August 11, 2013
Guests: Shanna Smith, Stephen Lerner, Brenda Gardner, Peter Goodman,
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, Tanner Colby, W. Kamau Bell, Lizz Winstead, Carlos
Andres Gomez, Rachel Garlinghouse, Tracy Robinson-Wood, Rachel Noerdlinger
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-
Come with me for a moment back to 1951 to an exam room at Baltimore Johns
Hopkins hospital where a 31-year-old mother of five names Henrietta Lacks
received a devastating diagnosis, cervical cancer, an especially aggressive
form of the disease that despite surgery and radiation would have taken her
life within months.
That would have been where the story ended except that after she died,
somewhere in another room at the hospital Henrietta Lacks lived on; at
least some of her did, because before Henrietta`s death her doctors took a
sample of her tissue to study inside a test tube. And when they looked
closely, they discovered something that was unusual for cells.
Hers not only survived but thrived and multiplied in the live. In fact,
Henrietta`s cells were so resilient they were replicated again and again
and again in laboratories all over the world and went on to become the most
widely used cell for studying human cellular and molecular biology. Today,
those cells known as Hela have extended countless human lives and are the
basis for some of medical histories most pivotal breakthroughs.
Jonas Salk used them to develop the first vaccine for polio. Medical
advances in vitro fertilization, cell biology, cancer, and AIDS research,
all things to Hela cells. And since Hela were not only the first cells to
be widely replicated but also sold for profit, they are also the basis for
a multi-billion dollar industry based on commercialized cells and tissues
all from one woman who died but more importantly lived six decades ago
because, while she was alive, Henrietta Lacks never, knew about that small
slice of her taken out of her body. She never knew because her doctor
sampled and used her cells without her knowledge or consent. And no one
ever informed or asked permission from Henrietta`s family to use the parts
of her that lived on after she was gone.
Now, this story received widespread attention after it was chronicled by a
writer, Rebecca Skloot in her 2010 book, "the immortal life of Henrietta
Lacks." This week, that story got a new chapter when the national
institute of health announced an agreement with the Lacks` dependent over
the -- how the Hela geno (ph) would be used in the future.
From now, researched are hoping to use information contained within
Henrietta Lacks` DNA must now seek permission from a group that includes
members of her family. It is a long overdue response, the outstanding
ethical questions about Lacks` inability to give informed consent.
But, it also addresses another issue raised by the public information of
her genetic information. Because after all, Henrietta`s DNA is also the
DNA of her living relatives and whoever has the code also has access to the
medical inheritance of her children and grandchildren. Protecting that
information is only the most recent acknowledgement of a first -- of a
right first recognized long before Henrietta Lacks ever walked in to that
exam room and that is the right to privacy.
You see, in 1904, a man Pablo (INAUDIBLE) sued a life insurance company
after he saw a photo of himself used without his permission in one of the
company`s newspaper ads. And when the Georgia Supreme Court sided with
him, it became the first court in the nation to accept what was then a
completely novel concept, that an individual`s privacy, the freedom to be
left alone was a right.
Now, of course, that right only extended as far as the nearest uterus,
because it wasn`t until 1973 that the most famous legal decision
recognizing a right to privacy included women and their body under the
umbrella of privacy protections when the Supreme Court issued a decision in
Roe v. Wade, it didn`t just legalize abortion. The court also affirmed
that a woman`s bodily integrity, her autonomy over her own physical being
was part of her in viable right to privacy and it was protected by the due
process clause of the fourth amendment. And it is, in that moment, when
the court recognizes a woman`s right to enjoy a liberty granted to all
Americans that we see privacy become an equal element of citizenship.
Now, of course, we know that is certainly not where that story ended
either. The question of whether your body belongs to you, or is fair game
for state intrusion, still remains highly contested territory. Take the
case of McFaul versus Shipp.
The Supreme Court found in 1978 a person cannot be forced to donate parts
of their body even if that would save someone else`s lives. But then, just
as here, the court ruled that police can take your DNA without a warrant if
you`re suspected of a crime.
Now, in cases like these there`s a blurry line between individual`s domain
over his or her own body and reasonable legitimate concerns like public
health and public safety.
And there are cases like this. Now, the video you are seeing now is from
police dashboard cameras. And so graphic, that we decided to blur parts of
it to show you on television.
Texas highway police stopping women and compelling them to submit to cavity
searches on the side of the road, not just once but at least twice last
year. This happened on separate occasions in both parts of Texas. But
both cases remarkably similar. Two women pulled over for speeding, and
questioned by a male trooper, claiming to smell marijuana in the vehicle.
No evidence of drugs found in either case. A female officer arriving on
the scene, pulling on a pair of gloves and using the same pair of gloves to
perform anal and vaginal searches.
What you just saw was an illegal and unconstitutional search one the Texas
department of public safety claims is not part of its official training of
policy, with whose blatant disregard for privacy rights of women. As of
last month, was very much the official policy of the state of Texas, thanks
to the state Republican legislature which a few weeks ago passed some of
the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation taking a page from across
the country that limited women`s reproductive choice? These laws
completely bypass the complex constitutional questions and the Supreme
Court has grappled with in its roe decision, a bit of policy making magic,
completely undermining the privacy rights of women without engaging the
court`s privacy claim at all.
And so, laws that in practice would ban abortion after 20 weeks are dressed
up to masquerade as protections against fetal pain, and laws forcing
abortion clinics to go out of business passed another guys of standardized
building codes to make abortion facilities safer.
Texas`s version of the law which are commonly known under the fitting
acronym of trap laws, will likely reduce the state`s 42 clinics down to
five. And despite the efforts of North Carolina`s moral Monday protesters,
Republicans restrictions there will eliminate 15 of the state`s 16
facilities, leaving it with only one.
Similar legislation in Ohio is already forcing the closure of this place,
the Capital Care Network of Toledo. It is all the remains of what used to
be two abortion providers in Toledo. Ohio`s trap laws closed the other one
a few months ago. Now this one is closing, too.
And so, 40 years since Roe v. Wade vested women with full and equal
citizenship by establishing their right to privacy. This is where we find
those rights today facing a fate not unlike a woman who walked into a
Baltimore hospital a few years ago, not quite gone, not completely here but
dying slowly by inches.
Joining me now is one of the people poised to stop the state from going
inside women by being herself a woman inside the state, Ohio state senator
Nina Turner is live from Cleveland.
Hi. How are you this morning, Nina?
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: Good morning, professor. I`m fine.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit. You know, this week I kept
thinking, if I could put women`s issues over on the side and claim they are
separate from other policy. But it feels to me like they come packaged
along with everything else, voter suppression, stand your ground. Is that
what you`re seeing in Ohio?
TURNER: We are. Our rights are under attack. That`s why we need more
women in elected office. You know, women make an impact, whether social,
political, economic spheres of this country, yet we find ourselves going
backwards. You know, this year at the end of the month, it will be 93
years since, you know, the suffrage movement at the end of this month.
Fifty years at the end of this month, we are going to be celebrating and
recognizing the march on Washington for jobs and for justice. Yes, women
are being treated in unjust ways.
You know, Dr. King once said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice
everywhere. And that is happening. And what is more personal than a
woman`s body. And so, you name places like Ohio. Even Missouri where
legislators are trying to give doctors the authority to deny women access
to birth control. This is only happening to women and it is wrong. Women
should be outraged. But people who care and respect women should be
outraged as well. Because as women today, what other groups will it be
HARRIS-PERRY: For me your sort of historical narrative is so important,
the idea it hasn`t even been 100 years women have had sort of the full
citizenship right to vote, not even a full 50 years since passage of a vote
rights act for women of color like ourselves. Are you surprised though,
given we are many decades since those accomplishments, about this wholesale
attack on women`s privacy rights?
TURNER: I am. But you know what, elections have consequences. And that
is exactly what we`re dealing with. In 2012 women made up over half the
people who went out to vote and we have to repeat that again in 2014, not
only in the state of Ohio but also the midterm elections in Congress. We
have to elect people who have a fundamental respect for humanity and have a
respect for humanity says that you respect women. And it is unacceptable
to have women treated as second class citizens.
And Professor, I am urging people to understand that. It doesn`t matter
what our political affiliations are, this is about justice. This is about
humanity. So we have to change that. I mean, right here in the state of
Ohio, we are dealing with folks who want to take away voting rights. They
are trying to take away early voting windows. We have a secretary of
suppression who is doing the same thing. We have to continue to fight
back. This is about elections and elections have consequences.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we have a midterm election coming up. And you know, we
are starting to see sort of the on the ground movement for electing a woman
for the U.S. presidency, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, there is some discourse around that being Hillary
Clinton. But sort of beside who the candidate might be, just the idea it`s
time to elect a woman as president. But I keep thinking these laws aren`t
coming through the presidential level. And how do we make sure we`re
putting women in state houses in Texas, in Ohio.
Have you thought about sort of the strategic way to move public attention
towards these more local races and these midterm races?
TURNER: Yes, I have. It is reminding voters about exactly what is going
on. I mean, when you have members of the legislature that go on recess in
Ohio. When you can`t even expand Medicaid that would help over 300,000
working class Ohioans, men, women, and their families, something is wrong
And so, we have to remind people how far we have come. And we cannot allow
any group to take us back. I am running a petition drive right now and I
want folks to go to @ninaturner and we will change that org because we need
to continue to motivate people to understand that we are a nation of
progress. And we cannot allow people to take us backwards. And what
affects one indirectly does affect us all indirectly.
Melissa, I want women to be outraged. I mean, that clip you showed about a
cavity show, outrage. I mean, that`s all I can say on a morning talk show.
But, it`s beyond outrage anybody would do to a woman. Folks need to be
fired. But we cannot accept -- we accept a double standard in this country
and we have to stop it. Women must lift their voices and men who care
about women must lift their voices. They are somebody`s mother, their
daughter, their aunts. We have to care about humanity and women are part
of that humanity. We are forces of nature and we make a difference
wherever we are.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ohio state senator Nina Turner. Thank goodness you were
with me on this Sunday morning. Because I have to say, we have been beside
ourselves with anger in Nerdland about the invasions of women`s privacy.
And you always help make me feel as though there`s something to be done
that we don`t just have to be angry about it.
So, thank you for joining me this morning.
TURNER: Thank you, Professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: And up next the political issue literally hitting home for
millions with now when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Tuesday President Obama went to phoenix, Arizona to talk
about helping out the people he called responsible homeowners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And let`s face it. We also
had some reckless buyers who knew they couldn`t afford it and still took
out loans. And all this created a housing bubble, and especially in some
places like Arizona. It was devastating when that bubble finally burst,
triggered a recession. Millions of Americans who had done think right were
hurt badly by the actions of other people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I`m all for responsibility. But let`s remember that
the people were targeted with subprime mortgages were disproportionately
women and people of color. Even those who had enough money, had good
enough credit to qualify for a subprime mortgage. Mr. President, I know
you don`t want to blame these people, right? Shouldn`t we blame practices
that were in place at institutions like, you know, bank of America and
Joining me now to help answer that question is Peter S. Goodman, he is
executive business editor of the "Huffington Post" and author of "past due,
the end of easy money and the renewal of the American economy." Also
Shanna Smith, the president of the national Fair Housing Alliance.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox who is co-founder of askthemoneycoach.com and author
of "zero debt for college grads," I`ll be talking to her later, and Stephen
Lerner, labor and community organizer.
Peter, let me start with you. What is the problem with formulating the
housing crisis as being a problem of irresponsible homeowners?
PETER GOODMAN, EXECUTIVE BUSINESS EDITOR, THE HUFFINGTON POST: You hit
part of it already. I mean, you had this predatory lending system, Wall
Street hungering for higher risk assets because the world seemed so safe in
the housing bubble. And investors were pouring into anything that seemed
like it had a little more risk. So, you had a whole retail operation in
cities like Memphis, Baltimore, where Wells Fargo actually targeted people
with lower credit. They persuaded them to sign off on loans, people who
needed credit because the wages weren`t keeping up with the rising cost and
all sorts of things beyond housing.
Bu also, you know, let`s pull back for second. So, we talked about
predatory lending and subprime. Even people who are responsible family
members, it is very difficult to a portion responsibility post bubble
because if you are in San Diego or Phoenix where houses prices went up, you
know, crazy volumes, you know, in the boom, if you bought in 2006 at the
top of the bubble, you needed to send your kid to a decent school district,
you had to sign off on a funny money loan to afford prices driven up by the
supposed by now responsible people who bought in 2001, 2002. And because
the money was so cheap and Wall Street was creating exotic loans, you had
an asset price bubble. You can`t get off that ride, unless you`re moving
to another country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Or Detroit where you can still pick up a house for $10,000,
right. But then you`re not in -- as you point out, people make housing
choices on schools, economic opportunities, jobs.
Shanna, let me ask you this. Because, you know, when we looked at the
disparities in subprime loans, in 2006, 32 percent of these loans went to
women. They were much more likely the men to get subprime mortgages. And
even high-income African-American borrowers were three time more likely to
get subprime mortgages than white borrowers.
Now, is that about sort of just being a bad decision makers, women aren`t
good with their money or are we seeing targeted behaviors and those
behaviors are still unaddressed?
SHANNA SMITH, PRESIDENT, THE NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE: Well,
initially, these lenders targeted elderly African-American women with high
equity in their homes. When they perfected this whole process of scamming
people out of their equity, they rolled it out to communities of color,
primarily African-American communities, because they didn`t have enough
people who spoke Spanish to hit that community.
They hit the Spanish community later. But it was a targeted theft of
equity in homes. To get that equity, they used the refinancing market and
they used exotic loans that were really designed for very high income
people, low doc loans, exploding arms as we called them. But they started
from greed and they started in the African-American community. And
Philadelphia is one of the best cities to look at to see the impact of
stripping wealth and therefore stripping home ownership from the African-
American community in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, when I see the president say then, hey, some folks are
irresponsible, I hear these type of lending practices, then my question is,
is it time to put aside the notion of home ownership as the fundamental
American dream and start talking about generating good high-quality rental
LYNNETTE KHALFANI-COX, FOUNDER, ASKTHEMONEYCOACH.COM: We`ve already
started that discussion to some extent because some people are like this is
for the birds, you know. They have seen what family members, relatives and
friends have gone through, being in foreclosure, being unable to afford
mortgages, being underwater on their homes, sort of throwing good money
after bad, as some people say. So, I think a lot of people are starting to
explore the option, is it really worth it for us to pursue home ownership.
I still think it is and should be part of the American dream but we have to
have an honest conversation about part of the American dream involving
debt, that is whether you`re pursuing home ownership, maybe even a college
education, that nasty little four-letter word, debt is on the other side of
I just want to address one other point about thought about who is
responsible and whether or not fiscally responsible or irresponsible home
owners or borrowers are to blame. I really do take issue with the fact
that people put the blame on individuals mainly because we didn`t create
the system, we don`t make the rules, we don`t set the loan rates and terms,
the banks do that. And they say here is what you qualify for. This is the
loan. These are our lending standards. Should we know and should we have
some fiscal responsibility? Absolutely, of course. But at the end of the
day, we get, on average, you know, two or three mortgages in a lifetime.
They are doing millions of these. And so, they are actually the ones I
would say -- I would call a little more on the carpet.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, you know, I take that very seriously in part, your
word, I mean, what I have read from what you have written, take
responsibility for your own financial future. And so, when you are saying
hey, you are still in this kind of structural problem, so on the one end,
there is the part of me says lets opt out of this mortgage problem. But
the fact is that is where Americans build wealth. And of we tell people,
well, if you didn`t get in the `30s and `40s with those nice FHA loans
you`re screwed for wealth creation.
GOODMAN: So, one of the things that on this question of responsibility
that gets really exciting, in Richmond, California.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this.
GOODMAN: I know. It`s really exciting. A bunch of people are saying we
are not going to be victims to the banks. And they are now saying the city
said to the banks, we will buy all the underwater mortgages and we want to
rewrite them at current market value, which would save people thousands of
dollars a year. And they are saying if the banks won`t do it, we`ll use
eminent domain. We will seize those mortgages and we will resell them.
What`s so exciting to me on this, it`s not kind of dumbest federal
government, it is not dependent on speeches, it`s local people organizing
together to say we want to reclaim the wealth that has been stripped upon.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s also kind of fun because eminent -- I mean, this whole
eminent domain decision that came out from the Supreme Court is obviously
initially to allow local governments to seize these properties for
commercial purposes, right? And the idea that you would seize them and
then sell them back to the home owners, right, it`s a lovely inversion of
what the Supreme Court was clearly meaning to do.
Hold on for me because we have -- the president actually did have a
proposal about changing the way you buy your house. I have got a rapid-
fire round for you all on how to think about that proposal when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama did make policy proposals during his housing
speech Tuesday. He particularly threw his support behind a bipartisan
effort to scale down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that
guarantee 77 percent of all new mortgages last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For too long, these companies were allowed to make huge profits
buying mortgages knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be
left holding the bag. It was heads we win, tails you lose, and it was
wrong. So the good news is right now there`s a bipartisan group of
senators working to end Fannie and Freddie as we know them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The only thing I dislike more than blaming irresponsible
homeowners is shutting down Fannie and Freddie. What`s the world of
mortgage lending look like, Shanna, without Fannie and Freddie.
SMITH: Well, I think what we will see is more discrimination. Except for
Fannie and Freddie in the market and having really fair underwriting
guidelines, we wouldn`t have loans made from `70s forward to African-
American and Latino and female headed households. Taking it away, it is
sort of na‹ve because it ignores the historic and the current lending
discrimination that is going on. Expecting these banks to actually make
loans in neighborhoods of color and neighborhoods moderate income is
ridiculous. They haven`t done it. They don`t do it and they won`t do it.
And right now, they are putting overlays on their underwriting guidelines
that create higher fico scores, higher down payment. The mortgage
insurance companies, the private mortgage insurance companies are driving
these overlays as well.
I have seen minimum loan amounts back in the market. Those were illegal
back in the `70s and `80s. They are illegal today and we are going to
pursue it under the fair housing act. But to expect these same banks who
have historically discriminated against neighborhoods of color to make
these loans on their own if they get rid of Fannie and Freddie, and even
with the new model they are putting together, it`s very sad, it is
ridiculous and it will result to more discrimination.
HARRIS-PERRY: So -- yes.
KHALFANI-COX: I was going to say even if you put aside the discrimination
question or potential for discrimination, in some cases, I think we have to
look realistically at what happens when people try to become homeowners.
We know categorically across the board for white, Black, Asian, Latino, for
anybody, the number one challenge to becoming a homeowner is cash, down
payment. And that`s why government insured loans, like FHA, for example,
are so attractive nationwide to everybody. You can put 3.5 percent down
and be in a home.
I`m not saying that`s always the best, should always be the first option.
But the reality is in the conventional loan market lenders are asking for
10 and 20 percent down. And if we have government insured loans that sort
of go away, then I do question and wonder, what is this going to mean for
home ownership overall. Is it a nation of wealthy or privilege, those that
can afford 20 percent down payment are in to a home and everybody else,
good luck to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And Peter, it feels to me like imbedded in that is
this notion -- again, irresponsible homeowners, but also that somehow
Freddie and Fannie caused this crisis which is not imperative.
GOODMAN: That`s oversold argument and Fannie and Freddie played a role in
the crisis. I will say, I mean, we need to have a much smaller government
backstop than we have had. And the way in which that government backstop
was manipulated by the private sector to shoulder the risk, stick the risks
on the taxpayer when push came to shove, we can`t defend the status quo.
That said, this idea that I think is now oversold that what we really need
to do is get the government out of the mortgage industry so that, you know,
private money can take over, well, we have seen that movie. I mean, we
have private money running every crevice of finance in the run-up to the
crisis. And you know, we know how that worked out. And it worked out with
taxpayers toning up first $700 billion in a blank check to rescue us
against a potential catastrophe globally. And subsequently, we`ve returned
to supposedly more normal housing market in which ordinary people are
unable to avail themselves of the one thing they were supposed to get out
of the bursting the bubble, affordable housing. The speculators are the
ones buying most of the homes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, prices come down but if mortgages aren`t
available you could buy them.
But there are things that the president could do, right?
Stephen, I know you said hey, he is focusing too much on what Congress can
do but what he can do.
STEPHEN LERNER, LABOR AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Well, for example, you
know, Fannie and Freddie, not to bash Fannie and Freddie just announced
that they were going to sue Richmond to stop Richmond from using eminent
domain to fix the housing crisis there. So, I think one of the questions
here, what are the administrative things that can be done right away.
And I also just want to touch on the speculation thing because a little
there is this myth that the market is beautiful and all houses are worth
more when we actually have people like Blackstone that I`m trying to -- you
may know the number, whether it`s eight billion or whatever the numbers,
massively buying up houses in Atlanta. And what they are trying to do is
two things, one, get control of the market to jack up rental and housing
cost. So, the notion that of the private sector is just liberated, all
will fine is not only crazy, it is counter intuitive.
GOODMAN: And we have seen it. We are still paying the freight for that.
LERNER: And the one thing, you know, we have used the expression, the
American dream a couple of times. What I don`t want to lose track of here
is the nightmare that millions of people are caught in like aspirationally,
I know where we`d like to go. But let`s not lose side of the fact that I
think it is still nine or 10 million families are under water. That people
getting foreclosed on every day, that in Atlanta, Georgia today people are
sitting in front of a veteran`s home and police at gunpoint are trying to
evict them. This is ongoing. And to act like everything is fine at the
housing market today, it sort of -- it misses reality.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, I want to stay on this topic as we sort of think
about t nightmare people are facing, because one of them is about this
vanishing promise for the American worker when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So retirement is supposed to be a time when folks can relax
and enjoy their golden years. But with the projected 88.5 million
Americans turning 65 or older by the year 2050 and cities like Detroit
filing for bankruptcy protection and others facing pension short falls
across the country, it`s anyone`s guess of just how golden retirement will
remain. Ten thousand each day for the next 20 years, that`s the number of
people that will reach age 65, the traditional retirement age.
Sixty-one is the current average retirement age in the U.S., which is up
from 57 two decades ago and it is likely to keep climbing. Thirty-one,
that is the percentage of retirees with pensions. $31,077 is the median
yearly income of retirees with pensions, 162.7 billion. That`s the annual
amount state of local pension plans pay out in benefits. And 7.5 million
is how many retirees receive benefits each year fm those state and local
pension plans. 6.5 million, that`s how American jobs are supported by
pension spending. $1 trillion, it`s the dollar amount pension spending
contributes in total economic output. And 11.6 is how -- is the percentage
points that the "at risk" factor is reduced for those with a pension plan
the age of 65.
Forty-two, that`s the percentage of private sector workers between the age
of 25 and 64 that have any pension coverage in their current job. And $99
billion, that is the combined shortfall in 2009 among 61 key U.S. cities in
their average funding levels. Thirty-four, that`s the number of states
that failed to make their required pension contributions last year. Only
nine, those are the states that have set aside less than 60 percent of the
required pension contributions. And $3.5 billion, Detroit city manager
Kevin Orr (ph) estimates that`s how much of the city`s pension liability
are unfunded making it a fifth of the city`s debt. Thirty-six percent,
that`s how much of its pension obligations the city of Chicago funded last
year. $1 trillion and possibly more is how much U.S., state and municipal
The pension problem is very real. And Coming up, why you should be
concerned eve if you are decades away from retirement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN HENDRICKS, DETROIT RESIDENT: I don`t know what my future will be
now. I did have some plans, things I wanted to do before I stash the
"bucket list." Now, I don`t know if I will have that opportunity. I have
to work until I die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Glenn Hendricks, a resident of Detroit who has
worked for the city for 29 years. And like many other fellow residents,
his pension is in limbo because of the city`s bankruptcy filing on July
18th. Sixty-five is no longer the goal of Americans looking to the end of
the beginning of working and the beginning of retirement. According to a
gallop poll, 37 percent don`t expect to retire until after the age of 65,
and that is a big increase from a decade ago where 22 percent, not the
same, and 14 percent back in 1995. More than half of the people surveyed,
between ages of 58 and 64, think that for them retirement will happen well
past the golden age of 65.
Joining the panel is retiree and former actress Brenda Gardner.
So, let me open this up. So, you take exception with the idea that
pensions, public pensions, are Detroit`s primary economic driver in terms
of the problem behind this bankruptcy.
LERNER: Yes. And first, we can get into math in a second. We should hit
this point hard that somebody who has been an EMT or police officer their
entire life, who probably isn`t getting Social Security is now going to
lose their income potentially. And we can`t sort of forget that. And the
second thing we can`t forget is the banks have been draining Detroit of
money for years. Bank of America manipulated its interest rate swaps. We
can go through all the details of all the ways, the exit fee, hundreds and
hundreds of millions of dollars. And I don`t hear anybody screaming about
let`s get the money back from those guys.
And then specifically, the $3.5 billion figure maybe a fiction. It is not
undocumented. Ninety percent of the Detroit fund is actually funded. It
is actually funded. It is actually in better shape than many funds. And
only nine percent of the city budget is actually going to fund pensions.
So, it feels to a lot of us like this is creating a narrative to destroy
pensions in general.
And I just would add to it, big corporations are essentially eliminating
pensions for private sector workers. Now, they want to go after pensions
to public sector workers. We all know they have their eye on Social
LERNER: Their goal is hey, we should all work until we die. McDonald`s
can have a special over 80 shift.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, no. And I mean, this is not a small point. The shift
from pensions to 401(k) is the reality that I have had as a worker, right?
So, you know, I have still been praying there is some possibility there
will be Social Security, but I certainly know there`s no pension right,
that the best I can do is sock away as much as I can in the 401(k).
Obviously we have seen over the last four decades a huge shift from defined
benefit plans to defined contribution plans. And essentially, you know,
companies are telling U.S. workers, you figure it out. You know, you put
in whatever you want it put in. Maybe, we will give you a match, maybe we
won`t. At the end of that, you know, 25, 30-year term, if you stick around
and kind get a gold watch, whatever you have, is you know, you have to
figure out. You have to invest it. It`s on you. It`s not for us to sort
of, you know, carry you into old age.
And I think that for a financially illiterate public by in-large, which is
what most of America is. I`m not saying this to put us down. I`m just
speaking to the facts here. It`s a really hard thing to tell somebody,
invest your money on your own, do it well for 10, 20, 30 years and then
hope for the best when you`re 70 plus years old.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m also thinking, Peter, I mean, when I`m reading those
numbers earlier about the number of states that don`t have. I`m thinking,
the state can`t manage to save enough for retirement, why should I be able
GOODMAN: The state is dealing with an accumulated crisis bill that has
rolled downhill since the great recession and financial crisis. I mean,
why is it when we get around to the final reckoning, we get real serious
about the math when we`re talking about retired middle class working
people. We didn`t get serious about math when credit rating agencies
saying AAA, the mortgage fact securities that delivered us to the crisis.
We didn`t get serious about the math when executives continued to get
compensated at ridiculous amounts that financial bailed out financial
institutions and we haven`t gotten serious about math in terms of subsidies
for fossil fuels and Agri business, but suddenly now we have really got to
look at the math when we`re looking at taking a pension away from somebody
who never made more than $45,000.
HARRIS-PERRY: And worked 29 years for a city in his case.
Brenda, I wonder when you talk to seniors, do you hear a sense of anxiety
that folks have not only about this moment but the 15, 20 years they may be
facing, good, healthy years.
BRENDA GARDNER, ACTRESS: I just want to say two things first, I`m not a
former actress, I`m still -- if they will let me I will still act. And
senior is an interest term also, because I have been working on a committee
at my union on equal opportunity but a subcommittee on seniors. And did
you know that the federal law for senior is 40, over 40? Seniors. When
they talked about that --
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m six weeks to senior. I need to fade way faster.
GARDNER: So, most of the seniors I have been talking to have said they are
watching what`s going to happen. The Social Security thing, of course, is
like unlimited incomes. Personally, it`s my Social Security, my pension
from the union and a little small pension from a law firm I worked for as a
day job. And that`s my limited fixed income that I figure out what I`m
going to do. And when I decided to become social securitized, and not
retired, and the most people are very resourceful. They say one door
closes, there`s going to be another one that is go through the window.
They will find a way to meet their -- make their budget and make their ends
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us. Because I do want to talk a little about the
idea that if we fix this, the fact is the folks that we are fixing this on
are a very particular group who is really going to be affected. That`s
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s one thing to say the public sector pension system needs
to be cut back, but the effects of those cuts would be felt unevenly, 19
percent of African-American workers are employed by the government,
compared to just 14 percent of white workers and 10 percent of Latino
workers. So, cutting public pensions would hit black retirees especially
hard. It is insult added to injury because of the significant portion of
African-American seniors already live in poverty. Nineteen percent of
elderly African-Americans are currently living in poverty compared to just
nine percent of seniors as a whole.
So, many might call something a fix but what could actually be a system of
increasing racial equalities, they are already plaguing our system. And we
are talking on the break that we can`t separate this from the overall kind
of 99-1 percent narrative.
GOODMAN: I mean, we talk about fairness, let`s talk about policy and
individual self-interest. If you are well off fully self-supported
merchant of high-end furniture in the Michigan, in the Detroit suburbs
today, you don`t want people losing their pensions, because that goes down
the chain. People who get pensions go out and spend that money and they
circulate it through the economy and there is some economic growth. And
eventually more people show up at your store to buy furniture. I mean,
that`s how the economy works. It`s counter-stimulus to take this money, a
trillion dollars out of the economy now. It is bad economics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Especially when folks are living on that margin, so
every additional dollar they gets spent in rent or food or any of those
other consumer items.
KHALFANI-COX: That`s right. And when you talk about percentage of
African-Americans or Latinos versus Whites who would be impacted by this, I
think you have to think about the alternatives here, too. If folks don`t
have a pension, they are likely living on Social Security. And the numbers
there are really daunting because we know the typical Social Security
recipient is getting about a $1200 a month stipend. That is exactly
minimum wage, $14,000 a year, who can live off of that. Well,
unfortunately, for a lot of African-Americans who are Social Security
recipients in their older age, this is, you know, either their sole or
their primary source of income. That`s a very frightening thought.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, the one moment that I sort of balk a little bit
about giving those numbers, is on the one hand, I want to demonstrate the
racial disparities it generates, but I also know it can create a kind of
public perception then that pensions and Social Security -- they are these
sort of welfare programs for other people.
KHALFANI-COX: And they are not. They are not.
LERNER: Maybe a way to think about it is have you to contrast it on what`s
happening on the other side, which is more wealth. It`s concentrated in
the hands of fewer people than at any time since 1929. I think the Walton
family wealth is 30 or $40 billion. And so, the real question here is who
is hoarding the money? Who is sucking up the money so it`s not into the
"The New York Times" ran this great article the other day that showed
corporate profits are the highest. Corporations are hoarding more cash and
wages as a percent of the economy are lower. So, these things are all
interconnected. And what makes me furious is that the richest folks who
have so much are leading the charge saying the poorest people have too
much. It is like they can`t get enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to bring in Brenda real quick on this because part of
what I want to ask, I mean, I was thinking as you were saying I`m still an
actor and I would still work.
GARDNER: Whether I need it or not.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. But that`s exactly one of the challenges, right, is
that there comes a point, particularly in an economy like this, such a
slack labor market, where if you do need to go and continue working over
65, even over 70, it might, in fact, be difficult to find employment.
GARDNER: I talked to several people and one of them said they grew up
there before in Florida. And it`s about what is the dream of how they want
to be and how they want to live. It`s very individualized. And she lived
on a farm and was in her little community thought she was one of the
wealthy ones. Then she had to go to the city and discovered oh, my. But
for her, the joy was like her father and she went horseback riding and he
didn`t lead the horse. She was actually riding on the horse by herself and
she was queen of the world and felt wealthy.
So, the expectations way, way, way back are different. And I think that as
we get older also people who work all their lives are very resourceful. We
will find a way to meet our bills and pay for it so people we`re talking
about on the $1200, of which I am one, plus the others, find a way to make
it work. There are people who are afraid their money will run out. What
are they going to do?
HARRIS-PERRY: I completely respected my mother as a completely resourceful
person as of my father, both officially seniors even beyond the definition
you gave before. And yet, I also feel like but they worked their whole
lives. And I don`t want them to have to make it work. I want it to just
work for them.
Peter Goodman, Brenda Gardner, Lynnette Khalfani-Cox and Stephen Lerner,
thanks so much.
Coming up, complete this phrase, some of my best friends are -- right, yes.
When we come back at the top of the hour, a frank look at friendship across
the color line.
Also, the real modern family, we have got families that have nothing on
what we have got. There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
In his first month as attorney general, Eric Holder, famously declared that
America is a nation of cowards on matter of race because we avoid candid
discussions about racial issues. Holder suggested that this cowardice was
rooted in our lack of sustained meaningful friendships across the racial
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: As a nation, we`ve done a pretty good job
in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, we lunch
together. And when the event is at the workplace during work hours, such
as this, or shortly thereafter we socialize with each other fairly well,
irrespective of race. And yet, even this interaction operates within
certain limitations. Outside the workplace, the situation is more bleak in
that there is almost no significant interaction between us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, a new "Reuters" poll underlined Attorney Holder`s
remarks revealing a stark racial divide in our friendships.
The poll shows about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of
nonwhite Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.
Nearly 60 years after the Supreme Court declared segregated schools
inherently unequal and ordered black and white kids to share the same
classroom, almost 50 years after passage of the Fair Housing Act, it was
supposed to integrate our neighborhood, we still aren`t making friends.
From popular culture that shows no shame in presenting all white buddy
cohorts who rarely even bump into a black person, even in New York City, to
our racially homogeneous Facebook pages -- we may or may not be a nation of
cowards but we`re certainly a country of strangers.
Here with me to discuss this poll and perhaps figure what we can do are
some of our friends, W. Kamau Bell, the hilarious host "Totally Biased with
W. Kamau Bell", premiering September 4th nightly on folks on FXS.
Next to him, Tanner Colby, author of, I swear it`s the truth, "Some of My
Best Friends are Black." The strange story of integration in America.
Also comedian, Lizz Winstead, author of a book of essays, "Lizz Free or
And Carlos Andres Gomez, who is an actor, poet, and author of "Man Up",
cracking the code of modern manhood. Was anyone at this table surprised by
those poll results?
TANNER COLBY, AUTHOR: I was surprised that they were so good.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, really? You think some white folks are lying?
COLBY: I think it`s a very imprecise study in that it`s white and
nonwhite. The social divide between black Americans and white Americans is
completely different subject. So, to give white people the out of saying
how many non-white friends you have make the numbers look a lot better.
HARRIS-PERRY: At the preface of your book, you`re talking about the 2008
Obama campaign, and you said not only did you drink the Obama Kool-Aid, but
actually the crystals from the Kool-Aid. Then you write in the book, and I
realized, I had never been to a black person`s house, right?
So, now, officially, anyone who has been to the White House has been to a
black person`s house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, the black person renting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not renting, public housing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight year lease on that house.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder why do we care? What is it about interracial
friendships is valuable, what difference does it have, particularly between
white folks and black folks?
LIZZ WINSTEAD, WRITER & COMEDIAN: That`s such a giant question. For me, I
grew up in Minnesota where it was like the Swedes and Norwegians was like
the biggest racial divide. It was crazy.
And I didn`t really live in a neighborhood that was almost totally white.
I was a young girl who was completely oppressed by what I looked at as my
future. I sought out people who had different lives and felt like
outsiders. So, it wasn`t really until college, I want to talk to you
because, A, you look different than me. B, I know you haven`t been on the
train everybody thinks you`ve been.
So, when you look at feminism, a classic example of white feminism and
women of color and trans people. That divide hasn`t been approached. So,
in order to become a movement that changes things you sometimes have to
shut up and listen to other people, what their experiences are. All those
things need to be talked about and honored so you can move forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a larger political narrative. In other words, it`s
not just we should have diverse friends in order to feel good but we need
diverse friendships because it makes a difference to our political
WINSTEAD: It`s about you on some levels but it`s really -- if it`s only
about you -- like I say there`s me-ism in the world, you want to -- you
just know about people and know about the world you live in.
CARLOS ANDRES GOMEZ, POET: Think what a limited life we have if the only
people we know look like us, think like us, have the same outlook and
everything like us. I think for me, you live a more full life when you
have people with different ideas, different experiences. That`s one thing.
I think number two, when it comes to love, for me, my wife is a black
woman, you know. It`s so hard to find love in this city, this world. How
bad is it if the only people we actually think we can have a depth of a
relationship is somebody that looks like of our own race. If you can`t see
outside of that, maybe we`ll miss love. Maybe we`ll never the find the
person we`re meant to be with.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting you bring up love and romance. There`s a
couple of interracial relationships at this table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we look at the numbers, interracial marriages have been
sort of ticking up at the same time we have nearly half of white folks
saying I don`t have friends of the other race. I wonder, is it almost
easier -- I don`t mean that it`s easy to be in an interracial marriage or
romance but somehow marriage or romance has a set of rules about it -- like
it`s harder to form the intimate peer relationships that are friendships.
W. KAMAU BELL, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: I think the study hits me in the wrong
place. I don`t need white people to be my friends. I do need them to be
friendly. I would friendly like, hey, there`s a white guy following me
down the street. It`s going to be fine. Folks are like, this is going to
So, I think interracial relationships do help you form that bond. But I
feel like anything that separates you from the norm, which is white,
straight myth in America, it makes things harder. I feel like me and my
wife have all the regular relationship stuff. She`s white. And there`s
also the race stuff that comes in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tanner, I think this is an interesting point. The idea, I
don`t need you to be my friend, just don`t shoot.
BELL: I don`t want to go to George Zimmerman`s house and say, hey, man,
can we be friends.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t be friends. But Tanner actually, part of what -- you
know, when I got under the cover of your book, "Some of my Best Friends are
Black." it`s actually about integration in schools that failed in many
ways, attempted integration in neighborhoods that often failed. I wonder
about this idea that it actually is sufficient to just have the policies in
place without the intimacy of friendship.
COLBY: The policies are necessary but not sufficient in place. We don`t
even have the right policies. But assuming you have the right policies in
place, the constructive act of integrating, desegregation is the removal of
barriers. Integration is a constructive act. That requires people to make
voluntary choices about who they associate with and what they want to do.
It does have huge socioeconomic impacts. What happened in the book, I
looked at the advertising industry because I work in advertising here in
New York. And if you`ve seen madmen, that`s why I didn`t know black
people. I worked at five different ad agencies in nine years, and the
number of black people I worked with I could count on one hand.
So, I went to look at racism in advertising, and literally, the month I
decided to write the book, the NAACP announced that they were going to
threaten the advertisement in Madison Avenue, in a class action lawsuit for
racial discrimination. I though, well, that`s great. What good fodder for
And then, you know, the deeper you got into it, it was very hard to put
their hands on tangible acts of discrimination because there`s no
qualification to work in advertising. You look at someone`s portfolio and
say, I think you`re clever. What they were trying to prove is that it was
an old boy`s network, and they defined it as second generation
discrimination, social groups tend to exclude non-dominant groups.
COLBY: Is that also America?
HARRIS-PERRY: This goes to your point about politics. Politically in a
field where there`s no qualifications, then our friendship networks are
part of what become our employment networks. If they are all white, then
they generate this kind of inequality.
WINSTEAD: What I would just take one step further is people`s stories are
what push policy. Why do you think immediately they tamp down the dreamer
stories or 9/11 widow stories or women who have had to go through abortion
stories, they want to make up their own narrative. When people tell
stories you open up and listen and hear part of yourselves. And so, when
you invite people in your life and hear their stories and shut up and
listen, all of a sudden, you are connecting with something you may never
HARRIS-PERRY: It was an interesting point. As we were sitting around
developing this, trying to look for the story, we were saying, who is the
most famous interracial friendship, who is the most famous interracial
friendship we came up with Bert and Ernie. The very idea of interracial
friendship did full like a null set, like a missing story line because it
isn`t part of what we talk about the richness of, you know -- I like to
camp with my white friends. Or, you know, like this idea that those
friendships are meaningful. Hold on for a second. There is one very funny
note. Disturbing, I can`t remember which.
Yes, it is both funny and disturbing. We`re going to watch it when we come
back about a interracial friendship. You don`t want to see this but you
totally do, so stay.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. We`ve been discussing the "Reuters" poll indicating
that 40 percent of white Americans don`t have a friend of another race. If
you do have one, though, I`m going to show you how not to introduce him or
Nerdland cue disgraced TV chef Paula Deen, Hollis Johnson, her bodyguard
and as she describes him, friend, at a public talk in New York last fall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA DEEN, TV CHEF: I have a young man in my life. His name is Hollis
Johnson (ph). He`s black as that board. Stand up, Hollis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he here?
DEEN: We can`t see you standing against that dark board.
I tell people this is my son by another father. I mean, I love this young
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was at a "New York Times" forum in New York. Don`t
introduce your black friend like that.
WINSTEAD: She`s always been real helpful.
BELL: She must be a great cook to get away with that. It must be really
WINSTEAD: That shows you how much Americans love fried butter. There was
a study just yesterday, I was on "THE ED SHOW" talking about the people of
Georgia. Paula Deen ranked higher than Martin Luther King by 20 percent of
people they admire or --
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a part of me that says I don`t want to be hard on
Paula Deen, almost because it`s too easy. It`s a reminder in that moment
given Hollis, who she described as her friend, is also her bodyguard
reminds us part of what friendship requires is that you are operating as
peers, right? You write about this in the book, part of the difficulty
around the particular interracial divides is that you`re often not peers,
you are work friends. Just the idea of those peer relationships.
COLBY: What happened, especially when they tried to integrate a
neighborhood in Kansas City, you had this college neighborhood where it was
affecting the whole racial landscape of the city. College liberals,
professors tried to put together an integrated neighborhood. We`re going
to fight to save everybody.
And no black people would join the organization. All the black people were
mostly working class people. And top of that, they worked two and three
jobs. All the middle class white people were standing around going where
are the black people? The black people are like, we`re at work.
There`s a huge class divide, and there`s a huge power dynamic that`s out of
place, because white people stole all money 400 years.
GOMEZ: If someone is a bodyguard for you and you`re a multimillionaire,
that`s not an organic friendship. I feel like so much when we talk about
race, a beautiful poignant post after the George Zimmerman verdict and he
was talking about basically his whole life trying to manage and hold onto
his self-dignity and self-worth after spending a lifetime feeling like he
had to make white people comfortable, and accommodate them, how they might
respond to him because he`s 6`2", 300 pound black man with a big afro.
HARRIS-PERRY: Would you like to reflect on this experience?
GOMEZ: I feel like real friendships are about both people being on equal
footing and really learning in a complicated way about who each other is.
The only way you do that, you can`t always have one person accommodating
the other to make them comfortable.
BELL: White people need to know if you are paying a black person to be
around you, that automatically disqualifies being your friend.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, they might be friendly.
BELL: The minute she stops paying Hollis, is the minute they stop being
HARRIS-PERRY: I brought together all the millenials on my team yesterday,
all the Nerdland millenials, sort of group of them, they`re adorable, and
they`re interracial group. And I sat, OK, if we were going to sort of give
rules for interracial friendship, what would they be? How actually do you
develop these kinds of friendships as you were talking about the kind of
making yourself available, purposefully doing it.
I was shocked millennials held up as not having a problem with this were
having difficulty articulating what that kind of process of interracial
friendship is like.
WINSTEAD: It`s interesting. For me it`s what are you driven to? To me it
was passion and drive. The things I was interested in and what I would go
to when I got more political, it was more diverse. When I started
feminism, it was more diverse.
So through what I loved, there was people there who I connected with on a
bunch of different levels and they become my friends because we had things
in common, like normal.
Can I say one thing, why does Paula Deen have a bodyguard? I have to ask
that. Why does she have one? People who eat that much fried food are not
going to chase you. They can`t move.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An angry vegan.
COLBY: Paula Deen points out a flaw in the original survey. If you let
people identify their friends they are generous towards themselves. People
are probably even more generous in that setting.
BELL: We`ve got to get the NSA involved in telling people. They know.
COLBY: It`s not how many black friends you have, it`s how many black
friends consider you a friend.
BELL: You ain`t kidding, brother.
WINSTEAD: You know, that`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I remember in the text you said when you ask folks who are
your black friends, you went and turned all the white people thought the
same four people sort of were their friends.
BELL: I have a lot of white people I`m their only black friend.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not an intimate friendship.
BELL: So your hair, how does that work again. We`re not friends.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wait a minute, I know one of my producer Tracy is
undoubtedly applauding to the question, if you ask the hair question,
you`re not. Tracy, I just got confirmation she`s applauding to that.
BELL: I`ve got one.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`ve got one. Let me ask, if not your friend, if you
don`t get to ask the tough questions, that`s part of what interracial
friendship might be able to be about. Lizz, what is it with white people
and catching thing, you know? Melissa, what is it about black folks and
the hair thing? Isn`t that what the long-term building up the relationship
is meant to be about?
WINSTEAD: Shouldn`t that be asked when you`re 12? I feel like those
inquisitive questions are like, what`s it like when you get your period?
What`s your hair like? Those are questions you ask when you`re young.
COLBY: If you lived where I lived when you were 12, there was no one to
ask those questions.
BELL: But I also think those questions can come when you`re adult, but you
have to be friends first, I feel like a lot of times, people will ask me
those questions. I was like, I just meet -- we`re at a party, I just met
you, you`re pronouncing my name wrong, and you want to know about my hair.
We`re not friends yet.
That`s why I carry a punch card. We`re friends now.
WINSTEAD: You and I had the conversation about when do you go from
acquaintance to friends. You have a point you`re acquaintance, that you
like, and you have affection, at what point does that person you`re friend.
HARRIS-PERRY: I had a public fight about this. You can ask me about my
hair at a certain level of intimacy but not as the black shield. If you`re
having a conversation about race and you say, well, Melissa is my friend.
Therefore since I`ve got a black friend, I can now say these things, even
if we were friends, we`re not anymore, that idea that have you to stand on
your own. You don`t get to use me as a shield.
BELL: Your black shield.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m your swirl shield?
GOMEZ: I think it`s problematic in general, though, this idea whether you
have black friends a black spouse or a black parent that adopted you and
you`re white, flip it up to what you`re talking about later, that in some
way gives you more entitlement to say certain things or talk a certain way.
I mean, I don`t think -- my whole life I`m Miami beach who lives on a fault
line, my mom is white, my father is Columbian, I grew up in international
schools, around very diverse racial groups -- groups of racial demographics
but that doesn`t change the responsibility I have in the way I move through
the world, the things I say.
I think a lot of times people use that as credibility, and use that as an
excuse to do things that nobody has any right to do regardless of who you
are, where you come from.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you still don`t get to use the N-word even if I`m you`re
friend, particularly not if you`re doing it in a public space where it
creates a shield.
I do want to ask one question about a policy piece. We`re trying to think
through the intimacy and friendship. Is there sort of one set of policies
that you see as being most likely to generate the opportunities for
COLBY: Housing. That`s it. We spend all this time, you know, busing kids
all over the map. If you bus a kid into the neighborhood and send them
home at 3:30 he`s not going to become a part of that community. He`s not
going to feel part of that community.
And so, likely, he`s going to stay in the black cafeteria table and not get
involved in student activities. We had busing. Kids were not of the
school. Whereas now, with 20 years later with a lot of work on red lining
and real estate integration, the black people who live at my high school
live in the community and the kids participate in activities, they are
there after school. If you look all across the country like in Kansas City
where I looked, the parents in the neighborhood didn`t get along, kids
don`t know different.
And so, parents have sort of declared a truce to co-exist and kids grow up
not knowing any different. You integrate a neighborhood, you integrate a
school. You integrate a college without the same baggage, and they move
into a career field and you`re already across the color line.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet as you point out holding those integrated communities in
some kinds of states is extremely difficult because there`s active attempts
to block bus those neighborhoods. I agree with you -- again, I love the
line, the best thing we could ever come up with is busing.
How do we put a man on the moon but can`t figure out a way to integrate any
better than with a school bus.
BELL: I feel like most of America needs to be bused to the Bay Area. You
just need to be in a place where you`re always walking into different types
of people whether you`re friends with them or not. You settle down.
COLBY: The whole fallacy of busing, worse than hurting cats, it was
hurting white people, only species with greater mentality than cat.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to W. Kamau Bell, to Tanner Colby, to Lizz
Winstead, and to Carlos Andres Gomez -- thank you so much.
Up next, the disgraced politician who has completed intensive therapy after
just one week. Wow, seriously?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s been a few weeks since we last did our wow seriously
segment. And let me tell you, there is plenty, that has shaking our head
this week. First up, we had more news this week on San Diego`s mayor, the
philandering Bob Filner. Filner is accused by 14 women and counting, as
some especially, icky sexual harassment, bordering on assault.
As accusations mounted he refused to step down, instead saying he would
check himself in for two weeks of extensive behavioral therapy for
apparently that is one good therapy center, because Filner is leaving the
week early. Wow. Seriously?
I mean, you`ve been cured. Years of allegedly groping, kissing, and
seriously grossing out your female colleague and you`re cured in a week?
Now, coincidentally, Filner stayed in therapy just long enough to miss his
scheduled deposition in a harassment case filed by his former spokeswoman.
Since Filner has been away, Senator Barbara Boxer has called for his
resignation, saying allegations he preyed on veterans, survivors of sexual
assault, shook her to her core. Now the entire San Diego City Council is
unanimous calling for Filner to step away from the office. We hope every
woman on earth.
In the meantime, Filner, they changed the locks on your office, so you
might not even have a choice.
On the other side of the country we have United States Representative Ted
Yoho, Republican from Florida. Congressman Yoho told a crowd this month
the new tax on tanning beds under the Affordable Care Act is racist. Oh,
that`s right, seriously. He said he knew this because he asked an Indian
doctor with very dark skin if he`d ever been to a tanning booth and he
hadn`t. Obviously, racist against John Boehner maybe.
To be fair, Yoho was just trying to make a point about the left.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: So, therefore it`s a racist tax and I thought
I might need to get to a sun tanning booth so I can come out and say I`ve
been disenfranchised because I got taxed of the color of my skin. As crazy
as that sounds, that`s what the left does right. By God, if it works for
them, it will work for us.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow, seriously.
OK, let`s end on a happy note. This is my favorite thing on the Internet.
It`s a friend in China, dressing up babies like watermelons. Look at these
adorable juicy watermelon babies. Why would someone do this? Because they
Coming up, parenting across the color line. When your children are black
but you`re not.
HARRIS-PERRY: A few weeks ago when the George Zimmerman verdict was
announced, we talked on the show about the difficult conversation that I
and African-American parents across the country were having with our
children as they struggled to make sense of the verdict. Among reactions
that most resonated with me was the response of my own mother who reminded
me of something I had forgotten, it wasn`t only African-American parents
who were trying to figure out how to have that talk, it was also white
parents who were raising black and mixed race children. She told me, it`s
not just black parents. It`s the parents of black children.
Joining me now are a group of people who understand that firsthand, what it
means to confront those conversations.
Rachel Garlinghouse is the mother of three adopted African-American
children, and the author of "Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent`s
Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children".
Tracy Robinson Wood, a professor at Northwestern University whose research
investigates of non-white mothers in New Zealand and United States.
Rachel Noerdlinger is the CEO of Noerdlinger Media. Rachel was adopted by
a white couple in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she was a newborn.
Back with me was Shanna Smith. Yes, she was here as a housing expert five
seconds ago. She`s the president of the National Affair Housing Alliance,
but she`s also the mother of two mixed race children who identify primarily
So, I`ve been wanting to have this conversation since my mom reminded me of
Hi, mom, looking beautiful back there.
Tracy, what are the key challenges from research. What are the big
challenges white moms, in particular, face with trying to raise African-
TRACY ROBINSON-WOOD, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, one of the challenges
is how to talk about race. White women oftentimes are raised to not think
about themselves as racial beings so they don`t acquire racial literacy
skills, the skills that help them to know how to talk about race. So,
oftentimes the dialogue is not taking place.
So, it means that children who are going to encounter instances of racism
or have questions about race or racial identity navigate that oftentimes
alone. That`s difficult for children. Because childhood requires the help
of adults who can help you go that way. Parents don`t know how to do that
because they haven`t interrogated race. It`s hard on the children in
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to link what you`re saying, Shanna, to what one
of my other guests Tanner Colby just said about the idea we need
neighborhoods and communities that are integrated. I`m thinking part of
what makes that difficult, if you are the white parent of a black or mixed
race child, you may also be living in a neighborhood that is homogeneous,
only have schools available to you that are pretty homogeneous.
SMITH: Well, for me, personally, I was able to be raised in an integrated
neighborhood but it was in the `50s. So the low in come white people in my
neighborhood were mixed in with college educated African-American families
because they weren`t allowed to buy a house anywhere else. So, my exposure
came to be with educated African-American families and their kids and we
all grew up together, went to grade school and high school together.
So, for me, the racial education came from growing up and living together.
So the Fair Housing Movement and Congress, when they passed it, one of the
goals is to promote residential integration. And coming from that
background, I recognize how we learn about each other. You either like me
or don`t like me because I`m a jerk, not because of my race.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I also know you and I have talked before about this
idea, being very self-conscious about a question of being a white parent
who is making a choice to raise black children. In your writing, you are
very clear about this, you cannot simply adopt African-American children
and say love is enough, although love is incredibly important, but there
are other skills necessarily.
RACHEL GARLINGHOUSE, AUTHOR: So, we hired a mentor for our children. I
purposefully went to the college I work at, I need a Christian African-
American black female. We grilled, interviewed them and showed a black
people to be a powerful black female for our girls.
Some people think that was targeting racially. Yes, it is. I did it with
pride. It means stepping aside and realizing as a white woman, I can`t
provide everything my children need, but I can do something about it. And
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s also just because you`re in an age of adoptions where
adoptions are open, which have a whole set of challenges. I wonder in the
case of trans racial adoption, with open adoption provides opportunities as
well for that -- I mean, I guess that`s what I`m asking here, does that
assist in some ways the fact adoptions are open.
GARLINGHOUSE: I think not just with race but adoption in general. Kids
have questions about medical history. So, having an open adoption can be
tremendously beneficial. I have three children and each have an open
adoption with biological families.
The funny thing is our family tree keeps growing, not so much a tree but an
orchard. It`s not what they would expect. But it`s a wonderful thing.
Families -- you know, if you`re white you`re not enough necessarily for
your children, but there are things you can do. It`s not like you throw
your hands up and say there`s nothing I can do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just now we were about to come on air, we were looking at
this picture from my mom and I in 1974 and said, she did a good job with
your hair. That`s not a small point. It`s not the big picture but
sometimes as small as the fundamental questions of knowing how to deal with
and manage textured African-American hair.
RACHEL NOERDLINGER, CEO, NOERDLINGER MEDIA: That`s absolutely correct. My
hair, bless my parents` heart was an atrocity. My afro was so uneven kids
would hide their pencils in it. And I later, later, actually, you know,
Alice Walker did a piece, my hair was my oppressor. Years later my hair
became an issue I had to deal with for years. To this day I still can`t do
I just thank you as a trans racial adoptee for having me on today. This is
a conversation that has to be had. We are clearly not in a post-racial
America, we`re in a post-Trayvon Martin America. I`m looking through a
Granted I was adopted by a white couple. I have a 16-year-old teenager,
black boy, who could have been Trayvon. And for 13 years, I worked with
Reverend Al Sharpton on National Action Network from Amadou Diallo to Sean
Bell, RaMarley Graham.
So, racism is well and alive. As President Obama said eloquently on
Friday, no human problem is 100 percent solvable. The Voting Rights Act,
Civil Rights Act granted were great pieces of legislation but
discrimination still exists.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel glad you brought up the president, because, you know,
we spend a lot of time on how his discursive moment of saying Trayvon could
have been me, I could have been Trayvon. That`s right. This is Ann
Dunham`s child. On the one hand, it`s identifying fully and completely
with Trayvon Martin that`s his mama. His mother is a white woman.
The challenge there of remembering he is the child of a white woman who
nonetheless has this very strong African-American identity was the other
piece I thought wasn`t as much a part of our conversation.
ROBINSON-WOOD: Right. I found in research that there were more moms not
talking about race exclusively. So, I`m really happy to be here with
women, white women, who see it as important. But I encountered women who
didn`t see it as important.
They looked at me kind of with confusion regarding my questions about race.
I think there are some moms who feel like we love our kids to pieces and
that`s enough. Love is essential but it is not enough.
So, to find women who realize it`s important to have these ethnic
communities that help to give kids racial literacy kids so they can
navigate is critical. I find that women we`re focusing on citizenship and
coming from a good family and just knowing you` just as good as everybody
else. But this raceless, colorblind talk doesn`t help kids to navigate the
terrain of race, which is very uneven and deadly at times.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. When we come back, more on this black babies and the
New York City mayor`s race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Bill de Blasio will be a mayor, forever a New Yorker, no matter
where they live, whatever they look like. I`d say that even if he wasn`t
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I kind of love that that was the first campaign TV ad from
New York candidate for mayor. Bill de Blasio, endorsing in that ad, while
supporting a rather impressive afro is de Blasio`s son, who, if you notice,
also happens to be African-American.
We pulled this in part because for him to first represent himself to the
world through his black son was a kind of political statement, as well as
one quite personal. I also love it because the kid has this impressive
afro. We were just talking about hair in the break.
So, I`m dying for you to tell your hero in the break about your beautiful
GARLINGHOUSE: I have two African-American girls and it takes a phenomenal
amount of time to do their hair as I discovered. I do their hair. Of
course, it`s amazing how many white women will come up and touch their
hair, fondle their hair.
The thing I`ve had to teach my 4 1/2-year-old, it`s not OK to touch me, I`m
not a pet or puppy. It drives me bonkers, not only the time and energy I
put into the hair. In fact, that`s not OK to teach the child.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, without knowing you, without being family, without
asking permission. That tells me like that is, to teach your African-
American child, don`t touch my hair is racial literacy. So, I`m wondering
what are key vocabularies or racial literacy, Shanna, you`ve engaged in.
Your children are adults but in your childhood.
SMITH: Well, I think a lot was being with my husband`s family and being
around the whole affirm culture and then we go to a predominantly black
church so they have learned that. But we talked about race and my husband
referred to himself about black. My husband had an issue about -- in grade
school, the color crayons, black and brown.
HARRIS-PERRY: He thought brown crayons were black.
SMITH: We talked about treatment and how people looked at you. My son
looked at as were African-American, Middle Eastern, and Jewish. When he
was in New York, 10 years ago, some white guys in Brooklyn started beating
him up because they thought he was a Jew, started saying all these racial
slurs. I said, why didn`t you tell him you were black? Because they would
have killed me.
HARRIS-PERRY: You were like, mom, that`s not going to make it better.
SMITH: Not a good idea.
But both of my children, we always talk about race. I do civil rights
work, so they have always been involved in that. And with my daughter with
the hair she was on the subway in D.C. in high school, and white girls said
who did your lips. My daughter looked at them and said what? What? Who
did your lips? She said, nobody. These are my lips.
So, we talk about how white people in suburbs who have not been exposed to
people of color ask those questions because they have had no interaction
with people different from themselves, and to be patient but correct them.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting part of the solution or part of the process
for vocabulary was being with your husband`s family and extended African-
American community. I wonder if that`s part of the distinction between
parenting black children who are adoptees parenting black children in the
context of interracial relationship.
My mom just this morning sent me a text about my dad who is African-
American. And said, oh, yes, your dad used to freak my out so much about
making sure you weren`t eating watermelon in public, so turned it into
melon balls because he had angst in the South, in the `70s, racial
stereotyping. But was in part of consistent relationship and communication
with an African-American person who was part of that process.
I`m wondering if there`s a difficulty when you`re dealing with adoption
where people are often acting out of love and compassion but not
necessarily out of knowledge.
NOERDLINGER: That`s right. My parents clearly acted out of love and
compassion. In fact, they raised us to be color-blind. They thought that
was a reality that we could live by. It wasn`t until I was in my 20s and I
met folks of color that I really went through a really serious identity
crisis. I moved to Africa.
HARRIS-PERRY: I came back and worked for Reverend Sharpton.
NOERDLINGER: So but I think the most important thing is what we`re doing
at this table. We`re discussing our commonalities and our differences.
That is the key.
You know, you, Rachel, have really embraced black culture and it`s
phenomenal and I admire you for that. My father to this day, 79 years old,
he had it`s my press releases. Even though there`s a discomfort in talking
about race in my childhood, he`s really, really been phenomenal.
GARLINGHOUSE: African-Americans have to talk about race. That`s what I
discovered as a white mom. You have to talk about race where white
parents, with kids of color, all white families in particular try not to
talk about it. I noticed in a preschool, a little white girl said to me,
are those two girls sisters. And I said, they are not sisters. They just
happen to be the same race.
But her mother hushed her. We`re not going to talk about black. We`re not
going to talk about that. It`s unfortunate because we need to talk about
HARRIS-PERRY: And I appreciate that all of you came to this table to talk
about it, because this is Nerdland. This is when we start this
To Rachel Garlinghouse, to Tracy Robinson-Wood, who also (INAUDIBLE), is
form Northeastern University, I just write it wrong. Rachel Noerdlinger,
and Shanna Smith, thanks so much to all of you.
And when we come back, Oprah`s real ah-ha moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Serious outrage ensued this week when media mogul Oprah
Winfrey revealed to "Entertainment Tonight" that she was racially profiled
while shopping in an exclusive store in Switzerland for a $38,000 handbag.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: In Zurich, for Tina Turner`s wedding, I go
into a store, which shall remain unnamed. I say to the woman, excuse me,
may I s that bag right above your head? And she says to me, no. It`s too
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, my denied the right to buy a $38,000 handbag. The
To be fair, Oprah was pretty relaxed about the whole thing and certainly
didn`t demand a mass march or boycott of Zurich on her behalf. But I admit
to feeling this particular slight might be well categorized as
Still, perceived racism is always a painful and demeaning experience no
matter what your tax bracket and having effective strategies to counter
these slight can be the best way to feel empowered. So, Nerdland wants to
suggest that the next time Ms. Winfrey experiences the sting of
discrimination, she ought to march right out of that shop and take her
In fact, we have developed a Nerdland guide to other things Oprah could buy
for $38,000. So, she can pick up this solid, three-bedroom, two baths,
1,700 square foot family home in Buffalo, New York. Also, $38,000 would
just about cover a year of tuition for our intern Sarah at Quinnipiac
University. Or she could score a 2014 jeep Grand Cherokee complete with
the navi package. You get a car. You get a car.
$38,000 would also buy 30 months of food for a family of four based on USDA
estimates for average grocery spending. And it would provide a stunning 11
years of SNAP benefits for an average family.
But even if you`re just in the market for a novelty item, look at what you
can get for the bargain price of $35,000. A Tron-like cycle. Isn`t that
better than some old handbag?
Fight back. Spend that money on something better than a purse. The
That`s our show for you today. Thanks for watching. There will be nor
Nerdland next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And now, it`s time for a
preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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