Return to Transcripts main page
Interview With Viet Thanh Nguyen; Interview With Sen. Todd Young (R- IN). Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired February 07, 2022 - 13:00:00 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's what's coming up.
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election. President Trump is wrong.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): But some Republicans declare the Capitol attack legitimate political discourse.
I ask GOP Senator Todd Young of Indiana how democracy disconnect at home impacts America abroad.
ART SPIEGELMAN, AUTHOR, "MAUS": It's part of the dangerous and perilous times that we're living in.
AMANPOUR: Banning books in 21st century America?
I ask the Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese American author Viet Thanh Nguyen how reading so-called dangerous books helped change his life.
IMANI PERRY, AUTHOR, "SOUTH TO AMERICA": Going to the South actually helps us understand who we are as a nation.
AMANPOUR: During this particularly divisive Black History Month, writer Imani Perry heads South to better understand her people's past.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Tonight, we look at a multifaceted assault on truth and democracy in the United States, beginning with the ongoing controversy over the declaration
by the Republican Party that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol constitutes legitimate political discourse.
Now, that's playing out as the world's leading autocrats flex their muscles on the world stage. China's President Xi Jinping is showcasing his
country's global influence at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin is ratcheting up tension on Ukraine's borders.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who was censured by his own party for investigating the January 6 attack, says their response sends a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think it shows that this party is not committed to the rule of law, despite what they say, and it's not committed
to democratic principles, small D, to get to one vote, one counts, and whoever gets the most votes wins. It's pretty frightening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, could this attack on democracy at home make it harder for the United States to stand up for democratic principles around the world?
I asked Republican Senator Todd Young, who's working towards a bipartisan policy on China.
AMANPOUR: Senator Young, welcome back to the program.
SEN. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Let me start by your taking China to task. We're in the middle or we're just at the beginning of the wonderful Olympic Games, but the
location is troublesome to so many.
Let me just read from your recent op-ed: "We are sending our regrets to the Chinese Communist Party, refusing to join the Games hosted in their Capitol
city. Why? A million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz are locked away in gulags. They are raped, tortured with electric batons, sterilized and
forced into abortions. Taiwan's sovereignty is continually threatened. Hong Kong's democracy is strangled."
Senator, it's a tough broadside. And we know the President Biden leads that diplomatic boycott. What do you want China to take from this? Because you
know they're not going to -- the Games are still going ahead.
YOUNG: Well, we mustn't set a precedent where large global high-profile events like this can be used to sanitize the reputation and the track
record of a regime like the Chinese Communist Party.
And so I'm trying to do my part to ensure that, as we cheer our athletes on, we remember that this is not normal to have a repressive, brutal,
monstrous regime, like the Chinese Communist Party sponsoring these events. And we mustn't allow them to increase their soft power as a consequence of
hosting such Games.
AMANPOUR: What impression did you get when you saw two American adversaries now -- you have mentioned the Chinese president and his party -
- but also the Russian President Putin and his party, they both put on a show of force in solidarity at the Opening Ceremonies.
What do you think they're trying to say? And what is your response as an American senator?
YOUNG: What I think they're trying to say is that they are demonstrating solidarity, from dictator to dictator, from repressive regime to repressive
regime, indicating that the global order that the West has protected for generations now will not be something that they remain constrained by.
This is something we should take seriously. This is not merely a sporting event, but I think it's merely an extension of what we have seen in other
realms. Russia and China are cooperating as it relates to military affairs.
They're operating with respect to their energy economies. And they recently announced they're cooperating in terms of exploring space. So, we can see
more cooperation between these two repressive dictators moving forward, and sports is just one element of that broader cooperation.
AMANPOUR: So, look, let me see if I can maybe step into their shoes or into some shoes from abroad watching the United States.
They watch, and they say, hold on a second. America is preaching democracy to us, but yet treating democracy rather cavalierly, to point, on Friday,
when the Republican National Committee decided to censure two Republicans, as you know better than I do, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both
Republican members of the January 6 investigation committee.
And they said they were doing that for participating in the -- quote -- "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political
So, I wonder whether you agree that storming the Capitol and insurrection there, people who've been charged, some of them, with seditious intent, et
cetera, are engaged in legitimate political discourse.
YOUNG: Well, I think there can be no moral equivalency between the forced abortion of women and babies, between the repression and confinement of
Uyghur Muslims, between the suppression of all civil rights in Hong Kong, on one hand, and some of the problems we have had here in the United States
So, I have been quite vocal about those who broke the law on January 6. They should be held to account, just as anyone should that breaks the law.
But to try and create some equivalency here, which I know you're not doing, but I know Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have attempted to do, is
And most of the world understands that. We mustn't self-flagellate at every moment that we're criticizing repressive foreign regimes. And that's what
is important to highlight at this point.
That's why I begun this social media campaign to draw attention to these human rights violations, #Beijingbehavingbadly. And we received a lot of
positive feedback about this campaign.
AMANPOUR: Senator, of course, of course, you're absolutely right. There is no moral equivalency with what's happening in those gulags.
However, as an American who is the world's global democracy leader and missionary, if you like, if I can use that term in the best way, do you
consider storming the U.S. Capitol, the seat of America's democracy, its Constitution, its system, to be legitimate political discourse?
YOUNG: I don't know any American that regards that as legitimate political discourse.
I certainly haven't encountered them here in the state of Indiana. That is a fringe group. We must make absolutely clear that that is a fringe group.
But let us not fall into the mistake that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping want us to fall into. They want us to self-flagellate at this moment of
fractious debate in the United States. We mustn't. We mustn't take our eye off the ball. And we must remind ourselves what really gross human rights
violators look like.
And that's why I have begun this social media campaign, so that the Chinese Communist Party and other dictators like Xi Jinping cannot use this
opportunity to normalize their behavior. This mustn't be a weeks-long infomercial for the CCP and its repressive value system.
AMANPOUR: All that is taken.
I'm just also watching your democratic partners, who are also dismayed.
So let's just move away, because you have made absolutely clear the point about repressive dictators, about what happens now inside the United
States, which is meant to be the shining city on the hill for the rest of the world and, of course, for your own country.
We have noticed over the last maybe couple of days, couple of weeks some rather prominent Republicans coming out and kind of, sort of clarifying
their position this and on the Republican Party in general.
We have had Mike Pence, the former vice president, who said himself on Friday -- and I'm going to play a sound bite because it goes to the heart
of what's -- of what happened on January 6.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election.
But President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone.
And, frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Senator, I'm assuming you agree with that sentiment?
YOUNG: Well, I think I have made that clear...
YOUNG: ... immediately after last election. I think I have made that clear on multiple media outlets. All one would have to do would be to Google my
statements in the past.
And let me make it clear on AMANPOUR that I also agree that Joe Biden is our president, that Joe Biden will continue to serve as our president.
I want to focus on the future. I want to focus on ensuring that our country becomes a more perfect union. I want to focus on the election in 2022. My
constituents in the state of Indiana, frankly, don't want to look backward. They want me to address things like the supply chain challenges, the price
inflation, and the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
I'm focusing on all of those priorities, as opposed to discussing these machinations that tend to occur in Washington, D.C.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that's really interesting. And you're making yourself really clear.
But while many, and certainly Trump and his allies, try to force the Republican Party to look at the past, and particularly that election, you
and others want to look at the future.
So I'm wondering what you think of how that will resonate amongst the so- called base, because what we're reading is the Republican backers of the anti -- let's just say those who believe the election was legitimate, et
cetera, they are outraising others who believe in the Trump big lie.
And we understand that the latest polls show that it's almost flipped. While, last October, most Republicans asked believe that they bore more
allegiance to Trump than their party, it's flipped now. It is the reverse.
What should Republicans take from that into these upcoming elections to do what you say, need to focus on the future in a rational way?
YOUNG: Listen, I can't guarantee that the approach I have taken with great success here in Indiana would work all across the country.
But I can tell you, with great experience and great pride, that my representation of Republicans in Indiana focused exclusively on the future
and Republicans' concern, which they share with Democrats, incidentally, about rising prices, about all the money we're needlessly spending in
Washington, D.C., about our border security, or lack thereof.
These are the sorts of issues that they want me to focus on. And they have validated my leadership through strong endorsements as I head into my first
reelection as their United States senator, by coming out and volunteering in numbers I have never seen before in a statewide campaign.
So they are fired up. They're fired off on behalf of my conservative leadership. And it's forward-looking leadership that I think many should
take notice of, as they lament all that has occurred in the past.
AMANPOUR: Well, I would like to say that I'm reading you loud and clear, and I hope your clarity on AMANPOUR spreads amongst your party and around
Let me ask you again about China, because, for all his bluster and confronting China, he was still pretty friendly was Xi Jinping. I'm talking
about President Trump. He did not manage to secure a lasting and proper and satisfactory trade deal with the Chinese, and, by the way, nor has
President Biden made any progress in that direction.
YOUNG: That's right.
AMANPOUR: So my question to you is, given all what you say and all that's true about their human rights and their stamping all over democracy, what
must the United States do for your own economy and your own security looking forward regarding a trade deal with China?
YOUNG: I'm very glad you asked that, Christiane, because this is an area where I feel like President Biden, which is where we should point our
critique, since he's now the president in charge, he has -- he's not even asked for a trade negotiation authority.
We need to get back into the trade game, so that we have an economic foundation underlying our diplomatic and our military efforts in the
Otherwise, otherwise, Japan, Australia and other large economy, what you might call Western countries in terms of their value system, ultimately,
they will decide to trade with the Chinese Communist Party on account of their geography, as opposed to aligning with the United States, if we don't
support their efforts to align with us by opening up our markets, by seeking their market opening, and by strengthening our economic ties.
So I am leaning into our trade relationships. President Trump showed how we could do this. He was able to negotiate a USMCA, North American trade
agreement, that brought Republicans and Democrats, business and labor together,so that we have continuity with respect to our trade relations. We
can do the same thing in the Pacific.
AMANPOUR: And particularly with China. I mean, I hear you talking about allies around, but surely you need to engage with China, since they're such
a massive trading partner.
YOUNG: Well, we do.
There's sequencing that has to occur here, though. We need to strengthen and deepen our trading alliances with other Pacific nations, and then we
will have leverage to invite China into that free trade bloc. I think that's the only way to bring China into better behavior, both economically,
so that they're not stealing our intellectual property and engaging in other anti-free trade measures, and militarily, diplomatically and with
respect to their gross violations of human rights.
It all depends on having leverage against the Chinese economically, and that only comes with a large trading bloc that Joe Biden has the power, if
he asks for it, if he asks for trade promotion authority in order to negotiate an agreement. That would be the most important thing that Joe
Biden could do geopolitically for our country.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask one last question about the January 6 investigation.
I mean, I don't know about you, but, I mean, I got chills when I heard Newt Gingrich, one of the former, in the past, House speakers basically say and
suggest that the committee members risk jail time if Republicans take over.
And now a lawyer for one of the Trump aides, Dan Scavino, has said of the investigation, he called it -- quote -- "the mother of all investigations."
He's been around for everything, he said, from Iran-Contra to now, and he's never seen anything like it.
But he says: "They think they're fighting for the survival of democracy and the ends justify the means. Just wait, if the Republicans take over."
So, as a Republican -- and I know you're in the Senate -- do you think the Republican House will or should take any kind of this kind of revenge, like
jail time or whatever, if they win the House back in November?
YOUNG: Here's what I think.
I think the American people want us to do our work. I think they want us to calm down the overheated rhetoric. I think they want their journalists to
report things that aren't as sensationalist as perhaps get the most clicks and eyeballs, so that they can restore trust in our journalists as well.
Listen, we are divided as a country. And the way we're going to come together is by working on problems that transcend party labels, problems
like our out-of-control prices, our out-of-control spending, our out-of- control Southern border, and certainly an out-of-control repressive Chinese Communist Party.
So that's what I'm focused on. I think that's what the people of Indiana want me to focus on. And, frankly, I think it would lead to a more perfect
union if more legislators were focused on this, as opposed to who's up, who's down in Washington and thinking about these horrible days in our
AMANPOUR: We can only hope.
Senator Todd Young, thank you so much for joining me.
YOUNG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, another chilling signpost against democratic principles, in Senator Young's home state of Indiana, Republican lawmakers are pushing a
bill to restrict students from -- quote -- "harmful materials" at libraries, in other words, to ban books, this after a Tennessee school
board voted to ban Art Spiegelman's graphic novel about the Holocaust, "Maus."
It's all part of what the American Library Association calls an organized assault on the freedom to read, citing reports of more than 300 book
challenges since the school year began.
Now the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen is speaking out for the right of young people to read even the most distressing of books. He
just published an essay in "The New York Times" called: "My Young Mind Was Disturbed By a Book. It Changed My Life."
And he's joining me now.
Welcome back to our program. It is really a great pleasure to have you on this program, given your incredible novels and your experience, even from
overseas, let's face it.
So, as a Vietnamese American, and all that you have written, I just want to first get your gut reaction to the banning by the Tennessee school board of
VIET THANH NGUYEN, AUTHOR, "THE SYMPATHIZER": Thanks for having me, Christiane.
It's obviously an important subject for writers and readers, but also for anybody who believes that they are citizens of a democracy, because part of
democracy is having the capacity to engage with difficult or disagreeable or even dangerous ideas.
So, the banning of a book like "Maus," number one, I feel sorry for the students and the children who would be deprived of reading a great book.
But, number two, I think it also shows a lot of fear on the part of the parents and the politicians are banning books like "Maus," because what
they don't want to do is to have these difficult conversations with their children, either about art or about the subjects that a book like "Maus"
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you just to drill down, because part of -- if I can remember and recall, part of the Tennessee board's rationale was that
"Maus" contain scenes of nudity, profanity, and violence.
And I'm like, yes, it's about the Holocaust. I mean, it really does boggle the mind. So is there any rationale you can see when you talk about young
children, for instance? Should they be protected from that? Should their parents have a veto or the school board or whoever over that kind of
NGUYEN: Well, certainly, it's a case-by-case basis.
I'm a father of an 8-year-old child. I worry about what my child will encounter on things like the Internet or when he plays video games and
things like that. And, of course, parents have a responsibility and a right to be concerned about what their children are looking at.
But this intersects with another issue, which is that books like "Maus" that belong in school curricula or in libraries and so on, to a certain
extent, these books have already been curated. We're not talking about things that are pornographic, for example.
We're talking about things in this case and in most of the cases that we're dealing with in terms of book banning that are literature, in which there's
a reason for difficult things, such as nudity, or obscenity, or profanity, to appear.
Now, in that scenario, the proper context for this kind of a discussion is that these things take place in a classroom or with a librarian who is
capable of putting these things into context.
Another thing to understand is that the impulse behind book banning seems to be a little misdirected, because, from my experience, and from what I'm
aware of, children encounter a lot of profanity and obscenities and terrible ideas outside of the classroom on things like social media that
parents should be much more concerned about.
AMANPOUR: So let's get to your personal story, because you were moved to write this op-ed, and it was very considered. And you talked about your own
experience as a young boy now in the United States.
Your parents and family had come from Vietnam. And at 12 or 13, you read a book called "Close Quarters." It's a novel by Larry Heinemann, 1977. It was
about the Vietnam War, so -- and about American soldiers in the Vietnam War.
What about it troubled you so much? Because you called it a dangerous book, and it changed your life.
NGUYEN: I was very young when I read that book. I was probably 12 or 13. I was a precocious reader. And I was very curious about history, because I
was aware that I was here in the United States because of the Vietnam War.
So I read whatever I could find on that subject in the library. And there are no boundaries in the library. So I could go to the adult fiction
section and pick up a book like "Close Quarters," and it was a book about war.
And what it depicts is American soldiers doing terrible things to Vietnamese people, including murder and rape. And when I read these
accounts in Heinemann's novel, I was shocked. I thought, these are very horrifying depictions. And this is the way that Americans see people like
me, and they were very disturbing images.
And I hated the book at the time. And I didn't read it again for many, many years. So, the image in my mind of "Close Quarters" was that it was a
When it came time to write my own fiction, I reread a lot of the difficult books that I -- that had marked me in some way. I reread "Close Quarters"
as an adult. And I thought, Larry Heinemann did the right thing, because what he wanted to show was exactly how disturbing and terrifying war is,
and he wanted to affect his readers.
So he didn't want to give his readers an explanation or an editorial. He didn't want to humanize the Vietnamese, because, from the American
soldiers' point of view that he was depicting, the Vietnamese were not human.
And if that causes us discomfort, that is a good thing. So, as a child, I was not prepared for that. It would been wonderful if I could have talked
to my parents about it, but I could not. It would have been wonderful if I could have talked to a teacher about it, but I could not.
But, as a writer, I deeply respect this impulse that artists have to both entertain their readers, but also to confront them in ways that can make
them think twice.
And that's exactly the function that books, libraries and school curricula should have. It's not just about making us feel comfortable all the time.
It's about helping us to confront difficult realities and difficult pasts as well.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just get a little devil's advocate, because what you said was actually quite interesting, that you read this book as a child and
was -- and were devastated by it.
You reread it as an adult and had a different reading of it and a different sensibility and a different understanding. Some people have suggested, why
not put age-appropriate ratings on books, for instance, like we have on movies, like there is on video games and the like?
Is that something that has ever crossed your mind?
NGUYEN: Well, in the library, I believe there was a rating on the book because it was in the adult fiction section.
NGUYEN: So, it was up to me to go into that library.
Now, my parents were refugee shopkeepers trying to survive. They didn't have time to take me to the library and look at what I was reading. So I
had free rein through the library.
Now, if parents are concerned about what their children are getting, then they need to be obviously on top of their children, monitoring, monitoring
their TV and their video and Internet habits and so on, and taking them to the library, being engaged parents. If you don't want your children to read
certain kinds of works, then you should be there looking at what your children are picking up.
It seems to me, though, that parents are -- certain sets of parents are much more concerned about what their children are reading in books vs. what
they may be consuming outside.
So I do want to make a defense of things like a library or a school curriculum, as I -- these are places of course, where children should have
mentors, should have guides, should have advisers.
But, that being said, school curricula and libraries should also be repositories of information and stories and great thinking that students
should have access to, because that's their function. Their function is not to contain young minds, but to expand young minds. Hopefully, that's what
we're sending our children to school for. Hopefully, that's why we're bringing them to libraries, if we're bringing them to libraries.
AMANPOUR: So you had an experience, which you write about in your op-ed, with your own son, your young son at the time, and you were reading
"Tintin," and the "Adventures of Tintin" with him, which is just a most phenomenal book.
I read them to my son. So many people have read them, and I probably read them when I was young too. But there are all sorts of issues with Tintin,
Tintin in Tibet, Tintin in the Congo, all sorts of racial stereotypes that we needed to address at the time.
How did you get through that with your son? What was your teaching moment with him on all of that?
NGUYEN: The first time I thought about this was when a parent has said that books like "Tintin" or specifically "Tintin" should be removed from
the school library for the exact reasons that you are talking about.
And at the time, I was, in fact, reading "Tintin" with my son, so I thought, well, how damaging are these images of black Africans, for
example, or Asians that my son might encounter in this book?
And I thought about the fact that, at my -- at that age -- my son was 5 or 6 years old -- he had already heard racial epithets in his progressive
preschool. So, in other words, ideas like this were already circulating out of the control of parents.
And so I thought, number one, "Tintin" is a great comic book. It's extremely entertaining, very well done. Number two, the kinds of terrible
images in those books are things that, number one, existed in the past, and, number two, still exist in the present.
My son will encounter these images, whether I want him to or not, and he possibly might have already encountered them already. So, in that scenario,
I thought it would have been much better for me to allow him to enjoy this book with me or this series with me, but also to talk to him about what it
is that he's seeing, so that when he encounters these types of images outside of my guidance, he will have some idea of what they are, how
problematic they are.
And I will have played a role in helping him to deal with these kinds of things, vs. being taken by surprise by them. And so I think with books like
"Tintin" -- and this is representative of, let's say, classic works of literature that are problematic in one way or another -- the solution is
not to remove them from the library or the curriculum.
The solution is, if we have our students or our children read them, to put them into context, because the conversation around that kind of context is
AMANPOUR: So, this -- and you have written this as well, and we observe it.
This book banning does not just fit one political party or one political belief. It can cross party lines. You have had, in Seattle, they have been
-- they banned I think it was "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." You have had Toni Morrison's "Beloved," which has been banned.
But particularly you write, those who ban books seem to want to circumscribe empathy, reserving it for a limited circle closer to the kind
of people they perceive themselves to be. Is that the heart of the matter right now?
NGUYEN: I think that is one important element in the matter right now. The first thing that you talked about, in terms of book banning not being a --
belonging to one part of the ideological spectrum is important. I mean, it speaks to the fact that it's very human impulse to want to protect
ourselves and our children from things that cause us disruption in one way or the other.
So, that -- I understand that impulse. But again, that runs up against the other imperative that I think we shouldn't be banning books at all, we
should be engaging with the issues that they bring up, including, you know, difficult things like racial slurs.
Now, on the question of empathy, you know, part of what books do and art in general does is to cultivate empathy, to expand our minds to different
peoples and cultures and so on. That, in general, is I think very, very positive. And I think most people are capable of empathy, but the issue is
how wide of a circle of empathy do people want to cast? And I think that is one of the signature divisive issues in at least American society today,
and books are caught in the nexus of that.
And so, when some parents are saying -- well, some parents and politicians are saying, you know, we shouldn't be reading certain kinds of works that,
for example, that bring up the subjectivity of black students or black people especially in the context of racism that they might experience and
that this depiction might cause discomfort for white students, I can't help but think that it's also causing discomfort for the white parents as well.
And so, what they're arguing against in that moment is a reserve of empathy for people like them, or how they perceive themselves to be, and a refusal
to engage with this other question of empathy for, in this example, black people, black students, black children, and so on. And that I think is part
of the political conflict that we have in this country is exactly how much empathy we're going to feel for people who are not like us in some way.
AMANPOUR: And finally -- and this is sort of a two-part question, really. But Art Spiegelman in response to a lot of questions about this, you know,
basically he said the following, after you ban the book, you have to burn the books. You have to burn the people that wrote them and read them. It's
a trajectory. I mean, you know, he was really serious about what's happening to his book. So, A, do you foresee an even worse scenario than
just banning books? And B, are the kids, in your experience, that susceptible or is it the parents? I mean, do the kids kind of get it?
NGUYEN: Well, I think the kids do get it. I think when kids open books what they most want out of a book is to be entertained. I don't know any
child who opens a book looking for a lesson. Now, the lesson may come, hopefully, through the entertainment of the book, but first of all, the
child wants to be entertained.
So, I think the real danger with the book like "Maus" is not the supposed obscene images or profanities in that book, the danger is that "Maus" is a
really good comic book, graphic novel and it will get kids to read it from beginning to end and be exposed to the story and the ideas that Spiegelman
has put in there, and that's what some parents and politicians are really afraid of, because it will force them to confront issues like the
holocaust, anti-Semitism, and all the ways in which that's implicated in our present situation.
So, that's -- that -- I'm not worried about the children, for the most part. I mean, children are very, very resilient. But the question over
whether book banning will lead to book burning and then, therefore, to the burning of people, well, I agree with Spiegelman, I think that it is a
trajectory. It's not something that I think is about to happen in the United States, but it could happen in the United States, and we should be
very, very aware of that. That again, this is a slippery slope issue. We should be fighting this issue as it happens now rather than waiting until
it gets much worse.
AMANPOUR: We are so glad to have your perspective. Viet Thanh Nguyen, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
As we mentioned earlier, the Olympics are coming during a sensitive time for China, also, over its handling of sexual assault allegations made by
this tennis star, Peng Shuai. Now, she's given an interview to a French newspaper under the watchful eye of a Chinese Olympic official.
Correspondent Selina Wang reports from Beijing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): For many, it's the most anticipated meet of the Winter Games, international Olympic
committee president, Thomas Bach, and Chinese tennis player, Peng Shuai, at dinner inside the Olympic COVID closed loop. But censorship questions
swirl. The IOC not willing to provide images of the pair's meeting. A degree of transparency came the next day when Peng sat with journalists
from French sports paper "L'Equipe."
The nearly hourlong interview hitting on Peng's emotional accusation of sexual assault and her immediate disappearance from the public eye. It's
all according to Peng, just an enormous misunderstanding. And Chinese Olympic officials playing chaperon. The reporter saying, he knew he would
have to look past the tennis player's words.
MARC VENTOUILAC, SENIOR REPORTER, L'EQUIPE: She was very cautious about our question and her answer. But as I said, I don't speak Chinese.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's done it
WANG (voiceover): Peng is, herself, a three-time former Olympian. Last November, the tennis star posted a painful message to social media,
accusing this man, a former Chinese vice premier, once among the country's most powerful of sexual assault. The post gone from Chinese social media
within half an hour, while Peng fell silent. For more than two weeks, many around the world feared for her safety as the Chinese sensors went to work
deleting all traces of her accusation and scrubbing international coverage from Chinese airwaves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: China blocked our feed.
WANG (voiceover): It was too late to stop the global outcry. Some of the biggest names in sport offered their support, fearing she was being held
against her will. While China attempted to stem the criticism. Initially, with a letter that state media said was from Peng, insisting everything was
Then, she reappeared, happy and smiling in videos posted on Twitter. Not seen in China that the Women's Tennis Association said may also be staged.
The WTA took a firm stance, halting all upcoming tournaments in China.
STEVE SIMON, WTA CHIEF EXECUTIVE: We have to as a world start making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period. This is bigger than
WANG (voiceover): But the Beijing Winter Olympics would not be stopped, and Thomas Bach has taken on the task of reassuring the world.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: The IOC treated it as something to basically be swept under the rug. What a sad, sad state of affairs.
WANG (voiceover): The Chinese propaganda machine in overdrive. Peng shown off by state media at a ski competition in Shanghai in December, alongside
basketball legend, Yao Ming. The Chinese government has not acknowledged the sexual harassment allegations but its foreign ministry said it hoped
"malicious speculation about her would stop."
Sunday L'Equipe report is not the first time Peng has said she never made the accusation of assault, but now in telling a western outlet that she
didn't disappear, she just said she just had too many messages to respond to, that she herself deleted the accusation, but no inquiry has been
announced. And there was still no way of knowing whether Peng has been allowed to speak her own mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The latest from China on Peng, who was, as we know, giving that interview monitored by Chinese officials.
Next, the power of education is essential in combatting the culture wars. And award-winning author, Imani Perry's latest book "South to America",
explores the divide between the northern and southern states. She joins Walter Isaacson to discuss how the book can help us work through the
tensions of today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Professor Imani Perry, welcome to the show.
IMANI PERRY, AUTHOR, "SOUTH TO AMERICA": Thank you for having me.
ISAACSON: So, you were raised in Birmingham. That's your hometown. Birmingham may be the most southern of all cities. I think you've got a lot
of cities in here that vie for that title. But tell me, why did you decide you had go back to the south to understand what's happening to America
PERRY: Yes. Thank you for that question. I was born in Birmingham and actually raised in Massachusetts and went back and forth my whole life. And
so, I lived with this kind of intense sense that people had stuck Birmingham back in 1963. And yet, for me it was home, it was this living
beautiful place. And I think that that's actually characteristic of how the south is understood.
You know, it is -- it's frozen. It's often depicted with all of these stereotypes as a place that is backwards and particularly racist and
violent, and all of these depictions that actually confuse us as to the centrality of the south in the national culture and also, the way that it
shapes our doings and the way it -- in many ways, it's the cutting edge.
And so, you know, we have these cycles of political conflict and tension, and I think going to the south actually helps us understand who we are as a
ISAACSON: Do you think the south is more racist than the north having live in the both places?
PERRY: No. Absolutely not. I think the difference is that there's a palpability to the history of race and racial violence, right, and slavery
in the south, and it partially is a result of the intimacy that exists across the color line, right? That there -- people are up close each other.
We talk to each other, we occupy the same space in ways that are very different. I think we forget, you know, there's actually more segregation
in many northern cities.
So, you know, you can't avoid the landscape. You know, I move through this landscape, and you can't avoid what happened in the past in the south. And
so, you know, there's an awareness of the politics of race in a very immediate way, but I don't think it's more racist. In fact, I think the
south, as the origin point of the country, has guided the rest of us on -- you know, when we're in these various places about what race is. It set the
tone, as it were, which is part of why you have to go there to, I think, address race and racism.
ISAACSON: Let's talk about your own story. And we start with the most amazing character in the book, your grandmother. Who I think you say is the
smartest person you ever knew.
ISAACSON: And she never went to college, but had 12 kids that went to college, right?
ISAACSON: So, tell me about her.
PERRY: Yes. I mean, my grandmother, you know, she read the paper every day. She was resilient and resourceful. So, she figured out how to get 12
children coming out of Bombingham, coming out of the segregated south to college. And she had this kind of diligence and incredible dignity and
curiosity and also a defiant disposition.
You know, we learned self-regard from her. We learned rituals that sit -- that were an assertion that we were of value. We learned the ability to
speak up when we felt that we were being treated unfairly. And so, I have often said, and I mean this with every fiber of my being, that she is at
the center of all the intellectual work that I do, of all of my work as a writer, because I am looking through the lens of her life as someone who
was a domestic, as someone who was born in the Rural South, as someone who figured out how to make wonderful things happen for her children.
That's -- you know, that's my model and that's my way of viewing and understanding the world. You know, she's -- so, she's at the center of it
ISAACSON: And your mother became, among other things, a political activist both here and New Orleans and other places. Tell me about her.
PERRY: I would say -- so, my mother is incredibly cerebral. She is a reader and a thinker and a passionate intellectual. She devoted her life to
not just to the social movement, but being an educator. So, she has -- she's retired now, still she has so many mentees. And her journey,
including in New Orleans, having been a (INAUDIBLE) in the sisters of the Holy Sisters Family and then, going to become a political organizer in
Birmingham and Milwaukee and so forth is about finding meaning, right?
So, I learned from her the sense that one's life is supposed to be meaningful and you're supposed to dedicate your intellect and your energy
and your resources to making the world a better place. And so, she's very much my grandmother's child and very much someone who set the stage for my
life as well.
ISAACSON: Do you worry about what's happening both in the south and how that's affecting the rest of the nation where there seems to be a backlash
against the progress we have had?
PERRY: I don't know how much it's sort of, like, progress and retrenchment. It's the dance. It's always -- we're always in this tug of
war, this back and forth between sort of the values to be completely, you know, blunt about it, the values of a slave society and the ideals of
democracy and liberty, right? This is a repeated cycle that we are in -- you know, that we are at tension with it, and that's where we started,
right? We started with this gorgeous landscape, this vast array of human beings, and also, with the social order that excluded many, if not most of
So, we keep -- we're in that moment again, and it is a struggle that must continue. And so, I'm always concerned. But I also believe in the vision of
the beloved community, and that is the thing that sort of makes me think -- we continue to invest in it, right? And say, we're still here, right? We're
here notwithstanding all of the things that could have taken us out, and I'm speaking specifically about black folks, but also poor folks. Everybody
who was among the suffering, who put their labor, you know, to this place and didn't get that much in return, we're still here.
ISAACSON: You say you're talking about black folks, also poor folks. Do you feel there's almost a bond among southerners, white and black, that
they understand each other from having lived so close in proximity?
PERRY: Oh, absolutely. There's an intimacy. There's a bond. You know, I -- and I talk about this at many points in the book, right, one moment I'm
riding around in a lift, right, a ride share, you know, with a man, a white man whose elderly who has been -- who spent 30 years in the mines, right.
And so, deep in the mines laboring and is now making a living with the sort of piecemeal work of driving folks around. And being able to see him and
also know that there is a tension there, right? Because race did structure social relations, but I also can see him, right? I can understand something
about his journey.
It's a point of great potential, right? Because if we can transcend the ideologies of race and superiority and inferiority, the ideas, that
intimacy has great power, and it continues to exist, and even though the resistance to it continues to exist. So, that's part of -- you know, that
is part of the struggle.
ISAACSON: Let me read a beautiful passage from your book, which was, at moments of crisis, it always makes sense to return to the past to try to
figure out if the arrangement of what is remembered and what is forgotten or what is retained and what has been thrown away are part of the problem.
ISAACSON: How can this book help us understand how we can work through the tensions today?
PERRY: Well, you know, it's a hope. You know, I always think about history in this way, right? History is composed of thousands of facts, right? It's
like mapmaking. So, there's this concept in mapmaking, (INAUDIBLE) paradox. If you put everything on the map, the map is too big. You can't use it,
So, history has its uses. We make choices. And I think -- so, to me, the challenge is to make choices to attend to that which is usually neglected,
to be honest and not mythological. And so, what I'm trying to do is move us somewhat in that direction with the hope that if we are attendant to
different people and places, perhaps we will be moved to act more tenderly and just and kind, right?
And so, you know, I think, we don't talk about history in that way enough, but it's absolutely true. We place our attention and care where we decide
that things matter. And I think the human condition matters.
ISAACSON: Among the places you visited was Harper's Ferry.
ISAACSON: You even met a confederate reenactor, somebody reenacting things there. Tell me, how did you -- what did you make of somebody doing
PERRY: So, I will say this, you know, I couldn't -- it was frustrating to me. I was like, why does this person want to be a confederate? But I also -
- what resonated with me is that he wanted to be inside history. And we were the same in that way. You know, he was an archivist. He volunteers at
Harper's Ferry. And also, we went through all of the sort -- the rituals of reenactment, which are complex. And it is a form of play acting, right. But
it's also a way to live in the connection to the past, and I'm engaged in the same process.
And so -- you know, I made of it that, you know, we are shaped by our histories, and we -- you know, there's something useful about being aware
of it. But I also -- and this was a big -- this was perhaps the biggest point for me is, I realized slowly that Maryland is the south through him,
because he was part of the Maryland regiment. And I just had never really thought of it in that way. And that was part of the discovery of the book.
ISAACSON: When Plessy v. Ferguson was ruled in the late 1800s, suddenly, there's a color line that gets drawn, and that color line had not been so
sharp, especially in places like New Orleans, before that. There was a lot of moving back and forth. Tell me what you think historically that meant to
the south and meant to the nation, and could it have been otherwise?
PERRY: So, it absolutely could have been otherwise, right? There are -- there were places -- I mean, New Orleans is one, but also Wilmington North
Carolina, where there were -- you know, that emerged in the post emancipation context as places where there could be a multiracial
democracy. They were few, but there were possibilities.
You know, what Plessy did is it formally instituted a structure of racial hierarchy, right, which was -- because there was so much intimacy between
black and white folks in the south, it might have -- you know, the more you opened up the society didn't have rules about where people could be, there
was no longer the slave/free distinction, something else might have emerged, right? There was a lot of resistance, of course, to emancipation
and to black participation in civic life, but something could have emerged.
I also think Plessy is significant because, you know, creoles in New Orleans who didn't necessarily identify themselves with black people,
although had, you know, black ancestry, African ancestry made a political decision in the committee (INAUDIBLE) and organizing around Plessy to
politically identify with black Americans in general and to see themselves as a collective force.
And I think that's an interesting piece, too, because post Plessy, in this incredibly difficult period in American history, black Americans organized
politically across cultural differences. And there are cultures, plural, right, black cultures in the south in extraordinary ways and built civic
associations and built schools and built kind of a public life behind the veil to borrow language from the voice (ph) of race. And so, it was both a
devastating period but an extraordinary period.
ISAACSON: In your book about -- you know, when you get to New Orleans near the end, you say it's -- people saying, "it's the most European of our
cities." And then, you say it's also the most African of our cities. And then, you also conclude it's the most American of our cities. Explain this
complex layering that you found there.
PERRY: Right. Well, this is again a point about a place, you know, where you walk through and history is ever present, and the history of this place
is all of those things. You know, it is indigenous, it is European, it is African, it is the encounter. You can't move through the city without being
very aware of the cycles of immigration, migration, forced migration. And that is the story of the nation, right?
So, you know, sometimes when people say, OK, well, the heartland is in the center of the country, and I just -- I resist that because I can see what
happened. The whole story of what happened in New Orleans. You know, the -- as a port city, as a place people left from, it's a place connected to the
Caribbean, it's a place that people, you know, came and went in cycles. It's there, right, all of it. And so, the United States is European,
indigenous, African, increasingly Asian, you know, Latin American, and that's who's in New Orleans, right? And that's where you -- that's what you
move through in New Orleans.
ISAACSON: You make a final stop in the book, Houston, because you're going back to see where George Floyd had been killed, murdered in Minneapolis,
but he's a southerner from Houston. You want to go back and see there, and you say, it brought me back to the place where I first began. Meaning,
where I where I first began with this book. How so? Why was it important to end understanding what happened around -- what had happened to George Floyd
and what it had wrought?
PERRY: Yes. Well, it was -- you know, there's something very powerful about how in the midst of the pandemic that the entire world was quiet and
listened to George Floyd's screams. And that that is, in some sense, a kind of a sound that has this sort of the foundational terror in this country
for black people. It's not as though going north was an escape, right? It was actually the site -- a site where violence could chase you to.
And I was thinking a lot about Houston as, again, one of these incredibly cosmopolitan cities as the path way out to the West Coast, you know, the I-
10, taking the I-10, and the way in which he tried to run from what it was, but what it was is what it is, right, and, you know, they -- it was
harrowing and it was also beautiful the way that the world responded. It was a moment -- there was a moment of hope there. And so, you know, those
moments are hope of what we hold onto.
ISAACSON: Professor Imani Perry, thank you so much for joining us.
PERRY: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And, of course, it was a moment of great, great awareness and the world really did respond.
And finally, tonight, tributes to one of the longest serving monarchs in history. A 41-gun salute today indicated the official start of the platinum
jubilee for Britain's Queen Elizabeth. As the leadership crisis of Prime Minister Boris Johnson deepens by the hour, the 95-year-old queen has
displayed a much different type of stable leadership during her 70 years on the throne.
At the reception for the event, she got a cake celebrating the occasion. And the queen also read tributes from world leaders, including President
Biden as she reviewed plans for the nationwide celebrations to take place in early June.
That is it for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.