Our Body Politic

WoC and the Republican Party, Healthcare for the People, and the Activism of 2020

Episode Notes

This week Farai Chideya explores the ideological diversity among women of color with Shirlene Ostrov, the Chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party, and Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur, a leading expert on Black Republicans. "Rise" looks closer at feminism and social issues, from China to the U.S. with writer Frankie Huang, and a provocative discussion of Black leadership with Janaya “Future” Khan, international ambassador of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Episode Rundown

4:30 Hawaii GOP Chairman Shirlene Ostrov talks about how the President has helped people of color. 

7:29 Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur talks about the difference between Black Americans who identify as Democrats and those who identify as Republicans. 

10:14 There's a gender gap between Black men and women at the polls. 

13:22 Errin Haines and Farai Chideya talk about which congressional races have significant impact on women of color candidates and voters.

15:53 New York Times reports that the Trump Administration secretly briefed stock market investors ahead of the pandemic. 

17:25 Covid update: Where cases are spiking, and how to vote safely. 

20:09 Dr. Kavita Trivedi talks about vaccine trials for COVID

24:50 Shyvon Paul and Dr. Ronica Mukerjee tell us about Healthcare for the People. 

26:40 The U.S. has “the highest rates of death from COVID in the world because of the lack of caring for communities of color, and also poor people” - Dr. Mukerjee. 

28:28 As much as the healthcare system needs reform, systemic racism is at the root of healthcare disparities. 

33:30 Writer Frankie Huang talks about the racism Chinese-Americans face because of COVID and white supremacy.

37:43 The Good News segment includes Megan Thee Stallion, police accountability and Ava DuVernay. 

40:19 Activist Janaya Future Khan explains why “our job is to make revolution irresistible.”

44:00 Khan speaks about the new  leadership of Black women and queer folks today

46:34 Khan talks about their first time experiencing and understanding activism. 

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: 

I'm Farai Chideya, this week on Our Body Politic, we're featuring the needs and desires of conservative women of color.

Kim Klacik: My name is Kim Klacik, and I'm running for Congress in Maryland's 7th District. And like Shirley Chisholm, I'm unbought and unbossed.

Chideya: That's Kim Klacik, a Black woman running for the late Elijah Cummings seat in Baltimore speaking at the Republican National Convention earlier this year.

Klacik: Let me remind you, the Democrats have controlled this part of Baltimore City for over 50 years, and they've run this beautiful place right into the ground.

Chideya: For many people of color, the politics and rhetoric of the Republican party, especially under President Donald Trump seem impossible to embrace, but politics is a great national pageant of belonging and everything from faith to a candidate's personal charisma, sways voters. For a large number of people of color, social and fiscal conservatism are key in their support of the Republican ticket. My own family is socially and politically heterogeneous atheist, Catholics, and Protestants, staunch liberals and stalwart conservatives, many of the latter veterans or children of veterans. But the conservatives in my family and many other Black families have been tested in voting their values in the age of Trump.

Some choose to vote third party for that reason, even in a swing state. President Trump has a small but vocal contingent of Black supporters, though according to the Pew Research Center, only 6% of African-Americans voted for Trump in 2016. Comparatively, more than 20% of Latinos voted for Trump, some of which was based on religious affiliation. On Our Body Politic, we make a point of exploring the ways that the super demographic of women of color is diverse, including ideologically. Thank you for tuning in to Our Body Politic. 

We're exploring the topic of conservatism and women of color this week. So we invited Shirlene De La Cruz Ostrov to join us. She's the chair of the Republican party in Hawaii. She told us the GOP in Hawaii is making plenty of room for people of color like herself.

Shirlene De La Cruz Ostrov:

We have Samoan, we have native Hawaiians, Filipinos, Chinese, Korean, and African-Americans as well as White Americans representing our slate.

Chideya: Thank you for joining us, Chairman Ostrov.

Ostrov: Thank you for having me. I'm really glad to be here.

Chideya: So can you tell us more about your role in heading the Hawaii Republican party and what got you into politics? What was important to you?

Ostrov: Absolutely. So I was never into politics. I spent my entire adult life away from politics because I was a military officer. And I retired from the Air Force as a Colonel after 25 years of service and the military, we don't necessarily get involved in politics, but upon my return to my childhood home, where I decided to retire, I noted that there was a huge imbalance in politics. And so I decided to kind of get involved and try to bring a balanced governance model to Hawaii. And so I ran for chairman of the party and that's where we are today.

Chideya: A number of my family members are socially and fiscally conservative Black veterans and also extended military family members. But as far as I know, they have chosen not to vote for President Trump. So what would you say to Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American conservatives who feel that because of race or other policy issues, they don't want to vote for the president?

Ostrov: As you know, I'm 100% Filipino. My daughters are Samoan and Tongan, and I'm married to a Jew. So my point is that I understand a very complex tapestry that is our lives today. And so race is important to me as well. And so when I see a president that has the lowest unemployment historically for Blacks and the lowest for Latinos and women, and does criminal justice reform that directly impacts positively our African-American community and does legislation to help our historically Black colleges and universities, those are the things that I say is really important for all of us people of color to understand that the policies are very supportive of where we want to be.

Chideya: I understand that the vast majority of representatives, both in state government and your congressional representatives are Democrats and not Republicans coming from the state of Hawaii. How does that change how you have to operate as someone who's in political power and how do you deal with your colleagues across the aisle?

Ostrov: Hawaii is used to political compliance to something like our super majority of Democrats. Hawaii was a monarchy just in last century. And so our king and queen demanded political compliance. And then when we were overthrown by businessmen from the United States, they demanded political compliance to the people of Hawaii. And then when we became a territorial government within my parents' lifetime, the territorial government demanded political compliance. So it's not surprising that in this day and age, we'd been a state for 60 plus years now that the super majority commands political compliance, but there's a small group of people. And actually we're growing in numbers that understands that a competition of ideas can serve our state best.

Chideya: Chairman Ostrov, thank you so much for being so generous with your time.

Ostrov: I appreciate very much that you guys had me on, and call me any time.

Chideya: That was Shirlene De La Cruz Ostrov, chairman of the Republican party in Hawaii. We continue our discussion about people of color and the Republican party with Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur. Dr. Rigueur has written extensively about the topic, specifically the history of Black Republicans. She's an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an associate professor of American history at Brandeis University. Welcome Dr. Rigueur.

Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur:

Thanks for having me.

Chideya: Let's just start with the basics. I mean, what are the core differences in political outlooks and philosophies between Black Americans who identify as Republicans and Democrats?

Wright Rigueur: So I think there are a lot of differences between African-Americans or Black voters who identify as Democrats and those that identify as Republicans, but none of those differences have been as stark as they are in the era of Donald Trump. One of the overarching things that actually unites a lot of these Black Republicans and differentiates them from a number of Black Democrats is their understanding of what we might call the failures of democracy and how they interpret this idea of the failure of democracy. Now, a number of Black Democrats believe that democracy and the institutions, political institutions of democracy have failed Black people, but they still place hope in the Democratic party or at least those kinds of electoral politics in terms of transforming the day to day lives of African-Americans and Black people on the ground. Black Republicans don't hold that same faith in the American political system.

And so we do see a lot of, once you combine that with say ideas of economics, particularly ideas of deregulation, big business, this idea of investment in Black businesses. When we see that social conservatism, when we see that level of religiosity, that's when we begin to see significant differences between Black Republicans and Black Democrats on the ground. A lot of these kind of outspoken Black Trump supporters are outliers in a lot of ways, they aren't necessarily, they don't represent say 25, 30, 40, even 50% of the Black voting electorate, but still just their very presence, I think shocks a lot of people.

But one of the things that is really important is that they don't necessarily distinguish between, say the racism of Donald Trump and what they see as the racism of the Democratic party. They do a lot of what aboutism where they say, well, the other party is racist too, and they can focus on the other aspects of his presidency. You might ask, how do we disentangle that? But I think for people on the ground, people who are still kind of diehard about Donald Trump, they don't have to disentangle it because they know it's essentially irreconcilable.

Chideya: One of the things that I've been watching is the gender differences in Black America and Black women are much more motivated to vote for the Democratic party in this election and in the past election, have you been tracking that at all?

Wright Rigueur: Absolutely. So one of the fascinating things about the 2016 election, and I think one of the things that was vastly under reported, under studied, under analyzed was the gender gap between Black men and Black women. When we look at who are those Black Republicans, they're more likely to be men. We also know that Black women are overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic party. They are essentially the backbone of the Democratic party in the modern period. They're the most consistent and the most loyal of democratic voters, Black men, however, have a much softer, I think and more complicated relationship to the Democratic party.

And so one of the areas where it plays out and where it turns out is in terms of turnout, how many Black men are coming out to vote, particularly in swing States, are they coming out to vote in swing States for Democratic candidates? Are they voting third party or are they not voting at all? And so I think this is really important when we start looking at particularly how campaigns attract voters, how they reach people. One of the things that's really important here too, is that we're not seeing the same level of support for the Democratic candidate that we saw with Barack Obama in 2008, but in particular in 2012, amongst Black men.

Chideya: So let's imagine that we are 10 presidential election cycles in the future when America is majority Latino and people of color, are there Black Republicans or have the parties changed entirely?

Wright Rigueur: I think the combination of a lot of things moving forward, the pervasiveness of voter depression and voter suppression tactics, coupled with the fact that you were always going to have these kind of racial minority Republicans means that there is essentially a space within the Republican party for these people, even though the Republican party may not represent their best interests. It feels illogical to say, well, why would there be Black people in the Republican party when the Republican party is actively hostile to civil rights? That's been the question of the last 50 years, and yet here we are. So I think that's one of the things we can actually project out and say, even 10 cycles from right now, if they're still two major political parties at that point, you will still have, and maybe a very small, small minuscule number, but you will still have Black Republicans within the Republican party.

Chideya: That was Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur, author of the Loneliness Of The Black Republican. 

Now it's time for “Sipping the Political Tea” with Errin Haines. Haines is editor at large, at the 19th news and our political contributor here at Our Body Politic welcome, Errin.

Errin Haines: Farai, the home home stretch. We're almost there.

Chideya: Oh, I am excited and terrified all of it, all of it.

Haines: All of the above, absolutely.

Chideya: Of course, a lot of people, including us, are focused on the presidential race, but there's so many different races, local, state, a bunch of national ones, including the Senate and House races. So what should we be looking at in those in the coming weeks?

Haines: Yeah, I mean, there is a lot of energy down-ballot and certainly a lot of those first that we saw in the 2018 midterms that helped to make the most diverse Congress that we've ever seen, particularly around women. A lot of them are up for reelection. I'm thinking about Lucy McBath out of Georgia, Jahana Hayes out of Connecticut, Ayanna Pressley out of Massachusetts, Lauren Underwood out of Illinois. They are definitely back on the campaign trail and while it looks good for some, it does not look good for all. So we shall see how they fare in those races. And then, I'm also looking at a lot of Black women and as voters and how they may factor into a few key races. I'm thinking about the senate race in Georgia with, Kelly Loeffler, Doug Collins and Raphael Warnock that is probably going to go to a runoff. The South Carolina race, obviously with Jaime Harrison and Lindsey Graham, that's getting a lot of attention. And then also a race that I feel like should really be getting more attention in this moment, which is the Mississippi senate race between Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith, which is a bit of a rematch from just a couple of years ago, that special election which she came within striking distance of her and was going to be the first Black man to represent Mississippi, I think since Reconstruction. So Black women are definitely active and engaged on the ground in Mississippi, from what I hear.

Chideya: I want to turn to something else of national importance, which is the census. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration ending the 2020 census early. Counting is now over. So what impact might this have for communities of color?

Haines: Well, I think for a lot of marginalized communities, there is concern about undercount and there was a push by a lot of groups to urge communities of color to respond to the census, even in the midst of a pandemic and even knowing that there really wasn't, it didn't feel like that much of an emphasis on making the census a priority from the administration standpoint. So making sure that those communities were counted in numbers that would get them the resources that they're going to need was very important. And there's a concern that that's not going to happen. So on the other side of this count, it is going to be interesting to see just how far those numbers are off from reality and what that's going to mean on the ground for folks.

Chideya: Also, the New York Times reported a story this week about how the Trump administration briefed stock market investors privately at the beginning of the pandemic, telling them the opposite of what they were saying publicly. In public, the administration said things were in control in the U.S. with COVID and then there was a spiraling stock market. And some Republican party donors actually benefited. Can you help unpack this?

Haines: Well, the reason the story matters is it goes to this theme that we saw in Bob Woodward's reporting where the president was downplaying the virus, as he said, as he said that he wanted to do, to the American people, while telling people like Bob Woodward, his administration surrogates were telling people like these investors, are quite another thing, giving them more of a sense of the reality of the pandemic. That kind of news, when people are living kind of the daily reality of this pandemic and knowing the impact that it's had on their lives from both a public health and an economic standpoint, a lot of women voters in particular that I talked to who have been making sacrifices in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, to hear these kinds of reports, it's very upsetting, it's infuriating for them knowing what they've been trying to do to survive in this moment.

Chideya: Thanks so much, Errin.

Haines: Thank you. Let's see what happens next week.

Chideya: Here at Our Body Politic, we continue to follow the COVID-19 pandemic with a special focus on how it impacts communities of color. Nationwide, coronavirus cases are up nearly a quarter compared to two weeks ago, with 40 states seeing more cases than last week. Falling temperatures drive people in doors where the virus can spread more easily and combined with COVID fatigue, that likely means another large wave of cases is on the way. The Rocky Mountain states and Upper Midwest are seeing the fastest growing outbreaks and states in the Northeast where stricter health measures brought cases down over the summer are now seeing an uptick in cases.

All of this is worrying to people concerned about voting safely in the election barely more than two weeks away. Medical experts urge in-person voters show up with their own PPE, a mask and gloves, and to socially distance in line. Since summer relatives of people who have died of COVID have come forward with stories of older relatives who followed president Trump's example on wearing masks and taking other precautions like Kristin Urquiza, who spoke at the Democratic national convention about losing her father to COVID-19.

Kristin Urquiza: My dad was a healthy 65 year old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that, he paid with his life.

Chideya: Researchers at Cornell University analyzed 38 million English language articles about the coronavirus pandemic, their goal to track sources of misinformation. Articles that mentioned president Trump made up more than a third of those with misleading information. The authors concluded the quote, "President Trump was likely the major driver of the infodemic". 

Part of our regular COVID update includes bringing you the information you need to stay safe. We're bringing back a guest heard in our inaugural episode, Dr. Kavita Trivedi, she's a CDC trained epidemiologist based in the Bay Area. She works with organizations to understand and act upon the latest developments in COVID containment. Welcome back, Dr. Trivedi.

Dr. Kavita Trivedi: Thanks for having me, Farai.

Chideya: How much should we be paying to news of a possible COVID vaccine? I know some people are just, for example, our president said we could have one by the end of the year. What's a realistic timeline for that to happen because I believe that a vaccine trial was halted recently.

Trivedi: We have 11 vaccines now in phase three trials. One of them was just halted, but what we have seen, I think on the last few days is the FDA clearly stating that vaccine companies should follow patients for about two months before they looked for FDA approval for a widespread distribution of the vaccines. And I think that gives us a better timeline as to when we can imagine having a vaccine. We will not have a vaccine most likely before the election. And we will see how distribution actually unfolds when a vaccine is proven to be safe and effective.

Chideya: I have a friend who is Black, who deliberately enrolled in a vaccine trial because she's worried that they're not diverse enough in terms of who's enrolling and other people who were Black were like, there is no way I'm enrolling in a vaccine trial because of the history of medical racism in the U.S. What do we know, if anything about who's enrolling in trials?

Trivedi: Moderna, which is one of the companies that is engaged in the phase three trials of a vaccine has been transparent about the percentage of participants in their vaccine trial that are African-American. And as of mid September, only 7% of the trial participants were Black. And they put a lot of effort along with community health workers to really focus on getting the African-American population to participate in the vaccine, because we have such a disproportionate amount of the African-American population in the U.S. being affected by this virus. We really need to include the population in the vaccine trial, so that we can also prove that the vaccine is safe and efficacious in that population that's being the most affected.

Chideya: What about leadership from the top? The president has been holding rallies where a lot of people aren't wearing masks, is modeling this sort of behavior having an effect on people, do you think?

Trivedi: Absolutely. If the public health message is not believed or practiced by our political leaders, then effectively the public health message is being undermined. And that's what we're seeing happen with the behavior of the White House and the behavior of many of our elected officials, and the science is telling us clearly now that if we implement simple things, there are four kind of basic behavioral interventions that every single person can implement. That includes wearing a face mask, that includes physical distancing, and then staying home if you're ill, and washing your hands. And if we all engage in those four behaviors, we will absolutely see transmission rates decrease, and we'll be able to send our kids back to school and get back to life as we somewhat knew it before. And if again, our political leaders and our officials were on the same page about this, then I think we would be in a different place right now, and not nine months into the pandemic, looking at a trajectory that still is continuing to go up instead of going down.

Chideya: Dr. Kavita Trivedi, thank you so much for joining us.

Trivedi: Thanks for having me Farai.

Chideya: The health disparities for communities of color laid bare by COVID-19, were not new or surprising to many medical professionals. For some, the pandemic opened up an opportunity to address a need in their community. Healthcare for the People serves communities in Brooklyn, New York. I asked the founders to tell me more about their organization and their view on the pandemic. Dr. Ronica Mukerjee is a nurse practitioner with a doctoral degree and a teacher at the Yale School of Nursing. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Ronica Mukerjee: Thank you.

 Chideya: And Shyvon Paul is a family nurse practitioner as well. Welcome.

Shyvon Paul: Thank you Farai.

Chideya: So I'm going to start with you Shyvon, tell us about Healthcare For the People.

Paul: So Healthcare for the People is a project that was started by a group of licensed medical professional. We're all friends and some of us work together. And the reason this project was created is in response to the healthcare disparities in Black and Brown communities. And it's not as though we weren't aware of these disparities. I think COVID 19 highlighted a lot of the inequities. And so we came up with the decision to deliver free healthcare in Prospect Park every Saturday. And we're typically there from 12:00 to 4:00 PM, serving the community.

Chideya: And Dr. Mukerjee, what was the early part of the pandemic like for you and what made you want to be part of this?

Mukerjee: Well, the early part of the pandemic for me, I was in Tijuana, Mexico. I run this refugee health organization on the border, which is also another free healthcare project. The COVID situation into Tijuana has meant having to come up with a lot of creative solutions that I think many medical providers in the U.S. would balk at. That's the reality of healthcare anywhere in the world that isn't a first world country, but I think what it points to is how incredibly shameful the COVID situation is the United States. Like we have all of these resources. We're one of the richest countries in the world. We have more medical innovation than just about any other country in the world. And also the highest rates of death from COVID in the world because of the lack of caring for communities of color, and also poor people.

Chideya: Shyvon, you were born in Guyana, grew up in Barbados and your family moved to Bedstuy in Brooklyn. And this is where you've spent your adult life and had your own family. So how do you think of the healthcare system here in the U.S.?

 Paul: You're right. I grew up in a third world country where we did not have access to healthcare, and I didn't see a doctor until I came to this country. And for me, it's heartbreaking because this is a country that does have the resources to help alleviate some of these disparities that has existed and continue to exist in Black and Brown communities. And I think Black and Brown people have been screaming for help, and it takes a pandemic for people around the country to see what's been taking place and what's going on.

Chideya: And when I go to your Instagram, which is Healthcare for the People 2020, it's pretty inspiring. What kind of joy or purpose does it bring to you to do this work?

Paul: There's work that you do that pays your bills. And then there's the work that you do that feeds your soul. And it makes me feel so good to give back to my community and to help people in need. And even though it is hard work, it doesn't feel that way because I know that there's a purpose behind it, and there's a need for it.

Chideya: And Dr. Mukerjee, I'll ask you the same thing.

 Mukerjee: What I've learned while being in healthcare is that it's really easy to rebuild and support these systems that create greater oppression, working for hospitals that serve predominantly wealthy people or working for pharmaceutical companies or working for insurance companies. And I have chosen not to do that because what I believe in is that there is a limit to how much money we should be making and the type of work we should be doing should reflect our personal politics and our personal dedication to communities of color and marginalized communities. One of the things I think about when I think about Healthcare for the People, is that we need to be thinking about disability justice more right now. Where we are, is not as accessible as I would like it to be for people who are disabled.

Chideya: If you could do one thing to transform healthcare in America, to make it more equitable and more for the people, what would it be?

Mukerjee: It's not a healthcare thing. I would eradicate policing, incarceration, all of the structures of inequity that exist that create the health disparities between the communities of low income and POC, Black indigenous communities. When you think about health inequity, anytime you look at health inequity, it is about social inequity. And I think that's very clear in the United States as well.

Paul: I agree it is deeper than just the healthcare system. We're talking about systemic racism and things that are built in place, and it's not just healthcare, but I would like to see a more universal health care, where it is something provided to everyone. Everyone can go to the same hospitals to the same doctor and receive the same level of care.

 Chideya: Shyvon Paul, Dr. Ronica Mukerjee. Thank you so much.

Paul: Thank you.

Mukerjee: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Shyvon Paul, Brooklyn based artist and family nurse practitioner. And Dr. Ronica Mukerjee family nurse practitioner, acupuncturist, and co-director of a refugee health organization. You can find Healthcare For The People on Instagram, at Healthcare for the People 2020, along with the link to their GoFundMe page. All funds go directly to medical supplies for their pop-up clinic. 

Coming up next:

Janaya Khan: I think part of our job is to understand what's said, and not being said, so when we say words, when we say things like Black liberation, what are people hearing? Do they see themselves in it? When we say words like, I don't know, a feminist future, where do I get to live in that? When we say leadership, the future of leadership, who are we speaking of?

Chideya: You're listening to Our Body Politic. 

You can find more information about our program at farai.com/obp. You can also find a link there to leave us written feedback for our platform SPEAK or call SPEAK, to leave a voicemail. The number is (929) 353-7006. That's (929) 353-7006. We'd like to hear from you ahead of the election. We have one simple question. What is the most important issue to you as a voter and why? Please keep sending us your thoughts and sharing the show with friends and family. 

Writer and illustrator, Frankie Huang explores feminism, diaspora identity, and social issues in China and the U.S. She was born in Beijing, raised in New Jersey, and is now based in Shanghai from where she joined us. Welcome Frankie.

Huang: Thank you for having me Farai.

Chideya: So you really have written quite an interesting body of work on a lot of different topics, including following the outbreak of COVID-19 from the beginning. It started in Wuhan province in China, and now the U.S. is the epicenter of the outbreak, seven, eight months later. I can't help but mention that the president has repeatedly used the whole slur of the “China virus,” including in the first and potentially only presidential debate. What do you make of the pretty obvious weaponized xenophobia around China coming from the White House?

Huang: Well, it's just deployed to distract us from the fact that the white house has handled the pandemic in the worst way at every turn. And yes, the virus came out of China, but obviously it has a life of its own. It has nothing to do with the Chinese government, the Chinese people, but this is a really great way to take the focus off of the White House politicizing a pandemic and letting Americans get sick and die.

Chideya: You also tweeted out on March 28th, some Chinese masks and PPE donors told me they're nervous about attracting too much attention for donating a lot to the U.S. because people will start to wonder why they have so much. Was it difficult for people who were in China or Chinese American to even pitch in because of the xenophobia?

Huang: Yes. Well, because I think a lot of people of Chinese descent were much more aware of the gravity of the situation, because it's already gotten really bad in China. They really wanted to help because they see that the response in the U.S. has been so sluggish. But by then, I think the xenophobia has already taken hold and donating masks and PPEs to Americans sort of wounds the pride of a lot of Americans. And also because of the xenophobia, there's suspicion. Is there ulterior motive? They can't think of these Chinese people just as kind folks trying to help, they think they're trying to profit or get something out of it.

Chideya: I want to move on to your piece in Medium “A Complicated History of Han Chinese Anti-Blackness.” And you confront the ideas that keep many Han Chinese, which you refer to as a group led by culture and language rather than nationality, from being supportive of Black Lives Matter. And I was really drawn to two concepts that you talked about: white adjacency and chauvinism. Tell me a little bit more about how you kind of define these and see these working into the bigger issue.

Huang: Well, I think the white adjacency was something that I was aware of for longer, because growing up sort of being pushed to be a model minority. Without saying as much, I think white adjacency is always the goal and sort of a testament to maybe doing everything right, and getting away from being oppressed by racism, because then we can be the oppressors essentially. But of course, nobody would say this because I think a lot of people aren't even really aware of that being their ultimate goal. And Han chauvinism, is something that I became aware of a bit later, as I did more research about my own country, because in the U.S. people of Chinese descent is a minority, but in China they're the majority and they are in some cases "the oppressors" and they are the privileged majority that get to shape the mainstream and shape the status quo. And I think there's a desire for that for people of Chinese descent who leave China, they still feel like they deserve that. And I think reaching for white adjacency is a way to sort of regain that in their lives.

 Chideya: That was writer and illustrator, Frankie Huang. 

At Our Body Politic we find ways between the doom and gloom and hard conversations to lift ourselves up, provide deeper positive stories and give you some lighter, good news for media and the arts. So this week, Solange Knowles has an amazing piece in Harper's Bazaar. It's fashion, nostalgia and notes from a diary combined into their own mesmerizing piece. As if her words weren't enough, the photos are stunning. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion wrote an op-ed in the New York Times boldly speaking up for Black women. She also talks about her experience as a victim in a shooting. The video with the article is definitely worth watching. In more strictly music news, Sony Music Group has hired Tiffany R. Warren to be their new executive vice president, chief diversity and inclusion officer. Warren's job will be to continue the work she's been doing for over a decade to ensure diversity and inclusion in the music and entertainment industry. If you live in L.A., New York City or Atlanta, you might've seen some new billboards on the streets from Array, Ava DuVernay's nonprofit arts and advocacy collective. The Law Enforcement Accountability Project, also known as LEAP has new ads out to educate the public about police brutality and inspire social change. Speaking of DuVernay, it was just announced that she will write, produce and direct Isabel Wilkerson's New York Times bestseller “Caste: The Origin Of Our Discontents.” Expect to see some important social issues highlighted in her first Netflix feature film. 

The hashtag Black lives matter movement started in 2013 in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin and its aftermath. Janaya Khan has been instrumental in helping it go global. They're co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada. And now the international ambassador for the movement.

Janaya Khan: Black liberation struggle is a part of any kind of liberation struggle, whether that's aesthetic or ideology, whether that's scholarship. You are seeing the sharing of that, I can go anywhere in the world and find Mandela or find Angela, or even find Maya or James or Tupac.

Chideya: Janaya Future Khan is a storyteller and activist, and they spent some time with us to share their goals and the future they imagine for our world. Welcome Janaya. Thanks for being here.

Khan: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Chideya: There's so many places to start, but I loved a quote that you gave to Time Magazine, our job is to make revolution irresistible. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Khan: That is definitely influenced by Toni Cade Bambara. And essentially I think of our job as organizers, as storytellers and what it means to dream. I think part of our job is to understand what's said and not being said. So when we say words, when we say things like Black liberation, what are people hearing? Do they see themselves in it? When we say words like a feminist future, where do I get to live in that? What images do we congest? So I think it's really understanding what is said and what isn't said so that we can speak to the heart of the matter, so that we can speak to the spirit, so we can speak to humanity, to the human condition.

And despite all the ugliness in the world and in our society, and there's so much, there is something that does unite us and the human condition. There's something that does unite us in suffering, in joy. And if we can speak to the human condition and we can speak to liberation revolution as something that everyone can envision on some level, I think and get just a finger in there, just a toe, the rest is so much easier. So our job is to make it a resistible. Our job is to ensure that everyone can see themselves in it and that we can create a path and a roadmap to get there. And that's always the hope. That's always the goal.

Chideya: Let me bring up two different types of people that I've spent time with, that I think that it might be difficult to recruit to that idea. One is people like some of the people in my own family not all, but some people who are kind of the respectability politics crowd, like Oh my gosh, protesting and showing out. Basically if Black people, for example, only dress nicely and talk nicely and act nicely in the end, everything will be fine. That's a simplistic interpretation, but there's a certain amount of that. And a certain amount of resentment of people who don't dress nicely, act nicely, speak nicely. And then there are people who are just extremely powerful who have access to resources of a city and who may think of themselves as good people or philanthropists, but would not want to share the power of decision making over those resources. How might what you just said apply to either or both of those groups?

Khan: I say it with so much love, but we tried it that way, we did it. In fact, we saw these things happen simultaneously. We saw the civil rights struggle specifically led by the King administration. At the same time we had the Black Panther Party. We had the Liberation Army, we had so many different groups of people. The point is that we tried it that way. We saw it through. It wasn't a failure. The movement was successful because they had specific goals and those goals were met and reached, and people were killed. Our people were killed, an entire generation of Black leadership. We saw it with Malcolm X, with MLK. We tried it that way. And my point is we should always be looking to find different ways to fight different ways to win.

And now here we are in this moment and this time, and the longing, I think for a kind of leadership that is recognizable speaks to how uncomfortable we are with seeing Black women, Black queer people, Black trans people in a position of leadership. That we don't actually know to recognize it when it's there, that we don't understand how to recognize decentralized models. We saw the single male leader. We saw it through. Now, we're a movement that is what we call leaderful. So many women, so many queer people, so many trans people, so many non binary people and all the intersections. Black women's scholarship is what has been providing answers to the questions that people have been too afraid to ask for too long.

And to the second one Farai, I want to say that everyone is welcome on this particular freedom train Farai. But oligarchs, I don't believe at a certain point that they can concede power. If I'm good enough to convince some of them to join, if we're good enough that's fantastic, but I don't know if it's a matter of us being good enough or even our vision being irresistible enough. I think it has to be really about their own relationship to the human condition, their own connection. And I do think we get to in this kind of David and Goliath fight. And for me, when I think of Goliath, when I think of giants, in Greek mythology, for example, we think of the Cyclops. When we think of the fact that with Goliath, there was a weakness between their eyes. There's a concentration on eyes when it comes to giants.

And I think that it's about concentration of power. And I do believe the more power that one gets, the more singular you become in your vision. And so there's something I think about oligarchs, where they're so singular in their vision around wealth, that they lose sight of everything else. And so I think our job is to try to rebalance that sight, rebalance the world, and they're going to be those who resist. And the hope is that they're going to be those who invest, who participate, who engage with their humanity, with the human condition. And that will require a kind of betraying of their own self interest on one level, which is the capitalist one, to pay into the kind of self interest that is around the human level.

Chideya: When is the first time that you remember understanding what an activist was and when was the first time that you understood yourself as an activist?

Khan: Whew, those questions Farai. The first time that I witnessed activism, I didn't know that's what it was. I was 13 and so was my sister, who is my twin. And we were with my mother and we lived in a women's shelter. And my sister and I had just started high school. We have a late birthday. And so we were in grade nine. This was the time before cell phones. And so it was very common, very normal for everyone to sort of share their phone numbers. And that's how you build relationships, especially amongst young girls. Well, that was a bit awkward for my sister and I, who at the time felt like we had to hide where we lived, because we felt shame around being in a women's shelter. There's a common area and that's the phone line and any number of people could pick it up. It's always somebody different depending on who's around.

And what I noticed was those women, I think they may have picked up on some of our anxiety. And so each of them would refer to themselves as our auntie. At one point, a friend said, how many aunties do you have? And I laughed, my sister and I laughed, I said many. And so here are all these women who are arguably the most vulnerable and one of the most difficult moments in their lives, most fleeing some kind of hideous situation, whether that's abuse or whether that is poverty related. And I always say poverty is on purpose. It is something that is constructed in our society. Some of them have young children and yet not only were they trying to shield my sister and I, but many of the women there took me under their wing.

I was struggling in a way that was different than my sister. I needed a kind of guidance, a kind of care, that my mother at the time just could not provide. She was going through a lot of mental health issues and she really has her entire life. And so these women really just stepped in and helped me without alienating my mother, would walk to the store with me, would talk to me about some of my goals, would tell me that this moment was just a moment in my life. And they showed me what activism was, that it was just being for someone else who you needed most in your most vulnerable moments. I think having seen a kind of care that I longed for it helped me to understand that I could be that for someone else. And in doing that and being in service that I could experience that kind of love too.

Chideya: Janaya Future Khan, thank you for the invitation to power and for your wisdom.

Khan: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Janaya Future Khan, international ambassador for Black Lives Matter and an activist, storyteller and futurist. Thank you for joining us on Our Body Politic this week. We'll be on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts.

 I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. Our Body Politic is presented and syndicated by KCRW, KPCC and KQED. It is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. 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. Michelle Baker and Emily Daly are assistant producers. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Virginia Lora. Our political bookers are Mary Knowles and Melanie Ganim.

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. “WoC and the Republican Party, Healthcare for the People, and the Activism of 2020.”  Our Body Politic,  Diaspora Farms LLC. October 9, 2020. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/