Address the Iceberg (with Jennifer Baker) | Crooked Media
Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW! Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW!
September 26, 2023
Pod Save The People
Address the Iceberg (with Jennifer Baker)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara and Myles cover the underreported news of the week — Dallas mayor sudden switch to Republican party, Biden’s policy narrative, a Houston music love story, and contrasting opinions on women in the policing system. Kaya interviews publishing professional Jennifer Baker of Narrative Initiative about her article titled Black Women Are Being Erased in Book Publishing.



Dallas mayor switches parties, making the city the nation’s largest with a GOP mayor


One simple fix for our broken policing system: Hiring more women


Biden’s economic policies have quietly made peoples’ lives better — and no one seems to care


Megan Thee Stallion Joins Beyoncé at the Renaissance Tour Stop in Houston




[AD BREAK] [music break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, Myles, Kaya, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week, the news with regard to race, justice, and equity that went underreported, but is important. And then Kaya sits down with author and publishing professional Jennifer Baker to discuss her recent article, Black Women are being Erased in Book Publishing. I learned a lot, Kaya learned a lot. And you will, too. Here we go. [music break]


De’Ara Balenger: Family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger. 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok at @pharaohrapture, not feral, pharaoh.


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya. 


DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, lots of news, lots of news happening over this week and this weekend. I don’t know if I’m saying the obvious, but I’ve been more and more into the political realm recently, both because of, I don’t know, this country could be on the brink of crisis if we don’t elect the right people. But also just some really interesting feelings I have around my own party, the Democratic Party, and what’s going on with some of our leadership. I mean. [sigh] We can’t say step down to people on the other side when on our side, folks that are getting indicted on corruption won’t step down. And, you know, I have to say though, okay so I’m talking about Bob Menendez. If you all haven’t um haven’t followed. So he’s a United States senator, New Jersey, he and his wife have been charged with bribery um and and they’ve been accused of accepting bribes for a range of corrupt acts, including influencing foreign policy for the benefit of Egypt. Okay. I think what I loved most about this story was The New York Times reporting over the weekend where we learned that the feds got a warrant, went into his house, and what they found in the house was so like Goodfellas style. I just had to chuckle to myself. Gold bars. Gold bars, like actual gold bars were found. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. And some of the cash was stuffed into Senator Menendez’s like, actual senator jacket, which I didn’t even know they had like, senator swag, but I guess I guess they do. Um. So all of this is happening. It’s a major, [laugh] huge case um with lots of media fanfare. So, yeah, it’s conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of an official right. Him being a senator, obviously. So with all of this, he has not stepped down. He is supposed to hold a press conference today where we will learn more of his side of the story. And listen, you know, as an attorney, as somebody that, you know, somewhat believes in the system that we have, you are innocent until proven guilty. I just want to know, how do you explain those gold bars and where do you take a gold bar? Like do you have to take a gold bar to Switzerland to have it turned into money? [laughter] Or would you just make it into some earrings? Like how? 


Kaya Henderson: I bet you could take it to Midtown Manhattan and [laughter] and figure it out. Somebody there is gonna get it for you. 


De’Ara Balenger: Or just wear it around. Wear it on a chain. I guess that’s another thing you could do. Just forget it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Like I said a little bit um earlier, before we got on air that I’ll let people like in on the thought process is that I think sometimes we’re all in our own deprivation tanks of what we have to concentrate on during our week. And sometimes this is my gateway into other conversations. Um. I’ll hear I’ll hear about it, read about it peripherally or through the news, but hearing it from you all, it reads like a like a like a marvel comic. It’s it’s really it’s really, really, really, really ridiculous. And uh look [laughter] and kind, and just like cartoonish. This is cartoonish. I was we– me and my partner were literally watching um Batman, the 1998 version. And this does not feel far off from, you know, Batman. Tim Burton directed. It’s really, really, really uh absurd and obviously um bad but absurd. I don’t have as much faith as De’Ara does in the um legal system, so I’ll go ahead and call him guilty now. But I’ve seen enough episodes of Scooby Doo to know where this is going to go. It feels obvious where this is going to go and and that you were doing wrong. And yeah, it’s but the absurdity of just the gold bars is just and the money. It’s it’s it’s baffling that there’s not more decorum in how people evil villain anymore. They’re just comic book styling it now. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I just want to jump in too, because this is I think the other thing that just contextually makes this really bad is that he was indicted for federal bribery before. And it was a hung it was a hung jury. So there was no conviction. But it’s like but it was on some completely it was on a whole nother crime. 


Myles E. Johnson: Most evil– 


De’Ara Balenger: So it’s kind of– [laugh]


Myles E. Johnson: Most evil villains try to do it two times. Most of the times I never–


Kaya Henderson: Wasn’t it also, wasn’t it also bribery? 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah and it wasn’t, it wasn’t this.


De’Ara Balenger: But it wasn’t Egypt. It was a whole nother. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: I will say it just is so brazen and like, we like I’m like, what do you do with gold bars? Like, somebody registers gold, I don’t know. I feel like there’s a registry of gold bars like that feels like a real dramatic thing. And I will, you know, I I have to imagine that somebody is probably checking this sort of stuff. I don’t know. It’s only but so many senators, right? It’s only a hundred of y’all. I feel like bribing has to be one of the things that people are checking for. So we’ll see with this one. And his his the arrogance of not resigning. But I guess if I got charged with bribery before and got off on it I probably wouldn’t resign either. So [laugh] so here we go. But it does not bode well for the Dems as the party of integrity up against the wild Republicans, um that is a bad look. 


De’Ara Balenger: But you know, DeRay, I was thinking about this because I think that it’s sort of, you know, kind of with the perspective that the DOJ isn’t just going after Trump and his cronies like it is. You know, I think there is something to be said about, you know, this being a Democratic administration and they still going after corruption like this. I think I think there’s a story to tell there that’s positive. Um. But yeah, but but holistically, the fact that he won’t step down doesn’t doesn’t hurt, doesn’t help the case. 


Kaya Henderson: I mean, that’s the epitome of privilege, right? Um. But kudos to the entire Democratic Party of New Jersey, which who are like, listen, clown, you got to go. Um. They’re all calling from the governor to all of the other elected officials. They’re calling for his resignation. And, you know, he is being recalcitrant, pulled in a press conference today where he has already said he’s not going to resign. And I mean, this is the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Like this is not just some random senator. This is a– 


De’Ara Balenger: Yup. 


Kaya Henderson: –dude who holds incredible power, who has a say over where massive amounts of money go. And he’s very cheaply bought and paid for by a handful of businesspeople in New Jersey. It’s wild. I feel like these political times that we are living in are so crazy. And this is just another example. 


DeRay Mckesson: Do remind me. I know we’re not talking about him in depth today, but the Clarence Thomas photo with Ken Burns. I felt bad for Ken Burns. I was like, Ooh, that is a bad photo to be in. And Clarence Thomas was out here just doing it real obvious, just taking photos with the billionaires, people before the court. You’re like, the scam is the scam. 


Kaya Henderson: And in sports news, because I’m now your sports correspondent, which might be the most hilarious thing in the whole wide world. Um. Lots of interesting stuff happening this weekend, but two of the biggest is Cousin Prime um and Colorado lost spectacularly um to Oklahoma. Was it Oklahoma? Good Lord, this is why I shouldn’t be your sports correspondent. Um. Oh, no. Oregon. Sorry. The Oregon ducks. That’s who it was. And–


De’Ara Balenger: But they’re, Oregon’s really good, though. Kaya aren’t they–


Kaya Henderson: Oregon is super good.


De’Ara Balenger: –historically really good?


Kaya Henderson: Oregon is super good. 


De’Ara Balenger: They wear green. 


Kaya Henderson: In fact the first–


De’Ara Balenger: I know that. 


Kaya Henderson: –the first. That’s true. Green and yellow. The first two teams that Coach Prime and and the Buffaloes played were ranked super low. And so there are people who are like, of course they were going to win those games and the next two games coming up are with top ten teams. And so all of the predictions were that they were going to be shellacked and uh and you know, it was a setback. But still, like the whole you can’t you cannot you can’t miss the Prime effect. The whole entire season for Colorado the the stadium is sold out. That has never been the case before. Right. You got people showing up to these games, paying attention to these games. Most watched games, you know in history for this school and in and some of these matchups. And so you know you can hate them if you want to but Deion Sanders has re-energized in fact you can’t call him Deion. You have to call him Coach Prime otherwise he walks out of the press conference, which I find hilarious. I mean, [laughter] for me, like, the whole thing is the whole thing is about doing this on his terms. And football is an overwhelmingly white male sport that does not do things on Black men’s terms, even though Black men fuel the entire frickin sport. But Coach Deion is like, look, his his whole response to this, right? All the chitchat, all the haters, all the whatever he is like, look, look at me now, because this the worst you going to see me. Now, if he can hold on to that. Oh, good golly, I like I it I hope I want him to win. I want him to crush the whole entire place. Um. And we will not be able to live in the world of a winning Coach Prime. So I’m of two minds. But um so that was big this weekend in sports. And then the other thing whew child, they announced that my man, Usher Raymond is going to be the Super Bowl performer this year in Las Vegas. And let me just say this. You know, like I like Usher, cool, whatever, whatever. And then I went to see that concert in Las Vegas, y’all. And I’m telling you, it is in my top ten concerts of all time. That dude is a whole performer. And like, I knew every single song except one, because unbeknownst to me, Usher has been the background soundtrack of my life since I was in my twenties. And so this dude is a showman. He puts on a show. I can not wait. I called my man. I was like, babe, you better call every connect you have to get us some Super Bowl tickets for Las Vegas, Pod Save the People family, if you know somebody who can help [laughter] your Auntie get some tickets to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas and a hotel room, please hit me up on the Twitter because–


De’Ara Balenger: [laughing] Oh my goodness. 


Kaya Henderson: [clapping for emphasis] I’ve got to go friends it’s going to be spectacular. And the way they announced it, Myles, you would love this. They put out a series of reels. The first one was with Kim Kardashian calling him. 


Myles E. Johnson: I saw that one. 


Kaya Henderson: To say right then Marshawn Lynch, then Odell Beckham Junior, who was like, Oh, and I got some moves. I can help you. I could like, yo, the whole thing was just– 


Myles E. Johnson: So cute. 


Kaya Henderson: –classic and classy. And he’s so excited like, his interviews are so energetic and whatnot. It’s going to be fantastic. Okay, I’m done.


DeRay Mckesson: What I will say about Coach Prime that I think is great is I love like what a quintessential coach that afterwards his quote was we played like hot garbage, good old fashioned butt kicking no excuse, like he just owns it. And what do you say to the person that just owns it now what annoyed me about the coach from Oregon and this is as a non football watcher is that the Oregon guy does this whole thing. You know, he’s playing for Hollywood, all the flash and [?] da da. And I’m like, okay, fair critique, like interesting critique. And then I look it up. Oregon has cleats that change colors. They have a gazillion different combinations of uniforms. And Nike, like they have done so much to get attention from people that it’s prob doing it in his way with the sunglasses and da da that got everybody ticked off. But it’s like, y’all have been doing it, you just mad that the country is in the middle of the night watching this random team that nobody cared about before. And that was the best tweet I saw, somebody was like, we will not be watching another Oregon game, but we will be watching every single game of Colorado. And you’re like, and the recruiting for next season, this team is going to be unbeatable. 


De’Ara Balenger: When I just was going to bring up the one thing on Usher, because I was watching um Gayle, um Gayle and Nate on CBS This Morning because that’s what I watched this in the morning and Usher was on and Nate and Gayle both were talking about Usher, can you get us some tickets? Uh. Can you make sure that we, how you all asking that man on live TV? [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: You know, ask him where you can. And you know who else was on–


Kaya Henderson: And the Kim, in the Kim Kardashian reel. She’s like, [laughter] so it’s going to be me, my whole family, all my kids, and probably about ten other people. So who do I call for tickets? 


De’Ara Balenger: [laughing] Call exactly, that poor whoever that person is. I just–


DeRay Mckesson: Oh brutal. 


Kaya Henderson: I feel sorry for them. 


De’Ara Balenger: Bless you. 


DeRay Mckesson: Brutal. 


De’Ara Balenger: Bless you. Hang in there. 


DeRay Mckesson: You know, the other person that was on Good Morning America was the the people from the dock. It was the little boy who swam across the river, the [?] who jumped out the boat. He was on the um– 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh! 


DeRay Mckesson: He got interview by Robin Roberts this morning. And then the guy who got jumped by the white people. He also got interviewed today on Robin Roberts. And Robin, she says, have you ever swam that fast? And the little boy is like, no, I have not. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh, you mean the– 


DeRay Mckesson: Hold on. [banter]


Kaya Henderson: In the fight in Mississisppi. Or where–


De’Ara Balenger: No in Alaba– in Montgomery. 


Kaya Henderson: Alabama. 


De’Ara Balenger: In Montgomery. 


DeRay Mckesson: In Montgomery yeah.


Myles E. Johnson: Montgomery, Alabama. 


Kaya Henderson: Folding chair.


DeRay Mckesson: They did their first, they did their first TV show interview this morning with Robin Roberts. 


Kaya Henderson: Fascinating. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh I have to, I have to see that. I am so excited about Usher. Um. I was a teenager, a pre-teen, in fact, because the youth, in Atlanta [laughter] when Usher dropped the Confessions album, so like Usher is obviously a legend to most people, but I can’t even explain how Usher is in my head. Because if you weren’t in Atlanta at 12 or 13 when Yeah came out and the whole A town stomp and you just couldn’t move through the underground of Atlanta without hearing it blasting in similar ways, you can’t move through Manhattan without hearing um that Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, Empire State of Mind song. It was the same way. So I’m so excited that um I’m so excited that Usher is getting this opportunity because it feels like a hometown superstar, getting a global moment. And that’s not always that easy. Specifically one where he’s center of it because because he’s a little bit older now, I was afraid that he will always have to share the stage with 5000 other people when Usher should really be taking it over and taking over the stage. So I’m excited to watch that 15 minutes and then pretend I know what else is happening, the other however long the Superbowl is. [laughter] I also want to say that Bell Hooks um is celebrating a heavenly birthday today. I was just telling everybody how it’s interesting because I remember the day that I found, the weekend that I found out Bell Hooks passed away. And she means so much to mean and so much to obviously the Black community and the Black feminist and Black queer communities and how this podcast was such a respite, an oasis to be able to talk about my appreciation and love for Bell Hooks and it’s wild that now um you know, it’s been about two years um be doing this every time her birthday comes up. And it’s just it’s just it’s just wild. And I also just want to say that you can feel Bell Hooks’ imprint all over the Internet, all over YouTube, outside of watching old movies and all the other geeky stuff that I consume with my partner. We watch so many young Black feminist women who are 18 to 25 to 30 to, you know, just eight– just just that kind of like 18 to 35 year old pocket make cultural critique videos, talk about culture, talk about the Kardashians, but in an intellectual way, talk about different trends and dissect them, talk about different music videos and dissect them. And there’s a whole generation of, I think Bell Hooks students who are taking over the Internet. And that feels really good to see so many Black women finding, so many young Black women, finding their intellectual voice and taking it to the streets. And, you know, I always get a little emotional because she just means so much to me, but I wanted to just give her love and remind y’all to reach y’all books and whatever you have of Bell Hooks, go read it and get your feelings hurt and then heal from that and then get your feelings hurt again and heal from that. Do your good Bell Hooks work in her honor today. 


De’Ara Balenger: The other big news that we got actually like came in late last night, early this morning, is that they are reached a preliminary agreement with the writers strike. Um. I think we’re still waiting on specifics. I don’t think they told us yet what’s going to happen around things like AI. Um. But right now it’s looking like we are getting close to having an end officially to the WGA strike, which is really, really good news. I think it’s like at 150 something days it’s gone on. Um. So, you know, we’ll stay posted, you know, stay posted and and see how how it all plays out. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say–


Kaya Henderson: But that’s just the writers right? The actors have not okay–


De’Ara Balenger: It’s just the writers. It’s just the writers. Yup, it’s just the writers. 


DeRay Mckesson: I was going to tweet this and then I was like, I’m not trying to fight people about labor about the labor process. But somebody had said that the um management was like, this is the best and final offer. And they were like, don’t say that because we get to [?] and I was like– 


De’Ara Balenger: They did say that, that was a part of it too yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I was like, well, that actually matters that you say that’s the best and final offer.


Kaya Henderson: That is actually a recognized negotiating tool. 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s an actual thing. It wasn’t like–


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: The Internet took it as like the manager was flexing and it’s like, no, no, that’s actually an important thing to say because after the best and final, you go to a mediator and don’t nobody– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: –want to go to a mediator because the mediator is a disinterested third party that gets to decide. So when you name it the best and final offer, it really does force everybody’s hand to figure out a way because the option after that is never a great one. So I didn’t do that online because I was like not trying to fight people who have never been a part of a negotiation. But saying the best and final offer is not a bad thing. 


Myles E. Johnson: [laugh] Which was it’s own flex. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: I was just–


Myles E. Johnson: I love DeRay because DeRay is never going to be as nasty as I will be. [laughing] But I like the little the little the little flexes that um are [?]–


Kaya Henderson: A little dig. [banter]


DeRay Mckesson: Kaya knew what I was talking about. 


Kaya Henderson: I understand exactly what you’re talking about. 


Myles E. Johnson: Um. I really hope that I’m so happy for everybody, all writers, everybody that I want to say that, you know, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t just sprinkle my little Black velvet pessimism on some stuff or perspective. I really hope that this strike is also encouraging people, specifically Black people, specifically LGBT Black people and Brown people, and anybody who’s disadvantaged to maybe not lean on these corporations like they have, like they have been. Like it’s different when, you know, Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore doing something in solidarity. They can afford to do it. But it really broke my heart to see how many actors, how many writers were plugged in to this uh quite cannibalistic industry and were maybe surprised or devastated once the lights were turned off. And I think that this is a bigger thing when it comes to people in the entertainment industry and people who are in the arts because we love it so much that often we can plug into something that at any given moment they can turn it up, turn it off on us. Be it AI, be it because of a strike or be it or anything. I would just hate for us to get so green and so, oh, it’s over that we don’t eat the the lessons that we learned. You know, I would love to see more independent things come out. I’d love to see more writers getting together and creating maybe more companies, maybe more again, more independent material, more things where you have a opportunity that if the industry you’re plugged in to decides to act the violent, you actually has some what my mama called F-you money, you know. And having that F you and having those F you resources and that F-you community, I think that is so imperative. So I know it’s not realistic to just totally unplug from something. I haven’t. But I think things like this become wake up calls that it’s time to think maybe a little bit more expansively about our creativity so we won’t be victims. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. And Myles, I’ll just add to that, because this is something that, you know, you and I have talked about, but just for creators and creatives and artists to understand. Y’all is a business. Your a business. And so understanding what that means for your IP, understanding what that means for your financial planning, their organizations. There’s one based in DC, my girl Kim Tignor runs. It’s called Take Creative Control, which helps artists protect their IP. So I think partly it’s like you you actually have to get into doing the research on how to protect yourself because I know you just wanna be free and create, but you a business. [laughter] Anywho.


Myles E. Johnson: De’ara, De’Ara just whooped me. [laughter] Over the podcast, she just took me by the ear. I don’t know if you all heard it. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 




Myles E. Johnson: So my news for this week is none other than a little uh known artist um indie artist, if you will. We’re giving them some shout out some support. Their names are Beyonce and Meg Thee Stallion. Um. Struggling artists who almost nobody’s heard of, but talented women nonetheless. No, but in all seriousness, I wanted to talk about speaking of the cultural depravation tank I’ve felt like I feel like I’m in. Uh Megann thee stallion’s rise in this Tory Lanez moment had a had a happened in a very interesting moment of my life, so I wasn’t as plugged in to it as it was happening. Everything that I’ve learned it’s really been more retroactive because I was just unplugged from um the Internet when when that whole incident happened, because it was during COVID and you know the world was happening child. Looking back, I saw the documentary, read all the materials, um and this was just ahead of her performing with Beyoncé. I have a newfound perspective that is probably late for [?], you know, late to most people, but also I have not seen anything written about it. But Megann Thee Stallion is this generation’s uh feminist line in the sand. This this is one of those situations that unlike Dee Barnes, unlike um so many, unlike uh Michel’le, who uh Dr. Dre’s Michel’le, this is a moment where the superstars of hip hop are really commenting and superstars of Black pop culture are really commenting on how they feel about Megan Thee Stallion. And I feel like this moment is is already feels big. But I think that culturally, the significance we can’t even hardly measure it. The fact that this happened, he’s going to jail and there are still people like Drake. Not little [?], not not comic view comedian who we haven’t seen on regular television in ten years. But the fact that Drake, the one of the biggest hip hop stars, is commenting on this, and also Beyoncé, the biggest superstar, is commenting on this. This is wild this is wild. Um. Again, Drake is one of those. Drake is the biggest superstar he’s not little [?]. Beyonce is not just a [?] or another commentator who has been kind of known to be in maybe more tabloid uh moments. This is a huge Black cultural moment. And I think I’m just now understanding the gravity. And now that this scandal to me is disappearing around it, that oh wow people are literally using this moment to claim their political stakes and their and their boundaries and and who they are. And rappers are using this moment, singers are using this moment, political commentators are using this moment. Everybody who’s 18-35 needs to have a stance of where they sit with this, because it just seems like this is that pinnacle moment for us. It reminds me of Anita Hill. It reminds me of Monica Lewinsky. It reminds me of that kind of stuff but for hip hop culture and I feel like hip hop culture has never had this moment. You see that Kimora Lee Simmons and Russell Simmons and Diddy is just now happen certain things are just now happening. This feels unique that oh something happened and the repercussions are happening within the first five years of it happening. And you have to decide right now. 


Kaya Henderson: I might beg to differ on that because. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: I think that I mean, I think you’re right in in citing all the times that nothing happened as a result of of of abuse. Um. But I feel like there was similar outrage and commentary and conversation around the Chris Brown Rihanna incident and and then it fizzled away. So so one like I think we’re still talking about it there was not there was not the criminal ramifications in the Chris Brown thing. And I think that is a huge difference. Um. But I am interested to see how long Hollywood and not Hollywood, whatever the rap world, the the pop culture, whatever the thing is, how long we keep this alive and how or how quickly we put this down and keep it moving. 


Myles E. Johnson: What was or even years so I think that says something too that this that that just didn’t happen during the COVID uh uh you know in the in the peak of COVID and we’re still talking about it. And Beyonce and Drake are just now commenting on it in the past two weeks. So I think that already shows the longevity. And then also, while I was kind of stuttering between hip hop culture and Black pop culture and stuff like that is because Rihanna has a very different positionality. So she was seen as Sunshine Caribbean girl who was the heir of a Beyoncé or Ciara or Ashanti, Ame– or a Aaliyah. Meg Thee Stallion is a woman, a Black woman who got her um fame from ways that we already demonize Black woman from getting her for her fame, which is one of the reasons why it was so hard to get sympathy from her, because she was already seen as somebody who deserves to be whatever she got into. Deserves to be brutalized. So I think that, again. 


Kaya Henderson: That’s that’s a very fair point. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yes. 


Kaya Henderson: That is a very fair point. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. So that’s the difference I will say. 


DeRay Mckesson: There are two things that stick out to me about this. One is a little more mundane. I love that it was Megan, the um reporter. The like Megan, you know, they call her Megan, the reporter who has a substack who has just blown this whole thing up like she has single handedly changed public opinion about this. She’s who released Iggy Azalea’s letters. She’s who showed up every day at the last trial. Um Tory Lanez called her a googly eyed BIT–, like she is single handedly. And I and I it reminds me of citizen journalism. I mean, she’s a journalist, but not with, like, one of the big platforms. And it also is interesting in in a realm in the same spirit of what Myles is talking about, it was fascinating to me that there was no and I know this was a conversation online, but that no major outlet had a reporter dedicated to this. That is that is fascinating to me. Like the from the Times to Ebony to like and people were like well people are cutting staff and you know people don’t have legal reporters, I’m like they have assigned reporters to a lot less newsworthy things. And it was a woman who had a substack that shaped this. The second thing I do think it is really in– and I agree with you, Myles, and I do think this is a cultural moment. I do think that it has been interesting, despite the evidence, despite the jail call, despite all the things. People still being like I think Tory didn’t do it and you’re like, well, ooh I think it might be easier to just say, like, you don’t think it matters, which might be more true, but it is really interesting to double down. And what’s really wild about Tory is that he did not have to go to prison. There was there were there were ways for this not to be this wild, but patriarchy and masculinity. He just could not imagine. And a reminder that Meg did not want to press ch– like she gave that beautiful statement about like, I know the police are hurting Black men. I tried to protect him still, and yet here we are because he just could not admit to any wrongdoing. 


De’Ara Balenger: I just eew. I mean, thank you for the song, Kiki. But after that, I don’t really have anything. I have I don’t think–


Kaya Henderson: The one other thing– 


De’Ara Balenger: I don’t have anything positive to say. I don’t I just don’t have anything positive to say about Drake. And I I saw Drake perform years ago at one of those festivals that Jay-Z does in Philadelphia. What’s that called, made in America. And that young man was so uncomfortable in his own skin on that stage. And every time he said the N-word, I would. I mean, I it just is such an uncomfortable feeling because I’m just like, who are you? And talking about him within the ecosystem of Black culture? It’s all just very confusing to me. Um. So I’ll I have I have to leave it there before I say something really, really inappropriate, particularly on behalf of light skinned people. 


Kaya Henderson: The one other thing that I will say, Myles, about you bringing this article to the um podcast, because this was not the direction of the conversation that I was expecting to go, but that’s always how it is with you. So I appreciate that. But um I love the the like woman crush love between Meg and Beyonce. Um I. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yes.


De’Ara Balenger: Oh It’s so beautiful. 


Kaya Henderson: It is beautiful. And I think that we don’t. Um. I think I think Black women oftentimes support each other and hold each other up and mentor each other and talk about how much we mean to each other, but not in such a public way. We do it in our private circles. We do it in our book clubs or in on our text threads or whatever, whatever. Um. But to see this public Black girl love this I support you. You support me, I think is like it just makes me smile. And so shout out to them for being public in they in their love for one another and their friendship framilyness. I love it. I love to see it. 


Myles E. Johnson: In public Black love is political like. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: I think that I love that Beyoncé did it because I think that she knows that Meg is going through a political moment as much as she’s going through a public moment. And I think Beyoncé has grown to see herself as not just a public figure but also like a political figure. And I think she knows what that public endorsement is doing as well as showing love. Like I just I just love. I just love a moment. I love the love. 


Kaya Henderson: My news this week um is about a interesting way to change law enforcement. Um. As many of you know, law enforcement is facing massive personnel shortages, uh which is, according to some people, the number one policing issue right now. There are not enough people who want to be police officers because of all the police stuff that has happened. Um. And I’m sure DeRay will have a lot more to say about this. [laughter] But I’m just bringing the the the topic to the pod–


De’Ara Balenger: The facts. You just bringing the facts Kaya.


Kaya Henderson: I’m just bringing the facts. Um. And in fact, in some cities, the number of police recruits is down by 90%. Here in– 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh. 


Kaya Henderson: –Washington, D.C., um the recruitment is so hard out here you get a $25,000 signing bonus if you uh join the police academy. And uh the answer, according to um this particular article, is to hire more women. Um. In fact, the current situation is that only 12% of sworn officers in the country um and only 3% of police leadership in the United States are women. In other countries, um that number is is nearly double. Um. And these numbers haven’t budged in decades in the U.S. And so um there is an an initiative called 30 by 30, which is a national initiative to advance women in policing with the goal of increasing the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30% by 2030, the year 2030, and to ensure that police policies and culture intentionally support the success of qualified women officers throughout their careers. This national initiative um comes it’s it’s comes from a coalition of police leaders, researchers and professional organizations, but of course, was started by a woman police chief and a woman at the National Center for Justice in Policing or something like that. And um it’s not only applicable to uh to gender diversity, but they say that their goals are applicable to all demographic diversity. And 300 law enforcement agencies have signed this pledge to increase the number of women in their police recruitment classes to 30%. Um. Policing is a very lucrative job at this point. Salaries have grown significantly um over the past few decades, at at in many places it’s in the six figures. But the benefits and the culture of policing um have to change in order to attract more women. So there are like simple barriers, like the physical fitness test. In a couple of of police um of law enforcement agencies. They found that when you have the physical fitness test at the beginning of police academy, most uh women can’t pass even though these women outscore their male counterparts on tests and they pass background checks in higher numbers, they can’t pass the physical fitness test at the beginning of the academy. But if you put the physical fitness test at the end of the academy, they can pass and they do well. Um. Another law enforcement agency figured out that when you provide child care and family friendly policies like pregnancy and parental leave policies, the number of women increases. Um. One of the barriers uh to success is that there are few female mentors to bring people up through the ranks. And that’s how a lot of folks get promoted. And there is also not enough outreach beyond the military and criminal justice majors and other law enforcement agencies when in fact there are lots of other um jobs that prepare people for the critical thinking, the, you know, ability to juggle multiple things at one time and other qualifications that would make you a good police officer, um that that just are not being taken into consideration. So why hire more women in policing? Um. There are loads of benefits, the biggest ones being um that women use less force and they use less excessive force than their male counterparts in policing. They are named in fewer citizen complaints. They inspire more trust in the community. They make fewer discretionary arrests, particularly of people of color. And in fact, in a 2021 study of 4 million traffic stops, and we’ve learned from DeRay that traffic stops are the entry point to um to police involvement when they don’t need to be. Um. In this study of 4 million traffic stops, they found that female officers are less likely than males to search drivers, but more likely to find contraband, which shows that they can minimize the number of interaction of negative interactions with citizens without a loss of effectiveness. Now, um are women in policing the whole entire answer? No. Um. But I think it is worth considering, and I think there’s research and data to show it according to this article, um that it might make things a little bit different. And so I brought that to the pod because I’m sure that there will be robust commu– conversation about this. So have at it. [clap] [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: So I’ll just say two things to start. 


De’Ara Balenger: Jumps to the mic. Jumps, jumps.


DeRay Mckesson: The first is that the staffing shortage numbers and Kaya, you know this from human capital, you can make them do whatever they want. So the police are really interesting is that they will take vacancies that have been vacant for a decade and then all of a sudden will be like shortage. And you’re like, well, you’ve actually never staffed those positions. They just are positions in the police department. So there were never bodies there. Da da and because the public doesn’t know, you know, I think about the school system, we had 10,000 employees. There was never a day in Baltimore City where we were fully staffed. It impossi–people retire, people quit. So if I wanted to do a press release to said we were short staffed, I get to decide what is short. It’s it could be 50 people. It could be 200. So the poli–


Kaya Henderson: I think I think that is true. But I think in this moment where people are talking about crime waves and whatnot, we see lots of jurisdictions who are adding positions to police forces because they think that we need more police. And so this shortage thing matters. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: I think even more. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I think that I think you’re right about the like they think we need more police. It’s [?] when I think about classrooms we have said it’s one to 30 kids or something like that. There is no ratio for the so the police decide tomorrow that they’re going to make 200 more positions that they cannot fill. And then all of a sudden they’re like, it’s a shortage. And you’re like, well I don’t you know, that’s like fuzzy numbers. So you think about Tulsa, Oklahoma, is famous for this. Tulsa today is like they are down um 200 police and they’re like, it’s impossible to do the work that we need to do. Tulsa’s one of the few places that actually does solve 90% of the homicides. And you’re like, wow, it seems like you’re doing a good job with less people, but either way, when you think about the numbers, Baltimore only solves 10% of burglaries. So you’re like, you know, when they were fully staffed, they only solved 10%. When they were down, they solved 10%. Like it didn’t really matter. What I will say is that the police are adequately staffed everywhere in the country. That is a statement I will stand by and make. When you think that only 5% of 911 calls are for violent crime. So they are all staffed to deal with that 5%. There is not a department that is not staffed to deal with the 5%. The rest are missing kids, traffic stops. You know, like it’s like, do you need 800 more officers to pull people over for traffic stops? I’m like mm I’m not convinced. And the woman thing actually the gender thing I think is of the things I think it’s probably more real. I do think women are just saner, like they it’s less of the like, you know, ego stuff. It’s less of the like I’m a man. You got like that’s something we come up with policing. I don’t think of any of these things as fixes, but I do I do challenge every single time the police talk about a staffing shortage, I just say no up front and show me the like show me when you ever staff those positions, show me the titles, show me the promotion, because they will like do sneaky things to keep the vacancies as a way to have the numbers look like and then people get freaked out and I just don’t believe it. Or like, this is what happened in New York City when de Blasio pissed them off. All of a sudden, people just started retiring quickly and then they would come back as part time officers. So there’s actually no change in the number of people, they just weren’t full time staff anymore. And you’re like this is they are playing a long game with us. 


De’Ara Balenger: I’m going to go in a different direction because I think Kaya, what stuck out to me about this and it reminded me about my time at the State Department where um when I would travel around, I was fortunate to see women’s peacekeeping units. Um. And it always I just would be so overwhelmed because I’d see, you know, whether I think the largest women led peacekeeping mission is out of India. But you would see these women, whether it was in Kenya or Bangladesh and just holding it down and just and you know, there’s this whole conversation happening at the time, and I think we all know what the answer is. But it was shown that like increased participation with women in global peacekeeping operations improved the effectiveness of the peacekeeping and the missions overall. So I think there is something to be said, one, about women in these roles as and I like peacekeeping more than like police officer because I feel like that’s what a woman would inherently do is like, how can I diffuse the situation? How can I make the situation whole, um which I just think is something that’s intrinsic. So I don’t this is that’s what, you know, complete everything DeRay is saying I take as a holy grail. So um when it comes to the police. Um. So but I do think there is something so fascinating and so true about women in these roles, and I got to witness it in terms of our global peacekeeping operations. And it really was something that was so powerful to see. 


Myles E. Johnson: I don’t know, y’all. This this this whole thing kind of reads like some police propaganda to me. And I think rebranding the reason why women are not joining the police office or police force as as as as a gender issue is is a little dubious because it’s almost like making it a liberal thing and making it kind of like a liberal talking point. And all we what we need is representation and we need people participating in the police force. The reason why I’m sure a lot of women are not in the police force is because either they’ve been in things like the military, they know how men are and they know who is in charge of the police force and they’re not trying to get into that tank and trying to get even further abused. Actually, that’s about [laugh] that’s my first and second, either they’ve already had the experience or they know what will come with this and not just it’s it’s not just women aren’t getting hired. It’s also women know how dangerous the police office that this the policing is um as a as a culture. And I think that it just feels very I’m I’m trying to be less melodramatic when speaking about certain things, but it just feels dubious. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Dubious, I Myles I I think definitely propaganda. And remember that there was a Black woman police chief of Memphis, who put together the crew that killed Tyre Nichols. She it was her idea. It was her mandate. They were her people who did it. They uh the–


De’Ara Balenger: But we can’t let her and Drake represent Black people. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: I’m just saying. There was a–


De’Ara Balenger: [?]. 


DeRay Mckesson: –Black woman who. Was Philadelphia, was Portland. Like who had would, as brutal as the men in those roles. 


Kaya Henderson: And there was a– 


DeRay Mckesson: And– 


Kaya Henderson: And there and there and there was a woman police chief in Washington, D.C. who helped drive down crime rates to the lowest historic proportions and whatnot. So we could go tit for tat on this. My broader point is [laughter] and Myles I think I think I think I think women do know how jacked up the culture is. But like, if you think for me, like I’m an advocate for women in leadership, women lead differently in politics, women lead differently in business, women women lead differently in finance. And so to me, it stands to reason that a whole bunch of women in the police force might actually change the culture and do what De’Ara said she has seen abroad. Now, I don’t know if it could work or whatever, whatever, but I’m about bringing [laughter] constructive strategies to help solve the problems. To the podcast. That’s my job. 


Myles E. Johnson: Auntie Kaya is is we we’re not fighting, but [?]– 


Kaya Henderson: We are not. 


Myles E. Johnson: –[?] these are one of the these are one of the few places where it’s just not honey and and bees with us because I really don’t. And you know, in just speaking of ancester Bell Hooks, I think that I have to I have to echo what she said when it comes to patriarchy does not have a gender. And I think that sometimes there has been I’m going to use the word generational divide, even though it’s it’s really just a slick ten, uh ten, 15 year gap that’s like very small in everything. But this is like yo. The answer is not having a woman in charge of the nuclear bombs. The answer is not having the nuclear bombs. The answer is not having women in charge of the institution that is destroying us, that was founded with the KKK, it’s to implode that institution like that just has to be the thing. And if we keep on following like women do better here and women do better here, we’re never going to get to the point of wait, we’re in a sinking ship. Sure, a woman is more calm when if she was the captain of the Titanic. But we have to address the iceberg. We got to address the water. We got to tell the band, pack it up, stop playing, and we got to face the music. We have to get this. And just having a women as representation, I think sometimes specifically for black people who are thirsty for representation, specifically for women or LGBT people who are thirsty for representation, sometimes we can want to see representation in places that we ain’t got no business in sometimes because it’s a poisonous environment. And I think this article is making it seem like that’s a good idea for women to join a deeply patriarchal and deeply violent culture. And there won’t be and there won’t be any um there won’t be any causes because I’m also thinking about the women who are going to be working in the police office, in the police uh uh states like Mississippi and the places like Atlanta and the places that attract a lot of these white supremacist white men who will be in the KKK who are now here. It’s not clicking on every part for me. [laugh]


Kaya Henderson: I I–


Myles E. Johnson: Not just my, my, my radical–


Kaya Henderson: I don’t–


Myles E. Johnson: –abolitionist brain, but also just the logistical part. 


Kaya Henderson: I don’t disagree with that, Myles, at all. And like and I think about this the I think I think about this the same way as I think about schools. Right. Like, the school system is not serving us well. And the way it’s currently structured is not going to serve us well. It wasn’t designed to serve us well. And there are kids who are sitting in classrooms right today before we get to the new whatever the thing is, burn it down. Burn it all down ,one, show me what the new thing is and let’s get to it. And in the meantime, on the way to the new thing, while the things are in front of us, tell me what we do differently. Because I can’t imagine a world and I and I, I would love to, but I can’t imagine a world where the police are going away anytime soon. And so if we are going to have them, I want some different people in there. That’s all. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I do think this is a fundamental thing about harm reduction and abolition and transformational change. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: An acknowledgement that like–


Kaya Henderson: This that’s right. 


DeRay Mckesson: That like–


Kaya Henderson: This is the question. 


DeRay Mckesson: The thing is here today and we got to make it not kill people right now while we work to build the other thing. And those two things aren’t at odds. 


Kaya Henderson: That’s right. 


DeRay Mckesson: I think that is fair. 


Kaya Henderson: That is right. 


DeRay Mckesson: And you’re right that we got to address the iceberg. I think that was a good you gave us a good sermon on that one. Myles, I think that was spot on how he gave [indistinct].


Kaya Henderson: Come on for a little rock em sock em action on the podcast.


Myles E. Johnson: That it is beautiful because it actually happened intercommunally which which is what makes this podcast so special that you could have this conversation without it being, you know, just in love and and in perspective. I love it. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming. [AD BREAK]


De’Ara Balenger: [music break] So as we are getting into our planning, our thinking, our understanding around the 2024 presidential election, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around like why this administration is not breaking through like media wise, culture wise, just, you know, there are some and we’ve talked about this before on the pod, like the Biden administration has done good things, but they are just not resonating. Um. And so the article that I wanted to talk about today, um you know, the the headline of it, it’s from Business Insider. It’s Biden’s economic policies have quietly made people’s lives better and no one seems to care. And [laugh] first of all, I love that headline because, one, it’s accurate, but it also is just like I don’t think it’s like people don’t care. But I think it is like for those who aren’t really feeling it, it is hard to articulate that and people aren’t seeing some of these big things that this administration has done. So when I say big things, um you know, there’s an there’s an economic agenda that has actually meant real changes for Americans, clean water, Internet access, you know, recovering from COVID like there’s been a ton of help done to folks around um around COVID relief. And, you know, things that also this Congress, which is Republican led, is going to lapse. And the thing I’m not talking about, which we probably should, is the the looming government shutdown when we have a Republican led House that can’t even get their eggs in a row um for what their agenda is. Right. But that but that is impacting the Biden administration and what and what he’s been able to achieve. And part of why I think that a lot of the achievement hasn’t been seen is because he can’t get the bigger things through Congress. Right. Um. And so this article just goes into like some really like some case studies around, you know, small town folks who have been impacted by, you know, the 1.9 trillion American rescue plan. Um. And that did pass in 2021, and that was to help revitalize the economy. Um. So including a fresh round of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, monthly checks to parents. Um. A lot of those funds too help keep local governments afloat um and just allocating billions of areas, billions of dollars um uh in areas that were where there was desperate need. Um. The same funding also bolstered small town fire equipment. It helped pay off medical debt, um in some cases building new community grocery stores. And so part of this effort, I think this is the other thing I’m just like, why are we calling this Bidenomics? It’s just. [sigh]


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. It echoes to a time–


De’Ara Balenger: It’s–


Myles E. Johnson: That’s not the most pleasant. 


De’Ara Balenger: I’m just like it it it–


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s just [laughter] stop.


Myles E. Johnson: Branding is everything. Branding is a lot. 


De’Ara Balenger: Stop. Stop, stop.


Myles E. Johnson: Maybe not everything, but it’s a lot. [laughing]


De’Ara Balenger: Stop. 


Kaya Henderson: That’s the truth. 


De’Ara Balenger: Just stop. So the other other accomplishment is broad student loan forgiveness, um which has quietly forgiven $117 billion dollars in loans. One one seven billion. Y’all, why don’t. Okay, So then so so again, my mind’s like, why aren’t we hearing about these things? Why aren’t we hearing about these things? And so, you know, you all know, like, I live I’m married to a journalist who’s on VICE on MSNBC. And so MSNBC is always on in my home, unfortunately. Um. But part of what we see and talk about is like, why aren’t things why one, aren’t things breaking through? Why aren’t things being covered? Why is the Democratic Party still using what’s seen on cable news as a metric to how successful they’re going to be with resonating with audiences or audiences or constituents, in this in this case, seeing things. And the other thing that Pao and I talked about this morning was Pao said Trump said something crazy yesterday and you couldn’t that was all that was being covered. So it’s also like Biden can’t compete with Trump’s ability to get news and control the news cycle. You just can’t compete. [sound of surprise from Myles] Well, I’m saying I’m saying right now, as it stands right? 


Myles E. Johnson: He could fight. 


De’Ara Balenger: I’m saying, he could. And I think I think that’s my point. It’s like if you if you’re if your kind of nodes for how you’re constructing your your strategy is a little bit more creative and a and actually more broad and doesn’t really hold on to these historical markers around press hits and cable news. Like, you know, and what we do know about cable news are the numbers of viewers, the viewership is going down, down, down, down, down. So it’s also where are we finding people? And there was another article. I think um the administration, the campaign is putting something like $25 million dollars into advertising. And I did watch some of the ads and some of them are really good. But then again, when it comes to the Latino ads, now I’m putting on my Mexican hat. They’re all in Spanish. My family’s been here three generations. Don’t nobody speak a lick of Spanish anymore, unfortunately. So I think there’s also like like let’s let’s think more broadly around what we think Latino people are. You know, so I don’t know y’all. I’m just I’m spiraling because I’m like, we have got to figure out how to get this messaging to people. We have a severe messaging problem. And how are we going to solve it? And how can I be an advocate around that um as as we get closer to this election? [sigh]


Myles E. Johnson: I just feel like somebody needs to offer me a little gig child, [laughter] just give me a little two months and and if your if this does [clap] not go viral in the first 2 months, then you can just, you know, we’ll call it done. But you know, I said it in the group chat and I’ll say it here, too. Don’t nobody out of the who, nobody wants to cry for Biden. Nobody wants to say, Oh, my God, thank you Biden for this or do any type of TikTok. It’s really not about how well-produced something is. It’s really about how how much something is going out and if it’s getting towards the most people. And although I say it in jest, I mean, I put one singular photo of John Coltrane on TikTok and me, who had 25 followers [?] on TikTok like that is getting that thousands of engagements. And my metrics are up. So if you have an assorted effort on Instagram and on TikTok and on these other things, then you’ll do better. I always would say in my head just because in my, I guess, in my neurodivergence this is how I would like kind of understand things. But I will always say like, oh, is this thing for the Flintstones fans or the Jetsons fans? And I will always think of it like that. And it wasn’t an age thing. It was just that how do people want to be communicated with? And I feel like the Republicans are getting The Jetsons and the Flintstones. The people who are on their computers. People who are who are um people who are on social media, people who are engaged with um the Internet in the kind of busyness of today’s world. And they’re getting old school people who are reading maybe newspapers, New York Magazine uh not New York magazine, but um New York Post. And then also, um people who are getting like traditional television um moments. And the Democratic Party is just not turning any of these wins into intolerable, consistent content. That’s what it just needs to be. It needs to be like, just how in DARE we like it’s almost a joke now when somebody smashes the egg and says this is your uh this is your head on on um–


Kaya Henderson: Your brain on drugs. 


Myles E. Johnson: This is your brain on drugs. That that the Biden needs to find their brain on drugs and it needs to be uh proliferated and everybody who’s with a cell phone has to be able to engage with it. And that’s just what you got to do. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m going to go in a little different direction here. Actually, I, I totally hear the advice that they’re getting and I see them implementing it and it just is bad advice. I wish I could do a six month stint in the White House. That would be all I could do is just a little ditty over there in the public engagement. Help them out. Because somebody is telling them, find the outlets and go to them. That’s why they invited every Instagram account known to man into the White House like I can hear it. I see it when and I hear people saying, which I’ve said before, the Republicans have an easier message. It’s easier to, you know, the the go back message is easier than the go forward message. Like, the I hear the and actually, what I think is more true and I say this as my as a humble storyteller who helped tell a story about a movement for a couple of years is they just don’t have good storytellers like so I think that’s one. It’s like somebody needs to and it’s and this isn’t even a critique of the press secretaries because I think that they are playing to a politics that is just not the moment. Somebody every day should just be on that this that account being like, hey, you know, today we did this and say it like you said to your aunt instead, it’s like I’m like, what is happening with inflation? I don’t know. I’m I’m smart and got to read five articles to understand what or like, you know, or they pander. So it’s like he’s doing something with Ticketmaster and somebody like he ain’t got more to do than Ticketmaster and I’m I’m sitting here like well shit I don’t [?] he should have more to do than Ticketmaster. There’s not like a they’re just not they haven’t nailed aunt and uncles and I do think it is actually a much simpler storytelling. The second thing is that it is sort of wild that I don’t even know who I think the voice of the White House is. It’s not the press secretary, it’s not Biden. I don’t even know where to go to be like, oh, this person’s going to tell me, like, I can go here to just figure out what just happened today. I have no clue. In the last White House, it was like Valerie, was a Valerie knew how to say it. Obama could say it. The press things made sense to me, you know, like it just sort of made I knew where to go to just be like, oh, what just happened today? And and I do think somebody’s telling them well get the Shade Room to post it. And, you know, I think that they are underplaying how much they have lost the message and need to reclaim it. [sigh] And they think it’s a platform thing and it’s not. It’s a you need a better story to tell that’s more consistent. The last thing I’ll say and I say this because we’re doing this whole campaign about Eric Adams is I do think so much is happening that we take for granted the basics. Like I think there needs to be just a [?], like I think Eric Adams. People are like, he’s crazy. When you ask people to say five  things he’s done poorly, they don’t know. It’s just too much. People need a place where they can be like, oh, that, that, that, that like and in the absence of that, it becomes vibes. You’re like, Biden’s good. It’s like, what does that mean? And people are like, Oh, I think he did something with loans. You’re like, what did he do with loans? I don’t know. I got to Google it for 20-30 minutes. Nobody’s doing that. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah, I think, um wow, [laughter] this is a lot. Like it it was interesting, De’Ara, to see, like, thing after thing after thing after thing that he has done sort of enumerated with the anecdotes and you’re like, huh, that is pretty good. And I think this is such a complex issue. Economics is a very complex issue, and people don’t understand what is in the president’s control and what’s not in the president’s control. So one of the pieces of the article said that because of Biden’s economic policies, our economic recovery from the pandemic was faster than anticipated. Who knew that? Like all we know is we had a global pandemic and it has taken a while to come back. It should have taken us much longer. But unless somebody is telling us that, we have no idea, and despite new fire trucks and cleaner drinking water and loan, you know, student loan um reduction. Prices are high and in fact, somebody needs to explain to people that only some of this is inflation and some of this is corporations like radically raising their prices under the guise of inflation. And so even though our wages, you know, even though jobs are up and in some cases wages are up, like literally you can’t keep up with the high prices and the inflation. And that’s what people are feeling and they’re like fix that Biden. Now, Biden can’t fix that in this way, but you got to explain that to people. And so, you know, this this the storytelling piece DeRay, resonates with me. They telling stories about stuff that I mean, you had a 50th hip hop birthday party at the vice president’s house. Great, wonderful. Were you standing in front of those people and telling them the messages that they should be sending to their community? No, because we busy at the cookout. Like, I don’t know, I, like you I feel like people are focused on platforms and not policies. And and they got and like there are people who know how to do this. There are people who know how to do this well, like this feels I mean, Biden has his lowest approval rating of his entire term right now. 


De’Ara Balenger: And the polls are terrible. That polls that came out this weekend are all–


Kaya Henderson: Right!


De’Ara Balenger: –horrible. 


Kaya Henderson: And this and and before I think, you know, De’Ara, you put it in the chat that, you know, veteran 2020 people are running the campaign. The 2020 campaign was not a question of what Biden has done. The 2020 campaign was he’s not Trump, right? Simple message, easy to go with. Lots of people resonated with that. He’s not Trump. The people who put together the he’s not Trump message are not the people necessarily. Maybe they are, but it doesn’t seem like it to put together there is this complex set of things that’s happening. And let me tell you why this has helped your life and why you should vote for President Biden. That is not happening. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. And I think, and you know, and I think that’s the thing. Right. And this is even me for being like a person who worked in Democratic politics and worked on two presidential campaigns over ten years and come and then now having lived in New York City and and and worked, you know, at least adjacent to creative industries, it blows my mind like the opportunity to everyone’s point around, like if we were to get some of these, you know, DC political inside the Beltway folks, with some of these creative folks like again like there are big advertising companies that or even small Black owned ones honestly that I think will be a lot culturally resonant then what we’re relying on right now and I think DeRay to your storytelling part and actually to Kaya, something you said too, the reason there are conditions for these strikes to happen. And like we there’s been so many strikes this summer, this fall it is because the message from this administration is we are supporting the workers. We want to push against this corporate power and we want to support the workers. And whether that’s happening on a big enough scale, you know, and obviously, I know it’s a big question, but I think that’s important and that’s a story. That is a story to tell that does connect the pieces. And that isn’t as hard to understand as the Inflation Reduction Act. [pause] [sigh] Child we’ll just–


Myles E. Johnson: Can I say one little, one little–


De’Ara Balenger: Yes, please, Myles. Help.


Myles E. Johnson: –one little three second thing too. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: Is that like and I don’t know, conversations, this is just me as an outsider looking at it. But for me, it’s almost even more ridiculous that we have somebody who is the head of African-American reach out and stuff like that and doing all these shade room things. But I’m like, has there been anything even like with Telfar in like what they were doing? Like, to me, that’s how out of touch it is. Because to me, that’s such an easy plug in like Telfar TV. Democratic message figure, figure money, figure that out. It will be a moment. The fact that that wasn’t even tried, whatever, whether people are like you’re pandering or whatever, that’s get it out and pander some more and pander better and pander better and pander better because you need to sharpen the steal of of how to pander smartly in this new new age, because politics will still be about pandering. Just more smart than y’all been doing it in the last few decades. 


DeRay Mckesson: My news is about the Black mayor of Dallas, Eric Johnson, who spent a decade more than a decade in the as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives who was elected as the mayor of Dallas. Um. And he was Democrat when he was elected. And suddenly in The Wall Street Journal last week, he decided that he was a Republican. And he switched parties. And it now makes Dallas the largest city in the United States to be led by a Republican. And he said that he was never a favorite of Democrats and he called on other mayors to champion, quote, “law and order and fiscal conservatism.” He said, and I quote, “This is hardly a red wave, but it is clear that the nation and its cities have reached a time for choosing. And the overwhelming majority of Americans who call our cities home deserve to have real choices, not progressive echo chambers at City Hall.” Now, I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I’m more interested in what you all have to say. The first thing I’ll say is, that this Black man doesn’t realize that he is a tool in the toolbox, then you know, shame on him. 


Kaya Henderson: Tool of the man, tool of the man. Ooh.


DeRay Mckesson: My favorite saying of late is tokens get played and his time is coming. So you know it is that is coming. The second thing I’ll say is that it apparently only takes 15% of the people who voted to try and force a recall and he won overwhelmingly blue. I’m all about it. I hope that they recall this man. I hope it’s quick. I hope that the Dems put all their money together, get the signatures, get him off the ballot, and make this an embarrassing turnabout for the party, for the Republicans um and for him politically. I hope that this is career suicide for him forever. And the third thing I’ll say is when I it, I am proud that the cities are progressive places that don’t like these people upfront. And it is a reminder we talked about this on the pod before that the Republicans are really anxious about cities. They are trying to figure out how to they, rural communities they got. Suburban communities, they are managing. Cities they are not, and they are trying to figure out what to do in cities, which is why the Houston school system take over like they are trying to figure out a city strategy for a lot of reasons. You know, it’s like that’s where things are concentrated. Economic engines, hotbed of people and industry and culture. And, you know, there are more of us than them, there are. And this is one of the things that kills me about the Biden messaging is that we got it like from a number of perspective and vote whatever we can do that. Like we, the people are on our side. We got it. The numbers are on our side, like the structural the structural power from a raw power perspective is ours. Everything else is not. The money, the gerrymandering, da da, we screwed there. But from a raw like people in seats, we will win every time. And part of the organizing task is to, like, help people see that and believe it. And I do think as an organizer, what I realize more and more is I think that the the axis by which we win or lose people is whether they believe that structural racism is real or not. Like can structures be racist or is this all individual choice? I think that that actually becomes the access by which people make these decisions. 


Myles E. Johnson: I need a minute.


Kaya Henderson: First of all, like, this is wild. It’s particularly wild because the article says that mayoral offices in Texas are nonpartisan. So he didn’t have to he didn’t have to do this. Um. He could continue to espouse whatever policies and whatever that he thinks. But the thing that is um abhorrent to me is like people voted for him as a Democrat. Like, there are a bunch people who signed up because he was a Democrat. And this to me, you know, De’Ara, you’ll think back to your original, like constitutional law classes and stuff where we talk about representative versus stewardship in terms of elected officials and whether they should represent the people who they represent or whether people imbue them with stewardship. So they get to make the decisions no matter what their people think. And and I just can’t help but feel betrayed as a Democratic voter in in um in Texas who voted for him in Dallas. Right. In Dallas who voted for him. And I don’t get to like, you don’t get to take your vote back. Yes, you can in a recall, much harder um but that feels really not cool to me. Um. There is one small part of me that hopes that, like this is a spook who sat by the door kind of moment because [laugh] he did fight successfully to remove a plaque in Texas that said that slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War. And I would like to believe and and, you know, whatever I could also argue the opposite point, which is every broken clock is right twice a day. But, um you know, I’d like to believe that we are strategic and thoughtful. And sometimes the only way to blow the thing up is to go into the inside and blow it up. And so if you haven’t seen the spook who sat by the door, or don’t know what that is or don’t know what the reference is. Get yourself a classic piece of Black cinema and understand [laughter] what political strategery looks like. Um. That is all I got to say about this dude I that, like, this is bananas. 


Myles E. Johnson: It’s. It’s wild to me. [laugh] So my, so so where my mind goes, right, is that there must be a conversation happening that, okay, the Republican Party is acting like this. This might be a good way to gain leadership. Like, I just couldn’t imagine this decision happening in private. Right. So a lot of people have to say something’s a good idea and a lot of people have to say something privately is a good idea in order for a public bad idea to happen, in my opinion, from what I’ve seen. So I’m thinking that like– 


DeRay Mckesson: I love that by the way. [laughing]


Myles E. Johnson: So I’m like so I’m like you could’ve just like got up and said this like a lot people would have been like, here this is your opening. Look what the Republicans are doing. I don’t know if people know this or people who are maybe in again, in this political government tank don’t know this. Republican is radioactive. So just because most Republicans are being loud white suprremicists, that doesn’t mean that there’s a thirst for a new conservative. And now you need to be Republican. The best you can do is be a really center right Democrat. This whole going to be Republican thing is radioactive because I have a suspicion that there’s other Democrats who might be thinking similar thoughts or wondering if this is their lane to kind of go somewhere more conservative and maybe make a different type of Republican Party that’s more traditional and just as elitist as it used to be, but less outwardly racist and maybe this is their opening. It’s not just being a Republican is a radioactive thing where now you have to do Trump stuff. 


Kaya Henderson: But it will it will it will get you a big corporate job when your–


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah well. 


Kaya Henderson: –term runs out– 


Myles E. Johnson: Sure. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh yeah.


Kaya Henderson: –in 2027. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: Just saying.


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Like I’m just I’m speaking as the people as [?] and how we’re going to [?] once you do that, we’re like, Oh, you’re here in Clarence Thomas land and we’re not we’re not sorting those apples. If they’re rotten we’re not seeing how rotten they are. So I don’t know if yeah, yeah but I totally agree with you. 


De’Ara Balenger: And what I will say is just like going back to our conversation about the Biden administration, like this is an opportunity for the Texas Democratic Party to start a campaign to be like, listen, it’s so important. We got to have our people um in these offices. 


Kaya Henderson: Stand up. 


De’Ara Balenger: And and we need to raise money for a recall. Like but you go to their website, it just they ain’t change nothing on it. They got a statement that says, we’re disappointed, y’all, come on, [snapping] come on. Whose job is it to get pumped and to rally and to use these moments as opportunity like this like, I just looked on their Instagram. The guy had 30,000 followers, the Texas Democratic Party. It’s 30,000 people in the smallest town in Texas. That’s probably not true. But you know what I’m saying? Like, I think it’s just like it’s just come on, y’all get pumped. Like let’s you know, let’s figure out how to get this going. 


Myles E. Johnson: Does it, do you think that he already. So do you. Okay, so when he did all the stuff about taking down the racist stuff, do you think that he did that knowing he was going to convert to a Republican and hopefully that would maybe suffocate the reaction from the people because you couldn’t be Republican, you couldn’t be a bad Republican and do this? I guess I’m trying to get into the mind of somebody who does this. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think I will say. 


Myles E. Johnson: At this time. 


De’Ara Balenger: I will say that there are more opportunities to ascend for Black Republicans. 


Myles E. Johnson: Got it. 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s just a fact. That’s a fact. Um. And so I think you go. I think to Kaya’s point, you go into it knowing what that means for you, right? There’s the prime example is Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas has no business being on the Supreme Court. He has no business being at being a junior partner at a law firm. Like he like that is how underqualified he was to be in the Supreme Court. But he was a Black Republican. He was a black Republican. You know what I’m saying? So I think they’re that he’s he’s a perfect case study for what what you can achieve seemingly if you if you are on the other side. It’s wild. Absolutely wild. 


Myles E. Johnson: People, do people think we don’t remember the 80’s who like, why are people naming things Bidenomics and it sounds like Reaganomics? [laughter] Why are people [laughter]–


Kaya Henderson: That’s exactly why.


Myles E. Johnson: –being like Black Republicans. 


Myles E. Johnson: That’s exactly why, that’s exactly why. 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s exactly why. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh it’s just just to, like, get people to think about the Republican 80’s? Is that oh so people are just trying to like–


Kaya Henderson: We we have–


Myles E. Johnson: –recharge that memory?


Kaya Henderson: I think we have collectively we have a even if you don’t know the details, you know, that Reaganomics radically shifted the economy of this country. Right. And for people who like that, great. For people who don’t, it is a clarion call. And I think what Biden is trying to do is brand a kinder, gentler, more effective set of economic policies as his thing. And and I think I don’t I mean, one, I don’t know if Reagan I can’t remember because I was ten, but, you know, I don’t know if Reagan called it Reaganomics. I don’t know if that’s a moniker that we put on after the fact. But I think he’s absolutely trying to say the economic policies that I am putting in place will shift this country to a different place positively. Right. That is the exact branding that he’s going after. It don’t exactly work, though. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I don’t I don’t think they know how radioactive I want to use that word again. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: How radioactive certain things are. I’m like, that doesn’t make anybody feel good. Nobody wants to– 


Kaya Henderson: But I think, don’t you think it’s like the reclamation, right? Like, you know. 


Myles E. Johnson: No, because he you’re still a ol– Biden is in denial. You’re an old white man who’s rebranding another old white man. [laughter and clapping] The leadership is not actually a reclamation, because the same thing happened [laughter] [?]. It’s just blue this time. That’s not–


Kaya Henderson: I’m just asking. [laughter]. 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s true.


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming. 




DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, my co-host and good friend, Kaya Henderson, welcomes Jennifer Baker on the pod to talk about her recent article, Black Women Are Being Erased in Book Publishing. Jennifer is a publishing professional with over 20 years experience in a range of roles. Editorial production, media, as well as the creator and host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing. Now where would this movement be without published writers, authors, journalists. They keep us in the know. They bring context to our life experiences and ignite imagination in all of us. This was an important conversation that I didn’t even realize I didn’t know that much about until I heard Jennifer. Here we go. 


Kaya Henderson: Jennifer Baker, thank you so much for joining us on Pod Save the People. I’m so excited to share you with our Pod Save the People audience. Um. You have an interesting perspective and story to tell. And let’s start by jumping in with your article, Black women are being Erased in book publishing. Um. Tell us why you wrote the article? 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. Thanks so much and really great to be in convo with you. I was approached by the editor in chief of Electric Literature, Denne Michele Norris, the first Black trans woman to lead a literary magazine at the helm. And she wanted to talk about it. And I was open to having that discussion in a very real way of looking at the reality of what’s going on. And also, I didn’t sign a NDA when I got laid off. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: You could spill the tea. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to get in depth into it so kudos to Denne for the title and but at the end of the day, we’re having the same conversation over and over and over again, right? Whenever DEI comes up, diversity, equity and inclusion and and the hiring and the, you know, this is happening in corporate, academia, tech, entertainment and book publishing, that a slew of us being Black women, Black femmes or Black people at large are being brought into spaces, especially come 2020. And in publishing, that was a big thing. We got a lot of calls and things are happening. People are leaving after a two there’s this weird one, two, three year marker where folks are leaving who were brought in in 2020 and 2021. And I just wanted to bring notice and attention to the fact that this is happening and that we’re having the same conversations, that it goes deeper than just the hiring practices. It goes deep into the culture. It is a historic thing because it is cyclical and it continues to happen. It happened in you know as soon as the stock market crashed, you know, it happened early 2000s. It happened in the nineties. As soon as there’s a wave, that wave drops. And that’s what we saw in the politics, right? Obama for two terms. And then what did we end up with? [laughing] The backlash so to speak. 


Kaya Henderson: That indeed, I mean, I think um you’re absolutely right in recognizing that publishing is your space that you know so well. But this is happening across lots of industries. And as you said, it is cyclical. This is not new. So um tell me why at this particular moment did you feel like it was important to say this? And what has the reaction been like? 


Jennifer Baker: It went I mean, it went viral within our industry. Um. So there were several thousand downloads because the post went up around Juneteenth, which, you know, we wanted to recognize the holiday and celebrate and at the same time bring more awareness. And I got a lot of those beckons, right like where people share it publicly and then tell you their story on the back end in a DM of I went through something similarly, and I’m hearing about this from a lot of Black femmes who either can’t say anything because, you know, severance deals–


Kaya Henderson: They’re in position. 


Jennifer Baker: –which is completely understandable or, you know, feeling vulnerable. And also those who really just want someone to commiserate with because they had to deal with this in silence. And again, I just wanted to lay out the real factors, how I felt when I got laid off and the way it was done. It’s not that I got laid off, it’s the way in which I was laid off. And it was the fact that I was seeing other Black women in prominent positions also leaving or in a two year period. And I wanted to speak to that and to also the culture within it, because bringing us in, especially as editors. So I was a book editor for about two years, but in 20 years I did editorial and production and other various things in publishing. Was it it seeps into everything. You hire Black people. We cannot be on all your DEI committees. We are [laughing] not able to influence the culture in a big way if we’re not in the C-suite, we are not able to support our authors if we have no support in the hiring practices of who is also on our teams, um we’re in these spaces where we’re bringing in material and you really can’t protect people. You’re trying to and you really want to believe that you can influence this culture. But that is such a bigger conversation in terms of like, what’s at the root. 


Kaya Henderson: Tell me, you know, have you always wanted to be a writer? 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. Yeah. I actually went to school for it. I went to high school, undergrad and got my MFA. And when I was getting my undergrad degree in English, I didn’t want to teach, irony is I teach now, [laughter] but I didn’t want to teach. I was like, I don’t it was, you know, that was the the path, right? You study English and then you become a teacher. But it was more so not even thinking about English or a university. It was more so public school teaching. And I, I really wasn’t ready for that. And so I heard about publishing as an opportunity to make a salary as I’m writing. And so in the midst of getting into this career and learning more as a writer and reading more and all those things, that’s how I got into publishing because it was my career that was giving me benefits and and I was able to see the inside of what this industry is like that I would hopefully be part of it as an author. And and I am. Um. But it was, it was nice to have that in tandem, to have that understanding and recognition from the outside and the inside when writing is really my passion. 


Kaya Henderson: And can you say a little bit more about how the publishing industry afforded you the opportunity not to just open doors for yourself, but for other Black writers? 


Jennifer Baker: It’s the presence that is important, but it’s also the support networks. And I’ve said that a few times, and I probably will say it a few more times. 


Kaya Henderson: Uh huh. 


Jennifer Baker: What it afforded me besides the paycheck and benefits was, again, that insider approach. And you do form a community in these spaces. Again, I tended to go towards production and those are the people who make sure your book gets to the warehouse. We make sure it’s clean, it’s edited, it’s typeset, the cover design, it doesn’t break apart, all that good stuff. And then we make sure it’s getting someplace to be sold. And so being one of a few of people of color in that space, it’s helpful to have that other eye, um especially when you’re dealing with things that are dealing with race or gender or culture and things that I have to become more aware of too in my privileges. And so that kind of dynamic of being able to work with authors, whether they knew I was on the back end or not, was a really great experience. And then you’re broadening the community, you’re going to readings, you’re, you know, you’re really enmeshed in the literary world. And if you’re someone who wants to be a writer, that is really, really helpful to you. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. And say, I mean, many of our listeners have no idea. We we love books, We read books. We don’t have any idea of the process that it takes to go through to create a book. And so we just learned what it means to have somebody who is thoughtful about production and making sure that your book gets to you. But you cite a number of of Black women who are in a number of very influential positions across the publishing industry. Tell us how some of those positions actually make a difference in the life of the things that we get to read?


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. So if you have a publisher and that’s kind of the person who’s making those decisions on what gets acquired, a.k.a bought. And that’s the, that’s a very prominent position and not a lot of Black women or Black femmes are in that position. Currently Sanyu Dillon at penguin Random House and that’s very recent that she’s taken on that position of a publisher. But there are not many um who have the kind of check signing power or the [?]– 


Kaya Henderson: Right. That’s the [laughter] green lining, right? Uh huh. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. And if it’s like goes beyond a certain financial level, they would go to the higher ups and say, hey, I, we, we need more money to try and acquire this book. And so when you’re acquiring one and when a, a literary agent, if you’re a writer, you get a literary agent. Or maybe you do this like with the editor directly, um you submit your book, the editor wants it, and then they go to their publisher and say, this is I want this book. These are the reasons why. I would like to acquire it for this amount of money. And you’re negotiating with that person as well to understand what money is, which can be a hard thing to think about your work being quantified in that way, right? 


Kaya Henderson: Valued in that way right? 


Jennifer Baker: Of like yeah. It’s just like, well, this is the number your book is worth. And it’s like, well, how is that? And it’s all these other factors of what what books like this have sold, who you are, um the markets that they think they can reach, the markets that they don’t think they can reach, all those things. 


Kaya Henderson: And are we safe to assume that just like in every other industry, that our talent is not always valued at the commensurate rate as our [laugh] our non colorful and usually male peers? 


Jennifer Baker: Absolutely. Because that comes into play and it can be a boon. Right? I’ll tell you, in 2020 books were getting sold for some money by Black people because people [laugh] it’s like, you know it was it was the try to the “course correction,” quote unquote. Right? 


Kaya Henderson: Right. 


Jennifer Baker: It’s like we’re gonna hire a lot of Black people.


Kaya Henderson: The post-George Floyd. Right? 


Jennifer Baker: We’re going to acquire a lot of books by people because also that summer of 2020, publishing paid me was a hashtag that came out by two authors who developed it and said, hey, how much are folks getting paid? Lets talk about money. And–


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Jennifer Baker: There is still a website for it. I don’t know that it’s been updated, but again, it’s hashtag publishing paid me and you people were coming out and saying I as a Black author got paid this much, white author got paid four or five times as much as me. Roxane Gay was very honest about what she made. Jesmyn Ward was very honest about what she made. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh yeah wow. 


Jennifer Baker: And people were astonished that people who sold thousands and thousands of books and won major awards were begging publishers. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


Jennifer Baker: To give them like $100,000. Whereas someone who was white and just came out of an MFA program might have gotten $400,000. And so that came to light. So a lot of stuff was coming to light. Where there was like, let’s do the PR move. [laughing] 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. [laughter] I mean, that that in fact, like racism thrives off of secrecy. Right. And transparency, whether it is understanding how much other people get paid to calling out that Black women are getting fired in the industry. This transparency, you can’t fix the problem if you don’t know that the problem is is happening and so–


Jennifer Baker: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: Un– Uncovering these things is really, really important. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. And that’s what brings me back to like the six executives– 


Kaya Henderson: Uh huh. 


Jennifer Baker: –that we heard about in July. Was it right? Because some of them were brought in for very DI DEI specific things. They were all brought in around the same time. 


Kaya Henderson: Right. 


Jennifer Baker: [laugh] And we don’t know what that’s like. We don’t know if they’re like, oh, you are the only Black woman in this space now and you are supposed to fix things. But it sounds to me also like you’re meant to fall in line. And that’s something that I just noticed. Um. Like book publishing is a very representative space in certain ways in terms of– 


Kaya Henderson: Okay. 


Jennifer Baker: –like the types of books you’ll read or da da da da da. And people are pretty transparent about what their preferences are, even in terms of just these are the types of books I like. What we’re not digging down like you say, is that secrecy or those internal biases of I prefer this book because why? We’re not interrogating that or we’re saying that we are assuming these communities don’t read, but we’ve never tried to get to those communities because we know how to do this path. But we’ve never taken a shift and said, well, what let’s try to do more foreign language, let’s try to reach to Latinx audiences or Black audiences. What will that take? That takes effort, that takes research, that takes analysis, that takes money. Um. And so those are the things that it’s like when you’re, again, plopping Black folks and Black women into these spaces, it’s what does it take? That’s why it’s so cyclical and that’s why we’re saying the same thing over and over again for decades. Is well, what does it take to make the change besides putting me here? 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah, I mean, this is the problem with the DEI hire, the head of– 


Jennifer Baker: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: –DEI, who now is in charge of fixing it for the entire organization without a team, without resources, without even a clear strategic plan. Because we feel like if we check the box and we just put a person there, then the rest will take care of itself. But in fact, putting a person into a toxic environment that is inhospitable to that person, their culture and the work that you’re trying to do is always going to fail. We’ve seen that over and over and over and over again, not just in publishing, but across many industries. And we still do it. Why do you think we still do it? I have a theory, but I’m interested in why you think we do it?


Jennifer Baker: Oh I’m so interested in your theory too. I I feel as though the reason is there’s no plan. I work at a nonprofit now called Narrative Initiative, and one of our missions is to shift narrative change uh to make a more multi-racial, pluralistic democracy. And this is coming from an organizing structure, right? Like people who are movement folks. And that’s a very different mindset than we need to make money. [laughter] You know. When you’re dealing with organizers like there’s a goal, there is shifting. We are learning from the mistakes and we are recalibrating. And what I always wanted was those kind of meetings at the end of the day of what didn’t go right and what can we do? And we’ve never had those meetings, I would say. And I think that lack of analysis and that lack of just sitting here saying, okay, let us take a beat, let us analyze, let us see what we could have done. And it’s reflective of the I don’t want to feel bad. It’s defective of the defensiveness. It’s reflective of this nature in which even white supremacist practices filter into everything. And it’s just a overworking culture. It’s a secrecy culture, it’s siloing, it’s power dynamics. It’s not letting you think, it’s make it’s rushing you to make decisions. And so you don’t even have time to think. And it’s so interesting being in different spaces where I am in  one where our goal is to think and plan and be ready and and organize and collaborate with people on what’s the best way forward versus okay, well, we are planning, but we aren’t really looking at the ways that we can improve upon something in a real way and understand that this is going to take time. And that’s such a big difference that I’ve noticed in at least my work atmospheres. 


Kaya Henderson: Think I’ve heard people say often, if you want something different, you have to do something different. And often times um I think these organizations want something different, but they don’t want to do much different. And the do that they are willing to is hire a person, but they are not actually willing to change the way they do business. They’re not willing to change the culture, which might be, you know, less supportive of different kinds of people um and make room for those differences. And I feel like at the end of the day, most people are making these decisions responsively, right? What we saw was I mean, none of this stuff was all of this stuff was true before 2020. But what we saw in 2020 was a major response to a particular police incident. And everybody then the the so-called racial reckoning and everybody literally one upping each other to show I prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion. I have a high level person. I have a strategy that is going to help my bank make even more money by doing things specifically targeting people of color or whatever, whatever. And it was it was the grand race to show that you were about DEI. And then there was an article in the New York Times maybe a year or two ago that showed that all of these promises and commitments that were made by corporations that, you know, less than a quarter of them had actually been fulfilled, that most of them hadn’t gotten off the ground. And so I think that when I mean, when people want to make a pivot or a change in your organization, they bring in a new team, they invest resources, they create the environment for that team to be successful. And we just haven’t seen that across any of these industries when we when they talk about a real commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. And again, this is not new. Talk to me about Toni Morrison and how she figures into this story. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah, I mean, Toni was at Random House and she was like very lauded as the I mean, people still say it to this day. It’s like they try to– 


Kaya Henderson: Absolutely. 


Jennifer Baker: Like laud, oh Toni Morrison was but she was also there’s this wonderful documentary um that Sandra Guzmán produced of Toni Morrison before she passed where she she was very open Ms. Morrison about the fact that she was not getting paid the same and that she had to march into her boss’s office and say and demand to get the same salary that she needed to get. That she had to present herself every time as someone to as an authority and to be understood that she had to fight for the books that she wanted while she was there too. And she had these visions. Right. And she would have parties. And she was with these all like Muhammad Ali and, you know, like [?], all these folks, like she was with them to help their books ascend in a way and to get to those communities and go to Harlem and to go here and to go there uh and prove. Like she had to prove herself. So I think even we kind of romanticize even that of like well Toni got [?] but it’s like, well, what does that take? She was a single mom to two boys. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. Who ultimately quit that job. [laughing]


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. And went to and said, I’m I’m going to be a professor now. I’m going to write full time. I’m going to do what I got to do. And this was all before she got the Nobel Prize, right? Like she left in the early eighties. Um. But that was the salary– 


Kaya Henderson: But to your point.


Jennifer Baker: She needed that salary. 


Kaya Henderson: And to your point, there was never an after action review. Oh, my gosh. Toni Morrison was amazing. We lost her. What could we have done differently? What are we going to do differently moving forward? We just keep doing the same wash, rinse, repeat cycle. 


Jennifer Baker: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: I’m interested in um we have a big labor movement, a labor shift that is happening right now. We see the United Auto Workers who are striking. We see the Hollywood writers and actors who are striking and the publis– publishing industry saw its own strike. Talk to me a little bit about that and the implications that you think that has for the broader kind of labor uprising that’s happening right now. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah, and booksellers too. Booksellers are unionizing even more now. Powells workers they went did a one day strike. Powells is a very big indie bookstore in Portland, Oregon. They did a strike on Labor Day too. To show that they had they’re like, we’re serious. And sometimes that’s how it starts, right? We’re going to do a one day strike and show you the impact and then if things go awry. And that’s also how the HarperCollins strike, because I used to work at HarperCollins and they did a one day strike while I was there. Um. And then later after I got laid off, um they did a they ended up being on strike for a little over three months. It went from November through February. And and it brought a I, I think it did bring attention. I don’t know that it brought as much attention as like the Writers Guild strike. Right. Like it didn’t get as much visibility as I think it that necessity necessitated. Um. But I’m also in New York City. So I think for us, we heard a lot about it and I’m in the book industry, um. So for that one, it really brought more attention to salary demands. I think that was like the biggest thing and that was one of the biggest wins. Um. They had asked for 50, they got 47,500 with the meeting 50 in about two years as a starter–


Kaya Henderson: Okay. 


Jennifer Baker: –for entry level positions in New York. And that was one of the biggest things and there were other things as well. I don’t know that everything got. They reported it in Publishers Weekly in some places, but I think that, again, the salary got the most prominent visability, and that’s one of the biggest issues is this these salaries, the secrecy of that and finally seeing a unification. Because before that strike, we officially closed down two other publishers, two other very major publishers. We have big five, those are five major publishers in New York City um and other places, but they are also based in New York City. They went up. You know they were like, okay, so we’re just going to do this right now. [laughing] 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


Jennifer Baker: We’re just going to–


Kaya Henderson: We’ll avoid the hard stuff. We’ll take the lesson and make the changes. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. And they went up to 47 five. And then also, you know, the the union accepted that with the understanding that there would be further provisions later, but that was something. You know it. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


Jennifer Baker: It’s a big deal when other people are watching and saying, you know what, this is going to hit us. And I think people are realizing, to your point, you know, when was it UPS? They almost went on strike. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh yeah, UPS, ay yi yi. 


Jennifer Baker: Everyone was, everyone what was girding themselves they’re like oh, no. Oh, no [laughing] 


Kaya Henderson: That’s right. 


Jennifer Baker: Like they were like, this cannot happen. This cannot happen. You know, the Writers Guild is not budging. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


Jennifer Baker: [?] They’re not budging. Folks are not budging anymore. And–


Kaya Henderson: It’s–


Jennifer Baker: I think that’s the most visible thing. And it’s important. 


Kaya Henderson: It’s interesting because I think the pandemic forced us to consider new ways of working across the board. We also saw certain industries make zillions of dollars. And so there is a labor reckoning that’s happening right now where people are saying, if you make a lot of money, your workers need to make a lot of money. And and as workers, we want to work under certain conditions. I think the pandemic empowered us to show that, you know, we could work under different conditions and still produce. And so there is a fundamental shift that’s happening across this country around how people work, how people are compensated. And I think the DEI piece is part of it. But there’s just a larger thing about that I think um forces us to like reconsider capitalism, at least the way that we’ve been doing it, right? 


Jennifer Baker: Yes. Yes.


Kaya Henderson: Um. You talk about erasure a lot in your article. And, you know, one of the things that’s happening right now is a concerted effort through book bans and censorship and the um the um banning of teaching accurate history that is happening across the country in the culture wars. What do you think about that and where do you think we’ll be five years from now? 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah, it’s really nerve wracking because I was literally doing a panel with um Emily, who is the president of the ALA and some others we were talking about how book banning really extends to everything because it’s not just about book banning right. They have the Comstock Law from I believe, in 1873 and how it’s coming back into play, especially with everything that’s happened with Roe v Wade and part of the Comstock Law was the fact that it was, quote unquote, “indecent.” You know, anything that was like perverse materials, pornographic, what have you, all air quotes [?] on my part because it’s not specifically defined. And so information can be seen as that. Representation can be seen as that. And also reproductive methods, understanding how to what reproductive justice is, but also getting actual things to prevent pregnancy through the mail is part of the Comstock Law, too. And that’s coming into play about like now that we’re seeing other things. So the book banning is tied to other forms of banning and erasure that’s happened of languages and all of that stuff. So I see it as everything’s so connected. So with all of that, it’s interesting because the erasure has been going on for a very long time, right? You have like the erasure of so many cultures due to colonization and even before then with religious figures and all this stuff. But it made me think of the Comstock Law because of the fact that book banning is tied to other forms of erasure and the Comstock Law from 1873 that is still around uh and I think is coming back into play, especially after the decisions about Roe v Wade from SCOTUS is to get rid of anything that’s considered, quote unquote “indecent.” But it is not specifically defined what indecency is. So indecency can be technically information, it can be representation, it can be understanding more about reproductive justice and receiving things to prevent pregnancy, let alone information um or about science, about religion and all that stuff. So it’s really tied to so many ways in which someone can just say, this is indecent, this is inappropriate, this is you’re indoctrinating people into X, Y, Z, which is what is– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Jennifer Baker: –used, especially now with so many books, especially for children, especially with LGBTQ+ representation, it is seen as, you know, sexually explicit, like the terminology that is used uh is is bonkers to me. 


Kaya Henderson: It’s out of control. It’s out of control. 


Jennifer Baker: –[?] every way. It’s not–


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Jennifer Baker: –just going to be books and it isn’t just books, right? It’s what we’ve been dealing with. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. The thing that makes me most crazy about the whole book banning and censorship thing is I deeply believe in a parent’s right to control whatever their child reads. I don’t believe in your right to control what my child reads. And so these sweeping rules that say what all kids can and can’t read just cannot work. Um. As we wrap up our conversation, tell me, you know, based on what you experienced, what you wrote and then what you’ve heard from other people, what would you tell large publishers at this point? 


Jennifer Baker: I would say accountability is key here. There has to be some level of accountability because things are happening to people. People are overworked, people are stressed, people are being traumatized in the workplace and they have nowhere to go. H.R. is not supporting them. People are not listening to them. And at the end of the day, it’s about having a product and we all understand what the work is and love what the work is and love supporting authors and sharing art and these stories. But there is a great deal of a lack of listening, a lack of compassion and a lack of accountability that’s happening that really needs to affect the full culture and each of us on an individual level to be dedicated to this and not solely work worry about, Oh, well, what do I have to do to get you to do your job versus– 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


Jennifer Baker: How do I make you want to come in every day and do this job? 


Kaya Henderson: That’s the thing. That’s the thing. Every organization is only as good as its people. And so if your people are not happy, if your people don’t see themselves in leadership, if your people don’t feel supported or don’t have opportunities for advancement, if your people aren’t getting paid decently, then how can you run a great organization. 


Jennifer Baker: All of that. 


Kaya Henderson: So here on the podcast we ask our guests two questions. And the first one is what is a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that has stuck with you? 


Jennifer Baker: I think the best advice is that it’s not always something doesn’t always need to deal with me. So how someone is reacting to me, or especially when folks get defensive. It’s like, that may not be about you Jen. So not everything is about you and recognize that. And take it for what it is. And-[laughter] I guess it’s like and I was like that that’s really helped my anxiety. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: That is good that is very good advice. That is very good advice. The second question is, what do you say to the people that are giving up hope in this moment? People who may have read your book or your article or they fought in the streets or they have, you know, been engaging online and to change the world and the world is not changing for the better. What do you say to those people? 


Jennifer Baker: I say, you’re not alone. Because I’ve been in even more spaces where everyone is feeling that deluge and we’re in it together in a real way. I’m not saying it as, you know, the flowery language of like, we’re all in this. I do mean it. Like, if you are in those spaces where you can be with others who really understand the emotional toll and impact of what’s happening, that can help alleviate something, but it doesn’t erase what’s going on. So honorwhere you are, recognize you’re not alone and we’re all having these same conversations and in what ways can we be in conversation with each other to propel real action? 


Kaya Henderson: That’s I mean, that’s community, right? That is what being in community does for us. Um. Where can people find more from Jennifer Baker if they want to read more of your work? And how do we stay in touch with you? 


Jennifer Baker: Oh, yeah. My website is So J-E-N-N-I-F-E-R N com. And I also encourage folks to check out um the nonprofit I work at Narrative Initiative. Um. It’s a lot of vowels, so maybe I should refrain but [?] spell it out. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: We’ll post it we’ll post it in the show notes so that– 


Jennifer Baker: Okay great. 


Kaya Henderson: People can click on and see where. 


Jennifer Baker: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: And find you. 


Jennifer Baker: Thank you, and that’s And it’s such a great space. And we’re doing wonderful work working with organizers and writers and artists and and so many folks speaking out and bringing forth change in so many ways. So those are the two spaces that you can find me. 


Kaya Henderson: Well, I want to say thank you so much for sharing with us. I feel like I learned a ton about the publishing industry. This is, you know, we always talk on the pod about like, things we just didn’t think about. And this is one of the things that many people just don’t think about. I feel like you helped us understand a lot about what’s going on in publishing and what’s going on broadly. We consider you a friend of the pod and so you are part of this community. Thank you for being part of this community and we can’t wait to have you back soon. 


Jennifer Baker: Thank you so much, Kaya. It’s been such a pleasure. 


Kaya Henderson: Likewise. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton, executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles E. Johnson.