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June 26, 2020 29 mins

Using his emotionally raw reaction to Amy Cooper calling the police on a birdwatcher and his powerful TED talk on diagramming sentences to better articulate abuse at the hands of police, Baratunde reveals how the rise of the COVID pandemic exposed the racial pandemic that’s stunted this country since it’s foundation. Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd was appalling, but it took a pandemic for the entire country to notice. 


Visit Baratunde's website for his newsletter, TED talk, and more. Follow him on Instagram or join his Patreon. You can even text him, like right now at 202-894-8844. Music by Aloe Blacc.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Do you remember the coronavirus global pandemic about yea big
shut down, the entire economy, highly infectious. The executive branch
of the US government has tried to make us forget.
They pulled a move right out of the Matrix franchise.
Remember that bald kid who visited the oracle in the apartment.
They did that, but with COVID instead of the spoon.

(00:23):
There is no COVID, but there is, And part of
me misses that simpler time. To be honest, I could
fear death by government neglect rather than by active homicide
at the hands of law enforcement. We were told coronavirus
is a great leveler, a great united It comes for

(00:45):
us all, they said. I bet those same people said
Obama would usher in that post racial America that never
quite arrived. They're consistently wrong. I remember the day, and
really the moment I knew COVID was gonna be serious.
Friday March the Whole Foods in Burbank, California. We were

(01:10):
a few days out from our safer at home order
here in Los Angeles, and I had gone to the
Whole Foods to stock up on provisions. Of course, I
was not prepared for the level of mayhem that ensued
at a place I had always thought of as an
overpriced meditation center. They ran out of Kale I repeat,

(01:33):
Whole Foods ran out of kale and I was like, oh,
it's on. I had never seen so much anger spew
from so few yoga pants. I was reaching for some
bananas and a tiny woman just took it right out
from under me, looked me dead in the eyes, like
I dare you. I didn't know if I could come
home after that. I had shamed my whole family name,

(01:56):
would my fiance even want me after this? So COVID
felt real to me. Starting Friday, March thirteen, Thank you
Hold Foods, Thank you Burbank. It hit me hard how
hard COVID was hitting the black community here in the US.
I literally wrote on my white board, Yes, I have

(02:17):
a white board, I dare you to say something I wrote,
we are experiencing different pandemics. It felt so clear to
me that this talk of unity and unification it's all
the same, was just that talk. And I got invited
to talk about this on my friend Paul Rychoff's podcast.

(02:40):
You may know of Paul as the founder of Iraq
and Afghanistan veterans of America. He now hosts a podcast
called Angry Americans. And it was right on time because
I was angry and I was American, and I'm still
angry and I'm still American. I started making a show
on Zoom and Instagram I called Live on Lockdown. I

(03:02):
wanted to bring my experience as a writer, a TV host,
sometimes comedian, and all the time citizen to the pandemic
moment by sharing information, stories, and the experiences of the audience.
I continue to make that show. This podcast you're listening
to right now is born out of that show. We're
having a moment here to connect the pandemic to this

(03:25):
moment we're having. In this first episode, I first started
making that connection between COVID and what's happening with recent
policing on that Angry Americans episode with Paul Rykoff. I'm
gonna drop you into Paul's interview with me from episode
fifty nine of his show. You'll hear his voice as
he asks me a question. I've been excited to talk

(03:48):
to you about your work for a long time, but
the timing right now for me, I think it's so
perfect because what we haven't really talked about on this show,
and I think more broadly in America, is the front
line of the coronavirus UH, that that is under reporter,
that is under recognized, and that's race. And and you know,
I tried to pull statistics, and even in doing that
it's difficult to do. You know that the statistics I

(04:10):
was able to find was from American public media, and
they said that only about six of the dead UH
is race data available. And of that sixty one sixty
one thousand of the almost eighty thousand the number I saw,
with sixteen thousand dead, we're black. So let's say a quarter, right,
But the point is, disproportionately people of color. Black people

(04:30):
are being impacted by the coronavirus, are being killed by
the virus, are being hurt by the virus, on the
front lines of the virus. So I really you are
I'm always reluctant to ask anyone to be an expert
on a something so massive, but you're a lot of
your work has been about race. You wrote a book
called How to Be Black that was a bestseller. You
give it a fantastic ted talk that's got over two
million views. But can you break down from where you

(04:52):
sit there to the day. How is the coronavirus impacting
black people in America right now? Yeah, thank you for
the question, Thank you for the super respectful way in
which you addressed it. Actually, um, and I don't mind
talking about it. I've said this to others. It is
it's very hard for me to complain about being asked

(05:13):
about race when I wrote a book called How to
Be Black, Right, that's just that's just wrong, you know,
I got to expect it. And the coronavirus is devastating
to black America for a number of reasons. I think
there are sort of precedent reasons why any challenge hurts

(05:33):
certain communities more, whether it's a public health challenge or
a financial crisis, Like any crisis almost inevitably hurts black
people more because we're disproportionately poor in this country, and
because we have the pre existing condition of blackness, which
is often leads to more negative outcomes, even for the

(05:53):
same sort of starting line, even people of the same
wealth and zip code and all the other conditions that
would lead to like positive comes, black people tend to
do war. So, of course, an epidemic and then a
pandemic has the high probability of hitting black people harder
because the system is designed to hit black people harder
um and so internally we have issues in the black

(06:17):
community based on a lot of history and experience of
less access and less trust the medical care. That's what
that's like. One piece of the puzzle is we have
just lower doctors per thousands in our communities. We have
weaker hospital systems. More of us rely on publicly funded
hospitals and community health centers, which have far fewer resources.

(06:40):
We have a history of mistrust with the medical community,
and so they're inside the black community. There were early
conspiracy theories and rumors about this doesn't even affect us.
And when you lay that up against the history of
medicine being weaponized against Black people, experimentation being done on
us on the one hand, or just the denial of

(07:01):
our experience and our pain because we're deemed subhuman for
such a long amount of time. It's really it's not
official policy anymore, but it is still official culture because
that policy was set for such a long time that
our nation has a muscle memory that like, we're less
than human, and so our complaints are taken less seriously,

(07:23):
when we do decide to seek out medical attention, we're
assumed to have a higher threshold for pain because we're
superhuman yet also subhuman. It's the paradox of blackness in
this country that we are more than and less than human,
but never just human. So that's that, that whole's history
is a part of why COVID nineteen coronavirus has hit

(07:45):
black people harder. Um, and then we're overexposed. You mentioned
kind of frontlines, and I think we have an explicit
understanding of the frontline heroes, the first responders, the doctors
and nurses and respiratory therapists and metal cool technician. And
I see you staff who kind of signed up for
this right. They they enlisted to borrow some language from

(08:07):
some of your history, and they kind of knew the
contract they were signed their lives might be put at risk.
But a bus driver, a subway operator, a grocery store clerk,
you know, a service industry worker, UM, did not necessarily
sign up for that. They signed up for a paycheck
and probably not even the right to organize. And uh,
and so we are over indexed, sort of overrepresented in

(08:31):
those types of jobs. The lift drivers of the world,
the uber drivers of the world. They're not all black,
of course, but they're disproportionately black. Um less serious medical
treatment and mistrust of medicine, overexposure due to occupation, due
to living conditions, and culture as well. Pro Publica, you know,
if you're looking for information in a really good perspective,

(08:53):
pro Publica has become my go to source. They're a
nonprofit news organization. I know this audience is high independent,
and so this is not like I'm not sending you
to MSNBC. I'm also not sending you to Brighte Bart Like.
Pro Publica is as close to just the facts as
you can get. And they don't even have any advertisers
putting pressure on them, and so that to me is

(09:14):
like a huge credit. And they did. They've done a
number of devastating pieces about this. One is about Chicago,
where they analyzed the first hundred deaths of this disease there.
The first seventy of those hundred were black. Chicago is
not seventy black, but a lot of that played out
because of the factors that I shared with you, partly

(09:35):
informed by that piece. They've also done another piece, and
this is what I think about like on the back
end of the virus. So we're being asked to do
a lot of hard things. As people were being asked
to forego income, to forego community and gatherings and just
a normal way of life, all the things we've been
taught were entitled to, not just as Americans, but as
people were being asked by mostly responsible leaders to for

(10:00):
go those things in exchange for something called safety. M hm. Right,
It's like we're flattening the curve so we can save lives,
and in the midst of this, black people are getting
beat for that. The discrimination knows no bounds. We are
we are discriminated against on the front end, making us

(10:22):
more vulnerable to the disease in the first place. We're
discriminated against in the middle. When we think we have it,
we're taken less seriously. When we have it, we have
poorer resources to address it. And we're discriminated against on
the edges and the outside of it just by trying
to comply wearing a mask social distancing. If we wear
a mask, we're doing something wrong because we're threatening and

(10:43):
suspicious and people are calling the cops on us, are
kicking us out of walmarts. If we're not wearing a mask.
We're being yanked off of public transportation in Philadelphia, beat
up on the streets of New York City, and having
a knee put into our net. Meanwhile, in the other America,
we have the stories of cops handing out masks to
white America. Mhm, oh, you want a surgical mask, here

(11:05):
you go. And to layer on top of this, you
have this Ahmad Areberry situation, which is not directly COVID Right,
this incident in Georgia happened his brother was out jogging
in a white neighborhood. Some vigilante type stand your ground
white dudes with guns saw him jogging, suspected him of

(11:28):
committing burglary on a construction site, confronted him, and shot
him twice in the chest and killed him. Now, he's
not jogging with a gun, so he's obviously unarmed, and
they lay in wait for him to execute this murder.
And so that is a painful reminder as we're all
being asked to make sacrifice, as we're all being asked
to come together to save lives and flatten the curves

(11:53):
because as part of this country, which is reminding us,
not your life, your life doesn't matter. And instead, I'm
going to tend to rally and I'm gonna be very intimidating.
I'm gonna wave some don't tread on the flags and
kind of bastardize the military history to talk about freedom
and to talk about pro life and to scream all
lives matter. Meanwhile, this disease is killing and removing certain

(12:14):
types of lives more than other. And then that leads
to the crazy thinking but very logical conclusion, Oh, you
don't care. It's actually very convenient to agitate aggressively for
reopening and economy, which is gonna put more lives because
the numbers are in and it's not your life, it's mine.
That was recorded two weeks before most of us would

(12:36):
know the name George Floyd, but the message was already
clear to black people based on COVID. It had been
clear for hundreds of years. Our lives didn't matter, even

(12:57):
with the racial disparities of COVID. Though part of me
had ought, well, there are some advantages to this lockdown situation.
No school shootings, no presidential rallies. I even thought, well,
at least why folks can't call the cops on black
folks for just like being in a park because nobody's
in the park, and then Amy Cooper happened. Yeah, that

(13:21):
Amy Cooper. Here's what I had to say about that
situation at the time. Check it out. What stands out
to me in this video is, well, I'm reminded. I'm
reminded of people who are trained, uh physically trained to
do harm to other people, mostly in self defense and combat.

(13:42):
I'm talking martial arts, uh jiu jitsu's and you know,
m m A type fighting, but real practical self defense stuff.
You know that the i ke tos and the taekwondos
and the jiu jitsus. And sometimes you hear these stories
of people who end up in a bar fight and
the other person ends up with like ten broken bones
because they went up against a human weapon, like their

(14:06):
body was like almost a registered weapon. And they react
so quickly and so swiftly they don't even know, they're
not conscious of what they're doing. That's how well trained
they are. That's how well trained Amy Cooper is. In
White Supremacy and the Powers of Patriarchy, She in response

(14:27):
to being told by Christian Cooper, the man videotaping, that
her dogs need to be on the leash, which is true.
Resisting that call to obey the rules, she instead invokes
a higher authority, the powers of grace skull, in this case,
the powers of white supremacy and patriarchy, to rush to

(14:47):
her defense into possibly his demise, so that he would
end up laid out on the asphalt with some cops
knee in his neck, which so happened on the same
day in Minneapolis in these United States. She's so quickly
announced her intentions to call on this power. She didn't

(15:11):
think about it. She didn't have to think. It was
a reflex It was reflexive racism. This was some wax
on wax off white supremacy where she had practiced it
so much, she had learned it so early that she
didn't need somebody to tell her what to do. She knew.
And then on the call, she improvises he's also threatening

(15:32):
my dog while she's choking this poor little buddy out
and I can't hear you, and she adds the emotion
and the hysteria, Please send a cop immediately. We know
where this story goes. We literally have the tail of
the Central Park five, who the powers that be came

(15:55):
in and swept up because the white woman really was assaulted,
but not by them. In this case, she is abusing
her power to such an extraordinary degree, and so confidently
because she knows she can get away with it, which
means she probably has done it before. This isn't the
first time. You don't pull off moves that smoothly and

(16:19):
that quickly your first time out. She is the Mr
Miyagi of this kind of mayhem. She apologized, She did apologize,
and I want to acknowledge that and share her apology
with you. To NBC New York, She's sincerely and humbly
apologized to everyone, especially to that man his family, Christian Cooper.

(16:41):
It was unacceptable, and I humbly and fully apologized to
everyone who's seen that video, everyone that's been offended, everyone
who thinks of being a lower light. And I understand
why they do. When I think about the police, I'm
such a blessed person. It's true. I've come to realize
today that I think of the police as a protection agency,
and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there
are so many people in this country that don't have

(17:02):
that luxury. Look amy, that's a start, that's the start,
but we see, we see you, and we see what
you pulled off, and there have been consequences for Amy,
no doubt. Her employer put her on a leave of
absence because they're not down with such flag and racism.
Hopefully they also not down with like bake calls, regardless
of whether it's a racial intent or not. She lost

(17:25):
her dog, Like the people who she adopted the dog
from two years ago, we're like, yeah, we're gonna take
home me back, and the way she was choked up
on him, that might be the best situation in the
near term. But she's not going all the way with
the apology. And she is right. She has seen the
cops as of protection agency, but she did not need protecting.

(17:47):
That's the lie in the apology. She was not being
threatened with any form of violence. She was being accused
rightfully of breaking a rule and asked repeatedly to a
bide by that rule. She interprets that as a threat.
She's not happy that a black person telling her what
the rules are and telling her how she needs to

(18:08):
live her life. She's so steeped in the privilege in
the supremacy that any check on that, anyone calling her
out for them to abide by the rules. Well, there's
a there's a different law that they're going to be
subject to. And she didn't acknowledge that part the ease
with what she was willing to discard another human being's life.

(18:28):
Because at this point, everybody knows the story. I gave
a ted talk about it the year ago. I'm not
saying she saw that talk, though it might help on
the margin, but she didn't go all the way in
the apology. And what I want for the Amies of
the world does I want her to be able to
have a conversation. Not with a civil rights leader, not

(18:49):
with a black person who's got plenty of other stuff
to do in their lives, like I got a roast
a chicken a day, but probably the white person in
her life that she respects in the doors, maybe a parent,
maybe a best friend, maybe a sibling. There's a friend
of Amy, and by Amy, I mean anyone like her
who needs to sit down, look at this tape and
ask her some questions. When did you first realize you

(19:10):
had this power? Why was it your first response to
threaten to call the cops, tell them an African American
was threatening your life? Those are all trigger words for
police violence, and you knew them without having to think.
Where did you first see that behavior exhibited? When did
you first learn that it was okay to do that?
When was the last time you abused the power you

(19:32):
have in such a way. We start to crack open
those questions, we start to get white people to deal
with whiteness and the power it confers upon them, then
maybe there's a shot that we can pull off this
multi ethnic, multi racial democracy in the United States. But
until then, this one by one incident blowback, somebody loses

(19:53):
a job, Answidento. That's that that doesn't scale as they
stay his silicon valley. White people talk the white people
that y'all can talk to each other, and we need
you to do that. You need you to do that now,
briefly to my bird watching brother, respect to you, we
should probably come up with an n double a CP
image award like a medal of honor for courage under

(20:15):
fire and race relations. You stood your ground in a
non threatening moral way. You physically stood there, you morally
stood there, You knew you were right, and you gave
us all an opportunity, including the Amies of the world
and the Friends of Amies of the world to do better,
to try to do better, to at least recognize what

(20:36):
doing worse looks like, and what abuse of power looks like.
I want the Amies of the world to not necessarily
just give up the power, but use it for good.
Use it on the border for some kid who's been
separated from their parents. She could have done that, but
she didn't. She wielded that weapon of white supremacy against
somebody calling her out, but she was actually doing wrong.

(21:04):
In my words, In the video I recorded the day
after Memorial Day, you can hear a reference to George Floyd,
But I didn't know his name or the name Derek Chauvin,
the police officer who killed him. I just knew there
was a video of a Minneapolis cop with his knee
pressed into the neck of a black man, and I
knew I didn't have an Emmy to watch. I had

(21:26):
recently seen video of a New York City police officer
doing a similar thing too young black men on the
sidewalk for no good reason. The police were assaulting what
looked like kids because they didn't have masks on. So
I waited to see what became known as the George
Floyd video, but I already knew. I had seen these

(21:48):
videos before, I'd heard these stories before. Amy Cooper's call
didn't result in police killing Christian Cooper, thankful, but it
could have, and she knew it. I was annoyed because
I had given an entire ted talk on this dangerous

(22:10):
pattern of white people weaponizing their discomfort by seeking police
on any black person they felt didn't belong. I had
gathered all the headlines I could find a folks call
on the cops on black people. I saw the pattern
in those moments and designed a simple game to explore
the abuse of power in those incidents and try to
rewrite them into something more tolerable, even more beautiful. I

(22:33):
won't play the whole ted talk for you right now,
but there are a few key minutes that addressed the
moment we're in that I think you should hear, and
I need to pause the game to remind us of
the structure. A subject takes an action against the target
engaged in some activity. White woman calls police on black
real estate investor inspecting his own property. California Safeway calls

(22:56):
cops on black woman donating food to the home lists
golf club twice calls cops on black women for playing
too slow. In all these cases, the subject is usually white,
the target is usually black, and the activities are anything
from sitting in a Starbucks to using the wrong type

(23:18):
of barbecue, to napping, to walking agitated on the way
to work, which I just call walk into work, and
my personal favorite, not stopping his dog from humping her dog,
which is clearly a case for dog police, not people police.

(23:38):
All of these activities add up two. Living our existence
is being interpreted as crime. Now, this is the obligatory
moment in the presentation where I have to say, not
everything is about race. Crime is a thing should be reported.
But ask yourself, do we need armed men to show

(24:00):
up and resolve this situation? Because when they show up
for me, it's different. We know that police officers use
force more with black people than with white people, and
we are learning the role of nine one one calls
in this. Thanks to preliminary research from the Center for
Policing Equity, we're learning that in some cities, most of

(24:23):
the interaction between cops and citizens is due to nine
one one calls, not officer initiated stops, and most of
the violence the use of force by police on citizens
is in response to those calls. Further, when those officers
responding to calls used force, that increases in areas with
the percentage of the white population has also increased a

(24:46):
k A. Gentrification a k A. Unicycles and oat milk
a k A. When Barbecue Becky feels threatened, she becomes
a threat to me in my own neighborhood, which forces
me and people like me to police ourselves. Required ourselves.
We walk on eggshells. We maybe pull over to the

(25:07):
side of the road under the brightest light we can find,
so that our murder might be caught cleanly on camera.
And we do this because we live in a system
in which white people can too easily call on deadly
force to ensure their comfort. The California Safe Way didn't

(25:32):
just call cops on black woman donating food to homeless.
They ordered armed, unaccountable men upon her. They essentially called
in a drone strike. This is weaponized discomfort, and it
is not new. From eighteen seventy seven to nineteen fifty
there were at least documented racial terror lynchings of black

(25:56):
people in the United States. They had headline as well.
Reverend T. A. Allen was lynched in Hernando, Mississippi for
organizing local sharecroppers. Oliver Moore was lynched in Edgecombe County,
North Carolina for frightening a white girl. Nathan Byrd was
lynched near Lulling, Texas for refusing to turn his son
over to a mob. We need to change the action,

(26:21):
whether that action is lynches or calls police. That full
ted talk is at my website bariton day dot com.
One of the things I tried to do when that
talk was connect this act of calling police to the
act of racial terror lynchings for black people in America.
Police have rarely been the protection agency Amy Cooper experienced.

(26:45):
They've been used to control and to terrorize, to make
examples of That's what I saw on Officer Derek Chauvin's
face as he calmly, slowly and confidently killed George Floyd
in broad daylight, surrounded by his colleagues, knowing he was
being recorded. That's what we all saw now. The pandemic

(27:12):
had primed us. We were isolated from each other physically,
we were worried. We were suffering from the neglect of
our own government, who couldn't get In ninety two doctors
and nurses much less provide for the people forced to
stay home. We were unable to indulge in our normal
distractions like brunch or sports or even work in most cases,

(27:34):
and we were all tuned into the same channel, and
what we saw on that channel horrified us. I got
an email through my website recently. Yeah, yeah, I don't
mean to brag. I have a website and email. Pretty
fancy guy over here the center of this message. Her
name is Dawn Larson. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and

(27:57):
she describes herself in this email as a middle aged
white woman. She wrote the following, I am so tired
of seeing people killed, harassed, and oppressed by law enforcement.
I'm so tired of folks having an opinion slash strong
views who have never spoken with a black person. I

(28:18):
realized this subject is super fraught with all kinds of
history and emotion. It's hard to know what to do sometimes.
Watching George Floyd get killed broke something fundamental in me.
Me too, down, me too. It took a pandemic to

(28:40):
push us all, an entire nation, to the edge. And
when Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, he pushed us all
over it. We're Having a Moment is a production of
I Heart Radio podcast Best Executive produced by Miles Gray,

(29:02):
Nick Stump and Barrattune Day Thurston produced by Joel Smith
and Elizabeth Stewart, Edited by Justin Smith. You can find
my email, newsletter and a lot more at barrattune Day
dot com. If you do social things, I'm on Instagram
at Barrattune Day. And if you like text, well send
me one. That's right. You can text me to woe

(29:24):
to eight nine four eight eight or four. Just put
the text w h A M in the mess
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