COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY STUDY ON WHITE PEOPLE The Reminiscences of Daniel Yates
INCITE Columbia University 2017
The following oral history is the result of a recorded interview with Daniel Yates conducted by Whitney Dow, with input from Todd Tue, on September 23, 2017. This interview is part of the Columbia University Study on White People. The reader is asked to bear in mind that they are reading a verbatim transcript of the spoken word, rather than written prose.
Session #1 (video)
Interviewee: Daniel Yates
Location: Battle Creek, MI
Interviewer: Whitney Dow
Date: September 23rd, 2017
Q: So first of all, can you tell me your name, what you do, where you’re from, and a little bit about yourself?
Daniel Yates: [14:21:12] My name is Daniel Yates. What I do, I am a political consultant right now for the Mike Callton for State Senate Campaign. I also help take care of my mom who has cerebral palsy, so with the State of Michigan, I’m a home health provider, so I help make her breakfast. If she’s in the shower, get her towels, whatever, and as far as that goes.
Q: Tell me where you’re from and a little about where you’re from.
Daniel Yates: [14:21:40] Okay. Well, originally, I was born in Lafayette, Indiana. I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana when I was three years old. Fort Wayne was not the greatest place in the world for me, but I moved away from there when I was nine. So I had the wonderful opportunity to turn double digitals, as I called it, in Battle Creek, and so I’ve lived here ever since.
Q: And are you a student? Do you work? You’re a consultant. Is this part of like a business you have? What’s sort of the structure of your life?
Yates – Session 1 – 4 Daniel Yates: [14:22:09] Oh, I’m a man of many hats, and I think we’ve kind of delved into that already from helping take care of my mom to Mike Callton. Political consulting is really my main job right now; yet, I am enrolled over at Western Michigan University. I had planned to attend Albion College after my graduation with an associate’s degree in political science from Kellogg Community College here in Battle Creek in August of 2017, and Albion [College] didn’t work out. I said, “Hey, I have to be at home to take care of my mom. Online classes would be great.” They said, “Well, online classes aren’t in the cards for you.” And I said, “OK. Well, obviously, I’ve got to look elsewhere,” so Western it is. Go Broncos.
Q: Well, your family life is complicated, and you have obligations to your family that you have to meet. I certainly understand that. Obviously, this is a project about race, and you might know a little about what we’re up to, and what we’re trying to get at, and so can you talk to me about your own identity? How do you see yourself? How would you sort of describe your identity to me?
Daniel Yates: [14:23:15] Oh, one of the big things, I was actually on the Common App the other day because I was applying to U of M, and hopefully, that doesn’t get back to Western, and it asked me my race. And I struggled because growing up, I grew up with a mother who was very German, very Irish, the typical American mixture, and a father who descended from the McCoys, the McCoys being on the roles of the Cherokee Native Americans. And so I grew up in a household where I would come home from school, and Dad would say, “You’re Indian. Don’t forget it. Be proud of it.” And my mom would be German, and my grandparents, the thick German accent, and everything, and so it was kind of that good old American mixture.
Yates – Session 1 – 5
And I had to take a second on that survey because for a lot of years, I just wrote “white” because we live in a very, in my opinion, white world. For a long time, almost two-hundred years, our presidents were white. The men in power, the men and women in power were white, and so I said, “Well, white it is.” And I stopped, and I said, “You know what? Screw it, so white, Native American it was.” I said, “You know? I can’t hide anymore,” and that was a big thing for me because I was tired of being ashamed of who I was. And I am Native American. I am Caucasian, and so here I am, [unclear] this white Indian if you will, and I’m proud of it. So that’s kind of how I identify myself.
Q: And I want to talk about [unclear] that’s interesting having two sides. In what ways do you identify with your Native American side? What are the things, sort of, culturally? How do you feel connected to that part of yourself?
Daniel Yates: [14:24:50] Well, you know, in Battle Creek, we have the Pine Creek Reservation over in Athens; well, not really in Battle Creek, but close enough to it that I still consider it part of home. I am not Potawatomi, and so it’s a bit off the beaten track for me. I had grandfathers who spent time up here because they had Potawatomi friends. But for me going to a powwow, eating Fry bread of all things—I have a brother and sister who are adopted. My brother is Pawnee and Cree, and my sister is Navajo, and so fried bread, Navajo tacos are big around our house. And so when I get to eat those cultural foods, when I get to go and see the dancing, and see the ladies and the guys all dressed up, that kind of puts me in touch with my roots.
Yates – Session 1 – 6 But every day if I was just walking around outside this building in West Michigan Avenue in Battle Creek, I wouldn’t feel that connection. I’d see a lot of white folks. I may see a couple of African American folks, but not really anybody that I would see as identifying like me, and that’s the whole thing about America. We don’t know what the other person is. I mean the person behind the camera could be Irish. They could be Native American like myself. We don’t know, and that’s the beauty of it and that’s kind of where I feel in touch with my roots.
Q: And you said this is a German side?
Daniel Yates: [14:26:02] Yep.
Q: So how do you feel connected to the German part of you, and the German, sort of, the culture, and how that relates to your identity?
Daniel Yates: [14:26:10] Of course. You know in the morning, I look in the mirror, and the big German thing for me is my skin, and my skin is white. But as far as features go, I have, what I always joke, is a big nose, and high cheekbones, and that kind of comes from the other side, my other grandfather. So the German side, I see every day in my skin. I see it in my blue eyes and the color of my hair. I don’t have the old stereotypical blond hair. I’m part Norwegian, so I avoided that bullet by just an inch.
That’s kind of where I see that, and I see that more often in the Native American side because I’m not around that side every day. So I’m around a lot of folks who identify as white,
Yates – Session 1 – 7 particularly as someone who is conservative and around Republican functions. A lot of the folks look in appearance like I do, and so I get in touch with that side quite often, for the good or for the bad.
Q: Does it bother you or do you wish that people when they saw you at conservative functions or this, that others could see that you’re not just a—how do I phrase this? Do you feel like you’re seen completely when you’re outside of the world; that you’re seen for who you are?
Daniel Yates: [14:27:25] I don’t feel I’m seen completely when I’m out there kind of in the grind of the hustle, whatever you want to call it. I was recently at a young Republican’s movie night, and at the movie night, they watched a documentary about the myths about America. And one of the myths was that the land that we’re standing on wasn’t really stolen from the Native Americans. It was just like a typo in history, and I said, “You know, probably not a great time to say, ‘Hey, Cherokee, I’m proud.’” And so that was a tough one for me and in situations like that.
During the campaign, I worked for Dr. John Bizon, who was running for State Representative, and we were in the same office as the folks who were handing out Trump signs. And so a lot of the time, we were having hundreds of people coming in for Trump signs, and I would get somebody that came in and say, “Hey, would you also like a Bizon sign?” And I got in conversation with these folks, and almost every single one of them I would think that they were white, their appearance. And some of the conversations, it just didn’t feel like conversations where I would say, “Hey, I’m Indian, by the way.”
Yates – Session 1 – 8 And one of the conversations that sticks out to me was a conversation I had with a gentleman. And one of the things that I’ve kind of been proud of is being able to open up to other cultures, and as a kid growing up in a very isolated house, I didn’t have a lot of other influences. And growing up, I was one of the many Americans who thought if you’re not white, if you’re not Indian as far as I knew, you all kind of look the same. If you were maybe Hispanic, like I couldn’t tell whether you were from Venezuela or Brazil. It was ignorance, and I call it kind of an American ignorance that we have.
And a fellow came in, and he said, “You know, I want a huge Trump sign, got to have the Trump huge.” And I said, “Well, where do you live?” He said, “Well, I live in the city of Battle Creek.” I said, “Well, the city has some ordinances in place. They don’t like folks that are just living in a regular neighborhood to put a massive sign in their front yard. It’s a little bit frowned upon.” I said, “But just of curiosity, why do you want it?” And he said, “I’ve got a bunch of third-world types in my neighborhood, and I want to let them know where I stand.” And I looked down, and I got a ding on my phone, and the wallpaper on my phone is of my girlfriend, Lal. Lal is Burmese, and I said to myself, “You know, I know a little bit about the makeup of Battle Creek, and I know that many of our Burmese community members congregate towards Columbia Avenue, which is where our Meijer is and some of that area. It’s in a nicer area of town.” And I said, “Due to this where gentleman’s address was,” I said, “He’s talking about Burmese people,” and that got me.
And he left with a couple signs, and I was just more or less done after that. I did what I had to do. I was being paid to be there. “Here’s a sign. Bizon signs? we’re out of those.” And it hit because
Yates – Session 1 – 9 me in that situation, that wasn’t somewhere where I was going to come out and say, “Hey, I’m Cherokee, by the way, and I’ve got a Burmese girlfriend.” That wasn’t a situation like that. And most people that came in were not like that, but there were conversations that happened like that one that just it would not have been good for me to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m Daniel. I’m Cherokee. I’m Miami. I’m also white, so what do you think about that?” It probably wouldn’t have ended well.
Q: And why do you think that you felt you couldn’t have that conversation?
Daniel Yates: [14:30:58] Well, the gentleman was probably fifty. And I figured once you’ve been a “Republican” or a “Democrat,” whatever you are, for a long time, usually, most of the time, I’ve learned in the meager time I’ve spent in politics, and I act like I’m a senior retired politician up here, but it’s been three or four years, people get set in their ways. And for instance, I am a Republican now, and I identify a lot with the Republican side, but I was not always a Republican. A long time ago, I was born to parents who were blue-blooded Democrats. My dad was fifty-seven when he had me. And so I grew up with stories of J.F.K, and the time he met Bobby Kennedy, and how awesome these Democrats were. And so when Barack Obama came to Battle Creek in 2008, I was thrilled.
At the time, I was going to a small Christian school off on Wagner Drive, Battle Creek Christian School, and my seventh grade teacher was very, staunchly conservative. And every single day at lunch, she would listen to Rush Limbaugh. And I would cry sometimes because the guy would get on the radio, and he would berate President Obama, and then Senator Obama, and all this
Yates – Session 1 – 10 stuff, and I hated it. I hated it. I said first of all, I felt like kind of some of it was race. Secondly, it was just because he was a different ideology, and I hated it because they didn’t even give him a chance, and it was just hate filled. And so I’d crawl under my desk, and I had a little man cave, and I had little drawings I’d put up, and I’d read, and everything.
And one day, I saw on the paper that Barak Obama was coming to Battle Creek, and I was like, “Mom, Dad, we need to go,” and so I went. I was in the parking lot. Some guy was selling Obama T-shirts, boom, got one, got myself one of the little “Yes, We Can” things, and waited hours, and finally, he shows up, and it was breathtaking. I think they said it was like 17,000 people that had packed C. O. Brown stadium. And that’s kind of the minute that I said I may want to go into a career in politics because this guy, before he even said a word, people were on their feet. They were clapping. They were cheering because they knew that he was giving them hope.
And that, for me, is why I got into this, not because I was so inspired by George Washington, or I’m a Patriot, or anything like that. I mean I hold some of those things to be true, but I wanted to give people hope, and Barack Obama gave that to me in 2008. And I got back to school after Election Night. The kids didn’t even know. They either didn’t know or they didn’t want to admit it. And I wore my T-shirt, and I said, “Hey, did you guys hear what happened last night, hmm, hmm, hmm?” And they said, “No.” I said, “Well,” I held out the paper, and it was a very moody day in the classroom to say the least. Rush Limbaugh was not played at lunch, so that was one of my defining moments, but that was a fun one. But as far as having conversations like that with those people, they’re dead set, like my teacher was. At seventy years old or however old she was,
Yates – Session 1 – 11 you’re dead set. If you listen to Rush Limbaugh every day, I, as a ten-year-old Democrat, am not going to come into your classroom and say, “Change your way of thinking.”
And just the other day, I was down at an event. It was like a fall music festival they were having down in downtown Battle Creek. And I got to talking with a guy, and I was actually with a dear friend of mine, Laura Adams. And Laura is a local photographer who’s African American, and she’s a Buddhist. And so Laura and I have a lot of things we share. We talk about Burma, and all the Buddhists there, and my experiences growing up, and all that good stuff. And she said, “Let me introduce you to this guy because you’re both into local history.” And the guy, of all things, he makes his living by collecting scrap out of the Battle Creek rivers. And I said, “Okay, as a pastime, I like to get into some history stuff,” and I said okay.
And we were talking about history and kind of local politics. And he goes and drops the N-word, and I’m like, “What?” I just couldn’t believe it. I was like no, no, no, no, no, no. That’s just not okay. But I said if I sit here and fight this guy, other than telling him like that’s not acceptable, if I fight this guy on this, what’s going to change? I’m probably going to get the crap kicked out of me. He’s bigger than I am. I will be a martyr for the cause—don’t get me wrong—but you can’t change people’s minds when they’re like that. You’ve just got to live and let live, I guess.
If somebody is dead set in what they believe, they have to change by themselves. Nothing I say is going to turn someone who’s a Republican to a Democrat or a Democrat to a Republican. So that’s kind of why I felt like I couldn’t have conversations as far as this is who I am.
Yates – Session 1 – 12 Q: And what turned you from being a Democrat [unclear] experiences to a Republican? Why would [unclear]?
Daniel Yates: [14:35:51] Yeah, I became a Republican I suppose it was probably in 2015. And 2014, the year I graduated St. Phil [St. Philip Catholic Central High School] here in Battle Creek, one of the requirements for us seniors was to do an internship. I had no idea what I wanted to do. My GPA was not very good, and so I said, “Well, I can go into law enforcement. That’s something I kind of like or I can go into government,” and government, I had done really well in civics class, loved history, loved reading, all that good stuff. And so I talked to our internship coordinator, and her husband was a police officer. And I said, “This is something I may be looking into, but let’s do government first because that’s kind of where I’m kind of looking at.”
And so I ended up interning in my senior year in 2014 in Community Development, City Clerk’s office, a bunch of departments over at City Hall. And right after that, I said, “It’s kind of in the end of summer here. I’ve graduated high school. Where do I go?” I was still a Democrat. And right at that time, the State House race for State House District 62 was happening. Andy Helmboldt was running against Dr. John Bizon, who I later worked for, and we’ll get to that. And I said, “Okay. Well, Andy goes to our church.” And my parents at the time were attending First Congregational in Battle Creek, and I said, “Well, let me talk to this guy and see about volunteering with the campaign because I want to experience. I want to learn about all this good stuff, and if he wins, maybe I can get an internship up in Lansing.” And so I volunteered with Andy, worked hour-long days. They were ridiculous, ten, fifteen-hour days. It was terrible, but I loved it, and not getting paid for it or anything.
Yates – Session 1 – 13
And during the campaign, I walked into the city clerk’s office, and I’ve got a wonderful relationship with the city clerk of Battle Creek, Vicky Houser. And I saw a gentleman’s name on a paper. I said, “Hey, I know him. He’s my age.” And it said he was running for a precinct delegate position. I said, “What’s that?” And she said, “Well, you kind of go around the neighborhood, and help people get registered to vote, and all that good stuff.” And I was like, “Hey, that sounds like it’s pretty cool.” I said, “I can do that. That’d be cool.” And so I talked to Andy about it. He said, “Yeah, go for it,” and so I did.
And I was elected by three people, I’m assuming myself and my parents, and I loved it. And so after that, I went and interned for the mayor’s office in Battle Creek. At that time, it was Mayor Deb Owens, Vice Mayor Lynn Ward Gray because I had been a member of the youth advisory board and would later become president of that. But Lynn Ward Gray worked as one of our advisors, so I said, “Lynn, I’d really like to become an intern with the mayor’s office,” so still a Democrat. Lynn was a Democrat. Mayor Deb Owens was a Republican. So I said, “First of all, Deb, I’m not here to spy. I’m not here to say, ‘Republican mayor does terrible things, whatever.’ I want to learn, and that’s what’s it’s always been about.” She said, “Okay, come on,” and did an internship there with the mayor’s office, and got finished there. I had talked a little bit to the city manager. I said, “Hey, I might want to do an internship with you, but where do I go from here?” And I said, “If I can jump up a little higher, I might as well.”
And so right around that time, Prop 1 was happening, and Prop 1 was something it was like a taxes for the roads. It was a horrible proposition. A lot of the taxes were getting put elsewhere.
Yates – Session 1 – 14 The money they wanted to bring in was going to be put in this fund and that fund, typical politics, but people hated it. And there was a town hall hosted by Bizon and Representative Pettalia, who has since passed away, and I went. And I saw Dr. Bizon kind of coordinating in the back, and I said, “Here’s my card, and I’d like to intern with you guys. I don’t want to be paid or anything. I want to learn, but you’ve got to know, I’m a Democrat, and I work for Andy.” He said, “Okay, that’s fine.”
Because at the time, Terrence Todd who had actually thrown his hat in the ring in 2014 for the State House seat, had been hired by Dr. Bizon to be his constituent relations director, all that good stuff, and so I sat down with Terrence at a McDonalds. He interviewed me, did a background check and all that good stuff, and he said, “You know, let me talk to Dr. Bizon and the team, and we’ll see what happens,” and I was brought in as an intern. And originally, I was doing a little bit in Lansing. At that time, Mikael Warren—Terrence stepped down shortly after that—and Mikael Warren was hired. Terrence said, “Hey, this is a dear friend of mine. Let’s bring her in. She’s awesome.” And so she was like twenty-four or twenty-five and very close to my age. Dr. Bizon, I think he was in his sixties at that time, and so we were pals. We were the young people in the office, and so I would ride up to Lansing with her, and we would talk about which Chris Brown song was best. I mean it was awesome.
And at that time, Welcome Michigan came around, and it was a proposal that the city was starting to get into. And they had a city commission meeting where a bunch of folks got up and spoke, and I attended. I said, “This will be interesting just to hear this debate.” A couple of people got up there and said, “Immigrants are bad” or whatever, and a couple of people said,
Yates – Session 1 – 15 “I’m an immigrant, and I’m very for this, etc., etc..” And I’m just in the back listening, like taking stuff back to Dr. Bizon to say, “Okay. Well, the community is largely for this” or whatever.
And I sat next to a young lady that I had known from the Democrat side, and I’d just had dealings the other day with that. And she said, “Who are you here for this evening?” I said, “Well, I’m here for Dr. Bizon.” She said, “Well, how long has he been paying you?” I said, “What?” She said, “How long has he been paying you?” I said, “He hasn’t paid me a dime,” I said, “As far as education goes. I’ve gotten knowledge out of it, but” I said, “I’ve never been paid.” And she said, “Well, there’s rumors going around in the party that you’re being paid, by Dr. Bizon to be intern, and that you were paid to run as a precinct delegate as a Democrat and then just to sloth it off.” I said, “Are you serious?”
It was a legit thing that was happening. And I said, “Okay;” just kind of like, okay, rumors happen. I’m working with a Republican. I can see how that would look bad, I said, but I’ll just drop it. And so went a little bit longer, and I think it was in February of that year that Jim Haadsma had kind of started to put on the election shoes and started to want to run for state representative against Dr. Bizon. And this would have been Dr. Bizon’s re-election after his first term. And I had been friends with Jim Haadsma since I was in eighth grade. My mom was a part of Jonah, which was a community activist organizing movement, and Jim was also part of it. And he followed me on Instagram and all that good stuff. For me, this was a big-time politician, a county commissioner following a lowly middle schooler like me. This was awesome. I was in the big leagues and so I bragged about it.
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And one of the things I remember is Battle Creek had to hire a new city manager, and they had a bunch of people come in from across the country, and one of the guys is from the South. He’s like from Alabama. And I was sent on behalf of this youth advisory board to see where these people stood on youth, and sat down at the table, and this guy introduced himself not to me, to some other people that were there. And I said, “Excuse me, sir. My name is Daniel Yates.” And he looked at me just kind of like, “Okay. Well, where’s my water? I mean what are you doing here?” and went on about his business. And I was shocked. I was like, are you going to treat me like this just because I’m seventeen or eighteen? And it was ridiculous.
Jim sees me across the room, waves to me, comes and sits down. And before he introduces himself, this guy sticks out his hand. And he says, “My name is James Haadsma, and this is Daniel Yates.” And I was like omg [oh my gosh]. I just got an introduction from my hero, omg, and so Jim to me was pretty high up there.
So he invited me to this event. I forgot about it. It was a Facebook invite. It was like a meet-andgreet with County Commissioner Jim Haadsma. And I was like, okay, it’s probably going to be some boring political thing. I eat, live, and work this stuff every single day. I need some time off, and so I forgot about it. My mom had bible study at church that night.
We saw a man by the name of Nathan Grajek, and Nathan said, “Hey, Daniel, do you still work with Dr. Bizon?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did you see Jim’s invite?” I said, “Yeah, I did.” I said, “I’m probably not going to be able to make it.” He said, “What’s tonight? I think you can
Yates – Session 1 – 17 make it. Do you have anything else to do?” I was like, “No.” He’s like, “Well, come along with me.” I said, “Okay, we’ll go.”
And so we went to KCC [Kellogg Community College], this little room at KCC where it’s being held, I start seeing people I know, Carrie Whitfield, head of the NAACP, “Hey, Carrie, how it’s going?” Tina Yost, who was running for judge, “Hey, Tina,” etc., etc.. And Jim comes around with a clipboard. This is kind of just the mingling time at this event. And he said, “Daniel, I’m signing up precinct delegates. Do you want to sign up to be one?” I said, “Well, Jim, you’ve already got me.” I said, “I’m a precinct delegate already.” I said, “My term expires this fall.” I said, “We’ve still got the whole summer to go, so I’m good.” I said, “I don’t know if I’m going to be here because I’m at KCC right now as a student, so I may be transferring. So I’m just going to hold off on it right now, but we’ll see what happens.”
And he looked at me, and it was just like something just broke. And he said, “Well, if you don’t want to be a precinct delegate, what are you doing here?” I said, “What do you mean?” And he repeated himself, and he was louder this time because people started turning around like what, what is happening? And I tried to explain myself. I was like, “Hey.” I pulled out my phone. I was like, “You invited me. Nathan invited me.” And I just felt like I was ambushed.
I mean he knew I worked for Dr. Bizon in a room full, I found out, to be Democrats, and long story short, it was one of his pre-announcement announcements. We need to get Republicans out of Lansing, whatever, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, wow, how great did this look that Dr. Bizon’s person was here at this event? And so I saw Lynn Ward Gray on the way out, and I said,
Yates – Session 1 – 18 “Lynn, Jim really hurt me tonight.” And I said, “I kind of feel like I was kind of ambushed a little, you know? I was invited to this event, and then boom.” And I said, “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do after tonight,” just kind of seeking some solace from somebody that I really respected and really had a heart for. And she said, “Well, don’t think too hard.” I said, “Oh, okay, I won’t.”
And about two weeks later or three weeks, I had finally got done praying and thinking about it, and I said, okay, well, my resignation to the Democratic Party for my precinct delegate position went in. And I said I’m done with politics. I am going to continue the internship, but I’m not going to be a Republican or Democrat, screw it all, and continued working with Dr. Bizon until November. I led up his campaign as a campaign manager, and that was against Jim. And I said that’s—I mean I would have been chill with him. I said I would have just sat everything out because he was my friend. And that was one of the big things that switched me. At that time, I was like no. I’m no longer a Democrat. I’ve seen how this dirty side is going, and I’m not down for that.
And we got into November, and the Republicans said, “Hey, we need a youth chair, and Daniel is the only youth, the only person under like thirty that actually comes around here. So, Daniel, do you want to be our youth chair?” I was like, “Okay,” and didn’t really know what that entailed, and it wasn’t a whole lot, and I said, “I’ll do it.” And so then I kind of put on the Republican hat and saw Jim later that November. Well, it wasn’t November. I think it was this June, so I had been in that position for a while.
Yates – Session 1 – 19 We have a Cereal Festival every year. It’s at Battle Creek. We’ve got Kellogg. We’ve got Post, and actually, right in front of Arcadia Brewing where it used to be, I saw Jim. I was taking pictures of Dr. Bizon. He was like the second car in the parade, and that was kind of one of my unofficial titles. I was a photographer and everything else, so any event he went to, I took pictures. And I saw Jim walking by, and I said, “Hey, Jim, how’s it going?” I’m trying to be cordial to him, like what’s in the past is in the past. And he looked at me with the coldest look I swear I’ve ever gotten [hand slashing motion over throat]. And I said, “Are you serious?”
I mean living in Fort Wayne on a not so great part of town, if I was in school, a public school I went to, if I was walking through my neighborhood where kids tried to hurt me frequently, if somebody did that to me, that meant that I better watch out because somebody had it out for me. Somebody wanted me dead, and I freaked out about it. I got in the car and I cried. And I said I don’t know what to do because this just shook me to the core of my being. Somebody that was a hero to me in eighth grade just in my interpretation threatened to kill me, and so I was like I get it. Emotions are high. Anybody who runs against anybody and loses, loses a lot, but I said that was my last, last straw. I said I’m done with this. And things would happen later on with Dr. Bizon that I would say I’m getting away from the organized Republican Party, but I’m still conservative. So that long story short is how and why I made my switch.
Q: Well, that sounds like there was much personal stuff?
Daniel Yates: [14:48:17] Oh, it was very.
Yates – Session 1 – 20 Q: So there’s not much philosophical?
Daniel Yates: [14:48:20] Not so much.
Q: Yeah. So it sounds to me like philosophically, how do you feel about the—when you say you’re conservative, I’m a little confused. You say you’re conservative. It sounds like everything you’ve said to me about your identity, your family, what you believe about people having—the people that you ran into in the Trump campaign were racist, and in fact, that you seem still to be philosophically closer to the Democratic Party, but that the Republican Party has treated you a lot better. Is that—
Daniel Yates: [14:48:51] Well, that’s pretty much up there. I was thinking about it today. I said on issues like the environment and gay marriage, I mean I’m all for gay marriage. I’ve got a sister who’s a lesbian, and I said as long as you have somebody that loves you, that treats you right, I don’t care who you love. It’s none of my business. I don’t care. And as far as the environment goes, I’m very concerned about the environment. I’m not somebody who’s out there that like, “Coal, coal, coal.” We had an age of that. That was about 1910, and we’ve moved on.
But on the big issues, a lot of them I’m still very to the left on. Issues like the Second Amendment, I’m very to the right on. I mean I don’t think everybody should be carrying around machine guns. But after the incident with Jim, I did go and get concealed carry permit, and not
Yates – Session 1 – 21 right now, but I do carry occasionally. And so being armed and all that good stuff is something that I’m very for on the right. And immigration done the right way is a big thing for me.
I took a jail tour recently. And I got to see the part of the jail where deportees were being held. That’s one of the things that the Calhoun County Jail does. It was packed. And the young lady who was kind of the jail warden, or whatever you want to call it, she was explaining to the gentleman I was with—I was just kind of the ears and everything. I was seen and not heard—she said, “You know, some of the people that are here are here because they stole a library book.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me? You’ve got to be kidding me?”
Far too often, the rhetoric, the propaganda, is that these illegal immigrants, they’re terrible. They’re stealing our jobs. They’re harming our daughters, and our sons, and everything else, but no. That guy stole a library book, and we’re deporting him. We’re ruining his life. We’re ruining his family’s life because of a library book, and that to me was horrible—and you know I voted for Donald Trump, and would I do it again? I probably would. Do I think that the swamp is being drained? No. Do I think that there’s a lot of improvements that I really wish he was a little left on? Very much so, like the environment, like LGBT issues.
I mean there’s some things to me—having grown up on the Democratic side—are very simple, are very how can you not? How can you not think that this person should be entitled to love who they want to love? That’s simple to me. That is just basic human rights, but to some folks that somehow interferes. What I do in my bedroom somehow interferes with what they do in theirs,
Yates – Session 1 – 22 and this is America. You’re entitled to that, but that, I mean I will vote Republican because as you’ve mentioned, a lot of bad stuff has happened to me on the other side.
I may have had bad experiences with Dr. Bizon. I may have had a bad experience with Jim, but it’s not the Democratic Party that screwed me over. It’s not the Republican Party that screwed me over. I vote that way now because that’s kind of where all my experience lies. It’s where all the people that I know and all the personalities that have not turned their back on me are. So that’s why I’m still a Republican, but I’m more or less—except for a few issues—I’m a Democrat.
Q: So talk to me a little bit about your family life. You said you have two adopted siblings?
Daniel Yates: [14:52:43] Yes.
Q: And they’re both Latino?
Daniel Yates: [14:52:46] They are Native American.
Q: Oh, they’re Native American. I’m sorry. They’re Native American.
Daniel Yates: [14:52:48] No worries.
Yates – Session 1 – 23 Q: And so how did growing up in a family that had multiple race children in it impact your perception about race?
Daniel Yates: [14:53:03] Well, you know, that was a big thing for me because I mean I have Sarah and Mokie who are the adopted kids, and I have Aleeah, Natania, and Lisa who are my dad’s children by another marriage. And so they were all older than me by the time I came along. So they were all in their 30s because, like I said, my dad was fifty-seven, and so they were the kind of older influences. But having individuals in my family tree, if you will, that were Native American who were of a mixed race, from an early age, racism to me, it didn’t make sense. In Fort Wayne, you have a lot of African Americans. My school had a high percentage of attendance that was a minority in attendance. It didn’t bother me. It was just a normal thing for me.
I took a survey a while back actually for this interview that asked would you be fine with living in a neighborhood that was like over half black or something, over half Latino or Asian? I was like, yeah, you better believe it. I mean that’s simple for me. I love diversity. I mean I don’t want to be boring, and diversity to me as far as food and culture, it’s a beautiful thing. And I went over to this International Summer Festival this summer and that to me, I love stuff like that because I mean that American ignorance I mentioned a little earlier.
Q: Does it give you pause that the Republican Party doesn’t seem to attract people, people like your family members or people that think the way you do?
Yates – Session 1 – 24 Daniel Yates: [14:54:35] Well, it’s a big generational thing for me, and I look back, and I see people on the right side, they complain about entitlements. They complain about how, and to quote and paraphrase folks, “Black people are criminals,” which is total B.S., but you’ve got to look at the situation. If you have a person who is on TV, and this guy just got arrested for dealing drugs, let’s rewind here. Let’s rewind to that person’s ancestors being brought here in chains, not, “Hey, let’s go to America. It’s great.” No. Let’s go to the Civil War, which ended, and these people had nowhere to go. And so most of these people who had been slaves, they could only use the skills they had, so agriculture, sharecropping, which wasn’t that much better, very minimal pay. They were screwed either way, and there was no opportunity.
So what do you do? You go north where you think the opportunities are, and you end up living together because just like the Irish in New York, and Chinatown, and all this good stuff, you want to congregate with people that can speak your language, that are like you, that eat the same food, that have the same experiences of that post-slavery world. And those opportunities, that racism that was so heavily epidemic in our society, and still is—it’s still prevalent—that kept people in that cycle poverty. So when we had the entitlement system, if you want to call them that, come around, it’s no surprise that people who are poor, white people included, got those things, and it became a generational thing.
So if grandfather has that, and no opportunities were available to him, if he went and knocked on a door and said, “Hey, I’d like to be hired here,” and somebody said, “You’re black, get out,” “if you’re Irish, get out,” and it’s a generational thing. And people don’t get educated that way because there’s no schooling available. There’s no education available, and so you get a young
Yates – Session 1 – 25 man who ends up on TV because he has no way to support his family. He may have done something stupid. He stole a bike when he was 16 because he couldn’t afford one. He wanted to ride with his friends; something that a white kid would easily get away with in my opinion, and that kid goes to juvie. His life gets screwed up, and he gets a family, and how do you support that family? You’ve got a record, and so job opportunities are not what they should be, and you’ve got to turn to what you know. And so the guy down the street may be selling dope and so it’s very easy money.
And it’s not just because someone is a certain color, they’re genetically programmed to be a criminal. That’s B.S., and I’ve heard people say that and no. That doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to look at the full picture because I am not in this chair right now just because of the last 21 years. There is a lot that has happened within the last century, all my ancestors that brought me to Battle Creek that put me here I am today, and people don’t accept that. And one of the questions I was asked in the survey was do you think you’re the master of your own destiny? And a lot of times, we are, but where we start, we can’t help. Where we end, we can. But you can’t help if you’re born into a family that’s not educated, that doesn’t value education. So you’re not going to be someone who sees the value of going after scholarships or going to school after its compulsory, and that to me is just crazy.
Q: What’s your goal? What’s your mission? What’s your hope for the future in the work you’re doing around politics? What would you like to accomplish?
Yates – Session 1 – 26 Daniel Yates: [14:57:58] To get out of politics. If there’s one thing that politics has taught me, it’s that either on the right or left, they’re crooks. I don’t want to be like that, and not to say as a middle schooler, President Obama wasn’t my hero. He still is, but the world is not perfect, and it’s full of imperfect people and no matter if you’re a Republican, if you’re a Democratic, if you’re white, you’re black, you’re Latino, if you’re Asian, whatever. And politics for me, it’s been good. I’ve got to meet people. I got to the point where I could see the mayor, and I’d say, “Hey, mayor, how’s it going?” And they remember my name, and have the personal relationships, and that was wonderful for me.
But it gets to the point where by the time you’re twenty-one, you’ve had people that want you dead, and that hate you, and I get it. Just like everybody says, when you’re young, people are going to be mean wherever you go, but there’s some things I can’t do. And I can’t sit there and have a conversation with someone who says the N word, and even after I say that’s unacceptable, they just keep on going like nothing happened. And I can’t have a conversation with someone who would look at my future children and say, “Oh, they’re mixed. They’re worthless,” and would look at my girlfriend and say, “She needs to go back to China, wherever it is she came from.” And I’ve walked through Walmart holding her hand, and we’ve got people that have said crap like that. And that to me is very painful, and that’s the world we live in.
And that’s the political world we live in because things have got so decisive, especially within the last election, that a lot of people are either far right or far left, and there’s very few happy balance or that harmony in the center. And as someone who is a little bit left, a lot of left, and I try to find that balance. I’m right on a couple things, but I’m left on a lot, but I like to be in the
Yates – Session 1 – 27 center. And if you’re in the center nowadays, it’s very hard, very hard, because you’ve got people in the party on this side and on that side who want to go way right or way left, and that is not for me. I don’t want to be one of the guys with torches on campus. I can’t do that. That’s not in my programming. And the people I love and the experiences I have, I can’t do that.
Q: So what’s next for you? What’s the future hold?
Daniel Yates: [15:00:20] You know, it’s funny because I recently applied for a job at a laboratory company here. It was a very data entry sort of deal, and I said, “I’ve done data entry,” that kind of thing. And it says, “Great for retired people, college kids,” so I was like, “Okay. I’ve got a good shot.” And so I talked to the young lady whose husband was actually the hiring manager. And I said, “Hey,” she went to our church, and so I said, “This is something that I’d be very interested in doing. And is there any tips [unclear]?” She said, “You know what, Daniel? I know you a little bit. I’m going to tell my husband to put your name on the top of the list.”
And week after week, we started getting closer to the interview date, and she said, “You’re going to go in. The interview is a formality, and you have a really good shot. Let me just say that.” And I said, “Okay,” and so I walked in. They had seen my resume a couple of weeks ahead of time, were very thrilled, a campaign manager, intern, all this stuff, and interviewed. I thought it went very well and didn’t hear back. And about a week later—they said about three to five days. I’d interviewed on a Monday. I called them back, and I said, “Hey, I haven’t heard anything. Do you know anything?” and they said, “Well, we actually didn’t feel you were qualified.” I said, “Qualified?” I said, “To do data entry?” I said, “Well, data entry has been something I’ve done
Yates – Session 1 – 28 for three years.” And working in high school, I knew my way around an iPad, a Mac book, Windows, whatever it was, and it floored me. I was like shoot.
And so I have reverted to going back into politics because honestly, if I would have got that job, I would not be working for Mr. Callton. I would have said, “Screw politics,” but Mr. Callton is a great guy, and he’s a great guy to work for. He takes care of his employees, but politics is not a big thing for me. And so eventually, I’d like to be in something where I can travel and use the ability to public speak that I like to do, be able to tell my story and say, “These are upbringing experiences I had growing up poor in a big city and all this good stuff.” But it’s hard because I’ve done something for three years. I’ve burned bridges. It’s what happens in politics, and I don’t like burning bridges. I don’t like fire, and so I’d rather build them, and so it’s up in the air. I want to get a degree in business, and marketing, and international business, and maybe learn Mandarin, and see what the opportunity holds. I think that’s a good way to go, so I don’t know. It’s kind of up in the air, but I have high hopes right now.
Q: Do you have any questions?
Todd Tue: Well, I think maybe to visit one question that you’d had from earlier about Michigan used to be very much a blue state and then flipped and went red. And I can kind of see, I think, why maybe that happened, but especially in this last election, Trump seemed to play race or the supporters of Trump seemed to play race and whiteness very much into his campaign?
Daniel Yates: Oh yeah.
Yates – Session 1 – 29
Todd Tue: And I’m just wondering if you saw that living here and how that affected you being a Republican and a Trump supporter because you’ve seen a very—as you were saying—very liberal race in a lot of other ways. How was it for you to vote for a guy who was clearly courting potentially a lot of hostile voters?
Daniel Yates: [15:03:37] Oh yeah. So one of the big things for me was the David Duke thing, and not as far as having to deal with the whole Trump thing with race and all that good stuff. And for being in Battle Creek and being a Republican, seeing that kind of courting that was going on, it was interesting. It was peculiar, and it was curious because obviously in the room, I was usually the most liberal one. And so I was the reason that we started reaching out to the Burmese community because a, because of Lal and because I’d met Edward, who was kind of the patriarch of the community. And I met Edward many years ago, and he was like, “Hey, what are you up to?” And I said, “Well, I’m working with Dr. Bizon.” He said, “Well, bring him to church,” and so we did. And so my campaign—Dr. Bizon never came out and endorsed Trump. And he was advised not to do so by members of his staff. But I knew a lot of folks who were not racist, who are not like the guy who came in wanting the big sign. I knew a lot of folks that were just, “Trump speaks his mind. Trumps says he’s going to keep jobs here. That’s why I like him.”
And I had a single mom come in to the—and with her daughter—come in to our little headquarters. And she said, “I want to make phone calls with Trump.” And I said, “Well, why do you want to do that?” And she said, “I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t want to have it outsourced or anything. Trump says what he thinks even if it’s not a great thing all the time. He
Yates – Session 1 – 30 needs to delete Twitter off his phone, but aside from that, he says what he thinks.” And that was the biggest thing. It wasn’t that hey, he’s like us. He’s all right, whatever. It was mainly he says what he thinks. And that was what appealed to me. He says what he thinks.
And that’s very much not the greatest thing always, but I like somebody who was an outsider, who, like me, had been, I believe, on the left. I’m pretty sure he was a Democrat for a while or at least he supported Democratic candidates and then kind of switched over. That appealed to me. But to me, I was very much in the circle where it was pressed upon me that Hilary Clinton was someone who had been a part of Benghazi and all this stuff. And as someone who supports the military very heavily, I said, “Obviously, I’m not a scholar. I was not there. I was not in the conference rooms. I was not anywhere. So I don’t know what happened, what did not happen, all the emails, and all that stuff.” But I said, “If this is true, if it’s true, and of course, the media has a way of finagling things and kind of switching things around,” but I said, “If it’s true, then I don’t want to vote for this person. I see this person as a criminal.”
I don’t like dynasties, like the Bushes. I was not in support of that. I was not in support of a father and son holding the presidency. I would not be in support of Mrs. Clinton, after Bill, holding the presidency. I would not be in support of Chelsea holding the presidency, or Malia, or anybody else. If someone in your immediate family has been president, that’s awesome, but time to step away because if we start saying, “Well, George W. Bush, and his daughter is going to be president, and her son is going to be president,” what’s going to separate us from Saudi Arabia or any monarchy? Is that not what we tried to get away from? And that seems like an odd argument
Yates – Session 1 – 31 to a lot of people, but we had a father and son who were both president. Isn’t that odd to people? And so that was a tricky one for me, very much so.
Q: Last question, can you tell me a little more about your girlfriend, your relationship to her, and how that sort of influenced the way you feel?
Daniel Yates: [15:07:14] First of all, if she’s watching, she is the best thing in my life, and I love her to death. I actually met her through my best friend, who’s also Burmese.
Q: So let’s just start from the beginning to say that you can tell that “I have a girlfriend who is Burmese.”
Daniel Yates: [15:07:28] Yep, of course. And so my girlfriend is Burmese. She is Lumbang, which is a tribe there and Mizo, which is also a tribe. And she speaks Falam and she also speaks English. Her Falam is not as good as her English, so we always joke about that because she teaches me a little Burmese here and there. But having a girlfriend who was a woman of color, having a girlfriend who was not white, because I mean I don’t identify as white. I identify as Native American and white—who was not like me, who looked one way but was another, that had a great impact on me because prior to that even as far as being able to identify where somebody was from.
And I think so often as white Americans, we have set things in our head. We see something in the movie. We hear something in music. We hear something from our parents who were born in
Yates – Session 1 – 32 the 40s, or the 30s or whatever, and we’re very much our parents’ children. We take a lot of those views, whether they be racist or non-racist, and they become ours even if they’re watered down a little bit. And so as a kid, I didn’t have a lot of Asian influence.
I met a Buddhist monk a couple times, but I could not tell you if I walk into a store, yeah, that’s a Vietnamese person. Unfortunately, I was in the mindset that that’s a Chinese person. That’s a Chinese person. That’s a Japanese person, and Lal hates that because Lal, my girlfriend, will go in the store, and somebody will say, “What part of China are you from?” And the American thing is you’re either from China or you’re from Japan. Korea, eh, kind of maybe exists, but Cambodia, Thailand, where are those places? Do they exist? Is that like Covfefe? I mean do they exist at all?
And so having a girlfriend who was not white, who was Burmese, it got me a lot closer to that community. But it opened so many doors for me because I started to realize, first of all, I want to marry this girl. And if I marry her, we’re going to have kids mostly likely, and we’ve talked about kids, and my kids will be mixed. And I have to raise them in a world where some people in our neighborhood might characterize them as third-world types, and so it’s a very tedious bridge. You watch the old Indiana Jones movies where he’s got to cross that really rickety bridge, and that’s the world for me right now because I have folks on one side of the bridge, and I can’t really go back to that side, on the good side. But I’ve got another good side with a lot of good people over here, but I’ve also got people who say things like “third-world types.” I’ve got a guy over here who wants to kill me, so where do I belong, and what world do I want to raise my kids in?
Yates – Session 1 – 33
I don’t want my girlfriend to fear—and she does—about deportation. She is here legally and all that good stuff, but I can’t take that fear away from her, and that kills me because I’m somebody who very much likes to be in control over my life and to be able to say, “I’m going to stop this. If they try to deport you, you and I, we’re going to run to Canada together,” or whatever, and I can’t control that. And there’s powers beyond me in the Executive Office, and other than that, that I have a great amount of respect for the president, but he’s given her a lot of fear. And he will always be the president, but that’s the woman I love, and because she is of another race than me, because she’s an immigrant, she is in fear, and that kills me because I can’t take that fear away. And so that’s kind of the influence that having someone in my life—having the woman I love be Burmese—be another race than I am has had on me.
Q: Last question––is there anything that we didn’t touch on for this?
Daniel Yates: [15:11:24] You know one of the things that I kind of thought about on my way over was the Black Lives Matter movement. And I don’t think we’ve ever really had a proper demonstration here, but I thought about that. I said, first of all, black lives matter. A lot of folks on the right side, they do the All Lives Matter thing. Native lives matter, too, man. Hispanic lives matter. Asian lives matter, but black lives matter.
And I ran into a guy the other day. He’s like, “Well, they’re acting like terrorists. They’re blocking roads.” I said, “Well, put yourself in somebody’s shoes who’s African American. They’ve been screwed over for a lot of years by the country that’s supposed to be the freest place
Yates – Session 1 – 34 on Earth. It’s supposed to be the cornucopia of goodness and everything else.” And I said, “When we talk about black lives matter, when we talk about the struggle that folks face being African American, even being born African American in this country, today, 2017, we have to respect that struggle, and we have to support that struggle because not in the way that we’re saying, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s this keep going,’ but saying, ‘Here’s my hand. Let’s bring you up because that struggle, that system that’s in place, that pipeline to prison, if you want to call it, is wrong. And let’s get rid of it.’”
And I thought about it the other day, I said, “Lal and I,” I said, “I’m sure we would be right down there with somebody.” Black lives do matter, and I’m not going to be holding the All Lives Matter sign with my Donald Trump hat. But a re-election comes along, and if I don’t like anybody on the ticket, I’m going to vote for Trump again. And even though a lot of the people coming in and out of that voting booth may be Republicans, may be supporters of All Lives Matter or any weird subforum of Reddit or something, black lives matter, and they will always matter unequivocally.
And so when the news media presents all these pictures of looting and everything, I think we’re doing a service to a movement that—it’s the same way with the Republican Party. There’s racists in the Republican Party. There’s people that want to kill other people in the Democratic Party, the same with the Republicans, but you cannot view an organization, a movement for people, for just a few people. You have to view it for what it exists for, to erase that struggle, to help build people up to where they can be equal, and that to me is what Black Lives Matter is, and so I will
Yates – Session 1 – 35 always say that. Black lives do matter and will always matter, at least in my head. So anything else?
Q: That’s it. Thank you. [Unclear].
Daniel Yates: Hey, of course.
Q: [Unclear]. Give me a smile. [Unclear] Okay.
Daniel Yates: Excellent.
Q2: That’s great.
Q: Thank you so—
END OF INTERVIEW