Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 09/20/15
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, do Republicans know the real Rosa Parks?
Plus, an update on the hunger strike in Chicago.
And TV is now in color.
But first, last night`s epic intersectional speech by President Obama.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Last night, President Obama addressed a packed ballroom on the final night of the annual sledge legislative conference of the congressional black caucus. This is the sixth time that he has spoken at the event. But he has never done so quite like this before.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Women were the foot soldiers. Women strategized boycotts. Women organized marches. Even if they weren`t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day. Doing the work that nobody else wanted to do.
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HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, President Obama devoted the bulk of his speech last night to naming the contributions of black women to American history, and mapping the continuing vulnerabilities that black women face today.
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OBAMA: Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong black women who helped carry this country forward. They worked to expand civil rights, open the doors of opportunity, not just for African-Americans but for all women, for all of us, black and white, Latino and Asian, LGBT and straight.
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HARRIS-PERRY: Now, this is not entirely new. Remember back to 2008, the night he was elected president of the United States. Then senator Obama told the story of Ann Nixon Cooper. Cooper was 106-year-old black women living in Georgia who vigorously supported his candidacy. She was born in 1902 and was a civil rights advocate, a community leader, a mother and a wife. And as he marked the moment of his historic victory, senator Obama chose cooper as the lens through which to tell the story of America. He tied her personal story both to the arc of the nation`s history and to the future embodied in his own African-American daughters.
Never before had a president invited us to see our national history through the lens of a disenfranchised black woman. So in a certain way he`s done this before. But again, never quite like last night. Because last night the president said we must measure the very quality of our democracy by the opportunities and experiences of black women.
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OBAMA: So we all have to be louder than the voices that are telling our girls they`re not good enough, that they`ve got to look a certain way or they`ve got to act a person way, or set their goals at a certain level. We`ve got to affirm their sense of self-worth and make them feel visible and beautiful and understood and loved. And I say this as a father who strives to do this at home but I also say this as a citizen. This is not just about my family or yours, it is about who we are as a people, who we want to be and how we can make sure that America is fulfilling its promise.
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HARRIS-PERRY: So as groundbreaking as his oratory was, the president did far more than just spin lofty pros. He offered clear policy areas that must be addressed in order to advance equity and fairness for the black women who have done so much for the country.
The President called for action to address gendered economic inequity. He criticized efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and to thereby deny women critical health care access. He articulated the distinct challenges facing women and girls in the mass incarceration system and he called for new tools to prevent and punish sexual assault.
His speech rendered visible the lost profits of American democracy. Black women like (INAUDIBLE), Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chism and the many thousands of black women activists whose names history failed to record, women whose accomplishments to be dimly recall and whose words we have almost wholly forgotten. But last night the president of the United States saw these women. He called their names and he assured us they are not forgotten.
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OBAMA: Like every parent, I can`t help to see the world increasingly through my daughters` eyes. And I thought about all those women who came before us who risked everything for life and liberty and pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare, their names never made the history books. All those women who cleaned somebody else`s house or looked after somebody else`s children, did somebody else`s laundry, then got home and did it again, then went to church and cooked and then they were marching.
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HARRIS-PERRY: And then the president made it clear that this is not just about history. Black women will not be forgotten today especially in our nation`s public policy.
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OBAMA: And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our black women and girls in America today.
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HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now, Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president. And chair of the White House council on women and girls.
Thank you so much for being here this morning.
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OBAMA: My pleasure, Melissa. Thank you for putting this spotlight on the president`s speech last night.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I was sitting with some folks from the National Urban League and from the Ms. Foundation and we almost fainted because I don`t think we`ve ever quite heard any person at this level, but certainly not a president, focus on African-American women in this way. Why did the president decide to take this focus?
JARRETT: Well, I think, Melissa, he recognizes that oftentimes the average person isn`t aware of the contributions that African-American women have made to our society. And so it was a bit of a history lesson in terms of the civil rights leader marches and how segregated they were, where women weren`t even allowed to march on the same street as men, yet they were the underpinning of the movement.
He talked about the fact that women have made a lot of progress, women of color. Our high school graduation rates are going up, our drop-out rates are going down, our teenage pregnancy is going down, entrepreneurship is flourishing among women of color. But yet there are still disparities that have to be addressed. So I thought - he thought it was appropriate forum and a great opportunity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Part of your capturing there is that he was both telling kind of the big story but didn`t just leave it in a celebratory place, also talked very clearly about the collective public policy efforts that are necessary. One of them was he specifically talked about health disparities and the need for health care access. Tell me a little bit about how the president understands Obamacare as being part of that and what other aspects of healthcare the president is looking toward.
JARRETT: Well, sure. We now know as a result of Obamacare 12 million women of color now have access to healthcare. And we know women always put themselves last. That`s why preventive care is such an important part of the affordable care act so that now women can go in for their annual checkups without a co-pay. We know that African-American women have disparities in healthcare, chronic illnesses disproportionally among women of color, so whether it is breast cancer or cervical cancer or HIV, all illnesses that, if caught early, can be treated and in many cases cured. And so it is so important that we appreciate how important health is and that these disparities are eradicated. And the affordable care act helps us do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I also wanted ask a bit, you know, yesterday on the show we talked about this forceful and interesting new direction that the administration is going around criminal justice reform. And last night the president was very clear that this is not just an issue about men and men of color, but also very much about women and girls. And I know that you had the opportunity to visit a girls juvenile detention center. And I`m wondering, from that experience what lessons you took and perhaps are sharing within the context of the administration about how we should address criminal justice reform when it comes to girls.
JARRETT: Well, we do have to work on reforming the overall system. And you`re right, a few weeks ago I was out in Compton. I first visited a juvenile court where many of the girls who are being picked up for a range of crimes, including prostitution, were actually victims of human trafficking. And they`re the court run by commissioner (INAUDIBLE), amazing woman who was with us here on Friday received a grant from the state to try to give these girls a kind of services that they need to rehabilitate themselves and get rid of these charges.
The thought that these young girls are being picked up on the street, being preyed are upon by pimps, put out for really the commercial sexual exploitation of girls, and then of course, it would be no wonder they would get caught up into the system. We focused on the sexual abuse to prison pipelines the same way we have to focus on the school to prison pipeline.
Girls of color are too often suspended and expelled from schools at disproportionately high levels. We need to keep them in the classroom because we know if they`re out on the street that`s going to lead to the system.
I also had a chance, Melissa, to visit with a group of women who had been previously incarcerated, and their extraordinarily searing stories about what in their childhood led them to prison. And you begin to understand the cost to them and their families from incarceration, but also the loss to society by not having people as productive members of society.
The president mentioned when he visited with the men, when he visited Oklahoma penitentiary earlier this summer as well that the men talked about the impact their incarceration was having on the women and children in their lives.
And so we have to fix the system not just for the people who are incarcerated, not just for the pipeline heading that way, but for society as well. Not to mention the $80 billion a year we are spending on incarceration. Should we spend that money on early childhood education? Should we make college more affordable? Should we pay our teachers a higher salary? There`s so much more what he we could do with that than what we are doing now.
HARRIS-PERRY: One last piece here. In addition to these public policy efforts and in addition to doing some historical corrective, the president made it very clear as well that issues of stereotypes and shaming are important. He even drew on some of the stories that the first lady has previously told about the effect of shaming stereotypes in her own life and in just these last few moments. I`m wondering why the president also felt that was an important issue to bring out last night.
JARRETT: Well, because we can`t ignore it. That no matter how talented our young people are, sometimes they`re not seen through the lens that they should be seen through. The first lady gave a very powerful speech – commencement speech at Tuskegee University earlier this summer. And she said look, even as first lady, people say hurtful and dreadful things. And you have to have the inner strength and inner resilience to know who you are, empower yourself and not let what over people say about you or how they treat you affect your energy and commitment and resilience and determination.
So I think these are all lessons for not just the African-American community here but for all of us as citizens of America in order for us to be that more perfect union we have to focus on ways of ensuring everybody has an equal opportunity, everybody has access to healthcare, everybody has a chance to meet their dreams and that begins with our youngest children who are often put on a path where incarceration seems normal.
And one of the moving moments in the movie that you watched that`s going to be airing on HBO, “the Vice Move,” was when the president said, we can`t look at it as normal to have this number of people incarcerated in our system. We have to break that cycle.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to you, Valerie Jarrett. And I also I don`t know if you saw how people were reacting in that room last night.
JARRETT: I did.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was extraordinary to see African-American women being recognized by their president in that way. It was really an incredible moment as a citizen. And I just want to say thank you for waking up early and joining us this morning from Washington, D.C.
JARRETT: My pleasure. My pleasure. It was uplifting.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was. It was something.
Up next, the president addresses the unique vulnerabilities of girls in the criminal justice system.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Saturday`s MHP show, we discussed how President Obama is chartering a decidedly different course than his predecessors on the issue of criminal justice reform. Last night the president took another historic step by specifically addressing the unique vulnerabilities of black girls and women.
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OBAMA: And although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African-American men and the work we are doing with my brother`s keeper, we can`t forget the impact that the system has on women as well. The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women. We don`t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison. They`re suspending at higher rates than white boys and all other girls. And while boys face the school to prison pipeline, a lot of girls are facing a more sinister sexual abuse to prison pipeline.
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HARRIS-PERRY: The sexual assault to prison pipeline is the key insight and title of a report produced by (INAUDIBLE) foundation this summer. We first brought you the findings of this report right here on MHP show back in July.
Joining me now, Teresa Younger, the CEO and president of the Ms. foundation for women and Brittney Cooper, assistant professor of women and genders studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University and contributor to salon.com.
So first, let me say thank you for answering the black feminine signal that sent out overnight after listening to this talk. But were you surprised to hear the president name check the report in this epic speech?
TERESA YOUNGER, CEO/PRESIDENT, MS. FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN: Well, I said, you know, when it first came across I said he`s talking about black women? Really? And then when he named the sex abuse to prison pipeline, I couldn`t have been more proud because it is a conversation much like the conversation that we`re having about the missing names of black women and the missing recognition of black women. The reality of what`s happening with young girls of color and how our system is perpetuating what happens to them and how they get involved in the prison pipeline.
HARRIS-PERRY: Brittney, for me, that willingness to go to a very specific moment because, you know, we do hear African-American male leaders do a kind of pedestal work, oh, these – these mothers of the movement who sit up here on the pedestal somewhere. But what the president did in name checking this particular report was to talk about what we know from the research that legitimately makes the lives of women and girls different, vulnerable in a different way. Not more or less but in a different way than that.
BRITTNEY COOPER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF WOMEN AND GENDERS STUDIES AND AFRICANA STUDIES AT RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Right. This is such an interesting moment for intersectional politics. Right? Right. So we`re using the lives of black women and girls to move conversations not only about the state of women in the country but also about the state of black men which is only thing black men have been saying for hundred years. Right? That when you help black women and girls that you help everybody.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whether and where I enter.
COOPER: It is a Cooper moment at salon. Right? When we talk about mass incarceration, if we talk about black women and girls we necessarily have to have a conversation about what`s happening with black men. If we talk about wage and equality, then we necessarily have to have a conversation about how black men are affected. If we talk about health care, we necessarily have to have a conversation about how black women move conversations in black communities about health, even if they are disproportionately suffering from ill effects of lack of healthcare access. So it is a wonderful moment. It is such a sister citizen moment, too. Because politics of recognition. My question becomes, what – like will we see it happen in the substantive policy changes?
HARRIS-PERRY: So this I think is a meaningful question, right? So the first thing is kind even noticing that it`s happening. The second thing is to start getting to a moment of addressing it. So I want to go back to the report just to remind folks in case they were on vacation in July, right, that that sexual assault to prison pipeline, what it is. When you say that, when the report refers to it. What exactly is that pipeline?
YOUNGER: It looked at young girls and women who are in the criminal justice system and how they got in to that system and why they got in to that system. So it reflects the fact that girls are being recognized for truancy and getting picked up for a whole bunch of variety of different issues, and they are then getting put into the juvenile justice system, the juvenile justice system is ill prepared to help address what is going on in their lives. And sometimes their recognition that they`re being bad girls is actually more symbolic of what is happening. They could be around sex abuse. And then they get into the system and they are abused even further by the system who is not responsive to the needs of these young girls.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They`re actually being punished for having been victims.
YOUNGER: Right. And re-punished.
HARRIS-PERRY: And then re-punished. And so for me, Brittney, part of kind of the emotional moment that I had while listening, there was a lot of cognitive stuff. What`s the president repeatedly – he talked about the sexual assault to prison pipeline. He then talked about the need to address sexual assault through the criminal justice system. He also talked about the need to address it on college campuses. Not necessarily as a clear policy proposal in that moment but changing that notion that if you are a victim or a survivor of sexual assault that you are what is bad, you are the problem.
COOPER: Absolutely. What I loved was that there was a curious for him, lack of respectability politics here. It is, you know, odd but he really talked about structural invisibility in a way that we haven`t seen. But again, this becomes the point that it is hard when you look at the conditions that black women are facing to blame them. And here is the other way that then his family humanizes this narrative. So finally he says, look. I live with a bunch of black women. I care about how they`re doing. That becomes the first line of empathy and it really put the meat on the bones of this so that all of a sudden now we can say this, you know, if you are harassed at school and no one helps you, then, no, you don`t want to keep going back to school. Then you get put in prison because you`re truant. But, you know, we had to have someone be able to talk about how black women and girls are feeling. And one of the things your book was so helpful to me on this point, was you said look, black women`s feelings matter for politics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet it was so important on one hand the president said, look, everybody lives around me is an African-American woman. But then he said it is not just about me and my family, it is about the country, it is about the question of citizenship. It is quite a moment.
And thank you in the Ms. Foundation because that research being there, that work being there is the thing that then allows the president to highlight it. Thank you to you both for being here.
Thank you to Teresa Younger. Brittney Cooper is going to stick around a bit longer.
Up next, the president shows some love for one of the Democratic presidential contenders.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last night the president said addressing economic injustice, specifically the wage gap, is central to who we are as Americans. And he offered a close to home example of our gendered practices around pay when he advocated for a salary for first ladies.
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OBAMA: That`s not just a woman`s issue. That`s everybody`s issue. I want Michelle getting paid at some point.
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HARRIS-PERRY: The president then took a moment on stage to recognize a particular Democratic presidential candidate who was sitting in the audience.
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OBAMA: We`ve got an outstanding former secretary of state here who was also former first lady and I know she can relate to Michelle when she says how come – how come you get paid and I don`t? How did that work?
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HARRIS-PERRY: Now, earlier that same morning, the former secretary of state was on stage at the New Hampshire Democratic Party convention delivering some very favorable remarks about the president`s tenure in office.
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HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He had to really work hard. Under his leadership and thanks to the sacrifice of so many Americans, we pulled back from the brink of depression, saved the auto industry, curbed Wall Street abuses and provided healthcare to 16 million people! President Obama deserves a lot more credit than he gets for helping us avoid an economic catastrophe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Hillary Clinton`s speech was the latest in a series of remarks that seem to suggest she`s prepared to take on as her own and to run on the Obama legacy. And perhaps by drawing her into his speech last night, the president was nodding at that possibility as well.
Up next, the president weighs in on the $10 bill debate.
And does the GOP know the real Rosa Parks?
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OBAMA: We have to do more than just say we care. Or say we put our – a woman on a $10, although that`s a good idea. We got to make sure they`re getting some $10 bills. That they`re getting paid properly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama last night at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation`s Phoenix awards dinner, calling for action to address injustices facing women, not just tributes.
The president`s comments come just days after the Republican debate when presidential candidates offered their responses to a question about what woman they would like to see on the $10 bill. Only one woman received multiple mentions.
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SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rosa Parks. Every day American that changed the course of history.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I very much agree with Marco that it should be Rosa Parks. She was a principled pioneer that helped change this country, helped remedy racial injustice. And that would be an honor that would be entirely appropriate.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would go with Rosa parks. I would go with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Rosa Parks? Really? Because I`m thinking they don`t actually have any idea who Rosa Parks was. Because I suspect the Rosa Parks sees candidates hope to enshrine o American currency is a quiet old tired seamstress who one day in 1954 just got tired of Jim Crow and decided not to give up her seat on a segregated bus at Montgomery, Alabama. I suspect they imagined Parks` quietly submitted to arrest and then stepped back to assume her rightful place while men like Martin Luther King Jr. lead the movement.
But if this isn`t an image you share, allow me to introduce you to the real Mrs. Parks. As a story, in Jeanne Theoharis` “chronicles in the rebellious life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” In 1954, Rosa Parks was not tired or old. She was a trained activist, an organizer who planned her disruption carefully. And after Montgomery, she was neither quiet nor invisible.
Parks spent decades doing welfare, rights work, and union organizing. She opposed the Vietnam War and U.S. complicity with South African apartheid. She vocally opposed Clarence Thomas` confirmation to Supreme Court because of his refusal to acknowledged continuing racial discrimination. And she condemned the militarized response of the U.S. government following the attacks on September 11th.
In short, Parks was, as Theo Harris characterizes her, a life-long critic of American racial and social inequality and the interlocking nature of racial and economic injustice.
So when the Republican presidential candidates fall all over themselves to nominate Rosa Parks for the $10 bill, they aren`t talking about the real Parks who spent a lifetime organizing against the very kinds of policies. They just spent three hours for posing as the basis of their campaigns. They mean a fully sanitized is historically and accurate and irrelevant illusion of parks.
We reproduce this too often when considering the contributions of black women. We render them as selfless saints or tireless background laborers or compelling adjuncts to the men who did the real complicated and strategic work of building the nation. Which is precisely the point President Obama made last night as he traced the nation`s history through the leadership of black women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Women organize marches. Even if they weren`t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day. Doing the work that nobody else wanted to do. They couldn`t always prophecy from the pull pits but they led the charge from the pews.
Women made the. Movement happen. Of course black women have been a part of every great movement in American history even if they weren`t always given a voice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We must not marginalize the centrality and contributions of black women in our country. Or else we`re going to reduce our understanding of who we are as a nation, how we got leer and how we continue to chart a path forward.
Joining me now, Jeanne Theoharis, distinguish professor of political science at Brooklyn College and author of “the Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park.” And still with us, Brittney Cooper.
Thank you both. Did Rosa Parks name in the GOP debate like drive you completely nuts?
JEANNE THEOHARIS, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR, BROOKLYN COLLEGE: It is incredible, right? Rosa Parks` three new fans. I mean they reduced – but I think this is a trend we see, right? She is reduced to somebody who makes us feel so good about ourselves as a country, when the actual Rosa Parks to the end of her life is saying there`s so much more work to be done.
Across her life working on criminal justice issues, across her life talking about poverty, talking about welfare rights, across her life saying unions are necessary, across her life talking about healthcare. Across her life talking about U.S. foreign policy. Across her life talking about the death penalty. So when they say they want Rosa Parks on the $10 bill, that`s what they`re saying because that`s what – that`s who she is. So, if we`re going to look at Rosa Parks on the $10 bill, that`s what we`re looking at.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. We got to put the actual Rosa Parks, not this imagined and sanitized one.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Brittney, I guess part of what`s interesting to me there is then so what is sat stake? You know, when the president talked about the march on Washington and he says that, you know, all of these women have done all this work, and then they got reduced to fewer than 140 words Daisy bates (ph) have an opportunity to read. And that might seem familiar to some of you in this audience. What happens to us if we don`t know Parks and Cooper and Daisy Bates and all the rest of them?
COOPER: Right. So, it is interesting because when I`m listening to the rhetoric in his speech, one thing I`m thinking about is how he is standing there being able to deliver the content of that speech because of all of this behind the scenes work of black women activists and organizers, girls for gender equity, Kimberly Crenshaw, who created the term intersectionality, the why we can`t wait campaign. So when he came out with my brother`s deeper and black women were up in arms saying what about the girls, right, that was over a year ago and he was resistant. And now here we are in this moment. And so, he is a shining example of black women working behind the scenes to move these official formal leaders to be more inclusive, right?
But also that history lesson is important because we`re on the brink of a new movement now that is trying to figure out what its own position on leadership is. And so making sure that we`re clear that any of our racial justice movements in this country are better for the thinking of black women who work behind the scenes and don`t make demand visibility is incredibly important.
HARRIS-PERRY: So at this point, this kind of Black Lives Matter point, as part of it, part of taking part in the CBC was watching a kind of older generation of elected officials who had been part of snick, in part of the civil rights movement, have to cope with address, manage, the thing that is this youth-based movement of Black Lives Matter. It a terrible historical kind of question to ask, but I`m wondering what sort of response the real Rosa Parks might have had to the thing that is the Black Lives Matter movement?
THEOHARIS: I think there is no question where she would be, and that is with Black Lives Matter. Because if you see her across her life one thing she consistently does is say youth, young people are going to push us forward really admiring the militancy of youth.
In 1967 after the Detroit uprising, three men are killed in the Algiers motel. The black community holds a militant police tribunal to hold the police officers sort of on trial because they have not been indicted because the press is not following up. Who`s on the jury of that tribunal? That`s Rosa Parks in her 50s.
Young militants call her, ask her will you be there? If she says if I can be helpful, I will be there. And that I think she gives us a model, right, for how older generation of middle aged generation sort of comes into this movement which is if I can be helpful, I will be there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And if I can lend my credibility. On this question of the images that we draw, I want to just indulge one more minute here on the president talking about the first lady and the challenges she has in navigating images. Let`s just take a listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Michelle, our outstanding, beautiful first lady, talks about these struggles. Michelle will tell stories about when she was younger people telling her she shouldn`t aspire to go to the very best universities. And she found herself thinking sometimes, well, maybe they`re right. Even after she earned two degrees from some of the best universities in America, she still faced the doubts that were rooted in deep social prejudice and stereotypes, worrying whether she was being too assertive, or too angry, or too tall. I like tall women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So that little off-hand, I like tall women, and later he talks about if we don`t invest in black women we`ll use the Serenas, we`ll lose the Michelle Obamas. I got to say there was something about that that felt like purposely trying to reclaim a more equitable space. So even though the first lady was not one of the people speaking, the president giving voice to the first lady through this, it just felt like part of this reclamation, not just an image but a real person here.
COOPER: Absolutely. So it is just one of those wonderful affective moments in politics where we get to talk about the pain that black women experienced because of these stereotypes, these, you know, the angry black woman stereotype or the “you`re not good enough,” or this question of qualification or merit. And so, this sort of reclaiming. And here is why it is important. Because rarely do we have black men stand up in public spaces and say that the things that black women labor under matter, that they should matter for politics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. My colleague and best friend Blair Kelly has often said one of the reasons that African-American women turned out in record numbers for the president is because his wife was as tall as him, as smart as him and black from a distance.
Thank you to Brittney Cooper. Jeanne is going to be next back in our next hour.
Up next, an update on the community activists who have been going hungry for education.
HARRIS-PERRY: Two weeks ago we brought you the story of a dozen Chicago residents who had lived for 20 days without solid food, on a diet juice and water, in order to bring attention to the decision to close their neighborhoods only high school.
They took their fight straight to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel disrupting two town hall appearances to make sure the mayor got their message. It is now been a full month since these activists began their hunger strike. And yesterday, day 34, the strike came to an end.
Since we last spoke with the protesters, Chicago public schools have announced that it would not close the south side`s diet high school. But would instead reopen it as an art themed open enrollment high school.
Now for the activists the decision fell far short of their demands because what they wanted for their children wasn`t just any school. After consulting with experts, parents and students and holding a series of community meetings, the coalition behind the push to re-open Dyett (ph) came up with their own plan for an academy focused on green technology. It is plan the hunger strikers say it was overlooked in the Chicago public school`s decision about Dyett. And they say that until the city listens to the voices of the community, while the hunger strike may be over, their struggle will continue.
Here with me again from Chicago, are two of those activists. Jitu Brown, who is director of the journey for justice alliance, and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann.
It is very nice to have you both here.
JITU BROWN, DIRECTOR, JOURNEY FOR JUSTICE ALLIANCE: Thank you for having us.
Can you tell me a little bit about the decision to end this portion of the hunger strike and to resume eating? How did that come about?
JEANETTE TAYLOR-RAMANN, HUNGER STRIKER: We realized that mayor Rahm Emanuel would let us die on this hunger strike. So we decided that we all have work to do in the community. We still have responsibilities to our young people, to our schools, and so we decided to come off hunger strike and just continue to fight. This was a moment in the movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So talk to me a little bit because in a certain way you`ve had a win. Dyett is not going to close. But I also understand that that win doesn`t feel like a full victory to you because of the green technology versus arts issue. And so, part of what I wondering is, is this about the substance literally of wanting green technology or about the arts or is it about process, kind of the importance of listening to community? What is the thing that is most distressing for you?
BROWN: I think it is both. I think, you know, this hunger strike proved that there is no such thing as school choice in the black community. School choice is a farce. Over 4,800 residents chose Walter Dyett global leadership and green technology high school. It was supposed to be a selection of three proposals.
Our proposal was overwhelmingly the best so the question is why not Green Technology. It`s politics. Local alderman sees us as a political threat, so instead of doing what`s best for children they pulled an idea out of the air and said we`ll make it open enrollment and make it a school and make it arts. But we are – we have won several important victories.
I just want to make a pint. Last year we stopped the school from closing and got a compliment to re-open it. This year we stopped the school from being privatized which has never happen in Chicago before. We also – we will be at the table in regards to the design of the school and we know that district leadership is amenable to a green technology. We have a thriving youth-run farm right next to the school. So we are willing to work with the district. We`ve always been willing to work with the district. The question is when will there be a respectful conversation with black parents? When will our voices matter like they matter on the north side?
HARRIS-PERRY: I am genuinely pleased that you all are eating again. You know, as a team we`ve been talking about you all and following what you`ve been doing. But there`s also no question that going to the extreme or the intensity of a hunger strike is part of what drew the attention of national media to what you are doing. Can you talk to me about what processes you see next, sort of what are the next steps that you need to take?
BROWN: Well, we have, as I mentioned, we have strong elected officials and members of rainbow/push that are continuing to negotiate on our behalf. So we will hammer out the details so that the community is satisfied and that this school meets the needs of our children. But I think there`s also a very key battle in Chicago and around the country.
We stand in unity with those parents in New Orleans who lost all their public schools. We stand in unity with those parents and young people in Philadelphia when they closed 24 schools while they were building prisons. Those are our brothers and sisters. And in cities like that which are primarily black and brown cities, we see the loss of voting rights.
We see the fact that we don`t have an elected a school board. We can`t hold people accountable that can raise our taxes. So in these cities, we see that there needs to be an end to these schemes of appointed school boards, of Bessy (ph) boards, recovery school districts. That needs to end.
Also we are very committed to winning sustainable community schools in urban communities around this country. The privatization movement must die because they have make too much – they are making trillions of dollars off the back of what should be – our of our children delivering what should be a human right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me say this, I have no doubt that the sacrifices that you all have made over the course of this past month have communicated to your children and the children of Chicago that there are adults in their community who love them and are willing to sacrifice for them. And that alone is an extraordinary gift to have given.
Thank you so much to Jitu Brown and to Jeanette Taylor-Ramann in Chicago.
BROWN: Thank you for giving us this platform. We appreciate it.
HARRIS-PERRY: You gave it to yourself. You earned it. No doubt about it.
Up next, the college student who sparked a showdown just by showing up on this day 53 years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1962, James Meredith tried to become the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. And while the landmark Supreme Court ruling at Brown versus board of education declared school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, many southern schools openly defied the ruling.
When Meredith applied to Ole Miss, his application was repeatedly refused. So finally, Thurgood Marshall and NAACP legal defense fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Meredith. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in Meredith`s favor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m acting as an individual, but I should hope that the outcome will affect a whole lot of people and even so much as America. I should think it would be important to America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But when Meredith arrived at the campus in Oxford, Mississippi under the protection of federal marshals, an angry mob was there to greet him. Along with the governor of Mississippi himself. Ross Burnett and a vow rod segregationist declared Meredith`s attempt to enter Ole Miss the greatest crisis since the war between the states. And in the televised address to his fellow Mississippians, par net proclaimed quote “Mississippi will not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny. No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor.”
Violent protests erupted. At least two people were killed and many others injured. Eventually President Kennedy sent a contingent of federal marshals and thousands of troops. Amid the chaos the president addressed the nation and made it clear the law will be upheld.
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JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If this country should ever reach the point where any man or group of men, by force or threat of force, could long deny the commands of our court and our constitution, then no law would stand free from doubt. No judge would be sure of his writ. And no citizen would be safe from his neighbors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: By the morning after that address, mayor tit had registered in secret at the University of Mississippi. And though he would need the round-the-clock protection as a student, he did graduate less than a year later.
After Meredith left Ole Miss, his activism continued even in the face of danger. In 1966 he was shot and wounded by a sniper while on a one-man civil rights march from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Today, a statue of Meredith is prominent on Ole Miss` campus.
But last year in an echo of the ugly past, a white student put a noose on the statue. Just this week a former University of Mississippi student who admitted to helping to noose that statue was sentenced to six months in prison on charges of attempting to intimidate African-American students and staff members. A reminder both of how much has changed and how clearly the struggle continues since James Meredith first attempted to integrate Ole Miss on this day September 20th, 1962.
And coming up next, the Pope is coming to America and he`s got mass appeal.
And later, TV now in color. Matt Damon`s moment of man explaining about Hollywood diversity.
There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And this Tuesday Pope Francis arrives in America for a whirlwind tour. Between visiting the White House and addressing the U.N. and meeting with school children and prisoners, he`ll be giving the first ever papal address to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress. Now, by all accounts, it is the hottest ticket in town. Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather outside the capital to watch the Pope`s speech on Jumbotrons and to hope to get a glimpse of the people`s Pope when he appears on a balcony after his address. Popes do love balconies.
Even if you`re not Catholic, it is going to make for some great television. The Pope will be making folks on both sides of the aisle squirm in their seats. Democrats if he articulates a strong opposition to abortion, and Republicans if he supports broad immigration rights, aggressive aid for the poor, the urgency of climate change and real pretty much anything other than abortion. In other words, get your popcorn because this may be some great political theater. There also may be some political lessons from the bishop of Rome if the parties are willing to listen. The Catholic Church is facing an existential crisis. Because although the share number of Catholics continues to grow, more than one billion and counting, the number of priests is not keeping up.
In the U.S., fewer Catholics are going to church. While thousands of parishes have no priest at all. To recover, the church needs more people in the Catholic tent. And that may be part of the reason why you see Pope Francis reaching out to people the church has long shunned as egregious sinners. People who have been divorced or who had abortions or who are gay and saying, you know what, there is a place for you here. Now, it is a lesson the Republican Party would do well to learn because the GOP may be facing its own existential battle particularly when it comes to presidential elections.
The party`s demographic base of older white voters is shrinking as a share of the electorate. And while traditional democratic voters and particularly Latinos are growing rapidly. But the Republican Party should have learned from 2008 in 2012, is that they need to make their tent bigger as the party itself said after the 2012 race. Quote, “We must emphasize the importance of a welcoming, inclusive message, in particular when discussing issues that relate directly to minority group.” But Republicans may not have taken that lesson to heart.
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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, I want to build a wall. A wall that works. So important. And it is a big part of it. Second of all, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country from outside.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to take the fingerprint of every person who comes in to this country on a visa. And when they overstay their visa, we need to tap them on the shoulder and say, you have overstayed, your welcome, you`re taking advantage to the American people, it is time for you to go.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty and in fact who helped lead the fight to stop a massive amnesty plan.
A woman gets pregnant. She`s nine months. She walks across the border, she has the baby in the United States. And we take care of the baby for 85 years. I don`t think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The Catholic Church, the Republican Party. Very different organizations but they`re making a choice. Who`s invited in, who is pushed out. Now that question is an urgent one right now at a time when according to the United Nations, there are more displaced people on earth nearly 16 million than at any time since World War II. Pope Francis has opened his arm not only to new and lapse Catholics, but to the thousands of refugees and migrants – war and poverty for Europe. He`s used his pulpit to urge governments and churches to take in these desperate refugees saying, quote, “The closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed country, that comes from us. It has nothing to do with God.”
And through America`s Catholic bishops, the Pope has urged American leaders to have the same welcoming compassion for immigrants. Prominent Catholic bishops have visited the border with Mexico, lobbied Congress to reform the immigration system and they have done it by framing it as a moral question. The Congress that Pope Francis will address on Thursday has not done that. And it`s not just Republicans. The Obama administration has also been deported more than one million people and our country has taken in fewer than 1,500 refugees from the Syrian war this year.
Even the decision to allow 10,000 new refugees in the coming fiscal year is a tiny fraction of more than four million Syrians who need a place to call home. It is in this context the visit of Pope Francis is more than a spiritual pilgrimage. It may also prove be a call to action.
Joining me now, Jeanne Theoharis, distinguished professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and author of “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Robert George, associate editorial page editor for the “The New York Post.” And Alina Das, associate professor of clinical law and co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, New York University School of Law.
Thank you all for being here.
THEOHARIS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m wondering if you can imagine the parties taking a page from the Holy Father`s book and actually having a different discourse during an post papal visit around the issue of immigration.
ALINA DAS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, it is time for us to get our moral compass back. The debate over immigration has been high-jacked by hate speech. Over the last few months we`ve seen the hyper criminalization of immigrants labeling Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists and that has moved both parties to the rights in terms of the kind of proposals in the way they`re talking about immigration reform generally. So, hopefully what the Pope will do by speaking about these concepts of welcoming the stranger, about compassion, about human dignity will get us back on track to thinking about immigration reform, not in terms of putting up walls or forcing refugees back into the hands of persecutors but instead thinking about what we do about the people who are here and who are coming here in order to rejoin their families or flee from violence and creating a system that matches that need.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, this point to me feels so discordant with this new discourse, a bipartisan discourse about criminal justice reform. So, on one hand we have democratic and republican candidates for office and current elected officials who were saying, our prison system is bloated, it is too expensive, we`re doing the wrong thing here, we need to shift how we even think about who deserves to be in jail. At the same time that we`re not really putting detention centers or the criminality of identity on undocumented persons. That somehow is not really infiltrating into this conversation. So, you heard during the republican debate actually some pretty reasonable conversation about criminal justice reform at the same time that you heard this aggressive language that was anti-immigration and xenophobic.
HEOHARI: Right. Right. And that you see many of the policies that led to what we are talking about as mass incarceration that we have to change are policies that have led to the criminalization of immigrants. The way we see the issue of immigrants. And a refusal to sort of talk about it in moral terms. And I think part of what the disjuncture is I think we`ve had a movement this year that has finally broken through and forced us to look at criminal justice as a moral issue and we have a movement in this country around immigrant justice that I think we need to take as seriously.
HARRIS-PERRY: This idea Robert that the big tent strategy is a response to the existential – maybe long-term existential crisis – right – of the demographic shifts. I mean, it is something that for all of his faults and failings George W. Bush recognized and articulated as a candidate more than a decade ago. What has gone wrong with the party?
ROBERT GEORGE, ASSOCIATE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “NEW YORK POST”: Well, that`s a good question. That`s a great question.
GEORGE: And as a Catholic and an immigrant, I was actually from Trinidad myself – and though of course I`m here meaning, I`m not in church so this is your –
HARRIS-PERRY: It is my fault. I`m sorry. I will do penance later.
GEORGE: No, but it is interesting. I mean it was George W. Bush who was pushing for comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, 2007. Though actually kind of behind the scenes Senator Barack Obama was sort of undermining, frankly, some of that I think for certain political reasons. And now you`ve got to split. You do still have Jeb Bush who wants something like comprehensive immigration reform, Marco Rubio still wants that. The base though is kind of pushing away from it because I think at the base level, voters believe that immigration – illegal immigration is costly and they see it as a legal/moral, if you will, issue of people who have come in here who haven`t played by the rules –
GEORGE: – and we`re being asked to take them in. Now, again, I believe in kind of a comprehensive approach myself but that`s where the voters are and you are starting to see the candidates responding to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, this is not a small point. So, we frame this as a moral issue, as a question that, you know, the Pope standing there from the Vatican can make a series of recommendations about how we ought to act. But the brass tacks of it will consistently come down to question of how we frame whether or not this is costly. In fact, part of what we see is the bipartisan consensus around criminal justice reform is actually discourse about its cost. Some of it is about moral arguments but a lot of it is just, man, it got too expensive. So, part of what I`m wondering is if the immigration rights movement cannot only employ moral discourse but also a kind of economic cost/benefit analysis to shift this sort of perspective?
DAS: Well, absolutely. I mean, there is a humongous cost when it comes to deportation and detention in this country, both the costs in terms of the system as a whole, as well as the cost to the family members who are left behind. I think people forget because of the demonization of immigrants they start to think of them as completely separate from American society when they`re entirely integrated. And so, you have mixed status families that are living here. So, when you deport a breadwinner and caregiver from this country, you are leaving behind their family. And that has a cost as well. But even if you look at this issue of detention, right?
Where you see the synergies of the mass incarceration system in the criminal justice movement being used here in the immigration system and you think about alternatives to detention that are far less costly when you are spending maybe $160 or more a day detaining an individual for months or potentially years, when alternatives to detention which are far more humane can cost as little as, you know, estimates for $17 a day or even a matter of cents when you are talking about community-based alternatives which are the best ones that put people back in the community with their families. So, certainly in terms of costs, what we hear being proposed of these mass deportations putting people on trains out of the country –
DAS: I mean, would cost a tremendous amount. Billions of dollars to our economy at a huge human and financial cost.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us, we`ll going to stay right on this topic. Because up next, arrested at the doctor`s office over a driver`s license.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week demonstrators gathered outside of a hospital in Houston, Texas to protest the arrest of an undocumented woman while she awaited a doctor`s appointment. Blanca Borrego, an immigrant from Mexico, who has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, went to see her gynecologist for a follow-up appointment according to her daughter. Now Borrego gave clinic staff her insurance card and what authorities say was a fake driver`s license. Hospital officials say staff called the police to verify the license. And Borrego waited in the clinic for two hours, her daughter says.
But instead of seeing a doctor, she was arrested, placed in handcuffs, and escorted by a sheriff`s deputy out of the clinic in front of her two daughters. The youngest of whom is eight years old. And she was charged with tampering with a government record and held in jail for nearly two weeks before activists could make her $35,000 bond. Advocates with the Texas organizing project say they worry that this will discourage undocumented women from seeking necessary medical care. And the hospital says, it is reviewing procedures but it doesn`t discriminate based on immigration status. Really?
GEORGE: Fun times in Texas this week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And Greg Abbott, right? The Governor of Texas`s response to this via tweet was Texas is cracking down on illegal immigration. Like you just – no. The response is –
GEORGE: Well, look, I mean I`m also cracking down on illegal immigration. If she`s got – if she`s got fake documents and so forth, you know, that should definitely be addressed. But you are in my view kind of sending the wrong signal if you`re bringing the cops in when people are supposed to be getting medical care because if it`s – if somebody has, I don`t know, communicable disease or something like that, and then they`re afraid to go to a doctor, and then that kind of spreads, that creates I think a broader medical problem. I don`t think this was handled in the right way here.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it does feel linked to discourse. Right? So, when we start using the language of – so, you know, if someone has a fake I.D. and uses that to procure alcohol for children, or uses that to pass a bad check, but she was going to the doctor so even if it is a thing that is a breaking of the rules, it is very hard to imagine why that would therefore lead to an arrest. And it does just make in this kind of full criminalization. And again, I am wondering what the Pope would say in this moment that when someone comes to seek medical care our response as a government is to arrest them.
DAS: No you this is exactly the kind of over criminalization we`ve seen throughout all different sectors. I mean, this is the intersection of the problems with our criminal justice system, the immigration system, reproductive justice. I mean, to have women be afraid to go to a doctor`s office and instead see a police officer who is in many instances acting pass a de facto immigration agent.
DAS: I mean, here is the problem. I mean, the medical office that owns this clinic says that, we don`t turn over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities and they say, you know, there are certainly privacy laws that protect people against that. But this is the predictable result of having no policies that put separate roles for the local police and immigration officials because when they called the police they were, in essence, calling immigration.
HARRIS-PERRY: This feels to me – in part because you use the language of reproductive justice. And so, every time we use the lie of anchor babies – because of course, we know that American-born children of undocumented immigrants are not anchors. Their parents are deported all of the time. Right? So, even if they remain as citizens their parents are deported. But the other piece of reproductive justice that we don`t always talk about, is that if one decides to have a child, even if one is living in poverty, that we provide a sufficient social safety net to raise and rear that child. That`s also a reproductive justice issue and that feels me like something the Pope has to say not only to Republicans but to Democrats.
THEOHARIS: Absolutely. The Pugh Research, they came out with a study saying that 38 percent of African-American children live in poverty today. Thirty percent of Latino children live in poverty today. Twenty two percent of American children broadly live in poverty today. And if we look at what`s happened 20 years ago, Bill Clinton signed welfare reform. Hillary Clinton praised it. Hillary Clinton praised it again in 2008. And yet what we see is when welfare reform passed, 72 percent of families with poor children were getting public assistance, that`s down to about 28 percent now. This is a moral issue. I think what we`ve seen the Pope say over and over is poverty is a moral issue and not just poverty but not supporting the poor is a moral issue. And so, I think he`s speaking to Democrats and I think he`s speaking to Hillary Clinton and asking for –
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It certainly does seem everyone will be squirming in their seats.
HARRIS-PERRY: And not that we should ever govern based on what any one religious leader or religious group suggests. But I do think that it can be a moment of reflection. Kind of the nation about what we stand for.
Thank you to Jeanne Theoharis, and to Robert George and to Alina Das.
Up next, the latest on the Pope`s journey as he`s making his way to America.
And also still to come – why Matt Damon`s take on diversity`s sparked the hashtag, Damon`s flaming.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pope Francis could meet with Cuba`s former long-time Leader Fidel Castro today as the pontiff continues his historic ten-day trip to Cuba and the United States. In Havana this morning he held an outdoor mass in the city`s Revolution Square. The Pope began his journey yesterday by praising the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, a breakthrough he helped make possible.
NBC News correspondent Claudio Lavanga filed this report on today`s events in Havana.
CLAUDIO LAVANGA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This morning, the Pope held his first mass here in Cuba in Revolution Square right next to a giant portrait of yet another Argentinian icon, the Che Guevara. And in front of hundreds of thousands of excited Cubans. Now, the government here that put the number to more than a million. And by the look of it and may be fairly accurate now. Before the mass the Pope toured the square on his Pope mobile. He was kissing children, kissing the disabled. But there were also some dramatic moments. We understand that two or three people were dragged away while they tried to throw leaflets at the Pope while we was in his Pope mobile.
Now, we don`t know what`s written on those leaflets. But we believe that it was in some way related to civil or human rights issues that have not been addressed by the Pope yet during his trip in Cuba. Now, in the afternoon he will meet the President, Raul Castro, once again after he met at the airport yesterday upon his arrival. But the real highlight of the day may come from a meeting with his brother, Fidel Castro. Now that`s not on the agenda, it`s not on schedule, but the Vatican said that it may happen. And if does happen, it will happen today – Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Claudio Lavanga in Havana, Cuba.
And still ahead, “Vanity Fair” could not find any funny women, so I`m bringing a few of them to my table.
HARRIS-PERRY: “Vanity Fair” set off a firestorm this week when they showed us the guys who are making late night comedy better than ever. And the internet was having none of it. People instantly noted how glaringly homogenous the titans of late night were. And comedian Samantha Bee whose late night show will start in January, had her own edit for “Vanity Fair.” The magazine`s photo sparked so much outrage, not because it offered some new offense but because it snapped into focus what we basically already knew. Even with the prime time success of funny women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling, late night is as much a boy`s club as it ever was. And it goes beyond who you see on screen, late night writing staffs are notoriously mostly male and white.
And progress in changing that is slow. According to Vox, Bill Maher`s show has only one credit at woman writer in the 13 years it`s been on air. In 2014, John Oliver`s show instigated a unique blind submission system – that unique blind submission system resulting in two women writers of nine. And that rate is considered a success and even open minded Stephen Colbert doesn`t quite practice what he preaches.
All right. So, I just want you to take a look at this clip from his show last Friday. Now, I`m not sure if you can quite tell, but on Colbert`s wrist, again, you`ll miss it if you are not looking closely, but he is wearing a bracelet on his right wrist. And it says, “Black Lives Matter.” Now it was a subtle but unmistakable show of solidarity with the movement. It`s disappointing then that according to the comedy website, Splitsider, there is not a single person of color on his writing staff. Not one. And last month Colbert wrote for a piece in “Glamour” in which he promised his iteration of the late show would, quote, “celebrate women`s voices.”
He went on to say that this essay has proved that I have an authentic female perspective because most of it was written by two of my female writers on my staff. Turns out there`s only has two women on his writing staff. Out of 19.
Joining me now are comedy writer and performer Janie Stolar who is a stand-up – Erin Jackson and NBC black contributor and co-host of Politini Danielle Moodie-Mills.
So, I am sorry, the President kept me up late with the intersectionality. But look, there is something for me about this idea. In addition to like just me being jealous about the fact that Colbert has 19 writers. But that it just – that you would look around the room and not notice that women and people of color are missing.
JANIE STOLAR, COMEDY WRITER AND PERFORMER: Right. And I think part of why that happens is that writing staffs are largely made up of people that that person has worked with or they know. And so it seems like people keep hiring the same people. It is really, really hard to get your foot in the door with comedy writing.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is not a small point. Right? I mean, you know, you look at that image or you hear these numbers. And it sounds like there is a conspiracy and everyone is sitting around at table and deciding to keep the women and the blacks and the browns out. But it is actually like just the culmination of all these little tiny individual decisions.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, NBC BLK CONTRIBUTOR: They don`t think about it. And that`s the problem. Is that they don`t think. Is that people that occupy the mainstream and we know that white men do – that they don`t think about what that picture looks like, whether it was, you know, oh, there are no women in this. No, they were just celebrating themselves. They don`t think about race and who`s not in the room or who should be in the room because it`s not something that – they`re not forced to think about gender every day, they`re not forced to think about race and how they show up in the world. So, of course, they`ll going to have the good old boys club because that`s what they know, that`s what they`ve come from.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there an argument that having to be forced to think about oppression and intersectionality just isn`t funny. And so, what we want to be able to do, right, is to be funny. That this isn`t news writing, my friend, this is comedy.
ERIN JACKSON, STAND-UP COMIC: Right. And I mean, how could there be a woman in the picture? There`s no women on late night.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. They`re not funny. Right.
STOLAR: And Chelsea Hammer and Samantha Bee are segment of our imagination.
MOODIE-MILLS: So is Amy Schumer and so is Tina and so is Amy. Like it doesn`t make any sense. Like the whole idea that we don`t have – this is the same thing that they said when Barack Obama went into the presidency because you can say the same thing about politics and pop culture at this moment, when President Barack Obama went in, there were, where did all of these black people come from? That can do all these fancy jobs? Like where did they come from? It was just like, oh, because he went to go and find those people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, but this also comes back here. I think it is not a small point. That in fact when we hire, right? I think about even when we were booking the show, I mean, there are an inordinate number of college professors who show up on this show, right? In a way that probably aren`t other shows – but that`s because of the people I know. Right? It`s unlike, oh man, we`re going to get professor so and so my team is going to be like, oh, really another college professor? But like it is interesting that that`s precisely then the reason that women – that people of color in these sort of decision making positions matter all the way down the pipeline.
JACKSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean we`re talking about writers. We`re talking about bookers. Because as a stand-up comedian, I mean, there`s people who write the show, there`s people who host the show but I want to tell jokes on the show, they`re making that positions as well. So, I mean, there are a lot of people behind the scenes and a lot of ways that women need to be included in this late night stuff.
STOLAR: And I found the “Glamour” article disappointing because in retrospect, it kind of seemed like lip service. I love Colbert and I think he`s a feminist. I don`t doubt that. But I would have love to see more action where he was putting his words.
HARRIS-PERRY: Uh-mm. And it does feel to me like, what people are writing for you? Like, you know, you show up on air as an anchor. But you actually are this kind of – all of these voices and ideas that are part of it. And again, part of it for me is just the idea that the response is where there is no one in the pipeline. This goes back to your, Obama administration. There`s no one in the pipeline, is there anything to that argument that the pipeline is in fact insufficiently heterogeneous?
JACKSON: Well, I think it`s interesting that I mean, like the daily show job, I mean, that was offered to women who said, no.
JACKSON: So, it is not as if, I mean, we could have very well had a woman on the show but Amy Schumer said, no.
She would not be drafted.
MOODIE-MILLS: What really upsetting is she said that she was unqualified, that she was unqualified right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. She said lean away from me.
MOODIE-MILLS: Right. Which is what a lot of women say. Right? They say, okay, well men apply more to these jobs and that`s why we hire them, because women don`t apply. But you have to ask yourself when you`re creating this type of environment, why aren`t they applying? What kind of climate are you creating that is disallowing them to want to show up? Right? Because who wants to walk into a writing room and be the only one? Nobody wants to carry that burden. And it`s not fair.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also I keep point about this idea of feeling unqualified. In politics too, right, that often we see that women feel like they have to be sort of have three degrees before they`re willing to run and that young men, if they just feel, I`m pretty talented and smart, I can figure this out. Right? Will run out of high school. Okay, thank you to you Janie Stolar and to Erin Jackson.
Up next, the new fall TV season is now in color. Take note, Matt Damon.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tonight the 67th annual Emmy Awards will reveal the shows that top its list for best comedy, best drama, best actress and the like. Some strong contenders include Anthony Anderson from ABC`s “Black-ish” for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series. Viola Davis in “How To Get Away With Murder” for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. And of course, “Empire`s” Taraji P. Henson for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. You know – now it was about a year ago when this show launched a franchise we call “TV Now in Color.” And what was the inspiration? The launch of shows like “Black-ish,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Empire,” Gina Gershon, “Fresh off the Boat.” And others adding diversity to the casting we typically see on television.
And throughout the year, many of those shows have been dominating the ratings. For example, every episode of Lee Daniels “Empire” saw more viewers than the last throughout the whole first season! The series started with a whopping 10 million viewers and 17 million turned in for the last hour of this season one finale making it the most watched show on television that week. Now, the show certainly is striking a chord with viewers as it portrays the life of a black hip-hop mogul, his journey from poverty to wealth and his complicated relationship with his family.
So, who is exactly responsible for bringing us such colorful content? This diverse group of 12 writers. In fact, the shows co-creator Danny Strong once described the writing stuff by saying, we`ve got after Americans, Latinos, white writers, it`s “a really cool blend of America.” But this week, actor and filmmaker Matt Damon seemed to downplay the importance of diversity behind the camera. During last Sunday night`s premier of “Project Greenlight`s” fourth season,” Damon spoke with his team of successful writers, directors and producers to choose the filmmaking contestants best equipped to direct a $3 million feature film. The script in question included just one black character named Harmony who was a prostitute and the female lead.
Effie Brown, producer of “Dear White People” of 16 other future films encouraged Damon and other panelists to consider the importance of choosing the first records, to tackle this project and its inherently racialized and gendered subject matter. She supported the directing duo of Leo Angelo and Kristen Brancaccio, a Vietnamese man and a white woman. Damon interrupted Effie Brown to make a meritocracy argument against that choice and to explain the way diversity in the industry works saying, quote, “I think on the surface they might look like one thing but they might end up giving us something that we don`t want.” And when we`re talking about diversity, you can do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.
Joining my table now are Clay Cane, entertainment editor at BET.com. Alan Sepinwall, TV critic for Hit Fox – no, excuse me HitFix.com, and author of “The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever.” So, we were just saying, it ruined Jason Borne for us this moment.
CLAY CANE, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR, BET.COM: Yes. I love Jason Borne. Now it is ruined. Listen, there was two moments with that exchange, if you want to call that with Matt Damon and Effie Brown that got to me. One, when Matt Damon missed the point of what Effie Brown was saying. He totally illustrated Effie Brown`s point. It`s like you are looking at it, like this is exactly what she`s saying, Matt. And the other part of it was that Effie Brown produced a great film called, “Dear White People” as you said. And it was like a scene from “Dear White People.” Dear White People, don`t tell the only black woman in the room how diversity works.
CANE: So, it was just this collision of what is wrong in Hollywood. And you think Matt Damon is this great progressive and you see that even him, that he is clueless about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And in fact, Damon did issue an apology, saying my comments were part of a much broader conversation about the diversity in Hollywood, and the fundamental nature of “Project Greenlight” which did not make the show. I`m sorry that they offended some people but at the very least I am happy they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That`s an ongoing conversation we should all be having. But of course again, start that conversation, we`ve been having that conversation.
MOODIE-MILLS: Right. And when you know that when you say that you`re sorry that you offended somebody that that`s not actually an apology –
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I`m sorry, not sorry.
MOODIE-MILLS: Yes. Hashtag, I`m sorry like that you`re offended but what I said was right which is what he said. Matt Damon, you know, it is depressing because I love the borne series. But he is just emblematic of Hollywood. Right? Good white liberals who are not good actually on diversity and we need to be holding them accountable. And I think it was just outrageous, the optics of that scene with him cutting her off and saying, oh no, it only matters in front and not behind misses the entire point. You cannot have a – and I also – look. You look at “Empire`s” staff of writers and then you look at what they have, that you cannot have white writers write diversity. It is an experience that they don`t have. And it allows us to have, like depth to stories that we need.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this point about sort of the notion of an ideology of kind of liberal and being held accountable to diversity, I do want to say, part of the reason we started the block by talking about the Emmys is because part of the idea here is that no matter what one`s ideology, if what one likes his ratings and cash at the Box Office, there`s actually a lot of evidence it seems to me that diverse casts and diverse staffs lead to consumers wanting to take it, have it.
ALAN SEPINWALL, TV CRITIC, HITFIX.COM: But what happens is it`s insane where you have these successes like an “Empire” or like a “How to Get Away with Murder,” and the industry looks at them as anomalies. Like, okay, the audience came for this but they`re not going to come to a lot of others. And I think it is changing a little bit. You are seeing with the development last season and some shows put on this season it is getting a little bit better but the industry just doesn`t want to accept that there`s money there.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s weird to me. Like I had someone sorts of whisper in my ear one day, oh, you know Melissa how this works, is that when a network is down, it puts on a lot of shows, of color and casts of color, builds itself back up, and then it will immediately eliminate those shows. And I thought, what? That like – I literally don`t mean liberalism or ideology, I just mean that why would you do that.
CANE: Right. African-Americans shows they have had to prove themselves, time and time again on that works. They have their constantly prove, you know, white folks will watch us, black folks will watch us. Latin folks will watch us. A quick thing on that Effie Brown, on that Damon moment, we`ve all been there when you`re the only one in the room.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes.
CANE: Whether it`s the boardroom, the classroom, and there was a moment that you saw for a second on camera where you kind of, because the other panelists kind of jumped in agreeing with Matt. And you see that moment in her face, you see her thought bubble like, you know what? I`m not going to argue. She just kind of gave up. We`ve all been there being the only one in the room. And that really hit me hard transcending just Hollywood.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and part of the reason to not be the only person in the room. I mean, you know, part of this, you know, sort of the voice but the other thing is, we don`t all agree with each other. So, I have a very diverse staff except for there aren`t very men. But wait, a ton, you know, vast majority of women, lots of women of color and they disagree. I mean sometimes like it gets real around the disagreement but that`s part of what we hope brings whatever value we have in the show.
MOODIE-MILLS: That`s what makes television and movies exciting. And so, you go back to the Box Office and you`re saying like, oh, well these films, these shows, they actually bring in money. The perfect guy which stars and – you know, Michael Ealy, they won the Box Office last weekend.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, I mean, they had –
MOODIE-MILLS: I mean, right –
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, they won the Box Office. I mean, did anyone even say words in that movie? I mean, who cares! Who cares!
MOODIE-MILLS: But they won. “The Best Man Holiday” win at the Box Office. So, it is this idea that why don`t networks want to invest in us and our stories? And why aren`t we holding them accountable? And why aren`t we saying, you know, here`s the thing? You`re writing room could look like “Empire” and what would those stories create and how amazing would that be that it actually looks like America. I don`t understand their logic especially when it comes to money. And we know that black people, Latino people, LGBT people combined are like a $3 trillion, like spending group.
MOODIE-MILLS: So, why wouldn`t she want to show us what we want to see?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. When we come back we`re going to talk about one space where the front and the back, all that, is all the black women.
Up next, the return of Shonda.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last year when screenwriter, director, producer and all-around boss Shonda Rimes added a third show to her production companies list of creations, the world couldn`t stop buzzing about her Thursday night primetime TV takeover. And this week, she`s bringing back #TGIT, right back to our televisions and Twitter accounts, to celebrate entertainments weekly unveiled this exclusive shot of the 33 series regulars from “Grey`s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” And this photo has Nerdland pumped about Thursday nights.
Not just because were fans of the white coats, the white hats or the dramatic courtroom scenes, but because when it comes to diversity and quality television, who does it better than the Phenom behind the production company that owns Thursday nights. Shonda Rhimes. So, Shonda is like, is it different creature altogether because of her dominance behind, and you know, we were just sort of looking at these numbers that when there`s a woman who is a creator of the show, the percentage of women writers is almost 50 percent. But if it`s not a woman creator, you`re down to 50, like it actually matters to have someone like Shonda in this place.
CANE: Well, I feel like we`re in a television renaissance right now. And not just because there are black shows on television but it`s the way these characters are created. Characters of color. They are complex, they are diverse, they are not just tropes and they are not being bogged down by positive representation. You have to be a certain kind of way. Olivia Pope is with the president.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, she is gorgeous and fly and brilliant but also –
HARRIS-PERRY: – pop it crazy!
CANE: Exactly. I mean, look at Annalise Keating. Sometimes you think she`s the murderer. Look at Cookie lyon, she`s the ride-or-die chick. So, the fact that we have these nuance characters that are just diverse that just – it`s beyond just the front end and the back end.
CANE: It is the characters there. They actually represent blackness as well. Their blackness is not invisible.
MOODIE-MILLS: It is, I`m like I totally agree. But it is – it`s so incredibly diverse and there is so much depth. But we don`t have to be perfect anymore.
MOODIE-MILLS: We don`t have to be perfect and we still get nominated. Like they are still nominated tonight, and they are sleeping around and they are talking trash and they`re doing all these things. That like, they get to be full and complete human beings and a little bit, you know, faulted and flawed like we all are. And I think that that`s amazing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I think they are faulted and flawed not like all of us are. I think what happened –
MOODIE-MILLS: You`re right.
HARRIS-PERRY: – is actually different, like at a certain point, what happens in Olivia Pope`s world is not at all like what happens – but that feels to me like actually part of the story here is that these stories and images are a little bit supersized in a way that allow us to enjoy them and enjoy even the racialized engendered pieces without it feeling like we`re being preached to. There`s no like message in each episode.
SEPINWALL: No, I mean, Shonda is really reluctant to talk about issues of representation. Because she`s like, I`m a storyteller, I`m an entertainer. And the fact that she has these incredibly diverse casts, that is about a good story and, you know, and the characters when they are black allowed to own their blackness but they are not defined solely by that. And the fact that there are so many people different people from different backgrounds means that no one of them has to stand in as the representation for everyone. So, you can have Olivia be this complex and you can have her father be a supervillain and you can have cookie, you know, dress the way she does but also be kind of the heroine of the show. You can do all of that when you have diversity. It`s good storytelling sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And in addition to that, it also feels to me like it`s – we`re talking about viewership and ratings. But the other thing is Shonda Rhimes taps into that other space that has overrepresentation of people of color. And that is the life tweeting piece. So, I have a post-op this year. Sherri Williams – Williams at Wake Forrest. She`s writing about like this simultaneous experience of watching it but also social mediaing it and the way that generates this kind of very different way of engaging this show certainly.
CANE: Oh, go ahead.
MOODIE-MILLS: It just – it blows up television. It makes it fun again. That`s part of the renaissance that you`re talking about is like, yes, we get to see people of color on TV but we also get to be part of that experience. It`s not just waiting until the next day and talking about it around the water cooler. And like, we can be talking to Shonda who has retweeted people and you know, you lose your mind. You`re like, oh my God, you`re watching it with us and we get to tell you like X, Y and Z.
HARRIS-PERRY: – DVR TGIT because I need to watch it then, at that moment.
CANE: You want to experience it with the world.
CANE: You know, we want to have this journey with everybody. I don`t think “Scandal” could have happened ten years ago. I don`t think “Empire” could have happen ten years ago. And what`s interesting is that the other shows, “Modern Family,” “Mad Men,” they don`t trend on social media every week. You noticed that? It`s “Empire,” it`s “Scandal, it`s “Murder.” These are the shows that are trending. These are the show that people were talking about. So, it`s that intersection of art and of media that Shonda land just knocks out of the park.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to just go back, it`s also I think in part because they`re so much bigger than life. I mean, part of the mad men is it`s this representation of this American moment that was troubling and allows us to think about it and it`s conflict. But those things could and even did happen. Like I don`t know, I mean, maybe daddy Pope really exists in the real world.
MOODIE-MILLS: He does.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes, you know his name or hers.
MOODIE-MILLS: No, I think it`s her.
HARRIS-PERRY: But like, there is this thing. I think in part because it is so big. You know, we can say, oh, Olivia Girl, don`t trust him. Like, there`s a bigger thing here.
SEPINWALL: No, I mean, Shonda has a real good sense for these big moments for the time when for instance Annalise is going to take off her wig and asked her husband about the picture on his phone like, she is this great entertainer. And she came into the TV business kind of through the side door.
SEPINWALL: You know, she didn`t work her way up. She wasn`t on staff on a lot of other shows. She`d written a couple of movie scripts and she was hired to create this. And has now built this empire with all of these other writers who now have a chance like – to get away with murder, to create their own shows.
HARRIS-PERRY: Any predictions for tonight?
SEPINWALL: I want to say Taraji, but I fear it`s going to be like Robin Wright.
MOODIE-MILLS: Oh, no!
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, not that I don`t love her in that role. I mean, that just gave me feelings.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, but no, okay, all right. Robin Wright. Yes.
CANE: I would love Viola to get it. I think it`s going to be Taraji. But, you know, what, even if it isn`t Taraji, we`ve already won. She`s already won. We don`t need the Emmys to validate Taraji or Viola.
MOODIE-MILLS: Taraji, I`m going for it. I`m going to wear full cheetah leopard. I`m going full animal for this.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have one more political question for you here, Danielle. Do you think, you know, are we – we started the show and I asked senior adviser Valerie Jarrett why impart President Obama decided to go full intersection to talk about black women. And I wonder if it`s impart because Shonda has demonstrated that Sistah (ph) is right.
MOODIE-MILLS: Yes. I think that she has demonstrated a lot. But he also lives with like the most bomb black woman on the planet who is just –
HARRIS-PERRY: Exact right.
MOODIE-MILLS: – she is the living embodiment of just fierceness.
HARRIS-PERRY: The First Lady is boss. That is our conclusion for today.
Thank you to Clay Cane and to Allan Sepinwall and to Dannielle Moodie-Mills. And that`s our show for today. Check out Danielle`s Instagram for her full cheetah outfits for the Emmys. Come back next weekend. Because there will be live coverage of the Pope`s visit to America. Stay tuned to MSNBC for the latest.
And coming up, “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.