April 6, 2014
Guests: Tanner Colby, Brittney Cooper, Cristina Beltran, Ta-Nehisi Coates,
Micki McElya, Mychal Denzel Smith, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Jamelle Bouie,
Jeff Yang, Zerlina Maxwell
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, why did an
NFL team drop its best wide receiver?
Plus, 50 years since the civil rights act. And Twitter activism, from Cuba
But first, there is a great debate taking place, and we`re bringing it to
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Over the past few weeks, an important public debate has been taking place
online about race, culture, and poverty. Now, the principles are two very
smart people, who write for two well-regarded magazines.
This is Jonathan Chait, a writer for "New York" magazine, a self-professed
liberal who writes about politics and media. This is tan Ta-Nehisi Coates,
national correspondent for the Atlantic.
Now, I should disclose that he once described me as America`s foremost
public intellectual, which was not only an overstatement, but also a
designation of far more descriptive of the prolific Coates himself.
So, those are the interlocketters. And here`s what sparked the debate.
Here`s Congressman Paul Ryan on March 12th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We have got this
tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working
and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the
value and the culture of work. And so there`s a real culture problem here
that has to be dealt with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The backlash to Ryan`s comments was swift. Congressman
Barbara Lee described them as a thinly Israeli veiled racial attack, and
they pointed to the hypocrisy of Ryan`s insistence on cultural persistence
for policy while advancing policies the deepen inequality.
And as is frequently the case, Ta-Nehisi Coates on March 18th made a
contribution to this discussion that was especially insightful.
He pointed to the (INAUDIBLE) similarities between Congressman Ryan`s
culture statement and President Obama`s repeated invocations of cousin
Pooky when talking to a black audience about how to lessen inequality.
Now, Coates was less interested in lambasting this president in particular,
than reminding us about the slippery assumptions about blackness, poverty
and cultural deficiency that are ubiquitous.
White conservatives do this pathologizing, of course, just look at
Congressman Ryan. White liberals do it, see President Clinton`s
determination to end welfare as we knew it. Black conservatives do it.
Just look at the new black conservative magazine, "American Current See,"
whose mission is transcending is quote "transcending race to delivering the
awareness of a culture free of government dependency."
As Coates was pointing out, even black liberals tend to conflate poverty
with pathology, even President Obama. Here is the president announcing
that my brother`s keeper initiative in February, a program designed to
remove the structural obstacles to success for young men of color.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we need to invest in
our schools, make college more affordable and government has a role to
play. And yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around and remove the
barriers to marriage and talk openly about things like responsibility and
faith and community. And in the words of Dr. King, it is not either/or, it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So are you still with me? Conservative congressman invokes
cultural poverty. Progressives cry foul. Smart cultural observer points o
out that the president is sometimes guilty of the same strategy.
On March 19th, enter Jonathan Chait who responded by defending the idea
that culture is, at least in part, responsible for the perpetuation of
African-American poverty. He wrote, it would be bizarre to image that
centuries of slavery followed by systemic terrorism, segregation,
discrimination, a legacy wealth gap, and so on did not leave a cultural
residue that itself became an impediment to success.
Coates then responded, quote, "Chait believes it`s bizarre to think
otherwise. I think it`s bizarre that he doesn`t bother to see his argument
as if it`s actually true. Oppression might well produce a culture of
failure. It might also produce a warrior spirit and a deep commitment to
attaining the very things that have been so often withheld from you. There
is no need for theorizing, the answers are knowable."
And that is when it started to get good. Chait, March 28th, Barack Obama
versus the culture of poverty. Coates, March 30th, other people`s
theologies. Chait, March 31, Ta-Nahesi Coates disagrees with Jonathan
Chait and so do I. Coates, April 1, the blue period, an origin story. And
Nerdalicious, good. Wickedly smart people using enormous words, complex
sentence structures, and thinly veiled intellectual shade to discuss
consequential issues. And it wasn`t having in some college people were
paying attention. Writers at "the nation," the American Prospect, "The New
York Times" all jumped in to tap out Coates or Chait and get their own
licks in. Heck, even Gawker covered it.
Now, call that a win for the public democratic deliberation. But as much
as I eagerly anticipated each new entry in this thoroughly engrossing
conversation, it was also disappointing. Many times in American history,
African-Americans have entered these discussions only to discover that
those who were supposed to be political allays are eager to argue there is
something inherently, residually wrong with black people. Far less
frequently to impoverish black folks find a public ally among the
intelligence of willing and able to insert without qualification their
humanity, dignity and absolute worthiness.
Coates has done so unwaveringly. And watching it happen in realtime has
been stunning. I am pleased to welcome to the table, Ta-Nehisi Coates,
National correspondent for "the Atlantic." And I would also like to note
here that did we invite Jonathan Chait as well, but he was not available
Ta-Nehisi, nice for being here.
TA-NEHISI COATES, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: Thanks for having
HARRIS-PERRY: So this has really taken on a very high level of public
interest. To what do you attribute that at this moment, given that you
write about these kinds of things regularly, why has this captured public
COATES: I actually don`t know. I never know what`s going to catch fire
and what`s not going to catch fire. But I think there`s a deep, deep
presumption across the board in America that there is something culturally
wrong with people who are poor and specifically with African-Americans.
And I think that`s accepted wisdom right now for whatever reason. Barack
Obama, whenever he makes that statement, whenever the president does that
sort of speech, he always gets applause.
HARRIS-PERRY: From African-American audiences.
COATES: From African-American audience. And by across the way, I mean,
even among African-Americans. I think people think it`s a little bizarre
when you say, no, no, no, it`s not culture at all. It`s not culture at
HARRIS-PERRY: So part of how Chait begins his conversation with you in his
response back, he returns to a piece you wrote in October of 2010, where
you talk about basically, I think what we would describe as coat-switching,
learning that the sets of tools that you had in one space are not
appropriate tools or effective tools for you to use in another.
What is it that you think Chait misunderstood about what you were trying to
say in that piece?
COATES: Well his argument and this is the argument, you know, across the
board, is that this is cultural residue. In other words, there`s something
that happened in the past that has nothing to do with what you`re going
through right now and you`re bringing that forward. Bit intergenerational,
be it in a pass life. When I had that incident, I was living in Harlem. I
was, I think, about six months removed from unemployment. I had just, you
know, lost a job. I actually didn`t have a job at that point, even when I
was out there freelance writing. I was living in the environment where
that would have been appropriate. It was nothing residual about it at all.
It just so happened where I was working, it was clearly not appropriate.
COATES: And, you know, that`s a lesson that, you know, folks have to
learn. I`m totally in favor with teaching that lesson, by the way. I do
think people need to learn that certain behaviors are appropriate one
place, and certain behaviors are not appropriate other places. But this is
not residue. White supremacy is not residue. It is a real lived thing for
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, I want to talk about that discourse of white
supremacy because it is one of the important pushbacks that you give to the
cultural pathology argument. So what is at stake for you intellectually
and politically to say that what we face in terms of questions of
continuing racial inequality needs to be ascribed to continuing white
supremacy, and help us to understand what you mean when you say that,
versus a cultural residue among African-Americans.
COATES: Well I think part of the problem is that liberals are progressives
when we talk about this. We have this idea, we were racist in the past,
and we are suffering after-effects. But what academics know. I mean, you
can, you know, go out and look at the studies, and you can see young
African-Americans who are looking for low-wage jobs, have about the same
chance of getting a job as a white person with a felony on their record. I
mean, when we see things, this is a thing that`s happening right now. A
really, really small number of people on the planet earth are African-
American males. And yet, eight percent of the incarcerated population on
the planet earth is African-American and male. You can`t separate those
two things out. This is happening right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, OK, but let`s go to that. Because -- so I love the
piece of social science research you just told us. That`s diva pages
research in March, that if employers are looking at a resume of an African-
American without a felony and a white applicant with a felony --
COATES: You`re so sharp! You stated the study. That`s why you`re
America`s foremost intellectual.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m just a nerd, right? So the idea that we see like
decisions being made in employment right now, but when you say the piece
about incarceration, that`s the kind of data point that is simply a data
point, right? So you have mass incarceration. But then, what happens is
precisely this ability to have a conversation about, well, why, then? Is
it because of criminality? Heightened criminality among African-American
men, or is it because of heightened policing among African-American men.
How would we --because you say the answers are knowable. How would we
begin to know those answers?
COATES: Well, I think one of the regrettable things, there`s a great
disconnect. I would say, specifically, with historians, but I think this
goes across the board, in terms of the academy and people over here who
write about it in the press. And I would like to see more of a
convergence, more of a conversation back and forth. Because, oftentimes,
when I talk to social sciences, when I talk to historians, they know the
answers. It`s not really blurry for them at all.
So if I make the statement that white supremacy is at the core of American
history and will likely be a problem with us, until the end of our days.
If I tell a group of historians that water is wet, it`s not a remarkable
statement. And yet, out here for some reason, it`s like, you know,
stunning to say that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, do you think it`s a great debate or a dumb debate that
we are having? In other words, you know, this is the great debate of our
moment. But should we even be debating this?
COATES: Yes, yes, yes. As much as I disagree with Jonathan, I really
appreciate him engaging me on it. I think Jonathan is a fantastic writer.
And I`m happy to do this. You know, I really, really am. I appreciate him
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, you do. The two of you certainly do perform a certain
level respectful discourse. And even to the extent you throw a shade on
each other, it`s always intellectual.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I`m going to ask you a little bit about -
- you do this French performance thing that I think is fascinating, when we
come back. Stay with us for just a minute. We`ll bring more voices in.
But first, I want to give everyone an update on the latest on the search
for the missing Malaysia airlines jet. A second ship, an Australian
vessel, has detected an acoustic signal in the search area in the Indian
Ocean Saturday. A Chinese ship reported two sets of signals. It is still
unclear if the acoustic signals are coming from the missing plane`s black
boxes. But officials are investigating. We will continue to follow the
latest developments in this story.
But when we come back, we`re going to expand our conversation about race
and culture to talk about the role of rage and the public`s response. But
as we go to break, I want you to listen to an argument about black cultural
pathology from a source that you may find surprising. Here`s Malcolm x in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALCOM X, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: The only way that we can solve our
problem is to unite together among ourselves, among our own kind, clean
ourselves up, rid ourselves of the evils that we`ve become addicted to here
in this society and try and solve our problem ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We told you this debate grew far and wide. Andrew Sullivan
over at the dish inserted himself into the discussion. He wrote about his
concern for Mr. Coates that, quote, "his depression about the state of
America was weakening his usual strengths."
Sullivan also shared some of his readers` comments, that Coates` blog has
sadly turned into a place of utter depression and despair, that his anger
is clouding his vision. That I pray my friend circles back to hope soon.
There is important historical context here. Words like depression and
despair remind me that for more than a century, African-Americans
expressing frustration with the United States have been suspected not of
righteous anger, but of mental illness.
In 1851, a doctor coined the phrase, Drake Demania, a medical condition
that he said caused slaves to try to escape. Quote "the cause in most of
the cases that induces the Negro to run away from service is much more of a
disease of the mind and much more curable as a general rule."
In the 1960s, there were scientists who suggested that participants in race
riots had some kind of brain dysfunction, and they conducted experiments by
burning out small areas of cells in their patients` brains.
And in 1967, there was Martin Luther King Jr., addressing the American
psychology association about the term, maladjustment. He said, quote,
"there are some things concerning, which we must always be maladjusted if
we are to be people of goodwill. We must never adjust ourselves to racial
discrimination and variable segregation."
Still with me is Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for "the
Atlantic." Joining the table now is Cristina Beltran who is associate
professor of social and culture analysis at New York University, Britney
Cooper, assistant professor of women and gender`s studies at Africa Studies
at Rutgers University, and Tanner Colby, author of "some of my best friends
Mr. Coates, are you just depressed?
COATES: You know, it goes back to that water is wet thing. You know, I
feel like I talk to academics about this, and they`re like, yes, this is
the world. But there`s this American need to believe everything is going
to get better. That we`re going to triumph in the end which is bizarre and
I don`t think is necessarily healthy. I mean, we might triumph in the end,
but we won`t triumph in the end by assuring ourselves that we will triumph
in the end. I think we need to be really, really aware of the dangers we
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, I want to give Chait his language here about
this notion of progress. So let`s look at what Chait had to say and then I
want to ask you a bit about it, Tanner.
He says -- he writes, it`s hard to explain how the United States has
progressed from chattel slavery to emancipation to the end of lynching to
the end of legal segregation to the election of an African-American
president if America has rarely been the ally of African-Americans, as some
response to Coates, and often its nemesis. It is one thing to notice the
persistence of racism, quite another to interpret the history of black
America, as mainly one of continuity, rather than mainly one of progress.
So this is the kind of racial optimism we see here from Chait. And then I
think does often inflect the conversations between white liberals and
African-American, not all African-Americans, some African-Americans, around
the question of sort of where America is going and where we`ve been.
TANNER COLBY, AUTHOR, SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BLACK: Right. I think,
as a white person who tackles this subject a lot, it`s very easy for
someone like me or someone like Jonathan Chait. I can write about race all
day long and at 8:00 turn it off and put on "parks & rec" and there`s no
moral fatigue to it from me. It is intellectual challenging, it is
engaging, but doesn`t bring any sense of, you know, an emotional cost.
Whereas, you know, you see, and so the attitude of someone like Chait is
like, hey, guys, why are we slowing down, you know? Things are great. And
it`s very easy to have that perspective. When you saw that at the end of
the civil rights movement, where like, you know, sneak was getting
radicalized than, you know, voting for (INAUDIBLE) to an organization. And
all these white liberals were very nice like, hey, guys, you know, why are
we slowing down? What`s going on?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s interesting, this language of moral and emotional
fatigue. I mean, on the one hand, I was so irritated by those comments of
Mr. Sullivan`s readers that could read the kind of analysis of Coates and
see it as just an expression of depression. On the other hand, I don`t
want to lose that there is an emotional cost to the work of race,
particularly for those who are on the margins of that inequality.
BRITTNEY COOPER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Absolutely.
Look, one of the things is we live in a country that is deeply and
profoundly uncomfortable with black rage, right? And at the same time, we
have always attributed to people of color and to women, this sort of hyper
emotionalism. And it`s a way to pare down the kind of radicalism and rigor
of the critique, right, and to not listen.
And so, what we have to be doing is thinking about how we can hold
intention, the legitimacy of these emotions and recognize that that doesn`t
mean that folks are not interested in progress at the same time.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I like this language about, that if you`re just mad, and
not mad about something, then I don`t have to somehow address that thing
that you might be mad about, right? The kind of content of what that anger
is, the righteousness of it.
So, help me to understand, Cristina, what is standing in there about this
notion of, I pray my friend comes back around to hope like that particular
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, my friend. I mean, you`re their intellectual friend,
your buddy that they read.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re imaginary friend.
COATES: I`m just saying.
CHRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, NEW YORK CITY UNIVERSITY: No. I
think there`s something really interesting about the affective labor that
African-Americans and other people of color are asked to do this kind of
emotional labor of performing hope and performing optimism. And I think
one of the interesting things I`ve been interested in this whole debate is
how people talk past each other, is that in many ways, what you`re asking
people to do and what a lot of African-American intellectuals and race
scholars in general ask people to do is to sit with the tragedy of white
racism, or to sit with the tragedy of racial violence, and really sit with
it and think about it and engage it, and not always shift to the happy
ending, to the language of innocence. And so to really do that is
difficult. And I think that`s one of the reasons why there`s always this
demand to perform joy and pleasure and, you know, and things are getting
And I think the other part that`s a little confusing for white liberals in
particular is the language of hope also suffuses African-American
discourse. Barack Obama run on the language if hope. (INAUDIBLE) with
Jessie Jackson`s call. So, but there`s a kind of gothic hope, there is a
hope that`s deep, it is a blues hope, a hope that`s tied to a history of
something much more complicated language of hope than I think the kind of
feel good easy progress --
COATES: It`s a rigorous hope.
BELTRAN: Rigorous hope. Yes.
COATES: A mature hope.
BELTRAN: It is a grownup, it is a tragic hope, right? And think that
logic is much harder to try to get people to sit with.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I like the performance of hope. And I wonder -- want to
ask you two questions here, even though we have no time.
One is whether or not you think that performance of hope is part of what
was so seductive about President Obama as candidate Obama, that he performs
hope quite consciously.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about that first.
BELTRAN: Yes, no, and there are -- and people should be hopeful. You
know, I never thought we would have an African-American, but that does mean
something. And yes, there has been progress. Saying that there has been
progress is one statement. Saying that it`s been progress because we`ve
had some alliance, because the country has been on our side, for most of
American history, is a totally, totally different statement.
Behind that progress is the bodies of a lot of black people -- the broken
bodies, the lynched bodies, the raped bodies, the plundered bodies of a
great deal of black people. And if you have to sit with that, you don`t
tend to come out with this jaunty, happy view of American history.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is one thing you do in where are writing around the
culture of pathology that I want to end on here. That is, you committed to
the study of French and French culture and a French language. And there is
way which you often performing that -- so even in the piece from 2010, it
begins with you and your son, going to a French film festival.
COATES: Yes, sir, yes, sir.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you do that, right. You do it in where are writings.
And sometimes it feels to me like that kind of Harlem renaissance moment,
where you demonstrate the capacity to do high European culture, even as you
engage. And I wonder if you`re doing that consciously, if it`s just --
because I see that as a certain kind of performance of an anti-cultural
COATES: I`m not doing it on purpose. It`s just fun.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. I have been long wanting to ask you that.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, thank you for being here this morning and for elevating
COATES: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, the point of rage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first man in this country to die for the war of
independence was a black man named Christmas Adams. A black man! He was a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The debate on race, culture, and poverty did not stay in the
web pages of "the Atlantic," and "New York" magazine, instead it expanded
with pieces popping up in the in "The New York Times," the Daily Beast,
"the American prospect", "the Nation," including this piece by Mychal
Denzel Smith on the function of black rage, where he wrote, quote, "what
some call depression or pessimism, I would call impatience and rage. Our
impatience and rage is what has produced progress. That we are still
impatient and angry reflects not black people`s failing, but how far
America still has to go."
Joining the table is Mychal Denzel Smith, fellow at "the Nation" institute
and blogger for thenation.com.
Nice to have you.
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH, BLOGGER, THE NATION.COM: Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So here`s my question to you, particularly as a young person
sitting at the table. Because often my students will say to me, Professor
Harris, nothing`s changed. This is just like that. And I always want to
say, we can maintain culture critique, political critique while saying,
there has, in fact, been progress, that what I experience now might be the
business, and yet also not slavery, also not Jim Crow.
So how do we do that? How do we express a rage about the lack of progress
while also acknowledging that our circumstances are not that of our fore
SMITH: We do just that. Like we can say, we can just say we are not
slaves anymore. Like, we are not in slavery.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that is good.
SMITH: And that is -- that is great! I`m glad that I do not have to live
in chattel slavery. Like, that`s a good thing for me. That I can sit at
this table. But, we have so much more to do. We have so far to go. We`re
still dealing -- I mean, we`re dealing with food insecurity, mass
incarceration, you know, the destruction of the social safety net. All of
these things that are under attack, that are race based, that are racism,
that are the products of white supremacy, we can still talk about those
I think the problem is that we want to place racism and white supremacy in
the past. We want to place it, and then we want -- if not in the past, we
want to place it on bad actors and place it on people of bad faith, people
that are ignorant. And not see that this is a structural issue. Like,
this is institutionalized.
HARRIS-PERRY: Britney, you said that -- so Mychal is trying to give us a
way to think about what to be angry about, but you said that America is
uncomfortable with black rage. What do you mean by that?
COOPER: Right. So there`s this moment in one of Jonathan Chait`s
responses where he says, you know, I don`t agree with this portrait of
Jonathan Chait --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes, right, right. I also don`t agree with Jonathan --
COOPER: It`s performance, that sort of defense, right? So, again, this is
the thing about, so sometimes what happens with white liberal discourse is
it becomes about, if you`re saying that some of the things I do or believe
are racist, you`re calling me personally a racist. And so, I think that
there`s a sort of dishonesty to that, in the sense that we should be able
to talk about the fact that we`re all implicated in structures and we`re
all trying to navigate them. But instead, it becomes a way to say, I know
I`m a good person, so I don`t have to listen to this critique.
And so, again, this theme of, not listening and hearing and engaging at the
level of change, with what African-American folks are actually saying about
the system, seems to be an enduring threat in this problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so part of what I hear you saying, you`re not quite
saying it, and nor did Mr. Coates, but there is, Tanner, a little bit of,
if you are white and writing about blackness, you can, which no one is
saying you can`t, it`s not like the n-word, which you`re just not allowed
to do, right?
But that many African-Americans leaders are going to begin with a
(INAUDIBLE) of suspicion about your writing, they`re going to begin with a
suspicion about your goals, and that you perhaps as a white writer, even if
you see yourself as part of the multi-racial coalition of progressivism,
will be held to a standard -- because part of what Coates asked was, well,
why are people mad if Paul Ryan when, after all, President Obama says it?
And the fact is, we know why they`re mad when Paul Ryan says it and not
President Obama because there`s an assumption about president Obama`s
connection to, belief in, and love for the black community or black
communities in a way that there`s not for Ryan.
So how do you navigate that in a way that`s careful and intellectually
honest as a white writer?
COLBY: Well, I did this specifically. You know, I put my own hypocrisy on
the front page of my book. I said, you know, I don`t know any black
people, so I`m going to find out why. And I didn`t write a book about
race. I didn`t write about black people, I didn`t write a book about what
is going on with (INAUDIBLE) neighborhood in West Baltimore where he grew
I wrote about myself. I wrote about school bussing in my high school. I
wanted to understand where I came from. I wasn`t writing about black
people. I was writing about how race shaped my world because that`s what I
was curious about. Was, you know, I wasn`t doing the sort of white man`s
burden. I`m going to go out and learn about this, and, you know, tell the
moral of the story.
And so, I think, you know, white people don`t see themselves as actors in
this. They see themselves as the norm and then race is a black thing,
whereas, you know, when I stepped out and saw, the only reason why high
school existed was to get away from busing. The church that I grew up with
in Louisiana was an all-white church, on the other side of the tracks, from
the all-black church for specific reasons. So race shaped the world I came
from. That`s what I wrote about. And I think if white people took that
point of view. This cultural residue that Jonathan Chait talks about, it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. Everybody, go wash the residue off. We`ll
take a short break. We are going to come back. We are adding another
dimension to the discussion -- gender.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FANNIE LOU HAWER, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Fannie Lou, do you know what the
past tell you what I say? And I said, yes sir. And he said, I mean if you
don`t go down and withdraw your recession, you will have to leave. And I
addressed him and told him that I didn`t try to register for you, I tried
to register for myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, one thing about the Chait versus Coates debate is that
they are two dudes, you know, guys, men. And although they talk about the
tangle of pathologies from the 1965 Moynihan report, they don`t mention
that a central focus about that report is the black family structure,
specifically, black motherhood. As Tressy McMillan Cotham wrote in her
piece on the debate in "the American prospect," quote "the gendered tone of
the entire debate has too many javelin flying for me to expect a sister in
a wonder woman outfit to be as welcome as, well, wonder woman rarely is
when the real superheroes are about real super hero business.
Joining me, Jamel Bowie, staff writer for "Slate" and Micki McElya, I have
been saying your name wrong for years, who is associate professor of
history at the University of Connecticut.
HARRIS-PERRY: How would the Coates-Chait debate be different, if it is
seriously engage feminist scholarship?
BELTRAN: I think what would be really interesting about doing that is it
forces us to really think about the fact that we are all going to fail at
this. So I think one thing that intersectionality lets us do is, these are
hard conversations to have. And one thing I liked about the Chait and Ta-
Nehisi, them having their argument was it really felt like two citizens
arguing about something that mattered. And they were having a good fight
about it. And that fight isn`t always pretty, but they took each other
seriously, and they also misunderstood each other, and there were crossing
lines of communications, and that is what happens when people fight and
argue about important things.
But when you bring an intersection analysis to that, it means that men
might not always get gender, straight women might not always get sexuality.
Affluent women might not always get class, you know. One of the things you
brought up in the earlier point about black song. You talked about black
communities, is I realized that one reason we have a hard time thinking
about progress at this particular moment is because we have a hard time
understanding that black politics and politics in this country in general,
but black politics in particular, a solidarity politics. It`s a politics
of people saying, I might be doing well, but you`re not, or my cousin or my
family or there`s a story here of standing in solidarity with each other.
And I think a lot of feminist politics is a politics of solidarity.
So how do you get a politics that can acknowledge that we`re going to fail
with each other, but that we have to have an argument that says, let`s talk
about gender, but even when you try, you fail. And they failed on that
because they weren`t able to put that together. But to say they failed
isn`t to say, now you`re done, you`ll never get it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s not to say that the debate is worthless.
Micki, I thought of you in part because in one of the responses, Coates
uses the 1996 cover from "the New Republic," that demanded, sign the
welfare bill now, from the editors, and it has that image, the image of,
presumably, a single poor black mother, smoking while holding the baby,
who`s got the bottle. And it is meant to represent all that is the tangle
of black pathology. And Coates uses it, you know, just as a visual
reminder of what these kinds of magazine have always said, these white
liberal magazines, progressive magazines about black life.
But then there is not a real engagement with the fact that is not just a
black body, that`s a black woman`s body. And I kept thinking about your
work around mammy and representations of black women. What do you see in
MICKI MACELYA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: What I see
in the moment, in addition to, also a persistent focus on this debate on
race in America as being black and white. So as we think about who`s at
risk, it`s also being framed in that way. And then, added to that, by
focusing so much on African-American men and boys, as the primary, both the
primary agents at risk, and the primary danger, right?
So in the discourse from left to right, this overwhelming focus on men and
boys leaves women out, in ways that that first don`t recognize the
specificities of black women`s lives and the conditions of their lives in
terms of structural racism, in terms of sexism, in terms of sexual
stereotyping. So it leaves them out as people potentially in need of
resources, leaves them out as people with complex lives, and then adds them
through this kind of hyper visibility as a threat, as a threat to black men
and boys as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Britney, no clearer contemporary example of that, then,
on the one hand, an initiative who could hate, right, my brother`s keeper,
but then you also have to, it begs the question, what about our daughters?
COOPER: Exactly right. The sort of logic of my brother`s keeper says that
patriarchy is going to solve the problem of class and race inequality. And
so, what I didn`t see Ta-Nehisi or Jonathan Chait mention was Paul Ryan
talked about men standing on the corner, right? So there was a very
gendered frame to that analysis as well.
And so, part of the thing is to think about, what are the structural
policies that Ryan has supported that put those men on the corner, right?
But also, women are not on the corner, because they are out doing wage
labor, being paid far less in order to do it and then trying to support
those men when they come home and need a place to say. And so women are
doing all of this extra labor to hold these communities the together.
And so, what`s interesting is, we`re always talking about women in these
policy debates, but never, ever saying it, and so there`s a deep level of
HARRIS-PERRY: Professor Britney Cooper just brought on. And if you think
there`s not an empirical basis for Professor Cooper, I just want you to
know we`ll send out a tweet with this fantastic new report about how
African-American women seem to be doing great, but actually, in fact, are
not doing so well.
I also just want to let Nerdland know that I am proud to have a new monthly
column in "Essence" magazine. And you can read my first column, which
reflects on African-American motherhood and the experience of parenting
black children in this country in the may issue of "Essence" on newsstands
When we come back, we are, of course, going to continue our discussion
about race, culture, and how it impacts one of the biggest moves in
football right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: DeSean Jackson is only 5`10" tall and 175 pounds. I say
only because the 27-year-old Jackson makes his living as a wide receiver in
the national football league, a really good wide receiver. Three-time pro-
bowler with more than 6,000 yards and 32 touchdowns through six years in
So seeing this picture of this very accomplished receiver signing a big new
contract wasn`t the most curious part of this picture. I saw on Twitter
last week, nor was it the array of native American mascot logos. It`s the
fact that Jackson, for the first time as a pro, wasn`t wearing, or making,
Philly Green. Even more curious is why.
The team`s March 20th statement says, after careful conversation, during
this off-season, the Philadelphia eagles have decided to part ways with
DeSean Jackson. But mere minutes before the first fan comment was posted
under that statement reading, why? This report was NJ.com report was
This Eagles, according to the report, had serious concerns when this was
discovered. Quote, "Jackson`s continued association with reputed Los
Angeles street gang members, which have been connected to two homicides
since 2010." That both men were reportedly members of the Crips along with
photos like these of him allegedly flashing that gang`s sign led to wide-
spread speculation that Jackson had quote "gang ties" or was actually
Along with clearing his facebook page of any and all ties of those kinds,
Jackson tried to clear his name in his Friday interview with ESPN, in which
he stated, quote, "do I know people who are involved? Yes, I`m definitely
aware of and know certain gang members. But as far as being affiliated,
never have been one. I`ve always felt I`ve been a product of my
environment, but I`ve always felt I`ve wanted to do things the right way."
Nj.com strongly asserted Saturday that its findings came as a result of its
own reporting and that, quote, "the conspiracy theories surrounding the
story are comical." Still, NFL Players union`s head, DeMaurice Smith on
Friday told ESPN that the union would be investigating the circumstances of
Coming up next, we are going look at the defense of Jackson written by
another of his childhood friends, super bowl champion, Richard Sherman.
HARRIS-PERRY: We learned two things almost simultaneously on March 28th,
that DeSean Jackson was essentially fired from his job as a star wide
receiver for the NFL`s Philadelphia Eagles, and according to nj.com, that
Jackson`s quote, "gang connections" with individuals back in his hometown
of Los Angeles gave his now former employer, the Eagles, serious concerns.
Someone else had connections in Los Angeles during his youth is another
accomplished athlete, who has been in the news recently. Star cornerback,
Richard Sherman, of the super bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Sherman,
whose bravado sparked a firestorm of race talk back in January, posted this
little league photo on Twitter the day after Jackson`s release. His
accompanying message, quote, "DeSean Jackson and me have been boys since we
were kids. No one should be judged by the action of others." #fam.
Sherman followed up with a column four days ago published on mmqe.com
defending Jackson and players like himself, who still have friends back in
the hood, writing, consider that for every sever guys I try to help, who
end up dead or in jail, there`s another person I was able to rescue from a
similar end. Should I give up on everybody out of fear of being dirtied by
the media? Sorry, but I was born in this dirt.
Back at the table is Mychal Denzel Smith of "the Nation."
All right, I want to ask you about this, because you connected Sherman`s
claim there, about being born in this dirt to a kind of larger process, in
a recent column. And you write, in short, if you took two children, one
white, one black, and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar
educations, and similar values, the black child would be much more likely
to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more
Why does that empirical reality matter for understanding what`s going on
with Sherman and Jackson here?
SMITH: It`s -- there`s, I mean, Sherman actually said it best. He was
born in this dirt. And neighborhoods for African-Americans are very
sticky. And I`m really indebted to sociologist Patrick Sharkie on this
But the simple fact is that if you are an African-American of any income
level, odds are very good, because of past discrimination, because of not
just like the legacy of stuff, but active, ongoing housing discrimination
and other factors, you`re much more likely to be born or live in a low-
HARRIS-PERRY: And also some of it is preferences. I mean, I will also
say, you know, my husband and I made a choice about where we lived in New
Orleans, in part because we wanted to live in community, with other
HARRIS-PERRY: So if you are middle or upper middle class African-American,
you want to live around other white people, your choices are pretty limited
in terms of income of the neighborhood. What this means for kids is that
their social networks won`t just include doctors, lawyers, other
professionals. They will include people who are gang members. They will
include people who are either unemployed or work very low-wage jobs. And
this will be the case for the rest of their lives. And so, what Sherman is
writing about, with DeSean Jackson`s experiencing, what they`re both
experiencing is something that`s very common to many African-Americans.
And not -- even those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods. I
grew up in a mostly white neighborhood. And even so, my church, my
parent`s friends, we had connections to people who were not middle class.
And that`s just a fact about black life that, I think, is almost unknown to
HARRIS-PERRY: So part of what I have found fascinating about the Chait-
Coates debate and about where you responded, and about where you responded,
and ultimately, then, even in this moment, where these young men are
responding and writing, is that it`s mostly not in the black press. It`s
mostly not the Chicago defender and ebony, and "Essence," where these
debates would have previously happened, but mostly in a left/right press
and yet the voices that are speaking are the voices of people with the
lived experience, in addition to the education and the analytic capacity.
How important is that aspect, Mychal? People being -- like, not just give
me the damn ball, but give me the damn pen. Let me write about my own
SMITH: Right. So I just signed a new contract with "the Nation," so let
me say to them now, before I get DeSean Jackson that I do have several
family members in prison --
HARRIS-PERRY: "The Nation" doesn`t care --
SMITH: Just letting you know if that`s a problem. But yes like I was
jealous of Richard Sherman`s like analytic ability and his writing skills,
because I mean, he laid it out there so perfectly. And he brought up a lot
of key factors that I think set up the double standard for what it is to be
young and black and in the NFL. And I think, you know, DeSean Jackson`s
supposed gang affiliations are not really a problem. It`s the fact that
the NFL can`t capitalize off of them. They can`t make any money off of
them. If he was a rapper, like, they would sign him and be like, yes, he
has gang affiliations!
HARRIS-PERRY: And I also wonder if there`s a particular kind of violence
that`s as seen as problematic.
So Britney, we know, for example, take Ray Rice, the raven`s running back,
who has allegedly committed acts of domestic violence, who did not lose his
job. In fact, have been largely embraced and backed. And there are other
examples that violence against women is often rampant in the NFL, and yet
that doesn`t get talked about as something that we should therefore
distance ourselves from.
COOPER: Absolutely. Like the case of Jovan Belter, who killed his
girlfriend, and she was the mother of a young baby. So there is, one, not
care for women or for partly times of violence. But part of this is about
a sort of respectability politic, right? So, there`s this belief that
sport is this kind of neutral category that elevates people --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Level playing people.
COOPER: That`s right. So we want to -- once we give you the mantle, that
you`re part of this group, you ought to be able to perform these kinds of
tropes in your life. And part of the problem with that is these coaches
need some kind of cultural competencies because these folks always have a
cultural contempt. They just leave it to sides.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. And particularly this notion with Sherman and
Jackson, that they`re embracing that cultural conflict. They`re not trying
to distance themselves. But although, man, watching him sign with that
Washington team logo, that was hard.
Mychal Denzel Smith, thank you for being here.
And we`ve got more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
On Tuesday, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library is hosting a civil
rights summit, marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of
Johnston signed the act on July 2, marking the legal end to the system of
institutionalized segregation. The heart of the act is Title II, which
states in part, "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal
enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and
accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this
section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or
The law marked a pivotal moment in our country`s history, one that was
intended to put an end to situations like the one you see here. This is
two weeks before the act was signed, June 18, 1964. In this photo, you can
see black and white Americans swimming together in a hotel pool in Florida.
But look more closely. That man in the background is the hotel management,
and he is pouring acid into the pool to try to force the swimmers out.
That`s because these swimmers were protesting the pool`s whites-only
policy. That man is diving into the pool there to physically remove all of
the protesters, all of whom were arrested.
Swimming pools are one example of a public good, paid for by public
dollars, and there was a boom of pool construction in the 1930s, during the
New Deal, providing jobs for unemployed workers and recreation for citizens
and communities. But black Americans, who were paying taxes just like
white Americans and putting money in a collective pot intended to be used
for a collective good, were legally barred in most states from accessing
those public goods, goods like public swimming pools, despite the fact that
they were helping to fund them.
Swimming pools were the site of a series of protests. Here is a young man
being arrested in 1949 after 70 black youth came to the Anacostia Park
swimming pool in Washington, D.C., and the white pool patrons refused to
let them swim.
And at this time, Illinois pool -- in 1962, black youth marched for an
hour, protesting the pool`s whites-only policy. The 1964 Civil Rights Act
was intended to change all of that by granting equal access to public goods
to the black Americans who were already paying equal contributions.
But what happened to public accommodations in the years after 1964 is more
complicated. Here are black youth swimming in a state park pool in a small
Georgia town in 1965. What we don`t see are the white swimmers who left
the pool just before the picture was taken.
The Civil Rights Act gave African-Americans access to public goods, like
public pools. But, in the years that followed, the public goods themselves
garnered less investment.
Economist Robert Reich writes: "Since the late 1970s, almost all the gains
from growth have gone to the top, but as the upper middle class and the
rich begin shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political
support for public ones. In consequence, their marginal tax rates dropped,
setting off a vicious cycle of diminishing revenues and deteriorating
quality, spurring more flight from public institutions."
Jeff Wiltse, who is the author of the book "Contested Waters: A Social
History of Swimming Pools in America," explains, "When black Americans
gained equal access to municipal pools, white swimmers generally abandoned
them for private pools, and cities downgraded the public importance of
Fifty right after the Civil Rights Act, the struggle is not just about
getting access to the pool. For some, it`s about keeping the pool open for
With me at the table, Jamelle Bouie, who is staff writer at Slate, Cristina
Beltran, who is associate professor at New York University, Khalil Gibran
Muhammad, who is the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black
Culture, and Tanner Colby, author of "Some of My Best Friends Are Black."
So, nice to have you all here.
Let me start you here, Khalil. When you look at the disinvestment in
public goods that has occurred since 1964, do you read where we are right
now, 50 years later, as the Civil Rights Act having been successful or
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, DIRECTOR, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK
CULTURE: Oh, well, from that vantage point, it`s failed miserably, partly
because the Civil Rights Act, although it was about access, ultimately,
underneath it, it was about equity.
And at the end of the day, the famous quip that King always said was, we
didn`t just gain access to the lunch counter; we needed money to eat there.
That quip speaks volume about the idea that under Nixon`s new federalism,
so we`re talking about the next president after LBJ, actually created the
possibility for the federal government to put more control at the state
level, and, at the state level, to ultimately be able to use political
favors, as had always been the case, for the purposes of realigning
And so we know that through the language of law and order, we know with the
retrenchment towards civil rights, through the tropes of black militancy,
that we begin to see the federal government divesting in the very
infrastructure that is possible as a result of the Civil Rights Act, but
And so that new federalism is picked up by Reagan. Then you have a retreat
against affirmative action, which becomes the duel end of the spectrum.
The black middle class is profiting at the expense of the whites, and the
black poor is becoming dependent on government services, all of which
continued to see social spending in the nation under the Reagan
administration, for example, in the 1980s go from 12 percent of the budget
to 3 percent of the budget.
So everything that potentially made possible the growth of something that
we might call racial equality in America, the entire infrastructure, the
bottom literally falls out by the 1980s.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so when we look then, Jamelle, where we find ourselves
in this moment, then, 50 years later, the Urban League recently released a
report, kind of a state of black America -- and we just pulled a few stats
from it -- that when we look at income, you talk about having the money to
eat at the lunch counter, African-American households make 60 percent the
income of white households and have only 60 percent of the wealth of White
households, that black unemployment is about -- African-Americans are about
half as likely to be employed and 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty,
and that African-Americans are 5.6 times more likely to be incarcerated.
These are kind of the facts of life around questions of race and the racial
divide now. Would you assess, then, that our civil rights legacy 50 years
later is a failure?
JAMELLE BOUIE, SLATE: I`m not sure I would say it`s a failure. I would
say it`s trending towards failure, right, that, like, I don`t want to
discount the actual gains, the gains that have happened, right, that like
the fact that we`re sitting at this table here is a gain, the fact that,
you know, a whole host of institutions in American life are more integrated
than they were 50 years ago is a gain.
But, like Khalil said, there`s been this massive disinvestment in our
public infrastructure. And that is a loss and that is something that is
holding back racial equality. I mean, if you just look at schools, right,
like, schools are in an ongoing period of re-segregation, right?
Like, large percentage of African-American students go to schools that are
90 percent, 95 percent black. Large majorities of African-American and
Latino students that are majority African-American and Latino. White
families have all but, if they haven`t pulled their kids out of public
schools, they have been able to use zoning laws and local institutions to
create enclaves of white schools that get all the resources, while schools
maybe a mile down the road, two miles down the road are starved for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to push on this a little bit, because, Cristina,
this feels to me, this course of kind of a white flight to better-resourced
spaces is certainly kind of -- as I was coming through grad school, that`s
what we learned. Right?
We studied that -- particularly, you got black mayors, you got integration
through the civil rights movement, and then you started seeing white
flight. And the presumption was that there was some place you could flee,
and therefore be safe from these kind of social statistics that I just
But when we started talking about a massive public disinvestment in
infrastructure, you know, the white people, they ride on the roads too, and
along with the African-American -- we all go over the bridges together to
get into the city. It would be nice to go to a free pool if you are a
working-class white person, and, in fact, as we have seen in this downturn,
an increasing number of white Americans experiencing poverty, then the lack
of that safety net, so, should we now be revising this idea, that there
isn`t a place to flee, that, in fact, African-Americans are the miner`s
canary wherever -- these social statistics also have consequences for white
CRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS, NEW
YORK UNIVERSITY: Right.
No, I think what`s really great about having this conversation is, we don`t
tend to talk about it in terms of the public sphere and the decline of the
public sphere, and the fact that we have -- we have never truly had an
integrated, vibrant public sphere that has been supported and allowed to
So the very history you`re describing is talking about a public sphere that
is immediately losing resources at a time when it`s finally integrated. So
HARRIS-PERRY: I always ask people, there`s all this focus on those public
bus systems in the South. When was the last time you rode a bus in the
South, right, that those public transportation systems have just lost.
BELTRAN: Right. Right.
So then there`s -- so I think there`s also this really interesting -- it`s
ironic that we talk about the `60s as the era of big government in a lot of
ways, because really what we`re really talking about is almost immediate
massive retrenchment into the private realm. So I think you`re right.
I think we need to be talking to people about what has the loss been, what
has the tradeoff been to retreat into the private -- how do we not talk
about the fact that we need roads, we need bridges, we need public
amenities for all citizens?
But it`s been a lot easier, historically, to make deals that allow the
public realm to thrive when some people weren`t a part of it. They could
make deals around Social Security, when certain people weren`t at the
table, so there`s a whole debate about like the racialization of what
constitutes publicness and what constitutes privateness. And we don`t talk
about the racial and class dynamics of that nearly as much as we ought to.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us.
When we come back, I have been asking everyone else, do they think the
Civil Rights Act was a failure, in part because it is the frame -- I have
been introducing you as the author of this particular book, but you`re also
an author a series of articles that do make some claims about the failures
of the policies in the post-1964 era.
When we come back, we`re going to talk specifically about that and about
LBJ`s vision in his own words.
But, first, a programming note. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the
Civil Rights Act, the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, is hosting
a civil rights summit starting Tuesday. President Obama and three former
presidents will be among those participating.
All this week, MSNBC will have special coverage of the civil rights summit.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must not approach the
observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose
is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions,
divisions which have lasted all too long. Its purpose is national, not
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Lyndon Johnson preparing to sign the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
In this part of the speech, we hear the president anticipating criticism of
the law from white Americans opposed to integration, stating that its
purpose is not to divide. But, as we have been discussing, the end of
legalized segregation did not necessarily result in the decline of racial
One of our panelists, Tanner Colby, wrote a series of articles for
Slate.com called "The Massive Liberal Failure on Race," in which he says:
"So while the great liberal crusade of the 1960s produced victories in the
area of civil rights, it did little in the way of producing actual jobs for
So, Tanner, you have been on the show many times.
HARRIS-PERRY: When I started reading this series, I was like, I don`t know
what to make about this. I felt a lot of angst about the sort of
description of this period, which I think of as my lifetime, right, as a
great failure of policy, because, again, although we are not where we want
to be, we are also not where we were.
HARRIS-PERRY: So tell me why you assess it as an era of failure.
COLBY: I think we -- it comes down to, you go back to the argument of
culture -- we did a lot of, you know, legal changes and policy changes,
without addressing the cultural problems that lie underneath it.
And that`s not to say a culture problem in black America, but the
alienation between black and white America. We bussed black and white
students into the same schools, and then everyone sat on the opposite sides
of the cafeteria.
So, unless you were going to deal with the social fabric angle of it, then
the policy issue was necessary, but insufficient.
HARRIS-PERRY: But wasn`t the presumption that addressing the structural
would, in fact, generate the opportunities for the social fabric, so that
if you put kids in school together, that they would grow up together, and
learn together, and would -- I mean, I think part of the problem --
actually, let me back up.
The question is then, what would constitute success? Would it have to be
fully equal integration, or would it be kind of equitable resources that
are distributed, whether or not an integrated space exists?
COLBY: I think -- and this is where it really comes down to housing. An
integrated space almost has to be done voluntarily.
I think you have to acknowledge the fact that certain black communities
wanted to stay homogeneous and certain wealthy white communities were just
going to escape, escape out and leave anyway. But if you concentrated on
areas where integration was possible -- the neighborhood I focused on in
Kansas city, it was black and white patterns who chose to live in an
integrated neighborhood together, and therefore their children grew up
wanting to be there, whereas when you put people in a situation where their
parents didn`t necessarily want them to be there and weren`t supporting
them -- this is what James Coleman said, the sociologist who was the
original impetus for bussing.
He said, if you put black students in an all-white environment and their
parents don`t want them there and aren`t standing behind them, then the
whiplash can actually be worse.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you also write, and I want to ask you about this one,
So, Colby, you write: "In one of history`s great ironies, the grand-scale
integrationist schemes embraced by liberals during the civil rights
movement took hold only after the rise of black pride and ethnic solidarity
was well underway, convulsed by spasms of white guilt, terrified by the
prospect of more urban riots, and not really understanding the complex
wants and desires of black America to begin with. So steps taken to
dismantle the color line were accompanied by efforts to shore up the
foundations of a separate black America and preserve its cultural norms."
So, you know, as -- you know, here you are at head of the Schomburg, which
is both a separate institution, but also an institution as part of the New
York Public Library system. And part of what I wondered, part of what gave
me discomfort about that, Tanner, was the idea that success could only
constitute the sort of full integration. I want both. I want separate
cultural spaces and equal access.
MUHAMMAD: Well, here, I think there`s one thing I want to take issue with.
MUHAMMAD: And that is that housing was still a product of a real estate
market that was committed to catering to the preferences of white
Americans, and not to black Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s not all equal, equal choice.
MUHAMMAD: No, not by any stretch of the imagination.
And although there are many pockets of integrated communities -- I live in
one right now in suburban New Jersey -- these communities are constrained
by desperate efforts to stave off what they see as the high cost of
In a state like New Jersey, Governor Christie does not actually support
these old-line integrated suburbs, because they have heavy infrastructure
cost, their school systems are older, their salaried public servants are
well paid and have extensive benefits, meaning that the cost of integration
means that everyone`s got to share in that. The state`s got to share in
that and the individual taxpayers.
What`s easy to do is -- if you`re white, is to fly, to flee to yet the next
suburb, where the schools were just built, the teachers are brand-new, and
there`s no guaranteed benefit plan, meaning that those costs are
HARRIS-PERRY: Khalil, I do not want to move away from that just yet,
because what you said there was so interesting, because it`s not Governor
Christie doesn`t want integration. Right? Who knows what`s in Governor
Christie`s heart. It is that there is a position about small government
and small government budgets which as a result of that position of wanting
to spend less on public resources, means that you cannot support the thing
that makes integration possible, right, which is in part, high-quality
public schools, right, because then that`s when everybody just kind of goes
to their neighborhood school.
MUHAMMAD: But it also means that, at some point, you have to pay the price
of taking the poorest in the community and giving them the same kind of
educational and housing resources that we know sustain middle-class and
productive communities. That cost cannot be pushed off forever.
And so someone`s got to pay that cost. Either the federal government`s
going to pay it or the state government`s going to pay it. But local
communities are not going to pay it, because local communities are going to
constantly reconstitute themselves, constitute the boundaries of
enforcement, and say, well, if you`re not willing to pay, then just move.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jamelle, I want to let you in on this, only because I know
this is part of what you were writing so much about.
BOUIE: I`m not sure how much I have to add to that.
There`s a conversation we had about sort of the complex that makes the
small government conservatism and what means given our racial reality. I
think Khalil`s absolutely right to emphasize that someone has to spend the
One of the things that sort of gets glossed over in our national myth about
ourselves is the fact that the American middle class and the American white
middle class is the product of government subsidies, is a product of
subsidies of housing, of subsidies of transportation infrastructure,
subsidies of school infrastructure.
And part of what`s happened over the last 40 or 50 years is there`s been a
conscious decision to not do that for integrated communities, to not do
that for African-Americans and to not do that for Latinos.
HARRIS-PERRY: And just I want to make sure that I note this. I think
that`s right and I think the impact on communities of color is most urgent
and clear, but that it also then has an impact on the white middle class,
which we have seen the bottom drop out of in part also because of this
So I just would to like, everybody, your new thought, your homework though
experiment is every time you hear someone say government, substitute the
word public, and see if you feel differently about the policy when instead
of hearing the word government, you hear the word public. You tend to
think of yourself as the public, although maybe not as part of the
Jamelle Bouie and Cristina Beltran and Tanner Colby, thank you all so much.
Khalil is going to hang out in the next hour.
But up next, when we come back -- no, there`s not a next hour -- there`s
just a next half-hour. I tried to get a whole `nother hour, but they won`t
All right, when we come back, we are going to talk about Twitter and its
take on everything from communism to comedy.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s no secret that the United States has tried all sorts of
strategies to destabilize the communist government in Cuba, and eliminate
its one-time leader, Fidel Castro, who first took power in the small island
nation in 1959.
So, in 1960, the CIA gave six poison pills to two gangsters who tried for
several months to have people put the pills in Castro`s food. That didn`t
work. Then there was the Bay of Pigs invasion. In April 1961, the U.S.
tried to topple Fidel and his communist government with a group of CIA-
financed and trained Cuban refugees. Well, that failed too.
The group was overwhelmed by counterattacks from Castro`s military. Of the
1,200-plus Cuban exiles, 100 were killed and 1,100 were captured. Despite
the failures of the United States to either assassinate or oust Fidel
Castro, poison, and an armed invasion are widely recognized methods for
eliminating one`s enemies.
And even though Castro handed power over to his brother, Raul, in 2008, the
thought of a Fidel/communism-free Cuba remains a longstanding U.S.
interest. And it turns out that the U.S. has experimented with less
commonly accepted tools for creating unrest, twitter, or at least something
According to a new report by the Associated Press, in 2009, the U.S. Agency
for International Development, or USAID, hatched a plan to develop a bare-
bones Cuban Twitter. The plan was supposed to use cell phone text
messaging to bypass Cuba`s control of information and Internet
Once the base of Cuban Twitter grew, operators would introduce content to
inspire Cubans to organize smart mobs. But the base just never grew that
big and the technology was never that great. And by 2012, Cuban Twitter
vanished. So it was a, you know, #fail.
But it is interesting to note that no less an agency, no less than the
United States government finds such power in social media that it now goes
down in history in the same category as poison pills and armed
insurrection, at least when it comes to Cuba.
When we come back, the positive and negative aspects of the power of those
140 characters right here at home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nothing captures the promises and challenges of democracy
On one hand, it`s profoundly egalitarian. Everybody gets 140 characters.
Individuals can initiate action, even if they lack the traditional sources
of political power, like wealth. On Twitter, the playing field is level,
the barriers to entry are low, and it is easy to generate collective
But maybe you will remember that our founders had some concerns about
democracy. James Madison wrote in "The Federalist Paper No. 10": "Measures
are too often decided not according to the rules of justice and the rights
of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and
Comedy Central`s Stephen Colbert felt that superior force in the form of a
Twitter hashtag last week. On last Thursday`s show, Colbert satirized
Washington, D.C.`s football team owner Dan Snyder`s attempts to pacify
critics of the team`s logo. The Colbert show Twitter account then tweeted
just the punchline from that segment, and, by itself, without context, the
tweet was clearly anti-Asian. The outcry was immediate; #cancelColbert
become a trending topic for more than 24 hours.
On Monday, Colbert addressed the controversy in a way that only Stephen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Who would have thought a
means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create
The cancelColbert people think that even, in context, I am a racist. I
just want to say that I am not a racist. I don`t even see race, not even
my own. People tell me I`m white and I believe them because I just devoted
six minutes to explaining how I`m not a racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: While Colbert received the bulk of the attention, the
movement that was lost in the mix were the Native Americans who have
organized against Snyder`s team mascot.
And that is a problem, according to Jeff Yang, who wrote in "The Wall
Street Journal" -- quote -- "In short, we have arrived at the era of the
weaponized hashtag, where loosely organized and barely controlled social
mobs swarm institutions and individuals at a scale large enough so that the
trending of the hashtag itself becomes news, often overwhelming discussion
of the topic that originally spawned it."
At the table, Jeff Yang, columnist of "The Wall Street Journal" online who
wrote that article on the weaponized hashtags, Zerlina Maxwell, a political
analyst at Grio.com, contributor, Brittney Cooper, who is assistant
professor of women and gender studies at Rutgers University, and MSNBC
anchor Richard Lui.
So nice to have you all here.
Jeff, I want to start with you. Is Twitter a revolution or a mob?
JEFF YANG, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It`s a little of both, right?
I think a lot of revolutions have begun with -- quote, unquote -- "mobs,"
and a lot of that`s a matter of perspective.
YANG: But I do think that one clear thing that comes from this is that the
egalitarianism of Twitter, the notion that we all have 140 characters to
vote with, so to speak, is a little bit of an illusion. Like anywhere
else, the larger voice, the people who have the greater number of
followers, the more ability to retweet and signal-amplify end up becoming
the primary message.
And frankly that means that they get more attention in other places beyond
the digital space.
HARRIS-PERRY: I guess what does seem egalitarian though is that you don`t
need -- like you don`t need to be hired by a news organization, right? You
don`t need a university to give you tenure in order to build that
following, right? Yes, there`s still a hierarchy, but the hierarchy is not
necessarily attached to the goods and resources that exists in kind of
YANG: Right. It disrupts traditional hierarchies and it creates new ones.
And those hierarchies in many ways can place people who are historically
not in the center of the communication, in the center of the ability to
generate and manage dialogue, at the top. And I think we have seen that
here, which is really interesting and really valuable. But it`s also a
And I think that what we have seen is, when things are seen on Twitter as
an ability, as a means to communicate or, even more importantly, perhaps,
just draw attention to a message, it`s a tremendously powerful tool. When
that power is then levied against a single individual who steps out of
line, it becomes a lot more like, I don`t know, cyber-bullying? Yes, that
term`s been used.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Richard, as you look at that particular moment, the
cancelColbert moment, because I think, for all of us engaged with Twitter,
there are moments where it`s like, yes, go Twitter, get them, get them, get
them, Twitter. And other times, it`s like, oh, God, is this happening, oh,
HARRIS-PERRY: How did you experience the cancelColbert moment?
RICHARD LUI, MSNBC ANCHOR: The cancelColbert hashtag, when that came out,
you had to really read into to find out what was the process, the timeline
that progressed over that period of with, what, 24 to 48 hours.
When I look at what Suey Park told "The New Yorker," though, and her intent
behind this, she`s basically saying, hey, I know the way this system works.
I know how this pool is. I know how warm the water is. Why can`t I get in
and swim too? I really don`t want "Colbert" to be canceled, but I know
that this is an opening for me to get my message out, just like many other
people do, so why not?
Why not? Me, using this very same process, I have that ability and I
should, whether you see it as a revolution or not.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s interesting in part because -- so just so folks
know, if you haven`t been following this, Suey Park is the Twitter activist
who really started the cancelColbert hashtag.
LUI: Right. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: But part of it is, Zerlina, though, it feels to me like one
of the thing that`s rewarded in the warm water of Twitter, and in the warm
water of cable news is outrage, right? Nothing makes a better segment or a
better tweet than, I can`t even believe, right?
And, right, so, oh, let`s go get outraged. But outrage is not always
leading us to the most complex analysis.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, THEGRIO: No.
And I think it`s a both/and conversation. You can start a conversation on
Twitter because you`re outraged about something that happens in the real
world. But then what are you doing in the real world to couple your
Twitter activism to help, you know, change the conversation around that
So, for example, one of the things I talk about a lot is rape culture. I
read an op-ed in "TIME" which I found really offensive and I was outraged.
And so I chose to react to that by starting a hashtag and also writing a
response in "TIME." And so it was both/and. It was Twitter and also
offline activism that allowed -- well, really not offline. It was a "TIME"
But it was something that -- well, it was still online. I can`t leave the
LUI: It`s all very blurry.
HARRIS-PERRY: I haven`t been out of my house in six months.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard, I felt you responding to Zerlina there when she was
talking about the both/and of activism.
LUI: Yes, the both/ands of activism, when you look at it, and when I go
back to Suey Park and what the Asian American-Pacific Islander community is
trying to say, is, hey, you know, this is a voice that we don`t often have
an open or an opening to get out our message, so let`s do it.
And it may not be well-accepted. I may not have really calculated this
cancelColbert after-effect, and that`s what she was saying. I just kind of
had time that evening. Why not? I`m going to do this. And it also says,
hey, look, I get to define -- what she`s saying, I get to define my space
for me and for us and my argument. It is not being told to me as to what
is worse racism in her words.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, and it does feel to me like critically important, the
assertion of that voice, right, to just kind of stand in this space and
say, you know what, us, too, right?
LUI: Right. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: But on the other hand, as you pointed out, Jeff, the
question is then who also gets silenced.
So we have got more to say on this.
And Brittney, I`m going to bring you in, because when we come back, we`re
going to talk about something that`s actually been happening all during the
show. It`s very self-referential. That is Black Twitter. We have got a
little bit on the funny side of Black Twitter.
And, yes, if you don`t know about this, it`s an actual thing. I didn`t
just make that up. It`s a thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re in a war. Nobody cares about the struggle
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Struggle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are too complacent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody should do something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hashtag.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing will change. We need to mobilize. This
country is racist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, that was a hilarious take on Black Twitter by @IssaRae
Let`s be clear. Black Twitter is an actual thing, with some real
influence. Fashion magazine "Marie Claire" found that out this week, after
the magazine tweeted out a photo of Kendall Jenner with cornrows and wrote,
"Kendall Jenner takes bold braids to a new epic level."
Well, Black Twitter took the magazine to task, with tweets like, "Thanks to
@marieclaire and Kendall Jenner for inventing #boldbraids. I have never
seen these before in my entire life #groundbreaking."
"Marie Claire" quickly apologized, when they tweeted: "We didn`t mean to
offend or imply that cornrows were new. Our tweet was poorly worded," and,
"We thought her hair looked great and recognize women have been styling
their hair like this for ages."
So, Brittney, it is always fun when people are introduced to Black Twitter
who did not know it existed...
LUI: In different ways.
HARRIS-PERRY: .. previously in a variety of ways. But I have seen it both
act in forms of kind of making sure that cultural appropriation is not
occurring, that I am kind of cheering on, and I have seen it act as a mob.
COOPER: Yes, so I think the thing we have to figure out is how to both
harness the kind of cultural power that we have to direct conversations,
while not seeming reactionary, right?
And this is the thing that I worry about, is that our movements are easily
and can be easily co-opted because if we`re not careful about the long game
and what is our end goal, then, certainly, we look like we`re not being
thoughtful, that we`re not being careful, and then we get sort of charges
of rage and you`re out of control and language about mobs, right?
And I always think that that`s very charged language, particularly when
you`re talking about how people of color engage in social media, that it`s
always inherently violent, that it`s not particularly thoughtful. And I
find Black Twitter to be absolutely hilarious and sort of, you know, the
humor is biting, but it`s completely brilliant.
And it`s the kind of cultural critique that African-Americans are known
for, culturally, from The Dozens, from Toast, on down.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I also want to be clear that there is some eating of the
self that occurs. You are part of what was one of the most painful things
to watch over the course of the past year, something that Michelle Goldberg
described in her "Nation" piece as the toxic feminist Twitter wars.
And I will just read a piece from Goldberg, who says: "Even as online
feminism has proved itself a real force for change, many of the most avid
digital feminists will tell you that it`s become toxic. Indeed, there`s a
nascent genres of essays by people who feel emotionally savaged by their
involvement in it, not because of sexist trolls, but because of slashing
righteousness of other feminists."
And maybe this goes back to your point about the real world vs. social
media platform. I am as self-righteous as I can be when I am standing just
And I will say, I have been a victim of some of this kind of reactionary
judgment, because of certain kind of things I have chosen to support in
feminist movement building. And one of the reasons I wanted to participate
in the "Nation" piece was to say to women of color feminists, I don`t want
black and women of color feminists to look reactionary, that it`s always
been a visionary justice project.
And that goes away when we do the emotional labor that Cristina Beltran
talked about of being angry. People are perfectly comfortable with people
of color being angry in social movements, right? But it becomes a way to
discredit us. And so how do we both harness that power and not look
reactionary, but at the same time not succumb to the kind of policing that
says, you have done me injury, but I demand that you deal with me
respectfully before I will listen to you? Because that`s another problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jeff, part of what I really love about this language,
and that, I guess, gave me some angst around the cancelColbert is, so I
love the idea of insertion of the voice, using this relatively democratic
with a little D version to do it, but I also wonder, so then what do I now
know about an Asian-American political platform, other than, don`t use
these kind of clearly offensive terms?
So what is the proactive version that emerges from this?
YANG: Well, that`s a big problem with Twitter. Twitter doesn`t generally,
at least, used in this form, in this sort of hashtag lack of context, more
about signal application form, does not allow a lot of room for either
context or dissent.
And part of the problem with Twitter`s notion of democracy is that so much
of Twitter is about resharing and retweeting and favoriting, right? And
that is predominantly the kind of behavior that leads to momentum around a
single cause, a single message, a single opinion.
And when there are disagreements to that opinion, they either get
overridden, or in many cases actually attacked. So that is anti-
democratic. When you have a situation in which the diversity of Twitter,
including diversity of people of color in the Twitter movements, Black
Twitter and so forth, is not recognized or celebrated, instead, people who
step out of line, who refuse to support, who won`t stand with various
people are cast out and attacked.
That doesn`t look like democracy to me, or at least not the kind that we
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard, you have spent much of your career in international
politics, looking at the rest of the world, and some of that is about
democratization movements. And if we think about the Iran Green movement
and the way in which Twitter`s avatar has turned green or the Arab spring
in Cairo, do you think that it actually is, that maybe we`re just being a
little too U.S. in our focus, and that, in fact, Twitter does have the
capacity to do this big movement-building?
LUI: Well, that really is the point, isn`t it?
And we look at Twitter or any other media platform, we can`t look at it
holistically and say one thing about it. It`s different for every context.
When you talk about the reactionary that you -- reactionary movement based
on what is happening in Black Twitter, maybe it isn`t, what`s the reaction,
it`s what is being said originally.
It`s not a problem with the reaction. It`s really what`s being said. But
the person saying that is not used to the reaction, because they have not
been in the public sphere before. So in this case, it could be, hey, I`m
just not -- we`re used to getting certain types of tweets. We`re
conditioned. It`s easy for us.
Others who are just jumping out into this space, whether it be about
cornrows or other, they`re just learning to do that. In the international
space, what`s great about this is it brings back this sort of hearkening,
and I hate to sound like this is old school, but e-mail.
When e-mail was prevalent in the 1980s, we all started to use it, that`s
the first time we realized, we have this ability to make effective ties to
people that are across the world, but we still have the dangers of flaming,
which we`re seeing today, of spamming, which we`re seeing today.
So, the positive side, I think, when you look at the Arab spring and all
these collections is there`s this exponential capability of these media
platforms to bring together these groups that don`t have the ability to
have effective ties, no matter where you`re at and no matter who you are on
what side, up or down, left or right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard Lui, Jeff Yang, Brittney Cooper, and Zerlina.
I have many, many more questions for you that are written down. And you
must come back, we will talk more, particularly about the rape culture
piece, which I think is part of this question of not being used to it, or
in fact, being used to certain kind of attacks and the ways it can be
HARRIS-PERRY: ... so much more to talk about.
But time was not on my side today.
But there is more TV going on after this thing happens. Up next, there is
a plan in the works for a new prequel to "Gone With the Wind." The story
is going to focus on the character of Mammy. You all knew I just had to
have something to say about that.
HARRIS-PERRY: "Gone With the Wind" is the renowned literary tribute to --
quote -- "a dream remembered, the antebellum slaveholding South."
It`s Margaret Mitchell`s classic saga published in 1936 and translated to
film in 1939. The movie became a huge hit, earning $20 million at the box
office in its first year, which was a lot in 1939; 59 years later, the film
was reissued and brought in nearly $200 million.
In October of this, the Margaret Mitchell estate will add another novel to
the franchise written by Donald McCaig. This new prequel won`t focus on
Rhett and Scarlett`s melodramatic love story. Instead, the protagonist
will be Mammy.
In 1939, actor Hattie McDaniel famously brought the character Mammy to
life, becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar for her
performance in scenes like these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GONE WITH THE WIND")
HATTIE MCDANIEL, ACTRESS: If you don`t care what folks says about this
family, I does. I has told ya and told ya that you can always tell us a
lady by the way that she eat in front of folks like a bird, and I ain`t
aiming for you to go to Mr. John Wilkes and eat like a field hand and
gobble like a hog."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Though historic, McDaniel`s win was controversial because of
some of the troublesome Mammy stereotypes of her character. And the fact
that 51 years passed before another black female actor, Whoopi Goldberg,
won an Academy Award adds even more meaning to McDaniel`s complicated
Back with me now to discuss Mammy and the woman who portrayed her is Micki
McElya, who is author of "Clinging to Mammy," and Khalil Gibran Muhammad,
who is director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,
Micki, Mammy, as portrayed by Hattie McDaniel, is the one that we remember
most, but it is certainly not the beginning or the end of Mammy. Tell us a
little bit about the arc of that stereotype, that character.
MCELYA: I mean, in many ways, the figure that sets off this both visual
and narrative framework comes from "Uncle Tom`s Cabin." It comes from
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom`s wife, Aunt Chloe, is represented as
an idealized, nurturing Mammy figure, enslaved mother figure, as the
And that moves across, which I think really highlights the way in which
this figure is appealing to white people across political spectrums, that
it has the staying power that we`re witnessing in this moment where the
Mitchell trust is now releasing yet another iteration of the story.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so for me, I suppose, Khalil, part of what is
distressing is that Hattie McDaniel, that human person, has a fascinating
biography, and I would to even see that come to film.
But the idea that instead not having McDaniel, the actual African-American
woman, but instead Mammy, that fictional character, is once again going to
get the space, the air.
MUHAMMAD: Well, yes.
Well, there`s of course a dark side to the actual story of the black woman
who works in white folks` homes. Part of it is that she`s always someone
who is both in proximity to the master and also in proximity to the
enslaved and can`t entirely be trusted.
There`s also something to be said about the agency of black women who were
able to transcend the boundaries of their position in order to put money
into the community, in order to fund and be the backbone of social justice
movements, even in the abolitionist context, as well as into the late 19th
and early 20th century. And that`s a black woman out of place in this
So, if you actually begin to peel back the layers of Hattie McDaniel`s own
life, someone who struggled with finding meaningful work, but was
incredibly talented, and talked a lot about how hard it was to make a
living in America, then you`re commenting on a larger tragedy in American
society and culture, which is that we want to pretend that everything is
OK, when in fact it`s far from it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this one of wanting to pretend, Micki, I want to come to
you, because one of the things that is always the most horrifying to me is
that in 1923, a U.S. congressman, along with the Daughters of the
Confederacy, pushed for funding of a Mammy monument.
So, that is not the Mammy monument. That is an image there of a restaurant
which still exists, where you can still go eat right now in Natchez,
Mississippi. But that idea that Mammy continues as a marketing tool and
even as this method of like imagination within the American culture..
MCELYA: And as a profoundly political too, right?
So, to erect a monument within Washington, D.C., to Mammys and say, this is
black women`s role in our in public culture in 1923 and to have it pass
successfully in the Senate, and only fail because of black protests, and
finally it was allowed to die in the House, thankfully -- we don`t have
this monument -- but also the way that Hattie McDaniel`s life really
highlights the complex histories, her own struggle with that character
highlights the complex history.
What she brought to that character highlights it. Her parents were born
enslaved. Her father served in the United States Colored Troops in the
Civil War. And her mother fled with her family, too, ended up in a
contraband camp when they fled to Union lines in Tennessee.
Their stories get totally erased in this portrayal that then she`s required
to perform, because that`s the role that`s available to her, as she`s
trying to shift it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, Hattie McDaniel said: I would rather play a
maid and make $700 a week than be a maid and make $7 a week.
Hattie McDaniel is worth knowing more about, also the character of Mammy
worth knowing more about. We will put up a syllabus for you.
Thank you, Micki and Khalil.
And that`s our show for today. Whew. I`m exhausted.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you next Saturday at
10:00 a.m. Eastern.
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