March 10, 2013
GuestS: Carmen Wong Ulrich, Stephen Lerner, Lisa Cook, Charles Williams, Anne Pollock, Alondra Nelson, Harold Freeman, Jonathan Metzl, Leonetta Sanders, Ira Glass, Alex Kotlowitz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Josh Wachs
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. What can
we learn from Harper high in Chicago?
Plus, Detroit. The city where democracy just may be dying. And
(INAUDIBLE) is tired of all the good races.
But first, just bring it down a little bit because it`s all irrational
exuberance about the Dow.
Good morning, I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY.
Yes. Hear that? On Friday, the closing bell seemed to have a special ring
to it because the Dow Jones industrial average jumped up 67.6 points, six
points to 14,397. And that was the sixth straight daily gain, a new record
high, an all-time record high. It was the highest number the Dow`s ever
been in 116 years and the Standard and Poor`s 500 stock index added almost
seven points Friday landing just one percent shy of its October 2007 all-
time high. And the NASDAQ ended composite index at a 12 points.
Approximately $10 trillion has been restored to the U.S. equities. It only
took the market 65 months to do it. What the what? I think we need this
guy to help us out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN GREENSPAN, FEDERAL DEFENSE CHAIRMAN: How do we know when irrational
exuberance has unduly escalated has its values which then becomes subject
to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the
past decade. And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Despite the fact that it sounds as though Greenspan have
never actually experienced irrational exuberance, those are the key words
here, irrational exuberance, two most famous words that 20-year chairman of
the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, ever uttered. They held so much
weight, in fact, that they helped place the pin in the dot com bubble that
burst in the 1990s.
But, I`m thinking of an irrational exuberance of a different kind. Because
all these numbers on Wall Street add up to just about zero for Main Street.
In fact, even the metric we are using to measure how fantastic the economy
doing, the Dow industrial average e is irrationally exuberant.
The Dow did not hit a new high this week because the index doesn`t even
account for inflation. If it did, the index needs to rise another 10
percent or so to hit a real all-time high. But more broadly, the Dow isn`t
even a generic indicator of the health of the entire economy or even the
markets in particular. It`s just a snapshot of how, well, 30 years or so,
blue chip stocks from publicly owned companies are doing. And what that
tells you is that those 30 corporations are doing very well indeed with the
help of massive layoffs and cost cutting over more than $2.3 trillion in
fed stimulus that helped push investors back in stocks.
Those stocks are high because the fed kept the interest rates so low and
moneybags investors want to put their money somewhere. But those gains on
the market has became so unrelated, the economic reality, the vast majority
of Americans that the term irrational exuberance, now only means something
to those of us not on Wall Street. Because you don`t have to crunch the
numbers yourself to understand this index.
The line you see here, shooting nearly straight up, that is corporate
profits since 1970. The other line, staying just about flat and starting
to tip down, that is laborers share of income.
So, yes, we were happy to hear for 29 months in a row, the working economy
added jobs, bringing unemployment down to 7.7 percent, the lowest since the
financial crisis of `07, but the job market hasn`t recover the 8.7 million
jobs lost to the recession. In fact, we are still living through the worst
labor market recovery since World War II. In part, because all the
corporate productivity isn`t producing many more jobs.
So, the official end of the recession in June, 2009, payrolls have remained
flat even while corporate spending on equipment and software has shot up 26
percent. Yet, corporations are investing in machines, not man. This
irrational exuberance perhaps then, is only for those not at the top.
Because up there, up at the top is looking like a pretty a-OK recovery.
Take it from Jamie Diamond, CEO of the country`s biggest bank, JPMorgan
Chase who said casually last week to investors, this bank is anti-fragile.
We actually benefit from downturns and he is not wrong.
During just the first two years of the recovery between `09 and 2011, the
top one percent captured 121 percent of all income gains. And that bottom
99 percent continued to lose ground. It just might be irrational
exuberance to think that is what recovery looks like.
With me today, to set the world to right is MSNBC policy analyst, Ezra
Klein, editor of the ever blog for "The Washington Post," Carmen Wong
Ulrich, president of Ultra-Wealth and Personal Finance and she is a
personal finance expert; labor and community organizer to the Wall Street
Accountability Campaign, Stephen Lerner. He is also the architect of the
Justice for Janitors campaign. And back for a second visit t Nerdland,
Lisa Cook, Michigan State University professor of economics and
international relations and former member of President Obama`s council of
So Ezra, I got a really simple question for you. Are we or are we not in
an economic recovery?
EZRA KLEIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: We are in a recovery. It is
just not a very good one. Look. I though you did a great job in the open
because we are not having a high in the stock market. The only people
irrationally exuberant are in the media.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does happens.
KLEIN: We are at a lower point than we were in 2008 and we are the lower
real point because of the lack of inflation in the Dow and the S&P than we
were in 2000. It`s a worse stock market, a much worse stock market than we
had more than 10, 12, 13 years ago. So, the idea that we are irrationally
exuberant about that is ridiculous. The market is not actually rationally
exuberant. We are simply misreading numbers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which we tend to do.
KLEIN: All the time.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have difficulty in understanding how the economy ought to
KLEIN: And the one good thing that - the one really good thing that did
happened this week is not that we passed a fake threshold. It is as if we
saw that we gained much more than 200,000 jobs in February. That is a big
deal. If that keeps up, if Congress manages do not get in the way of that
once again, that would be something to be exuberant about. But, passing
fake ticker tape to the Dow Jones; that is ridiculous.
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: That`s new that unemployment
has gone down. That`s the really the big news here. Because we know what
is scary here is we are seeing a real split. I mean, we can talk about the
wealth cap, but it is more than that. It is in fact that most majority of
Americans are not the investor class. They don`t participate in the
market. They don`t get advantage to the market. The markets where they
have advantages pretty much, the housing market which is kind gone up a
little bit. But not so much as the stock market. And here is the thing --
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to show, we have data on this.
HARRIS-PERRY: And as Ezra was talking, we have difficulty sometimes
visualizing this. But, when we look at who was in fact, invested in the
stock market, we see that, you know, 90 percent of the people of those
household with incomes of 100,000 or more, they have some investment,
right, in the stock market. But you see declines as you go down. And this
is, you know, for the most part, are retirement fund and that kind of
thing, right? Bur, you do see that it is wealthier folks, higher income
ULRICH: Absolutely, wealthier folks. And you better believe that over 50
percent of the capital gains that have been taken in the last couple years
are actually that one percent or that 0.01 percent of folks. And we can
look at those great charts and graphs, and I know you guys have some, that
show that when the income of capital gains started being taxed so low at 15
percent, it totally coincides with the gap widening up because it used to
be tax as income. Because really wealthy people, their income is not a
paycheck, it`s returns on the market.
LISA COOK, DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: And the way
you look at this otherwise, the labor share of income, what we see is that
weekly wage growth is not growing, it`s going down. So, this is a fragile
recovery. We say 36 straight months of job growth and that`s fantastic.
But this is uneven. It is not just uneven in terms of to whom the benefits
accrue, but it is uneven in terms of wage growth. So, that is income
growth. That is showing income growth. So, in terms of wages, this is
still something that is fragile. So, and this is uneven, too, in terms of
who is benefiting in what parts of the country. So, we will talk, I think,
more about the jobs report --
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t want to miss that, right. I don`t want to miss it
just because there were a couple of things I want to make sure we are
completely clear about. So, capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than
wages. So, when you go out and you earn these wages, right, you are paying
out more in taxes.
KLEIN: Right. So, Mitt Romney paid even nine percent.
COOK: And this is the Buffett rule.
STEPHEN LERNER, LABOR AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: So I got a random
unscientific survey over the last few days. And so, it`s not a chart, but
everybody I talked to said the stock market is at a new high, what do you
think? And the universal response was to burst into laughter. And
everybody said maybe it`s good, but it sure isn`t helping me anyway.
ULRICH: What`s bad is individual investors get in at the wrong time. So,
what you have is you got folks that panicked and pulled their money out,
right? And then now, they are going this past few years, they are saying
oh, look, it`s going up.
LERNER: But, it`s worse than that. You also have people who did it at 401
(k)s who had to spend it during the recession. I mean, one of the things
that I think we are losing this so-called recovery is how much regular
people are devastated far more. It`s a little bit like the car accident
yet. And at the end, one person who caused the wreck, he is back in
health. He is running, he is jogging, and the other person lost a leg and
arm and they say this recovery is great.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because if you had to eat your house or if you had
to eat your retirement, literally eat it, liquidated and eat it, then, even
as we start to come back, right, the loss of wealth is dramatic. I mean,
we are looking at a country where something like nearly 30 percent of
Americans don`t have savings accounts. Where 10 percent of Americans even
don`t have checking accounts. And the idea that that could be operating at
the same time, then we have this so-called recovery.
ULRICH: If you see the costs also, too, for most of Americans. We are
talking about medical costs have gone up. Wages are stagnant. The actual
- the things you actually have to buy, whether it`s the cell phone or the
Internet, whatever, everything has gone up while everything else is
stagnant. So, you see this top class where everything has gone just up so
tremendously. What does that mean and what is it going to mean going
KLEIN: One argument that to get us a little bit optimistic after being at
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, let`s do it.
KLEIN: Part of what is happening in the stock market, it is going up. It
is not in a new high, but it is going up. And that is in part a commentary
from the market about the future. It is a belief that the economy is going
to continue to grow. That the economy will become real. But, we are not
trapped in a truly slow growth normal. But, we will not have job in the
future. We will not see a real house in recovery.
LERNER: What a recovery for who?
KLEIN: When you look at the housing side of it, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, stick here because we will done the (INAUDIBLE) to
perception. And perception sometimes, it`s the only truth that matters in
the context of the economy.
So, let`s stay here. When we come back, I want to look at the chart that
you said was going viral. And we are going to talk a bit about that when
we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, inequality is old news in this country, the Carnegies,
Bensenville, Rockefellers are the aged elders of today`s gates and puppets
and Adelsons. But, when you ask Americans how this wealthy nation`s
abundance should be distributed, this is what they say.
You see, the yellow portion on the left that, is the share we think the
country`s wealthiest few should have. The orange is the upper middle class
share and the red is the middle. Then the gray block on the right is the
poorest amongst us and the share we think they should have.
OK. That`s what we think it should be. The ideal way to distribute
wealth. But, we know this is not the reality. If you ask how well it`s
distributed people think it looks like this. We think the rich have a huge
share of the wealth and the poor still have something.
But, here is the deal. Here is what the share of wealth in this country
really looks like. In reality, we are way, way, way more unequal than we
even thought. The wealthiest 20 percent among us hold more than 80 percent
of the assets in this country. And you can barely register the poorest
among us, that line really, barely, you can`t even see it and that`s what
the reality is there on the top. And that data is the graphical
representation of the false consciousness 2.0, the gap between rich and
poor so far exceeds our expectation, we don`t have a handle on how bad
things have gotten. As if this -- you were talking about perception but
then, this is the perception I`m worried about.
KLEIN: And this is scary because one thing we do all the time is we talk
about income and equality. We are very comfortable at this point talking
about income and inequality. When you talk about what we worry about
stemming from that right political power, social mobility, wealth and
equality is actually more important. You have somebody who got rich one
year. They are in top one percent of income that year. They had a good
year as a traitor or something.
People don`t have enough money yet to really be trying to influence a
political system. When you talk about the people, the top one percent of
wealth in equality, they have the stability in their fortune to try to use
it for those ends. So, when talking social mobility, when you talk about
investing in children or buying a home, or doing all of these things and
free airbags in your life and create the capacity to climb up that ladder;
that is also it`s coming from that wealth, not a single year`s income. And
so, the wealth and equality is much, much more to spare-- there`s a much
larger disparity in income and equality. And we talked about it much less
and are much more unclear on what even want to do to solve it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, it is the more important.
KLEIN: Yes, it more important.
COOK: And in terms of middle class wealth, most of it is tied up in
COOK: And this is one-third still, one-third below its peak. So, if we
are talking a broad based recovery, it has not been.
ULRICH: And this is why African-Americans Spanish, by the way, lost more
than 50 percent of their wealth with this recession. So, what happens is,
the groups of people that are unfortunately have to put all their money,
any money they have into something that also functions like the stock
market. It`s a market. This is the thing because I know we have a lot of
tradition of owning a home and making sure you own that property. The
problem is, it`s volatile. Now, we know, it`s a volatile thing and
controlled by a market you don`t have control over. And it can destroy
LERNER: And I think the thing about housing, this is really important, is
that this idea that it`s recovering, and it`s recovering for some people.
But, a group called ACE in California is putting out a report on Wells
Fargo next week, $3 billion and more in foreclosures coming just for Wells
Fargo. There`s a whole pipeline because it is really two economies going
on. And in communities of color and all over, it`s not just foreclosure,
its being under water. And there are things we could do. We could rewrite
mortgages and we put $1 trillion in the economy and we can create a million
dollar, I mean, million jobs if we started fixed housing for regular
people, not just for banks.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the Wells Fargo story is even uglier than that, right.
It`s not just that it is volatile, right, it is a Wells Fargo sold a
certain kind of loan product, right, to poor communities to African-
American communities to Latino community, and then, that those communities
themselves lost value. So, that you end up stuck. You know that candies
that move for a labor.
KLEIN: And Wells Fargo wasn`t alone.
ULRICH: But, watch this loop, right? So, why did a lot of these homes go
under? Why couldn`t people afford their homes, always for closures, jobs.
The jobs weren`t there. Why are there no jobs? Corporations are hoarding
cash, absolutely, holding on to cash. And what happens? The stock market
rewards those corporations because they love a fat balance sheet. So, this
is a vicious cycle when he tricked out.
HARRIS-PERRY: And then, there`s a third part, right? So jobs go down,
part of that is because corporations are hoarding cash. But, the other
thing is because the public sector is shedding jobs.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, even as we are seeing --
KLEIN: We have seen this number the other day. If we held it simply held
it straight, if we just had not cut a single public sector job since 2008,
so, the level (INAUDIBLE) means straight, the whole time, we would be at
7.2 percent unemployment. If we were adding at the rate we were adding in
the George W. Bush era or on the Ronald Reagan era, we would be well in the
And by the way, one thing we know how to do in government is we can create
public sector jobs, right. It`s not rocket science. If we want to hire
100,000 teacher`s assistants to put into urban school district all across
this country. We could do that. There is actually one point in the White
House a proposal to do something like that, but it never won any work
because there is a consensus in Washington that that kind of direct public
employment that sort of inefficient. It`s old school liberalism. And I
think one of the big mistakes of our recovery policy which to focus little
on direct job creation.
ULRICH: I mean, the deficit, because if we start adding government jobs,
you know, you are adding to the deficit.
LERNER: But, let me jump in because I think there is in a strange way, a
relationship between housing and government which is that the same kind of
predatory loans that people were sold in their homes have been sold to
local governments around the country.
LERNER: These incredible deals in California where, you probably remember
the school loan. They don`t get paid off for 20 years. So, what Wall
Street did is not just bankrupt homes and people, its bankrupting
government and sucking money out of it. So, I think one of the things, a
lot of us work and say we need to re-negotiate all of these debts. Wall
Street got bailed out. It is about time we start - the public sector needs
re-negotiate this debt.
And there is something really exciting happening in Oregon. The public
employee union put in demands that there should be no cuts to public
service or workers until the state sues and gets money back from Wall
Street that we have to get to start yelling it back what they stole and not
say recovery as we stay where we are and they get mega --
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this collective narrative, but it didn`t just
bankrupt you and your household, it bankrupted whole cities. We are going
to talk about Detroit a little bit later in the show. But, this does
frames it in a different way. There is that somebody who owes back to
More after the break. As good as the monthly unemployment numbers were,
there`s a little talked about a quickly glossed over troubling figure mix
in there as well and we are going to dig up for you, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, remember all that excitement about the Dow, the Dow, the
Dow? Well, guess who benefited from it? This was the headline on Friday
from Bloomberg. The 100 wealthiest people on the planet added $28.7
billion to their collective net worth this week, 100 wealthiest people,
28.7 billion this week. Excuse me? Because I added none. And I`m doing
way better than the average American.
COOK: Certainly we should celebrate the fact that our retirement plans,
that our birth funds are doing better and that corporate profits are
recovering. This is 54 percent of the population that own stock. But, we
should be careful about the implication. The implication typically is
people feel better about their household wealth, so they start spending.
Now, if we have had permanent damage in the economy and the assumptions we
typically have don`t hold, they may not spend. What we need is more
consumer spending because this is the driver of economic growth. So, we
really have to be careful about this irrational exuberance. And again,
middle class wealth is caught up in housing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask though, I feel like sometimes there is a tension
between this what is good for the economy, for you to go out and spend?
But, if I hired you to be my wealth adviser, you would not sago out and
spend. You would tell Melissa, go out and spend. Things are going to be a
little bit better, now, go out and spend, right? You would tell me say put
this away, put this to the side, right?
ULRICH: So, I tell you buy back at a discount and then, suck all this
money away into a really well diversified portfolio. Because the thing is,
we don`t know what is going to burst. We don`t know what bubble is going
to go. And we know the interest rates are eventually rise. We have a very
global, high frequency trading, cookie market that we can`t predict as
But, this is the thing, you have to make sure that you have some sort of
plan in place. Because I don`t think that a lot of thing that is help many
Americans are going to be there for long. And this is something you have
to be very, very careful of. This is an interesting market, get help.
COOK: Buy a bag and upgrade your car. We have had our cars for longer
than we have ever kept our cars.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jane, did you hear that? My guest just said we should
upgrade our car, dear.
COOK: 2.9 percent interest, that`s great. One in seven jobs in America is
created to the car industry. So, you are creating a job when you buy a
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I should buy a Ford or a Chevy.
LERNER: Well, as someone who has Ford, I just want to throw out something
that may fit into this. There`s two pieces that connect. The other is the
question of student debt.
ULRICH: Oh, no.
LERNER: I just want to connect it to something that is so insane that just
happened. I don`t know if you heard about the McDonald`s workers that went
on strike in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
LERNER: They are students from other countries who came here on student
visas for cultural experience which apparently was making minimum wage, and
living in the boss` basement and paying rent. And so, they paid $3,000 to
come to America so they could pay all the money and rent at the company`s
It`s not that it`s horrible, but it speaks to something going on with the
economy, that they are not content with minimum wage. They are now
scheming to pay up some minimum wage. And so, when I think of buying a
car, I`m with you. But, there`s more and more people that the thought of
buying a car of anything is student debt. And you can track student debt
now to the housing market in Wisconsin. They did a study that housing and
car sales are down because people cannot get loans because of their student
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s the public policy question.
HARRIS-PERRY: We can impact that changing how we help students to finance
LERNER: Right. And what happened is we defunded public education. And
then, the private sector, in the name of efficiency drains tens of billions
of dollars out a year to Wall Street in excess -we spend a billion dollars
a year just in debt collection from student.
KLEIN: The other thing that happened, this is what we are not doing a good
job doing with that we need to do something to deal with the financial aid
system is that health care and education, which are eating up enormous
amounts of middle class families` paychecks have the same problem. Which
is it, families don`t feel they can say no to whatever they are charging.
Probably can say no to the hospital when your loved one is in it. And you
don`t feel you can`t say no to whatever is being ask to provide your kid a
college education. And so, they are getting way, way, way into debt. And
the government which now funds a lot of the stuffs because we feel these
should almost rights, doesn`t actually demand good prices for it. I mean,
we do have some to get Medicare and Medicaid.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, when you are talking social mobility, it`s not
just wealth, it`s also the other piece as human capital, which now, you
know again, that same distinction is beginning to occurring. But, only the
very wealthiest families can begin to imagine setting there --.
COOK: And assuming capital story is the start for one, we have to worry
about the damage that was done in this economy through this recession and
this recovery. So for example, one bad piece of new that is came out with
the job report was that we are now seeing average duration of unemployment
going from 35 weeks to 37 weeks. What does that say about the students we
are training? So, the teachers -- the teachers who should be teachers are
working at dominos. So, those skills are going to atrophy. This is not
going to be an even recovery.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is clear to me, we need another hour. We are -- the
irrational exuberance, we are only scratching the surface.
But thank you to Ezra, Carmen, Stephen, and Lisa.
And speaking of irrational exuberance, I do want to take a moment to
express my exuberance for the wonderful crew working the floor here in
Nerdland studio. They make magic happen in the blink of an eye each and
every week. He just can`t imagine, but their work, making room for 14
Harlem shakers during a very brief commercial break last Sunday is worthy
of a little extra gratitude. We love you all.
Later in the program, (INAUDIBLE) of this American Live will be here
But up next, why people are saying Detroit is where democracy goes to die.
HARRIS-PERRY: All cities have their share of problems, but what happens
when the city itself is seen as the problem? At the start of his 1903
text, "the souls of black folk," web Du Bois writes between me and the
other world, there is ever an unasked question, how does it feel to be a
problem? See the difference? Not how does it feel to have problems, but
to be a problem?
I was reminded of Du Bois` question as I followed the news out of Detroit
this month. The city does not just have problems, it`s being treated as
though it is a problem. Earlier this month, the governor announced that
the city will soon be led by an emergency manager. That person will not be
elected. He or she will be appointed by Michigan governor, Rick Schneider.
And that manager will then have power over current mayor Dave Bing and city
officials to address Detroit`s $14 billion plus debt, an assorted financial
Detroit will become the tenth city in Michigan joining those on this list
to have an emergency manager appointed. Only four of which don`t have a
majority African-American population. The other six, including Detroit do.
Michigan is foreclosing on the cities, treating them like they have
problems. Is this take over the latest example of how democracy dies?
Joining me now from Detroit is the reverend Charles Williams, pastor of
King Solomon Baptist Church in the city and president of the National
Action Network, Michigan chapter.
It is so nice to have you here, reverend.
REVEREND CHARLES WILLIAMS, PASTOR, KING SOLOMON BAPTIST CHURCH: Thank you
very much, Dr. Perry. We appreciate your journalism.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you this. Why this assumption Detroit`s
problems are too large to be solved by the city itself?
WILLIAMS: You know, Dr. Perry, you know, we sprung our clocks forward
today. But the governor is certainly just trying to take us back. You
know, democracy is at stake here in Detroit. Our voting rights are at
stake here in Detroit. And there are many across the state of Michigan who
wish to take the city of Detroit and sell off its assets.
You know, I was watching your program earlier today. And you outlined the
problems that Detroit has. That are national problems. And that`s
unemployment and that`s the housing crisis. These are the reasons we are
facing the fiscal crisis we are facing. And so, we believe that if we
allow this to happen in Detroit, which we are going to fight this all the
way, then Michael Nutter in Philadelphia will be next. The same reed in
Atlanta will be next. This will be spread like wildfire.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and exactly that. You know, when you point out the
other cities and the other mayors and elected officials, when we talked a
lot in 2012 about voter suppression. But, this is kind of the ultimate
voter suppression, right? Because the person who would be making all the
decisions is in no way accountable to voters.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I mean, I don`t have a mayor who I can go to and
say my street light is out, my garbage is not being picked up. The park is
not clean. I cannot go to my city councilman and say my garbage is out or
my street needs to be cleaned.
This totally roots out democracy and the ability for accountability to our
elected officials. And this is why there are so many people in Detroit, as
you have been reading in the headline that is are upset about this. And we
are going to continue to fight this and we are going to fight it to the
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me ask you this as well. I know that labor is going
to take a particular hit here. That there is going to be a sort of tough
piece, labor is going to lose bargaining rights, but what about Wall
Street? How will Wall Street relationship to Detroit be similar or
different under an emergency manager?
WILLIAMS: You know, what`s very unfortunate about this whole situation and
that is, is that Detroit owes our banks. We have high- deficits, long-term
debt and short-term debt. But you know, what the governor is really trying
to do, what this emergency management, he is trying to reserve from having
to go to the table with the banks and have them re-negotiate the debt that
Now, it`s interesting to me, Dr. Perry, that we bailed out the banks at
just about five or six years ago at $1.7 trillion and now urban centers
across America who owe the banks, the banks have not done anything to sit
down and say let us re-negotiate the terms, population is down, jobs are
down, foreclosure is down but banks profits are up.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me, just, you know, to play devil`s advocate, if I`m
a Nay Sayer, I would say well, the elected leadership has failed. You had
a chance. You had and an election but they have failed. So, why should
not bring in an emergency manager?
WILLIAMS: And my question is simply this to that, democracy worked for 100
years. The Michigan governor, the state of Michigan was in a deficit, is
in deficit now. Should the president come take over the state of Michigan?
I mean, should the United Nations come take over the United States since we
have high deficit? I mean, that`s not how democracy works.
The reality is, is that this financial crisis is a pole tax on Detroit and
others across the state of Michigan. You know, how can we be in a state
where almost 75 percent of the African-American elected officials won`t
have the ability to fulfill their position because they will be under
emergency management? This is a national crisis. And we need folks to
really look at this and really begin to help us here in Detroit, send a
message to the United States department of justice and that is we need
You know, the king had to ask Robert Kennedy for federal intervention for
Selma and Montgomery and voting rights. And we are doing the same thing.
Eric Holder, we need you. We need focus to go to @nationalnetwork, the
Twitter site and go @rfcw and sing the petition. Help us out here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I tell you what, Reverend Williams, I very much like the
idea of sending an emergency manager to Congress because they seem
incapable of doing the business of the government. I appreciate it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, up next, is race a factor in your health?
HARRIS-PERRY: Get your pencils out, Nerdland. It`s time for a pop quiz.
There`s one question. But first, you are going to need a few facts to help
you with your answer. Ready?
First, did you know that babies born to African-American mothers are more
likely to die than babies more into mothers of any other race. In fact,
death rates for African-American babies are nearly twice the national
Did you know African-Americans and Native Americans are twice as likely to
be diagnosed with diabetes as white Americans and that African-Americans
with diabetes are more likely to suffer complications like renal failure
and amputations of the legs and feet.
Did you know African-Americans are the racial group with the highest rate
of HIV infections. They account for an estimated 44 percent of all new HIV
infections among adults and adolescence even though they only represent 13
percent of the population.
Did you know African-American men and women are 30 percent more likely to
die from heart disease than white males even though only six percent of
African-Americans have heart disease.
And did you know African-American women are less likely to develop breast
cancer than white women, but they are 40 percent more likely to die from
And they are the most likely to die from breast cancer than any racial
OK. Those are your facts. Now, here is the quiz.
Do that he has disparities among African-Americans exist because there is
something broken about their bodies or do they exists because there is
something broken about their lives?
Pencils down because I have some guests at my table who are going to give
you the answers, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: A useful model for understanding the complex intersection of
race in medicine can be found in of all places, American folklore. So, a
story told about the black men who worked as day laborers on the rail road
the myths our nation together in the 19th century.
Their hero, John Henry was the strongest, most powerful steel driving man
working on the railroad. And one day, when the salesman showed up with a
steamed power drill, John Henry facing a challenge to his strength and
skill agreed to a contest against the machine.
When the dust cleared, John Henry had drilled 14 feet and the machine only
nine. And the triumphant John Henry had enough time to raise his hand in
victory before he collapsed and crashed to the ground. John Henry, the
strongest man on the rail road had died from a heart attack. But, he lives
on in the field of cardiology where the term John Henryism is used to
describe health disparities for black men. Men driven like John Henry to
push their bodies to surmount circumstances beyond their control and
ultimately, suck coming to the forces working against them.
Here with me at the table, Anne Pollock, assistant professor of science
tech and cultural at Georgia Tech and author of "Medicating Race." Doctor
Harold Freeman, founder of the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation
Institute and Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention. Alondra
Nelson, associate professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia
University and author of "Body and Soul, the Black Panther Party in the
Fight Against Medical Discrimination." And you remember from yesterday,
Dr. Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry of Vanderbilt University and
author of "Protest Psychosis."
So, Anne, I want to start with you since we are talking about John Henry
here. What does race have to do with cardiovascular health?
ANNE POLLOCK, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF SCIENCE TECH AND CULTURAL, GEORGIA
TECH: A lot. What my book looks at is the history of heart disease
research in the United States. Since the founding of heart disease as a
research as a field. And what I found is that throughout heart disease,
researchers have been interested in asking questions about a disease that
is understood to be related to the American way of life.
And so, early on, heart disease researchers were focused on elite, white
men and this kind of stressful lives they were living that were sedentary.
And obviously, that was not all Americans in the 1920s ad 30s. There are a
lot of people who were left out of that story.
And so, with kind of the progress and democracy that has happened through
social justice movements, the notions about (INAUDIBLE) are also expanded.
So, that we saw in the post war period, with the friendly him had study,
both white men and women including new white immigrants being studied. And
then, with the civil rights movement, there was a lot more interest and
attention in the lived experience of African-Americans which include lived
experiences of heart disease.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me just say, I can imagine there are people watching
right now who think wait a minute, didn`t she ask a question about heart
disease and words like social movement and race and identity? You know
start emerging. Why are we talking about that when we are talking
something so clearly biological, so medical?
ALONDRA NELSON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY AND GENDER STUDIES,
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Right. Well, because health is politics by other
means, right. So, health is a terrain, a space in which we struggle over
access to resources. And whether or not one is healthy has everything to
do with access to resources.
And so, it is not what Anne`s book shows so well is it is about social
justice and about how communities are trying to get access to the medical
system which has been historically segregated in American society.
But, I think it`s also about the class issues. The part of the John Henry
story that you didn`t raise that you could have is that he was a former
slave, right? So, he`s a former slave and he is working in the context of
sharecropping. And so, this is about a time and a societal context when
black laborers were supposed to work themselves to death.
And so, in a more contemporary movement, it is you think about John
Henryism now and it is like people work because they have to work. You are
driving yourself not only because of ideas of masculinity, about black
masculinity, because you don`t have health insurance or because if you do
not go to work, you do not get paid, right?
And so, but the driving is not only about a kind of personal disposition
about being kind of hyper-masculine, but it is also about a social context
that forces people to work when they shouldn`t.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, bring that all the way down for me, Jonathan. Because
in the certain way, we are still in a metal land of access to resources and
what does that look like on the ground if I am a, as many, for example,
African-American women are, a small business owner and I do hair. Right?
And I`m, you know, I`m earning a decent income. But then, I`m sick and I
cannot do hair that day or maybe I get very sick and don`t have health
insurance. So, what does this inequality look like on the ground?
DOCTOR JONATHAN METZL, AUTHOR, PROTEST PSYCHOSIS: Well, you know, it is
funny, but in the quiz that you asked the viewers before the break, you
kind a asked a trick question, which is it cultural or is it biological?
And what I teach at Bensenville, I tell student if you vote, it`s cultural
or biological, if you say it`s one or the other, you are not going to pass
my class because it`s both, in a way.
And so, so phenomenon like John Henryism and Anne`s book show are that
social factors, social issues like oppression that are invisible and also
privilege have profound biological implications. So, if somebody is
working against, you know, factors in society that make it hard that they
can`t afford to lose a day of work or something like that, it will impact
their biology. So, what we look at is not just culture. Everything is
socially constructed. It`s that biology is influenced by culture which I
think is a radical notion in the history of medicine.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in effect, Doctor, as I was reading about the decades of
work you have done at Harlem. This is exactly the insight that you
initially had., was here I have been trained as a doctor to treat bodies.
And then, you came to Harlem and found that is going to insufficient.
DOCTOR HAROLD FREEMAN, RALPH LAUREN CENTER FOR CANCER CARE: Absolutely. I
think it comes down to the fundamental question, what is race. And then I
think we have to make a distinction between what we call race and what
racism is. So, how do we get to be black in America, for example? Through
the one drop rule. And what is that? It came out of slavery. So, when a
person owned another person who was a black slave, they didn`t want to lose
that person to mixing up races.
By the time of the revolutionary war, for example, there were slaves on
plantations who appeared to be white. But, they were called black. What
ultimately occurred was the one drop rule meaning you have one ancestor, no
matter how far back in time, you are black. In Harlem renaissance in 1920,
that was taken up by black Americans of all colors. And they have resisted
this false concept of one drop rule mess, which is ridiculous.
FREEMAN: They decided, OK, and let`s call ourselves all black because they
are treating us all the same anyway. So, there was a convergence of a
false rule. Now, people who are black by the rule don`t say I`m not black.
FREEMAN: That is not a biological issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, it`s real, right? So, on one hand, we want to be
able to say it`s not a biological reality, but has real biological real
implications for our health.
POLLOCK: Absolutely. I think this is one of the ways that it`s important
when talking about race in medicine to move beyond talking race in
genetics. Because you know, genetics can`t change in a clinical encounter,
they don`t change over the course of an individual`s life. But biology can
and does change. And so, that suppose what makes it, you know, a really
urgent sight to pay attention to because our logic experience is going to
happen in our biology. But it also makes it a little bit in a way less
depressing than your statistics suggested because that means that social
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And when we come back, I want to ask about
(INAUDIBLE). I want to ask about patient navigation and I want to ask, can
we cure race and or racism with a pill? We like to do everything with a
Stay right there. Because also, Ira glass from "this American life" is
going to coming to Nerdland in the next hour.
And we are also going to talk a bit about why all good races can be simply
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Tucked away within the more than 2400 pages of the Affordable Care Act
right there in section 3510 is a word that might seem more at home in
transportation policy than a health care law, navigation. The word is used
in reference to a program, the Patient Navigator and Chronic Disease
Prevention Grant that the law reauthorizes through 2015. And you`ve
probably never heard of it. Patient Navigation has received barely a
mention in all the back-and-forth during the drafting, debating and
implementing of the ACA.
But the spirit of the law, to close the gap in a fragmented health care
system provide early and effective care for medically underserved
population is exactly what the practice of patient navigation is all about.
Patient navigators are personal guides to help people find their way
through the maze of medical care, from screening, and diagnosis and
treatment, transportation to appointments, sticking to a regime for care.
Navigators lead their patients from beginning to end and critically, they
quickly scare patients toward quality care when a timely diagnosis can mean
a difference between life and death.
Last year, George Washington University study found women who used
navigation services received potentially life saving early diagnosis four
times faster than those who didn`t. And in a complicated model of health
care policy, patient navigation stands out as an approach that seems to
At my table today is the man who started it all, more than two decades ago,
(INAUDIBLE) in Harlem, New York, when he saw African-American women dying
for breast cancer at an alarming rate. He`s Dr. Harold Freeman of the
Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care.
Also at the table, Anne Pollock, author of "Medicating Race." Alondra
Nelson, associate professor of sociology and gender at Columbia University.
And Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you are looking at this higher death rate among African-
American women and the answer wasn`t a kind of medication for them or even
personal. It was -- it was patient navigation?
FREEMAN: Yes. Here`s the background. Some 40 years ago, I came to Harlem
as a cancer surgeon. I faced women, particularly who come in with breast
cancer where the mass was bleeding and ulcerating when they came in,
We started this -- we found a 39 percent survival rate of those women
before intervention. I did two things. I found a way to screen those
women for breast cancer including a mammography by 1979. That helped.
But it wasn`t enough. I held hearings as president of the American Cancer
Society Cancer in the poor. Out of those hearings, we found that all
American people who are poor face barriers when they attempt into and
through the health care system.
So, that is something called patient navigation at Harlem, Harlem Hospital.
Essentially, we put people on the case. The patient comes in, sees a
doctor, navigator takes them aside, did you understand what the doctor
said? Probably often not. Explain it then.
Is there any barrier to your getting the biopsy that you recommended? I
don`t have insurance. We have to solve that.
Complexity of health care system, for many people that can`t get through,
fear and distrust. Babies at home alone, no matter what the barriers,
navigators solved the problem.
The problem is broad. It starts with people living in a neighborhood.
They have to be navigated to a place to get an examination. Examination
must be done. So, it`s a mammogram.
When there`s a finding, be sure the patient gets rapidly to diagnosis,
people are lost in that interval.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m thinking, that requires a way of understanding the
patient as a full person, right? Not just as a diagnosis. And it feels
very different to me, the part you write about in the book, which is
looking at this cardiovascular difference and then BiDil, actually having a
prescription that is for black bodies and not sort of a prescription that
is for poor lives.
POLLOCK: Well, yes and no.
POLLOCK: Actually, I think a lot of the way that BiDil merged is from the
same kind of practices.
So, you know, the organization that ran the clinical trial that led to
BiDil was association of black cardiologist. And their approach is very
holistic. They see new medications that are found in clinical trials is
absolutely being, you know, one component, alongside things like, for
example, training church cooks in hypertension lowering diets. Or you
know, ameliorating poverty in places that have, you know, real barriers to
So, all of those things can go together. It`s different when you look at
it in the pharmaceutical market, right? So, there`s a real gap there. So
that from the pharmaceutical company`s perspective that was doing BiDil in
its first release, they wanted a racially specific indication for the drug
so that that way, their patent life would be extended and they could make
HARRIS-PERRY: And the pharmaceutical market piece really makes me nervous,
Jonathan, in part because I know -- because I know your work, right? And
there are times when on the one hand you are looking at health disparity.
You say, OK, there`s a pharmaceutical solution, maybe there`s a collective
policy solution. But what is the thing we are diagnosing with is, in fact,
sort of racialized?
METZL: Well, you know, I mean, I`m sure viewers of the show might be
thinking, how can we have it both ways? How can we say that race is
social, but at the same time, doctors treat biological findings?
So, when I talk to doctors, I tell them that studying the history of race
in medicine is not telling us something about a particular genetic basis of
serotonin. There`s a long history of how social factors influence the way
we think about mental illness. And certainly in my book, I have some
examples where during the 1960s is one example.
In "The Protest Psychosis", I talked about how the rhetoric of mental
illness was mirrored, the popular anxieties about black power.
METZL: And so, advertisements for Haldol in the 1960s. All of a sudden,
there`s one there. People are probably like hey, I woke up and there`s
That was an ad for in the American Journal of Psychiatry from 1968 after
the Detroit Riots. So, in a way, history shows us that right after this
incredibly politically charged moment, the rhetoric of what mental illness
was mirrored a social reality. And this is not to say that doctors are
racist, it`s to say that we need to be continually aware because we are
surrounded in the present day with assumptions of race and health that we
need to be aware of.
HARRIS-PERRY: This month marks the sort of diagnosis to drapetomania.
This idea that if you are an enslaved person who wants to be free, that`s a
mental illness, right? Not if you are an enslaver, right? So, we don`t
define racism as a mental illness. We define the desire to be out from
under racism as potentially a mental illness.
NELSON: If I can move the circle, I mean, one of the interesting things is
that, in the same period that Jonathan is writing about it when he`s -- in
talking about the black power period, where people, black communities, are
in some regard being overexposed to the bad things about medicine. It`s
also a period where community health activists are in black communities are
starting to mobilize around health care in part because you have the
advances of -- you know, the legal changes of the Voting Rights Act and the
Civil Rights Act. It brings relief to all that remains undone, right? So
that health disparity is an health and equality becomes more acute or comes
And so --
HARRIS-PERRY: It becomes clear sitting at the lunch counter or integration
of the schools doesn`t --
NELSON: Or hospitals, right?
NELSON: Also Jim Crowed as well.
But part of what the communities were doing, we`re creating something that
was like a very preliminary effort at the wonderful, you know, patient
navigation system that Dr. Freeman is doing. So, you know, clinics would
have patient advocates and the person would be, you know, is there lead in
your home? Do people not have access to food and these sorts of things?
And so, there`s a longer historical trajectory to the important work that
Dr. Freeman --
HARRIS-PERRY: So this patient navigation, we are thinking of it as a
policy because we`re framing it within the context of ACA. But it begins
as a social movement activity.
FREEMAN: It does indeed. Health disparity is driven by three major
things, in my opinion. One of them is poverty and lack of insurance, a
circle of poverty.
The other is how people behave, the culture and the good culture and bad
culture. They are not related to race directly.
And then there`s social injustice. Those three things overlap and drive
disparities, from prevention, all the way to the end of life. Navigation
is an attempt to look at this total continuum and navigate people from
where they live, into health care, through health care, through treatment,
timely treatment, quality treatment, to the end of life.
And it seems to work. We changed the five-year survival rate at Harlem in
breast cancer from 39 percent to 70 percent.
FREEMAN: By screening and navigating.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that -- for all of the depressing of what it means to
think about these inequalities, that`s the point I want us to leave on.
That you changed the survival rates.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in changing survival rates, it can change whole
Thank you to Anne, to Dr. Freeman, to Alondra.
And Jonathan is going to be back in a bit.
Up next, the high school on the front lines of the gun violence epidemic.
Radio host Ira Glass takes us inside Harper High.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last year, one Chicago high school lived through an
unbelievable amount of gun violence, 29 current or recent students shot
over the course of the school year. Eight of them killed. The school is
Harper High, situated on Chicago South Side, just more than six miles from
where teenager Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down days after performing at
President Obama`s inauguration.
Three reporters from the WBZ Chicago-produced radio show "This American
Life", were given unprecedented access to the school. The reporters
shadowed students, staff and faculty and came away with a story that
challenges our assumptions about impoverished and blighted urban
communities of color. As listeners to the reporting, we get to walk along
with these kids. And it is not a simple thing to walk with these kids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel like this. For some reason, we deal with it.
We never liked passing trees. There`s too much stuff going on.
REPORTER: Too much stuff going on is the shootings, the fights, the
craziness. It`s better to walk down the middle of the street where you can
keep a broad view of things and where you have a few more seconds to run,
if you need to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And that fear is not some kind of phobia, it`s a reality,
because pretty soon, you can expect to see yet another person shot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) football who`s been shot or shot at?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably the whole team except freshmen and sophomores.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody was shot at (INAUDIBLE). Everybody
on the team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe the most stunning part of the story is that Harper
High is not a wholly, unprecedented sort of exception. It`s, in fact, one
of many schools trying desperately to educate thousands of kids who are
living in a reality we try to imagine. But we can glimpse the helplessness
and hopelessness, the joy and the despair, and the constant innocence in
their voices, in this story.
Here to help us delve deeper into Harper High is the host of "This American
Life", Ira Glass. And joining us from Chicago is Leonetta Sanders,
principal of Harper High.
Principal Sanders, I want to start with you.
How are you this morning?
LEONETTA SANDERS, PRINCIPAL, HARPER HIGH SCHOOL, CHICAGO: Good morning.
How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I`m a little in love with you. I`ll tell you that
spending time listening to this series, the love with which you are trying
to shepherd these young people through Harper is tangible and
extraordinary. And it was hard for me to listen to it for two hours. You
live with it daily.
What do people need to know?
SANDERS: People need to know that first of all kids are kids. The
students at Harper High School are wonderful children. I`m so blessed to
be a part of Harper High School. I`m so blessed to have the staff that I
have at Harper. I have one of the most amazing staffs in the city of
Chicago, if not across the country because they are so passionate. They
are so dedicated to these children.
We don`t know what our children go home to every day. And so, to bring a
little bit of sunshine to their lives for the six, seven, nine, 10 hours
that they are at Harper is an extraordinary thing. So, I`m excited and
blessed to be a part of this, even though the challenges we face is just an
awesome thing to be a part of.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ira, that tone we just heard from the principal there is
infectious in that it keeps coming through in these circumstances that are
just -- again, hard for many parents and listeners to imagine. And yet you
get the sense that somehow the teachers, the students are just trying to
make it through this.
IRA GLASS, RADIO HOST, "THE AMERICAN LIFE": Yes. I mean one of the
reasons why we wanted to cover this story, we are looking for a place to be
able to talk about the shootings happening in Chicago, because shootings
are up there versus in most big cities in the country.
One of the reasons we chose Harper is because we could watch this very
competent staff try to deal with the kids and help the kids and get the
kids through. I mean, it`s interesting. There`s a growing body of
research now about the effects of stress on kids as they come up in bad
circumstances and how it makes it harder for them to learn. It makes it
harder for them to develop.
Literally, like neurologist say, their brains are developing differently.
And one of the things we know from this research is that at various points
of a kid growing up, you can intervene. Watching what happens, what
principal Sanders and her staff do in a day-to-day way, basically when you
do exactly what the research would have you do to do, which is when you
reach adolescence, you can intervene with all kinds of mentoring.
And basically, they`re just doing the common sense thing of having enough
people around to get close to the kids and really know the kinds and help
them think through and dealing with the effects of seeing so many shootings
and just deal with the danger in the neighborhood. Deal with what it`s
like to be a kid, the normal stuff they are going there.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to pause on exactly that because this idea, of
sort of the confidence of your staff, principal Sanders, there`s a moment
towards the end of the set of stories where they allow you to just riff on
what you would do if you won the lottery.
I want to listen to that for just one second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I would hook Harper up. And everybody would be sitting back
REPORTER: And then she laid out her plan.
SANDERS: I would say, yes, they would have the state of the art labs.
Every student would have access to a computer, any of the capital
resources, human resources that we need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And it goes on and on. And I keep -- honestly, I keep
thinking why does this have to be a dream? Why do you have to win the
lottery for it to be true that children would have access to that in their
SANDERS: You know, I think that a lot of schools are challenged with
having the resources that they need.
Upon entering Harper approximately six years ago, it was really brought
life to me, that a lot of students go without the resources they need. And
so, for Harper, there are so many things that are still needed. When we
first became a turnaround school, the resources and the human capital that
was brought into the school was awesome.
And it was what the school and the entire school community needed at that
time. And we must continue that. You can`t replace the human side of
SANDERS: However, you know, we have to continue to persevere, you know,
through whatever challenges lay before us coming forward.
So, having things such as, you know, exposure for our kids to go on college
trips, if I was to look at a segment of post secondary, having students be
exposed to go to colleges. Some of our students are first time college
students. And so, they don`t know when they go away to college, that they
need all the things they have to take with them for a whole semester
because some of them may not come back before Christmas break.
So, in other words, they need to know that they need personal items. A lot
of our students don`t have money for housing, when they are accepted to
schools. So, a lot of times, that comes out of our pockets to provide the
housing costs for our students as well as transportation. Many of my staff
have gotten into their personal cars and --
SANDERS: -- and taken students to schools because it`s an issue.
You know, we get the books, we get things like that. But there are a host
of other accessories and things kids need that, you know, we have to
provide for them. We do it because they are our children and, you know,
it`s just the need. We have to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Principal Sanders, I just -- there are not words for what
you and your staff are doing. I know Harper is just one of many schools
struggling with this. But it is the school that so many of us have had the
opportunity to fall in love with now through this reporting.
And I promise you, we`re going to keep our eyes on you, on Harper and on
the children there and not forget that they are children. Thank you for
Ira is staying with us.
SANDERS: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, principal.
When we come back, we`re going to have much, much more on Harper High
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s startling as it is to hear about the 29 recent or
current Harper High Students shot in one year, even more startling is the
figure of how many students are impacted by the violence by bearing witness
to it. Well, we can`t give you an exact number for how many students have
personally seen a shooting or its aftermath, based on the reporting done on
"This American Life," it seems fair to say that figure would be nearly all
So, it`s impossible to understand structural violence in and around Harper
without considering the effects of seeing the violence.
One of the reporters for "This American Life", Alex Kotlowitz, wrote a "New
York Times" piece on this issue, saying, "The ugliness and inexplicability
of violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you with
just once act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle
and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance, but
Back at the table to discuss the psychological effects of growing up
witnessing and living in fear of gun violence, Ira Glass, host of "This
American Life," Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt
University. And joining them is Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at "The
Atlantic". And from Chicago, author of that "New York Times" piece and part
of "This American Life" series at Harper High, Alex Kotlowitz.
Nice to see you.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ, REPORTER, THIS AMERICAN LIFE: Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Alex, let me start with you on this. The Devonte story
and the story of this young man who accidentally shoots his younger brother
and is living with the aftermath.
What does this tell us about, sort of the psychological impact and his
ability to go on as a student?
KOTLOWITZ: So, you know, when I was at Harper, I kind of planted myself in
the social work office a refuge for the kids where they just come and a
place where they felt safe and nurtured, as they did in the rest of the
school. But there`s something special about that office back there.
And Devonte came in regularly. He had a really close relationship with one
of the workers, Crystal Smith.
It`s clear he was hurting. He felt guilt. He took about he would take
Nyquil to try to get to sleep. Before he went to sleep, he looked at
photographs of his brother, who he was very close to.
At one point, towards the end of my stay, I sat down with Devonte, you
know, in a very honest way, just talked about how much he didn`t like
himself. That he felt that everybody looked at him differently.
And you realize this moment came to shape who he was. I think what Crystal
was trying to do is let Devonte know there was somebody else there. That
it didn`t have to shape who he became.
As you point out, I mean one example of many, I mean, most of those kids in
that high school have witnessed an act of violence. It has a profound
impact on them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Ira, I want to ask about the fact that Alex was sort of
posted up in the counseling office. But the existence of that office and
of the staff, and of the ability to sit and get to know Devonte in long
term overtime is because of the resources that were made available to
Harper initially, right? And that now may be evaporating.
GLASS: Yes, yes, exactly. Harper was designated a turnaround school in
Chicago. And basically what the people running the schools did was
something very sensible. They said, OK, let`s try to take money off the
table and let`s put as much money in as we can to have enough people
tending to these kids. And that was one of these programs that lasted for
a few years.
And that, at end of this year runs out, they have $1.6 million out of an $8
million budget. And so, they are going to lose 11 positions including that
social work office, you know -- I mean, it sounds so small when you hear
the number. It`s, you know, 1 1/2 counselors, you know, when you think of
the number of counselors who go into a place like Sandy Hook or Columbine
to counsel people think seeing the effects of violence.
But they had this 1 1/2 counselors along with other adults tending to the
kids. They are going to lose 11 positions, including they`re going to go
down to just having one 3/4 time counselor at the end of this year.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, actually, this point that Ira is just making, Jonathan,
I want to come to, and that`s the idea of Sandy Hook, right? And of these
moments when we have these extraordinary acts of violence and we deploy all
these resources into the schools because we recognize, OK, if you were part
of the Sandy Hook, community, you`re going to experience kind of post-
traumatic stress, but then 1 1/2 counselors for a school that has had 29
students shot in a year?
METZL: As you know, I study guns and mental health. I thought I knew
something about guns and mental health until I listened to the piece
METZL: It was so profound and so disturbing.
And what I kept thinking was we are on the wrong track in a way, that after
things like Sandy Hook, we talk mental illness and guns as if mental
illness is causing shooting. But, really, we are looking at the effects of
who gets shot in a way. Really, the kids at the school are living with the
constant stress of violence all the time, that in a way, there`s -- we know
from studies of post-traumatic stress disorder, soldiers for example living
under the threat of violence causes post-traumatic stress and these
children are living under the threat of violence.
So, if you really want to look at the mental health implications of guns,
don`t look at just who gets shot, look at the psychological impact of
living in a violent community like that. It is profound.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ta-Nehisi, you know, as I was listening, there`s this moment
when they are trying to decide whether or not to have the homecoming game
and dance because there`s violence beginning to erupt.
And in the five minutes of making this decision, I`m on edge. My stomach
is sick. I`m weeping with the counselor about the fact that a child may
I mean, this is officially like a First World problem, like, oh, it`s so
hard for me to listen to my public radio station. These are the realities
of these kids in these communities. Do we care? Like, nationally, do we
fundamentally care? Do we get it?
TA-NEHISI COATES, THE ATLANTIC: They are two questions.
COATES: We care. People are hum and they do care. I don`t know how you
can listen and not be affected. Do we get it is a very, very different
question. You know, just picking up on a point about mental health is a
If you grow up in a community like that, you -- God bless you, you may not
get shot. You may not see anyone get shot. But the very fact of living
under threat changes how you think about the world. It changes how you
interact with people.
I was listening at the beginning of the show where they lay out rules about
where they walk and who they walk with.
I have to say I`m from west Baltimore. I was there age 20 to 25 years ago.
It`s sad that I remember a lot of those rules.
And here`s the other thing, every bit of mental energy you spend trying to
secure your safety is mental energy taking away from doing well in school.
COATES: I mean, the point is school, right? That`s the whole point of why
you are going there. But you are spending -- I`m speaking from experience
here -- one-third to one-half of your brain to secure your safety. How
well are you going to do in school after that?
HARRIS-PERRY: This is such a great point.
Alex, I want to go to you on exactly that because not only the portion of
your brain that you`re spending, but the portion of the school day. You
know, it`s one of the things when you listen to these hours of all the
months of reporting, is you get very little sort of math class, English
class, as part of this because they are keeping kids alive.
KOTLOWITZ: Right. In fact, I remember, there was one point, it`s not in
the piece but Miss Sanders talked about missed the days when she was
curriculum director because then she could really focus her energy on what
was really important about school, which is about education. And now, she
had to deal with all the stuff that these kids were bringing into the
school building from the neighborhood.
And I think the other thing that`s I think important to point and which you
alluded to is it`s not like the kids who are stressed, but it`s also the
adults. You point to the moment before -- when they are trying to decide
to have a homecoming -- one of the counselors who is asked to come to a
homecoming, and she bursts into tears and says, "I just can`t go. I can`t
She`s worried about her own safety. She feels like this -- you know, this
is going to continue. That there`s no end in sight.
So, you see the incredible stress on that adults in that school building as
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Alex, thank you so much for joining us from Chicago.
I want to let everyone know that you can listen to the two episodes of
"This American Life" for free at ThisAmericanlife.org or download the
podcast through iTunes or the public radio iPhone app.
Up next, could the solution be as simple as a good meal? Well, it`s not a
solution, but it`s part of the story, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In this part of the "This American Life" series on Harper
High School, staff member, Marcel (ph), encounters a student standing in
the hallway. The student is visibly upset, unhinged. So, Marcel stopped
and asked, what`s wrong? And the student explains the teacher was giving
out cookies and he took an extra.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, the students were given an incentive for
being on time. It was food.
REPORTER: Cookies. It was cookies. And the student, along with everyone
who got to class on time that day was allowed to go up and take a cookie.
But this particular student was dealing with a difficult and maybe
dangerous situation at his house. So, he hadn`t gone home the night before
and because of that, he hadn`t eaten.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The young man could not eat food because the food was in a
home he could not go to. That is called food insecurity.
According to a report conducted by the organization No Kid Hungry and the
Center for Best Practices, 3.9 million American families have children
without access to nutritious food.
Joining our table now, chief officer strategy for No Kid Hungry, Josh
Josh, how prevalent is hunger among kids?
JOSH WACHS: Well, unfortunately, Melissa, stories like that that one that
you just at Harper High that Ira so vividly captured is happening every day
around the country, at schools as kids struggle with hunger. In fact,
(INAUDIBLE) speaks to teachers. And a few months ago, we did a survey of
teachers saying almost two out of three teachers in this country currently
have kids who are coming to school hungry because they aren`t getting
enough to eat.
And there are teachers like Rose in Washington, D.C., just blocks from our
national`s capital who says Wednesdays and Thursdays are the only two full
effective days she has to teach because kids on Mondays and Tuesdays are
recovering from the hunger from the weekend and by Friday, they are filled
with aggravation and anticipation of another weekend with not enough food
to eat at home.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, we -- gentlemen, we are talking about the sense of
insecurity or stress that would come from the violence, but the idea that
your Monday and Tuesday and your Friday are impacted by your actual lack
and your fear and anticipation of lack of food.
METZL: I mean, we study these exact factors in soldiers. And we saw how
leads to mental illness and stress. And in a way, we are recreating these.
I mean, it`s just so frustrating because we can do so much better than
this. Like I just keep thinking as we`re talking about what we talked
about yesterday with the NRA advertisements trying to promote guns in inner
cities. I ask well-intentioned NRA members to listen to this piece and say
is that the world that we want to create?
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, we are using part of our brain power to worried
about -- I mean, when I get hungry, I have a hard time concentrating. I`m
not going to be hungry for long, right? I`m going to eat in a couple
But the idea of asking children, particularly adolescence with all of the
angst that they have to manage a day with insufficient food.
COATES: Right. Well, see, what`s interesting here is we are talking about
what sounds like all these ancillary issues. Again, we are not talking
class performance. You can`t get to that. You even can`t get to the
COATES: There was a gentleman in the special, and they were talking about
how he was doing well in school getting B`s and C`s, right? So, me being a
parent, my brain goes, that`s not well in school -- right, if you are
talking hunger and being shot at, you know, adding in these extra factors -
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, a B is extraordinary.
COATES: It is. It is, indeed.
GLASS: These kids get free breakfasts at school. Like in (INAUDIBLE),
there`s already a federal program to deal with exactly this problem, that
every kid who`s poor, like in a school like this, that is every kid, you
know, can get a free breakfast.
WACHS: You`re right, Ira. It is being offered. The problem is, so many
kids who need it are not getting it.
So, 21 million kids in this country are eligible for a free or reduced
price lunch. But about 11 million, only half, are actually getting
breakfast. And that`s because there are a lot of barriers that exist.
Sometimes, it`s transportation, kids don`t get to school early enough for
breakfast. Other times, there`s stigma associated with it. Only the,
quote-unquote, "poor kids" go to the cafeteria for breakfast while others -
- while everybody goes for lunch. And no one wants to be that kid.
GLASS: Yes, but if you do like that -- like if you are serving breakfast
in the cafeteria, you know? Like --
WACHS: There are ways around the country where schools are working to make
that more accessible. They are taking breakfast out of the cafeteria and
putting it into the classroom and making it a part of the school day, where
kids start the day on a level playing field.
One example of that, outside of Baltimore, Maryland, Principal Mack (ph),
who we work with, who sought -- instituted in classroom breakfast program
after one of this kids taking a standardized test wrote on top of it, don`t
think -- I can`t think, don`t care.
He confronted that kid. And the kid said to him, he hadn`t eaten since
lunch the day before. Since he`s instituted an in classroom breakfast
program, he`d seen discipline problems cut in half.
WACHS: And, in fact, throughout the state of Maryland, with the Maryland
Meals for Achievement program, supported by Governor O`Malley, that does
just that, we have seen suspensions cut in third and tardiness down
significantly as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Josh, right, this is a fixable problem. Start talking
about violence and start talking quality of schools, let`s make sure kids
Thank you to Ira, Jonathan and Josh.
Ta-Nehisi is sticking around a little bit for more, because up next, when
good people do racist things. The article heard round the world by Ta-
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Monday, Oberlin College in Ohio canceled classes after
a person was spotted wearing a KKK-like hood and robe on campus. When the
school called for a day of solidarity, more than 1,000 students and faculty
showed up to, quote, "make a strong statement about the values we
It`s despite this showing and the fact that the college was the first in
the country to have a race blind admissions policy, the month of February
saw eight separate of bias at the college. While the acts at Oberlin had
been overt and they`re under investigation by the FBI, the fact that these
incidents occurred on one of the most avowedly progressive, liberal
campuses in the country shows that racism can and still does happen
anywhere, anytime. Sometimes, it`s quite a bit more subtle than a KKK
As written in a recent "New York Times" piece, quote, "The idea that racism
lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals as opposed to the heart
of a democratic society is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to
time find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion."
With me is the author of that piece, Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at
Why this piece and why now?
COATES: I heard that -- I`ve read that Forest Whitaker got frisked,
stopped. I want to emphasize, not just stopped, but somebody put their
hands on his body at a deli right around the corner from me -- a deli that
I love very much. As a matter of fact, I have never had problems there,
I`ve sent my son there.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Forest Whitaker. This is not an unknown gentleman.
COATES: Yes, yes. You know, Forest Whitaker didn`t actually want this
out. Somebody actually saw it and then, you know, it got reported.
And I guess I have been thinking about that and thinking what happened a
few years ago. The whole birther controversy with the president, and this
notion that once we achieve a certain sort of status, which all Americans
strive for, we don`t actually get the same things. The shadow never goes
away. You know, the ghost of suspicion never goes away. What message that
sends, you know, to those of us still striving to be there.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me like part of what you are doing is suggesting
that we get unfocused when we talk race and racism.
HARRIS-PERRY: That when we say racism and we mean some guy using the "N"
word or we mean somebody walking around Oberlin in a KKK hood.
HARRIS-PERRY: These are the good people. These are the people at the deli
that you go to and never had a problem with. And next thing you know, they
are frisking Forest Whitaker.
COATES: Right, right. Because I think -- you know, if you define being
racist as being a mean person, it`s, you know, very easy to disqualify
yourself. You can see it when people are charged with racism. The people
who defend them, first thing they say, well, my son, father, daughter, good
parent, good friend. They do this, they take all the things they do in the
community, give to charity, da, da, da, as though you are accusing them of
some sort of moral evil.
It`s been equated with like pedophilia or something like that, as opposed
as a result of actual policies that a democratic country put into place.
And I think that`s a very, very different situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, this -- the Oberlin thing, I think hit home for me
because of a college campus situation.
Lena Dunham of "Girls" tweeted about it. She`s an Oberlin alum and
tweeted, "Hey, Obies, remember the beautiful, inclusive and down right
revolutionary place you call home? Protect each other."
And I`m thinking Lena Dunham falls within the category of the kind of thing
you`ve just been describing.
COATES: You are putting me in a hard place. I love "Girls".
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, sure, who doesn`t?
COATES: Here is what I say about that. The fact we live in a world where
we live in a world where certain people tell stories is very much a part of
this. That`s what I, you know, long sort of maintain. I think we often
talk about schools and there`s all this talk about the achievement gap,
achievement gap, achievement gap.
When no one wants to tell these kids, I understand why you don`t want to
tell them, is there`s actually a rewards gap, too. That if you go to
school and do everything right, if you become the president of the United
States, that someone still may stand-up and ask for your papers as our
(INAUDIBLE) put it.
That`s still out there. That`s still -- there`s no amount of achievement
that can make that go away. And kids hear that. They receive that.
I hate to say this, but my son knows he can`t go to that deli. He now
HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to say, you and I are both parents, right? And,
obviously, we push, we are achievers. We are pushing our kids to be
HARRIS-PERRY: But the idea that their achievement does not make them safe
from the realities of American racism that is deeply embedded. It doesn`t
require evil people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, to keep perpetuating.
COATES: So, this is like a really scary thought, because there`s a big
American ethos of individualism. If one person does X, Y and Z, you know,
you can have the world. But in fact, policy matters. This is a country,
you know? This is a democracy.
The policies we put in place actually matter. There`s a reason Forest
Whitaker sticks out in the deli. There`s a reason why (INAUDIBLE) has the
composition that it didn`t happen by magic. It has actual effects.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, these moments, which we think are just about bad
actors in the system are actually about the structural segregated world in
which we continue to live.
COATES: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ta-Nehisi, I love 99.9 percent of what you write.
COATES: I`m going to get that other 0.1 percent, man.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your voice has been so important.
COATES: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I appreciate it.
COATES: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. And in just a few moments, I`m going to say
another big thank you. First, one to Heaven Nicholas (ph). She is in the
sixth grade at Museum School 25 in Yonkers, New York. She`s chosen me as
her topic for a Black History Month project last month. And it just -- it
tickled me and honored me. And I just wanted to say thank you.
Up next, my message to a very special 7-year-old and all the other little
girls like her. You`re enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, I received a letter from Dean in Ed Dorado,
California. It read, "I volunteer with the second grade class and
yesterday, Myriam approached me upset that someone made racial remarks
about her being black. I doubt that the other 7-year-old really understood
what he was saying. However, the teacher sat the class down and made it
clear that such remarks would not be tolerated in her classroom. I know
how busy your schedule must be but I thought you could give Myriam a few
words of encouragement."
The note gave me that familiar sick feeling that adults have when we
witness our children encounter racism for the first time. So many of us
have these stories ourselves. And many black adults who carried the wounds
of childhood encounters, we`ve gone on to live successful, meaningful,
happy lives. We don`t spend all of our hours fretting about sixth grade
But the scars remain, and the racial distrust and division of our nation
cemented with the scar tissue of these encounters in part because we
suspect a similar day will come for our nieces, sons, sisters and grand
kids. But we hope we can delay it. We hope we can make it softer for
But maybe, just maybe, this generation will be different, that the doors we
opened will stay open long enough for them to pass through unscathed. The
slow, halting backtracking difficult work of dismantling racism is not just
about law, although policy will be part of the effort. It`s not just about
the health of our national democratic project, although politics will
remain sick until we fix it.
It`s the work of our very souls. One of those souls is Myriam.
Myriam, I see you. I see you in a classroom with a teacher who knew to
take your feelings seriously. And as I see what an advocate in Dean who
wrote to me.
I just want to tell you, it is OK to feel hurt. You don`t have to pretend
to be strong. It`s OK to feel angry because you deserve to be treated with
respect. It is OK to ask for help because you deserve to be protected.
And, Myriam, you are going to survive it and you will thrive. And like
Venus and Serena Williams, and Sasha and Malia Obama, and Gabby Douglas and
Quvenzhane Wallis, the world is waiting for you to grow into your genius.
We need the light that you and only you can project.
Nerdland is here. We are cheering for you, Myriam.
And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. The
always wonderful Joy Reid will be sitting in for me next week because I`m
running a half marathon with the Human Rights Campaign. Saturday 10:00
Eastern, join in with Joy.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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