In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week— including shadow credit scores, a Black community built on contaminated land, and Mo’Nique & Lee Daniels patch a 14-year feud.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Kaya, De’Ara, and Myles as usual, talking about the news that you don’t know, and the news you probably should know when it comes to race, equity, and justice. And then we also talk about some of the cultural things that have happened in the past week. Notably, we talked about the Oscars. I always learn so much from everybody on the pod, and he keeps me up to date with what’s going on in the world. I hope that you enjoy this ep. Here we go! My advice for this week is to make sure there are people in your life who can tell you when things are beautiful, are your cheerleaders, and also people who can say something doesn’t feel right. And recently we were making some decisions and somebody said to me, This thing doesn’t feel right. I looked at it over and over and we could do it, but it doesn’t feel right. And listening to her say that the decision we were about to make doesn’t feel right was all I needed to say like, I think you’re right. And I probably would have been like, Oh, I think we can get through it, I think this will be fine. And she was like, I don’t think that feels right. And sometimes we need a gut check by people in our lives, the people we work with, and be open to that. Listen when it happens. It’s how we do our best work. And Myles actually said to me in an off, like not during the podcast, Myles said that we should think about our intuition like our ancestors speaking to us, and sometimes we just got to listen. And I’ve been listening better, listening better to the people around me and listening better to myself. Here we go.
Kaya Henderson: Hello Pod Save the People family. It’s so exciting to be together again this week. Me and my friends chit-chatting. This is Kaya Henderson, @Hendersonaya on Twitter.
Myles Johnson: This is Myles E. Johnson @pharoahrapture on Twitter and Instagram.
DeRay Mckesson: It’s DeRay. @deray on Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: We are missing our Girl De’Ara this week, but she’s going to send her news in and we’re going to chat it up next week because there’s a lot to talk about still a whole entire week later. Uh, the slap heard round the world is the topic of conversation, my friends. OK, first of all, did you see it live or did you see it in the replay?
Myles Johnson: I saw in the replay. DeRay, DeRay told me everything was happening and I was I was asleep.
DeRay Mckesson: I saw it, I saw it like right as it happened. I like, because the friend group was like, the chat was and the text I got was, Did that really just happen? Like that was the text. And everybody was like, Are we, did that just happen? And then it was like, Oh, this isn’t a joke, that like, really did just happen.
Kaya Henderson: I saw it watching my television. I was like, Wait a whole entire minute, I think he just slapped him. And then Chris Rock said, Will Smith just smacked the bloop out of me. And you all know the rest of the story. So what thinkest thou?
DeRay Mckesson: Are you not going to lead us off Miss Kaya?
Kaya Henderson: [laughs] I want to hear what you saying. You know I have a lot to say. You know I have a lot to say. But I, you know, I’m deferring to the younger people because I feel like [laughs].
Myles Johnson: Well this also got real political. It’s the you looking away and just looking at us and saying, Say something. DeRay, you want to go first?
DeRay Mckesson: You know, so it’s obvious that [unclear] met Chris Rock. So there’s that. I think that what was really surprising was to see the range of takes. I thought that, I thought that Capehart’s take in The Washington Post with perhaps the single worst one I saw. And the quote was like, How could you do that when white people were looking at us? And it’s like, they’re actually a lot of reasons to be frustrated as well. I thought that one was not, that felt like a weird, that didn’t feel right. Like this idea that the actions that we do should be different because white people in the room and like, and that’s what Capehart said in The Washington Post. And like that, I just felt like that felt bizarre. Equally, I felt the other extreme of being like, Oh, it’s just a slap. Like that also felt dishonest, like the people who were like, Oh, you know, just like another day at the Oscars and you’re like, Well, I don’t know. Like, I don’t know if that is, that take feels like a pretty dramatic take too. Mostly what I saw on Twitter that first night, it was like sort of like a double down defensive wall. I think that there’s somewhere in the middle. You know, and I will also say that Chris Rock, if Chris had responded, it would have been a whole different moment if Chris had fought him back or says something else, I mean, we would be talking about this completely differently. I’ll be interested to see how it plays out. You know, I don’t think that Red Table Talk has the range to talk about this. And you know, they say that he can talk about this. And I’m like, Oprah probably feels like the only person who is sort of a neutral arbiter who can come in and have Will not say something else that’s going to be just like, not helpful. And I get the like, you know, they thought entanglements was going to be this progressive moment, and it really just made a meme of Will. I think that this is like another thing where like, Will, will be stuck with it for a very long time. And I think that we will all be, I think, you know, as long as this has lived already, I think that the first time Chris Rock decides to talk about it in a way that we see, it’ll just be all back. So that’s my initial thoughts but I’m curious to see what both of you have to say.
Myles Johnson: This is, like I just probably, like this is like, it will drive me insane trying to talk about because this is one of those things that I have a million different areas in prisms that I’m like my mind can go into in thinking about it. But my initial thought was, you know, it’s interesting because I think that when you come from a certain community like, naming the community I’m coming from and also a community like Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn that Chris Rock is from, and then also North Philly like Will Smith is from. And I take off the initial the media’s dramatization of the situation. I, so I did this practice where I was telling my boyfriend what happened without their names and being like, Oh yeah, I went to a family, I went to a party and then this man from Bed-Stuy, looked at this man from North Philly with his wife and his kids and said his wife will look like she will be in G.I. Jane. And will you believe it that the dude from North Philly smacked the guy from Bed-Stuy? An entertaining story, not surprising. And I think it was interesting to me to see that sometimes we, people from communities that I’m more familiar with than the kind of like whitewashed institutions that the Oscars like, upholds kind of some to like forget, like just certain things are just like, not normal, you know? The second thing was that it was very interesting to see a legion of celebrities from like, such a like, community bereft of like morality give their opinions. I’m like, Who cares what Jim Carrey thinks? Like they were asking people who I never thought, to like, I’m like, I don’t care, I don’t care where you think .I don’t, I don’t understand. And I also think it was interesting to see the distance because here finally, Hollywood folks have agreed on somebody to finally cancel because it just seemed like everybody had something to say so now they all want to be canceled. And it was interesting to see the public really—or I wouldn’t say all the public—but there was a large piece of the public really like what Will Smith did, but I think they liked it because I think that A, it felt like he was doing it for his family, his family integrity to him. And I also think that it was authentic. And I think that after four years of Trump, I think after so much political talk and all this going on, it felt really good to see somebody react in a way that we’ve at least all felt or all anticipated. And it felt authentic and it really resonated with a lot of people. The third thing that was really interesting, that will be really interesting to me is Chris Rock’s response to it, and how Chris Rock incorporates this into feature interviews and standup routines. Because I think that very quickly we were able to see, to quote Cornel West—but I can’t really quote it because it has the N-word—but the N-word-ization of a person. You kind of see this kind of like barbaric savage brute Will Smith come, and there’s some racially-fueled optics that were projected onto Will Smith. And it will be really interesting because Chris Rock is going to be in a unique place to position this and contextualize this as something that’s wrong that happened to him, but it’s still inside of the community and it’s not barbaric, and it’s not making Will into this savage subject that’s been happening this week. Or Chris Rock continues to kind of perpetuate this like myth that’s going on by Will Smith that he’s this like, barbaric, savage person because he had a, to him, a lapse in judgment, or he returned to his instincts when somebody is talking about his family, you know? So that’s what I’m kind of really curious about, because I think that will kind of, that to me, will be more iconic and legendary, how will Chris Rock handle this? Because he’s in the position that usually white women are in. You know what I mean? And it will be interesting to see how he tackles, how he tackles this and talks about it.
DeRay Mckesson: And one second, before you go, Kaya, it’ll also be interesting to see what Jada says because, you know, everybody’s rationale has been that that she, that it was a joke about her that has led to this and alopecia. And for all the people that have offered any type of public apology, nobody necessarily apologized to her and she hasn’t really said anything. And I do think that what she says will matter a lot.
Kaya Henderson: You know, I went to bed Sunday night talking about this. I woke up Monday morning talking about this. I didn’t, I couldn’t like focus on work on Monday and like a whole lot of other people, we continued to talk about this all week. And one of the questions that I keep asking myself is, What is it about this thing that makes us so obsessed with it, right? And I think part of it is this idea of transparency cutting both ways, right? So Will and Jada have been incredibly transparent about their lives. Some people might think over-transparent, because I feel like at the beginning, everybody’s like, Oh, you’re red table talk, we’re getting a real talk and da da da. And at some point people were like, Can Will and Jada just shut up. Right? And then, then we get this, where a very, where we just saw a mess, right? We saw a very messy moment. We saw regular human people in a mess on TV for the whole world to see, tis true. But that’s, they started that, right? And I think it just brings up a lot of questions for each of us. What would we have done? How would we have reacted? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? And I don’t think that we’ve seen this level of humanism in a while, right? Maybe, maybe we have, I don’t know. But I think like the different people’s reactions just speak to the plurality of like how we see the world as humans. And so I mean, for me, I think part of this is about the messiness of, like we’re redefining relationships. Will and Jada have a very different relationship than many of us are accustomed to seeing. And, you know, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t work. We’ve had a front-row seat to it and we saw some more of it. I think we saw the messiness that comes with mental health issues, like, I don’t know, it was all just messy, and it was a lot, a lot, a lot to talk about. You know, I got the traditional auntie respectability perspective, which is, Hell no, he shouldn’t have hit Chris. If Chris responded, then it would’ve probably set us back 50 years as a people because to see two Black men scrapping on TV like that would have been more, even more dramatic. I really I, you know, we don’t know anything about what Jada’s feeling, as you said, DeRay. I hated, hated Will Smith’s speech that he made when he got his Oscar. I hated that he was still sitting there. I hated that he got up and gave that mamsy-pamsy garbage speech is how I really feel about it. And I hated that the whole thing overshadowed everybody else. It’s like this was the blackest Oscars we ever had, and we’re not gonna ever have a Black Oscars again. And I feel badly about that, and I feel like Will and Jada need to go deal with their stuff and maybe putting all your stuff on TV is not the right way to work out these messy human things. Because, you know, if you put it, like the public thing, I will say, the hardest thing that I’ve ever done is work in a very, very public job. And when that stopped, I like, I mean, you, you just, I, and I’ve seen it go badly for people, when you give yourself to the public, the public actually does own you, and so when you need moments of of privacy or humanity or whatever, it’s not always yours to have, and I think that that is very dangerous. That’s not how we’re built as people. So I don’t know. And you know, it is like the best soap opera we’ve ever seen.
Myles Johnson: And I think, you know, I don’t know . . . I think, because I feel now, I feel like I have the, I have the little, the little cousin non-respectable Gen Z, Millennial traditional perspective because I’m like to me, I think I always wrote that one of the things that white people have in art and media that really that I’ve noted that like that has empowered them is the fact that they were a, you could go to one television show and somebody is Breaking Bad and in jail and on meth and another one would be president. And I, I feel like it broke something open to me that I think because it happened between two Black men, I think because of the perpetuator was somebody who was actually deeply respectable and deeply seen as a nice guy and deeply, and one time in his career was actually seen as a raceless Black person, a Black person who is like that, and the fact that he did that to a dark-skinned man, and a dark-skinned Black man on stage, and in fact it was between both of them and the fact that one is being honored, I think they kind of expanded it. Because two people are, are of the same identities and almost like flip roles. It was almost a little poetic to me how it happened. I’m like, I actually think that it didn’t set us back. I think that it pushed us forward and expanded us two ways and up and down. And I, and I think that, I think there were always going to be good, and I think for anybody who moments like this set us back for, are people who were already interested in a us staying back.
Kaya Henderson: So I think, I think that’s right. So one, like the white folks who don’t like Black folks who always see us the way they see us, nothing changed, except there’s an opportunity for validation, right? See, I told you blah blah, you could dress them up, you can give, you can make them rich, you can put them on TV . . .
DeRay Mckesson: Still savages! Still savages!
Kaya Henderson: And truth, and the truth of the matter is those people thought that whether the slap happened or it didn’t happen. And I do think, Myles, that in the same way that white people don’t have to be every character, right, they can, they can be whoever they are, and it doesn’t represent the race, I want us to be in a place where every Black person doesn’t represent the race. I just am old and so far most of my life for most of my life, that has been the case, right? Like, we haven’t had the luxury of having different phenotypes or whatever, or we’ve had a very few, right? And so I want, I want this to not matter for Black people more than anything else. And I think, I do think that the Millennials and Gen Zs have a very different take on it, that I think, I welcome, right? I actually feel like I want you to be who you are and don’t have to worry about representing the race. But if, I would, I would be a liar if I told you that every single day that I was superintendent of the public school system in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t just a superintendent, I was the young Black, young Black woman superintendent. And that carried, you know, that meant that for every young Black woman who was coming before me or after me, like there were consequences and issues and whatnot. And so I want to live in y’all’s world for sho, and I love how free we are getting. I want us to get free faster. But you know, some of us can’t let go of the baggage.
DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson: I do think one of the things that it opened up was this real question about like, and Myles, you sort of hinted to this, about like who gets to be the moral arbiter. Because it’s like people have kept those Oscars who have been rapists, who have been domestic abusers, like this question of like what is good and who gets to decide who is honored, like, that conversation I feel like it’s wide open. And also, and, you know, Kaya, I know you know this, and Myles that you put on events too, and Kaya, you know this from the school system days, is that like the thing, I just said this yesterday with somebody at brunch, I’m like, Who is the adult in the room? Because just like, forget the slap. It made me question like if somebody had shot a gun, if there had been a bomb, like who was the person making the call because I’m sitting her like, like that felt like, it just felt like a moment that, like no adult came out and just said, Hey, like somebody just happened. Like it, just like, I’m like, Who’s—I think it’ll be interesting for the academy to really structurally make a call about, like, who makes the decision in moments where things happen. Because that felt like it was like full-blown nobody was in charge. And then I do think, you know, and this was Eric Benet’s tweet, I don’t know if you saw him Myles. Did you see what Eric Benet said about this?
Myles Johnson: I have not said Eric Benet said, since I saw that Oprah Winfrey episode 15 years ago with Halle Berry.
DeRay Mckesson: He said two things, but one of the things that he said was like, if that was somebody like me, like not an A-list celebrity, they would have dragged me out of the building. And I think that’s true, right?
Kaya Henderson: Yes, absolutely.
DeRay Mckesson: That there is something about, this with such a, tis also a phenomenal display of what power allows you to get away with. Because if this was a, if this was not a Will Smith, there is no way he would have been allowed to sit there. There’s no way he would have been allowed to accept the award. Like, I just don’t believe it. And it was a, I think it put it, took the veil off for everybody that like power, straight-up power allows you to do things that other, that like you cannot do, and do it in public. And I thought it was also, I will say, I was, to do something like this and then party all night at the parties as if it didn’t happen was really, that was odd to me. Like, that was just like a really, like that was odd. And maybe you just want to get it out because you knew the next five days, like, you knew that this is going to be your last night out for a long time. But that did feel like a weird, that fell off to me.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. And I’m, you know, I’m not somebody who like wishes something didn’t happen, something that informs how I think about things too. Like, it happened and whatever. So I try to see, like, not even the optimistic side, but just really see like, what are the uses of what happened or the misuses of what happened and how I feel about it. But I think it’s a, I think, inter-communally, I really do think it’s an interesting moment. I do think it does feel—so somebody who I compare it to, which is like, who like the master of doing it, who did it gracefully and artistically and not like, how Will Smith did it—but I really do think that even Beyoncé has had moments of offering her respectability and her excellence and trading it in for like a Black authenticity that was that was pretty risky, even through exploration of our sexuality and culture. And I do feel like in a way that’s more, that was patriarchal, more violent, all the other things I can say about it, that still happened. And I think that, um, I don’t know, I think I really do think it’s, I think in our community specifically with everybody who’s on this podcast, everybody’s talking right now, I’ve always been concerned and thinking about how respectability and how image and how the white gaze informs our relationships and what we think is true. And I think that this will be a moment in 20 years—I’m being like, pretty serious—in 20 years, I think this will still be a moment that was kind of like a landmark moment in shifting what matters to us, you know? And you know, and I think we still need to remember that the academy, the Oscars, are liars. Like, I said this to, I think I might have said it publicly too, but I was like, if this slap was on 75-millimeter film and directed by Quentin Tarantino, it would got to Oscar. So that the Academy can’t say it doesn’t like violence. The academy loves violence, it’s awards violence. So there’s like there’s a lack of integrity in the whole conversation, that I’m like, No, everybody’s a clown and then somebody revealed that ya’ll were at the circus. But like, no, this is not, just something if we’re just honest about everybody’s engagement with it, where I’m like, Oh, what, we can’t do that, we can’t, we can’t lie.
DeRay Mckesson: The last thing I’ll say, though, Myles—this is a question for you—is that in your analogy, because I agree with you about the like, you know, what happens in like, if you strip the power, strip they were actors, and tell the story in that scenario though, do you not think your boyfriend would have also understand if the person that fought him back?
Myles Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, he would have understood the person fought him back, he would have done it. But I also think that there’s this thing—you know, my Angelou has this great poem where she talks about, talks about the Black laugh, and how, how she says, like, Oh, I know that laugh of the Black maid who’s she’s been on the bus with. I know that laugh, she’s not actually laughing. She’s opening up her teeth and making it sound. So what whiteness has done to like to the Black instinct is suffocated it and made us not express it, and made us say things and do things and grit teeth towards things that are not instinctually what we do. So I think that if Chris Rock, I don’t think Chris Rock would have made that joke in that context. I think in a Black context, he would have not made that joke unless he was looking for a fight. And I think that these white institutions and white culture and civility and all the other stuff, it makes it OK to do things that are triggering, that are violent, that go against like our own kind of ethos as a culture. And I think that, you know, yes, my boyfriend would have understood him fighting back. But I also think that that joke wouldn’t have happened in the context of that too. And I think when I look at Chris Rock, what he said about Jada Pinkett Smith before, and about the OscarsSoWhite, I think about the viral videos of going around with Chris Rock allowing, with all-white comedians and allowing one to say the N-word and saying, Yeah, I say the N-word, and Chris Rock having nothing to say. The only person who has something to say, who stood up for the moment was Jerry Seinfeld in that moment. That was the only person who said something. I’m like, Oh, like, you know, Toni Morrison often talks about having a Black body in a white mind, you know? And I think that sometimes, and I think that’s what we were seeing, too. I think that this is somebody—if you grew up in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy, you did not grow up thinking that you can talk about somebody’s wife. And I’m just as curious and just as, yeah, I’m just as curious about what made that switch happen as a Black person, as I am about any of these other conversations that are happening. What made you think that was OK? Because I still, unless I’m trying to fight you, DeRay, I’m not going to go and talk about your partner in front of you specifically, not in front of you on a day that you’re being celebrated and not think there’s a fight. So I’m interested in that switch as much as anything else.
DeRay Mckesson: And I wanted to ask too—this is for Kaya and Myles—you know, some people have also said like they could not, I’ve heard this critique of Chris and people also have been like, they can’t remember a time where Will Smith has talked about being, the power of, being a Black man. That they like, that they also could not remember that.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, this is why I feel like the onus is on each of us, right? Maybe Will Smith doesn’t have to talk about being a Black man. Maybe, maybe Chris Rock was, you know, cruising for a bruising. I mean, this, this is why it’s so messy. And this is why there’s so much to excavate. Myles, the thing that you said about us having an intra community conversation, I think is the most important part, right? It does mean that we’re having conversations about what is authentic. You know, we haven’t, one of the things that I’ve heard a lot of my friends who are parents talk about is how do I explain to my kids what happened and how do I help my kids understand that this is not appropriate, even if I understand how Will felt and I think that Chris should have gotten slapped. I just think there are so many dimensions to this, and I think that the right thing is—I have a friend who lives in Memphis and I can’t remember the organization, but a community organization opened up and said, Come in and let’s talk about this as a community. And I feel like that is where the healing happens. That’s where the intergenerational sharing happens. That’s when we get to crack through the archetypes of what I think blackness is or what you think blackness is, and come to some different understandings. And I think that’s the real power of this moment, right, that we are having conversations that we haven’t, many people have not had before within the community. And so, yeah . . .
Myles Johnson: No, definitely, I forgot the basis of the, I forgot what the actual, I was so lost in your great answer. What was the question, DeRay?
DeRay Mckesson: Well, some people have said that they cannot remember a time where Will has talked about being a Black man or the power being a Black man. They’ve said that in response to the critique that you’ve offered about the history of Chris, sort of this idea of like a white mind in a Black body.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, yeah. I mean, again, you know, I don’t, nobody has ever, you know, thankfully, I’m in a better place now, but when I was struggling, needed rent, neither Will Smith or Chris Rock asked me for dollar, or gave me a dollar. So I have, I’m not on a side. So I’m saying those things that content that I saw about Chris Rock a long time ago has always stuck with me. But the same thing Will Smith, because I think the same thing could be said about Will Smith, where I think a tension grows. I don’t think that you repress being from North Philly and being Black and all these other things and, you and it does not eat you. It does not birth a certain type of psychological spiritual psychosis inside of you that cannibalizes you. And I think moments like this that you can’t control are the birth of that because you’re trying to get control. You know, and I think that’s a part of it, too. But also, I reject it because maybe because I’m born in ’91, I’m also like, you know, a Black culture geek. I’m like, No, Will Smith definitely positions himself as a Black, Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith got that iconic Essence spread talking about they Black love in stuff like that. So, you know, Will Smith has done it and it has positioned himself as Black. And I think there’s other things that, like Chris Rock has even done where, you know, of course the Good Hair documentary is the first thing that come to my mind, Everybody Hates Chris is the first thing that comes to my mind. So they’ve both done things that, to me, are products and these beautiful creations that are for Black culture. But also, I think that’s, I think something when it comes to power, class, and trying to navigate getting those things made, so you have to get those Black things made by playing a white game. I think it does something to you. And I think that it can either make you slap somebody. And I think it also can make you talk about somebody’s wife when you know, you shouldn’t be talking about somebody’s wife.
Kaya Henderson: Indeed, indeed.
Myles Johnson: No blood shed. OK?
DeRay Mckesson: Myles, I always love it. You will pull a poet out of the crevice of the [unclear], and I’m here for every time. I’m like, How did Maya get in this. You better pull Maya out of thin air.
Kaya Henderson: It was a Tony reference too.
DeRay Mckesson: I have made every body read Nikki Rosa like it was a tattoo on my body. I’m like, Did you read Nikki Rosa?
Myles Johnson: I’m going to send y’all the Maya Angelou, it’s one of my favorite Maya Angelou’s. She does in the speech. She does it in poetry and she’s talking about this Black maid who laughs, and she just takes that, her laughing and he he he, and like her laughing but knowing she’s really not laughing, and just takes it as like, Oh, all the times we can’t be authentic, and she just this good—I hope I can find it—but this good idea that, she says where: authenticity happens where instinct and reflection meet, and then the action is born. So I think you know, what we saw was an instinct, but we ain’t see, maybe authenticity was missed and stuff like that. Whereas, you know, I’m sure Beyoncé’s wanted to say many a like, Girl, you can go da da da? But she was like, You know what? I’m going to make a song, and I’m going to be ambiguous and stuff like that because the reflection hit. But you know, but . . .
Kaya Henderson: I love how you love Beyoncé?
Myles Johnson: Listen, listen, listen, listen. I love, I love the work. I love, but you know who I love more than Beyoncé, right now?
Kaya Henderson: Who?
Myles Johnson: Kaya.
DeRay Mckesson: Oh!! That was a good set up, baby. That was, you get all the points for that.
Kaya Henderson: Mwah, mwah, mwah.
Myles Johnson: I’ll definitely get in-formation from Auntie Kaya.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People coming.
Myles Johnson: So today’s news for me, I brought because A, like I hardly even need to like, look at this news. It’s from Deadline, but I was obsessed with this story with Monique. And I think, again, Monique is somebody who has really been radical about sticking with her authenticity, sticking with what makes her her and being loud and cursing. She’s clear, she feels familiar, and identify with that because I really tried to bring, like I really do try to bring that part of me that knows that at the end of the day, I remind somebody of their cousin or they auntie or uncle or their niece or their nephew, and I try to bring that to wherever, whatever I do and not lose that no matter how risky it is, and also try to say what’s right. And I saw Mo’Nique that and saw Mo’Nique get ostracized and it really broke my heart. So it made me really happy to see the news that her and Lee Daniels had a public reconciliation on stage. And also Lee Daniels said that he, you know, just landed a $65 million dollar movie deal and Mo’Nique will be we’ll be playing a part of that role and playing a role in that. And then also 50 Cent earlier said that he, that he’s creating a role from Mo’Nique, too. And I think that, you know, I have, you know, I—I’m quoting Dr. Cornel, What’s the give?—But he once said, “I don’t love Black people so they can love me back. I love Black people because they deserve to be loved.” So there’s been some things that Mo’Nique has said that I have not agreed with. I’ll never agree with. And I think that they are anti-sex-positive anti-body and all these other things. And I still want her to be so rich and I still want her to be at peace and I still want her to feel respected, and I still want her to have access to all the wherever her creativity decides to flow. And I still want her to have many opportunities to talk through these things and to disagree. And just make me happy to see this happen. And I thought that, you know, the beauty salon in heaven was just kind of cracking up at the poetic justice that was happen. I’m like, Well, look at these, the fact that these two things kind of happened parallel together, and I was like, you know, for every Big Bang, they’ve got to be a long kiss, you know what I mean? The Sun and the Moon, I’m like, We all, we got balancing. And I just been following this story for so long because I think that she has been really brave for talking against the institutions and the people that she’s been talking against and telling the truth towards, and then felt really good to get leeway because I think not only do I want that for her, but I think that her fighting for that, that level of authenticity and that level of truth has made it easier for people like me, for I think for everybody on this podcast in. And it just made me feel good. What do you think?
Kaya Henderson: I thought it was, I thought it was, it was also interesting that this happened the same week of this other big cultural thing. One, we don’t get to see apologies and, yeah, we don’t get we don’t generally get to see apologies. The thing happens and we hear all about it and then stuff gets mended behind the scenes. And I think it was incredibly powerful that they stood up together and that he apologized, or whatever the details were, that they reconciled. I agree with you. I think Mo’Nique is really talented. I think in the same way that we were talking about, you know, Black folks are not monolithic and we get to be all at a different flavors that we are, and she is a flavor that is her own whole thing. And I appreciate her, and I’m just happy that she is getting the chance to continue to do her thing because I’ve missed her. I feel like she’s part of the, you know, she’s part of the Black ecosystem and we haven’t had that kind—I mean, sometimes you just want ranch, right? Like, maybe other people don’t. But like, sometimes you just need raunch. Because even if you can’t express that raunch in your regular life, you go see a Mo’Nique show and hear some ‘ish and you go see some ‘ish and you go whatever. And that connects with who we are as a people. And so I’m happy for her. Like you. I’m excited for these ladies that are my age. Hey, hey! Getting their money honey. Mary J on the power and Mo’Nique. Shout out to the man, 50, creating opportunities for the aunties to stay in the game. And shout out to Lee Daniels for giving her an opportunity for understanding, for you know, whatever. Fix it Jesus. He’ll do it every time.
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll say shout out to TS Madison for laying the foundation for this. TS had a conversation with Lee Daniels and then Mo’Nique. And it sort of got lost in the big conversation because 50 Cent was there, and 50 Cent had the caption on Instagram. But TS was a part of how this happened.
Myles Johnson: I had no idea about that.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, you should see. And TS, it’s like not salty about it, but just like, is like, Hey, just so you know, like in the videos and stuff like I had a conversation with Lee and I had a conversation with Mo’Nique on it. I don’t know, TS had a show where she drives around with people in the car or something like that. But but you know, this reminds me of something you said, miles about the slap, is that Hollywood, power, all those things, the pressure of it, the gaze of whiteness sort of pushes you to do certain things and behave certain ways that might not be aligned with what your values might be or what you would do if you didn’t feel like it. Like, I Kaya talked about what happens when you are the young Black woman superintendent and you want to cuss that person because they deserve it, but you can’t or you don’t feel like you can, because the cost of it will be so great and da da da. And I definitely fetl like that. I remember when I was 30, being on the TV [unclear], I was like, I was the child who was the [unclear]. So like, people would say crazy things and my gut would be like, That’s just not. There was one meeting where I closed my laptop and just walked out and I told them to call the superintendent and she is my boss and if you have a question, she will tell me what to do. And they were like, He’s crazy. But like, other than that, I really was like, very chill. I still have to say that Mo’Nique, people laughed at her. When she said what Hollywood did to her, people joked her, people said, You don’t deserve, people. That like this is the part of the game and you just take the heat and da da da. And she was like, This ain’t right though, like, I didn’t do the wrong thing. And people literally joked her. And what was cool to me about the apology was that she got it in public. It was vindication. But it was also a reminder that like, you know, like the old people would say, like the only thing you leave with is your name. And she put a stake in the ground around like all this other stuff, it’s like not worth me lying. It’s not worth me like, being silent about the things that I’ve experienced. And like that was a lesson from me too, just like seeing that was really powerful.
Myles Johnson: For both of y’all having, an dall of three of us having those moments of, you know, if you did curse somebody out, you know, Auntie Kaya, if you did curse somebody out DeRay, or do something like that and just totally lose your mind, I think that what I’m noticing more and more is that it’s really important for us as Black folks who have a community that understands, you know? Like when I, when something happened and I got into a fight because somebody called me a homophobic something or, you know, I was in Georgia so like a racist something or whatever, and I lost my mind and stuff like that, I was already going to get handled by the school. I was already going to get kicked out. But my mom made my favorite meal. Because, and I think that sometimes we have to remember that sometimes we got to make our own selves our favorite meals and we got to do stuff because we’re already going to be brutalized by that system. And I think that’s what it is too. And the last thing if y’all haven’t seen it, Mo’Nique has a stand-up comedy special that I saw when I was entirely too young to see it because I’m a latchkey kid and I was doing what I wanted to do, and it’s called I Could Have Been Your Cellmate where she actually goes to a prison and actually performs for all-women’s prison and talks to them and says, You know what, I might be on the parkers right now. I might be doing all this stuff and I’m on Soul Plane and getting all this money, but let me tell you a list of these stories that could have made me right next to you, so the reframe is actually stories. And that’s How Come I Could Have Been Your Cellmate. And I think about that, as when we talk about non-respectability and we talk about breaking down these walls, I find that just like monumental in how it made her, our relationship’s horizontal, and I thought that was really beautiful. So yeah, if y’all have time to see it, it’s everywhere. Go watch it.
Kaya Henderson: I will say, you know, I think for me, just reflecting on those times where I really did want to cuss somebody out, what I committed to myself was that I was going to be my whole self in that job. And so while you know, the little girl from Mount Vernon couldn’t just go Mount Vernon on you, I was going to find a way to let you completely and totally understand my displeasure in all of my Black womanhood, right? And so I think part of like, there’s not an either/or, right, there’s how am I gonna release the wrath on you that you deserve in a way that’s not going to get me fired, but that’s going to get you to know exactly how I’m feeling. And I think for me, that ended up being a challenge, a creative challenge, right? Because like, you are going to know how I feel deep down in my heart because I’m giving you the whole entire thing, but I’m gonna use this intellect, I’mma use some poetry, I’mma use some other people, and I’mma dance all over your heart baby, ’cause that’s what I’m, that’s what, that’s what it is.
DeRay Mckesson: Damn!!
Kaya Henderson: And then I’m a spin around on my heel, and walk out like the Black woman that I am, swaying my hips and you going to know what just happened, right? And so have, I, just I want to say that like, you know, we are masterful at how we do our thing. And just ’cause I ain’t slap nobody when I was running D.C. public schools didn’t mean I didn’t want to, and didn’t mean they didn’t get slapped figuratively, if they didn’t get slapped physically. My news today is about maybe one of the biggest environmental injustices that I’ve learned about against Black folks. And it is about a housing development in New Orleans called Gordon Plaza that was developed, in fact, for middle class Black people, to invite Black people into homeownership in New Orleans. They built this built this, built 67 houses that were, 67 ranch-style houses that were for sale, primarily targeting the Black community, many first-time homebuyers. And they built this housing development on what used to be a dump, a garbage dump. It turns out that the soil was untreated. When they closed the dump they literally just poured some new soil on top and kept it moving. But in fact, there were 149 toxic contaminants in the soil, 49 of them linked to cancer. And there were 57 families who lived in this community. And these people, y’all, had scraped their money together to buy their first home. They were planning vegetables in their gardens and planting fruit trees and whatnot. The city of New Orleans, the mayors of New Orleans, went out and sold this to people, right, even though everybody knew, the government knew from the beginning that this was on the site of this dump and that the land was contaminated. They hid, EPA reports. They hid the environmental testing that had happened. And these people were literally eating fruits and vegetables from this contaminated soil. They saw in it, you know, crazy rates of cancer. Lots of folks dying from cancer. They built a school, an elementary school on this site, even when they knew that it was contaminated, even after they knew it was contaminated, and they told, they told the residents and the schoolteachers and schoolchildren that they were OK when they literally were sending people in in hazmat suits to dig up the ground and whatnot. It is really, it’s a crazy story, and you should read it. The, of course, the community sued. And the terrible thing is they were awarded a $90 million judgment in court and they, the folks have just refused to pay. They’ve gone to court again and gotten it dropped to 75 million. They did give out some money at the very beginning, but they literally just have refused to do anything about it. And there have been Black mayors and white mayors and all of these mayors who on the one hand, expressed their apologies to the community, and at the same time are using the city’s lawyers to fight them super vigorously. And it’s, you know, everybody from the Morials, dad and son, to the Landrieus, to current mayor Cantrell. And it is just galling when you read the story of these people who did everything right, they were pursuing the American dream. They were creating safe spaces for their kids, and the government, the whole entire government, from the federal government to the state government to the local government just screwed these people, and there literally is no recourse at this point. Even when the courts say Pay, the government is just not paying. The school system is not paying, nobody is paying. And these people cannot go anywhere. Their housing values have plummeted. Nobody will buy. Even insurance won’t pay. And so these people are just stuck living on this toxic and contaminated land. People are dying. People have dementia. People have multiple forms of cancer. And it’s horrible. And there’s really no solution to this. And I brought it to the pod because we fight on so many levels as Black people: housing discrimination, job discrimination, education problems. I mean, these people just wanted a safe place to live and they wanted to raise their kids and grow their own vegetables, and the government of New Orleans, the government of Louisiana, the government of the United States, put them on a toxic waste dump. It is a Superfund site. And these people have no recourse. And it just enraged me to read this article. I think it’s important for those of us who are climate justice warriors to understand that this stuff is not new for our community. I taught, I started my teaching career in the South Bronx, which arguably has greater environmental issues than almost any community in the United States—at least that was true in the early ’90s. We are, violence is being perpetuated against our communities in ways that we haven’t even thought about, and so I wanted to bring this to the pod to let folks know what’s going on.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya, the organizer me read this and I’m like, Whew, we still got lot of stuff doing in criminal justice, but I’m like, Maybe we’ll do a little pivot to the environment for a couple of campaigns just because this is so egregious. And it made me think, I’ll never forget in Baltimore, we got a big amount of money to renovate every school—and, you know, in D.C., y’all got a big chunk of money to do the schools too—and I’ll never forget being on the cabinet and sitting on the meetings where we realized that one of the schools was built like right at the edge of a dump site. So they were like, there are like barrels of toxic waste buried underneath one of our like, right next to one of our schools, but like pretty much on school property. And we weren’t afraid that it was necessarily going to leak, but we were afraid that if we renovated our school building, it would shake the ground and open the, and like contaminate the thing. And they built like a cement wall that was supposed to like stop the stuff from leaking over it. And it’s like, I’m in the room and I’m like, I got a lot of other stuff to do at work, but I’m like this, the people in the neighborhood have no clue. They don’t know that they have been, that, like the community is still adjacent to the school so we’re worried about the school part, but we’re also worried about our kids who live in the neighborhood! Who like, have just been playing and growing on this place like, and there’s no sign, like the EPA was sort of moderately helpful. Like it was, it was really wild and I, but I think about this made me think too about how we pathologizes the health choices and the choices of people, who we put in toxic environments! And we’re like, Well, they didn’t do da da da. And you’re like, You put them on top of toxic waste! This wasn’t about any choice that they made, or whether they wanted to go to the doctor or went late or early. It’s like you actually just put them in an unsafe place. And I hope that somebody listens to this and writes us and tells us there’s a really simple website or maps so people can put their address in and see if they live next to one of these and what to do. But it was wild. And the last thing I’ll say and you talked about this, but also really wild how many people participate in it. The mayors sell it, you know, people sell it. Like a lot of people did know this. They didn’t know, but a lot of people didn’t know. And the thought that people could go to sleep doing this to people is gross.
Myles Johnson: One of the things that I’m most passionate about is the environment, and I always would challenge people, kind of like specifically like, like white groups of people who talk about the environment in a lot of ways that will create fear, is what’s going to happen in the future, and what’s going to happen to your kids, and what’s going to happen a generation from now and stuff like that. And I’m like, Well, there’s things happening right now. There are things that are happening currently. There are things that you could, that you can create spectacles around in order to get attention, too. And because sometimes people gaze intersects with, you know, anti-blackness, it makes you, it makes you just not see certain things, or makes you not consider certain things, or makes you not think of things as environmental problems because if it’s happening to Black people it’ automatically race’d, and it’s automatically not about the environment, about it’s about race. And we don’t like dig, we don’t dig deeper into the intersections of what’s making that possible, that things like this don’t get problem solved and when they do come out there these days, it’s either too late, nothing can change, or they’re these niche pieces that we know about, but we need other people to know about who have control in this conversation. And again, I think that part of us getting further along when it comes to the environment is seeing that there are people, indigenous people, Black folks, Black, indigenous folks, people globally, who are dealing with it right now. And it’s not just a bad storm or things happening, it’s things that are affecting our lives, like, like this right here. Thank you for bringing it. Even though it was, it was sad, but it was illuminating. I’m glad that I know about it.
DeRay Mckesson: I mean, mine about, it’s a credit-adjacent story so the headline is “How Your Shadow Credit Score Can Decide Whether You Get an Apartment.” Most people know about credit or you have credit. You try to get credit. I learned about credit late in life, but my credit score is not awful. And there’ve been a lot of conversations about the race impact of credit and how credit is relatively new, it hasn’t been around for 100 years, you know, but it’s such a part of how decisions are made financially that people just sort of come to accept it and all these other things. So, you know, we’re not talking about credit credit. But what I didn’t know is that there are private companies that essentially come up with a written score, like almost like a credit score for your rent. There’s a popular one that the article focuses on called RentGrow, but there are more than a dozen companies that essentially mine all these different databases of information that’s out there about you, and comes with a new score that is not your credit score. Now, the thing about credit scores is that they are regulated by the government. There is like, there is in essence, some oversight to make sure that they’re not scamming. You can legally write to get copies of your credit score. You can, you have the legal right to see what’s in your credit score. But then with the rent score, the score is like made up by these private companies. So they talk about, they go through in detail these people who have really good credit scores and have a bad rent score, who they’ll get denied and they’ll say like credit history and then they’ll be like, Well what was on my credit? And then, you know, it’s proprietary. So the rent scoring company is just like, you know, we don’t think that you can pay the rent. And people are at a disadvantage. And you know, I’d loved to see the way that the data is, you know, it’s all private companies, but I have to imagine that there is a gender and race component to how these numbers shake out in the aggregate, when we can, when you look at it. And Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has, they’ve gotten complaints about it and the FTC has gotten complaints about it and stuff like that. But I wanted to bring it here because you just think about all the things that we fight that we see. We think about all the algorithms and all the processes and laws that we see, which is enough full-time work to to last a lifetime. And then you think about all the things that you don’t see. Like who knew that this is a billion dollar industry, is rent scores? I just, I had no clue. Like, especially in a place you think about, like in New York, right, where you got to provide a month in advance, you know, you got to prove that you can pay for the next year. You got to like all this stuff, and the thought that you cannot get an apartment because of some random score that a company made up to has inputs that who knows what they are, really blew my mind. I want to bring that here to the pod.
Myles Johnson: It’s really scary because it feels like, as you know, I’m 31 and I’m getting a dime, and I’m getting myself together. And it feels like there’s, I’m I’m scared about what it’s going to look like for me to try to do something at 41 or at 51, and between just the prices of rent going up but then also like stories like this. It’s like these like, kind of systemic attacks on the advancement, and I’ll go ahead and I’ll make the guess, I’ll make the guess, but like, I think these systemic attacks on the advancement of Black folks, it just feels so targeted. And I’m, I guess, all these like systemic ways that that Black people are barred out, and what like, what is the answer? You know, I always will say that kind of broad, general annoying answer of like, we need to have our own institutions. We need to bank together, we need to have properties together and stuff like that. But to me, when I hear stories like this, I just don’t see how people could come to any other agreements when there are things that seem so specifically made to keep Black folks out and to keep people from really living in any other class than what they were born in. And that’s what it feels like. And it feels like things are just being invented to ensure that. I don’t know what the answer is to that besides, oh, we just need to remove ourselves from this conversation because they’re always going to grow a new villain.
Kaya Henderson: That is absolutely right, Myles. That is exactly what I was thinking, right? These are, what was so egregious about this is there’s no recourse whatsoever. You don’t know why people rejected you. There could be errors that show up in this report and there is no way to correct them. And here you are needing a house, right, needing an apartment, and you can’t get an apartment because there’s some information about you that might or might not be correct. And you can’t even ascertain what it is to be able to fix it or deal with it or whatever. And like you, Myles, I’m like every time, you know, you move an inch that there are new ways to keep us down, ways that we don’t even know about. And this is why, you know, at some point you got to figure out how, how we create our own reality where we are not subject to or beholden to—and here comes, you know, people are, Oh, here comes militant Kyra—but I really believe, I do. I’m sorry, I’ll be militant Kaya. I really believe that when you control, when we collectively come together as a community, when we plow into each other, when we rent to each other, when we, you know, take care of each other, we just have different outcomes. Maybe one of the most shocking things in that article was the fact that the private equity companies are out here buying up all of these apartment buildings/ and if you know anything about private equity, the whole point is we will buy your company, we’ll run it better than you, we’ll make, you know, we’ll make better profits. We’ll cut costs. That’s what they do. They’re going to squeeze your company or your business or your enterprise to make more money. And so you know, you’re seeing in the apartment markets, rents skyrocket and people not getting the commensurate amount of services that go with that. Like that is a whole ‘nother conversation that we should be having about, you know, what private equity is allowed to purchase, because housing feels very different than you going out and buying. I don’t know, some company that produces whatever. This is people’s homes and people’s livelihoods. So this was, this was a, “ain’t that a blip”-kind of moment for me.
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. Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.