#1318 Why We Cannot Have Nice Things (How Racism Hurts Everyone, Including White People) (Transcript)

Air Date 11/12/2019

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How Racial Resentment Is Killing White Working Class Americans | Opinions | NowThis - Air Date 5-4-19

JONATHAN METZL: [00:00:00] Usually, you see shortening lifespans after a famine, after Hiroshima, after the fall of the Soviet Union. But it doesn't happen in 2015 United States at a time of prosperity and lowering crime rates and factors like that. There really are very few historical correlates for what we're seeing in the South and Midwest right now. What we're seeing is shortening lifespans, and not just shortening lifespans, but shortening lifespans among people who are in the demographic majority: White men. That issue, just in the past a hundred years really is -- 1915 to 1918, that's the last time that White men have had a three-year drop in lifespan in the way they're seeing it now. And that's because of the First World War and the flu pandemic. The reason we're seeing shortened lifespans is in part about addiction, in part about economics, but it's also about particular health policies. And what I'm trying to illustrate is these are terrible health policies. It's almost like an epidemic or what economists have called deaths of despair. But the irony here is that people are voting for these policies that are shortening their own lifespans.

For example, in Tennessee, I studied what happened when the state blocked, really, implementation of the Affordable Care Act or the expansion of any kind of government healthcare safety net. And what I found was that act alone ended up costing every White person in the state on the aggregate about  two to three weeks of their life. When I looked at the liberalization of gun laws in the state of Missouri, the effects were pretty remarkable. What happened as it became easier and easier to get guns . . . On one hand, many people felt like that was bolstering their Second Amendment rights. But when I looked at the health data, what I saw were soaring rates of not just gun homicide, but also gun suicide, accidental shootings, partner violence. And ultimately what I found was that the loss  . . . there were over 12,000 lost life years Just in the first five years that those policies ended up passing.

In the state of Kansas, they basically did these massive tax cuts that ended up enriching people at the very top of the economic system but were terrible for working class people. And what happened when you started to cut away budgets from schools is that people started to drop out of high school. And what I found in my research was that dropping out of high school correlated with about a five to seven year shorter lifespan for a variety of reasons.

These politics of racial resentment have long and often invisible histories in the South. And so part of what I try to tell them the book is a history of why these issues weren't just invented yesterday, or even with the election of President Trump. When I talk to everyday people, really, I found a longing to solve some of these issues. In other words, people wanted better healthcare. They wanted safer communities. The problem was there were so many divisive messages coming through that told them if you agree to any form of gun control, you're no longer a good conservative; you're no longer a good White person. If you agree to any form of Obamacare, that's not our platform.

And so in a way, these policies were being coded as almost racial identities  -- is what I call them in the book -- that to give an inch was to give a yard and to even consider something that might be a bit more centrist was coded as treason. I wasn't trying to assess who was racist and who wasn't. I don't know what was in any person's heart, and I wasn't doing an assessment of their identity.

The key piece of information, as far as I'm concerned, was [sic] whether or not an individual person was racist. The risk factor came because they elected politicians whose policies were based in these rhetorics of racial resentment. In other words, anti-immigrant, anti-government, pro-gun policies. those policies became what dictated the policies of particular states, everybody's health suffered, regardless of whether they themselves were racist or not.

I'm encouraged that there are progressive movements bubbling up in many Southern states. And I think that younger voters in particular who are feeling energized are pushing for healthcare. They're pushing for common sense gun laws that respect the Second Amendment but also try to stem the tide of epidemic levels of gun injury and death.

But I do think part of the issue is the minute that working class conservative voters start realizing that these policies are killing them and asking for better policies from their leaders. I think that's the moment that things begin to change.

Slavery and the Lack of Universal Healthcare - The Brian Lehrer Show - Air Date 8-20-19

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:05:27] My guest is Jeneen Interlandi, a member of the New York Times editorial board and a contributor to their 1619 Project, which observes that this year is the 400th anniversary of the first African people brought to the United States in slavery and the implications of that to this day. Her article focuses on healthcare and why the United States doesn't have universal healthcare to this day, unique or almost unique among industrialized nations and that it has to do with the history of race in this country. 

So here's another example. Way back when, you write, the argument about dependence on government benefits came up. We hear that to this day. Of course, it was a big Paul Ryan thing, when he wanted to cut benefits in the name of the budget. It was a big Newt Gingrich thing of the '90's, when they had that big welfare reform. Do you have an origin story kind of, of the dependence of recipients as a scare tactic?

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:06:26] I think that again goes right back to when they established the Freedman's Bureau and the ambivalence that we were just speaking of. So, there was enough push, I think, from the Northern states and also from the newly emancipated themselves. So they became some of the first advocates for federal healthcare because they were being denied charity care. They were being denied just basic sustenance. And so for our Black soldiers who had been promised certain rations petitioned to their leaders for medical care and for more food for their families, and that became some of the first advocacy towards this. Yeah, so I think that was the beginning of all of that. In terms of the origin story, the pushback against that again happened in Congress where they said Black people are idle by nature, they're lazy by nature, and it's actually, again, this biological difference that the best way to keep them healthy is to subject them to hard labor, and the former slave holders know more about Black bodies and about Black health than anybody else. And this is what we're telling you. If you give them help, it's just going to breed dependence because that is the way they are biologically.


BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:07:29] And we did a segment last week, which was about all the ways when it, after it no longer became politically acceptable to say Black people are idle by nature and things like that, that the rhetoric shifted to things like we just don't want Americans to become dependent on benefits. But everybody knew who they were talking about.

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:07:50] Yeah. And on of the interesting things to me is  reported it a little bit on the Medicaid work requirements. And one of the arguments that comes up with that [is] people who support Medicaid work requirements will often argue that gainful employment is foundational to health. And that's not entirely wrong; if you have gainful employment, you're likely to be more healthy. But the relationship is actually, it goes the other way around. You need to be healthy in order to work. But that argument that working is the key to being healthy goes back again to the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau and the resistance against that. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:08:18] And you're jumping way ahead of the historical narrative, but let's go there because it was another interesting thing in your piece.

The backlash to Obamacare, I guess, it was part of where Arkansas established recently a work requirement forcing nearly 20,000 people off their insurance plans. And of course, the work requirements for benefits are generally premised on what many consider a legitimate social contract was if you want the rest of the American people, the other taxpayers, to pay for your healthcare or pay for your food stamps or whatever it is, you owe them to work in exchange. 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:08:58] Exactly. And it wasn't just Arkansas. Arkansas is the one state that I think was able to implement them before it went through the courts, and it was stopped. But there were several states that are actually still trying to do that, and some of those are in appeals right now. So it's hanging in the balance, whether we'll have work requirements or not. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:09:13] The number in your article at that point indicates the implications of having work requirements. I guess we could go through all of these people and find out if they just, Oh, they didn't feel like working so they gave up their health insura nce or if there were real obstacles to them working. But 20,000 people in one state losing their health insurance because of a work requirement means something's going on. 

There's enough research to kind of show and lay out that it's not that those 20,000 people all got jobs. And it's not even that all of the 20,000 people were ineligible because they weren't working. All the research suggests, and this has been done in the past, that when you implement these things, that most people that are kicked off the programs and that lose the benefit, the majority of them are actually working, but they're working in low wage jobs where you don't have consistent hours. So, maybe one month you meet the monthly requirement and the next month you fall short. Also, if you don't have access to a computer or the internet, there's barriers to actually registering and logging these things . . .

. . or all off the books, if we're talking about poor people, we're talking about a lot of underground economy, 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:10:13] exactly.

Cash labor. So there's things they don't count. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:10:15] And how does that tie back to race, which is the point of the piece? 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:10:20] That's a tough question to answer, and it's hard to speak to the specific motivations of the entities that are enacting these things now. And, I leave it to the reader to make those conclusions, but I will say that the line back to where that began and where those arguments began is overtly White supremacist. You can debate you know, what the causes and consequences are now, but you cannot debate that that's a historical precedent. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:10:42] You tell the story of the nation's first Black female MD, and you quote from her. Who was Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler? 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:10:50] She was one of so many, just different unsung heroes that I had never known about until I did this piece. And, we're never taught some of these things in school, which is unfortunate, but Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born a free woman. She was a Black woman, and she got her MD at a time when it was almost impossible for any woman, a White woman, to get a medical education, but she did. She was born and raised in Boston. She practiced there, and at the close of the Civil War, she decided to go to the South. She was the only Black woman doctor, I think, at the time. And she was certainly only Black woman doctor to work for the Freedmen's Bureau. And she went and she set up shop in Virginia and she worked in these communities of newly emancipated people who were struggling as I said earlier against so many different illnesses and shortcomings in care. Not only did she get an MD at a time when it was impossible for Black women to do that, but she wrote a book called Medical Discourses. I think it's called Medical Discourses. And it's it's just a discourse on the burdens of Black diseases in Black communities or the burden of disease in Black communities. While congressmen are arguing, White congressmen are arguing vehemently -- and I think even the New York Times and probably some other media outlets are accepting this argument of extinction and biological inferiority and, even the depravity of the Black race as being responsible for the illnesses that they're dealing with -- she did a very scientific study and, as I quote her and the piece, she said they seem to forget; they remember this when it comes to White illness, but they seem to forget when it comes to Black illness, that there's actually a cause for every medical condition and that they may have the power to actually remove those causes and create health.

And so it was just . . . To me, there were so many different ways that the newly emancipated and then marginalized Black communities throughout history pushed back against this kind of discrimination and exclusion from our healthcare system. But to me, that was just such an eloquent rejoinder, because this was someone that by all accounts should never have risen to that level. And she did, and she spoke powerfully and with grace. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:12:42] My guest is Jeneen Interlandi, a member of the New York Times editorial board, and a contributor to the Times' 1619 Project observing that this is the 400th anniversary this year -- and in fact today --  the first African people brought to the United States in slavery and some of the ramifications for our country ever since, and her article is about healthcare.

Then you get to the New Deal, Social Security. Yay! Collective bargaining. Yay! But ways without saying race that Black people were excluded. 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:13:19] Yeah. So, the way this played out was by the time you get to the New Deal era, the former slave states wielded enormous congressional power through a Southern voting block that was almost exclusively Democratic and overwhelmingly and pretty overtly segregationists. So these were White supremacists in Congress, and they were so powerful and such a united voting block that you essentially could not get legislation through without their consent. And the two things that they did, the way that they secured the racial hierarchy that was prevailing in the South at that time -- and that was a hierarchy that had delivered all of the region's power and resources to them to the exclusion of former slaves -- they created a system by which if you wanted them to sign off on a legislation or to support that legislation, you had to grant them concessions. And the concessions they sought were: one. states' rights. So yes, we will take all of these public, progressive programs that provide aid to people in need because the South was a relatively very poor region for Black and for White. But you have to let us determine how to allocate those funds. You have to let us determine how to distribute those funds, and guess who they distributed the funds to? And guess who got cut out of the deal? We're talking about people that were White supremacists in Congress, and so that's how that happened. And that's how that played out. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:14:28] A piece of discrimination history that I did not know, should have known but didn't know until I read your piece, the American Medical Association did not originally allow Black doctors to join.

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:14:39] Yeah. So that was, I think it was basically through the local chapters. They allowed all the local chapters across the country to determine their own rules and regulations for who could be a part of the American Medical Association. But the consequence of that, again, was that Black people were effectively barred and were not allowed in 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:14:54] So it was in some states and not in others.

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:14:57] I think it was in most states. I think it was actually in the majority of states, but if you want to get super technical about it, it wasn't necessarily the national organization. It was actually the state organizations, but they've acknowledged that so I don't think it's really in dispute. The national association has.

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:15:09] And you describe therefore how lay people, lay medical people I guess, when formal education was out of reach, formed their own networks and systems, can you give us an example of that?

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:15:21] Sure. You could do a whole book on it. And in fact, several great ones have have been written about this and they've tweeted out the links to some of those So, in the wake of this exclusion, Black communities were not merely victimized,and they pushed back in so many completely profound ways. So, if you look at just the lay Black community, middle-class Black women created an entire national public health movement  just through lobbying, through charity, through progressive work. And they created this thing they called club women. It was, like women from the national society. I can't remember the name of the society, but there were all these different societies of middle-class Black women who were pushing public health initiatives and going into the poorer communities and teaching them all of the things that they didn't have access to to create health because they didn't have access to doctors, they couldn't get into White hospitals. And they went so far as to . . .. There was an entire movement,  a Black hospital movement where the hospitals were segregated, and it was separate and unequal which means the White hospitals were much better than the Black hospitals/ instead of accepting that, the Black community did all kinds of things to raise money and to acquire resources to create medical schools and to improve the Black hospital. So, if we have to be separate, maybe we can try to be equal. And they did that just through their own labors and their own efforts. And that was in the lay community. If you look at the Black medical community, the doctors that were acquiring MDs through the two Black medical colleges that they had access to, they were the ones that ultimately pushed back against the American Medical Association. And so, it was this , for the AMA, and unintended consequence. You excluded this group of people, and now they have created their own power. And now they are pushing for national laws that will support their own. 

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:16:52] We're almost out of time. I do want to mention the Affordable Care Act which you bring up in the article. And I remember when we were doing the show during the debate for the Affordable Care Act and then when it first got passed, there were some guests we had who really lauded it as one of the major civil rights or racial equality laws of our era. It wasn't sold like that explicitly, but it really was. 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:17:18] Yeah.  There are so many things I learned reporting this. This was not, and I've written a lot about Medicare and Medicaid, and I had no idea, but what basically happened was the National Medical Association, which was the leading association of Black doctors, they led the charge pushing for not just Medicare.  It had originally started as a push for a national healthcare system specifically because Black communities were being excluded from the White medical system that had arisen. They didn't have access to employer-based health insurance as much as White people did. They were segregated from the hospitals. They didn't have as many doctors. There was just multiple ways that they were shut out of the system. And so for them, of course they wanted universal healthcare because that's the only way to make it equal. The American Medical Association didn't want that because they wanted doctors to be in control of the healthcare system and they didn't want the government taking over, another familiar argument. And so what happened was Medicare became a civil rights act .And it was actually through Medicare that hospitals were desegregated because when you pass civil rights legislation that said you cannot segregate by race any institution that receives federal funding. Okay. That's one part. And then the second part is you pass Medicare which gives every senior citizen in the country federally funded healthcare. That means every hospital in the country is going to be flooded with federal dollars. And when that happens, guess what? You can't segregate these hospitals anymore.

BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: [00:18:32] So do you see the Medicare for All debate now through that lens? 

JENEEN INTERLANDI: [00:18:36] I think it's hard not to once you learn the history, and there's still so much I think learning that needs to be done, but yeah, I think again, the line is pretty clear and pretty direct.

An Incredible Con - Slate Presents: The Queen - Air Date 5-20-19

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:18:46] R. Eugene Pincham argued that in the grand scheme of things what Linda Taylor did was irrelevant because prosecuting people for welfare fraud was itself immoral. At the same time, Pincham used as institutional know-how to work the system in Linda Taylor's favor. That mostly meant grinding the legal process to a halt by requesting continuance after continuance. Taylor was indicted in 1974. She wouldn't go on trial until 1977. Pincham hoped that these tactics would cool the case down, that a long delay would make people forget how much they hated Linda Taylor, but Pincham hadn't known that Taylor would become a campaign issue. In 1976, Ronald Reagan got people angry about her all over again. The other consequence of Pincham stalling was that he stalled himself out of the case. Two years in, Pincham was elected to a circuit court judgeship, and a pair of junior associates took over Taylor's defense. One of them was the 29 year old Skip Gant. [He wasn't optimistic about his chances to win in court, but the more he heard Reagan talk on the campaign trail, the more Gant believed that he wasn't just representing a single client.

SKIP GANT: [00:19:57] She was being painted as this big-time crook. And she was indicative of all Black females who were on welfare. And my mother was on welfare, and my mother was nowhere close to being anything like Linda Taylor. That pissed me off. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:20:17] Gantz needed to remind himself about the big picture because the woman he was representing was an enormous pain. Most defendants understood the value of appearing demure in court. But Linda Taylor wouldn't stop wearing fur coats. 

SKIP GANT: [00:20:32] Trying to get her to look like a schoolmarm was just not going to work. Couldn't do it. Couldn't do it. She was just bent on being flamboyant. There was a part of her that I recall where she was really, she needed to be able to thumb her nose at society. She needed to be like in their face. There was this need to be defiant. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:20:56] Taylor was on trial for being a scammer, and Skip Gant felt like one of her marks. One time she told him that she was staying at a particular hotel. When Gant send an investigator to check it out, they found an empty lot. 

SKIP GANT: [00:21:09] She was an incredible con. You're sitting there and you're looking at her straight in the face, and you're rolling your eyes back in your head going yeah. Okay, okay. No, there was nothing that she would say that you could believe.

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:21:29] Until he was in his fifties, Ronald Reagan was known mostly as a B-grade movie actor. His political breakthrough came in 1964 when he made a televised speech on behalf of Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. In that address, Reagan talked about the virtues of small government and individual freedom. He also argued that antipoverty programs encouraged law breaking and bread dependency. 

PRESEDENT RONALD REAGAN: [00:21:55] Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me that a young woman who'd come before him for a divorce. She had six children was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning $250 a month. She wanted the divorce to get an $80 raise. She's eligible for $330 a month in the Aid to Dependent Children program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who had already done that very thing. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:22:21] Goldwater lost that 1964 election, but Reagan became a rising star. In 1966, he was elected governor of California. Once in office, he made welfare reform one of his top priorities. Welfare spending had grown nationwide in the 1950s and 60's. Mass migration from the South to more generous northern states, the rise of the welfare rights movement and to series of Supreme Court rulings all meant that lots of poor people, particularly poor Black women, started receiving aid money for the first time. That aid money helped alleviate poverty. It also strained state budgets. Reagan promised that he could solve the welfare spending crisis without harming the truly needy. Here's Julilly Kohler-Hausmann again. 

JULILLY KOHLER-HAUSMANN: [00:23:08] He claimed that the reason that the welfare rolls were expanding so much was because the rolls had been inundated with cheaters. There were many factors in his welfare reform proposal, but one of the key parts was that he wanted to "prune the rolls," that he needed to thin them out by getting rid of all of the people that he claimed were there fraudulently, illegitimately. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:23:37] As governor, Reagan tightened welfare eligibility rules and reduced grants for those with outside income. These moves became a model for other states and the federal government and they made Reagan a conservative hero. When Reagan ran for president in 1976, he cited these reforms as an example of his policy expertise. But John Sears who managed Reagan's 1976 campaign says the candidate was never all that concerned with how welfare worked.

JOHN SEARS: [00:24:07] To him, politics was more a matter of connecting with the people on a more personal basis. He was not one to want to get to the bottom of issues or anything. They weren't the important thing to Reagan. It was making the connection. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:24:22] When Reagan talked about Linda Taylor, voters heard him loud and clear. In this clip from a campaign rally in January, 1976, you can hear a collective gasp when he talks about the scope of Taylor's fraud. 

PRESEDENT RONALD REAGAN: [00:24:35] In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, social security, veterans benefits for four non-existent deceased veteran's husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free, cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:24:59] The anecdote spoke to voters' prejudices, and it inflamed their fear and their outrage. 

JULILLY KOHLER-HAUSMANN: [00:25:05] Welfare becomes an explanation for a whole host of frustrations that are happening economically. People are frustrated because not only do they feel like they're paying more taxes, but they feel like they're paying more taxes for people that they feel do not deserve it, that are not legitimate rights- bearing citizens. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:25:24] Reagan wasn't always scrupulous about the facts. He said that Taylor had stolen $150,000 or more, but she had officially been charged with the theft of less than $9,000. The prosecutor in her case said you have to go with what you can prove. Reagan's standard of proof was a lot lower. And while Reagan never mentioned Linda Taylor's race, he stood accused of using coded racist language during his campaign. In addition to telling the Taylor story, Reagan talked about a strapping young buck who bought T-bone steaks with food stamps. The New York Times described this as an indirect racial appeal, one that might attract supporters of the segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. Kohler-Hausmann says the indirectness of Reagan's welfare talk helps explain why it was effective.

JULILLY KOHLER-HAUSMANN: [00:26:14] It's a way of channeling anxiety and frustration and rage against the changes that had happened in the 60's and  70's around racial hierarchy. It's a way of channeling that politically without explicitly talking about race. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:26:33] John Sears denies that Reagan used race in an underhanded way to try to win elections. Sears also says that if Reagan did deploy racist tropes, he didn't realize what he was doing. 

JOHN SEARS: [00:26:45] I think it was more naivete than anything else. He was a very naive man, in some ways. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:26:50] Sears says that he was never a fan of Reagan's repeated references to Linda Taylor and that he urged Reagan to quit mentioning the woman in Chicago.

JOHN SEARS: [00:26:59] I thought it was demeaning to people on welfare. And so I thought it was a very bad thing to be saying. 

JOSH LEVIN - HOST, THE QUEEN: [00:27:05] As the '76 campaign rolled on, Reagan did cut down on how often he mentioned Taylor, but he couldn't bring himself to stop using the anecdote entirely. The Linda Taylor story helped him connect with a huge swath of American voters, and he didn't want to risk losing that connection.

Dying of Whiteness with Jonathan Metzl - Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes - Air Date 3-26-19

TIM WISE - HOST, SPEAK OUT: [00:27:23] Well, it seems to me that the big issue that Democrats have, that more moderate leaning liberals have is they want to, and maybe even some that are quite committed on the left but White, is they want to have this class conversation, but they don't quite know how to connect it to the race conversation. They're either afraid to connect it because that will reinforce the racial resentment or fears, or they just don't have a lot of experience and skill in connecting it, and so they just want to stay with class. And it seems to me that, and your book documents this so well, that if these socioeconomic and racial issues are so connected, and the politics of racial resentment is affecting the decisions people make, we can't run away from the way these things have been racialized. 

We can't just say for instance, hey, we all need better healthcare, so let's get better healthcare, or we all need more public funding because if in my mind, subconsciously, I'm connecting public anything to Black people and Brown people, which is what the research says people do. If I'm connecting the notion of government intervention in the economy, whether it's healthcare, housing, income support, schools, or anything else with those people, the idea that you can finesse me and not mention it actually is bad because that allows me to remain in this sort of bubble of innocence where I'm not even having to confront the way I'm being manipulated.

The subconscious stuff does a bigger number on me precisely because it stays subconscious. Whereas if a politician is willing to say for 50 years, these folks have manipulated us, not you, us, all of us, to connect the dots between anything for people in need, working people, and this notion of unjustified others taking things from you, and making that connection explicit so that people have to really grapple with the way that were being played off against each other. And sometimes I don't see that piece in the way Bernie Sanders talks about this stuff. Where he just sort of, I think, skates around race, or the way that a lot of traditional organizers who come out of White models and didn't get grounded in race early on, they talk around it as if simply appealing to rational self-interest will work. 

But as, as I think your book makes clear, there are interests, however twisted, they may be that are served, psychological needs that are met, by this politic of resentment, by what Du Bois called the psychological wage of Whiteness. When he used that term, he knew what he was talking about. Even in an age when we didn't have all of the psych research that we have now. It wasn't that they were voting against their interests, they were defining their interests differently.

JONATHAN METZL: [00:29:55] Beautifully put. I mean, I'm so torn about them, the Bernie Sanders question that you bring up, because on one hand, I do think there's a lot of promise of thinking about issues that will potentially join people and unite people across class lines. But my framework is race here, and very consciously so. And part of it, on one hand, is to say that there's not us in them. In other words, there is White privilege in this country and the examples I'm going to show you are exaggerated examples of similar systems of privilege that surround me when I walked down the street, and I have to be honest about that.

And so part of it is it's too easy for White liberals to say "them" when that is not them. And so that's part of the issue, I think, but then, for example, let's take an appeal to Medicare For All. There's a long history of resistance to government sponsored healthcare it in the south, more recently, like five years ago, with the response to Obamacare. And so to just jump in and say, Oh yeah, we have this great idea that's government sponsored healthcare for everybody without addressing the racial politics of that issue, to me, is the wrong way to go about it without having also a conversation about Whiteness. Same thing with guns, jumping in and saying we want universal background checks with also understanding of how guns have been tied to issues of Whiteness and openly talking about that.

Greater than Fear - Brave New Words - Air Date 9-6-19

DORAN SCHRANTZ: [00:31:15] What became clear coming out of the 2016 election was that the bet that some politicians were making on Minnesota was that a racial wedge and racial polarization strategy rooted in right-wing populism was the path to victory in Minnesota.  

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:31:37] That's Doran Schrantz, the executive director of the faith-based, progressive organizations Isaiah and Faith in Minnesota.

DORAN SCHRANTZ: [00:31:45] And the particular manifestation that took in our context was creating a kind of fear-based narrative about immigrants, immigrants of color and in particular Muslim immigrants in Minnesota. So, it sort of sat at the intersection of immigrants are taking our collective benefits and secondly Muslim immigrants in particular are advancing a strategy in Minnesota to create Sharia law to foster terrorism, etc., etc.  So, it was basically trying to say that immigrants of color are fleecing the system away from regular White Minnesotans, and there is a culture clash, a religious, ethnic culture clash that needs to be confronted. And in particular, we should be afraid of the growing Muslim population in our state.

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:32:47] We heard this very clearly in the super [unintelligible] backlash, and with a huge electoral opportunity, several congressional races, both of US Senate seats, the Minnesota House, the state attorney general seat and the governorship in play, there was this huge question: how do you campaign against these messages of hate and division that have become so prevalent and vitriolic with Trump?

SHARON GOLDTZVIK: [00:33:10] So, we  were looking for a brand that did a lot of things at once and that made the challenge . . . I remember feeling like the challenge was really overwhelming. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:33:21] That's Sharon Goldtzvik, CEO, and founder of Uprise. We worked together on the campaign, branding and execution. 

SHARON GOLDTZVIK: [00:33:28] It had to be a brand that works as a brand that had all of the normal things that you need from a brand; it has to be sticky and memorable, and you have to imagine people wanting to identify with it. And you have to imagine what it could look like visually and all of those things, but then it also had to make the case for the race/class narrative, which was this really complicated concept and also lappeal specifically to Minnesotans, which is who we were looking for, and it had to respond to the opposition messages that we knew were coming and come up with a way to encapsulate all of that in three words. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:34:06] As you might imagine, it took some serious brainstorming to come up with the final name for the campaign in Minnesota. We landed on Greater than Fear with the affirmative tagline in Minnesota We're Better Off Together. These checked off all the boxes that Sharon listed; plus, they did something else. For folks who don't know, "greater" is Minnesotan for rural. It's the way they describe the parts of the state outside the cities. And when you're contending with anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Muslim bias, greater Minnesota is where much of the problem really lies. 

SHARON GOLDTZVIK: [00:34:39] Fear is so powerful and so pervasive. And it just, it clicks on a part of the brain that makes higher order reasoning almost impossible. And so, countering it is so hard. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:34:52] The narrative we branded, Greater Than Fear, was rooted in research I'd led in Minnesota and nationally on how to talk about race; link it to class and inoculate against dog whistling, those covert racist messages that are a mainstay of GOP campaigning. The research was done with Merge Left author  Ian Haney Lopez, Lake Research Partners, the think tank Demos and the labor union SEIU. 

JaNAE BATES: [00:35:17] I know during our research, what we found when we were having our canvassers on the doors is that they would go out to some spots in like greater Minnesota, where it's been predominantly White for many, many decades . . . 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:35:30] This is Janae Bates, the communications director for Isaiah and Faith in Minnesota.

JaNAE BATES: [00:35:35] When they would knock on people's doors and say we all deserve a Minnesota that has all of these beautiful, wonderful, joyful things to keep us healthy, happy, and whole as communities, the folks that you know that they're going to door knock, they'd say yes, absolutely, I want free healthcare. Yes, absolutely. I want quality education. Yes, absolutely. I'd love to have, great childcare and not have to cost my whole paycheck for it. But if my Somali neighbor is going to get it, I don't want it. And so, what we learned from that is that you can't have an economic populism conversation without talking about race. When it's devoid of that, then you'll you completely decenter: one, those who are marginalized and hit hardest already, but also you get this tribalism that's not helpful for anyone. And so instead, we lean into race. We absolutely name it as a tool that's being used to divide us so that people realize that when we're talking about the possibilities of what we can have, we can only have it when we work together and when we're taking care of one another. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:36:46] What Janae is describing is hard enough to tackle on its own, but it was happening within a context where prominent national pundits and the political establishment are convinced that our core aim must be to win back working class voters, read White working class. And that this requires eschewing so-called identity politics, a term that any functional country would call human rights and only talk economics, never race. Meanwhile, the messages from the right are designed as a one-two punch. First, stoke fear and resentment of some other that's purportedly on the take. Then, undermine people's desire for social welfare overall. Take a listen to this ad, for example. 

AD #1 SPEAKER: [00:37:29] Okay. So I've lived in Minnesota all my life, and I want to be nice, but I have had it. It took me two hours to get home. Every highway's closed. There's potholes everywhere. Still don't have my license tabs. They're building this train that no one wants. The schools are getting worse and a hundred million dollars of taxpayer money for daycare was sent to Somalia. Oh. And now they want socialism. We need a new governor. 

AD #1 NARRATOR: [00:37:52] If you're ready to take Minnesota back and make it nice again, vote for Jeff Johnson on August 14th.

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:37:59] This is the "Minnesota nice" version of what right-wing campaigns are resorting to in every state. But for a long time, progressives across the country, including in Minnesota, were trying to win with an economic populist message that's silent about race. So in our research, we wanted to gauge the efficacy of that approach, which sounds like this.

AD #2 SPEAKER: [00:38:20] We live in the richest country in the history of the world but that means little, because much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. Despite advancements in technology and productivity, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. Wall Street and the billionaire class have rigged the rules to hand more wealth and income to the wealthiest and most powerful people of this country. We must send a message to these greedy billionaires that you cannot take advantage of all of the benefits of Minnesota if you refuse to accept your responsibilities as Minnesotans. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:39:02] While the testing showed that our base was pretty into this message, our approaches that named race proved much more compelling to them, and the colorblind message failed to best the opposition messaging with the vast majority of voters in the middle, folks we found can swing either toward the racially coded resentment the right wing is peddling or for the multi-racial equitable democracy we're pitching. This research and the real world experience of campaigners knocking on doors tells us our economic appeals can't penetrate when we leave race unnamed because the right is never going to stop talking about it.

JaNAE BATES: [00:39:40] When we began to have these conversations all across the state, what we also found is that White farm families out in greater Minnesota were having the same problems as Black families in Minneapolis. Yet they were being told different stories about who's to blame and who they should be angry with about it.

And so we have to talk about race. As a matter of fact, we need to center it and make sure that when we talk about it we're very explicitly naming the dog whistles that are used to divide us, but also name that what we really need and deserve and want is a multiracial democracy where everyone's in and no one's out, which means that White people are welcome to the table. And a lot of times I think that tends to be the issue. It's not that White people just hate people of color, it's that they feel like they're not being included or that they one day won't be included, and maybe it has something to do with historically going the other way and a fear of some kind of retribution. But either way, what we knew for sure was that we had to talk about race.

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:40:51] So, what does it mean to make this pivot, to talk inclusively about race? In Minnesota, it means creating a definition of Minnesotan that includes all of us. So we did, and it sounded like this in an ad that we ran online and on the radio.

AD #3 SPEAKER: [00:41:06] In Minnesota, we know long winters and we know how to dig our neighbors out of the snow. 'Cause whether it's our first Minnesota winter or our 50th, we've all been there. So when certain politicians want to divide us and make us afraid, we know that means they've got nothing else to offer. We're onto them. There are lots of ways to be Minnesotan, and all of them are greater than fear. In Minnesota, we're better off together. Vote greater than fear between now and November 6th. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:41:40] This new messaging gave us the ability to put forward an enticing, affirmative vision of the world we want. And it also gave us a way to contend with dog whistles from the right. And that's critical because politics isn't solitaire. We don't just have people listening to what we say; our messaging has to act as a rejoinder to what people hear from the opposition, too. Our opposition will continue to press their case, usually with far more money than we've got to make people hear it. And we've seen that dog whistling, using racially coded appeals to demonize people of color in order to undermine belief in the collective, that's their core approach. As Ian Haney Lopez has spelled out very clearly, whether it's "oh! Gee" dog whistles, "welfare queen" or "a culture of people expecting handouts" or slightly newer ones like "illegal immigrants" or "Sharia law," these statements don't come out and name race, but they're absolutely understood as being about racial groups, and they serve not just to vilify the people in these groups. They are meant to undermine the sense that there is an "us," a shared collective, a need for government. If our messaging isn't contending with that, then our economic promises have no way of penetrating in an arena in which the right is using fear, resentment and deliberate division, precisely because they have no economic argument to make. 

Dying of Whiteness A Conversation with Scholar Jonathan Metzl - Speak Out with Tim Wise - Air Date 4-2-19

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:43:04] The other thing that we're seeing is opioid addiction and alcohol addiction actually. I think one of the interesting things you talk about, and one of the things that got a little buried when the big Angus Deaton paper came out talking about what's going on with this mortality rate for White people, is that alcohol had a lot to play with it. Which is interesting part of the story because I think we think about the opioid crisis as a crisis of the drug and the chemicals, and the fact that alcohol deaths are going up too says that there's something else going on 

JONATHAN METZL: [00:43:32] I struggled with this data. I know it's there, I know it's important, I know that it's remarkable that we're seeing up to a four year decreased lifespan for people who are in the majority group in this country. White men are having a falling lifespan in far part of the country, which is unheard of.

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:43:46] That doesn't happen.

JONATHAN METZL: [00:43:47] It happens after famines. It happens after atomic bombs. It doesn't happen in the middle of a prosperous country that's an industrialized country. So it's completely unheard of. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:43:56] And am I correct that overall, across all races and everything, American lifespan has declined for three years in a row?

JONATHAN METZL: [00:44:01] That is true, but it's particularly, I mean, yes, that's definitely true, but I feel like White men are major drivers of this in part because they had higher perches to fall from in a particular way. But again, we have the money and the means and the resources and part of what I show, the reason I say I struggled with calling these deaths of despair, they are death of despair. And obviously what I'm trying to do in my book is put a racial lens around a lot of that economic literature. Say it's not just about drugs, it's about the ways that Whiteness itself can be very self-destructive. And so it's a performance of Whiteness that is leading to people supporting these politics, these policies.

So it's this interplay. I know, believe me, I know there is despair. I've seen it in a way. Trump has seen it and he speaks to that. And there is a lot of despair. People feel like they were in a position of privilege, whatever I might think of it, of course, I'm a White person as well, but there is a sense of frustration and helplessness. And I think that opiate crisis is part about despair, but the point I try to make in the book is it's also about social policy. It's also about policies. It's also about infrastructure. It's about investing, not just in treatment and rehab centers, but also in jobs and roads and bridges and schools. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:45:10] So the thing, the statistical thing of this happening in this country right now, doesn't have a good precedent and doesn't make a lot of sense.

JONATHAN METZL: [00:45:19] I mean, there is really no precedent for what we're seeing, and the irony is the people who are being the most affected by it are the ones who are voting for it. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:45:25] And so this is where the theorization of dying of Whiteness comes in, I think, in a really fascinating way. Because I think the theorization that we had seen before had a lot to do with these forgotten places. The hollowing out of rural America. Big macro economic and globalized trends that were ripping communities apart in ways that were creating behaviors that were dangerous from a health perspective and also psychological conditions that were dangerous. Increased levels of depression, anxiety, despair. You're saying something that is related to that, but distinct, right? Because you're theorizing it in a particular way around race. How?

JONATHAN METZL: [00:46:07] There are a couple of ways to address that. Let me just first start with what I think the main point about race is, it's that the politics that claim to restore or bolster Whiteness end up turning Whiteness itself into a high-risk category. That the categories that are supposed to make Whiteness great again end up, as we've been talking about, shortening the lifespans of working class White Americans, and Whiteness itself becomes a negative health indicator in the data that I look at. And that ties into several things. 

One is profoundly effective messaging that working class, White Americans should not form common cause with other people across socioeconomic lines. In other words, the messaging is you should mistrust African-Americans or immigrants because if you allied with those workers that might form a very powerful force to demand concessions. So there's this idea of Whiteness itself is distinct and it's played to through the history of guns, for example. History of guns, there's been a 200 year history in this country that gun ownership was a White prerogative. That rejection of the Affordable Care Act ties into these long histories, that if you give healthcare to everybody then your population is going to suffer. Tax cuts, this idea that lazy minorities are going to be getting what's yours. 

And so there's been this profound messaging that basically has people caught, if you think about the White working and middle-class, they're caught between immigrants and minorities who are supposed to be nipping at their heels for what they want and people above who really are taking away the tax base that's helping them. And all of the energy and all of this is telling people, you should look down at the people who are nipping at your heels, not up at actually the people who might really be causing what's screwing up your life. 

After writing the book, I've been asked a lot by people who probably in New York more than any place, they're saying, what would it take for people to recognize that their politics are bad for them, what's it going to take for them to wake up or something like that, and I keep thinking, well, from their perspective, they're making a sacrifice in order to win an election. So from their perspective, why are you going to be the person who asked that question when, for them, we get to choose all of the judges, we won the elections, factors like that, and so there is this mortal trade-off. 

But the flip side of this, that I try to get at in the book is that that trade-off is also necessary for the success of the GOP platform. In other words, if working class White Americans are not willing to lay down on the tracks -- imagine, for example, if people in Tennessee had said, well, I'm a Republican, but dang I want good healthcare or I'm in Kansas, another place I go in the book, and I'm a Republican, but I demand that we have good schools and we have good roads, the minute that people who are conservative Republicans start asking for those things, there's no way the GOP can do the tax cut bill. There's no way that the repeal Obamacare initiatives or any of that, none of that works. 

And so part of what I argue is that the success of GOP politics at this one moment depends on assumptions about the disposability of working class White bodies, and that this has also been a story that's been a very regional story. That's what I think is important now that in a way it was easy for people in New York to overlook it because that was what was happening in Mississippi, and now this is a national problem. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: [00:49:20] Here's the thing that I think is really important. The ways in which you get White middle-class people to ignore their class interest and have solidarity with the titans of capital, again, this is an old story, but what ends up happening in the analysis is that people take the material concerns as real and the non-material concerns as weird or a swindle or a con. And so they think, well, these people are misassessing their own interests, and one of the things I think that you say in the book, you started with this guy Trevor, I think, who is someone who is a working class, White guy with health problems who doesn't care if expanding Obamacare would help him personally, he doesn't want Obamacare to be expanded because other people, people of color particularly, will then get benefits. That he's actually making an affirmative choice about what's more important to him. This is the important thing, it's not that people are tricked. They actually have Whiteness, the value of Whiteness, is actually more important. They're making an affirmative choice of what the thing is, the thing they like, they value, that gives them a sense of wellbeing more than having health care.

JONATHAN METZL: [00:50:21] The flip side of the question of when are Trump supporters going to wake up is when are people who are liberal are gonna wake up themselves to the depth of these ideologies that people are willing to put their lives on the line? That case of Trevor is a perfect example. This was a focus group I was doing in a low income community in Tennessee and this guy was on death's doorstep. Had an oxygen mask under his nose, had liver failure, and even at that time, I asked him, "gosh, if you lived 20 minutes away in Kentucky you would get much cheaper medications and better healthcare because they adopted the marketplace and expanded Medicaid," and he said, I don't want any part of that because I don't want my tax dollars going to Mexicans and welfare queens. And the guy wasn't, he wasn't crazy, he was basically saying, here's a choice I'm making and I'm a kamikaze in a way. I'm laying down on the line for something that's important to me, and that thing is an ideology. A construction of Whiteness, where I might not be at the top of the pyramid, but I'm certainly not at the bottom. And in a way, whatever benefit. I mean, obviously there is a benefit to being White in this country and he was willing to die for that.

People seeking asylum - Brave New Words - Air Date 9-6-19

SHEN NARAYANASAMY: [00:51:23] The thing I think is that underlying debate has always been about race. It's not actually about population growth or infrastructure or criminals or queues or anything, it's actually always been about race. It's always been about who was arriving, the color of their skin, their faith, and that they were the other. And that goes to how our sector attempted to respond. So for the last 12 years, apart from more radical elements, what the human rights sector in Australia has responded to this debate with has been sound arguments about international law, the right to seek asylum, justice, logical arguments about money, logical arguments about numbers, logical arguments that you've gotta be pretty desperate to come by boat rather than playing all of these logical arguments. But over the last 15 years, what. We have failed to address at every point was the underlying racism. 

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:52:28] And indeed, when we did the messaging research in 2015, we tested exactly what Shana's referencing. The status quo message that came directly from how advocates in the sector were framing this issue. It sounded like this. 

AD #1 SPEAKERS: [00:52:41] It is not illegal for refugees to come here, and Australia must fulfill its humanitarian and legal obligations to asylum seekers and refugees under the international law and the refugee convention. Seeking asylum is a humanitarian issue rather than an issue of border security or defense. And people fleeing persecution, violence, and torture must be treated with compassion and dignity. Mandatory detention in offshore facilities is cruel and inhumane. As signatory to the refugee convention, Australia must fairly and efficiently assess the applications of all of asylum seekers who arrive in Australian territory, including territorial waters, irrespective of their mode of arrival.

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:53:26] This message garnered high marks from the advocates themselves. And it did well with the base, but it was unpersuasive to 80% of Australians. It was lower rated than the opposition's message, which their base ate up and was happy to repeat to those in the conflicted middle. So we came up with and tested new messaging. 

AD #2 SPEAKERS: [00:53:47] No matter our differences, most of us believe that all people deserve to live in peace. Our policies for people seeking asylum should respect human dignity and take place in full public view. Doing what's right means upholding people's basic rights, safety and fairness, we cannot turn an issue of human rights into political bickering. We all have a stake in making the world a safer place. So we had to fairly examine each person's asylum case in a safe space and quickly integrate the people requiring asylum into our communities. This isn't a matter of right or left, but quite simply a matter of right and wrong.

ANAT SHENKER OSORIO: [00:54:29] This winning message didn't just earn high marks from the advocates and the base, it was also persuasive to those conflicted people in the middle who had rated the opposition's message highly as well. Because here's the thing about those middle of the road voters that the political class around the world misunderstands. They're not actually seeking some moderate in-between answer, they toggle between competing assumptions about "the way the world works" and what's "common sense". They're capable of buying into opposition narratives of fear, resentment, and xenophobia, but they're also able to understand how people seeking asylum are just that, people who merit the same rights and recognition as anyone else, regardless of what they look like or where they happened to be born. 

The task of a good message, what we tested for here, is to engage the base, to move them past, just simply agreeing with what we say to wanting to repeat it. Otherwise the message has no way to spread. And the message needs to prove persuasive enough that once the middle hears it over and again, from the base it sounds true and right, and like common sense. Drowning out the opposition story that their base is always willing and eager to repeat.



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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2021-05-07 10:48:54 -0400
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