Zach and professor, political analyst, and public speaker Dr. Jason Johnson engage in an extremely timely discussion centered around black politics, Trump, and the mainstream media. Dr. Johnson is a contributor at MSNBC and has appeared as a commentator locally, nationally and internationally, appearing frequently on CNN, Fox Business News, and more. He talks a bit about what it has looked like for him to develop the reach that he has, his experiences regarding black supporters of Donald Trump, and why he’s confident Trump will be defeated in November.
Find out more about his book “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell” on Amazon.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and man, you know, it’s just another Tuesday, right? Hopefully when you’re listening to this, you know, as your–so, you know, you’re not flying on a plane–hopefully. Some of y’all are. I don’t know why. Yes, I’m judging y’all. I don’t know why you’re flying on a plane. But some of y’all are, you know, doing that. Most of y’all are probably at the house, right? Getting used to your new normals still. Got your kids in the background. I can empathize. I can relate. I have Emory. She’s only 4 months old, but still, you know? She’s not breaking anything yet, but she wants to. But wherever you are, hopefully you’re listening to us, and we appreciate that. You know what we do. We center and amplify black and brown voices at work, and we do that by doing what? Having authentic, real conversations with black and brown elected officials, thought leaders, pundits, activists, educators, executives, entrepreneurs, public speakers, authors, anybody really. Anybody’s who’s really down to have an authentic, real conversation about what it means to be other or marginalized or one of the onlys in a space, in a majority-white space, and today is no different because we have Dr. Jason Johnson with us. Now, listen here, y’all. Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor, political analyst and public speaker. Johnson is the author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell, a tenured professor in the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore and Politics Editor at TheGrio. Dr. Johnson has an extensive public speaking and media background ranging from pop culture to politics. Johnson is a contributor at MSNBC, and has appeared as a commentator locally, nationally and internationally. He is a former contributor at Al Jazeera English, and HLN, and appeared frequently on CNN, Fox Business News, TV One and FUSION. What’s up, Roland Martin? I see you, man. Internationally he’s made multiple appearances on the BBC, CBC in Canada and Russia Today. Professor Johnson is a contributor at SIRIUS XM Radio and provides regular commentary on the nationally syndicated Russ Parr Morning Show, as well as local and national NPR stations. My goodness, gracious. Dr. Johnson, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Dr. Johnson: I’m glad to be here, Zach. Apparently you were about to talk to somebody very important, so I have to live up to all those phony words that were written by my staff.
Zach: [laughs] Okay, look, so let’s start off with this, ’cause I got some tea–look, I got some tea, and I want to get into the tea, which–no, you have the tea. [Dr. Johnson laughs] This is gonna be a messy podcast, y’all. So y’all, I’m gonna be asking real questions ’cause I’m so excited, and I’ma get into this in a minute, but let’s just start off easy and just talk about your journey into media. Like, you’re a whole professor out here. We talked about that. But you’re also out here. Like, your face is everywhere, you know? Months ago I remember, you know, you was arguing with Nina Turner, right, and then–[both laugh] Roland Martin just a couple–and I love you, sister Turner. Like, you’re a respected venerate. This is not picking no sides at all. I’m just saying you’re out here is my point, and then just a couple days ago Roland Martin was demanding that you show up back on MSNBC, and then just a couple days later I see you up on there. So, I mean, I want to understand [both laugh] what it looked like for you to develop this reach that you have?
Dr. Johnson: So I’ll go backwards and I’ll say this: it is extremely important for black people–and this is the conversation that we’re having now, right? This is the conversation we’re having now in the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and literally, Zach, this has happened to me. I’ve been in the middle of, like, working on projects or articles or whatever and, like, another name gets added to the list, another hashtag. So I hope I’m not cutting anybody out, but especially in this time it is so incredibly important that we have independent black voices out there with black-owned or black-run or black-managed media outlets, because that is the only way that we can safely talk about the plight and the experiences and the challenges that African-Americans are facing in media. You see there’s a class-action lawsuit by, you know, black reporters at the LA Times. There’s stuff at Bon Appetit Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer. I think it’s The Pittsburgh Gazette. You know, the article by Yashar Ali about ABC News. These issues are happening everywhere, and so when guys like Roland or Bakari Sellers with his podcast at The Ringer or anybody else, Joey Reed, when they amplify black people in the media it’s important, because we’ve got to be able to keep our voices out there. We’ve got to be able to protect each other, and that only happens when we have independent media outlets.
Zach: Yeah. You know, you’re one of a handful of black men on MSNBC, and you’re also, like–yeah, I’ma keep it there. You’re one of a handful of black men on MSNBC who–and frankly, like, you’re also, like–you’re straight-presenting and you’re, like, direct in your commentary and language in ways that is not common in media, just in media across the board, right? So when I think about–of course you have a handful of really great, incredible names over on ESPN. You think about, like, Howard Bryant, Bomani Jones, Dominique Foxworth, right? Clint Smith. There’s some people over there, but in the political commentary arena there just aren’t really many black men period, let alone, like–and I’m not trying to act like you’re just some macho jerk, but I’m just saying the presentation is pointed in that way I think.
Dr. Johnson: Yes, I know what you’re getting at. [both laugh] So let me say this, let me say this. Because, you know, I believe in good trouble, and I believe in being honest. So I am a straight black man in media, okay, and I don’t say that–I say that for identification purposes, and I’m gonna say this, it’s interesting. I was at NABJ a couple years ago, and I was on a panel, we were talking about diversity, and I said, you know, “As a straight black man, blah blah blah,” and a brother in the audience who’s a member of the LGBTQIA community was like, “Why do you say that? Like, why is that–” And I said the reason that I’m saying that in this context of diversity is because allyship doesn’t matter and can’t be earned if we don’t identify who we are, right? Like, when I talk about the queer brothers who I’m friends with, who I work with, who have supported me, who have had my back, it’s important that you say, “Yo, I’m a straight black man, and this brother who is gay, this brother who is queer, this brother who is [?], he’s my brother as well. I support him. I support his life. I support his choices.” So we have to be willing to identify who we are so that we put our privilege on the line to support other people who are being marginalized. So I say that also in the context of being on the air and doing media work. There are not many black men period who are privileged to do what I do, and I can say this–’cause you wanna talk about tea? Almost all of us know each other. I’m not kidding. Like, you know, me and Eddie, Eddie Glaud, and Malcolm Nance and Elie Mystal and, like, Bakari Sellers, like, the vast majority of us all text, talk to each other or are in message groups, because there’s only, like–if you count paid and unpaid brothers on CNN and MSNBC, because they’re almost none on Fox, almost every single one of knows each other because there’s only about 15.
Zach: Yeah, straight up though. It’s not that many. ‘Cause even when you just think about in media, right, like across. Like, when you talk about the mainstream platform. So yeah, I ask that question because I’m curious what it looks like for you to navigate your own frustrations and presentation on camera in moments when folks say things that you find intellectually dishonest or just stupid, right? And I ask because–it’s interesting because I have friends who, like, they engage in politics at the more local level, and so, like, local politics, these quote-unquote debates, are rarely as, like, theatrical as the content that we see, and so I’ll talk–again, these are people that I know, and I’m like, “I thought it was gonna be, like, a boxing match.” They’re just like, “Nah, we’re just regular–we’re just having a conversation.” Like, the difference in opinions aren’t typically on the local news channel–like, you know, if I go to ABC Houston or in Austin, like, even when you’re talking about protests, like, somebody’s gonna have a position, another person is gonna have a different position, and while the positions may be different, they’re not being presented like it’s just a battle or brawl.
Dr. Johnson: Right. So that’s because–there’s a couple reasons for that. One because that ain’t really how most people talk, right? And I’ll give you an example from my own experience. So I had a viral video happen in 2017, and I was on the air with a guy–you can look it up–with a guy named Matt Schlapp, and he is the head of CPAC, like, Conservative Political Action Committee. And we got into it. We got into it, because Matt tried–literally he tried to get in my face. He tried to get in my face, he was very hostile, he started lecturing me, he started pointing at me, and I’ll tell you because not only did it go viral, but, like, aunts, uncles, my friends’ parents, I had so many people call me because, you know, as soon as you get off set you turn your phone back on, and so you know–you don’t know how it looked until you turn on the phone and people are like, “Yo, are you all right? Are you okay? What happened?” Like, “My mom was afraid you were gonna get fired!” That’s how people responded to it, and I didn’t know how it would look, but I will know this–and this goes for when you talk about staying in control–and I think Matt was really hostile, and I’ve had interactions with him since and I was like, “Nah, dude. You were disrespectful. That’s not cool,” and at CPAC, I think in 2019, he actually used an edited version of that video before rolling out his introduction of president Trump, so obviously he was still feeling it. [laughs] But “How did you maintain control? How did you not snap on him?” And I say, “Well, one it’s not that hard. That’s not really my personality,” right? But two, it’s like… you ain’t ever gonna get me to do something that’s gonna cost me coins. Period. This is my job, right? Like, at the end of the day, like, you’re not gonna cost me my job. If something ever costs me my job, I don’t care if it’s a student or my writing or whatever it is, it’s gonna be something I do. It’s not because I get provoked by some bad faith argument by someone who I have a vehement disagreement with. But I will also say this – every single network operates differently, and it’s changing now, but I can tell you that from around 2010, 2011, even before we got to Trumpism, there were certain shows. I won’t even say networks, but there were certain shows where that was their bread and butter. It was, “Okay, let’s bring on a crazy, borderline racist, sometimes vehemently racist conservative person, put them on with a black person, and just–” The host would sort of sit there on some Dr. Evil pinky to their mouth like, “Hm, I wonder what will happen,” and then just keep going until the black person snapped, and then it would go viral. And I never liked doing that sort of thing. You talk about sports or whatever. I think one of the first, most combative situations I had was back in maybe 2011, 2012. I was on with Will Cain, and Will got really pissed with me because–he said something like, you know, “Blah blah blah, you boys, blah blah blah,” and I said, “Will, I’m not your boy.” And he was so mad that apparently right after the segment he, like, took off his headphones like the soccer coach meme and was pissed and stamped out or whatever else it is, and I was like, “Bro, we ain’t cool. You can’t call me that on the air. You can’t even call me that in person.” So sometimes it gets that way, but usually you just maintain self-control and professionalism and you recognize “Don’t let 3 minutes on the air affect the rest of your life.”
Zach: I mean, I think with that being said, like, can we just–like, I’ma just give you some space, because I’m curious to get your perspective on, like, the moment that we’re in. Like, have you ever seen, like, such a collective call to awareness and in many ways the performative allyship that we’ve seen today? ‘Cause this just seems like a wild confluence of events that I don’t think we’ve ever had before.
Dr. Johnson: Not in my lifetime, and not in any of our lifetimes. It’s crazy. I mean, it’s that old phrase, you know, “May you live in interesting times.” I mean, the last–it’s interesting. I’m a big, you know, comic book, video game kind of guy, right? And really, this afternoon I was shopping [and] I bought a bunch of Funko Pops for my house. I collect black Funko Pops only, and black action figures, but at this time last year I was at Comic-Con doing hits on AM Joy, and we were just talking about Cory Booker and what the Democratic 2020 race looks like, and now we’re under a pandemic that’s killed 135,000 people, there’s no federal plan in place, the president of the United States is trying to gaslight us by stealing information from the CDC. We’re bombarded with basically ritual murders of black people by police officers and sometimes just random white vigilantes. And, you know, even the 2020 primary in February and March feels like ancient history compared to where we are now. The real stress and danger is that nobody has any clue where this is going. This has had such a tremendous impact on everyone’s life professionally, from having to stay home to people losing their jobs. I think about the fact that, you know, I work in media, I’m a contributor at MSNBC, I do stuff for TheGrio, you know, I write for a bunch of different places, and a lot of my friends and colleagues who are in production, people who I know in makeup, the people who I know in styling, all of those people are out of work now, and even when the pandemic is over they’re not gonna get their jobs back because once the networks realize, “Oh, wait. Like, people are cool with watching somebody on Skype? They’re cool with you just filming from your house? Well, then we don’t need to hire those producers, and we don’t need to have Zoom studios anymore.” So a lot about everybody’s job has changed, and I even say that as somebody who’s still blessed to have multiple jobs, because there’s a lot of people whose jobs have disappeared and they’re not gonna come back.
Zach: Yeah. I mean, it’s just really bizarre. Like, how would you–I mean, especially when you think about the fact that all of this is happening in a presidential election year. I mean, how would you define–I mean, when you think about everything coming together, economically, politically, socially, like, I don’t know, man. It just seems–I don’t think that… even if we take ourselves out of this lifetime, this is a first [for?] all of these to happen at the same time, I think.
Dr. Johnson: So it’s not, but here’s the scary part if I’m gonna be honest with you, based on a book I’m working on and research. So you ever hear of, like, the cyclical theory of history? Yeah, if you look at the cyclical theory of history, this is just the beginning, and it’s really gonna suck for another 40 years. If you look at what tends to–I mean, think about it. We are 100 years from the Spanish flu. It’s literally happening at the same time. We’re 100 years from Tulsa. It’s literally happening at the same time. The 1920s up until the ’60s weren’t good. The 1820s until the 1860s weren’t good for black people. They were not. So are we in a unique position now that we might be able to keep the next 40 years from being hot garbage? We are. We have more resources today than we did in 1920. We have more resources today than we did in 1820. But if history repeats itself, this will not be good. We can’t tell ourselves this is new, because it ain’t new, but we have to tell ourselves that there’s ways that we can affect this future. There’s economic and political and culture ways that we can protect ourselves that we couldn’t do in the past.
Zach: Man, that’s real. That’s just very–
Dr. Johnson: Sobering.
Zach: Yeah, sobering. That’s a sobering analysis. [both laugh] And it’s funny you asked about the cyclical nature of history. One day, and I promise no gas, right, ’cause I’m actually, like, a pretty decent writer, okay. So in high school, my history teacher–an old white dude–was like, you know, “Y’all are gonna write a paper. Write a paper about anything. It’s extra credit.” So I wrote a paper literally about–I said, “I think history repeats itself.” I didn’t call it cyclical, but that was the thesis of, like, the four-page paper I wrote. So the dude gets the paper, and this dude–he’s a history PhD, okay? So he gets the paper and he’s like, “Ain’t no way that you wrote this by yourself,” right? So my mom at the time, an English teacher, was like, “What?” So she went up to the school, had some words. My English teacher–it was a whole thing, so it’s just funny that–and that’s why I paused in saying it. Like, in my mind I understand it’s not new, but I guess it’s just because you only have this one life that you live. So, like, it’s hard for me to think that this could have ever happened again, but I hear you. It’s just yeah, your analysis is sad. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about the space you inhabit. So I saw you on MSNBC, and we kind of joked about that earlier about, you know, you were gone for a while. I’m glad to see you on the air again. I think my frustration in this, like, really binary political premise that folks accept between, like, either you’re a liberal or conservative, is that sometimes folks conflate, like, all black political thought with liberal thought or the other way around, whatever, but they aren’t always the same, right?
Dr. Johnson: No, they’re not, they’re not. And this is what’s funny. Like, I’m not a Democrat. I am not a Democrat. I voted in the Democratic primary, in the local primaries, but I’m not a Democrat, but depending on what network you’re on and depending on what sort of the producer’s desires are, you know, it’s like the black person is always assumed to be to the left, and the disturbing thing is that we live in a country where expecting all people to be treated equal and have equal opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is somehow a left-wing idea. We’ve moved so far to the right that the idea that black people shouldn’t be slaughtered in the street by state-sponsored violence is somehow a liberal idea. That’s the problem, you know? I would say that my politics–and, you know, I’m a kid who remembers the Cold War growing up. My parents were in the military. My dad was in the military. So I had a perspective on sort of war and combat and violence that I think a lot of American kids didn’t have, right? I grew up overseas. I grew up in Germany. I saw flatbed trucks with missiles on them that would be sort of carried past our elementary school on base–I grew up on a military base. So, you know, we played shoot-em-up games like other kids did, but it was different. Like, you know, I had nightmares about nuclear war because I was close to what war looked like in a way that a lot of other people may not realize, you know? I never liked G.I. Joe, right? I was more of a Transformers kid. You know, [?] mass destruction. [both laugh] But the idea is that, you know, there’s a lot more nuance to our politics than people usually accept, and I’ll give a perfect example. I was having this conversation with a colleague on a podcast a couple days ago. We were talking about Nick Cannon, right, and we were talking about who defended him, and I was like, “This is what I mean by nuanced politics. One of the people defending Nick Cannon is Dwyane Wade. Now, Dwyane Wade has been this amazing advocate, right, for his–well, she. Zara, you know, wants to be described as she. And this guy is a super-duper masculine, Top 25 basketball player of all-time who walks around in fingernail polish and capris and will call his child she because that’s how she identifies but at the same time can defend some crazy [hoteperty?]. You gotta recognize that black people are complex and you can’t just say that, you know, people are one thing. Like, I’ve changed. I am now in favor of abolishing the police. I didn’t feel that [?] was being tear gassed in Ferguson in 2014, but I feel that way now. So even our evolution of politics and philosophies has to be taken into consideration.
Zach: Yeah, and it’s frustrating, right, and you think about some of the positions historically that–first of all just the fact that, like, even black political thought, like, we have never–like, if you wanted to just, you know, make us all one monolith, like, there’s a large swath of us who if Republicans weren’t, like, killing us, we would vote Republican. Like, a lot of us would. Like, I have family members who identify more with some of the social values and homophobic positions of the GOP, but, like, at the same time, they’re also, like, actively, you know, just being blatantly racist. I think there’s, like, this assumption that, you know, all black folks are in this, like, hyper, hyper-far left camp, and that’s just not the case.
Dr. Johnson: No, no. And let’s be fair, you know? You said, you know, if they weren’t killing us your family would be voting for Republicans. That’s not true, and you know why? Because Republicans don’t want black people to vote. [both laugh] So your family wouldn’t be voting, because they would be hitting you with Voter IDs and shutting down your voting locations. And that’s not hyperbole anymore. They’re very explicit about it. I mean, the Republican Party has said “We’re gonna challenge, like, 15-20% of all mail-in ballots this year,” and you know they’re not doing that in certain suburbs. They’re only doing that in majority-black, brown, and [young?] areas. But I think that now the state of public discourse has been so warped by the inability of most media outlets, which are run by, owned by, and edited by a certain class of white people with a certain experience perspective, they failed to adequately listen and warn and inform the public about how dangerous Donald Trump was because they didn’t fully recognize or didn’t want to recognize that white supremacy and white nationalism also has consequences for white people. They didn’t realize that, that you can’t have a government that is excruciatingly callous to the lives of black and brown people and still somehow magically be generous to all white people. It’s not gonna work that way. It never has, right? And so because our media failed to listen to the people who were warning, because we had too many who were like, “Oh, it can’t be that bad, and look at Hillary’s emails,” and black people were considered to be alarmist for saying “This guy is a white nationalist and we’re in danger,” that is kind of why where we are today. So it’s not even a question of “Well, blacks are far-left,” or whatever it is. Black journalists and [?] were the canary in the mine. We were the ones saying all along, like, “Y’all are gonna regret this. It’s not cool.” And to be fair, the majority of America didn’t vote for Donald Trump. They didn’t. But the kinds of reporting that you saw in 2018 about voter suppression in North Dakota and Oklahoma and Georgia, had those stories been covered in that way in 2016 we would have had a completely different [?]. I don’t think Trump could have won if many white journalists and anchors had reported on voter suppression and put a spotlight on it in 2016 the way they did in 2018, and black people have been talking about that stuff ever since the Voting Rights Act was [gutted?]. Well, decades in general, but especially, like, once the Voting Rights Act was gutted and a lot of white journalists were like, “Eh,” you know? Like, “It’s not gonna be that big of a deal. How hard is it? You gotta wait a little bit longer.” It’s like, “No.” You know, what we saw in Georgia was bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.
Zach: Those lines were so long, man.
Dr. Johnson: Yes!
Zach: I looked at that shot. I was like, “Y’all had to use a drone for that,” like, the shot was so high. It was like it went on forever, down the block and across the corner. I was like, “Goodness, gracious.”
Dr. Johnson: When you see a line that’s down the block and around the corner in Atlanta it’s either one of two things. Either people are lining up for lunchtime at Slutty Vegan or they’re trying to vote. It’s one of the two things.
Zach: Shout-out to Slutty Vegan. No ad, yes. Agreed. This is not an ad. No, but you’re right though, ’cause I was like–I looked at the line, and I remember, you know, most–like, a lot of millennials and Gen Z’ers too–[?] I get [?] on Twitter just because it’s so fast–and so I’m just looking at all these videos and I’m just like, “This is crazy.” I guess going back to your point around the cyclical nature of history, like, this is–y’all are literally suppressing our votes ’cause y’all know that a lot of us have hourly jobs. Some of us–and you know what? Some of us just might not want to wait in a line for 3 hours, and that’s okay too.
Dr. Johnson: I don’t want to wait in a line for three hours. Look, man. Like I said, I’m a comic book, you know, nerd or whatever it is, but I don’t get “waiting in line” culture. I wasn’t gonna wait in line three-and-a-half hours to see the new Dr. Who or the new Star Wars movie. Like, I ain’t feeling it. I’ll find it some other way or I’ll just watch it a couple hours later. Making people do that in order to vote, the pictures that you see in Texas and Georgia and North Carolina–and, you know, I think it’s a testament to how targeted it is, ’cause I’ve never had to do that. When I voted in Ohio I would just walk across the street from campus, and yet what they used to do, what Republicans pushed through and what the government in Ohio [?] was they tried to stop college kids from voting by saying, “Oh, in order to get a voter registration card you have to have some sort of utility bill,” right? So that’s crazy for college kids. It’s like, “I live in a dorm.” So my campus literally–thank goodness for some of the activists [?]–they literally would print out a utility bill showing what percentage of your tuition payment went to your utilities and gave it to every single student so that they could register to vote.
Zach: Wow. Wow.
Dr. Johnson: But, you know, that was a small liberal arts college that only had 1,100 kids, but it’s those same kinds of principles of “Let’s make it as hard as we can for a 20-year-old who’s like, “Yo, I can’t go all the way back home to Columbus to vote. This is crazy,”” right?
Zach: Yeah, and a really like–I don’t want to say nuanced function, but, like, a function of white supremacy is just make up random rules. Make up random rules that you create just enough inconvenience or–because you understand the bureaucracy of the situation–that block us, right? And that way you can say, “Well, we didn’t really–we weren’t racist. We had this rule, and, you know, it just–“
Dr. Johnson: So that’s where the term “institutional racism” comes from, because it’s both things. Institutions by their very nature are meant to slow things down, you know? They’re meant to make processes more complicated. That’s what institutions are for. And so when you already have institutions that are built to grind down quick action and to perpetuate existing norms and then you add race to that, that’s why we have what we have. Our voting process is complicated anyway. It’s not like magically voting was easy in 1913. It wasn’t easy then either, right? You know, you couldn’t vote if you were a woman. It’s never been an easy process, but when you throw in race they tried to make it darn near impossible, and then you have people getting thrown in jail for voting in the wrong location or being threatened by militiamen who show up at the voting booth. So, you know, all of those things come into play, and we’re gonna see so much more of that before the year is out. It’s gonna be a mess.
Zach: Yeah. I mean, I shudder to think, but it’s coming, you know? We’re getting closer to it every day. You know, a few weeks ago–it was a few weeks ago–Van Jones, he said, you know, “It’s not the racist white person who’s in the Ku Klux Klan that we have to worry about. It’s the white liberal Hillary Clinton supporter walking her dog in Central Park,” and he was talking, you know, more largely about Amy Cooper and also talking about, like, just this concept of what racism is and, like, how it’s mobilized in more just, like, day-to-day ways in this country, and pertaining to that, do you think that mainstream media talks about white liberal racism enough?
Dr. Johnson: Nope. And in fact, if you talk about racism amongst white liberals and you’re black, you are subject to a lot more sort of retribution and attacks than white colleagues are. I mean, but that happens to black people in general, but here’s the thing – it’s not really about white liberal racism or conservative racism, it’s about talking about what racism actually is and how it manifests itself and what it can actually do to people’s lives and how it’s almost impossible to have these sort of structural racist beliefs in our day-to-day workings or our lives or our businesses and have everything else function. You know, I’m not gonna do some sort of holistic sermon here, but the same kind of–racism oppresses white people in ways as well. The kids who got killed in Parkland, right, the kids who have been killed in inner city schools who are mostly black, the kids who were killed in Columbine, right, our gun culture in America is a direct result of racism. It is a direct result of the idea that white people are under constant threat, constant threat from emerging hordes of blacks or Asians or Latinos, and therefore the idea is you must have a gun to protect yourself because death is the only way to deal with these raging hordes of brown people, right? But what does that result in? It results in a crazed gun culture in America that ends up disproportionately killing white people all over, right? So [?] is a policy driven by an underlying racist attack on black people also ends up killing white people. White people don’t understand how racism kills them too, and that’s–so when you talk about the media, that’s when I can go back to Trump, I don’t think–even in good faith, I don’t even think a lot of media people recognize how dangerous this would get because they really thought, “Oh, man, Trump is racist and that’s bad, but racism is gonna be a black people problem or a Hispanic people problem or a Muslim people problem, not a white people problem.”
Zach: Yeah. No, I’m right there with you, and I think today in this moment–as we see all of this, all of the filmings of police brutality on camera–I mean, even last night. So we’re recording this on a Friday, so this was, like, yesterday in Portland. There was a video of this white protester who just got scooped up by these, like, government [?]–
Dr. Johnson: Yes.
Zach: You saw that? And got thrown in an unmarked van? I said, “What? What the hell is going on here?”
Dr. Johnson: Or the cops who were just slashing and popping tires of journalists and people in Minnesota. I mean, like, that’s the thing. Racism is killing black people, right, at a tremendous rate and always has, but it’s killing white people too. I think that if there’s one thing we’ve started to understand in this current sort of racial reckoning is that you’re finally getting white people in a consistent way to be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Some of the systems that we thought were bad but were just gonna hurt others are now hurting us. Maybe this whole thing is a problem.”
Zach: Okay, so this is kind of a silly question. I told you it was gonna be messy, and this is my messy question. All right… how real are these black folks who be out here championing Donald Trump? Like Paris Dennard. Like, I just–I don’t believe it. Now, let’s have the conversation, and if it goes [wrong?] I don’t care. I need to understand this. So I’m about to name the names. Here are the people who stick out to me. Paris Dennard–and I feel like, to be honest, you and Keith Boykin, y’all really kind of treat Paris like he’s, like, the little annoying cousin that comes from out of town [?] the way that y’all–I see y’all on here, and I can pick up on things ’cause, you know, black folks, we can pick up on how y’all be–and y’all put the professional face on on that camera, but Simone too. Simone be looking at him like, “Come on, Paris.” Moving on. So Paris Dennard, Candace Owens, Diamond & Silk. I mean, I know you just got back so I’m not trying to get you in trouble, but–
Dr. Johnson: Oh, no, no, no. I’m fearless. [laughs]
Zach: Do you think that Thomas Sowell looks at these folks like, “These are my kids”? Like, I’m trying to understand.
Dr. Johnson: Well, the thing is, like, Trumpism… Trumpism is a kind of cult that is different from being a Republican, right? One of my favorite people is Michael Steele. I think Michael Steele is awesome. I joke with him and Tony Harris, those are two of the older brothers who I admire immensely, them, Russ Parr, you know, but Michael in particular. Michael is a Republican. I wrote about Michael in my dissertation, right? I quoted him in my dissertation. He is a Republican, you know? He was the head of the RNC during the Obama administration, but he recognizes that Trump is crazy and a danger to this country. And so it’s not about black Republicans. I don’t know a lot of black Republicans who are okay with Trump. I mean, they’re not. Now, I know some white Republicans, and the only issue they have with Trump is they just think he’s uncouth. They’re perfectly fine with his policies. They just think he screws things up by saying the quiet part loud. But a lot of black Republicans that I know, they’re like, “No, this man is crazy. He is dangerous,” right? And that’s why you’ve seen white and black Republicans who have left the party because of Trump. Now, I say that to say I don’t know Paris personally, right? I think his politics are really strange. You know, it just doesn’t seem to me to be grounded in much. Candace Owens, I do not know her. I’ve never met her. But I get people–it’s funny, I have a really good friend in Atlanta, and he’ll text me all the time, “Oh, my God. Did you see what Candace Owens said? It’s terrible,” and I’m like, “Candace Owens is powerless.” I mean, is she an elected official? Does she control budgets? Is she passing legislation? No, so I don’t pay attention to Candace Owens, I don’t pay attention to Diamond & Silk, because people like that aren’t dangerous. You know who’s dangerous? Ben Carson is dangerous.
Zach: Ben Carson is dangerous. Ben Carson is dangerous with his sleepy self, but yes, he is dangerous.
Dr. Johnson: Yes. You know, the guy who survived a robbery at a Popeyes organization, a fried chicken establishment. Like, Ben Carson is a dangerous man because he subscribes to elements of Trumpism and he has control over housing and urban development, which is an essential government agency to hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans. So those are the people I worry about. Now, when you want to talk about specifically media and you’re like, “All right, look, how many of these people are just doing play-play for TV?” So this is the thing about that. There are people who–see, it depends, because I think Paris Dennard is sincere. He really believes this stuff. I disagree with him, but he believes it, right? And so there’s a certain peace that you can have with that. As far as people who I think are faking it, you know, I don’t know many because so many Trumpists have fallen out of favor, you know, that it’s sort of like, “Eh, I don’t know.” Like Katrina Pearson. Do I think Katrina Pearson believes that stuff? No, I think Katrina Pearson is a hired gun because she was a campaign spokesperson. I don’t know if she really believes all that stuff, but that was her job, you know? Omarosa, right? You know, Omarosa was close to Trump and worked in the administration, but I always said–you know, and I’ve known Omarosa. Like, I met her years ago, you know, Omarosa was doing what she thought was–you know, what was gonna help the country, right, and help her, and if you read several different books, you know, she tried to get a job on the Clinton campaign. So it’s not like she was a full Trumpian, she just went there because she was like, “All right, I’m gonna join the winning [?].” So, you know, you start getting down to, you know, some of these YouTube, you know, crazy pro-Trump black people, if you start really going down that rabbit hole, I’m like… most of those folks are just hustling. They’re just hustling.
Zach: Yeah, ’cause I just–I don’t know. I just find it hard to stomach, right? Now, I will say a guilty pleasure of mine–’cause I don’t watch UFC ’cause it’s too bloody, but I do like some of the theatre of watching, like, when Marc Lamont Hill and Paris Dennard would argue or when Keith Boykin would rip somebody up. I enjoy that. I have looked at the clip with you and Matt Schlapp. I look at it every now and then. Like, that content to me is, like, the same feeling I get when I listen to, like, Dipset [when they] did the freestyle in the basement. Like, it’s kind of like a rap. I enjoy that. But I don’t think it’s healthy, right? I just think it’s fun. It’s fun to engage.
Dr. Johnson: It’s cathartic.
Zach: That’s the word. It’s cathartic. But my challenge is just that when I see it–and I talk to my people about it and I’m just like, “Y’all, these people just cannot be real. Like, how can you come up here and defend that?” But that makes sense. Now, look, you said Michael Steele. So I will say–and I understand what you were saying about him being a Republican, but he kind of also–I’m curious about that space too because it seems like every time something racist happens within the GOP Michael Steele comes out and he’s surprised. Like, every time, and Tim Scott too for that matter. Like, every time–
Dr. Johnson: [laughing] I wouldn’t put them in the same category though. Like, I gotta defend Mike, because Mike–like I said, I like him, he’s a really good guy. Here’s the thing. I can’t speak for him, but I will say this. In conversations that I’ve had with him about these kinds of issues, I don’t know if I would characterize it as “Michael Steele is surprised by racism within the Republican Party.” I’ve had plenty of conversations with him about these issues. I think what would be a more fair characterization is, you know, there are times that black Republicans are surprised by the racism of fellow Republicans who they have worked with, who they know personally. So it’s not an institutional “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe there’s [racism?] in this establishment,” right? [both laugh] “Oh, my God. Is there actual prostitution here?” I think it’s more like, “Yo, I worked with you. Like, you’ve been at my house. Like, yeah, I know that there’s racists out there, but I thought that you and I were cool, or at least I thought that you had more tact, decency, or perspective than that.” So I think that. Now, mind you, I’m a living paint the fingernails emoji. I’m like, “Oh, for real? For real? You just found this out?” But, you know, I don’t work in those spaces. And it’s interesting. So I’ma take you back a little bit. Let’s talk about discovering and dealing with racism. So do you remember that video, the viral video–jeez, it was years ago now–and forgive my language, but it was “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls.” Remember that viral video? It was Francesca Ramsey, right? And so I remember all of these people were wathcing that and they were like, “Oh, my God, it was good,” and people had all these discussions, and Francesca went on Anderson Cooper and everything else like that. And I remember writing about it at the time. I was at–I don’t know what media outlet. It might have been [?] 21, it might have been Politics 365. I don’t know, but I remember writing at the time and I said, you know, “I found the video interesting. I found it compelling. Parts of it were funny, but parts of it were unfamiliar with me. Why? ‘Cause I don’t have those kinds of white friends.” I was like, “My white friends aren’t racist, and my white friends who are racist, they know it. It’s something that we talk about.” So I’m like… that’s the part that gets me, people who are surprised by people that they know. Like, I don’t socialize with white people who are vehemently over the top can’t see my humanity racist, so I don’t have these experiences of being shocked, you know? And you talk about this larger issue of “We’re in this time of racial reckoning” and everything else like that, I was involved with a hashtag a couple weeks ago called [Black and Ivory?]. I don’t know if you saw this. And people were tweeting about, you know, what their experiences were like as black people in academia. I did a whole thread about the institutional and the individual racism that I dealt with getting my doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill and named names, right, and people were kind of shocked. I got reached out to by my department, and they were like, “Oh, my God, we didn’t know this. We’d like to talk to you. Blah blah blah,” and I told this story about how, you know, my dissertation adviser had some very, very racist beliefs, that he at one point told a graduate student, “You light-skinned blacks aren’t any smarter than the dark ones, and I want make sure that you know that.” That was my dissertation adviser, okay?
Zach: Goodness, gracious. I mean, they aren’t any smarter than dark ones though, but that’s–but the context of that though was bad. [both laugh]
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, and that was kind of the whole thing. It’s like, you know, I wasn’t surprised to hear that, right? I wasn’t surprised that he was a bigot. The fact that the institution was shocked that this kind of behavior [was happening] and shocked that this is what people dealt with, that’s the part that was funny to me because it’s like, you know, “If you empowered black and brown people and gave them even a semblance of protection and stake in this institution you wouldn’t be shocked by these things.” So whether it’s academia, media or business, black people ain’t shocked by what’s going on. I think white people are, and that’s the big difference we’re facing today.
Zach: You know, it’s funny you talked about Black and Ivory. So I remember when, like, Oni and Uche Blackstock, the Dr. Blackstocks, they were tweeting about it, and there was one thing I was surprised you didn’t tweet about when you were using that hashtag. It was when after you made those comments about Bernie Sanders and Nina Simone all them people got in your Twitter talking about how you must be a terrible professor and started making a bunch of–like, it was a bunch of white folks in your mentions questioning your competence as a professor, if you even should have had a PhD in the first place.
Dr. Johnson: Right. So there’s a couple things that I’ll say about this, and it’s really key. One, the first time–you know, I can always tell sort of bigotry. I can always tell sort of racialized hostility when they go after my doctorate, because that’s the thing that they can’t stand. They cannot stand–because that ain’t what I lead with. That ain’t what I lead with personally or professionally. I happen to have a doctorate in political science from UNC Chapel Hill. My focus is on campaign management and political communication, but people get angry about that and so that’s what they attack first. The second thing that I’ll say is this, and I think this is important. I think this is gonna be one of the stories that we should never forget about the 2020 election season, which is the importance of identifying bad faith outrage that is used to silence powerful black voices, okay? And that’s what we gotta deal with, because whether it’s the far-right or the far-left, right, a black person says something–and bad faith outrage, if people don’t understand what that means… you look at what happened with the senator from Minnesota, Al Franken. So you remember years ago it was, like, Al Franken had been [sexually harassing] women, doing inappropriate stuff. He claimed it was a joke, right? And Republicans went nuts. They went, “Oh, my God!”
Zach: They went super–they went, ironically, super left on him, yeah.
Dr. Johnson: Right? They were like, “Oh, my God. You Democrats, you’re terrible. You’ve got to do something about him. He’s so awful.” And the Democrats got together and kicked out Al Franken.
Zach: Quickly too, may I add.
Dr. Johnson: Quickly. Like, boom, done. You’re gone. Now, then 18 months later the Republicans were all rallying around Donald Trump.
Zach: Right, who had just been bragging about sexual assault on a bus.
Dr. Johnson: Right, who had been bragging about sexual assault, and the Democrats are like, “Wait, what?” And the Republicans are like, “Oh, wait. You fell for that? Oh, my God! [laughs] You fell for that! We’re gonna weaponize your values against you in bad faith. We don’t believe in it, but we’re gonna try to catch you up in it.” Right? And so you see a lot of that on the far-right and the far-left, not because there’s a sincere belief, but because you can weaponize these values to shut up people that you don’t like. So a black commentator says something critical about Trump and all of a sudden [?] are like, “That’s racist! That’s terrible!” And then, you know, that black person is pulled off or removed or has to be quiet, you know? What happened to Van Jones in the Obama administration? Bad faith outrage. He gets kicked out of the administration. The far-left has done that as well, and so when we look back at 2020 we have to recognize that there are people who aren’t really interested in public discourse unless it is coming from the voices that they like. And it goes back to what we said at the beginning of this conversation about the assumption that black people are on the far-left, right? It’s like, there are people who are believe that, if you are black, if you do not align with a certain ideology, then you are a danger, and in fact you are [more of an apostate?] than a black person who is a conservative, and they’ll come after you, and we have to be conscious of sort of bad faith outrage. So that’s my sort of thing from that, you know? Doing this kind of work, you take responsibility for your actions, you know, but we also have to recognize that black people are targeted. They are targeted for what we say, and we are attacked and targeted for what we say much more, much, much more than white people who make similar and sometimes worse mistakes.
Zach: I’m right there with you. So look, I’ve stated this a few times. You know, I don’t think that Trump is losing in November. I don’t. Okay, so now I’m curious, in your mind, what are the media and long-term implications of him staying in office, like, during a global pandemic in, like, one of the most economically dire situations that we’ve had in, you know, almost 100 years. Do you think there’s been enough urgency around this moment, and do you think the Democratic Party has managed this election season well?
Dr. Johnson: So there’s a bunch–so I’m gonna unpack that a couple of ways. One, Donald Trump cannot get reelected this fall unless he cheats in a drastic, massive way, and I have to always say that, and here’s why. I mean, one, he lost the popular vote by 3 million in 2016. I mean, he got hammered across the board in 2018. The economy is now garbage. He has mismanaged a pandemic that has cost 135,000 people their lives, bankrupted 35 million people that is laying waste to entire communities and has no color, right? And then on top of that he is running against a white man, and Donald Trump’s strategy, his entire rise in politics, has been grievance against the ascent of women and black people. He’s always running against either Hillary or Obama, but he doesn’t really have strategy for how to run against a white guy. He doesn’t. That’s how he got impeached. He was always afraid of running against Joe Biden because he was like, “I can–” Donald Trump can give nicknames, can change your brand, but he knows branding. The man is brilliant at branding, and he knows “I can’t do anything to damage Uncle Joe. People have known him for 8 years of Obama, and I know I’m not gonna be able to change that, so I gotta come up with this whole scheme to try to damage him.” And then that didn’t work and he got impeached for it. So the first thing is, like, he’s really not in good shape to get reelected, and then the second thing is this – in order for him to win this fall, the cheating he’s gonna have to do is going to be so massive and so disruptive that I don’t know that he’ll be able to pull it off. Look, Joe Biden is leading in Pennsylvania by 13 points. Even if we cut that in half and Joe Biden has a 7 point lead heading into Election Day–and remember, we’re not gonna have the president on Election Day. We won’t, because we’re gonna have too many ballots coming in by mail, so we’re not gonna know the president for weeks, weeks and weeks and weeks, and you’re gonna have people fighting and you’re gonna have Trump challenging it and you’re gonna have militia people showing up at polling places and counting places, but if Joe Biden is leading Pennsylvania by 7, there’s no way in heck that Trump can say “I won it by .5%.” People will riot. They’ll riot. They’ll be too unhappy. He could pull this off in 2016 because Hillary was only leading these states by 1 or 2 percentage points and it was all within the margin of error. Trump’s losing is not going to be within the margin of error. So I say that to say of course it’s possible for him to be reelected, but it’s gonna be really hard. It’s gonna be really, really hard, and I think Joe Biden’s going to get about 40% of the white vote, and if he gets 40% of the white vote, Donald Trump is done. He can’t win if–
Zach: I love the prediction. I hope it’s true.
Dr. Johnson: I mean, you know, I don’t traffic in hope. [both laugh] I don’t. I don’t traffic in hope. I traffic in, like, “This is what the numbers tell me,” and, you know, I think–now, could this change? Of course it could change, you know? But unless there’s a miracle cure to this pandemic that they hand out free, you’ve got a lot of people who are gonna be really angry and they’re gonna vote this guy out.
Zach: So then do you think the Democratic Party put the best candidate forward?
Dr. Johnson: Um, probably. Given the people who were running? Probably. I said this all along. Let’s look at the top three, four candidates, right? I think Donald Trump’s greatest fear was either Harris or Biden. I really do. He feared Harris because he was like, “Oh, my gosh. If Harris wins the nomination, then that means America has not been turned” the way that his rampant bigotry is–you know, if America is willing to nominate a black woman to run against Trump, then that means the Obama coalition is getting the band back together plus Hillary, right? So he feared Harris. That’s where all that [?] stuff came from, right? He really wanted to knock Harris out of the race. But I always thought it was gonna be a tough slog for Harris. Then you go to Elizabeth Warren. I think Elizabeth Warren was a fantastic candidate. I think she had probably the best ideas, the best combination of enthusiasm and engagement. The issue with Elizabeth Warren is she’s a woman and there’s lots of people who are still sexist and didn’t want to vote for her and didn’t think that she’d be able to handle Trump.
Zach: Yeah, because that’s who we voted for. Like, I really felt like she was the strongest candidate.
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, lots of people did. Lots of people did. Then you had Bernie Sanders. I always said this is the biggest danger of Bernie Sanders. When you have a president who is unpopular, the reelection campaign is always going to be a referendum on Trump, and if Trump is unpopular, which he is, then that means it’s most likely he’s gonna lose, right? If you had Trump versus Bernie Sanders, it would have been a referendum on capitalism. It would have been a referendum on the entire functioning of the American economy, and I don’t know. That’s a coin flip, right? That’s a coin flip how that works. So I always thought that was a risky proposition, I was like, “‘Cause Americans love them some capitalism.” You know? Even as it kills us, even as it starves our children, even as it leads the NBA going into a death ring to entertain us and entertain advertisers and Budweiser beer, Americans–it’s insane. I’m a basketball and football fan. So I always thought that was the danger, right? And so then you get to Biden, you know? Biden is probably the best candidate because he’s got the best chance of winning. He was the one Trump was afraid of, you know? So is Biden gonna be the best thing for America? If you define “the best thing for America” down to who can get Trump out of office, then probably, but what he does once he’s in, it’s anybody’s guess.
Zach: All right. Now, look, this is my last question, and I appreciate you. This has been a longer episode, but I appreciate you. So this is the last one. Let me read this name by no name. No name is a well-known rapper, singer, and a grassroots organizer and influencer in Chicago. She has a reading club really focused on black liberation. This is the tweet. “We can’t vote out colonialism. We can’t vote out imperialism and racial capitalism. Those things can only be uprooted through a revolution via mass solidarity amongst all oppressed people. Read and link up with radical orgs in your community. State violence is Democratic and Republican.” So here’s my question – how real do you think this recent, like, publicized push for revolution is? Because I want it to be real, and I’d like to think folks in my generation or cohorts are disillusioned with oppressive systems, but I’m curious to get–like, you’re a Gen X’er, right? So we’re, like, in different generational spaces. I’m curious to get your perception of this.
Dr. Johnson: So what is happening in this country right now is a testament to how flimsy, disingenuous and hollow what most calls for revolution over the last 15 years in American politics really were, becaues this is a revolution. We’ve had candidates call for revolutions. We’ve had, you know, certain kinds of activists call for revolution, but what we’re seeing now is a real revolution, and it is sustainable, it is consistent, it has led to changes that are actually substantive, and I think it’s going to be effective. Whether or not we will be able to break the grip of capitalism on America, like I said, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Americans are wedded and committed to capitalism. They’re not gonna give it up. They’re not gonna give up that drug. And the [?] most, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, but the people who are most oppressed by capitalism are the people who are often times the most wedded to it, right? Black people love them some capitalism too even though we have been the victims of it because we were brought here as commodities. So do I see that of revolution happening? Maybe not now. Maybe in this next 40 years of hell that we’re gonna go through, right? Assuming I’m around to see all the rest of it. But in the short term, yes, you have people marching in the streets. You have people of all color marching in the streets. There was never gonna be a revolution in America [that] did not center black people. We were never gonna have a revolution based on religion or class or region. It has to be centered on the very people who are the genesis of the greatest evils in this country, and that is black folk, and so the fact that this revolution has started based on these state-sponsored and vigilante murders of black people means it is possible. It’s finally starting from the right place, and this is not to slam Occupy Wall Street or anything else like that, but America runs on Dunkin and America runs on race, right? You can do class-based revolutions in countries that are much more racially and religiously homogeneous, but if you have a heterogeneous country and a multi-cultural country where all of the capitalism is driven by the sort of oppression and commodification of black and brown bodies, you can’t start the revolution if you don’t start with the protection of those black and brown bodies.
Zach: I love it. Dr. Johnson, this has been an incredible conversation. Now, before we wrap up, man, I typically try to give folks a little bit of space. Any parting words or shout-outs you got before we get up out of here?
Dr. Johnson: So I want to encourage everybody out there–this is what everybody needs to remember. We’re at a really, really critical time in black media. Every single black person that you see on television, you need to support them. You need to email networks. You need to tweet them. You need to read their articles. You need to support them. Because we’re in a time where the only way that we’re going to get to the bottom and get true reporting on some of the issues we’re facing right now is by supporting and galvanizing the public behind the ideas that black and brown people have been talking about. We would not be getting the reporting about George Floyd and police violence now if it weren’t for the generation of people, Jelani Cobb, Erin Haines, Wesley Lowery, you know, Jamelle Bouie. If it weren’t for that generation of people who came out of [Ferguson]. You know, yes, I guess I came out of Ferguson too. Marc Lamont Hill. If it weren’t for these voices, we wouldn’t even have the groundwork to talk about what we’re talking about today, but there will always be forces that want to silence those black voices. So it’s nto just good enough to say “I like this person on TV,” or “I read this person’s article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.” You gotta buy their books. Buy Tiffany Cross’s book. Buy Zerlina Maxwell’s book. Read the articles by Elie Mystal in The Nation. Make sure you are out there supporting black journalists in every single shape, way, or form that you can, because our ability to stay in this fight and say the things that are uncomfortable but say the things that are important that this country needs to live, needs in order for us to survive, is dependent on folks coming to our aid. That’s why I’m where I am today, and it’s where the rest of us will have to be if we’re gonna continue.
Zach: Incredible, man. It’s like you do this on a national platform all the time. It’s beautiful. Dr. Johnson, it’s been a blessing, been a pleasure. Y’all, you know what we’re doing. Like, every single week we do this. We’re all over Beyonce’s internet. I’m not about to give you all the domains. You know where we’re at. Living Corporate. Just type us in. We’ll pop up. ‘Til next time, y’all. This has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Dr. Jason Johnson, political contributor, pundit, speaker, educator, and overall dope dude, man. Catch y’all later.
Dr. Johnson: Thank you, man. I appreciate it. [both laugh]