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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  January 18, 2017 8:30pm-9:01pm GMT

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beat swede never had before. we're going to send more people into rural america which we should have done before. there are two americas, people who look at the exact same thing, like guns, some people cannot believe some americans cannot believe, we allow mentally ill people to have guns. other people say it's the right because it's the spectrum. i think we are all adapting here, the media, how to explain the two americas. the trump america and the outgoing obama america. maryjordan, thank you forjoining us, good luck with the new beat, should be interesting! earlier, president—elect donald trump, who has run —— referred to his marlyne ngoa has run —— referred to his marlyne n g oa estate has run —— referred to his marlyne ngoa estate as winter white house. —— he has said he is looking forward
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to friday, and the text is attached with this picture of him with pen and paper at his desk. let's discuss and paper at his desk. let's discuss a little bit more now and talk about foreign policy, the potential legacy of president obama. good to see you, thanks for being with us, you sat through the whole of that commie did talk about russia, israel, the middle east, but i think, overriding his references to foreign policy was the idea that america has an overarching role to play in the world, and it needs to use its influence, its power, its prestige for good. and i think, in a way, that was a response to some of the comments that trump made over the weekend, criticising the european union, criticising the leadership of angela merkel, arguing that the eu
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was a fundamental competitor to the us and he was ambivalent about its fate. i think trump is a break not only from the democratic presidency of barack obama, but the bipartisan tradition in terms of seeing the united states as a pause of stability in the global order. now, trump may end up reinforcing that anyway, he may be constrained by congress and bureaucracy, he may reverse some of his statements. certainly, he has made different state m e nts certainly, he has made different statements about various issues before, so i don't think he sees himself as having a particular foreign policy philosophy, he is willing to be transactional and transform his view from time to time, he comes in with the view that he will be refocusing american ideas ona he will be refocusing american ideas on a more narrow idea of what is in the american interest. and that might not include nato, although
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president obama did not mention those four letters today — but that is clearly in the back of his mind, that perhaps nato is at risk? he didn't mention nato, and i think you will see an interesting dynamic in the first few months of the trump administration, because his secretary of state designate, rex tillerson, his secretary of defence designate, they have both spoken about the ongoing need for the us to participate in nato honour treaties with long—standing allies, so the extent to which he overrides them the extent to which he comes to their point of view will, i think, ina lot their point of view will, i think, in a lot of ways be the story of the first few months of foreign policy in the administration. how would you sum up the legacy of barack obama in foreign policy? i think the major achievements of obama on foreign policy are primarily the opening of
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cuba and the iran nuclear deal. less ofa cuba and the iran nuclear deal. less of a headline but more responsible management of american obligations abroad, of rebuilding the public views of the united states, which have slipped towards the end of the bush administration, and most parts of the world recovered, over the course of that administration, generally trying, and obviously there are caveats, exceptions, there have been failures and mistakes, but on the old, trying to be a responsible steward of american foreign policy and america's role in the world. jacob, many thanks. stay with us and bbc news, much more coming up at the top of the hour, but now it is time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. the more things change, the more things stay the same. an adage that seems tailor—made for race relations in america. after eight years of a black president, amid a swirl of demographic and social change,
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black americans still feel the bite of discrimination and prejudice. how best to respond? my guest today is paul beatty, whose prize—winning novel sellout is a devised satire to unpick the black american experience. it is funny and provocative but is it also fundamentally bleak? paul beatty, welcome to hardtalk. let me start with a broad question. it seems to be optimism
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has always been seen as the default mood setting of american history. are you an optimist? iam not! i am not a pessimist either. reading the book, the sellout which has caused a storm and won the booker prize, some would read it and think, gosh, this man has a very bleak world view. i don't think it is that bleak, really, in a weird way. i think hopefully within the energy, there is a kind of something that belies the bleakness in a way. the energy contained vicious humour, and it is very funny, but fundamentally, you have a book that is pretty much about race relations and the experience of being black in america today, and it is not that different from the way it has ever been, including the era of outright slavery and segregation and deep prejudice. i can't say that — i am 5a, i am not 254. so i cannot speak
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for how it is different. i'm sure it is. my life is different within 5a years. better different? would you use the word progress? barack obama, when he talks as the head of the nation about race issues, he says, change has come and things are different and we are making progress. good for him, he is the president, and he should say that. he wouldn't say that if it wasn't true. presidents do that all the time. we went through huge wars over stuff that wasn't true. explain why you would not say that. i only speak for myself, not for everybody else. i just speak for myself, or i try to. so it is a word i don't use very often. just from my perspective, i am not trying to send this message from the body politic black,
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it is just my perspective, those are my words. it is obama'sjob in a weird way, and someone said earlier... the book is kind of about what is progress, and what it feels like and how you measure it. you were talking about american optimism. i think there is some truth to that. it is kind of an optimism that is sort of spreading to world politics. everyone is doing things the way americans do. you have to be optimistic, i don't know if that is new. there has been all of these police shootings in the news in the states. this is, for me, old hat. i can't remember a time when there weren't police shootings. you are someone who grew up in southern california,
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and i guess a defining moment for you was probably the rodney king shooting and the riots in la. i don't know if it was a defining moment, these things happen, and it was one of those things where it was... that was when the match finely ignites, it was that last straw. it was on tape, and there was this thing... let me say what i was going to say. obama was in the new smithsonian museum of african—american history, standing in this room. he is flanked in the background by all this iconic stuff of the civil rights movement, photos. there is a black woman asking him, she has a weird passion in her voice, wanted him to respond to these shootings. she asked him about a specific shooting, where a guy has his hands up, and it is all on tape, and the cop just shoots
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the guy in the back. i think it is that equivocation that doesn't read as optimism. it also reads... there is a sense of people wanting to hear an opinion, a passion, something beyond diplomacy in these things. they want to know what you really think, and it is hard to read, and it is one of those things where i remember when i saw it, i was not angry with him or anything but i was just like, that is the true power of the position. he is the commander—in—chief, not the police chief. it gets to really deep stuff. on hardtalk a while ago, we interviewed professor cornell west, one of the great intellectual thinkers of black america today. hopefully, he is just a great thinker. exactly. when he thinks about race and obama, i am not sure he has ever used the specific word sell—out that
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you titled your book with, he basically says barack obama has sold out black americans. i have a hard time... it is weird, it is not an impulse behind that book but i wish... i don't think there was an author to this book, it was a funny book, like a phone directory of uncle tom's sell—outs and race traders. i can't think of the title. you go through that book and it is every black american of note has an entry in there. it is this interesting thing. some people will call cornel west a sell—out for their own reasons. it is not like i am a huge fan of obama, i think he has his faults. there is that thing of... it is a hard thing to say, because somebody is of a certain race or gender or something that they owe that demographic something specifically —
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it doesn't work like that. it is that notion of people should know better. that often works in the adverse. ruthless or insensitive. i am not calling obama ruthless... i think if i was suffering drones, i would think he was ruthless but i am not saying i think he is an insensitive person. you picked me up when i described cornel west as a leading black thinker and you said, look, he is a thinker, which was a good point. i think a lot of your writing is about identity and when it comes to being a black american, the degree to which your blackness defines your identity. what is the answer for you? i don't have an answer. the identity is shifting, it changes. i have a slight background and one of the identity things
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that was always interesting was there was this kind of self actualisation, when you reach this nirvana of consciousness, and some of the book is based on a guy, a psychologist called william cross who came up with a scale of... i think it was from negro to black consciousness. there was this ideal kind of black identity. it was fascinating and done with such care. the central character in your book seems to reflect a bit of that at the beginning. the central character goes on to do absurd things he is a black man, and he gets his own slave and launches an initiative to segregate the local school in southern california. in many ways, a very likeable character. in his own relationship with his father, he was used as a sort of social experiment. his father was trying
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to condition him to become the right—thinking black person. did you have that in your life? my mother is beautiful, a super genius, i ask her everything, and she knows the answer. did she discuss with you how to live as a black person? my mom never talked about race. she didn't. me and my sisters are all left—handed. no—one in my family is left—handed other than us. we asked our mother about it, and she said i tied your right hand behind your back and so whatever left—handed is supposed to give you... it was that weird kind of experiment, and she also raised us japanese for a long period of time. you don't want to get into this, believe me! she was trying to broaden our scope. we had to bow in the house. my mom loves asia. it is interesting.
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i might be misinterpreting this, but the message of the book seems to be, you lacerate many of the tropes and stereotypes of black culture and black thinking and in a really funny and vicious way. in a way that frankly only probably a black person could. nah, i don't think so, i don't think that is true. hopefully it is the only way that i can. let's talk about language, you spray cuss words through the book because it is street talk. that is not street talk, i can't let you get away with that! i don't know if you read it or not, but it is not street talk, for me, the language is the whole thing for me. the book is about everything, and we are talking about blackness and i am always thinking about what that is for myself and what that means, from your perception. for me, my blackness is all cultural appropriation, from where i grew up,
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from my latino american friends, my filipino american friends. the degrees to whatever blackness is, it is all me, ijust happen to be black, thank goodness, and i am not ashamed or embarrassed. it is notjust about the skin or things that are going to be on the black shelf in the library, it is everything. for me, it is everything and so the language is how i try to render that, and so for me, the language is, what you quote as street talk, is the way i might talk to my friends, which is not necessarily street talk, but it is how we talk to each other because we have known each other our whole lives. i have an academic background, so it is some of that. i am picking one specific, because it is so emotive to so many different audiences in the united states and around the world, and that is the n word. for me, it is a difficult proposition, because we do not use it
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on the bbc for a start. but everyone watching this will know what word i am talking about. the point is, when i said there are certain ways in which you write in which ways a white person couldn't write — is that word an example? this is hardtalk, but you can't talk so hard, i guess! it is about offence as much as anything else, some people get offended. absolutely, there is no reason that they shouldn't. the word comes up in that book, because mark twain uses it 200 something times in... that word has been used forever. mark twain was writing in a different period. if white people use it today, they get hammered. why would they want to use it? it is a word. but it is redolent of slavery, disrespect, total discrimination and prejudice.
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absolutely, thank you for that. of course. what are you asking me? just this point, for example, i read in the new york times, the praise for the book was consistent, and the critics loved it. i read about a reading you did in new york city, where the writer who was present said it was interesting because the audience was predominantly white, and the author said it seemed to them that some of the audience didn't know whether to laugh or not. they were a little unsure of this territory. i don't think that necessarily has to do with race, it is what room you are in. i have read for black audiences, some laugh and some don't. it is notjust about race. i have won the man booker, a huge honour. the first american to win it. i'm trying to pay my...something.
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i did a thing at the man group in the states, and a woman who was interviewing me was like, "as a white person i wasn't sure how to come to the book." "a colleague told me, well, why don't you start with maybe the book is funny, and that opened up some stuff." and i said, "well, the person who told you that is also white." so everybody‘s bringing their own things and insecurities to everything we read. we've become a very uptight culture. some of us have, some of us haven't. i think i agree with you on some level. i think we have a hard time talking about grey areas. you know, we're really good with pontification, prognostication, but it's that grey stuff that for me is the most interesting stuff, the stuff where i'm lost and don't necessarily know what i think about something. it's a book, it's not a memoir, it's fiction and some of the stuff i believe some of the time and some of the stuff i don't believe, i'm just trying to tell a story.
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in one way, just in terms of plot, it's a story that doesn't have the ending you might wish to have. there's this wonderful premise that the main character in the book is actually being taken to the supreme court for violating the constitution. you want to know at the end whether he's going to be found guilty or not, there is no resolution. is that because you don't believe in resolution in your books? it's a huge, psychological... i used to be a... i'll get my doctorate in psychology at some point, so there's a huge undertone in the book. so the book ends with a discussion of what closure is. i've been talking for a while about the book in person, "do you ever see it getting better?" i don't know what that is, i don't know what people want from closure, because people want different things, and i don't know if i believe in the construct. we were talking about president obama earlier, and when he won the first go—round, i had a friend of mine who i've known for a long time and he had an american flag in his car, and i was, like, "dude, what's up
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with the flag? "i'm not knowing you to be a flag waver." he was, like, "yeah, i kinda feel like america's paid its debt." and i was, like, "its debt to who?" and he said, "to us, to black americans. i was like, "man, that's a huge debt!" it's more than just us. i'm not trying to put everything on equalfooting, but there's native americans, there's the environment, there's a huge thing. but it's interesting when someone feels like that debt has been paid so for me the scope is bigger. i want to come back to that big canvas. it's notjust about race, there's so much going on in today's america, and i want to know what you're thinking about and writing next but before that, there's one other thing about your writing that fascinates me. people have called you a satirist, i think you prefer the word "absurdist". yeah, "absurdist" is better. whatever the right word is, you find ways to make really difficult stuff funny. is there anything that
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for you is off—limits, in terms of getting entertainment, a laugh, comedic value? i don't think about it being off—limits. i think, "what's this narrative i'm trying to tell?" language is so important, and i think there are things that can be read on the surface as, like, i've violated some sacred trust, i don't think that. i don't think anything's off—limits. everybody has the right to use whatever language they want to use. it's always been the case. if somebody feels like they don't have that, that's on them, i'm not trying to say it's equal and a level playing field, i'm not saying that either. so, yeah, why do it if something's off—limits? that's for me. for you, the civil—rights movement isn't off—limits, some of the great heroes of black freedom movements. where would you end? could you imagine writing a funny novel about, i don't know, a genocide?
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my first book is about a genocide! so, yeah, of course i can! so, yeah, my first book is about that. so, yeah, i don't think about that stuff very much. it's not like i'm that sensitive that other people might think about that, but as much as i can, i try to be considerate about what i'm talking about and how i'm saying it, the language is so important to me. these things, i'm not mocking... i'm sort of mocking them, but these are things i care very deeply about and are things that i respect. you can do both? absolutely. both mock and show respect? i think in the same sentence, in the same joke, i think that can be done. and i start by ridiculing myself, whether it's apparent or not, that's the person i'm picking on because i'm really trying to test myself and where are my boundaries and stuff like that. that's where i start with, myself. bringing it back to the united states today, obama's leaving office,
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the next president is going to be donald] trump. yeah. you didn't know that when you wrote the book. it's a fascinating take on modern america but america's sort of had another shift and another lurch since you wrote it. yeah. how are you feeling about the united states of today? i think i feel the way... some people are pleased as punch, i'm not one of those people. i feel in a weird way similar to how i always feel, which is very cautious and very pessimistic. it was like that when obama won. i wonder whether you... i take your point, your writing isn't all about race, your perception of the world isn't all about race, but nonetheless in the switch from obama to trump, there are some people in the civil—rights movement and politics saying this is a disaster for minorities. and it is — or it might be. i don't know what will happen. this is a guy who ran a whole identity—based campaign. there's a thing for me, there's kind of a white self—hatred in a weird way.
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and trump kind of fed into that. yeah, it's really scary. it always feels like it's 1913 to me. i know a lot of people are trying to compare it to feeling like the late 1920s and ‘30s with all the nationalism, but i'm going earlier somehow, that weird. . .archduke ferdinand match hasn't been struck that's going to send the world into a weird kind of chaos. i don't know what trump means. this guy was chosen for a reason, people feel a certain way. you know, there's an image that they want to project, there's something in how they see themselves and how the country sees them, they want him to be that figure and that face of something that they feel that they're losing. yeah, it's really scary. i mean, a guy... yeah, preaching this retroactive, out—and—out antipathy for what he sees... it's very scary.
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scary, does it make you feel alienated from your own country? i can't say... i'm not a person who's ever felt like this is my place, i live there, it's my home, but i'm not a person, like... i kind of know that it's not this place that was designed for me. you know? but it's my home, so i have to make it work. its job supposedly is to make it also work for me, so these things are happening in concert. different sort of voices from the black american community. we've had al sharpton on not so long ago and representatives from black lives matter, there are different approaches to protest. absolutely. what's your take on how best to achieve change in the united states? i don't have a take on it, it's something i always am imagining in these books but for me my take is just to write, that's what i do,
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that's what gives me pleasure. i don't write to provide answers. i get nervous when people tell me how to think, it's one of the things about this election that's made me nervous. people are so comfortable being told how to think, because in a weird way someone's telling you not to think. these things make me nervous, i'm always nervous. i've learned that i write from a point of being uncomfortable, from being apprehensive, but sometimes when i write there is a sense that i'm unfettered and much more bold on the page than i am in real life. that's interesting you say that because on the page you're fizzing with energy and you go to places a lot of people wouldn't go, so where are you going next? i'm a kind of boring, inert person here. i'm intrigued to know where you're going to take the spirit that's in this book. i just write.
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i have stories that come to me over over time, i have a couple of ideas, i don't know exactly what they are yet. are they going to be about contemporary america? one of them actually is, and the other one might not be. my timelines are fuzzy. you opened up with this thing of the more things change, the more things feel the same. one of the nice things is, you know, my first novel's 20 years old, and some guy recently wrote a review of that first novel about how still applicable it is. i think good art does that, hopefully. a final thing, and i can relate to this, you once said that writing is hard, in a way you hate writing, but you can't stop doing it. i do. there's nothing that gives me the kind of satisfaction of writing. so i don't want to throw it away just yet. so you're going to keep doing it? i hope so. i hope so too. thank you, man. paul beatty, thanks so much for being on hardtalk. thanks, stephen, man. appreciate it. thank you so much. you're welcome. really enjoyed it. thanks, man. hello, i'm ros atkins. this is outside source. we'll begin in washington where
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barack obama we'll begin in washington where ba rack obama has just we'll begin in washington where barack obama has just finished his final press conference as president. inevitably, he was asked about his successor. i don't expect there is going to be you know, enormous overla p. going to be you know, enormous overlap. the british foreign secretary boris johnson overlap. the british foreign secretary borisjohnson warns eu leaders not to give the uk punishment beatings over brexit like a world war ii movie. we've had a response from the top of the eu, theresa may's announcement that the uk will leave the single market. thousands of tourists are leaving the gambia because of an ever worsening political crisis. in theory the new president will be inaugurated tomorrow. it's not
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