This week Farai Chideya talks with California Congresswoman Barbara Lee about housing, climate change and Covid in the East Bay Area. Dr. Jonathan Metzl breaks down how the country’s racial hierarchy affects healthcare access for white Americans. Our weekly Covid update looks at the frontline workers exposed in the White House, and the impact of the pandemic on schools in New York City. And the "Rise" segment features Black explorers in search of sunken slave ships. Plus: an intrepid woman who refused to let Covid slow down her dating life.
0:35 This week’s happenings - Trump gets COVID-19, Minneapolis police officer gets bailed out, Puerto Rican voters at the polls, and the dialogue divide.
2:44 “Here to talk to us about the debate and what America faces next is Representative Barbara Lee of California.”
3:25 Representative talks about the historic moment of Kamala Harris on the Vice Presidential Debate stage.
4:55 “We're in the midst of a pandemic upon a pandemic upon a pandemic.”
7:11 Amna Nawaz on the Vice Presidential Debate and what voters learned this time around.
11:11 The Supreme Court and abortion.
13:12 Women in the workforce and how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women.
16:28 The pandemic is absolutely political for women because this is part of their daily lived reality.
18:27 Covid update: The virus in the White House and a resurgence in New York City neighborhoods.
21:40 Dr. Jonathan Metzl on his book "Dying of Whiteness," about how the racial resentment affects all americans.
23:47 What whiteness means in this pandemic
25:35 How maintaining a white identity is bad for individuals and public health.
28:28 To some, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a social system that defies “whiteness.” How the Supreme Court could change that.
32:03 Two years after Jamal Khoshoghi was murdered, Farai talks to Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at The Washington Post.
36:26 Attiah on the pandemic: “It's a slow moving mass casualty event on par even beyond the scale of the wars that America has participated in.”
38:45 Forty dates in the pandemic with Jareen Imam.
40:17 “I didn't think in this point in my life that I would be alone. I thought I would be married.”
42:18 Some good news: Women of color in film, Angela Davis and the Divine Nine.
43:24 Diving for sunken slave ships with Tara Roberts
45:58 “I love the quote by Chimamanda, the writer who talks about the danger of a single story.”
48:00 Searching for her roots and knowing that a story that begins with pain isn’t the end of the story.
I'm Farai Chideya and you're listening to Our Body Politic. At Our Body Politic, we bring you news by and for the super demographic of women of color with everyone invited to join us. We've been hearing from you, our listeners, including your financial concerns and worries about the state of politics. In the show, we'll cover the vice presidential debate and talk about all the people impacted by President Trump's COVID diagnosis including his staff right inside The White House. Some other things we're following this week: The Trump administration canceled negotiations on a stimulus package meant to provide Americans some relief from the economic burdens of the pandemic. The former police officer in Minneapolis who knelt on George Floyd's neck, killing him, posted a $1 million bond and was released this week. He's charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Puerto Rican governor Wanda Vazquez endorsed President Donald Trump saying the president is the candidate who "represents and thinks about Puerto Ricans in their most difficult time." Vazquez is a pro-statehood republican. She urged Puerto Ricans living in the states to go vote. Now, Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote for president but those in the 50 states and Washington D.C. can. Polling data from Equis Research, a democratic Latino research firm, shows that about two-thirds of voters from Puerto Rico who are registered in Florida disapprove of Donald Trump. And in transnational news, a survey of 5,000 adults conducted last July in five countries, the US, UK, Brazil, Germany and India, found we’re getting pretty bad at talking to each other. The Dialogue Project Research Report conducted with Morning Consult found some data about the dialogue divide, the inability for people to have civil conversations with others who disagree with them. In the US, they found that politics, race/ethnicity and gun laws are the three hardest topics for Americans to talk with each other about respectfully. Here at Our Body Politic, we bring you both the difficult conversations and also ones that inspire you, empower you and lift you up. Thanks for tuning in, now let's get to it.
This is a season of firsts and this week was no exception. For the first time, a black and South Asian woman graced the debate stage as a major party nominee for vice president. I'm talking about Senator Kamala Harris, of course. On the other side of the plexiglass was Vice President Mike Pence. Here to talk to us about the debate and what America faces next is Representative Barbara Lee of California. Her district covers the East Bay and Northern California including Oakland, Berkeley and other parts of Alameda County. Lee has been serving in Congress since 1998. She's the co-chair of the Policy and Steering committee and chair of the Task Force on Poverty among other things. Representative Lee, welcome to Our Body Politic.
Barbara Lee: Thank you, Farai. I am very happy to be with you today.
Chideya: So, what did you think of this historic vice presidential debate and especially, is it important for voters to see a Black and South Asian woman on that stage?
Lee: Absolutely. I think Senator Harris showed how she could bring people together and help unify the country. It was a clear contrast and just in terms of having a woman of color as our vice president and to see how Vice President Pence kept trying to force her to answer his questions, was totally disrespectful. And I think that that public got a clear understanding of what women of color have had to and have to deal with and in spite of the arrogance and arrogant behavior we saw, that she still rose to the occasion because she was who she is and she is a very authentic person.
Chideya: What do you think that your constituents want from the next president and the next vice president of America?
Lee: My constituents I know want, first, their healthcare. We know that Donald Trump is trying to take away healthcare through repealing the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court. But also, unfortunately, the gap in income in terms of income inequality and racial inequality is very glaring. And so, my constituents, I know want resources and strategies and initiatives to help lift people out of poverty. And thirdly, climate change. And we see with the wildfires in California right next door that's surrounding us. We're in the midst of a pandemic upon a pandemic upon a pandemic.
Chideya: I briefly lived in your district about 15 years ago, but I think about how much more expensive the East Bay has gotten, and I think also about the tremendous loss of Black home ownership during the last Great Recession and potentially, during this era. What can be done at the federal level and other levels to ensure that Black homeowners and Black families still have a stake in mixed-income communities like the ones that you represent?
Lee: We have to first put a stop to evictions, and make sure that our unsheltered people have access to safe and decent housing. That's one piece of the housing crisis here. We have to raise the level of income and make sure African-Americans have access to high, good-paying jobs, and then also make sure that the banks and the financial intuitions have mortgages that match the income level so that they can purchase these homes, because it is a tragic moment to see in such an area of enormous wealth to see such poverty and such inequality in my district.
Chideya: Congresswoman Lee, thank you so much for your time.
Lee: Thank you very much. Nice being with you.
Chideya: In the presidential debate last month, the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was widely panned for how he failed to enforce debate rules between the candidates. Susan Page of USA Today was viewed as doing a better job with the recent vice presidential debate. Moderating is a tricky, delicate and tough business. My next guest knows that well.
Amna Nawaz moderated a presidential debate among the democratic candidates back in late December. She's a Senior National Correspondent at PBS NewsHour, a Peabody Award-winning reporter, and has worked at ABC and NBC News. We spoke to her the day after the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, and asked what her biggest takeaway was.
Amna Nawaz: Oh, I'll tell you this. I've been putting together a voter panel of bipartisan voter panel, people from all over the country getting together to watch the debate with me and then kind of share their feelings and their reactions. And we watched the first presidential debate together, and that was a catastrophe and there was unanimous sort of agreement on the fact that they learned nothing. They were frustrated. They thought it was a waste of time. The bar was so low going into last night that everyone was kind of pleasantly surprised. There was generally candidates answering the questions. There was generally civil discourse. There was generally an attempt to pull information from the candidates for the purpose of informing the people before they go vote. And I think if you go back to what the debate is supposed to be all about, it adhered kind of closer to what the intent is.
That said, I don't think it changed any minds. You had candidates largely speaking to the people who already support them. Don't forget, four million people have already cast their ballots. The conversations that the candidates are having right now both the presidential and the vice presidential, I think they're largely just speaking to the folks that they need to make sure get up and get out to vote. And people are kind of stuck in their camps on their own sides of the spectrum.
Chideya: Yeah. You could definitely hear the two candidates, not surprisingly, speaking to their base and not necessarily trying to crossover but so much. I want to talk about race and gender a little bit more. There's a new report from TIME's UP Now, the political organization advocating for an end to discrimination in the work place and it found that the announcement in August of Senator Harris as the democratic candidate for vice president was met with more racist and sexist stereotyping in the media than coverage of the 2016 vice presidential nominees. On the Twitters, I was live-tweeting the debate, I saw a lot of people commenting on how Senator Harris had to kind of thread this needle of being assertive but not too assertive because as a woman of color, a woman of color that was too assertive was going to be called nasty things. Is there a different standard for women of color in politics and how did that play out in the debate?
Nawaz: There's definitely a different standard. That is an objective observation and that's not just true in politics. That's true really across American institutions. I would say it's true in journalism as well. The nomination of Senator Harris is historic, obviously, for all the reasons we've all been talking about. And I think because of that, so much of the coverage just around her nomination and in the week since has focused on her gender and on her race and on her ethnicity and her background. And that's important. I think that needs to be done, at that same time, when all of that conversation takes up the coverage, there's less time and space for coverage about her professional record, and about her political background and about how she would lead and how she has led in the past. And so that is a trade-off because we're at this historic moment, and that conversation has to be kind of balanced. I think there's a lot of nuance in there that people who live in communities of color, or who are people of color have longed been talking about. These are conversations we have all the time that the general American public and in particular white America has not. And so it challenges a lot of the norms of how we talk about things. I think it challenges a lot of people's comfort levels with how we talked about things. Sometimes people go back into the default of the sexist tropes that we know have plagued female candidates both republican and democratic in the past, the racist tropes that we know plagued President Obama, the birtherism, the racism. It's something, you mentioned Twitter, quite frankly I see all the time. I mean I think back to the presidential primary debate that I moderated, there was a moment in which I had to interrupt Senator Sanders because he wasn't answering the question I asked him. The responses I got on social media had very little to do with the substance of the question. A lot of them had to do with the color of my skin or the fact that I was a woman.
Chideya: Let me ask about a very specific topic, what did we hear in the debate about the Supreme Court and about abortion?
Nawaz: Interestingly, in the voters I've talked to since 2016 and on, one of the things that even folks who didn't necessarily agree with President Trump's rhetoric or even largely with his policies, they voted for him because of this one issue. Interestingly, last night with the voter panel we had, we had a young guy who's a college senior who comes from a family of republicans who was considering for the first time voting for a democrat because he so firmly disagrees with what he'd seen from President Trump. And last night, after hearing both candidates talked about the Supreme Court and talked about abortion, he said, "You know what? I think I might be voting for the republican ticket this year." And when I asked him why, he said, "It's because of the courts. I like the way the Vice President Pence talks about the issue. I like the way he holds this up as something that needs to be fought for, that needs to be protected," and that one issue was enough for this young, very smart, very informed, very engaged man to say, "That could sway my vote."
Chideya: Amna Nawaz, it is so great to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Nawaz: Thank you.
Chideya: That was Amna Nawaz, a Senior National Correspondent at the PBS NewsHour who was also the first Asian American to moderate a presidential debate. I'm Farai Chideya, and you're listening to Our Body Politic.
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: You know, Farai, it's good to be with you again. It seems like it's been a year but it's only been a week, so much going on.
Chideya: I know, right? Like news about all the job losses, 865,000 women who left the workforce last month. Can you tell us a little bit about the racial and gender implications of that?
Haines: I mean it's huge news, and I am so glad that you brought this up, Farai, because that could have gotten lost in the news last week of the president's coronavirus diagnosis. But the reality is that there are also millions of Americans who are living with this virus whether they ever get sick or not, from an economic standpoint. And that includes, we know, women who are not only the majority of the electorate but they're also the majority of the population, the majority of the US workforce and the majority of the people that are being impacted by and responding to coronavirus. This also does have racial implications. More than 300,000 of those women were Latinas. I think something like almost 60,000 of those were Black women and we know that the challenge for a lot of those women was the childcare piece which frankly should be considered part of our economic infrastructure like we should have learned that in the pandemic. But I think that that's something that clearly has been brought into focus in the midst of this public health crisis. We also have a childcare crisis in this country. Women are struggling to maintain jobs and/or careers, while also trying to educate children probably virtually. There's no such thing as a hybrid jobs. So hybrid learning doesn't really mean a lot to the women who are the primary caregivers not only of little people but also of elderly people at the same time. So many of these women are what we know as the sandwich generation. And so, juggling all those responsibilities while trying to hold down a job means that a lot of women are either unemployed or underemployed in this moment.
Chideya: Yeah, I mean, you have talked at The 19th about this being the first female recession. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Haines: Yeah. So much of that has to do with women's ability to remain in the workforce. You think back to 2008, the Great Recession of 2008, it was women who pulled this country out of that Great Recession given their ability to kind of get back in the workforce and get the economy going. That is something that may not happen this time around because of the complications around childcare that this pandemic has created. Something that we say a lot in this pandemic or that we used to say getting the Wayback Machine to the beginning of this crisis, I think that we used to say is that we're all in this together. But that is not the approach that this country takes especially to the childcare piece.
Chideya: You've also written at The 19th about the gender differences in polling. What are we seeing there?
Haines: I mean, listen, we are less than a month out from this election, only a few Tuesdays left until ... Well, I should say Election Day, Farai, but just to continue to condition the listeners, we may not know the results of the election on Election Day but the day when voting is happening across the country, voting is already underway. And what we know is that the story in the homestretch of this general election is the story of the gender gap. Poll after poll after poll shows just a huge gap with women skewing towards former Vice President Biden at this point, and a lot of that is driven again by the pandemic. The pandemic is absolutely political for women because this is part of their daily lived reality. They are thinking about this from a range of perspectives both economic and public health, add to that, the national reckoning where you've got so many women of color having to talk to their children in this moment about issues of race and inequality and injustice. All of these things were taking a toll on women, and women are taking the issues of the pandemic with them into the ballot box this year.
Chideya: Yeah. I mean, I can't help but think about some research that I did last election around about suburban white women being kind of the swing vote within the swing vote. They changed presidential party preference every one to two cycles. So for the past 40 years have not gone three times in a row for the same party. None of us has an absolute crystal ball but does it seem like white suburban women among others are trending for the Democratic Party this time around?
Haines: It does, which is why you have President Trump tweeting about the suburbs. He's attempting to speak to women and specifically to white women talking about violence in suburbs which is not a real thing but that kind of racial playbook that we know that the president relied upon to get elected in 2016, and is trying to use again although the climate certainly is very different than it was four years ago, I think. He knows that he needs to shore up women and that he does not have a path to victory without them.
Chideya: Thank you so much, Errin. Great to have you on.
Haines: Great to be with you. Let's see what happens next week.
Chideya: Every week we bring you an update about COVID and how the pandemic is continuing to impact communities of color around the country. President Trump was released from Walter Reed Hospital three days after he announced on Friday, October 2nd, that he and the First Lady had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Medical experts have warned his release may be premature as patients often take a turn for the worse in the second week of illness. Trump, who's been treated by a small army of the country's best doctors and nurses tweeted, "Don't be afraid of COVID." The virus has killed more than 210,000 people in the US. This week, the Centers for Disease Control updated its coronavirus guidance to say that "limited uncommon circumstances," the virus can spread even between people who are more than six feet apart. That can happen especially in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces. The CDC reiterated that we can protect ourselves by staying six feet away, bring a mask that covers your nose and mouth, and staying home when sick. The Trump administration has refused to accept the CDC's help contact tracing people who might have gotten exposed to the virus at the White House. At the Rose Garden Supreme Court announcement, staffers were some of the only people wearing masks. At least two resident staffers have contracted the virus. The nearly 100 people who cook, clean and maintain the residence for the president and his family are now required to wear full PPE at work. They are primarily people of color. Some are older and more vulnerable to complications from coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has issued new guidelines to ensure that a coronavirus vaccine will be safe for the American public. The stricter guidelines will extend the time participants are monitored after receiving a vaccine and pushed back the vaccine's possible release date. Rick Bright, the federal whistleblower formally in-charge of overseeing vaccine development resigned from the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday. In a statement his lawyer said he "can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignore scientific expertise." Bright claims he was reassigned to NIH after questioning the use of the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, an ineffective treatment touted by President Trump. Only a few days after students in New York City returned to school in person for the first time since March, schools in several zip codes in Queens and Brooklyn had to be closed again due to rising coronavirus cases there. With more than a million students, New York City's is the largest school district in the United States. A quarter of that student population is black, 16% is Asian and 40% are Hispanic. A poll conducted in July by The Washington Post and George Mason University showed that 57% of white parents thought it would be safe to send their children back to school for in-person learning compared to only 21% of Black and 27% of Latino parents.
Chideya: This week in our public health segment of the show, a look at how racial resentment affects the health of white Americans, as well as all other Americans. Dr. Jonathan Metzl is professor of Sociology and Psychiatry in Vanderbilt University where he's also director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society. He studies public health policy and wrote a book called "Dying of Whiteness," about how the racial hierarchy in the US impacts both white people and people of color in this country. Dr. Jonathan Metzl, welcome to Our Body Politic.
Jonathan Metzl: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.
Chideya: So we had you scheduled to come on the show a little later in the season but then it happened. The president got COVID. On Monday, October 5th, he tweeted, "Don't be afraid of COVID." Medical professionals say we should be extremely careful to do things like wear masks which the president has, to say the least, a sort of ambivalent relationship to. And tell us how all of these relates to the central thesis in your book, Dying of Whiteness?
Metzl: In a way, what we're seeing is the living embodiment of the thesis of my book. I feel this idea that basically the privileged white male indestructible body itself is immune and that basically, it kind of overlooks all of the sacrifices, all of the people who have gotten sick along the way, all of the privileges afforded to someone who was airvacked to a hospital with 30 doctors and four experimental drugs and tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of treatment, who then is kind of acting like he himself is kind of empowered. He's, for me, just exactly the thesis particularly this idea that everybody else is going down with the ship but that he's somehow transcended. So it's really been an incredibly, incredibly tragic, I think, week for this country that needs to be fighting this pandemic but also just the kind of obscene extension of what dying of whiteness is all about.
Chideya: Tell us a little bit more about what whiteness means in the context of this medical crisis and this pandemic.
Metzl: Well, in my work, I look at whiteness not so much as a biological or genetic category but as a hierarchical category, this idea that basically whiteness is a position that is a top of particular hierarchy that is itself in kind of rejecting, it's kind of anti-immigrant, anti-government, pro-gun, acts by its own set of rules, and really is individualized as opposed to caring about the public health of the nation. And I've done research on rejecting the Affordable Care Act, on defunding schools, on allowing guns anywhere and everywhere in certain red states. And again and again, liberal-minded people would say, "Well, at this point when they themselves are dying, they're going to wake up." But I think what people overlook is that the goal is not public health. It's not the health of the nation. What the goal is to maintain this hierarchical idea of whiteness. And so, if you see what's happening as the kind of maintaining this hierarchy, all these seemingly crazy actions make sense.
Chideya: I've spent years as a field reporter which have included covering people across the ideological spectrum in 2016, both different types of Trump voters and different types of Clinton voters and people who didn't like either of them, covering active white nationalist and people who had more subtle forms of xenophobia. And when people talked about politics as people voting against their self-interest, one of the things I tried to point out is that there is a self-interest in having a strong sense of identity. And that's what I thought about when I read this section in your book about a man named Trevor who is, when you spoke to him, he was 41 and living in Tennessee. And he had a very strong sense of identity. Tell us a little bit about him, his story and how it relates to all of this.
Metzl: Sure. I mean that was kind of one of the more remarkable moments of the research for me is that I was doing focused groups about the Affordable Care Act with really, really medically ill white men in rural Tennessee, and these were men who would have benefited from healthcare, from healthcare reform. And again and again, I found that there were particular groups of working class white man who were not signing up for the Affordable Care Act even though it would have helped them. And I would ask people, "Here's this great new program. It's going to help you pay for your medication. It's going to give you access to more doctors and more treatments. Why aren't you signing up?" And this guy Trevor, a guy in his 40s who was dying of liver problems, and he said, "I know this problem would help me but," as he said, "ain't no way I'm signing up for a program that would benefit Mexicans and welfare queens." This idea that basically what it means to be white is to literally not join into a social system, a social network that might benefit them but it also kind of leveled the playing field and that notion was problematic and terrifying. And Trevor and many other white men, who I spoke with literally put their bodies on the line. I mean many of my research subjects actually ended up passing away over the course of the couple of years of research rather than join into a network or a program that was started by a black president and that would have benefited people other than the people who they saw as in their group or in their tribe. And I think there are two ways to understand that. One, of course, is how deep is this kind of embedded structural racism that people can't even imagine being on the same playing field as other people? And when I would say and I would kind of push further and ask them, "Well, why don't you sign up?" And they would say, "Well, ultimately, the other issue is that I really care about a Supreme Court judge who's going to overturn Roe versus Wade and let everybody carry firearms and stuff like that. So, the other part of that story was these guys were the foot soldiers in a bigger ideological war that has led us to this moment. In other words, working class republicans have been trained top to bottom about the importance of the court and implementing this idea of kind of a white Christian nation. And they really, really support it. I mean, many liberals are just waking up to this. So, the other part of the Trevor story was this guy was willing to die for this bigger ideology that we're seeing play out in very real terms right now in the country.
Chideya: Yeah. And that brings us to the question of how the vacancy on the Supreme Court could potentially affect healthcare access. How do you parse the potential there?
Metzl: It's a catastrophe, really. I mean the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid in many states. The states that did embrace competitive insurance marketplaces, people in those states saw lower prescription drug costs, fewer medical bankruptcies. And I think another very important point in line of what we're talking about is that the Affordable Care Act also dramatically closed the racial gap in health insurance. In 2009, for example, 34% of Latinx people in this country had no health insurance, 25% of African-American people. And the Affordable Care Act cut those numbers in half, particularly in blue states. And so, if all of that is overturned, we're going to see dramatic, dramatic rises in uninsurance particularly in Black and brown populations in blue states. And so, if that's part of the ideology and everybody says, "Well, how are people voting against their own interest?" But again, if you go back to the larger goal of maintaining this kind of racialized structure, overturning the Affordable Care Act in ways that targets blue states because many red states didn't expand Medicaid, they're going to feel this blow quite a bit less. And so in a way, it's just we're looking at a kind of catastrophe that not only brings us back to the horrible insurance and healthcare landscape we had in 2009 and before, but it also does so at a time when we're much more vulnerable because we're going through a pandemic and an economic catastrophe.
Chideya: Dr. Jonathan Metzl, thank you so much for joining us.
Metzl: Thanks so much.
Chideya: You can find Our Body Politic wherever you listen to podcasts and at our website, farai.com/obp. You can also find the link there to leave us written feedback for our platform, SPEAK. And you can call us. Leave a voicemail at 929-353-7006. That's 929-353-7006, to share with us what is the most important challenge you're dealing with now, why is it the most important, and how are you dealing with it.
We've been looking at every message that's come in. We've gotten some really lovely messages from people concerned about all the things we're talking about on the program. The risks of a recession, paying for healthcare premiums out of savings, child care and politics. Keep sending us your thoughts. We'll incorporate them into the way we shape the show week to week. Thank you for calling in and thanks so much for listening to Our Body Politic.
Coming up later this hour,
"It was a picture of Black women, in wetsuits, on a boat, and I looked and I saw it was this group called Diving With a Purpose and that they dive for slave ship wrecks around the world."
Chideya: I'm Farai Chideya, and you're listening to Our Body Politic. We'll be right back.
I'm Farai Chideya, and you're listening to Our Body Politic. This month marks two years since Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. A year ago, the Trump administration washed its hands of the issue, refusing to lay any blame on the Saudi crown prince, who the UN and the CIA both indicated is responsible. One person who worked closely with Khashoggi was Karen Attiah. She's the global opinions editor at The Washington Post, where she published his columns critical of the Saudi regime. I reached out to Karen to ask her what she was thinking during this month's anniversary.
Karen Attiah: I think that there's spectrum of callousness towards human life that Jamal's gruesome murder fell into when it came to the Trump administration. It's not the only ... We saw Charlottesville. We saw the very fine people. We see the nods and winks to white supremacists, all that violence. So I think for me, not only as an editor but also as a Black woman, we're not afforded the luxury of being able to sugarcoat these violences in terms of economic anxiety or horse-race politics. I see it as a disregard for life.
Chideya: Karen Attiah continues to publish columns in green-light stories from around the world. She also wrote a recent piece on how the pandemic is playing out in Africa.
Attiah: For me, sitting as an editor at the Post, I also started just getting a whole lot of pitches and stories and kind of morning calls about, "Oh, my goodness, Africa is this ticking time bomb. If Africa can't control COVID, which inevitably, it's going to hit Africa, if it can't control COVID, then the whole world is ... Basically, the continent will fall apart and the whole world will have to pick up the pieces."
And so, it's getting a lot of those pitches and stories and just doomsday scenarios for the continent. And in my head as an editor, I mean, I think obviously it was appropriate to worry. At the same time, I was like, "Let's just see how things play out." And largely, sub-Saharan Africa for the most part has avoided those doomsday scenarios. So for me, I think it's been something on my mind, I mean, partially as a personal reason experiencing that but then also just thinking through. We're seeing these headlines that are saying, "Well, yes, we're admitting, yes, that Africa did not hit that doomsday scenario, did not fall apart. Well, why is that? Maybe it's because of poverty ," as the BBC intimated or implied, or like, "It's such a mystery. Why aren't the Africans dying like we thought that they would?"
And for me, I just wanted to use the piece to highlight just the examples of some countries that have had aggressive policy measures in place that have helped. But I think I just wanted to put out there that we have Black countries or African countries that have been doing well and have been innovating and have been doing the right things as a public health response.
Chideya: My sister was trained as an officer in the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, the people like the movie Outbreak for those of us old enough to remember it. And she said that in one major ranking, the country that did the best COVID response was New Zealand and number two was Senegal. And I was really struck by that.
And so you also, getting back to your point about media and portrayals in your piece site, a New York Post headline, scientists can't explain puzzling lack of coronavirus in Africa. And then you talked about a time you quoted a Kenyan anthropologist saying, "Being a Black person in this world doesn't kill you, but being a Black person in America clearly can." I was like, whoa, that's devastating. It's a devastating indictment as someone who is a US-born person of Ghanaian heritage, how do you process that sort of thing?
Attiah: Yeah. I mean again, not that this has to hit close to home for one to understand the gravity of ... We're living through a mass casualty event. It's a slow moving mass casualty event on par even beyond the scale of the wars that America has participated in. Just as a human being, I mean we have to bury our family friend of ours who's Ghanaian. It was just ... I still kind of don't even have the words or the emotional capacity sometimes to grasp the fact that this Ghanaian family came over to the States, the friend of ours, he served in the military for the US. The last time he and I talked, he talked about how joining the military helped him get a leg up in society and then just a few months later, we were burying him in military uniform here in Texas. I just think about my family, this idea that you come to the US because everything here is supposed to be better. Our healthcare systems are supposed to be better. Our opportunities are supposed to be better. You come to the US and you're dealing with blood pressure issues. You're dealing with diabetes. You're dealing with these things that are now comorbidities for this horrible virus. So, I think we talk about it a lot in the media here. And we use the words being Black means you're disproportionately susceptible to medical racism, to these comorbidities which are exacerbated by the end of qualities in the system. And I think for me, it's sometimes reminding everyone or even myself that being Black shouldn't be or isn't automatically a death sentence. This coronavirus is an indictment on the systems that we're forced to live with in this country. It's an indictment of our government.
Chideya: That was Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at The Washington Post.
Most people don't think about COVID as having a lighter side and usually, it doesn't. But there's an exception to everything, and this time, it comes from the experiences of Jareen Imam. Imam is a reporter with NBC News, and despite our whirlwind news cycle, she's found the time and energy to go on 40 dates over the course of the pandemic. We brought her on the show to ask her first, how? How does she stay safe and move past the texting or video chat's phase to actual pandemic era, mask-to-mask dates?
Jareen Imam: If they're kind of open about like who they've been interacting with and where have they done, then we do something that's like outdoors such as a socially distanced walk. I've had picnics in the park. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Central Park, like it is engraved in my mind. It's crazy. And we wear masks until we're like more than six feet apart and we felt comfortable and there's wind, I feel comfortable taking the mask off. And if there's a chance where we get closer or something else happens, I'm very adamant about taking COVID tests. And also, there was a situation where I actually had to like, ask someone for their results. And they showed me on real-time on their phone their negative results because they're kind of sniffling, and I got like a little freaked out. I think we just have to, as women and as people, we have to really like ... We're protecting our bodies in a whole different way.
Chideya: And what about the joys, if there are any, of being independent? What are you finding out about yourself?
Imam: I didn't think in this point in my life that I would be alone. I thought I would be married. I was in this long relationship and I didn't really realize this but when I first started seeing my ex eight years ago, I was a prolific painter. And when I started my relationship, I think I had invested so much time in trying to make it good that all these things that gave me fulfillment, painting, writing creatively, even some kind of lame things like embroidery, all these things I stopped doing them. And when I finally was totally alone physically, I started to make space for these things again and I found this sense of deep connection with this creative part of my brain that had kind of been neglected. And it was really comforting and in some ways, I actually do think I'm a lot happier and more content now that I've had some time to kind of get reacquainted with myself.
Chideya: I've been doing collages because I'm not particularly good at drawing. And collage is something that I can do without any expectation that it has to be right. It's just like I do it, I'm done and I relate to that part. Now, this is probably ridiculous in some ways, but this is a radio show and people will be listening. So, who are you looking for? Who is the one for you?
Imam: The ability to share your mind with someone, that's the biggest thing that I have really navigated around and try to find someone who's like my person.
Chideya: That was Jareen Imam. Good luck, Jareen.
There's a lot to weigh us down these days. Here are our few things to lift us up. The American Film Institute has announced the full lineup for this year's AFI virtual festival. Of the 124 titles, 53% are directed by women, 39% are directed by Black people and people of color, and 17% come from LGBTQ directors. HBO's adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, Between the World and Me, just expanded its cast list to include Angela Davis, Mahershala Ali, Rapper T.I., and Ta-Nehisi himself. The show will premiere next month, November 21st. Spike Lee can be seen on the cover of Variety magazine's New York Issue this week. He talked to the publication about Chadwick Boseman and how he feels that the black and brown community in New York saved the city during the pandemic. Sorority sisters in the Divine Nine grace our social media feeds this week with photos of them strolling to the polls in style. Check them out on Twitter if you need some inspiration on how to be seen doing your civic duty.
Last year, Tara Roberts, a writer and National Geographic explorer discovered a new hobby, scuba diving, and it became so much more than a hobby. Tara joined a group of historians and archeologists who dive for sunken slave ships around the world. And now, she's creating a podcast all about it. We invited Tara on Our Body Politic to tell us how this emotionally and literally deep project got started.
Tara Roberts: I was living in DC at that time, and I happened to go to the African American museum. Because I was living in DC, I could really take my time in the museum. That museum has so much in it, it takes forever. So I think I was maybe on my third visit, I went to the second floor which is the floor that I think most people tend to skip because it's a small floor and just has a couple of things on it. But on that floor was this picture. It was a picture of Black women in wet suits on a boat. And they were hugging this guy, this Black guy. And I was like, "What is that?" Oh, my god, and I looked and I saw that it was this group called Diving With a Purpose and that they dive for slave shipwrecks around the world. And I was blown away by this. I was like, "What? What?" And part of their mission is to find their own history and tell their own story. And I didn't actually step into this as a diver. Originally, I stepped in because I just want to support them. And then the founder and I became friends. He invited me to go get my scuba certification. And it was in that process, it was like a three-month-long process where we met with this group of amazing Black folks. They were engineers, lawyers, doctor. They were just regular people who were volunteering their time to teach other Black folks to scuba dive. So, I learned more and more about it. I was like, these are incredible people and incredible stories."And I just knew I wanted to help tell that story.
Chideya: And in the trailer for your work, you explicitly bring up the question of whose frame we look at the past through. So, what's the frame that you're using to tell the stories of the slave wrecks project?
Roberts: I love the quote by Chimamanda, the writer who talks about the danger of a single story. And I think we've been living inside of a single story that's told by the "winners," the conquerors. It's told by the people who say they won history, and it doesn't include everyone. I've been following the divers for about a year and a half, and I traveled to Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa, Costa Rica, Saint Croix and then throughout the US. There are distinct different stories in all of those places. The transatlantic slave trade was a global trade that had impact throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa. So, there are so many stories to be told about this and most of them are just missing from history.
Chideya: One of the many things I think about is, in addition to who gets to tell the story of history, is the liberation of travel. So, what has travel taught you, not just about the transatlantic slave trade or about the world or about history but about yourself?
Roberts: I've traveled throughout the continent before this journey. But I don't think it was until this journey that I saw ... And now I put Africa in quotes because I really don't know what it means to say Africa. It's a continent full of 54 countries. So, thinking that it is this one thing is insane. And I think even though I knew that, there was something about approaching the continent on this journey where I'm looking for my roots, actively thinking about ancestors and roots where all of these hit me in a completely different way. I think most African-Americans think that our history started inside of trauma and pain. It started on these boats in horror. But our history does not start there. That's just one stop point in a long history that we don't know and that we must know in order to understand ourselves and to understand how powerful and big we are.
Chideya: You are someone who is an adventurer. Did you expect to have a life like this? Did little Tara, little girl Tara think that this was possible?
Roberts: I will not lie, and I will say yes, because little Tara, even though I grew up in Atlanta in the "hood" with my single mother, I had access to books and I read ferociously. I love fantasy books and I love to imagine myself bigger and greater. And I knew that there was more to the world than just what I was seeing. It's one thing that we all have access to, our books, which stoked the imagination and which can tell you that there's more out there sometimes than what you just see. So, yes, I always imagined more.
Chideya: I love that. Well, I am so thrilled to follow you into the depths. Tara, it's great to talk again. Thank you so much.
Roberts: Thanks, Farai.
Chideya: That's Tara Roberts. Her podcast is slated to come out next year. You can find more information at StoriesFromTheDepths.com and on Instagram @StoriesFromtheDepths.
Chideya: Thank you for joining us on Our Body Politic this week. Know that we wish you and your is well in these trying times. Voter registration deadlines are coming up in some areas and in others, early voting is already in full swing. So, if you can, get your vote on. We'll be on the air and everywhere you listen to podcasts each week. This is Our Body Politic. 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, Virginia Lora, Kat Hernandez and Dhanesh Mahtani.
Chideya, Farai, host. “Divers Discover Sunken Slave Ships, Amna Nawaz on the VP Debate, and How White Supremacy is Bad for Your Health.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. October 9, 2020. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/