Our Body Politic

December 4, 2020: Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall on being fully Black and fully blue, Covid’s impact on U.S education systems and students, and Filipinos fighting disinformation

Episode Notes

This week Farai Chideya talks to Dallas Chief of Police Reneé Hall about her career in law enforcement at a time of rising consciousness across the nation. Dr. Kavita Trivedi explains the intricacies of Covid testing and why it’s important to keep safety protocols in place. Reporter Ruth Umoh makes the connection between student debt and entrepreneurship, and Errin Haines gives us an update on the incoming stars of the Biden-Harris White House. Plus, a higher education leader on how students and colleges are coping during Covid, and searching for a shared history with author Morgan Jerkins.

EPISODE RUNDOWN

2:09 Dallas Chief of Police Reneé Hall talks about being a police officer for the majority of her career and explains why after three years as Chief, she is now stepping down. 

6:51 Chief Hall describes a series of “unimaginable events” in her resignation letter and explains how she coped with tumultuous times in law enforcement. 

8:16 During the onset of the George Floyd protests, Chief Hall received criticism for detaining protesters in Dallas. Chief Hall explains why she stands by her decision.  

13:18 Chief Hall reflects on the current racial reckoning and her place in it:,“So how can blue lives matter and Black lives not? And how can Black lives matter and blue lives not? I happen to be both.” 

15:29 Political contributor Errin Haines dives into the President-Elect’s incoming staff selections.

15:45 Recent news of a Georgia election official reaching his boiling point has put even more eyes on the status of Georgia’s election system.

17:07 Haines talks about how the upcoming Georgia senate election is a reflection of our democracy..

18:59 Vaccines, survival rates, and more, in our weekly Covid update.

20:19 Low income students are falling behind in their education as the pandemic forces schools to use a distance learning model. 

21:51 Dr. Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, talks about the changes in higher education due to Covid.

23:27 Dr. Perez explains that in some ways, higher education is more accessible than ever before, as the pandemic forces institutions to rethink their admissions process.

24:29 Funding for under-resourced schools, including K-12 schools, is needed right now, says Dr. Perez. 

26:35 Dr Kavita Trivedi says we shouldn’t rely on testing as  a means of preventing Covid infection.

28:39 Dr. Trivedi urges the public to continue sticking to CDC guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus. 

32:08 Ruth Umoh, Forbes magazine journalist, breaks down how student debt forgiveness could impact Black businesses. 

33:15 Umoh states that Black students are more likely to borrow money for higher education, and are more likely than their white counterparts to owe a majority of their initial loan balance 20 years later. 

36:30 Several tech companies gave shout-outs to Black owned businesses ahead of Black Friday, and Umoh says corporations can participate in the country’s racial reckoning in meaningful ways.

38:15 Leezel Tanglao of Tayo Help talks about the prevalence of disinformation among the Filipino community and how her group is combating it. 

40:16 Tanglao says there are cultural barriers that make it more difficult to help those who might be affected by Covid within the Filipino community. 

42:38 Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and Senior Editor for ZORA, and talks about her book “Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots.” 

44:18 Jerkins explains that she wrote the book to understand her ancestry, which she felt disconnected from as a Black American.

47:20 While exploring her roots, Jerkins discovered pieces of history that were never taught to her through her formal education. 

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya:

Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we’re new and creating the show with lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor: after you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcasts on your phone, tablet, laptop--or anywhere you listen--and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much.

This is Our Body Politic. I'm host and creator, Farai Chideya. Here at Our Body Politic, we're working on new and deeper ways of listening to you, making sure that you are heard. Whether we're talking about the tragedies of the pandemic or how unjust the economy can be, we don't sugarcoat reality. But we're also here to lift up ways to thrive, not just survive.

Telling our stories is one way that we thrive. The good, the bad and the ugly can all be transformative when we learn from each other. So this week on the show, I talked to a Black woman police chief about the unrest she's seen in her city and I go over the important political news and what it means for people of color with Errin Haines of The 19th. We also speak to our business contributor, Ruth Umoh, of Forbes about the role that corporations play in the country's racial reckoning.

Plus, COVID hits higher education hard and a conversation about the history of Black migration with author, Morgan Jerkins. We are so glad you're with us on this journey.

Crowd:

Say his name, George Floyd. George Floyd. George Floyd... 

Chideya:

After historic peaceful demonstrations in major cities across the US this summer, some question law enforcement's responses and several police chiefs were forced out or resigned. One of those resigning is Reneé Hall, an African-American who's the first ever female police chief in Dallas, Texas. In 2017, she inherited a police force reeling from a sniper killing of five of her officers the year before.

And in her second year as chief, she dealt with another tragedy. Here's a news clip from CNN.

CNN Newscast:

We have breaking news out of Dallas, Texas right now. A jury has just found a former Dallas police officer guilty on murder charges. Remember Amber Guyger, she was charged last year after shooting and killing her unarmed neighbor.

Chideya:

Chief Hall also served on the police force in her hometown of Detroit for nearly 19 years. We spoke while she was at her office in Dallas working on one of her last shifts as police chief. Welcome, Chief Hall.

Reneé Hall:

Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya:

So, you are a delta. You're obviously a daughter. You're a police chief. When you are with your friends and your family, how do you think that they perceive you? You have a lot of different things that you are. Who are you with your people?

Hall:

When I'm with my people, I'm Reneé. When I'm the chief of police, I'm Reneé. When I'm a Delta, I'm Reneé. I am a child of God, and I recognize that everything that has been given to me has been given through his grace. So I am always humble in that space, and always thankful for every opportunity that has been given to me, but I do recognize that it is all given. And what is given can also be taken, so none of this defines me. I am Reneé Hall each and every single day.

Chideya:

When you talk about what can be taken, I can't help but think about your father's story who was killed in the line of duty as a police officer when you were just a baby. How do you think of the contribution he made and how did it shape who you are?

Hall:

I had no desire to be the police. If you'd ask me, I was going to be a lawyer, but my grandmother used to say, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." And so, I just believe that my father's death, I was six months old when he was killed in the city of Detroit - I believe now, that there was unfinished work. And I believe that God put me in position to meet a graduate school professor who happened to be the chief of police in the city of Detroit, who actually took to me and mentored me and brought me to the Detroit Police Department, who said that this was absolutely the job I was supposed to have. And he told me sitting in a classroom, "You will be a police chief. I see it." And I just believe that that was my father living through me and me having to complete what he was not able to.

Chideya:

What's the thing you're most proud about from your tenure, which is coming to an end as you've decided to step away from this job? What is the thing you're most proud about?

Hall:

This job for me has always been about community, building relationships and bringing people together. And for as far back as I can remember, there has been tumultuous relationships between police departments and community.

And when I was in the city of Detroit, I was responsible for creating a community engagement program, uh, that all new recruits who came out of the Academy had to, uh, spend one week in the community, feeding the homeless, uh, visiting with seniors. Uh, you know, they, the reintegrated individuals from prison spend an eight hour day with them getting to know them together.  So I can guarantee you those officers. Now, when they come in contact with an individual who has a criminal past, you take that individual for who they are and what is happening in the moment.

And here in the city of Dallas, a place that has a history of racial divide and segregation. When I arrived here, there was community groups and activists of all races, nationalities, 

 who had tumultuous relationships with the police department. And they had been trying for 40 years to get an oversight board, someone who could put a checks and balances in place for the police department.  And it was under my leadership because as a police chief, if I was not supportive of it, I do not believe that it would have moved forward, but I was very supportive of an oversight board, had grew up with one in the city of Detroit.

And so we were able to get a unanimous vote from council to have an oversight board. And so I'm very proud of that to say that that is a milestone.

Chideya:

In your resignation letter, you talked about a series of unimaginable events that happened in Dallas. How do you make sense of this time in your life?

Hall:

When I look at the Bible, when I read the Bible, I think about Esther. And in Esther, Mordecai told her that she was called for such a time as this. And so this has been a very tumultuous year. When I arrived, what was very trying and very tough was the fact that the officers here in the city of Dallas had been through one of the most horrific times in their lives. Five officers, four from Dallas and one from our DART sister police department, were killed. 

And so arriving here with that much,  hurt pain, uh, and brokenness, and so coming in, there had to be healing. And so it was an opportunity for me to do what I believe in and that is being holistic, praying and giving our officers the resources that they need that they could be successful while doing the job. My grandmother used to say, if you don't deal with it, it will deal with you. And so I was able to sitting in this seat, uh, provide those resources to the officer. So I'm thankful for that. 

Chideya:

Let me ask about a moment that was one where your department got criticized for detaining a bunch of protesters after George Floyd was killed, I believe, on the fourth night of protest but not filing charges against them. If you had to go back in time, and this was hundreds of protesters, would you have made the same call and why did you make that decision?

Hall:

Absolutely. One of the things that the story is not told is we identify this protest as peaceful and I would disagree wholeheartedly. And so that decision was made because those 700 protesters went on a bridge. That was an actual freeway. So there was traffic coming on to the bridge while individuals were walking. We're talking about men, women and children.

And so this was a crowd who had determined that they were going to break the law and it was clear. There was civil unrest in the city of Dallas like we had never ever seen over the last three days. And we were just not having another day of that. And I want you to keep in mind that three days prior to that, we were dealing with individuals trapping officers in vehicles, trying to set the vehicles on fire, throwing Molotov cocktails, bricks, frozen water bottles at our officers for a two, three-day period.

And so this was an opportunity and a conversation that here's what we expect and if you go beyond this, here are what the consequences are. So yes, we arrested some 670 people on a bridge and if I had to do it again, I would arrest 670 people on a bridge if it meant keeping the officers safe, the community safe and not allowing those individuals to tear up any more property in the city of Dallas.

Chideya:

As you're talking, I can't help but think about how Black Lives Matter as a movement and a slogan has been met by some people with Blue Lives Matter, which usually means that people are opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement and specifically it's around supporting police but it's a very oppositional framework. But someone like you is a blue life and a Black life. How do you make sense of that?

Hall:

So I think you make sense of it by stating the obvious that you don't have to be one or the other. Why can't you be both? I've been a Black woman for 49 years, and I've also been a police officer for 22. So at no time when I became a police officer did that negate or take away or stop me from being a Black woman. So how can Blue Lives Matter and Black lives not? And how can Black lives matter and blue lives not? I happen to be both. And there are so many of us in this country that are both.

And so, I think what happens is we have to respect each of them for what they are. And I think is when we truly are able to have the mutual conversation. I know that there's work to do in Black lives and there's a lot of work to do in blue lives. And being a police chief has allowed me to make those necessary adjustments in both.

Chideya:

Why did you decide to resign since you are so committed to this work?

Hall:

The average tenure for any police chief is about three to five years and it was just at this time where I felt like it was time for me to take my position, take my voice and take my passion to another level, and to do something different with that. And so I made that choice. I'm very happy with that choice, but I believe that greater work is done beyond the level of a police chief.

Chideya:

Can you tell us what that is or are you still playing it close to the vest?

Hall:

I am playing it extremely close to the vest right now.

Chideya:

Chief Hall, really thank you for spending time with us and best with whatever your next adventure is.

Hall:

God bless, thank you for taking time to interview me. I wish you guys much success.

Chideya:

That was Chief Reneé Hall of the Dallas, Texas Police Department.

Coming up later this hour-

Errin Haines:

Let's kind of think of this as like being at a holiday dinner table. How close are you actually sitting to the best dishes? And are you close enough that folks actually hear you when you're talking or are you near the end or at the kids' table waiting on your turn to talk or waiting to get what's left of the mashed potatoes?

Chideya:

You're listening to Our Body Politic.

It's time for Sipping the Political Tea, our weekly deep-dive with Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th and political contributor at Our Body Politic. Hey, Errin.

Haines:

Hey, good to be with you.

Chideya:

So we are post-election, at least according to everyone but the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania. And so there's a lot of political news to cover even as certain people think the election isn't over, nonetheless, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is selecting members of her White House staff including two women of color, her chief of staff and her domestic policy adviser. So what's your take on those announcements?

Haines:

Yeah. I mean, listen, Farai, this past week marks about a month since Election Day. As you mentioned, we have aged, my sister. And we're less than 50 days now until Inauguration Day and we do have a new administration that is beginning to take shape and preparing to take office. And so Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both indicated, both during the campaign and in their victory speeches and beyond that diversity was going to be a governing priority and not something that was really going to stop with the first woman and person of color to serve as the second most powerful person in the country.

You've had the transition team rolling out these nominees and appointees over the past few weeks. And there is indeed some diversity both in terms of race and gender as well as some pioneering first. But I will tell you, I mean, I'm hearing from Black and brown lawmakers and leaders who have been cautiously optimistic over the past month. They've been sitting back and watching these announcements come out and they are concerned both about how much diversity is going to be in this administration as well as where that diversity might be in the governing hierarchy.

I mean it's the holiday, so like let's kind of think this as being at a holiday dinner table, like how close are you actually sitting to the best dishes? And are you close enough that folks actually hear you when you're talking or are you near the end or at the kids' table waiting on your turn to talk or waiting to get what's left of the mashed potatoes? Basically, what I'm trying to say is that seats matter but where those seats are is an equally conversation, and those in a position to influence the decision-makers on this transition team know that they need to weigh in now with whatever their concerns are.

Chideya:

Let's pivot though to the state of Georgia. It seems like we revisit this every week because now, we've got a voting official in the state who's criticizing the president for failing to condemn threats of violence. Here's a clip.

Gabriel Sterling:

Mr President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop.

Chideya:

And this is from a republican official and there had been many Republican officials who've certified election results, et cetera, but what are we to make of it at this crossroads?

Haines:

Well, listen. I've certainly got my eye on my home state of Georgia as this runoff takes down to the final days. Look, there's no other ways to say it. The Georgia GOP is absolutely a house divided headed into the final stretch of this runoff campaign. And you have Trump surrogates kind of openly suggesting that maybe folks shouldn't bother casting their ballot in Georgia in a rigged system. I mean, a lawsuit being filed seeking to overturn the results of the election and calling on the general assembly to appoint state representatives to the electoral college to decide the election.

And another federal lawsuit claiming widespread voter fraud despite the fact that the votes in Georgia now have been counted, I think, three times. I will tell you, Farai, I'm talking to folks on both sides on the ground down there. And despite election and COVID-fatigue, democrats definitely seemed energized. I mean, I just saw a tweet from Stacey Abrams that one million Georgians have requested mail-in ballots for this runoff.

But I'm also told that something like 800,000 African-Americans in the state did not show up to vote in November which is really just an incredible number to think about despite the record turnout that you did see in the general elections. There's still tremendous opportunity. This is the homestretch for voter registration down in Georgia. Early voting is about to kickoff in the next several days. So we'll just have to contain and watch to see what kind of the lines and what that enthusiasm down there looks like on both sides.

Chideya:

I mean, it's fascinating to me and sad to be honest that the claims of a rigged election will likely cause voter suppression in this case, maybe very well suppression of republican votes. But I am someone who wants everyone to have a chance to express their political will and-

Haines:

And for everyone to believe in the sanctity of our democratic process. Regardless of what your politics are, folks should feel like their ability to participate in this democracy and the idea that one person one vote, that should not be a partisan opinion. People of all political stripes, of no political stripes should really subscribe to that.

Chideya:

I mean, the reason I sort of said but is because this would be suppression of republican voters by republican actors who are saying that the vote is rigged. It's a fascinating cycle.

Haines:

Absolutely.

Chideya:

All right, Errin. Lots of food for thought. Thank you.

Haines:

Until next time, Farai.

Chideya:

That was Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th and political contributor here at Our Body Politic.

Coming up ...

Angel Pérez:

One of the things that really has changed during this time is colleges and universities rethinking the complexity of their admission process.

Chideya:

Each week, we bring you the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic and how it's affecting us, our families and our communities. Today, more people are surviving COVID-19 than during the first wave this spring. Doctors actually learned a lot about what to do and what not to do including not putting as many people on ventilators. But new infections are surging and the daily death toll has been spiking up to near the record set in April.

In vaccine news, both Pfizer and Moderna have asked the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to distribute their coronavirus vaccines. If they get the green light quickly, people could get the first shots later this month.

We're going to hear more about COVID in higher education later in the show. Students of all ages are just being whipsawed by decisions to open and close schools which also frustrates parents and teachers. Students of color and low income students are struggling in the era of Zoom classes. They are less likely to have access to quality technology, to not have to share that equipment with others and to have a quiet space to work in.

Eighth grader, Azerionna Crudup told NorthJersey.com, she depends on a laptop that's on the fritz.

Azerionna Crudup:

I miss Zoom calls. I miss advisories. I do miss a lot of classes which is not my fault. It's my computer's fault because it's broke.

Chideya:

According to consulting firm, McKinsey, low-income students are projected to fall behind by more than a year because of the pandemic with Black and Hispanic students faring worse than white students.

So far, in-person instruction doesn't seem to cause a lot of community spread of the virus especially among younger students but children are not immune. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported last week that over 1.3 million kids tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. And that's got parents weighing their options carefully.

Andrea Dalton:

My kids are miserable when they're at home full time doing school. Given the choices we had, I don't know that I would have made a different one.

Chideya:

That's Andrea Dalton in Tucson, Arizona. She says her entire family now has COVID after her daughter came home from middle school with mild symptoms. Andrea is a community college student herself. She has an in-person final coming up and if she's not feeling better by then, she's not sure if she's going to make it.

Dalton:

It's not exactly something I can do on paper or online. So I imagined I'm probably going to get an incomplete.

Chideya:

According to a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, more than nine million college students said they canceled their plans to attend classes this fall because they had COVID-19 or they were afraid of getting it. About the same numbers said they were unable to afford classes because of the pandemic.

For more about how the pandemic is impacting higher education, I talked to Dr. Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling or NACAC. He's a self-proclaimed big, old nerd who grew up poor in Puerto Rico and then the Bronx. After he got a full ride to Skidmore College in Upstate New York, he knew he wanted to give back and help other young students make it to college.

Dr. Pérez, it's so great to have you on the show.

Angel Pérez:

Thanks for having me.

Chideya:

We are in such a strained space. I happened to know a woman who's a university president and I read an article that that university is more than $10 million underwater right now due to the cost of the pandemic and students not going, housing not being filled. After COVID, which we are all aspiring to, what do you think will have changed about college educations for the better and possibly for the worst?

Pérez:

I think there's a lot of things that are going to change. I think the way that we think about teaching and learning has changed. College and universities had to go online very quickly, many who were not ready to do so but sort of learned trial by fire, if you will. I also think a lot of things that could potentially change or even the ways that we think about the pipeline to college, how students get into college, one of the things that really has changed during this time is colleges and universities rethinking the complexity of their admission process realizing that that actually keeps a lot of kids out of college.

One of the things, for example, that happened this summer is that about ... I think right now, we're at about 1,400 schools that have gone test optionals so the SAT and the ACT are not required obviously because so many students can't take the exam right now. But one of the questions they are now asking is, is that something that we would bring back? Is that something that was really a roadblock particularly for low income students and Black and brown students in this country?

And so, I think really the pandemic as well as the racial reckoning moment in our history at this time is going to have a significant and profound impact on colleges and universities.

Chideya:

So let's role play for a second. Let's say that President-elect Biden and VP-elect Harris called you up and said, "Hey, Dr. Pérez, what is our top priority for the first hundred days and for the first year in office?" What would you tell them?

Pérez:

Wow, first of all, I'd take the call. But second ... I mean, there are so many different ways I could answer that but I would say the most important thing is providing more resources for under-resourced both schools, so K through 12 but also higher education. I think higher education is often overlooked. We live in a country right now where higher education is not seen as a public good. It's a private good and I think we need to move the needle closer towards funding higher education so our students can afford to go and they don't graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

And so if I had my way, I would really fight hard for the funding of both of those systems.

Chideya:

And for people who are parents who ... There's a lot of parents right now whose kids might normally be gearing up to apply to college and they're like ... the pandemic or kids that took a gap year that would have ordinarily applied. But there's also kids who may have had a year to think things through and really want to apply and go in. What do parents and students need to know?

Pérez:

Colleges and universities actually have never been more accessible and more flexible. And so because of the pandemic, many more institutions are really removing requirements, extending deadlines, trying to meet students where they are. And so this is an incredibly important time to jump into the process. And I would say to form relationships with admission officers. They want to help students get into college. And so reaching out directly to institutions and even saying, "I don't know where to start," I think would be a really important first step. But whatever you do, take that first step because even if you're not 100% sure that you want to enroll in the fall, you can always make that decision later. You can ask colleges to defer for a year, but it's important to be in the process now especially if you're currently in school with access to your counselors.

Chideya:

Dr. Pérez, thanks so much for joining us.

Pérez:

Thanks for having me.

Chideya:

That was Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The doctors told us to stay home for Thanksgiving but millions of Americans still traveled to see family. How big will the surge in coronavirus cases be and what do we need to know to minimize getting sick for the rest of the holiday season? We checked in with Dr. Kavita Trivedi, our go-to expert for all things COVID. She's a CDC trained epidemiologist based in the Bay Area.

Chideya:

Dr. Trivedi, it's always great to talk to you. Welcome back.

Kavita Trivedi:

Thanks for having me back again.

Chideya:

For Thanksgiving, what I did, usually we have these huge family Thanksgivings which definitely didn't happen this year. I made the decision not to test before having dinner with my mother because I did worry about the potential lag time, if I've been exposed the day before, I didn't know if it was going to show up. And also honestly, I worried about even getting exposed in line, all of which is to say what does testing do and not do for you in terms of being around your loved ones.

Trivedi:

I think the first thing to know is that testing is not a prevention strategy in and of itself. Just because you get tested and you're negative, first of all, we know the tests are not infallible. There are problems with all different types of tests. And also, I think the other thing to be aware of is you get tested in one moment and that may take into account your exposures the last few weeks.

But then as you're waiting for the test results to come back, usually, it's at least 24 hours, if not longer. And in that time period, people are then exposed to other things. So, the other thing that we're finding is that people that are asymptomatic, that have no signs and symptoms of infection have a higher likelihood of having a false negative. The tests are not as good necessarily at picking up a positive results if you have new symptoms.

Trivedi:

So, again, I think we have to remember testing is an adjunct and gives us some information but we don't want to just rely on a test itself to then being with our family and friends without mask, without distancing unless parties are bubbled where before you bubble, you quarantine, isolate yourself for two weeks and then you form this larger bubble and you basically have a pandemic marriage as what you have decided to do, right?

But in order to do that safely, everyone who is going to go into this pandemic marriage has to agree on what our behavior is going to be in the two weeks before we marry and that all of those discussions are really important to make it very clear. Are you going to go to the grocery store? Are you going to go to the farmer's market with a mask on? What are you going to ... All those things have to be discussed before you then form this bubble and can feel really comfortable without a mask on it and not socially distancing with one another.

Chideya:

What do you want to tell listeners who haven't gotten sick and just like, "I'm so over this"? I mean I'm reading the news. There's been a sex party in Queens, New York which is probably unsafe on many different levels. There's been a 400-person party for millennials. They got broken up. There's was 7,000 person wedding and that's just in New York, one city. So, for people who are just like, "I'm tired of putting life on hold," what do you say?

Trivedi:

So, for those of us that have been lucky enough not to be exposed, not to get the virus, have had adequate access to PPE, stay the course and persevere. We can do this. The way I like to talk about it is this Swiss cheese model, where we layer different slices of Swiss cheese between us and the virus. We layer ... Each slice is a mask, worn properly by the way over your nose and your mouth. Another layer is physical distancing. Another layer is washing hands whenever you've touched anything outside of your household and another layer is staying home when you're sick.

We do all of those things and then maybe in December, maybe next year, we get to add this additional slice of the vaccine which will likely be a much thicker slice. And then we will have to continue with all these other four slices as we wait for our entire communities to get vaccinated.

Chideya:

Well, Dr. Trivedi, thanks so much. And definitely to everyone listening including a certain member of my family, the mask does have to go over your nose, just saying.

Trivedi:

Thanks, Farai. And I wholeheartedly agree with that. I think the only other comment I would make is that if you don't wear the mask over your nose, it's like wearing a condom with the tip cut off, if that is helpful to any of your listeners.

Chideya:

All right, public health for the win there. Thanks again.

Coming up next.

Ruth Umoh:

There are people that you don't know that you may not ever meet that are still connected to you ...

Chideya:

I'm Farai Chideya, back with you shortly.

Now, it's time to show me the money. That's what we call our regular business segment with Our Body Politic contributor, Ruth Umoh, of Forbes magazine. This week, we're looking at the possibility to student debt forgiveness under a Biden-Harris administration. And who will benefit the most? Welcome, Ruth.

Umoh: Thank you for having me.

Chideya:

So, obviously, we have gone through a long political journey and it's just going to keep rolling on as politics does. But there was a lot of talk when President-elect Biden said that he was going to cancel student debt in the first 100 days in office. What do we know about this and what do you think it might do in terms of impacting Black women and women of color?

Umoh:

One interesting aspect of his proposal is an immediate $10,000 forgiveness of student loans, which in theory, would allow borrowers to see their balances reduced or eliminated overnight. Some 90% of Black students take out loans for college. That's compared to just 66% of white students. Another report found that 20 years after starting college, the majority of white borrowers are able to pay off nearly all of their student loans.

Umoh:

On the flip side, Black borrowers still owe 95% of their original balance 20 years later. It's also worth noting that the pandemic-fueled federal economic protections for student loans expire at the end of December. At the same time, Black American's unemployment numbers remain higher than the national average. And so what we could see here is the student loan debt crisis truly come to a head in January as people of color, Black people in particular, have to decide between paying off crippling student loan debt or feeding their family, paying their rents, their mortgage or even medical bills because again, we are still in the midst of a global and fatal pandemic.

Chideya:

We've been talking to people about what happens to higher education in a pandemic. Do you have any sense of whether or not college is as strong of a win in terms of the job market as it used to be before?

Umoh:

I think that college is still as strong of a win. When it comes to entrepreneurship for instance, some people do argue, "Okay, well, you don't necessarily need to go to college in order to create a business." But one aspect of creating a business is raising money, and much of that is through your social network. And it's very hard to find that if you don't go to college.

However, it is worth noting again that a number of institutions, like tech institutions such as IBM and Google, they are also focused more so on skills-based hiring. And so while they might not be looking for employees, or graduates I should say, who went to Harvard or Stanford or some of the typical ivy leagues, they are more so diversifying their talent pool and they're looking for students who maybe did two years at community college or four years at community college or those who went to Howard University and other HBCUs or minority-serving institutions.

Chideya:

What do you think the impact would be for businesses to have employees that just had less debt?

Umoh:

Well, student loan debt hinders aspiring entrepreneurship. Now, some entrepreneurs are able to circumvent this issue, this financial burden by seeking out wealthy family members for startup capital or tapping into a network of outside investors. Most Black Americans, however, don't have that luxury. So, money saved through student debt cancellation is money that can be used as the upfront investment needed to start a business. And it allows young entrepreneurs, Black ones in particular, to secure additional loans from a bank or to inject money into things that leads to business growth such as upgraded tools and infrastructure or hiring additional employees who can scale a company and help it reached profitability.

Chideya:

Well, that leads into something that you wrote about, a holiday season, the beginning of the holiday shopping rush formally and this effort about "putting the Black in Black Friday" to get people to support Black-owned businesses. Do we know anything about what kind of impact that had?

Umoh:

In the run up to Black Friday, several tech companies like TikTok, Facebook, Google, they used their platforms to spotlight Black-owned businesses and provide them with visibility in an effort to drive money toward these smaller businesses that have been really hard-hit by the pandemic. We don't have any numbers as of yet as to how Black businesses in particular have been affected in their sales and profitability. But anecdotally, a number of Black-owned businesses have reported a sale spike from Black Friday through Cyber Monday because in all honesty, 2020 has brought representation to the forefront for everyone which has led to a small but noteworthy financial win for Black businesses that have an online presence.

Chideya:

And how long do you think we can expect people to focus on Black business owners? There's definitely been a lot of talk but people tend to go in and out of really dealing with race relations.

Umoh:

Oh, gosh, that's the million dollar question, right? Well, the corporate sector has, in some ways, led the response to calls for racial justice this year. But at the end of the day, it really boils down to public interest. If Americans continue to prioritize hot button issues like racial equity and if larger entities continue to create space for smaller Black businesses on their platforms, we very well might be able to see some lasting change.

Chideya:

Ruth, always great to talk to you, thanks.

Umoh:

Likewise, thank you.

Chideya:

Ruth Umoh is a Forbes magazine reporter and business and economics contributor here at Our Body Politic.

COVID-19 has hit certain groups the hardest: Healthcare workers, the elderly and essential workers. At the center of these three concentric circles are Filipino-Americans. At four million, they only represent about 1% of Americans, but 28% of nurses across the country. The organization, National Nurses United says Filipino-Americans were the largest non-white ethnic group of nurses to die from the virus.

Chideya:

A new Filipino organization, Tayo Help wants to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact to the pandemic on this community while dispelling dangerous myths that are hurting the most vulnerable among them.

Leezel Tanglao:

Tayo in Tagalog, a major Philippine language means "us." So, we'd like to say that the Tayo Help Desk is powered by us, for us. And the reason that this is so important to us is that there's nothing really culturally tailored to the Filipino community that's currently out there.

Chideya:

That's Leezel Tanglao. She's a multimedia journalist, Senior Editor for Membership and Innovation at Huff Post, and program director and spokesperson of Tayo Help. Tanglao says Tayo Help makes official information about COVID more accessible to groups of Filipinos for whom cultural norms can sometimes be barriers to access.

Tanglao:

If my Lola and Lolo, which means grandparents, grandmother and grandpa respectively in Tagalog, if I were to give them let's say an official CDC website article or World Health Organization article, it's factually correct but it may not be always easily accessible to them. So, what we've been trying to do is take from official sources as well as tapping into our expert network and putting together articles that make it more accessible to some of the most vulnerable sectors of our community.

Chideya:

Tanglao and her colleagues are also using Tayo Help to create safe spaces for Filipinos to get support.

Tanglao:

So, oftentimes in a community, you don't want to let people know you're sick or you don't want to ask for help. You want to be independent and you don't want to be indebted to somebody. But you do need the help, so we're trying to create a space that's safe enough that it's okay, and we can't help you if we don't know you need the help, for example.

There is also a cultural barrier of "Bahala Na" which loosely translated to leave it God. It's like, "I'll be fine, God's going to take care of me." Well, part of that too is also meeting him halfway.

Chideya:

And Tayo Help Desk is fighting misinformation too.

Tanglao:

We have a large number of our population that are senior citizens. And most of them are on a lot of messaging apps such as a Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. And I can't tell you how many times I've been forwarded a meme or some piece of information that's just completely false. So, what we're trying to do is also provide more reliable information that is also shareable so that instead of them sharing a graphic that purports to have a home remedy for COVID-19, they can be sharing something that's actually true.

Chideya:

That was Leezel Tanglao, program director and spokesperson for Tayo Help. You can support Tayo Help Desk by donating at tayohelp.com. That's tayohelp.com.

I want to keep hearing from you, our listeners, our community. We've been giving you prompts and using your answers to craft conversations about shaping our collective future. This month, the prompt is, "How would you day be different if you spend as much time of community, family, creativity and wellness as you do on working." You can call 929-353-7006. That's 929-353-7006 to leave us a voicemail on our platform, Speak, or you can go to farai.com/OBP and scroll down to find the Google forum to respond in writing.

Chideya:

Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and Senior Editor for ZORA, an online publication that amplifies the voices of women of color. Her new book is Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. To report it, she set off on a pilgrimage across the south, learning firsthand about the Black Native American and Creole community she's connected to. Morgan Jerkins, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Morgan Jerkins:

Thank you for having me.

Chideya:

I want to start actually at the end of your book and you sort of wrap things up with the reverse migration of people whose families came from the south to other parts of the country and they are moving to the south as young adults. That turned out to be a huge factor in the election because people who've been in the north and the west have created this new south and it just flexed its political power. So, starting with that, tell us a little bit about the reverse migration.

Jerkins:

I wanted to talk about it because towards the end of the book, I was like, "Okay, so where do we go from here?" I had already been to the south. I want to cross the Mississippi to the Midwest and finally, in the West Coast. And it made me realized that so much of African American lives is characterized by movement. It's like wherever we can find a piece of beauty of freedom, we're going to go.

I was in a panel talk the other day and there was this quote from Maya Angelou that was from years ago. It was talking about Black people movement back to the south and saying that Black people were answering a siren call because it's true. We're cosmically and spiritually connected to the south and I think younger people are feeling that call.

I wrote Wandering in Strange Lands because I had such deep insecurity about my place in both my matrilineal and patrilineal, lines and so I wanted a healing pilgrimage of sorts. I knew that because I was an African-American with roots generations deep in this country that there was so much I wouldn't be able to reclaim across the Atlantic in West Africa. And because so much of the questions that I asked towards my mother and my father could not be answered, I decided to take a reverse migratory route, if you will, in order to find some type of clarity for not only myself but for my family members as well.

Chideya:

You take us on so many different journeys. I think about you going to Georgia and South Carolina to the Lowcountry and I was really stunned to find out how many Africans passed into America and into slavery through the Lowcountry. Could you just give us a little context for that?

Jerkins:

It's believed that 80% of the enslaved Africans who were into the colonies, they passed through a Charleston dock. And so not only that but the Gullah-Geechee people that are in the Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, that corridor, they are known as having the highest retention rates of west African traditions.

For me, I thought about it with regards to food. Every New Year's Day, I ate collard greens for money and Black-eyed peas for good luck. And that is a tradition that spans all across the country. Well, that tradition started in the South Carolina Lowcountry. So, taken into all these factors, I believed that every African American is indebted to the Gullah-Geechee people.

Chideya:

I could stay on this forever, but I really want to get through all the sections of your book. So, first, we got the Lowcountry and in the second one is Louisiana Creole. You also talked about being identified, picked out in a group by your half moon eyes. Is that right?

Jerkins:

Yes, half moon eyes.

Chideya:

Tell us about how people saw themselves in you, even when you didn't understand what it meant.

Jerkins:

I went to a festival in Lafayette and a Black woman said to me, "Are you from St. Landry Parish?" And I was just struck and one of the other liaisons who I was with, she was like, "It's those half moon eyes." And it made me very emotional because when I would take pictures, my mom always say, "Open your eyes," because it always feels like my eyes are really small and it was only in Louisiana that I was given this poetic description of what they meant and that made me feel so whole and that's when I knew that I was on the right path.

Chideya:

Well, it's amazing. And this book, you also go to Oklahoma. So, what did you look into there?

Jerkins:

Oh, man, because I don't know if you've experienced this, but a lot of Black people I know will say I've got Indian in my family.

Chideya:

Oh, yeah. My family thought that too.

Jerkins:

And what I realized was, and this was not taught to me in K to 12 education, was that when former President Andrew Jackson forced five tribes known as the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Seminole and the Creek, part of the reason why they were called the Five Civilized Tribes is because white people thought they could be civilized through slavery. So, these Five Civilized Tribes enslaved Black people and the Cherokee tribe was the largest slave-owning tribe of the five of them.

So, when they forcibly migrated across the Mississippi, they have Black people on their journey. When Civil War ended, there was this question of what do we do with our Black people now that they're freed men? Are they citizens of the United States? Are they citizens of these tribe? And so they went into Oklahoma and they started separating people.

But they did this, a lot of times, based on how you looked. So if you and I were in the same family, let's say you looked more indigenous than I did, you would be put on the citizen by blood role and I would be put on the freed man role. The problem of being put in the freedman role which delineates African ancestry is that it makes us see, like you have no indigenous blood.

Morgan Jerkins:

Now here's the consequence of that in the present day age. When you have Black and indigenous people who've always known they were Black and indigenous, they are shut out from healthcare, educational benefits, housing benefits. Because of these freedman roles, the Blackness is supposed to just cancel everything out. So, that's the problem with this whole either-or instead of both-and, is that in the case of these freedmen, it actually becomes law and it shuts you out and it divides families for generations. It was very intense.

Chideya:

Your whole book is about how Black people relate to the history of America as a land and as a country. So, what do we really need to know about this land and our relationship to it?

Jerkins:

Man, Black people were everywhere. That's one thing. There's not a single place in America where Black people were not present. I think another thing that I would say to people is that there's so much that has been hidden from us and it was by design. So, there are always surprises to be had. And that's why I think the beauty is about this country, in spite of all of its errors, there are people that you don't know that you might not ever meet that are still connected to you through your food or through your dialect or through your customs. And that's, for me, is just wonderful.

Chideya:

Morgan Jerkins is the author of Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. Thank you so much.

Jerkins:

Thank you.

Chideya:

Thank you for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week in everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Our Body Politic is presented and syndicated by KCRW, KPCC, and KQED. It's produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Original music by Kojin Tashiro. Our political booker is Mary Knowles. Michelle Baker and Emily Daly, are assistant producers. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Mike Castañeda, Zuheera Ali, Sarah McClure, and Virginia Lora.

Funder credit:

Funding for Our Body Politic is provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and by The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, empowering world-changing work.

Chideya, Farai, host. “December 4 2020: “December 4, 2020: Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall on being fully Black and fully blue, Covid’s impact on U.S education systems and students, and Filipinos fighting disinformation.”  Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. December 4, 2020. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/