In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week— including mismanaged funds within the Homeowner’s Association, the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, and pedophilic accusations against Tiffany Haddish. DeRay interviews author and journalist Baynard Woods to chat his new book Inheritance: An Autobiography of Whiteness.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, Myles and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week. We talk about the news related to race, justice, and equity that didn’t make the national conversation in ways that really highlighted in the injustices. But we bring it here. And then I sit down with author and journalist Baynard Woods to chat about his new book, Inheritance: An Autobiography of Whiteness. Baynard argues that whiteness and policing function in the same way and uses his own family history as reference to his theory. I learned a lot. You will, too. Here we go. [music break] The advice for this week is to uh let go of old grudges. It’s time to move on, let it go. [?] for it. Do it for a while. But let this be the let go.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @DeAraBalenger
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson, a.k.a. the Alien Superstar. You’ll find me at @pharaohrapture on Instagram and Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Oh. So we wanted to just kick off this week with honoring and celebrating the Black Goddess, which is Serena Williams. I mean, she is the greatest of all time. And we are just so grateful to be living in the era to which she is thriving. So, Serena, I am just obsessed and happy and just can’t wait to see all the things that you continue to support. You’ve done so much for women in entrepreneurship, which is obviously very special to me. Uh. You know, despite Will Smith being in King Richard, there’s really nothing negative I can say about the Williams family.
Myles Johnson: He was great in King Richard. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: He I mean, I don’t know what kind of accent that was, but Serena and Venus Daddy does not sound like that.
Myles Johnson: Oh.
De’Ara Balenger: You know, it’s fine. That’s the best somebody from Philly can do, I guess, with a Southern accent.
Myles Johnson: Serena Williams is so magnificent. I love her. I, I just think that and I’m just so happy. Like, I just think that she’s so dope in, like, any type of and that where she like lived in my imagination is in this kind of like, hear how I’m saying this because I don’t, I know this might sound provocative but I really don’t mean it to. But she does live in this like queer space in my mind because I think of how she has been interacted with because of her body, because of the sport she decided to play, feels very queer and trans, how people interact with her and how she’s had to, to like defy um what is womanhood and add to the fa– the um the [?] to find what is femininity and consistently recreates that. And I think that I that is where my love for her um comes from. I wrote about that um and just more in-depth for Nylon magazine a couple of years ago about how she really does um just exist for me in a very queer space in my head. And I think that there’s so many people who live these kind of like queer public journeys, even though that’s not necessarily what they were doing um in their bedroom or that’s not necessarily, you know, there’s so many different ways to express to express queerness. And I don’t know, seeing her win, seeing her, I love her, love her, love her.
DeRay Mckesson: I loved that post. Somebody was like LeBron was like barely in high school when Serena first started playing that she’s she’s won in every decade of her life like truly an incredible run. The other thing and you know I’ve been fortunate to have been in rooms with Serena or like a [?] or around her even though I don’t know her, I would not consider her a friend like we’ve never had a long conversation or anything other than hi and bye. What’s really cool about it though is that Serena, Serena finds her power on the court and she in person is chill and dope and like, she just has that like authority and in that, like, awesomeness, without having like an ego, that’s like reminding you at every moment she is like, a GOAT and it’s really cool because some people find that power in like beating other people up or da da da and like, Serena is, like, graceful. She just, like, exudes this, like, strength and groundedness both on the court and like, when you see her out. And it’s just so refreshing. And I say, I say that because when she lost, what was the first thing she said? She said there would be no me without my sister. I mean, like, what an incredible lesson for all of us about like you are the legend that go [?] and celebrate it and the first thing you do is acknowledge somebody who helped bring you there. I mean, all of us can take a lesson from the way she showed up throughout her career. And we have seen her fight from teenager to 40. And, you know, it is it really is just a beautiful thing to watch. The only thing that I regret for Serena is that she did not whip that umpires A-S-S. Do you remember that one where the umpire, when she, like, yelled or something and the umpire gave her like a mark? Do you remember that?
Myles Johnson: Yeah. Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: And she was like and the white people, the white men throwing rackets. And it was like that was the one moment where I was like, somebody should have jumped over that thing and just beat that man up just for like the moment because he deserved it. And, you know, she was the grace [?], but it was like if he if if ever I want to somebody cussed out in the court, it was him.
De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. I also think just like the context of her playing at Arthur Ashe Stadium, I think is just so profound and beautiful given to what who Arthur Ashe was and what he meant to Black folks, and also like what he did for the sport of tennis, not just in his tennis performance, but actually, I think speaking to Venus and Serena and their grace and composure on the court at all times. I mean, it’s just. But I just I don’t know. That was just so striking to me. Just like thinking of Arthur Ashe and thinking about the moment and thinking about what Venus and Serena have done for the sport of tennis. But then also Tiger Woods being there and Tiger Woods sitting with her family. I also thought was really I don’t know, I was moved by that, you know. Tiger’s had, Tiger’s Tiger. But [laughing] knowing what what Tiger’s journey was in the sport of golf and what he accomplished. Regardless of of how he was identifying himself. I know at one point he remember he made that name up? He was on Oprah or something and was like I’m Blackasian, Caucasian or something he said. [laughing] Um. But, in these in these environments where you are literally the only and you’re on an international stage and you are representing your culture, representing your people, but also representing kind of America. And just wait and everyone waiting and watching and preparing for you to fail. Like, I can’t even imagine what that is like. And I feel like Serena and Tiger probably really they’re probably the only two people who really can understand each other, given that that they’ve just reached such high levels. So, I don’t know, I thought. I kind of was into Tiger being there and having a moment of like also I just felt really Black for him to be there too. And I feel like that’s kind of the first moment beyond like his being the only where I felt like an association that was powerful because at the end of the day they they’re Black bodies that have put themselves that are that are in these positions. Yeah. It’s just. It blows me away.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. It definitely feels like certain people are I’m a I’m a believer in destiny and, you know, all the woo woo woo. But definitely when seeing people like Serena, it just reinforces that idea of destiny that I have, because it just it is everything. It just feels so intense and so symbolic. And it almost feels like the racist elitist establishment of tennis was made so one day, a Serena Williams could be born to totally subvert it. Like the the the bit the bend of the tennis journey was made so Serena could come and knock it down, you know? And that’s how it kind of how it feels sometimes when I um when I observe, when I when I observe her, because it’s just such an image of like excellence mixed with radicalism. But it’s not because it’s inherently political. It just the just just she just has like, glitter and stars and constellations in her coarse hair as she’s, you know, twirling and and it’s like, you know, elitist, white sport. It’s it’s powerful to witness. And I love it. It’s a fairy tale.
DeRay Mckesson: I will say to you, the last thing is uh, it reminds me, her and Beyoncé are in the same world to me in the sense of uh the power of love in unlocking your gifts, that it’s not lost on me, that their parents both are who helped shepherd their careers, who helped build the world around them, where there was love despite what white people did, despite what the world did, that I remember back in the day, Serena, when it was like, you know, it was all the transphobia and she’s not trans right? It was all the like, how are her muscles this big? And is that real? Is that natural? She hits the ball harder than everybody, is that fair? Like all of that. And and tennis is hard enough. The weight of all the mental stuff can crush people. And in her being surrounded by her sisters, her parents like you have to both understand and believe that the love like that just, you know, it can do magical things. And Beyoncé, obviously, but it’s cool to see that again and again and how Black people have used community to overcome all the external things that are designed to hurt us.
Myles Johnson: Amen. Okay, pastor DeRay. Come on.
DeRay Mckesson: I learned from the best. Hallelujah.
Myles Johnson: Listen, so I’m going to talk about somebody who’s not graceful, not excellent. Uh. If we want to. If we want to put Serena on a pedestal and show everybody our Serena, we want to hide this person in the cultural basements. We’re going to talk about Aries Spears. So I wanted to bring this up because my favorite thing is finding like intellectual treasure in like pop culture trash. It’s my bag, um the Aries Spears thing really interested me when he was talking about Lizzo, so he ended up saying some things when asked about um when asked about Lizzo. The interviewer made a comment that Lizzo makes really great music. Um. And then Aries Spears said, I can’t actually get past the fact that Lizzo actually looks like the um the S-H emoji and then goes on a tirade about her weight and her looks and all this other stuff. And, you know, that is the, that is an interesting choice when you look like Aries Spears to comment on on somebody’s looks that is the. You know, I’ll call him a lot of things, but delusional courageous is definitely stupid. But he’s that he really is, because I just would think that’ll be something you’ll avoid. But yeah, so he ended up saying all these things. So my first part when I first brought this on and wanted to talk about this podcast was just about that comment in really saying how I think that um kin to our conversation about Serena. I think that it’s really interesting, the space that Lizzo is taking up right now. And I don’t know if on the podcast we ever spoke about how Lizzo is, not um has is taking up unprecedented space in the pop imagination. And it’s new because we’ve had big women in music before. But I think that her grand standing as a pop star has really offended the white supremacist uh robot in most people’s minds, you know? And again, I think that they’re like, you can’t, you know, if you’re Britney Spears and you lip sync and you can hardly two step and you and you copying, write nothing. And you, Auto-Tune, you deserve to be a pop star cause you’re thin and white. But how dare you know how to play a flute and sing and have stamina and have a sense of self. So you’re writing your own songs that you’re coming with your own melodies, but you’re big and Black, so you can’t be a pop star. Like that is what’s kind of happening. It was like in mind what it to me when it comes to Lizzo. And it’s interesting that sometimes the some of the more venomous comments are coming from other Black men, because I do think that when Black women when Black femme folks, when black queer folks find authority that does not need Black men in authority, empowerment, social and economic empowerment and it doesn’t involve black men. Black men inherently feel threatened and the only power they yield once somebody has made money without you, got fame without you and has created a sense of self without you. The only power they wield is now saying, well, we don’t we don’t want to F you anymore. We don’t want to, we don’t want to touch you anymore. We still think you’re yucky, and you have cooties and that you need to lose weight in some class, jenny Craig, slim fast, jenny craig. That’s all that all um Black men have. And you can kind of see um that power just waning. And it was just really it’s was just really interesting to see this kind of this again I always talk about this all Black uh comic view era Black and like.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah.
Myles Johnson: For like for like like a person now kind of talking about this like new generation of Black folks. And a lot of us still grew up in the same way, but I think that we just saw the world two different things where some people were laughing in the movie theater when certain homophobic or fat people jokes happening and some people’s feelings were hurt. And I think that now we’re starting to see the dichotomy happen in public spaces and these moments are happening. So that was going to be my news until about– [laughing]
De’Ara Balenger: Till three days ago.
Myles Johnson: It’s about 72 hours ago. So it turns out that Lizzo’s ancestors do not play about her and offered up a unveiling of basically. So I will try not to be too funny. So The Daily Beast released a story saying that Tiffany Haddish and Aries Spears. Aries Spears and Tiffany Haddish did a video basically titled, In the Eyes of a Pedophile and did a video using real children, uh making fun of and talking about how a pedophile might view children and even really use children. Now the reason why this is coming out is because the two children are now, well one’s 22, one’s still 14 which lets you know how absurdly young they were because because the fact that the boy is 14 right, 14 right now is nuts. And this was something that happened um uh years ago. So they’re now suing because they were participating and um they participated in it. It’s caused them trauma. Both of them were crying. And now because they’re older and I think course we could say post MeToo and all this other stuff, but I think they’re just older and now they’re, you know, want to sue and want to and want to let the world know what happened to them, rightfully so. Um. I’m. The one angle that I when I was seeing everybody touch on this and the one angle that I wanted to touch on was the fact that. You. And so I think I see a lot of people saying, is this not right or is this not right because this was something that they were performing right and this was something that was a joke. And maybe nothing actually, like a sexual encounter. A sexual things did not happen to them. And I want people to know that your grasp on reality, if you can remember far, like further further enough as a child, it is not, is not solid and does not handle uh duplicity in comedy. So what I mean is if you take a child who was five years old into a horror, a scary movie, or into a haunted mansion or a haunted house, their ability to separate what is happening to them and and it being real and it being fake is is very thin. So in my opinion, this is child pornography and this is pedophilia. And I don’t and I think that just because we as grown ups say, well, you know, if you’re an actress, and you decided you consent to like a uh to do a, you know, simulated rape scene. You have to be a grown person to be able to separate that. You can’t be seven. You can’t be 12 or 13. And I don’t like the narrative that even what people who are saying, no, that was wrong and out of bad taste but it wasn’t “criminal” quote unquote, or was it morally um corrupt enough for it for them to get sued or get money. Yeah, it was. [laugh] Yeah. Was. And if I just would zoom out of it just being about Tiffany Haddish and Aries Spears. I also just them two just as adults and them it just disgusts me how thirsty you have to be for fame and be for attention in order to generate that type of content. In order in order to upload it, in order to script it, in order to um, purportedly those kids where friends um of Tiffany Haddish’s or that Tiffany Haddish was friends of their parents or the parents trusted them. So you’re really going to the darkest, most disgusting corners of your mind to create content in order to get stardom. Where’s the integrity? You know, where where’s the where’s that where’s that sense of um just like I don’t know like this inner being of like that is just going too far. It was just really disgusting to me. And I think that and my whole thing is I try not to us versus them. I do think this is a symptom of the desperation that we see in pop culture, Internet culture, an extreme way. But I think that a lot of people, adults, children, teenagers, old ass 50, 60 year olds, are desperate for a type of attention and fame and are creating content without necessarily uh thinking about their inner constitution. As far as it goes, when it comes to morals and what is right and and and what is being provocative and being interesting versus what is just being um violent and bigoted? And I think that this is a very extreme uh kind of cultural Black cultural wakeup call that like it’s it’s okay to say something’s too go goes too far. I’m always going to think about that somebody had to record it, somebody had to like write it. Like there’s, yes Tiffany Haddish and Aries Spears were definitely a part of this. And again, the article is really disturbing, saying that like the Tiffany Haddish ended up like yelling at one of the children and like was like really guilted the children. But there was so many adults who are involved with the production of like this and so many is more than one, like, [laughing] you know what I mean? So there were just so many people had to be involved in order to create something like this. And it makes me sad that the lust for stardom or maybe the um the need for money or the want, desire of money or desire for virality helps people just put to bed their morals and ended up traumatizing um these children. The last thing I’ll say is if you read what this um now 14 year old John Doe has to say, he’s still he’s severely traumatized. He’s not going to be the same without a lot of help, he’ll never be the same. But I don’t think he’s ever going to be able to have a healthy, intimate relationship, to be able to really have healthy relationships with authority or trust without some real big work, you know? And I think that that’s going to but I think the millions of dollars that they should get will help that. And I think that we should all see this as a as a as a bit of a wake up call as to what we’re doing for stardom and for money in 2022 and beyond.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. I mean, we’ll watch this closely. I mean, I think it’s just like part of it it’s hard because it’s just like this is somebody that I wouldn’t, you know, we just wouldn’t give time a day to, you know what I mean? So I think even to to talk about him and raise him up here is just like he’s not deserving. But I definitely think for the the larger exploration around the us versus them and not, Myles to your point not trying to do us versus them but I think sometimes it very clearly is particular when it comes to the Black community. It’s like, why are you holding on to stuff that does not serve us? And obviously there’s a lot of psychology and oppression and all that that goes into that. But just for like. Run of the mill. Who deserves to get smacked in the mouth. Like. Stop. Stop. You know, like we know better at a certain point. Like we. We know we know better. Somebody taught us better. So, yeah, I mean, I think it and it’s also, you know, I just I also have not designed a world in which I have to deal with this type of like toxicity. And so I, when I get reminded of it, I’m like, ugh, yes, it is still there. There are still men like this in the world. They’re still Black men like this in the world. And some of these Black men voted for Donald Trump. You know, what do we do? You know, how do we what’s our exorcism for these for these folks?
DeRay Mckesson: You know, Twitter is hard because sometimes you see stuff whether you want to or not. And I was scrolling through and saw a little clip of the video like, what am I watching? And the 12 seconds I saw before I moved on, and was like, I don’t want to see this. Uh was disturbing, to say the least. And you do think about like all the adults, y’all put this on YouTube, you know, it wasn’t even people didn’t like sleuth to find it off like, you know, Napster 2.0 or when we were all downloading songs one by one, you know, like this was a, y’all were really comfortable. And Tiffany has a real career. I don’t know what you do. You know, there’s one thing when you just say, everybody is out to get me. There is a video that people have seen and it’s like you can’t just like explain that away as like, you know, because one the thing I saw from Tiffany’s lawyer or something I saw from it was this narrative of like, they’re trying to get me, you know, like this has come up before. Like there’s a cycle of these two young people or their parents trying to like file these complaints and it’s never been successful. And it’s like, well, I don’t know if this has been successful in the past, but this is not looking like it’s good for y’all. Like this doesn’t make sense. So and I agree with you, Myles, I think you put it really well that like four, five, six, seven, the way you think about the world is completely different and that is child pornography, whether it was a sexual act explicitly in the way people think about sexual assault, it’s like and you can’t deny that it’s like, you know, you read the, you read the reporting on it and it’s like R. Kelly’s music, you know, it’s like you did this with an explicit focus and like, what is the funny part? Even if I wanted to give you all the benefit of the doubt, it’s like, explain the joke to me. Like, sexual assault is not a joke and molesting kids is not a joke. Like, what’s the joke here? So I don’t know. You know, if there is cancel culture, this would be the moment to rise. [laughter] I mean, you can’t. Aries Spears is already cancelled because who even knew, before his attack on Lizzo, I’d never heard of that man before. But Tiffany, it’s like, oh, and here. I don’t know. Did you see uh that you know, some people have said that they’re going to name the two kids like that was a thing online too? Like some you know because because some of the sites are not posting uh about Tiffany like some some of the like the Instagram accounts are pro-Tiffany which has been interesting in this moment so they’ve they’ve been like slow to post about it but people have been like we’re going to dox the kids essentially.
Myles Johnson: So here’s the here’s the thing, too, right. And again, I am forever fascinated. I was going I was going to talk about the, child, I want to bring, but I was going to talk about the whole like kind of like uh the Jay-Z comments and the and the and that. Cause that’s really interesting to me. But I am forever interested in the Black Bourgeoisie, people who found themselves in power. And mind you probably have I probably have more um closeness to that group than I do to like a totally powerless Black group. So I’m, So I’m like I mean, I’m [?] in this but I’ll forever be really interested in this like deep separation that people um that have and this dissonance that it creates, because Tiffany is saying that these parents have tried to do this before and then she says and they’re trying to get me and they’re trying to get me down. They tried to do this before and it’s always fails. So what I heard but she’s a, it’s like our minds can’t think of it a certain way because she’s I she’s I her identity is a Black woman. But you’re a rich person with a lot of with with a lot of fame and social power. So what I’m hearing is I am a rich person who has been able to manipulate the law in order to get away with a bad thing. Okay. So I want to know where okay. It’s giving it’s giving it’s giving, you know, FBI investigation. Go from the go from Trump’s house to your house. You know what I mean I’m like, it’s giving that you’re operating like a powerful person with a lot of wealth and social capital. And I hate that sometimes because just because of race or because of sexual um identity or gender identity or whatever, we kind of go blind to these other factors that give us power. And then we do have these humongous no matter how you feel about a [?], no matter how you feel about these other um media outlets, these are humongous media outlets. You are able to manipulate those media outlets to not advocate for child sexual abuse um victims because of your fame and because of your money. That is the sa– that is what we do not like about Trump. So, yes, we’re talking about comedy. Yes, we’re talking about [?] um Black culture and we’re talking about actors and things that feel more frivolous. But I do think that it’s worth to examine how these things are happening in our own communities, because we can’t just be upset when it manifests as Black vs. white. We have to see how white supremacy and the politics and the ideas of white supremacy manifests within us, and I think to me it’s the easiest way to do it. Pop culture. But it happens to your family. If you have a– if you know what I mean, the person who runs the family is usually [?]. The oldest person or the richest person. And those two and those people are um in cahoots and whatever they think is okay is what’s okay, which is why that creepy uncle can keep on coming on so until they have an alignment or awakening. Everybody who’s young in the family has to interact with this um with this uncle. So it happens in very intimate familial situations and it happens in pop culture. And it happens in politics, it needs to be examined um at all times. Obviously, I’m passionate about it. I hate seeing kids get. I know we all do. But that just disturbed me this week. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
De’Ara Balenger: I was going to I was using that perfect transition into what’s disturbing me. And that is the fact that Jackson, Mississippi, the residents there, do not have drinkable, clean. I wouldn’t even say decent water, like they. So and I’m sure you all have been seeing this, it is getting it’s starting to get a little bit more visibility, not the visibility it deserves, because there are 150,000 people that do not have water. But what we know about Jackson is that the city is 85% white. We know that Jackson has a Democratic mayor, Mayor Lumumba, who is an alum of my law school, Texas Southern. So shout out to Mayor Lumumba for so many things. The other thing about Mayor Lumumba is his daddy was Tupac’s lawyer. So we just love him all around. So any who, he has been, he’s, this is his second term as mayor. He’s been pushing and pushing and pushing the state to put more resources into infrastructure, particularly in Jackson, Mississippi. They’ve always denied him. In fact, when it came to the infrastructure, Biden’s infrastructure bill, the whole Mississippi Republican congressional delegation voted against the infrastructure bill. Now that Jackson is in crisis, the funds that are actually available that are going to help but not solve the issue are actually funds from the infrastructure bill. The governor there, who we’ve talked about before because he’s terrible and he basically has blood on his hands for the many people that died in Mississippi during COVID, because he did very little to make sure that folks were vaccinated, very little to make sure that Black folks in particular had ways to get health care and get seen. Anyhow, he’s now has this whole narrative going of, you know, we shouldn’t be, you know, you know, you know, jabbing at one another. We should just do it what we need to get make sure that, you know, everything’s remedied. We don’t believe you and you are trash. There’s no I just I don’t understand these Christian right wing people who I just. I just. At some point, we’re going to have to get to the point of, like, this is all of our country. It is our country. We collectively built this country in the same way we built racism and white supremacy and homophobia and sexism into it. Let’s build it out and let’s do it now. And so I it’s just it is infuriating to me because I know across the South, not just in Mississippi, there are so many Black and Brown people that are living in waste because they have water systems, septic systems that are subpar. I just don’t, I don’t get it. The other thing that the governor did in Mississippi is just pass a new law where there are massive tax cuts across Mississippi. What are you going to do about your infrastructure dude? So I don’t know. I just wanted to bring this to the pod because I want this to get visibility wherever it can. And it is one of those things where I’m just like, I don’t like, what is the solution? To me it is advocacy and trying to get as much attention and resources into Mississippi. Because, I mean, otherwise, what the, stop gap now is just making sure people have bottles of water. Like it just. [sigh] This is one that really, really, really has been driving me crazy. So I just wanted to share it with our audience family and wanted to share it with you all because I just can’t believe it.
Myles Johnson: It’ll never be lost on me that, you know, probably the first, you know, instance of kind of like white supremacy violence to most of us is through chattel slavery. And it’s like arriving here via water. And now our generation is, a lot of our generational like uh like that, the things that our generation has said that that has to has to deal with is around water and having clean water too. There’s something kind of like tragically poetic about that connection to me in my in my head. But yeah, I think that my first [?] in my mind, first of all, is that that there’s a lot of um talk and a lot of a lot of focus on in liberal and progressive groups around global warming and about um, you know, saving the planet, saving the planet. And I do think that these moments need to be able to be seen as as as those kind of like global um environmental issues. And I think that these bigger environmental feminist uh groups and people who have these platforms need to start seeing these moments, because Mississippi is, cause I don’t know if you said this, but like I Mississippi is very Black. I think it’s the blackest state.
De’Ara Balenger: It is. It is.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And and I think that, you know, I I might I might get some hate for this, but I think that, like, environmental uh environmentalism starts, gotta start at home. And I think that talking about things on a global scale is one thing. But I think that the I think there’s something uh interesting about how those conversations start, how we start global in a in America where like there’s so many things right here that could be taken care of and so many things that right here that need to be that need to be addressed and need to um be focused on. And it it’s just interesting that between Flint and Mississippi that some of the Blackest places in America are the places where that are experiencing the most environmental injustice. And that and I think that we have to look at that. And I think this is an environmentalist feminist Black feminist issue. And I’m glad that it’s getting this news coverage. But I think that if more people took these instances in these places as real American places and not just where white Southern Trump voters live, but where Black people who you say you’re a advocate. Yeah, where Black people were advocate for, more people would go there to see how are you living because this is not a over. I mean, also tell me if I’m lying, but I’m like, this can’t be an overnight issue. This couldn’t be an overnight issue. This is a neglect issue over time. So that means this is this is a culmination, this big dramatic event that happened, because people are not looking at these places as places where Black and queer and trans folk like live. And now that some catastrophe has manifested. Now we want to talk about it, but no we it’s it’s never too late to fix it. But as as we’re probably going to see, it would have been way easier if we just cared about these spaces a lot more and didn’t believe the CNN narrative around certain places and these kind of flattenings of how people live in these um these areas.
De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. We are in crisis, right? Because I think even in terms of environmental justice, so like and there are incredible Black folk doing work on environmental justice. Catherine Flowers, Colette Pichon Battle, William Barber the third like these are incredible people working in the South.
Myles Johnson: Yes.
De’Ara Balenger: And they have been shouting, we are in crisis, because it’s not just around the water. It’s around the high rates of cancer in Black communities.
Myles Johnson: Yes.
De’Ara Balenger: Right? Like we’re getting cancer more. It’s about all of the like in Alabama, for example. And this happens across the south. But like your chemical plants, your timber plants, they all go in Black communities. And not just Black communities where Black people, these are Black communities where they’re also land grabbing, right? So they’re taking our land and then putting these poisonous things on to them and creating this environmental crisis. Right.
Myles Johnson: Yes.
De’Ara Balenger: So I just and and it’s never a part of like the global narrative around climate change and UNGA’s coming up this week and it’s climate change week and all of this. And it’s just been in the last couple of years that they start to pepper these different events and different national global conferences with folks of color, you know, but it’s still marginal and we’re still marginalized–
Myles Johnson: Right.
De’Ara Balenger: –Within these larger conversations.
Myles Johnson: Right.
DeRay Mckesson: It is also in the in the face of such a crisis, what you don’t see is the government actually moving as if there was a crisis. What you do see is people and community moving as if their life depends on it because it does. So it’s like people are shipping in tens of thousands of bottles of water, like people, like celebrities are doing it. People in community are buying up pallets of water from neighboring places and giving them to nursing homes and [?] like. You see us having to build the infrastructure to do like, the government, you already pay for this stuff. You know, your taxes pay for all that. Like even if we can’t avoid some of the stuff which we could have avoided this, it’s like at least act with urgency once it gets here. But I will not forget seeing online a big truck containing water parked outside of whose house? The governors. Because Jackson is also the capital of the state of Mississippi. So all of them work there. You know, they’re there. And he got fresh water, you know. You know where they weren’t parked out in front of? Daycares in the hood, people’s churches, senior citizen’s homes. I mean, what a what a travesty this is. And one of my friends, uh one of my close friends from college works in Jackson. And it just is heartbreaking. And again, the it’s a state with the most Black people in the country you’re like, this is wild, it also strikes me I’m always reminded about how few Black governors we’ve ever had. When I think about places like Mississippi where like it just is so many Black people right? And to think that uh Wes Moore in Maryland and Stacey Abrams both hopefully will be some of the first Black governors we had we’ve had in eons. You know, it’s sort of wild.
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, I’m thinking the other thing is like, should we all just move or. I mean, and this is like a privileged, weird thing to say, but like, should we be moving to the south or getting land in the south or supporting Black folk getting land? I just feel like there. DeRay To your point around, we’re the ones that are organizing, that is always going to be so. And at some point, I mean, I think the other pers– you know, the other kind of insight here, too, is like Mississippi is mostly Black, but they have completely besides the mayor in Jackson, everybody else is Republican. So what’s the nexus between like demographic and voter turnout? And shit I wouldn’t turn out to vote either. What do you vote what do you vote down there for? Bad water?
Myles Johnson: And I and I and I think there’s a point to that. And, you know, y’all totally call me up if I’m if I’m wrong or if I’m not really if I’m remembering things ahistorically. But from what I can remember, I grew up in um I grew up in Georgia. I feel like I actively saw Georgia progressive-ize itself. That is a made up word that I just made up. [laughing] But I feel like I seen I literally saw the the the blue start happening in Georgia because I was born in ’91. Um. So that’s time, [?] in middle school and the Confederate flag was um our official state flag. And it’s and it stopped. And all the white kids in my middle school were upset and spewing the N-word when they got to school. It was a, it was a big deal and and and as I’ve been and so it’s interesting that even though now I live in New York, it’s so interesting to see like these kind of like close calls, of like Georgia going blue or almost going blue or Stacey Abrams, all this, changes happening and I could couldn’t help but think that is a little, that does have a little bit to do with um people who are progressive. So it has to do two two fold, people who are probably moving to Georgia, and Atlanta, who um maybe are more progressive, just come from more progressive backgrounds, then I think people who desire metropolitan living just end up um being like that for for whatever the science is behind that. And then like the young people or the more progressive people being in Mississippi or being in Georgia and then staying there and staying in Atlanta. I’m not a good um example of this, I left [laughing] but but people who are like in Atlanta, who are more progressive, staying there instead of saying, hey, I’m going to go to L.A. now that I’m grown or, hey, this is too much, I want to go to New York, I’m going to go somewhere else or whatever kind of staying there. And I think that has a lot to do with it. So yeah, I think I feel I feel deeply about that when it comes to South Carolina. I feel that way. I feel deeply about that when it comes to, of course, Mississippi, Alabama. These are places that I love dearly. But I think home ownership and then also property ownership have been also. Yeah, being um kind of kind of kind of stay state staying there and creating like the community there. And seeing and I’m sure there and I’m sure there is community there, but I think the more there’s eyes on it and stuff like that in the, uh yeah I think, I just think that kind of connecting those dots is so important. Is so important there. I remember being in Georgia too, and like things are just spread out too. So sometimes I think that has a that has a big deal about how quickly you can like organize or like I did create. But yeah, no I think that’s the, I do think that’s the answer um Auntie De’Ara, can you be Auntie De’Ara?
De’Ara Balenger: Absolutely.
Myles Johnson: Okay. [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: [indistinct] And and I think part of the answer is to like, you know, let’s support and lift up all the great work that doesn’t get visibility or–
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah, right right.
DeRay Mckesson: –Or that gets tempered out.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Because of the racist media in the South. And I’ll never forget my first time in Montgomery. And Montgomery and Montgomery. And so the Alabama prisons are a nightmare, as you can imagine. All prisons are but Alabama’s particularly bad. And I get out the car and there’s a guy in a white jumpsuit delivering um newspapers, and I’m like, why is this guy in a jumpsuit? This is his job in prison, in a jumpsuit in downtown Montgomery. He’s delivering newspapers in a jumpsuit that says pris– I’m like, now this is, it was wild um to see. So uh so I’m hopeful that we will see some real political change and that it won’t always be like this. My news is something that legitimately I didn’t even know was a thing. So I’m always, I’m always interested in news where I’m like, oooh didn’t even know. So I was on a work call recently and somebody was talking about their homeowner’s association. And she is somebody I work with and she was like, you know, they come around and they can give us fines. And da da da and I’m like, I don’t even I, that’s not a thing in Baltimore, like, not like this. So I’m like, I didn’t know. So I was interested in homeowners associations. And there’s an article about in ProPublica that says, that title is nearly $3,000 vanish from the homeowner associations account. The state can’t investigate the management company. So there are about 10,000 homeowners associations in Colorado. I literally, my friend lives in Colorado. I honestly had no clue that these homeowner’s associations both are so prevalent and have real authority in communities around like you know, what you can do to your house, your yard, whatever stuff like that. But what the article does really well is it highlights how there’s essentially no more oversight of them anymore. And the reason it came up at work is that we were thinking through what things functioned like the police, but are not the police explicitly. And they just, and it’s sort of like neighborhood watch, but you call it a homeowner’s association and they do have legal authority. They can raise money, whatever. But in in Colorado, uh Governor Polis vetoed a law that would have extended oversight. There is an office of homeowner’s associations at the state level because there are just so many. But they can no longer suspend the licenses of managers, of management companies who help run the homeowner associations. So the way it works is that you have a homeowner association, you elect people from the community blah blah blah, but because it’s like a job to manage the money and stuff like that, you hire a firm to do it, but the article goes through really well and it’s explained that like some of these firms have, like spent money, used money, no receipts, shady practices, the board won’t say anything. And as a member in community, you have no legal resource really to do anything because the law did not get renewed. That would have allowed the state to come in and um and suspend the licenses of the manager companies. So anyway, so they just, it just goes through and talks about it and it really blew my mind. But the marquee story in this is that there’s one homeowner’s association where $30,000 had disappeared from the account. And when people in the community started to ask, like, what’s going on, they essentially wouldn’t turn over their records, wouldn’t talk about it. And there was nothing legally that they could do through the homeowner association office at the state level to deal with it. Under the expired law to get a license, the managers had to take classes and get professional credentials, passed an exam and a background check, and they were required to go to continuing education courses. But all of that sunsetted. And what that means to me is that the lobby of those manager companies was probably strong, that they had a lot of money, that they donated to people’s campaigns. And that’s what got the law killed. And, you know, I don’t know if these are as prevalent in Black communities because the person that told me about it was not Black, but uh I could see, you know, people in communities not realizing they need to organize about this. But I just couldn’t imagine paying my dues to some random board of people in a community, them having thousands of dollars. And when people just openly steal it or misuse it, literally, you can’t do anything. I’m like, that is I mean, it’s nuts. And the governor’s office has the weirdest explanation. They’re like, essentially, we got rid of it because it was cumbersome and not good. And to the question of like, why is there still a state homeowner’s association office with no authority? The office now is saying that they’re there to collect data. [laughing] I’m like, this is it was just a scam. And I was like, Wow, I didn’t even know home associations were such a thing.
Myles Johnson: Super fascinating. The only thing I really have to add to that news is that I love the piece about how you were just saying how, are very interested in things that operate about the police. I don’t that’s actually what’s stuck out to me. Cause that’s when I was reading it, I was like, oh, this is another manifestation of, you know, of like policing and scamming and stuff like that. And I think that, I don’t, I just took away more than I have to put back out about it right now um as somebody who, you know, doesn’t own a home yet and [laughing] is and is still still learning but that, that pers– that comment gave me a really um big perspective change.
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, I think and DeRay like, yes, this is affecting impacting Black folks. Like home associations, like the origins of them was to discriminate against Black people. Right. And so I think partly it’s just like. You know.
Myles Johnson: Oh, like during segregation?
De’Ara Balenger: Exactly.
Myles Johnson: Like, okay.
De’Ara Balenger: Like when when when when there was when, you know, Black folks were able to get into Black, white suburbs.
Myles Johnson: Mm hmm.
De’Ara Balenger: They created homeowners associations.
Myles Johnson: Oh, wow.
De’Ara Balenger: Uh huh. Mm hmm. And so, like, that’s that’s the origin of them. And so, I mean, you start something with that type of intent. Obviously, what’s to come of that is is, you know, going to be all types of strains of corruption and deceit, etc.. This is and, a friend of mine. This is happening to her. She she owns a couple of units in West Palm Beach. And West Palm is is predominately Black, of course. And what they’re doing at her Home Owners Association is that they’re very, very smartly creating the rules so that when they, so that, so that eventually a few folks on the Home Associations Board will own all of the units and then ultimately decide what happens across the entire development. And so but but again, because there’s no oversight. And so what ends up happening is like even beyond people, you know, owing money or last minute, the homeowners association being like, you owe this much money if you don’t pay your — like. There’s there’s so much deception and so much like, you know, financial mismanagement happening. But I see this as being like this is going to be an epidemic because it is happening in so many places and at such great scale. And again, DeRay, to your point, there’s no there’s no oversight.
DeRay Mckesson: You’re right. I didn’t know about the racist history of them. So thanks for letting us know. And it it totally makes sense as a way to localize a lot of power. And, you know, you think about people who don’t have power, who, like, feel like they don’t have power. Right. You keep giving me tickets and fines and at a point, I’m just gonna move because you are over here. And my friend was like, my friend was like, you know, she was like, if they come around talking about my child’s toy in the front yard again, we going to fight. She’s like, don’t even come over–
Myles Johnson: Stop.
DeRay Mckesson: –Here. Because, like, that’s what they’ll do, is that they just, like, harass and harass to a point that you feel overwhelmed. And I’m like, I didn’t even. It’s another thing to add to the list. Who knew?
De’Ara Balenger: You know, it’s obviously so driven by capitalism, like even in our building, like, you know, we own our apartment and we don’t live in a co-op, but we live, you know, it’s a building of condos and we have a board. But the first two years we were living there, we didn’t know that the developers had put their own people on the board. So we were like.
Myles Johnson: Yeah.
De’Ara Balenger: Well, you know, when we bought this place, it said the facade of the building was going to be painted. It said, we’re going to do this on the roof and da da da da da. But because the developers had put folks on the board that kept voting against it, you know, [laughter] it’s like it’s wild. And then.
Myles Johnson: Oh whoa.
De’Ara Balenger: Somebody in our building who, like, shout out to them. They were like, they uncovered this whole thing. It became a whole scandal and an email list. It was, I love when white people get so outraged about stuff. It was just fabulous. [laughing]
Myles Johnson: Child. [?]
De’Ara Balenger: It, they were heated okay!
Myles Johnson: Let me speak to your manager.
De’Ara Balenger: They were–
DeRay Mckesson: Did they get them off the board?
De’Ara Balenger: Yes they did. We got a whole new board. We now everything’s fabulous and moving along. But but it’s also again it’s just like the but we didn’t know and this is for folks who are I mean like we are gentrifiers we live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood. And we you know, we were proud to be able to own our place and didn’t do a ton of research on our building. Our building was an art. It was like a warehouse building that used to be artist studios. And so when I started digging and digging and digging, this developer had cut off the water in this building. Like literally it was like harassing these people until they got out so that they could develop the building and then have us, you know, gentrifiers come buy condo units.
Myles Johnson: Isn’t it interesting how so when I heard that I automatically thought about Native Americans and what the Native community says about how we’re making. But it’s interesting how that like kind of repeats itself, because here you have artist, like here you have artists or you have families and these studios, and then they were violently taken out, but like not something as as um blatant as like smallpox and and [?] right? But like so but it was like in their own way, experience of violence. So another like class of people can like then sit on top of, sit on top of that. And um that seems like these cycle of property and ownership and and and in America and how how do like how do you um the yeah, to spell that [?] no answer. It was just interesting.
De’Ara Balenger: No, it’s just. No, I think that’s interesting too. But I also feel like for me it always lends back to like what is the origin of the thing? And if the origin of the thing–
Myles Johnson: Mm hmm.
De’Ara Balenger: –Was smelly, it’s just going to continue to get smellier and smellier so.
Myles Johnson: Yeah.
De’Ara Balenger: I don’t know. I just I think all of, DeRay this just sent me on, you know, across all of those things.
DeRay Mckesson: The last thing I’ll say to De’Ara your your story about reversing the board and getting new people. It’s like just think about the luxury of time you had, though, to be able to–
Myles Johnson: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: –to do that, you know? Like.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah but also just like the expert, like I’m also a lawyer too. So I think–
Myles Johnson: Mm hmm.
De’Ara Balenger: It’s also like, you know, and my friend who’s in West Palm is also a lawyer. So I think it’s also when you get into when you when you enter into it in a privileged position.
Myles Johnson: Right.
De’Ara Balenger: Even with this skin, you know what I mean? Like you’re you know, that you’re going to have the outcome that you want to have, which is not most of our you know, folks don’t don’t have don’t aren’t able to step into that.
DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome author and journalist Baynard Woods on the pod to talk about his new book, Inheritance: An Autobiography of Whiteness. You know, I’ve known Baynard, he is a writer in the city of Baltimore. But this was an interesting look at his own family’s history and the relationship to whiteness and policing. Using ancestry and archives he uncovered dark secrets in his blood line, and we chat through the ways in which he rejects his family’s role in the history of slavery without denying it. This is a conversation that non-Black allies I think can use to think about their own role and responsibility in the movement for Black Liberation. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Baynard, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save The People.
Baynard Woods: Oh, it’s great to be back, DeRay. Good to talk with you.
DeRay Mckesson: So we are here to talk about your uh latest book and the essays that you’ve written that are also about the book. Uh. But let’s talk about how we met. We originally met obviously during the protests in Baltimore. And you were covering policing issues. You wrote a whole thing about the GTTF and the corrupt Baltimore police, the entire division of the police that needed to uh be indicted by the federal government. Can you talk about how your reporting on policing led you to write about whiteness in your own story?
Baynard Woods: It didn’t really strike me until later the way that police and policing and whiteness operate by the same logic and the logic horribly goes back to South Carolina’s so-called slave codes of 1740. That set up a system of law whereby white people are protected by the law and Black people are bound by the law and, uh you know, and not vice versa. So that white people aren’t bound and Black people aren’t protected. And I noticed that same logic in the Baltimore Police Department when, uh you know, they are, or any police department, when they say, well, we can’t really uh enforce the law if we have to follow the law ourselves, if we can’t violate the Constitution, then everyone’s just going to murder each other. And that was the same logic in in Central Park when you see Amy Cooper breaking the law by walking her dog uh and Christian Cooper following the law in the birdwatching area and asking her to follow the law and leash her dog. And then she immediately calls the police on him, even though she was the one violating the law. So during that summer of 2020, when my book about the Gun Trace Task Force came out, I got a monster. I was really thinking that it’s too easy to let uh for me to just push it off on, Well, I’m not a cop, so it’s not really my problem. Instead of bringing the problem back and looking at the ways that I was enforcing that same logic that I was fighting against in the police.
DeRay Mckesson: Now you uncovered a lot of stuff. Uh. But before we talk about some of the, the stuff that you uncovered about your own family, I’d love to know what was the process like? What does it even mean to look back? And try and like uncover stuff about your family? Did you start at the library? Did you start at Ancestry.com? Like what was what was the process you went through to do this?
Baynard Woods: Yeah, it was, it was a very long process. I first started really doing it on the day that um Dylann Roof went to Charleston from uh Lexington, South Carolina, about ten miles from where I grew up, and killed nine Black churchgoers, including a state senator, Clementa Pinckney. And that day I was I went there afterwards. We saw each other there. In fact, that’s that’s your uh cameo in the book. But I had written a piece for the Post immediately before that, trying to think about my family’s own history with as slavers. And so I knew a little bit from what they’d said because it was never there was never a time when I didn’t know that my family had held people in bondage. I just didn’t understand the the import of that or the significance of that. I was completely lied to about what that really was like and what that meant as I think my parents were and their parents were. Um. So when I started really looking into it, it began with going to archives uh in person, doing a little bit on Ancestry. And you could I found the slave schedules on uh in the old census records and were able to find their names. But I wanted to go to uh there was so much more in person and fortunately I got to go in February of 2020 and spend the whole month in archives in South Carolina, came back and then the archives were all shut down. And I think it would have been a much different book. Had I continued going to archives, um it would have maybe been a lot more like Clint Smith’s book um or Morgan Jerkins book with with going to more locations and seeing more people. The last one I went to, my father and I went together to an archive in in his old hometown of Manning, South Carolina. And that’s where what I was really looking for, was information about this one great grandfather, I.M. Woods, who I’d known for about 20 years, had fled the state after killing a Black man. But I didn’t know who the man was or the circumstances of the killing. And so it really was a reverse murder mystery uh that I found myself with where I knew the culprit, but I didn’t know uh the victim.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let’s talk about I.M. Woods. Uh. You know, in the piece you talk about in 1871, your great grandfather I.M. Woods was involved in the assassination of Peter Lemon, a Black county commissioner of South Carolina, as a part of a wave of Klan terrorism attempting to topple the reconstruction regime. Now, how did you, you said you already knew that going into the research? How did you know that?
Baynard Woods: Well, what I knew was my dad and I asked my dad at some point, why was your dad’s name Hernando? My grandfather was named Hernando Jennings Woods, and I was living in New Mexico where there were Spanish around. And it struck me as odd that that was my grandfather’s name, um who seemingly had no no Spanish ancestry or anything. And so my dad said, well, you know, his father had to go hide out in Texas for a while, and he was wounded and a woman uh nursed him back to health, and he promised he would name a child after someone related to her. And so I just thought, oh, that’s kind of a cool story, that’s interesting an outlaw in the family. And then I ask, well, what did he have to go hide out for? And he said, well, because he killed a Black man, and I still only saw it as something that wasn’t connected to me. It’s just an interesting uh historical fact tale that may be uh used in someday, like a Cormac McCarthy novel or something, rather than than something that had an effect on me. But then it just never and I kind of moved on, didn’t think about it a lot, but it never left me alone. It kept coming back. And then the day when I heard about the Mother Emanuel massacre in Charleston, I thought I saw the face of I.M. Woods for the first time in Dylann Roof.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s so, that is wild. So what did you find out about, you found out much more about I.M. Woods than you knew on the front end. What was that like?
Baynard Woods: So that I owe a lot to the archivist in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Um. M.L. Witherspoon, who’s the county archivist there, and also to a [?] Douglas, an archivist here in Baltimore, who helped me with finding some of the documents online that uh I wasn’t as good at as in-person stuff. And um and there was a lot of time on ancestry and newspapers.com, it I’d always known that he had been elected to the state legislature. So I had these two starting out these two contradictory ideas seemingly to me uh naively contradictory ideas that he had been a murderer and that he had been a state legislature and that he had fought in the Civil War. And that was all I knew starting um and that he was a doctor. So in newspapers and in various newspaper archives, I was able to find a record of him as a legislature. And I realized that not only were the crimes uh before this murder of of thinking that you own people for for all of his life growing up in essentially a concentration camp, that those were compounded by being in the legislature that uh passed Jim Crow laws. So there were these two horrendous periods. And then I realized, oh, the only time he ever would have had to flee South Carolina in his life for killing a Black man would have been during Reconstruction. That no other time in his life would that have been considered a crime, at least not one that he would have been convicted of at all. And so then I had to start looking for what happened in Clarendon County, his county dear or Sumter County nearby uh during the period of reconstruction. And did anyone have to flee? And it turned out that Peter Lemon, the county commissioner, was murdered on the day that Congress passed the Third Enforcement Act, also called the KKK Act, uh allowing Grant to declare martial law in South Carolina and that numerous Klan’s people had fled, Klansmen had fled uh during that period, either to Canada or to Texas. Um. And that there was an eccentric druggist who was involved in the assassination. My great grandfather was both the druggist and eccentric, um and that he sold property immediately before all the other Klansmen left.
DeRay Mckesson: What’s a druggist?
Baynard Woods: Uh. He was a doctor, but also a pharmacist, um as I knew, because when uh there was a movement in the legislature to outlaw cocaine, he was outraged that only a medical man should should be able to weigh in on issues like that. Uh. And he he had the experience by dealing with uh these drugs firsthand. And so, yeah, but he owned a little uh you know, at that point in 1871, he had just been out of medical school. And so many of the doctors were just, uh you know, battlefield doctors from the Civil War and medicine was a a, you know, pretty grim profession. So a lot of what he did was sell opium and cocaine and stuff. Also, as as a doctor.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay now keep going. You said you put it all together.
Baynard Woods: Yes. So those pieces allowed me to see that there there was a conspiracy and there weren’t that many people killed in that period um in that county, Clarendon County. Right north of it, uh thousands of people, Black officeholders, voters, um white people who supported scalawags or carpetbaggers, who supported the reconstruction regime were murdered so that it was nine counties surrounding Clarendon County where martial law was imposed uh at the end of 1871. But and there were these these congressional testimony, uh much like the ones we’re listening to now with the storming of the Capitol and 13 volumes and a a giant series of going from state to state collecting testimony. And that’s where this testimony about the eccentric druggist uh being involved in first attacking Lemon with a pistol and then Lemon being ambushed on the road by 6 to 8 white men and and shot. And so there’s no definitive proof. No one was charged. Um. All of the klansmen who fled were later given amnesty about a year later, many came back, like my great grandfather, to be involved in the overthrow of reconstruction by storming the Capitol after the election in 1876 uh and then were elected to positions of leadership and authority. Uh later on it was said when the democracy, meaning the white supremacist party, was in danger, he put himself out like no one would and risked everything that also allude to this period of having to go hide out. But there was no way to absolutely prove that he was one of the the masked people who actually pulled the trigger. Uh. But I think there’s very good circumstantial evidence and as much as we can get with the extensiveness of the white supremacist cover up of all of those crimes like that. Robert Small said that, you know, he estimated in in the 1880s that in the period between then and 1865, that in South Carolina, the white supremacists had killed tens of thousands of Black citizens there who were attempting to to exercise democratic rights in some way.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let’s zoom out and talk about why does this matter? Like, why did you write a whole book sort of tracing your own family’s involvement in white supremacy and unpacking whiteness and what it looks like structurally? Why does this matter?
Baynard Woods: Yeah, it’s a great question because I thought for most of my life that exact question that it didn’t matter that, you know, what I needed to do was get out of South Carolina, get somewhere better, do better things with my life, uh and just forget about all of that. And again, it was that that day in Charleston that made me realize that that was an impossibility. All of the places that Dylann Roof, before he went and committed mass murder, he went to the plantation sites where, you know, someone’s probably you know, some white person is is planning a marriage right now. Uh. He went to all of the the slave sites in the state and treated them as shrines and was trying to revive this ideology that I thought I had escaped from, and the movie wasn’t out then, but it reminded me of that Jordan Peele movie later on, of the Jordan Peele movie US, where a part of you gets left behind and becomes monstrous and festers and has to be addressed. And so I that feeling kept growing. I still would have preferred to have continued reporting on police and things like that. Uh. But then after Trump was elected, I saw my family succumbing to this same kind of um lost cause logic that they had raised me on and that they had been raised on and saw it as a polit– immediate political danger. And then being at the uh covering the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and uh seeing that they were willing to kill people over statues of Lee and Jackson, that I the same ones I was taught to revere, that I couldn’t let this just sleep, that it was something that that posed a grave danger to us. And that was reaffirmed again on January 6th, when um the Trumpists stormed the Capitol trying to overthrow the election, which is exactly what happened, except they were called Red Shirts. Instead of wearing red hats in 1876 in South Carolina, they they claimed to win the election fraudulently. They later stormed the Capitol. And they in that case, they occupied it uh for several months until the federal troops withdrew. And that paved the way for uh Jim Crow. And I feel like we’re in danger of exactly something like that happening now and seeing the the rights that uh have been gained over the last 50 years rolled back.
DeRay Mckesson: Now. I’m so curious, what was your, what was your dad’s take on all this as he visits you in the in the archives? You’re going through all this stuff. What was his take?
Baynard Woods: It was it was confusing to me because he was a Trump supporter. He had been a Limbaugh listener and Fox News watcher for years, had had become a Republican with Reagan like so much of the South. And we mainly had argued politically. And then he started wanting to go along with me to archives, to research his our family history. Um. We went the last day before the pandemic, really. We went to the Clarendon County Archives. I was there with him and with uh M.L. Witherspoon, who’s a younger Black woman. He was a 75 year old, 76 year old uh Trumpist white man. And we came across this document that was titled at the top, Dr. Woods plus maiden slave. And it had generations of a Black family descended from a rape committed by his grandfather, my great grandfather. And we went off later to the swamp to talk about it. And he came around. I argued that when I called it rape, he said, well, you don’t know that it would be rape. What kind of consent could someone uh give when the whole system is one of force? And um so he was like, okay, yeah, I kind of get that. But then he’s like, oh yeah, like that Democrat Thomas Jefferson. And then he sent a message to his brother, who had the same name as as uh I.M. Woods and who’s an ardent Democrat, and said, see uh the Democrats we’re all slave holders and terrorists and rapists. And I realized he was using it in an argument against his brothers. They’re all Democrats, uh remarkably, for five baby boomer white dudes from South Carolina, um his five brothers. But he was he and he’s the only one that didn’t go to college. And he was always resentful, I think of that. And I realized he was using this stuff just as to win a point rather than as something that mattered to him. And so after we had a huge fight after January 6th that I write about in the book, I he got he had been diagnosed with ALS right before that. And um eventually I had to just quit arguing with him and care for him and love him while trying to limit the harm that was still being caused in his town of Clarendon County by working with a a activist there named George Frierson to try to figure out what we could do to restore the legacy of Peter Lemon um and stop some of the harmful legacy of my family.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that. What is your advice to white people who are reading your book and they are grappling with their own stories or trying to understand how whiteness does and doesn’t do damage in the world or how they talk about it or get the language. What’s your advice for people?
Baynard Woods: There’s a couple of things that I think are really important to keep in mind. One, white people hate to talk about whiteness. We know this, and most everyone hates to have serious talks with their family in some way or another. And so, like, I’m no expert at talking to my family, like, I suck at it. And that’s why I had to write a whole book um because it’s it’s we don’t communicate well in general. And so then when you’re talking about really charged issues, it’s hard, but it’s something like talking about the vaccine um or them, you know, parents talking to their kids about sex or something. It’s a chance to free them from or help to liberate them from an ideology that they were raised in and maybe don’t recognize and also harms them uh in ways that they don’t even see. And because that’s one of the things that like Heather McGhee’s book, so did so well to some of us in talking about we as white people now who are trying to be progressive or allies or be better, also have this idea, well, whiteness is good, you know, whiteness benefits us. And and we try to say this to be better, but in many ways it harms us just as well as it doesn’t harm us as much as it harms people of color. And so we’re tricked into seeing that as an advantage. So if I get arrested for weed uh or for drugs of some sort, and you do, I’m probably going to have it a lot easier. But without a racist drug war, I wouldn’t be getting arrested in the first place. And what could this city have uh for everyone if we didn’t have a racist drug war? What kind of rec centers for children and how much better might their lives be? Um. The other thing is that we’re going to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes just as being a human and especially being a man. And and, uh you know, a cis straight man, it’s similar. You’re going to make mistakes with things. And because you have all of this power behind you, your mistakes are going to be amplified. But it’s important to be honest and open about your mistakes, not only for yourself so that you can actually become better instead of just pretending that we’re better. But also for the younger people who are coming up, they need to see us grapple with our former selves and grapple with our mistakes. And show that you can come out of a mistake and you can make amends and you can be better. Instead of just pretending that we’re somehow perfect all the time already when we know we were raised in these deeply harmful systems and in deeply harmful ways.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. There are two questions we ask everybody. The first is um, what do you say to people who feel like they’ve done everything they were supposed to do? They read your book, read my book, they testify, they email. They ran for office. They did all the things and the world still looks like it did before. What do you say to those people?
Baynard Woods: I feel you, um is is what I initially say like I I I’m there as well of we’re at such a dangerous time where I feel like all of these problems that we’re facing aren’t necessarily getting better. The arc of history isn’t necessarily bending towards justice, and sometimes it’s history and hate that rhyme more than history and hope and that what all of this is going to get worse and worse with like climate uh as the crimate climate crisis increases, like in The Grapes of Wrath, where you have groups of vigilantes uh fighting for resources. And so I fear when we start to see more and more white supremacist uh eco nationalism, and uh there’s so much to be afraid of right now, the way the world’s going, that we as white people especially, need to figure out the points where we can put ourselves between the greater harm that whiteness is causing and the primary targets of that harm. Um. People of color, queer people, um women. And I. I don’t have anything hopeful or reassuring to say in that, except um we need to get really, really good at uh figuring out how to fight back because they are are they’re fighting hard right now and violently. And and, you know, I guess the other thing I have to say is I’m sorry. Uh. When I look back on my life, I wish I would have been uh fighting harder for a lot longer.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And what do you say? Um. Oh what would you say is a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Baynard Woods: One thing that that I don’t know if it was advice, but something you used to say and and tweeting stuff a lot with watch whiteness work when something would happen became kind of a watchword for me in figuring out this book because I saw how hard it was for white people to see how whiteness worked. And so it forced me to look in my life for the moments that there was a gap between my own self understanding at the time and my actual reality at the time, which was, you know, much of my life. But that was something that I would would continue to sort of say as I would uh as I would go through it is, watch whiteness work and, you know, try to see that in my own memories. Where is that happening? How is the uh you know, like when [?] said that you look at a Black man and you see a Black man, you look at a white man and you see the Army and Navy behind him, like trying to figure out how that Army and Navy interacted with my experience of the world. Uh. So your your refrain during those years of of uh Ferguson and Baltimore and the weirdly seemed like so many people had forgotten about and that everything started in 2020. Uh. But your refrain in that time has stuck with me for uh for all of those years and really contributed to the book, so thanks.
DeRay Mckesson: And how can people stay in touch with what you’re doing, is there? Should they should they follow you on Twitter, is there a website? How do people keep in touch?
Baynard Woods: Yeah, I’m a @baynardwoods on Twitter and BaynardWoods.net uh website. And um yeah, Twitter is probably the best place. But @BaynardWoods on all of all of the social media uh stuff, although I’m varied at my skill level on on them, I’m still trying to figure out Instagram.
DeRay Mckesson: [laugh] Awesome. Well, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Baynard Woods: Thanks so much DeRay. It’s great to be here. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save The People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. [music break] Pod Save The People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Veronica Simonetti and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.