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Debate Over British Racism Continues; Interview with CEO of Feeding America; New York Congressional Democrats Call on Governor to Resign. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: As the British royal family deals with the fallout of the interview Prince Harry and Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, gave Oprah Winfrey, there is a deepening divide more broadly in the U.K. about the royal family's position on racism and mental health.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Let's talk about this in depth. Joining us now from London, Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and also an attorney, she's a women's rights activist, she's an author. Her book, called "This Is Why I Resist: Don't Define My Black Identity," and Kelechi Okafor, actress, a writer and a director, and the host of the podcast, "Say Your Mind."


Good morning, ladies, thank you for being here on this.




HARLOW: Kelechi, let me begin with you. I keep wondering, I mean, this interview was Sunday, and the world is still talking about it and it's Friday. And they're talking about it for good reason, because of what it revealed, not just inside Buckingham Palace, but in the U.K. more broadly in terms of racism.

And I wonder if you think that the duchess of Sussex, Meghan, can have more of an impact on this conversation and hopefully changing things for the better in the U.K., across the ocean, you know, outside of the walls of Buckingham Palace. And how significant that is.

OKAFOR: Yes, yes, I think that Meghan's presence and her speaking out is incredibly important because here we are, looking at a very light- skinned biracial woman who came over to the U.K., should have had the protection of the royal family. She should have been insulated from the racism that we as darker

skinned black women know so well within the U.K., yet she still wasn't. You know, she was able to absorb some of that, she was able to feel some of that. And it just goes to show just how deeply entrenched the racism is within the U.K.

People rarely want to talk about it. In the U.K., it's impolite to talk about racism. You know, it's all about having a stiff upper lip. But we're seeing that it's changing.

SCIUTTO: Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, I was going to ask about that because, in our country, the conversation about race is not new. God knows, we've got a long way to go, and you've seen the divisiveness here in recent months. But it's not new.

And I wonder, being newer in a public forum in the U.K., does that expose these wounds, these feelings of resentment and division as rawer to some degree, right? I mean, is this topic just simply more unexplored there?

MOS-SHOGBAMIMU: So first of all, let me just correct the perception that this is new. This isn't new, the whole conversation around racism and the structural racism that exists in the United Kingdom has been ongoing for decades. The reason why this has reached such a high- profile nature is because of who has been targeted by this racism.

And we must understand that there is an ongoing fight from actively anti-racist activists to eradicate what we see in this country as structural racism and the way it permeates through our society.

And, you know, we're very, very clear that Britain is institutionally racist. Our structural systems are rooted in white supremacy, and caters to a culture of whiteness. So that even (ph) -- I mean, to Kelechi's point, Meghan, who is a lighter-skinned biracial woman, she's not white enough for those who have a problem --


MOS-SHOGBAMIMU: -- with blackness, she's not. Even her light skin does not erase the black heritage that some have concerns with.

I think the opportunity is here for the monarchy to actually steer the society in the right direction. Whether they can do that, that's a whole different conversation. But definitely, the statements they brought out a couple of days ago was deeply unsatisfactory, and that tells me and many, many people that the monarchy in 2021 does not get it.


SCIUTTO: Yes. And I hear you, the issue's certainly not new. I was speaking more to the -- kind of speaking openly, right? About it with public officials involved, but I hear you.

HARLOW: Kelechi, you wrote -- it's almost like you saw this coming. You wrote this open letter to the duchess of Sussex, January 2020, in "Essence," and you wrote, "Britain is so committed to her racism that she isn't willing to give it up even if it means losing their princely Harry."

So again, in many ways, you saw this coming. I wonder what you make of the conversation that has emerged after finally hearing Meghan say it?

OKAFOR: I think it's important for one to show humility. So while I could say, well, there we go, I was right and so were so many other black people who have spoken up about this, it's important to just take the opportunity to look at the conversation that's now taking place.

And for the fact that the conversation has moved across to you all, I think that that's important as well, that we're having the conversation in America so people understand that racism isn't subtle, isn't -- doesn't -- you know, it does exist in the U.K., and I think there was this perception that it didn't exist over here. So I wrote that letter because I wanted Meghan and for other people to understand that maybe it's not that nice over here --


OKAFOR: -- and you know, I don't tend to be a palatable voice in the U.K. scene, same as Dr. Shola. People don't want to hear that truth, but I believe that I'm divinely protected, I'm a baby girl and nobody can beat me up. So I have to say what needs to be said.

MOS-SHOGBAMIMU: Amen to that.

SCIUTTO: Dr. -- Amen. Dr. Shola, I lived in the U.K. for 10 years, and one issue often discussed was just the lack of sufficient representation, right? In parliament, in the cabinet, et cetera, people of color, I wonder how, beyond the royal family, how this is reflected in the nation's politics today.

MOS-SHOGBAMIMU: The nation's politics is deeply divided. Race is one of those polarizing sources used by the current government, in my opinion, to drive a wedge.

And when we look at those who are apparently representation for black, Asian, ethnic minorities, what they tend to be -- some of them, not all of them -- they tend to be racial gatekeepers. They use their voice, their platforms, their influence to legitimize and discredit. So they legitimize all of the dehumanization of black people and ethnic minorities, and they discredit the anti-racist efforts of those from their own communities in fighting it.

Race is a polarizing issue in this country, and as much as we keep pushing at it, people deny it exists. They use all kinds of words to deflect it.

For a certain example, with Meghan and Harry, you have people claiming they want to defend the queen? The queen doesn't need to be defended. The monarchy should be held to account if it does something wrong; applaud them when they've done something right. This is not about defending the queen. Some people, like Piers Morgan, used the words, "it's freedom of

speech." But freedom of speech comes with responsibility. You see (ph), all of this language and narrative being used to protect themselves, is the same language and narrative that is used for Trumpism, same used for Brexitism.

So you see that in our society today, race continues to be a way to drive a wedge because, as I said, our society currently -- and for the longest time -- it's predicated on denying an equal value of life and liberty to black people and ethnic minorities.

SCIUTTO: So familiar.

HARLOW: Well, Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, thank you; thank you, Kelechi Okafor. We're going to have you back, we'll stay on this. We appreciate your time today.

OKAFOR: Thank you.



HARLOW: A crisis within a crisis, millions of Americans really struggling still to put food on the table, especially for their children. But some help is on the way because of the $1.9 trillions stimulus package. But what about after that? The CEO of Feeding America joins us next to talk about it.


HARLOW: Well, we have new details about the struggle to feed Americans, especially children, during this crisis. A Census Bureau report shows that 14 percent of adults with children and 11 percent of all adults in America still do not have enough to eat. That was just in the last few days.

My next guest says the simple truth is there is no way the charitable food system can do this alone. Joining me now, I'm happy to have the CEO of Feeding America, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot with me. This is a network that provides more than 4 billion meals to more than 46 million people across this country.

it's remarkably important, we're so glad to have you on, Claire, thank you for being here.

CLAIRE BABINEAUX-FONTENOT, CEO, FEEDING AMERICA: Thank you so much for having me back, Poppy.

HARLOW: I'm sure that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill now being law is going to help a lot of the folks that rely on you guys, but I also know that it would be naive to say it's a panacea, and that it would be naive to say that this isn't going to extend beyond this crisis and beyond when that stimulus money runs out. Because before the pandemic, you had 37 million people going hungry in this country. Given that economists project 40 percent of the jobs that have been

lost in this past year may never come back, what challenge does that pose for you guys and for all the families that rely on you?


BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yeah. So let me first say that you're spot-on with everything that you just said. And I do want to celebrate the fact that this legislation is going to be helpful. About 40 percent of the people who are turning to us for help right now are people who never before relied upon the charitable food system. So I think especially for that group of people, it's going to be helpful and we'll take it.

But as you also said, this is not a panacea. The reality is that we had 35 million -- the good news was, 35 was the last number that came out of the USDA in 2019. That's not really good news, 35 million people who were food-insecure; so many of them are chronically food- insecure, generational food insecurity in this country.

So this is helpful, but we're going to need more. So it's the charitable food system kicking in, it's additional interventions (ph) to the federal nutrition program. It needs to be an all-in fight (ph), it really does.

HARLOW: How important is it for your effort, especially in Feeding America's Children, to get all our kids back in school soon, right? For the Biden administration to meet that promise of getting kids in school by the end of the first hundred days. Because so many children rely on their school to literally provide not just one meal, but often two meals.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: You're right again. About 22 million kids qualified for free or reduced lunch before the pandemic. We know those numbers have gone up. These are kids who need those meals in order to thrive for certain. So when the schools are closed, that means that there are kids who are missing meals. So we're desperate for people to -- kids to get back to school safely. We know that that will have a significantly positive impact on their outcomes, so you're right about that too.

HARLOW: Claire, you said something recently that struck me. You said, you know, you've learned through this crisis, you can't just look at someone and know if they're food-insecure or not. In fact people in fancy cars have been driving up to your distribution centers, and where you provide food to, needing help. I just wonder what that has taught you and maybe should teach all of us about empathy right now for our neighbors that we may think are OK, but they're not.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yes. I think one of the biggest hurdles that we've had when it comes to food insecurity in the country is a lack of public awareness. People think they know what a person who might be struggling with food insecurity looks like? That's simply not always the case. There's also stigma attached to being food-insecure in the country, so they think they also know what that person's life is, what their aspirations are for their kids. And they typically are wrong about that too.

What I hope will be one of the silver linings of the dark cloud that is COVID is that we'll emerge with a much better awareness that people who are food insecure could very well be your neighbor ,and under the wrong circumstances, it could be you.


BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: And one of my concerns, Poppy -- if I have my principal concern -- is we're going to get past this pandemic, the health side of the pandemic. I'm sure that that's coming, I'm optimistic that it's going to be coming soon. But those lines are going to go on the insides of buildings, and when those lines are inside of buildings, I just hope that people facing hunger do not slip out of the consciousness of the American public.

So that's my big concern, and getting a chance to talk to your audience right now is part of, I think, what the solution is.

HARLOW: Yes, we think so too. We're so glad you could join us. Hopefully your dad, Warren (ph), is watching because he and your mom --



HARLOW: -- raised 108 kids, which is amazing, through birth adoption and fostering. We are grateful to them and we are grateful to you. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, thank you very much.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Thank you so much, bye-bye.



SCIUTTO: This is just in to CNN, multiple New York congressional lawmakers -- Democrats -- are now demanding that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resign over sexual harassment allegations. This information, just coming into the CNN newsroom in the last several minutes. We're going to be live with the latest, next.


HARLOW: We have breaking news just in to CNN, a group of New York congressional delegation members are now calling for New York Governor, their fellow Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, to resign. Among them, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.

SCIUTTO: This is a significant list. CNN's Lauren Fox, following the latest details for us: Grace Meng, Adriano Espaillat, Nydia Velazquez, Mondaire Jones. This coordination among them, releasing these statements at the same time -- significant, Lauren? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's very

significant. And like you said, this appears to be a coordinated effort where Democrats from the state of New York are clearly making a statement together.

I want to read one of those statements that came from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman. This is what those members said in a joint statement.

TEXT: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: After two accounts of sexual assault, four accounts of harassment, the attorney general's investigation finding the governor's admin hid nursing home data from the legislature and public, we agree with the 55+ members of the New York State legislature that the governor must resign.

FOX: It says, quote, "As members of the New York delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, we believe these women. We believe the reporting, we believe the attorney general, and we believe the 55 members of the New York State legislature, including the state senate majority leader, who have concluded that Governor Cuomo can no longer effectively lead in the face of so many challenges."

And of course, this comes at a moment when New York Democrats had really been divided on this issue of how to move forward with the governor. Clearly they have had some conversations, they have made a decision together.


Also, it's important to note that this statement was also coming from chairman of the Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, who is a senior Democrat on the New York delegation, somebody who a lot of these younger members look to for guidance on issues like this. Of course, given his prominence in the Democratic Party, given his prominence on the Judiciary Committee, a very significant statement here coming from him and other members of the New York Democratic delegation -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: No question, momentous. We'll see what the reaction is from Governor Cuomo. So far he's refused to resign despite calls from the state delegation in New York. Lauren Fox on the Hill, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Lauren.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today and all week. We wish you a healthy weekend, I'm Poppy Harlow, we'll see you Monday.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. I'm racing to get to the weekend, apparently --

HARLOW: I know you are, have a good one.

SCIUTTO: -- NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.