In This Episode
DeRay, Sam, Clint and Brittany discuss the overlooked news, including Marcy’s law, bias in court reporting, predatory ticketing in St. Louis County, and the California doctors who cross state lines to perform abortions. South African pop star and actor Nakhane joins DeRay to talk about music, art and identity.
- Associated Press: Decision to withhold Florida bank victim names tests new law
- The Appeal: ST. LOUIS COUNTY IS PROFITING OFF THE ‘MUNI SHUFFLE’ LONG AFTER FERGUSON PROTESTS
- New York Times: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences
- Los Angeles Times: 60 hours, 50 abortions: A California doctor’s monthly commute to a Texas clinic
- Nakhane Official
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DeRay: Before we get started, head to crooked.com/events to get your tickets to one of our upcoming live shows. We’ll be joined by District Attorney [inaudible 00:01:15] in Philly, Representative Jennifer Williamson in Portland, WikiMedia’s Catherine Maher and Mayor London Breed in San Francisco, and Crooked Media’s Jon Lovett in L.A.
DeRay: If you’re in New York or Seattle, don’t worry, we’re coming your way too and we’ll be announcing more guests soon. The ticket supply is limited so head to crooked.com/events because Brittany, Sam, Clint and myself plus our special guest cannot wait to see you in person.
DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, we’re joined by Nakhane, the singer songwriter and actor.
Nakhane: When people heard about the film, they were really upset that we had, I suppose, queered something that was sacred and queerness was seen as something that was impure, deviant.
DeRay: Then we have the news with me, Brittany, Clint and Sam as usual. The message going into this week is be a cheerleader, that we need to be intentional cheerleaders for people in our lives who are doing incredible work and that sometimes we take for granted that they sort of believe that we support them or they know we love them.
DeRay: We should be intentional cheerleaders and the thing about being a cheerleader is that cheerleaders have to watch the game to know when to cheer. You can’t be an effective cheerleader if you’re not asking the questions, if you’re not paying attention to the people in your life. If you are just taking them for granted, you don’t know how to cheer effectively.
DeRay: Part of being an effective cheerleader is paying attention. Let’s be cheerleaders this week. Let’s do it.
Brittany: Hey, y’all, it’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett, @mspackyetti on all social media.
Sam: And this is Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
Clint: This is Clint Smith, @clintsmiththethird.
DeRay: And this is DeRay @deray on Twitter.
Brittany: Friends, before we talk about the shutdown, did anybody else see that the Richard Nixon Foundation has been actively distancing itself from the latest indictee in the Trump scandal, Roger Stone? Did anybody else see that?
Brittany: Basically, they were like Richard Nixon’s legacy cannot be tainted by Roger Stone. Can you imagine?
Clint: That’s when you know you’re in deep.
Brittany: Being too vile for Richard Nixon! I just thought that was the funniest thing I saw all week. Scary and awful because Roger Stone put us in position to suffer through a lot. However, it’s also really hysterical.
Sam: It’s kinda wild how blatantly obvious Roger Stone has been about his own, I guess, criminality. I don’t even know what you would call it. He has the Richard Nixon tattoo, he did the Richard Nixon pose after he got out of jail. He called himself a dirty trickster at some point. He’s just been dropping bread crumbs. It’s been decades of bread crumbs and he didn’t think he would get caught. That is wild to me.
Sam: And this example of extreme privilege to think that you could do all of those things and it would never catch up to you.
Clint: If you look at almost every sheisty thing that has happened in the bottom rungs of the conservative movement over the last few decades, Roger Stone always finds himself somewhere in there. It’s important to note that Roger Stone is a huge part of the reason that Trump is in office.
Clint: I mean, he’s been trying to get Trump to run for president every four years since the 80s, right? I heard that so much of the language of build that wall came from Roger Stone telling Trump that this was an incredible rhetorical device to use for the campaign and Trump was like, I don’t know, that sounds cheesy or dumb.
Clint: And Roger Stone was the one who kept being like, no, no, no, I’m telling you, say build that wall and people will be hype and then he did it at a campaign rally and he was like, oh, Roger was for real.
DeRay: Shout out to the air traffic controllers, the FAA, and the flight attendants who were just like enough is enough. The air traffic controllers can’t strike. I don’t think they were organizing a strike or a sit out. I do think they were just like this isn’t safe.
DeRay: I met an air traffic controller once on the book tour and I didn’t know that they have to take these breaks and all this stuff because it’s so stressful, because they all manage pieces of the air space. They all have to work together to say plane’s leaving my air space, they’re coming into your air space.
DeRay: When people get stressed, the likelihood of an error is just so much higher. When the FAA was like we can’t do this and have it be safe, I believe that and that made a lot of sense to me. The flight attendants were just like, you know what? We can strike, let’s do it.
DeRay: Shout out to them and to all the people who hated on Pelosi. Pelosi is showing us how to stand up to Trump and she got all the juice. Shout out to Pelosi for just being a G throughout all of this.
Brittany: I do think that there’s a necessarily nuanced conversation about why folks stuck with Pelosi. I think that there was a necessary and relevant conversation about adding more youth into the speakership.
Brittany: But we have to be careful not to throw out valuable experience in the name of all that is new. This is someone who can be pushed to be more progressive while also bringing to bear literal decades of congressional experience and years of experience as the speaker so that, in times of real toughness like we’ve had over the last 35 plus days, someone who is a real tactician and who understands the strategy here can bring us on home.
Clint: I think amid all of this, the language has been about the 800,000 federal workers who have been out of work. What’s important to remember is that doesn’t account for the interest, both material interest and the sort of compounded social interest of the stress because they didn’t have a specific amount of money at a specific amount of time.
Clint: Wasn’t there a study not too long ago that 40% of America didn’t have $400 in savings for an emergency? I’m also thinking about how we have to think beyond the 800,000 number and we have to think about the million plus federal contractors who will not get back pay.
Clint: Doug Jones, I know he’s introduced a bill in the Senate and Ayana Presley has introduced a bill to make sure that those folks also get back pay. And also, even beyond that, thinking about the waiters who work in restaurants that federal workers often frequent who got their hours cut because people weren’t coming.
Clint: This useless 35 days to pass a bill that could’ve been passed a month ago has just impacted so, so many people.
DeRay: And it’s interesting when Trump was like, “I know all of those people who work for the government are Democrats.” It’s like, that actually might not have been true before the shutdown, it is probably true now. Those people are like you know what, this man is not it.
Sam: And it’s wild, as you were saying, the total cost of the shutdown still hasn’t been calculated. From the last shutdown which didn’t last as long as this shutdown, that one cost $25 billion. You think about this political strategy from Trump to try to shut down the government over $5.7 billion to build his racist wall.
Sam: And the total cost of the shutdown will probably end up being anywhere from $30 billion or more. It’s cost incalculable harm and I think we should be thinking more broadly and I know Speaker Pelosi has recently signaled her support for a bill that would prevent government shutdowns from happening ever again.
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Clint: For my news, I wanna talk about a new study that was recently reported in the New York Times. The team of researchers which includes University of Pennsylvania linguists, New York University sociologists, and co-founder of the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity organization.
Clint: What they did is they tested 27 court reporters for both accuracy and comprehension in their transcribing and they found that court reporters in Philadelphia regularly made errors in transcribing sentences that were spoken in African American vernacular English.
Clint: On average, the reporters made errors in two out of every five sentences. To put that in perspective, Pennsylvania court reporters must score at least a 95% accuracy on the test that they take in order to be certified as a court reporter and in this study, they were only correct on 59.5% of their sentences.
Clint: For example, if someone in court said, “He don’t be in that neighborhood”, a court reporter would transcribe that in the study as, “We going to be in this neighborhood” which, if you’re familiar with African American vernacular English is the exact opposite of what that phrase actually intends and what it means.
Clint: This is really important and the findings have potentially really far reaching consequences because errors and misinterpretations in court room transcripts can go on to influence official court record in ways that ultimately are harmful to defendants.
Clint: We know that people who speak African American vernacular English are often stigmatized because there are moral and social and intellectual assumptions that are made about them and who they are and what they’re capable of.
Clint: But beyond the negative stereotypes even, the study found that a court reporter’s own discomfort with some of the terminology also leads to these incorrect transcriptions. The study suggests that court reporters are not properly trained to adequately understand and transcribe the dialect of African American vernacular English.
Clint: When you consider the fact that black people are disproportionately represented in the court system, especially low income black people, that’s especially concerning.
Clint: Just as a side note but something that I feel is important and something I don’t know that everybody understands is that African American vernacular English and slang are not the same thing.
Clint: Slang suggests that a word or a phrase is informal and it’s often used between young people and operates under no set of specific standards or grammatical rules. Whereas African American vernacular English is its own language, has its own grammatical rules, its own entire system of communicating born out of years of enslavement in which the languages of people being brought over was combined with the standard English practices in the United States.
Clint: They went on to create their own language that has been passed down through different iterations and evolutions over generations. Linguists recognize African American vernacular English as a legitimate iteration of a dialect. I think that’s important to know because people can sometimes just use those things interchangeably but they are not the same thing.
Brittany: It’s fascinating ’cause we read so many outrageous articles in preparation for the pod but I literally found myself yelping out loud for the first time in I don’t know how long while I was reading this article because there was one example where a suspect actually said, “I know that I didn’t do it, so why don’t you just give me a lawyer, dog, ’cause this is not what’s up?”
Brittany: The state supreme court ultimately ruled, according to this article, that police did not have to cease questioning him because quote “lawyer dog was ambiguous” even though dog has been used frequently in everything from TV commercials to people making fun of AAVE and I would think that it’s actually a pretty well known expression.
Brittany: Here, we see someone whose rights were actually violated because that’s the way that they naturally speak. I found myself so incensed when I read this and again, this is just a reflection of the fact that socially, we don’t treat AAVE like it’s legitimate.
Sam: This is just a reminder to how many levels there are to systemic racism and particularly with the criminal justice system. We know that black people are more likely to be charged and convicted and sentenced often to longer terms for the same offenses as a white person would be.
Sam: We know that black people are less likely to have their voting rights restored, are less likely to be able to get a job after returning back from incarceration. But here is something that I wasn’t thinking about and that is the role of court reporters and documenting what was actually said in the process of getting witness statements, the process of the trials.
Sam: This is something that also has an impact on the likelihood that somebody will be able to be exonerated for being falsely accused. It has an impact on overall rates of incarceration and sentencing disparities.
Sam: This is something that we have to be paying attention to and is a reflection of broader disparities in the system where you have … I haven’t seen data on the racial demographics of court reporters but I imagine, like every other aspect of the criminal justice system, they are disproportionately white.
DeRay: What I thought was interesting is about 40% of the sentences that court reporters transcribed had something wrong. About 67% of attempts at paraphrasing weren’t accurate and 11% of transcripts were called “jibberish” which was sort of fascinating.
DeRay: But when they looked and, Sam, this sort of goes to this idea ’cause I too was like we should just recruit more black court reporters, is that when they looked at the test performance, black court reporters, who are roughly 26% of the sample, scored higher at paraphrasing and made fewer mistakes around syntax but their transcriptions weren’t more accurate than their counterparts.
DeRay: Across race, court reporters shared negative views of dialect which was one of the more surprising findings. When you look at what do the researchers say we can do about it is that they say that accuracy in dialect should be tested in the court reporter certification process and that makes a lot of sense.
DeRay: If you only test the queen’s English as the basis of what it means to be able to know how to transcribe, then you’re missing out on a whole host of other things. It is a reminder too and Clint, I’m happy you brought this article up, because it’s a reminder that there are all these people who interact with all of the systems, criminal justice, education, health, who you never see.
DeRay: You never think about, they’re not often the subject of studies. We are talking a lot about prosecutors and judges and we have been for a long time. Studies around bailiffs and sheriffs and court reporters, transcriptionists, that stuff never makes it to the public. But those people have a lot of power.
DeRay: It also made me think about how history will remember some of these cases. When they transcribe it wrong and you go back to look at what was said during the court case and they literally just change the meaning and you think about how that will impact somebody’s appeal. You think about how that’ll impact as a piece of evidence in a later court case and that is actually staggering.
DeRay: The reporters note that they don’t know how many people might be able to challenge a case based on these errors but that made me think about the implications of this far beyond the moment.
Sam: My news is about Florida where this past week, there was another mass shooting. This time, a shooter, who was a man, shot five women execution style in a bank. Of the many things that are wrong with and need to be talked about regarding this incident, one thing that was particularly interesting was that a new piece of legislation that was enacted and added to the state’s constitution this November is called Marcy’s Law.
Sam: That impacts the way that police are actually reporting what happened in that incident. Because of Marcy’s Law which is a law that’s now in place in 15 states that is framed as a way to provide victims of crimes with additional rights and protections and the ability to have their voice heard in various stages throughout the criminal justice process.
Sam: In Florida, the implication of that law is that police are now refusing to release the names of many of the women who were killed in the bank shooting because under Marcy’s Law, they’re claiming that crime victims should have the right to prevent the disclosure of this information because it could be used to locate or harass them or their families.
Sam: I wanted to talk about this because Marcy’s Law has been something that has been spreading across the country now. As I said, there are 15 states that have some version of this law in place. It impacts various aspects of the criminal justice system, not only the release of public information that is often really important when you’re thinking about understanding and collecting data about everything from criminal justice sentencing to police violence and who is being impacted by that.
Sam: But also, impacts things such as parole, the likelihood that people will get parole and when they can get parole to other aspects of the criminal justice system as well. This is what’s going on in Florida and it’s sort of an evolving situation where different states are trying to interpret what this law actually means and how it will impact the criminal justice process.
DeRay: Sam, I remember talking about Marcy’s Law awhile ago, because we were trying to think about whether we were gonna publicly say anything in support or in disagreement. I remember then that I was struck by the ACLU coming out against it and also struck that this is the pet project of a billionaire, that there is one person who has spent roughly $75 million to get these laws on the books.
DeRay: In places where the legislature has to vote for it, most of those places have voted against it because they understand the legal ramifications. In places where citizens can just put on their ballot straight up, it is doing fairly well.
DeRay: It’s a victim’s rights bill and one of the things that’s hard when we talked about victim’s rights is that we believe there shouldn’t be victims. People shouldn’t have to be victims, people shouldn’t be victims of crimes. That’s sort of a given at the front.
DeRay: But also, trying to make sure that we balance the role of victim services in legal proceedings with the role that the prosecutor’s office has or the people representing the state. What this law does in some places is it actually gives the victim the right to participate in almost every part of the criminal proceedings.
DeRay: So, the right to speak before sentencing and the right to make statements and those sort of things that can actually dramatically sway the outcome or the decision making process in ways that might be emotionally satisfying but might not be the most just and equitable.
DeRay: There are some studies that are starting to come out that are suggesting that since the law has passed in some places, that people are less likely to get parole, that it actually is having a dramatic effect on a set of decisions because people feel like they should be aligned with what the victim is saying or people who have been victims. That was really interesting.
DeRay: Also, one of the things that it does in some places and there’s thought that this is gonna reach the Supreme Court is that it says that victims can’t actually be deposed, can’t be asked for statements. They essentially can choose not to participate in any of the legal proceedings.
DeRay: The challenge with that is that what lawyers are saying is that if you get accused of a crime, you actually have the right to confront your accuser and that is your constitutional right and that this actually is running counter to the idea that you get to confront your accuser because this is saying the accuser actually doesn’t have to participate if they don’t want to in any part of it.
DeRay: I understand the spirit of the law. It in practice though is so different. And like Sam talked about, in Florida, we’re seeing this sort of tension right now where they’re not releasing victims’ names.
DeRay: From a data collection perspective, it actually will be really interesting to see what it does when we won’t even know anything about the people who have been victims of crime and how that might actually dramatically shift the criminal justice work in ways that were unintended.
Brittany: DeRay, one of the things that I found interesting was not just that the ACLU actually came out against this law but that other victim’s rights groups came out against it. What they essentially said was they’re worried about the fact that this will be an unfunded mandate, that this will create additional burdens for police departments, for prosecutors’ offices, and having to provide victim’s services when existing rules for victim’s services are already not being satisfied.
Brittany: There are so many ways in which the things that victims and their families are already asking for are not being provided. In addition to all of the things that you’ve said, victim’s rights groups themselves have a lot to say about this bill.
Brittany: I agree with you that we should always have a bit of extra scrutiny whenever there is one person with a lot of resources that seems to be the entire fuel for a particular policy stance.
Clint: This is not necessarily specific to Marcy’s Law as much as it is the way we think about what rights or what sort of power victims of crimes should have in the sentencing or conviction or parole opportunities for those who may have committed harm.
Clint: The way that I tend to think about it is that if someone committed a terrible and egregious act of harm against a loved one, in my case, I would be right to have a visceral, emotional response and that visceral, emotional response would likely want that person to be punished in a huge way because I would be angry, because I would be upset.
Clint: I think that emotion is fine. That emotion is not misplaced necessarily. But what I do think is that one person’s visceral response or emotion to a tragedy should not have a disproportionate amount of influence on the way that we conceive of policies around incarceration, around parole.
Sam: I think the last piece of this is who’s actually funding it. I think the fact that you have this billionaire able to pass legislation in 15 states that even the victim’s rights groups are not supporting, I think, is a reminder that often times people with a lot of money are able to spend two to three million dollars to put something on the ballot in a particular state.
Sam: Those things that end up making it to the ballot often reflect the priorities of the people who are paying for them. In this case, this billionaire was personally impacted by somebody who he lost that was a victim of a crime.
Sam: That was his motivation but I think about all of the other causes and issues that continue to not be solved through state legislatures that could be solved through ballot initiatives and other means but often times there’s no funding behind those efforts because often times the people with a lot of money aren’t directly impacted by them.
Sam: Just a broader commentary on the way in which this legislation ends up coming to be and how we need to think differently about often times how those investments are spent in actually impacting the policies and practices of the democracy.
Brittany: We talk often about criminal justice and policing. I wanna bring us back to Ferguson, back to my hometown of St. Louis because this issue of excessive court fines and fees is still going on.
Brittany: I was named to the Ferguson Commission in 2014 and over that next year, we heard directly from community members and young people and academics that the municipal system existing in St. Louis County was part and parcel with the police violence that we were experiencing.
Brittany: As a result of the report that we put out with their input, there have been lots of efforts in state legislatures to limit the number of small police departments that can exist in a particular county.
Brittany: Other strategies have included actually allowing the small police departments to exist but to condense the number of courts because that is primarily where a lot of the fees are coming from.
Brittany: Most urgently though, our friends over at the Arch City Defenders are continuing to attack this through litigation. They are suing multiple municipalities including Floricent which is where I grew up and have indeed been pulled over many times, and Edmondson which is small. I wanna say they employee about 11 police officers full time.
Brittany: In 2014, the mayor of Edmondson sent out a memo in which he told the city’s police officers and I quote, “I wish to take this opportunity to remind you that the tickets you write do add to the revenue on which the police department budget is established and will directly affect pay adjustments at budget time.”
Brittany: Again, severe conflict of interest. Whatever the solution is moving forward, we cannot understate the impact that it has on people. People obviously are over policed but because of these fines and the jailing that comes along with them, people lose jobs, they lose homes, they lose cars, they lose child care.
Brittany: Attempting to satisfy the labyrinth of fines and fees, court requirements, et cetera, I brought this here because we can just never forget what’s happening in the places that were the genesis of so many of our movements and we can never forget that money is deeply intertwined with police violence always.
Sam: Brittany, as you mentioned, there have been so many efforts to try to address this underlying issue of the overuse of fines and fees particularly on low income black residents in Missouri.
Sam: One of those efforts was passing legislation directly in response to the Ferguson uprising that was statewide legislation that imposed a cap on the percentage of overall revenue that a municipality could make through fines and fees alone.
Sam: The cap that they set was 20% for all jurisdictions except for jurisdictions within St. Louis County. For St. Louis County, it was a lower rate of 12.5%. You couldn’t make more than 12.5% of your overall revenue from fines and fees.
Sam: That was something that was a major accomplishment, would have addressed a big piece of this but ultimately, the state supreme court decided to invalidate just that provision of the law so now we’re back sort of almost at square one with St. Louis County having this 20% cap and still being able to have police departments that make a significant portion of their revenue through fines and fees.
Sam: It’s just an example of the interplay of the courts and the legislature to even when you see progress on one front, oftentimes the courts act in ways that continue to allow police and enable them to engage in these types of unconstitutional practices.
Clint: Something that struck me about this was the 2006 article that your news refers to Brittany, from the research division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis which found that a one percentage point decrease in city revenue yielded a 0.38 percentage increase in traffic tickets.
Clint: That’s a very statistically significant correlation and intuitively, it makes sense. If you have a scenario in which so much of your city revenue comes from traffic tickets or if you are in a position where you are not going to increase taxes for whatever reasons, you have to find different ways to increase that revenue.
Clint: It just makes me wonder and have questions about the inner workings of and conversations that are taking place within institutions because someone is communicating to officers that you need to get more tickets.
DeRay: There have been a lot of organizations like the Arch City Defenders, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Civil Rights Corps who we met them in St. Louis a long time ago before they even started the Civil Rights Corps.
DeRay: They’ve been filing class action lawsuits against dozens of courts and cities across the South and the Midwest and the West. The lawsuits have actually been really productive, sort of forcing these municipalities to stop with these fines and fees.
DeRay: What I didn’t know and I learned this in preparation to talk about it today is that there are even some places that charge a booking fee when you get booked. When you get arrested and you get booked into jail, they charge you a $25 fee.
DeRay: People have been fighting that. I was actually just emailing back and forth with somebody who is incarcerated in Missouri and he was like, “Can you send me money?” I’m like, “Yeah, how much can I send you?” And I actually already send him some money every month automatically out of my account.
DeRay: But I didn’t know how much you can get and he was like, “Okay, let me ask.” And an hour or two later, he writes me back and he’s like, “If I get more than $500 in a month, then they actually just take that and charge it for room and board.”
DeRay: I was like really? They charge you for room and board with whatever cap they make. He’s like, “Yeah, that’s what I was told.” And I was like, that is really wild. The [inaudible 00:31:45] that I think hits the news is only the tip of the iceberg in the way that this is actually playing out in people’s lives everyday that we don’t even know about ’cause they’re not in studies yet or people don’t have experience with.
DeRay: My news is about abortion providers and I was really interested because there was an article that came out that was about doctors who travel across state lines to perform abortions. The article is entitled “60 Hours, 50 Abortions: A California Doctor’s Monthly Commute to a Texas Clinic”.
DeRay: What I learned from it is that there are about 1,700 abortion providers nationwide and they perform nearly a million abortions a year but the doctors who do them aren’t spread evenly. They’re sort of clustered on the coast. There are a lot of abortion doctors in California and a lot in New York and some of the places on the coast, not many in the middle of the country.
DeRay: The consequence of that is not only are the laws becoming harder in those places, there are a lot of states we talked about before where there’s only one place like Missouri to get an abortion. But there actually aren’t a lot of providers who know how to do them or are licensed to do them.
DeRay: There’s actually a set of abortion rights activists who created a program in 2016 to match clinics needing doctors with those who could travel to actually perform the abortions. This article is about one of those doctors and it was really interesting.
DeRay: The estimates by abortion providers put the number of doctors who cross state lines at around 100, three dozen of whom were matched by this program that started in 2016. The states that are in need of abortion doctors most are Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, and Texas which I thought was interesting.
DeRay: Most of the traveling physicians come from Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington state, and California. To get some context, in California, just 5% of women live in a county without an abortion clinic. But in Texas, 43% of women live in a county without an abortion clinic.
DeRay: The last thing I’ll say is they quoted a doctor who talks about some of the misconceptions and what it’s like to be in a state that requires you to do an ultrasound or give out a pamphlet that has false information.
DeRay: What the doctor was saying is that half of abortion patients were using contraception when they got pregnant which is a myth buster for a lot of people. And that more than half of women who have abortions already have children.
DeRay: The provider was trying to map this out to help people understand what is leading to the choices and just the context of people making choices to have an abortion which I thought was interesting. That’s my news.
Clint: Just some numbers to provide so that people have a sense of the scale of this issue. There are 1,700 abortion providers nationwide. They perform nearly a million abortions a year which is a larger amount of abortions than I was cognizant of.
Clint: Additionally, half the pregnancies in the U.S., this organization found, are accidental. Half of accidental pregnancies end in abortion and importantly, one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
Clint: I think that’s really important because an abortion isn’t necessarily something that people speak openly about and specifically for men, the way that sexism and patriarchy manifest themselves and the way that operates means that there can be a distance that people feel from this issue and there’s a lack of proximity, both social and empathic proximity, that people feel.
Clint: Specifically men, and I think it’s important to remember how many people are really being impacted by this, how many people this means a lot for, and that when people talk about the importance of women’s reproductive rights, that this impacts millions and millions of women across this country everyday.
Sam: And the socioeconomic dimension to this, when you’re seeing so many of these Republican controlled states implement restrictions that make it much harder for women to obtain an abortion or make folks travel much longer, you have to go to a clinic multiple times to obtain and abortion.
Sam: First, to get an ultrasound and then to go back to the clinic. All of those barriers make it harder for folks who are lower income, folks who don’t have access to transportation, folks who are living in rural areas, areas with higher rates of poverty, to be able to obtain an abortion.
Sam: Whereas, for folks who are at the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, it’s not really creating the same level of burden. People can fly to another state, people can access and pay for all the related costs. Oftentimes, we hear from the conservative side of things, this idea that nobody should be obtaining an abortion and all of this but really, what they’re trying to do is limit who obtains an abortion to people who have the means to do so.
Brittany: Here’s the thing and this is a point that some folks might not like but it’s the truth. If men could get pregnant, none of this conversation would be happening. In other words, if the folks that have gendered social power were the ones who were subject to this procedure, we would not be talking about limits, we would not be talking about cost, we would not be talking about arcane rules, we would not be talking about 24 hour waiting periods.
Brittany: We would not be talking about the shuttering of clinics that provide far more than just abortion services. We would not be talking about doctors having to travel across state lines to perform a procedure that 25% of American women will experience in their lifetime. We would not be having this conversation.
Brittany: We need to be having the current conversation through the correct lens. To Clint’s point, that is a lens of patriarchy and sexism. That is a lens of racism and poverty, to Sam’s point. The lens that we have to take on this has to be one of truth and honesty.
Brittany: The only truth that I see is that we women continue to be told what we can do with our bodies. Meanwhile, when it’s all said and done and people need everything from government assistance to good schools and good housing for their children that they then have, those same voices are nowhere to be found.
Brittany: I’m frankly quite frustrated and sick of not just the fact that this is going on and I’m grateful to you for bringing this news because a lot of people think that it will all be over with with Brett Kavanaugh and it’s been going on for such a long time.
Brittany: But I’m just frustrated with us having this conversation in a really disgusting and dishonest way. I’m grateful that places like this podcast are doing the opposite.
DeRay: That’s the news. Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.
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DeRay: My sister listens to the podcast, so-
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DeRay: And now, my conversation with Nakhane, singer, songwriter, actor. Nakhane, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Nakhane: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
DeRay: I’m excited to talk to you. I know you have a new project coming out soon and we should definitely talk about that but you starred in the 2017 film “The Wound” which got a lot of feedback. For people that haven’t seen the movie, I’d love to hear you talk about it and how you got to the movie and then how you generally got to producing art in the way that you produce music, film, what that looks like in your story.
Nakhane: The film’s called “Wound” and [inaudible 00:40:13] which is the language that the film is written in and acted in. It’s about an initiation for boys in the [inaudible 00:40:21] community. It’s a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood where they are separated from their community and are taken to a mountain and are circumcised and then spend about a month in healing where they normally have caregivers and are taught, I suppose, the ways of being a man when they leave the separation, when they go back to the community.
Nakhane: The film, it’s a secret and sacred rite of passage. Whoever is not took in the rite of passage, women, men from other ethnicities, are not supposed to know about it ’cause it’s really, really sacred. We made a movie about it called “Wound” and not only that, we queered it. The story revolves around three queer characters.
DeRay: What attracted you to this project?
Nakhane: Initially, John Trengove who is the director had asked me to score the film because I had just released my first album in South Africa in 2013 and someone had introduced him to my music and he thought that I would be the right person to score the film.
Nakhane: I had a meeting with John, we had a coffee and I had all these ideas which now I realize were not going to work at all. We had this meeting and a few days later, I think, he called me and he said, “After meeting you, I was wondering if you would like to audition for one of the roles.”
Nakhane: I was a little bit unsure whether I wanted to act, so John said, “If you aren’t good, then we just won’t cast you.” I am a very competitive person and I love to prove a point. It’s my downfall in life. He sent me the scene that he wanted me to prepare and I did what I needed to do and as they say, the rest is history. I got the part.
DeRay: I love it. What was the response from people? Especially people who hadn’t seen queer characters portrayed in film in that way before.
Nakhane: There had been some cinematic visibility about the subject and it always was bad but it was always documentaries. It was always non-fiction work and they always ended up only playing for one episode or two episodes before the traditional gatekeepers would shut those films down or even books sometimes.
Nakhane: As far as I know, and if I’m wrong I hope someone corrects me, this was the first one which was fictive and this was the first one that spoke about the fact that queer bodies exist in the space which is supposed to be, I guess, emblematic of manhood, whatever that means, masculinity in its most hyper, in its most extreme.
Nakhane: It’s also performative about what it is to be a man and what not to do, otherwise people will not take you seriously as a man, et cetera, et cetera. Some of the lessons, that’s not all the lessons.
Nakhane: When people heard about the film, they were really upset that the film existed at all, that we had queered something that was sacred and queerness was seen as something that was impure, deviant, and one of the arguments I heard a lot was that it was a misrepresentation of the culture, the queer characters.
Nakhane: I remember replying with, how can it be a misrepresentation of the culture if I, Nakhane, who is [inaudible 00:44:04], a practitioner of the culture who has gone to initiation and am queer and I definitely am not the only one, I exist. It can’t be misrepresentation because I’m real, you know? How does that even exist, how does that argument hold any water? Then people got really, really mad.
DeRay: How did you deal with the response?
Nakhane: I come from a family of people who are ready to … I don’t wanna say ready to fight but ready to take on whatever the challenge is. I was ready to take on the challenges. When I agreed to be part of the film, I did not think that the responses would be as intense as they ended up being.
Nakhane: I knew that people would be upset. I knew that we’d sort of ruffle some feathers but I didn’t think that people would want to kill us.
DeRay: Wow. When you think about your transition, you’re an actor, a writer, a musician, when did you transition to music? What was that like?
Nakhane: Choirs were such a big deal where I come from in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Some people go to the movies, we went to the town hall to watch choirs sing almost every weekend.
Nakhane: Every night, my mom and my aunts went to choir practice and I normally went as well. I’m talking about massive choirs like 60 plus voices. That’s all I knew for a long, long time. By the time I went to school, I knew that I had the ability to sing and I knew that I could sing very well because it was in my body, whereas all the other mediums had to be learned and were separate.
Nakhane: All the other ones, acting and writing, came a little later.
DeRay: How would you describe the album? What was the impetus for the album?
Nakhane: Wow, how would I describe the album? The album has been out for almost a year now in Europe. It’s only coming out now in February the 22nd in North America. I feel like I should have an easy answer for you by now but the album is central.
Nakhane: When I was writing it, I was calling it Hymns for the Lost. Hymns for the Apostate. You know? Hymns for the Hated. It’s very voice intensive because I was writing about my childhood and I was writing about the churches that I was born into, I was writing about my grandmother who was a big part of my upbringing.
Nakhane: I was trying to write about, I guess, the church that I went to from around 20 to 25 which was different to the churches that I grew up in which was much more conservative. I always make a joke and say that the church that I went to was the Westboro Baptist Church but without the picketing. It was that intense.
Nakhane: By the time I had finished writing for the album, which was around when I was 29, I had I think written an album that was less bitter and angry and more empathetic and I suppose, reflective and if not full of love, then full of compassion.
DeRay: Can you talk about the religious influences? I think about the music video for “Interloper” with the black choir in robes and the music video for “Clairvoyant” with the intimacy between two men. How do you think about the religious influence in your work?
Nakhane: The religious influence in my work is something that’s always gonna be there whether I like it or not. I call it my mother tongue even though I’ve rejected it. Even though I’ve left it, it was the first mode of spirituality that I knew.
Nakhane: The stories are too entrenched in my psyche for me to just let go. Also, on another level, I will say this to my friend as a joke. Christianity used me, I do reserve the right to use Christianity now as well for my own good.
DeRay: I love it. For people who haven’t seen the music videos and haven’t seen your work before the albums come out, how do you want them to think about the project that you are engaged it? How do you want them to start to think about your work before they’ve seen it?
Nakhane: You know, I watched this documentary, this interview with Joni Mitchell a few years ago and she said something really beautiful. What she says, if you’re going into the work and you’re trying to find Joni, you’ve missed the point. But if you go into the work and it makes you feel something and you get something out it and it changes your life, makes you cry, makes you laugh, makes you whatever, then you’ve sort of gone through it from the right angle.
Nakhane: I’m nothing by the mouthpiece here. It may sound I guess cheesy but I really just want people to feel something and be touched by it and be moved by it.
DeRay: How did you make the decision to come out? Why was that important to you?
Nakhane: Because that’s what we did, right? Queer people are told that that’s what they do. They come out. The assumption is that you’re born and you’re straight and then you deviate from the normal path and then you have to come out and you have to go through pain and et cetera.
Nakhane: I don’t know how it is for the younger generation but up until a certain age, the desires that you have don’t have a name. They don’t have a morality and they don’t have a weight on whether they’re right or wrong. They don’t belong to anything, to anyone but yourself, and I guess the person that you are acting out those desires with.
Nakhane: I always knew I was attracted to men and women I guess. But mostly men. By the time I was a teenager, I bet it was very clear but I’d read the literature and I wanted my friends to know the authentic me which is a word I really loathe. I hate the word authentic because it’s abused, I think.
Nakhane: But, when I was 17, I came out to my friends and to my cousins who were of the same age and that was no big deal really. They were like come on, Nakhane, we’ve seen you move. We’ve seen you talk, we know you. It was a piece of cake, no big deal.
Nakhane: And then, around 19, I was outed by an ex-girlfriend of mine who told my mother, who told her mother and our mothers were friends and then her mother told my mom and that was much more painful. That turned ugly and I went back into the closet, so to speak.
DeRay: You were pushed back in the closet a little bit because of your parents’ response or because of a community response?
Nakhane: I don’t wanna blame anyone because those people aren’t here to defend themselves but if it were up to me, I would’ve come out and that would’ve been the end of the story. Actually, [inaudible 00:51:41] says something really amazing, the other night, he said he doesn’t use the term coming out. He uses the term invite people in to your life and I really like that. I just wanted to put that there as an aside.
Nakhane: But yeah, it was a community thing, it was a family thing because my family was and is still very Christian and particularly my mother. I was taking to prophets who prayed over me and I just got tired of fighting. Do you know what I mean? I was tired of explaining myself and there was still that belief in me that I was dirty and wrong.
DeRay: What do you tell people who have tried everything that they’ve been told but they’re losing hope a little bit? That the world’s not changing in a way that they thought it would but they’ve tried and they are struggling in these moments to have hope. What do you say to those people?
Nakhane: I would say to my friends, do you remember me when I was 24 years old and I said, if I’m not signed by 25, I’m gonna go back to [inaudible 00:52:48] where I was born and I was gonna grow potatoes? My friends normally say, yeah, you were being an idiot.
Nakhane: And I say, but I really meant it. I really, really meant it because life was really, really shit and then I got signed a few months later and they go, yeah, do you remember? You really were an idiot weren’t you?
Nakhane: But I always say you never know what tomorrow holds. Be careful who you surround yourself with, be careful of your mind, and just be kind. I think it comes back to you. It really comes back to try and making the world a better place.
DeRay: The other question that I ask everybody is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Nakhane: My grandmother who my album is dedicated to, who passed away about 11 years ago, once said this to me because she didn’t listen to anyone. She did what she wanted and she was really my hero and she still is.
Nakhane: She said to me because she was quite a drinker and a smoker which was something that black women of that generation were not supposed to do. She did it anyway and she always used to say to me, “Nakhane, if you’re gonna drink alcohol, make sure that you’re not gonna do it under the bed or in a wardrobe somewhere because all of those secrets are gonna come out and you’re gonna be humiliated and you’re gonna have to apologize and you would’ve lost your dignity” et cetera.
Nakhane: Do everything in the open from the get go and believe in the truth. I’ve always tried to implement that in every facet of my life. Do everything honestly.
DeRay: I appreciate you coming on Pod Save the People. We look forward to staying in touch.
Nakhane: Thank you so much, DeRay. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
DeRay: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else and we’ll see you next week.