Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Malcolm Gladwell | Part 2 | May 28, 2012 | Appel Salon

Difficulty: 0

Eleanor Wachtel: Malcolm Gladwell, you were born in England. You lived in Canada for most

of your youth, and for many years now, you've been in New York. What connection do you feel

to Jamaica today?

Malcolm Gladwell: Well, I have an immigrant's connection to Jamaica as I do to England and

as I do now to Canada. Which means it's a rose-coloured-glasses kind of thing. But I

also have to remind myself that we left Jamaica, right? Just as we then left England and then

I left... A pattern is emerging. [laughter] But... So immigrants have complex relationships

to their places of origin. Immigrants, the thing about immigrants is that you... It is

that we're back on this sort of morally problematic thing again because by virtue of leaving a

country, an immigrant changes not just the country they come to, but they change the

country they leave. This is the part of it... We always talk about how immigrants change

the country they go to. That we can see. We forget that it's true about their place of


EW: In the sense of their own memory reconstruction?

MG: No. By virtue of their absence, they leave a mark. So, if you think about Jamaica, who

left Jamaica? Enormous numbers of middle class people, my family among them. We altered Jamaica

and not necessarily for the better by leaving, right? Jamaica lost its educated, its professional

class, its... Huge numbers of them to Miami, New York, Toronto and London, right? And so

there's that part, that every immigrant who feels that way in some sense. The South Koreans

who came to the United States were the same thing. It's exactly the same anthropological

phenomenon. The exact same class from South Korea left South Korea and carried that burden

with them, in a sense.

EW: Do you ever go back?

MG: Yes. Oh, yeah, we would go back repeatedly when I was growing up. But the other thing,

if I might continue on this theme. I know you wanna take it back to my... But I'd like

to go into broader issues, [laughter] take it away from me. But you also help to preserve

the country that you came from by leaving. Who leaves a country? The people who are most

unhappy with the country. Right? So, if the country that you're leaving is actually functional

and you leave because you're unhappy with its functionality, you're doing your country

a favour by immigrating. So this is how I feel about Canada. I feel like I was one of

those people, if I'd left, I would've been just a problem. So by leaving for America,

which is far less... Far more dysfunctional and therefore far more kind of welcoming to

a dysfunctional person like me, [laughter] I have helped to preserve that which I love

about Canada by absenting myself.



MG: You see what I'm saying?

EW: That is the most twisted logic.


MG: No. I actually think it's crystal clear to me.


EW: Did you experience racism when you were growing up?

MG: Wait, I have one more point to make.

EW: Okay. [laughter]

MG: There's a famous book written by Alfred... Albert or Alfred O. Hirschman called Exit,

Voice, and Loyalty in which he points out this very fact, which is that when you are

dissatisfied with the institution, or country, or whatever that you're a part of, you have

three options. You can leave, exit; you can voice, you can stay and complain; or you can

be loyal, you can shut up and... Right? And he points out that at different points, in

different situations, we all adopt one of those options and forget about the other two.

So immigrants exit, immigrants exercise exit, right? Economists only understand exit. Political

scientists only understand voice. Public schools run into problems when they don't do well

because the only way people... People's principal form of opposition to a bad public school

is exit, but their principal form of opposition to a bad private school is voice. There's

all this kind of wonderful little conundrum.

EW: What were you dissatisfied with in Canada that made you leave? Or were you not just

seeking opportunity elsewhere? Or is... Does that implicitly suggest dissatisfaction with


MG: I mean, I think I felt... I had been to America a couple of times during college and

I felt that, at the time, this is many, many years ago, it felt more open to me. Particularly,

it felt more open to young people. And I think that's 'cause I had gone to Washington, DC,

and Washington DC is a place that's run by 25-year olds. I mean, 'run' is too strong

a word, but it's peopled by... Everyone is young and so you get the sense, "Oh." And

I didn't feel like that was true of Toronto, that it was run by 25-year olds. And so that

was my kind of... And I think I was at the time not wrong. I don't think it's true...

As true today but...

EW: And how did your mixed-race heritage affect your experience in Canada versus the US at

the time?

MG: Well, it was never an issue in Canada. It never even came up... I don't remember,

and partly because of... University of Toronto, when I went there, was... Well, we grew up

in Elmira that's in Ontario, a very strong Mennonite community. The Mennonites are...

One of their many wonderful traits is their openness and their tolerance so that was never

an issue. And then I went to Trinity College, University of Toronto, which was so effortlessly

diverse at that point anyway that I didn't even remotely stand out on that. I mean it

was a college full of people from every corner of the globe. So it wasn't until I moved to

America and I discovered what a big deal Americans make out of race and you realize how toxic...

The American racial experience was so toxic and continues to be, we're still dealing with

the residue. You cannot imprison, essentially imprison, enslave 10% or 15% of your population

for 100 years or more and expect that stain to be removed easily. And people every now

and again... My biggest frustration particularly with conservatives in America is they want

to pretend it's over, right? And it isn't over.


MG: I was just now, I was just telling my parents 'cause just this weekend I was reading

a book about Birmingham, about the great civil rights marches in Birmingham in 1963. And

this book is incredibly powerful reminder that if you can find a difference, or let

me phrase this differently. You cannot find a difference between Johannesburg in 1960

and Birmingham in 1960. They are equivalent. You can go down the list. You know black people

were effectively barred from living in all but a small handful of neighbourhoods.

MG: They were completely absent from any power structure in that town. They were effectively

barred from voting. We're talking about a city that was 40% African American in 1960,

right? There's no difference. That's apartheid. That's what it is, right? Now, it is the particular

brilliance of America, since I'm bashing countries tonight, [laughter] that 20 years after that,

they were presuming to lecture the South Africans about apartheid. Now, someone had to lecture

the South Africans about apartheid. Apartheid was a terrible, terrible thing. But it is

the height of moral audacity for that lecture to be coming from the United States. Give

me a break. They were...


MG: Twenty years is not long enough. There's no statute of limitations that ought to...

[laughter] Twenty years, it's one lifetime, right? And by the way, they still hadn't cleaned

up their act. So when you sort of... Birmingham in the '60s, they were people... They were

grown men with the sanction of the leading elders of that town going around throwing

dynamite into the homes of black people. This is in 1958, right? I mean after the marches

of '63, they dynamited 16th Street Baptist Church, the most important black church in...

I mean this in my lifetime. [laughter] I had to check there for a second.

EW: I know. [laughter] So just to go back to your experience in the States, you were

made more aware, I mean moving to Washington initially, you were made more aware of your

racial identity or how did it affect you?

MG: Yeah, I mean, it was an issue. Not an issue in the sense that I was mistreated,

but just an issue that you can't forget that fact, right? Whereas when I was growing up,

I forgot this fact conveniently for years upon end. But you can't in the United States,

it just comes up.

EW: 'Cause you even said you wrote your book "Blink" because you grew your hair out.

MG: Yeah, and then... Yeah, it seems so... Yeah, I had very short hair and then I grew

a big Afro and then all of sudden, it was like it suddenly occurred to people that I

was black. [laughter] And then just in little sort of small, really kind of fascinating

ways, my life changed. Not in huge ways, but jokingly it's sort of true that I started

getting speeding tickets.


MG: By the way, there're things that you don't notice until you become aware of these facts.

So I started to get speeding tickets and I was like, "Oh, that's really interesting."

And then I would drive down... There are stretches of American interstates that I like to refer

to as "contested" in the sense that there's a cop every five miles. So you drive down

a contested stretch of interstate and you start to notice, "Well, who's getting pulled

over for speeding?" So I would note and when you start to just pay attention you notice,

wait a minute, it's almost all young black men. Now, as a percentage of the American

driving population, young black men are not large. Let's say that they're 2%. But I would

start to keep track, right? And easily on a contested stretch, it would be 50% of those

pulled over. Now, that's weird, right? It sort of demands explanation. It's not... So

it's those kinds of things that you start to become aware of. And when you read, you


EW: So when you say something like little fascinating ways, that's what you're referring


MG: Yeah, like getting tickets or getting the time... I think I recounted in the afterword

to the book or the beginning about getting... Walking along 14th Street one day and a police

car drives up on the sidewalk and three cops jump out, one black woman and two white guys,

and they have a sketch of a rapist and the two white guys are insisting that I am...

That I resemble the rapist. Now, I didn't resemble the rapist. Now, we didn't even get

to the question of whether I could be the rapist. I was like, "Look, this is just not

me." And the black woman was like, "It's not him." They were... [laughter] There was this

hilarious thing where just because the rapist has got curly hair and this guy's got curly

hair, doesn't mean it's the same guy, right? And so there's this long conversation which

was comic in a way because she was there and she was laughing throughout, because she was

like... And apologizing implicitly for these two rubes who she was with. But like, you

know, that's an odd thing to happen. It's not everyday that that happens to one, [laughter]

you know?

EW: No. Other... I mean obviously it... Other being the inspiration of a book, did it make

you uncomfortable or you just... You have a way of... Obviously a way of dealing with

this sort of thing?

MG: Well, it didn't make me uncomfortable because I don't... I didn't feel I had a right

to be uncomfortable because what I was going through was 0.0001% of what young black men

go through in American cities. So that's... You know, you read these accounts, I have

been reading them for years. Every now and again you would read someone or someone would

say or they would write, a young black man would say, "You no have no idea of what my

life is like. I get stopped by [gibberish]." And a part of you always says, "Really?" You

don't really believe it. And then you realize when this happens to you, you're like, "Oh!

That's actually true."

MG: And then when something like that case down in Florida happens, you realize that's...

A young black guy walks back to his family house and some guy runs after him with a gun

and shoots him, right? You know, that's the kind of... This does not happen to people

who... To the same kid who happens to be white. And so, you know, there's a kind of... And

then there's the whole thing about how often the police stop you. And I actually got into

this in my new book that I'm writing and, you know, they keep statistics on this. How

many times do they stop young black men and frisk them in the city of New York? And it

is a non-trivial number, right? It's thousands and thousands of times.

EW: And your new book is about... Something called "Desirable Difficulty"?

MG: Well, no. Yeah, that's a theme that's explored in the book. The new book is about...

It's about power. It's about confrontations between the powerful and the powerless. And

so I'm very interested in things like how do the police deal with criminals? And one

of the ways in which the police of New York City made New York a very safe place was to

relentlessly harass perfectly innocent young black men. Like all of these issues, it's

very messy. It's not... It's not simple, right? So everyone is... Everyone who enjoys the

safety of New York is, in some sense, morally complicit in the treatment of young black

men. What do you do about that fact, right? It's hard.

EW: Just to stay with that for a moment, where did the idea for this particular book come

from? I know ideas accrue in all different ways and origins and sources and so on, but

for this book about power, what fuelled you in that?

MG: I don't know. I mean, it was in the air 'cause you had Arab Spring and you had all

these things happening. And then you have... For me the... It's weird to talk about it

this way, but I found it, for me, the Iraq war was a very radicalizing experience. And

I don't mean radicalizing in the sense that... In the same way the Vietnam War was radicalizing.

But it really kind of... It woke me up. The casualness with which America enlisted its

own power against another country on the flimsiest... You know, it was clear at the time and then

grew even more clear as time when on just how flimsy their reasons for invading were.

And you know, the invasion... And the other thing, this is a thing that has driven me

crazy about the United States.

MG: When they talk about the cost of war, they will say... Of Vietnam, they will say,

"Forty thousand American lives were lost." And you hear that over and again and you think,

"Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah." And then you realize, wait a minute, why is that the relevant number?

A million Vietnamese lost their lives in that war. A number which never comes up and which

is, I would think, a good deal more relevant to the conversation. And so in Iraq, everything

was about what it cost us, us meaning America, and not about what about what it cost them.

And I began to sort of think, you know, this is... There's this strain of arrogance that

runs through the powerful. It's not just America. It runs through the powerful, you know. And

you see it when a big private equity guy in New York, you know... This is a digression,

but this is another one of these moments for me. It's a guy named Steve Schwarzman, billionaire,

and because he makes his money in private equity, he pays capital gains on his income,

not income tax. So if he makes a billion dollars, he doesn't pay 50% tax, he pays 15% tax, right?

MG: So Obama said reasonably, "It's not really capital gains, that's income. Maybe you should

pay what every other American pays." And Schwarzman described that move to get him to pay real

person taxes, he said it was... He likened it to Kristallnacht. Now, it's not Kristallnacht.

[laughter] I mean, I think we can safely say this is not an appropriate comparison. But

the question is, why do you say that if you're Steve Schwarzman? Not a dumb guy. He's not

a horrible guy. He's not a bad guy. He's actually... He's someone who maybe on balance he's made

the American economy a better place, but there is something about his position or what has

happened to him by virtue of the amount of power and wealth that he's accumulated that

has created a kind of blind spot, right? Where his logic would be, "Look, I am someone who

is building wealth in this country. I am part of what this country needs to get back on

its feet." Now whether that's true or not I have no interest with it. It's what he believes,

perhaps legitimately. And so he thinks any step that puts a crimp in my efforts to make

this economy great is a moral outrage in a way, right? Now to me I'm fascinated by how

someone can go through that series of steps and end up where he ended up. So that's what

I wanted to discuss which is, what happens to people when they get power? Why do they

start to make these crazy errors? And so that's where the book comes from.

EW: Malcolm Gladwell with me at the Toronto Reference Library. He's my guest on Writers

and Company on CBC Radio One on Sirius Satellite Radio 159 and around the world on

I'm Eleanor Wachtel.


EW: Malcolm Gladwell, one theme that connects many of your stories is entrepreneurial style.

And in a piece you wrote for The New Yorker last year called, The Colour of Money, you

begin with the career of Helena Rubinstein who created a famous line of cosmetics, a

very colourful character. Can you tell me a bit about her?

MG: Oh, yeah. This was a piece that there were two marvellous books written about, the

early pioneers in the cosmetics industry. And one was this book about Helena Rubinstein

who is this... She's such an extraordinary character. She sort of... She grows up in

a little tiny... In the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw or...

EW: Krakow.

MG: Krakow. And emigrates to Vienna and then to Australia and basically re-imagines herself.

And she's the first person to figure out that if you make cosmetics, even very crude ones,

and you put them in a really cool looking container and you charge 50 times more than

it costs you to make it and you sell it in a really beautiful looking boutique, you could

make a lot of money. [laughter] And she's this extraordinary character and she builds

this massive cosmetics fortune and she is... I'm trying to remember. She has this... I'm

trying to remember this great story from her. She goes and sees the... Oh, I can't remember.

Anyway, she's one of those kind of a-quote-a-minute kind of people and she has famously, the most

expensive and worst art collection in all of New York.


EW: Well you said that she has... She collects the worst pictures by the best artists.

EW: Yes, that's right. Yes. She had all the... She, basically, is one of those people with

incredibly fabulous bad taste. [laughter] And she's just this kind of meteor that streaks

across the business. And I was interested in writing about her because I was comparing

herself, comparing her with the guy who founds L'Oral, which is founded more or less at

the same time but by a completely different kind of person, by someone who wasn't doing

it by dint, wasn't... She was essentially manufacturing dreams for women and the guy

founds L'Oral, L'Oral was based on science.

EW: And he was a chemist, Eugene Schueller.

MG: He was a chemist. Yes, Schueller. And she was this Jewish... Obviously Jewish, and

this kind of your heart went out to her and she was this sort of fabulous, warm, hilarious,

crazy woman. And he was this cold-blooded... Famously during the Second World War, he's

a collaborator, right? And he realizes if he wants to continue to make money during

the war, he's got to play nice with the Nazis.

EW: He's in Paris.

MG: He's in Paris. And so their paths, they're both in the same business, but their paths

diverge in this really fascinating way. And he is hanging out in the early '40s with some

of the most despicable people in France, with these thugs who are blowing up synagogues

and he's fine with it. And then when he senses that the Nazis are going to lose, that's when

he changes course overnight and starts shovelling all kinds of money at the resistance and essentially

buys his way. And he's hanging out with a cabal of people who then later on become some

of the most famous and powerful people in all of France. And of course the woman, Liliane

Bettencourt, who has been immersed in this huge scandal because she's worth like whatever...

EW: Gazillion.

MG: Ten billion Euro and she gave a 1 billion to her much younger lover and etcetera, etcetera,

etcetera and people got very upset. Although, if you're worth 10 billion and you give

1 billion to your much younger lover, that's still different from having $10,000 and giving

$1,000 to someone. So if you have 10,000 and you gave a $1,000 to the person who was your

lover, you would think "How very nice and generous of you."


MG: But if you have 10 billion and you give... Or 10,000... 10 and you give 1

billion to your... Why do people get so... Why it's the same math. [laughter] Like why

is it so... People forget if you're that rich, you just have to keep adding zeros. [laughter]

If she wants to leave a tip of $1,000,000 for dinner, it's fine. She has 10 billion.

[laughter] She can leave a billion, you know, it's fine. It's... I never under... Anyway,

people got very upset.


The Description of Malcolm Gladwell | Part 2 | May 28, 2012 | Appel Salon