UNDISTRACTED: June 23, 2022

Having a Baby While Black: Martina Abraham and Gabrielle Horton Know *All* The Stories

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. I’m still on maternity leave, so I’ll be co-hosting this episode with the incredible Treasure Brooks. Now y’all know that recently I shared with you my journey to parenthood. Everything was literally textbook until it wasn’t. And nobody really prepares you for that. Like, the movies tell you anybody can get pregnant basically on their first try.

And nine months later, you have a perfectly bouncing baby who never cries and never poops and always smiles the cutest toothless grin on command. Nobody talks about the miscarriages, the IVF, the surrogacy, the adoption, the NICU, the urgent care, the trying and trying and trying. The crying and crying and crying when the test is negative once again.

And even if that is never your story, we are owed the full story. I remember feeling angry after I suffered a pregnancy loss in 2020. I felt like the entire medical profession had failed me. They had failed to think this all the way through and talk about all the things that happened to so many of us that are frankly common.

And when they don’t do that, it puts the burden on the suffering folks. It shouldn’t require that birthing people excavate our pain just for people to know what is medically true. Somebody’s doctor should be doing that. My doctor should have been doing that. And the Black people from whom I am birthed have built communities of care over centuries.

We will always take care of each other, but at some point our system should be caring for us too. We are UNDISTRACTED.

Treasure Brooks: On the show today, an interview with Gabrielle Horton and Martina Abraham Iluga, the hosts of the Black parenting podcast “NATAL”. 

Martina Abrahams Ilunga: It also really opened my eyes to how much birth is a spiritual experience. There’s this alignment of your spirit and your body and everything that has to happen in order for this baby to pass through.

And so it’s made me listen to my body more. 

Brittany: That’s coming up, but first here’s Treasure Brooks with your untrending news. 

Treasure: Let’s start with a cause for celebration, Colombia elected Gustavo Petro, as the nation’s first leftist president. The election of a former rebel who’s promising to create a public healthcare system is a huge victory, but there’s more to this headline. Patron’s running mate, Francia Márquez just made history as not only the first Black woman, but the first Black person to be elected vice president in Colombia.

Márquez’s victory is significant on multiple levels. Her experience is very different from that of most politicians. She had a child at 16, she’s worked in a gold mine and as a live-in maid, and she’s a working class Black woman in a nation where Afro-Colombians have long been subjected to racism and discrimination.

Márquez’s activism began decades before her campaign. When at 13, she worked to stop a dam project that would’ve upended her community. She later led a march of 80 women to the capital to protest illegal gold mining. Her critics said she didn’t have enough experience, but here she is speaking with “The Meteor’s” Paola Mendoza last year. 

Treasure: She says “I want to build the type of experience that governs for the people of my country. That allows us to close the inequity and inequality gaps, that puts life at the center.” It’s a good piece of advice. As we in the US head into elections this fall. Let’s support the candidates that put our lives at the center.

This is unusual for UN trending news, but here’s a second good news story. Last week at a Juneteenth event in Sacramento, California officially recognized 500-page report documenting the impact and legacy of slavery on Californians. That might not sound like huge news, but the report is authored by the California Reparations Task Force, which is charged with drafting a roadmap for reparations, for descendants of people who are trafficked to the US during slavery. 

The remedies that the report suggests include free tuition and money for housing. This is incredible progress given that Juneteenth wasn’t even a federal holiday two years ago, California’s really been churning out reasons for me to be proud of my home state lately.

The next step is for the task force to hold listening sessions and conduct surveys to determine the best course of action. The actual dollar amount of the reparations plan is still up in the air. It’s actually so reassuring to see a state proactively working to address inequality and naming where that inequality came from, especially when in other parts of the country they’re literally trying to cover up history.

Cough, cough. Let’s hope California’s roadmap encourages other states to get on board too.

On the matter of long overdue payments, last week, Lyft agreed to a $25 million settlement for shareholders resolving the claim that the company was not transparent about its quote safety issues. That’s an incredibly cryptic way to describe what happened to 14 women who charged that they were sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers.

The infuriating catch to all of this, according to reporting in Jezebel, is that not a dime of those millions are going to the survivors themselves. Instead, it’s going to Lyft shareholders. Alison Turkos, one of the survivors currently suing Lyft, told Jezebel that she worries that anyone seeing the settlement headlines will assume that some of the money is going towards her and her fellow plaintiffs.

Instead she says, it’s just quote rich people again, getting richer. If anything’s going to change and keep the spotlight on survivors, it’s the voices of women, like Turkos. As she put it to Jezebel: Yes, you have these companies that are creating these situations, but you also have the incredible collective power of survivors who are finding one another.

And sadly, there are so many of us, so we cannot be ignored when we speak together.

One last news item and it’s UNDISTRACTED news. We’ll be on the road in DC next week. And Brittany will be in live conversation with the one and only Tiffany Cross, host of The Cross Connection on MSNBC. It’s Wednesday, June 29th at 7:30 PM. And we’ve reserved a block of seats for UNDISTRACTED listeners.

So DC folks come through. If you’d like to join us, email us at [email protected].com. That’s [email protected] with your full name by Monday, June 27th. Hope to see you there.

Brittany: Coming up, I’ll be talking to the hosts of “NATAL”, a podcast about having a baby while Black.

Treasure: And we’re back. Our guests this week are the hosts of the podcast “NATAL”, Gabrielle Horton and Martina Abraham Iluga. The show’s tagline is deceptively simple. It’s quote “A podcast about having a baby while Black.” But contained within that is a rich mix of stories about how we care for each other and how systems fail to care for us.

And Gabrielle and Martina also take on that horrible statistic that we all know, that Black birthing people are three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white folks. Brittany talked to Gabrielle and Martina about all these stories and why two folks who’d never had children decided to tell them.

Brittany: I wanna really just start with something that I found really interesting because neither one of you all are parents or have experienced labor yourself. So what made you want to dig into this particular topic? 

Gabrielle Horton: Yeah, I think around the time that we kind of started thinking about “NATAL”, or even before we were doing it together, we were already like many folks sort of taking in sort of this sort of bigger celebrity news that we were hearing around, um, Black birthing.

So, you know, uh, Beyoncé’s 2018 Vogue cover story, we heard about Serena Williams having to chase her doctors down after giving birth. Olympic gold-medalist Allyson Felix. And so these were kind of the big names we were seeing in the headlines. And then of course, you know, Martina and I are around the age where we’ve got friends and loved ones who were either thinking about kind of starting a family, expanding their families. 

We also had wrestled with these questions ourselves. And for me on a personal level, I actually had a childhood friend who developed preeclampsia, saw all the signs, was trying to warn her doctors and nurses.

They did not believe her. And, you know, almost lost her life, you know, had to give birth two months early. Baby was in NICU early. And I remember just being with her after she came home from the hospital and she was like, yeah, you gotta do something about this. You’ve gotta talk about it. cuz she knew I was already interested in the topic and like most millennials, I went to Twitter to sort of share, you know, just like this is so crazy that we’re not talking about this more.

And Martina and I had already been connected through her company who had me at Black, another Black storytelling project. And she was like, I’m interested in telling these stories, too. 

Martina Abrahams Ilunga: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, just hearing stories of the women in my family, um, my mother, she’s someone who shares all of our, her children’s birth stories with us intimately.

So, I had grown up knowing all of the good parts, but also some of the, the traumatic and, and scary parts of her birthing stories and starting to put together these dots and realize like, oh wow, these women in my family, they weren’t isolated incidents. They, they were a part of this larger pattern of, um, neglect, you know, that Black women and Black birthing folks experience.

Brittany: I mean, as somebody who now has become a parent and has had a, had a very dramatic and traumatic journey to becoming a mom, I’m so glad that conversations like the ones you all are leading exist in part because culture tells us, right? Like you have sex, you get pregnant, nine months later, a little person pops out and all of the ups and downs, the multiple pathways, the multiple ways this looks just do not exist in the narrative.

And so when a lot of us come to it, we are just completely lost, cuz we’ve not heard any of these diverse stories. I’m curious what you’ve learned, hearing the stories of birthing parents that you had no idea about going into making the show, right? That we’re just totally out of the realm of possibility for you.

Gabrielle: We’re always sort of thinking about what does care look like. And I think to your point, Brittany, we were interested in yes, overall, like, what was your experience like giving birth, but we also care about those little moments in between, like, what was it like when you went to the front desk at the hospital?

What was it like when you made a phone call to inquire with the insurance company, if you could change providers? What was it like, you know, to have like your grandmother around or to have your partner involved? And so I think for me, it was just all the different ways that people can be cared for. 

Brittany: Yeah.

Martina: For me, as someone who is recently married and also thinking about what my future might look like as a potential parent, it’s been really inspiring to know that, okay, I kind of imagine the kind of experience and care that I want. And I can create the, you know, do the right, what I have, do what I have to do to kind of make that a reality.

Brittany: I mean, what you’re doing with this podcast is activism, but it’s also storytelling, right? I’m curious why you chose storytelling as the means for this kind of activism.

Martina: Yeah. I mean, so first Gabrielle and I, we are storytellers like by profession, right? We’ve been creating podcasts and doing this audio storytelling for a few years now professionally.

So it was kind of the first thing we were drawn to because it’s like, we, we know we can do this. We know that we can do this well. But also as Black people, that’s what we do. We tell stories. We always told stories. Our history has been passed down through oral, you know, traditions and you know, these narratives.

And so is also just honoring where we come from and what we do best. And you know, so much of medical stuff is like just numbers and datas and, and it takes a, it doesn’t look at the stories. It doesn’t look at people’s actual lived experiences and kind of all the things that fill in the holes between the numbers and the stats.

And so we wanted to, to give Black parents an opportunity to tell their side of the story, because we really don’t hear our sides of the story. Our, our voices are discredited on so many different levels. 

Brittany: Yeah. Your point about the stories and the narratives as valid and quality data matters so much. I remember, I mean, this is a totally different issue, but I remember during the Ferguson uprising, we were out there telling stories that we had been living with for our entire lives. Right? 

Like I was closing in on 30 and I grew up in St. Louis county, not far from Ferguson, the police had always been treacherous. They had been torturing us for decades. And it was interesting because the DOJ under Eric Holder puts out this report that brings quantitative data to all the stories that we’ve been telling.

And all of the narratives suddenly were like, well, you know, it’s now been proven true. And I was like, well, why, why weren’t Black stories and Black people and Black bodies, enough proof for you, right? And it’s the same in this, in this medical conversation, especially because in these conversations, our bodies are telling the stories. Like, we wear the stories all the time.

I’m curious. How this has changed your own personal perspectives about your relationship with your bodies and relationship to birthing. Martina, I know that you’ve shared, right, that you’re thinking about potentially becoming a parent. 

Martina: Oh my gosh. So much. I came into “NATAL” very fearful of what it meant to have a, a child, just literally the, the, you know, the physicality of pregnancy and childbirth and the risks associated with it.

Um, and I have walked away with so much more, um, faith in what is possible. Um, and definitely leaning out, going outside of the medical system and leaning on the ways in which we’ve always brought babies to this world through midwifery care, through the support of doulas, through community care. So it’s something that has really kind of changed the way I think about it and changed the way that I would want to approach my own pregnancy or childbirth if I were to have, you know, have one. 

Um, and it’s also really opened my eyes to how much birth is a spiritual, like, transformative experience. Right? I’d never, I hadn’t thought of it in that way before I thought it was purely physical. 

And there’s this alignment of your spirit and your body and everything that has to happen in order for this baby to pass through. And so it’s made me, um, I think a much more spiritual person. And even in terms of just thinking about how I would prepare myself, it’s definitely forced me to go inward more and to listen to my body more.

Um, to advocate for myself when I go to the doctor now in general, if, if I know something’s not right, or I feel like something’s not right to speak up, it’s really empowered me in that way. 

Brittany: Gabrielle, something we don’t often talk about in the birthing conversation is access to abortion. cuz it is just as much a part of this story, as much a part of this work as anything else. I know you’ve been open and talking about having an abortion in the past.

I’m curious how telling these stories has, has helped you relate more to your own. 

Gabrielle: Oh, it’s meant everything. We knew that we wanted to, for sure, highlight that in greater detail this season. We’re seeing how the fight for abortion access is playing out, especially in the south. Um, where, you know, a lot of our focus is this season where a lot predominantly Black, rural folks live in the south.

Right. And that legacy of the Black belt. And so for me, I was 2 when I had an abortion, I had no care. I had no support. I was by myself, had just finished college. Um, and I was so ashamed to sort of open up and share with my family back home in LA. So I didn’t tell them, I told, um, like an older kind of big sister friend, but she was in New York.

And so physically day to day, as I’m waiting for my appointment to come up, there’s no one around me who knows what I’m going through, how I’m feeling, the physical pain I’m going through, the emotional kind of hell that I’m kind of living through, as well. And not so much I’m because I had to make the decision, but because I had no kind of care system around me, I had no kind of, you know, support system. Right?

And so thinking about just that evolution of that weight of that shame and those feelings that, you know, we kind of inflict on folks of the society. That’s something I internalized for a long time feeling like I was less than, or didn’t deserve, or that I was a bad person because I made this decision.

But, you know, being able to be a part of a show like “NATAL”, to create space for eople to share their experiences with care. Even if that includes an abortion, it has been very freeing for me, very sort of, um, affirming, 

Brittany: I mean, that intersection that you’re talking about of the guilt and the shame that society heaps upon birthing people.

That intersection shows up, especially across the global south, most, certainly in the American south. And like you said, you’ve chosen to focus this second season there. Why did you wanna focus on this region specifically? What about the stories from the south do you feel like are particularly instructive in this moment?

Gabrielle: I’ll start on the broader level. We knew we wanted to focus on what was happening in rural communities, because we did a really good job of highlighting different type of experiences in our first season. Um, I mean, everyone, we had queer and trans and lesbian parents. We had folks of all ages, you know, new parents, we had Martinez’s mom on this show, right?

So we knew we hit, we were hitting all these sort of different buckets, but we weren’t really hearing from folks who were not in big cities or who were in rural areas. And I think, you know, just sort of the basic sort of data that we knew about what was happening in terms of rural hospital closures. 

Martina: The south is also so rich with Black history. This is a Black show, right? So it’s like Black folks live there, but there’s this legacy of granny midwives. Like the first granny midwives that came from the African continent to this country arrived in the south. It’s been the ancestral home of so, for so many of us. And so as we’re thinking about not only where are Black folks living and what are their care experiences, look.

So many people’s care experiences in the south are honoring these ancestral traditions. And it’s really a, a place where we’re seeing this return to what we’ve always been doing and these innovations of how folks have nowhere else to go for care. They’re finding ways to show up for their communities and for each other, because babies are going to be born wherever at any time in any place.

Brittany: I’m thinking about the work that you all have been doing this season to center, um, on, on Fannie Lou Hamer, um, whose story tells us so much, not only about obviously political engagement, right? And, and the depth of political imagination that Black women hold, but also the toll of discrimination, uh, in the healthcare system and medical apartheid and the, the toll that that takes on so many women.

Can you tell us, for folks who don’t know, a little bit about her story and what in particular, her legacy teaches us about organizing around these issues? 

Gabrielle: That’s a favorite episode I think of both of us and our team, as well. You know, when we thought about how do we. You know, so we’ve got three families this season, and one of the couples that we sort of follow, Sheila and Eric Brown, are from rural Mississippi.

Sheila’s from the Delta. Her husband is from the northern part of the state, but they’d had these experiences that were not just sort of common and parallel those of our other families that we had on the show, but so many other folks, including Fannie Lou Hamer. Right? And so I think a lot of us may know her, you know, as an organizer, as someone who was a fierce civil rights advocate and all of those things are true.

She’s also someone who, you know, was sort of the victim of a Mississippi appendectomy. Right? And having a hysterectomy without her consent, which is very common sort of sterilization process. And, you know, honestly still being kind of used throughout the country in many ways on poor Black and brown people.

And so being able to sort of not just connect the dots between her experiences, sort of, you know, being under neglectful care, right? Under white doctors in the segregated south. But thinking about how that was also what really inspired her to want to vote for the first time. And then to also encourage other folks to sort of think about their rights and what they deserve as Black people.

Martina: I had always known Fannie Lou Hamer as like the voting, right,you know, activist. And I, you know, I knew about her speech on Capitol Hill, um, and real learning that the event and the incident that kind of started to spark that for her, that made her want to go vote for the first time was poor reproductive care that she received.

Brittany: You connect that, that through line to a point you made earlier around, you know, these current celebrity tales, right, of Beyoncé and Serena and Allyson, Felix having issues that they’ve had. And it’s like, okay, well, if one of the most powerful heroines of our civil rights history and some of the wealthiest, most well known, most powerful entertainers of today as Black women are having these experiences, then like, what is true for the rest of us?

And what is true is that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than white women. Um, and so these deep systemic inequalities in our healthcare system fail to identify our pain, fail to treat our pain, fail to carry us and often our children through to the other side.

I’m curious to know how you’ve seen birthing parents find real agency and autonomy in this experience while giving birth. I know for me, because my water broke in the middle of my 22nd week, so many of my options disappeared. So exploring home birth was out. I got to the point very quickly that vaginal birth was not going to be an option if I wanted our son to live, which obviously we did.

So, suddenly agency looked very different because the number of choices I had became much more narrow. So I’m, I’m just curious how you’ve seen birthing parents find agency in this experience. 

Gabrielle: One thing that we have heard from parents and those who listen to the show is like, just learning about all the options that you can at least start to think about early on.

Because I think for so often folks, like we talked about, it’s just kind of like, we’re assumed to kind of go through this factory line. Right? And there aren’t really questions and there aren’t moments of pause and reflect and push back or change. Think not just through the parent stories that we get to highlight, but also how folks engage with us beyond the podcast, you know, through our digital event series, they get to learn about different ways to speak up for themselves and they have new questions they can ask their providers 

They can switch providers and feel confident making that decision. 

Martina: And the only thing I would add to that is just also thinking about those of us who are not the birthing person, how do we show up and support the birthing person and their family, right? Whether it’s the partner, whether it’s your the friend, sister, cousin, mom, dad, whoever, it’s part of agency. 

You need a team of people around you. Everyone plays a role.

Brittany: You all speak in some ways so easily about switching providers, right? Like I’m listening to you all talk about it and you talk about it as if like, of course, like if you’re not getting the care you need, like switch providers and yet that can feel so intimidating for folks. I, um, I had a miscarriage at the end of 2020, I found out I was pregnant on my birthday, November the 12th.

Now six days later, I was setting up actually for a podcast interview. I had logged in, I had got, I had my questions on the screen and I was ready and I used the restroom and I discovered I was bleeding. So I called my provider. and it rings and rings and rings and rings and rings and rings. So I call back and it rings and rings and rings and rings.

At this point, I’ve gotta get on the interview. I don’t know what’s happening. I’ve called my partner and I’m like, I don’t know what’s going on, but like, can you come home? And I’m literally doing this interview and I I asked the questions and I, we didn’t do video at the time. And I would pause, I would mute myself when I was done asking my question and cry and then unmute myself and ask the question and then mute myself and cry again.

And that was what I did. And I literally could not get through until the doctor’s office until several hours later. And they basically said, we don’t know what’s going on. It could be this, it could be that. And I’m like, okay, well, can I come in? Can I go somewhere? And they’re like, well, you can come in in a couple of days.

And it was horrible. Like I just sat there and waited and fretted and got worried about all of the possibilities. Right? And I Googled myself to death trying to figure out what was going on. Um, when in reality, I had selected that doctor’s office because there was a Black woman doctor, um, not the, the entire practice was not Black women.

Um, but, I did not have the kind of experience that I was hoping for when I had found that particular needle in a haystack. And when I found out I was pregnant again, the next July, um, I immediately called my godsister, who’s also my assistant, who I trust with my life. And I was like, I need you to help me find another provider.

cuz I can’t, I cannot do this again. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about. what that experience of that loss can look like, um, and the gaps in care that people might exist. cuz I know I certainly experienced a very traumatic gap in care. 

Martina: Well, first we want to just, like, hold space for you.

Thank you for sharing that. 

Gabrielle: Yeah. Thank you. 

Martina: I’m sorry that, that you had that experience and you know, you’re not, you’re not alone. I think when we think about what, you know, folks who have lost pregnancies, one common misconception is, you know, folks hold that pain. Um, and many people feel isolated. They feel alone.

They feel like it’s, they’re unique in that this is only happening to them and pregnancy loss is a lot more common than we, than we realize, you know, uh, upward of 20% of pregnancies can end in a loss. And so it’s something that many families experience. My mom had a miscarriage. I’m her oldest. Um, she had a miscarriage after me, something my mom always says is that, you know, no one wants to talk about it.

So, you know, for her, it was like no one wanted to talk about the loss. And so acknowledging that you’ve just been through something traumatic, you have just lost some, someone that you were really excited to bring into this world and holding space for that grief in the same way we would hold space for someone who might grieve another kind of loss in their life.

Gabrielle: I think there’s questions that folks can start to ask. You know, perhaps there’s a little checklist of things that are important to you that you wanna get a sense from your provider ahead of time. Like, how do you respond to this? Or how would I get in touch with you when this happens? And so I think it’s really thinking about who do you want caring for you at your highest points and also your lowest ones. 

So I think we can start to sort of expand how we think about care because you do need to be cared for, you know, after a pregnancy loss. It’s not something you just sort of bounce back from no matter the outcome, no matter, you know, what sort of takes  place.

Brittany: Yeah. Because I had suffered this loss, early into my next pregnancy I was just tense all the time. Right? 

I was constantly on edge and, um, early on in the pregnancy, because of some pain I was having, I thought it could have been an ectopic pregnancy and I called the doctor’s office and she said, oh, well, come in today. And I was like, what? So I went in, they did an ultrasound, everything was fine.

And I looked at her and I was, actually white woman. I looked at her and I said, I’ve never had any medical professional respond this quickly. And she said to me, well, you know your body better than I do. So, we wanted you to come in. And that simple phrase was so affirming. Of course, I know my body better than anybody else. Right? 

These seem like really basic ideas. And yet, we’ve had systems wrestle our own knowing from us for so many generations that it was such an epiphany to have her look at me and say that 

Martina: Yes.

Brittany: And have me remind myself to come back to myself. 

Martina: It sounds like what you experience is what they call patient centered care. Right? Patient centered care is when the patient is at the center. When your, what, what you know about your body, what you know about your medical history, what you know about your desires and your wants is brought into the conversation. The, I guess the most common form of care that we see is the doctor walks in, tells you everything about yourself and what’s happening. And then you, as the patient is supposed to just accept it, not ask too many questions and go, but really medical care is a relationship. Right? 

You bring things to the table, you bring background history and knowledge to the table, and then the provider brings their expertise.

Brittany: That’s right. So we have very intentionally during this conversation been using the term birthing parents or birthing people, the people who don’t like that term, don’t listen to this podcast anyway. So I’m not worried about them right now, but there are folks who think that that’s just gone too far afield, right?

That there’s just like, oh, now we gotta talk about birthing people, blah, blah, blah. Can you talk about why that language is important to you? 

Gabrielle: Yeah. I mean, again, sort of thinking about sort of centering the patient, the sort of pregnant individual and the sort of care system. It’s also acknowledging who they are and, and how they choose to identify and their humanity. Right? 

And so we knew that we always wanted to make sure of this conversation include experiences of Black queer and trans and non-binary people because. Whether you like it or not, or have any questions about it, folks are getting pregnant. Right? And so, um, and they’re doing that and sometimes their needs and care might look different.

And so I think it’s also important to keep that in mind, right? 

Martina: Thinking from the Black feminist lens, you know, when we center the most marginalized of our community, then everybody benefits from that. And so when we think about birthing, we need to be moving more and more and looking at who, who are the people that are the most marginalized in these experiences?

And we hear that Black queer folks, Black trans folks, you know, they are just left out of the conversation. Their care experiences are in some cases, very horrible. And we need to make sure that we’re centering their needs because when their needs are centered, all of us benefit and care for everybody in this country will improve.

Gabrielle: Because even the statistic that we all know, that Black women are three to four times more likely. That’s Black women. Right? So that means we’re leaving off so many people from the conversation so we can start there, but it can’t end there. 

Brittany: Mm-hmm. It is deep ancestral work that you’re doing. And that cannot go without being said, I would love for our listeners before we go to know what they can do to support birthing people, birthing parents.

If any of our folks in our community know someone who is having a child, however that is happening, what can, and should we being?  

Martina: I think on an interpersonal level, right? It’s it’s showing up, it’s offering to be there. It’s, you know, offering to provide, you know, to send meals, cuz sometimes pregnant folks are too tired to cook.

Right? It’s offering to do research on providers or maybe accompany them. And for some of my friends I’ve done like doula interviews for them and I’ve gave them a list of doulas in the area and helped them to think about these decisions that they have to make. And just kind of whatever those folks need, just like showing up for them, being there, letting people know, call me if you need me, here’s what I can offer to you.

And, and doing that. I think that’s like first step, just on an interpersonal showing up for a good friend or a sister or a cousin. 

Gabrielle: And I think like on a maybe systemic level or organizational level, you know, Black Mama’s Matter Alliance is one of our founding partners and they do incredible work.

They’re essentially a national umbrella organization for birth workers and providers, but also legislators at all levels to really sort of think about ways to really move the needle when it comes to Black maternal health and outcomes. I also went through doula training and, you know, that’s offered at sort of different sort of sliding scales and different organizations have it.

But I wanted to sort of think about how could I sort of learn more about what it means to be a doula and also support my loved ones. So for me, it’s been really important to think about what can I do on an individual level outside of “NATAL”, and hopefully those are things that folks may wanna consider 

Martina: And then also paying attention to who, like, your local electeds or your state elected. Right? And so really advocating that your electeds, you know, support legislation that supports birthing people, that supports pregnant people, that supports people’s access to care, um, is also just something else that you could be paying attention to and, and, and, uh, supporting in that way.

Brittany: Well, I know that conversations about how to support Black birthing people and Black children have been very trendy as of late. So we appreciate you all for never treating us like a trend. Um, and for continuing to do the work that you do. Thank you so much for joining us here. 

Martina: Thank you for having us.

This is a pleasure. 

Gabrielle: It really was. Thank you, Brittany.

Brittany: Gabrielle Horton and Martina Abraham Iluga are the hosts of the podcast “NATAL”. You can find it, well, where you found this podcast. 

You know, I meant what I said to Gabrielle and Martina, that centuries and centuries of white supremacy have tried to separate us from our knowing. For marginalized folks, we’ve been gaslit into separating from our instincts that centered community instead of individualism, from our practices of care and medicine, from our networks, from our worth. Martina and Gabrielle are doing the work of helping us return to ourselves without apology, all the while never letting systems off the hook.

Imagine a world in which our institutions were actually modeled after our communities, instead of dismissing our assets and our instincts, they built upon and centered our experiences, our stories, our humanities. It’s absolutely not impossible to build this. You wanna know how I know because Black folks, indigenous folks, queer folks, marginalized folks across the globe are building exactly that infrastructure with no money and little support, but if we can do it, so can the governments who serve us.


UNDISTRACTED: June 16, 2022

You Can Be Successful Where You Are: Majora Carter on Reclaiming Communities

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany, if you hear a couple little noises in the back that’s because I’ve got a very special guest here at the mic with me who’s still learning how to talk and smile and do all the cool things. But you know, a yawn or two might be heard because baby M is in the studio. I just wanted to come and pop my head in and see how y’all were doing.

As for me, I am currently learning how to really, really keep up those boundaries that keep family time sacred, that keep mommy in the picture as much as possible, and allow me a little space to rest, too. One of the things I’ve really been discovering is that without those boundaries I would not have the time to rediscover who I am or maybe discover who I am anew.

My whole body is different. I do not know this body. I need to get to know it. My mind is certainly different. My priorities have changed completely, but most importantly, who I am down to the things that make me, me, some of them are more pronounced than ever. And some things that I held onto quite dearly have begun to fade away.

Isn’t that right? Yeah. Yeah. So I’m excited to be on this journey of discovery of myself and of the world with this little one right here because we together are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, Majora Carter. 

“There is so much money to be made off of our poverty. And that’s when frankly, I just got angry.” 

My UNDISTRACTED teammates Treasure and Cindi sat down with the MacArthur genius winner. But first, here’s Treasure with your untrending news.

Treasure Brooks: Yeah, it hasn’t even been a month since the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, but in that time there have been more than four dozen mass shootings. I won’t even give you a count because at the rate we’re going and the hours between when I record this and when you hear it, the number will probably have gone up.

It’s happened before. Instead, I’ll turn to a bit of maybe encouraging news. On Sunday, 20 senators announced a bipartisan agreement on gun safety legislation. If passed, it would be the biggest restructuring of our gun laws in nearly 30 years. The proposal is just a fraction of what needs to be done. For example, it does literally nothing to ban assault weapons or raise the age for gun purchases, but in the absence of a comprehensive solution, there is one buried victory.

Domestic violence and gun control advocates have been trying for years to close a problematic gap in federal and state gun laws. You may have heard it called the boyfriend loophole, and this is what it means: by law, people convicted of domestic violence against a current or former spouse, live-in partner or co-parent, can’t buy a firearm, but there’s no similar restriction on dating partners who’ve been convicted of domestic violence. 

And according to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, around half of intimate partner violence incidents are committed by dating partners. The bipartisan Senate deal will close that loophole. And that’s a good thing because as Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action puts it:

Shannon Watts: America is made up of this patchwork of different gun laws, some strong, some weak. We’re all only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws. 

Treasure: So even if it feels like we’ve only moved an inch towards mitigating gun related tragedies, we are going to celebrate this inch. Good baby steps in it. Now keep going.

You can maybe almost guess what the next story’s about because it has not left the news. It’s about abortion. As you know, we’re waiting for the Supreme Court to issue its decision in the case that could overturn Roe V. Wade. I still can’t believe that I’m saying that sentence. Whew. And the moment it does, 13 states are expected to immediately ban abortion.

Now here’s something you might not have heard. According to New York Times reporting, in many of those states, the bans have no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the pregnant person. That’s notable because it means the new laws are even more extreme than pre-Roe laws, which often included those exceptions.

And now in a post-Roe world, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas would all have abortion bans that are more strict than their laws in, wait for it, 1973.

Mississippi’s law makes the particularly cruel distinction of allowing abortion in the case of rape, but not incest. Let’s be clear, abortion is healthcare and it should be available to every person. You don’t have to have a, quote unquote, good reason like having been raped to need one, just not wanting to be pregnant is enough.

You knowing your mind and owning your body is enough, but these laws show just how little these politicians care about us. They don’t just want to roll back the clock. They want to reset it completely to a time when our bodies and minds didn’t matter.

Let’s end with some hope. Shall. My hometown, the city of Oakland, shout to Yay area, has done what the federal government should have done decades ago. 

Oakland City Council has voted to formally recognize racism as a public health crisis. It’s not just an acknowledgement. The Oakland City Council has allocated $350,000 to hiring new employees to support the city’s Department of Race and Equity. And Oakland is not alone. According to the American Public Health Association, from October 2020 to 2021, 70 cities, three states and roughly three dozen counties also identified racism as a public health crisis.

With formal designation comes resources and real work, so way to go Oakland and get on board rest of America.

Coming up, we talked to the founder of Sustainable South Bronx Majora Carter about resisting the narrative that you have to leave your community to succeed. Right after this short break.

And we’re back. Our guest today is Majora Carter. Her name may be familiar to you from her Peabody award-winning radio show “The Promised Land”, or perhaps you’ve seen her book Reclaiming Your Community on store shelves. The subtitle “Nobody should have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one” tells you everything you need to know about Majora’s mission to keep dollars and talent in our communities. 

And let’s just say, I personally really related to it. Majora is also a MacArthur genius award winner, because of course she is for her work in the South Bronx. And she recently gave a TED Talk. 

The meteor’s Cindi Leive and I caught up with her at TED. 

Majora, we just saw you get a standing ovation for a talk that you gave on reclaiming communities and it was such a moment. We wanna hear all about what you talked about, but let’s start with your personal story. You grew up in the South Bronx and you said that you spent a lot of time plotting your escape.

Can you tell us a little about your story and about that narrative? 

Majora Carter: Sure. I did grow up in the South Bronx, literally during the 1970s and early 80s while it was burning. Like a nickname for it was the Burning Bronx because there was all this years of financial disinvestment. Landlords were torching buildings to collect insurance money ‘cuz there wasn’t mortgages or loans or anything coming in to help those buildings.

And uh, it was really tough. We lost about 60% of the population. It looked like a ghost town in many, many ways. And we were on the nightly news as the poster child of urban blight. It was just like literally was the kind of place that you were led to believe you had to grow up and get out of. And that’s how I felt.

Cindi Leive:  And when did you start kind of questioning that narrative? The imperative of, of getting out? 

Majora: Oh, I didn’t really start questioning it until, oh my gosh, I was in my 30s. I had moved back to the neighborhood, not because I really wanted to be there, but because I was broke and needed a cheap place to stay, which was mommy and daddy’s house.

And that’s when I discovered through that time that there was a huge waste facility being built on our waterfront, despite the fact that, you know, we’d already handled a lot of the cities, you know, waste and other kind of noxious use infrastructure. And it was good that I’d had some distance, you know, and some education and I realized this was happening to us because we were poor and politically vulnerable. 

And it really shook me, you know, to, to my core, to feel like, oh my gosh, like this was totally done on purpose. Because there’s like issues around systemic racism, you know, and just us being politically, not in a great place.

But then I also had to look at the fact that there’s always been beautiful people in my community. And it was just difficult like once I realized like how we were being perceived. And then also recognizing that I’ve always had all these, these beautiful people around me, like how could I think that.

And when it hit me, that’s when I was like, oh, I see it. What can I do? To literally change the narrative about how we think about ourselves and, and how we are also thought about. But mostly it was like how we see ourselves as, you know, the beautiful people that I always thought us to be. 

Cindi: And did that translate pretty quickly into wanting to stay?

Majora: Mm, yes, totally. It wasn’t like, I was like oh, I’m gonna stay now. It was just, well, what else am I gonna do? Like, I’m gonna be here. Like I gotta be in it to win it. And, uh, that is what I did. 

Yeah. Like my roots just got even deeper. 

Cindi: Yeah. You intentionally used the phrase low-status communities. Can you explain why those words and instead of what?

Majora: Yeah, so I use the term low-status to describe communities that most are often called things like poor or disadvantaged or underprivileged, because status, it implies, I think something deeper and larger. That’s just like deeply embedded and that there’s layers and there are specific layers and that’s where you go.

And so status implied to me that something larger was at work. And in this case, it was just that, you know, that inequality was simply assumed for neighborhoods like that. They were just gonna be that way. 

Treasure: So in your latest book, you use the phrase “talent retention” as a critical part of revitalizing depressed communities.

I’m wondering how you came to that term. And can you explain what lens we should be using to identify who the talented among our communities are?

Majora: Yeah. Um, so I’m an entrepreneur. Have been before I even knew what it was, and you know, I took a page out of the, the book of any successful business. It’s like, you don’t hire great people, so they go and work for somebody else.

You hire them because you’re expecting them to kind of lean in with you. And so that’s why you provide benefits or, you know, give them reasons to stay and it’s not even always money. It’s more like, how do they feel about what they’re building like you? Um, oh God, who’s the, the, the guy that wrote The Little Prince

Treasure: Saint-Exupéry?

Majora: Yes, yes! That, and, um, there’s this beautiful quote, which I’m gonna maul, but it’s something like, look, if you want, you know, some people to, you know, build a boat and, you know, travel the seas, like you don’t just give ’em wood and axes and chop stuff up. You give them a yearning. You know, for the endless expanse of the sea. And I was like, oh yeah, that’s how you build great companies.

That’s how you build great visions. And, you know, it’s just so beautiful. And it’s the same thing with communities. Like if your people start to see that their community has something in it that makes them feel like this is the best place in the world to be, that’s how they’re gonna act. But they have to feel like it’s something worth protecting. Something worth fighting for, something worth dreaming on.

And it’s the same thing with companies. And I think it’s the same thing with communities. 

Treasure: You also talk about talent extraction. Oh, so what role does that play in? What forces exactly are doing that extracting? 

Majora: Sure. It’s interesting because billions of dollars every year that are pumped into low-status communities and they, and low-status communities, I wanna be really clear. They’re not just inner cities, they’re Native American reservations. They’re, um, you know, all white, you know, former rust belt towns where jobs have come and gone.

But what they all, you know, have at the root of them is that inequality is assumed both by the people that are in them and the people that are outside of them. And these billions of dollars, often their government programs and, and the nonprofit industrial complex as well.

And I think that many of them, the programs that they start are actually quite well meaning, you know, where they identify, you know, the athletically, academically, artistically gifted young people in particular, they’re the ones that go into the gifted and talented programs. You know, they’re the ones that get like the extra art lessons, you know, there’s the program, there’s the college readiness stuff and things like that. But there’s both stated and subtle underpinnings of saying like, look, you’re gonna grow up and get outta here.

You’re gonna grow up and be somebody. And we’re expected to leave. We’re expected to measure success by how far we get away from our communities. And I remember that, like, it was yesterday, it was just really clear. It’s like, you’ve got a big, beautiful brain Majora. Great imagination. You’re gonna do something with yourself.

And, you know, I was like, and I was like, yeah, you’re right I am. And it gonna be outta here. Like literally I remember that at like seven. I’m seven years old. I’m out. 

Treasure: Oh my gosh. I was, now I’m feeling emotional and I was emotional during your talk because that’s my story as well. I’m from Oakland, California, and I went to boarding school at 13 years old in New York through the program A better chance. 

Majora: Yes. Okay. 

Treasure: And even that language, a better chance, you know, at what and why isn’t it universalized? 

Majora: Yes! Right! It would be different. And I think if it was just like, there’s an assumption, like you go back home and you take your beauty and your talent and it’s, it’s there to share with your community.

But, it, we don’t do that. That’s what I think is just so horrific about what actually passes for development in many of those communities, cuz it’s literally saying to people like you’re nothing where you are if you stay there. But then what does that mean for the people that are left behind? 

So it it’s isolating, you know, to the people who get out. And it’s also like just as, as socially isolating, I think to the ones that are left behind, but in a different way. And either way we’re not like repairing and, and nurturing, you know, the, the, the social fabric within those communities or even creating more opportunities for economic recovery.

So it’s just like, so who wins on that one? Somebody’s winning. It just boggles my mind. And it was an evolution. It was, because at first it was just like, okay, let’s support our communities. And let’s, you know, then when it, when it really hit me, I was like, oh, this is bigger than anything I ever thought. Like, there’s so much money to be made off of our poverty.

And that’s when frankly, I just got angry. I did. 

Cindi: I’m sure. You talked before about the moment that you began to realize that you wanted to resist this narrative that you have to leave. You have to get out. And I I’m curious for you Treasure, if you remember, when you started to question this idea that a better chance meant a chance somewhere else.

Treasure: I think this concept that you have to leave home to change home, it’s it’s so pervasive among my generation, especially because we are the most advantaged. Particularly, you know, Black, low-income communities. They’re more government programs and non-government programs than they’ve ever been to help us.

Majora: Yes. But we’re not getting any better statistically. 

Treasure: No, statistically we’re not getting better. And I think for me, when I entered into these predominantly white affluent institutions, I recognized there was a lot of psychic and emotional violence at play. 

Majora: Yes. 

Treasure: And so it made me have to contend with this idea of, well, what am I really being saved from?

You know? Yes, maybe physically I’m finding some refuge, the lights aren’t getting turned off. Um, however, the emotional deterioration of being in those spaces and not being able to be my authentic self, always made me really question, you know, just the whole schema of this grand plan. And, and I, I wanna ask you, because that word “talent”, it has such a broad history, especially in the Black community.

I’m, I’m immediately thinking of Du Bois’ talent to 10th model where he proposes to uplift 10 percent of the, you know, young, Black population and hopes that they’ll reinvest in their communities. And obviously that’s a contentious idea because, who is talented and are these the people that adhere to white respectability politics?

So I wanna understand how you came to use that term and also what sort of strategies or, um, methods should be put in place for those that are viewed less favorably in our communities?

Majora: Thank you for saying that because I understand what he was saying, but the whole idea of talent there’s, everybody’s got something, but do they even wanna share it?

And it’s often the ones who actually can make money and are doing it and who take their money out. You know, as, because if they’re not investing in their own communities, um, where they’re making a lot of money or they’re making a little bit of money, but if you’re taking your money and you’re spending it someplace else, and if we can build opportunities for you to spend your money in yours, in your own community, so that dollar could circulate over and over and over again, then that’s the talent.

It is so much broader than that. Because it’s obviously more than 10 percent. 

Treasure: Well that, I’d also say that what you are advocating for, viewing community members in low status communities as stakeholders. You talked, um, about the fact that they’re, it’s so lucrative. These environments are so lucrative, but the returns are not going to the community members themselves.

I think just in reframing that, the social conditions that produce, you know, people that bottom out the people that aren’t perceived as talented, that lead to incarceration, that lead to dropout rates. There’d just be such a rapid decline that there wouldn’t even be this need to differentiate who has potential and who doesn’t.

Majora: Yeah. But the thing is like, everybody does have some potential. 

Treasure: Absolutely.

Majora: Period. But it’s just like, is that potentially even realized if they don’t see someone who’s acting on. Like, that’s the thing that I’ve noticed. It’s like, if you don’t see it, will you believe it? And if you definitely don’t see it in your own community and that’s all you see, you won’t even be able to experience the idea that there’s any potential in you that, that you should be showing to the world.

That’s what I find like, so curious and, and, um, Because we’ll we some, I, I see it sometimes in my own neighborhood. Like you, this is the way you really wanna hurt my feelings. This is how you hurt my feelings. Um, you have, uh, like someone from my neighborhood and I’m talking like people who like, appreciate the work that I do.

You know, I was walking from the subway, I actually had a meeting downtown and I was coming back home and it was night. And so I see this guy who often came to my cafe during the day, and so we’re coming out of the subway and, and he’s just like, what are you doing here? And I was like “going home” and he literally stopped in his tracks and he was like “You live here? You live in this neighborhood?” ‘Cuz to him, I was successful and successful people don’t stay.

And I was just like, how interesting it was, you know, for people to kind of, even in our own neighborhoods to discount, like what’s like authentic to that neighborhood. What does that say? Like, I think that comes from a place of trauma and all sorts of places where we’ve been led to believe there’s no value in our community.

And if it is, then it should leave. The viewers can’t see the look on, on Treasure’s face. 

Cindi: Yeah. This is resonating. You were talking before about the things that do make people wanna stay and how we sometimes underestimate that they’re not just sort of , you know, the vital services, they’re also the things that just make a place enjoyable.

What, what do you see as those kinds of things?

Majora: You know, there, so they’re third spaces and that’s like a, you know, cutesie, little urban planning term for, um, you know, places that are neither, uh, work nor home. But, they almost always involve some form of social gathering. So their cafes, their restaurants, their parks, their, um, you know, bookstores, just something that, you know, brings people together in, in the, in the act of community.

Because community is it’s. It’s not just a place. It really is an activity. And, um, and that’s one of the reasons why we started our cafe. That was the thing that we heard the most when we did our market research, that people would leave the neighborhood to, to experience things like, you know, cool cafes and coffee shops. And, you know, just as a place to like, you know, meet up with somebody for a little bit or whatever.

And so we, we actually tried to get someone to come in and we found some very cheap leases and, um, we got them just to hold onto them to offer them to a cafe owner and nobody wanted to come because to most people, it was too early on the development, you know, curve to have something like cute cafe in our neighborhood.

Even though, again, our people would leave the neighborhood to go to them in other parts of the city. And so we did it ourselves.

Cindi: Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Majora: Sure. 

Cindi: So, so what did you do? 

Majora: We did, so it say, uh, so we started it off as a joint venture with a really amazing coffee shop called Birch Coffee.

And we decided to kind of like, frankly, like go back to our own roots, which is really embracing, you know, the hip hop culture of our community. ‘Cuz “Boogie Down” literally is the name of, of the, the, the Bronx. And uh, we’re also the birthplace of hip hop. So we literally, we are the Boogie Down Grind Cafe. 

Cindi: Oh, I love that.

Majora: And you know, we’ve opened up the space and the thing is like, it’s a, it’s a sort of like a, a community curated space. So everything from art exhibits to musical showcases, you know, credit repair workshops and yeah. So we’re super excited about stuff like. 

Treasure: I’m, I’m curious to know, since you started your consulting firm, um, Majora Carter Group, if you’ve experienced any backlash from South Bronx community members when looking to relocate businesses into the community, especially considering, you know, the suspicion around gentrification.

Majora: Sure. Yeah, sure. I mean, definitely, honey. I was on a, let’s see, I was in the, uh, front page story of The New York Times and gossip piece, um, which basically, I think the title was something like “Hero of the South Bronx Now Accused of Betraying It” because I took on a client that some local activists thought was just a bad idea.

You know, they were very interested in food justice and I think rightfully so, they had some issues with how the city didn’t do the right thing by actually letting the community know what was actually happening and doing a really smart environmental, you know, assessment of what the impacts would be on a particular site.

But when I did my homework, um, I realized that it probably was a better idea to have a company like this online food grocer come in because of the number of jobs that they could create, you know? And it was really unfortunate, I thought, because, you know, they just looked at me and they were like, look, you’re just you, you used to be, you know, down with the people.

And now you’re like with the man, and it’s just like, We could talk about this if you wanted to, but they weren’t interested. And that was it. 

Cindi: I wanna ask you a really quick question before we go to our last question. You talked before about preparing people for home ownership, and one of the things that you talked about in your TED Talk that I thought was so interesting is how difficult it can be for people who do own homes in this community to hang onto them because they’re constantly being offered all cash for their homes and that that’s happened to you. 

Can you just talk a little bit about that phenomenon and what we do to get out of it? 

Majora: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think whether there’s big or small real estate companies or private equity firms, you know, who can who’ve figured out how to, um, you know, buy up homes, rent them.

And it’s a, it’s a big deal, but they’re banking on people in low-status communities not understanding the value of their communities. And you know, so long before gentrification starts, because I don’t think it starts when you start to see, you know, doggy daycares and cafes where you didn’t see ’em before, it starts to happen when we start to see no value in our communities.

Because when the neighborhood doesn’t seem like much you can say, oh, I’ll like buy your house for cash and it doesn’t end. People don’t even know the value of it. They will generally sell for early and cheap and we’ve seen it happen time and time and time again. And so I think one of the things that we can do is just like, if you commit a crime and you can’t afford an attorney, you’ll get a public defender assigned to you, right? 

So we could do the same thing for homeowners. Like, as those deals get registered, somebody could reach out to them and be like, yo, um, do you know what you’re, what you’re sitting on? Just wanna make sure ‘cuz if you do and you wanna sell, go ahead. But what are they offering? Oh really? Okay. You know, it’s worth more. 

You don’t have a mortgage? Wait, so you that’s all that equity in your house. Just, just to let you know and you could make whatever decision you want.

Cindi: But that people are traditionally underestimating the amount of value the homes that they do have. 

Majora: Always, almost always. 

Treasure: Wow. Okay. We wanna close by just asking you to tell us this story and so correct me if I’m wrong, but you shared in your TED Talk that your father was a Pullman Porter.

Majora: So my daddy was a gambling man, okay. And, uh, so he was a Pullman Porter, but yes, he played the ponies and he was in Los Angeles on a run, which wasn’t his normal run. And, uh, he went to a racetrack and won $15,000 cash. In 19, early 1940s. And he literally carried the money, $15,000 in cash. He was back home, back to New York City ‘cuz he was living in Harlem at the time, but he wanted to buy a house and he found a family that was willing to sell it to him.

Literally near this, this rail station that there was talk that it was gonna be reopened, ‘cuz at that point it wasn’t open and he was like, I see you’re selling this house, I’d like to buy it from you. and they sold it to him. My dad he would have the, the conductor slow the train down when it got to that point, so he could literally jump off the train and climb up the embankment to walk two blocks to our house, as opposed to going all the way downtown to Penn Station which is the, the, the main access point. 

And it was just really very funny. And so now I actually acquired that rail station and I’m transforming it into an event hall and music performance venue.

And it’s not been fully transformed yet, but basically we use it right now. And so there’s like performances, videos are shot there, pop-up shops or flea markets are there. And I’m very excited about that. 

Treasure: Whew. oh my gosh. 

Cindi: What an incredible feeling to be building something in that building in that same building.

Treasure: Yep. Rewriting history and really forging such a beautiful future in your hometown. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done, Majora. 

Majora: Thank you. 

Treasure: Thank you for being with us.

Majora Carter is an urban renewal strategist based in the Bronx. We talked to her in Vancouver at TED 2022. To hear Majora’s talk when it’s released subscribe to the TED Talk’s daily podcast, wherever you listen.

I’m still thinking about what Majora says about how we measure success by how far we get away from our communities. It’s such a symptom of our culture’s toxic individualism. The idea that if a few folks can, quote, get out, then by the power of rich benefactors and institutions they’ll be saved. But in reality, nothing is more powerful than community.

And we have everything we need right now to build that. If we wanna help, we can start by questioning the way that we think. Why do we say, oh, she made it from the Bronx to Manhattan or in my case, she went from Oakland to Harvard. Why do we assume that getting out is the goal and how can we make our communities, places people really want to stay? And then respect them for doing that. Those are the questions for me. I hope they resonate for you too. 

Be well, wherever you are.

Brittany: That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.


Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh. 

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

 Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: June 2, 2022

God is Big Enough for Our Questions:” Candice Benbow on Faith, Feminism, and Lipstick

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. 

I grew up really loving church. I don’t know if that makes me weird, but I really did.  To be clear, I did not go to one of those stoic churches where you got to fight nodding off to sleep. I went to a historic, organ-playing, choir-singing, and Holy Ghost-filled Black Baptist church.

It was founded in St. Louis in 1846 as the second African church by 23 enslaved and free Black folks. Its second pastor was a spiritual advisor to Dred and Harriet Scott. By the time my dad was pastor and my mother was first lady—yes, that’s what you call a pastor’s wife—it was called Central Baptist Church, and it had a rich history of social justice, community impact, and spiritual leadership. Worship was vibrant, liberatory, soul-filled and very, very, very Black.

This was the place that raised me. They gave me my first choir solos and public speaking opportunities. This was where I built community and I learned how to lead. It was my home. And home is always a place of deep, deep affection; but for many, it can also be a place of pain. And for folks from all walks of life, church has been a place of hurt, judgment, and shame. 

Much of the dogma Christian folks, including the ones that Black liberation theologians use, can give Black women discomfort with our bodies, shame about our sexuality, or harmful perceptions about the roles that we are supposedly meant to play in society. As much as I love the Black church as an institution of historical importance and a station of personal impact, I also recognize the many ways I’ve had to unlearn etiologies that threatened to limit me.  

Things that had little to do with God and much to do with church doctrine. Now, mine was not a Christian conservative or Evangelical upbringing, but I can absolutely trace how the dogma of religion took over the Jesus of it all, leading to the spiteful, hateful policy we see coming from the right. God is love and what they’re doing, it ain’t that.


On the show today, multi-genre theologian Candice Benbow.

Candice Benbow: Because I was trying to make this world more just and equitable, I believe my wrong will be counted right. And that’s the space that I want the church to be in. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s coming up. But first it’s your untrending news. 

Cindi Leive: Hey folks, this is Cindy Leive. I’m part of the UNDISTRACTED team, and since Brittany is out on family leave, I am here with our untrending news. This week, in response to a deadly mass shooting that left dozens of people dead a government took firm action to save the lives of its citizens by cracking down on guns.

I know what you’re thinking: How did I miss that one? And no, sorry, Americans, that government was Canada’s. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced legislation that would tighten Canada’s already pretty strict gun control policies. If they’re approved, the measures are going to include a national campaign to buy back military-style, assault weapons and a ban on the sale and purchase of handguns.

Prime Minister Trudeau: Canadians all agree we need less gun violence. We cannot let the guns debate become so polarized that nothing gets done. We cannot let that happen in our country. 

Cindi Leive: All of this is in response to a 2020 shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead. And here’s a dark fact, the Nova Scotia shooting was the deadliest in Canadian history, but it wouldn’t rank in even the top five in the United States where we’ve had 231 mass shootings so far this year. And yet here in the U S on the heels of the murders in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, federal lawmakers are on recess.

That’s Congress speak for vacation, and it means they have yet to take action. Canada is not the only country that has made dramatic moves after seeing its people slaughtered. New Zealand did it. Norway did it. Australia did it. Speed matters here. There have been 18 shootings where multiple people were killed or injured in the one week since Uvalde alone. Eighteen shootings in one week. If this isn’t a work around the clock issue, nothing is. We have so many reasons to do this. We have zero reasons not to. There could be only one message to our lawmakers when they’re back from recess on Monday and that is: Catch up with the rest of the globe and do it fast.

Our next story is related and it’s a tough one. So please take care of yourself while you listen. It’s about a woman named Liana Hale. She’s 26. She’s Black, She lives in Kansas City. And last Friday, the police shot her five times, despite the fact that she had her hands in the air and told them she was pregnant.

Hale had been in a car at a Family Dollar store when police ordered her to get out. She did and she had her hands up, but according to witnesses, she told police she couldn’t comply with their order to get on the ground because she was pregnant. As one witness told the Kansas City Star, she did not pull a weapon on them. She did not even have a stick in her hand. 

Nonetheless, they shot her five times. Liana is now in the hospital with serious injuries and the police have yet to admit any wrongdoing, though as Mother Jones reminds us, that’s common in many cases. This case is a brutal reminder that despite the outrage, after the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others two years ago, the police are practicing business as usual in too many places.

And the police’s violence toward Liana Hale stands in stark contrast to the way officers treated the white supremacist responsible for the bloodbath in Buffalo two weeks ago. They arrested him without a single shot and he was armed. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African-American Policy Forum and a former guest on UNDISTRACTED put it best on Twitter: If mass murderers of Black people can be apprehended alive, why must Black people in traffic stops constantly fear for their lives?

We’re going to end on a happy note because the world needs joy right now. Last weekend, Marianne Oketch took home the title of sole survivor, meaning she won the reality show “Survivors” 42nd season out of 42. “Survivor” fans got to know Maryanne, a Canadian seminary student for her bubbly personality. And at only 24, Marianne’s also making TV history as the second Black woman ever to win survivor. The first one was 20 years ago. 

Maryanne Oketch: Oh my goodness. It feels amazing to know that I’m going to go and be representation for people who watch these shows. But I hope that not only the Black community is able to be uplifted, but more and more different communities, like marginalized communities, will be able to be uplifted.

Cindi Leive: Maryanne’s victory is part of a long overdue sea change in reality television, especially at CBS, which vowed in 2020 that its non-scripted shows would be 50% BIPOC. This season reflected those network changes and it didn’t shy away from public conversations about the way race has played into survivor dynamics and elimination decisions on the show.

And yeah, I know what you’re thinking, it’s only reality TV; but considering that reality television gave us an actual president, representation matters. Congratulations, Maryanne. If you run for office, you’ve got our vote

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Coming up theologian Candice Benbow on making mental health part of your faith walk, right after this short break.

And we are back. Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately. Like I said, it’s always been a part of my life. I’ll always be part of the pastor’s kid club, but lately it has really been a part of my life. Let’s just say, I’ve been talking to God about a whole lot. We are not running dry on conversation and faith continues to be a pretty important part of many Americans.

While the number of Americans who say they don’t have a religious affiliation has doubled since 2007, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, the majority of people in this country do still identify with their religion. We may not always talk about it, but a lot of people believe. And if you look beyond the borders of organized religion, the numbers get even higher: about a quarter of Americans say they’re quote, spiritual, but not religious.

And that is a record number. So my point is this: Spirituality, faith, religion, belief, these are important parts of a lot of people’s lives. Of public life. But in this country where religion has been hijacked by the right and where God and Jesus and holiness are used to justify cruelty and injustice, faith can get complicated.

So let’s uncomplicate it. My guest today is a theologian, activist, and intersectional feminist. Candace Benbow says her spiritual practice centers around re-imagining how faith can be a tool of liberation and transformation for Black women and girls. She is a writer and an essayist whose work appears not just in all the usual fancy divinity journals, but in Glamour, Essence, The Root and Shondaland.

And if you downloaded the “Lemonade Syllabus” of essential works made by Black women after Beyoncé released her incredible album of the same name, well, then you’ve read Candace’s work. And if you haven’t done that, then go download the “Lemonade Syllabus”. One of my favorite pieces of Candace’s writing is an essay she wrote for the me too. movement about reclaiming her faith after being sexually assaulted.

She wrote about lying in her car, afraid to go home. It would take time, she wrote, to realize that God was crying with me in the car. Woo, child! Candice’s new book is called Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. She says she wrote it because even though Black women are the most religious demographic in America, we’re not often the most prominent religious voices out there.

She wrote it because she wanted to claim faith while rejecting misogynoir and cruelty. Needless to say, I’ve been dying to talk to her. 

Candice, it is so good to see you. Thank you for joining me. 

Candice Benbow: Thank you for having me. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So listen, Candice, for people who are not familiar with your work, I think a perfect way to introduce you is to talk about something you did when you were a graduate student studying theology at Duke Divinity School. You produced the now very famous list of more than 200 works that you called the “Lemonade Syllabus.” Shout out to our good sister, Beyoncé. Talk about the creation of that syllabus. Like, what’s on it? How did you get the idea for something?

Candice Benbow: Yeah, so we all were watching “Lemonade” and so many of us were talking about the Black feminist and womanist works that were present and how it resonated and how  “Lemonade” was in this continuum of work. And this sister hit me up in my inbox and she said, you guys keep talking about Black feminist works and womanist works that you see in  “Lemonade”.

What are they? And that was the first time that I realized that we were having a conversation about Black women that excluded Black women. And I was like, yeah, that’s not what this is supposed to be like. Sis created this beautiful literal cultural production that all of us are able to consume. There shouldn’t be a Black woman who is excluded from any part of the conversation regarding it.

And so I asked one of my homegirls. I said, do you think it would be corny if I did a Lemonade syllabus? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You always gotta get that check in.

Candice Benbow: You know? Cause you don’t want to be out here looking crazy. And so she was like, no, like do it. And I reached out really just to my social media community and to my sisters and was like, hey, can you give me like three works that you feel like align with “Lemonade.”

And then from them, other people started sending theirs. And the next thing I know it was trending. So, I actually had a conversation with Reverend Otis Moss III at Trinity in Chicago, and he was like, you should do something with this. Like, don’t let it just be, you know, this hashtag. And that’s how we actually produced the syllabus in digital download form.

I reached out to my Godbrother and was like, hey, can you help me do this? And he was like, yeah. And that is how we got “Lemonade Syllabus.” 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You consider yourself a multi-genre theologian. What does that look like for you? Like, are you preaching? Are you teaching? Are you, like, getting mobbed at the grocery store with people’s just existential life questions? Like, what does that look like?

Candice Benbow: I am someone who in all of these different spaces tries to think theologically about how, um, we are in these spaces and what it means for our thriving and our interconnectivity. So whether that’s pop culture, whether that’s in education itself, like whether it’s in influencer culture, social media spaces. 

Like, what does it mean to have theological conversations of depth about some of the very things that people may ignore and think aren’t as, you know, weighty as they actually are. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. But so multi-genre, multi-platform, but not necessarily behind your own pulpit. ‘Cause I know you always laugh at the idea of pastoring your church. 

Candice Benbow: Oh, no. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You’re like, that is not for me. It’s literally not your ministry. 

Candice Benbow: Exactly. It’s not. Like, it’s so funny because when people tell me that, I’m like, I like saying too much to pastor.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham: She said that’s not the path.

Candice Benbow: I think that honestly, the kinds of conversations, the work that I get to do is so much broader than the church itself, that it gives me the opportunity to really think through what does it mean to have conversations about faith that are subversive and ways that pastors can and in ways that they often don’t.

And so I’m very clear that like, you know, pastoring, um um, that is not for your girl. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, as the daughter of a pastor and an ordained minister, that is a particular calling. So if that’s not the one, then be clear about it. 

Candice Benbow: Yeah. Very much so.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Okay. So I want to get into Red Lip Theology. Obviously, Black women are at the center of your work. They’re the center of this book. The full name is Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough

Now, obviously we know that this is a play Ntozake Shange’s famous choreo poem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf.” But how did you get from that to this? Like how did beauty supply store get all in the mix?

Candice Benbow: The wild part is that no one has ever asked me that question, so I’m super excited.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I was like, I need to know how we got from there to here. 

Candice Benbow: Yes, so part of it, you know, I talk about sitting in church. The sermon was terrible, and I said I’m gonna go to Sephora. 


Candice Benbow: Literally got up. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: This is not a good use of my time. 

Candice Benbow: I’m not gonna sit here and listen to this. And it was so funny because at this particular time, the church that I was attending did offering after the sermon. So I had my money cued up for offering and I was like, well. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I remember growing up and, you know, like before you had any money, you, it would be offering time and you stick your hand out to your mom and she would put a dollar in it and you go up there and put it in the plate

And now I’m thinking, well, what if I had collected all those dollars and, like, bought some lip gloss?

Candice Benbow: Girl.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So what I love about the book is it really uses this lens of beauty rituals and all that they mean for us as Black women to talk about faith. What made you have that spark of imagination to say I’m going to weave beauty and theology and Black womanism together in this way?

Candice Benbow: Well, one, because that literally is how, they came together for me and then the other part was like, how am I going to have a conversation that’s exclusive to sisters like me, that they’re going to get? And I was like, we know foundation, we know skincare, we know contour and concealer. So, let me use this as a means and an entrance into our conversation with each other. And with us that works to give us the space to talk about faith and ourselves in a conversation that is really exclusive to us.  

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I mean, you even brought that lens into the way the book is structured, right?

So, each chapter is a different step in the beauty routine in the regimen. So, the first chapter is “We Are Good Creation” and that’s the skincare part, right? That first layer. And it really just had me thinking about the fact that in some ways our beauty rituals are nearly as sacred as our faith rituals. 

Candice Benbow: Yes, they really are. And I was doing my skincare, like literally when I’m going somewhere and I’m putting on makeup. I’m playing Rihanna’s album. And one of my homegirls just finally told me, she was like, you do know, like, this is ritual for you? And I said, Yeah, it is. And so she said, what would it mean for you to be even more intentional about how you carve out the sacred space of this?

And so that really was when I was like, all right, well, what is my skincare? I was like, that is the bare bones foundation. I can’t run from my skin. Like it shows everything, you know, everything about me. Like I can’t run from my skin. And then I just started building with it. And then, you know, I started having affirmations of, you know, when I was putting on my eye makeup, like let everything I see today, you know, remind me of goodness and magic.

When I began to really honor the ritual, that was this practice, it was at a really difficult time in my life when I needed something that brought hope. And this really brought it in a way that allowed for so, so, so much generativity. That was really the main thing that I thought too was, if sisters don’t love anything else, we love God and we love looking good.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, I’ve seen too often, it’s used in, like, sermons as this kind of like a punchline. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment for ourselves. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. I don’t know if this is the difficult time you’re referring to, but I’ve been so touched about how transparent and extensively you’ve written about your relationship with your mother, especially since her passing.

And you talk a lot about how your relationship with faith was really informed by her and her theology and her wisdom and the way she lived that. Tell us a little bit about her. What was she like? What did you learn from her faith walk, growing up?

Candice Benbow: Yeah, my mom was God to me. And I say that not be afiying her in a way that does not let her allow her to be human. But to say that my mom showed me unconditional love and care and nurturing and salvation, and saving my life over and over and over again and giving me opportunities to thrive and correcting me when, when I was wrong. And I think that that’s what parents should do.

My mom was saying that when she goes to heaven, she said, I know God’s going to ask me, what did you do with the gifts that I gave you? And she always said that the gift was me. And she said, parents should always see parenthood as a gift. She was like, you have been given this amazing opportunity to shepherd a life and it should humble you. It should motivate you. 

And I was so grateful to have her because even as I watched her like live into her own faith and feminism, even when we were like heated in the throws of like theological debate, she still gave me room to be me. And I did not until she left and until I had other conversations with adult children, I did not know how uncommon that is. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I think your mother and my mother are kindred spirits in that way. I’m curious though, is there a moment when you said I have some divergent understandings of what this faith thing is when you were in conversation with your mother?

Candice Benbow: Yeah, it was really my twenties, definitely around sex, but definitely around like the inclusion of like, my mom had this very interesting thoughts around hell. Like, she did not believe that everybody that the church damn to hell was going there, but she also still believed that hell existed. And I did not believe that at all.

And so I was beginning to, like, reject hell. And I think really the universalism of my faith really begins in my life. What in, what? You know, like, girl, who are you and what have you done with my daughter, child? And so I remember very distinctively, we had a conversation, it started at our house and then we both went to my grandmother’s house in different cars and it continued there.

And I remember getting in my car and I just drove home. I remember she came outside to talk to me, to tell me to come back in the house and I kept driving. I was so mad. 

Girl, and you knew.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You knew what choice you were making. Yeah.

Candice Benbow: I was like, I’m gonna have to keep driving.  

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Show no fear. 

Candice Benbow: But I remember driving home and I was like, she just doesn’t get me.

Like she just. And I remember feeling very hopeless because while I was still trying to figure it out, I felt like my theological views would be the thing that pushed us apart. And when I had a conversation with her, she was like, girl..

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Piped down. Yeah. 

Candice Benbow:  I think that was also when I realized I was able to name the ways my anxiety takes me from like zero to a hundred, because I remember having a conversation with her and I was just like, I just felt like, you know, we were never going to be close. 

And that, like, the way I think about God and faith, like we were always going to be like these bitter rivals. And I’m like sitting at the table, like, crying and she was like, girl, take a nap because all that you’re doing out here is a lot. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: The dramatics. Stop the dramatics. So it’s this kind of transparency that I think have people chomping at the bit to, like, read your work, to engage with you because you are really transparent about these kinds of personal relationships, relationship dynamics with your family.

You also dive into, you know, dissecting parts of your romantic past, and those relationships. And I, I know that that kind of public vulnerability is really not easy. I’m curious, what did it take for you to get to a place of confidence in your sharing? Like how do you want this kind of radical transparency to impact your readers?

Candice Benbow: I realized that I could not have close proximity to whatever I was writing. I had a moment where I had to learn, okay,  you, you feel very called to share because people need to see grace, gracious accountability modeled. So even if you feel called to do that, there’s a way that you can do that, that still leaves you whole.

And so that means that you can’t share if you’re still going through it, right? And I had to make that promise to myself that, you know, I wouldn’t share or write anything that I haven’t had three sessions with my therapist. There has to be some emotional distance, so that I can look at that moment as objectively as I can to say, like, what is it that I can mine from this experience to encourage other people to do the same in their life?

You can’t shame me was something that I’ve already been freed from. And when the objective is to help get other people free, then I definitely am not at all invested in a certain kind of, of shame. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: One of the things you’ve also been really upfront about is your experience and really your healing journey, um, after surviving sexual assault.

And that is something that you and I unfortunately have in common as we do with a lot of people on this planet. You wrote this essay for the me too movement that I thought was particularly powerful in how you reflected on faith in this kind of traditionally practice sense, both helped you and came up short in terms of really supporting your mental health needs.

I’m thinking specifically about this quote, you said necessary to my survival was the rejection of dangerous theology, suggesting one can’t pray and worry. I did both all the time. As a victim of sexual assault, my safety had been compromised and I was fearful of everyone and everything around me. It was nonsensical to believe I could just pray away that fear.

How in the, in the day since, have you integrated your mental health practice in those rituals with your faith? ‘Cause so many people think they can never intersect. 

Candice Benbow: Yeah. It was always easier for me to think through them because of my mom and she would say, you need God and every qualified professional to be your best self.

And so I knew that it was okay, that you could navigate mental health, as well as be faithful and be Christian. And so you’re not even now, like, I recognize that stewarding my mental health is a part of honoring the temple. Right? And so there are moments where I have to be very clear that , like, when I’m not well, I am not the best that I can be. 

And some of that navigation of wellness is out of my hands. Right? So like the ways that, the ways that depression work, like a lot of this is chemistry and family, you know, family dynamics and heredity and like all, like, it’s not just situational. Right? And so I’ve had to learn how to be much more gracious and kind to myself that, like, there’s not something quote, unquote, wrong with me.

God made me. And before I knew that I was going to have anxiety, God knew it.  Before I knew that I would navigate depression, God knew it. And so how do I get the tools that I need? That allow me to be well and ask to lean into a space that reminds me that even with all of these things, I’m still a good creation. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. You, you told Glamour magazine that you want sisters to know that it is okay to make their faith their own.

That God is big enough for our questions, that it is okay to go on a journey of asking hard questions that we’ve been afraid to even ask ourselves. I’ll tell you that that is what Red Lip Theology has been doing for me and being that Black church girl who’s been trying to unlearn so much of what the institution, that rigidity that you talk about, um, has pushed me away from asking a lot of those questions of myself.

Are there questions in particular that you’re glad you’re finally unafraid to ask yourself? 

Candice Benbow: I’m glad that I finally moved to a space that gave myself permission to ask why, because why doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to get an answer, you know. I mean, I think about my mom’s passing. I don’t know the specific ins and outs.

She died unexpectedly, there was an asthma attack. The whys that God, you know, took her from me. God can never give me an answer that is sufficient. Right? Me asking why is emblematic of me just being like, this is just not fair and it hurts and I’m sad and I’m mad and I wish you hadn’t done that.

And I tell people all the time that now on this side of healing, while that is a question for me, when I get to  and I’m looking at God and I see my mama over God’s shoulder, I don’t care to ask that question no more, ‘cause I see my mama and I want to go get a hug. You know what I’m saying? But asking why gave me permission to explore that my feelings are valid.

That what I hope for my life mattered just as much as what is happening in my life matters and that I get the space to reconcile the two. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You’re holding this mirror up to yourself, you’re helping us hold the mirror up to ourselves. You’re also really holding up the mirror to the church, right?

And I say that capital C as an institution, as a system, as a place of membership and doctrine and policy and money. And holding up that mirror requiring accountability from an institution where people’s identities are so deeply intertwined can be especially difficult. What do you want the church really to see about itself, meditate on and change, right?

I mean, there are some really clear, immediate examples of how Christian conservatives are attacking LGBTQIA folks. They’re attacking trans children. They’re attacking women when it comes to our own bodily autonomy, the bigotry, the transphobia, the prejudice. It is really quite tired. 

Candice Benbow: I really want the church to want to be on the side of God’s heart. And I think that being on the side of God’s heart means working to make this world more open and accepting and inclusive. I feel very much like we are deeply regressing and making those things very much less inclusive and that God’s love has become very exclusive.

And it’s just for these people, if they feel or believe a certain way, and that does not reflect the God I believe that we have. It doesn’t reflect the diversity of creation. We don’t have the capacity to suggest that we know all that we think we do. And what does that mean to release that kind of arrogance and say that I’m just going to let my heart be open.

And I kind of tend to the side that, you know, if I get to glory and I was wrong about a lot of stuff, then I was wrong. But because I was trying to make this world more just and equitable I believe my wrong will be counted right. 

And that’s the space that I want the church to be in. Not, not the painful exclusion, but, but a radical inclusion that makes everybody uncomfortable because we know that to be this inclusive means that we are walking completely outside of our own power, but we’re leaning into something else. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, that was most definitely a word from on high. And I think it’s the perfect place to close. Thank you for writing this book for being a field login of all the genres and for making sure that that is the world we’re building.

I really appreciate you. 

Candice Benbow: Thank you, friend.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Candace Benbow is an author, an educator and a theologian. Her book, Red Lip Theology is available everywhere.

Woo, my God. When Candace said that we have to stop feeling obligated to a certain kind of faith rigidity that actually keeps you sick, I felt that with everything in me. Dismissing that kind of rigidity individually is necessary to understanding our own worth, especially for marginalized folks. 

And shaking off that kind of rigidity at the systems level, well that’s the key to experiencing liberation here on earth and not just in heaven. That’s what it means to be a place after God’s own heart. 

You know, people often ask me how to respond to conservative Christians who seem to stand in the way of progress, my answer is always the same, I remind them to read the instruction manual. I’m not a progressive, despite being a Christian, I’m a progressive because of it. Because whether you are a person of faith or not, the guidebook is pretty clear.

And like in Micah 6:8: do justice, love mercy. Anything else is most certainly not what Jesus would do. 

Hey, that’s it for today, but never forward tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: May 26, 2022

During a Dark Time, A Little Light with Bevy Smith

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. I’ve been enjoying the absolute bliss of motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty exhausting. I’ve never worked this hard in my whole life. And yet it is the most abundant place I could ever be blessed to find myself. Baby M is currently learning how to smile. And I personally feel so accomplished because for the first time last week I actually made him smile.

It wasn’t just a random cricket grin on his face. I actually tickled his cheek in just the right spot, at just the right moment and he gave me the widest, most toothless grin I’ve ever seen. I just felt like I could do anything, except apparently protect him the way that I imagine every parent wants to.

I don’t know how to feel raising him in a country where someone can take a gun into an elementary school.

I don’t know how to keep him safe from feckless politicians and a lack of political will. I don’t know how to keep him safe from the failure of this country to have any kind of moral compass when it comes to protecting children. Because let’s be frank, this formula shortage has everything to do with profit margins, monopolies, and deregulation.

In one of the most developed countries in the world, the descendants of the people who built this place cannot seem to make it through childbirth at the rates we should. And somehow some way in a day in time, when the bodies of 10 Black people murdered by a white supremacist in Buffalo have not even been buried yet.

Once again, another mash shooting. People are going to regurgitate the same lines. Somebody is going to say thoughts and prayers. And then somebody is going to say thoughts and prayers are not enough. Somebody is going to say elect pro gun reform candidates. And somebody else is going to say, well, you’re going to take this gun out of my cold dead hands.

And this argument is going to go back and forth until the national attention span once again closes and we’ve moved on to the next. Somebody’s gonna say, this cannot be who we are and somebody’s going to retort, all of the evidence says it’s exactly who we are. And I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to my child who one day will be tying up his shoes and getting ready to come home after a great day at school with his friends, learning and playing and exploring.

And he’ll tell me: We had a drill today, Mommy. We had a drill for what happens if somebody comes in with a gun. Because chances are by the time he is a school age, the reality won’t be any different. I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know what I’ll say to him. 

To be the supposed greatest country in the world, we should be absolutely ashamed of ourselves. I don’t know how we’re not embarrassed. I don’t know how we can look the nations of the world in the face and actually pretend as though we’ve got it all together. Pretend as though we value human dignity. When every single day children in this country face the violence of poverty and hunger and gun violence.

Whether it’s at a school or it’s in their community, whether it’s at the hands of a white supremacist or at the hands of somebody who never should have gotten their hands on a firearm in the first place, they keep looking at us for answers. We can’t keep shrugging our shoulders in return. We owe them so much more and I don’t know what it’s going to take.

But I can’t live like this. My son can’t live like this. None of us should have to live like this. The parents who will bury their children should never have had to live like this. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but a change is gonna have to come.


In today’s episode, we have something very necessary to lift you up because I know we all need it. The fabulous and fashionable Bevy Smith is here to tell us why life, as she puts, gets greater later. We love that auntie Bevy and my UNDISTRACTED colleagues, Treasure Brooks and Cindy Leive had that interview coming up right after this short break.

Cindi: Hey folks, this is Cindy Leive. I’m an executive producer here on UNDISTRACTED. A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of traveling to Vancouver with our correspondent Treasure Brooks for the TED 2022 conference. You know, TED, like TED Talks. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. Our guest today brought the house down. 

Bevy Smith is a legend in the fashion world. She made her way to the top of the fashion advertising and publishing universe in the cutthroat nineties, working with iconic brands like Bill Blass. She worked at Vibe and she then went on to run luxury advertising at Rolling Stone.

I worked in magazines at the time and Bevy was a legend, but she realized that she wanted something different. So in her forties, she left everything that she had built to do something new. It was touch and go for a few years before she found her footing, but now she is everywhere. You might’ve seen her on Bravo.

You might’ve heard her on Sirius FM or you might’ve caught her book Bevelations: Lessons From a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie on bookshelves last year. Treasure and I talked to Bevy about why, as she says in her TED Talk, it gets greater later. 

Treasure: Bevy, thank you for being here with us today. 

Bevy: Thank you. 

Treasure: So you’ve lived a whole lot of life and you’ve had many careers in a lot of different phases. I want to start by asking you to introduce yourself with a little bit of a twist. How would you have introduced yourself at 25? And how would you introduce yourself today at 55?

Bevy: Hello, I’m big Bev from uptown. That’s 25. Fifty-five: Hello lovers, I’m Bevy Smith. I’m one of one. Mmm.

Cindi: One of one is pretty great at any age. You have talked about yourself being a late bloomer, and I think in fact that you said that Chris Rock had called you out on being a late bloomer.

Bevy: He once called me the most late blooming mofo he never met. Now, some people might consider that snide, but I revel in it. I’m 55 and I’m here in this curvy body as someone who has done the work. Walk the walk in these very high heels and therefore is qualified to testify in the church and in the court of law that it does in fact get greater later. 

Well, you know,  I’ve known Chris since I was in my twenties. For me, late blooming doesn’t, I believe that everything is as it should be.

And so I’m also very patient, which is probably why I don’t mind being a late bloomer. I’m not someone who really needs to like hit these markers. I’ve never been the type of person that wanted to be on the 30 Under 30 list. But one, because when I was under 30, I was having a lot of fun in my life. I had a career, but I was not focused.

And I knew early on that work was not the end all and be all to a happy life. 

Treasure: And one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show is because you have that fantastic phrase you’re known for. It gets greater later, which is this idea that life gets better as you get older. And that’s the exact opposite of what specifically women are told.

What are the old ideas around age and getting older that you’re trying to push against? 

Bevy: Well, I think, you know, when I look at my 94-year-old mother and she has this exuberance for life, like, you know, we’re here in Vancouver, she had, we went out to dinner last night and she got home at midnight. You know what I mean?

And she had a Kir Royale. 

Cindi: That’s amazing. 

Bevy: Yeah 94, you know, 

Cindi: Okay, goals for age 94, be having a Kir Royale at midnight with Bevy Smith.

Bevy: In Vancouver. Like, you know, and she had on this really cute little sparkly, silver little outfit. And it means she just, so for me, I was very fortunate because I wasn’t raised in a household where age was a discussion, where complexion wasn’t a discussion, where handling wasn’t a discussion.

Where, you know, a lot of things that societally Black women and women overall have to face with people kind of like telling you why you’re not enough. And, and I think because that was my foundation, I was able to go into a space like the very lily white space of luxury fashion. Cause I was, my clients were, you know, the Milan and Paris designers and that’s a very, very, very white space.

Now it’s changing, thankfully. But when I was doing it, it was a very white space, but like coming from the community that I come from and coming from the mother that came from, I was able to navigate in that and not lose myself. So aging for me, it’s never really been a problem. 

Cindi: You said also that your mother never hid her age and that you never have either, and it’s strange that we should even need to comment on that, but I’m always struck by how common it still is for so many prominent women to be very sort of bashful about sharing their age. 

Bevy: It’s sad. Because especially as every day we hear about someone passing away far too young. Every year is a gift. Every day is a gift. 

You should be celebrating your age, you shouldn’t be hiding from it. And you know, one of the things that really, really struck me and why, and this is something I’m trying to communicate with the young women that are in my life, please don’t be so driven and ambitious that you don’t have fun and that you don’t live your life.

I would much rather them err on the side of having even almost too much fun than having too much work because you can bounce back from doing, you know, you can get serious later and catch up, but you can’t get that. I see so many women now that are in their fifties now just trying to like live life and not, I commend it and I love it and I’m happy for you. 

But I wish they had, like, put down the spreadsheet and picked up a cocktail when they were in their thirties and twenties, you know.

Cindi: That’s the life advice we’re going to leave people with: put down the spreadsheet and pick up a cocktail.  

Treasure: And you sound like you kind of always had it figured out. You came into these spaces, really seeming to have known who you were.

Um, but was it ever difficult? And how, how did you manage to retain those values from your childhood as you got further away from home and ascended in your career? 

Bevy: That’s a really good question because, boy, I was really very comfortable and it’s because I grew up in an all Black neighborhood. I grew up in such a big cultural, important neighborhood, you know. Harlem, you know, I’m walking down the same streets as Baldwin and Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

And that gives you a sense of pride now and kind of steadies you.  Also because when I was a child and adolescent, it was the Black power movement, so every day was Black history in my classrooms. We learned Swahili in school. You know what I mean? And you know, in the classroom was just papered with what you now see one month, February, but every day was like that.

And so that also let you know what you come from. What you’re attached to. So when I had to go into the fashion business, I was a receptionist at a really iconic agency called Peter Rogers Associates, and they had big accounts like Black Glama Mink, Vidal Sassoon, and they also had Brooke Shields’ jeans.

Peter Rogers did that account. So Brooke and I were the same age. So she would come in because it’s her business, but she was a kid and I was a kid. I was like 19, she was 19. And so she would ask her mom, can I like not go in? And can I just sit in the reception area? And so Brooke Shields and I would like chat. 

And I ran into her on a trip in the Bahamas a couple of years ago, and I was like, you remember Peter Rogers? She is like, oh my God, yes I remember that. I was like, I was the receptionist. She was like, oh my God! It was so great. 

But so I was around all these big supermodels and all these white standards of beauty, and that was great for them, but I never wanted to look like them in any way, shape, or form because where I was from those ladies couldn’t get arrested on the street. No one would even be looking at them. They’d be like, who is that bony girl with? You know, like it wouldn’t work. So I would have my own particular brand of beauty and where I was from it was appreciated. And they had their own particular brand of beauty, which obviously it was the kind of societal norm.

But I didn’t fall into that. So I always kind of went my own way as far as that went. So that was something that kept me kind of solid and rooted. And then also too, I really do believe staying in Harlem versus moving down to the West Village, which I was offered many times. Back then people were like, oh my God, you live in Harlem?

Are you safe? Are you okay? People always say that to me. I’d be like, it’s my community. They just couldn’t believe it. And people would offer, you know: Bevy, I own a brownstone and I could rent you half. And I was like, yeah, I don’t want, I want to stay in my community. And I think that that’s the reason why I survived it.

Cause I would have been turned around and twisted because I would have really had to have conformed. Cause when you go into, especially back then in the late eighties, early nineties, you going into these all white spaces like working and then living? I think I would have been code switching. I think I would have probably not really liked the way I looked.

Maybe I would have developed an eating disorder. I don’t know, but. I don’t think it would have been the best one. 

Cindi: Yeah. So you’ve always had this really firm sense of self, but you know, you’re also talking about how it gets greater later. So I want to dig a little more into what actually gets greater, especially for you.

And you know, and maybe for a lot of women, you talked about how your feelings of competitiveness with other women and maybe with other people overall have changed. And I think the line you used was that a little bit of grace is better than Botox. 

Bevy: Yes, yes, yes. 

Cindi: Okay, explain. 

Bevy: Everyone’s going through something and we just never know.

And I think that we can get out of our own heads and stop looking at people as competition or stop looking at what they have and coveting that. And we can begin to extend grace and to find a way to really be happy for people. Even if they’re having an experience that you think you deserve. Just like, take a note, and then you give a note. And by giving a note, that means like congratulating someone and really meaning it, knowing that what’s for you is for you.

They’re not taking anything from you, you know? And in the part of the talk that I was really talking about is, like, it was so weird to me that when I looked at it, I was like, why do I even care that someone got a job on some daytime talk show? I only want to do that anymore. 

Cindi: You mean ordinarily or when you were younger, you would have immediately felt your hackles going up, like that should have been me. 

Bevy: Well, I just experienced it last year. I was like, well, why didn’t I get the call? I knew I didn’t want the job, but I did want to get the call. You know what I mean? 

Cindi: So you got to a place where instead your impulse upon seeing something like that would be, hm, let me just send an email and congratulate them.

Bevy: Yeah, yeah. Good for you. And I think that’s going to make you very happy and I’m very happy for you. 

Cindi: So knowing yourself and being able to express grace with others, as opposed to being competitive, those are all parts of getting older. I read a book about two years ago that talked about the fact that killer whales and humans are the only species where females go through menopause and that in killer whales, the post-menopausal whales become the leaders of the pods. 

They become like the honchos, the leaders. And I really love that analogy that, you know, maybe we should be looking more often to older women to be leaders in our culture. And I’m curious what you think about that, whether that sort of ability to lead is something that you think we undressed.

Bevy: Oh, it definitely is. There’s so much wisdom to be gleaned from older women. I love, I call them the old dogs. I love ‘em. Give me, I keep the old dogs around me, you know. And, and I’m looking forward to becoming one of the old dogs. Right now, I’m just one of the dogs. I want to become one of the old dogs. I want to be, you know. I interviewed Cicely Tyson two days before she passed away.

Cindi: Wow. 

Bevy: Because I was one of the few people that got…It was Gail King, me. I think she did one other interview because they were having to pace them out. Cause she was like 94, 95 years old. So she couldn’t do a full, like, regular press run day. So she was doing a couple of interviews a day for her, for the biography, and I got her. And it was incredible to just sit and talk with her.

And then of course, when she passed away, two days later, it made it even more poignant. And to know that she was like that just two days before she ascended a new realm. How powerful is that? 

Treasure: Wow. Bevy you’ve, you’ve talked about being exposed to all these different worlds as you were kind of creating your own for yourself.

You know, being the receptionist as Brooke Shields was there. Owning a company. I’m thinking of the other glass you probably came against was class, like financial difference, you know, in these worlds. How has your relationship to money changed throughout your life? You’re very transparent about the fact from 40 to 45, you really had to restrategize, you really had to re-examine your relationship to money?

What was that period about and where are you now? 

Bevy: Well, in my book, I call it broke, but blissful. So I was really very happy, I just didn’t have any money because I had, uh, you know, quit my job at 38 to pursue this career that I now have. Um, and I didn’t realize that I would probably have to go broke to do it.

Didn’t really plan that too well. I like had, like, I was like, I had a year’s worth of money saved, but the funny thing about that though. 

Treasure: That’s not nothing.

Bevy: Exactly. The crazy thing is, is that I probably could have lasted longer than even a year, but I took the first of my eat, pray, love sepia versions of eat, pray, love trips.

I went to Brazil, South Africa, Costa Rica. I took a lot of acting classes. I flew to LA. I was doing a lot of things. So I spent a lot of money in pursuit of this new life. And so when I went broke, it was like, oh, I was shocked because I had done well for so long. And my dad was a really good provider. We were not rich by any means.

We were certainly lower middle-class, but my dad. We never wanted for anything, not nothing. So I didn’t come from a struggle background, but all around me, I had friends who had struggles financially because I lived in you know Harlem and the median household income probably when I was growing up was in the twenty thousand or something.

Right? And so I knew a lot of  like cagey kinds of ways to get around being broke. I was broke, but I was really very happy because I was pursuing my dreams and I was actually making leeway. So I was on TV, I was writing for Glamour,  for Essence, for Paper magazine. So I was broke, but blissful. Now it’s a really wonderful thing I say in this talk, I would do all these things that I do for free. 

But I don’t fear being broke. And I also do not feel beholden to getting a job that I don’t want or taking on projects that I don’t want. If you ever see me doing anything, any kind of talk, anything that’s work, please know that I’m there because I want to be there. I’m not just there for the money. The money is a big part of it, but that’s the second tier of it.

First is, do I want to do this? Will it make me happy? Will it fulfill me? Am I interested? And then it’s the coin. Then we get into the negotiation, which I love to negotiate too. And that’s something I would say to women, we have to embrace the same way we need to embrace aging. We need to embrace negotiating and asking for money.

It’s a really great feeling knowing that you can go out hunt and forage and then you know, gut the fish and then fry it up in the pan. It’s a really good feeling.

Cindi:  Is that a metaphor?

Bevy: Yes, yes it is because I’m not doing any of those other things, but I do know how to go in negotiate my money, which is why it’s tough for me when I have agents and managers, because I automatically want to get in there and do the negotiating myself. I love it.

Cindi: Yeah

Bevy: I would imagine you love.

Cindi: Yeah, but it’s a hard skill to learn because it can be very scary, you know, and only by doing it over and over and realizing that the world doesn’t end when you say I actually can’t do it for that number. And then often there’s movement after that, that’s the only way it gets less scary.

And it still is sort of scary sometimes

Bevy: Yeah? For you? 

Cindi: Sometimes, yeah. Yeah, I think it’s okay to admit that. I think it is one thing to know that intellectually and, you know, most times in most negotiations, I fully own that and feel that, but I think it’s normal also to have that impulse that we were all taught way too early, that you should be lucky just to be in the room and you have to overcome that.

And take on that attitude of like, you know what, you’re lucky also to be here in the room with me. Um, that’s what allows you to negotiate? 

Bevy: Yeah. 

Cindi: You mentioned before that you thought the fashion industry was changing and I have to ask you because you’ve spent so many years in fashion and fashion has, I think, been often behind a lot of other industries in terms of confronting racism, confronting sexism and making meaningful systemic changes.

Do you feel that it is changing? And where, what kind of report card do you give fashion right now? 

Bevy: Well, I won’t give a high mark in the report card, but I see the changes. I am so elated every time when I am approached by some young Black person that is in a fashion house and has, uh, you know, a vice president plus title.

You know what I mean? Or when I see all the young Black people that at magazines that are like, you know, not just an associate editor and they actually have real big positions. And when I go, when I see all the Instagram and all the young Black people are sitting from well or attending that gala. We were alone in those spaces, me, Emil Wilbekin, the late great André Leon Talley, Bethann Hardison. 

And those are the people that came before me. But like for my group, like Emil Wilbekin and I, we were alone in these rooms and now any young Black person that’s in fashion, there are so many resources and there’s so many people that you can look to now and be inspired by and know that you can do it. But we were just out there charting our own path and figuring it out, you know?

Cindi: Yeah. 

Treasure: The world right now is so crazy and young people like myself, I’m only 22. We’re feeling the anxiety that we have no time. So I really, really resonate with everything you’re talking about of wanting to hit the marks and wanting to be at the CEO level quickly. And so for people like me, for young people that are watching you.

You shared so much wisdom in so many ways for us to, to go through, but if you had to give us one little nugget to walk away with, what would it be? 

Bevy: Um, one little nugget for my babies. You’ve got to figure out what will really truly make you happy and then may not look like what your parents wanted for you.

It may not look like what you see other people doing on social media. You have to, like, really cleave to what you know to be true about yourself. And you have to also forget what the naysayers tell you. You know? People will tell you a lot of different things, but you know, I really do believe in keeping your own counsel when you’re a young person, it’s very important to keep your own counsel.

I also believe in, um, making sure that you have, and I don’t like the word mentor, um, because I feel like it’s not strong enough, but that’s the reason why my book is called, the subtitle is Mutha, Auntie, Bestie. You know, like, you and I have met and, I’ve enjoyed meeting you for these past few days. So I’m your auntie Bev now, but you can literally call me.

Cindi: I will literally call you.

Bevy: Yes. But there’s, there’s a gazillion auntie Bevies in the world that are waiting to embrace you and take you on their wing, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes and you don’t have to go it alone. And I’d say always try and seek out real authentic relationships.

That mentor thing is real tricky. Cause it doesn’t have to be about someone’s stature. Cause that’s why mentoring is like a little, because then it’s like, you’re making a beeline, oh my God, Oprah’s over there. I need to meet Oprah. That’s great. But you could also just meet a nice, lovely woman who has more experience than you, and is willing to share that and that you can actually call. Because, guess what, you ain’t going to be able to call Miss Oprah.

Treasure: To relationships. 

Cindi: Yes. Yes. 

Bevy: So that’s what I would say. And also, but really start trying to dig deep and figure out what you really want and taking those deep breaths and making sure that what you’re thinking what you want, it’s not just what society is telling you that you should. Forget that track. Forget that checklist for, if you make the 30 under 30 lists, that’s cute. 

Great. I’m here to tell you it don’t really mean that much. 

Treasure: You’re gonna upset some people, Bevy. 

Bevy: I know, but it doesn’t really. Because I think about it and I think about so many people that I came through the ranks with. All at the same place at this point. And I might even be doing better than some of them.

And I had a hell, a whole hell of a lot more fun than they did. So I didn’t make any 30 under 30, 40 under 40. They don’t even do 50 under 50, which is a shame, they should do 50 under 50. They should do 60 under 60. I don’t like lists, but.  

Cindi: Thank you so much, Bevy, for being with us. 

Bevy: Thank you my Cindi. Thank you my little Treasure.

Cindi: Bevy Smith is an author, a podcaster, and now Treasure’s auntie. We talked to her in Vancouver at TED 2022, you can hear her TED talk and this year’s other talks on the TED Talks daily podcast. Thanks for listening everybody, and take care of yourself in this tough week.

Brittany: That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

 You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

 Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: May 19, 2022

Tell the Truth to Set Us Free”: Kimberlé Crenshaw on White Supremacy, CRT and Lies

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

TREASURE: Hey everybody, it’s Treasure Brooks. Our friend Brittany is on family leave with her beautiful baby and we’d plan to take this week off from the show. But that was before Saturday. I know you know about Saturday and I know it’s really, really hard to talk about, but we have to talk about it and we’re going to do it together.

So throughout this episode, breathe deep, take pauses when you need, and then come back. Okay. So here are the headlines: on Saturday an 18-year-old, white gunman walked into a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and opened fire, killing 10 people and injuring three, almost all of those people, Black. We don’t have to make guesses about why he did it because he told us. He wanted to kill as many Blacks as possible.

That’s an actual quote. He chose the 14208 zip code because it was the one closest to his home that had the highest percent of Black residents. Y’all there are so many things to think about here, to grieve about. There’s the fact that, like most mass shooters, he bought his gun legally. And this country has still done nothing to stop the sale of weapons used for mass executions.

There’s the white supremacist ideology that he drew on. the so-called replacement theory, which tells white people, they’re being outnumbered and replaced by people of color. And which is supported, not just on fringe corners of the internet, but by members of Congress and mainstream TV hosts. And then there are the lives, the lives of those beautiful people in Buffalo.

Before we go any further, before we go into the episodes. Let’s hold a moment of silence for them.

When the news of the shooting first broke, I read the headline and I put my phone down and I don’t think I picked it up for another couple of days. And it wasn’t because I was desensitized, but because I knew that it was going to take some real time, real reflection, real feeling, to process the horror of what had happened.

And eventually when I finally did make my way back to my phone and spoke to my father, he shared with me that a couple of months ago, he traveled to Buffalo, New York. My father’s a salesman and he was brought to Buffalo, New York more specifically, he went into Tops market.

Knowing that my father had entered the same establishment that this mass shooting would occur months later was gut-wrenching enough. But the full weight of understanding that it could have been any supermarket, that it could have been anyone, gun violence continues to rampage our communities.

Racism continues to plague our lives.

As we go into this episode, I’m thinking of all of you. I’m thinking of every one of you who is feeling this anger, this sadness, this grief.


On the show today, we’re bringing you an interview that Brittany recorded last summer that feels even more relevant now. As you probably know, over the last two years, at least 42 states have considered legislation targeting critical race theory. Legislation that often in practice would restrict the teaching the history of race or racism.

Sixteen of those states have actually passed laws, restricting what teachers can say or teach about race in the classroom. You might think that these debates over education are separate from the murders we saw this week in Buffalo, but, and this is really important. They aren’t separate at all. They draw on a lot of the same theories and fears about white people being replaced or threatened.

Last summer, Brittany sat down with one of the pioneers of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA. At the time, the wave of laws targeting race in the classroom had just begun. Let’s listen in.

BRITTANY: Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, I know you insist on me calling you Kimberlé, but Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, thank you so much for joining us today. 

KIM CRENSHAW: Oh, Brittany, thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. 

BRITTANY: Likewise. First up, we know that Republicans have been coming up with all sorts of wild arguments about what critical race theory is and what it aims to do.

I do want to ask you since you helped coin the term and the framework. What exactly is critical race theory? I want to hear it from you and I want to establish the truth right upfront. 

KIM CRENSHAW: So critical race theory really is a way of analyzing, looking at law’s role in creating both race and racism. It was a product of a second generation of civil rights activists and students and professors who came into the academy, came into law schools right at the moment when the forward momentum  from the civil rights movement was starting to recede. 

A conservative Supreme court was starting to limit the scope of what racial justice could actually achieve through the loss.

So our goal was to understand the ways that law makes racial discrimination appear to be inevitable, that makes racial disparities appear to just be there rather than the product of policies, of practices, of structures that are all legally permissible. And in some ways actually insulated by law. 

I guess the easiest way to put it is. We believe that race is not essential. We believe that race is a fiction, but law has helped turn that fiction into reality. It has helped turn what it means to be Black and what it means to be white into concrete realities that stretch all the way back to 1619, and all the way to this present moment.

That’s what critical race theory is about. 

BRITTANY: This point about what the law has done to create race and racism you said before really helps us understand critical race theory as a way of looking at patterns of inequality and looking at how the law contributed to the subordinate status of Black, brown, and indigenous folks.

KIM CRENSHAW: Exactly. I remember when I was a kid, we thought about law as a justice seeking institution. We thought about law, particularly those of us who were born during the civil rights movement and watched as legal remedies were being offered to dismantle white supremacy. So being a lawyer in my household was associated with appealing to justice, appealing to this institution to help us in our quest for equality, for justice.

So I went to law school, with an intention to learn the magic, learn, you know, what Thurgood Marshall and the legal defense fund and all of these, you know, giants in the field we’re doing to unlock access to institutions, to unlock power, to unlock segregation. And we discovered that actually it was rare that law was actually on our side.

For the most part, law was the institution that determined who was an enslaved person or who was not. Law was the institution that determined that Black women as property, their bodies could be colonized to produce more property because law determined that the offspring of an enslaved woman would be property.

That was a legal rule. People weren’t born, slaves law created slaves out of them. It was law that said that Black people could never be citizens. And that as a group we were enslavable. And our enslavability was a natural feature of who we were as a people. So when I got to learn this stuff, it became obvious to me that the ways that we thought about law was at best partial and incomplete, we needed the whole story.

And so the whole story is, law has enslaved us. Law has sometimes been a tool to help us fight against the contemporary consequences of that past. But law can also turn on, on a dime and justify all sorts of practices that we clearly see as subordinating and contemporary echoes of a white supremacist past.

That’s the fuller picture of law’s relationship to white supremacy. 

BRITTANY: Well, speaking of using the law to protect and preserve white supremacy, of course, the great irony of all of this is that that is precisely what the Republicans are doing. Governor Ron DeSantis said the CRT would teach children that quote, the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.

Just to be clear. And I say this as a former third grade teacher, critical race theory isn’t even being taught in grade schools, correct?

KIM CRENSHAW: Yeah. And, and, and this is the difficulty of the moment, right? Because, A, the right, including the governor of Florida, doesn’t really care about whether they’re telling the truth or not.

We have to remember, these are the same people that are bringing us that lie about the election. These are the same people that are bringing us lies about the January 6th insurrection. So you can’t be surprised that these are the same people that are covering up the truth about our history, the same people that see that promotion of mythology about our past as the key to winning in 2022 and beyond.

I think what we have to do is tell a very complicated truth. And the truth is that classic critical race theory, that’s largely a law school kind of study. It is a field that is in higher education, not so much in K through 12. What is part of K through 12 is critical thinking about race and racism.

By that meaning, racism is not inherent, but racism is real and it has created real consequences, both historically and now. That’s important work that needs to be done. You know, there’s that saying, you know, Brittany, that the truth will set you free. I think we all agree to that; left, center, and right. The difference is that our side wants to tell the truth to set us free.

The other side wants to bury the truth to sustain their access to power and dominance over the rest of us. And that is the terms upon which we have to fight back. 

BRITTANY: So this fight is real. It is vast. And just like Republican lawmakers, fear of trans kids playing sports, this fight and their arguments are not based in fact.

So what is this attack on critical race theory really about? And what do you make of its timing?

KIM CRENSHAW: This has spread like wildfire ever since President Biden rescinded President Trump’s order to ban training around structural racism, implicit bias, diversity, gender equity. I think the timing tells us everything we need to know.

You know, whenever there’s been reform, Brittany, throughout our history there has been retrenchment. One of my first articles was called “Race, Reform and Retrenchment.” And it said we can count on the supporters of the status quo and the right wing to respond to reform as though something has been taken away and they have to correct for the overcorrection.

This is coming on the heels of the mobilization last summer around George Floyd and all of the efforts of people across the country to think more broadly about what the killing of George Floyd told us about the state of structural racism in the country. Students are asking questions. Corporations are even saying We support Black Lives Matter. So how could they respond to it? The other side, they couldn’t say we are anti anti-racist. They couldn’t say we are pro you know, killability of Black people. So they discovered that they could pour all of their resistance in their grievance in this category called critical race theory.

They could just take it and decide what it meant to mobilize people to oppose. 

BRITTANY: So at the end of the day, is all of this distraction and all of this fuss and all of this hubbub really about preserving a white supremacist status quo?

KIM CRENSHAW: Well, you know, it’s hard not to take seriously what they say they’re doing.

So, you know, the promoters of this made up hysteria have said they don’t give an expletive about what really critical race theory is. They’re not trying to think about how a multiracial democracy has to be predicated on all the times in the past that this Republic has been built on the opposite impulse.

They’re not trying to have that conversation. What they’re trying to do is create a mythical story about our past that whitewashes so many of the truths about how we’ve come about. About the fact that the wealth of this country has been built on stealing labor and stealing land and rationalizing that theft by characterizing the people whose land and labor has been stolen as less than white people.

This has been part of our history. So we are at a time where the challenge is taking into account that history in order to understand that the ground that we stand on is ground that has been created out of racist laws in calling that the neutral status quo, the status quo is not neutral. It has been produced by, you know, this past.

So yeah, we are at a period of time where there’s a sense that if we are going to hold on to our myth, we’ve got to shut them down. We’ve got to preclude them from telling our young people the truth. We’ve got to line up behind this so-called patriotic education. And I think the subtext to all of it is what we saw playing out at the Capitol.

When people, you know, invaded the Capitol, they thought that that aggression was self-defense, they thought that something was being taken away from them and that something is this democracy that’s now a multiracial democracy. So at the end of the day, it is about insecurity. It is about grievance and what the right is stoking that insecurity and that grievance. It’s bringing these far right-wing messages into the center of the Republican party. And we have to build a coalition that calls that out and says that the time for the appeal around protecting a notion of white grievance is passed. We can not go back down that pathway anymore.


BRITTANY: Amen. We cannot go on that pathway anymore. I’m wondering what you think about, or if you have any concern that even if these bills to ban CRT and the true teaching of history ultimately don’t succeed that there’s already been a chilling effect on some educational institutions and really how do we combat that?

KIM CRENSHAW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the main point of this really is the chilling effect. We’re already hearing from teachers that they’re taking Alice Walker out of their reading list, that they, they think that they can’t teach the story of Ruby Bridges. We already heard of a teacher in Tennessee who was fired for teaching among other things Ta-Nehisi Coates essays. 

I mean, the backlash is real. There are casualties already and will likely be more so this isn’t theoretical, this isn’t, you know, an exaggeration, the battle is happening as we speak. So yes, I’m deeply concerned about it. And let’s also be clear. This is not just a red state question.

So when President Trump in September signed that executive order, banning, uh, diversity training, banning any institution that is a grantee of the federal government, from teaching these ideas, two things happened. Number one, a lot of the free speech advocates, all the ones who have been telling us throughout the last couple of decades, the response to racist speech, assault to speech, hate speech is just more speech.

You can’t ban it. Suddenly lost their tongues, right? They were not showing up in the way that they should have to denounce this effort to silence conversations about structural racism, but more problematically, higher education, sometimes jumped in an overly aggressive way. So case in point Stanford university issued an edict to say that one could not say on campus that structural racism exists at Stanford, Stanford university.

So there are those who are willing to accept this ban, this gag order. Partly one has to assume because there is ambivalence about whether these concepts actually should be part of higher education, should be debated in classrooms, should find a place in publications in the development of knowledge.

So there are many who we might think of, as you know, our allies. Many folks and institutions who we think would be appalled by this who haven’t been, that’s sobering, but it’s clarifying at the same time. 

BRITTANY: Yeah, it has to be clarifying. It certainly shows us who our friends are and are not.  

On the flip side though, I wonder if we should see this moment as a sign that even against all odds we’re evolving and really that there will be a generation of students who are better educated on these issues than their parents or even their grandparents were. Is there some light of hope there?

KIM CRENSHAW: Yeah. Well, you know, I think, Brittany, that the silver lining is that sometimes the best way to ensure that people will be demanding something is for their elders to try to take it away from them.

So I’m hearing more requests, more “please tell us what critical race theory is.” More Googling around critical race theory in the last six weeks than I’ve seen in the last 30 years. So I do think that the hysteria that the right wing has tried to stoke around critical race theory does have the impact of telling younger generations that there is a there, there. The reality of course, is that we cannot fix problems that we can’t see.

We can’t come up with approaches to dismantling the toxic dimensions that have been placed in our institutions if we’re told that the solution to that toxicity is to not see it, you know, not name it, not develop the tools to remove it. That is how crazy this moment is. And I think there’s an entire generation that’s starting to see this is insane. 

We wouldn’t do this for any other issue we cared about. Like, we put asbestos into our buildings and now we realized that that was toxic. Can you imagine the response being, Okay, well, the solution to asbestos in our institutions is we’re not going to use the word asbestos, we’re not going to talk about it.

We’re not going to look at the architecture to see where it might be hidden. We’re not going to create, you know, experts that can tell us how to get it out and create institutions in which everybody can breathe in a healthy way. We would never do that with a social problem that we really cared about.

So we shouldn’t do it when it comes to dismantling the contemporary dimensions of our racist history. I think young people are seeing that and my hope is that this baton that’s being passed to them is one that they’ll be able to carry to the next generation. 

BRITTANY: Well, before I let you go, I have to tell you that I am grateful that you saw fit to mother this intellectual tradition and so many others.

‘Cause I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to also say that in some ways you’re the godmother of this show. You coined the term “intersectionality.” You built on the scholarship of people like Patricia Hill Collins and so many more to really provide us this framework. And we describe ourselves as an intersectional feminist and womanist podcast.

I really am curious how it feels to see this framework really take off. I mean, there are t-shirts out here, right, that say “If it isn’t intersexual, it isn’t feminism.” Are you hopeful for a truly intersectional future, one we’re solidarity is the norm?

KIM CRENSHAW: Well, I am, I am hopeful, Brittany, and I’m also a realist.

I’m delighted when I see people pick it up, some of the frameworks and the tools. But I also think it is so important that folks recognize that it’s not enough just to use the words “intersectionality” and “critical race theory.” It’s not enough to declare who we are. It’s really not even an identity category.

It’s a practice. It’s a history. It’s a set of tools. It’s a way of reading, a seeing, and an acting. And we have to be about making it clear that our ideas are only as strong as our ability to make sure that the stakeholders are aware of how volatile the situation is, how everyone who has benefited from the opening up of these institutions in these ideas has a stake in defending this work and advancing it forward. 

And importantly, Brittany, I think that we have to understand that nothing is just there to be taken for granted. There are so many dollars being spent, so many resources being spent to take apart these coalitions, take apart these ideas, attack it. 

And our side has to be about investing time, energy, and resources into ensuring that this framework and these ideas and these institutions remain there for future generations to build further into our future. A future that’s worthy of being called a democracy when. 

BRITTANY: Well, I have my marching orders and I’ve got all the inspiration that I need to keep marching.

I am just so indebted to you every day for all that you do for Say Her Name, for your scholarship, for your continued activism and organizing. And I am really, really grateful to know you. And so grateful that you gave us just a bit of your brilliance today. 

KIM CRENSHAW: No, Brittany, I am so delighted to know you, thrilled to be on your show, happy to be passing the baton to this generation.

So I can eventually, you know, sort of go on and retire somewhere. Not, not immediately, but I know that the things will be well with you and your entire generation. So it’s my privilege to join you in this conversation. 

BRITTANY: I am completely floored and honored by that, but we’ll make sure you get time to put your feet up because you more than deserve.

Kimberlé Crenshaw is a professor at UCLA and Columbia Law Schools, a leading scholar of critical race theory and intersectionality and the founder of the African-American Policy Forum.

The truth well, that will set us free. We know it, they know it, and that’s why we have to continue to speak the truth of our racist history and our racist present if we are ever to root out white supremacy. As professor Crenshaw reminds us, race and racism are not natural. There’s nothing inevitable about racial discrimination, but the law and other systems and policies have helped turn the fiction of racial disparity into reality.

Now Republicans with their bizarre attack on critical race theory are trying to preserve the status quo. They are benefited by burying the truth. We can’t let them whitewash our past and we certainly can’t let them reframe themselves as the victims. We have to call this out, as Professor Crenshaw says we cannot fix problems that we can’t see.

We have to name it and never forget we all have a stake in defending the work, the practice of critical race theory. So let’s study up and take action.

Hey, that’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our co-host is Treasure Brooks. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh. 

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: May 12, 2022

“I Want to Raise a Free Black Child”: Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Reginald Cunningham on Parenthood

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. I’m still out on maternity leave. So, I’m co-hosting this episode with the fabulous Treasure Brooks. 

Treasure: Thanks Brittany. This week on UNDISTRACTED, we’re going deep into the laws and the people of one state. 

Brittany: We’re going to Texas, y’all. 

Treasure: Texas has always been large in the life of America.

It’s the largest of the continental states and often boasts that it was once a nation unto itself. Texas has given us four presidents and more importantly, Beyoncé. But last fall, Texas gave us something else. An abortion ban that prohibits the procedures shockingly early in a practice. Other states like North Dakota and Georgia had tried similar six week bands, but the courts had always overturned the laws. They’re unconstitutional under Roe V. Wade. Which despite what you may have heard last week is still the law of the land in May, 2022. But Texas banned abortion in the cruelest possible way. The antiabortion law includes a new provision that allows private citizens to sue people for money if they get an abortion after six weeks. And now Idaho, Oklahoma, Missouri, and more states are following suit with similarly structured abortion bans.

That’s not all that’s happening in Texas under Beyoncé’s wide and high very sky, the state has also threatened to bring child abuse charges against parents who help their trans kids get gender-affirming medical care. And like clockwork, Alabama and Idaho have followed suit. So we decided to take a closer look at Texas because what’s happening there is coming for all of us. Voter suppression, bands on teaching history, the loosening of gun laws. Texas matters, and we’re paying attention.


Treasure: Today, an episode, we’re calling “What the Fuck, Texas?!”. We’re talking to congressional candidates Jasmine Crockett and Jessica Cisneros, and potentially the next governor from the state of Texas Beto O’Rourke. 

Beto: What happens in Texas does not just stay in Texas. This fever dream of radical fringe extremism is being exported to the rest of the country.

Treasure: The first step to stopping that trend is to understand it, which is what we’re going to do this week.

Our first guest today is running in the democratic primary against Texas representative Henry Cuellar. He’s the last anti-choice Democrat in the House of Representatives. In fact, Henry Cuellar is pretty far right on a lot of issues, not just abortion. He’s also voted against climate legislation, received an A rating from the NRA, and voted in favor of building Trump’s Border Wall.

Those factors led Jessica Cisneros to challenge Cuellar back in 2020. And when she came within three points of beating him then, that gave her the fuel she needed to challenge him again this year. Now her odds may be even better. 

Last week’s leaked draft of the Supreme court decision that will likely overturn Roe V. Wade has put Cuellar’s antiabortion position in the spotlight. We wanted to talk to Jessica Cisneros about her primary, the 20th House district in Texas, her work as an immigration attorney, and her surprising connection to her opponent.

You’re running in a primary runoff against your former boss. How did that come to be? 

Jessica: I interned for my current opponent Congressman Cuellar  when I was in undergrad at the University of Texas in Austin. So back in 2012, when DACA had been announced, I was at an internship at the immigration clinic that’s there at the law school.

And I was like, Hey, I got this fellowship. It seems like immigration reform is on the horizon. I want to have a front row seat to see if it actually gets passed in the House and in the Senate. So I’m going to take this opportunity to work in capital health. And I think a lot about this experience, especially when I was deciding to run.

Because as someone who, um, was doing this, like very plugged in, right into politics, it took me having to be in my congressman’s office to actually find out what his political stances were. And you know, how out of sync he was with the values of the district. Like I found out, you know, how, how anti-labor, how anti-reproductive rights, anti-choice.

All the lobbyists that were walking into the office, not being reflective of. like. people back home. There was just so much that I, it was kind of eye opening and, you know, looking back, I was like, well, this isn’t something like it shouldn’t have to take working for your congressmen to find out, you know, what he’s actually doing on Capitol Hill and like how he’s not representing us.

I think the most heartbreaking thing was that I went there, you know, to try to get immigration reform passed. And he was, like, advocating for a piecemeal legislation that, you know, would just throw a lot of people from our community under the bus. But the, the inspiring thing that I did experience while working on Capitol Hill was that I noticed that there was a bunch of 20 something, 30 something years that we’re basically running our government. 

Right? And to me that was like really inspiring because you have a bunch of like these aides and staff on people in people’s congressionals offices. And, you know, it’s amazing the kind of work that they do and the pace that they do it at, and they’re hardworking people.

And to me, when I decided to run, I was like 20 and 30 year-olds run Washington, DC. They run this country. I’m qualified to run for office because, you know, I have the personal and professional experience to be able to advocate for people back home. 

Treasure: Well, I want to lean into that for a second because running against your former boss would be intimidating for literally anyone, but Cuellar is the nine term incumbent.

So could you just tell me a little bit about how you deal with the skepticism around your age and experience level compared to his?

Jessica: I really let my policy and my experience speak for itself. Like, yes, I might be a young attorney, but when you’re talking about professional experience, I just mentioned that I went into immigration advocacy back in 2012.

It’s almost going to be 10 years. Right? Also my personal experience is something that a lot of people, when they decide to vote and trust this campaign, it’s because of that, right? The fact that I was born and raised in this district in Texas 28. In Laredo, Texas, I’m the daughter of immigrants. Like so many people here in this district, it seems like everyone has their own immigration story and we all have our own healthcare story.

And, you know, people are tired, right? That they have to go to Mexico for any kind of healthcare that, you know, we have children. I, my experience was that at 13 years old, I had to fundraise with my family to try to pay for my tia, her, um, cancer treatment. And we just couldn’t afford it. Right. And those are still some of the stories that happen day to day.

And, you know, to let people know this is a policy choice and explain to them why we deserve better. So that really is, you know, our sticking point in our campaign that we deserve someone that’s close to the struggle that understands what that struggle is like, but also understands what the solutions are because obviously the status quo isn’t working for so many people here.

Treasure: The most recent census shows that the Latino population in Texas grew to 40% of the state over the last decade.

And that’s a really important set of voices to hear when we talk about Texas’ influence on America, just the rest of the country at large. Can you talk about how the attitudes about immigration in the state have changed from when you were growing up to now, when you’re out there talking to people in your district? 

Jessica: You know, here in Laredo, it really does seem like everyone has their own immigration story, whether it’s themselves or their parents or their grandparents, like we’re right next door to Mexico.

Um, a lot of my childhood was spent, you know, going back and forth, visiting family, but always sleeping at home. Right? ‘Cause it’s just a very transnational area of the country. And beautifully bicultural. And I don’t think personally, like people have changed. I have noticed, obviously since Donald Trump was elected.

But a lot of the media coverage has definitely changed. And there seems to be a very hyper fixation on what’s happening here in the border. You know, we kind of get seen as like an area of the country where, um, migrants or immigrants come through to make it into, deeper into the United States, but they don’t really talk about what border community life and you know, is like. Right?

We’re not just a gateway for immigrants, which is something that we’re proud of because again, of our history, but we also have a community that just lives here and prospers here. And a lot of the focus that I have in any kind of work that I do, whether it be, you know, being an immigration attorney or talking about, you know, what life is like here on the border is that I don’t want people to forget that, you know, we live here and have communities.

Um, and to see us as part of this country that deserves, you know, continued investment and more investment and not just look at us as a place that has to be dealt with, or that the only kinds of investments that we are worth are, you know, further militarization and more surveillance and you know, more private prisons.

Like, no, we deserve more education. We deserve, you know, more infrastructure. We deserve investments in our health care. 

Treasure: I want to understand a bit better in regards to how the country at large is viewing the situation at the border. What is the state now? What should we understand about the border now that we still don’t even following the Trump presidency?

Jessica: I mean, there’s a lot of politicians that just for, you know, political points, um, continue using us as like a punching bag and the news that came out that Greg Abbott was calling for further inspections, um, along the bridge. And, um, for that, that for us means like our life gets interrupted, right? Because it adds additional traffic time.

And I think that for us, it’s really disheartening, um, to continue seeing a lot of the things that got started under the Trump administration at the stroke of a pen are really difficult in practice to be able to stop them. And I want people to know that, you know, we didn’t get here overnight. What made Trump possible?

A Trump presidency possible didn’t happen overnight. It was a lot of action and inaction that led us to this point, despite Trump not being in office anymore. An example of this is that there’s still parts of the border wall that are going to go up here in my hometown. We’ve never had border wall, a border wall here.

Um, but because of, you know, steps that Donald Trump took while he was in office, it became really difficult for us to be able to stop it. Um, despite, you know, efforts on behalf of the Biden administration. And it’s infuriating for us to know that our congressmen had part in that, right? 

That he voted to approve border wall funding along our district multiple times. And although he pays lip service to say like, no, I’m against the wall. When you take a look at votes like that is not the case. And right now we’re at a really good position to, you know, still try to prevent, you know, Donald Trump or the next Donald Trump from taking over our country, especially with our democracy on the line.

Um, right now, But we cannot let this opportunity pass.

Treasure:  I want to understand a bit better what differences you’ve seen in the Biden administration regarding border policy. 

Jessica: There were some changes that made it, um, a little bit. I don’t want to say easier, but people became more, more reasonable, I guess when it came to advocating for immigrant families and for people in detention.

Whereas before, it was nonsensical. Like I truly cannot describe it because even I, as like an immigrant, as someone that has been doing immigration work for a very long time, when I first started working on this, um, kind of human rights work, I truly could not comprehend like what I was supposed to do on behalf of my clients, because when you read the law and then figure out what the Trump administration’s interpretation of it was, it just absolutely did not make sense.

It was like upside down world, essentially. A lot of immigration attorneys, like very, very close to burnout because we literally felt like our hands were tied and we couldn’t do anything on behalf of people that we cared about versus now. I mean, it’s still very, very difficult because a lot of those interpretations that I mentioned that didn’t make sense in immigration law are still there, but I think what people are bracing themselves for obviously 2024 is still a couple of years out.

But, you know, if we do get another Trump presidency, if that is a possibility, like, what does that mean, right? On behalf of our clients, on behalf of the work that we do. 

Treasure: In regards to Texas politics in general, what is the future progressive politics there? Your opponent has been endorsed by speaker Nancy Pelosi, even though he tends to vote with Republicans and as she put it, she supports all the incumbent Democrats quote from right to left.

There is obviously a giant rift between the old guard and the new, between moderates and progressives in your party. So what do you think Democrats need to do to up their game in Texas? 

Jessica: I think it’s also very motivating to me and inspiring to me to think what effect this campaign could have, not just to like in two years, But a win here, what it could mean for the next decade for progressive politics here in Texas and in south Texas, the reason why we have been very successful I think is because of two things and both of them are centered around people.

The first one is obviously our people-centered policy, which, you know, we are fighting for Medicare for all. We are fighting for a $15 minimum wage. We’re fighting for our reproductive freedom. We’re fighting for, you know, safe and livable environment. And that includes clean water, which unfortunately you would think that that’s a basic right, that everybody should have access to, but there’s areas in the country, including Laredo, Texas, where we don’t have, you know, very reliable access to clean water.

But the other thing that I want people to also take a look at is our people-centered campaign. To see people that originally started off maybe two years ago, you know, being really shy. That was their first kind of political event that they had gone to. ‘Cause they were like, I don’t know if politics is a space for me.

All of a sudden being at these events and they’re frequent, uh, supporters that come out and that’s exciting because that means that there’s growth. Like we meet the effort to let people know that this space, because they are residents here because they live here, they belong in these spaces because these are spaces where policy is being created or being talked about.

That is going to affect them. 

Treasure: I’m wondering what other sort of precedents you think are possible through this campaign? Because other states have recently been looking to Texas as a sort of legislative role model and following in its footsteps, mostly for somewhat negative policy. So we’ve seen it happen with copycat attempts to ban abortion and to arrest trans people more recently.

But do you think that there’s potential for Texas to lead, you know, in a really positive way to offer a blueprint for radical unnecessary change 

Jessica: Part of the challenges, um, that we have been facing as a grassroots campaign here is, um, the lack of political infrastructure and Cuellar has never been in a runoff, like what do we expect?

But I do hope that, you know, when we are successful, that people kind of take a look that despite the odds, despite people telling me from the very beginning that this was going to be impossible, um, that we showed them that it is possible. And if we can do it here in south Texas, it could probably be replicated elsewhere in this case.

Treasure: Jessica that gave me chills. Cuellar never been in a runoff. I think it’s, I think that’s so interesting because everyone’s focusing on the ways that this is, you know, unprecedented territory for you and you being new to this and relative to him, but really this is, this is new for everyone involved, which means that there’s such robust possibility for Texas, regardless of the outcome, though.

I personally cannot wait to see what happens on May 24th. It strikes me that like a few guests on our show. Cori Bush from Missouri, Morgan Harper from Ohio. You lost your first race and decided to run again. Is there anything that you would want a young person, maybe, especially a young woman who’s interested in politics that is listening to this episode to know as they consider a career in politics?

Jessica: Yes. That they can do it. That there’s no specific roadmap to get involved in politics. As long as you are someone that exists where you exist, like you should be able to have a say in the policy that affects you and those around you, I’m not your traditional politician, right? I’m a young 28 year-old Latina from the border. 

But I know that my professional and my personal experiences are valid. And that’s what I tell our fellows. And, um, you know, any young volunteer for a campaign that your lived experience is valid and like, no one can take that from you. No one can take your experiences from you and you can talk about that. And people always tell you that things are going to be impossible.

You just got to say, watch me, right? Like, I’m going to be able to do this. I know that I can do that. I am really proud to lead a team that’s composed of young people. You know, sometimes we like sit down, we get along really well. We sit down, we look around and we’re like, isn’t it funny? We’re like striking fear into the heart of, you know, so many older people, um, who have told us that, like we can’t, you know, do this.

And to be as successful of a campaign that we’ve been able to, to get so close to winning is just really validating and gratifying. And we just owe it to like all these people that are supporting us every single step of the way. From here until election day, which is actually going to be my birthday. I’m turning 29 on May 24th.

Um, it’s going to be an exciting day and it’s gonna, it’s gonna be a beginning for so many things that’s gonna happen here in south Texas. 

Treasure: Yes, it’ll be your birthday. That’s so, that is a good sign. And anyone who has any reservations about your age, you’ll be at least one year older when you finally step into the role

Jessica: That’s right. 

Brittany: Thanks so much, Jessica. 

Jessica: Thank you so much.

Brittany: Jessica Cisneros is a candidate for Congress in Texas’ 28th district where she faces a runoff election in the democratic primary on May 24th. She’s been endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Treasure: Coming up, Brittany will be talking to Jasmine Crockett about the Texas lawmaker walkout to protect voting rights. And Beto O’Rourke will join us to tell us about his vision for a new Texas and his campaign for governor. That’s right after this break.

And we’re back. There’s another Texas-sized election happening on May 24th. Like Jessica Cisneros, Jasmine Crockett is also in a runoff election. For her, a seat in Dallas and its southern suburbs. She’s been endorsed by the outgoing Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson to succeed her. Jasmine currently serves in the Texas House where last year she was one of the lawmakers who left the state to try to block the passage of new voting restrictions.

A bill called SB1, eventually though, SB1 did make its way through the pink dome, that’s what Texans call their State House, to become law. It limits voting by mail and introduces the threat of jail time for election officials who distribute applications for mail-in ballots among other restrictions. In short Jasmine and her colleagues were right.

It’s a disaster and it matters way beyond Texas’ borders. Brittany talked to Jasmine about what she’s doing about tht. 

Brittany: Listen. I mean, the people need to know we are both from St. Louis, which means we had automatic kinship when we met, but we were like sitting on a rooftop about to do “The Cross Connection” on, on MSNBC, our girl, Tiffany Cross’ show.

And we both looked at each other likeI know you. And it turned out not only do we know each other, we knew all the same people. 

Jasmine: Absolutely. People wouldn’t believe it if we told them, but like literally, like we both not only grew up in St. Louis, but we went to somewhat of rival high schools. 

Brittany: I know, listen, when you are Black and going to private school, you end up connecting no matter what.

It’s like, we gotta, we gotta look out for each other, right? 

Jasmine: Absolutely. 

Brittany: Ain’t too many of us, it ain’t too many of us, but you took that good St. Louis fire all the way to Texas where you have been doing some incredible work, um, in the state legislature. And I think you might be familiar to some of our listeners because you were part of the delegation of representatives that left the State House in order to block a proposed voter suppression law.

Tell me about that move. What were you opposing and why did you have to take it that far?

Jasmine: Yeah. You know, what’s so funny is that the Republicans kept saying, oh, y’all are just being dramatic. And people really did not understand how bad things were in the Texas House. And so with me being a freshmen, with me being a civil rights lawyer. 

And with me being the only Black person that was newly elected to the State House, I didn’t understand what was going on. I was like, is this what y’all do every session? Like y’all just violate rights all the time. Constantly making this state not be as great as it should be by turning back the hands of time?

And so what people don’t get is. And maybe they did after the fact, right?  But like there was an attack on reproductive rights. There was an attack on trans children. There were, um, terrible gun laws that they were passing. Like they were doing so many things not to mention as a civil rights lawyer, how hard I fought a bill that actually increased the punishment for protesters from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

And so there were just bad laws everywhere you looked. And no one was really saying anything. It was like, well, this is business as usual. And so for me, I was like, this feels like an abusive relationship. I really feel like we need to stand up, if for nothing else, democracy. 

Like we may not be on the same page on guns or repro or whatever, but can we at least be on the same page as it relates to our democracy itself? And so that was when, it literally was an uprising. A number of us were like, um, we may need to go. And ultimately we did.

Brittany: I’m amazed that people act as though the most fundamental right of being able to have a voice in one’s democracy and the direction of one’s country is being dramatic. Especially, with the fact that some folks call Texas the most difficult place in the country to vote. I mean, during the primaries, we saw some precincts had to close for part of election day because they didn’t have enough poll workers and in the county where Houston is 35% of mail-in ballots we’re rejected, likely because of a new confusing rule about which ID you can use to vote. So, I guess really the question is what is the status of voting access in Texas right now?

Jasmine: We kept saying this is voter suppression. And so you’re right, now ultimately the bill looked a little different when it finally than what they initially tried to do. But still it had plenty of daggers. It was still really awful. As you already stated, Texas already made it harder than any other state to vote. 

And what I kept trying to let people know is just that so long as Texas goes blue, the Republicans never get the White House back.

Like they don’t, there is no map for them. So everyone was invested in making sure that Texas doesn’t start to reflect who they are. Because when you look at the demographics of Texas, our demographics more closely aligned with California than they do Mississippi. Okay. And so with that diversity that we have, you know, 95% of the growth in the state of Texas in the last decade was due to people of color.

That’s what was so scary for them. They also recognize that Trump only won this state by five points. That was a really scary thing for them. And so they decided let’s make it more difficult. 

Brittany: I mean, this moment that the democratic caucus leaves the state is to show how definitely serious you all are about protecting and preserving democracy and protecting marginalized communities.

It’s also part of the reason why we wanted to name this episode “WTF, Texas” because there’s just so much happening there, right? I mean, it’s voting issues, like you said, it’s abortion and reproductive justice. It’s immigration, climate, trans rights, critical race theory, history, education, textbooks, like everything is happening in Texas. 

And the GOP is really using Texas as a battleground in, in the culture war that they want to create and then try to win. Right? And so you’re in the midst of a primary runoff campaign. What has it been like campaigning, especially during this time when Texas is a microcosm of every culture war the GOP is fighting on in every front..

Jasmine: Yeah, so it’s so interesting because you’re right. We left the state, went to DC and so I really have been away from home. Home for me now is Dallas. And so I wasn’t. I wasn’t communicating like face-to-face. Right? Like I wasn’t seeing my people to know, like, do y’all see what’s going on. Because like, when you’re under the pink dome, like you don’t know who’s paying attention.

Most people aren’t streaming the floor. And so as I’ve been out, it has been so encouraging to hear from people, things like thank you for what you’ve done. People are like, we can’t believe as a freshmen, you went down there and you were so bold, but I was like freshman or senior member, I was elected to do a job.

And my job is to represent for my district. 

Brittany: Yeah. I am continuously amazed by the kind of pushback that folks like, you get just trying to do the right thing because of the size of Texas, the history of Texas, the incredible diversity of Texas. If you all can reverse the trend and start to get it right, then you all really have the potential to be a role model in a positive way for the rest of the country.

Jasmine: Oh, absolutely. We absolutely could. I mean, you know, listen, everybody thinks of Texas and they think of oil and gas, right? Most people don’t recognize that we actually lead in wind production, as well. And so, yeah, it’s crazy that in the energy producing state, we couldn’t keep our lights on. No one thinks about Texas potentially being a leader on, on climate, but we absolutely have everything that we need to be a potential leader, even in that space.

Brittany: Let’s talk about teachers for a second. So in December, Texas Republicans passed a law that restricts educator’s ability to talk about what they call critical race theory. We of course know that CRT is not actually what’s being targeted here, but it’s because it’s not generally taught outside of, you know, some law schools, not even all.

But this legislation is actually going to stifle the teaching of history in this country about enslavement, about racism, about queer folks, about the contradictions that were present at the founding of this country. I want to read a quote from the new law. It says “a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs”. 

So it just has the potential to restrict a huge range of learning that can be defined after the fact, like if a school decides slavery is controversial, you know, a teacher can just toss it out. Is that what we’re really talking about? I just, I want to know your thoughts on this and what the, what the ramifications of a law like this have for future generations of Texans.

Jasmine: No, you’re, listen, you hit the nail on the head. Part of what they’re doing with these laws is they are leaving them very wide and ambiguous, so that whomever wants to do whatever, um, they are allowed to do it. Right? So, and by that, I mean that the enforcement piece of this is left up to whomever to say, well, I don’t like you talking about that.

I remember when the law first passed about critical race theory, most people, first of all, it’s not critical race theory. I just want to put that out there. 

Brittany: Hello.

Jasmine: I just want to put it out there. It is the umbrella of what they’re calling it, but let me talk about what the law actually does beyond even what you just mentioned.

You know, this law actually takes away the ability of students to receive credit for, say working in my legislative office, which I had 26 interns, um, they’re not allowed to do that. We had EMTs that were very upset by this law because now those students that would have been earning credits for trying to work towards getting certified as an EMT, they’re not able to do that either because of the way that this law written.

None of this has anything to do with critical race theory. So I do want to be clear that this law does so many other things that literally have nothing to do with race, but on top of that, we’re experiencing a teacher shortage.

Imagine that, right? Like they just can’t do the job because they can’t survive or they’re doing the job and they’re trying to survive, but they’re constantly having to take their money and pour it in to make sure that their students have they need, right? So we were already having problems, right?

Like already a multitude of problems. And now you’ve decided that you want to tie their hands and you don’t want them to actually teach.Those teachers that care about that part., those are the ones that are like, I’m done because that’s not why I came to do this in the first place. And to threaten them with potential incarceration or fines and things like that.

I mean, you are, you’re making it impossible. And literally the governor the other day, maybe like a week or two ago, put something out about the teacher shortage. Well, duh, like it, because it’s even worse now. Like people are like, forget it. Like we’re good. Like we don’t wanna deal with that. 

Brittany: Going back to voter suppression for a second.

When we talk about the most disenfranchised voters, we’re talking about your constituents currently, your future constituents potentially. Um, because we’re talking about Black voters, I’m curious, what’s at stake for Black voters in Texas, even beyond voter suppression. Um, in the 2022 general elections in the fall.

Jasmine: Yeah. I mean, what I’m probably most perturbed about besides just kind of the voter suppression really is everything that happens when it came down to redistricting, uh, that truly silenced us.  That was the point and they got it done. Right? As I mentioned before, 95% of the growth was due to people of color, yet when we got the two new seats that were earned because the state of Texas did grow, I think we added about 4 million people in the last decade.

And so with that growth though, they decided that the two new seats were going to go to Anglo majorities. And if this is what your state officials do with you and did it boldly unabashedly. So imagine what they do when no one’s paying attention. Right? And so, you know, for me, the stakes are so high because we are talking about so many equity issues.

I talked about education. Was there a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown students? There, there absolutely was. Right? Um, these schools already were behind. They already were even more underfunded than some of our other schools. Even when we talk about repro rights, when we look at who is disproportionately affected in a negative way, it is going to be Black and Brown women.

Right. And so what we’re looking at is more policies along the lines of what we got. 

Brittany: Yeah. I, I do want to end on a hopeful note. What do you think, uh, Texas has to offer other states by way of example? Uh, what do you think Texas has the potential to really be a leader on? 

Jasmine: So definitely I think we have the potential to be a leader in the green space.

I mean, when you look in Texas, the reason for our growth has been that we’ve been able to attract so many businesses. Now, granted, they don’t want those people say from Tesla in California to participate in the electoral process. Right? But we were able to attract Tesla 

When it comes to technology overall, Austin is one of our huge leaders. And then I had an opportunity to sit down and have dinner with the ambassador from Taiwan just this last week. And so I also was able to learn about some of the Taiwanese companies that are right here in Texas. So let’s get smart about who we trade with. So it’s those kinds of things that we really could be doing better on.

And I think Texas can lead the way on those things. 

Brittany: Jasmine, I always appreciate talking to you and thanks for all that you are doing, Not just for Texas, but to drive all of us forward.

Jasmine: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Brittany: Jasmine Crockett is a civil rights attorney and a candidate for Congress in Texas’ 30th district.

Treasure: This whole episode, we’ve been talking about the ways in which Texas has been a testing ground for repressive policies and laws and the ways in which it could be leading instead. Now we turn to Beto O’Rourke. He’s run races up and down the Lone Star State. He served in Congress, nearly beat Ted Cruz for a Senate seat, threw his hat in the ring for the presidency in 2020, and is now running to unseat Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Abbott has become a national figure for his cruel policies on trans children, reproductive rights and more. Beto was hoping to reverse those injustices. Brittany sat down with him to hear more.

Brittany: So I guess the real question for starters is like, why governor and why right now?

Beto: Texas is a state whose governor has prohibited women from making their own reproductive health care.

Texas is a state whose governor is pursuing the families of transgender children at a time that we actually have a real crisis within child protective services, 30,000 kids in the foster care system. Texas is a state that, that literally could not keep the lights on. When temperatures dropped last year and more than 700 Texans lost their lives during that time.

So there’s a lot of bad things going on, but there are also a lot of great things that we could do for one another. Namely, focusing on the things that bring us together at a moment that Texas, as well as the country has never been more divided or more polarized.

Brittany: Are there specific lessons from these last two runs that you feel like will benefit the people of the people of Texas this time around, especially, I mean, to your point with just so much on the line. 

Beto: It’s all about people. And as long as that is the focus, the, the people of Texas, by whom, with whom and for whom we are doing this, we’re going to win.

And we’re not only going to win, we’re going to be able to get this state on the right track. And that was a huge lesson learned from 2018 that we didn’t defeat Ted Cruz. We really transformed the electorate of the state of Texas. You had young voter turnout up over 500%. You helped to flip control of the United States Congress because we helped elect new Democrats, replacing Republicans there. 

12 new democratic state legislators, 17 African-American women elected to judgeships in Harris County alone. It was extraordinary, Brittany; and it was all made possible by the people who reached out and connected with their fellow Texans. They decided their own future, our own future together.

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, you can hear it just like coming out of your pores, how much you love Texas. I like Texas too. Right? I’ve been, I’ve been all over the state. San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston. I haven’t been to your beloved El Paso, hopefully very soon, 

Beto: We’re waiting. We’re waiting.

Brittany: But sometimes, I’m like does Texas like me, right? Because from where I sit, I keep watching Texas be the sort of testing ground for pretty much every culture war facing the country.

You’ve talked about, a bit of it, abortion, critical race theory, trans rights, immigration, the climate. So much of it seems to start in and center on Texas and then other states will follow suit in some of the worst ways possible. Why has the GOP been using Texas as, as a ground zero of sorts?

Beto: Yeah. You’re so right.

And everything you enumerated, um, is right on the money. And I would add to that our gun laws, or I guess, lack thereof have produced, uh, one of the worst situations for any people in any state in terms of the level of gun violence. All of that producing, obviously, more gun violence today. So your, your very excellent question is why in the world is all this happening and is that reflective of who we are in the state of Texas? I think this is all a result of more than 30 years of nearly unilateral Republican control of the state.

Um, a Republican majority and Republican governor that have severely constrained the electorate, like literally functionally disenfranchising millions of Texans. Brittany, in 2020, obviously the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes, 7 million eligible Texans did not cast a ballot. And it’s not because they’re lazy.

It’s not because they don’t love democracy. It is because we’ve literally drawn our elections in such a way that we disempower voters, primarily voters of color, young voters, very old voters, voters with, um, hardships and disabilities and make it harder than in any other state for them to participate in their own democracy.

But you’re also right that what happens in Texas does not just stay in. This fever dream of radical fringe extremism is being exported to the rest of the country. And so what happens in Texas is of critical interest to anyone anywhere across the United States of America. But my bet and the bet being placed by the people in this campaign is on the people of Texas, because our government is not who we are.

Certainly not right now. And I’m convinced that if enough of us register, turnout, and vote, we’re going to see a Texas that’s far more reflective of who we really are at our best, focusing on the big things that bring us together and rejecting these radical policies and the culture war stuff, and people trying to make you afraid of others in your own community.

Finding a way to bring us back together again, and represent with pride, who we really are. 

Brittany: I mean, we’re talking about your vision for Texas. But we still gotta, you still gotta get elected first, right? Like this is, this is the work of right now. How do you sway conservative voters who believe flat out that the establishment or anyone who doesn’t agree with them is lying.

And also progressive voters who may have justifiably lost faith in the system or the establishment ability to execute on the things that matter, I mean, is, is bringing those two groups together, even part of your strategy?

Beto: It’s not as impossible as many might think. I have found as I’ve traveled the state and listened to the people of Texas, that there’s a lot more that we hold in common than would otherwise separate or divide us.

So Brittany, this last week I spent in some of the smallest and most rural and some would say reddest counties in the state of Texas. And as you know, Brittany, one of the, uh, one of the things I talk a lot about on the road is the need to end the prohibition of marijuana. To make it legal and to expunge the arrest records of anybody who was caught in possession of a substance that’s legal, and most of the rest of the country.We were in this town only, and this guy approaches me at the end of the meeting and he’s a Republican, he’s a barber.

And he says, I’m the only barber in 50 miles. And he said, you would not imagine the hoops through which I have to jump to get my license, just to cut people’s hair in this community. And he said a lot of that has to do with the fact that in 1970, more than 50 years ago, I was arrested for possession of marijuana.

And now anytime I’m trying to get a loan Anytime I’m trying to get certified for anything, anytime I’m trying to get a license for anything, I’ve got to check a box saying that I’ve got that conviction. So here was another guy, a Republican in a rural community who said, hey, this guy Beto is talking about my life.

And what’s important to me. 

Brittany: When you talk about going to some of these places, a progressive politician is going to have a very different experience than a politician in, say, a solidly blue state might talking about some of those issues that are not the bread and butter issues. Right? So conversations about critical race theory or the teaching of accurate history. Is there less opportunity to get into nuance and kind of more table setting that has to be done to get everyone on the same page?

Or is there a, a particular approach that you take to having those conversations? 

Beto: It’s such a, it’s such a thoughtful question. Yes. I mean, this is an issue that demands thoughtfulness. And yet we are in an age where, you know, you say anything beyond 30 seconds. I don’t know if people are still paying attention afterwards.

And it’s why these attacks from the right on socialism on, um, you know, policing and crime on, uh, You know, CRT are so damn effective because they don’t require much thought. They require an instinctual emotional response based in fear. And so it’s interesting, I just got this question about fully learning and understanding our history and our story.

And I said, look, El Paso of all cities in the state of Texas has so much damn amazing history that we are proud of, that we should make sure that we teach. And I talked about Thelma White who in 1954, graduated from the all Black, uh, high school in El Paso because it was the only school she was allowed to attend, try to enroll at Texas Western College. Was rejected because of her race.

Then, uh, employed Thurgood Marshall and along with the NAACP, uh, fought the segregation in public higher ed in Texas and won the battle and was able to integrate all higher ed in Texas. She was 18 years old. She had just graduated from high school and I said, listen, if Thelma White in ‘54 was strong enough to lead that battle and just absolutely change what was possible in Texas. 

Then our kids certainly are strong enough to learn her story. And so let’s stand up for ourselves at this moment and let’s acknowledge that part of what makes us so great as a country is our ability to learn our history. And part of what has made this such a challenging time is a rejection of history and understanding people’s stories and the full, true story of this country.

We’re never gonna make it. We’re never going to get better if we don’t take the time to listen and learn. So we’re strong enough for this. So yeah, it’s a conversation we need to have. And when we lay out the facts and when we speak with pride about who we are, even in learning the things that are really difficult and even sometimes shameful, I think we’re going to find that there’s a majority there who wants to do the right thing.

Brittany: Uh, before I let you go, I have to ask, what do you hope will be true about Texas, say like ten years from now, right? Where does your, your political imagination take you in terms of what’s possible for your home state? 

Beto: You know, right now, at least in our political leadership, we really seem to be defined by fear.

You have a governor echoing the former president who warns of invasions of people coming here from other countries. You’ve got a governor who wants to scare you about transgender kids, and in fact has criminalized those families. This outline of abortion in the epicenter of a maternal mortality crisis that is three times as deadly for Black women. 

This is not making us better. This is certainly not bringing us together. And this is absolutely unreflective of who we are, certainly who we are at our best. So here’s what I hope for. And here’s what I think we’re going to be able to make happen in the state of Texas. 

A state that is defined not by its fears, but by its ambitions and the aspirations of its people, a state that wants to lead in every category for the best reasons, the kinds of jobs that we’re creating, our ability to expand our energy leadership beyond just oil and gas to the renewable energy resources that make us energy independent from the rest of the world and allow us to confront a climate disaster before it’s too late. 

A state that realizes this country’s foundational aspirations. Like the fact that all of us should be treated equally under the law.

We’re nowhere close to that yet, but we can be, I would love Texas to take the lead in this regard,  I want this state to be defined by its great size and a reminder that we are big enough for all of us and for our dreams and for the hard work that it takes to bring those dreams to pass. So I think there’s so much to be excited for, uh, in, in our future here in Texas, but we have to do the work now to make sure that we can realize it. 

Brittany: Thanks for everything that you’re doing as you crisscrossed the state and talk about not just your vision for what Texas can be and what America can be, but all of the many ways that you are employing the imagination of the people to get you there. I appreciate you.

Beto: I’m really, really, really grateful to you. And not just for this opportunity to talk with you over the course of this interview, but just over the years, everything that you helped me to understand and to learn. And thank you again for letting me join you on this, on this show today,

Brittany: Beto O’Rourke is a candidate for governor in Texas. In his attempt to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, he set the record for most votes ever cast for a Democrat in a Texas midterm election.

Beto is so right. So much about our political leadership is defined by fear. If fear is dangerous for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it feeds on itself. If you can be made to be afraid of people different from you, instead of feeling bonded to them, tied to them, then you can be divided. And if you can be successfully divided, then it’s easier to ignore or even support policies that deepen those divisions. 

And when the deep divisions are protected by statute, the powerful get even more and the rest of us get shit. And it really is all the rest of us because in the end, if they can come for trans rights and abortion rights and voting rights and school curriculum, then they can come for you, too. If you think you are protected from the people who want to steer the ship to turn a profit for themselves.

You are sorely mistaken. To those powerful forces, we are all expendable. The path forward has to be lit with the leadership of a new era of politicians who aren’t concerned with profit with people. Beto, Jasmine, Jessica— they’re vying to be those kinds of leaders. The kind that gives people hope, which is the only thing that can drive out fear.

So I’ll be watching Texas all year long and I hope you do too, because what happens there matters. I’ll be rooting for hope. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky.  

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.



What Happens Now? Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman on the Future of Abortion

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. Now, you know, I’m on parental leave, which has been such an incredible joy. A bit of a sleepless joy. But listen, every time I look in baby M’s eyes and I watch these bright beautiful eyes of his just discover the world for the first time. I know everything is going to be okay. And I need that reminder because as the world keeps turning, rough things keep happening.

Something happened this week. Y’all know what happened this week, and I knew we needed to talk about it. So I wanted to pop back in for a second. Late Monday night, while we all thought we were just going to be watching pretty dresses on the Met Gala red carpet, Politico published a document that had been leaked from the Supreme court.

The draft of an opinion showing the court is planning on overturning Roe v. Wade. They took a preliminary vote and it looks like this is the direction things are moving in. Now I want to be clear. Abortion is still legal. If you have an appointment for reproductive care, you can keep it. This is just a draft, but I have to tell you how I felt when I read that news alert.

Like a lot of you, I felt unsurprised and still absolutely enraged. And in particular, I felt the fire of a thousand generations past rising up in me. When I read these words from Justice Alito in the draft. And while some rights are quote “Not mentioned in the Constitution, any such rights must be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.”

Y’all know what other rights aren’t deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition, right? Of course you do. Like, you know, I don’t know, marriage equality. Women and Black folks voting. Indigenous personhood, access to birth control, integrated schools. Hell, I would be three-fifths of a person as far as our history and tradition is concerned.

And that’s exactly why he’s saying it this way. And Justice Alito and his little friends, they know that. This is all purposeful. This kind of constitutional originalism is just code for white supremacist patriarchy. And this has been their plan for literal decades. To come for all of us. You know, when the religious right lost their battle to keep schools segregated years later, they picked abortion as their favorite little wedge issue.

I mean, what the hell is a human right if it can just be washed away with the stroke of a white dude’s pen and a few votes, mostly from dudes. But here’s the thing, and there is a thing. Organizers and activists, advocates have been warning us of this for years. And I, for one, have been listening, I knew it was going to rain.

So, I pack an umbrella. We’ve been talking about abortion at UNDISTRACTED since day one. On purpose. And last December, we had a very special conversation on this issue that really, really moved me. I’ve been revisiting that episode for the last few days to pull strength and inspiration and, and most importantly action.

So, I wanted to share some of that with you too. And I hope that it does the same for you because y’all we need all the strength we can get right now. Despair is tempting, but it’s not an option. When we choose despair, the opposition wins. But we are UNDISTRACTED.

Back in December of last year, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And a few days later, reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman was on the steps of the Supreme Court rallying thousands of people in support of Roe. The speakers told their abortion stories, making very clear what the stakes would be if the courts ruled against Jackson Women’s Health and overturn Roe v. Wade.

Ayanna Pressley: These policies are intended to trap the most marginalized in systems of oppression and poverty. None of this is by happenstance.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Today, thanks to what we now know about the Supreme Court’s plans, none of this is hypothetical. Sometimes they do you a favor when the opposition tells you their plans, we know this is real, and that makes the conversation I had at the end of last year with Renee and Gloria Steinem even more salient. 

Gloria Steinem, of course, is a journalist and activist. An absolute legend who’s been at campaigning for reproductive freedom for more than half a century.  In 1972, she and 52 other women published an open letter in Ms. magazine titled “We have had Abortions”. And Renee Bracey Sherman is a legend in the making. She’s also known as the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling. We’ll get into why in a minute. 

She’s the founder of the organization We Testify, which is dedicated to shifting people of color, queer, and young voices to the forefront when it comes to conversations about abortion. Here’s the conversation we had last December when the case was first.

Gloria, it’s 1972, almost 50 years ago, exactly. and you and 52 other women publish that now famous open letter in the first ever issue of Ms. magazine, titled “We have had Abortions”. Put us back in that place. Can you tell me a little bit about the choice to write that manifesto?

Gloria Steinem: A lot of us doing that manifesto had probably already learned in our lives that telling our stories was the most powerful thing we could do.

You know, there’s the saying of telling me a fact and I’ll forget, tell me a story and I’ll always remember. It also made into a coherent group, people who might’ve felt isolated before. I mean, there’s nothing more important as a starter than being honest about our stories, telling our stories and sharing it with other people.

But within the magazine was an outgrowth of that because obviously we couldn’t print everybody’s stories. But we could at least offer to print everyone’s names, which of course was brave of them to do at that point, because it was still illegal. And we were inspired by Simone de Beauvoir who Uh, done this in France and inspired a whole, uh, you know, hundreds, if not thousands of women to sign.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Sure. And so the context of this, like you said, is incredibly dangerous. Tell us a little bit more about what the abortion landscape was in the moment that you are responding to it with this, with this powerful open letter. 

Gloria Steinem: At that point, it varied from state to state, but it was mostly illegal. And the names of doctors who would do this safely were passed around like very precious secrets and we helped each other to find transportation and safety and accompany each other, you know?

I mean, it’s so crazy when you think about it, because actually our bodies and controlling our own bodies, male and female, is the basis of democracy. If we’re missing one thing, it’s the rock bottom statement. If we don’t have power to decide the fate of our own bodies, there is no democracy. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That is the rock bottom statement.

So this article in Ms. magazine, it certainly creates a storm of controversy, but it also creates a great deal of awareness that helps put on pressure for those folks in those marble buildings. And the next year, the court rules on Roe v. Wade and makes the right to access an abortion legal. And then later you write about your own abortion in England in 1957, when you were just 22 years old, you dedicated your book, My Life on the Road, to Dr. John Sharpe of London. One of those secret names that was written on the piece of paper passed around, who helped you obtain that abortion. It’s so powerful because you’re putting yourself in the middle of that story. 

Gloria Steinem: Well, I think that’s why our stories, whoever we are, you know, are the most powerful forces we have because they connect at a human level.

They show the wide variety of circumstance and people involved. But here’s what is not happening as far as I can see. To the extent that I wander around on campus and look at textbooks and so on. And that is that when we talk about democracy, we don’t start out by talking about the power to make decisions over our own physical selves.

And this concerns men too, you know, there have been cases of men being threatened with, or forcibly sterilized, for instance, as a form of punishment. So, you know, we can unify on this, even though it probably happens more often to women. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah, and the way that you’re reframing this story brings me actually to you Renee.

Right? If we flash forward to this moment, you’ve worked with thousands and thousands of people around the world who share their abortion stories. I mean, I got to ask, how did you wind up becoming known as the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling? Like that is quite a title. 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Well, thank you. Um, a friend was doted on me.

It was actually shortly after, uh, Coachella, and there was a tweet. I don’t know if you remember, but someone said, whatever you do, be the Beyoncé of what you do. And so someone said, oh, you’re the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling, because you think about like the way in which Beyoncé uses her art to shift the conversation, to get people to think differently about Black folks, Black women, Black bodies. 

How do you use the talents that you have to get people to think differently about your people? Right? And so my people, obviously, as a Black woman are other Black women. But our queer and trans people, like right, there, like folks of color. But particularly my people are people who have abortions and we are people who, there are a lot of stories told about us.

There’s a lot of myths. Um, a lot of really nasty stereotypes about us that are not true. And so we are taking our voice and saying, actually this is on our own terms, right. Because I think there are a lot of ways people try to defend abortion access by stigmatizing us and saying it’s only 3% of services or nobody really wants an abortion, or, well, you don’t want to have too many or people regret their abortions, or it’s a hard decision.

All of those things, actually, all of those messages are born out of anti-abortion stigma or things that are made up by the anti-abortion movement. And so we are claiming our own power, reclaiming our stories, talking about them and actually to pay homage to the Ms. magazine spread. We thought about what would it look like to do something similar and make our voices heard at the Supreme Court.

So we did an amicus brief with our abortion stories and had people who’ve had abortions sign on to say, no, we  had abortions. This impacts our lives. And we only had it out there for a week. We weren’t even sure how many people would sign on. And it turned out to be 6,641 people saying we had abortions. We will be heard.

And this Supreme Court, if you’re going to overturn Roe V. Wade, look at us in our eyes. As you do it, you have to read every single one of our names.

Gloria Steinem: Listening to you. It gives me hope because it makes clear to me how contagious stories are. Because this started, when we at Ms. magazine all that time of ago, before you were born, listen to the stories collected by Simone de Beauvoir.

You know, the sign petition that they did and we did our sign petition. So, it’s the contagion of action. It’s the contagion of telling the truth. 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Absolutely. And honestly, that is how I got into this work, right. Because someone shared their abortion story with me and I was like, wow, I’m not alone. And I had my abortion.

The only people I knew of who had had abortions were one of my cousins and the rapper, Lil’ Kim. I swear, I didn’t know. Aside from Lil’ Kim, I didn’t know any Black folks who had abortions. But at the rally. I got to give flowers to my mother. Who didn’t tell me until I’d been doing this work for four years, that she’d had an abortion before me and her abortion made my life possible.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Did she tell you why she decided to finally share that and sign onto this brief alongside you and all of these other people? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah. I mean, I had asked a couple of times in the past, but she was kind of like, well, I don’t need to talk about it. That’s something you do. And you know, didn’t really want to talk about it that much.

It was just, she was like, I don’t even think about it. She said, I didn’t really think about it until you started doing this work. But when I finally asked her again, she said, well, I’m so sick of this shit. It’s just kinda, my mom does not cuss. And she was just like, I’m so sick of it, you know? And she was also like, at this point, what does anybody going to say to me?

There’s nothing you did say to me, that’s going to hurt me for the decision that I made, because I also have, you know, three children, two by birth and one by adoption. And this is how my family is created. And I’m unapologetic about it. And it was really beautiful as I was working through the names to put in the amicus brief, I was going through all 6,641 names and to see not only mine and my mother’s, but also my cousins and my aunts, just so many people in my family.

And just this reminder that our families are made by abortion. 

Gloria Steinem: It’s wonderful that you personalize and universalize at the same time, because I think that’s exactly what this issue does for us. It’s also a source of humor. Flo Kennedy, my oldest speaking partner always said that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Renee Bracey Sherman: I will say one thing I do want to push is that, um, and what was beautiful about the rally is that we did have trans men sharing their abortion stories. And I think we are pushing this conversation in which we’re having a larger conversation about gender and gender expansiveness and who has abortions.

But also I have been happy to see more cis-gender men actually saying, yeah, my life has made possible by abortion, too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I mean, I’m looking back at the letter in 1972 right now, Gloria, and you wrote: To many American women and men, it seems absurd in this allegedly enlightened age, that we should still be arguing for a simple principle that a woman has the right to sovereignty over their own body.

And I really had to like wipe my eyes and make sure I was reading it correctly because you could have written that right now. 

Gloria Steinem: As you say that I’m thinking about myself before, when I wrote that and realizing I should have known. However, I was not taught this in any of my college school or high school courses.

I should have known that the beginning of patriarchy, of which was not that long ago in this country, it depends on which part of the world you are. Was the source of these restrictions that they had not existed before. So this is, is not a new struggle. It’s a struggle against a backlash against an old human right.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, so perhaps it’s that we’re still here because, um, the backlash to the freedoms that we want is always promised. It will keep coming back. 

Gloria Steinem: Well, and we still have a patriarchal racist kind of outlook.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Heteronormative. 

Gloria Steinem: Yeah. I mean, in theory, we’re a democracy. And we’ve moved toward it, but we’re not there yet.

Renee Bracey Sherman: Well, and I would say the reason we haven’t conquered is because we haven’t conquered white supremacy. Right? I’m working on a book with a colleague of mine, Regina Mahone and it’s called Countering Abortion Planning. And it’s all about people of color’s experiences with abortion. And if you actually look at the ebbs and flows of abortion restrictions in history, they actually tie right with Black liberation throughout history. Right? 

The first restrictions came in the 1860s. Well guess what was happening in the 1860s, Black folks were getting. And it was to push Black midwives out of the labor sector. Right? And to put American gynecology, white men on the map. And so then of course, criminalization was happening.

A lot of raids happened in the 1920s and 30s. And then of course in the 50s, 60s. And then again, once abortion was legalized. Right? The anti-abortion movement, they had been organizing around segregation and they could no longer do that. And they started to pick another issue. Right? And so what they wanted to be able to do was go along those same Jim Crow lines and push back against the changing gender norms of the feminist movement.

Um, you remember, righ?. But also of course, against the civil rights movement and as Black people, were able to be more liberated, have more freedom within society. Because here’s the thing, we’ve always had in this nation and around the world, subjugation of Black and Brown peoples’ fertility. It was all of a sudden, right, once it was no longer for-profit then it became a problem. 

Gloria Steinem: And once again, I think we learned that from stories. I mean, I learned that I didn’t know, half a century ago from Fannie Lou Hamer. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Exactly.

Gloria Steinem: Who was encouraged to have children, even if she didn’t want them because they were underpaid field hands.

And once there were mechanized ways of doing that field work and she went into the hospital for something else entirely, I think an appendicitis, she was sterilized without her knowledge. So, you know, it’s controlling the means of reproduction in whatever direction it goes. And that happens to be us.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, that was the first part of my conversation with Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman. Coming up, they talk about the cost of excluding women of color from the abortion rights movement and where we go from here, right after this short break. 

And we are back. This is really getting into the meat of what I wanted to talk about, because we are really connecting the dots on how anti-blackness led to this anti-abortion movement.

But I also want to talk a little bit about what life has been inside the movement, right? Because now we getting into this intersectionality conversation, then that’s where I’m like, let’s dig in. Okay. Because you know, Renee, historically we have seen a pro-choice movement, however you want to characterize it, historically and in some ways currently fail to fully include women of color. What has been the cost of excluding Black and Brown women from so many of these spaces? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: There’s so much of a cost. We can just talk about the brilliance that we lose in this movement, because folks are pushed out because we simply are unwilling to put up with the racist microaggressions within our movement, but that’s on a, on a more granular scale. Right?  

But then that ends up looking like huge mishaps when it comes to policy shift. In her book, Life on the Line, Faye Wattleton, uh, she was the first Black president of Planned Parenthood. She talks about how, as soon as they put through the Hyde Amendment, she wanted to fight it. But a lot of the leaders, mostly white, at Planned Parenthood pushed back and said no.

So, we lost Roe back when we didn’t make sure that everyone had access to abortion at any time, if, for any reason, particularly Black and Brown folks, particularly young people. And I think that then means that we’re not actually making sure people have access to the healthcare that they need, that really fits the circumstances of their lives.

It also means that reproductive justice as a movement, right? The movement to ensure that everybody has the ability to decide if when and how they grow their family, and also raise their family free from. state sanctioned violence and oppression. That’s been around for 25 years, but it’s only sort of now becoming more mainstream.

And honestly, I think it’s really frustrating to see some of it being watered down as just like, oh, it’s just the term. It’s not actually looking at what does it mean to us if somebody is a pro-choice champion, but then doesn’t do anything to expand with benefits or Snap benefits. Right? What does it mean for somebody to say that they support abortion access, but aren’t making sure that the ICE detention centers aren’t sterilizing folks. That they’re okay with folks being in cages to begin with, it needs to be a larger conversation. And I’ve definitely had many conversations with some of my colleagues, particularly white women in the pro-choice movement who are like, well, when we talk about stuff like that, that’s that’s mission creep or that that’s something else. That’s not what we’re working on. 

I’m confused as to how you can say that you’re going to argue to make sure that somebody has access to abortion, but not make sure that they got diapers for the kids that they’re raising. I’m confused as to how you can sit here and say that you’re making sure somebody has access to an abortion, but you’re not going to do anything about the fact that, you know, they smoke a little weed and then they get thrown in jail because they’re pregnant. Right? 

As professor Michele Goodwin talks about in her book Policing the Womb, when the pro-choice movement failed to stand up for Black folks during the so-called crack baby epidemic and they were throwing Black mamas in jail. That was a personhood issue, right? That was a reproductive issue. That was making sure people were able to not be thrown in jail simply for, you know, the consequences of being pregnant. Right? 

But when the movement failed to show up for that, that again was when we should have had the conversation about personhood and we did not. And so, again, We now have a way in which we have a system that criminalizes Black and Brown people. And so I, you know, I know like white women love to up high in about, oh my God, we’re getting to The Handmaid’s Tale and all this stuff.

Well guess what, Black and Brown folks have been prosecuted for their pregnancies for a long time. There are folks sitting in jail right now on suspicion of miscarriage or for using drugs while pregnant. And so you can’t have a one track mind. And so, when Black and Brown folks weren’t given space and the leadership were pushed out of our movement.

That is what we lost. And so that is how we end up with tons of pregnant folks in jail, families separated because it’s considered a sensitive issue.

Gloria Steinem: And then we also lose the majority of the movement because, you know, because in fact, I mean, from 1970 forward, I think 1970 was the first time that there was ever a serious national poll about the women’s liberation movement and its goals and so on, and so on. 

It’s been something like 70 something percent supported by women of color and only 50 something percent by white women. So, you know, that makes no sense. I mean, if we’re in a democracy that should mean that most of the leadership is elected by women of color.

Renee Bracey Sherman: Right. And not just giving us the reins to take over as things are falling apart, which is sort of what’s happening right now. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Come save us. 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah, and I have to be honest. 

Gloria Steinem: That’s interesting. So tell me what makes you feel, I mean, in your heart that things are falling apart? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Well, I think what’s feeling frustrating, there was a lot of work that a lot of folks of color put into the rally that we had and to change the narrative. Right? And I wonder what it would look like if organizations like mine and the Black and Brown leaders had been funded at the level that white-led organizations are funded at 10 years ago. Right? 

Like my organization is only like $300,000. Meanwhile, there are other organizations that are $20, $30, $45, $450 million organizations. Like we only get pulled in at the very end. The movement would look so different if we were actually given the tools because you can put me on TV as much as you want, but if you don’t actually give me a budget to be able to organize, it’s actually just tokenizing. And that is, I think, what happened. 

Gloria Steinem: We should have a separate discussion  on fundraising, right? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah. That’s a mess. I would like to say what’s hard is that, you know, as you were saying, like in the women’s liberation movement, like there were women of color, but I think what’s challenging. And we even see this today. When I go look at photos that folks take of the rallies, there are tons of people of color. But if a journalist only takes a photo of a white woman in a Handmaid’s outfit or of white people. It erases us from being there. 

And so one of the projects that we have done in my organization We Testify, is actually to give media outlets photos of Black and Brown folks who have abortions, so that we are not erased from this work. Because we need to be able to document that we were there.

And you will not tell us that we weren’t. And I think that is one of the things that feels very, very challenging when I look at this. 

Gloria Steinem: That’s very important. I’m very glad that you’re doing that because this has been a problem with mainstream media, at least from the beginning. The very first March that I’m aware of anyway, was down Fifth Avenue in 1970, I think.

And the next day, The New York Times published a piece saying, oh, it looks like the country and emphasizing how diverse it was and how, you know. And then a few days after that, both Time and Newsweek put only white women on the cover. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And of course the journalists are writing the first draft of history, right? So, if they don’t get it then, right then, it’s a lot more difficult to get it later on. And I, and I want to come at this question a slightly different way, Gloria with you, because you are a white woman and you’ve been doing the work around reproductive freedom for a long time while we know the same conversations that we’re having now, that Renee is having now. These same pleas that Renee’s making now have been being made for a long time. So really the question is, what is the responsibility of white cis-gender women in leveraging what privileged there is? Right? We know that one of them is fundraising. Right? What else is, is the work for white women to do?

Gloria Steinem: Well, at the simplest level, I would say when you have a meeting about a particular issue or when you’re starting a group to address something, make sure that the group that’s meeting looks like the group that is affected. And just don’t do anything until the group is more generally representative. People will say, in my experience, people will say, well, you know, we’ll start and then we’ll, you know, diversify later. And I always say, no, you can’t do that. I mean, because the people who start something own it in a certain way. So you have to wait until the group looks like the country or the group you’re serving, 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Right. Like you have to put butter in the pie crust to begin with, you can’t just add it on top. It has to be baked in. It’s just that simple. And I think it says everything about your intentions. Again, one of the things that felt really important to me when I started We Testify. Um, we have 90, over 90 storytellers that we work with. Ninety percent of whom are Black and Brown folks because the majority of people have abortions are people of color.

We have a number of whom are queer and trans, and that’s from the beginning. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So, here we are in this moment that feels dismal for so many people. Renee, you are right to remind us that it has been dismal for a lot of people for a long time. And the stakes are incredibly high. And this is a question really for you both.

Do you ever think, Gloria and then Renee, about what direction your life would have gone in if you were not able to access an abortion? 

Gloria Steinem: I do. It’s hard for me to imagine. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I’m so sorry. Can I, can I just pause for a second, Renee? Hi. Hi. How are you doing? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: I’m okay. Go ahead, Gloria.

Gloria Steinem: I think tears come from. I so wish I could give you a hug.

Renee Bracey Sherman: It’s been really hard. I feel like as a leader in this movement, we have to be stoic all the time. And I’ve been having a really hard time the last couple of days, because. I just, I mean, I’m in my home and I just look around at everything in my life, all my friends, everything, and what I would not have if I was not able to get the abortion.

And I mean, according to the turn away study, I would have, you know, grown to love the child that I had, but like, that’s not the life that I wanted. And I think what feels really painful is that I do work with some storytellers who’ve had abortions, but also were unable to get abortions. And not only, you know, obviously they love their children, but like, they also talk about how difficult their pregnancies were.

The anti-abortion movement is kind of like, well, you just have a kid. They don’t talk about is that, you know, people have postpartum depression. Like pregnancy, can it shifts literal bones and organs in your body, right? And so to have to be forced to go through that is really, really difficult. And then of course this nation won’t bother to give us paid leave. Won’t bother to do anything.

And so I’m just so thankful that I was able to have my abortiong. In my heart all the time, just breaks knowing that, you know, there are people who are becoming pregnant right now, not knowing, right? And not knowing if they’re going to be able to access care. I’ve supported people who are self-managed their abortions because they, they are like, I need access.

It’s just truly, truly scary that this is something I think people are taking for granted. I had somebody text me today and say, well, do you think they’re really going to overturn it? And I was like, yes, yes, this is real. This is very scary. And I, my heart just feels for those people who I get messages from, you know, my email or on our website of just, they’re like, I’m scared, I’m pregnant. I don’t know what to do. And I want everyone to know that they’re, you know, you can, self-manage their abortion safely with medication abortion. Um, I’ve been on the hotlines. I drive people to their appointments. here in DC. Uh, particularly if they need later abortions, I used to work at the National Network of Abortion Funds and volunteer with Abortion Funds.

So, I’ve been on those phone calls when people are like, I’m not sure what to do. I don’t have the money. I can’t travel. I don’t know, right? I’ve heard that desperation. I’ve sat with people, held their hands through their abortions when they finally feel that relief of, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it.

And so just like, you know, thinking about that, like in 2022, it’s not just like, oh, when this is happening, like they can come back with their decision at any point. And that is absolutely terrifying. I hope and pray that that’s not the case. But I just know that I would not be who I am if I had to be 19 year-old Renee who had to continue that pregnancy with somebody who was punching the wall next to her head and just, that’s just not. 

And I also don’t talk about this very much, but I drank a lot right before my abortion in hopes that it would cause a miscarriage because I was 19, I didn’t know anything. And so what I was thinking about when you were asking that question where I started to cry, it was just like, I think about how scared 19 year-old Renee was.

And that, you know, nothing would have stopped me. And I’m glad that I had access in that. I’m glad that we have safe self managed access now, but not everybody knows about it. And that’s what, what terrifies me. 

So, sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off Ms.  Steinem. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham:  You don’t owe anybody an apology. I want to thank you for the gift of your honesty. 

Gloria Steinem: Yes, absolutely. And you have to say Gloria. You can’t call me Ms Steinem. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You know, you’re always taught how to talk to your elders. She did the same thing first time I met her, I get it. Trust me. It’s the Midwest in us. We can’t help it. 

Gloria Steinem: Yeah. I mean, I think that without letting up any pressure on keeping the laws as just as they should be and the procedures as economically available as they should be with at all, that goes without saying. But at the other end of that is the clear determination with each other and our own strength that we are going to support each other and doing whatever we fucking well have to do to achieve reproductive choice and freedom for each one of us. 

So, I just worry that sometimes we get too much attention focused on things we can’t control. And yes, we have to do that because only as you point out by massive organizing in the street is I’m so grateful for you for doing,  do we have an influence on that, but that there are also things that we can do as individuals. Encouraging notes we can put up on the bulletin board at school or work. Discussion groups we can introduce this into. Demystifying the whole process, just as where we started out saying that we have had an abortion. So, just interweaving it wherever we are. And, and, uh, a big political sense saying there is no democracy.

Unless all of us women, as well as men have decision-making power over our own bodies, 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Gloria you’ve given us some important, critical, provocative, next steps. Renee, you have any thoughts to close us out? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah, I would just say to everyone listening, think about how far you would go and what you would do to make sure that someone you love has access to an abortion and, and do those things. Right?

And that can be as simple as telling them that you love them and showing up and talking about your values. Um, for those of you that had abortions, you know, when you feel ready, share your stories, but also give of your time and energy to local abortion funds. Go to keepourclinics.org that \ to show up for the independent abortion providers and the clinics.

Like, we need everybody to show up and show out because, you know, without abortion funds, without clinics, like folks can’t travel, there’s no clinics for them to go to. And then of course, give high fives and kudos to your champions, your political champions, who are doing the right thing. Like in my home state of Illinois, where they now they changed the law, right?

They got rid of, uh, parental notification and they have Medicaid coverage of abortion. So, there are really great things that can happen on the local counties, state level. But that means that folks have to take this seriously and get involved. And just remember that, you know, everyone knows someone who’s had an abortion.

Gloria Steinem: And I would say that too, that sometimes we forget to state this right from another point of view, which is that everyone has the right to be born, loved and wanted. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Everyone. That is the perfect place to close. And I just want to say thank you from the deepest part of me to the both of you, because you are holding power for people who are not ready yet to share their stories. And I just have the deepest gratitude for you both. For this conversation and for who you are in the world. 

Gloria Steinem: No, Brittany. Renee, I think we can speak for you, right? We are grateful to her, right?

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah. Thank you for bringing us together. And you know, it’s an honor to do it because I’ve never been in conversation with Gloria. So, you know…

Gloria Steinem: I’m with you. I mean, this is great, right? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It is. Thank you both so much.

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist icon. Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist icon in the making and the founder of We Testify.

Uh y’all know, I just became a mom and yes, access to abortion is just as important to me now, as it has ever been. My legal autonomy over my body and my access to birth control and family planning are absolutely the reason I was able to have our sweet baby M when I and my family were ready to provide the life he deserved, none of that would have been possible without the people who have fought to preserve and protect Roe. I absolutely do not want to live in a world where our choices are limited, our right to privacy is viscerated, and our access to abortion is non-existent. It is a medical procedure and those who want and need one should always be able to get it and get it safely. Period.

Renee’s called to think about how far you would go to make sure someone you love has access to abortion. It’s different this week. So, what can we do? What are we going to do? What will we do, especially to support the most marginalized. They’re going to be a ton of answers to that question, but for right now, the work may look different for each of us.

If you have the financial resources, give to abortionfunds.org. The National Network of Abortion Funds will split your donation across the more than 80 funds that help people get access to reproductive care. It’s the local grassroots work that needs our support the most right now. If you are inclined to share your personal experience, go to wetestify.org to share your abortion story,

That’s Renee’s organization, and you can add your voice to the growing community of people who are dispelling the shame around abortion with the reality of their lived experience. If you can contribute your physical presence in the streets, find actions all across the country, under the Bans Off Our Bodies hashtag. When you’re out there, stay masked up so disabled people can safely join you and don’t bother engaging with right-wing media or counter protesters. They are simply there to twist your words and your work. Don’t give them the energy. 

If canvassing is more your thing, find a candidate challenging an anti-choice incumbent to volunteer for it. That might include Jessica Cisneros in Texas who’s challenging the house’s last anti-choice Democrat. Good riddance. If you’ve got a phone and you don’t mind using it, call the Senate switchboard and tell them to pass HR 37 55, the Women’s Health Protection Act. It’s already been passed by the house, and it’s meant to codify Roe in the law for any and everybody who needs it. And while you’re at it, call President Biden and tell him to use his power to push for the end of the Senate filibuster, so the bill can actually pay.

And if you’re supporting someone who’s pregnant, but doesn’t want to be, help them find abortion access that Ineedana.com. Remember, abortion is still legal here in the United States of America. The tangled web of restrictions, bans, scare tactics, internalized shame, even among pro-choice politicians that might make it seem like it’s not the case, but it is. 

These are the times when we save us. Now and forever.

You know, I say this every week, but it means something a little different right now. 

That’s it for today, but never ever for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

This episode was produced by Rachel Matlow and Rachel Ward. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.


Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media or our team @TheMeteor, who’s dedicated to keeping you abreast of all things Roe v. Wade. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And especially right now, thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: April 28, 2022

The Senator of TikTok: Morgan Harper’s Run for Office (and  Our Hearts)

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. People used to ask me all the time when I’d run for office, I took it as a major compliment, like thank you for trusting me with your future. And once upon a time, I thought, yeah, maybe. But the truth is that is not my jam. I think partly I was worried that I’d have to, like, censor myself too much.

I only recently started to fully own my voice without apology, and I was not ready to start shutting up for political expediency. Like y’all I just started cussing in public two years ago and I was not about to just go back to my Kidz Bop self, okay. Truth though, I don’t actually think that kind of self-censorship is necessary anymore.

I mean, the image of that perfectly refined politician who never swears and always goes to church and never, ever wears a heel above two inches or a pantsuit more than once that dusty archetype of old is slowly but surely being wrestled to the ground by some bad-ass folks. 

Take Congresswoman Cori Bush. Her approach is as authentic as her and it’s helped ensure that the perspective of a single mother and organizer and someone who has experienced the effects of policy is actually informing policy at the highest levels. You don’t sleep out on the steps of the Capitol protesting the end of the rent moratorium if you’re a by the book Manchurian candidate. She’s just one of the leaders of the new school turning tradition on its face, entering the arena because she knows that you can’t win if you don’t participate. So maybe I’m not a candidate, but maybe some of you are, and maybe we need to stop finding the reasons why we shouldn’t and consider the reasons why we should.


On the show today, a conversation with Morgan Harper, a brilliant young candidate for Senate in Ohio. 

Morgan Harper: These are not normal people. These are not people that are actually trying to become US senators to accomplish anything. It’s like their mission is obstruction and then trying to make our lives worse while they get rich and everybody who funds them gets richer too.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s coming up. But first here’s Treasure Brooks with your trending news.

Treasure Brooks: Okay. First off, we are not going to talk about Twitter and the man who wants to colonize Mars. The people and issues we care about are here on Earth. Thank you very much. So that’s where we’re going to spend our energy. 

The Supreme Court has upheld a ban on blind, disabled, and elderly, Puerto Rican residents getting income from a federal benefit program. This is a big deal. Let’s break it down. American citizens who are in the supplemental security income program and who live in the 50 States. Get about 10 times the monthly income that Puerto Ricans do. Puerto Ricans get just about $84 a month. But why?

Puerto Ricans are US citizens and have been since World War I. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the ruling was justified by the fact that most Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal income taxes, but as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in descent, plenty of states pay less into the federal treasury than other states.

I’m looking at you Vermont, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Alaska. This ruling shows just how unequally the Constitution is applied when it comes to us territories. For example, residents of Guam, the US Virgin islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana islands can’t vote for president.

They get a representative in Congress, but that representative can’t vote on legislation, even if it might affect their constituents. DC residents get shafted in this way too, by the way. Look, the population of U S territories is 3.5 million people. That’s more than the five smallest states combined. US territories pay nearly $4 billion with a B in federal taxes, annually. American Samoan serve in the military at a rate higher than any US state.

This inequality cannot continue. No territories chose to become part of the United States. They were either bought, bartered, or stolen, And their people still experienced second class citizenship today. So for Puerto Ricans to be denied the basic protection of disability benefits, which if you ask me aren’t benefits at all—they’re rights, is insulting.

And one last thing, the elephant in the room is that 98% of the people in the US territories are racial and ethnic minorities. So is it a sheer coincidence that they’re being shortchanged? I think not.


From oppression to liberation or rather to free-ass motherfucker. That’s Janelle Monáe’s preferred pronoun, according to the LA times. That or they/them or she/her. The recording artist said on Red Table Talk last week that they’re non-binary. The announcement is worth celebrating, especially because they had alluded to being non-binary in the past, but is only now ready to share it publicly.

It’s beautiful to see them live their truth. And Jenelle dropped some serious wisdom explaining what led them to this place. 

Janelle Monae: I just don’t see myself as a woman solely. I feel like God is so much bigger than the he or the she. It’s like, it’s like something. And if I am from God, I am everything. 

Treasure Brooks: We have to congratulate Monáe’s for finding the space to come into their own.

Thank you for showing us your queer Afrofuturist vision. We can’t wait to see where your journey takes you and us next.

Finally, the investigative podcast Reveal has uncovered the truth about a top pregnancy information website. The so-called American Pregnancy Association may sound like the kind of place you’d go to get reliable information about having a baby, but it is actually produced by anti-choice activist Brad Imler.

Imler is not new to this kind of fakery. He first started at the American Pregnancy Helpline, an antiabortion hotline that masquerades as a resource for people with unplanned pregnancies. He later created the American Pregnancy Association website to try and reach more people with anti-choice misinformation.

And his methods have worked. The page, cited by top medical institutions like Los Angeles’ Cedar Sinai and media outlets likeThe New York Times, purports to offer science-backed information. But Reveal found the site presents medical inaccuracies as facts like the long since disproven myth that abortion is linked with breast cancer.

Unfortunately, this medical provider cosplay is not a new phenomenon. Crisis pregnancy centers first popped up in Hawaii in 1967, when the state legalized abortion and have continued to spread. And Associated Press analysis revealed that over the past decade, they’ve gotten tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to provide their deceptive services.

Listen, the top reasons that people choose abortion are because they aren’t financially prepared for a child or in relationships with a partner that they don’t want to bring a child into. So if you want to prevent abortion, get to work on economic inequality, get to work on education and housing access.

Get to work on universal healthcare, childcare and support for people in abusive relationships. But until you put in the hours on this projects, Brad Imler and anyone else who thinks they know better than we do when it comes to our uteruses, shut the hell up.

Coming up. Brittany will be talking to Morgan Harper, who might just be the next AOC. Right after this short break.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And we are back. So we were talking before about political candidates. About how our ideas of what makes someone quote unquote electable have changed and how maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to get to a place where you can be a real human. And with a real life and real experiences and still run for and win a seat.

That would be good news for women who remain way underrepresented in Congress, which is still about three quarters male. There had been some early reports that the 2022 midterms could be a step forward for women, with Black women projected to make some gains both in Congress and in other roles. Hello, Stacey Abrams. I see you running for governor again. 

This progress is slow, y’all. A recent study from the Brookings Institute found that women are still much less likely than men to even consider running for office. And y’all while the study doesn’t get into this, I will point out that a lot of the women candidates who are running in 2022 are Republicans. And you know that more Marjorie Taylor Greenes in the halls of Congress is not my idea of progress. That’s a hard pass. 

We want candidates who practice empathy toward all people who put justice at the center. Who put BIPOC lives and trans lives and marginalized lives first. Who stand up to power, not grab it and hoard it. My guest today has put those messages at the forefront of her campaign and she’s gotten national attention along the way.

Morgan Harper is a candidate for US Senate, coming from her home state of Ohio. She’s in a much-watched primary race up against incumbent Congressman Tim Ryan, who’s already been endorsed by the Ohio Democratic Party. But Harper is giving him a run for his money, advocating for universal health care and accountability for big tech and using TikTok to get her message across. She’s young, just 38 years old, but you know what? She brings a lot to this race. 

There’s her personal experience. She was in foster care for the first nine months of her life before being adopted. And has said that her quote, whole story starts with the community stepping in and giving me a shot. There’s her professional accomplishments. She got her law degree from Stanford and worked in the Obama administration, protecting consumers from corporate wrongdoing. We love that. 

And then there’s her political experience. Harper ran for Congress once before, when she tried for a House seat in 2020. She lost then, but she’s trying again now for Senate. Which, let me remind you has exactly zero Black woman in it right now. Which is another reason why so many of us are watching Morgan Harper do her thing.

I wanted to talk to her about values, empathy, and yes TikTik. So I caught her on the campaign trail. We’re on March 31st, 33 days before her primary coming up on May the 3rd. Morgan Harper, Senator of TikTok. Thanks for joining me.

Morgan Harper: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, I’m joking because you’re actually running for the US Senate, which is a beautiful thing.

Um, so I certainly do not mean to diminish your accomplishments. I’m simply saying that because, like a lot of people, the first time I encountered you was on maybe the most beautiful TikTok I’ve ever. You’re debating Josh Mandel, who’s the Republican candidate running for the Senate seat in Ohio. And not only do you absolutely eviscerate him, but you’re like perfectly composed while he spews the most racist, sex, conspiratorial ideas. And to be clear, you don’t have to be that composed because if you wanted to scream at him, that would have been perfectly justified. But like what, what was going on in your head during these debates? Because this is not…we’re at a different time.

Morgan Harper:Yeah. We are in a different time and I appreciate your saying that because I sometimes feel like I have to remind people of that and that these are not normal times. These are not normal people. These are not people that are actually trying to become US senators to accomplish anything. It’s like their mission is obstruction and them trying to make our lives worse while they get rich and everybody who funds them gets richer too. Right?

So, uh, in my head, it’s all about trying to call that out. I mean, I think that needs to be our overall Democratic strategy. Like, this isn’t real. Josh Mandel says that he really cares about homeless veterans. Okay. What’s your plan to get people more housing? You don’t have one. Call that out. So call it out for exactly what it is. You are being racist. These are racist tropes. Here’s what I actually want to do to improve your life and then, and be aggressive about communicating that message. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: This wild time has found you and Mandel in debate more than once, right?

And he’s kind of a stand-in for the culture wars that the GOP wants to pursue. But during one of these debates, he accuses you of, this is my favorite one. And if you’re listening, I’m doing air quotes, getting angry with him. Right? Even though, like it’s a debate and passion counts for something, but of course we know this trope. We accused Black women of being irrationally angry.

Like our anger is not justified and it’s unbecoming. Um and it’s just such an exhausted trope. And yet it is still so pervasive everywhere, but especially in politics. How do you, how do you protect your mental wellbeing and preserve yourself in situations like this?

Morgan Harper: Yeah, I have one moment at the beginning there were it was clear he was going to go down that route. ‘Cause I think he said it probably 12 times that I was angry just in a row. Everything I said was like angry. Oh Morgan, why you so angry? So worked up? And after the first couple of times it was like, wow, he’s really going to go there. And I felt myself being who I am. You know, there’s a side that I’m like about to go after this guy.

But then you have to remember, there’s a larger, larger picture out here. And ultimately, I do think we’re going to be most effective when we just pivot back to substance constantly, constantly, constantly. And because we know, you know, you take one of those little clips and then Fox News is going to have a field day with it and what will come of it.

And in fact, we can really contrast what they’re saying by, like I said, just calling that out directly. And you know, I mean, I think seeing for me too the, um, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Because I, ‘cause I also minimize it a little bit. You know, what the impact is of, of some of that rhetoric coming at you and having to see her go through that, um, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

It was triggering of just what that experience was like and really feeling like, man, I just can’t believe this is what we’ve become in a way. And, you know, I spoke to a group of students recently and they were asking me about the debates as well, and a lot of young Black women, women of color, and like, well, how, how can we build resiliency?

And my message was, I don’t want you to have to be this resilient. This, this is not the goal. The goal is that you get to just be great. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So for the people who have not had the pleasure of seeing you across their for you page, like I have and who maybe live outside of Ohio or who maybe live inside of Ohio and still have questions.

What is the Morgan Harper 1 0 1? Like, what are your biggest policy priorities right now? And, and really what, what helps shape them? 

Morgan Harper: Well, where I’m coming from with all of this. I mean why, you know, just to back up, why I’m in politics in the first place is I had early exposure through life experiences about how we don’t really have a level playing field for getting access to the American dream.

I saw that through education, educational choices that were made by my mom, I saw that through the fact that, you know, being adopted, being given up for adoption. Going through my parents going through this crazy divorce that I knew, we only made it really out of chance. I was like, this can’t be how we operate.

If we really are serious about being a country of, of the American dream. And then eventually, you know, having any experiences of being at places like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington and understanding the limits of even great policymaking with good people who are doing it. If it’s not moving the needle economically for people, if we have politicians that aren’t on the side of really getting things done, it’s game over. 

Yeah. And I would argue we’re at about game over, right? Cause like this could be the end and what’s it going to take to move in a different direction to actually fulfill that promise of what our country is supposed to be from a policy perspective? I think it has to look like aking sure that everybody has healthcare minimum.

That’s not just the right thing to do. We know that you need to be healthy to have any shot of leading a stable life, but even if that’s not enough for you, it’s also the economically efficient thing to do to make sure that we have Medicare for all. And I will go to bat with anybody who wants to talk about that and I’m open to other ideas, but I haven’t heard one that’s as persuasive to me about how we’re going to solve for that.

I want to make sure that people are earning enough money to live. I think a lot of the other issues that we find ourselves dealing with in communities across Ohio, across the country is that people just don’t have enough money. And this is another point I made in one of those debates. And so the positive news is there are things we can do about all of this.

I mean, investing in the clean energy sector, that’s what I want Ohio to be a state of the future. I want to make sure that, you know, we have people who are able to get access to the addiction recovery services that they need. Mental health care services that they need, and we can do this. And so those are just a suite of some of my priorities, but I have a vision of how we can really drive out here and, uh, and just want to be able to be in a position to make it happen. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And I mean, you’re, you’re throwing your hat into this ring at a relatively young age, right? So you are, if you don’t mind me saying so 38, which is a year older than me, and I don’t think I could imagine running for Senate right now for a whole host of reasons.

I’m curious how you feel, you know, younger generations can really inform the direction moving forward. Because I mean, you look at the Senate, right? We’re not talking about a lot of 28 year olds, 38 year olds, even 48 year olds, frankly. Um, and I’m just curious your thoughts as to, um, why now at this point in your life, do you feel like, um, this is the right move to make. 

Morgan Harper: Yeah. You know, I think it’s very interesting that we’ve gotten to this place where it is strange for people our age to be running for Senate. Cause I agree with you. I mean, if you would ask me even probably three or four years ago, that I’d be running for the United States Senate before I’m 40. The answer would have been a hard, no, right?

Cause just no, that’s what older people do. And, uh, and then we look at, and this actually came up before, you know, it just had the first and will likely be the only debate for the Democratic primary before we were going on stage with a moderator and say, oh, you know, you’re so young and it’s good to see young people out here.

And I was like, well, you know, it’s, it is true that we have people that are about my age almost that are running entire countries in other places. And it is true that about the average age of our country is closer to what I am than the average age of the Senate, which I think is over 60. And maybe we need to reorient our expectations of what these positions should be. Truly reflecting the diversity of the population.

So yeah, no, I, I wouldn’t have expected it, but I do think it’s necessary to be able to have more people who are millennials who are now full-fledged adults in, in positions in government of influence to make sure that our policy reflects where people are at and we’re looking ahead for the next 40 years.

We’re invested in that, but most of the people that are in there will not be around for the next 40. So we need to make sure that we have a say.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You know, I’m curious, what your thoughts broadly are around the importance of running again after a loss. You know, there’s a saying that, um, when a man loses a race, he thinks America has made a mistake.

When a woman loses a race, she thinks she’s made a mistake and she’s not meant for politics. Is that a feeling you have to fight? Right. Like I, I think about my hometown Congresswoman Cori Bush, if she hadn’t kept running, she wouldn’t be in Congress right now. 

Morgan Harper: Yeah. Well, it’s funny, you mentioned Cori. I get chills even when I think about Cori winning, because that was a really, uh, that was, uh, that was a moment for me when Cori won that made me feel like, oh, it was all worth it, you know, in, in a way.

Um, because yeah, I mean, when you lose, it’s tough and it’s such a public loss when everyone is watching. And that was, that was really hard to process because yeah, I had let people down. And so many people had invested time, money into the campaign and that’s, that’s hard to feel that. Um, but you know, the other thing though, is it was interesting when I, when we did re-emerge as the summer hit and people were going out for protests and different actions and things like that, that I encountered people that were surprised to see me.

‘Cause exactly what you’re saying. You’re, you’re expected to just wither away in shame and never be heard from again. And I was like, Okay. No, I mean, yeah, I lost the election, but we did a lot of great things. Okay. We got over 20,000 votes. We had people come out that had never voted by absentee ballot before that we’re making it happen to, to express themselves to support our campaign.

So that was a victory. We need to reorient how we’re thinking about what that was. And then I felt even more strongly about, and I can’t have people think that that that’s a failure. If you have one step back that then you’re done. Absolutely not. So that meant a lot to me, you know, just to be able to show people what, I guess we’re going back to that resilience point, but this is a, you know, maybe a more, uh, expected type of resilience.

Of course, you’re not going to be able to win everything. But that I can show people that model. And I heard from a lot of people. Now this gets into a little bit more of a weird thing. I heard from some people that were like, I wanted to see you lose. I wanted to see you lose to be able to know that you’re real.

But I, and I just heard that again about a week ago from somebody who was like, I’m so excited, you’re running again. ‘Cause I didn’t, I wanted to believe that everything you were saying was real. But I’ve never heard anybody say it and actually mean it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well,  that’s such an interesting take and that, you know, these folks who are saying, I kind of wanted to see you lose, um. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.

Morgan Harper: Really? You got to come to Ohio.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: My instinct is to like, individualize that. Right? And so like, what is w what, why would you say something like that? And then I realized that perhaps that’s even more of a reflection of how much people feel cheated by the political process. Tthat the idea that somebody could actually have values and stand by them and then not be bought out.  Them not be, you know, uh, them not chicken out that that is, uh, such a, an unexpected thing, um, from politicians really across the globe, but certainly, um, in Washington. That perhaps people, um, have developed their own tests for that. Which, which, which is really fascinating.

Right. Because, uh, you know, I often say that democracy is under threat in two ways, right? One, um, and that there are folks who are very interested in creating disinterest from people, right? Who want folks to lose faith in participating in the system who want folks to believe that they actually can’t make it any better so why even try? 

And then there’s like good old fashioned attacks against democracy, like disinformation, voter disenfranchisement, and suppression. Looking out at the field of Republicans in Ohio, um, that you, one of whom you will run against, if you win this primary. That debate stage for the Republicans running for the Senate seat in March, seven candidates on stage, only one of them acknowledges the legitimacy of president Biden’s win.

Um, literally six people on that stage believe and perpetuate the myth that the election was stolen. And there are many, many more conservatives that reflect this viewpoint and are just detached from reality in a way that is terrifying, right? Not, not funny, terrifying. How do we like everyday people defend democracy against that level of disinformation?

Morgan Harper: Yeah. Another, uh, another good and important question and a big question. Uh, so, you know, like I was doing in those Mandel debates, I think we need to just call it out directly and, and we need to be very aggressive in doing that and aggressive with him. I have a very great amount of empathy for individuals I need around our state who may be, do ascribe to some of these views.

Uh, and I may give a shot with anyone to explain it, but when I’m interacting with one of these political figures, who is spewing this stuff I have, no, I have no patience and I don’t think we should. And I think we need to be really direct about that. So I mean, that, that to me is the strategy is calling it out and then trying to move towards, and here’s what we need to be about, but we also need to be realistic about the fact that that is unlikely to happen through just the traditional, oh, we’re going to flood the airways.

Ads come then the November general election, it’s like, no, we need to be boots on the ground. Grassroots infrastructure, everywhere, meeting people where they’re at to make the case for why that is not for you. We are in deep investment, lots of lots of conversations. I think that’s our only hope. So grassroots is no longer just this like cutesy thing that some young people are talking about now and then. I think that is our only pathway to salvation from this stuff. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You talk about grassroots and me thinks some of that is maybe connected to a point that you always make about growing up in a union household. Um, I grew up in a union family too. And, um, I’m wondering why it’s important to you to consistently make that point on the campaign trail?

Morgan Harper: Well, because especially in Ohio, Uh, this concept has been completely weaponized, you know, as somehow, oh, if you’re in a union, you’re going to be losing control over your life, and you’ll never be able to, you know, have enough autonomy and, and advance in your career. And the, the brainwashing has been so exquisite.

And I don’t know if you find that, you know, in Missouri, but that’s what’s happened here where we have some people that are scared to even say the word, you know. And it’s like, what is this? No, no, that’s at the core of being able to build your career. I mean, when, you know, my family was going through crazy, crazy things that my mom was able to, to know that she could take a few minutes, be able to get to a lawyer appointment, get to a court appointment, whatever, and that she would still have a job.

That’s how you’re able to navigate things. Do you have some job security? Yes. I think it’s really important to emphasize that so that we are educating the next generation about the strength of unions and the need to support them. I was at an event that some Ohio state students put together as like, make no mistake about it, right now your fight is making sure that you’re paid enough as a student worker. But the reason why they don’t want you to talk about these things, the reason why they don’t want you to talk about unionization is people are trying to prepare you for an adulthood of just taking it. No.

We need to be countering that and need to know that there’s strength in that collective organizing to be able to push back against power and, you know, in power is what power is. And you have to have a balance of power. If we can have equitable outcomes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. I, I used to be a teacher and was a full dues paying member of the Washington Teachers Union.

I needed that sick leave bank when I was in the hospital for a week with a kidney issue, right? And I it’s, it’s both the large political things and the ability to organize, um, real, everyday people. And it’s also those, those everyday communal mutual aid things that we, that we depend on when it comes to that organizing body

I mean, as you’re saying. There’s a specific conversation happening about unions in Ohio. We’ve seen the percentage of unionized workers in Ohio declining for decades and still given where it began. It’s one of the most heavily unionized states in the country. Um, and we know that there’s a concentration of what I think a lot of people would call traditional unions, right?

Um, auto workers, steel workers, but there are also Starbucks locations that are organizing and other newer businesses where folks are saying to your point, we actually don’t want to just take it. We want to have a say in what happens with our lives and our wages. I’m curious what you’ve observed about the potential for this conversation in Ohio, especially with some of these, um, these new found organizing efforts.

Morgan Harper: I think there’s a lot of potential because I think a lot of young people are starting to realize that where we’re headed is not going to add up and that’s becoming clearer and clearer by the day. And in fact, folks would be willing to maybe sacrifice a little perceived autonomy with some greater expectation of security down the line.

And, and ultimately that’s what, that’s what we’re up against. We’re up against this philosophy of individualism at all costs to be able to have total control over your life. That is a facade. Okay. Versus understanding that and coming together, we can actually drive forward better outcomes than we could alone.

And that’s, that’s not Pollyannaish stuff. That’s just power, that’s power dynamics. So I think a lot of younger people are waking up to that. I also am excited to see a lot of connections from folks who have been more traditional union members who maybe are older starting to mentor some of the younger unionizing efforts that are happening. Those connections are really important.

And then of course, I think that politics can be a tremendous vehicle for accelerating that. And then we have to have, you know, some issues that really bring people together. I think the minimum wage issue is one that naturally just unites a lot of different types of people across the state. But then also looking at something like healthcare, which traditionally has been used as something to divide a lot of union members from other people who maybe were advocating for universal health care, Medicare for all. But I’m sensing there too there’s a shift and a lot of union members recognizing negotiated healthcare benefits, not actually serving our needs. And having connections with people and even, you know, in Canada, I’ve, I’ve talked to some union members in Northwest Ohio that have connections to people in Canada, and now we’re seeing they’re just negotiating for more money, but then they get to do with what they want.

They don’t have to waste time trying to negotiate for healthcare. Um, yeah. You know, making sure that we have the issues that are going to be unifiers as well. I think we’ll bring more people into the fold to recognize the power of unions, but then also be able to push for in a more efficient way to a coalition of people that support these policies.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Before I let you go,  you know, if, if you are elected, you would be Ohio’s first Black woman Senator. Um, in fact, the state’s first woman Senator at all, which is, my God. Um, the fact that we’re still counting first in 2022 is both terrifying, um, and fascinating. And I’m guessing that there are a lot of people who are listening, who could absolutely have a lot to contribute to our government at every level, but maybe don’t see themselves entering, uh, entering the fray.

What, what do you want a person from a marginalized background, a person who folks count out a person who might even count themselves out, what should they consider about maybe, um, getting in the arena like you have? 

Morgan Harper: Yeah, it’s a great question and what I would want people to consider and what I’m usually advising people who are asking me about whether they should run for office. You know, what are the qualifications? What do you need? Did you need to hold this position and this much money? 

Most important thing to me, especially as we embark on these 2020s, which are wild, right. Uh, is authenticity. And I’ve found in my life that the people who have been through the most are usually those that are the most authentic.

And because of some of the things that we’ve already discussed with the disillusionment distrust, with the political process, being able to have folks that are in these positions that, that others perceive as authentic. It’s just, uh, that is, that is the only qualification right now to me to have a lot of electoral success, especially if you’re trying to be a Democrat.

And so, uh, yeah, there, there needs to be more of us running who really get it. And it’s so interesting because I’ve learned. Starting to be in this arena now, there’s so many people who try to have it. But you can see through it. You know, I think we probably all can think of examples of that. And that’s the most important thing.

So, you know, you don’t need to check every box. You just need to keep checking your boxes for yourself to make sure that when you get to the point of wanting to run, that you are intact for who you are, what you believe in, why you’re doing it and that you can sell that to other people. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Amen and amen. Morgan Harper, thank you so much for spending time with us on your very busy campaign calendar. We appreciate it. 

Morgan Harper: No appreciate you. Great to meet you Brittany.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Morgan Harper is running in the democratic primary to be the next senator from Ohio.

When folks found out I had a baby, as you can imagine, we got a ton of books, like half of them, where “A is for Activist”. That’s an actual book. And if you need one, let me know. I have plenty extra.  Baby M and I have read it now quite a few times. And D is one of my favorite passages. D is for small D. Democracy.

The rhyme goes on to talk about how it is the people and only the people who should be organizing to make the decisions that matters most. It sounds radical to read that to an infant, but perhaps if that was everybody’s bedtime reading candidates and electeds like Morgan, who believe in the power of the grassroots, wouldn’t be rare. They’d be standard issue.

It is in the grassroots where we not only find our power. It is there we should also take our direction because no one candidate, whether they’ve been in Congress for 40 years or 4 will ever be our savior. No, I don’t stand politicians. They are. They are fallible and they will never, ever take positions that satisfy all of us all at the same time.

But I do and will always believe in the collective power of the people and the vision that we create together. As the disability activists say nothing about us should ever be decided without us. So, whether you’re going to put your name on the ballot, like Morgan, to advocate for the ideas you know matter. Or you’re going to go support someone else who does,  it is always time to get in the arena.

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 


Treasure Brooks is our correspondent. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh. 

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Apple Podcast or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: April 21, 2022

Motherhood, Love and the “Trayvon Generation,” with Elizabeth Alexander

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. 

I gotta tell y’all I’m just overwhelmed in the very best way by your supremely generous response to the news about our growing family. We got comments from so many of you across social media and in our inboxes and in our podcast reviews, in our text messages about how last week’s episode made you feel and about your well-wishes for our little strong one, baby M. Reggie and I, we just feel so deeply honored to know that our transparency really resonated and gave some folks som hope. 

A lot of y’all said you cried,  my bad. But I appreciate so sincerely how welcoming a community you all continue to be. And I’ll tell you, I told Reggie all the way back in December that our kiddo would be home with us happy and healthy by Resurrection Sunday, also known as Easter. 

In our faith tradition, it’s the holiest week of all. And something down in my spirit told me that even though our little one came Earthside early, that he’d be coming home right on time. And sure enough. I was absolutely that mom who bought the white linen shorts with the embroidered bunnies and the matching polo onesie. And I was not at all embarrassed by how stinking cute he looked in it. 

And of course he would be the one to make his homecoming during the week that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and those of the Bahá’í Faith all celebrate our holiest days in the same month at the same time for the first time in decades. That kid, I tell you. I pray that your week was as incredible as mine and that the weeks ahead are full of blessings that absolutely blow your mind. 


On the show today, I’m talking to Elizabeth Alexander, the renowned poet and author of The Trayvon Generation about raising joyful children. 

Elizabeth Alexander: You know, my mother would often say to me when I said like “Oh, this and that, and my worry.” She’d say “But they live in your house, don’t they? Do they not live in your house?”

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: But first the news.

So last week, I told you all my very big news that I’ve been holding on to for a long time. But the new addition to our family, we talk a lot about family leave on this show. You’ve heard Senator Warren talk about how student loan debt makes it hard for young families to buy a home. We’ve talked to Nicole Chung about the tough conversation she’s had with her daughter about violence against Asian-Americans. And Ai-jen Poo helped us understand the true cost of caretaking in the United States.

We also talk a lot about our collective responsibility for and to each other. So I’m going to try to practice what I preach for the next few months and lean on some of my incredible teammates around here, so I can be with baby M.  We’ve got some fantastic, powerful, incredible episodes planned for you.

There’s one in particular that I am just dying for you to hear. And don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. You may even get to hear some very sleep deprived notes from home from me. But you’ll also get to hear from one of my day ones here on the show. A name from the credits come to life, Treasure Brooks will be here to help us fill the gaps.

She’s a cultural critic, a producer on UNDISTRACTED, and she’s always, always got the very best looks on all our Zoom calls. 

Treasure Brooks: Hi, Brittany. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So listen, Treasure, you have all the things going on. You are about to graduate from the Harvard University and you’ve turned in this fantastic thesis. And you’ve been doing all of this while you’ve been a producer right here on the show and holding it down as a John Lewis, Good Trouble fellow at the Kennedy school of Government at Harvard.

That is a mouthful. Tell us more about yourself. Who are you and what is this fantastic thesis you’ve written? 

Treasure Brooks: Well, I’m from Oakland, California, which I am extremely, extremely proud of. I am a dancer, a film student, and my thesis is called Sleep Under Ladders. It’s a multimedia exhibition where I essentially explore how people miss attribute, systemic oppression to individualize bad luck.

So if walking under a ladder is bad luck, then to live in an oppressive system presiding over you without knowing it is to be asleep under a ladder. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: My God, is that how these Oakland girls are out here doing it? 

Treasure Brooks: Yup, that’s Oakland for you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: My God. Okay. So Treasure, you are going to walk us through the news. Tell the people what’s good. 

Treasure Brooks: Now Brittany, you know nothing’s good. It’s the news. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Okay, well that’s fair. 

Treasure Brooks: I’m just kidding, there’s a little good in there. So let’s get into it. First thing’s first. Can we talk about these mask rules changing? A judge in Florida has struck down the Biden administration’s mask mandate for federal transportation and in response airlines, Amtrak, and some regional public transportation systems immediately dropped their masking requirements.

Now, I get it. No one loves a mask, but this change has very clear implications for people who are already vulnerable because of disability, age, or being immunocompromised. And that vulnerability, like so much else in our society unequally falls on women and people of color. A quarter of women, a quarter of Black people, and 30% of indigenous Americans have a disability according to the CDC.

So our health is truly affected by this move. And it’s important to understand that many people will still choose to wear masks and that respecting their desire and their need to do so is critical. But there’s another note here that I want to highlight and it has to do with that judge in Florida, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle. She is a darling of the right. She was appointed by the former occupant of the White House. She’s a member of the right wing Federalist Society. And she clerked for Clarence Thomas, whose wife we now know had refused to believe that President Biden won the election. Now legal experts are questioning whether Judge Mizelle’s ruling even correctly interpreted the law around sanitation and health.

NPR spoke to a law professor at Georgia State University, who said, quote, if one of my students turned in this opinion as their final exam, I don’t know if I would agree that they had gotten the analysis correct. Y’all I don’t even know where to go with this. We should have listened to Anita Hill. And more seriously, when you hear people talk about who gets to appoint judges and why it matters. This is why it matters.

And now a little news from the world of people power. Earlier this month in West Virginia, hundreds of people enacted a blockade at Grant Town Power Plant. At least 16 people from grassroots organizations like West Virginia Rising and the Poor People’s Campaign were arrested.

Protesters: When West Virginia Is Under Attack. What do we do? STAND UP LIKE THAT! What do we do? STAND UP LIKE THAT! 

Treasure Brooks: Here’s why they were there. The plant receives coal waste from Enersystems, a coal brokerage that’s owned by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s family. According to his Senate disclosure documents, Manchin earned nearly $500,000 from the company in 2020. You heard that right. A politician who we entrust to make thoughtful decisions about the climate crisis is actually, literally invested in organizations that are making it worse.

He’s incentivized to ignore it. And this isn’t just any senator. Because of the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate, Joe Manchin swing vote can sabotage legislation that could save our entire planet. And he does that at just about every turn. He spent months watering down the climate provisions in president Biden’s Build Back Better bill and then voted against it anyway, leading to its demise.

And by the way, Manchin also received more donations from the oil, gas, and coal industries than any other senator in the most recent election cycle. Over $680,000. My point is this, elected officials like Manchin are civil servants tasked with representing the public’s interest. But so many have proven their allegiance is first and foremost to corporate money.

There’s this quote that’s attributed to the folk singer Utah Phillips: “The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing it, have names and addresses.” It’s the same with the people who are paying our politicians to vote against the interest of their constituents. You can find the names of the lobbyists who are contributing to elected officials and the industries that they represent at opensecrets.org.

And you can let that information inform your activism the same way. The folks behind the coal blockade date. I’m cheering them on.

Last week, the UK announced a plan to send migrants arriving on British shores to Rwanda, rather than allowing them to settle in the UK. The United Nations has called the plan an abdication of responsibility. And it’s hard not to see just how different this policy is from the way that Ukrainian refugees have been treated as they flee to nations like Poland and Hungary.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson billed the plan as a way to reduce exploitation and abuse of migraines at the hands of smugglers. But that doesn’t totally make sense, especially since just last year, the UK condemned Rwanda for failing to credibly investigate alleged human rights abuses of people being held in state custody.

Listen, the UK rerouting asylum seekers should concern everyone. The Johnson administration has been light on details about why a migrant might be denied entry. And vague criteria almost always means that race and ethnicity will become the basis by which the state chooses to review safety. Let’s call it what it is.

This policy is a continuation of the xenophobia we’ve already seen coming from many governments. It all makes me think of what Muzoon Almellehan, the Syrian refugee turned UNICEF ambassador said on the show recently. 

Muzoon Almellehan: If a country wants to welcome refugees from Ukraine, this means they must welcome refugees from Syria and from anywhere from the world.

Treasure Brooks: Maybe our government should start listening to actual refugees. That’s the moral clarity we need. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: All right y’all, you’re going to be great. Now, go turn in that thesis. Coming up, I’m talking to essayist and poet Elizabeth Alexander about raising a vision of the future right after this short break.

And we are back. My guest today is Elizabeth Alexander. You might remember her as the poet from Barack Obama’s first inauguration. At that time, she was only the fourth person to receive that honor alongside people like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. Elizabeth’s new book, The Trayvon Generation, expands on an essay of the same name that she wrote for The New Yorker in June of 2020.

The thesis is that the cohort of young people who’ve grown up over the last two decades, including her own 20-something sons have experienced the dehumanization of Black people in a unique way with their phones in their hands. The images of brutality have been a constant and unavoidable reminder that the world they live in does not value their lives. 

There’s also the burden to document brutality they witnessed firsthand to record the moments that will force America to see what they see. To see us as human. I wanted to talk to Elizabeth about the experience of being a mother to Black boys who are part of that Trayvon generation. About how to hold them, about how to keep them safe while at the same time teaching them to be free. Because that’s what they are. 

It’s all very personal to me. And she was the one I wanted to hear from about it. 

Oh my goodness. Elizabeth Alexander, thank you so much for joining UNDISTRACTED today, 

Elizabeth Alexander: Brittany, I am so excited to be with you and very moved that we get to have a conversation on all these topics at this huge moment in your life that you have shared. So, um, I feel very honored to be here with you right now. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Thank you so much. You’re of course, referring to this news that I just kinda popped up with on everybody in the last few days. We’re just feeling so blessed to have welcomed our son home after four months in the NICU. And truly when I was thinking though, about people who I wanted to sit down with and talk to today, I kept thinking about you and your work and your writing.

So I’m really grateful. This is not just a regular interview. Um, but then we really get to dive into some of these meatier topics. 

Elizabeth Alexander: Yes, absolutely. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So huge congratulations on the publication of your latest book, The Trayvon Generation. It obviously, I mean, at least for me, the book encapsulates just the courage and the lessons and the fears of an entire generation. Your children’s generation, really,

Where did this book come from for you? And who do you define as part of the Trayvon generation? 

Elizabeth Alexander: Oh, well, I define the Trayvon generation as being a generation of Black and Brown young people who grew up. I mean, we, you know, we call it Trayvon because I think that was a kind of pinnacle moment of our understanding the race-based vulnerability of our young people, uh, and the fact that the problem of the color line as Du Bois put it all those years ago is still with us. 

The problem of race at the center of America is still with us and our young people, uh, people in their teens, in their twenties, into their early thirties, grew up seeing violence, murder, killing of Black people repeated over and over again, mostly on their cell phones.

And I think that, you know, if you look back to Emmett till, and the way that, that image, because of the courage of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley to, you know, bring the body from Money, Mississippi, where he had been murdered to Chicago to put it in an open casket, to allow thousands of people to come to the church.

To then allow Jet magazine to publish a photograph of Emmett Till. He became emblematic because thousands and thousands and thousands of people could see it that way. But the multiplication of the cell phone and the fact that we sometimes look at our phones and our kids do outside of our presence, outside of family context. Countless times, do we know what that violence and it’s witnessing by people who are more vulnerable because of it. Do we know what that has done to them? 

My sons are 22 and 23. Now I work in philanthropy, but most of my career I’ve been a college professor. So, you know, those are my people, you know, young people of that age. So I think of my sons, I think of their friends. I think of students I’ve taught over the years and much more importantly from the anecdotal of who we know we are talking about an entire generation who. It’s not just Trayvon Martin, which they didn’t see on their cell phones, but which we heard about and the incredible tableau of, you know, a kid with a hoodie and some Skittles. 

Yeah. But it’s Tamir Rice. It’s all of these other murders. What occasion, this essay that went into this book was George Floyd’s murder. So I think that not only have they witnessed their peers getting killed, they’ve witnessed their elders and their loved ones getting killed.

And we’ve seen that over and over and over again. And how have the young people processed that.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham:  You know in my college years, my senior thesis was, gosh, this was, uh, 2006 at the time was, was about the contemporary relevance of Emmett Till. And I titled my thesis for that now famous quote, to your point, from his mother in explaining her decision to have that open casket funeral, to allow Gordon Parks to take that photo and to allow Jet to publish it.

She said, so the world can see what they’d done to my boy. 

Elizabeth Alexander: That’s right. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And when I found out I was having a son, I thought of her. I thought of Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, whom whom I’ve come to know personally and love so much. I thought of George Floyd calling out for his own mother. 

Elizabeth Alexander: That’s right.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You have, as you’ve said, two sons, what has it been like really reckoning with the reality that you can talk about the Trayvon generation, but you are raising it in your own home. How has that shaped your parenting as a result.

Elizabeth Alexander: Well, you are, again, it’s just so poignant that you are beginning this journey. Uh, and when you think about all of the infinity of hopes and dreams that we have for our children, you know, and of course, you know, not just our sons, right?

And if you think also about the absolutely animal protection. Uh, you know, we are the ones who are supposed to keep these people alive. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. 

Elizabeth Alexander: We are the ones who are here to help them thrive. So I think that the balance is always, I mean, I think that being armed with knowledge and critical thinking is absolutely crucial.

So sometimes that means that, you know, perhaps at too young an age, you have to explain things to them so that they can keep themselves safe. Tamir Rice was 12. He was playing in the park. He was killed by the police in mere seconds. So, you know, we have to talk about that with our children. 

And I think that we also have to talk about it on a historical timeline, so they don’t think that it’s atomized or random, but that there is a history in this country of the dehumanization of Black people that we were brought to this country as chattel slaves, that we were designated three-fifths human. We were not designated human when we came to this country.

And I would argue that we haven’t altogether undone the effects of this dehumanization, because I think that you usually probably have to have some degree of dehumanization before you harm someone. 

At the same time, lifeforce, freedom, joy, bodily autonomy, power, strength, brilliance, you know, activism. These are the things that I want to nurture in my sons.

And so I think that that balance, you know, is, is what you’re always figuring. I mean, you know, I think that being what the elders call a race woman, which I proudly am, which I would call you as well. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Absolutely. 

Elizabeth Alexander: You know, that is, is a mighty mission. And, uh, being a scholar of African-American culture. I think there’s nothing on planet earth that’s more fascinating and rich and astonishing. So, you know, being called into Blackness for my work, for my mission. All good with that and happy to pass along that to my kids. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Certainly. 

Elizabeth Alexander: But this unresolved problem of race that we did not create as a problem in the first place. And so that’s what I say in the book as well.

It’s like, that’s not ours to fix. That’s not ours to fix. So, you know, I want our kids also to feel absolutely free in their minds and that, you know, as fascinating as Blackness is, there are many things to think about. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yes. Well, I mean, I want to talk to you about this balance because when I Sit down at night and I pray my prayers I’m constantly asking God to just help me raise a free Black child. I just want to raise a free Black child. You’ve said that a mark of successful parenting for you is if your boys are dancing. And I absolutely love that. It just, it hit me so hard because that’s precisely what I want, um, our baby to feel right as he grows throughout his life.

However, he comes to know himself, identify himself, see himself. I want it always to be through a lens of beauty and humanity and joy. I just want to dig into the details a little bit, because how do you make sure that your boys are dancing? How do you create space for joy to not just exist, but to really resonate kind of through all corners of their life?

Elizabeth Alexander: Well, I think that, you know, the way that we have always lived in the day to day, which involves, you know, again, arming them with as much knowledge and history and self-awareness and societal understanding as we possibly can. But also with every day, a celebration.  You know, my mother would often say to me when I said like “Oh, this and that, and my worry.” She’d say “But they live in your house, don’t they? Do they not live in your house?”

And I think that’s very powerful. Do they live in your house? What happens in your house? And so in my house is music. In my house is art. In my house is amazing delicious food. In my house is celebration. In my house are elders. In my house are young people. In my house are play aunties and play uncles, you know. Village. So, I mean, I think one of the things I’m always trying to get to is this idea that, and I think that this is something that’s been well-practiced in Black culture.

The nuclear family alone is an insufficient unit and also the philosophy that would hoard the resources of a family and not understand it as something to be shared, even though there is tremendous intimacy and family is something that I think it’s really crucial to remember. I also think, and you know, to some of the offerings of the book, there is visual art woven throughout. I’m so happy to say really beautifully reproduced by mostly African-American artists. And that offering when you look at Elizabeth Catlett, The Torture of Mothers, and you see the head of a Black woman and in it is a bubble with a boy in a pool of blood and to think about like the fears that never leave.

And then when you look at, at Jordan Casteel’s “Galen”, a beautiful portrait of an African-American man who is a luminous green, and he’s a nude, but he’s not objectified. And he’s looking out in such a way that you wonder, like, who is that human being? What is inside of him? That is not stereotype.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s right.

Elizabeth Alexander: You know, that is a complex being. So I really do think that that is an offering as well. The words of, of, of our poets, you know, I, you know, I argue that African-American poetry is a form of monument and memorial. You know, when our history hasn’t been kept everywhere, you know, it’s the poets who keep calling our names and saying, this is who walked the earth. As in the Lucille Clifton poems that I include in the book.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I want to come back to kind of the picture that is painted throughout the book, but you speak of the village that we know we need to raise our children. I’m a village project. You are a village project. It is most certainly our village that has gotten us through 116 days in the NICU.

And that I know will get us through 116 months plus of, you know, being parents. But you have written really powerfully about the prospect of calling that village in, after the tragic loss of your husband. Right? And trying to maintain that sense of joy. I lost my father when I was 12, so my mother became a widow, as well.

She’s here with us right now being a part of that, that village. 

Elizabeth Alexander: Beautiful.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: What did the joy and the dancing and the village mean in the light of that really significant shift, obviously to your nuclear family. Um, but knowing there was so much more.

Elizabeth Alexander: Well, one of the things that I have found to be rich in such an ongoing way is that the people who might, my children were 11 and 12, when their father died, you know, out of the clear blue sky, seemingly and immediately.

And the fact that. Some of those people still, they will tell stories to my kids about their dad. You know, some of the stories that maybe I’ve never, if small encounters that that is ongoing and that I have said to those family friends, like, that’s your job, that’s your job till the end of time. And that when there are, you know, landmarks of graduations or coming of age, that, you know, our loved ones always bring their father into the room. 

One of the things that was very important to me when he passed is that I never wanted his name to be spoken in hushed tones. I wanted us always to be able to, you know, speak of him, to remember him. So sometimes it might mean that, you know, my kids would ask me a question and I would say like, that’s a daddy question.

Yeah. I was like, I don’t, I don’t know about that. It could be a sad moment, but also it wasn’t. It wasn’t a moment that was veiled with something else. Um, and I think, you know, we’re now getting ready. He was a painter and an amazing painter, and we’re getting ready to travel to Italy to see his work in the Venice Biennale.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Wow. That’s incredible. 

Elizabeth Alexander: And so it’s really remarkable. And so, you know, to see that, that he keeps spreading and other people are responding to his vision of the world. And that, that is something that belongs to my kids, um, is something that has continued, um, in village, as well. So, you know, it started with, you know, covered dishes at 5:30 every day when, you know, people just fed us. Just fed us for a long time. 

And that those folks also included my students. I was a professor at the time, that they were a part of the village. And I hope that something that my children will always remember. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That is so beautiful. I appreciate you sharing that with us. I know that trip will be a really powerful one.

Elizabeth Alexander: Yes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You talk about this. Tapestry that is woven throughout the book, uh, through multiple mediums, through the poetry, through the art, through the pros and what’s woven so beautifully is how you speak about motherhood. Black motherhood. Um, so vividly, I want to read one passage. You write: Let’s be clear about what motherhood is: A being comes onto this earth and you are charged with keeping it alive. It dies if you do not tend it, it is as simple as that. Those words are, I, you know, powerful as they are chilling. Right? What, what reactions do you get from people who read the book? Are there moments that you have found when people encounter the work that have really stuck with you?

Elizabeth Alexander: Um, well, uh, you know, what’s been exciting is the book is it’s a, it’s a week old baby in the world. And already, I think about Mitchell Jackson’s really extraordinary review in The New York Times. And he’s a writer who I, I, I truly revere and all of the things that he saw in the book, you know, to feel like it’s starting to have its many conversations. And, um, indeed the one that you mentioned, and I had wanted actually just to read you a little bit around that, a paragraph on the other side, because I think that it is a central idea in the book.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Oh, absolutely. 

Elizabeth Alexander: I believed I could keep my sons alive by loving them. Believed in the magical powers of complete adoration and a love ethic that would permeate their lives. My love was armor when they were small. My love was armor when their father died of a heart attack. They think Black men only die when they get shot. My older son said in the aftermath. My love was armor when that same year our community’s block watch sent emails, warning residents, about two Black kids on bikes and praising neighbors who had called the police on them. My love for my children said, move. My love said follow your sons. When they ran into the dark streets of New York to join protesters after Eric Garner’s killer was acquitted.

When my sons were in high school and pictures of Philando Castile were on the front page of The Times I wanted to burn all the newspapers. So they would not see the gun coming in the window. The blood on Castile’s face. The terror in his partner’s face and the eyes of his witnessing baby girl. But I was too late, too late generationally because they were not looking at the newspaper.

They were looking at their phones where the image was a house of mirrors straight to hell. My love was both rational and fantastical. Can I protect my sons from being demonized? Can I keep them from moving free? But they must be able to move as free as the wind. If I listened to their fears, will I comfort them?

If I share my fears, will I frighten them? Will racism and fear disable them? If we ignore it, will it go away? Will dealing with race, fill their minds like stones and block them from thinking a million other things? 

So I read that, you know, and then, you know, go on from there to talk about thriving and being fully alive because you know, that is a mother’s mania, right? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yes.

Elizabeth Alexander: You know that. So, so to me in that place, I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to every mother ever. I’m trying to talk so that the children can’t hear it. Right? I’m trying to work it through. I’m trying to say all the things, so that I can work through to the light. And I do think that that is where also community and talking to each other is absolutely crucial. 

I don’t think there’s a thing that Black mothers have not been through on this Earth. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Amen to that. 

Elizabeth Alexander: You know? And then I go because literature is real life to me. So I think about Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the Sermon on the Mount where it’s like, you know, love thyself. You know, unloose thyself for yonde they do not love you. Love your hands. Love the dark, dark liver. They may not love you elsewhere. They may harm us elsewhere, but what is the clearing? What is the light that we can come into together and love ourselves and each other? And let that make us strong. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And love ourselves and each other. And let that make us strong.

I mean, these are the things I feel like we have to tattoo across our hearts, right? To see in the mirror, in the moments when it feels too dark and to remind each other when we’re feeling not just lonely but alone. I think one of the interesting things you really pick up on in the book, both in your writing, but also the way that you’ve intentionally crafted it is you’re talking about the really the intergenerational responsibility of this work. 

You say there is no progress without generations working together. And there is no north star without vigorous creativity to imagine it for us and to mark where it lights the way. Talk to me about the role of creativity in that intergenerational conversation and relationship. What can art do to create these radical solutions as say?

Elizabeth Alexander: Well, I really think that the power of imagination, the power of visioning, the power of being able to say it may not be here this way in the, in the right now, but I can see it. So I think that’s a super power. I think that’s something that has always been present in all societies. There have always been people painting on caves and singing songs collectively.

And communities telling the story of themselves to each other through song and through image. That is forever and everywhere. I think it’s, it’s actually indelible and I think human beings need it. I also think that in the long Black freedom struggle, we have seen the power of creativity and the power of expression in so many of our leaders and our people.

You know, if you think about Dr. King and you know that repeated, I may not get there with you. I may not get there with you, but I can see. I can see. You know, when he says my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, you see in him somewhere who is visioning, what has not yet come.

And visioning what he would not live to see, but visioning it so here to the creativity to figurative language, so that we can keep going there. And so I think there’s also a really important argument about, um, intergenerational and not just with living elders, but also, you know, elders who have become ancestors and, you know, understanding.

I mean, I think. You know, the older you get, you know, you, you want to say like, you know, you kids, you going to have to figure it out. And that’s why just that little snippet of, you know, when my kids went out into the street, I mean, they were whatever they were 15 and 16. You know, these big, tall hoodie wearing six-foot five, six foot, you know, I was terrified.

I thought, like, not tonight. But then I thought, well, I’m going with you and I’m going with you not because I can necessarily do anything to protect you, but because we believe this and because I will never leave your side. Right now it’s literally. It’ll have to be figurative because, you know, you grow up and out.

So after George Floyd was killed, they, you know, were with their friends in the middle of the pandemic, like shutting down the highway in New Haven. I, you know, I wasn’t there. I didn’t need to be there. Didn’t need to be in the highway. But the point is that that’s what solidarity is. And I think that’s what it also means to believe that there doesn’t have to be a generation gap.

You know, and that people who have done some living have some things to share. And for me as a teacher, I feel like, okay, I got all this poetry, I got all this art. And I also have the power of critical thinking. That is the legacy of African-American studies that says that you can love something. You can love your country and question it.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yes, indeed. 

Elizabeth Alexander: You can talk about and analyze how it could be made more fair and more just. Those two things aren’t at odds. You know, I do stay hopeful even as we struggle and I do stay joyful even as, as we worry. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Before I let you go, I want to tap into some of that hope and that imagination. The last chapter of the book is called “There are Black People in the Future”, drawn, of course from that, um, Alisha Wormsley work. You meditate really on Black freedom on Black futurism on that hope on whatever that vision is. Talk to us about what it takes to imagine Blackness in the future. And, um, I’m really curious just what your vision is for us and your best hopes.

Elizabeth Alexander: Oh my goodness. Biggest question ever. Biggest question ever. You know, I think that artists and poets may not have answers, but they do have vision. And they do go deep inside themselves to do the hard work of bringing something back to us that is human, that is soul,  that is light. And that is what the substance of hope is.

I think also, you know, the book really is an exhortation to study, to study, to history, to critical thinking. And to finally in the case, you know, I talk about John Hope Franklin. That, you know, race is at the center of the American story. It always has been. And so I think that to understand that there is nothing at odds with Americanness in the racial conversation and to be empowered with that knowledge is to me, you know, I’m sort of describing a methodology that I think gives us the strength that we have to keep moving forward.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Elizabeth Alexander your words always cut right to the heart of the matter. I have so much to reflect on just from this quick conversation with you even more to reflect on as I visit and revisit and revisit The Trayvon Generation and much of your work. Thank you so much for spending time with us and thank you for how you help us paint a vision of the future.

Elizabeth Alexander: Thank you, Brittany. I really, really am honored and quite joyful to be here with you.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Elizabeth Alexander is an essayist and a poet and her new book, The Trayvon Generation is out now. She’s also president of the Mellon Foundation.

Ooh, y’all. I aspire to give my child and everyone I encountered the kind of love Elizabeth spoke of. One both rational and fantastical. One that keeps him grounded and firm and steadfast, but that also lifts him to heights unknown, knowing that if he can imagine it, he can have it. He can be it. I came up working in education in a time when we’d often say you can’t be it if you can’t see it.  

We’d often tout that line to promote representation and teacher leadership and allowing kids of color to access career paths by seeing people who look like them and previously unattainable roles. And most certainly, someone is thinking they can be a judge because of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson or president because of VP  Kamala Harris.

But the more I think about it, the more I want to be clear with baby M that sometimes you gotta be at precisely because you can’t see it. And I pray that one day he writes a vision so clear and so profound, he amazes even himself. And then he goes out and grabs it. And that my friends is how we set ourselves free.

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

 Treasure Brooks is our correspondent. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh. 

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Raj Makhija, and Davy Sumner. 

 Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media. I promise it will not be all about changing diapers. And you can follow our amazing team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Apple Podcast or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.


UNDISTRACTED: April 7, 2022

“I’ve Been Proud So Many Times”: A Texas Family Fights the Anti-Trans Laws

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brit. So there is a woman in Florida named Tiffany Justice. She has four school-aged children and she’s the founder of a group she calls Moms for Liberty. She has used that network of around 80,000 parents to push for a new law that the Human Rights Campaign says is discriminatory and dangerous. It seeks to silence teachers from talking about LGBTQ plus issues or.

Further stigmatizing and isolating LGBTQ plus kids. The legislation is HB 1557, the so-called Parental Rights and Education Bill, and it was signed into law last week. You probably know it as the, Don’t Say Gay bill and Tiffany Justice says the law will and I quote, “fight transgender contagion in America.”

Now it will be easy for me to get snarky about Tiffany Justice because the only contagion I see sweeping the nation is unabashed, unashamed, bigotry, and hate parading as prophesy. Because from Florida to Texas to school libraries across the country, this bullshit is catching. The rights it seems only belong to the white conservative Christian parents and never the parents of color, the queer parents, the trans-parents, or the parents who very simply give a damn to raise better children.

Then I think of her four school-aged children and I can’t be snarky. I think of all the children of those 80,000 parents committed to dragging us back into the dark ages, one school board meeting at a time. And I can’t be snarky about that because I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for those among the 80,000 families who are queer or trans themselves potentially unsafe and unable to live their true lives.

And I’m afraid for all our children learning the language of hatred who will grow up prepared only to dominate and never to love the children who didn’t ask to be here by the way, and are very simply trying to find their way. They are the ones paying a very dear price for our sins. I won’t ask what we are becoming because in parts of many places, we’re seeing an emboldened version of who we’ve always been.

But it’s not who we have to be because we are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, I’ll be talking to Willow and Owen Edgerton, a daughter, father pear that live in Austin, Texas, 

Willow Egerton: specifically with trans non binary kids. Trust me when I say your child will be a million times happier. If you support them, if you respect them as a person and help them out, sometimes they will.

So much happier as themselves than as a lie.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s coming up but first. It’s the news.

Oh, listen, a law that would make performing an abortion, a felony passed the Oklahoma legislature Tuesday and is headed to the desk of a governor who will undoubtedly sign it under the law abortion providers could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison and face a fine of up to $100,000. This law does not just affect Oklahomans.

According to data collected by the university of Texas at Austin, 45% of patients who can’t access abortion care in Texas because of its new strict laws, travel up to 10 hours to receive care in Oklahoma. And now they won’t be able to. Now there is a backup. The law will likely be blocked by the courts because for now, thanks to Roe vs. Wade abortion is legal in the U.S. But I want you to listen very closely. Roe is not permanent. We’re waiting on that ruling from the Supreme court on Dobbs versus Jackson women’s health organization. That case is very likely to overturn Roe. That means without Congress coming to the aid of pregnant people everywhere and protecting the right to control our own bodies, all the laws that state legislatures have passed to outlaw abortion constrain when you can access it, to punish doctors and pregnant people, to allow random people, to sue an Uber driver for taking you to a clinic, all that shit becomes real.

And the worst part is. We’re kind of playing a waiting game. Like we’re just twiddling our thumbs, trying to find out if the conservative majority on the Supreme court is really going to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent. The vote on the Oklahoma bill was thrown onto the agenda of the legislature on Monday night and voted on with nearly no debate. 

Like I said, practically a suppressed. This is why we have to stay on state legislatures. They are down there in their capitals, scheming to ban a procedure that nearly two thirds of Americans believed should be legal without Roe the right to choose your destiny comes down to where you live. And that simply is not what freedom is.

Let’s move on to some good news. First of all, I know you saw that huge victory out of Staten island, right? A group of workers has created the first ever union at an Amazon warehouse. This is huge. They’re calling it the biggest labor victory in a generation. It’s absolutely epic and it has to be celebrated.

And I want to shout out another victory that happened this week. That didn’t quite trend as hard, but it meant a lot to me. In Sacramento, California, the teachers’ union has reached a deal with the school district to return to classrooms. They’ve been on strike for 12 days protesting the fact that their healthcare benefits were being reduced and that they continue to be overworked in light of the ongoing pandemic shortage.

One of those striking teachers is the cousin I was just connected with after Finding Your Roots, Morgan Coble Garrett, and she made the case quite clear. 

Morgan Coble Garrett: I’m a single mom of three. And when my pay is getting docked, it’s very hard to be present. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s what I’m talking about, cuz tell them the truth.

Thanks to the thoughtful organizing of you and your fellow teachers. They won! Sacramento teachers secured an ongoing salary increase of 4% and the reinstatement of a policy, which pays for 100% of health coverage as it should be. The Sacramento strike was one of several that have happened in the past weeks.

Teachers in California, Minnesota, and Illinois have also hit the picket line to demand better from their district. And I get it. Teachers are going through it. Folks want to act like teachers should never strike, but in addition, so the threat of illness from COVID-19 teachers have spent the last two years stretching themselves to make up for the fact that many of their colleagues have had to leave.

And that’s on top of the reality that teaching, you know, because it’s historically, how do we like to put it, women’s work, has been underpaid and under-resourced, since the turn of the century. Teacher salaries have been on the decline in much of the country. As a former member of the Washington teachers union myself, I love to see teachers standing up for the profession that everyone needs and everyone should value. So it’s a good week for workers. That’s us. Let’s keep it going.

From one building block of a thriving middle-class to another home ownership. Now while redlining, which is the practice of denying mortgages to people who live in certain, usually Black neighborhoods may have officially ended in 1968, its effects are still plaguing us today. New research out of the university of Washington and UC Berkeley shows that areas that were redlined in the 1930s had higher levels of pollution in 2010, 80 years later. The study shows that residents who live in neighborhoods where banks refused to lend to buyers in Seattle Tacoma and Spokane Washington still to this day are exposed to a higher level of air pollutants. That’s because their neighborhoods are closer to the sources of pollution, like highways and industrial facilities. And historically residents have had a harder time fending off those industrial polluters. This research is both astounding and not at all surprising because here’s the thing we’ve been knew. 

Black Americans are 40% more likely to have asthma than white Americans. And the predominantly Black residents of Louisiana so-called cancer alley are 50 times more likely to develop cancer than the average American and those polluters look, our systems of oppression are deeply interconnected. Follow me on this, the presence of a polluter, like a chemical plant means that banks divest.

The pollution drives up the rates of illnesses and the cost of medical bills. While low home ownership rates make it hard to bring in enough property tax revenue to tackle any of those issues and countless Black and brown communities across the country. Industrial facilities have closed up shop, but they have refused to clean up their.

That was 80 years ago, but people made those decisions about whose life has value and whose doesn’t. And 80 years later, those folks are still being written off. So I ask you, who are we writing off now? Who have we forgotten? Whose pain have we decided is just the price of doing business? Who do we need to be organizing with and doing mutual aid beside, in order to divest from those interconnected systems of harm.

That’s what the story made me wonder. That’s the work we got to do.

Coming up my conversation with Willow Edgerton, a young activist for trans rights in Texas, right after this short break.

And we are back. So. The kids are safe. A judge in Texas has blocked an order from governor Greg Abbott to take effect had that not happened. The directive would have required mandatory reporters like family doctors, teachers, and school nurses to report when children are receiving gender affirming medical care.

And that’s because the governor of Texas and the state attorney general think that that care is child abuse based on a memo written by the AG back in February. Let’s be very clear. It is not. Let me tell you what gender affirming care is though. It’s so that a child has more time to understand their gender.

It might be laser hair removal. It might be speech therapy. It might be therapy therapy, but no matter what it looks like it is care and not abuse. And it is most certainly private. It is not the purview of state politicians looking to score political points by demonizing children. Children like Willow Luna Edgerton.

I spoke with her and her father Owen. They live in Austin, Texas, and watch out Greg Abbott because you, are not about to score a single point. Willow Owen, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with us here at undistracted. I’m so excited to talk to you both. 

Owen Egerton: Thanks for having us.

Willow Egerton: I’m so excited to talk to you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So I really want to get a sense, first of who you are, do you mind introducing yourselves? Willow we’ll come to you first. 

Willow Egerton: Yeah, so, uh, my name is Willow Luna Edgerton. I appreciate compliments about it because I picked it myself.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It is beautiful.

Willow Egerton: I am a 13 year old trans. That lives in Austin, Texas, and, uh, you know, trying to speak up for my rights. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, we’ll get the chance to do lots of that. And we always appreciate folks that do it. Owen how about you? 

Owen Egerton: I’m Owen Edgerton. I didn’t pick my name, but I like it too. And I accept compliments and I’m the very proud parent of Willow and, uh, and another daughter who’s 16. Um, my wife and I, Jody, and we live here in Austin, Texas, and I’m a novelist in a film.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, it is more than a pleasure to meet the both of you. Both of you have fantastic names. I didn’t pick my name either, but I feel like I’ve grown into it. We are so grateful to you all for joining us all the way from Austin, Texas. Um, there is plenty for us to get into, but I really want our community to get to know you all.

I’d love to know a little bit more about you all’s family. Are there, are there particular traditions that you all have? That are different from other families? I know for my family growing up in St. Louis, Missouri in the summertime. No matter what was happening in the world. Every Monday, our family got together, our extended family got together for catfish and spaghetti.

Like, I don’t know, just because it was Monday. Are there any traditions that are unique to you all?

Owen Egerton: Yeah, I think we, we got a goofy little family, you know, we’re we got this little house in south Austin and, uh, we make a lot of movies as Willow was saying. And, uh, so we’ve got like props leftover from horror movies that like around our house, which is kind of strange.

And we have little names. I’m like, oh, there’s the murder table. And there’s the monster in the corner.

Willow Egerton: One specific tradition that is, uh, somewhat similar to what you’re talking about is every new years we take a loaf of bread. And throw it around like really hard until it’s like, just like mashed up bread bits.

And then the next morning we make French toast out of it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Oh nice. 

Owen Egerton: That’s what we do the stroke of midnight. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. I might have to steal that because mostly just cause I love French toast. So if we borrow that tradition in our household, please know that I will give you all credit. 

Willow Egerton: But it is very challenging to make French toast out of mashed up bread bits. It’s not always exactly French toast. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: But it’s probably always delicious. 

Owen Egerton: Yes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I’m also just curious about your family’s priorities. Right? I can tell creativity, abounds. I can tell clearly like a lot of fun and laughter, um, is always at the forefront. What are kind of the most important rules in your family?

I know that at least once a month, my parents made me–my brother and myself do book reports at dinner, which was like, oh, well we got to pick the book. Right. But it was like an oral report. Right. So I would read, um, the autobiography of Frederick Douglas and I’d have to talk about that kind of stuff.

Are there rules or priorities that really, you feel like characterize your family?

Willow Egerton: We don’t actually have that much stuff. Uh, I would say my, uh, parents kind of raised us more like as a bunch of friends and less like we’re above you and we’re you’re like it rulers. And, um, I mean, if I ever have kids, that’s definitely how I’d raised them too.

Probably. Yeah. So that was, that’s not really a huge thing. I don’t know. No drugs. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, yeah. That’s important. Anything else? Owen, that you feel like when you really are thinking about, you know, the kind of children you want to raise, the kind of family you want to have, what are those, those priorities that you all have set.

Owen Egerton: Jodie and I, we talked a lot about like, what kind of parenting, what kind of family that we wanted to raise. And we, we learned a bunch from both our sets of parents, which we’re really, really grateful for. And I think the two things that kind of led our parenting have been number one would be kindness.

I mean, I think if there’s ever like a rule in our house, it’s be kind. And then the other one is play. Uh, you know, Jodie and I, we met doing improv together. We were in the same improv troupe back in the day. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Oh my God. I love that. 

Owen Egerton: And so we think it’s really important to, you know, do something silly. If it’s raining, let’s all run outside and jump around or, you know, let’s enjoy what we’re doing and take play really seriously.

And that leads into our careers and our relationships and definitely our household of how, how we spend a day. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Owen, I’m so curious. If at all, you had conversations about gender with your children. How did you talk about it when they were growing up? Where were you trying to nurture any particular values in them?

Owen Egerton: Jody and I’ve always had the idea of the value that we’ve nurtured is finding who you are. And growing into that, we were, I think really lucky also to have some great examples of some parents who were just a little ahead of us who had kids who identified as gender fluid or non-binary, and were already sort of dealing in thinking with these, some of these issues.

And then we had the great advantage of having Willow, who really early on starting around uh, younger than second grade, it was like, Ooh, I’m not into this boy or girl, or someone’s got to tell me the day I’m born. You know what? My gender was just not into that. And that led the way for us, like, oh, okay.

Let’s, let’s be open and, and, and learn and talk about all those things. And that’s been true actually for Willow and her friends. It’s, it’s just a cool generation of kids. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It is the kids are absolutely. All right. Willow. Your dad’s talking about, you know, learning this word when you’re around age seven or eight, this concept of gender fluidity.

Tell us more about what was interesting to you about this and tell us more, just kind of about how you processed it, as you learned about this word, this concept. 

Willow Egerton: So pretty much before then, even right. I had always been like, I want to be a girl. No. And be a boy. Yeah. I don’t know. Right. And then I heard this word, gender fluid and it described me really well.

Cause I was like, oh yeah, I’m not, I’m not quite either. Right. So I started using that for awhile. I’ve always been pretty accepting of myself if you will. Because like, from a young age I was taught like this is super normal. Yeah. So definitely other people had a hard time adjusting, but I think learning about like the trans community and stuff really helped me be a lot happier.

Cause like for a while I went by non binary, right. Exclusive they, them pronouns. And then I was like, Hm, I, kinda wanna be a girl too. And then like the trans community specifically, some of my trans friends told me about a term called Demi girl, which is like, you know, kind of non binary kind of girl. And I was like, oh my God, that’s so much better.

And then I became so much happier afterwards. So really this whole thing has just made me a lot happier. 

Owen Egerton: Yeah. You know, of course you here in Texas, we’ve been having all this, uh, gosh, I dunno. Uh, from the governor down, uh, harassment, I would say of families of trans kids and trying to define gender affirming care in one way or another as child abuse.

And when some of the stuff was just breaking in the news, I got a text from a good friend of mine who lives out of state lives in California. And this friend was saying, oh, I’m so sorry for Willow. Oh my goodness. What a horrible time, you know, to, to, to be alive and this situation. And I remember at the moment I was dropping Willow off at school and she’s wearing her trans pride, knee high socks, and is waving at friends.

Owen Egerton: And it was this reminder that there’s such a community of support from our family to our extended family, to our school, to our friends. And I’ve just seen that be like really wonderful. So when Willow came out as trans, which was about a year ago, we saw like, oh my gosh, the great experience of watching your kid become more of who they are.

It was great. You know, it was like, it’s like when you watch a flower bloom, you know, you watching the sunrise, you’re like, oh yeah, this is becoming more and more who they are meant to be. And that’s just been [00:20:00] like a real. Wonderful experience to see. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Willow what was that conversation like with your parents as you are becoming more of yourself?

Willow Egerton: Really, the first conversation was, you know, my mom came up to me and was like, hey, I have this friend who has this kid who identifies as gender fluid. Right. I think this might be similar to what you’re experiencing. And I was like, oh my God, that’s totally it. Right. And then I decided to use she, they pronouns and I just, they were like, oh, that’s cool.

When I decided to change my name, when I was researching a bunch of names, they were also there, you know, helping me find more names and using the names I wanted. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: What led you to Willow Luna?

Willow Egerton: Yeah, pretty much. The reason I got Willow is I have like a huge Google doc of names. Right? Cause like, if I’m going to pick a name, that’s probably my name for like the rest of my life.

It’s gotta be good. Right. So I was down to like five names or so, and I tried to Alice and I realized it just didn’t fit me. So then I tried out Willow and Moxie and Willow just stuck the most.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It’s such a, having a Google doc of all of your name choices is like the most generational thing I’ve ever heard.

That’s like, it’s so pretty. It just perfectly encapsulates how intentional you all are about everything. And I love it. Willow were the conversations that you had with your, with your parents and with your family, were they different than the ones you had with your friends or with your teachers? 

Willow Egerton: probably a little bit.

I’ll be completely honest with you talking about being trans with CIS people versus trans. Super different. Like if you were talking about deciding to go on like HRT or hormone blockers, right. A lot of times is my own personal experience. And a lot of people, I talked to you about this experience too, but sometimes even talking about that with like a CIS person, they’re like, oh, well here’s all the downsides.

You’re super brave for this, but also here’s the bad thing. But also, you know, like, And then with like other trans people, it’s just like, woo. Yeah, you did it. You know, like, it’s easier to talk about these subjects with people who understand them personally.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You know, Owen listening to, to Willow talk about this.

I’m curious about your parenting in this moment, right? You talked about the many ways in which Texas, among many other states, unfortunately are perpetually politicizing and criminalizing people’s identities. What did you think parenting was going to be like when Willow first started affirming her gender versus what it’s actually been like? 

Owen Egerton: Oh, what a great question. So Willow started pretty early on, basically declaring I’m not going to give into this binary system. And it was an interesting, like for, for me, I was like, oh, that’s, that’s different. My wife was a little bit ahead of me and knew a lot more. And, and I was like, I’m going to be learning.

I tell you this though. I knew of course from day one with Willow and with our older daughter as well. I was going to be proud and I’ve been proud so many times one of the wonderful surprise things that I don’t know if I would have foreseen. How proud I am of Willow being an outspoken trans person of how proud I am of her being, who she is, embracing who she is and not letting bullies even if that bully happens to sit in the capital of the state in any way impede on that journey.

That makes me so proud. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Willow, what does it feel like hearing that you probably hear it all the time. 

Willow Egerton: Yeah, it’s really nice to know. I have so much support, you know, it’s really nice how my family has never like, tried to assume things about me really, you know, and how open they are to change and how ready they are to hear me out.

If I’m like, oh, I suddenly want to use different pronouns. They’re ready for that. You know, or if they’re not ready for it, they’re ready to change and learn how to be. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That flexibility seems like a critically important part. What do you want other parents of, I won’t even just say other parents of trans or non-binary kids to know just what do you want other parents to know, period?

Willow Egerton: Well specifically with trans non binary kids. I would say, trust me when I say your child will be a million times happier. If you support them, if you respect them as a person and help them out, sometimes they will be so much happier as themselves than as a lie. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: mm Hmm. You know, I asked it that way in part, because your parents didn’t necessarily know that this was going to be their parenting experience until you started having those conversations. Right. And so, you know, my husband and I are talking about having kids and we’re thinking about the kind of parents that we want to be. And like all of the things that one could anticipate, all of the things that we don’t know that we don’t know.

Right. And, and what about. Folks who, who parents who may walk into, um, an experience down the road where one or more of their children comes and has the kind of conversations that you had with their parents. What, what are you hoping that those parents would have been thinking about and talking about? I would say 

Willow Egerton: if you haven’t already, by the time you’re like thinking about having kids with your partner, probably make sure that in those situations you’ve similar ideas.

Like if one person is really against trans people. And the other one loves him. Maybe talk that out before having kids.

Owen Egerton: Yeah, 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: For sure. 

Willow Egerton:  I mean, it might come up that this more time, if you’re like talking about having kids and talking about your types of parents, you want to be, my biggest thing is be ready to be flexible and be ready to be supportive because a lot of trans people, we don’t instantly know that we’re trans it’s so much more complex than that. Say your kid like me has gone through one or two different sets of pronouns that I like to use. Just be flexible. 

Owen Egerton: I think what Willow said, like pretty wise words there about talking about and being flexible? I think, you know, one of the big things too.

And this is I suppose, in any relationship, but just like the importance of listening kids can really sense when you’re not really listening. And I guess anybody can, and there’s few things that can be as dampening on a situation as when you are aware that the person you’re trying to tell something to is not really listening to you.

And this happens to kids so often, happens to children all the time where they saying like, this is what I’m experiencing. This is what I’m feeling. And so many times. We as parents will be like, oh, that’s a phase or no, you’re not really feeling that. And I know I’ve been guilty of that. And so I think the big thing that I’ve learned, you know, over these last few years, it’s like, go ahead and listen, go ahead and listen and talk and good things come from that. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Owen are there things you think parents. Worry about that they don’t need to be worrying about? 

Owen Egerton: In this journey earlier on and even a year or so back, I was like, okay, she’s going to come out as trans. And I was so worried that society was going to be like the society that I grew up in an east Texas, that there was going to be like, oh, My gosh, this is going to lead to all these horrible things.

But what I have seen is how many people in, in our culture are just there for her in a way that I just don’t feel was possible when I was growing up. And that includes like friends and school and stuff like that, but also like our immediate family. I mean, watching my mom come across the room and give Willow this big hug and say how much he loved her when, when we announced the news to the grandparents was just amazing. So I think, and I think we all said it this way. If your kids are talking about being nonbinary, being trans and wanting to say that to the world, there’s of course scary things like government orders. And as some of the legislation that’s being passed in different states in the country, there’s so much more to be excited about than there is to be afraid of.

There’s so much more to celebrate than there is to hide. And there’s just so much more benefit and happiness than there is to be afraid of a cowering from. So I think that’s the big thing of like celebrate with your kid. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Willow, I want to talk a little bit about some of your work, because excuse me for the phrasing Owen.

It’s really dope shit. You started the GSA at your school, which is absolutely incredible. I know from personal experience that organizing work is not easy work. It is often thankless. It takes many, many hours. It’s difficult to learn. And I started when I was about your age. So tell folks in our audience who don’t know what GSA stands for and why you started this particular club.

Willow Egerton: Yeah. So the club’s official name is the GSA Advocates for the Youth or for short GAY, but GSA specifically stands for gender sexuality Alliance. So it’s the club for LGBTQIA plus people to go right. And be in a supportive environment. What we do mostly is we’re trying to make our school campus, um, much more friendly place for queer students.

So for example, we’ve, we’re trying to get, uh, dead names off our school’s website. We held a little Valentine’s day event. Officially it was called love is love day. They made me call it that I wanted to call it gay day. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, we say gay, right? Yeah. But then like 

Willow Egerton: Yeah. But then like day of they were like, Willow. I don’t think we can do that.

And I was like, you know what? You’re right. So it’s called love is love day.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Next year. 

Willow Egerton: Next year. Next year. Maybe high school. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: There you go. I know that everyone doesn’t know what dead names are, right? 

Willow Egerton: So there’s many different names for a dead name, pretty much. It’s when a trans person changes their name, it’s their name assigned at birth.

Some people call them dead names. That’s probably the most common way. A lot of people will call them like their legal names or their old names, all that stuff. No one needs to know it. No one needs to know your dead name, different trans people have kind of different levels of how much they don’t like their deadname if you will, for me, I call it my dead name because I’m like want it gone. Nope. Nothing to do with it. But other people are like, yeah, it’s just my legal name. So it’s like, it’s a very strange thing. Uh, emotions wise because it’s like something that used to be so connected to you now you want to be as far away from as possible.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And so what is the issue specifically that you’re trying to resolve with deadnaming and your school’s website. 

Willow Egerton: Right. So what would happen is on the school website which is where everything is, right. What were they would do is they would put the legal name first or the dead name, right. And then in parentheses your real name, which is an issue for a couple of reasons.

First one being. People know your dead name now, which is never fun. And another reason is like a substitute teacher, right? You’re reading off attendance. Are you going to look at the name in parenthesis or the name that’s first? You’re gonna look at the name that’s first, obviously. So students kept getting deadnamed specifically during the zoom school that would happen constantly.

And third, because of the whole Abbott letter, you know, report trans kids thing. We were worried that. Put a thing that says, Hey, this person’s trans look, look, it’s a trans person. Right. They can get reported by like maybe a sub that they didn’t thoroughly check enough or student. Right. That’s the main reasons why.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Okay. So we’ve been talking around this. This avid thing, let’s get all the way into it. State legislatures across the country. And of course in Texas specifically have been targeting trans kids and their families for a while now. But it’s really ramped up in 2022. Right. This is not new, but there is some added energy around this particular kind of hate.

Willow. And then, Owen I definitely want to hear from you as well. How has this affected your family? 

Willow Egerton: So it’s definitely been pretty scary having all this stuff happen and. Having people in power want me gone? You know, it’s not, it’s not very fun. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Owen what about for you. 

Owen Egerton: It’s been about a month since Paxton them gave the non-binding legal opinion that led to Abbott’s order to investigate any family that might be doing any kind of gender affirming care, uh, for child abuse.

Uh, and it has been stressful. So. Part has been sometimes infuriating. Sometimes it makes us want to just like protest and yell. And sometimes quite frankly, we do want to hide when we’re invited on like your podcast. We’re excited to talk about our stories and then maybe the next month. We’re also like, gosh, maybe we shouldn’t because what could happen?

It’s sews fear and nothing good grows from sowing fear in that kind of way. So that’s been hard. The other side of it though, has been, we’ve also had a wave of support from friends all over the world who have been hearing about the situation and reaching out to us from every different part of our lives to say, we love you.

We support you. We’ve got your back.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: One of the responses I’ve tried to wrestle away from. Even some well-intentioned people is the reaction that like, well, if you don’t like it don’t live in Texas, like, you know, I think that sometimes people think that they’re coming up with some solution there, but, Owen, what’s your response to that?

Why is Texas important to you? 

Owen Egerton: I moved to Texas from England, with my family when I was a little kid and I’ve been very grateful to grow up in Texas. Very proud, Texan. I love Austin. Austin’s just been such a great home to me in so many ways. And at the same time when people say. I’m like, you know, you might be right.

Maybe like maybe there is going to be a time to get out of this state. I know Willow and I we’ve talked about it. What a sad thing for a state when you’re going to be, I mean, you’re going to be losing Willow, come on, state. Trust me. You want this kid! We talk about when a, you know, a big corporation leaves a state and protest, but sometimes you forget, like what about all the people that you’re going to be losing those situations. That’s it. Right now, we are here. Even if we end up in the future, whatever, somewhere else, we do want to stand up and fight, not just for the right, for Willow to be Willow, but also for the right of some kid who again, is too afraid to tell their parents who they really are.

Some kid who is carrying the message that the governor’s passing down. That as well as it’s like, you’re illegal. And you’re not wanted here and what you are is something wrong. And if your parents are supporting that, then that is a form of abuse. That’s hard message for those kids to hear again and again and again, they need, they need the voices of people, hugging them, cheering them on.

I mean, wherever we are in the world, we are going to be louder in our love than the screaming hate. Even if it’s coming from as loud, a megaphone as the governor’s mansion. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I’m also just thinking about those families that can’t afford to pick up and leave Texas, right? That, that is actually a, a choice that they very simply can’t make so true when we hear about.

Legislation about trans young people. It’s most often coming from people who are not trans and who aren’t even in school who don’t play or haven’t played or don’t even care about or support the sports that they seem to have so much commentary. I love to hear Willow what you have to say to those lawmakers.

If attorney general, Ken Paxton or governor Greg Abbott was sitting right next to me right now. I, after I elbowed them in the side, what would you want to say to them? 

Willow Egerton: I’d probably say you are a child. Abbott did something wrong. He messed up the power grid. And instead of. Being like, oh, I’m sorry, let’s fix everything.

He said, ah, ah, children, I’m so scared. I’m scared of those children over there, that minority of children that can’t really defend themselves because they don’t have a voice and society, everyone go attack them. And that is childish, immature and stupid. And no one who thinks like that should be the leader of a massive state of a massive country.

Just they’re blaming a bunch of children so that they can look better to other children that also hate us for God knows why, I guess they would say, God knows why, but, uh, or the trans-sport ban. Right. It’s just like, do you care? Yeah. Trans athletes have been allowed to compete in the Olympics for like years now, but people only care when it’s a distraction from them being assholes.

So maybe just stop being assholes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I mean, this is deeply astute political commentary. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m being very serious because your clear understanding. That your humanity is being used both as a wedge issue and as a distraction from him not taking responsibility for all of his constituents or for things like the power grid in that winter freeze out that we saw devastate so many parts of Texas.

I mean, it is just a deeply astute assessment of what’s happening. Owen what would you have to say to them right now? 

Owen Egerton: You know, honestly, if you had Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott there with you. I don’t think I would have anything to say to them. I believe that the people I want to talk to are not them. I think they’ve chosen not to hear.

And so instead, the people I would want to talk to are the people who feel that maybe they don’t have a stake in this particular argument that maybe they can be afraid of trans people. Cause they don’t necessarily think they know anybody who’s trans and this is not an issue for them. And they can believe that this is something scary or maybe they’re like.

Gosh. Yes. That’s a situation of a civil rights, but it’s not, you know, it’s not my family. I think those are the people I want to talk to. I mean, for lack of a better word in this situation, I guess I would say moderates. Yeah. But like, I’d be like, by the way, I know this might not be your family or maybe you don’t know that it’s your family or your neighbor, but it is, it is, this is civil rights, you know, Willow’s grandparents, my wife’s parents talk about marching for civil rights back in the 1960s and into the 1970s. And they are amazing. We are still doing this. We are still having to stand up for each other and that’s who I think need to hear the message for me. I’m like, I don’t know, Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton might be lost causes the people that I’m hoping will stand up and say, And act out are the rest of us. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, to be very clear, can packs and, and grit are not allowed at my house, but before I let you go, this last question is a little cheesy, but I’m also a little cheesy. So it just it’s on brand. But I really want to end on, on a hopeful note and Willow, I want to ask you, where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years?

Like, what is your dream future look like? 

Willow Egerton: I want to keep getting my voice out there. I want to be in some position where people are able to hear me, whether that’s a filmmaker or something else entirely. I don’t quite know yet, but I want to be in a situation where I am able to continue to speak my mind and people will listen.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble speaking your mind. And I know that I, for one will absolutely be listening. I want to thank the both of you for having this conversation. I know it does not come without risk. And so from the very, very bottom of my. Thank you for being willing. And please know that if there’s absolutely anything I, or the rest of our undistracted family can do to stand in solidarity.

And I mean that very literally with you Willow with your family Owen, please do not hesitate to let us know. I have learned more about the kind of parent I want to be from listening to you, Owen and Willow. I have learned more about the kind of absolutely fantastic young person. I hope to raise one day.

So thank you. Thank you. Okay. 

Owen Egerton: Well, thank you. Thanks so much for having us. 

Willow Egerton: Thank you so much. Yeah, it’s been great being here.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Willow is an eighth grader, a filmmaker and an organizer from Austin, Texas. Her dad, Owen is a filmmaker and a novelist. Y’all don’t we want happy children. It’s not a question. I think we’d have to ask Willow, made it really clear. Your child will be a million times happier if you just support and respect them.

Isn’t that? What everyone? Isn’t that what everyone deserves. And despite the folks who are convinced that parenting is an exclusively top-down exercise, children actually do deserve our respect too. They are whole people with their own dreams and hopes loves, and yes, identity and our greatest hope should be that they find their way to themselves.

Feel free to exercise the agency. It takes to live their fullest lives. How small, how sad, how absolutely vile a person do you have to be to need to stop out of a child, their very existence to make yourself feel powerful. Now, Willow might say you yourself are a child which I’d agree with, except that’s an insult to children everywhere, especially perceptive, compassionate kids like Willow. Owen and Willow’s story of love truth, acceptance and support should not be rare. I should just be how family does at the very least it should be what our policies allow for so that our young trans folks can freely live the lives. They dream and find the family they need without threat of harm or erasure. That’s the kind of life we want for trans kids to be included because if they aren’t free, then neither are we.

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Maria Lexa Kavanaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, and Ana Aberstein.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

 You can follow me @MsPackyetti on all social media and our fantastic team @TheMeteor. 

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