Our Body Politic

Why the Economic Recovery Has Been Slow for Women of Color, Research Says Millennials of Color Are Worried and Hopeful about Money, and How Pauli Murray’s Writing and Thinking Still Influence Us Today

Episode Notes

Host Farai Chideya celebrates the show’s first anniversary  with a conversation on Black homeownership and the importance of housing policy with 2021 MacArthur fellow and historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. The data scientists at the GenForward survey dissect the anxiety and optimism of millennials of color around their financial futures. Farai talks with the three filmmakers behind “My Name is Pauli Murray,” a new Amazon documentary about the trail-blazing activist and lawyer. And on Sippin’ the Political Tea, contributors Karen Attiah of the Washington Post and Jamila Michener of Cornell University examine the U.S.’s responsibility towards Haitian migrants, and how the infrastructure debate on the Hill impacts women of color.

To help celebrate our anniversary, you can fill out our listener feedback form here.


1:21 MacArthur fellow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on the history of Black homeownership

12:50 The latest GenForward survey on the financial lives of millennials of color

23:16 A new documentary explores the influential life of Pauli Murray

31:44 Sippin’ the Political Tea: contributors Karen Attiah of the Washington Post and Jamila Michener of Cornell University discuss the week’s news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. We are so grateful to all our listeners who've helped us reach our one year milestone, woo-hoo. Please continue to leave us your reviews on Apple Podcasts, as it helps more people find us, and we read each one for your valuable feedback. We would not be here without you. Thanks so much. This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. Guess what folks? It is our first anniversary. Our Body Politic is officially a year old, and the adventure is much deeper and richer than I could have imagined when we first got started. Our Body Politic documents the ways that women and all women of color gain and use power for public good. Political and civic power, cultural power, and of course our personal power. We also make sure our community is informed on all the things that help us thrive. Bringing you health news on everything from COVID to emotional wellness, information on K through 12, and higher education, and childcare, and the latest Intel on jobs in the economy.

Chideya: This year's batch of MacArthur Fellows were just announced, they were called the Genius Grants in the past. The 25 awards celebrate artists, writers, scientists, choreographers, and more. And we're thrilled to be able to talk to one of the great historians on the list. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, with a rich family and career background as an activist. She was one of Bernie Sanders' most influential advocates. She's been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship this year for her work analyzing the political and economic forces, underlying racial inequality. Keeanga welcome.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor:

Thank you, very glad to be here.

Chideya: And congratulations.

Taylor: Thanks so much.

Chideya: When is the age or stage of life that you remember connecting in some way with the work that you do now? It doesn't have to be you enrolling grad school, but when was the moment where you're like, "This is what I want to do."

Taylor: For me, these questions formed very early. I describe myself as a black diaper baby. My father was involved deeply in the black power, black liberation movement. He was an organizer for a group called the Black Workers Congress. I was in a household where politics and discussions about what was happening, they were everywhere. Probably when I was around 13 or 14 I joined the Socialist Workers Party, their youth organization in Dallas, Texas, that was my introduction to the organized left. And so, all to say that these arose quite early for me.

Chideya: Yeah. What does it make you feel right now to watch the way that young people, teenagers, like the age you were when you made the decision to join this party and to engage in politics in a structural way, what is the call up in you to watch the way that teenagers are engaging with Black Lives Matter, with other social movements, and just making sense of the world?

Taylor: Well, I think, the world has become increasingly more hostile. And I think that there's a desperate search to understand why. And I think that for many young black people now, part of the catalyst for the struggles of young black people, is the realization that many black elected officials don't care about them, that young black people become political fodder. And so I think there is a mix of cynicism, frustration, and desperation for something different. And we see that manifest itself in many different ways. It can manifest itself in politics, in protests, and organizing. It can manifest itself in interpersonal violence, in drug addiction, depression, and suicide. And to me, those speak to what the desperation is, for an alternative.

Chideya: Yeah. You wrote the book Race For Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. And we cover housing on the show on a regular basis. Why did you choose that topic? And how did you go about shaping the book?

Taylor: Race For Profit, was a revision of my dissertation. And I went to grad school out of an attempt to try to understand why Chicago was so segregated. When I first moved to the city in 1998, it was the thing that was unmistakable and made the greatest impression on me. The segregation is so intense that black people speak with a completely different dialect in the city, than white people. And so I wanted to understand how this came to be, and I really wanted to look at the experiences of black homeowners.

Chideya: Yeah. Can we go through a few eras of housing policy and housing reality in the US, as it affected and still affects black families?

Taylor: Sure. Okay, so prior to 1934, the United States has no housing policy of any significance. In the 1930s, there's the great depression and homeowners begin to go into default. And so, the federal government needs to intervene in order to save the banks who have lent all of this money to these homeowners. And so the federal government intervened and said, "We will back insure, every loan that is made to an ordinary person who would otherwise not be able to afford a home, on two conditions, one being that the housing is built in a new area." So this was intended to be homes built in suburbs, "And, we want these homes to be built in..." What the government termed racially homogenous areas. Meaning it could have meant all black, but it really meant all white. And so black people are cut out for the most part of this new program intended to create homeowners. And that is pretty much the norm until it be begins to change some in the 1950s, there's some efforts to open up homeownership, to black families and cities. The problem of course is, that banks don't want to finance black people. So then this creates an illicit market of contract sales where black people can buy homes, essentially on installment plans, where African Americans were treated as tenants, meaning if they missed a payment, they could be evicted from the home, but they bore all of the responsibilities of homeownership. And so that changed in 1968, when the federal government banned racial discrimination in the buying, selling or financing of housing, and then after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Johnson signed into law, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, which for the first time created a low income homeownership program, that was largely directed at black people. So in the span of 34 years, the US went from excluding African Americans from homeownership, to including them, but not on the same terms as they had included white people. Black people did not have full and free access to the entire housing market. These programs only worked in either mostly or all black urban neighborhoods, and the exclusionary policies initially championed left the housing in black communities in a state of distress and partial deterioration, which then became the basis upon which banks declare their neighborhoods to be subprime or risky, which then was the pretext for charging African Americans more for loans.

Chideya: How did that affect black homeowners fortunes during the great recession period?

Taylor: Well, African Americans were targeted for what are basically predatory loans. They were higher interest rates, they were what were called balloon rates, which meant that right before the recession takes hold, you have interest rates ballooning, which of course makes the monthly payment shoot up far beyond what people could afford. And eventually, I think by 2010, 2011, some 244,000 houses owned by black people, would be lost to foreclosure. And it has been calculated as one of the largest collective losses of black wealth in post emancipation history.

Chideya: So what were you thinking about during the whole debate over the eviction moratorium and The Supreme Court decision to bring it up to today?

Taylor: I think that we have a real problem in the United States around housing. The pandemic of course turned everything upside down, because millions of people lost their jobs. I think for women in particular, the recovery has been quite shallow. Because there is inconsistent access to childcare, everyone has been rushed back to school. But you have these rules where if you're exposed to COVID, then you must quarantine for 10 to 14 days. And that means women have to stay home. And that means women are not able to gainfully go back out into the marketplace. And when you can't do that, it means your housing is at risk. And so this was the whole point behind the local moratoriums and eventually the national moratorium. And so the discredited derelict Supreme Court, once again, intervenes, with its millionaire justices, who haven't the faintest clue among the nine of them, about the conditions that face ordinary people in this country, make rulings on high that have devastating, catastrophic impacts in the lives of ordinary people.

Chideya: You've talked about the danger of moving from protests to polite politics.

Taylor: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chideya: So given everything that you're talking about, what are the tools and mechanisms that you see as the most useful at a time like this?

Taylor: I mean, I will say that, politics are not inconsequential. I think that we've seen that it does matter who's in office, but if we don't have social movements on the ground, a political force outside of politics, to force elected officials to respect the desires of the public, then the ingredients for conflict aren't actually sufficiently dealt with. We saw the power of this dynamic in 2020. Joe Biden ran on, "Not much will change, I will maintain the status quo." But after the summer of 2020, Joe Biden couldn't peddle that political line anymore. And we saw Joe Biden act in ways that were completely outside of his political character. We have to build organizations and institutions that truly reflect the desires and demands of ordinary people.

Chideya: Keeanga, thank you so much for joining us. And again, congratulations.

Taylor: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Chideya: That was historian and writer, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, newly announced recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship for 2021. And we want to hear from you. On our one year anniversary, we're asking you to send us your feedback. You can find a form on our website, ourbodypolitic.com, on Instagram and Twitter, @ourbodypolitic, or in the show notes. Thank you.

Chideya: We started this show a year ago during a pandemic, and a political race that many considered a shoo-in for Biden. Now, we suspected it was going to be much tighter than polling predicted, and we were right. As a nonpartisan show, our goal in the lead up to the 2020 elections was to show how women of color were both seeing, and being seen in an election year. And we'll continue to do that work by bringing you data about our demographic and double down on covering the midterm elections next year.

Chideya: The researchers at the GenForward study apply deep contextual frameworks to data gathering and go deeply into communities that are often misquantified. It's the only survey of its kind, specifically targeting young adults ages 18 to 36, and oversampling to gather accurate data from Black, Asian, and Latino Americans in particular. Their latest survey was conducted in August and touches on the financial lives of young adults. Dr. Jenn Jackson and Dr. Diane Wong are research consultants at the GenForward Survey and join me now. Dr. Wong, welcome.

Dr. Diane Wong: Hi, it's good to be here.

Chideya: And Dr. Jackson, welcome back.

Dr. Jenn Jackson:

Thank you so much for having me

Chideya: Now, Dr. Jackson, you asked this summer about approval of President Biden, and I was really struck by the fact that most young people of color only somewhat approve and the second biggest group, neither approves nor disapproves of the way that Joe Biden is handling his job as president. What's your read on that?

Jackson: Yeah, I mean, I think this is really important. What we saw was that back in April, there were all these national polls coming from very reputable agencies that said that Biden had some of the highest approval ratings among young Americans in the last two decades or so. And that approval rating really plummeted in the last couple of months, mainly because of the crises that we're seeing in Afghanistan, the crises with the coronavirus. And unfortunately for a lot of young Americans across diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, they haven't been in a place in the past few months where they feel secure. They're going back to colleges on campuses where they don't have clear guidelines about how they're going to be safe from new variants of the coronavirus. There's all this confusion around taxes and there's just a lot of crises that are emerging. And so for young people who are primarily vulnerable to these issues, the onus falls right on the president and his administration and that's where they're holding the blame.

Chideya: And Dr. Wong, what do we know about optimism? You asked about overall optimism about the future. What's happening there?

Wong: I think of referring to this question that asks, how optimistic are you about your personal future? And so this question is interesting because it reflects some trend data across the span of four years. We asked the question most recently in August 2021, and then previously in June 2020, and then July 2018. And despite this time-lapse, majority of young people across the board answered that they were only somewhat optimistic about their personal future when it comes to keeping a job, paying up student loans, or being able to afford the lifestyle that they want. And I think this is a harsh reflection of the reality of how debt in particular has impacted the lives of so many young adults. So this debt has caused delays in life events. Our data shows that 33% of Black youth and 34% of Latinx youth have delayed buying a home due to debt. 28% of Black and Latinx youth have been unable to continue with their education due to debt, in addition to other aspects of life that have been deferred. That include planning for a family, saving for retirement, or even getting proper healthcare. And so it's this really this kind of fiscal entrapment from debt that is one of the larger contributors to racial inequity that we're seeing today.

Chideya: Yeah. I want to pick up on some of the through lines about education and how that tracks with these other indicators. Dr. Wong, one of the things that's happening is that elite schools are receiving a surge in applications. Harvard University got 40% more applications this year than last. What do you know about how young adults are thinking about where they should get a higher education, if they're thinking about it?

Wong: Right. This is interesting because we're seeing this high percentage across the board, Harvard, MIT, UCLA. And I think part of this is the convergence of the pandemic on the temporary pause in admissions tests in schools like Harvard requiring SATs or ACTs for admissions, which has historically been a barrier for first-gen students, low-income students, students of color. Even before the pandemic, many students had been calling for universities to stop relying on these outdated standardized tests in admissions. So now with the tests on pause, what we're seeing is more applicants and a more diverse pool of applicants, which translates to a more diverse class. But I'd say that young people are not suddenly changing their ambitions to attend Harvard or similar elite schools. This is what would happen if these structural barriers are removed from the admissions process in the first place.

Chideya: You also asked about like would you support free college tuition, even if it resulted in higher taxes? And Dr. Jackson, I was struck by a huge gender gap among white Americans. Nearly half of white women supported free college tuition, even with higher taxes, but only a quarter of white men. Any thoughts on that result and what it says about gender?

Jackson: Absolutely. A lot of the conversations that we are having in these topics that we bring up the survey are absolutely both race and gender. And so what we see is that there's often when it comes to looking at issues of social justice and community care, there typically is a split between each racial group when it comes to gender. Women are overwhelmingly more likely to be supportive of government intervention when compared to men. And this happens across racial groups. We are seeing this also, when we look at the amount of debt that folks are carrying and the ways that they see their selves as responsible for their households. In 2020, actually, when we asked questions about continuing education and delaying life events, we saw that overwhelmingly it was Black women and Latinx women who were saying that they actually had to delay other life events so that they could take care of an education loan debt, so they could take care of these other financial obligations. And these types of obligations take women away from these opportunities for social mobility to climb that social ladder. It also takes them off and out of the workforce. And so the divide that we see with young white Americans is just an extension of that conversation. So it's definitely in alignment with what we're seeing in terms of the responsibilities and gender roles that are typically normative in society.

Chideya: And staying with you, Dr. Jackson, how and why did you decide to ask about critical race theory and what did you look at?

Jackson: I was really excited that we were engaging with questions on critical race theory and cancel culture and vaccination, because really the point of the work we do at GenForward Survey is to have a pulse to the voices and concerns of diverse young Americans. And to understand what the daily struggles and conversations that young people are having across backgrounds and racial groups. So part of this question was to really engage with the topic of critical race theory outside of the media narratives that are being drummed up. Unfortunately or fortunately what we found is that most young people were neutral on the topic of critical race theory. I think if you think through it analytically, it kind of makes sense. Critical race theory, as we presented it on the survey, was really giving folks a definition of what it is. It's all about introducing racial history and bringing into school so that young people have an idea of essentially how the world works and how history colors the world that we're in today. For a lot of young people across racial groups, they didn't actually have a positive or negative view. So it felt very much like folks were not very familiar with the topic. However, when we asked about bringing critical race theory into schools, there was a bit more diversity about what people thought. So what we found was that when we asked, do you agree or disagree that CRT should not be taught in schools? White Americans overwhelmingly agree that it should not be taught in schools. So what American respondents, 23% strongly agreed that it should not be taught in schools and 25% somewhat agreed. So overall it's 48%. So nearly half of young white Americans we polled agreed that it should not be taught in schools. Conversely, when you look at Black, Latinx and Asian American respondents, the numbers were much smaller, but shockingly enough, they weren't significantly smaller. So for young Black Americans, about 34% of the respondents said that they should not be taught in schools. So we're not seeing that young people, when they think about critical race theory, that they overwhelmingly believe it should be taught in schools, but it also doesn't seem like they're very familiar with what it is in general. I do think that what this helps us to understand is that there are ways that young people are probably already speaking about race and critical race theory in their own communities. And there are ways for us to tap into what that language is because once we started to describe what it was, we had a much more diverse response from the respondents.

Chideya: Doctors,Wong and Jackson, so glad to have you on the show again. Thank you.

Wong: Thanks.

Jackson: Thank you so much for having us.

Chideya: That was Dr. Jenn Jackson of Syracuse University and Dr. Diane Wong of Rutgers University, research consultants at the GenForward Survey.

Chideya: On the show we thrive at the intersection of politics and culture, which is why we're excited to talk about My Name Is Pauli Murray, a new documentary out in theaters and streaming as well about the iconic and often overlooked activist, lawyer, writer and Episcopal priest, Pauli Murray.

Pauli Murray: What I say very often is that I've lived to see my lost causes found.

Chideya: That's a clip of Pauli from the documentary. Pauli was arrested for refusing to go to the back of the bus 15 years before Rosa Parks, applied to the University of North Carolina over a decade before they accepted Black students, and became a brilliant law student at Howard University. I spoke with the directors of the documentary, Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and producer Talleah Bridges McMahon. Talleah explained how far ahead of the curve Pauli was.

Talleah Bridges McMahon:

Pauli's legal career was extraordinarily impressive. As a student at Howard Law School, Pauli wrote a paper that ultimately helped to shape the argument that the NAACP used to argue successfully to win Brown v. Board of Education.

Chideya: Pauli wrote that paper 10 years before the historic decision. While others were still arguing against separate but equal by saying separate was okay, but things just weren't equal for Black people, Pauli was arguing that the whole premise was unjust. Pauli helped popularize the term Jane Crow and later co-founded the National Organization for Women.

Bridges McMahon:

It was really Pauli's direct experience, experiencing discrimination specifically at Howard University Law School as the only woman there, where Pauli really began to see how insidious both race and gender could be for people. And then from that Pauli also went on to work on women's rights and gender equality as well, and ended up writing a paper Jane Crow and the Law that ultimately helped to shape Ruth Bader Ginsburg's understanding of how to argue legally for women's rights and using the 14th Amendment at the base of both of those arguments.

Chideya: The directors of My Name Is Pauli Murray also made the documentary RBG about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which is how they learned about Pauli. Here's co-director Betsy West.

Betsy West: RBG credited Pauli with one of the first people to come up with the idea that the 14th Amendment could be expanded to include protection, not just for African Americans, but for women. And RBG put Pauli Murray's name on the cover of the first legal brief that she wrote arguing for gender equality. After we finished RBG, we looked into Pauli and discovered not only was Pauli such a seminal figure in feminism, but this incredible arc of a life effecting civil rights, labor rights, the first female identified African-American priest, someone who touched so many people in the 20th century and had such a real radical impact on our world. And we were kind of amazed that we didn't know about Pauli. We're hoping that Pauli Murray becomes a household name.

Chideya: Pauli did so much; wrote poetry, taught at universities, including for a time in a newly independent Ghana. And in Pauli's late 60s, Pauli became the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Murray: It seemed to me, as I looked back over my life, that all of these problems of human rights in which I had been involved, were moral and spiritual problems. And I saw that the profession to which I had devoted my life; law, could not give us the answers. And I asked myself, "What do you want to do with the time you have left?" I was being pointed in the direction of the priesthood or service to the church.

Chideya: Talleah noted that many of Pauli's experiences find echos in recent events.

Bridges McMahon:

We were constantly floored by how many of Pauli's battles we still see today. Pauli, while a professor at Brandeis, goes up for tenure. This is after Pauli has been an activist, Pauli has had a great impact on the legal field, and Pauli is denied because they're basically making the case saying that Pauli's work has not been brilliant enough, Pauli's work has not had that much of an impact. And so, Pauli is immediately like, "Wait a second. This is obviously not true. You have to rethink how you even assess people. My work has not been as an academic; my work has actually transformed the legal field." And so, Pauli had to fight to be recognized in that way. And it does completely echo, not only what happened with Nicole Hannah Jones in UNC, but with so many people who are not as prominent, and so we don't necessarily hear their stories.

Chideya: Many LGBTQ activists consider Pauli a trailblazer when it comes to gender as well. Here's co-director Julie Cohen.

Julie Cohen: What pronouns to use when referring to Pauli Murray is a tricky one, and one that we grappled with as filmmakers, we actually try to call Pauli, "Pauli" as much as possible because that's a name we all knew Pauli chose. The possibility of using they/them pronouns basically didn't exist during Pauli's lifetime.

Chideya: That effort to portray Pauli as accurately as possible, the directors dug up rich archival footage.

Cohen: We were tremendously helped in making this film by sort of posthumously Pauli Murray, who had had the foresight in life to save a vast, enormous, really precious collection of so many things that Pauli had written, that Pauli had spoken in a variety of oral histories, even some videotapes that were all saved under Pauli's direction, in an archive at Harvard called the Schlesinger Library. The existence of that material is what made this film possible, and Pauli's understanding that even if history wasn't appreciating everything Pauli was doing in lifetime, maybe we would later, in some ways is the start of this project, even though it was so many decades before we'd even heard of Pauli Murray.

Murray: I maintain that the tool of teachers, lawyers and ministers is the same thing; words and writing.

Chideya: Here's co-director Betsy, again,

West: Pauli Murray wrote an autobiography, and we discovered in a very obscure archive, had recorded that autobiography so that a friend who had trouble seeing, would be able to hear it. And I think for us listening to Pauli's strong and forthright voice convinced us that we would be able to tell the story in Pauli's own words,

Chideya: Even amidst all the revolutionary victories, the filmmakers said they also wanted to talk about the very real challenges in Pauli's life.

Bridges McMahon:

Pauli's story is an inspiration to help us stay focused on the long game, and have a long view of how much it might actually take to create change in our society, and to understand that you may not get there quickly, but eventually one day we could get there.

Cohen: It's really extraordinary what a single human being can achieve against the odds.

West: Pauli never lost a fundamental optimism, a sense that you just keep on fighting, and keep on trying and I think that is inspirational.

Chideya: Those were the voices of co-directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen and producer, Talleah Bridges McMahon. Their new film, My Name is Pauli Murray, is out now in theaters and streaming.

Chideya: Now it's time for Sipping the Political Tea this week, I'm joined by Our Body Politic Economics Analyst, Jamila Michener. Jamila is an Associate Professor at Cornell University, and co-director of its Center for Health Equity. She researches poverty, racial inequality, and public policy. Welcome back, Jamila.

Jamila Michener:

I'm happy to be back, Farai.

Chideya: And I'm joined by our frequent guests and new Our Body Politic contributing columnists, Karen Attiah, also a columnist for the Washington Post. Her work focuses on race, international affairs, culture and human rights. Welcome, Karen.

Karen Attiah: Thanks, Farai, happy to be here.

Chideya: So I want to start by unpacking the intense encounters at the border. Haitian migrants were chased down by border patrol agents on horseback. Let's listen to a clip from ABC News.

ABC Newscaster:

And today, for the first time President Biden, addressing these images; border patrol agents on horseback, trying to stop migrants. Do you take responsibility for the chaos that's unfolded?

President Joe Biden:

Of course, I take responsibility; I'm President, but it was horrible, what you saw.

Chideya: The images of border patrol agents charging migrants on horseback are kind of slavey. Karen, what's your take?

Attiah: My take was it was extraordinarily disturbing and traumatic, and my first instinct was to really feel for, particularly the Haitian community and the Haitians that I know, to have to see an image like that splash across our social media feeds and our newsrooms. And as I'm joining you guys here from Texas, it really was a throwback to the 1800s slave patrols, white vigilantes and police enforcement going across the state, going into Mexico and catching Black people. I mean, it really was a time warp. And if anything, I think, just the best role image of slavery and white supremacy, I think that's really what brought people to just be really disgusted with how this country, frankly, has always been towards Black people and towards migrants.

Chideya: Jamila, there's an investigation that's been launched, they've removed the horse patrols in that area, the agents were reassigned to administrative duties, but as you look at this, what do you see and what do you expect?

Michener: A lot of what I see is shaped by a long history that the US has with Haiti, and really makes it such that I don't expect much accountability, and I don't expect much real change. I mean, this history of US-Haiti relationships is such that from the very beginning, anti-Black, white supremacists sentiments have made it such that when Haiti declared itself as independent, way back in 1804 or so, the United States did not recognize them. We did not recognize them for almost 60 years, and had a trade embargo, and since then have really continued this pattern of oppressive relationships with Haiti, and with migrants from Haiti. Having Haitian migrants who were held at Guantanamo Bay when they had HIV, although we didn't do that with any other migrant community, or whether it's the invasion of Haiti in 1915, under the auspices of trying to stabilize the country, when really, what we did was plunder billions of dollars from Haiti over time. And so, what we owed to Haiti is actually more than the US has ever been able to, or willing to pay. And this is a continuation of that, and unless there's a sharp break with history, I don't expect to see very much come from this in terms of accountability.

Chideya: Yeah. And I think about the economics, as we've talked about before on the show, including in an interview with Manolia Charlotin of Press On who was in Haiti during the assassination of the past president. There has been a long economic history, which we've referenced, that is not probably what most Americans think about, because we kind of don't learn these things, of Haiti being extracted, repeatedly, economically. How do you think that plays into all of these discussions around who is a worthy citizen, or potential citizen of the US? As some people have pointed out there's more than 60,000 undocumented Canadians in the United States. No one's chasing them on horseback.

Michener: Absolutely. And honestly, I think that the economic realities here in the role that the United States has historically played in shaping the economic devastation that we see in Haiti on a regular basis, is really under discussed, and under acknowledged. And that's why these narratives of, "Oh, these people want to come here and they want to take our jobs, or take our public benefits or take, take, take, and they don't deserve, and it's not our responsibility." It really reflects of flawed understanding, misunderstanding, or simply knowledge gap when it comes to history. Because the history of, of course, not just the United States, but also France and other countries, but the history of Haiti's relationship, specifically with the US is a history of extraction, and political and economic manipulation, such that the resources that Haiti does have, and did have, have been used in ways to benefit the United States, more than the actual people of Haiti.

Chideya: So let's turn now to the new infrastructure bill. Here's a clip from Face the Nation

Face the Nation newscaster:

Congressional Democrats are in a stalemate over spending priorities, progressive say $3.5 trillion worth of social environmental spending is the top priority. Moderates want to finish up that $1 trillion infrastructure package that has passed the Senate and could get a vote in the House this week.

Chideya: So there's a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, and a $3.5 trillion budget bill. Karen, what's going on, on Capitol Hill.

Attiah: A lot. So, if we're going to start off with the infrastructure bill, I mean, this bill is promising $110 billion for roads bridges, 1 billion to, for instance, reconnect communities and Black communities of color to the grid. And again, joining you from Texas, I'm paying particular interest in issues around the power grids. So I would say that, I think, particularly for what Americans have gone through in the last two or three years, it's really been very apparent the need for us, for years, for generations to look at updating our infrastructure. Now, also in the budget bill, we're looking at the Democrats proposing a huge, huge expansion of the safety net, including paid family leave, more access to childcare, universal pre-K, and obviously, to tackle climate. So they're promising a massive, massive, massive expansion of, frankly, the things that affect everyday lives, in America

Chideya: At the time that we're taping this, things are still very much on the line in Congress. And there was a Washington Post article about Manchema, the Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin mashup. Jamila, how do you make sense of this debate as it affects the fortunes of women of color, over what should be in a government budget?

Michener: Yeah, I think this is really a question of... How do we want to think about infrastructure, and how do we want to think about what the government ought to be doing in this particular moment in our larger economy, when we're still, especially communities of color and especially women of color, still reeling and recovering from a pandemic that disproportionately hindered their economic fortunes, and an economy that even before the pandemic was deeply unequal? So in that context, we have to decide, and these bills are essentially about deciding, how the government ought to respond. Should they respond in a narrow, minimal sense that makes infrastructure about fortifying roads and bridges and transit and broadband? And those things are good and we need them, and communities of color in particular and people in poverty need them. And so that's good. But the other proposal on the table through not the bipartisan bill, but the bigger kind of social policy reconciliation bill, is saying, yes, the government ought to do all of those things, but we also ought to do more. We ought to have universal pre-K. We ought to have childcare support for parents. We ought to expand federal healthcare programs. And that's where there's real disagreement, among whether to sort of go small, even if it's important and it can help people, or go big in a way that can be much more transformative in communities on the ground.

Attiah: Jamila makes a really, really important point in terms of how we define what infrastructure really means. One thing that I worry about is what's not in the bill, or what hasn't made it. And I think a lot about a lot of people who are having to take care of aging and disabled parents, particularly in this pandemic. It's about... How do we improve the infrastructure for the family unit? And that often means investing, frankly, more in women who are usually the ones who are taking on these domestic care roles.

Chideya: Yeah. And Jamila, let me go back to you about a question about the debt limit. There's this ongoing debate over raising or suspending the nation's debt limit. How do you make sense of someone who tracks economics and who's deeply embedded in covering how economics affect people of these meta narratives, like the debt limit?

Michener: Yeah, I always say the debt limit is never about debt. It's never about debt, because when Republicans are getting policies that they want, when they're getting huge, massive tax cuts that will benefit people who are already very wealthy, the conversation about the debt is in the rear view. But when we're talking about really investing in bigger, broader social programs that we know there's often Republican resistance to, suddenly debt is at the forefront. And what that tells us is it's not about the debt, and it's honestly not even about the economics of it. Because a lot of these infrastructure investments, like roads and bridges and transit, but also the larger, more ambitious vision of infrastructure, universal pre-K and paid family leave and community college, there are going to be returns for our economy on those investments. So if we're just doing the kind of calculating in terms of cost benefits, many of these policies built into the larger reconciliation bill that many Democrats are trying to advance are economically quite sensible, even if we look at the price tags and they seem high. And so the issue is not the debt, which we're willing to take on under the right political conditions. The issue is, what is your vision? What is your vision of what it is that the government ought to be doing in people's lives, and who the government ought to be supporting and how?

Chideya: So I just wanted to go to one more topic before we wrap up for today, which is that Senator Cory Booker announced that talks over police reform have ended. Certainly after the killing of George Floyd, which later was ruled to be the murder of George Floyd, there was a huge amount of scrutiny on the regulations, which in many cases, prevent police departments from being held accountable legally in the same way that many other US citizens would be held accountable. We had Tamir Rice's mother on, who said basically, "Why do police have special rights when it comes to who ends up dead?" And that's a provocative question. So the negotiations started six months ago, Karen. Why are lawmakers throwing in the towel? Or what are your thoughts here?

Attiah: Well, frankly, from my opinion, it looks like a profound lack of courage to do what so many have been seeing on both sides, a need to reform and fundamentally rethink policing and safety. We saw Democrats particularly, who promised voters, who promised particularly Black voters, that they would do whatever was necessary to try to bring justice and policing. Remember those pictures of Democrats kneeling in kente cloth, posing with George Floyd's daughter. Right now, looking at the rubber meeting the road, I mean, what were all those promises last year? What was all of that for?

Chideya: Jamila, any thoughts?

Michener: Yeah, I agree with Karen that there's a big gap between sort of rhetoric here and reality, and it's actually not at all surprising when you consider the nature of our contemporary politics. So in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we saw the most historic mass mobilization and movement that we had ever seen. It was historically large and historically lengthy in terms of how long it went on for, and broad in terms of the wide scope of people who were involved. And so it made the demand clear, something has to be done. Black people can't keep being murdered in the streets by folks who understand themselves to be authorities representing the state. And that mandate was really clear, and even public opinion supported it at the time. There was wide support for Black Lives Matter, and there was a sense that something had to be done to reform policing. One of the things that's happened since then is what we know what happens. Issues lose salience. They fall all off, to some degree, the political radar. We've seen public opinions shift among particularly White Americans, whose support for Black Lives Matter and police reform has waned over time since the immediate wake of the murder of George Floyd. And we had this negotiating process that has faltered in the context of a political environment where the pressure just isn't there in the same way it was originally. And so I think folks, their feet need to keep being held to the fire in order to really make something happen. Without that, there isn't the political incentive and pressure to push back against the power that police unions and other kinds of forces have, relative to the power of ordinary people in Black communities who have to live in fear of their lives being taken by the police.

Attiah: As much as we are talking about politics at the national level, I still really do believe that this is where these journalists have a responsibility to still cover and still uncover the situations in our local communities when it comes to police reform. I wanted to shout out the Dallas Morning News that just had a long investigative report about a sergeant here in the Dallas Police Force, who for a long time has had this record of being accused of racism, of brutality, and yet kept getting promoted, staying in the force. So I do think that we have other ways of holding police accountable, and part of it is, I think, these journalists needing to still keep up the pressures.

Michener: Yeah, especially because just in terms of the policy structure of policing, a lot of the biggest decisions about policing are made on the state and local level. The federal government in the first instance only had but so much bandwidth for really creating change. And even that bandwidth they're not leveraging, but states and localities have a lot of options. And so I think that local focus is so important. And the media is important, but so are social movement organizations and folks on a local level continuing to push politically where and as they can. So I think that's a great point.

Chideya: Well, Jamila, we are going to leave it there. Also, Karen, thank you both so very much for joining us today.

Michener: Thank you for having us.

Attiah: Thank you.

Chideya: And that was Jamila Michener, associate professor at Cornell University, and Karen Attiah, columnist for the Washington Post. Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcast. Our Body Politic is produced by LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior editor is Veralyn Williams. Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure are our senior producers. Cedric Wilson is lead producer, and makes this episode. Our political booker is Bridget McAllister. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Natyna Bean. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath and JJ Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Why the Economic Recovery Has Been Slow for Women of Color, Research Says Millennials of Color Are Worried and Hopeful about Money, and How Pauli Murray’s Writing and Thinking Still Influence Us Today.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. October 1, 2021.