Host Farai Chideya asks Virginia gubernatorial candidate Princess Blanding about running on a third-party ticket and how her platform is diverse and inclusive. Our Body Politic public health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi covers everything we need to know about vaccines, and not only against Covid-19. Two sisters in the Bay Area share the story behind starting the Afghan Clinic, which serves the health needs of fellow Afghans. And on Sippin’ the Political Tea, Casey Mendoza of Newsy and Karen Attiah of the Washington Post, two contributors on the show, join Farai to examine what the Dave Chappelle controversy says about free speech, stan culture, and the importance of nuanced and fearless cultural critics, especially in communities of color.
0:47 Third-party candidate Princess Blanding on her run to be Virginia’s Governor
11:59 Dr. Kavita Trivedi updates us on all news related to vaccines
21:18 Two public health professionals launch the Afghan Clinic to uplift their community’s health needs
30:56 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Our Body Politic contributors Casey Mendoza and Karen Attiah dissect the controversy around Dave Chappelle
Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. We're always so grateful to you for your support. Every time you leave a review on Apple Podcast, we get important feedback about our show and it helps other listeners find us. So after you listen today, consider leaving us one. As always, thanks so much.
This is Our Body Politic, I’m the creator and host Farai Chideya. On the show today, we examine the public health challenge of serving Afghan refugees and we ask our public health contributor to update us on all things vaccines.
My next guest is a Black woman who's challenging her choices in the two-party system by seeking office. Princess Blanding is running in Virginia's race for governor as a Liberation Party candidate. She's also the first Black woman to be on this specific ballot. Her opponents are Democratic candidate and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, a businessman and former CEO of private equity firm, the Carlyle Group. Princess Blanding is an educator, a science teacher, and founded a community organization for police reform called Justice and Reformation with her family. After her brother was shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis in 2018. She joins me now to tell me more about her run for governor and how she defines her own political position in this race and in broader US politics. Welcome, Princess.
Thank you so much for having me.
Chideya: We appreciate you making time and I'm going to just jump right in with the story about your brother, Marcus David Peters, who was shot and killed by the Richmond police in 2018. He was unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis. So how did that tragedy affect your engagement in politics?
Blanding: Absolutely. So yes, Marcus David Peters was my brother and he was a teacher at Essex High School where I served as a school administrator. So my brother taught a full day of high school biology, headed towards his home in Henrico, and as you stated, he had his very first mental health crisis. And while my brother was unarmed, completely under duress experience in that mental health crisis, he was murdered by a Richmond police officer. And posted the unjust murder of my brother, myself, family members in a large support base in Richmond. We pleaded with our legislators that, "Look, we can't bring Marcus back," but we begged them to enact legislation, to put community here in safety first and to enact legislation that called on mental health professionals to be the first responders to a confirmed or suspected mental health crisis and not police officers who bring the tools that they intend to use. Essentially what we got was disrespect. The legislators did not pay us any mind as we testified before city council and eventually general assembly. It wasn't until the unjust murder of George Floyd, that out of fear, due to us uniting and mobilizing over 100 days in Richmond, legislators reached out to me and said, "Hey, now we want to work with you."
Chideya: And some people would say that you won because Governor Northam did sign a Marcus Alert into effect in 2020. How do you feel about that?
Blanding: It was no win. It was no win. It was no victory at all. We had to fight to get my brother's name on there, but even past his name, the Marcus Alert bill was weakened and watered down so much so that it's ineffective. In Virginia, the Democratic Party is a majority in the House, Senate, and we have a Democratic governor. However, they weakened and watered down the legislation that the people had been fighting for to make it seem as if we got something, but essentially it was very empty. As governor, I will amend the Marcus Alert bill to make it the life saving bill that we intended for it to be.
Chideya: So you're running as a Liberation Party candidate in Virginia, where there's a powerful set of major party candidates. So first of all, just in a sentence or two, what does the party stand for and why did you decide to run for governor?
Blanding: As a Liberation Party candidate, which I'm the chair of, we believe very strongly that liberation must be treated as a human right, not a privilege for all Virginians. Everyone deserves healthy foods, access to housing, Medicare for all, as that meets just our basic needs for survival. All of our legislation is based heavily on the foundation of equity and humanity. I decided to run for governor due to the continuous failures of the duopoly, especially the Democratic Party who has historically to taken advantage of the votes of the working class of Black and brown community members of our most marginalized community members. I made the final decision that we can no longer continue to beg our oppressors to be our saviors because they will not.
Chideya: Some people would say that you are endangering the chances of the Democratic Party. There was some polling from USA today, Suffolk University that has McAuliffe and Youngkin tied at 45% and shows you at 2%. So if Youngkin, who's the Republican candidate does win, what impact will that have on Virginia and how will you feel about your role in it?
Blanding: Well, the Democratic Party is endangering theirselves and more importantly, they have been endangering the people. When you talk about Poland, most of the polls, 90% of them don't even include my name in them. And they tag my name next to other candidate. I have countless community members who have reached out to me the most recent one saying that one of the surveys that came out did list my name, but they had to select my name three times for it to process it. Then the immediate question after was, "Are you sure you're undecided?" Okay? Everyone's fall into the same propaganda. Everyone's saying the same thing. And that's how you know it's brainwashing. Princess will be considered a spoiler. A vote for Princess is a vote for Youngkin. No. A vote for Princess is a vote for Princess and a mass mobilization to the poll for Princess equals a win for all of us. If the Democratic Party is scared, which they absolutely should be, then tell Terry to step down and they throw their support behind me. They're bringing in all of these big celebrities, Obama, Stacey Abrams, VP Harris, Jill Biden, now Pharrell to convince and try to persuade the vote, especially the Black vote in the votes of the marginalized communities. If you have to do all of that, then clearly you don't have a strong candidate.
Chideya: Now, you had a viral moment where you interrupted McAuliffe and Youngkin at their debate in late September. How did you make the decision to do that and what else have you been doing to show up in spaces where maybe you were not invited?
Blanding: Right. Well, my campaign reached out to the Nova Chamber of Commerce who hosted that last debate and requested that I be provided with the same materials to prep so that I can participate. We were told that I would not be allowed to participate in the debate even though I met the requirements to be on a ballot. We were told that only Democrats and Republicans are able to participate in the debate. However, they would allow me to come and sit and watch the debate and meet with the media afterwards. To me, that translated, and it felt like, "woman, you have paid your fare to get on a bus like everybody else. So you can get on a bus, but you're going to sit to the back of the bus." I did not take that lightly at all. So I went and I sat and I clapped when Terry came out. I clapped when Youngkin came out. But when the time was right, I made the decision, as I stated earlier, that we will not beg our oppressors to be our saviors because they won't. So we are going to start taking what we rightfully deserve. So I stood up and I made my voice heard. I have been making loops around the entire state, spreading the word very directly to community members. And the more people that find out the more angry they are, because they see what I don't even need to tell them that this is a form of voter suppression, and they see the hypocrisy, they see the political games and they feel that the duopoly does not have the right to filter their choices. That is not democracy. I'm going to say one last thing. Black people, working class people who know Virginians owe the Democratic Party or the Republican Party our votes. It is their job to earn it. And they are very easily with their political games, making it easy for me to earn the support of community members across the Commonwealth from all intersections.
Chideya: There's something that's on the ballot that's not on the ballot. And what I mean by that is one of those issues that has taken over so much of politics, critical race theory. CRT is being used as a political football. Youngkin is promising to ban it in Virginia on his first day of office. McAuliffe says it's not taught in Virginia, so he doesn't want to "spend time on it". Now, you are a former assistant principal and a current science teacher. Why do you think CRT, critical race theory is kind of a shadow figure or not even a shadow figure, just a figure in this election?
Blanding: Yeah. It is so easy for us to ignore things that we are not willing to face. As an educator, a former school administrator, for one, I'm going to say, it's not actively being taught in our schools. Should it be? Absolutely. Systemic racism is woven into the fibers of our existence. So how can we move forward if we do not make sure that we are learning from our past? And those who are so against it, okay, those are the same ones that are perpetuating the same systemic racism, but they're able to stay safe in their privilege. And that is something that we have to address because it does not ensure liberty and justice for all. Only for some.
Chideya: Your website describes you as a single LGBTQIA plus mother with roots in the rural working class. There's been a lot of debate over how Black folks and also Latinos view, LGBTQIA plus brothers and sisters. Why did you feel important to say that? And do you think it affects how you relate to Black Americans?
Blanding: Well, it's a part of who I am and I'm very unapologetic about it. As an educator, and I just had the opportunity to go to Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and some of the questions that came our way were about protections for our trans students, for our children who are part of the LGBTQIA plus community. They're under attack right now. Adults are bullying our babies. No one's doing anything about it. So it is very important to me to make it very known that I am a part of this community and that I will as governor fight for equal opportunities and protections for our LGBTQIA plus community members.
Chideya: Well, that's a great place for us to leave it. And thank you so much for spending time with us in your final ramp up to the election day.
Blanding: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Chideya: That was Princess Blanding. She's the Liberation Party candidate in Tuesday's gubernatorial race in Virginia. I'm pleased to welcome back our regular public health contributor, Dr. Kavita Trivedi to go through everything we need to know today about vaccines. Hi, Dr. Trivedi.
Dr. Kavita Trivedi:
Chideya: So let's do a vaccine roundup. Not just COVID, but other things. So first the flu. I got to get my flu shot. What do you have to say to people who are tired of being reminded to get the flu shot?
Trivedi: Right. Well, last year in the US, we essentially extinguished influenza because of all the protective measures that we had in place for COVID. We really only had around 2,000 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza last year, and there were only 748 flu related deaths. That's a huge difference from the rates of the 2019, 2020 flu season, where we had 35 million flu related illnesses, 380,000 flu related hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths. But now that we're interacting with each other more frequently than last year, we're seeing all the respiratory viruses come back into circulation. So we're really concerned for our healthcare systems and being able to manage potentially a surge in COVID and then having flu on top of that. We haven't experienced that yet. And then I think the other thing to note is that, of course, the symptoms of COVID looks so similar to flu. So the bottom line is for anyone six months and older, this year definitely get your flu shot.
Chideya: Yeah. Now, let's move on to COVID boosters. Should everyone over 65 or people who have compromised immune systems be trying to get booster shots and what's the deal with mix and match?
Trivedi: Right. So great question. So the data indicates that people who are immunosuppressed or over the age of 65 or over the age of 50 with an underlying medical conditions, should get a third dose of vaccine. People who are 18 to 49 with an underlying medical condition can consider getting a third dose of vaccine. So that is what is currently recommended. And if you fall in that 18 to 49-year-old category, you can discuss it with your primary care physician. Now, in terms of mixing and matching, it is completely reasonable to mix and match, and there is data now to support this. In fact, it may be beneficial for someone who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to get a dose of mRNA as their additional dose.
Chideya: So what do you think is the most important thing we should understand, or that maybe we're even getting wrong about what COVID boosters are and aren't?
Trivedi: So there's no compelling data that a booster is necessary for those under 45 with no underlying medical conditions and who are not in high risk occupational exposures. So for example, I only see patients via telemedicine and I'm under 49. So I haven't felt compelled to get a third dose yet. The other consideration, I think that hasn't been highlighted is that if you live with someone who is high risk, someone who's over 50 with an underlying medical condition, or over 65, then you might consider getting a booster yourself to help decrease the risk of COVID in the household.
Chideya: Now here's one to stump the doctor or not. I have something called an Excelsior pass. It's a digital vaccine passport that they use in New York, and some other places have accepted it when I've shown that to them. So I'm planning to get a booster. I'm going to get a different booster than my original shot. My vaccine passport expires a year from when I got vaccinated. So it's March 2022. I got vaccinated in March 2021. Do these systems update?
Trivedi: So this is a really important point. For now, you are considered fully vaccinated after two doses of mRNA or one dose of J&J. So the booster has nothing to do with, if you're considered fully vaccinated. I don't believe it's necessary for them to acknowledge a booster as of yet. If that is necessary, we hope that the electronic databases that have been set up can communicate with the vaccine administrators in a way to acknowledge the additional doses. But for now, people need to understand that all of these passes are based on the definition of fully vaccinated.
Chideya: Got it. Now, let's stick with the vaccines and focus a little bit more on older Americans. The CDC is recommending that everyone over 50, get the shingles vaccine. I am over 50 and my friends and I from college are all like in our early 50s at this point. I have heard some of them got laid out by the shingles vaccine. I'm still planning to get it, but I'm building in a mini-vaccine holiday because my I have other friends who've gotten shingles, and boy, does that sound horrible. Can you explain what shingles is and why there's now a vaccine recommended for people over 50?
Trivedi: So shingles is kind of a reactivation of the chicken pox virus in your body. And in the US, one in three people will get shingles usually after the age of 50. So since the risk rises, half of those who live to be 85 will experience at least one episode of shingles. And as you correctly stated, shingles can be really devastating. The most common symptom is this angry blistering rash that usually happens on just one side of your body. 10 to 18% of people who develop the rash will also experience something called post-herpetic neuralgia. And I'm not sure if you know of anybody who had that, but that's a condition that affects the nerve fibers and skin, causes burning, and sometimes incapacitating pain that can last for months or even years after the rash disappears. So Shingrix is 97% successful at preventing shingles. That's the vaccine that's been available since 2017 in people in their 50s and 60s. 91% for those in their 70s and older than that. But as you rightly stated, the cons of getting this vaccine are that it is moderately reactogenic meaning that you can get a fever along with pain and swelling at the injection site. The other problem with Shingrix is it also may be expensive, but we would highly recommend that people get it after the age of 50. So yeah, I recommend you going on that vaccine holiday and getting it so that you hopefully don't have to deal with shingles later in your life.
Chideya: And I will say that when I got the COVID vaccine, some people were laid out. I was not. Moving down in the population age, COVID was the number one cause of death among people 35 to 54 last month. And that's mostly because of unvaccinated people. I've been seeing a wide variety of people who used to be anti-vax slowly converting because they had a breakthrough infection or someone they know died. But 35 to 54, woo, that was shocking to me. I mean, what are you as a public health professional thinking is a way to address some of the societal and sociological factors that are leading people still not to get vaccinated?
Trivedi: Yeah. The most important thing that we can do is to prevent infection and thereby prevent transmission, right? So the more infections we prevent in our communities, the less transmission of the virus they will be. And the number one way to prevent infections is to get vaccinated. So our public health departments are putting so much effort into getting the unvaccinated, vaccinated, and they're trying to do it going door to door, making it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated. Of course, this means so many conversations with people that are hesitant, but beyond getting vaccinated, we must continue to frequently wash our hands to prevent transmission of all different infections, wearing a mask if you're ill, or if you're an indoor space with potentially many unvaccinated people and to avoid high congregate indoor settings, particularly in areas that have a high case rate.
Chideya: So much to go into and we're going to have to leave it here for now, but I'm always grateful to talk to you, Dr. Trivedi. Appreciate you coming on again.
Trivedi: Thanks so much, Farai. It's great to be on again.
Chideya: That was Dr. Kavita Trivedi, Our Body Politics public health contributor. My next guest also work in public health in the Bay Area. Nilufar Kayhani and Nazineen Kandahari are two sisters. Nilufar is an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Nazineen is a researcher in med school. And together they founded the Afghan Clinic. It's an online space for Afghans to get health education materials, attend webinars, and get help navigating their health in the US. I'm pleased to welcome them both to Our Body Politic. Nilufar, welcome.
Nilufar Kayhani: Thank you for having us.
Chideya: And Nazineen, welcome.
Nazineen Kandahari: It's a pleasure to be here, Farai.
Chideya: Before I go to Nilufar, can you tell me just briefly about your family's journey to the US? When did your parents come, et cetera, and just the basics?
Kandahari: Sure. So both of my parents are from Afghanistan in the city of Herat and they actually both separately sought refuge in Iran, which is just next door and got married there, which is where I was born as well as my two older brothers. But like many Afghans, they weren't treated well there. They weren't allowed to go to school. They weren't allowed to work or own property. I wasn't even given a birth certificate because I was Afghan. So we came to the United States when I was about four years old and applied for asylum here. And that journey took a little bit of a while, but here we are.
Chideya: Yeah. And here we are with Nilufar who is your talented sister. Both of you working in health. Were you born here in the US?
Kayhani: I was. I was born, shortly after they immigrated here in 2001. I was the first citizen of the family and I remember when we were all applying for citizenship. They would always comment that I was the lucky one for not having to wait 15 years to get some recognition of my American identity.
Chideya: And how did you get interested, Nilufar in health? Was it because of your older sister or just in general?
Kayhani: My older sister had a lot to do with it. Besides that, since I was young, I knew I had interest in the health fields and it was largely informed by the experiences I had as my parents' health advocate. I have distinct memories of when my dad was diagnosed with diabetes and having to go home and research what that means, so I could explain it to him, and researching the different medications, so we could come up with the questions you want to ask his physician. It was experiences like that as kid that I had these epiphanies, where I was like other people don't have to do this and don't have to rely on their children to make these healthcare decisions. It is the job of the healthcare practitioners to educate us and have us involved in every step of that process and allow us to have confident health-making decisions.
Kandahari: We were talking about the concept of informed consent for someone to truly know the risks, the benefits, the alternatives, why they're saying yes to something or no to something. So if my dad automatically by default said no to the diabetes medications, it's someone's job to see why? Why is he saying no? Is he saying no because he truly knows the risk, benefits and alternatives, and what comes with that? Which is why we focus a lot of Afghani clinic work on health education. It's for people to feel empowered, to make the decisions that are best for them.
Chideya: So Nazineen, tell us about the concept of Sofreh, which you mentioned on the website.
Kandahari: So growing up, my mom would take me to these gatherings that were created by women for women. It was a very sacred space and they were called Sofreh Nazar is what you say. And these gatherings were really quite a sacred space, especially, I think, in a culture that is otherwise misogynistic in many ways, and can be oppressive to women, especially. Women gather. They eat ceremonial foods. They pray. At every Sofreh, other women pray and when their prayer comes true, then they have to host to the next one. So there's an aspect of sustainability already built into it. And this was also all inspired because my mom was praying for me to get into my dream medical school. So when did she had to host a Sofreh? All of this came from that. So I was thinking there's so many health benefits to spirituality and to promoting that, which happens at Sofreh gatherings. There's so many health benefits to promoting social networking and social support. How great would it be if we had Sofrehs where the newly arrived refugees and those who have been here for a while can converse and make friends and teach each other the ropes of living in the United States. And like maybe at every session, I would be there with another Dari-speaking health professional and we could teach about a health topic in a forum that already has so many beautiful strengths to it. And that's what I meant about uplifting the strengths of these marginalized patient populations. Why do we have to focus on their deficits of them being not educated or whatever other deficits the healthcare institution tries to focus on as the reason for their worst health outcomes. So I got funding through a few different fellowships to go ahead and create this beautiful public health intervention that I had dreamt up with my mom and sister. And then COVID happened. So we weren't able to host any Sofrehs yet, but it is our goal and plan to and also just to explain in Dari, salamati means health. So the name was Sofreh Salamati.
Chideya: Nilufar, I think a lot of what your sister was talking about is there's stuff that's very specific to Afghan culture, but it's also about... I was talking to a friend of mine who's another storyteller in a different forum about how the loss of the original culture is like an existential storyline for people all over the world. We have always moved, migrated, changed languages, sometimes over tens of thousands of years, sometimes over one generation. It seems to me that part of what you're doing is taking health and reconnecting the older and the newer narratives. What does that feel like?
Kayhani: I think in all of us, a big kind of value is cultural humility and allowing people to educate us about who they are. We can't make any assumptions of what their background is or what they want their lives in America to be like. One big factor in Afghan Clinic is also there is no definition of what is right or what is wrong here and what good health or bad health is. We just want to nurture a safe environment for people to explore and express themselves and live their best and healthiest lives. Nazineen, do you want to add anything?
Kandahari: I myself identify, like I said, as an Afghan refugee woman, as an Afghan-American. There is no universal way of being Afghan. And that's why I think the concept of cultural humility is so beautiful. I learned that acutely because I grew up at this intersection of having to define myself between two clear cultures, the American and the Afghan. I knew pretty early on that who was I to decide what right and wrong is. There's diverse ways of being and believing in things. So I think healthcare practitioners must carry themselves with cultural humility in order to care for Afghan patients properly.
Chideya: So how do you take care of yourself? I'm going to ask both of you that, but Nazineen how do you take care of yourself so that you can do this work for other people?
Kandahari: First, I will say this project has truly been a labor of love. Probably the first time you even get to use that phrase for myself. It's the first time I brought my Afghan and American worlds together. For the majority of the time, it didn't even feel like work. It felt like I was growing my own sisterhood. In fact, many of our participants at the end of the interviews would call me [foreign language 00:30:16] which means the little sister. Sometimes they would call me after just randomly just to see how I was doing in school. They would say things like, "I don't have an education. I can't help you in school, but I can make a good Afghan meal and I can send that to you, so you can focus on studying." I love that we built that connection together. So I'd say this work truly has been nurturing my heart, and it feels really good to put to use the privileges and the skills that I've worked really hard to attain as a medical student, as a public health professional. And to use that, to address the challenges, the very challenges that I experience as an Afghan refugee.
Chideya: That's a lot of really beautiful things. Nilufar, what sustains you and fills your well so you can do this work, and what do you think you've gotten from it?
Kayhani: The one thing really keeping me going in all of this, I will say it's been exhausting being a full-time student and having to deal with all of this and seeing the news every day. I think the thing keeping me going is that I am gaining the skills and the knowledge to really be able to do the work that I want to do in the future. So I always am reminding myself like I'm here to learn and better myself so I can be a better public health practitioner and researcher one day.
Chideya: Nazineen and Nilufar, thank you both so much for joining us.
Kandahari: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to be here.
Kayhani: Thank you for having us.
Chideya: That was Nilufar Kayhani and Nazineen Kandahari, founders of the Afghan Clinic. You can support their work by going to afghanclinic.com. This week on Sippin the Political Tea, I'm joined Our Body Politic business of entertainment contributor, Casey Mendoza. She's a pop culture reporter with Newsy. Welcome back to Our Body Politic, Casey.
Casey Mendoza: Hi, Farai.
Chideya: And I'm joined by Our Body Politic contributing columnist, Karen Attiah, also a columnist for the Washington Post. Her work focuses on race, international affairs, culture and human rights. Welcome back, Karen.
Karen Attiah: Hey, Farai, good to be back.
Chideya: Sometimes we do these thematic episodes and I always learn so much. Usually we are rushing through the week's news and this time we are going to go deep into culture. So let's jump right in with the news on Dave Chappelle's comedy special on Netflix. Here's a clip from NBC News about the comedian's remarks about gender.
NBC Newscaster: Tonight, comedian, Dave Chappelle, once again at the center of a swirling controversy.
Dave Chappelle: Oh buddy, I'm in trouble now.
NBC Newscaster: The polarizing standup drawing swift backlash for jokes at his latest special, The Closer.
Dave Chappelle: Gender is a fact. This is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on earth had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth.
NBC Newscaster: Critic's characterizing the remarks as transphobic and slamming Netflix for airing them.
Chideya: So Casey, this story has had staying power. It's been in the news for weeks now. Can you catch us up briefly on what's been going on?
Mendoza: Yeah, of course. On the side of Netflix, co-CEO, Ted Sarandos admitted he, quote, screwed up and should have better supported his LGBTQ employees. But he also said he still supports Dave Chappelle and The Closer. And beyond Sarandos, Netflix stars like Elliot Page and Hannah Gadsby have spoken out against the standup special. Employees organized a walkout. And then outside of Netflix, of course the discourse has continued for weeks on Twitter and Instagram and wherever people are talking about it.
Chideya: Karen, what popped into your mind as you saw things play out?
Attiah: I see this as a form of in some ways the backlash to the visibility, increased visibility of the trans community. So I used to think Dave Chappelle was funny. I used to grow up listening to his specials. All of this was just whack, honestly, considering what trans people are going through. Abductions, killings. It's just not funny.
Chideya: Netflix and some comedians like Damon Wayans wasted no time defending Chappelle's jokes as artistic freedom. Damon Wayans refers to comedians as slaves to PC culture and that Chappelle freed them. So Casey, is this a free speech question?
Mendoza: When it comes to the question of free speech, we need to remember the fact that no one is taking a platform away from Dave Chappelle, right? The Closer is still on Netflix if anyone wants to watch it. And Netflix as a media company has always known that. Again, when it comes back to free speech, people have the freedom to respond, to criticize. A couple years ago, I actually interviewed comedian, Pete Holmes about this very topic about comedy and the so called PC culture, outrage culture and freedom of speech. He told me that he doesn't think people are actually more offended now, but it's just that everybody has now more opportunities to respond. Everybody has a voice now and companies like Netflix, comedians like Dave Chappelle, they're just in a way getting more feedback. But again, they're not getting their platforms or their content taken away.
Chideya: Yeah. Karen, as someone who assiduously covers politics, but also will write about Beyonce and does it all, how do you see the spectrum of what free speech actually is, what people think it is, and then also just looking at both politics and pop culture as a spectrum?
Attiah: I mean, it's undeniable like Casey mentioned. It's undeniable we do have more speech. We have more voices and the traditional gatekeepers of whose opinion matters. Those gatekeepers are now less and less important. I think what we're facing is a lot of, frankly, status anxiety from the elites who've been used to controlling the discourse, what was acceptable and what was funny. I think about for instance former New York Times writer and editor, Bari Weiss who left the New York Times and became a conservative star in a way and went on CNN, I believe it was last week with Brian Stelter and just talked about how, "The left and networks like yours were censoring speech and not allowing certain things to be said." And Brian's face and all of our faces were like, "You're literally on CNN broadcasting to many people while talking about how CNN and networks like that never let you speak." This is also someone who has-
Chideya: I wish I had a steak for dinner says someone cutting into a steak.
Attiah: Correct, man. And also this is someone who has a Substack that has... We've all seen the reports reaching into the six or seven figures. You have a platform. The anxiety is clearly about something else, and I think that's true for entertainment. It's true for politics. The discourse is changing and this is a good thing.
Chideya: I want to broaden this a little bit to talk about some of the labor issues. So the Netflix employees staged a walk out, LGBTQ+ celebrities organized a public service announcement against Chappelle's special. When asked about Chappelle, Black trans activist Raquel Willis said, "There's this idea that you can just flatly equate gender and race and switch them out amongst these other conversations around who's the most oppressed. And it's actually a lot more complicated than that..." Including of course, many Black trans women and men, and trans non-binary people. So Casey, when you think about this in terms of the different groups of people responding, you have political organizers, you have the employees of Netflix itself, you have the public, what responsibility does the public have to speak out or is that just part of a bigger question?
Mendoza: When it comes to consuming art and entertainment, it's not a passive activity. It's meant to be engaged with. It's meant to be talked about. Sometimes praised or critiqued other times. But to answer your question about the responsibility that consumers have especially those from marginalized, disfranchised communities, we do have a responsibility to speak up when works of art puts our communities at harm. As someone who is an Asian-American woman, something people in the entertainment community have been talking about for the past year regarding the spike in violence against Asian-Americans is the importance of addressing Hollywood's racist depictions. Like, a joke that seems harmless could actually be very dehumanizing and that dehumanization fuels this aggression and violence against us. And as a reporter, but also as a consumer of entertainment, I do feel a responsibility to make sure that's addressed and acknowledged so it doesn't continue.
Chideya: All right. So this is all part of a larger question of what to do when celebrities that we love or admire say things that we find questionable or toxic. And not everything is at the same level of course. Going into the way back machine a little bit, Eddie Murphy used homophobic slurs to discuss AIDS in his breakout standup special Raw. Now that came out in 1987, but it's still available on Netflix today. Murphy made a public apology in 1996 and continues to apologize, but also that was not canceled. It's still available.
Chideya: Let's get back to Dave Chappelle though. I want to share a clip from my interview with author and culture critique, Zeba Blay. Here she is discussing Dave Chappelle.
Zeba Blay: It's easy for someone who already doesn't care about trans lives to be like, "Oh, what's the big deal," when you are not the one who's being directly affected by his words and by the harm that his words cause. It's possible to admire someone and critique them at the same time. I think critique is a very loving thing. Critique does not have to be canceling. It's a way to have a real dialogue and move the conversation forward.
Chideya: Casey, what do you take away from what Zeba had to say?
Mendoza: I really like Zeba's point about admiring someone and also being able to critique them. That's one of the things I've struggled with seeing on social media this idea that we're also reckoning with Stan Culture or this idea that fans put their faves on a platform. They defend their fault rather than critique or examine it. With Dave Chappelle, I think it is possible to recognize his career. He's one three Grammy's and three Emmy's for comedy. He's paved the way for a lot of other Black comedians. But at the same time, I think it is like Blay said, loving, to want better of the celebrities that you follow."
Chideya: Yeah. I mean, Karen, thinking about your piece about Beyoncé, that was a really amazing piece talking about how her promotion of diamonds... There's a reason that there's a phrase blood diamonds. The production of diamonds has not been and never probably will be pretty. And there are a lot of lives that get lost and there's a whole colonial history to it. Should we expect celebrities to not just weigh in on politics, but also to be at some standard of acknowledging these meta-narratives like colonialism in all of their work, which includes branding?
Attiah: Yeah. Honestly, I don't expect celebrities to be academic professors. I don't expect them to be researchers. I expect them for the most part they're entertaining us. And in some cases, sometimes they're entertaining us to distract us. That being said, I mean, the case of Beyoncé and back to Casey's point, which I feel like we don't talk enough about and how this is chilling critique in many ways is Stan Culture, is like, internet trolls. I have written and spoken about against like authoritarian governments. And I feel like I got more calls from concerned friends when I went against Beyoncé's Bey Hive. Not even against Beyoncé and her Bey Hive, but they were like, "Are you okay?" It's this worship, and vitriol and abuse, when you say anything that's remotely negative about certain celebrities, right? So in the case of the Beyoncé piece, in terms of critique, I mean, I look at Beyoncé as an artist who just last year produced an album "Black is King" and all of this African aesthetics celebrating the continent. So to turn around, it was like whiplash to see that not only was she wearing just a diamond, it was the Tiffany yellow diamond that was mined during a time that led to the foundations of apartheid in South Africa. How could you wear something like this? And not only that, but promote it as a symbol of like, "She's the first Black woman to wear this colonial diamond." I'm like, "Am I supposed to be impressed? Is that the aspiration? Oh my God. We're in the sunken place." I just was like we are lost that this is what progress looks like. Like celebrities and politics and particularly non-white celebrities and Black celebrities and this weird dance between social justice and capitalism, right? Like when Jay-Z partners with the NFL that is still black-balling Colin Kaepernick, I'm kind of over it. Let's critique art, but celebrity Stan Culture and worship is really, I think it's to all of our detriments, and I think that coupled with the fact that we do have a lack of non-white critics is a problem.
Chideya: Absolutely. So Karen, I want to switch gears a little bit more into that critical lane, what it means to critique Black artists. Here's author, professor, and MacArthur fellow, Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, discussing the topic with the root.
Dr. Tressie McM...: I think being a Black critic is about in a way that being a white critic is not. You are invested in the art. The art matters to you, even if you don't like it. Right? That's what our kinship ties mean. We want the art that comes from our people to be at least interesting. It doesn't always have to be good, but it has to be interesting and I think has to be faithful to Black people's lives and experiences in a way. I've always thought that's what distinguishes Black critics from white critics. We care.
Chideya: Well, I have a lot of different thoughts about this. So for example, I interviewed the artist, Kara Walker for NPR many years ago. And I went to a big exhibit she had at the closing Domino Sugar factory in New York. And I got a poster from that and a Black female colleague walked into my office and basically was like, this is what's wrong with Black people, you know, like the hyper sexualization, whatever. I love her art at, but I also understand why some people don't, but I'm curious, I'm going to start with you, Karen, what do you think of this idea of how to see the role of the critic in a cultural context even when you don't like the art?
Attiah: Yeah. I mean, I think very often, because we're in a white dominated, male dominated society, there is this instinct to want to promote and protect Black expression at all costs. It's like to critique is seen as you're airing our dirty laundry or something, or we're playing the white man's game by not standing together in all respects in all aspects. Even when I wrote the Beyoncé piece, I got push back on social media. It's like, "Of course, they're going to tear the Black women down and use Black women to do that." I'm like, no, it's precisely because I want better for our people than to be fed certain symbols that wearing a colonial diamond represents love. We deserve better. I think perhaps similar to what's going on with Dave Chappelle, it's like, "Oh, people are going after him because he's a Black man." I think it's like, "No, because we want better from our art."
Chideya: Absolutely. I want to wrap up here, Casey, there's always been so much more visibility to Black American culture in America until recently than Latinx culture and Asian-American culture. And as we see the lane widen, how do you also view this question of criticism through the lens of the evolution of the visibility of Asian-American, and Latin X, and indigenous, and Native American arts?
Mendoza: One thing I've been reckoning with is that there are limits to representation sometimes. It's not enough that we have people of color on screen. We need to be able to push artists of color to tell stories authentically, to be able to intersectional when they tell their stories. Again, as an Asian-American woman, I struggle with supporting movies like Shang-Chi or movies like Minari or recently a movie called Blue Bayou. But I think it's personally important that Asian critics recognize how, for example, actors like Awkwafina have used a so-called Blaccent or African-American vernacular English as a means to culturally appropriate Black culture. Or we talked about Netflix's Selena series and its failures in portraying the late singer. At the time it was touted as a major moment for representation. So there is this expectation from both white audiences and LatinX audiences that critics of color praise that art just because it is very diverse. It is very representative. But the issue there is that it shouldn't mean critics are going to ignore or gloss over the way that the series isn't up to par, I guess.
Chideya: Well, you know what? I'm going to have to leave it there. Thanks again, Karen and Casey.
Attiah: Thanks so much.
Mendoza: Thanks so much.
Chideya: That was Our Body Politic contributor, Karen Attiah who's a contributing columnist at the Washington Post and Our Body Politic business of entertainment contributor, Casey Mendoza of Newsy.
Chideya: Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior editor is Veralyn Williams. Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure are our senior producers. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our political booker is Bridget McAllister. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nakano, and Natyna Bean. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath and J.J. Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.
Chideya, Farai, host. “A Candidate in Virginia Challenges the Two-Party System, the Two Sisters Using Their Skills to Address Afghan Refugee Health, and Why Stan Culture Harms Us All.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. October 29, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/