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May 23, 2023
Pod Save The People
If We Fight, We Win

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, and Don cover the underreported news of the week —  the push back against Florida book bans, the end of affirmative action as we know it, and the disproportionate mortality rate of  babies in the South.

News

DeRay A striking gap between deaths of Black and White babies plagues the South

Kaya Why the world’s largest publisher found a book-ban lawsuit in Florida ‘irresistable’

Don Higher Ed. at Harvard Event Addresses Looming End of Affirmative Action

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK] [music break] 

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode. It’s me, Kaya, and our guest host, Don Calloway, talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week, the news with regard to race, injustice that went under exposed, under talked about. Myles and De’Ara will be back in the next episode. They just aren’t here with us today but we love them and they’re always a part of the pod family. Don, excited to have you joining us today. And we talk about the pushback against book bans, the end of affirmative action, and a twist on affirmative action, and infant mortality in the South. Remember that there is no podcast next week, but the full gang will be back in the first week of June. Here we go. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Welcome, welcome, welcome family to another edition of Pod Save the People. We’re so excited to be here this week with a little bit of a new twist on the old pod. I’m Kaya Henderson and you can find me at @HendersonKaya on Twitter. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter. 

 

Don Calloway: Don Calloway at @dcstl on Twitter, at @DCalloway on the gram. 

 

Kaya Henderson: All right, friends, um we want to welcome Don Calloway as our guest host today. Super excited to have him. Um. Don, you want to say a few words to the people since this is your first time on the pod? 

 

Don Calloway: Oh, yo, I’m honored. Thanks to y’all for having me. Um. Generally, uh the bio is just I just be chilling. That’s kind of what it is. [laughter] Oh twenty years of– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Oh Don here we go. 

 

Don Calloway: –government and political affairs in some capacity uh from Saint Louis in D.C. and I try to have conversations with generally smart people like y’all. So I’m happy to be here. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Y’all Don is sitting outside on his deck or something with all of this beautifully landscaped, lush trees and bushes making us all feel like we want to be outside. I see you, Don. 

 

Don Calloway: Look, I figured that if the pandemic was how the world was going to end, I wanted to have some space. So uh. So this is my outdoor office. Welcome to it.

 

Kaya Henderson: I love it. [laughter] I love it. I love it.

 

DeRay Mckesson: Is that a real outdoors or is that a background? [pause] Okay, I just just wanted to see. Okay. 

 

Kaya Henderson: So we’re super excited to roll with Don this week. Um. Unfortunately, De’Ara and Myles both had conflicts and we were able to call our friend Don and say, can you fill in? And so we’ve got an exciting episode for you. And let’s start with the fact that Jim Brown died this week. Um. And there seems to be a diversity of um approaches to a diversity of opinions about how we should remember Jim Brown. Um. There are folks who rev– who revere Jim Brown as a great football player, a civil rights activist, a leader and all these other things. And then there are a litany of um issues in his lifetime from assault and attempted murder and rape and a few other things. And so what, how do we remember people when they have a complicated legacy? 

 

Don Calloway: Uh. You know, I think as the great Damon Young uh tells us, Black men are the white men of Black people. And that is particularly [laughter] prescient for the previous generation, right? Like my dad’s generation. So Jim Brown was 87 um and to my my pops and that generation of Black men, he’s an absolute hero and a legend. Uh. But we cannot deny the fact that he was extraordinarily abusive, almost exclusively to women over the course of his lifetime. Uh. But at the same time, I mean, I’m somebody who sits squarely in that straight Black male privilege every day. Right. And uh and I enjoy it. And Jim Brown is one of the guys that we were told to hold up, as, you know, one of our kings. I’m not going to look at the picture of the Cleveland summit and not be inspired right? When athletes got together, I think it was 1967, you got left to right Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, uh Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Jim Brown, who basically laid out a manifesto for what we currently see as player empowerment. And uh, you know, us claiming our rights against these white owners who are making billions of dollars off the backs of this Black professional labor. That doesn’t excuse any of the things that Jim Brown did um in the latter part of his life he was a wealthy uh he was a wealthy, well known Black man who was extraordinarily abusive to a lot of people who he did not respect. And really he really only fully respected Black and white men of privilege. Right. And so extraordinary contributions on the civil rights, but uh extraordinary damage um to individuals and upholding a culture of abuse primarily towards Black women. 

 

Kaya Henderson: One of the things that was interesting to me about this is every headline, you know, you get the headlines that pop up on your phone from The New York Times or what a Washington Post or whatever. And every single headline said something like Jim Brown, you know, um famous football player, civil rights activist and sexual abuser, dies at 87. And I thought that was particularly striking because um when you when we when we look at white and white people’s obituaries, usually whatever their their issues are, are not in the headlines. They mention them in paragraph two or three. Jim Brown was a great football player. He did this, that and the other. He was also dogged by allegations or whatever charges of sexual assault da da da da da. That’s how it usually goes for white people. But for Black people it’s right in the headline and I find I want some uh equality on that front. I feel like tell the whole story. I’m totally down with that. But if you’re going to make us our worst features, then let’s make everybody their worst features. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I and I’m and I’m okay with us saying complicated because there is a conversation and I wasn’t around to experience the best of Jim Brown like though he didn’t inspire me, don’t know anything about, like he wasn’t a football player in my era um and but the Jim Brown that I did experience was a Jim Brown who supported Trump. That is that is like what I know of him. Um. And I looked and he also endorsed Nixon in ’68, which, you know, that turned out to be a great error for Black people. Um. And he also spoke at Huey P. Newton’s funeral. So, like, I’ll give you the complicated. I am um I, I am both uh proud of the way people are refusing to ignore the past, the fullness of it, and say like, hey, like, you know, because I think there was ten years ago, I think it would have been wild to br–, like people would have been like, you don’t say this when people die. Da da da da da and and now people are still saying that, but it is a healthy conversation to say like, hey, he pushed a woman off the balcony, raped people like legacy that was actually not something, this part of it is not something you emulate. And I agree with you, Kaya, that there is a raced way that we talk about. I forget even people who passed the way, that we talk about people today, I think about the guy– 

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –who killed Jordan Neely. I think about the other white boy who did something like– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yup. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –they’re family photos [?] you’re like that is wild you– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Totally. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: You did something that we watched. And still the coverage is like– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –family photos. Right. Um. And doesn’t absolve Jim Brown as as you said too. So I’m happy that we’re talking about– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Totally agree. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –the complexity of people’s legacies. And I don’t know what repair looks like, but I but it feels like a lot of these people aren’t even doing that during their life. Right. It’s not like bad history. And then you did something to try and do right by people. You know, it’s like, I don’t know, it’s like pushing the woman off the balcony, is sort of a, that is a wild thing to just act like that didn’t happen. Do you know what I mean? Like that feels sort of wild. So um–

 

Don Calloway: I think my best kind of– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: so yeah I’m happy that people are–

 

Don Calloway: –feelings are summarized– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –telling the whole story. 

 

Don Calloway: I saw him last summer at an NFL shindig out in L.A. and he came in on a walker, he’s clearly an older man, but he’s still one of those very few people who you see him and you kind of stand up straighter like, Oh my God, that’s Jim Brown. But at the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to go over and like ask for a picture, despite how much my dad would have loved it. And frankly, 15 years ago, I would have loved it on my wall right? But he’s just in that space now where he really he didn’t go out on a high note as a brother we should be fully celebrating, at least for the his second and third acts nah. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yeah. And um in other news, we have um a call for action from the NAACP, a travel advisory um suggesting that we not travel to Florida because of its anti-Black um and anti everything else policies. And so um I don’t remember. And I mean, maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I don’t think I really remember hearing about the NAACP issuing travel bans. Is that is that new? Is that has that been the case before? 

 

Don Calloway: Not entirely new. They’ve done it uh in Missouri, my home state before. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Huh. 

 

Don Calloway: Uh. And but, you know, Florida got it honest. They certainly deserve it uh if anybody was to get it. Uh. And to the extent that anybody actually listens to the NAA–, I mean, no shade to Derrick and company. Uh. But, you know, to the extent that they can get a word out in mass to Black folks, uh we should know. I mean, look, this is the modern day green book, right? Like–

 

Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 

 

Don Calloway: You should know that Florida ain’t necessarily safe for us. And these highway patrolman and municipal officials, a lot of them reflect the ideas that we’ve seen coming from this DeSantis administration. And that’s something for us to be concerned about. I think it’s a good look. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I think the travel [?] I guess one of the things I wanted to ask the two of you is like, what does it mean for people who live there? Right? Like, well, I get the don’t travel there. I get it. I’m like, yes, you know what, stay where you are. It’s bad. But I don’t know what like, I almost want the NAACP if they’re going to do this, to say if you’re there then blah. Right? If you’re stuck in the middle of it, here and join this if you want to like because I don’t know what it means to tell people not to come visit me. Do you know what I mean? Like a I mean, I get it. And I feel like we got to do something for the stuck people. Does that make sense? 

 

Kaya Henderson: That makes a ton of sense. Um. I mean, there are lots I don’t know what the exact population is, but there are, you know, probably hundreds of thousands of Black people who live in Florida, maybe millions. And that is a conundrum. What are they supposed to do when they are living in the states? I actually know people who are moving from Florida, um people of color, people of of  uh all kinds of diversities because they don’t want to be there anymore. But if you don’t have the means or if you don’t want to, um you know, I think we do need to speak to those brothers and sisters about what they could do. I thought I thought even the phrasing of the ban, right? Beware, your life is not valued. Florida is openly hostile towards African-Americans is a really provocative statement. Um. And, you know, I think, Don, you’re right in in sort of saying the NAACP may no longer have the relevance that it had at one particular point. But just I mean, it is a call to action which basically says, you know, we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to stand by um the things, the values that we believe in. 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you know, if nothing else, perhaps it has some impact in terms of where we hold our epic Negro events. Right. So the NBA, the National Medical Association, the whatever else. Uh. That’s one of the more powerful ways that we can use our collective dollar these days. Um. I don’t think that just from a political angle, I don’t think that Ron DeSantis cares one bit. He will take this advisory and wave it in front of his people as he announces his campaign later this week right and say, yo look how dope I am? [laughing] 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Does he care about people not having events there? I and I would have said, yes, but he’s fighting Disney. And Disney is like, we not doing nothing. 

 

Kaya Henderson: But don’t you think? Well but don’t like the okay. So this is the thing, right? Like, if I think this Disney thing is indicative of the fact that this man has really lost his mind, right? Because there is no way that you are going to antagonize the largest employer in his in the state. But that is the like that is this this the crack that he’s smoking. He literally thinks that he can take on Disney. And I have got my popcorn ready. I am watching Disney hit a 1-2 punch. No campus, no jobs, no whatever. We like, Disney, there is no way to win against Disney. And this dude really thinks he does. And I think it’s a pile on, right? So there is Disney, NAACP says we not coming. LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, days before the NAACP, they were like, Yo, we not coming. Let enough, I mean, this is all critical mass. You can’t go after Black people and Latino people and immigrants and, you know, LGBTQ people and whoever else and not expect that at some point these folks are going to come together and clap back. And so to me, this is the beginning of the collective clap, clap back. And I got popcorn and a glass of wine to watch this thing go down. 

 

Don Calloway: Remember, it’s not about beating Disney. It’s about winning a Republican primary. That’s all this is about, you know, and and if he is able to raise enough rancor to do that, then he’s alright, you know.

 

Kaya Henderson: But Republicans are pro-business. They don’t want you in they business stuff. That’s the one thing that they don’t want. 

 

Don Calloway: Not Republican primary voters. Right. So the the crazy element that uh– 

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s fair.

 

Don Calloway: –carries the preponderance of the primary. 

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s fair. 

 

Don Calloway: Uh. You know, they love them. 

 

Kaya Henderson: I don’t know. We going see. Um. The people tell me he hasn’t been doing so well on his book tour and whatnot. And this is I am I like I am literally excited about this whole primary season. I think it’s going to be fascinating. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I think Trump is going to tank tank him. I think that Trump is going to light that man on fire. 

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s why you got to have your popcorn. Um. And that is and that is if we have a country, if our if we survive this impending debt crisis that is about to go down. What do you say about that? 

 

Don Calloway: You know, it happens every couple of years um and there will be an 11th hour solution. And I think that the only way we get there is because to some degree, we have divided government between the presidency, the House and the Senate, um and it will be averted. But, you know, it makes for good ink for the next, you know, for the last three weeks and the coming week um and, you know, it will be averted. The question is, do we save uh social programming? I won’t call them entitlements, but do we save some form of that um while also not achieving the tax increases that progressives would like? You know, those aren’t going to come, but uh do we save some levels of programmatic funding for stuff that’s really mean something for for for people who are behind uh the eight ball in this country. And I think we will and we’ll probably push it out another three years and then we’ll do it all over again. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: What are they trying to what are they trying to cut? They’re trying to cut Social Security? Is that what the Republicans are, what is what’s on what uh is it food stamps and Social Security? What? I don’t remember the what. 

 

Don Calloway: Well, it’s it is a broad universe of social welfare programming, be it, you know, funding for Head Start, funding for uh the broad universal, quote unquote, “entitlements.” Right? Social Security, the social safety net and everything basically in that bucket of federal funding is uh is in jeopardy when it comes to these budget hawks. And uh what’s never in jeopardy is a increased corporate uh corporate tax or increased individual tax. Death taxes. Estate taxes. Um. That would target you know the wealthy. Not even just the 1%, but the wealthiest you know, 10, 20% of Americans. That’s never on the table. Um. But they immediately look to the broader universe of social uh welfare programming and whatever you can think that does good in that space. Yeah. Is is uh is on the deck to be cut. 

 

Kaya Henderson: They’re also trying to preserve the the Trump era tax cuts. Right. So not only not, you know, accelerating taxes for the wealthy, but preserving the tax cuts that Mr. Trump put in place, which, you know, is a nonstarter for a lot of the Democrats. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: But do you think, you know, these cuts will push people into poverty, people die, da da do you is that the do they just not care or do they, you know, like [?] the country is hurt when 500,000 people all of a sudden are pushed into crisis? You know, like even if you just cared about money, they can’t spend money when they don’t owe you when you push you’re like ah what’s the what behind it? Like, am I missing something or is it really just a like I’m so rich, I just don’t even think about other people? 

 

Kaya Henderson: I think it’s chicken, isn’t it chicken? Like we’re going to go right to the precipice. Right? And the Democrats are always going to say, uncle, because we got to save the people. And so as long as I know that you gonna save the people, than I get to be, you know, the jackass and keep on pushing for all of the things that [laugh] I want, um you know, we’re we’re not going to not pay our military. We’re not going to not pay retirees. We’re not going to I mean, that’s just not going to happen. Whether it is through an executive order or through a deal that gets negotiated. But the Republicans bullying has been very successful for a successful negotiating technique for them. And so why wouldn’t they just keep on pushing? 

 

Don Calloway: It is important to remember that all of this is in the interest of catering to a middle class and upper middle class white male voter who has not voted Democratic since 1960. JFK, right? And so there’s no, it’s important to remember that the welfare cuts, welfare to work and all that stuff, which was the crime bill, which was demonstrably terrible for not only Black folks, but America happened under a Democratic presidency. So the large segment of the Democrats, we can talk about Democrats being, quote unquote, “progressives” and the party of AOC. No, the large part of the lifeblood of the governance section of the Democratic Party is still these ultra moderate folks who are not willing to piss off white folks who make $150,000 and up in this country and who have two, uh you know, a peloton, a peloton and a two car garage. And so, yes, you are right that ultimately Democrats will kowtow towards not raising personal taxes because we have a whole bunch of folks who are middle class and upper middle class who have this false class solidarity with billionaires. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People’s coming. 

 

[AD BREAK] [music break]

 

Kaya Henderson: My news is taking us right back to Florida, right back to the culture wars, because I got a front row seat for all that is going down. Um. But last week, Penguin Random House, which is the largest book publisher in the world, um along with PEN America, which is a free speech advocacy group. And several authors and parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Escambia County School District in Florida. Um. The suit alleges that the school district is violating the First Amendment by banning books that are based on a political or ideological disagreement with the ideas that the books express. This is it. Um. This is [laughs] this is now, now we rocking and rolling. You not just going to be out here banning books and people don’t have a response. And so the response is a legal one, which is very exciting. They allege that this is also a violation of the 14th Amendment, citing the equal protection clause. I love this. I think this is such a smart um legal maneuver. But because the books are disproportionately titles by nonwhite authors, LGBTQ+ authors, and because they explore diverse stories and themes, they are citing the Equal Protection Clause, which is an interesting way to go about this. Um. They are filing this lawsuit because um and this is such like this is so interesting. You know, people tell you that one person can’t make a difference. I’m going to tell you how one person is making a difference. Um. There are there’s a process that happens when titles get flagged in the Escambia County School District. And basically somebody will um will lodge a complaint about a book. The book goes to a committee, um a committee of teachers and parents and whatever. And the committee decides whether or not to um to ban the book. The majority of the books that are being banned come from a single high school language arts teacher named Vicki Baggett. And Vicki Baggett has listed 116 books to be removed. She is campaigning to get these 116 books removed. So what happens? She um she makes complaints about these books. The some of the books she’s never even heard of. There’s a book called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And she put that up and she said she didn’t even really know what it was about, um because most of the list of books that she is trying to ban are copied and pasted from a website that the Moms for Liberty has put up. Um. So, you know, she’s on she ain’t even on some principled stuff. She’s on some let me do what the people are telling me to do. Anyway um, the district panel voted to keep the book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And so Vicki then appealed. She appealed and she copied everybody and their mama, including Ron DeSantis, the state superintendent of education and whatnot. And so the district said, okay, we will review the thing. And they put another committee together to review the book. And that panel also said, we are going to keep the book. And then she went to the school board and complained to the school board. And without even looking, the school board overruled the district panel and the initial committee that did this. And so um Vicki Baggett is out here tearing down the thing in Escambia County Schools. And at the end of the day, PEN America and Penguin Random House are not having it. Um there are 197 books that are being challenged in Escambia. Statewide, more than 500 books have been banned. Nationwide, more than 2500 books, all between July 2021 and July of 2022. And the estimate is that about 4 million kids in the country are affected by these book bans. So this um this lawsuit is interesting. It’s exciting. It will be precedent setting. It won’t be easily replicable because state law is different each place. So you won’t be able to just pick this up and import it to the next place. But um I think the hope is that this will begin to turn the tide on book bans. So I brought this to the pod because I feel like somebody is coming out swinging. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Shout out to George Johnson, one of the um named plaintiffs who was on the pod before and is a friend, um you know, Kaya this makes me think of that old saying that you can’t win if you don’t fight. And one of the things that happens is the Republicans just overwhelm you with the crazy. Like, it’s just so much. It’s book bans. It’s critical race theory. It’s all this stuff that, like you don’t even know. You’re like, are people even teaching critical race theory? No, But we still got to fight the laws because the laws are crazy. And then the book bans come and it’s like, you know, in an era where there’s a Kindle and a da da da, the book bans I’ve always been a little confused by. But like that aside, it is one of those things that we will never win if we don’t fight. And AOC says often that that our side will win in a street fight. You just got to fight, though. And I think so often we like, see the process go and we’re like, oh, you know, maybe somebody will step up and da da da. But I talk to legislators all the time and they are waiting for the backing from somebody so they can go a little wild. Because what we’ve seen is that when the people stand up, it works. When they kicked the two Justin’s out, they flipped that place upside down, you know what I mean? 

 

Kaya Henderson: Upside down. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: They didn’t know what to do with those two boys. All of a sudden, they went from people we’d never heard of to being the only conversation in the country. And this I’m like, proud that Penguin is stepping up. But I think a lot I think about a lot of companies who are implicated in what the Republicans are doing, like their their customer base will disappear, their communities will be hurt, and they don’t stand up until the 11th hour. And it’s like we actually need more people to fight. Obviously, I’m an activist, but we need more people who don’t identify as activists to raise holy hell about this stuff because it’s like when we fight, we win. And we cannot win without a fight. 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah. Yeah. 1,000% agree with everything you said DeRay, um when I was when I was your age, DeRay, I used to practice law. Now I just act like it. So uh if I could be just a tad bit skeptical here, um Penguin and Random House shout out to them. But ultimately they mad that they can’t sell these large quantities of books to not only Escambia County, but wherever else they might see opportunities to sell a lot of books. Right? They I, Kaya, I’m not gonna wade too far into your territory on the economics of how a school district works, But I imagine they don’t give these books to school district for free. Right? And so uh what Ron DeSantis has done is effectively blocked off a stream of revenue in an entire state for major publishing houses. Right? And so to me, that seems like the impetus for the nature of the lawsuit. My skepticism comes from the place that I would like to see this lawsuit come not only from Random House and Penguin, but from MALDEF, uh Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund or uh NAACP, LDF, folks that have a vested interest in uh activist lawyering. Right. The places that our legal process has always looked to to move human rights forward. Right. And so uh I would like to see it come from them. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for a public private partnership with those organizations. That’s true, ESG. Um. But maybe this is one of those interests, interests in which uh a Random House’s corporate, publicly traded profit margin actually merges with the interests of the people. And, oh, by the way, I think that’s probably and by probably I mean, it’s definitely the case more so than not when doing the right thing is also good for business. Right. Um. And so, you know, obviously, Escambia County and Vickie B, they make an extraordinarily good foil here for Random House, but they are doing this to protect their bottom line. Because you’re right, while this won’t set precedent state to state, this is a powerful uh opportunity for Random House and the publishers to do what they’re going to do, win this. And at least it sends a signal and controls the narrative nationwide that this doesn’t happen without economic and business repercussions. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Let me just say that you you were the most dad, when you said Penguin and Random House, it was like the most. It’s definitely called Penguin Random House. [laughing]

 

Don Calloway: Oh. My bad. Didn’t it used to be two different ones, man? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And you’re like– 

 

Kaya Henderson: It was but they merged, they merged. 

 

Don Calloway: Ah there you go.

 

DeRay Mckesson: He said when Penguin and Random House. I said, come on, I’m at the, we at grandma’s house now listening to uncle Don tell us what’s up. [laugh]

 

Don Calloway: I am a Black man of a certain age, man. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Listen. 

 

Don Calloway: You know.  [?] [laughing]

 

Kaya Henderson: I’m okay with business interests converging with the interests of the people, because not only are publishers the people who make money off of these books, people of color are disproportionately the authors of these books. LGBTQ+ people. They are making money, too. And I’m all about my people getting they bag. So these are you know, they are sometimes the confluence happens in the right way. And you want I mean, these are titles like The Bluest Eye. Come on, you trying to tell me that we not gonna and and and what’s interesting is it’s Escambia. They got 197 books in question. That’s not going to make or break Penguin Random House. Right? But um it is it it it basically says, we will go after this wherever it is. And I do think that in the same way that Ron DeSantis is creating policy that has a chilling effect, it do– it will only affect certain people, but it will stop everybody else from doing it. This has the same impact. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: So my news is switching gears, but talking about a topic that we’ve talked about before in some ways about infant mortality, specifically the maternal mortality or infant mortality amongst um Black women and Black babies. And this is put out in the Post and Courier. The headline is a striking gap between deaths of Black and white babies plagues the South. And what is, the story that anchors it is about Bamberg County Hospital, which closed in 2012, and then the closest hospitals in a neighboring community called Barnwell was closed in 2016. And what it details is that in this part of Orangeburg, um women have to travel a long way to get any prenatal care. So they talk about during the final weeks of pregnancy, women must go to an obstetrician, which can be as many as 20 miles away, uh that some people have to travel further than that and they go through they talk about the burden of just getting care. And they like nailed that. And I’m sure other people talk about that. What I wanted to like center on here is the stat that says in 2021, nearly 3% of all Black infants in Orangeburg County died before their first birthday. The average infant mortality for Black infants is 1%, and it is less than 0.5% for white infants, 3% in this county. And, you know, I’m never shocked when I hear the disparities anymore. But there was something about this. It’s like we haven’t figured out everything, but we’ve definitely figured out how to deliver babies. We’ve figured out how to, like, keep them healthy. You know, like, we’ve we’ve figured out some of the basics. We figured out how to screen and provide prenatal care for women better. Like, we’ve actually figured out a lot of things in this area. And the only reason why Black babies are dying disproportionately is that we had this commute, this area has structurally limited the options for women to receive, forget even good health care, any health care having to drive 20 miles for a checkup or any I mean, that is just it becomes prohibitive at a certain point. It’s like, how do you have a job if at you have a noon appointment and have to drive 20 miles to go there is I mean, what do you do? Like that is that is prohibitive. So I brought it here because um because I was really just shocked by it. And and there are some good groups working on this. But one of the other things that really struck me that I didn’t know before is talking about what are the circumstances by which uh babies are dying. And one of the things that arti– when the article’s highlights is things like making sure infants don’t suffocate in beds or unsafe cribs. Making sure that there’s health coverage so young women can afford to see a doctor before they become pregnant like a whole host of things that again, fixable. We can manage, we can work on. We know the options and still in places and this article focuses on the South. Um. We have failed mothers and by extension, we have failed kids to such a stunning degree that it is not about just like a discomfort of scheduling. It really is leading to the death of Black babies in a rate that we have not seen before. So that was what I wanted to bring to the pod. 

 

Don Calloway: 3% in such a localized area is extraordinarily grim. Um. And you’re right, it is completely based in preset structural like prohibition of not only prenatal health care but uh maternal health care. You know, this is not disconnected from the story we’ve become familiar with over the last few years of uh Black maternal mortality um and frankly, outcomes that last throughout life. If you tell me that 3% of Orangeburg’s County’s uh children die, shout out to [?] Bakari Sellers from that corridor of shame right there. Um. If 3% of those children die, then those are conditions that persist throughout these young people’s lifetimes. Right. And and and and and they are immediately tied to health disparities. Uh. Yeah. The entire, you know, cacophony of of systemic factors that limit outcomes and limit human capacity in the United States. Um. I’m kind of trying to process it, but that is an extraordinarily grim and shocking number, and I would be willing to banter that it does not end um with the mort– when that 3% dies, that 97 97% is in extraordinary jeopardy of some really bad outcomes, probably throughout the length of their lifetimes, because the health outcomes don’t get better somehow, you know, from them being one year old to them going through the school system at 18. 

 

Kaya Henderson: I think that is absolutely right. Um. And you don’t have to go all the way south to find these kinds of disparities. I remember just a couple of years ago in Washington, D.C., um most of our poorest and Blackest residents live in wards seven and eight, and there was not a maternal hospital in seven and eight. And so um families had to literally cross the city traffic, blah, blah, blah, all of this stuff. And it imperiled our um maternal health outcomes. And so this ain’t just, you know, people in the rural South. This is in, you know, large urban cities. And this is what happens when you don’t have people who are elected officials who are thinking deeply about this is why Black women have to run for county council, for for county administrator or for all of these things, like we have to be represented because we make policy differently. This is why women have to be elected broadly. Um. And, you know, I went on to figure out who are the Bam–, who’s the Bamberg County Council? Um. And it’s some of us sitting right up there with Mr. Joey Preston, who is the county administrator. But this is a policy issue. This somebody I mean, where in the same way that the article tells us that one hospital closed just after another hospital closed. Um. Somebody people knew that. And that is preventable. This is when um it is important for us, not after the fact, to complain about the fact that we don’t have the services. We have to be at the city council meetings when people are voting to close hospitals and can’t see around the corner what the implications of that are. Um. We have to be at the county meetings to be able Don, to pull up and say, what do we do with kids right after they’re born and in the first year of their health? What kinds of resources are in place? What kinds of programming is in place? Um. But this is a political and a policy failure from where I sit. And my guess is the poor residents of Bamberg County don’t have a whole lot of resources to bring to the table in terms of pushing something different to happen. But that’s when the rest of us, when we know about these things, shout out to the press that is covering this. Um. We all have a responsibility to help people make their voices heard differently. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will say before I became an activist in this way, things like hospitals were I didn’t even know you could have a say with, like hospitals were hospitals. It was like just like schools. It was like a school got placed there and it just is there, right? Like I, I never ima–

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s not how it goes. Mm mm.

 

DeRay Mckesson: I didn’t know. [laughter] You know, I had no idea that like that me, the citizen, could like, have any involvement that mattered in that process. You know what I mean? And I am trying to think about how do we help, you know, because there are way more women impacted by this than than understood they could participate in the in like the solution. Do you know what I mean? And I do think there’s a way that the system becomes this thing that’s fixed. You’re like well it is just what it is. And da da da da da and it’s like so much of our work is to help people think through differently, like what their own power is, you know? 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah. Um. Ultimately, you know, politics is the science of who gets what, where and why, the science of the distribution of limited resources. And you have to be very cognizant if you get in this game politics ain’t MSNBC and I’m a cable news guy, right? But the politics ain’t what’s happening in Washington, DC and the debt ceiling. It is but that is such a small fraction of the story. It is a political decision to close a hospital and there are real life outcomes. And when you think about it in terms of who gets what, where, and why is also a who don’t get, and Black women in Orangeburg County don’t get adequate health care, full stop. Right? And what we see is like dead people. And that’s so sad, you know. Um. But we have got to start thinking about politics on a more localized level and on a more substantive level attached to real outcomes, as opposed to these famous folks that we see walking around D.C.. 

 

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

 

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Don Calloway: So my story is less of a current article, but more of a current event that’s happening and is going to come to the to the forefront here in the next couple of weeks and months, if not weeks. Um. Affirmative action is ending per a case brought against the University of North Carolina this year. And the basics of the case is that um the Supreme Court will decide whether or not colleges and universities can continue to consider race based considerations in college admissions. We’ve been here many times before. Uh. It seems like we’re here probably every 8 to 15 years. But with this six three Supreme Court majority, it’s more than likely that it ends once and for all uh with the crop of cases that come out this summer. And we not going to talk about whether or not it’s happening, because if you didn’t believe last summer when they took away women’s bodily autonomy, we should be prepared and understand hey y’all, it’s over. Right? It’s over. Right? [laugh] 

 

Kaya Henderson: You gotta say it. 

 

Don Calloway: So how many times they got to take something till we believe? But so I don’t want to discuss that. I want to focus on what does this mean for HBCUs? I’m an HBCU guy uh and I don’t want to talk about HBCU’s broadly. I want us to think deeply about I know y’all gonna think deeply, but if you’re listening, think deeply about what this means for the various different types of HBCUs. Public institutions, private institutions, 1890 land grant institutions, institutions that are barely hanging on right now, um but in a broader sense that encompasses them all. Are HBCU’s prepared for the real life implications of what it means to end affirmative action. Are we prepared to accept the students who, let’s be clear, a very practical element of this is less Black folks are going get into the University of North Carolina. Less Black folks are gonna get into Michigan. Less Black folks are gonna get into Berkeley, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, big state U right? Less Black folks will be admitted. Are we prepared to compete for those students with the MSIs, minority serving institutions, the UNC Greensboro’s, the University of Missouri Saint Louis’s who many of them were set up to compete with HBCUs. Similar programs, siphon off some of that funding. Are we prepared from a facility management standpoint to accept an influx of students? And frankly, are our households prepared to have the conversation that our institutions, our HBCUs are every bit as qualified to educate these students and prepare them for the future? So I haven’t really heard those conversations bubbling up in a way uh that satisfies my soul. Uh. Robert Nesta Marley, but I just want to make sure that not only are we having the conversations in the public, but that our schools are doing the practical and tactical things necessary to prepare for the end of affirmative action, which is coming this summer. 

 

Kaya Henderson: I mean, the HBCU question is really interesting, Don, um because I have had a little bit of a window into a few HBCUs, even over the last over the last two or three years since George Floyd, there’s been an explosion in admissions um and applications to HBCUs. And these HBCUs literally just cannot handle the influx of folks who are coming. Now, when these people don’t have spots in other places. Um. It’s going to be catastrophic. I mean, many of our HBCUs, even the most well resourced ones, don’t have the physical plant, don’t have the capacity to be able to take on massive new numbers of students. Um. And so and I don’t think that they should be expected to just pick up, you know, folks who can’t get in anywhere else. Um. I mean, I wonder what what the third way answer is in this. And there has to be. I mean, our our colleges and universities broadly don’t have the capacity. Even state schools, which previously were well resourced by both state and federal government, um have seen precipitous drops in funding. And that’s why state schools don’t even do what they used to do for low income and colorful people. Right. So we’ve already seen that happen. Um. And I and where are these people going go [laugh] when there is no where where are the people going to go? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Kaya. Are you still you’re still are you still on the board at Georgetown? 

 

Kaya Henderson: I am on the board at Georgetown. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: So you have a front row seat to the College administration issue? 

 

Kaya Henderson: I sure do. And and I mean Georgetown. And this is why I bleed blue and gray, filed an amicus brief against the people trying to dismantle um affirmative action, because diversity has served us incredibly well. Um. Despite all of the, you know, we complicated just like everybody else. We sold our, we sold slaves. We did the thing like we got it’s complicated. But um Georgetown has a pretty strong track record on on admissions, diversity, and creating space that is welcoming and belonging and whatnot. Um. But I, you know. I don’t know what when when I was reading the article, you know, just this broad brush poverty class. We’re going to go for class. I’m not really sure how that works. I mean, there’s a zillion poor people. There’s a zillion color they’re like I just don’t know how anybody expects for the the fraudulent claims that we can still achieve diversity goals without explicitly factoring in race, that we can do it by class. I just am not sure how that works. 

 

Don Calloway: You can’t. And I think that’s important because what’s not being brought is a lawsuit to end legacy admissions. Right? Or or–

 

Kaya Henderson: Say that now. Mmm.

 

Don Calloway: You know, or or athletic admissions for polo and lacrosse and the majority of athletes who are not white um excuse me, who are not African-American um or people of any color. And so I think that what you’re looking at is a situation in which the diversity numbers will be demonstrably less across the top tier of universities across the country, because ultimately what we’re talking about is the Harvards, the Yale’s, the the UNC’s of the world, which is a seat of privilege where this these elite institutions are not the way that most Americans, the 25% of which have college degrees. It’s not the way that most Americans experience higher education. Most of us experience it from directional state U or some type of post-secondary trade school or something like that. And so there is some privilege. However, when you end up looking at governing circles of society, public or private sector, they disproportionately source from the country’s best universities. And so there is no way be it zip code based, be it poverty based, because, by the way, Black folks ain’t all the folks in poverty we are not even the majority of people in of policy in poverty in this country. There is no way to maintain diverse diversity in terms of people of color without explicitly um talking race. So affirmative action is ending. It is ending with this specific goal of limiting people of color at these elite institutions. And all of us are going to have to figure out how we reckon with that, because it has real implications. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I’d add so it I had not thought about the HBCU part of this conversation until you brought it. So thank you for bringing it. I, we had even talked about the broader set of problem. So two things. One, Kaya, I do think that somebody is going to come up and make a lot of money off of a replacement formula. You know. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: It’ll be a little bit a– 

 

Kaya Henderson: I think that’s right. Yeah.

 

DeRay Mckesson: –a little bit of geography, a little bit of, you know, what zip code you write in and some, you know, we’ll plug in some crime stats and [?] and we’ll back into hard life. Like, I think that’s what we’ll get out of this. And I’m interested in, you know, again, before I became an activist, affirmative action to me was always discussed as like give all the Black people 20 more points. Like, that was the way that I’d always heard it. Do you know what I mean? And that framing of it, just like engenders people to like unfair, da da like that was just the that was just the framing, you know, even as I supported it. But but it was easy to see why people would be like well why you get 20 more points? You wasn’t a like even Black and forget white people, Black people will say stuff like that. Right? And I think that on the in on our end we need to do whether it’s the phrase affirmative action or something else, we need to do more work to help people understand that the end of it will mean race is not even considered in any capacity. Right? 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yup. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: The like if you were putting together a school, you would make sure it was representative of the community. If you were building a company, you would be mindful, like to take the bite out of the idea I think is actually our work, like somebody needs to do that work. And I think that that is what is largely lost because I don’t I think when people hear the end of affirmative action, I think they hear the end of quotas. That is what I know people, they– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –they feel like they don’t hear the end of any race being considered [laugh] you’re like, well, that is– 

 

Kaya Henderson: — [?] consideraton. Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: You’re like, that is nuts. And I don’t know, whatever. Whoever, you know, evil magician on the left, I mean, right did affirmative action equals quotas screwed us in a way that we are still trying to dig ourselves out of? Does that make sense? 

 

Kaya Henderson: That’s fair. Yeah. 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah, it absolutely makes sense. And I keep thinking about what you said at the beginning of the show, which is they don’t get tired. Right? Uh. We have had the same fights every ten years, and it’s systematic. And what happens is a new generation of our best soldiers, activists, intellectuals have to get caught up in these same battles over and over and over again. And those evil geniuses on the right are well resourced. Uh. They have the opportunity to think about this stuff and get paid to to to to to activate on it. Um. And it can be overwhelming and frustrating. So maybe that’s not a hopeful way for me to end my, my news story.

 

Kaya Henderson: No but but we also talked about the fact that the only way you, the only way you lose is to not fight. So this is– 

 

Don Calloway: That’s right. 

 

Kaya Henderson: –just another place that we are going to have to apply pressure, that we’re also going to have to think about ways to find new solutions. Right. As DeRay said, somebody is going to create the algorithm that [laughing] does what it does, right? 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah. 

 

Kaya Henderson: Um. [laugh] And so let’s figure out what other creative opportunities there are to make sure that as many of I mean, the the the most the craziest part of this is that we all know that there is so much talent in low income communities and with people of color. And no, I mean, every other place in the world who is trying to compete from a talent perspective is mining, you know, their lowest income places and mining their minority populations to pull those people in and help make their countries competitive. And we the only dumb nuts who are like, sayonara suckers, go sit down somewhere. We don’t want to be competitive. We’ll just take the wealthy ones and keep working with that. Ay yi yi. Pray for us. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will say the only other thing, you know, there was um a nonprof– fellow ED in nonprofit land, sent me a message the other day. He was like DeRay, uh being a nonprofit leader is like a scam sometimes. I was like, what feels like the scammiest part? And they were like the fundraising. Right. And, you know, Kaya, you know, you lead a hybrid company, but you were in the government– 

 

Kaya Henderson: It’s not hybrid. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –for a long time.

 

Kaya Henderson: I’m I’m a corporate shill right now. [laughter]

 

DeRay Mckesson: Oh. Uh. But, you know, had a long stint in public service. And I do think about I was saying this to a friend the other night is that um the right wing puts up $100 million, like they put up a big pot of money and they go to town on an issue. On the left, our best and brightest are fighting for $5,000–

 

Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –$10,000– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Say it. Say it.

 

DeRay Mckesson: –12,000. So you spend so much time just– 

 

Kaya Henderson: –trying to manage. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –trying to keep the thing moving that you aren’t even putting your best energy to solving the problem because you are like, well, I need 10,000 from these people. And you do that every year, you know what I mean? 

 

Kaya Henderson: Yes. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And the concentration of wealth on the left hand, the left side, just like I’m not convinced it’s spent well. I think about all the money we pour into these political elections and none of their messages work. I’m like, give me a quarter of that and I can come up with a better phrase and a better strategy than you y”all spent $200 million dollars on and– 

 

Don Calloway: Yeah listen–  

 

DeRay Mckesson: –none of it stuck. 

 

Don Calloway: –you sound like my man Anand Giridharadas. I know I butchered his last

. Giridharadas yeah, the book uh winner takes all– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Giridharadas uh huh. 

 

Don Calloway: –where he kind of talks about, you know, the uh the philanthropic, uh you know, machine of the left which is kind of to make really rich people look good and get the tax write offs while not really addressing systemic root issues, look, if that machine meant something then how are 3% of Black babies in Orangeburg County dying? You know, within a year. Right. Um. But it makes people feel good. Uh. But that’s a much longer I don’t think, I don’t know if we have time, but that’s a much– 

 

Kaya Henderson: Whew chile. [laugh]

 

Don Calloway: [?]. About what philanthropy really is, particularly about leftist causes. [music break]

 

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 you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson. [music break] 

 

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