Re Imagination Nation, We Imagine US
Episode 3: Saru Jayaraman and Kent Wong
Table of contents
In this episode, we hear insights from the frontlines of labor reform with two members of SCoRE (Solidarity Council on Racial Equity). First, a close look at restaurant work—essential but undervalued. Author Saru Jayaraman details efforts to bring the dignity of recognition and fair wages to all workers. Then, Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center reveals how an empowered generation of documented and undocumented youth are reimagining an entirely new immigration system.
Gregory Branch (00:00):
[Maria: Cool. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.] We’re all gonna go away and, uh, let this interview happen.
Maria Hinojosa (00:07):
Yeah. Hi Heather. So you got the background kind of what we’re doing.
Heather McGhee (00:12):
I did. I did. It was very helpful. It’s very exciting.
Maria Hinojosa (00:15):
It is. It’s, it’s crazy, but so is SCoRE, but so is everybody. And, you know, honestly it takes a little bit of crazy to be a liberation dreamer thinker. We know this. Um, and so we’re just, we’re, we’re just going all out, um, on, on this notion of re-imagining. So this is for you, um, as somebody who is kind of based, so, so definitively in reality. Um, but you do.
Heather McGhee (00:50):
Yeah, right I don’t know. But then reality.
Maria Hinojosa (00:54):
Exactly. I was going to say, but really you’re a dreamer because you have to, you’re dreaming about what the thing is, you know? And so you’re trying to create the, so we want to get to the dreamer. We want to be in that dreamer space with you. Um, so it’s, it’s not a space where a lot of, you know, a lot of people aren’t talking about maybe being in that dreamer space and the liberation dreamer, um, a, the freedom dreamer, um, but that’s where we kind of want to live. Um, great. I w I would have told you, Hey, you know, take a shot at tequila and just sit back and, you know, but I don’t know.
Heather McGhee (01:32):
I got, I sadly, I did have a little bit of wine with lunch, but I’ve got too many other things to do right after this call. I can’t really go there with you right now. [Maria: I feel you, I feel you,
Maria Hinojosa (01:47):
Tequila is very healthy. You did know that though. Right. You know, it is
Heather McGhee (01:50):
Really the only spirit that I drank.
Maria Hinojosa (01:53):
I now drink a shot of tequila every night with my son at the end of the day. Um, and we sip it and it’s helped to bring my cholesterol down in fact, 50 points as per yesterday, my conversation with my doctor. So they’re beautiful. So, so if you can help us imagine, you know, um, uh, as a society in the future, right. Where there is racial equity, can you paint a picture for what that looks like? Have you spent some time? Sure. Yeah. So just kind of paint that picture for what that looks like for Heather.
Heather McGhee (02:31):
Well, first of all, as a person who likes to measure progress, in that future, which is fully within our grasp, in a future that is racially just, and equitable, there is zero correlation between your skin color and your outcomes in life and how you are treated by the systems in our society. You can be as likely to
Heather McGhee (03:01):
Well first off Make gobs of money and, um, live in a society that is in a neighborhood that is, um, here, let me start that over again. Um, you can be as likely to be wildly successful financially, and to, um, live in a community that meets all of your needs. Um, if you are black, white, or Brown, there is really just no more correlation between your success and prosperity and happiness and treatment by our systems and the color of your skin. So that’s the measure I’d want to take, and it’s completely within our grasp and something that I think it’s really important for us to keep sight of is if we are not at that place, if there is a correlation between our, the color of our skin or the language we speak and our quality of life, then the system is inequitable. It is not about something being wrong with the people who are suffering from disparities. It is about the system being set up to create those disparities.
Maria Hinojosa (04:18):
So take us there.
Heather McGhee (04:20):
So how do we get there now? Just what’s it like there, what’s it like there? I mean, I think it is a place where the biodiversity of our ecosystem is restored. Um, it’s a place where we have new species of plants and animals, um, cropping up on the planet every day, um, instead of mass species extinction. And, and why do I start there? I mean, that might be strange. We’re talking about human equality here, but I do believe that there is a, uh, fundamental link between the way that the powerful and our economic systems treat and exploit that, which they have already dehumanized, um, our air and water, our environment and the animals and how the wealthy and powerful and our systems treat people that they’ve dehumanized. And so that’s an indicator that everybody could see, um, you know, walking through the woods or drinking the water or looking out their window is our ecosystem flourishing because so often in an ecosystem that is flourishing, we have people that are flourishing and indigenous wisdom teaches us that.
Heather McGhee (05:45):
So that’s the first piece. The second piece is that, um, we are having babies again. Um, one of the many signs of our current sicknesses that our birth rates are declining. Um, but we, we, we in the future where there is racial justice and racial equity, um, you know, families are able to come together, feel secure in taking that bet on the future. Um, women are breathing clean air, no matter what the color of their skin and where they live. And so they are able to carry babies to term, and they are being treated with respect and dignity by a racially, just healthcare system. And so those flam families are thriving and flourishing, and people know that they have the, that once they have a baby, that the society will treat that baby as the precious life that it is, um, people know that they will have the time to take care of their children and while also meeting their needs and keeping the lights on. In a racially equitable future, there are rich systems of mutual aid and community support.
Heather McGhee (06:58):
People know their neighbors and their neighbors don’t look like them. Um, we have in a future that is racially equitable, eliminated the last vestiges of the way that racism was written into the built environment, the way that housing codes and mortgage subsidies and contracts on rentals and home ownership shaped the way we live, made us live apart. In a racially equitable future, that’s completely undone. And so we no longer have people being pushed and pulled apart and incentivized to live in homogenous neighborhoods. But in fact, the neighborhoods, um, that we live in reflect the country’s broader diversity. Um, in the racially equitable future, we are in a culture of lifetime learning. Um, our schools are well-funded, um, because we no longer drain the public pool of resources, um, in order to avoid sharing across lines of race. So our public schools are well-funded they’re palaces in every neighborhood, but there is a culture of lifetime learning.
Heather McGhee (08:24):
People are able to afford to go to co-op. People are able to afford to go to college, tuition and debt free. Um, people learn on the job as they used to. Um, there are robust libraries and, um, community learning circles that are teaching the true history of this country, both the struggle and the resilience, um, that are centered in, uh, the first wisdoms of, of this nation, um, where we truly learn as much about the different indigenous nations of the United States. Um, as much as we know about, you know, the, the lineage of the Royal family in England, for example, um, we are learning so much more about our interconnectedness, about our history, about the unsung heroes of our history. Um, and there’s a great level of civic engagement and participation. People know who their city council person is and alderman, they know who their state representative is and who represents them, um, on public utilities boards.
Heather McGhee (09:32):
Um, there is no correlation between how much money you have and what, um, and what the color of your skin is and, and how likely you are to serve at some point in public office. I think in a racially equitable world, we also have more of a culture of active citizenship where everyone expects to and the government facilitates and the private sector facilitates a way of people engaging in public service, whether it’s a few hours a week, uh, a few months out of the year or a few years out of their lives, um, because that kind of service that allows everyday people to engage with problem solving in their communities, um, helps to create real connections to community. And it’s that connection to community that is what racism and racial injustice really, um, severs. um, the lie of racial hierarchy, the belief that we are truly separate individuals with no common ties, um, that we are all in it for ourselves and on our own, you know, those are the myths that come handed down to us by racism. And service is an act that helps dispel those myths. And so in a racially equitable world, everyone is a servant leader. Um, everyone is a, is a citizen in the broadest sense of the word and that kind of public service is not left for the corrupt and the self-serving, um, and the power hungry, but rather as something that we expect of everyone,
Maria Hinojosa (11:13):
You know, when I, um, when I spent some time on, um, um, on a reservation, that was what I was like, every single young person must come to a reservation and live and do of service because it’s so removed. And then I was like, well, it doesn’t have to be limited. So I, I, but it’s like one of those things actually, why don’t you, um, to take off on that? Can you describe a little bit of what that serve is? Cause we’re going to try to create this right, where we’re actually going to try to create. So what would your dream-o vision let’s say your little boy, um, cause it’s going to be too old for my 24 year old, 25 year old and my 22 year old, but what could, it could still happen? What would be his options of choosing service?
Heather McGhee (12:09):
My son would be able to choose, um, not just military service or, um, not just to work for a sort of disconnected duplicative non-profit somewhere, but rather there would be a, you know, streamlined, um, suite of ways to engage. And we would re animate the idea of the civilian conservation Corps and, uh, the works progress administration, um, for the urgent needs of today. And the urgent needs of today are beautifully encapsulated in the, the vision of a green new deal. Um, the vision of transforming our economy and our society by, um, getting rid of our dependence on fossil fuels and also doing so in a way that is a just transition that unleashes the innovative, uh, power of communities across the country and puts first in line for that wealth creation, that community wealth creation and that community ownership, the communities that have been most polluted and most ill-served by our economic status quo today.
Heather McGhee (13:21):
So that means that he would be able to, um, you know, help reforest, uh, um, an area that had been deforested. He would be able to help create new parks, help, um, weatherize homes in low-income neighborhoods help to create, um, new systems of energy efficiency, uh, in communities on, on public land and in private homes, he would be able to help connect people to, um, you know, new jobs in a clean energy industry and do job training for, for others, be trained himself and then, and then help do volunteer job training. But we also have to think about in addition to the high speed rail and the roads and bridges and the public transit that we need, the new water systems, the new, you know, smart grids and solar panels, the hard infrastructure that we need, um, you know, in a racially equitable world that is decarbonized.
Heather McGhee (14:24):
Um, and that has really embraced the vision of a green new deal. We would also have, um, soft infrastructure. And by that, I mean, the, the untapped and low carbon infrastructure that we desperately need that we don’t have, whether it’s universal child care or elder care, or, um, going door to door and gathering the oral histories of our communities as they’re rapidly changing, um, you know, creating a parks recreation centers, um, I’m releasing a book soon, um, called The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We can Prosper Together, and the central parable at the heart of the book is the story of when towns across the country, um, once had a beautiful grand resort style, public swimming pools, um, that were the central meeting place in towns and allowed, um, young people and families to, you know, sort of positive place to spend the hot summer days.
Heather McGhee (15:24):
Um, and they were sort of a melting pot, you know, in many instances, in many areas of the country for, you know, for white ethnic immigrants. And many of them were whites only or segregated. And when the civil rights movement began to win victories to desegregate and integrate these pools that were paid for with everyone’s tax dollars. Um, so many of those towns drained their public swimming pools rather than integrate them. And of course the lesson there is that white Americans lost out on a public resource as well. Um, I like to say that, you know, we’re sort of all, it’s sitting in the bottom of a drained pool now in this age of austerity. So I believe, uh, and I envision a world in which we’ve refilled the pool of public goods, but this time for everyone, it’s also a world in which we recognize that, um, because of how racist our public policymaking around wealth and opportunity and safety, uh, and the environment have been, we are not all standing at the same depths of that pool today.
Heather McGhee (16:27):
And so it is going to take a different level of resource and support for different communities. We can’t cascade disadvantage and disadvantage, and then stop or pretend to stop, and then say that we need to have universal means to achieve universal goals. We’ve got to recognize that in the future that we need different communities are going to have different kinds of supports. And in that racially equitable future white Americans don’t resent, um, the differential treatment, uh, based on, on people’s, you know, circumstances because they understand that first of all, we all benefit from racial equity and that we are all on the same team. And so having, you know, all of our players able to compete is, is helpful for everyone on that team. And that second, that it’s him and that white Americans in that future realize that they were the beneficiaries of government largess.
Heather McGhee (17:34):
That was so pervasive as to be, um, that was so pervasive as to so often be invisible. Um, but whether it was, you know, free grants of land from the homestead act free college education with the GI bill subsidized home ownership that was exclusively a whites only throughout the 20th century, there are so many ways in which, um, white Americans benefited, uh, from, you know, free stuff from government handouts. And now it’s time to extend that hand to all Americans, no matter what your background and it is really important that we do so in a way that is cognizant of the racial wealth gaps that were created by public policy and can only be fixed by public policy.
Maria Hinojosa (18:23):
So Heather, so you actually, Heather have this really, you know, it, you, yeah, you are one of the people who we’ve interviewed, who actually has a very clear cut picture of what this looks like. I’m like, I want to be there like, Oh my God, I so want to be there. Um, what was it in you? Did you see someone who kind of encapsulated this possibility of kind of take, seeing the challenges that we faced, but actually transforming that into what you’re talking about? Is… was there somebody that was teaching you to, you take this, but you transform it and you imagine that you reimagine it. It turns out like this, is there a person, is there a moment for you when that ended up happening?
Heather McGhee (19:16):
Heather McGhee (19:17):
You know, I think in many ways, my ability to sort of project into, um, an unseen future and to have faith in the unseen, um, was nurtured for me as a child, because I was really into speculative fiction. I was really into Star Trek and fantasy and other worlds and time travel and space travel. Um, you know, I think there is a big connection between the Black nerds in the world and that other realm, um, of living in that, that fiction and the idea that we could do things that we are not doing now, and that there could be other worlds out there and other rules of, of, of physics even, um, because the rules that we were bound by, on this planet, in this society and in this time, um, are so constricting. Um, so I mean, if I’m honest, I think that’s where my ability to project into a future really comes from.
Maria Hinojosa (20:22):
So what were you watching? What was that thing that…? I’m thinking, why, why I don’t,S and I’m like, you know what I think, Oh,
Maria Hinojosa (20:32):
Maria Hinojosa (20:33):
Joanne Reed is, is calling me right now. [Heather: You should take it.] I know,
Speaker 5 (20:38):
That’s fine. I just don’t know how to answer her. That’s my problem,
Maria Hinojosa (20:43):
Because it was coming through my thing. Um, hold on.
Speaker 6 (20:48):
I’m sorry. You guys. No, it’s okay.
Maria Hinojosa (20:58):
Um, I was actually saying,
Maria Hinojosa (21:02):
You know, that for me, why, why, um, why don’t I necessarily, why didn’t I gravitate towards, towards a being in those places? Actually, I didn’t see anybody who looked like me. And so I think I was afraid of those places, like star Trek, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t really understand it. It was more scary, I think, but for you, what was the thing? Where were you, what did you see? What was the visual thing that was, or was it what you were reading?
Heather McGhee (21:35):
It was more what I was reading. I mean, I did watch Star Trek, both the original and The Next Generation, which had, you know, one or two black characters and that was important to Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Um, um, but you know, I mean, I had that experience watching Black Panther on screen for the first time, right. Where I realized that, um, as I saw, you know, these two young black women sort of saving the day and being part of the plot twist that drives the resolution and where they really, you know, they’re the ones who are doing the action to save the day where, you know, I started weeping in the theater because I realized that I had spent so much time, you know, following plots and, you know, cheering on heroes, who I just had to do so much right. To, to, to empathize with them, to project myself into these white male bodies, you know, and that’s the power of storytelling is that I could, right.
Heather McGhee (22:35):
It’s like, there is something fundamentally universal about these conflicts that were playing out on screen or in books. But, um, it was so beautiful just to not have to do that. Um, and I definitely think that in, in the, the world that we are creating, um, nobody will have to do that exclusively. Right. Everybody will get to do that. Everybody will get to take that leap of empathy and of, um, identification, which I think is important. Right. Because ultimately race is an illusion. Um, but I, um, but I think it will be it’s in that future that we’re creating, um, there’s no longer this dominance of the white male story in our storytelling.
Maria Hinojosa (23:17):
Yeah. I actually was. Um, there was a meme about the Latino Bridgerton. Do you, have you watched
Heather McGhee (23:25):
It?] Yes, I did. Actually. Yeah. It was,
Maria Hinojosa (23:27):
It’s sucked you in the Latino Bridgerton was like, you know, the woman who was like, Hola! And then turned and she was like, no me jodas!
Maria Hinojosa (23:37):
Maria Hinojosa (23:37):
Like, I’d be down to, I mean, Downton Abbey is the best Mexican soap opera.
Heather McGhee (23:44):
Right. Totally. Totally
Maria Hinojosa (23:46):
I told president of PBS, that’s how you should be. She looked at me like I was crazy. She didn’t get it. Anyway. Heather, do you have an example, um, of success in the fight for, um, for equity, something that you’ve experienced lived through that confirmed? Uh, no shit can happen. Like it can!
Heather McGhee (24:09):
Yeah. Yes. Thankfully. Um, in the course of writing my book, I traveled across the country and talk to hundreds of people and I began to, um, experience something I started to call the solidarity dividend. I came across these things. I started to call it the solidarity dividend, which was, um, the idea that just as divide and conquer is sort of the oldest trick in the playbook of, you know, those who want to keep the economic and social distribution exactly the way it is. Um, people coming together across lines of race, um, can do what none of us can do on our own. And, you know, I came across lots of different examples of that. Um, in Richmond, California, um, a multi-racial multi-ethnic multi-lingual group, um, of refugees, immigrants African-Americans and progressive white folks, um, got together to, um, take on Chevron, which was the big polluter in their community.
Heather McGhee (25:16):
And win a community benefits agreement that you know, was, is really a model of a just transition in the country. Um, I saw, um, in the stories of, of fast food workers in Kansas city, um, one black, one white, um, who are, you know, fast food work is the most degraded work in our economy. Um, it’s the most inequitable in terms of CEO pay to average worker pay, it’s a thousand to one ratio. Um, and, uh, the, their organizing, which put race at the center and put racism as a divide and conquer weapon at the center and saw cross racial solidarity as the key to overcoming Um, opposition was extremely inspiring to me. Um, I was looking for all of these stories really in that sort of economic and policy context around, um, you know, both the environment, but also various areas of economic opportunity. Um, but I know that there are others in, in other areas as well.
Maria Hinojosa (26:34):
It seems like you’re saying that there you witnessed and that in our right now, in fact, there are, I’m thinking of like Smithfield Tarheel, North Carolina, where the Black, Latino, and the few white workers were trying to unionize in the meat processing plants. You know, we’re the spokesperson for the entire strike attempt of strike or unionizing was a Mexican woman smaller than me, um, who spoke with an accent. And yet everybody loved her and was following her, you know, like this Norma, Norma Rae. Um, so can you, it seems like you’re saying it’s almost like that place that utopia actually already does exist
Heather McGhee (27:22):
Hmm. Little bits. In Little bits we have to glimpse it, right. There there have to be, um, there have to be breadcrumbs on, on the path, um, for sure, for us to be able to follow, um, you know, in Georgia, right? The coalition that just did the impossible, that just marched progress in control of the United States Senate through Dr. King’s church, right. That was absolutely a coalition anchored by Black activism, but that had record turnout among Latinos record turnout among, um, you know, African immigrants who had not been as active in the, um, in the political process, white, suburban women who, you know, flipped in large numbers. I mean, this is, this is a to put a young Jewish man and, um, a Black, you know, religious leader into the Senate from Georgia, you know, that, that, that’s a huge example. And, and the, the, the story that created that victory, what was at stake on the ballot was absolutely a rebuke against white supremacy and a rebuke against, um, you know, the, the, the tragic mishandling of the Corona virus pandemic and, um, the promise of some kind of economic relief for families.
Maria Hinojosa (28:45):
Um, so Heather, as I was prepping for this interview, there’s this other side of you that I didn’t know, the television writer in you, can you talk a little bit about that because it feels like there’s a part of you that in the, if the world was the right place for you, that that would have been where you ended up or am I wrong? What, what about that space and how does, how do you imagine that space, um, in, in the future, in this re-imagined world, uh,
Heather McGhee (29:20):
You did good research. Um, that’s, um, it’s an interesting question. So I, I, I grew up, you know, as, as most Americans did right. Glued to the television and, and, and seeing so much of the country that I couldn’t see from my window and my neighborhood through, through the television. And, um, I’m
Heather McGhee (29:42):
Had this sense that the work that was being done behind the camera was shaping American sense of who we are as a people. Um, and that seemed like extremely powerful work to me, and I wanted to be a part of it. Um, I kind of wanted to be the black Norman Lear, right. Uh, uh, a person who, you know, who understood the power and responsibility of, of, of that storytelling. Um, I think that today, you know, I mean, we are awash in content, you know, more than anyone, you know, what has happened to fracture and, um, you know, our media landscape, well, you know, the wealth is concentrated and the ownership is concentrated in so few hands, the, the amount of content and then types of narratives are just proliferating. But at the same time, we don’t have a core narrative that people who want to see social change, um, are driving, right.
Heather McGhee (30:44):
The right wing is very clear about it’s core narrative, um, which is, uh, uh, racial, resentment and demonization, it’s scapegoating, it’s blaming, um, people who were, you know, shoulder to shoulder with you for the problems, you know, that are largely the fault of people who are way ahead of you in the social hierarchy. And, um, you know, we, we, we don’t have anything near the kind of like galvanizing core subterranean story that we’re driving at. Um, and I think it’s really important for the people who are the great responsibility of telling our stories, um, to be much more aware of the narratives they’re putting out. I mean, you know, they talk about liberal Hollywood, but, um, as my work, as the board chair of Color of Change, you know, has, you know, put forward, um, you know, Hollywood’s bread and butter is crime procedurals and cop shows that, uh, deliver terrible racist and, um, you know, morally bankrupt narratives into the American imagination, um, make heroes out of villains and gloss over racism and systemic racism. Um, so I think that it’s really important that people who have the responsibility of, of telling stories, particularly for entertainment, right. Cause it’s a different thing when you go to be educated, but when you go into sitting in a chair to be entertained your mind and your heart are open in a different way. Um, and
Maria Hinojosa (32:22):
Yeah.] Um, um, that you can still be Norman Lear. I mean, he’s 91, he’s 92 93. He’s still giving his morning breakfast chats with his bagels. Every time I see a bagel, I’m like, I know that Norman Lear slices them in four
Heather McGhee (32:46):
Maria Hinojosa (32:48):
On his Instagram doing that thing. Okay. What, what does solidarity look like for you? Um, and I’m wondering, is there a person, is there a character, is there a moment where it again, where we can actually see it where you saw it or where you’ve imagined?
Heather McGhee (33:08):
Yeah. Yeah. Um, I’m just pulling this up in my book actually, which I should get, um, to you, um, because definitely, definitely, um, interviewing people who and finding those stories. Um, one woman who comes to mind is a woman named Bridget. Who’s a fast food worker, um, in Kansas city and who, um,
Heather McGhee (33:37):
Heather McGhee (33:38):
So Bridget from Kansas city, uh, discovered the power of solidarity in a basement organizing meeting when she saw her own life reflected in that of a Latino food, fast food worker until then not only it had Bridget bought into the dehumanizing narrative about immigrants, about people like the woman who spoke that night, um, and black people, but she’d also bought into the idea that her own labor would never be worth $15 an hour. And there’s something about the mentality of degrading others who are in your same position that can make you unable to see a better life for yourself either. Um, when you believe the dominant story that you on your own responsible for your own successes and failures, and you’re still being paid $7.25 An hour, what does that say about your own worth? Um, you know, Bridget found that redirecting the blame for her, you know, poverty wage jobs toward the people actually setting the rules for her pay was liberating and then finding a sea of potential allies and the people who worked alongside her was empowering.
Heather McGhee (34:40):
And that organizing that she did, right. I mean, it literally looked like, you know, coming out of that meaning and creating a list of demands as her, um, you know, compatriot this, um, Black man named Terrance was also in Standup Kansas city with her, you know, came out of the organizing meeting and made a list of demands that were things like fix the grease trap and, you know, very small but important demands around safety in the workplace. And they, you know, marched in all the people in their shift into the bosses office. Um, and that was, you know, people who are Black, white, and Brown, um, where there had been a language barrier and sort of distrust and, you know, not really any real relationships as people were working. Um, but they all said, you know what, all of these issues are impacting all of us, you can totally afford to fix them. Um, you’ve got to do this. Uh, and so, um, they saw the power of collective action.
Heather McGhee (35:38):
Um, um, let me find Bridget one more time because she’s got a really good quote. She says, “kind of the whole point of our movement is for white workers to understand that racism affects white workers as well, because it keeps us divided from our black and Brown brothers and sisters. So we need to understand that as white workers, we too need to stand up and fight against racism.” Um, she says, in order for us to all “in order for all of us to come up, it’s not a matter of me coming up and them staying down. It’s the matter of, in order for me to come up, they have to come up too because we have to come up together because honestly, as long as we’re divided, we’re conquered, the only way that we’re going to succeed is together.”
Maria Hinojosa (36:27):
Maria Hinojosa (36:29):
I, I, uh, actually this morning on Amy Goodman, what I said is like, you know, this about eight years for immigration reform, when all immigrants know what can happen in eight years, I mean, it should have been immediate three-year immigration reform, because what that does is actually grows your economy. If you legalize Juan, your personal economy is going to grow, but it’s never put into that, that argument. And I was also thinking Heather, as a journalist, you know, I’ve talked like, well, imagine if all of the editors in chief over the last 30 years loved immigrants or people of color, but let’s just take the question of immigrants. And like every day there was a headline that was like, dude, Uruguayans are on their way North. Oh my God, they make the best steak or, Oh my God, have you seen the latest popular craze from Bollywood? It’s on its way to Kansas city. It’s about to arrive. It’s going to be the bomb or, Oh my God, isn’t it great that there’s going to be so many people from all over the world because you’re going to have amazing possibilities for crazy sex anywhere. Cause you’re going to fall in love with like, who knows? Imagine if the headlines
Heather McGhee (37:41):
Maria Hinojosa (37:41):
Like the excitement to welcome, like the actual narrative of like, not just, we’re going to take, you’re tired and you’re poor. And you’re like, we’re going to be like, no muthafukas come we want you!.
Heather McGhee (37:53):
Yeah. Well, that’s why Maria. I end my book with the story of my journey to Lewiston, Maine, um, which has been written about a few times, but I wanted to go there for myself. It’s a total dying milltown, right? Like one of the more depressed, you know, towns you’ll see, um, except it’s been revived and reanimated, um, in the last decade or so by this influx of refugees and immigrants, mostly from Africa, mostly Muslim. Um, and I talked to two people, two white Mainers who had, you know, were like the quintessential, um, you know, de diseases of despair. Right. You know, that expression, right. This, the sort of hillbilly elegy though, like, okay, I’m addicted to opioids, I’m isolated, I’m alone, you know, it’s, um, it’s a true, it’s a real phenomenon, right? It’s not, um, you know, it’s not actually hyperbole. Um, and so I met Bruce and Cecile, Bruce had been addicted to opioids and it hit rock bottom.
Heather McGhee (38:58):
Um, but he ended up really turning his life around. His wife said your new addiction, Bruce is the community because he learned to be a community organizer. And he met this woman named Zamzam in, uh, uh, the parking lot of a prison when she is bringing, um, food to, um, to Muslim men inside the prison, uh, the jail inside the jail to break their fast during Ramadan. And, um, so they, you know, became friends and he, she turned him on to, um, Maine Peoples Alliance, which is a grassroots community organization. He’s now, you know, taken off. It’s just constantly active, um, you know, in local politics and, and local community building. And, um, he created, uh, he’s one of the sort of co-founders and organizers of this annual community, unity, barbecue, right, where he’s standing there making Somali flatbreads and envisioning, you know, the, the kind of community this can be.
Heather McGhee (39:56):
Um, and then this woman named Cecile who, um, both Bruce and Cecile are actually, um, what they call Francos in Maine, who are people who are descendant from the Franco Canadians, um, who came in and where the sort of, you know, um, discriminated Catholic immigrants, um, discriminated against Catholic immigrants at the turn of the century in the early 20th century. And, um, you know, they’ve all since assimilated and, uh, Cecile is totally isolated, living alone, falling into depression. And she, um, said she wanted to relearn her French. You know, she said, I want to, I want to get back in touch with the language of my youth. And so she went down to the Franco cultural center and nobody, there were all these old Francos, but they weren’t speaking French either. And somebody there saw her disappointment and said, well, you should go over to Hillview, which was the public housing project.
Heather McGhee (40:50):
And there, there were all these Francophone Africans who of course are fluent and French. And she went there and she had the longest conversation she’d had, you know, since her childhood in French, and then she ended up becoming this total kind of mainstay of the Francophone African community in Maine and, um, bringing them sort of incorporating the two communities. So that then the Francophone African refugees were teaching the elderly white Mainers, the French that they had lost, that they had traded away for whiteness. Um, and you know, and she, you know, helps, you know, helps new asylum seekers, you know, get settled and all of that. But, you know, she’s the first to say that she she’s gained more than she gives every, every, you know, every time there’s a new wave of, of immigrants. So I do think that there are stories like that all around the country, um, that see, not just immigrants, but also people of color who are, um, you know, black and Brown and indigenous here as, you know, a part of what makes this country great. Um, as you know, this, this thing that is really, you know, marketed as a threat, which is the demographic change in our country is really what is going to help us survive and thrive in a global society.
Maria Hinojosa (42:13):
Did you ever go to Clarkston?
Speaker 6 (42:16):
No, where’s Clarkston. Okay. So
Maria Hinojosa (42:18):
At one point that, so when we were doing the same kind of work, looking about looking at demographics change, um, we went to one of the most diverse square miles, um, which is Clarkston, Georgia, just South of Atlanta, same thing, relocation spot. And we were there documenting in 2012, then 2014, I think we went back. Um, and now Clarkston is like the hip cute little spot where everybody’s. Yeah. Like they figured it out, like we’re learning from each other, but it was seeped in the division and the racism for so long. It’s a, it’s an interesting spot. We did a couple of documentaries. Okay. So I have a question from my producer for you. It’s it’s a little bit, okay. Our methodology tells us that the North won the civil war. Right. But the good guys won, but they didn’t. So can you explain the origins of these stereotypes that are still influencing racism today? And apparently you touched on this in a bill Moyers interview and we wanted to hear more.
Heather McGhee (43:22):
Yeah. [Maria: Damn you you internet. Interesting. Um, no, no, no, no, I’m sorry. But my son thought I was screaming at the internet. No, everything is fine.] Okay. So let me, let me try. So, um, what is meant by the South won the civil war? The South won the story, right. South won the narrative. The South also won in that, um, you know, we had, um, uh, come back to the narrative, but the South also won in very concrete ways in that the United States Congress passed, uh, civil rights acts in the wake of the civil war that mandated, you know, no discrimination in public accommodation and, um, and would have made Jim Crow a non, uh, you know, would have made Jim Crow never exist, right. Would have made the entire civil rights movement, which was pressing for integration in public schools and in public services, in public conveyances
Heather McGhee (44:32):
And businesses, all of that would not have existed. Had, um, a reactionary Supreme court not struck down the first civil rights act, um, in the 1870s. So, um, you know, in, in, so doing allowed for a system of, you know, racial hierarchy and oppression to continue, um, and to, you know, have slavery in another, by another name, um, in many, many ways. So, you know, there’s, there’s that very powerful piece of history of the road not taken, um, and how much our history would have changed, you know, have that first piece of legislation, um, or first sets, you know, there was three, um, piece of legislation been allowed to stand. So, um, there’s that piece of how the, the South and the idea of white supremacy won, um, white supremacy. White Supremacy also won, um, the lie of white supremacy also prevailed, um, in the sense of the North really capitulated.
Heather McGhee (45:36):
Um, you know, we all know that, you know, when Lincoln was shot, his vice president was someone who disagreed with him on basically everything. And so we lost the momentum that could have happened there. Um, but the, the narratives around Blackness, um, which, you know, were really driven by the, the, the, the kind of, um, the narratives around blackness, which were really driven by the economic imperatives of, you know, keeping cheap labor and of, um, eliminating black political power became the popular narratives nationwide about, um, about black people, the, um, you know, black criminality, um, uh, black imbecility, um, black unfitness for citizen for citizenship, right? These are things that are, have been reanimated. Um, for example, just this fall in the attack, on, um, the election and on the Republican parties, decade long war, you know, modern war against the right to vote. Um, you can’t have millions of people believing that somehow Detroit illegally stole the election without that link in the mind, in the white mind between black people and criminals. Right. It just, it doesn’t, it falls apart. Right. Why, why, how, how could you really believe in the idea of voter fraud? Um, you know, when we’re happy when 50% of the country votes, right? The idea that, um, people would, would risk jail to, to vote, um, you know, you get there, you get that full sure. There’s voter fraud, and I’m sure it’s rampant, um, because of the first black president, right. And because of resurgent power, the black vote.
Maria Hinojosa (47:31):
So how do you deal with the notion that there are people who will see this world that you’ve painted that I’m just like, Oh my God, I want to be there. Um, and before this, earlier today, we interviewed, uh, Diane Wolk-Rogers. You remember, she’s one of the score members who is from Parkland high school and who does like mind, body, mind, body therapy. And so she was like talking about how to train teachers, to do mind body and healing. And all, I was like, Oh my God, it sounds so cool. But there are people who are going to see that thing that we’re like, we want to be there. We want to be in the future. And who actually say I’m scared. Um, I I’m, that, that sounds like when I said, you know, um, the futuristic for me, it was always like, but I don’t see any Mexicans up there. So I don’t know, you know, how do you deal with people who have that fear who are just like, I got that fear. I don’t want to go to that other place. I don’t see myself there. Um, yeah. How do you, how do you,
Heather McGhee (48:35):
You work with that fear? I mean, first of all, you know, that the, the first thing we talked about in terms of that service, right? In terms of that, getting people to roll up their sleeves and be involved in something that is bigger than them is really important because you can have diversity trainings and kind of intellectual or theoretical conversations about the benefits of diversity. But, you know, it’s the same way that we created, um, you know, um, a coherent American identity of a massive amount of foreign born population that didn’t speak the same language, or have the same religion or culture. Um, you know, whose countries of origin were at war with each other for centuries, right. We, we did it by giving people something to do together. We did it because people were living on top of each other and working in factories.
Heather McGhee (49:35):
And we did it because people were, you know, in battalions together in, in, in war, we did it because people were, you know, sending their kids to the same schools. It’s, it’s not rocket science. Um, and it’s not theory, right. It’s practice. You’ve got to actually do something. And this is what I discovered in the book was that these people who had, you know, kind of unlocked the solidarity dividend, they weren’t doing it for the sake of, you know, racial harmony. They were doing it for the sake of getting something done that they couldn’t do alone. Um, and when you, whether it was, you know, organizing, uh, um, auto plant or, um, taking on a big polluter, you couldn’t, it was all these things that were, you know, where you met at a level of values that was about your common humanity and the things that unite you, rather than the things that divide you.
Maria Hinojosa (50:30):
Is there a specific policy or law in history that basically, um, got us to where we are? Um, and, and if so, how do we, how do we use that and understand that in terms of creating something else?
Heather McGhee (50:49):
Um, say that first part again, is there a, what
Maria Hinojosa (50:52):
Policy or law in history that had, has led us to where we are,
Heather McGhee (50:59):
Um, the way that racism has shaped our built environment, um, our housing, how we live, where we live, who has the wealth of homeownership, how segregated we are, how much we live apart, and therefore how easy it is to target and discriminate, uh, with pollution or, you know, bad schools or whatever it is, um, is probably I think the most impactful, uh, area of public policy. Um, that’s an area where, um, um, hold on one second, I should just wrote about this. Let me just grab, um, that’s an area where the, um, where the government profoundly, um, segregated us and profoundly created a, um, uh, a scheme for wealth building that excluded explicitly people of color. Um, it’s an area where even today, um, what used to be explicit racial zoning laws saying black people can’t live here was then replaced with, um, what are called exclusionary zoning laws that do not mention race, but instead talk about housing type and require, for example, single family houses, instead of allowing apartment buildings and duplexes, and the kind of denser living that allows working and middle-class people, frankly, of all races to afford to live somewhere.
Heather McGhee (52:43):
And today, much of our country’s landscape is sort of has this layer of zoning on 75% of it. Um, that requires single family home homes, which is w you know, a massive reason why we have the affordable housing crisis that we do. Um, and my book, I talk about the racist roots of the financial crisis and how the subprime loans that were at the root of the crisis were predatory instruments that were created and tested first in black and Brown neighborhoods of existing homeowners with good credit, who, um, were aggressively marketed on affordable loans. And once that formula, um, was sort of perfected and in black neighborhoods and strip the wealth of those neighborhoods, it then, you know, moved out into the wider and whiter mortgage market. Um, and there’s, there’s no other area of policy that I know. Well, I mean, I, I know that the criminal justice system is obviously racist top to bottom, and it does have knock on impacts in terms of the collateral consequences of incarceration. Um, but it’s also a recent phenomenon, whereas the question of where we’re allowed to live, how we’re allowed to live and how we’re allowed to build wealth through our homes, um, is a very old and, um, no less racist, um, area of public policy.
Maria Hinojosa (54:18):
So in the future world, everybody gets to own their house. You just like you’re born and you get like the, the bonus, and also it comes to the bonus for saving for your kid’s education. Okay. We have one last question. Okay. So I’m not sure cause you know, the SCoRE meetings have been, this is, this is not so much for what we’re doing. The re-imagined what we are, what we’re doing it is for Kellogg, but it’s not for the re-imagine. The last question is a question about the new deal. Remember when we talked about it within the, within the score meeting and we were like, we’re going to talk about, and we’re going to actually come up with a document, the new new deal. So we actually are charged with trying to create that document. So we may have more questions about this, but because we have you right here right now, Heather, is there something that you would want in that new, new deal that you can, you know, maybe it’s one or two things, but that you can just kind of share with us and we’re going to put this together and we may come back and ask you, but that’s just something that they asked us to do for SCoRE.
Heather McGhee (55:29):
Sure. Um, we have a racial wealth gap in this country. Um, that means that a black family headed by a college graduate has less wealth than a white family headed by a high school dropout and no amount of savings and thrift and education and hard work are going to narrow that gap. We have to create a system to repair financially from the deliberately inflicted financial wounds of the centuries, um, particularly housing policies. Um, and so we, we can’t get to the promised land of everyone having a shot at their dreams and of communities all having the kinds of resources they need to have, you know, well-funded schools and, you know, economic and innovation, um, without reparations. And I think one of the, uh, challenges to reparations is the idea of the zero sum. The idea that white Americans are going to resent the idea of, of, um, you know, them paying for something for black people.
Heather McGhee (56:42):
Um, when in fact, a) it’s not white people paying, it’s not like I go to my white neighbor and, you know, knock on the door with my handout. It’s actually about the federal government, which we all fund into and which, you know, is for the benefit of us all and is the chief actor in, who has created the racial wealth divide. Um, but it’s also something that we need to, uh, address in terms of making sure that people white people know that, you know, this is about, um, the, the wealth divide exists. It’s something that’s not about, you know, a culture of poverty or any of that bullshit. Um, but rather it’s about, um, what policy did and therefore what only public policy can fix.
Maria Hinojosa (57:32):
Boom, let me just make sure with my fabulous team that we can let Heather go back to her son.
Gregory Branch (57:39):
Yes, Heather, thank you so much. That was amazing. Uh, I’m scribbling my notes here and you were just fascinating fast and I’m a black nerd too. So I levitated when I got out on the screen and I was like, I want to live in Wakanda. That’s my re-imagined world.
Maria Hinojosa (57:59):
So there, yes, I’ll be there. I’ll join you in Wakanda.
Speaker 8 (58:04):
Maria Hinojosa (58:05):
Thank you so much, Heather. Good to see you, sweetie. And I’m so happy to have finally met your son cause I had only heard about him and boy he’s adorable.
Heather McGhee (58:13):
Thank you. Thank you. All right. Take care, everyone. Have a good night.
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Animated Series, We Imagine US
Episode 3: “Mercy’s Story”
We Imagine…. Us, Episode 3 features Mercy Watkins, the beloved daughter of Albert ‘Bumpy’ Watkins, a Black widower who was formerly incarcerated and the late Audrey Watkins, a Vietnamese-American nursing student. Mercy and Bumpy star in the 6-part companion podcast, The Long Way Around. It’s the year 2037, and Mercy is a 31-year-old, single mother reminiscing about a fateful journey she took as a 16-year-old with her father
Animated Series, We Imagine US
Episode 2: “Claressa’s Story”
Episode 2 features Claressa Brown, a Black environmental justice activist and college student who appears in the 6-part companion podcast, The Long Way Around. Claressa envisions a world that reflects environmental and racial justice as she travels to Lake Charles, Louisiana while listening to a podcast interview featuring the author of “The Sum of Us” and Board Chair of the racial justice organization, Color of Change, Heather McGhee.
Animated Series, We Imagine US
Episode 1: “Anahí’s Story”
Episode 1 features Anahí Echevarría Gutiérrez Barrios, a Guatemalan-American union organizer who appears in the 6-part companion podcast, The Long Way Around. As she travels to Houston, Texas to buy an engagement ring for her beloved Lucille, Anahí envisions a more equitable society as she listens to a ‘Re-Imagination Nation Podcast’ interview with award-winning journalist and Futuro Media Group Founder, Maria Hinojosa, and the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award-winning musician and activist, John Legend.
The Long Way Around, We Imagine US
Episode 6: Renew
Bumpy and Mercy finally make up their minds about where they want to settle in Minnesota and rebuild their lives. However, a late-night party, Bumpy’s lingering health issues, a well-meaning neighbor and overzealous cops all combine to challenge the fragile future they have built.
The Long Way Around, We Imagine US
Episode 5: Repair
Stranded in Illinois, Bumpy and Mercy’s situation begins to unravel. As the father and daughter debate their next steps —as well as speak with other passengers about the future— a road forward seems even more uncertain than ever.
The Long Way Around, We Imagine US
Episode 4: Rebound/Re-bond
With the altercation with the cops binding them to each other in a whole new way, Mercy and Bumpy explore New Orleans and Memphis while trying to decide where to settle in Minnesota. They’ve almost reached a decision when an accident derails their plans.