'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, November 17th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
November 17, 2013
Guest: Tanner Colby, Wesley Harris, Dorothy Roberts, Bonnie Dunbar,
Derrick Pitts, Nina Khrushcheva; Ron Kampeas; Gordon Chang; Charlie
Sennott; Wesley Harris; Dorothy Roberts
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-
On Thursday night, former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, asked and
sort of answered a big question on the mind of many Americans. No, not
whether or not she`s going to run for president. Instead, the question was
this. What place will our country have in the world going forward?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I hear all this talk about how
we need to withdraw from the world. I`ve heard even tonight some
references to the really unfortunate consequences of sequester and budget
cuts. We have to decide if we intend to continue America`s global
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, maybe she did just answer the question about
whether or not she is running. Because former secretary of state Clinton
just articulated an interventionist argument that puts her squarely at odds
with potential Republican opponents, like the withdraw-minded Senator Rand
Paul and the globally inexperienced governor Chris Christie.
Clinton`s comments about the necessity of U.S. leadership come at a heady
time, as American`s deeply dysfunctional domestic politics may prove a
problem for the next step in a multi-lateral negotiation with Iran. Now,
it has been more than a decade since the international atomic energy
agency, the IAEA, discovered traces of enriched uranium in Iran that put
the world on alert. In that decade, world leaders have used sanctions,
threats and talks to try to dismantle Iran`s nuclear capacity, time that
many observers claim that Iran has used to move closer to weapon capacity.
Then this fall, the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani visited the U.N.
and chatted with President Obama by phone, and sent the tweet that was
heard around the world, negotiations resumed. U.S. secretary state John
Kerry and five other world powers failed to come to an agreement in Geneva
last weekend to freeze Iran`s nuclear program, but lower level
representatives are set to meet again this week to try to come up with a
In the meantime, the White House and Senate are locked in a stalemate with
the latter threatening to pass even tougher sanctions against Iran. And
President Obama pleaded for patience, so that talks can proceed and a
potentially lasting diplomatic solution be found. So, now, when it comes
to Iran, we find ourselves at a geopolitical cross roads where the
decisions that we make can have profound consequences. At a time when a
new U.N. report shows Iran has virtually halted uranium enrichment under
the new president, Hassan Rouhani, and an IAEA quarterly report shows no
new major components added to their reactor since August, what should we as
a nation try to exercise on Iran?
According to President Obama on Thursday, our policy of sanctions are the
key tool that we have, and we must continue to use them while talks
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
As a consequence of the sanctions that we put in place and I appreciate all
the help, bipartisan help that we received from Congress in making that
happen, Iran`s economy has been crippled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But other American leaders, chief among them, the leader of
the Senate hawks, John McCain, insist that the president and his
administration are naive with respect to Iran, and a harder line must be
drawn. For them, the United States must employ a bigger stick and a
smaller carrot. But the president insists that the sanctions are
effective. And he`s not arguing for sending the Iranians a fruit basket,
just giving the process a little more time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions
that we`ve set up. But importantly, we would leave in place the core
sanctions that are most effective and have most impact on the Iranian
economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect to banks and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, President Obama is looking for some leeway here. Some
time from the Senate to pause so that even more -- on sort of imploring
even more sanctions, so that he can explore. If Iran`s recently signals of
change are, in fact, legitimate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What that gives us is the opportunity to test how serious are they.
But it also gives us an assurance that if it turns out six months from now
that they`re not serious, we can crank -- we can dial those sanctions right
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, here we are. A former secretary of state, eyeing the
electoral horizon insisting that we must remain present and active leaders
in the world, our deeply dysfunctional legislative branch howling for a
tougher stance, and President Obama standing there, trying to ensure that
America`s domestic political squabbles do not derail the best chance in a
decade to dial back the Iranian nuclear program. It is a balancing act, in
which there are multiple players and competing interests in whatever the
role of America`s global leadership is increasingly unclear how the r of
the world will respond.
At the table, Charlie Sennott, founding editor of foreign affairs
publication global post, Rula Jebreal, an MSNBC contributor and foreign
policy analyst at "Newsweek," Ron Kampeas, the Washington Bureau chief of
the Jewish telegraphic agency, an organization responsible for coordinating
coverage in the U.S. capitol and analyzing political developments that
affect the Jewish world, and Nina Khrushcheva who is the associate
professor of International affairs at the New School.
It is so nice to have you all here.
So Charlie, let me ask, should we believe the evidence from the IAEA that
the Iranians are dialing back their program?
CHARLIE SENNOTT, CO-FOUNDER, GLOBAL POST: I think we have to believe it.
And I think we`re wise to believe it. Because I think that if Syria and
Iran are going to actually progress, we`re going to have to have some faith
in diplomacy. So for the president to be asking for more time here is
wise, but it`s also going to be, I think, productive. So I think the big
question will be, will Iran allow these inspections to take place in a very
aggressive way, with a very short timetable.
If you compare the inspections that are going to be done in Iran with the
inspections that are going to be done in Iraq, this is a very short
timetable. So I think we need to keep the pressure on, push forward with
these negotiations, so that we can get inspectors really aggressively in
there, and we`ll know immediately whether or not Iran is serious, as the
president has said.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So let me just point out that Israel`s Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not think that we should take the
serious. I just want to listen for a moment to his point of view on this
and then ask you to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL`S PRIME MINISTER: This is a country that is
participating, as we speak, in the mass slaughter of men, women, children,
tens of thousands of them in Syria. This is a country that is for many
terror in five continents. This is a country that pledges to destroy the
state of Israel and subvert so many of the other countries. It`s not only
my concern that this is a bad deal, there are many, many Arab leaders in
the region who are saying, this is a very bad deal for the region and for
the world. And you know, when you have the Arabs and Israelis speaking in
one voice, it doesn`t happen very often. I think it`s worth paying
attention to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: A statement like that is not only to the world, but also to
the domestic internal politics of the U.S. What do you make of that
RON KAMPEAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY: Well, you
know, Netanyahu is the first prime minister, maybe in Israeli history,
certainly since 1973, that has had to depart from Israel`s defense doctrine
of going it alone of making its own decisions. He really needs the United
States in this because Israel would be very difficult for Israel to stop
Iran`s nuclear weapons program, should it come to that, by itself.
But what his problem is, he has a dysfunctional relationship with President
Obama. And if there was another president, if there was a president John
McCain, somebody with whom he has a report, he might be able to go forward
and trust the Americans, but their relationship is, I think, what`s
obstructing a lot of what`s happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this multiple layers of distrust, part of it is a
question of distrust of the Iranian government, but in the other piece of
it is this sort of distressed relationship, long-term distressed
relationship with President Obama.
KAMPEAS: Yes, you had a very weird and difficult relationship with
President Nixon in 1973. But when golden (INAUDIBLE) asked him for an
airlift, he came through. He even defied the advice of Henry Kissinger,
his secretary of state. He had the airlift of weapons. Israelis want to
know if they have that, Netanyahu wants to know if he has that with Obama.
And he`s just never managed to develop that kind of relationship with him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Professor, it`s also worth pointing out that Netanyahu, in
that sound that we just listened to revived a conversation, in part, about
Syria and about the world Arab nations. You brought up Syria, Charlie. I
wonder if, in part, we continue despite the fact that we are multi lateral
negotiations here continue to think of this as sort of a one-on-one or
maybe three, U.S., Iran, and Israel. What are we missing in terms of an
American perspective on the larger neighborhood in which this is all
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, THE NEW
SCHOOL: I think, actually, Barack Obama is trying to open it up, open up a
conversation for the rest of the world and saying, we need this diplomacy,
the way we need to guide the world or lead the world, so everybody would
get involved. Because good relationship between the U.S. and Iran,
actually, the benefit of all countries, not just the benefit of Iran or and
the United States, or doesn`t damage, and doesn`t necessarily damage
So I think that Barack Obama`s message is probably the right one. I
totally agree that diplomacy is something that really, they should exploit.
It hasn`t been enough time. I mean, these negotiates haven`t felt daily,
only been postponed, and they may work out.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet we have our Senate wanting to push the extra layer
Rula, I`m bringing you in first as soon as we get back. Because all of
this also turned again on this kind of domestic politics, because the
question this week became, is John Kerry the Miley Cyrus of foreign
affairs? John McCain seems to think so.
HARRIS-PERRY: John Kerry has only been secretary of state since February.
But this week, critics already question whether he is the worst secretary
of state ever. At issue, Kerry`s efforts in the Middle East, ranging from
attempts to rekindle talks between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the
pursuit of a deal on Iran`s nuclear program.
Senator John McCain had these choice words on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Look, this guy has been a human wrecking
ball. He has traveled around the world and --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy, meaning?
MCCAIN: Secretary Kerry, a good friend of mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Remind me not to be friends with John McCain. That was all
it took to launch a new online mean. The secretary of state was lampooned
as pop star Miley Cyrus.
This feels like the U.S. taking this sort of hard line -- not the U.S., but
rather, this sort of faction within the U.S., wanting to take a hard line
saying, let`s not negotiate. Is that because there`s reason to think we
should not trust Iran, or do you think we have reason to see this opening
RULA JEBREAL, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST/MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think in the last
decade, we invested everything in military, military action. We
paramilitaries our foreign policy, where, you know, we went to Iraq, we
went to Afghanistan, and generals would tell you the policies, that the
United States is applying in those countries. They weren`t diplomats. To
go back and go back to a shift where we believe in diplomacy and smart
powering in actual change and start dialing and negotiating and using
different leverage, which is sanction on one hand or aid, we don`t do that.
We are out of date with that.
But there`s one thing that it`s concerning for me. I have been studying
all of these regions. I understand what they understand as language. So
when we tell them, OK, we`re negotiating with you, we`ll open up, but then
we see that, oh, my God, while we`re negotiating, we want to toughen the
sanction. It`s like two people are negotiating over a house, and one comes
to negotiate, and the wife of the owner, eventually, come and smack him in
the face. And say, OK, now, you know what, now we start the negotiations.
It does not work like this.
With Iranians, they have national pride, but they are opening up. You have
Rouhani, but you have the regime itself. For the first time, you have
(INAUDIBLE) who was ex-president, and one of the guards somehow of the
system, who came out, more than once in the last three, four years saying,
we have not only to open up normal relationship with the United States, but
also with other countries. He was referring to Israel. And I think
something has to give here, otherwise, we lose this amazing opportunity.
SENNOTT: You know, the stakes are so high that you have to give these
negotiations time. And we`ve said that. At the same time, I`m not
convinced they`ll work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. But that doesn`t mean we shouldn`t do it.
SENNOTT: And the reason the stakes are so high is because the war in Syria
represents a proxy war between a Sunni and Shia divide in the region. And
that could really escalate into a regional conflagration. And this is one
of the most important steps towards bringing that down, to be negotiating
with Iran isn`t only going to, if these negotiations work, mean a safer
world for Israel and for all of us, it`s also going to mean that we take a
lot of the energy out of the war in Syria. And I think that is why we
really need to see this go forward.
Now, you know, secretary of state John Kerry, who I covered for the "Boston
Globe" and who I feel like I know well, this idea that he is the worst
secretary of state is ridiculous.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, in ten minutes --
SENNOTT: Right. There`s never been anyone more prepared, more bred, more
intent on having a role like this. And a deep knowledge base to draw on.
But that said, he really -- it is open to the criticism that this foreign
policy is all over the place. And they seem distracted and they haven`t
focused on what matters.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in fact, I might suggest that there might be a certain
kind of hubris associated with Secretary Kerry, from the very sense that
this is the job, except for the presidency, that he has waited his whole
life to have if. And I wonder, as much as we talk about how high the
stakes are from an American position, if we are failing to recognize how
high the stakes are for those in the neighborhood of Iran.
KAMPEAS: Yes, you know, you`re sitting at a different perspective. I
think one of the simplistic things you`ve seen about the whole calculus for
Israel is that Iran with a nuclear bomb means a mushroom cloud. That`s not
what it means necessarily for Israel. Nobody actually believes that the
first thing the Iranians are going to do is bomb Israel.
What it means is that it`s Gemini sort of exponentialized. Hezbollah,
which has provoked two wars with Israel, or had two provocative incidents
with Israel, in 2000 and 2006, to which Israel responded with nuclear
force, Hezbollah backed by an Iran with the nuclear bomb, Israel has to re-
consider how it responds. And life in Israel is more could be unlivable.
That`s what`s going through Netanyahu`s head.
JEBREAL: But also, let`s be honest --
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on just one second. I promise, I`m going to pull you
back in. We have to take a quick break, though. Because as we come back,
I want to talk about how important it is to get the stories right, when, in
fact, the story is a whole world away.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last month CBS` "60 Minutes" aired a report that seemed to
confirm Republican claims that the attack on an American compound in
Benghazi, Libya, September of 2012, was the result of failures on the part
of President Obama`s administration. Then one week ago, CBS retracted the
report and issued an apology, saying it had relied on an unreliable source
for the story.
Following that admission, the report faced even more criticism and the
McClatchy news service reported this week that there are even deeper
problems with the CBS story than the network has acknowledged and they
simply have not yet acknowledged any of those aspects, including the claim
that the attack was well planned and orchestrated solely by Al Qaeda on
claims that McClatchy says has little evidence.
So CBS News says it is conducting an ongoing journalistic review of this
story and certainly, there are many matters still to sort out. But one
thing that is clear at this point is that "06 Minutes" failed its duty to
deliver accurate news to the American people, and do the incumbents on the
news media and on all reporting.
But let me make this claim. In particular, with the kind of sensitivity to
international news, but domestic stories, as an audience, you have your own
context, right? I mean, if I tell you that the economy has recovered but
you and your neighbors don`t have jobs, you can judge for yourself how well
you think the economy is doing, but we have less context for international
About two-thirds of Americans do not even have passports, or relatively
geographically isolated for much of the rest of the world. And we rely on
reporters to be our eyes and ears around the globe. We have to be able to
trust their word. So I don`t want to go in on my colleagues that "60
Minutes" at all, but I do want to reflect on this idea, how do we have a
conversation about complicating their national politics in a way that
informs without simply sort of reproducing this good guy/bad guy narrative.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, first of all, it`s very hard not to reproduce the good
guy/bad guy, because we just talked about it in terms of John Kerry and
John McCain. You have to have an enemy. It`s much easier to report what
is not than what is, this is first.
And then secondly, I actually want to speak in defense of "60 Minutes" and
I can tell you why. With the 24/7, 365 days a week news cycle, it`s very
difficult to absolutely check your stories. And the expectations are
enormous that right now, immediately, without even a moment of a thinking
process, you`re going to deliver fine news. "60 Minutes" manned up,
they`re doing an investigation, they accepted the responsibility. And I
think they are one of the greatest things they`re trying to do is provide
context to that story.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so interesting that you say that, Professor. Because I
don`t know yet what happened there. But my very first thought was we work
on such shoestring staffs that, I mean, one or two folks out, and all of a
sudden the difficulty. But I see you over there saying, no, I work on
shoestring and we get it right.
SENNOTT: We do. I mean, at "Global Post," this is what we live and
breathe for, to try to provide context and try to be on the ground. We
call it ground truth. That`s our mission. That`s what we try to do. It`s
a very old-fashioned idea, to be there to tell the story.
You know, watching the coverage of the anniversary of the Kennedy
assassination and looking at a different time in America, when there were
these trusted voices like Cronkite, like Robin McNeil, who was just on.
These were people who worked very hard to get it right. "60 Minutes" has a
wonderful track record of getting it right, but there are really important
questions that are taking too long to answer. And the crucial one is, why
wasn`t Dillen Davies (ph) vetted? They had a lot of time. This wasn`t
24/7. This was time. And I think it`s a fair question. And I think we
really need to not allow this to get politicized. The landscape of
Benghazi is politics. The reporters, on the ground, have a sacred role to
just stick to the facts.
JEBREAL: And I think you know, we have, both of you are right, because we
have a real issue with somehow, how our news is politicized. Look, in this
country, let`s not forget, holding "The New York Times," which for me was a
bible, a Koran, and "the New York Times," before the Iraqi war, published
an article saying, we have WMD, and there WMD in Iraq, enhancing the public
perception. Yes, we are in danger. Saddam Hussein might use them. Let`s
go into war. And this continued. I mean, talking about Boston. Remember
when CNN, they said, they caught the guy and they already arrested him.
There are flaws, but we amend them. They shouldn`t be politicized. But
there is also a major issue about our credibility as news anchors. I mean,
especially when you travel abroad. And most of the foreign reporters, they
are embedded for security reasons. So what kind of voices you`re hearing
on the ground of the people that are in Syria, in Iraq, eventually, or in
Iran. You need to hear these voices more than ever.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was also going to suggest that the ability of any given
news organization, whether it means to or not to mislead is in part
context. The ability to believe that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein
are in cahoots requires people to know -- does not understand what world or
the nature of these historic --
JEBREAL: -- our public opinion as we control them. If you look at the
Islamic Arab world for example, why most of certain areas are the state
regimes that controls television, they control education, and control the
media. Because you shape the public opinion, you can do with them whatever
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me get you in just briefly in here. Yes, please.
KAMPEAS: Your metaphor about the neighborhood is exactly right. We`ve got
to travel to other neighborhoods and see what it looks like from their
perspective. And so, you know, in Washington, we had this narrative about
Syria. Saddam Hussein -- sorry, John Kerry is equivocating, he`s not
equivocating. Obama`s equivocating. There`s all this discussion about
what the political reality is. And I speak to Israelis, and their
perspective, their narrative is, Obama stepped up, he threatened military
action, whatever was going on politically and the Syrians stepped up and
they are dismantling their chemical capabilities. And now the Israelis
want to --
HARRIS-PERRY: So it`s a success.
KAMPEAS: It`s a success and the Israelis want to see that success
replicated with Iran.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, if you are in Syria, you know, micro neighborhood,
you might also have a different perspective in the sense of sort of the
continuing violence there, right? So, at each point, giving context --
I`ll give an education nation shout-out. One of the ways we can travel to
other neighborhoods, we have to learn to speak other language. In just a
moment, we are having great difficulty but then Americans rules.
Ron Kampeas, thank you so much for joining us. We are still going to keep
going around the world.
Up next, the release efforts in the Philippines. This is in part how the
U.S. and others are helping to shape the world while they`re helping
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to turn now to an international story that has
gripped our attention. The Philippines is still recovering from super
typhoon Haiyan, which leveled coastal cities, killing at least 3,600 people
and displacing millions. Aid has been pouring in from around the world,
including from the United States, which has sent an aircraft carrier with
5,000 sailors and 80 aircraft and pledged $20 million to the relief effort.
But it`s not only out of the goodness of our hearts. By helping out the
Philippines, the United States and others are hoping to gain more influence
on China`s doorstep in order to keep that country`s power in check.
Joining our panel now is Gordon Chang, columnist with forbes.com and author
of "the Coming Collapse of China."
So, what do you make of that argument that yes, we`re great humanitarians,
Americans have a great spirit and all of that, but this is in part
strategic, this aid to the Philippines?
GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: Well, it does have a strategic
benefit, but I also think that we would do this regardless of the pivot.
You got to remember, December 2004, the great tsunami, more than 250,000
people died and remember the Bush administration was there. Now, the Bush
administration consciously ignored Asia, you know. It is a terrible Asia
policy, and yet humanitarian assistance was extensive and it included in
only months later. And so, I think that this is something we`re going to
do, pivot, no pivot, Asia focus, no Asia focus.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you think the fact that the Philippines are there on
China`s doorstep is incidental. And yet, countries do seem to be
positioning around this super typhoon. Certainly, there`s a deep
humanitarian crisis, which is the big story. But the aid -- aid has
politics as part of it.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Absolutely. Of course aid has politics. Everything has
politics. Culture has politics.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s true.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Why are we even so surprised? And strategy is part of
foreign affairs and it`s wonderful to think, we`re just going to go and
help humanity, but at the same time, people have to have self-interest, and
that`s how they function. So it is -- I mean, I wouldn`t say it`s that
incidental, but we all believe the United States is capable of doing this.
It`s also a message that our troops can go there as quickly as well. And I
think, I mean, of course, you know this much, much better. But in some
ways, China blew it, because it has been arguing for, you know, its ex-
American sanctuary and now it`s going to be the Chinese and we`re going to
be that soft power. Well, where is soft power? Why do you have very
traditional geopolitical concerns versus the new millennium where soft
power is reaching out and helping people in need?
JEBREAL: But, actually, that`s -- it`s perfectly put. But look at the
numbers. Americans gave $20 million. Chinese, they wanted to give
$100,000. Oh, my God, maybe we`re too stingy, OK, we`ll give you $1.6
million. They were shamed off.
Countries that have, you know, GDP that is rising and they want to stretch
muscles, but there`s also an issue of an island, where they are fighting
with Philippines over this island and the south China seas. And Americans
goes there, the UK go there, and the government even tells Americans, look,
if you want to stay and open bases, we`re open to that. I think suddenly
Chinese are waking up of what maybe should help them more. I think two
things match each other -- The interest, our interests, American interests,
and also, you know, helping a population that`s been destroyed by this.
SENNOTT: In authorization of aid has a very long history. You know --
SENNOTT: Throughout time. But World War II, for sure, and absolutely, the
United States and Afghanistan and Pakistan, we`ve seen militarization of
HARRIS-PERRY: And Egypt.
SENNOTT: Egypt. But I agree with Gordon, that I really think this is also
where the United States shines, that we are there to help. And that we
would have done this with or without the politics of the South China Sea.
And I kind of come down on that side, and I think it`s a very important
message that I think resonates well in the world.
CHANG: Yes. And you know, this is --
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. Gordon, I`ll bring you right back in because
when we come back, I do want to talk a little bit more about China policy
and specifically the moment when 1.3 million people is both too many people
and not enough people. And China seems to want more people. Do you need
more people? That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Huge news out of China this week. The most populist country
in the world now wants more people. China announced this week that it is
relaxing its 34-year-old one-child policy and will allow more couples to
have more children. The country is making the change in the face of a
looming labor crisis and as its population ages without enough young people
to replace retiring workers and amid demands for broader reforms.
So is this about, like, a future economy, or is this about, we don`t want
to make the big changes, so we`re going to make this change, which won`t
feel so personal and relevant to people?
CHANG: Well, Chinese officials have been talking about the economy as
really being the driving force for this, also because of the aging society.
And we`ve got to remember that this is occurring while China is in the
initial stages of accelerated demographic decline. Because the workforce
started to shrink in 2010, six years before China`s official demographers
said that it would. And the country as a whole will probably start to
shrink before 2020, well before the 2033 projections that Beijing makes.
So, you know, China is following both Russia and Japan into uncharted
demographic territory. This is not a good story for China.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask this question, though, once policy has been in
place for 34 years in this way, even if tomorrow and it`s not going to
happen like tomorrow, right? The problems are going to sort of implement
it relatively slowly. But even if tomorrow, everyone could have two
children, has the world sort of evolved for the Chinese, particularly the
urban Chinese, in a way that says, you know what, one child is now how we
make our lives.
CHANG: Yes. The culture right now, and because this has been in place for
more than three decades, it`s engrained for many people. And so
essentially, you have, for instance, couples only want one, because of the
pressures of a second child. Also, you have, you know, the stagnating
economy`s not helping and you have women who are not buying into China`s
social system. And they say look, it`s not a question of not having
children, I just don`t want to get married. So what you have is
essentially, in places like Shanghai, you have a total fertility rate of
perhaps 0.5, which is well below replacement of 2.1.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fascinating, I wonder if they then have to create incentives
for children. I wonder, what might this mean for America? I mean, do we
want more Chinese consumers? Do we see China as a competitor for world
politics, and therefore we don`t -- I`m just sort of wondering how we see a
change like this.
SENNOTT: I think -- well, the thing that I wonder is, you know, we hear
about these personal freedoms are suddenly on the table in China and we
hear about the one-child policy. We also hear about the reeducation
through forced labor, that they`re going to end that as well. I think
China is getting very good at playing public relations and they`re starting
to really put spin on things in a way that the United States has always
been pretty good at that. And we haven`t always looked up to what we said.
China`s playing the same game.
Deeper question for me, though, there is no sense of how this will be
implemented. There`s no sense of how it`s going to, at all, change the
human rights equation or that there`s any sense if this is going to expand
democracy. Those things are still very much on hold, and those are the
forces that will ultimately hinder China`s advancement and its growth, you
know, democratic growth.
JEBREAL: But China has become very aggressive on the international stage.
I mean, we tried to have a solution for Syria and they said, no, vetoed
more than one. I mean, when you look at China ten years ago, when it comes
to Kosovo or to other issues, no, OK, we go along with you. I think they
feel the pressure of so-called the Arab spring. Differ from, you know,
simple people, millions go to the streets, demand democracy and dignity and
a different life. And I think they felt, oh, my God, America and the west
wants regime change all over. It`s not about -- I mean, agreed with Libya,
but then they felt betrayed. And that`s why they didn`t go along with
Syria because it`s not about helping people, it`s about regime change.
SENNOTT: I think another big thing here is social networking.
JEBREAL: Absolutely! That`s why the shut down internet --
SENNOTT: So people can have the voice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it opens that.
JEBREAL: But the regime itself is in question. And, you know, they have
the ex-prime minister having problems, the corruption issues. They have to
give in something.
HARRIS-PERRY: And at a certain point, China is going to have more
reproductive freedom than the U.S. and fewer gulags than Russia. I mean,
this is quite a difference. No?
CHANG: You have a very insecure regime right now, under Xi Jinping who`s
been talking moue (ph) and marks for the last few months. His regime has
severely pretentions with the more repressive than his predecessor, Hu
Jintao. And we thought Hu Jintao is pretty bad. So essentially, you know,
you talk about (INAUDIBLE), certainly right that is undermining the regime
because it is creating national conversations that didn`t exist before.
SENNOTT: And particularly on social issues, would you say?
CHANG: Yes. I mean, look, the social issues, this one-child policy is
very controversial. And a lot of Chinese people, not all of them, as we
talk about, but some people really want two children.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have to come back and talk about this idea of how social
media actually challenges regimes in this way. I know there is a lot of
nerds who are interested in that.
Thanks to Charlie Sennott, to Rula Jebreal, and to Gordon Chang. Doctor
Khrushcheva is going to stay with us a bit.
Now, I`m going to see you in the next hour, but everybody else, stay with
us right now. Because we are going to do some race talk. Everyone pause
with me and breathe, because I`m going to make an argument that Richard
Cohen did not have it all wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: "Washington Post" columnist Richard Cohen has a long history
of being wrong about racism. He`s been wrong at least since 1986, when he
defended store owners, whose crime prevention strategy was to close their
doors to young black men. So wrong, that "the Washington Post" executive
editor had to write an article apologizing for the column. He was wrong
when he justified George Zimmerman`s suspicion of Trayvon Martin, because
Martin was wearing, quote, "a uniform we all recognize."
And if you somehow managed to miss the smack down, Cohen got from the
entire Internet, he got it way wrong in his most recent column for the post
last week. If you read the article, then you know that something -- that
you knew something racist was about to happen. Why? Because Cohen
signaled it the universal sign, the what I`m about to say isn`t really
In a column that was supposed to be about Chris Christie and the 2016
Republican presidential primary, Cohen wrote, today`s GOP is not racist,
but it is deeply troubled about the mainstreaming of what used to be the
avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when
considering the mayor elect of New York, a white man married to a black
woman with two biracial children. Should I know that Bill de Blasio`s
wife, Chirlane McCray used to be a lesbian?
I think it goes without saying that being repulsed to the point of nausea
about a mixed race marriage is some basic, by-the-book, old-fashioned
racism. So on that, Cohen got racism wrong again. But lost amid all the
well-deserved critique of what Cohen got wrong was an acknowledgement of
what he got right, if you interpret his use of the word "conventional," to
mean a widely held belief embraced by the majority of people, then, no,
that gag reflex isn`t conventional for Americans today. It`s clear from
this graph on interracial marriages that most Americans are just fine with
the de Blasios and other families like them.
But that`s only part of that graph. Take a look. At the same graph in its
entirety, going all the way back to how those attitudes have evolved since
1959, and you`ll see that our current enlightened acceptance is relatively
Before 1988 and for the vast majority of American history, the popular and
enduring and conventional view about African-Americans mixing with and
marrying white Americans has been one of disgust.
Joining me now is one of those writers who responded to Cohen this week,
MSNBC`s dot-com reporter, Adam Serwer. Also here, Dorothy Roberts,
professor of African state at the University of Pennsylvania and author of
"killing the black body," also, Tanner Kolbe, author of "some of my best
friends are black," and Professor Wesley Harris, associate provost of
faculty equity at MIT, and as I have always called him, Uncle Wes.
All right, I want to actually start with you, Adam. It was hard, I think,
probably for you, for me, as children of interracial parents, of mixed race
parents not to take personally the idea that there`s a gag reflex in
response to our families, but is Cohen on to something about the idea this
threat to the conventional is at the core of kind of Republican angst at
ADAM SERWER, MSNBC REPORTER: Well, I don`t know if it`s at the core of
Republican angst, but it certainly, people are much less OK with
interracial marriages than that graph suggests. I mean, nobody in America
today or very few people think it should be illegal, but when you ask them,
I think the more important question, how would you feel if someone in your
family married a black person, the numbers go way lower. It is something
like 40 percent of self-identified conservatives and moderates would not be
happy if one of their family members married a black person.
So there is widespread legal acceptance of the idea of interracial
marriage. But culturally, we`re not quite as advanced and enlightened as
we think we are.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder, and I just, I don`t know the answer if one
wondering if you do, what the flip side of that is. So, you know, I think
it is always surprising to white Americans to find that there are black
Americans who also oppose interracial marriage. That our goal isn`t in
fact to whiten ourselves as much as humanly possible, and that in fact, if
we ask the question on the other side, we might also find some resistance
to what would potentially create cultural extermination, sometimes the
language that you hear in African-American communities.
SERWER: Well certainly, I mean, that is, I think, a vocal minority. I
mean, having just, you know, just in my personal life, I`ve encountered
that. But, you know, I think that it`s much smaller in the African-
American community than it is in the white community as a whole. But the
people who are opposed to it tend to be very vocal about their opposition.
I think in a way, you know, that is perhaps unexpected, because today,
culture in America, we tend to try to restrain ourselves when we feel that
we might be saying something that is visibly or audibly racist.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder, Professor Robert, so about the rush in responses,
not so much, many responses to Cohen to say, no, no, no, people -- no,
we`re not racist, this is not how we feel. It was part of why I want to
say, wait a minute, let`s pause and go back and take a look, because in
fact, there is still, and I think this the key, that kind of visceral, gut
-- I mean, so he talks about the gag -- that kind of gut reaction about
that anxiety about (INAUDIBLE) which is old in this country.
DOROTHY ROBERTS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Sure, it goes back
to the founding of the country, the first laws against it 1600s, and it was
against the law for mixed race marriages. It was only in the 1967 that
U.S. Supreme Court struck down (INAUDIBLE) laws, and there were still 16 of
them around the country. So, there is a long, long history. It is part of
white supremacy, as the court said, in loving versus Virginia.
And I think what we have to look at is not what just people say. People
know they`re not supposed to say they disapprove of interracial marriage,
what do people do? And in 2010, only 15 percent of marriages in the United
States were between people of different races. And the least likely are
couples like Bill de Blasio`s couple, a white man married to a black woman.
It`s extremely rare.
So people can say they approve of it, but they don`t show that, in their
daily lives. And also, people who are interracially married experience all
sorts of backlash from family members, from people walking down the street.
So there is evidence of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: As you talk about, Professor Harris, the kind of anxiety
around the intimacy of marriage, but I`m also wondering, in your role,
which is a more institutional role, and as a question of, not the intimacy
of marriage and love relationships, but rather, the intimacy of access to
privilege, that comes, for example, with entrance into an ivy league
university for students, for faculty, for contracting, whether or not you
still see that kind of initial gag reflex or distrust of black bodies to do
the sort of work that is institutionally on the inside.
WESLEY HARRIS, PROFESSOR, MIT: Well, we certainly see that resistance, a
quite high intensity at MIT and I find the horrific part of the Cohen
article, not so much to paragraph on such nation, but the one sentence
before that paragraph, I would like to read that. "They saw a way of life
under attack and they feared it`s lost. For me I asked, could the
dinosaurs perhaps save themselves? And the answer is, of course, they did
So we are at a point in our major institutions, in the one in which I`m a
professor at MIT, where the question is, how do we circle the wagons? How
do we prevent true understanding, true dialogue, real conversation, and
ultimately, the advancement of humanity?
So this man, Cohen, I think reads his constituencies very well. There is
an effort to make a decision as to how America will proceed. When I
understand or try to interpret comments about closing down government, does
that mean a destruction of America? If so, why? Clearly, it`s not a
desire on the part of people of color. My brothers and sisters do not want
to destroy America, to shut down government. So why is it that the
opposition takes that position?
HARRIS-PERRY: In part because they fear, as Cohen says there, that the
loss of that way of life.
Tanner, I want to bring you in when we come back after this commercial,
because I want to talk a little bit more about that question of how we
would overcome such a thing. You write so beautifully in your book about
the difficulty of going to school together, of sitting next to each other,
and forming genuine friendships and relationships. So I want to talk more
about that when we come back.
So up next, there will be more on the history of this conventional racism.
Plus, girls in space! And America`s complicated relationship with the final
There`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And if you are just joining us, we have talking about the controversial op-
ed by "Washington Post" writer, Richard Cohen, in which he suggested that
people with conventional views must repress a, quote, "gag reflex" when
considering interracial marriage.
Now, brace yourselves and grab a second cup of coffee and put on your
thinking caps because I`m going to get all professorial, social
construction of race talks on you.
OK. When we think about racism, we tend to understand it as a set of
beliefs about inequality, beliefs based on a collection of thoughts, sort
of at the top of our minds about racial and ethnic groups and how are some
inherently superior and others inferior. But those thoughts and believes
aren`t fixed points.
As we saw when we looked at these data on American attitudes about
interracial marriage, that kind of thinking has room to grow and to evolve
But what we are reminded of by Cohen`s choice of the words, "gag reflex,"
is that there is another form of racism that can be more enduring and
harder to measure. One that is more resistant to reason, because it is
based not so much in thoughts about abstract ideas and concepts like
equality and supremacy, but in deeply held emotions of disgust about
difference that we believe to be embodied in other races.
In her book, "From Disgust to Humanity," philosopher Samantha Nussbaum
argues that American lawmakers have long used the feeling of revulsion as a
guide for creating policy. Nussbaum finds, for example, the resistance to
LBGT rights, a regularly invoked language of disgust. She concludes that
laws meant to restrict the rights of LBGT Americans are really aimed at
creative distance from difference and avoidance of being contaminated by
that which is perceived to be vile or revolting.
When we look at the history of laws to regulate the mixing of the races, we
find these same fears and anxieties about blackness. From the earliest
days of our nation, our lawmakers saw blackness as a taint to be isolated
and constricted, to prevent it from spreading. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson
published notes on the state of Virginia, it`s his only full-length book,
and it`s a foundation treatise of life in early America.
Making the case for separation between the races Jefferson wrote, "I
advance it therefore as a suspicion only that the blacks, whether
originally a distinct race or made distinct by time and circumstance, are
inferior to the whites by the endowments of both body and mind."
"Among the Romans, emancipation required but one effort, that the slave
when made three may mix with, without staining the blood of his master.
But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is
to be removed beyond the reach of mixture."
In the late 19th century after reconstruction, we saw those anxieties about
black bodies and the reproduction of blackness enshrined in the laws of the
Jim Crow South, underlying the Supreme Court`s doctrine of Separate but
Equal in its Plessey v. Ferguson decision was a notion of blackness so
virulent that it must be kept in a physical distance in public spaces.
In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, one of the most
influential of many American laws, dating back to the 1600s, which forbad
interracial marriage based on junk science theories of the eugenics
movement. It was violating that law that led to the arrest of Mildred and
Richard Loving, an African-American woman, and a white man, who married in
Washington, D.C. in 1958 and were arrested upon returning home to Virginia.
When they were later convicted on felony charges, Leon Bazile, the judge
who presided over the case said to them in the courtroom, quote, "Almighty
God created the races, white, black, yellow, Malay, and red and he placed
them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows
that he did not intend for the races to mix."
Still here with me is MSNBC.com reporter Adam Serwer; Dorothy Roberts,
professor of African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author
of "Killing the Black Body"; Tanner Colby, author of "Some of My Best
Friends are Black"; professor Wesley Harris, associate provost for faculty
equity at MTI, who also happens to be my uncle.
So, Tanner, I want to start with you, because this central reversion, this
kind of emotion, seems to be you can`t just argue about it, you can`t just
show me a graph or a chart showing that intelligence is equally
distributed. You have to actually change it through long-term interactions
between racial groups.
TANNER COLBY, AUTHOR: Right. And that`s what we don`t have. And one
thing that`s interesting about school integration is the black cafeteria
table really dates from puberty. Elementary school, everybody plays
together on the playground, nobody thinks about it, I mean, there`s some,
you know, racial incidents here and there, but the separation really comes
when people start dating in middle school and high school. And that`s when
you start to get the segregation in high school, therefore we don`t know
each other and we don`t form relations with each other.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you think it`s a kind of latent if not spoken
miscegenation fear that in part generates this distance between folks,
because it happens at the moment of adolescence.
COLBY: Right, whether it comes from your parents or it comes from culture,
it just -- you know, it`s something that becomes engrained in you. And
once you reach adulthood, whether it`s a gag reflex, or, you know, some
people fetishize and eroticize in interracial relationship, it provokes a
strong reaction, whether it`s one or the other.
And even if you`re in the middle and it`s kind of lukewarm, you don`t ever
-- you know, you always note it, like, interracial couple, I mean, what`s
the story there. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Both your and my father grew up in Jim Crow Richmond, going
to segregated schools. And we`ve had an opportunity fairly recently to
talk about sort of this experience of being in these segregated schools.
And I wonder about this idea that overlaying all of that was this fear of
interracial mixing through dating, through miscegenation, but was that sort
of present for young African-Americans in that moment, that idea?
WESLEY HARRIS, MIT: It was very much a part of what we had to come to
grips with. I like to certainly acknowledge what it was in my youth in
Richmond, Virginia, but take it a bit further. Recently, I asked a
colleague at MIT in the Department of Physics to explain to me the
relationship between Polish Catholics and Polish Jews, and why did the
Catholics in Poland dislike Jews so much.
He paused for a moment and looked at me and said, Wes, they get it through
their mother`s milk.
So we just used the phrase, language of disgust. Obviously, there`s a
cultural disgust. And in the South, I would think this hatred, this
disgust, this disdain for blackness, comes through their mother`s milk.
It`s in the air, it`s in the apples that they eat, it`s in the tobacco that
they plant. It is a profound disgust.
So the question of interracial marriage is a boo-boo, it just doesn`t
happen. It`s impossible. It`s against everything that we believe. It`s
against God`s wish in the South.
HARRIS-PERRY: This notion of it being so deeply engrained, culturally.
And yet, professor, the other piece I want to make the point about here it
has policy consequences, even unto today, particularly in the attempts to
control the bodies of black women around issues of reproductive justice.
DOROTHY ROBERTS, AUTHOR: Sure, sure. There`s a long history of trying to
control black women`s childbearing, either to encourage them to produce
slaves, back in the time of slavery, but that continues all the way to
today. And we can see, for example, welfare laws. The whole issue of
welfare restructuring that was fueled by the image of the black welfare
queen and the ways in which black women now are regulated.
The whole point of welfare, behavior modification, to push women towards
marriage, as if that`s going to solve the issues of poverty and regulate
their decision, so that they don`t have too many children.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. To keep them from having too many children, because
it spread -- it literally spreads blackness.
ROBERTS: That`s the idea. We could also see the image of the crack baby
and the crack addict, the pregnant crack addict that led to prosecutions,
mostly of poor black women for drug use during pregnancy, and the expansion
of the incarceration of black women. We often leave that out when we talk
about mass incarceration.
Black women are the fastest growing population, and these are mostly women
with substance abuse problems, mental health problems, they`re victims of
abuse often, and the reaction is to put them in prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we`ve seen that, certainly in the Marissa Alexander
You know, one of my favorite moments this week at the height of the whole
conversation about the gag reflex was the Craig Paul Cobb, who is the
racist who discovers that he`s 14 percent black.
If you have not seen this, it`s worth just pausing and taking a look at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eighty-six percent European and, uh --
(CHEERS & APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give it to him! Give it to him!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fourteen percent sub-Saharan African.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have a little black in you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So I -- you know, Adam, I despise the kind of genetic
project of determining just how black or how white one is, but there is a
way I which whiteness can mask the idea that we are, in fact, racially --
that blood or our mother`s milk is, in fact, all the same genetic material.
So there is sort of power in that moment of telling the neo-Nazi, telling
the racist, actually, your blood is my blood. We are blood of the same --
we are flesh of the same flesh.
ADAM SERWER, MSNBC.COM: Right. And what people like about that moment is
that, obviously, this person has a sort of almost religious, theological
belief about the separation of races, that white and black are actually --
rather than a social construction. It`s this genetic wall that can`t be
breached. And having realized that he, himself, is part black, he`s sort
of being forced toont the myth around which he`s built his life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Although the notion of being part black is, itself,
sort of patently ridiculous, right? Because it is socially constructed,
and yet there`s something about sort of that ability to play with the
biological basis of this very conventional racism that is interesting.
But I want everybody to stay right there because when we come back, I want
to talk Renisha McBride and that case, and whether or not it tells us
anything about race and disgust and law.
How are things with the new guy? All we do is go out to dinner.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, we told you the story of Renisha McBride, the 19-
year-old young man who was shot to death on a porch in the suburbs outside
of Detroit, when she was simply seeking help from the homeowner after a car
accident. At that time, no one had been charged or arrested in the
shooting, but all that changed on Friday when 54-year-old Dearborn Heights
resident, Theodore Paul Wafer, turned himself in and was arraigned on three
charges, the most serious of which is murder in the second degree. He told
police that his shotgun went off by accident and that they believed that
McBride was trying to break into his home.
The remaining details of exactly what happened that morning have yet to be
released. But as we`ve been talking about here today, there is a kind of
fear and loathing of black bodies, and I`m wondering, and I want to ask the
folks at my table whether or not that fear and loathing of black bodies,
sometimes we don`t think about in connection with black women, but if
Renisha McBride`s story makes us ask, if it`s not just our sons, our
Trayvons who are vulnerable, but potentially, also, our daughters, our
ROBERTS: Sure. I think black women have been victims of stereotypes that
paint us as less feminine, more masculine, aggressive, and also,
importantly, less in need of protection. We`re supposed to be, you know,
these sturdy women who work in white people`s homes and support our
families and, we`re not seen, often, as women, even as women.
You know, there`s been images of black women painted as animals, and this
goes back to the stereotypes of black women as being reproductively
irresponsible, having too many babies. It`s all tied together, the idea
that black women couldn`t be victims of rape, for example.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
ROBERTS: The story you mentioned, of a black woman in Florida, who was
sentenced to 20 years, because she shot a warning shot.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, at her abusive husband, while her infant child was in
ROBERTS: Exactly. So this idea that black women aren`t in need of help, I
think that has a lot to do with it, that combination. We`re more
aggressive, we don`t appear to be feminine, and that we don`t need
production, I think, is what leads to a 5`4", 19-year-old girl being seen
as threatening, so threatening to a homeowner that he has to shoot her in
ROBERTS: From his home?! It`s a deep, deep, deep sense that black women,
along with black men, are threatening, prone to violence, and don`t need
help, which was also the case in Trayvon Martin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And Jonathan Ferrell.
ROBERTS: And Jonathan Ferrell.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to go to exactly this, and ask a structural question
about it, tanner. Jelani Cobb writing for TheNewYorker.com writes, "It`s
entirely reasonable to be alarmed by an unexpected knock in the middle of
the night. It`s not difficult to imagine someone nervously answering the
door with a weapon nearby, but the Rorschach moment is what happens next.
Is it possible to look through a cracked open door and register Moore,
Ferrell or McBride as something other than an amalgam of suspicions?"
And part of the structural piece of that to me is whether or not you live
in an integrated neighborhood.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you live with black neighbors, then seeing a black person
on your stoop, you might think, well, maybe that`s my neighbor or maybe
that`s someone who works here or maybe that`s my mail carrier. It could be
any of a set of people.
HARRIS-PERRY: But if your world is entirely white, then the black body on
your front doorstep couldn`t possibly be a familiar face, it would have to
be one of these stereotypes, one of these suspicions.
COLBY: And that`s what happened in Kansas city, the integrated
neighborhood that I profiled there for my book, was that it is an
integrated neighborhood and you have black and white neighbors, and there
is one story, or actually a number of stories of a black homeowner and a
white homeowner working together as a neighborhood watch to catch an
assailant, whether that assailant was black or white.
And so, it`s familiarity and knowing one another that, you know, leads you
to be able to have a neighborhood. And you know, things like Trayvon
Martin and things like these stories are used by the black community to
say, well, this is why we need to be in our own spaces where we can be safe
and we can be protected. And that`s the danger of moving to a white
But if you don`t move to the white neighborhood and normalize it, then
we`re going to be left with this sort of antagonistic situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s interesting, because there is a moment after the
Zimmerman verdict where I did feel like, OK, so where do you go? If in
black communities you have often higher crime rates for a wide variety of
reasons, but if in white neighborhoods you feel like there`s a potential
And yet, I want to come to you, Adam, on exactly this question, because you
have been reporting on a moment that is not just about choice, right, but
that, in fact, our fair housing laws, under the context of the case you`ve
been reporting on are potentially threatened here. And the very ability to
create a stable, integrated neighborhood is not just about choice, but
about all these different structural factors.
SERWER: You look at the history of fair housing in the United States, and
it`s basically this gigantic, decade-long wrestling match between like
idealists who are trying to use the law to bring people together, to compel
integration, and people who are trying to use the federal housing law in
order to keep people as separate as possible, by subsidizing white flight,
by zoning areas in a particular way, by destroying minority neighborhoods.
And so, it`s -- there`s an incredible history of basically almost all-out
war in the United States over who lives where, and why and who`s allowed to
HARRIS-PERRY: Because all the questions of safety and resources and
environmental justice that are all connected to them.
This is -- I wanted to have a little bit of a complicated question around
race and conversation, and I appreciate you all for being here. Adam
Serwer, Dorothy Roberts and Tanner Colby, thank you for being here.
You are going to hang around, Uncle Wes, because we are going to make a
really big turn here. Houston, we have a special treat. Girls in space --
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you remember when you were a kid and adults asked, what
do you want to be when you grow up? How did you respond?
Back in 2012, the professional networking site LinkedIn asked more than
8,000 professionals what their childhood aspirations were. American men
remembered hoping to become athletes and pilots, scientists and lawyers.
And us girls, American women, had dreamed of becoming teachers, vets,
writers, doctors, and singers.
One dream job that made the top five list for girls and not for boys:
astronaut. In the past 40 years, girls have made huge gains in education.
In 1970, only about 59 percent of women had a high school education.
Today, it was nearly 90 percent. And today, as many women as men finish
But girls still in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and
math. And how can you dream of being an astronaut without that first
fascination with science, with math, with exploration of the unknown?
In New Orleans, Louisiana, the hundred-year-old girl`s academy, the Louise
McGehee School, is working hard to nurture the skills and curiosity that
girls need to succeed in STEM fields.
Every year, McGehee sixth graders pile on a bus and go from New Orleans to
Huntsville, Alabama, for three days at space camp. This month, my
daughter, Parker, was among those sixth grade space campers. So, of
course, Nerdland cameras went along, mostly because I think the nerds
wanted a trip to space camp.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Space camp is 31 years old, so when it began, there
were so many young men who came. And then we began to see that trend
change. And now, there are probably more young women than men who work
through the door.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I`m really excited, because it`s really, really cool to
watch my friends` rockets go up.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Houston, we have a problem!
LATINA RIVERS, SPACE CAMPA CREW TRAINER: I was bound to be a science nerd.
For simulation purposes, we have these screens right here that shows
launch, shows when we are actually in space. I have a B.S. in chemistry, a
B.A. in Spanish, a masters degree in biotechnology and am currently
studying material science in engineering.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I would not like to be an astronaut. First, I feel
like I would die in that thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`re going to love it.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell them to spin away. You ready?
All right. Are you OK?
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Yes!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Perfect.
GIRLS: Five, four, three, two, one!
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Oh, my God. I`m never going to do it again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready to proceed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, she`s mission specialist
number 2, making her first space flight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And liftoff of Discovery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger came to space camp as a
young lady. She came through the programs, did exceptionally well while
she was here at space camp, and she followed her dreams. She followed her
She had a love for math and for science. And became our first graduate
from space camp to go into space, and she was on one of the STS shuttle
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I really want to be an astronaut. I think it would be
really cool to just go up in space.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: We love science.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I`m really excited to go on the rides and space camp is
so much fun.
RIVERS: Come to space camp. Have fun, don`t be afraid to fail, and just
enjoy any rock star moment that you may have.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Hi!
That was very fun!
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Launch systems are a go. Stand by to resume the
countdown on my mark. Five, four, three, two, one, mark.
I`ve never done something like that. It`s very difficult to run a space
shuttle. It`s very fun having that job.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we`re going to talk about space. Should
we care what`s out there? And how do we make sure that all kids can dream
the big dreams of being astronauts.
HARRIS-PERRY: When I was just a little older than my daughter is now, I
stayed home sick on January 28th, 1986.
Now, I remember the date, of course, because if I`d been well, I`d have
joined my classmates in middle school that day to watch the launch of the
space shuttle Challenger. The mission was initially notable because of the
presence on board of Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire high school
teacher, who has to become the first American civilian in space. And
because of that, a lot of kids around my age were watching the fateful
launch in class.
And 73 seconds after leaving the launch pad, Challenger`s right rocket
booster`s o-ring failed and the shuttle exploded.
While the moon mission and Apollo 13 may have been formative space moments
for my parent`s generation, the Challenger disaster is the foundational
space moment for me and for so many in my generation. And frankly, it kind
of made me hate space. I mean, not hatred born of space itself. Not the
cold, airless qualities, and I like the stars, but because it did make me
question our dedication to spending money on trying to get there and do
And thanks largely to our American romanticization of risk, a risk that
comes at expense, literally, of sometimes more earthly priorities.
So, joining me now are four people who are going to try to talk to me out
of my hatred and make me truly love space.
First, live from Houston, naturally, Bonnie Dunbar, professor of aerospace
engineering at the University of Houston and a former NASA astronaut,
veteran of five space shuttle missions and around 50 total days in space.
And here at the table, Dr. Derrick Pitts, who`s a chief astronomer at the
Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where many children come
to love space. Dr. Nina Khrushcheva of the New School. And, of course,
Professor Wesley Harris, who happens to be my uncle and an MIT professor of
aeronautics and astronautics.
I want to come to you first, Bonnie, because I want to very simply ask the
question, why do we need a space program?
BONNIE DUNBAR, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, we wouldn`t be talking like
this right now if we didn`t have a space program.
Think of space as an environment. We are curious human beings. We explore
and if we didn`t have the curiosity and the need to explore and the
willingness to take some risk, we might all be in some desert some place,
without houses, without air-conditioning, without communications and
Space just another area that we started really exploring 50 years ago and
it`s transformed our lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to ask exactly that follow-up question here,
professor, how has it transformed our lives? What is it that we know from
space that has changed what our experience here on earth is?
DR. DERRICK PITTS, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE SCIENCE MUSEUM: Well, we can look at
it in a number of different ways. We can look at our personal experience
with space, which is the way we communicate nowadays. So often, you know,
we`re directly connected with space wit our smartphones. And that`s one
But another way that`s really very important is how our use of the near
earth environment in space has allowed us to monitor so many things on
earth, learn so much about the earth environment, and be able to integrate
so many different things about our environment that we didn`t know before.
And in doing this, this helps us better understand how we can raise the
quality of life for people all over the planet.
So it affects all of us, all the time.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s that kind of big blue marble moment where the first
time that you actually recognize the global reality is when you are -- when
you`re in space and you look back and you see the precious thing that is
earth, right? It`s a perspective you can`t have here.
PITTS: Yes, that`s very true. And it`s unfortunate that more people can`t
travel in space, just yet, I`ll say, because if they could have that
perspective, it might better help everyone once that we`re all on this blue
However, having said that, because of the view we have, we have been able
to knit together the planet in a way that is really changing how we relate
to our environment and how we engage with our environment, and how we do
everything we can to improve the environment for the betterment of
HARRIS-PERRY: So, on this question, then, on the betterment of everybody,
professor. Part of what I want to then push on is, OK, there is the kind
of pure science question of exploration and of asking questions, and of not
shutting off frontiers. And I like the very specific point of -- all
right, your cell phone doesn`t work unless we go into space. But I do
wonder if we have ever had to make trade-offs, particularly on questions of
marginalized people and communities here on Earth, because of our desire to
pursue space instead.
HARRIS: Well, I certainly think there is, I`ll put it this way, a great
opportunity to mis-serve the needy here on Earth, on the surface, as
opposed to our investments in space. I think we must continue to have a
space program that is humans, not necessarily limited to the U.S., that
does both look away from the planet earth, as well as look back toward
planet earth and provide richness, understanding, raise questions, but also
to answer them, to answer questions that I think are absolutely critical to
come out of our space program.
Are the investments correct? I would say not. I would say the policy
itself needs corrections. Why are we so distant from the Chinese when it
comes to space? Are we close enough to the Indians when it comes to space?
Can we find some way to leverage the opportunities to strengths of multiple
nations, and therefore reduce our own financial commitment to space, use
some of that reduction to solve some problems that people who are walking
right around here among us today in New York City would benefit from?
HARRIS-PERRY: This framing of, are we close enough to the Chinese, are we
close enough to the people of India actually sounds very similar to that
sort of our domestic politics, right, or our global politics being
connected somehow with the space race, which was that great Cold War moment
for Kennedy and for the Soviet Union at the time.
DR. NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, THE NEW SCHOOL: Absolutely. And I think that, I
mean, from a scientific perspective, probably we do need this program. We
cannot cancel it. We shouldn`t.
But I think it should need rephrasing, because it`s very much still
centered around politics. Who is better? Who is grander? Who flies fast?
I mean, when the Chinese started a program, remember how proud they were.
They finally caught up with the two superpowers, the United States and
Russia. And I think that takes a lot of time and energy and that needs to
be rephrased. So, the propaganda moment should be taken out of --
HARRIS-PERRY: So it becomes truly about science.
KHRUSHCHEVA: It`s about science.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I`m going to bring back in, Bonnie,
because I do want to ask about this question of, how much do we spend, do
we actually need to be spending much more, and whether or not what we learn
from space is the thing that makes life better here on Earth.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s been well over two years since NASA sent a person to
space in a space shuttle. The last mission going up in July of 2011. But
that doesn`t mean that we`re not still sending astronauts up. In fact, a
Russian mission that carried the Winter Olympic torch and a NASA astronaut
floated back to earth just a week ago.
But news came this week that our astronauts` star treks with foreign
agencies might be coming to an end. Under a plan funded by the Obama
administration, NASA is seeking to partner with American companies to send
astronauts to the space station as soon as 2017.
So, instead of hitching with the Russians, we`re going to be doing so with
Bonnie, I want to go back to you, because I know that if w just take a look
at the percentage of our national budget that is spent on space and on
NASA, we see this sort of tiny budget that explodes in the Kennedy moment,
and then, of course, drops off and comes right back down. And then you`ve
made a claim that we are not investing enough nationally in this program.
DUNBAR: Well, yes. First of all, let`s kind of redefine space. We are in
space. We`re on the third planet from the sun and hurtling quite rapidly
around that sun and we now know there are about 800 other planets in our
near vicinity in this solar system or actually, in our galaxy.
But so let`s talk about the numbers. NASA budget right now is one-half of
1 percent of the federal budget. At the height of the Apollo program going
to the moon, it was 4.4 percent.
And it really is about the values that we have and our priorities. We
spent about 25 times the entire NASA budget on cosmetics in this country.
And that`s a choice.
But what NASA really is, if you want to look at aeronautics in space, is an
investment in research and in development and a larger picture of societal
We just watched this large hurricane hit the Philippines, and it`s a real
tragedy. But we were able to forewarn them through weather satellites.
And those weather satellites were a direct investment in technology,
research and development that we made in going to the moon. In fact, all
the satellites are, the rockets that get them up there.
So it would be like saying, well, I`m done with airplanes. Let`s no longer
We are in space. We`re here to stay. How do we prosper? How do we get
our university students educated? How do we have our professors do
research? Our national labs. How do we stay competitive?
And I say that we`re too little right now and we need to grow the R&D part
of our country.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I like this language you used here about
competitiveness. We were just talking about needing to move out of the
political competitiveness but I also worry a great deal about the fact that
this is going to private industry, mostly because I keep thinking the
competition of private companies in this -- on the planet, have not
necessarily always led to equitable outcomes, that sort of thing.
So, should I be excited that now there will be a potential profit
motivation to send you, to send me into space, and to continue to fund our
astronauts in space?
PITTS: So, one of the ways I look --
DUNBAR: Well, going back --
HARRIS-PERRY: Sorry, Bonnie, let me direct that at the table and I`ll come
back to you, we promise.
PITTS: One of the ways I look at this is a redefinition of what`s
happening with NASA. If we look at what NASA had been doing, up until the
end of the space shuttle program, NASA was very much operating at least a
manned exploration, something that`s very much out of the `70s and `80s,
and hadn`t really grown very much beyond that, without much of a plan.
So, now, moving forward is what we see is a change in which NASA is trying
to redirect its energies towards deep space exploration. And one of the
things that`s happening is that NASA is outsourcing the easy work it does.
Now, almost anybody can launch a rocket to low earth orbit and carry
supplies to low earth orbit. So, it makes sense in a way for NASA to
outsource those things and concentrate on the big work that has to be done.
So, the word that I use for what`s happening with NASA now is that the
program is evolving from a space program of the `60s and `70s, into a space
program of the 21st century, where they redirect their attention out to
doing deep space exploration.
HARRIS-PERRY: So -- and yet, with in the break, we sort of had a bit of a
conversation about this idea that with the private industries, being part
of this, there might, in our lifetime, come the question of, would you like
to take a ride into space?
And, professor, I was so surprised when your response to that question,
just in the conversation, in the break was, no, I wouldn`t go. Talk to me
about that response.
HARRIS: Well, I would not go, because I did not -- I don`t feel the rush
to have after lower earth orbit up and down experience. I see space as an
opportunity that must ultimately lead to deep reduction of national wealth.
And the $300,000 per ticket suborbital bump is not, in my opinion, directed
toward the production of national wealth, which leads to our ability to
maintain our governments, lead to the expansion of our culture, lead to the
advancement of humanity.
And until space begins to take that perspective, I think the interesting
Buck Rogers kind of experience are interesting in that limit only.
So, I`m not moved by that opportunity at all. I think we must be more
strategic, more profound in our thinking about space. We need it to be a
truly Earth experience that is not U.S. alone, but it partners with other
nations. And it must be a part of human expansion that leads to deep
reduction of wealth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bonnie, in 15 seconds, I`m so sorry, we can get back around
to this more clearly, but I want to ask on this issue of benefiting
everyone and your point about being capable of doing this. How do we make
sure that we have girls, which is where we started this, girls in space,
that we have women engaged with STEM in a way that there are more girls and
women dreaming of doing this work and in fact, ultimately doing it?
DUNBAR: Well, I`m glad you asked that question. It starts in middle
school. And it means we encourage our young girls to take all the math and
physics and chemistry and biology they can. That`s the foundational set of
knowledge, the keys they need to study those fields in the universities.
And quite frankly, when I talk to many young women, they`re kind of
appalled at the public images of women in science and engineering.
So, I`m very grateful you`re bringing this up. We need to change the image
and encourage them to study those subjects in middle school and high
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, thank you to Bonnie Dunbar, also to Dr. Derrick Pitts,
also to Dr. Nina Khrushcheva, and to my uncle, professor Wesley Harris.
Up next, my footnote this week is a conversation with a former foot soldier
who is facing challenges in a personal battle.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Friday, I had one of those "I can`t believe this is
really happening": experiences, when I share the stage with foundational
feminist scholar Bell Hooks, the new school right here in New York.
When we e opened the floor for questions, I saw a familiar face. In
September, we featured South Bronx organizer Tanya Fields as a foot soldier
on the MHP show.
In response to food insecurity in her community, Tanya created a way to
bring fresh produce directly to residents with a brightly colored eco-
friendly bus. But that night, Tanya didn`t want to talk about food
She wanted to share she`s pregnant with her fifth child, but because she`s
unmarried and financially insecure, she`s been the object of ridicule and
shaming by other black women who deride her for being irresponsible and
reinforcing stereotypes about black women.
So, let many be clear. Shaming Tanya Fields is not OK with me. So I
invited her back to Nerdland to respond.
Tanya, what has the response been since that night?
TANYA FIELDS, FOUNDER, THE BLK PROJEK: Some of it`s been like
overwhelmingly positive and sustaining. I mean, women have reached out --
men, actually some of the most touching experiences were men who reached
out to me who said you made me rethink about my relationship with my
mother, with my own baby`s mama, with my aunts, with my sisters, with just
the women in my neighborhood.
That for me was like wow, right? But then there were like thread that
people started tagging me. First of all, let me say I did not know that
the event was being live streamed.
FIELDS: That room was so powerful and it was vibrant a like church up in
there, you know what I`m saying?
And I just came and spoke my peace that, you know, the day before, my
partner and I had a big blowout, he left, I didn`t know if he was coming
back. He has come back. But I was mortified, you know?
FIELDS: Here was something we had planned together and I thought I was
going to have to do it alone.
FIELDS: I just wanted an audience with you, who I greatly respect, and
with Bell, who was, like, that`s like my black family, my aunties, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
FIELDS: So I came and it felt safe and I was raw and candid. Then I left
that space and Twitter had blowed up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
FIELDS: Facebook had blowed up.
And I felt this incredibly exposed and vulnerable place that I wasn`t
really prepared for.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think it was that -- when I learned that you didn`t
know that we were live streaming, so there is that -- when you believe
you`re in a relatively safe, private space and then, in fact, the public
nature of it ends up reproducing the very thing that --
FIELDS: Absolutely. Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- we just spent an hour and a half talking about where you
-- you know, I love you because you`re funny and smart and competent and
you care about your community and you do all these things, then you get
reduced in this moment, not to Tanya Fields, but to the black reproducer
and whatever it is --
FIELDS: On the color lines face page who said I was the legacy of the
black mammy breeder.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. No.
Except in that we also have no idea who mammy was and that when people use
women who in the context of enslavement made life for themselves and their
children in circumstances harder than anything -- circumstances much harder
than anything we could imagine, like -- and also why are you degrading
mammy? Why do you believe that story, that lie that has been told about
FIELDS: Right. So for me it was, like, really, like -- first of all,
there was some language that really bothered me that was, like, if you made
one mistake, I can kind of understand it, but for this woman to have four
more kids or be working on her fifth child -- it was, like, first, let me
tell you something, sucker. My child is not a mistake. My children are
not the manifestations of poor decision-making. They are live human
And if we do not nurture them, whether we don`t like the circumstances
under which they were born, and they tear ones who need to take care of us,
we as a community are going to see ourselves in some deep stuff in the next
20 years because that`s the legacy in which you will be surrounded. My
children are not my circumstances. My daughters, I put up a video --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, they aren`t.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tanya, I want to underline that and say as you spoke I was
thinking of Tony Morrison`s "The Bluest Eye" and the narrator, Claudia,
saying, I felt the need for someone to want the black baby to live. I
wanted someone to want the black baby to live.
And so, Nerdland knows that your children are great gifts to our community.
Thank you for coming here.
Tanya Fields, your honesty, your courage matters to all of us.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you next Saturday 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with Mara
Thanks for filling in for Alex today.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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