Affirmative Tactics (with Donovan Ramsey) | Crooked Media
Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW! Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW!
July 18, 2023
Pod Save The People
Affirmative Tactics (with Donovan Ramsey)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara and Myles  cover the underreported news of the week on affirmative action — the irony of opposition, a push for adversity scores, and the future of diversity policies in Hollywood and corporate employment. DeRay interviews author and journalist Donovan Ramsey on the pod to chat about his newest book When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era.



GOP attorneys general tee off on large corporations over diversity policies


With End of Affirmative Action, a Push for a New Tool: Adversity Scores


Hollywood Diversity Initiatives May Be Challenged After Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling


White women benefit most from affirmative action. So why do they oppose it?




[AD BREAK] [music break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Kaya, Myles, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know with regard to race, justice, and equity. All the news that went undercovered. And this week we focus specifically on affirmative action. And then I sit down with Donovan Ramsey to talk about his new book, When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era. I learned so much. He is the man. Let’s go. [music break]


De’Ara Balenger: Family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. Happy to be back. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger. 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture 


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya, and I’m trying to do the Spill thing-ish at @KayaHenderson. 


Myles E. Johnson: Child. We done we done left child.


Kaya Henderson: Uh listen.


DeRay Mckesson: No no we’re still on Spill. We’re still on Spill. [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter and Spill and I’m on Threads and Instagram as @IamDeray. [cheers] 


Kaya Henderson: I’m not getting on Threads because if I don’t like it, I don’t want to have to delete my whole Instagram account. That’s scary. 


DeRay Mckesson: I mean that’s real, that’s real. 


Kaya Henderson: Mmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Spill’s just starting to trend 38 and up, which is probably healthy. 


De’Ara Balenger: Uh. Okay. 


Myles E. Johnson: It is. 


De’Ara Balenger: Myles. 


Kaya Henderson: Oooh.


De’Ara Balenger: You know what. 


Kaya Henderson: Ooooh. [laughter] [indistinct banter] That was savage. 


De’Ara Balenger: Now I’m on strike. 


DeRay Mckesson: It’s not the– 


De’Ara Balenger: Now I’m on strike myself. [laughter] For this ageism. [laughter]


Myles E. Johnson: It’s not ageism. It’s just the tre– It’s just the corporate trends of a of an app. I think that’s good.


De’Ara Balenger: Corporate tre– [laugh]


Kaya Henderson: Corporate? Corporate? Wow.


Myles E. Johnson: I don’t I don’t want like– 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh my goodness.


Myles E. Johnson: –21 year olds who grew up on talking um talking about how uh yeah, Dua Lipa is classic music. I don’t want to do that. [laughter] I’m happy that it’s trending older. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh, my goodness. Well, lots of things happening in workforce news this week, so Thursday uh the SAG. SAG actors striked. They announced their their strike. Um. They’re joining WGA members on the picket lines. I think they started picketing on Friday and protesting. This is the first time since 1960 that both unions have staged walkouts simultaneously. The last actors strike against the studios was in 1980. I wasn’t born yet. So there you go, Myles. Boom. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh my soul. 


De’Ara Balenger: Just I was. I was born. I was born the next year. [laughter]


Myles E. Johnson: First of all De’Ara– 


Kaya Henderson: How did I get here? 


Myles E. Johnson: We we all–


Kaya Henderson: How did I get here?


Myles E. Johnson: First of all, De’Ara, we all know that your um your expertise is law, and we all know how lawyers get down. [laughter] Until until you um produce some papers, that’s still up for um– [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Oh my gosh. Um. So I I paid attention to this one because I’m already so anxious about. Well, here, actually, let me tell the truth. I’m a little anxious about TV shows, but since the TV I watch is the Magnolia Network, which is Elevated Home and Garden Channel, I don’t think it’s really going to impact me because what I watch doesn’t require actors, nor does it require writing. So [?]– 


Kaya Henderson: It does. It does require writing because those shows are scripted as all get out child. Don’t even play, just because they about houses and renovation does not mean a thing. [laughter] Mmm.


De’Ara Balenger: So– 


DeRay Mckesson: What we don’t want is to go back to, you know, the last time this happened, that’s the birth of all the reality TV we got, because those are the only people who weren’t getting lines from people. And Lord knows, I think we need a reprieve from reality TV. And I think that that actors and writers are banking on the fact that the public is like reality TV, TV’d out that like we just will not accept like 15 new reality TV shows. And I think they’re right. I don’t know what else, how many more Love Islands and Amazing Race like how many more versions of the same show can you watch? I don’t know. 


Myles E. Johnson: And this is like I guess like AI this go around is the new threat. Whereas like reality television, the last writers strike was like the last frontier, because AI is the last is the um is the new frontier of being like, well, if you don’t bring you bring you to work this, this computer 3000 will do your job for you and we’ll just tweet some stuff. 


Kaya Henderson: It’s not just that, it’s also residuals, right? Because people don’t get residuals on streaming. And residuals is how you make your money. Great if your thing is a blockbuster the first go round out. But if it keeps going, you need to keep getting paid. And I mean, have but have you seen how crass these executives are? We going to hold out till people start losing their houses and apartments was one of the things that one of the executives said. And I mean, I this I’m I’m one, I’m fascinated that the writers strike has gone on for so long. Maybe it’s okay because it’s summertime and we don’t need all of these tonight shows and whatever late night shows. But I think as we move towards September, when, you know, TV comes back on for real, that’s when it’s really going to hit hard. And I this is really interesting to me. 


DeRay Mckesson: It is also wild, the executives just make so much money, too. It’d be different if, like, there just wasn’t a lot of money and they weren’t getting enough of the not a lot of money, but it’s like, Oh, some people are making boo koo bucks. And the residual checks I was, you know, this is so random, but I I played myself on an episode of Being Mary Jane, and I don’t know why they they mail me $0.01 checks. I’m like, it costs more to mail me the $0.01 check every time that episode plays. And I’m a peon in the space. And I look online and I see people who are like stars on shows getting $60 checks. I’m like–


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: You’re getting, you got a $60 residual check. You are a regular. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well part of why the, part of why the the everyone’s paying so much attention to the to the CEO’s making so much money. One is because they make so much money. But the real disconnect here is that they will not tell filmmakers, actors whomever worked on a thing, how many people are seeing it. And so I remember even we worked on like I’ve worked on When they see us, I’ve worked on things that have streamed and gotten a lot of streams on Netflix, but they won’t tell you because if they tell you 50 million people watched your show or 50 million people watched your movie, then you start doing the math in your head and you’re like, wait a minute, Well, that don’t add up. 


Myles E. Johnson: [?]. You owe me [?] you owe me some money, hand me my gun. 


De’Ara Balenger: So that– [laugh] 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. [laugh]


De’Ara Balenger: So that that’s the issue, which is like the lack of transparency around how well these shows are doing online. And it’s just it’s while. 


Myles E. Johnson: I think one of the positive things about this conversation, at least in my perspective, is that it did kind of um blue collar-fy like Hollywood and writers. And I think that a lot of people um, and you know, just including myself, have maybe had a different gaze on what it means to work in uh the entertainment space and that it’s not just um although there are a lot of people who are of extreme wealth and uh just privilege, of who are um being who are in it with the with with the other people, it’s just really quite like a blue collar issue that like we’re talking about people who who want to be in entertainment, who are writers, who are artists, who want to be a part of the magic of storytelling and who want and who are maybe just living close there and inherited, knowing, knowing people. But these are people who aren’t just rolling around in, you know, a pool full of money and who just want like more, you know, money water so they can swim around in. This these are people who are, you know, fighting to survive, fighting to be able to support themselves, fighting for insurance, fighting for the same kind of [clears throat] blue collar working class issues that we advocate for. And that I think that was really refreshing to find uh to find comrades in the in the in the entertainment industry and not just be this vain, now that we’re now that we want money, now we’re going to protest. You know, I think that sometimes these moments can rub off and smell like that. And they [?] this time. 


DeRay Mckesson: I do think one of the facts that stuck out to me was about SAG-AFTRA, the um the Actors Union, and what dollar amount you have to make per year to qualify for health insurance. So you have to make $26,000 a year to qualify for health insurance with SAG-AFRA. SAG-AFTRA, 87% of members of SAG do not qualify for health insurance. That is wild. That’s when you’re like, you know, it’s like the fact that we tied health insurance to employment is wild anyway like that we just don’t guarantee it. But you’re right, Myles, it did blue collar this whole space in a way that I hope leads to more solidarity, like for public goods for people, because this is so I mean, $26,000 to qualify for health insurance at 87%? I mean, that is that really hit me. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. And I think and you know, I think most people and correct me if I if I’m wrong, but like I think a lot of people come to get their SAG cards or come involved and they don’t necessarily get, I’m surrounded by theater actors and that and actors and that you don’t get full time employment or it’s up and down and you’re employed for this amount of time for this event and maybe not. So it makes sense to me that that’s the number. What doesn’t make sense to me is that it makes sense to me that less than that 87% whatever make that that amount. What doesn’t make sense to me is that it’s hooked on if you need health insurance, [laugh] that’s what doesn’t makes sense. You know what I mean? 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m also I’m following the UPS workers who are planning to strike, too. And it is the drivers, dispatchers and warehouse workers. And some of it is around wages like the wage for part time, but it’s also for um heat related injuries. So as you probably know, there are a lot of the trucks don’t have um they don’t have an air conditioner in them. And the delivery truck, the back of the truck can be some days over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. And UPS just it’s not a priority to them. And you’re like, that is wild to have these people driving around all day long, it’s hot outside just standing outside I mean, this is the hottest summer we’ve ever had in recorded history. And the idea that you are pulling boxes out and delivering them and it’s 120 degrees. Meanwhile, UPS is making more money than they have ever made ever is wild. 


De’Ara Balenger: I feel like we talked about this last summer, too, with UPS like the work [?]–


Kaya Henderson: We did. 


De’Ara Balenger: –the really [?]– 


Kaya Henderson: We totally did. 


Myles E. Johnson: We talked about the conditions. The strike didn’t happen, though. Yeah.


De’Ara Balenger: So it’s just there’s no, year later, no improvement UPS. Okay. 


Kaya Henderson: One of the things that is interesting to me about all of these strikes is that there’s some segment that is deeply affected, but then everybody is sort of coming together to say this is not okay. Right. At first it was just the writers, but now it’s the writers, the directors, the actors, everybody, because our fates are tied together. With UPS, it’s mostly a part time worker issue, but the full time people are striking with them. And I think that is the thing, right? Like, you know, divide and conquer has been a tool of the enemy forever. And I think people realizing that their fates are tied in with other people’s fates is the only thing that’s going to get us free y’all that’s what Martin Luther King said. Martin Luther King told us we are tied in an inescapable network of mutuality. That’s all this says is right. What is injustice to you is injustice for me. And so I’m excited that people are coming together and understanding that these problems are tied together. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I really want to echo that because there was even a video of this um UPS worker in his truck who got paid full time who was talking about um fighting. He was he was kind of fine too. 


Kaya Henderson: [laugh] Ah the sexy– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: –UPS driver. 


DeRay Mckesson: I did see that one. [laughter] I saw that one. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: I saw that one.


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah his his shirt was um a little unbuttoned. I had to watch it three times to hear what he was saying. I’m not going to hold you. But once I finally heard what he was saying [laughter] and I and I just and I just focused my mind. I thought it was so beautiful about how he was saying um that it’s not about them. He that his he they they got the money. They’re he’s getting treated well. He’s he’s doing that. It’s about other people. It’s about we we are going to get our raise. It’s about getting these other people their raise, getting these other people where they are going to be. I thought that was such a beautiful example of being there for somebody, being there for others, um having some type of integrity, having integrity, um not being this this kind of like individual capitalist pawn that, I think we’re all either saying somebody is or afraid that we’re going to become. It was really that praxis of caring about your neighbor and doing it while sweaty and and and and and in summertime. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. Everybody needs a raise at UPS. 


DeRay Mckesson: The last thing I’ll say before we go to the news is that this is a reminder that almost all the things that you enjoy in your life are because of activists, because of organizers, because of people who understood that challenging the status quo was a part of their work. And the drivers had been complaining about this for a long time. But it wasn’t until labor stood up and said, hey, like this is actually a non-negotiable. And that is the work of organizing. So shout out to all the organizers who laid the foundation for this to even happen for these wages. And I do worry sometimes that people take for granted that it will be the nameless, faceless organizers and activists in the background who fought for these things to make them possible. 


Kaya Henderson: Amen. 


Myles E. Johnson: Before we go into the news, can I tell our listeners one little thing? 


DeRay Mckesson: What you got?


Myles E. Johnson: Just one little thing I want to tell them that we showed Kaya the Pinkydoll, the arcade woman who’s been going viral on the Internet. We showed um our Auntie Kaya that woman. So if you haven’t heard of the Pinkydoll woman who um she’s just been the latest Internet sensation of course I know about it because my life, you know don’t really. I’m very online. 


DeRay Mckesson: Wait. Did you show her? What did she say? What Kaya, what was your response to? 


Kaya Henderson: The leftist activisty lady? 


Myles E. Johnson: No, the lady who was a arcade who was doing the arcade noise that we showed you. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh, oh with the emojis. [laughter] Oh, my soul. Y’all, thank you for keeping me young. If this is the stuff that the people are concentrated on, I, it was fascinating to, listen, y’all got to see this thing. Literally, this lady is saying crazy stuff and putting on weird hats and mustaches and yada yada. Uh. I don’t understand the youngs, but um I [laughter] thank you for keeping me abreast. [laughing]


Myles E. Johnson: I think I’m going to make it like my little like, biweekly duty to show– 


Kaya Henderson: Thank you. [?]


Myles E. Johnson: –Kaya something else that’s happening on the corner of the dark and silly web. 


Kaya Henderson: Listen, last week it was the it was the lyrics. 


Myles E. Johnson: Sexyy Red. Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes honey. [laughter] And sukiyaki or somebody. Whew chile. [laughter]


Myles E. Johnson: That is a meal that you order [?] Auntie Kaya. [banter]


Kaya Henderson: Welcome to the auntie corner. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming. 




Kaya Henderson: Okay. Speaking of um news that aunties should know about, um we are actually we are focusing this episode on um the recent affirmative action ruling. Um. This ruling has had will have tremendous affects, not just across college admissions, but across a lot of different industries and fields. And it’s making people question a whole bunch of things. And so we felt like it was important for us on the pod to take a bit of a deep dive into this and explore the impact of the ruling from a bunch of different perspectives. So all of our news this week is focused on the affirmative action ruling and the fallout thereof, what it impacts thereof. And I’m excited to kick it off um with an article that speaks directly to how colleges and universities might think about pursuing diversity when they can no longer uh pursue race based diversity. And my news comes out of UC Davis Medical School in California, which in fact is the um one of the most diverse medical schools in the country. And the way they have done that um is pretty unorthodox, given the fact that California banned race based admissions, I think, in 2016 or some years ago. But um they’ve had to try to deal with the fact that at least eh medical schools are some of the um most um I don’t even know what to call them, most least diverse places. Um. In fact, a couple of weird statistics about medical schools. More than half of medical students come from families in the top 20% of income, while only 4% of medical students come from the bottom 20%. Right? So mostly rich kids go to medical school. Children of doctors are 24 times more likely to become doctors than their peers, and only 6% of doctors in the United States are Black, compared with 13.6% of the American population. Basically, I’m trying to paint the picture that uh rich white kids of doctors are the people who get into medical school for the most part. And when we think about all of the coverage that we’ve had about health disparities, when we think about all of the ways that we’ve heard about, especially Black women not being heard in the medical field, representation matters. And so um you have UC Davis, which in the wake of these previous bans on race based admissions in California, has developed an unorthodox tool to evaluate applicants called the Socioeconomic Disadvantage Scale or SED. And basically it is a scale that takes into account the usual portfolio of grades and test scores and recommendations and essays and interviews and all of those things. But it also includes life circumstances like family income and parental education and parental jobs and those kinds of things. And it creates a score for you from 0 to 99. And the higher the uh the higher the applicant rates on the disadvantage scale, um they get a bigger boost. And so there’s not a set formula on how to balance the scale with the academic record. Um. But under this new socioeconomic disadvantage scale, um students from underrepresented groups grew from 10.7% to 15.3%, and the share of economic economically disadvantaged students tripled from 4.6% to 14.5%. Um. And so it is an interesting way to think about how to pursue diversity. Um. And more than 20 other schools have reached out to UC Davis to say, how are y’all doing this? Because we got to try to figure this thing out, too. There are other people who are coming up with um other alternatives, the College Board has a tool that they released in 2019 called Landscape, which helps to assess the background of socioeconomic candidates. Um. And basically, like what they’re trying to do is identify kids who otherwise wouldn’t, might not get in, but who have the smarts and the grit and the fortitude because they’ve overcome life circumstances. Um. And there’s all of this, you know, research that shows that a diverse class makes for a stronger education. And so I think it’s going to be interesting to watch. At the same time, the conservatives have pledged to fight every single one of these things. Um. They’re going to say this is just a proxy for race. Um. In fact, the Students for Fair Admissions, which is the group that brought the suit against Harvard and UNC, um has actually issued a letter to over 150 college presidents and admissions officers and general counsel telling them, here’s how you got to do it. And that’s some B.S. Um. And the colleges and universities are like, you can’t tell us how to do it. This is what the court said, not what you said. And so these colleges and universities are wrestling with how they pursue, how they continue to pursue diversity as an end um with new tools and and new ways to think about it. Socioeconomics is going to be the driver. And I think it’s going to be interesting to see how this stuff plays out. I also know for sure that we probably are not ready for the fight. Um. I think the conservatives are geared up, lawyered up, readied up to fight every single thing that comes our way. And those fights are distractions from the work. And so um I want to encourage folks who are pioneering new ways to think about admissions to keep your head down and keep doing that. I want to encourage people who are in this fight, your lawyer friends, De’Ara to get lawyered up and get ready to fight on every single front um because we literally can’t afford to um go backwards. We’ve seen what has happened at the University of Michigan and places um where they’ve already banned race based admissions. And we’ve seen Black, Hispanic, and Native American students populations plummet. And we got to hold on to this one for dear life. So coming up with inventive tools that help us get to a more diverse class, I think is goal number one. That’s what I’m bringing to the pod this week. 


DeRay Mckesson: Since we’re all talking about affirmative action on this episode, I anticipate that we’ll go back and forth more than normal. But I wanted to say about this Kaya, I the the makeup of medical school blew my mind. I you know, we’ve obviously talked about, you know, the appli– we talked about people applying and we talked about, you know, the entrance criteria. We talked about law school like we’ve we’ve discussed this before, but I don’t think I had numbers and that blew more than half of the medical students come from the families of the top 20% blew my mind, if not only because I feel like somebody’s done a very good job of cherry picking that one kid who grew up poor and became a doctor. And I feel like I hear that story so much that I thought that something– 


Kaya Henderson: [?] 


DeRay Mckesson: –was getting better. That [?] yeah. And I’m just jk everybody. This is a joke. Um. And it made makes more sense to me that children of doctors are more likely, but not 25, 24 times more likely. I mean, so so yes, to the adversity score and shout out to them for being really thoughtful and creative about how you navigate within this. And I was truly shocked at the makeup of medical school. 


Kaya Henderson: Can I just say one thing about that? I mean, the the let’s I well let’s call it what it is, legacy admissions, right? Is so is so pervasive in medical schools that the American Medical Association has adopted a policy opposing legacy preference in admissions. The American Medical Association. Right. Like the Association of Doctors across the country has said we need to stop this legacy admissions stuff. And um if you’ve been following, there’s now a suit that is going to challenge legacy admissions at Harvard and UNC and a couple of other places. And so we’re going to keep having this conversation. But legacy admissions looms large in juxtaposition to affirmative action. And we’re going to, I think, be talking a lot more about this. 


Myles E. Johnson: I was really excited to hear that there were people thinking about other ways. I think sometimes when conversations like affirmative action happen, um I really wonder. I always have hope that something else will kind of come to combat it. But I always wonder, like what it’s going to be. And I know that uh more than likely I’m not going to be the brain to produce it [laugh] because I you know, my brain works or whatever. So I’m like, somebody fight back, we’re getting jumped. Um. So I think that is the kind of like, take away that I got from the article that there are like still people who are actively fighting, fighting this and who who have who are fighting it in a way that I think that you almost have to that you have to have a certain type of brain or certain type of education background to really know the ins and out of how to like really um fight something like um affirmative action. And I think that when stories like this happen, a lot of hopelessness can be signaled out and and dropped into people. And I and I think that as much as we can, we should be fighting that. 


De’Ara Balenger: Of course, my comment has something to do with this. But just I want to I have this is like this fact made me almost fall out of my chair. I was at breakfast yesterday with a Black doctor based in Chicago. Brilliant. And one of the things he talked a lot about is his career has been basically pushing the medical field to see Black people as human beings, to see people of color as human beings, because it’s like the type of medicine he practices. It was, well, we can’t do that on Black people because of this reason and that reason and this reason. And so he would then get these studies together to basically, one, say you can do it because guess what? Black people are just human beings. But what is what he said that was so interesting is he was like, you know, one of the things he also likes to focus on is just really trying to investigate different ailments when it comes to Black folks. Right. And it is his theory that Black people in America and in Latin America have hyper have higher numbers of hypertension, because when we were on the slave ships, they didn’t give us water and so we had to retain salt. So over the course of these generations, being in the Middle passage, like our bodies actually adapted to be able to survive that journey. And it makes sense because he also said that in Africa they don’t have the same numbers of hypertension. So I don’t know that just that nugget of information around the Black body, which is so little investigated, explored for understanding, for context. You know, it just it blew my mind. So I think Kaya, your article in particular on this like, and we’ve talked about this over and over and over again, how doctors from different backgrounds just have a different perspective that just makes the whole practice of medicine inclusive. I don’t know, y’all don’t seem as moved by that. But I was like, what? 


Myles E. Johnson: No, I’m severely moved. [stuttering]


De’Ara Balenger: We what? 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m severely moved. 


De’Ara Balenger: I was like we retain we because they we didn’t have water? What? 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m. I’m severely um moved by that. I’m like, that’s about right. Um. And I’m I’m always. Not not, not shots. Well, I don’t know what the what the what the. I don’t know what the emotion is that you feel when you’re not shocked, but it still does something electrifying to you that there’s not um that there should just be more vocal louder people who care about exploring the medical [?] uh the medical uh destiny of Black people, of Black queer people, Black trans people, it’s all, to me, interconnected. I think the why I think it’s [?] like once we uh stop centralizing the white, uh the white body, the the the the white uh medical destiny as the one, I think the more we’ll start understanding other things. I think that um this stuff has even happened a lot in um psychology. So when so when people talk to uh Jewish people, and people who are um people who went through the Holocaust and and people who are uh who who have parents who were er not parents but come from chattel slavery and stuff like that, I think a lot of I think we have a lot of studies about like what that does to us psychologically. Um. And I think there should be even more mainstreaming that the fact that we don’t have the same bodies. That we don’t have the same medical um destinies and different things uh shaped them. And that’s okay. Doesn’t mean one’s worse and one is bad because they they’re different. But I think because of like race, uh I think things because of like just racial uh or excuse me, medical racism and stuff like that. I think that some people are afraid to talk about it. That that are meaning well, and about the differences. And then other people and because out of fear of like perpetuating uh race like racist ideas. And then some people, of course just don’t care because it’s not that central mainstream white body. So and I am shocked by it but fortunately, um my heart is dipped in Novocaine and I just can’t feel anything. [laughter] I’m numb to it. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh my gosh. Mm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Are we moving on? So. 


Kaya Henderson: Your turn. 


Myles E. Johnson: So when I was asked to uh talk about affirmative action, as somebody who has never benefited from it once in my whole entire life, um I was I was I didn’t know what I was going to say. See how, see how silly that sounded? Did anybody else’s I hopefully, when I just said that sentence– 


Kaya Henderson: I’m like wait, say what? 


Myles E. Johnson: I hope that your– 


Kaya Henderson: Say what? Say what? Say what? [laugh]


Myles E. Johnson: I hope that your eyebrows I hope your eyebrows got a little crunchy. I’ll hope you said, huh? 


Kaya Henderson: Listen. 


Myles E. Johnson: I hope you said– 


Kaya Henderson: I’m so glad you started to I’m so– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah I I– 


Kaya Henderson: C’mon c’mon sir. Because–


Myles E. Johnson: –[?] I’m trying to make sure y’all are here– 


Kaya Henderson: Awake. 


Myles E. Johnson: –with me. I hope that you all– 


Kaya Henderson: We’re here.


Myles E. Johnson: –with me. 


Kaya Henderson:  I’m here! [single clap]


Myles E. Johnson: But that sentence might be true in earnest if I was a white woman, which is what my article is about. White women tend to– [laughter] 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. Intro. Come on intro.


Myles E. Johnson: You know I’m always going to take you for a ride. I can’t I can’t always tell you where, but it’s always going to be real there’s going to be [?]. So [laughter] so and I when I was asked when we were asked about doing the um affirmative action episode. One of the first thoughts in my head were was welfare. And I said, I bet there is a– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: –similar narrative around this as there is with welfare, because one thing I’ve learned about being friends with just hyper smart people, hyper intelligent people like um like you like you three. Is that the branding of a thing politically and lawfully is not necessarily the inner working of a thing and how it actually trickles down. So the branding– 


Kaya Henderson: You gotta say it. 


Myles E. Johnson: –of something is we’re talking about so much about Black people, people of color. And what’s going to happen was [?] what what this article that um I provided is showing is that white women are the most affected by affirmative action. White women are going to be the uh are going to be some of the women who are going to who are going to uh uh find that a lot of their professional and um and and and collegiate statuses are going to are going to be going to are going to be in trouble. Now, one of the reasons, again, why I want to bring this to the pod, because I don’t think it’s clear cut. I think that is is is whiteness strong enough to make sure that the destinies of these white women and professionally still stays sure? Or do we think we’re in such an evangelical conservative place where it’s like, yeah, we do protect white women and we do do all this other stuff, but we will be happy to get them to work less. We will be happy to get white women to not get into these like liberal um bubbles that end up uh forcing them to not uh to to to deviate from what is like true often white nationalist id– like ideas, like I wonder where the conservative uh hammer is going to land for a [laugh] for a for a lack of a better a better analogy when it comes to um dealing with these facts or, you know, that the big conservative train is just to not deal with it at all. Um. I wanted to read a couple of quotes from this article that I thought were really, really interesting because, again, I was just [?] you know, I was just the Tomb Raider exploring. Because I just something told me that we’re not getting the whole story. When we talk about institutions like higher education, we see that women in general are on par with men, but we have severe under-representation of Black, Indigenous and and Latinx folks in colleges and universities and even greater disparities of women of color, Texas A&M sociologist and lawyer Wendy Leo Moore told US today. You can make the same analysis when we look at unemployment. Those are the kinds of things that indicate um that on a structural level, that white women have benefited. Moore says that the opposition is the result of long running anti-affirmative action campaigns from conservative groups that attack race based um affirmative action, but not gender based affirmative action. None of that same pressure is operating on the basis of gender, she said. The result? Significant strides for white women, but not for women of color because of the way we see women of color as their race before their gender. Women of color haven’t benefited from it. Um. I just thought the I just thought a lot of the different parts of this article are really interesting. That was one that kind of um just was like blaring to me. And I wanted to know from people who were smarter than me on this podcast and who have been who have been wrestling with this and and have been like working in this. What what’s the reaction and how and how come, I guess my bigger cultural critic question um that’s not really a question is how come white women kind of continuously fall for the banana in the pipe? Like what? Like why is? Why is that always happening? Like, why? Why are, tricked, I feel like the voting when it comes to Trump, I feel like the welfare queen narrative. I feel like when it comes to affirmative action, it kind of seems like continuously white women are um are tricked into, you know, a severe rhinoplasty to spite their face. They just don’t know to they don’t they don’t really look back and say. Hey, hold on. These stats say, Samantha. Beth, that we’re benefiting from this and we we’re being we’re being tricked um into thinking that this is just a person of color thing um because it feel it feels like the destiny of of of where it’s going is that maybe a lot of I like I’m going to be saying this sloppy but a lot of the mater– the material changes. Is it feels like it’s gonna fall. It could fall heavier and fall really heavy on the people it has been falling heavy for aka people of color, but it also is going to be for white woman. I just don’t understand why that is not heard as loudly as other things as as these other narratives that we’ve been hearing too, since the um affirmative action [pause] news has broke. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say the the this reminds me of what happened with DeSantis in Florida, with the white women around alimony. So alimony is the payments that you get when you divorce. And in Florida, they have what’s called permanent alimony. And a lot of women uh get alimony for a long time and they do it in lieu of other assets as a part of the divorce. And what DeSantis did is that DeSantis essentially ended permanent alimony and created all these avenues for the alimony agreements to get amended uh throughout time, which was not possible today or wasn’t possible before he did this. And a group of white women, older white women who benefit from these, they are outraged. They’ve gotten this bill vetoed three times under two governors. And it just like slipped through the other day. And they have publicly been like we at least 3000 of us are becoming Democrats. We will use all of our power to campaign against you forever and da da da. And I say this because because of the way racism works, white women writ large see people of color as the threat to them. And it’s really white men who are out here. They are the people. That is the people you– [indistinct banter] [laugh] Yes. They who you got to watch out for. You are so worried about the mythical Black man on the subway that white men are literally paying you less, they are valuing you less. 


Myles E. Johnson: Harming you more. 


DeRay Mckesson: They, harming you more. And you just aren’t you’re so worried about the immigrants that you not even paying attention to what’s in your house. And that, to me, is just one of the wildest things. The second thing I’ll say and this is sort of a about our whole conversation, is that I do I don’t know what happened to the public intellectuals, but if not for the Internet, I don’t even know how I would wade through these issues. And I and something has happened with public discourse that, like we it just doesn’t exist outside of these very interesting social media platforms that are not designed to give you a cogent perspective. They are just designed to give you something. And we got to figure that out. 


Myles E. Johnson: Isn’t it like less than less than 10% of divorces include alimony, right? Like I, I, I believe it. I believe. I believe it’s I believe it’s the alimony. You know, I’m I’m I’m really I’m usually very the [?] on being sure footed on the podcast when I haven’t like researched it already but I feel I’ve just just read that like maybe a week ago that like 10% like less than 10% of divorces end in alimony, which is just to say that this the alimony issue is such a um a class issue, not saying it’s not an issue, but it’s only certain types of women with with with certain types of, you know, ex-husbands who are talking about this. So again, it’s one of those it was interesting that that example is so targeted towards a certain um group of women that you usually think of as like a a class of women who are will be like, you know, protected or um honored with because of money and race. 


Kaya Henderson: But this– 


Myles E. Johnson: What say you Auntie Kaya? 


Kaya Henderson: This is not um I mean this article took me down a rabbit hole child. There’s a great article in Teen Vogue about how affirmative action benefits white women the most from 2022 that and you sort of said it, but I’m a double click on it that basically, like there have been long running anti-affirmative action campaigns from conservative groups that attack race based affirmative action, but not gender based affirmative action. They’re well-funded, they’re well-organized. They all came about in response to the legal changes that resulted from the civil civil rights movement in the sixties. And I mean, if you think about this, they did this the right way, right? There is no attack against gender based affirmative action. And so gender based affirmative action can still work. White women are still going to get preferences. Women are still going to get preferences in admissions. And that will largely accrue to white women. And this I want to read this, want to  read this brief paragraph, it says, and this is in reference to the legal changes from the 1960s civil rights movement. As it became clear that these legal changes were imminent, wealthy white conservatives with favorite famous family names, like Corrs, Davos, Scaife and Hunt mobilized massive resources to reverse the gains of civil rights initiatives in general, and affirmative action specifically. Part of their strategy included a national public media campaign designed to create white opposition to affirmative action policies by associating the term affirmative action with quotas or racial preferences that they said favored people of color and discriminated against white people. So what they did was spend decades upon decades telling everybody that affirmative action only that that the colors were coming for the white people. And that’s why white women oppose affirmative action. They don’t realize that they benefit from affirmative action or they realize it, but they don’t care because all of these well-funded conservative campaigns have basically told them we need to cultivate widespread white opposition because these people are taking your spots. And the truth of the matter is, white women are taking spots more than anybody else. And and, you know, to DeRay’s previous point about shout out to the organizers like don’t hate the player, hate the game. The white people organized around this they’ve been organizing around this. And what we see today are the fruits of their labor. And I think the thing that we keep saying is, you know, people are playing three dimensional chess and some of us are out here playing checkers. Some of us are not even on the game board. Right. And so, you know, there’s another article that goes deep down into, you know, the Reagan era and who he hired as his head of the EEOC, which was a Black man who opposed affirmative action and ooposed like, all of this stuff is real, is historical, it is coordinated. It is well-funded. And we got to stop acting like we just woke up one day and this stuff happened. Right. So these white women are not tricked. They don’t they it’s not that they don’t realize it is that a massive campaign has told them affirmative action don’t have nothing to do with you. It’s all about the darkies coming to take your spots, your children’s spots in these colleges and universities. And that is not the truth. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I think on top of the [laughter] and I think on top of that, I think on top of that, it’s and they’re unqualified. 


Kaya Henderson: They’re– 


De’Ara Balenger: Right? 


Kaya Henderson: And they’re unqualified. Come on girl. 


De’Ara Balenger: So that so that’s that’s the thing. It’s like they are unqualified, uned– they should not be in these spots. They have no business in these spots, which I think we all know that’s not true out here working harder than everybody. But I think Kaya, you’re absolutely right, as always. 


Kaya Henderson: Not always. Twice a day. That’s all I got. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. [music break]


De’Ara Balenger: You know, my take on affirmative action for for the purpose of today was really to focus on um businesses. Right. Fortune 500 companies. Because what what is happening and I think this is what we’ll continue to see is that this decision is going to impact diversity, equity, inclusion, writ large, right. So and companies and institutions, and all of it. So this Hollywood Reporter article talks about what’s going to, you know, potentially what could happen in Hollywood. Right. And it starts by talking about the 70 companies that filed a brief in support of Harvard and the University of University of Carolina um arguing that diversity at their businesses will suffer because the role of colleges in practicing affirmative action, it creates a pipeline of diverse leaders. So I think that’s something to think about as well, is like what is going to happen in the future just in terms of the workforce, right? Um. So if diversity at institutions of higher education drops. The same will happen at major corporations that rely on those colleges for new recruits. So, you know, we’re seeing this already in terms of the push against companies. Right and it’s different laws over companies. Obviously it’s like um it’s not going to be affected the same way. They’re not public entities, obviously, but corporations like the Hershey Company, McDonalds, Target, um except Starbucks have all been sued through Stephen Miller’s organization. We remember Stephen Miller, right? White House policy adviser under Trump. So he’s been filing these complaints against the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, um arguing that corporate diversity in hiring practice run afoul of civil rights laws. Yowzers. [sigh]


Kaya Henderson: Y’all this is a full frontal attack. [laughter] They hitting on every single front. Mmm.


De’Ara Balenger: Every single front. Um. So essentially now, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in companies, including Hollywood everywhere, are going to be now under scrutiny. And so I wanted to just go through some of these um Amazon Studios has an inclusion policy to cast at least one Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Middle Eastern or Asian character for speaking roles in each project. That could be gone. Netflix and Shonda Land have a initiative. The latter in the Producers Inclusion Initiative from Netflix and Shonda Land. So it’s designed to provide an opportunity for individuals from underrepresented groups to gain on set experience and training, to work with line producers, etc. that could be gone. Like it’s just– 


Kaya Henderson: So I can I can I ask a legal question? Right. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. 


Kaya Henderson: Because If I flip that thing on the side. Right it doesn’t like. I could also argue that like there is an implicit argument that by including one person of color, you basically are saying the rule says the rest of the people can be white. And that is problematic. Right. So I’m not a lawyer. I got my legal degree from Law and Order SVU, CSI, all of the things anyway. [laugh] Um. But. But, I mean, is it just that the explicitness of the rule is the problem? Because if so, wipe out the rule. And when I’m Shonda, I’m just sitting in the room saying, No, no, no, no, no. Right. Like excluding people on a jury unless they don’t work for me. So is it just the explicitness of the rule? Because it seems crazy to me that the rule allows for everybody else to be white, but one person can be a person of color. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, what’s interesting about these initiatives Kaya, is like they’re not necessarily hiring initiatives right? They’re like to create conditions for–


Kaya Henderson: Right. It’s the balance.


De’Ara Balenger: –people to gain ski– exactly. 


Kaya Henderson: It’s the values. 


De’Ara Balenger: To gain the skill sets, the values. And so, you know, you can’t there is no race based hiring. Like that’s just that that is illegal. So that’s not a thing that folks cannot do. So I think in creating these programs, the idea is, again, it’s like opening up the aperture of these of these companies so that folks of color can get in the door even if they’re getting in the door on the ground level. And so I think what is being challenged is that, you know it’s just it’s it’s just. I actually, I, you know, I don’t know if it’s if it’s the law under or policies within the EEOC. I don’t know if it’s like title, you know. Title, not title seven, whatever. Which one of the titles bars discriminating um in terms of terms and conditions of employment. But yeah I don’t I don’t know that like like directionally or based on law or policy like how they’re going to like what the argument is for for challenging, challenging these things. 


DeRay Mckesson: Well, I’m actually just going to piggyback my news on your news because it’s an extension. Is that the 13 Republican attorney generals wrote a letter to the leaders of the Fortune 100 companies last week telling them that they can no longer use race as a factor in hiring and promotion decisions. And the Republican AGs are saying that the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision applies to their companies as well. And here’s what I wanted to bring here is I’ve been frustrated. You know, in the protest I met all we all have met so many famous people and people, a lot of Black people with a lot of power and a lot of money and fame. And I would say who aren’t doing much in this moment. And I think what I what I thought about last night, I was like, I want to hear what y’all have to say because I, it sparked a conversation that Kaya and I had about Reconstruction, is that I. And tell me if I’m wrong. I think there are a lot of really wealthy, famous Black people who are like, we made it. Got it. Never had this much wealth. Never had it like this. Own all the things. Got it, da da da da da da da super famous. And we’re good. And it’s like, let’s be clear. We’ve been here before. We had it. We we did it. We had it. And Reconstruction. At the end of Re–, they said no, no, no, no. And took it all away. And I say that because it’s like if those same Black people don’t fight really hard to fundamentally change the underlying structure, we will just be back where we were before we lived it. Recons– like we got we got the power. We had the money, burned Black Wall Street and took all the the benefits during the Reconstruction era. They deconstructed it piece by piece. And when you read that part, that was like it wasn’t like a random kid online wrote an essay being like, welfare is bad and affirmative action is bad. The richest white people in America got together and said, please lie about those Black people so that so that the structure changes. And I the last thing I’ll say is that I just worry that there’s a set of Black, wealthy, powerful people that do not understand that if they don’t do structural change. Whatever they think they got– 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –it is going to be gone. 


De’Ara Balenger: But DeRay the problem is the difference is that those Black people’s money is adjacent to white people or is it they have gotten it in collaboration or with white people, it we don’t really have like– 


DeRay Mckesson: No, I’m not going to give you that. 


De’Ara Balenger: We don’t have like– 


Kaya Henderson: I don’t– 


De’Ara Balenger: –independant– 


Kaya Henderson: I don’t think that’s the problem. 


De’Ara Balenger: I don’t think we have independent– 


Kaya Henderson: I don’t think–


De’Ara Balenger: –Black wealth. We don’t. 


Kaya Henderson: I don’t I don’t think your wealth has to be independent. Your mind got to be independent, though, and– 


Myles E. Johnson: Hold on. 


Kaya Henderson: –you have to and you have to understand– 


Myles E. Johnson: As long as you keep your head to the sky. 


Kaya Henderson: Listen. [laugh] And you have to understand what we talked about in the beginning with the strikes. And that is just because you got this little piece of money does not mean that your lot is not tied up with my lot, right? Like that is the thing. And so, I mean, at the end of the day, I think the problem is the wealthiest Black people think me and mine are taken care of because America has taught us this rugged individualism. It has taught us to care only about ourselves and our, those people in immediate proximity to us. And it has eroded our values of community and collectivism that have gotten us through as a people. And so people think that they are special and they’re unicorn-ish and they and theirs are well taken care of. And I’m a sprinkle a little philanthropy around when the truth of the matter is we are all in the same boat together. 


Myles E. Johnson: And I mean, like at like absolutely yes to everything. And but to what you were saying about um Black Wall Street and all the other times that, you know, something has got burned to the ground. I guess, like right now we’re kind of just like entering like more of [door squeak in backgound] like a digital law fire. So it’s not like a literal one that’s going to be doing for Black Wall like that that happened with um Black Wall Street. But one that seems to be just as impactful. And I think that what will make it the most humiliating this time around is that the uh how much we colluded with it. I’m gonna be real with you. And I feel like I’ve been talking about Black class and conservatism and uh not Black illiteracy as in you know, you’re in eighth grade, ninth grade, 10th grade and can’t read. I’m talking about Black illiteracy, too. When you are 40, 50, 60 years, Black millionaire and you maybe use certain types of esthetics like the Black Panther Party and pro Black uh Panther things, but haven’t read them, haven’t read the literature or haven’t really um engaged with it. And there’s so many people available. You know, like even when I think about this podcast, when I think about how we all know each other or how I know all of you all rather there’s this is all been done digitally. So just it’s so easy to get a mind who knows something. It’s just it it will be to me one of the most humiliating structural legal downfalls of a generation because we had it all. Because because it was beause there the we the there’s a there was a group of Black people who had so much class and power privilege that it was a choice to stay dumb. It was a choice to stay um out, out, uh out not engaged with what’s going on from a structural standpoint and to do things that are philanthropic. But for vanity instead of really putting your um your hands in the dirt and figuring out how you can do um change things structurally. And it doesn’t just uh it doesn’t start with these vanity projects that make you look and feel good. It starts with kind of getting dirty in topics like this. And situations like this, I think it would be just humiliating. 


Kaya Henderson: If we’re going to indict people. Can I also call out our allies and coconspirators because it, you know, wealthy Black people, Black people can’t do this alone. In fact, it has always taken a coalition of people um to break systems apart. And it calls on people to recognize their privilege, whether it’s wealth privilege, or economic privilege or or race privilege or whatever, to, you know, throw in with those people who are not privileged to fight for a different way. And so this is not just land on the doorstep of wealthy Black people. This is landing on the doorstep of wealthy white people, non wealthy white people, I’m like we got the fire, yo, we are in a fight for our lives. And you know, there are people sitting around eating bonbons because they are all right. And um, you know, I just I don’t I want to I want to call a spade a spade on wealthy Black people, but I want to call a spade a spade on everybody else because it’s going to take everybody to deal with this. [music break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome author and journalist Donovan Ramsey on the pod to talk about his new book, When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era. There are so many misconceptions of the crack era and there’s so many things that you had just never heard in one place and seen and read in one place until this book. You got to get it. Listen to him. Let’s go. 


DeRay Mckesson: Donovan, it is great to see you. Welcome to the pod. 


Donovan Ramsey: It’s so great to be here. 


DeRay Mckesson: I met you 12,000 years ago. 


Donovan Ramsey: Oh, my God. We were young tenderonies. 


DeRay Mckesson: And how old are you? 


Donovan Ramsey: Old enough. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Ah Black people. Um. Well, it’s good to good to talk. And you wrote a book that was very good. And I have it. I have the galley. I need to get the real book. I mean, this is the real book, but I need the book that goes towards–


Donovan Ramsey: You know, that is the real book. 


DeRay Mckesson: –your sales. Um. But talk about before we talk about the book, When Crack Was King. Can you talk about your career as a writer? Did you grow did you know you’re like, I always wanted to be a writer? Did like something happen? A teacher believed in you and you were like, I’m a writer now. Like, what was the thing? 


Donovan Ramsey: I, you know, I did not always want to be a writer. I always wanted to be a lawyer. Because– 


DeRay Mckesson: A lawyer! 


Donovan Ramsey: A lawyer. You know, when um when, when you are a Black child that has a lot to say. And people want the best for you, they say you should be a lawyer. So my like earliest memories were, you know, trying to be like Thurgood Marshall. And and that was the goal for a really long time until I got to to Morehouse and I started writing for the school paper. And I was like, hooked from there. Ah. You know, felt like um there was a way that I, you know, wanted to have an impact on the world that I could do more directly through journalism than I could through, you know, civil civil law. 


DeRay Mckesson: And did you sign up for the school newspaper like at a activity fair, or did somebody say like, hey, you should be a journalist? 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah, I, um I draw and paint. That’s like my, like, secret private talent. So– 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. 


Donovan Ramsey: Um. That’s like the thing that I have for for me. And a friend of mine knew that I could draw and paint, and uh he was editor in chief and he was like, draw, draw some cartoons for the paper. So I did that as a favor, and it grew from drawing cartoons to like really long captions for the cartoons to eventually op-eds. And I um ulti– I ultimately became managing editor of the paper. Um. 


DeRay Mckesson: I love it. 


Donovan Ramsey: It was, you know, just just uh somebody seen your talent and kind of guiding you in the right direction. 


DeRay Mckesson: Can we find those uh those original– 


Donovan Ramsey: Oh, my God. No.


DeRay Mckesson: –Mr. Ramsey cartoons online? 


Donovan Ramsey: The takes were so bad. Like, please no. [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: He’s like, I have a good career, please. Leave me alone. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah. No I was in my– 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. 


Donovan Ramsey: –respectability phase. 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh, interesting. Okay. You are not, you are not in that anymore. 


Donovan Ramsey: God, no. [laughing] 


DeRay Mckesson: I love it. So talk to me about the book. Uh. So When Crack Was King, in the beginning, you talk about how addiction circled your life and the life of so many of us. Both my parents were addicted to drugs. My mother left when I was three and my father raised us. Uh. And you paint that picture very well in the beginning. Was there anything else that made you sort of want to write about, it’s a it’s one thing to be like okay crack is a thing we got to contend with. It’s another thing to write about it as extensively as you’ve done. Can you tell us how you got to writing about it like this? 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah. I, um you know, grew up in a neighborhood that was hard hit by crack um and had that um had crack really impact my family. Aunts, uncles, cousins and, you know, neighbors. And you know, that is the the soil that I was planted in. Right. Like I’m born in 1987. To answer your question, I am 35 and [laugh]– 


DeRay Mckesson: Woop woop. Woop woop. [cheering]


Donovan Ramsey: Um, [laugh] and, you know, like, those are my like earliest memories. Um. But beyond that, you know, in this work that we do, you know, around questions of Black life and justice, people kind of treat the crack epidemic as this like, throwaway idea. So when they want to bolster some kind of point that they’re making about, you know, our our criminal justice system and why it was necessary to to take shape the way that it has, oh you know, the crack epidemic. And or people kind of just mention it in passing. And, you know, throughout my years of covering Black life and the criminal legal system, you know, it just occurred to me that people were not using the same terms in that our in that our our memory of the period was really incoherent. And, you know, seeing the extent to which the crack era impacted our system, it seemed like a shame that that it was so incoherent how we remember it. So I set out first to try to find a book that would explain to me what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and that book didn’t exist. So I knew that I had to write it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom uh before I ask you some questions about my favorite chapters, I will ask you a broader question about, it’s so clear that you learned a lot in this book, not only about people’s stories, which you weave in as a as an organizing principle in the book, but also just about the structure of the way the war on drugs happened, the way that drugs impacted people’s bodies and minds and families. I’d love to know one or two things that you like legitimately left this project with that you did not start this project with. 


Donovan Ramsey: Hmm. Well, you know, I really wanted to know where crack came from. Like, you know, both to answer like the big question about the CIA conspiracy, but then also to just answer the kind of like broader, almost like philosophical questions about, like why it hit Black communities so hard. So, um you know, and I was able to to get to the bottom of those things. And I’m sort of very proud to kind of include that information in this history that, you know, crack um was something that came about organically among a um group of chemistry students in the Bay Area. You know, I have that according to several accounts in my in my reporting. And they were just, you know, cocaine enthusiasts that were just having fun with the drug and trying to find different ways to to consume it. And they, you know, came up with um freebasing, which is a chemistry term for separating the base of a compound from its other elements, which makes it smokable um and it it spread like wildfire, you know, up up the West Coast, you know, from L.A. then to New York and up and down the East Coast and then into the middle of the country. Um. So you have that happening organically, but then you also have this activity happening where there is a glut of cocaine being trafficked into the United States from, you know, South and Central America and the US government turning a blind eye, um knowing for a fact that it’s happening. Right. Like there are um, you know, coca leaves, you know, all throughout the ghetto, you know, and that that that they had to be imported into the United States. And that was something that the U.S. government allowed to happen and then then turned around and criminalized people for possessing and using and selling. And um it was really important for me to to put that down um in the in the record, that that’s where it came from. Um. As kind of like a final note on that, my takeaway is that, you know, the the conspiracy to disrupt Black communities didn’t happen in the 1980s that it happened when we were being, you know, shipped into this country in the bottom of slave ships that that we Blackness as much as it is an identity is a position in American society where we are positioned um closest to harm, that we are a buffer for harm for everybody else. So things like COVID, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, drug epidemics like crack in the eighties hit us first and worst and that is by design. 


DeRay Mckesson: Come on, preacher man. Come on preacher man. [laughter] C’mon preacher man, c’mon.


Donovan Ramsey: [laughing] I might have I might hae missed my calling huh? 


DeRay Mckesson: C’mon no it’s, you are young young man. You are young. You can do all the things you want to do. 


Donovan Ramsey: Uh huh. 


DeRay Mckesson: A book, a pulpit, all of it. [laughter] Uh. So one of the things that I loved and let me tell you so there’s a chapter that I was like, okay. I was like, I didn’t I didn’t know I would see him here. But it made total sense was uh the the chapter on my former mayor, Kurt Schmoke. The guy. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: And what I so before I ask you my question again, what I love about the way you structured the book is that it both weaves you through these personal stories, but it also, like, doesn’t shy away from the structural things like crack doesn’t become it by happenstance, or just because, like, people started calling each other like that is not it was not this like random word about like there were structures that allowed enabled empowered right? And that tried to withstand and curtail. And I really appreciate you telling that story. So it’s not only a story of the damage of to people’s personal lives, but also the structure so shout out to you. Um. Can you talk about Kurt Schmoke? I want to that was my you know, Kurt’s a, Kurt was a hometown hero. He was like the people’s mayor. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: He was my first mayor that I ever knew when I was a kid. You know, he’s he’s a dean in a law school. But when people see him, he still is Kurt Schmoke you’re like that was Kurt Schmoke, you know what I mean? 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. Yeah.


DeRay Mckesson: And everybody always said his whole name, like nobody ever called him [laughter] and that’s why it was funny that’s why when I because I when I read that, I’m like, who’s Kurt? And then I was like [laughter]–


Donovan Ramsey: Right. 


DeRay Mckesson: –not him calling Kurt Schmoke, Kurt. That’s Kurt Schmoke. [laughter] Okay. 


Donovan Ramsey: Right. Right. 


DeRay Mckesson: Talk about Kurt. 


Donovan Ramsey: So you know, um even though it made the the the book harder to write it in this kind of like kaleidoscopic way it was so important for me to to tell the story of the crack epidemic as it was experienced in different cities and by people from different perspectives because I knew having traveled across the country to all the hardest hit cities, that, you know, the crack epidemic in Baltimore is not the same as the story in L.A. that, you know, that like it reached those places at different times and it played out differently based on the local dynamics. And that is a part of, you know um, complicating people’s ideas of Black America that like, we are this like monolith where, you know, it’s just one thing happening. Um. So Kurt Schmoke is the former mayor of Baltimore, first elected Black mayor of Baltimore. He became mayor in his thirties after really just being such a star. Um. I like to point out that, you know, Kurt Schmoke was um the captain of his football team, his junior, a senior ye– well first he he helps integrate Baltimore City College. Right. Which was like no small feat. Then he’s captain of um his– 


DeRay Mckesson: –which is a high school to people who don’t know um. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yes. Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: –don’t know, it’s one of our– 


Donovan Ramsey: It’s called– 


DeRay Mckesson: –biggest and best high schools. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah. Um. He uh is captain of the football team his junior senior year, um takes the team to state championships that they win both his junior and senior year. He’s also his his class president. He is recruited to Yale by by Grant Hill’s father to play football there. Um. Kurt Schmoke disrupts what could have been a uprising on Yale’s campus surrounding a Black Panther trial um uh there in the city. And then, you know, becomes a Rhodes Scholar, goes to Oxford, goes to Harvard, like he he checks all the boxes. And what I love about him is that he wanted nothing more than to go back and lead Baltimore to a better future. He wanted in his kind of like nerdy Kurt Schmoke fashion to make Baltimore the city that reads, right. That that was his like, his like campaign promise. And he just so happened to become mayor at a time when you know crack was on the rise. And unlike other Black mayors of the period that were reactionary and that wanted to kind of um take a criminal um justice response to the epidemic, his bright idea in 1988 was to decriminalize drugs. That, you know, being married to a physician, being in a city that has all the public health resources that, you know, as Baltimore does, that was already undergoing a heroin epidemic for decades that had really uh fueled um HIV AIDS infection in the city. Um. He thought that Baltimore could be a model for medicalization, is what he called it. And um sadly, he was um really laughed out of many of the hearings where where he proposed this. People thought, look at this Black man, this Democrat being soft on crime in a time where that’s the last thing you wanted to be. But he he stuck to his guns. And I think that history has proved that, you know, Kurt Schmoke was right, that a that a public health response was more appropriate than what was being, you know, put put forward. 


DeRay Mckesson: Let me read a paragraph that was also something that I was like, I didn’t know this until I read your book. It is in the the chapter right before that. And you wrote today the 1994 crime bill is often misremembered as a piece of legislation for which there was broad consensus. But that’s not the truth. On August 12, 1994, the House actually shelved the bill in a procedural vote due to opposition to the assault weapon ban by gun proponents and concern over the death penalty provisions. Most vocally troubled about expanding the death penalty were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including John Lewis, Charlie Rangel and Cleo Fields. Can you talk about how you how this how writing the book helped provide texture to the way you understood the ’94 crime bill, which has been something that gets brought up certainly every time the Clintons are talked about and is often thought of as the structural impetus for the war on drugs. 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah. Um. Researching this book allowed me to understand that um the war on drugs started, you know, nearly a a century before the 1994 crime bill. That America has had drug panics right as far back as reefer madness and the craze over cocaine in the early 1900s that led to the Atlanta race riots. And this idea, you know, in uh publications like The New York Times that ran headlines like Negro Cocaine Fiends and that argued that Black men became rapists when intoxicated with cocaine, and that we also became impervious to bullets when intoxicated by, by cocaine. So, you know, this idea of being able to use drugs as a tool to demonize and criminalize people of color goes way back. I’ll say, though, you know that the war on drugs um really begins in earnest under Richard Nixon, where he’s targeting drugs like marijuana and heroin as ways to break up the the left to break up anti-war protesters and Black Panthers by by targeting something. Right. That everybody’s doing but that you can um hone in on on these folks for. And you know, Richard Nixon resigned and was not able to take his war on drugs to its um you know full extent. But then it’s later picked up by Ronald Reagan, um but also by by the Democrats of the period. So, you know, as early as the Reagan administration, you have Joe Biden shepherding um crime bills and, you know, anti-drug bills um through through Congress. And his his fingerprints are really on every crime bill as far back as the Reagan administration. But all of this really comes to a head under Clinton during the 1994 crime bill. And, you know, a lot of ink has been spilled about it. And it seems as though people have kind of come to this conclusion that, you know, it was something that everybody wanted, that Black communities wanted it, that, you know, politicians wanted it because we just didn’t know enough about its impact. But that’s simply not true um that the 1994 crime bill, with all of its really draconian provisions, were white facing solutions to Black problems. That, you know, as somebody that grew up in a neighborhood that was hard hit by crack, you know, I was afraid of the drug dealers. I was afraid of the violence that accompanied the drug trade. You know, us having to get down on the floor during dinner whenever there were gunshots and then just getting back up, eating your peas like, you know, nothing happened or, you know, uh having our you know house broken in and how terrified my mom was as a single mother, you know, that that that could happen and nobody would respond to it. But then also, I had to deal with, you know, as a result of of of of this kind of policy, a dragnet of policing that was then, you know, applied across my community. So, you know, those provisions weren’t for me. [laugh] You know, it the like the like the 1994 crime bill didn’t make my life any easier. In many ways, it actually made it harder. Um. And to your earlier point, there was lots of opposition. John Lewis had to be dragged into supporting that crime bill because he had always been against the death penalty. Having um grown up in the South and um witnessed lynching and the sort of terror that lynching um invoked. You know, he’s he was always against the death penalty. And um, you know, but ultimately the Congressional Black Caucus, including John Lewis, was pressured to go along because it was Bill Clinton’s big statement going into office. Right. That it was a Democratic president saying, I too can be tough on crime. And I think the fact that it was, you know, not just a piece of legislation, but his first big piece of legislation um is meaningful. 


DeRay Mckesson: Do you have the book in front of you? 


Donovan Ramsey: I do. 


DeRay Mckesson: Can you go to page 329? Are our pages the same? 


Donovan Ramsey: Yeah, they are I think. 


DeRay Mckesson: Hope so. 


Donovan Ramsey: [laugh] Let’s see, 329. You you really read this thing, huh? 


DeRay Mckesson: As a as an author, [laugh] it drove me nuts when I did interviews, and it was clear they hadn’t read the book. 


Donovan Ramsey: Right. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I wanted to claw my eyes out every time. 


Donovan Ramsey: [laugh] Right. Well, thank you. Because it is a long book. So the fact that you got through it really makes me happy. 


DeRay Mckesson: I mean, can you read the first sentence of the second full paragraph, it turns out. 


Donovan Ramsey: Okay. It turns out, okay. And just that paragraph? 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, just that paragraph. 


Donovan Ramsey: Okay. It turns out just as crack was exploding, the federal government eased its oversight of the gun industry and manufacturers kicked up production of cheap firearms, dubbed Saturday night specials by law enforcement due to the rate at which they showed up at weekend crime scenes. According to the analysis by Williams and Bartley, production of these guns peaked in 1993, the same year the murder rate peaked nationally. It was product liability lawsuits, more funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Brady Bill that forced a decline in the production of cheap guns and subsequently in the murder rate. 


DeRay Mckesson: So I read that and it I it was the first time that I’d ever thought about the relationship between the crack epidemic and the structural production of guns like I hadn’t like, obviously I, I had thought through like people use guns to protect drug turf and like, I like that made sense to me. But I hadn’t thought about the impact on the production of guns. 


Donovan Ramsey: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I was like, come on, come on. Teach me teach me. Pastor, teach me. I’d love to know what was, did you know that going into this? Like had you, that was a real aha moment for me. 


Donovan Ramsey: No, I didn’t. But, you know, one of the one of the reasons why I wrote this book is because I know that especially as a Black journalist who is, you know, has been assigned many stories about Black people, that our lives are often treated as though they have no meaning and no context. So anything that happens in Black communities is a thing that just happens because Black people are Black people. So, you know, as I got deeper into the reporting in the book, I started to really ask questions about everything that came up. So even something as simple as a rise in crime and a rise in murder rates going into the nineties, you know, I had to really interrogate and say, well, what does the research show about the factors that contribute to to murder rates? And um, you know, finding out that one of the most salient factors is just the availability of guns. So, you know, we when when we talk about crime in Black communities, people want to talk about everything except guns. [laugh] You know what? Not even just when we talk about crime in Black communities, when when we talk about violence in America, that we’ll talk about everything except guns. And, you know, it’s important to note that um that crime in Black communities is not some static thing, that it rises and falls with trends just like everything else does. You know, you know, crime rises in the summer. So if crime rises because it gets hot, then it’s not just some direct, you know, uh product of Black pathology, [laugh] right? That like heat is a factor. If crime rises when, when, when guns are available, then it’s not just about Black people being fundamentally broken in this way. You know what I mean? That like the availability of guns is a factor. And, you know, really the conversation is so often put on Black people and Black culture as a way of not having these other conversations about what we can do. Right. Like how it is that we can provide jobs so people are less desperate and don’t turn to crime or how it is that we can make guns less available. You know, like, you know, these are things it’s it’s a way of shirking our responsibility as a society to say oh it’s just these broken people. I think I want to say that otherwise curious and intelligent people often set aside their common sense when it comes to Black folks. That we know that Black people are impacted by outside forces. By all of this, you know, context that I try to provide in the book just like anybody else, but we fail to take that into account when it comes to policy. And, you know, the murder rate, the availability of guns is no different. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom, well, everybody listening. Buy the book, there are two questions now that we ask everybody. The first is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you? 


Donovan Ramsey: Mm. You know what my new thing is? It is letting go. This is advice that the universe is giving me you know [laugh, I didn’t hear it you know directly from anybody. But, you know, coming up the way that I did and sort of working my way into an industry that was not made for me, I’ve encountered a lot of resistance from, you know, from the jump, just just trying to work. You know, you you encounter resistance. And I had always taken the approach that that was a signal for me to to work harder and to bend, you know, things, to work for me and over time, it really robbed me of my ability to identify what actually was for me. Because I would say to myself, not, do you want to do this or do you like this, but can you make it work? That my approach was to, you know, to to encounter resistance as a challenge. And sometimes resistance means this is not for you, let this shit go. And so I am in a phase of life now where um really, because I’m just tired. [laugh] Ain’t you tired? We be working so hard. 


DeRay Mckesson: I am. I’m a little, you know, it’s been a it’s I am, I am often tired. We got a lot of work to do, but it’s very different energy than it was ten years ago. 


Donovan Ramsey: You know, and and for me, we have plenty of work to do. But I’m not going to fight people so I can do work. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. 


Donovan Ramsey: You know, that that that, that like the work the thing that actually, like, energizes me and keeps me going is, is the actual work of writing and storytelling. And that’s hard enough. But you know what I what I will not do is fight people who are resisting me doing the work. Ain’t no way. Ain’t no way I’m gonna go– 


DeRay Mckesson: I like that. 


Donovan Ramsey: –where the where the work is just the work. 


DeRay Mckesson: [?] Preach preacher preach.


Donovan Ramsey: [laughing] A congregation of one apparently. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m all about it. Uh. And the last question is there a lot of people whose hope is challenged in moments like this, like they were in the street ten years ago. They have read your book, they read mine, they’ve read your articles. They’ve been to the panels, they watch the movies and they look up today and they’re like, the world hasn’t changed much to them. What do you say to those people whose hope is challenged? 


Donovan Ramsey: To those people, I say um you have a right to feel challenged and to be tired. Resist escapism and checking out because that’s what led to the crack epidemic. People were disaffected from lots of losses and setbacks and this period of retrenchment from the civil rights movement, and they got so devastated that they wanted something to make them feel better, and that only got us into a deeper hole. Instead, what I hope you’ll do is you’ll read this book and you’ll be inspired by the fact that Black America survived the crack epidemic without any help. And the way that we did it was by doing the thing that we do best and that’s community. That we, you know, made cousins in the bowels of slave ships and on plantations out of strangers from neighboring tribes and kept each other alive. And, you know, we we may not turn around the big policies today or tomorrow, but we can keep each other alive. You know, it was grandmothers taking in grandchildren while their kids got their lives together and [?] you know, or, you know, continued to run the streets. It was churches doing gun buybacks. It was the Nation of Islam, in some cases shutting down crack houses. You know, that they didn’t come up with big solutions, but they kept us alive long enough for the storm to pass. And the storm will pass and we want to be alive at the end of it and maybe we’ll be alive, you know? I think that my ancestors are going to sit back and cackle at the fact that I might be alive at the end of America. You know that like that like we are holding on while this place is crumbling. 


DeRay Mckesson: Right. 


Donovan Ramsey: And let’s just continue to hold on and maybe there’s something better on the other side. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom, tell everybody where they can get the book and how do people stay in touch with what you’re doing? 


Donovan Ramsey: Yes. The book is When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era. It’s available everywhere that books are sold. Um. If you enjoy listening to me, I’m also reading the audio book [laugh] and you can follow me across all platforms. Um. @DonovanXRamsey. 


DeRay Mckesson: Woop woop, well we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back. [music break] 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson.