Melissa: All right, y'all, this is The Takeaway. I'm MHP, and here now is an old friend, Kai Wright. How're you doing?
Kai Wright: Hey, Melissa. I'm good.
Melissa: All right, Kai. You're here because you've got big news, right? This Sunday, you're debuting a new show that can be heard across the country on public radio, and also available as a podcast. Tell us about Notes from America with Kai Wright.
Kai Wright: Notes from America, formerly known as The United States of Anxiety-- There's a core idea, a core assumption in this show, and Melissa, I wonder-- You may actually challenge this, but the core assumption in this show is that actually, the vast majority of people who reside in the United States want to live in a multiracial democracy and want to live in a plural society, that those are majoritarian ideas, and that we have not designed such a thing. We have not built a society around those ideas, we've not built an economy around those ideas, we've not built our politics around the ideas, and so forth, but it is the desire of most of the people who reside in the United States.
We are trying to, with this show, create a space where we can invite listeners into a conversation that is vulnerable, and intimate, and honest, and good faith, about, "Okay, well, what society have we designed? What society might we design together, and what does that actually take and require of each of us as individuals? Me, myself, where do I have to show up in that?" That's what we're trying to do once a week, gather everybody into that kind of conversation.
This show has existed in various forms since the 2016 elections which set off a moment where a lot of people were thinking about, "Whoa, wait, what kind of world do we have here?" This most recent form of it is really about trying to focus on, this is an invitation to you to be in this conversation if you want to live in a multiracial democracy.
Melissa: I love that you started the description by saying, "All right, I know you're probably going to disagree." [laughs] I think because you and I have stood around at enough cocktail parties, or had enough meals together where putting something like that on the table for me is like, "All right everybody, just go ahead, and don't call your Uber, because we're going to be here for the next [crosstalk]--"
Kai Wright: "Because we need to talk about this. We need to test this premise."
Melissa: That's right. We're going to be here for the next-- [laughs] I mean, maybe that's-- Is that what the show is going to feel like? Like Kai and your guests at a dinner party where one contrarian like me is there like, "No, no, no." Is that what we're doing?
Kai Wright: Well, the dinner party part is important because, again, we want it to be intimate and honest and vulnerable, and we want-- We bring people on, it's not about only your expertise, it's about who you are, what you bring into the conversation, and being fully honest. You do the same here in this space on The Takeaway. I don't know everything, I am not a host who claims to know everything. I am looking for guests who don't necessarily know everything either, but have questions, who don't just accept the conventional wisdom as it's been presented, who don't repeat these tropes of our political conversation, "Oh, we're so divided. Oh, we're so this. Oh, we're so that," and instead say, "Well, let's actually think about it. Is that true? How does that show up in my life?"
Then, what is-- And really, really importantly, Melissa, "And then what does this require of me? What do I need to do now?" If I've listened to this conversation, if I've listened to Kai and Melissa chop up like, do we really want to be a multiracial democracy? Now at the end of it, what does it ask of me as an individual? What do I have to do when I walk out of here?
Melissa: Kai, this show is live? Have you heard about the live, the live? [laughs]
Kai Wright: Yes, it is very much-- We are very much live, and there's a reason for that, because again, I want a conversation. Previous versions of our show was a podcast, I have done a lot of reporting as you know in a whole bunch of different formats to try to foster conversations about racial justice and about social justice, and I just have come to the place where I believe it really is about the conversation, and it really is about a two-way engagement. We don't want to just talk at our audience, we want to talk with our audience. It's an invitation to listeners in it. Our first show is really-- Because we're going to have a lot of new folks at the table, is going to be very much about, "The phones are open, and we want to hear from you."
I have this experience when I covered the 2018 midterms, if you'll indulge me for a second, where we were out reporting in Pennsylvania during the Conor Lamb special election in 2018. The Republican Party wanted to make that election all about Nancy Pelosi, and how much everybody hated Nancy Pelosi, and so we went around door-to-door with some of the "get out to vote" people to try to test that premise, do people hate Nancy Pelosi? I met this woman who-- She answered the door, a middle-aged white lady, and they asked her about Nancy Pelosi. She looked at us like, "What are you talking about?"
I was like, "Well, what do you want from Congress?"
She said, "I want my time back. I never see my daughter, I never see my grandkids--"
That's a long way to say that I think so much about our politics is about where we're at emotionally, what is happening for us emotionally in our lives, and so this week's show-- This is a long answer, Melissa, I'm sorry. This week's show is an open-phones where we say, "Okay, we're going into the midterms here, where are y'all at emotionally? Call us up, tell us about what has happened for you in your life in the last year that has shifted where you're at emotionally, that is then going to shift where you're at politically." Those kinds of conversations is why we're live. We want to, as often as possible, hear from our audience. We want to do live reporting on where is the country at, and then sit with somebody really smart like you, we hope we have you on the show, to help make sense of what people are telling us.
Melissa: Which also strikes me as-- You talked about being vulnerable, it strikes me as taking a great deal of courage in this moment. I love the saying that people are easy to love in theory, but in practice, they can be terrifying, the people in the broader sense. Inviting everybody to the dinner table also takes real courage as a host, as a show, to allow the airing of ideas that might in fact be contentious, painful, irritating.
Kai Wright: We just aren't going to get anywhere unless everybody comes to the table. I mean, I can say at some point, "Okay, I'm done, I'm moving. I'm leaving the United States. This isn't going to work. This is a failed experiment," but if I say, "I actually believe in this idea--" And I do, by the way. I do believe in the idea of the United States as articulated in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments. I believe in the post-civil-war idea of the United States, but if we're going to achieve that, that is going to require everyone to participate in a real conversation about it. Like I said [crosstalk]--
Melissa: I'm going to go one better, Kai, I believe in the 1776 version. I believe all persons are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that only for the purpose of securing these rights are governments instituted among persons and get their right to govern from consent of the governed. I don't even think we got to wait till after the civil war, I think we got a pretty darn good founding document.
Kai Wright: I need you to come on my show and talk about that. [laughs] But any of that requires that we all get into the conversation. This is where I return to my core premise here, is that I actually believe that it is a majoritarian idea that we want to be in a multiracial democracy, and so I don't fear a broad conversation. Now, I will say, we're not going to make space for people to call up and say hateful things, we don't make space for people to call up and troll the conversation, but we do make space for anything that is honest, vulnerable, and good faith about, "Hey, how do we actually have the society that the majority of us want to live in?"
Melissa: All right. Tune in, y'all, for Kai Wrights' new live show from WNYC Studios, Notes from America. I'm going to put a bet on, Kai goes from optimistic to pessimistic by the holidays. [laughs] Thanks so much for joining us, Kai.
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