'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, April 13th, 2014
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
April 13, 2014
Guests: Wade Henderson, Nina Perez, Jelani Cobb, Ed Fitzgerald, Jonathan
Chait, Jonathan Metzl, Salamishah Tillet, Pharoahe Monch
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, is race the
real story of the Obama presidency?
Plus, the growing heroin epidemic in American.
And hip-hop and mental health, a new album we have been waiting for.
But first, this week in voter suppression takes us to the ultimate
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Over the past few days we`ve been paying close attention to a single county
in the stay of Ohio. Because Cuyahoga County, the largest in the state of
Ohio, has been this week at the center of a fight over voting rights, and
that fight has been over this, single sheet of paper.
Now, I`m going to go back to this in a few minutes. Because in order to
understand why we are taking notice of what happens with, well, this piece
of paper in that county in one particular state, you need to know a little
bit about Ohio and its history with elections.
Let`s go all the way back to this moment in 2004.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is now clear that even when all the
provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won`t be enough
outstanding votes for us to win, and therefore we cannot win this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president
in 2004 conceding the election to George W. Bush. The concession speech
normally given the same night after the election was the lead until the
afternoon after Election Day because on the night before, Kerry`s team was
little preoccupied with Ohio.
Here`s how "The New York Times" reported what happened. This speech given
at 2:00 p.m., at the same site where Mr. Kerry kicked off his campaign last
September, came after a long night in which hundreds of lawyers and
strategists here, in Washington, and across the swing state of Ohio
crunched numbers in search of one last hope, John Kerry`s hope.
And ultimately his disappointment all depended on Ohio because the election
in 2004 all came down to that one state and its 20 electoral votes.
Ultimately, the senator went ahead with his concession because after that
night of crunching the numbers that it was clear once all Ohio`s
outstanding provisional ballots were counted, he still wouldn`t be able to
overcome the 135,000 vote deficit to claim those 20 electoral votes and the
Only that wasn`t all that became clear about Ohio on the morning after the
election because the delay in counting those provisional votes was only
part of a bigger story about Election Day 2004 in Ohio. Put simply, it was
a hot mess.
In 2004 Ohioans waited in line to vote longer than anywhere else in the
country. Some stood in line for up to ten hours, a wait that led many
would-be voters to walking away without casting a ballot.
A survey from Democratic Nation Committee estimated 174,000 Ohioans nearly
three percent of the state`s voters were disenfranchised because of those
long lines. The response to the Ohio 2004 voting debacle, the state`s
Republican controlled government, in 2005, adopted a reform called no fault
absentee voting to make Election Day less chaotic and voting more
Previously, Ohio voters could request an absentee ballot only if they were
able to meet one of the restricted lists of excuses. But on this new no
fault law, voters would now be allowed to cast a ballot by mail or in
person up to 35 days before Election Day, including nights and weekends
without having to provide any reason at all.
And by the next time Ohioans went to the polls to choose a president, a lot
had changed. Not only had the nightmare lines of 2004 failed to
materialize, but fewer people turned out to vote in Ohio on Election Day in
2008 than in the previous presidential election. But before Election Day,
well, during that newly open 35-day window before Election Day, Ohioans
turned out in force.
Take a look at this comparison of absentee voting from 2002 to 2008. You
can see here that once Ohioans were free to vote well in advance of
Election Day, the percentage of total votes that were cast early jumped up
almost 20 percent between the 2004 and `08 presidential elections. Over 77
percent of those Ohio early voters in 2008 were African-American.
And in Cuyahoga County where African-Americans are just 28 percent of the
population, they made up at least 59 percent of early voters, those who
showed up to cast that ballot in person.
As it turned out, early voters were President Obama`s secret weapon in Ohio
in 2008, while he received fewer votes on Election Day than John McCain.
It was the early voters, particularly those in urban areas like Cleveland
and Columbus gave President Obama the huge lead that helped him lock down
So the president wrote a wave of early voting to victory right there in
Ohio. And there was much rejoicing throughout the land. But this is where
my tale of Ohio elections takes a bit of a turn because a funny thing
happened on the way that presidential election 2012, mainly mid-term
election 2010. And another wave that brought another sweeping turn to the
national political tide.
That year, Republicans took control of 23 state legislatures and 29
governor seats, putting the GOP in troll of state level policy. In Ohio
the led Republican John Kasich unseat Democratic incumbent securing and
solidly Republican majority in Ohio`s state House and governor`s mansion.
And also riding the wave was Republican John Houston who replaced the
outgoing Democrat as Ohio secretary of state.
And following that republican takeover in 2010, Ohio joined 41 states
across the country by 2012 had introduced 180 laws to restrict rather than
to expand voting and Nerdland viewers who have been with me since the
beginning know where the story goes from here. Because Ohio`s attempts to
restrict voting rights and in particular, secretary of state John Houston
to roll in pushing those restrictions have made are curing appearances in -
- can somebody cue up my animation please-- this weekend voter suppression.
Between attempting to cut early voting hours from 35 to 11 days and
eliminate voting on the weekend before Election Day when African-Americans
churches traditionally launch the souls to the polls campaigns to rally the
members to vote, Ohio gave my voter suppression animation, a lot of mileage
When the Obama administration sued to reinstate voting on the weekend
before election day, and John Houston fought it all the way to the Supreme
Court, I just that had to send him a letter reminding him of the big "L" he
took when Justice Sotomayor smacked down his request. African-American
turnout in Ohio increased from 11 percent to 15 percent in 2012.
And that brings us where we are today. And well, it looks the whole lot
like where we were in 2012. Because just two months ago, John Houston
announced he was cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings. And
that was just a few days after Ohio governor John Kasich signed two bills
that trimmed the early voting period by six additional days and did same
day registration, and made it harder to cast absentee ballot which brings
me to this single sheet of paper, (INAUDIBLE) application to request an
absentee ballot in Ohio.
And one of those new laws signed by Governor Kasich made it illegal for any
other official other than the Ohio secretary of state to send one of these
to voters who hadn`t already requested one. That`s exactly what John
Houston did in 2012. And 1.2 million Ohioans used this application to
request and vote with an absentee ballot. But the decision to send this is
entirely up to Houston`s discretion.
And this week, one county executive said -- has said that the Houston
doesn`t exercise the discretion in future elections, he plans to have the
county mail them in direct violation of Ohio state law.
That man, Ed Fitzgerald happens to be the executive of, you guessed it,
Cuyahoga County and the Democratic challenging John Kasich for the governor
seat in November.
On Tuesday he went so far to send a letter to attorney general Eric Holder
requesting a justice department investigation into Ohio`s new voting
Cuyahoga County executive Ed Fitzgerald joins me now from Cleveland.
So nice to have you.
ED FITZGERALD, CUYAHOGA COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Good to be here. Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So help us out. What is the reasoning that Houston has
given for this policy change?
FITZGERALD: Well, basically what he said is they want uniform laws across
the state of Ohio. And unfortunately, instead of taking everybody up to a
higher standard, he`s taking everybody to a lower standard. And what we
said in response to that is you go back to 2004, not everybody did have
equal access to the ballot because we saw the results.
You had in excess of hundreds of thousands of voters really unable to vote
in Ohio. So , you know, this is one of the instances, Melissa, where there
was a problem, there was a solution, and it worked. Unfortunately, in
their opinion, I guess it get worked too well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Mr. Fitzgerald, I want to point out that you`re not
just staying that it worked. That in fact, Mr. Houston himself very much
takes credit for this. If you go to his Web site, it says in the first
paragraph as Ohio`s 53rd secretary of state, John Houston is responsible
for oversight of elections in one of the nation`s most hotly contested
swing states and by his steady hands, Ohio delivered a smooth and fair 2012
presidential election with record absentee voter turnout. This was thanks
in part to his decision to send the first ever statewide absentee ballot
applications mailing to all Ohio voters, thereby, reducing the chance of
long lines at the polls on Election Days.
So, why are we fighting this now? It`s the top of his Web site as a
FITZGERALD: Yes. He leaves something out. What happened in 2011 is that
my county said that if the state did not mail those ballots out in 2012 we
were going to. And we were threatened back in 2011, just like we have been
this year. So, they threatened to cut our funding, remove me from office
back in 2011. And it wasn`t until we said well, look, we`re going to the
justice department back in 2011. And they said, OK, fine, we`ll do it.
So, you know, he`s leaving out part of the history.
Now, the only thing that change since then is not they have actually passed
a state law to say that it`s illegal for us to do that. They didn`t have
that back in 2011.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Sixteen percent of all votes for President Obama in the
state of Ohio came from the this county. Do you think that this is a
partisan law rather than one about sort of the quality of voting?
FITZGERALD: Yes. Look. There`s one thing politicians know for sure. No
matter what people`s opinions are of politicians. I will tell you what
politicians always know. They know who votes. They know when they vote.
And they know where they vote. And they know when they have implemented
these new rules, they know exactly who it is affecting.
It`s not via coincidence these things are happening in state after state
after state and there is always the same groups that are being targeted.
There is no question about it.
And by the way, if they didn`t know about it, they`ve been to federal court
before. Every time we take the issues to court, the court is telling them
that these things are discriminatory. And they keep going back to the
well, over and over and over. It cannot be ignorance. At this point, I
don`t think it was ever ignorance. But it certainly at this point, they
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you this. Do you think there`s a symmetry of
information on that. So, you are pointing out the politician elected-
officials always know who they vote, where they vote and how this law will
impact those voters. Do Ohio voters also know that information?
FITZGERALD: Not everybody does. You know, they put out their spin and
some people do fall for it. Not everybody realizes. And you know, I hate
to say it but, some people have short memories and they forgotten how
chaotic it was in 2004.
You know, that was not a proud moment for us as Ohioans. We don`t want to
be known as a state that has a chaotic election. And so, some people have
already forgotten that. And that`s why the fight that we`ve been kind of
engaging in the last few days, I think, has been helpful. Because it is
reminding people, both the history and what`s at stake.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there any way to make this not a partisan battle? The
fact that in 2005, it was Republican controlled legislatures that initiated
this no fault absentee ballot. Are there politicians, are there civic
groups, are there folks that can actually make this about the quality of
voting instead of whether Dems or Republicans are going to win the next
FITZGERALD: Well -- look, I hope so. I think it`s really sad and here
we`re on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights, I think is sad that we
are still fighting about these issues in any kind of partisan way. We
should have gotten past that as a partisan issue.
I will say that, for instance, we passed a voting rights ordnance here in
Cuyahoga County and we received support from organizations like the league
of women voters. I mean, unbiased observers of this just say, look, these
reforms that were implemented make sense and they worked. So why would we
change them? So, we just have to hope that there is -- people are
listening and following this. And that the folks pushing this agenda
eventually get hurt politically by it, and maybe they`ll -- they can
approach this in ha nonpartisan way in the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Ed Fitzgerald in Cleveland, Ohio, thank you so much.
FITZGERALD: My pleasure. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, another warrior in the fight against voter
suppression. Our friends at "the Ed Show" have the scoop on what Ohio`s
state senator Nina Turner is up to these days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: It was very important that we highlight
in a real sense what it takes for somebody to come and vote. Voting
shouldn`t take all day. And you shouldn`t have to jump over hoops and
hurdles just to exercise your right to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, my MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz got in on the this
week in voter suppression action when he brought his viewers another
stories about changes in Ohio policies making it more difficult for people
In February after a tie breaking vote from Ohio secretary of state John
Houston, the board of elections in Ohio`s Hamilton county voted to move its
location from downtown Cincinnati to the suburb of Mount Erie.
In 2012 more than 24,000 people voted early in person at the old location.
And this latest decision is raising concerns that the move would block
access to the polls for downtown Cincinnati voters who don`t or can`t
drive. According to the ACLU, that includes at least 40 percent of
households in the area who don`t have access to a vehicle.
So, to highlight the challenges of using the single bus route available to
reach the suburban location on public transportation, State Senator Nina
Turner, also the Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state took "the
Ed Show" along with her on a ride.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TURNER: We are taking an hour and ten minutes. We got on the bus at 9:09.
That bus didn`t leave until 9:19. And here we are about an hour and 15
minutes later just getting off the bus and now walking --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Half a mile.
TURNER: Walking to the polling place.
So, this is the entrance to where the place will be but we still got to
walk all the way back there. Now, where are the sidewalks though for us to
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are no sidewalks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining now is an Jelani Cobb, associate professor of
African studies at the University of Connecticut, Nina Perez, who is deputy
director of the Democracy program at The Brennan Center. Wade Henderson,
president and CEO of the leadership conference on civil human rights. And
Zach Roth, national reporter for MSNBC.com who has a new article on efforts
to stop voter suppression. So nice to have you on here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Zach, I want to start with you. Because, you know, as a
reporter, part of that you do is you get the stories in local places. This
is an Ohio story. If I don`t live in Ohio, as most Americans don`t, why
should I care?
ZACHARY ROTH, MSNBC.COM NATIONAL REPORTER: Well, first of all, because
Ohio remains the single most pivotal swing state in presidential elections.
So anything that happens in Ohio is going to affect the election. Beyond
that, it`s not just limited to Ohio. What we`re seeing in Ohio is
happening in other states where they`re cutting early voting in Wisconsin,
for instance. Where they`re adding restrictions on voter I.D., those kinds
of things, in Texas, in North Carolina. So this is part of a much broader
movement to make voting more difficult especially for African-Americans,
for students, for major parts of the Democratic base.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. When we start with this week in voter suppression in
Ohio and then you mention Wisconsin, you know, as Mr. Fitzgerald said, this
is 50 years since 64 civil rights act. It is also 50 years since the
freedom summer. And now, I`m showing a bus ride in Ohio.
Ohio was where enslaved people went -- I mean, that was free land. That`s
where you went to be liberated. When you think about just sort of the
history of this, Jelani? How does of this voter suppression into places
like Ohio and Wisconsin kind of change the game for what we think voter
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN STUDIES, THE UNIVERSITY OF
CONNECTICUT: Right. See, there`s a really good book that I`m reading now
"Ruling Ruin" by Jeffrey (INAUDIBLE). It is about the end of the moderate
Republican and how this e demise comes about.
What we`re looking at is really the DNA of a southern strategy and how it
is played ourselves out. So the Republican Party can now say we are all
southerners now. And so, this is where you have to agree with chief
justice John Roberts when he says the mechanism and formula for determining
where protection need to be applied in the voting rights act was out
motive, it`s true.
He said it`s discriminatory toward southern states. I agree. We should
look at these nationally. Because these dynamics that were once
exclusively, almost exclusively southern are now playing themselves out.
And we`ve kind of starting to rebirth in the south. We have seen North
Carolina looking at its electoral demographics changing and them being as
much of a bellwether as Ohio is.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So when you then start thinking about strategy -- I
mean, I think there`s something really quite brilliant about state senator
Turner`s decision to get on the bus and just take that route, right?
Because it just makes it clear to people who have -- also like we`re all
Americans now and sort of have a sense of basic fairness. There is a way
in which you have seen. You are like, OK, well that, that just isn`t fair.
WADE HENDERSON, PRESIDENT, CEO, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: Exactly. No, we
love Nina Turner. And she`s done a great service both for Ohio and for the
country by shelling the practical event. Some of these policies that
denied people the opportunity to vote or at least prolonged it.
No one should have to ride a bus for an hour and a half or more before they
can cast a vote, particularly when in the last election cycle, they have
appalling place that was in their neighborhood.
So, obviously, the change was intended to have a political effect. I think
these changes have to be analyzed both on their owned terms, in terms of
what they intended to accomplish, but also to take a broader look at
whether or not this is consistent without view of what democracy should be.
And I think both Democrats and Republicans interest in that when they are
exposed to those kinds of tactics, generally rejected because they believe
the policies should in fact encourage people to vote, not deny them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, this is, you know, this is always the
optimism and pessimism and caution like on the one hand, you have Bill
Connor (ph), you know, with the dog, You have the fire hoses. But then
you also have an American outrage about the dogs and the fire hoses that
helps in fact shift it.
And so, I`m wondering because on one hand, we have to sort of generate a
nonpartisan outrage about the restriction of voting or bipartisan. On the
other hand, we also need a legal strategy. And so, I guess part of what
I`m also wondering is so how do you challenge this? What parts, you know,
array for example, allow a challenge of these kinds of voting changes?
NINA PEREZ, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, THE BRENNAN CENTER: Well, the voting rights
act, the part now functioning that lots of people are talking about is
section two of the voting rights act. And certainly, I`m referring to an
important in our national history, which is the Supreme Court struck down a
very important part of the voting rights act, and the Shelby County
decision where it made inoperable section five of the voting rights act.
That did not apply to Ohio, but there is an important legal issue now that
section two has to do more work. Because now when we don`t have section
five to prevent the discriminatory polling place and changes that were
covered for photo ID in places that were covered. We have to build up the
section two jurisprudence to make sure that it can do the work that
previously got a little bit more diffused.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me. We have much, much more on this issue and
it`s much broader than just this one state. In fact, none other than
President Obama is calling out Republicans in a way that we`ve never heard
before, and that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America did not stand up and
did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for
themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their
grandchildren. We got to pay attention to this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: On Friday, President Obama addressed a 16th annual gathering
f Reverend Al Sharpton`s National Action Network conference. And he
devoted at least ten minutes to Republican efforts to restrict the vote.
In fact, the president went so hard on voting rights that before I let him
break it down for you, I`m just going to give him his very own animation
for this week in voter suppression. President Obama, you have the floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Across the country, Republicans had led efforts to pass laws making
it harder, not easier for people to vote. In some places, women could be
turned away from polls just because they`re registered under their maiden
name but their driver`s license has their married name. Senior citizens
who have been voting for decades may be told they can no longer vote until
they come up with the right idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well now we`ve been saying that. And there`s plenty more
where that came from. But I`m going to have to interrupt the president for
just a moment and let my table get in on this.
Were you surprised to see this level of like clarity from the president
about this issue?
ROTH: Yes, I was. And I was there in the room. And it wasn`t just me.
There was a real sense, not just of excitement among the crowd, but almost
a relief that this was what voting rights advocates and people who care
about access to the ballot had been urging the president to do for a couple
And he had been sort of moderated up to this point. Talking about it as a
technical issue where we all need to come together and figure out how to
make the process smoother. Now he was talking about an urgent civil rights
issue. And that`s what people had wanting to see.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. He hinted at it election night 2012 where he, you
know, you guys stood in line. We have to do something about that. And of
course, yes, he`s saying it. But this time he just said it. In fact, I
want to listen to him say that this is not just a bad thing, right, as I
pointed out. This is a partisan bad thing. So let`s listen to him say
that. This is really about Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And I just say there have been some of these officials who have
been passing the laws have been more blunt. They say it`s going to be good
for the Republican party. Some have not been shy about saying that they`re
doing this for partisan reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: So, I mean, he is referring to what happened in (INAUDIBLE), photo
ID bill. But in also in North Carolina, there was a pretty naked statement
of legislator who said that now we don`t have to go through the
preclearance process. We were going just do a photo I.D. bill. But now
we`re going to do the full bill. So now they have the package of the early
voting cuts and other things like that.
And I think one thing that I thought was really important about the
president`s speech is that he had been speaking to the election
administration side. He has been speaking to the idea of the fact we need
to make sure that our elections are run well. If the process is running
well, he appointed a bipartisan commission that came out with results. And
now, he`s speaking to the civil rights issue which means two things.
Everyone needs to have equal access to the polls. So they know when they
step into the ballot box, they will be free from discrimination. And our
elections need to work well. They need to work well for everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: So when the president speaks, this president in particular,
maybe all presidents, bur certainly we have seen with this president, when
he speaks on one hand, you get that moment in the room. That excitement.
Let`s do it. But then you also know that in part just because this
president said it, there`s a way in which the backlash, the return back to
it means that it doesn`t end up being technocratic question of our are
elections run well, but instead, this kind of deeply partisan discourse
about the president was trying to push things.
HENDERSON: Well, that`s absolutely right. There`s a dichotomy between
whether or not he`s speaking factually, accurately about the election
issues and at the same time, talking about the civil rights dimensions that
are part of the debate.
Two things. His comments were factually accurate. The changes that are
taking place around the country are for the most who are being promoted by
the Republicans at the state level.
But at the same time, it`s important to remember that if we are going to
repair the damage of the Shelby County decision, it can only be done in
Congress. If it is going to be done between now and the midterm elections,
that will require votes of Democrats and Republicans. It`s going to have
to be a bipartisan mix in order to gain that support.
And so, does his advocacy of changes at the state level diminish our chance
of getting the bill at the federal level because he`s speaking in a way
that turns Republicans off. The truth is Republicans at the federal level,
people like Jim Sensenbrenner, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin
even Eric Cantor. The house majority leader are sending signals they would
like to see a repair of the voting rights act and the bill under
consideration now supported by both Republicans and Democrats would make a
significant difference and we want it enacted wean now and the midterms.
So, it does creates a bit of a tension between how you frame the issues.
How you discuss them. but to be fair to the president, he was factually
accurate. He did speak to a concern that is deep within the African-
American community and communities of color. The election administration
bill that he promoted or rather the commission that they established that
made recommendations has done so. But their recommendations have not yet
been translated to a bill with a chance of moving. And so, there is a
sense of how do you motivate your own base to turn out for the poll? And
how do you have them make a difference on Election.
When we come back, we`ll stay on this question of the kind of strategic
when we come back.
But as we go out, I want to listen to one more thing that the president
said, around this question of whether or no he is imperially accurate where
he is citing a city about how infrequent voter fraud is. Let`s listen t
that as we go out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: One recent study found only ten cases of alleged in-person voter
impersonation in 12 years. So, let`s be clear, the real voter fraud is
people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We should not be having an argument about this. There are a lot of
things we can argue about, but the right to vote. What kind of political
platform is that? Why would you make that a part of your agenda? If your
strategy depends on having fewer people to show up to vote. That`s not a
sign of strength. That`s a sign of weakness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama speaking at the National Action
Network conference on Friday.
So that point, that if your strategy depends on fewer people voting, but
that is in fact some sort of the empirical reality for Republicans for a
long time. Low turnout elections, good for Republicans. High turnout
election, good for Democrats. Really sounds about the 1940s.
COBB: It is interesting that you bring up the 1940. Well, I first start
by saying that I like the mixed tape Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: You are right. With the red, black and green behind him.
COBB: Exactly. And so, but you know, going to back to -- in 1948, you
know this (INAUDIBLE) really important groundbreaking book, balance of
power, which saying that look, the way forward is that Republicans and
Democrats will have to compete, you know, for black votes. That actually
holds true until the 1960s and then it has kind of collapses under the
weight of the southern strategy. But the question that you have to
confront is, how long can this work? This is not a sustainable long-term
strategy. You don`t build a majority on this.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this point is sort of like the idea that the parties
have to compete. Because we will often hear African-Americans shouldn`t
all be in the Democratic Party, right? They should be splitting up their
vote that has to be challenged.
OK, I get that. Like strategically, I get that. But it shouldn`t have to
be the voters have to go against their interest. It should be the parties
who are trying to get the groups.
HENDERSON: Policies matter.
HENDERSON: If you want to appeal to progressive interest, then appeal to
progressive interest and make it clear you want their votes. African-
Americans are no different than any other constituency. They want to know
that you want their votes and you are enacting policies that would address
At the same time, it`s very clearly that by packing African-Americans
exclusively into the Democratic Party, it limits their political options in
terms of what we can do. But that is theoretical sense of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes.
HENDERSON: The truth is we have to create a dynamic that makes our vote
more actively sought after which means that regardless of who is in power,
regardless of who is at the top of the ticket, we have to turn out. And as
a constituency, while we have done extremely well, as was demonstrated in
the 2012 election where we turned out in record numbers, midterm elections
like the upcoming midterm this year is predicted to have a falloff in the
number of people who turn out to vote. And that simply can`t be the case.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that particularly can`t be the case if your election
year ends in zero, please God, vote. That is what we call (INAUDIBLE), and
you are going to leave for a decade with the consequences of the load 2010
I want -- you said something earlier, Jelani, that I want to bring to you
more actually about that Shelby decision. Because this the idea that part
of what justice Roberts was arguing was that this simply needs to be not
just about the south.
So we see in there that he said in 1965, the states could be divided into
two groups. Those with the recent history of voting test and low voting
registration turnout and those without (INAUDIBLE). Congress basics
formula on that decision.
Today, the nation is no longer divided along the lines. It is the voting
right act continue to treat it as if that were seems right. Like that is
an empirically accurate assessment of the ways in which Ohio, Pennsylvania,
But then, if we go to the point made here by Wade before the break, we`re
going to have to have Congress to make a new formula. So what does the new
formula will look like? Will it cows for Justice Roberts` concern, but
also gets us a preclearance that makes sense.
PEREZ: Right. So the new formula looks at modern day violations. It has
particular moment in time. It goes back 15 years. You have to get a
certain number of violations and then you get covered.
It also allows more flexibility for courts. So right now courts can only
oppose the preclearance regime if there`s been an intentional
discrimination which is hard to prove in these days and age. But now it
expands the kinds of violations that allows the court to say this
particular jurisdiction needs to be subject to preclearance.
So, it is both flexible, moderate and adaptive. But one of the things that
I think is super important to keep in mind is the fact the states that were
covered by preclearance are states that still have a continuing of
HARRIS-PERRY: Texas, North Carolina.
PEREZ: Right. And so, you know, so I think, you know, I would disagree
with the Professor Cobb that it was an outdated formula. And I think there
is very reason evidence justifying the fact that the preclearance formula
was where it was.
Now, it end up not being the constitutional by Justice Roberts, but I don`t
-- I think history will view that decision and will look at what we are
seeing now in those states and see the local --
HARRIS-PERRY: I have so much more for you.
Thank you to Nina Perez and to Zach Roth. I have so much more for you
guys, Jelani and Wade, I`m going to see you guys both in the next hour.
But before we go to break, Zach really does have this incredibly excellent
piece on Democrats making voting rights a top priority. You can read the
article at MSNBC.com and you should read the article. It`s central to the
conversation we`ve been having.
But coming up, NBC News` Kate Snow is here with more on her report about
the heroin epidemic in America. You may have seen Kate`s report throughout
the course of this week. She is uncovering important information. You`re
not going to want to miss this.
HARRIS-PERRY: The deadly consequences of heroin addiction once again
became part of our national dialogue with the untimely death of actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman who overdosed on a mixture of heroin, cocaine and
other drugs in February.
Also "Glee" actor Cory Monteith, who died for a combination of heroin and
alcohol last July.
Their deaths speak to the realities that heroin users and their families
can face on a daily basis because of the devastating addiction. 669,000,
that`s the number of Americans that reported using heroin in 2012, 156,000
is how many people started using heroin for the first time that same year.
That was nearly double the number of first-time heroin users in 2006.
Four hundred and sixty seven thousand is how many people were addicted in
heroin in 2012. That too is double the number of heroin addicts from ten
Seven hundred and seventy percent is how much of a heroin epidemic has
grown in just the state of Vermont since the year 2000. Forty five percent
is the increase in the amount of heroin overdose deaths between 2006 and
And 1971, that`s the year Naloxone, also known as narcan. It was approved
by the FDA and it`s able to block the opiates, the effects of the opiates
on the brain. Two to three minutes, that`s how quickly it`s restored to an
overdose victim. 10,171 is the number of overdose reversals that have
occurred since 1996 because of the distribution and training programs.
When we come back, more on how the non-addictive prescription drugs Narcan
helps reverse heroin overdoses and why some people are still opposed to the
HARRIS-PERRY: This week NBC News national correspondent Kate Snow brought
us a groundbreaking series called "hooked, America`s heroin epidemic" that
look at the increase in heroin addiction in our nation.
The heartbreaking effects it can have on not only those who are addicted,
but their families who are desperately trying to save them. Let`s take a
KATE SNOW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside St. Louis, this
mom is so desperate to protect her family, she`s willing to break the law.
Technically this is illegal for you to have in the state of Missouri.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is.
SNOW: Denise, who asked us not to use her last name, keeps those vials
filled with narcan on a dresser, injected into a muscle and it can
instantly reverse an overdose.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they`re laying on the floor dead, I`m going to
save their life before the ambulance can.
SNOW: They are her son, Ben and Ryan. Both of them living with her. Both
of them heroin addicts, sleeping in the rooms they grew up. Denise has
sent them to rehab, but they relapsed. Ben is in treatment because he`s
young never to be covered by his dad`s insurance. He`s been clean for two
months. But Ryan can`t afford treatment and is still struggling.
Some of us have no idea what the attraction is? What does it feel like?
RYAN, HEROIN ADDICT: Like a warmth. Like everything is all right. That`s
what it feels like. You don`t think about anything. It`s just calming.
SNOW: It`s so easy to get addicted and so easy to overdose. That`s what
DENISE, MOTHER: Ryan said he`s lost five friends.
SNOW: Yes. Good friends. And you probably knew their moms.
DENISE: I can`t drive by their houses. Because I know mine could be next.
SNOW: They`ve had close calls before. A couple years ago Denise had to
take Ryan to the hospital after he overdosed.
DENISE; They gave him a shot of Narcan and I`ve never seen anything like
it in his life. She was pushing it in and he was coming out of it.
SNOW: The narcan?
DENISE: Before she finished putting it in.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m pleased to be joined by the reporter who brought us the
series, NBC News national correspondent Kate Snow.
So I`ve been watching this very closely over the course of the week.
SNOW: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you see as the primary -- I mean, this is enormous
explosion. What do you see as primary cause it?
SNOW: Well, the doctors would tell, what the x-rays will tell you,
Melissa, is that it is prescription painkillers, right? So many people are
getting hooked on opiates which is (INAUDIBLE) and any of those that are
either they were prescribed legitimately by a doctor or maybe they pick
them up from friends at a party. It`s become the cool thing, young people
tell me in high schools to take. Those get really expensive really fast.
On the street you`re buying one bill $50. Whereas heroin, here in New
York, you can get it for $6 for a little bag. So the economics of it
drives people from when they run out of the prescription painkillers, they
go over to heroin.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, when I listen to that young man saying his experience of
being on heroin was the sense of warmth and everything being OK, I also
wonder when we look at the exposure that`s happening at the same time as
our economic downturn. At the same time that there`s a kind of malaise in
the country. I wonder if, you know, these are personal decisions, but I
wonder if it`s connected to something going on.
SNOW: Yes. Everyone I talked to who is a user now or a former user of
heroin has said that they felt like they wanted to escape from their life.
And so, for so many people that`s because they don`t have a job or they
don`t have a great, you know, economic situation. So yes, I think you
touched on something absolutely linked.
If you look at the numbers and since out recession started, the heroin
numbers go up above.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder if there`s something we should also be concerned
about in terms of public health. Because if I`m taking a prescription
pill, even if it`s illegal that I`m taking it, I`m not necessarily being
exposed to other diseases, for example, Hepatitis or HIV. But once I`m
injecting heroin then these other concerns -- other health concern come
about. In places like Vermont, you have seen this increased, do you see
them being concerned about --?
SNOW: Absolutely. I was actually in Portland, Maine, at a needle exchange
clinic, where if you saw the image we put on TV, there`s a bin of needles
that they collected just that morning, hundreds of needles. So they`re
making an active effort in that community. That`s a pretty liberal
community where they have a lot of needle exchange programs. But other
places do the rural -- remote a rural main, it is hard to get to those
kinds of programs. And there`s absolutely a concern about passing disease.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to play another piece. And this is about Vermont,
where we`ve seen the enormous increase. And then I want to ask you king of
a tough question on the back of. So let`s take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: The number of people dying from a heroin overdose in Vermont more
than doubled in just one year. All over the state there are waiting lists
to get into treatment clinics like green mountain family medicine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s hard. I mean, the downhill spiral. It was so
fast. I didn`t know what I was doing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many do I have on my list?
SNOW: Dr. Dean McKenZie says heroin has a grip on the town.
DEAN MCKENZIE, DOCTOR: After awhile, you`re not going it to get high.
You`re doing it to survive. You`re doing it so you don`t get sick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So my sort of human side reacts, oh my God. This is a
terrible thing. We need it. But then there`s a little critic in my head
that says, the last time we did reporting around like an explosion of a
drug epidemic, particularly like around crack babies, ten years later it
turned out not quite as bad as we thought. That the effects were not the
So, what you should accomplish, this is really like -- this is a real
thing, not just lust.
SNOW: Well, I think that once you tried -- what all the users have said to
us p when you try it you make a choice to try it. But then, it becomes a
disease. You`re now hooked on the drugs. And it`s a lifelong battle to
get off of this. So the consequences for everyone around you, for the
economy -- I mean, there are big consequences for society. If we have a
lot of heroin users hooked on the stuff and try to fight it over the rest
of their lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love the language of disease to talk about drug addiction.
I prefer that. We talk about alternatives to sentencing. But I must
admit, on the one hand, again, I had having this human reaction, the sense
of addiction, but also again kind of shocked there was so little
criminalization because in other drugs we`ve talked about and covered --
SNOW: There is. It depends where you live. If you go to state of Maine,
they`ve got a governor, Republican governor out there who is very much
cracking down. He`s got proposed legislation right now to increase the
number of drug agents in the state of Maine. Prosecutions are up. So, it
depends on where you live.
In Vermont, that governor held his state of the state recently. He
probably now talked all about heroin. He devoted his entire state of the
state to heroin. His approach is more -- he`s a Democrat. His approach is
more treatment, on the treatment side of things and less punishment.
Although, it kind of bus on the interstate that runs up through Vermont
from New York because people trafficking the drug. There are people being
arrested with hundreds of bag in their cars.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciated the series and your reporting.
Thanks so much to NBC`s Kate Snow. You can see more of Kate`s reporting on
America`s heroin epidemic on NBCnews.com.
And coming up next, the discussion about race, politics and the
presidential policy. That makes perfect sense right out of heroin. "New
York` magazine Jonathan Chait joins me live to discuss his cover article.
There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Last week, we jumped into a spirited debate on race, cultural pathology,
and the Obama presidency that was bawling between "The Atlantic`s" Ta-
Nehisi Coates and "New York Magazine`s" Jonathan Chait. This week, the
debate continued on a new track with a publication of Chait`s "New York"
cover story on how, quote, "race has been the real story of the Obama
presidency all along."
In the piece, Chait argues, "Race, always the deepest and most volatile
fault line in American history, has now become the primal grievance in our
politics. The source of narrative of persecution each side uses to make
sense of the world. Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia, of a white
racism that has seeped out American history in the Obama years and lurched
everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in the paranoia of
their own in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core
beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia
OK. Indulge me for just a moment, as I share a story.
In the months immediately following President Obama`s 2009 inauguration, I
addressed a group of white Southerners who supported Obama`s 2008
candidacy. One man raised his hand and shared with me this insight, he
said, "Ma`am, I`ve seen the change. I`ve lived in South Carolina my whole
life and I`ve always seen black men walking with their heads down. Since
Obama became president, I noticed they`re walking straighter. They`re
looking me in the eye and smiling. Obama made black people proud. Now
they know they can do anything."
To which I responded, sir, I think it`s not the president made black people
feel better about ourselves. I think that you guys helping us elect him
made us feel better about y`all.
Now, this man was no racist. He was part of a multiracial coalition that
just elected the first black president. He was an optimist for his nation.
And he was attempting a sincere observation of black life from his vantage
point. But the problem is his view was obscure.
Now, let me get a little professorial here. W.E.B. DuBois described in
"The Soul of Black Folks", the veil behind which black life takes place.
It`s a description both of the physical barriers imposed by segregation,
which make it difficult for black people to be seen and a nation that sees
whiteness as a norm and black life as the aberration.
The man from South Carolina could not see past the veil, could not see
outside of his own interpretation of what was happening to African-
Americans in the South. What he saw as evidence that black people recently
became proud of blackness I saw as an indication that black people were
more optimistic about white America.
For me, reading Jonathan Chait`s "New York" cover story reminded me of that
moment, because Chait intent an earnest assessment of contemporary racial
politics. Mr. Chait is, as I said last week, a smart writer. But the
piece suffers I think from the same narrow vantage point as that well-
meaning man from South Carolina. Chait describes what he believes is the
real story of the Obama presidency.
Quote, "Even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war
of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything
else: debt, health care, unemployment, whereas the great themes of the Bush
years resolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who
constituted real America. The Obama years have been defined by a bitter
disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an
argument over whether the recipient of big government largess deserved it.
There is no separating this discussion from one`s sympathies or prejudices
toward and identification with black America."
But to suggest the Bush years were largely free of racial discourse is to
ignore that communities of colors experienced foreign policy as race talk,
interpreted the cultural divide over the real America as race talk and
ultimately understood the demise of Bush`s influence in the wake of the
Katrina disaster as race talk. To describe American racial politics as an
endless war of mutual victimization suggests that there are no actual
victims of the continuing policies, only that there discursive points to be
scored by equally matched sides.
This is best described by Jamelle Bouie who wrote in a piece for "Slate"
that Chait`s argument is, quote, "a story mutual grievances between
Americans on the left and the right with little interest in the lived
experienced of racism from black Americans and other people of color. It`s
a story in other words that treats race an intellectual exercise, a low
stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white
conservatives over their respective racial innocence."
Now, Chait may have been lured into this trap because he studiously cites
the research findings of several well-regarded social sciences who have for
decades believe that questions of race only matter to the political
conversation to the extent that white people disagree among themselves
about how to treat racial minorities. Chait cites findings from their
research as though it is settled truth, seemingly unaware of a raging
debate of criticism of the kind of whites-only approach to the study of
race, trying to understand American racial politics while failing to
account in a very serious way for African-American perspectives and history
causes smart people to ask the wrong questions, to fail to interrogate
their own assumptions and often to come to the wrong conclusions.
Conclusions I think like this, "If you set out to write a social history of
the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experiences of political
life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never
That "never before" could only be true if you don`t account for black folks
story as part of the story about race, and I think that makes your story
wrong, but as I was reminded by Ta-Nehisi Coates recent offering, the point
of public debate is not to declare victory. But instead, it is always to
expand one`s limited understanding of our complicated world.
And it is in that spirit that I welcome now from Washington, D.C., the
author of the "New York Magazine" cover article Jonathan Chait.
Jonathan, thank you for being here this morning.
JONATHAN CHAIT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Thanks, and thanks for introducing your
audience with such an open mind. I`ve really never seen a television show
where the host berates and rebuts the person they`re having on the show for
several minutes before they`re invited on.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s interesting. I did not mean it in any way as a
personal berating. I undoubtedly was attempting to address what I see as
your ideas. As you know, because we invited you on last week, this is part
of an ongoing conversation that we jumped into it.
I don`t mean it to berate you personally. I do think your article fails in
this really critical way, and it is for me the thing that I want to talk to
you about. You said that you set out to write a social history of the
Obama years, and I`m wondering if in fact you feel you have succeeded in
CHAIT: I`m not writing a social history of the Obama years. I`m writing
about how politics has changed in the Obama years. And what I`m writing
about and what the social scientists have described is that race has become
I did not say anywhere in this article that race did not matter prior to
the Obama years because I don`t believe that and I didn`t argue that. What
these findings show is race has become more important to how everyone
thinks about American politics during the Obama years for the obvious
reason that now we have a black president.
So, obviously, race is probably become more salient to black Americans all
along. But it`s become more important -- it`s become more forefront in the
consciousness of white Americans during the Obama years. This is an
important change that I`m trying to describe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan, I think that`s interesting. The modifier that you
just used isn`t used very much in the article itself. And I wonder that`s
just in part than the challenge that I had with it, because the article
purports to talk about race becoming more important and more salient to
Americans overall or to the American political discourse. Just now as you
were talking, you modified that by saying it became important to white
Americans in a new way.
That seems to be a very different claim. Then you are acknowledging that
this is really a piece primarily about white racial attitudes, which I
think is a reasonable thing to write an article about. But if you`re
writing an article about America and ignoring the ways in which there`s a
clear countervailing argument around racialized communities, then it does
seem to be an inaccurate statement.
CHAIT: Well, look, I`m not writing a piece about the state of racism in
America, which is a fantastic topic. It`s not just the subject of this.
I`m writing about American politics.
And what I write is that important divide on this question is actually not
between black and white, as a lot of people feared it would be. It`s
between left and right or Democrat and Republican.
So, these two sides, the liberal side is a multiracial coalition. So, it
includes black Americans and white Americans. But what`s interesting about
the way this divide affects them is it affects them as ideologues, not as
people by race per se. So, that`s the focus.
I`m focusing -- there are plenty of perspectives of black and white people
alike in this piece. But the way I`m examining them is how they vote and
how they think as Democrats and Republicans versus how they think as white
and black people.
BLACKWELL: So, let`s dig into that claim a little bit because I think that
-- for me, as I`m reading it, and particularly the social scientist that
you cite, so part of I think what happened for me is that as a political
scientist, I have a lot at stake in the academic part of it. I`m trying to
avoid doing too much of that on TV because I can imagine that`s got to be
But part of it is the research that you cite have also been critiqued often
for exactly the focus that you talked about, which is to say that the
primary concern of the politics of race is really just the politics around
sort of how whites disagree about race, and for not accounting for the ways
that African-Americans are not just part of the blue tribe. But in fact,
within, for example, the Democratic coalition, are still consistently
arguing with and having big perception divides between black and white
Democrats, for example.
CHAIT: Right. Well, that`s an important question. It`s just not the
subject of the story.
So, I just don`t understand saying I wish you had written a story about a
different subject, as Jamelle Bouie does. It`s just -- that`s fine. Go
write the story. That`s a great subject. It`s just not what I`m writing
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I think -- I guess -- I think that`s where we disagree,
is that for me, if you are -- that the model is misspecified. There are
hypotheses that don`t get sort of laid out if, in fact, you don`t think
about that aspect of the story kind of while you`re telling the big one.
Let me ask you, I do feel -- I do try not to be unfair in the way that your
initial statement suggested. So, let me just ask you this -- I always feel
like my -- some of the greatest lessons I`ve learned are from those the
most critical of me. And I`m wondering, in the context of the debate
that`s now been going on for quite some time, I mean, you are offering most
recently shifted it. There was the pathology debate two weeks ago and then
What has shifted for you at all? Has there been any moment where you`re
like, OK, on this thing, I think there`s a point that I might have shifted
or done this differently.
CHAIT: Well, I think what`s really unfortunate is the timing of those two
things. This story has been conceived for months. I`ve been working on it
for weeks and it was written before I started this debate with Coates.
But, I think, unfortunately, that debate came out online first and it
primed the way a lot of people, including you, came to think of my piece
and came to think of me as here`s Chait, the conservative enemy of us. And
let`s tear his piece apart. And I think if that debate had never come out,
people would be reading this piece in a completely different way than how
they are. So, that was really a big mistake.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I will say this one thing, Jonathan. I don`t think of
you as conservative enemy. One, I don`t think of conservatives as enemies.
But also, this debate is mostly interesting to me because I think of us as
similarly positioned in the coalition. I`m always actually more interested
in sort of those who are on the same side, and the kind of -- not that
there`s one or two sides, but like who have similar sort of end goals but
has these deeply different divides. Those are actually the ones that I
find most interesting, rather than like, oh, this person is always against
CHAIT: Well, that -- so again, I think that`s the really unfortunate thing
that I regret. I got into what I thought it was an interesting debate
about race and race in America with Coates, and then people read this and
said it`s about race in America. And it`s just not. I think that really
contributed to a pretty widespread misreading of the article, which I hope
people will read in a more open frame of mind.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Jonathan Chait, thank you for joining us from
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. I`m going to take a closer look on how
the president talks about race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the white community, the
path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the
African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black
people, that the legacy of discrimination and current incidents of
discrimination, while less overt than in the past, these things are real
and must be addressed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about Jonathan Chait`s "New York
Magazine" piece about race in the Obama presidency. If as Chait claims,
our first black president brought race to the surface of political
discussion like never before, one of the first moments is when then-Senator
Obama gave a speech in 2008 in Philadelphia.
He tried to explain the divide in how black Americans and white Americans
see each other and themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The anger is real. It is powerful. And to simply wish it away to
condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm
of the misunderstanding that exists between the races. And yet, to wish
away the resentments of White Americans, to label them as misguided or even
racist without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns, this
too widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So there he is, the soon-to-be President Obama speaking of
black anger and white resentment. But he doesn`t use the language for
either side of paranoia, which is part of the language the Jonathan Chait
did, in fact, use in his "New York" cover story.
And joining me now, Jelani Cobb, associate professor of the University of
Connecticut, Jonathan Metzl, professor psychiatry at Vanderbilt University,
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and
Human Rights, and Salamishah Tillet, associate professor of English and
Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, Jonathan, I wanted to start with you because I found it interesting the
language of paranoia and of insanity that Mr. Chait often uses to talk
about race and mostly to talk about the difference between white liberals
and white conservatives arguing about race. But this idea that if you see
race differently, it institutes insanity or madness.
JONATHAN METZL, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. Well, I have two
points that maybe jumping off point where I think is going to be a very
fruitful conversation about this. And one is that when I read that part of
it, I almost fell off my chair because, of course, we know that when I
researched my book, "The Protest Psychosis", the idea of paranoia itself is
incredibly racialized. It`s not just a standard symptom. And through the
1960s and 1970s, and the moniker of paranoia was actually used to
pathologize black protesters who were protesting against the U.S.
So there`s a history of paranoia that I think is very important in the
political sphere. The second point I want to make that`s slightly related
is that it`s not really true that -- I mean, the hard part for me is that
it`s not just that. We have expanded conversation about race in this
There are a million ways in which conversations about race have been
frustratingly silenced. It`s hard -- you know, there`s fewer minority
students on college campus, defunding of research, social science research
about race. And so, in a way, having a black president has ironically made
it more difficult to talk about race in the United States I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this first point that you made about the notion that
paranoia itself is not a race neutral term.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Jelani, part of why I wanted to bring back Senator
Obama, 2008, doing the race speech, which was both this incredible moment
of the man running for president addressing race, right? And then also
doing a frustrating equivalency that right resentment and black anger are
all kind of the same thing, that there`s just terms for debate.
And as much as I was irritated by Mr. Chait`s article, which I think also
creates that sort of false equivalency, just mutual grievance, I can see
how if you were just reading race initiated in the Obama moment in 2008,
you could see it all as just an equivalency, rather than the very terms of
the debate are themselves part of the racial structure.
COBB: Right. So, I begin by saying that if Jonathan Chait had written
half that article was left hand and the other with his right hand just to
prove how even handed he could be on the subject.
I think that this idea of false equivalence. And there was a kind of
arrogance implied within this, that people who have live experience with
race and that race is just some kind of idle topic for intellectual
exercise and so on. But the deformative power of a social dynamic that
shortens peoples lives, that decreases their social economic standing, that
increases associated with anything from infant mortality, to disease,
likelihood to wind up in the prison -- criminal justice system, we`re
talking about our lives. That`s what we`re talking about. We`re not
talking about that abstract exercise that he refers to.
So, making this false equivalence between white people who were offended by
being called racist or black people who experienced racism, it denotes a
certain inability to understand what racism actually is and how it
functions in society, and what its deformative affect continues to be.
And so beyond that, the idea of Obama and Obama not really addressing race
and so on, it`s completely metaphorical for how many things black people
experience that are racial that they are hesitant to say, precisely because
there`s a dynamic of being called, you know, a race baiter, or the, quote-
unquote, "real racist" and so on, So, is where people come from on the
equation. A lot of things that that are racist at any given point in my
life, none of us can devote enough time to respond to it. That`s all we
So this point is really tough one, there`s a lot of academics at the table
here. This question of how do we value, as a matter of any other lived
experience, as compared to any other thing, right? So, if I am trying to
understand race in America, right, how much of it as I`m trying to
understand it, should be devoted to a kind of clear eyed, you know, I`m
outside of this. This doesn`t impact me. And therefore I can talk versus
trying to understand it from the epistemology of lived experience.
Like how we -- I mean, I see this as an actual problem because it`s not
being black, it`s also not sufficient for racial analysis, right? And
being white does not mean one is outside to do capable of racial analysis.
SALAMISHAH TILLET, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: There`s a couple of
problems I had with the article, to add to Jelani`s point. The first I
thought offensive was using the language of stop and frisk to talk about
the ways in which like MSNBC for example deals with issues of racial
injustice, right? So, I recently saw a documentary a Hill documentary and
reminded of when Clarence Thomas uses the term high-tech lynching to talk
about the hearing that he`s experiencing.
So, I think just to use stop and frisk as a way of critiquing any
institution for talking about racial injustice is problematic but also
allied to the realities of individuals experiencing state sanction violence
and harassment. The second thing about the article is the fact to be
called racist as problematic or devaluing as really racism itself, right?
So, Paula Deen somehow becomes a victim of racial injury that`s as powerful
and as dehumanizing as the ways in which she was practicing racism every
day as part of her organization -- part of her power.
And the third thing -- and I just want to continue this point about we`re
thinking about the lived experiences of black people, both the black elite
and every day black people, for me the ways there`s a stalemate about race
is the fact that because there`s so much animus towards Barack Obama as the
first black president, it`s literally stalemated conversations about racial
injustice and also the ways in which black people are trying to organize or
trying to insert a racial justice platform into the agenda of the
presidency in the ways in which we cannot talk. That`s the real --
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s exactly where I want to start when we come back,
because that idea -- and this goes back to your point about stymieing the
conversation, in part because the person of President Obama ends up
affecting what we think of as protecting him. And therefore maybe not talk
about the other issues.
So much more to say. When we come back -- if it`s all about race now, what
happens if Hillary Clinton runs? Are the gender wars next?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There is a double standard,
obviously. We have all either experienced it or at the very least seen it.
And I think in many respects the media is the principle propagator of its
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan Chait landed his "New York Magazine" on race during
the Obama presidency on what happens in 2017. Quote, "Obama is attempting
to navigate the fraught everywhere and yet nowhere racial obsession that
surrounds him. It`s a weird moment, but also a temporary one. The passing
from the scene of the nation`s first black president in three years, and
the near certain election of the nonblack one will likely ease the mutual
"The New Republic" picked that up and ran with it, publishing a piece
entitled "The Obama-era race wars are ending. Get ready for the Clinton
era gender wars."
HENDERSON: Perhaps. Let me just say at the outset that while Jonathan
Chait`s article has been a source of great controversy and we obviously
talked about it here, it`s really obscured a larger debate about the facts
that exist today on the ground, and I hope we can talk about it for a
HENDERSON: When the president was elected and when Mitch McConnell, a
minority leader in the House said his first goal was to make Obama a one-
term president. In the context of which he stated it, it was not arguably
a racial comment.
HARRIS-PERRY: There you go.
HENDERSON: And yet, there was clearly a subtext involved that people of --
regardless of race -- read into the argument, suggesting that this person,
and not simply drawn from the statement. It was the surrounding
discussion. It was an ill legitimate individual to lead the country given
his political philosophical views.
Later when he gave a State of the Union, and a member of Congress stood up
and said "you lie", previously that would have been never tolerated because
it represents a disrespect to the presidency that regardless of political
affiliation, you would have accepted. But in this instance, you were sort
of expected to swallow it because it was deemed appropriate.
There are other instances like that, but let me give you two salient facts.
First, last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation issued a report called Race
for Results. It examined the status of children in our country across a
number of factors, 12 variables that really affect opportunity in the real
world. African-Americans, 60 years after Brown were at the bottom of the
pyramid scale, and because of structural inequality involving issues of
poverty, the lack of jobs, and schooling resulted in many problems that
we`ve talked about.
The kind of empirical day that that we have seen, for example, with a civil
rights data collection set issued by the Department of Education last week,
and here`s one factor that really stood out at me. Kids in preschool,
African-Americans account for 16 percent of the preschool population. And
yet 43 percent of children in preschool who are suspended out of school and
one has to wonder, what does that suggest?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Children of color.
HENDERSON: Right. These are black kids. You wonder what could they have
done to justify this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to come back to that day today and the limited
experience. I just want to -- on one piece here. So, the emblematic
example this for me is President George W. Bush in decision points saying
that the worst moment of his presidency was being called racist by Kanye
West. And there`s a part of me that thinks, great, I am happy my president
does not want to be thought of that way.
There`s value in my president not wanting to be thought of as racist. But
the idea being called racist was equivalent to the experience of living
Katrina and its aftermath, which is I think what happens in this particular
discourse -- and so, we just look at that great divide on, for example, the
Kanye West comment. Fifty-six percent of white Americans thought that
those comments were unjustified, only 9 percent of African-Americans
thought they were unjustified, because from their lived experience and
that`s how they saw it.
COBB: Isn`t it always the lived experience, though? The other thing
that`s frustrating about that article is that as a black person you are
actually wondering when someone will take you seriously, when something
happens that is racial, you`re saying this is what my experience has been.
And then someone turns around and says you`re like McCarthy because you see
METZL: I just think -- I think the issue in part is that we`re in danger
of conflating prejudice and structural racism and that`s psychologists who
study racism differentiate between negative attitudes about, you know, when
you see a black doll or a white doll. And what we`re talking about here
which I think is the impact of, you know, implicit bias in schools and
preschools. I think the danger of an article like this is that it
conflates prejudice, with a more economic imbalance and structural racism.
TILLET: I also think the danger of the article speaks to the points that
you`re raising. Because of the white supremacy, you know, the attacks
against Obama that are driven either coded or explicit racially motivated,
it`s prevented. It`s -- you know, there`s a cult of pride and a cult of
protectionism that African-Americans have enclosed around Barack Obama that
has made it very difficult for us to address the issues that you`re saying,
right, because on one hand you have to hold the federal government
accountable and therefore hold Barack Obama accountable.
So, that`s my biggest issue, when you don`t deal with structures and
practices of racial inequality. You`re only talking about rhetorical
practices, you`re not only not acknowledging the lived experiences for not
putting forth any agenda to deal with them. And that`s the ending that he
says, when Barack Obama leaves.
TILLET: That`s disappointing because we`re talking about black people`s
every day experiences with racism that hasn`t changed significantly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t worry, they`ll go away.
TILLET: They won`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. When we come back, it seems like a lot of
folks, not just us, we`re talking about race this week, including the
attorney generals who seem to have all the feelings, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, it felt like everybody was talking about race.
In Austin, Texas, four United States presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill
Clinton, George W. Bush, and the current president, Barack Obama, all
addressed America`s racial history at the Civil Rights Summit, marking 50
years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
One prominent official spoke about more than America`s racial history, he
addressed a recent track record of actions that he characterized as
unprecedented resistance and implied those actions, I don`t know, might
stem from a racialized disrespect. Here is attorney general Eric Holder,
keeping it very real during a speech before the National Action Network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am pleased to note that the last five
years have been defined by significant strives and by lasting reforms, even
in the face -- even in the face of unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and
If you don`t believe that, you can look at the way -- forget about me.
Forget about me. You look at the way the attorney general of the United
States was treated yesterday by a House committee. It had nothing to do
with me. Forget that. What attorney general has ever had to deal with
that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Reaction from a prominent Republican and my panel, coming up
after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Attorney General Eric Holder shared his thoughts on
Wednesday about how he and the president have been treated, accusing
congressional critics of carrying out, quote, "unprecedented, unwarranted
ugly and divisive attacks."
The next day, House Speaker Boehner was asked about this and offered this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There`s no issue of race
here. The frustration is, is that the American people have not been told
the truth about what happened at the IRS. The American people have not
been told the truth about what happened in Fast and Furious. The
administration has not told the American people the truth about Benghazi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So those moments seemed to confirm and undermine
Chait`s key point, right?
So, it is both that Attorney General Holder never said race, but it`s
responded to as race. But also, I don`t want to miss that when we say that
the pushback against the president`s administration is about race, we do
set up the argument that is therefore if we just get a white president, it
will be OK. And therefore, there is something important about saying, no,
the last white Democratic president they impeached, like that the policies
are more important than the bodies.
METZL: I feel like we`ve -- among other things here, lost an opportunity.
I mean, the last six years and maybe the next two years, we have an
opportunity in this country to actually have a complicated conversation
about race that is actually an emphatic conversation, which we take other
people`s concerns about lived experience, about structural issues. This
actually could have been a shining moment for us in which we had a nuanced
conversation about the experience of race, and not just race as minority
but also what demographic change means for white America and other issues.
And we`re missing that by reducing this.
HENDERSON: I think you`re right, but the level of honesty that would have
METZL: Absolutely. I`m a psychiatrist.
HENDERSON: We need to unpack.
HENDERSON: Much of the societal buildup that led to this moment in time
would have been virtually impossible to accomplish. I think what we have
now is obviously the first African-American president. That is historic.
But has created a lens through which certainly white America looks at his
accomplishments in a way that in my judgment does reduce some of those
achievements to a sort of two dimensional racial analysis, which I don`t
think is particularly helpful.
Eric Holder deserves credit, not because he`s the first general, although
that is a statement of fact. He deserves credit because he has embarked
upon a review of the criminal justice policies, which are grounded in a
racial dimension which has worked to the disadvantage. Yes, of racial
minorities, but also to the country as a whole.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, wait, I am with you there, right? Like, that Eric
Holder may be the Barack Obama we are waiting for, right, in terms of
that`s the part of the administration able to work without the obstruction
But I like this idea that there was a possibility of emphatic conversation
that takes into account one another. And not just like in some kind of
national forum, but what I saw on the ground in 2008 when you went to the
campaigns were a bunch of young people and old people of many races who
ended up in a room working together on a project. So, like -- even if the
project isn`t the election of Barack Obama, and I don`t mean to suggest
that individual interactions are sufficient, and I certainly don`t mean to
suggest that generational replacement is insufficient.
But it did feel like there was a possibility, and that the closing of that
possibility has less to do with some backlash for conservatives and more to
do with within that coalition having a hard time getting white members of
the coalition to listen to black experience as you can take it seriously.
TILLET: I don`t have that same optimism, the missed opportunity because I
actually do think the administration and Barack Obama is part of the
disappointment. Like the way he has dealt with race is part of the
disappointment that people have. It`s thwarted certain kinds of
conversations and it`s thwarted certain kinds of racial justice policy.
So, I do think the conservative backlash and the kind of white liberal
reticent to talk about race is part of the problem.
But I also think, as an African-American, as a person who thinks I have a
radical agenda, it`s been difficult to have progressive conversations about
racial injustice with this administration. So, I just want to put that --
HARRIS-PERRY: But this conversation is apparently now going to the green
We have devoted an enormous amount of time, but we`ve got to go.
Thank you to Jelani, Jonathan, Wade and Salamishah. We`ll just continue
the conversation and we`ll keep happening.
Let me also say, to the Nerdland viewer who live in New York, who might be
riding on the New York subway or the PATH or Metro North, keep an eye out
for Jelani on these posters encouraging you to unleash your passion at the
University of Connecticut. I know Jelani has also been trying to convince
the producers to let him stick around for the next segment, but he can`t
because I`ve got a one-on-one with rap star Pharoahe Monch coming up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fans have been waiting since 2011 for this Tuesday, the
release date of hip-hop artist Pharoahe Monch`s new album.
Here`s a clip from the album thriller.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: The new album is titled "P.T.S.D.", following his past album
"W.A.R.", and grapples with questions of gun violence, addiction,
depression, and the social and cultural pressures that prevent people from
seeking out help for mental health issues. Monch narrates much of the
album from a first person perspective and draws on his own experiences
dealing with depression, induced by prescribed medication. The album
follows the kind of dystopian theme, but firmly conveys a message of self-
Joining me now is Pharoahe Monch.
So nice to have you here.
PHAROAHE MONCH, HIP HOP ARTIST: So nice to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why this album now?
MONCH: Just following the "W.A.R." album, I thought it would be fitting to
come behind that with "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", just for the theme
alone. But not just for the cool title, but to really delve into some of
the issues that I was going through as well, to be a little more
transparent with this record than I`ve been in the past. And, you know,
instead of just having metaphors and double entendres, really go
introspective with the record and talk about some of my issues with
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, there is a very sad story of Karen Washington
committing suicide, and I knew that we had you booked, and I thought -- I
wanted to ask you about the so frequently unacknowledged psychic pain that
so many people of color experienced.
MONCH: Definitely, I mean, you know, growing up in the community, you look
at mental issues as, you know, we`re strong, and my parents were hard
working, and it`s something that`s looked at as a weakness. So, you kind
of push through it sometimes, not even realizing what the issue might be.
And not until in my story with the album that I`d had a stint with the
dentist and he looked at the cocktails of medications I was taking and he
took me into his office and he was like, do you realize that this specific
cocktail causes depression? And I didn`t even realize what I was going
through until that moment. And it dawned on me.
And I take from that experience and I write about it on the album. So, in
the black community, it`s definitely over the years have been looked at as
a weakness, you know?
HARRIS-PERRY: Your song "Damage" is part of a trilogy written from the
perspective of a bullet.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does that teach us? What do we learn when we take that
MONCH: I mean, just from a writing perspective, you don`t have to be the
first person all the time. But this is my third time writing from that
perspective. So -- and this time, it`s more outrage bullet, bullet has no
caring, doesn`t care what name`s written on it. It`s more maniacal and
crazy this time, the bullet.
So, you know, it also extends itself to mental issues with people with
guns, and, you know, guns getting in the wrong hands of people with issues.
So it all eludes back to the topic on the album.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have -- we`ve been spending most of the hour talking
about race, and our difficulty in having this conversation about race. I
kept thinking to myself as I was listening to the new album, and also going
back and reviewing your body of work, how might the Obama years have been
different if all of us were listening very carefully to, and taking
seriously your work and the work of other independent artists, Gene Grant
(ph) and others, what would we know about race in America that is now out
of the public conversation, or that we`re getting wrong?
MONCH: I think, you know, for the most part, with hip-hop, what`s
beautiful about it is for me, it`s always embraced all of the races very
easily, since its inception. I think that`s what`s beautiful about music
in general, especially hip-hop. So, it`s a foregone conclusion that, you
know, hip-hop embraces everything, embraces people in a very beautiful way.
HARRIS-PERRY: We had Harry Belafonte on the show earlier this year, and he
has been calling for artists, particularly artists and artists of the new
generation to be socially involved. I know that you actually had an early
release right after the Zimmerman verdict because of your sense of wanting
to engage. What should hip-hop, or what do you see hip-hop doing that is
engaged in social policy?
MONCH: You should be honest as an artist. I mean, for me, it affected me
deeply, so you want to do music, and speak out and do what you can. And
even be physically there, and active if you can.
But for me as an artist, you know, I try to get these emotions out through
my music, to heal, or somebody`s feeling the same way, they can connect, or
even spur a conversation about the situation.
So, that`s just my truth, you know? And if you`re feeling it, and you`re
honest about it, then you should write about it and do music about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am definitely feeling the new music. Thank you so much
for being here.
MONCH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And for talking about the album and also for putting so much
of yourself, the vulnerability of yourself at the core of this.
MONCH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Before we go, a note about next week. We want to brighten up spring a
little bit. So, we are asking you to send us pictures of your little ones
in all their best spring fashions. We`re calling it babes in Nerdland.
You can tweet us pictures @MHPShow, or #Nerdland, or send us a message via
our Facebook page.
And for everyone who took the Nerdland scholar challenge, congratulations,
you are now an official Nerdland scholar, joining more than 25,000 other
scholars in countries around the world, who completed the challenge on the
intersection of motherhood and politics.
And that is 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
<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2014 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2014 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
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.
MORE FROM MSNBC
Add msnbc headlines to your news reader: