewish state has been the sticking
points repeatedly, this notion of needing to actually recognize Israel as a
Jewish state. Is Netanyahu in part because he is a hawk, most capable of
brokering this, of being in charge at the moment this happens, in part
because of what his stances have been in the past?
BEN-AMI: Well, I think he is the leader most capable of convincing the
majority of Israelis to make the decision the rule is outlining. If he
makes the case, which he is beginning to do, it`s in Israel`s national
interest to divide the land and move out of settlements and make these
difficult decisions, Israelis will follow him because of his hawkish and
right wing background. The security issues are most important to Israelis.
And if somebody like Netanyahu says to them this deal is in your security
interest, they will follow him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us. We`ve got much more here. And I specifically
want to talk about the other players because John Kerry cannot deliver
alone. Who is going to be the mid wife to this peace baby?
HARRIS-PERRY: This was an unforgettable scene, May 2011 and President
Obama was getting lectured in his own house. Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, in what was supposed to be a photo, launched into a
full on diatribe responding when President Obama said, quote, "that the
borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think for there to be peace,
Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first system,
while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot
go back to the 1967 lines because these Islam are indefensible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu has
long been a frosty one. But Netanyahu, who has called John Kerry, quote,
"a known supporter of Israel security," has a very different relationship
with the current Secretary of State. Theirs is a relationship Kerry has
been building for years since his time as Senate Foreign Relations
Committee chairman, which may explain why he is front and center in this
story with the president in the backdrop.
But again, he will not do it alone. We talked about Martin Indyk. Let`s
talk about the folks at the table representing Palestinian interests and
Israel interests. What do we know about their relationship and the
likelihood of these talks going better than that meeting went?
BEN-AMI: Well, (INAUDIBLE) are the two lead negotiation who had been this
road before. They know each other. They have got a relationship. They
know the issues inside and out. We don`t have to start at square one.
Pick up where discussions have happened before. Livni has been the main
articulators of this notion that a deal is in Israel`s national interest.
And she comes from the same right wing background that Netanyahu comes from
family wise, idea logically, so she has sort of his primed the road that
the prime minister got to need to go gown. I`ll leave it to my colleagues
to talk a bit more about the cybercrat (ph).
JEBREAL: I think more than cybercrat (ph), I mean, Livni is not trusted by
baby Netanyahu. I mean, she is somebody that challenged him in the
election before. She won 28 seats while he won actually 27 and he managed
to have a coalition, she didn`t manage to have that.
But that shows you the mindset. He is not giving Livni those that he
believed in. I mean, one of the issues here, major issues, and it comes
out from that interview, that piece with Netanyahu challenging President
Obama. Netanyahu has in his coalition people that say today we don`t
believe in peace and there`s one state solution and this is what we believe
in, with rights for only the Jews in that state, for the Jewish
populations, not the Arabs.
So, I don`t think he will change his mind easily. He might believe in the
national interest and security but he have to break with his own party like
Ariel Sharon did when he broke with his own party and created Likud -- I`m
sorry, created Kadima (ph) and Livni followed him and others. I`m not sure
he is ready for that.
SINGH: Well, you know, there is no doubt I think that part of Livni coming
in Netanyahu`s coalition why is this promise that you would try to make
progress in the peace process, and then this would be something she could
do. But I think it`s actually better in a sense that you have these
negotiators dealing with issues exploring whether there`s room for
agreement. Because if it fails at this level, it`s not catastrophic, you
know, they can come back later and they can, you know, have another
iteration in this process, where if it fails at the leadership level, at
Netanyahu-Abbas level, that could lead to a total breakdown.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that while all the leaders, Obama and Abbas and Netanyahu
are all sort of a step removed, even Secretary Kerry a half step back from
it, so that failure or success somehow, you know, sort of tamps down how
bad it could be on the back end?
SINGH: I think that`s right. You want to save that currency, that
political capital that the leaders have for when it really is necessary and
when they are really is something to be achieved. I think something that
Secretary Kerry has already been criticized for. And he has been to Israel
five or six times. Now, it`s worked out in the sense he`s gotten some
But, if none of these pans out, people will say well, he spent too much
capital just getting a conversation going when he should have been saving
that for when there`s something to be achieved. And I think that all the
leaders are sort of sensitive to that and will want to first see if there`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there any one person, potentially in that room who you
think is the catalyst, who if there is, you know, is it Livni, is there any
sort of one move that could be made that could change what this chessboard
HILAL: We have seen them in the same room for months trying to broker a
comprehensive peace agreement already. And I think from what I`ve seen and
many of those papers were released by Al Jazeera international. So, we
have an insider view to the negotiations. And Livni wants an agreement.
She genuinely wants a two-state solution. And I think she is unique in
Israel for that fact. And (INAUDIBLE) is a very seasoned negotiator and he
also wants a two-state solution. The gaps between the two parties, gaps
between the societies are so great, that even if these two well meaning
negotiators can find a formula at the negotiation table, it doesn`t mean
peace is necessarily on the horizon.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to talk about Jerusalem, and I
want to talk about right to return as the sort of fundamental issues and
whether or not even in goodwill there`s space to address those two.
Because up next, the wall that divides the Israelis and Palestinians is a
wall in more than one way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Achieving peace in the Middle East is difficult enough with
the vast number of deep rooted and complicated issues that need to be
resolved. So when you add a literal 400 mile barrier to the equation, the
physical manifestation of the blockade becomes an unavoidable added layer
Israel began building its West Bank barrier in 2002 during the height of
the Palestinian uprising which started two years earlier. Israeli
authorities say the wall is for security that attacks dropped off since its
inception. Many Palestinians feel the wall is an encroachment on their
land and makes peace negotiations with Israel impossible.
All right. So the big issues I want to put on the table here for us are
the wall, Jerusalem, and the right to return. Not that I need you to solve
them, because obviously if you could, we would make you all Secretary of
State. But, what will be -- I mean, are those resolvable concerns?
BEN-AMI: I would say yes, you know. I think that every issue is
resolvable. There have been numerous model agreement foot forward about
Jerusalem, let`s say the Jewish neighborhoods become the capital of the
state of Israel. The Arab neighborhoods become the capital of Palestine.
The one square kilometer, that is the holy size, becomes some sort of
international city which freedom of access for all religions. It has been
a concept on the table since President Clinton laid out parameters 13 years
ago. And on refugees recognizing the rights of refugees and compensating
monetarily and with relocation and perhaps some small number with family
reunification within Israel.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I can`t believe I`m about to be the person who throws
the flame here. But let me just suggest that part of what happens when we
hear what sounds so reasonable as a solution, particularly for Americans,
it`s like well, that seems not such a big deal, why not just do that.
But the security issues and the sense what it means to defend Israel and to
defend the Jewish people against what have been repeated literally
centuries of attempted genocides is part of the vocabulary that then
becomes very difficult if you are sort of sitting in a studio in New York
to be able to resolve, right?
So I just -- I mean, is it resolvable? Yes, if there`s no emotion and
history behind it, but there is.
JEBREAL: On top of it, not only emotion and history, there is the biggest
army in the Middle East. That is the fifth strongest army in the world,
the Israeli IDF. They are sitting on 200 atomic bombs. I mean, what are
we talking about? We are not talking about victims anymore? We are
talking about a national state the strongest in the Middle East and beyond
the Middle East, the best high-tech hub becoming more and more, and the
best, you know, secret service agencies.
So, Israel is coming to the table as a strong state. It is not coming in
the table as, you know, people and refugees and other things. And I think
one of the reasons why there this distrust on both sides, the lack of
implementation of any accords, you know. Israeli signed peace agreement in
1993, as we mentioned 20 years ago today, none of these accords were
The settlements in the West Bank were 60 settlements then. Today they are
200. The numbers of settlers within the West Bank was something around
200,000. Today, they are half million between east Jerusalem and the
occupied territories. So we need to stop this narrative of victim hood and
move forward and do something about it.
Jerusalem can be actually discussed, the only -- I have a feeling from both
sides that the refugees, the issue of return, the right to return, has to
include more partners. And here, the Arab league has to come in. The
Saudis gave Egyptians lays a $12 billion. They have to give something to
the authorities and to the Israelis to absorbs there refugees.
HARRIS-PERRY: I do want to suggest that being a perpetrator and being a
victim are not ritually exclusive categories, right, and that we could both
be true that there is a strong state that perpetrated atrocities and in
living memory, there is the experienced of state-based victimization
against the people, both things, that one being true does not mean the
other isn`t simultaneously.
JEBREAL: Absolutely. We need to move.
SINGH: I think to be fair. Look, we have to remember that Israel`s
security dilemma has been since its founding that this is a small state
surrounded by hostile neighbors. And I think, you know, when we say the
issues are resolvable. I think, of course, they are resolvable. There is,
you know, you can Google peace plans and there is 200 of them out there.
The question is, I think, for Israelis will peace bring security. Will it
really be the end of the conflict or simply a new phase in the conflict?
Or will it simply be a kind of new face in the combat. That, I think, is
what Israel`s are worried about, which is why I think you need to add to
that list of core issues. Not just refugees, Jerusalem, borders and so
forth, but security.
And I think that one of the things Secretary Kerry has done smartly, in
fact, is put General Don Allen in charge of this kind of question of
security, helping Israel work on security arrangements with neighbors, also
with the Palestinians to ensure that whatever compromises are made will not
compromise that key issue of security.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to listen for just a moment to John Kerry giving a
definition of peace and have you respond, in part because this question of
peace, do we just mean the absence of active fighting or something else.
Let`s listen to what the secretary said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: We can also envision a day when Israelis actually truly can live in
peace, not just the absence of conflict but a full and lasting peace with
Arab and Muslim nations and end once and for all pernicious attacks on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, he puts security, you know, in the end but at the core
there, but then this broader definition of peace. Is that the vision with
which the folks are sitting down to negotiate?
HILAL: Well, first of all, security has always been a major issue in the
negotiations. And it`s probably, as has been pointed out, extensive
coordination on the ground between Palestinian Israeli security forces.
There`s a huge effort to try to beef that up.
But really that`s not the issue. The issue is that the Palestinians are
asking for self-determination. They are asking for -- and they are asking
on a compromise basis of 22 percent of their historic homeland. And they
are also asking for recognition of right of refugees who were displaced
from their land in 1948 and after for recognition of those rights and for
their dispossession. And I think that`s a very reasonable ask. And none
of these reasonable asks have been accepted in the past 21 years of peace
And so, I actually think all of the issues on the table are hard, because
we don`t have a strong Israeli interest in getting to a peace deal. We
have an Israel that thinks they can manage the conflict ad nauseam. And I
don`t necessarily think that there`s a different calculation on the part of
Netanyahu or the Israeli people at this point in time.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, this question of the kind of peace that the
secretary articulated there versus managing the conflict.
Stay with us. We have more in this hour on the complications here. But
when we come back, I`m going to go to Cairo to speak can Richard Engel
about the morning -- the fact this morning scores of U.S. embassies are
HARRIS-PERRY: More than 20 American embassies and consulate throughout the
Middle East and Africa are closed in response to what senior U.S. officials
are calling a specific terror threat attack.
The state department issued a warning for Americans traveling abroad, the
first time a global alert was issued since Osama bin Laden was killed in
Joining me now live from Cairo is NBC News chief foreign correspondent
Nice to have you this morning, Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. It is
good to join you from a very hot day here in Cairo but I`m glad to be on
So, tell me a little bit, I mean, obviously we first started hearing about
embassies closing beginning Thursday night, then got hot sort of all day on
Friday. What is the administration saying about the scope of these embassy
ENGEL: The scope of the embassy closings, embassies and consulate, is
obviously very large. About 22 different facilities closed just today,
although we are not exactly sure when some of these facilities will reopen.
We spoke to a spokesperson today here in Cairo and asked, OK, there is a
closure. When is the embassy going to reopen? And the spokesperson said,
well, we are still evaluating.
This is a blanket move. It is obviously very serious. And what we know
from talking to different sources is that the threat goes back to Yemen.
That it`s a very specific threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
which is the al-Qaeda affiliate based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, mostly
operating in the lawless parts of Yemen. And this threat was to target
western interest that people had been mobilized. That the threat was
pretty far advanced and it was supposed to take place right now in this
time period in the final days of Ramadan and going into the Eider holiday
which is starting in a few days.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard --
ENGEL: How it evolved in a threat -- sorry, one other point. How it
evolved from a threat just to Yemen to a global, however, action and
embassies closing across the Middle East to Africa, however, is a much
different question. And some officials we have been speaking to, including
U.S. ambassadors aren`t exactly pleased. They say they have work to do.
They think this is an overreaction. They think because of Benghazi and the
amount of political pressure that happened after the Benghazi attack that
the state department is overreacting and operating in an abundance of
caution, but it is difficult for them to come out and publicly say that
because no one wants to criticize security measures especially if something
were to go wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, Richard. That`s actually exactly sort of where I
wanted to go is, is this about the politics of Benghazi or is this about
the sort of, example, the likelihood that this, for example, may be human
intelligence rather than just intelligence gathered, you know, through
other kinds of means. Is there something here, just given the scope of it
that would suggest it`s actually based on the credibility of the threat
based on the politics of Benghazi?
ENGEL: I think it`s probably a little of both. What I have been told is
that this threat is quite credible. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a
very dangerous group. It has a new leader right now who took over from
another leader who was killed in a drone attack in the middle of last
month. This new leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula might want to
prove himself. His name is (INAUDIBLE). He was one of Osama bin Laden`s
deputies. He is someone who is highly connected in the al-Qaeda structure.
So, there is a real threat. It was supposedly just limited to Yemen. But
when you look at al-Qaeda in the peninsula, and the people that are involve
in that organization, the fact they have a new leadership, the fact they
are still angry about this drone attack that killed in the middle of last
month one of their top leaders, I think it led some people in the state
department to wonder whether this could have more international linkages,
whether the attack could slip out of Yemen, whether there was a more
international dynamic, if you will.
And then perhaps acting in an abundance of caution or some saying acting in
a heavy-handed manner, perhaps because they got so burned because of
Benghazi they ordered this blanket closure of so many facilities.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you to weigh in on something we have been
talking about all morning on the program which is Secretary Kerry`s efforts
to renew peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. And I`m wondering
if these broader conflicts that we are seeing throughout the region, before
we continue to talk about later on the show, whether or not it will
complicate the process from your perspective.
ENGEL: There`s two ways to look at it. You have to look at the conflict
between the Israelis and Palestinians and then larger Israeli-Arab
conflict. And then, as some of your guests were just talking about
earlier, ask the fundamental question does Israel, and do the Palestinians,
let`s talk about Israel for the second. Does Israel really want to
negotiate? How does Israel feel right now?
And some people say Israel that feels very threatened because you have
uprising all around it. You have Hezbollah which is now active in a
military conflict in Syria. You have tumult here in Egypt where there has
been a coup and still protests on the streets. You have Jordan, which is
an ally of Israel also, feeling some pressure. So, one school of thought
is that Israel would never want to negotiate right now because it feels
threatened, feels instability in the region.
Another way of looking at it, however, is that Israel is perhaps enjoying a
period of comfort, that all of its potential adversaries, the countries
around it not including Iran but the countries that have traditionally
threatened it are in a state of internal chaos and wouldn`t be in a
position t launch any kind of military offensive or attack on Israel.
If you look back at say 1967 or 1973, they were tanks marching toward
Israel and Israel felt very much that it could be driven into the sea and
felt much less secure than it does right now when you have Syria in an open
civil war, Lebanon fractured and perhaps soon to be in a civil war, Iraq
fighting its own insurgency, Egypt in total chaos.
So, a lot of this is going to depend on how Israel feels and if Israel
feels this is the right time to negotiate. Most people in the region are
not very encouraged about the prospect for not just renewed peace talks but
for a lasting peace right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard Engel joining us live from Cairo this morning and
setting the table for the rest of our hour with exactly the questions you
Thank you for being with us.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, why when it comings to Egypt the United
States is picking its words very, very carefully.
HARRIS-PERRY: The new push for peace between the Israeli and Palestinian
people comes amid serious turmoil in the region. Egypt, military ousted
President Mohamed Morsi last month after a wave of massive popular protests
against Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood party. They were accused of
accumulating too much power and failing to tackle Egypt`s economic and
public security problems. Since then nearly 300 people have been killed in
political violence, including 80 supporters of Morsi gunned down by
security forces while participating in sit-in protests.
The military has promised that its rule will be temporary looking to hold a
new round of election in six months. And the U.S. is treading carefully.
The administration wants Egypt back to civilian democratic rule as quickly
as possible and is putting pressure on the military to keep its promises.
It has also holding off on calling military intervention a coup, although,
Richard Engel just did. Because such a designation will force the U.S. to
cancel its annual $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, something officials say
could further plunge the country into chaos.
So, this question of coup or not a coup is center -- I mean, you know, I
was listening to Richard. And when he said it, I kind of sat up because we
just heard John Kerry say what military did here was to restore democracy,
because millions and millions of people wanted it. What are your responses
JEBREAL: Well, Egyptians, what`s happening in Egypt, actually, is reflect
very much on Israel. That -- I think we need to explain why we give this
aid. We don`t give this aid so we can open schools in Egypt. We give aid
to the military, directly to military, most of it, and it goes because --
to protect peace treaty with Israel, so to protect the borders mainly.
So to cut that aid, meaning cutting one of your arms and major leverage we
have over the military. The militaries today are in control. We have Sisi
(ph) telling "the Washington Post" I don`t understand why Obama didn`t call
me as if he`s president. He is acting already as if he is the president of
Egypt and not Mansour Adly.
So, the Egyptian militaries will not be the custodians of democracy. I
think it should be clear. If you read the essay that Sisi (ph) wrote in
2006 when he was here in Pennsylvania at the war academy -- I`m sorry, army
academy, he said clearly what I believe in is two kind of government for
the Arab world and it is an Islamist and with military side of it. So, he
is actually saying two things that are clear. He believes in Islamist
ruling, Sharia law on other sense. He was actually telling the soldiers
protecting them when they are doing the testing, the verge of you know,
he`s protecting their interest.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause so people know who Sisi is, jut you know, in
case almost saying it did quite got you. This is, of course, the general,
the military general who says that he is not planning to be the president
and yet is wanting President Obama to call him.
Let`s just look real quickly what he said here. In his critique of the
United States in the moment of what has not yet been called a coup, where
is the economic support to Egypt from the U.S. even throughout the year
when the former president was in office, where was U.S. support to help
restore economy and overcome dire need.
So, there`s sort of argument that U.S. has turned its back on its friend
and ally Egypt despite the flowing money to the military.
SINGH: I think that we have to take the long view of Egypt. Because when
they had this revolution in March 2011, history tells us revolutions don`t
take place in one act, you know. It is not going to resolve itself in one
year or two years even though we may want it too. And I think what the
U.S. has done is it has fallen into the trap of being too reactive and not
trying to kind of take the long view and nudge Egypt to the direction of
democracy over the long-term because this military coup that did happen in
July didn`t really supplant the democracy. There was a democratic
election. But the Muslim brotherhood, when they came into power, I think
they overreached. Morsi, the former president, remember, he put himself
above the judiciary, re rammed through a sort of Islamist constitution.
And I think what we are seeing, if we are seeing anything, hopefully we are
seeing a kind of gradual progress towards democracy. We may just be seeing
Egypt fall into its whole pattern of regress to autocracy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because I mean, as much as we are seeing they have
overreached, I mean, it is widely understood that these were the sort of
free and fair election, right?
JEBREAL: And won five times.
HILAL: Right. And I think we can only call it a coup. The military
stepped in. They essentially abducted the democratically elected leader.
He is under arrest. He is being held in an undisclosed location. They
installed a president. Then it was -- they appoint add government which
includes the general Sisi and now, making comment that suggests that he
fashions himself as the president.
He as challenging the United States, which I think could foretell as a
potential interest in withdrawing from the peace treaty with Israel saying
we have other partners to rely on. The Gulf States are providing a lot
more money to Egypt, much more than the U.S.`s $1.3 billion.
And so, I think we are facing a new moment in Egypt despite the previous
mess, and this is a very dangerous moment and is quite a dangerous
president for the U.S. to stand back and say in fact, this is an effort
HARRIS-PERRY: I will take a quick pause. We are going to stay right on
this topic as soon as we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are back and talking about how the ongoing conflict in
Egypt impacts the Middle East peace process, which is in its stages again.
You want to weigh in here?
BEN-AMI: Well, I just think it`s very important to keep in mind the U.S.
is riding a really difficult wave here. And you don`t want to see the U.S.
on the side of a military overthrow but you also don`t want to see the U.S.
reacting precipitously and pulling out and having no longer leverage and
cutting off its own nose despite its face. This is a long-term gain and
U.S. has to balance the desire for stability with the long-term interest of
being on the side of the people. And that is not an easy balance. And I
think that this administration is struggling whether it has been, you know,
in Libya or in Egypt or in Syria. This is a very, very difficult situation
to manage and we shouldn`t be making precipitous decisions.
HARRIS-PERRY: But part of the problem with the precipitous is there is a
standing law about how we are required to behave in the context when we
call it a coup.
BEN-AMI: They always wave that. I mean, you know, they would have a
little bit of time on Honduras, Pakistan. I mean, over the last 20 years,
that has never been --
JEBREAL: Yes. Buy president came in, the first speech he gave, he gave at
Cairo, American university and he actually called for reforms and
democracy. And people followed on that. So, we can`t leave them now
hanging. Also, because, we have our interest in the region and Egypt is
the most important country in that place. If Egypt fails, everything
fails. And we need -- you know, what Sisi was saying in "the Washington
Post" and Morsi`s son was saying in another interview, that we need to use
Americans. Somehow, the Americans need to use their leverage and bring
back the Muslim brotherhood.
They represent the majority of the people in Egypt. In every election,
they won the election. The parliamentary election, the presidential
election, referendum for the constitution, one, two, three, they won every
Today, you cannot gun them down and kill them and say, OK, we represent
democracy and freedom in Egypt. You need to bring them back, otherwise you
have civil war.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re more skeptical of bring back Morsi argument.
SINGH: Well, look. I don`t think it`s realistic. You know, the United
States, let`s not forget, we have interests in the Middle East. And our
primary responsibility is to our interest. And our interest here is in
stability. Our primary interest is in democracy over the long-term.
I don`t think that Morsi is going to come back. I don`t think the military
will accept that. I think we have an interest in political inclusion. I
think we have an interest in putting in place the building blocks of
democracy, a proper constitution, proper political parties. And I think we
haven`t really pushed for that. We have been too reactive. Remember, one
election does not a democracy make. We need to reserve our influence so
that over the long-term we can help --
JEBREAL: This failed in Iraq, you cannot succeed in Egypt. This model
HARRIS-PERRY: And this question of the long and short-term is clearly far
most difficult, we only just scratched the surface and yet we have been
here an hour and unfortunately must go. We will continue to keep our eyes
on not only Egypt, but of course, Iran and Syria. This is a very
Leila Hilal, to Jeremy Ben-Ami, to Rula Jebreal and to Michael Singh,
Coming up, why pulling up your pants won`t pull you up the economic ladder.
And also the cast of the acclaimed series "Orange is the New Black," and
all is coming to Nerdland because there is more Nerdland at the top of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Edward Snowden has left the airport. On Thursday, we learned NSA leaker
Edward Snowden, who had been holed up in a Russian airport for five weeks,
was granted temporary asylum. It`s the latest development in a
multinational cloak and dagger saga that has captured global attention,
frustrated Obama administration and provoked invoked reprisals,
recrimination and applause from many quarters. Even prompted "Time"
magazine to offer Snowden suggestion of things to do while in Russia.
The Snowden affair raises serious questions about -- wait a minute. Why am
I talking about Snowden? The serious question we`re supposed to be
discussing are about the NSA, privacy, the reach of government, but the
Snowden affair has just been so darn interesting, it`s been a lot easier to
talk Snowden. Classic misdirection.
Now, the other can`t tear your eyes away from the screen story this month,
Anthony Weiner. I mean, not only is this guy bold enough to run for mayor
-- just months after resigning his congressional seat, turns out he`s also
shameless enough to have continued sexting after getting caught. Weiner
raises the important questions about the fitness for public office, the
influence of the Clintons in his n career and marriage -- wait, wait a
minute, why am I talking about a fourth place also ran in a mayoral race in
a city in which I and, frankly, the vast majority of Americans do not live
The serious story here about New York is about New York as a model for gun
policy, a cautionary tale of aggressive policing and important story about
consequences of growing inequality. Another case of classic misdirection.
Misdirection is the phenomenon of shifting a conversation away from
difficult, messy, but important issues in order to get everyone discussing
more trivial but highly engaging narratives. Misdirection gets us focused
on the heat instead of the light. And in no place has misdirection been
more effective and more insidious than in our recent wrangling about race.
There`s an important conversation to be had about stand your ground,
especially considering that Florida state lawmakers just agreed to hold
hearings into the law this fall. And yet what are we talking about?
Sagging pants and about how pulling your pants up can improve your living
situation if you`re a young black man. Seriously, that is where the
I`ll let Jay Smooth do the excellent job of explaining just how ludicrous
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SMOOTH: Whenever a young black man pulls his pants up, the very inner
workings of the cosmos realign in his favor. I know that`s hard to
believe. I know most of you won`t believe that. Bu to me, that`s what`s
so beautiful about the politics of respectability.
The way it he lets you know in this jaded, cynical world, there are still
some people out there who believe in magic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And Jay goes on to explain exactly what the political
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SMOOTH: Its function is not to help those young black men we walk by
on the street. Its function is to help us mollify our shame that we
project onto those young black men when we walk by them on the street. Our
shame -- our petty, superficial shame that far too often comes from us
internalizing the same racism that`s really causing their problems. That
is the function of respectability politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know I don`t even really have to say this, but
dysfunction is also classic misdirection.
Joining me here at the table, Mychal Denzel Smith who writes blogs
regularly for "The Nation", comedian Jamie Kilstein, co-host of Citizen
Radio, Dr. Steve Perry, educator and TV One host, and author of "Push Has
Come to Shove", and Salamishah Tillet, professor at the University of
Pennsylvania and co-founder of the nonprofit organization, A Long Walk
Thank you for being here.
SALAMISHAH TILLET, A LONG WALK HOME: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, you have been writing about this for weeks. What
is going on around this misdirection around racial conversation?
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH, BLOGGER, THENATION.COM: Well, I think it`s easy for
people. We can -- if we can keep it at the superficial level, that we can
deal of the cosmetics of what racism looks like to people, we can avoid any
implication for anyone in power. We can avoid talking about the
fundamental unfairness of the system.
Racism is not like the bouncer at the club, checking to make sure you have
the right shoes and they kick you out and, you know, everyone is going to
be OK. It`s much deeper than that.
And I think what we -- we want to have something tangible, something we can
hold in our hands to say this is the reason someone would hate you, but --
and this is the reason you lack opportunity because then it doesn`t upset
the system. But it simply doesn`t work like that. Racism is more
malleable than that.
I mean, there`s no more respected form of dress in this country than, you
know, a military uniform. Like if that hasn`t been able to protect someone
from racism, sexism, homophobia or anything, like I don`t want anyone to
talk to me about pulling up my pants.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, that`s not a small point, the kind of military
point, Salamishah. I mean, part of what we`ve seen in sort of American
history around racial movements has been trying to mobilize respectability
so that you have, for example, U.S. veterans in military uniform as they
stand there on the front lines and say, hey, we deserve our rights, they
end up being able to sort of make a particular respectability claim around
it because they can`t say, I`ve served and now my country must serve me
back. That`s mobilization around respectability, which is a little
different than actually holding everyone to the same sort of what we might
call bourgeois standards.
TILLET: I`ve been thinking about late 19th century and Evelyn
Higginbotham`s book, "Righteous Discontent," which she talks about the
politics of respectability as a political mobilizing strategy and,
obviously, the 50th anniversary of the march in Washington.
So, I think there`s this weird moment in which we`re kind of taking
respectability part, the kind of dress code of respectability and removing
it from the actual political mobilizing and, you know, the civil rights
movement linked to legislation, linked to actual structural changes in
American society. And so, it`s about sartorial politics at this point, and
I think it`s really dangerous. But I also think it`s intellectually lazy
and politically irresponsible.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because it`s one thing to say we`re going down to the
Woolworth counter today, everyone put on your Sunday best, because then
when we get arrested part of what we`re going to do is demonstrate the
contrast between the arrest and what we look like. That`s different than
saying if you put on your Sunday best, then you won`t be arrested at the
lunch counter, right? That`s the difference in those arguments.
TILLET: Yes, I think that`s the moment we`re in. I think what`s more
problematic, more dangerous, not only is it kind of rhetorical policing of
black clothing and black behavior, also now translating into legislation,
right? So, I live in New Jersey and Atlantic City, there`s actually like a
saggy pants ordinance passed, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve got a couple in Louisiana.
TILLET: Right. It`s gone from simply a critique -- a bourgeois critique
of black behavior, particularly African-American men`s behavior to now
legislators saying there`s some correlation between the way one dresses and
the way in which crimes occur, right? I come from background around sexual
violence and we know women are policed around dressing. It`s really
problematic or sexist correlation between a woman wearing a mini skirt and
the fact that she gets raped.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, if you`re skirt is short, you deserve to get raped.
If you`re wearing a hoodie, you may deserve to get shot.
All right, Steve, but here`s what I want to be -- part of why so wanted you
at the table here, it`s easy this comes from the outside. That this is the
Rush Limbaughs or FOX News or whoever is saying this.
But you and I were together at the Essence Festival, and we were in the
room of vastly African-American room, and you said some things about how
you should dress when you go meet the principal at the school of your kid,
and the applause, and the ovation was powerful -- more than anything I`ve
ever said about structure. People were like, that`s right, you`ve got to
do right when you go see the principal.
And I thought this is also about -- I mean, this narrative resonates within
STEVE PERRY, EDUCATOR: Because we keep trying to intellectualize something
in an effort to get us back to the bigger issues. Yes, we have to
acknowledge that racism is bigger than the way you dress. However, if you
come to see me as the principal in SpongeBob pajama pants and a top with
bra on and headscarf, then you`re presenting yourself in a way not to do
business. You`re presenting yourself as someone who`s not prepared to
represent herself or her children in the way in which we want you to.
We have to accept there is something inherently wrong about walking around
with your pants below your butt and showing off your underwear. They are
called underwear because they are supposed to be seen under your clothes,
but that in and of itself is not the end of the conversation. The
conversation continues to those individuals who look at that person and
simply make a judgment only because of that.
Each one of us dressed the way we did today because we wanted to present a
particular image. I`m wearing a bow tie. This bow tie is a bow tie that
our children at our school have decided that they wanted to wear. They
don`t want to wear chest ties, they want to bow ties, because I don`t think
anyone would consider Marcus Garvey, all the way up through the Black
Panther movement, bourgeois.
I think they would say that these were individuals who say that they want
the greatest the black community had to offer to be presented in every
single way we exist in this community.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m down with this notion -- so, this is the complicated
part. So I am down with the idea that we are always managing our external
representations by how we`re presenting. I`m less down with the phrase
there`s something inherently wrong with wearing your pants down or even
with showing -- on the one hand, SpongeBob pants, yes, I get it. If you
show up in the SpongeBob pants I still have the responsibility to address
and work with you.
PERRY: That`s my point. I have a responsibility to see you as a human.
However, we all acknowledge the way in which we dress presents an image.
We can`t just focus on one or the other. Therein lies the challenge.
We so often try to have a linear conversation about something that`s far
from linear. It`s a briar patch. It`s prickers. It`s got a whole lot of
ins and outs, the conversation on racism.
We can both look at the actor and audience and recognize that many of us
African-Americans, especially those of us who exist outside of the African-
American community traditionally and work within the lighter society, we
have to understand in many cases, most of the white people we meet, it`s
the first time they have a chance to develop a relationship with a black
SMITH: My issue here is we`re going to be perceived differently, anyway,
no matter what we dressed. Like Jamie and I are dressed similarly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, actually. At some point, I was going to talk about the
fact that you guys look like HUD testers. Send both of you out and see
which one gets the apartment.
JAMIE KILSTEIN, CITIZEN RADIO: I`m trying to share solidarity. So --
SMITH: We`re both tattooed gentlemen. The way we`re perceived is
different because of the way people perceive blackness.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And, of course, the Harvard professor is arrested in
his home, which is part of what we want to talk about when we come back is
how there`s a certain lie given to the idea of respectability when the most
respectable, of course, get arrested in their own house in Cambridge, when
we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if every time they stopped you, they gave you
a soda, like pop and frisk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pop and frisk, that will be tight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about if the sixth time they stopped and frisked
you, you get a Subway Sandwich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a punch card.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, like a punch card. Hey, they were sort of quick
click, hey, you violated my civil rights, can I get a B&T?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was FX host, W. Kamau Bell, on the streets of Harlem
talking to citizens about creative alternatives to stop and frisk.
You know, Jamie, I just -- I love that sound because there is an absurdity
to it, right? So, you know, we can have a debate about clothing. But
what`s so distressing to me, we ended up in this conversation about
clothing after the death of Trayvon Martin, who is an unarmed teen, like
how did we get here except than we got misdirected?
KILSTEIN: Yes. No, absolutely. Like, first of all, you know who wasn`t
wearing baggy pants, George Zimmerman. The cop who shot Oscar Grant, that
guy wasn`t wearing baggy pants. I`m not wearing baggy pants, I`m going to
steal this mug. The NSA, all the people with subprime mortgage, they
weren`t wearing baggy pants.
And, you know, when you brought up Skip Gates before commercial, that`s one
of the good point. Like, all right, so here is what happens when you are
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, the ultimate, like I actually don`t know anyone who
lives in a more post-racial world than Henry Louis Gates. The rest of us
might not be in one but Skip is totally --
KILSTEIN: Also remember, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that piece about Forest
Whittaker getting followed around at deli. Like you should only be
following Forest Whitaker if you`re going to compliment his rule on "The
Shield." That is the only time to follow that man.
And so, I feel like it doesn`t matter when you do do the right thing. You
know what I mean?
HARRIS-PERRY: I guess part of -- I know, Steve, you and I have talked
about this. This idea that the stakes are high, right? The fact I can
point out part of white privilege is, in fact, I probably could show up to
talk to me kid`s teacher wearing whatever and part of my white middle
classness would just overwhelm my bad clothing and my tattoos or whatever.
So, part of it is stakes are high and we may get held to different
behavioral standards because the stakes are high. But my worry is that the
misdirection, then we begin to talk about this instead of -- it`s hardest
to beat racism than it is to be --
PERRY: So, that`s where I live. Where I live in a space where I am more
concerned about the fact that if you`re a black child you`re more likely to
go to a failed school than whether or not your clothes fit the right way.
And that`s where the conversation doesn`t go.
We don`t want to have the longer conversations about making fundamental
changes to the community both inside and out to ensure that our community
has access to the greatest resources at the greatest country on Earth.
TILLET: I want to jump in. I want to talk about the moment the
conversation got redirected, whose political interest this new narrative
serves. So, I don`t want to mention the person who interjected.
O`Reilly helped shift the conversation away from racial profiling and all
the key Marxism movements that are going around the country on stop and
frisk, or whether stand your ground.
So, all these different things there`s a mobilizing happening, right? And
then, O`Reilly makes this series of problematic, racially charged, incitive
comments and now other people joined and condoned what he said.
So, I just think when we have misdirections, it`s a strategy that`s
deployed by opposition, by conservatives, and then other people, African-
American elites oftentimes cosine. That`s a problem the way we`re going.
PERRY: There`s two shifts, though. There`s a shift to the right and then
there`s a shift to the left. The shift to the left has us only thinking
about the white man who kills the black kids as opposed to the black kids
that kill the black kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think it`s absolutely not true we weren`t thinking about
it. That was one of the pieces of misdirection that pissed me off the
most, was this idea that if our children are killed by other black people
that we don`t care, that we shrug it off, that we don`t cover it. I mean,
we have, I think -- part of what happened, for example, in the context of
the mobilization around Zimmerman was that they were already all these
communities in New Orleans, in Chicago that were mobilized around the
violence, urban violence, right? So they then picked this up. But they
SMITH: -- get President Obama to acknowledge violence in their communities
and bring him to Chicago. We can`t just overlook that and diminish it and
didn`t do the work and they didn`t care about the people that are dying in
their communities every day.
PERRY: I`m not talking about political conversations. I`m talking about
individuals within the communities, those of us who live and work in the
PERRY: Those of us who know African-Americans who are killing one another.
PERRY: Those of us who know African-Americans who are selling drugs to one
another. When we have the conversation, we have to hold all parties
accountable. And those individuals who called themselves civil rights
leaders who are always in the hurry to march towards something but don`t
get us any further.
TILLET: But that`s assuming the people don`t have a nuance understand of
racial dynamics in this country. That`s assuming that activists who are on
the ground don`t understand enter or intra-racial politics as they co-exist
and that they harm African-Americans --
PERRY: How are they improving the situations?
TILLET: So, what do you mean how they improve?
PERRY: Gladly, you`re in Philadelphia. You have one of the highest murder
rates in the country. How has this conversation stopped that? How has it
PERRY: I want there to be something more than just conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: There are. The Dream Defenders who are sitting in the
governor`s office are not there to be on TV, they are there to get this
conversation -- not to get the conversation going but to get legislation
passed. Black Youth Project asked the president and first lady to come to
Chicago to address violence in those communities.
So, what are we doing on TV, we`re making a TV show.
PERRY: That`s not a legislative conversation, though.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s just it. Yes, it is. And so, my concerned about
the respectability politics is the extent to which we then don`t have the
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on for me. There`s a lot more when we come right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. My favorite moment of the week on MSNBC this Tuesday
when "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" went all in on the satire around this
misdirection and had a conversation -- I want to you remember this, this is
satire about the idea white youth are out of control and we need to put
behavioral controls on them.
Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: Do you have a personal problem with
white people. Is this animus?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think any time that you tell truth -- tell the
truth, there`s going to be those people who come out and think you`re doing
it for an insidious reason and then say you`re a racist. My best friend is
white. My mother is actually white.
My prom date in high school was a white woman. She was very white
actually. She used to ride horses and do that sort of thing.
So, obviously, very, very deep -- I have very deep roots in the white
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sorry, that was a great moment.
And, Jamie, part of the reason it felt great to me, it`s not how we talk
about privilege. Whenever we talk about bad behavior or pathology leading
to bad outcomes, I`m always reminded that`s not true if you have resources,
right? So, again, you know, when I teach at elite universities, tons of
young people engaging in bad action, sometimes illegal actions, but because
we don`t police them, because we don`t sort of ruin their future as a
result, actually they go on and are just fine. And this conversation
helped reveal that.
KILSTEIN: Yes, so much. First of all, can we notice my mug has been taken
HARRIS-PERRY: Because you said you were going to steal it.
KILSTEIN: No one trusts white people.
PERRY: It`s profiling.
KILSTEIN: It`s profiling, yes. I`m going to lay claim.
Yes, I mean, gosh, there`s so much I want to touch on that was talked
about. So, yes, it`s absolutely ridiculous. I have nothing to worry
I hate when people of privilege no matter what color they are, but
privilege, money, race, whatever, act like all these people have to do is
pull themselves up by their bootstraps, all these communities have to do is
pull themselves up by bootstraps. You know, it`s lie the same when you
hear like a Clinton or a Bush or Rand Paul, why don`t kids do what I did
and be born to a wealthy politician. You know what I mean? It`s absurd
and it`s offensive.
When it comes to legislation, it`s like we still have institutional racism.
This has nothing to do with how people dress. You know, when Rahm Emanuel
shut down schools, he wasn`t like I`ll show you for wearing SpongeBob
pants. He was shutting down schools because they were poor schools and he
didn`t care about them.
That`s where activism in, because you look at Dreamers. You look at LGBT
activists. These are people who accomplished so much. They have
accomplished so much because they haven`t compromised and they haven`t
stopped and they are out in the streets.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what you say about activism, Mychal, I want to pull in,
part of what Steve said, so what difference is it making?
I think part of what I felt in your writing is the sense that that
question, the difficulty of overcoming institutional barriers, the failure,
failure, failure, until sometimes 100 years later before you win, it is
exactly why it`s easier to have the conversation over here, because I don`t
know all the answers to address crisis of schools and crisis of housing and
crisis of transportation and poverty but I could just turn off the hip-hop
and never use the n-word and pull -- right.
In other words, that is a kind of magical thinking, if I could just fix
this over which I have control, maybe it would address bigger stuff.
SMTIH: It`s absolutely very easy to do, like you can literally turn off
the switch. You can pull up your pants. But it`s very difficult to
address people in power and convince them to give up power and that
privilege that they have benefited from for centuries and that their kids
are going to benefit from.
So, I mean, we can talk about pulling up your pants and all these other
things, but even if they overcome these things, even if succeed in the face
of racism, racism is still there. It`s going to follow them no matter
where you go. So, I mean, that conversation is very limited. We`re not
addressing the real structural problems of our society, pretending that
it`s fundamentally fair.
KILSTEIN: And I also think a lot of people are watching this show right
now and they`re like, I`m not racist. You`re not describing me. And, you
know, obviously, when it comes to victim blaming, there`s so much racism,
so much sexism. All you have to do is go on like any Internet comment
thread to know it`s there.
But I think there`s also this group of just scared people that are
intimidated, right? Where it`s like institutional racism is really scary.
Why not say, pull your pants up. Or, you know, creating more jobs is
scary. So, why not say it`s the immigrants that are taking it?
It just seems like a much easier, tangible solution. When the reality is
like the problem is really big and we have to face it that way.
TILLET: Yes. And I also want to connect to Snowden, the piece, the way
surveillance on the kind of state or macro level and then these other micro
or kind of smaller acts of surveillance have become essential to racial
injustice and racial inequality in the United States, right? So that the
ways in which we -- I`ll try to make it sound more clear, the way we police
black and browns, girls and women`s bodies is part of the problem.
So, one, our knee jerk response, we keep saying this, to come to this
conversation after what happened to Trayvon Martin not only shows a real
danger that we internalized but the response is to create more
surveillance, right, and our response then is to create more surveillance,
and to have -- to say people shouldn`t use certain words, the people
shouldn`t dress certain ways in response to a real insidious crisis of
racial equality and racial violence.
So, I just want to say surveillance is the problem in some ways. The ways
in which surveillance becomes legislated and becomes widely accepted -- so,
in New York we`re talking about stop and frisk all the time. Also, there`s
a concern that Ray Kelly will become Homeland Security, head of Homeland
So, what does that mean? How acceptable are we going to be of the various
forms of racial surveillance that we have in the United States?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m glad you brought us to surveillance. We have to end
this conversation here, but surveillance is a nice bridge to what`s up
So, thanks to Mychal and Jamie and Steve and Salamishah -- because up next,
the cast from the hot new series, "Orange is the New Black". These are
women truly under surveillance, like on multiple levels, because they`ve
been watched. And they are watching and being watched, lots of watching.
They`re live in Nerdland when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The challenge of building the political will to push for
reform on behalf of incarcerated people can simply be summed up with one
question. Who cares? I mean, America`s prisons are rife with conditions
that deny the most basic humanity those who live behind their walls and
those of us on the outside are separated from them, not just by those
physical boundaries but by a wide empathy gap, that makes it easier to turn
away from the realities of prisoners` lives.
Well, earlier this month, that gap just got smaller. On July 11th, Netflix
debuted its latest original series, "Orange is the New Black." It`s been
getting rave reviews as a much watched show for the realistic and often
hilarious depiction of life inside a federal women`s prison in Upstate New
The show follows the story of Piper Chapman (ph), an upper middle class
education white woman serving a 15th month sentence for a drug offense she
committed 10 years earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What size of shoe are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine and a half, 10.
These are kind of like Tom`s.
UNIDENTIIED FEMALE: Who is tom?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toms are shoes. When you buy a pair, the company
gives it to another child in need. They`re great. They come in lots of
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How nice. Strip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Piper is the kind of character we`re used to empathizing
with on television. While we`re watching her and the show, it somehow
manages its own sort of misdirection, because we can`t help but also see
the diverse, complicated and compelling group of women who are part of
Piper`s community in the prison, which is also ultimately what makes
"Orange is the New Black" worth the -- I`m telling you because I`m
experiencing them right now, sleepless nights you will inevitably spend
binge watching this show.
You see the lives and humanity of these women and you can`t help but to
care. So, I`m happy to have with me today some of the actors who bring
those characters to life.
Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Aduba, yes. Laverne Cox,and also the real life Piper,
Piper Kerman, whose memoir "Orange is the New Black," the time she served
in the federal institution is the inspiration for the show.
I`m so excited to see you here in real clothes and jewelry, and fancy hair
and the whole thing. I actually want to start with you, Laverne, because I
think -- you`re Laverne, I want to start with you because I feel like your
character is one -- I`m into nine now, into episode nine. And there`s a
kind of humanity to what we`re up to in following you that I just want you
to maybe speak to.
What is this crazy eyes character is meant to be bringing to us as the
UZO ADUBA, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": I think what crazy eyes brings to
the viewers is a deeper understanding of how we view prison life in
general. I think it`s an easy assumption to look at a lot of people
incarcerated in our system right now and think of them only as their crime
or their number, or even just by their orange jumpsuit, and not really
delve any differ into knowing them in any real way.
Crazy eyes, I think, has that same uphill battle to go through. You know,
her name is crazy eyes. It`s easy to peg her as somebody who might not all
be together. But as you get to know her, there`s deeper, richer layers to
her. And I think it`s true for other inmates that, yes, they may have
committed this -- some of them may have committed some crimes but there`s
more to them. They are parents, they are mothers, they are neighbors, that
jobs and we are all only just a step away from maybe finding ourselves in
the same --
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, like if your character is the one that is -- that
we`re supposed to initially have no empathy for. I mean, crazy eyes
designation. So, you`re African-American, you`re nuts. Right.
And your -- the character -- you are not a character, you are the actual
person. But the character Piper, right, is supposed to be the one we have
the initial easy empathy. Of course. I`ve got to tell you, the real Piper
coming and not -- I sort of hate Piper and love Piper, but then kind of
hate Piper, then kind of love Piper.
So, I`m wondering how it complicates the people we`re not supposed to like
but also complicates the people we are supposed to like.
PIPER KERMAN, AUTHOR, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": It does just that. I
think one of the things interesting the character of Piper Chapman, she has
to confront the loss of privileges and rights she takes for granted and are
too often deprived. There`s many, many people who don`t enjoy those
privileges and rights on a daily basis. So, I think that`s one of the
things that is interesting about the character, certainly interesting about
the real life experience and the reason I wanted to write the book.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that navigation of privilege for her becomes this sort
of -- I think it`s the thing that makes us love her and hate her, like the
fact she`s working to navigate it and that she has so much privilege is the
thing that feels difficult.
Now, part of the thing I love about "Orange is the New Black" is it`s not
Oz. I love -- I watched every moment of Oz.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, well, right. Not just that. There`s this kind of
constant menacing fear that exists --
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: In Oz.
HARRIS-PERRY: In Oz. Also I keep feeling in "Orange." But then it turns,
right centre it turns. I kept waiting for someone -- I don`t know what
ultimately happens with the screwdriver. In the initial screwdriver
episode I`m like -- the way it actually ended, I`m like thank goodness
that`s where the screwdriver ended.
ADUBA: (INAUDIBLE) screwdriver.
HARRIS-PERRY: But your part of that -- your character is part of that
menace that`s also human.
KATE MULGREW, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": Yes, she`s multi-dimensional.
That`s the difference between Oz and "Orange is the New Black". I adored
men. Women are wonderfully vulnerable. I think that Piper Kerman has made
this clear in the memoir.
Our Piper Chapman is carrying through. And Jenji Kohan has made an
absolute trademark of our series, that we are fragile. We need each other.
The emotional bond allows viewers to just fall in love. It`s an
HARRIS-PERRY: And falling in love with people we might not initially
expect to love. It`s complicated. In fact, the character you portray is
perhaps the most -- is there a most. It is a fascinating conversation
about when I say it, I mean, the love relationship engaged here. So, talk
to me a little bit. We`ve talked about LGBT issues and trying to be
careful pulling the T off. And your character is doings something very
important in the television, around sexual orientation on one hand, and
gender self-expression on another. Talk to me a little bit about that.
LAVERNE COX, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": I`m so excited to be here. What`s
been really powerful for me is hearing from trans people all over the
country who are connecting to this character in the human way. And people
who are not transgender, people who have had prejudices against trans
people have misunderstood what it means, they`re connecting with Sophia`s
story in a human way. And partly it`s because of Sophia`s relationship
with her wife, Crystal, and the love that`s there.
I think -
HARRIS-PERRY: Crystal is a serious partner. Crystal is about it.
COX: What`s exciting for me when we were shooting it is thinking about,
I`ve never seen a black family on television quite like the (INAUDIBLE),
right. So, so often, trans identity historically has been portrayed as
something that`s a white thing, right?
COX: Partners who were -- partners who transitioned often portrayed as
white women. So, we rarely see a black woman standing by her transpartner.
That`s powerful. But I think people are connecting with her on such a
human level. That it`s overwhelmed.
MULGREW: As you undergo the transformation, his terrible distress, his
terrible confusion. I love that. I don`t think we`ve ever seen that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And done so humanly, and not done as -- and
therefore this father is a horrible father as a result of it.
Stay right there, because what I want to do is figure out what we do with
this empathy as we start thinking about actual prison policy on the back
end, because I`m right where the Piper character is now trying to make
policy change, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want from me?
COX: I want to see a doctor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t go to a clinic unless there`s an emergency.
COX: This is an emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, we don`t see it that way. Was there
COX: Yes. I`d like to report an emergency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a scene from the new Netflix hit series "Orange is
the New Black."
So, I love that moment. It`s simultaneously about policy. The whole idea
is who should care about a trans woman who is incarcerated. Who should
care whether or not she gets the medication she needs. Is there a
translation from the art to the policy? Is there an ability to do that?
KERMAN: Absolutely. I think it`s incredibly, incredibly difficult to
bring attention and understanding, both attention and understanding, to the
many, many issues that put people in prison, what -- who they really are
and what`s happening to them while they are behind bars, and our enormous,
enormous prison and jail system.
And so, the stories are pretty much the only way to break through, in my
experience and my opinion, the statistics are very overwhelming but they
also become meaningless to folks who are really, really willing to tune out
statistics. But stories get them in their gut and in their heart and they
stay with them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because there`s some person -- now there`s this person we
love. Part of what I find interesting about orange is it traffic in
stereotypes. It doesn`t avoid -- like it is performing them at the same
time it`s complicating them and race is one of the big ones. A lot of the
black women on it are kind of sassy. And, you know, all of the strong
black women stereotypes, and yet their vulnerability is also there
COX: When I think real human beings, I believe stereotypes exist for a
reason. There are real life people who might embody that, but that`s not
the sum total of who they are, right? Someone might seem on the surface to
be stereotypical underneath something human and profound if we take time to
go there. "Orange is the New Black" takes the time to go there.
As far as policy, you know, there`s a hungry strike going on in California,
where on solitary confinement thing, trans women who are often placed in
men`s prison are routinely placed in solitary confinement. That`s the
policy that`s really, you know --
MULGREW: For purposes of protection.
COX: It`s allegedly to protect us. The fact that Sophia gets to be housed
in a women`s prison is something that -- the system so often stigmatizes
our identity and misgenders our identity. (INAUDIBLE) did a great piece
called "Real Life Sophia Burset", where they looked at women like CeCe
McDonald, Ophelia Delonte (ph), who are in prison, who are -- Sophia has
been denied access to hormones like Sophia is in our show. CeCe McDonald
is being housed in a men`s prison, she just celebrated her 25th birthday in
prison defending herself.
MULGREW: The transgender thing is so personal, as exemplified in our scene
together when you come to me in hormones. Red doesn`t dig this scene at
all. Whether you want, what the hell. It`s good enough for my
grandmother, good enough for you. She doesn`t buy it.
COX: So often hormone thing is trivialized as cosmetic but it`s
lifesaving. I mean, to think for so many women menopausal, if you think --
it`s a lifesaving thing. Your bones deteriorate if you don`t have --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And -- but also like the idea that Red I`m going to
give you -- that`s what she`s doing constantly to Piper`s character, right?
She`s constantly taking down privilege. You think you need this. You
don`t need this. Let me show you what you actually need to survive.
And even that, it makes you both root for the Red character and think, wow,
I am not going to cross Red.
MULGREW: No, you wouldn`t want to cross her. She`s very tough and very
straight. And in the series, you have to like her because of her honesty.
I say straight to Sophia, if my boys tried that and cut off their wieners,
I`d cut off their hands, you know?
COX: That kind gender policing, it`s so real about that. I just heard the
story about the guy in Walmart.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, who slapped the baby with the pink thing on his head.
COX: It`s so deep. So often, I think that`s why our gay and lesbian
brothers and sisters have to think about trans issues and remember that
it`s so much about gender. All this policing, it`s about expectations
around who men are supposed to be, who women are supposed to be, and we
have to start breaking down those expectations to be authentically who we
are and have freedom.
MULGREW: That`s what Orange is doing so well, right?
ADUBA: I think the show is approaching mental health, touching back on
policy as far as policy is concerned. You brought up solitary confinement
in California. You know, the effects of being in solitary confinement for
stretching of 10 to 28 years some inmates are experiencing. The mental
strength that one is able to withstand being in a windowless room so long
and not receiving some of the necessary care, mental medication, as well
within the prison`s --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s torture.
KERMAN: Conditions of confinement also have a very powerful effect on
people`s mental, emotional, and obviously behavioral well-being. And
prisons and jails are the biggest providers of mental health care in this
country. The biggest providers in mental health care are Rikers Island,
the L.A. County Jail and the Cook County jail.
HARRIS-PERRY: We turn mental health (INAUDIBLE) into prisons.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How ironic.
KERMAN: You see it play out in the most disturbing, distressing and
extreme ways but tragic everyday ways in terms of people coming into the
criminal justice system, very ill sometimes, that has a lot to do with our
crime, the things that put them. They`re heavily, heavily medicated while
they`re incarcerated, and then they`re dumped back on the streets.
And it`s a cycle that continues and continues and continues.
MULGREW: Why do we allow it? Why has nothing been done? I`m asking you,
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m supposed to be saying good-bye to you guys like to do a
footnote after the commercial, but I`m not going to do because I`m TV show.
So, I`m going to say good-bye for 15 seconds and we`re going to do a
commercial. We`re going to come back and ask a couple more questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m going to call you dandelion because they`re
pretty and yellow just like you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ooh. Oops. Excuse me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Locking up the track.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Budget cuts. No staff to cover it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I have -- I have to run. This is the only thing
that makes me feel normal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y`all are going to have to do your swirl someplace
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swirl?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chocolate and vanilla, swirl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a great moment. But that moment of they`re locking up
the track because of the budget cuts and the like I have to run, it`s the
only thing that makes me feel normal. Like the policy -- on the one hand
it`s a story about the love affair questioned but it`s also about like the
policy and what feels normal in this circumstance.
ADUBA: And it`s also -- brings to mind the question of the willingness to
strip a human being of every piece of their dignity.
ADUBA: You know, this marble track that really I`m sure doesn`t cost
anything to maintain and keep up but we`re prepared to take every piece of
your humanity away from you -- the dehumanizing of people when they`re
incarcerated is --
MULGREW: Of course, the approach with her own -- we`re doing bad things
within the prison, the administration. It`s reinstated immediately.
COX: The system is corrupt. I think it`s -- we see over and over again
that there is a corrupt system that criminalizes people for sometimes just
being who they are. So many trans people are criminalized for being trans.
HARRIS-PERRY: Actually, one of the -- I heard you once that when you were
perceived as a black man, you were -- you were seen as a public threat.
HARRIS-PERRY: And then once you`re perceived as a trans woman, then the
threat is to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right? And that idea that your body shifts from being the
threat to being threatened because of our assumptions about what this body
COX: Absolutely and street harassment is something that`s been a huge part
of my story as a trans woman, and I`ve written a lot about it. And I think
-- so often -- every day I thought about CeCe McDonald who is in prison.
But, basically, but for the grace of God, I could be CeCe McDonald, right?
That she was walking down the street going to the grocery store and these
racists and trans phobic slurs were hurled at them and someone ended up
dead, and it was assumed she must be the criminal because she`s black and
because she`s trans and so she`s in prison now for defending herself.
Stand your ground doesn`t apply for trans people of color.
HARRIS-PERRY: Amen, and that`s where we will end. Stand your ground
doesn`t apply to some bodies.
Laverne Cox, Piper Kerman, Kate Mulgrew and Uzo Aduba, yes, thanks!
That`s our show for today. I could stay with these ladies all day. It`s
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you next Saturday,
10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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