tv Amanpour Company PBS December 3, 2018 4:00pm-5:01pm PST
hello, everyone, and welcome to "amanpour & co." here's what is coming up. repeal and reverse obama policy. next in the firing line, the response to sexual harassment and assault on campus. i'll discuss the controversial new proposals with advocates from both sides. then, the scientist who advises the british monarch on astronomical matters, lord
martin rees shares his biggest fears about humanity's threat to our planet. plus, a survivor of breast cancer whose activism includes going topless. erika hart speaks to our alicia menendez. uniworld is a proud sponsor of "amanpour & co." when bee tollman founded a collection of boutique hotels, she had bigger dreams, and those dreams were on the water -- a river, specifically -- multiple rivers that would one day be home to uniworld river cruises and their floating boutique hotels. today that dream sets sail in europe, asia, india, egypt, and more. bookings available through your travel agent. for more information, visit uniworld.com. >> additional support has been provided by rosalind p. walter. bernard and irene schwartz. sue and edgar wachenheim iii. the cheryl and philip milstein
family, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. welcome to the program, everyone. i'm christiane amanpour in london. after more than a year of planning, the u.s. secretary of education betsy devos has proposed overhauling the rules on sexual assault on campus. the reaction is fiercely divided. the changes would make a more fair system, returning balance to a process that it claims is stacked in favor of accusers. the definition of sexual harassment would be tightened. schools would focus on incidents that happen on campus. and both victim and accused would be allowed to cross-examine each other even with lawyers. meanwhile critics say this will just mean even fewer victims will come forward and the balance would swing firmly in favor of the accused. are american classrooms really
meant to morph into courtrooms? it's a question i put on this issue to anurima bhargara and samantha harris for individual rights in education who backs the new proposals but says while the measures are not perfect, they are, in fact, progress. here's the debate. well, ladies, welcome to the program. >> thank you for having me. >> thank you for having me. >> so let me ask you both, let me start with you,anurima, because this is something that will overturn what you and the obama administration worked on, the protections and the definitions under title ix. that you helped write and draft for the obama administration. what do you feel about what the current education secretary, miss devos, is saying is trying to make it a fairer situation? >> so i think the problem we have been trying to fix is that
one in five female students and one in 15 male students have an experience of sexual assault on campus. less than 10% report because they don't feel safe and comfortable and that puts everybody at risk. what these new proposed rules are doing is discouraging people from coming forward to report and stacking the process against those students who do want to come forward and talk about what they have experienced. and for that reason i think it is going to impact students in a way that makes them less safe and puts them in the way of harm. >> so there are three main issues, before i turn to samantha. the three main issues are on, i believe, on definition of what sexual aggression and sexual assault is. i believe location and, indeed, on the due process aspect of it. so, samantha, you heard what anurima said, you are a
supporter of betsy devos' new proposals. why do you support it particularly when you hear it could discourage the few who do come forward to report these aggressions? >> well, i don't believe that providing due process for students accused of sexual misconduct and providing students who have an assault to report with a safe and comfortable environment for coming forward are mutually exclusive. i think what we've seen over the past seven or eight years, well intentioned processes for adjudicating these cases that are manifestly unfair to accused students but that undermine the integrity of the process as a whole. i agree that sexual assault is a serious matter that schools need to address in a serious way, but
i don't think that is incompatible with a fair process. and i think these draft regulations go a long way to restoring some fairness to the process that we've seen lacking over the past stretch of years. >> okay. so i'm going to get to the processes you put in one moment but first get you both to talk about the changing definition of what assault or harassment on campus is. so the obama administration had a broader definition of sexual harassment as, quote, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. and now the new devos proposals are narrowing it to mean, quote, unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, objectively offensive that it denies access to the school's education program or activity. what is wrong with that from your perspective, anurima? >> the long-standing definition
has been unwelcome attention, if it was severe, pervasive or offensive that it create add hostile environment for students and limited or deny their ability to get an education. what the new definition does, it smashes all of that up and makes it part of the definition of harassment in the first place. what that suggests to students is that if they've been groped once, if even they've been raped once, that might not be enough to constitute harassment. and that's both wrong and ends up with an absurd result which is that we want students to come forward and report. we want to know what's happening on campuses, and we want to get a sense of all the different ways in which students are experiencing harassment. and the new definition really limits that at the gate and that's not something we want to be able to do for students today.
>> so, samantha, narrowing a definition and the way anurima puts it that you can be groped once or raped once and that won't be considered over the limit, is that really what's being proposed? >> no. i should start off by saying there is no questions either the comments of these regulations or the supreme court decision that established here that one incident is sufficient to meet this definition. this is the definition crafted by the supreme court in the 1999 case. it was then cited in the office for civil rights in ocr's 2001 revised sexual harassment guidance which said that schools in order to avoid confusion should have one operative dfinition of sexual harassment and it should be consistent with the definition in davis. so what this proposed
guidance -- these proposed regulations do is restore that as the operative definition of sexual harassment. what we've seen with the broader definition ocr recommended and that a lot of schools have adopted in recent years it's being used to investigate and punish students and faculty for constitutionally protected speech. this definition physical assault is always going to meet the level of severity and pervasiveness to sexual harassment under this definition. what is not going to meet it anymore is constitutionally protected speech that has been adjudicated as harassment over the past stretch of years by a number of colleges and universities. >> okay. so i want you to explain what you mean and maybe both of you can talk to me about what that constitutional protected speech means. in the meantime let me put it in context of what joe biden tweeted about this and, of course, he was one of the fathers of this obama administration definition and action.
he tweeted betsy devos' title nine rules will discourage sexual assault reporting and investigations. when one in five women experience sexual assault while in college, we cannot afford to go backwards and then share your views. why are you so convinced that people will not come forward? i know they now don't. 90% of those who have been aggressed or harassed don't come forward. it is a shocking, shocking mantha just posed?that ake of >> sure. we already know the vast majority of students don't come forward. they don't feel safe. they don't feel comfortable. they don't feel like what they have experienced is something they want to go to a school official and report. and so the reason we're concerned is because there's no need to narrow this definition. it was a definition in 2001. it was the definition again in 2011.
it is consistent with the law. and there's no need now to do what these new rules are doing which is to narrow it because what you want is for students to be able to come forward with concerns not only about unlawful physical sexual violence but also when there are comments that are made, when there is verbal harassment that makes them feel uncomfortable, that they are not welcome in a classroom, and we want students to be able to come forward and report that kind of harassment that is happening far too often on campuses. and so for that reason we don't feel like there's a need to narrow this definition, and i agree that we want to have free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints on campuses that we want a diversity of students and perspectives. but that should not be an excuse to put a system in place that is going to stop students who have been sexually assaulted and harassed from coming forward.
>> so let me just follow up with you, anurima, because one of the issues people on samantha's side would point to is the instances of false accusations. now it is true that the media does focus and they are fairly rare but they're nonetheless very, very high profile. the false accusations such as the duke lacrosse team in 2006, the rolling stones story about the university of virginia in 2014. do you think that focus, that media attention, has contributed to the current changing of the rules? >> i do. i do think the focus on the false accusations are very rare. the focus on those situations which do happen where an accused student has not had a process in place that they deserved and certainly we want to make sure those instances are also
investigated, that that focus has really taken our eye off of what is happening on campus which is that we have so many students who are experiencing trauma through harassment and assault that are not coming forward and are silenced and we don't want a situation like we had with dr. blasey ford, for example, where that trauma manifests over multiple decades. and it's something that as a 15-year-old girl, as we see in public schools today, or as a college student that someone doesn't feel that they can actually share and have addressed. >> so, samantha, let's follow up with you on that and we've talked about the 90% of victims or assaults that are not reported and the figures show that only 2% to 10% of reports may be false. and, of course, "60 minutes" a while back put this to the education secretary herself, to
betsy devos. i want to play a little bit it have and get you to talk about it. >> are you in any way, do you think, suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults? >> well, one sexual assault is one too many and one falsely accused individual is one too many. >> are they the same? >> i don't know. i don't know. i'm committed to a process that's fair for everyone involved. >> so a lot of people were pretty upset about that because she said, i don't know, i don't know. in the midst of presenting this fairly radical change, particularly in the due process department which we're going to get to in a moment. what did you make of that answer that she gave on national television? >> i want to be clear, yeah, i want to be clear that at least from my perspective the issue is not false accusations. from the work i do and from what i see, the overwhelming majority of these accusations are brought forward in good faith.
the concern is the process used to adjudicate these cases has often been very unfair. students expelled without a hearing, without being able to see the evidence against them, without being able to confront their accuser or the witnesses against them in any meaningful way and those protections need to apply even when someone is guilty. we are a society that places a high value on the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair hearing. the discussion of false accusations to me is a bit of a red herring. that's not the issue. the issue is do we believe that students accused of one of society's most heinous offenses are entitled to a fair process before being expelled from school. >> let's talk about that because part of it does sort of -- the new proposals around due process involve cross-examination and being able to hire a mutual legal mediator and many, again, have criticized that. it could be some highly paid legal pit bull that will once
again start this attack on the victim and people are asking are classrooms really equipped to be courtrooms. how comfortable do you feel about the remedies this proposal offers? >> well, there's no question that adjudicating sexual assault cases is going to be difficult. colleges and universities are in a position where they are adjudicating these cases. they have to provide meaningful procedural protections precisely because of the seriousness of the offense. i think the fact the draft regulations require that cross-examination take place through a third party, one of the concerns, very valid concerns, that a lot of victims' rights advocates expressed with the draft of the regulations that was leaked in september, was that it made a provision for cross-examination but it didn't specify that it had to be done through a third party which left open the possibility that students would have to be
cross-examined directly by the very people they were accusing of assaulting them. and so the draft regulations that came out, i think, reflected that concern by requiring that the cross-examination take place through a third party and, of course, the right to cross-examination does not accrue only to the accused student. it's a right of both parties and it may prove very critical for victims as well to try the credibility of the people they are accusing in this adjudicative process. by providing that it has to be done by a third party and by providing that a university has to provide an adviser to each party to do that cross-examination if they don't have one themselves, i think it balances the desire to keep it -- to prevent the parties from having to do that cross-examination themselves which could be traumatic with the need to assess credibility through cross-examination in cases where there are typically no other witnesses, where there's often no physical evidence, and that turn entirely on credibility. >> and just very quickly before
i get anurima's reaction to that, are we going to go back to the times when the victim's sexual history and all of that, sort of again, the blame the victim mentality that existed in courtrooms through time immemorial when it came to women bringing action against these assaults? >> no. the fact cross-examination is allowed does not mean that the university can't appropriately limit the scope to relevant questions and to questions that are not prejudicial that don't touch on sexual history. so, no, it doesn't mean that. it's incumbent on universities to ensure these processes are conducted in a way that's fair to both parties. >> so your reaction to that, anurima, but i want to throw one more aspect in, too, because these new rules also say, or the proposal says, essentially what happens off campus stays off campus. in the past or currently even if
they're at university events off campus the university is still responsible in a way for it. now it could be apartments off campus, events off campus, a bar off campus, and that is simply not a university's responsibility. >> right. and so there are a couple of different ways in which there are due process concerns. and so there are concerns that a student might not be able to access the process at all which means that there's a free pass that schools can give to sexual assaults happening at fraternities or at bars or online which is where for students we see in elementary and high school a lot of the harassment they're experiencing may well be online from other students and impact what's happening in school. and so we want to make sure that those kinds of harassment and assaults that are just a few feet away from campus impacting whether or not a student can feel safe at school are things that the school can have
reported to them and look into. that's one of the ways in which we're limiting access. the second is these new rules say dramatically limit who it is that a student can report to on campus, and you want students to be able to go and talk to a trusted adult and that might not be a title ix official or someone who is in a leadership position on campus in terms of the faculty or the administration. and so having lots of ways in which students can come forward and report to someone who is trusted is critically important for them to be able to come forward and get relief. and so then we come to the process itself. i agree with samantha that we want a process that will not privilege one side, that everyone has a chance to look at the information and the evidence before them and for students who come forward to report, however, it does not make sense.
it seems unnecessary to say that they will be forced to, that it is a requirement that they undergo cross-examination in a live hearing. imagine, for example, if you brought a complaint of harassment against a co-worker or a boss and the only way in which that report would -- you knew when you were filing the report you would have to undergo cross-examination in a live hearing. these are not courts of law. this is a school looking into a report of sexual harassment or assault for their own adjudication process. and for that reason it doesn't make sense that something like cross-examination, which we have seen, is extraordinarily traumatizing for those students coming forward to report. it's not something that is being required. it may be in certain instances could be important to have, but there are less invasive ways like having written questions posed to a student and they are required to respond to them that will get you the same kinds of
information about credibility and cross-examination is no sort of truth serum or some magic process that gets you to that. for that reason there were a lot of these safeguards were already in place and a lot of the concerns about fair and impartial hearings are something of concern for the department of education for many years. there was no need to stack the process against survivors in the way the new proposed rules do. >> all right. well, it's a fascinating conversation and one so many people will be keeping an eye on in the weeks and months ahead. samantha harris and anurima bhargara, thank you very much for joining me. >> thank you very much for having us. >> thank you. so it's quite refreshing to see a civil debate and even some agreement on such a contentious issue. my next guest is a much-needed voice of civil debate and reason on a subject that will shape our
entire future, and that, of course, is climate change. as g20 nations gather, the u.n. warns of a 3.2 degree celsius temperature rise by the end of the century. that is woefully short of our two degree global warming goal. meanwhile, the u.s. released a dire climate change report predicting quality of life and economic growth will suffer. president trump doesn't quite believe it. so will we survive the 21st century? 15 years ago britain's astronomer royal lord reece gave that a 50/50 chance. now his new book called "on the future: prospects for humanity" his forecast is still gloomy and we are to blame. therefore, we can also work to improve the prognosis. while steven hawking once urged us to look up at the stars and not down at your feet, lord martin rees told me why our footprint is the biggest threat ahead.
martin rees, welcome to the program. sir, and now lord martin rees, you are astronomer royal. what is that? >> the person who ran the observatory at greenwich -- >> famous greenwich meantime? >> yes and was the first public scientist because astronomy was used for navigation and the calendar, et cetera, from 1675 onwards. for the last 50 years, we've not used that observatory under the cloudy skies of london and gone overseas so the post is now an honorary one. i can do it posthumously so i have to keep going as astronomer royal. it's like a title given to a senior academic on the subject. >> it's not just an honorary title, it's because of your long and illustrious career in the fact-based, evidence-based world. how do you feel when you see
those empirical issues challenged right now? >> well, i deplore it and i think it's the job of scientists to do all they can to get the word out to the wide public especially on issues like climate and health where it matters and where the public has to decide. so it's deplorable. i'm not sure it's worse than it was in the past. i think the main change is that a wider public has a voice. in the past lots of public work more so than today, but they didn't have a voice. also, i think it's important to scientists not to bemoan the ignorance of the public of science any more than other kinds because it's equally sad, as i'm sure you would agree, if people don't know the history of their country, if they can't find south korea or iraq on the map. and many people in your country and mine can't do that. and so that's sad and it's also sad if they don't understand the basics of science because in
none of those cases would they be able to have a proper informed debate on the kind of issue which has a dimension that goes beyond science and requires ethics and politics and economics. >> i guess that's why some of the minority of deniers have an disproportionate impact. your new book on the future is full of prophecies for humanity. i'm just going to quote what you have described our planet as being. spaceship earth hurtling through the void with its passengers fractious and anxious. what do you mean exactly? >> i mean we have long-term issues which we need to address. we're not addressing them partly because of minor disputes we can't settle. there's a big gap between the way things should be and the way things are under current policies. >> when you look towards the future, what is the biggest existential threat, is it an asteroid collided with the mothership? >> not an asteroid because they
exist but are getting no bigger. they're most unlikely to happen in the next century. what i worry about most, the kind of risks that are induced by us humans either collectively on the climate or the environment or individually because technology is so powerful that even a few people can have a catastrophic effect that cascades globally. as i said in my book, i look at the astronomic perspective. the earth has been around for four five million centuries. this is the first species, the human species, has the future of the planet in its hands. what we do will determine if we leave a depleted planet or if we can survive sustainably. >> that's an extraordinary comment. the earth has been around for that many millions of decades but this is the first time that a species, our species, faces a catastrophic extinction?
>> it's up to us. we could cause a catastrophic distinction. let's hope we don't. there's never been a state where one species has so dominated the planet and we're empowered by technology, of course. >> you're saying the existential threat to our planet is us. >> yes. >> all right. so how do we fix it if we're the all-powerful species, can we fix it? what is your book telling us about that? >> it's a serious issue. one quote i like is to say the unfamiliar is not the same as the improbable. it doesn't mean we shouldn't worry about them because conditions are different from ever before because of technology and the number of people on the planet. if we think of the new technologies, ai, cyber and bio, they empower people greatly and can be used to huge benefit for health and communication, of course.
a global village will have village idiots. and they will now have global range. in the case of cyber attacks a few people can cause something which cascades over a continent. >> you've left me a huge opening. with the global idiots and the global village. i don't want to go there to make it personal. >> you know many of them, of course. >> yes. and one of the major pems as you've identified is, as you say, climate change and the threat to our environment by men and women on this earth. we have the g20 coming up where the most powerful leaders will be, everybody. and yet do you think they can make a dent in this problem of man-made climate change. none of these countries have -- even though the u.s. pulled out, have abided by or met their goals under the paris accord.
>> in the face of urgent problems, they don't put it high priority. the only way it will be high priority is if there's a mass movement which superiority -- spo supports it. i quote in 2015 where had a standing ovation that did a bit to raise consciousness among his followers. >> this is pope francis. >> yes. if we had a sustained campaign like that led by charismatic figures that would make a difference. i discuss the only win-win situation for climate change in my view is to enhance development at the level of health research or defense
research. the costs come down. if it's as cheap as coal, then india needs to have some sort of grid, we'll be able to leapfrog directly. and not build coal powered stations. a win-win situation is to enhance research and developed so countries make money. and benefits the countries that can buy it cheap. >> the president of the united states not only pulled the united states out of the accord but is variously described as a denier or obstructor who doesn't want to deal with the economic impact of going to clean and the rest. this is what he said recently to an american television station about whether he was a denier or not about the incredible climate upheavals in the u.s. just listen. >> i'm not denying climate change but it could go back. we are talking about o'er millions of years. >> that's denying it.
>> they say we had hurricanes that were far worse than with michael. >> who say? >> people say. >> what about the scientists who say it's worse than ever? >> you have to show me the scientist because they have a very big political agenda. >> here you are, one of the leading authorities in the fact-based world and even you are having a hard time getting the critical mass going. how do you lobby against that view? >> the main political debate is between those who take climate change and how much we should sacrifice now for the future. the standard discount rates, many economists do that then you write off what happened to 2050. we know there may be no catastrophe. if in this context we say if we should care about the chances of a baby being born today, then you would decide it
is worth making a sacrifice now to remove a potential catastrophic risk in their lives. it's ethics and economics difference which it's more important in the debate than the few deniers. >> the few deniers on the debate, scientist have is a political agenda. do you have a political agenda? >> not at all. i don't see why scientists should have a political agenda. i don't have one. but i think they do share common culture. protons and proteins are the same all over the world and so is the debate about climate change. there is a consensus that it is happening and is potentially serious. to that extent, they have a common agenda, but the way we deal with it does depend, as i said, on the discount rate and that's a big ethical issue. >> let me take again president
trump who is the elected president of the united states, the most powerful and most polluting country in the world. this is what he said about thanksgiving. he tweeted, brutal and extended cold blast could shatter all records. whatever happened to global warming? this is the coldest weather in the history of thanksgiving day parade in new york city and one of the coldest thanksgivings on record. is that how you measure global warming and climate change? >> no. he is confusing weather and climate. weather is short term. far be it for me to criticize a foreign politician. >> in "the final hour" you gave humanity a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st century. that was 15 years ago you wrote that. and now what are our chances? >> that's most unlikely. i think there's a very high chance of having a very bumpy ride through the century when there are severe setbacks and
social breakdowns. >> what does a social breakdown look like? >> let me give you one example. pandemics, natural pandemics when they had the deaths in the 14th century, half the populations of some towns died. the rest fatalistically went on as before. if we had a similar event now i think there would be real social and we're so vulnerable, society is so brittle, i think we need to be very concerned about that and internationally if we think of the situation africa which is getting left behind more and more compared to the west, then they now know what they're missing. they have mobile phones, internet, and they can travel more. so i think unless the wealthy
countries decide collectively we have to do something to help africa out of the poverty trap then mega versions of the boat people in the later part of the century. of course they won't have the opportunity in africa which east asian countries did to offer cheap labor and manufacturing. the robots are doing that now. we have reshoring in wealthy countries. i think the situation in africa is something in the self-interest of wealthy countries has to be addressed. >> you talked about ethics and science and the future. you are on an adviser on the papacy on these issues, science and the future, but i wonder what you think given what you've just said about the catholic church and even this pope never talking about population growth, never talking about contraception and trying to keep the population down, never talking about safe sex and seeing this aids pandemic sort of balloon.
when it comes to ethics and morality, doesn't the church also have a bigger role to play there? >> of course it does. i deplore those attitudes you mentioned. i'm not a catholic. i'm not religious at all but the papal academy contains about 70 scientists, more around the world of all faiths. i believe in the case of climate change and now in the case of extinctions, human trafficking and others, it does have an effect because politicians will listen to a large body of people not directly to our scientists. >> and looking further beyond as this sort of cataclysmic view of our planet has gained traction, you've seen the science. even just this week they landed another probe on mars and you've had private citizens, elon musk and the others, talking about going to mars, this idea of human beings emigrating to mars, is that the solution? >> no, i think it's a dangerous
solution. i cheer on elon musk and doing high-risk space exploration by humans. i wish him good luck and if elon musk wants to die on mars, i hope he does that. it's a dangerous illusion to believe as he did and also my late colleague steven hawking that we can have mass immigration to mars because it is far harder than dealing with climate change here on the earth. we have to make the earth habitable. there's no planet b or risk averse people. the point is people who know know it's far less clement than the top of everest and to make it habitable would be almost impossible and they would be living under some sort of bubble and a few pioneers will do this. i think we should wish them good luck because they are the people who pioneer post humanity because they'll be away from the regulators, every motive to use genetic modification and cyborg techniques to adapt to that environment.
they will be doing something important in cosmic history, but i don't think ever will we see mass emigration to mars. >> the u.n. is putting out its new report and it's quite dire, in fact. it says the world is woefully short of the two-degree goal for climate change. projections of carbon emissions from countries put us on a path for 3.2 degrees celsius, 5.7 degrees fahrenheit warming by the end of this century. break that down. what does it mean for us mere mortals. how do we understand that? >> well, of course, it's not so much the global average temperature rise but the change in weather patterns, the changes where the monsoons go, and mass changes in land use, et cetera. very hard to cope with those rapid changes and that's the reason why it's important to ensure the annual emissions of carbon dioxide are still going up year by year and should be
cut back and so that we can stabilize the claim preferably at two degrees, better still at 1.5. >> it looks like that's a pipe dream, though. >> 1.5 is pretty unlikely. >> now they're saying two is at risk. >> i think that is the situation. we'll have to cope with it and the wealthy countries can cope, but the ones that can't cope are the ones who did nothing to cause it, namely in africa and elsewhere. >> did you always dream when you were a little boy of being an astronomer? did you gaze at the stars? >> i didn't really. i went into science at the university because i was bad at languages and good at mathematics. i thought of being an economist and some of my friends and contemporaries did. i was lucky to get into the subject and going back a long time to the 1960s opening up the first evidence for black holes, the big bang and all those things happened when i was a student.
what's so exciting is although those were great years, the last five years have been equally exciting with finding planets around other stars, a billion planets like the earth in our galaxy and that we can detect stars colliding and gravitational weight and all these things. a very exciting subject and i would like to say astronomy is the grandest environmental science because everyone throughout history has gazed up at the vault of heaven, as it were. one thing we have in common even more than the rest of science, so it's a great subject and it's good of the public interest in it. it's good that i can talk to a wider public and there's interest in these things. >> well, lord martin rees, thank you for joining us. >> thank you very much. >> on the future. thank you very much. turning now to someone who
is literally putting her body on the line for change, ericka hart was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer at the age of 28. a writer and sex-ed teacher she realized the cancer's impact on her identity and even on her sex life did not feature prominently in her treatment. so hart embarked on a mission to spark a broader conversation about the visibility of cancer survivors, and she sat down with our alicia menendez to talk about pushing boundaries, even going topless to make a point. just a note, what you're about to hear and see is a frank discussion about sexuality that also contains some images that may not suit all viewers. >> ericka hart, welcome. >> thank you. >> you told "cosmopolitan" i was raised to believe sex is something you don't talk about. i was raised to believe sex is for someone else's pleasure. i was raised to believe that sex is something that's done in private. how does that person become a sex educator? >> that person is a sagitarius
and loves to talk nonstop. and really wanted the information. i asked a lot of questions in school. i didn't understand math. i asked lots of questions about history, science, and then when i got to the little health class that was connected to the cooking class and the woodwork class, the '80s and the '90s, the teacher was like, you know, we're going to talk about abstinence and that's it. >> this is growing up in maryland? >> in maryland, yes. so why are we just talking about abstinence? because we are, and you need to wait until you get married to have sex. and i said, why? why do i have to wait? really just i don't understand. it's just the way it is. that's not sufficient. two plus two equals four because that's how addition works but that doesn't make sense to me. so i went to my parents and they gave me an explanation as to why they were saying that and explained sex to me as well.
as i got older in middle school, my friends were having sex and there are woods that surrounded my middle school and they were going out in the woods and having sex on breaks. and then getting stis and some of them also got pregnant at a very young age but they didn't have the information to know what was happening to their bodies even during pregnancy. it's a problem now that you're pregnant and now we're going to disregard you as a human because you got pregnant at 15 so there goes your teenage years but we're not going to talk to you about postpartum or what labor will be like or what the rest of your life will be. we're just going to shame you. i thought that was wrong. i was really interested in not having it be a problem that people experienced their bodies in those ways. >> do you believe pleasure is political? >> absolutely, all the way. pleasure is absolutely
political. because as a black person i didn't necessarily -- or a black fem, rather, i didn't experience desire until i was much older. >> you didn't experience in others or being desired? >> i don't really -- there's a guy that i loved. i will not say his name. i loved him in middle school. and i'll never forget it but it was me on one side of him and a white girl on the other side. he said i want to be with her. and it didn't necessarily hit me in the way of understanding the ways in which desire is political until i was much older. she was the object of desire not me. and everybody was kind of watching this courting of who is he going to choose? seriously, middle school is awful. who is he going to choose? who is he going to be with? he chose her. even in my heart of hearts, of course he's going to choose her. she's prettier than me. quite naturally she would be prettier than me. >> because of her race? >> yeah. because of how she looked, yes. absolutely. but i had been receiving that messaging for a very long time.
i mean, "beauty and the beast" is not a black girl. do you know what i mean? there's lots of imagery where it's not that the black girl wins, you know, the prince. sleeping beauty is not a black girl. you see these things over and over again and you don't get how they impact you and that's why you can't talk about sex and gender without talking about race and about talking about class and about talking about the oppression that impacts us in this country. it's just impossible. >> how did you personally undo that? >> i don't know that i necessarily undid it. i think there's awareness for it. i have my own internalized anti-blackness where sometimes i'm like i don't think that i'm pretty or maybe i shouldn't wear my hair like this because people are not going to find it -- i used to wear my hair like this in high school. when i slicked it back, i don't know if i should do this. maybe people won't think i'm attractive. maybe i should wear a head scarf. i have my own constant undoing
i don't think there's a and now it's undone. it's just a constant conversation that has to happen. >> do you imagine a future where that's not the case? >> hmm -- sometimes. there's a question who are you without racism? and i've just been kind of pondering that question, who am i without racism? i feel that's that question. i don't really know. my intention as a black person is to lift our narratives and to take up space and disrupt what i can and with my platform. and to continue to uncomfortable and make other people uncomfortable even if it's a second you're uncomfortable. if you notice the discomfort, it's a privilege. i live my life in discomfort. i don't notice that i'm uncomfortable anymore. that's why i think there is hope that has me continue doing the work i do in some ways where it's that i think hope has me keep going. >> because you believe that people can change or institutions can change?
>> i think that people can change and then my hope is that the institution would change because the institution is nothing without the people. the people run the institution. so i think my hope is that people will see, wow, okay, i'm going to change this. i'm going to listen to the black fem in my office and make sure she never experiences racism ever again and that whoever is, you know, not paying attention will do something about it. that's my hope. that's how i see it and that's what moves my feet. that's what gets me out of bed. >> you interrogate a lot of these intersections. when you are 28 you were diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. a part of your critique of the medical institution and the care that you were given was that no one really talked to you about your sex life or your sexuality. what would it have looked like for them to have done that? >> well, when you go to any doctor's office, you have to fill out a dissertation of papers and paperwork and sit
down with doctors and fill them in on everything you've done in the past ten years. and nothing involved how i expressed my sexuality or my sex life or what that looks like or where i'm experiencing pleasure and how i continue to. when we talk about breast cancer and double mastectomies we connect it to just c-i-s women having breasts and having some sort of womanhood inside of their nipples and there are problems inside that have as well. everybody has nipples and not every person that gets diagnosed with breast cancer is this woman. where is the conversation around pleasure and nipples? when that's gone now i don't get to experience that. so, doctor, can you help me? what have other people done or what have you suggested? when i was on chemo, my libido dropped because of the amount of hormones being pumped into my body. i didn't know. thank goodness i was in my
masters program at the time for human sexuality, so i had the bearing to kind of ask the questions, this is weird and this is interesting that i'm experiencing this. i don't want to have sex with my partner that i've had -- we're about to get married and i don't want to, so what's up? oh, yeah, on the 18th page of the list of side effects for chemotherapy you could experience a lack of libido, vaginal dryness, all of these things i wish were imparted to me when i went. they tell you you might be depressed, you're going to have hair loss and it sucks that you have cancer. but you could also say your sex life may also be impacted. >> part of the way in which you thought your care was not totally culturally competent as it related to sexuality, part of it was also around being black. i want to read something you told a magazine. even though my mother passed away with breast cancer when i was 13, what came to my mind was a middle-aged white woman with three kids, a minivan and a summer home.
where does that idea come from? >> every breast cancer advocacy ad that ever exists. still to this day i have not seen a major breast cancer ad that had black people at the forefront. what's attractive is a white body. what's disheartening is something happening to a white body but not if it's happening to a black body because we've been conditioned to believe things are supposed to happen to black people. >> and black women in particular are stronger. >> yes. >> which does a disservice. >> that's a function of slavery instituted for so long is, oh, this is happening to them and they can handle it because they're strong. >> recently the question of the racial gap and maternal health has come into prominence because of serena williams sharing her story of childbirth and postpartum. for a long time there's been this debate about why there is this racial gap. part of it researchers are coming to believe and agree upon is the physiological stress black women are constantly under as a product of living in american society.
bilateral mastectomy, you asked your doctor to show you images of other women who had had a bilateral mastectomy. part of the challenge was finding pictures of a black woman or a black body that had a bilateral mastectomy. in many ways you took that into your own hands and became what you call a topless activist. >> yeah. >> what are you hoping to achieve with that? >> i just want to take up space. i want people to pay attention to how black bodies are being regarded. i think what happens a lot of times in this country is we're like, okay, starbucks is being protested because they did something racist and now it's starbucks that's the issue and now maternity health, black mothers are dying inside maternity health. it's an issue in maternity health. it's an issue in the u.s. >> isn't part of the reason we focus on starbucks and maternal
health if the target is that narrow it feels maybe there's something we can do about it? >> i don't know. i think we focus on those things so we can maybe have an article that goes viral because maybe the article won't go viral if it's just all of the u.s. is racist and it's in every single institution and we could write about this every week. it could be literally the same article every single week. i think it should no longer be surprising these spaces are racist and me going topless is not just to take up space inside of breast cancer but that's one of my reasons for it but it's so people pay attention and oftentimes i've sat in meetings where most of the people around me were white and expressed this doesn't feel right and this seems like this is a function of racism or being the only black person in the room and people not listening to me. when i go topless, people see me. i use that as a way to say, okay, you see me as topless. you're shocked by this photo which is also a function of
patriarchy and capitalism that a feminine woman can't be without a shirt but a man can be without a shirt on the internet and that's completely fine. i want people to pay attention to the picture and also the message. i don't always have -- i post pictures. i don't always have check your breasts. i'll have something about what's happening in the world because i want people to read it and to see it. i'm literally putting my body on the line. >> ericka, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> fascinating insights there into the power dynamics between race, class, and the distressing impacts they can have on gender and sexuality. that's it for our program tonight. thank you for watching "amanpour & co." and see you next time. ♪
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