Our Body Politic

When Public Health Saves Lives, Returning to In-Person Education with a Disability, and Texas Abortion Ban’s Impact on Women of Color

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with Dr. Leana Wen about how public health can save lives, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and about her book “Lifelines.” Lydia X.Z. Brown explains how important it is to have a safe learning environment, especially with the return to in-person teaching. The new chief curator at the National Gallery of Art, E. Carmen Ramos, talks about elevating Latino and Latin American art in mainstream museums. On Sippin’ the Political Tea, Errin Haines of The 19th and political scientist Christina Greer of Fordham University join Farai to discuss the real-life ramifications of the abortion ban in Texas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.


0:49 Public health expert Dr. Leana Wen answers listener questions about Covid-19

12:30 Disability justice advocate and lawyer Lydia X.Z. Brown on the anxiety around returning to in-person teaching

25:15 The National Art Gallery’s new chief curator E. Carmen Ramos on spreading her love of Latino art

31:16 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines of The 19th and political scientist Christina Greer discuss the week’s news, including the abortion ban in Texas

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. Thanks to those of you who helped us shape the show with your input since the very beginning. We love hearing from new and loyal listeners, so after you listen today, please head over to Apple podcast on whatever device you're listening to right now and leave us a review. Your input makes a difference. Thank you.

Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. We really want to thank those of you who helped us shape the show with your input since the very beginning. We are at episode number 50. We couldn't have done this without you, our listeners. So after you listened today, please head over to Apple Podcasts on whatever device you're on right now and leave us a review. Your input makes a difference. Thank you.

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. This week, the pandemic is still very much with us and we'll look at that from different angles. We're going to start with what we need to know about COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccine refusal. Dr. Leana Wen is a physician, CNN medical analyst and Washington Post contributing columnist. In her book, "Lifelines," she goes through her professional journey as a public health expert and dives into her personal background as an immigrant to the U.S. She's here to help the Our Body Politic community make sense of the latest COVID-19 news. Dr. Wen. Welcome.

Dr. Leana Wen: Thank you so much. Great to join you today.

Chideya: Let's start with the FDA's approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Do you think that's going to change who gets vaccinated and why?

Wen: Well, I think the full approval by the FDA will make a big difference, but not in a direct way. I think that people were in a sense using this as an excuse for why they have not been vaccinated. I think the much bigger difference is going to come from employers, from schools, colleges, universities, restaurants, cities, municipalities, et cetera, now saying, "this is fully approved. There's no reason for us not to do employer mandates at this point." That is what's going to make the biggest difference. If vaccines are required for travel, if they are required to go to restaurants, to bars, you're going to see a lot of people who are on the fence previously saying, okay, this is the nudge, the push that I need in order to get the vaccine.

Chideya: Some municipalities are already doing things like that, but it's not at that level on the federal level. And you've advocated for the Biden Harris administration to get behind a vaccine verification system. A friend of mine who is a computer scientist, who studies privacy, is also worried about the potential failings of any system. How do we discuss this issue in ways that are rational and complete?

Wen: Well, I think we need to start equating not getting vaccinated with driving while intoxicated. As in, you have the right, if you want to choose to remain unvaccinated, that's your choice, fine, but you don't have the right to go out in public and potentially infect others, including my children who are too young to be vaccinated, including other people who are vaccinated, but you could still give COVID-19 to them. I think we need to start talking about what are the rights of the vaccinated and not be held hostage to this concept of quote unquote, "freedom" that I think is just incorrect. I mean, what is the freedom that somebody has to potentially give somebody else a potentially deadly disease? I think that the Biden administration has done a lot that's really good during the COVID response. I mean the vaccine distribution, increasing supply, of course supporting scientists, but they made a crucial mistake early on not to get behind a vaccine verification system. We don't trust the honor system for boarding a plane, right? I mean, you don't board a plane and say, "well I forgot my ID at home.Trust me, I am who I am." We don't have the honor system for that. Why are we trusting the honor system for vaccination? So yes, there are privacy concerns. Yes, there are issues that we should be attentive to, but come on, perfect cannot be the enemy of the good here. What I cite in "Lifelines," my longtime mentor, the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, who used to say that the cost of doing nothing, isn't nothing. I think there is a huge cost of the Biden administration not doing enough or not doing anything actually on vaccine verification. And unfortunately we're paying the consequences now.

Chideya: Now let's turn to your book. You said in a conversation with journalists, Nick Kristoff about this book "Lifelines" that you didn't really learn much about public health in medical school. So first of all, how did you make that pivot? And secondly has COVID changed the way people think about public health?

Wen: Well, the title of my book originally was supposed to be "public health saved your life today. You just don't know it." Because I don't think that people understand what public health is at all. And that's partially because public health works when it's invisible. It's all about prevention. And so by definition, you can't see something for which there is no face, as in, what is the face of a child for could have gotten lead poisoning, if not for the home remediation that was done. Or in Baltimore where I was the health commissioner, we treated violence as a public health issue. Well, what is the face of someone who could have gotten a shot if not for the violence interruption that was done. But to your second question, about what about in the time of COVID, I think that people are seeing public health now, but in the wrong way. I think people are equating public health only with infection control and because of how politicized COVID response has been, I really worry that public health authority might be even more limited going forward.

Chideya: Hmm. In addition to writing books and working on these critical big picture issues, you also talk about them in writing columns and a newsletter for the Washington Post. So we wanted to see if you can indulge us by taking a couple of that our listeners sent us over Twitter.

Wen: Of course.

Chideya: One question is, what do we know about the risk of long COVID for vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections? Do we have any information?

Wen: We don't have complete information. Here's what we know. And I'm going to also put in here what I would surmise. The CDC for inexplicable reasons, back in May, stopped tracking mild breakthrough infections, but there have been some smaller studies, not nationwide looking at everyone, but smaller studies that indicate that long COVID could happen with mild breakthrough infections, but probably would be less common. I think a lot of this also depends on what it is that we mean by long haul COVID. If somebody ends up getting ill and then a month later, they're still having some shortness of breath, that's not really long COVID. A lot of people would get that if they get the flu. I don't think that's what we mean by long COVID. I think long COVID would mean maybe unexplained fatigue or neurological symptoms or other things that could be due to having COVID in the first place. I would surmise that if you're vaccinated, first of all, the chance of you contracting COVID is much less. And therefore the chance of you having long COVID is much less. Also the chance of you getting severely ill is less. And so I would also surmise that the combination of those things will make long COVID much less common than if you are not vaccinated. However, we don't know the exact incidence.

Chideya: And we had one question from Crystal Kimpson Roberts, besides vaccinations and masking, what are other self-care actions we can take to protect ourselves from the illness?

Wen: Hmm. I love that question because I think sometimes we are not focused on overall health. We know that the individuals who have the most severe outcomes, if they're infected with COVID-19, are individuals with underlying medical conditions. And so that means the healthier you are, the more prepared you're going to be against COVID, but also against other medical issues as well. And so if you have a chronic illness, diabetes, high blood pressure, et cetera, make sure that those are under good control. Make sure that you're getting your preventative checkups. And so if you will have been postponing your mammogram or colonoscopy now is the time to do that because you want to be attentive to your overall health. Look to see that all your other vaccinations are up to date, and that includes for your children. Then I would say focus on sleep and nutrition that also helps our immune system and helps us to be healthier overall. And then finally, we know that mental health also impacts our physical health. There should be no stigma associated with treatment. And if it's something that you need additional help for, especially at this time when so many of us have struggled with pain and suffering and new caregiving responsibilities, it's really something that we should add additional attention to, for mental health to be as important as physical health.

Chideya: One last question, this one from me to you, what about the big picture? The World Trade Organization met but failed to agree on waiving IP rights for COVID vaccines, meaning waiving the intellectual property rights that would allow them to be made as generics around the world. Can you weigh in on the global vaccine issue? Is that the right thing to push for? And where do we go from here since this is a global pandemic?

Wen: I mean, there are actively new variants developing in hotspots around the world that could be even worse than Delta. I'm not trying to scare people, but only to say that we don't know what's going to happen. And our best way of ensuring our own future is to help the world. It's not just for humanitarian reasons. It's also for self-interest for us as well. That said, I think sometimes there is a conflation. I know this is not exactly what you're asking, but I think there are some people who would say, well, why are we getting boosters to Americans when we should be getting more vaccines to the world? I really don't think that we should be seeing this as an "either, or." I think the U.S. has an obligation to help with manufacturing capacity around the world and helping with distribution. But I also think that we as a country have an obligation to our own citizens. And so both being able to treat our citizens, providing them with what we need to get through this, but recognizing that we're not going to end this pandemic until we help the world.

Chideya: A lot of people are finding this era of pandemic and reckonings just very emotionally difficult to deal with. And in "Lifelines," you write about your early childhood, your extended family, and also start with a phrase "chi ku" I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that right, in Mandarin, "to eat bitter, to sacrifice and go through great hardships." That's that start of what you talk about. How does this, you know, the bitterness of our era relate to what you saw in your family struggles and what we might be able to learn from your childhood and their lives.

Wen: I'm an immigrant. My parents and I came to the U S just before I turned eight. "Chi Ku," as you said, means to eat bitter. And the entire phrase is supposed to mean "you eat bitter in order to taste sweet." As in you make the sacrifices now, in order to reap the rewards later. My family certainly had a lot of bitterness early on. We really struggled when we came to the U.S. Even though my parents both worked full time, multiple jobs, we still really struggled to make ends meet. There were times when we experienced homelessness. My parents, and I depended on Medicaid, when my mother was pregnant with my little sister we depended on WIC. I went to public school throughout, including in college. I mean, we were really lucky to have these crucial services when we needed it the most. Things could've very well ended up very differently for us. I mean, if we were not granted political asylum in time, maybe I could be speaking to you now as a Dreamer. If we didn't have the care that we needed, when we really needed it, maybe my father could have died from a bleeding ulcer. I mean, all these things that somehow, there's this narrative about immigrants and how we are using these so-called entitlements. I mean, for us, these services were our lifeline and they are what has allowed me to pursue my dreams of becoming a doctor and serving the public.

Chideya: Dr. Wen, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Wen: Thank you very much. And thank you for your terrific work.

Chideya: That was Dr. Leana Wen. Her book is "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." Lydia X.Z. Brown is a disability justice advocate teacher and lawyer. Brown, who goes by they/ them pronouns. Founded and directs a mutual aid fund that they say has given over $150,000 back to autistic people of color. They are adjunct faculty at Georgetown and American universities, and work with the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. Lydia, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Lydia X.Z. Brown: Hi!

Chideya: How do you think of autism today? How do you define it? And how do you work with this as part of your identity and part of your mission in the world?

Brown: Autism is a neuro developmental disability. That means that autism is a way of being and existing in the world. A way of inhabiting space, taking up space, that profoundly affects every aspect of an autistic person's life. Taken altogether we can recognize autism as a distinct neurological way of being that is different from those people who are not autistic. And not autistic people function according to certain patterns of thinking, and learning, and processing sensory information, and communication, and autistic people function according to certain other patterns. And every autistic person themselves also can fluctuate in what exactly our needs are, what our skills and abilities are, and what our limitations might be from moment to moment. But the thing is, that's also true for non-autistic people. Disability is constantly in flux and constantly fluctuating, but non-disabled people also experience shifts in their capacities and in their limitations on a day to day basis, as well as between larger moments or seasons of their life. The difference is that for disabled people, those changes are often a little more dramatic. And the ways in which we have bodily minded needs are always pathologized as abnormal deviant, burdensome, or even dangerous and threatening. We're treated as something or someone that is wrong. And this comes out of ableism in society. So to the question, what is autism? It is two things. It is our individual lived experience, a way of understanding and naming certain profiles of neurological, neurodevelopmental, functioning and existence. And it is a disability, because of the ways in which we understand disability in a society. We can't separate that understanding out from our ableist values and even in resistance to ableism, disability can also be home. Disability can be kin. Disability can be culture, political, empowerment, and community.

Chideya: And you play this role in teaching at two different, very highly lauded universities. How do you bring different parts of your lived experience as well as all of your intellectual work into those roles? As someone who teaches,

Brown: I believe that everyone brings their lived experience to the work that they do, whether they realize it or not. And it's actually a very specific framing of privilege to presume that it is possible not to bring your whole self to the work that you do. It is the epitome of privilege to pretend that you can enter a classroom somehow neutral objective devoid of any external or outside beliefs or any preconceptions or any life experiences. That's the epitome of privilege. Because privilege and the mechanics of oppression seek to render themselves invisible as a way of victim blaming and gaslighting those who are oppressed and marginalized into believing that we alone are responsible for our own oppression. It's that whole idea of, oh, well, you just like to play the victim card. Nobody wants to be a victim. I want to be able to live my life freely and safely. I don't want people to be afraid. I don't want people to be terrified that any day might be their very last day because of a doctor who discriminates because of a police officer, because of a natural disaster that our cities and our states have utterly failed to prepare for. That's not what I want. So I bring my whole self to the work I do, and I am unapologetic and unashamed about that. One of the most important ways that that shows up for me is that I, myself, because of my own experiences survived so many kinds of abusive education. So many layers of emotional abuse, beginning in elementary school, all the way through law school, which I refer to as hell. When people say, where'd you go to school? I say, I went to hell. I mean, law school. And my primary goal in the classroom, in my pedagogical, as well as curricular design is to be the exact opposite. How can I challenge and provoke my students and also make them feel cared for. How can I make my classroom a space where my students know that they too can bring their whole selves. They can lie down on the floor, they can bring something to eat if they need to, they can draw in class. They can join from home from bed. Because learning doesn't always happen in one specific location. Learning does not always happen in one specific medium. Make no mistake. My students are always learning, but the expectations that we have in society for what counts as learning, for what counts as academic achievement or work or productivity, those expectations are steeped in a very narrowly defined ableist, racist, and classist mindset of what counts as labor and what counts as learning. And I reject that.

Chideya: How are you personally dealing with universities, students, professors, you know, in-person versus not in person.

Brown: I am witnessing the grief and the rage from so many of my community members who were being told left, and right, you have to come in person. And if you don't, you might risk your job, which means that you risk your livelihood or economic stability or access to housing or access to food, and even, get this, your access to health care. Because the system we live in predicates access to housing, food, and healthcare on our work. This is dangerous and it sends a message to sick and disabled students, faculty and staff, that those of us who are at higher risk for complications or death from COVID, that those of us who have literally spent the last year being told over and over again, your lives don't matter. Especially those of us who are disabled people of color, those of us who come from so many other experiences of marginalization on top of being disabled and chronically ill, that we shouldn't be present. Now, where I am in my classrooms, some of my teaching I'm doing virtually because there are classes that were already designed to be taught virtually, but one of my classes isn't, and the way that I'm hoping to unfold this semester in conversation with my students is to be able to adopt a hybrid approach to learning that keeps all of us safer than being in-person indoors for every one of our classes. Does the university approve of that? Probably not, because the policy at the university is that we're all supposed to be in person a hundred percent. But when have I ever cared about what institutions tell me what to do?

Chideya: And yet, let me just be real here, you are, you seem to be at least deeply invested in the potential of institutions, even when they're not doing, they're not approaching disability, the way that you approach it or race or gender...

Brown: II do not believe in institutions. I do not. I do not trust institutions. I do not believe in institutions. The institutions that exist will fail us. They will fail us. It is inevitable and it has already happened and it is already happening. I don't believe that the university as it exists can be reformed. I am not a reformist. I don't believe that our judicial system can be reformed. I don't believe that our healthcare can be reformed. We don't need a reformation. We need a transformation.

Chideya: Tell me why you work with institutions then.

Brown: Number one is as harm reduction. How can I make this space less harmful? And number two is we work within institutions to disrupt and to undermine their power and violence. For example, one of the ways that I've done that throughout my time in academic spaces is by deliberately bringing in people who are leading on the ground work outside of institutional spaces. And I find the ways to strategize using university resources, to pay people for their time, knowing that when you pay an organizer, when you pay an artist, when you pay a community builder money, that money is an investment and a reinvestment directly back into a whole community, right? And that is a way of undermining the university's expectation, that the only people capable of teaching and imparting useful or actionable knowledge are people who hold certain degrees. People who have certain types of positions. I can tell you as someone who is actually teaching university courses myself right now, that most of what I learned, I did not learn that from a university classroom. I learned that from community,

Chideya: You've talked about how your most important work often has no title, job description or funding, and probably never will. That's a pretty amazing statement. Tell me a little bit more.

Brown: I put that sentence in a lot of my buyers that I share with people, especially because I've been living and working in the Washington DC area. And in DC, as you know, it's very common culturally in the white collar part of DC, whether among people of color or white people, for you to be asked is by way of introduction. So what do you do? (Yes.) And the answer to that question is expected to be a description of your job or a job title. And that's both supposed to define who you are by what you do. And it serves to create a ranking or a hierarchy so that the person who's asked you the question can place themselves in relation to you, are you more important or less important than they are? What can they get out of knowing you? I reject that. I reject that notion, which itself is based in white supremacy culture, that our self-worth and our value is defined by what position we hold in a social hierarchy, but what position we hold based upon our work or our productivity. So when I'm at those kinds of spaces, I don't give that kind of answer. I tell people either, you know, I do a lot of different kinds of things, but you know, I really want to talk about something else. Or if I'm really feeling annoyed, I will just look people dead in the eye. And I will say I piss off white people.

Chideya: And for the purposes of this interview, that means that you strongly annoy white people.

Brown: You know, I say that because it more seriously, right? It is a direct challenge to the expectation that we should to be defined by a job title. I don't want to be respected for those reasons. If that's the reason that someone respects me is simply because of a certain job title or an affiliation that is not somebody who I want to be building with, because those are not the reasons that I, or anybody else, deserves respect.

Chideya: Yeah, no, I hear you on that. So as we wrap up here, something that we try to ask, a lot of people about is what brings them joy. What brings you joy these days?

Brown: In the work for disability justice, what brings me joy is seeing so many more folks, younger folks, older folks, everybody, learning about and doing the work of disability justice. So many more people than 10, 20, 30 years ago. And that brings me so much joy. Now aside of that what brings me joy, the most joy, is making food, cooking, or baking it for other people in my life. Especially if it's food that they love. And especially if they have dietary restrictions, because my specialty is cooking for anyone's dietary restrictions. My favorite kind of food in the entire world is Ethiopian food. Basically one of my hidden talents is that anyone can tell me where they're from, anywhere in the world. And I can tell them where delicious Ethiopian food is near them.

Chideya: Amazing. Lydia I've really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you so much.

Brown: Thank you so much for having me. It has been a pleasure.

Chideya: That was Lydia XC brown. You can find the Autistic People of Color Fund @autismandrace.com. My next guest spent over a decade, working at the Smithsonian American art museum. E. Carmen Ramos curated Latino and Latin American art exhibits while she was there. She's now the chief curatorial and conservation officer at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She spoke to Our Body Politic on her first week at her new job. Her still empty office was a bit echoey. Cardboard boxes lined the background of our video call. As she starts this new job she reflects on the value. She brings with her from two decades in the art world, including work she admires at other, smaller museums that have always inspired her.

E. Carmen Ramos: Visiting some museums in New York, I just got back from New York city, which is my hometown. One of the most joyful visits that I had was to El Museo Del Barrio. One of the things that institutions like El Museo del Barrio or the Student Museum in Harlem have done very well is really community engagement, both a connection to artists they've always privileged and worked with living artists. And that's a really important group of stakeholders for museums. It's a community that I focus on a lotl

Chideya: In her role as a curator in mainstream museums, Ramos has brought art from the Latino and Latin American communities to wider audiences.

Ramos: I've been devoted to Latinx art, you know, my entire life because I saw the changes that it made in me as a student. When I was a student at NYU, I took a Latin American art course with Edward Sullivan and it opened up this whole world for me. It made me feel in ways that I'd never felt my whole life. And I was just like, wait a minute. Why has it taken me till I'm like 20 or 21 to be exposed to this? You know, I wanted to do that for the world. I wanted to replicate that. For members of my own community, for members outside of my community, because how could not, how could everyone not know Diego Rivera? I mean, I think we know him now, but back then, not many people knew about him. I thought he was great. And, and Frida Kahlo and Ana Mendieta and Freddy Rodríguez, and, you know, the list goes on and on. But we're all coming in from different entrance points, right? We all have different entrance narratives. So how do we find a way to make this art that touches our soul, that engages with history, that helps us see the world that we're living in today and its connection to the past. How do we find different ways to bring people into that conversation?

Chideya: Late last year within a COVID relief package, Congress approved the creation of a Smithsonian American Women's History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino. Ramos says she was thrilled when she heard the news.

Ramos: I've always been excited about a new museum. I think that each museum has a unique mission and brings a different vision into the world. And while, you know, much of my career has been focused on bringing in Latinx art, artists, and communities into museums, my perspective is not the only perspective. There's a number of perspectives. So I always think the more the merrier. Even the work of a single artist can be presented in a very different way, you know, depending on the mission of an institution, because these institutions have different missions and different collections, different ways of putting work into dialogue with one another. So the National Museum of the American Latino is going to be an art and culture institution similar to the National Museum of African-American Art. So that kind of opens up all these possibilities for different kinds of collecting, you know, collecting material culture, collecting political culture. So I'm really excited to see what they can do. You know, I think that the challenges that will face them and face other museums is just how they define these communities. The Latinx community is a community that is incredibly diverse, right...Latinx women, Afro Latinos. I mean, there's so many ways that you can sort of slice and dice and represent our community that I want them to be fully embracing of that diversity, even within who we are.

Chideya: For Ramos doing this requires getting more people like her in positions of power.

Ramos: One way that Latinx artists can become more of the fabric of the art world, become household names is we need more people like me. We need more people who are curators of Latinx art who know about this work, who can be integrated into institutions and who could advocate for these artists and who could educate both staff members and the public. I think that we need a deep investment in building collections so that this work is preserved. That it's interpreted, that it's studied, that we create scholarship about it, so that it's written into the history books, a lot has to happen before that. But I think diversifying our our workforce is really essential to making that happen, which is another amazing thing about me being in this position, right? I'm the first Latina first woman and person of color in my role. So it's a time of growth and optimism. There's still a ton of work that needs to be done, but I think we're at a point of change in the art world.

Chideya: Carmen Ramos is chief curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC each week on the show, we bring you around table called Sippin' the Political Tea. This week on the round table I'm joined by our regular contributor, Errin Haines, editor at large at the 19th. Hey Errin.

Errin Haines: Hi Farai! Happy 50th episode. Woo!

Chideya: Yay. Yes, we are half a century of episodes. It's really, it's been so fulfilling to do this work with you as a regular and with folks who come on and occasionally grace us with their brilliance like Dr. Christina Greer. She is a political scientist and associate professor at Fordham university. She is also the author of "Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream." Hey Chrissy.

Christina Greer: Hello Farai. Hello, Erin. Thanks so much for having me.

Chideya: So I wanted to start with a wellness check. It's been a brutal week. I found myself the other day going to Home Depot and putting a dehumidifier in the car to deal with flooding. And many people don't even have a house to dehumidify anymore. And there's just been so much devastation, both on a geopolitical level and on a climate and level. How are you doing, either of you.

Greer: Well I'm hanging in there. You know, I vacillate between being overwhelmed with the start of the school year, mandatory teaching in person COVID, Ida, relatives in the south. And then feeling also just very lucky and blessed. I have a job, I have a house that's not flooded. You know, I have a teeny bit of pocket change to kind of deal with whatever comes my way. And so I'm trying to keep it all in perspective and just honestly have grace with myself and with the people I interact with on the subway or in the grocery store, in the classroom, kind of remembering that folks are dealing with just a lot on their plate.

Chideya: Yeah. Thanks Chrissy. And Errin, how about you?

Haines: Well, you know Farai, I won't lie, last week, it was woman down. Because last week, month, this year really caught up with me and I needed to take some time to really recharge. And that was really a reminder to me to not only check in with myself, but also the people in my life who may be similarly struggling. And it also makes me think about folks who do not necessarily have the resources that I have, to Chrissy's point to, you know, take those days off. So that certainly something that has been on my mind. I appreciate you checking in with us and we certainly check in with our audience and let you know that we're thinking about you too.

Chideya: Yeah, absolutely. And Errin, why don't you take it away with our roundtable?

Haines: Okay. So let's begin in Texas where the Lone Star State just enacted a law that bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many people even realize that they are pregnant. Chrissy, is this a roadmap for other state legislatures which want to restrict abortion access?

Greer: Absolutely. I think that Texas is such a powerful aggressive oppressive state has really laid out a blueprint for many statehouses across the country. And I think sadly that far too many Democrats don't understand the capacity of their own relatives to do this stuff. And just to be more blunt, white people don't understand the capacity of white people to take rights away from other individuals. And for so long, it's been taking rights away from people of color and immigrants, but as we've seen the right wing agenda has been slow and steady and methodical. It didn't just happen with the election of Donald Trump. This type of policy positioning has been in the works for many decades and we're seeing their work come to fruition right now.

Haines: Yeah. The Supreme Court just upheld this law in a five to four decision Farai. What strikes you the most about this particular law in Texas?

Chideya: Well, you know, like so much legal strategy, whether we agree with it or not, this was very tightly crafted to thread the needle of what's considered potentially legal. And as it turns out, actually legal. And what I mean by actually legal is not a moral judgment, whether it's right or wrong, I just mean it's law. But if you understand language and you understand law, you can thread the needle. And I keep thinking about the history of abortion access and the reason, among others, that abortion has become such a big issue is because it has moved into law and jurisprudence when in the past it was often handled privately within families and within communities. Now it is held as this very public debate. I think that it's important to remember that wealthy white women always had access to abortion. People, literally fundraised to fly their friends overseas to Europe when it was illegal in America. If you are the round-the-way girl, whether you're white, Black, or purple, no one's going to fly you to another state or another country to get an abortion. And so, you know, what we are legislating in some ways is what happens to people who don't have the privilege of accessing extra legal means or long distance means of shepherding their own fertility.

Greer: Can I jump in and underscore the point that you said about language? Because in my classes, you know, and I teach at a Jesuit institution, but I'm always very clear with my students who talk about pro-life and pro-choice because I think part of the genius strategy of so many Republicans is using language that is misleading. I mean, this is why we had a whole summer fighting about critical race theory. And the only people who learn about it are really people who take those classes in law school. But, you know, when I always talk to my students about pro-life and I'm like, well, so many of these quote unquote "pro-life" people are pro death penalty. You know, they don't support living people by giving them a living wage or supporting education services. And so I was like, the real debate is actually pro-choice and anti-choice, because we're talking about a legal conversation as to whether or not you believe a woman should be able to choose what is best for her body and her family or not. And I think even the framing of it as pro-life is misleading and actually incorrect. And so the fact that so many Democrats consistently parrot Republican talking points that are wrong and highly misleading on purpose is also part of the larger narrative where we have to get a lot more succinct in countering their propaganda, I would say, and making sure that it's a clear conversation about what's actually going on with women in their bodies.

Haines: Yeah. And I think, you know, the only thing that I would add to this is that what feels new about this and what is alarming to so many folks who are watching: anyone has the ability to sue someone who they think is either trying to get an abortion or who is helping that person to try to get an abortion. And so, you know, that is something that is certainly a new frontier in this abortion fight, but also in our politics right now. Chrissy, I want to come back to you just to ask about the impact of this on the ground. I mean, we have a story in The 19th that says women now go from being 12 miles from a health center to nearly 250 miles from the nearest health center. I mean, especially women of color, who you mentioned who were already struggling with access to healthcare.

Greer: Well, you know, I wish my sister could be in this conversation. She's an OB GYN. And you know, we've had a lot of conversations about this, largely because my mother grew up in the Deep South and lost three classmates to backroom abortions when she was growing up in the 1960s

Haines: Wow,.

Greer: And all these things are interconnected. And I always hear Farai kind of frame so many policy issues in that way. And Errin, it makes me think of Hurricane Ida actually. And we think of the families that don't have access to leave and the judgment of, well, why would they stay? They know a storm is coming. And we have to remind ourselves the amount of money and planning it takes to evacuate, right? You have to have a car, you have to have gas, you have to have relatives that don't actually live in your town, which a lot of folks, everybody lives in Louisiana or everyone lives in Mississippi. They don't have social networks outside of the state. And I think about that with abortion access as well. You not only have to have the money, you have to have a car or a friend with a car. And so there's so many families, white and Black, right? And you know, it's not just people of color. I mean, that's where Republicans are genius. They've convinced white people that what they're doing hurts the other, but it's hurting their own people too. But you have to have the economic means to do this and also have a job where you can take off, you know, Errin, you started saying, we've got the luxury of, if we need a mental health day, we can take it. And there's so many people in this country who work seven days a week, they work two and three jobs, not your salary job. You're an hourly wage worker. That means you will not get paid this week if you take off a day or two to say nothing of the recovery time, right. We're just assuming that you need one day to drive six hours, have an abortion and drive six hours back.

Haines: Unless you're in a state where, for example, you have to wait, there's a waiting period. So now you have, so now we're factoring in hotel costs if you don't know anyone in the town where you're going to get this procedure, right? So these are all kind of, you know, these additional burdens all come with a cost.

Greer: They do, and they come with an economic cost, but I'm really struggling with sort of this deep hatred that certain men have towards women. And I know that the backdrop of so much of this abortion legislation is to make sure that white women can't have abortions because they're the only ones who can create white men because that's the way America has set up their racial codification laws. And in doing so, you're forcing women to have children that they're explicitly stating. I'm not either mentally prepared, I'm not financially prepared. You know, I don't have the circumstances to do this. And at the same time we see Republicans gutting education. In Wisconsin we just saw, they said, oh, well, we pay for breakfast for title one schools. You know, they'll just get accustomed to the handouts. So it's this disdain, for the American public, that I'm just still trying to figure out where do the roots of this hatred really come from.

Haines: I just want to underscore the value of hearing from women as I have, who did live in this country prior to 1973, right, prior to Roe, and who know what that was like. So a lot has also been happening on the ground in Afghanistan. On Monday, the last American plane flew out of Kabul marking the end of America's occupation of Afghanistan. Here's president Biden addressing the country at the end of the withdrawal.

Pres. Joe Biden:

We completed one of the biggest air lifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts felt were possible. No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history.

Haines: So Chrissy, what did you think of the President's speech and about how his administration has handled the withdrawal?

Greer: It's a no win situation. You know, as every president they inherit or any executive, they inherit the choices and mistakes of their predecessor. I'm amazed at how George Bush is in zero of these conversations. I've talked to various military personnel, friends of mine I went to graduate school, that are in my family and they explained to me the nuance of removal, how dangerous it is, how costly it is. It is never a right time to do it. I think a lot of administrations feared the optics, right? Looking, the pictures that we saw, that were reminiscent of Saigon. This may define Joe Biden's presidency in some ways, obviously I think it will affect the midterms. For sure. Even though Americans have relatively short memories when it comes to policy, I'm sure lots of Republicans will bring it up in some way. But I do think it was, it was a hard choice to make, but he's the one President, I think, who of George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, he by far has the most foreign policy experience. And I think he said it was time.

Chideya: Yeah. And for me, it's really painful to watch the end of this war and how it's happening. It is also painful to realize what we engaged in without perhaps foresight about what it would cost America and what it would cost Afghans and what it would cost the world. One thing that stood out to me in President Biden's speech was him saying that the war cost $300 million per day. $300 million per day for 20 years.

Haines: That was a staggering figure.

Chideya: Imagine what could have been done with that money. And that came out of research from the Cost of War Project run out of Brown University. And so when we think about American prosperity and American safety, would America not have been both more prosperous and safer had we not engaged in this war, but what can I say? It's, it's a painful moment. And I can't, as much as I think about the pain of Americans, including veterans who may be returning home to a mixed appreciation of what they did and tried to do for this country, I have to think about the people of Afghanistan and of the region that we have not stabilized in any way.

Haines: So I want to turn briefly to Hurricane Ida, let's listen to a clip from New Orleans mayor, Latoya Cantrell, who addressed the public and a press conference after Hurricane Ida pummeled the Gulf coast.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell: We did not have another Katrina. And that's something again, we should all be grateful for. However the impact is absolutely significant.

Haines: So Farai 2 million people in Louisiana, still without power, at least seven deaths have been reported. But many communities including New Orleans were spared. Is it safe to say that the new billion-dollar levies made a difference? And if so, what is the key takeaway here?

Chideya: Well, definitely I am grateful that the levees made a difference, which they did. And I covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To have seen that devastation upfront, walking through, you know, New Orleans when it was covered in mud, ad there were packs of starving dogs after the humans had evacuated. It was apocalyptic and I didn't even live through it per se. I just did my job. But the failure of the power and energy grid here also should give us pause. This is part of the future of climate reckoning, which is that if we don't have secure energy grids, then you can prevent certain parts of a natural disaster, but not all of it. And I can't help, but think about the many people who use electricity to run medical devices. You know, after Hurricane Maria, there were people in Puerto Rico who were on ventilators, who were worried that their generators would go out and they would not be able to breathe. And these are the kinds of things that people are facing. So I am grateful for what has been spared and also mindful of everything that lies ahead.

Haines: Yeah. Yeah. And Chrissy, what would you say about this in terms of the intersection of racism and climate disaster and how would you like to see the conversation framed going forward?

Greer: So I think so many African-Americans especially have been at the forefront of these conversations and understandings of climate change, largely because we've lived on and off of the land for centuries. We know that in Flint, a small investment of one, maybe $2 million could have prevented the tragedy that we've seen play out over the last few years. Obviously in towns, in New Jersey as well, that are heavily African-American and towns that are upstate New York and across the country. I would really like more legislators to see this as not a partisan soccer ball, but something that will come and find all of us. And so we're consistently interconnected with so many climate disasters, coupled with infrastructure crumbling, disinvestment of Black communities over decades. And Farai, to your point, spending $300 million a day on a war that we were never going to win, might change certain things in the budget, but I don't think it will change the priorities in the budget. And so many people in statehouses across the country, so many people in Washington DC, just do not want to invest in things that they think will help communities of color at all.

Haines: Well, the tea is sipped for today. We gotta wrap it up there, but thank you so much for joining me Farai and Chrissy.

Chideya: Thanks Errin.

Greer: Thank you both.

Chideya: That was Errin Haines, editor at large at the 19th, and political scientist, Christina Greer, professor at Fordham University and author of the book, “Black Ethnics.”

 This is Our Body Politic. Thank you so much for listening. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Our Body Politic is produced by LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior producers are Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our political Booker is Bridget McAllister. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Veda Chand. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Katie McGrath and J. J. Abrams Family Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “When Public Health Saves Lives, Returning to In-Person Education with a Disability, and Texas Abortion Ban’s Impact on Women of Color.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. September 3, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/