#1402 Racism or Classism? Caste Explains that it is Both (Transcript)

Air Date 3/6/2021

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of Left Podcast in which we shall learn about the origins of race and the building of a caste system in the US, based largely on the lessons from Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.

John Biewen: The lie that invented racism - TED - Air Date 11-1-20

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:00:18] One of the first questions I asked was, "Where did this idea of being a white person come from in the first place?" Science is clear. We are one human race. We're all related, all descended from a common ancestor in Africa. Some people walked out of Africa into colder, darker places and lost a lot of their melanin, some of us more than others. 

But genetically, we are all 99.9 percent the same. There's more genetic diversity within what we call racial groups than there is between racial groups. There's no gene for whiteness or Blackness or Asian-ness or what have you. 

So how did this happen? How did we get this thing? How did racism start? 

I think if you had asked me to speculate on that, in my ignorance some years ago, I probably would have said, "Well, I guess somewhere back in deep history, people encountered one another, and they found each other strange. 'Your skin is a different color, your hair is different, you dress funny. I guess I'll just go ahead and jump to the conclusion that since you're different that you're somehow less than me, and maybe that makes it OK for me to mistreat you.'" Right? Is that something like what we imagine or assume? And under that kind of scenario, it's all a big, tragic misunderstanding. But it seems that's wrong. 

First of all, race is a recent invention. It's just a few hundred years old. Before that, yes, people divided themselves by religion, tribal group, language, things like that. But for most of human history, people had no notion of race. 

In Ancient Greece, for example -- and I learned this from the historian Nell Irvin Painter -- the Greeks thought they were better than the other people they knew about, but not because of some idea that they were innately superior. They just thought that they'd developed the most advanced culture. So they looked around at the Ethiopians, but also the Persians and the Celts, and they said, "They're all kind of barbaric compared to us. Culturally, they're just not Greek." 

And yes, in the ancient world, there was lots of slavery, but people enslaved people who didn't look like them, and they often enslaved people who did. Did you know that the English word "slave" is derived from the word "Slav"? Because Slavic people were enslaved by all kinds of folks, including Western Europeans, for centuries. Slavery wasn't about race either, because no one had thought up race yet. 

So who did? I put that question to another leading historian, Ibram Kendi. I didn't expect he would answer the question in the form of one person's name and a date, as if we were talking about the light bulb. 

But he did. 

He said, in his exhaustive research, he found what he believed to be the first articulation of racist ideas. And he named the culprit. This guy should be more famous, or infamous. His name is Gomes de Zurara. Portuguese man. Wrote a book in the 1450s in which he did something that no one had ever done before, according to Dr. Kendi. He lumped together all the people of Africa -- a vast, diverse continent -- and he described them as a distinct group, inferior and beastly. Never mind that in that precolonial time some of the most sophisticated cultures in the world were in Africa. Why would this guy make this claim? 

Turns out, it helps to follow the money. First of all, Zurara was hired to write that book by the Portuguese king, and just a few years before, slave traders -- here we go -- slave traders tied to the Portuguese crown had effectively pioneered the Atlantic slave trade. They were the first Europeans to sail directly to sub-Saharan Africa to kidnap and enslave African people. So it was suddenly really helpful to have a story about the inferiority of African people to justify this new trade to other people, to the church, to themselves. And with the stroke of a pen, Zurara invented both Blackness and whiteness, because he basically created the notion of Blackness through this description of Africans, and as Dr. Kendi says, Blackness has no meaning without whiteness. Other European countries followed the Portuguese lead in looking to Africa for human property and free labor and in adopting this fiction about the inferiority of African people. 

I found this clarifying. Racism didn't start with a misunderstanding, it started with a lie. 

Made in America (Seeing White, Part 3) - Scene on Radio - Air Date 3-16-17

Story one: Punch, the one who tried to get away. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:06:05] In the colony of Virginia in 1640, an African indentured servant by the name of John Punch runs away from his servitude. John has figured out that this wasn't what he imagined it to be. Interestingly, John doesn't run away alone. He runs away with a Dutchman and a Scotsman.

They are all indentured servants. They are all living in an identical circumstance. So they band together and run away. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:06:41] This does not go well. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:06:42] Now they don't make it. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:06:43] The three men are chase down and caught. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:06:45] And a very interesting thing is recorded in the colony of Virginia. The Dutchman and Scotsman are given four additional years of servitude as punishment, one to the master, to whom they're indentured and three to the colony.

But the African has given what we see codified for the first time as perpetual servitude. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:07:07] The judge tells John Punch that unlike the two men from Europe, he will labor for his master for the rest of his days. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:07:15] What have we written down? Slavery. Slavery. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:07:22] Some Africans were already effectively enslaved in Virginia by 1640, but the Punch case seems to be the first explicit approval of lifelong servitude, and the first time African and European people were treated differently in the law. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:07:37] Why was it done? 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:07:39] This is important. Suzanne says whether the judge consciously intended this or not, his decision was a gift to rich landowners. 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:07:48] The story of rice, folks, is the story of labor. They needed a consistent, reliable labor force, and they could not have a consistent, reliable labor force if that labor force was banding together and challenging the authority of the colony. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:08:09] Colonial America was deeply unequal. Most people of every color were poor laborers, farm workers, builders, seamstresses, and those workers were prone to getting restless and pulling out the pitchforks. There were lots of worker uprisings.

The disparate sentencing of John Punch was one of the first examples, Plihcik says, of what would become an ongoing practice by the rich landowning class and their political representatives: the practice of giving the poor people who looked like those in power, people of European descent, advantages, usually small advantages over Africans and native people.

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:08:47] And what did that do? It switched their allegiance from the people in their same circumstance to the people at the top. It eventually created a multi-class coalition of people who would later come to be called white, it created a multi-class coalition. So this was a "divide and conquer" strategy. It was completely brilliant.

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:09:22] So Elizabeth Key was the daughter of a white legislator in Virginia and an unnamed African woman. So she was biracial. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:09:32] Historian Ibram Kendi of the University of Florida, author of Stamped From the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in the United States

Elizabeth Key was born in 1630. Her mother, an African, was effectively enslaved. Her father was not only a free white man, but a member of the Virginia legislative assembly, the House of Burgesses. 

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:09:55] Before his death, her father, her white father, basically asked her slave owner to free her when she became 15. He did not do that. Eventually, she wed an indentured servant, who also happened to have some law training in England. They sued for her freedom on the basis that her father was free, and also because by then, in the 16, mid 16 hundreds, she had become Christian, and in English common law, the paternity or the status of a child derived from the father.

And it was also against English common law to enslave a Christian. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:10:33] So Elizabeth Keys sued on the grounds that she was her English father's daughter, and that she was a Christian. The colonial court ruled in her favor in 1655, and she was freed. Clearly this frustrated the ruling elite. 

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:10:48] So by the 1660s, Virginia had changed their laws to basically state that the status of a child was derived from the mother.

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:10:56] That is, the child of a Negro woman would be free if the mother was free, and a slave if the mother was a slave. 

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:11:03] And that a Christian slave basically would not have to become free. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:11:10] So that closed a loophole. 

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:11:14] Precisely. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:11:14] Some slave owners had resisted exposing their African slaves to Christianity so long as the English law required them to free Christians.

The new law explicitly stated that slave holders could offer the blessing sacrament of baptism without fear of having to free the enslaved people who partook of it. These legal changes, of course, expanded the pool of people who could be permanently enslaved: Christians of African descent, and the children fathered by slave-owning men through the rape of the women they held us slaves. These laws enhanced the bottom line for slave owners, but that's not all that the white men in charge did to advantage themselves. 

IBRAM X. KENDI: [00:11:58] And then they simultaneously passed laws stating that white women could not have relations with enslaved or even Native American men.

So it then gave white men the ability to basically have intercourse with everyone, but then white women and non white men could not.

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:12:17] By 1680, the Virginia House of Burgess is literally debating, what is a white man? Why are we debating what is a white man? What are we giving away? Land and rights. We're basically deciding who is going to be the citizen of this new world. 

JOHN BIEWEN - HOST, SCENE ON RADIO: [00:12:44] The Virginia House of Burgesses was the first legislative body in colonial America.

In 1682, the Burgesses passed a law limiting citizenship to Europeans. It made all non-Europeans -- Negros, Moors, mulattoes and Indians -- as the law put it, quote, "slaves to all intents and purposes." Virginia was giving away land at the time in 50 acre allotments, but only to Europeans. 

Nine years later in 1691, the Burgesses passed another law. According to historian Terrence McMullan, this law included the first documented use in the English-speaking colonies of the word, "white," as opposed to English, European or Christian, to describe the people considered full citizens. That is, the people who got to remain citizens so long as they didn't marry outside of their race.

The law read, quote, "whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a Negro, mulatto or Indian man or woman, bond or free, shall within three months after marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever." 

SUZANNE PLIHCIK: [00:13:54] So by 1691, we have a definition of white, and we have constructed race and what becomes the United States.

It's important that we see this creation was for the upliftment of white people, primarily to support the white people at the top. Poor and working class whites will get little. They will get just as much as is needed to ensure their allegiance.

The Invention of Race - Throughline - Air Date 11-19-20


RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:14:38] By 1900, Franz Boas had moved up to becoming a professor of anthropology at Columbia University - the first anthropology department ever in the US. And at this point, he was one of the only people openly opposing the popular ideas of racial science.

CHARLES KING: [00:14:56] So Boas' ideas are seen as fringe, as radical, as flying in the face of common sense because again, at the time, every museum, every textbook, government policy - they're all pushing in exactly the opposite direction. You teach new generations, particularly of white Americans, that people who happen not to look like them are naturally inferior. You're creating the very reality that you believe you're simply describing, and Boas understood that very early on.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:15:32] Despite his radical ideas, Congress asked Boas to be a part of a study that looked at the impact of recent immigrants to the US, specifically those from Eastern and Southern Europe.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:15:45] They wanted to know whether or not these people who came from different cultures would negatively affect the country. Whether their supposedly lesser genes would contaminate the population.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:15:57] And the studies had to be conducted using empirical evidence, and back then, measuring head sizes was a popular scientific way of proving how ethnicities and races differed.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:16:10] So what was Boas' main finding?

CHARLES KING: [00:16:13] It's essentially this. That it is impossible to sort people into ethnic or racial categories. That there's no set of measurements that every member of a racial or ethnic category seems to have. And we kind of take that as a given now in an age when we're schooled to say that race is a cultural construct, it's a cultural, social, historical construct, it's not a biological reality. But of course, at the time, the weight of scientific opinion - in fact, the entirety of scientific opinion said that race is deeply biological. It's inheritable. You inherit a race. And Boas says that wait a minute, if you cannot detect a thing called racial essence or ethnic essence based on physical measurements - and if you can't do that, then how can you possibly attribute anything else to it?

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:17:26] Boas pulled at that thread, and the truth revealed itself - that trying to measure physical features like head shape, jaw size and foreheads in order to categorize people into certain groups was completely absurd. And his research, all the data, proved it. But after Boas came to this conclusion and sent in his report, very few people took notice.

CHARLES KING: [00:17:50] And in fact, just a little over a decade later, the United States adopts a whole set of extremely restrictive new immigration laws that run directly counter to everything that Boas was saying. And this, in a way, is the horror of these types of racially motivated policies because the policies themselves come out of a particular vision of common sense or nature now buttressed by science in that era, but they also create the realities that then the scientists look at and say, well, that must simply be nature.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:18:31] Boas knew it wasn't nature. It was manmade, an illusion, a construct, something designed to reinforce the existing power structures between people.

CHARLES KING: [00:18:42] He understood the idea that when you're gazing at anything in the world, you're not gazing at a reality free of history. Every reality we encounter trails a history along behind it, and the really scientific thing to do is begin to understand everything within its historical context. That the people you think of as primitive or backward haven't been stuck in the Stone Age forever, they too have histories. In fact, when American tourists go around the world and say things like, "I love to travel to London because it just has so much history," well, of course, every place in the world has precisely the same amount of history, and Boas understood that. That nobody is stuck outside of historical time.

But he also understood that his own society had a history. His own society had a thing called a culture. It had its own blinders, its own totems, its own gods that it worshipped without question, the theory of race, for example, and to live intelligently in the world meant to question all of those things, but to use the powers of real science to use the powers of scientific observation, open eyed, self-critical, to try to unpack your own prejudices, not just to aim that scientific talent at describing the savagery of people who weren't like you.

Oh, and by the way, if you believed that White, northern European, North American dominant culture was always rational, Boas would say, are you kidding me? You can't look in an open-eyed way at the insanity of racial theory and believe that that has been the product of rational observation. And it was that breaking down of the belief in one's own specialness that was the salutary contribution of Boas.

Caste in America with Isabel Wilkerson - Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes - Air Date 8-11-20

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:20:58] Essentially race was the metric that was used to determine one's place in what I describe as the overarching infrastructure of division, the overarching artificial hierarchy of graded ranking of human value in a society, that determine standing and respect, benefit of the doubt, assumptions of competence or assumptions of lack of competence, access to resources, all of those things that occur in an artificial hierarchy in which those who are deemed dominant have the greatest access to all of the things that I've just described.

And that there's this graded ranking until you get down to the bottom caste or the group that's deemed subordinate, it became a bipolar hierarchy in which the early colonists established themselves. The British colonists established themselves at the top and then brought in people of African descent to be at the very bottom as enslaved people. And then it became a bipolar structure in which anyone entering that bipolar hierarchy had to then navigate and figure out where they fit in, or more commonly, they were assigned to a position in either of those strata or had to find what I call a middle path in which to operate.

Race of course, is a creation. We often talk about race as a social construct. That's a term that is used all the time. We hear it a lot. But we often don't unpack what that really means. How did it become a social construct? And it's interesting, when you look into these phenomenon, you realize that race is relatively new in human history, in the long arc of human history. Race, as we have come to know it, is something that became relevant only when there were different kinds of people from different parts of the world convening in this one place in the New World and being categorized upon arrival or categorize even before arrival, because they fit into whatever the bipolar structure had been created, or they were made to fit into the bipolar structure that was created. And that came as a result, of course, of the transatlantic slave trade, which was proceeded -- the thing is that before the transatlantic slave trade, there was really no need to identify anyone on the basis of what we now call race.

People were Hungarian or they were Irish or they were Polish or they were in Dibeli or they were a Yoruba or whatever they were back where they were from. Only upon arriving in a place where there are multiple groups arriving, and also being needed or assigned to roles in order to sustain the economy of a new frontier of a new country being born, only then did it become relevant what their categorization would be.

And so if people were coming in from say Hungary, or from Poland or Ireland, they did not arrive in initially thinking of themselves as white, they would not have needed to. They had their ethnicity, they had their own nationality, but they did not have to think of themselves in terms of race. Only upon entering the new world, a new world in which people were being categorized without even necessarily wanting to, did the words that undergird race become relevant. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? WITH CHRIS HAYES: [00:24:03] There's two great points that you make in the book. One is about the fact that in the beginning of the category, the salient thing are essentially Christian and Heathen right? That's that the idea is that you could enslave heathens and maybe there's some biblical citations we can point to for that. But then you have African enslaved people starting to convert to Christianity. That's Oh, shoot. Okay. And then they essentially have to erect a new category. Because the point here, I think that's important to hammer home is that, categories of in-group/out-group, of kinfolk/stranger or countrymen/foreigner or co-religionists and heathen, there are all sorts of categories of in and out that create oppression, persecution, social hierarchy.

The specific category that we think of now is this category everywhere of race just gets built essentially out of nothing as a kind of exigency of the actual creation of the institution of slavery. 

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:25:01] Absolutely. It becomes the tool for enforcing the hierarchy that was seen as necessary to create the country.

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? WITH CHRIS HAYES: [00:25:10] The other great line that you have when you talk about race is I think it's a Nigerian playwright who says to you after a talk you give that, in Africa, there are no Black people, which sort of gives you pause. Explain that. 

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:25:21] The idea of being that, there are no Black people in Africa and that the way that that lands to the American ear is one of course, what this is, what are you saying? Of course there are Black people in Africa. There's an entire sub-continent of people who are Black in Africa. What does this mean? And it's something that doesn't land well on the ear because you're thinking, what are you talking about? And yet when you sit and think about it, you realize that they don't have a need to think of themselves as Black per se, until they leave and come to someplace where they are then categorized without necessarily wanting to, without thinking of themselves in that way. You know, where they're from and where they're from surrounded by other people who look more or less like them, they think of themselves in terms of ethnicity and the subgroups that may exist in a given country.

They don't have to think of themselves as Black, which is a reminder that this isn't the way that humans have always thought of themselves. What we view as established almost natural law, at least we've been as if we've absorbed this as natural law, is in fact, a creation of man. It actually is not real. It is an artificial hierarchy that was used in this particular hierarchy, this particular caste system. In other caste systems, there might be a religion that's used as a metric. There could be geography that's used as a metric, lineage, other forms of lineage, but in this case, it was race as the tool, race as the signal, race is the cue as to where you fit in the caste system that was created with the founding of the country.

It's More Than Racism Isabel Wilkerson Explains America's 'Caste' System - Fresh Air - Air Date 8-4-20

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:26:54] What made you think of using the word caste system to describe America as a whole? In that paragraph, you used it to describe the American South.

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:27:06] Well, I found that the word racism which is often applied to discussions of interactions among and between African Americans and other groups in this country - I found that term to be insufficient to capture the rigid social hierarchy and the repression that they were born into and that, in fact, everyone in that regime had to live under. And so I turned to the word caste which is a word that had been used by anthropologists and social scientists who went in to study the Jim Crow era in the 1930s in particular. And they emerged from their ethnography, they emerged from their time there with the term caste as the language to use to describe what they found when they went there.

And so I came to that word as had they. That is the term that is more precise. It is more comprehensive, and it gets at the underlying infrastructure that often we cannot see but that is there undergirding much of the inequality and injustices and disparities that we live with in this country.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:28:13] What do you think the difference is between using the word caste system or systemic racism?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:28:18] Well, it's a difference in some ways between what one would consider caste versus race to begin with. I think of caste as the bones and race as the skin. And that allows us to see that race is a tool of the underlying structure that we live with, that race is merely the signal and cue to where one fits in the caste system. And caste system is actually an artificial hierarchy. It's a graded ranking of human value in a society that determines the standing and respect, the benefit of the doubt and access to resources, assumptions of competence and even of beauty through no fault or action of one's own. You're just born to it. And so caste focuses in on the infrastructure of our divisions and the rankings, whereas race is the metric that's used to determine one's place in that or one's assignment in that caste system. So that while there's an interaction between the two of them, caste is the much older term. It's a term that's been around for thousands of years, predates the idea of race which is a fairly new concept. It's only 400 or 500 years old, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. And so race is the newer concept, and it was, in some ways, created to maintain - to delineate, categorize and create the caste system that underlies our society.




TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:29:42] We know about the laws on the segregated South that kept Black people separate from White people and defined what they could do. But during the Great Migration, when Black people - many - 6 million Black people migrated north in the hope of better opportunity, what are some of the laws and regulations that they found in the North that prevented them from realizing the opportunities that they sought to have in the North?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:30:14] Oh, exactly. In fact, they left one hierarchy - rigid formal hierarchy - known as Jim Crow in which it was against the law for a Black person and a White person to merely play checkers together, with all of the restrictions that attended that and also the enforcement that was often brutal, but then they migrated away from that and found and discovered that, actually, caste shadowed them wherever they went and that the response to their arrival was, in fact, the methods that became known, as Northern people at the time called it, James Crow in which there were restrictive covenants that meant that White homeowners, even if they wanted to sell to Black people, Black potential buyers, were prevented by the restrictions that were embedded in their deeds and, also, of course, redlining which meant that the government would not back mortgages in neighborhoods  where African Americans lived, which meant that it was exceedingly difficult for African Americans until the 1960s to merely get a mortgage to buy a home which is, of course, one of the most prominent and relied-upon methods of building wealth in America, which means that there have been continuing generations-long disparity in access to the most basic American dream.

And so that is what they discovered when they got to the North. And, in fact, these apparatus of control and delineation and segregation were created in the North as a result of the response to the Great Migration.

“Theodore W. Allen -- Theses on ‘The Invention of the White Race’ and Lessons from Three Crises” - Jeffrey B. Perry - Air Date 12-18-14

JEFFREY B. PERRY - HOST, JEFFREY B. PERRY: [00:31:48] In light of what is out there in the US and on the left, I think it's important to be clear on what he's saying and actually to be clear on the importance of it. And he says that the white race was invented as a ruling class social control formation. It is ruling-class driven. It doesn't just emerge from psychocultural factors or things like this.

This is what he's contesting, right? In response to labor solidarity. This is why the labor question is so crucial to all of this. And as we'll see later, his understanding of the proletarian nature of the European and African-Americans who are laboring in that period. These are laborers.

In the latter civil war stages of Bacon's rebellion, 1676 and 1677. And again, there were 10 laboring class and servile revolts in the period leading up to this. The question of how the ruling class was going to maintain social control was at the fore, right? So this is very important.

And just to say we're going to bring in people and enslave them that wasn't going to work. Even though the Royal African company gets set up in the 1670s, the ruling class just can't say okay, we'll start bringing in Black laborers and enslave them, because there was turmoil at their door. They burned the Capitol. They kicked out the governor. They had to devise a means of social control. 

This is the story of the invention of the white race. So what Allen then describes is how a system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted. By the late 17th, early 18th century, anglo-American bourgeoisie, in order to define and establish the white race and establish a system of racial oppression -- and racial oppression is different, he argues than national oppression -- and the differences in how social control is maintained, and which is the key group that the ruling class uses to maintain social control. 

Under racial oppression, the key group is the laboring class of the oppressor group, right? The laboring people of the oppressor group. Where a national oppression, a sector of the oppressed group is promoted to help maintain social control. And is different things that happen with those different systems of control, one of which -- and we'll see in a second that Harrison and all the early Afro Caribbeans comment on -- how vicious the white supremacy is here when they come here compared to what they knew down in the Caribbean, right?

The third and crucial point that Allen makes in his work is that the consequence of this system of racial oppression and this invention of the white race was not only ruinous to the interest of African-Americans, and not simply the enslaved African-Americans, but free African-Americans who were victimized by this racial oppression. But it was also disastrous for European American workers. It is not in their interest, it wasn't in their interest. And he tries to document this and go through this. And this is qualitatively different than what you will see -- and I've mentioned this several times, if you go online and go to Wikipedia and you read about white privilege, and the first statement is all white people benefit from white privilege. We know the ruling class benefits and stuff. But Allen's making a much more profound argument. Allen is saying something very different and he tries to back it up with historical fact and documentation, which is what makes his analysis all the more forceful and powerful and more appealing, I think.

So his argument is that the position vis-a-vis the rich and powerful was not improved, but we can make a white privileged, white-skin privileged system. One of the key points that Allen makes, and this is the one I told the story before, but when I first heard him speak back in 1969 at a precursor to this facility going way back, four generations earlier called Alternate U., he gave a talk and he made these points and I can't stress how important I think this is for anyone who wants to be a political activist today, who wants to see serious social change. He makes the argument, and backs it up, that in the three periods of national crisis, the three big periods previously, characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban, rural and the laboring classes, and the three periods are civil war reconstruction, populism, and the great depression. The key to the defeat of the forces of democracy, labor, and socialism was in each case achieved by ruling class appeals to white supremacism, basically by fostering white skin privileges of laboring class, European Americans.

I don't think that can be stressed enough. This is the one that I first heard in 69 and it stayed with me and it haunted me. 

Isabel Wilkerson wants to change how we understand race in America - The Ezra Klein Show - Air Date 8-24-20

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:36:55] So Willie James was a teenager, high school student in Florida in the early 1940s. And he was the only child, the beloved only son of a black couple in a town there, who was very excited at the Christmas holiday because he'd gotten a job at a general store in town, which was considered quite the accomplishment in the Jim Crow South for him to get this job.

And there, he was so excited that as Christmas approached, he gave out Christmas cards to all of his coworkers. And in one of the Christmas cards, he addressed it to a girl there that he had a crush on. I believe her name was Cynthia. And he wrote in the extra note in the card saying that she was someone that he  would love to have as a sweetheart. And he ended it with L a and then his name. And he sent that card to her. It would be viewed as a sweet gesture for most young people, most teenagers who have a crush on someone, but in the Jim Crow South, it was a dangerous thing that he had done. He was black and the girl that he had the crush on was white.

The girls showed the card to her father and the father gathered a posse of men to go and to abduct the boy, took the boy's father with him when they abducted him, and took him to the banks of a river and forced him to jump in front of his stricken father who was also held at gunpoint and not able to help his only child.

And that was the consequence of the breach of what of one of what I call the pillars of caste, which would be, it's called Endogamy, or the restrictions on intermarriage between groups or between castes, but it extends to romantic interest on any level when it's taken to its strict interpretation. And he had inadvertently, in a sweet and innocent way, breached one of the ironclad pillars of caste and paid for it with his life. And his father suffered unimaginable grief, just beyond imagining. 

EZRA KLEIN - HOST, THE EZRA KLEIN SHOW: [00:39:15] When you tell the story in the book, you record the note that Willie James gave Cynthia, after he heard his original note, might've offended her.

I'm going to read it because I want to talk about this part of the story. I'm not doing this just to put everybody through pain here. But he writes her on new year's day, 1944: "I know you don't think much of our kind of people, but we don't hate you. All we want is to be your friends, but you won't let us, please don't let anybody else see this. I hope I haven't made you mad." And then at the end he writes, "I love your name, I love your voice, for a sweetheart you are my choice." And for that he's killed in front of his father. The thing I want to ask you about this is about the psychology of caste. When you tell this story, the girl's father and the two other white men who hog tie this child and force him to jump into a river in front of his own parent. They are monsters. Monsters. And I'm sure they thought of themselves as good fathers, good Christians, pillars of the community. How does something like caste exert such psychological power that it can turn men into savages in that way that they can respond to that note with murder? Like murder, like performative murder. Like how, what is the psychological underpinning of this? How is it so powerful when it's built on something so flimsy? 

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:40:45] That's the reason why I mentioned the eight pillars. Why I compile the eight, because they're all necessary. And you can see that when you have eight pillars holding up an infrastructure, then you have, you have reinforcement from every direction in a society. And when I mentioned, I've often described our country as being like an old house in that the pillars and the joists are not visible to all of us. I We can't see the pillars and the joists and the beams and the houses that we might live in. But that we know that they're holding them, holding us up. And they're more powerful because we cannot see them, but we rely upon them. And so in that way, passing down through the generations have a sense, speaking of say what people believed as a result of the story of Noah, of a righteous obligation to maintain the hierarchy as one has inherited it through the generations.

The sense of you are not upholding your responsibility if you do not maintain these boundaries and these rankings, that it's your duty as a member of the dominant caste, who has a divine responsibility to live up to a particular ideal. And if this is passed down through the generations and reinforced through law and reinforced through every exposure to even illustrations about what people look like, all of the caricatures and the minstrelsy that all were working to reinforce the inferiority, the perceived inferiority of one group and the perceived purity and superiority of another group. At every turn in stories, in children's nursery rhymes and stories, these were reinforced at every turn. Commercials, the packaging on soap and on flour and on syrup, which would have the Aunt Jemima depictions or the depictions of a tattered black child, of a slave child who was unkempt, unclean. And there's one ad that shows a black child has to get in the tub and is scrubbed down with this soap and then turns out to be not black or not what they were before.

The ways that the imagery serves to underlie, to reinforce the encoded messaging, the training and the programming that would justify almost anything being done to people who are viewed as not human. 

Dehumanization is one of the pillars of caste and it's reinforced in large and small ways. One of the ways was that there were -- I was shocked to discover this, I didn't know that these things even existed -- but there were actually "son of Ham" side shows and games and rides at many amusement parks into the middle of the 20th century, I mean until the 1960s apparently, as far as I could see that I was able to find. And they were ones in which say the goal was to throw baseballs at the head of a black person who was there to be dehumanized for the amusement of children, which would help to reinforce the inferiority, the perceived inferiority, the idea that anything could be done to the people, the idea that one's interaction with the people was essentially one that where one could be violent and actually be rewarded for it. And, ultimately, the dehumanization of the people, which creates distance, that allows a person to feel that they are not doing anything wrong, but in fact, they're doing the right thing by adhering to the rules and expectations and the pillars of caste.

The Invention of Race Part 2 - Throughline - Air Date 11-19-20

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:44:17] In 1883, when he was just about to turn 25, Franz Boas got on board a ship called the Germania and sailed off to see the world, to begin the rest of his life. And he ended up in the Arctic.

CHARLES KING: [00:44:33] This was the age of Arctic exploration, toward the end of the 19th century, and he believed that if he could just go to this place, begin to write about it for newspapers back home, and perhaps even land a job as a professor if he were lucky. And so he set off to a place called Baffin Island initially with the idea of studying Inuit populations there and how they survived in and moved around this really inhospitable climate.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:45:02] It's cold in the Arctic - cold and lonely. Boas described it as a kind of sublime loneliness. Day after day he battled the elements, and slowly, something began to dawn on him.

CHARLES KING: [00:45:16] As he was sitting there in the winter in this really difficult environment, he realized that all of the education he had stored up in Germany, the doctorate he had, was really not worth very much there. That is, to survive in that place, he needed to know what was good to eat, how you feed yourself in a place where food is really scarce. How you survive frostbite. He realized he was a child, he was stupid in that context. He didn't even know how to harness a dog sled team. I mean, who doesn't know how to harness a dog sled team?

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:45:56] When Boas first got to Baffin Island, he saw the people living there, the Inuit, as objects of research, just like all the other European explorers who'd set out to study the so-called primitive people and their environments. But the more time he spent with them, the more he became aware of his own blind spots.

CHARLES KING: [00:46:17] What he ended up having was a bit of a transformation in his world view. He underwent this change in his outlook.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: [00:46:28] [As Franz Boas] 

I often ask myself what advantages our good society possesses over the savages. The more I see their customs, the more I realize that we have no right to look down upon them contemptuously. We should not censure them for their conventions and superstitions, since we highly educated people are relatively much worse.

CHARLES KING: [00:46:55] And in writing, he said, I've become convinced that all education is relative. All civilization is relative. All culture, in a way, is relative to a time and a place. What it means to be a full, mature adult, what it means to be smart, what genius is depends on when you're asking about it, where you're asking about it, the context you're asking about it in.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: [00:47:27] [As Franz Boas] I had seen that they enjoyed life, and a hard life, as we do. That nature is also beautiful to them, that feelings of friendship also root in the Eskimo heart.

CHARLES KING: [00:47:44] It's born of this very personal experience in realizing, in an intimate and profound way, how stupid he was once he was taken out of the context that was most familiar to him. And from that basic insight in the frozen north, in an Inuit village, he begins to develop what will become his signature contribution to the human sciences.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:48:11] That experience in the Arctic planted a seed of doubt in Boas, that maybe all those supposedly scientific theories of race and culture, primitive and advanced, that had come to define the world were like a ball of yarn. If you pull on one thread, the whole thing risks falling apart.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:48:30] After all, the idea that all culture and all civilization is relative was radically different from the mainstream narrative of the time in which Western civilization reigned supreme.

The Invention of Race Part 3 - Throughline - Air Date 11-19-20

CHARLES KING: [00:48:47] So toward the end of the 19th century, if you went into any museum in Europe and North America, you took any class in geography or world history, you learn certain basic truths - that there were some racial types that were suited to conquer the world. They were fitter. They were more civilized. They were more advanced. And there were certain racial types who were naturally more backward, who were suited to being servile or to being colonized by the fitter types of humanity.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: [00:49:23] [As Franz Boas]

There is no fundamental difference in the ways of thinking of primitive and civilized man. A close connection between race and personality has never been established.

CHARLES KING: [00:49:39] If you took a history class at most universities in the United States or elsewhere, you would learn about the so-called "march of civilization" - how it spread out from ancient Greece and Rome, later through overseas European colonialism, until jumping to the United States, which was going to take up its place as the most civilized, world-conquering, imperial power in the world. And these weren't fringe ideas, this was mainstream social science.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:50:10] And again, the "you" in this scenario is White European. If you are white European, you'd come out thinking that about yourself. White European or American.

CHARLES KING: [00:50:19] That's right. That you would come out of the museum thinking that, for White Americans in particular, your place in the firmament was scientifically established. That you were at the top of this historical scale, the top of this hierarchy when you stepped out of the museum convinced.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:50:38] And because of this thinking, many White Europeans and Americans came to believe that certain races and certain societies were inherently and biologically superior. And for some people who considered themselves progressives, it led to a worldview in which...

CHARLES KING: [00:50:55] You believed that of course people were ranked. Of course people came in different civilizational capabilities, but what made you a progressive was thinking that with enough education, with enough missionaries, with flush toilets, with modern technology, the backward peoples might be raised up to your own civilizational level. But if you weren't a progressive, what you believed was that people were naturally stuck at the place that God or nature - the natural order of things - had placed them. And so the best thing you could do was to structure your society, your economics, your political system, such that the unique talents, if you want to use that word, of people who were less capable than you could be used for the benefit of society. 

And so you can see how justifications for enslavement or justifications for Jim Crow or justifications for keeping women, for that matter, out of positions of power all flowed from this idea that people come in prepackaged natural varieties. All human development was leading inexorably to white America.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:52:18] But Boas was deeply skeptical of all that. Everything he was seeing was suggesting the opposite.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: [00:52:22] [As Franz Boas] If we were to select the most intelligent, imaginative, energetic and emotionally stable third of mankind, all races would be present.

CHARLES KING: [00:52:41] He noticed that if you went to the Smithsonian or other museums, they organized all of their displays to tell you this linear story of human progress. And so if you went around the world collecting bone rattles or bows and arrows, you would display all of those in the same cabinet. And the reason for that was that making, using a bone rattle was thought to be reflective of a particular primitive society, because, obviously if you weren't a savage or primitive person, you wouldn't give your child a bone rattle, you would have a professionally manufactured toy that you had purchased at a thing called a store.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: [00:53:31] [As Franz Boas] It happens that any array of objects is always an exceedingly fragmentary presentation of the true life of a people. For this reason, any attempt to present ethnological data by a systematic classification of specimens would not only be artificial, but will be entirely misleading.

CHARLES KING: [00:53:52] But Boas realized that, wait a minute, these things that are all in the same cabinet, that look to you, the organizer of a museum, look to you to be the same, aren't actually the same thing. This bone rattle is the thing that you use to summon a rain god. This bone rattle is the thing that you use to scare away snakes. This bone rattle is the thing that you use to comfort a wailing child. They're not the same object. And by the way, if you think they're the same object, you have just run into your own culture because it's your culture, your culture, the culture of the White American Museum organizer, that is telling him - and it was always a him - that those things are just the same object. But anybody who is an expert will tell you that that's just not the same object.

RUND ABDELFATAH - HOST, THROUGHLINE: [00:54:54] In other words...

CHARLES KING: [00:54:55] He just was really tired of stupidity.

It's More Than Racism Isabel Wilkerson Explains America's 'Caste' System Part 2 - Fresh Air - Air Date 8-4-20

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:55:00] If you see America as still having a caste system, where do you see people of color fitting in?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:55:06] Well, there was a tremendous churning at the beginning of the 20th century of people who were arriving in these undetermined or middle groups that did not fit neatly into the bipolar structure that America had created. And at the beginning of the 20th century, there were petitions to the Supreme Court, petitions to the government for clarity about where they would fit in. And they were often petitioning to be admitted to the dominant castes.

One of the examples - a Japanese immigrant petitioned to qualify for being Caucasian because he said, my skin is actually whiter than many people that are identified as White in America. I should qualify to be considered Caucasian. And his petition was rejected by the Supreme Court. But these are all of examples of the longstanding uncertainties about who fits where when you have a caste system that is bipolar such as the one that was created here.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:56:07] Bipolar - you mean Black and White?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:56:09] Yes.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:56:11] What impact do you think that that had or has on White people who are poor or who are in the lower part socioeconomically of the working class?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:56:23] Well, it creates a false pedestal of standing that has nothing to do with what one does. It's what you're born into. It also, though, creates an invisible false pedestal. It's a pedestal that people cannot see. As we can - as I speak about, the caste system itself is like a building. And the building has joints and beams and the structure that we cannot see, but the building is there. And what makes it especially troubling is that if one cannot see that there is a pedestal that one may be standing on that was - that you had nothing to do with  - and that was created well before you were born, then you may not even recognize the advantages that you actually were born to.

The other thing is that it can create easily activated resentment at anything that does not track with how one perceives oneself. In other words, the perception that someone who has been deemed lower or that one perceives to be lower than them: any advancement by someone in that group can be seen as a greater threat than it otherwise would be. There would be a greater investment in maintaining the caste system as it is and maintaining the hierarchy as we have known it to be.

And I think that one way that it shows up a lot is that we often say in our era that --  people say that  -- White working-class voters will often be acting against their own interests in opposing policies, for example, that may be geared toward working people,  like universal health care, for example. But from the lens of caste, it would not be surprising that they might oppose policies that they fear could threaten their own status by assisting those that they perceive as being beneath them. And so from a caste perspective, it could be argued that they are actually acting in what they perceive to be their best interests if their best interest is maintaining the hierarchy as it has always been.


TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:58:20] You say that the U.S. used immigration as a legal way to maintain the caste system. What do you mean by that?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [00:58:30] That in order to curate, you might say, the population - curating the population means deciding who gets to be a part of it and where they fit in upon entry. And so there was a tremendous effort at the end of the 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of eugenics and this growing belief in the gradations of man, of humankind - that they wanted to keep the population to what it had been - closer to what it had been at the founding of the country.

And so there was a an effort to restrict who could come into the country if they were not of Western European descent, tremendous back-and-forth, tremendous efforts on the part of eugenicists who then held sway inthe popular imagination, tremendous effort to keep out people who we now would view as part of the dominant group. So there was - it was a form of curating who could become a part of the United States and where they would fit in. And they used immigration laws to determine who would be able to get access to that dominant group.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:59:47] In the comparisons that you make between the Nazi regime and the caste system in America, you describe what qualified in each country as being White. Like, how much, quote, "blood" - non-White blood - did you need to have in your system in order to disqualify as being White? Would you compare the two countries in defining that?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [01:00:12] Well, that was a source of tremendous debate, I came to discover. I had no idea how they had arrived at their delineation of people. And they sent people to study the United States and how it had defined and codified, categorized and subjugated African Americans and delineated who could be what in the United States. They studied the - also studied the marriage laws - intermarriage laws. And in doing so, they debated as to who should qualify to be considered Aryan in Germany at that time. And in studying the United States, they were, they themselves were stunned to have discovered the one-drop rule that was the common distinction in the United States for determining whether a person could be identified as Black or African American. At that time, they would've been called colored or Negro. That idea of the one-drop rule was - that was viewed as too extreme to them. That...

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [01:01:22] Too extreme to the Nazis?

ISABEL WILKERSON: [01:01:25] Stunning to hear that. I mean, it's stunning to see that, stunning to discover that. The Nazis in trying to create their own caste system, what could be considered a caste system, went to great lengths to really think hard about who should qualify as Aryan because they felt that they wanted to include as many people as they possibly could, ironically enough.

In trying to define who could qualify to be Aryan, the Nazis were more concerned about making sure that those who had Aryan blood would be protected, that a person who had a significant amount of Aryan blood should still be considered Aryan. They actually had greater latitude in defining who could be Aryan and who would qualify as Jewish than the United States had determined with who could be African American or who could be White.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [01:02:28] Germany passed the Law for the Protection for German Blood and German Honor to define who was a Jew, and you're right. Here's how it was defined: that Hitler defined a Jew as a person with three Jewish grandparents or anyone descended from two Jewish grandparents who practiced Judaism or was accepted in the Jewish community or was married to a Jew. The law also banned marriage and intercourse out of marriage between Jews and Germans and forbade German women under 45 to work in a Jewish household. I assume that was because the Germans assumed that over 45 you would no longer be of childbearing age, and so if you had consensual sex with the White men of the house or if he raped you, you wouldn't be bringing a Jew into the world.

ISABEL WILKERSON: [01:03:16] Absolutely. That was how they interpreted or adjusted the - what they discovered when they came and researched the United States. That's what they ended up with.


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:03:28] We've just heard clips today, starting with John Biewen in a Ted Talk explaining the lie that was the origin of race. Seen on Radio explained the origin of racial discrimination in America and the connection to labor right from the beginning. Throughline discussed a study of race in relation to immigration, Chris Hayes on Why Is This Happening spoke with Isabel Wilkerson about immigration through the lens of caste. On Fresh Air, they also spoke with Isabel Wilkerson who explained to the concept of caste more fully. Jeffrey B. Perry discussed Theodore W. Allen, who pioneered his White skin privilege analysis way back in 1965. And Isabel Wilkerson was also interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show, where she explained the several pillars that work together to hold up a caste system. 

That's what everyone heard. But members also heard bonus clips from Throughline giving more detail on Franz  Boaz and his research that proved the absurdity of dividing peoples by race or attempting to rank cultures, as well as one more  clip with Isabel Wilkerson on Fresh Air, in which he explains amongst other things that when the Nazis were planning to build their own caste system, they came to the US for inspiration and found our classification system of the races to be overly harsh. The Nazis looked at us and were like, Whoa! You might've gone a bit far with that one drop rule. Just chill out a little bit. For nonmembers, those bonus clips are linked in the show notes and are part of the transcript for today's episode, so you can still find them if you want to make the effort. But to hear that and all of our excellent bonus content delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted; no questions asked. And now we'll hear from you.Thoughts on the bonus material - Kim from Montana

VOICEDMAILER: KIM FROM MONTANA: [01:05:36] Hi Jay, I'm already a supporter on Patreon but I sent an additional gift in appreciation of all your hard work lately with the transcripts and additional bonus material.

I know you want to give the supporters something extra, but this bonus material is really good enough to be its own podcast. It's kind of a shame the wider audience doesn't get to hear it.  I would be perfectly fine with some of these bonus episodes being released on the regular feed just to showcase the excellent job you're doing with them.

Or, consider starting an additional podcast!

I know that's probably too much work, but it might bring in more people and money, which you could use to hire more help, or someone else to create one of the weekly episodes, or something. Anyway, I'm just brainstorming.  I just don't want your brilliant work to go unnoticed! 

But regardless of what you do or don't do with the bonus stuff, it's very much appreciated!  Thanks!

Final comments on the results of the last round of the headline game

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:06:24] Thanks to all of those who called in to the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected].

We didn't have much time for VoicedMails today, so I thought I might as well use only the most self-serving one. So huge thanks to Kim for all of her kind words pitching our membership content. And now we're going to quickly finally put an end to the headline writing game that feels like I started it weeks ago.

I gave three basic stories: that we had rejoined at the Paris climate accord; that South Carolina had a heartbeat bill, anti-abortion heartbeat bill; and that Biden had declared Texas a disaster. And it's taken us so long that I assume Texas is entirely recovered by now, but we're still playing the game. And the purpose of this is to write headlines that are as misleading as they can possibly be while still being entirely true. That's the trick. And we do this to learn about the mechanics of misleading headlines so that you can recognize them in the wild. 

And so without further ado, here is our first headline. We're taking the Paris climate accord topic first.

 (Salvatore) HEADLINES: [01:07:51] Foreign nations' influence over the US Energy sector grows

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:07:55] That one was from Salvator. It's a classic appeal to sovereignty, is how the right would frame it. I think it fits neatly under what's called the flag-waving fallacy where it's basically a version of nationalism, an appeal to emotion that has more to do with  stoking a sense of grievance rather than looking at the actual facts, a multi-lateral treaty could just as easily be framed as cooperation, but to go out of your way to frame it as an infringement of your sovereignty  stokes the idea of individualism, America first, etc.

 (Dave from Olympia) HEADLINES: [01:08:35] Sacrificing national sovereignty, Biden submits US to the whims of the Paris Climate Accord.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:08:41] Obviously, we have a case of great minds thinking alike here. That was Dave from Olympia who I've got to say overachieved with this task. We're going to be hearing a lot of headlines from Dave, but he's clearly thinking along the same lines about sacrificing national sovereignty. 

And then our next headline is going in a new direction.  

 (Gladwyn) Fossil Fuel mouthpieces return to the Paris Climate Accord.

That one is from Gladwyn, and they're going in the other direction, trying to misframe or mislead from the left. Although coming from the left, it's hard to describe that as misleading. What's misleading is that the opinion of the author is so thoroughly infused into the headline.

 (Dave from Olympia) HEADLINES: [01:09:25] Biden Administration to lead global effort to reverse climate change and save the planet. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:09:30] So that was another one from Dave from Olympia. And that was interesting because he also did a misleading one from the left but in a completely different way from Gladwyn to argue that Biden is leading the global effort to reverse climate change and save the planet is, while on one hand ostensibly what they're supposed to be doing, but on the other since that is definitely not what's happening, it is incredibly misleading.

Okay, let's move on to the South Carolina heartbeat bill.   

 (Gladwyn) White men continue to deny women the right to choose.

That was another from Gladwyn. Another sort of straightforwardly partisan framing. It's just a left framing of the issue. And our next headline is just the same in reverse.

 (Jean) South Carolina governor signs bill promoting life-affirming women's health bill.

That one was from Jean. Pretty straightforward perspective from the right. But if we were to ratchet up the partisanship and emotion, then we would get something like this from Elizabeth.

 (Elizabeth) Crowd Praises God As Governor Forces Women to Serve As Incubators

And another good one that goes with that is this one from Dave from Olympia, also similarly stoking emotion but from the other side,

 (Dave from Olympia) Activist judge prevents South Carolina from protecting unborn children

So headlines like those two are perfect examples of the sort of battle lines that are drawn and longstanding and how they play on emotion. But it's another good opportunity to examine how emotion plays a role in the media we consume nd the headlines we read, because sometimes news deserves any emotional appeal.  Abortion is something that people are extremely passionate about and for very good reason. And so we're having a discussion about misleading headlines, and appeals to emotion is one of the categories of how to mislead people. But it doesn't mean that every single appeal to emotion is misleading or wrong by definition. And this is one of those examples that gets into that realm of appeals to emotion that may very well be perfectly justified.

But in terms of writing and artistically misleading headline on this topic, I've got to say, Salvator takes the cake.

 (Salvatore) South Carolina governor defends children over feminist objection.

I've got to say that one is really excellent. It accepts the right wing framing, which can be legitimate to do sometimes. So defending children is their framing and then giving no credence whatsoever to the other side. Just framing it as feminist objection, which on one hand is entirely true, and on the other, doesn't give any context whatsoever to what they're objecting to, why they're objecting, what their opinion is or anything like that. Just take children on one side which everyone thinks is great and feminist objections. Excellent use of a completely skewed imbalance. All right, let's move on to our last one, the Texas disaster declaration. 

HEADLINES: [01:12:50]  (Dave from Olympia) Caving to demands from Texas Governor Greg Abbot, Biden's declaration will redirect federal funding to the priorities of the Republican Governor. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:12:59] That's from Dave from Olympia. Another just classic stoking of partisanship where none need be stoked. And this Texas story is really where Dave has  come to shine. Let's hear another from him.

HEADLINES: [01:13:12] Are the FEMA camps coming? Biden directs taxpayer money to house refugees in Texas. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:13:18] And Dave is such a nice guy that he went ahead and gave me the analysis of this one too.  He says it manages to ping both of the conflicting conspiracy theories about FEMA. First, evil FEMA is coming for you implies scary refugees are coming to Texas, while fear of spending your money on these scary refugees and the article, of course, in the last paragraph clarifies that the refugees are actually Texans who have lost their homes in the storm.

HEADLINES: [01:13:48] As Texans suffer unprecedented winter storm, Biden administration plans to pick and choose who will receive help.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:13:55] This is another from Dave. And he explains that Governor Abbot requested aid for all 254 counties in Texas, but Biden approved aid for only 77 counties affected by the storm. And so the use of pick and choose is a really interesting  manipulation tactic because it is playing on a conservative trope about Democrats wanting to use the government to pick and choose which corporations should win and which industries should win, and all that. So, that was a deep cut, Dave, to pull out that phrase, repurpose it, reuse it in a different context, to sort of dog whistle that conservative idea that makes them angry about Democrats subverting the free market, but to do it in a situation where we're trying to save people from a disaster, but the message would get across, anyway.  The stoking anger would get across, anyway. Nicely done. 

And this is the last one, but I have to read it myself because the robot voice isn't doing a good enough job putting a question mark emphasis on this one. So, the headline is: Governor Abbott, a socialist? Governor caves to the libs, inviting the nanny state into the homes of proud of Texans. And question mark: you can't get more classic than that, right? Pretty much any headline you want and put a question mark on it, and it's no longer a statement. It can't be questioned as a lie. We're just asking questions. Genuinely, when --  beyond just reading the headlines -- when I'm doing research for the show, we look at the titles of podcast episodes, or the show notes that people have written. And if there's a question mark in their topic, , maybe I'll listen to it, but there's a really good chance that's not going to get used in the show. Anything, it starts with a question that doesn't promise that an answer is coming forth is probably something you can skip over. 

All right. That is going to do it for today's edition of the headline game. I think that we've proven this as a viable game. I'm not going to do it in an ongoing way. I don't have any new stories for you to write headlines about, but I've had fun doing it, and it may come back later  in some form or another. But the real world is ripe for misleading headlines. So if you come across any really good ones, I would love to hear them. The ones that I came across most recently that were the most absurdly misleading were about the right-wing headlines saying very straightforwardly that Democrats want for Joe Biden to give up unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons. And that is entirely true and entirely misleading because the right-wing headlines encourage you to think that Democrats don't trust Biden to have that power. But it is made perfectly clear that it is any future Republican president who those Democrats do not trust to have that unilateral power, based on the most recent Republican president we had. And so  that was one of the most perfect examples of being wildly misleading and yet entirely true.

Technically, another game you may be interested in though. I had this idea because Deon coined this great phrase in the bonus episode this week when we were talking about Republican politicians who are also doctors and use their status as doctors as a political cudgel. And Deon called to them, not doctors of science or medicine, but doctors of capitalism, which got me thinking what would the main tenets of the Hippocratic oath that doctors of capitalism be? If you want to take a stab at that one, I would love to hear any thoughts on the Hippocratic oath for doctors of capitalism. Keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]

Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show as well as joining us on our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio Ben, Dan, and Ken for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, web mastering, and so on, as well as co-hosting the bonus show. And thanks of course to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support as that is absolutely how the program survives. Details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources and music used in this and every episode, all of that information can always be found in the show notes on the blog and likely right on the device you're using to listen.

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.


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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2021-03-06 18:30:07 -0500
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