Backtalk: A Racist by Any Other Name

This week, Dahlia and Amy agree it’s about time for mainstream media organizations to label racists as racists. Recently, Trump tweeted to four congresswomen of color that they should go back to where they came from and accused them of being un-American. While his vile tweets were unsurprising, it was unexpected to see a national news outlet like NPR finally label it as racist. Language matters and it’s important to use the right words to describe despicable people. Plus, a shoutout to all our listeners and their support—it means so much!




HBO’s limited series, The Night Of, has some amazing performances and cinematography exploring the criminal justice machine and how it grinds through anyone involved in it. 


Milkman by Anna Burns, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is a stream-of-consciousness novel that depicts 1970s Belfast through the eyes of “middle sister,” a young woman who is caught between town gossip and a local paramilitary known as “the milkman.”


“Alaska” by Banks is a dramatic and dreamy song for the summer. 


(Photo credit: Paris Malone/Flickr)

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AMY: Hi. Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam.
DAHLIA: And I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
AMY: And we start off each episode by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. What’s yours, Dahlia?
DAHLIA: I don’t know how this caught me by surprise because I was obsessed with Veronica Mars when I was in high school. And last week, the new season—which I didn’t even know was coming, or I heard rumors of it a long time ago and then I totally forgot about it— Veronica Mars was originally on in 2005, and it went off the air in 2007. But it is such a good TV show. Kristen Bell stars as Veronica Mars who, in the early seasons, is a high school student growing up in a southern California town where her dad is a disgraced sheriff who is now a private investigator. And she is obviously the detective hero of the show. And it went off the air, and then fan momentum, which I think is like this is one of the really early I feel like examples that I can remember of fan momentum bringing something back years later, a few years ago there was a Veronica Mars movie. And then now there’s a fourth season on Hulu where Veronica Mars is an adult. I haven’t even seen it yet because I’ve been saving it for like a perfect Friday night. But I’m so excited that Veronica Mars is back.
AMY: Isn’t it great when this show that you really loved comes back and that it also keeps being good? That’s my biggest fear: is that something I love comes back, and it’s not good anymore.
DAHLIA: I know. I think that’s partially why I haven’t watched it yet. I’m trying to delay any judgment.
AMY: [Chuckles.] And my pop culture moment: it’s just all good. 100 percent good. I’m not worried about it, so I don’t have to delay judgment. And it has to do with the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection. So, what this is, is that between the years 1886 and 1942, the USDA commissioned all of these drawings and models from artists of different types of vegetables. And they had to make these gorgeous watercolors of it for studying. And these are the types of like old vintage-looking prints of fruits and vegetables that, I don’t know, you see at like cute gift shops or something. But recently there’s this activist. Their name is Parker Higgins, and they filed a Freedom of Information Act on this collection of watercolors so that they could become available to the public. And not only could they become available to the public, but that you can go to this website and search for any fruit that you really love or anything in particular and then download them in high res. So, if you’re obsessed with something, like I love persimmons. I looked it up there are dozens of images of persimmons, and they were in all these different stages of their growth and of actually, even of the process of the drawing. But this is actually my favorite pop culture moment. I guess it’s keeping in theme for my last few pop culture moments where I’m really into the natural world shit.
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
AMY: But when I saw this, I was like, oh my god. This is incredible. I’m thinking of like, it’s a database, so you can go to it, and you search out the things that you wanna see. And you can download all these high-res files and maybe put them into a collage of one thing and then print them out and hang them in your room. I am definitely going to do that. I just have to figure out which thing I wanna do. So, these watercolors are gorgeous, and there’s more than like 7,500 watercolors in this and different types of drawings. And at that period of time, these watercolors they have, they think that’s at least 21 artists ‘cause they can’t identify all of them since they don’t all have signatures to them. But about nine of them are women artists ‘cause that’s one of the things that women artists in the U.S. were able to make money doing, was to work with the USDA. I remember reading pieces about it and how this is like one of the channels that they can successfully practice their art.
So, where do you find this?! I actually read about this in a piece at, and the piece is called “In 1186, the U.S. Government Commissioned 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit in the World. Download Them in High Resolution.
BOTH: [Laugh.]
AMY: That’s a long-ass title. But go to Open Culture and just search watercolor and USDA, and you will be able to access this database. You don’t have to sign up for anything. You just go do it, search your favorite veggie or fruit, and download it, and just look at these gorgeous, beautiful renderings of these plants that I think sometimes get lost to history. And I’m so glad that we have access to it, and we can look at it in detail and just kind of appreciate how beautiful it is.
DAHLIA: I, of course, clicked over to it while you were talking, Amy. And I can attest not only these images are beautiful, but I’m really surprised: many, many of these are painted by women. Because each one has the artist’s name. And so, it’s not just that a few here and there are, but it seems like, I’m just clicking through, many of them are painted by women. So, that’s super cool.
AMY: Yeah! ‘Cause if you think about it, it’s about half, right? And then if you find an artist, one of the women artists that you like, then you can just search by that artist, and you can see all the different watercolors that they did. So, I think the database is really interesting. It kind of looks really old school, but I’m sure the USDA wasn’t happy that they had the build an entire database for the public to search through. But yes, go to it! Check it out.
[cutesy bells ring]
So, in our last episode, I had read a review on iTunes about our amazing little podcast here [laughs] and how I was, and we were, chided for giggling at feedback that we got because we didn’t necessarily agree with it. And then our listeners showed the fuck up in the iTunes review. I am not even kidding you guys, but I did log on almost every day to check what y’all had to say. And y’all were so positive and so supportive! And one reviewer called it Gigglegate, like in response to Gigglegate. [Laughs.] And a lot of folks had mentioned that listening to Backtalk felt like listening to two friends chatting. And that is such a great compliment for Dahlia and I ‘cause I think that is exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to have a conversation between two of us, but also including our friends. And our friends are you all. And we so, so, so appreciate the support that you guys showed with the reviews and letting us know that you kind of dig the frivolity of our little segments. And in fact, we’re thinking of a new little equally frivolous segment to replace Amy versus Dahlia while that’s on hiatus. So, just wanted to let you all know that we read every single review and that we just so super-duper appreciate it.
And one reviewer in particular, their username is McCar757, and part of the review said, “Anger and outrage are necessary, even crucial, but not the only things necessary for movement building. There is something to be said for coming to a podcast week after week that feels like home even in the casual moments in a world that often feels extremely alienating as a whole. Keep laughing, and I’ll keep coming in for the critique as well.” So, I really appreciated this review like many others have said: not only do we come to you ‘cause it sounds like we’re listening to friends. But also we appreciate the laughter and the lightheartedness because there’s also really hard, tough critiques that we make about culture in general. And so, thank you, guys for, I guess, listening and seeing us or hearing I, guess, and for the support in letting us know that you understand what we’re trying to do and that it’s something that you enjoy listening to.
And if you have any kind words or even critical words that you wanna share with us, please head over to iTunes and leave a review and a rating. It really helps us boost visibility so we can get more folks on board to enjoy Gigglegate [chuckles] or not. But I keep reminding you all, but we do appreciate all types of feedback. And please don’t be, I don’t know, stressed about if you do wanna leave critical feedback because we do take it seriously. But let us know on iTunes: rate and review.
[cutesy bells ring]
In our main segment we wanna talk about something that happened on July 14, which was a Sunday for Christ’s sake. A day of rest even! So, Trump in three tweets essentially targeted who he called “progressive Democrat Congresswomen.” He went on to say that these Congresswomen had no right to criticize how the U.S. government and his administration should be doing things because he accused them of originally coming from the types of countries that he’d referred to as shithole countries. So, in the tweets he went as far as to say, “Why don’t you go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came?” Yes. The old racist standby of “go back to where you came from.” So, his tweets were targeted at Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, so four women of color, freshmen Congress members. So, three of whom who were actually born in the U.S. Ilhan Omar had immigrated to the U.S. when she was a kid.
So, it’s unsurprising that Trump would use this very racist rhetoric to talk about strong women of color who are challenging him and his administration and all the horrific things that they’re doing. But what was surprising was that some of the legacy media outlets actually labeled his tweets as racist. For far too long, mainstream news organizations have often framed racist speech as being “racially-charged” or like “racially-motivated” or “racially-tinged” when you could just have called it racist, and it would’ve been completely accurate. I was actually driving around when I heard about this, and I was listening to NPR when they had a news segment about the tweets. And I was surprised. My ears perked up when I heard the host say that they were racist tweets. So, we wanted to talk today about what it means for mainstream media outlets to begin to call racist shit racist, especially when they’re coming from Trump.
DAHLIA: The fallout from these racist tweets has been super ongoing. Trump has walked them back, pushed them back forward. And of course, so many members of the Republican Party are wringing their hands over whether or not they will actually label these statements racist. In this really surprising turn of events, the House actually held a vote to condemn the racist statements: 235 Democrats voted to condemn the statements. And four, I mean on one hand, I can’t believe four Republicans voted, but also only four Republicans voted to support the measure. Which the content of the censure says that they, “strongly condemn President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized an increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” So, in this extraordinary rebuke, 235 Democrats and four Republicans actually, as a matter of law, declared what he said racist.
AMY: Yeah. I was often thinking about what was sort of the impetus, like why this specific moment. And it harkened back to NPR’s decision to label it racist. So, I listened to one of NPR’s podcasts about their editorial decision to do this essentially. And they have a Practice, a Practices, Standards and Practices guy. That’s what it is. A Standards and Practices guy who helps them sort of to uphold their style sheet, essentially. Because the thing about media organizations is that they all have a style guide that they go by about how they will refer to thing, how they will spell things. Like for example, at Bitch Media like, we purposefully do not hyphenate a phrase like Asian American or Chicano American. That’s like two standalone phrases where the first letter’s capital. So, that’s just the thing that I know to do. But some media organizations do continue to hyphenate it, and it could be like a political thing. Like at Bitch Media, we also capitalize Black when we’re talking about a person like a Black woman or a Black organization because it’s a good political thing to make it into a statement that we are emphasizing the power of this identity.
So, for NPR they had a style guide or guidelines to also talk about when to call something racist or not. And what was interesting was that their person in charge of the standards and practices had mentioned that this is also being enforced by human beings, and human beings are not infallible. And so, their decisions that they make about whether or not to call something racist is sometimes just a case by case thing. And for this case in particular, they said that the reason why it felt accurate to say racist is because it was being targeted at these specific women versus when Trump allegedly said “shithole countries.” ‘Cause it was being reported as these people who were in a room with him, and they were talking about something in particular. And Trump had mentioned countries like Haiti was like a shithole country as compared to like I think it was in Norway. So, in that case, I guess because it wasn’t like recorded, NPR was like, well, we can’t blatantly call it racist. We can say it’s like racially-charged or had racial tinge or something. Because I think they didn’t have it on record. But because there’s different factors, that it was tweeted from Trump’s account directly, and that he targeted specific people, and he targeted them with this very old standby racist trope of go back to where you came from. And they felt comfortable calling it racist.
And I think this is something that’s just like, I mean it’s despicable that it’s finally happening, that we’re doing this. And I think it goes to show because like in March 2019, the AP Style Guide—the Associated Press style guide—had released a statement that, “Do not use racially-charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.” I wonder if there was a turn because people often will rely on the AP style guide. You know some newsrooms will just say like, “Our style guide is this, but we also adhere closely to the AP style guide early the Chicago Manual style guide.” So, I think that maybe there’s a turn, thankfully, in journalism or in writing in general about culture where if it’s accurate to label something racist, just label it racist.
DAHLIA: I think that we’re seeing the rise of the next elections version of lock her up, which is I think send her back or what I think it might turn into something like send them back is like a really convenient, really succinct way for Trump’s supporters to pretend like they care about the rule of law while also sort of, in a dog whistle way, expressing deep misogyny and deep racism. The New York Times, he’s getting in front of audiences, and he’s saying this stuff. The there was a cheer that happened at one of his rallies where people started chanting, “Send her back.” And Trump says that he cut it off right away, but actually he let the chant build for 13 seconds before he said anything about it. So, Trump is still showing up in front of audiences and saying this just like he did in 2016. But the New York Times did a report from a rally in Tennessee this week, and they were asking people, like do you see Trump’s comments as racist? One white man—since they identified him—I think said something really telling, which was like, “No, he’s not targeting these women. It just so happens that they’re the ones who said it. And we wanna tell them, ‘Quit your bitching’.” And I was like, oh, right. Of course you would use misogynist language right in the middle of that. You know, so obviously, giving cover to misogyny and of course also racism. But just in such a fucked up dog whistle packaged up way.
AMY: There is the dog whistle aspect, but then there’s also the very not-dog whistle, there’s like the regular whistle, you know? Because it’s happening at these rallies, and then these rallies are being televised. And then everybody’s seeing them, his comments. He initially had kind of like pulled back and kind of said in response to his tweets that like he— or like the send her back chants when it happened at his rally, he kind of disavowed them, but then later on like doubled down on how like no actually, I don’t think these women love this country. He’s targeting very specifically, and I think that it’s so that his base knows that he is targeting them. And the thing is that like, when he does things like this it isn’t just sort of like for show ‘cause it could cause real harm. Omar has received so many death threats because of this. I mean not just her, but I think her specifically because she is the one who wasn’t born in this country and is serving as a Congressperson.
And so, I think that like it’s just, it’s so heartbreaking, it’s so infuriating, and it’s so fucking scary that Trump would specifically go after people like this because we’re already seeing him go after a certain population, to go after a population of Latino folks. And he’s got families split up. He’s literally locking up children. He’s even begun having ICE detain Latino folks who have U.S. passports. Now U.S. citizens are being targeted as well. And so, when he targets someone, real-ass harm comes to them. And I think that I read a lot of people being fearful for these four Congresspeople and what they will have to endure because of his targeting. And it causes serious harm.
And it’s kind of jarring to me that a lot of the conversation is about his tweets and how they’re fucked up and then the rally and how everybody started changing, “Send her back, send them back.” But also about that while this is happening, we still have on the other hand media organizations hemming and hawing on whether or not to call these acts racist. [Laughs.] It’s like we need to sort of like pick our battles and call shit out when we do. Because I think that the labeling of it is very important. Like you’re talking about that, that white man’s reaction. You know, there’s like this very passive aggressive thing where he’s not labeling Trump’s reaction or Trump’s behavior. He’s like, “Well, we’re not targeting them. It just happens that we’re targeting them.” That’s exactly what he’s saying, you know? I think that’s the harm when we don’t say things plainly and honestly and accurately under the guise of objectivity when it comes to journalism.
DAHLIA: I feel like yeah, I think I was wrong to have used the word “dog whistle” just now. I think it’s more like I mean I’m thinking of at the beginning of the Trump campaign, sorry, at the beginning of the Trump presidency when the phrase “alternative facts” started being used. And it’s just very jarring to see sort of this double-sidedness where the president is able to just linguistically just totally twist the meaning of words. I was thinking about, so last week, he was being asked questions about how he said these racist things, and he said—here’s a quote—”You know what’s racist to me? When someone goes out and says the horrible things about our country the people of our country that are anti-Semitic that hate everybody that speak with scorn and hate. That to me is really a very dangerous thing.”
AMY: Ugh!
DAHLIA: And it’s like that’s not what racism is. That is not what you just said. But you know, he just went out there. He says, “You know what’s racist,” and then goes on to say not the definition of racism. And I think you’re right to point out that there is this shift in style guides because I think we’re seeing the president of the country can just say, “The sky is green,” and everyone will just like, “Oh my god! Trump said the sky is green.” And people report it. And I do think it makes sense that in this moment, when it just feels like everything is upside down and the president can just say the sky is green, it makes sense to me, although it’s shitty that, like you’re saying, that it took all of this for that to happen, for the media to start changing their style guides around things like this because the president is actively lying about the definition of words. Which, as you say, have real consequences.
While he’s out here doing these rallies and tweeting these things, he’s also doing real harm. Just this week, the Trump administration has more broadly expanded its ability to deport undocumented immigrants anywhere in the country. And so, it’s not just that he’s saying these horribly racist things. It’s that then, he backs it up with policy and legislation because that’s the only promise that he cares to fulfill, you know? Of all of his campaign promises, targeting people of color and immigrants is the only one that he cares to fulfill.
AMY: And it’s so wild that even as organizations are reporting that he’s doing this and that it’s so obvious and there’s facts and we can see this, there’s still a reluctance to call these acts, this speech, these policies that are targeted at a specific group based on their ethnicity as being racist. And I think that has to do with the fact that you know, sometimes we hear about how I think there’s like a joke or something about how when you call a white person racist, that’s like their N-word. Like you really can’t do it because it’s just a big judgment on them. But I think we really have to interrogate why white folks feel that way. And it’s important to interrogate that because when we think about the makeup of a lot of the newsrooms in this country, I looked up the stats because I was very curious. So, women make up about a third of newsrooms, and people of color only make up about 17 percent. When you compare that to how the U.S. population, there are about 28 percent-30 percent of people of color. So, there’s a huge disparity in terms of representation. So, we’re thinking okay then, who is historically running these newsrooms where they’re deciding on what phrases and terms to use? And it has historically and continues to be white men.
And I think the issue here is that if we think about historically how have racists been portrayed or white supremacists, white nationalists, they used to be labeled as racist. And it was a matter of fact because that’s exactly what they were. And but I think that because we entered this time in the past couple decades where we’re supposed to be a quote-unquote colorblind society, which I think did no favors for people of color. I made it so that for white folks when they were called out on racist speech or racist behavior, it was like a moral judgment instead of just a factual assertion of their behavior or their speech.
Like I heard, going back to NPR, they have a diversity inclusion vice president who chimes in on issues like this, and he’s a Black man. And he did not agree with NPR using the word “racist” to describe Trump’s tweets. And his reasoning for that was because he felt like if we began making moral judgments on people, then it’s like a slippery slope. But I don’t know if he said specifically that, but that’s the gloss that I got from it. And so, that was really interesting for me to hear because to think that to call somebody’s words or actions as racist is a moral judgment, when it’s not. It’s a fact. It’s like if somebody’s a convicted murderer, in the news, you label them as a convicted murderer. ‘Cause they did a very factual thing. Like they were found guilty of a crime. Or when we label people who have been found guilty of certain crimes, we call them that thing in the news. And so, why wouldn’t we call a racist, racist? And I think it’s because it’s such a weird hypocrisy. It’s like even when we know that it’s an accurate way to describe somebody’s behavior, white folks still think like, well, don’t call me that even though I’m behaving that way! It’s like the worst insult ever. So, I’m wondering like yeah, it is a moral judgment. And I’m sorry if that’s what you are. It’s what your speech is doing. That’s what your behavior is showing. So, why shouldn’t they be labeled that? And that’s what I’m, trying to wrap my brain around when we’re talking about especially the actions of this administration.
DAHLIA: Amy, I think what you’re getting at is around intent. And I’m actually thinking of this interview that I saw over the weekend when Chris Cuomo interviewed Kris Kobach, who’s a Republican running for Senate in Kansas, and Chris Cuomo asked him if Trump said, “I’m a racist. That’s why I said this,” would you still vote for him? And Kris Kobach waited like an ungodly long amount of time before being like, “Oh, I’m not sure. I guess it would just depend on what the other person’s agenda was, like who were they were running against.” And so, I think that reveals one, like, ugh…while we are debating these semantic things, it doesn’t matter to these Republicans what you call it or what you don’t call it. Like someone on the record just said, “Even if Trump said, ‘I am a racist,’ I would probably still vote for him.” And so, I think for many people, that conversation around is it racist/is it not racist is totally moot.
And then at the same time, I think that during that interview Chris Cuomo said like, I can understand not wanting to call him racist because I don’t know what he’s thinking. And I think that that gets back to people seeing racist, the term “racist,” as an insult, as a moral judgment and something having to do with evil, bad intentions. And so, you can’t be or say something racist if you didn’t mean to be mean. Or you didn’t say something racist. You were just saying something mean to the person who said something mean to you first. You know, I think that a lot of people sort of cover up or want to cover up racist behavior or racist actions by wanting to argue around like, was there bad intent rather than identifying behavior and describing behavior.
AMY: And I think this is exactly a tool of whiteness and white supremacy to make us, make themselves— I mean ‘cause I think that for people of color and people on the margins, we already see Trump for who he is. For years and decades, his behavior has shown that he is a fucking misogynist, he’s a fucking racist, he’s Islamophobic, he’s transphobic. He’s all these things ‘cause his behaviors have shown them. But like white supremacy and whiteness does not want us to label that so that he can be palatable in general, which makes zero sense because his behavior continually exhibits all these horrific things. And I’m getting worked up because I don’t understand this like—
Actually, I wonder if it has to do with the passive aggressiveness of whiteness and how they’re like, “Well, you know, if we don’t label it specifically, then we can just slide it in.” And like the imprisonment of children from Central America, that’s not racist. That’s just keeping people out of our country who don’t deserve to be here. You know, the policies that are against trans folks doing things like being able to join the military if they want or having gender-neutral bathrooms: that’s not a thing. We’re not transphobic. We just don’t think that they’re fit to be in the military. We’re worried about the safety of our women in these bathrooms. But what we’re not transphobic. It’s like the fact that they support a man who was recorded on tape to say like, “Grab ‘em by the fucking pussy,” and that he’s been accused of sexual assault by many women, like heinous shit, of child rape even, when we’re talking about the Epstein case. But Trump isn’t a misogynist! He doesn’t hate women. He’s just like a man who knows what he wants.
This inability to label this shit I think really comes down to the fact that like because labeling it will call them out for who they are. And like you’re saying, it is a fucking moral judgment because you’re fucking morally bankrupt, and your behavior exhibits this. So, why not call it this? And the reason we don’t wanna call it this is because you guys don’t wanna see who you are in the mirror. And it’s so gut-wrenching and disheartening and heartbreaking. It’s the worst thing. And I think that the tide’s changing to how mainstream news organizations are reporting this type of behavior and labeling what it is, is really fucking important because words mean things. The language that we use to describe people in power is very important. And I’m not shocked but also shocked that it’s taken this long for NPR or like the AP style guide to be like, yeah, when something is racist just fucking call it that. We’re not gonna say “racially-tinged” or “racially-motivated.” Like people are fucking racist in this country, and people in power, police departments protecting other police officers when they are doing like racist unarmed police shootings. And I think we have to look really closely to that. And I think that when we don’t label shit, then we are unable to call it what it is and then actually go about fixing them in an appropriate way.
And if these news media organizations don’t label him as such, and they’re supposed to be the beacon of objectivity. And as somebody who studies journalism—I got my undergrad degree in journalism—when we were in journalism school objectivity was like the gold star to obtain. Like you need to be objective when you’re reporting. You should not include your biases in how you report. And I remember being a very young person and like wow, that’s such an amazing thing to aspire to be and to be able to convey on print when you’re reporting the news. But I think that that is such a false notion of how news is because, like I had said earlier, people cannot be purely objective. Like our biases sneak in all the time. And so, this notion that journalism is purely objective, it needs to be disavowed and cannot be true. And we need to think about why we make the decisions that are made in newsrooms and how we report things. And if somebody’s behaving in a racist way, fucking call it that. And I think it’s important that we do that.
And I think that if we get more people from the margins, like people of color, in newsrooms, I think that that tide might slowly change so that things can be labeled as they are. And because news organizations are supposed to be this beacon of objectivity, and when people go to them, they go to it to learn about facts and news, and if these places aren’t labeling things how they are, then how are we supposed to trust that they understand what they’re reporting? I think that’s what I’m trying to get at. It’s like how can I trust NPR to understand the news that they’re reporting if they don’t just use the plain words to describe behavior that is true to what had transpired?
DAHLIA: And I think another sinister layer on this is that like Trump is the most newspaper, press kind of celebrity. He came up in this kind of like New York City Page Six culture where he’s incredibly good at manipulating the press and getting people’s attention. And so, it’s like I think like…it’s like it’s hurting my brain to be formulating this sentence. But it’s like he can go out there and say, “You know what’s racist is ABC,” which you know is not what racism is. And then that gets reported. He can say whatever he wants, and it gets reported because it is newsworthy because he said it. And—
AMY: [Laughing.] Because he’s the fucking President of the United States of America!
DAHLIA: And he knows that! And so, he knows that everything he does is newsworthy. And so, he knows he can go out there, and he can say, “Hey everybody! The sky is green. You know what’s racist is when someone goes out and says horrible things about our country.” And you know, it’s just it’s…it’s…. I…I feel like using this phrase “dog whistle,” but it’s like a secret code that’s not secret. You know, it’s like a secret code that everyone can be like, “Oh right. We all agree to this.” And that’s why there’s even more emphasis, I think even more reason why what does it mean that the House voted to condemn Trump’s racist statements? I mean Trump doesn’t have to do anything about that. He can ignore them just like he does. But it’s like the record of the American legislature says now forever that like 300, well, 235 elected officials condemn this on the record. And I think that that’s where that idea of objectivity is so valued in talking about the press or even in talking about politics is like what is quote-unquote the record? What is the truth? And we’re so used to seeking that out in the media, and at the same time, Trump is so good at fucking with the media constantly.
AMY: We know what a monster he is. And as you were speaking, it made me think about how Hillary Clinton got in trouble because during their campaigns—
DAHLIA: Oh yeah.
AMY: —she had called his supporters “deplorable.”
DAHLIA: Right.
AMY: And people were clutching their pearls like, how dare you? But you know what? It’s fucking accurate! You are fucking deplorable.
AMY: You are deplorable because you’re supporting a man whose administration is doing deplorable, heinous shit. There’s really no way around it. There’s no way to justify your support of this deplorable person who deploys deplorable policies and actions that are so inhumane, that are harming, killing folks for nothing but just wanting to be living in this country. And I think that that just really goes to show the insidiousness of this because it’s like they are more hurt about being called deplorable than interrogating the deplorable shit that the man that they’re supporting is doing. Because in their heart, they are fucked up, and they actually want this man to be doing these types, to be putting these types of policies in place. And I think like I said before, it really goes to the fact that they’re refusing to interrogate not only these policies and what they mean, but also themselves and the hate that they have in their heart, you know? It is not just the moral judgment to say that you support a racist candidate and therefore, maybe then you are also supporting racist behavior, but it is an accurate statement. And I think that for white folks who support them, I just don’t understand this intellectual bad faith internal monologue that they must be doing going through. It’s like, well, I don’t wanna be called racist or deplorable, but I definitely support racist and deplorable behavior.
And I can’t believe that we kinda have to deal with this for another year before the election before he’s fucking unseated because we need to unseat him. But I just don’t understand the mental gymnastics that one must have to do to do that. And why not just come out with your full chest and say, “I’m a fucking racist, and I support racist shit.” You fucking cowards. I don’t know why they’re unable to do that. And I think that really hurts me in so many ways. That’s why I’m getting so fucking heated. And that’s why I’m somewhat grateful that the AP style guide and that NPR and other bigger news organizations are starting to change their policies around how this shit is being talked about. Because if we don’t call shit out for exactly what it is, how can we change them?
[cutesy bells ring]
All right! Now that I’m out of breath [laughing] and completely exhausted! I’m so angry! We wanna talk about how we end the show. We end the show with giving you some watch, read, and listen recommendations. Dahlia, what are you reading?
DAHLIA: I have just started reading Milkman by Anna Burns. It was the 2018 Man Booker Prize winner. It is set in ’70s Belfast. And I don’t often read books that I feel like are challenging to read. But man, stream of consciousness novels are challenging for me to read, but I really am really enjoying this book. It’s just kind of feels like you’re reading a dream. But the story revolves around an unnamed woman who goes sort of by Middle Sister, and she lives in ’70s Belfast. And there’s this great line she says that she only likes to read 19th-century books. She doesn’t like 20th-century books because she doesn’t like the 20th century.
AMY: [Chuckles.] Same!
DAHLIA: Yeah. So, I laughed. Same. Very same. And it’s also about sexual harassment and sort of borders and social niceties. And I’m super fascinated in the Irish Republican Army history. And so, this stream of consciousness novel sort of blends in and out of it’s about gossip and family and sort of the niceties of social order in a time where social order was totally falling apart. So, it’s so good! And I guess when I say it’s a challenge, I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean like I have to take it really seriously, and that’s a real treat for my brain. So, I’m really enjoying it, and that is Milkman by Anna Burns.
AMY: That is such a good recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard amazing things about it. And now I do wanna read it. I kind of love what you’re calling stream of consciousness narratives ‘cause you’re kind of like embedded in it.
AMY: And then you kinda go where they wanna go. So, I am super interested in how this one plays out.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Read it.
AMY: Okay. And my watch pick is an old show, an older show, not like super old. But it is HBO’s The Night Of. So, there was a limited series that aired in summer 2016, so just before the election. And I think that provides a little bit of context to the time in which it came out. So, it’s an eight-episode series, and I just finished watching the seventh episode. So, I have it seen the season finale. And so, the premise is based on this character whose name is Naz who’s played by Riz Ahmed. And Naz is a Pakistani American college kid who was born and raised in York City, and he’s accused of murder. And so, the show is about the fallout in terms of like the criminal justice system after he’s been arrested for this. And this show is actually an adaptation of a British series called Criminal Justice. So, that can kinda give you like an idea of the framing of it. And so, I just think that this show is beautifully shot. It’s written and directed by two older white dudes, and so I think that it has some issues. But there are things about it that the writing is really crisp. Some of the juxtaposition and the cinematography and the directing is amazing.
But some of the qualms I have with it is that I think that in its quest to be quote-unquote realistic with its casting and writing choices of showing mostly Black characters as prisoners, it makes me feel like the show was kinda older. Because I don’t think that a show in 2019 would make the same kinds of decisions. And then I also think there’s kind of an issue with how the humanity of the prisoners are portrayed as a whole. There’s also a thing I have with how they consistently show the crime scene with a murder victim over and over again, and the murder victim is a white woman who’s been stabbed. So, it’s like a really gruesome crime scene, and they keep showing, like at the beginning of the series, they kept showing that. And then they keep showing images of it. And I don’t know if it’s like a male director’s way of being like, look how horrific this crime was and reminding us of how horrifying it was. But I think that as women watching this and as women who understand the violence that women often endure and suffer through, it’s very jarring to see bloodied woman over and over again. And I don’t agree with that decision. And so, that’s something I really had to think about as I was watching the show. And like I said, even with my critiques, I think the show is really well-made. Riz Ahmed actually won an Emmy for his performance, and he is the first Asian man to win an acting award.
And actually, there are so many good performances in this show! I think that’s another reason why I kept watching it. And I wanted to highlight Amara Karan. She plays Chandra who’s a rookie attorney, and she’s the lawyer for Naz. And she desperately needs to be cast in everything. Like the emotions that she can show on her face when she’s not even speaking just by looking. Breathtaking. There was this single moment in the sixth episode— if you’re going to watch the series or if you’ve already watched the series, and you maybe think you know what moment I’m talking about, hit me up ‘cause I wanna talk about this! But there’s this single moment. I think it’s like 20 seconds long where she’s just looking, and I was just like, she deserved an Emmy nomination just for that 20 seconds of looking. It was breathtaking! It was so good. And I think that you have to maybe come from a specific experience to I understand what that look meant, but she conveyed it so hauntingly. I was just like God damn! Amara Karan!
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
AMY: Please, I wanna see her in so much more shit. But yes, I’m totally serious. [Laughing.] If anybody else watches it and sees that scene, and you wanna talk about it, please message me.
So, the show is The Night Off. It is on HBO. I’m watching on HBO Go. It is really good, and it does do a lot with Islamophobia. And it sounds weird to say it, but like the texture of it and how it appears coming from the fallout of this murder case, it is really interesting. And like I said, that I think there are moments where you can kind of feel like it is from a time before Trump. But I think it is worth watching. So, that is my watch recommendation.
DAHLIA: You know, I remember I started watching that the summer that it came out and I watched the first episode. And I was like this looks so good and also very heavy for me personally, right now.
AMY: Yes.
DAHLIA: And then I just tucked it away!
AMY: Yes.
DAHLIA: Yeah. But maybe now the summer is right maybe…
BOTH: [Chuckle.]
DAHLIA: for a heavy season.
I have been listening to this song “Alaska” by Banks. It’s from her new album III. The beginning is so dramatic. I love it. And I’ve been, yeah, I just can’t stop listening to. This is “Alaska” by Banks.
[“Alaska” by Banks plays]
♪ “Used to call it nothing/
And then you turned it into something/
You were a petal I could pluck then….” ♪
AMY: Thanks for listening.
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.
♪ “Maybe we should touch or something/
I promise I won’t fall in love then/
You could put me in your pocket/
Wouldn’t you like that?/
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, don’t go
I found a letter from your friend, he said you’re gone….” ♪
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Cher Vincent. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you want to support the show and our work, please head over to and donate.


by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam was a contributing editor and co-host of Backtalk at Bitch Media. Find her at & Twitter / Instagram.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar was a senior editor at Bitch Media, the co-host of the podcast Backtalk, and the host of the live show Feminist Snack Break. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.