In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including an abortion pill network, higher mortality rate for Babies born to Black mothers who use fertility treatments die at far higher rates, fresh trial for Black Panther Mumia, and a thread of anti-Semitism from rapper Kanye West. DeRay interviews health equity researcher Dr. Lawrence T. Brown about his newest book The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, it’s me, De’Ara, Myles and Kaya talking about the news that you didn’t hear in the past week. The news that is about race and justice that doesn’t always bubble to be national headlines, but are actually big things in people’s lives. Then I sit down with health equity researcher Lawrence Brown to talk about his new book, The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America. Great interview. I’ve known Dr. Brown but hadn’t knowed his work all that well until this conversation. Another Baltimore guy. Here we go. My advice to you this week, you know, I’ve been working out and in trying to, you know, do the fitness journey well. And the best advice I’d have is like every little bit counts. What made this go round actually work for me is like I wasn’t stressed about a certain weight or da da da. It was like, I just want to like work out a little bit every day. That’s how this started. And I like didn’t put the pressure on myself. It was like, let’s just work out a little bit. And I did it and did it and like, I feel myself getting stronger and I’m like, this is amazing. Uh. But it was, it was definitely this idea of like, every little bit counts before I tried to, like, you know, I’m like, I’m going to do the fitness journey and I try to bite off too much at the beginning. And it’s like this time, the steps, the baby steps really did add up. So every little bit counts.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to this Halloween edition of Pod Save the People. I mean, we really ain’t doing nothing about no Halloween but hoping everybody safe out there. [laughter] I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and I don’t know if I’m using Twitter no more at @DeAraBalenger
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson [spoken like a ghost or ghoul] [laughter] You’ll find me at @pharaohrapture on Instagram and the ghost of Twitter. Ohhh. [ghost sound] [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Oh, my gosh. I’m Kaya Henderson. @HendersonKaya on Twitter. Um @KayaShines on Instagram since it seems we’re all making a dearly departed move. [laughter]
Myles Johnson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: News of the week. Elon Musk, the astronaut, has purchased Twitter. He’s already got the goons back on online. He’s already said that he is against all this, you know, being politically correct. So you could say the N-word how many ever times you want to say it on the Twitter?
Kaya Henderson: Oh, ouch.
De’Ara Balenger: So I’m listen, I. I have a Twitter account in which anyone who follows me knows all I do is retweet, because that’s about all I know how to do on Twitter. I don’t know how many characters can go in the box. I don’t. So I just feel like, you know, for those like DeRay who have a zillion followers, you know, I never learned Twitter, so I’m not missing anything now in in my now abandoning of Twitter. But I do worry for this platform that has been used for movement work and for activism. Thinking of what’s going on in Iran right now like. It’s it’s a shame that now it’s owned by this guy. But also I just worry. Was he the only purchaser? Why sell to Elon Musk?
Myles Johnson: $44 million dollars.
Kaya Henderson: He the only one who could afford it. He the only one who could afford it child.
De’Ara Balenger: But why was– I’m about to call him Jack Zuckerberg. What’s his name? [laughter]
Myles Johnson: That’s right.
Kaya Henderson: Mark, Mark?
DeRay Mckesson: Jack Dorsey.
Kaya Henderson: Mark Zuckerberg.
DeRay Mckesson: Jack no Jack.
De’Ara Balenger: No Jack Dorsey.
Kaya Henderson: Oh Jack Dorsey.
De’Ara Balenger: Mark. Mark Dorsey.
Kaya Henderson: Zucker–no.
De’Ara Balenger: Jack Zuckerberg.
Kaya Henderson: Jack.
De’Ara Balenger: Why did he? But why you need to sell it right now? I don’t think he’s hurting for homes or anything. Like, I just don’t understand why like, it was like a board or a shareholder pushing to have it so I don’t know, we’ll get into it, but it’s just. I’m feeling. You know. Actually pretty terrified about it, like Donald Trump getting back on this, this platform is really scary to me. I think also just, you know, the fact that Nancy Pelosi’s house was invaded and her husband beaten with the hammer because of right wing extremists. It’s just like. It is. It is it is terrifying to see what this platform has the power to do in the pursuit of evil. So I just I guess I’m nervous about what may come to be.
DeRay Mckesson: Wait, just as a matter of just as a matter of clarity, remember that the reason why Elon got it is that when he when he made that offer to buy it, he bought he made an offer at a price dramatically higher than the actual stock price of Twitter. So they sold it because it was like a financial win for the company. They got it. Like the company was able to sell the shares at much higher than the actual market price. And that’s what they were suing him about. So they weren’t looking to sell Twitter. He made an impossible offer to refuse, essentially. But it goes to show that like the profit motive was greater than the impact on the world motive. And that is what we are struggling through right now.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, [?]–
Kaya Henderson: That’s helpful to remember. Right. That’s a really important thing to remember.
Myles Johnson: I thought it was an interesting decision for Jack Dorsey, too, because I think that out of all of the like white bread billionaires, he seemed to be like the most um more morally moral. [laughing] Somebody who’s interested in politics that seemed aligned with the left uh felt like he wasn’t just like he would. I’ve heard rumors of him donating to things that seem aligned with more um left in politics, so it was just interesting for him to do something so incredibly irresponsible. And I think that it’s also interesting to see that no matter what, greed and white supremacy still wins. If if if it’s all if it all comes back down to the money, no matter what else you believe in or heard about, or how many people try to have woke talks with you or whatever is going on, you still end up doing the white supremacist greedy thing that I think that’s interesting and I think it’s sad because I don’t think there’s any other platform that for me, being just selfish and thinking about it, that I could have bridged my thoughts into a career. So as somebody who has a high school degree and did not come from any type of financial privilege, Twitter was a bridge for me to make a life for myself based off of my thoughts, based off of my perspective and the network it can build and it for a moment was that kind of reiteration of an American dream in a free speech. Because here I was in a small spot in Atlanta tweeting my opinions for free and columnist from Vice thought I was interesting. He gave me a gig um uh editor for oh excuse me editors from Vice, editors from New York Times thought I was interesting and gave me a gig. Um, I was able to leverage all that to finally be invited to be a professor at the New School and teach creative writing. So of course this didn’t all happen at we at one time. But over the course of maybe five years, all that happened to me from about age 20, 21 to 26, 27, that was Twitter was the vehicle that I used to bridge it. And I think it’s sad that now somebody who has dissenting opinions, provocative opinions, opinions that are maybe on the left or feminist or whatever, now those people won’t feel safe to discuss things and they can’t do without feeling harassment. And there’s already so much circular cyclical B.S. conversations on Twitter already. But then to just let the floodgates open on people who are interested in creating hate speech is it’s just a little sad. It’s sad. It’s it’s it’s it’s, you know, RIP, RIP Twitter right next to Queen Elizabeth. You know, [laughter] they both I guess, have they good runs and–
DeRay Mckesson: Oh god.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, I I think I’m I’m on a wait and see kind of a thing. I feel like I’m clear about the doom that could happen. Um. But for me, like, I’m thinking about it from two different perspectives. One is like, what what are the implications for regular, everyday users of Twitter? Like, I’m interested to see I’m not a super user the way Myles you and DeRay are, but I’m also not just a retweeter like De’Ara is. I’m somewhere in the middle and [clears throat] I’m interested to see like what my day to day Twitter exp–, how my day to day Twitter experience changes. Um. If it does. Um. I’m also really interested to watch how advertisers respond. Right. Because, Myles, to your point, at the end of the day, it all comes down to money. And if advertisers are spooked by what is now allowed to happen on Twitter, then it’s over. Uh Elon Pelon right? If advertisers are no longer interested, then that is truly the end of Twitter. So um I’m interested to see how this evolves. I also don’t I don’t you know, I don’t understand what his motivation is in buying Twitter. And I understand his commitment to spr– free speech and blah, blah. Um. But I also understand he’s putting together some kind of content advisory committee. And so uh this is all still a an an evolving saga to watch.
De’Ara Balenger: And I did, Kaya to your point, I did read something about um some big companies already building a coalition, saying that they were going to drop their ads if he brought Donald Trump back. So I think, yeah, I mean, maybe the same marketplace that created conditions for this purchase will also create conditions for it’s accountability.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. The only thing I’ll add is just as a um clear clarification. And, you know, we should hold all the people who are part of helping helping this happen accountable. Is that the interesting thing and like this is a part of what Jack has said publicly, right? Is that like he was like it was a mistake to make it a company and he didn’t own you know, he didn’t have the power to stop the sale of Twitter because he didn’t own the majority of shares any longer. And none of them ev– biz and Jack no longer have a controlling stake in Twitter. So it was like it became a market thing, which is sort of interesting. And I didn’t know that Saudi Arabia owns such a huge part of Twitter and they have remained investors um as Elon is there. And then, Kaya, to your point, there’s a thread going around that says that um Elon’s goal is to destroy it from the inside out to tank Twitter so that they can build something else. But that was like the goal. But it’s interesting because if that happens, you know, we’ll see what happens to, you know, he doesn’t have the liquid cash to actually buy Twitter. Right. It’s like Tesla–
Kaya Henderson: Right.
DeRay Mckesson: –da da da. So it’s like does this inadvertently tank your other company? So we’ll see. But again, rich people problems like who?
Kaya Henderson: That’s a lot of money to tank a company like we’re– [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Rich people problems.
Kaya Henderson: Like, right.
DeRay Mckesson: Other people, we try and feed people. Right. And you up here destroying companies is like fodder. Anyway, let’s go to the news.
Myles Johnson: My news is about Kanye West, y’all.
Kaya Henderson: What?
Myles Johnson: Listen, on my side of culture, there’s really he’s really has he has a strong hold on ou– my side of culture and what I end up reading and caring about. And I can’t really avoid it, even though it feels like a little bit of a weekly thing. But Kanye West uh lost all of his uh advertisers or all all the people he was doing work with. So that means Adidias, that means TJ Maxx, that’s embarrassing. So one of the things too that really [laughter]. That really got me that I wanted to really sit and meditate on. Was the list of people who announced publicly that they were no longer with Kanye West and when TJ Maxx said it, I said, now, is that not like just the extra punch after somebody already gets there?
De’Ara Balenger: But Myles, also Goodwill. Goodwill was also like–
Myles Johnson: That isn’t that wild. They said–
De’Ara Balenger: We don’t want your–
Myles Johnson: Do not bring yo–
De’Ara Balenger: –free cast away crap. [laughter]
Myles Johnson: No.
Kaya Henderson: We not selling it. We not giving it away. We not sending it to people in foreign countries. [laughter]
Myles Johnson: You know, I’m like, oh, my. I was like, and you know, Yeezy has the desert boots. So I’m like, that is useful for for a lot of people. Just the functionality of it. But yeah, he has had the worst week ever. Um. George Floyd’s family is suing him. He uh came back and accused the family of greed because one time in the past he donated uh money to the family, apparently. So all these things are happening to Kanye West at one time, and it’s kind of amazing to see based off of anti-Semitism and not amazing in the positive way, but just amazing as in like, wow, I don’t recall seeing somebody just chip away at their legacy and in 30 days it just be dust. Um. Yeah, I had to bring it to the podcast. I wanted to see what y’all thought about this chipping away at his legacy. What y’all think about the companies and their reactions to it? Uh. Does this make you like TJ Maxx more? I always liked their assorted [laughter] I always liked their very curated assortment of colored budhas. I thought that was very tasteful. And [?], Goodwill has always been a family favorite of mine, and I like that they aligned with, you know, not anti-Semitic talk so. [laughing] Yeah. Kanye West.
DeRay Mckesson: Myles, what’s your take on him getting escorted out of the Skechers headquarters?
Myles Johnson: So–
Kaya Henderson: Sketchers, wow.
Myles Johnson: So so I don’t have a specific like my my very intellectual feminist take on that moment is ha ha. [laughter] But my my bigger thing that I think is interesting about Kanye West is, you know, there’s this thing that lawyers say that I’ve heard lawyers say all the time, is like in order to protect free speech, you have to protect the most um hateful speech and stuff like that. And I do think it’s interesting to see value in America shift cause’ we’re such an idea nation and we’re and most people who get a lot of money and get a lot of power in this culture is based off of ideas it’s not based off of any type of like sweat or blood that they put into anything? And it’s just really interesting to see how ephemeral influence and power can be, just based off of a contrary um hateful anti-Semitic idea. And it’s just it’s not like the oil running out. It’s not the gold drying up. It’s just the idea totally sunk your legacy–
Kaya Henderson: But part of but part of the way–
Myles Johnson: –in in the speech of the idea.
Kaya Henderson: But part of the way the idea even comes to the fore is through the media. Right.
Myles Johnson: Yeah.
Kaya Henderson: And we’ve seen enough um examples of the power of the media creating people and destroying people. And I think we don’t [clears throat] I don’t think that we appropriately appreciate how dangerous we’re all all for it when you’re riding high and on the way up. But that very same institution is the thing that can clearly tear you apart. Yes, the companies as well. But when you look at the media coverage, [coughing] um because there was a time where the media would say, you know what, Kanye is going through a mental health issue. And, before, decades ago, you know, the media would stay away from him because we actually had some boundaries around humanity and whatnot. Um. And now it’s a, it’s just a, you know, uh food fight. Right. And so that thing that propelled you also takes you down. And I think when you’re an influencer, you got to know that hap– that’s possible.
Myles Johnson: Yeah and who who’s the owner of um TMZ? Harvey?
Kaya Henderson: Oh, the little dude.
Myles Johnson: Yeah Harvey.
Kaya Henderson: What’s Harvey’s last name? I don’t know.
Myles Johnson: Harvey, Harvey?
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, not. Uh. What is his name? Harvey. Let’s call him Harvey.
Myles Johnson: So Harvey that so Harvey is the owner of TMZ. What I thought was really interesting, too, and I was actually I had like a um eagles eye on this because Kathy Griffin talked about Harvey Levin um Levin. I had a eagle’s eye on this because I remember watching the Kathy Griffin um doc uh documentary about when she got uh cancelled and blah, blah, blah. I’m connecting this to Kanye West cause Kanye West publicly said something to Harvey, too, and kind of talks cash you know what about Harvey on on on drink champs, just smoking weed and drinking alcohol and just ruining his like his life, one anti-Semitic trope at a time. And uh it was funny because looking at TMZ now, TMZ really covered every single the reason why we know that TJ Maxx and the like the little every little these places in the why it even became a joke is because TMZ created a story around every single store that said they wouldn’t um work with uh Kanye West. And I thought that was interesting, too, that he has seemed to, of course, offend the Jewish community, but also burned so many bridges of people who can make sure that this is just not something that will brush over to keep on feeding the fire more wood and more oil. And it’s just it’s just really interesting to see. And it’s not like, again, from my generation, the only person who I can think of seeing this with was like O.J. when I was really young and Harvey Weinstein. But those were all action based things. And this is just interesting cause I’m like, Yo, I feel like maybe we’re like are we in the smarter generation? That fact that it’s happening because of id– because of hateful ideas, just I don’t know, does it make us more?
DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I’d add is it is a couple of things. So one is all the news came out that showed that he’d actually been anti-Semitic and pretty hateful and a big lover of Hitler for a long time, that it’s not new. So one of the things that’s so interesting about TMZ is that in that interview, the slavery is a choice interview, Myles, he also praised Hitler and TMZ cut that out. They didn’t– and that was back in 2018. They didn’t air that even though he said it then and then these other places have come out and said, oh, no, he actually you know, uh Letterman, you know, the show that Letterman has like Letterman has that like night that he praised Hitler on that and they edited it out. And people who were in it, because that’s a live taping, people who were there were like it was really uncomfortable and da da da. But it’s so interesting that we didn’t know that nobody said anything about that. And shout out to uh, what’s the LeBron show? The chair, the couch, the barbershop thing.
Kaya Henderson: The Shop.
DeRay Mckesson: The Shop. [laugh] I know something. Um shout out to them for being like, you know, we will just not participate. We not going to do this. He said some hateful things and we just not going to do it. And then the second thing, I think Myles, your macro point is right on. Is that like this is ephemeral, that like fame, all that stuff is like here today, gone tomorrow. And for Kanye to say he now knows what George Floyd went through because he got his deals taken away is perhaps it’s like it just it’s just consistently offensive. And and and I don’t know, you know, I actually do like that there are consequences and really public consequences because I do think it’s sending a message to people that if Kanye can lose things. You certainly can lose things.
Myles Johnson: But what is this say about– Oh sorry. Uh Kaya. Because this is a question for all the grown like all the all the grown ups to me. [laughter] But like what does what does it mean, though, that TMZ had this anti-Semitic material, decided to edit it out and now it had to get here in order for it to be addressed? Like what does it mean that like the the the media, these these platforms saved his life and then ultimately, like, ended his life? But but but if you really cared about somebody whose not anti-Semitic or somebody who’s hateful. Not having a platform and not, you know, gaining power and access and fame and de-platforming people with hateful ideas. Why hide it? And what was the like? It’s just it like I’m like it. It all feels a little like I don’t want to say nefarious, maybe nefarious. It’s just like, why? Like, why? Why do you not let us know?
Kaya Henderson: I don’t I don’t know the answer to that question. Right. I could I could guess that, like anti-Blackness sells. Right. And that was an incredibly provocative clip of of Kanye’s comments around slavery. Uh Van Lathan’s take down like that whole thing was a whole moment. And I think people decided to capitalize on that moment instead of because of that moment, you know, sold ads, that moment was lucrative. And I think, you know, folks, it ignored or pushed aside whatever the rest. I mean, I I’m I’m most interested at this point in um in in how Kanye tries to orchestrate his, you know, survivor ship survivor ness. And you already see it coming. Right. Myles, in the piece that you posted now all of a sudden he’s talking about he done hurt the Black peo–, the Blacks, his people, the Blacks? The Blacks are a football team in New Zealand. That’s who the Blacks are. But [clears throat] um he’s you know, he hurt the Black people and he wants to apologize to them, who them? What? Because God is humbling him and he and you know this about him being the richest Black man. And blah blah listen, community, family.
De’Ara Balenger: The only thing I have to add is that I feel like Karen Attiah’s piece um in the Washington Post a few days back uh was interesting to me because she talked about how Joe Rogan’s not cancelled and how Tucker Carlson’s not cancelled. So it’s like, you know, these white boys who are out here being anti-Black and, you know, anti-Semitic, all the things they always manage to keep they coins. So, I don’t know. I just I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition because I think and Myles to your earlier point around, why protect Kanye then? I think. I think a lot of folks have trouble balancing anti-Blackness and anti-semitism, right? Because if you’re Black and being anti-Semitic, you know, and being an anti-Semite, it’s like, oh, but they’re Black and how do we navigate this and what does that mean? And da da da so I do think there’s just like a lack of especially in our culture, there’s a lack of clarity around how we address these, how we address these conversations, how we have construction, constructive conversations around them. And I think even more so when you have a person who’s mentally ill at the center of a lot of it, it’s like, how do we have that conversation within, you know, within that framework? But. I just I just don’t really see a lot of smart things or progressive things that are going to move us to progress happening around the Kanye West of it all. I mean, I just I think we lost Kanye West many, many years ago, um which was all I’ve been mourning Kanye for a very long time because I remember him saying George Bush doesn’t care about Black people in a very public way. Um. And I think the other big piece of this that often is left out is the Kardashians and the role the Kardashians played and continue to play in this saga. They’re completely unscathed. Completely unscathed in all of this. Right. So I don’t know, Myles, it’s up to you to write something that makes us understand what the hell is going on.
Myles Johnson: [laugh] No. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Well, while all kinds of things are happening with Kanye West and his advertisers and his followers and influencers, um there are women all over the country who are still getting pregnant and who still need abortions, despite the fact that many states have all but banned abortion. And um there is a way that folks are getting access to medical abortions across the country through a covert network of folks um then and this is super risky. Um. But it’s also interesting to see how the world um responds to um this post Roe decision. So there is a covert international network that is delivering tens of thousands of abortion pills in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision and all of the subsequent um state bans on abortion. And um what the way it works is private donors pay activists suppliers in Mexico um who send pills through the mail to United States volunteers all over the country um in places where medical abortions are still legal. And those volunteers, through social media, through word of mouth, actually distribute them to pregnant women all over the country. Um. And they give the example of a young woman who is in a state that, you know, where she can’t get a medical abortion and she types a desperate plaintiff on on Reddit. And she’s like, somebody help. And the people are like, uh I’m in California, I have access to abortion pills. I can mail it to you ASAP for free. She’s like, wait, what? And they’re like, Yep, happy to help. No, it’s super hard to get these with new with the new laws. And so that kind of thing is happening all over the place. Um. Apparently it is much more safer than the back alley coat hanger abortions of days past. In fact, um there is a quote from uh the spokesperson for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says that um medication, medication abortion is one of the safest processes that you can go through um as long as the pills that you receive are clearly labeled and you have the right directions. And so this is what’s happening. Women are getting pills in the mail with directions about what to do. Um. It’s all very clandestine. It’s all very um sort of legal illegal in many places, um but it is exploitative of lots of the loopholes that um are currently available. And so I just thought it was an interesting take on um one, the pro-abortion movement’s commitment to providing women with the safe health care that they need. Um. And I thought it was, you know, I think before information only came through major channels. And now with the democratization of information flow through the Internet, there are lots of other things that are happening, no matter what your laws say, you Republican people. Uh, and so I was inspired at how these private networks, there are nonprofit organizations. They are nurses. There are all of these folks who are working together to provide women with the health care that they need.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah Kaya. I love this. Um, Pao actually did a story for Vice. I don’t even I don’t know time anymore. But a few months ago, where the whole premise of it was how organizers in Mexico and health providers in Mexico were, you know, taking women from Texas who needed abortions. And they seem to have a pretty good system, um a good system at it. So I think this is just, you know, more more evidence of that and it’s just this is it’s just ridiculous, y’all.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. No, I echo all the statements made today from y’all. Also, the other thought that’s going through my head, that’s half baked. But just how we just create our own criminality. Uh. I shouldn’t say we, but America just creates its own criminality. Meaning that just last year, something was legal. Now this year, something is illegal. And now it has to now you have to risk. [sigh] You have to risk your you know, you have to risk things in order to get what should be your right. And that upset, that just upsets me forever, even though I’m super proud of the organizers um taking this into their own hands.
De’Ara Balenger: This is a total aside, but I want to talk about it. Did you all see the the video, the viral video going around of the white woman who was at I don’t know, she was at some public hearing or some cit– local government hearing about them wanting to get rid of books that had any mention of LGBTQ um–
Myles Johnson: Mm hmm.
De’Ara Balenger: –Representation in them. I just want to give a shout out and I don’t often do this, to the white woman and I should know her name. But–
Myles Johnson: Hold on. I was. I was.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah she was–
Myles Johnson: Twice! Yeah.
De’Ara Balenger: Like, you know, where I was sexually assaulted, in church twice.
DeRay Mckesson: Twice. [laughter] But you know, where I wasn’t. She was on it.
De’Ara Balenger: She’s like at a drag show. That’s where I’ve never been sexually assaulted. I was like, Ma’am, but I just again, I just like I think I see those types of things. And I, it does make me hopeful in all of this, right? Because the only thing that really is going to make changes to get us back to any type of just human decency and normalcy, um are our communities of people who aren’t directly impacted, right? They’re not impacted until they are impacted. And so I feel like it is it’s going to it’s going to come down to that. It’s going to come down to, you know, you know, the not Black women who are voting 96% for Democrats and doing all the right things. But all the others who are continuing in with continue continually and with even more momentum voting for these things that don’t that don’t serve us and that create um a lack of autonomy around their bodies.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And you know, I’m forever cynical, so. And in in certain ways, because I just think sometimes the silence and the ignorance that’s coming from certain spaces is so loud that one singular person making some sense then becomes, like, lauded or goes viral or whatever. And I’m like, there should be like this this should be so regular of what’s happening and what’s being said. And it should be said in small places, places without cameras, places with cameras. It should just be that should just be the common speech. And the fact that it’s not the common speech, it’s what makes it sensational. What makes it goes viral what makes people feel like, oh, there’s where’s she at, let’s go get Starbucks with her. Because she got some sense it’s like, no, there should be there should be just so many people saying those same things and being so loud about it. And it’s it’s, you know, a little sad that it goes viral because part of it’s because it’s rare. If it was regular, it wouldn’t have the the sensational tie to it.
Kaya Henderson: I’m not cynical sometimes, um [laughter] but most of the time most of the time I’m an optimist. And I actually do think that in a lot of regular people spaces and a lot of regular communities where people actually know their neighbors and care about living together, that like people don’t they might not get down with your thing, but they are not going to stop you from doing your thing. And I think that there are lots of places in everyday America where regular people are figuring this stuff out, figuring out how they want to live. Um. One of the organizations that I’m a part of actually highlights communities where people are working together across difference because it is just kind of regular. And it’s some it’s in some states that you wouldn’t imagine, it’s happ– I mean happening all over. But that doesn’t that’s not clickbait. That doesn’t sell, you know, that doesn’t sell ads. And so there’s not a lot of coverage. And so we go back to this conversation about the media’s ability to control the narrative and to sell us what is happening in the United States, whether it is or it isn’t, based on what they want to convey. And so I’m hopeful um that even in spaces where I mean, there was it was a dark day in the United States when the Supreme Court killed Roe and Kansas happened. And these people are up and doing their thing. And and there are stuff that we don’t even know about. And so I am I’m I’m hopeful about all of the things that we don’t know that are happening, where people are taking care of each other the way in the America that I want to live in.
Myles Johnson: Yes. And just to be clear, I’m not cynical about those small communities and in places. I’m just cynical about white womanhood and how it and how it’s going to be positioned in political, in me, and in media, I’m like [indistinct]. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough.
De’Ara Balenger: Oh, goodness. Well.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
De’Ara Balenger: So my news is about. Oh, it’s in the. It’s in the Guardian. I actually hadn’t seen anything. I hadn’t seen this anywhere else but The Guardian, but Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is one of the most well-known Black Panthers, who has been in jail for as long as I’ve been alive. That’s how long he’s been in jail. Evidently there’s new evidence that he believes he and his legal team believes will exonerate him. Evidently. Listen to how wild this is. There was a storage room in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office where there were six filing boxes marked with his name. That had evidence in them, six filing boxes. So in these this evidence was not made known prior to 2018. So his lawyers are arguing that the boxes have highly significant evidence which the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania, never previously disclosed. And the new evidence shows that the client’s convictions where was was tainted. Well, we all know the conviction was tainted, quite frankly. But I just I wanted to bring this to the pod, one because like no one it doesn’t seem like anybody’s talking about this and two, you know, talk about the activists and the movement leaders we have today. But the ones that we’ve had over decades before many of us were born are still suffering and being persecuted for the activism that they did for our freedom, fighting for our freedom and liberation years ago, decades ago. So, you know, when I think about the you know, the children of the Panthers that I’ve worked with or have had the honor of engaging with the level of trauma that exists within these families, they still have incarcerated parents. Some of them had parents that were incarcerated, both mother and father, for decades. Thinking about Assata Shakur and how she’s still she been in Cuba since I don’t know when. You know she’s still on the FBI most wanted list. It’s just Leonard Peltier who’s, you know, Indigenous also still incarcerated. It’s it is. I think it’s easy for us, particularly, you know, you get into your privileged life in your day to day and you forget about how many political prisoners that we have in the United States. You know, we continue to have this conversation around Brittney Griner, and we need to continue to need to have it. But there’s so many other folks of color who are forgotten and. Yeah. I just it just makes I just it makes me equally sad, devastated and really angry.
DeRay Mckesson: The first thing I’ll say with this one is um I was talking to somebody the other day about the Innocence Project. You know, who who famously did pioneered wrongful conviction work around DNA evidence, is that the Innocence Project started in 1992. That’s wild, right? And we know that wrongful convictions existed way before 1992 and in the presence of the Innocence Project, created an entire field of work around wrongful convictions, not just DNA, but a host of other things. So you think about Mumia who got convicted way before you know this moment, just like all those people who DA’s just screwed over and there wasn’t even like a legal infrastructure to deal with it. So Mumia’s case, that you know, 70% of Black jurors were struck, all that sort of stuff. But there just wasn’t a like there wasn’t like a structure to even push back in a way that was substantive. And like, that’s what I think about. Like, I’m I’m always surprised when I like, tell myself the Innocence Project started in 92′ and whoooo.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, I, I think um we continue I I, [sigh] this stuff is so complicated um and it is such like there are such clear patterns of prosecutorial misconduct that like if we really wanted to figure this out, we could. And I think it is just clear from the city of Philadelphia that they are not interested in seeking justice. It doesn’t matter that this man has been in jail for 40 years, like you could get to the bottom of it and you don’t want to. And that is that’s that um. And this is like we know about Mumia, but there are, as DeRay said, you know, thousands upon thousands of other people whose names we don’t know. And um I mean, he keeps getting and and, you know, we know about him and he has people who are advocating for him and he has people who are funding his defense and all of that stuff. They are regular old people who don’t have anybody fighting for them, who don’t get another chance, who don’t when there’s new evidence or whatnot, nothing different happens. Um. And, you know, I don’t know. This just reminds me of how jacked up this whole thing is.
DeRay Mckesson: My news is about the mortality rate of Black mothers. I’m interested in this. I like I’m trying to just as a you know, as an organizer, I’m like, what is the fix? I’m super interested in the mortality rate of Black of Black mothers. So you probably already know that Black baby, babies born to Black mothers are twice as likely to die in the first month than infants born to white women. We’ve known that for a long time, but there’s a new study that just came out that showed that the disparity is even wider among infants conceived through in-vitro fertilization the the mortality rate of kids born through IVF to Black mothers. So the researchers analyzed data for all U.S. births involving single babies, so not twins from 2016 to 17. So more than 7.5 million births. And of those, more than 93,000 children were conceived through IVF. And the findings showed that the death rates were four times higher among newborns, up to 28 days old, who were born to Black mothers who use fertility technologies involving eggs or embryos. The death rate was 1.6% among babies born to Black mothers, compared to just 0.3% for babies born to white mothers. And what’s interesting about it is reading about this, there were, you know, doctors who were sort of like we thought, you know, they were interested in doing this, but they thought that there wouldn’t be the disparities because to even afford IVF means that you get a level of care and service and attention that might not be what people traditionally get when they’re um giving birth. But instead, we saw that the racial disparities and the systemic mistreatment of Black women persist. So it really did just surprise me. I was fascinated by this and I left trying to understand better, like what we can do structurally.
De’Ara Balenger: Oh, why? Why, why? If I get one more piece of news about how I might die in childbirth, [sigh] somebody sent me some adoption agencies on my Twitter. I don’t know how to access those DMS, but you can send them there. [laughing]
Kaya Henderson: On a totally random note. Uh, shout out Dr. Madeline Sutton, OBGYN in Atlanta, who is quoted in this article, who’s one of my friends from college. Yay! Um. Anyhoo, y’all, this is bananas, right? And the thing that it made me think about is how many of my friends who are middle and upper class Black women who have put off childbearing till later years because they were building careers that would build generational wealth for themselves, that would realize their parents and their ancestors wildest dreams, the fulfillment of all the education that people have invested in them and all of that jazz. And they finally get around to having kids, many of them at a later age, have to go through fertility treatments. And like if you told these women that that their children were more likely to die? Like hell, what? Like what do you what what what what can you do? Like, you’ve done all the things. You went to college, you did the you got a job. You might have a great family, you might be by yourself or whatever. And now you just want to have a baby. And then you get better care, more care because you’re paying a whole lot of money and your your kid is four times more likely to die. Like the the the most interesting part, as you said DeRay is that these differences, like not Asian, not Pacific Islander, not Hispanic mothers, like compared to Black mothers to like, agh I mean, I love being a Black woman, really. I do. But it is. I mean. We can’t do nothing easy. Nothing comes out like I. I don’t know. This was stunning. Thank you for sharing it. I put it in my little group chat with my girlfriends because, like, people need to know this.
De’Ara Balenger: I’m also just sitting here with like like just even in my little office, like, outsmart endometriosis book. Nurture a book on pregnancy by my friend Erica Cheetah. The, Chidi, a woman code, a power source to your cycle, your fertility, your set. There are there is no place. No dedicated place, in the world where you can go and find out about your woman parts like there’s just there’s just not a place. And if you are a Black woman, that’s even doubly true. And also, if you do find out something about your body and something that may be a diagnosis, they can’t tell you why. Why do black women get fibroids more than white women? We don’t know. Is it because of perms or because of chick– like what, can you plea– can somebody give us a sign?
Myles Johnson: Not perms and chicken. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Perms and chicken. That’s absolutely right.
De’Ara Balenger: Like what–
Kaya Henderson: That is absolutely right.
De’Ara Balenger: What what is it? So I think this is just this is something I spiral about often, because this becomes life or death for Black women. It does like on top of all the other things around, you know, being that person in the family that does all the things or being the person that takes care of all the kids or being that person that, you know, is trying to be the backbone of the community on top of all that. It is not your your health, even though we live in the most resourced place in the world. Your health is not guaranteed and to Kaya’s point, even if you did do all the things you’re supposed to do, and even if you do have the resources, still your health is not guaranteed. So I think, [sigh] you know, I can go on and on about this, but I, it’s one of those things that always like really, really confuses me because there’s there’s more urgency and more conversation around it now. And there’s so many studies that talk about all the deficiencies. But where are the studies and the solutions that can get us to better statistics?
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And to your um your point, Kaya, there’s nothing wrong with being a Black woman or Black man or Black person. It’s really the white world that we find ourselves in that causes the terror. Continues.
Kaya Henderson: Say that again Myles. Say it. Thank you. Jesus. Say that. I needed that. [laughter] Mmm.
Myles Johnson: [?] that’s the continuous source of uh this kind of emotional, intimate terrorism that we experience. And a lot of those diseases, a lot of those circumstances that we find ourselves in are both environmental. A lot of a lot of these things are environmental. So, again, it’s that white world that is manifesting in us, and and and and and creating these dire uh circumstances.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome health equity researcher Dr. Lawrence Brown to talk about his new book, The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America. We met during the protest in Baltimore a long time ago, and now that his books out, I get to see the culmination of so much of his research, work that hes tweeted about I’ve heard him talk about. Then I got to read it for myself. And you can, too. The Black Butterfly sheds light on the causes of segregation in Baltimore, including measures embedded in current legislation and regulatory policies to help understand the dynamics at play in many American cities. I love the book because it not only focuses on the challenges at hand, but really does talk through solutions about Black neighborhoods. Here we go. So many gems. Let’s do it.
DeRay Mckesson: Dr. Lawrence Brown, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
DeRay Mckesson: So excited to talk about your latest book, The Black Butterfly. And before we start to talk about the specifics of the book, can you tell us how you got interested in studying neighborhoods like what was your did you always care about the way neighborhoods were sort of designed and the racial disparities? Did you like read an article in college and you were like, I’m going to track this down. Like, what was your beginning?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Well, I mean, I think just growing up as a kid in the Deep South in Arkansas and Texas, that I you know was always fascinated by the structure of cities and, you know, how things were laid out. Um. You know, you definitely notice things like which neighborhoods have resources and which neighborhoods don’t. So when I arrived at Morehouse in 97, um it didn’t take long for me to decide my major was going to be African-American studies. So, you know, that’s the field, interdisciplinary field, where you learn you know take classes in sociology, psychology, history, religion, so that you run the whole gamut across you know, a wide array of social sciences. And so I really just, you know, thought about, you know, I wanted to know what are the factors, what are the things that contributed to, you know, Black people being able to move forward in this country and hoping to one day make a contribution?
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I had heard of redlining, obviously, in college, but I didn’t know until the book that it seems like the beginning of redlining was the residential security maps. Did I get that right?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: And what is the significance of those residential security maps in the context of Baltimore? And how do you explain redlining to people who are who have heard of it a little bit, but like don’t really know what it means?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Well, there’s two stories actually to be told. I mean, the residents security maps were created by a federal agency called the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which had a subdivision under it called the Homeowners Loan Corporation. So the Homeowners Loan Corporation, under this federal agency, created these resident security maps, and they had the four primary colors on them red, yellow, blue and green. And so, you know, as you might imagine, those colors are very similar to a stoplight uh that we see when we drive. And the meaning is virtually the same if you live like in a green or blue neighborhood. Banks love you. They’re going to give you a low interest rate. Uh. You’re going to get, you know, a higher amount for buying your home. If you live in the yellow community, the banks are going to be more skittish. They were looking at those communities as being more at risk. And then if you lived in a red community, banks were not willing to lend oftentimes at all. Um. And if you read Antero Pietila’s book, Not in my neighborhood. He talks about how these he has a chapter called Mapping Bigotry, and he talks about sort of the racialized eugenics uh that undergirded those four different colors. So, you know, in the green and blue communities, you had white Anglo-Saxon, in the blue communities, you often had Jewish folks. In the yellow communities, you often had European immigrants, uh often from Poland or Italy or Russia. And then in the red communities, you had African-Americans or urban Native Americans. And so, you know, these colors were actually uh reflecting a racialized ideology about which group of people deserved to have access to capital. And then the weight of the federal government would be behind it. Now, I said there were two stories, because actually research I’m doing now, that’s not in this book is telling the story of another federal agency, the Federal Housing Administration, that actually had their own redlining scheme. Um. And unlike the–
DeRay Mckesson: Oh wow.
Dr. Lawrence Brown: –Homeowners Loan corporation which, yeah, [?] like the Homeowners Loan Corporation, which is an agency that no longer exists because it was a New Deal administration. The Federal Housing Administration is very much alive and well. And so, yeah, it’s it’s it’s it’s amazing to learn that redlining was so deeply supported and condoned and enforced by the United States government.
DeRay Mckesson: It was wild to see the chart that you put in because Baltimore, Flint, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, uh St. Louis County, Birmingham, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. The vast majority of those I know personally have problems with the police. And I was like, oh, my goodness, this is really this is really wild. Okay, so one of the things that you help us sort of think through is how housing and how like where people choose to live is both a public health issue, is an economic issue, is a crime issue. Um. I didn’t know that public housing in Baltimore was decreasing at the rate that it is, for instance. Uh. Why do you think those things are happening in in big urban cities? Is there a way to offset those? And like, what’s the consequence of the decrease in public housing?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Well, one thing in that question that I want to sort of unpack is the notion that people, African-Americans, haven’t always had a choice in terms of where they lived. I mean, up until 1968, the passage of the Fair Housing Act uh or the Open Housing Act, Black people did not legally have a choice, oftentimes in terms of where they could live. I mean, Baltimore helped pioneer everything from racial zoning, in 1910, the Roland Park Company, one of our neighborhoods here in Baltimore, a pioneer community wide, racially restrictive covenants. In 19– by 1912, uh you know, and then St. Louis passed the residential racial zoning ordinance by referendum in 1916. So and then you had racially restrictive laws, amidst racially restrictive covenants. Those didn’t become illegal until 1948, when the Supreme Court handed down Shelly versus Kraemer. So Black people have not had mobility. Black people, specifically, according to law, have not been able oftentimes to choose where they live. And because you have a perverse real estate market in this country that encoded race into the property values of homes and the encoding was if Black people lived in the community, then the value of the homes went down. According to the real estate assessors, which is a, this racist calculation that was embedded deeply in the real estate industry. So even today, when there is a quote unquote “choice”, there is still the notion that very strongly exists in many neighborhoods, that if you have a certain percentage of Black people, the property values will go down. So then you will see what people often refer to as white flight. If Black people are moving in. And so I think it’s so, even though there is more choice now, this real estate market is still highly perverse. And so to your question about public housing, you know, that was another federal agency, again, you know, you had the United States Public Housing Authority. Uh and during the war, World War Two, you had, you know, oftentimes uh the federal public housing agency that was placing troops into homes because they needed to make sure that they were able to be secured for the war effort. And so, like here in Baltimore, uh Black troops who are Black defense workers you know who were fighting Hitler and Mussolini overseas, who went to help liberate France and Italy from the Nazis and fascists, those same Black troops, were facing another war at home where white Americans, white Baltimoreans did not want Black troops living in their communities. So then those public housing communities got placed in places like Cherry Hill, South Baltimore. That today is almost 95, 100% black. You know, they place four different public housing communities in one neighborhood, but yet we have white neighborhoods like Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, Mount Washington, that have zero public housing communities. So that’s what you see with public housing, is that first, there’s this intentional concentration of public housing in Black neighborhoods. And then what you see with public housing today is really sort of the privatization of public housing, the dismantling of public housing, decreasing Congress really never funded public housing maintenance to begin with. So these properties oftentimes become dilapidated then because they’re not maintained well, they end up having to close many of them down. And now many of them are giving vouchers, housing choice vouchers to move into the private market. But even then, those vouchers are often only accepted in low income Black neighborhoods. So even the vouchers don’t really promote desegregation the way that they should. And that’s how public housing becomes this other very powerful system in terms of enforcing urban apartheid.
DeRay Mckesson: And in places like Baltimore, you know, most of the cities that are in the category five are um Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Saint Louis, Birmingham are Black led, like they’re not you know, these are not Republican strongholds today. Do you think that those mayors and city councils just don’t get it like they don’t get the the history and the long term application? Do you think they just don’t care? Do you think that they don’t have the money? Like, what’s the what’s the what on the housing stuff?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: You know, I think with those cities, you know, they are Democrat led. But I think the the real interesting thing about American history is that, you know, we sort of have amnesia. You know, we think today the Republican Party is the racist party. And it most certainly is it’s a neo-Confederate party that’s trying to make America great again. But I think what people don’t realize is that the Democratic Party was the party in Baltimore that was in power. It was actually Mayor James Preston, who was a Democrat. It was. And then before him, it was Mayor John Barry Mahool, Democrat, that pushed the racial zoning ordinance that pushed to make Baltimore segregated. So Democrats also have this like very strong racist legacy of creating and then maintaining urban apartheid. And I think it’s that notion about Democrats, that history that isn’t faced by the Democratic Party that I think lends itself to this situation where you have Democrat led strongholds, urban, in urban areas, but not having the concern for Black neighborhoods and not addressing the history and the harm and the damage that was inflicted by these policies and and taking ownership and accountability for their role in many of the issues we see today.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, now what I love about um what I love about the way the book is set up is that it’s not just like a hopeless we’re screwed, right? It’s not like a, hey, here’s a history of how we got screwed over with school systems being underfunded and, you know, housing being screwed up. But you do offer some ideas about what we can do. One of them, so would love to talk about that, um one that I was like, huh, I never heard this. A foreclosure, an eviction prevention fund.
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: What would that do?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: I mean. Because, well, many of the solutions I try to pose are trying to address direct harms. So the harm that that tries to address is particularly subprime loans that were targeting African-Americans. Um. And up and down the income range, you know, where in fact, if you look at Prince George’s County, the wealthiest Black county in the nation, you have tons of Black folks down there that were given these loans where they had to pay a higher interest rate than their white counterparts. Even if they had identical credit scores, paid the same down payment, they would still be offered these loans. And sometimes those loans had adjustable rate mortgages. So you would have like a 5% interest rate and then it would jump in the middle of the mortgage to a 8% you know interest rate. And now you have to pay this sort of ballooning payment. So, that type of activity where Black people are forced, Black home owners are paying more for their mortgages, putting them more at risk for foreclosure. The undervaluation that I talked about earlier with real estate assessors devaluing Black homes. Again look at Prince George’s County in Maryland where uh the same, you could have a house built by the same builder, same floor plan as a house built a county over in Montgomery County. And it can be worth two, $300,000 less than a home in Prince George’s County. And so that’s where you get into these very perverse real estate you know lending assessment that leave Black homeowners at risk for being foreclosed on. And then definitely all of these issues combined to hurt Black renters as well. So then they’re more likely to be evicted. So if that’s the harm, then the solution is how do we provide stability? How do we make sure folks are not being foreclosed on, particularly when they’re being exposed to these predatory financial practices?
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Listeners, when you read the book, the cool thing is that it does end with like a whole set of uh solutions. Like, this is not a hopeless history. I feel like I’ve I’ve read so many things or I read and I’m like, well, we’re screwed. And then this one is like we we have been screwed, but there is a way out. Um. Can you tell people where they can go to keep up to date with what you’re doing? Is there a website? Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook? Like, how do people stay in touch with you?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: I am basically have a great website: www.theblackbutterflyproject.com. You know, folks can go in there, see my work. Um. I’ve actually decreased my social media footprint. So I’m not on Twitter anymore, not on uh TikTok. I deleted a lot of stuff so I could just be more focused. But, um you know, hopefully you can look and see, you know, whenever I’m giving major talks or discussions, uh check those out uh online and you know you can definitely come out and see me when I do those.
DeRay Mckesson: Who sort of feel like they’ve read all the books, they were at the protests, they sat in the city council hearings, they, you know, sending the emails and they feel like nothing has changed or that it’s sort of hopeless. What do you say to those people?
Dr. Lawrence Brown: You know, I would say that in the large scope of American history, that it’s always been a struggle. And I would say, even though and I would say it’s also true that progress is often followed by a backlash. And that’s one thing I talk about in the book, these white lashes. Um. So, you know, America’s really famous for taking two steps forward and then four steps back. Um. And so I think, you know, we have to have this understanding about American history that, you know, a lot of I think the way we’re taught about America is this sort of notion of exceptionalism, that we’re always moving forward, that progress is always happening. And no, that’s this this is America. Backlash against Black progress is American’s character. But I think the good news is that whenever people who are part of the abolition democracy movement and I’m using a term by W.E.B. Dubois in his book Black Reconstruction, that he wrote in 1935, into this notion that if you’re part of the abolition democracy, then if you look at history, whenever this movement of abolition democracy folks organize, they win. We win. You know, we won the Civil War. We whooped the Confederates, Black soldiers joined the Union Army and saved the nation. You know, civil rights workers organized and they defeated Plessy versus Ferguson in court. Then they passed the three great civil rights laws in the sixties, 64′ Civil Rights Act, 65′ Voting Rights Act, 68′ Fair Housing Act. You know, put a Black president in the White House, never been done before. You know, and then now we’re facing the potential reemergence of the neofascist president that we had in the last administration. And we won the last election. So any time we organize, we win. Anytime we really organize, we win. So there is the hope that I think we should look at. We should be looking at these examples and we should be thinking that it’s always a struggle. America never accepts change and then allows it to just, oh, well, we lost like no. Folks who are trying to hold on to the days of yore will always continue the fight. So I think that’s the that’s the sort of gumption that we have to have is that just because there’s some backlash, it doesn’t mean you stop. It doesn’t mean you lose hope. It means we got to relock, reload and keep moving forward.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, well, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Dr. Lawrence Brown: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.