Return to Transcripts main page
Reliving 544 Days In An Iranian Prison: American Journalist Jason Rezaian With His New Book About His Harrowing Experience; Is President Trump Trying To Break Up The European Union?; Rocky Relations Between The United States And Germany Unpicked With Top Cabinet Minister Yen Spaun; In The "Thick" Of It, Author Tressie McMillan Cottom Revealed Her Take On Black Women In Today's Society. Aired: 11-12a ET
Aired January 25, 2019 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what is coming up. Reliving 544 days in an Iranian
prison. The American journalist Jason Rezaian with his new book about his harrowing experience, plus, is President Trump trying to break up the
European Union? Rocky relations between the United States and Germany unpicked with top Cabinet Minister Jens Spahn, and in the "Thick" of it,
author Tressie McMillan Cottom revealed her take on black women in today's society.
Welcome to the program everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour in London with a tale of prison, psychological torture, life or death that all began the
morning of July 22nd, 2014 for an American journalist in Tehran. Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh were swept up in a police raid and they had
no idea why.
Rezaian had been working as the city's bureau chief for "The Washington Post" when suddenly, he found himself jailed on trumped up charges of
espionage, and he was locked away for 544 days or one and a half years in the country's infamous Evin Prison. But perhaps lucky as his freedom was
in part linked to extraordinary diplomatic efforts around the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations and was released in 2016.
There are still Americans held hostage in Iran right now, but relations between the two countries are much, much worse. Jason Rezaian is now suing
the Iranian government, and he is retelling his grim experience in his new book, "Prisoner," and he is joining me from Washington.
Jason Rezaian, welcome to the program.
JASON REZAIAN, GLOBAL OPINIONS WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Christiane, thanks so much for having me on.
AMANPOUR: So you know, your book has a dramatic title, "Prisoner" how difficult was it to write?
REZAIAN: Well, it went in spurts. I wrote the outcome of what happened to us and the first months of freedom which is at the end of the book first,
because it was so hard for me to kind of get myself back into that mindset of being in prison. Not that it wasn't accessible for me, but that it was
pretty painful, and triggering and set off all sorts of nightmares.
So it was a hard process. It took me a while to do, but I would get myself into a frame of mind where I'd dip myself back in those experiences for
several weeks at a time and then I'd need a break, and that's how I did it.
AMANPOUR: So let us sort of take your - take our cue from you then and start at little bit at the beginning. The poignancy of this, the many,
many levels of poignancy, but one that this book is an Anthony Bourdain imprint. Our late friend, our late colleague, and the person who you sort
of guided around Iran when he came to do a program "Parts Unknown," and he interviewed you and your Yeganeh, your wife, in the program.
And at the time, you sort of only just recently been there and you were quite optimistic, and was just before your arrest, I believe it was some
six weeks before you were arrested. Here's a little clip from that documentary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZAIAN: I love it and hate it, you know, but it is home. It's become home.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, TRAVEL SHOW HOST: Are you optimistic about the future?
YEGANEH REZAIAN, WIFE OF JASON REZAIAN: Yes, especially if this nuclear deal finally happens, yes, very much actually.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, I wonder how you feel seeing that, that is so long ago now and so much water has gone under the bridge, including 544 days of
yourself being imprisoned. Can you remember that moment when you were optimistic about a future living in Iran?
REZAIAN: I can and sadly, it was violently stripped from Yagenah and I very quickly several weeks after we taped that. But I had been living
there in Iran and working for several years and I had seen the lows of 2009 and 2010, the effects of sanctions on the people of that country, and also
that spring of hope that happened in 2013 and the feeling that a nuclear deal with the rest of the world and lifting of American and international
sanctions would lead to a better day for Iranians.
It's something that was ingrained in my mind and in my heart at the time. I could feel it was palpable, but it is, as you say very much in the past
AMANPOUR: And actually, you do describe yourself a little bit and we'll get into it later, as a little bit of a pawn in the political game around
the Iran nuclear deal.
AMANPOUR: You described the traumas of what you went through as a prisoner, and you also say that you tried to hide that from your family.
Tell me how - what were you going through that you didn't want them to know about?
REZAIAN: Look, when you are thrust into such an isolated situation, your mind goes to very dark places. I was scared. I was depressed. I was very
angry. But when my mother and my wife were given intermittent access to visits with me, I could not in good conscience make them feel any worse
than they already did.
While I did push them to do whatever they could to raise the awareness around my plight, raise the awareness around my case. At the same time, I
tried to infuse a little bit of laughter and a gentle sensitivity into each one of those meetings because you know, I was doing everything I could to
hold on to my dignity and to my humanity, and not bring my family any further down than everybody already was.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you what kind of humor you were able to bring to this process? Even on visiting hours?
REZAIAN: Well, look, Christiane, you've spent a lot of time in Iran over the years, and you've dealt with Iranian authorities, and you know that
they don't have the most developed sense of how the rest of the world works.
So there was a lot of absurdity in the questions that they asked me and the accusations that they were making against me. It was deadly serious in the
sense that they controlled my destiny, but there were funny moments. And I latched on to those with as much kind of grip as I could because laughing
through a situation is sometimes the only way to survive it. And I don't think it is weird, it is just how I've always operated.
AMANPOUR: Well, I am going to get some of those details in a moment, but first, you talked about your mom and your wife coming to visit you. Your
mother Mary, an American, your father is Iranian. You are Iranian-American and you're an American citizen living in the United States.
Now, your mom came on this show and she pleaded for your release. She looked directly into the camera and spoke to the authorities in Tehran
about you, this is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY REZAIAN, MOTHER OF JASON REZAIAN: [Speaking foreign language]. Jason is not just my beloved son, but he is the son of Iran, too. What mother
can accept her son being jail? Release our son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it is actually quite emotional watching it back.
REZAIAN: It is making me emotional right now. I mean, I am so proud of how my mom handled that situation, my big brother obviously and my wife as
well. Each one of them went through so many struggles around trying to free me. And my mom, not only did she come on your show and many others to
express those concerns and demand my release, she came to Tehran, you know, she's married into an Iranian family. She had spent a lot of time in Iran
over the years, but in this very tumultuous and scary situation, she came and stuck her foot down and said, "I'm not leaving until my boy comes out."
And I'll be forever grateful for that.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and there was no messing with your mom, no messing with Mary. And she tried to get into the court. I mean, it was really painful
for her because she was kept in the dark for a long, long time.
And of course, they charged you with espionage. But we all know that those are trumped up charges. What was it like? Describe, you know, you having
to defend yourself under hours and hours of interrogation in your prison cell in these endless trips to the kangaroo court, if I could say that that
you were subjected to. Your interrogators threatened to dismember you. I mean, they were really very violent in their words.
REZAIAN: In the initial days and weeks, they succeed in breaking you down in a way that you feel nothing more than as if you're a scared animal
awaiting another beating. It is dehumanizing in every way, but as time dragged on and the case and awareness around my case kind of picked up
momentum, I began to feel a bit of strength and confidence, not only in the fact that I knew that I was innocent but also that the assertions that they
were making about me were not ones that the rest of the world was going to buy into.
So it made it very much easier for me to stand up for myself especially when I was outside of the prison walls. I mean, you talk about that
kangaroo court ...
REZAIAN: It is the revolutionary court of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has got a very serious name and the consequences are often very serious,
but the process that takes place in there can't be taken seriously. It is so farcical and ridiculous, there is no evidence, you're not able to defend
yourself, you're being taped for the purpose probably of propaganda, state media propaganda purposes.
You know, I just thought to myself, "Here I am, I've been going through this for so long." The wind in some ways, although there are four big very
towering walls around me. The wind is at my back because the world is with me.
AMANPOUR: How did you know that? Because they kept that the world had forgotten about you, didn't care about you and you talk about the absurdity
of the charges. I want you to tell me the so-called avocado story.
REZAIAN: So in the opening weeks and month, they were very adamant about the fact that nobody cared and that nobody was lifting a finger, nobody was
making any noise about me, and in the confines of solitary confinement, you have no way of knowing whether or not that is true.
It obviously was not true. One of the first accusations they made against me was that a failed kick-starter project, you know, the crowdfunding Web
site that I had put up in 2010 with the aspiration of bringing the avocado plant to Iran, a country where you can grow almost anything, but oddly
enough didn't have the avocados, give the people the right to their guacamole.
This became the biggest charge against me. This was definitive proof that I had a secret spy mission. They weren't sure what it was, but it was code
for something and it was nefarious. It was one of the many things that they accused me of that obviously didn't hold any water.
But as time dragged on and I was taken out of solitary, I had access to Iranian state television for a large part of the final months of my
detention. I could see the case that they were trying to make against me in the Iranian public's eye, and I understood that that was just a response
to all of the support that I was getting outside and the rest of the world.
So we talked about Anthony Bourdain, we talked about my family, but there were other people, too. I mean, Muhammad Ali, one of the last things that
he did in life was put out a statement calling for my release.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me read it. Let me read it, Jason because I must say, I was just amazed to see this. In 2015, he said, "I'm sorry that I cannot
be physically present to lend my support in person, but I pray that my words will provide relief to the efforts to secure the release of Jason
Rezaian. Insha'Allah. It is my great hope that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist, Jason
I mean, it is extraordinary and that must have carried some weight. He is a famous Muslim.
REZAIAN: Exactly. I mean, in American we think of him as American hero. In Iran and other Muslim countries, he's a Muslim hero and he matters and
his word mattered. I was treated differently. I was looked at differently by my guards and the authorities in Iran were very angry about that.
They wrote articles in some of the most hardline newspapers that this great hero had been duped into supporting this spy. And you know, they were
losing a battle of public opinion at every turn and how could I, with a little knowledge about what was going on not have my shoulders lifted just
a little bit higher knowing that Muhammad Ali and many other prominent people were publicly demanding that I be set free.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I mean, I think that is an amazing moment. But how did your relationship with your interrogators change? First of all, did they
physically abuse you?
REZAIAN: Fortunately, Christiane, I was able to avoid being physically harmed. I think that - you know, I talk about torture and psychological
torture as a very real thing that I experienced and that my wife experienced. It is a legacy that will live with us forever. But we were
spared from being physically attacked.
Over time, I took that to mean that I had some value and that they knew that they would let me go someday, but I didn't know that early on. I
couldn't wrap my head around that. Five hundred and forty four days is a long time, and when you are in such isolation with so few characters around
you, I had one cellmate for a time and anyone another --
REZAIAN: -- and there was a revolving cast of guards who are - you know, they are basically to make sure that you're in your cell and that you're
fed when you're supposed to be fed and taken to interrogation when you're supposed to be taken. And then you have the interrogators.
There's a very few number of people that I came in contact with for a year and a half. So you know, obviously, you're going to build some
relationships. And I think if you have not been in that sort of situation, it would be hard to grasp the notion that you're getting to know somebody.
These are not people that I would actively choose to get to know, but I was forced to, and in that process, I could find out some of their weaknesses,
some of their likes, ways that I could try and ingratiate friends to them and I hope when people read the book, they understand that I was in a weird
situation that no one hopes to find themselves in and I did my best to cope with it and use the people skills that I've been able to develop over a
lifetime to my advantage.
AMANPOUR: To the extent that you developed such a rapport with some of them that you ended up hugging them when you left.
REZAIAN: I hugged one of them because he was my main adversary. He was the guy that was breaking me down from day one, and it is a tormented
relationship, but at the end of the day, my feeling was, you know, we've gone through this incredible ordeal that in some ways is a very public
occurrence. It is a historical moment that was a year and a half that was talked about in the world press and we're the two people that were on the
front lines of this behind these closed doors.
Not that I feel any sort of loss or missing of him, but it was the end of a very intense chapter in my life.
AMANPOUR: It is really interesting to hear what you say in this case because one always wonders how would behave if one was in the same
situation. But I want to ask you because you talk about the avocado tree. Now, as crazy as it sounds, you know that they have people in prison in
Iran right now --
REZAIAN: For less.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and well for climate - environmental work and they accuse them of being spies. There are a number of Iranian-Americans in prison in
Iran right now. You know, you happen to hit the sweet spot if I might say that that there were real negotiations going on with Iran and the United
States and you were able to be released at the end of that negotiation.
What are your feelings for those Iranian-Americans who are in jail right now at a time when President Trump's administration is very hostile to Iran
to say the least.
REZAIAN: My heart breaks for them and their families on a daily basis. You're right, I am the happy ending and it took 544 days for me to be
sprung from that situation.
At this moment, we don't see anything happening between the U.S. and Iran that would indicate that there are negotiations going on for the people
that are currently being held, Americans and also British and Canadian nationals as well.
And I think that you know, whatever you think about engaging with Iran and what the Obama administration did in terms of negotiating with Iran,
without an open channel to discuss these cases, and I would call them all hostage cases.
Some people would say to me that, "You don't know if these people that are being held in Iranian prisons are innocent or not." Well, based on
anecdotal evidence that I experienced myself, I am going to say that these people are innocent until they are proven guilty and not one of them has
been proven guilty of any crime.
So until there is a process of negotiation set up to bring these people home, I don't see a way that they are going to home and I believe that
they're all being held as leverage for some future concession.
AMANPOUR: Let me just play --
REZAIAN: Just as I was.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, let me just go back to when you were released, you came back to "The Washington Post" in Washington and you know, you were welcomed
by members of your - your colleagues there. Here's a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hardly a week or so after Jason got back, he came to "The Post."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked in the building and it was a hero's welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everyone was just on the verge of tears the whole time and Jason stood up.
REZAIAN: My Iranian interrogators told me that the "Washington Post" did not exist, that no one knew of my plight and that the United States
government would not lift a finger for my release.
REZAIAN: Today, I'm here in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, it is again very emotional and very relevant to what we were just talking about. You saw Secretary of State Kerry prominent in
that clip and of course, he spent as much time as he could with his counterpart, Javad Zarif trying to negotiate your release which did happen
in conjunction with the end of - the conclusion of this Iran nuclear deal.
So let me ask you how you feel now? You say that you've been changed that you indicated at the beginning that you still have nightmares. How have
REZAIAN: I think that physically I'm different. The shape of my body is not exactly what it was when I went in. I went through a rapid weight loss
in very harsh set of circumstances. I've got aches and pains that probably won't go away. Respiratory issues that have persisted in the three years
since I've been out.
But more than that, it is difference in my brain functions, my sensitivity to light and sound. My anxiety in confined spaces, my confusion in crowds.
These are all things that are very normal for somebody who has experienced a long sustained period of trauma, but not normal for me and the inner
workings of my own brain that existed before all of this.
So you know, it is a constant process of re-getting to know myself. But I think I'm doing pretty good at it at this point.
AMANPOUR: Well, and by the looks of your book, you are doing pretty good. Well, we send you all our support and thanks. You're a colleague and we
are very, very pleased to see that you are free and that you are writing and you are telling the world your story. Jason Rezaian, thank you.
REZAIAN: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you for your support of press freedom and me.
AMANPOUR: It is important to remember never to take freedom for granted. And we turn now to perhaps America's original sin, slavery, racism and the
inequality that it brought and that persists.
A conversation that our next guest believes should no longer be swept under the carpet. Tressie McMillan Cottom is a renowned African-American
feminist and sociology professor. Her new book "Thick" and other essays pinpoints the relationships African-American women form with beauty,
health, politics, and money.
Dubbed Miss Personality in high school, the author told our Alicia Menendez that African-American women are shunned for taking up too much space in our
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ALICIA MENENDEZ, AMERICAN TELEVISION COMMENTATOR, HOST, AND WRITER: Tressie, thank you for being here with us.
TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM, AMERICAN AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.
MENENDEZ: Tell me, the title of the book is "Thick." What does it mean to be thick?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's the quintessential question, right? "Thick" was trying to reach back to what I understood, black female political
philosophy to have been throughout the history of black women particularly in this country in the west, and it was about me trying to take this pop
culture reference and say, but no, that --
MENENDEZ: Which when we hear is being thick in the thighs like that is thick --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That is right. Beyonce thick, we think physical shape. We think - and so pop culture reference that the kids are especially very
into, but yes, to say that that physical embodiment of popular culture understanding of what a real quote-unquote "real black woman" should look
like, actually has a deep historical tradition that is about as much as what we look like as how black women think and how we participate in the
larger body politics, the knowledge that we have created for ourselves and our contribution to the greater world.
We think in nuance and complications in large part I think because black women have to often live in these nuanced complicated places where they're
suspended between these sort of easy answers, black and white answers. That's what marginality and intersectionality is fundamentally about.
There is not an easy answer to some of our most complicated questions, and in our daily lives, black women make those tradeoffs almost routinely
through our daily lives.
MENENDEZ: And from childhood through adulthood.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's correct.
MENENDEZ: There's a lot of different passages I could ask you to read, but there's a passage on Page 7. This resonated with me.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: All right, thank you. "Being too much of one thing and not enough of another was a recurring theme in my life. I was like many
young women expected to be small so that boys could expand and white girls could shine. When I would not or could not shrink, people made sure that I
knew I had erred. I was, like many black children, too much for white teachers and white classrooms and white study groups and white Girl Scout
troops and so on. Thick where I should have been thin, more when I should have been less, a high school teacher nicknamed me "Miss Personality," and
it did not feel like a superlative.
MENENDEZ: What happens to any person who takes up more space than is socially acceptable?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: We have an entire political-economic cultural system that is designed to make us fit. It is an act of violence on to people's agency
and themselves and their bodies. Violence in the big sense of the word, so we tend to think of violence and to reduce it to these interpersonal acts
But there is something violent about a world that requires you to conform to a standard that by definition you can never meet. That is a type of
structural violence that we enact on people when we want people to affect being heterosexual for example or to be heteronormative, or a certain type
of masculinity, a certain type of femininity.
We do it all of the time. We do it most often, it is most compulsory, for groups of people who have the least amount of resources to sort of resist
it, right, that's the story of being a marginalized minority in a majority culture. So it a structural violence that we enact on people, because the
structure does not change for you.
And fundamentally, the lie that I think we tell, particularly in sort of our western ideal of meritocracies that there is something that those
people could do to themselves to fit in better. The ultimate truth of - I think hopefully all of my work and especially that I was trying to sort of
complicate and unpack in this book was, there really isn't.
There is nothing you can do to fit, right? Aand much of our lives I think, particularly as black women is I think about figuring that out, trying to
separate the fact from fiction of our ability to fit into a social structure that by definition has made it so that we cannot fit.
MENENDEZ: You situate the book in your experience of black womanhood and really you take us through the entire range of experience beginning with
black rural hood, there is right now a documentary from Lifetime surviving R. Kelly which looks at allegations of various sexual crimes that he has
alleged to have committed against young women.
There has been such a response to this documentary and in watching it, certainly, part of it is about R. Kelly but it is really about the systems
and power structures around R. Kelly.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Right. I want to be clear that R. Kelly is a problem and he is also emblematic of a larger problem. He is a specific problem in
that it appears that he preys on young women, and particularly young women with color and especially black women and black women of questionable
economic security, right?
So he goes after the girls that we think of as being the most vulnerable. And that's a specific kind of problem that I hope we start to address and
it has taken a long time to address. I have been listening to R. Kelly rumors and stories, quite literally almost my entire life. These have been
the stories of my young girlhood, my middle teenage years, my young adult years. It is both amazing and disheartening to find that I am almost
starting to look at the beginning of middle age and we're still dealing with the R. Kelly specific problem.
But he is part of this larger problem of who we allow to prey on whom. All girls are vulnerable in our system to powerful men. This is part of this
moment we're in right off reckoning with that. So all girls are vulnerable.
Black girls are vulnerable in a very specific way because we are not seen as being - we are not vulnerable, we're not allowed to be. We now have
empirical evidence and research that shows that people do not perceive black girls as being girls. We age them up mentally. So that looks like
assuming an eight-year-old has a decision-making capacity and agency of a 14-year-old, and a 14-year-old has that of a 21-year-old.
What this culturally does is, it erases the possibility of innocence that we extend to children. Legally, politically and culturally, we have said
children are a subset of the populace who have special rights because they are so vulnerable.
There's things that you can do to an adult that you can't do to a child. They can't enter a contract. They can't make certain decisions. When it
comes to black girls, however, when we say that they are always older than they appear. What we are saying is that they never get the benefit of that
extension of vulnerability and protection because that's what we extend to children, additional protection, and that makes black girls, particularly
vulnerable to the larger scale problems of sexism and predation that happen I think to all young women.
R. Kelly would not, I do not think, be a 35-year conversation had he been preying on young white girls, who are allowed to be girls. We just are
MENENDEZ: I saw a through line from the way that society treats young black girls through your experience of childbirth and the way you were
treated within the medical establishment, which is not unique to you, it is emblematic of the way that medical institutions treat black women at large,
which is the same way that young black girls are given the sense of youth or vulnerability. Black women aren't seen as competent.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Correct. Yes. Young black girls are presumed to always be responsible for the desires that people project on to them. The man
wants you, you become responsible for his wanting. Once you are a black woman and you have to negotiate for access to healthcare, education and
work - that is what these big organizations negotiate for us. What we then make black women responsible for is for never being competent enough to
access all of the resources that they should, that they deserve or need.
What that look like in the healthcare example, which I try to use as this example of, there is no such thing as us being educated enough,
economically secure enough, we can't be rich enough. We can't be successful enough. We can't be a celebrity enough and celebrity in our
culture is the great exception.
MENENDEZ: If it can happen to Serena Williams --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's right.
MENENDEZ: It can happen to anybody.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's right. That's exactly right. Well now, you have stories from - I mean, you know, Beyonce is the celebrity-celebrity, right,
who talks about her own sort of difficult birthing story which is about trying to get a medical establishment to treat you seriously as competent
So that when you say you say you're in pain that they believe you, when they say that when you when you say you are in labor that they believe you,
right? The healthcare system is much like our education system and our other large bureaucracies, has to assume an ideal customer for it to work
properly. That assumes you speak English, so the forms will be in English.
We make assumptions about who this is system is for and healthcare is not a particularly egregious example of us assuming that these resources are
ultimately not for black women. Precisely because we are not set up to hear or to make black women's pain and experience of healthcare legible.
My experience of that looks like constantly asking for medical care that I could not get and then being held responsible for them not giving it to me.
MENENDEZ: Let's be even more specific, you were pregnant. You had symptoms that you were going into labor. You felt deeply uncomfortable.
You continued to identify them to your doctor and medical professionals and you were largely ignored.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yes. And I mean, this is a three or four-day, I mean, anybody who has ever been in labor can tell you, you know, you're in labor
for three and a half days. It is uncomfortable. I was effectively in labor for a very long time before I could get a medical professional want
to believe me and then to give me care.
And then I was given sort of urgent short-term care, rather than the sort of long-term well-being care that one gives someone who may be having a
My pregnancy was not understood as difficult until I had almost died and my child did, and even then, the last thing the nurses said to me on the way
out was, "Well, you should have told us." And I had, I had been telling them for three and a half days.
As devastating and as traumatic as that is for me, it is so routine. And here is one of those things why I think slicing apart what I mean about
understanding black women reveals something important for all of us, the healthcare system is not hospital to almost - to many of us, right? This
is one of those places where people go, "No, I've had that experience and I am not a black woman. Doctors aren't nice to me either."
And I don't mean that they aren't nice to you, which is certainly part of it. I mean that at every point of the interaction, of calling the nurses'
station, of asking to be admitted to the hospital, of talking to the anesthesiologist, talking to the specialist, that at every routine
interaction, despite how I present it as someone with health insurance, the ability to pay. I mean, I am married. I am highly educated - all of those
things that we tell people to become, so that the world would be easier for you, none of those status symbols mattered in that moment and they would
have mattered for someone who was not a black woman.
A black woman could not have presented in my situation in any way that would have made that a different outcome. We don't get the protective
MENENDEZ: I think what is perhaps most surprising is that even once you have an advanced degree, even once you have a blue check mark next to your
Twitter name that this continues.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Right. It is this moment where you realize with everything I knew about how the system would work, I was most angry with
myself for holding out hope that I had somehow worked hard enough it to have earned a pass out of the typical black woman experience, right? How
dare I still have hope? How dare I, right? I was probably in the end, most angry with myself. How could I have not expected for it to go exactly
this way? It is because when you are doing all of achieving --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: --. and you're doing all of this striving, part of your ability to strive is that you have to have some faith in the system, even
if you hold out some pragmatism about its reality and it's in these moments when you are most vulnerable, when you realize how foolish your faith
probably had been, that it had crept in when you weren't expecting it, and somehow, it had set you up for precisely this, to be surprised by something
that you should not have been surprised by.
MENENDEZ: If not faith in the system, where does that leave you? What do you do?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: I do have tremendous faith in people. Believe it or not, even understanding human nature to be as potentially horrible as I
understand it to be, I also know that anything good that has ever happened has happened because of the will of human beings.
Now, I think that those wonderful moments of social progress and human connection generally happen when human beings may not even intend for it to
happen. But there is something in the capacity of human nature that allows for a progress that is larger than any individual, and I do still believe
You know, my academic training we call this sort of collective effervescence, other people may call this - it may appeal to religion. I
think that's fundamentally, although Christianity means when they talk about the Holy Spirit, it is just something larger than individual will and
individual human failings and I actually do still have working faith and that is what I might call it.
So not an exuberant faith, but a pragmatic faith, which I think is the entire black woman political philosophy is very pragmatic.
MENENDEZ: Looking at the body of your work, your Shores book deals, Lower Ed deals with for profit colleges, and one of things that you often say
about that is, that you, even in the process of writing it had to grapple with the fact that so many people, particularly so many women and
particularly so many women of color thought they were doing the right thing.
And that manifests again in the book, this idea that we have a very clear sense as a society of the steps that need to be taken, education, a big one
of your steps, in order to - as you say, even become a moral person, right? That the morality is baked into that. Is that a big lie we've all been
MCMILLAN COTTOM: It is. I think I would call it a myth, because a lie sometimes suggest that it was at some point historically deliberate. But
for a lie to have its ultimate power, the power to shape our reality and to shape the trajectory of our lives, it has to actually become something
larger than a lie. It has to become an unassailable myth and that's where I think we are.
But even if you personally don't believe in it, you adhere to it. That's how compelling a myth is. It is like going home when you yourself no
longer believe in your family's religion. But you still go to the church, the special church services, right? That's what the cultural myth of
mobility and inclusion and doing the right thing is about.
And so yes, we've got millions, even people of color, women of color that I talk to who would go, I know something about this seems off, right? I know
something about requiring me to look a certain way for inclusion. It feels wrong, but I'm still going to do it.
I know there's something about taking out $100,000.00 for an online degree that seems a little wonky. I'm still going to do it. There's something
about - that yes, I should probably have a better healthcare choice in this one, but I'm still going to pay for this one. I'm still going to do it.
There's something about that that says that we don't have an option at the individual level to opt out of these things that are particularly harmful
for us, and that to me is about exposing the myth of not just of U.S. culture. I think this is just a myth of capitalism, that our rights are
imbedded in our ability to consume and to buy.
Well, depending on who you are, there's no such thing. There are no Civil Rights that black people can buy in this country. That's what this rash of
you know, you can't have a coffee at Starbucks. You can't sit in the lobby of the hotel without the police - this whole rash of things is about
exactly that. That there is no level of consumption, there is no level of economic achievement, no level of status to which you can adhere that is
going to opt you out of what our structure ultimately needs us to be, which is marginalized and vulnerable.
MENENDEZ: Tressie, thank you so much.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: An important conversation there on race, gender and space in America. But now, we turn to one woman who most certainly has made her own
profound space in society and that is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
AMANPOUR: She hates the title, but many see her as the de facto leader of the western alliance in the Trump age. But Germany finds themselves locked
in a strange struggle with the United States right now as the American administration sees its allies as competitors and transactional partners at
Personal relations between President Trump and Chancellor Merkel are prickly to say the least. There is his pulling out of the Iran nuclear
deal, a threat to pull out of NATO and the constant undermining of the European Union itself. Chancellor Merkel's sobering conclusion, breaking
with decades of post-war cohabitation is that Germany, indeed Europe can no longer rely on its historic ally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: [Speaking foreign language]. We, the Europeans, will have to take our fate into our own hands. Our friendship
with the U.S., the U.K., our neighborly relationship with Russia and also with other countries count of course. But we must know, we have to fight
for our own future, as Europeans, I would like to do this together with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Add to these woes a slowdown in the German economy, Europe's economic power house. So it is no wonder that many are wondering what
happens next when Merkel stands down after 16 years at helm. I asked one of her most senior Cabinet Minister, Jens Spahn when he joined me from
AMANPOUR: Jens Span, welcome to our program.
JENS SPAHN, GERMAN SENIOR CABINET MINISTER: Hello and good day to London.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know what, I'm so struck that Chancellor Merkel decided that she would take the time to go to Davos and talk about
important things whereas so many other of her global partners have stayed at home because of their own government issues, whether it is Theresa May
and Brexit; President Trump and the government shutdown.
So she did take to the stage and she addressed head-on the financial crisis around the world that has sort of sapped the confidence of people. How
does she plan to fix that? Both financially and sort of psychologically.
SPAHN: What we obviously do need is multilateral cooperation - that is what the Chancellor was talking about here in Davos as well and for
multilateral cooperation, you need to talk to people, you need to meet people on a place like this where many, many different countries and
institutions are present.
But for this as well, you need the support of your national electorate and I think that's what is missing in too many countries, perhaps even every
now in then in Germany, too, that we really have to explain why we do this. Why do we meet in Davos? To have a better future for our own countries.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you are addressing there the sort of backlash about globalization and the global elite meeting in Davos. I understand that,
but what I really want to know is does she have a plan to get as she said, citizens to be more confident in the world economic order?
SPAHN: Well, what is an important task this year for example is to regain confidence in to the European Union and the European order if you want to
say so. We have elections ahead. We had the migration crisis and the Eurozone crisis and the Brexit ahead. And so we really need to make clear
what is the benefit of the future.
You know, these words of the past, the pathetic words. They are important, but not enough. So when we explain what is the benefit? It is the defense
union that we are stronger together in an unstable European environment neighborhoods. It is about securing our border with for example, what we
need to set up is the European Stanford for artificial intelligence to be really competitive with the U.S. and China.
So we need to make it concrete, whether our projects to keep this European order alive and what is the concrete benefit of our people back home? And
I think this second part, I say it again, what is really the benefit of it that needs to be explained much, much better and that is at least one
lesson definitely learned from Brexit.
AMANPOUR: Yes, that's what I was going to say definitely learned from Brexit. But let me just pivot to Germany's relationship with the Trump
administration because she has been very clear and you've just been clear about the need for a strong Europe and not to let any of these prevailing
winds and the headwinds break up Europe.
And she had to say that because of potentially some of the things that the Trump administration have been saying that perhaps Germany, other European
countries would have to rely more on themselves and their own community rather than on the United States.
So I guess what I'm asking is how do you react to the United States looking like it favors a breakup of the European Union?
SPAHN: Well, first of all, the transatlantic relationship and partnership remains very important to us, no matter, actually what is the concrete
situation. But it shows, yes, we in Europe ...
SPAHN: We have to become stronger. Take the defense union. If there is a crisis around us, in our own neighborhood, like in North Africa, like in
the Middle East or the former Yugoslavia 20 years ago, today, we would not be able and not be capable really actually to engage on our own, to have
the capacities, the forces, the resources and for that, by the way, the U.S. administration always wanted us in the past, the European Union, and
for that, we need to combine our forces and really explain to our people that if we want to become more independent and to stand on our own feet, we
need to invest more in our security.
AMANPOUR: Do you mean sort of like a European army?
SPAHN: Yes, but of course, I mean, European army is one of these buzz words, now we need to make it concrete, what does it mean? I think it does
not mean that all national armies are just obsolete, but that we bring together forces - special forces, quick response forces for example if
there is a crisis, if there is a European engagement like it is in Mali that there are European forces engaging there and not French or German or
So you combine parts of your armies, but there is still a national army because this idea that there is no more national responsibility is again
frightening some people. So you need to have - you need to have certain resources on a European level and you have to coordinate them.
AMANPOUR: But again, to go back to the unprecedented pressure you're facing from the United States, you've just said that the transatlantic
relationship is very important to you. But I wonder how important it is to the Trump administration. As you know, there's been more worries that
President Trump might announce some kind of pull out of NATO. The House of Representatives this week passed a measure to prevent that, to commit to
keeping NATO, keeping the United States in NATO. But this is also what the Secretary of State Pompeo said about the threats to European Union and
particularly involving Brexit. Listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Brexit, if nothing else, was a political wake-up call. Is the E.U. insuring that interests of countries
and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels? These are valid questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So how do you respond to the U.S. Secretary of State questioning the E.U.?
SPAHN: Well, in one thing, he is right that there are more and more people doubting. I mean, obviously doubting and voting for populist right-wing or
left-wing, the benefit of the European Union. And if there is a country leaving the European Union, it is obviously because of the reason that they
don't see at least a majority of the people, any benefit out of it.
So, yes, it is true, we need to make clear where is the benefit of being stronger together?
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you again about the sort of personal relationship between President Trump and Angela Merkel? I mean, everybody notices it.
It is not a very friendly relationship. President Trump is not very friendly towards her. And I wonder whether you can comment on that what
has been the result of that? Has it empowered the nationalists, the populists in Germany, or has it bonded together people who believe in the
post-war you know, liberal world order - the democratic world order. What has the effect been in Germany?
SPAHN: Well, from my point of view, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump, they are taking each other very, very seriously. I mean, they don't need to
fall in love with each other, what they do need to do is solve problems, to talk seriously about the issues that are on the table and that is what they
do and that is my impression. What is going on in Germany? Well, you have to see that right-wing and left wing populists are - do have one thing in
common, they are both anti-American and pro-Russian autocrats and that is very, very important to understand.
That is by the way something some populists in the U.S. don't understand when they think that their counterparts, their partners, their friends in
Europe, the populist movements in Europe. No. They are anti-American movements that are trying actually to get the best out of the struggles we
have now within the transatlantic relationship, but in the broader community and in the broader society, there's still a big support for our
transatlantic partnership and it will remain I am quite sure.
AMANPOUR: You know you say that they both have a business-like relationship. They don't have to fall in love. But again, I'm going to
play you a little bit of what President Trump said not so long ago about Germany and about Chancellor Merkel. It just seems that there is a
particular personal animosity there between - you know from President Trump. Let's just listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, if you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply - they got rid of their
coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear. They are getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something that NATO has to look
at. I think it is very inappropriate. You and I agreed that it is inappropriate. I do not know what you can do about it now, but it
certainly doesn't seem to make sense that they pay billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, that's the NATO debate again. And it was made during the NATO summit in the summer. So, how do you explain that kind of language?
SPAHN: Well, I would say after all of these months and years in office now of President Trump, we though how he says things and how the language is.
But what is important to me is action. And action on the ground if you take that, the situation is quite different.
For example, there are more troops of the U.S. in Europe now than there were before. So they are strengthening the NATO cooperating and
partnership. When it comes to Russia, we are working very close together. I mean, it is Europe and it is especially Chancellor Merkel who is in favor
of sanctions against Russia and it is always Chancellor Merkel that is really fighting for the sanctions to remain if there's anyone doubting it
within the European Union.
But what is important in the end is what is happening on the ground. And as you've just said, there is still Congress and the decisions of Congress
and I know there that there are many, many people in the administration and in Congress that really want to engage with Europe, that want that we
remain close partners. And that is what we work on.
I mean, this partnership - this transatlantic partnership, NATO, all the pillars are much, much more important, much, much more than one
chancellorship or one presidency.
AMANPOUR: Okay, well, let me finish with Brexit then. Again, Prime Minister Theresa May is not there. Interestingly in the last few days, we
saw and unprecedented letter delivered by major German leaders appealing for the U.K. to stay in the E.U. and none other than the head of the CDU,
AKK as she is known has penned and signed her name to that letter. I mean, that's a pretty dramatic step. I mean, this is the person who has
succeeded the Chancellor as head of the party.
SPAHN: Well, I mean, the Brexity is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy that is really taking place. So we have to sort this out. I would prefer an
ordered Brexit because everything else brings uncertainty for business, for citizens and for all of us. And of course, we want Britain and the U.K. as
close to Europe as possible. They are very, very strong allies culturally, politically, economically, we have so much in common.
So what is important for us as the German government that we have - we really find good terms of trade actually and in terms of everything
actually with the U.K. for the future, and that is I think what this public letter made very clear that we, that the German people, many, many Germans
and the German government, we want the U.K. as close as possible as an ally and as a partner.
AMANPOUR: So do you think, ahead of the new votes that are going to take place the British Parliament that the Europeans will in any way offer any
kind of different deal to make it pass through Parliament or do you think a second referendum is more likely?
SPAHN: The ball is now laying in the British court. I don't think that is now the time for us to speculate. Now, it is up to London and the British
parliament to decide how they want to proceed and then we will react. But we will react that's of sure, in a friendly way. We want to remain
AMANPOUR: Okay, Jens Spahn, thank you very much for talking to us.
SPAHN: A big, big pleasure. Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: Davos has ended now that is it for now for us. Remember you can listen to our podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and follow me on
Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.