'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, December 1st, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
December 1, 2013
Guest: Chloe Angyal, Vishavjit Singh, Jonathan Holloway, Samuel Freedman,
Roman Oben, Ray Halbritter, Jelani Cobb, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Sunny
Anderson, Kelly Choi, Beth Howard
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-
Now, we have a lot to get to is morning, but first I want to bring our
viewers up to date on a breaking news story right here in New York where a
passenger train has derailed in the Bronx.
At least four metro north train cars jumped the tracks at 7:22 eastern time
this morning. Initial reports are that four people have died and at least
63 more have been injured. Rescue efforts are still underway right now
with firefighters using ladders to check for trapped passengers.
New York`s governor, Andrew Cuomo, is on the scene of the accident this
morning and is going to provide a briefing on the latest. And we`re going
to bring you that news and other developments on this story throughout the
program this morning.
But for now, we`re going to turn to the holiday season and we are going to
begin right where we are, in the midst of it. And I have a question for
you. What`d you get on the third day of Hanukkah last year? How about
Christmas 2010? What was your favorite gift that year? Can you even
remember? Most of us can`t. And I bet, however, that you do remember the
first New Year`s Eve that you celebrated with your husband or the first
thanksgiving after grandma passed away and you realized you`d never have
her stuffing again.
Today is December 1st, and we`re in the thick of the American holiday
season. Today, thousands are heading to the airport after visiting friends
and family for thanksgiving. Jewish families are lighting the fifth candle
of the menorah. My daughter is going to be opening the first door on her
These traditions, repeated each year, are what give meaning to our
holidays. This is why we can`t wait for the days to get shorter and
colder, and these are the moments when we play the music from -- oh, I`m
sorry. I just, I had to indulge the sentimentality of the Norman Rockwell
fantasy for a moment.
You see, the sepia-tone picture I just painted is the narrative for this
time of the year. It`s what we want to believe about ourselves and our
nation. These are the foundational myths that we perpetuate about
ourselves, in everything from the kindergarten plays that teach thoughts
about the peace-loving, turkey-eating, pilgrims and Indians to our facebook
posts that exclusively celebrate the high points of our holidays, leaving
out the pain of domestic violence, the tensions of substance abuse, or the
despair of loneliness for the accompanies so many in this season.
And while we like to believe that our celebrations have little to do with
the material manifestations of celebrations, the reality is, that the
ability to engage in many of the traditions that give our holidays meaning
is in fact, deeply constrained by economic realities.
It is hard to put a turkey on the table for thanksgiving if you are living
on SNAP benefits that have just been slashed and thanksgiving`s at the end
of the month and the food stamp allocation doesn`t arrive until the Monday
after the holiday.
And as much as we assure ourselves that Christmas is all about hanging your
stocking by the chimney with care, for many people, how good they will feel
about that holiday is directly tied to what ends up in the stocking.
About 140 million people, that`s nearly half the population, are expected
to shop during this long holiday weekend. Just on Thanksgiving Day itself,
22 million people visited a Wal-Mart and shoppers spent $1 billion online.
Even the president went shopping, visiting a local bookstore in Washington,
D.C., with members of his family, and encouraging everyone to do the same,
by tweeting, "when our small businesses do well, our communities do well.
Join me and visit a small business near you today to celebrate,
Between small business shopping and big box store shopping and online
shopping and everything else, the average American according to a recent
Gallup poll plans on spending more than $700 on Christmas gifts. That`s
more than the maximum that a family of four can receive in food assistance
in a whole month. And right now, more than $47 million Americans need that
assistance or risk going hungry.
This week, the head of the church that founded Christmas issued a critique
not only of the consumerism surrounding the holiday, but of the economic
system that gives so many people so very little or even nothing at all this
Pope Francis writing that quote "just as the commandment, thou shall not
kill, sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life,
today we also have to say, thou shall not to an economy of seclusion and
inequality. Such an economy kills."
At this reflective time of year, the Pope is asking the Catholic Church to
do is perhaps something that all of us can consider. What if the greatest
gift we can give one another, give our communities, give our country is a
clear-eyed assessment of the realities of our national inequality rather
than a sentimental myth about the irrelevance of the material. What if we
focus on a tradition beyond the scope of our individual households and ask
what happened to an American tradition of economic mobility. What if we
got honest about the good and the bad in our national stories, so that we
could give one another the gift of a more fair and equal holiday season?
Joining me now is Ray Halbritter who is leader of the Oneida Nation, Chloe
Engal, editor at feministing.com, Raul Reyes is the NBC Latino contributor
and columnist for "USA Today," and Jonathan Holloway, professor of African-
American studies and history at Yale university and author of "Jim Crow
wisdom: memory and identity in black America since 1940."
So nice to have you all at the table.
Ray, I want to start with you. Talk to me about how you think our
dishonesty, about our founding myths, continue to impact who we are as a
RAY HALBRITTER, LEADER, ONEIDA INDIAN NATION: Well, the thanksgiving
mythology, to some extent, papers over the often painful and tragic history
of American Indians and the way they`ve been treated, even though it was
the shared celebration, it was a celebration and tradition of Indian people
to have this ceremony of thanksgiving, and they gave to the first
immigration group, and shared with them in a way that allowed for their
survival. But it`s a celebration that should be of mutual inclusion and
respect and often that`s not the case for American Indians in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Oneida nation had a float in the Macy`s Thanksgiving Day
parade, is that right?
HALBRITTER: Yes, and one of the reason we do that so people know that
we`re not just stereotypes, we`re not just mascots or relics that we`re
real people, and human, and alive and well, because a lot of times their
priorities are masked over by this, that people don`t treat us that way,
that they think that somehow our priorities aren`t a big issue anymore,
because we aren`t real people.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point about sort of thinking about what`s missing in
our stories, Chloe, you know, I always, when I teach my courses on
feminism, I always say that for me, feminism is an intellectual question
and the question is, what truths are missing here? What are we missing in
any given narrative that we are telling?
But on the other hand, I also always wonder the ways in which feminism, in
asking that question, ends up being the killjoys. The girls at the party
who don`t want to have any fun, because you can`t just enjoy thanksgiving
or Christmas, you`ve got to bring all this inequality into it. How do we
like both, you know, talk about these realities of inequality, while also
appreciating the positive work that the myths do?
CHLOE ANGYAL, EDITOR, FEMINISTING.COM: I mean, I think to say that to kill
the joy at the party by bringing the inequality into it, that is something
that you get to say when you don`t experience inequality every day. The
idea of bringing inequality in, as though it isn`t woven into your everyday
life is a privilege. The privilege to sit around thinking about inequality
every now and then when it suits you. That is a privilege that, as you
point out, millions and millions of Americans don`t get to enjoy.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder, Raul, in part, you know, as you`re talking about
this idea of, let`s put it front and center, this is what we heard the Pope
saying in that moment. And I keep thinking, if the Pope -- you know, I`m
not catholic, although I live in New Orleans, which basically makes you
catholic. But, you know, I`m not catholic, but there is a way in which
this leader, in this moment is saying, the thing we should focus on here is
the question of inequality. You know, I just sort of wonder, how do you
think, for example, he American catholic community or even the American
community in general will respond to this kind of call?
RAUL REYES, NBC LATINO CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, listen, you know,
these documents that the Pope puts out, these are pastoral documents meant
for reflection and thinking, but this one, because it touches on something
so relevant in our society, it becomes already so controversial and, you
know, almost incendiary. I have to say of this one, you know, the Pope is
speaking directly to Congressman Paul Ryan.
HARRIS-PERRY: You said it! Not me.
REYES: No. These ideas that are already being considered radical, the
idea that he`s putting forth are like basically the underpinnings of pretty
much every religion -- compassion for each other, taking care of the less
fortunate, and by singling out, you know, particular supply-side economics,
which my favorite part he said which has never been confirmed by the facts.
I mean, he sounded like very much taking aim at --
HARRIS-PERRY: I also love that, like, a man of faiths like, we`re going to
talk about empirical evidence here.
REYES: Right! That is fantastic. And you know, that, I think for many
Catholics, that`s yet another reason why this Pope is giving, you know, so
many lapsed Catholics, I should say, is drawing second notice because that
is relevant. That is what people are concerned about and questioning right
now, particularly in the U.S.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan, I want to get your voice in on these things
because part of what we`ve been talking about here is the ways in which
counter narratives challenge that sort of broad American mythology, that on
the one hand we participate in, that we are part of, but also our
historical memories, but, you know, change and challenge it. What does, in
part, the set of African-American experiences that you, in part, write
about, do for challenging our idea of who we are as Americans for this
JONATHAN SCOTT HOLLOWAY, PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, thanks for
asking that. I mean, when I teach my course on post-emancipation African-
American history, I start from the beginning of the first lecture saying,
what is American history. I`m like, this is American history. And I teach
the American survey. And so I tell me students that understanding the role
of race making, understanding the role of economics and slavery, how is
wedded to one another, this is foundational to this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And so, we`re going to stay on this and kind of dig a
little deeper. I want to go particularly to your question around the first
immigration and we`ll get into how some of what we`re looking at from Paul
Ryan`s food stamp cuts to the issue of whether or not we`re going to get
immigration reform for the changing American family impacts sort of the
myths we have about ourselves. So, stay right there.
Up next, going hungry in the land of abundance, what it says about who we
think we are.
But first, last week we invited you to send us pictures of your favorite
holiday pie treats. And all morning long, we`ll be showing you photos of
your own fabulous desserts as we reveal the life of pie. Here`s just a
sampling of what you sent us via #nerdpie. There`s a lot more to come.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congress was on vacation this week, again. In fact, they
only have about ten days of actual scheduled work between now and January
15th, which I`m sure they are all very thankful for.
Before leaving Washington this week, in an essay for "Time" magazine on
thanksgiving, House Speaker John Boehner invoked the settlers, who
celebrated the first thanksgiving and observed that by the goodness of God,
we are so far from want. I pray all Americans are able to enjoy the Lord`s
blessings this holiday in good health and happiness.
You know who wasn`t able to enjoy this holiday, the 47 million people who
food benefits were automatically cut a month ago and who face even more
hardship courtesy of the Republican effort to cut food stamp funds by $39
So, you brought us up a moment ago, Raul, this idea that maybe part of who
the public is talking about are lawmakers. It is going to be let`s get
together and enjoy God`s blessings, well, actually, we are going to need
resources to do that.
REYES: Right, not everybody can do it. And I thought it was such an
important point you touched upon because if everyone has ever thought about
the timing of the benefits, because anyone who has ever lived ton food
stamps, you are obsessed with the end of the month, because you have to
make things -- the resources stretch until that time. And now we`re in the
holidays and we have the two, you know, the two holidays at the end of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are end-of-the-month
REYES: -- anxiety for people, you know, for people living on with the
assistance of these programs. And also, remember, we`ve talked about this
before, who gets food stamps? Who gets SNAP? It`s not able-bodied people
sitting around. It`s seniors, it is people with children, it`s the working
poor, it is disabled people. So the Republicans keep promoting this myth
that somehow there`s the dependent class. It is not. It is a struggling
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me in part like that point about who we
think they are, Jonathan, that feels to me connected, in part, so sort of a
whole group of American narratives about who poor people are and the fact
that there are these -- there are these people who simply deserve to be in
circumstances of want. And that we don`t have a responsibility to them,
because we`re the strivers.
HOLLOWAY: That`s right, that`s right. This goes back further than what
I`m going to mention, but the welfare queen debates in the 1980 is that
that the conversation of the person`s bringing down the capitalist order or
the economy is always an overweight black woman holding a couple of hot
dogs with, you know, having more kids, because her benefits increased.
It just was not true. I mean, it just flat across the board. And most
poor people in this country happen to be white. Now, maybe by
disproportionate numbers, you have a larger population that`s black related
to the -- their representation in the population, but it is so easy for
politicians, I think, across political parties, frankly, to make scapegoats
of people who just don`t have power.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like that escapegoating (ph) is in part
about an empathy deficit. This is actually something that President Obama
as a candidate initially wrote about and talked about, this idea of an
empathy deficit, our ability to potentially even to have sympathy for
people. But our inability to see one another across difference and be able
to say, you and I are really the same. I can understand your struggles,
they are like my struggles.
HALBRITTER: Yes. And that`s some of the challenge for American Indians,
because they often are not viewed is, except as relics or mascots, and as a
result, they suffer from the lowest standard of living, the lowest --
highest mortality rates in the country, the highest unemployment. And some
of the ten poorest countries in the United States are Indian reservations.
So, they really struggle to have their real issues dealt with in a way
that`s real, especially this time of year, especially because in some ways,
all of this connected, their self-image, their self-esteem, and how they
relate to themselves and the rest of society.
HARRIS-PERRY: It sounds light, but I want to give you at least a moment to
click in here for me. I went on the day before thanksgiving, like many
people did, to see "the Hunger Games," the second edition. And it did feel
like, man, this dystopia future is right now.
ANGYAL: One in five American kids lives in poverty right now, on in five.
That`s like you said 47 million Americans. There is a reason why that
story is striking a chord with people the way that it is. I mean, there is
a reason -- in that story, for those of us who are nerds and understand the
world through fictional narratives in many ways, in that story, luxury
goods and consumption is literally taking food out of the mouths of hungry
And it`s true, I mean, those people are split into different districts, so
they can`t talk to each other, so they can`t see each other across
different -- I mean, and there is absolutely an empathy just that I know we
are going to talk about spectacular violence when we get to the football
segment later in the show. But there is a reason why that story is
catching on the way it is. And there is a reason why people are trying to,
you know, people who have a vested interest in making money from that story
are trying their best to make it to --
HARRIS-PERRY: Into something -- into a romance.
ANGYAL: And to leach over capitalist values that they can, by selling
makeup and clothes and IMAX movie tickets and all that stuff.
HARRIS-PERRY: Out of hunger games.
ANGYAL: Right, because that story has revolutionary power.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, because as soon as they can see other and there is
empathy, there`s a revolution.
Ray Halbritter, thanks. We are going to see you again a little bit later
in the hour.
But up next, I`m going to bring captain America in. I`m serious. Captain
America is here, a new super hero for all of time. But first, Nerd pie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The good news is, just this
past week, Speaker Boehner said that he is hopeful we can make progress on
immigration reform, and that is good news. And I think there are a number
of other House Republicans who also want to get this done. Some of them
are hesitant to do it in one big belle, like the Senate did. That`s OK.
They can -- it says thanksgiving. We can carve that board into multiple
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama earlier this week, essentially
acquiescing to Republican demands for piecemeal rather than comprehensive
immigration reform. Then on Friday, he and the first lady went to the
national mall to offer their support to activists fasting to protest the
lack of republican movement on immigration reform. The president
reiterated his confidence that the reform will happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The fast for families started on November 12th and several
of the protesters have had nothing but water since then. The Senate bill
that would carve out a way for 11 million or so immigrants without
documentation to become American citizens has been languishing in the house
since June. But the question of who gets to be an American and what an
American is and what an American looks like actually fosters debate across
this country, not just in Washington. And also fosters preconceptions
about what color, religion, background make you an American.
One man is challenging the stereotype of what a traditional or typical
American looks like, cartoonist and software analyst and sick American
Vishavjit Singh. He dressed up as captain America, complete with blue
turban, and took to the streets of New York, engineering sometimes
hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking responses. Vishavjit Singh joins me
now here this morning.
So nice to have you.
VISHAVJIT SINGH, CARTOONIST: Pleasure is mine.
HARRIS-PERRY: So tell me, what is this project that you did, this captain
America? Why -- what was the motivation for you?
SINGH: Well, I`m an editorial cartoonist. I`ve never worn a costume until
I did this. Couple of years ago, I went to comic-con in New York City for
the first time and a photographer (INAUDIBLE) was trying to capture me as
part of her six in America photo essay. So, she came in and she saw this
poster I had created with captain America, because the movie came out that
year and I`m thinking, hey, you know, I`ve got to have something new to
capture people`s attention. So, I drew a captain America, a turban and a
beard and I had a little catchy captain that was based on my experience,
basically saying, hey, take it easy, it`s just a turban. Now let`s kick
some intolerant ass.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, part of what I love about how you go to kick the
intolerant behind is actually doing it through the brain. So I read that
you wrote -- to make fresh neural connections in our collective
consciousness, to leave a new image on the hard drive of that boy, any boy,
any girl mind. Tell me out that idea of shifting our idea about who
captain America can be.
SINGH: Yes. Because, I mean, what happens is, I think we -- and this
happens in all communities. We tend to see certain groups as the other,
you know, this is not my community. And I know, especially with turbans
and beards, especially since 9/11, people look at me and they just go, you
cannot be from here. And I always get asked the question, where are you
from, and I`m from here. And the second question is like, where are you
from before? And I`m like, I was born here, I was an American.
So, that is kind of where it came from. And I want to mess with people`s
perception and this is not just about thick. It is really about any
community. This whole notion we have that every generation, we have
something called the other, somebody who doesn`t belong in America. So
that`s at I was messing with.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Vishavjit, you are an American born here, part of how you
can embodies captain America. But it does fell to me, the stories feel
connected to me, Raul, in part on the immigration story, because part of
the pushback here is a narrative about not these immigrants, right? It is
very particular, like, we`ve done this before. Like this kind of
immigrant, sure, find, no problem. She`s, you know, blue-eyed and a white
woman. So yes, that`s what we meant when we meant American immigrants, but
not these kinds of immigrants who are brown skinned and Spanish speaking
and from another part of the world.
REYES: Right. And it is absolutely connected. And in fact, what you`re
saying about your experiences as going out at captain America and being
asked, you know, where are you from? I would say all pretty much Latino,
Asian-American people experience that same thing of being, where are you
from, followed by, where are you from really? Like as everyone knows that.
And it is true, getting back to the immigration, that 50 years ago, the top
country for immigration. Remember, we were talking about LBJ`s legacy
before he redid the immigration act. The top countries that sending
immigrants here were the UK, Ireland, and Germany. Now it`s the
Philippines, Mexico, Dominican Republic and China.
So, we see that demographic shift, and as a result of that shift, there`s
this churn in public attitudes where people are still -- I think much of
the public is still conflicted about who is the other because, even the
notion of who is a minority has changed, thanks to just Democrat and
demographic changes and numbers. So now, I think we`re in a period of
where that`s all conflicted in the public consciousness, just who is a
minority, who is the majority, who belongs and who doesn`t and it`s not
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you one last question here. Were children any
different in their ability to imagine you as captain America than adults
were? Were they more open in those neural --
SINGH: Absolutely. Unanimously, every kid that I saw, they didn`t care
about my turban and beard. In fact, some of them were like, this is really
cool. So, they don`t have the political, social, cultural filters that we
learn as we grow up. So they look at me just as a human being. And so,
they`re thinking, OK, you`re skinny, so maybe put on a little weight. And
that`s good, because they`re very honest.
And even when they ask me a question about, what is that thing, because
they don`t know to call it a turban, it`s not malicious. It is not
fearful. It`s just curious. It`s like, hey, what is that? So it gives me
hope that, you know, our kids, they`re ready for captain America in a comic
book, it`s the adults who said, I don`t know.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right.
And of course, we, of course, then teach them very carefully, as the song
from south pacific tells us, we teach them carefully to have those
Thank you so much, Vishavjit Singh.
And before we go to break, I`ll bring you an update on the train derailment
this morning in the Bronx. The metro north train traveling from
Poughkeepsie derailed at 7:22 eastern time this morning. Reports say that
at least four people have been killed and 63 are injured. New York
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is on the scene, said the families have not yet
been notified. Rescue efforts are still underway, including divers who are
searching for the passengers in the Hudson River.
This time, the cause of the accident is unknown. The national
transportation safety board is on its way to open an investigation. We`ll
have more on this as it develops.
Up next, what did you see when you looked at your family on Thursday? For
many of us, it is a very different image than it used to be.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about some of the myth of America, our
founding, our celebration, our identity. Another foundational myth is the
"The New York Times" this week took an in-depth look into what constitutes
the real American family and how much it has changed in the last 50 years
or so. And what researchers are finding is that families are becoming more
socially egalitarian overall. Even as economic disparities widen, families
are more ethnically, racially, religiously, and stylistically diverse than
a generation or even half a year ago.
The data also revealed huge changes in the lives of American women over the
past couple of decades. Fewer women are becoming mothers, and those who do
are having fewer children. And 41 percent of babies are now born out of
wedlock, a fourfold increase since 1970.
Also, 28 percent of married women are better educated than their mates, and
that is true of just 19 percent of married men. And the share of mothers
employed full or part-time has quadrupled since the 1950s. The number of
women who are their family`s sole or primary breadwinner has also soared to
40 percent today from 11 percent in 1960.
Joining the table now is Jelani Cobb, associate professor of African
studies at the University of Connecticut.
And Jelani, I`m just reminded reading these statistics that this was sort
of the moral panic of the Moynihan report, was that the things that we`re
now seeing as sort of normative of the American family were somehow
representative of the deep problems of black families.
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Right. And I
think it`s this ongoing thing, when we deal with African-American history,
you know, there`s this theme of saying that there`s a phenomenon, and it
can`t simply be a social phenomenon. It has to be pathologized in some
kind of way. It has to be indicative of doo doom saying about the future
of the race and therefore the future of the American society.
But one of the interesting things when I think about that, when people talk
about the, you know, large number of out of wedlock black births, and they
say, you know, 70 percent of black children are being born out of wedlock,
well, that`s technically true. One of the reasons that that`s the case is
that there are so few married black people having children. And that`s
because there`s a larger degree of educational attainment, which is the
same thing that happens with any group of people who get more education,
get more social standing, higher social economic status, they have fewer
And so, it`s not that all of a sudden people just started saying, OK, we
just want to have out of wedlock children or that it`s necessarily some
sort of pathological problem at the heart of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, you know, it`s interesting, because on the one hand,
just to be able to name a social phenomenon. And yet, Chloe, as I`m
reading those stats, I`m also thinking, on the one hand, I want to go,
like, roar, women, you know, we`re the family breadwinners. But we know
that because of gender disparities in income and in earnings, that when in
fact, women become the primary breadwinners, it also often has negative
economic impact for the families. Not because there`s a problem with the
woman being at the head, but because she is likely to be paid less than her
ANGYAL: Right. She`s still going to be earning somewhere between 75 to 80
percent of a white man`s dollar, and that is if she is a white woman. I
mean, I think overwhelmingly when we talk about, women are doing this and
women are doing that, the image, when we are talking about American
mythology, the image of a woman that we have in our head is a straight,
white woman. She`s probably upwardly mobile and educated. And we are
saying, you know, we talk about sweeping changes for women, and we`re
actually talking about very specific groups of women. We aren`t talking
about people living at the intersections. We are talking about people like
me. People who have benefited greatly from feminism, but feminism wasn`t
designed for us. We were already doing fairly, (INAUDIBLE), well for
HARRIS-PERRY: So then this idea, I wonder, then, if there`s something that
we can take from communities where there have been for a longer period of
time more diverse ways of making and crafting families, Jonathan. I`m just
thinking about this notion in part that we -- again win support and like my
president in a lot of ways, but I`m sometimes troubled in the ways in which
President Obama will create a narrative, that is only one kind of
reasonable, healthy black family, when I keep thinking, no, part of our
gift to the world, right, and certainly part of our gift to the American
project is that we`ve demonstrated that there are these different ways to
make healthy family.
HOLLOWAY: Well, I mean, Obama`s playing politics, right? I mean, this is
-- it`s just in the world of playing politics, it`s incredibly narrow. I
think that --
HARRIS-PERRY: See, I don`t think it`s political. I think it`s genuine. I
think the president really, genuinely believes that one man, one woman,
married to each other, their biological children is, in fact, the most
superior family form. And that, in fact, that he works very hard to
generate that form for his own household.
HOLLOWAY: But that`s fine for him, but when politicians start telling us
who to love and how to love, we`ve got -- I mean, I think we have a serious
problem in that regard. And so I share your concern in the same way, that
if you think that his sincere belief, that he`s trying to project it as a
way of normalizing how we should all be, I have a problem with that.
COBB: Can I add other thing to that too in that conversation?
Well, the other thing I think, I`m troubled by the theme in President
Obama`s conversation, and you can point to data points that say, well, you
know, the nuclear family is the best structure for a child, you know,
educational attainment, you know, less likely for the child to get into
criminal trouble and somewhat, but a lot of this is also based upon how
things are structured, like, in terms of public policy. So because of the
way the tax code is written, that we take money from single people and give
it to married people. We don`t talk about it in that way. So, of course,
you are saying, you`re measuring not so much the quality of the family, but
you`re measuring the quality of a policy around family.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, and which is crafted on this old myth of what
family is, rather than on these new realities.
I love you guys for hanging out and talking family and talking myth and all
of those questions with me.
Raul Reyes and Jonathan Holloway, thank you for spending a little bit of
your holiday weekend with us.
Chloe, I`m going to see you again in the next hour.
Up next, Washington, D.C.`s football team and the owner`s bizarre outreach
to the Native American community.
But first, more pictures of holiday pie. We`re going to do the tough stuff
and we`re going to do pie all morning long, we`ll be showing you these
fabulous desserts. We`ll take a closer look at why we love our pie.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dig deep enough beneath the layers of stories Americans tell
ourselves about who we are and how we came to be and eventually you`ll hit
the big one. Not just a foundational myth, but the foundational myth. So
deeply engrained that all I have to say is, in 1492, and your mind
automatically fills in the rest.
Now, of course, if you know your history, you know Christopher Columbus
didn`t really find anything. Indigenous people had been cultivating
developed complex civilizations in the so-called new world for thousands of
years before he ever set sail. The poem gets that part right.
But what`s glossed or in this grade school story of America`s beginnings is
what happened when Columbus encountered those original Americans. A few
versus in, it reads, the Natives were very nice. They gave the sailors
food and ice. Columbus sailed on to find some gold, to bring back home as
he`d been told.
See that space right there, between the nice, welcoming Natives and
Columbus going for the gold? That`s where our fairy tale of America`s
origins omits some of the ugly historical realities, like how Columbus
captured and enslaved hundreds of Arawak (ph) men, women, and children to
be sold for sex and labor.
In fact, if you look beneath the surface of many myths of American
identity, you`ll find a horrendous history of Native American people
rendered invisible, erased, figuratively and literally, in the name of
progress and expansion.
On Thursday, while many of us were knee-deep in a thanksgiving indulgence
of food and family and football, indigenous people in Massachusetts were
commemorating the day they know as the national day of mourning. Since
1970, the United American Indians of New England have gathered and plummet
to fast in remembrance of the history behind the history of Plymouth Rock.
The one where the arrival of the pilgrims in 1960 marked not a beginning,
but the beginning of the end. In fact, by the time the pilgrims came to
Massachusetts, the population of indigenous Americans had already been
decimated by a small pox plague brought by British slavers several years
before their arrival. Peel back the nostalgia of manifest destiny and
vision of President Andrew Jackson among others of westward expansion of an
American imperative and you`ll find a bloody road, paved with Native
American`s struggle and sacrifice. Most infamously, during the winter of
1838, when 4,000 cheer key died while being forcibly relocated to Oklahoma
on the trail of tears.
Today, Native Americans still bear the weight of those historic burdens.
Shorter life expectancy, higher rates of suicide, higher rates of
alcoholism, greater health disparities, Native women victimized by violence
at higher rates than any other group in the country. Ninety years after
America first recognized the citizenship of its original people, their
struggle for recognition continues. No matter what you might see on a
football field on Sunday afternoon.
More on that is up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dan Snyder, owner of the controversially named Washington
Redskins, sent a subtle, yet clear message during Monday night football to
those still hoping he will consider changing the team`s name. During a
break in the game, the team honored the Navajo code talkers, a crucial
group of soldiers during World War II who use the code the enemy could not
While the tribute was part of the NFL`s salute to service month and Native
American heritage month, for many, the sincerity of the gesture is in
question, because the men being honored also wore the team`s redskins`
apparel. Frequent and favorite Nerdland guest, Dave Zirin, put in his edge
of sports column, "make no mistake about it, wrapping yourself in World War
II veterans is the last refuge of scoundrels. Dan Snyder was rushing to
cover behind the greatest generation." It seems Snyder still refuses to
acknowledge the inherent offense caused by his team`s name and his latest
move is telling everyone loudly and clearly, he just does not give a damn.
At the table, Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the University of
Connecticut, Samuel Freedman, the author of "breaking the line: the season
in black college football that transformed the sport and changed the course
of civil rights," Ray Halbritter, the nation representative and CEO of
Oneida Nation enterprise and Roman Oben, former NFL player and Super Bowl
champion with the Tampa bay Buccaneers.
So nice to have you all at the table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Ray, let me start with you. How do you respond to Dan
Snyder`s, so of my best friends are Navajo, move this week?
HALBRITTER: Well, certainly, these elderly warriors need to be recognized
and certainly -- but there`s a better way to do it and a proper time and a
place to do it. I mean, you know, the name is not -- there`s no grey area
in the name. It`s defined in the dictionary as derogatory. It`s a racial
slur. It`s an offensive name. It causes real consequences to the mental
image and self-esteem of American Indians and they suffer from some of the
highest child mortality and teen suicide rates in the country.
There are real consequences and these are all connected, self-image and
self-esteem. It`s a $9 billion a year industry. It`s probably arguably
one of the most powerful cultural forces, the NFL, in America, arguably
maybe the world. And this is one way that some of Americans, explicit and
direct contact with American Indians, is through this derogatory slur. And
it has real consequences for our people.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is -- this pushback against this name is an old
fight, but it` gained a lot of momentum this year. What`s happening this
year which is clearly causing Snyder to respond, even while not responding?
HALBRITTER: Well, I think one thing that`s happened is with all the broad
support that`s come forward from the president, both sides of the Congress,
religious leaders, civil rights leaders, media representatives has such a
broad diversity of understanding and support on this issue has really made
such a tremendous difference. And I think we`ve really brought America to
a point where it`s not a question of people knowing it anymore, it`s a
question of which side of history are you going to be on. It began, well,
we didn`t know it was offensive, and we knew that.
And that`s the reason we`re doing this. So now that people know, what do
you do about it? You know that`s derogatory. You know it`s racially
offensive to someone. Wouldn`t we do that -- aren`t we a society that
wants inclusion and respect? This time of the year, holiday season,
thanksgiving, especially, we want to be a society of inclusion.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Roman, when you grew up in D.C., and were telling us, you
know, in the break, one of your first jobs as a teenager was at the stadium
there. This point that Ray is making, people just didn`t know, they were
sort of just like, you know, this is just the name of the team. But people
know now. Sort of, where do you stand and have you seen any change in
where you stand?
ROMAN OBEN, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Well, I had to read about the facts. I had
to read and understand what the name really meant. And there`s this word,
you know, brand equity. And I think Daniel Snyder has really stood on the
line of brand equity and protecting the brand and for someone who was a
pioneer, when FedEx field was built and the gourmet restaurants, I mean,
that was unprecedented. He was a pioneer in that regard. But in this
regard, he`s exercising his right as an NFL owner that he won`t make this
decision based on popular opinion, that it`s his decision.
Roger Goodell hasn`t gotten involved, but you`re seeing President Obama --
I mean, you brought this to the White House and that`s really commendable,
but I think all of us have to really take a look and see what this really
means. I think the name should be changed. And if you`re looking at
Daniel Snyder, again, a guy who`s an owner, wants to make money. Probably
would make more money if he changed it and did a complete marketing and
brand expansion. But I don`t know why at this point -- I think something`s
got to be done in the next year or so.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this notion of the privateness of it is exactly what the
Jim Crow narrative initially was. That, OK, it`s one thing to talk about
public conveyances, but if I`m a private, you know, corporation or a
private club, you shouldn`t be able to make -- I mean, we`ve still heard
Senator Rand Paul say this. Is that a reasonable way to think about
Snyder`s right to resist a name change here?
SAMUEL FREEDMAN, AUTHOR, BREAKING THE LINE: I don`t think it is at all.
First of all, the team being in Washington, being in the Nation`s capital
has tremendous historical weight. And there`s terrible history that the
Washington franchise has reckoned with the in the past. Remember, this
was, I believe, the last NFL team to desegregate.
FREEDMAN: And they had to get pressure from the Kennedy administration in
the early 1960s in order to sign the first black player, because it was
becoming, you know, damaging to the U.S. in the cold war to have the
football team in the nation`s capitol being literally white. And so, even
though Washington has had its great moments for race in sports with Doug
Williams leading them to a super bowl title in `88, this, unfortunately, is
an echo of some of the unfortunate behind the past that they`ve had.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, growing up in Virginia, Jelani, that you grew up
in D.C. and you were a fan. I grew up in Virginia and my dad used to push
us to not be fans, because there was such a strong emphasis on being fans,
and it was exactly because of that history. And I knew as a young person,
what I knew about the redskins is that they were the team with Doug
Williams as their quarterback. I was like, what do you mean this team is
racist? And yet this both the mascot naming, as well as that long history
is, I think, as you point out, sort of this mark on the club.
COBB: And it`s also noteworthy that, you know, I have a D.C. connection
here as well with the Howard University, and it`s noteworthy that it took
substantially less effort to have t basketball team`s name changed from the
bullets to the wizards, which is derogatory. I mean, people did not want
the city that had such high murder rate associated with high bullets which
far less inflammatory. You know, the crime rate in D.C. has fallen
dramatically. People wouldn`t necessarily associate with word bullets with
crime now in Washington, D.C. but you cannot -- it`s inescapable to get
around the complications of that name are.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I just keep thinking, I live in
New Orleans, so, where we just changing the NBA name to the Pelicans,
right, because there are no hornets in New Orleans. And so, it does feel
as though this resistance is very particularly about this name.
HALBRITTER: It`s hard to understand the pathological obsession they have
with keeping the name, when it`s clearly not a grey area regarding the
name. It seems like it`s a certain aspect of entitlement or something that
you can appropriate, and use them in a way, a mascot, to simply for
profitable reasons. And we`ve done polls and they show that people really
-- it`s not really about the team, it`s about the name.
I lived in Washington. I worked there. I liked the team. I care about
the team. We want them to succeed. We want the NFL to succeed. But
there`s a time and a place for everything, and time changes. That`s one
good thing about this country. This country, with many people speaking
out, change can happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I love that point about the sense of privilege and
appropriating other people as mascots.
Thank you for being here today, Ray.
And when we come back, more on football. Why players at an historic
college felt the need to go on strike.
And as you`ve, seeing throughout the show, we`re going to do the life of
pie. If you didn`t get enough over thanksgiving, we`ve got plenty, thanks
to Nerdland viewers, who sent in pictures of their favorite holiday pies.
We`ve got a few sweet treats of our own. There is, of course, more
Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
This morning, we are following breaking news here in New York. Four people
are dead and 63 people are injured, including 11 critically injured after a
passenger train derailed in the Bronx.
The train was heading from Poughkeepsie to Upstate New York -- in Upstate
New York, to grand central station in Manhattan when it jumped the tracks
at 7:22 Eastern Time this morning. At least four Metro North train cars
are entirely off the rail line, and on their sides.
New York`s Governor Cuomo has been on the scene this morning, as well as
more than 100 first responders. The National Transportation Safety Board
is on its way and will conduct an investigation.
The cause of the derailment is unknown at this time, but officials say
there is no evidence of criminal activity. We are monitoring the story and
will bring you more information as it becomes available.
For now, we`re going to return our focus back to the traditions of
Thanksgiving weekend. And for so many of us, Thanksgiving weekend means
family and good food and shopping for the holidays, but it`s also
synonymous with a favorite American pastime. Football! Especially college
This holiday week has been a smorgasbord of big games. And while I usually
reserve my local football enthusiasm for my beloved New Orleans Saints,
this weekend the city hosted one of the most anticipated college games of
the year, the Bayou Classic.
The Bayou Classic is a nearly 40-year-old tradition. It features the
Tigers of Grambling State and the Jaguars of Southern University in my home
of New Grleans. Southern won the game 40-17. Sorry, Grambling.
But the Bayou Classic is more than just about football. For the two
historically black colleges of Grambling and Southern University, this
televised game kind of evaluates these two HBCUs to a national stage, while
promoting the rich histories of the schools themselves and providing a
national audience for their teams.
Make no mistake about it, in the case of Grambling, their football team is
the house that Eddie built. Eddie Robinson, that is, the second winningest
coast in NCAA history, with a record of 408 wins, 165 losses, and 15 draws.
Grambling`s football program has produced professional players like Doug
Williams, the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and Hall of
Famers Willie Davis, Buck Buchanan, and Willie Brown. But what the school
is facing recently has put its storied history in jeopardy. Grambling has
had three head coaches in less than two months, including former Grambling
star and NFL great, Doug Williams, who was fired in September.
The firing of Coach Doug Williams did not sit well with the Grambling
football team and his dismissal was part of what led players refuse to play
earlier this season. But players also alleged neglect to their facilities
and shoddy treatment.
On October 18th, frustrated members of the Grambling football team took a
stand with only 22 of 80 players showing up to depart for their game with
Jackson State, which led to the cancellation of the game which was Jackson
State`s home coming.
And what is to blame for this neglect and shoddy treatment? Well, a budget
shortfall. And who is to blame for the decrease and funding of the
athletic program at Grambling? You guessed it, FBJ, also known as
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
In just six years, Governor Jindal and the Louisiana legislature have cut
the state funding to Grambling from $32 million per year to $13 million per
year. Not only has this decrease in state funding harmed the football
program, but it`s harmed the academic programs as well. In short,
Grambling is being asked to perform at the same level in both the academic
and football level with fewer resources.
Meanwhile, Bayou Classic organizers combined weekend of activities draws
more than 200,000 visitors and generated $50 million in revenue for the
city of New Orleans. Maybe Bobby could send the players with a cut of the
wealth that they`re creating with her state.
At the table: Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the University of
Connecticut; Samuel Freedman, author of "Breaking the Line: The Season in
Black College Football that Transforms the Sports and Change the Course of
Civil Rights." Also, Chloe Angyal, editor at Feministing.com. And Roman
Oben, former NFL player and Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Buccaneers.
So nice to have y`all here.
Sam, why should we care what is going on at the Grambling football program?
SAMUEL FREEDMAN, AUTHOR, "BREAKING THE LINE": Well, we should care for two
reasons. First of all, at these HBCUs, there`s a long tradition of
students and coaches playing a huge role in civil rights.
Football, we as we see it today, desegregated teams in the Deep South. Pro
teams, eight or night, playing starting black quarterbacks this year,
African-American general managers and head coaches. That`s all
attributable to what was done at schools like Grambling, by coaches like
Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither at Florida, Lloyd Mumford at Southern, and
the list goes on.
The student athletes there were never separated from the movement. They
didn`t leave the cosseted lives off by themselves. They were affected in
every way, where they could and couldn`t stay on a road trip, the bathrooms
they couldn`t use when they went away, the schools they couldn`t attend,
the positions they weren`t allowed to play when they got to the pros. Most
And so, you have to look at these Grambling players today as being part of
a proud tradition of activism. And one of the things that struck me is
that this is almost an exact replica of a set of issues I wrote about in my
book in 1967, when student activists at Grambling used the homecoming week
to pay attention to the overtly racial disparities in state funding for
Well, 46 years later, the disparities are there. They`re covertly racial.
FREEDMAN: But the effect is the same thing. And these players put their
careers on the line. They could have lost scholarships, they could have
been kicked out of school, who knows what else? To call attention to
budget cuts, that even when university administrators were trying to call
attention to it, two or three years ago, no one listened to them.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think, Roman, part of what you`re saying is the
bittersweet aspect of this for me.
ROMAN OBEN, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think of how many times we have either the college level
or at the pro level, sort of been hungry for the leadership of athletes who
do command cameras and interests and attention. You know, we were looking
at this Louisiana inequity that we were just talking about.
The LSU head coach, Les Miles, the LSU head coach, his personal salaries is
more than double the entire budget for the Grambling football team. On the
other hand, I wanted to say, but come on, Grambling players -- like, the
first time we get this protest is when it`s just about you as opposed to
kind of about the broader inequities in the system.
OBEN: Yes, it`s a big travesty to me, because, you know, Grambling was the
benchmark. And when African-American players weren`t going to the SEC
schools, you have this big host of NFL rosters, full of HBCU players, like
Grambling. And what Eddie Robinson built all those years, it almost got
flushed down t toilet. There should have been a sustained system in place
for fund-raising so they could have proper field conditions.
I saw the weight room. I saw the video, mold on the shoulder pads. I
mean, that`s something that high school programs don`t have.
You`re right. It`s good to see these players standing up for themselves.
And to not play a game -- there`s a purity about playing the game. It`s
usually, play the game and we`ll deal with it later. But for them not to
play the game, it shows you how bad it really got.
And I`m embarrassed. I mean, I know Doug Williams. So, I`m embarrassed
for Doug Williams and embarrassed for the whole program or any parent that
sent their kid to Grambling to just get an education and have a college
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I wonder, though, about -- so, again, I`m with you. I
look at those conditions and I think, this is horrifying. And yet, I also
feel like, surely they also notice, for example, there`s only one chemistry
teacher on campus.
And I do -- I know that you had an opportunity to visit with Harry
Belafonte earlier in the week. And he is sort of indicative of that era of
people who had the spotlight also used it for a political purpose.
Is there a possibility that a fight about inequity in college football
could become part of a broader movement of these young people?
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UCONN: One, I think it`s just wonderful
that I got the chance to speak to Mr. Belafonte. But one of the things I
got from the conversation with him is that he came to see these things
through the avenue of the arts. And I think it would come to them through
lots of different things.
We think about Martin Luther King now as this tremendous, iconic activist.
But often at his career, W.E.B. DuBois said about Dr. King, I expected to
see many things in my life, but never a radical Baptist preacher. So, I
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, never a radical football team.
COBB: So I think these things kind of open up into however you come into a
But one of the things I want to make too is the point Keith Reeves from
"ESPN" made, "ESPN", the magazine, made. And that is, when you look at it,
these student athletes are really -- at HBCUs, are really the only student
athletes we have, because these are young people who are playing at
institutions who generate large sums of money for athletics. One of which
is the institution I teach at.
These are not student athletes. These are uncompensated professionals.
HARRIS-PERRY: So interesting.
COBBS: So I think that`s something we should keep in mind.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there`s a kind of purity in that initial model of
students who were there to be students, but who were contributing to the
legacy and to the contemporary moment of their school through their
athletics is really different from what we`ve often talked about with Dave
Zirin and others on this show, about these uncompensated folks, as you put
it. Yes, go ahead.
CHLOE ANGYAL, FEMINISTING.COM: I think football is never just football,
HARRIS-PERRY: Football is never just football, yes.
ANGYAL: Never just football. There are clearly larger metaphors to be
drawn here. I mean, I don`t think we would be having a conversation about
the 57 percent budget cuts in New Orleans to state schools in New Orleans
if it weren`t for them violating this purity, this sanctity of not playing
I mean, like you say, if you want to get people`s attention, you go to what
hits them the hardest, and that is home coming, that is the Bayou Classic.
That is football.
If the stakes are high enough, you get them where it really hurts, that is
HARRI-PERRY: It was an incredible college game yesterday, the
Auburn/Alabama game. It`s just -- I mean, it was nuts, what happened, at
the very end, Alabama kicks this field goal, it`s a long one, they miss it,
the Auburn player actually recovers the missed field goal in the end zone,
runs it 100 yards back. And I was in a restaurant watching it as it was
happening and people were going absolutely nuts.
And I`m thinking -- I mean, you have sort of to pause and watch the
amazingness of this. And I keep think this is the thing -- when you say
football is not just football, what that does to the entire state of
Alabama, a moment like that. Right, if the football is carrying this
larger thing on its back.
ANGYAL: Right, which gives it money-making potential, but also the
potential to make social change.
HARRIS-PERRY: So stay with us. We`re going to stay on this issue of how
football is never just football. Not just on campuses, but also when we
get to the level of NFL.
Stay right there. We`re going to give you the latest on Richie Incognito`s
suspension from the Miami Dolphins.
But first, more pictures of our pies sent in by Nerdland viewers. All
morning long, we`re going to be showing you these fabulous desserts. Take
a closer look at why we love our life of pie.
HARRIS-PERRY: Call it a Thanksgiving miracle, at least for an embattled
Miami Dolphins player, Richie Incognito. According to reports, the
Dolphins and Incognito have reached an agreement. The agreement puts a
six-week cap on Incognito`s suspension, while the NFL completes its
investigation into incognito`s alleged detrimental comments, threats, and
the use of a racial slur against teammate Jonathan Martin. Furthermore,
his unpaid suspension is reduced from four games to two.
In the meantime, questions remain about the culture of a team that produces
this kind of locker room behavior.
Roman, how did you respond to this news?
OBEN: Well, I`m still disappointed at the culture that allowed this to
happen, but I think Rich Incognito, he had to fight it and he had to
defend, he was trying to protect his salary. But once the investigation is
done, I think you`ll see a big culture change in what`s allowable, what`s
permissible in a locker room forever. It became about the N-word. It
became about the use of bullying and hazing, altogether.
But I think once the investigation is said and done, you`re going to see a
big change in the NFL locker room. Now that the cat is out of the bag, so
to speak, of what goes on in a locker room, in training camp, how rookies
and how veterans treat each other.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. For other people, it`s hard to imagine
that there is still racial animus and angst in professional sports. And
maybe, it`s in part, coming from the place that you were just describing
for us, in part from HBCUs and predominantly white institutions and this
But we look at sports, and usually it`s held up as like one of the few
spaces in American society that`s fully integrated and where segregation is
over and we`re sort of post-racial or trans-racial or something. And this
was an indicator of how much race invades even this sort of space.
FREEDMAN: Absolutely, you`re right. The disappointment that this would
happen in an arena that should be more fully integrated than almost any
other part of American society is notable.
But I think it reveals a couple of other things. One, so much of the
reporting on this controversy, not here, but many other media, has focused
on bullying. It`s not about bullying to me, primarily. It`s about the N-
word. It`s about racial intolerance. That is the frame for this.
And then the other question is, what is it about the white psyche that lets
someone use a term like that, and then say, oh, Jonathan Martin is my best
friend. I`m putting mine to that famous moment in "do the right thing,"
when one of the brothers who works with Spike Lee`s character says, oh,
you`re not an "N," you know, you`re a black. He`s trying to differentiate
between certain kinds of -- as if it`s up to white people to be the
arbitrators of who`s an approvable black and a disapprovable black.
OBEN: One thing a lot of people don`t realize in the NFL locker room, you
have guys, white guys that grew up, you know, blue collar, grew up on farms
and they qualify themselves or give themselves a pass because they grew up
a certain way. Or I grew up in Jersey City and the only white guy on my
basketball team, so that gives me an in, and it doesn`t. Because, on the
other hand, someone`s going to get offended that you`re giving yourself a
pass because you can`t erase history and why you got to this point.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me pause for a moment. We`ve talked about the N-
word and framing around race, and the other piece of news around
intolerance and football culture that we`ve talked about on this show has
also been around gender violence. And the extent to even to the level of
high school and whether it`s gender violence about people who are LBGT, or
whether it`s gender violence towards women in sexual assault, ends up
getting wiped away under this cover.
So, this was a tough segment for me to start thinking about, because I want
to defend the kids at Grambling and say, let`s give them more football
culture, but I want to have a critique of football culture, and I keep
going back, football is never just about football.
ANGYAL: Right. And I quibble with what you said about how there`s one
frame for this conversation. I think there are multiple frames. I think
there`s the bullying frame, there`s the race frame, there`s the masculinity
frame, the violent masculinity frame.
It doesn`t just have to be one conversation to have around this. I think
it could be, like you say, a pivotal moment at which we stop thinking about
a lot of things differently.
That said, I wish I could be as optimistic as you are about the potential
for cultural change, about seeing sweeping cultural change in the locker
room, because -- I mean, thinking about an issue like sexual violence, that
has been in the water. We`ve been having that conversation around football
for a long time.
Jessica Luther (ph) just rattled off a quick, easy list of accusations and
cases in the last couple of years. Miami and Connecticut in 2011, Notre
dame and Montana in 2010, Michigan in 2009, Tennessee at Chattanooga in
2005, BYU, Arizona State, KaSsas state in 2004. It goes on and on and on.
Colorado players were accused of rape in `97, `99, and 2001.
That`s just at the collegiate level and the stuff we know about. Then you
have your Steubenville, your Torrington, your Maryville. It goes on and on
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s a part -- so my feminist side wants to say, yes,
this is part of the hyper masculinity. But then there`s that suspicion
that also says, but then we don`t talk about all of the young men who are
not affiliated with any fraternity or sports team or anything else, and
part of it is as just when the Grambling players are able to draw attention
because we have our focus on them, that similarly their bad behavior gets
evaluated in our public discourse, because we have our attention them.
ANGYAL: And the effect of that is to let non-football players or non-frat
boys or non-lacrosse players or whatever it is off the hook. And when I
say, this could be a pivotal teaching moment, I mean, I think, yes, we have
that conversation about football culture and athletics culture, and it has
to bleed out into the larger culture. We can`t simply scapegoat football
and say, those are the bad guys and everyone on the chess team would never,
HARRIS-PERRY: Would never tune in.
FREEDMAN: But we`ve also seen some really amazing, unforeseen positive
change around a different issue, which is very loaded in the locker room,
which is sexual orientation. So if you -- who thought we`d see Michael
Strahan and Michael Irvine endorsing marriage equality. Chris Kluwe and
Brendon Ayanbadejo from the Ravens taking a stand while this was a ballot
measure in Maryland.
Now, what has been more anathema in the locker room that to be the,
quote/unquote, "faggot", or, the quote-unquote, "queer". Now, you`re
seeing pro football players taking the lead, or helping to take the lead
and moving public opinion on that.
So, I don`t think the culture is so immutable.
COBB: I think that one of --
HARRIS-PERRY: We have to stop us, only because we`ve got to eventually get
to pie. But you`re going to stay with us, Jelani. We`re going to talk
about your eggnog sweet potato pie.
COBB: We can talk about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll talk about all of that and any insights about race,
and inequality and football that you`d like to share while we eat pie.
Sam Freedman, Chloe Angyal, and Roman Oben, thanks for being here.
And from football to another holiday tradition, pie, why this dessert truly
deserves a place at the table.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, we asked you to send in pictures of the pies you
made for Thanksgiving. And boy, did Nerdland deliver.
We`ve gotten dozens and dozens of tweets and Facebook comments and
Instagrams, and we are very impressed with your pie-making abilities. And
thankful that you shared is them with us.
And this one right here, pumpkin pie, get it, might be the nerdiest one of
the them all. So today we talk about pie. It`s pie season, you know?
And pie is not just a sweet dessert. Pie is a slice of America. Unlike
cake or cookies, pie is uniquely patriotic. So patriotic that elected
officials will jump at the chance to tell you how much they love pie.
President Obama`s no exception. Here he is talking about pie on the
campaign trail in 2008.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we pulled up to this
diner, where people told us that we could get some good pie. And I like
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Me too!
OBAMA: You like pie too?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, there is nothing like achieving the perfect pie. And
who knows more about perfection than domestic goddess, Martha Stewart?
So, we went to the vault and found this hilarious slice of "Today" show pie
history from 1991. Remember, these are two of the most powerful women in
the American media industry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC: There`s nothing more traditional for Thanksgiving dinner
than turkey and apple pie. And this morning, we`re going to skip the main
course and get right to the sweet stuff.
Martha Stewart is here to add a little twist to tradition with some pie
recognizes from her magazine, "Martha Stewart Living."
Good morning, Martha.
MARTHA STEWART: Hi.
COURIC: So I haven`t made a pie crust since eighth grade home ec class.
STEWART: I`m trying to get you to admit that. I`m ashamed of you.
COURIC: Well, please help me because I like --
STEWART: Pie crusts are real easy. The golden rules of pie crust making,
you make them cold and you bake them hot.
COURIC: Why is it better to flatten it out first?
STEWART: You roll yours out and I`ll roll mine out.
COURIC: Thanks a lot! I wish it was the other way around.
STEWART: I think mine rolled out in a few minutes. I like to try to
eliminate the long periods of time --
COURIC: This is good exercise.
STEWART: Excellent upper body exercise. It`s excellent. Don`t have to go
to aerobics that day.
COURIC: Yum, I can`t wait to eat these. They look beautiful. Everything
you do always looks beautiful. Thanks, Martha.
STEWART: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
COURIC: My pie on thanksgiving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, you`re going to be shocked, just shocked,
I say, to learn what kind of pie the first family had at their Thanksgiving
HARRIS-PERRY: If you`re like me, you had plenty of pie on Thursday and are
still happily working through the leftovers. President Obama, he had nine
types of pie at his Thanksgiving table -- huckleberry pie, pecan pie,
chocolate cream pie, sweet potato pie, peach pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie,
banana cream pie, coconut cream pie. All of that at the first Thanksgiving
-- the first family`s Thanksgiving.
So this morning we asked, just what exactly is it about pie that we all
seem to love so much?
Joining me now from Chicago is Beth Howard, author of "Ms. American Pie."
And here at the studio at one of the most delicious tables we have ever
assembled, Jelani Cobb, associate professor at UConn, Rose Levy Beranbaum,
who is the award-winning author of "The Pie and Pastry Bible," that we have
been reading non-stop in Nerdland this week. Kelly Choi, host of the very
appetizing "With Kelly Choi", and Sunny Anderson, host of Food Network`s
"Cooking for Real" and author of "Sunny`s Kitchen."
It`s so nice to have you all here.
Let me just start, why is pie different than, say, cake or cookies or other
sweet desserts? What is it about pie that distinguishes it?
ROSE LEVY BERANBAUM, AUTHOR, "THE PIE AND PASTRY BIBLE": It`s inviting. I
mean, of course, they`re all sweet, but there`s something about pie that it
doesn`t have to be perfect. It`s homey, it`s delicious, and it has
components. It`s not just one element.
You know, it has the crust, it has the fruit or the nuts and sometimes
cream. And it`s just something that makes people think of home.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in part because it has component, it means it takes a
fair bit of time to make pie.
So, I have a couple cookie recipes in my head that I do pretty often, just
sort of standing around, like after I`ve made dinner, I might just make
cookies and it doesn`t take any time and I stick them in and 10 minutes
later, they come back out. But pie, I have to think about.
Do we still have an art of pie making in this country? Do people still
learn to make pie?
SUNNY ANDERSON, AUTHOR, "SUNNY`S KITCHEN": I think so. I mean, I whipped
up a pie this morning 20 minutes from memory, except I didn`t make the
dough, because grandma says I don`t have during the holidays.
But I think the ritual of making pies is something, to me, calms me. I
enjoy it. Plus, I think the mystique of pie is that it comes in its own
container, and crust, you know what I mean? I think that`s why we like
cupcakes, because they have the cute little paper around it and it`s like
your own little personal package.
Anything with dough wrapped around it, I`m in. Seriously.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kelly, I love your Twitter feed. I`ve spent a lot of time
on it, because your enjoyment of food is infectious, right?
KELLY CHOI, WITH KELLY CHOI: Oh, thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So why is it about pie?
CHOI: I think pie represents perfection, right? It`s like that pie in the
sky. Just a slice of pie or, as American as apple pie. It can be sweet,
it can be savory.
For me, when I think of making a pie, it should be the easiest thing,
because, you know, you can throw whatever you want in it, whether it`s
food, or whatever is in season, you can make it savory, like a quiche. Who
doesn`t love, you know, like different variations of a quiche or a meat
It can literally be anything that you want it to be. So, that versatility
is what people love about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting, on the one hand, it seems to
represent a sense of perfection that you described, but then also, you were
saying that you think there`s a way in which it can be imperfect. And some
of those pictures that we were seeing, that were tweeted to us were these
sort of very imperfect -- in other words, they weren`t the Martha Stewart,
I`m so ashamed of you thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to call that rustic.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s my mom`s apple pie and my mom standing there. And
other folks who sent us these beautiful pie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s beautiful.
HARRIS-PERRY: That one is aiming at perfection.
Beth, let me ask you that same question. What is it about pie that
distinguishes it as a dessert in terms of how people are receiving pie?
BETH HOWARD, AUTHOR, "MS. AMERICAN PIE": I think pie is very nourishing,
it`s so substantial. It`s got so much more to it than, say, a cupcake.
It`s got fruit, you know? It`s actually healthy, in a way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, totally healthy!
HOWARD: Right? It`s just fruit. That`s what I tell everybody.
And, you know, it really represents nostalgia and simple publicity, getting
back to the basics.
Sorry, Kelly, I don`t agree about the perfection thing. What I preach to
people is, pie is not about perfection, because people get so intimidated
about making their own pie. And it`s really quite simple. I have to say,
for once in my life, I might agree with Martha Stewart, that little clip
You know, she seems to have made the process complicated, but, really, just
using your own two hands, it`s very quick and simple and it feels really
good to make something and give of yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, let me ask you. You were saying in the break,
you`re sort of like, I don`t know why I`m here!
But let me ask you in part about this. You said that once a semester, you
actually cook for your students. And sometimes part of that is making pie.
What is it about giving food to your students, but also giving pie, in
COBB: First off, I was lied to. I was told I was here to be the official
pie taster. I don`t know how I got on this segment otherwise.
But I do bake. I bake for my students once a semester. And they`re under
the impression that it`s like for them, but it`s actually for me, because
it`s the most relaxing thing that I can do. If I`m baking something, and
so I make my sweet potato pies and, you know, I throw a little dash of
eggnog in there and some caramel. But I`m doing --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, my God, there`s a whole amen (INAUDIBLE), Jelani, put
the eggnog in the pie.
COBB: If I`m doing that, I can`t be stressed about anything else at that
point in time. That`s why I do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Kelly, part of what I found interesting about your story
s you were talking about pies, you having been born not in the U.S., you
actually remember your first encounter with a pie. And it`s not this sort
of beautiful pie experience.
CHOI: No. I grew up -- I was born in Seoul, Korea, I grew up very Korean,
eating Korean foods.
And my, like the memories and recollections of pie I had was at McDonald`s.
I ate those apple pies from McDonald`s. It was a treat my dad even liked.
I think at the time, I think McDonald`s did not bake their pie. But at the
time, they were deep fried. They were bubbly and crispy and the hot apple
I remember that so much and craving it after a Big Mac, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So now when you have one that`s like nostalgia for
CHOI: No, now, I wouldn`t ever put a McDonald`s pie, no offense to
McDonald`s. But, you know, with pies like this, I would never go back to
the fast food pies. It`s very different now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you -- you know, I went to a couple of
different Thanksgiving dinners and one them, all the pies were not
homemade. They were actually store bought pies and I knew we were about to
come do this. And I thought, how bad a sin is it to have bought the pie as
opposed to having baked the pie?
BERANBAUM: Having written a pie book, I`m a bit prejudiced about that. I
mean, there`s not like a home baked pie, but you can get, occasionally, a
store-bought one that`s worth eating, maybe.
And a lot of people don`t know what a homemade pie crust can be like. They
don`t know how delicious it is. Most of the commercial ones don`t have
butter. And to me that, that makes a huge difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, for you, pie crust is butter, it`s not the shortening?
BERANBAUM: Exactly. And the thing is, when a pie looks too perfect, as
the commercial pies do, generally they`re not as good to eat. I look at
the perfect pie, I remember my nephew when he was 8, he said, my father has
to have a dessert every night. And you can tell, just to look at the pie,
it`s not going to be any good. And I thought my nephew, I brought him a
pie, because I gave him a lesson every summer when he came to visit on
making pie or making some kind of dessert and it paid off.
HARRIS-PERRY: Beth, who do you teach to make pie? How do we learn
intergenerationally at this point how to make pie?
HOWARD: Are you talking to me?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
HOWARD: Yes. Well, you know, start them young. Or I don`t know. When I
teach pie classes, I get multi-generations all at once, I get three
generations worth, and it`s interesting that a lot of the grandmothers
aged, they actually didn`t ever learn how to make pie. So, I`m trying to
set the record straight on that.
Like I said, it`s just simple and it`s so fulfilling. You know, you get
your hands in the flour, and I agree with Rose on the butter, it`s
definitely about the butter.
HARRIS-PERRY: The butter, not the shortening.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. I want everybody to go to the website,
MHPShow.com for some fabulous pie recipes, but we are not quite done with
pie yet. Up next, pie as a true comfort food. We`ll talk about how Beth`s
apple pies helped one community to heal. And we`re going to talk more
about what you can do to use pie in your own life to heal yourself as well.
But first, more pictures of your homemade holiday pies.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last year, our guest, Beth Howard drove the thousand plus
miles from her home in Iowa to Newtown, Connecticut, days after a gunman
took the lives of 20 children and six adults. She and a group of
volunteers baked 240 pies and gave them all away, slice by slice, to the
residents of Newtown -- a small gesture of warmth and sympathy to the
Beth is with us today from Chicago.
Beth, tell us about what inspired you to do the Newtown pie project.
HOWARD: I was just sitting at my desk in rural Iowa, listening to the news
that day, and I was just getting increasingly depressed about what I was
hearing. And I just posted a random comment on Facebook. And I said, if
going to Newtown and making pie for those people to help ease their grief,
if that would help, I would pack up my supplies and start driving right
now. And within seconds, I had people responding, saying, I`ll pitch in
for gas and help you drive. And the next thing I know, I was on the road
to Newtown and it was an incredible outpouring of support from people,
wanting to get involved.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, in fact, we think of the Newtown moment and the
conversations that happen and policy and gun control. But, in fact, this
idea that there is something nurturing and healing about baking and eating
HOWARD: Right. And people were saying, their kids were craving pie, but
these moms were -- I`m too stressed, too busy to make any right now. And
here we showed up with an RV filled with pies and were handing it out and
they were like, wow, thank you very much for just miraculously appearing
and thank you for caring about us, thank your for showing you care.
I think it was the fact that the pie was homemade and all these volunteers
got together to help. I think they really appreciated that outpouring and
really acknowledged and really were grateful for that outpouring of love
I think pie is synonymous with love, homemade pie.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Beth, I am sorry that you are on remote, because here at
the table, the outpouring of love has begun. The pie, sunny cut the pie
for us during the break. And we are all now beginning to eat the pie. So
while I take my first bite, I do want to ask you about this. In the break,
you were like, why are we sitting here with these pies uncut.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, let`s eat!
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, let`s make this happen.
What happens when you -- I mean, as you were sitting here cutting the pie,
I was like, the other part of it is you`re eating from the same thing.
With cupcakes, it`s each an individual one, but here you`re eating from the
same dish here.
ANDERSON: I love communal eating. It`s why I love a 13 x 9 casserole, you
know? That to me just spells comfort no matter what you put in it.
I like to go back to what we were talking about earlier about the pies
being imperfect. I love an imperfect pie, because then I can see my slice,
you know? When it`s perfect, every slice is the same. But when it`s
imperfect, it`s like, I want that slice, where all of the syrup has just
gone over the edge and made a little burned piece right there.
You know, I love, love, love pie. I really do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there something that`s happened in American culture that
makes it harder for us to cook and to bake? I mean, I just think about the
amount of time I spend, just working, and just trying to make things make
sense. And that you have to, as you point out, in being not stressed, you
have to make time to make pie. And what happens if we reclaim that kind of
CHOI: I think right now in general, I mean, we`ve kind of gone through
this age of, oh, no one has time to cook, but now, I know in New York,
anyway, rediscovering that kind of homey feeling. When it`s cold out or
times are tough, you know, when our purse strings are getting a little
tighter than normal, we want to feel homey and feel like mom is still in
the kitchen, baking our pies, like your mom is. And that`s a lot of the
nostalgia, I think, with a pie, and like just baking and cooking in
general, to bring everyone in the home together.
HARRIS-PERRY: You said something, you said, when times get tight. I
wonder, is pie an inexpensive -- I`m sort of thinking, well, wait a minute.
As y`all were thinking about the different things that could go into pie,
is pie a good recession food? I mean, we`ve talked a lot about food
insecurity here? Is pie the sort of thing that people who are working on
very small budgets can produce really beautiful and tasty things?
BERANBAUM: Not if it`s pecan pie. I`ve heard that pecans --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, well, not in my backyard, but that`s because where I
live in New Orleans where pie ingredients literally fall out of the sky.
BERANBAUM: Lucky you. I enjoy pecans. And even learned how to pronounce
them, I know we say pe-cans.
Yes. But you`re right. It is kind of like bread. It`s inexpensive to
make. But pies are inexpensive to make, mostly.
The thing is it`s a wonderful tradition to pass on to kids. And I think
people are baking more on the weekends, because it`s like a hobby, it`s
fun, and you can include your family in it.
HOWARD: I think it`s a good antidote to technology. You know, we live in
this fast-paced, high tech world and then you want to come home and have
this tactile experience and gauge your senses.
And people really do appreciate the time you`ve taken the time to make
something homemade as opposed to just running to the store and buying it.
It doesn`t make a difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there should be more appreciation of the homemade, in
the context of a fast-paced, technology-driven society, I mean, I know if
someone writes me an actual letter as opposed to simply an e-mail, it does
take on a particularly meaning. Maybe that`s in part what baking for one
COBB: You know --
HOWARD: I just read that book, "A Simple Act of Gratitude," and it`s about
writing thank-you letters by hand, exactly what you were saying, Melissa.
And I think thank you letter or pie. Either way, give of yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, feel free to bring me a pie with a thank you letter.
COBB: It`s interesting, though, that baking is this thing I love to do.
And I learned to do it from my male best friend. He was really into
So I think that there`s kind of like this, maybe a gender element to it
too. Like, we -- I know some of the men who I`m like close friends, we
actually talk about our baking game, like, get your baking game up.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was thinking this, when you were sitting there saying it
and we got the sort of amen corner over here, I thought, #Nerdland is going
to go nuts. And everyone`s going to propose to Jelani. And the very fact
that every woman at the table say, we can bake a pie, right?
But as soon as the man at the table says, oh, yes, I bake a pie, there`s a
baking game associated with it.
HOWARD: I`ve got plenty of member in my pie classes. How is that pie, by
the way, everybody?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, it`s delicious, if I may say so myself, I made it
BERANBAUM: Actually, you know what I just said about pie crusts having to
have butter, and I`m sure this won`t if it`s store bought, but it`s really
good because of the stickiness of the filling and the crunchiness of the
crust, there`s enough butter in it to transfer over to the crust.
ANDERSON: Oh, my goodness! I just got a pie compliment from the pie lady!
BERANBAUM: You`re forgiven.
ANDERSON: Thank you so much! Listen, my grandmother taught me how to make
pie crusts and I make it all the time. But in a pinch, I don`t mind
getting it store bought, so I can cut down on some of the prep time.
But what I was saying about pie and what I was saying about the gender
roles is it`s so interesting that when we grow up, we`re expecting mom to
cook. But when we become adults, we expect the chef at the restaurant to
be a man.
But the real story here is that all people can have passion to cook. I
find that usually people that are super right brained are excellent bakers.
It`s all about measuring and being exact and being specific.
So, I can see, you know, with your bow tie, you have it together. I can
tell you bake very well.
HARRIS-PERRY: In my house, I`m the baker, and my husband is the cook. I
have to say, just for Nerdland f you don`t know, Kelly Choi and I went to
high school together.
CHOI: All I`m thinking about right now is like remembering the dance
routines that we did.
HARRIS-PERRY: We were on a high school cheerleading squad together. There
is something really wonderful about here on this eating pie together.
COBB: We will not believe this unless you all re-enact. Like I refuse to
believe it when you re-enact --
HARRIS-PERRY: Beth Howard in Chicago, Jelani Cobb, Rose Levy, and Kelly
Choi and Sunny Anderson -- thanks so much.
Kelly and I are not about to cheer. That is not -- we grown.
But up next, a major update on the Courtney Andrews story that we brought
you last week. This is one you can be thankful for.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week we introduced you to Courtney Andrews, the
incredibly brave young woman who joined us after the man who raped her as a
teenager was found guilty but received no prison time.
Courtney shared with us her outrage, pain, and hope for justice, because
even though Austin Smith Clem was convicted of three counts of rape,
Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodruff sentenced him to a suspended
sentence, two years in the county community corrections program designed
for nonviolent offenders, along with six years of supervised probation.
For Courtney, the sentence brought no peace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you need to feel safe?
COURTNEY ANDREWS, VICTIM: I mean, for him to be in prison. I`m not going
to feel safe other than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But right now, we have a major update to the report.
Courtney called us this week with news in the case. That same county court
has issued an order for Austin Smith Clem to be resentenced.
That`s right. The same Judge Woodruff filed an order in the circuit court
in the Alabama court of appeals. The case is now pending in front of the
You know we are going to continue to keep you posted on this story.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching, for
indulging us with your pie pictures.
And I`m going to see you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. But, right
now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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