In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week — including an attempt to eliminate paper mail for imprisoned people, conservative Republicans pushing a new form of cash welfare, a Black professor resists DeSantis’ Black history prohibition, and Pharrell Williams succeeds Virgil Abloh as Louis Vuitton menswear designer. Pod Save the People continues Blackest Book Club programming with Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell. DeRay interviews author and host of Crooked’s Stuck with Damon Young.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, the underreported news with regard to race, justice and equity. We talk about the attempt to eliminate paper mail for people who are incarcerated. We talk about what’s going on with Nikki Haley and a lot of other things. And then we continue our Blackest book club discussions with a spotlight on The Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell. And then I sit down and talk to podcaster and author, host Damon Young, in the Crooked family. Here we go. My advice for this week is do a little movement every day. And also, get your rest. I’ve been really good at like a little workout every day. Um. I’ve been really good at it. And let me tell you, I am so pumped to just like, sit down. [laugh] Because I have been moving. I just need to sit down, so remember to sit down. Just take a breather. [music break]
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson on Twitter at @HendersonKaya.
DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Well, I just want to say I had a really wonderful Valentine’s Day until Nikki Haley announced her candidacy for president. [laughter] So womp, womp, womp. And, you know, she announced she’s she in a very big way. Nikki Haley is she’s a she’s a person of color now, she’s a minority. She’s somebody she’s got her woman card and she’s make you know, now getting into all these firsts about her, one being the first woman minority governor of South Carolina, which is technically true. But if Rachel Dolezal became the first governor of somewhere, would we call her a woman of color? Probably not. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara just came out of, [laugh] De’Ara– [excited sounds]
Myles Johnson: Ooh.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay.
Myles Johnson: Oooh.
De’Ara Balenger: Any who, Governor Haley is announcing, she is it’s been it it’s been in the political news. Is it in the cultural news? No, um for many reasons. But I just one, I find her candidacy interesting. I think it also signals for us y’all this election is coming and it is going to be awful. The good news is, is that the Republicans already are already turning on themselves, of course. So Nikki Haley announces, Ann Coulter comes out and says some very wild things. Um. So it’s it’s going to be interesting. But, you know, this Nikki Haley thing has been very top of mind for me. And if she does end up doing well as someone who worked on two campaigns to make a woman president, I may have to move.
DeRay Mckesson: I can’t wait to hear what Myles and Kaya have to say about this. I’ll keep my initial comments short, is that white supremacy does what white supremacy does. And when Nikki Haley got up there and said America is not racist and Ann Cooler said, [laugh, Ann Cooler, Ann Coulter said, I am racist. Don’t say that about me. I am racist. I was like, Oh, this is going to be uh something to watch. And Trump is going to wipe the floor with Nikki Haley. It is ah, every racist trope. Everything that can come out is going to be unleashed. And if Nikki Haley really believed America was not racist because people treated her nicely in her little circles, she’s going to find out very quickly that the Republican Party will throw that woman away without even batting an eye. So I can’t wait to hear what y’all say.
Kaya Henderson: But they didn’t. But they didn’t treat her nicely. Apparently, growing up in South Carolina, where you had to be white or Black, um there were all kinds of egregious things that happened to her because she was Indian and because she didn’t fit in one or the other. Um. Politico has a fascinating article called 55 Things You Need to Know About Nikki Haley. And let me get you this tea. How about this? She um her parents wanted her to marry an Indian dude but she met this white man in college, Bill Haley. Except his name is Michael Haley. Now, why is that? Because she said you don’t look like a Bill. You’re going to change your name to Michael. And so everybody who knew them before they got married [laughs] calls him Bill. [laughing] And everybody who knows them after they got married calls him Michael, because according to the article, when Nikki decides something is going to be a certain way, it is going to be a certain way. Y’all.
De’Ara Balenger: Well.
Kaya Henderson: Y’all.
De’Ara Balenger: So she does she understands colonialism. She does understand that from her heritage.
Kaya Henderson: Ouch. Um.
De’Ara Balenger: So.
Kaya Henderson: But she also–
Myles Johnson: Not manifest destiny that man’s name. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: But she also I mean, she was anti-Trump then she was in the Trump administration. Now she’s running against Trump like she is I, to me, she is ambitious. Um. The article calls her nimble. I. Some people might say flip floppy, um but I mean, I I don’t I think this woman has she’s she said, do you remember during the Georgia um senatorial campaign, she said, Raphael Warnock should be deported. Where he gonna go? [laughter] Where he going to go?
Myles Johnson: I, I–
De’Ara Balenger: Also this thing about just real quick [?] about the immigrant thing. And this is where this discussion with with with Indians really drives me crazy because you there’s obviously there’s this whole context about them being, you know, the exceptional minority. And she’s talk she’s using immigrant when her father, this I love this political thing Kaya, got a masters degree in biology before moving to Canada to get a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia and then moved to North Carolina to to be a teacher. So it’s not you know, listen, it’s not like these folks–
Kaya Henderson: To teach at an HBCU–
De’Ara Balenger: –HBCU.
Kaya Henderson: –no less.
De’Ara Balenger: I just can’t.
Kaya Henderson: And her and her mama was a public school teacher who then um opened Exotica International, a gift boutique turned into fashion–
De’Ara Balenger: They gonna tear her–
Kaya Henderson: –super thing.
De’Ara Balenger: They they coming for you girl.
Kaya Henderson: Listen, y’all. I mean, it’s it’s so interesting to watch the Republicans turn on each other. I’m here for that world star hip hop fight.
De’Ara Balenger: Sorry to interrupt.
Myles Johnson: No, I’m still flabbergasted. Maybe 30 seconds before we, before we started recording, um DeRay played what Ann Coulter had said about her, and my jaw was on the floor. Now, I do not believe in hell, but I think they might build one just to put Ann Coulter in. I can not believe [laughter] I could not believe she fixed her lips to say those just really disgusting, vile things that she said.
Kaya Henderson: Vile.
Myles Johnson: And–
DeRay Mckesson: On the radio and YouTube! [throat being cleared]
Myles Johnson: And the thing about it is you know, that that kind of language, that kind of moment, it will it will make a radical out of you. America is not racist. It’s those type of moments at the end of the, at the end of the um day, at the end of this this um election cycle, would not actually be surprised if she had a change of heart about how not racist America is once they’re done with her. They’re about to they’re about to show you exactly exactly who they are specifically when you’re looking for patriarchal power [someone clearing nose] in their in in in in their world, if you’re not just going to be subservient to and be another back for them to step on, oh you want to be a president? No. They’re going to show you just how racist they can be. And this is just the beginning, it hasn’t even–
DeRay Mckesson: Myles. What uh so a lot of people have not heard the Nikki Haley um comment or commentary about I mean, haven’t heard the Coulter commentary about Nikki Haley. What was it to you that stood out? Or like, how would you explain it to people who have not heard it themselves?
Myles Johnson: She took a book of it’s almost as if she like had a book of racist tropes. Went to the I section for India. And then [laughter] and then in listicle form said, every well, I’m talking about cow. I’m talking about cow worship, rat te–, rat temples. Gandhi done touched the children. [laughter] I’m saying literally, just took a list of every single thing you could say bad about India. And just said this and this and this and this, didn’t even get to the like, I was literally holding my breath like I my heart stopped a little bit. I was holding my breath because I just was like it just like she had a like, that’s the best way I can say, like a listicle of insulting things to say. Didn’t even feel like I was actually hearing somebody’s opinions. It felt like, Oh, wow, we’re talking about Black people. Watermelon, chicken, porches, Sambo, like, it just didn’t feel like I was actually listening to somebody express opinions it just felt like she had a software update and it was like racist to India. And that’s what we got. [laughter] It was disgusting. It was digusting. Literally–
Kaya Henderson: Not the software update. I love it.
Myles Johnson: Made made the Simpsons representations of India on The Simpsons cartoon look like the United Nations–
Kaya Henderson: Oh.
Myles Johnson: –uh wrote it. Like made it, made that look respectable. Like disgusting, disgusting, disgusting, vile things. And I think it was just to answer it even more clearly. I think it was just there was no wrapping of it in in and this is just my opinion. It’s just where it’s going to go. I’m like, No, you just said, don’t don’t you all have rat temples and don’t you all worship cows and all this other stuff. It was just, it was–
De’Ara Balenger: But there’s no but there’s no racism. As Nikki Haley said, there’s no racism.
Kaya Henderson: Woo child. I needed that this morning. [laughing]
Myles Johnson: I was. I was literally. I’m never shocked. Shocked, [laughter] shocked.
De’Ara Balenger: Well.
Kaya Henderson: Okay. Well.
De’Ara Balenger: That’s that. [laughter] We’ll see what other what other [laughing] announcement or are made around uh this upcoming presidential election which hoo y’all we gotta get our energy and spirits together for this.
Kaya Henderson: It’s still February and we are so excited to continue our Blackest book club programming. We partnered up with Reconstruction and Campaign Zero to launch an amazing book list for our listeners. Curated by me, DeRay, De’Ara and Myles. Download the Pod Save the People Blackest book club reading list at BlackestBookClub.com now. This week um we are talking about one of my book selections. Uh Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell. Y’all listen, this book literally changed my life. Like, changed like rewired my hard drive, changed the way I think about the world. Um. And I had to be about 24 or so when I read it. Um. I was teaching. I was living in Brooklyn, shout out to the Solar Sisters Book Club, because that is where I encountered this. My my girls. We met every first Friday of the month to read together and this was one of our books. Faces at the bottom of the well, first of all, Derrick Bell, an amazing legal mind. Um. He is now widely known as the godfather of critical race theory. Yes, that terrible legal construct [laugh] around examining race and how it is baked into the laws of our society. But way uh before we got to know him that way, he was a civil rights attorney um who did lots of school desegregation cases for the NAACP in Mississippi and some other places. He then went on to be um the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School. He was a professor and dean of the law School at Oregon School of Law, and he was very well known for quitting his job in taking to take stands um he quit his job at uh in Oregon when they refused to allow him to hire an Asian-American woman as a law professor, um he left Harvard to protest the fact that they did not have enough um minorities and women of color on the Harvard Law School faculty like this dude was a ride or die kind of dude. And Faces at the bottom of the Well is an amazing book that uh uses allegory and storytelling to lift up racial themes, um and it allows you to kind of dig into his mind beyond sort of legal reasoning. But the reason why it changed my life completely and totally, uh because the subtext subtitle of the book is The Permanence of Racism. And basically what he argues not just in this book, but over the course of many writings, is that racism is permanent, right? What if it was the first time that I ever contemplated the question, what if we shan’t overcome? Um I am a baby of the seventies and eighties. I am an integration baby. I you know am post-civil rights. And I believed for a long time in the promise of, you know, ultimate equality. And Derrick Bell is the first person who was like, yeah, Kaya, well, what if that doesn’t happen? What would you do differently? And he uses a set of stories, really interesting stories to um help you answer some pretty interesting questions. I want to start by reading just the sort of prologue that he writes. He says Black people are the magical faces at the bottom of society’s well, even the poorest whites, those who must live their lives only a few levels above, gain their self esteem by gazing down on us. Surely they must know that their deliverance depends on letting down their ropes. Only by working together is escape possible. Over time, many reach out, but most simply watch, mesmerized into maintaining their unspoken commitment to keeping us where we are at whatever cost to them or to us. He wrote this book in 1992. [clears throat] And if you pick it up and you read it today, it is prescient in terms of predicting many of the things that we are seeing happening in the culture wars and happening uh with the sort of Republican backlash that we’ve been seeing over the last two, five, ten, twenty years. Um. He argues that racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of American society. And basically what he does is [clears throat] he tells these super cool stories. He talks about examining the question of immigration through a story called The Afrolantica Awakening, where he says, what if a island popped up in the middle of the sea and it had all of the oxygen and natural resources and whatever that we need, abundant food, blah, blah, blah. But the only people who could actually live on the island and breathe the air were Black people. Would you go? Would you stay? Right. Um. He looks at the failures of civil rights legislation um in a story called the Racial Preference Licensing Act, where it where Congress decides that it is okay legal to discriminate as long as you pay a tax and the proceeds would then fund scholarships and no interest mortgages for Black people. Would you be down for that? Um. He examines relationships between Black and Black men and women in a story called The Last Black Hero, where this bomb civil rights leader ends up falling in love with a white woman. And maybe the most like classic and enduring story from this is a story called The Space Traders, where, you know, in an America much like today, bereft of natural resources um with deficits and all kinds of stuff, some aliens show up and say, hey, America, we will replenish all of your natural resources. We will give you gold and riches. You can pay off your debts, we’ll clean up, you know, pollution. We will fix it all for you if you just give us all your Black people. And the question the story basically revolves around like what difference people’s reactions are to this. What how the Congress and the president respond to this, how Jews respond to this, how conservative Black people, how liberal Black people, how the world is treating this question. And it ultimately um ends up in a referendum and the country has to decide whether or not it’s going to give away all it’s Black people in order to clean things up. Um. In fact, there’s a if you go on, I think it’s on YouTube. Look at Cosmic Slop. They have done a whole there’s a TV show based on space traders. Um. So it’s it is an amazing book. Um. It’s it is accessible because these are really interesting stories. And um and basically, it radicalized me in a very real way to kind of begin to accept that what I had been taught and sold over, you know, the first 20 something years of my life might just not be right. So that is my book that I think every Black person should read.
Myles Johnson: Such a good book, so I found out about Derrick Bell in this book Backwards. I watched Cosmic Slop first with uh cause George Clinton, my mom and my dad, hippies, Black people. [laughing] So I obviously knew about Cosmic Slop and um and George Clinton’s um Twilight Black Twilight Zone essentially. And I and then wanting to know who’s the, me being a writer. Um. Even at the yo– I think I was like maybe 13 or 14 when I saw. Um. And then me being a writer wanting to know, like, who wrote this episode? Just like I knew Rod Serling in Twilight Zone, and then figuring out that this came from a book and then understand, then figuring out who um Derrick Bell was and stuff like that. I think um A.) Just thank you for I think it’s so brave and interesting to hear you speak because I think that specifically your pocket of um of of of Black life and Black generation has been sold a Huxtable linean? Made up that. [laughter].
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
Myles Johnson: Except, except exceptional ideal about what it should look like and what the trajectory of Black people um is. And I think that it’s literature like this that disrupted that. So even if you do find yourself still believing in it, you believe in it in a more grounded way that really makes you have to observe, be real about what’s going on. And then also, I think that what I observed is there being these kind of critiques today around maybe younger people, younger intellectuals or activists who would like name themselves Afro pessimist. And it kind of makes you understand that this train of thought is just like Black optimism, Black pessimism, Afro pessimism is a part of an ancestral work too. There have been ancestors that have been say said do not put your hopes in these white people because this is not going to be it. Do not put your don’t not put your hopes in some type of moral transformation of white people because you will live your life disappointed, just like Black optimism and faith is so strong. Um. Derrick Bell uh to me reiterates that uh almost like an Afro pessimism, um existential, um uh enga– like this kind of like cold existential engagement with Black with Black life has been just as much a part of our um legacy too, we are not just these smiling, you know, Ava DuVernay directed heroes, [laughing] and I and I and I love this literature, and this author for showing that we have just as much diverse thought in how we are engaging with, you know, the the query of being Black and alive in America.
DeRay Mckesson: We didn’t read it in college. I didn’t know about it in college, actually. I did a lot of, I read Black thought, like I remember the first time I read Bell Hooks in college, and I took this class on the urgency of Black photography. Deborah Willis da da da, but I actually didn’t read this book. And um now that it’s on the book list, it is one of the books I’m reading for Black History Month. Boom.
De’Ara Balenger: Thank you, Kaya, for bringing this. I read this in college, so but my entry to Derrick Bell was Patricia J. Collins [correction: Williams], who I’m still obsessed with to this day. And now I’m kicking myself because one of my books should have been the Alchemy of Race and Ri– Alchemy of Race and Rights by Patricia J. Collins [correction: Williams] she also was a part of the Critical Race Theory crew collective of brilliant thinkers that helped to round it out. I also would extend that to Kimberlé Crenshaw, who’s also another Black law professor. So these individuals, as law professors, as thinkers of law, as activists in law, were so inspirational to me and my desire to go to law school like I still in my heart want to be a law professor where I can just talk crazy every single day, basically in the legacy of these brilliant, wonderful people. But what what was very compelling and what is and what’s very similar about these two works, one by Derrick Bell, one by Patricia J. Collins [correction: Williams], is that. It’s the form, right? And so to Kaya’s point it is it was unusual to kind of tell these stories autobiographically. It was unusual to tell these stories through a prose. And so, of course, because Black folks remix everything that we do, they did it and it was brilliant and um still informs a lot of the canon to this day. So Kaya, of course, coming in with a real good one. A real, real juicy, good one. Um. And so I want to read this again, but also encourage everybody to read Alchemy of Race and Ri– uh Rights again. And you will love it. Another good one that’s making me think of this one Kaya. You probably read this one too, is um Engendering race and politics and I’ll I’ll fi– I’ll find the author of that. But it’s basically a collection of essays written by women, Kimberlé Crenshaw being one of them. But yeah, this is y’all, this book club, blacketty black, black, black and excellent.
Kaya Henderson: We so black we can’t help it.
De’Ara Balenger: There’s so many wonderful Black women, brilliant Black women named Patricia. I’m getting my Patricia J. Williams confused with Patricia Hill Collins, um also another brilliant, brilliant Black feminist thinker, so check out her work as well. But when I was referring to Derrick Bell and Patricia Williams, not Collins.
DeRay Mckesson: Everybody make sure you check out the Blackest Book club reading list at BlackestBookClub.com. We’re talking about our favorite books this month. At the link you’ll download the list, make a purchase in support of the cause. We’ve designed a limited edition BlackestBookClub apparel collection with the range of designs and colors just for you and stay tuned for the rest of the month and grab a book from the list every week and read it.
Myles Johnson: Um super excited to get into my news this week. If you’ve been with the podcast for the last six months, you know, at the end of 2022 I made a venture into theater and I’ve graduated from theater and now I’m having um my venture into fashion. That’s right. I am [laughter] a fashion New Yorker now. I went to a Telfar show I wear Rick Owens at inconvenient times and I wear all Black all the time, and I know everything that’s going on in fashion. So it’s important–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
Myles Johnson: –to me.
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
Myles Johnson: So after Virgil Abloh um passed away, I think that people who concern themselves with fashion and culture were kind of uh holding their breath to see what Louis Vuitton going to do. Because Virgil Abloh was the acting um creative director at Louis Vuitton, and with the choices that they were gonna, what the choice that they were going to make, it kind of I think in my head, I was like, well, are they just going to go back to just get like getting somebody else who’s like, tried and true or are they going to stay on this like legacy that Virgil, Virgil was um uh creating of uh just expanding who Louis Vuitton is for and really doing some of the most interesting performance art as runway shows that I’ve um ever seen. And then also doing some things that were just unapologetically, I hate this term. So, you know, I mean it when I say it but unapologetically Black things that I’ve seen on a like on a European runway show, so I’m talking Saul Williams. Like there’s certain people, but the time when you get to there, you reached a different level of Black uh thinking and creativity. So once you see Saul Williams reciting poetry at your fashion show, you’re like, oh, we’re in we’re in the deep of it. We’re in the mud, okay.
Kaya Henderson: Deep in that. [laughing]
Myles Johnson: And and that and that’s what and that’s what happened. And then um Kendrick Lamar performing and stuff like that. And I think, yeah, we’re all just holding our breath to kind of see, are you going to pick somebody else who will carry on that legacy now that Virgil is no longer um with us? And it was announced that Louis Vuitton has uh appointed Pharrell Williams as creative director. I’m personally excited about this. Uh. Pharrell Williams, to me has always been a part of fashion, has been innovative when it comes to fashion. I think that when these conversations happen a lot of times because of just the noise, we can get hyper focused on Kanye West as like the sole person, but Pharrell Williams, Kelis, and I would actually say Teyana Taylor, we’re really like in a in an interesting spot. Um. And I would say Rihanna, we’re in an interesting spot of really claiming space in fashion that wasn’t only urban fashion. I feel like that era of Rocawear and Sean John really opened us up to do it. And I think that that kind of group um generation of people said, yes, we’re going to do this and we’re also going to touch European fashion or we’re going to touch fashion that’s more mainstream or just high fashion without there being like a Black moniker um behind it. To like, like um to almost like, separate it. So Pharrell has been with Bait, Pharrell has done collections with um done collaborations with Louis Vuitton before and he um he has done Billionaire Boy Club. So he’s not alien to fashion it’s not as random just than picking somebody who looks cool and doing it. He has a legacy of caring about fashion. But of course, there’s been controversy about should he do it? You know, what’s going on? How come these design houses are not picking designers to do to do this job? And I personally think I have the same opinion that I have about this, like I do with music. Yes. A songwriter, a producer. Fantastic, fantastic people. We need them. But Whitney Houston, bring that song to life. Uh uh. Mariah C– well Mariah Carey writes her own songs, Beyonce brings these songs to life. I feel the same way when it comes to creative directors and designers. I think a lot of times a designer might have a vision for a house, if there’s a vision for where the clothes should go, a vision a vision where um how things should uh like fit and the and keeping the legacy of the brand like continuous with where it was and where it’s going. But I also think a creative director is what brings the life into it and knows how to make it captivating to an audience, how to make it um start conversation. Um. Giving suggestions that a designer sometimes when you’re when you’re made to think a certain way, maybe that doesn’t consider. So I’m not really offended by the fact that people who are creative directors are often not designers, because I think sometimes that that tension is needed to truly create something really interesting. And I have faith that Pharrell, nah I’m not going to hold you. Pharrell has said some some stuff that I’m like, Pharrell, I just need you to pick up one book, one one one book. You know, just, just read read a little bit of pro-Black literature. Please do not come and just say we’re we’re no no, though we’re all, it’s only one race human race. Sure that is true, but I need for you to. [sighing on consonant S] Don’t, don’t, don’t don’t bring any of that. [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Not shhhhh.
Myles Johnson: Don’t bring any of that over here. So I think that I am a little timid around Pharrell because I think that Virgil had such a clear vision of what he what he thought was punk for Louis Vuitton and what was punk for Louis Vuitton for him was Saul Williams, was Kendrick Lamar, where um certain types of performance art in certain types of uh designs. And I think that Pharrell sometimes scares me because I feel like he’s just a li– I don’t I don’t I don’t I have no uh non-offensive way to tell you how I feel about uh Pharrell’s political and racial acumen. So I’m not going to say it, but I am hopeful that he incorporates his legacy of being in hip hop, being on the um on the vanguard of expanding what men can wear, what Black people are known for wearing. And I hope that he brings that legacy to Louis Vuitton. And and is really uh intentional about making it pro-Black and Black centered, because I think that’s what Virgil would want, and I think that’s what Virgil would would have us have. So, okay, my fellow uh pod fashionistas and fashionistos, fashionistxs. Um. [laughter] What do you feel? [sigh]
DeRay Mckesson: I’m interested in this for Pharrell. And I like Pharrell, and I think that Pharrell has a vision and has been um has been willing to do the thing but ahead of its time. And I think that’s cool, right? I remember when he wore the Chanel sunglasses and that, but, everybody was, you know Chanel doesn’t make men’s clothes, and and people were like, what are you doing? Like, he did that early. The music videos, he broke space broke ground whatever like all this stuff. I think it’s great. I’m interested in um like when we think about the biggest houses. Will up– will non-famous Black people be e– be able to be the creative directors? So when you look at the Gucci’s and the da da are like bringing people up from inside the ranks that like the normal person has never heard of, but they’re like, you know, they’ve done work inside the the fashion world and in the brand and they rise up and become you know like the new head of Gucci is uh like an internal guy. And I I hope we get to a point where people of color who are not movie stars and, you know, famous are like they can they can be in these roles leading the major houses. And we actually just haven’t really seen that yet. Virgil was already famous by the time he got to Louis Vuitton. Pharrell is already famous when he’s getting here. But like again, the guy at Gucci, who’s the new creative director at Gucci is like an internal hire. Alessandro was an internal hire who gets promoted, you know, like I just I want to see that [?]–
Kaya Henderson: But don’t you think, don’t you think that this is part of the strategy, right? Like, I first of all, I’m rooting for everybody Black, big up to Pharrell continuing the Virgil thing like, and I want us to have opportunities and I hope that he creates opportunities. But like, it’s not a coincidence that these fashion houses now are elevating Black celebrities. I mean, when you look at Black consumerism and how much money we spend on things, when you look at our creativity, like we create the trends, right? And so like these houses which have been exclusive and that has been their calling card, have figured out that exclusivity. Yes sort of maybe not exclusivity, but luxury. And how do I get all of these people who will spend their disposable income, sometimes their non disposable income on my high priced luxury brand, is I give them the brand ambassadors from their community. I give them the brand ambassadors that they admire. And this is a great thing for Black people, but it’s also a great thing for my bottom line. And so I, I don’t think that it is you know, I think that it is a strategy, a commerce strategy to put Black celebrities as spokespersons or to give them shots in these kinds of roles, because they’re I mean, this is why like this is why Target does these capsule collections with designers, it opens them up to whole new audiences. And it means that new people are going to buy their stuff. Target because that’s where I shop. Sorry, Myles, I’m not a New York fashionista. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: So Kaya, I generally agree with you. But people are going to buy Louis Vuitton, whether it is Pharrell or the next person. Right and I think that–
Kaya Henderson: I agree.
DeRay Mckesson: And I think that there are I and you know this like the hood is making most of the fashion stuff anyway. It’s not a–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: –these people are you know it’s like–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: It was. It was poor people in the hood who made white tees and you know, like da da like the the most fashion fashionable things. So it’s like I think that you could elevate a Black designer who comes from inside who will do something for the brand and the clothes that has never been done before, right?
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: And it’ll sell. People have been buying Louis Vuitton for a hundred years. Right. And I don’t know if you Pharrell, I think, will also do something cool. And yeah I agree with you. But I’m just saying, like, I think there’s an opportunity here. And I worry that like I worry about what it says that the only people who can rise to the highest ranks of fashion who are Black will be people who are already celebrities. Like, I don’t love that.
Kaya Henderson: But my hope is that Pharrell will use his power as a creative director to diversify the rank and file designers so that there are more people who could potentially, you know, rise up.
De’Ara Balenger: I think that opportunity is going to come in [clears throat] not that, Kaya. But the Pharrell, this this isn’t to me it’s not like big shiny news. Because Pharrell is like one of a handful of Black people that luxury fashion brands have comfort with. And so the real opportunity now is going to be Chanel can’t call on Pharrell. Tiffany and Co can’t call on Pharrell. Fenty can’t call on Pharrell like the brands that he has created, whether he’s created philanthropic programming with, whether he’s been a face on that brand, whether he’s already designed a such and such and such. He now is with Louis Vuitton. So now where are those luxury brands going to go for their shiny Black person. So I think that’s going to be the opportunity that opens up, is they have to actually think a little bit more thoughtfully around who that person is going to be.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And–
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, that’s that’s my perspective on it.
Myles Johnson: And just to, you know, DeRay like, brought up a really good point. At this past week, I went to, um, Christie’s the auction house in New York City to see André Leon Talley’s stuff. And, um you know–
DeRay Mckesson: You went?
Myles Johnson: I went.
DeRay Mckesson: How was it?
Myles Johnson: It was so it was it was so crazy. I like went on um Val– I went on Valentine’s Day. It was so beautiful. Um. I just cri– like this big silkscreen of him and Oprah. And they have a whole section that’s set up like his living room with all his furniture. It was it was really beautiful, of course, sad, but I’m very glad that I went. But to um to to the point of what DeRay was saying, you know, André came from the South. Met Diana or got a job at Interview magazine. Met Diana Vreeland did a lot of stuff just on the base of personality and promise and and um and talent. And there was an era where people were interested in cultivating and making stars and making um and culti– and cultivating talent that just does not exist anymore. You know, like, I like uh somebody can really make a song on, I don’t want to diss nobody but somebody can make a song that’s maybe not that good, and some people like an outfit and they can be appointed to. They have appointed to something, appointed to a prestige, a prestigious uh place in either music or in fashion because of that. And there’s not the same amount of people who maybe would look at somebody and say, wow, this person has a vision, or this person is really talented. Specifically, this Black person is really talented, and I want to cultivate their talent. I want to bring this out of them and maybe they aren’t viral, maybe they don’t have a lot of followers. But I see that they have a vision and I’m interested in cultivating that. There just doesn’t seem to be that much of a culture of it so we kind of see the same kind of token, exceptional Black people just sharing the same spots over and over and over and over again. So if it’s not Fenty this year, it’s Louis next year, and he’s kind of switching and switching and switch it and then you see a lot of Black talent kind of getting at a feeling where you can’t that that you can’t, you know, express express oneself and kind of and kind of elevate. Because if it’s really hard to try to be a viral celebrity [laugh] and then also be a talented designer or an artist or a person in the world. And and that’s one thing that the André um auction house kind of made me think of is how, wow, he was discovered. He was cultivated. And I don’t know who’s doing that anymore in in any of the creative industries, really. Except DeRay with me because I’m extremely young. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: So my news this week is actually really comforting to me. We’ve been covering a lot on what’s happening in Florida with the No Woke Act and Desantis’s foolishness around um you know, removing African-American studies courses, history, politics, etc., from the College Board, AP classes um or options. But I guess I really hadn’t thought to myself, so what? So what he’s doing that. But you know who did think about that? Marvin Dunn, who’s 82 years old. Um. He is a teacher in Florida, and he has still been teaching the truth to his high school. In fact, he has a tour that’s called Teach the Truth tour. Um. And he really it’s of no consequence to him what DeSantis is doing. I say that when he is part of a lawsuit that he’s actually suing DeSantis over this. But he continues this um this tour that he does to preserve historical Black sites um in Miami and beyond. And he’s you know, he’s going to he said, we’re going to keep teaching it. This is an antidote to DeSantisizing of our history. So I just thought this to be wonderful because, you know, I think we’ve actually transitioned to like talking about the policies, talking about what actually the just the mechanics of it and getting into like how it actually is impacting people in their day to day lives. And I think we’ve been covering a little bit more about that. And so when I saw this, I was like, Oh, I have to talk about this on the pod. So he’s led more than two dozen Miami high school students and their families to museums where Harry T. Moore and Harriette V.S. Moore. Um. They were a Black civil rights activist couple where they were murdered Christmas Day in 1951 when a bomb exploded in their home. I didn’t I hadn’t even known this history. I had to look it up myself after reading this. He also uh tours the Newberry Six, discusses and tours the Newbury Six a terrible episode in Florida’s past that involved um Reverend Baskin and five other Black Floridians being hanging by a white mob in 1916 um for an alleged theft, and it sparked a terror filled two days that followed. And he says these are things that nobody knew. It’s like it was swept under the rug. I feel very strongly that history needs to be told. And this is actually, I’m quoting a mother, Shanika Marshall, who has to, who has taken her teenage son on this tour. For another one of the tour stops, he took a group to the town of Rosewood, which was once primarily populated by Black residents who built houses, a church, Masonic lodge and a schoolroom, among other buildings. And in 1923, a white mob set it ablaze, killing at least six Black folks and two white people. So all that to say, you know, it’s wild. We’re living in a in a time and in a country where this is happening. But I think it is really going to fall to Black folks, as usual. Like this like this teacher, among others, among others in Florida and beyond to continue to do what we Black people do, to continue to educate, to continue to uplift, to continue to be in community with one another. As devastating as this is to be true. I find comfort and relief that people are still going to great lengths to ensure that our history um remains intact. So I just wanted to share this with you all, because this is something good coming out of coming out of Florida, given all the the wildness happening there.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, this is what we do, right? This continues our tradition of defying rules and regulations to educate ourselves um from enslavement times where we um taught each other to read, even though it could cost us our lives, to citizenship schools, teaching people how to read so that they could vote, um to freedom schools and in the civil rights movement, to reconstruction, the work that that I do with my company. Like we we can’t we have never been able to rely on the government to teach us our history and our culture. And it’s not surprising. I mean, I guess it’s surprising to some people what’s happening in Florida. But I’ve been I was excited to see this because um I’ve been I’ve been wondering, the news has not covered the resistance. Right? And I know that if there’s Black people in Florida, there is resistance. Right? I know Reverend Al went down, Reverend Barber, and there was a huge protest. Um. But I know that there is organizing and I know that there’s resistance. And if people know about um counter measures that are happening in Florida that we can help to lift up on the podcast. Tweet them to us or send them to us or whatever so that we can highlight them. Um. Because people need to know that this, we not just going to take this laying down. And I think, you know, this FIU professor is continuing our tradition of resistance, continuing our tradition of educating ourselves. Um. And, you know, I’m I am excited about it and I want to help him. We got to figure out how to get him doing more than two dozen kids. Like, we got to blow this thing up so that all kids in Florida get to go on the truth, tell the truth tour. Um. And we have to empower other organizations to educate our own.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, I don’t have much to add. Besides, I feel like I’m in the know and didn’t know about this until you put it on the on in the podcast chat. So I agree with Kaya that like as much as we yell about the horrors that are happening, we all have to tell this story about the resistance that’s also happening to remind people that they’re not alone in the fight. Uh my news is a topic that we had talked about a while ago, but not in relationship to Rikers, we had talked about it at the federal level. So one of the things that Trump did when he was president is that he piloted getting rid of physical mail in the federal prisons because of the idea that um people were mailing in contraband. No data to support that. But that was what he did. And as you can imagine, there’s a private company called Mail Guard that is the vendor for this. So what happens is, is when you send in mail to somebody incarcerated, they scan it, they destroy the actual mail, and then the incarcerated person needs a tablet to review their mail. They won’t get birthday cards, pictures, any of that stuff, hardcopy anymore. They get an electronic version. And the prisons are saying this is for safety. We had seen it at the federal level. Trump is no longer president. I even talked to somebody at the Bureau of Prisons being like, hey, can we undo this pilot? They’re like, we’re we’re thinking about it. But the article I put in is about Rikers. So they are, uh Eric Adams worst mayor ever is playing with the idea of getting rid of physical mail at Rikers. And the article is somebody pushing back on that. And I just wanted to bring it here because there are so many ways that we dehumanize people that that never even make the radar like, you know, people know about prisons and jails generally because of TV. But if I hadn’t if I didn’t do this work every day, I wouldn’t even think that you’d be like, you know what, let’s like, destroy everybody’s mail and put it on a like, scan it so they never, ever touch a piece of paper again and make the jail system buy tablets. And then when they get out of prison or jail, they’ll never see it again. Like that isn’t even like a alternative ending that I would think of. And that is actually what we’re dealing with now. So I wanted to bring it here because I still am shocked that this is like an actual policy proposal. And I wanted to know what you all thought.
De’Ara Balenger: As someone who lives, owns, and runs a business in New York City where the taxes are, [pause] where’s my money going? Where is my money going? And why is it going to this Mayor Adams? Please, please, please, please, please focus your energies on something that makes actual GD sense because the city is literally falling apart. And every time I read something about any intention around this administration. It’s around something ridiculous. So that’s my comment. It’s not very thoughtful, but that’s just how I’m feeling on a day to day basis as somebody who is now a full fledged New Yorker. So DeRay let us know where we need to send our grievances to because I’m a start writing my letter right after we get off this podcast. [laugh]
Myles Johnson: DeRay, I think you’re so right about the little like the little detailed, intimate ways that you make people lose their humanity, not be able to touch a birthday card and not being able to touch a letter. These are things that I think kind of um uh small things that kind of deteriorate your sense of humanity and your sense of belonging and kind of gets you used to not engaging um in the things that make us human and make us feel connected and make us feel love. And, you know, to your and to your point, a lot of these people are going to come back to society. And I think about this just being another reason why a lot of people end up back in prison and being back in the same cycles is because you’re not even teaching, you’re actually just taking more of what makes somebody human away while they’re in prison and making it easier to maybe even engage in certain types of behaviors that will land you back in in in custody. Like it’s just a vicious cycle of um of inhumanity. And you’re right. Like you would never think that. You would never you, it’s something that we take for granted. You would never think somebody else would uh make it, make it or make it a law. It just doesn’t cross your mind. But then once it does happen, you’re like, yeah, that would slowly drive me out of my sense of humanity if I couldn’t uh do touch my grandmother’s card, if I couldn’t touch the letter from my wife or from my children or for my or from my partner. Yeah, this that would slowly uh uh make me feel like nothing’s real and nothing matters. And. And yeah. Ugh.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah, it is so petty, right? It’s so petty. And it flies in the face of like of all of the research, right? We’re supposed to be data driven and research informed and blah, blah, blah. But the research says that, like, people prefer paper texts to like e-books and stuff like that, um that the physicality of paper matters or what we know for sure is that people who have strong family ties while they are incarcerated, um they have better recovery and reduce recidivism, reduced recidivism. Um. And paper mail is the most common form of family contact. And so it flies in the face of the research. I mean, it also the research also shows that drugs are not coming in through the mail. The drugs are coming in through the corrections officers. But you don’t want to fire those bamas you want to take the people’s mail away? Like what in the world? Y’all, this is but you know, for all of the people who you know, who appropriately say like the prison industrial complex is not about rehabilitation, this is further evidence that this is about keeping people jailed and treating people like animals and dehumanizing people. This is y’all. This is bananas. And somebody’s company is going to make a whole lot of money digitizing this, these–
De’Ara Balenger: Well–
Kaya Henderson: –this [?]–
De’Ara Balenger: Kaya. That’s what I was about to say. So Securus monitoring monitoring when you go to their executive leadership page. Jonathan C. Chris, white. Stephen Frenti, white. Stephen–
Kaya Henderson: That’s why I like you cause you–
De’Ara Balenger: –founding executive–
Kaya Henderson: –quick to google the right people.
De’Ara Balenger: –of Satellite. Look found founding executive satellite tracking of people. Your job is the tracking of people. You know what that sound like? Do you know what that sounds like in our history? Your job is the tracking of people sir? Come on now–
Myles Johnson: Overseer.
De’Ara Balenger: Greg–
Kaya Henderson: Overseer.
De’Ara Balenger: Come on now. Greg Utterback. Come on, all white dudes. Come on now.
Kaya Henderson: KRS-One said–
De’Ara Balenger: This all, y’all go to this website.
Kaya Henderson: [indistinct].
De’Ara Balenger: Securusmonitoring.com that so that’s who that who was currently getting getting paid from New York City because they do things like ankle bracelets and all that kind of stuff and now they’re trying to get more money, clearly successfully advocating this administration and getting more money to do this silly mail thing. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
Myles Johnson: Because corporate parasites just really, really feeding themselves off of like the blood of other people’s tragedy and misfortune and and and sometimes and misconduct and sometimes not misconduct, just like by just just maximizing on unfortunate events and I just, you know, when we build that hell for Ann Coulter. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Securusmonitoring.com.
Myles Johnson: Listen. [?[
DeRay Mckesson: Bring it back to Ann Coulter.
Myles Johnson: –we also yeah because we going to send you we’re going to send you [?] a free ticket there too. Don’t worry about that. It would be very easy to get. It won’t be like Beyoncé tickets, we’ll make sure you get yours. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: So um I’m going to borrow a turn of phrase from DeRay, which is just when you thought you had seen everything and couldn’t be surprised by anything new. Here we are with a new conservative approach to welfare in the post Roe world. Um. Our Republican friends, a group of conservative intellectuals, are trying to recreate the Republican Party in a post-Trump era, and they are advocating what they are calling um pro-family policies. In fact, basically what they say is in order to, um we need to match our pro-family and pro-life rhetoric with pro-family investments. What are pro-family investments, you ask? They want to send cash to parents with no strings attached from the federal government to encourage people to have more children and to stay at home to take care of them. They want to provide childcare subsidies to families. Lots of families, including families earning six figures. They want to expand Medicaid to more mothers. They want to create wave sub– subsidies and increase the supply affordable of affordable housing, basically, because what they are seeing is the pressures of wage stagnation affecting families, white families, um low marriage rates affecting white families, the opioid epidemic affecting white families. And so they believe you need we need to reinvest in rebuilding families and rebuilding communities. Where they been for the last 40 years? In fact, Reaganomics, which has been the the preeminent economic philosophy of the Republican Party, um spent most of the time in the eighties and the nineties, and it in fact um extended to Democrats like y’alls first Black President, Bill Clinton, um where it was characterized by cutting working parents from welfare programs, vilifying mothers receiving public benefits. And all of this, of course, was framed in very racist terms. But now that these things are happening to white families, we talk about doing all of these things. Um. The this group of conservative intellectuals are challenging the party to abandon Reaganomics and to recognize that post Roe, more babies, white babies will be born to parents and that those parents are struggling to pay for the basics in these hard economic times. They are advocating a full spectrum family policy um because it’s so hard to raise kids in this economic environment. They are encouraging marriage, they are supporting families, um and they want to become the party of parents. This is a pragmatic way for them to prop up conservative values alongside the new abortion restrictions. And so these things are, these ideas these conservative intellectuals are very well connected. They are influencing policy, um that is, and they are being embraced by people like Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, josh Hawley and J.D. Vance. They are targeting Republican governors like Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem from South Dakota, and Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, all of whom claim to be family friendly states. Um. And you see it showing up in legislation. So Mitt Romney has a bill to expand the child tax credit to families, the same child tax credit that the Republicans are fighting the Democrats on, right? Because it goes to poor people now. Um. Romney has a bill to expand the child tax credit to families earning up to $400,000 to give them $250 to $350 per month per child. Marco Rubio has a bill to allow workers to draw down from their Social Security early to fund parental leave. Um. These policies are not targeted towards low income families. They are targeted towards and not just targeted, they are overly generous toward middle and upper class parents. Y’all, in the immortal words of Squeak from the Color Purple, Harpo who is this woman? What Republican Party is this? This is a Republican Party that now wants to promote white families, white, middle and upper class families by funding them with government handouts to have more kids and to stay at home and raise them kids. Y’all, I am astonished by like that just when you think the level of hypocrisy just cannot like go any further. Here they are with federal welfare programs for middle class and wealthy white people. I just thought you all might want to know that on this podcast.
Myles Johnson: Well, well, well. Who are the welfare queens now? [laughter] The the thing about the thing about this, too. And I and I would always talk just with a just a lot of people about how arguing with somebody who’s committed to um white supremacist, imperialist, patriarchal domination. Arguing with them about theories and about morals is so useless because it doesn’t matter. And it’s not it’s not a moral stance. It will shift and shake and morph itself to make sure it upheld upholds white supremacy and patriarchy. That’s what the mission is. So it’s interesting to hear these ideas come and they’re deeply hypocritical. They contradict everything that the Republican Party has been about since the 1980s. But it’s not about that. It’s not about anything but making sure whiteness stays supreme. It’s [?] about anything to make sure that the patriarchal mission and fantasy keep keeps it alive. And if we have to adapt some things that want and rebrand some things that maybe were coded liberal or um or whatever, in order to make sure that mission happens, we’ll do it and we’ll do it in your face. And we’ll also we’ll um, you know, make gaslight you about it. You know?
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Gaslight, Myles. Exactly. Oh, my gosh.
DeRay Mckesson: I will say I will say the thing that, um that this reminds me in the organizing world is that part of what we have to continue to do is demand everything and make it sound really normal. If there’s any advice I always give to organizers now, is like, don’t feed the hysteria of, like, how big the idea is, but just like, make it really normal because like, we can like because when the tide turns, the other side will do it and make it seem, so we’re like $15 minimum wage. That should be the floor, not the ceiling. And we should say it like very normally, like, you know, everybody should eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner because they come over and then say, you know what? Earned income tax credit should be for 400,000. You’re like what? That is so nuts. But it’s a reminder to demand all of it. Like we could undo all the bad things tomorrow if we wanted to. It’s not a matter of like, are there resources? Is it possible because we’ve seen people do the most impossible things for white people and that these proposals are just another reminder? And the last thing I’ll say is that, you know, I talked to so many people of color who and this is like one of the ways that [?] works is that people sort of just feel like the system is a system. They’re like, oh, it just is what it is. And you’re like, no, no, no. Some like somebody sat in a room and like, made up the amount of money you get on a snap card, like somebody sat in a room and like, made up the square footage of public hous– like these are all decisions that people made and we can actually make the decisions better moving forward. And like that is something that like if white supremacy has done a trick that has done a number on us, it is like making people think that the system is like fixed. Like this is like it is what it is, it’s like no! People been– in New York City, I think about Stuy Town all the time. Have you all been to Stuy town? You’ve been, De’Ara you’ve been there. Myles, have you been to Stuy town?
Myles Johnson: Mm mm. [sounding no]
DeRay Mckesson: Stuy Town is literally the projects, but it’s white people who live in them. And it was made–
Myles Johnson: Wow.
DeRay Mckesson: –by the man who–
Kaya Henderson: Oh. Yeah, down, way down town.
DeRay Mckesson: Yes.
Kaya Henderson: In the, by the financial district. Yeah, I sure have.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. So it’s it’s literally by the guy who, like, made the projects. It looks like the projects. I went to dinner with one of my friends and like in one of them and it is the projects, but it’s like wealthy white people who live in them. Or like wealthyish white people who live in them. And you’re like, this is really incredible. But it’s a reminder that like when white people live in them. Myles, let me just show you so you can appreciate what I mean. This is literally like I’m not being dramatic that it is–
Myles Johnson: Oh, wow.
DeRay Mckesson: –the projects. It literally is–
Kaya Henderson: You you see the sign says luxury rentals. Right? [laughter]
Myles Johnson: No. Like literally I’m looking at it and if cause the viewers can’t see it, you can literally picture, you know, Notorious B.I.G. Rapping in front of it during–
Kaya Henderson: Well because becau–
Myles Johnson: –the early 1990s. Like the aesthetic is the exact same as [indistinct] [banter]
Kaya Henderson: It is, it is if you looked up–
DeRay Mckesson: Literally.
Kaya Henderson: If you looked up projects in the in the dictionary, this is the picture that would be next to it. Red–
Myles Johnson: Right.
Kaya Henderson: –cinder block building with green windows. [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Look at it. It’s–
Kaya Henderson: Built built with a courtyard in the middle where either basketball courts or a pool and some greenery around. Boom.
Myles Johnson: And you know what? And I used to make jokes about this because a lot of the consulting work that I do is just around digital marketing. And I would say, you know, white supremacy is is branding, too. You know, this is the best example of it’s all branding. And when it’s Black people, it’s one thing. And when it’s white people, it’s another thing. And it’s all and it’s all just different um branding that is vapid and it’s shallow. But it but, but it works.
DeRay Mckesson: I say that because it’s like we could choose to make all these buildings really nice. In Stuy town, all the elevators work, smell nice, the grass is cut. It is, I went to dinner. I was like, this is the nicest apartment I’ve been in a long time. Like every the hallways were clean. It was and it’s a it was like one of those, like, reminders of like, oh, we could, this is a choice. We can make these. We can make all the buildings across the city look nice. Um. Totally fascinating.
Kaya Henderson: Boom. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we’re excited to welcome writer and host Damon Young on the pod. He is a fellow member of The Crooked Network and a brand new season of Stuck With Damon Young is out right now. We talk about a lot of things, books, what it’s like to be a writer now, have a podcast to his memoir, all of it. Let’s go.
DeRay Mckesson: Damon, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Damon Young: Hey, thanks for having me. How are you doing?
DeRay Mckesson: I’m good. I’m excited that you are uh in the Crooked family, and I’m excited to talk about the launch of season two.
Damon Young: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m excited to be here.
DeRay Mckesson: Where are you in the world?
Damon Young: I’m in Pitts– I’m in Pittsburgh right now.
DeRay Mckesson: Are you from from Pittsburgh?
Damon Young: I don’t know if I would qualify that with right now like like I’m just staying in an Airbnb. I live in Pittsburgh. Like, this is, this is where I’m from. Born and raised, bought a house here. So this is. I’m in my house right now and so [laughter] that’s where I am.
DeRay Mckesson: You definitely sounded like you were just passing through, but okay, you are there.
Damon Young: Yeah, I’m in, a layover in Pittsburgh, like a 44 year layover right now.
DeRay Mckesson: I love it.
Damon Young: –before I go somewhere else. So.
DeRay Mckesson: No, I originally know you from Twitter. And then as an author, um it’s how I like first came about, like knowing you as a voice in the world.
Damon Young: Uh huh.
DeRay Mckesson: And now you have a podcast. Why a podcast like what was you know, you I knew you in the written word before I ever knew you as a podcaster. What what made you do this?
Damon Young: Crooked gave me a bunch of money. [laughter] It was like you know what, you want to you want to do this? Like alright. I like brunch. I got bills to pay nah nah. So I mean, that that’s a part of it. But seriously, like, I got connected with Crooked, and in 2018, um The Lovett Or Leave It live show came into Pittsburgh. And they as– they reached out and asked me if I wanted to be on um a part of a show. So I’m like cool. I did it. I had a good time um and then I’ve been doing Crooked related stuff since then um and I think like in 2019? 2018, actually, like late 2018, um there was an idea to give me my own uh, give me my own podcast. Um. And then in 2019 I have my you know, we were thinking about it, talking about it, but I also was occupied because my book and I was on book tour, etc.. So the plan was to drop it in 2020, but then pandemic happens. And that kind of just, you know, threw all the plans um out of whack. And so we kind of tabled it until 2022. What year is this, what year are we in?
DeRay Mckesson: 23!
Damon Young: 23. Okay. So 2022 is when first season one dropped. Um. And then, you know, now season two is is today, comes out today. But yeah, it’s I look at podcasting as just another way of of I guess expanding my relationship with the written word really. The first season was really was heavily scripted. Um. It was almost like an audio book with guests and it allowed me to just, I don’t know, it it it allowed me to explore, to explore the craft of writing in different ways where I’m writing instead of for things to be read, I’m writing for things to be heard. And so that um there are different rhythms, you know, different beats. And and I think that this with the podcast, you know, the second season is just an expansion on that. Like I’m not one of them people who is writing in order to get to something else, you know what I mean? Like writing is my thing and all of the other things that I do are supplements are supplementary um to the writing.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I have a lot of questions about the podcast, and I um love the episode with Jay. You know, we love Jay Ellis but but–
Damon Young: Thank you.
DeRay Mckesson: You to me are very smart brothers. That’s how I that’s like my first. I remember when you were writing during the protests, I was like, wow, look at these Black guys who got this media platform thing. This is dope. I hadn’t read writing like that before. I’m interested in like how how being a writer informs the way that you interview or like, think about the topics that you um the topics that you come up with. And like the first part about this was the introduction, and then your book was the second thing. And–
Damon Young: Mm hmm. [sound in approval]
DeRay Mckesson: But, and then I was like, there’s a podcast and I, you know, I didn’t start out as a writer, I started out as an activist. And then I was like, I’m going to have a podcast, but I’m so interested in like how, how being a writer as your core work informs the way that you think about the podcast, especially the upcoming season.
Damon Young: Um. You know, this is probably going to sound obnoxious when I say it, but you’re asking so I’m telling you, is that I am. I’m very self-involved, right? [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Okay.
Damon Young: Like the podcast, like I interview people. Right? But I but it’s more like a conversation sort of show. And it’s also like I interview people. I have people on to talk about what I want to talk about, right? So I’m not necessarily, you know, we’ll touch on, you know, the things that they’re doing or, you know, what they have next or etc.. But I have a theme in mine that I’m attempting to unpack, that I’m attempting to get to the bottom of, that I’m attempting to explore, and I bring on a guest to kind of join me or help me, you know, um with this journey. Like the first episode, you know, Drop it a Day has Malcolm Lee and Elaine um Welteroth, you know, as the two guests, and with Malcolm. You know, we talk a little bit about his work, but we talk about gentrification and and and Brooklyn and also and Pittsburgh, particularly East Liberty, which is a neighborhood that I grew up in. We also talk about mainstream validation for Black creative work. Um. And again, I just thought that Malcolm would be a great person, a great partner to talk to about those subjects. And with Elaine, you know, I have two cycles to the show in the second segment is I’m answering, you know, a listener generated question, you know, about whatever, you know, relationship stuff, sex stuff, race stuff, etiquette stuff, whatever. And so, Elaine, I just thought that she would be a great person to have to talk to and to work through the first question that we had. Uh. And so I guess I’m approaching this as a writer um again because I’m trying to think through these things out loud now, instead of on paper. And I think it is kind of like asking a fish, you know, what water is like? It’s like, well, that’s all the fish knows and all I know, the only way I know how to approach things is as a writer. Um. And so I guess everything that I do um is approaching things in the same way.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Why is it called Stuck?
Damon Young: [laughing] Well, um it took a while. It took a while. It took a while to get to name this show. Um. And we, the first season was about like, the collision of, like, my self-consciousness and, you know, my social-consciousness. Right. And each episode had a theme. So there was like the sex episode, the race episode, the religion episode, the education episode, um the money episode, etc. the grief episode. Um. And I felt like Stuck was a bit of a, you know, was a bit of a pun, the bit of a double entendre, I guess, you know, one, you know, these things stuck in my head. But then also the original title was stuck inside because this was, you know, conceived during like the lockdown. So stuck inside. Plus I’m stuck inside of my head. And so I think there were some legal issues where we couldn’t use that and so we ended up um on Stuck with Damon Young. So you’re stuck with me. [laughter] Right?
DeRay Mckesson: If there’s a um so I think about, you know, we started Pod Save the People in 2015. It’s been–
DeRay Mckesson: Uh huh.
DeRay Mckesson: –a long road and I think there’s some episodes that I’ll never forget. I’m like, wow, that was a like, this person said that thing, blew my mind, da da da. If people had to start with you somewhere, that wasn’t necessarily the beginning, which episode should they start with of the episodes that are already out. I know season two is coming and we want people to listen to season two, but if they had to start at an episode to get like a flavor of like the best of Stuck, what would it be?
Damon Young: Oh, that’s a good question. Um. I think um there’s there’s three that come to mind uh off the top of my head. There’s a sex episode with Saida Grundy, uh professor at Boston University and uh Jason Reynolds you know the um the [?] author and we you know with Saida we talk about sex from just a sociological you know way and and some of the anxieties and neurosis that that we bring, you know, to you know, to the bedroom and with Jason you know, and it with Jason it was actually a continuance a continuation, continuance is that a word? Continuance?
DeRay Mckesson: [indistinct] Yeah.
Damon Young: If it’s not a word it should be, a continuance.
DeRay Mckesson: You’re a writer. You you make it up. Uh uh I like it.
Damon Young: Alright, this is the word now. It was a continuance of a conversation we had had about, you know, we had had at some time um in Philadelphia. We were both, you know, doing this thing. And we were at breakfast and we were talking about some of the anxieties that we’ve had about sex. And, you know, and we’re both Black men, cisgender, straight, etc., hetero. And we were at we were at breakfast with a woman, I forgot her name, who was with Jason, and she expressed that this was the first time she’d ever heard Black men express any sort of anxiety, any sort of neurosis about sex. She just assumed that all of us just, you know, approached this with like this, this confidence and this and this, expected virility and etc., etc.. And, you know, and one of the things that Jason and I talked about in that episode was like that expectation that we are supposed to be like a certain way actually affects, you know, because we’re aware of that shit too. So that actually does, you know, even make things more anxiety, even produces even more anxiety sometimes. Right. Particularly like your first time with somebody when, you know, you really just don’t want to disappoint. Um. So that episode, right? Um. The episode I think our last episode with um and it was about grief and I had Imani Perry, I had [?] and I had Hanif Abdurraqib on. And we really like I thought every part of that episode was really strong. Um. Talking about grief, uh the one and also the one that you mentioned um with a with Jay Ellis, with Jay Ellis and uh Robert Jones um who people know as a son of Baldwin, wrote a tremendous book, The um The Prophets. We talk about bodies and some of the anxieties and loves and hates that we all have with our own bodies. So I think those three, you know, really stick out to me. But it’s like you’re asking me to name my favorite child, right?
DeRay Mckesson: No, no. I said where do we start?
Damon Young: Which I probably could. I could I have two. I probably could, depending on the day of the week. Like we’ll get a different answer. But–
DeRay Mckesson: How old are they?
Damon Young: Seven and four.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay, so–
Damon Young: Seven year old girl, four year old boy.
DeRay Mckesson: So second grade and pre-K?
Damon Young: First grade and pre-K.
DeRay Mckesson: First grade and pre-K.
Damon Young: First grade and pre-K. Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay. Um yeah this is a where do we start? But we end with all of them. So we, everybody should listen to all of them, but this is like the best entrance. I’m always interested in people who um who switch genres and come to the podcast it’s like, what has been the most unexpected thing about being a podcast host? I think about all the things I learned that like I didn’t know, especially when we started. Um. What was it for you?
Damon Young: Well um. I, I think how much it would help my writing to um–
DeRay Mckesson: Oh, interesting.
Damon Young: That was unexpected.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s not what I thought you would say.
Damon Young: Um. Because again, the first season was heavily scripted. The intro, it had each episode had an intro and an outro that were, you know, these scripted essays that I would write and you know I’d write them. And initially I wrote them in a way that I’m used to writing on the page. But then when I would get in the studio and I would read it out loud to record it, there were it, there were some rhythms that just didn’t work. There were some words that just didn’t work. Even though they work for the written word, they don’t work the same way for the spoken word. So I had to adjust. Right. And I think I’ve taken some of those adjustments, you know, and I’ve allowed them to carry over to my written word where, you know, maybe this word even though even though it fits in theory. Maybe there’s a better word that that I guess fits the rhythm of the sentence of the paragraph of the page. Um. You know, because everything that I write, I read out loud to myself. And so, you know, allowing that perspective and taking that, I guess, that method of writing, applying it to the podcast. And now it has actually, like I was saying, it’s um it’s bled over into the um just the pure written work that I do now. So that was an unexpected benefit. Um. You know, I one thing that that happened that I did expect right, and and it was actually one of the reasons why I, I, I guess hesitated to do a pod because I had been approached. You know, people would ask me to do podcasting or whatever. It’s a level of work, right, that is necessary.
DeRay Mckesson: Whoo. People do not know.
Damon Young: To create a podcast. Right. And I and I and I had I I’ll admit I had a, I had a reverence. I had a respect for that going into this, which is why, you know, when Crooked came and, this is a collaboration with Crooked and Spotify. My show was like, okay, these are two companies that do this for a living, you know? And all I had to do was just show up and and and and do my thing and be talent and think of some like editorial things. But as far as all the other editing and and cutting and and and producing and sound mixing and all of that was like, I can’t do any of that stuff. You know, I can’t do any of that shit. And it is it’s an actual serious production. Right. And so, you know, I think that people I think that sometimes people think that, you know, as long as you have like a mic and a and a and a laptop, you could start a podcast. And you can.
DeRay Mckesson: Right.
Damon Young: Right. But but the level of, of, of care that’s necessary to make it like good I think is something that isn’t talked about as much.
DeRay Mckesson: That is a word. [laughter] Um.
Damon Young: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: I always get annoyed when people ask me this, but I’m legitimately curious is who, dream guests. So like if we so if our listeners can get to your dream guest and they can like make the call and be like, you got to go on Damon’s podcast. Who, who do they need to call?
Damon Young: I think that Michaela Coal would be a great guest. Um. I I think she’s a genius and I just would love to talk. She had one of the best quotes, in fact, a quote that that’s so great that I have stolen, and I attribute it to her. Right. But I use it when I’m in interviews now. Um. I think it was I think she was being interviewed by Vogue or or someone of that nature and they were talking about her um, I May Destroy You and how, you know, even though it’s a show that deals with this very serious, you know, issues of of consent and and and sexual assault and etc., it’s a very funny show also. Right. And the person asked her, like um, why why would you assert humor in something in a show with such devastating subject matter? And her response was, I didn’t insert humor, I just didn’t remove it.
DeRay Mckesson: Hmm.
Damon Young: And when I when she said that I was like oh that’s it. That’s the answer. That’s that that’s the answer I have been searching for. Whenever people ask me why I tell stories with humor, why humor is a big part of, you know, how how I see the world, how I write, how I podcast, how I think through things. And she finally. And and again, hearing that felt like that and so again, I would love to have her on the show. Um. Yeah. I I um also am a big fan of William um Jackson Harper, um particularly uh–
DeRay Mckesson: Who is that?
Damon Young: He’s an actor. He uh was on–
DeRay Mckesson: Was he on the Good Place?
Damon Young: He was, the Good Place, but particularly because of Love Life. I I, love life was, Love Life, he’s in two–
DeRay Mckesson: Let me Google this, let me–
Damon Young: Season two.
DeRay Mckesson: I think I got it.
Damon Young: Season two of Love Life was one of was the best depiction I’ve ever seen–
DeRay Mckesson: That’s who I thought it was yes.
Damon Young: –of like of a thing that a lot of people have tried to depict of like dating in the city when you’re–
DeRay Mckesson: Wait. I don’t know Love Life.
Damon Young: –and you’re–
DeRay Mckesson: It’s called Love Life?
Damon Young: It’s Love Life. Yeah, Love Life. And there were two seasons. Season one um featured Anna Kendrick and and it was like the trials and tribulations of her, you know, dating and love life, whatever. And then season two was William Harper Jackson, William Jackson Harper, and and the trials and tribulations of his dating. And it you know, dating and love, life and marriages. Right. And um and again, I’ve seen that type of content depicted numerous times, but never done as well as as they were able to do it. So if I were to get him and Sam Boyd and there’s another um writer Rachel, um I’m shucks I’m forgetting her name, um a Black woman who was, you know, one of the head writers of the show. I would love to just talk to them about the creation of it and how they’re able to make it so real and so funny um in a way that just felt so just authentic. So there you go.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that. I am, I thought he was on Twitter at one point. I just looked and he looks like he is now off Twitter. But I was going to, I was going to send you a DM, I was going to send him a DM in your honor [laughter] but he’s gone.
Damon Young: You’re going to look out, you’re going to look out for me, I appreciate it. [indistinct] I mean.
DeRay Mckesson: I want to watch Love Life though.
Damon Young: What’d you say?
DeRay Mckesson: I need to watch Love Life, I’d never even heard of that show.
Damon Young: Yeah you need to before HBO takes it off the platform because I think they either they are taking it off or they have already taken it off–
DeRay Mckesson: Okay.
Damon Young: Because it’s one of the shows that they are removing. Um. And–
DeRay Mckesson: Did you see The Last of Us?
Damon Young: Yeah, I’ve been watching. I’ve been watching The Last Of Us.
DeRay Mckesson: Did you cry at episode three?
Damon Young: I cried more in episode five.
DeRay Mckesson: The last episode.
Damon Young: Episode five was more heart wrenching. Episode three was great. I mean, episode three was like it was like watching Up basically. It was like watching the first 5 minutes of up but spread out over, you know, an hour. And um one of the things I really, truly appreciated about episode three, just from a craft level, is how they were able to write a an entire love story, right in 45– well it was, you know, I think that episode was like an hour and fifteen, but that stretch with them was only like 45 minutes and it was only like four or five scenes. And they were able to tell a complete and full love story of these men’s lives over what was it, 16 years that they were together. And so, again, just from a craft perspective, I was really, really impressed with the storytelling there and how they were able to capture all of that in such a short period of time. Um. You know, so so yeah, I’m all in on, on The Last Of Us. And I’m usually not super into the zombie shows um [laughter] and zombie movies, but you know, this. Yeah. I’m in I’m into this one.
DeRay Mckesson: And if there’s a um you know, I can only ask real writers questions like this. But if, if there’s like a [tongue click] a thing we all need to read besides your book, what is it? [laugh] It’s Black History Month.
Damon Young: The bi– read the Bible.
DeRay Mckesson: Not the Bible Damon. Give us something else.
Damon Young: Okay. I was doing a talk a couple days ago at the University of Pittsburgh and um and they were, there was a question, I guess, about the canon, about like the Black literary canon. And, you know, mentioned obviously, you know, the Titans like Morrison and Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston, you know, August Wilson, you know, etc.. And I was and my response was, you know, please continue to read all of those people and also include some people who are living, too, because there is some work being done right now that is just fucking just outstanding, amazing, radical, you know, and you know, people that come to mind are like Kiese Laymon, uh Deesha Philyaw, Brian Broome, Imani Perry, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, uh Raven Leilani. Uh. You know, we’re just talking books. You know, I mean, I could I feel weird answering this question because I’m going to forget people. Samantha Irby–
DeRay Mckesson: This is a, I think about this as a, this is a beginning, not an ending.
Damon Young: Yeah. Sam Irby, Hanif Abdurraqib. I mean, and these are people who, you know, I read your work and I’m like, I get jealous.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah.
Damon Young: I I’m like, you know what? Fuck I wish I. I wish I would have thought of that. I wish I could do that. You know what I mean–
DeRay Mckesson: And–
Damon Young: And and the list again goes on and, you know, my partner uh [?] Jackson is still writing, you know, great essays at The Grio, although he’s doing more podcasting now. But again, there there is so much so much really the work by Black authors, black writers existing today, you know what I mean and again, I think that. Yeah, there’s. You just any of the names. You can’t go wrong starting there.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, we’re we’re doing a thing on the Campaign Zero and Pod Save the People in collaboration with Reconstruction called The Blackest Book Club. Um. And in that vein, I’ll ask you, is there a book that you read that changed your understanding of the written word? So, like, I think about for me, it was The Giver when I was in seventh grade. I’ll never forget–
Damon Young: Okay.
DeRay Mckesson: –Jonas being able to see color.
Damon Young: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: And the Giver, I was like, I didn’t know books could do this. This is crazy. This is, like, what? And, like, completely is the book that made me fall in love with words. I like it changed my life. Um. What what is a book like that for you?
Damon Young: I mean, there’s a few. Um. You know, I’ll start with The Bluest Eye. Um. I read that my I think my sophomore year of college. And it’s funny, like reading, reading that. I was able to actually pinpoint moments in rap songs where they have lifted quotes from the book and put them in–
DeRay Mckesson: Really?
Damon Young: –in a song yeah there like there’s a song. I forget the name of the song, Talib Kweli and um Mos Def, um Theives in the Night, where they actually there are actual quotes from The Bluest Eye and Thieves in the Night. Um. You know, so so that’s one book. Um. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller was another one. That was a fu– that still might be the single funniest book I’ve ever read. It was it was a book, it was the first book that made me kind of that made me throw the book across the room because it was so funny, like literally physically, like, I I [laughter] need to get this book out of my hands.
DeRay Mckesson: [laugh] Oh god.
Damon Young: Um. I read The Godfather by Mario Puzo um when I was like nine or ten years old.
DeRay Mckesson: Really?
Damon Young: Yeah. And I’d already seen the movie, already seen both movies, um and I wanted to read the book. And the book is actually extremely pornographic. Like, it’s if they would have made, there’s some parts in that book that if they would have included it in the movie, this would have been an X-rated movie, right?
DeRay Mckesson: Oh. Wow.
Damon Young: Um. So The Godfather, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I also read that when I was young, um The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, I read that in college and and and he’s a lister, you know, or he you know that’s one of his ways of writing is that he he repeats himself. He lists things. And I’ve incorporated that with my writing a bit too. Um. Uh. The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel. I read that–
DeRay Mckesson: I don’t know that.
Damon Young: –I think a junior in college. And so Angie wrote it um about her experience when she was a sophomore junior at Penn. And she was broke. And this is the series of essays about being a broke college student. And and they’re hilarious. Like, she has one passage where she talks about, you know, she was so hungry and she remembered, you know, she had like some grits back in her room. And she was thinking about these grits all day. And then she gets back to her room. She looks at, you know, the carton and there’s one grit inside of it. [laughing] One single solitary grit. [laugh] Okay. Um. And again, I with a question like that. I could continue. I think those were maybe six books that I named, um six authors that I named that I guess just really just it made me want to do to other people what those books did to me.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that. Shout out to the one and only Damon Young everybody. Where do people go to stay in touch with you and see all the new things as they come out? Find the podcast, the next book, the writings, the essaysm where do people go?
Damon Young: Um. Right now my IG, My IG, @damonyoungvsb, I’m no longer on Twitter. I left Twitter about three or four months ago. Um so my IG is the thing, I’m also I’m also still on Facebook. So if you’re like 47, and you want to find me [laughter] and you still have your Facebook account, you can find me there. Um. You could also go to DamonYoung.com, but I um that that website needs some updates. So I would prefer that you don’t go there at least for a couple of months. So go to my IG at @damonyoungvsb if you want to find me.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well Damon, we obviously consider you a friend of the pod because you’re in the pod family, but it was great to have you on the pod and congratulations on your second season.
Damon Young: Thank you. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me. And special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson.