Our Body Politic

Understanding Disinformation Campaigns, Deb Haaland on Leading as a Laguna Pueblo Native, Why Flu Shots Are Vital Right Now

Episode Notes

This week on Our Body Politic, Farai Chideya talks with Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico about leading with her Laguna Pueblo heritage. Farai digs into politics and the economy in conversations about income taxes and the role of disinformation in our elections. Our weekly Covid update puts President Trump’s diagnosis in context with other impacted Americans. Our Rise segment looks at one woman uplifting families of police-violence victims, and how exotic dancers in Atlanta are getting out the vote.


CORRECTION: This episode’s COVID update misstated the likelihood of Black and Hispanic patients dying of Covid as 3 and 4 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites. But they are roughly 2.5 times more likely to die than white patients.


Episode Rundown

2:20 Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, talks about being a Congresswoman and how she remained hopeful. 

6:58 Haaland talks about why it’s imperative for those who can vote, to vote. 

8:09 Farai talks to Radhika Balakrishnan about Trump’s income taxes, income inequality, and our tax system. 

10:29 Balakrishnan explains the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic. 

13:00 One listener calls in to tell us their experience about incorrect voting dates in NYC.

14:22 Farai speaks with Mutale Nkonde, UN advisor on Race and AI, about disinformation campaigns that convince voters not to vote, domestically and abroad.

18:15 Disinformation: An art and practice developed in the Cold War, and still used to this day. 

22:54 How to steer clear from disinformation this election.

25:16 Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy talks about Amy Coney Barrett after her piece “If Amy Coney Barrett Was a Muslim”

29:12 Eltahawy talks about protests, revolution, and who the Supreme Court benefits. 

31:39 Errin Haines and Farai grapple with the first Presidential Debate. 

32:48 Erinn and her piece “Toxic Masculinity Takes Center Stage at the First Presidential Debate.” 

36:46 COVID-19: Who has it (POTUS and FLOTUS), and who it is disproportionately affecting.

40:36 Dr. Nikki Jackson talks about the importance of the flu shot. 

42:08 Is it safe to go to the doctors office? Dr. Jackson says yes, go! 

43:08 The Good News section - Beyonce, voting in style, and so much more. 

43:50 A conversation with Shatonna Nelson about police brutality and the communities it impacts. 

46:37 Nelson - “They all know that they need to tell the story,” on how to heal as the family of a victim of police brutality. 

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: 

I'm Farai Chideya. Two months ago now I wrote a blog post with the subtitle, "Reflections from a Black Female Journalist on America at the Precipice." Every week brings fresh news to make us feel closer to that precipice. In a tweet at 12:54 AM Eastern on Friday October 2nd, the President of the United States revealed that he and his wife have COVID-19. This announcement comes shortly after the United States passed the mark of more than 200,000 people who have died from the virus. The majority of people who get COVID-19 in America are Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, not non-Hispanic white. The majority are not wealthy. While hoping for the speedy recovery of the president and his wife, it is also important to point out that they are living materially different lives from most Americans suffering from Covid. Later in the show we bring you our weekly Covid update, including information on how Black and Latino families hit by the pandemic are also suffering economically and in terms of housing access. We created Our Body Politic to explore the way Black women and all women of color are facing this historic moment, and the challenges to our families, communities and this very democracy. We may be weary and some of us are sick this very moment with the pandemic or other health conditions, but I also believe we have each other. We must rely on a sense of greater community to help us through these hard days. We are not going to sugarcoat anything on this show, but we will bring you strategies for keeping you and those you love safe and for finding inspiration in troubled times. We are grateful for all you're doing to keep yourselves and our world together. We see you. We celebrate you. We walk alongside you, and later in the show you'll hear ways you can tell us what's on your mind so we can share stories and grow in collective wisdom. On Our Body Politic, you, my guests, and I will explore and form and shape our core notions of citizenship, belonging and this "new normal," which of course is just going to keep changing. And through that change, together we'll connect to the meaning and power of our own lives.

Chideya: In 2018, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico took her seat as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, along with fellow freshman lawmaker Sharice Davids of Kansas. Both are Democrats and both come from military families. In Representative Haaland's case, she went to 13 different public schools due to the career of her father, a decorated combat Marine, and her mother, a Navy veteran turned educator. Native Americans are disproportionately likely to serve in the armed forces, but Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, chose different forms of service. She was the first chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. Now, she's in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her district includes most of Albuquerque and its suburbs. She's currently working to make sure kids continue to have access to school meal programs and families have broadband internet access.

Chideya: I'm happy to welcome Representative Deb Haaland to Our Body Politic.

Deb Haaland: Thank you. Good to be here.

Chideya: One of the things I think about, I've spent 30 years as a reporter and I've looked at the way that race and ethnicity and national origin has been used to divide us. So you are of Laguna Pueblo heritage and there's some really amazing women who are also Laguna Pueblo. One of them is the esteemed author, Leslie Marmon Silko and in her book "Ceremony" she wrote this line that I really think it's applicable to our times. "The destroyers had tricked the white people as completely as they had fooled the Indians, and now only a few people understood how the filthy deception worked. Only a few knew that the lie was destroying the white people faster than it was destroying the Indian people." When I read that line again, I really felt just the pain of America's divisions. How do you as an indigenous woman and as a Congresswoman process these divisions that are keeping us from doing things like broadband, like feeding children, et cetera?

Haaland: You know, sometimes people ask me, do I have hope? Yes, I have hope. My ancestors, they fought drought and famine and they picked up and moved their entire communities to the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1200s. They had hard lives, but they always felt like we have an obligation to our future generations. To make sure that we are doing everything we can to survive, to thrive and I can't give up. You know, I don't have the luxury of just giving up so easily. I have an obligation to honor the legacy that my ancestors gave me.

Chideya: You're also Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and this summer the Supreme Court ruled in a tribal treaty rights case, McGirt versus Oklahoma. So what was the ruling and why was it so important?

Haaland: Well, I mean the most important part of that ruling was that, it affirmed that treaty rights, they never expire. They were meant to endure, so then the United States has a government, two government relationship with Indian tribes of which there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the country. We have our own leaders. We have our own governments and the United States is responsible for certain things. They have a trust responsibility that was decided by an early United States Supreme Court case, and so that's why I come to Congress and I want to make sure that the federal government is living up to its trust responsibility. And we see that in many cases it's not and that's why my voice is important. That's why Sharice Davids' voice is important and Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin we're the four Native American members of Congress.

Chideya: For people who are just so exhausted by politics, why is it important to vote in the 2020 election for president, for Congress, for all of the races?

Haaland: Well, I mean it's partly what I said about having hope, right, like none of us should give up. We have an obligation to vote, to make our voices heard because there are children. You may not have children of your own, but somebody has children. There are children in this country who are depending on us. They can't vote. They are depending on the adults in this country to make the decisions, the best decisions for them. These are children who need healthcare. These are children who need a quality public education. None of us should be saying, "I'm just not going to vote because I'm frustrated or I'm angry." We have an obligation to keep fighting, to keep that hope alive, and I am absolutely going to do just that.

Chideya: Well Representative Haaland, thank you so much for joining us.

Haaland: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Chideya: The public learned recently that there's evidence President Donald Trump doesn't pay income taxes, at least not like most of us. He paid $750 in federal income tax in the year 2016, the same in 2017 and none for 10 of the previous 15 years. I wanted to probe into what this says about income inequality, our tax system and our resources so I asked Radhika Balakrishnan to join us. She's Professor at Rutgers University of Women's and Gender Studies, and the current President of the International Association for Feminist Economics. I actually put my own taxes online to get the conversation going. In 2019, after some business deductions, I made a little under $130,000 and paid more than $20,000 in taxes. We've got voicemails from listeners too, they paid thousands more in federal income taxes than our president, even those on unemployment. I started by asking Professor Balakrishnan, what does this actually mean for a society that has prided itself on social mobility?

Radhika Balakri...: What we've seen over time from the 1980s on is, the tax burden of the top 1% has decreased in terms of what they actually made, and the bottom has gotten much worse. And so over time what we're seeing is that, there's inequality in terms of taxes. We can't forget the huge corporate tax cut that happened two years ago. I mean that's somehow faded into the background. And so what it means is the amount of income the government has at a moment in which the government needs to spend a lot of money has just shrunk. Trump's tax returns are just the evidence that we need to really rethink the way in which tax structures have happened. I mean taxes are not like some burden that we have to do, it is what pays for our society.

Chideya: We've been spending a fair amount on the stimulus. It's not been necessarily replacing what people had before, but do you foresee a timeline where we just say, "Well we have to tighten the belt," and then if so, what happens?

Balakrishnan: It really depends on what is going to happen when we actually have control over this pandemic and, what is the long-term economic impact of this pandemic? One of the things that I've been looking at in the last few days is, the recovery at the very top of the income bracket post-pandemic or during this pandemic, the recovery's gotten better for the top 1%. The group that is really going to get affected is the bottom. I mean the unemployment rates in terms of who is losing their jobs and who's applying for unemployment, are at the bottom of the income bracket. Farai, I'm not sure what it's like where you live. I live in Harlem. The level of poverty and homelessness is just visually on the streets. I've lived here 20 years, I've never seen something like this. If there's ever been a moment in history, in recent history, at least my lifetime, where we have to ask this question which is: what's the economy for? We've kind of decided that the economy was for the market and the stock market is the economy, which it's not. The work I've been doing for the last few years is saying, okay, what if we say the fulfillment of rights is the purpose of the economy, wellbeing is the purpose of the economy? How do we shift the way we think about the economy if the right to health, the right to education, the right to work was the purpose of the economy? What we always do is scramble for, can we get the little pieces, something so that the poor don't go hungry? Rather than saying, "Let's just shift the way this system works," because obviously the system is not working.

Chideya: Professor Radhika Balakrishnan, thank you so much for joining us.

Balakrishnan: You're very welcome. Thank you.

Chideya: I'm Farai Chideya and you're listening to Our Body Politic.

Chideya: This is Our Body Politic and I'm your host, Farai Chideya. Every week we ask you to give us a call or write us to tell us what's going on in your life. We're using a new technology called Speak that aggregates and analyzes your responses. We've been asking you, what is the most important challenge you're dealing with right now? One listener told us she was helping her mom find her polling place to vote early in New City when she noticed a couple of odd details. The dates of the regular and early election were wrong on the polling website. It was posted by the NYC Board of Elections, so she called and emailed and called and got nothing. According to news reports, the Board is now working to fix the problems. Our listener said she's concerned in part because we all need Black voters to turn out. But not everyone feels that way. In fact, there are both domestic and foreign led deterrence and disinformation campaigns trying to prevent Black people from voting.

Clip of UK Chan...: "Donald Trump has long been accused of ignoring the voices of millions of Black Americans. Now, we can reveal how he has actively tried to silence them..."

Chideya: Just last week, an incredible report from UK's Channel 4 came out. It asserts that Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign actively targeted over three and a half million Black Americans in battle ground states. The goal? To convince them not to vote. To help us understand what's at stake, we brought in Mutale Nkonde. She's the UN advisor on Race and AI, runs the organization AI For The People, and is an all-around expert on disinformation. I asked her to explain what the UK Channel 4 report was all about.

Mutale Nkonde: It's absolutely key for every campaign to know our demographic information, so those of us that have registered to vote, you know that you've given them your date of birth. You've given them your zip code, so they know where you live. Then you've given them your gender. You've also stated your race, and this becomes really, really important when we actually do go to vote. We want to make sure that the right person is attached to that voter number. However, what the Channel 4 team were able to do through their investigation was figure out how Donald Trump's campaign along with the Republican National Congress, along with Cambridge Analytica - which is obviously now defunct, but we would be naïve to think that these players are not out there under another name - were able to use that very key information about who we are, where we live, how old we are, to create these online profiles on Facebook. Then based on those online profiles, infer whether or not we were going to vote. They identified the people that would vote for Hillary definitely, versus the people who are soft voters; so potentially in their background they'd seen that they had maybe voted in four of the last 10 elections, whether they're general or local, which is why it's really important to vote all the time. And then those that just didn't vote at all. Based on those categories, they were then able to develop differentiated advertising campaigns on social media. Now, this is where things get really sinister and this is where we should be really scared for our democracy. Because these differentiated campaigns were designed, if you were a Black person, this team found out that these particular campaigns would be designed for you not to go to the polls. In the report they show a video that the campaign, the Trump campaign paid $19,000 to advertise on Facebook, where it's a Black woman saying she's going to vote for Hillary Clinton. Halfway through she stops and she says, "You know what? I can't do this. I just don't believe what I'm saying." There's a voiceover, and then the final frame of that particular ad is, "Not everybody can lie. Do not vote for Hillary Clinton." Now that may have gone to somebody like me, because if they had profiled me, they would have known I was all Hillary all day. I would be the type of voter that they want to keep home, because they know I'm not going to vote for Trump. But if I stay home, not voting for who you want to vote effectively becomes a vote for the other person. If this election were to be fair, if widespread Black voter suppression was not a factor, there is no path to victory for this particular president.

Chideya: The Channel 4 report talks about voter suppression tactics in President Trump's campaign in 2016. But Mutale, you have been looking at disinformation campaigns in 2016 and this year that are traced back to Russia. Can you start by telling us, what is disinformation?

Nkonde: I actually take it directly to the way that it was communicated by the KGB. Disinformation as an art and a practice is something that was developed through the Cold War. Disinformation is really an act of information warfare, where one nation or one group will take something that is commonly understood as the truth: for example, there is racism in America. That's commonly understood, but then they will start to implant messages that are untrue but support the truth. One of the earliest disinformation campaigns that we know of is the Scottsboro Boys in 1932, where the American Communist Party saw the injustice of lynching, joined anti-lynching campaigns, but then used those campaigns as a way to advance their own foreign policy. The same with AIDS, which was another Soviet disinformation campaign. The CIA did not create AIDS, but if you're a fan of old Kanye as I am a fan of old Kanye; Kanye it didn't, that was disinformation. We saw it again in 2016 where they were using Black Lives Matter protesting as a way of dissuading Black voters.

Chideya: That's a lot to process, so I want you to tell us a little bit more about how disinformation relates to Black Lives Matter and the role of social media in general.

Nkonde: Black Lives Matter is such an interesting case study and it's such a new case study, because the genesis of it lives on the internet. The way hashtags operate in terms of social media is that, they're words to us as we see them on our screen, but they become pieces of code that other people who are having the same exact thought can find each other with. I often call them in my writing as these encoded electronic drums, if we think about the role that the drum plays in African communities and in Black communities in the United States. Black Lives Matter was a hashtag that started after the death of Trayvon Martin. We then saw it in Ferguson with Mike Brown and it was really a cry for, at that point, Black people that believed in racial justice, believed that the police needed to feel accountable - to find each other online. We were organizing, we were getting out in the streets. Our enemies, and in this case Russian agents - those that are hostile to the United States, but not necessarily hostile to African Americans, but more the project of the United States - know this information as well. What they started to do was also use the hashtag. So it was this case where you thought that you were communicating with Black and brown people. We were down. We were going to defund the police. But we actually had bad actors within those communities. They could use these hashtags that were associated with Black people, to actually go and infiltrate groups and then encourage those people not to turn out to vote and that's what we saw. They did it, not just through hashtags, but creating Facebook groups like the Blacktivist, like Woke Blacks ,which sound like they should be created by Black people for these ends, but they were actually created in Saint Petersburg.

Chideya: Saint Petersburg, Russia, not Saint Petersburg, Florida?

Nkonde: Yes, Saint Petersburg, Russia. But then we saw right at the very end of the election this idea of Black people don't vote. You have nothing to vote for. What can you lose? We then hear Donald Trump saying the same talking points, "What have you got to lose African Americans? You might as well vote for me," and it's still happening now, Farai. In 2020, we're seeing the local groups, so these are not people that are on lands afar, these are Black people that are in the United States and advancing various different voter suppression tactics. Some are the same, some are actually using George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, unfortunately, Breonna Taylor, those cases and others since then, right? You start with what's a breaking news story, but then you end that story with, well this is why Black people shouldn't vote or this is why we shouldn't vote if we don't get reparations.

Chideya: Final question, as we get ready to go to the polls, those of us who can and are willing to - and I hope as many of us who can are willing to - what can we do to basically avoid being conned ourselves or being someone who passes along bad information?

Nkonde: That is a great question. First of all, be silent. The second thing I would say is, have a heart and gut check. Is what you're reading making you feel angry? If you're encountering content that makes you feel angry, that makes you feel uncomfortable, really second guess that. Remember, we're dealing with an algorithmic news system. A system that is absolutely relying on you forwarding that, refuting that, reacting. It stops that strategic silence, which is the most effective way to inoculate, not just yourself, but if we take this action collectively, democracy as a whole.

Chideya: That was Mutale Nkonde, UN advisor on Race and AI. If you like me want to hear Mutale Nkonde's explainer again for it to really sink in, you can find Our Body Politic wherever you listen to podcasts and at our website farai.com/obp. You can also find a link there to leave us written feedback for our platform Speak and you can call us too. Leave us a voicemail for Speak at 929-353-7006, that's 929-353-7006, to tell us, what is the most important challenge you're dealing with right now? How are you dealing with it? And why is it so important? We will listen to every message and we'll incorporate your experiences, opinions and insights as we shape the show week to week.

Chideya: Just one week ago we wondered who the Trump administration would nominate for the Supreme Court seat left vacant after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now we have a candidate, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. There have been cheers from conservatives, calls from anti-Trumpers who don't want her on the court, to tell other folks to tone down their attacks on her religious conservatism or her choice to adopt two Black children from Haiti. Then full on critiques of her politics, some of them scathing. Take the piece written by Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American journalist, author and head of the FEMINIST GIANT newsletter. Thanks for joining us Mona.

Mona Eltahawy: Thank you Farai. It's a pleasure. Congratulations on this wonderful show.

Chideya: Thank you, and so you wrote this piece, "If Amy Coney Barrett was a Muslim." And so that's a headline. Tell me where you took it.

Eltahawy: Oh I took it straight to the jugular and I kept digging, that's exactly what I wanted to do. Because it's just been stunning to watch what has been happening in the United States and to have people act like, "Oh my goodness I'm so shocked." I've been in the US for 20 years, I moved here 20 years ago, and I'm like, "Are you kidding me, who's shocked? Who but you naïve, liberal white people, conservative white people, just generally white people." I really wanted to grab them, get the jugular and just say, "Okay, look, let me go through the whole list of reasons why you should not be shocked."

Chideya: One of the things that has stuck with me is that, in a conversation that I went to, the author Jill Lepore talked about basically white women holding political power by proxy through men. How do you go about looking at the freedom of American women, white women specifically, in this piece?

Eltahawy: Like I said, I moved here in 2000 and I was born in Egypt and I'm of Muslim descent. What I've noticed in my two decades in the United States is that, liberal white women want to save Muslim women. They want to save Muslim women somewhere far away. They always come to my events and ask me, "How can I help women in Egypt?" I got asked that in Texas of all places, and I asked the woman asking me this, well I said to her, "First of all, you can't do anything for Egyptian women. Egyptian women are fighting already so thank you very much." Then I asked her, "Why are you so invested in saving Egyptian women when you are from a state that is probably one of the worst states in the United States to be a woman? Are you aware how many clinics that provide reproductive rights and healthcare and abortion have closed in your own state? Yet here you are wanting to save Muslim women and Egyptian women thousands of miles away." So that's the liberal white women. Then the conservative white women, oh my goodness, they are the ones who go up to my sister-in-law in a swing state in the Midwest, and they actually have the nerve to ask her, "Did your husband make you wear that?" They refuse to see that the submission and the oppression that they pathologize in Muslim women, are the same submission and oppression that they are very happy to accept in their own lives and never for a second think that it's oppression. This essay was, and I call white women generally Footsoldiers of the Patriarchy. This essay is to make them sit down and say, "Look, will you just stop obsessing about Muslim women now and finally recognize your own oppression? It's that oppression that you have been lulled through that brought us Donald Trump and now Amy Coney Barrett," who I call the Five Star General of those Footsoldiers of the Patriarchy.

Chideya: A lot of people think that Barrett is a done deal in terms of being confirmed for the Supreme Court. Now let me just say straight up that, I think that only a tiny minority of people, some of them very, very smart, are asking for the Supreme Court to be abolished. Other people are saying expand the court, make it much bigger, change the dynamics of it. In some ways I think that this conversation about the court is a little bit of an expansion of the Overton window, the window of what people can talk about, where you have some people saying, "Make it bigger," and some people saying, "Get rid of it all together." Do you think that that at least has something healthy about it, in a somewhat unhealthy time in our country?

Eltahawy: Well I think it's always healthy when conversations that were always marginalized and considered just way, way out there are moving more to the center or have become more open for debate. I really, really want to salute here the Black Lives Matter led revolution that it continues in the United States. Again, as someone who was born in Egypt, where we had a revolution in Egypt, it's almost exactly 10 years ago now, to see a revolution in the United States and I really fully consider it a revolution, is thrilling. And to see it led by a movement that was founded by three queer, Black women is thrilling. Thanks to that revolution, conversations like defund and or abolish the police, defund and/or abolish the prison industrial complex, incarceration, military, everything. To see those conversations now really being grappled with is really exciting and absolutely necessary. I welcome all iterations of that conversation and I'm really glad that we're having it. Because I know when I arrived in the United States 20 years ago, it would have been unthinkable to even have a conversation like this and that's what revolutions do. They come and make the unthinkable, thinkable and they shake us up, and they demand of us especially when the injustices are so obvious, they demand of us that we do challenge things that people thought were sacrosanct. And we say, "No. You know what? Let's see who this court really benefits. Who benefits from this court?" And I'm convinced that we are on the threshold of a situation where unless you are a wealthy, cisgender, Christian, heterosexual man, the United States is not going to be a very friendly place for you.

Chideya: The full title of Mona Eltahawy's piece is, "If Amy Coney Barret was a Muslim. Are White Women Awake Yet?" You can find it on her FEMINIST GIANT newsletter at feministgiant.substack.com. Thanks so much for listening to Our Body Politic, we'll be right back.

Chideya: 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, it's good to be back.

Chideya: I'm assuming you watched the debate.

Haines: I did.

Chideya: On my side, it took me half a slice of red velvet cake and half a pint of ice cream to get through it so, so much for keto.

Haines: Yeah, no.

Chideya: What didn't we hear about Black women and all women of color between both of the candidates?

Haines: Yeah. Well, I mean look Farai, the way my direct deposit is set up, yes I definitely had to watch the debate, but look, to your point, we didn't hear anything. In fact, my takeaway from Tuesday night after I recovered from shock, was the lack of conversation around policy. That it really resulted in just this 90-minute exchange that didn't benefit a range of voters, including Black women and Latinas, who we know have been disproportionately been impacted by this pandemic. There were also no message for parents who are worried about childcare, elder care, right? No message for how older Americans or any of us really can safely participate in or have confidence in this election.

Chideya: Yeah, you wrote a piece called, "Toxic Masculinity Takes Center Stage at the First Presidential Debate." How do you define toxic masculinity and how did it play out here?

Haines: Yeah. Well look, so to be clear, this is not an attack on masculinity period, okay? Shout out to men, we love you, but this is really about the harmful aspects of it, which I do believe were on full display during the debate. I will also say that we know that, that was President Trump's strategy to dominate the stage as he did in 2016, both in the primary and in the general election. Then part of that strategy was this aggressive competitiveness. There was also the name calling, the interrupting, the idea that the rules didn't really apply to him despite Chris Wallace pointing out what his campaign had agreed to. There were times, although less frequently that Vice President Biden got sucked into this approach, returning the name calling at times.

Joe Biden: "Will you shut up man..."

Haines: What this dynamic really did was, it created this personality and ego contest that really just left the voters out of the conversation.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean speaking of leaving the voters out of the conversation, the one thing that everyone in America has in common right now, is that we're all in a pandemic.

Haines: Exactly.

Chideya: Some people are making big money during the pandemic, and that's a whole other conversation that came up briefly. But how did the candidates handle that?

Haines: Yeah. I mean I think Joe Biden kind of attempted to talk about some of that. Talk about the toll of the pandemic, mentioning the 200,000 death toll number and also his plans for how he would help the country recover. Honestly, I mean he could barely get a word in because he wasn't really able to get that many complete sentences across because he kept getting interrupted.

Chideya: I want to play a little bit of President Trump that made a lot of news.

President Trump: "What do you want to call 'em? Give me a name, give me a name. Go ahead.

Chris Wallace: White supremacist and white [crosstalk].

President Trump: Who'd you like me to condemn?

Chris Wallace: White supremacist and white [crosstalk].

President Trump: Proud boys stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what...

Chideya: So Errin, Senator Tim Scott, who's a Republican from South Carolina, and a Black man, told NBC quote, "I think he misspoke in response to Chris Wallace's comment. He was asking Chris what he wanted to say. I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn't correct it, I guess he didn't misspeak." That was Senator Tim Scott trying to figure out what to say about the Proud Boys comment. Do we have any evidence that the President has retracted this, and what was he signaling?

Haines: Well we have evidence that the President attempted to clarify his comments when he was asked about them again the next day, and said that he didn't know who the Proud Boys were. But really mainly it has been his surrogates and other supporters of his who have been saying that maybe he misspoke. Or that the President has previously denounced white supremacy and white nationalism. Even though we know in 2016 when he was asked about David Duke, he was reluctant to cast him aside at that time. But we know what it looks like when President Trump rejects something, right? He does it very strongly, to use one of his favorite words; he reinforces it on Twitter. He never actually said himself that he misspoke, so I think we have seen repeatedly in the past five years and even before he ran and won office, that Donald Trump is somebody who stokes racial divisions to his advantage with a certain segment of the electorate. He does it because it has worked, both in his own political career and in Republican politics. It's unclear though whether that is going to work in November.

Chideya: All right, well, I think that for the next debate I'm going to get a whole cake. Not just a slice, because I just might need it. Errin, thank you so much.

Chideya: Every week we bring you an update about COVID and how the pandemic is continuing to impact communities of color around the country. The official count of COVID-19 deaths has surpassed one million worldwide and 200,000 people have died in the US alone. The majority of COVID cases have occurred among Black, Latino, Native American and Asian Americans in our nation. Just before 1:00 AM Eastern on Friday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted, "Tonight, FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this together." Previously as documented in a book by Bob Woodward, the President suppressed evidence that COVID was highly infectious and urged people not to wear masks. During the recent presidential debate, he mocked his opponent, Vice President Joe Biden for wearing masks too often. President Trump is 74 years old, putting him in a high risk category by age and by weight, but he's also able to avail himself of the best healthcare coverage in the world. Some seniors have died in the many COVID outbreaks in nursing homes. Other seniors who are self-sufficient now find their ability to shop and to pick up critical medicines like insulin, curtailed by very legitimate fears of exposure. The disease itself does not discriminate, but the deep health disparities of race and class mean that infection rates and death rates are tied to structural racism and wealth inequality. A new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation digs deeper into why people of color are hit harder by COVID-19 infection. The health records of 50 million patients across the country show that Latino patients are four times as likely to be hospitalized with or die from the disease than whites, and Black patients three times as likely. The analysis found that the disparity is not just about barriers to getting healthcare or a higher rate of underlying health conditions. Even controlling for those factors, whites were still better off. The findings suggest that, coronavirus tests may be harder to get for people of color, so they wait until they're sicker before trying to get tested. That in turn makes them more likely to spread the virus in their communities. The study sites quote, "Structural and systemic racism and discrimination as root causes," end quote of the disparity. Including those outside of the healthcare system. This comes as a new poll shows that 61% of American households with children report facing serious financial problems during the pandemic. The poll conducted by NPR, Harvard University, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed a significant race gap. 66% of Black and 87% of Latino households reported struggling financially compared to 51% for white households. Health experts have warned that the arrival of cooler weather in the US could mean a new wave of coronavirus cases. At the start of this week, cases were climbing in 30 states and that makes the case for getting a flu shot and continuing to wear masks even more important.

Chideya: We're bringing you COVID updates because we know COVID fatigue is real, and it's important to stay vigilant. On our minds this week is the approach of flu season. We brought on Dr. Nikki Jackson to help us understand what we need to know about COVID and the flu. Dr. Jackson is a family physician and the Director of Diversity Programs for the Family Medicine Department at Boston Medical Center. Welcome Dr. Jackson.

Nikki Jackson: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: With the pandemic still very much among us and rates going up in a lot of different places, including New York City where I live, how important is the flu shot this year compared to other years?

Jackson: The flu shot is extremely important because COVID-19 and the flu can look very similar. The concern is that, if we don't get a flu shot this season in particular, we could have the larger flu like pandemic. If we can get the flu vaccine early on in the fall, that will at least give us some immunity and hopefully decrease the amount of influenza-like illnesses that we see this season.

Chideya: I just got my flu shot the other day at the drug store for free. Not everyone has that opportunity, it depends on where you live and what insurance you have. But, there's some people who really just never get the flu shot because they're worried about what's in a flu shot. What is in a flu shot?

Jackson: The way that vaccines are designed is that, they are designed to give us a piece of the virus, but it's not enough to actually cause any illness. It's really just a protein on the virus that allows our immune system to recognize it and to create an antibody response so that if we actually saw it in real life, we could actually fight it off so that's as simple as that.

Chideya: A lot of people just aren't going to the doctor anymore, either for financial reasons or they don't want to be around sick people who might have COVID. That means a lot of people aren't getting vaccinations, they aren't getting preventative wellness. What would you say to people who are just like, "I really don't want to go to a doctor's office right now,"?

Jackson: I can understand the concern about coming to a doctor's office. The truth is that, now we actually know a lot more about COVID-19 than we did when it first was discovered. We are now adapting universal precautions, so all of us are wearing masks, all of us are wearing face shields, all of us are using gloves when we're contacting patients. The risk of actually getting COVID in a healthcare setting is pretty low. I really think it's worth especially if you're due for vaccines, for a routine pap smears, if you're a diabetic that hasn't gotten your labs checked in a while, I do think it is still worth it to come out and see your doctor. Because, we're really here fighting for you and to really make sure that your chronic conditions are well controlled. That you're getting all the preventative vaccines and services that you need.

Chideya: Dr. Jackson, thank you so much.

Jackson: Thank you so much Farai.

Chideya: There's a lot to weigh us down these days, but here are some things in the fashion and entertainment industry to lift us up. We learned recently that the inimitable Barry Jenkins, director of the Oscar winning masterpiece "Moonlight," will be directing the sequel to Disney's "Lion King." No word yet on the release date or the cast members. Me, I vote that we bring back Beyoncé. We've been watching an incredible video on loop, a production by exotic dancers in Atlanta all about getting out the vote. You can find it with the hashtag Get Your Booty to the Polls. There have been a few magazine cover stories for those of us still picking those up when we can, that we absolutely loved. The top one for me, Lizzo on the October cover of Vogue in a stunning red dress.

Chideya: The nation continues to reel from the death of Breonna Taylor. Late last month, a Kentucky grand jury ruled that no officers involved in her shooting will be charged with her killing. Only one of them was charged with wanted endangerment for the shots that may have entered the neighboring apartment. Before the ruling, I rang up Shatonna Nelson. She's a producer, publicist, and the founder of Finest Hour PR. Among the celebrities and sport stars, she also represents families whose loved ones have suffered from police violence. At the time, the news out of Kentucky was that the city of Louisville had settled a lawsuit in Breonna Taylor's death by paying the family $12 million. I asked Shatonna what she thought of that.

Shatonna Nelson: $12 million isn't her first dance at her wedding. $12 million isn't the grandchild that her mom was going to have. $12 million isn't the generations that would have passed down after her child had a child, and her child had a child, and her child had a child. $12 million ain't going to make her momma feel better when she want to talk to her. $12 million isn't going to help at the family reunions when they look around and that laugh is missing.

Chideya: I asked Shatonna Nelson how she got into the work she does with families grieving victims of violence.

Nelson: So, as my PR firm, when I first launched it, I made sure that I wanted to do something for humanity, so that's where you see all the events and stuff like that, that I do into the community. And a amazing friend of mine, Tamra Simmons, the creator of "Surviving R. Kelly" was like, "Listen, I need to connect you to Lee Merritt. He's representing so many victims and you guys need to talk." He started linking me with the families and he could see a comfort level there. So I began to build a rapport with those families and for me, it was tugging on me, I wanted people to see the whole story, the things that these families really go through because we never really hear it from them. We hear it from the media, sometimes we'll see lawyers talk about it, but we've never heard like the victim's family say, "This is all the things that happened." So I was like, "Okay, so let me try to get this out into the earth." And I really, I wasn't hopeful, I was a little bit nervous and it ended up working out. So my role has been dealing with the families, the lawyers, everything. I deal with all parts of it, very close to it.

Chideya: What is it like to comfort a grieving family while trying to get them to tell their story?

Nelson: I think I have a trust factor, and I'm intentional about the trust factor. And it's not just a factor for me, but I'm always coming from a good place, and I'm always listening with the ears of really trying to help them. They all know that they need to tell the story. I don't think any of them are clueless to the fact that it needs to be talked about in order to heal. I don't think any of them want anyone else to ever experience it and I think a lot of them want justice. Sometimes getting justice or just feeling better is just saying, "Hey listen, this happened to me. This happened to my family." ,For me, I've been able to do that by truly caring, while we're getting the story out there. And knowing that it's not just about getting the story out there as much as it's about helping people heal.

Chideya: How did you get started in this work? Did you lose anyone to police violence or did you know anyone?

Nelson: I grew up in a really small town about 1,500 and I was the only African American girl at my school, period. It was hard. I could tell you horror stories, so I didn't necessarily have someone pass away because of police brutality or because of that. However, on the racism side, I'd experienced that. I know what it's like to be targeted. I know what it's like to be mistreated just because of the way that you look. Racism is very different than saying, "I don't like you," because you can like whoever you want to like. You can dislike me because I look this way, but when you begin to oppress me like teachers who would put other kids ahead of me although I was scoring just as high, well then now we're talking about racism because you're oppressing me, right? You are taking away, you're using superiority to take from me. I think the survivors, the families left behind, the victims' families, they know that part of my story too. I think it gives them a sort of comfort because I know the difference and I know what it looks like and I know what it feels like to a certain extent. That's why I got into it because I was like, "Whoa!"

Chideya: Well, I want to talk about the outcomes of all of that amazing journey of growth which is that, you can tell the families of victims ways to ensure that their loved ones' stories get told and get told correctly. There'll be so many victims' families that you can't ever meet or won't ever meet. What should they be thinking about when they try to tell their loved one's story?

Nelson: The only thing you can do to tell someone's story is just tell it. And it's not always pretty. It's not always without tears. It's not always without anger and maybe parts of it won't even make sense. But if you just do your best to get it out, you're helping that legacy, you're helping yourself heal, and you're helping people understand.

Chideya: Well Shatonna Nelson, thank you so much for joining us.

Nelson: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Chideya: You've been listening to Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Our Body Politic is presented and syndicated by KCRW, KPCC, and KQED. It's 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 our assistant producers. Production assistance from Virginia Lora and Dhanesh Mahtani.

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. “Understanding Disinformation Campaigns, Deb Haaland on Leading as a Laguna Pueblo Native, Why Flu Shots Are Vital Right Now.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. October 2, 2020. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/