Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: October 26, 2014
Guest: Dave Zirin, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Lynch, Janet Mock, Danielle
Moodie-Mills, Lisa Bloom, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Marc Steiner, Jelani Cobb,
Raul Reyes, Whitney Dow, Herbie Hancock
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, what do you
think makes you white?
Plus, the dimming prospects for justice in Ferguson.
And sex between men, Viola Davis` hair and all of the feelings about Shanda
But first, I need to talk today`s siren about the shadow classes at UNC.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
The University of North Carolina`s flagship school in Chapel Hill is
legendary, as an institution that offers both academic rigor and athletic
achievements. When it comes to academics, it is one of the country`s top
ten public universities. It is among the best 30 major universities in the
country, public or private. When it comes to athletic, UNC chapel hill has
won 40 NCAA division I championships, including men`s basketball title five
times, most recently in both 2005 and 2009. It sent more than 100 students
to the Olympics.
It`s produced sports greats like NBA superstar Michael Jordan and NFL hall
of famer Lawrence Taylor, even soccer star Mia Hamm.
Now, that is a rare combination of sports and athletic, on the one hand and
academic on the other. As the University of North Carolina is a tradition
and it is proud of it. That`s why it was a big deal when we found out this
week that over the course of almost 20 years, more than 3,000 students,
nearly half of them athletes, received artificially high grades for fake
classes. The report on UNC`s irregular classes was released Wednesday by
an independent investigator and former federal prosecutor Kenneth
Wainstein. That from 1993 until 2011, a school administrator, an office
secretary named Debbie Crowder, created and ran hundreds of so-called paper
According to the report, these were classes that involved no interaction
with a faculty member, require no class attendance or other course work
than a single paper and resulted in consistently high grades that Crowder
awarded without reading the papers or otherwise evaluating their true
quality. Crowder designs and ran the paper classes herself, but she had
the tacit approval and facilitation of the chair of the department she
worked for. It is the biggest student athlete scandal ever uncovered. And
it puts the school`s NCAA championship titles at risk.
Now, the news is particularly striking in this moment. In recent months,
we have talked frequently about whether college athletes should be able to
receive financial compensation for playing sports and generate billions of
dollars for their universities. One argument against compensating college
players is that they are, to quote the NCAA, "student athletes," that is
students first, the players already benefit the NCAA says, in the form of a
college education which as the UNC can run $100,000 for in-state students
and $200,000 for out of state students.
But these paper classes disproportionately full of football and basketball
students do not contribute to any kind of quality education. In a number
of cases, students submitted papers with original introductions and
conclusions, but with copied fluff text in between, because they knew
Crowder typically just skimmed the beginning and end of a paper before
awarding a high grade.
It gets to the very heart of the conflict between sports and academics, at
schools like UNC, that there is always this conflict, when the school`s
mission is to both to provide a decent, maybe serious education, and
promote academic rigor and critical thinking in all of its students and win
a lot of trophies.
Then there`s that other element to the scandal, the part that make me want
to just bury this story rather than lead with it, the department in which
these fake classes were given was the department of African and afro
More than -- for more than five decades scholars have fought to win
recognition and resources for African-American and other ethnic studies as
legitimate fields of academic inquiry. It`s a struggle that is often
included having to defend that the courses we teach are intellectually
rigorous and substantively important for our students. It`s a fight that
has grown fiercer in recent years as college tuition continues to
skyrocket, and parents and students and taxpayers reasonably demand
evidence that their significant investment in a college education is a good
In these days of leaner and lesser budgets, ethnic and gender and clear
studies departments are often among the first to go under the budget knife.
And now, now we have an unprecedented fake class scandal, originate in an
African-American studies department, at a major university. But I figured,
if a story raises uncomfortable questions about race, education and sports,
well, then this is the program and the right place to talk about it. And
the best person to talk about it with is joining me now, from Washington,
D.C., Dave Zirin, sports editor for the "Nation" magazine.
Nice to see you, Dave.
DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, NATION MAGAZINE: Good to see you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let`s just start with the question I think this raises
for a lot of us, are first-class sports simply incommensurate with serious
academic goals at a university?
ZIRIN: Absolutely. I mean, this is about the wrought of for profit. As
we have this discussion, we need to remember couple of things. First and
foremost in the so-called amateur pursuits at UNC of basketball and
football, the head coach Roy Williams makes $2.1 million a year. That`s
more than any professor, that`s more than the school president. The
football program, which is not a storied football program by any means,
their entire coaching staff makes a combined $4 million a year. And you
said it before, I mean, the painful, ugly irony that this kind of let`s
face it educational money laundering of young, black men through the
African-American studies department, that`s what this is.
We`ve talked about this before, that NCAA revenue-producing sports United
States the organized theft of black wealth. And the fact that it happened
through the African-American studies department is particularly bitter.
I`ve actually received emails this week from members of that department at
UNC who are just devastated by this for the very reasons that you said,
because they devoted their lives to making African-American history part of
a legitimate inquiry on a university campus. And to see it used and abused
by the athletic department for the purpose of facilitating theft of wealth
from young, largely African-American athletes is too bitter for words.
And I just have to say one last thing, real quick, is that people have to
understand the whole reason why there`s an African-American studies
department at UNC, is because students demonstrated for it, students risked
their scholarships for it, students sat in for these classes at UNC. And
so, to see it used and abused and strip mined for these purposes incredibly
HARRIS-PERRY: And I so appreciate you bringing us back to that point
because it`s key to recognize, not only UNC, but as universities across
this country, African-American studies, ethnic studies, often gender and
clear studies programs are the result of students asking for classes on
these topic and then to discover that these aren`t real classes.
Now, I do want to point out that something like 52 percent of the folks who
actually went through them are not athletes at all. And the fact the
report suggests that it`s the fraternity system, other than word of mouth,
that was the single, largest feeder into these, and I presume they don`t
mean the African-American fraternity system though it`s not completely
clear there, but the larger source of referrals was the from fraternity
network on campus, suggesting that there are multiple kinds of aspects of
the whole, you know, what`s incommensurate with getting a first-class
ZIRIN: And that is important say. It is like let`s be clear about this.
This is not a UNC problem either. There are paper classes at every
division I university, that are geared towards athletes and revenue-
producing sports and, of course, other students go along for the ride.
And you know, I can`t honestly say that if when I was in college if someone
said to me, hey, there could be a very easy grade in this particular class,
what do you say, if I would have had either the strength to say, I don`t
know about that. I`m paying for an education. I mean, we are talking
about 18 and 19-year-olds making very mature choices.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I want to pause you there because to me that is so
important. Because I do think that the first sort of impulse is to
villainize the students themselves. They knew they weren`t taking a real
class, so it`s their fault. But I keep thinking, you know, part of the
responsibility of faculty, of administrators is, we know that given an
option to make bad choices, young people often make bad choices. We have
to provide good choices and opportunity for them.
ZIRIN: No, exactly. When I was in college, if someone said to me, you
know, you don`t really have to take this physics class that`s required, I
might have had a physics book bonfire in my dorm room.
I mean, you`re 18 and 19-years-old, you are inclined to make choices that
go for the road of just the least resistance. And I have so many stories I
could tell you of big-time, all-American athlete whose adults go to them
and they say those words, you don`t really have to take this class if you
don`t want to. There are other ways to do this, and it takes very unique
kinds of people to be able to have the strength to say, no, especially when
being a big-time athlete in the 21st century at these colleges is
effectively like having a full-time job.
And the most cynical part, the part that really breaks my heart, is that if
you had a student, a young person who is saying, you know what, I`m going
to use basketball to get a first-class education and they bust their butt
in school and they get those A classes but, it affects them on the court,
they would be bounced before you could say NCAA.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And they -- I want to read because I think it`s
important, part of a statement from UNC chancellor, Carol Folt, who said
it`s important to separate the past from the present and the future, Mr.
Wainstein found that the irregularities were confined to one department,
picked almost a decade ago and ended in 2011, since first learning of these
irregularities four years ago, Carolina took action to stop the wrong the
doing, implemented numerous, additional reforms and will continue to take
action to build on the initiatives currently in place.
Dave, is this just a thing of the past? And is this just about one
ZIRIN: Not at all. And the worst part about it is that the NCAA is going
to fly in and do all kinds of sanctions at UNC and speak about how there`s
a new era of law-abiding academic rigor at the school and other schools and
that`s going to be the equivalent of getting Tony Soprano to take care of
the neighborhood drug dealer. All right, you`re actually doing is making
the enforcement bodies that`s the cause of this wrought more powerful when
it is all said and done.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dave Zirin in Washington D.C., as always, thank you. It is
always good to start off with little coffee and Dave Zirin on (INAUDIBLE).
Still to come this morning, how Shonda Rimes continues to blow our entire
mind this season.
But first, I`m not yet done with college students in North Carolina. My
letter of the week is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are swiftly approaching the 2014 midterms and voter
suppression efforts are in full swing. The Supreme Court recently let
stand Ohio`s decision to slash early voting days, a change that will
disproportionately impact black voters. And Texas` new voter I.D. law, the
law that a district court judge determined constitutes an unconstitutional
poll tax, and it`s estimated to disenfranchise 600,000 voters. Many of
them people of color.
And then, there`s North Carolina, home to a hugely important Senate race
that could help determine the balance of power of Congress.
A new NBC News Marist poll shows incumbent Kay Hagan and state
representative Thom Tillis tied in a 43 percent dead heat in a massive
suppression bill passed by the North Carolina house. While Tillis was
speaker, North Carolina eliminated same-day voter registration, prohibited
touting votes, inadvertently passed in a wrong precinct and sent the
countdown clock for the strict voter I.D. laws to take effect beginning in
Knowing all that, it`s worth remembering that North Carolina went for
President Obama in 2008 and for governor Mitt Romney in 2012. And notice
this county in the northwestern edge of the state. It is democratic blue
in 2008 by 1,210 votes, then Republican red in 2012, by just 753 votes.
And that county, (INAUDIBLE) county, has been the site of one of the most
contentious fights over student access to the polls this year.
The county itself tends to vote Republican, but it`s home to Appalachian
state university where students tend to vote for democratic candidates.
And those students are no inconsequential group. They make up one-third of
the county`s population, and have had an early voting site on their campus
In 2012, 35 percent of all early voters in the county voted at ASU`s on
campus site. So when the state board of elections decided in August on an
early voting plan that removed the ASU early voting site, they were not
just making it harder for young people to vote, they were restricting
access to the polls for a third of the county. And this is where it starts
to get complicated.
OK. In August, no early voting at upstate, a decision that didn`t suite
well with some in the county. And in September, seven (INAUDIBLE) voters
filed a petition to restore the early voting site. So now in September, no
early voting at AP state but they are trying to get it back.
Then last Monday, a superior court judge agreed that lawsuit, a group
(INAUDIBLE) ordered the state to make new early voting plans, including the
He wrote in his decision, the court can conclude no other intent from that
board decision other than to discourage student voting. So, October 13th,
AP state has a voting site, maybe not. But then, state attorneys filed a
petition asking the state Supreme Court for an emergency stay and appeal.
The argument said, and I swear this is a real quote that following the
order to keep the early voting site on campus would cause irreparable harm.
So on October 16th, maybe voting site, maybe not. And as of this
Wednesday, one day before the start of early voting, the state Supreme
Court hadn`t ruled on the petition leaving open the possible that the
campus voting site could be restored.
Hours away from the start of early voting, with no word from the Supreme
Court, the board of elections called an emergency meeting to comply with
the trial court`s decision and voted to keep the ASU early voting site. So
this Wednesday, October 22nd, we finally knew early voting at ASU. What
started (ph) in there. Thirty minutes after the board of elections voted
to keep the site open, the state Supreme Court made its ruling saying the
superior court`s judgment and opening the possibility again to eliminate
the voting site.
But with only hours until the beginning of voting, the board announced they
would keep the site open allowing ASU students to vote early and on their
campus. Early voting began on Thursday. And by Friday, there were already
more than 1,000 votes cast at ASU student union, nearly half of all of
early votes in the county. Which brings me to my letter of the week and
it`s more of a postcard.
Dear North Carolina student voters, over the past year you have seen
fragility of your constitutionally protected rights under the weight of
partisan-driven voter suppression efforts. In the long term, we are going
to need a structural fix to ensure this basic tenet of our democracy. We
are going to need a new section four of the voting rights act, legislation
that works to open the vote to many rather than restrict it to the view.
But for now, you have nine days. Nine days before voting ends in North
Carolina, nine days to determine who will sit in your state legislature,
who will fill your district`s judgeships, who will represent you in the
Senate, you have been the targets of voter suppression efforts. And for
this election cycle, you prevailed. But the rash of voter suppression laws
this year have made it clear your victory is not guaranteed for future. It
will take more than one election. But in this election, your vote is
North Carolina student voters, you have nine days. Make them count, vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, Dr. Craig Spencer, physician in New York
diagnosed with Ebola, after returning from Guinea, as entered a serious
phase of the disease. This change was an expected progression of the
illness. He is in isolation at Bellevue hospital center right here in
Word of his diagnosis on Thursday ushered in a new spade of urgent news
coverage and Ebola-related headlines just as it seems the story of Ebola in
the U.S. was starting to fade from the front page. Dr. Spencer`s fiancee
returned to their apartment in Harlem last night. She and two others are
now home quarantined as a precaution.
The story about Ebola in the U.S. is about the response to the illness and
those perceived as potentially infected. Illinois, New York, and New
Jersey have imposed mandatory 21-day quarantine for medical workers and
travelers returning to the U.S. from West Africa who had contact with Ebola
patients. Florida ordered high-risk flyers be monitored twice daily by
health officials for 21 days.
Friday`s screeners at Newark international airport intercepted Kaci Hickox
and shuttled her to an Ebola isolation ward at a nearby hospital. Now, she
is a nurse who was returning home after working with doctors without
borders to care for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. But after -- but what
happened after she touched down left her frustrated?
She said her Temperature taken and initially read 98, normal. But then as
she writes in the first account in the "Dallas Morning News," three hours
passed, no one seemed to be in charge, no one would tell me what was going
on or what would happen to me. Four hours after I landed at airport an
official approached me with a forehead scanner, my cheeks were flushed. I
was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my
temperature as 101.
The female officer looked smug, you have a fever now, she said. When
preliminary tests on Hickox came back negative for Ebola, but because of
New Jersey`s new quarantine rules she`s not going anywhere until officials
say she can.
In her piece for the "Dallas Morning News," she identifies the larger
problem. I sat alone in the isolation sent and thought of many colleagues
who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be
made to feel like criminals and prisoners? And more to the point, if
health care workers are made to feel like criminals and prisoners, when
they return from countries suffering with an outbreak of Ebola, will they
go and provide their desperately needed services in the first place?
The World Health Organization reports the number of cases of Ebola in the
West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone has surpassed
10,000, nearly 5,000 people have died. This morning, U.S. ambassador to
the U.N., Samantha Power is in Guinea. She took off from D.C. yesterday
for the first leg of a high-profile visit to the epicenter of the outbreak.
And during her trip, Power will also visit Liberia, and Sierra Leone as
part of an effort to highlight U.S. support for those countries and draw
attention to the need for more international assistance to the West African
nations who was severely impacted by the current outbreak.
Joining me now, Jeffrey Wright, you may know him best as one of the stars
of HBO`s "Boardwalk Empire" which has the series finale tonight. He is
also a founding partner of the Ebola survival fund.
I`m so pleased to have you here. I want to take a moment to show a little
bit of the PSA of what you`re working on so folks know why you are here at
the table to talk about Ebola.
JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR, BOARDWALK EMPIRE: Great. Let`s take a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ebola is not a death sentence.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS: Ebola is not a death sentence.
DIKEMBE MUTOMBO, FORMER NBA ALLSTAR: No, no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I survived.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vandy survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) survived.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eric (INAUDIBLE) survived.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My countryman and friend, Dr. Phillip Israel survived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, what good is star power in the fight against Ebola?
WRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think it`s pretty ironic that, you know, we
talk about this and then cut to the actor --
WRIGHT: He does play a doctor on "Boardwalk Empire" but was I don`t think
that qualifies me as an expert in these fields. What I do know, though, is
that you know Sierra Leone very well. I`ve traveled to the country past 13
years, over 20, 25 times, largely in the (INAUDIBLE) district, the eastern
district of the country that was first hit by the outbreak.
We immediately when we heard that a doctor had succumbed to the disease in
our area, we spoke to two groups. We spoke to the World Health
Organization and we spoke to community leaders there in a chief
(INAUDIBLE). They both told us the same thing. They need a chlorine and
they need medical gloves to help stave off the infection, stave off further
transmission. So we pushed out about $2500 worth of supplies over to them.
Subsequent to that, we supplied a material to support 100 public wash
stations within the community. Since that doctor passed in May, they`ve
lost no one since. So we acted -- we acted early in this community of
15,000, 20,000 people, we`re now helping adjacent chiefdom as well. But to
back to your question --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. But, wait. Who cares about my question? I want to
come to that for a second because when I hear you say that for $2500,
$5,000, and early prevented intervention, you can say in this community,
the substantial community, no one else has been lost.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think about the conversation about billions going and
what feels look a kind of back end, so it`s, you know, going to build the
tents and we are going to do all of the work after -- after the Ebola has
already been transmitted and we have patients which is critically
important, undoubtedly. But I also wonder, are we missing this kind of
larger structural story about how to prevent on the front end?
WRIGHT: Absolutely. I don`t think there`s any question, but that the
global community responded late. National governments responded late.
Part of the reason for that is because the first outbreaks were way up in
the countryside, about ten hours from free town, for example, by road,
which is where we operate, the same in Liberia, far in the northern part of
the country. But it wasn`t until outbreaks and infections in the cities
that the national governments really took it seriously. Likewise, when the
virus was exported to Dallas, we started to take it seriously in this
However, I will say that the U.S. government, I`ve been tracking this since
May, the U.S. government is far ahead of the public understanding and also
the media understanding of what`s happening here.
Dr. Friedan of the CDC has visited Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea. Dr.
Fauci had a meeting at the White House in and I saw this guy who is
concerned about his security pass and the like. And I realized later that
it was Dr. Fauci, but it was August, they have been on top of this to be
exceed that they could for quite some time now. And I think the message
the U.S. government is sending is the right message. If we want to protect
ourselves here, we need to stop the outbreak in West African, in Sierra
Leone, Guinea, Liberia, where it`s most impactful.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just to prove that has been the message, listen to the
president saying precisely that for a moment and ask you how we might stop
that outbreak. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The best way to stop this
disease, the best way to keep Americans safe, is to stop it at its source
in West Africa and we have to be guided by the science. We have to be
guided by the facts, not fear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that underlines this idea, and yet is still has a kind
of medicalized way of thinking about it, that what we must do is stop an
infectious disease in the way that doctors and physicians stop those
diseases. But you have talked a lot about the fact that the preponderance,
the way this keeps spreading has a lot to do with history and with
economics as well.
WRIGHT: Absolutely. The reason that Dr. Spencer here in New York could be
in pretty good shape, it seems, again, not a medical expert, but I think,
because he`s in New York state, we`ve got 50,000 registered physicians in
this state alone. We`ve got some of the finest medical systems, medical
infrastructures applied, staff in this state and in this in city that money
can buy. In --
HARRIS-PERRY: He`s someone with health insurance who can access it.
WRIGHT: That`s right. In Sierra Leone, my experience has been that one of
the biggest medical -- one of the biggest initiatives that we undertook to
bolster health care provision in Sierra Leone was the building of a road.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fundamental infrastructure.
WRIGHT: The highest infant mortality rate in the world existed in Sierra
Leone just after the war. So one of the projects that we undertook was to
build an 18-mile feeder road that served the community that we`re most
Now, the way that impacts health care, is because you have pregnant mothers
who are having complicated pregnancies but can`t get to the next level,
health care, because there`s no road access for ambulances. So these are
the types of basic provisions that will bolster the impact of quality
health care there. Let alone hospitals and medical infrastructure that
they the thing that we have to keep in mind is that, you know, I think a
lot of people ask, well, isn`t there foreign aid that flows into countries?
Yes, it`s true. But for example, in Liberia, $571 million of foreign aid
flowed into the country in 2012. Only three percent of that passed through
national institutions. So, then the ministries of health don`t have the
capacity to build their health care delivery systems, hospitals don`t have
the state-run hospitals, don`t have the capacity to bill up their strength.
And so, we end up with a situation like this where even though we have the
international community there, just after the war to contain violence
there, we`re coming back ten years later because there`s nothing done
really to strengthen against an outbreak like this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s a reminder that we both need the urgent
response to the medical crisis, but we need the much longer-term
WRIGHT: That`s true.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you Jeffrey Wright for being here.
WRIGHT: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up this morning, the director of the new documentary
series "the Whiteness Project."
But first, we are going to Shonda land, and that`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fans of Shonda Rhimes` shows know that one of the trademarks
of the Shonda Land series are steamy scenes that push the sex on network TV
envelope about as far as it can go.
Now, whether your team Fit or team JAKE, Olivia hookups on "scandal" never
fail to elicit a hashtag of yes from the show devoted live tweet audience.
And Rhimes has always made sure that her gay and lesbian characters also
get in on all of that sweet action. That includes on Rhimes` newest
series, "how to get away with murder," where Conner, one of Anna Liz
Keating`s inner circle of ambitious law students uses sex as his secret
legal weapon to help Keating score victories in the courtroom.
The last episode following an episode where Conner engaged in what another
character described as an especially eye watering sect act, one viewer on
twitter thought Rhimes had taken things too far, tweeting the gay scenes in
"scandal" and "how to get away with murder" are too much. There`s no point
and they add nothing to the plot.
Now, if you remember the twitter shade that Miss Rhimes threw at "The New
York Times" now infamous angry black woman article you know that Rhimes is
no stranger to the dept delivery of a social media smack down. And I this
case, she did not disappoint. Rhimes responded, there are no gay scenes.
There are scenes with people in them.
If you use the phrase gay scenes, you are not only late to the party, but
also not invited to the party. Bye, Felicia, #onelove. I love all of you
tweples (ph), even the ones who still need to grow. And remember that at
some point, someone discriminated against you too.
Up next, more with my table when Nerdland goes to Shonda Land. And for
anyone who is confused by the bye Felicia reference and Shonda`s tweet, try
crowd sourcing the Nerdland hashtag. I`m sure, somebody is going to
explain with you in the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whatever her critics on twitter may have to say, Shonda
Rhimes isn`t scared a guy on guy action. And judging from the place her
newest series, "how to get away with murder" has secured atop the ratings
seat, it`s clear that most viewers aren`t turning away from sexy scenes
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take off your clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you run over here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Take off your clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to go to work and I`m a little worried that you
might be a sex addict. There`s a book "the development rage." It is really
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Young red blooded American males, turning sex into a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But as Rhimes pointed out in her response to twitter
criticism, this isn`t her first time at rodeo when it comes to showing
scenes of sage-sex love.
In 2012 when the twitter follower commented, love your shows but why all
the gays and lesbians story lines, Rhimes fired back with an extensive
response on her blog, where she name checked her predecessor, television
sitcom icon Norman Lear, writing "I think same-sex marriage is the civil
rights fight of our era. And back when a person of color was a civil
rights fight, people like Norman Lear put black people on TV and helped
change some minds. So you know, it got to be paid forward."
Joining me now to talk all things of Shonda, the women on Aisha Moodie-
Mills, senior fellow at center for American progress and Danielle Moodie-
Mills, adviser for the center for American Progress, also Janet Mock, trans
activist and author of "redefining realness, my path to woman`s hood
identity, love and so much more," please got me that book, and also Jason
Lynch, contributor to "the Daily Beast" and Coutrs (ph).
All right, Danielle, I want to start with you because I am fascinated by
the idea that she see herself in the tradition of Norman Lear, because as I
thought about that, I was like, that`s right, Lear put "Sanford and Son" on
air , he put "good times" on air. So like Shonda`s way of coping with this
is not like the will and Grace of it all. It`s less reputable in this
important way but more real.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, ADVISER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It`s so much
real. Like, it`s so much more real than any other thing that we have ever
seen before. I was watching it, I`m like, my God, this scene is epic.
Like a mainstream America has never seen anything like this. Me, I used to
watch "Queer as Folk" on show time so I got -- you got all sorts of
But it`s the first time that you`re actually seeing gay people as sexual
beings, right? We`ve gone at least gone a long way to talk about gay
people as full human beings, we talk about our love, we talk about our
commitment, but we in some way have like become eunuchs in that way where
we have become desexualized, we`re the good sidekick, and best friend, but
you don`t actually want to see us do anything more than kind of give
somebody a stare or maybe do a handholding.
But this full-on like, yes in your face, we`re going to be ripping clothes
off and like talking about velvet rage and tops and bottoms, I`m all here
HARRIS-PERRY: But that is precisely what I love about it. This idea that
is like -- because she says marriage equality in that response, but this is
not about marriage, right? This is about humanity in a different way.
JANET MOCK, TRANS ACTIVIST: Exactly. And I think that we can`t
underestimate the fact that the show, Shonda`s shows exist on the same
network as "Modern Family," which we are a huge to do, remember about
Cameron and Mitchell kissing. What love and lust actually looks like,
right, from Conner getting it on with everyone to Cyrus, right, Cyrus
paying for sex with a gigolo and Viola being an active recipient, Anna Liz,
being an active recipient of pleasure. I think that sexing can be
complicated, it can be humorous, it can be sensual and pleasurable and
shocking and all those steamy and I kind of love it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, as you say that, and if I go back to your point,
Danielle, about -- your point this is happening on ABC, your point, that if
you have been watching (INAUDIBLE), this is something that is totally new,
but let me ask that. Is part of what happened here that what it`s come to
network is actually something that was initially pushed in these alternate
television forms, whether it is the, you know, HBO, Showtime and the
Netflix of it all, right? Is that what has made this possible, made space
JASON LYNCH, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, absolutely. "Queer as
folk" as mentioned before and some of these other cable shows that kind of
started this, and this is still back at the time where broadcast networks
would say, two couples are going to have a same-sex kiss, let`s hype it for
weeks on end (INAUDIBLE).
And finally we have Shonda breaking down the door open in broadcast
television, especially after "Modern Family" where Cam and Mitchell barely
even showed affection for so many seasons. So it`s been great to finally
HARRIS-PERRY: So I`m sitting here thinking, I mean, we`re over here, great
sex, and I mean, I can imagine, I`m trying to listen this from a different
perspective and thinking, if I`m a cultural warrior on the other side, I`m
thinking, no, Shonda Rhimes is just opened the Pandora`s box of demonic
evil badness or is continuing one that probably open back when Desi and
Lucy got in bed, you know, with each other for the first time.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I
mean, so (INAUDIBLE). One, there is so much other ridiculousness that is
happening on television, that if you`re going to be a cultural warrior, you
should be out there fighting against all the violence that we see
happening, particularly violence against women on television, there`s a lot
of other salacious sexual things going on.
But the thing that I love about Shonda, is that she understands the value
of her art form and shifting culture, and really transforming the way that
we see ourselves, transforming the way that we think about other people in
our society, and she owns that, and she is comfortable with that. And when
she makes that reference to Norman Lear, and she yes, I know that I have a
responsibility to do what I can to shift attitudes because we often want to
downplay the power of culture in doing that. It`s not politics that drives
us forward a lot of the times. It`s actually culture that moves us.
HARRIS-PERRY: And these have real world consequences. I mean, it is worth
pointing out that there are still 12 states that have anti-sodomy laws, one
of them Louisiana, still actively arresting people. In April of 2014,
Louisiana actually arresting somebody under the anti-sodomy law and yet,
also there`s always good news.
So coming up, Viola Davis did something extraordinary and it`s all we can
talk about around here. Before that I want to take a moment because
something amazing is happening in North Carolina right now.
I want to congratulate Mary Boardwine (ph) and Anne Saliti, who are missing
the show this morning, though, they rarely do, because they are getting
married today in North Carolina. Mary and Anne, we here in Nerdland wish
you all of the happiness in your special day and in your lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shonda Rhimes isn`t only smashing conventions about what is
possible for LGBT Americans on television, she`s also used "how to get away
with murder" to rewrite the rules for on screen representations of African-
Last week, viewers were titillated into sticking around until the end of an
episode by a promo promising nine last words that would have their jaws
hitting the floor. But as it turned out, what had mouths hanging open and
tongues wagging was what happened in the scene before those final words.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
HARRIS-PERRY: Viola Davis removing first the wig, then eyelashes and the
thick layers of makeup that are her character Annalise Keating`s arm
against the worm. And what remains is almost as shocking as the final
reveal of the episode for its rarity on network TV. And African-American
woman wearing nothing but her dark brown skin as short undone kinky
textured hair along with they`re authentic self and millions of viewers,
forget gay sex, black women`s nappy hair I was beside myself. I mean, it
mattered to me but I was like, why it matters?
MOCK: Can we say Viola snatched that wig off and relayed with intimacy,
right? Like think about the idea of her character`s no longer performing,
right? And in turn, she`s kind of in her own room at her vanity, revealing
her most intimate safe and Viola is allowing us to see her, right?
MOCK: Allowing us to see this less classically beautiful actress.
MOCK: In a space.
HARRIS-PERRY: Didn`t it feel like she was speaking to "The New York Times"
MOCK: My God. Yes. I love the fact that the creator talked about who --
it was her idea to do this. When I was watching, I was like I know it`s
her idea to do this. And on the vulnerability and the breakthrough power
of the scene alone, I came up with nine new words, which is the Emmy award
goes to --
HARRIS-PERRY: And indeed. I mean, that language that you use there,
vulnerability, because the part of the show I wasn`t buying, like I love
the show for a lot of reasons but I wasn`t quite buying the vulnerability -
- she can`t do the little lip quiver thing that our beloved Olivia Pope can
do, and it`s like -- I never seen a human more vulnerable, particularly as
a black -- I`m responding to the black woman of it all as I saw it there.
LYNCH: Yes, absolutely. You know, as Janet had mentioned, this was
Viola`s idea herself. Her very first meeting, she hadn`t even taken the
part yet. This was her suggestion. And for the first couple of episodes
of the show, they were great, but I kind of felt like they had forgotten
that they had one of the best actresses on the planet.
LYNCH: Best actors on the planet.
HARRIS-PERRY: Graduate from Julliard.
LYNCH: Yes. So finally when this team came, he said, this is why you hire
Viola Davis for this role, because nobody else could do that, what she did.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, we`ve talked about hair a lot, one point I`m
working with the producer on the show, she`s back in one of the hair
episodes in 2012, right? We`ve talked about it right. And you know,
Olivia Pope has been natural haired, you know, on the beach, and that kind
of thing. But it`s not -- right, there is a -- there`s a social valuation
to the gorgeous but also standard gorgeousness that is Olivia Pope. This
was asking us to see a different kind of gorgeous in a black woman.
D. MOODIE-MILLS: Right.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: Go ahead, Danielle. Go ahead.
D. MOODIE-MILLS: There`s just a level of realness that you get with Viola
Davis. Kerry Washington, she gives us the beautiful, right? I remember
one of the scenes from "Scandal" having sex with Fitz in the shower. I`m
like black women don`t have sex in a shower.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you have hair like that you do.
D. MOODIE-MILLS: It`s so much, right? We`ve got to blow it out
afterwards. We`ve got to re-twist it. Like there is too much going on.
And so, for her to take off her wig, so major because when people -- when
she showed up on the show, everybody was like, why do they put Viola in
that wig? Why didn`t they let her have her natural hair, and just be her
fearness? But I`m like the reveal to me was better than had she shown up
with her natural hair to begin with because you see all of the different
levels of who this woman is and the forces that she`s up against. And that
to me is like this epicness that it happened.
HARRIS-PERRY: And is it also just crazy town in 2014, with African-
American first lady and two little black girls living in the White House,
that the just like your hair as it grows out of your head can still be such
a thing, right, so they can still can carry so much weight.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: So I was so conflicted about this whole scene. I was
going to say absolutely nothing during the segment because I really don`t
know how I feel about it. So a couple of things. One, I appreciate her
mirroring for me this shock and awe of being a woman who has to put on
armor to leave the house. When I watched that scene and she started
unmasking, I`m like, you`re not going to do this because I was feeling a
lot of things inside, knowing I don`t wake up like this and the things that
I do to go present in the world. About the natural hair piece, though, it
troubles me a little bit that it had to feel tragic, the scene, of her
HARRIS-PERRY: Had to be oh -- your man cheats on you.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: And so, now you`ve got -- you take it off and there you
go, girl. I too, wish she had been presented as this fierce, fabulous
attorney who had a natural coif.
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe she will. Maybe she`ll come into it.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: I`m hoping that she will. Remember when Tamron Hall most
recently, it was this summer went on the "Today" show with her natural hair
and had to create an entire segment around for white folks, really, to
teach America -- she had Johnny right on about her natural hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although, I would say, if you`re Tamron Hall, you can wake
up like --
A. MOODIE-MILLS: She`s stunning.
HARRIS-PERRY: She is so everything that you just -- whatever your hair is
doing, it is fine, Tamron.
Aisha Moodie-Mills will be back in the next hour. Thank you to Danielle
Moodie-Mills and to Janet Mock. Thank you for being here. And Jason Lynch
Still to come this morning, the man behind the documentary series "the
Whiteness Project` and music legend Herbie Hancock joins me live, yes, mom,
Herbie Hancock is here.
But first, law, order and race. There is more Nerdland at the top of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And it is time to
talk about Ferguson because right now, plenty of people are talking about
Ferguson, even when it seem they shouldn`t be. This week, there has been
substantial news of substantive links coming out, the grand jury
investigation of the August 9th shooting death of Michael Brown. In St.
Louis County, Missouri a grand jury is convening in secret, hearing
testimony and considering evidence as part of the process to decide whether
to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. A decision could come in
a few short weeks. But parts of the investigation, only pieces really,
have been leaked to multiple news outlets.
Last week a leak was published by "The New York Times," the first public
account of Darren Wilson`s testimony to investigators. Tuesday the "St.
Louis Post-Dispatch" published a teenager`s autopsy report performed by the
county`s medical examiner. It included a narrative portion describing the
moments leading up to Brown`s death, as provided by the St. Louis County
Police Department and a toxicology report that showed Brown had a trace of
marijuana in his system. The report also revealed, Brown had been shot at
close range as evidenced by material consistent with the discharge of a gun
found in a wound in Brown`s thumb.
These leaks, in a high-profile case that has turned the community into a
powder keg has exasperated Attorney General Eric Holder. Friday, he told
reporters, quote, "I`m disappointed and I think that this selective leak of
grand jury information is harmful to the process. It appears that people
are somehow trying to shape public opinion. I think that public opinion
would be best served by doing the process as it is intended, which is to do
things in secret, which is how grand juries always operate. The Justice
Department is conducting its own investigation of the shooting, and the
entire Ferguson Police Department for possible civil rights violations. As
to for who is responsible for the leaks, Darren Wilson`s legal team denies
involvement, saying, quote, "We were not responsible for any leaks to any
media including those published in the New York Times and the St. Louis-
Post Dispatch. Further, we are not in possession of any of this closed
report or the investigative report." And the St. Louis County prosecutor`s
office says it does not release any information while the case is being
presented. Still, many in the community consider this kind of information
leaked, an indication that the officer will not be indicted.
At the table, Aisha Moodie-Mills senior fellow at Center for American
Progress. Marc Steiner, host of "The Marc Steiner Show" and founder of the
Center for Emerging Media. Jelani Cobb, associate professor at University
of Connecticut and a contributor for TheNewYorker.com. And Raul Reyes,
attorney and columnist for "USA Today." And joining us from Los Angeles is
Lisa Bloom, civil rights lawyer, legal analyst and Avvo.com. Excuse me,
for Avvo.com. And author of the "Suspicion Nation: The inside Story of the
Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It."
Lisa, I want to start with you. Just remind folks who aren`t themselves
attorneys what a grand jury is and why there`s a grand jury convened in
Missouri right now as opposed to any other way that this officer might have
LISA BLOOM, LEGAL ANALYST, AVVO.COM: Well, let`s remember that the
prosecutor in Ferguson, like prosecutors everywhere, had another choice, he
could have reviewed the evidence, he could have filed charges directly, he
could have had a preliminary hearing, which was generally a one day affair,
and which is completely open, he opted not to do that. He opted to go by
way of the grand jury, which is true, it`s always a secret proceeding. But
what he has done differently has decided to put all of the evidence out
there and this excruciatingly slow process, one day a week, so it`s
dragging on for months and we still don`t have a resolution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us, Lisa. Don`t go away. I want to come to the
table for a second though. So, Raul, to the extent there are leaks, so
Lisa makes such a good point, there`s another way that this could have been
done, a swifter and a more open, transparent way but he picked a way that
is meant to be silent and secretive.
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: If there are leaks, is it a good idea to guess where they`re
coming from or should we just not even play that game.
REYES: Well, there`s only a few places where those leaks can come from,
from the grand jury office, St. Louis County Police, or St. Louis County
prosecutor`s office. So it`s a very -- we look at a limited subset. But
the very troubling thing about these leaks, it`s not just that the
information is sort of seeping out, it`s how -- what is insidious about
these leaks is how it`s reframing the debate because not only do these
leaks all corroborate Officer Wilson`s account of the events, look at how
that shifted the focus of the debate. It`s all focusing now on what
happened in the car. And yet the fatal shots were fired when he was
outside of the car, probably moving away. And so he did not have the right
to use deadly force because, at that point, Officer Wilson would not have
been in imminent danger, and would not have been in any imminent danger to
others and yet the focus is shifted on whatever happened that struggle that
went on in the car. And that plus the leak about marijuana use, which is
relevant because we all know that when you use marijuana you become
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so few people use marijuana in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just to underline that point, Marc, I think to come to you
because I think your point about sort of the nature of the leak. So, Marc,
I want to come to you on this, this is my colleagues here at MSNBC.com
Tremaine Lee is reporting, and it`s a little long but I think it`s
important to read, the private autopsy conducted by renowned forensic
pathologist Dr. Michael Baden found that Brown`s wounds including a wound
to his right hand and suggested Wilson had been one foot to 30 feet away
when he shot Brown, a distance not considered close range. The latest
autopsy conducted by the St. Louis County medical examiner shows that the
wound to Brown`s hand was inflicted to a much closer range. Those finding
support Wilson`s narrative gleaned by county investigators that he had
first shot Brown during a struggle at officer`s vehicle when Brown reached
for Wilson`s gun. So, this is -- this question of what`s happening inside
the car becomes the central question and this issue of what does the wound
mean, when you hear these kinds of leaks that again are shifting the
discourse, what does that suggest to you about what the goal of these leaks
MARC STEINER, HOST, AND "THE MARC STEINER SHOW": Well, the goal is to turn
this against Michael Brown, to defend the Police Department, and to shift
the discussion away from issues of brutality and race and what goes on
inside police departments and the relationship to the black community here
-- Ferguson and across the country. I mean, that`s the motivation here,
because right now there`s a ground swell in America, you`re seeing it. You
go to Ferguson, you see these young people who are organizing and changing
the nature of what it means to be resistance movement, and that`s what
they`re trying to stop. And by making dare not to be the victim, Darren
Wilson, it becomes to shift the way people look at what`s happening in
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Can I add something to this? So,
you now, in these conversation, we have two attorneys, a journalist, a
political scientist, a historian, a public policy person. Right? All of
us people who deal with data and analysis of information, you can tell that
one thing that you know if you are doing this kind of work for six minutes,
you never have data that entirely supports your thesis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
COBB: You always have to deal with information that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Variables.
COBB: Right. Always variables. It`s always the preponderance of the
evidence points to the civil war being caused by these factors but not
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
COBB: And so, everything that we`ve heard leaked supports the officer`s
version of this. Which make me wonder just offhand, somebody who deals
with data, you either withholding data or you`re outright lying.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, I think this is such an important point.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Jelani`s making it impart from the perspective of social
scientists, and how we think about data. But talk to me about being a
trial lawyer in a similar way. Does this sort of all one-sided nature of
the data, points that are being leaked, does that suggest to you that there
is a purposeful sort of narrative coming out?
BLOOM: Oh, there`s no question that the government is trying to soften us
up for a no indictment against Darren Wilson. And let`s just get real
about that. But as a trial lawyer, of course I want to cross-examine these
so-called half a dozen black witnesses who say that they support Darren
Wilson`s story, for example. Because there`s two part of Darren Wilson`s
story. There`s the scuffle at the car that everybody acknowledges
happened, and then there`s the part where he shot and killed an unarmed
kid, according to six witnesses who had his hands up. Do they support that
part of the story? And what exactly do they say? You know, we don`t get
to cross-examine them or even as journalists, we don`t get the specifics.
We get these generalities which most people in the mainstream media just
take as through and they are already saying, well, I guess the case is
over, I guess all of those people who said that Mike Brown was shot with
his hands up are just lying. And the last thing I want to say is, how does
Mike Brown, with his right hand reach into the car and reach for the
officer`s gun, holstered on the right side unless he`s some kind of
contortionist? He`s only reaching for that gun if the gun is already out.
It just doesn`t work right hand and holster on the right side.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, so I have another thing I`m going to do. But I want
to go out on that. When we come back, Aisha, I`m going ask you about this
notion that we`re already deciding that there`s going to be no indictment.
Lisa, do stick with us. We`re going to come back on this question.
Because I think there`s another thing that we`re not focusing on in this
HARRIS-PERRY: When police clashed with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri,
in August, amnesty international deployed observers to the scene. Their
findings were released this week in a new report raising numerous human
rights concerns. Chief among them, law enforcement`s military grade
weapons and the use of force. According to the report, so-called less
lethal ammunition used by police in the streets of Ferguson, tear gas, and
rubber bullets, still pose serious danger and can be potentially deadly.
Amnesty witnesses also reported the use of sound cannons, sometimes
referred to as el rads (ph) to force protesters to move. Those instruments
and yet loud sirens that can cause pain, loss of balance, eardrum rupture,
and permanent hearing damage.
The report concluded with the list of recommendations for agencies, from
local to federal levels, calling for not only independent investigation of
the Michael Brown case but also reviews of police procedures to make sure
that they complied with the U.N.`s use of force guidance. And this is
where I wanted to come. So, we`ve been talking about shifting the
discourse to the car instead of the shooting of Michael Brown. I want to
just say, even if it turns out that Officer Wilson was fully in his right
to shoot and kill Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, even if that ended up
being true, that would not address the Ferguson issue, which from my
perspective is whole set of things that occurred night after night after
night, live broadcast on television, and that this amnesty report is not
about whether or not Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. It`s about whether
or not there was a police state instituted in the state of Missouri in
response to it.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: Well, I think that`s the problem, is that we now have
this police culture accepted that is no longer about protecting and
serving. Remember the protect and serve mantra?
HARRIS-PERRY: No. I don`t. I don`t remember anything --
MOODIE-MILLS: I thought about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- Moment though when that is ever true of nature of the
A. MOODIE-MILLS: Ever. Ever. And that is exactly what the problem is, is
that now you have this police who think that they are a military and
militia that are actually supposed to be controlling the public as opposed
to protecting and serving the public and that`s why we see everything
that`s happening. Everything is playing out. And until we have a
fundamental culture shift, where it`s understood that police don`t always
deserve the benefit of the doubt because they`re not always serving, and
they`re not always safeguarding and protecting, then we`re not going to be
able to get anywhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just -- you got it both of you all. You got to hear what
the Ferguson Florissant School District sent out to its parents and
guardians, you have the document, right? So right after the leaks start
coming out, so they write, should an event occur during school hours, which
present a concern for public safety, a decision will be made as soon as
possible regarding any necessary changes to the school day schedule. We
will evaluate whether bus transportation will be possible depending on
several factors including road closures impacting bus routes. In the event
that a threat to student safety arises during that time, the students are
being transported, the driver will make every attempt to continue
delivering the students to their assigned bus stops. Should road
conditions prevent the driver from delivering students to their assigned
bus stops or school in the morning, students will be delivered to the
nearest school site and school will communicate with the child`s home
school to inform them of the student`s location. They are prepping parents
for riot`s activity.
A. MOODIE-MILLS: All right. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the result that there is no indictment of this officer.
And I just -- who do they think started the first one?
COBB: Here`s the thing, right? As a historian, this is kind of
frustrating. Because people say, do we ever learn from history? When the
colonel commission was issued his report, the same as report on civil
disturbances in 1968, they were talking about the dozens -- actually
hundreds of disturbances, small-scale, large-scale riots that had occurred
in American cities, they`re saying this is about the systematic collapse of
opportunity and also the legitimacy of the structures in which black people
were operating in interacting in society saying, if we have these sorts of
problems they`re going to culminate in civil disturbances. And we failed
to learn anything from this, because it`s almost like Ferguson is a case
study, but lots of things. We can talk about all of the things it`s a case
study for. But it`s certainly a case study for this idea that if you think
that you can kind of systemically exclude people from opportunity and then
kind of arrogantly police them in these particular ways and not have social
backlash, then you`re just incapable of understanding the history of this
HARRIS-PERRY: Raul, I want to play for you the family`s attorney, Benjamin
Crump, in response to what has been going on. This is on my colleague Joy
Reid`s show, "THE REID REPORT" this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL BROWN FAMILY: It was to -- what`s the
use to having a grand jury if everything`s going to be leaked out anyway?
And so, the family is obviously frustrated. They believe these leaks are
intentional and they are very, very heartbroken on top of -- insult on top
of injury for Michael Brown and his family. And they want justice for
HARRIS-PERRY: How bad is this rift growing.
REYES: I think, you know, I always like to say that I do have faith in our
system, our justice system, but it`s really hard to see how they can turn
this around at this point. I mean, I was -- we were talking earlier, I was
saying talk to 50 lawyers and every lawyer can tell you, I would have done
this, and this is the way the case should be. But in this instance, so
much going wrong, seems to be going wrong with the grand jury. And when
you step back and look at the larger environment that we`re in, you know,
Gallup says that 37, 40 percent of African-Americans have faith in the
HARRIS-PERRY: That much?
REYES: Yes. Forty percent of Black Americans say they have no faith in
the criminal justice system, none. And when you have that type of
mistrust, it just reinforces what`s already a systemic problem and so it`s
a powder keg you know exclusion reinforces that the perception. It keeps
getting worse and worse.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, I know you have to leave us this morning. But I want
you to weigh in on this idea of sort of this moment but as your piece on
the Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman issue was, what does this tell us?
What does it portend going forward for the issue of criminal justice in
BLOOM: Well, we certainly have a problem. I mean, as a mountain of data,
and it all goes in one direction, and that is that our criminal justice
system is broken when it comes to dealing with African-Americans whether
it`s arrests, convictions, sentencing, death penalty or in these cases when
African-Americans are victims, we just seem completely unable to get
justice. We certainly didn`t do it for Trayvon Martin. I think we`re
making may of the same mistakes in the Mike Brown case, we got a prosecutor
who refuse to recuse himself, who refuses to bring charges against the
officer himself and who is doing this ridiculous system of putting all of
the evidence out there, implying to the grand jury, that this is
complicated, this is difficult. Boy, he can`t figure it out, maybe they
can figure. I mean, that just suggests reasonable doubt to this grand
jury. And I think we`re going to have the same, very unsatisfying outcome.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa Bloom in Los Angeles, thank you for getting up early to
join us this morning.
Up next, I`m going to ask Marc Steiner what happens when bad things are
done to perfectly good pumpkins.
HARRIS-PERRY: Broken bottles, fires, and overturn cars, streets sign rip
from ground and pumpkins. Lots of pumpkins. The pumpkin fest. Lots of
pumpkins. The Pumpkin Fest in Keene, New Hampshire began last Saturday
according to schedules, family oriented event filled with Jack-O-Lantern
carving for a magic show but its night fell the situation quickly devolve
ending with dozen of arrests and at least 20 people injured. Most in the
crowd were college students slashing tires, overturning dumpsters and
smashing windows. Police descended on the small town in full riot gear,
tossing tear gas into the alcohol fuel mobs and using guns to fire sponge
bullets. The militarized police response has some similarities to that of
the Ferguson protest but how the behaviors of the different groups are
perceived is very different. So, I mean, we laugh because it does found
crazy thing like, there`s a pumpkin fest riot. But just as amnesty said in
the context of Ferguson, outcome to local police with gear that seems to
violate international norms.
STEINER: The thing about Keene, as you pointed out --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. That`s right. What`s with you people and the
STEINER: The thing that is keen to me was, what I read after it. What I
read in the editorials, what I read in the newspapers, because this one of
the things -- said that the police over reacted, and that what they should
do is, don`t kick the students out, you know, make -- expose them to their
families and their communities who they are, and what they`ve done. And
the police should not overreact. So clearly, this presses a very different
vision of white kids getting drunk keeping rally, so mostly black kids and
a lot of white kids with them in Ferguson, who peacefully demonstrate to
resist the violence --
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a great tweet underlying that. Your media guide to
differences between #Ferguson and #Pumpkin fest. Thug versus Rowdy,
animals versus mischief.
STEINER: Right. Exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Restoring their community versus booze-filled revelers.
STEINER: Right. And that`s one of this I think is it seems national port
(ph). To me, it`s important the fact that they are now focusing on the
United States, focusing on the very real issue of repression by police in
black communities and making that an international public discussion. It`s
going have an effect on America.
HARRIS-PERRY: But there`s a historical -- but there`s historical precedent
for black folks in the U.S. feeling they weren`t getting justice here,
trying to go to international community and didn`t necessarily change
COBB: Well, I mean, there`s always like the Canary in the Coal Mine, the
Islamic (INAUDIBLE) talks about in the context. I mean, but African-
Americans have said this time and time again, going back to the formation
of the United Nations where Walter White and W.B. Deboyce (ph) were trying
to get the U.N. to look into racist treatment of black people in the United
States, going back to Malcolm X saying that we needed to bring up, you
know, charges in the U.N. about what was happening with black people in
racial situations in this country. That`s not the first time. And
ironically, the commission on racism, the eradication of racism have a
meeting in Geneva, Switzerland at the very time that Ferguson detonated.
There were people in Geneva, Switzerland talking about American race and
its compliance getting rid of racism as people were being tear gassed.
HARRIS-PERRY: I kept thinking Aisha that the difference that we saw in
that tweet that you`ve sort of exposed here, has a lot to do with our
expectations of what certain kinds of bodies should expect and what we
expect from the back end. Having been on college campuses, rowdiness,
drunken-fueled bonfires, I mean, that`s -- with my whole career is watching
that kind of thing happen. But in part because our presumption is, our
students will go on to have, these our youthful transgressions, our student
will go on to have good lives, yes, we need to punish them but within a
kind of localized context --
A. MOODIE-MILLS: It`s about empathy for white people. I mean, ultimately
at the end of the day --
HARRIS-PERRY: But not to all white folks.
MOODIE-MILLS: For college student, whites, because I mean, we saw this --
we saw this playing out with the football players who like raped a girl,
right? We see this time and time again, that white kids who are going off
to get their education, there`s this empathy, there`s this assumption
they`re going to be successful human beings.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also associated in that --
A. MOODIE-MILLS: A boy --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, part of what you`re pointing to, those exactly, those
privileges that sometimes they coincide exactly with race, sometimes they
are about that identity of football players, right, in class?
A. MOODIE-MILLS: But still when you look at black men though, you can be
an educated African-American man and still not be presumed to be someone
who is doing the right thing walking down street.
COBB: Tell me about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, you have feelings about that?
A. MOODIE-MILLS: And being a big guy, too. Right? Being a tall guy. I
think there`s this really this lack of empathy, though, that for people of
color, it doesn`t matter what you`re doing, if you`re standing up for
yourself, if you are right, if you are thoughtful, if you are educated, you
still must be up to no good just because of who you are.
REYES: And that`s the thing, because when they draw comparisons with this
to Ferguson, at least in Ferguson, there is a legitimate cause. I mean,
this was just -- it was ridiculous.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pumpkins. I`m actually mad at pumpkins, too. Because you
know, what? Those pumpkins were just pumpkining. I don`t think they will
be scary. And the whole goal of pumpkin on October to be scary. It`s not
being scary, just smash them pumpkins.
REYES: Did anybody ask what type of music these students listen to? Did
anybody ask --
HARRIS-PERRY: What kind of video games they were playing.
REYES: Why don`t they keep from single-parent homes, all these places, but
that routinely happens when it`s people of colors, particularly young
people of color.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s it. They did bring out the tear gas, I mean, like so
REYES: But they were rioting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Granted. But there`s some -- I also feel like that
response. So, I can simultaneously say, I think they were over responding
in Ferguson, maybe even inciting in Ferguson and I think they were over
responding in that moment that there`s a way in which once the police show
up, and they`re standing there, then that encourages like it draws the line
and says, I dare you to step over it. Thanks, Aisha. The rest of the
panel will be back a little bit later in the hour.
Still to come this morning, the music of the great Herbie Hancock coming to
nerd land. But first, things white people say in a new documentary series,
"The Whiteness Project." Mark gets to stay for this conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed
legislation nearly doubling the minimum wage from 40 cents to 75 cents an
hour. Earlier that year, he touted his plans in a speech before Congress
as he proclaimed, every segment of our population and every individual has
a right to expect from our government a fair deal. And for Truman, that
fair deal included a fair wage. In that same speech he declared, we have
abandoned the trickle down concept of national prosperity, instead, we
believe that our economic system should rest on a democratic foundation and
that wealth should be created for the benefit of all. But creating that
benefit would not be easy. Then, just as now, the country`s economy was
struggling. Then, just as it is now, there were considerable -- there was
considerable opposition from raising the minimum wage from businesses and
from some of the more conservative republicans. Today, it is leaders like
New Jersey`s republican Governor Chris Christie declaring he`s just tired
of hearing about the minimum wage.
In 1949, it was the Chamber of Commerce, declaring that government
regulation of minimum wages has not been demonstrated conclusively to be in
the public interest. There were also predictions that unemployment and
inflation would rise, and that business activity would decline. But
basically none of that really happened. So what did happen? Once the
minimum wage hike was in effect, according to one government study, 1.3
million people got an immediate raise, and the U.S. would go on to enter a
period of economic prosperity that would last two decades. Thanks in part
to that landmark minimum wage legislation, signed by President Harry S.
Truman on this day October 26, 1949.
HARRIS-PERRY: About three weeks ago social media erupted over Raven
Simone`s comments during an interview with Oprah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAVEN SYMONE, ACTRESS: I`m tired of being labeled. I`m an American, I`m
not an African-American, I`m an American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier this year, Pharrell Williams also addressed the
concept of being black or a new black as he called it during another Oprah
interview. The new black, he said, doesn`t blame other races for our
issues. The new black dreams and realizes that it`s not pigmentation, it`s
a mentality and it`s either going to work for you or it`s going to work
against you. And during a 2013 BET interview, actress Zoe Saldana had the
following to say about the concept of ethnicity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZOE SALDANA, ACTRESS: Let me tell you something, I literally run away from
people that use words like ethnic. It`s -- it`s preposterous, you know?
To me, there`s no such thing as people of color.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So want to know if she literally runs away from people. But
comments like those have sparked sustained dialogue about what it means to
be black. Yet the parallel discussion about what it means to identify as
white much less frequently occurs. But one filmmaker, named Whitney Dow,
set out to initiate that conversation with his new interactive documentary
called "The Whiteness Project." Inside the white/Caucasian box. The
project`s first installment released on October 6th and launched on PBS`s
POV features 24 interviews with residents of Buffalo, New York who
identifies as white. In his artistic statement about the project, Dow
says, he aimed to engender debate about the role of whiteness in American
society and encourage white Americans to become fully vested participants
in the ongoing debate about the role of race in American society. In order
to achieve that goal, Darrell filmed a series of conversation with people
who identify as white and compiled the material into vignettes like this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess inherently there`s never going to be a time
where a person with lighter skin completely understands what a person with
darker skin might go through on a daily basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Every clip ends with the latest statistics to remind viewers
of the cultural context in which the interview exists. Statistics like 75
percent of white Americans say they come into contact with a few or no
black people on a regular basis. Or 60 percent of working class white
Americans believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem as
discrimination against minorities. This combination of individual
perspectives and applicable statistics has sparked a lively debate with
some writers questioning the project`s premise and others expressing
appreciation for the honesty shown in each interview.
Joining my panel to discuss "The Whiteness Project," this director and
producer, Whitney Dow. Whitney, thank you for being here and for engaging
in part because we see blackness talked about often. If you had to kind of
just think about the interviews as a whole, what is it that leads white
people to think of themselves as White? How do they experience their
WHITNEY DOW, DIRECTOR, "WHITENESS PROJECT": I would say that being white
in my experience is kind of living while without antecedent. Meaning that
society doesn`t put an antecedent on you or you don`t put one on yourself.
And so, I think that`s a huge -- people talk about white privilege and I
think that`s really what white privilege is.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, people have been talking about white privilege in a
real way recently, I mean, there`s a big sort of cable fight around the
issue of white privilege. Weigh in on that a little bit for me, because it
does seem that part of what you`re doing is trying to explore the identity
piece without necessarily having to pack in -- you can`t do the -- I didn`t
without the politics but it does feel like a more full explanation of just
the selfhood, does that make sense?
DOW: Yes. Yes. I think that, you know, I`ve been making films on race
for about 18 years now, I have a black producing partner, Marco Williams,
who I`ve been working with and I`ve been sort of frustrated by this idea
that it`s always oppositional construct, white people are always able to
look at things that happen outside themselves that racist white people do
or bad things that are happening to people who aren`t white and then think
of, OK, we need prescriptions for that as opposed to recognizing that
people who consider themselves, you know, just people, are part of the
paradigm and what they do actually impacts what happens on a day-to-day
HARRIS-PERRY: Marc, I see you nodding furiously here.
STEINER: I want to read this. Is it Rankine (ph)?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I know you`re not asking me to pronounce the names. I
can`t pronounce names.
STEINER: From her book "Citizen," it says a lot about where this comes
from, and how deep it is, I love this quote. She says, "You can`t put the
past behind you. It`s buried in you. It turns your flesh into its own
cupboard." And that`s what we`re dealing with in America. This thing is
so inculcated in our bodies, in our minds, in our souls and now, part of
the 21st Century struggle is stuff you`ve been doing, stuff happening in
Ferguson. Is to unleash this and get it out to purge America of what fuels
it which is racism from the beginning, that`s what`s happening here. It`s
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that you use the language and invoke the
language of the body, right? That it is actually in our body. We heard at
least in one of the speakers that notion of light skin versus dark skin, we
also heard it in Pharrell about the light skin. But that isn`t actually
what makes whiteness, right? I mean, one isn`t white because you`re light
versus dark. We know a white person can be darker skinned than a black
person. We know that it`s not straight hair or not. So do we have a sense
of what actually allows the achievement of whiteness?
COBB: Right. I mean, so there`s a great deal of scholarship about this,
right? And about what race is, is race an ideology? How was it
constructed? I mean, there are people from Winthrop Jordan to, you know,
Mia Bay to Grace Elizabeth Hale and David Roteberg (ph). But
fundamentally, this is I think the question that James Baldwin tackled
better than anyone elsewhere where he said, this is a construct that
allowed America to cohere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
COBB: But these are people who were able to come from their desperate
European tribes and say, this is what we have in common, this is the basis
of our identity, and then became so fundamental to become invisible.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask a little bit about that. Because you are in
Upstate New York, at least in this initial series of interviews and I`m
wondering, let`s say we go out to California and talk to white folks or
down North Carolina where I live and talk to white folks, how do you think
whiteness might be experienced differently within those kind of different
DOW: Well, I think that there is going to be different everywhere. And,
you know, whiteness is no more monolithic than blackness or any other
HARRIS-PERRY: There are good white folks.
DOW: But also just different ways to experience, something that you said
is that, you know, I think also whiteness is mutable, you know, when
certain white people came to this country they weren`t considered white.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Irish.
DOW: Yes, the Irish. Italians. And they`ve become white over a period of
time, become part of the power structure. And so, yes, I think that
everywhere you go, you`re going to find a different way of processing. But
one of most interesting things that came out of this, whenever you ask
white people about whiteness they talk about black people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s play a moment of that. Let`s play a moment of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For some reason, some black people kind of hold on to
the back in the day, the slave thing or they feel they`re not being treated
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So part of the being treated -- because this -- if you watch
your interviews, all straight through, it can feel like -- it can feel like
maybe we`re not being fair to those white respondents who are doing their
best -- I feel like your lens is fair but I feel like part of what happened
in the kind of Facebooking of it, right? As it goes around, is look at how
terrible and awful and silly these white folks are and that doesn`t seem
quite fair to me.
DOW: I think it`s unfair. I think one of the things that makes white
people so uncomfortable about the whole thing and watching it is that, I
would defy any white person, the white people at this table, to look at
those interviews and look at some of the most discomforting things that
some people say and say that they don`t hold pieces of those things
somewhere inside them. Maybe not to the degree but I think we`re all
struggling with it, that relationship, our whiteness as you said, when
people ask people about whiteness, they talk about blackness. I think our
whiteness is caught up in our relationship. And blackness, the same way
when I got a beautiful letter from a black woman who said, talk about it
was cathartic because she always felt that her blackness was defined by
whiteness and seeing white people struggle with the same thing was very
cathartic for her.
REYES: I was wondered, you know, when I watched the interviews, one of the
teams that so many people mentioned, I don`t know if there was a question
you posed to them. So, this was just her answer. But so many of those
people said, they saw a no benefit to particular benefit to being white.
They really did not see color. Race really did not matter to them. And
yet it would segue from there to them talking a lot about black people or
racial things. So, I was just sort of struck by that dichotomy. And I was
also wondering if -- because I watched about a dozen vignettes that are
available now -- if you included Latinos in your definition of white.
Because Latinos are overwhelmingly racially white.
DOW: Well, I don`t define who gets in the series. I say I want to talk to
white people about whiteness. I don`t consider myself when it determine
whose is white when you look at the census, right, 63 percent is white.
But they`re all talking non-Hispanic whites as opposed to 73 percent that
includes Hispanic white. So, I think this idea of whiteness -- I did
another project in Buffalo a few years ago and we divided these two rooms
of students in the public school system, we said all white kids go to this
room, all nonwhite kids go to this room and Latino kids split.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, split.
DOW: And they had a huge fight. Like, why are you going into that room?
Why are you going into that room?
COBB: Where was this?
DOWN: This is in Buffalo.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, more than anything else as a classroom teacher, I just
appreciate having more tools to work with and teach in class, so Whitney
Dow, thank you so much for this project. And I know you`re going to
continue but I hope folks will take the time to take a look at them.
Also, I want to say thank you to Marc Steiner and also to Jelani Cobb and
to Raul Reyes. But up next, mom, don`t leave the room. Because the one
and only Herbie Hancock is coming to Nerd Land. I know you are not going
to want to miss this. I know you`re doing a -- dance right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s only one right answer to the question. Do you like
the music of Herbie Hancock? And the answer is another question. Herbie
Hancock when? Because you see, there is no single genre or sound or album
or even decade that fully encompasses the music of Herbie Hancock. From
seven-year-old pianist to co-creator with the likes of Stevie Wonder,
Carlos Santana, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis. From acoustic musician to
electronic composer. From Jazz to funk to hip-hop. Herbie Hancock is an
artist defined by possibility. And on Thursday, he released a memoir
entitled "Possibilities." Possibilities explores Hancock`s musical
innovations and sonic evolution and it doesn`t stop with the music.
Hancock lays bare the possibilities of his own humanity. From his
childhood on Chicago south side to his encounter with the slain Emmett
Till, through his battles with drug addiction, his embrace of Buddhism and
his nearly five decade marriage to wife Gigi. Possibilities like all of
Hancock`s work is deeply impactful.
Joining me now is the legendary Herbie Hancock. And somewhere in North
Carolina, my mother is having a happy heart attack. So, a jazz musician
who has been married for 46 years. Come on.
HERBIE HANCOCK, MUSICIAN: Oh, yes. Almost, actually almost 50.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Tell me, then, what that relationship means as a
stabilizing force in a career that is all about change.
HANCOCK: It`s been an amazing kind of pillar that really helps solidify my
journey. It`s the rock that is -- you know, part of the rock that holds
things together. For one thing, she -- her sign is the opposite of mine.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s a Libra, you`re an Aries.
HANCOCK: Yes. So, her weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are
her strengths. And I need her strengths. And I need she needs mine but
she wouldn`t admit it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk a little bit about this notion of change.
Because it is for me what I always think of is as definitional. And yet, I
was so -- I just want to read this moment from very early on in the book
where you talk about jazz and you say, jazz is about being in the moment at
every moment. It`s about trusting yourself to respond on the fly. If you
can allow yourself to do that, you never stop exploring. You never stop
learning in music or in life. That definition of jazz is that human
possibility to be in the moment and trust yourself to respond. That felt
like if there`s no other lesson to take from you, it should be that.
HANCOCK: Well, you know what, human beings actually improvise all the
time. Because we speak. We converse. You know, and it`s in the moment,
in context, it`s not separated from whoever you`re conversing with. So
that exercise is something we`re accustomed to. But for some reason, we --
in music, people don`t really associate themselves with being creative.
And yet, in conversations we`re always creative. It`s part of being human.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, we`re only creative in conversation if you allow
yourself as you say here to be present in it. If you already have the
script in your head of everything you`re going to say, you actually, you
can`t respond. You can`t call in response as you do in your music.
HANCOCK: Well, the great thing about jazz is that we actually respect each
other. See, this is one of the attributes that`s necessary. Is respecting
others and not just yourself. And so, in that regard, we listen to each
other. And we trust each other. But we trust ourselves to trust each
other. We`re also basically nonjudgmental. Because being judgmental
doesn`t work when you`re on stage and the music is playing because the
music`s going by and if you start thinking, oh, I didn`t like that note
that the base player played. The music is just going to pass you by. So
the great job, really, of jazz musicians is to take whatever happens and
rather than judge it, to take it upon yourself to do what you can to make
it blossom. If it`s a seed, trying to get into a flower. That`s a great
lesson for humanity.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is actually a political and racial lesson. So, on the
race piece -- early on in the career, there`s the watermelon man.
HARRIS-PERRY: People have all kinds of feelings about because of the
nature of that connection between watermelon and race. And you write, I
didn`t like the fact that something as innocent and inoffensive as a
watermelon had been so completely corrupted by racism, and I didn`t want to
give in to it. So, instead, you give us this beautiful click clock of the
watermelon man, and then the people calling out, hey, watermelon man. You
give us the melody and the rhythm by taking away the judgment.
HANCOCK: Right. Well, what happened first is that I realized I was doing
the same thing. You know, I was judging it at first. And judging it in
terms of just those images that you`re describing. You know, big white
eyes and teeth --
HANCOCK: Glistening, you know, eating a watermelon. You know? And so I
started to think, well, maybe I better not call it --
HARRIS-PERRY: But you did and so doing, you gave us something powerful.
HANCOCK: I learned from that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And possibilities is powerful.
HANCOCK: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Herbie Hancock for being here and for joining us.
Once again, the book is "Possibilities." It is out now.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH
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