Live From Birmingham...It's Code Switch! Shereen and Gene head to Alabama to talk about race in the American South. Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham talks about growing up in the shadow of his city's history. The poet Ashley M. Jones shares how she learned to love her hometown. And Gigi Douban of WBHM takes on some tough listener questions about race in the Magic City.
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Live From Birmingham...It's Code Switch!

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Live From Birmingham...It's Code Switch!

Live From Birmingham...It's Code Switch!

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ASHLEY M. JONES: I think in an interview once I said, well, we'll hose you down with the water where somebody else will just poison you with it. And, I mean, that's basically what it is.

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

And so much of your poetry seems to be engaging with the past, right? You're contextualizing the past, reimagining it. Your book wrestles with, you know, Sally Hemings. There's Horace King, who was a black architect and politician who built Alabama in a lot of ways. There's George Wallace, obviously, the segregationist governor. Do you feel like you're doing the work of a historian in your poetry?

JONES: So I don't feel that my work with history is separate at all from my work as a poet or really just as a human being. I think that we all carry histories with us. There are so many histories that have made me possible. So I can't be from Alabama and not know and tell that story of George Wallace. I can't be a black woman and not tell the story of Sally Hemings. It's always with me all the time, and it makes me who I am. And as a poet, that's my job, to tell the story of humans. And so I have to, of course, have history in there all the time.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

Do you hear from people that bringing up history all the time stops you from getting past it?

JONES: I've heard that before, and that doesn't make sense to me because we have to remember what happened and what is happening in order for it not to happen anymore. And I'm a teacher, too, so of course I want us to learn and relearn and relearn forever. We can't leave history as history. It's part of the present as well.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: I mean, I feel like that's the perfect segue...

JONES: OK.

MERAJI: ...Into the poem that you're going to read for all of us that's going to close out this Ask A Poet segment.

JONES: "Viewing A KKK Uniform At The Civil Rights Institute." All you can really tell at first is that it was starched. Some Betty Sue, Marge, Jane, some proper girl with a great black iron made those corners sharp. The hood, white and ablaze with creases, body flat and open for husband, brother, son. Behind the glass it seems frozen, waiting for summer night to melt it into action, for the clean white flame of God to awaken its limbs. In front of it you are dwarfed. You imagine a pair of pupils behind the empty holes of the mask. Behind the stiff cotton, would the eyes squint to see through small white slits, or would they open wide as a burning house to hunt you down until you pooled like old rope before them?

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: Ladies and gentlemen, Ashley M. Jones.

MERAJI: You can check out Ashley's work online at ashleymichellejones.wordpress.com. Ashley's newest book is called "Dark//Thing," and it's going to be out in February.

Now we'd like to introduce our next guest for the evening. He grew up here. He graduated from Shades Valley High School.

DEMBY: Go Mounties.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: Go Mounties. I don't know what that means. Go Mounties.

MERAJI: Go Mounties.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Back in the day, he bagged groceries at Western Market in Crestwood. And he's a graduate of Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. He's worked for the city throughout his entire career.

DEMBY: He's all B-ham everything. B-ham, right? B-ham.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: Just last year, he was sworn in as the 30th mayor of Birmingham, becoming the youngest person to hold that position in 120 years.

MERAJI: Ladies and gentlemen, Mayor Randall Woodfin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: So what do you want people to call you? Mr...

RANDALL WOODFIN: Randall's fine.

DEMBY: Randall.

MERAJI: Randall.

DEMBY: Oh, Randall? OK. Cool.

MERAJI: When people come here and they are new to your city, what's the one thing you say they have to go see or do before they leave?

WOODFIN: That is - it's tough to answer that for one thing. So if a person is an outdoors person, I recommend Ruffner Park...

MERAJI: OK.

WOODFIN: ...Or Red Mountain Park.

(APPLAUSE)

WOODFIN: If it's history and culture, I recommend the Civil Rights Museum, 16th Street Baptist Church.

(APPLAUSE)

WOODFIN: And, of course, food always comes up.

MERAJI: Mmm hmm.

DEMBY: Of course.

WOODFIN: And you cannot just give one answer because we have an infinite amount of restaurants to choose from.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: Oh, very diplomatic. Very diplomatic.

DEMBY: That's very diplomatic. It's a politician answer, man...

MERAJI: Before he was mayor, he would've said one particular answer.

WOODFIN: I have my favorite.

MERAJI: Oh.

DEMBY: OK.

WOODFIN: And it's Yo' Mama's.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: Is that a place?

WOODFIN: It is a place.

DEMBY: Is that a place? Are you actually...

WOODFIN: It's not my actual...

DEMBY: OK.

WOODFIN: ...It's not my actual mom's house...

DEMBY: I thought you were going to say, like - we going to have to scrap on the stage. What we doing? What we doing?

WOODFIN: It's not my mother's house.

DEMBY: OK.

WOODFIN: It's a actual restaurant.

MERAJI: What if you like to go out, and you want to listen to music or go to a club or...

DEMBY: Where does Mayor Randall Woodfin turn up?

MERAJI: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODFIN: Let's just say last Tuesday, I had a drink at the Platinum. How about that?

DEMBY: I'm going to ask you a very politically-charged question here. Auburn or Alabama?

WOODFIN: Roll tide.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: One thing we actually didn't mention when we intro'd (ph) you is that you went to Morehouse...

WOODFIN: Right.

DEMBY: ...One of the most prestigious historically black colleges in the United States. You've been on record saying as a - at Morehouse, student government is like varsity sports. You would've had the student government.

WOODFIN: That's correct.

DEMBY: How is running student government at Morehouse different from running, you know, a city?

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: And, also, who is better dressed - the dudes at Morehouse or the City Council of Birmingham?

(LAUGHTER)

WOODFIN: Two worlds. I would say what's similar is people have high demands and high requests and a lot of issues and concerns for whatever level you represent people. They come directly to you. They want you to fix something, solve something, address something. So that's similar, but different in this - in the fact that this is the largest city in the state of Alabama. So there are many and multiple issues that I am tasked with and responsible for addressing. I want to address - hopefully, my city councilors don't get mad. But I will definitely say my brothers at Morehouse.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Before you were mayor, you worked in the city attorney's office...

WOODFIN: Correct.

MERAJI: ...For almost a decade. You were also president of the school board. Is that correct?

WOODFIN: Right. Yes.

MERAJI: And on our show - on CODE SWITCH - we talk a lot about racial inequities in public education as well as the justice system. And I was just wondering - in those roles that you had before mayor, could you, in your own way, address those inequities?

WOODFIN: Definitely as a lawyer for the city of Birmingham. Consider it this way. The frame is 10 out of 10 people who saw me did not want to see me.

DEMBY: Right because you were a prosecutor.

WOODFIN: Yeah.

DEMBY: Right...

WOODFIN: No one wants to interact with the court system. No one wants to be a victim, a defendant. I don't even think the defense lawyers want to be there for real. But in my position, I have - I had a choice. I also had discretion. And it's easy - I've seen it - for people to be abusive in that position. But, for me, it was all about how to help people, how to bring issues to a resolve, how to heal victims but, believe it or not, how to help defendants as well.

And I can tell you how I know it worked. The people would see me in the street and says, hey, thank you so much. You remember me? You represented me. In my head, I'm like, actually, no, I didn't. I was your prosecutor. But it's how you treat people. And so in how - in treating people right, I think you can find a way to close some issues that are systemwide but, at the same time, help that individual.

DEMBY: So as part of your platform, you said you wanted to pay special attention to all 99 neighborhoods in Birmingham...

WOODFIN: That's right.

DEMBY: Pop quiz. Name all 99 neighborhoods. You got 60 seconds.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: No, I'm playing.

WOODFIN: That's a good pop quiz, though.

DEMBY: I mean, can you do it?

WOODFIN: No.

DEMBY: Oh, OK. All right. I was going to say...

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: And for real, in the past, you've talked about the importance of revitalizing areas of Birmingham. In cities all across the country, there's this tension between revitalization and gentrification in sort of building these communities up and displacing the people that were there. And I'm curious to how - Birmingham and how you're thinking about that tension and resolving that.

WOODFIN: I've been paying attention to other cities. In 2018, you can't call D.C. Chocolate City anymore. Hot Atlanta. We've seen the changes there. And then, you see it even in a city like Austin. I think for Birmingham, watching other cities - what can we do? A city made up of 99 neighborhoods, where 88 of them are all black, 11 are majority white.

DEMBY: Eighty-eight are black?

WOODFIN: Mmm hmm.

DEMBY: Eleven are white.

WOODFIN: Right. Now, I think everyone here who was in Birmingham know we've seen growth in several places. You can't necessarily control gouging of rent. But what you can do is put things in place just to make sure residents have notice, longer notice. And there are other legal ways and creative ways you can create to make sure residents aren't displaced.

MERAJI: Birmingham is sacred ground.

WOODFIN: It is.

MERAJI: It's sacred ground because it's where black people encountered the absolute worst evils of racism and fought back and fought for a society where equality and justice for all actually mean something. And you've written that Birmingham today is really a testament to reconciliation. And I want to know - what did you mean by that? What does that mean for you?

WOODFIN: When we look at the history of America, we haven't always been honest. Well, what's on paper wasn't necessarily in practice. Racism was real. It was tangible. And the difference between Birmingham and any other city in America at that time was our differences were actually wrecking on the world stage. So everyone saw it. They saw the brutality. They saw the racism. They saw the bigotry. They saw the evil. They saw it. At the exact same time, they saw the Fred Shuttlesworths of our world, the Martin Luther King Jrs. of our world, others fight back. And in that reckoning, we were able to get some - a lot of wins out of that for black people.

I think, in 2018, when I fast forward and there have been so many stories - when you think about the four little girls, there was a fifth girl that survived, Sarah. And when I think about her, she is the definition of reconciliation, where she spoke recently - there was a re-enactment of the Children's Crusade, the march. And she spoke in front of an audience, but the majority of the room was full of children. And she spoke of forgiveness and forgiving to what happened to her, what happened to her sister, what happened to her friends. And I think if I had a tangible example to give of just what reconciliation means, she embodies that.

MERAJI: But earlier you talked about how, you know, 88 of the 99 neighborhoods here are black and 11 are white.

WOODFIN: Right.

MERAJI: So segregation is still a thing in Birmingham. The poverty rate here is twice the amount of the national poverty rate. And that's in a city that's three-fourths black. Do you think that that says something else about reconciliation that's not so pretty?

WOODFIN: You're right. There's a massive amount of, not just poverty, but concentrated poverty in the city of Birmingham. When we think about everything in the '50s and '60s around - the intentionality around housing, housing discrimination, it wasn't just at the local level. It actually started at the federal level. And it was at the state level as well. And those policies were enacted at the local level. And then, when there was a final breakthrough in the late '60s, we all know white flight took place. The National Realtors Association talked about how when that happened across the entire city of Birmingham - and other cities in America, too - property value went down. Suburban - more suburban America came online. That includes the fragmentation of Jefferson County, more - expanding of other municipalities in - suburban municipalities outside of the city.

You fast forward to today in Birmingham, and that's reflected in the makeup of a city that's probably the fifth-blackest city in America. That's how you get three-fourths. That's how you get 88 neighborhoods with 11 majority. Those 11 neighborhoods are concentrated in the south and southeastern portion of the city. And they backend one of the wealthiest cities, suburban cities in America. Mountain Brook's probably like - it's in the top 20 most richest cities in America, next to the seat city of the 7th Congressional District in Alabama, which is the third-poorest U.S. congressional district in America, right? So there's just a massive amount of inequity right here.

DEMBY: Right next to each other.

WOODFIN: Right? In housing, in education, in transportation and employment opportunities and on and on and on. One of the things we're doing around racial equity is we want to create an equity tool to assess equity in each department. We then as a - as an administration can be intentional about how we create more equity for the services we deliver for - make sure it touches all 99 neighborhoods, regardless of socioeconomic, regardless of race.

DEMBY: So one of the things that leaders all over the country are wrestling with is - you know, the president of the United States has used some very divisive rhetoric, right? And I'm curious as to how that's played out in Birmingham. Has that sort of animated and agitated a lot of these deep-seated inequities that you're talking about, this centers of power not being evenly distributed?

WOODFIN: I think it has. This trade war is real in the state of Alabama, not just Birmingham metro area, where Bibb County is next door and Tuscaloosa County's next door. And we have residents who are employees of these organizations where the auto industry - it works very well for the state of Alabama. That doesn't work either for Birmingham or for our state.

MERAJI: President Trump has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration. We know this. And we also know that here in Birmingham, you've gotten a little bit of criticism from the immigrants' rights community...

WOODFIN: I have.

MERAJI: ...Because they really want you to sign an executive order to basically put in writing that you won't use your city's resources for immigration enforcement, that you won't use your city's resources to surveil Muslim residents. Can you respond to that criticism?

WOODFIN: First thing is this - is that I'm not. Like, we're not going to use our police to do anything around what I call rounding up people. We just don't believe in that. I don't believe in that as mayor. I've had a clear, direct conversation with my police chief. I've had a clear and direct conversation with my chief of our city jail. We're not in that business.

MERAJI: So they're not going to ask...

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: ...People their immigration status?

WOODFIN: No. No. We're not going to do that. I believe in welcoming cities. That is something that we are past exploring. That is something we're going to actually do. They put a paper in my hand and said, sign it. That's not how I necessarily govern. I read it. I turned it over to my legal department. But I also turned over to my legal department welcoming cities. And when we look at both of those, I think not only protecting our immigrant community but making sure we do things beyond ICE is important.

MERAJI: Welcoming cities - what do you mean by that? What's the discrepancy between the two things because you were talking about there's these two things?

WOODFIN: I think sanctuary city is narrowly tailored and isolated towards don't have your police enforce certain things of rounding up and hurting people, which I agree with. We're not going to do that. But welcoming cities is more broad about, how do we help our immigrant community? And as I go to Birmingham city schools, I can tell you our immigrant community continues to grow. So it's - for me it has a broader positive impact, whereas sanctuary is don't do this. Welcoming is, this is what we're going to do.

DEMBY: I want to ask a clarifying question, too. You mentioned that you've said to immigrants' rights groups that you would not enable ICE through the police force there.

WOODFIN: That's correct.

DEMBY: But you would not codify that?

WOODFIN: They want me to codify it in signing sanctuary. I'm going to do welcoming cities.

MERAJI: You have a long political career ahead of you. What's next for you?

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: You going to run for governor? What's next? Because we know you're thinking ahead.

WOODFIN: So...

DEMBY: I just want to serve the good people of Birmingham and focus on my job...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: There we go.

DEMBY: No. No. No.

WOODFIN: He just answered my - he just answered for me.

DEMBY: No, no, no. Just trying to get that one out of the way.

WOODFIN: That's a really good answer.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODFIN: As far as I'm concerned, being a mayor period but then being the mayor of your hometown is probably the best political job you can ever have. I don't necessarily have to ever run for office outside of mayor again - like never.

MERAJI: Are there term limits here?

WOODFIN: No term limit.

MERAJI: Oh.

WOODFIN: But should there be term limits? Yes.

MERAJI: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: He said at CODE SWITCH that he wanted to be mayor for life.

WOODFIN: No one should be in this job forever.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: This is recorded. So if you're still mayor 20 years from now...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...We will be playing this back to you...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...To remind you what you said here on CODE SWITCH.

All right. This was awesome.

DEMBY: This was very dope.

MERAJI: This was great.

DEMBY: Thank you for coming.

MERAJI: Thank you. We're going to go to our next segment, but we were wondering if you would actually stay and join us and help us answer some listener questions.

WOODFIN: They're going to be harder than yours?

MERAJI: Oh, yeah.

DEMBY: Probably. Yeah.

WOODFIN: All right. I'll do it.

MERAJI: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: We're about to do a segment that people love. It's kind of like an advice segment. We call it Ask CODE SWITCH. And we have listeners write in to us with questions about race and identity in America, and we try to answer their questions.

DEMBY: We get in people's business. It's fun. It's fun.

MERAJI: We do get in people's business, and it's really fun.

DEMBY: Our expert guest is WBHM's news director, Gigi Douban.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: So Gigi's going to be our expert guest. Mayor Woodfin is also going to say smart things.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: But before we go on, Gigi Douban is not from Birmingham, Ala.

GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: That's right.

MERAJI: She's actually from Staten Island.

DOUBAN: Shaolin.

DEMBY: Shaolin.

DOUBAN: For the Wu-Tang Clan fans among us.

DEMBY: Gigi Douban could be a Wu-Tang name.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: It could be.

MERAJI: You were supposed to be here for two years.

DOUBAN: That's right.

MERAJI: That was, what, 19 years ago? More than that?

DOUBAN: '97. Yeah. I am one of those damn Yankees that stayed. Birmingham is just - it's just a town that does that to you. It just draws you in. It's easy to live here.

DEMBY: The food is ridiculous.

DOUBAN: The food is ridiculous.

WOODFIN: Ridiculously good.

DOUBAN: People are nice to you. In the street, people make eye contact with you.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: That does not happen in New York...

DOUBAN: You know...

DEMBY: ...Does not happen.

DOUBAN: I mean, people wave. You know, my parents come down to visit and they're like, why is he waving at us?

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Do I know...

DOUBAN: Do you know him? I don't know him. So it's just a really friendly place. It's easy. It's home.

MERAJI: Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: Sounds amazing.

All right. Let's get started. Our first question comes from a listener named Lisa Garaya (ph). She's 21 years old. She's Indian-American. And she grew up right here in Birmingham. She says everything she knows about how to treat people comes from growing up in Alabama, comes from her childhood here in Alabama. But things have changed for Lisa. And we're going to listen to her question.

LISA GARAYA: When I came to college, I learned about various theories surrounding race such as microaggressions and power dynamics. These are words that I had obviously never heard, but I began to feel like these examples of casual racism hit a little too close to home. For example, growing up, it was a pretty normal occurrence to be asked what kind of Indian I was - red dot or feather. I thought back on how time after time my white peers made me feel uncomfortable with their comments about my racial background, except at the time they were saying it, I didn't know why I was uncomfortable. Learning about microaggressions provided clarity but also introduced a lot of anger in my life. It's frustrating. Do any other people of color who go through this epiphany feel this way? How do you decompress your past with this new outlook on it?

MERAJI: So we have somebody who has some newfound information. It's making her angry and a little bit agitated. And she doesn't quite know what to do with that information. Gigi?

DOUBAN: So this goes way back for me. So when I was in high school - and this was - I've got to add - this was in New York - both my parents are from Egypt. And my high school economics teacher said, so, Gigi, are you going to grow up to become a terrorist one day?

(GASP)

DOUBAN: Right? In the moment, it just kind of like - I don't know, it just didn't really register. And then you have that moment later where you're like - you're thinking, did that really just happen...

DEMBY: ...Just happen. Did that actually happen? Yeah.

DOUBAN: Did this person just say that? And that - you know, since moving here, I've gotten a lot of, what are you?

DEMBY: Where are you from?

DOUBAN: Where are you from? And where are you from is kind of, you know, for me, I never know what they mean, whether people mean where are you from geographically - because I might not sound like I'm from the South - or ethnically. And so I'll say, well, what do you mean? And then they have, you know, sort of, you know - oh, I meant you don't sound like you're from the South, or ethnically, I mean, what's your ancestry, what's your heritage? I feel like sometimes it is a little jab, but other times, sometimes people just might not know, right?

MERAJI: So you ask a clarifying question.

DOUBAN: Yeah.

MERAJI: When you run into something that you feel like might be what Lisa calls a microaggression, you ask a clarifying question to figure out, all right, was that really a microaggression or was it an honest question...

DOUBAN: Yeah.

MERAJI: ...An open question?

Mayor Woodfin, Randall.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODFIN: Yeah. Definitely. So I would agree with her that microaggressions exists in Birmingham. But I think college is one of the best places to explore issues of race and ethnicity, et cetera because, even from Morehouse - being an all-male, all-black campus - it's one of the most diverse places I've ever been to. I spent four years there. This is the time for her, personally, to address that microaggression, but at the same time, colleges and universities across our nation - I think UAB can be a center of that to talk about this.

MERAJI: That totally touches on what I was thinking.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: I'm Puerto Rican and Iranian.

DEMBY: I don't know if you heard that before.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: I don't know if - has anyone heard it?

MERAJI: If you listen to the CODE SWITCH podcast, they say it every episode. But it's a very confusing thing for people, and I feel like my whole life has been navigating - what are you, where are you from? - these type of questions. And it was in college when I decided I am going to learn as much as I can. And so I took a bunch of ethnic studies courses, and I really made answering these questions and dealing with these kinds of overt and maybe not so overt microaggressions - I made this my life's work. She can - Lisa, you can do this, too. You know, you can get paid to have these conversations.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: It's not all horrible if that's what you want to do. And, I mean, another thing is she talked about really caring about what Alabama taught her and what she learned here in Birmingham. So to me, that sounded like she really cares about this place, and she really cares about the people here. And I feel like if that's the case, and she really wants to maintain these friendships, if someone says something to her that feels off or feels like a microaggression, yes, ask the clarifying question, and then if she still feels like it was a microaggression, explain how to ask this question in a better way - if she feels like doing it - you know, if she wants to maintain these relationships because sometimes people say things, and they have no idea what they're saying. So yeah. If she's open to having these conversation with friends and family here in Birmingham, I would say do that.

DEMBY: But I would say that, sometimes, people say those things and they're invested in not knowing what's wrong with it. You know what I mean? Like...

WOODFIN: Being comfortable in their ignorance.

DEMBY: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, and it's not just ignorance, right? There's, like, power behind a lot of it, right? So, I mean, I do think that there should be space for her to cut her friends off. I mean, I do think that there's so much psychic energy that comes along with trying to shepherd your friends. I mean, you can have that conversation with somebody, right? It doesn't mean they want to come along with you - right? - and see what was janky about what they asked. And so, you know, you should feel empowered. I know it is really hard in some cases. So cut people off. Their enlightenment is not your responsibility, especially when it comes at the cost of your, like, you know, psychic health, right?

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: All right. Let's go to the next question.

DEMBY: The second question is from a listener named Leah Abrams (ph). She's 20. She's of Middle Eastern Jewish descent. She moved to Alabama in May for a summer internship. And here's Leah's question.

LEAH ABRAMS: I grew up and I spent my whole life in North Carolina, where race and identity played integral roles in my upbringing. Yet, being in Alabama, I feel like I've noticed that race and segregation are more explicitly entrenched in daily life. In particular, a friend talked about being warned from a young age not to talk to white women because of his county's violent legacy of lynching black men for even looking at white girls. I feel like I haven't met many interracial couples in my time here at all. Is it really that taboo to be in an interracial relationship in Alabama? If so, why?

DEMBY: So when we got this question, we decided to do a little digging. And according to a report from the Pew Research Center, metro areas in the South are the least likely to have new marriages be between people of different races. The Birmingham Hoover Metro, in particular, was in the bottom 10 for new interracial marriages in the whole country. Only about 6 percent of newlyweds in Birmingham are interracial couples. Anybody want to guess where the No. 1 - No. 1 metro area for interracial marriages is in the United States? Just take a wild guess.

(SOUND OF AUDIENCE CHATTERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: D.C.

MERAJI: D.C., I heard.

DEMBY: You heard D.C.? I heard Seattle, which is crazy. Have you been to Seattle? What...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: New York.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: New York.

MERAJI: New York, I heard.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Atlanta.

MERAJI: Atlanta, Texas.

DEMBY: Y'all are like thousands of thousands miles off. It's actually Honolulu.

MERAJI: Honolulu, Hawaii.

DEMBY: Something like 44 percent of the new marriages in Honolulu, Hawaii, are between people of different races.

MERAJI: Gigi.

DOUBAN: Yeah.

MERAJI: Report on the city.

DOUBAN: Let's just keep in mind that Alabama was the last state to overturn its ban on interracial marriage. That was in 2000, which when you think about it, was not all that long ago.

(LAUGHTER)

DOUBAN: Right? So, you know, I've talked to a lot of people about this - a lot of interracial couples, and there's a lot going on. Long story short, it is not all that common, although it kind of depends on where you are. So if you are in the city Birmingham, if you are on the campus of UAB, not that big a deal, not that uncommon. But if you're in maybe Coleman County or someplace like that...

(LAUGHTER)

DOUBAN: ...Probably not going to find very many interracial couples.

DEMBY: It was a knowing laugh.

DOUBAN: So it kind of depends on where you are. I spoke with a woman who is white whose husband is from Kenya. And she told me that when they married back in the '90s here in Alabama, her grandmother said to her, I'm glad at least that your grandfather has passed away already because this would've killed him.

DEMBY: Wow.

DOUBAN: That's deep. But it's on the other side as well, where, you know, a lot of African-American men might still have that sort of - you know, maybe have been told by their fathers not to talk to white women, not to look at white women, not to get into relationships with white women because it's just not going to go over well. It's just not something that you do. And it wasn't that it was just inconvenient or anything like that. But, I mean, there was a point in history - and it was not all that long ago - where your life would be in danger if, you know, you were a black man pursuing a white woman.

And so I spoke to a sociologist at UAB who studies race and culture. And she said there are a lot of young people who feel like that was 200 years ago in their minds, but in reality, we're not all that far removed from that part of history. So that still lives on in a lot of people. That said, the vast majority of people told me that, for the younger generation, it is more and more commonplace, and it's OK by them as opposed to their parents who might still be resistant to interracial relationships.

MERAJI: Mayor Woodfin, there's a lot of nodding happening right here.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Were you discouraged from having interracial relationships growing up?

DEMBY: He went to a white high school.

MERAJI: Is this a conversation that happened for you?

DEMBY: How did that work in high school? I mean...

WOODFIN: If I reflect back when I was 15 and 16, 17 in high school, I don't think that's something that you actually did for real. Was it explicit not to do it? No. Was it something that you just - that you felt? Yes. Now, she's right. I don't know how much more I can add to what she just said. My mother is married. She's in an interracial relationship. Her husband is white. They've been married over a decade now. I think it's interesting watching my own mother, from a personal standpoint, be in an interracial relationship. I think for each generation we see, not just in Birmingham, but in the state, things have changed for each generation for the better.

DEMBY: And, Gigi, I mean, this is still - like, this a lot of - this is about the segregation we see elsewhere - right? - the segregation we see in schools and elsewhere, right?

DOUBAN: Yeah. I mean, pretty much all of our public spaces, you know? Kids from a young age mostly go to segregated schools, so...

WOODFIN: Church.

DOUBAN: ...Churches, parks, restaurants. You know, a lot of times, there's - pretty much segregated, right? So you don't have to work that hard to stay away from somebody in another race. It's almost kind of done for you in the circles that you kind of grow up in.

MERAJI: Leah, this is real.

WOODFIN: It is.

MERAJI: You're not making things up. All right. We have one last question. It comes from a listener named Mallory Mitchell (ph). She's 26. She's black. She's originally from Alabama, and she has a question regarding Mayor Woodfin's election. Let's hear it.

MALLORY MITCHELL: When you look at Alabama's largest cities - Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville - they all have very different histories and demographics. Of all four, Birmingham is the one city that seems progressive enough to elect a young black man to the office of mayor. However, that looks like it might be changing. What makes Birmingham different from other large cities in the state?

MERAJI: Mayor Woodfin, you've got to take this first.

WOODFIN: I think one of the things that makes our city different is that we're the economic development engine of the entire state. When you think about workforce that the organizations, whatever lane they're in, whether it's health care or whether it's financial services, manufacturing, which are some of our top three industries here in our city, I think about their workforce becoming younger. So all my friends - when I moved back here 15 years ago, no one my age at 22 and 23 wanted to be in the city. They wanted to go to Atlanta. They wanted to go to Nashville. They wanted to go somewhere else.

But I think the same cohort of people now, who are 22 and 23 - they want to stay here. And so it's good to see our city be a part of the national trend of people wanting to be in the urban core in the central city. With that, that's bringing a whole new flavor of young people and new people, I think, from a governing standpoint. People want their municipal government to reflect the same thing we're seeing in the private sector. They want it to reflect the same thing they're seeing on the social scene, which is something new. And that's what our candidacy and campaign represented.

(LAUGTHER)

DEMBY: Now, does having a city that is as black as Birmingham is - does that just make it bluer to start with, right? Like, are you starting a little bit - you just - you have this, like, very deep Democratic base here, I imagine?

WOODFIN: It does - it is a very - it's a huge Democratic base here, but that that goes for the entire city, black and white.

MERAJI: Gigi, is there anything you want to add to that?

DOUBAN: So, I mean, if you - just listening to him speak, he mentioned young voters so many times. And that was key, I think - not just young African-American voters but white millennial voters as well. I think - yeah. Young people were and are a big part of this city's moving to the next level.

MERAJI: All right. Listen. How about this? There were over 5,000 18 to 35-year-olds who participated for the first time in a municipal election in the city of Birmingham because of what I said earlier. Like, millennials definitely want to be here.

MERAJI: All right. So I want to sum this up for Mallory. She wants to know what makes Birmingham different, and what you're saying is there is more economic opportunity here, there's an economic engine that's moving. It's drawing in young people. It's also a predominantly African-American city, which makes it tend towards being more democratic and progressive, and, you know, you've got young millennials who are out exercising their right to vote. Would I have summed that up for Mallory?

WOODFIN: Sounds good to me.

MERAJI: Well, that's great. That was our final question. And both of you were awesome on the stage. Incredible.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: WBHM's Gigi Douban. She's the news director. She's fabulous. And Mayor Woodfin, thank you so much for doing this...

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: ...And being here for both segments. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

PJ SPRAGGINS: (Playing drums).

MERAJI: We thought, since we have an amazing drummer on this stage, PJ Spraggins, we'd let him take it away on the drums.

(CHEERING)

DEMBY: All right, y'all. Before we go tonight, special thanks to WBHM for generously inviting us to Birmingham.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: In addition to Chuck Holmes and Gigi Douban, who you met earlier, we need to give a special shoutout to Audrey Atkins for her...

MERAJI: Thank you, Audrey...

DEMBY: ...Logistical prowess...

MERAJI: You're amazing.

DEMBY: ...Her love and knowledge of Birmingham and her amazing attitude. That WBHM recording engineers are Darryl McCullough (ph) and Theo Metz. We're grateful for our recording engineer Andy Huether back at NPR Headquarters. Support your local station, WBHM. Supporting your station is how you support us and other NPR podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, who are our play cousins, the Politics podcast and all the other podcasts at NPR you love.

MERAJI: And special thanks to our volunteers tonight. We couldn't have done this without you.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: A round...

DEMBY: Seriously. Seriously.

MERAJI: ...Of applause for everybody who volunteered.

SPRAGGINS: (Playing drums).

MERAJI: Thank you, PJ Spraggins.

SPRAGGINS: (Playing drums).

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: And back at NPR, our thanks to Anya Grundmann, Neal Carruth, Steve Drummond and the NPR events team, which includes Jessica Goldstein, Allie Prescott, Elle Mannion (ph) and our illustrator, LA Johnson. And a shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Karen Grigsby Bates, Kat Chow, Adrian Florido, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Walter Ray Watson, Sami Yenigun and our editor, Leah Donnella.

(APPLAUSE)

DEMBY: Thanks to everybody here at UAB's Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham. I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Birmingham, be easy.

MERAJI: Peace.

(APPLAUSE)

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