Zerlina Maxwell Proves All She Needs Is a Mic – And Maybe Her Phone

At a moment when the nation seems to be giving the Black community the side-eye, the SiriusXM host is more vocal than ever.

For Zerlina Maxwell, speaking her mind, shedding light on issues of the day, and empowering marginalized communities have been the backbone of her work in both the media and the political sphere. She serves as SiriusXM’s Senior Director of Progressive Programming and hosts her own daily show, Mornings with Zerlina. As the former director of progressive media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign, Maxwell is no newbie when it comes to discussing politics, policy, feminism, race, gender equality, economic disparity, and so much more.

RELATED: Spill, New Black-Owned App, Aims To Shake Up Social Media Landscape recently caught up with the multifaceted host, writer, and analyst for her take on some of today’s most engaging issues and hot topics. In fact, the hotter the better because everything from the upcoming 2024 Presidential election to threats from artificial intelligence will have an impact on Black people in ways we're not prepared for, but Maxwell is here to tell you, get ready!

Maxwell On The End of Affirmative Action in Higher Education

 Participants march and chant slogans at a rally protesting the Supreme Court's ruling against affirmative action on Harvard University Campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the United States, on July 1, 2023.
A rally protesting the Supreme Court's ruling against affirmative action on Harvard University campus.

Number one, this was the least surprising thing to have ever happened, right, maybe even less surprising than the Dobbs decision (that effectively ended Roe v. Wade), which we also knew going into it was going to turn out that way because of the makeup of the [Supreme] Court. So I think what we are living through now in the present with the affirmative action case, coming a year after the Dobbs case and the student loan debt decision, is all a reckoning for electing Donald Trump in 2016 and having a Republican President appoint Justices to the Supreme Court.

I do worry about it. But I also think that there's going to be fewer students at those schools, because students are going to choose not to go to those schools, even if they did get in.

The folks who are opposed to affirmative action, what they're saying through their act, through their lack of alternative ideas, is that they're fine with the status quo; they're okay with the majority of applicants, accepted applicants, people who have legacy admissions, being from a certain background, so that the way that this world has been set up just continues on, and I guess they think that we're going to be quiet about that, but I don't plan to.”

Maxwell on Biden 2024 and the Black Vote

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event with abortion rights groups in Washington, DC, US, on Friday, June 23, 2023.

I'm an alumni of the Hillary Clinton campaign. So yes, I always worry about this specific thing. Because this is one of the things that we worried about in 2016. I'm sure they worried about it in 2020 and 2022. They have to work on it every day. It's the kind of thing where the messenger matters, right? So sometimes it can be the president and vice president for those younger Black voters and communities of color that they need to win every election, including the one coming up.

But they are not the only messengers. And they need to find the most authentic, you know, large-profile voices with huge followings on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, frankly, not necessarily Twitter anymore. Like in 2016, it was all about Black Twitter. Right now, if I worked at the White House, I'd be on TikTok trying to find who the biggest influencers are, not just in politics, not just doing social commentary, but in makeup and hair, in fitness, in everything.

So how do you galvanize Black people? Well, what you're gonna have to do is speak directly to their issues. But sometimes you're gonna have to speak through the people who they already listen to.”

Maxwell on the War on Reproductive Rights

Protesters are seen in Gdansk, Poland, on 17 January 2018 Thousands of women take to streets across country on Wendesday January 17th, to demand reproductive rights. Participants protest against attempts by the government to further restrict access to abortion. (
Protesters take to streets to demand reproductive rights.

Well, every single person has to decide what they want to do and what they're capable of and have the capacity to do, because every single person is going to need to play a role in fighting back against these forces. Now, everyone knew when RBG (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) passed away that this was going to happen. I think when Dobbs actually happened, a lot of people were like, 'Wait a minute, I am of reproductive age, and I have never known a world in which Roe was not the law of the land.' So I think there's a whole generation, particularly younger women, who are really mad right now.

RELATED: Op-Ed: How We Can Reimagine Black Maternal Health in the Changed Landscape of Dobbs

We get caught up in media conversations about the number of weeks in a ban or if there are exceptions. I think fundamentally, the question we are being asked when we're talking about choices is, Do you believe humans have the right to bodily autonomy or not? And if you do not, then go stand over there. But over here, I believe that every human being deserves bodily autonomy and the ability to control what happens to the body, full-stop.

I say on my show all the time, If you ever thought about getting involved in politics, working in politics, or running for office, then I can't imagine another moment that's better than this one.

And so now we have to act; elect people who are for choice, vote against the people who aren't, and also run ourselves. I say on my show all the time, If you ever thought about getting involved in politics, working in politics, or running for office, then I can't imagine another moment that's better than this one.”

Maxwell On AI and the Black Community

Engineer wearing virtual reality simulator holding model of robotic arm in factory - stock photo
Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the Black worker.

We're always hurt by anything that's bad. So if it's bad, it's always going to be worse for Black and Brown people, whatever that thing is, whether it be poverty or something else. The fact that it (AI) will harm Black people, it absolutely will, because the people that will be the most exploited and the least compensated for their labor, who has that been in American history?

I also think the important thing about the conversation happening around AI, related to the writers’ and actors’ strike is the fact that you need to fairly compensate people for their labor. That is the moral and foundational question, and the fact that you are not doing that means that you are exploiting their art, their image, or using their likeness to make money for yourself without fairly compensating them. That's wrong, like, full-stop wrong.

I've talked to Amazon employees and Starbucks employees, and there’s a theme that's emerged. Everybody in the pandemic looked around, and they were like, 'Wait a minute, I still have to go to work; I'm essential, but I don't get paid enough to have food or a house; I don't have health care, I can't afford anything.' 

RELATED: Op-Ed: How We Can Reimagine Black Maternal Health in the Changed Landscape of Dobbs

I've never been a CEO with a yacht, but I don't understand why you think that you deserve or have somehow earned multiple millions of dollars, multiple yachts, and the people who helped you earn that money don't have a home, they don't have a roof, they don't have food, and they don't have money to put gas in their car to get to that job. I do not believe that that is the right way to set up the world.”

Maxwell on the Status of Black Voices on Social Media

Woman holding neon speech bubble - stock photo
Black voices on social media stay consistent.

I quit Twitter. Everybody who has used it for a long time knows that it's not the same. It doesn't work the same way. You can't go there for breaking news, like you used to be able to, because you're inundated with spam and white nationalists. It's just not what it used to be, which is really sad because Twitter was an amazing place that literally sparked and helped amplify revolutions. All of that is true. But it wasn't really Twitter itself that did that; it was the people who came onto a platform and used it as a tool to organize, which can be done using these other tools.

RELATED: Cable News Divas: Our Favorite Female Anchors

I really do like TikTok. I think that it's been fun to experiment and kind of play around with it. And I can be more myself, my actual personality, as opposed to the cable news version that everybody saw.  TikTok might be a more powerful tool than even Twitter was. TikTok, short videos, YouTube content—I don't think that's ever going away because people now understand how they can feel less alone in the pandemic era, or they can feel less isolated in a conservative red state if they're liberal, queer, different, or anything else. Being able to see people who are like you can be a really powerful feeling.”

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

"Mornings with Zerlina" airs weekdays on SiriusXM channel 127 from 7-9 a.m. ET.

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