Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for being with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. I first met Farai Chideya back in 2008, or rather I met her voice.
Farai Chideya: This is News and Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's round table, could New Jersey abolish the death penalty completely and the military, is it ready for more than a don't ask, don't tell policy about gays and lesbians?
Melissa Harris-Perry: For I was hosting News and Notes on NPR and she quickly became my North Star. Her sharp analysis, engage reporting her diverse array of guests and all presented with that unmistakable voice, a voice marked by equal part skepticism, insight and warmth. Now I've been hooked on Farai ever since, devouring her journalism and major media outlets, reading her fiction and memoir writing, learning from her scholarly research and always, always finding my way back to her voice.
Farai Chideya: Hi folks. We are so glad that you're listening to Our Body Politic.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These days, you can hear Farai on the weekly podcast she created and hosts centered on Black women. Our Body politic addresses the economy, the health concerns, politics, education matters, the environment, popular culture, everything. Of course, long before I assumed the hosting gig here, Farai Chideya served as a host of The Takeaway. As the midterm results began rolling in, I knew exactly who I wanted to talk with. As always, Farai started her midterms analysis in a pretty unexpected place.
Farai Chideya: What eclipses symbolize in astrology is wait and see, more will be revealed. You will not get a straight answer. [laughs]
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's like shooting an eight ball.
Farai Chideya: Were they wrong? No, I don't think so. I do not, by the way, base my political analysis on astrology, but by astrology we should have known there would've been hanging chads or runoffs or anything like that. Now that I've lost all my credibility, I'm just going to start with that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love it though because, look, we are in a time of uncertainty and it can feel really destabilizing. Even just for those of us who've been covering elections forever and ever and ever.
Farai Chideya: Absolutely. One of the things that really does strike me is how many of these races were so close. For anyone who's like, "Voting doesn't matter, I don't know," it's like these things are coming down in key races, like senate races, to thousands of votes, which is not a lot. In the end it might even be hundreds of votes. I think that among many other things, this is an affirmation that voting does matter. That said, however, there were around 300 election deniers running for various offices, House, Senate, Secretary of State, and a slight majority won. This is not the ninth inning, this is maybe the fifth inning.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You interviewed a couple of winners that I wanted to talk with you about. Talk to me about your fellow Baltimorean, Wes Moore.
Farai Chideya: Wes Moore is fascinating and part of his narrative journey is that his family was a victim of racial terrorism where his family actually left the US for Jamaica because of racial terrorism. Then a later generation moved back and reestablished itself in the US. Among other things when I talked to him for Our Body Politic, we talked about that and talked about, obviously he's a military veteran and the US military has had to deal head on with the question of extremism in the ranks, but his personal narrative also is one where he understands the cost of extremism.
I think that, among other things, this election shows that people are not as into crazy as you might think. Wes Moore was someone who couldn't have stood out as a different character than his opponent Moore. Wes Moore is someone who has really been able to go through many different evolutions. Elite academia, military, best selling author, had produced television work with Oprah. He really has continued to evolve what leadership looks like for him. I think that that's a really great message, that leadership can look like different things at different times. Sometimes you might be a leader in media, sometimes you might be a leader in civil society. Sometimes you might want to run for office.
Among other things, his ability to reinvent himself, I think is amazing and he won over Dan Cox, the Republican opponent.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You also talked with a person a bit at the beginning of their leadership journey, our now first Gen Z member of the US House of Representatives Maxwell Alejandro Frost.
Farai Chideya: It was so fascinating. He's 25 and you have to be 25 to run for Congress, which I didn't know. You can't be 18, you can't be 21, you have to be 25. He's like, ''Yes, I got this.'' He's Afro Cuban. Of course one of the things I've done in my reporting life is really look into the intersections of national origin, race, religion, region and also generation. Among Cuban voters, you see differences. You see some sunlight between white Cubans and Afro Cubans and you also see some sunlight between older Cubans and younger Cubans in terms of their voter choices.
I just think he's a fascinating case study in what not just the future of politics look like, someone willing to run at the age of 25 and able to win at the age of 25, but also someone who's sitting there with his abuela in his campaign photos, talking about his history and talking about his people and redefining the space of Cubans in American politics.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's take a quick pause, but there'll be more Farai Chideya on the other side. It's The Takeaway. We're back and talking with Farai Chideya, creator and host of Our Body Politic. The popular podcast can also be heard on public radio stations across the country. Now Farai's been walking me through her midterm analysis, her conversation with recently elected officials. We've been talking about race in American politics.
Farai Chideya: In some ways, the outcome of this election may make people think it's over, but I've been pretty tough on my white female friends. I was like, "Look, your children's freedom and ability to be free in America depends on the labor I'm doing, which is often unpaid labor." Yes I get to do my radio show and get paid for it and I'm also run my own business and I've raised the money for this. I've done every job on this show because when people are out sick, that's what I do. That's not the problem to me. The problem is that I am very concerned when my relatives, frankly, have been underpaid, sick and died trying to save this country from itself. Because money is so much the love language of America, that this unpaid civic labor of Black women and women of color is taken for granted.
Do we get a chance to earn for our retirement? Do we get a chance to rest? What does it mean to keep giving to a country that doesn't always give to us equitably? I try to have those conversations and I know sometimes I sound like a B-Y-O-T-C-H, but I'm unapologetic about it. I'm like, "The reason your kids can do a semester in Europe is because my family in the military and civil service saved a democracy so you could earn money and your kids could go to Europe. Wouldn't it be nice if we worked together so that all of us could get a chance to live a full life to the best of our knowledge and abilities?" Those are some tough conversations to have.
I do think though, among my Jewish friends who are upper middle class and white, they recognize the existential threat of this era because of the rising antisemitism. For people who are Christian, I'm not sure as much.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Have you had conversations equally tough with Black men?
Farai Chideya: It's funny because the short answer is not recently. The hard conversations for me happen at the family reunion, like when I'm reading my uncles on supporting Bill Cosby, which they haven't in a long time. There were those conversations where I just broke character because in my family generation matters and you don't really read your uncles, but they were talking about Bill Cosby and I was like, "Do you know what it's like to be sexually assaulted? I do. I know somebody who got away from Bill Cosby, she didn't drink the drink." They were just sitting there horrified like, ''What girl, you going to talk to us like that?'' I was like, ''Yes I am." But now I surround myself with Black men who shine the light of love and equity and equanimity on Black women. I don't really have a lot of people I can have that conversation with because I just don't surround myself with them. But it's a conversation to be had.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you're talking about unpaid labor, even as you're describing like, "If there are 18 jobs to get the podcast on the air." If there's production jobs and research jobs, there's the editing, the cutting just all the things. We always talk about the magic of radio, but it's more like wizardry than magic. There's real people doing real work. It is one of the things that annoys me in the world, is that you don't make $40 million to make the thing that you have been making for so long for so many of us. I try not to be bitter around that because you're talking about the instability of democracy in the broadest sense.
When I look at the contributions specifically of Black women in the public sphere of media discourse, I have some of the same interrelated feelings about so many extraordinarily talented women who don't have the contracts or don't have the platforms. I'm wondering about how you see those things as connected.
Farai Chideya: I mean I really, I started out not wanting to be a journalist. I wanted to be a novelist. I still do. I've published one novel and I have another that I'm actually going to spend some time this winter editing that's a broadly speaking Afrofuturist YA science fiction novel, which is really my jam, but it's not really the lane that I get to play in while producing a weekly show. I do think that at this point people have to put their money where their mouth is. Karen Attiah of The Washington Post is one of the contributors to Our Body Politic, gave a speech at a university that I got to go to and she said everyone after the fact is like, "Believe Black women." But where's our checks? How do we get paid?
When consistently Black women, you think about people like Cherilyn Eiffel, any number of people, were like, "The systems are breaking and it's breaking not just for me and my people. It's breaking for all of us." People after the fact are like, "Oh my gosh, you were so right." But where does the money come into it? As I look, and forgive me for taking a little bit of a detour here, but when you look at Elon Musk, he is a complete example of preferential financing.
It's what I call faith-based financing because people just have faith in him for no particular reason. There's no reason to ever think that this Twitter deal would be a good investment. Yet he raised the money. A lot of big investment banks and investors are going to lose their shirts because he's running it into the ground. Even if he doesn't totally kill it, they will lose money on this deal. Let's say that the valuation drops by 10 billion, how could that $10 billion have been transformative to American small business, Main Street, BIPOC owned business, women-owned business and society? That's a level of faith-based investing that really undermines society.
When I think about the unpaid civic labor of women of color and just many different people in society not all based on race, not all based on gender, but a lot of unpaid civic labor holding this country together. I think about small businesses like the one I run. We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Farai Chideya is the creator and host of Our Body Politic. Thank you for joining us today.
Farai Chideya: I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you. You are the best.
Melissa Harris-Perry: No, you are.
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