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Finance and Race; Crackdown in Egypt; Interview With Mariana van Zeller. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 1, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Crackdown in Egypt. Campaigner Karim Ennarah is detained in Cairo. I'm joined by Egypt's leading human rights activist,
MARIANA VAN ZELLER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND CORRESPONDENT, "TRAFFICKED": We're heading to me the owner of a drug operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a phone?
VAN ZELLER: I do.
AMANPOUR: The underworld. Investigative journalist Mariana van Zeller on her journey into the dark and complex web of scammers and smugglers.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY, PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You can't criticize blacks for having lower credit scores, when the very
things that they need to have a better score was denied by systemic racism.
AMANPOUR: Business reporter Michelle Singletary gets personal, as she tackles misconceptions about finance and race.
And, finally: As the COVID pandemic rages, this World AIDS Day, we remember the stigma-breaking "Red Hot + Blue" with John Carlin and K.D.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Joe Biden is one day closer to taking the reins at the White House. Today, the president-elect formally announced his top economic advisers. This
follows the naming of his communications and foreign policy teams. World leaders are preparing to engage with a whole new kind of American
leadership, one that will no doubt take a tougher approach to strongmen overseas, like, for instance, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Donald Trump once called him "my favorite dictator," while Biden this summer pledge that he will get no more blank checks from America. Sisi took
power following a 2013 coup that overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president after the Arab Spring, and, since then, he's cracked down
hard on civil society, the opposition and human rights defenders.
Three senior members of one of the country's most respected human rights groups have just been arrested and jailed on terrorism charges, this after
they met with a dozen Western diplomats.
Karim Ennarah is one of them. He's a director with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Ennarah's wife, U.K.-based filmmaker Jess Kelly, says:
"The worst has happened. We always feared this." Hossam Bahgat is the founder of the organization. And he was actually also detained for several
days back in 2015.
And they are both joining me now.
Jess Kelly, welcome to the program.
And let me just ask you, on a personal note, how are you holding up? And have you been able to in any way communicate with your jailed husband?
JESS KELLY, WIFE OF KARIM ENNARAH: Thanks for having me. It's been really tough. Each day is a new challenge. Some days are better than others.
I haven't seen or heard from Karim since he was arrested two weeks ago.
AMANPOUR: Do you have any idea about the conditions that he's being held in? I mean, we know -- at least we have been told in the press that he's at
Tora prison. We know it's a very notorious place. Amnesty International has called it a place with sort of inhumane and cruel conditions.
Do you know anything about the conditions he's in? Does he have a lawyer, for instance?
KELLY: Well, today, it was confirmed that Karim is being kept in solitary confinement, which is a very chilling and shocking revelation for me.
Karim is an incredibly social person. Yesterday was his birthday. And the idea that he's been -- not spoken to a single person for two weeks is
terrifying for all of us.
Karim, his job as the director of the Criminal Justice Unit, he is the person who is normally visiting people in prison. He knows all about the
conditions inside prisons. And my only comfort at least he has some experience of what he's going through.
And he does have lawyers. He has the EIPR's lawyers. But such as the justice system in Egypt that they are not actually able to represent him.
Today, there was a hearing, and they were able to be present, but there was no -- there was no defense for Karim, and they weren't able to speak to
him, apart from a couple of words.
AMANPOUR: Jess, I know that you are obviously trying to get as many people involved, as many people, to try to raise the case and defend this case,
particularly in the United States.
You wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times," a column about this.
But I just wanted to read you the tweet that now secretary of state-elect, nominee, Antony Blinken put out after Karim's arrest.
He said: "Share concern re: Egypt's arrest of the three employees of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Meeting with foreign diplomats is
not a crime, nor is peacefully advocating for human rights."
So, again, the formal charges seem to be that, because he and the others met with a group of Western diplomats, they have been taken in, apparently,
under some kind of terrorism charges.
What more can you tell us about the charges, as you know them? And what do you think the U.S. should and could do?
KELLY: I mean, as -- I have known Karim for quite a few years now, so I'm not unfamiliar with the fact that people who defend human rights or
journalists can often be leveled with these totally preposterous charges, like being a member of a terrorist organization.
Recent amendments to the anti-terror law in Egypt have meant that the definition of terrorism is very elastic. And so that's why we're seeing
these ridiculous charges being leveled at Karim, who is someone who has always fought for Egyptians to have basic personal rights.
He loves Egypt. He's not -- he's the kind of person that Egypt should be building its future around, and not jailing.
AMANPOUR: I'm going to play -- again, more and more support is coming out by some pretty well-known people.
The actress Scarlett Johansson, who is known for her defense and speaking out against all sorts of violence and all sort of crackdowns against human
rights, she has just issued a statement, and she mentions what you say, that he actually has just celebrated -- well, he's just had his birthday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCARLETT JOHANSSON, ACTRESS: Karim, who recently got married, will be spending his 37th birthday in prison.
Gasser told a recent court hearing that he's denied blankets in a freezing cold solitary confinement cell. Mohammed's wife is desperate to see him
and, like the other families, has been denied any visit.
Zaki was tortured after police arrested him earlier this year.
The pain and anguish of their families is unimaginable. I'm in awe of the bravery of these men who continue their work to defend people's rights at
such a great personal cost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, the word is out in public, Jess.
And, again, you wrote in your op-ed that you think there's a direct connection between the American presidential election and your husband's
arrest. You call it a deliberate and provocative attempt to move the goal posts ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration. What do you mean by that?
KELLY: Well, as you said, Biden said no more blank checks for Trump's favorite dictator.
And I can only read these very unprecedented -- this very unprecedented crackdown on the EIPR, which is one of the last surviving human rights
organizations in Egypt, as a deliberate attempt to lower Biden's expectations of what he can expect of Egypt's human rights record, and use
my husband and Gasser and Mohammed Basheer as bargaining chips, so, that if he -- if Biden does hopefully put pressure on him, this will be one of the
things that he hands over as a kind of peace offering.
AMANPOUR: Let me go to Hossam Bahgat, who is the founder, the leader of the organization that your husband is working for.
Hossam, this is a really, really dire situation. And you are not unfamiliar with the crackdown on people like you and Karim and the others who have
been taken in.
Just put this in context. Why do you think at this time these three have been taken in?
HOSSAM BAHGAT, FOUNDER, EGYPTIAN INITIATIVE FOR PERSONAL RIGHTS: Thank you, Christiane.
Yes, you're right that I'm not unfamiliar with these crackdowns, but it is unusual for me to be the one on the outside trying to help those on the
inside. And that is much more unfortunate, actually, than becoming a victim of unfair prosecution or detention yourself, because of the helplessness
and because the current regime has closed down any channel, any avenue that a human rights advocate could use in order to secure the release of someone
We used to go to Parliament. We used to go to the media. We used to meet with some sympathetic government officials, do community organizing. And
none of this is allowed now, of course.
Why these three? I think the decision was made first to break this organization. And for a long time, they have been saying -- sending us
messages that it's unacceptable that we wouldn't talk to them, that we wouldn't meet with them, and that when we take up our call -- take their
calls -- I'm talking, of course, about the security agencies -- and that when we take our -- the calls, we don't coordinate our activities, we don't
share our plans before they are executed.
We don't listen to them when they say, please, don't work on this issue because it's not a national priority or because et cetera, et cetera. They
don't like this, and they wanted to end this.
And they sent us this message that we should either change the way we operate, so that is more flitting to the Egypt we live in now, or shut
down, or pay the price. But there will be no going back to the days when he were harassed, but largely be ignored maybe or sometimes accommodated.
The meeting of the 13 Western ambassadors who visited our office was the trigger. It gave them the chance also to say, this organization is
overstepping its boundaries.
This is anything that...
AMANPOUR: But, Hossam, Hossam, Hossam, they didn't just say overstepping. They arrested them on terrorism charges for meeting with Western diplomats.
How is that even possible? How is it not just even laughed out of court?
BAHGAT: Well, because it's the courts are doing it, Christiane. It's not - - unfortunately, today, this is a different Egypt, so you can't even count on a fair chance in the court.
You may have heard or seen on our social media the travesty that happened today. We appeared before a terrorism court that was considering freezing
our bank account and our assets, and we were not allowed to access any of the case documents. We were not allowed to provide oral arguments. We were
not allowed visit with our colleagues.
I was not allowed physically into the room. And I am, on paper, the only leader that of this organization whose assets are being frozen. He wouldn't
let me in the room.
So, judges now are much less concerned about how they are perceived, let me say...
KELLY: ... in these kinds of cases.
But the visit with diplomats, you're right to highlight it, because this is, of course, unprecedented in terms of the crackdown. No one gets
arrested for meeting with diplomats.
But what's very unusual for Western ambassadors to request to visit civil society organizations to get to know them, discuss their activities and ask
KELLY: And in this case, it was the German Embassy that requested this visit. And we said, by all means. Welcome. Bring anyone you want.
They brought these 13 ambassadors. And now these 14 ambassadors keep telling us that we're very concerned and very sorry that this happened to
you as a result of our visit, but we're engaging with the Egyptian government to try and reach a resolution to this issue.
I don't see a resolution.
AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask you. You say you don't see a resolution.
And, indeed, the government, the Foreign Ministry, has said that your own organization is licensed as a company, but performs activities in violation
of its license.
So, that goes toss what you are telling me. They are harassing you.
Just let me ask you this final question. And it's important for Jess to understand this as well.
While many in the human rights field and civil society field have criticized El-Sisi's Egypt for the crackdowns over the last many years he's
been in power, there are also those, including in the United States, who say he's the right man for the right time, that he's fighting terrorism,
that he has support amongst a certain group in Egypt.
I guess my question to you, Hossam, because you know better than anybody, having fought in these trenches, what do you think an American president,
and particularly a new American president who puts human rights in the center of his foreign policy -- do you think it can have any impact?
BAHGAT: Impact has already been achieved by stopping the cheering and the applaud and the encouragement coming from the White House of the ruthless
dictatorship and authoritarian policies that we live under.
Just by stopping this encouragement, I think our life is better, frankly.
BAHGAT: In the future, whether or not human rights will be in the center of the foreign policy of President Biden, I honestly -- having followed
U.S. foreign policy for a long time, I have to wait and see if that happens, because, of course, this is -- these are official that were in
government eight years ago.
And we know that they are better, perhaps. And that's a low bar...
KELLY: ... compared to what -- the Trump administration.
But center of the foreign policy, I think -- that sounds fantastic. I have my doubts.
AMANPOUR: All right.
Well, Hossam Bahgat, we commend you for continuing the fight.
And, Jess Kelly, obviously, this case will continue to be watched and monitored in public. Thank you both very much for joining us.
And we turn now to the underworld, a dangerous network governed by dealers, smugglers and scammers. In a new series for the National Geographic
Channel, award-winning investigative journalist Mariana van Zeller takes her cameras to the traffickers dealing in everything from guns to drugs to
tigers and, of course, people.
She pulls back the curtain on the shadowy figures making their living on black market. And here's a little bit of the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There's word that there is a war coming to this town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do with $19.42 million?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were billionaires before Bill Gates.
VAN ZELLER: This is the infamous human experiment lab.
(through translator): And why do you trust me now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't.
If you're DEA, you're not getting out of here alive.
VAN ZELLER: It's military-grade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being superhuman is a game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a massive, massive fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This town was built on coke money.
VAN ZELLER: It sounds like money to me, no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one knows what's going on behind closed doors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Gritty, indeed.
And Mariana van Zeller is joining me now from Los Angeles.
Welcome back to the program, Mariana. We have talked several times about your intrepid investigations.
What is it about the underworld that keeps you going back there?
VAN ZELLER: I think it's a bunch of different reasons.
I think most people aren't aware. You know, we have so much out there, so much information about the formal economy. There's whole television
stations, magazines, organizations devoted to analyzing every up-and-down twist and turn, IPO, everything that happens in the formal economy.
And yet the informal economy, these black and gray markets, actually make up for almost half of the global economy. And there's so little information
that we have about them.
So, in large part, it's because of that, and also because I'm fascinated by how much -- by the operators, by these traffickers and these smugglers, who
they are, how they operate, and if there's anything that we can actually learn from them.
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to ask you about that.
But, first, I want to ask you, because the initial offering on television is going to be a double bill. It's scams, and it's about fentanyl, so two
In scams, I was fascinated to see that you went to two places, Jamaica and also to Tel Aviv.
What did you find there similar or different in what they were scamming, how they were scamming, why they were scamming?
VAN ZELLER: It's so interesting.
When we're talking about Jamaica, we're talking about a scamming industry that's worth tens of thousands of dollars. In Israel, however, it's
billions of dollars.
And in a way, having spent time with Jamaican scammers, and listening to their stories and understanding why they became scammers and why they do
what they do, obviously, I don't condone any of it, but just listening to them, there is an understanding you cannot but sort of understand where
they're coming from. And they have very powerful stories, which, to me, was super surprising.
And when you go to Israel and you hear -- and, suddenly, we're talking about scanning happening in high-rises and downtown Tel Aviv and in office
buildings, and I actually went to one of these places with a secret camera.
And you realize how different the sort of the scam is. They're both scamming. But the reason, the cause of the scamming in Israel is much more
about greed than it seemed to me in Jamaica, which was a lot more about lack of opportunities.
AMANPOUR: So, we're going to play a little clip. And it's from Montego Bay from your Jamaica trip.
And it's essentially -- it's operating outside the exclusive hotels where tourists come, and they prey on those. And it's also -- and we will see in
this clip, there's a little bit of, like, reparations about it. They frame it in terms of, actually, this is what's owed us.
Let's just play the clip, and we can talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vybz Kartel, yes, "Reparation." It's my song. It's my jam.
I love that song. I used to play it every morning just for, like, giving me energy to go through day.
VAN ZELLER: Have you ever had to hurt anyone because of scamming?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never really had to take anyone's life to scam, but I really roughed up and hurt people and stuff like that.
I'm just finding a way to make some money. Otherwise, I will be going out there trying to rob somebody.
I was even thinking about doing it today. But I'm thinking, you're a very nice person.
VAN ZELLER: You were thinking of taking our cameras and robbing us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything, of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, what was going through your head? Was he making a bad joke, or did you think that could actually happen to you there and then?
I thought he was absolutely serious.
VAN ZELLER: I knew that he was a dangerous man. I knew he -- we arrived and he was surrounded by these bodyguards with weapons. We had been told
that he was dangerous.
But I think that he had agreed to talk to us. And he was interested in sort of telling his story. So, I felt very comfortable when I got there. And I
think the more you trust people and you respect them, the more you're trusted and respected.
And that's sort of the way that I approach my work. So, I got there. And I went straight to him. And I started talking to him and asking him
questions. And then he tells me that.
But the fact, obviously, that he's telling me is evidence that he's not about to take our money out or take our cameras, as he was planning. It was
little bit of a nerve-racking moment. But, again, you just keep calm and you continue listening and showing them that you're interested in hearing
AMANPOUR: How do you get access to some -- I mean, not just in this episode, but in the drug-running episode, in the guns in many of the places
which are really, A, remote and, B, very, very hard? It's hard man who are running those operations?
VAN ZELLER: It's not easy. It's the most challenging part of my job, for sure.
I mean, you get to see the people that say yes and that sit down with us for an interview. But, for every yes, there's dozens, sometimes even
hundreds of no's.
So it's a lot of making phone calls, knocking on people's doors. It's a lot of meetings that lead to nothing. And then there's some meetings that they
accept. And I think, partly, it's an ego. It's people wanting to show how good they are at their jobs.
There's an impunity involved in it as well, the belief that they have been doing this for so long in some areas of this -- the world and they can get
away with it. And they're -- we're giving them to this opportunity to speak to an internationally well-known brand like National Geographic.
And, then, on the other hand, it's also this need to tell their stories. These are the most shunned and stereotyped elements in our society. And a
lot of times, they feel like this is their opportunity to show the rest of the world that we're not bad people, that we do this because we don't have
any other opportunities.
And I'm there to listen.
AMANPOUR: And do you buy that, that they're not bad people?
That's really interesting, because, obviously, law enforcement would give their eyeteeth perhaps to know who you're talking to, what ringleaders, so
they can immediately arrest them and stop them.
Why do you think otherwise?
VAN ZELLER: It's -- I don't think otherwise. I know that there's a lot of bad people out there doing horrific things. I have spent time with them,
But you also stop and you start listening to the circumstances surrounding their lives. And you cannot leave without some sort of empathy. And that's
very much also how I approach my journalism.
And you hear stories, like one of the scammers that we interviewed, for example. Her name is a Tweety (ph), a female scammer. And she tells me she
works during the day at resorts. And she realized that Americans were coming to this resort and spending more money in one day than she makes in
a whole year.
And she goes back home one day, and her grandfather's incredibly sick, and all he needs is a little bit of money for this treatment to save his life.
She can't afford it. She's the only person in her family that works.
And she realizes the only way she can make money for -- to save her grandfather is by scamming. So, she goes into scamming and she continues
working at the resort during the day.
So, you can't listen to these stories -- and she says, look, I have been told that God will save us, but God hasn't done anything here. And I'm God
in my family. And I had to make a very quick decision there to save my grandfather's life, and that was the only opportunity that I had at that
So, you listen to these stories and others. There are so many of these stories throughout the show, that you can -- not feel some sort of empathy
and realize that these are human beings that have been dealt very -- a terrible card in many of these situations.
And unless we address the root cause, which is the lack of opportunities and the inequality and the poverty in some of these places and we --
instead of just judging, that we're going to go much farther.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, you really do pull back the curtain on that aspect of it like nobody else does.
And just a last question about the other episode that's coming out first, fentanyl. You have spent a long time doing a lot of work the drug trade,
drug smuggling, the opioid crisis, the pain management clinics. And you went out on this boat where you saw. -- can we just play just this little
clip very quickly?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN ZELLER: There's a boat that I think might be the people we're meeting, this boat right ahead with three or four guys inside. There are cargo ships
all around us. There's a fishing boat right here.
And then we see it.
Oh, my (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
A row of large plastic barrels floating towards the small tourist boat we have been following, barrels that have been tossed from the stern of a
rust-covered fishing trawler nearby.
There were 10 barrels, white barrels, that were thrown out to sea.
Packed inside are the potent chemicals the cartels need to create fentanyl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Mariana, no matter how much there's a -- quote, unquote -- "war on drugs," no matter how much investigative work people like you do, this
is still a major issue, particularly when it comes to the addicted and the -- those dying of it.
What do you hope it might change in terms of, I don't know, public health, government policy, particularly in the U.S.?
VAN ZELLER: I think the knowledge. Knowledge is always key, knowing exactly how these drugs come here, how much they fuel the economy in
Mexico, because we are not just talking about the traffickers or the chemists that are making the drugs themselves.
It essentially sustains a whole part of the economy in Mexico. And so, for me, it was important, like you said, having covered the opiate crisis for
so many years, having done so many documentaries about this, this was my opportunity to really go look at the pipeline and exactly figure out how
they come, how the drugs make it all the way from the coast in Mexico up to the United States, and whose hands they go through to get here.
And, again, with knowledge, I think it's the only way to be able to address anything, particularly the worst epidemic in American history.
Well, Mariana, congratulations. And it's great to have you back on. Great work.
VAN ZELLER: Thank you.
And National Geographic's "Trafficked" -- this is the program with Mariana van Zeller -- will air globally. And it starts tomorrow, December 2.
Turning now to someone who is confronting some of the painful misconceptions that people have about race.
Michelle Singletary is a personal financial columnist for "The Washington Post." And in her latest 10-part series, "Sincerely, Michelle," she gets
personal about her own struggles as a black woman.
And here she is speaking to our Michel Martin about why she wrote this series and what she hopes readers will take away from it.
MICHEL MARTIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane.
Michelle Singletary, thank you so much for joining us.
SINGLETARY: Oh, I'm so happy to be here.
MARTIN: Michelle, you're best known as a journalist who writes about personal finance. And I'm going to put the emphasis on personal. I mean,
you kind of guide people into the nitty-gritty of how to budget, how to invest, about how to think about money.
But this is different. This series is a deep dive into kind of the structural issues that often economists write about or that academics write
about. Of course, you do it with your usual kind of flair.
But what made you decide to take this route?
SINGLETARY: Well, you know, as I watched the protests for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter, I just felt like it was time to have
a candid conversation about race and money.
So, as you say, my column has always been personal. I talk about my family, and my grandmother, Big Mama, who raised me. But I haven't told a lot of
the stories about my career and the micro-aggressions that I have experienced.
And we have been so quiet for so long. And when I say we, meaning a lot of black professionals. These things happen to us, and you just don't want to
talk about it because you don't want people to accuse of you of being an angry black woman or being too sensitive about race issues.
And so you bury it.
And, with all the protests, I think, collectively, a lot of people in America, particularly people of color, are finally saying, you know what,
I'm tired of tiptoeing around you.
You have to understand that racism still exists. The structural racism still here. We are still dealing with slavery. And I real wanted to hone in
on that point because we don't want to talk about slavery. We want to talk about it as if it's in the past but the repercussions are still with us,
and I just wanted to have an in-your-face I am tired of being quiet conversation about what it's like to be black in America.
MARTIN: So, let's just go through some of them. Let's start with the sneakers, the clothes and the shoes, OK, let's just go right there. You've
heard a lot of people saying that if black people just stopped spending all their money on fancy cars and clothes and shoes that they would be better
off, and you say that's just a stereotype. Tell me more about that. Why?
SINGLETARY: Yes. It really is. I mean, we say that, and actually even some people in the black community, if we'd just stopping buying the Cadillac.
Like nobody buying a Cadillac anymore anyway. But it's just not true. When you look at the numbers when it comes to net worth. So, we will say that
blacks have net worth, significantly less than white Americans and then we just sort of leave it there, and people will fill in the gaps. Oh, it's
because of their spending that they don't spend well. But when you look at numbers behind them and look at the historical perspective, it's all about
net worth in your home.
And so, let's take a step back from that then. So, then, could we buy homes at the same rates at whites? Were we able to get those application loans
when they first came out? No. The government put in place policies that denied blacks the right to buy homes at certain neighborhoods (INAUDIBLE)
period. Black veterans coming back from World War II couldn't take advantage of G.I. Bill. These were structural barrier.
And so, our network is directly tied to homeownership which we were denied. So, it's not because we have, you know, expensive Michael Jordan sneakers.
That $200 sneakers is not worth a whole house. It's more affordable on their level because they want their kids to be like everybody else.
MARTIN: Well, hold on a second through. You point out that -- for example, you're talking about a structural thing. I mean, you point out that nearly
30 percent of white families have received some sort of monetary imperatives from (INAUDIBLE) and that's compared to 10 percent of black
families. And you also point out that black families headed by a college graduate more or less wealth (ph), we're not talking about income, we're
talking about wealth, than white households headed by somebody who dropped out of high school. How is that possible?
SINGLETARY: That's right. Workplace discrimination. So, you have -- you do what they say. You're black. You go to college. You get your degree. You're
still not going to earn the same as a similarly educated white person going for that same job.
MARTIN: And why is that? Is it because the social network that are unavailable to white people are advantageous? Is it because the -- you know
what, is it that the schools that African-Americans tend to attend have less value in the workplace? Why is that?
SINGLETARY: I think it's all of the above. It's everything. It's -- they don't appreciate the school that they go to somehow, that we got there at
our schools even if it is an Ivy League simply because that we are black. And so, therefore, we are still not equal to that other Ivy League white
people. It is also because, you know, families -- the financial legacies. How do they have the financial legacies? Because they own a home. How did
they have a home? Because they were allowed to have homes when we weren't?
So, it's really all of the above. It's the totality of the discrimination over the years that has put us back financially. And people always say,
well, what about the personal responsibility? I'm not ignoring the fact that people need to handle their money better, but we have to also have to
understand what has been in place to prevent African-Americans from getting the job. And when they get the job, being paid same at the same rate.
MARTIN: Here's the thing, Michelle. You don't ignore personal responsibility in this series. In fact, I found it interesting that you
said, that your reporting indicates that black families do tend to spend slightly more on average, on clothing and shoes than the national average.
Why is that?
SINGLETARY: Well, I think come from a situation where you haven't had a lot, you want to display your wealth. It's just a natural progression when
people have, say, new money. But when you dig in the numbers, you see that white families spend more, say, on alcohol. So, it's not as if it's totally
uneven, it's just spending on different types of items.
And so, for African-Americans you want to look nice. And, in fact, you are encouraged. I know my grandmother when I was first working for "The
Baltimore Evening Sun" in my first full-time job, when I would come downstairs to go work, she would actually like look at me and say, OK,
that's not appropriate. Go back upstairs. Put a slip-on. Can you imagine, you know? Because she wanted to make sure that the white colleagues didn't
think that I was less than because of how I was dresses.
So, you dress a certain way, you drive a certain car because you want to present yourself as having wealth actually, really because America values
wealth and how you look. And so, it's perfectly understandable that you would spend more on your hair or your clothes to present yourself so that
they won't go, oh, there's that poor black person. And if they turn it around and make it like it's an insult that they're trying to look nice.
MARTIN: You say that policies are institutions that claim to be race neutral actually aren't. I mean, the analogy that you use, you know, one of
your famous analogies, you say that, look, if you purposefully trip somebody, you can't turn around and say that it's their fault that they
fell, and you say that Americans got to stop tripping black people. And you cite credit scores as an example of that. How is that?
SINGLETARY: So, credit scores were created because they wanted to create a system where it appeared it was race neutral, right. How do you pay your
bills? This appears to be race neutral. How much debt do you have? What credit that you have? Appears to be race neutral. However, it is not.
So, the algorithm looks at how you pay your bills and whether or not you can get credit, except the laws, segregation, Jim Crow, black quotes,
prevented blacks from getting loans. So, that means that their information isn't in the database. And so, if we aren't homeowners, and a home loan is
a key part of a credit score, then you are not in that algorithm and that means you're going to have a lower credit score. And so, that -- therefore,
it's not race neutral.
If we are more likely to rent, our rent payments are not calculated in the credit score. Newer models are taking that into account but a lot of the
institutions are using old models that eliminate or don't include the kinds of ways we pay our bills. And so, you can't criticize blacks for having
lower credit scores when the very things that they need to have a better score was denied by systemic racism.
MARTIN: This series is 10 parts of which (INAUDIBLE) have already run. You talk about black business, you talk about credit scores, as we have said,
you talk about redlining and how redlining deprives African-Americans of generational wealth and we just talked about, you know, the spending habit,
the habits and so forth. Which of these was the hardest to write?
SINGLETARY: It was the first one on affirmative action. And I'm almost tearing up now thinking about it. When I first worked -- went to go work
for "The Post," and you probably can attest to this, Michel, there was a lot of like, well, how did she get here? You know, what's her background?
It was -- the questioning wasn't the normal, oh, what news did you come true? It's like, you know, I was fairly young. I got to "The Post" fairly
quickly after an editor identified me, it was like -- it was in five months. And at the time, you know, it took forever to get to "The Post,"
you know, and people were just like, well, what is she -- how is she here?
And so, it got back to me that people were basically saying that I was like "affirmative action hype." But behind that was I didn't deserve to be
there. I took a job from some white reporter. And I finally asked my editor at the time, David Vides (ph), after one meeting, after hearing this yet
again or questioning my background, and I just said, did you hire me because I was black? Because I just was tired of the comments. And he said
yes. I hired you because you were black.
And at the moment I just felt like this crush of insecurity and that I was an imposter. And he said, now, come into my office, let me tell you more.
And then he said, I hired you because you were black. I hired you because you're a woman. I hired you because you have -- came from a low-income
background and that gave you a perspective in the financial coverage that we don't have on the desk. I've hired you because you have an expertise at
bankruptcy. And he just went to this whole litany of things. And he said, I hired you for the totality of who you are.
And then I said, we -- I did a podcast and I asked him, this is years later, right -- I said, well, why didn't you say yes right away to my
blackness? Why did you say all of that other stuff? He said, because, Michelle, I wanted you to know that your blackness was an asset, that I
wanted you to know that, first and foremost, who you were as a black American was just as important as your expertise in bankruptcy. And I
didn't want to run away from that and you shouldn't run away from that.
And as you can see, I'm still emotional because my whole career from the time I was in college to "The Post," you know, questioning whether I was
legitimately there because of being smart or that I earned my place, and he said that. I said, you know, absolutely. I'm here at "The Washington Post"
as a black personal finance columnist who learned how to handle money from her black grandmother who never had more than had a high school education
but was a master at money management, and all of that was an asset to "The Post."
So, that was the hardest to write because I had to, first of all, just talk about what that was like and, you know, there's still some of those people
who question still me at "The Post" and still whispering. And when I get awards still sort of, well, I don't know why she got that. And so, it still
is happening. So, it was pretty hard to sort of just put it out there, but I had to. I had to say, this is what you are doing to my psyche and other
people who come here who are minorities, be it black or woman or whatever, that you are undermining our confidence. I did not take a white person's
job. That was my job. That was my position to have for who I was. So, that was the hardest one to write.
MARTIN: Why do you think it still hurts you so much all these years later with all your success? I mean, you've won, you know, countless awards.
You've written books. I mean, gosh, you have an enormous following. Why do you think it still hurts all these years later?
SINGLETARY: Because the difference is something that I cannot control, that they still think that I'm different because of this, and that hurts at
such a deep level. I have no control over the fact that I am black and I love that I'm black and you're still questioning after all that work, after
all those books and it just -- I guess I lose hope sometimes that I was hoping that in my lifetime that would change and it still hasn't, but
having written the column and getting feedback from people, I realize that it is opening up people's eyes to how I feel and how other blacks feel and
I think it is changing some minds.
And we do have a long way to go, but we have come a long way. So, I think that's why it still hurts, and I guess some at a deeper level when you
still feel like you're an impostor because of all of that negative feedback that you've been given over a lifetime, it's hard to combat that.
MARTIN: I wonder if part of it is that because you've done everything that's been asked of you by this society. You've gotten your education.
You've gotten married and stayed married. You have raised your children within marriage. I wonder if part of the pain of it is it feels like it
will never be enough, like no matter what you do it will never be enough.
SINGLETARY: You hit it right on the nail, absolutely. I did everything. I did not have kids out of wedlock (ph). I went to college. I've been married
for almost 30 years. My husband and I saved to send all our kids to college debt free. It's like what more can I do to show and prove to you that I'm
worthy, that you don't have to question my credentials and say things to us as if we are some unicorn.
One of the parts of this series that's coming up, I call it "Five Star," is that the microaggressions that you continue to have. I was attending a play
at a Reno (ph) stage in D.C. and my husband and I are full subscription season holder -- ticketholders. We love the theater. And during one of the
intermissions of a multi-racial play called "Oklahoma," "Oklahoma," it was a multi-racial cast, a white patron behind me tapped me on the shoulder and
says, wow, you have great seats. You must know somebody in the cast.
There were white people on both sides of me. Then, the cast had black people and white people and Asian, and I just looked and I said, so, you
basically -- the message she was telling me is that I did not deserve or how could I have possibly paid for these premium seats? Are you kidding me?
And I didn't say anything at the time because my husband always says, just, you know, let it go. Let it the go. And I was just -- I can remember it
like it was yesterday. I was so incensed. You did not ask the white person to the left of me or to the right of me how they got their tickets. Just
because I'm black you asked me how I got my ticket. You can't imagine that I am a season ticketholder for premium seats at this theater company. So,
that's why it still hurts.
MARTIN: Michelle Singletary, thank you so much for talking with us today.
SINGLETARY: You're so welcome.
AMANPOUR: It's really, really important perspective to listen to and to hear.
And finally, we remember a time when silence, fear and prejudice were all a death sentence in America. It is World Aids Day, and we are marking the
30th anniversary of the "Red Hot + Blue" album. It was the brainchild of then entertainment lawyer, John Carlin. It brought together musicians like
Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, David Byrne and k.d. lang and many, many others to reinterpret the music of Cole Porter. It was to raise cash and awareness
amid the aids crisis.
Of course, a pandemic ravages the world right now, so it couldn't be more timely for the Red Hot Organization to re-release that debut album. Joining
me to talk about it is co-founder John Carlin and singer/songwriter, k.d. lang.
Welcome both of you to the program.
Let me just ask you first, John Carlin. You founded this, brought everyone together. I think in the intervening 30 years, it sold about a million
copies, this album, maybe more. Are you satisfied with the awareness, the cash, the sensitivity that it rose?
JOHN CARLIN, CO-FOUNDER, RED HOT ORGANIZATION: Oh, I think it exceeded our wildest estimation. First, I want to make sure it is the brainchild of Lee
Blake and me. Of course, I didn't do this on my own. There were so many, many, many other people, artists in front and behind the screen.
When we started this project, we were motivated by the aids pandemic in Manhattan and in major cities around the world, and as you alluded to, the
eerie parallels between the viral pandemic that rages today. And that the was the motivation to re-issue this album, particularly on streaming
platforms like Spotify where it hadn't been available. But when we started out, we just were motivated by doing something because friends of ours were
getting sick and dying and the stigma around LBGTQ people was so severe, it was sort of like a double whammy.
So, we were so pleased that the record did quite well. The TV program was seen in 30 countries around the world, including ABC here in the U.S. and
Channel 4 in the U.K.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Let me ask k.d. lang. You were one of the -- I think one of the originals. What about for you? You were not out at the time publicly
anyway. It was a couple of years later. I just wonder whether for you it also had sort of a more than just, you know, sing and raising cash, whether
it had a personal element for you.
K.D. LANG, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Absolutely. Of course, I was living in Hollywood at the time and West Hollywood was almost a ghost town at that
time. There was no joy I guess or partying going on, and that was a void. Also, in my career, there was a lot of pressure and expectation from the
gay community and also society in general to stand up and help stop the spread of homophobia, which was a really insidious by-product of the
epidemic. And I really felt a tremendous responsibility to come out at that time. As you said, it was a couple of years later, but it was a tremendous
responsibility to come out and help destigmatize the culture of homophobia.
AMANPOUR: And I just want to bring it actually back to this incredible moment that we're facing now. I mean, obviously, two completely different
diseases, but there's so much about public awareness that's very similar, and Dr. Fauci is the doctor almost in the middle of both all these years
distanced. And, you know, it was probably very difficult back then, as you say, to get this cultural awareness in a big, big way on television, and
one of the most important things was a PSA, Public Service Announcement, that Richard Gere, very famous actor at the time then and still, did for
ABC Television, I think it was ABC, it was 1990. It was quite shocking. Let's just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD GERE, SPOKESMAN, RED HOT ORGANIZATION: Here is the most important thing you'll need to know. If you have sex, wear a condom. If you're stupid
enough to shoot drugs, for God sakes, don't ever share the needle. You won't get aids because someone with HIV sneezes, and you won't get aids by
reaching out and helping someone who's got HIV. Sex and drugs, that's how aids is transmitted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's really frank and blunt. John, I mean, we do not get those kinds of messages about -- you know, about masks right now. Just talk
to me about how that came about and how it got the message across.
CARLIN: You know, there's a great story behind that. It wasn't broken out as a PSA. It was actually Richard Gere who is the host of the ABC Special,
and there was some interesting controversy. We produced the show in the U.K., and it came to the United States, and the network really wanted it to
be a Cole Porter special, celebrating his music and really downplay the activism, and it was something I spent a lot of time in West Hollywood as
well in a friend's apartment, working to make sure that the content stayed in.
So, ABC wanted Richard Gere as the host, and Richard Gere showed up to the shoot. It was very impressive. He had a series of papers that he had
underlined, highlight, wrote notes in the margin. He was very seriously interested in the issue, and ABC wanted him to read something about Cole
Porter, and he asked me if I thought that was appropriate and I said no. You have to read something about the aids pandemic. This is why we're all
here. And he said, well, what should I say? I actually wrote that script that you just played, you know, in the studio, in the green room, while he
was waiting to go on and be filmed. And ABC wanted to stop him saying it, and he threatened to walk off the set if they didn't let him read it. And
that's how it happened.
AMANPOUR: Yes. It's so subversive and so effective and it's really cool to hear the story. k.d., when you remembered that time and now, what do you
think, not just about the way the world has reacted to aids but just the way the world is having to react to this current pandemic and the
similarities and differences in terms of public messaging and public awareness?
LANG: That's a heavy question. I think its human nature to find comfortable arenas in our souls, in our minds to settle in. And if you're
an anti-masker, you find those places to live in and if you were -- back then, and you were a very active gay men, for example, and you didn't want
to have safe sex and you didn't want to slow down, you found a place in your mind to make it OK.
And I think it's just human nature to do that. But I think that understanding, living through the aids pandemic and losing friends and
watching that happen and, again, watching this pandemic, I think it's just -- it's an absolute necessity that we take into consideration everybody.
Not just our own personal needs and our own personal understanding of something, but to understand the science, to understand and to have empathy
and compassion for people who don't feel the same way as we do, to create some sort of safe community around a situation that is dire and is fatal.
AMANPOUR: Let me -- we're going to finish on actually one of your songs, a song that you sang in the original "Red Hot + Blue." It's the Cole Porter
song, "So in Love," and it's from "Kiss Me, Kate," the musical. Just talk to me about -- you know, because you've stuck quite faithfully, I guess, to
the original. Many of the others, you know, adapted his songs in a different way. Tell me about what was going through your mind creatively
when you sang it back then.
LANG: Well, I was just in character when I was making it and the concept (INAUDIBLE) really, I have to give all credit to the director, Percy Adlon,
who came up with the concept for the video and directed the video. And really, it was really about the aftermath of the aids experience, and we
wanted to portray a same-sex situation where my lover had passed away. And so, there was really no need in taking this song and trying to make it
original or trending or anything. We just wanted to convey the emotion and the empathy of understanding that this disease has serious and dire
AMANPOUR: John Carlin, k.d. lang, thank you very much indeed. It's been said, k.d., by reviewers that you sing like an angel, and we're going to
hear it in a moment. That is it for now, and we leave you with the song k.d. lang singing Cole Porter's "So in Love" from the original "Red Hot +
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.