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Progressives and conservatives may feel they have little in common these days. But there’s one thing both sides share — they don’t feel the other side is listening to them. Join Kojo as we talk with workplace consultant Howard Ross about why it’s so hard to really listen to — and empathize with — someone whose views are dramatically different from your own.
- Howard Ross Diversity consultant; Principal, Cook Ross
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the "Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. Later in the broadcast, your turn, though I suspect that will blend with the first part of the discussion and Howard probably won't be able to leave. They're the topics you're never supposed to discuss in the work place, politics, race, religion. And they just happen to be the topics that we encounter non-stop outside of work, on cable TV, on local elections and conversations around the dinner table.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo do we completely avoid talking about sensitive topics at work, maybe period? And if they do come up, how do we avoid hard feelings with the people we spend the worker day and sometimes our lives with when they have different views that we do? Work place consultant Howard Ross is in studio to tackle the intersection between the office, the home and our personal politics and our social lives. Howard Ross is a workplace consultant and a principal with the firm Cook Ross. Howard, good to see you.
MR. HOWARD ROSSYou, too, Kojo. Where else would I be on a beautiful day like this, right?
NNAMDIIt is a beautiful day. In case you didn't know it, if you are among our listeners, a lot of my weekend was taken up with this. I did a piece reflecting on the D.C. mayoral primary. The piece was published in yesterday's Outlook section of the Washington Post. While I quibbled with the headline, I don't think the city has taken a step backwards. I don't know what Vincent Gray is going to do, but the words in the article, they were all mine. For those that are interested in the editing process, however, we've posted my original submission on the off-mic link at kojoshow.org, but there's really not much difference between that and what I eventually wrote and I did write it all.
NNAMDIWhat I found interesting in the comments online and on my Facebook friends' pages, Howard, was how many people didn't get past the headline at all and how many people who did get past the headline and read the entire piece had completely different interpretations of it. Some thought it was anti-white, others thought it was anti-black. Some thought it was anti-Fenty, others thought it was anti-Gray. The only thing, as you know, that I'm anti is taking ourselves too seriously. All that I'm for is facing up to the challenges posed by the city's changing reality. What do those different interpretations and those different reactions say to you?
ROSSWell, I think, first of all, that running for office on a campaign of not taking ourselves too seriously might be a winning ticket these days. Well, I mean, I think what you're seeing in the reaction is exactly what we know is happening all around us and that is a combination of things. We're -- first of all, we're -- and you and I have talked about this so many times. We're becoming a thoughtless society. We're becoming more of a reactive society. We quickly identify with what our side of a question is and in that conversational network of contention that we've talked about, we then choose who's a them versus us and begin to align immediately. You know, I was talking about this in relationship to an incident we all remember, which is the thing that happened last year with Skip Gates...
ROSS…at Harvard. And for those of listeners who don't remember, Henry Lewis Gates, who one of our esteemed historical scholars in this country, comes back from a trip can't get into his house so he breaks the window to unlock it. The neighbor calls the police. The police come up. There's some altercation. And the next morning, we all wake up and there we see Skip Gates' mug shot on CNN or whatever news we happen to watch, you know, one of our esteemed scholar's mug shots. And the fascinating thing to me was that by noon that day, tens of millions of Americans, I have to admit even myself, already knew what happened.
ROSSThere were two basic sides to this story. There was one story which was, you know, this is one more time when an African American man is rousted by a white cop with clearly racial overtones. And then, there's the other side, which is one more time a noble white cop is called a racist simply because the perpetrator was black. And the president, if you remember, even got sucked into it.
ROSSBut the fascinating thing was all of us, by noon, tens of millions of us knew what happened, but nobody was there. And even the three people who were there didn't really know what happened, leading, of course, to the Beer Summit.
ROSSBut I think it's very much like this. I think that, you know, there's the substance of what you're talking about, you know, and then there's people's reaction to the little piece that they see through the lens through which we see it. Which, of course, is at the heart of the substance that you were talking about, which is how people saw this mayoral race, who became the blacker candidate, who became the whiter candidate or the candidate preferred by blacks versus the candidate preferred by whites. And it's fed by some of the media outlets. Some of the headlines have been around on the newspapers on the streets this week that, you know, blacks vote this, whites vote that. And unfortunately, what that does is it oversimplifies things for us.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. If you'd like to talk about the coverage of the mayoral race in D.C. or anything else in which we don't seem to listen or hear each other very well, 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website kojoshow.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. When it comes to local politics and the mayor's races here in D.C., I've really felt a lot of D.C. residents are really unable to hear each other. Here we are in a predominantly Democratic town. Virtually, everybody votes Democratic in the city of Washington and yet we have these absolutely rambunctious fights over race.
NNAMDII suspect, in this situation, we were also fighting over class also in this situation. But it seems to me that the one side couldn't hear what the other side is saying. I also noticed that a lot in the responses to my piece online in the comments section, that people are just not hearing each other. On the one hand, there's the argument that some -- that many African Americans were upset that Fenty appointed, what seemed to be, a majority of his cabinet as non-white. And then, on the other side, you got the impression that people were saying that blacks object to anybody in the cabinet being non-white. When it seems, sometimes, that one side was not listening to the other.
ROSSWell, and I think it also has to do with the person who's making those appointments. I mean, if I feel like I'm completely trusting of somebody, I can allow them to do certain things. We all know, for example, friends who we really like who could tell us a joke that might be off color that we would accept and even laugh with. But somebody else tells us that exact same joke, that we don't know them or we don't like them that much and the joke is offensive to us. I think it's really a similar kind of phenomenon. But what you're really (word?) I should say and what you're talking to is the fact that we argue in subtext now.
ROSSWe're not arguing what we're really arguing. Because, you know, the question of whether or not Fenty, for example, as mayor, accomplished certain things wasn't even on the table for certain people. Now, that's not to say, you know, there aren't lots of reasons to elect Vince Gray, who, as you said, is very thoughtful. I think you have two people who you could build a very rational, logical case for voting for either of them. But what happens is once it becomes the subtext that's driving things, we don't react.
ROSSIt's some of that subtext with things that you're talking about, race and economic status and things like that, and in other subtext in politics today, which I think is a really dangerous one, is personality. In that, we're electing people more because we like them than because of who they are and what they have to offer us as politicians.
NNAMDII want to stay with that subtext for awhile because during our mayoral debate on this broadcast with Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray, we tried to pull them out of the realm of coded language to talk directly about the role of race in the campaign. It didn't really work. How do you break the language of codes and subtext and address these issues candidly?
ROSSWell, the reason we don't talk about these things is because we're afraid to talk about them. I mean, Eric Holder said this last year and people got all in a tizzy because we're cowards about talking about race. You know, he might have chosen words that are less triggering, but the point that he was speaking to was true. We're scared to death to talk about this issue. We're scared about it because, you know, if we talk about from one stand point, if we talk about it in ways that, you know, might offend people and trigger people to think that we're racist or insensitive to the needs of particular people or people of particular racial groups, that's one side.
ROSSOn the other side, if we seem to align too much with those groups, then we might attract fear in from people who -- from the dominant group who feels like oh, oh, you know, we're gonna be excluded now. So in that sense, you know, Fenty and Gray are simply the victims of a culture that doesn't know how to talk about these issues in any substantive way except combatively.
NNAMDIWhat is so difficult to understand about historically gentrification being controversial? It didn't really matter whether it was happening in the Middle Ages or whether it's happening today. It invariably means the displacement of one group of usually poor people by another group of more affluent people.
NNAMDIYou look at our country and our city's troubled racial history. You add that ingredient, it becomes politically volatile. It becomes the job of a mayor to manage that political volatility and explain events in such a way that people understand it. And in order to do that, you're gonna have to talk about race and class at some level, but we still seem reluctant to have the conversation.
ROSSWell, look, I mean, look at the president, you know, I mean the president does everything he can to dance around talking about the issue. He had the one moment in Philadelphia, of course, during the campaign, when he couldn't avoid talking about it. And I think he actually did an extraordinary job in that speech talking about it. But for the most part, the fear is -- and you've pointed to this, I think, in the column very well, Kojo, when you said that despite the fact that on one hand we, as a mayor, mayor of Washington, D.C. particularly, of course, you want to choose the best possible people and you also have to be sensitive to the fact that these subtexts are there.
ROSSSo -- and this really gets back to what I was saying before. I mean, the fundamental concern about Fenty, I think that triggered a lot of people was they didn't like him. And people don't like people they don't like. And in fact, there's a really interesting study that came out of Harvard. I think it was a guy named Todorof who did it in 2006. He showed people pictures, photographs of the two people running against each other, Democrat and Republican, in all of the House, gubernatorial and senatorial races throughout the country. Showed them to them for one second, simply one second and then asked, based on one second exposure, to identify which person they thought was the most trustworthy and competent and the winners were picked 70 percent of the time.
ROSSIn other words, 70 percent of the time, people were making the same decisions based on a quick snap shot of what they saw. You know, I think that in a bizarre kind of way, we did a better job of really looking at issues of substance when all we got were newspapers with reports of people speeches before we ever saw pictures of each other.
NNAMDIYeah. Because now, we interpret body language, facial expression.
ROSSWhat looks good.
NNAMDIWe interpret everything. Here is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHi, thanks. I don't know if you fully addressed my question. I was calling to inquire about the presidents refusal to, I guess, participate or encourage a national dialogue on race since the Philadelphia speech as sort of a healing process.
NNAMDIWell, you've got to remember, President Clinton also tried to launch such a national dialogue with not a great deal of success, even though he appointed very prestigious people on the panel to do it, people who had a lot of expertise and who were historians. But it didn't work out.
SAMWell, I just -- and I'll pause for your guest's comments. But it just -- it seems there's a fear about really addressing it head on or calling the Tea Party what they are. Because when you settle on an argument about government spending and all of this and you think about what was created under Bush, the Homeland Security, Millennium Challenge Corporation, the other National Security Agency, all of these were new Republican spending, big government creations, but that's what they're accusing Obama of.
SAMAnd people seem hesitant to just say that they are -- have a very racist undertone. So I was wanting a dialogue that addresses that issue head on, but from a healing process, not so much a pointing finger process. 'Cause even if you buy a version of the Constitution today, it still has the printed area -- I forget the area of the Constitution that talks about blacks and three-fifths human and all of that. I mean, so that's still a part of our psyche.
NNAMDIOkay, Sam. Thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDII think, Howard, that context is everything. And when Obama was attacked on the basis of his membership in a church that was viewed, by some, to have a racist preacher, that provided context. When the incident with Skip Gates happened, that provided some context. You just, I don't think, can discuss these out of a clear blue sky so I'm really glad that our called brought up the issue of the Tea Party because that, again, provides some context to discuss these issues.
NNAMDIThe racially divisive vote in the mayoral primary provided some context. And right now, there seems to be a lot of coded language in our national politics right now, as -- well, our caller, Sam, just identified what he saw as that in the Tea Party movement. But let's talk about that. Because right now, the Republican Party is having its own problems with the Tea Party movement candidates in places like Delaware and Alaska, coming forth to knock out well known Republican candidates. Tell us a little bit about that.
ROSSWell, I think that -- let me just make one quick comment, Kojo, about Sam's comment about the president. You know, I also wish that we could get some kind of a healing debate going -- or healing conversation going about race. I think that President Obama is in a challenging position in that regard because you've already got, you know, the Glenn Becks of the world saying that he's a racist towards, well, you know, against whites. And bringing up the issue of race is perceived in this country to mean I'm working for people of color, I'm working for -- a conversation about gender means I'm working for women. We have a sense that diversity issues are about the people who are excluded. That's the general zeitgeist of how we talk about it.
ROSSSo when he says, I want to have a healing conversation about diversity, what most people hear is, aha, he is promoting the black agenda. And trying to -- in a uniquely distinctively difficult position that he's in, it makes it more challenging for him to do that. I'm sure that he wishes he could do that without having that backlash to deal with. But having said that, getting to the Tea Party, you know, I think that -- I want to be clear. I mean, I think that the notion that everybody in the Tea Party is racist or that all of it is motivated by race is erroneous. I think that there, like any other circumstance, you got some people in the Tea Party who legitimately are triggered by what they see as, you know, spending issues that are going to bankrupt and...
ROSS...and cause -- tax issues, all of this kind of game. And then, you've got a whole lot of people who gravitated to the energy of that movement, who bring in a lot of other issues. And one of those things is the fact that, you know, I'm looking at the combination of these issues. Let's think about them for a minute. You've got the Arizona immigration law, you know, clearly something that triggers the question of whether or not this race based. And it's interesting because Charles Krauthammer from the Post wrote an article -- which I actually sent them a response, but they didn't print it, unfortunately.
ROSSWhere he -- his contention was liberals choose bigotry as the last -- the last bastion of dying liberals is to throw bigotry at people. But, you know, let's look at these issues. You've got an issue where it's not an issue of liberals saying, we don't think we should manage immigration. In fact, the number of undocumented immigrants has dropped dramatically since Obama took office. It's a matter of whether or not stopping people on the street because they're brown and happen to speak with an accent is the way to do it, you know?
ROSSYou've got the marriage equality issue, which is, once again, targeting a particular group of people. You know, we've got this whole issue of race, which is the subtext. When we talk about who are we -- you know, we're going to take back our country, who are we taking it back from exactly? Why is it that this virulence is there and what's the message in that when we talk about we're going to go back to the old days and take back our country. You know, you and I had somebody on -- when we were talking gender issues a couple of months ago, we had somebody on the air who was arguing for going back to the old days in the Constitution.
ROSSAnd I think we asked on the air, well, do you mean before women were allowed to vote? I mean, this notion that the old ways of doing things, we know, is patently something that we discard all the time. We're always upgrading our Constitution. We're always upgrading the way we do things. So the really troubling thing is, what are the messages that people who don't feel comfortable saying, I don't like this president because he's black, can use the Tea Party for?
INTERVIEWERGot to take a short break. If you'd like to contribute to the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. What do you hear when you listen to people with whom you disagree politically and how does that affect your relations in the workplace, if it happens around the water cooler? 800-433-8850. Howard Ross is with us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Howard Ross. We are talking about what we hear when we listen to people talk about politics, especially the politicians and their supporters and how we interpret or process that information based on our own already-held beliefs. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there or send us a tweet at kojoshow or an e-mail to email@example.com. Let's talk with Chris in Richmond, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISYeah, I didn't catch the gentleman's name. Darrell, I believe.
CHRISHoward. Howard, sorry, I tuned in late.
ROSSHi, Chris. Mm-hmm.
CHRISI'm a member of the Tea Party and I can answer some of the questions you may have. One of them was, I believe, who are we taking the country back from?
NNAMDIWho has taken the -- my question, in addition to that, would be, who has taken the country away from you?
CHRISWell, basically, the government is too big. It's not a particular person or entity, in general. I guess -- no, I take that back. In general, the government is too big.
CHRISThe government is intruding into our lives and in more ways than last year and many more ways than 10 years ago.
NNAMDISo when you say take our country back, you mean take the country back from an intrusive government.
CHRISExactly. The government is too big.
ROSSSo, Chris, you mean especially concerns about the costs of the government.
CHRISThe cost of the government. Well, that's another whole subject. It's such a large sweeping across-the-board thing. I mean, it's a grand idea. Basically, the Constitution is the letter -- we should follow the Constitution to the letter of the law. All right. Let me just say this. The Constitution, as written, is not a socialist ideology, I want to say. It's not socialist in any way, whatsoever. And that's what we're creeping towards. And there are extra constitutional things -- and it's not just Obama. It's all the people around him. It's just Congress. It's the Senate.
ROSSYeah. But here's a question I have for you, Chris. You know, clearly, the expansion of federal debt happened dramatically during the Bush administration, but I didn't hear any Tea Party getting created there. Why was that? Because the expansion of federal debt from Clinton to Bush was a much more dramatic shift than what's happened now. Now is more of a continuation of that. Why is it that there wasn't any Tea Party reacting to President Bush?
CHRISThat's a good question, which is basically what you're really asking is -- you're creeping towards the subject of racism.
ROSSWell, I don’t think it's just racism, no. And I said before, I want to be very clear. I know -- it's not my assertion. I know some people make this assertion, but it's absolutely not my assertion, that everybody involved in a Tea Party have race as a background. I think that there are an awful lot of people, and it sounds like you who are one of these, who do have a genuine concern about the size of government and the impact of the government in people's lives and the spending of government.
ROSSSo I'm not necessarily saying that at all. But I do think -- what I will assert is that I think that it's easier for people to go against the Democratic administration and particularly for a lot of people who align with people like you who are uncomfortable with Obama because of race and other things, who now have something to legitimize their concerns with.
CHRISWell, let's cut right to the chase. Forget all of that. Isn't there a major problem here with this country? Forget when we decided to wake up, you can say it all day long, but -- you know. And sure, I'm sure there's some backwoods country racist people. And let me also say, all people are racists to one degree or another. That's a natural -- that's just human nature.
NNAMDIWell, let's not have -- let's not have the conversation focused on race, Chris. But if we accept your view that there is too much government intrusion in our lives, what would you say if somebody said, don't you think there is too much government intrusion into the personal lives of people? Why should the government intrude into the lives of gay people who want to get married?
CHRISWell, see the thing is, it's not that we have a problem with gay people getting married. It's that they're forcing -- I mean, they can have civil unions. They've always been able to have a civil union.
NNAMDIWhy can't they have marriage?
ROSSActually, they haven't always been able to have civil unions, except in four states, which have been dated back.
ROSSBut let's say people want to get -- if marriage and civil unions are the same thing, why not let people get married?
NNAMDIWhy have the government intrude on that?
CHRISLet's say no problem there. Okay. For the sake of argument, you can get married. But you can't force this on us, as far as -- I don't want to get into that because that's -- personally, I don't care as long as they're not basically -- as long as, basically, it's not being preached in the schools as this is -- I just don't want to get into that. And it's not really -- I'm not prepared really to argue that because, personally, I don't agree with it. But it could, you know, you could get into another argument about...
NNAMDINo. Actually, the only reason I brought it up, Chris, is because, for me, it's an example of government intrusion into people's personal lives. And if the Tea Party says that they are against government intrusion in people's lives, it would seem to be inconsistent that you want the government to stop gay people from getting married, but not mess in your life.
ROSSOr to restrict people from getting abortions.
CHRISIn my opinion, it's not about gay marriage.
CHRISMost gay -- I mean, you know, do you want to argue about that? Most gay people don’t even want to get married. I mean, it's -- I think it's not that, oh, you're just trying to keep gay people from getting married. It's, no, you're trying to basically force feed our children, public schools about gay marriage. I mean, we could go on and on about all the crazy things that go on in public schools.
NNAMDINo, Chris. I'm afraid we can't go on and on because we're running out of time very, very quickly. But thank you very much for your call. We do have other people who are related to the Tea Party on the line and we would like to get them involved in the conversation. You, too, can call us, a lot of people have, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Tony in Arlington, Va. Chris, thank you for your call. Here is Tony. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONYHi, Kojo. Thank you very much for taking my call. I happen to work at Union Station in Washington, D.C. and I was sitting there in the evening and watching the crowds come in from the mall to get on their checkered buses and take the train and that sort of thing after the whole Tea Party protest.
NNAMDIAre you talking about the Tea Party protest or the Glenn Beck rally?
TONYNot the Glenn Beck thing.
TONYThe September 12, but all of the Tea Party signs and the hats and that sort of thing. And I've got to tell you, with very few exceptions, most of these people, probably 90 percent were white, overweight, over the age of 50 and wearing baseball hats. And, you know, one of the signs that we saw -- there was somebody carrying a sign that said, give them my work, but don't give them my tax money. And I think the them that's in there is a perfect example of this coded language that your guest was talking about. But anyhow, I'm going to get off the air and I'll listen to...
NNAMDILeave it to Howard Ross.
ROSSYeah, I mean, I think that's a real question. I mean, how is this that this is a movement, a broad-range movement of people who are only concerned about spending in government. Then, why is this movement 94 percent or 96 percent white? You know, it raises the question, why is it that people aren't joining? Why is it that people are not feeling welcomed there? Because there certainly are plenty of people of color in this country who are just as concerned about expansion of government spending as there are white people that -- the notion that that's just a white issue is, of course, ludicrous.
ROSSI think the other issue that you brought up when you're talking to Chris a minute ago, Kojo, is the contradictions in things. You know, for example, we talk about socialized medicine when the government puts together a health care program, but we don't seem to talk much about socialized postal service when the government puts restrictions on how we do the Post Office or socialized military when we decide collectively that it didn't make sense to do military. For that matter, socialized stoplights where we decide that it makes sense for us to have a governmental approach to certain things.
ROSSI mean, as a society, we've learned, over time, that the expansion of the size of our society from the, you know, relatively few people who are here -- I don't know what the number is going to be. It's way less than the five million people who are here when the Constitution was written to the 300 million people we have now -- requires a much more integrated and systemic approach to doing certain things. And that's challenging to then look back and say, well, the Constitution didn't allow for that 200 years ago.
NNAMDIOn to Gary on the Bay Bridge in Md. Gary, I don't know if you're still on the Bay Bridge, but go ahead, please.
GARYJust kind of close to Bay Bridge. It's a very stimulating conversation and I do appreciate it. I believe, first of all, that the prejudice runs both ways. But I don't think the prejudice is racial. I think it's cultural. I believe that most of those conservatives who profess to be members of the Tea Party would be delighted -- they'd get in line to vote for a guy like Colin Powell. I don't think it's racial. It's cultural and it does run both ways. I think that the so-called liberal group has a view of Tea Partiers as being overweight, angry white males wearing baseball caps, you know, fundamentalist Christian types.
GARYYou know, I think they have that view of them. And I think that the Tea Party movement has a view of the liberal group as, you know, the latte-sipping, quote "over-educated," power intellectuals holding it over a group of unemployed, underemployed, disenfranchised and discontented. And unfortunately, much of that group is minority. And I think that, you know, if everybody wants to get real honest, there's a lot of truth in that.
ROSSA lot of truth in what?
NNAMDIA lot of truth in what assertion that you...
GARYI think there's truth in the fact that those groups are looking at the other stereotypically in prejudicial way, that neither one wants a culture of the other.
NNAMDINeither one likes the what of the other?
GARYNeither one likes the culture of the other.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Howard Ross weigh in on this.
ROSSI think there's some truth to what Gary's saying. I mean, I think that we absolutely have -- I mean, you know, when Tony called a minute ago, we characterized here's what it looked like when that group was there. I mean, I think there's no question that we cartoonize each other. We turn each other into, you know, archetypical or stereotypical models of what we are. And in doing that, we can demonize them more easily. We can minimize them more easily. We can define them more easily as not us.
ROSSAnd since we're the good people, they become the bad people. And I think Gary's absolutely right. And it speaks to what you and I were talking about at the very beginning of the show, Kojo, about our inability to dialogue from that place. Because once we've demonized somebody and turned them into what we -- in essence, objectify them, once we've turned the Tea Party, for example, into what Gary said, fat guys with baseball caps, then, you know, how do you relate to the ideas that are there? Well, you're not relating to the ideas at all. You're relating to the caricature which you've created.
NNAMDIIt seems that whether you're a progressive or a conservative, people get into a comfort zone in their thinking. And once we get into that comfort zone, it's almost impossible to really hear what other people are saying. Those people who see the Tea Party visually and say, look, this is a group of mostly white people with very few minorities, feel that the Tea Party's emphasis is therefore race.
NNAMDIWe had, in this, complaints of District residents who felt that Adrian Fenty and his supporters were not really listening to their complaints. People who felt, on the other hand, that people were tone deaf, if you will, to what Adrian Fenty had already accomplished and were so turned off by his personality, that they absolutely refuse to listen to him, recite what his accomplishments were. And we find ourselves in the imbroglio in which we now find ourselves.
ROSSWell, I think that at the core of this is the fact their fundamental social currency has become fear. And I think that that's been happening for a long time. But I think in the post-9/11 world, it particularly got ramped up and politicians and the media began to see that fear was the way you get people to pay attention. And so instead of talking about issues now, we're trading fear. I mean, at the break, we were talking about Park51, the Islamist center in New York City, for example. So we've now got a conversation. Should they be there? Should they not be there? Are they dangerous? Are they not dangerous? Which is not the conversation we should be in. The conversation we should really be in is, what does religious freedom mean?
NNAMDIThe conversation that we are in is them and us.
ROSSExactly right. They -- how can we have them be so close when they did what they did on 9/11? Wait a second. Who's the theys? You know, a handful of people committed the crimes of 9/11, the terrorist crimes of 9/11. They happen to be Muslims. There's no question. But there are 126 billion Muslims on the planet. Why is it that after Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up Oklahoma, both right wing Christian activists, we didn't say you can't put a church next to the monument of Oklahoma City?
ROSSExactly right. And so I -- the one thing I would say, in reference to Gary's comment is, I think culture and race are hard to distinguish in our society and I think that they overlap dramatically. And I think he is right in that -- there's a professor, Amy Cuddy, at Harvard Business School who has done some really interesting research on the unconscious way we perceive people, unconsciously based, on one hand, the warmth we feel towards them and on the other hand, the competency. And one of the things that she's found is that one of the groups that people universally seem to be drawn to are black successful professionals, light skin, particularly black successful professionals. And one reason I hypothesize is because those -- and certainly that explains the Obama effect to a certain degree.
ROSSHis getting elected, in any case. And like Joe Biden -- when Joe Biden said that President Obama was clean and articulate, what he was really saying is this is the kind of black people white people like to like. And there is a part of us that wants to feel good about ourselves for being able to like people outside of ourselves.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation because so many people have called that we're going to have to put off your turn probably until later in the week, even though -- if you feel like calling and talking about anything else during the course of the next 20 minutes or so, feel free to do so. 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIHoward Ross has generously agreed to stay with us. He's a workplace consultant and a principal with the firm Cook Ross. Howard, allow me to defer to our listeners in this segment of the broadcast. So here is Ben in Rockville, Md. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENThank you very much for having me. This is a great conversation. I grew in PG County as the racial minority. So I was the white kid in a majority black county and I've lived near D.C. my whole life. What's been -- what's driven me crazy is how nobody talks about numbers and hard data when it comes to these discussions. It's all emotional like your host has been saying. Nobody's talked about how, um, Anthony Williams is the whole reason that the area that was destroyed by the King riots got rebuilt. Because he went to the CEO of Target and he made the presentation himself and he convinced the CEO of Target to anchor that mall which brought all the other stores and all the jobs and all the new housing and all the...
NNAMDIDon't let Jim Graham hear you say that. He's the Ward One council member who takes as much credit for it. But go ahead, please.
BENWell, and then there's also -- I mean, there's just -- there's so much about how we just don't talk about numbers. Like the tea party guy. Last year, the federal government collected $989 billion in federal income taxes. If social security and Medicare are taken out the state -- out of the budget considerations, assuming we make them cash neutral, which is a feat in and of itself, but let's assume we do -- federal income taxes. Now, if the -- I believe last year the Department of Defense's total budget was $651 billion, $200 billion for interest on the debt, that leaves 140 billion for everything else the government does, besides defense and interest on the debt.
BENThat works out to a $1.30 per person per day for everything else the federal government does. How is that sustainable? You ask the question to a Tea Party person, they have no idea because they don't talk about numbers. I hear platitudes. And I really wish we would talk about numbers and come to solutions as Americans.
NNAMDIThat's a good wish, Ben. What do you say, Howard Ross?
ROSSI think Ben's -- what Ben's speaking to is he brings up that old saw, you know, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And I think that, unfortunately, it's like we've talked about so much, people aren't being thoughtful. They're not considering numbers. They basically get caught up in the emotion of it. They get caught up in who they like and who they don't like and let's go get them charges up the frustration that's there. Even if the frustration is misdirected, it becomes part of a band wagon. And the one thing, too, about this is in the old days, before we had the internet, for example, if you had people who had fringe ideas, those fringe ideas would be scattered far and wide, you know.
ROSSYou'd have -- I remember Lyndon LaRouche used to have his people in front of grocery stores. You'd have maybe nine people there and people were embarrassed to be seen publicly with the people like that. Nowadays, on the internet, people are connecting all these things. And all of a sudden, you have these almost flash mobs that occur, drawing together 13,000 people or more and, all of a sudden, it looks like a movement of fringe people.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ben. We move on to Steve in Silver Spring, Md. Steve, your turn. Go ahead, please. Hi, Steve. Steve, are you --
STEVEYeah. Kind of responding to the guy who called in earlier about the Tea Party. And I guess one thing I'm always curious about with the Tea Party movement that I haven't really studied enough to know is, since they want to take back government and they want less government, how do they expect things to get done exactly? I mean, does anybody really in that movement talk about this? I mean, I realize that the government doesn't seem to run very efficiently and effectively, but isn't it sort of the obligation of the value of our tax dollars to get certain things done by the government? And who -- how do they expect these things to get done if there's no government?
NNAMDIWell, you raise a good question. But if you talk to the -- a lot of people who are libertarians, they will tell you that these things -- many of these things were in the private sector before and that they should be in the private sectors again. That the factors of supply and demand can manage these things much better than the government can, but I speak for them. Allow Howard Ross to speak for himself.
ROSSWell, I think that's a very interesting question. And the other interesting question, which is kind of correlate to that for me, Steve, is what's going to happen to these mainstream Republican politicians, who are riding the wave of the Tea Party, when they realize that the people who are coming into office are going to be expecting them to put themselves out of office as much as put the Democrats out of office? And that's going to be a really interesting dynamic. It's sort of like -- there's the old story about the -- you probably heard about the frog and the scorpion. You know, the scorpion comes and asks the frog to take him across the water and the frog says, why would I do that? You'll sting me.
ROSSHe says, no, we'll both sink and then -- so he hops on the back and halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog. And as the frog is dying, he goes, why did you that? He says, I'm a scorpion. It's what I do. I mean, you know, when we create an alliance with people who are basically rebellious out of frustration, one of the challenges is going to be what's going to happen even if those people get in power.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Steve. Frederick in Washington brings us back to the issue of listening. Frederick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDERICKThank you. I so appreciate this larger conversation that I'm privileged to hear today. The comment that I wish to add to the larger conversation while I've been listening -- that particular word that I'd like to offer as something that has perhaps a little bit of power in terms of looking at options that are solution-oriented. I'm aware that the dynamic of listening, in and of itself, is wanting in the larger political arena. And I thought it might be interesting also, just an observation, that in the history of the Tea Party, going back to the early days of our country, were these not white men who were pretending to be Indians? And I pose that simply as a rhetorical question. And so that's really what I wanted to share, and I have enjoyed listening immensely.
NNAMDII am trying to listen to you, Robert, even though the last part of your statement is a little puzzling. Look, if someone comes to a political discussion, Howard, with strong views of their own, what do you say when confronted by someone who's on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from you? You're coming into this discussion with a political bias. It is not a formal debate. How does that affect our ability to really listen to and understand what our opponent is trying to say?
ROSSWell, I think that what you're speaking to is at the heart of the issue and that is that the very structure of the way we engage in these conversations contributes to the result that we see. We're not -- we don't -- we're not structured to have thoughtful conversations because, you know, we get our news and sound bites. We preselect our news based on which news station we listen to. We find our favorites and we listen to only our favorites. And I'm talking about the collective we, obviously. And so we don't actually sit down.
ROSSI mean, the way you have conversations like this is by, you know -- who is it? Stephen Covey said, seeking to understand before you'll be understood. I mean, you know, when we talked to Chris before -- you know, I'm really interested in how people justify in their minds the fact that this trend started with President Bush and yet nobody said anything -- virtually nobody said anything during that time or very little people said anything. And how do you justify that fact and how do you explain that fact? And, you know, how does that fit in your mind? The questions you were asking people, I mean, I think we need to ask more questions of each other, rather than pontificating towards each other. And that's at the heart of how we begin to have those conversations.
NNAMDIHow do we listen to the members of those families of 9/11 victims who say, we do understand that we are a country that is open to religion. We certainly support that. We do understand that the Islamic radicals who were the center of the bombing do not represent Islam, nevertheless, you have to be sensitive to our feelings of loss and our feelings of grief when you talk about establishing an Islamic center in the general vicinity of where 9/11 occurred. Because whenever we see that Islamic center, it will remind us that radical Islamists caused the death of our relatives here and so we're likely to feel pain. How do we listen to that in a sensitive and understanding manner?
ROSSWell, I think that what we can say is that -- first of all, very sensitive to that point of view. I mean, I think that that's a very legitimate point of view and it's not that there is anything hard to understand about that point of view. And it's the pain that's caused by a country that says that we allow free expression even when it's uncomfortable. Just like it was very uncomfortable for people to have Glen Beck have his rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech. Very triggering to an awful lot of people. Not just African-Americans, but people who believe in civil rights and who believe in Dr. King's legacy.
ROSSAnd, you know, I was -- I found it to be sort of obnoxious that he chose to do that, but I feel like he should have the right to do that. Just like I felt like people should have the right to march at the -- John Bircher should have the right to march in Skokie, Illinois, a number of years ago waving swastikas, even though I think that was horribly, painfully offensive to a community in which there are an awful lot of holocaust survivors. It's the pain of freedom. The pain of American democracy is that we have to put up with our discomfort.. Because next time, somebody may think that something we're doing is uncomfortable and we've decided, as a society, that measuring that level of discomfort as a way to suppress people is not a good way to go unless there's a clear and discernable threat to people. And that's what American democracy is fundamentally based on.
NNAMDIOn to Ken in Landover, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENThanks Kojo. Great topic. I'm actually surprised I got on the air so thanks for taking my call.
KENI do very much appreciate your guest, Howard. What I wanted to -- my comment is that what I think the Tea Party best represents, but it started before them, is the inability of Americans to think for themselves, okay? I think it started with the Bush administration, early 2000, where -- you know, you want to talk about government intrusion, where we had things like the Patriot Act. People tend to forget things like that (unintelligible) by the government, intruded upon. However, American society, I think, became very much us versus them, them being other Americans. Inability to think for yourself and make your own decisions. I think the Tea Party very much represents that facility where people are not able to think for themselves. They join a party and myself...
NNAMDIWell, listen to this, Ken. Listen to this, Howard. This is an e-mail we got from Chelsea who says, "My politics generally do not align with the Tea Party, but my husband has recently become very libertarian, which has lead him to agreement with many Tea Party issues and participation in many of the protests. He and I have argued politics a lot this year, but I do have to take issue with some of what seems to me as a misrepresentation on your show. My husband very much takes the stance that the government should not be involved in most facets of American life. He feels that gay marriage should be allowed.
NNAMDIHe disagrees with the Arizona immigration laws, and for that matter, he feels that even things like traffic lights and postal service would be better served by the private sector. I don't necessarily agree with him, but I do respect his consistency. So I just wanted to write and take issue with your representation of the group as being hypocritical. I know there are some members of the Tea Party who take of social issues in a way that I am not sure how they can reconcile, but I also know many libertarians who extend their views beyond fiscal and into social issues as well." First you, Ken. What's your immediate response to that?
KENI agree with it. I mean, Americans should be able to debate with each other and respect other people's differences.
KENMyself, I'm kind of a contradiction. I used to be a former diehard Republican. By the way, I'm neither white nor black, okay? And, you know, I support gun rights. I support gay marriage. I support, you know, the opposition to the Arizona immigration laws, okay? So, you know, myself, I'm able to make my own decisions, but also respect my friends who have disagreements, okay?
NNAMDIHere's Howard Ross.
ROSSYeah. I mean, I think, you know, I think Chelsea, you know, really is reiterating the point that I made earlier, which I think that there are all kinds of people in the Tea Party movement. And her husband sounds like a, you know, person who has a particular political philosophy and that the thoughtlessness is broad spread. It's thoughtlessness that's for liberals. It's thoughtfulness that's for conservatives. It's thoughtfulness for Tea Party members and everybody else. I mean, it's an endemic problem that we have in our society that we really need to deal with, which is how do we get people back to taking a breath and really considering the issues that they're talking about.
NNAMDIIt's easy to get gloomy and think that we've reached a point where discourse with people who disagree with us is no longer possible. What do you think? Will we still be in this place a decade from now, you think?
ROSSWell, I think that we're actually at the -- sort of the final throes of resistance to a fundamental change in our society. And I think that we're changing demographically in ways that there's never been a country in the history of the world that's changed in this way, other than when people were forcibly immigrated into somewhere. You know, when you look at the numbers of what's going to happen in our society over the next couple of decades, it's the inevitable path of history is towards -- in our country and really around the world is to the colorization of the world. And we're going to have to adjust to that and eventually it will normalize itself.
NNAMDILet me get -- Ken, thank you for you call. Let me get the last comment from Robert in Annandale, Va. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTYes, can you hear me?
ROBERTOkay, good. Basically, I just had a comment. I listened to your show, shoot, it might have been ten years ago, but I've recently moved back to northern Virginia briefly and I miss your old show. Anyway, my comment, I used to blog before they called it blogging about what I called the Republican church. And basically, those are my feelings now. However, I do know that, you know, conversation ends when you do start kind of name-calling and, you know, you sort of (word?) your conversation when you do that. I would rather engage in conversation. But I just thought I'd make that comment that I think it's an extension of Pat Robertson or the religious right or the Christian coalition. It's just another -- it's a less Christian name to call it the Tea Party. Those are my thoughts.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your thoughts. We really don't have time for much more. Howard Ross, it would be interesting if a study were made on how many times during the course of our lives we change our minds politically.
ROSSYeah. It would be very interesting.
NNAMDIYeah. Howard Ross is...
ROSSProbably not man.
NNAMDI...a work place consultant and a principal with Cook Ross. Howard, thank you very much for joining us. Always a pleasure.
ROSSIt was a pleasure today, Kojo. Wish we had more time.
NNAMDII wish we did, but we've already spent an hour doing this. Oh, let's just hang around for another hour anyway. Can't do that, but thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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