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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hi, everybody, before we dove in a little bit of a warning, this conversation includes descriptions of abuse and violence. As you may know, March 8th, the day we're dropping this episode is International Women's Day. And we have a story today about intimate violence, which has, of course, long been a problem for women around the world and has only, unfortunately, intensified during the pandemic.


My guest is Tanya Salvio Ratnam. She's a writer and an artist who I've actually known socially for many, many years. I was truly shocked when Tanya's name surfaced in the media three years ago in connection with the case of Eric Schneiderman. Eric was the celebrated attorney general of New York State. He was also a regular on the local meditation scene in New York City. I knew that Eric and Tanya were dating. What I did not know was that behind the scenes, Eric was allegedly physically and emotionally abusing Tanya.


She has now come out with a book called Assume Nothing, which goes into searing detail about not only the alleged abuse, but also about how she ultimately flip the script, regained her agency, helped bring her alleged abuser down and how she has subsequently healed in no small part through meditation and therapy before we dove in.


I'd also like to provide a little bit more context about the allegations you're going to hear Tanya make when the charges of abuse against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman by Tanya and three other women were first made public in The New Yorker magazine back in May of twenty eighteen. Schneiderman quickly resigned. In a statement at the time, he said, and I'm quoting here, Serious allegations which I strongly contest have been made against me. He also said, and I'm quoting again here, While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of my office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office's work at this critical time.


I therefore resign my office. There was then a six month investigation after which prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Schneiderman. In November of twenty eighteen. The D.A. assigned to the case by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cited legal impediments, including statutes of limitation. But she also said, and I'm quoting again here, that she believed the women who shared their experiences with investigators. In response, Schneiderman said, I recognized that the district attorney's decision not to prosecute does not mean I have done nothing wrong.


I accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers and for the impact it had on them. One less thing to say here before we dove in, and that is that we did reach out to Eric Schneiderman and he declined to comment. OK, having said all of that, let's dove in with my friend Tanya Selvaraj Ratnam. Tanya, nice to see you, thanks for coming on. Nice to see you, too, Dan. Thanks for having me.


It's a pleasure. Even though it's a tough topic. Having said that, that it is a tough topic, let's dove right into the hard part first. Can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up in a relationship with Mr. Schneiderman?


We met in twenty sixteen at the Democratic National Convention and when he first approached me. I was taken with how much attention he gave me, it felt too good to be true. It started out like a fairy tale. We had so much in common, a commitment to progressive causes, an interest in spirituality and meditation, and we had both gone to Harvard. We both studied Chinese. We both spent time in China, it was a very kind of nerdy flirtation and then we got to know each other over the course of a couple of weeks and then over time, the fairy tale.


Turned into a nightmare. The darkness started to seep in. And I went through the stages that are. Common for other people who get entangled in abusive relationships. It starts with the. Controlling behavior, the isolation, the manipulation, the gaslighting, I wasn't prepared for when my path would intersect with an abuser. I wasn't prepared for. The gaslighting and manipulation. And then it started to feel like I was in hell. It got worse, especially after the election in twenty sixteen and then the inauguration in early twenty seventeen, there was an increasing national spotlight on him.


He was more. Stressed out, he was more depressed and his drinking was increasing. The physical violence that happened in the sexual context was shocking. And for too long, I didn't tell people about it. I was ashamed and also I was keeping his secret. I also. Believed him when he said that he was going to get help. I thought he could change. You, in my opinion, quite bravely go into a lot of detail about this in the book, which I highly recommend everybody read.


In particular, I remember being really shocked by your description of the first instance of violence. You comfortable talking a little bit about that here? I've written about it, so, yeah, I'm comfortable talking about it. It's hard to talk about, it's embarrassing to talk about, but I also feel that by being candid about these micro details of what happens in abusive relationship gives a window. For people to understand more and also for other victims and survivors to connect more.


So when he first slapped me across the face during sex, it took me by surprise. No man had ever done that to me before. I had never been in an abusive relationship before. And it started out. Like he was testing me. And then. It happens in the blink of an eye and it happens at night. It's dark. You're naked. You're in a more vulnerable place. And then over time, the lapse got harder. And we're accompanied by demands.


In addition to the slapping, there was the choking and the spitting. As stinging as the physical abuse was the verbal abuse and the emotional abuse. So one of the worst memories I have is how he referred to my scars. When we first started seeing each other, he would look at my scars like a badge of courage. I have scars from surgery for cancer that run down the length of my torso. Then over time, my scars were ugly to him, and he wanted me to get plastic surgery to remove them.


He also wanted me to get a boob job and he was criticizing my hair and he always made me feel like I was doing something wrong. And what I would discover later is that I was part of a pattern, but at the time I thought the abuse was specific to me because it. Manifested seemingly out of nowhere and. Also, I was duped because. He surrounded himself with feminists, he was known as an advocate of women's rights. A champion for feminism and also a champion for meditation and spirituality, and so I see now how I got sucked in.


And I wrote the book so that hopefully others don't get sucked into. You mentioned earlier some. I think you kind of described them as classic tactics of abusers. I think you listed isolation, gaslighting, control.


How did that show up in your relationship? The isolation is cutting the victim off from their family and friends, so a concrete example. When I would be talking on the phone with my friends and even with my mother. He would try to get me to get off the phone, even though he was often on the phone himself. This was in the apartment. Even if I have the door closed when I was speaking to them. Another example is when I was speaking at an event.


On March 20th, my birthday, my friends had arranged for a birthday cake and also for drinks afterward. He attended the event. And then. Insisted immediately afterwards that he had to leave and my friends are all kind of like. Stunned. Looking back, I kind of laugh at the absurdity of that situation. My friends, because I was there for my own birthday, they went out together and. I had a birthday party with me and they texted me a photo of them all toasting me at this bar.


So that's an example of the isolation. The controlling behavior. It's coercive control. So. A concrete example of that is. Criticizing my hair, my dress, wanting me to dress a certain way. But then and this is also embarrassing to talk about controlling what I ate. He was a pescatore and so he didn't eat meat and wouldn't let me eat meat in his presence. And. I have a vivid memory of one time when we were at a party and there were waiters passing around orders and one of them was a chicken satay.


And I love chicken satay. But I didn't take it. And he glared at me after the waiter passed by and said in a very demonic voice, I saw the way you were looking at the. He also didn't want me to eat sweets. He was very infantilizing because he didn't want me to put on weight. So I would take the opportunities when I was away from him, when I would have dinner with a friend. To order meat and to order dessert, even if I didn't really want it, but it's important to.


Say also that aside from the abusive behavior, there were the times when he was. Adoring and supportive and kind. And so there was this like Yo-Yo Effect of pushing me away and pulling me back, which is a tactic of abuser's. And I didn't understand all the stages I had gone through that I walked the reader through in the first half of the book until. I started opening up to friends, and one of them connected me with the domestic violence counselor.


Who helped me understand what I had gone through and also helped me understand that what I went through was completely common in abusive relationships. Then halfway through the book, when I get out of the relationship, after I've connected with domestic violence expert. The script gets flipped because I begin to have agency over the story and over my future. And then the roller coaster begins. With me realizing that I have to come forward because I find out. In a cosmic way that I was not the first woman he had abused.


And knowing that, I probably wouldn't be the last. I want to get into that because it's incredible and really brave.


Before we go there, I want to admit that before reading your book, I.


I really was quite ignorant about this issue.


And I appreciated reading the book because I learned so much. And one of the things that I realized I.


A belief I mistakenly held sort of lazily was that there might be a certain type of person who would end up in an abusive relationship.


And I met you, I don't know, 15, 16 years ago and certainly didn't think of you that way. And one thing you've said is that and I'm going to look at my notes here to get the quote, even fierce women get abused.


Can you say more about this sort of misconception?


A victim looks like all of us and perpetrators are of all stripes and. The statistics on intimate partner violence are. Devastating that about one in four women and one in 10 men will experience some form of violence in an intimate relationship during their lifetime. And of those, many millions of people experience that violence before the age of 18. So one of the big challenges I feel ahead and one of the reasons I wrote the book is a dream read for me is a high school age person, because the conditioning that begins when we're born to normalize abuse and to normalize violence, we need to chip away at that conditioning.


Because I think there are the victims of abusers. But I also feel that the abusers are products of the conditioning by society. There's a civil war between feminists and patriarchs. And those on the side of feminists are not only women and those on the side of patriarchs are not only men, and we have to fight for a world that is safer for all women and men. And it's important to understand that. Anyone can become a victim. I wasn't prepared for when my path would intersect with an abuser, even though I had grown up in a household where there was horrific domestic violence between my parents.


I witnessed it myself, I stood up to my father, I stood between my mother and father when my father would try to hit her, I even tried to get my mother to divorce my father. I'm grateful that in my situation, it lasted a relatively short period of time. It was about a year. My mother endured domestic violence for decades, and so many women don't have the support network that I was fortunate to have to help me get out and to surround me with love and comfort and strength.


And so many people stay in abusive relationships because they don't have the financial independence to get out of them. Or because they have people not supporting them, getting out of them. So I also wrote the book for people who might know loved ones in abusive relationships to potentially be a lifeline to those people. I mean, it's unfortunately timely right now, and I'm sure you'll be able to educate me on this, but as I understand it, the numbers around.


Domestic violence are going up in the pandemic, the pandemic has amplified the urgency of the domestic violence crisis. In the early months of lockdown, the United Nations Population Fund had estimated that there would be a 20 percent increase in domestic violence incidences, and that was proven to be true in calls to hotlines. Victims were in lockdown with their abusers, they had fewer opportunities to get away and fewer opportunities to seek help and also for the children of these victims, they would now witness more the domestic violence in their home.


So there's a lot of healing and recovery to do. The pandemic has had so many levels of mental health fallout and domestic violence is one of them. Let's talk now about your own healing and recovery.


And let's start with the the flipping of the script that happens in the second part of the book. How did you extricate yourself from this relationship?


When I first opened up to a friend about the physical violence. She immediately said, you have to get out and I want you to speak with somebody, a friend of hers, who is a domestic violence expert. And I never looked back, it was like the scales fell off my eyes and it was because a friend was like my sister asked me tough questions, she could sense I was going through a hard time. Many friends sense that I was going through a hard time as the months went by.


One had said that I seemed subdued in the relationship and I said there's a lot going on, another one who said, are you OK? I said, he's depressed. I'm trying to help them. So I was giving these kind of coded clues without giving details, because once you give the details, you can't take them back. And if he were going to get help and change. I was holding out hope. But this one friend asked as I told her more about the drinking and the controlling behavior.


And that things were rocky. She asked, does he hit you? Those four words, does he hit you? And because I would never lie to her. When she asked me a question, I'm going to answer it honestly. I said yes. And she asked me to describe it. And so that was the turning point for me. What happened next? Well, fortunately, at that time, I was very busy with work, I was traveling a lot for work.


And I remember going to Los Angeles for a film shoot, and he tried to call me a couple of times. And each time with increasing urgency three times in twenty four hours, and I was trying to drift as quietly as possible. And then I finally just emailed him saying, I'm traveling. He thought that we were going to have dinner that week. And that was mid September. And then after I was back in town. He continued to want to talk to me.


It was around the time of Yom Kippur. He said he was going to do some atoning and then wanted to have a conversation. I was in constant contact with the domestic violence expert and she just kept encouraging me not to think about him. To focus on myself, stay away, don't be alone with him anymore. And Eric and I arranged to have a phone call and the phone call I have been prepared for by the domestic violence expert who gave me possible scenarios, she's like, you know, he might break up with you.


He might have gotten the hint. You might have to break up with him. Just do it quietly. Don't poke the bear. And I was at that time not angry, I was broken. He said in that phone call, It seems like you've been avoiding me. I said, yeah, I just need time. And he said, well, maybe we should go our separate ways, and I said, I think that would be for the best.


And he said, really? And the domestic violence expert had told me to end the conversation as soon as possible and to make a plan with a friend for right afterwards so that I had a legitimate reason to just say, you know, I need to go. But then subsequent to that, many of my things were at his place. We had essentially moved in together. He never stayed at my apartment. But the domestic violence expert said your things are not important.


There'll be a time when you will be ready to get them. And to make sure that when you get them, you go with a friend and that he's not there. So a couple of weeks later, this was in early November now of two thousand seventeen. I did arrange to go and get my things, I brought two friends with me, one of them happened to be an investigative reporter. And in less than twenty four hours, she had identified a previous girlfriend of Eric Schneiderman, who had an eerily similar story, and she dated him almost a decade before me, and that I just felt like all the blood rush out of my body when she told me that.


And she said, I think you should speak with the lawyer. And she connected me with Robbie Kaplan, who would eventually become my lawyer and who would coincidentally also eventually become the co-founder of the Time's Up legal defense Fund. And I had no intention of coming forward. I was really focused on protecting myself and recovering. But then when I realized that I was part of a pattern and. That the story might eventually come out. Then I went into survival mode.


And part of what made me feel like the story could come out in some way, whether through my coming forward or or through other means, is because by. A convergence that still overwhelms me, the metoo movement began right then. With the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein story, and I remember on the day that Ronan Farrow story appeared in The New Yorker about Harvey Weinstein, which I believe was October 10th, Eric reached out to me. Saying, I want to continue to support your good work, these are not normal times, almost simultaneously, the domestic violence expert also reached out to me.


She wanted to have a phone call, she wanted to make sure I was OK because she read that Harvey Weinstein story and felt it would be triggering for me. And. Hearing her and receiving that email from him on the same day that that Harvey Weinstein story broke, I felt like these waves crash around me that suddenly I was. Being swept up in. A global conversation while my story was unfolding in real time, because with me two stories, they were in the past, but I was experiencing a story in the present.


And also my story was about. Intimate violence in a committed relationship. It wasn't in the workplace. Just going back a few minutes, you really pained me to hear you describe yourself as broken at one point. What have you done?


To heal yourselves, we've discussed this in advance, so what I'm about to say is not a violation of privacy. You have a psychiatrist who's probably a familiar name to.


Listeners of the show, Dr. Mark Epstein, who's both a practicing Buddhist and a medical doctor psychiatrist, what kind of tools did you use and how has it gone for you, this process of trying to recover from this therapy?


With Mark Eppstein meditation. I did your 21 day challenge for the New Year. I meditate every morning. Sometimes I do two or three sessions in a day to ground and center me. Friends, thank goodness, for friends who surround me and really keep me looking up. And finding ways to experience joy, because I do have an innate sense of joy that I was born with, even with the health issues that I've dealt with, with miscarriages and infertility and cancer, with divorce and with abuse, I feel like the abusive relationship with Eric was kind of the culmination of a long stretch of about six and a half years of dealing with difficult personal experiences.


But now I feel like I am my strongest self ever because I have done the hard work to understand how I got into an abusive relationship. I have done the hard work of therapy and meditation. And also I wrote the book and I wrote My Way Out of the Darkness. I'm grateful that I'm a writer and could use my skills as a writer to excavate those painful memories, both the painful memories of abuse by Eric Schneiderman and also to excavate painful childhood memories of what I witnessed of domestic violence between my parents.


And I wrote the book because I was inspired by. Many people that I know and that I don't know, reaching out to me to share their own stories of abuse. And I felt like we need to. Split the world open together by sharing our stories, because there is so much shame and stigma around. Being a victim and a survivor. But it's like, how do you go from being a victim to a survivor to a thriver? And I think it's very important to.


Realize that. You might have been a victim. You can find power through your voice and through your community and the importance of allies. So I feel very grateful that I have that network, much more of my conversation with Tanya Selva Ratnam right after this. Everyone likes shopping online, but searching for coupon codes can be a bummer, so make saving online a breeze with Capital One shopping Capital One shopping is a free tool that instantly searches for available coupon codes and automatically applies them at checkout.


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Well, trauma sinks in at a cellular level, which is what scientists understand, and I wish. Were more widely understood. It's one of my hopes for the book. To understand how moments of abuse, whether they last a few minutes or many years. Create scars that are a marker of time before and after, and no one should have to have memories like those. But there's a way to heal them, to kind of unseat the trauma that sinks in at a cellular level and meditation can help with that.


Is when I'm meditating, I am mining. My memories. And able to work things out and also just the physiological impacts of meditation. The breathing, the connecting with your body, your senses. The unplugging, which is so essential. Avoiding the noise, avoiding the chatter. So that's how meditation helps me. I'm interested in hearing more about the mining of the memories. When we take a guess at how it might work and then you'll correct me, so you're sitting feeling your breath, coming in and going out or whatever kind of meditation you're doing, whatever you've chosen as the object of your meditation, and then you might get ambushed by the horrifying memory.


And the meditative stance is to neither fight it nor feed it, you know it. Yes, is that where the healing comes in? Just sort of the warm, nonjudgmental witnessing of your own? Trauma completely. Because you can take a long view of the painful experiences you've had and say. Those are painful, but they don't define me. You know, your experience and also I recognize that my experience is not unique to me, I am unique, but my experience was not unique and it's one that is shared by multitudes.


What role, if any, does anger play in your emotional landscape? Anger does not serve me. I was not angry with Eric. Because I I recognize how much he and other abusers are the products of their conditioning. I believe in redemption, I believe in restorative justice. The problem is that most abusers don't acknowledge the harm that they've done to other people and they don't do the work to stop being abusive. But there was one moment when I did feel anger at Eric.


Long after. I had gotten out of the relationship. Which was last year, 20 twenty. When a woman reached out to me out of the blue while I was working on the epilog. The final chapter of the book. And a woman reached out. By email to. Tell me that she had been abused by Eric after the New York story had come out. When I received that email, I. Started shaking. And I felt rage. Because he had made a statement after the conclusion of the criminal investigation that was launched after The New Yorker story came out.


I participated in the criminal investigation because I believe in due process, I subjected myself to the legal process in the same way that I subjected myself to the journalistic process, because I believe in investigating allegations in this situation. Because it was intimate violence. In a committed relationship, it was a he said she said situation. In my story, there were multiple women interviewed independently of each other, very different from each other, who had eerily similar stories. Objectivity emerged.


At the conclusion of the criminal investigation. Eric issued a statement. That he apologized for the harm he had done and that he was getting help and had gone to rehab. So I felt anger finally last year. You said anger doesn't serve you. Now I'm just projecting purely because what else do I have?


Yeah, a lot.


Well, I mean, I can empathize to the best of my ability, but of course, in some ways I'm just kind of putting myself in your shoes. But I'm still putting myself in your shoes. And I just imagine that I would feel a lot of anger whether I intellectually understood that it didn't serve me or not. And so I'm just wondering. You understand that it doesn't serve you, so you find that it doesn't arise or that when it does arise, you're able to serve it instead of giving into it.


I think as somebody who is a shy child and an introvert. And also somebody who is very sensitive to the emotions of others. I try to put myself in other people's shoes. As well. And when you're able to see both sides, even if it's somebody who's harmed you. I'm less likely to feel anger. And maybe this isn't the best strategic approach, but I prefer to. Drift and focus on myself and my healing and recovery, rather than direct my energy and anger towards another person.


I mean, that sounds incredibly wise, you've referenced a few times you kind of made attempts to understand the condition that can lead somebody to become an abuser. Can you explain that? What have you learned about why and how men become abusers? My gut response is they're all watching the same porn that glorifies violence against women. And we need more female feminist directors of porn to unpack that. Porn that celebrates mutual pleasure and stops glorifying violence. Going to when we are born.


Patriarchal structures that. Perpetuate. Violence as a norm. We've seen that on so many levels. In relationships, in the workplace, in schools, in government, violent words and violent acts, and of course, social media, which allows for the proliferation of violent imagery and vitriolic language. We have to make peace more exciting than violence. I don't know how to do that quite yet, but I hope my book helps.


This goes to something in your book. It's an incredible education and an incredible story. Of intimate violence, but it's also sort of a societal indictment and it's about how violent the overall society is.


Am I articulating that correctly, in your view? Mm hmm. We've seen over the past year because of the pandemic and the uprisings against racism. How ill? We're just living in an ill society. How we need to elevate. Voices of peace and love and comfort. But the default has been to elevate the shiny objects. The click bait, the sensational. And so we have a crisis of storytelling because I believe that storytelling helps shape. Public discourse and help shape culture and help shape conditioning and help shape the way we behave with each other.


You've said that you really want men to read this book. Why is that? Because I feel like. One. The book will help them to. It'll help them understand the impact that they have. With violent behavior and also to bring more allies into antiviolence. Because we can't approach a safer. And less violent world, unless. Men and women are allied together in this fight, and when I said I feel like we are in a war between feminists and patriarchs, I believe that that is true.


And I think the pandemic has provided an opening. What Arundhati Roy has written about the pandemic is a portal like we have an opportunity to really question the way our structures have evolved that enslave us. Rather than free us to be kind to each other and we've seen how there has been kind of a descendent of celebrity culture over the last year and an ascendancy of everyday heroes, essential workers and first responders, and I'm heartened by that. But we've also seen how the pandemic has negatively impacted communities of color and women, and Vice President Harris wrote this opinion piece for The Washington Post where she talked about how the exodus of women from the workforce is a national emergency that requires national solutions.


And I think. Why I want men to read my book is so that they can understand that with. Them, as part of the solution, we will get to this safer place. Because when women thrive, communities thrive, it's better for our world. You close the book with a poem and I want to read it to you and get you to talk a little bit on the other side about why this poem speaks to you. The poem is from a book called When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.


And she cites a poet named Muriel Rukeyser. Do I have that right?


Muriel Rukeyser.


OK, so here's the bit of the poem. What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. Why did you choose that? Where were you going for there? By my telling my story. And the stories of others, I hope that it opens up more storytelling. Because by sharing our stories, we destigmatize our experiences. And we can understand more how to craft solutions which need to happen in education. From grade school on up.


Legislation. Making sure that there are more repercussions for abusive behavior, that the bar is not too high for abusive behavior to be a crime and also at the governmental level, that there are more resources provided to organizations that provide shelter, counseling and legal services. To victims and survivors. And especially mental health services and restorative justice programs. So. By closing with that poem. I'm saying let's split the world open together. As we close this conversation, for people listening who need help or know somebody who needs help, what are the resources you recommend?


Well, the book has. S. So the narrative draws people in, but then it was very important for me to provide the reader with resources for how to spot, stop and prevent intimate partner violence. So there's like a checklist of the signs of intimate partner violence and a checklist of the effects of abuse so that people can more clearly see it and understand it and to understand that abuse comes in many different forms. It's not just physical. It's emotional. It's verbal.


It's legal. It's digital. Like cyberstalking. And also to understand that there are many, many organizations you can reach out to for help and that if you are the friend of someone in an abusive relationship, be their lifeline, ask them questions that elicit answers and make sure they understand that they are not alone and that they're not crazy. And I have a list of organizations that are specific to different constituencies because not everyone is comfortable reaching out to a national organization.


There are ones for indigenous communities, for Latin communities, for black communities. So it was very important for me to have different communities represented trans communities. The rates of domestic violence in trans community are staggering. And so that's my advice. Read the book and. Check out the resources at the end. Well, I have a lot of respect for what you're doing, and I think it's not only courageous, but also very generous. So thank you for doing it and thanks for coming on the show to talk about it.


Thank you so much, Dan. Thanks again to Tanya. Really appreciate her coming on. Represents a an extreme level of of courage and it's an important story and I agree with her that men should read this book. I got to shift gears just a little bit before we go here to make a quick business announcement. Here we are looking for a podcast marketer on this show.


If you love this show, if you love marketing and building relationships, we would love to have you on this team to help us grow not only on this show, but also on future shows, which we plan to start launching this year.


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I'll put a link to that in the show notes. Oh, actually, there is one more thing I do want to mention before I let you go.


This is Women's History Month and ABC News has launched a new podcast called In Plain Sight. Lady Bird Johnson.


Fascinating story about the former first lady and her role in the Johnson administration. Highly recommend you go check this out. It's called In Plain Sight, Lady Bird Johnson. We'll put a link in the show notes. This show is made by Samuel Johns, Cashmere Maria Wartell and Jan Plant with audio engineering by Ultraviolet Audio. As always, a big shout out to my ABC News friends Brian Kesser and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Wednesday with a fresh episode.


Tuesday night at 9:00 Central on ABC, a show by black people for all people about the black experience in America, it's time to go there.


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