MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it is time for a visit to the beauty shop, where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's news. Later, we are going to save some time to talk about Maya Angelou. We want to hear the reflections of this panel of writers, all of whom have important memories to air of their connection with her work. But we want to continue discussing the story we started with this morning. It is a difficult story and we understand it may be disturbing for some listeners, but we think we have some important insights that we want to share about this as well.
As we mentioned earlier, a 22 year-old college student named Elliot Rodger went on a violent rampage over the weekend that left six people dead before he apparently killed himself. Rodger fatally stabbed his three roommates and then shot 13 people, fatally wounding three, on and around the University of California Santa Barbara campus. He left this 140 page manifesto, as he called it, that detailed what he felt were injustices that women specifically were not paying attention to him or having sex with him. He posted a video before the rampage detailing his plans and his motivations. And here's a short clip, and I do want to say once again, we do recognize this will be upsetting too many people.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELLIOT RODGER: Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I'm 22 years old and still a virgin. I have never even kissed a girl. It is not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it.
MARTIN: Now, we want to say once again that it has been reported that Rodger had been seen by counselors and psychiatrists for various mental issues throughout his life. And we just heard from media writer Jeff Yang, who talked about how his views around masculinity and race are part of this pathology. Now we want to hear from Anne Ishii and we want to hear from Keli Goff. Anne Ishii is the editor-in-chief of theyreallsobeautiful.com. That's an online forum that looks at race and dating. Keli Goff is a columnist for the root.com and the Daily Beast. Mikki Kendall is a writer media critic with hoodfeminism.com. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, a conservative, libertarian news and commentary site. They have all been writing about this. So Anne, I am going to start with you. As we mentioned earlier, he talked about race a lot in this manifesto. And I wanted to ask how you, how this all struck you?
MARTIN: Anne? Well, we can't, for some reason we are missing Anne. Let's talk with Bridget Johnson, who's here in our Washington, D.C. studios. How did this strike you, Bridget Johnson?
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Well, I think it is highly frustrating because when these incidents keep happening and happening everybody says afterwards...
ANNE ISHII: (Laughter) You can hear me right?
JOHNSON: ...We are going to focus on mental health from now on. And then every time it happens again, the mental health side of it seems to get washed under the rug. You know, I read one piece on Huffpo that said whether or not he was mentally ill is not the point. It's exactly the point, I looked at this video and this manifests, and I saw a sociopath. And, he was also, you know, saying a lot of things that he wanted to be taken at face value. When we look at somebody like Dylan Klebold from Columbine, and he claimed that he had no friends and had no social life. But investigators actually found out that his social calendar was pretty full. So, if a sociopath wants to become a martyr, he needs sympathizers.
He tapped well into this men's rights movement to do it. But, you know, I found a really interesting article on Psychology Today talking about how parents and counselors are so not wanting to even address this sociopath label - even though theirs different ends of it on a spectrum, just like autism. And, this writer said that it is a damaging trend with parents, with psychologists, and counselors in pretending all of their problems stem linearly from depression or trauma or ADHD alone. So until we start naming these things as they actually are, then you are not going to get the treatment that stops these things from happening in the future.
MARTIN: Anne, what about you?
ISHII: Can we hear me now? (Laughter).
MARTIN: Yes, you can hear me now.
ISHII: Yeah, I was just going to say that of course, as a woman, it is really haunting to be listening to this guy's video and all of that. But I have to say what makes it extra haunting personally is that as an Asian-American, I can actually kind of identify with the anguish this guy feels. And the hatred is directed definitely towards women but certainly toward himself. And as Jeff pointed out, in your earlier segment toward Asians.
It should be noted that the first 3 people he killed were his Asian roommates. Stabbing them, which is so visceral and I also gleaned the manifesto to the extent that I could. It's quite long and disturbing. He talks a lot about comparing the riches of the successful white male against sort of the anguish that his Asian mother had to go through of being denied certain forms of alimony and moving into a condominium after living in a mansion. And you know it is tied into this idea of he is not good enough to be white but isn't even sure what he is as an Asian man. And I think there is a lot to be said about that for sure.
MARTIN: Mikki, what about you? Mikki Kendall?
MIKKI KENDALL: So, one of the things that bothers me around a lot of the narratives here, is that we seem to think that he approached women - that women turned him down - that women, and even his roommates really interacted with him in a negative way. In fact, by all accounts, he never tried to speak to anyone. He refused to accept things said by the counselors. He has had access to the best help, the best care, the best schools possible. This is, I think, a story not just about mental illness because, to be honest, most mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence, so much as it is a story about his hatred of people for having things he could not have. These attacks before he became overtly physically violent, when he was throwing lattes at girls on the bus stop, and all of these, you know, getting angry about the black friend of the roommates for having a white girlfriend. This is a story that says to me that we have got to start talking about the weapons he was able to access - the ways in which he was able to move around and do these things because he was broadcasting his hate for a long time. The police were even called. They found him perfectly normal and charming.
MARTIN: You know, Bridget was saying that what concerns her or she feels we are still minimizing the kind of profound affects that mental illness can have on people. Mikki, I hear, what I think I hear you saying is, you think we are still minimizing what? The effect, that that kind of extreme racism is and how profound that can be? Or extreme misogyny?
KENDALL: Well, I would say extreme misogyny...
MARTIN: ...I guess I'm asking, what do you think you want us to be thinking about here?
KENDALL: I want us to be thinking about the extreme misogyny and about the extreme because were this framed in another way, we would be talking about terrorism. Right? That's what this was about. He has a manifesto. He had a target, he had a plan to go and kill a whole room full of women in this, in a whole house full of women actually.
MARTIN: He said he'd want to annihilate...
KENDALL: There's not much connection between him and his victims, yes.
MARTIN: ...He is saying I'm going to annihilate this whole group of people. He even, it went on to say he wanted to put them all in a concentration, all women in a concentration camp. It is truly, truly chilling stuff. Talk to us briefly about this hashtag, and the point - the #yesallwomen. As a person who has been very active in kind of using social media to draw attention to issues, Mikki, what do you feel is the point of this hashtag and why has it taken off so much?
KENDALL: I think it has taken off because yes, we all know that not all men can be violent. But yes, all women have reasons to be afraid. Yes all women have reasons to be concerned. And at some point, we have also got to start talking about misogyny - not as the thing that is a fluke - because he clearly found people would agree with him. He clearly found people who think he's a hero. There are multiple fan pages devoted to Elliot Rodger on Facebook and other forms of social media. We have to start talking about misogyny as a serious societal ill that can kill.
MARTIN: Keli Goff, you were telling us that you are not a fan of hashtag activism. Tell me why, and give us your thoughts about this.
KELI GOFF: Well, look, I'm a fan of anything that does get people discussing something on Twitter besides Kim and Kanye's wedding - and particularly something more substantive. So, in that regard, you know, do I think it can be beneficial in shifting the conversation? Sure. Do I think it is beneficial in the ways that if all the people who were doing hashtag activism actually voted or wrote letters to their members of Congress or actually gave donations to specific organizations doing specific work, no I don't see it as particularly beneficial, except for creating platforms for people who want more attention for themselves - particularly in social media.
Now, you know, and the thing - I care about the issues that this whole conversation has raised. I care deeply about misogyny. I care deeply about the fact that even in this day and age, you can't walk down the street in New York without someone saying something unsolicited or touching you an unsolicited way. But the fact of the matter is, his first victims were men. I mean, his first victims were men. And so what is frustrating for me, Michel, is the first thing I think about this story when I think about it, and I have been thinking about a lot, is my heart goes out to the victims. But the second thing is how frustrated I am at the political jockeying that always takes place after these tragedies, where everyone tries to co-opt it for its cause before we even have all the necessary information. And that has been so typical with this story.
MARTIN: Does that apply to the father of one of the victims, who came out very strong - Mr. Martinez came out very strongly saying that he thinks this is about politicians not doing their job and reflecting the will of the people when it comes to restricting access to guns. Do you feel that it applies to him?
GOFF: A firm rule that I have as a journalist, and I have stuck to this, is I never judge victims of violence in wherever they are emotionally. I do not think I have the moral high ground to do so and I won't.
MARTIN: But, as to the rest of us, what would you want us to be thinking about when it comes to this?
GOFF: Well, before the finger-pointing started, which I realize we now live in this internet age where something happens, and five minutes later your editor wants to know where the piece is. Right? And that's part of the problem. Because then we all have to take, we feel like we have to take an angle. I have tried to sort of frame myself from feeling that in some cases because I feel like I probably would have been guilty of jumping the gun - excuse for the poor choice of word - but uncertain stories before we all had the information. I'm trying to get a little bit better about that. I'd like to see all of us actually try to get better about that before the first piece goes up blaming Hollywood, blaming misogyny, blaming lack of control. I mean, especially because his first victims were killed with knives.
So, I mean, there's a lot I just wish we could kind of slow the process down, even though I realize the genie is out of the bottle at this point. But that's what I would actually love to see happen. And then, once we have more information, have the really substantive conversations start. I know I'm rambling, but the last thing I want to say is, I love to see people actually go back and do something a month later, as opposed to then dropping the topic after the hashtag activism dies down.
MARTIN: Yes, but speaking of the hashtag activism, the fact that the stuff that emerges in the wake of something about this, you have to look at it as being - as having some meaning. And, Bridget Johnson, I'm thinking about, so there was the hashtag #yesallwomen, and it got a tremendous response. And then some people responded who respond to the hashtag with their own hashtag #notallmen. But there were some really disturbing comments and remarks attached to that. I just, look, I feel like I have to say one of them about - just because I feel like I need for some people to understand the tenor of this - which was, what do you say to a woman with two black eyes? Not much, she's already not listened twice. What is up with that?...
MARTIN: What's up with that?
JOHNSON: I saw that on a, shall I say, competitor conservative site (Laughter).
MARTIN: A competitor, conservative site, yes. A competitor, conservative site. Yes, yes it was.
JOHNSON: But it is just so ugly because it draws out this alpha male frustration, you know, with not being able to control women. And you know, everybody, every woman who tweeted something has dealt some way with, you know, having to pretend that she has a boyfriend so that a guy can back off, you know, et. cetera. I had two attempted sexual assaults in college that I fended off. You know, one was a friend who turned suddenly angry when I repelled his advances. So, I am really kind of disgusted, I guess, with the tract that the hashtag has taken. And the pushback against it. You know, if people would just settle down and listen for a minute about what people's experiences are, even if they are not directly connected to a mentally ill person doing the shooting and stabbing.
MARTIN: Anne, I want to give you...
KENDALL: I also want to say, that in terms of hashtag...
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: MARTIN: OK, go ahead, Mikki, but I do want to give some time to talk about Maya Angelou. I don't want to forget that opportunity, to give some reflections upon that. You want to just give a brief thought, Mikki just finish your thought?
KENDALL: Oh, yes, it's a very brief thought. It's literally just, in terms of hashtag activism, it always, this is the beginning. This is not all that happens. So, there is a process to start any movement, and you have to talk about it before you can do anything.
MARTIN: Let's spend a couple of minutes, the last couple of minutes, the three minutes or so that we have left, talking about Maya Angelou. And, Anne, would you like to start?
ISHII: Yeah, you know, it is a huge loss. A huge loss. I just remember being in a high school and being in a rink-a-dink poetry club and it was really, you know, a bunch of misfits probably actually not unlike these nerds we have been talking about all week in regards to being sort of secluded and lonely. But I found so much solace in poetry, but most importantly just a really profound moment of reading Maya Angelou's work and realizing that women were actually superior at poetry. And that gave me a sense that this was actually a format that we not only could embrace, but could be really proud of. And you know, I was totally disillusioned by having to understand sonnets, and Robert Frost, and to be introduced to a powerful female verse. I think it's appropriate that we are talking about hashtag activism. I think we have made it clear that women really are the owners of this verse.
MARTIN: It is a great loss. We are going to hear from Nikki Giovanni in just a few minutes. But first, I wanted to ask if any of you have any other thoughts to share. Bridget, do you have any other thoughts to share, briefly, about Maya Angelou?
JOHNSON: Well, mine might seem a little bit trivial, especially considering the gravity of the work I'm referencing, but it is because of her I don't cage any of my birds.
JOHNSON: I think that they should be free and, you know, not frustrated and sitting in their little cage singing. So they have free access.
MARTIN: All right, I know why the caged bird sings. What about you, Keli?
GOFF: I was going to say, I do not come from a family that had a ton of money, right. But one of the things I give my parents so much gratitude for is that they made sure to do what they could to expose me to things that would allow me to dream as big as possible. And one of the things they did is they pulled enough money together to make sure we as a family could attend the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton. And that was really the first time I was exposed to a black female poet, a woman who was changing the world with her words. And I now look at the career path I ended up on, which none of us really predicted, and I really believe that that moment and moments like it had a profound effect in shaping me and allowing me to dream that I could be a writer.
MARTIN: Thank you for that. Mikki, final thought from you?
KENDALL: I just want to say that in sixth grade, I had a family upbringing that is not too different from Dr. Maya Angelou's. It was complicated. And my teacher gave me a copy of "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." And I was in a place that I could have gone left or I could have gone right. In a lot of ways, reading that book and seeing the life she made for herself and going on to read her other work helped make the right decisions to get to a good place as an adult, even though I was coming from a dark place as a child.
MARTIN: Thank you for that. Thank you all so much for sharing those personal reflections. Mikki Kendall is a writer and media critic with hoodfeminism.com, with us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Anne Ishii is editor-in-chief of "They're All So Beautiful." Keli Goff is a columnist for The Root and the Daily Beast. They both joined us from our bureau in New York. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you so much for joining us.
ISHII: Thanks, Michel.
KENDALL: Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.