Our Body Politic

How Confronting the Myth of American Innocence Can Stop Our Slide into Authoritarianism, and a Look Ahead at the Political Lessons We Carry into 2022

Episode Notes

Host Farai Chideya talks with Pulitzer-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones about why people need to speak out against bans on teaching U.S. history, which we’d likely condemn if they were happening in any other country. Two publishers—Elizabeth Méndez Berry of One World and Lisa Lucas of Pantheon and Schocken—discuss the role of books and cultural criticism in the wider political discourse. Merlyne Jean-Louis shares her legal expertise making sure creative entrepreneurs protect their rights to intellectual property. On Sippin’ the Political Tea, Errin Haines of the 19th and Karen Attiah of the Washington Post discuss the legacy of bell hooks and how she impacted their work.


1:08 Nikole Hannah-Jones on what we lose when we ban the teaching of history

12:26 Elizabeth Mendez Berry and Lisa Lucas on the importance of cultural criticism

23:26 Merlyne Jean-Louis on protecting your brand as a creative entrepreneur

31:16 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines of the 19th and Karen Attiah of the Washington Post join Farai in a discussion of the week’s news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. As we wrap up the year that has felt like a thousand years in one, we're so grateful to have you on this journey with us. When you write reviews on Apple Podcasts, it helps others find us and join us, so if you can, please consider leaving a review. We can't wait to read your feedback, so thanks so much. 

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. The House Select Committee continues to investigate the insurrection of January 6th. The latest part they pieced together includes a scathing revelation that three Fox News hosts reached out that day to the president's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to ask Trump to intervene. These hosts of course portrayed themselves both before and after January 6th as ardent Trump supporters. It highlights the role that journalists at all levels play in supporting or undermining our democracy. That's something our next guest thinks a lot about. Nikole Hannah-Jones is the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of The 1619 Project with the New York Times. The series of journalistic essays, poems, and fiction is now a book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. She's also the knight chair in race and journalism at Howard University. Welcome, Nikole.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Thank you for having me.

Chideya: I want to jump into the essay that you had as part of The 1619 Project when that came out in the summer of 2019. And it starts out, "My dad always flew an American flag in our front yard." What did you understand that flag to be as you were growing up, and also in the context of being someone who is reframing and lifting up accurate American history? Tell us why you started there.

Hannah-Jones: I saw that flag as a very outward display of patriotism that did not make sense to me. I knew my dad was patriotic. My dad was a veteran. He definitely took a great deal of pride in having served his country. And I just didn't understand that display, because I also know that my dad was born in Mississippi, and worked a bunch of menial jobs most of his life because he was never able to get opportunities, that he went to segregated schools, that we lived in a redline neighborhood. And so it didn't make sense to me, and I was deeply conflicted about it. And I think I'm still deeply conflicted about what does patriotism look like for Black Americans in a country where we only exist here because of slavery.

Chideya: Just to stay on this for a second, I was telling someone this weekend about my family's long military history. My grandmother's grandfather fought in the Civil War, and members of my family have fought in almost every modern war, and we did the flag ceremonies and all that, and three of my four maternal uncles served in the military. But it also came, for me, with a structural understanding of the differences between my family's experiences. There is this fundamental complexity of: Who are we as Black Americans who have served, who have lived, who have built this country? Do you think of it that way?

Hannah-Jones: Yes, for sure. The military of course is... In some ways, we see it as the highest calling of patriotism, because it is showing a willingness to actually put your life down for your country. And we also know that Black Americans have always had to fight for that right to serve their country, that George Washington didn't want Black people to serve in the Revolutionary War. White Americans didn't want Black people to serve in the Civil War, and Black people had to really fight and press Lincoln to allow them to take up arms in the defense of their country and for their own liberation. World War I, World War II, Black people were fighting in a segregated army. They weren't being recruited. Black people get recruited when there was a desperate need for more soldiers. And only then do we start to get integrated into the forces to serve our country. And yet, Black people understand these moments as political moments to try to push the country then to recognize our citizenship by saying, "If we joined up to fight for this country, now you owe us, and you cannot treat us as non-citizens after we have been willing to put our lives down on the line for this country," which is also one of the reasons many White Americans didn't want Black people to serve, because they also inherently understood that. So what the project is doing... I mean, the military is a great lens, to me, to really deal with that, grappling with that sense of conflict. Black Americans have inherited a country that we never chose to be in in the first place, but we're here. And how do you turn that country into your own country? Because this is the only country you'll ever have? We will be here, so what do we do with that?

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, just quickly before we move on, there was a film that came out earlier this year on PBS called The Blinding of Isaac Woodard, who was a World War II veteran. He was basically beaten blind by a local police chief. And it strikes me that at these moments where Black Americans display citizenship, it can be viewed as a deep threat by some people, and not a display of loyalty and courage, but as a threat to this construct of what America is. And you, in producing The 1619 Project, which won a Pulitzer, have been perceived as a threat. At least 11 Republican-led states have passed laws or resolutions censoring what teachers can say about race in classrooms. And there is a New Hampshire law that says in part, "No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools, which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices." And this is the nut of the graph, "Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism." When you read language like that, how do you think the body politic should respond? Not Nikole Hannah-Jones, but how should we as citizens, local, state, federal citizens respond to this idea that there's stuff you just can't talk about?

Hannah-Jones: Farai, we should be absolutely astounded and outraged at laws such as this. If we were to take that text and say that that text was coming out of Cuba, or coming out of China, we would very clearly see the authoritarian nature of what they are arguing. We would, all of us, no matter where we sit on the political spectrum, would say that is abhorrent. I've been, as you know, writing about racial inequality, reporting on racial inequality my entire 20-year career, and I've never seen a response to anything like this. In many of these so-called anti-critical race theory, which are really anti-history, laws being passed, The 1619 Project in these laws is banned by name. We should be protesting against these laws. We should be organizing against these laws, because has what these laws are... I mean, I've been reading a lot about fascism, about authoritarianism. And the Yale philosopher Jason Stanley, in his book How Fascism Works, talks about how important these types of laws are in paving the way towards authoritarianism, because you have to start by creating the sense of a mythic past, and you have to outlaw a teaching of history that doesn't glorify the majority and glorify those who are in power, and the history of those who are in power. So I look at how tepid the response has been, and I think it's deeply disappointing and shocking to me. We should be outraged. And one of the laws seeks to make teaching some of this a felony. It clearly speaks to the legacy of 1619, and not the legacy of 1776, and I actually don't understand it. We don't have to accept this. We have power. We are not exercising it, but we have power to stop what's happening. So we have to decide: Do we as citizens actually believe in democracy or not? And what are we willing to put on the line for it?

Chideya: Let me pivot a little bit. This year has been a year where you have been in a mode of building, and are looking at doing work with Howard University. How is that going, to the extent you can talk about it?

Hannah-Jones: Sure. So yes, I am founding a center at Howard University called the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which really goes to these core issues, and really was born out of my frustration with the way the political media has been covering our slide into authoritarianism. I mean, we were listed this year on the IDEA's list of backsliding democracies for the first time. Scholars of democracy have been ringing the alarm about what's happening. We know that more and more evidence is coming out about that Trump and his supporters literally planned a coup on the capitol. And yet the response in the media has been, to me, a normalizing, as if there's just a... I think there is a kind of innate belief that our democracy will hold, that yes, it's taken some dings, some things aren't going as they should, but overall, our institutions are strong, which is not borne out in history. I mean, as you know, Farai, the idea that we've had a long-running democracy has been predicated on exclusion. And now that we have Black voters, voters of color, indigenous and Latino voters in Arizona flipping that state, Black voters, very heavy turnout flipping Georgia, really determining the election, we have one political party that is making it very clear they actually don't believe in multiracial representative democracy. And yet, this "both-side-ism" way that we cover our country is not demonstrating that. And so this center that I'm founding is really trying to create journalists who have the ability to do investigative reporting, but also historically-informed reporting, where they can see the echoes of what's happening because they are studying this history through the lens of the Black press in particular, which of course always had to be skeptical of the claims of American democracy, because we didn't experience it. We saw the lies of that. And I'm having to build an entire center from the ground up, and what's critical is not only will the center be really bolstering historically-informed investigative reporting in service of democracy at Howard, but also at a constellation of historically Black colleges that that offer journalism. Because I really do think the type of journalism that the Black press had to produce because of our particular history here is what is necessary in this moment.

Chideya: Very grateful for you joining us again. Thank you, Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Hannah-Jones: Thank you so much.

Chideya: Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning journalist for the New York Times magazine, and a professor at Howard University. The end of the year is a wonderful time to catch up on all those books you've been meaning to read, and these days, books can be powerful and relevant as well as entertaining. Elizabeth Méndez Berry is vice president and executive editor at One World, part of Penguin Random House, and co-founder of Critical Minded, a grant-making and learning initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States. Welcome to Our Body Politic, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Méndez Berry:

Thank you so much, glad to be here.

Chideya: And we've also got Lisa Lucas returning to the show, senior VP and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books, part of Knopf Doubleday. Hey, Lisa.

Lisa Lucas: Hey, it's great to be back.

Chideya: So let me start with you, Elizabeth. Women of color are over-consumers of books compared to many other demographics, and One World, your house that you're at and helping to champion and lead and edit some of the most powerful intellectuals in America, is publishing people like Nikole Hannah-Jones, who are pretty much directly under attack. Not even indirectly in a general sense, but very directly being banned. What do you make of this era and how it's perceiving the work of your authors?

Méndez Berry: The way I think about this stuff is that the public square is so contested, so important. And who holds that square, and who dominates that square, and who has power to articulate their ideas, their vision, their analysis, when that shifts, there's a group of people who get very angry and very scared. And that combination is, of course, combustible and toxic. So the banning of books is not new, but the combination of banning of books at the most local level, at the library, at the school, the school library and these spaces, has now trickled up to legislation, to where 1619 in particular has been banned in multiple states. I think it means that we're strong. I think it means that they're scared. I think it means that the notion of a new narrative about this country that destabilizes its longstanding belief in its own innocence is so devastating to people for whom the only way that this country can exist is innocent. I believe that what we're doing at One World is we believe that when the myth of American innocence ends, that's when a much more interesting country emerges, a country that is willing to dwell in its contradictions and willing to actually grow.

Chideya: Recently, we had a series of conversations about what it's like to critique Black art and hold Black artists accountable for their actions. It was regarding Dave Chappelle specifically, but I think it's not just about Black art, it's about in general... When someone is quote, "your people," whatever your people are, how do you assess them in ways that are culturally contextual? So Karen Attiah, who's a Washington Post columnist and a contributor here, said that she wanted better for us. She said quote, "Because we're in a White-dominated, male-dominated society, there's this instinct to want to promote and protect Black expression at all costs." Lisa, how do you make sense of these conversations about respectability politics, inclusion, and where we are today?

Lucas: Yeah, no. I mean, I think one of the things is we're both babies of Vibe and The Source, where I also worked back in the day. And I grew up... My mom worked in Black media. She worked at a place called UniWorld, which is a Black ad agency. And I think that when you have the luck to grow up in spaces that are by us and for us, you ultimately have a better sense of the nuance that is required. You're able to have those conversations about, "Okay, so we're women coming up in hip hop journalism. Actually, I don't know if I love the way that I'm being represented, or that there's not a conversation about representation." So you start to lose the nuance in these conversations where there is space to talk about the Black vernacular, to talk about misogyny in hip hop, to talk about colorism, to talk about Black capitalism, and whether or not it's good or bad. These are things that because you are at such an infancy of thinking about the breadth of BIPOC publishing, that you're not able to sort of... You don't have the main text that talks about X, Y, and Z problem in Black America, let alone the tertiary issues that are of the utmost importance to everybody living inside of our skin and bodies. So I think that that's the job too, to sort of... Not just champion a work by a person of color, but to also say that I'm laying the groundwork, both structurally in terms of bringing on editors and marketers and all of the people who do the work, but also to integrate not just Black stories, but a wide variety of Black stories, a wide variety of female stories.

Chideya: So Elizabeth, you wrote an article for Vibe 15 years ago, Love Hurts, that sort of touches on some of these questions. Maybe give a small example of how you've made sense of this.

Méndez Berry: Yeah. I mean, Love Hurts is a great example. I think fundamentally that when we pretend that things are okay when they're not okay with the people we love, we're preventing ourselves and each other from growing. The role of the critic is one of the things I think so much about, because I've learned since we founded Critical Minded several years ago that a lot of people don't actually really know what criticism is.

Chideya: And can you just explain what Critical Minded is, which is incredible? I was introduced to some of the cultural critics of color that you brought together at Sundance a couple years ago. Explain what that is before continuing.

Méndez Berry: Absolutely. So Critical Minded is an initiative that I co-founded. And basically, what we were trying to do is figure out a way of supporting critics of color, because all of the different supports that had existed that had enabled some people like me to develop over the years, like working for alternative weeklies, or like Lisa working for Vibe magazine... And actually kind of all of these spaces where we were able to see at excellence, and understand excellence as not something that was exclusively the domain of White institutions. That was no longer available. And so the question was: What does that mean not just for critics, but for art and culture and democracy more broadly? And I think that's a little bit what I believe criticism is so valuable for. And I think at the end of the day, when you have a frank and honest conversation about whatever it is, including culture, that means that you care about someone or something enough to believe that they deserve to hear the truth.

Chideya: Yeah. Thinking of influential books, I think of Greg Tate's Flyboy in the Buttermilk, and I really cried for him. I just realized that among other things, for me, Elizabeth, he represented the positive male gaze that just accepted me for who I was at every stage of my life, and didn't want me to be more than I am, or want me to be less than I am, and I just felt very seen by him in a way that really breaks me up to this moment. Can you tell folks who he was a little bit more?

Méndez Berry: I was reflecting on this. I was thinking about reading him, and the importance and power of reading him as a critic who made such an important role at The Village Voice, which... When I think about cultural criticism, it was such an important incubator and laboratory for so many people, and he was really the epitome of that. And then you have the person. I called myself a Tater Tot...

Chideya: I love it.

Méndez Berry: ... who called ourselves Tater Tots, because he gave us a way of understanding what criticism could be in the world, and how we could be, as critics, uniquely, specifically, and vivaciously ourselves. I'm a little bit resentful when I think about the fact that his last books were coming out on a university press. I love the university press. I appreciate the university press for doing it, and I'm also enraged that he was not one of the beneficiaries of this wave that we have now of younger people who are extraordinarily talented and deserve the visibility and support that they get. I wish he had gotten it too.

Chideya: Yeah.

Lucas: The world was built by the Tates, the cultural world I inhabit. It's interesting. I think back to Stanley Crouch, who's writing for The Village Voice at the same time, and he's saying hip hop is terrible, and jazz has changed in ways that is offensive. Brilliant man. I disagree with 95% of all the things that he ever said, but I found his mind to be quite rigorous. Now, unfortunately, we were willing because it criticized us, because it criticized some of the parts of Blackness that were complicated for white America. He found a home at major publishers. But the Tates that celebrated hip hop, that said to us this is a new world order, and this is a new culture, and that it is deep and intelligent and rigorous and changing lives and the world, and it is not lesser in any way, and it's beautiful, it's just difficult to see that they were a lost generation in terms of wider publication and celebration.

Chideya: Yeah. So last question, very short: Name a book coming out on your imprints in 2022, one book that you want us to read. Elizabeth first, and then Lisa.

Méndez Berry: Oh my goodness. I'm going to say Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. It's historical fiction, but it's vibrant. It's One World does historical fiction, which means that it's... Feels present and prescient. And it's about indigenous-identified Latinx people in Colorado in the 19th century, and it's just a phenomenal yarn.

Chideya: I can't wait. Lisa?

Lucas: I'm really excited about Margo Jefferson's Constructing a Nervous System, which is a memoir and has all of her traditional sort of unexpected critical lens on the art that made her, the complications of a ornery mind.

Chideya: Elizabeth and Lisa, thank you both so much for joining us.

Lucas: Thank you so much.

Méndez Berry: Thank you.

Lucas: Pleasure always.

Chideya: That was Lisa Lucas, senior vice president and publisher at Pantheon and Schocken Books, and Elizabeth Méndez Berry, VP and executive editor at One World. A lot of creatives in publishing, but also across mediums like journalism and podcasting, video content, and social media, are getting out of traditional workplaces and building their own empires. My next guest helps these creatives make sure that those empires are built on solid ground. Merlyne Jean-Louis is an attorney for content creators, creatives, and entrepreneurs at her own firm, Jean-Louis Law. She works with bloggers, influencers, dancers, and podcasters, all people she considers non-traditional entertainers. She joins me now not to give legal advice, but to inform us on our rights as creators. Welcome, Merlyne.

Merlyne Jean-Louis: Thanks for having me.

Chideya: So let's start with the fact that you are someone who has a history of dance, and a dance practice, and how that intersect... Because we're going to talk about intellectual property, and I was fascinated on your website. You mentioned your dance practice. You have here, "We help creatives and entrepreneurs become CEOs," and you also say, "As a former dancer, I founded this law firm with a special mission." What is that mission?

Jean-Louis: That mission is to help creatives and entrepreneurs feel like they're in charge of their careers. When I was a dancer, I danced semi-professionally prior to going to law school. I saw a lot of people be exploited, taken advantage of because they didn't knowledge of certain things related to business practices. And I thought, "Okay, I understand that a lot of your energy is supposed to be spent creating the art, but some of that energy should be spent making sure your Ts are crossed and Is are dotted as well.

Chideya: So how did you go from being a dancer to a lawyer? What led you in this direction?

Jean-Louis: Yeah. I've been involved in the law since I was a kid. I interned at the town attorney's office when I was a teenager. I interned at a law firm during college, and after college, for three years I worked as an assistant paralegal at a big law firm. So I've always been interested in the law, but I've always also been interested as a creative. I traveled along the East Coast, just dancing. So I met a attorney who looked like me. She was Black, and she worked in IP, the IP department at the firm. And I had a discussion with her, and I was like, "Oh." I discovered what intellectual property was, and understood there was a creative side to the law.

Chideya: Can you explain what intellectual property is? It's a term that I've become very familiar with producing a podcast. What is it?

Jean-Louis: Yeah. I'd say if I was to break it down, there are three major types of intellectual property. The first type, which I don't practice at all, is patents. That relates to inventions, to protection of inventions. Next up we have copyright, which relates to the protection of creative works, choreographic pieces, novels, films, anything that has ability to be original, tangible form of medium. And lastly, trademarks. Basically, you can think about it as brand protection, things like the Nike swoosh logo. Basically, someone has a brand that's used in association with the sale of goods and services, and ultimately, people make money off of that.

Chideya: So I was born in 1969, and so when I was a kid in Baltimore, I started hearing hip hop, which was, at the time and still, very often remixing older songs into new songs. And there were all sorts of intellectual property fights over... If you're sampling Bootsy Collins in your rap song, who has what right of way? That was stuff that was really in the public eye many years ago. Where's the moving target of intellectual property now, and where creators need to be thinking about it?

Jean-Louis: Given in mind what's popular now, I'd say influencers, that type of creative world, where content can be created on various platforms and social media such as Facebook, TikTok, et cetera, YouTube. That concept of copyright protection or copyright ownership still comes to play. If you have music in the background that's not technically licensed to you, you may have an issue. Certain types of influencers, I like to liken them as being mini film producers. If you're on YouTube, you're basically creating a film. You're on TikTok, you're basically creating a film. The same issues that Paramount and Warner Brothers deal with, you deal with on a smaller extent. But those issues related to clearance, regarding of copyright, trademarks, likeness, someone's ability to use someone's likeness and image, they all still come to play.

Chideya: So give me an example, not an actual person of course, because they're your clients, but an example of what kind of client or potential client might come to you. And what kind of questions might they ask?

Jean-Louis: Yeah. What I like to do when people come up to me is I like to give them what I call an assessment. I'm like a doctor, a legal doctor. You know what your issues are, but you don't know what the law is regarding running your business. And so I have to poke and prod and ask certain questions to provide you with the diagnosis. My job is to assess risk. So I'd say the major things that people come up to me are about, "Okay, what do I do when I first start a business?" And I have to say in general that I want you to protect your assets, your brand, and your content, your ABCs. And the tools in my arsenal include contracts, trademarks, copyright, and business structure, LLCs and corporations.

Chideya: What we're seeing in this era right now, among other things, is that a lot of people, especially but not only younger people, are opting out of traditional employment, the FTE, and doing their own thing. Do you think that there's a greater need for services like yours?

Jean-Louis: I don't want people to think that they need lawyers when there's a problem. I think that's a misconception. A lot of people think that. People automatically assume that I engage litigation, going to court, having conflicts. My job is to prevent the conflicts. So I hope for the best, but I prepare for the worst. And if you prepare for the worst, that means you have to entail someone like me, who's going to tell you how to protect yourself. But I do think that, like you said, Gen Z is a lot more entrepreneurial than... I'm a millennial. I'm an older millennial, but they're a lot more entrepreneurial than my generation was. And so I do think that they do have a higher need for these type of services that I provide.

Chideya: We just finished a conversation with two book editors about diversity in book publishing, and also just cultural criticism. And cultural criticism of course is interesting, because it's people who write and speak about other people's work and analyze it. Aside from that specific area of publishing, how do you interact with publishing as an industry? And what kinds of questions come up around people who are producing the written work?

Jean-Louis: Yeah, I help authors, number one, if they get an agent. I help them establish the rights or obligations, that relationship, but also to help them with their publishing agreements or audio book's agreements as well. So a lot of what I do to help them is with their contract drafting and negotiation. I would say that some people do not believe they have power. They think that if they're presented with a contract and a PDF form, they have to sign it. I'm going to tell them, "No. You don't have to do that. What we're going to do is convert it to Word, we're going to mark it up, and then we're going to bring it to their side." Because every person, if someone's giving you an opportunity, that means they understand your value, so you have to understand your value first and bring it to the table, and then make sure that you understand what's happening so you can properly negotiate what you want.

Chideya: I love it. Knowledge is power. Merlyne, thank you so much for joining us.

Jean-Louis: Thanks for having me, Farai, appreciate it.

Chideya: That was Merlyne Jean-Louis of Jean-Louis Law. This week on Sippin' the Political Tea, we did it live. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of inviting two of our favorite collaborators on the show to a fundraising event, Karen Attiah and Errin Haines. Karen Attiah is a columnist at the Washington Post and Our Body Politic contributor, and Errin Haines of course is OBP's political contributor and editor at large at The 19th. We recorded and repackaged a version of our live conversation. Welcome, Errin.

Errin Haines: Farai, it's our anniversary. Welcome.

Chideya: Thank you.

Haines: You are popping.

Chideya: Yes, one year and counting.

Haines: One year and counting.

Chideya: Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo. And also joined by Our Body Politic contributing columnist, Karen Attiah. Welcome back to Our Body Politic, Karen.

Karen Attiah: Hey, guys. I'm so happy to be here.

Chideya: Let's start with someone who manifested greatness. This is just sadness and devastation. Author and feminist bell hooks, who was born Gloria Jean Watkins, passed away on the day that we're taping, we're recording on Wednesday, at the age of 69. And if you are someone who understands the journey of race, particularly Black women and womenhood generally, you were probably influenced by bell hooks, whether you realize it or not. And so there's just so many different Twitter threads right now with just genius, and I saw that an interview that Melissa Harris-Perry did with bell hooks just reached 1 million views.

Haines: Amazing.

Chideya: I think people today pushed through to watch that. Errin, let me start with you. What is the context in which you put her, or you understand her, or you connect to her work?

Haines: Yeah. I mean, look, she was ours, right? I mean, I am a Black woman. How did her work not impact me? I was trying to think, because a lot of people were sharing on Twitter kind of their stories of when they first encountered or engaged with bell hooks. I can't remember her not just kind of being in my atmosphere. You know what I mean? And so I think that that is why this one is hard. bell hooks, for me... I mean, this is the woman who first kind of turned on the light bulb for me that feminism was not the sole purview of White women. That we could consider our race as well as our gender, and that we could be really bold and unapologetic because of our lived experience, that it was not a liability. And so that is something that I'm able to think really deeply about every single day in my work at The 19th, and I wouldn't have had that foundation without bell hooks. I mean, I guess it sucks that she's an ancestor now, but I mean, her work I know is going to continue to resonate for generations of Black women to come. And also, we are now charged with carrying that work forward.

Chideya: Yeah. And Karen, what about you?

Attiah: Yeah. I mean, this is the power and the magic and the privilege of being a writer, and one so prolific as her, is that she's not gone. Her words are immortal, immortal. And as long as we read and remember her words, she's never going to go away. And I shared this quote on Twitter about... And back to COVID and even our times of being apart, being separated. So much of her work has to do with community, and has to do with finding... And I think the quote I shared was, "Rarely, if ever, is healing done in isolation. True healing is in communion." And I think I'm thinking about this lot, about how her work was about healing, and how forming community is a radical, but so necessary act. And I think it can fuel the fact that hope and love were so much a part of her fierceness. Those co-existed. It wasn't soft, it was a fierce and radical belief in hope and love that I'm sitting with a lot. And I'm like: How do we continue this community even when we're still separated, even in a time of a lot of unhealed traumas and unhealed pain? How can we help heal each other? So I'm thinking a lot about that, but she's an ancestor, which means she's walking beside us at all times.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, I see that Jessie Steigerwald, a friend of mine, posted "Justice demands integrity," another quote from bell. What do you think about that? We recently on the show had on Reginald Dwayne Betts talking about how to be proximate to the harms that we ourselves cause, even those of us who think of ourselves as righteous. All of us do harms in some ways or the other. Some of us are more aware than others, and some of us have more integrity than others. What do you think of that whole idea, Errin, of "Justice demands integrity"? What does that mean to you?

Haines: You know, I think what it is... It's about accountability. And bell hooks was about nothing if she wasn't about accountability. And just as Karen was kind of saying, really just kind of redefining or reclaiming that mantle of strong Black women to not just be the person that everybody else counts on, but the person whose strength was also in their vulnerability, was also in that kind of calling for strength in numbers in terms of community. But also using that strength to then say that people must be accountable, that there is no justice without integrity. And by the way, there is pretty much a bell hooks quote for any and every situation. I'm seeing so many people quoting so many of her prolific words on Twitter, and that is because she resonated with so many people across so many different aspects of our democracy, of our society, of feminism.

Attiah: I mean, I think this is the thing, and back to this idea of integrity. I mean, if you take kind of the etymology and the word of it, integration, of the pieces becoming the whole, instead of patriarchy. bell hooks has written about this, about our efforts at feminism or equality, not just trying to replicate the systems of domination, not just trying to replicate the systems of power and violence. As Black women, we're not trying to be White men to gain power. And in fact, she would say, or she did say or write, that that is not true power. We need each other. I think that's the whole essence of all of this.

Chideya: I could go on about this all day, but we don't have all day, and there's these things coming up next year called the midterms.

Haines: I think I heard something about that.

Chideya: Errin, what kind of discussions are you having inside the newsroom of The 19th? And are you hearing about key states or issues to watch in the midterms?

Haines: Yeah, so a couple of things. I mean, look, for my money, it's Georgia and Pennsylvania that are particularly interesting. Probably, it's because Georgia's my home state and Pennsylvania's the state where I live now. So in Georgia, you've got Senator Raphael Warnock, who is running outright to keep the seat that he just won in that special election last January. It's like, "Wow, he just won that seat, and now he's been campaigning ever since." But potentially helping him out at the top of the ticket next year is Stacey Abrams, who we know is running for governor in a race that is sure to draw national attention and money, and maybe even a record turnout in an off-year election. Pennsylvania is also one to watch, because it's wide open. Senator Pat Toomey announced his retirement, and so this was the state that clenched it really for Biden and Harris in 2020. So I'm really curious to see kind of how Democrats' fortunes have changed in Pennsylvania, if at all, since last November. That was something that was really fascinating to see when Pennsylvania went for Trump in 2016, and just kind of where voters in counties that were Obama, Trump, what motivated those folks. So if we have some of those dynamics, I think Pennsylvania could absolutely portend some things headed into 2024. But where are voters in Pennsylvania on the economy? How have they recovered from the pandemic? Are things like the culture wars going to reach a state like Pennsylvania on issues like abortion, or guns, or voting rights, or education? I'm just really curious about a lot of that.

Chideya: Yeah, absolutely. And what are you keeping your eye on, Karen?

Attiah: Yeah. I mean, right now, I'm joining you guys from what Washington, DC, but normally I'm based in Texas, where we also have some big state elections. The governorship race, of course, with Abbott and Beto O'Rourke, who's just put his name in the hat, cowboy hat, rodeo ring. I don't know, whatever you want to call it.

Haines: Insert metaphor here.

Attiah: Yeah, exactly. Insert that here. I mean, I'm really looking at how much these midterms... How effective it'll be to run on this message that this is a re-litigation or a referendum of the Trump years. To me, what I'm looking for is more so Trumpism and that replication of the playbook by various elected officials that are running next year, and how much energy and time and money and resources they put into propping up Trump's big lie and pandering to their bases that way. Also, with the Democrats as well, I mean, how far can they really get by on saying, "Well, that person was for Trump. Trump was bad. Don't for vote for them, vote for me"? I think now, we have enough records of the current incumbents. So if I'm Beto O'Rourke, for instance, or the Democrats in Texas, we've gone through a power grid crash, we've gone through COVID and the economy. So there's enough records to where to a certain extent Trump shouldn't really be a factor, but again, I'd be really curious to see how much there's going to be policy and COVID in the present, remaining in the present, versus dragging us back to 2015, 2016, 2017 all over again.

Chideya: I'm a big social sciences nerd, and this fascinated me. It was published in August of this year. Bear with me, I'm going to read a little bit of the abstract. "White Americans may find diversity threatening in part because they construe non-White Americans as a coherent social and political force. We argue that this perception manifests in a belief that minority groups collude against White people, and that White people should act as a political block to defend in-group interests." So we just did a special roundtable recently on the whole super demographic of women of color, which is one reason we started this show. Not with a preconception that women of color were a unified group, but with a knowledge that women of color were not a unified group, but that we were acting within complicated social group dynamics. So essentially, what this paper is saying is that if White Americans view people of color as a group, it creates or there is a hostility intention. I think about places like Georgia, where different groups of people of color did act together: Asian Americans, Latinos, Blacks. What are we supposed to make of... Where is the mountaintop? How's that for a question? Where's the mountaintop if we're just locking heads like this?

Haines: Yeah. I mean, I think you bring up Georgia, and that is an interesting case study, because there had to be a critical mass of White folks who felt like they were part of that coalition. And you saw even... I mean, Stacey Abrams, in her not becoming governor, even-

Chideya: I love that you're like "not becoming governor." Not like "lost the election," but "not becoming governor."

Haines: She would say, "I did not lose that election. I did not become governor." So in her not becoming governor, she crisscrossed the state appealing to rural White folks in South Georgia. I could talk to a White farmer who would say, "She talked about her parents working the land in Mississippi. That resonated with me." Treating some of these folks as a foregone conclusion is not a winning strategy. Making the case to at least some amount of them could make the difference in some of the coalition building that will definitely have to happen, especially in states where people of color are not the majority, or do not have the numbers to really vote for folks that they feel like will represent their interests based on their lived experience, among other factors.

Chideya: So we have a choice. You let me know. We either can talk about Stacey Abrams, or we can do our crystal ball of things to keep an eye on for next year. Where do we want to go?

Haines: What do y'all want to do?

Attiah: Ooh, yeah.

Haines: These are both topics that are exciting. I don't know. [crosstalk 00:43:40].

Attiah: To kind of tie in the Stacey Abrams angle there, I think we're going to just continue to see this trend of the local and the state level continuing to become national stories. And then frankly, I think what is frightening me about democracy... But I would like Democrats in the left to start framing this as issues of freedom and human rights, civil rights. I think we're going to see a lot of assaults on rights that we thought were settled. We're continuing to see that with voting rights act, with abortion, with civil rights, with the profiling and the xenophobia that's happening. And I think we are going to see... And I was talking to a colleague about this today. I mean, even in my home state, living in Texas right now, I feel like this is a picture of, in some ways, what post-democracy looks like. [crosstalk 00:44:38] we're going to increasingly see a country that looks like a patchwork of states, where where you live determines the rights that you have. And we're going to increasingly see just kind of this return to this Calhounist states' rights challenging and upending and lawsuit-ing against federal and national policies. And I just look ahead, and I'm worried very much about the state of that. It's like this Balkanization that is rapidly happening. And I think there's going to be assaults on our rights and on our freedoms, and I wish Democrats could get it together. I don't know if Democrats will get it together, but I just say: Find your communities now, find your support now, because there's going to be some drag-out fights, both on the cultural front and the cultural wars and, I think, politically as well.

Chideya: Yeah. Let me just tag onto that. One thing that I've been thinking a lot about is that as someone who has a lot of information about my family history, particularly land-owning literate Black farmers before the Civil War who faced an incredible headwind just to be free, in some ways, what we're facing is potentially a return to a kind of conditional freedom. Our freedom has always been conditional in many ways, but a return to a conditional freedom that we have not seen since the end of reconstruction and that is this patchwork. But Errin-

Haines: And it feels more conditional than ever, particularly along lines of race and gender, and for marginalized folks in general in this country. And so I say I'm not a crystal baller, and yet I'm getting ready to reflect on something that I predicted this year that I feel like is coming to pass, and that we are going to see even more of heading into next year. So I wrote this piece in The 19th at the beginning of the year, asserting that women were going to be on the front lines of this battle for the soul of America, which did not stop, by the way, with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. So for one, that includes Republican women, 127 Republican women planning to run for House seats this year. I think that the fight over education-

Chideya: 127, wow.

Haines: 127. The fight over education, the fight over abortion undoubtedly are going to be factors that are pulling them into the fray, but Republican women are also winning races. I mean, Amanda Becker, shout out to you, Amanda, if you're listening, my colleague at The 19th. She wrote about the Republican gains in Congress and state legislatures earlier this year. I think also we talk about years being the year the woman... I think year of the Black woman next year in particular, because next year is the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm's historic run for president-

Chideya: Amazing.

Haines: ... as the first woman and first Black woman to seek the Democratic Party's nomination in 1972. So historically, we know there's been this lack of political diversity of Black women and women. That is something that is changing and I think is going to continue to change in 2022. You've got five Black women right now running for governor, eight Black women who currently serve as mayors of major American cities, and Black women running for Senate in open seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri. And they're also challenging Republican incumbents in states like Wisconsin, South Carolina. Val Demings's down in Florida challenging Marco Rubio. So I think it's going to be a really exciting year for women in politics again, and so I predict that there will be plenty of work for us to do at The 19th, but really for anybody who cares about the exciting dynamics of gender and politics in this country.

Chideya: And we're going to wrap it up here. Thank you so much for joining me, Errin and Karen.

Haines: Happy holidays.

Attiah: Happy holidays.

Chideya: Happy holidays. Thanks, everyone.

Attiah: Bye. Thank you, guys.

Chideya: That was Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th, and Karen Attiah, columnist at the Washington Post. You can find more live events in 2022 by visiting our page, ourbodypolitic.com. 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 makes 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 JJ Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “How Confronting the Myth of American Innocence Can Stop Our Slide into Authoritarianism, and a Look Ahead at the Political Lessons We Carry into 2022.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. December 17, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/