by Gillian Puma
Last Wednesday, students and faculty gathered in the Kelly Commons Great Room to hear MSNBC reporter Chris Hayes discuss his most recent book, “A Colony in a Nation.” The book goes into detail about the racial injustice that occurs in our society, and the first one hundred people to arrive at the lecture got a free copy of the book.
Chris Hayes is most well known for his news-talk show “All In,” which broadcasts weeknights at 8 p.m. on MSNBC. His segments various subjects and feature interviews with political and social figures. He is both an Emmy Award winning news anchor as well as a New York Times best-selling author.
“We saw Chris Hayes was speaking at Lehman College last year and that originally sparked our interest”, John Bennett said when asked about why Hayes was chosen. “Dr. Margaret Groarke was extremely helpful in us getting him here. In fact, if not for her, and her Bronx family connections to his family, it would not have happened.”
The lecture was much-anticipated after it was postponed from its original date in early October. The rescheduling occurred after Hayes went to Las Vegas to cover the Oct. 1 mass shooting there. He stated the issues with crime such as gun control, and then stated the importance of local elections.
“I wrote the book in 2015 and 2016 and it was sort of against the background of [the] sudden rise of Donald Trump. I only mention him once in the book partly intentionally because I wanted the book to stand independent in the political moment,” Hayes stated as he began his lecture.
Hayes started his lecture by discussing the importance of prosecutor elections, being that he arrived a day after Election Day.
He started talking about the Virginia elections, in which Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie used racially and ethnically charged campaign tactics. One of the ads Hayes pointed out was a white player kneeling for the anthem.
Gillespie was defeated by Democrat Ralph Northam, 53.9 percent to 45.0 percent.
“One of the maddening things about conversations in American politics around race and particularly around crime is often there’s this semantic slipping that’s happening in which people claim they aren’t talking about race,” Hayes said as he discussed how people tend to ignore actual facts and go off on biased results.
Another example Hayes discussed at length was Gillespie’s campaign ad about the Central American gang MS-13. The ad had pictures of a group of heavily tattooed men, including one of the men having a face tattoo that said “Kill, rape, control.” He went on explaining how the gang was made in the United States, and how the men in the picture were not actually convicts of MS-13.
“They can be maddening because people are always talking about two things at once,” he said. Hayes continued describing how, during the 2016 campaign, Donald J. Trump’s mechanism of ‘saying the quiet part out loud’ had been used heavily in Gillespie’s gubernatorial bid.
“One of the main arguments when we talk about crime and law and order is that we’re not talking about crime, and we’re not talking about law,” Hayes said.
“We are talking about social order. We are talking about who gets to be on the right side of the law and who gets to be on the wrong side of the law.”
The end of the lecture was then followed up with a question-and-answer amongst students and faculty alike. When asked why he wrote the book, Hayes went into detail about how covering stories such as the racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., and social injustice had inspired him. He then explained how growing up in New York and having a fear of crime starting from when he was a kid.
“It drives me insane how the President describes Chicago,” Hayes said. “Again an actual real problem that real people are working very hard night and day to make better. But the President doesn’t seem [to] care about that. What he does is he swoops in and talks about how people are killing each other in Chicago. If the President cared about the actions in Chicago he would do something, but the only thing you can conclude is that he finds it politically advantageous as does Fox News and conservative media to talk about black-on-black crime in Chicago.”
Hayes then described that the “dog whistle” mechanism that Trump uses against Chicago reinforces racial stereotypes and relieves people of confronting police brutality. He then compared it to the way white writers would write about black-on-black crime during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.
“Dispatches from the South where white Northerners would go down to would just say they’re killing each other. Lawless. Crazy. They’ve got a homicide problem down there. This is what happens when you give them freedom. All these tropes we have now are essentially what the writers were talking about in the reconstruction era. Right after the end of the civil war and the end of slavery,” Hayes described as he compared the writing to the modern day statements made by the conservative news.
Ellie Siwicki, a senior that attended the event, said that Hayes was very intellectual and liked his input on the prosecution elections.
“The elections that occurred on Tuesday are so important and it’s necessary that they be discussed,” Siwicki said. “Tuesday was a landmark for people that the Trump administration is negatively targeting, and we can’t forget that.”
Professor Jonathan Keller of the college’s government department also stated his thoughts on Hayes lecture.
“I liked how Hayes said he believes the result last night indicated that there is a large-scale resistance to President Trump’s agenda shouldn’t just be understood as a discrete event,” Keller said.
In the end of his lecture, Hayes signed autographs for everyone and even took pictures with people who had attended the event. Over one hundred students and faculty members were in attendance.