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Israel Forms National Emergency Government; Netanyahu Remains as Prime Minister for 18 more Months; Ofer Shelah, Head of Knesset Coronavirus Committee, is Interviewed About Israel; 1.5. Billion Children Out of School in 165 Countries; How UNESCO Supports Education, Culture and Artists While on Lockdown; Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO, is Interviewed About Education; African-Americans Likely Being Hit by Coronavirus; Interview With Jonathan Van Ness; Interview With Bakari Sellers. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired April 23, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
With coronavirus dominating headlines, we look at a deal forged in isolation, as Israel finally gets a unity government after three rapid-fire
elections. I speak to an M.P. in the coalition party that now feels left at the altar.
Then, the world's most important heritage sites closed, keeping culture and education alive under lockdown. UNESCO's director general joins me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If America gets a cold, black folk get pneumonia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A deeper look into a major crisis. Why coronavirus is falling most heavily on America's minorities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN VAN NESS, ACTOR, "QUEER EYE": Look at this face. Look at this handsome, gorgeous face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What everyone wants to know, but is afraid to ask. Tips for staying groomed under lockdown. Some much-needed inspiration with star of
the Netflix hit "Queer Eye," Jonathan Van Ness.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour working from home in London.
As the fallout continues over government handling of the pandemic in the United States and here in the U.K., an important political deal in the
Middle East was struck under lockdown this week. For more than a year and three inconclusive elections, Israel has been paralyzed in political
lockdown. But prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader, Benny Gantz, have now agreed to form a national emergency
government because of the coronavirus.
This means Netanyahu, who has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, remains in the role for 18 more months, before
handing over to Gantz, who had, by the way, vowed never to do this, and said Netanyahu wasn't fit for public office. So, what has changed?
Ofer Shelah is a member of Yesh Atid Talem (ph), which had been part of Gantz' Blue and White Party, until last month. And he's joining me now from
Welcome to the program.
Can I just first start by asking you, because you also head the Knesset Committee on coronavirus, and many have looked at the success that Israel
has had in terms of the fairly low number of infections and very low number of deaths. Can you give us a status report? It's all -- how is it all going
OFER SHELAH, HEAD OF KNESSET CORONAVIRUS COMMITTEE: Well, Christiane, we are definitely in a relatively good situation, certainly, when you look at
certain European countries, regarding the health situation in Israel. But my committee and myself think that it's time to open up Israeli life, the
economic life, the social life, because we need to tilt towards that, otherwise, we will suffer more on the economic front than we will gain on
the health front.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about that, because, yes, and I think the prime minister has said that, as well. Do you have a plan? Do people know
what's going to happen? Because we've heard there's a little bit of, you know, people listen to what the leaders are saying, but they're not quite
sure about what exactly opening up looks like.
SHELAH: Yes. So, the thing is, and I don't want to get into too much into our criticism of the way things are handled in Israel. But the thing is,
one of the missing things is a clear plan and a clear explanation to the Israeli people, how are things going to look like moving ahead. Because as
everybody knows, the question of public behavior and the ability to uphold the restrictions on the Israeli public have to do, definitely, with their
level of knowledge, understanding, and, therefore, they will comply with the instructions given by the government.
So that, also, is lacking in a sense, but there's a general sense here that it's time to open up economic life, it's time to bring back some sense of
normalcy. Yes, with, you know, behavioral restrictions, wearing masks, and so on, but it's time to open it up. Because right now, the economic damage
seems to be a real threat to Israeli life moving forward.
AMANPOUR: So, would you give good marks to the prime minister for handling of this crisis? And also, we hear on the Palestinian side, they have
received, you know, praise from those who are watching how they've been handling it. There was some complaints, though, that the Palestinians said,
checkpoints they had put up were taken down by Israeli forces, and a testing clinic in East Jerusalem was closed.
SHELAH: I am not familiar or exactly familiar with those complaints. I deal with the coronavirus internally in Israel. I will say that as far as I
know, the idea and Israel in general are doing much to keep the COVID disease at bay at -- in Judea and Samaria, because, you know, it's our
doorstep, as well.
But in general, I would say that the initial decisions were made regarding, once again, health, closures and so on, were made in time in Israel. But
the general way that the whole crisis is managed, on the public front and on the economic front is lacking, and it's time to change the policy. We
said that in a special report put forth by my committee, just before Passover, and I think it's high time it was implemented. And implemented
more vigorously than it's been done so far.
AMANPOUR: So, let's get to the political, now. Because as I mentioned, Benny Gantz, who's now gone into an emergency unity government with
Benjamin Netanyahu, and you and your party were part of the coalition to begin with, has basically said, you know, I would never do this, Netanyahu
is not fit for public office. And now, he's basically said, we prevented a fourth election, we will safeguard democracy. What is -- what's your
reaction to that?
SHELAH: Well, this, of course, caused the split up of Blue and White. We were never part of the coalition. We were a part of Blue and White. And
this caused the division between us and Benny Gantz's faction.
The thing is this. We were very close to completing a political move that would have given us the advantage and be the end game, whatever anybody
wanted. And definitely, the end game that Benny Gantz was apparently looking for was different than, for example, mine. But we were about to
complete this move in the Knesset. And just as it was about to be completed, in my mind, the way I see it, Benny Gantz just caved in.
And this is not a unity government, as you said in the beginning. Because he's moving in with 15, 17, no more than that members of Knesset against a
block that is close to 60. He's not getting any positions that are crucial to the fight against the coronavirus as he stated was the reason for him to
move into government. And most of important of all, his guaranteeing -- this is not an emergency government, this guaranties Netanyahu, at least 18
more months as prime minister and 19 more months of some kind, I won't get into the details of it, of basically of immunity. And being able to stand
trial on the one hand and still continue to be a replacement prime minister and someone who holds the helm of Israel. And that, we couldn't agree to.
And that's why Blue and White split. And we are apparently headed towards the opposition.
AMANPOUR: So, what -- do you think that, you know, the sort of arrangement that's been set out, will Netanyahu hand over, you know, rotate the prime
ministership in 18 months, as has been laid out? Are you confident that that will happen?
SHELAH: I'm also confident that that will not happen. And this is the opinion, a poll just came out stating this is the opinion of most Israelis.
They're trying to pass -- and I'm just coming here from the Knesset. I am going back to the Knesset, they're trying to pass all kinds of intricate
laws, which, you know, seem to be a change of Israel's constitutional nature, only to create this artificial bond between two people who simply
just don't trust each other.
And I don't think it will hold up. I don't think Benny Gantz is going to ever be prime minister or, at least according to this pack that they've
signed. And I think most people don't even think Netanyahu he means it.
AMANPOUR: So, you know, here's some of the dates. The trial was meant to start. Of course, he's been indicted, as we know. And the trial was meant
to start May 24th. The original was in March, but it's all been, you know, pushed. He could face, you know, about 10 years in prison, if he's
convicted of bribery and maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust. Do you think that he can use this authority to avoid trial?
SHELAH: No, he won't avoid trial. I think that this is behind us. He tried to, for a year now. And one of the reasons, major reasons that we had three
elections was his attempt to gain immunity or, you know, somehow avoid going to trial. He is going to be a defendant and we are going to be faced
with this morally, you know, abhorrent, boring view of a person, you know, in the morning, stepping into the court in Jerusalem and defending himself
against bribery and, you know, perhaps the most serious offenses you could blame a public figure.
And on the -- in the afternoon, making the most crucial decisions for Israel's future. We thought that it was morally wrong. We thought this was
politically wrong. And that's why we opposed it. And that's why we are -- it is so unfortunate that Benny Gantz just caved in and sort of crawled
into this government. The only upshot of which, is going to be that Netanyahu will hold his position, whether as prime minister or replacement
prime minister or whatever, while being a defendant in court.
AMANPOUR: As you know, Benny Gantz' party, and indeed, the government, has accused you of resorting to gutter language, trying to drag the country
into fourth elections by your criticism of this deal.
But I want to ask you, I'm sure you're going to answer me that -- respond to me. But what I do want to ask you, also, is the so-called peace process
that the United States has put forth. And it looks like that Prime Minister Netanyahu and even Benny Gantz are going to put the proposal for annexation
on the table much sooner than anybody imagined. And this is something that Gantz didn't want to do too early. Do you think that's going to happen? And
what's going to be the consequence of annexing the West Bank?
SHELAH: Well, this is one of the most, you know, serious and worrying outcomes of this caving in by Benny Gantz. Because the agreement that they
signed stipulates that Netanyahu -- July -- come July 1st, Netanyahu could put forth a bill for annexation, whether before the Kenesset or for a
government decision on his own. He can consult with Gantz. I don't know what that consultation means. He has to get approval from the United
States, the secretary of state, or declare that this was an Israeli matter. So, he can do that unilaterally.
And in that -- in my mind, and this, of course, in my own personal opinion, perhaps and for the foreseeable future, any chance of a peace agreement
with the Palestinians, of Israel disengaging itself from the Palestinians and preserving, once again, in my mind, the vision of a Jewish and
And I know what Benny Gantz thinks of it personally. I know what was written in the platform of Blue and White. I wrote it myself. And that's
why it is so, you know, terrible, that Benny Gantz signed this agreement, which basically says to Netanyahu, on this crucial matter, you can do
whatever you want.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because this could also create division within Israel itself, with Israeli Arabs. They broke with all precedent and
agreed to back, I believe, Benny Gantz and his opposition to Netanyahu. And I think they entered elections and want something like 15 seats. We're
talking now, on the -- you know, on the beginning of Ramadan, the -- you know, the -- obviously, of what Muslims observe, for the next month, we've
had Passover and we've had Easter.
The man they trusted has now gone into the government that they opposed, which may annex the land that they want -- you know, that they believe is
part of the Palestinian authority and should be decided between the Palestinians and the Israelis, eventually. What do you say about, to the
Arab/Israeli population right now?
SHELAH: Well, certainly, the Arab/Israeli population, Christiane, it's -- anybody, who like me, believes that it's Israel's utmost interest to
separate itself from the Palestinians, to end our rule over 3 million Palestinian in Judea and Samaria, and to keep the chances, the slim
chances, as things stand right now, of a peace agreement, to keep them alive.
And, of course, you're right about the Arab -- the Israeli/Arab members of Knesset and the Israeli/Arab population. But more than 50 percent of
Israelis, even now, support the two-state solution, believe that Israel has to separate itself from the Palestinian that maybe a larger majority
doesn't think it's going to -- that we're going to see it in our lifetime or in the foreseeable future. But they think it's the right solution. And
annexation is definitely going to put an end to that for a very, very long time.
It's going to bring -- it's going to jeopardize our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. It's going to jeopardize our international situation.
There's already a very clear statement made by the European Union. It's a very dangerous move, which I should say, Netanyahu avoided doing for the 11
years that he's been prime minister. So, he -- may be his mind has changed for whatever reason. But I know -- once again, I know what Benny Gantz
thinks of it. I know what most of his party thinks of it. I know what the people who voted for him think about it. And that's why it is so, you know,
apart from the whole moral issue and the prime minister being a defendant at the part of other disagreements that we have with Netanyahu, this is
definitely one of the biggest dangers of this agreement they signed.
AMANPOUR: And we'll obviously keep watching this. Ofer Shelah, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us. Member of the Knesset and responsible for
Knesset Committee on coronavirus.
SHELAH: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
Now, in the face of crises, we often find ourselves turning to culture for comfort. Getting lost in a museum or visiting beautiful sites. Not these
days. Spain's Alhambra, India's Taj Mahal, Blenheim Palace here in the U.K., Yellowstone National Park in the United States, all of them are
UNESCO world heritage sites and all of them are closed as this period of lockdown and social distancing continues.
So, how is UNESCO helping to support education, culture and artists through lockdown and isolation? Director general, Audrey Azoulay, joins me from
Paris to talk about all of this.
Welcome, Director General, to the program.
So, let me start by asking you something that I know your organization is very concerned about, and that is the immediate crisis of how many children
around the world who are out of school and lacking education right now?
AUDREY AZOULAY, DIRECTOR GENERAL, UNESCO: Thank you and thank you for having me. What we need in education is something totally unthinkable. We
have 1.5 billion children in use that are affected by school or university closures. So, it means more than 90 percent of the children who should be
in school and that were forced out because of the lockdown.
And it's an immediate crisis. A crisis that reveals and widens existing inequalities. And a crisis that has to be addressed. And we, at UNESCO, as
the U.N. organization for education, culture, science and information, we try to support the education community, the families, the children, to
overcome this crisis.
AMANPOUR: And as you were talking, we put up your map, the UNESCO map, that shows in blocks of color the 1.5 billion children in 165 countries who
are out of school at this moment. You did talk about the difficulties, because it does, in fact, you know, potentially reinforce inequalities if
people don't have the access to online learning or, you know, scaled up internet availability and computers, et cetera. What can you do to fill
that hole, if anything, right now?
AZOULAY: Well, first, those inequalities are major. They can be social inequalities. For instance, when you have the most vulnerable children that
rely on school for nutrition, for sometimes for protection from dysfunctional family, for social services, for health care. You have the
gender inequalities that are very strong in some parts of the world for education.
And one of the lessons that we've learned from the Ebola crisis, a few years earlier, is that adolescent girls are at a risk of not returning to
schools, because of sexual abuse or because they're forced to deal with generation of income, for instance. And there is also these digital
inequalities that are very strong.
Our figures show that less than half of the 1.5 billion children affected by the crisis have a computer at home. And around half of them have
internet access. So, it's very, very divisive. And so, in order to deal with those issues, we've created at the beginning of March, a global
coalition with more than 90 organizations, international institutions, telecom, telecom companies, with media, with providers of educational
content in order to have all of these energies to support distance learning.
So, it can be done, for instance, offline, with TV, with radio programs. It can be done, as well, for instance, with telecom companies, that through
the alliance provide connectivity or access to educational sites at zero cost, like when you -- for instance, you do an emergency call on your
phone, you don't have charge. Then it would be the same with the partnerships that we have with companies like Orange (ph) or over the phone
of Telephoneka (ph).
So, we try to address those divides, also organized campaigns so that the girls come back to school after the crisis when it will be possible.
AMANPOUR: Right. Well, there's a huge amount of work to do. And it requires resources. I want to ask you, because UNESCO has also been in the
crosshairs of the United States. Various governments, various administrations. This administration has pulled the United States out of
UNESCO and pulled its funding.
You see -- it's threatened the same for the W.H.O in the middle of this pandemic, the World Health Organization. I wonder whether you can just tell
me how that hurts in your operation and do you appeal to the U.S. to come back into UNESCO?
AZOULAY: I think what this crisis shows is that we live in a more and more connected world. We have global issues. We need international cooperation.
And it is obvious in a crisis like that, when it's a question of life and death and when all the countries of the world are affected. But it's true
for many other issues, like technological disruption, like loss of biodiversity or others.
So, in this interconnected world, we need this international cooperation. We need the United Nations institution. It doesn't mean that they are
perfect, certainly not. And we have just to get more involved, more committed to fix them when there's a problem. But when you leave the table,
I think it's really -- it's a loss for everybody. It's a loss for the international community when you don't have the United States within the
organization, and UNESCO knows that, because it has lost not only an important part of its budget, but also the political equilibrium, which has
shifted when you lose a country like the United States. But it doesn't mean that UNESCO stopped. We keep on. We have 193 member states and we keep on
moving forward as we do, for instance, in this crisis.
But I think if there is one lesson to be learned is that we need everybody around the table. You don't leave the table in situations like that.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you the other part, obviously, of UNESCO, and that's culture. And we talked about the heritage sites that had closed
down. There's an amazing image of the Mona Lisa, which exist in the Louvre, which is shut right now. But a Spanish artist has portrayed the Mona Lisa
with a mask on her face and talking about, you know, what's going on right now.
And we've got Italy's culture minister who has said, let's work together under UNESCO guidance to transform this dramatic crisis into an instrument
for a new global renaissance through culture, research and education. Do you think that is possible? And how do you envision that?
AZOULAY: We had yesterday, an online conference meeting with 140 ministers of culture, including the Italian minister of culture who mentioned this
idea of cultural renaissance after the crisis. What we heard during this meeting is a huge concern, because we have this (INAUDIBLE), we have a need
during the lockdowns for culture. A lot of expression of creativity, culture that unites us when we're isolated. There's this need which is very
And at the same time, there's a huge concern for the health of the cultural sectors, who have been the first affected, because very often they rely on
social presence and distancing. So, as you said, all museums are closed, more than 90 percent of museums are closed in the world, the world heritage
sites, as well. The theaters, the concert halls, the bookshops, everything that makes the whole ecosystem of the cultural sector is now fragilized.
And it was already fragile.
So, there's this huge concern. And also, you mustn't -- nobody must forget that culture is also a very important economic sector. Very often, it's
under evaluated. But it's a lot of jobs. It's 3 percent of the global GDP. It's part of the strategy of many countries for tourism, for sustainable
So, there is this concern. And so, we want to work with the member states in order to, first, assess the situation, share the best experience in
terms of response and what can be the response, take into account in the cultural policy, the growing role of digital actors. And so, to take them
also into account into the financing of the cultural economies. And also, support them for the recovery of the sector. It's also a debate that we've
launched with an artist around the world.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And we've seen so many artists online helping you and actually entertaining and informing and, you know, providing comfort for so
many people. Musicians and theaters. I mean, all online has been amazing.
You were once the French culture minister. Now, director general of UNESCO. Audrey Azoulay, thank you so much for joining us today.
AZOULAY: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, the black community in the United States has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. So much so that the U.S.
surgeon general certainly is urging African-Americans to practice social distancing and maintain healthier habits.
Well, our next guest, the attorney general, former state legislature and political commentator, Bakari Sellers, argues that it's not that simple. He
tells our Michel Martin what he thinks the surgeon general got wrong. And they discuss his new memoir, "My Vanishing Country: About Being Raised in
South Carolina as a Child of the Civil Rights Movement."
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Mr. Sellers, thank you very much for joining us.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, AUTHOR, "MY VANISHING COUNTRY: A MEMOIR": Thank you very much for having me. It's an awesome opportunity.
MARTIN: So, let's start with the op-ed that you wrote for CNN last week. It was directed at the surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Michael Adams, who is
encouraging African-Americans and Latinos, in particular, or so it seemed, to embrace healthier habits, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19
pandemic, which seems to be hitting these communities hard. And you took issue with what he had to say. I mean, he said, you know, things like
common sense things like, you know, don't smoke, don't take illegal drugs, things of that sort. What's your problem with that?
SELLER: Well, I felt as if his analysis was very superficial (INAUDIBLE). And when we look at COVID-19 and we look at the mortality rates that we see
in black and brown communities, we can't look at those things in a vacuum and in isolation. We actually have to examine the institutionalized and
systemic racism we have in this country. I'm from Denmark, South Carolina, and I like to use that as an example.
You can't go two miles and find a healthy or fresh food alternative. That means that individuals have to go and they are considered to be in food
deserts and they may have to go and get unhealthy alternatives, which lead to these preventable illnesses, which we know will lead to high mortality
In black and brown communities, you're breathing in unhealthy air from the manufacturing plants or the brown fields that are very close by, which lead
to things such as asthma. In Flint, Michigan and in many black and brown communities, you still don't have access to clean water, which means you're
more likely to have these "comorbidities."
And so, until we have a holistic discussion about the racism and the system of oppression that is prevalent in everyday society, that we see
particularly in the poor, rural south, you know, the most amazing part about these numbers that we see, the most tragic thing is that the state
with the highest death rate is Alabama. The highest death rate. It's fourth in terms of numbers, but it has the highest test death rate, the majority
of which are black and brown.
And the reason being is because of the underlying poverty and the underlying symptoms of oppression we have. I thought the simple fact that
General Adams was saying, you know, do it for your meema (ph) and do it for your papa, was below and underneath the surgeon general. And he was in a
position because he's the lone African-American in that room to speak up and have a holistic conversation about the pervasive systems of injustice
we have in this country.
MARTIN: A lot of people became acquainted with Denmark, South Carolina, because of the primary race, the Democratic primary campaign, where a
number of candidates pointed out, something that you pointed out before, when you were in office over there, which is a lot of people don't have
access to clean water. Why is it that in this century, a community in the United States, what is it, like half an hour from the state capital, where
people don't have clean water, why is that?
SELLER: Well, so, I mean, I think that when you look at it again, look at it holistically. When I grew up, we just found out that our water had been
contaminated with a mineral which should not be used to clean wells. And was placed -- the state placed it in our water wells and it's not suitable
to drink. There's actually a class action lawsuit filed right now on behalf of the citizens of Denmark, trying to get them clean water. I just
mentioned food deserts, as well.
But also, it's a lack of access to care. When I grew up in 2010, we actually lost our hospital. So, imagine living in a community where you're
in a food desert, where you're drinking unclean water, where you don't have a hospital, where you -- the closest hospital you can go is 30 to 45
minutes. We're talking about virtual education, virtual schooling where many of the citizens in Denmark, South Carolina, and throughout the poor
rural south don't have access to broadband. You can't -- there's not a virtual school component that they can utilize.
And then you have 98 percent of the kids are on free and reduced lunch, 90 percent plus. And so, you just overlay these layers of oppression and it
gets really difficult to breathe, figuratively. But when you have a pandemic -- and my father pointed this out to me. He's seen a lot. In
February and March, he acknowledged that black people are going to suffer more than most. It goes back to the age-old theory, which I'm sure you've
heard and your grandparents and parents told you, which is that if America gets a cold, black folk get pneumonia.
And we're starting to see that. As the country gets sicker, black folk seem to be bearing the brunt of that illness. And it's a shame, because now
these red state governors, my governor included, Henry McMaster, and Brian Kemp, now want to reopen government.
But even when we had the opportunity, like General Adams, to address these inequalities, we refuse to.
MARTIN: Why do you think that is?
SELLERS: With Donald Trump being president of the United States, and a lot of people picking at the wound that race is, and now with COVID-19 -- and
we have the data showing that this is not -- we're not playing the race card.
I actually hate that phrase. I am black. I'm not playing a card. I'm actually telling you about my humanity. But we're actually seeing the
results and seeing the results of these structures that we have in this country, but this is a difficult conversation to have.
It's a conversation that most people do not want to have. But when you look at Denmark, South Carolina, where I'm from, and you talk about the lack of
access to care, you talk about the food desert, you talk about the fact that it's in the Corridor of Shame, you talk about the fact that it's along
the Stroke Belt, where you can talk about preventable illnesses, you overlay it with the pandemic, now we're yelling and screaming, saying, this
is the time to address this issue that America doesn't want to talk about.
MARTIN: Tell me a little bit about the situation in your state, in your home state of South Carolina. What's going on in there?
SELLERS: So, the governor just recently reopened retail stores, because he's now deemed things such as tattoo parlors and beauty salons and
barbershops as essential.
These small businesses will now be reopening. And one of the things that I think about more so than anything else is, individuals -- my daughter is
immunosuppressed. She actually had a liver transplant on September 1.
I just think, if I was a situation where I was working at one of these businesses and my boss called me back into work, knowing that I have an
immunosuppressed daughter at home, and I said no, let's say I -- my boss said, either you do it or you quit, and I quit that job, I'm not even
entitled to unemployment benefits.
I would be out of work because I -- my governor put me a position where I had to make a choice between the health and safety of my family or going
and making a livelihood, which I don't think is a choice at all.
I think that we can responsibly talk about opening up government, but we also have to talk about public health. And one of the things that this
pandemic has taught us that we need to start talking about bold structural changes to our democracy, things such as UBI that Andrew Yang always talks
about or a national jobs guarantee in raising the minimum wage, so we can alleviate that doldrum of poverty that exists in our country.
MARTIN: One of the other reasons we wanted to speak with you is that you have just written a memoir.
MARTIN: It's coming out very soon. It's called My Vanishing Country."
Why that title?
SELLERS: You know, you know, for me, I look at things through the lens of the civil rights movement. I'm a child of the movement.
My father was in SNCC. He was shot in the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968. He was subsequently imprisoned as a result of that night's
And from 1968 and the Orangeburg Massacre to the Charleston massacre in 2015, I always say that my life has been bookended by tragedy. When I was
standing in front of the church, Mother Emanuel, about 10 days after the shooting in Charleston, I did an interview. And I was sitting there.
And I was thinking to myself and said out loud that my father was 70 at the time and I was 30 at the time, and we were having many of the same shared
The reason being is because the country that we had begun to see, that my father's grandfather and grandfather's generation, a bubbling economy, that
the hard work that paved the way for the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act meant that we were on this pathway for what I believed to be
hope and love and truth and justice and peace.
And I just think that, over my lifetime, we have begun to see that dissipate. March was the first month since 2002 that we have not had a
school shooting in the United States of America. And that's because schools for the most part were out.
When you talk about what it means to grow up in this country today, I have a son named Stokely. He's one of my twins. I have twins 15 months old.
And Stokely, named after Stokely Carmichael, well, I'm still afraid that when Stokely goes out and he has his first interaction with police, that --
that petrifies me. That terrifies me. Even more importantly, I'm worried that if we're not prepared for the next pandemic, for example, Stokely's
classmates, who rely on the lunch program at school, like many kids do now, if we have to close schools down, won't be able to eat.
You know, I went to schools where that was the case. And so the country that I want to believe in, the country that I work so hard for, the more
perfect union that I live my life for, some days, we believe, is vanishing before our eyes.
MARTIN: Your memoir is fairly moving, telling the story of your father, Cleveland Sellers, who was a very important movement activist, who was, as
you just told us, shot in the Orangeburg Massacre, which was one of the traumatic events, still commemorated to this day.
If you go to the campus of South Carolina State, you will see a memorial to the three young men who lost their lives that day. And it is understood now
that perhaps your father was one of the intended, you know, targets of the shooting.
So you grew up with this kind of backdrop of trauma. And you're very honest about the effect that this trauma has had on you.
On the other hand, we look at your life. I mean, you were the youngest African-American elected lawmaker in the country. You started planning your
campaign when you were still a college student. You beat a 26-year veteran, as a 22-year-old just out of school.
I mean, a lot of people would look at your life and say, you are nothing but the embodiment of hope. So why do you seem so pessimistic?
SELLERS: I don't know if it's pessimism or the fact that I still understand that we have made progress in this country, but we still have
yet a ways to go.
It's a belief that we have to work just as harder, if not harder, than the generation before. We owe them that. We stand on their shoulders.
And so to reclaim that more perfect union, so that my kids can one day be free, I have to work just as hard. That burden is difficult sometimes,
because, just as my father kept a picture of Emmett Till in his wallet when he was coming along, and lived for Emmett Till, for me, I live for the
Michael Browns of the world, the Keith Lamont Scotts of the world, the Clementa Pinckneys of the world, the Blands -- or the Sandra Blands of the
world. because that is my burden that I carry.
And it's one that gets difficult sometimes. But the joy that I get does come from the fact that I am raising a family. I have a beautiful wife and
beautiful children. And I have to do it for them. And I still believe in what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.
But every single day, I'm going to fight so that individuals give black and brown folk in particular and poor folk the benefit of their humanity in
this country. And I think that what you see in Washington, D.C., today is not emblematic of the country that I want to live in.
MARTIN: You know what's fascinating, though, about your story, though, is your family is very distinguished, very accomplished, your siblings, you
know, all of your parents, trailblazers.
But you still experienced a lot of the phenomena that African-Americans experience. I mean, your wife almost died in childbirth. You know, your
father was incarcerated. You have all of these strains in your life that encompass so many of the aspects of the African-American experience.
And it just seems almost like a -- I don't even know how to say it, like a head-snap in a way.
SELLERS: We have a saying to some of my friends who get wayward that this country has an interesting way of reminding you that you're black.
MARTIN: Get wayward, that's an interesting suppression.
And, for me, one of the reasons I wrote this book is people have this fear of having this discussion about race. And I just wanted to write it and
write it from my perspective and write it, even more importantly, in my truth.
As I was finishing up the book, we were giving birth to Sadie and Stokely - - not we -- my wife was giving birth to Sadie and Stokely. And, yes, it was -- she almost died. She lost seven units of blood. They say her body only
had about nine units total.
The first 36 hours of my twins' life, their mother was in ICU, and I was giving that prayer that sometimes you give when you get knocked down, which
is, dear lord, if you get me through this, I swear I will never, ever do X again.
And it was the toughest moment of my life. And when we went back and looked at it and studied it, we realized that it didn't matter if you were Serena
Williams, or Ellen Sellers, or you were poor in this country.
African-American female mortality is an issue that affects us across socioeconomic classes. And the reason being is because of many of the
implicit biases and, just plainly speaking, the -- race, the issue of race in this country. And black women simply -- like in a lot of things,
unfortunately, their voices simply are just not heard.
And I had to be my wife's advocate. And I'm just thankful I was strong enough to do that.
MARTIN: One of the things that occurred to me as I was reading your book is that a lot of the coping mechanisms that a lot of people of color have
traditionally relied upon are not available in the current moment.
You know, you can't go to church in most places safely. You can't go to the barbershop or the beauty shop, at least not safely, right? And, you know, a
lot of the strategies that a lot of other communities are employing, like having online church services or whatever, that's not what a lot of folks
SELLERS: One of the things that I talk about is the fact that there's so much comfort in those church lady hugs. Those are the ladies who sit in the
front row of the church and wear the big hats. And they make the good sweet potato pie and coconut pie.
And when they give you a hug, it's as if your shoulders drop and all your worries go away. And you can't feel that right now. There's no greater
therapy for a black man than sitting in a barber's chair and just talking about the world. We're lying about half of it, but it still feels good to
talk about it, right?
SELLERS: And not having those things, you're right, it's very difficult.
And so I challenge people, as we go through this, to come out of this physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally stronger than you were.
And that takes a lot of work. And that means spending a lot of time with yourself, but also spending a lot of time with your family and talking
about things that are bothering you and dealing with them.
We all should be dedicating ourselves to at least talking about the problems that are going through our head.
MARTIN: Bakari Sellers, thank you so much for talking to us.
SELLERS: Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: Such an important conversation.
And finally tonight, with much of the world on lockdown, as we know, finding ways to relax and unwind, as we just talked about, has become more
crucial than ever.
And then there's the whole grooming issue.
Cue Jonathan Van Ness, a man who wears many hats. And, as a hair guru, he is sharing tips on how to do it right while home alone. He's one of the so-
called Fab Five on the hugely popular Netflix show "Queer Eye," and is powerfully lovely company, as one reviewer called him.
But it is complicated. In September, Van Ness revealed that he is living with HIV, and he spoke about being a recovering addict and a sexual abuse
And he is joining me now from Austin, Texas, to talk about all of this.
Jonathan Van Ness, welcome to the program.
JONATHAN VAN NESS, GROOMING EXPERT: Hi.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you what first -- hi. Hi.
How are you doing there? How are you quarantining? How are you getting through lockdown and isolation? You're in Texas, I think.
VAN NESS: I am in Texas. And I have -- I'm -- and I have an abundance of cats, so I'm very grateful to have my four cats here and my health. And I'm
very grateful to have a roof over my head, so just staying inside a lot, and very grateful, and just hoping that everyone pulls through and can stay
healthy through this.
AMANPOUR: And it is actually amazing how many of you what have had shows. And we were talking with the director of UNESCO.
Artists, musicians, everybody in this public sphere, or at least so many, are doing what they can to keep people, you know, their morale and their
So, in your field, are you sending out tips? What tips are you sending out for grooming? Because, four to five weeks in, people are beginning to
VAN NESS: Well, I think the more the part that I'm contributing is, I dance, usually in my skivvies, while making coffee every morning on my
Insta-stories, and I show my cats, like, sprinting to their cat food bowls.
And I did like this scenes...
VAN NESS: ... like cat house, that all of my cats are, like, fake news reporters, and they're doing their little TV thing.
VAN NESS: So, you know, I -- yes, but, I mean, in all seriousness with, you know, how coronavirus is impacting, you know, self-care and hair
maintenance and the beauty industry at large, it's like, I definitely think that this is a time where it's more about how we feel and how we're taking
care of ourselves vs. how we necessarily look.
And so I think that, you know, right now, it's about trying to use what we have at home. And, you know, if you have -- if you're lucky enough to have
disposable income, and you want to order, you know, a new mask or something, or you want to incorporate some sort of self-care into your
routine, obviously, we have a lot of time, you know, to do something like that.
But I would also encourage you, if you do have the disposable income to get a facial mask right now, that you make sort of donation to someone in need.
But, yes, I think that it's really about trying to take care of our insides.
And when it comes to the hairdressing, I have caught a little bit of flack for this for saying it, but it's true. For me, it's like four to six weeks,
it's like, no. Like, hair grows a quarter to a half-an-inch a month.
So it's like -- and, also, I worry about us really messing up our hair and then like not having enough length for your hairdresser to work with when
we're able to get haircuts safely. And I want the beauty professionals to have work to do afterwards.
So I'm like, don't cut all your hair off. And unless you want to spend a lot of money, honey, like, don't do at-home color, because that is
expensive to fix. So, yes, but I will say, though...
VAN NESS: There's so much stuff on YouTube and, you know, for people.
Maybe I should do like an Insta-stories series for like at-home nail maintenance and stuff like that.
AMANPOUR: So, you talked about your skivvies and things. I'm assuming you're fully dressed all the way down to the bottom.
A lot of people are dressing up and not dressing down, so to speak, in this sort of from here world that they're existing in.
AMANPOUR: And I just wondered whether you reacted to, like, what went viral, which was a 10-second clip from one of these people who were, you
know, reacting to President Trump, liberate your states kind of thing, and she said the following about why she wanted lockdown to be lifted.
Let's just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's time for our state to be opened up. We're tired of not being able to buy the things that we need, go to the hairdressers,
get our hair done. It's time to open up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, that falls right into your -- you know, into your bailiwick. People are concerned about this, as odd as it might seem, when
we're talking about a life-and-death situation.
VAN NESS: Well, yes, especially for people that are in the beauty industry, it's like, we -- my cat is like having a yelling attack upstairs.
I'm so sorry.
But, yes, especially for people within the beauty industry, it's -- this is our livelihood. This is how people feed their families. And I have spent so
much time thinking, since this has started, since our lockdowns have started, you know, in my mid-20s, you know, before I was on "Queer Eye,"
when I was a full-time booth renter, I had my own little mini-salon I that had, but I was essentially a small business owner.
I would have never had enough money saved up to go through six weeks or eight weeks with no clients. And $1,200 is nothing to pay an assistant or
to keep your rent or to keep your salon open and your house. It's just -- it's woefully undersupported.
So, from an economic standpoint, I see the frustration. And I -- like, I cannot fathom what so many people are going through, which is a real
But from a self-care perspective, from a client perspective, it's like, you can absolutely wait to have your hair done. And you will survive. And it's
going to be OK.
I'm much more worried for the service providers and for the colorists and manicurists and aestheticians and massage therapists that have no clear
path towards making their living and practicing their craft.
And, for me, it's like, doing hair every day was like what got me -- doing hair saved my life when you were talking in the intro what I wrote my book
about. Had it not been for the community and passion that I had for my craft, I wouldn't be here talking to you.
So, I am so worried for service providers, and, obviously, not to undercredit -- or to discredit, because you do feel so much better when
your hair looks good. And that's why we love our hairdressers. And it's such an important relationship.
So, you obviously feel better when you (AUDIO GAP)
VAN NESS: But I'm so worried for the hairdressers and really for the service providers.
VAN NESS: And I certainly don't think that we should be putting them at risk or clients at risk from jumping into anything, when we just don't know
what we don't know.
AMANPOUR: So, talking about at risk -- and, obviously, you mentioned your book, and we want to talk about it, because you came out about being HIV.
You called it -- I think you said being part of the beautiful HIV-positive community. But, of course -- of course, in this time, when
immunocompromised people are amongst the most vulnerable, I wonder, you know, how you're coping, how you're dealing.
You know, we heard Andrew Sullivan, the journalist, on Bill Maher's show talk about he felt like he was being stalked by this virus, how he sort of
jokingly said he was living in that Ziploc bag at home.
It's very difficult, obviously, for people with compromising and underlying issues, so to speak.
VAN NESS: Yes.
Well, yes, but, to be clear, people that have an undetectable viral load, like myself, and that take antiviral therapy every day, we have T-cells
that usually are in the normal zone. And just was you're HIV-positive doesn't make you necessarily immunocompromised.
If you're undetectable, our immune systems function just like anyone else's, as long as you take your medicine every day.
I do feel anxious for, you know, like, going to my doctor. We would go -- you know, typically, you would see your doctor every three months for full
testing, making sure that your medication is working, making sure that you have your prescriptions filled.
So that gives me anxiety that, you know, my relationship with my general practitioner is like, you know, weird. And I also have a lot of anxiety and
worry for the queer community at large, especially for people that are struggling with, you know -- sexual compulsivity is such an issue in our
community, and, obviously, STIs in everyone's community.
And, actually, sexual compulsivity in any community is. So I really worry for -- with all the isolation, it's like, we have to be so careful, because
it's harder to get treatment now because of coronavirus.
So, everyone just really needs to be so careful. And so that gives me worry. But, for me personally, being undetectable and having access to my
daily medication, I am -- I feel fine.
I feel -- I don't feel any more scared than I think anyone else would.
AMANPOUR: Good. Good.
VAN NESS: But I am really worried for the 53 percent of living with HIV in America that are not on therapy and not undetectable, because people that
have (AUDIO GAP) HIV infections would be much more susceptible to coronavirus and are definitely immunocompromised.
And for those people, I am very worried.
Let's just get back to the show quickly, because I think it's been such a hit. It really touches a nerve for so many people. And the concept is, the
five of you go around, you each have your specialty, and you go and do complete makeovers for various different people across all parts of the
I want to play a little bit about from an episode in season four. You're in Missouri, and you're there to help a recently divorced farmer. We're just
going to play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the first divorced person in his conservative family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was married for six years. I even didn't think that it was possible to get a divorce, until I found myself in the middle of it.
It was painful. It was embarrassing. It was not something that I wish on anybody.
I have a 6-year-old daughter and an almost 2-year-old son. And my ex-wife and I co-parent very well, but it took a long time to get there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has had a rough last year. Lots of change in his life. And it's admirable, the way that he's just charged forward and
continued ahead. But I just would love to see the Fab Five come in and show him how to make himself a priority.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never had an in-depth conversation with a gay person before, but we will see how it goes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, of course, that last line is the payoff. And we have to say, that woman there is the person who sponsored and recommended the farmer for
So, you know, you grew up in the Midwest. It must be challenging, perhaps, for somebody like that farmer to suddenly be confronted with five gay guys.
He just said, I have never had a conversation with one before.
What is it like going into those kinds of situations?
VAN NESS: For me, it's like a Wednesday. It's just not that. It's not that it's nothing, but that -- I'm from a town of like -- in another episode in
season four, we go to my hometown, which is -- it's called Quincy, Illinois. It's a small town on the Mississippi River.
It's very conservative. It voted for Trump 2-1. And, yes, I grew up in and around people that just very comfortably said all sorts of things to me.
So, it's not at all uncomfortable, or it's just that was my whole upbringing. So, yes, I mean, I do think, though, that it's like...
AMANPOUR: ... for them?
VAN NESS: How do I think it is for them? Well, I think that if you're agreeing to...
VAN NESS: I think if you're agreeing to put yourself out there, I think you obviously have some expectation that you're going to be meeting us.
I guess -- not to sound callous, I guess I -- not to sound shocking, but I have never spent too much time considering how someone else's experience of
AMANPOUR: OK. All right.
VAN NESS: I'm really busy doing all this stuff with my cats and figuring out how to do a (AUDIO GAP)
VAN NESS: It's like -- I say that jokingly, but I have always been so connected to wanting to express myself.
And I think that, like, being comfortable with how I wanted to be is so key to how -- it's like -- it's that famous old saying. It's like other
people's opinion (AUDIO GAP) is none of my business.
AMANPOUR: OK. Got it.
I'm sorry. We're out of time. Wish we could continue our conversation.
Jonathan Van Ness, thank you so much.
That is it for now. Thanks for joining us. Goodbye from London.