January 26, 2014
Guests: Laura Flanders, Jelani Cobb, John McWhorter, Carlos Sandoval,
Catherine Tambini, Kelly Dittmar; Beth Fouhy; James Perry; Stacey Berger;
Kevin Walsh; Frank Argote-Freyre
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question -- is
Richard Sherman this year`s MVP?
Plus, the other Sandy controversy facing Governor Chris Christie.
And the real debate on immigration is taking place far from Washington,
But first, tighten those laces because this is what happens when women run.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
To be a successful politician, you have to tell a good story, and if that
story is the center of your campaign, you had better hope that it stands up
to close scrutiny. Case in point, Texas state Senator Wendy Davis, whose
gubernatorial campaign suffered its first serious blow this past week.
"The Dallas Morning News" published an article raising questions about some
of the details of Davis` compelling life story. Now, her story goes like
this. A single mother, 19, divorced and living in a trailer, went to
community college and eventually on to Harvard law school and later, the
Texas state Senate. The story paints her as a success, a kind of hard-
fought, her humbled beginnings, something that could connect her to voters
in Texas, especially women. Here she is sharing that story with NBC`s
Maria Shriver for the "Today" show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: By 19, she was getting divorced and living
in a mobile home park.
MARIA SHRIVER, MSNBC HOST, TODAY SHOW: You haven`t been back here since
you lived here.
STATE SEN. WENDY DAVIS, TEXAS: That`s right.
SHRIVER: When you look at this place, what are you feeling right now?
DAVIS: A homecoming of sorts. I`ve tried really hard not to put this in
the rearview mirror. I`ve tried to keep it present.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So the story is true. But as of all political narratives,
the complications have been streamlined. As "the Dallas Morning News"
reported, Davis lived in a trailer for only a few months. She was
separated from her husband at 19 but not divorced until 21. Her second
husband helped put her through law school, even cashing in on his 401(k) to
do so. And her daughters lived with him during her education. When they
divorced, he was awarded full parental custody, and she paid child support.
Now, there was something particularly, delicious about this new information
for Davis` opponents, a flaw in her narrative. You see, Davis is a
narrative candidate. Her life story is the backbone of her campaign, one
of her greatest assets as she tries to convince Texas voters to come out to
polls and make her the first democrat elected to statewide office in 20
years. Opponents saw an opportunity to aim for the heart of her campaign,
and they took it. The campaign of her likely Republican opponent, Texas
attorney general Greg Abbott, put out a statement that Davis, quote,
"systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceived Texans for years
about her background." And conservative pundits sensing blood in the
water, from one of the Democratic Party`s rising stars, attacked.
She was called a fake and she caught of abandoning her children and using
her second husband as a sugar daddy. Narratives. Narratives are potential
political strengths have become liabilities before.
Take 2004 when then-Senator John Kerry`s presidential bid failed in large
part due to a successful campaign to undermine his greatest political
asset, the story of his military service in Vietnam, and subsequent
opposition to the war there. He presented this story, John Kerry as war
hero throughout his campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I`m John Kerry, and I`m reporting for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And then, came the swift boat veterans for truth, a group of
Vietnam veterans who had served in swift boat units. They questioned
Kerry`s war record. They accused him of lying to the American people about
how he got his medals and betraying his fellow veterans in testifying to
Congress against the war. It was an effective attack on the candidate`s
narrative and one the Kerry campaign did not respond to quickly enough as a
These checks, or attacks on narratives, are not one party. Senator Marco
Rubio`s personal story claimed his parents fled Cuba, exiled from Castro`s
regime. But a year after he won, reporters found parents had left Cuba two
years before Castro came to power. One could argue that his role was
tarnished then. But the Floridian is fighting hard to reclaim his
narrative as the son of immigrants who seized on the American opportunity
to offer a better life to their son.
But the lesson here is clear. When you won on a narrative, a compelling
life story, a true tale to one day base the movie on, that narrative is
ripe for scrutiny. Your opponents, or the press, will find the "T" you
didn`t cross, the date you fudged, the details you left out, and they will
use it, no matter who you are. Democrat, Republican, man, woman, son of
immigrants, war hero, single ma, you are susceptible to these types of
attacks when you seek a powerful elected office.
And yet, many have noted the particularly gendered nature of the attacks
against Davis. She is painted as a bad mother who abandoned her children
of (INAUDIBLE) using over the ambitious ex-wife.
So the question I have for my panel today. Are these attacks sexist? Or
is it just welcome to the big political leagues for Wendy Davis.
Joining me now is Laura Flanders, host and founder of grit TV, Jonathan
Capehart, MSNBC contributor and an opinion writer for "Washington Post,"
Beth Fouhy, who is senior editor of MSNBC.com and Kelly Dittmar who is
assistant research professor at the center for American women a and
politics at Rutgers University.
Welcome to all of you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Beth, let me just start with you and that question. Are
these attacks against Wendy Davis sexist?
BETH FOUHY, SENIOR EDITOR, MSNBC.COM: Yes. But I`m going to start with
your first supposition, which is, is Wendy Davis now playing in the big
leagues. Let`s start there. She is. She`s running for governor of Texas.
FOUHY: She is in a serious, big-time political situation, and she`s got to
expect attacks. It`s not a huge surprise this was going to come. It`s
lucky for her that it`s coming a little bit early, and that there`s not a
whole lot of foundation to it. OK, she was married. She divorced at 19
versus 21. It is not that big a deal.
However, the gender nature of the attacks really did shock me. In the
story you referenced, "the Dallas Morning News" the reporter, Wayne Slater,
who`s fantastic, has an unnamed person in the story, who says nothing is
going to stand in Wendy`s way. She is very ambitious. Not her children,
not her marriage, nothing.
An unnamed person allowed to say that about her in this story. So clearly
it`s gendered. I think the thing that resonates with a lot of people is
the notion that she would leave her children and that her husband, her
second husband, paid the last part of the loan for her education right --
the day before she moved out.
FOUHY: Those are the things that resonate out of the story, not so much
whether she was 19 or 21 when she divorced her first husband, and that`s
the piece that`s clearly gendered.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Kelly, you know, this is -- I think these are two
different claims. I really like how you put this, Beth. So, it is one
thing for attacks to be gendered. It is another thing for them to be
sexist in their assumptions. So as I sort of watch this unfold, I thought,
OK, you know, if you`re a journalist, you just follow whatever story you
think there is, and so you follow it. And then, opponents are going to use
whatever cognitive hook they think they can hang on you in order to get
their you know, the opponents to show up for you. It`s more of a like
activating latent sexism than a sexist attack. Does that make sense?
KELLY DITTMAR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: That`s exactly
right. And I think that`s what you`ve seen in articles after, the blogs,
twitter, everything social media, in response to the Slater article, right,
is now doing these trips that we see continuously that are sexist. So, it
raises a sort of is she a gold digger, right? You raised this earlier. Is
she a bad mom? Is she a bad mom because she left her kids or she put
ambition before her children?
I think then it raises the other question of authenticity. Is she single
mom enough? There`s sort of a question, like, what does that mean?
HARRIS-PERRY: How long do you have to live in the trailer park before you
get to count that, yes.
DITTMAR: And on the flip side, just read an article this morning about is
she feminist enough? So if she did have help going to school, if she did
have help from a husband in getting her and helping to pull up her boot
straps or whatever, is that feminist enough?
So I think you`re right that the secondary critiques of these are more
sexist than the first sort of gender undertones that were definitely in the
article. But they`re now taken advantage of.
HARRIS-PERRY: But Jonathan, I mean, part of the reason I wanted to tell
the Davis story, embedded with the Kerry story and with the Marco Rubio
story, so I can similarly say that the critiques of Rubio`s narrative is
that he`s not immigrant enough, or he is not fleeing Castro enough, right?
And certainly, that the gendered nature of the attacks against the swift
boat veterans truth against Kerry is he was not man enough, he was not
And so, I guess, there`s a part of me that shrugs, well, politics is blood
sport. It`s nasty. If you`re a woman, then that`s one of the things
they`ll come for.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, right. One of the number one thing for your
opponent is to take your strength and then kneecap you with it.
CAPEHART: And so, we saw it with Kerry. We`re seeing it with Marco Rubio.
And we are seeing it to great effect with Wendy Davis. So part of me is
like, yes, this is, you know, welcome to the big leagues. So, you`re not
only running for governor, you`re running for governor of Texas, and at a
HARRIS-PERRY: And a midterm, when this is the race.
CAPEHART: This is the race so everyone is watching it. But, also, in a
state where Democrats are hungering to turn that state from red to at least
purple. So there`s a bigger thing going on here than Wendy Davis. And so,
f course, her opponents are going to push very hard to take her down in any
Now, I was thinking, as you were talking about, you know, these attacks,
these gendered attacks on Wendy Davis, I was thinking, is there a male
equivalent, a guy who was married to one woman, she then helps him go to
school, stands back, allows him to do his political career, he dumps her
unceremoniously, and goes on and gets another wife, rises in power, and
everyone thinks, you know, there`s nothing wrong with this guy. Me just --
he`s a guy. Now be I`m thinking of Newt Gingrich. But I don`t think he`s
the only one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s not the only one.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to take a break. But I want to come right back,
as soon as -- after our break, because I want to ask if we are actually --
we are weakening, Davis in part, through this particular discourse, so
there`s the within thing, this is bigger than, so we`re talking about it
ourselves. But I also want to talk about how Wendy Davis herself has had -
- she`s got full, like, Texas swagger in her response, and I don`t want to
turn her into a little cowering woman in the corner if she is, in fact, not
that person, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we`re back, and we`re talking about Wendy Davis and some
of the attacks on her narrative. But I also just want to talk, Laura,
about how she has responded. So, in her written response, she said, mine
is a story about a teenage single more who struggled to keep her young
family afloat. It`s the story about a young woman who has given a precious
opportunity to work her way up in the world. It`s a story about
resiliency, and sacrifice, and perseverance. You`re damn right it`s a true
story. And I was, like, OK, so, we`re all like having hand wringing angst
in the pundit world, and, she was like, here we go.
LAURA FLANDERS, HOST, FOUNDER, GRIT TV: I think, Melissa, that she can
handle this. I mean, this woman stood for 13 hours in pink sneakers in
that filibuster fighting against a rule that would have been, you know,
made abortion illegal at that state. This is a woman who is fighting for
education reform. This is a woman who knows what she`s taken on. I mean,
these kinds of attacks while we don`t endorse them, we are against them,
yes, they`re sexist, it`s wrong, a double standard, it should stop, they go
back to, you know, Geraldine Ferraro, they go back to Victoria Woodall in
the 1880s. I mean, we can handle this stuff. We`re women in America.
On the other hand, what are we losing as Americans? A, was the focus on
narrative as the way to run for office. It used to be style over
substance, now it`s kind of nothing over substance, you know. It used to
be you were laying yourself open to gotcha journalism, now it`s got nothing
journalism that runs the news cycle for weeks.
The point is, would he have a media culture right now that has an
incredible, you know, appetite for these kinds of stories, and very little
appetite for her policy on education, reproductive rights. We`re all
suffering because of this. Do we want this to be the terrain of our
political debate? No.
FLANDERS: And we don`t want it for sexist, racist, classist reasons.
We`ve got a screwed up government because, you know, a whole lot of talent
doesn`t want to engage. Our media suffers, too. This is a much bigger
problem. Wendy Davis can handle herself. I think we`re, in our democracy,
are the ones in trouble.
HARRIS-PERRY: That are in trouble.
Kelly, I see you wanting to get in there. And you know, I know part of
what the senator you work with that does is prepares women to run for
office. You do the annual ready to run. And I`m wondering if you hear
from women who are -- who we know -- so what we know is, you know, men and
women, equal call qualifications, men have multiple times in their lives
are hey, have you ever thought about running for office? You know, he
would make a great mayor. You would be a good president. But the women
haven`t. And so, we actually have to recruit women into the process. Do
these kinds of moments discourage women from entering?
DITTMAR: I think so. And I think you`re right. What we see is women need
to be recruited to run, and men don`t. Men wake up one morning and say,
I`d make a darn good governor.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, really.
DITTMAR: It`s harder to get women to run. And so, they see the political
landscape. Not only do they not see it as a place not to get things done
in light of what`s happening now in Washington and elsewhere, but they also
see these attacks and wonder, can I handle it. I think you are right that
what we see women are able to handle it.
But the difference in this sort of gendered nature of the attacks and the
effects of the attacks are that we know women candidates, especially
running for governor, president, are covered in a way where the traits and
family and appearance are covered in much more -- with much more frequency
than issues and substance. That`s a challenge. And it does affect voter
We know that voters don`t take them as seriously when you covered them that
way. So, it`s a challenge of how often do they use the narrative, but how
often is the narrative used about them when it`s not by choice? And that`s
a challenge for women.
And a secondary challenge for women is that if you go negative against a
woman, you say she`s not honest and ethical, that goes against gender norms
of her honesty and, excuse me, ethics, and so you knock her off her
pedestal. That`s a challenge.
FLANDERS: It goes back to the Barbara Leaf foundation has done and shows
exactly that, and I`m worrying were they pink sneakers or red sneakers --
HARRIS-PERRY: No, you`re accurately remembering it, I`m sure.
FLANDERS: But again, I mean, another thing that is so important for us to
note in all of this, is this discussion about our attitudes toward women
running for office, we cover in a completely different part of our media
brain than our coverage of the family medical leave act, our coverage for
women with equal pay, our coverage of domestic workers having any rights.
You know, let`s look at how these attitudes get expressed in our policy,
not just in our coverage --
HARRIS-PERRY: Amen. We`ll do that when we come back, because I want to go
to planet Hillary and I`m going to let Jonathan take us there because he`s
got some planes about the planet Hillary and whether or not that this is
unique to her.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wendy Davis may be learning what happens when women run.
But former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is at the center of the
bizarre constellation that emerge when is American media become obsessed
with the idea that this particular woman might possibly, you know, maybe be
thinking about running. It`s still a full two years before the
presidential primary season and Clinton has already been artistically
interpreted as me emasculating tip and hill. And this week, her likeness
was rendered in the center of a galactic constellation prompting a reverend
means and more serious pondering about what it would mean if planet Hillary
returned to political orbit. Male politicians long have been subjected to
political rendering. Is it any different when the candidate is a woman?
So Jonathan, you encouraged us to think about the Weiner covers and the
Spitzer covers, right, as emblematic as this moment, when men were also
CAPEHART: And personally skewered.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, for their actions not their ideas.
FLANDERS: Yes, exactly.
CAPEHART: I mean, that`s a very good point. I mean, when I alerted you to
those headlines, I was thinking of those headlines in relation to the Wendy
Davis story and the sexism -- the sexism angle there and whether this was -
- the treatment of Wendy Davis was unfair. With Hillary Clinton, we`ve
been going through this now since 1990, `91.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know, right. It is a lot.
CAPEHART: Since Bill Clinton said he wanted to run for president. So you
know, while I think Hillary land is cognizant and very concerned about the
way she`s portrayed and whether there`s a sexist tinge --
HARRIS-PERRY: Hillary planet.
CAPEHART: Yes, I`m sorry, Hillary planet.
Yes, planet instead of land. I also think they`ve been in the big leagues
for so long, that "New York Times" magazine cover will not concern them one
FOUHY: And let me tell you. I mean, let`s talk about tough women.
Hillary Clinton, there is nobody tougher in politics than Hillary Clinton.
I covered her campaign in 2008. She`s incredibly tough, she is incredibly
driven, she is incredibly smart, and incredibly nice. But she`s been
through all of this. There`s very little left to uncover about Hillary
Clinton. She now sort of occupies a new place in our politics, than even
when she did in 2008.
And so, she`s certainly going to be the subject of sexist attacks. I mean,
that picture of the woman`s heel with the guy hanging off it, I mean, this
case in point. She`s gotten to a level where I think, she`s not simply
going to be evaluated as the woman candidate. She is going to be evaluated
-- the problem for her is going to be the inevitable candidate and that is
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, but Beth, so there`s a question of how tough she is,
right? But there`s also the question of whether or not the attacks
themselves then generate a positive backlash for her. So Jessica
(INAUDIBLE) writing today for the "Washington Post," writes, if the message
flows as freely in 2016 as it did during Clinton`s first presidential run,
the Republicans are doomed. They`re already in trouble with female voters
and it wouldn`t take much to erode that standing further.
So almost saying, please, right, please attack, and attack particularly in
the sexist way, because the pushback could actually be good for her with
women voter who, you know, may not -- I mean, she`s tough, but it doesn`t
mean all of us want to vote for her.
FOUHY: Well, and I remember there is a little bit of kerfuffle last year
when some Republicans started to raise the question whether she would be
too old to run for president. And that brought up a huge backlash of one.
Now, you`re going to make all sorts of older women mad. I mean, yes, it is
going to be to down her favor to a large degree, but not entirely.
FLANDERS: I`m going to be just -- what do you call it, a scratched record
again here. It is like look at that imagery. I completely, you know, I`m
with you, Hillary can handle this, just like Wendy Davis can handle this,
blah, blah, blah. But again, that imagery, we have never had a woman
president. Even a woman running still gives you that -- those images of
zero sum game, something going to a woman is going to be something
destroying men. And I want us to look at that same way of thinking as we
think about our policy making, around working women, around working-class
women, around equal pay, around the lily led better act. Again, what we`re
seeing there is a sexism that, yes, is personal but also deeply political
and goes way beyond our political candidates.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it ignores -- I mean, if we keep talking about like
what`s happening to Hillary in this moment. It ignores how much enormous
privilege and access she has as compared to the women who are subjected to
the policies that you`re talking about, right?
So yes, Hillary Clinton is a woman, but she is also the former secretary of
state. She also was second in a, you know, in a presidential primary run.
She was also the first lady. And she`s hardly a powerless girl.
FLANDERS: Exactly. But the point being, or and the point being, you know,
I think what we learned in that whole Cheryl Sandberg discussion around
leaning in is that, you know, attitudes toward women have changed, or
attitudes of women have changed. But the attitudes of men have not
changed. That`s what we need to shift. This idea of can we actually have
equity, and not just so we can have ream, you know, excellent talent
excluded in leadership, but we can add trillions of dollars to our GDP if
we increase women`s participation in the workforce, if we make it easier
for women to participate on par with men in jobs. This is all a bigger
conversation. But this is part of it, I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well speaking of men`s attitudes that haven`t changed, and
when we come back, I said, let`s listen to a little Mike Huckabee.
HARRIS-PERRY: For everything we`ve been discussing so far this hour, the
number one thing this past week that had everyone talking about women in
politics was this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS HOST: I think it`s time Republicans no longer
accept listening to the Democrats talk about a war on women, because the
fact is, the Republicans don`t have a war on women. They have a war for
women, for them to be empowered, to be something other than victims of
their gender. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by
making them believe that they are helpless without uncle sugar coming in
and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because
they cannot control their libido or reproductive system without the help of
the government, then so be it. Let us take that discussion all across
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And here is former governor Huckabee trying to clarify those
remarks with FOX News channel`s Megyn Kelly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE: Everything I was accused of saying, I was actually saying the
polar opposite. This was an affirmation of the intelligence of the
capability of women. It wasn`t even about contraceptives. It was about
the way that Democrats have accused Republicans of having a war on women
when Republicans believe that women are quite our equal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So Kelly, there was no uncle sugar, it was aunt vinegar, the
polar opposite. You did not hear that. So, what do you make of this
moment? Here`s what I`m not interested in. I`m not interested in word
policing Mike Huckabee. I don`t care. Whatever, right? I am interested
in how, as you point out, or the discourse turns into policy that is
DITTMAR: Right. I mean, I think these are the sorts of messages that have
alienated women voters over and over again for the Republican Party, and
it`s sort of shocking to see the same comments, the same dialogue
happening. So he says it`s not about contraception. It`s obviously about
contraception and what we know is that the majority of men and women
support contraception mandate. So, this isn`t a winning issue with women
voters, especially. And it`s shocking that that`s sort of -- they keep
going back to it. You know, I think we saw it in Virginia, if that`s a
canary in any coal mine that that message isn`t going to resonate for
Republican candidates. So women voters aren`t looking to sort of be told
they`re being manipulated, and that`s what came across in his comments.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It does seem like slut-shaming, all people who use
birth control, is a bad policy, right? And, you know, if you kind of
shifted the end of his comments just a little bit and you said, you know,
making women believe they can`t control their reproduction without, and
then he goes on to make the uncle sugar comment. But if the comment was
without available access to birth control, well, then, that would be
empirically pretty -- it is, in fact, very hard to control not one`s, not
libido, but one`s reproductive capacity without the kind of modern things
we have that allow us to control our reproductive capacity.
FOUHY: Yes, and I`m trying to, you know, take -- give Mike Huckabee a
little bit of a break, and say what is he trying to say? He`s trying to --
FOUHY: He`s trying to say that Republicans care about the whole woman.
FOUHY: Democrats want to reduce women to their reproductive parts, and
that is how they think they`re going to hook women as voters. Well, you
know, I think that`s a crazy road for him to go down, number one. He`s
making a point that perhaps is legitimate. But why is he then going into
libido? I mean, he`s showing -- he`s bringing up these issues and these
problems that Republicans have about talking about women while he`s trying
to make an opposite point. That`s their problem. They cannot even figure
out how to language these issues in a way that makes the Republican message
and the Republican candidates seem more palatable to women.
DITTMAR: That`s right.
FLANDERS: He should take this around the country, again, uncle sugar, go
CAPEHART: Yes, back to what Beth was saying, though, the reason why they
can`t message around this is because -- I mean, where are the Republican
women who are coming out and talking about the Democrats` war on women?
FOUHY: Yes, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: The real big Republican women who are going to respond to
the state of the union on Tuesday, I think in part because -- honestly,
Jonathan, it feels so much to me like the similar argument that has been
made really since the `70s about African-Americans in the Democratic Party,
that this party is giving us a sense of dependency, and that what we need
to do is stand independent and strong with the Republican party. And it
sounds like a remix of that for women, right?
CAPEHART: Well, sure. You know, I`m thinking that here we have -- we`re
almost a year out from the GOP autopsy on what the problems are for the
CAPEHART: And key in there is women. And yet, here you have Mike
Huckabee, nearly a year later, espousing some of the same attitudes. I
don`t care about his Alice in wonderland, polar opposite, what I meant to
say was -- he`s still using the language that turns off women no matter
their political stripe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I want to take it one step further and go to
where you`ve been encouraging us to go which is to say, all right, so then
what does it mean for policy? And what we`re going to see apparently this
week is this next couple is this no taxpayer funding for abortion
discourse, right, so -- I mean, excuse me, policy. So, not just the
discourse of no uncle sugar for controlling your libido, but also an actual
policy proposal that will make it even more difficult for poor women to
have access to their constitutionally protected right, to terminate
FLANDERS: Yes. I mean, we interviewed a woman the other day on grit TV
who talked about the gains to the GDP if we had gender parity in the
workforce, meaning just participation. If we made the workplace as, you
know, appealing to women to work in as possible for women to work in, as we
did even ten years ago, we would see growing rates of female participation,
growing contribution of women to the GDP, and instead what we`ve seen is a
flattening out for the first time since the second wave of the women`s
movement, we have seen a decline of women even wanting to participate, even
though their educational levels are higher. Again, do we want to recover
this economy or keep bashing women?
At a certain point, it becomes -- this questions about reproductive access
to reproductive technology, pay, family leave, you name it, this stuff is
the stuff that will recover our economy or not, or we can keep on
protecting men`s jobs, white men`s jobs and watching our economy go down
HARRIS-PERRY: Beth Fouhy and Kelly Dittmar, thank you so much for being
here. Jonathan and Laura, you guys are going to hang out for a bit.
But up next, the other claim about Sandy relief funds in New Jersey. There
HARRIS-PERRY: By now, you know that e-mails heard `round the garden state
and beyond. Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee, and the response, got
it. That was the exchange that started the mess that Governor Christie has
been trying to clean up following the September closing of two of three
lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge, the nation`s busiest
On top of that ongoing scandal, Governor Christie`s administration has been
accused by Hoboken New Jersey mayor Dawn Zimmer who broke the news on "Up
with Steve Kornacki" last week that hurricane Sandy relief money was
withheld from her city because she failed to approve a redevelopment plan
favored by the governor. But the Governor Christie, Sandy-relief news that
you might not know about, this is now getting renewed attention, could be
the governor`s next headache.
Data obtained by the New Jersey-based fair share housing center shows that
both African-American and Latinos who have applied for Sandy rebuilding
relief have been rejected at higher rates than white applicants. African-
Americans have been rejected at more than twice the rate of white
applicants, and Latinos at 50 percent higher rate.
In addition to the figures, it is alleged the administration posted
incorrect information on the Spanish language version of the state`s Sandy
Web site, and has done nothing to remedy the situation for those affected.
We reached out to Governor Christie`s administration by both e-mail and
phone for comment on those issues, but we`ve not heard back.
At table, Kevin Walsh, associate director of Fair Share Housing Center, the
organization involved in both the fair housing complaint and the case over
the public record, Frank Argote-Freyre who is president of Latino Action
Network, Stacey Berger who is president and CEO, the Housing Community
Development Network of New Jersey, and James Perry, executive director of
the greater New Orleans for action center, who also happens to be my
So, Kevin, I want to start with you. Just lay out the story a little bit
for me. What is this because this actually precedes all of these sorts of
scandals we`ve been hearing about over the past two weeks but is now
getting renewed attention?
KEVIN WALSH, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, FAIR SHARE HOUSING CENTER: Congress sent
us $6 billion in New Jersey to recover from a really terrible storm that`s
left tens of thousands of people out of their homes, and the governor
promised unprecedented transparency. He promised fairness. He told
everybody, I`m going to use this money efficiently and fairly. And
unfortunately, we`ve gotten the exact opposite result. And a lot of people
are still out of their homes. They are left scratching their heads,
wondering where the relief is going to come. And although some people have
been helped, overall the disaster recovery process itself has been somewhat
of a disaster.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and when we look at just the percentage rejected, the
applicants rejected by race, you see that white applicants at 14 percent,
Latinos at 18 percent, and African-Americans at 35 percent. That does not
tell us on its face that -- it tells us that there is some kind of
discrepancy. It doesn`t tell us that it is necessarily discriminatory.
Maybe there is correlated difference between these folks. But that said,
clearly, it raises some flags for us about what is happening. What do
those kinds of numbers mean in terms of material consequences for people,
FRANK ARGOTE-FREYRE, PRESIDENT, LATINO ACTION NETWORK: Well, we`ve been so
concerned about the Christie administration and the way he`s handled any
issues revolving around the Latino, African-American, working poor
communities. And so, when we found out about these numbers, we were really
distressed, and it fit a pattern for us of just neglect of the community.
And, for example, you mentioned the Web site. There are folks that didn`t
have the right deadline to apply for these funds, so they were left out in
the cold. We filed a federal complaint with regards to that. And we`ve
never received an adequate response. There`s been no effort to try to
address those folks who may have missed that deadline. There were the
wrong addresses in the Spanish Web site. So the impact of that, we can`t
even begin to judge because they never even sent out any message or
anything to say, hey, if you applied improperly because of this bad
information, well, you know, here. Here, how we help you? There`s been no
effort to address that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stacey, I wonder, in part, because we`re framing this,
thinking about bridge gate, thinking about Mayor Zimmer`s recent remarks,
and, Frank, you making the point there`s been some pattern previously. I
wonder if all of this is now going to be read quite differently in a new
context that has emerged, sort of since these past two weeks have passed.
STACEY BERGER, PRESIDENT, CEO, HOUSING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT NETWORK OF NEW
JERSEY: Well, we think there is definitely an opportunity to go back and
look at the federal funding that has been disbursed with a much closer
look, and this stuff is really coming on to a microscope in a way that it
hadn`t happened before. So, we think that that`s going to help people get
the help they need.
And part of the problem, as Frank was talking about, is that the
administration has really just not paid attention in a lot of ways to the
urban communities that we are hit, the (INAUDIBLE) in particular, of
tremendous devastation. And we haven`t seen the governor go there and use
the power of his bully pulpit to help those folks get help. We heard from
people like Janet Rosaro (ph), who has written a personal letter to the
governor asking him for help because her home is still not has the ball.
She`s got mold. People have all kinds of situations that they`re living
in, because they`re not getting the help they need. So, if this allows us
to have a deeper debate about the issue around the Sandy recovery, and the
way that the money is being spent, or not being spent it, and we think that
is going to help people get what they deserve in the long run.
HARRIS-PERRY: So James, I can remember that immediately that after Sandy,
you know, your response as a housing advocate who had done this kind of
work post-Katrina was, I`m heading up to New Jersey, I`m going to sit down
with the advocates and we are going to talk about how we can make sure we
don`t end up with the same kind of inequities, and here we are a year
later, and I`m reporting on the inequities that faced the city of New
Orleans after Katrina.
JAMES PERRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GREATER NEW ORLEANS FOR ACTION CENTER:
It`s pretty unfortunate. You`re right, I call it the fair share housing
organization almost immediately afterwards and began talking to them. And
so, you know, I`m so happy to see they`ve done great work here.
What`s also frustrating is that the Christie administration knew that these
kinds of mistakes could be made. They came to Louisiana. They came to
Mississippi. They met with officials. They met with advocates. They said
how do we make sure that we do this the right way?
And so, to see them end up in the situation where they`re making the same
mistakes that Louisiana made, so that African-Americans couldn`t recover at
a rate that was equitable to white residents, is very frustrating.
HARRIS-PERRY: I do wonder because I think it matters maybe more
politically than it does in terms of the material consequences, because the
material consequences for people are the same whether this was an
intentionally racial biased behavior, or not. But both as a matter of law
and as a matter of sort of the politics for Christie going forward, do you
have a sense of, for example, the mistakes on the Spanish language Web
site, is that sloppiness, because we just don`t really care what`s
happening over there on the Spanish language Web site or is it
intentionally trying to reduce the number of people will be able to get
applications in on time?
ARGOTE-FREYRE: See, the governor, and we know this very well from having
worked -- tried to work with this administration, has a pattern of
constantly embracing the richy (ph) and we always kid around, never met a
millionaire, he didn`t want to hug or a poor person he didn`t want to
humiliate. And so, this is part of a consistent pattern for us, the
statistics that are brought out in this -- in our report on Sandy recovery,
right? So he cut, for example, when he first started, he cut Hispanic
programs by 75 percent. He eliminated three Hispanic women centers.
I mean, so the good news about bridge gate in the sense is we can get this
message out because, you know, I know a lot of people see him as the 2016
nominee, we can get the message out, because he`s really worked hard in the
Latino communities to project himself as somebody that`s friendly to the
community, and this gives us an opportunity to say, no, look at this guy`s
record. It is not a good record when it comes to the working poor,
African-Americans and Latinos.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, kind of the style versus substance piece.
When we come back, I also want to ask a little bit more about the issue of
affirmatively furthering fair housing and whether or not part of this is
tied up in that question.
HARRIS-PERRY: It has become a common talking point in the wake of natural
disasters to assert the storm did not discriminate. Well, although the
winds of a tornado or the punishing surf of a hurricane or the rising
waters of a flood may not discriminate, the government policies that follow
in the aftermath of this destruction often do. Communities with fewer
economic resources before the storm can find it hard to secure the
resources for resiliency after the storm.
And so, Stacey, I want to come to you on this in part because when we
looked at homeowners versus renters who were impacted by Sandy, you just
see big differences among African-Americans and Latinos and poor people in
terms of the percentage of folks who are renters, right? Much higher
percentage of folks who are renters. And so, they seem to get lost in all
BERGER: They did get lost in all of this, mostly. They should have been
eligible for about 40, 45 percent of the aid based on the amount of damage
that renters sustained. It was about 43 to 57 percent renters-to-
homeowners. And what we have seen is that most of the aid is going to
homeowners. And that`s a problem, because it`s not helping the folks who
were harmed by the storm. So it really ought to be proportional both to
communities and to individuals to make sure the aid that everybody around
the country gave to New Jersey is being fairly distributed.
HARRIS-PERRY: James, there is a mandate to affirmatively further fair
housing, and it does seem to me that part of what happens is when a storm
that is not discriminating comes, it lays on top of already pre-existing
patterns of segregation by race and economics so that you don`t have to
have a bad actor in the system wanting to do mean things. Just that pre-
existing pattern can, in fact, cause these differences. And I wonder if
that is part of why we have to have fairer communities before the storm
PERRY: Yes, you know, it`s a term for everyone to learn is disparate
impact, right? It is this idea that sometimes there is no intention to
discriminate. But the fact is, that some is treated unfairly, perhaps an
entire group. And that`s what we`ve seen in this fair share study, that
African-Americans and Latinos to get fewer grants, to get small amounts.
And so, that is frustrating.
But let`s talk about the long-term impacts. The way that schools are
funded, frankly, is through property taxes, right? And so, that these
folks who are homeowners don`t get to recover, and of course, there are
fewer property taxes and less money for school system, and then therefore,
fewer educational opportunities for the kids.
And so, the implications go on and on and on and on. And so, this whole
point of affirmatively affirming fair housing is really about opportunity
for America`s citizens. I mean, you have to make sure it happens.
HARRIS-PERRY: And look, I like the idea of taking a longer view, in part,
because we`re more than a year after Sandy. Is it still possible to bring
justice to this circumstance or is justice delay, justice denied in this
WALSH: It`s certainly possible. We`ve received $1.8 billion, and we`ve
got a lot of problems with how that money was spent. We`re about to
receive another $1.4 billion, and we can fix a lot of the mistakes thus far
that have been made by getting it right that time. It requires strong
federal oversight. It requires the Christie administration to admit the
mistakes and it requires dose of humility that thus far hasn`t been brought
to the process. You can only sit through and people impacted by the storm
can sit through so many press conferences in which the governor and his
cabinet members declared that everything is just going great, when they`re
still out of their house, and when they`re still living in mold-infested
houses. And when hud and the federal government looks at what the state
proposes to do with the next $1.4 billion, we can fix the mistakes that
thus far over the past year or so have been made.
HARRIS-PERRY: So still fixable, but it requires some actions that we
haven`t seen yet on the part of the Christie administration.
WALSH: Yes, exactly.
BERGER: Admit there`s a problem they`ve made, and interested in figuring
out why, so we can continue not to make the same mistakes.
PERRY: They don`t even have to admit it. They just have to fix the
problem. We don`t care --
BERGER: It`s not blaming thing. They have to acknowledge something is the
matter. And they said that data shows that statistical anomaly and that
just seems not really --.
PERRY: And politically, Christie isn`t dead if he can fix this problem.
If he can`t, then I can see the presidential commercial against him right
now, the swift boat commercial, which says, you know, this is me, I live in
this community, and I didn`t get enough money to rebuild my property. This
is his opportunity to make it right.
BERGER: And he should for the people of the state.
WALSH: Along those lines, they also need to stop being so secretive on how
they conduct its process. It took us months of litigation to get the basic
rules about how the administration was making decisions about who gets
money and who loses their home. And it shouldn`t take litigation. It
shouldn`t take going to the courts to get basic decisions about how
government makes decisions out in the sunlight.
ARGOTE-FREYRE: Well, that`s the effort moving forward. We`re going to be
trying in this next allocation of funds to see if we can get them to create
more opportunities for renters. We found that this funding programs that
they`ve put forth do not help renters as much and fairly, and that hurts
working-poor communities and principally a lot of African-Americans and
Latinos make up those communities.
So that`s the hope. I`m not so optimistic, because I know when we went in
terms of community outreach, they didn`t do much in Spanish language
community organizations, and, you know all along, we`ve seen a pattern of
them not really caring, the Web site, so forth, but I`m hopeful.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, maybe not, but hopeful.
Frank Argote-Freyre and Kevin Walsh, thank you so much. Also, Stacey
Berger and James Perry, thanks for showing up. And is that the tie I
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up next, Richard Sherman saga and what it really
means to be young, gifted, and black, especially if you are a man in
There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Last Sunday, with a single jaw-dropping play in the final moments of the
NFC championship game, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman snatched
a last-second victory from the San Francisco 49ers that secured his team a
starring role in the big game on Super Bowl Sunday. That decisive moment
and impending face-off between the Seahawks and AFC champion Denver Broncos
became the sports story of the week, for about one minute, because shortly
after Richard Sherman did that, FOX Sports` Erin Andrews caught up with him
for an interview as he left the field, and then Richard Sherman said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I`m the best corner in the game. When
you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that`s the result you`re
going to get! Don`t you ever talk about me!
ERIN ANDREWS, FOX SPORTS: Who was talking about you?
SHERMAN: Crabtree. Don`t you open your mouth about the best!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The Crabtree that Sherman is referring to there is Michael
Crabtree, the 49ers wide receiver who was bested by Sherman in that final
play. Now, as a target of the Sherman`s trash talking, it`s understandable
that Crabtree might be having a few feelings or emotions after watching the
But he wasn`t the only one who had an emotive response to that moment.
Because of the week-long torrent of mixed responses from social media and
written think pieces and television talking heads as any indication, the
rest of us had all the feelings, too. When Richard Sherman pronounced
himself to be the best corner in the game, he was telling us in no
uncertain terms exactly who he is.
But the reaction to what he said also says a lot about who we are. There
were, by dead spin`s count, the 625 instances of the word thug spoken on
television the day after the game. More, according to Dead Spin, than on
any other day in the last three years. There were the race-shame responses
expressing a collective embarrassment that Africa African-Americans were
disgraced in the eyes of the nation by the actions of this one young man.
Following Sherman`s interview, Golden State Warriors player Andre Iguodala
tweeted, "We just got set back 500 years." Though he later claimed he was
joking, because, I don`t know, 1514, anyway.
There were the usual trolls who immediately emerged on Twitter to deploy
the n-word and all manner of monkey gorilla and ape analogies against
Sherman, and they were the defenders -- those who rushed to remind
Sherman`s critics of his respectability, bona fides, the childhood
suspense, the commitment to community service, the 4.2 high school GPA that
landed him a tenth of a point short of valedictorian, the Stanford degree,
all offered up as evidence to make the case for what should have been self-
evident, Richard Sherman`s humanity.
It is at the heart of what we have learned of ourselves, from these
reaction -- the fear, the shame, the prejudice, even the support around
this young men -- we remain mired in a residue of racialized history that
rendered Richard Sherman the human being invisible behind the well-worn
narrative that was instantly activated because Richard Sherman happens to
occupy a black body.
Instead of watching a man expressing an emotion that is familiar because of
our common humanity, we see something else. First and foremost, we see a
ready-made construct of black male identity to be ultimately demonized or
defended. Our responses to Richard Sherman pull back that veil of double
consciousness famously articulated in W.E.B. De Bois` foundational work,
"The Souls of Black Folk", and more recently by Sherman himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CORNERBACK: Just because you hear it,
Compton, you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think thug,
he`s a gangster, he`s this, that, and the other. And then you hear
Stanford, and oh, man, that doesn`t make sense, it`s an oxymoron. And you
fight it for so long, and to have it come back up, and people start to use
it again, it`s really frustrating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Back with me is Laura Flanders, host and founder of GRITtv.
Also, Jonathan Capehart, MSNBC contributor and opinion writer for the
"Washington Post". Joining the table now is Jelani Cobb, associate
professor of Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut and John
McWhorter, professor at Columbia University and a columnist for "The New
Republic" and "Time" magazine.
All right. Less about whether or not we want to defend a Seattle Seahawk
who beat the New Orleans Saints twice, because who wants to do that. And
more about whether or not in this moment, Jelani, we learn something about
the continuing realities of race in America.
JELANI COBB, UCONN: Well, we absolutely did. I don`t know if it`s
something to be learn, but we saw something reinforced an idea that we`re
already exposed to, and that`s kind of the contingent citizenship of black
people in this country, which is, as long as you behave in certain ways, we
will pretend we don`t think less of you, but if you step right outside the
parameters and, God forbid, you are emotive and expressive in conjunction
with a blond white woman, we will let you know just how far we have not
come in terms of the citizenship in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: And a white, blond woman not intimidated or pressed. She`s
a professional. This is what she does. Repeatedly tweeted, in an
interview with "G.Q.", yes, I was fine. But let`s swoop in and say how
awful it was what he did.
HARRIS-PERRY: But then, also, and, Jonathan, this is part of why I want
you at the table, this need to demonstrate that Sherman couldn`t possibly
be a thug, because he had these other credentials. So you have LeBron
James tweeting, in support of Sherman, I don`t -- you know, I don`t know
one thug that graduated from Stanford and working on their masters, don`t
judge a book by its cover.
And I thought, well, there probably are thugs that graduated from Stanford,
it`s just by thug, someone who went to Wall Street and helped crash the
whole system. It`s just the definition of thug is so racialized in this
JOHN MCWHORTER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, it is. And an argument can be
made that as Sherman is on record as saying, thug is a new way of using the
n-word without being condemned for having said something really dirty. But
it`s kind of complicated, because we`re going to have this conversation
about whether or not he is a thug. And, of course, the fact that that word
and conception comes up, because he is black, nobody calls Justin Bieber a
thug, whatever he does.
HARRIS-PERRY: They call him a wannabe thug.
MCWHORTER: Right. He didn`t succeed --
HARRIS-PERRY: He failed, right.
MCWHORTER: But the problem with this thug word is, it`s just like the n
word, in that a white person might feel like they can use it, because let`s
face it, it has an alternate meaning, a certain positive valuation, even
within black culture, thug love, bone thugs and harmony, thug, thug, thug.
It`s considered to be something that has a certain overlap with swagger,
let`s face it, and because white and black people live in the same country,
white people hear that word being used to mean roughly somebody who has the
cojones to react against a society that doesn`t like them, and they`ll
think it`s OK to use it, too. And I`m not sure what the solution to that
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. I mean, part of that -- again, Seattle beat the
Saints twice. They`re not reason we`re not in the Super Bowl. I have a
lot of negative emotion about Seattle, let me be clear.
And yet, I have this response of, yes, go! Because not so much thug, but
the notion of the black man who does not bow, the black man who speaks, you
know, the Muhammad Ali, the Jack Johnson, that version particularly of the
black male athlete who claims a space for himself, even as much as it
provokes the angst on one hand, and also provokes, I think you`re right,
this defensive, like, pleasure on the part of viewing black audiences.
LAURA FLANDERS, GRITTV: He claims the space, but to go back to what Jelani
is talking about, but to go back to what Jelani is talking about, that
space is very narrowly defined by the culture, what is permitted in that
space, and was Ali who said, I don`t have to be what you want me to be.
You know, he is supposed to be -- Sherman is supposed to be this, you know,
ratings-getting, big cornerback, best defensive player of the year
probably, but he`s not supposed to be big, bold, brash, any of the
qualifications, you know, any of the things you would need to do the job
well in the media and on the field.
So, again, what`s so important about what you`re doing in this conversation
is saying, let`s not look at the people trying to struggle around this
field. Let`s look at who set things up this way. And one person who said
this week, there isn`t anything wrong with black America that the total
eradication of white supremacy wouldn`t fix. And there`s a much bigger
Again, you`re supposed to be a cornerback winner, cornerback, not use your
arms, or mouth, or feet, or any of it, and still get us ratings.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: The other part of it was that he
was also loud. He was also screaming into the microphone, which I think
for a lot of people found, as one person said to me, frightening.
FLANDERS: A minute after the game.
CAPEHART: Right. And that`s the thing. He`s just off the field. He did
this incredible play. You could hear the crowd cheering in the background.
Of course, to him, it`s loud, he`s trying to get his voice heard over the
stadium audience, which we all -- we`ve got microphones on right now. I
don`t have to speak as loudly as I`m speaking right now for the audience at
home to hear me.
You know, the thing about what Richard Sherman did, I didn`t find
frightening at all. I don`t blame LeBron James for bringing up Richard
Sherman`s Stanford degree, because for what John was saying, thug has such
a negative connotation. Very negative. I do agree with Sherman, it`s a
new way of saying the n-word.
And when I heard him say that, I thought, oh, my God, he`s absolutely right
because how many times have we heard the word thug used on this president,
on his administration, and anything that this administration does, and then
stretch it out to Trayvon Martin.
How many times did I get e-mails from people saying, he was a wannabe thug.
He was a thug. He deserved to die.
FLANDERS: And they never use it around ice hockey players, the white guys.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. In fact, let`s listen to real quick, Sherman on
hockey, because I think his own analysis, his own certainty, it`s very
meta. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERMAN: There`s a hockey game where they didn`t even play hockey. They
just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I thought, oh, man, I`m
the thug? What`s going on here? Geez. So I`m really disappointed on
being called a thug.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to come back on this issue. And I want to also
look at some of what I think is some of the smartest analysis around this
and the ways we perform respectability in order to challenge this idea of
being a thug.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So a lot ink was spilled over this Richard Sherman
incident, but I want to read a piece specifically from the "Grantland"
article written by Rembert Brown, in which he says, "I sometimes find
myself on a plane sitting next to someone who didn`t seem pleased with
overall presentation, black beanie, baggy sweats, halfway through the
flight, I pull out my laptop adorned with a Dartmouth College sticker.
And in a matter of moments, I watch as the skeptical party suddenly want to
talk. Suddenly, I was no longer an undesirable or a thug, simply, because
of that green and white sticker. But after a few years, I stopped doing
that and vowed never to do it again, because I was seeking respect I didn`t
So, Jelani, I loved this piece, because I feel like so many of us have
performed that, like you`re a total -- I don`t know you, but I`m going to
show you my credentials, my papers.
COBB: Right. Exactly. I think one of the things that`s important in this
conversation is that in 1908, when Jack Johnson won the heavyweight
championship and Jack Johnson was known to travel in the company of
multiple white women at one time, Booker T. Washington actually criticized
him and said you`re setting the race back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Five hundred years?
COBB: Yes. I don`t think it was quite 500 years at that time.
COBB: But he -- and Jack Johnson had choice words for Booker T.
Fast forward, you know, half a century, and when you saw Floyd Patterson,
who`s the heavyweight champion, and everyone knew he didn`t have a ghost of
a chance against Sonny Liston, and the race leader types, you cannot lose
to Sonny Liston, because we can`t have a Negro like him representing the
And even more recently, we saw the documents that came out of the
Montgomery bus boycott, where they were explaining to black people how to
behave once you were allowed on an integrated bus. And so, I think what
comes to this, though, is what you`re getting is kind of contingent
liberty, because no one else has that kind of protocol imposed upon them,
in terms of what they can do, what they can`t do. They`re just free to be
themselves as an individual.
I love a couple of places you`ve taken us. I want to stop in the 1908
moment with Jack Johnson and remind it wasn`t just this cursive language,
but he actually has ultimately brought up on charges around the man act,
right, because of his traveling with white women, and part of what happened
in this case around Sherman was that he was speaking to a young, you know,
beautiful, white woman reporter as he`s yelling, some of that became part
the discourse, even though she`s fine.
But it reminded me of so -- let`s go back to the King Kong moment, and just
the reminder we have this narrative about, you know, the big ape that comes
in, dangerous to the fragile white woman, and that got repeated on this
LeBron James /Giselle cover, magazine cover, in which they actually
reproduced what looked like a King Kong moment. This is the "Vogue" cover,
if bee go back to the King Kong one, you see how similar they are.
It`s not that -- it just felt to me, oh, are we performing this again, like
1908, 1850 -- like, why are we doing this again?
FLANDERS: Your point about contingent liberty is the powerful one. And
the question you`re raising, what`s it contingent upon, and where the heck
are the guidelines? You know, I think that we`ve had this discussion now
that for so many generations, African-American men are all body, but
they`re not supposed to be body.
So, I mean, this goes deep into our history, where we saw it also this week
in the story, the interview with Barack Obama. You can`t be a president
and too smart, you know, too removed. You can`t be a cornerback and too
tough and big and bold.
What the heck can you be? What is an acceptable black man in America? I
think that`s the question that comes out this week.
MCWHORTER: I think ultimately, in terms of liberty, what we want to fight
for is -- and I mean this, the right to be mediocre if we choose --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, absolutely.
MCWHORTER: We`re not really there if we have to seem we`re better. On the
other hand, in this intermediate phase, there`s a such thing as feeling
like it`s your job to knock back against the oppression by forming the role
that`s been foisted upon you, and we still have that problem with that
minority who perform thug-ness, because there`s a space in the culture that
validates that among black men, especially in entertainment.
And let`s not forget, actually, on Jack Johnson, he went through a phase
where -- how do I put this in on television? -- he was stuffing himself in
an area below his stomach during his fights and above his thighs, in order
to suggest that there was a way in which he was powerful. And he was doing
that to twit white America -- white America didn`t like it. And it helped
to get him into more trouble.
So these things get very complicated in the phase before we`re free to
really just not be super selves but ourselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this is interesting, right? That notion of taking the
thing you`re afraid of, and the stereotype you have generated and me
performing -- look, I keep angry black woman in my back pocket. I`m not
actually mad oh, 99 percent of the time.
But I recognize angry black woman can be a powerful stereotype to be
deployed when I feel like I`m in a circumstance that requires it, I can go
get that performance out. And when I do it, I know it will be received as
authentic, even if I`m not that angry. So, it`s foisted upon me, but then
I can use it for navigating a world that`s often racist and sexist.
COBB: Can I say one thing about this, though? But there`s another side of
this, and as a black man, you`re keenly aware of it, and somebody who stop
growing, at least a height of 6`3" at age 15, and one of the most important
lessons I got from my sophomore year high school math teacher who explained
to me, I got up really quick and knocked over a chair, and he explained to
me, this was a white teacher in a New York City public school, you have to
be careful how you present yourself, because white people are afraid of
It was the first time this dawned on me.
HARRIS-PERRY: At 15.
COBB: At 15.
So, when we`re thinking about this, you know, sometimes you have to have
people like Richard Sherman who are saying, I`m going to step outside of
this narrative and I`m going to challenge it and I`m going to bring these
things to the surface.
I mean, Dr. King said that we had to be maladjusted.
HARRIS-PERRY: Creative maladjusted.
COBB: Right, creative maladjusted, because we didn`t get most of the
things that we`ve gotten by behaving politely.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, and I want to come back on this. Both of you have
mentioned President Obama in this. And I do think there`s a way in which
there`s a President Obama aspect of this that comes out from that "New
Yorker" article when I come back to that, as well as to some of the real
life and death consequences faced by black male bodies because people are
afraid of them, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, the outrage machine was working overtime to churn
out all of the reactions to Richard Sherman`s sideline interview, but it
managed to reserve enough energy to gin up a healthy dose and outrage for
President Obama, because of two sentences from his 18-page magazine profile
in the "New Yorker."
Reflecting on the set of assumptions, both complimentary and critical that
accompany this subjective reactions to his own blackness, the president
said, "There`s no doubt that there`s some folks who just really dislike me,
because they don`t like the idea of a black president. Now, the flip side
of it is, there are some black folks, and maybe some white folks, who
really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I`m a
And so, Jonathan, this felt like the least controversial, most empirically
obvious statement that a person could make.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, it`s reflecting in certain ways, this notion, here
I am, this actual guy, I was a state senator, then I was a senator, and I`m
the president, I`m kind of a moderate, and I`m sort of a realist. But what
you see is my blackness, which either makes you think I`m going to be this
wonderful lefty radical, you know, income redistribution guy, or it makes
you think I`m a scary, radical income redistribution guy, depending on
where you stand?
CAPEHART: Well, what was -- I think what made it controversial is that he
actually addressed it at all.
CAPEHART: This is a president in his first term never spoke openly or
outwardly about race. But when he did, Professor Gates` arrest, when he
said that the Cambridge police acted stupidly, when he talked about, I
think the first time, about Trayvon Martin, the killing of Trayvon Martin
in the Rose Garden, people jumped, you`re racializing this.
And so, the president has been reticent to talk about race in the first
term. Now, having been re-elected for the second time by a convincing
majority, he`s got the comfort of being president for a second term, he`s
feeling more comfortable saying things publicly and on the record that for
those of us who cover him and watch him and had an opportunity to talk to
him know that this is what he thinks and what he believes.
FLANDERS: And he was talking -- he was having the conversation, or trying
to have a conversation that we in the media refuse to -- we continue to
refuse to have, and in our culture continue to refuse to have, because he
was not just talking about racism as it refers to him personally.
FLANDERS: He was talking about the racist threats throughout our history
that affect our policy, on states rights, on federalism, on the question of
government, on the question of rights at all. And it`s that -- I mean, I
feel like I`m repeating what I said earlier in the Wendy Davis conversation
-- the discourse leads to the policy. Let`s look at what we`re learning in
these personality-driven stories that talk to us or educate us about what
might be under the -- you know, lying under ground as we`re talking policy,
affirmative action, wages, work, job creation, you name it. These -- it`s
not like these attitudes disappear when we`re suddenly going to be doing
college admissions and we`re in this post-racial society.
Wait a minute. These two things, these two realities exist in the same
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Laura, this was the challenge for us as we were trying
to decide whether or not to have the conversation today. Again, Jonathan,
part of why I want you here, thinking about discourse and language because
I do try to stay away from, like, race conversations that are just about
saying mean things about each other, because you know, a lot of that makes
me want to shrug, yeah, I don`t care. You can have in your heart what you
want to have. Do the policies you support increase or decrease racial
FLANDERS: Everything I say about the media does not include you. This is
one place we can have these conversations.
HARRIS-PERRY: But on the other hand, as much as the policy piece is the
real with the capital "R," I don`t want to miss that there`s a human cost,
as well as a policy cost, to having to navigate the kind of, as I might
call them in my book, the crooked room, the tilted images, the stereotypes
of who we are. That it both costs us something in terms of our
physiological and psychological health, but also in the case, for example,
of Jonathan Ferrell, potentially cost him his life as he stood there in
North Carolina knocking on a door at night, turns around, shot by the
police because maybe he`s, like, the 15-year-old Jelani Cobb, potentially
cost Trayvon Martin his life, because he appeared to be scary to Mr.
I mean, the consequences even of the ideas are real and of the language is
FLANDERS: There was a piece this week about how black men age faster
because of this --
MCWHORTER: Those things are very much real, and especially when it comes
to guns and the relationship between black men and police forces, these
things must be engaged, because this kind of stereotyping and these kind of
biases really do create death. I must say that when it comes to more
abstract issues such as how people feel about the president, I`m inclined
to think, yes, those attitudes do exist. I`m not sure that in a human
world, they could ever not exist.
And when it comes to the president -- and I know that people differ on this
-- as far as I`m concerned, one, people who were very white despised Bill
Clinton quite vigorously, and it`s even to forget that at this point. If
Jonathan Edwards had become president with his brittleness, and this talk
about rich and poor, I don`t think that we can say definitely that there
would be no Tea Party, and although there`s certainly racism against
President Obama, he`s still there, and he was re-elected, and nothing can
And as far as I`m concerned, that might be just the background evil that`s
part of what America will always be. He won, twice. And he`s still
president right now, despite anything anybody said in reflection of that
"New Yorker" piece.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does -- it goes back to your point about enjoying the
aggressive thing that we don`t get to see President Obama perform. But
wouldn`t it be fun if he did, like, you know, I`m better life than you,
I`ve been president twice. We`ll never see him perform that.
COBB: I think that`s interesting here, this is nothing different than
anything President Obama has been saying. He has this kind of tendency
toward equanimity. There are some people who don`t like me. There are
some people who do.
If you go back to the race speech, the more perfect union speech, well, you
know, I understand this is how Reverend Wright feels this, and there are
white people that feel this way. It`s very difficult for him to actually
come down and say, this is -- you know, kind of structurally, there is a
racial dynamic to my presence here, and there is another movement that has
specifically had to fight against racism in order to culminate in my
On the other point with this, about the conspiratorial side, we`ve seen
this with a lot of Democratic politicians. FDR, there was Father Coughlin,
calling him a socialist. Kennedy, John Birch Society said that he was
actually taking orders from Stalin, and, you know, the same thing with
But I think what happened is these people were specifically almost raced as
white people. Bill Clinton, his close proximity to black people growing
up, his culturally familiarity with African-Americans, allowed him to be
tainted in a way that Tony Morrison said that made him our first black
president. So I don`t think it`s purely racial, but I think it`s kind of a
Venn diagram, an overlap between the racial --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and let me suggest that there`s also -- there`s a set
of externalities that obtained for black communities that are different,
that obtained for white communities. So I agree with you that the attacks
on presidents are partisan attacks on presidents. I mean, they not only
said mean things about Bill Clinton, they actually impeached Bill Clinton,
So, anytime people said, it`s never been this bad, I`m, like, have you
never read a history book, right? Of course, it`s been this bad. But the
difference is that the election of an Africa African-American president,
meant something not only for that individual, or for that family, or for
the Obamas, it meant something about the possibility of a fully unfettered
black citizenship, perhaps existing. Not post-racialism, but the
possibility of our full citizenship.
And so, similarly, when the attacks come, and particularly to the extent
that they carry with them racial freight, they also suggest with this
externality to all black folks, maybe you`re not really citizens, right?
And in way that, you know, if you attack George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, it
does not reflect on white people`s contributions to the American --
FLANDERS: Oh, no, I think Justin Bieber set back white people --
HARRIS-PERRY: For 500 years. Right back to 1514 when Copernicus found
Saturn. Yes, all that.
COBBS: Doing it all over again.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re going to do it all over again.
Jonathan Capehart and Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter, thank you all for
Laura is going to hang out a little bit longer.
When we come back, why to understand the immigration debate in Washington,
you first need to understand what is happening in the state of Arizona. An
incredible look at what is happening on the ground is up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Send me a comprehensive
immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right
away and America will be better for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama at last year`s State of the Union.
He`s expected to echo that call for immigration reform during Tuesday`s
State of the Union Address. For the second year in a row, undocumented
immigrants will be in the audience.
Back in June, the Senate answered the president`s call by passing a
bipartisan bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for more than
11 million undocumented immigrants. Increased border security and overhaul
the legal immigration system.
But House Speaker John Boehner said in November that the House Republicans
had no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.
But in this New Year, there are fresh signs and hope that the partisan
gridlock is easing. The White House is said to be scaling back on its
partisan rhetoric in order to allow House Republicans time to draft
immigration legislation. House GOP leaders are expected to release broad
principles as early as this week. And the third-ranking House Republican,
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, has effectively endorsed a pathway to legal
status for the undocumented immigrants leaving in the U.S.
These latest developments show the political side over the battle over
immigration reform. To truly understand the issue and the real lives at
stake, you need to get on the ground in states across the country.
Arizona became ground zero in the immigration debate with the state`s
passage of Senate bill, also known as SB 1070. Though the majority of the
bill was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2012, the most
controversial part known by opponents as the "show me your papers" clause
was upheld. Now, a new documentary, "The State of Arizona", which debuts
tomorrow on PBS, shows the impact of the law on people, on both sides of
Here`s a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: A question, Governor, of 400,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona
and the bill you signed as a policy of attribution, it sounds like we could
end up with 400,000 people being locked up in Arizona. I mean, what`s your
comment to the possibility?
GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: If they`re breaking the law, there`s that
possibility, I would assume.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Joining me today are the co-producers and co-directors of "The State of
Arizona", Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini, and still with us, of
course, Laura Flanders.
Why is Arizona ground zero on this?
CARLOS SANDOVAL, "THE STATE OF ARIZONA": Arizona is ground zero because it
became the perfect storm around Arizona. As a result of federal policy,
people were sort of being funneled instead of crossing over California or
Texas, were being funneled in Arizona at precisely the time, this was early
2000, when the U.S. economy was booming and we needed this workforce.
And, also, at that point, Arizona`s economy was booming, so people stayed
in place. So you had this sudden, enormous increase in the number of
people passing through, as well as who were staying, and you had a media
frenzy around some of issues surrounding this.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point about staying is one that is -- is made really
beautifully in the documentary. This idea that there had always been sort
of a porous border, people come -- particularly young men had come, they
labored, and they gone back. And that porous border was valuable for sort
of the American economy.
But then there came a time when people came and settled and stayed and had
their children. Tell me what the goal, the stated goal of the new policies
in Arizona were relative to this new population that decided to stay.
CATHERINE TAMBINI, "THE STATE OF ARIZONA": The stated policies were,
attrition by enforcement. That was in the -- that was right in the very
beginning of the bill. That was the stated purpose of the bill. Attrition
by enforcement means making life so miserable for people that they will
self-deport, so that there were all these laws aimed at this, and SB-1070
was the culmination of many of these types of laws.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, in fact, before we get to SB-1070, there is 287G. I
want to take a quick listen to 287G being described.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 287g was the first time in Arizona that local police
jurisdictions could ask for documentation. When Sheriff Arpaio obtained
this immigration power, he began going after our community, pulling over
and stopping anyone that looked like they were undocumented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There it is. Pulling over anyone, Laura, who looked like
they were undocumented. So that then SB-1070 comes in, and it`s popularly
known as the show me papers, and it actually requires police officers to
check the immigration status of anyone whom they arrest or detain in they
believe that person is an undocumented immigrant.
So from 287 to 1070, it is about the belief that this body you are seeing
must certainly be undocumented. Excuse me?
FLANDERS: We`re back in post-racial America again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Welcome back to post-racial America.
FLANDERS: I mean, what`s so insidious about this is laws like that now
affect the entire country. I was in Georgia last year, and Georgia is
dealing with this very same situation, where you have this connection
between the local police and the immigration enforcement, such that people
who are in a domestic violence situation, people who are frightened for a
variety of reasons, dare go nowhere near the police. So that hurts
police`s ability to actually enforce the law. It hurts their crime
reduction efforts. And it also, you know, puts a whole population in total
terror, as they go about their daily life.
And I think one of the things your film captures so well, and I`ve only
seen the clips -- I look forward to seeing it on public television -- is
the fear that was created in a state that before the federal policies that
you talk about, people got along with each other. People dealt with these
populations shifting, the economy was thriving.
And then the other great thing you have in this documentary, which shows,
again, how this situation is created through choices, policy choices, is --
well, democracy did play a role, that there were shifts. That people did
The Chamber of Commerce saw, oh, my gosh, this isn`t good for us. So awful
and also there`s a glimmer of hope, I think, in what you report.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I want to pick up on your idea from the film itself,
this idea that there was a pre-existing set of relationships, and that
these policies actually encountered them and made them worse.
Here`s a woman talking about her experience of her neighbors before and
what she now thinks about her neighbors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Years ago, we had neighbors who were illegal
Hispanics. They learned English. They had a business. They were our best
friends. Now, you`re seeing people come over to bring drugs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I mean, obviously, that`s troubling, but you also feel
like, well, clearly this is a person who`s willing to have relationships
across racial lines, even across status lines, but somehow has come to
really fear her current circumstances.
SANDOVAL: Absolutely. What you had in Arizona -- I think in part because
of the depiction of a level of criminality that was associated more with
south of the border, the cartels, and some of it spilling over, and drop-
houses, where people were dropped to be transported on. Phoenix in
particular got named -- labeled the kidnapping capital of the world, a sort
of misnomer, based on actual facts.
But that fear permeated. And I think it did really have an impact on
relations and the association that the Arizona general community had, in
particular, with the Latino community, and it became that perception of
quote/unquote, "illegality", of things associated with it, but also the
basis fear of the cartels.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk more about terrorism, right, and fear in this
context. Because I do think you all captured the humanity of everyone
engaged in this process so well.
Up next, we`re going to hear from those who see the impact of our
immigration policies on their doorstep every day, the ranchers who live
along the border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find the fences cut today the same place they were
cut the last five years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I ride, you know, a couple of pastures, especially
over there on that mountain, I go armed. I feel like I`m completely
responsible for my own protection and safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was another scene from the PBS documentary "The State
of Arizona". It is the voice of someone with a particularly personal
perspective on the country`s immigration policies, the border rancher.
National immigration policy and enforcement along the border literally
impacts the ranchers in the backyard, and as you saw in the clip, there are
some that feel the government is not keeping them safe.
So, I appreciated the film could have been just polemic, but it`s like, you
know, when I listen to the rancher, as you all present him, I don`t hate
him, I get it. You know? I lived in communities where there`s violence
and crime, and you do kind of feel like, whoa, I guess I`ll have to do this
on my own.
How do you balance that -- the terrorism of a community that we see these
policies having created in Latino communities versus the kind of humanity
of folks who were like, OK, look, what is happening here is dangerous or
TAMBINI: Well, I think that what you have to do is have immigration
reform. I mean, that`s, like, top of the list.
TAMBINI: But for the border ranchers, they have a very legitimate concern.
They do have people coming across their ranches every day, people who --
and they feel very threatened. But I think the media had a lot to do with
making the situation much worse than it was. They were really ginning it
up with the narco trafficking and the drop houses and that sort of thing.
So we have to realize the humanity within each other is our biggest
concern, that we don`t see the humanity, and we just see issues, and we
just see fear.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to listen quickly, and I`ll have you weigh in on
this, to a construction worker also interviewed in the film who, you know,
clearly is trying to balance complicated questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s (INAUDIBLE) because I know people hear that their
parents are illegal, but they`ve been raised here their whole life. So
what are they supposed to do? You`re going to send the parents back to
Mexico and then leave them here, or send them back to Mexico, and what have
they got down here? It`s a big mess. It is a problem.
I don`t like the jobs being taken away from us, because it has hurt the
construction business that we`re in. But at the same time, I don`t think
you can just throw them out on the street either. I don`t know what the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I so like that guy, what do you do, send the parents back?
And the answer is, yes, actually, that`s what we`re doing, sending the
parents back. We`re separating families. And, in fact, when Pew asked
Hispanic immigrants what is more important to you, a pathway to citizenship
or deportation relief, more than 60 percent said deportation relief. Keep
our families together.
FLANDERS: Well, I think somewhere in the film, the reference is made to
the statistics. Two-thirds of the children who are here, undocumented
children, are the product of mixed-status families, so what are you going
to do with those kids, with those parents? Nobody wants those families
separated, and that`s clear across racial lines when you do polling.
The statistics, though, the statistics are very important. We talk about
fear and this threat and all of this stuff, you said it`s against the
facts. But counter to the statistics, the statistic is that crime actually
remained flat in the border towns from 2000 to 2010 when the Arizona
republic did the study, when "USA Today" did the study. We can`t say it
Two-thirds -- what is it, 75 percent of the immigrants who are in this
country came here legally. You`ve got not a spike in crime. This -- the
facts have got to be in this story. The fear is there for sure. But it`s
our job that people aren`t just seeing complete hallucinations.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. And again, as much as you all do a wonderful
job presenting the humanity, also the humanity of the community in Arizona
and the ways in which these policies do become policies of terrorism in
Carlos Sandoval, Catherine Tambini, and Laura Flanders, thank you so much.
The documentary is called "The State of Arizona" and it airs tomorrow on
PBS at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You`ve got to, got to see it.
Up next, the alarming thing happening almost every day, but it feels like
almost no one is talking about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: As we wrap our last show in the first month of 2014, I am
saddened by just how violent this year has already been. There were 28
shootings or threatened shootings at schools in all of last year, but this
month, there have already been seven -- seven shootings in the first 14
days of school. A shooting every other day, shootings that led to
hospitalizations and death of young people from 12 to 21.
In Wakefield Elementary School in Turlock, California. In Delaware Valley
Charter School in Philadelphia. Near Albany High School in Georgia. In
Berrendo Middle School in New Mexico. At South Carolina State University
in Orangeburg, South Carolina. At Widener University in Pennsylvania. At
Purdue University in Indiana.
Shootings are down in New York City, but the city still has seen 58
incidents in the first 23 days of 2014. Philadelphia was already numbering
22 murders on the 20th of this month, more murders than days in the year.
Chicago has had at least 41 shooting deaths this year.
Detroit, at least 38 shootings. Some fatal. There have been shootings in
a supermarket, in a barbershop, in a movie theater.
And then yesterday, the latest -- a shooting at a mall in Columbia,
Maryland, left three people dead. The 19-year-old gunman killing two
employees at a skate shop before apparently shooting himself. Police don`t
yet know the motive.
2013 is the year we took no meaningful national legislative action to curb
gun violence. And it appears that 2014 is the year that we will live and
die with the consequences of that inaction.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. 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
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW' SATURDAY AND SUNDAY AT 10:00 A.M. ET ON MSNBC.