Jim Crow Makes A Return | Crooked Media
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March 12, 2024
Pod Save The People
Jim Crow Makes A Return

In This Episode

DeRay, De’Ara and Myles chat Alabama Senator Katie Britt’s sinister code switch, prison disciplinary fines, minority-business agencies forced to accommodate all races, and a new PBS doc on ‘Reading Rainbow’.

News

Listen to the difference between Alabama Senator Katie Britt’s natural voice and her speech voice.

How a New Hulu Doc Chronicles the Birth, Rise and Backlash of Black Twitter

Federal judge orders minority-business agency opened to all races

Prison disciplinary fines only further impoverish incarcerated people and families

‘Reading Rainbow’ Doc ‘Butterfly in the Sky’ Scores U.S. Theatrical Release From AMC Theaters

 

Download the Blackest Book Club reading list!

Follow Pod Save the People on Instagram.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Myles and De’Ara talking about the news that you might have heard last week and didn’t know it was about race, justice, inequity or news that you didn’t hear in the past week about race, justice and inequity. Hear to talk about it. We talk about some Trump stuff, some prison stuff, some culture stuff, Black Twitter, we got the whole range. Here we go. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

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

 

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

 

DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I guess we’re kicking off with Katie Britt. I don’t have much to say about her, to be honest. I have some relatives in Alabama that we basically did a family zoom and talked about her ad nauseum. That actually should have been the podcast. [laughter]

 

DeRay Mckesson: What was the family saying? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: So my family ended up in Montgomery, Alabama, because my uncle was in the Air Force and got stationed, there’s a big Air Force base in Montgomery. And so my aunt and uncle actually loved it so much. Loved Alabama so much that they have remained there. My uncle’s been retired for like 15 years. My aunt is from Saint Paul, Minnesota. My uncle grew up in Saint Paul, but his people are from Little Rock, Arkansas. So it’s an interesting contrast because they love living there. My cousins are in their 30’s. They love living there. For them, it’s a contrast of like what their life is in Alabama versus what national news and what sort of our mainstream consciousness tells us about Alabama. Granted, the votes don’t lie like these are the people that are in office there. So that’s you know, there’s the complication of that. It’s just an interesting thing. It’s like I think their perspective is very much like she don’t speak for nobody we know or our experience here. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I didn’t know the fundie voice like that fundamentalist white Christian voice that she employs. I didn’t know that was like a thing. There’s like all these TikToks about that voice, about the sounding like a subservient woman, almost infantile in the kitchen with the cross necklace. Like all of that is playing into a trope, that was fascinating to me because that voice was bizarre. And then to see the mash up of her regular voice, I was like, oh, this is you were speaking to a specific demographic. And even the Republicans, like they were, you know, Chris Hayes showed one of the Republican live shows that watched it, and then they were speechless, like they didn’t even know what to say after it happened, because it was just such a spectacle to see her employ that and you’re like and she lied. The whole trafficking situation that she talks about didn’t happen under Biden. It happened under Bush, where there was a horrific crime that happened with people who were immigrants and da da da, and she tried to use it as this big anti Biden moment. And the reality was was that it happened under Bush. She got fact checked. Her team has come out and said that they got it wrong. I mean they didn’t use that language. But she lied during the speech. But it was just a bizarre response to the state of the Union. And I think Biden actually did well in the state of the Union. I thought it went okay. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I think that she helped him do better, you know, or like when I rethink about the state of the Union, I think he was already doing really well. I don’t know if we talked about this on the last podcast. Sorry if I’m repeating myself, but that whole my age doesn’t matter, but the age of my ideas matter. Something like that. I’m like messing up that whole thing. But that to me is really like brilliant to me. And I think then Miss Britt [laugh] coming in sounding like, like a stepford housewife and sounding so weird and strange. I think that only helped Biden’s case and only helps me feel more supportive of Biden, despite, you know, the other problems I have. But I still have more confidence in Biden now. And it only more shows how, just like insane the Republican Party is right now, the fact that they even, like, greenlit this and said, oh, this looks right and normal and what conservative Americans want to see. I’m like, this is like a satirical, horror Jordan Peele directed thing. And I can’t believe that y’all pressed record and thought this was going to convince us to dismiss anything that Biden said. Wild [?].

 

De’Ara Balenger: I will say this is coming from somewhere. And I say where the Republicans tend to outdo us and outspend us is sort of in understanding the behavioral science behind what their audience is going to react to. So there had to be some polling or some focus groups done that resulted in if we do this, this is going to be what resonates best to both of y’alls points. I think it was very, very strategic and I’m I’m sure it is behind her is a set of statistics. And that said do it this way because this is who we are trying to go for and this is who we need here. Um here’s who we need to continue to try to build coalition with. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I think so. But I think that you could also get all those statistics on paper and then the execution, there could be huge gaps. So you might say something as simple as it might be good to have her in the kitchen. [laugh] As sexist as that is. But the type of kitchen was a little creepy. [laughter]

 

De’Ara Balenger: That’s what the feedback was too. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah! 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I read somewhere it just was like, I think for the MAGA folks, she’s rich. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: So but it’s an interesting contrast. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Very rich. That kitchen was a million dollar kitchen. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Well, let me tell you something. As a HGTV uh homosexual. [laughter] I was looking at that kitchen. I said, now hold on. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right, right.

 

Myles E. Johnson: You ain’t got no problems over there. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: It’s interesting, though, how it’s like, oh, well, you’re married to a football player, you have a big house and da da da da, but then there’s not the same diligence done when it comes to Donald Trump, even though Donald Trump, day by day, is getting less rich and less rich. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: They could have really used somebody who’s on their team. They could have like hired no shade they could have hired like Roseanne Barr and been like so what, can you set design this? Can you tell us because she obviously is really good at cosplaying, broke in middle America and just is able to brand herself as a certain type of um American that she’s not necessarily. And they just had too much class fog to see that there was a gap between what they’re presenting and what people are experiencing. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: It is really interesting because Katie Britt has doubled down on the lie she told is that during her response, she said in speaking about this incident at the Mexican border, she said she had been sex trafficked by the cartel starting at age 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped. We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a third world country, this is the United States of America. And it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace. And then it was a TikToker who acknowledged that she was wrong and that this actually didn’t happen under Biden. Happened under Bush. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: But isn’t the other thing about that story that she was telling is that it didn’t happen in America? It happened in Mexico?

 

DeRay Mckesson: I think you’re right. It actually um happened in Mexico in the mid 2000s. And yeah, she just blamed this on Biden. But what’s interesting is that even though she’s been pressed, she’s actually done the circuit again. And she’s just doubling down on like, well she never really said that, she never, and you’re like, this is, De’Ara, what is going on? You need to– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Well, you know, what’s so interesting is that so during the Oscars last night, Pao was standing in for Ayman on MSNBC, and I was the one watching Pao since everyone else, I guess is watching the Oscars. But she had Mayra Flores on who I am fascinated by. So Mayra Flores ran for Congress in South Texas. This woman didn’t get her citizenship till she was 14. She’s a child of migrant workers. South Texas is like a predominant Latino, heavily Mexican area that for decades has been Democratic. She flipped the seat. So she’s, you know, she’s very much a, you know, kind of a MAGA Republican. So Pao had her on last night and Pao kept asking her, she asked her three times, how can you support a party and a candidate that says immigrants poison America? And like the veracity and passion which this woman does not answer this question, but then also just like tells untruths is just wild. And then she– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: [?]. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Then and then she was like, well, Donald Trump has never said that to anybody in South Texas. Girl, he ain’t coming to talk to y’all. What is wrong with you? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: What? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: What? But it’s but it’s that type of thing. It’s like it’s so and I felt so much, so much empathy for Pao. Pao did a great job. But it’s like, how do you debate somebody that’s lying? Or that actually doesn’t have any ethics around the center of what– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: You know what I mean? Like if we are both, we both have different versions of what democracy is. Okay, then let’s move from there. But it’s like you push them this way. They go the other way. It’s fascinating. 

 

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

 

[AD BREAK]

 

De’Ara Balenger: All right. Now that we got that over with, we can talk about some real, real. Watched the Oscars last night? I will say there are a lot of disappointments for me, but what I’m holding on to is Da’Vine, in the win of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Holdovers. So I also loved the format that they did this year, where they had former Oscar winners talk about the work of the nominees. I thought that was so beautiful. So Lupita talked about Da’Vine, and then she she won and came up and gave a beautiful speech. And in this speech just talked about how she always had to carve her own path and that she had to, you know, have faith and courage and belief in that. And she was on that stage last night and she won, and I was thrilled. Cord Jefferson won for best screenplay, which was major, major, major, major. And we love, love him. Um. And the the gist of his speech was essentially Hollywood, give people a chance. A lot of people passed on this movie. And now look at me up here. He didn’t say it like that, but he should have. Any highlights for y’all? Did y’all watch?[sigh] [laughter] Well also Myles, I thought of you because of the movie that the white people did about the Indigenous people. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Killers of the Flower Moon.

 

De’Ara Balenger: Uh huh. There was a performance moment where Indigenous people were, you know, singing, performing on stage. And I just was like, it’s so hard to, like, reconcile that being in such a white space. So I did think of Myles. So I was like, I wonder what Myles is thinking about this whole thing here. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I think as I get, have gotten older and y’all know I turn 33 on Wednesday. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Oh my gosh. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Woo woo.

 

Myles E. Johnson: As I’ve gotten older and older, I think I’ve just kind of reconciled in both like my spirit and my mind, how odd the American production of entertainment looks, you know, when something absorbs another culture and how it just it’s just always going to look just strange to me. Um. And I think if you just have a certain amount of, like, critical awareness, it’s going to look strange to you too. So there’s just never going to be a version of like, even when I think about, like, The Color Purple and stuff. When I saw the striped jailed dancing choreography for the imprisoned prisoners during that segment, it just looks and feels strange and um, yeah, so that’s how I feel about that, as I think I’ve just gotten used to things looking strange as um, as I’ve gotten older. But I think with when it comes to the Oscars, I don’t know, maybe I’m the last one on this train, or the only one who ever really got on this train, but I just do not care. And I really am happy for everybody who does care, who gets their things. You know, I think there is um, nothing more affirming than seeing Da’Vine Joy. I think she’s styled impeccably. Of course, she’s incredibly talented, and I’m glad that she’s getting honored um for her work in The Holdovers. But I don’t know. I saw this interview with Angela Bassett and Oprah two days ago, and Angela Bassett towards the end of the interview, she had just got her honorary um Oscar. And Angela Bassett is with Oprah and they’re taking a picture together and Angela Bassett has her Oscar in her hand, and she’s talking about her Oscar. She’s like, yeah, he sleeps with me. And yeah she uh, let’s take a picture with it. And and and and she’s like, she’s like she, he doesn’t say much, but he’s a man of little, little words. But really, it kind of made me uncomfortable that like Angela Bassett, who to me is like God force in the flesh had become as infatuated with this inanimate object that was structurally created to dismiss certain types of work into [?] types of work. It just really felt like seeing like a goddess be afraid of a ant or be a goddess being in love with a mouse. Like it just felt so weird looking at it. And that’s how I tend to feel about the Oscars and how I feel about Black folks participation. Not even participation, but they’re like them showing this much importance to the Oscars because it’s one thing to know, like, oh, yo, me getting this award is going to help me get here, or I love being feeling appreciated. But sometimes, like the worship of the exceptional symbol disturbs me, you know, it feels a little weird, but I’m glad for any Black person who feels further validated or feels further affirmed in their excellence when they get it, because we should be able to feel that way. But I would be lying if I didn’t say when I see it it kind of makes me cringe a little bit like ugh. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I do think what is still powerful about the Oscars. And I agree with everything you just said. Is there is something about being recognized by your peers. And I think that is for a lot of people what it the validation is like. I know enough celebrities who don’t really know what to do with the fan love because fans, you know, like fans sort of, you know, love a lot of things and sometimes have a weird bar or go too far. Da da da. But there is something different when your peers are like, okay, that actually was an excellent performance. Or that was an excellent score, or excellent screenplay. And I do think that when when I think about people’s desire for the Oscars or any of those awards, the Grammys da da da, there’s this idea of what does it mean to be recognized by your peers, like the people who are not simply fans but are experts in the craft and and that to me, the desire for that makes sense to me. And the question for me is like, how do we make sure that it is actually more representative of of the peers and not just [laugh] and not just a slice of people with money and power, which is what I don’t think we’ve figured out. Or it has figured out. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, you’re absolutely right and it reminds me of, I can’t remember the actress’s name because this quote echoes louder than her name. But um, when she’s like you love me? You really love me? I think I’m totally saying that wrong. But like, you love me. You really love me. That that state. So I think that shows what importance it is. Um. But again, I think here I go. But I think that I would challenge if, if you could be Black and in any industry, including the entertainment industry, and actually produce peer ship, I think there’s always going to be a sense of um white supremacy and power and eliteticism and things that really never create a true peer. It’s always going to create a token. Same thing when I look at like a very simplistic metaphor for me is like when I see, like horror movies and it’s a all white cast and you have that one Black friend who’s like, used to have all the Black stereotypes. I personally think in American culture how it’s structured, a true peer ship is actually impossible, and it’s always going to be illusion. So I would entice people to give up the illusion. And if you’re winning the illusion, say thank you God. And if you lose, just don’t take it to the chinl. But I think I’m not I’m not sold on there actually being a possibility of peer ship in these industries. And I think we get shown that time and time and time again, and just by people forgetting or having a misstep or whatever, you show that like, oh wow, when you’re not thinking about it, we’re not included. We have to bargain and protest and and exclaim for you all to think about it. I think that shows that there’s not true peer ship either, where as Martin Scorsese can do anything, and he’s going to be at the Oscars. He’s not going to be forgot. He’s not going to be snubbed. He’s not and he’s not going to be nobody’s not going to recognize him. Whereas with American Fiction, you kind of have to have this undergirded thing where you better not forget me. You better come on, let’s do the interviews. Let me have these big soliloquy Baldwin Morrison esque speeches in my interviews. So you remember, like, you need that in order to uh be pushed into that conversation. And to me that’s not proof of peer ship. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I’ll say two things. One, I can only speak to, like, the small sliver of work that I do on film and doc. But I do believe that like that peer ship is possible. And I want to say that because I feel like if we don’t, that lets folks off the hook, right? So I think there’s this like sort of belief with white people that it’s like, ah we’re not going to get it. So why even try? And with Black people, they ain’t never going to get it. So kind of F em? and I just feel like we just have to be and think more expansively than that. I think Black people do that intrinsically. I think even when we know there’s no hope in a situation, we are still hopeful and we still create examples of what something looks like that you can’t name it. There’s no language for it. We move the thing. So I say all that to say, like everything you’re saying, I think is 100% true. But I think my push in these days and me being a whole ten years ahead. [laughter] Wow. Is that I think right now I’m like, I’m going, even if it’s going to cause my body more stress and labor, I’m a push you. I’m a ride you because I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it with folks, I’ve seen that, I’ve seen the commitment to what this world can look like. And you can do it too. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will say this argument about whether peership is possible or not is actually really interesting. And I think I agree with both of you. I think I agree with De’Ara on this idea that like present yes and possible and I do think that race and power and privilege filter the way people see the movies. I think that Killers of the, I always screw the name up. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Ah you know, I’m not even going to try to help you and I’m going to mess it up. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I’m not going to even correct you.

 

De’Ara Balenger: I already mispronounced open Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer. So I’m I’m the wrong one. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Killers of the Flower Moon. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: White people have been like, oh my God, incredible film da da. Every Black person I know who saw it was like, why do we tell that story from the white man’s perspective? That is literally, the Black people are like, why did we center white people in telling the story about native, about a native culture? And that is a very different way to see the film. That is a completely, you know, that is a whole different or even Oppenheimer. It’s like, you know, I’ve seen people talk about that film and sort of talk about the lens through which a white man’s character is able to process and absolve or whatever, just work through that in a way that it devastates, you know, whose perspective is not highlighted in that film? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Even though it is a beautiful film. And that is a very different way to watch a movie, you know? 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. I just want to say that any thing I say about peership isn’t saying that Black people are not valuable in film and television. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Oh no, 100%. Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Or I wouldn’t be doing anything that I do, or I wouldn’t be talking to y’all if I thought that. Um I just think that like peership how we’re thinking about it and how we’re saying it is just as much psychological as it is um material. So I think that we can always force um white people and these white establishments to regard our work. And I think that, like, your saying it is going to be a force, it’s going to be a push, it’s going to be labor. But there’s something different when Meryl Streep just gets the nomination, there’s something different where, oh, we have to kind of make a conversation every single year. And now Angela Bassett finally gets this recognition because she was snubbed her whole career. And now that she’s in this other half of her career, I’ll say, now we know that we need to correct that. That’s something totally different than just being Meryl Streep and going to do everything from Death Becomes Her to The Hours, which are my favorite movies. [laugh] I love those movies, but you can do everything from that to Devils Wear Prada to The Hours, and you just get recognized. And I think that’s just because you’re just inside of the club, you know? And I think I’m interested if if somebody could ever just see you as inside of the club for your work and for it not to be so raced and class specifically when I think about blah, blah, blah, Black being a class social position that, you know, before you even open your mouth, people already position you. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: So. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: That’s right.

 

Myles E. Johnson: You know. On to brighter things. [laughing]

 

De’Ara Balenger: I’m going to open us up to this. But y’all, I don’t even use the Twitter anymore. But now there’s a documentary coming out on it. Maybe that’s how I will participate, depending on what Myles tells me to do about this documentary, which I never know which way it’s going to go. So I’m going to stay tuned, just like our audience here. So take it away, my dears. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: So there is a Black Twitter doc, the trailer just dropped on the internet and it’s going to be on Hulu. And it looks interesting. I know that it’s premiering in some film festival, South by Southwest, um this past weekend, so I’m sure we’ll hear even more people’s opinions who were able to see it as time goes on. But that it essentially looks like trying to explain how Black Twitter was born and it’s power specifically, I guess as a culture we’re saying we saw the peak and now we see the decline so we can do a documentary about it. Because to me that’s what, you wouldn’t do a documentary about something that’s still happening. So anywho, yeah, there’s going to be a doc around the creation and the zenith of Black Twitter and its importance and its influence, and hopefully, I don’t know, but hopefully it will also talk about Black people in digital space in interesting ways, because I think that’s also a piece around Black Twitter that to me feels interesting that they’re just like I’m making up some words, but go with me. There’s this maybe globality globalness around Black culture now that exists because of the internet. So there are people who are saying um, you don’t know nan, I’m just using something random, who are in on the continent or who are in the Caribbean, who normally would not use those languages, but because of the internet, we kind of flattened some um cultural exchanges in ways that make Black culture for better feel one and beautiful and together, but then also for worse, makes it feel like monolithic. And we get into weird wars around cultural ownership and stuff like that. But hopefully that is also discussed, because that’s what I’m kind of tuning into here too. Um. DeRay, are you going to be in the doc? Would you tell me if you were in the doc, um how you feel about the doc? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I um, I don’t think I’m in this documentary. I don’t I don’t remember being interviewed or anything. Maybe they might reference a tweet or so. But I don’t know. It is interesting, I think, about the people that make Black Twitter Black Twitter are sometimes not the people that have blue checkmarks anybody knows, and I’m interested in how they get captured. I think about like us watching Scandal together, like Game of Thrones, like all these seminal things that were pretty big moments on Twitter, um and like cultural building things. And I don’t know how they capture those people. So I’m interested. There’s only one tweet I saw about the screening at South By and it was really positive. So maybe this does turn out to be um an interesting thing I’m very neutral at this moment about it. Um. I am fascinated. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I’m really excited as well. The one thing that I will say I am tired of kind of the same people taking up space around the conversations that are happening around Black people, specifically on the internet. So you could just guess who those people are because they’re all in the doc. But um, I’m really a little disappointed that there weren’t more people who don’t have this kind of, like, professional reason for being on the internet and don’t have this kind of slant. Like, I wish there was more people who were just on Twitter saying things who maybe their career began and stopped on Twitter and really talking about it because I don’t know it. It just feels weird to always have certain Black things always being filtered through the same Black professional voices, which to me often defangs and misrepresents things when we continue to do that. Um. So maybe it’s not even about them not being a part of it, but also having just as many people who don’t have that professional filter being a part of these docs too so we get a more holistic representation of what a thing is. So that’s the only thing I can say because I haven’t seen the doc but.

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: But don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

De’Ara Balenger: All right, y’all, my news today. Oh, man. This, what’s happening with this judiciary is really, really wild. Um. I am a Black business owner, and so I so many parts of my identity now are just who knows what’s going to happen as things continue to move through America’s federal judiciary. But it’s looking like everything’s on the chopping block for me, my marriage, my business, you know, my uterus, just about all of it. So in this day of news, a federal judge in Texas essentially ordered a 55 year old federal agency created to help minority owned businesses to open its door to everybody. So this ruling potentially imperils dozens of government programs that also presume racial minorities are inherently disadvantaged. Um. So this judge, Mark T. Pittman, who was appointed by the Donald Trump, ruled that minority business development agency’s presumption that businesses owned by Black people, Latinos and other minorities are disadvantaged violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. He permanently enjoined the agency’s business centers, which have assisted minority owned businesses in accessing capital and government contracts from extending services based on an applicant’s race. So he permanently enjoined that means forbid, that means stop immediately. Okay, so this is happening right now. And so one when you think about Black businesses, particularly Black businesses that do business with federal and state local entities. First of all, let me tell y’all it is so hard to even get certified as a minority owned business. I had to go through this process for New York and New Jersey, and then beyond that, it is doubly hard to get in a procurement queue to even get this, be able to solicit this business. Right. So there’s like all these steps that you need to do in order to be able to even get into a position where you’re able to get this business right. And of course, when you look at the statistics and you look at who is the least advantaged in getting this business, is it is Black and Latino businesses. So this decision marks the latest blow um to government affirmative action programs. And, you know, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling against Harvard and the University of North Carolina in June. So we saw this too. I think we covered the sister who was running the venture fund that has been gone after too, and is dealing with a whole bunch of legal back and forth and fees around the fact that her fund that she’s building, that she’s raised money for is just giving predominantly to Black owned businesses. So I just wanted to bring this to the pod because I’ve just really been watching the courts. And we’ve seen things that have happened with the High Court in terms of, you know, a couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court deciding that Donald Trump can stay on the ballot in Colorado. It’s just the interventions by the judiciary, I think, are the scariest to me because they are the hardest to undo. They are unpredictable and you just kind of have to stay on top of them. I will say that this is a thing I don’t think the Biden campaign and Joe Biden talks enough about is the fact that he’s put so many women of color, particularly Black women, on the federal bench. More than any other president. So we need to keep doing that for this very reason. Because things that we’re not necessarily paying attention to that are going to impact Black wealth building in this country for a long time, are on the chopping block. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: This reminds me of the end of reconstruction. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: That you know, reconstruction happens. Black people are doing historically better than they have ever done, ever in the United States. And then the government systematically takes it away. And what is wild about this ruling, so thank you for bringing this, and when I read the article that you put in, he actually writes, if courts mean what they say when they ascribe supreme importance to constitutional rights, the federal government may not flagrantly violate such rights with impunity. The minority business, the MBDA has done so for years. Time’s up. He’s like y’all Black people have gotten enough and time is up. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Fighting words. Okay. He ain’t playing.

 

DeRay Mckesson: That is white supremacy like that is a total ignoring of the racial history of this, of this country and why the agency was needed in the first place. And Lord knows that the racial preferences for white people are baked into the very system. So if we gonna get rid of all of it, let’s get rid of all of it. You know, like but it’s so telling that, you know, all of the things that we’ve done that are preferential for white people were fine. And the little droppings that happened for Black people, but this to me is reminiscent of the end of reconstruction that like it is a structural backlash that is systematic, that is like slowly but methodically taking away Black people’s rights, power, money, access, and under the veneer of some legal framework. And, you know, I think about, obviously is in organizing, we pass laws and stuff. And I’m like, if people saw the way this thing worked behind the scenes, they would just revolt. It wouldn’t forget all this stuff on TV and TikTok and da da da, they would just burn this thing down because when you see it, you’re like, oh, this is just a money thing. This is a greed thing. This is a power thing. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I do not describe myself as a Afro pessimist, but it’s hard to not want to when you read things like this because I think the thing that is just stunning to me is what a clear, almost um, structural win it is for conservatives. You have the people who start the controversy, the people who litigated, the people who um get it to go through and create law like it’s just a clear sweep of white supremacist like wave until it gets, like, turned to law. Like, I think that’s the thing that feels the wildest is that obviously it was just so hard to create disruption for this. Does that make sense? Like it’s so hard. It maybe doesn’t feel like maybe this is actually what happened. There was a game plan between every single person. There wasn’t just a random conservative person who had this problem, and this random judge and stuff like that. This was obviously like a game plan and it worked, you know? And I think that’s the part that is the saddest. And the thing that makes pessimism seducing is that it worked. Where was that disruption? That block wasn’t there. And now the best we can do is try to do something to try to reverse this or I don’t know, but I think that’s the part that gets me pessimistic is that, oh wow, this went through and it worked. And the game plan was fabulous for the people who are interested in white domination, that this was fabulous. And now when I think about Harvard, when I think about the woman who we talked about a couple of weeks ago who’s um, litigating for um her agency as well, I think that now there’s such a game plan, there’s such a blueprint for how this should work and stuff that we’re going to just see more and more people and more and more like items like this as things go on. And of course, that there is some type of um, you know, if this is happening under Biden, of course, if this is happening under a Trump presidency, there’s a whole blueprint of how to destroy Black progression in through law like. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yup. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: And we’re seeing it happening [?] like, you know, just because I’m using positive language doesn’t mean I think it’s positive, obviously. But we’re seeing it happen so smoothly and fabulously, like clean sweep, wild.

 

De’Ara Balenger: And that’s what they mean. We want to make America great again. What do people think that means? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will say seguing into my news. One of the things that we got to figure out on the left is the storytelling around the word conspiracy, because I think that some of this stuff is so intentional and so wild that people just cannot imagine that it is real. I really do think there’s like a disbelief about it. Or when you’re like, no, it’s all about money. People are like, no, but crime is out of control. And da da da da, and that’s why we gotta lock people up and you’re like, no, no, it’s just it’s a profit. And they’re like, no, you’re just being a you hate the police. And there is there’s like a storytelling around it so people understand, like no no it actually is intentional and that bad or like, no, no, the person in power is actually just lying. You know, like we got to figure that out. So when I think about my news, uh Prison Policy Initiative, which is one of my favorite organizations, they are brilliant. I’ve learned so much from them, they put out a first of its kind study around disciplinary fees in prison. Prison and jail are different. Prison’s where you go after you’ve been convicted. Jail is where you go before you’ve been convicted. If you’ve been convicted and are in jail, you’re probably in there for less than a year. So if you get convicted, um and you serve a 30 day sentence, a five day sentence, a ten day sentence, you’ll do that in jail. If you serve more than a year, you’re probably serving that in a prison. That’s just an FYI. But what they found is that in 16 prison systems, that they charge people a fee for disciplinary violations, and in some cases, there’s a severity of the disciplinary violation or infraction. The severity equals a higher fine. In some places there’s just a flat charge. But in total, they find that there are a lot of innocuous behaviors, like loud or disturbing noises in Kansas that have a price tag. And the ranges are in between 5 and 25 for most, but some charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. So in Arizona, the fines start at $500 for the first incidence of whatever they want to call a serious violation, and the fines go as high as $2,000. In Utah, they can impose up to $600 for a serious code A offense and up to $300 for a code B offense, which can be things like horseplay. And then they find that they wrap these up in administrative fees as well. So in Georgia, every time you’re found guilty for a disciplinary violation, you get an extra $4 fee for the processing of it, unless the violation is for having a cell phone, which gives a $100 administrative processing fee. So let me repeat that back. You already get a fee for the violation. Then they charge you another fee to process the violation. In North Carolina, if you’re charged a $10 administrative fee for every disciplinary infraction. That is wild. In 2022 alone, they collected $313,000 in fees to the general fund. Now, here’s the thing. You’ve already heard that people who are incarcerated maximum are making like 30 cents a day. So charging somebody $2,000 for anything is actually just a tax on their families because they don’t have any money. They’re incarcerated, they’re not working. And if they are working their, 30 cents a day is not any money. You’re actually taxing the families, and people are already below the poverty line. This is a way to guarantee that people stay impoverished. Like that is all this is. They’re already in prison. What is a disciplinary fee going to do, what does that mean? Like, this is just another way to not only punish people, but punish their families. And when they put this out a week ago, none of us knew it was happening. Groundbreaking analysis. And I wanted to bring it here. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Thank you for bringing this news DeRay. But also what I was thinking about was so that 313K price tag was, you know, like spectacular, like like wild. But I’m also like, curious about like that’s what they got. How much did they actually charge and how much of this is about retaining slave labor. You know how much of this is about oh, we know you can’t pay, and now you have to stay in here and still can continue um being a part of, like, the slave labor that the prison produces. Because even though that $313,000 price tag is, like, huge, something in my spirit is like, I bet you, it’s even more. And more people are staying in prison and producing this labor because they can’t pay it, you know, because so many people can’t pay it. Second thing is, I’m always really, really happy when you bring like the little things around prison, I think that’s a bigger conversation, at least for me on my end. Prison bad abolition good. Like that’s very easy for me or reform whatever. You know, at this point I’m very both radical and pragmatic about where I stand on, on um, on prison, I think it needs to be reformed as like abolition needs to sit in people’s head a little bit more. But I love that you bring in these one by one details of what’s going on in prison, from the fees, from what people are being fed from, like, just these, these little things that don’t just make it this like bigger conversation that could become nebulous. But you talk about just one by one, the things that are happening in order to keep people humiliated and oppressed in prison and how we just are so uh just giving a blind eye to it. So, you know, I also want to say thank you for detailing these things because I think it makes it realer ,the details. Whereas the problem could feel fake if we don’t get into the nitty gritties as people who do have our in air quotes “freedom.” [laugh] 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I think where this takes me, DeRay, is just how disconnected we are from folks that are incarcerated, right? I mean, I think there are obviously there are so many people that are incarcerated at this point, like, you know, and I’ve been in rooms where given the conversation, a question could be, raise your hand if you know someone that is incarcerated and most of the room puts their hand up, right? I think that’s our sort of becoming our culture here in America. But I think with that, there’s still such lack of proximity to incarcerated people or formerly incarcerated people. And it reminds me of when you connected me to DC jail, and we did a day of programming for the women at DC jail, you know, it kind of was the first time that it occurred to me that you could, like, volunteer at a jail or prison. And I say all that to say that like to encourage our audience to think more about that as a sort of an act of community or an act of being a good citizen. And something like this is actually like presencing to put top of mind for my own practice around community building, because I think part of why these structures and systems are able to get away with this is because we are just so disconnected from folks, we don’t know what their day to day is like, incarcerated. And I even think for some of my family members that have been incarcerated, like they never wanted to paint a picture of what was really bad because they didn’t want us to worry at home. So I think about that, too. Like even in our relationship with incarcerated people, we’re not getting this. So yeah. So thank you to DeRay for bringing this because I think that’s really where my mind orients to is what I can do, and that there are these opportunities to volunteer and get engaged with. And in New York, we have no shortage of jails or prisons here. But to do more of that work and encourage others to do it as well. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara, you named something that I think we actually don’t talk about enough in public is that people who are incarcerated don’t want to feel like they’re putting another burden on families, so they just don’t talk about it. Because what can you do? Right? They, like, tell you it’s bad inside, and then you’re just freaking out on the outside and– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Can’t do any, like, what does that help is I think, a fair framing. I think two other things are also in play that you made me think about. One is like you’ve never been in another prison system, you know, so like you don’t know, that gets normal to you because this just is– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –what it is, right? So you’re like well. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Prison is and you’re like, no, this is nuts. And then I will not forget we did a toy drive for the kids of incarcerated people in the Alameda County Jail, which is like the Bay area minus San Francisco. And a guy who had just gotten out, he came to pick up toys for his brother’s kids, and he was like picking up a toy for his niece and nephew and da da da and he looked at us and he was like, on the inside I literally never imagined that people cared about us like this. So, you know, we got the toy drive. It’s like decorated. We’re wrapping gifts and you get to pick the toys and da da da. And he’s like, on the inside, like this idea that all these people are here, like, doing any of this stuff. He’s like, I didn’t know. So he’s like, this is blowing my mind because I just got out and I was like, wow, that’s so interesting to me because I’m in my mind I’m like, I thought that you knew people are fighting every day and da da da da da. And he was like, yeah, how would we see this? And I’m like, you know what? I had never thought about that. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. The other thing that this takes me to is I’m sick of New York State and the fact that New York’s numbers are close. We’re in between Virginia and Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arizona. Like we’re on a list with some of the worst Republican governors there are and New York is on this list. It’s just wild to me, this state. Anyway, that’ll take us down a whole another road. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: We’re going to breathe in and we’re going to breathe out. And I’m going to redirect this conversation to somewhere a smidge lighter as we exit the podcast. But I really wanted to bring this news to you all because I love books. I love Black people doing things that are outside of narrative norms that we get to see in mainstream, um society. And this news combines both of those things. And I also love a good Hulu or Netflix or whatever streaming service and chill moment. And this combines all those things. And that is Butterfly in the Sky, which is the documentary about Reading Rainbow. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Mm mmm mmm. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: [laugh] So excited about this. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Doo doo doo doo doo doo. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Okay. Don’t not–

 

DeRay Mckesson: Reading rainbow. [singing]

 

Myles E. Johnson: Okay? Don’t sing that one more lick. We ain’t got the money for that. Crooked going get upset. I’m super excited about this because A, I think LeVar Burton and I feel like I might have said this on this podcast before. Maybe not, but I’m going to say it again because I love reminding that LeVar Burton has such an interesting career, if not just for these three roles. Him in Roots playing an enslaved African person, and then Reading Rainbow, and then his journey with Star Trek, to me, is so interesting to have somebody who is so solidly a part of the culture and the past, which is like chattel slavery is the thing when we think about Black history in America, that is like, you can’t avoid it. Toni Morrison, when she speaks about Beloved, says, like, you know, Beloved has the privilege of being about the thing. You know, when you think about Black history and then you think about the present. When I think about Reading Rainbow and I think about that, like, good spot that post Sesame Street pre-Elmo and the stupidification of children’s entertainment. But that that good like spot where you just giving kids just really great content. Which to me thinks about the present. And then he was in the future and he was in Star Trek. Like I’m like, whoa. And he’s just a Black man doing it so like LeVar Burton just holds this very, I just love him. Like I’m sure he hasn’t done anything in his life but please, LeVar Berry, please don’t tell me nothing about you. Please just keep it very PG. I’m also excited about this because I think that there has been so much conversation, specifically on this podcast, but also just in other spaces that I’ve been in about literacy. And I don’t know if, literacy was such a big deal [laugh] growing up and Reading Rainbow reinforced that literacy was a big deal. I remember my first and this is maybe a good or a bad thing, depending on how you think about it. But I remember my first bouts of anxiety, my first feelings of anxiety being about me remembering what S and H made when they came together. My first bouts of anxiety were about silent letters and knowing silent, like, I remember really knowing that I needed to get this down. And maybe I didn’t understand all the reasons why I needed to get it down, but it, but it it was really established in both my household and my school with the grownups in my life. That reading was a big deal, and when I knew how to read, I was rewarded. And when something was difficult for me to um read, I was helped. And I don’t know if that culture around literacy is real, but what I do know is that reading and literacy is just as much of an access code to freedom and to uh progress in this nation and in this world as it’s ever been. So that fact has not changed, but the cultural importance around it feels like it has just like significantly shifted. So I’m also excited to look at a film that is talking about a time where reading was seen as important, seen as culturally significant to children. I’m also interested in looking at this film and maybe thinking of ways to reestablish reading and literacy as something that’s, like fundamental and something that’s cool and something that is really important. I’m interested in that too, because of course, I don’t think that we could just reboot. Well, don’t get me lying child because they rebooting everything, but like, I don’t think it’s just the answer is just rebooting something and trying to reapply it to 2024. But I think it’s about finding the essence of a thing and finding the spirit of a thing. And how do we manipulate it into being really relevant in 2024? And I think that’s really, really, um necessary I do think about it’s controversy on, on, um what they call um BookTok. I don’t, I don’t know if you all know this about BookTok. There’s a culture of books on TikTok and um. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Oh. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: The kind of books that are being lauded are being, let’s just say, debated. [laugh] But what I do think is cool about BookTok and about that is that there are people who are talking about books and reading, the quality of them [audible sneer] huh. [laugh] The, the, the reasons how come people are reading them. Huh? However, there is this culture on TikTok around establishing an importance or a culture around books that’s not just about retaining information, but it’s about entertainment. It’s about how it looks to people. I think if we can establish [?] as a way that people are getting into books, I’m here for that. So if you’re only reading this book on the train because you think it makes you look cool or smart or into it, read the book and if a ten year old [laughter] sees you really cool reading something so you can look really cool. And that ten year old wants to look really cool. So they go and read it. Listen, I’m taking every win I can get around literacy. So if that’s the next frontier of how to make reading essential and how to make it cool, and how to make it something that as many people as possible are engaging with. I’m here for it. Are you all excited about the documentary? Do you all have any beautiful memories of Reading Rainbow? Um. And also just before I also do this, shout out to PBS. I just was watching, there’s this great documentary on PBS called Black Quantum Genius, and it’s really amazing. And it’s about um these Black queer people’s engagement in quantum theory and Afrofuturism and performance and it’s amazing. And I remember watching Passing Strange on PBS, the Spike Lee film. That was a play, I’m I’m forgetting the man’s name, but it’s a it’s aplay that Spike Lee filmed and basically gave to PBS. And I remember seeing just some of my first theater via PBS when I couldn’t afford to um go see it. So I just when I I’m such a PBS kid, like some people are Nickelodeons, some people are Disney, some people are um Cartoon Network. But I was just so PBS because it’s just fantastic. So also I want to say shout out to PBS for just keeping the hits coming child. We love you, I love you, PBS for free. [laughter]

 

De’Ara Balenger: This just takes me back to such a beautiful, quiet, introspective place. As a child, I was also a heavy, heavy book reader. Like I was the only child until I was 13, so it was like me and animals and books. And I remember Reading Rainbow being such a big part of that, and it just being a place that really cultivated my imagination and my favorite. And I still remember because it’s one of my favorite stories of all times, it’s Rumplestiltskin. I don’t know why that that was my vibe and what spoke to me. But I also remember, like, how beautiful narrated these books were in Reading Rainbow and how it was also like Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee and James Earl Jones. It was like the voices that really are so just profoundly shape you. I think also was just what I so remember about this. And I think when I’m so excited about seeing and being taken back to. And Myles, I think you’re 100% right around literacy. I think even with all of these devices we have now and what that has meant for the attention span of kids, the attention span of adults, like, I remember spending so much time in bookstores growing up, and that’s what we would do. We’d just be in the bookstore, you read all the books and then your mama say, buy one book. We I had read like ten books, so that was the vibe. But yeah. So thank you for bringing this, I already want to go with like a bunch of people to see this movie. Because I think it’s going to be so beautiful and just what we need in this moment. A little bit of good nostalgia. So thank you Myles. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I was just reading, um this incredible book by Professor Jarvis Givens at Harvard called School Clothes. We had him on the pod for his first book called Fugitive Pedagogy. But the book is a retelling and then exposition about first person narratives of formerly enslaved Black people who learned how to read. It is a book just about essentially about the importance of literacy and Black students. It’s it’s centering Black student primary voices. So, like all of the stories are people who learned how to read, and their stories or like I learned Mary McLeod Bethune, I didn’t and the only thing I’ll give away is that I, you know, we all learned [?] her on Black History Month. Who knew that her going to school was a community like her learning how to read and going to school was a community project? People took off work. People baked for her family. People did all this stuff to like because it was such a big deal. And when she came back, she actually used to log the amount of cotton people picked because she was the one who could read and write. So like when people picked cotton like her, her job in the community was to, anyway. But it was specifically about the power of literacy. So when I hear you talk about this, it’s like and literacy has been not just a cool thing in Black culture, but it has been a necessary gateway to freedom. And I learned in that book, too, that not only were people traditionally punished in the way that we think about, you know, slave owners and, and white people being heinous. I did not know until I read this book that white people actually used to put acid in Black people’s eyes, who illegally learned how to read as a way to torture them but keep them alive, but to make a point that we will make sure that you can’t see. So there’s a story in the book where one of the Black men who had acid put in his eyes because he tried to learn how to read. He is imploring his granddaughter to learn how to read because he was unable to. And I think about Reading Rainbow and this long tradition of reading as liberatory practice, and what happens when the education system crumbles and who loses and all those things. So I’m excited that this is coming back and trying to think through like, what does, that’s why I love the boy Michael on Twitter. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Um. The librarian, because it’s like, I love to see Black literacy privileged in the way that it was before as the key to liberation, not just a cool thing, you know, you think about Lift Every Voice and Sing, Lift Every Voice and Sing is a song written by a teacher in a school that kids sung at the assembly in the mornings. The kids from that school then go to schools all across the country, and the song spreads and it becomes what we know today at the Black national anthem. But it is impossible without the project of education and literacy like it is you know, teachers made that song. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And yeah, I say all this to say that shout out to PBS, shout out to Reading Rainbow. Shout out to literacy. [music break] Well that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Don’t forget to follow us at @CrookedMedia on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. And if you enjoyed this episode of Pod Save the People, consider dropping us a review on your favorite podcast app 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 Vasilis Fotopoulos. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.