Our Body Politic

Workers in the U.S. Feel the Squeeze of Inflation, the Booming Business of Astrology, and the First Year of Vice President Kamala Harris

Episode Notes

Host Farai Chideya talks to OBP’s economics analyst Jamila Michener of Cornell University about the real impact of inflation on low-wage workers, and why they are upsetting power dynamics in the labor market. Farah Stockman discusses her new book on the fates of workers at a factory in Indiana: “American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears.” Alina Brown explains why she shares her passion for astrology on YouTube. On the final Sippin’ the Political Tea of the year, Errin Haines of the 19th and Chrissy Greer of Fordham University examine the trajectories of women of color in leadership roles, especially Kamala Harris as she completes her first year as Vice President.


0:30 Economics analyst Jamila Michener on the real impact of inflation

12:39 Farah Stockman on her book on the working class today

23:40 Alina Brown on bringing astrology to her YouTube channel

31:13 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines of the 19th and Professor Christina Greer discuss the future of Black women in U.S. politics

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. It is the end of the year and we continue to look out for your feedback. So after you've listened today, please go to Apple Podcasts and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much. 

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Right now you're hearing a series of interviews that we recorded a few weeks back. That's because my team and I are taking in some much needed rest and recuperation. And I hope everyone listening can too. It's what we'll need the most as we prepare to tackle the year ahead. 2022 will bring us more elections, more investigations into our democracy, more economic pressures, and hopefully, more conversations about what we can do to fight for our right to a meaningful life in the US. That includes the right to be able to support ourselves and our families. My next guest is going to help us examine the state of our economy, the pressure points, and who feels them the most. In the fall, the annual rate of inflation in the US hit 6.2%. That's the highest it's been in over three decades. Jamila Michener is associate professor of government and public policy at Cornell University and co-director of Cornell Center for Health Equity. Her research focuses on poverty, racial inequality, and public policy in the United States. She's also Our Body Politic's economics analyst. Professor Michener, welcome back to Our Body Politic.

Jamila Michener: Thanks for having me back.

Chideya: As I've been looking at these questions of inflation, et cetera, I kind of went back to a memory from my childhood where my mother and I were sitting in our secondhand VW Bug waiting in a gas line during the Carter administration. And it was a time when people were worried about the supply chain, including gasoline, worried about prices. Where are we now in economics and history? What's going on on a macro level?

Michener: Inflation is really a kind of a macroeconomic state. That means often what we most associate with inflation, that's kind of the core of what matters for people is that prices are going up. Things are becoming more expensive, especially consumer goods, but even beyond consumer goods. And part of the reason why consumer goods are more costly is because prices for many things all along the supply chain are increasing. And so inflation can be a real concern for exactly the reason that you suggested, Farai, when you thought about that memory. People think about long gas lines and problems accessing goods and resources that they might need. The problem is that it especially hurts the people who are on the economic margin. So I think we should be thinking a lot about low age workers, a lot about people who live on fixed incomes or who rely on public programs because those things don't necessarily respond to these inflationary pressures. And so people are dealing with the same amount of resources, but paying a lot more for goods. And that means that they're getting less as far as being able to have access to the things that they need.

Chideya: And what's happening with the labor economy? In September, there was a record high resignation of 4.4 million workers. And I understand that that stabilized a bit, but what happening with the labor economy? Who is working and how have the dynamics shifted? I'm seeing a lot of things about labor action strikes, unionization. Give us the cliff notes.

Michener: Yeah, I think this is the most that we've seen as far as the labor economy in a long time. And so in part what's happening is that in the context of a tight labor market, especially low wage laborers, they have more choices and they are exercising those choices more. They're quitting when jobs aren't giving them what they need and they're either moving on to other jobs or waiting, right? Doing other things like taking care of their families and relying on some of the benefits that have come out of the various stimulus and other COVID packages. So we've seen the power dynamics and the labor market shift a bit towards giving workers a bit more power, but I think it's important not to overstate that, right? In part because short of any kind of more fundamental structural changes that we make now, as soon as the labor market isn't tight anymore, we can easily go back to lopsided power dynamics in favor of employers. So it's important to keep that in mind. But also low wage workers are still struggling. So it's really interesting that people will say things to me, especially these last few months, like, oh, low wage workers have it easy now. They can work any job they want. And that's not exactly true, especially because there are so many other things that structure the kinds of choices that low wage workers have, whether they have access to childcare, what the housing market is like, right? So people are rightly saying enough is enough.

Chideya: A lot of times I see some messaging that's like, oh, people are just too lazy to want to work, but I just hired someone for a short term job and she did it, but she had to take a break because her kid was exposed to COVID. How are you supposed to deal with these dynamics considering that we are still in a pandemic and that it is putting pressure on the care economy? How will that continue to affect the labor market?

Michener: I think if anything, it is the question, right? Even experiencing this for me personally, in mid-December my kids' school shut down. They had a staffing shortage in part as a result of COVID and so many teachers and staff having to quarantine and isolate that they couldn't actually keep the school open. And so suddenly we have to decide what are we going to do with our kids for a week? And luckily, I'm in a position where my partner could stay home and he could care for our children and I could still do all of the various things that I had to do for work. But so many people are not in a position where they have that kind of flexibility. They don't have either the social support or the resources to be able to make up when those kinds of stop gaps emerge, right? And so the care providers are experiencing both sides of this. They're experiencing the loss of care for their own children and sometimes elders and so on and so forth, which squeezes them on the home end in a context where they have very little flexibility to respond, and they're also experiencing the labor where they're expected to provide these services for other people's children and other people's loved ones when they don't have the resources to provide for their own loved ones in their own lives, right? It's a really difficult squeeze that a lot of people, especially low income women are suffering through and have been throughout the pandemic. And we haven't really devised the policy structure to fully and robustly address this. We're just relying on women to kind of suffer through it and make sacrifices, which isn't a sustainable way forward.

Chideya: Let's go into this policy structure. So President Biden's Build Back Better plan shrunk in size from 400 billion to 150 billion when it passed the House in November. Many things are still playing out. How do we make sense of public policy and these pieces of law as they relate to labor dynamics and the broader economy?

Michener: I think we've learned so much that maybe if we hadn't noticed before the pandemic or hadn't been paying enough attention have become really, really clear in the last few years and months. And at the center of that is how absolutely vital public policy is for ensuring people's ability to survive. So, so many of the aspects of Build Back Better. So the big example of course is the child tax credit. And that tax credit has already been really critical for so many families, right? We have good research evidence that millions, tens of millions more people would've been living in poverty had it not been for the child tax credit. And there are plenty of other pieces, components built into Build Back Better that really is about trying to ensure in the most basic way like the survival of people on a day to day basis. But I think one thing we learn from watching all of the kind of drama and politics that has unfolded around it is just that good policy is really, really hard to come by. And we can start off with these great ambitions and it just gets whittled and whittled and whittled, right? And so I think with policy, especially policy that's really investing in the public, investing in people, low income people, ordinary people who really have the greatest needs, that policy is very difficult to face in the context of our current political system. It's very difficult to advance and to pass. We don't get policy that lifts people out of vulnerable and precarious economic situations without honestly huge and consistent political battles.

Chideya: I want to end with a question that is about a different type of economic math. In the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi state officials are arguing that Roe v. Wade is no longer necessary because women have reached, "The highest echelons of economic life." I thought it was fascinating that this argument about women's advancement was embedded into this very royaling Supreme Court case on abortion. What's your response to that argument?

Michener: The idea of using women's advancements as a justification for retrenchment on the front of their rights. It's a really cynical and ironic argument, but I also think at base, it reflects this homogenizing of women and this flattening of women. All women are the same. And look, because some women have reached the highest economic echelons, no women need this form of protection and need these kinds of rights guaranteed for them. And it could not be further from the truth. There are plenty of women, especially women of color, especially low income women who have not reached the highest economic echelons and who still need to be able to have access to this choice, right? It's worth pointing out here that higher income women are actually the most likely to get abortions. Abortion rates are highest among highest income women.

Chideya: That's fascinating.

Michener: And we can have these stereotypes about who's getting abortions, but high income women are much more likely to get abortions and they're going to be able to irrespective of this decision, right?

Chideya: Yep.

Michener: Because they have resources that will allow them to have mobility and to go to the places they need to be to get these services. But lower income women, irrespective of how you feel about that, this is just the empirical reality that lower income women tend to get abortions less likely and really only when they very much need them, which means that when we restrict their ability to do so, we truly are putting them in a desperate situation. And the empirical research supports that.

Chideya: It's a lot of food for thought. And one of the many things I am grateful to you for is that you can do a contextual analysis of how all these puzzle pieces fit together. So Professor Michener, thank you so much for joining us.

Michener: Thank you for Farai.

Chideya: That was OBP's economics analyst and professor at Cornell University, Jamila Michener. On the night of November 8th, 2016, journalist Farah Stockman was preparing to cover the predicted winner at Hillary Clinton's alma mater Wellesley College when the news broke that Donald Trump had won the presidency, Stockman is from Michigan, the Rust Belt. The 2016 election prompted her to begin exploring how a wealthy New Yorker appealed to factory workers from the Midwest. That led her to write a book about the US working class that tries to make us look at its diversity and the challenges that that diversity presents. Her book is American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears. It follows workers at a factory in Indiana as it shuts down and moves its operations to Mexico and the fallout for the individuals within that community. Farah, welcome.

Farah Stockman: Thanks so much for having me.

Chideya: I just want to get snapshots of some of the people you interviewed. They're so fascinating. So just a little sliver about each of them and how their story intersects with America. Let's start with Wally Hall. Who's he?

Stockman: He was a Black man who was known as one of the most hardworking people on the factory floor. He was the only worker that I met who had a real plan for what he was going to do when the factory closed. His dream had been to start a barbecue business. And as soon as he told me that, I knew I wanted to follow him until I could tell whether he'd actually do it.

Chideya: Yeah. We're going to leave that as a cliffhanger and move on to Shannon Mulcahy.

Stockman: Yeah. So Shannon was a white woman, a single mother who had been in an abusive relationship when she was real young and she got the courage and the money to leave that man because of this job in the factory. And she really worked her way up from being a janitor to becoming a heat treat operator. She was in charge of the factory's furnaces. No woman had ever done that before. So she was a pioneer and she was extremely proud of that role.

Chideya: And John Feltner.

Stockman: Yeah. So John Feltner was a white man who was the vice president of the factory's union. And when the bosses announced that the factory was closing down and moving to Mexico, he said, "Nobody train your replacement. If we don't train, then they can't move the plant." And some of the Black workers heard that and were like, "I remember when you didn't want to train me."

Chideya: Yeah, so race was a factor in who did what training and gender it sounds like too.

Stockman: Look, there were plenty of white guys that trained for sure, but the most unapologetic volunteers were Black men who said guess what? We're not going to stop the plant from moving. And why don't those Mexicans deserve the job? They didn't have the same sense of entitlement. For some of those white guys, they had never done anything else. They had been in that plant since high school, their dads had been in that plant. It was like these jobs were like family heirlooms that were passed down. And so, to me, it was just this really fascinating microcosm of American society and of what was going on politically at the time.

Chideya: So we've talked about Wally Hall, who's Black, and Shannon Mulcahy and John Feltner who are white. How did they make sense of the election of Donald Trump?

Stockman: Let me just say that that union endorsed Bernie Sanders. And when Bernie Sanders didn't win, at least half of the white workers in that plant voted for Trump. None of the Black workers I talked to did. And so to me, this was fascinating because you can understand how there's this rhetoric about globalization and free trade. And if you look at what Bernie Sanders was saying and what Trump was saying about free trade and globalization, they weren't that different. It was a radical departure of what had been the consensus for almost 30 years. That free trade is a win-win for all. We're all going to be made better off. We're all going to be richer. That was not the way these still workers felt at all. And John was the most fascinating on this point. He told me that he had always thought of the Democrats as the party of the working man and the Republicans as a party of the greedy corporations. But then when Bill Clinton got into office and signed NAFTA, which was the first free trade agreement with a low wage country, and then a few years later, he normalized trade relations with China, which created an even bigger surge of imports that were competing with American made products, John lost his job and he stopped being a Democrat at that point. So nobody was talking to him. Nobody was talking to his language until Trump comes and starts promising we're going to save your jobs, we're going to put tariffs, all of the stuff that it used to be Democrats saying.

Chideya: And so in American Made, you have John Feltner as a self-described hillbilly. What do you think was the sort of intersection of race, class, and politics for him?

Stockman: He acknowledged that unions hadn't always been fair to Black people, but he would say we're union brothers now. We're union brothers and sisters now. Why should it be about race? Doesn't race just divide us? I had to grapple with it too because a lot of the language we have around white privilege, which is of course a very real phenomenon and really important to talk about, but I hadn't really confronted the way that the language around it can give the impression that all white people have the same privilege. And a guy like John who's a laid off factory worker who's seen his earning power fall, he didn't want to hear about his privilege.

Chideya: I just don't think Americans have a language to talk about class the way that people talk about it in other nations.

Stockman: We pretend that we're a classless society and that it's not even there. And we have a lot of complicated founding stories with the story of indigenous people and what happened to indigenous people, the story of what happened to enslaved people, but there's also a story of indenture servants and how even, I had to tell John, even white men without property didn't have the right to vote in the beginning. And so there's a way you can look at the whole story of whiteness as a way, sort of a trick that the rich white men played all the poor white men to say, okay, we're not going to give you any money. And by the way, we'll bring all these slaves here. So we're not going to actually give you a job either, right? You're competing with slave labor, which is impossible to compete with, right? But we're going to give you whiteness. We're going to say that you are white, so you're better than them. And whatever little job we have, it's going to go to you as long as you don't join forces with them. But I think it's important to remember that there were times of fleeting, interracial solidarity. If you don't remember that, then we don't really have a glimmer of hope to look forward to. And I do also just want to say that a lot of those factories had more examples of interracial friendships and working environments and even neighbors than I expected. 40% of that factory was Black on the factory floor. That is a higher percentage than any newsroom I've ever worked in or any professional, white collar professional environment I've ever worked in. And if you look at the corporate board that runs that plant, there isn't even one Black person on it. So I just wanted to kind of challenge readers, it's very easy to paint working class whites with a broad brush, but I'm not sure they're any more racists than the white collar whites.

Chideya: Well, I want to wrap it up here. We've had months where more than 4 million people quit their jobs in one month. We are in an epic shedding of the skin of the identity of worker. And you've referenced Studs Terkel's Working, which is such a seminal book from 1974. Looking at America today, both its economics and its politics, what's happening? And what does it say about Americans' relationships to jobs and to each other, to our fellow citizens and residents of this country?

Stockman: Leave it to me to write about the importance of work when everybody's leaving their jobs.

Chideya: No, it's perfect timing.

Stockman: There's a lot of different things. Like some people have just literally been working too much, right? They're burned out. Nurses are burned out. But I also think that some people have a little bit of money in the bank now because there was this stimulus. I do think that the story of COVID is also a story though of the importance of work because we lost 90,000 people to opioid overdoses in 2020 in addition to all the COVID deaths. And that was a 30% increase over the year before. We know that employment shocks, losing jobs produces that. It produces drug overdoses. We also know it produces anxiety and depression, which went through the roof during COVID. And if you look at studies all over the world, you can see that. So one researcher told me that in the UK, people who lost their jobs during COVID had astounding rates of anxiety and depression, but those who'd merely had their hours cut didn't have much impact at all. So what he told me is paid work is important for mental health, but a low dose is just fine.

Chideya: I like it. Like the little tiny baby aspirin. Fascinating. Well, we'll have to have you on again, Farah. Really great to talk to you.

Stockman: Thanks so much for having me on.

Chideya: That was Farah Stockman. She's a member of The New York Times editorial board and her book is American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears. Astrology and all manner of spiritual self-care practices have taken over the internet. A Business Insider article reported that astrological entrepreneurs have made this an over $2 billion industry. Today you can find apps, TikTok readings, and if you follow our next guest, YouTube videos to satisfy all of your astrological needs.

Brown: What's up friends? It's Alina. And in this video, I'll be explaining how to manifest in alignment with the eight phases of the moon...

Chideya: Alina Brown is a meditation guide, holistic nutritionist, and creator of the Auralign Astrology Planner. That is a paper planner. She has her own channel, Alina Alive on YouTube. Alina, welcome.

Alina Brown: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: So a lot of people have gotten into astrology during this pandemic, and for me, I felt like time had become super weird. Time just changed. And I started really paying attention to lunar cycles and doing rituals at the new moon and the full moon as a way of saying, I don't know when this pandemic is ever going to end, but the new moon, full moon thing gives me a way to sort of measure what a fortnight is, a two week stretch. And that was one reason I got into astrology. A lot of people are getting into astrology. Why do you think that's happening in general?

Brown: Yeah, I completely identify with exactly what you're describing with these lunar cycles. And I think a large aspect of it was especially in 2020 with everything happening. A lot of people were looking for some level of guidance, some level of normalcy or consistency, and I think at least from my perspective, a beautiful thing has been happening where we've been reconnecting with nature a little bit more, not just with astrology, but also with the seasons. And I think an aspect of that is because we were finally able to be present because we weren't running around so much. At least that's my interpretation of it.

Chideya: So how did you get into astrology both first, just out of personal interest and then doing this on YouTube on your own channel?

Brown: Yeah, so it all started when I was in school and I started to study nutrition and I learned about the power of preventative medicine, the foundation of it being learning about how to take care of our bodies, learning about the foods we eat. And then I dove deeper into it learning about traditional healing modalities like traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda, stemming from India and how a large foundation of that was being in alignment with nature and living holistically with the different seasonal changes. And from there, I was like, wow, there's rhythms to everything. That's really the sort of perspective that I entered astrology with. I was like, oh, wow, there's moon phases as well and different aspects of that relative to the seasons can impact us. My own cycle as a menstruating human was revered historically as an indicator of the changing of seasons and when to reap what we've sown from the farms and the lunar phase is as well being connected. And that interconnectedness, that synergistic aspect of things really is where it started for me. And from there, I was already making videos about nutrition and living in alignment with nature and how it just felt good in my gut. It felt really like I was stepping away kind of from the capitalistic model of like quarterly reviews and all of these things and looking more into like from a lunar perspective, okay, the full moon, it represents this. This is an opportunity for me to reflect on that. You know what I mean? So that's kind of where it started. And on my YouTube channel, I started focusing on nutrition and then it started moving into the astrology topics. And that's where that began last year, really talking about just kind of astrology readings and seasonal readings for the full moon and the new moon.

Chideya: On a kind of broader palette, some of the astrologers who I follow have said that next year includes the Pluto Returns of the United States, the entire country, and that it's a time of possible civic death and civic renewal. Have you been tracking that at all?

Brown: Yes. I just find it so fascinating that that's going to be happening. And we also saw 2020 was technically the Mayan calendar is 2012, but our calendars are different. And that was the year that we saw the beginning of a lot of things, as well as 2020 being the beginning of the age of Aquarius astrologically and that being a paradigm shift. So it's just really fascinating to see it all kind of intersect right now. But for anybody listening who doesn't know what a Pluto return is, it's essentially something that happens every 225 years. And it occurs basically when... A return in general occurs when a planet returns to the same place where it was at the beginning of something. So for example, the US began July 4th, 7076, and Pluto will be returning to the exact position that it was on that date. And so this is considered to be a once in a lifetime sort of situation. And we rarely see it with a lot of nations, but historically, we've seen at many nations' Pluto returns there being some level of upheaval or change. Now, one thing that I will say because I feel like in astrology right now, a lot of people are saying like, oh, this doom and gloom, this horrible things might happen. That could potentially be a possibility, but I think that it's important to note that major crises don't always occur at the time of a major planetary cycle beginning or ending. It often can just set the wheels in motion for change to happen. And I just find it really interesting that all of these things are intersecting and also seeing how polarized our country is right now, how it seems like it's almost getting worse as well as inflation going on. This is just my personal perspective. Everyone's different. I personally think that a lot of the polarization that's happening right now is a sign that our country is changing. And a lot of the bigots and the people who want things to go back to the quote "good old days," this is what it looks like when they're losing. They want to gather the guns. They want to be able to have some type of civil disorder. And I think that this is a paradigm shift for the better, but I do think that it will likely be rocky to get through that.

Chideya: Well, Alina, I will gladly keep tuning into your YouTube channel and I'm sure some people will be doing a massive eye roll that we did anything on astrology, but in some ways, for me, politics is similar. Like you can't expect someone else or some other system to solve all your problems. And for me, I take in a lot of different types of input to help me navigate the world, artistic input, intellectual input, and yes, astrology. So, Alina, thank you so much for joining us.

Brown: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: That was Alina Brown. You can search for her on YouTube as Alina Alive or follow her @heyalinaalive. Now it's time for Sippin the Political Tea. This week we have our regular contributor Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th. Hey Errin!

Errin Haines: Good to be with you.

Chideya: And we've also got Christina Greer. She's a political scientist and associate professor at Fordham University. Also the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream. She's also the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. Welcome back to Our Body Politic Professor Greer.

Christina Greer: Thank you all so much for having me.

Chideya: So, Errin, where should we start?

Haines: This week we're talking about Black women and women of color in politics. My favorite topic. Here is a clip from South African Broadcasting Corporation discussing Vice President Kamala Harris.

News Clip: The election win last November put a woman of color for the first time just a heartbeat away from the president. Kamala Harris made history in a country that had never before had a female vice president.

Haines: Now, Chrissy, you've written about Vice President Harris and the tasks she's been given. So have I. What do you make of her first year?

Greer: I'm of two minds. On the one hand, we know that we live in a society that is anti-Black, that is white supremacist, that does not value women. And you add all that together and have the second most powerful leader in the United States as a Black woman. And we know that her approval ratings will never be anywhere near that of a white man, a white woman, a Black man, you name it. But I also think that the portfolio she was given, as I wrote about in The Times, makes it such that it's very difficult for her to have some wins. Kamala has been charged with COVID and policing and voting and border crisis and migrants and immigrants and undocumented-

Chideya: All the fun stuff.

Greer: All of the things that we cannot figure out as a society. And then you add in the fact that she's a Black woman, then you add in the fact that the role of the vice presidency has never been fully defined and we have her essentially in a really tight spot.

Haines: Right. Yeah, a couple of things to your point there. One, the vice president, no matter who that person is, is assumed to be the presumptive nominee in the event that the president is either not running for reelection or is term limited out of running for reelection. And so with her being in that role for all intents and purposes, she is the presumptive nominee for 2024 and/or 2028, depending on where we are in the next few years. So, yes, it is traditionally an undefined role, but we at least know that. And even though it's undefined, she also is going to have to define herself for voters, for the press going forward. And that is something that's certainly not all on her. I think we've all seen of headlines that have been ridiculous to say the least in the last year and I think a lot of that does have to do with and still overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male political press corps that is covering something that they have never seen before and don't really know how to interpret or cover. But you do have this undefined role in a historic person in a traditional role who is having to chart her own course even in a role that really doesn't have a blueprint anyway. And now her being in this role means that that blueprint is even more nebulous, I guess we could say. So in November, USA Today and Suffolk University released a poll showing that the approval rating for vice president is at 28%. Now, that's lower than former vice president, Dick Cheney, who's considered the least popular vice president. Farai, what do you think about these low numbers? And are they a predictor of anything?

Chideya: I think that unfortunately, they're probably a good predictor that she won't be able to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2024. I could be wrong, but I do think that the Democratic Party is in and of itself divided, let alone the intra-partisan issues. And I want to actually call up some older research that we've talked about before but has a specific context here. Earlier this year, the firm PerryUndem did a major analysis of how people voted and why people voted the way that they did in 2020. And in that analysis, they had a statement and people could agree or disagree strongly, moderately. And the statement was, "Kamala Harris is tricking everyone. She only cares about becoming president herself."

Chideya: Now, listen to this. Super interesting. 56% of Trump voters who didn't get their news from Fox agreed with that, but 68% of Trump supporters who did get most of their news from Fox agreed. So part of this is contextual. There is definitely cultural warfare on air that you can see even in that's a difference just within Trump voters. So I think that Vice President Harris has been really facing a lot of aggressive stereotyping. I also know from just writing a book on work and doing a lot of work on work, that a lot of people are uncomfortable with Black women's leadership.

Haines: Yeah, no, that is a very real dynamic and we see it in our politics in this country, right? People are comfortable with Black women being a member of a team, right? Being in a state legislature, being in Congress. But in terms of a Black woman actually running the show, being the person in charge, that is not something that people's imagination has necessarily been open to, whether we're talking about politics, academia. I'm sure Professor Greer can relate.

Greer: Absolutely.

Haines: Business. You name it. Yeah.

Greer: As chairs of departments. But I think both of you make a really fascinating point because if you remember when Kamala Harris ran for the presidency and suspended and ended her campaign, hers was one of the only campaigns where the staffers came out and talked to the press about how terrible she was and how terrible of a boss she was. And I didn't know, I don't know Kamala Harris personally, but part of that could be a personality style or there are so many people who were unaccustomed, as you all have both said, to taking a directive from a woman of color.

Greer: And the fact that we've never had a Black woman as governor of a US state, the fact that we've only had two US senators, Kamala Harris being one, Carol Moseley Braun being the other, we know that there is an executive level disconnect when it comes to Black women. We're seeing more and more Black female mayors, but even someone like Keisha Lance Bottoms, who served for one term and then decided that she wasn't going to stay in office, I think is worth a larger, longer conversation about Black female executives.

Chideya: Yeah. Well, in early December, there was a lot of coverage of Symone Sanders, the vice president's chief spokesperson and senior advisor leaving. And even though some of the coverage I read it was very neutral tone, there's always a question mark like, oh, why is there turnover? And so I think that a lot of what happens in politics and political coverage is the kind of gossipy whispery thing that happens in a lot of the high-end political newsletters, but I do think that on a substantive level, this is a chance for the vice president's office to set whatever the course is for the remaining time in this administration. Like with Symone Sanders departure, what does the Office of the Vice President want to do? How does the vice president want to be represented by her staff in the greater context of the Biden-Harris administration? I think there's still a lot of opportunity for the vice president to shape her own narrative, even despite the headwinds.

Haines: Yeah, it's going to be really interesting to see how that happens. So Vice President Kamala Harris, she entered the White House as a trailblazer, right? She was already somebody who had been a first, a first woman of color, first South Asian Black vice president, first female vice president. But before that, she was a trailblazer in California rising to become the district attorney and then the attorney general of California. Chrissy, how has that lens affected the public's perception of Harris?

Greer: Well, we got to be honest about the number of people who weren't excited about Harris as the number two on the ticket. And that's Americans at large, but we have to be also honest about the number of Black Americans who weren't excited about Kamala Harris because of the framing. She was seen as the top cop. That headline followed her from her days as a DA and then her days as the AG. She obviously... If we're keeping it real, she has a few ticks about her. So when she's talking about something difficult or uncomfortable, sometimes she laughs. And that's something that she's definitely worked on, but there were obviously countless stories and clips that went through the internet about her talking about truancy and possibly putting children and their parents in prison for skipping school and laughing about it. When you looked at some of the polling for Southern states, people said they voted for Biden, but part of them voting for Biden was not because he chose Kamala Harris. She was just an add-on. But as Black Americans, they did not see her addition as a bonus because they still sort of harbored some strong feelings about her days as a prosecutor. And I think it's also interesting, I've written about this, the juxtaposition between Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris. Had Stacey Abrams won in 2018 becoming the first Black woman ever to be governor of a state, that would've given Joe Biden an N of two. He initially said he was going to choose a Black woman, then he walked it back and said he was going to choose a woman, but presidential candidates traditionally choose from one of two pools of people, senators or governors. And the fact that there's only one Black female senator, there's zero Black female governors, Joe Biden honestly only had Kamala Harris to choose. Had Stacey Abrams been governor, then I think he would've had a different selection process, but there is a very difficult reach for Joe Biden to think of someone like Stacey Abrams because the highest level of electoral leadership she had attained at the time was minority leader in the State House in Georgia, not even the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. And so if white boys aren't being chosen as is members of the House, then obviously someone as brilliant and talented as Stacey Abrams I don't think Joe Biden was willing to sort of take that risk.

Haines: So I also want to talk about other rising major candidates because in November, Boston made history when it elected 36-year-old Michelle Wu as its mayor. So Michelle Wu is the first female and first person of color to be elected mayor of Boston. Chrissy, is there anything that surprised you by this historic win? And do you see this as a turning point for these male dominated political leaders in major cities like Boston?

Greer: If it was someone who lived in Boston, I thought I would sooner see a polar bear as mayor of Boston than a woman of color back to back. But it says a few things. One, I think turn out in municipal elections in cities across the country has been pretty abysmal. So that does bode well I think sometimes for candidates of color. Two, Boston's demographics are changing. Attitudes, maybe done so much, but the demographics at least are changing. And Michelle Wu was one of the most progressive of the candidates and people were willing to give something a try. But I also think that we always have to ask ourselves about the questions of descriptive and substantive representation because I'm excited to see what Michelle Wu does. I'm always excited about the mayors of Philadelphia and Baltimore and DC and Atlanta, but we have to make sure that just because people may look like us or have sort of progressive policies initially because they're a woman or because they're a candidate of color or because they're a Black candidate more specifically, substantively, we got to make sure we still stay on top of them so that we don't find ourselves just believing that just because the skinfolk or kinfolk and that may not be the case.

Haines: Yeah, getting beyond symbolism and really getting down to the substance as these people begin to govern is absolutely a great point.

Greer: The Lori Lightfoot question basically if we're just going to put it out there. So-

Haines: Well, you are putting it out there. I see.

Greer: I think a lot of Black Chicagoans, saw a Black woman, a Black lesbian woman at that and assumed a lot of progressive politics that quite honestly did not and do not exist.

Haines: Yeah. Well, other interesting dynamics about that Boston race. You did have the acting mayor, Kim Janey, who was Black, who became the first woman of color to become mayor, although she was not elected again. She took over duties after former mayor, Marty Walsh, left to become Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. So Janey ran outright and then lost against Michelle Wu, but there were three Black candidates in the race, right? So you're seeing a diverse field of people competing for this office, including Janey who had the advantage of running as an incumbent, but yes, Wu making history. Her parents, immigrants to the US from Taiwan. And to your point about the kind of changing demographics, Asians now making up 9.7% of Boston. But Farai, I want to come to you because Mayor Michelle Wu is just one example. You've got other rising candidates that are pegged to become stars in the upcoming election. So who are some of the names that you're following in 2022?

Chideya: Well, I'm going to tick off a few and end with someone who folks have eyes on. So you've got Val Demings, Florida representative running for Marco Rubio seat in the Senate. That is going to be a spicy. You have some people running for reelection like Kansas representative, Sharice Davids, also Illinois representative Lauren Underwood, who we've had on the show, also running for reelection. But I would say that the drum roll please goes to Stacey Abrams. Throwing her hat into a race that by many accounts she should have already won. Very complicated. Look it up, lots of history there, narrow margin and lots of shenanigan. So we will see what happens now that she has spent years really working on voting infrastructure and helped change Georgia to blue in the 2020 election. So I think it's going to be a very interesting race.

Haines: Yeah, I think that it's probably among the highest if not the highest profile race that you're looking at next year. Stacey Abrams in a potential rematch from the 2018 gubernatorial contest. This is assuming that Brian Kemp, who we know is planning to run for reelection, can get out of his GOP primary. He may be drawing some challengers before he can even get to Stacey Abrams. But yeah, there are a record number of Black women expected to run next year for mayor, governor, senate, you name it. Karen Bass possibly making history out of Los Angeles depending on what happens there. So, yes, some really exciting races that are like to become nationalized just because of their potential for somebody to be a first or to add to the ranks of Black women who are increasingly factoring into our politics. So I want to ask what these wins mean for other women who hope to one day occupy elected office or the highest office. Chrissy, where does that representation kind of go from here?

Greer: Well, I always argue it has to be descriptive and substantive working in concert, but we definitely need more and more women in the upper levels so that the pipeline is real. If we get more Black women in Congress, if we get specifically more Black female senators, if we get more Black female governors, then we actually have a robust pool of people to choose from when we're thinking about higher office. But we have to be honest. Stacey Abrams is a brilliant fundraiser, but there are some challenges for Black women to fundraise. People tend not to give as much money to women. People tend not to give as much money to candidates of color. And so obviously, Black female candidates have more of an uphill battle.

Greer: We're also because the generational wealth gap is real, when we are running in particular districts, we're going to Black communities where Black people have a long history of giving. We disproportionately give more to our religious institutions, to social service organizations when you look at the data, but we don't have the same history of political giving. I call it political tithing. And so that's what I've been trying to cultivate in myself and my friends and family. Sort of the same way you tithe to the church every week or every month when you roll through, doing the same for elections across the country on a consistent basis and not just during election season. And so really getting Black people to understand moving beyond door knocking, which is incredibly important in organizing some of the external organizing mechanisms that go into getting a successful candidate, but also the financial endeavors of contributing to a candidate to help them get over the edge.

Haines: Yeah, that early support. And I love the idea of political tithing as a concept. Coining that phrase here, you heard it here, everyone, political tithing is the way that we can talk about this. And we talk about Black folks and political giving and what that might look like going forward to really frankly make so many of the Black women who may be thinking about or decide to run for office "electable," a myth that we are constantly trying to disparage over at The 19th. Unfortunately, we are going to have to wrap it there. Thank you so much Farai and Chrissy. See you both in 2022.

Chideya: Thanks so much, Errin.

Greer: Thank you all for having me.

Chideya: That was Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th, and Dr. Christina Greer, a political scientist and associate professor at Fordham University. She's also the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.

Chideya: Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. 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 editor is Veralyn Williams. Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure are our senior producers. 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, Elizabeth Nakano, 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 J.J. Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Workers in the U.S. Feel the Squeeze of Inflation, the Booming Business of Astrology, and the First Year of Vice President Kamala Harris.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. December 31, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/