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College Bribery and Corruption Scandal in America; The Future of U.S. Economy; Lawrence Summers, Former President of Harvard University, is Interviewed About America's College Admission System and Brexit; Sharing Music Played as a Child; Lang Lang, Pianist, is Interviewed About his New Album, "Piano Book"; The Blackface Scandal in Virginia. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 23, 2019 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Today, we're looking back at some of
our favorite interviews from this year. So, here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW LELLING, U.S. ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS: The largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A major criminal case that highlighted corruption at America's most elite universities. While in Britain, the Brexit train rolls on ever
closer to the cliff. Former U.S. treasury secretary and Harvard president, Larry Summers, joins me with his inside take on those important stories.
And blessed relief from all of the above. My conversation with superstar pianist, Lang Lang.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Who would have thought we'd be talking about black face in 2019?
DAVARIAN BALDWIN, PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Not me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Historian, Davarian Baldwin, traces the history of a racist relic that's made an unwelcomed return.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A major college corruption scandal rocks America's rich and famous, as 50 defendants across six states face charges in a multi-million-dollar scam to
rig the admission system. Business leaders, CEOs and Hollywood stars like the actresses, Felicity Huffman of "Desperate Housewives" and Lori Loughlin
from the family sitcom "Full House" are accused of conspiring to buy their children's way into some of America's top schools. Channeling bribes to a
college counseling business run by the key government witness, William Singer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LELLING: Between roughly 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid Singer about $25 million in total to guarantee their children's admission to elite
schools including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The case calls into question the many ways America's college admissions system is already legally skewed in favor of the wealthiest and
the best connected. As always, the world wonders what would Harvard do as the epitome of elite global education where the rich and the powerful buy
to see their children admitted.
My guest, Larry Summers, was president of Harvard in the early 2000s. He was also President Bill Clinton's treasury secretary and President Barack
Obama's chief economic advisor. So, he is very well placed to address our other big story here as well, in Britain, the shock to the global financial
system if Brexit happens with a crash and not a deal later this month. He's joining me now in London.
Larry Summers, welcome back to the program.
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER PRESIDENT OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: So, you probably didn't expect to be talking about this but this is water cooler chat all over the United States and people have been taken
really by shock at this alleged bribery and corruption to get into some of the top schools.
You were president of Harvard. It is not directly implicated here, but we'll talk a little bit about it. What do you know about this? Was it --
was there ever anything like this that came across your table when you were president? Did you -- is this sort of (INAUDIBLE), half of the course
we're only just seeing it put into the public now?
SUMMERS: This is shocking. I didn't see anything like this, had no idea that anything like this would be going on. I guess I had three reactions,
remembering of course that we don't know the whole story added, these are accusations.
The first is to suggest a stunning lack of controls, if coaches can be bribed, if fake people can take SATs for other people, if admissions
officers are being subverted, there's a failure to maintain -- apparent failure to maintain controls at a variety of schools.
Second, it bespeaks to something almost pathological in what parents are prepared to do for their kids and to advance their kids' interests in ways
that must be terribly, terribly unhealthy for the kids. And so, it says something about the culture.
And of course, third, as is often true crime bespeaks and highlights what is grotesque and legal and that can be the role of privilege in our system
and we've known that there's too much privilege that has too much benefit in admissions for a long time. That's why I was very focused on this part
of it during my time at -- as president of Harvard.
We [13:05:00] instituted a policy that anyone with an income under $60,000 could go to Harvard paying nothing if they were admitted. We made special
efforts to recruit students from the most disadvantaged ZIP codes in the country. We launched a summer program at Harvard to get disadvantaged kids
ready for college. And we tried, in general, to offset the kinds of benefits that people could hire coaches and teach their kids how to be
interviewed and all of that we're getting. I don't think we were able to do enough. But we certainly were able to raise very substantially the
extent to which Harvard was a route to opportunity. And I'm very proud that that's been continued expanded in wonderful ways by my successor,
particularly president -- current president, Larry Bacow.
This kind of thing is now being done it many universities. But this is a this -- it connects with the broad sense that too many have in America and
they're not entirely wrong that elites are rigging the system for their own benefit and for the benefit of their families and not in the common
interest. I think there needs to be a lot of soul searching in higher education.
AMANPOUR: So, let's just drill down a little bit because we've seen what the allegations of the criminality are but you just talked about legally
skewed. I mean, there's legal inequality, inequity and rigging of the system and you've just laid it out, rich and powerful people can donate,
for instance, Jared Kushner's father who donated $2.5 million to Harvard before his son got in there. And I'm just using that because it's a famous
SUMMERS: I obviously did comment to that particular admission case.
AMANPOUR: No, I know. I know.
SUMMERS: And I don't know what the --
AMANPOUR: I know. But you --
SUMMERS: And I don't know what the facts of that case are. Look --
AMANPOUR: Not that case necessarily.
SUMMERS: -- you have a very difficult -- in fairness, Christiane, you have a difficult problem, you want universities to admit the best students.
Often the best students are the students who learned the most. Well, there are a lot of things parents can do to help their kids learn the most. We
probably don't want to say that that can't be any part of admissions. We have all kinds of arrange -- all kinds of arrangements but I do think we're
-- there does need to be a lot of soul searching about the role of privilege.
I mean, that's true with respect to admissions to top schools, that's true, Christiane, with respect to who becomes an intern at CNN.
AMANPOUR: Well, not necessarily but certainly in many places.
SUMMERS: Certainly, in many different --
AMANPOUR: Rich people can afford to use their connections and give their children internships rather than sending them out to work.
SUMMERS: So, I think -- exactly. That's what I mean. That's what I say. Interns, I don't know the details of CNN. But interns of media
organizations, interns in many different things, first jobs. I think it's something that we all do need to reflect a great deal on.
AMANPOUR: You're absolutely right. But let's -- since we're talking about this college stuff and you're so uniquely placed to talk about it, first of
all, interns here are paid. That's the law. In Europe, they have to be paid.
SUMMERS: Even if they're paid --
SUMMERS: Even if they're paid, I would --
AMANPOUR: So, here's what --
SUMMERS: -- be surprised if it were not the case at many media organizations.
AMANPOUR: Right. So, you're right. Many, many rich and famous --
SUMMERS: That people call and ask if their children --
SUMMERS: -- can get --
AMANPOUR: I'm sure that is true.
SUMMERS: -- those internships. And if they're paid, that doesn't make it better.
AMANPOUR: Right. You're true. Here's what a friend told me anecdotally. That she asked one of New York's most expensive college advisers, off the
record, what the price tag might be to get a daughter into Harvard. He said without missing a beat, "$5 million, but I might go higher if I wanted
to be sure."
SUMMERS: That's just not true.
AMANPOUR: But this is what somebody said.
SUMMERS: Lots of people say lots of things about lots of things. That's not true. I mean, am I going to deny that just as doctors are
disproportionately -- the children of doctors that those who have been associated with Harvard for several generations that that's something our
admissions office notices, of course it -- of course our admissions office does. Does our admissions office notice if someone has been a strong
supporter of the school? Yes, it does.
AMANPOUR: And --
SUMMERS: Is there anything -- but is there anything like say all of positions independent of the merit of the student? Absolutely not. Are
there students who get in who we think are unable to do the work? Absolutely not, in my [13:10:00] experience.
I think you need to recognize, to understand this, and I am not denying that there are real issues and a problem. But if you look at a school, any
of the schools in the Ivy League, they have 30 applicants for every place and they have a half dozen applicants who are -- you have near perfect test
scores and virtually all A's. And yes, in choosing between those super qualified applicants, they do recognize who has been supportive of the
school on occasion. But that's not grotesquery like accepting bribes, that's not selling space. But does all of this need to be looked at and
thought about very hard? Absolutely.
I think that -- I think the -- that people who want to make reform in this area need to think about whether they want to be angry at some kid who's
privileged who got in or whether they want to do more to get more -- less privileged kids in. I think part of the real scandal is that these places,
even though they have all this money, haven't grown, haven't expanded their student bodies to reflect a growing America and a growing world.
And in terms of creating opportunity, I'd rather see more growth in these institutions and that would be more where I would put my focus --
AMANPOUR: Meanwhile --
SUMMERS: -- creating opportunity. But absolutely, this thing is almost beyond belief and it absolutely should put the issue of what kinds of
benefits or privilege are we --
AMANPOUR: Just so that we -- yes.
SUMMERS: -- permit on the table.
AMANPOUR: Just so that we kind of know what we're talking about in this case and then we're going to move on to other issues. This is what the
federal indictment says, "A private equity executive from Massachusetts 'sought' to use bribes to obtain the admission of his two daughters to
Stanford University and Harvard University as recruited athletes. Now, it turns out that the person he thought he was bribing didn't even exist." I
mean, this person didn't exist.
And now, here's another thing that the U.S. attorney says about a case involving Yale. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LELLING: In one example, the head women's soccer coach at Yale in exchange for $400,000 accepted an applicant as a recruit for the Yale women's team
despite knowing that the applicant did not even play competitive soccer. The student was, in fact, admitted and afterward, the student's family paid
Singer $1.2 million for that service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And --
SUMMERS: Look, look, that stuff is beyond belief. If anyone at Harvard took a bribe, took money and made any kind of assurance of any kind about
admissions, they would -- when I was president, they wouldn't have been working at Harvard the next day. That stuff is beyond belief.
If somebody on the outside is claiming that they can deliver admissions to Harvard and, in fact, has no nexus with Harvard, Harvard obviously would go
after that kind of fraud as well. But you know, people who take bribes will get prosecuted, that happens, it happens in every sector.
I think the deeper issue is the one you started on, which is what's the role of privilege and even more what are we going to be able to do to get
more of the children of the vast majority of people in the United States who work hard play by the rules into our top schools, and that's what every
university president should be thinking about.
They -- of course, they need better controls and stop the bribes. But the really important thing for the future of the country is what are we going
to do for the vast majority of kids in terms of providing opportunity.
And by the way, also, just one other thing, it's -- yes, this is about Harvard and Yale and Stanford and all that, but it's also about
strengthening the thousand institutions across the country that aren't getting the resources they need and where inevitably most kids are going to
go and making sure that you can get a great education at those institutions as well as at the top institutions and that's a place where we as a country
have really abdicated our responsibility as state legislatures across the country have slashed the budgets of public higher education.
AMANPOUR: So, we're sort of running out the clock a moment among. But I do want to go on to another manifestation of this inequality is what's
happening in Brexit and the United States, all these populous politics.
You're here, you're talking about the economy, about China, about other things. What do you see as the future of the U.S. economy, China, what's
going to happen in Brexit as it is tied to this sense of grievance, inequality, injustice?
SUMMERS: Well, let me just say first, Christiane, I didn't think it was possible to make the U.S. Congress look at extraordinary functional and the
House of Commons that is handling Brexit makes the House -- makes the U.S. Congress look extraordinary efficient and affective. And in all of this
raises deep questions about the functionality of Congress.
Britain should get off this wicket (ph), there should be a new referendum and people should vote to remain and that's the right thing. And if
anything else happens, it will be a tragic error that will haunt Britain for decades to come.
The globally economy, we need ways of, in every country, supporting the middle class more effectively than we are. People feel that their
government is working for the people who go to Davos and is working for people who stay on the sidelines and don't want to work. And until we fix
that, we're going to have more Donald Trumps, more Brexits, more Bolsonaros and more problems.
AMANPOUR: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you start to do to erase this notion or this reality that capitalism does not work for the
[13:15:00] betterment of the majority anymore? That's the deep thought and feeling --
SUMMERS: I'd make every public school in the United States a competent well-functioning institution that doesn't have paint chipping off the
walls, that has qualified dedicated teachers in the classroom and that was -- that didn't have 40 kids to a class and that was determined to maximize
the opportunity of everyone's kid across the country.
And I think if we did that, people would notice and they'd feel better about the society of which they were part.
AMANPOUR: Larry Summers, former treasury secretary, former president of Harvard, always good to talk to you.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you so much.
Now, it's time for a little musical interlude. And for that we turn to international phenomenon, Lang Lang. The Chinese concert pianist who first
made a splash on the world stage as a child prodigy. For more than a year, Lang Lang has been out of commission with an injured left arm. But now
he's back with a new album called "Piano Book." It's a collection of pieces that he hopes will inspire the next generation. And we sat down at
the piano together at London's Royal College of Music.
Lang Lang, welcome to the program.
LANG LANG, PIANIST: Such a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: It's really great to see you in London. I just want to -- is this what you're here to promote here? Is this your new project?
LANG: Yes, it's the "Piano Book." But it's actually a recording with a book together.
AMANPOUR: And what does that mean, a book?
LANG: Yes. So, for me, I would like to share some of my music which I played as a children. I mean, like Fur Elise or the (INAUDIBLE), the
Twinkle Twinkle because those are the first love for me in music and I want to record those pieces for the next generation.
AMANPOUR: Can you give me a little tinkle, Fur Elise and Twinkle Twinkle?
LANG: Absolute. Yes. So, I would the Fur Elise first.
It's beautiful. I mean, it's obviously for many, many young people, they would recognize that as --
AMANPOUR: -- perhaps the first --
AMANPOUR: -- the first piece they would learn.
LANG: Absolutely. Yes.
AMANPOUR: How difficult was it for you to learn? Especially -- I mean, in China, was it obviously you were going to learn European music?
LANG: Yes. I mean, as a beginner, most of the piece, I would say, 80 percent are Western classical music and there's another smaller percent
that we are doing some kind of our arrangement from the Chinese folk music into the piano. Some interesting -- they're OK. Sure.
AMANPOUR: Just a little Chinese folk music.
This is kind of like a little happy cowboy song.
AMANPOUR: But I mean, did you grow up listening to music in your household? What was it like growing up?
LANG: Yes. So, I had a very, very musical environment because my father plays traditional instrument, he's orchestra -- I mean, not he's orchestra
but he's in the orchestra. And then -- so, he had many colleagues. So, we all -- both of my parents and me, we all live in the same dormitory as the
other musicians and they all play a different type of music and all their children are into the piano playing.
AMANPOUR: So, it was considered something that you would have to do, you'd be expected to follow your parents in the musical --
LANG: It's actually quite natural because everyone somehow as a piano in their home and everyone just kind of start to try to who's number one in
the morning, like waking up to start, you know, push the keys/
AMANPOUR: How much practice do you have? I mean, you were young, you were a little boy and I think you had to do a huge amount of practice before
LANG: Sure, sure.
AMANPOUR: -- before going to school and when you came back from school.
LANG: Yes. I always had to show them (ph). Like yes, it depends on how older you are. If you're five, practice five hours. If you're six, six
hours. I mean, just -- I know when I say that everyone was like, "Are you crazy?" What about you know? I mean, 36 hours you practice."
LANG: I did practice at least five to six hours during the schooldays. And then off schooldays, then eight hours a day.
AMANPOUR: That's a lot.
LANG: Yes, yes. [13:20:00]
AMANPOUR: And you actually did get injured last year, right?
AMANPOUR: You spent a lot of time recovering from your injury.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: I mean, was it because you overplayed and over practiced? I mean, how did you get an injury? How does a pianist get an injury?
LANG: Yes. It's a sort of -- I would say overuse, overuse and also, I was practicing, you know, a left-hand piece and I did not know the position.
So, you know, you kind of somehow -- you know, inflamed after, you know.
AMANPOUR: So, you got a tendinitis?
AMANPOUR: What are your favorite pieces to play? Do you have favorites, for instance, when you're on stage?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there -- I mean, really -- I mean, it depends on the moment. And I would say, you know, now, my favorite piece is -- because
the next year I'm going to do the Goldberg Variations by Bach. So -- and so, my favorite is this -- the world most incredible melody, I think.
Yes. But, of course, if I'm a little depressed, then I would like to play like (INAUDIBLE). Get out the -- from the struggling. So, it depends on
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, I can feel it. I really can. But I can just see in this instance here what everybody knows about you, and that is not only
are you a great talent but you're also a great showman. You are, you're a great actor, you feel, you're dramatic. A lot of people love that and some
There's some critics who say, you know, "He's too much of a showman." What is your answer to them?
LANG: You know, people can say whatever they want. But I -- for me, the parity is to be a great musician first. And then if I establish that
first, then to be on the side, a showman, is not so bad.
AMANPOUR: And there have been in the past, right. I mean, there's some -- what -- do you have mentors? Do you have pianists who you look up as sort
of in your style?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there -- I mean, obviously, from the great musician I love like Vladimir Horowit, Arthur Rubinstein, there's people who's not
just played the piano but who also inspire me like Leonard Bernstein, like Pavarotti.
AMANPOUR: All very dramatic.
AMANPOUR: Live as in live musical talents.
LANG: Yes. And I also like the musicians who not only influence the people in our classical music world but also to the bigger public.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you about that because, you know, you obviously had it growing up and many people, if they're lucky enough, have
music lessons when they're young. And yet, certainly in the West, schools are cutting back on Music and Arts. What would -- what do you think about
that? I mean, how important do you think it is for kids to actually know music, even if they're all going to be a musician?
LANG: Right. I believe, you know, music changed my life and I believe music has the most powerful magic to change everyone's life. And this is
something we must bring music back to those schools which cut the budget. And this is what's, you know, we've been doing for the last ten years with
my foundation, with many of my friend, we're trying to bring music back to the schools.
And now, we have -- around the globe, we have almost 100 schools which work with us and we sponsor their software, hardware and training the teachers.
So, I think this is something that we try to continue to be build.
AMANPOUR: You said it change your life. Is there something spiritual also the you get from it, something -- I don't know, is there something
LANG: Sure. So, I would say, you know, musically because when you're touched pianos, I mean, the keys, this is not just one note, right, it
needs to work as a team. And then when you learn a piece, that's the best way of teaching you how to be [13:25:00] creative, how, you know, be as a
team player and how to open your heart. It's a real community, you know.
I think piano is a community. And once you know about those, you know, communities, then it's easier for you to build the bridge between the
AMANPOUR: You've played for the president of your own country and many other leaders and all over the place. Do you think music can be used to
build bridges, music as diplomacy?
LANG: Absolutely. I believe that because in music there are so many wonderful contents, you know, with music from all over the world, you know.
And I always felt that it's the best way to open people's heart and to build the bridge or, you know, to build something which will solve some
kind of misunderstanding between culture. Because in the end, you play a song that everybody understand, everybody having a good time. So, I do
believe in that.
AMANPOUR: What was it like when you were growing up? I mean, you said you lived in dormitories with your --
AMANPOUR: And also, apartments. And at one point, I think you were separated from your mother or your father and you went from where you were
living to Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: What was it like? What were the conditions like for you?
LANG: So, in my home city, Shenyang, I had actually pretty nice time, even though my father pushed be pretty hard. But still, you know, the condition
was OK. But then we moved to Beijing because we thought the Central Conservatory is the best school in China. We wanted to be there to -- you
know, to have a better study.
AMANPOUR: The Central Conservatory which is in Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes. In Beijing. Yes.
LANG: But then, of course, everything -- you know, the living standard went down. My mom have to work by herself and then my father quit his job.
And we were really kind of short of money. And then, so, we rented a place like $10 per month, that time of place. And --
AMANPOUR: So, it wasn't the nicest place?
LANG: No, no. And then, also, you know, when I play those pieces every day, my neighbor really hate me, you know. But like -- everyday. I mean,
AMANPOUR: So, they just wanted to shut you up.
LANG: Oh, my God. They want to kill me. You know, it was like, "You're so horrible. Where you come from? Why you do this torturing thing for
AMANPOUR: Do they have to know who you became?
LANG: I mean, yes, yes. We all became great friend, you know. They even gave me their home to stay because later my -- also, some of my -- like my
cousins came. So, we did not have enough room and they were, "OK. Come to us." So, they actually --
AMANPOUR: And you talk -- I mean, you said, you know, your father was quite pushy. But I mean, he was very hard on you, wasn't he?
AMANPOUR: I mean, very hard and you had a teacher who you -- I think you called Teacher Angry, Mrs. Angry or something.
LANG: Yes. I had --
AMANPOUR: What was going on?
LANG: So, when I -- when we came to Beijing at the age of nine, we thought there's a professor really great and we'd like to study with her. But then
I realized, you know, she's like a super angry. So, that's why call her Professor Angry. So, every time I play something, like, you know, if I
play, and then she's like, "You play like you work at a potato field." Or if I play, you know, then she's like, "It's like you're drinking water. I
need some sparkling water. And I need some Coca-Cola." I mean, she must be a big fan of Coca-Cola.
And then I was like, "OK. So, how should I get that?" And then she said, "You need to find out yourself. I don't know." And so, after six months,
she fired me. She said, "You're really -- you don't listen. You don't get what I'm talking about. You're not talented. Get out of my class." So, I
got fired by her.
AMANPOUR: And what did she say about you now? Have you ever seen her?
LANG: Yes. Because she's still, you know, the professor there. But no. I --
AMANPOUR: Is she proud of you now?
LANG: I don't know. But I forgive her, you know, that's for sure.
AMANPOUR: So, what do you want to pass on to these youngsters who you're teaching and with your academics?
LANG: I would really love to share the passion for them because, you know, classical music is a very serious kind of form of art. And sometimes after
eight hours of practicing, you know, we all kind of lose our interest or kind of, you know, getting a bit bored.
So, whether your studying in the school or in the conservatories, you know, sometimes we get a little bit kind of so into our own world and not open
enough for other things. So, every time -- when I go somewhere to teach, I try to kind of explain some kind of a lifetime story. I try to give them
the characters that they can work with.
So music is not just music note but it's stories behind, it's characters behind, it's a movie behind. And it's the same thing to the public
schools. It's the same thing when they hear music, I want to give them more vertical dimensions.
AMANPOUR: What piece inspired you? I mean I read that it was Tom & Jerry.
LANG: I was -- yes, I was actually very little and then that time, my favorite cartoon was Tom and Jerry and they were incredible, like playing.
And then I mean it's brilliant. And then actually later I found out actually Bugs Bunny also did the same piece in the same year.
AMANPOUR: Bugs Bunny?
LANG: Yes. But I did not know Bugs Bunny so well that time. I only know Tom and Jerry. But later, I compared, the Bugs Bunny also played this
piece with his ear.
AMANPOUR: With his ear?
LANG: Yes. So I think that was like -- kind of like a little reverie between the two cartoons.
AMANPOUR: But I mean it's weird to think that cartoons would use classical music to tell their stories.
LANG: Back then, it was a regular case because you will listen to the old Disney cartoons, Mickey Mouse. These are classical music or like jazz.
You hear a lot of classical or jazz music.
AMANPOUR: But those are two of the highest forms of music.
LANG: Yes. I mean I love jazz. I mean I'm a big fan. But, of course, I like others too. I mean I think Hip Hop is cool, EDM is quite --
AMANPOUR: Do you do any Hip Hop?
LANG: I worked with a few wonderful musicians like Pharell Williams and there are some musicians we are always talking to and to see whether
there's some new, kind of new way of doing something new Hip Hop things. I mean who knows in the future.
AMANPOUR: Not much is known about your personal life. Are you married?
LANG: Not yet.
AMANPOUR: Are you going to get married?
LANG: This is going to be -- this is -- I mean it's still a secret.
AMANPOUR: Is there a lucky person waiting in the wings?
LANG: Soon, we'll find out.
AMANPOUR: Really? We'll leave it on that secretive note.
LANG: Because a surprise would be nice, right?
AMANPOUR: Lang Lang, thank you very much indeed.
LANG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Would you like to play us out something?
LANG: Sure, of course. Of course. Maybe I would like to play a song from a movie, the Emily's Waltz.
AMANPOUR: OK. That is beautiful.
LANG: For you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. I feel like we've had our personal concert.
A much needed dose of musical medicine there and the cat's out of the bag as Lang Lang and his wife, Gina Alice Redlinger, tied the knot in Paris in
Now, perhaps perhaps no group has been labeled or stereotyped more in the United States than African-Americans. And racist practices from the past
continue to haunt us politics today.
The most recent example being in Virginia where the governor, the attorney general, the Senate majority leader are all embroiled in scandals involving
So, why does this painful legacy still exist? Davarian Baldwin is an author and professor of American Studies at Trinity College [13:35:00]
Connecticut. He's written extensively on slavery and race relations and he sat down with I'm Michel Martin to explain the history of blackface and why
it continues to rear its ugly head.
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Professor Davarian Baldwin, very thank you so much for talking to us.
DAVARIAN BALDWIN, PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So, who would have thought we'd be talking about blackface --
BALDWIN: Not me.
MARTIN: -- in 2019.
BALDWIN: Not me.
MARTIN: So, how did blackface start?
BALDWIN: Iterations of blackface or blacking of the face goes back to 1600 in Europe. But then it does begin, in terms of our current understand the
blackface, blackface minstrelsy, begins in the northeast and then travel south.
It's primarily most well-known in the 1830s and 1840s, particularly Thomas Rice and his piece, Jim Crow, which is where we get the name for policy,
the separate but equal. And so, that's where it takes on kind of an explosive significance in American life, both north and south. It was in a
peculiar Southern institution.
And I argue that blackface minstrelsy was the reality television of the 19th century, everybody was engaging it.
MARTIN: Really? OK. Well, then back up a little bit tell me more about Thomas Rice and how did this start. I mean, he was a Vaudeville
BALDWIN: Yes, he was a Vaudeville entertainer. I guess (INAUDIBLE) for me is that this was the kind of primary mode of entertainment in that time
period. So, from more kind of working class, kind of vaudevillian style of performance up to reenactments of Oselow and, obviously, like Uncle Tom's
Cabin, all this kind of pattern or standard theatrical performances have blackface versions.
And so, this is something that was pervasive throughout kind of American performance history in America, blackface minstrelsy.
MARTIN: For how long?
BALDWIN: Oh, up until 1960s.
MARTIN: To the 60s?
MARTIN: OK. And --
BALDWIN: It was on television.
MARTIN: OK. But into what end though? Because I think that some people, if they're honest and if they have good memories, will remember that Judy
Garland appeared in blackface, Jody Temple --
MARTIN: -- appeared in blackface at one point. African-Americans, I think, I feel confident in saying, experience this as demeaning.
MARTIN: But was it intended to be demeaning to your knowledge.
BALDWIN: Yes, yes, very much so. So, if we define and understand blackface minstrelsy, it is this theatrical performance where primarily
Non-Black actors put on dark make up, using the form of grease paint, burnt cork or a shoe polish in order to lampoon, make fun, caricature Black
That was the intent, to represent Black people as being buffoonish, lazy, feeling, ignorant, afraid of their own shadows. And particularly, also,
Black women as being manly, mammy like, unattractive and/or oversexed.
And so, we found as historians and scholars that you had some key themes within blackface minstrelsy primarily in one period in the 40s and 50s,
1840s and 1850s, and then at the turn of the 20th century, this idea -- at least two powerful strands, one was that Black people were happy -- happier
during slavery -- you know, under slavery, be happy, the plantation darkie trope. And the other one is a strain that says that Black people were
unfit for freedom.
And so, particularly around the 19teens and 20s, you had a certain genre, the blackface minstrelsy, where you had a number of images of Black people
being unprepared or unable to deal or adapt to modern life, particularly freedom.
And so, for me and for scholars that have studied this, we found that blackface minstrelsy did a lot of work for White America. For White elite,
it did the work of kind of, if you had to perform or present yourself in a very restrained or dignified way, in performing or in being entertained by
blackface, you could engage in buffoonery, a bawdy behavior, drunkenness, kind of sexually explicit demeanor.
If you're a working-class White, performing or being entertained by blackface minstrelsy allows you to establish a bit of difference or
distinction with African-Americans who might have had higher stature economically or who might be competing with you for job opportunities or
for social standing.
And so. blackface minstrelsy did a lot of work for various White social groups within America.
MARTIN: Part of the reason that we're talking about this is that these racist yearbook photos emerged on the medical school yearbook page --
MARTIN: -- of the Virginia governor, Ralph Northam. And then, (INAUDIBLE) who is a Democrat, who, I think, sees himself as a progressive.
MARTIN: And then, it emerged that the attorney general, who also sees itself as of progressive, also says that he appeared in blackface at least
on one occasion in 1984.
MARTIN: How do you understand that?
BALDWIN: Well, I mean, if we take this one case, so the Virginia case, and you have the governor, the [13:40:00] attorney general and the Senate
majority leader who were all engaged in blackface minstrelsy or was editor and looked the other way --
MARTIN: Right. No. Just to clarify, the Senate majority leader edited a year book in which there --
MARTIN: -- appear a number --
BALDWIN: Probably more.
MARTIN: -- a large number of these photographs. But going back to the timeframe, 1984.
BALDWIN: Sure. I mean, for me personally, as just a person in America, I remember growing up in the 1980s in the Midwest and there were kind of a
number of blackface slave auctions at White fraternities and sororities in Midwestern Big 10 Schools. That was pervasive.
MARTIN: And what was the purpose of these?
BALDWIN: Entertainment. That's what it is. That's what it is.
MARTIN: So, set the scene for me. So, you're saying that White students would put on blackface --
BALDWIN: Blackface. And then --
MARTIN: -- and then pretend to be so --
BALDWIN: -- engage in the slave auction, pretend to be soldoff.
BALDWIN: Yes. And so, then, as I said before, you have these moments, continual moments, where there's a high moment about blackface minstrelsy
and then there's a claim of racial innocence, "Oh, we didn't know. We didn't understand." And then blackface performances change and offed
themselves. And you have another high moment.
And so, in the 80s it was the slave auctions. In the 90s, it was the pimps and hos parties. Even at my own institution at Trinity College, in 2006,
there were pictures that were expose about that word based on a pimps and hos party, individuals wearing gold chains and wild animal print clothing
and one gentleman was -- had his whole body covered in dark make up and then had a plastic prosthetic over his private parts. So, that -- if that
doesn't tell you what his intent was or what his anxiety is, I don't know what does.
MARTIN: So, what happened to this? So, what you're saying is, so then it was -- first, it was the slave auctions then it was pimps and hos --
BALDWIN: And hos party.
MARTIN: -- now it's rappers.
BALDWIN: Now, it's tribute, paying tribute to Black people.
MARTIN: Oh, I see.
BALDWIN: So, I love Kurtis Blow, this is one of the gentlemen in Virginia said. So, we were engaging at hip-hop. Mark Herring who --
MARTIN: Mark Herring --
MARTIN: -- the attorney general.
BALDWIN: Right. We -- it was tribute. And then Ralph Northam, the governor, said it was Michael Jackson. And so, it was tribute. So, again,
at every turn, when it gets exposed, there's a shift in the rationale from slave auctions, pimps and hos parties to tribute, attempting to kind of
take away or strip away the racial meaning of it.
But I said before, I grew up in the 80s, the same time period as these gentlemen, and in a very multi-racial community and we all love Michael
Jackson, for example, talking about Ralph Northam.
MARTIN: Thriller came out the same year that this --
MARTIN: -- year book was produced and it was --
BALDWIN: Right. So --
MARTIN: -- you know, one of the biggest albums in the world.
BALDWIN: So, people of Latino background, African-American background, White background, we all love Michael Jackson. But in a multiracial space,
no one felt the need to put on a dark make up to be Michael Jackson. You might have worn the glove or the hot water pants or the jacket, but the
fact that individuals like Ralph Northam, who is White, stop him from actually reenacting the moonwalk at the press conference, the fact that
they feel emboldened to engage in these activities says -- it is shows that blackface is just a symptom of a larger sickness.
MARTIN: And what is that larger sickness?
BALDWIN: White supremacy.
MARTIN: White supremacy?
MARTIN: That's your -- tell me more about that. Why don't you say that?
BALDWIN: So, I say that because these -- a lot -- so many of these performances are taking place within all White spaces, whether it be
medical school or predominantly White space. A southern medical school tied to a military college or a predominately White fraternity or sorority.
Just in 2015, Sigma Alpha Epsilon had this chant about never letting a Black person into their fraternity or sorority.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Then a couple years later, Delta Delta Delta sorority, they got on the line on social media, it had blackfaces and said, "I'm a N word."
And then, the next day at the protests, a gentleman walked down in the middle to protest in blackface.
So, my point is that these things are happening in predominantly White spaces and in some White space that are saying, "We have a history of not
being exclusive on class grounds and racial grounds." And so, these spaces that are cultivating young people in terms of who are they going to be in
the future, these are going to the movers and shakers, the leaders of our future and the social and mentoring space of these organizations are
producing a predominately White space.
MARTIN: OK. Well, unpack the White supremacy argument for me from in here.
MARTIN: For example, particularly as it relates to this idea that it's paying tribute or it's not a big deal.
MARTIN: You'll recall that the former Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly --
MARTIN: -- who then went to NBC and had this highly publicized talk show, that became that sort of the pivot point for her --
MARTIN: -- and ultimately, ended her career at NBC where she said she didn't understand what the big deal was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGYN KELLY, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: She dresses Diana Ross and she made her skin look [13:45:00] darker than it really is and people said that that was
racist. And I don't know, I felt like who doesn't love Diana Ross. She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don't know how like that got
racist on Halloween.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: What's the big deal?
BALDWIN: Well, tell me -- this is a rhetorical question, I guess, but tell me why the need to put on black makeup to pay tribute? As I said before, I
engage in tribute to Michael Jackson. I didn't lighten my skin.
These activities are taking place in either all White or predominantly White spaces. The litmus test for me is that, OK, to do this in the Black
space, if this is just tribute, if it's innocent.
You know, better than to engage a blackface in a multi-racial space. That says either consciously or subconsciously something is going on and you
know that it's wrong and you're engaging it.
I mean, if it was innocent and just or a just performance and tribute, why wouldn't you do it in front of Black people? Why would it be in a
semiprivate all White spaces?
MARTIN: Could it be about asserting that I can do whatever I want?
MARTIN: Could it be about that?
BALDWIN: Well, sure.
MARTIN: I could do whatever I want. You can't tell me what I'm allowed to do.
BALDWIN: Right. But it's not that neutral. It's also saying that, "You, Black people, can't tell me how to represent you."
MARTIN: What about the people who say, "Well, I don't mind if Black people put on a White face, like there was some Wayans brother's movie where they
BALDWIN: Sure. "White Chicks."
MARTIN: "White Chicks."
MARTIN: -- where they performed in very elaborate makeup as I recall.
BALDWIN: Prosthetics, facial prosthetics.
MARTIN: Why can't I do the same? Why do you say to that?
BALDWIN: What I say to that is that if that's your choice, if you want to make a decision about what offends or doesn't offend you but that doesn't
give you the license to tell me what should or should not offend me.
Especially, I call this a false equivalency, blackface and whiteface, because there is not a history of whiteface minstrelsy that had backed up a
system in institutions to look at and to articulate and target white people as being inferior, that gave them an inferior education, inferior policing,
inferior housing. There is no such system. So this is a false equivalence.
MARTIN: What do you say to people who say, "Well, I just didn't know. I didn't know that it bothered you. I didn't know that it had this
relationship to demeaning black folks, to portraying them in this basically subhuman light." What do you say to people who says I just didn't know?
BALDWIN: Well, see, the problem with that is that blackface stopped being on television to the same degree during the 1960s during the Civil Rights
Movement. So there was a shift in the conversation. We get to the 1980s, most of these gentlemen around my age, 40s or 50s, I just have a hard time
believing that they didn't know in that climate.
I would really want to have a conversation with them about where -- I mean this -- going goes back to my point. If you are in these spaces that
confirm that standpoint, that's a problem, right. So for example, with Gucci, with the blackface Balaklava.
MARTIN: Let's just back up and for people who are not aware of this.
MARTIN: What are we talking about here? Are we talking sweater that --
BALDWIN: So we're talking about Balaclava sweater that goes up to right below the nose. It's a black turtleneck that goes up there. Like a
Balaclava like for skiing or winter.
MARTIN: With big white red big lips.
BALDWIN: But it has a mouth cut out with big red lips around it.
MARTIN: And they say they didn't know.
BALDWIN: Right. And so my argument to this or my response to this, OK, if we take all sort of that you didn't know, that means you have the wrong
people around you. That means you need to diversify your leadership.
That means you need to engage in more diverse spaces. You need to do more than just selling clothing to black people because we buy Gucci. You just
start engaging --
MARTIN: But I don't.
BALDWIN: Well, black people do.
MARTIN: OK. OK.
BALDWIN: OK. By we, I mean black people, right. We are not averse to buying Gucci. They need to -- these leaders, these -- the fashion
designers need to be immersed in the people who they're selling to. That your leadership should be reflective of the world in which you're living
and engaging. If -- I find it very difficult to see or to understand how they couldn't see that that comes from this history.
MARTIN: This is my question to you then. What do you think should happen now? I'm told that colleges and universities particularly in the south,
although -- and from your reporting and research indicates that this perhaps should go more deep.
MARTIN: It should go nationally, are now looking through their yearbooks to see what else is in there. You can see the governor of Virginia
Governor Ralph Northam deeply apologize. And he said that he's now going to engage in a process of kind of listening and hoping to be an agent of
Others say he should just go. He needs to go away. What do you think should happen now?
BALDWIN: I'm not sincerely certainly there should be an across the board firing in these cases when this happens. But what I do think is that the
search in the yearbooks, that's not really addressing the issue. Because as a historian, there are all these issues. I know it's there.
[13:50:00] Who's that for? Finding these books is not for the people who are targets of black minstrelsy. It's for the people who come from the
community of those who are performing it. This kind of racial healing conversation, I think that should be part of it.
I think also part of it should be that, OK, you need to change your cabinet. You need to enact policies that reflect or reconsider
understanding of oppressed and minority groups in this country.
As I said before, you know, the blackface minstrelsy component is one component. It's a symptom of a larger issue, I say white supremacy. But
we can't get so caught up in the individual blackface performances and lose sight of the fact that there are people like Steve King in Iowa who are
saying, "I don't get this whole white supremacist, white nationalist problem." And he's able to hold his positions in Congress, leadership
positions for 10 plus years.
MARTIN: I want to ask you more broadly though as an educator, do you think that this is an issue of education, of a lack of knowledge --
MARTIN: -- about the deep. You don't?
MARTIN: No? OK. Simple. No. OK. What is it?
BALDWIN: I think that, as I say to my students, you mention education, racism is not about ignorance. It's about knowing things in a certain way.
And so what I mean by that is that it's not that you don't know what's going on, it's that you want to understand these people in a particular
And so when -- in 2006, when they had this pins and holes party, it's not that they don't know who Snoop Dog is or who these rappers are, like the
tributes. They have a fond affinity for these groups. It's that when they want to go out and they perform or be these people, they make certain
They pull from the American past to put on a private part prosthetic to cover their bodies in black, to hold a 40 ounce, to put on a gold chain.
These are decisions that are being made about who they understand black people to be. It's not about ignorance.
MARTIN: What would make this better. What would fix this?
BALDWIN: I mean for me it goes back to the question you asked about white supremacy in terms of these individuals and where it takes place. So most
of these, not all of them, but most of these performances, exposures are happening in semi-private predominately white spaces, fraternity,
sororities, social clubs, medical schools that are predominantly white.
These are the spaces that are cultivating our next generation of leaders. And those -- their perceptions of black people are going to impact how they
write policy, how they engage in policing, how they think about housing, how they think about political decisions, policymaking. And so that's
where we need to go.
What are your decision-making process? What's your decision process? How does your performance of blackface or your understanding of black people
going to shape how you distribute resources, power, advantages, benefits?
That's where it's structural. That's where I would argue that we need to go.
MARTIN: You've said that this isn't about education. It's about empathy.
BALDWIN: For sure.
MARTIN: What do you mean by that?
BALDWIN: So what I mean by that is, for example, if you see black people as human beings, you will know, you will -- I think you will believe that
this is the wrong thing to do. It's wrong to lampoon, to caricature, to mock, to make fun of that community as a people, right.
And so, for example, a perfect case study or example of this is, for example, with the opioid and the drug crisis. In the 1980s, when drug use
and drug dealing was seen as predominantly black and poor phenomena, it was dealt with as a criminal issue.
People were being -- a whole generation of black and brown people were locked up. People of my family, people that we might -- may know were
locked up and that changed the dynamic of that community.
As we move to the present and the drug crisis is happening in predominantly rural areas and predominantly white youth through opioids, the response and
the approach to the drug issue has moved from criminalization to a health crisis.
Now, police officers are carrying ad campaigns and they think about individuals. I say the reason why it's shifted is because these officials,
et cetera when they see these young people embroiled in the drug crisis, they see their children, they see their sisters, they see their brothers.
And so, therefore, it requires a shift in approach.
And so to bring it back to blackface minstrelsy, if, in the same way, we saw black people as humane as our brothers and our sisters, as our
neighbors, as our coworkers in real robust ways, we would know that this is wrong to do. And so I think that that does matter, that empathy, that
sense of that when I see you, I see myself. That's critical.
MARTIN: Davarian Baldwin, thank you so much for talking to us.
BALDWIN: Thank you very much for having me.
AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and you can follow me on Instagram
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.