Chris Hayes, a household name for his MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes, recently added another accomplishment to his growing resume: a new novel. Published in March, A Colony in a Nation takes a thought-provoking look at racial inequality in America. Wesley Lowery, journalist for The Washington Post and Pulitzer Prize-winner for his project that was the first to comprehensively track police shootings, is no stranger to the topic of law and order.
On April 8, some two and a half weeks after Hayes’ novel was published, both Hayes and Lowery convened onstage at St. Joseph’s College for the second installment of this year’s St. Joseph’s College Brooklyn Voices series.
“Black Americans, no more than White Americans, they do not want more government programs which perpetrate dependency. They don’t want to be a colony in a nation.
As prompted by Lowery’s opening question, Hayes first explained the process of coming to the book. Born in the Bronx, Hayes was a New York kid interested in criminal justice. He had covered criminal justice on his show, even before the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, thrust the issue to the forefront of public discourse. Despite his experience, he initially didn’t want to do the book — he felt like he wasn’t the right person. But he wondered why we (the voters) built this system. Thus, the project of the book became to answer that.
With its title drawn from President Nixon’s 1968 speech accepting the presidential nomination, “A Colony in a Nation” addresses the age-old issue of isolation of blacks in America.
In his novel, Hayes tries to appeal to the emotional experience and the humiliation of being policed, something that transcends class because we all are subject to the state. Policing, Hayes explained, is the most dangerous function of the state.
The main lesson that we should learn from the last 50 years of crime, Hayes noted, is that elections show how powerful and primal politics are. Using the recent election as an example, Hayes broke Trump’s tactics down into three talking points: unruly inner cities, the Muslim threat, and (most profoundly, as Hayes believes) immigration. The border represents disorder, and Trump made the threat literal with wanting to build a wall. Here, Lowery chipped in about proximity: voters farthest from crime seem to be the most concerned about crime.
Leading into reality versus conceived reality, Lowery asked what role the media plays in this perception. To this, Hayes responded with an old newsroom saying: “We don’t report on planes if they land.”
Hayes then opened the discussion to questions, the first being asked by an audience member concerned with our role in the system: what can we do as citizens? She lived in Long Island, which, Hayes remarked, is dominated by fear politics and tends to over-federalize its politics. To combat this, his recommendation is straightforward – have an impact in local politics by getting involved in the local elections.