'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, December 14th, 2014
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: December 14, 2014
Guest: Byron Hurt, Elizabeth Sweet, Marissa Debartolo, Sabrina Thomas,
Lise Eliot, Allison Harrington, Richard Marosi, Salamishah Tillet,
Alexandra Brodsky, Barbara Arnwine, Kim Gaddy
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, what does
the Panama Canal have to do with childhood asthma in New Jersey?
And the family that is still at risk of separation despite executive action
Plus, reflecting on a day of protests.
But first, what our favorite toys tell us about who we are.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And it is the holiday season. And today, I thought it might be useful to
pause and talk about something that is on the minds of many, toys.
Remember the toy crazes of by gone years? The Furby in 1998 paying three
times the retail price for Furbies for more than $100 because the
manufacture had simply produced millions less than the demand. People have
barely recovered from the tickle me Elmo in 1996. In one case, some 300
people jostling for a store`s last remaining tickle me Elmo tripled a left
a store clerk leaving him with a broken on rib and a concussion. Even
upscale retailer got in on the Elmo madness. Cartier used the toy to
market a million dollar diamond necklace. That came with a tickle me Elmo
But before all those hot toys fads, it was the mother of them all, the
cabbage patch kids craze of 1983 when parents were literally fighting each
other over the doll.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: On the doors of (INAUDIBLE), you would think
money was being given away. It is but the mad rush was for a doll. The
cabbage patch kid doll, shoppers went wild, there were no rules, they
pushed -- this woman won, she got the doll without the wrapping.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And while the recession of 2008 and the sluggish consumer
practices of recent years seem to have tempered toy madness, there are
still pockets of Christmas morning yearning driving parental retail
Undoubtedly, there it`s a dad somewhere searching for the perfect Elsa doll
and accessories right now. And yes, retail mob during that by poll scare
city and fattest (ph) preferences, the holiday season, but it`s too easy to
just sit here and pass judgment. I mean, to claim that we have all lost
sight of what is truly supposed to motivate the season.
Because as inscrutable as it all seems, I suspected the hunt for the
perfect toy, the willing to sacrifice budget and limb to acquire it, it is
still mostly about a moment like this one, that perfect moment for your
kids when they get exactly what they wanted from Santa. Because face it,
we remember the Christmas we got just what we wanted. And we remember the
one where we didn`t.
For me it was 1984, you see, I thought that the big square box I found in
my mom`s closet was a McIntosh computer. I was so excited and I waited,
and I waited and finally on Christmas morning I saved that as the last box
and I opened it and I found a globe. Now a globe was certainly much more
in line with my single mom`s budget, but I can still feel the sting just a
And sometimes there`s even worse disappointment, when you get the toy you
wanted and it just doesn`t live up to the flashy commercials or the
overhyped marketing. And so, our toys are not just play things, they can
also be a measure of our naughtiness or niceness. They can be a status
symbol for parents and for the kids? I mean, did you get the cabbage patch
with the official adoption paper and everything or some off-brand big doll?
They can be a sour memory of disappointment or a moment of perfect joy,
etch into our childhood. And just how in an economy of stagnant wages and
financial insecurity do we get to a place of toy joy without breaking our
household budgets and giving in to the madness of the latest fad.
Joining me now is Lise Elliott, associate professor at Chicago medical
school and author of "Pink Brain Blue Brain, how small difference is grow
into trouble some gaps and what we can do about it," Byron Hurt who is an
anti-sexism, activist and film filmmaker, Sabrina Thomas who is academic
dean for social sciences at Duke University, and Marissa DeBartolo who is
senior editor of the Toy Insider.
It is so nice to have you all here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marissa, I want to start with you. Are toy crazes a thing
of the past or are there still things that will drive parents into like
anxiety over scarcity?
MARISSA DEBARTOLO, SENIOR EDITOR, THE TOY INSIDER: So there is some
pressure to be that hero on Christmas morning. And of course, our hot toys
every year. But you know, the manufacturers are on your side. Those hero
items like tickle me Elmo, like this year`s snow glow Elsa, who is the, it
Elsa doll, those items fall between that $25 and $50 range. So, you know,
it`s possible for parents, especially with gas prices dropping and things
like that with online shopping, making, you know, stores more accessible,
parents can be the hero pretty, easily that. And then, you know,
manufacturers are ready to meet demand. That is other most important
thing. Snow glow Elsa is selling out. Bu she comes back in stock every
couple of days. And you know, Toys "R" Us is actually limiting you to two
per purchase so that everyone has access to the doll.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, alright, so on the one hand, if I have a kid who
is in this age range, right, then it may be relatively easy -- she is
saying words-- right, it may be relatively easy to be the hero on the
holiday morning. But, I guess, you know, clearly it is not just in this
age range, right? There is kind of a whole, maybe harder to become the
hero when your kid is 13 or 15 years old. And all of a sudden it is an
But I guess on the broader sense of part of what I`m wondering is, the ways
in which -- the fact that what we buy is the thing that makes us the hero
still generates the sense that consumption is the thing the that makes us
And like on the one hand, I want to be the hero too and I love toys. But
then I also worry that we`re teaching the wrong thing in that moment.
SABRINA THOMAS, ACADEMIC DEAN FOR SOCIAL SCIENCES, DUKE UNIVERSITY: And I
think that`s a valid concern. As a parent, I have fallen into that trap of
consumption. But I think the key is, as we`re socializing our kids to
understand that we live in a consumer society, if we start early in saying
that here`s a concrete object, but then we want to also teach them the
value of experience. And so sometimes experiences themselves become gifts.
I recently had a conversation with my daughter where we were talking about,
well, what do you want this Christmas? Yes, what should I get you? And
she said, well, you know you always give me experiences. And then I said,
well what should I get my son Noah? And she said, well he`s younger than I
am and he`s going to need something concrete. So that he can know that you
So I think some of it is developmental. We go from the concrete. But
letting them understand the value of money, but also perhaps sort of give
them a warning early on that as time goes by we focus on experiences.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Byron, it`s not a small point to make that as a parent
part of the work of toy giving is about values. And it`s actually can be
difficult to buy toys that fit your values. I was given this fantastic set
of presidential building blocks for my baby daughter and she is, you know,
(INAUDIBLE) of holding them. It has all of the 44 presidents, including
President Obama and all that, but I love that. But look, it`s probably not
the toy that will be most remembered, but it does at least fit my values.
If you`ve got a son, if you`ve got a daughter, how do you buy the toys that
say this is who we are?
BYRON HURT, ANTI-SEXISM/ACTIVIST/ FILM FILMMAKER: Well, it`s difficult.
It is struggle. And my wife and I struggle with that with my 5-year-old
daughter. And you know, it is hard when you walk into a toy store, and
there are so many toys, as in over a bunch of toys, but none that really
truly reflect your values or, you know, the kind of toy that you want your
daughter to have.
So we always kind of struggling with buying toys, especially dolls,
especially when it comes to dolls and things of that nature that affirm her
identity, affirm who she looks like, what she looks like, that can be very
difficult when you walk into any retail store when you`re trying to buy a
gift for a young girl of color, because there are so many toys that re-
enforce all these messages around race and around gender, right? And so,
it`s really, really challenging.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact on the gender piece, when we went just kind of
looking for the, you know, 2014 top toys, there isn`t a single list,
they`re divided by gender. So the top -- the 20014 top toys for girls
include Disney Frozen, Barbie, generic dolls, monster high for boys,
American girls dolls. For boys it`s Lego, cars and trucks, teenage mutant
ninja turtle, video games, hot wheels. But the very fact that the list is,
there is boys toys and then pink aisle of girls toys.
LISE ELIOT, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, CHICAGO MEDICAL SCHOOL: It`s awful in my
opinion. And it didn`t use to be this way. I mean, Elizabeth Sweet wrote
this piece in the Atlantic which I think will hear about that, points out
that the genderization of toys is relatively new. I mean, we have always
had trucks and dolls, but they weren`t put in a catalog page for boys or
for girls. And we`re already segregating boys and girls too much, in
schools, in after school activities, in the workplace, and I think we need
to break down that gender divide because there`s so much to learn from
toys. We need to cross train both boys and girls brains.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, there`s so much you learn from toys and toys
actually do really important things for our economy. How big is the toy
industry as an economic matter?
DEBARTOLO: Yes. The toy industry is a $22 billion a year industry. And
that`s pretty consistent regardless of, you know, economic changes. But
the majority of those sales do happen in the fourth quarter because parents
are out buying, you know, holiday toys. But yes, it`s a huge industry and
it`s so rooted in kids entertainment as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: But there`s a kind of strong nostalgic toy thing going on as
well. I just have one last question before we go to break. Has anyone
actually ever been able to make a slinky go down the stairs?
HURT: I tried to but I never have.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I have never actually been able to make that happen.
HURT: I think only during the commercial.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to have the right length of stairs.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the problem my single greatest toy disappointment,
except of course for the globe situation.
OK, up next, some are for girls and some are for boys, but why do we
categorize all the toys?
And as we go to break, some of the pictures you were kind enough to take.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is a live picture of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller
center, something that, here at the office, brings plenty of traffic, but
also helps set the mood of the year.
If you have a girl in your life or if you have seen the overwhelmingly pink
girls toys section of your local big box store, you may think that girls
have been obsessed with all things princess. And Snow White was introduced
at 77 years ago.
But the princess craze is actually much more recent. Princesses weren`t
much of a figure toy aisle until the 1990s. And Disney didn`t begin
pushing the princesses as a brand until 2000 when a Disney executive went
to a Disney on Ice show and saw girls dressed in homemade princess costumes
and saw a retail opportunity.
One can only speculate as to whether these people actually turned into
dollar signs. But now, the Disney princess brand is worth $4 billion a
year. And according to our next guest, toys are more divided by gender now
than they were 50 years ago.
Joining me now from Sacramento is Elizabeth Sweet. You heard about her
piece a bit earlier. She is a sociologist, a post doctoral scholar at the
University of California Davis. And her research focuses on gender and
So, it`s nice to have you. We have all been reading your piece. Tell us
what do toys teach us about our gender roles.
ELIZABETH SWEET, SOCIOLOGIST: Hey, Melissa, thank you so much for having
That`s a great question. I think that toys really embody the different
ideas about gender all over time. So what I see in my research I look at
toys over to 20th century, it is a real change in the types of gender roles
that are embodied in toys. So I observe, you know, in the 20th century, in
the middle of the century, really a focus on domesticity and the
housekeeping role for girls and for boys, a real focus on preparation for
the industrial economy.
But overtime, that has changed. So today, if you go in the toy aisle, what
do you see in the pink aisle, it`s princess? Everything is princess. Even
the Fischer Fries little people that I played with as a child, they now
have a princess. And in the boy aisle, it`s this action hero, superhero
forum. We see this immediate too, I mean, if you look at TV shows and
movies, we have princesses and we have superheroes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So hold on for me one second, I`m going to come right back
to you. But let me ask about this, because honestly, I loved my toy
kitchen. I bought a toy kitchen for my daughter who`s now 13 when she was
maybe two. But I got to tell you, a toy room, a toy vacuum and a toy iron
enrage me like why would a broom be fun to play with.
ELIOT: Well, kids learn through play. And son, they`re imitating the
adult roles they see. And if they see gender divided roles, that`s what
they`ll do. But if they see dad sweeping the floor or vacuuming, then it
is perfectly fine for a son or daughter to do that. And this idea that
kids are hard wired to favor boy toys or girl toys is really overplayed, I
HARRIS-PERRY: Although, I must say boys, not all boys, but many boys will
make a gun out of any long object -- a stick, a saw, right, anything.
And Byron, honestly like with my nephew, this has been a challenge, like on
the one hand, I mean, and especially when you look at the context of a 12-
year-old being boy shot on a playground for holding a toy gun, this isn`t
even a game that we`re talking about.
But I also wonder, so do you push back against it and say no, no, no don`t
ever even pretend, or do you recognize like the Christmas story that a lot
of time this is just sort of how boys play.
HURT: Well, that is a good question. I don`t really know. I don`t
struggle with that because I don`t have a son. I have a daughter. But the
preoccupation with boys and guns starts really, really early. And it
really makes me wonder how much of it is biologically, how much of it is
nurture, how much of it that is socially learned. I believe it is more
socially learned than socially instructed than anything else.
But I think we should push back on given the level of violence that we see
in our culture when it comes to masculinity and gun. I think that is a
real direct association with this idea that, you know, using guns to solve
conflict is associated with your manhood and your masculinity. And it
start really early at three, four, five, six years old, I think that you
can see a trajectory where we see this pattern of violence.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you do with your kids on the guns issue?
THOMAS: You know, I tell you, it`s a really scary time, when I recently
viewed the video of the 12-year-old being shot, a few minutes later I went
up to my son`s room and he was playing with the concept of a gun, because
he has Legos. And although we try to encourage him to build objects,
buildings, et cetera, with the Legos, he only builds guns. He constructs
weapons, they`re long, they`re short. We took the Legos away and I must
admit, some of that was out of fear. I had jumped literally just saw the
video. And I could imagine him in that position in a park with Legos
pretending like he`s shooting someone. And that was a lot of fear. It
makes you think as Byron said is this biological because it`s so early.
HARRIS-PERRY: And even when there`s parental push back. Elizabeth, let me
ask you that. Let me ask you about that, Elizabeth. We talked a lot about
the kind of girl side of this. But I`m wondering also about the boys side.
You know, whether or not so that question of playing with guns is actually
sort of nature or nurture.
SWEET: Well, it is interesting because guns in children`s toys, I mean
they vary the extent to which they were offered. So there`s a political
scientist to studied the prevalence of guns and militarization of society
and found that in time since society is much more militarized, you see a
lot more guns and aggressive toys.
But one thing I find in my research is that the level of aggression in toys
targeted to boys has increased quite a bit or increased quite a bit in the
last couple decades of the 20th century and I would argue it`s far more
prevalent today than anything I saw in the 20th century. So what you see
are these -- the sort of hyper masculinization and hyper aggression in boys
toys that`s the counter point to the hyper feminization and the very sweet
pink girl aisle.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you about the sweet pink girl aisle, just the
other a few seconds left here. But if your 2-year-old, your 4-year-old is
princessing it out.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, they often still turn out just fine on the other
end, right, 14, 16, doesn`t mean they want be scrappy little stem
scientists or does it?
SWEET: I don`t think that just playing with these toys is going to
brainwash children and that`s a problem. But I do think it`s really
important to talk to kids about the messaging because what we know is that
these social categorization and the stereotypes about gender haven`t play a
huge part in the processes of social inequality.
So when girls are constantly sends a message that their primary value lies
I their appearance and their ability to, you know, be in relationship with
others, then it devalues all the other characteristics that they have. And
this is problematic. I think it does have important ramifications for
social in inequality and therefore I think we should be really troubled by
the fact that our toys are far more divided by gender than they have ever
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Elizabeth Sweet in Sacramento, California.
When we come back, why are some toys white and others are black?
HARRIS-PERRY: You may remember earlier this week we celebrated the 60
anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board which
ended racial segregation of public schools. The decision was partly based
on research at the time that segregation caused actual psychological harmed
children demonstrated by Kenneth Clark`s famous doll study in which he gave
African-American children white or brown dolls to play with and ask them
which doll they prefer. Across the board, black children chose the white
dolls, and said they were nice while the brown dolls were bad.
When asked to identify themselves with the brown dolls, some of them were,
in Clark`s owned words, reduced to crying. But now, 60 years later,
Disney`s Doc McStuffins sells $500 million in McStuffins merchandise
annually, showing not only the black dolls are not only important, they are
also big business these days.
And part f what I want to come to you on this, when you have Doc McStuffins
character, she`s not sexy, she`s age appropriate, she`s mostly brain, you
know, big headed doll and does seem to be selling cross racial lines, but
she is a huge, huge Disney character at this point and not a princess.
Does that suggest to you something different going on in the doll world?
DEBARTOLO: yes. I mean, it is amazing. I mean, Doc has been around since
2012 and she has been in the top 10 toys for girls since 2012. So girls
are really response to her. She is different. She is not a princess which
is really refreshing for, you know, the toy industry especially. And
she`s, you know, aspirational. She makes kids want to be a doctor just
like her mother, you know. So it`s really great, and it`s great to see,
and she really does break down that whole racial barrier for kids. It`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Sabrina, your research is right at the core of this question
of the extent to which black baby dolls matter to less to sort of children
who aren`t African-American but to African-American girls in terms of
building identity and sense of self, why do black dolls matter so much to
THOMAS: Black dolls are important because we all want to see ourselves
sort of reproduced or reflected in aspects of society that we deem are
important. When we look at the historical presence of black dolls in
society, we started with the stereotypical mommy, doll, the gully walk, the
black sambo (ph), and at the turn of the century, there was a very
intentional movement by black leaders to sort of represent the image of
blackness in children`s play. And the thought there was if we can
represent the image of blackness in children`s play, we also represent the
image of blackness in children themselves. And therefore, they are
redefine by themselves and hopefully redefine t the broader society. And
so, it`s significant that girls see themselves reflected.
But it`s important to know that dolls are not just about girls. The proper
presentation of a doll is not just about black girls` identity, it is also
about the notion of a black man as he sees his counterpart. And so, in the
-- at the turn of the 20th century, although many people feel that there
were no genderization going on, in fact, it was. The black mommy signified
the black woman.
Leaders such as Richard Boyd stated that in order to change the mind of the
black man, it was about mate selection at that point. How do we encourage
black men, for example, to value not only themselves as black men, but also
value the women that they should select in order to reproduce the race? In
order to do that, we have to reproduce the image of the black man.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, of the black women and white -- so even as you`re
saying that, as you`re thinking through sort of how it`s not just about
black girls who are then seeing themselves, I guess I`m also wondering -- I
mean, as you`re talking about what we learn, and part of what happens of
baby dolls is nurturing, right? So Doc McStuffins doll, so you know, very
huggable. And I`m wondering, hat if we also present dolls of different
races, particularly to white girl children, if you could love and nurture a
baby doll of a different race, might that begin to break down some of the
those implicit biases that we have been talking about so much in recent
ELIOT: Precisely, so black dolls are not important not just for black
girls and boys but for white girls and boys and Latino girls and boys, I
mean. You know, you develop relational skills, you learn how to parent.
I`m really not a fan of the princess, the beautify indication, but baby
dolls are a wonderful learning tool. And boys and girls, actually baby boy
-- young boys actually like dolls but they usually get discouraged from
them, with a wayward glance from dad. Men get very nervous when they see
their son playing with a stereo typical label girl toy. And we don`t see
it the other way around.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, you can gender cross girl to boy.
THOMAS: We encourage it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, we have pink footballs for you to buy for your girls.
But we don`t so much the other way.
Look. Part then of what I`m trying to figure out is as we think about
play, as toys, everybody`s out trying to be the hero on Christmas morning.
How do we do it in a way that isn`t -- you don`t want to preach to your
children, you want your kids to play, you just want their play then
reproduces something that you value in the world, as opposed to something
that you don`t?
HURT: Well, I mean, I want my little girl to be a little girl, and I want
her to have fun and I don`t want to rob her of a childhood, and I want her
to have toys and gifts and all these different things. But I also want her
to see her own self. I want her see her own beauty. I want her -- I don`t
want her sense of self to be chiseled away, you know, as she grows and as
she matures so she doesn`t no longer love who she is. You know, then value
who she is. So that`s why it`s important for me as a father and my wife as
a mother to have access to smart black dolls like Doc McStuffins.
HARRIS-PERRY: From a manufacturing and marketing perspective, knowing what
it is about to happen demographically to the country. Latino dolls, that
are identifiably and clearly within the Latino community, Asian dolls, are
they going to make more than inroads into the market? They still seem very
marginalized in the market.
DEBARTOLO: Yes, they actually will. And you know, this year one of
Mattel`s biggest pushes was entrepreneur Barbie. And if you type in
entrepreneur Barbie on Amazon, you get a white version, a black version, an
Asian version and a Latino version. And what is great about that --
HARRIS-PERRY: And did not have very large plastic breast. Unfortunately,
they all still do.
DEBARTOLO: Unanimously pretty much in the event. The facial structure is
different the hair and obviously the skin color, but what is good about
that is that, you know, decades ago, the African-American Barbie doll was
named Christy, and actually named Barbie, which is interesting because, you
know, on the box, all kids see is Barbie. So that`s an interesting, you
know, thing for Mattel to do and it`s an interesting standpoint for them to
make. And you know --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s certainly the recognition that the market is shifting,
even if Barbie is not my favorite. She is not my favorite. Doc is my
Thank you to Lise Eliot and to Sabrina Thomas, also to Marissa Debartolo
and to Byron who is going to be back in our next hour.
But up next, keeping families out of the lurch, through a particular power
unique to the church.
HARRIS-PERRY: Three times on this program we have talked with Reverend
Allison Harrington, the pastor at Tucson, Arizona south side Presbyterian
Church. Southside is part of a national movement in which churches try to
stop families from being torn apart by offering sanctuary to undocumented
immigrants at risk of deportation. And haven`t stop the sanctuary, they
are also putting pressure on Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. ALLISON HARRINGTON, PASTOR: We`re just trying to hold the
administration accountable to the values that they profess. You know,
President Obama has said we should not be in the business of tearing apart
families. And yet, here we are. And so, we`re trying to hold our
administration accountable to their own policies. She`s a mom. She is a
mom just like me who adores her two little boys and who wants to be in the
stands cheering them on in their little league games.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Reverend Harrington back in August, well, before
President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. And the
mother that she was talking about is Rosa Loredo (ph), the woman Harrington
and south side were providing the sanctuary.
Today, after more than 120 days of not being able to step outside the
church, Rosa remains in sanctuary, hoping her deportation order will be
lifted. Because despite President Obama`s executive action, Rosa remains
at risk. Reverend Harrington`s current mission is to get Rosa back home
with her family by Christmas.
Earlier this week, she and other sanctuary clergy along with family members
of undocumented immigrants facing deportation, traveled to Washington, D.C.
to deliver petitions with 15,000 signatures urging Senator Mitch McConnell
to support President Obama`s action on immigration.
Reverend Harrington and others also met with officials from the department
of homeland security to get answers regarding the face of specific
individuals now living in sanctuary, including Rosa.
Joining me now from Tucson, Arizona, Reverend Allison Harrington of south
side Presbyterian Church.
Reverend Harrington, it`s so good so have you back with us. But just help
me, now that you have taken this trip to Washington, do you know if it`s
going to be safe for Rosa to leave her church and to go home and spend the
holidays with her family?
HARRINGTON: Like you said, I went to D.C. with Rosa`s oldest son, 11-year-
old Geraldo to ask the department of homeland security to close her case.
We still are not clear as to whether she will be able to be home decorating
her tree and putting presents under that tree for her boys.
HARRIS-PERRY: And look, I -- you know, obviously, everyone was so excited
to see the president take some kind of action given that there had not been
any more comprehensive reform. I want you to take a listen to something
you said back in June when question first had you on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRINGTON: We want these families to remain together, and we hope that
voice, that moral voice speaking about the importance of family unity would
indeed influence policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When you heard President Obama announce his executive
action, did it sound to you like he was using that discourse about moral
voice and family?
HARRINGTON: Yes. I think in part he was seeing the importance of keeping
families together, a value that we hold dear, especially at this time of
year with the holidays coming. There were some unfortunate things he said,
I think that a lot of us recognize that, you know, he had this rhetoric of
felons not families. And I think a lot of us recognize that sometimes
felons are family. And we certainly don`t think that the mistakes that a
person has made should be the thing that tears them apart from their
So there was a lot that we celebrated. But there`s still a lot of
questions that we have in terms of how this is going to be affect families
HARRIS-PERRY: When you went to the hill, were you able to meet with any
Republican members of the house or the Senate and if so, what was your
reception like there?
HARRINGTON: Well, we did a pray in at Mitch McConnell`s office, and there
were a few sanctuary family or families that were in sanctuary were able to
spend some time telling their stories to McConnell`s chief of staff, so we
hope that will move his heart. There were delegations from the various
different cities that did meet with Republican Congress people and, you
know, it`s hard to know what the future looks like, but we`re continuing to
push forward saying that people like Rosa should not be torn from their
HARRIS-PERRY: We were devastated to learn that the mother of another one
of our guests, Cynthia Diaz who actually went on a hunger strike to secure
her mother`s release from detention is actually not protected under the new
action. I want to take a moment to listen to something Cynthia said the
last time she was on our show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA DIAZ, ACTIVIST: It was rough, you know, hearing President Obama`s
announcement because what he said that parents of U.S. citizens can be
eligible, except those who are recent to the United States and because of
Obama`s two million deportations and my mom being one of them, she
unfortunately does not qualify.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, you know, we realized live on air, this was a family
we care deeply about who`s fallen through the cracks. Who are the families
that are you seeing that are falling through the cracks of this clear
intent to do well by families?
HARRINGTON: Yes, you know, it`s still really unclear to us who -- I mean,
there are people who are clearly going to fall through the cracks. And
there are these other people who are in this kind of in-between place and
we`re not quite sure what the administration is going to do. And that is
some of what we wanted from the administration was some clarity on who they
viewed as a low priority, even folks who don`t have U.S. citizen kids,
there is still this category of folks who are not a threat to the fabric of
our society. That the administrations still sees as a low priority.
We`re just very concerned that these articulated policies of the
administration are not going to filter down to the practices of field
offices. And right now, for those who have deferred action or will be
eligible for deferred action, for these folks, they still have to wait, you
know, a couple months until they`re able to apply for deferred action.
So we`re very concerned that they are not issuing stays for these folks,
because they`re saying that line officers will be identifying people. And
I think the administration is asking us to put our trust in border patrol
and in ICE officials, folks who have not been trust worthy.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you don`t have much reason to trust. Thank you to
reverend Allison Harrington in Tucson, Arizona. I certainly hope that you
and Rosa getting a merry Christmas present of her ability to go home and be
with her family.
Still to come this morning, how the Panama Canal changed everything for
this country and it might do is all over again..
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re about to show a disturbing image and this might be a
moment when you want to turn away. But I do feel like we need to show it
because this is from a story we need to highlight.
OK. Now when you look at this image, it may not even be clear to you at
first what you`re seeing because we wouldn`t want to think this still
happens in the world. But this picture, part of an eye-opening
investigative series by the Los Angeles Times shows a fevered baby lying in
a crate. And the reason that baby is lying a crate has everything to do
with the food that`s on our tables. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: For every ten green house tomatoes imported to the United
States, seven of them have come from Mexico. The country is one of the
most prolific suppliers of the fruits and vegetables we rely on from good
nutrition. But how exactly do those fresh tomatoes or eggplants or peppers
go from the fields of Mexico to American produce aisles and ultimately your
A new "Los Angeles Times` investigative series sheds some light on the
process. December 7th, the Times released the first of four stories, the
detailed war commissions of hundreds of Mexican farm laborers who harvest
some of the produce we consume.
Times reporter Richard Marosi along with photographer and videographer Don
Bartletti spent 18 months traveling nine Mexican states to visit labor
camps and interview farm workers.
Marosi and Bartletti found that the despite labor laws in Mexico, camp
bosses at many of the labor camps in question with held pay from workers
until their contracts, typically three months ended. During those three
months, the workers, some younger than 14 years old reside in windowless
rooms with pest infestations, no beds and sometimes no running water.
Marosi reports that in some camps, workers are often not permitted to leave
before their contracts expire. Despite the rules and standards, American
grocery chains have established for their suppliers` labor practices,
Marosi reports that some U.S. companies have purchased produce from Mexican
suppliers. They get their products from these farms.
These conditions have led some farm workers in the region to ask this key
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now from San Diego is Los Angeles Times report
Rich, tell me what we need to know about the labor conditions that produce
RICHARD MAROSI, REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, first thing what we
have to emphasize is that most Americans don`t realize how much of our
produce comes from Mexico. Fully 50 percent of the tomatoes that we eat
here now come from Mexico. And they`re produced largely at these enormous
mega farms that produce tens of millions of pounds of tomatoes.
So to cultivate and pick all those tomatoes, you need a large labor force.
So they recruit some of the poorest people on the continent that from these
poor mountain villages and move them hundreds of miles and house them in
these labor camps in the middle of these big farms, there`s thousands of
folks. And so, they spent -- they`re seasonal workers and they spend much
of their time picking. And at night they go home to these squalid labor
camps where they live for months at a time.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we show the very distressing image earlier of a baby
lying a crate. What does this have to do with this story?
MAROSI: Yes. The folks who were in that picture were picking for a chili
pepper farm down in southern Sinaloa. The housing there is really, really
poor quality. And that wasn`t exactly a labor plant there, that was a
chili pepper plant, but these folks were living in very trying
circumstances with not much and not much attention given to them.
HARRIS-PERRY: So when you say chili pepper, one of the things that was
most stunning to me as I was reading these pieces is that some of the
laborers who are picking, particularly the chili peppers are adolescent
kids, 10, 11, 12 years old.
MAROSI: Yes, I found that largely in the chili pepper a harvest where
there`s a huge demand here in the United States for chili peppers. And
since it`s a small plant, it is about three feet high and it is about
three-inch long chili peppers. It`s perfect for cultivation for children.
So if you go to chili peppers, many chili pepper fields in Mexico, you see
a lot of children working with their families. And they have a nomadic
existence they travel from farm to farm, village to village, year round
following the chili pepper trail. And we followed the travels of a 12-
year-old girl, Alajandrina for a year as she traveled with her family
picking chili. She haven`t been in school for years.
HARRIS-PERRY: So beyond the kind of moral outrage you may feel, how are
American consumers and American businesses implicated and complicit in
MAROSI: Well, there`s largely a lack of public awareness of labor
conditions of farm workers in Mexico. So when I went down there, I was
kind of shocked at the conditions. I went to these labor cants and found
that these folks have contracts that withhold their pay so effectively
traps them inside the labor camps. Also they fall deep in debt and this
big, this high priced company stores, and they can`t leave until they
payoff there. So there is sort of cycle of deepening debt keeps them
trapped and tethered to the farm and keeps them there during the season.
Now, corporate American companies, which are the biggest in the U.S.,
Walmart, say Albertsons, all the big ease (ph) including restaurant chains,
they source much of their produce down there especially in the winter
months. And they have vendor codes of conduct, social responsibility
guidelines that when I was down there, I didn`t see much enforcement of
HARRIS-PERRY: I will say Walmart did send us a statement saying, we have a
focus on positively impacting our global supply chain. We care about the
men and women who work in it. We know the agriculture industry is
important in Mexico. We continue to work with those suppliers to help
ensure our standards for suppliers are upheld.
That said, if am a consumer, and that`s mostly what I am at this point on
this supply chain, how, just in 15 seconds, can I be an ethical consumer?
MAROSI: Well, at this point, there aren`t any organizations set up to
improve farm labor conditions down there. What happens is consumer groups
have made an impact in the apparel and garment industries forcing companies
to act to enforce their guidelines. And there are certification bodies in
Mexico that are apparently pushing these now and trying these --- trying to
get these companies to sign on to verifications to make sure that all of
these codes of conduct are being enforced.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Richard Marosi in San Diego, California. Our
viewers can learn much more about this story through reading your reporting
online now at LATimes.com. The story up now is called children harvest
crops and sacrifice dreams in Mexico`s fields.
Still to come this morning, what the Panama Canal has to do with asthma in
Newark, New Jersey.
And Bill Cosby finally speaks about the allegations leveled against him.
There`s more on the MHP show at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. This week there
have been new developments in two explosive ongoing stories that have
brought renewed attention to the issue of sexual assault. After a
"Washington Post" report last week pointed out discrepancies in a Rolling
Stone article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, the
voracity of Rolling Stone`s report continued to unravel, as the Post dug
deeper into the facts of the story. In a follow up story published on
Wednesday, the Post spoke with three students who were identified under
pseudonyms in the Rolling Stone article as best friends of Jackie. The UVA
student whose story of surviving the alleged assault was chronicled by the
magazine. Both the Rolling Stone story and the Post reporting are in
accord that the three students were the first people who arrived after
Jackie called to tell them something had happened to her at a UVA
fraternity, but the account given to the Post by students diverges at that
point from what Rolling Stone originally reported.
The students say they were never contacted or interviewed by Rolling Stone
for the story, although two of them told a "Washington Post" reporter that
the magazine had reached out to them this week after they had already told
their story to the Post. The friends say Jackie gave them a different
account of what happened the night of the alleged assault from what she
later told the "Washington Post," Rolling Stones and others at UVA. The
details Jackie gave them about her alleged attacker differ from what she
told Rolling Stone. They told the Post they tried and failed to locate the
student that Jackie named as her attacker on a UVA database or on social
media. And UVA officials had no record of the student with the name Jackie
gave her friend in 2012 ever enrolling at the university. Thursday, those
three friends revealed their true identities when they sat down for an
interview with ABC News and recounted recollections of what happened that
differed from the story reported as reported by Rolling Stone.
As new facts continue to bring clarity to the inaccurate reporting in the
original UVA article, the media have maintained a steady if belated pursuit
of the swirling sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. And this
week the list of more than 20 women with similar accusations against Cosby
has grown by one very high profile name, because the latest accusation
comes from another iconic African-American celebrity. This week ground
breaking model Beverly Johnson told the story of her experience with Cosby
to "Vanity Fair." In the 1970s and 80s, Johnson was at the height of her
career as one of the first African-American supermodels, she made history
in 1974 when she became the first African-American model to grace the cover
of Vogue Magazine. By the mid-1980s Johnson was looking to break into
acting and says she was asked by Cosby to come to his house to read for a
part on the Cosby show. In an interview with Tamron Hall or "The Today
Show," Johnson recounts what she says happened when she went to Cosby`s
house and he offered her a drink.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEVERLY JOHNSON, FORMER SUPERMODEL: I took a sip of the cappuccino and I
immediately felt really strange. I started to realize that the room
started to spin a little and I was getting very woozy, I took another sip.
Then I knew that he had drugged me and he was going to take advantage of me
and I just went to survival mode. I just went to a tirade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We should note, Bill Cosby has denied these types of claims
in the past and has never been charged with a crime related to this or any
of the recent allegations leveled against him. Neither he nor his lawyer
have come out specifically on Beverly Johnson`s story. However, speaking
to a reporter for the "New York Post" on Friday, Cosby is quoted as having
said, "Let me say this, I only expect the black media to uphold the
standards of excellence in journalism. When you do that, you have to go in
with a neutral mind." Turning back the details of Beverly Johnson`s story,
she said after she yelled at Cosby, he pulled her out of his house and into
a taxi. Johnson is not claiming a sexual assault occurred, but she wrote
in "Vanity Fair" that she was confused and devastated by the experience and
after a failed attempt to confront Cosby over the phone, she never tried
again for reason that she shared on "Today" show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I had just gotten out of a marriage with a very powerful man. So
I know what it`s like to go up against a powerful man. I had first-hand
experience. And it`s not nice. And it`s not easy and it`s very expensive.
And I realized at that moment that I was no match for Bill Cosby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Johnson said that her decision to finally come forward was
weighted with worries about the vulnerabilities of African-American men.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: It was very difficult because this was a black man and in today`s
climate, of black males in America, some being executed, it was very
difficult for me to say at this particular moment why at this particular
moment? Because that conversation of race, we needed so badly. And I
didn`t want to bring this subject at this particular time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What Johnson is suggesting there, the challenges of telling
the truth about a difficult issue like sexual assault or attempted assault
was the subject of an article for the nation this week by University of
Pennsylvania, associate professor of English and friend of this show
Salamishah Tillet discussing why it`s hard to write about rape, she says,
"The complexities and pitfalls about reporting on rape are why many
journalists choose to avoid the subject all together. This of course is a
problem in it`s own right. In the case of comedian Bill Cosby, it had the
ultimate effect of silencing victims and allowed a rapist to assault scores
of women with impunity for decades."
Salamishah Tillet joins me now. And of course, again, I have to say, Mr.
Cosby hasn`t actually been proven in a court of law to be a rapist. And
yet, this is part of what you are grappling within this in article is how
do we talk about sexual assault following the ethics, the rules of
reporting and of law while also maintain a certain position that will be
relative to survivors.
SALAMISHAH TILLET, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: It was
actually a really challenging piece for me to write and I want to thank the
editors at The Nation for really pushing me to kind of think through why
it`s so hard for a journalist, and I`m not a journalist in that sense, I`m
an advocate of sexual assault survivors and I`m a survivor myself. So I
come to it with a different set of parameters and questions. But I do
follow these cases, these high profile cases in the media pretty
consistently. And so it`s interesting that Cosby`s own statement is
turning to this language of neutrality, right? And particularly the black
media, but that for journalists to maintain neutrality which is the kind of
standard of ethical journalism, that means that you actually aren`t
supposed to listen to the survivor or the victim`s voices, that you`re
supposed to say that maybe that they`re both equal and that people who are
alleged perpetrators, we should kind of maintain that stance, we don`t know
what happened, it`s he said/she said, and so for me, it`s really
interesting because as an American, as a person who`s grown up in this
culture, I think we`re socialized pretty consistently to be biased against
victims of sexual assault. So it`s on the journalist`s part to actually
interrogate that before they approach articles on sexual violence. We have
a pavlovian response, in retreat, we almost immediately blame the victim
for the crime that`s committed against her or him when it comes to sexual
assault. And so there is no sense of neutrality, quite frankly.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this question of skepticism which I think is, it`s key
to the work we do as academics.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the key to the work we do in reporting. I mean, you do
have to have skepticism, and yet you and I as both as survivors and as
activists around questions of sexual assault, knows that kind of skepticism
can be not only painful for an individual survivor but deeply problematic
for the whole process undoing and deconstructing rape culture. And so, you
know, for me, as I read parts of Rolling Stone`s reporting and I had like a
little antenna that went up and then I took that antenna back down, and I
was like nope, that`s just me giving in. And so I really have been
challenged with this question then of -- all right, so where does your
skeptical position stand versus your activist position?
TILLET: Well, I think it`s the kind of collision or skepticism. So, you
know have that skepticism that journalists are supposed to always have when
it comes to covering a story. And then we have this kind of inherent
skepticism, not inherent, a socialized skepticism against the stories of
rape survivors. And when they come together as this moment has produced,
there`s a sense to kind of restore the integrity of journalism without
necessarily protecting the rights of victims. And scathing reporters who
kind of venture into that world without kind of doing the due diligence
that`s expected. So I just think it`s, you know, I have been having this
conversation like, is skepticism the right word? Is bias the right word?
And so when you have the collision of these two cultures coming together,
inevitably, the victim of a sexual crime is going to be the one who
actually suffers the most.
TILLET: So that`s one thing. And then the other thing I think is really
important is, I mean, I don`t think -- because I follow these cases. So,
in 2011, the "New York Times" did an article about a girl, who`s 11-year-
old girl who was gang raped in Texas. And the way to the reporter covered
the story originally was that her clothing was like too adult like, she was
wearing too much makeup. And so, there was a push back at that moment, a
petition and then an open letter critiquing the "New York Times" coverage.
And so then the public editor issued an apology in response. And then
following that, it did impact how they covered -- Diallo, Dominique
Strauss-Kahn situation, it was better coverage there, but it was then
considered, you know, when the asylum stuff came out, people thought, well,
maybe they didn`t do their due process and knowing all the facts about her.
So there`s these really important high profile cases in which there`s a
sense that either the reporters are biased or they`re not getting all the
information. But it really impacts who`s going to come forward, what kind
of legislation we have around sexual assault reform and also, it ends up
protecting the perpetrators in a way that Cosby is kind of asking for right
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Salamishah, stay with us. I want to bring other
voices in the table. We`re going to stay on this very difficult topic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: This is bigger than Bill Cosby. This is about, you know, women
and violence on women. This is about women finding their voice. You know,
to feel that it`s okay to come out and tell someone, a loved one, the
police, anyone, what has happened to them. And that they won`t be vilified
and that they won`t be questioned or attacked for telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was iconic supermodel Beverly Johnson speaking this
week to Tamron Hall for the "Today" show about her allegation that she was
drugged by Bill Cosby nearly 30 years ago.
Joining my table now is Byron Hurt who`s an anti-sexism activist, filmmaker
and co-founder of Mentors and Violence Prevention. And Alexandra Brodsky
who is co-founder of Know Your IX and editor at Feministing.com. And I
want to start with you because I want to go back a little bit to the UVA
case. And you know, we have talked about the difficulty of reporting on,
thinking about the issue of skepticism in journalism. What if you`re a
Title IX enforcement officer on a college campus, you have gotten a report,
you have heard a story, what are the challenges that you are balancing in
ALEXANDRA BRODSKY, CO-FOUNDER, KNOW YOUR IX: I think the good news is that
a school`s response mechanism should never be just one person. So there
are people in different roles and I think it`s absolutely essential that
when a survivor comes forward, that there is someone who says, I`m on your
team, I believe you, I`m sticking with you the whole way. But that also
doesn`t mean that we don`t need somewhat neutral adjudicators, and I say
somewhat because I think that there`s a political commitment behind a
sentence like I believe survivors which doesn`t necessarily mean I can`t
look at facts in front of me and I can`t make decisions, but just that I
know that this is not a coveted status, I know that the number of false
reports is pretty low. But I think it`s also very important in that moment
that we recognizes it`s not a few students rights versus victims` rights in
this really sort of zero sum game. Because everyone, victims especially
need these adjudications to be as legitimate by the public, to be
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is part of what`s going on in the Rolling Stone piece
is that, to the extent that this is bad journalism, it neither does
anything good for Jackie nor for any other survivor, right?
BRODSKY: I think it`s such a shame that we are asking these women who come
forward to take on this tremendous burden of being dumb movement. It was
Angie and then it was Emma and then it was Jackie. And I`m so glad that
they`re telling to their stories, but we have to do some of the work, too.
It just can`t be on them to have this story that moved the entire nation,
policy change immediately.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point sort of, where the burden lies for addressing
sexual assault. Susan Dominus writing for "The New York Times" this week
wrote about, she says, "What if every kid on a college campus was given new
language, a phrase whose meaning could not be mistaken that signaled peril
for both sides that might be more easily uttered, one phrase that might
work is red zone, as in hey, we`re in the red zone, or this is starting to
feel too red zone." So, she`s suggesting that no is sometimes hard to say,
and so maybe we need red zone language and I guess my main thought as I
read it was, oh, look so now we have to wear nail polish so that we can
make sure we`re not being drugged and we`re responsible for determining
when we`re going to the red zone. Like, is there, I mean the worst thing,
you`re doing with men on campus, how do we shift that burden away from
simply relying on girls and women?
HURT: Well, I mean, how about teaching boys and men that we shouldn`t rape
girls and women. I mean, that`s what the origin message should be and I
think I come from a very unique position of being a founding member of a
by standard intervention program called the Mentors and Violence Prevention
program that really tries to educate and inform and shift the culture of
masculinity so that we begin to like really confront rape culture. And I
think -- I haven`t read the article, but it sounds to me that this is just
another thing that places the responsibility and the onus on women in terms
of protecting herself as opposed to teaching boys and men that rape is a
crime, rape is a serious issue, to really pay attention to the physical
cues that girls and women are giving you. But most importantly to make
sure that you`re not putting yourself in position where you`re violating
another women`s physical and human rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, when you talk about physical cues, I mean, this for me
is part of what doesn`t happen in the public conversation about it. And
that is, you know, the desire, what is sexy, what we think is normal
interactions of human sexuality is indigenous, it`s built in our social
system, right? What we think looks like consent, and what we think looks
sexy or desirable. And I guess, part of my concern is that we have
actually generated a culture that says that resistance is somehow a yes,
that, like--that the thing that you should expect in the context of an
engagement between a man and a woman`s sexuality is that she`s got to
resist, because that`s her responsibility and your job is to overcome that
resistance and I guess I`m literally interested, can we rewrite what we
think sexy is? Can we make consent and repeated yeses at various stages
the thing that we expect to happen in an engagement and like, that feels
harder to me. I`m not quite sure how we even have that conversation.
TILLET: Well, I mean, I think this is why in California, the adopting of
the yes means yes though is important. And I know in New York, it`s a kind
of contemplation that universities actually enforce that and that becomes
part of campus culture. But what`s also interesting and it`s not exactly
answering your question, but in terms of the Bill Cosby allegations and
this idea of the women being semiconscious or unconscious, right? So even
in a moment where resistance may be seen as sexy, only to kind of further
violence against women, you also have these people who are believing that
Bill Cosby may not have done this, precisely because the woman couldn`t
resist. Right? Like precisely because, you know, why would someone render
a woman unconscious to do this? And so, its resistance and also consent
are such tricky things, but I think in order to really get at the heart of
these issues, we need to have clear definitions, and not just clear
definitions of consent but also a way of enforcing them when they`re
violating and that`s the challenge that we`re all facing in our work.
HARRIS-PERRY: We will have you back. There`s so much more to talk about
around the UVA case and particularly around this issue of Title IX, and how
to make sure the universities are doing it right no matter what is going on
with the Rolling Stone reporting.
Thank you to Salamishah Tillet and to Byron Hurt and also to Alexandra
Brodsky. Up next, another day, another slew of protests, this is a
movement with no signs of slowing down.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday the American people took to the streets. In St.
Louis, Missouri, 25,000 strong. In New York City, in Boston, in Los
Angeles. In Washington, D.C., 10,000 protesters not only marched on behalf
of those black men and boys who lost their lives to police, they heard
directly from their families. Michael Brown, Sr. whose son was killed in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROWN, SR., FATHER OF MICHAEL BROWN, JR.: Our respect -- man, you
all kept this alive for all the families. We love you all. We really do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Gwen Carr whose son, Eric Garner died after police placed
him in a chokehold in New York City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GWEN CARR, MOTHER OF ERIC GARNER: It`s just so overwhelming to see all of
you who have come to stand with us today. I mean look at the masses.
Black, white, all races, all religions, this is just a great moment, this
is a history making moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s Samaria Rice whose 12-year-old son was shot by police
on a Cleveland playground in an action that has now been ruled a homicide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMARIA RICE, MOTHER OF TAMIR RICE: My child was just 12-years-old. Just
a baby, a baby, my baby, the youngest out of four. He is here with me
right now and this is where he would want me to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Each voice was a reminder. Not only that black lives matter
but that these particular lives matter in profoundly personal ways in the
families who lost them and these parents have been transformed from
grieving individuals into national activists and we were all reminded by
Sabrina Fulton, the mother of slain teen Trayvon Martin that the work of
activism requires that we build solidarity with those who otherwise might
choose to look away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Don`t preach to the choir,
because they get it, they understand. I don`t have to tell one of these
mothers up here what they`re going through, because they know. I don`t
have to tell not one single African-American about racial profiling,
because you guys know. So what I challenge you to do is talk to somebody
that does not know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now from Washington to talk about how we
transform the personal into the political is Barbara Arnwine, president and
executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
Nice to see you this morning, Barbara. I know you were present at the DC
march. What did you learn yesterday that was surprising or unexpected?
BARBARA ARNWINE, LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: I was just
really overwhelmed by all the families who came with their children, all
the intergenerational, you know, presence and how much people just wanted
to be there, how desperately they wanted America to know that this has to
stop now, that they -- we all must put our hands up and say, don`t shoot,
that this is about no justice, no peace, that people were there to say that
for future generations, we don`t want to see this ever again where black
lives are at such stake.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was a moment when you talked about people desperately
wanting to be there.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was a moment when some of the Ferguson protesters,
young people, not part of what we think of the established civil rights
movement, took a moment and took the stage, I want to just pause for a
second and listen to that moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNETTA ELZIE, ST. LOUIS NATIVE: This is what I need you all to
understand. This is what -- this is ---we are not disrespectful, we -- to
have people in my ear saying be with respectful like I`m not, is
condescending. We have been out here in Washington and D.C. and New York,
and we started this uprising, so we want to tell the people from Ferguson
that have been out there for 100 and something days to let them speak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Barbara, what was going on in that moment?
ARNWINE: Listen. If I had been planning the march, they would have all
been on the program. I believe that you cannot have a modern day movement
where you do not have the young leadership built into every stage of that
movement. The planning, the execution, the decision making, they must be
the leaders that they are. You got to take advantage of that incredible
gift, I consider this a moment of enrichment that we have all been gifted
by these really talented, amazing leaders, Rika, Teda, you know, Ashley
Yates, Charlene Carruthers, all these amazing new leaders. I just think
that we got to embrace them and put them right in the front and let them do
what they do so well. Innovate and lead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an ongoing challenge within social movements, maybe
particularly within civil rights movements around racial equality, but
this, you know, both people with long sustaining understanding and
tradition within a movement and then new folks who are saying, hey, we have
new tactics and by the way, we are largely responsible for this, you know,
as we are hearing from Ferguson protesters, it is us who put this on the
agenda in this moment. How do we start to reconcile those kinds of
ARNWINE: We need to bring people together and we need to give people their
proper respect and their proper leadership roles. And we had a meeting
this last Thursday where three of the young leaders did come and meet with
the Ferguson coalition that`s put out the unified statement with the 14 key
recommendations that is at the lawyer`s committee`s website, if anybody
wants to see it. But what was good about that meeting was that they were
able to tell us what was on their minds, share with us what they want to
learn, share with us what they have learned, share with us, you know, their
tactical, you know, ideals, all of that was fabulous and I think that if we
do more of that, we get it right. We get it wrong when we separate and we
think that we can make decisions for others.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Barbara, it
has been one of the interesting parts of this whole thing for me is
realizing that I am no longer part of the young leadership, I am now
officially talking about the young people.
ARNWINE: I love them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Barbara Arnwine in Washington, DC. Up next, the
Panama Canal has been open for 100 years. But the renovation under way now
is stoking growing fears.
HARRIS-PERRY: This year marks the centennial of the opening of the Panama
Canal, the true marvel of human ingenuity and technical innovation. But it
came at a great human cost. More than 25,000 workers died building the
Panama Canal, falling victim to yellow fever, malaria and brutal labor
conditions while working to transform the geography and the economy of the
western hemisphere. Today, the Panama Canal is undergoing a substantial
expansion to double its capacity. And while workers are no longer
subjected to the ravages of early 20th century disease, that does not mean
there is no risk to human health. There is, and in places so far away as
Newark, New Jersey. That story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Panama Canal is in the midst of an eight-year, $5
billion renovation, the largest project at the canal since its original
construction which was one of the great engineering fetes of the 20th
century. The 50 mile long passage connected the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans created a much-needed shortcut allowing ships to bypass the long
journey around the tip of South America. For ships sailing from New York
City to California, it trimmed nearly 8,000 miles from its voyage. But the
Panama Canal was completed only after decades of dangerous and often deadly
work. The French were the first to try it in 1880, but after nine years
and the loss of nearly 20,000 lives, the French had little to show for
their efforts. When American President Teddy Roosevelt came to office in
1901, he saw the building and the controlling of the canal as key to
establish the America`s dominance on the global stage. Over the next
decade, tens of thousands of workers most of them from the West Indies
toiled in often dangerous conditions, facing everything from extreme
weather to outbreaks of malaria and deadly snakes.
More than 5,000 people lost their lives in the American led years of the
project. But once the Panama Canal opened, when the first ship passed
through in 1914, it became the center of global trade. By 2005 nearly 70
percent of all cargo to the U.S. passed through the canal. And now
construction is underway to expand the 100 year old canal to double its
existing capacity, and therefore to allow passage for ships with three
times the cargo they carry now. That`s where we get to this part. Port
City`s around the country are racing to make sure they don`t miss the boat,
literally. According to the Army Corps of engineers, U.S. ports are
spending $68 billion a year to accommodate the super-size ships in hopes of
creating more jobs and profits. Just like 100 years ago, construction on
the Panama Canal could once again come at a human cost. Community
activists are sounding the alarm about what they see as a threat to the
health of the people living near the ports. MSNBC national reporter Aliyah
Frumin went to Newark, New Jersey to report on just what is at stake.
ALIYAH FRUMIN, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): This is the ban
bridge in Northeastern, New Jersey, it connects the region to Staten Island
in New York, and hovers over the shipping traffic that makes nearby Newark,
New Jersey one of the businesses port cities in the world. The bridge
stands at 151 feet high. But in order to accommodate the larger ships
expected because of the expansion of the Panama Canal, there are now plans
to raise the bridge to 215 feet and that is racing some concerns. Bigger
ships means more cargo and when that cargo is offloaded it moves out from
the port on primarily diesel fueled trucks.
KIM GADDY OF CLEAN WATER ACTION: These are some of the dirtiest trucks and
because they are spewing lethal pollution, that is actually getting into
the lungs of our residents.
FRUMIN: This is Kim Gaddy, fourth generation Newark resident and mother of
three children. All of whom have asthma. She works for the environmental
group Clean Water Action.
GADDY: Because the port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port in
the east coast, we experience a large amount of trucks and when they
raising of the Bayonne Bridge 55 feet, I can see the trucks doubling it.
And if they are not the newer, cleaner fleet of trucks, it is definitely
going to be more health problems for residents in the city of Newark.
FRUMIN: In Newark, the asthma related death and hospitalization rate is
already twice that of the surrounding suburbs.
AARON KLEINBAUM, DIRECTOR, EASTERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER: We think we
have a compelling case that the Port Authority and the Coast Guard didn`t
do an adequate job in studying the environmental impacts.
FRUMIN: Aaron Kleinbaum is the legal director of the Eastern Environmental
Law Center and one of the attorneys involved in a lawsuit against the Port
Authority and the U.S. Coast Guard over the project.
KLEINBAUM: My clients in Newark are mostly concerned because the air
quality impacts from bringing huge amount, sub-cargo, increased amounts of
cargoes under the bridge into the Newark port and taking that cargo by
diesel truck through their communities, past their homes, past their
schools and emitting significant amounts of diesel emissions and their kids
are going to suffer health impacts, health effects from those trucks.
FRUMIN: It`s not just kids, long time Newark resident Bobby James has the
truck have already taken a toll on her health?
(on camera): How have the trucks affected your health in your opinion?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: In my opinion, the fumes that comes from the trucks
makes me -- makes my asthma attacks, cause me to have asthma attacks, cause
me to have a breathing problem right now. I do have a breathing problem.
I`m on --
FRUMIN (voice-over): Nancy Mince says the pollution has made it harder for
her two teenage sons to do what most kids do, play outdoors.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My youngest son has asthma and my older son is
treated. He has it severely. Right now, he`s not able to be outside
because of the constant pollution that`s coming in our area.
FRUMIN: The Environmental Protection Agency has not drawn a direct link
from the trucks to cases of asthma in Newark, but the EPA does indicate
that there is mounting evidence showing diesel exhaust can exacerbate
allergies and asthma symptoms. Supporters of breathing the bridge, they
will help both the local economy without hurting the environment or local
(on camera): How does that benefit residents in New Jersey and the
PATRICK FOYE, HEAD, PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY: Well,
first, the ports, the Port Authority runs in New York and New Jersey
account for about 300,000 jobs.
FRUMIN (voice-over): Patrick Foye is the head of the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey.
FOYE: This is about preserving jobs, it`s about growing and maintaining
the competiveness of the busiest port on the East Coast. And it`s also
about protecting and enhancing our environment.
FRUMIN (on camera): Environmental groups and activists and residents are
sounding their alarms saying that the project will result in significant
FOYE: I think the advocates are wrong. I think actually there will be
fewer container ships coming, they`ll be carrying more containers per ship.
They`ll be burning less fuel for ship and melting less per ships.
FRUMIN (voice-over): But for residents on the ground, the concern is less
about the ships coming into port and more about the increased number of
trucks delivering the cargo those ships bring.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They can do something about it. They will be better
for us. That we wouldn`t have to inhale and breathe all these different
kind of things that`s coming from these trucks. There`s still a lot of
things that are causing a lot of us to be sick.
HARRIS-PERRY: Our thanks to MSNBC national reporter Aliyah Frumin for that
And joining me now, one of the activists that you heard from in that story,
Kim Gaddy of Clean Water Action. Do you feel like city and state officials
are being honest about what the likely impact is of raising the bridge and
therefore having more truck traffic?
GADDY: Yes, I mean I think the Port Authority of Newark and New Jersey is
disingenuous because they had the Coast Guard do an environmental
assessment and they said that, oh, it would cost, it will bring little
jobs, fewer environment and so you`re spending $1.3 billion and you say
what only been increased of 54 trucks, which one is it? Because you read
all the articles in the newspaper and it tells you, oh, they`re going to be
an increased in jobs, oh, increased in ships, increased in cargo. So right
now 10,000 trucks come to our port in our neighborhood every day to third
largest port in our nation. When they raised the Bayonne Bridge, I can see
that count going up to 14,000 to 20,000, so the story isn`t being told
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. So, we do have a statement from the Port
Authority where they say, through the aggressive implementation of our
clean air strategy in successive programs such as express rail, the clean
vessel, incentive program, and the truck replacement and truck phase out
programs the Port Authority has dramatically reduced particulate matter by
more than 40 percent despite an 8.6 percent increase in cargo. So, they`re
claiming, okay there may be more trucks but they are going to be clean
trucks this time. What do you make of that?
GADDY: And there`s also, called fraudulent, I mean, currently right now,
we have trucks that are free 2007. If the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey, and the trucking company will removed or ban those trucks, and
only allow 2007 and newer ships, we will reduced the amount of diesel
pollution by 90 percent. Ninety percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there is an actual solutions to this that still allows
for -- because I`m thinking, okay, if I`m a state official and I see that
Panama Canal opening up, and then I got to say, hey, listen, we got to go
and try to get a piece of that economic pie. But you`re telling me there`s
a way to get a piece of that economic pie and still protect the capacity of
young people and older people in that community to breathe clean air?
GADDY: Yes. And this is all we`re asking for, but the Port Authority
refuses in the tracking company. They want the owners of the truck, the
misclassified workers, to have the newer trucks, they can`t afford it.
This should be expense that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
owns up to as well as the trucking companies. And then it will reduce the
asthma rates, the lung cancer, we live in a diesel death zone in the city
of Newark, it`s everywhere, we can`t escape it. And it`s killing us. And
so, we are paying the environmental burden so the whole region where they
are receive an economic benefit and all we receive as the environmental
heart and it`s not fair, not for my kids or any of the kids in residence in
the city of Newark.
HARRIS-PERRY: Newark is clearly as you point out is one of the largest,
you know, you kind of look at that flow, you go up that eastern seaboard,
are there other port cities, essentially in Gulf Coast store or others
along the eastern seaboard that are facing similar challenges, I`m
wondering if there`s a way which is coalition work to be done.
GADDY: Yes, I`m actually part of a moving forward in that work which is a
national organization of individuals from Port communities and I am the New
Jersey in the New York representative. And we fight very hard to educate
our communities but unfortunately because of the color of our skin, and
when you live to close to the port communities, we receive all of the
environmental harm. But we`re working hard each and every day, and that`s
why it infuriates us that you have easy solutions that can be implemented
today. California implemented some of it. They have the newer trucks.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, as we were reviewing and getting ready for this, I
was just thinking about the fact that right now one of the rallying cries
is, I can`t breathe, of course, about the fact that Eric Garner, the final
words that he was saying, but this is another form of being unable to
breathe because of an injustice, thank you so much for your continued work
and activism and for giving us an opportunity to take a look at some of
what you`ve been up to. Thank you to Kim Gaddy.
Up next, it has been a tough year, there is good news and such is the case
for 2014, stick around through the break and I`ll show you what I mean.
HARRIS-PERRY: 2014 is almost over. And in many ways it`s been a tough
year. As you hear us say here in Nerdland, the struggle continues. But to
survive the struggle, we also have to take a little time to celebrate the
victories. The hard fought gains. The steps towards progress, and the
good moments along the way. So 2014 expanded marriage equality to more
than two-thirds of the country. Same-sex couples gain the right to get
married in Vest Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kansas, and a dozen
more states. The U.S. sentencing commission voted to retroactively reduce
sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenses. A change
impacting more than 46,000 people. Millions of Americans who otherwise
would not have had it signed up for health insurance, thanks to the
Affordable Care Act. President Obama took executive action that could
allow up to five million people living here in this country to remain with
their families. Without the fear of deportation.
States reformed their drug laws to reduce the penalty for marijuana
possession. As of this year, more than one-third of states have
decriminalized marijuana possession. But the good news we celebrated this
year was more than just policy advances, 13-year-old Mo`ne Davis made us
all cheer when she was the first girl to pitch a shutout in a little league
world series game. Making history and becoming the 2014 Sports Illustrated
sports kid of the year. Malala Yousafzai, activism, for girls` education
around the globe was recognized with the 2014 Nobel Prize for peace. Janet
Mock`s beautiful memoir, "Redefining Realness" became a "New York Times"
best-seller. And North Carolina Representative Alma Adams was sworn into
office, becoming the 100th woman in the current U.S. Congress. The most
there have ever been. But ever talented Shonda Rhimes extended her
Thursday night line up to a fall three hours of Shonda Lynn Must See TV.
And Queen B gave us all a moment of levity during a fraught month of
November with her surprise release of the video for her new track "7/11,"
foot phone and all. It`s often hard to reconcile the enormity of tragedy
and injustice facing our nation. We`re grappling with the killing of
unarmed children, with disappearing reproductive rights for women, with too
many Americans living in poverty or without a living wage. But as we
struggle each year to work towards our vision of a better and more
perfected nation, we also have to remember the good news. We`ve got to
celebrate the victories, even though the struggle continues, there is in
that struggle some awfully good moments. Movements. Sometimes when and
sometimes there`s a foot phone in the Beyonce video. Nerdland, I want to
wish you all holiday cheer. Thank you for watching the show this year.
Next weekend, Dorian Warren is going to be in my chair 10:00 a.m. Eastern,
be there or be square. That`s all for our show today. Yes, that`s it!
But now it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC HOST, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT": Seriously a poet and you
didn`t even know it. I just have to go there. All right, Melissa, thank
you for that.
Hey, everyone, on a very serious note. Two years after the Newtown school
shooting, you`re going to be surprised at actually how little has changed
with respect to guns in America. That $1.1 trillion funding bill Congress
passed. But why did it pass if people from both sides really disliked big
parts of it. The rise of religious film in Hollywood. The latest will
likely be number one at the Box Office, but it doesn`t come without some
The people who hacked into Sony computers are promising more to come. In
fact, they`re saying it`s going to be even worse than what we`ve seen
already which brings a big yikes. Don`t go anywhere, I`ll be right back.
WITT: A $1.1 trillion deal. We`ll tell you what exactly is in it? And
does this budge mean you`re going to end up paying for a big bank bailout
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY (R), UNITED STATES: We`ve avoided another mass
casualty attack against the United States. And we did capture Bin Laden,
we did capture an awful lot of the senior guys at al Qaeda who are
responsible for that attack on 9/11.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: A bitter battle today over the CIA torture report. Some of the most
ardent defenders of the program face tough questions today. Sudden and
dramatic, the drop in oil prices, there`s at least one answer for it, but
there are many more questions. So, who`s behind it? And could it damage
the U.S. economy?
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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