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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
“Vogue” editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, at the top of the fashion industry, surveys her cultural kingdom for us in a rare interview. She tells me why
her magazine takes a stand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIESE LAYMON, AUTHOR: We weren’t back in Mississippi for longer than a week when you smashed me across the face with a heel of a Patrick Ewing
Adidas because I talked back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Author Kiese Laymon exposes his mother as a brutal disciplinarian, growing up in Mississippi and the reasons behind it.
Then we zoom out to the cycle of progress and backlash in the United States. Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. tells me how America’s oft forgot
reconstruction era is as relevant as ever.
Welcome to the program, Everyone. I’m Christian Amanpour in London.
The worldwide fashion industry is worth a whopping $2.5 trillion and it employs some 75 million people. At the very top of that sits Anna Wintour,
the editor-in-chief of U.S. “Vogue” and artistic director of “Conde Nast.”
A word from her can create or kill trends, once that filter down from haute couture to fast fashion. Effectively, she decides what we are all wearing.
Her iconic bob and sunglasses are as famous as “Vogue” itself.
And in 2006, Wintour became a cult figure when Meryl Streep gave a wicked portrayal in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS, “THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA”: I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to confirm an appointment.
ANNE HATHAWAY, ACTRESS, “THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA”: I know. I’m so sorry, Miranda. I actually did confirm —
STREEP: Your incompetence do not interest me. Tell Simona I’m not going to approve that girl that she sent me for the Brazilian layout. I asked
for clean, athletic, smiley. She sent me dirty, tired and paunchy. An RSVP, yes, to Michael Kor’s party. I want the driver to drop me off at
9:30 and pick me up at 9:45.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: There’s even been a documentary about the magazine itself called “The September Issue.” It is the most important issue of the year.
Wintour has been at the helm of “Vogue” for 30 years. And in just a few weeks, she throws the biggest party on the planet. The annual Met Gala.
Not only a who’s who of fashion and celebrity, it is a huge cultural event that also raises money for the Anna Wintour Costume Center at New York’s
In an era where blockbuster fashion exhibitions draw unprecedented crowds, she very rarely gives interviews. But Anna Wintour sat down with me in New
York to talk about the gala, fashion, and why “Vogue” magazine must have a point of view in the modern world.
Anna Wintour, welcome to the program.
ANNA WINTOUR, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VOGUE: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: Look, can I just address the elephant in the room? You’re wearing your dark glasses. I’m not sure that I expected you to wear them
during the interview, but I know that you do —
AMANPOUR: — wear them inside. I just want to know because —
AMANPOUR: — everybody wants to know.
WINTOUR: Well, today I’ll be brutally frank because I’ve been unbelievable ill all week and plus, I just had eye surgery. So, those are the real
reasons I’m wearing them today. Otherwise, I would brave you without them.
AMANPOUR: But are they — are they an inscrutable protect, because you wear them in the front row of fashion as well.
AMANPOUR: You wear them sitting next to the queen.
WINTOUR: They are incredibly useful because you avoid people knowing what you’re thinking about. They help me when I’m feeling a bit tired or sleepy
and — I don’t know, maybe they’ve just become a crutch and part of who I am. But today, I really did need them.
AMANPOUR: Well, let’s get on with what your next huge thing on your agenda, which is the cultural event of every year.
AMANPOUR: The met gala.
AMANPOUR: And it is extraordinary.
AMANPOUR: The theme this year is Camp Notes on Fashion.
WINTOUR: Yes. Yes. Andrew Bolton, who is the curator in charge of the costume institute, thinking behind this, he was inspired by Susan Sontag’s
Notes on “Camp.” And we are calling it in house from the sun kings to drag queens.
But, really, if you read Susan’s remarkable essays, you will understand that Camp is an expression of everything that is artificial, everything
that is a little bit fake. It’s the opposite of nature. So, don’t wear your hunting boots or your backpack. And, obviously, we are also looking
at the influence that the LGBTQ community has had on Camp.
AMANPOUR: And you and Conde Nast have been very, very prominent in recognizing and empowering LGBTQ.
WINTOUR: Yes. I mean, obviously particularly right now, it’s a very important issue and something that we believe at Conde Nast and know, I
certainly believe on a personal level it’s very important to stand up and support and do anything that we can to talk about discrimination and LGBTQ
But this is really a celebration of LGBT culture and the fun they have with dressing, as well as, you know, cultural references. And last year, we
worked on a hugely successful exhibition called Heavenly Bodies which discussed influences of the Catholic church on costume.
AMANPOUR: Did the Vatican approve? Because one could say, if one was a fervent Catholic, that, you know, there were bits that were laughing at
religion, bits that were mocking, you know, it wasn’t, obviously, totally respectful.
WINTOUR: Yes. But actually, they were very collaborative on the exhibition. They lent 30 or 40 pieces from the private Vatican collection
that never left Rome before. And —
AMANPOUR: But what might you wear this year?
WINTOUR: This year? Well, there’s a quote — I don’t have it completely correct, but there’s a quote from the Sontag notes that says, “Camp is a
woman wearing millions of feathers.” So, I think I might be taking some inspiration from that.
But — and so, dealing with the Vatican was very particular, and this one in comparison has been more straightforward but so much fun. And I think
that the community is very excited about it and everyone looking forward to it, and it’s going to be an extraordinary red carpet.
AMANPOUR: I was stunned when I saw the Alexander McQueen here at the Met because it wasn’t just clothing, it wasn’t just fashion, it looked like
sculpture, it looked like art, it was futuristic, it was completely extraordinary visual experience.
WINTOUR: Oh, yes.
AMANPOUR: And I wonder what your reflections are on today of your industry, your business, being without Alexander McQueen, being without
Versace and, of course, this year Karl Lagerfeld passed away.
WINTOUR: Yes. I mean, obviously, being in Europe at the time that we lost Karl, I think was a moment of great reflection for all of us. Obviously,
he was a figure larger than life, reaching way beyond the confines of our industry. I mean, he was a true — it’s an overused phrase, but he was a
true renaissance man. He spoke all those languages, and it was very moving to be in Europe after we lost him and to have so many people come up to one
in the street, not from our world, just to say what a great loss it was for the world.
But because we — and we need figures like that. We need these people that inspire us way beyond what you might see on the runway. So, I think it is
a point of reflection, but the idea that fashion is not disposable. That it is something that you can invest in, that you could have memories that
you can keep that is lasting.
AMANPOUR: I guess I have to jump to the disposable issue that you’ve just mentioned because —
AMANPOUR: — there a criticism right now today in our times of environmental existential crisis —
AMANPOUR: — that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world.
AMANPOUR: And that people are buying massively more than they did 15 years ago, but using them massively less.
AMANPOUR: Sort of disposable fashion. I know that’s not what you do, but nonetheless —
AMANPOUR: Stella McCartney and others are very, very conscious about trying to —
AMANPOUR: — reduce the amount of leather —
AMANPOUR: plastic, fur —
AMANPOUR: — all of that.
WINTOUR: Well, I think it’s something that everybody in the industry, certainly all the people that I’m talking to are very aware of, very
conscious of. I had a CEO of a huge European company in my office just yesterday to discuss all that. Everybody is making a five-year plan.
Everybody is concerned about the climate crisis and what should be done to help.
And, obviously, we’re very aware as other industries are that we have been at fault and what can we do in the relatively short amount of time we have
to course correct.
AMANPOUR: So, it’s an urgency for you?
WINTOUR: It’s an urgency for everybody within the industry. I feel very confident in saying that. And there are organizations like Fair Fashion
and many at the U.N. that are working with everybody across the globe to see what we can all do to correct it.
AMANPOUR: What’s your view on fur these days, because you did popularize it again?
WINTOUR: You know, I think that fake fur is, obviously, more of a polluter than real fur. I think a lot of people are discussing the idea of
upcycling and what you can do with fabrics, fur, things that have already been used. This is a word we’re hearing over and over again. So, I think
it’s up to the houses that work with fur to make sure that they are following best practices, that they are being ethical in their treatment.
And we will make sure, from our end, that we’re doing exactly the same thing.
AMANPOUR: This also leads into politics because it’s the political leaders who are going to lead us out of these crises. You are political. I mean,
you are a major fund-raiser for Barack Obama. Your magazine, the most important fashion bible in the world, does profile some very, very
important women who are in politics. Tell me about that. I mean, you are overtly political in your profiles and in what you stand for. What is it
that you’re trying to say by profiling a Michelle Obama or a Kamala Harris or even Stormy Daniels?
WINTOUR: Well, if you are talking about the first lady or Senator Harris, obviously, these are women that we feel are icons and inspiring to women
from a global perspective. I also feel even more strongly now that this is not a time to try and — I think one has to be fair, one has to look at all
sides. But I don’t think it’s a moment not to take a stand.
I think you can’t be everything to everybody. And I think it is a time when — a time that we live in a world, as you would well know, of fake
news and stretching to be kind. Let me say stretching of the truth. I believe, as I think those of us who work at Conde Nast believe, that you
have to stand up for what you believe in and you have to take a point of view.
And our readers, our audiences follow and respect us. And if they disagree, we would love to hear. But I don’t think you can try and please
everybody all the time.
AMANPOUR: It’s really interesting you say that because it is noticeable that there are more Democratic women from the Democratic Party in your
magazine and profile than there are Republican. I wonder whether there’s a reason for that. Well, is there?
WINTOUR: As I’ve said, I think it’s very, very important to have a point of view. We profile women in the magazine that we believe in the stand
that they’re taking on issues, we support them in the fact that we feel that they are leaders, that particularly after the defeat of Secretary
Clinton in 2016 that we believe that women should have a leadership position and that we intend to support them.
AMANPOUR: I was really interested to hear that I believe Secretary Clinton, when she was first lady, was the first, first lady to be on the
cover of “Vogue”?
WINTOUR: She was. She was.
AMANPOUR: Not even Jackie Kennedy was on the cover of “Vogue.”
WINTOUR: No, she was photographed many times within the magazine with her husband and children and sister and I think with her sister, iconic
pictures. But I think it was a time when I felt that the first lady at that time had behaved in a very brave way.
AMANPOUR: Was this in surviving the slings and arrows of her husband’s accusations and the impeachment?
WINTOUR: Slings and arrows of misfortune, yes. So, we felt it was a time, you know, support her and to stand up for women and it was — we were very
honored that she agreed to be our cover at that time. And we were also very honored, obviously, I think Mrs. Obama was on the cover three times
while she was in the White House.
AMANPOUR: What does she mean to you? I mean, she’s not just an amazing role model. She’s a Black woman.
WINTOUR: I think Mrs. Obama redefined the role of the first lady. I mean, she was so open to everybody. She made the White House a place for
everyone. I think she had incredible initiatives, whether it was with the veterans or with obesity or fitness or many of the other issues that she
supported. Obviously, a lot of the work she did with the arts.
I mean, and she was just so, I think, inspiring to so many women. And, obviously, on a very selfish note, speaking (INAUDIBLE) editor-in-chief of
“Vogue,” she did wonders for fashion. She loved fashion.
AMANPOUR: And high and low, right?
WINTOUR: And she mixed high and low. She supported designers that one had never heard of. And, you know, we had always had a tradition at “Vogue” to
photograph first ladies when they first came into office and some extraordinary, wonderful women and it was an honor to photograph them but
they were always super cautious about what they wanted to wear and the image that they wanted to present. Nearly, always a jacket, you know,
maybe some pearls if you were Mrs. Bush. But with Mrs. Obama, you know, she was fearless. And I — it was just such a joy for all of us that work
AMANPOUR: Talk to you about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. Because I know —
AMANPOUR: — you’ve profiled her inside —
WINTOUR: We did, we did.
AMANPOUR: — and she has really shown what it means to be a leader in this post-massacre —
WINTOUR: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: — environment in New Zealand.
WINTOUR: Well, I think she’s an exceptionally direct, articulate person, and there is no sense that she’s ever on message. And with a tragedy that
New Zealand recently went through, I felt that she — it’s an overused phrase, but she truly brought the country together in such a remarkable way
that I haven’t seen many other leaders achieve. And I mean, she was just so moving. And when she said, you know, “We are all one country,” it was
just — I thought a message that a lot of other leaders could learn from.
AMANPOUR: I don’t want to be flippant or crass, but I do believe what she wore —
AMANPOUR: — was incredibly important. And I’m not even going to say it about fashion, but she wore something that many people might say, “Whoa,
don’t go too culturally far.”
WINTOUR: She was standing up for what she believed in, she was being fearless and she was sending a very clear message in a way that nobody
could misinterpret. And I think she was a message of hope and unity to countries all over the world. I really salute her.
AMANPOUR: I want to talk a little bit about you. Anna Wintour, you are a power. Why do you think it is that even some of your friends profess to be
intimidated by you? There’s a quote from Barbara Amiel, society lady and journalist, who said that, “She’s my friend and yet I’m in a cold sweat
when I know I have to meet her.” Others have called you Anna “Nuclear” Wintour.
WINTOUR: No, no. Well —
AMANPOUR: What do you think that’s all about?
WINTOUR: — I think you are quoting from things that were said maybe several decades ago. So, I think —
AMANPOUR: Have you softened?
WINTOUR: Maybe I — I think I’m very direct and very clear about my point of view and what I think. And I also want to reiterate that the other
wonderful opportunity that I have at Conde Nast is to be able to support talent and to be able to help young designers or young editors, young
writers, young photographers embark on their path in life because I think it’s a very confusing world. And there is so much choice today in a way
that was unthinkable when I first started.
So, anything that we can do to help young people navigate that, I’m honored to do.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask about your own path. Did you face any impediments, barriers, sexual innuendos or assaults? I mean, did you face
that kind of struggle when you were getting to the top?
WINTOUR: I don’t feel personally that it has been a disadvantage that I’m a woman. I feel that sometimes there has been a certain level of personal
criticism directed at me that possibly might not have been at a man in a similar position. But I —
AMANPOUR: What, like you’re too tough, you’re too strong? What kind of criticism?
WINTOUR: Probably that, yes. Most of all. But — and about one’s appearance or whatever.
AMANPOUR: Their hairstyle?
WINTOUR: Their hairstyle being too thin.
AMANPOUR: Too thin?
WINTOUR: Too thin. I get that a lot.
AMANPOUR: I always get people asking me, “You had it for so long and it’s exactly the same as it’s been for many, many years.”
WINTOUR: Right, right.
AMANPOUR: Why is that?
WINTOUR: My haircut?
AMANPOUR: I mean, it is beautiful.
WINTOUR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And a signature.
WINTOUR: Well, it’s one more decision I don’t have to make every day. No, but I actually don’t think that I have had a particularly rough time from
being a woman. Obviously, I think partly because of the industry that I work in and I’m also am very focused. So, maybe because of my clarity and
my focus, I haven’t let it in.
AMANPOUR: That’s an interesting way to put it, “I haven’t let it in.” I wonder if that’s got anything to do with your pedigree, so to speak.
AMANPOUR: Your father was, I believe, the editor of “The Evening Standard”?
WINTOUR: That’s right. Yes.
AMANPOUR: Which is a major British newspaper. One of your brothers is a diplomatic editor at “The Guardian.”
AMANPOUR: Another works in NGO’s, I think, in housing or planning?
WINTOUR: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: Your father was nicknamed “Chili Charlie” —
AMANPOUR: — for a certain inscrutability.
WINTOUR: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: What did you learn from him?
WINTOUR: Decisiveness and passion. I mean, he loved what he did and it was so inspiring growing up in a house full of journalists and editors and
always being aware of what was happening in the world. And it made me love the news and it made me love culture. I mean, he was very passionate about
theater, he was very passionate about cinema.
So, he brought what he did home. And those kinds of people, politicians, writers, editors, they were at the house at all times. So how lucky was I?
AMANPOUR: Very lucky. And look where you are. And how did you pick the fashion end of journalism? What was it that sparked that?
WINTOUR: I think I was growing up in England in a very interesting time. It was a major cultural change going on where all the class barriers were
really being broken down. I mean, hairdressers and musicians were becoming celebrities in a way that they couldn’t have done before the war in the
`50s. It was just so thrilling to be in London at that particular time.
And, obviously, a lot of that was channeled through the lens of fashion. So, I think any young girl growing up in that culture could not be
interested in it. So, I went to work at a magazine when I was quite young. And at that time, you know, you didn’t really need too much experience.
They were just happy to have you there. So, I was very fortunate.
AMANPOUR: “Vogue” is sort of the cultural bible, the touchstone. And yet, online is sort of really obviously way overtaking print. And Instagram
influencers may be having a bigger influence than “Vogue.” I’d like to know your thoughts on that and whether you ever think that the glossy
magazine is a species that’s going extinct. Yours particularly.
WINTOUR: I think we’re so fortunate today to have so many different channels on which to speak to our audiences. If you go back to when I was
a young girl growing up in Britain, and I went for my first job and it was, you know, considered a great thing if we reached an audience of 90,000
people with a monthly magazine. Now we have, I believe it’s 22 million followers on Instagram alone at “Vogue” U.S.
So, we are talking to men and women all over the world in a way that we couldn’t possibly have imagined even 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So, no, I
think they are all important. They all serve a different purpose. They all are valid.
And, you know, our challenge is to find the best voice for each particular channel that we are using. And, you know, obviously, now we’re doing so
much more with video and film and even an event like the Met is another way for us to talk to our audience about the excitement and culture of fashion.
AMANPOUR: But you think the magazine will last, will stay?
WINTOUR: I do, I do. I feel that there is an engagement with a glossy, rich magazine like “Vogue” that that experience, you — it isn’t the same
when you look at something online.
WINTOUR: I mean, it peaks in a day, it trends in a day and it’s great, the news gets out there and we’re so excited to see it, but there’s something
about sitting with a magazine and luxuriating in it that is very special.
AMANPOUR: You had to bring in new standards and codes of conduct during the #MeToo era.
AMANPOUR: We have two very famous photographers who you’ve now said cannot work at “Vogue” anymore because of allegations against them. What was the
culture on photo shoots, and what is it now? What should it be, particularly with young, young girls who are models?
WINTOUR: Right. Well, obviously, we had a code of conduct in place before #MeToo too became so much on everybody’s minds. And the minute we started
to hear about the stories in so many different industries, obviously, not just the fashion industry, we decided to investigate very seriously what
our code of conduct was, how it should be revised.
We interviewed hundreds of people within the company and without to make sure that all best practices were in place. We set up a hot line that
anyone should something unfortunate happen on any of our shoots could feel free to call immediately and anonymously and that we would immediately act.
But obviously, things did happen, and the stories and the incidents that were reported to us were of a depth that we did not feel we could continue
to work with some contributors who had done extraordinary, wonderful work for us for many, many years and were in some incident’s personal friends.
So, it was a difficult personal decision but there was no doubt in anybody’s minds this was the right thing to do.
AMANPOUR: And I guess, finally, how does Anna Wintour relax? If you’re not seen in the front row of every fashion show, you are seen at most major
grand slam tennis events —
AMANPOUR: — and usually in the box of your great friend, Roger Federer.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me about tennis. Do you play? Have you played with Roger? What’s the deal here?
WINTOUR: I have never played with Roger until this summer when my daughter got married. And as a thank you present to me, secretly, she invited Roger
and his family. He has two sets of twins and his wife, Mirka, to a weekend in the country. And they arrived at 9:00 in the morning when I had just
got on the court, and I had no idea that Roger or Mirka were coming or the twins, and he was incredible.
He played — I had a large family party out there that weekend. I think we were 40 or 45. He played with everybody.
WINTOUR: And I was fortunate to play doubles with him against my two nephews, age 11 and 13. And you know what, we won.
AMANPOUR: No, I don’t believe it. Anna Wintour, thank you very much indeed.
WINTOUR: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: A rare insight indeed. And now, our next guest also has a point of view. One that speaks to an America that is still healing old wounds.
In his poignant and raw autobiography “Heavy,” the author Kiese Laymon, looks at what it’s like to grow up in a society that oppresses Black people
from eating habits to domestic violence.
His memoir tells the story of himself as a small boy with his mother in Jackson, Mississippi, and struggling to take control in the society that
gives you so little of it.
Our Michel Martin sat down with Kiese and asked him to connect the dots of his multifaceted life.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: There is so much here, there’s so much to talk about. It’s about family relationships, it’s about food.
KIESE LAYMON, AUTHOR, “HEAVY”: Yes.
MARTIN: It’s about weight. It’s about being heavy.
MARTIN: It’s written really as a lengthy letter to your mother. She is a very, how can I put this, interesting character. If you look at her as a
MARTIN: Tell me a little bit about her.
LAYMON: She’s interesting. She’s complicated. She had me when she was 19. She became a political science professor at 24. So, we moved from
Mississippi to Wisconsin back to Mississippi when she was about 24. And she gave her life to, you know, Black students at Jackson State University.
Gave her love to our region.
And, like most parents, she just, you know, had a hard time being a human and being a parent at the same time, especially to, you know, a little
Black boy growing up in Jackson, Mississippi. But she never wavered in terms of what my writing practice was going to be.
You know what I mean? We see our parents sometimes become people, and part of this book is like admitting that I wasn’t sure how to talk about my
mother becoming a woman, not just becoming my mama. And she just made sure early on in life that I understood the writing and revision were key to
what she would call survivor.
She was definitely one of these Black parents that believed you could write and revise your way into a particular kind of safety. On the other hand, I
mean, I think it’s OK to say that, you know, I think my mother was a bit physically abusive.
MARTIN: A bit?
LAYMON: I mean, yes.
MARTIN: A bit?
LAYMON: I think that she was physically abusive. And I think she learned to be physically abusive from the nation but also from the culture. You
know, like —
MARTIN: Talk more.
LAYMON: We grew up in a part of this country where parents, Black parents especially, taught their children that like whatever they did to their
bodies was going to be less harmful than what the police might do to you, than what the teachers might do and what white mobs might do to you.
So, my mom was very physically, aggressively trying to discipline my body into it anticipating what White supremacy and White people would do. And
it took me awhile to understand that that was abusive, and it took me awhile to see that, you know, there were patterns of abuse, it wasn’t just
that my mom was abusive, this is what was happening in most of the homes that I grew up in or saw.
But she really believed that somehow, like she could protect my body by beating my body and protect my body from, again, White supremacy, which is
an interesting and sort of sad sort of dialogue on where we are because when my teachers failed me, I would get a whooping and I knew that at the
time. You know, if my teachers, you know, said I talked back or they said that they saw me with something I shouldn’t have, whether I had it or not,
I know when I got home, I would get beaten because my mom pretty would say, “You should have known better. And with this beating you will know
The book, I’m laudatory of my mom, I’m very thankful for everything she gave to me. I just don’t know that those beatings ever actually did help.
MARTIN: Do you want to read this passage? I was debating whether — can you read it?
MARTIN: Do you mind?
LAYMON: I know — yes.
MARTIN: Just this passage here, just the first paragraph of this chapter which you call hulk.
MARTIN: Here you go.
LAYMON: Just the first?
LAYMON: Oh, yes.
LAYMON: OK. Hulk. You were on one end of grand mama’s couch yelling at me while I was on the other end grasping the side of my face. We weren’t
back in Mississippi for longer than a week when you smashed me across my face with the heel of a Patrick Ewing Adidas because I talked back.
The side of my face started to swell but I couldn’t understand why getting hit in the face with the heel of a Ewing didn’t hurt as much as it had
before we left Jackson. I was 6’1″, 215 pounds, nine inches taller and over 40 pounds heavier than you.
The softer parts of my heart and body were getting harder and those harder parts didn’t want to hurt you. But they wanted to never, ever be hurt by
MARTIN: I find that passage so remarkable because, you know, black women whooping on their kids is almost a joke —
MARTIN: — in some parts of the black community.
MARTIN: Do you feel like you’ve opened the door to a secret in a way, like a family secret, by talking about this?
LAYMON: That’s a great question. That’s a great question. A part of me worries that I opened the door to a secret that will further pathologize
And what I wanted to do in the book was show that the black women who raised me were incredibly complicated. And one of the things that they
were taught was to physically discipline their black children into survival or excellence.
And I’m one of those black children who was beaten into survival and excellence. And I want people to understand that I’m using the art that my
mom and grand mama gave me to talk about, among other things, the belief that beating children into excellence works.
I mean it doesn’t. It didn’t work with me. I say that —
MARTIN: Didn’t it?
LAYMON: No. I mean —
MARTIN: I mean it beat you into —
LAYMON: And one might say it did because I’m here.
MARTIN: Yes, exactly. That’s the tricky piece, isn’t it?
LAYMON: Right. One might say, well, I think I would have been here a lot earlier.
MARTIN: Do you feel that in a way you’ve broken a taboo?
LAYMON: At my worst, I wonder if I broke a taboo that should not have been broken.
MARTIN: You still question that?
LAYMON: Well, because I do when I go around this country, there are black people who I think respect and love me and us who are like, I – there are
some things you actually should have kept in the house. And —
MARTIN: Airing dirty laundry.
LAYMON: Airing the dirty laundry.
MARTIN: And why do they say that?
LAYMON: I think they worry because the same reason my mom beat me. I think they worry about what happens when white people see us, like see our
secrets like what they will do.
And I think what we know is that there’s no length to what they would do but what I’m trying to say and I don’t know if I did it effectively or not
is like absolutely, why focus on what white folks are going to do. But can we be healthier, can we be more honest, can we be aggressively — can we
aggressively listen and wonder around like our memory with each other, holding each other’s hands.
Like why do all those people do whatever these people are going to do and I think we can. I think we can make ourselves ironically heavier but we have
to be willing to face yesterday.
My mom is someone who often says I’m not — I wasn’t born with rearview mirrors. And I’ll say, OK but let’s invent them. Like let’s invent the
rearview mirror and let’s look back together.
Do you know what I mean? That’s what I’m trying to say and do, which means we have to do what a nation has taught us not to do which is to look back
and regretfully say these are some things I should not have done. Let me talk to you about why I did them and hopefully going forward, I can be a
better person, less violent, less abusive.
MARTIN: How do you understand her beating you? Because some people would say, you know it was your frustration. It was her frustration at not
getting child support from your father. Her frustration at, you know, trying to take care of you, take care of herself, improve herself, go to
school. It was just pressure and, you know, poverty, and lack of any other skills or knowing any better.
MARTIN: So how do you understand it?
LAYMON: I mean I understand that and I understand that my mother in so many other ways took what society and culture said she should do and be and
made it different. She went a different way.
In this way, in the way she disciplined her child, she did exactly what I think culture taught her to do, which is to again discipline your son into
submission so he will not be killed by white people.
MARTIN: Or could it be just that she did not have personal discipline? Could it be her? Is there any part of this could just be her?
LAYMON: I mean I think if you —
MARTIN: Maybe she just did not have the patience to be a mom?
LAYMON: I think if you read the book, you see that I’m — I feel, as a person who doesn’t have a child, I feel unfair making that critique, but
that critique is there. Of course, my mom, I think knows that she failed in beating me as much as she did.
And I think that she knows that part of that was like, as much as it was influenced by culture and the nation, it was, obviously, her and she
MARTIN: But it’s also true that you are very adamant about the fact that this is a bigger story.
LAYMON: Oh, it’s so much bigger.
MARTIN: It’s a story of Kiese and his mom and his mom hitting him a lot to the point where you still bear scars from it, emotional scars mainly, as
well as physical scars, but this is bigger. Tell me why you think it’s bigger than that.
LAYMON: Well, I never got a beating in my life where my mother didn’t talk to me about what white people were going to do. Like I never just got a
The beatings came along with a critique of the nation, with a critique of white supremacy which, again, which is a familiar critique for those of us
who got beaten in the South which is believe you me, what I’m doing to you is nothing compared to what they’re going to do.
And, you know, I could see, right? Like I talk about it in the book. What’s interesting is I saw Rodney King get beaten. And I watched cops —
watch cops beat Rodney King, right, and we watched it. I think it was on ABC.
And that night, I came home, and my mother found out that I was in my first relationship ever, and I was in a relationship with a white woman, and she
beat me. And it was one of the strangest times in my life where I was like, wow, I actually felt like I deserved that beating, which says a lot
about like 15-year-old black boys sort of psychological makeup but also it had to do with what I had just seen on T.V.
Because in so many ways, my mother was trying to say, I’m beating you so you won’t be Rodney King. Of course, I know —
MARTIN: I’m beating you so they don’t kill you.
LAYMON: So they don’t kill you and get off for killing you, right? What I have to do as a writer that she raised is critique that impulse and
critique my mom publicly, which is hard.
But I’m also trying to say that I understand that there are scripts that we’re all supposed to follow in this nation. And sometimes we veer and we
make like healthy moves outside of the script and sometimes we stay inside of the script.
And my mom often when it came to parenting, I think she followed a particular kind of script. But what’s interesting is that I saw her so
often break that script as a teacher. You know, as a woman, as a daughter, as a lover.
And retrospectively, what I’m trying to say is, ma, I wish you would have broken that script with me and I’m trying to break that script now as a
son, as a writer, as a citizen.
MARTIN: Spoiler alert. Your mom is very much alive.
MARTIN: She did read the book. She has responded to the book.
MARTIN: So I want to spend some time on that. But I also want to point out that it’s not just about her hitting you and how you feel about it.
It’s about a lot of things. It is about food.
MARTIN: Heavy. You are heavy.
MARTIN: You’re heavy.
LAYMON: I’m heavy.
MARTIN: And food is very much a part of — and sexual violence and the —
MARTIN: -And people treating each other very poorly in a sexual way starting at a very young age.
MARTIN: Do you think those are all connected?
LAYMON: I absolutely think they’re connected. I don’t think that they are causal though. This is the difference, right.
I don’t think that, for example, my mom beat me or that different people in my life were sexually abused purely because somebody else was abused. I
think that, in my experience, my mom beat me partially because of white supremacy, partially because of mass evictions, partially because of mass
incarcerations. We’re not lucky enough — I’m not lucky —
MARTIN: Because a man beat her.
LAYMON: Because a man beat her, too, right. And I’m not lucky enough though to say in my life that it was just because my mom got beaten, it was
just because it is. So I’m not lucky enough to live in that world.
There were just so many things colliding that I think encouraged my mom sometimes to not treat her child the way she wishes she would have. And
conversely, I know that I ate too much, lots of times, in my life because I was trying to deal with not just my mom but the world. And I starved
myself for years for the same reasons, right. I was trying to grasp control.
And so I think it’s paradoxical. On one hand, you want to control what you’re putting in because you don’t have any control of your surroundings.
But on the other hand, there are times in my life when I wanted to make myself feel pain. And this circles back to what we talked about earlier.
Like when my mom was beating me, I felt a lot of things but I did also feel at least she cares, right.
When I was pushing my body to places I should have never pushed my body, I thought I was doing it out of a sense of care. So like this desire
sometimes to hurt ourselves again is something I think that’s been engrained.
MARTIN: And what about the sexual violence? I mean I’ll just tell you, it’s just —
MARTIN: It’s — your book is beautifully written.
MARTIN: It’s a hard read.
MARTIN: It’s a hard read. Especially — I don’t know. Especially who? Especially anybody. I mean I have a daughter and a son and — this is
really hard. It’s hard to think about girls just being treated as if they were tissues to be wiped off.
MARTIN: It is hard to read about, you know, boys being expected to treat girls in that way in order to preserve their standing with boys.
LAYMON: That’s proven.
MARTIN: And also boys in some cases being treated that way. How do you understand that? How do you understand that? Why did sexuality become so
compromised and so connected to violence?
LAYMON: I think my explanation is — I know that the boys that I know who aggressively sexually assaulted people were encouraged to sexually assault
people. Were taught, particularly to black girls would recover no matter what but also taught we don’t have to care about black girls if they
recover or not, right, which is a very interesting and sad state of affairs.
But also like those black boys, and I was one of those black boys, I started the book with my being like this bystander, watching these boys,
listening to these boys sexually assault this young woman to show that like it takes lots of people to create a culture of sexual violence, not just
I was a young boy who knew what was happening in that room was wrong. I didn’t know exactly what was happening but I could have intervened. At
that age, I knew that if I intervened, those older boys who I wanted to like me were going to do something to me that I didn’t want.
Do you know what I mean? So it takes actual perpetrators but as we also know, it also takes a culture that encourages it. And often, it takes
bystanders who just watch and pat themselves on the back for knowing it was wrong but not intervening.
I did that at 12-years-old. I was never going to run and trade on and sexually assault anyone but I also was never going to stop anyone from
being sexually assaulted. And at 12, I knew that that was something I shouldn’t do. That’s learned. That’s learned.
MARTIN: How are you now? How are things now?
LAYMON: How am I today? I know that my mama loves me. I know I love her. We’re giving ourselves an opportunity to work through the hard, tough
parts. And that’s not deliverance but that’s better than we were.
MARTIN: She did read the book. She actually wrote a long blog post —
LAYMON: She did.
MARTIN: — that she posted.
LAYMON: Which is going to be at the end of the book. And we decided at the end of the day not to put it in there but she —
MARTIN: But you posted it on your personal —
LAYMON: I wanted people to see it. I wanted people to see it.
MARTIN: And what did she say?
LAYMON: She said — she knows. She says that we see thing differently but she also apologized which was a big deal to me. And she also agreed that
this book has given her tools that she wished she had before she even had me to be not just a better mother but just a better citizen, a better human
You know what I’m saying? So I felt when my mother wrote that letter, I felt loved and I felt cared for. And she didn’t have to do that. Do you
know what I’m saying? So I —
MARTIN: Some of the people who have responded to her post, though, are very critical of her.
LAYMON: All the critiques of my mom that have made, I listen to them. Sometimes, I hope she doesn’t. But when it comes to the messy work of
creating a child, beating was part of what she did to me, which I think she didn’t have to do it.
But the reason I’m sitting here with you is because she was also so good at the other things which are instilling the love of black people and the love
of black literature and instilling the writing practice that loves black literature, loves black people.
Without that, I’m not here. Without the beatings, I think I’d be here earlier. But the thing that she made was a black writer who wants to be
the best at this.
MARTIN: Kiese Laymon, thank you so much for talking with us.
LAYMON: Thank you so much for having me, Michel. I appreciate it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Now, from that difficult, indeed tragic personal story, we zoom out to the much bigger tragedy of America’s original sin, slavery and the
effort of restitution during the construction of Europe. A sliver of American history in the 1860s and `70s, the period following the Civil War
saw African-Americans emancipated from slavery, given the vote and their freedom.
It was a great move forward, but it only lasted a short time before a massive backlash cut off those freedoms. The period is finding itself in
the spotlight, thanks to the award-winning Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates is also a professor of African-American studies at Harvard.
His new book, “Stony the Road” tells the story of reconstruction while his documentary follows its influence on contemporary American history. Take a
quick look at this trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reconstruction was our shining moment. It’s the second founding of our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overnight, people who had been defined as property take leadership positions in the South. But this is an incredibly heady moment,
kind of like Barack Obama becoming president. But those black folks had no idea of the cliff they were heading towards.
Reconstruction produced a violent backlash, a racist backlash.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And Professor Gates joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.
HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., HISTORIAN: Thanks so much for having me on.
AMANPOUR: So I wonder why you chose to focus on this era. There was only 12 years long, or, you know, up to about 12 years. I mean we know about
slavery, the Civil War, civil rights and a backlash. Why reconstruction now?
GATES: Well, let me put it this way, Christiane. Twelve years of black freedom between 1865 and 1877 followed by an alt-right rollback with the
president immediately following the Civil War who refused to renounce white supremacy. Oh, and a conservative Supreme Court that declared the Civil
Rights Movement of 1875 unconstitutional in 1883. Does this ring any bells?
AMANPOUR: Are you saying there are some parallels to today?
GATES: Oh, my goodness, I’d never say that. Yes, of course. This is the mirror.
And I realized this when I began to realize it when the horrible murders at Mother Emmanuel Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, you remember Dylann
AMANPOUR: I do.
GATES: — murdered Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the other innocents at the prayer meeting. And the reasons that he cited were all tropes,
rhetoric from the white supremacist movement that arose after the Civil War in reaction to reconstruction.
Two thousand black men were elected to office during reconstruction. Sixteen black congressmen, including two black senators, were elected in
that 12-year period.
And the majority of the House of Representatives in the state of South Carolina, majority black. There were three black states, majority black
states in the United States at that time, South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi.
And this was just too much to bear and as the saying goes, the south rose again. And with the complicity of a conservative Supreme Court, they
rolled back all those rights.
AMANPOUR: So I want to get some — get into more detail about the rollback. But first, I want to know from you the history of the
accomplishment of those who were emancipated and had their rights during reconstruction. What were they able to do? Mostly black men, right,
because they were the ones getting their rights.
GATES: It was a glorious period. It was the most exciting period, obviously, in the history of black people in the United States. Because in
1867, black men in 10 of the 11 former Confederate states because of the reconstruction military acts got the right to vote.
Christiane, 80 percent of the black men eligible to vote in the former confederacy registered to vote, 80 percent of the black men eligible to
vote in the former Confederacy, register to vote, 80 percent. And in 1868, 500,000 of them voted for the presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant only won by 300,000 votes.
So effectively, black men had elected a white man the president of the United States, and they did the same thing for Grant in 1872. Can you
imagine going from cattle slavery to the U.S. Congress to dominating the House of Representatives in the State of South Carolina and to electing a
white man president?
There was only one problem. Cotton remained the leading export crop in the United States until the 1930s. And somebody had to pick that cotton.
AMANPOUR: So are you saying —
GATES: Some —
AMANPOUR: Sorry. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but are you saying then that this emancipation suddenly people realized, oh, my God, what about our
economy and we can’t be letting this continue?
GATES: Right. And also the forms of racism, anti-black racism that had justified the enslavement of Africans, you know, starting in the 17th
Century and ending in 1865 in the United States, morphed, we might say. And they morphed, became more pernicious, more virulent because the genie
had been released from the lamp.
And what was that genie? That black men were actually human beings, not apes, that they could — that they were reasonable, possess reason, and not
only that, they were talented enough to speak in Congress, write bills, run state legislatures.
And, indeed, the first statewide public school systems in the entire south were the result of these reconstruction governments. These governments
with all these black officials were massively reformists and did brilliant, brilliant things.
And so they had to be crushed. And I’ll give you an example of how devastating that crushing went. Starting in 1890, the former Confederate
States reconvened State Constitutional Conventions. Started under the rubric, the Mississippi plan. And effectively, they disenfranchised black
And to just give you one example. In 1898 in Louisiana, there were 130,000 black men registered to vote. After the convening of that
Constitutional Convention, by 1904, there were exactly 1,342 black men registered to vote.
AMANPOUR: I mean it’s such a crazy statistic. And you talk about white supremacy, the violence and all the rest of it. It was one of the most
violent periods in American history.
And I had spoken about it not so long ago with the — with Bryan Stevenson, the professor of International Justice. And he’s recently established the
National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. This is what he told me about that violence and how he characterized it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYAN STEVENSON, FOUNDER, NATIONAL MEMORIAL FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE: We cannot describe this violence as murder or even as hate crimes. It was
Black people were pulled out of their homes. They were drowned. They were burned alive. They were beaten to death. They were hanged.
Sometimes on the lawn in the public square, in front of courthouses. Thousands of people would come and celebrate this spectacle of violence and
brutality. And we haven’t talked about it. And it did something devastating to this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It really is devastating. And very few people really focus on that era of reconstruction as I’m saying. And you have also a younger
version of the book in the documentary for young people in schools as well.
I just want to ask you because people are going to say, and they did say it and they’ve asked President Barack Obama, we thought that your election
would be transformative. This is what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the same way that you wouldn’t expect in a four-year span or an eight-year span to undo the
entire legacy of race in America, social attitudes also don’t transform in four years or eight years. It happens over generations. And so, sure,
there is residual racial prejudice in this society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, you have, obviously, at the beginning, you drew a parallel with what’s happening today. I mean is what’s happening today inevitable
after a Barack Obama — I mean in the America that you describe, and in the fact that history repeats itself, is it inevitable? Did it have to be this
kind of backlash or was there a way to make history go forward?
GATES: Well, I think many of us were shocked by the resurgence of white supremacy and its depth, its virulence. But the reason is that these
issues weren’t resolved during reconstruction.
What was reconstruction about, Christiane? Who can be an American? Who has the right to vote? What is the role of terrorism in a democracy?
What’s the relationship between political democracy and economic democracy?
These are all reconstruction issues. And they weren’t resolved. And I think that, you know, it’s kind of like watching a vampire movie for many
of us. And at the end, Dracula comes up out of his casket and you go, I thought you were dead. I thought we put a stake in your heart.
Many of us thought that with Barack Obama’s election and upper-middle-class brilliant, beautiful family on the news every day that this would chip away
against racism. And it did, to some extent, but it didn’t as effectively as many of us thought.
And the same thing happened during reconstruction. White racists created a caricature called sambo which proliferated American popular culture in the
1890s or early teens culminating with the awful film “Birth of A Nation.”
Black middle-class people fought back by inventing the trope of the new negro. This is America’s first social media war, sambo versus the new
negro. But you can’t win a revolution by fashioning an image. The revolution can only be won in this country with the ballot.
And the Confederacy, the Neo-Confederacy took the right to vote away from black men. The last black reconstruction congressman left in 1901. It
would be 28 years before another black man was elected to Congress.
His name was Oscar Depriest. He was elected in Chicago. And the only reason he was elected is that people had fled the south, particularly
Mississippi and the great migration, gone north.
And because of the 15th Amendment, passed in the Reconstruction Era, black men had the right to vote. So we’ve come full circle.
AMANPOUR: I mean it really is an extraordinary tale and will be great for everybody to watch this week on PBS your documentary. Henry Louis Gates,
thanks for joining us.
GATES: Thank you so much.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.