In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, De’Ara and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including scorching temperatures in Texas prisons, land stolen from a Black family returned, Oxford dictionary seeks to define African-American language, and a big win for actress Mo’Nique. De’Ara interviews political strategist Valerie Biden about her new book Growing Up Biden: A Memoir.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Kaya, De’Ara and Myles talking about the news that was underreported in the last week, the news that you don’t know about race, justice, and equity that you should know. And then De’Ara sits down with political strategist Valerie Biden to chat about her new book, “Growing Up Biden: A Memoir.” They chat about women in politics, the legacy of the Biden family, and the future of America. Learned a lot. Listen. Let’s do it, y’all. My visit this week is to listen to some of the old tunes, the old tunes that you listen to in college, when you were a kid–I went down a whole rabbit hole of Songs about Jane, and what a great album. I mean I feel like they got me through college. Shout out to Maroon 5. Listen to some of the old stuff. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger Family! Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on the Twitter and Instagram @dearabalenger.
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @pharoahrapture.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson, @Hendersonkaya on Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: And I’m DeRay, deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger Okay. So I’m sure everyone at this point has seen–I mean, you must be under a rock if you haven’t seen–but the Sesame Street place snub that happened to the two little adorable Black girls, I’m not that familiar with the new Sesame Street characters, so I can’t even tell you what character it was. I mean, I’m sure Kaya knows.
Kaya Henderson: Her name is Rosita.
De’Ara Balenger I’m sure there was not a Rosita inside Rosita. [laughter] I doubt that. But anyhow, so if you guys, if y’all haven’t seen it, basically it was like, you know, like Sesame Place Parade, and all the characters are walking down the Sesame Place, you know, the fake little street. And the little girls were trying to just get a head nod, an acknowledgment, a ‘what’s going on’ from Rosita, and she basically waved her finger at them like, go ahead, go ahead, y’all need to move on. So now everyone is up in an uproar, okay? So much so that they’ve got our cherished civil rights leaders involved like Ben Crump. He’s down there doing press conferences. They setting this up. They going to get some Sesame Place money, and Black kids are going to go for free. [laughs]
Kaya Henderson: Yes. If Ben Crump could get Black people to go to Sesame Place for free, honey, he will have done something.
De’Ara Balenger Like where is Sesame Place? I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Myles Johnson: –about to turn into Sesame Street off Malcolm X Boulevard. Real quick.
Kaya Henderson: Sesame Place is in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You know the Pennsylvania Dutch country. And it wasn’t just that Rosita didn’t mess with the two little Black girls and said no, it is that, the accusation is that she was very accommodating to white kids and in fact told the little Black girls no and then went on to hug a little white girl. And Rosita’s defense is that she can’t see, right, she couldn’t see the kids and she was just saying no to some lady who wanted her to hold her baby, which is against park rules. That’s what, that was the like, explanation for what happened.
DeRay Mckesson: Until the other videos came out – let em, know Kaya!
Kaya Henderson: Go ahead, say it.
DeRay Mckesson: No, there were other videos that made it clear that Sesame Place was lying. And they put out their first statement that was what you just said, and then three more videos come out and it’s like, No, you actually were just ignoring the Black kids. And then they put out a statement that said they were sorry.
De’Ara Balenger Do we know who’s in that costume? Do we know who’s in there yet? Is there a named human?
Myles Johnson: If I was Rosita I would stay–listen, listen.
Kaya Henderson: It’s a good thing she had on the costume, huh Myles.
Myles Johnson: Like, Paul, who was probably in that Rosita costume. Stay anonymous. Stay your ass up out of this. That is the, that’s the blessing for you, is that nobody will have to ever know. Has to ever know.
De’Ara Balenger Wait a minute, in The Daily Beast, it’s “Police arrest two Rosita protesters outside of Sesame Place.” Okay, everybody, calm down. Everybody.
Kaya Henderson: Listen. It’s for the culture baby, it’s for the culture.
Myles Johnson: Let me, I can’t, listen. I’m here. I feel like this is a safe place. So I feel like I’m talking in the kitchen, in the kitchen, with y’all. So if anybody asked me outside of this moment in the kitchen with all these thousands of listeners,
Kaya Henderson: You know, we have a million listeners.
Myles Johnson: I know! I’m like, but we all just in a big old kitchen right now. So the story, when I see the attorney talking, when I saw the other person talking, and they started kind of really wailing around psychological trauma, I was a little, I couldn’t quite tell if it was an SNL skit for me. Like it was a little campy, a little hammy. But also, I know Sesame Street has might have fake monsters, but they have real money, so I get the reason why we are coming here really big on this situation. But it is reading a little, just a little hammy. It makes me, it’s a little cringe for me when I look at it.
DeRay Mckesson: I will say, one of my friends has a child with special needs and she posted on Facebook, she was like, you know, they’re one of the few parks that actually take special needs into account. And she was like, her experience is–she’s a Black woman–and she was like, her experiences haven’t mimicked what she saw in those videos. And she wasn’t discounting them because, like, there have been days that have been good. I think what is hard for Sesame Place is that instead of just saying they’re sorry and they’re going to do better next time, it was a doubling down, making us not believe what we saw with our own eyes and making that parent look like the crazy Black woman who was being dramatic, that wanted her kids to get something special. And then when those other videos came out, it was like, Okay. Okay, now y’all trying to gaslight her. And that’s not cool.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. No, it makes me sad, because I do love, Sesame Place was one of my formative, I went there as a little kid. I still have the pictures and it’s like one of the last places that I remember going with my whole family, like, as a family unit before my mom and father broke up. And it was dope. I always loved the history of Sesame Street’s, and who got to be on there. I saw Erika Badu on there when I was younger, which was fly. Like, Solange has been on there. Like they, I just always thought it was a really cool, dope thing. So it does make me sad. But you know what? It helps people that Black people?
Kaya Henderson: A little cash.
Myles Johnson: Money.
Kaya Henderson: A little cash and some free tickets to Sesame Place thrown in–
DeRay Mckesson: –get out.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, that is the like, the origins of Sesame Street, the Sesame Workshop was that it was designed for Black and brown kids who most times were staying at home, their parents were working, and were watching TV and they wanted TV to be meaningful and educational and whatnot. And from, you know, jump, the representation, right, like the, all the things, they are kind of the standard bearer for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I think that’s why people are really like out of the frame on this thing.
Myles Johnson: And hold them accountable because they started it, this is part of y’all’s legacy of every kid should only have pride about their race, not feel discouraged about it. And Sesame Place said that. Said if we can love this big ol’ yellow thing and a man who lives in a trash can and somebody else, who still cookies, we can love you, too. And that’s he ethos of Sesame Street.
DeRay Mckesson: Go here, Myles.
Kaya Henderson: Speaking of pride in our race, did y’all see the Wakanda Forever trailer?
Myles Johnson: Goodness.
Kaya Henderson: Oh, my gosh.
De’Ara Balenger Amazing. Chills
Myles Johnson: Like beautiful. So, I again, we’re in this small, sacred kitchen of a million, of a million. And I’ve not seen the Black Panther movie. I never, I did not see it. I didn’t see.
Kaya Henderson: Wait, stop, hold it, hold it, hold it.
Myles Johnson: I didn’t see it. Listen–
Kaya Henderson: Hold it, hold it. Hold it, hold it. We have a full stop, because I literally don’t understand the words that are coming out of your mouth right now.
Myles Johnson: Let me tell you something. I love it. I support it all. The reason I’m telling it now is because it’s way later. But okay, my nerves are bad. My health insurance didn’t cover my anxiety medication at the time. And I can’t do all that exploding and kicking and moving around. But now I’ve got a prescription and I’m going to do, I’m going to do a double feature and see both. But I’m, but I was literally moved to tears for Wakanda Forever. The thing that I want to say is I have no clue what Black Panther was about, but I support it. But I was still almost moved to tears by this new trailer and I have no idea what I was looking at. I’m like the Bob Marley going to the Kendrick Lamar. And in the picture of the–
Kaya Henderson: Yes! That was so hot.
Myles Johnson: I was like, Oh my God–Angela Bassett is like giving us the Tina Turner mouth. I’m like, Oh my God.
Kaya Henderson: “I have given everything. Haven’t I given everything?”
Myles Johnson: Oh my. She was talking to Joe Jackson when she said that. I was like, yes. I was like, I was like, oh, give her the Oscar right now. I’m super excited, as somebody who’s totally ignorant to what it’s about I’m excited to dive in–sponsored by, I guess, like, Prozac, I don’t know.
De’Ara Balenger I can’t. But I think it’s interesting, Myles, because, you know, when Black Panther came out, you know, it was like an experiment for Warner Brothers, right? We’re going, we don’t know how this all-Black cast, all-Black–we don’t know how it’s going to do. Right? And so–.
Kaya Henderson: Worldwide blockbuster.
De’Ara Balenger A big assumption, that they probably didn’t market the film to Black people. Just saying.
Kaya Henderson: De’Ara be knowing this stuff, ’cause this the business that she’s in.
De’Ara Balenger So I think probably this time, like even with how that trailer was put together, like, it is like, we’re post-2020, all the things and the pandemic and they probably are like, We going to make this Black, this–they going to come out. So now we have the runway to do the thing. So, and I’m this is all conjecture, but I just I think it’s interesting that the change and you wanting to see it now, that we’re you know, it’s like four years later from the first Black Panther, maybe five.
Myles Johnson: I’m a little confused because if my memory serves me right when I was growing up, Warner Brothers stands for WB, and when I was growing up, there was a tap dancing frog that was telling me that Sister, Sister, Living Single, Smart Guy, and all these other Black shows come on, so how did this tap dancing frog know they [unclear] be behind me?
De’Ara Balenger This is same, just think with Fox, In Living Color and all those other shows. All those, all the TV in those days, I don’t know. I don’t know who we need to dig up those white people and find where they are and bring them back.
Myles Johnson: I’m like, I do not know all-Black thing. I’m like, I remember just faithfully that tap dancing frog told me that they knew, I remember. We let that happen, a tap dancing frog let you know that your Black shows are about to come on–
Kaya Henderson: With a top hat and a tuxedo on if I remember correctly.
Myles Johnson: Talking about, Oh my darling, oh my darling. My mom said, Oh my God, you did not just, I was, listen–anywho, it’s interesting to me that Warner Brothers didn’t, I feel like they had a lot of tests when it comes to media, television, and film that all-black things do well. So I don’t I don’t quite understand the apprehension.
De’Ara Balenger No. Each, no each generation–
Myles Johnson: Got it.
De’Ara Balenger –of industry leaders, we are educating.
Myles Johnson: Got it.
Kaya Henderson: Whatever, whatever. Here’s the thing. We are in a moment right now where the Wakanda Forever thing damn near broke the Internet, child. Let me tell you, why do we have to wait till November or something for this? This is ridiculous. It’s already in the can. Put that thing out. We need to see this. We need this right now! We’ve been traumatized for the last how many ever years. And I feel so proud. I need this film right now. Right now. Not in November.
Myles Johnson: But isn’t it kind of like Christmas–
Kaya Henderson: Can’t wait, can’t wait. Can’t wait.
Myles Johnson: –where the all the anticipation of kind of the beauty of it, though? With the conversations and the outfits and the talking about what you’re going to?
Kaya Henderson: Ruth Carter, baby, Ruth Carter, the costume designer. I mean, first of all, the trailer is like 2 minutes, right? So we’ve all just seen like floop floop, floop floop, like quick little snippets, but Jesus peace, the costumes, the like, I mean–oh my soul.
De’Ara Balenger The accents. I think what I’m going to do and this movie comes out, I’m going to study these fake accents and I’m going to develop one. Because one of the things that happens as–
Kaya Henderson: Oh my gosh.
De’Ara Balenger –a Black person, you adopt, you adopt the accent.
Kaya Henderson: We’re going to lay hands on you. We’re going to lay hands on you.
De’Ara Balenger Like think of Diahann Carrol or Lena Horne or–
Kaya Henderson: Whitney Houston. Tina Turner.
De’Ara Balenger No! Not, Whitney did not get–
Myles Johnson: James Baldwin.
Kaya Henderson: Yes she did. Oh, yes, she did.
De’Ara Balenger Did she? She did speak differently than she did when she was–?
Kaya Henderson: She didn’t speak like she was from Brick City.
Myles Johnson: I just, I just watched, I’m a Whitney Houston expert now because I just watched the highly-acclaimed Lifetime movie starring Yaya.
Kaya Henderson: And so you know that she, you know she had an accent–or an affected whatever you want call it.
Myles Johnson: But I think it’s different than when like, I think when we think about like for me, the person who’s like the person in my head is like James Baldwin, like created a transatlantic–like, like that was not found. That voice was not found in nature, James.
De’Ara Balenger That’s what, that’s what I’m doing while I’m in Europe. I’m going to test accents different places.
Kaya Henderson: Tina Turner, you from Nutbush, Mississippi–I mean Nutbush Tennessee.
De’Ara Balenger No. My favorite Tina Turner quote is when Gail asked her if she had any regrets. And Tina said, When I look out across Lake Zurich, I —Tina, What?! When she looks out across Lake Zurich—?!
Kaya Henderson: Hey, hey, hey, hey.
De’Ara Balenger Because she lives in Switzerland.
Kaya Henderson: Let her be.
De’Ara Balenger Oh, no. I am living my life to be like Tina Turner. Y’all know this. I want to also live in Europe and have people leave me alone.
Myles Johnson: It’s a superpower to to acquire–
Kaya Henderson: To transcend.
Myles Johnson: No. I think it’s a superpower to acquire wealth and power and to–
DeRay Mckesson: He said, no. Myles said, No.
Myles Johnson: –and to not code. Like and not code as powerful. To be like I still sound–
De’Ara Balenger Myles, No, I disagree. I completely disagree.
Myles Johnson: What?!
Kaya Henderson: That’s I’m with you, Myles. I’m with you. I want to be rich, powerful and sound and look regular.
De’Ara Balenger I’m going to talk differently and I’m going to walk differently. And it’s going to be a very slow monotone–
Myles Johnson: But you can do that and be Black, because Little Kim, because those matching fur bikinis, [unclear] so you could still be different and still be negroid.
De’Ara Balenger Yes, I agree with that. That’s what I’m saying. These Black women that have, you know, and James Baldwin, who have developed these accents. That’s what I’m trying to be.
Kaya Henderson: We are creators of culture. This is what we do. We remix, we take things from other people and we make it our own. That’s one of our superpowers.
Myles Johnson: Okay. Well, that super power is what got Megan saying at Tyler Perry house. So just–
Kaya Henderson: Wait, wait say more. What happened?
Myles Johnson: The princess, she got kicked out of the palace. She had ti stat at Tyler Perry’s house.
Kaya Henderson: Oh, Meghan Markle.
De’Ara Balenger No, she wasn’t doing her accent. Had she been doing her accent, she’d be doing alright.
Myles Johnson: That’s how she got into the palace, is by doing the accent. And then she ended up having to go to Tyler Perry’s house. But she just stayed there, they wouldn’t have messed with her like that. They wouldn’t have messed with her like that. They would’ve been a little scared. But she switched it up and sound fancy.
Kaya Henderson: Cousin Meghan [unclear]
DeRay Mckesson: Okay. The news. On to the news.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week is from Russia and the Ukraine. As you know, there is a war happening right now. And I found this article in The Washington Post that is curious, really, really interesting, and I think a harbinger for where we might end up being in these United States of America. The title of the article–I’m just going to read it to you straight is, “Russia sending teachers to the Ukraine to control what students learn. The Kremlin is promising teachers big money to prepare schools in Ukrainian regions, it forces, its forces now occupy.” And so what the long story short is, is the Russian government is promising big money to Russian teachers who will go to the occupied regions of the Ukraine and “correct” the education of the Ukrainian students, basically teaching the history that Russia wants to teach. Does this sound familiar? Florida and all these other places that are passing anti-CRT and what is accurate history kinds of legislation? What is happening is the average monthly salary for these regions that are close to Ukraine is about $550, but the prospective salary looks more like $2,900 a month. And that is like, whatever, like four or five times the amount that you would make if you just stayed in Russia. They are transporting teachers to the Ukraine for free. They are under discussion about providing free accommodations and food. So get this, you about to get four times your salary, free transportation to your new job, a house, food, the whole nine. All of you go and teach the Russification of the Ukrainian education system. And so what’s happening is there are a lot of teachers who are, on the one hand, worried about the content and the implications of this, but they’re also–and they say there’s nothing good is going to come from this, this is not okay, da, da, da, da–however, there are also a lot of teachers who are interested in picking up, getting a new life and making a whole lot of money, in the meantime. The Kremlin has not only targeted schools in the Ukraine, but they’ve also blocked Ukraine cell phone networks and media in the areas that it has taken over, and they are even trying to get Ukrainians to sign up for Russian passports. So, like, this is a thing to look at over there in Europe while this war is going on, but what I would submit to you is that the way you control the people is through their educational system. And if you are not paying attention to what’s happening with education in the United States, then you’re missing out on what is really happening. We say all the time, nobody wants to talk about education–you know, Abbott Elementary is a huge hit and people are shocked because for years in the entertainment industry, they were like, there would never be a successful schools, you know, show about schools. Nobody wants to talk about education. But in fact, what we’re seeing on the educational landscape across the United States and in the Ukraine and in Russia, is that, in fact, the way you impact a generation around what they think is through the education system. It’s why all of these state legislatures, mostly in red states, are closely restricting what kids are learning in school and what kids are not learning in school. And so, you know, you can take education for granted–it doesn’t matter if you have kids in school or you don’t have kids in school–what happens in education actually happens across society. And so I brought this to the pod because I thought it was interesting that in a place where war is happening, where one country is seeking to control another country, one of the most important ways that they’re going to do that is through education.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya, this is fascinating to me, and I was talking to a professor not too long ago and he was talking about how a Russia’s involvement in usurping and undermine other cultures goes really deep, and, you know, how they wrap themselves around using racial animus in these elections here in the United States more recently, but also during the civil rights movement. But one thing that you said that really struck me was not only it is about the control of education, but it’s also the dismantling of it. That with, one of the things that we see the Republicans doing here is like just get rid of the whole, like the only people who get an education and can read and write are rich people. We’ll get rid of the department education, w’ll, essentially make it so hard that like teachers, like no sane person can work there or want to work there. So then you have the poorest people, the darkest people essentially fending for themselves, or left with these structures that, like, don’t actually do a thing.
Kaya Henderson: Not just left with these structures–sorry, DeRay–but I don’t know if you saw recent news out of Florida is that Governor DeSantis and his friends just passed legislation that any military veteran or their spouse can teach for five years. They can apply for a waiver and teach for five years without any certification, without any preparation whatsoever.
DeRay Mckesson: Really!?
Kaya Henderson: Let me tell you, I posted on Twitter, I think. We can put it on the pod. But literally any random army person or any random Marine–and I’m not, I am not by any means like casting aspersions on our military. Our military are experts in a whole lot of things, but they and their spouses may or may not be experts in how to teach kids. And so I think part of the dismantling of the system is anybody can do this job. Let anybody do it. And when the only people left in the system are poor people, Black and brown people, then it’s okay because we voucherize the system so that rich people can take their money and take it where they want it to go. And all that’s left in the crumbling education system are people who don’t have other options, and they’re taught by people who don’t have clear experience. That is where we’re headed.
DeRay Mckesson: I just learned something new.
De’Ara Balenger I don’t really have anything to add on this one except for it’s depressing and a foreshadowing of what is going to happen even more here in the United States.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, I’m doubling that.
De’Ara Balenger So my news takes us in a completely different, sort of weird direction. So I saw this headline and it grabbed my attention: Henry Louis Gates Jr to oversee New Oxford Dictionary of African American English. Huh? First of all, Oxford Dictionary, leave us alone. Second of all, Henry Louis Gates, what you going to do? The language of Martha’s Vineyard? Like when the last time you’ve been around some Black people that done created some culture, some words. What is going on?!
Kaya Henderson: Oh, sweet baby. Jesus.
De’Ara Balenger Give me a break.
Myles Johnson: Pew, pew, pew.
De’Ara Balenger What?! That don’t make no sense to me. But anyway, they got all this grant money, and they’re going to come up with this dictionary. Melanin, Wagner foundations are contributing to this project, to the research of it. You know, Henry Louis Gates serves as Director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. And this is a new joint venture with Oxford University Press. So., and let’s let’s see. Let’s see. Okay. So, “though many words that were originally or predominantly used by Black Americans are now commonly found among the larger U.S. population, such as woke and hip, America has long looked down on Black English, associating it with poverty and crime due to racist stereotypes.” What!? But it’s also like once Oxford Dictionary takes it–it’s like BET and Viacom–once Oxford Dictionary takes it, then are they still our words? Like, or is it like, and also, why can’t our words just be in the regular dictionary? Why we need a Black dictionary? What’s the cover of that book going to look like?
Myles Johnson: And I think part, I think, part of what makes Black language, African-American language, I guess, interesting, and also what makes it like real to me is the fact that it doesn’t have the qualifiers that other like, languages have ,like dictionaries and like rules. It’s an intuitive thing, It’s an improvised thing. Even when I think about like Jamaicans and Patois, like it’s something that’s like once you put it in a in a book, then you kind of like turn academic what is supposed to be a little bit more intuitive. And also, I think this is a great example of how–to me, in my opinion–a Black person could be a culture vulture of Black culture. Because I think that if this had to have happened, or if this was if this was really interesting for people to examine and to explore, then you would maybe hire or make the head of it, somebody who’s actually been disenfranchised because of the language they use. So a person who’s coming to my mind–I guess, not coming to my mind because they just like lost my mind–but there’s so many rappers and so many people who are part of the culture, who have created things and created language that have been shunned or named less scholarly or smart or sophisticated, and now that this is being examined, for me, it would make sense for them to be a head of it, instead of somebody who–like you, so eloquently put De’Ara–I think somebody who seems to have a little distance between what they’re creating a product around. You know?
DeRay Mckesson: I do, this–so I know Henry Louis Gates and consider him a friend, and the pushes that people have make a lot of sense to me. I’m always interested in the role that historians play and how history is captured and who captured it and who holds it and where it goes. And I do think there’s something really interesting about what happens when we put Black English in a way that, like elevates–elevates might not be the right word–but sort of puts it in one place that people can reference. And the history of it, I think is really cool. And I am eternally annoyed that a white man started Urban Dictionary. That will always drive me bonkers. So there’s that. And hear the concerns here. And I do think, Myles, I think your push about the beauty of Black talk is that it can be a noun, it can be a verb, it can be like, it can actually be all the things, and that’s the beauty of it. And like the speaker gets to decide what it is, nobody else. And I think that’s really interesting. So we’ll see. We’ll see what comes of this. I am taking in this conversation.
Myles Johnson: And it can’t be enslaved by Oxford. Like, you know, like at any moment it can’t be taken and this is what it is and nothing else. That’s what it’s constantly changing and evolving. Like, how we speak is jazz. It is improvised. It does take on different affects and meanings depending on where we are. And it to me, it’s–not to be, you know, wax too poetic about it–but, you know, we got here by the water and I feel like our language is reflective of the water in the flow of how we got here. And I think trying to tame or trying to leash the ocean feels just as ridiculous as trying to put our language in something like the Oxford Dictionary. I think, yeah, a misstep.
Kaya Henderson: I’m with you, Myles. Like, on the one hand, we say we’re going to legitimize African-American vernacular by putting it in an Oxford dictionary, like that might be the biggest oxymoron ever. Right? Like and my question is, like, who legitimizes African-American vernacular? Like, is it when the white Academy says, oh, this is good enough for a dictionary? No. I mean, this thing says that, in this article it says, “Our lexicon is the vocabulary that is most imitated and most celebrated.” Like it, it is, you know, three out of five common patterns of lexical innovation on Twitter are associated with African-American English. It is legitimized because everybody uses it, everybody appropriates it, everybody, whatever. And it doesn’t have to be in a dictionary to do that. And so I actually think our power comes from crashing down the institutions that other people have built up to say, it’s legitimate when it has a dictionary. We ain’t had a dictionary the whole entire time. We ain’t had hymn books, but we knew how to sing all of the hymns and everybody knows it. Like every Black church you’ve ever been to, whether you’re in a north, south, east or west, right, we sing the same songs, we do the thing, same things. When you go to the Caribbean or Africa or South Carolina, and you hear the consistencies in the way we talk, right? None of that is written down. And so now all of a sudden, we’re going to grab, you know, a Black academic–I’m not even going to talk about Henry Louis Gates–I’m just going to say we’re going to grab a Black academic and get him to put a box around this thing that can’t be boxed. That isn’t, like that’s not how we, that’s not how we do.
De’Ara Balenger But I also feel like, like I’m actually fine with like some artistic expression happening around our language in like an institutional way. Like I am with that. I’m not with Henry Louis Gates being the person to do that. In another article I found he said, “words with African origins such as goober gumbo, okra, survived the middle passage along with our African ancestors, and words that we take for granted today such as Cool, Crib, Dis, Hip.” What?! This thing going to be, it’s going to be a dictionary from 15 years ago. Like he don’t even know where to even begin to look to find these words. And so I feel like that’s the pull for me, is that, him doing. It means that it is being done for white people. This isn’t for us. It’s being done for white people. And that’s the rub for me. You know what I’m saying? And that’s what I, and you know, no disrespect to Henry Louis Gates. You know, he’s helping the Black, the white people find that their ancestors were slaves on the PBS. Wonderful.
Myles Johnson: The PBS.
De’Ara Balenger But I just feel like, this is my own kind of issue and all the things I have going on with the Black elite. Because I think oftentimes they do things that are for white people because they are so disconnected from culture, they are so disconnected from what’s happening–
Myles Johnson: And can what makes me sad is that we’ll see–I’m the biggest Toni Morrison fan ever. This whole conversation just reminds me of the quote that people love to, you know, proliferate throughout social media when things go wrong or whatever. But I’m like, you’re not actually digesting it, because the question is, if we’re really talking about the white gaze, this is a perfect example. Legitimate to whom? Who are we trying to legitimize ourselves for? For what reason? And it’s a little, it just does rub me–I definitely don’t mean in disrespect to Henry Louis Gates because I’m just not a disrespectful person–but I think, it does feel severely irresponsible on an individual level that somebody who upholds so much respectability, who has distanced themselves as a Black elite from the people who really have created this language, that now you’re able to create, not even just like money wealth, but like social wealth by being in control and being the head of what is Black language and what is not. It just, that, it feels like, again, culture vulture. It feels, it feels predatory like–
De’Ara Balenger It feels whack. That’s probably a word that will be in there.
DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara. Delete, De’Ara [unclear]. I do think what this conversation highlights too is what, what it means that there’s a thing that we all participate in and people feel a lot of ways about it. So I’m hopeful that he will listen and take the feedback. And, you know, part of the beauty of blackness is that Black is interactive in that we sort of like push and fight and da, da, da, because the thing that we participate in and make is so beautiful and so strong.
Myles Johnson: Child. He said that check is cashed and y’all can stay mad. [laughs]
DeRay Mckesson: Oh, my gosh. Okay.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Myles Johnson: It is a good day to be Black. It Is a good day to be loud. It Is a good day to be big. Why Because Mo’Nique won her case. It got settled. She’s going to be on Netflix. And she got a movie coming with Lee Daniels. Will I be watching any of those things? Probably not, cause I want to continue to like Mo’Nique and I’m not a big fan of who’s collaborating with. But that does not mean I don’t want to see her win. But I can’t take the risk ’cause of how Black comedians are handling the Queer and trans moment of today’s time. I’m not going to pretend like I think that Mo’Nique is going to hit it on the head, and that’s okay. But I was in the, I was in the trenches with my Aunt No’Nique for years–you can ask DeRay–and I feel deeply vindicated that not only did she settle with Netflix, Netflix gave her a special. And then she is going to be doing a film on Netflix with Lee Daniels. And to me, what that says is, But how difficult was I really? If we can arrive at that, how loud as I really? How black-balled was I really? So it shows you how much lies and how much, and how people’s cowardice can really change narratives more than what actually has happened. And I just deeply love that it’s happening. I love that strong Black lead presented it and rolled it out. I love that the first thing that she said was, Can y’all believe this SH? Because to me is Monique’s superpower is that she is able to maybe like the antithesis of a Mr. Gates, or Dr. Gates, and be able to, just the antithesis, and she’s able to anticipate what like the un-elite Black person is thinking when they see something, and she just took it right out my mouth, she’s like, Can ya’ll believe this, this sh, and just looked around and said I got this special on Netflix and I have a movie coming. And I’m just so, I’m so happy about it. And then also the thing that, you know, if I could, I would have like instrumental of Lift Every Voice playing as I say this, it shows you that you can stand for something firmly and still get something in your lifetime. And I think for Black people standing for something, no matter how important it seems or how unimportant it seems, standing for something has also meant forfeiting your ambition, forfeiting your success. And I love that she standing flat-footed in it, she says she said some disparaging things to D.L. Hughley. She used her, she–
De’Ara Balenger She weren’t wrong. She weren’t wrong though.
DeRay Mckesson: Not De’Ara coming all out of the sideways.
Myles Johnson: And she swung and she kept on swinging and she still got what she deserved. And you know, you know, my little, my little Baptist grandma was in my ear being like, What God got for, nobody can take away, because apparently God have for Miss Mo’Nique a Netflix special and a movie.
DeRay Mckesson: I don’t think Kaya’s sold.
Myles Johnson: Huh?
DeRay Mckesson: I’m don’t think Kaya’s sold.
Kaya Henderson: Why you gotta drag me–
DeRay Mckesson: You weren’t sold the first time either. But it was, Myles was giving a hard sell which you gotta respect.
Myles Johnson: It’s not, the special was sold. The film has been sold. It has been sold.
De’Ara Balenger These are facts.
Myles Johnson: Now, listen if you want to take it to the point where I don’t know how big individual celebrity advancement is when it comes to the advancement of Black people. Actually, I know how big it is. It’s minuscule. But, that is just what it is. But if we’re here talking about culture and politics and stuff like that, I think that is a big deal because I do think that people who have done what Mo’Nique has done have been maligned, and have been shut down, and you’ll never hear from them again, because they decide to do stuff. We are, this is, we’re not, we’re a couple of generations out of the generation that exiled Eartha Kitt, you know, and told many a Black women that you’ll no longer have a career, even when you’re found out that you’re right, and we’re all making these things, and Ava DuVernay finds who you look like 50 years ago and puts you in a movie and all this other stuff, we’re still not gonna give you a career. We still not gonna say sorry. Like, we’re still, you’re still, you’re still out of it. And I think that it’s just amazing that within maybe like a ten-year span, she’s been able to be flatfooted in her beliefs, be bold, not code switch, sound like she’s from Baltimore, say what she got to say, let everybody know that Charlemagne’s real name is Leonard and that and also still get her money. It’s a miracle for me. To me. Miracles are individual event, and that was a miracle to me. A big Black loud miracle.
De’Ara Balenger Well, I just I feel like if anyone has any doubts around the genius of Mo’Nique, take an afternoon and watch Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. Because–
Kaya Henderson: My boy directed that sugar.
Myles Johnson: Mm hmm. Mm.
Kaya Henderson: Don’t do, nuh uh. Every [unclear] Myles. It’s ok.
Myles Johnson: No, I was saying, that was a celebratory “uh”.
Kaya Henderson: Okay. All right. I’ll take the celebration.
Myles Johnson: Where’s Dr. Gates so we can depreciate the uhs. That was affirming, uh. It was like an um.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya said, That’s my friend and we could go to blows.
Myles Johnson: No, that was an affirming, um. Like a oooh, yes.
[unclear – overtalk]
Kaya Henderson: That’s great. Shout out to my boy Malcolm. [unclear] y’all if you love Best Man, if you love Space Jam
De’Ara Balenger I did. I do. I do. I do. That Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins is, first, it’s just, it’s should be Oscar nominated. So I just I think we forget, we forget how funny Mo’Nique is and how, you know, we had the kings of comedy and, you know, we had all the you know, all the Black men who joined together to be able to do these big shows and all that. And that support was never really extended to Black women comics, right, like, I think we’ve see, you know, we’ve seen them come up over the years–but Mo’Nique ended up winning the Oscar on um. You know, that, you know, D.L. Hughley was mad she got an Oscar.
Kaya Henderson: Woot Woot. Is that what all this is about?
De’Ara Balenger Yes. I don’t even know if he has an Image Award. I don’t know what he has.
Kaya Henderson: That explains a lot, De’Ara. That explains a lot.
De’Ara Balenger But I’m telling you, like there–and Myles, I’m with you–like, I feel like she has, she’s just been steadfast. She is so talented. So talented. So just, I just, I think about like Mo’Nique being, you know, darker skinned, being bigger, being all these things in Hollywood and like the opportunities she would have had if Hollywood wasn’t a racist, awful place. You know what I mean? Like, it’s just, it’s wild to me. It’s wild to me. And this special is going to be hilarious, obviously.
DeRay Mckesson: And to be clear, she has an Academy Award, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Myles Johnson: Okay.
DeRay Mckesson: Just so we know.
Kaya Henderson: I don’t have no shade for Mo’Nique and I’m glad she’s getting her due. I think I don’t want us to act like Hollywood has all of a sudden done the right thing. Right?
Myles Johnson: No.
Kaya Henderson: She sued Netflix three years ago, right? We don’t know the terms. They settled in June. June. It’s July right now, right? They settled in June for an undisclosed sum, and voila, she has a special. They did listen. They ain’t do right. That was part of the settlement is my guess. Right? Is that restoration means not just the cash money or whatever the undisclosed sum is, but that they have, they had a responsibility, they had some accountability in tearing her down, and so she probably negotiated that you’re going to have to build me back up and help me reestablish my platform. So I’m happy that Mo’Nique is getting her coins and her props and all of that jazz, but I don’t want us to act like Hollywood done figured it out and we’re not still blacklisting people because we are, and, you know, that you still can’t say the right thing. She just got some good lawyers. She had a bunch of people who were on her side who helped her to create some critical mass around whatever. And I’m happy for her, but Hollywood is still out here–I’m about to get kicked out the Amplifier Conference, SCAA, I’m sure, or whatever it is–but I’m just saying, everybody, Hollywood is out here doing all the things for all the people still. So we have to keep on holding them accountable.
Myles Johnson: And if I made it seem like, I was like I was not praising Hollywood, I was kind of praising the tenacity and the dedication of Mo’Nique and the sophistication of Mo’Nique. Because I feel like I’ve not in my lifetime, I can only think of, I cannot think of a lot of people who are Black women who were as famous as she was, who went against the machine like that and then have made that same machine that destroyed her, say, Oh, you’re also going to rehabilitate me, so you’re going to pay me, and you’re also going to rehabilitate me in the public’s eye too, and do this simultaneously and she did do that, and it happened in her lifetime. Because like I said, a lot of times we’ll be like, oh, wow. Okay, she we love Moms Mabley now. Okay. I guess Eartha Kitt did make a point. Okay. You know, and but they’re dead, or they’re past the years where they would, you know, viably want to, like, work and do all this media stuff again. So I just think that it was like really cool to see.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, I am, what I love about Mo’Nique is this idea she gets to choose what fame means for her. And I do think for so many people, fame is how high or how close to whiteness can you get? How many billionaires can you meet? How many exclusive parties can you get to? Like that is what fame has become, like, how much money can you just accrue regardless of how you accrue? Right? It’s just the, it’s the, it’s the accrual of money in and of itself. And she sort of put,like when she came out against Oprah, I was like, Oh, we are really, we are fighting, right? It was like it was a righteousness– And D.L. Hughley was one thing, but Oprah felt like a very different person to publicly criticize. And she was just like, I think I’ve been wronged. And there is a part of that, a huge part that you just have to respect. And she just stood in it. And I think that she was not popular at the beginning when she said that. Black people even were like, Girl, that’s too much, let it go, stop complaining, da, da, da, da. And she’s like, right is right. And to me there’s like a ten toes, ten toes down, a sense of groundedness, that said, like, Here’s my gift, here’s who I am. And I’m cool with that. I can, like, stand in that and you ain’t got to love it but this is me, which feels very much like Baltimore–but also in it’s cool to see a celebrity do that and not let something go in the process. So I didn’t see her like go off her blackness and distance herself or embrace whiteness or white conventions to do even the disruption that she did. And the other thing that I really respected about her, because I like appreciated some of it, but I respected was her apology. So when she went after D.L.’s daughter and she publicly said that was too much. It’s like we actually don’t see enough apology in the space because you can be right about the big thing and wrong about some of the other stuff, and we sort of just say that in private da, da, da. But she is an adult to say like, You know what, that was, like, I still hate you and I shouldn’t have included your daughter. And to say that publicly in the midst of fighting people is a real model. My news, I know, you know, Kaya doesn’t like jails, so we don’t talk about a lot of jails. But I couldn’t lose it, so it’s hot. If you don’t live in a place that’s hot, it’s hot. In every place that I know, people right now in the United States. It’s hot New York. It’s hot in Baltimore. I don’t know if it’s hot where you are. De’Ara, I don’t know where you are. Are you home De’Ara?
De’Ara Balenger I’m actually yes, I’m actually home. But just for a couple more days.
DeRay Mckesson: It’s hot. Hot in D.C. And this article was about the temperatures in jails in Texas. So there’s a big deal with Rikers too. Rikers is the jail in New York. It’s also really hot. But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that the average temperature of a housing unit that does not have air conditioning in June was 89 degrees. The average for the first 11 days of July was 91.4 degrees, and that there were reports at at least one of the facilities that I reached over 110 degrees, and topped out at 149 degrees in at least one unit. Jail is already bad enough. Being separated from society is already bad enough. But the idea that it is a 149 degrees in a unit is so wild. And Texas is one of 13 states that does not have air conditioning in the prisons. Even in New York City, Rikers is the biggest jail, the only fully air conditioned building in all of New York City Department of Corrections is the boat. None of the actual buildings are air conditioned. In of the states, the state of Texas, nearly 100 prison facilities, 70% do not have air conditioning at all. So when we talk about cruel and unusual, you talk about what torture looks like, people think about waterboarding and some of the obvious stuff, right? People don’t often think enough about what it’s like to lock people in cages and let the heat rise to 150 degrees. You know who did have air conditioning? The guards. You know who does have air conditioning? The wardens. Those people are not sitting in anybody’s room in 150 degrees with no fans and no air conditioners. They’re not. This is torture. And at the very least, we should let people out.
De’Ara Balenger I mean, it just doesn’t make sense to me, because this is a nation that incarcerates. It’s a business. And that’s just not a good business practice. So I feel like if we’re, if this is our culture, if this is where, this is, you know, DeRay, you know, to talk about abolitionism, I just feel like these people, they’re so far from that. And to have institutions like this that just get that hot, it is cruel and usual punishment. Like 100%, it is torture. I just don’t understand. Like, I guess for me it’s like trying to think of their philosophy around why, what the thing is and why they’re doing it. It doesn’t make sense to me to not have air conditioning. But I guess it does make sense when you think about Texas and think about the Deep South and what prisons really evolved from-the legacy of slavery. So in that regard, it all makes sense. But DeRay, when that, when that, when it’s like, if you’re, if you had a family member that was there that was in extreme heat, like what recourse is there? Is there none? Like, do you write a letter to somebody or do you, does your attorney, like then you know, file something with the court that says it is cruel and unusual punishment? I’m just trying to think like . . .
DeRay Mckesson: That’s the process. We have reports of people at Rikers swallowing batteries and engaging in self-harm, so they will just, they will, the jail will have to move them because they’ll get put on suicide watch or they’ll get put somewhere where they just are not in the unit anymore. Like, that’ll be a way to get out, which is wild, right? Making people make inhumane choices so they don’t roast inside of a cell. And let me tell you, the biggest, you know, people will be like, Well, jail is the punishment, da, da, da–the biggest quote “cells” I’ve seen are closets, are tiny and big is like the toilet, the sink, and your live, and like the bed all in one. None of this is big. So being trapped in general is bad. But being in a place where there’s no, and remember, there’s no windows, right? So it’s not like natural air, right, it’s not like natural air is coming through and like the air conditioner is a luxury. It’s like we put you in a closet with over 100 degree, that’s not right.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And, and I think I’d just like–your point De’Ara–I think it does highlight the mentality behind people who imprison people is because you don’t, you do see prisoners as, because what do you treat like that? You treat something like that you can replace. So like we know that as a society, we keep on socializing people to, to, and creating these spaces for people to get to prison and either through criminality or through other things that are not criminal and just other modes of exploitation, so there’s never going to be a deficit of people who can become prisoners. So your death, and your death doesn’t matter. And I think that’s the sad part about is that these lives in here don’t matter. I truly–and I know this has been said like a million times in general and specifically on this podcast–but I really do think that the prison system is, just this the most heinous thing that America is like currently doing right next to us. Like, it’s, it really to me is just the sum of everything horrendous about America’s present and past happening right next door to public citizens. It’s just a . . .
Kaya Henderson: I mean, this is like you said, I don’t like jails. That may be the understatement of the year. Like, I am deathly afraid of every, anything that has to do with jail. Like it gives me nightmares. I’m clear that in past life or something, I must have been–
Myles Johnson: I’m like, What have you done?
Kaya Henderson: There’s no rational reason for me to be, like, I can’t watch jail stuff on TV or movies or whatever. So I feel like something traumatic in a past life must have happened in jail. But like, the reason is because it is, it is, like, I believe deeply in social contract, right? Like these are the rules that we follow. This is how we treat people. And jail is none of that. Like it is, there is no way, just like substitute school, hospital, you know, courtroom, any public institution, and there’s no way that we would let anything get 149 degrees. Like we just wouldn’t. Right? And so, like, everything–it’s like topsy-turvy world, right?–everything in jail is not the way it is supposed to be. And I don’t understand how we, as like civilized people, allow, like I just–and I have friends who like work inside the correctional system, many of whom are advocates and have tried to work within the system to change the system, and it’s complicated and all of that, but like this, this to me is like reason number 1,995,000 around why I can’t mess with jail. Like how do you let people sit in 149 degrees? We are all in our various places right now, sweating up storms, no matter where we are in America, in Europe, in whatever, and people are sitting in closets in 149 degree weather and harming themselves so that they get a chance to go to an air conditioned room. Like who are we as a people? Like, I hate it here sometimes. I really do. And this like, it’s things like this that like make me think, what in the world?
Myles Johnson: Yeah. No, that’s what happens. when you have a nation that truly believes that they’re, to me, like, above God. They create their own hells, and like that to me, prison is a reflection of that. Like, almost like how dare you like say something like, have the kind of like language you have about God and being under God and Christian stuff and how, how, how dare you have that on and have that going on. It’s ridiculous.
DeRay Mckesson: I’m just going to show you this because we’re here, but on Rikers–we have a whole campaign about Rikers–and on Rikers, they are putting people incarcerated in shower cages that they are saying it’s for decontamination, but they’re keeping them in the cages for hours.
De’Ara Balenger What are, contaminated with what? Black skin? What do you mean?
DeRay Mckesson: Um, I’m going to show you? It’s one of those things that when you see it, like, telling you is not enough.
Kaya Henderson: I know I’m going to have nightmares tonight. Wow.
De’Ara Balenger Stop it! Stop, stop, stop, DeRay.
DeRay Mckesson: This is the shower.
Kaya Henderson: And you stay in there for how long?
DeRay Mckesson: So one of the, one of the guys just in here for a couple of hours.
Kaya Henderson: No. No.
DeRay Mckesson: We have photos of it, but look at this. Look at, that’s a shower. You see the shower head?
De’Ara Balenger What are they doing in there? What are they doing?
Kaya Henderson: That’s not a shower. That’s a cage for an animal is what it is.
Myles Johnson: And that’s how come–I know this is going to sound like a stretch, but, you know–art and culture, that’s how come I’m really against like, and love these artists, love these artists like nothing personally against them. I think we all have, like, missteps, or maybe it’s not a misstep to them, whatever. But like Lady Gaga in the Telephone video, Lil Nas X and their video in prison. Prison is not pink. There’s no choreography. And I think that if you are an ally to Black people like Lady Gaga, if you are somebody who is actually Black and somebody who looks like you, Lil Nas X who actually have more of a chance of experiencing prison, it’s important to not romanticize. You are adding to the propaganda without even knowing it. Cause I’m sure a prison system or a police person didn’t tell you to do that. It’s just coming from your own colonized imagination to create something that is homo erotic or romantic or absurd and surreal about the prison system that we–that will be seen as artistic misstep of a generation to make a joke out of something or make something artistic and fluffy out of, to me, what is like the crime of our generation, which is the prison system.
DeRay Mckesson: He was in there for six and a half hours. And the quote is “Acting Warden Harvey was touring the area and discovered Mr. Muhammad in the shower cage with a ligature around his neck. Mohammed survived the apparent attempt to harm himself, but the board of Correction email question the prolonged use of a shower stall to keep him confined.” Quote “What makes his placement in particular alarming is that he was not sprayed with chemical spray, so there was no need for a decontamination shower.” One month after his confinement to that shower, Muhammad was found unresponsive in another cell. He is actually the latest death at Rikers, and I did not know that he was actually in one of these shower cages before that.
De’Ara Balenger And what was he, and what was he in for? Allegedly stealing a Snickers bar or something stupid?
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I think it was like petty theft. It’s called, they call that a shower or a de-escalation unit. Insane.
Myles Johnson: And no better what–because at the time, we don’t have the information, I just you know, I’m always about this–like, no matter what he was in prison for–.
DeRay Mckesson: Jail. Jail. He’s in Jail.
Myles Johnson: Whatever. I’m bad at that. I’m like, it’s all, I’m behind a bar. But, like no matter what he was in jail for–wait, but, I’m sorry, but prison is more extreme than jail, right? I know I’m not being overly simplistic with it.
DeRay Mckesson: Prison is post-conviction and is a year or more. Jail is a year or less, and is more than 90% pre-convention.
Myles Johnson: So what we just witnessed him with the showers is in jail.
DeRay Mckesson: He has not been convicted of a crime. Correct. He’s being held until his trial.
De’Ara Balenger That’s right.
Kaya Henderson: Except not going to have a trial because he done took himself out because we have terrorized him–not we, not me. Not, un uh.
Myles Johnson: But I’m like, you treat it like, like that looks like something, that look, that if that situation had a polar bear in it, or any type of animal that you could find in the Bronx zoo–
Kaya Henderson: Myles, a dog, just a plain dog.
De’Ara Balenger They’d be protesting. They’d be protesting in the street.
Kaya Henderson: Myles, say it.
Myles Johnson: Listen, that is, that’s ridiculous. And for it to be like, you know, I’m being educated on the differences in real time, hopefully with somebody else, but for that to be happened before you’re convicted–not to even say that that justifies it once you get convicted, because I think humanity should never, as long as you are human, you should always be granted humanity–but the fact that that’s happened before conviction, so technically, this person is still innocent until proven guilty. And this is how you treat the innocent? Oh my goodness. What happens when you think of somebody as guilty? And we know because we see the statistics and we hear the stories. That’s disgusting.
Kaya Henderson: And De’Ara’s question around, so what happens now? Like, there is no justice for this cat. One, who do you call? Right? And what, how do you make change happen? And even if you are able to get some justice for him, it’s too late because he’s no longer with us. And that is the thing that, like, super freaks me out. All of the things that happen in the correctional facilities are terrible, but like the lack of accountability, the lack of justice–you can’t even raise your hand and be like, this is wrong, let’s fix this. Like there seems to be no recourse. That to me is the most hopeless thing about the carceral system, like, that trumps all else.
Myles Johnson: This is this is the job of, if there’s any use–and, you know, you can guess where I stand on this there being any use–but there’s any use of having Black billionaires and having the Black elite and having all of these people who are able to integrate and maneuver through these systems, if this is not at the core of why, of what you’re trying to advocate for and talk about and use your power and your wealth for, then it’s truly useless to me. It’s truly useless. And I’m like, if, if you can’t get your Frederick Douglass on in this moment?
De’Ara Balenger And I, Myles, I agree. And I also think this is it’s like a mental health crisis that we’re having in this country, too. Right? And these jails, prisons, are not equipped, police officers, no one is equipped to respond to mental health crisis. Right? But they’re called to do it all the time or they’re face to face with it all the time. When I was a prosecutor in Miami, the jail there in Dade County, they kept the top floor freezing cold. And they did that because that’s where they put all the mentally ill people. And so they didn’t want them to get manic and act out. So they kept it freezing. Right? Like, those aren’t, that’s not a solution. You know what I mean? That’s not, and the thing is, like, these places weren’t, you know, they weren’t, they weren’t set up with good intention. So I think part of it is like we have now, we have these millions of people in the system and it’s just how do you make it right? How do you make people care? How do you make people be more empathetic? How do you get more health care professionals in mental health? We can’t even, we just we covered the story where people’s teeth are jacked up. You ain’t worried about your teeth. They worried about your mind. None of it.
Myles Johnson: And I’m, like, resistant to, like, the terms that sometimes we use–this is not like a like a critique to you, De’Ara–but in my head, I think about when I hear like, Oh, this the mental health crisis and stuff like that, um, what is the human psyche supposed to do when encountering the trajectory of a Black life? Unless, like a Black life truly has a intervention from poverty, I would call it a divine intervention from poverty, far from it, then what else would a psyche do when presented with all the things that a Black life is presented with but go left to what, to skew left from what we call a sane, you know? So like for me, I’m like–
De’Ara Balenger And you’re in a mental health crisis as soon as you, like, when you’re on that bus to Rikers, you’re in a mental health crisis. Right? And like we’re seeing now, there was a story the other day I saw–DeRay, I think you sent it to me or on one of the chains or on–about somebody literally jumping off of a building as they’re running from the police because they don’t want to go to Rikers.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, that sounds, that sounds about right. Like that, like just to me sometimes were just so, a little bit like immature about thinking about what the human psyche is actually built to withstand.
De’Ara Balenger That’s right. That’s right, Myles. No, trauma.
Myles Johnson: And when people act naturally as anybody responds in those situations, we say like, well, we need more, you can’t therapize that, somebody living in the cage. You can’t therapize, that’s not how that works. Child, now you got me heated up on a Sunday. Oh Gosh.
DeRay Mckesson: We’re about to do a big an action in New York City about Rikers and so I think about Rikers a lot, but I don’t know why seeing this picture again just like enraged me all the more. And it’s like our political leaders, you should either have to defend or denounce. That’s it. That should be like the only two, you know what I mean? Because people are riding the middle and they’re like, oh, I am–I can’t tell you, I’ve talked to elected officials at literally every level about Rikers and the number of people who have said something publicly is really low. But it’s like if your daughter, sister, cousin, brother was in that shower thing, there is no call you wouldn’t make, there is no press conference you wouldn’t do, there’s no person you wouldn’t fight. You know what I mean? And that’s just. That’s right.
Myles Johnson: Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Full circle–not making jest–but full circle is my favorite Mo’Nique special is “I could have been your cellmate” where she goes and visit the all-woman prison. And she has interviews with them.
De’Ara Balenger That’s what “m talking about.
Myles Johnson: She has, and she sees that interviews with them. She talks with them about what they did, tells them their stories, as well as entertainers the prisoners, and really and really, and every refrain she said, I could have been your cellmate, I could have been right next to you. Really like creating humanity between, yes, you’re here and I’m here, but one bad decision and I could be right where you at. So I’m going to in the meantime, forget about what you did, and I’m gonna entertain you. And, you know.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, De’Ara welcomes political strategist Valerie Biden on the pod to chat about her new book, “Growing Up Biden: A Memoir.” Yes, Valerie Biden is the sister of President Joe Biden. And many of you are familiar with De’Ara’s past work with the Obama administration and her overall political expertize, so it’s great to hear these two incredible women talk and provide insight on the many topics being discussed at dinner tables across the country. I’m excited to share this one. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger Y’all welcome again to Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Ballenger. And today we have such a special, an incredible person: Valerie Biden Owens, who joining us today. So we’re going to get into who she is. And what that has meant for our lives as people that are now living, you know, living and being guided by the Biden administration. So, Valerie, we’re very, very happy to have you. So thank you.
Valerie Biden Owens: Thank you for inviting me. There’s a lot of other things you could be doing on this beautiful July afternoon, so I appreciate your taking the time to, to speak with me. So what can I tell you, my dear?
De’Ara Balenger You know, folks have context of me and my background on this podcast, you know, working a long time–well, I guess that’s relative. I definitely wasn’t a part of seven Senate campaigns as you were, and winning them–but worked a significant amount of time, let me say, in Democratic politics. I worked on two presidential campaigns, worked in the Obama administration, worked primarily, as everyone knows, for Hillary Clinton, which, you know, there’s no shortage of crisis management there. So I think when I was reading your book and just learning more about you, I think what was most powerful to me has been your role in Democratic politics and your role in running and managing campaigns. And I was, you know, i WAS surprised that I didn’t know more, that I hadn’t known this, and that it really wasn’t a part of kind of the political narrative when it comes to women, particularly given how many more women are actually running. I guess kind of what does that say to you? Some, you know, my experience in Democratic politics that I just hadn’t come across your story, yet. Your story.
Valerie Biden Owens: Well, in 1972, when I started out and Joe ran for the first Senate race, he was elected and he was 29 so I was 27. He was, he’s the first senator that he and I ever met. I mean, we knew our opponent, but we knew no one in power. We had no influence. We had no structured Democratic Party–matter of fact, it was a more Southern segregated party–and we just had the, we had a vision and we had a passion and we had a commitment, and we had the best candidate to run for the U.S. Senate. And the reason we ran was to stop the war in Vietnam, to continue the struggle for civil rights, and to protect planet Earth. I believe we were one of the first campaigns ever to mention the environment. So in 1972, when this happened,–my brother, honest and true, has been my best friend my entire life. I opened my eyes and it seemed that he was there and he put his hand out and said, Come on Val, we’ve got things to do and places to go and people to see. And off we went. And he took me with him wherever he went. And De’Ara, his friends would say, Why did you bring a girl? And his answer was, She’s not a girl. She’s my sister.
De’Ara Balenger Sister, right. I love that in the book. Yeah. Yeah.
Valerie Biden Owens: He told me that whatever he could do, he said, Valerie, you can do it better. He said, you’re smarter than I. You are better looking than I, you’re kinder than I–whatever it was. And he gave me such confidence and tried to instill such confidence in me that I knew that I owed it to him and to myself to try to be that little girl that he thought I could be. So now, back in 1972, when I say there were no–I’m taking brushstrokes, there maybe have been another campaign manager, there may have been another female involved in politics, in electoral politics–but for the purposes of reality, there were no, the only women involved in politics were the women who opened and closed headquarters, got the coffee and got the office supplies. Since we didn’t know any better with no influence, no power, no structure or party to tell us what to do, he said, I want to run for Senate, and he said, You’ll be my campaign manager. And I said, Joey, I don’t know the first thing in the world about running the state-wise campaign. He said, Well, that’s why we’ll be good at it. We’ll figure it out. Because we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and that’s really helpful because had I known just as a woman the unwelcoming environment for women in politics at that time, I would have been a lot more frightened or a lot more concerned. But I didn’t know. And so we just dove in and we improvised. And sometimes limited resources are really a good thing. When you have all the money in the world, you can throw it at doing all the conventional things and hope to come out a winner. When you don’t have any money, when you don’t have any influence, when you don’t have a structured party, you got to think on the spot. And we became, we were PT boats as opposed to ocean liners, so we could, we had to learn to pivot on a dime. And we were always in it together. I because my parents raised us–I have three brothers–and our parents told us that we were a gift to one another and we believed them. And I knew how to complete his sentence most of the time. He got there by Jesuit logic. I got there by intuition, but we both came to the same conclusion, so it was easy because when I spoke, people knew that it was Joe speaking. That was very good. I was in it, not because I was such a brilliant woman, making a place for women in the world. I was in it by, just by default. My big brother was in it and I was going with him, and we were going to change things and we did. And that is probably a long-winded Biden answer to whatever your question was. So stop me when I’m going off the rails.
De’Ara Balenger Well, listen, I think, first of all, I think, you know, we’re going to give you a lot more credit than that. And I, so I have two brothers who are 27 and 24. We are 13 and 16 years apart.
Valerie Biden Owens: Wow.
De’Ara Balenger So I take credit for them all the time. And in fact, the youngest is going to Georgetown Business School in the fall and the other brother is going to Pepperdine business in the fall. Now, I feel like this is at least 75% because of me. You’re a much better sister than I, because I’m like. Mmmm, yah, our parents are great, but really, I think that has a lot to do with me.
Valerie Biden Owens: You know, I think it does. My brother has always said that every successful man that he has ever met–not success in terms of how much money you have in the bank or what the title is over your door–but every successful man has had a powerful woman by his side, behind his back, giving them the gentle push like you can do it, you know, whisper in your ear. So it’s a mom, a sister, a spouse. And I think that that’s probably true. You know, strong men are not afraid of strong women. They embrace them and they look to them.
De’Ara Balenger That’s right. And I think, and I think the other similarity and just kind of accessibility point I saw in your book was, you know, how you were raised and you’re, and how folks came in and out of the house. So on my mom’s side, we’re Mexican and very Catholic, but it always was, there was always a relative at the house that was coming to stay for a short time or a long time, but it was, I think back on it–and I wonder if it’s true for you–that kind of why I was good at politics, it’s really because I was good with different types of people. And I think that my family had so much, and that just that, there’s so many of them that that had something to do with that.
Valerie Biden Owens: Yeah. And I think you’re absolutely right. I want to start, though, make a statement from the beginning that, in all humility, it was not easy raising an older brother. I mean, I had my hands full . . . let alone the two younger ones. So that’s A. But, you know, my mom and dad told us that when we walked out of the house–ok, the setting for people who are listening who don’t know–where you were, a middle-class American family, Irish Catholic background–culture and religion–who grew up in mid-20th century America, and I suspect that like many of the people who are listening to us today. And what I think that although the stories of our families are different–the specific specifics of yours, Mexican-American mine, Irish Catholic heritage–but I think that the threads that weave the fabric of family together, and that’s commitment and loyalty and love and heartbreak and disappointment and loss–they’re similar in all of our families. I mean, those threads run through all of us. And I think that, I remember when we left the house, my three brothers and I, we were little kids, and my mom would say, When you walk out that door, remember you’re Bidens. And that didn’t mean you’re Biden’s like you’re Rockefellers or you’re Kennedys or you’re whoever big name you want, it meant you’re four little kids and you have each other’s back. And that’s what it is. You’re Bidens and you have each other’s back. So when we walk out of the house, God forbid we should ever lay a hand on each other. That would have been out completely out of bounds. But if we would ever lay a harsh word on one of them, that would be the greatest disappointment to my parents. So when we got in the house, we were normal four kids who are siblings. And, you know, You hurt my feelings or Why did you say that? Or Don’t do this. But we kept it in our house. And Joe started something–I don’t know if with your brothers, if you did the same thing–he started something when we were preteens and through teens–was a family meeting, and it was, there was a pure democracy. The four kids.
De’Ara Balenger I love this in the book, too.
Valerie Biden Owens: Yeah.
De’Ara Balenger And yes my brothers and I, my baby brother actually is the one that convenes us, which is always hilarious.
Valerie Biden Owens: Baby brothers are in the class all by themselves. I mean, you could spot the youngest boy a mile away. But what we would convene is when one of us had a, were upset about something, it was usually because we hurt each other’s feelings, we would call a family meeting. We had a three-bedroom house, just like most of middle-class America did. Mom and dad had one bedroom. The middle bedroom had two sets of bunks, which my three brothers, and me on the top bunk, when–I’m the only girl, so I had my own bedroom, but when one of these relatives came to stay a weekend and they spent a fortnight, they got my room and I got the top bunk, and that’s where we would have our family meetings and it would be, you know, what’s wrong? Well, why, Joey why would you say that in front of Tom? Why would you embarrass me? What did I say? And we would, Oh, God, I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry. And we would work it out the hurt, and then move on. Because, like Mom said, there’s family, and then there’s family, and then there’s family. That’s what you have in the end. So our family was raised on the concept of family, faith, and responsibility–to take care of one another and then the community at large. We, you know, I think it was John Kennedy who said that, those much is given, much is expected. Well, weren’t given a lot in terms of financial–I mean, my dad always had a job and we had an education–that was the key to everything. But the responsibility was to mesh with the Irish Catholic tradition of There but for the grace of God go I, you know, and, You are your brother’s keeper. And we were supposed to just not mouth that. That’s why it worked, the Catholic schools, because the Catholic social doctrine that the nuns taught us meshed with the family doctrine that we had. We still, to this day believe were a gift to one another.
De’Ara Balenger Yeah. And Valerie, we’re just thinking about it, because I think the other thing that I really enjoyed about this book is just its reminder of American values. I think, particularly given in the times we’re living in, thinking about the Roe decision, thinking about, you know, the January 6th hearings that are happening in, and I’m sure, like a lot of the listeners, find myself kind of hopeless at times, you know, really trying to figure out are we an America who cares for one another? To your point, you know, can have conversations with family members and loved ones and people, even just kind of strangers on the street around, you know, empathy and you know, what happened and tou know, COVID has devastated us. And I just, you know, again, I think what I appreciated about the book, it warmed my heart in that this is an example of an American family who cared for each other, continues to care for each other, has been through so much and has done so much and yet, you know, is here still setting that example. I guess, and given that, you know, you were on the campaign trail, you talked to so many people, I guess what I’m looking for is, is there hope that we are and can continue to be an American, you know, an America that cares deeply?
Valerie Biden Owens: There has to be. And you nailed the word: empathy. And empathy is a fancy word, which means to feel. I’m not in to the feel of the fabric, but to absorb. And people, when, the first question that they asked me is, Why did you write the book? It’s because I’m a storyteller and I think we share so much in common. And what do you want people to get from the book? And I sound like a smartass–I don’t care what you get. I mean, I didn’t write it as a moral of the story for you to get something from. I wrote it because I’m a storyteller and I wanted to write. It’s my emotions and my expressions. But what I would feel really good about, like that I was a real live author is when you having read the book, put it down and said, Oh, my gosh, she sees me. That’s my mom. I got a brother, that’s my brother. So when we see that there is so much more that keeps us together than separates us. And that’s not, I don’t mean that preachy or moralizing. I mean that if we just take a minute and, like, put the book down, said, God, I remember that. I grew up in a house like that. Yeah, maybe, maybe she you know, she has a point. What we we’ve come and this present Congress and our country has taken, that compromise is a dirty word. And I say to the members of Congress, Are any of you married? I mean, what the heck are you talking about? Compromise doesn’t mean give up your principles. It means just rub off and shave those rough spots a little bit, and realize that–you know what De’Ara, I could not. I mean, what is what’s happened. De’Ara I can’t believe what you just said. I don’t I don’t believe a single thing you said. I think you’re wrong. You’re wrong and you’re wrong. And besides that, you’re no good, and your mother wears combat boots. That’s what we’ve gotten to now, as opposed to saying, you know what, I don’t agree with anything you said, but I never, tell me that again so I can, what do you mean by that? And that’s what we got to get back to. Really simple, not doing good, we won’t have a United States of America. We will not have a democracy. It wasn’t just dropped down on our lap. We got to work for it. Anything that’s worthwhile, you got to work for? We are a country, as my brother says, We’re a nation based on ideals and values. We’re not ethnicity, not on religion, not on geography–we are ideals and the constitution, which is law. So I think I just went off the rails again and I don’t know where I went. So bring me back in. Reel me back in again.
De’Ara Balenger I, no. I mean, I think that’s exactly where we need to be going. And, you know, and I again, I had the pleasure of serving in an administration, in the Obama administration–which, of course, the Biden’s were key to–and that is when I really, truly understood how powerful our government is, in 2010, for example. And it just was, the way that the Department of Defense can move, the way that Coast, it’s just like it blew my mind, just like how resourced this country is. And if someone knows–no dig at Trump, but obviously it is, you know–if someone knows how this government works, it can just be such a massive force of good. And I think to your point, a big part of that, though, is, it’s iteration, it’s compromised, it’s ideals. How do we get back to a point where we understand what our shared values are for this country?
Valerie Biden Owens: One way is just you right here on this podcast. When I started out, when we talked about in ’72, women only opened headquarters. I was a rare fish, and I was a lucky, I mean, I had it so much easier than many women because my brother sat at the head of the table and he said, When I walk out this door, she’s the boss. You listen to her, what she says, assume that I’m saying it, and he could go out and campaign and win votes. Right now, we haven’t reached equity yet, but we are, we’re going towards parity. The Government and the views are changing because so many women are now in the game.
De’Ara Balenger That’s right.
Valerie Biden Owens: We, women have changed the narrative. And it’s not because we women are born superior or more righteous. We I mean, we could be as venal and as cruel and as manipulative as any man. So it’s not that, you know, everything, that we’re so superior, but what we are is, what we offer is a different perspective. We have a different approach. And it’s you, and your colleagues, and the women, not only what I say when I speechify around about women’s leadership–you don’t have to be an elected official, you don’t have to be in front of the band to be a leader. Every single woman who’s listening to this right now should go tell the person who was not listening that they could be a leader. And the way is that we change the narrative because we’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote, and that changes the narrative.
De’Ara Balenger Right. Right. But how do you not–and I guess this is just for me personally–you know, I think particularly when it comes to like the Democratic Party, and having spent time having to be an advocate for people of color and for Queer people, and I think oftentimes for me, I get disenchanted with the work of getting our party there because I’m having to advocate on things that I think are the basics. And so I think what happens to me then I’m like, okay, well, I’m going to concentrate on the candidates that I’m supporting, whether it’s Stacey Abrams or Carlina Rivera, who’s running now for Congress in New York–and I guess what’s your advice for those of us that do feel disenchanted? But, you know, obviously, I say all that and I kind of always say to my friends, I’m throwing my hands up, and the next day I’m hosting a fundraiser–but how do we not lose that passion about staying engaged, and making sure that our party in particular is accessible, and is kind of leading the charge, and that we don’t feel like we’re kind of secondary until, you know, it’s two weeks before midterms.
Valerie Biden Owens: What I say in the book is that there’s a phrase, “water seeks its own level” meaning that we go out and we have to unite, we have to talk to people who we understand and appreciate us, but then we got to move out–the problem is we just listen to people–not you and me, but again, broad strokes–we just listen to people who sound like ourselves.
De’Ara Balenger That’s right. That’s right.
Valerie Biden Owens: And we just talk, we talk at those people. And what we have to do is we simply, we cannot give up hope. We–my brother have said many times, you know, hate doesn’t disappear, it just hides under a rock. And what has happened with this, our past, present, and the past administration, is bulldozers came and lifted the rocks and all the hate came up and was given breathing room again. And we have to, each, when we, when I talk about in the book about our campaigns–and this is the honest to God truth–every single, the first one was called the Children’s Crusade. That the press [unclear] because nobody took us seriously–but every single person in that campaign when we won believed that she or he won that campaign for us. So it is the power of one. So we have to get back, we’ve lost touch with our basic, you know–empathy, I say in the book, is the connective tissue, in our humanity. And it keeps us from going off the rails. So it sounds preachy.
De’Ara Balenger It doesn’t sound preachy. And I think what you know, and what’s ironic about all of this, I think, is it is my belief the best way for us to kind of come together as a country, or at least start to, you know, start to peel back some of these layers and get back to like, how do we even relate to one another, is actually in door-knocking. I love canvasing. It’s my favorite thing to do. And I like to do it in areas where, you know, people are the most different from me, presumably, background, etc. But I always find I have the most enriching conversations and really am a part of a democratic process when I’m canvasing, when I’m volunteering at a caucus. Like I say all that one, to get your reaction, but also for the listeners. I hope the listeners are perking up in terms of, you know, if you haven’t canvased before, if you’ve been door knocking before, if you haven’t really gotten out there during a campaign, it really, I feel like is my best example at, my best experience that I’ve had at democracy at Work.
Valerie Biden Owens: That’s exactly right. And it works for the person you’re canvasing and it works for you. It’s a two-way street. And, you know, there’s a, Kierkegaard has an expression that–like Kierkegaard, like he and I are tight–I mean, he was just talking to me yesterday.
De’Ara Balenger It’s like me, it’s like me and Oprah. It’s like when I talk about Oprah.
Valerie Biden Owens: Yeah. Yeah. You know, he just said. But Kierkegaard said that “faith sees best in the dark”, and we have to believe in our system and the–people don’t care what you know until they know you care. So when you go in, you knock on that door, you’re putting yourself out there. The people’s doing it say, What do you want? You know, what are you here for? And you say, Well, and you want to talk about a policy, and they’re completely against it, but they see a real live person and you say, what, you know, what, tell me what I can do, tell me what we can do to make this work better. And it’s a lot more effort. But that is what my brother is a natural at. And I think, you know, we would, all of us have had adversity in our lives, and the other thing people say to me so frequently when the talking about the book is, and my family, that you’ve had so much tragedy in your life. And I said, Yeah, but so have you. De’Ara, I don’t know what yours is, but you’ve had it. And more is coming. With my brother’s case, when, he was–what people don’t know, or some know, is that when he was a little boy he could not, he stuttered so terribly, he couldn’t put more than three words together at the time. And for each one of us, each one of us who has been humiliated and I mean, they thought stutterers, and still do, you can make, everybody makes fun of a stutterer–not everybody, again, you know what I mean–bullies. They’re easy targets. And because stutters are stupid. And my mother would say to Joey, stuttering, it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s because you’re so smart your brain works so fast, you can’t get the words out fast enough. It’s about confidence. But when you’ve been humiliated, when you’ve been told to go into that corner, when you’ve been told to sit down and shut up, you know, that bile stays in your throat for a long time. And you have a choice to make. You can choose to become a bully yourself, which many people do. Or you can realize that we’re all in this together, and try to make it work. And I think that what turned out to be a terrible, a parent or a sister could change it and say, No, no, no, take that stutter away from Joe. Don’t make him suffer through that all those years. You know, don’t do that to my child. But I think that turned out to be the best thing for him, because layer by layer, this little boy built a backbone of steel, a backbone of character, and he decided that that’s how he never was going to treat another person. And that’s what makes him the president that he is today. There is no daylight between the public person and the private man. I mean, whether you like him or you don’t, he’s real. He’s there. And as you said, and I’m responsible for some of that, for raising that boy.
De’Ara Balenger You know, while I was at the State Department during the Obama administration, I worked for, there’s a bureau called the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, naturally–but one of the things that we worked on was developing legal systems around the world. And part of that program was working with attorney generals offices to have attorneys go to different countries.
Valerie Biden Owens: My Beau.
De’Ara Balenger Yeah. And I, I had just the most lovely and enlightening and beautiful interactions with Beau while he was Attorney General. And, you know, there are often times when, I mean at the time I was probably like 27, but I’d have to get on the phone and brief him about something or the other–I had no business doing so, probably, but I was a political appointee, so that was the job that I had–but I do think I mean, what an incredible light and even the time while we had him, and just, you know, so I’m sure you all hear so many people that he’s had an impact on during his short life, and I am one of those human beings. So I just one, wanted to acknowledge, just share that experience with our listeners, but yeah, just to acknowledge it, and to thank you for your hand in that, because I’m sure, like your brother, you also had a big hand in raising Beau.
Valerie Biden Owens: Beau Biden, the late Beau Biden, the magnificent young man who died at 46-years old from brain cancer. He was a healthy specimen when he came back from Iraq, and it was, he got a death sentence 13-months before–and this was in 2014 when he died. But go backwards, we won the election November 7th. Joe’s 29-years old. He has to wait till November 20th when he turns 30 to be eligible to accept that he was now the senator-elect from the state of Delaware. And Joe and I were in Washington, DC on December 18th. We went down to hire staff because he was this great, you know, wonder, this young man. And we had stacks and stacks of applications. The Senate was in recess for Christmas. Senator Byrd said you could use his office. Joe and I are down there interviewing staff. The phone rings, it’s my brother, Jimmy Biden. And he said, Come home, come home now. And what had happened, Neilia was–that’s Joe’s late wife–was in the station wagon with Beau, who was three, Hunter who was two, and baby [Casspi] in the car seat who was 13-months old. She just picked up the Christmas tree, they’re on their way home. Hit broadside by a tractor-trailer. Neilia and the baby were killed instantly because they hit, the tractor-trailer hit her side. Beau and Hunt and the car were thrown thousands of miles–I know, I’m, anyway–and they, the boys ended up in the hospital for quite some time with very serious injuries. One of the reasons, again, that I mean, health care should be a right, not a privilege. Joe had good insurance. We had a whole family to sustain each other. Every other person’s child is as loved and as worthy of the care that my boys got, our boys got. And that’s why my brother’s such an advocate for what the affordable health care, continue expanding that. Make a long story short, my brother said, The boys have lost a father, Delaware can lose a senator, because I can’t go down and serve and leave the boys, because there is my mom and dad and Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Frankie and Aunt Belle here. They have already lost mommy and the baby. So I said to him, nothing heroic, exactly what my brothers would have said to me: Yeah, you can do that, Joe. This is why the commuting started. I said I’ll move in and stay until it’s time to go. And that’s what I did. And the senators were great, Republican and Democrats, much more collegial. They said, come down, Joe, give it six months. And I said, Joe, you work too hard for this. The voters put too much trust in you. Neilia, worked too hard for this. Just give it a try. And at last, the 37 years. And five years after I moved in, Joe and Jill met and they got married. I never tried to, Mommy was mommy. That was Neilia. I was always Autn Belle. I never tried to be mom, because I hope that Joe at 30-years old, would find love again. And so, but I had these boys, they turned three and four in February. This accident was in December. So I got them for the next five years. So these are my boys.
De’Ara Balenger Thank you for sharing that. I definitely didn’t, and I think what I agonized around was just like, what I know of you, what I read of you, the book, like there’s so much warmth and joy, and so I didn’t want to kind of take us into tragedy. But I think, but it’s not, but it’s not tragedy, right? I think I think, you know, these stories are stories, and these people are people that have shaped your,shaped your family and shaped so many others. And so I think, even what, you know, is understandably tragic, it’s also have been–
Valerie Biden Owens: There was a lot of joy.
De’Ara Balenger Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Valerie Biden Owens: You know, mom, I tell you, there’s one story about the Pope. When Pope Francis came to Washington–Beau died in May 2014, May 30th on my parents’ anniversary, and my parents had already, they were in heaven ready to grab him when he came–and it was devastating to this family. And you talk about faith seeing best in the dark. I mean, I’m a practicing Catholic and I wanted to strangle somebody with my rosary beads. I mean, like, how could this possibly–and people of goodwill said, You know, it’s God’s will. And I said, This is not God’s will. Why would God? And they meant well, but, you know, it’s like, Why. Why, why, why?
De’Ara Balenger Yeah
Valerie Biden Owens: And the four hardest words for me to say, you know, my fist are clenched, and we think we’re in control and we’re driving down the road and you’ve got to let go. And the hardest words for me to say were, Thy will be done. Because I did not want thy will be done. I want my will to be done. And I want Beau to keep living. So it was hard to do that. And the Pope came in September 23rd–I remember as if it were yesterday–and all of this, and the dignitaries, the vice president, we’re all outside the basilica and they’re big jumbo screens, and Pope Francis was giving his homily, and, of course, the words were on the screen. And he said, the message was you have to keep moving forward. And I was sitting there, my daughter Casey was next to me, and Uncle Joe was next to her. And I leaned over to Joe and I said, He’s talking to us. I actually believed I felt the Pope “keep moving forward.” because when tragedy strikes, our inclination is we shrivel. We just, our body mode, know, we cover our face, we move down, and keep moving forward, and God love my brother, we kept my, I mean, we could not run for president in 2016 because of that, because we had to healed. And he never had any intention of running for president until Trump and Charlottesville. And he said, I can’t back away because I’m afraid. And we kept moving forward. And that’s where we are today.
De’Ara Balenger Well, Valerie, thank you for that. And it’s, of course, you know, you’ve done it again, but we usually end the podcast with asking what’s a piece of advice that has stuck with you? And you just did that intuitively. Which was no surprise to me.
Valerie Biden Owens: Thank you.
De’Ara Balenger With the advice that, you know, you got to move forward, you got to move forward.
Valerie Biden Owens: You don’t forget, you know, you can never forget.
De’Ara Balenger Yes. That’s right.
Valerie Biden Owens: You got to open your fist and say, Okay, I’m doing, I’m going to do the best I can. I want to be the best Valerie Biden Owens I can be, which sometimes falls way, way, way, way short. But I gotta, you know, I gotta. So thank you for your patience and for your intelligence.
De’Ara Balenger Thank you for joining the pod.
Valerie Biden Owens: And for telling everybody to get “Growing up Biden.” You know, it’s not easy.
De’Ara Balenger Yes. Yes. Y’all go out and get this book. Seriously, I just, we all loved it. And I think it’s what, it’s you know, it’s what we need now. It’s just these reminders of what our values are and who we are as a country and who we want to, who we want to continue to be and progress to be, so Valerie Biden Owens, thanks very much for joining us.
Valerie Biden Owens: Alright my friend, thank you. I appreciate you.
De’Ara Balenger Look forward to having you back. You, too.
Valerie Biden Owens: Thank you.
De’Ara Balenger Talk to you soon. Bye.
Valerie Biden Owens: Bye.
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, make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.